Into the Head of Neil deGrasse Tyson

Arguably one of the sharpest minds alive today, with bestselling books on the cosmos like The Pluto Files, as well as hit shows like A Spacetime Odyssey, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a walking vessel of endless knowledge. In this episode of The Carlos Watson Show, he imparts some of that knowledge, as well as shares where his journey began. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Growing Up

Carlos Watson: Where did you grow up, Neil? Are you a New York City kid?

Neil deGrasse Tyson: College and graduate school I went up to Boston to attend Harvard, majored in physics. Then I began graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin but then changed to Columbia so I was back in Manhattan, back in New York City for the completion of the Ph.D. Then I left again to go to Princeton, did a postdoc there, but then returned back to the city when the American Museum of Natural History decided they wanted to do something with the then-aging Hayden Planetarium, so I agreed to come in and help that out. Ultimately, I was appointed to an endowed chair as director of the facility.

By the way, that was my first night sky … the night sky of the Hayden Planetarium because the city … no one in the city has any kind of relationship with stars, with the sun, moon and planets. Because you look up and there’s a building, look a little higher there’s light pollution and when I grew up, it was air pollution. It was all forces operating against anyone’s attempt to look up. The planetarium became my portal and my conduit to the cosmos at a very early age.

So if you sort of package the whole story, it’s like a hometown kid comes back to lead the institution that so influenced him. I tried to tell that to people; they just don’t care.

Family Matters

Watson: I love the story though because I was surprised. I don’t know why I didn’t expect you to be a New York City kid. Were you kind of a second-generation scientist or did you find your own path to the stars?

Tyson: Yeah, it was my own path. My father degreed in sociology, and he went on to work under Mayor Lindsay during the heat of the civil rights movements and the assassinations.

My mother raised me and my brother and sister until we were mostly empty nest, and then she went back to school and got a degree in gerontology to study aging and the needs and wants of the elderly.

There was none of these pressures in my household. We were exposed to things grown-ups do who love their jobs. Two weekends a month, the five of us went on trips to the area museums, the aquarium, the art museum, the science museum, the natural history museum, the planetarium. But we also went to sporting events — baseball, football, even hockey. Also the opera, Broadway, musicals. So we got to see, we got to broaden the options that you might imagine you might become when you grow up, by seeing adults as experts in these multiple fields.

My brother ended up as an artist. He illustrated two of my books, actually.  I can say without hesitation that my heart has been in the universe since I was 9 years old.

Watson: What happened at 9?

Tyson: The singular sort of turning point was a trip to the Hayden Planetarium. Family trip when I was 9 years old.

His Love for Astrophysics

Watson: Why do you love astrophysics so much?

Neil: I have a weak answer and I have a strong answer for you. My weak answer is, at age 9 when I looked up at the dome of the planetarium and the stars came out, I think the universe called me and I had no say in the matter.

But really, it was looking up into that projected night sky, seeing the immensity of it and realizing, “Oh, my gosh, there’s still so much to learn, so much to discover.” I want to be on that frontier.

Watson: Which scientist do you admire the most, either alive or dead?

Tyson: My favorite scientist is Isaac Newton, for what he achieved very quickly in his lifetime, what he wrote, how he thought. If you read his writings, this man was connected to the cosmos.

On His New Book

Watson: Talk to me about Cosmic Queries. Why did you write it and what for you was the most interesting part of writing that book?

Tyson: The book Cosmic Queries is the sort of printed spin-off, if you will, of one of the formats of my podcast, which is called Star Talk. In that podcast, it inverts the journalistic model where … you might think of a science program where the journalist interviews scientists every week. This inverts that, where I’m a scientist and I’m the host and I interview people hewn from pop culture. The conversation explores all the ways that science has touched their lives.

One of the more popular formats of that show is called Cosmic Queries, where we solicit questions from our fan base, and if we’re soliciting sort of astronomical questions, then it’s just me and my co-host, who’s a professional comedian, by the way. The comedian is there to offer a force of levity to balance the force of gravity of the scientific content. So the valve that you turn to balance that enables a consistent delivery from show to show to show.

Imparting Wisdom

Watson: What are two or three things, when you talk about spreading scientific knowledge, that you hope that those of us who are everyday people, that we may have missed but interesting things that have happened over the last year or last few years that you think we should know about and could ultimately impact our lives?

Tyson: What I would say is … consider how much of your life depends on space right now. You’re probably not thinking about that. From hailing an Uber or Lyft, how do you get that? Oh, well you just send a signal to a satellite that gave your coordinates relative to a nearby car.

All right, that’s one economic extreme. Another one is, “Oh, let me swipe right.” Who is that person? That’s someone who a GPS satellite has established is within three blocks of you. “Oh, is there a bar nearby? OK, let’s find that.” So much of people’s lives today are enabled and empowered by space. So that when I hear someone say, “Why are we up in space when we have problems here on Earth? We got to solve the Earth problems first.”

I’ve said this many times and maybe it’s not enough. Let’s go back 30,000 years and we’re all in the cave. Someone peeks out the front door of the cave and sees a mountain, a valley, a hill, a stream. It tells the people there, “I want to go out there and explore this.” “No, we have cave problems. We have to solve the cave problems first before you exit the front door.”

You saying, “We got Earth problems, let’s solve the Earth problems before we step off of this speck we call Earth into the vastness of the universe,” if that’s what you’re saying, you sound like that person in the cave to me.

To believe that all of our answers can be found on this third rock from the sun when the vast greater universe lay undiscovered before us is naïve at best and it’s dangerous at worst. That’s insight that I’m delighted to offer you that is not simply, “What latest discovery did I miss?” That is something you might not have reflected upon that perhaps you should.

High and a Little Inside: World Series Champ Walker Buehler Hits His Best Pitch

The Major League Baseball season is officially underway and one of its best pitchers, Walker Buehler, came by The Carlos Watson Show to talk turkey about the upcoming season. So come and catch the All-Star and World Series champion as he dishes deep on all things MLB. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

Pregame, Pre-Fame

Carlos Watson: I was watching a nice hometown thing with you where you went back to Lexington, and you were showing folks around Henry Clay High School. Has Henry Clay given us some other good athletes in addition to you?

Walker Buehler: Collin Cowgill played in the major leagues. We had a set of brothers, the Boyd brothers, Shane Boyd was a backup quarterback for a while.

Watson: Do you have any basketball game or no?

Buehler: No. I’m pretty terrible. I had a growth spurt. I was OK for a little bit. And then I had a growth spurt and lost all the coordination. So, I ended up being a really bad church league basketball player.

Watson: OK, I haven’t heard “church league” in a while. That is a good one. But when did you know you were going to make it? When did you know that you were a guy who was going to get to play professional baseball?

Buehler: The day you get drafted. You never really know. I remember everyone telling me, “Oh, you’re going to go in the first round.” Then I went 24th. And for 23 picks, I thought I was never going to get drafted. It’s kind of a weird emotional roller coaster.

Watson: I felt like you were always a hot prospect. Was there ever a moment where you were like, “I’m struggling here. I may be one of those guys who’s a career minor leaguer”?

Buehler: I had surgery right after I got drafted. I was drafted and then didn’t play for an entire year. But I remember my first AAA outing: I gave up four runs and didn’t get an out. And they pulled me out ’cause I had thrown too many pitches. That was a tough one.

Coming Into His Own

Watson: And any interesting things that you developed once you got to the majors?

Buehler: I think the biggest thing in terms of what I do is learning how to scalp was a huge thing from my rookie year, I did none of it on my own. I kind of listened to the pitching coaches and the catcher, and just went off of their instinct. Because in my head, they knew better. They had been there a lot longer.

How long you have been in the major leagues is in a lot of ways status, because it’s hard to stay there. And so when you stay there, people respect you. That’s what I did my whole rookie year … listen to the guys that have been there. Then my second year I kind of learned how to take a little bit of charge of that and learn what I wanted to do, what I was good at.

Watson: when you think about your opportunities right now, what’s it like when you go from small-town guy, everyone knows he’s a good baseball player, but now you’re a World Series champ, people know you, little famous. Has that changed your family dynamic? And how has that changed your friendship dynamic?

Buehler: Things at home are pretty similar for me. To be honest with you, I get bothered less at home than I do in LA. Los Angeles, and our fan base, is wild, and we love it.

Watson: And talk to me a little bit about your friends who didn’t make it.

Buehler: I don’t remember how many guys we had in my class that got drafted. I think it was six or seven. But, most of them are still playing, still trying to make it. We’ve got a couple of guys in the major leagues. Dansby Swanson, the shortstop for the Braves, was my grade, and Carson Fulmer, who’s spent some time in the big leagues with a few teams now. And then a lot of other guys are kind of on the cusp, or they’re at home and doing stuff outside of baseball. But I think that that was one of the biggest things about going to Vanderbilt for a lot of us, was if this doesn’t work out, I think most of us felt pretty confident in what we could do after the game with a Vanderbilt degree. So, some guys are doing some medical sales and things like that.

Life Beyond Baseball

Watson: Now, talk to me a little bit about what you do outside of baseball.

Buehler: We do our charity event, which is golf-based. So we work on that a fair amount. I do some duck hunting back home in Kentucky. When we get our off days, we hit the beach.

