Designer Nate Willis: “The Man Behind Drake’s Owl Design”

Nate Willis won big at the 2011 BET Awards. No, the South Central Los Angeles native didn’t take home a trophy. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even attend the show. But when superstar rapper Drake hopped on stage to accept an award, rocking a black sweater with a gold owl emblazoned on the front from Willis’ FLAUCY clothing line, the designer and his fledgling neo-urban apparel enterprise were thrust into the spotlight.

“The next morning, I googled ‘Drake and owl’ and discovered tons of people talking about the sweater on their blogs and social media,” recalls the 33-year-old. “There was so much feedback. And to know that the idea actually came out of my head and that I printed that in my garage—that changed my confidence. They say your network is your net worth. Somebody that I knew happened to know Drake, and he just happened to be a stylist. It was perfect timing.”

But FLAUCY is no overnight success story.

Long before Willis was the CEO and founder of a successful clothing company, the devout sneakerhead toiled away as a salesperson in stores like Nordstrom, Foot Locker and Foot Action before landing an internship with FUBU, which led to his first Magic Market Place tradeshow experience.

“I saw all the retail companies that I was working for actually coming to Magic to buy products,” says Willis, who stayed dressed to the nines as a youngster and often reaped praise for his sharp duds from the ladies at his church. “That’s when I realized there were ways to climb the corporate ladder in retail that didn’t [involve] being a salesperson on the sales floor. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a distributor.”

Shortly thereafter, he created FLAUCY (F-ashion L-ifestyle A-rts U-nifying C-ultured Y-outh). More than a clothing line, Willis calls his edgy, budget-conscious street wear designs a colorblind, culture-rich movement targeted to the youth-driven consumer market. Since its debut on national television, FLAUCY has gone on to woo high profile buyers and witness a sevenfold increase in the number of retail outlets that carry its merchandise.

“My sell-through report was at 70% for a good nine months [after the awards],” says Willis. “This time last year I was in 80 stores. Right now we’re filling orders for roughly 600 stores to deliver by November. It’s one thing to see your product on a celebrity, but to see your shirts flying off the shelves from a credible retailer…that’s when the light clicked.”

A slew of athletes and entertainers such as Swizz Beatz, Sean Kingston, Kendrick Lamar and Soulja Boy have lined their closets with FLAUCY baseball tees, tank tops, sweatshirts and, of course, the owl sweater, which has become a bestselling staple.

“This year I stepped it up,” says Willis. “I’ve got satin-silk bomber jackets, men’s button down shirts, and crewnecks with patchwork and embroidery. I’m segueing into accessories, and I have a line of eyewear and sneakers coming out in the spring as well.”

Other brand extensions include Money Gang, a line inspired by Hip Hop recording artist The Game, and FLAUCY QUEENS, a sporty, chic women’s line co-designed by Parisian contemporary designers, the Sachika Twins.

“People are always like, ‘oh, you need a lot of money to start a brand.’ Actually, you need concept and product,” says Willis, who cites fellow self-taught designer Karl Kani as a trailblazer and close mentor he can turn to for advice and feedback. “And obviously you need connections but most of all you need God and timing. And on that day, God and timing came into play.”

 

Tyrese Gibson on Filmmaking and Picking Up Where Jodeci Left Off

Tyrese Gibson got his start crooning jingles on a bus in a Coca-Cola commercial.  Now with nearly 20 years of showbiz experience behind him as an actor and a singer, the superstar who often goes by simply Tyrese, has gone back to his soda pop roots as a celebrity mentor to six young filmmakers as part of the Sprite Films program.  Since 1998, the program has given student filmmakers from colleges and universities across the country the opportunity to showcase their talents on a national stage. On September 5, a panel of renowned film industry professionals will select the winning film, which will be shown in select theatres this November.

Tyrese took a break from shooting his latest film to talk with BlackEnterprise.com about mentoring the next generation of moviemakers, his own filmmaking ambitions—and his mission to bring true R&B back to the masses.

As a mentor in the Sprite Films competition, what type of wisdom did you impart to the participants?

I was there to offer clarity and help them work through certain things. I think a lot of times people don’t think beyond the moment. It can be very discouraging if you don’t win. You can go home and start to doubt yourself. I had to remind them that some of the biggest stars who started on Star Search, American Idol and some of these other shows end up being way bigger whether they made the final cut or not. I would offer small tidbits to remind everyone how blessed and fortunate they were to be finalists.

