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Artists who give the people excellence—with a consistent message on every track, in every music video, and at every live show—will reap the fruits of a successful crossover. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the foundation an artist needs to execute such: a solid team who gets the vision and has the best interest of the artist in mind—a team that can convince and show their artist that following the formula will be worthwhile. The rollouts for his projects released over the past three years have been deliberate and executed so well that pop artists from the continent have already taken notes and applied what has worked to their strategy.

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Burna Boy has achieved much leading up to this Grammy nod from the Recording Academy. Antoinette Isama is a dynamic writer, editor and media multihyphenate with expertise in the intersection of African youth culture, arts, and the diaspora. For most artists, success is often rooted in how accessible or attainable they are. Not Yasiin Bey. And this November, he launched yasiin bey: Negus, a listening installation that combines visual art from Bey and his friends with a new, unreleased album.

In recent years, Yasiin Bey has been experimenting with new ways to release his music while figuring out his role in an era that demands more music and compensates less money for it. Until now, the only of those three to see a formal release was Dec. In the time since then, he has largely gone back into hiding—until recently. Yasiin is known for asking the crowd repeatedly to put their phones away before starting his performance.

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Yasiin uses the word to refer to noble figures, and the presumed centerpiece of the exhibition is a giant textile mural that has an embedded photo of the late Nipsey Hussle and visual renderings of the cells of Henrietta Lacks, a black cancer patient whose unique cells were taken without her consent and used as the basis for billions of dollars of medical research and biotechnology. On the opposite wall is a starry, celestial piece by Ala Ebetekar. Ebtekar, Mehretu, and Parla all created their pieces specifically for the installation after Bey played the album for them.

Bey has taken on different production styles with nearly every album since his seminal Black On Both Sides from 20 years ago. But off of two visits to the exhibit and a live performance of the album at the museum, much of the album is sonically reminiscent of Dec. In the week of Negus' opening, Brooklyn Museum hosted dance parties for the exhibit that included Dave Chappelle and Q-Tip as attendees.

On Thursday night Nov.

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She was a fan of theirs and recommended that we meet in East London. It just clicked. I was already in London; I think I was doing a show or something like that. I think I was settling between London and Paris, and I was in the work cycle, doing dates here and there. The sound was already there. To be candid, I was responding to the frequencies that were there. Also, shout out to ACyde, who was a part of that time as well. A lot of those rhymes I had written in when I was living in New Orleans. All of them just fit with the rhythms. I had never heard any rhythms like that.

Everything sounded so familiar, yet singular, and I was really excited about it. I just responded to what was there. It happened fairly quickly—everything was recorded in two weeks. Just one, two, three takes. Shout out to Mark Ronson as well, who opened up his studio to let us do some big room mixes of the material on there. Personally, I was partial to some of the unmixed stuff we did with Tusk and Stephen.

We did some things in the studio with ACyde while he was working with Rocky. But I was super happy with everything, everybody felt that way. Then the question came to how are we going to put it out, where is it going to go?

It just came to me, a vision in how to do it. And hamdullah, mashallah, here we are. I had a vision for an environment that the work could be experienced in. Over time, that vision refined itself. In , I started a painting. A gentleman I was working with at a time, he was a painter, suggested that I started working on bigger dimensions.

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A Brief Tour Around My Head

I began working on sketches on my own. I was quite happy with those dimensions, I did a full-on themed book. Long story short, it was a lot of different things I was working on at that time. Working with Unknown Union on fashion in Capetown, recording with A Tribe Called Red, and really discovering an enthusiasm for a new way of communicating as an artist, via visual art, painting. I had encouragement from people around me, I had time and resources, so I just started to do it and I really liked what I was producing. It was well responded to, so I continued, and I felt there was a way to combine those interests and those ways of communicating.

This is a thing that comes up, at least in relation to this project, and perhaps some of my experience with the recording industry of the world as it pertains to music specifically. With that being said, me and my team are not doing this in opposition to something, per se, a structure or a means of distribution.

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So for us, this is all very organic. For some people, the streaming platforms are perfect and suitable. Other people may do a mix of the two, or one or the other. To each their own. I have no vendetta, no score to settle, or statement to make… This is not some type of divining rod, or line in the sand. Not for me at all. You were speaking about how you got a lot of encouragement from friends to look at visual art as a medium—. Not look at it, but to make my own visual art.

Jean-Michael Basquiat, Edgar Degas, and new friends as well. It was just a place, over the past four to five years, to start working in that medium. So what kind of challenge was it to become adept at visual art to the point that you were happy with it?


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What was happening was really, I was just working off of instinct. For me, as I was thinking about it, I was just looking to avoid anything contrived. Just making the most natural, fluid motion that I could, and composing around that. Music is a zone for composition, MCing is a zone for composition, and painting is another zone for composition, figuring out where things go, how you place them, working with shape and light and color, and different materials.

I was using everything that I responded to and brought me enthusiasm, that I had a genuine interest in, and putting it in that space. Joining the music with it has been a great thrill for me. What was the inspiration behind that?


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I wanted to do something to have mural scale but was actually fairly portable. The scale of it is big, but because it has a tactile quality to it, it has an intimate quality to it. This scientific focus on her cellular structure, and how that cosmic information was exploited. The reason why it was exploited.

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From my perspective—not leading anybody, just my point of view—a lot of themes of eternity, lineage, and legacy, in a zone beyond race. Not just so-called non-white people, but people as units of scientific study. Which has its benefits, but it also has a side of it that feels very minimizing. It reduces the value of a human being down to their cellular data or content. It tells you something about a person, but not everything, and probably not even the most vital thing.

I find that intriguing. To me, those cells exhibited in that way look like something cosmic, the cosmic reality being reflected inside of a human being. I find that interesting and intriguing as well and motivating. The shapes of the alphabets underneath the phrase were created by my daughter. Where does Nipsey come into play in that piece, in relation to all you said about Henrietta Lacks? Including Nipsey felt like making a connection to another expression of Christ energy.