Watson: And what’s the clubhouse like? I mean, do you guys just horse around in there? Are you guys talking politics? Are guys talking Bitcoin?

Buehler: You have these little cliques. You got these certain guys that love Bitcoin, there’s some cards that are played. Last year was weird. A lot of the little routines that we have, like that playing cards before the game, and sitting and eating, and stuff like that, we couldn’t do. I’m interested to see if those kind of get pushed back into the fold. We usually have a big ping-pong tournament during spring training, and they took the table from us.

Can Brain Tech Turn You Into the Next Kanye?

  • Musicians typically need to practice for months, if not years before they can hope for a breakthrough performance.
  • From headphones that help you learn music faster to Elon Musk’s dream of streaming music directly into your brain, neurotech is changing that traditional paradigm.

“Five beats a day for three summers.” Ah, yes, the unforgettable bar from Kanye West’s 2004 single “Spaceship” lets it be known why “the kid that made that deserves that Maybach.” Well, 22 Grammy wins later, it’s fair to say he made his point.

As exciting as it sounds to lock yourself indoors during the warmest season of the year, innovations in neuroscience are inspiring tech that could cut three summers of preparation for musicians into one while also hastening the speed at which artists can get music to their fans.

Berklee College of Music and neurotech firm Halo Neuroscience launched headphones in 2019 that are helping students learn new musical skills faster and practice more efficiently while also improving their creativity. Students have already reported benefits. Swedish company Flow Neuroscience has since acquired Halo and is operating its technology.


NextMind’s noninvasive brain-computer interface

Paris-based NextMind has developed a real-time brain-computer interface that reads your brain’s response to what you’re looking at, and then does what your mind asks the machine to do. As its promotion video shows, it could allow a DJ to control the EQ level with her mind, allowing her hands to stay free for the turntable. And billionaire Elon Musk has promised that his company Neuralink will develop a chip that could stream music directly to a listener’s brain, potentially revolutionizing access to songs in the future.

It’s only right that we’re now starting to study [music] from a neuroscience perspective because it can teach us so much about the brain.

Thomas Deuel, neurologist, University of Washington

The best part? This bond between neuroscience and music isn’t a one-way street: Scientists believe that their symphony can help decode mysteries of the mind too.

“It’s only right that we’re now starting to study [music] from a neuroscience perspective because it can teach us so much about the brain,” says Thomas Deuel, a neurologist and neurophysiologist at the University of Washington. Deuel’s a musician who plays jazz, trumpet and guitar. “Even if you don’t think you’re that good at music, it’s wired into our brains,” he says.

To be sure, neurology’s interest in music isn’t totally new. In 2003, scientists tracked how people with neurological damage performed on music-related tasks. Since then, scientists have found that musicians have more refined motor skills than non-musicians and better understand the parts of the brain that go into reading and playing music. In parallel, neuroscience has focused more and more on the stimulation of the brain using electric currents.

The most popular way to go about brain stimulation is through transcranial magnetic stimulation, a technique that uses very small currents to manipulate the brain’s rhythms and control the cognitive processes associated with memory and attention. Deuel explains that it’s like a standard battery with opposing charges: “You just put a positive on one part of the brain and a negative on the other part of the brain. You’re changing the electrical transmission of neurons,” he says.

NextMind’s device and Musk’s Neuralink both employ different technology that’s also beneficial to artists. The NextMind device’s headgear translates brain activity into real-world actions, potentially allowing a musician a chance to perform multiple tasks at the same time. What more does a pianist need but more hands?

“We’re not stimulating, we’re decoding activity from the cortex of the brain,” Sid Kouider, the CEO of NextMind, tells me. “Our biggest achievement is that you have a real-time close look with any digital interface and you can actually see your brain in action.”

Neuralink’s approach would require a physical incision to implant a chip in your brain. But it could prove a game-changer for artists. Instead of worrying about streaming platforms, they could go the direct-to-consumer route in a whole new way.

To be sure, there are challenges to the use of neurotechnology in music. Neuralink’s chip, for instance, can get rusty and need replacing — which would mean going under the knife again. And it’s unclear if the technology market and consumers beyond the music industry are ready for products like the Halo and Dev Kit headsets. The long-term effects of having a battery connected to your brain are also unknown.

“We just don’t know what happens when people do this [on] an ongoing basis,” says Jorge Barraza, an applied psychology professor at the University of Southern California. “The research that we have, it’s typically a one-and-done for most of the studies.”

Still, scientists believe they’re on the right track. Neurotech’s applications in athletics — whether to fine-tune practice sessions or mentally prepare ahead of a big game — have already shown some success.

“When virtual reality came, there was a wow effect, but it’s only now that people are starting to use it for the industry,” Kouider reminds me. We’ll need similar patience with neurotech. “The end product — the one you can buy at Best Buy — is going to come, I think, in the next three, four years from now.”

If Halo’s music learning, the NextMind device’s mind control or Musk’s direct-to-brain downloads establish themselves as proven technologies, your passport to that journey as the musician you’ve always wanted to be is a headset away. 

The Beginner’s Guide to Post-Pandemic Fashion

Hot girl summer is just around the corner, thanks to vaccinations and the promise that we will soon be enjoying barbecues again. If you are feeling stressed about what to wear, join the club! Is baggy clothing here to stay? Who are the designers to watch? How are designers and advocates pushing the industry to be more accountable, sustainable and inclusive? Join us for today’s look into the uncertain world of post-pandemic fashion.

talking trends

Vaccine-Ready. Everything that Dolly Parton touches turns to gold, including what she wears. She’s inspired a whole new fashion trend of vaccine-ready clothing. Amy Schumer was the latest to hop on the trend, wearing her fanciest dress with an arm cutout to get the jab. The cold-shoulder top is now the vaccine top, bringing ’80s fashion to 2021. Outfits with lots of arm/shoulder real estate are all the rage, with creative ensembles catching fire on TikTok.


Baggy Is Back. The myth that style and comfort cannot coexist was debunked during stay-at-home mandates: Fashion must evolve when the highlight of your day is venturing into your living room. The current stage: baggy. Tracksuits, breezy maxis and pajamas are only a couple of the styles flourishing over the past year. Japanese brand Suicoke is leading the sandal trend with a chunky, orthopedic-styled silhouette. Similarly, multibrand Chinese streetwear retailer DOE Shanghai’s lookbooks use layers and oversized concepts, including its February collaboration with MAGIC STICK and WILD THINGS. Baggy is back and it just might be here to stay.

Bootlegging. Bootleg fashion, with its DIY customizations of nostalgic brands, first became a trend in streetwear in 2016. From forgotten bands to ’90s television shows, T-shirts were time machines sending customers to their favorite era of pop culture. Today that trend is dominating the fashion industry as designers who got their break from that style are now directors of major fashion houses. Chicago’s Joe Freshgoods is collaborating with the same brands he once mimicked, and Michael Cherman’s entire brand’s premise is based off New York’s Chinatown markets. Look for nostalgia to continue being the driving force for streetwear in the future.

Rise of the Black Designer. The late Karl Lagerfeld set a standard in the fashion world as a designer, photographer and creative director who impacted the industry as a whole — and trends indicate a person of color will step up to fill that void. Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, Shayne Oliver at Helmut Lang and Kerby Jean-Raymond at Pyer Moss are among a wave of new Black designers shaping the fashion industry’s future. The momentum went into overdrive after the death of George Floyd as a record number of Black designers were tapped for projects. Expect to see Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other big names continue to do so. Read more on OZY.

on the radar

Lack of Inclusivity. Gucci’s admission to taking influences from Dapper Dan — a legendary Harlem streetwear designer from the ’80s — is just one example of the mainstream’s long history of appropriating Black ingenuity. And while the two sides have since collaborated and made amends, the issue persists. The retail chain Fashion Nova has been accused of appropriation, and Kylie Jenner has been repeatedly called out for not giving credit to Black-owned labels (she denies the claims). However, with people of color occupying more positions of power, perhaps there will be fewer imitations and more collaborations.

Telfar. “It’s not for you — it’s for everyone” is more than just Telfar’s tagline. Founded by Liberian American Telfar Clemens, the company is built on affordability, down to their Bag Security Program — a made-to-order luxury bag service disrupting the resale market. Competing with Chanel and Gucci, the faux-leather carryall sells out just as fast at half the price. Telfar does all of this while appealing to a diverse consumer base that includes men, people of color and queer audiences. They are so popular that Guess is under fire for copying their bag design.

Stealing From Creators. One of fashion’s most notorious “content farms” is causing waves on TikTok. Danielle Bernstein, head of WeWoreWhat, got eviscerated on the platform for stealing designs, outfits and content from smaller creators, often people of color. She took to the video stage to defend herself, decrying what she called bullying. Still, many were quick to point out her habit of requesting free samples from small designers and refusing to credit them or copying them outright for her clothing line. Among the victims: Latina designer Karen Perez, whom Bernstein copied after requesting samples from her.

#UsToo. Is #MeToo coming for the fashion world? Recent allegations of sexual assault leveled at Alexander Wang have exposed the tortoise pace at which the industry has responded to the #MeToo movement, especially for male-identifying models. The accusations were largely met with silence, which Owen Mooney, the model who first accused Wang, called “deafening.” Mooney channeled his outrage into the hashtag #UsToo, which is used to share stories of sexual abuse by LGBTQ people, as well as within the fashion industry.

forces for change

Ngozi Okaro. While caring for her sick father, Okaro found herself using sewing to destress. She was inspired to create Custom Collaborative, a skills incubator for low-income women or women from immigrant communities who want to start fashion businesses. The Manhattan-based collective is all about empowering women who are traditionally taken advantage of by the fashion industry and encouraging consumers to pay attention to the handicraft (and environmental impact) behind their purchases. Read more on OZY.