Do you have any filmmaking ambitions?

I do. I actually just told a friend of mine that if they’re going to do anything for me for Christmas or my birthday— to put me through film school. I want to do a four-month course of some type—just get away and start having some fun playing with the cameras. Of course I’ve done plenty of movies and I’ve seen the gist of what happens and how it all works, but I want to see everything through a director’s point of view.

As a director, what genres are you most interested in directing?

I think the dramas are a little easy for me right now, and then eventually you want to lighten it up and get into some funny stuff.  I want to do something that may be a little dark and then go to the next level after that.

You have a great relationship with director John Singleton. Is he someone you look up to as a mentor and director?

Oh, absolutely. John Singleton changed my life forever. I was just talking to him on the phone last night.

How do you juggle both your film and music career?

Scheduling is everything. I think a lot of people get overwhelmed with doing so many things at one time. I’ve always been a multitasker, and ultimately I just love what I do. So, I don’t look at it as work.

Reel Talk with Charles Dutton about ‘The Obama Effect’

Charles Dutton in character on the set of 'The Obama Effect.'

It could be the title or maybe it’s the timing (or a combination of both) that has actor Charles S. Dutton fielding hard-hitting questions and refuting accusations about his new film The Obama Effect. Some right-wing republican blogs have accused his small, independent movie of being a Hollywood-financed project. While others question if the dramedy about a man obsessed with getting President Obama elected into office is really a propaganda film.

“I would hope that they would think before they talk,” says the Emmy Award winning director and actor of his skeptics. “If this was a Hollywood financed movie, do they think for a second that we would only be releasing in eight cities? Nor did we go to the Obama cabinet or the Obama super PAC to get money to do the film. There wasn’t a nickel of Hollywood money or Obama money used to produce the film. I didn’t want to be dictated to by a Hollywood studio or the Obama campaign about how I should create and direct a picture about the first black President of The United States.”

However, Dutton, who made the film on a shoestring budget over the course of the president’s first two years in office, is unabashed about the movie’s pro-Obama stance. He was inspired by the hype and fervor that permeated the 2008 presidential election, and wanted to be the first to capture the historical event on film.

“When [Obama] won, there was so much polarization and division and emotion and passion and euphoria. I got excited about wanting to do something that depicted that moment in time. I’m a child of the 60s. I know the passion of the decade, and the Obama phenomenon reminded me of that,” says the 61-year-old Baltimore native. “That kind of fever comes along once in a lifetime. The last time Americans experienced that was in 1961 with John F. Kennedy.”

In the film, Dutton plays an insurance salesman, who suddenly takes an overwhelming interest in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign after a serious health scare changes his view on life. He becomes so engulfed; he neglects his wife, children and job—and learns a few life lessons along the way. The plot sounds somber, but don’t be fooled. The last thing Dutton wanted to do was make a staid political movie.

“I didn’t want to write King Lear,” jokes Dutton, who wore triple hats as the film’s star, writer and director—a creative experience he likens to washing a battleship with a Q-tip. “I didn’t want to make it a serious film because I never viewed the election as a heavy situation. I wanted to have fun with it.”

Unhappy with the first cut of the film because the ending came off too bleak, Dutton made the audacious decision to lighten up the vibe by casting Katt Williams as a staunch, well-to-do Republican, who’s struggling with his political ideals.

“We brought Katt in and he does a terrific job in the movie,” says Dutton. “He’s not just doing a standup routine. He’s really doing a character.”

Rounding out the cast is Vanessa Bell Calloway, Meagan Good, Glynn Turman and boxer Zab Judah in his acting debut. As the next election looms, Dutton hopes that the film will remind people that there’s still a lot of work left to do.

“The fight isn’t over,” he says. “If they thought 2008 was about history, well 2012 is about survival. You need to get out there and do the same thing you did the first time around.”

But even if it doesn’t drive people to the polls, Dutton takes pride in knowing that his film has set the bar for the slew of other Obama-themed productions bound to come.

“We have people coming out of theatre in tears, remembering where they were the night it was announced that we had our first African-American president,” he says. “We captured that in the film. So, I guess I’m tied to cinematic history with the first black president, and in that regard I’m very excited and very proud.”

The Obama Effect is playing in select cities now.

