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  • Merryl Tengesdal Released Her Book: Shatter the Sky

    By Sheryl Dolley “Shatter the Sky: What going to the stratosphere taught me about self-worth, sacrifice, and discipline” “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, author Merryl Tengesdal, has become one of the most interesting and compelling maverick women in aviation. In this inspirational memoir, retired Colonel Merryl Tengesdal shares her Life Lessons on everything from her career in the military, being the first and only black woman to pilot the U2 aircraft, to marriage and motherhood – and everything in between. This book is a deep reflection on life in the military, with mesmerizing storytelling. Merryl invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her - from her childhood in the Bronx, to her years deployed in the Middle East, South America, and Asia, to her experience on the hit reality show Tough As Nails. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her life as she lived it - in her own words and on her own terms. With wisdom and warmth, Shatter the Sky is the deeply personal story of a woman of substance who has steadily defied expectations - and whose story inspires us to do the same.” The Power Of A Woman With Aspirations Merryl Tengesdal is a retired career military officer. She is the first and only Black woman to fly the United States Air Force’s U-2 spy plane used for specialized high-altitude reconnaissance missions. She is one of five women and three African Americans to be in the U-2 Program. She is called “The Dragon Lady”, like the powerful plane she flew. A military veteran, aviator, commander who served in the US Navy and the US Air Force, Tengesdal is a role model and an American Hero. She served in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan. She was deployed to multiple locations in support of Operations OLIVE HARVEST, ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and HORN OF AFRICA. While stationed at Beale AFB the first time, she held the positions of 9th Reconnaissance Wing (9th RW) Chief of Flight Safety and 9th Physiological Support Squadron Director of Operations. After her tour at Beale AFB, Tengesdal became the Detachment Commander of Detachment 2 WR/ALC Palmdale, California, where she was in charge of flight test and Program Depot Maintenance for the U-2S aircraft. Tengesdal worked at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) J8 staff. As Chief of Studies and Assessments Branch, she was responsible for developing the Command's position on capability gap assessment(s), development, and integration for senior-level documents submitted to the Joint Staff. She served as Director of Inspections for The Air Force Inspector General, then retired at the rank of United States Air Force Colonel. In 2017, Tengesdal retired from the Air Force as a colonel, with more than 3,400 flight hours and 330 combat hours. Over 1,000 of those flight hours are in the U-2. It is inspiring to look closely at this child of a single mother from the Bronx. At seven, she was asked what she wanted to be. Instead of the ballerina or movie star normal “girl” answer, she firmly stated that she wanted to be an astronaut. She was enchanted with Star Trek, the “strange new world” and the dream of somewhere “off the planet”. She was competitive and driven to achieve something extraordinary. Authentic and humble, Tengesdal never looked for shortcuts. She assessed the requirements and systematically accomplished each level. With confidence and unrelenting drive, she put the good work in to rise above, to accomplish and reach exceptional. Confidence and unrelenting drive built her success and became a mantra for the people she mentors. “Don’t be afraid to be unapologetically you”. She encourages others to “use your gifts”. She is more than a war hero, an author, a mentor, and an example. She is a powerhouse, inspiring others to aim high and achieve remarkable goals. Awards and decorations

  • Cheryl Cooley Remains the Heartbeat Behind the Legendary Group KLYMAXX

    by Devyn Imholt Cheryl Cooley is a musician and guitarist who was part of the legendary all-female RnB group KLYMAXX. Raised in Los Angeles, California, Cheryl knew from a young age that music was going to play an intricate role in her life. In a discussion with Cheryl, I was able to learn about the twists and turns within the journey of KLYMAXX and how Cheryl has been able to keep the band’s legacy alive. As a child, Cheryl would receive a toy guitar every other Christmas from her parents. No one in her family had ever been part of the music business until her older sister married a musician. One Christmas, while tuning her toy guitar, Cheryl’s sister suggested that she begin taking guitar lessons. Cheryl began these guitar lessons at eleven years old, going on to study orchestration, arrangement, and composition at Crenshaw High School. Inspired by the bands she saw on TV, Cheryl recognized that she wanted to make music her profession. After graduating high school, Cheryl went to LA City College where she received a degree in Commercial Music. Following her time in school, Cheryl began to play in various community bands. At the time, women becoming professional musicians was uncommon. Cheryl explained that she was discouraged by many male musicians who didn’t believe that she could turn her dreams into reality. Of this kind of treatment, Cheryl explained that “it didn’t discourage me because I just knew deep within me that I was going to be a professional musician someday.” Eventually, Cheryl would strike gold as she met a group of girls trying to create an all-female RnB group called KLYMAXX. In 1979, Cheryl met the other girls at a rehearsal studio in Hollywood and quickly recognized that they were on to something special. The group didn’t have the formula to follow in terms of other all-female RnB groups, so instead, they focused on having fun and making the best music that they could create. Eventually, through a connection at her day job, Cheryl was able to present a demo tape of KLYMAXX’s earliest work to Solar Records A&R Margaret Nash. The tape featured a song written by Cheryl, the group’s single “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman,” which would become the title track from the group’s debut project by the same name. Margaret loved the group and thus, the signing process to Solar Records was a quick and easy one as KLYMAXX was signed a few months after sending the tape. Their debut album Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman was released in 1981. This was followed up by their sophomore release Girls Will Be Girls in 1982. Even though these first two records had not been commercially successful, Solar Records kept KLYMAXX, knowing that the group was special. After Solar teamed up with MCA as their new distributor, things would take a positive turn for KLYMAXX. In 1984 KLYMAXX released their third project, Meeting in the Ladies Room which featured their biggest commercial records such as “The Men All Pause,” and “I Miss You” (a top 5 Billboard charting hit). This project became the group’s breakthrough project, propelling them to a new level of stardom in the music industry. Following the success of this record, the group would release two more projects Klymaxx and The Maxx is Back before disbanding in 1990. When I asked Cheryl what it was like to be a member of one of the hottest musical groups in the 80s, she explained that “it was an expected part of her life.” Since she had dreamed of musical success since she was a child, once it came it felt as if the “world had finally opened up to her ideas.” After the group disbanded there was a sort of ten-year break where KLYMAXX was inactive. During this period, Cheryl entered into the world of construction trades, becoming an electrician. Although it was an unforeseen part of the plan, becoming an electrician would play a role in KLYMAXX’s comeback. Using her newfound skills, Cheryl was able to build her own rehearsal room in her home, allowing the group to rehearse freely without time constraints. By the time the 2000s had come, various “Old School” tours reunited iconic groups from the past, allowing KLYMAXX to go back out on the road. Cheryl described KLYMAXX’s ability to continue to perform into the 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s as “unforeseen.” For Cheryl, it is spiritually uplifting to watch as the crowd “screams and hollers just like they did in the 80s.” Despite varying opinions on the group, Cheryl has remained the member that has kept KLYMAXX’s legacy alive. In 2015 Cheryl released two different live projects, Klymaxx Live and KLYMAXX Featuring Cheryl Cooley Live. Even today, Cheryl continues to perform the group’s iconic music as she keeps the heartbeat of KLYMAXX pumping. Known as the person behind the scenes, Cheryl can compose, write, and arrange songs, building them from the ground up. Cheryl has a passion for creating both in music and life, as her musical expertise allows her to create sonic masterpieces while her electrical skills also allow her to build physical objects. In 2021 KLYMAXX was inducted into The Women Songwriters Hall of Fame, being honored for the group’s talent and impactful creation as one of the first all-female RnB groups. This helped to acknowledge the societal footprint that KLYMAXX was able to have, empowering and inspiring female musicians from all over the world. Cheryl explained that this impact was unintentional and they were simply “having fun” and writing music based on “their own experiences.” Over the years, Cheryl has heard from numerous fans about how the group’s music has played a significant role in their lives. Cheryl described the impact that her music has been able to have as “heartwarming” and “amazing.” When asking Cheryl about what the future will bring she told me that “we will see what 2023 brings but I think that you will be amazed.” Cheryl is rumored to be working on a new musical project, an EP that could potentially be released in the coming year. Cheryl has also been the topic of a new book to be released in the future, detailing her personal journey as well as that of KLYMAXX. Cheryl’s passion for her work was evident in the discussion with her, as she made it clear that she will be continuing to create riveting music for a long time to come.

