MUSIC

Jet Life's Creative Director Clears the Air

C.J. Wallis talks Mac Miller, new projects, and how he connected with Curren$y

Susan Maljan

During a relatively tame performance at 2011's Rock The Bells in Los Angeles, New Orleans-based rapper and JetLife CEO, Curren$y, stepped off the stage to greet his legion of fans.

As he stepped down, he tangled his foot in speaker wires and cracked his ankle in three places. Ignoring the pain, Curren$y jumped a barrier to get even closer to the crowd and broke it again in another 8 places. He finished his set and hopped off stage to go to the emergency room. "That was my first day on the job," said C.J. Wallis, JetLife's creative director. "They jumped in a van and took off and just sort of left me there. I realize now I was just the filmmaker for the day, but at the time I felt like Scorsese going to film The Last Waltz." Despite being disappointed by how the day had gone, Wallis realized he was the only one with footage of the performance, and he tracked the rapper down. He met up with a member of Curren$y's team at the hospital and talked for hours in the waiting room while they awaited news. "I felt like I fell into the family right away."

10 years later, Wallis has established himself as a sought-after creative icon in the Hip-Hop industry. He has curated visuals for everyone from Fiend to Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign, and has crafted an infinite amount of content for the JetLife CEO himself, including album covers, documentaries, and of course, music videos. "JetLife is like a football team that just functions really well," Wallis said. He's also filmed a plethora of feature films. His last documentary, The Perfect Bid, which tells the story of "The Price is Right" superfan Ted Slauson, went on to win Best Documentary at the Orlando Film Festival.

While Hip-Hop's inner circle knows Wallis well, the general public was first introduced to him when he announced his intention to film a Mac Miller documentary earlier this month. "So, over the next year I'm going to start collecting interviews & content to make the definitive Mac Miller documentary for his family, friends & fans," Wallace tweeted on June 3. The tweet made headlines everywhere, and fans of the late rapper took it to be confirmation that the project was underway. Later that day, Wallace retracted the statement after speaking respectfully with Miller's estate. "To say that I was putting it together in any sense is a bit crazy, really all I did was message 4 or 5 people," Wallis said. "I know what my intention was, but what was frustrating was the family getting hounded by the headlines. The tweet was never a pitch. Maybe I worded it wrong initially, but I didn't think I would have to justify it in this way two weeks later."

Fans accused Wallis of mishandling the artist's legacy, and the director realized the quickest way to quell the growing backlash was to initiate conversations with the disappointed fans. "I'm a public company, so when someone has something to say about me or my work I wanna know about it," Wallis said. He found that the more he engaged, the quicker the trolls began to understand and back down. "People like to start stuff on the internet thinking there are no repercussions, and I wasn't gonna get steamrolled by the internet over good intentions."

The blowback reignited a contentious debate surrounding creative liberties taken with posthumous artists. Who should be allowed to detail an artist's legacy? Do posthumous releases benefit the memory of an artist or are they just cash grabs? XXXTENTACION's album SKINS was highly publicized before its release but was deemed by critics as an "aimless" and "structurally unsound" project that did more harm to his legacy than good. Avicii's posthumous release, TIM, received similar backlash, as it was released by the same label who Avicii's step-father says pushed the DJ to suicide. Mac Miller's first song since his passing premiered last week. "When Prince died there were three months where there was no copyright over him, and everyone was just cashing in on the dude," said Wallis. "So when someone passes away, it should be up to the family or whoever is in charge to decide [what to do next."

For now, Wallis is ready to put the experience behind him and get back to work. He is currently working on his next film, Frank Flood, a narrative feature surrounding the early days of the infomercial world. Despite it all, Wallis still feels confident in his ability to tell Mac Miller's story when the time is right for all parties involved. "I have a certain way I approach my projects that come from a very unjudgemental [sic] and compassionate point of view," Wallis said. "[Mac Miller's] story definitely deserves that."

For more information on C.J. Wallis, visit his website. Also, be sure to follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.


Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality


Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.


Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.

These days, Lauryn Hill's media coverage either consists of strange accounts from her live shows or gossip about her on-and-off relationship—and litter of kids—with Rohan Marley. But with fewer stories about lengthy waits and intelligible rants on stage coming from this summer's Rock The Bells tour, Hill's recent live performances seem to be making somewhat of a slow return to her decade-old form, whose faint memory comes alive with each and every additional play we give The Score and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. On Saturday's stop in New York, Hill's set was pleasantly capped by an impromptu partial Fugees reunion. Former band member Pras joined Ms. Hill on stage for "Killing Me Softly" and "Ready Or Not," off their Grammy-winning 1996 album. Hill has been performing Fugees songs by her lonesome this summer, and the two have a history of blasting each other in interviews, so consider us naively excited by the fleeting prospect of two-thirds of the group coming together again. If you're still holding out for that third album that will likely never be, check out the videos below.