 

Sophistication: How to Entertain with Scotch

Who said Scotch is only for hoity-toity businessmen, who rock smoking jackets and puff on expensive cigars? In recent years, the popular spirit, which was once a beverage only consumed by men 45 and older, has become a viable drink option for women and young bar patrons worldwide. Brands like The Macallan, a premium single malt Scotch established in the 1800s, are on a mission to convert younger generations, and debunk the myth that you’ve got to be long in the tooth to enjoy the hooch. “My aim is to move away from the stereotype that Scotch is made only for an older demographic by raising awareness among young professionals, who enjoy quality products and the finer things in life,” says Charles Whitfield, The Macallan Brand Ambassador.

In honor of National Scotch Day, Blackenterprise.com has compiled a quick primer on the centuries-old libation. From its ingredients, malts and price points to food pairings and innovative summer cocktail recipes you can create at your next party, we take the intimidation factor out of experimenting with the world’s number one internationally traded spirit drink. So, the next time you’re at happy hour, put down the tequila, push the vodka to the side and swill some Scotch instead—and leave your smoking jacket at home.

Cheers!

Single Malt vs. Blended Scotch
Before you plop down on a barstool at your favorite pub, ready to knock back a dram of Scotch, you need to know what you’re drinking.

Legally, to be called Scotch whisky, it has to be made in Scotland and matured in oak casks for at least three years. Single malt Scotch is made from a single distillery using water, malted barely and yeast. A blended Scotch, which makes up about 90% of all Scotch made, is created using a combination of single malts and is mixed with grain or corn whisky and comes from multiple distilleries.

How to Taste
Save the shooters for tequila night. Sipping Scotch should be a slow, revelatory experience that starts with your sense of smell. “Make sure you nose your Scotch first,” says Whitfield, “as your nose is your most powerful sensory organ.” After you’ve awakened your senses, Whitfield suggests that a novice sip their Scotch neat to enjoy it in its purest form. You can also add a couple drops of water into the glass to help unlock the flavors and aromas, which can range from subtle, sweet and fruity to bold, robust and smoky. Scotch on the rocks is refreshing, especially during hot summer months, but the ice will slightly numb the flavors.

Price Points
Like any alcohol, Scotch is available in various qualities and prices. If you’re going for a less expensive option (blended Scotch is cheaper than single malts), Whitfield recommends The Famous Grouse. A bottle of the number one blended Scotch in Scotland will run you about $25 at your local liquor store.

Feeling fancy? Try Highland Park 12 YO ($40-$50 per bottle), a single malt known for its intense honey and light smoky notes and sweet aromas.

The Macallan, arguably one of the most luxurious single malts around, is at the premium end of single malt Scotch. A bottle of The Macallan 12 YO Sherry Oak will set you back about $60. If you’re not ready to commit to an entire bottle just yet, a glass of The Macallan in a bar or restaurant will cost around $14.

Food Pairings
Believe it or not, Scotch is similar to wine when it comes to pairing with food. “You should try to match the style of the food with the Scotch,” advises Whitfield. “The lighter, more refreshing style of The Macallan Fine Oak goes great with mild cheeses like brie, milk chocolate, fish dishes and salads. The richer more complex dried fruit, sweet spice notes of The Macallan Sherry Oak go great with smoky blue cheeses, dark chocolate, red meat and rich desserts, especially sticky toffee pudding, [which is] my personal favorite.”

Go to the next page for fun, easy cocktail recipes you can try at home!

Adesola Osakalumi: Broadway’s New Fela

It’s no coincidence that actor and choreographer Adesola Osakalumi (pronounced ah-day-SHOW-la • O-sa-ka-LU-mee) landed the part of internationally revered Nigerian-born musician, composer and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. It’s a role he was destined to play.

“In the 70s, my father and uncles had a record label called Makossa Records, which was the first label to distribute Fela’s music in North America,” explains Osakalumi. “I went in knowing a lot about Fela. I knew most of the music, and I was able to get a lot of personal inside anecdotes about him. So I feel like in that regard, I was a little bit ahead.”