Jin Kay, Dylan Cao and Huy Luong. The ’80s are back, but not the horrible hair. Designers of the label Commission decided to pay homage to their Asian moms and bring their fabulous style to the runway. The brand marries Western fashion with Eastern execution in a way that honors their mothers’ sleek look and impeccable tailoring (albeit often using cheaper cuts of fabric). The brand is putting Asian women at its heart instead of tokenizing or appropriating their fashion.

Phillip Lim and Ruba Abu-Nimah. Together, the two designers are teaming up to fight anti-Asian violence. They are designing Stop Asian Hate key tags, with the proceeds going to the AAPI GoFundMe. The pair is also the brains behind the “New York. Tougher Than Ever” campaign. For Lim, who has his own fashion line, and Abu-Nimah, who was named Tiffany’s new creative director last month, their activism is rooted in the belief that even doing something small makes a difference. Lim encourages everyone to “inspire your surroundings to give a damn.”

Anifa Mvuemba. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, to Congolese parents, Anifa Mvuemba’s inclusive label, Hanifa, provides a rare space for plus-size women of color. Her collection of luxury pieces spans sizes 0-20, offering palettes and design trends on par with any major fashion line. Mvuemba’s industry leadership extends beyond the threads: In 2020, she produced Hanifa’s fashion show on Instagram Live using 3D animation to make it appear as if ghosts with curves were floating down the catwalk for an added spooky effect.

new wave of indigenous fashion


Bethany Yellowtail. Over the past year, Northern Cheyenne Nation designer Bethany Yellowtail used her business to make more than 100,000 masks featuring the tribe’s symbol, the morning star, for her community — as Native people are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of white Americans. Her company, B.Yellowtail, is a tribute to the textiles and colors she grew up with on a southern Montana reservation. She sells her own designs as well as those from other Native artists.

Jamie Okuma. Okuma takes luxury fashion and turns it into something even more stunning. The renowned beadwork artist hails from the Luiseño and Shoshone-Bannock tribes, and her pieces can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian. Her latest commission is a pair of boots featuring a hand-beaded image of her childhood pet, a California scrub jay named Peep.

Eighth Generation. This Native-owned lifestyle brand is dedicated to lifting up their community by eschewing stereotypes and providing products that expand the definition of what it means to be Native. The brand sells everything from blankets to phone cases. Founder Louie Gong got fed up with companies co-opting Native designs for their gain, so he decided to beat them at their own game and redirect that consumer spending back into Native communities.

Truly Sustainable Fashion. It’s one of today’s most popular buzzwords, but sustainable fashion began with Indigenous designers and the connection with nature. Designer Sho Sho Esquiro insists that the heart of sustainability has to be “less of a focus on ‘trendy,’ and more respecting the balance between humans and the natural world. People need to remember they have power by being a consumer — change happens with you and me.” It’s a principle that applies across the globe, from making vegan wool in India to upcycling textile scraps in Estonia.

Where There’s a Will, There’s

“I Gotta Feeling,” “Scream & Shout,” “I Like to Move It,” whether with the Black Eyed Peas or solo, or for an animation score, the impact made on the music of the 2010s is undeniable. But in this episode of The Carlos Watson Show, he explains why he calls himself much more of a computer scientist than a musician. You can find excerpts below, or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

The Computer Is My Instrument

Carlos Watson: How did you go from becoming a musician to, I now think of you as a technologist. I think of you as a futurist. I think of you as an active investor. And I know that you are a philanthropist as well. How did that transition happen? How did you go from Black Eyed Peas, Will.I.Am, hitting the charts, making stuff happen to talking about the World Economic Forum in Davos, and AI, and robots, and writing trend reports? When I lived in the projects and I had a dream about making music, you can say that I was a futurist then. Because those dreams and those ideas to enter a field when I’m not the best pianist, I’m not the best singer, but I got some pretty cool ideas. And I loved music. But how did I enter the field of music? Oh, that’s right. That computer. The computer is my instrument.

So I’m more a programmer, a coder than I am a musician, because I write in code with short keys on my MacBook. And I freaked the hell out of this machine to make music. Am I a musician like Miles Davis? Hells no. Am I a musician like Herbie Hancock? No way Jose. Am I a freaking musician like Carlos Santana? Not even an inch, but am I who knows how to make this computer do whatever is in my mind? Freak yeah.

So I’m a computer scientist from that perspective, if you compare me to musicians. But if you compare me to computer scientists, am I computer scientist? Hell no. All I know is I download software and I work on my computer and then I complete what I do and it gets downloaded and streamed on some other software. So I do work in the world of computers. And whether I’m working on Logic, which is an Apple program, or I’m working on Pro Tools, which is Avid, and you download it on iTunes or stream it in Spotify, it’s still interfacing with the computer.


Watson: And will, as a kid, you were this computer geek, this computer lover? What were you like in high school? I went to an awesome elementary school. It was called Brentwood Science Magnet. And in that elementary school, they taught us oceanography, physics. We had a computer lab. We were one of the first schools in LA that had Apple IIcs. So I learned on Apple IIc in the ’80s. And that was my favorite course.

I remember the teachers like it was yesterday. And I was the teacher’s favorite, because I always asked questions. Super curious, super hyperactive, and creative. And that passion for computers, whether it was Photoshop at the time. Then in high school, it continued. And then after high school, I just worked on computers, making music.

Watson: And how long was it until you broke big? How long was it until you guys actually became a household name? Yeah. So I got a record deal back in 11th grade. I was 17 years old and I was signed by Eazy-E from Ruthless Records.

Watson: Wait, wait. You got a real record deal while you were still in high school? So how does a high school kid get a record deal? When NWA broke up, he started looking for talent in LA. So we got signed for around $10,000. In high school, that was a lot of money, and I was in the projects with my mom. I was taking a yellow bus to school. And my mom didn’t know. I came home with my contract. I’m like, “Ma, I got a record deal.”

She was like, “Well, ain’t nobody give me no business to sign no contract. Who gave you all this money?” I came home with three grand, because we split it three ways. I came home with 3,333 bucks. I was like, “Ma look.” She’s like, “Where did you get this money from?” I was like, “My record deal.”

So I got in so much trouble for signing that contract. Turns out the contract was void because we didn’t have a guardian or our parents approval, and we were underage. It was so illegal to sign a minor, but I love Eazy-E. Acknowledgement goes a long way, bro. To be acknowledged by somebody that’s successful. For somebody to tell you, “That’s good.” A mentor. He validated my passion. And then he passed away in 1995.

Then from there I was like, what in the hell? And I was really slacking off in school. My mom was like, “Well, you need to get these grades up.” I was, so, like, “Ma, the school is not teaching me what I need for my career. They’re not teaching me finance to save the money that I just got. They’re not teaching me business for the field that I want to go in.” I was so clear like, “Mom, this is it. One day I’m going to buy you a house.” She was like, “How are you going to buy me a house when you can’t even get your grades up. You better not have no promises you can’t keep.”

I was like, “I don’t think you get it, mom. Watch.” And so that last six months of high school, I didn’t go. I was hanging out with Stefan Gordy, Berry Gordy’s son. And he and I were making music in his garage, because music was my passion. That was what I wanted to do.

Man.I.Am Today

Watson: It feels to me like you’ve let the music maybe take a little bit of a back burner while you focus on technology, futurism, entrepreneurship, philanthropy. Am I right, or am I seeing it wrong? Black Eyed Peas, we started in 1995, and 2011 was the highest mountain you could climb. And that’s the Super Bowl, the World Cup. “I Gotta Feeling” being the number one most downloaded song on iTunes, of all time. And I think we still hold that record because now streaming is the metric. But we reached some pretty high mountains. And then from there, I did a solo project in 2013 and realized that I’m a group guy. “Scream & Shout” and some of the songs that I did solo wise had some number ones, but I’m a group dude. Black Eyed Peas, that’s it. I like touring by myself, that’s cool, but that’s not what I signed up for. I signed up to be in a group with my friends.

But then I went into tech. The success of Beats told me like yo, beats. And we sold it to Apple. Then from there, I took my earnings and build this AI team. And we’ve been working hardcore ever since.

But then I need to return to music. Two years ago, we started working on a Black Eyed Peas Latin influence project. And we were a little nervous that we’re a trio now. People know the successful Black Eyed Peas as a quartet. And we got dropped from our label, Interscope, after 20 years of being on Interscope because we were a trio, not the quartet.

So Sylvia Rhone picked us up at Epic and this is one of our biggest successes, Translation. “Ritmo”, number one. “Mamacita”, number one. “Feel the Beat” with Maluma, number one. Now we have another number one on the way with Shakira with “Girl Like Me”. Four number ones. Over a billion views. And “I Gotta Feeling” doesn’t have the numbers that we are seeing on YouTube with these new songs. So we’re seeing the most success in 2020 at 45, 2021 at 46 than we’ve ever had as a trio. And the Latin community is awesome.