  • Derrick Butts Speaks on his life, his passion for speaking, and his company AssistU2Win

    by Devyn Imholt Derrick Butts is a motivational speaker, sales professional, master communicator, and CEO/founder of AssistU2Win. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with him about his life, his passions, and his professional experience. Q: Can you tell me about growing up in Arlington? Who did you grow up around, what were your interests, and who were your influences? A: My dad was in the military, the air force. My dad and my mother were married. I grew up with my older brother and sister, I’m the baby of the three. Arlington was the place where my Dad ended up retiring. I was in the seventh grade when we moved to Arlington, went to Bowls Junior High, and then to James Martin High School, Arlington Martin. I played sports all throughout my childhood. I was a baseball player then I converted over, in sixth grade, to basketball. I didn’t see a lot of black kids playing baseball, so my eighth-grade year was my last year playing baseball, and then I switched over to playing basketball. I won a lot of accolades in the basketball world, I was an All-State player here in Texas, also had plenty of college scholarship offers. I was the district MVP for 9-5A. One of my main influences at the time was inside of a youth ministry, his name was Scott Wilson. Scott inspired me so much to the place that I knew that I had some kind of call to speak and impact people’s lives with motivation, with my mouth, and with just speaking. I turned down lots of basketball scholarships to go into full-time ministry. I soon became the chaplain of South Eclipse High School. I started a Bible club with eight people and we had over 150 people come into that. Finished college, I planted a church at the end of my senior year called Chosen Generation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Pastored that church for 6-7 years. I transitioned out of that, went to education, and taught school for three years in Duncanville Independent School District at Akron Elementary, I taught fourth grade. From there, I taught school for three years. I wanted to make some more money and I got into sales. I saw an ad in the paper about auto sales, I never did it before but knew that I wanted to make additional money. They were advertising double the money that I made at the school district so I said ‘let me go do this.’ I did that, and within four months, I made more money than I did all year teaching. For about twenty years of my life, I’ve been inside of sales at AutoNation, I was one of the only African Americans in the DFW to be a general manager of a store. That’s kind of that. [laughing] I think I gave you a lot more than just the childhood. Q: That was a great overview, though. From that, I have so many different questions. Let’s go back, first, so you said you started out with baseball and ended up with basketball, what positions did you play in both of those sports? A: So, baseball, I was a shortstop and pitcher. In basketball, I was a point guard. Q: You mentioned why you transferred over from baseball to basketball, that was a big decision to make at a young age. Can you speak to me about that decision? A: At the time, here I am, we’re in an area where there were not that many African Americans. I’m getting those junior high things in my life, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade, so I’m trying to figure out who I am. And as I look back over that period, I realize that I didn’t love me. I had identity issues, I had self-esteem issues, but they were masked because I was a good athlete. I was always getting awards, I was always on All-Star teams, so no one knew those things, but I guess privately, I’m dealing with ‘who am I?’ I think that answering that question, I started to not feel as comfortable in places that didn’t look like me, so I gravitated to a sport that looked more like me. That’s where that shift happened for me at that time was. Mind you, my mom had cancer, so she had to go to San Antonio during that period. I played in a baseball game, I pitched the night before, we won, my coach decides that he’s going to pitch me in back-to-back games. We were playing a team called Weatherford. Anyone that knows the DFW area knows that its country, there’s nothing out there but land, farms, and cows. These kids were way bigger, they could hit the ball a lot farther, and that night my parents are in San Antonio with my mom going through that period, and I get rocked as a baseball player. I had so many homeruns hit against me, which was the final game of baseball for me. I don’t know if it was the fact that I got hit so hard that day or the whole fact of I wanted to go play a sport that looked more like me, but over the course of that, that was really the transition that got me over to basketball. Q: That’s why I wanted you to speak to that, that seems like such a mature decision to make at that young age. That’s an awesome story to tell and experience to have. Let’s go back to basketball for a moment, you talked about how you were All-State and how you did all of these different things in Texas, a state that is known for producing basketball players, so obviously you were pretty good. I want to hear more about the decision to turn down these full-rides to play basketball in order to instead go and do what I truly want to do with my life. Once again, a very mature decision to make at such a turning point in your life. A: So, I think, with having a brother and sister that were ten years older than me, that I grew up faster than most kids grew up. From the desire to be in older audiences, I think that I had an old soul at a young age. I was one of those players, when looking back, that was a good player in a great system versus being a great player on a good team. There’s a big difference there. I recognized that I played in a system around great players, my position allowed me to excel as long as I could help others excel. Getting the person the ball at the right spots, being able to play defense, being able to be a coach on the floor. Lots of these traits I still have today and its why I do what I do, but I think that I learned a lot of these traits early on. For me, I didn’t see this long-term future in sports because I knew that I needed a certain system in order to be successful in. I saw my life taking the principles of sports, being able to talk to it, speak around it, coach it, and then influence people because of it. I took that exit at an early age to do the thing I knew that I’ve known that was born to do, and that’s speak. Q: You spoke about being influenced by someone that was in a youth ministry with you. Was religion always a part of you and your family’s lives growing up? A: Oh yeah, 100% yeah. When you work up in the morning, you needed to be saying a prayer or reading a proverb of the day, and making your bed. That was part of your day-to-day, daily routine in my household. We were the Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night crew. If they had something during the week as well, we would be there for that. So yeah, religion, relationship with Christ was a big part of our lives then and still is a part of my life now. I think that we’ve found a different level of balance to it today, but growing up then, yes it was very heavy. Q: So, you decided to go to the Southwestern Assemblies of God University and you got a Bachelor’s Degree in Pastoral Studies and Elementary Education. Obviously, growing up around religion, it meant a lot to you. I wonder, though, when did you realize that you had a passion for it, in terms of making it part of your future, career-wise? A: Yeah, I think that happened junior year going into my senior year is when I solidified it. I had some glimpses when we were at youth camp, maybe, in my younger years but I think to solidify that, was my junior year going into my senior year. Scott Wilson allowed me to hang out with his family. At the time he only had one son, he has two more today, and just seeing how he moved, his energy on the stage, his impact that I know he made in my own life and in the lives of others, that was it. He was the introducer to me to John Maxwell. Being a senior in high school, I remember reading my first John Maxwell book to where, a lot of people today don’t know it, but John Maxwell had a club called the Injoy Life Club where you would get a tape a month from John Maxwell. That’s where the leadership portion of my world got developed, but never would have been a part of it if there wasn’t a Scott Wilson. Very interictal part. John Maxwell, of course, the guru of leadership today, I’ve read every book he’s written, I’ve been a part of his seminars, I’m actually a certified John Maxwell coach but that’s when that portion happened. End of my junior year, senior year. Of course, that’s happening at the same token I’m still trying to be the cool teenager so I’m going in and out of certain things as well. But, I knew at the party that this was going to be a part of my life so that’s when that happened to me. Q: So, you began teaching and then you later launched your own church. I would like to hear about that process. A: It was in September right there at our home in Duncanville. I was living at home, I didn’t go live on the campus, I lived at home and drove to the school. We started a church inside my parent’s house, I remember having 12 people show up. I start right there, I’m in school, I’m a sophomore in college and I just said ‘I’m called to do this.’ Now prior, too, there was a whole chaplain experience that I had at South Eclipse High School. I was like the liaison between Oakcliff assembly, 98% white church, and South Oakcliff High School, 98.9% black school. I’m the liaison between the community and this congregation. So, I then feel that they are starting a charter school, and this is where the separation, for me, came from me from the church, was that I believed, at the time, that they started a charter school to get dollars from the government to serve a group of people that the church couldn’t service. They ended up building a church in Red Oak, they kept the church in Oakcliff, but those dollars ended up building another charter school where all their kids went but it was these kids that ended up being repugnant, and at that point, I could not be a part of that ministry. So, I start my own church called Chosen Generation, twelve people in a home, and we just started. From there, I got granted a building, which was in the neighborhood where we lived, and we met at that building, we grew. And then I spoke at the chapel at my Assemblies of God school my senior year, and after speaking at that chapel service, one of the faculty members came to me and they had heard about me having a church, because a lot of the students would come. They, then, grant me a building in Lancaster and they gift the building to me, I don’t pay a dollar for it, we turn lights on, we pay the electricity, and we now have our own building. It was the Assemblies of God School’s building, we were kind of a non-denominational church but they allowed us to go in there. We start growing this church, right there in the community, impacting people’s lives there and that’s how that thing got off the ground. Q: Wow, what an amazing story. I love the fact that you left something you didn’t want to be a part of and went and made your own way. Moving on, a little bit, I want to know about the transition process from teaching and working with your church to entering into the world of sales. I would assume that you were able to utilize your gift of speaking to help you succeed in this new position. A: To this day, I’m not a car person, I’m a people person, and the success did come because I knew how to connect with people. When I got into sales, I got in, of course, with one desire and that was to make money. I did that. Speaking did help with that. Just being able to connect, I started to learn people. From learning people, I sold lots of cars, they moved me into management and I got the ability to close car deals and so I moved up the system pretty fast. I worked at a place for seven years and then I took some time off and this is where AssistU2Win started. It started with a small group again, just the way that the church did. A small group again, we called it ‘Winner’s Circle,’ I had six couples and we met twice a month inside of our home and it was then just talking about their goals and dreams. What would you do if money wasn’t an issue? What’s the passion of your heart that you had to put away just to make a living? And we just started talking around that. I led a group of people through six months to a year and some of them are still doing the businesses that they created during that time. During that period is kind of where AssistU2Win got birthed but I only knew how to just lead the talk but I didn’t know how to do business. Of course, I had some savings because of the career I had in sales. I took a different job with AutoNation, I started in finance and I moved up, they sent me to general manager school and I became a General Manager for them. I turned a dealership around that was losing $300,000 a month, in three months we lost $8, and in four months we turned a profit. It took a dealership that was heading down and caused it to have such great success that they were able to sell and make a profit when before they were getting ready to just sell the dealership and lose money selling it. That’s kind of the quick story of how I got into sales. Q: Anyone who knows anything about sales knows that -$300,000 a month is a big hole to be in, to turn that around so quickly that they were able to profit shows the job that you were doing. The next question I was going to ask you was about the beginning of AssistU2Win, which you talked about. What part does AssistU2Win play with O.W.E.? A: During this period there were so many different ideas that I had. People around me know that I’m a creative thinker, I’m a strategist, and I’m an idea generator. O.W.E., Online Worship Experience, doesn’t even exist today. This is where I’m now trying to figure out how I connect everything that I’m passionate about. Now I’m not full-time in a church, I’m working in sales, I have limited time, how do I then connect to the spiritual side of me? What about O.W.E.? Let’s do an Online Worship Experience. I was starting to do so many things virtual because of the limited time I had because of the time that I was spending at a dealership. AssistU2Win had these different channels that I was doing things through. I would speak for somebody at a church, in my mind, that was AssistU2Win because it was speaking. Then it was ‘oh, I want to speak more than I have engagements for,’ create your own table, so I started Online Worship Experience where I would just speak over Facebook on Sunday nights. We did that for a period of time. Everything was in this evolved state, though. I would have flashes of ‘okay, I would do this with AssistU2Win,’ but it was because I didn’t have a true direction at this point, I just knew that this was a part of my passion. I knew I couldn’t shake it anymore, I knew AssistU2Win was my verbiage, so for the next, probably 5-7 years I’m in and out of different ideas with AssistU2Win, sometimes not calling it that because I didn’t want people to look and say ‘oh, he’s a failure’ or ‘I thought you did this,’ I just called it something else. The whole time I’m really trying to find the rhythm and purpose of what AssistU2Win is, who we’re supposed to serve, and what we’re supposed to accomplish. This is where some of those other areas get birthed. Q: What years did you first create AssistU2Win and O.W.E.? A: 2013 is when AssistU2Win first had its launch with the group Winner’s Circle. O.W.E. comes 2017/2018ish. It lived for a brief moment, we don’t do anything with it today. Q: So, AssistU2Win has almost been going for a decade, can you speak to how it has been to watch AssistU2Win grow and expand over these years? A: A statement that is a staple statement around what we do at AssistU2Win is ‘you build what you birth, you drop what you adopt.’ Looking back, everything has been built off of a winner’s circle concept, winner’s circle being accountability. Today, we know exactly who we are and who we serve. The evolution of AssistU2Win is that looking at the pieces of our life we found the purpose of our life. Starting back from sports, to my jobs, to AssistU2Win, we know that our job is to be number one at being number two. When we come alongside a business, or an individual, we help come into three things. The first is clarity. We have to get to the place of being clear what it is somebody desires, what they want to see themselves manifest and what their goal or dream is. The second word is strategy. AssistU2Win brings strategy to clarity of an individual or busineses life. Without clarity, there’s no need for strategy. The final word that we really focus in on is accountability. Once we have the clarity and strategy, now we come into accountability. This is a process because, without the client’s weigh-in, there’s never true buy-in. It’s not us consulting 100% of ‘this is what you should do,’ this is the conversation, this is the discovery, this is the leading down a path so that their eyes are open to who they are and what they are supposed to be creating, and then we hold them accountable to action. That’s what produces what we say is ‘predictable probability.’ That’s what we deliver. We deliver predictable probability and productivity principles to somebody and it comes with those three words. Q: You’ve gone through a lot of periods that have been associated with lifestyle changes. Currently, with your work, faith, and family, how do you maintain a healthy balance? A: The balance comes because we only coach ten clients at a time. Outside of the pandemic, when we came back and turned the lights 100% on, we coach ten people at a time. We have some real strict guidelines with the one-on-one coaching that we do. With that, we’re able to get massive results because we go deeper and not just general with people. We do that over a 90-day period, that’s the first level of commitment that our clients make is that they work with us 90 days. Many cases, they work with us for the year and they just keep renewing and we just keep going. It’s hard to get in sometimes because we currently took a roll back with AutoNation so that we could set up AssistU2Win where it would succeed even in the course of us being duel-prenuers. We take ten clients and then we take on speaking engagements that go around our avatar. We had to first go and do those three words, find clarity, strategy, and accountability. As we found those, we found the rhythm, and with the rhythm we found both impact and income in AssistU2Win. Q: What are some things that we have not discussed that should be mentioned? A: I have written books, too. I have two. The first one is called The DGCP Method for Winners, that means dream, growth, change, push. Our signature coaching that we do surrounds that DGCP method for winners, it’s a short bookwork that starts with the mindset of the individual. When we wrote it, we called it ‘a bookwork on purpose’ because the reader is doing work with the book that naturally gets somebody ready for coaching. That is the baseline of it. The second one is called Make Every Day A Winsday. That book was written for motivational and transformational principles that we coach around. I tell a lot of stories inside but it is broken up into three sections, the first one is a mind shift. This generation has talked so much about mindset but I believe you have to have a mind shift before you can have a mindset. The second section is about methods. The methods that we talked about are the principles that produce productivity for individuals. The final section is about mastery. If you are going to succeed you have to be able to master the methods and master the mind-shift principles of your life.

