So somehow, I forgot I had an interview with Eric Benet scheduled for today. It’s been planned for weeks and I’ve been pursuing him (in a completely non-stalkerish way) for more than a year. Hubby laughed at the ridiculousness that I could forget such a thing… which got me to reflecting on this whole celebrity interview phenomenon.
Let me tell y’all. It hasn’t been easy. My first interview was with Syesha Mercado back in May of 2009 and it’s been a long road. I’ve been laughed off phones (seriously) and my emails have been ignored, trashed and spammed (delete, delete, delete), like I’m a Nigerian princess asking for help in exchange for millions. But through humorously uninhibited persistence and the influence of the Natural Hair community, I’m proud to say that the reception is much warmer now.
Only recently has Hollywood been able to appreciate the full potential and benefits of the internet and social media. People who had already achieved a certain amount of fame generally tended to see the Internet as an alleyway of negativity—a place where their reputation is defamed and where malicious rumors are spread without the ability to defend themselves (where the heck would they possibly get that idea?). Also, and I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise, but blogs weren’t very much respected until recently.
But now, once I get past the hard ass publicists…
…the celebs are excited and enthusiastic to share their hair journeys. They’re just people too, and it turns out that they have the same issues and struggles that we do. They face the same challenges with their hair, only sometimes more intensely because they’re under the microscope of the media and at the mercy of production companies that may or may not value natural hair. So it’s fascinating that they are willing to share what their struggles have been, and how they’ve used this information to empower themselves the same way we have.
Their willingness to share, is in large part because of you, the community– The CurlyNikki community, and the other communities of which I’m sure you are a part. I’d like to encourage you to continue to participate and participate more fully as the benefits are many. Hair companies are adjusting the chemicals in their products and switching up their marketing techniques, all because of what they’re learning from you. We’re providing real time feedback. The quality of what we now have in the marketplace has improved because they know what we want, what we demand. And in a very real sense, the celebs are also taking cues from our community. They’re active participants as well. When you write a comment, know that Wanda Sykes, Kim Wayans, Janet Hubert and others are reading, listening and learning. For example: TMI ALERT! I never shared this before, but the morning that Chrisette Michele emailed me, I was in the bathroom and I literally shit a brick. I requested a call ‘cause I didn’t believe it was her… thought I was being punked. When I asked her how she heard about the site, she said she tweeted her fans looking for natural hair info and they shared the web address with her. Now, she frequently tunes in to see what the latest crazes are and what products we’re loving.
At this point, I’ve lost count of how many interviews there are and quite honestly, the actual number is unimportant. I’ve worked hard to bring you these stories and have been rejected countless times (I think Michelle’s secret service team has me on some kind of list), but I’m proud to say that this unique resource is available because of the power of our community. The reality is that nowhere else on the internet, in a magazine, or on TV, can you get this many real sisters sharing their real hair stories. But next up, we have a real brother…
Eric Benet needs no introduction (although the one above gets the award for longest ever). The singer, style icon and fellow natural dishes on his upbringing, inspiration and upcoming projects. Enjoy!
CN: Growing up, were the women in your life relaxed or natural?
Both. I saw both growing up. My sisters and my mom would, from time to time straighten their hair, but they felt comfortable wearing their hair naturally. It was the ’70s so it was quite the statement to wear it, but they did and often. But sometimes, things like Easter would come around, and you’d have to get your hair straightened [Laughter]. From a psychological and cognitive standpoint, I can see how what you see growing up will influence what you see as beautiful, so I guess I’m blessed in that way.
CN: Raising India, concerning hair, were you a ‘strict all-natural daddy’ or indifferent?
I was very much against straightening. I guess it’s the biased ‘you’re beautiful just like you are’ perspective of Daddy. Forever her baby, even though I was Dad, my mother would say, ‘boy you need to be quiet, you need to let her get her hair straightened’. I was pretty much a single dad and my mom was very instrumental in raising India too, so I’d come back from touring or traveling and India would have her hair straightened and of course she was still adorable and cute. But I’ve just always thought natural was more beautiful.
CN: Tell me about your locking experience.