Grammy Winners of Tomorrow

Let’s face it, the Grammys don’t always get it right. Think back to 2015 when Beck beat Beyoncé. Perhaps the most galling was the 1967 best contemporary rock and roll recording going to the New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral” … and not “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles or “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys. But the gold-plated gramophones that will be handed out at tonight’s socially distanced 63rd Grammy Awards, hosted by Trevor Noah, still constitute a landmark moment for these artists, establishing their credentials on the biggest night in music. Today’s Sunday Magazine tells you the surprise nominees and trends to know, and introduces you to the Grammy winners of tomorrow. Don’t say you didn’t see them coming. 

names to know sunday night

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Grace Potter Sees Daylight. Potter didn’t know if she was finished with the music industry or it was finished with her. The singer/songwriter/rock-and-roll powerhouse had some hard years leading to her album, Daylight. She divorced. She split with Hollywood Records. Her backing band, the Nocturnals, broke up after a decade of touring and two top-20 albums. When she approached songwriter Mike Busbee to help her with Daylight, he was blunt. “He said, ‘I hate to say this to you, but [you are] a pregnant woman with no record company and no plans to go on tour … and I have a waitlist of people that want to work with me,’” Potter tells OZY. “This was enough to shake loose the doubts, pain, regret, fear and apprehension I had about making this record.” The two ended up co-writing a few tracks and jump-started Potter’s rebirth. Today Potter, 37, has a 3-year-old son with new husband Eric Valentine, a new record label and an artistic triumph that netted a pair of Grammy nominations: The title track “Daylight” is up for Best Rock Performance; the album competes for Best Rock Album.

Country Music’s Racial Reckoning. Last month, fresh, young country superstar Morgan Wallen laid bare the genre’s long-standing problems with race and representation when a video emerged of him shouting a racist slur. It’s the same genre Mickey Guyton has devoted her career to. One of the few Black artists in country, Guyton, 37, minted a minor viral hit last summer with the personal, passionate and bold “Black Like Me.” It tallied hundreds of thousands of views and streams, but it didn’t make a dent on the country charts. Now Guyton has a second chance to win the song the attention it deserves, with “Black Like Me” making her the first Black woman to be nominated for Best Country Solo Performance. 

You Oughta Know Lauren Patten. In 2018, OZY asked “Is She Broadway’s Next Rock Star?” The Grammys and Tonys may soon answer that question. Lauren Patten, 28, originated the role of Jo in the Broadway production of Jagged Little Pill. The musical opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at The American Repertory Theater with a dream team: ‘90s rock sensation Alanis Morissette’s music, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody’s book and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus. But Patten emerged as the breakout star — her performance of Morissette’s signature song “You Oughta Know” prompted standing ovations at each of the 79 sold-out performances. Before Broadway theaters shuttered, Patten brought the same electricity to New York’s Broadhurst Theatre. Now Patten is up for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, and she and her castmates are nominated for Best Musical Theater Album at the Grammys. Read more on OZY.

An Afropop renaissance. Antibalas’ 2021 Grammy nomination was more than a half-century in the making. The versatile New York-based group, which features as many as 19 members, has only been around for two decades, but its music channels the great Fela Kuti — with a dash of kung fu teaching. Starting in the late ’60s, Kuti became Nigeria’s greatest sonic export by pioneering Afrobeat, a hybrid of traditional Yoruba music, funk and jazz. Antibalas’ first Grammy nomination, for Best Global Music Album, Fu Chronicles, comes in a year when Kuti himself may be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the “fan vote” giving him the lead over Tina Turner, Foo Fighters and Iron Maiden.

stateside talent

These rising stars will be on music’s biggest stage before long.

Cakes Da Killa. Born Rashard Bradshaw, this New Jersey-bred rapper is leading the trend of LGBTQ+ acceptance in the rap community. Although he released his debut album, Hedonism, in 2016 and only five singles from 2018-2019, the Atlanta resident is building traction, having competed in Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow in 2019 and released viral hits “Luv Me Nots” and “Don Dada” last year. With the 30-year-old delivering a fusion of dance, electronic and hip-hop, don’t be surprised if you see his vibrant music nominated next year as he rounds out his sophomore album.  

Iamdoechii. At first, she didn’t know she could just … make music. A theater kid and classically trained choral singer, the Tampa, Florida, native never took the songs she’d been writing or her YouTube channel seriously, until a friend showed her how they could record and produce themselves. Her first drop, “El Chapo,” five years ago racked up tens of thousands of streams and she embraced a music career. “It seemed really farfetched,” she told SVGE magazine. Not anymore. After her first single, “Girls,” and EP Coven Music Session, Vol. 1, Iamdoechii keeps teasing a debut album called The Broom Closet, supposedly inspired by reading tarot cards, but has not announced a release date. Instead she kept fans hooked with a follow-up EP last year called Oh the Places You’ll Go. 

Keemy Casanova Listening Event

Akeem Ali. With his top buttons undone, Afro nicely picked and a smile that will light up any room, it’s no wonder Ali’s single “Keemy Casanova” has exploded online, sitting well over 1 million views. Grabbing some elements off his 2019 project Rollin’ — “Mhmm” is another Superfly-esque tune — the braggadocious Jackson, Mississippi, native is a newcomer, with just one single and one EP under his belt. But if he continues with his current momentum, he may be bringing his ’70s-style pimpin’ persona to your screens soon.

Fousheé. The world knew her voice before it saw her face. Thanks to rapper Sleepy Hallow, who used an instrumental sampling of her voice, and TikTok’s algorithm, the New Jersey native experienced anonymous second-hand success — then she successfully petitioned TikTok to credit her. Now that Fousheé’s name is attached to a song with tens of millions of views, she’s used the virality to launch into her own soul sound. With a mother who was the drummer for a female Jamaican reggae band named PEP, music runs deep — she started writing songs at age 6. You can hear it clearly in her latest tracks, “Single Af” and “Sing About Love.” 

RMR. Pronounced “Rumor,” there is no single category that can effectively contain the sonic sensation of this Los Angeles-based singer — and he thrives in that mystery zone. The masked artist is in his early 20s, according to Fader, and insists on remaining anonymous. There’s a freshness that surrounds everything he does, as evidenced by his single “Rascal.” Featuring a Rascal Flatts sample, the tune is as unforgettable as the video — with his drop-dead gorgeous voice set against a Saint Laurent bulletproof vest and an array of firearms menacing the camera. RMR sounds like a cross between Young Thug and Keith Urban, and those varied skills are on full display in his album Drug Dealing Is a Lost Art. 

the next latin and caribbean legends

Zheit. A warm lullaby is the best way to describe the voice of this 25-year-old up-and-coming singer. Listen to it on his 2019 single, “Aunque Me Digas Que No” (“Even If You Say No to Me”), and you’ll understand why it catapulted him to national attention in Spain. Born Jonathan Cortez, Zheit also has a gifted pen with lyrics that break the bounds of language. Inspired by R&B, soul and hip-hop, he delivers a smooth version of Latin trap the world has been missing in his latest EP, Mala Suerte.  

Chicocurlyhead. This Panama-born rapper (given name: John Farrish) transitions seamlessly between Spanish and English with a sound unlike any other. Ever since moving to Atlanta at age 9, Farrish couldn’t help but succumb to the lure of hip-hop’s current mecca, citing Travis Scott, Saint Jhn and PARTYNEXTDOOR as influences. The result is Latin trap from a Black perspective, distinguishing it from other trap artists like Bad Bunny and J Balvin. Listen to the 19-year-old’s debut album, El Saint and hear the sonic range between tracks “Drama” and “Posty” — then ask yourself who else can do that. 

Rauw Alejandro. Born Raúl Alejandro Ocasio Ruiz, this singer credits new and old school influences — from Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley to Chris Brown and Ozuna. And like his idols, the 28-year-old Puerto Rico native aims to set himself apart through high-energy performances and dance routines. Following the success of “Luz Apaga,” which has more than 136 million YouTube views, he’s worked with Ariana Grande and even performed at and nabbed a Best New Artist nomination at the 2020 Latin Grammys. His debut album, Afrodisíaco, shows off his signature voice and charm and will put him in contention for golden gramophones, Latin and otherwise, in the coming years. 

Fyah Roiall. Born Brandon Wedderburn, this up-and-coming Jamaican rapper is part of the new “grimehall” wave — an exciting fusion of trap, U.K. grime and dancehall. His debut album, Underrated, released last year, offers a more authentic look at the island as he’s more in touch with the streets than his dancehall contemporaries. Rapping in his hometown patois, Roiall brings that authenticity to his videos “Nobody” and “Soda,” which was shot at Half Way Tree in Jamaica. 

asian aspirations

Allmo$t. After accruing 45 million-plus views performing their hit single “Dalaga” on a radio station bus in 2019, the R&B quartet from the Philippines became impossible to ignore. Made up of rappers Crakky and Russell and singers Clien (who is from Italy) and Jom (a Canadian), this group can deliver any kind of vibe. From “Dalaga,” which feels like an Usher deep cut, to their recent single “Sexing Maliit,” closer to a Chris Brown track, this talented group is making heads turn. 