  • Marie Antoinette's MELANIN Project Creates Beautiful Art with A Powerful Meaning

    by Devyn Imholt Marie Antoinette is a healthcare professional, fashion stylist, and author whose project MELANIN has received national attention and critical acclaim. MELANIN is a book, docuseries, and lifestyle brand that is centered around demystifying colorism and its associated stereotypes. Marie knew that she loved fashion from a young age, but she also knew that she wanted to make a difference. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her life and the amazing MELANIN project. When she was a child, Marie’s mother worked in a nursing home where she would occasionally help out. This helped Marie to realize that she had a passion for healthcare and helping others. She also knew from a young age that she had a passion for fashion, styling herself and others as early as high school. Following academia, Marie realized her goal of working in healthcare by becoming an anesthesiologist. Even while working in healthcare, Marie continued to follow her passion for styling and fashion. She continued to style for others, now working for various celebrities and influencers, including Christiane Porter of The Christi Show. Marie even began to create her own pieces. In an attempt to display some of her own original designs, Marie began to work on her own fashion shows, holding “Driving You Wild” in 2020 and “Legend” in 2021. Marie would realize her true calling when a woman in a clothing store told her that she was “pretty for a dark-skinned woman.” This was a phrase that she had heard growing up and had long since realized was a backhanded compliment. Hearing this as an adult, from another dark-skinned woman, made Marie realize that society had not gotten past its stereotypical narratives revolving around skin tone and color. Marie developed the concept for MELANIN; a documentary, book, and lifestyle brand that would positively demystify COLORISM (the biased or prejudicial treatment of people belonging to the same race, based on skin pigmentation). "I always wanted to take care of people, it's why I studied healthcare. I wanted to bring better representation into the healthcare sector. My love for fashion and art, however, made me realize that representation was needed in more areas than just healthcare, and being able to build and create the MELANIN project, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she explained. The MELANIN book was officially released in February of 2022 with the first part of the accompanying documentary. The project has been met with an overwhelmingly positive reception that shocked even Marie. The book featured beautiful imagery alongside powerful messaging, with every piece of clothing and jewelry being specifically designed for the project. The book and documentary had a special premiere opening in Atlanta which has been followed by a book signing tour. In 2021, Marie launched SAPPHIRE DIAMONDS, a fashion show, and inclusive clothing brand. She also created the SAPPHIRE DIAMOND AWARDS, an award that recognizes members of the community who are making an impact through relevant socio-economic initiatives. While the success of MELANIN caused the SAPPHIRE DIAMONDS fashion show to take a year off in 2022, it will be returning in 2023 with a streetwear theme. In the near future, Marie will be launching Part II of her MELANIN documentary, expanding her messaging about fashion, inclusivity, and art in partnership with several corporate and educational institutions around the country. MELANIN is a project that perfectly exemplifies Marie’s passion and character, merging impactful messages with artistic imagery to create something truly unique. Marie explained to me that she didn’t want to “beat a dead horse” when discussing colorism. Her project MELANIN has been able to effectively tackle a serious issue in a new way, inciting discussion and receiving praise. Marie Antoinette is someone who has her heart in the right place, looking to help others and incite change with her work.

  • The Future Stars 3rd Annual Future Stars Charity Dinner Gala

    The Future Stars 3rd Annual Future Stars Charity Dinner Gala Raised $100,000 and Featured Performances from Jordin Sparks & Bella Rabbit By Devyn Imholt Eszylfie Taylor and Jordin Sparks On Wednesday, October 26th, 2022, The Future Stars Basketball Camp held its third annual Charity Dinner Gala. This star-studded event was held in Los Angeles at the Taglyan Cultural Complex. Those in attendance included Carrie Bernans, Nate Parker, Norman Powell, and the camp’s founder, Eszylfie Taylor. The event also featured special performances by recording artists Jordin Sparks and Bella Rabbit. The event was able to raise almost one hundred thousand dollars and the proceeds will go toward the camp’s scholarship funds. The event was sponsored by Allianz, Grandave Capital, KNPRE, Understand the Grind, Quantasy, US Energy, The Power of You, Taylor Insurance & Financial Services, Incentax, Delaware Pacific, and Parsons Real Estate. The Future Stars Basketball Camp has been running strong for almost nineteen years. It was founded in 2003 by renowned financial guru Eszylfie Taylor, the founder of Taylor Insurance and Financial Services and star of Impact Network’s Mind Body Money. The camp was created in order to provide athletic opportunities for underprivileged youth. A Los Angeles native and former student-athlete, Eszylfie understood the positive impact that a successful athletic camp could potentially have. The organization has continued to grow since its creation, providing scholarships to attend the camp itself as well as educational scholarships to provide academic opportunities. The event took a lot of hard work and preparation, by Eszylfie, his team, and volunteers alike. When asked about this year’s Gala, Eszylfie explained that “it’s not often that my expectations are exceeded… but they were last Wednesday.” Eszylfie was joined at the event by clients, business associates, friends, family, actors, athletes, influencers, and other philanthropists. According to those in attendance, the positive energy provided by the event was truly contagious. With a beautiful venue and a good cause, those who attended the event were left raving about it. Eszylfie Taylor and the family of the "Courage Award" winner Every year, the Gala has an acknowledgment section where people are given a “Courage Award.” This year’s award was given posthumously to Air Tracy, who passed after battling cancer. Air Tracy is the same person whom the Future Stars Air Tracy Scholarship Fund (scholarships given to attend the camp) has been named after. His son, Timothy, was there to accept the ward on his father’s behalf. The previous winners of the “Courage Award” were also in attendance and had high praises to give. Chris Kimbro called the event “a heartfelt, fun-filled night.” Reggie Webb described the Gala as being “held at a beautiful venue…attended by a glittering sand diverse crowd who care enough about kids to support this worthwhile endeavor.” Reggie also added that he is “eternally grateful,” for the Courage Award that he received at a past Gala. For Eszylfie Taylor, events like this are all about the “perpetuation of legacy.” In the nineteen years since he founded the Future Stars Basketball Camp, he has held fifteen annual charity golf tournaments and three annual charity dinner galas. These events have helped to spread the Future Stars message and to provide opportunities for underserved youth. However, in business and in life, Eszylfie is never satisfied. One of the only troubles to come from an event that went this well: how does one top it for next year’s Gala? Eszylfie Taylor with two former camp members All Photos credit to