In 2009, FELA!, the hit musical, in which Osakalumi was cast as an ensemble member and the understudy for Fela played by Sahr Ngaujah, debuted on Broadway to rave reviews, and went on to win three Tony Awards.  After 14 months on Broadway, the show hit the road to embark on a world tour with Osakalumi in the title role of the melodic innovator who created Afrobeat music in the 60s.  Currently, the show, which is produced by Hollywood heavyweights Will and Jada Smith and music titans Jay-Z and ?uestlove of The Roots, is back on Broadway for a 32-show limited engagement through August 4.

“Being back in New York, I think a lot of people who saw the show want to reconnect with it,” says Osakalumi, who is the product of West Indian parents, but was born and raised in New York City. “And a lot of people didn’t get to see it, so opening night was a combination of old friends who know you, and new folks who have heard about the excitement and the hype.”

To keep up with the grueling eight-show-a-week schedule and the demands of the fast paced production—the role requires him to act, sing, dance and interact with the audience all while remaining a permanent fixture on stage throughout the entire two hour and twenty minute show—Osakalumi works out five times a week and adheres to a strict vocal rest schedule.

“I try not to talk a lot because doing the show is really, really hard on the voice,” he says.  “And emotionally, you run the gamut. You’re all over the place from joy, sensuality, anger and hurt. So after the show, I try to take a few moments to let Fela go and get back to myself.”

While there’s talk of the show travelling to Australia, Brazil and Japan, right now, Osakalumi—who loves to keep his performance fresh and the band on their toes by throwing in adlibs and hitting different notes during the crowd-pleasing drum-thumping numbers segment—is focused on bringing Fela’s universal story to New York City theatergoers by painting a well-rounded depiction of a man who was more than just a rebel-rouser.

“Fela was prophetic in what he was saying because 30 years later, the issues that he talked about still exist, not just in Nigeria, but throughout the world,” he says. “People can relate to the show because he’s a real live human being, not someone’s fictionalized character. He had a rich and colorful life, and his music is infectious and incredible. To think: 30 odd years after my family had a big hand in Fela’s introduction to The West, now I’m in the show playing the title role. It’s quite an honor.”

Black Blogger Month: From Ashy to Classy, The Culture Connoisseur

Darryl Frierson, founder of From Ashy to Classy

A self-described “normal brother who’s on the road to extraordinary things,” Darryl Frierson uses his blog, From Ashy to Classy, as a vehicle to pontificate on serious hot-button topics. On the pulse of the Web, he’s tackled everything from the Trayvon Martin case to seriously funny pop culture missteps like the Mary J. Blige Burger King fiasco. In fact, it’s the 31-year-old’s ability to offer musings on just about any topic—from an exploration on how a baby mama can become a wife to the untold stories of Black cowboys—that helps his two-year-old blog generate a respectable 20,000 page views per month and elicit dozens of thought-provoking comments from loyal readers on a weekly basis.

The Chicago born, St. Louis raised writer’s most popular succession are The Marcus Graham Chronicles, a brutally honest account of Frierson’s own relationship implosions, which happen to coincide with his affinity for the movie Boomerang and the main character, Marcus Graham, played by Eddie Murphy. The often funny, introspective series won him the Black Weblog Award for Best Blog Post Series and Best Culture Blog in 2011. In celebration of Black Blogger Month, BlackEnterprise.com spoke with Frierson about his approachable writing style and why the blogger is the modern day preserver of Black culture.

I started blogging…

As a dare to myself. I was working on my book and I started thinking, “Why would anyone want to read my book? Let me start this blog just to get my name out there.” And oh, did my name get out there! I totally believe that life is better than fiction and that is the main inspiration for my blog.

From Ashy to Classy stands out from other blogs because…

I push people’s thoughts and ideas. I want to make my readers take one idea or principle and flip it on its head. My blog also has so many different topics and stories. You come to From Ashy to Classy and you don’t know what you are going to see. I may be talking about the history of Black hockey players one day, the next day a post about the orgasm being a man’s moment of clarity.

It’s important for the Black blogosphere to speak out on topics like Trayvon

Martin because…

If anyone knows that media can be slanted and biased, it’s us [bloggers]. It’s a throwback to the era of Black newspapers being in every city and town across the country because issues that affected us weren’t covered [by mainstream outlets].

A blogger’s voice has power because…

We can build up people, educate, inspire, and make this world a bit more humorous and brighter.

It’s important to preserve Black culture in the digital age because…

Our culture is going farther and farther away from physical books and brick and mortar libraries. We as Black bloggers become the historians, storytellers, and bookmarkers of Black culture.