Yama. Donning a mask and colored bangs that cover her eyes, this Japanese pop artist forces you to listen, not look. Her first break came two years ago by uploading song covers on YouTube, and in October she dropped her debut single, “Masshiro.” Two million-plus views later, it’s safe to say she has good material of her own. In her brief career, Yama already has a song (“Haru wo Tsugeru”) that’s hit No. 3 on TikTok’s weekly ranking and charted on Billboard. With a heart-melting voice, she is the Japanese Sia you should be looking for. 

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ATEEZ. Short for “ATEEnagerZ,” as in they represent “everything about the teenagers from A to Z,” this K-pop band’s rise has been unstoppable since their 2018 debut EP, Treasure Ep. 1: All to Zero. Known for their masterful dance skills and choreography, the eight-member South Korean group has seen all of their EPs make Billboard’s World Album Chart. This month’s Zero: Fever Part.2 could send them over the top to global stardom. Is this the next BTS in the making?

BLKD. This Filipino artist has been a fixture in the battle rap scene since 2010. In 2015, BLKD (pronounced “balakid”) released the critically acclaimed album Gatilyo, solidifying him as one the preeminent rap artists in the Philippines’ increasingly competitive industry. The Cavite native’s 2019 project, Kolateral, garnered him international attention while raising sensitive questions about President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs. The compilation album features local artists and interviews with families who have lost loved ones to extrajudicial killings. With socially conscious artists taking off around the world, he’s a name to know.

the future is african

Gyakie. When your dad is a music giant, a career in the same field inevitably comes with pressure — though sometimes you can also benefit. That’s the case for this Ghanaian Afro-fusion singer, whose father is Nana Acheampong (one-half of the famous Lumba Brothers). While Gyakie is new on the scene — her debut EP, Seed, premiered last year — the 20-year-old from Accra displays an arsenal of talent, rapping and singing to the diverse beats she picks. 

Rema. He doesn’t have a prominent music background, but when Barack Obama queues you on one of his playlists — as he did with this 20-year-old’s song, “Iron Man,” back in 2019 — it puts the world on notice. Before “44” and the general public, the Benin City native captured his fellow Nigerians’ attention when his freestyle to the local hit “Gucci Gang” went viral. It was so good that D’Prince, who sang the original, flew Rema to Lagos and offered him a record deal. While he’s still building his career and has not yet released a full album, the kid has already twice charted on Billboard’s Top 10. Check out a compilation of the singles here

Tems. She has an inviting voice that glides note to note with certainty, delivering lyrics infused with emotion. This Nigerian singer is a refreshing reminder that the continent is about more than Afrobeats. Her 2018 single “Mr Rebel” first put her on the map, showcasing a range and tone that has garnered her a die-hard fan base who refer to themselves as the Rebel Gang. Born Temilade Openiyi, the 25-year-old cites Aaliyah and Alicia Keys as early influences, as well as her guitar-playing older brother who blasted Coldplay and Paramore from his room. She did not see success until heading off to school in South Africa to study economics, but the wait was worth it, as evidenced by her critically acclaimed debut project, For Broken Ears.  

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Cosha. While still early in her career, this Irish singer is already on her second act. Born Cassia O’Reilly, she released three EPs and collaborated with established artists like Mura Masa under the moniker Bonzai. She now chooses to go with the phonetic pronunciation of her given name as a nod to her new direction, debuting RIP Bonzai in 2018 under the new name. She returned last year with her signature tone while adding warped, enigmatic elements as well. Listen to her latest singles — “No Kink in the Wire,” “Berlin Air,” “Lapdance From Asia” and “Tighter” — and see why she should be on your radar. 

Laila Al Habash. This 22-year-old Italian-Palestinian artist’s career unfurled without much of a plan. After uploading music onto Bandcamp so her friends could hear, she found herself in the company of Niccolò Contessa and Stabber — pop and rap producer savants — and with major label distribution. Now signed to Undamento, she’s released her first EP, Moquette, which offers a unique pop sound that fuses the indie music of her Italian childhood with the flow and rhyme schemes of the rap she’s been listening to lately.

Mobrici. If you’re a fan of the Italian pop band Canova, you might know what to expect from this artist who led the group from 2013-2020. Solo acts can soar or flame out, but his debut single, “20 100,” should be a sign of good things to come as he branches out on his own. It displays his light voice that matches the ambient instrumentals he gracefully floats across and shows a confident artist ready for his breakthrough.  

Altın Gün. This psychedelic folk band, with a modern jam band kind of style, was nominated for a Grammy in 2019, and should be in the winner’s circle before long. The Dutch-Turkish collective came together after Dutch bassist Jasper Verhulst sought out Turkish musicians on Facebook. What he got was a talented six-member group with varied skills and instruments, including the traditional Turkish stringed saz (also called a bağlama). Their third album, Yol, released this month, busts out some of the best funk grooves you’ll find.  

Inside the Newest Crypto Craze: The NFT

Chances are, you’ve been hearing the buzz about Bitcoin lately. But there’s a new sensation on the crypto block, and all of a sudden it’s become a market worth hundreds of millions of dollars: non-fungible tokens, aka NFTs. They are much more than the latest hottest gadget. From NBA rookie sensation LaMelo Ball to rapper Post Malone and singer Grimes, the concept of original digital content — think first draft of a masterpiece novel or an original Picasso, but in digital form — has piqued the interest of creatives everywhere. Today’s Daily Dose breaks down this revolutionary concept, the key players and how they will continue to shape our world — whether you buy into the craze or not.

the rundown

What Are They? The best way to understand non-fungible tokens is to break down the terminology. They are tokens, which should sound familiar, given Bitcoin’s popularity. Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs operate on blockchain technology in a decentralized market and are stored in secure digital wallets. Fungibility describes something that’s easily interchangeable: You can trade a $5 bill for five $1 bills. Unlike cryptocurrencies, however, NFTs are unique and can’t be simply swapped. They can be just about anything you can convert to digital form, but the craze right now is around artwork. Think of them as digital collectibles like trading cards and stamps, where even items that look the same are differentiated by issue date and condition. Instead of a physical certificate of authentication, NFTs use blockchain technology, typically Ethereum, as a verifiable digital ledger.

Why Are They So Valuable? Collectors are going to collect. And aside from the appeal of owning a verified piece of art no one else has — even if they can download a copy — NFTs are turning into a mode of investing, as their market quadrupled to $250 million last year. That’s why you’re seeing day traders and gamblers leap into the space along with die-hard collectors. Creatives with iconic and nostalgic intellectual property drop new collectibles all the time. Think of a freshly made Michael Jordan rookie card hitting the streets. (or rare Beanie Babies). An NFT video of LeBron James dunking a basketball sold for $208,000 in January to a group of investors who expect its value to rise because it’s an original, verified and rare piece, even though anyone can rewatch the dunk on the internet. An artist named Beeple recently sold a 10-second video clip for $6.6 million, while the bidding keeps rising for another Beeple that is the first completely digital work to be sold at the famed Christie’s auction house.

Where Did They Come From? Versions of NFTs have been around since 2012, but the concept took off in 2017, like so many things on the internet, thanks to cats. CryptoKitties were being bought and sold on the Ethereum blockchain at such volume that they slowed down the network. From there, the concept evolved so that major sums were being paid for an X-ray of William Shatner’s teeth.

Why Are They Blowing Up Now? Blockchain-driven decentralized finance, or DeFi, surged in 2020 as people moved away from the traditional financial system amid widespread distrust of institutions, common during recessions. But last year a recession coincided with the arrival of digital commerce like never before. That appetite was behind not only the Bitcoin boom but also other new blockchain-based financial ideas like NFTs, which took off after floating around for a few years.

 Tokenizing Your Content. Digital content is tokenized — or becomes an NFT — through a process called “minting,” which assigns a coin on a blockchain to any given work, authenticating as many copies the creators see fit. Anything can be made into an NFT, from a recipe to a song. However, to do so you need a crypto wallet and to have purchased some cryptocurrency as it costs to create an NFT, typically anywhere from $2 to $32 depending on the day’s “gas price.” Afterward, pairing your wallet to a marketplace listing an NFT is as simple as an upload.

Pitfalls. We’ve seen the boom-and-bust cycle before in the crypto market, such as initial coin offerings (when startups, many of which failed, issued digital tokens to raise money) that were scorching hot around 2017. So NFTs are no safe bet. Whether you want to look at Mark Cuban selling one of his tweets for $952, Lindsay Lohan selling an image of her face for more than $2,000 or actor/boxer/social media tycoon Logan Paul selling NFTs of himself unpackaging Pokémon cards for millions of dollars, the market is running amok in ways that don’t always make sense.

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changing the world

Power to the (Digital) Artist. NFTs are revolutionary for artists and creators as they give them complete authority over their content, how to distribute it and who gets a cut. The smart contracts governing NFTs allow artists to retain a copyright and to earn a percentage of every sale, so they benefit as the value of their work rises. Digital artists are seeing a boom as their work finally has a chance to be collected in a way that previously was reserved for fine art. Next up? Musicians, who could leverage the platform to make far more than the per-stream pittance they get from the Spotifys of the world.