I didn’t anticipate it. I never really expected to have long, flowing locs that hung down to my elbows. I just really liked being able to have a very free and natural look to my hair. I got really lazy with my hair cuts, started wearing twists and they just eventually started loc’ing up. I did twists for a while and once the twists started to naturally loc, I just went with it. It felt good for me at the time. I was having this conversation with someone else. You go through different stages in your life… whatever is happening inside of you emotionally is somehow represented on your exterior, both in the clothes that you wear and also with your hair in some obscure way. And it was a time in my life where I felt very free and almost like… I wanted to be a leaf in the wind, like I was just going to do my music and let it take me where it was going to take me. That really reflected in my exterior. I found it interesting that everytime someone got close enough to my locs they would say, ‘your hair smells really good,really clean’. I mean, I washed my hair all the time. To keep it real, during the first 4 months of the period before they actually loc’ed up, I’d wash once a week and re-twist, but after that, I’d wash all the time.
CN: So with that, dealing with folks assuming your hair was dirty, how were your locs received by your fans and fam and friends? Was it all good or did some people have reservations?
It was pretty much all good. It was interesting what kind of sex appeal and lure the locs had on women at the time. That wasn’t the reason I started growing them, but once they were there, there was some kind of heightened sexual attraction from women. It was very interesting to me, almost like a Samson and his mane type of thing. It was received very well, one of the only things I could say is that it was always interesting whenever I’d leave the country… when I’d come back and have to go through customs at the airport, there was usually some type of incident [Laughter]. There was an assumption that, ‘I know we’re gonna find some drugs on this bohemian dressed, dread locked dude’. There were quite a few times when I got pulled in the back and they checked my stuff, went through my pockets… pretty interesting.
CN: Why’d you cut them?
When I cut them, I don’t know, I guess I had just reached another stage in my life. It was less about free flowing and became more about structure. This is what it represented for me… it’s not to say that people that have locs are just free flowing in the wind. But for whatever reason, for me, I just felt like I needed a change. I needed a little bit more structure in my life and as that structure applied, it felt like I needed to cut my hair. That’s how it happened for me.
CN: You’re still wearing it a little long though right? Comparatively speaking to other Black men with the bald fades and such…
I don’t do the bald fade thing. I feel as long as God, Mother Nature or whoever has me in the ‘hair growing’ category, I might as well utilize it. I don’t have it very long, but I still like to keep some hair. I actually just got it cut yesterday. I keep it lined most of the time with my lazy self, sometimes I don’t even get around to doing that for a couple of weeks. But usually I keep it faded around the bottom… but I don’t really comb it. I wash it regularly, 3 times a week and then put some leave-in conditioner in it and keep it moving.
CN: What types of products are you liking right now?
Really anything that my wife has in the bathroom [Laughter]!
CN: Spoken like a man.
One particular pomade that I like to put in my hair is called Free Your Mane. I wish I could think of the other products, but I use what my wife has around. I pretty much try whatever she has on hand that particular week and then apply the pomade on top of that. It’s not greasy… not sure how they do it… maybe the glycerin base? Whatever the case, I appreciate that it doesn’t make my hair feel weighed down with product. It keeps my lil’ nappy vibe I’m going for.
CN: Your new addition, Lucia Bella, is gorgeous! How has it been for you this second time around?
It’s been a challenge. A beautiful and most welcomed challenge. For the past few months I’ve been working on this album and this wonderful new addition to our lives has been around for the last few months as well. So I’ve been spending many many hours in the studio and then I’d come home and if I’m lucky, get a few hours of sleep before the baby would wake up. It’s been amazing being able to do this again… my daughter India is 20 years old now. The thought that this happened 20 years ago… that I was changing diapers 20 years ago, that’s blowing my mind. Time is a beast, it just moves so quickly. I’m at this really mature, evolved comfortable place in my life where it just feels like there is so much less trepidation. I was a kid when India was born with feelings of , ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this type of thing’. But there is none of that this time around. And I have an incredible and amazing life partner, Manuela, to do it with. It’s been wonderful.
CN: Tell me about your new album, “The One”.
The album is going to be a must have. Listening to this record so far… it’s hot! My first thought was if you love R&B, you have to get this record, but it’s not even like that… it’s just so good that if you love music, you’re going to have to get this record. There’s so much craftsmanship put into it. There’s actually a duet I do with my daughter India called ‘Music’. And she is so incredibly talented and it’s a beautiful showcase for her voice. We actually co-wrote the song. The album is going to be released on May 8th and will be a wonderful soundtrack for the summer.