  • Chris Weaver, aka CJW, Re-introduces Himself with "Take Your Time"

    by Devyn Imholt Chris “CJW” Weaver is a musician, vocalist, and recording artist from Long Island, New York. Chris rose to public prominence as a result of his appearance on the hit show NBC’s The Voice during season thirteen. However, Chris’ musical journey began long before he stunned the judges on The Voice. I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris about his life and musical journey, which both began in his mother’s womb. Chris’ parents, self-proclaimed music fanatics, began to play their favorite records for him even while he was still “in his Mom’s belly.” His father, an avid record collector, helped instill in Chris a deep appreciation for music, even at a young age. His family was also very spiritual, spending significant time at their local church. These two aspects of Chris’ life resulted in the moment that he recalls his musical interest being truly sparked. Chris was eight years old and sang in front of his church, delivering a riveting performance that sent the crowd into a frenzy of joyous excitement. Growing up, Chris was continually involved in musical extracurriculars such as choir. His joy for gospel music pushed him to start a gospel choir at his high school. When it came time to decide where to go for college, Chris knew that he wanted to leave his home state of New York. He ended up attending Central College in Iowa. While at Central College Chris was heavily involved in musical performance, becoming a member of the choir, worship team, vocal jazz combos, and the chamber singers. Through these various groups, Chris was able to be involved in some of the campus’s biggest performances. By the time Chris graduated from Central College, he had honed his vocal performance skills and truly begun to blossom as his own artist. Despite his initial plans to never move back to New York, he realized the potential that came with living in the entertainment capital of the world, deciding to move back. During this time period of his life, Chris began to audition for singing competitions. He auditioned once for American Idol and twice for The Voice but did not make any of the competitions. Chris began performing in local competitions where he eventually met Peter Dunn, a former producer of The X Factor and America’s Got Talent. Dunn was later contacted by The Voice, being asked to recommend people to audition. He recommended Chris, who would audition for a third time, this time making the competition. In his initial TV audition in front of the judges, he turned all four chairs, the highest praise that can be given in an initial audition! He chose Jennifer Hudson as his mentor who helped lead him to a Top-24 finish in the competition. Later, on the season finale of Season 13, Chris became the first talent to ever be returned to the competition as a guest, performing with superstar Jessie J. In the initial years after his success on The Voice, Chris spent his time traveling and performing. Chris admitted to me that he felt as if he did not utilize the buzz from the show to the best of his ability. He eventually realized that he needed to release more music, dropping the individual records “Crying For” and “Mary Did You Know.” In 2021 he signed with Soundherd Records and began to record his first studio project. This culminated in the recent release of “Take Your Time,” the lead single from his highly anticipated project. “Take Your Time” was paired with a single release party where Chris had to schedule three different performances as a result of demand. Now under the name “CJW,” Chris felt like “Take Your Time” was a great song to re-introduce himself to. He will be going on tour with legendary artist Booker T this coming fall. To see where his career has come, he describes it as “surreal.”. What’s more? Chris is only getting started. Chris’ excitement for his career is truly infectious. With a life full of performance experience and a uniquely moving voice, CJW is certainly an artist to keep an eye on in the future.

  • Eszylfie Taylor: The New Face of Financial Advertising

    by Devyn Imholt Eszylfie Taylor is a renowned financial advisor who has separated himself from the pack as a result of his accomplishments and radiant enthusiasm. His dedication and work ethic have resulted in an extensive list of awards and accolades, such as being ranked number four in Advisor Today’s “Top 40 under 40,” becoming a brand ambassador for Lulu Lemon, and being featured as the face of LinkedIn’s “In It” campaign. Eszylfie has been globally embraced as he has taught his trademark “Taylor Method” to over 100,000 professionals all over the world. I had the pleasure of speaking to him about his journey and his bright future. Eszylfie was born and raised in Pasadena, California. He attended Maranatha High School where he was a four-sport letterman, being on the varsity teams in basketball, football, baseball, and track. Eszylfie was an excellent athlete and was honored for his success in high school by being inducted into Maranatha’s Hall of Fame in 2021. He bounced around a few different universities before he went on to attend Concordia University, on a scholarship for basketball, graduating Magnum Kum Laude with a degree in Business Management. Eszylfie was drawn to business because success was linked closely to work ethic, rather than being based upon t other outside factors. He began his career by working as an agent with NY Life, staying with the company for thirteen years. He maintained a high level of success and became the top African American advisor in NY Life history by the time he was only thirty-four. Leaving NY Life, Eszylfie felt that it was time “to be the captain of his ship,” deciding to create his LA-based firm, “Taylor Insurance and Financial Services.” He has since become everyone’s go-to guy when it comes to finances; advising high-profile clients and traveling to teach his patented Taylor method. The Taylor Method’s success resulted in the establishment of the Taylor Method as a brand dedicated to teaching financial literacy, helping people all over the globe. Although his work has led to acclaim, Eszylfie is focused on far more than just his personal success, he is focused on his impact. Eszylfie sits on the boards of the Rotary Club, the Ronald McDonald House, and the LA Children’s Hospital. Since 2003 he has created and maintained his own non-profit, Future Stars, a basketball camp for underserved youth. He has also organized annual charity golf tournaments and galas that donate their proceeds towards good causes. His goal is to teach others to pay it forward, allowing their own success to pave the way for others. He is tireless in his efforts to support young children through sports, mentorship, and scholarship opportunities. One of the major keys to Eszylfie’s success has been his dedication to his physical and mental well-being. For over fifteen years he has been a yogi and yoga instructor, maintaining a daily practice and teaching at some of LA’s most popular yoga studios. The balance between mental and physical health is something that he prioritizes, taking time to utilize yoga to help him with both. Eszylfie is also the proud and dedicated father of three beautiful daughters, Nya, 15, and twins Shae and Zoe, 13. Being a girl dad changed him as a man and person, his goals as a father are to continually provide opportunities and unwavering support. Working hard to provide a happy and healthy environment for his girls, Eszylfie co-parents with his ex-wife, Kristen. Eszylfie’s life will be on full display in the upcoming reality show “Mind Body Money,” on Impact Network, where he will provide fans with an in-depth look into his world. A lot of people get to see the “what,” the things he has, and the success he has met with. On his new show, Eszylfie wants to show fans the “how,” the work behind the scenes that has allowed him to live this lifestyle. The show will have an accompanying app that will have extras as well as functions to help its users track their mind, body, and money. Despite his rightfully earned success, Eszylfie is never satisfied and is always working on the next project, constantly striving to improve himself and make an impact along the way. His enthusiasm for both business and life is truly contagious. Eszylfie explained to me that he “focuses on the process and detaches himself from the outcome,” allowing for his hard work to truly shine and carry him toward the path he is chasing. Eszylfie is a giver, using his own time and money to give back, and using his own knowledge to help guide others. With his extensive background, contagious personality, and rigorous work ethic, Eszylfie Taylor is rightfully becoming the face of financial advising in America.