New Way to Invest. At a time when investors are looking beyond Bitcoin for the next big thing, NFTs have arrived. Entrepreneur guru Gary Vaynerchuk says he’s been waiting for this moment since 2010 and that the “next 36 months will be incredible,” as he uses his platforms to evangelize for NFTs. During a single day in February, NFTs generated more total sales than they did in all of 2020. But investing is not as simple as hopping onto a brokerage site. To purchase an NFT, you typically have to buy Ethereum cryptocurrency, then store it in a digital wallet like MetaMask — which comes with fees, so it can cost as much as $100 just to make a bid.

More Than an Investment. Given that NFTs are unique and publicly verifiable, they could one day be a standard form of digital ID. An NFT assigned to you at birth could be the basis for your international passport, or even allow you to vote online for president. But until the day when your Social Security card comes with a cat image, NFTs can be used to verify all sorts of things. Nike recently patented “CryptoKicks,” which attaches a token to its wildly popular (and collectible) sneakers to verify their authenticity and confirm ownership.

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key players

NBA Top Shot. One of the biggest drivers of this year’s NFT craze is the NBA, which, in partnership with Dapper Labs, launched Top Shot — a company that offers digital basketball highlights called “moments” to buy and sell. Depending on how many digital copies were made, these moments can be quite rare. And these blocks and dunks are generating serious coin. The site CryptoSlam tracks more than 90,000 buyers and around $300 million in sales for Top Shot, making it by far the biggest crypto collectible. And yes, the players will get a cut, as a portion of the proceeds is added to the NBA’s revenue pie.

Grimes. Not bad for a day’s work. The 32-year-old musician and artist sold nearly $6 million worth of NFTs on Sunday. The haul came from 10 pieces that mostly feature winged cherubs called “war nymphs,” some of which sold thousands of copies. Like her partner, Elon Musk, who has gone from electric cars to moonshots, Grimes is continuing to defy expectations.

Ben Mauro. There may be no better example of how NFTs can change an artist’s career than this senior concept designer and art director. With more than 12 years in the gaming and film industry, he’s created realistic universes for The Hobbit, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Halo Infinite and Call of Duty. Now Mauro is teaming up with crypto trading platform VIV3 for a limited-edition trading card series called Evolution, showcasing his creatures. The money he’s making funds his future projects, something he said would have eaten into his savings.

Roy Zou. While the market is frothing in the U.S., NFTs haven’t really caught on in China. Zou is trying to change that, via the blockchain version of Second Life, the Ethereum-powered Decentraland. Zou built the largest space on the game, a virtual piece of land called Dragon City, which is rooted in Chinese mythology. It can also be a moneymaker, as property transactions in Decentraland are monetized via special tokens. Zou is hoping the concept attracts a crowd of Chinese crypto enthusiasts — particularly since there’s no private land ownership in China — and draw them into the world of NFTs.

Hipster pop music artist recording song at professional music studio

Hipster pop music artist recording song at professional music studio

wild world of blockchain

Growth and Regulation. Right now, NFTs are the Wild West, and the whole idea of crypto wallets is designed to avoid prying government eyes, but there are legal concerns around copyrights and fake accounts at auctions. Don’t be surprised to see law enforcement busts in the NFT marketplace in the coming months, especially as it becomes more global. The Chinese-centric blockchain Tron introduced a new NFT framework in December, while Japanese regulators are grappling with how to police this growing marketplace.

Music Distribution. Artists looking for a fairer shake from notoriously stingy streamers might be able to turn to blockchain. Audius, a San Francisco–based company that has raised nearly $10 million from Silicon Valley investors, offers direct connections between fans and artists, including exclusive new releases, by verifying transactions on the blockchain and allowing artists to directly negotiate their fees. Consider it the utopian version of Spotify.

Patriotism. Given how murky global supply chains can be, you often don’t know where your shirt really comes from. The blockchain is here to help. With usastrong, Krissy Mashinsky, a former Urban Outfitters executive and her tech entrepreneur husband, Alex, have launched a platform for verifiably American-made gear. The inspiration came last year when local businesses were suffering amid COVID-19. By creating a list of factors that goods must check off to be better tracked by the blockchain, the Mashinskys can guarantee that everything bought in their store — from a “Made in the USA” label on a ceramic mug to a fleece hoodie or fragrant candle — was in fact manufactured in the States. The hope is to ignite a spark for sustainable domestic manufacturers. Read more on OZY.

Urban Planning. While Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are trying to rule new planets, one tech titan is aiming to run his own city in the middle of the Nevada desert. Jeffrey Berns, of Blockchains LLC, is pitching a “smart city” near Reno where you buy goods in digital currency, and your life, down to your medical records, is verified on the blockchain. The kicker: He wants Blockchains LLC to control the government in this special “Innovation Zone,” and he has the backing of Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat. While county leaders where the city would be are pushing back against this kind of “separatist government control,” they remain interested in the possibilities the futuristic city represents.

The New Face of Entrepreneurship?

Black entrepreneurs have always needed an extra level of determination, given historic hurdles to their success, such as racism, lack of mentorship and unequal access to financing, to name a few. But something is happening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests: New fields are emerging worldwide, and pre-existing ones are creating surprising new opportunities — from Silicon Valley to Ghana to Tokyo. How are today’s Black founders building generational wealth, and what are the new paths to the top? Today’s Sunday Magazine has the scoop.

on the rise

Cannabis. Black people involved in the business of marijuana have long paid the price with disproportionate incarceration rates. But as U.S. states move increasingly toward legalization and a new Democratic president and Congress raise hopes of easing weed laws, the burgeoning industry offers hope to would-be Black entrepreneurs. While the industry was 81 percent white as of 2017, people of color are increasingly playing a bigger role. In March, retired Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch, for example, is launching Dodi Blunts — a “premium, crafted cannabis brand-platform” with 24-karat diamond-infused blunts. And Jay-Z has rapped about his new gig. “I’m sellin’ weed in the open and bringin’ folks back from the feds,” he rhymes in his new song “What It Feels Like.” The 51-year-old rap legend launched the Monogram cannabis line and set up a $10 million fund to help minority-owned cannabis businesses break into the legal marijuana industry.

The Cincinnati Model. This southern Ohio city boasts the highest percentage of minority-owned businesses making more than $500,000 annually. Their secret? A task force the local chamber of commerce created in 2002 dedicated to building scalable companies of color called the Minority Business Accelerator (MBA). It pairs minority-owned supply companies with top research and science companies, such as Johnson & Johnson or Procter & Gamble. Large organizations, even those with diversity plans, often struggle to find minority firms to invest in — a major factor hindering Black startups. MBA also syncs healthy companies that are looking for buyers with minority entrepreneurs, quickly creating large minority-owned firms. Now Cincinnati’s model is being adopted in 20 other U.S. cities, and there’s a new push to take it to the federal level. Read more on OZY.

Banking Black. There are only 20 Black-owned banks in the U.S. — out of some 5,000 total — in addition to 21 not-for-profit credit unions. But the pandemic has put a new focus on the dozens of Black-run Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are dedicated to serving disadvantaged communities by backing small businesses, affordable housing, nonprofits and more. The December COVID-19 relief law included $12 billion for CDFIs, as big banks such as Wells Fargo have chipped in, too. A new round of federal stimulus and a potential infrastructure plan are likely to back CDFIs — as President Joe Biden has tapped these overlooked institutions as key to closing the racial wealth gap.


tough challenges, creative solutions 

Becoming Founders. Research from Hallo, a networking platform, found that out of the 1,537 American startups that raised capital in the fourth quarter of 2020, only 40 had Black founders. Hallo co-founder and CEO Vern Howard tells OZY that these stark figures are due in large part to a lack of connections: “I can come in here with an idea on paper, but I’m cool with you or I knew your dad or knew your name from Facebook or Google, and I’m a VC, I’m going to believe you should have built this.” The solution, Howard says, is for Black founders to help build social capital within Black communities and share tips for success with the next generation. Gig Wage CEO and founder Craig J. Lewis, who has raised $13.2 million so far for his fintech company, advises staying authentic rather than worrying about fitting into the largely white VC world in order to win in the end. “Be you-nique,” he says, spelling out y-o-u. “You’re already not going to fit the box; don’t even try.”

Help During COVID-19. Eight out of ten Black-owned businesses fail within the first 18 months, in large part due to lack of capital, so when the pandemic hit, it came as no surprise that these businesses were hit hardest. An estimated 41 percent shuttered in the early months of the pandemic, struggling to get loans and other assistance as federal COVID-19 relief favored the existing racially skewed big bank infrastructure. But solutions popped up across the country, from JPMorgan Chase’s Advancing Black Entrepreneurs initiative — which coaches businesses on expenses, vendor relationships and more — to the Oregon Cares Fund, which has helped steer $62 million in federal aid toward the African American community there. Discover chipped in with $5 million for Black-owned restaurateurs doing right by their community, such as Kevin Muccular of That’s My Dog in Houston, which went the extra mile to feed the hungry after Hurricane Harvey and during the pandemic. Watch Kevin’s Story on ‘The Carlos Watson Show’  

Reset America. In the wake of last summer’s racial justice protests, allies have been making a more concerted effort to buy Black. According to a survey by the Black Chamber of Commerce, an estimated 75 percent of small businesses it represents experienced booms in the two months following George Floyd’s death; Google searches for “Black-owned businesses near me” hit a new record between May 31 and June 10; apps like I Am Black Business caught fire; and several companies made promises, like Amazon’s Black Employee Network and Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, to fix structural problems. In some cases, the #SupportBlackBusinesses movement was overwhelming. Liberian-American fashion designer Telfar Clemens had to put in place a preorder system following a surge in demand. But as many of these businesses see revenue sink back to the pre-Floyd norm — and with the pandemic still raging — the harder work on systemic solutions continues.


global opportunities

Pulse Check. Black techpreneurs are using mobile technology to overhaul Africa’s creaking health care infrastructure. Armed with little more than a laptop and a team on scooters, 24-year-old Melissa Bime created Cameroon’s first online blood bank. In a country where patients routinely die because their families can’t locate blood quickly enough, her company, Infiuss, has cut the average time it takes for a patient to receive a transfusion from about a week to one hour, according to Yaoundé-based Dr. Iddi Faisal. Another company using simple solutions to save lives is the Democratic Republic of Congo’s WapiMED, a geolocated medical directory that helps people find hospitals, clinics and doctors (if this sounds simple, you’ve never tried to make your way through Kinshasa). To add to the appeal, you can even pay for a loved one’s appointment remotely if you live in the diaspora. Read more about Bime on OZY.