The purpose of the Marcus Graham Chronicles is…

A way for me to try and deconstruct my own relationships; give my readers more insight into my personal relationships; and give an honest and introspective vision of relationships from a male perspective.

Click here to continue reading…

Black Blogger Month: SingleBlackMale.org, Think Like a Man

Slim Jackson, executive editor for SingleBlackMale.org

Although he doesn’t consider himself a relationship expert, Slim Jackson is one of several authors behind the smart, tongue-in-cheek relationship blog, SingleBlackMale.org. The site has become a popular stomping ground for men who need guidance on dealing with the fairer sex and women who want a glimpse into the psyche of the uncommitted man. With topics ranging from sex, love and dating to sports, entertainment and pop culture, Jackson, 29, who serves as the site’s executive editor, along with SBM’s team of opinionated gentlemen, have cultivated a home where the Black man’s perspective reigns supreme and honest advice is dispensed in clever, easy to digest prose.

In 2011, SBM took home two Black Weblog Awards (Best Blog Design; Best Blog Post Series); was featured on Ebony magazine’s Power 100 List; and appeared on The Michael Baisden Show to discuss monogamy in relationships. As part of Black Blogger Month, the Albany, NY native tells BlackEnterise.com why connecting with readers means more to him than page views, and how running a successful relationship blog sometimes puts a damper on his dating life.

I started blogging because…

I’ve always loved writing. It’s been the way that I express myself best since elementary school. When I started my first personal blog, I fell in love with writing online. Even though I’ve always had a day job, writing and running Websites have been my passions.

The overhead for this blogging business costs about…

$100 [per] month; between my personal site [TheRealSlimJackson.com] and SBM. There are some premium services and features we have that make things a bit more costly. In the last year, we’ve spent around $1,000 with technical assistance, redesign, migrations [and] premium services. If you’re serious about blogging, pay to do what you don’t do well. It’ll save you time that’ll be better spent elsewhere.

The pros of working with a team of writers as opposed to running a blog solo are…

It allows you to generate more content on a weekly basis and take breaks when necessary. Having a team of writers is great. Writer’s block and burnout are very real. The biggest challenge of having a team of writers is keeping everybody motivated and on the same page.

SingleBlackMale.org is different than other relationship blogs because of…

The diversity of perspective. We have a core team of six male writers, but we’re growing. Some might see that diversity as a challenge, which it can be for building a consistent brand, but I see it as a core competency—an advantage. We’re able to reach so many different types of people because we’re all at different stages in our lives.

People trust the Single Black Male brand because…

We’re honest. Some people love us for it. Others hate us for it. We don’t write for clicks or page views. We write authentically from the heart and mind.

Click here to continue reading and to watch Jackson’s video interview…

Mike Tyson Decoded: How He Earned (And Squandered) a $300 Million Fortune

(Image: Getty)

In his prime, Mike Tyson was one of the most celebrated athletes of all time. Through out the ’80s and ’90s, there wasn’t a professional boxer in the world who held a candle to his razor sharp precision. His trademark right hook, uppercut combo knocked out the biggest names in the sport, earning him the nickname “Iron Mike.” With the distinction of being the youngest heavyweight-boxing champion in history, he pulled in a $300 million fortune. But over the years, Tyson’s boxing career unraveled and he became better known for his antics outside of the ring.

Arrested 38 times since 1986 for everything from DUI to rape, the once-undisputed heavyweight champion of the world made fans believe he was down for the count. But after retiring from boxing in 2006, a down-and-out Tyson began to make a name for himself in Hollywood. In 2008, he was the subject of the stirring, self-titled documentary, Tyson. One year later he received praise for his comedic cameo in The Hangover (2009), and again in its sequel, The Hangover Part II (2011). He recently took on a short stint as a reality star in Animal Planet’s, Taking on Tyson (2011), which chronicled his interest in pigeon racing.

Today (April 13), the 45-year-old will return to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for six days to take the stage at the Hollywood Theater, where he’ll star in an 80-minute, one-man show about his storied past called Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth—Live on Stage. From jail cells to the big screen, BlackEnterprise.com Decodes the prominence of the former champ from his heyday to now, examining the bouts and endorsements that made him a multi-million-dollar superstar athlete, and the reckless decisions that marred his life and stripped him of his fortune.

Click here to continue reading…