  • Glenn Gonzales: Not Your Typical CEO

    by Devyn Imholt Glenn Gonzales is a certified pilot, military veteran, businessman, aviation industry expert, community leader, and founder/CEO of the private jet company Jet It. Along with its European partner Jet Club, Jet It has been on the cutting edge of “redefining luxury travel.” I had the pleasure of speaking to Glenn about his upbringing, his life, and his unique ideas that culminated in this game-changing company. Glenn was raised in Houston, Texas where he grew up with his parents and older sister. Even from a young age, Glenn excelled both academically and athletically. Glenn played sports for almost all of his academic career, making school and sports “one in the same.” Glenn attended Eisenhower High School where he was lettered in three varsity sports; track, cross country, and basketball. Glenn played point guard where he found his greatest attribute was “distributing,” or “passing the rock.” “I would rather make the assist because then two people are smiling and the team is doing better.” Glenn was exceptional in the classroom as well, being in the Gifted & Talented program as well as acting as the VP of the National Honor’s Society. Even with all of these activities, Glenn still found time to become the president of an organization at his church. Glenn had taken his first commercial flight when he was only five years old. This instilled an affinity for flight that was only re-affirmed by the times in which he grew up (the space race, Superman, and Star Wars were all prominent media surrounding the skies). “I just loved looking up.” By the time Glenn graduated from Eisenhower, he had formulated two goals: he wanted to play division one college basketball and he wanted to learn how to pilot a plane. Glenn enlisted in the United States Air Force Academy to successfully pursue both of his goals. Glenn continued to play point guard where he excelled as a defensive-minded, pass-first player, citing UNLV, Utah, and BYU as being some of his most memorable games. However, things would not come as naturally for him when it came to becoming a pilot. When Glenn first attended the academy there was a rule that pilots had to have perfect 20/20 vision in order to fly. Upon his initial medical examination, he was told that his vision wasn’t 20/20 and that he would never be able to become a pilot. Despite this disappointing news, Glenn continued to work towards his dreams. He decided that if he couldn’t fly a plane, he would instead turn to designing and improving them. Eventually, by the time Glenn graduated the rules had been changed, providing him with an opportunity to fly. All he needed was the opportunity. Glenn quickly ascended to the top of his class, becoming the first one in his class to pilot a plane by himself. After perfecting his own skills, he went on to become an instructor pilot. In his first year of instructing, Glenn was named the instructor pilot of the year at his base, including 460 others. His time as a student, athlete, and pilot in the academy instilled in him important time management, delegation, and communication skills, as well as improving upon his vigorous work ethic. Being an instructor taught him how to be an “effective and efficient communicator,” as teaching left little room for error. Glenn described his time after the military as “defining.” Glenn now found himself with two children and a wife to support right at the height of the economic downturn. He “had to set sights on values,” deciding to go back to school in order to transition himself into the world of sales. His work ethic truly shined as he had seven things going at once: being a husband, being a father, starting an MBA at the University of South Carolina, finishing his Master’s in Aeronautical Sciences at the renowned Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, working full-time as a defense contractor, working full-time at Gulf Stream, and remaining in the USAF reserves. This period of hard work allowed Glenn to reposition himself from being an accomplished pilot to someone who could effectively sell planes. This period of hard work eventually paid off, resulting in an opportunity for Glenn to become a Regional Sales Manager with the Honda Aircraft Company. While at Honda, Glenn began working with longtime colleague Vishal Hiremath to formulate a concept for an industry-changing business. This culminated in the founding of Jet It and Jet Club. Jet It’s unique business model has since revolutionized private aviation. Jet It allows its owners to own a share of a plane, giving them the opportunity to have the plane for entire days rather than the typical method of paying per flight hour. This gives the customers a unique opportunity to use the planes for whatever they may want on the days they have them. Such a unique idea was not initially embraced and was even questioned. Glenn was confident and knew that this business would be impactful, deciding to invest heavily even as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This ended up being a game-changing move as the private aviation industry saw a 30% increase after the pandemic. With Glenn and Vishal leading the way, Jet It and Jet Club have quickly become key players in the private aviation industry. Even for being a young company, Glenn has already received recognition and numerous awards for the impact that Jet It has already made. Glenn and Vishal were given the prestigious Ernest and Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Southeast Award, an award that has previously been given to owners of corporate giants like Starbucks and LinkedIn. Adding to his own Top Gun Honors and other military awards, Glenn was recently awarded the Brigadier Charles E. McGee Aviation Inspiration Award for Jet It’s industry-changing efforts, an award named after the former Tuskegee Airman, who was Glenn’s personal friend and mentor. Glenn is not easily satisfied with personal success. Like in his point guard days, Glenn is all about providing opportunities. Aside from dedicating time to his business and family, Glenn is proud to be a spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and a program coordinator for Special Olympics. He also holds board member positions at Big Brothers Big Sisters Greensboro, American Heroes for North Carolina, Launch Greensboro, and the Industry Advisory Council for the National Business Aviation Association. Glenn is someone who stays in the moment, taking things one flight at a time, prioritizing the safety of his passengers and the well-being of his employees. He described to me that even as the CEO, he will fill in as a pilot so that his employees can have time off. Glenn Gonzales is not your typical CEO. Glenn grew up without any familial or personal connection to the aviation industry and has become a leader in revolutionizing the business. His days as a point guard and a pilot have instilled in him important leadership skills that he is using to help his company be the best it could possibly be. Jet It is still a new company but despite its age, it has already begun to change and impact the aviation landscape. With Glenn in the captain’s seat, you can be assured that Jet It will be a powerful company for a long time to come.