Big in Japan. Originally from Paterson, New Jersey, twin brothers Arthell and Darnell Isom are the co-founders of Japan’s only Black-owned anime studio. Inspired by the 1995 film Ghost in the Shell, Arthell resolved to move to Japan after graduating from the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. Once there, the young illustrator knocked on the door of the film’s art director, Hiromasa Ogura, and landed a job at his production company, Ogura Koubou Atelier. When the Isoms decided to set up their own studio, Ogura supported them. Since its founding in 2016, D’ART Shtajio has produced the “Snowchild” music video for The Weeknd, worked on the Netflix original Sound and Fury and collaborated on several Japanese anime titles. While only around 5 percent of the anime industry is non-Japanese, and there are very few Black artists, Arthell told SyFyWire: “The great thing is with us being here, Black creators seek us out. It’s a great opportunity to work with them.”

Trash to Cash. Nomuntu Ndhlovu and Siyabonga Tshabalala have brought cash to hundreds of impoverished South Africans who sell waste to their recycling company, SiyaBuddy. They’ve also helped to clean up their corner of Mpumalanga, a region where recycling is virtually unheard of due to the great distances people must travel to reach a buyback center. When OZY profiled Ndhlovu in 2018, she dreamed of expanding operations across the province, installing a waste-to-energy plant and manufacturing building bricks from black refuse bags. While the pandemic has put the waste-to-energy plans on ice, SiyaBuddy has purchased three more trucks, increased the number of jobs it provides from eight to 12 and grown from having just one site to four. The recycled building bricks, meanwhile, are currently being certified as safe for use in construction. 

Idea Factories. Any entrepreneur can use an occasional helping hand, shoulder to cry on or nudge in the right direction. MEST (the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology) in Accra does all of the above. Since its launch in 2008, hundreds of would-be millionaires have been put through the incubator’s fully funded one-year entrepreneurship program, which gives them a full deep dive on tech, business and communications. At the end, the nonprofit — an arm of the large Oslo-based media monitoring company Meltwater — will back these founders’ dreams with seed capital with the intent of scaling their ideas internationally. MEST has helped launch more than 60 startups, including, which is now the largest online real estate marketplace in Ghana. 

Compete to Win. A little bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone. And when it comes to African startups, there’s no hotter competition than Seedstars, which stages pitch competitions across the world leading up to a global summit where finalists pitch a panel of judges. Since 2014, the contest has crowned winners from South Africa and Ghana. The latter was 2018 winner AgroCenta, which supplies smallholder farmers with the two things they need most: access to a market and capital. While most venture capital investment in Africa has traditionally come from Europe and North America, this has changed in recent years, with three Japanese VC firms investing millions of dollars in close to 100 African startups. Read more on OZY.


fat of the land   

Big Opportunity: Home to 8 of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, Africa has enormous potential. But in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 60 percent of the population are smallholder farmers, and only 23 percent of GDP comes from agriculture, improving food security remains a major concern. The “elephant in the room,” writes Mandla Nkomo, managing director for Solidaridad, a civil service society focused on sustainability, “will be the fact that Africa has not yet been able to demonstrate a model of how agriculture moves people out of poverty.” Investors spy an opportunity, with 420 major land deals comprising 24 million acres struck across the continent between 2000 and 2016, but few of the acquisitions have been implemented on the ground.

Factory Farms. Ghanaian Desmond Koney’s company, Complete Farmer, was born out of his desire to “run farms like factories,” and combines what the 29-year-old describes as an “Airbnb land model” with a “crowdfarming” approach to capital investment, delivering made-to-order produce to clients worldwide. Complete Farmer has successfully completed 12 projects and currently has plantings of an additional 3,500 acres of everything from chili peppers to sweet potatoes destined for India, China, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Germany and the Netherlands. So far, 2,800 small-scale farmers have been employed for various projects, bringing higher yields for corn (22 percent above the national average) and soybeans (18 percent). While the company’s footprint is currently restricted to Ghana, Koney’s dream is to expand internationally. “What Alibaba did for manufacturing in China,” he says, “we want to do for agriculture in Africa.” Read more on OZY

Putting the Cow in Crowd. In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela wrote about the “almost mystical attachment that the Xhosa have for cattle, not only as a source of food and wealth, but as a blessing from God and a source of happiness.” With urbanization on the rise, South African agripreneur Ntuthuko Shezi aims to keep that connection. His company, Livestock Wealth, helps anyone with a smartphone invest in a free-range ox or pregnant cow and enjoy annual growth of up to 14 percent. So far, 2,800 people have invested more than $4.7 million in the firm, which has recently added macadamia nut trees to its list of tangible opportunities. Other companies in South Africa are applying the same logic to blueberries and honeybees.

Reality Check. Despite the optimism, the World Bank predicts that sub-Saharan Africa will likely be home to 90 percent of the world’s extreme poor (people living on $1.90 per day or less) by 2030. And that was before COVID-19 worsened global inequality. This sobering op-ed by Anthony Kalulu, a Ugandan farmer who has spent most of his life in extreme poverty, points out that the problem is even more localized: 70 percent of the extreme poor in sub-Saharan Africa live in only 10 countries. The remedy lies in the poor seizing control of their own destiny, something the largely white global development sector, Kalulu argues, is hell-bent on preventing. “From the very remote, poor village of Namisita, where I live, and where I am seated now, aided by a solar panel, an ageing laptop, and a mobile internet connection,” he is working to bring an end to extreme poverty through his nonprofit, Uganda Community Farm

International Rescue Committee Hosts Annual Freedom Award Benefit - Arrivals

Strive Masiyiwa

billionaires giving back 

Building a Legacy. With an estimated net worth of $10.9 billion, Aliko Dangote is the richest Black person in the world. Since 1977, when he started importing rice and sugar to his home state of Kano, Nigeria, and selling them at a lucrative markup, his business empire has expanded across industries and borders. He’s now involved in commodities, oil and gas, but Dangote Cement, which operates in 10 countries and churns out 46 million metric tons of cement each year, is the undisputed cash cow. Since 1994, Dangote’s also worked to give back through his charitable Aliko Dangote Foundation. Focused on health, education and “economic empowerment,” it’s the largest private foundation in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2013, the ADF teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a mission to eradicate polio, and last year all of sub-Saharan Africa was declared free of wild poliovirus

Striving to Do Better. Another high-profile do-gooder is Strive Masiyiwa, Zimbabwe’s richest person, with a $1.3 billion net worth. Ever since he navigated “murky politics and a legal jungle” to win a mobile phone network license in his native country in 1998, his company, Econet, has managed to amass more than 100 million subscribers across 29 African and European countries. And Masiyiwa has turned philanthropist, providing scholarships to more than a quarter of a million Africans in the past 20 years and supporting more than 40,000 orphans. His mentoring of African entrepreneurs on Facebook created the most engaged following of any business leader on the platform, according to the social monitoring company Crowdtangle. No wonder then that Netflix has pinpointed him as the man to help it conquer the African market, making him the first African to sit on the company’s board.

Kenya Moore Spills the Tea on Phaedra

Actress, producer, entrepreneur and reality TV star Kenya Moore has enjoyed success on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. She recently sat down with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on The Carlos Watson Show to talk about her journey. You can find some of the best cuts from the conversation below, and the full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.

Growing Up

Carlos Watson: What were you like as a teenager? Were you quiet? Were you loud? What were you like growing up?

Kenya Moore: Oh, no. I was a hell-raiser because I had such a difficult childhood. When I hit my teenage years, I acted out. So I was one of those teenagers that just, teenager from hell. Sneaking out of the house, stealing the family car to go places I wasn’t supposed to be going. You name it, I did it. The one thing, though, I never did was drugs and alcohol and cigarettes. I tried to smoke a cigarette once. It was horrible. I was like, “Yuck. Who wants this taste in their mouth? This is disgusting. This is not cool.”

And then, the other time, friends would be doing weed and stuff. I just never had that desire. So even though I was not obedient in one way, I never went off the deep end and like really crossed the line to do stuff that was illegal or drugs, things like that.

Watson: Say more, though, about your tough upbringing. Where did you grow up? You did not grow up in Atlanta.

