‘Empire’ Actor Malik Yoba on the Arts & More

Creative rebels with a cause, embodies the design and existence of the arts-infused company, iconic32 spearheaded by actor Malik Yoba and partners Sergio Morales, Felipe Lopez and Steve Espaillat.

With backgrounds stretched across the communications arts and sports spectrum, Yoba an arts educator and branding consultant; Morales a filmmaker and former corporate brand strategist; Lopez an humanitarian and athlete and; Espaillat, a sports brand ambassador, iconic32 transforms into a unique specialty that provides artists, visionaries and products an avenue to flourish.

JET caught up with iconic32 co-founder Malik Yoba while he was in town filming for the FOX hip-hop drama, EMPIRE, premiering January 7, 2015, to get the scoop on iconic32’s cultural movement and pursuing a life that inspires action for the betterment of society by way of using pop culture.

Get in tune below and allow your creativity to float!

JET: Your company turned 1 this past December. In the course of a year, what has been the progression of the company?

Malik Yoba: When I think about why we exist as a company, it’s about creating that platform for others to express themselves. It’s not about personal ownership and just what we want to do. Right now, we’re actively working on relationships with other organizations and designers to do collaborations and limited runs with fashion products. That’s the first thing we’re doing to build out our e-commerce platform.

Really interesting, creative intellectual people who have a point of view and that want to make a difference in the world by using pop culture.

The most satisfying thing about this journey that we’re on, a lot of it has just been relying on the people that we already knew, it terms of making things happen.

JET: A great example of that is the New York launch you did with Common’s Common Ground Foundation. Describe the role that iconic32 plays in the collaboration and partnerships with other companies and individuals.

MY: iconic32 exists to create or enhance cultural movements for social good, using pop culture. Pillars are art, entertainment, sports, wellness, technology, fashion essentially. So those are broad buckets in which we can push our agenda. And our agenda is real simple, to make the world a better place. To know that your life matters and it counts, that you actively and consciously are doing what you’re doing to support other people and causes that just essentially bring about positive change.

You know, people have been doing that forever, right, it’s a model, there’s a wave of social entrepreneurs that are thinking it’s not just good enough to make a lot of money but I want to make a difference and I want my life to matter and that’s a position that we amplify through what we do.

There are two pieces, one is consulting. We consult consumer good companies and organizations and we have (2) the e-commerce platform. We are initially pushing fashion products. So we’re doing collaborations with other artists and we have our own designs. Portions of the proceeds from what we sale go to social causes.

JET: How are you able to navigate creativity and business without losing sight of ideal vision and outcome?

MY: At the end of the day, we started the business because we like making money. So Sergio, my partner, it was really his vision to do this. He’s a creative director in the advertising world and has a MBA. I was starting to create digital content for companies, for ARP, UNCF, American Cancer Society, Gilette, BET and I started a web-series and was looking into branded entertainment as another business opportunity for myself. To extend my desire to be creative, write, direct, produce and do that in a different kind of way and learn brand product integration and branding entertainment, and learn that game on the digital side.

For example, I’m shooting Empire right now and I recognize that the show has a certain DNA. There’s social issues that we talk about, think about, that are presented in an artistic form. How do you build strategy around those different ideas? How do you market it not to just get viewers but to also make a difference? FOX recently announced that they have a social responsibility agenda that they’re trying to push, so, being proactive, knowing that I’m on the show and this represents a cultural movement for social good through pop culture, which is what iconic32 represents, how do I speak loud enough to let people know this isn’t just an actor on the show but we have a company where we could build strategy around.

So, how do you monetize it? Part of it is just seeing where you are and opening your mouth and telling people you have something to offer. On the e-commerce side, that’s about making money while you’re sleep. Selling product.

JET: As an arts educator and creative being, what tactics do you use to grab the attention of young people?

Malik Yoba: The long answer to that, I think, is if you live a life of purpose, to engage, inspire, encourage people and to involve them, that’s been a life long endeavor for me. I started that as a kid, tutoring kids when I was 16. So for me, that’s always a part of how you move in the world.

Specific to the company, it depends on how or who we’re working with at the time. I just think that the goal is to always inspire those people. And sometimes, you can literally just be driving down the street and get out of your car and literally just talk to people. I’ve done that. Dudes that are hanging on the block. I’m curious, like what are they talking about? You can look at them and assume that they’re up to no good, or hustling, but really what are they doing? And I’ve literally walked up and just been ‘Yo, what ya’ll talking about?’ and knowing that they may recognize me, so I’m able to have a conversation in ways that maybe another person couldn’t. And it’s not even that I get that deep with them. Sometimes, it’s just the knowledge that you took the time to say ‘what’s up.’ Sometimes, that’s enough.

JET: Early on, was there something specific that happened that influenced your love of creativity and arts that maybe shaped and/shifted your outlook on life and how you experience and assess it?

MY: I’ve always had a spirit of service. I think part of that was innate, part was encouraged by my father. For example, I walked out my place that I’m renting here in Chicago while filming [Empire], and there was a straw wrapper on the ground. I picked it up and threw it away. As a kid, my father made us do stuff like that in the building we lived in. If there was a piece of paper in the hallway he’d say “Pick it up.” “I didn’t put it there.” “So, you live here, pick it up.”

In a real fundamental, rudimentary way that was my first community service, growing up with this mentality of “Do Something.” By action, we saw him help people. We grew up Muslim and there was this woman who was mentally ill and a member of the mosque and the kids were going to be put in foster care, my dad took in the kids for a while the mother was getting her treatment. He was known for doing that. We grew up with that influence of helping people.

JET: Harry Belafonte recently challenged Hollywood and its power movers to “create works that allow people to see a better side of who we are as a species.” With the power that creators have to impact human behavior, what is your response/thoughts on the responsibility of artists and creatives?

MY: I think those that are moved to be in the “give a damn business,” sometimes people are in the “give a f— business, (laughs) that’s much more colorful. Everyone doesn’t care about that and not everybody will. But for those that do, I think, take that responsibility pretty seriously and because we do, perhaps we can influence others to care a little more.

I find it really interesting because I work with people and the outside world can look and say ‘Aw, they really care about this stuff.’ But then you know them and you’re like ‘ they don’t really care about that.’ I just think that, personally, that’s what it comes down to, each individual deciding that they want to do something.