  • Rina Chanel: A Songstress Focused on Quality and Positivity

    by Devyn Imholt Rina Chanel is a recording artist who creates a unique sonic blend of RnB, classic soul, and jazz. With an extensive background in live performance, Rina’s impactful vocals are causing her to receive well-deserved attention as she ventures into the world of studio recording. I had the pleasure of speaking to Rina about her upbringing, her relationship with her producer Bennie Pearce, and her upcoming summer release, the EP “Rina.” Rina Chanel spent the first decade of her life in Brooklyn, New York. Always around music, she cited Anita Baker and Sade as some of her biggest inspirations from when she was young. Rina went to a school for gifted arts where she began to realize her talent for vocalization. Her mother would describe a sixth-grade chorus performance as the moment when she realized her daughter’s true talent for music. It was Rina’s first public performance, and she had a solo within the performance that left her mother in tears. When Rina and her mother moved to Virginia Beach, Rina continued to perform, participating in chorus, musicals, and opera. She also participated in a jazz choir, one she cites as being impactful by helping to instill improvisation skills within her. Her teacher would put them on the spot, forcing her to truly feel the music, testing her vocals, and allowing for her personality to shine. Eventually, Rina was able to attend Radford University on a voice scholarship for opera. Rina spent her time at Radford extremely busy with rehearsals, recitals, and other performances. After graduating, she moved to Washington DC where began to perform opera professionally. She began to work with international recording artist Tracy Hamlin as her voice teacher. Tracy went on to have a huge impact on Rina, helping her to make a transition into soulful music like RnB and Jazz. Rina had the vocal talent to do so, but Tracy helped her by showing her the ins and outs of being a professional singer. Tracy set Rina up with producer Raymond Barton to feature on 2017’s “Don’t Give Up on Love,” her first studio recording experience. With a background in vocal performance and a successful teacher by her side, Rina was ready to make the transition into becoming her own artist. She met producer Bennie Pearce on Bandmix, and after singing in a band where Bennie was the bass player, they established a powerful working connection. They began to collaborate on a series of singles, released under Bennie’s independent label Phillie-BOP Productions, “Worthy” and “Made” in 2020, and “More Than Enough” and “Sweetest of Melody” in 2021. Since meeting and working together, the two have established a musical connection that Bennie describes as “yin and yang.” Rina talked to me about the importance of having someone like Bennie to help her in her journey as an artist, explaining that the two are extremely flexible in their creativity. This doesn’t just end in the vocal performance, but also extends to the production and structure of the song itself. They both want the product to come out the best it possibly could, explaining that there’s no “diva or ego” between them. In a world where artists are constantly trying to “claw their way to the top,” Rina is confident that her tribe will find her. Her naturally bubbly attitude is captured within her music which she describes as “wrapped in love and positivity.” Rina and Bennie are currently working on Rina’s debut project, an EP entitled “Rina.” The project is self-titled for a reason, as Rina explained to me that the EP is introspective and reflective, providing her fans with an in-depth look into who she is. Bennie and Rina both share a passion for trying to make music that they would consider “classic.” They want their product to be quality and are not pressured by the release-heavy era that the music industry is currently in. They would rather take their time to create a classic than rush and release filler. Rina is very excited about her EP and her musical future working with Bennie and Phillie-BOP Productions. Aside from releasing engaging music, Rina wants to extend herself into synch licensing for film and television, venture into the worlds of health and beauty, and continue to perform live as much as possible. Rina has an incredible background in vocalization, in combination with her partnership with Bennie, contagious personality, and dedication to quality, Rina Chanel is an artist to certainly keep your eye on.

  • Bennie Pearce: A Producer Dedicated to Making “Classics”

    by Devyn Imholt Bennie Pearce is a musician, producer, songwriter, composer, recording engineer, and head of Phillie-BOP Productions. Bennie grew up in Philadelphia where he had an affinity for music from a very young age. Bennie has partnered with recording artist Rina Chanel to create a unique sonic blend of smooth R&B, jazz, and blues. I had the pleasure of speaking with Bennie about his come-up, his goals with Phillie-BOP, and his future with Rina. Bennie was around music his entire life, causing him to gravitate towards it naturally. One summer, he locked himself in his room with music theory books and a bass guitar, determined to teach himself how to play. Eventually, by the end of the summer, Bennie had successfully taught himself how to play. Shortly after, he began to receive offers to play gigs in the local area. Even in Philadelphia, a city Bennie compared to “playing at the Apollo,” where “you have to be on your Ps and Qs,” Bennie was embraced for his talent at such a young age. By the time he was fifteen he was playing the bass guitar professionally. Aside from being incredibly talented for his age, Bennie was also remarkably flexible, being able to perform gigs across various musical genres. After leaving Philly, Bennie went on to spend twenty-four years in the Navy, as well as receiving degrees in Public Administration and Business Management. As busy as he was, music was always first. He always kept instruments with him and continued to play gigs even during his time in the Navy. After his time in the military, Bennie began to formulate a plan for his own business. He wanted to become a producer, and he wanted to create a space where he could freely write and produce with artists he liked. This culminated in the creation of his production company, Phillie-BOP Productions. Phillie-BOP’s name was dual purpose, being a reference to a Philadelphia dance, the “Philly-BOP,” as well as BOP representing Bennie’s initials. Rather than jump right in after formulating this business concept, Bennie took his time to study the business aspects of the music industry. He attended numerous musical conferences and took songwriting classes in order to improve his writing skills. He began building a production house while continuing to look for an artist. Eventually, Bennie found exactly what he was looking for in Rina Chanel. Bennie describes his musical relationship with Rina as “yin and yang,” telling me that their connection was evident from the first time they ever worked together. Rina’s smooth voice perfectly fits the elegant production that Bennie creates to surround it. Bennie also emphasized that they work together throughout the entire process, from writing the music and lyrics, to producing and recording the songs. In 2020, Phillie-BOP went live for the first time, releasing “Worthy,” and “Made,” singles by Rina and Bennie. This was followed up with the 2021 releases “More Than Enough” and “Sweetest of Melody.” The singles ended up being widely successful, topping charts and bringing buzz to the Phillie-BOP brand. Their partnership continued even past the series of singles they created. They ended up re-engaging their collaboration to create a five-song EP to be released this summer. The EP, entitled “Rina,” is set to be a more in-depth look into Rina as an artist and person, providing a more introspective look into who Rina Chanel is. With Rina and Bennie’s unique partnership, Phillie-BOP is looking to extend itself from a production company into an independent label. Originally, Bennie had planned to establish and operate under a separate label name, but after the success that Rina’s singles have been met with, Bennie decided to keep the name under Phillie-BOP. The label looks to specialize in R&B, Acoustic/Soul, Singer-Songwriter, Instrumental Jazz, and Pop artists, genres that Bennie himself has an affinity for. As Bennie looks toward the future, his primary goal is to push the music. He is confident in his alliance with Rina, as he sees a superstar in the making. Aside from his partnership with Rina, Bennie is excited to move forward with Phillie-BOP as he looks for new artists to sign. His professional demeanor, talent, and care are evident in the music he produces. Bennie is someone who is patient. He is willing to take his time in order to perfect his craft. Bennie isn’t looking for short-term success, as he explained to me, his priority is making music that can be called “classic.” Bennie wants Phillie-BOP music to sound just as good in ten years as the day it was created.