Moore: I grew up in Detroit. I’m a Detroit native. Born and raised in Detroit. This is my second home. I do have family here, which is why I wanted to be here. I grew up in the ’70s to teenage parents that did not want to have a child at the time, and it was just very shameful. It’s hard to imagine that with all of the people now that have kids out of wedlock and it’s just like, “Oh, this is my baby daddy.” That term was born because of all of the people that were having children and not being married. So “baby daddy” and “baby mother” exist now.

But in my day, 50 years ago, it was so shameful to have a child out of wedlock. And so for that, I just think that, well, my mother made a decision that to acknowledge the fact that she had a child … and then it just got really, in another way, very sad. My upbringing and my treatment was just not very humane. And I struggled through a lot even in my adult years to be even just remotely acknowledged by my mother, and it just never happened for me.

Watson: I don’t even want to say, but was your grandmother able to give you some of that love that maybe your mom wasn’t in a position yet to give you?

Moore: Absolutely. Yes, 100 percent. She’s just my angel. I mean, she was my angel. She’s the only mother that I ever knew, and she was an incredible woman and I just lost her in 2017.

From Miss USA to Actress

Watson: What do you think would have happened to you if you had not been named Miss USA? I mean, I’m assuming that that was a big break and that that created a lot of additional opportunities. But if you play that sliding-doors game for a second, what would have happened to you if you had not been selected?

Moore: Well, I had been modeling before that, just locally in Detroit, and then I started to get some large national campaigns. So I probably would have just modeled and then just to see where that would have led me. I had gone to college. I wanted to be a child psychologist. I don’t know if that would have panned out or not. I think I had to make a hard decision between psychology and performing arts, which I think all of this is anyway. I think being onstage, whether it’s television or reality, or whether it’s movies, or a play, dance, I just think it’s all a performing arts situation. So half of my heart is most definitely fulfilled in that area.

Watson: Interesting. So do you see yourself as an actress, as someone whether you call it reality TV or not, do you think of what you’re asked to do is to be an outstanding actress?

Moore: Well, I acted. After my reign was over from Miss USA, I acted in Hollywood for over 25 years. I mean, I’ve been on shows with huge celebrities, your Angela Bassetts, I don’t know, your LL Cool J’s, TV shows, your Loretta Devines. I mean, a lot of huge actors that I tremendously respect, and some that I’ve hired as a producer. So, for me, it’s just, that was my path, and when it comes to reality, I think, yeah, you do make situations bigger than they are. You’re not acting, because it’s not a scripted show, but you certainly are put in situations that are not organic. You’re not going to go on a trip with people that you don’t like, you know what I mean, every year?

Tea on Phaedra

Watson: So do you really, truly not like [former co-star] Phaedra [Parks]?

Moore: Phaedra hasn’t been on our show for, is it three or four seasons now? I mean, yeah, it’s been awhile. And, listen, for me, time forgives and heals all wounds. I think when things don’t happen, sometimes it’s just born from being hurt, and I think that those wounds can heal with anyone.

Watson: Tell me a little bit more about reality TV, because it’s interesting. When I think about it now, I think it’s been one of the most interesting business inventions of the last decade or two. I mean, I think they’re incredibly successful as TV franchises. I feel like they make each of you, and each of you make yourselves really significant stars even beyond that. I feel like all of you.

Moore: On our show?

Watson: Yeah. Oh, you think Atlanta is particularly distinctive?

Moore: Yeah, because the Real Housewives franchise I believe made stars. If you think of other franchises, they came after. They’re like facsimiles of our show, even the formatting, the casting, all women as the cast of the show, having reunions. They’re all facsimiles of Real Housewives, and in that broad series, whether it’s New York or whether it’s OC or whether it’s Atlanta, we’ve had the ability to showcase our businesses because we are Housewives, and I don’t think any other show did that before us. And you have millionaires being born from being on our shows. You have Bethenny Frankel, who became a millionaire overnight. I think she made something like a $70 million deal and ended up on the cover of Forbes from Real Housewives of New York.

So with that being said, it’s an amazing platform if you have a successful business to launch, promote, manage, grow. And I think that I fit in, seeing that I’ve launched a multimillion-dollar brand from this show. Kenya Moore Haircare is in over 2,200 stores. We’re expanding to Walmart next year, and another huge retailer. And that’s all within three years of me launching the brand.

Dulcé Sloan on Where She Gets Her Funny From

Stand-up comedian, actress and writer Dulcé Sloan has a new podcast called That Blackass Show, is the voice of Honeybee Shaw in The Great North and drops in to The Carlos Watson Show to talk about her rise to the top out of a correspondent gig at The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. The full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.

Starting Off

Carlos Watson: OK. Dulcé, well, it’s always nice to see you and welcome to the show.

Dulcé Sloan: Thank you for having me. Nice to see you too.

Watson: Now, I can’t remember if you told me you were funny as a kid. Did you have that funny gene in junior high and high school?

Sloan: I think so, because I’ve had different people that I’ve gone to high school with say that on Facebook. They’re like, “Oh, you were so funny in school. This makes perfect sense.” And I was like, “Was I funny in school?” We had class clowns. I wasn’t a class clown, because I was like, “This is going to get me in trouble.” So I knew I couldn’t get in trouble at school, so I didn’t pull any of that class-clown stuff. But, I would say stuff, but I wasn’t like, “Hey, everybody. Look at me.” Nah, man. That would get you written up, and a write-up was trouble at home. So, no, I might’ve said something slick, but I wasn’t cracking jokes all day, I don’t think.

Watson: So what were you on a path to becoming? If I had talked to you in high school, what did you think you were going to do?

Sloan: Acting.

My mother said I kind of was always like that. I don’t even remember doing this. She said when I was about 4 years old, we were in a doctor’s office, I think either in Atlanta or Colorado, when we lived in Colorado. I had these shoes on. I was just clicking and clacking around this doctor’s office, pretending I could tap dance, and this lady sitting in the waiting room, she’s like, “Oh, you’re tap-dancing. You’re very good.” And my mother said I turned to her and said, “And I never had a lesson.” And I’m just click, click, click, click, click, click, click, just around this doctor’s office.

She said I’ve always been a performer. And I don’t remember doing that. But I was only 6 years old and I just said to my mother one day, I was like, “I’m going to be an actor.” And she was like, “OK. Well, what are you going to do to achieve that?” And I was like, “I don’t know.” So, I did chorus in school. So I started singing when I was around 10, doing chorus. In middle school, I did theater. In high school, I did theater and chorus. In college, I got a theater degree. So I’ve always been a performer. Decided when I was a kid. I was like, “This is what I’m doing.”

Watson: And was there ever a plan B? What would have happened if it hadn’t worked?

Sloan: There wasn’t a plan B.

Just because I couldn’t imagine … I couldn’t do … anything else. I just couldn’t. And it’s just something that just stuck and I’ve always had it because my uncle’s a performer. My uncle’s been singing professionally longer than I’ve been alive.

My mother did some performing when she was a kid. She was in a dance troupe. She sang. My uncle, he had a group, and now he’s a professional singer. So it was just something that I always had. Plus, my mother never told me to have a plan B. She was like, “If this is what you’re going to do, put all your energy in it.”

Big Break

Watson: There must be a backstory, because lots of people have a dream, but don’t always make that dream come true. What was your break? Did you have a big break? Did you have a special mentor? Was there some crazy opportunity that happened? How did you end up breaking through?

Sloan: Well, people ask performers that question a lot, and the only answer I can give you is favor isn’t fair, is the real answer. Favor isn’t fair. There are other people who are as talented as me that aren’t getting the breaks that I’m getting. Honestly, comics will ask me, and it’s like, “I can’t give you cheat codes. I can’t. I don’t …” because this isn’t one of those jobs where it’s input in and input out. You know what I mean?

All you can do, especially when it comes to entertainment and stand-up and acting and singing and all of this is, all you can do is just work as hard as you possibly can because you don’t know. I think that’s where the term “star quality” comes from because, just as a comic, you could watch certain people and go, “This person’s very funny,” and then you get frustrated. It’s like, “Well, why aren’t they getting late-night? Why aren’t they getting this? Why aren’t they getting that?”

The fact of the matter is, there’s just something in you as a person that is that thing, that is that spark that people want to see, because I’ve seen very funny comics, but I didn’t want to watch them, if that makes sense.

The Daily Show

Watson: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned while being on The Daily Show? And I mean that in a wide-open way, because, yeah, what have you learned? What’s the most interesting thing or two you’ve learned from your experience being on The Daily Show?

Sloan: I think the most interesting thing that I’ve learned is that the entertainment industry is still a very … The way that the show works is still a very well-kept secret.

Watson: What do you mean?

Sloan: Because there’s so many people, even other comics who don’t know how anything works. It’s one of the few shows that I’ve seen where it’s more than just a writer’s room and the stage. You’re way more involved with all of the other production aspects of it.

Funny From Family

Watson: Wait, now your mom, who I know and I love, even though I only met her once, is she as funny as you are?

Sloan: Yeah, my mother’s a goofball, but my grandma was goofy too. When we were kids, my mother loved the movie Mortal Kombat, so I remember me and my brother playing in our room and it’s dead quiet. We’re just playing, being kids. My mother kicks the door and goes, “Mortal Kombat,” and then just walks away like nothing happened. And we’re like, “What?” And she’s like, “What?” “Why’d you just kick in —” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then she just went back in the living room.