  • King Royal on the Inland Empire, his label “Royal Diamonds Entertainment,” and his upcoming project

    King Royal is a Hip-Hop artist hailing out of California’s Inland Empire (also known as the IE). King first entered the studio with his father when he was only a toddler. He began rapping when he was merely fourteen years old, realizing his talent through freestyling with his friends. Releasing his first project at sixteen, King has now been rapping for over ten years. I had the pleasure of speaking to him about his come-up, his vision, and his plans to make the Inland Empire a household name. When King began to take rapping seriously, it was a different era entirely. “The term ‘SoundCloud rapper’ wasn’t even a thing.” Social media wasn’t prevalent, making King’s come-up different, instilling the “hustle” in him early on. He discussed with me the fact that he printed 500 copies of his first project on CDs, passing them through the halls at his high school. His dedication made people take notice, as not many adults were hustling as hard as he was at sixteen. As King has continued to grow as an artist and in notoriety, he has kept his home close to his heart. The Inland Empire is especially important to King, as he described to me his issues with the area’s lack of exposure. The IE is only forty-five minutes from Los Angeles and is made up of over seventy cities with a combined population of over five million. How is it that such a large population of people can be in such a prime location without national recognition? King is looking to change this. With the popular Hip-Hop producer Hitboy also hailing from the IE, King is looking to lift the IE even further by becoming the face for people back home to believe in. His passion for his home is radiant, branding his merch with the letters “IE” being prominently featured on items like the hat he wore for this interview. “Seeing is believing.” Part of King’s vision for giving back to the IE comes in his label, Royal Diamonds Entertainment. RDE is a joint venture between King and his father, but King jokes that rather than being split 50-50, it’s 100-100, because they are both “giving their all.” An official LLC, RDE is a fully fleshed label with artists and a team backing them. RDE is effectively providing more opportunities for artists and creatives from the Inland Empire. Although King and RDE are synonymous, King says RDE is “deeper than rap,” because it’s “for generational wealth and legacy.” When you hear King Royal’s music, you wouldn’t jump to conclude that he’s a California artist. With a wide range of inspirations, from all over the country and even outside of Hip-Hop, King channels his moods through his music, resulting in songs that are each individually unique. He described to me that there is intentionality in his sound and that he never wanted to be “categorized.” King has a degree in marketing and has an amazing sense of brand awareness, evident in his videos and social media content. King also focuses on the importance of balance, both within his life and within his music. While album cuts may provide a personal look into King’s life, his singles channel energetic boastfulness, showing King as he is “walking like a king.” His single “Wholelottaguap,” with Philadelphia artist Lil Noodle, marked a moment of change in his career, going viral and resulting in a billboard that was featured in Los Angeles. According to King, “Wholelottaguap” “made the city take notice.” His most recent single, “Big Ol Checks,” released in late April, has already amounted to over 200,000 streams on Spotify. “Big Ol Checks” has almost surpassed “Wholelottaguap” to become King’s biggest song to date, despite being released almost six months later. This could be proof of King’s remarks that people are beginning to take notice. His upcoming project “Empire’s Most Wanted” is not only King’s most anticipated project, but it is also the one that he has been working the longest on. Over two years in the making, King is excited to share his hard work with the world. Without leaking any specifics, King described the project as “giving a piece of himself” to his listeners. If “Big Ol Checks” is any indication, 2022 looks to be an exciting year for King. Aside from working on the long-awaited “Empire’s Most Wanted,” King is hoping to begin a group compilation project amongst himself and the other artists signed to Royal Diamonds Ent. King is looking to lead RDE to the next level as the company and brand continue to develop and expand. Being so close to LA, King could take the easy route by claiming himself as a Los Angeles rapper. Rather than taking this easy route, King isn’t cutting any corners. Like he was when he was 16, passing out CDs in the halls, King is ever willing to put in the time, effort, and hustle to turn his dreams into a reality. By utilizing his dedication, passion, and the supportive team he has behind him, King is looking to become the face of the Inland Empire. Listen to King here.

  • Jay Copes: An Authentic Artist Looking to Provide a Missing Perspective

    by Devyn Imholt Photo: @karl_fashion_photographer Jay Copes is an artist hailing out of Camden, NJ, who creates a unique blend of hip-hop and RNB that he affectionately calls “love and pain music.” Jay has been independently releasing his emotionally riveting music since 2011. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jay about his life, his music, and his dedication to delivering a quality product to his fans. As a child, Jay gravitated towards music even as those around him did not. Jay started playing instruments around fifth grade, when he brought home permission slips out of his own interest. In elementary school he sung in the chorus as well as playing drums, the flute, and violin. As he got older, Jay turned his attention towards sports, playing in high school and eventually walking on and playing football at Delaware State University. After attending the university for some time, Jay realized that even while in classes or at practices, that his mind “kept coming back to music,” ultimately leading to his decision to leave academia to pursue music as a full-time career. Dedicating his life to music gave Jay a renewed focus. He began to work with Climax Ent/Tru Sound Studios, finding a space that allowed him to create and expand as an artist. After finding out that his longtime girlfriend was pregnant with twins, Jay felt the pressure to succeed, returning to the studio and asking God for a sign. This turned into the 2019 single, “Signs,” Jay’s biggest song to date. “Signs” has amounted over two million streams and has been promoted by the likes of industry legends Fat Joe and DJ Clue. Jay used the video for the song as an opportunity to create a timestamp in his life and career, proposing to his girlfriend on the set, and including the scene within the video.“Signs” allowed Jay to create a foundation for his career, showing his fans what kind of person and artist that he wanted to be from the very beginning. In the years since, Jay has released numerous singles including 2019’s “Remember,” 2020’s “Unsure,” and his most recent release, 2022’s “Don’t Cry No More.” Jay’s singles are an introspective look into his life as an artist and person, discussing his come up, love life, tribulations, and triumphs. Sonically, Jay wants to be a multi-faceted artist, citing that he is inspired by artists like Drake or Akon that refuse to be boxed into one genre. Jay wants his audience to truly feel his emotions through his music, intentionally making his songs about romance poetically intimate while his dance songs are unapologetically energetic. Jay is an artist who is passionate about his music, his image, and his impact. Jay seems to have a clear focus of who he wants to be and where he wants to fit into the hip-hop and RNB landscape. However, while music is his passion, being an independent artist is not easy. Jay discussed with me an unreleased track, “Almost Famous,” that discusses his predicament of being nearly famous. Jay described it as being “that close,” having the issue of being in exclusive events with celebrities while still having to fly home in coach. Ten years into the game and Jay’s drive has remained steadfast, describing that every day he wakes up still feeling that he’s “right there.” Jay is a husband, father, and the youngest of six kids, meaning that success for him is about more than image and money. Alongside his own twins, Jay has twenty-three nieces and nephews, and he wants to make sure that he is truly leading the next generation as a positive role model. Jay wants to demonstrate to them that following your passion and staying true to your character are fundamentally important. Jay is speaking his own truth, providing to hip-hop what he describes as a “missing perspective” in the genre, that of a supportive father and dedicated partner. When discussing his 2022 and what fans should be looking forward to, he confidently replied “music, music, music.” Jay has been in a phase of creation and is finally ready to share these new creations with the world, ensuring that he has only improved as time has gone on. When discussing his future, Jay cited artists like Future or Lil Wayne, who have been known for frequent releases. With a string of recent singles, he added that it could finally be time for a Jay Copes full-length project. Jay is someone who resonates with his passion for his work. Jay truly feels that he was put on this planet to make music, and this was evident in our discussion. Jay’s “love and pain” music is unique in the way it is able highlight both his vocal talent and lyrical prowess. By staying true to his upbringing, character, talent, and vision, Jay Copes is looking to take his career to the next level. Follow him and listen to his music here.

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