Jamie Foxx Talks '90s Nostalgia and the Legacy of 'In Living Color'

The ever-animated actor relives a decade.

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Complex Original

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Jamie Foxx's career has been a long, winding road to success. 

After nearly three decades in Hollywood, the Texas native has transitioned from a stand-up comic to Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Grammy winner. His first break came during the early 1990s, when he began a three-season stint on the pioneering sketch comedy show In Living Color. The seminal program, which featured a predominantly African-American cast, exceeded comedy, infusing it with music of that period that made it reflective of the era. Furthermore, it launched the careers of stars like Foxx, Jim Carrey, and Jennifer Lopez

In Living Color was also the platform for Foxx's transition into music. A number of his roles, from ones on The Jamie Foxx Show to his Oscar-winning turn as Ray Charles, showcased Foxx's singing ability. In the wake of Ray's success, Foxx finally found success in the music industry, releasing three albums, with a fourth, Hollywood, on the way in May. Meanwhile, he's also gearing up to play Mike Tyson in Martin Scorsese's account of the legendary boxer's life

Between swigs of Hennessy VS at The W Washington D.C., and prior to Foxx telling a story about how he once chased producer Teddy Riley down on the set of In Living Color while dressed as his famous Wanda character in a haphazard attempt to start his music career, Foxx recounted the impact of the '90s on today's culture and expounded on In Living Color's legacy.

Interview by Julian Kimble. Follow him @JRK316.

Everyone’s been talking to you about Martin Scorsese’s Mike Tyson biopic, but you also have an album, Hollywood, which comes out next month. You’re old school, so do you feel any need to keep up with whatever is current in music?

I actually have to peel myself away from the process. My music partner, Breyon Prescott, gets all of the records and names them for me, and I remain in execution mode. I find that, as you become seasoned in this business, and you’ve been in it 27 or 28 years, when you go [off of] what you want to be, it could be personal, but Breyon always says, "How do you touch the masses with your personal interests?" Meaning, let me go grab the writers who know how to write and keep you [sounding] current, but, at the same time, understand where you come from and what you’re doing.

You make a good point, and you see it all the time because you’re young and you interview guys who are old school and give into the "How y’all feel out there?!" music. We don’t want to be that just yet, and Breyon is always like, "Listen, you can always get old, but why do you have to? Why not just be fly and be whoever you are?" Madonna’s still making music. Prince is still making music, so that’s what we do. We just try to make good music, and I let him call the shots.

Can you feel the influence of the ‘90s in today’s artists?

Of course! If you stay in the game long enough, [you’ll find] that they’re actually redoing the music that you were doing back in the day. Like when Drake flipped [sings Jodeci’s "My Heart Belongs to You"] "There’s nothing I won’t do/I said whatever you want..." I’m playing that at a house party, and my daughter and her friends didn’t know that Jodeci did that record. They were like, "Jodeci did that?!" So I played the original, and it’s interesting to see that they’re sampling music [from an era] that you actually lived in. What I tell Tank, Tyrese, and others is, "Look, our music is actually coming back. So we can still stay the course."

Speaking of the ‘90s, has it struck you that it’s been 25 years since In Living Color premiered?

Crazy, right? Isn’t that crazy? Twenty-five years. One of my good friends is Tyrin Turner, who played Caine in Menace ll Society, and I don’t know what he’s on—he’s on some super chicken juice because he never ages. Him and Larenz [Tate], they’re like Benjamin Button, or, better yet, Hakeem Button. Anyway, I told him that it’s a trip to know that you’ve been in the business for like, 25 going on 30 years. Because if you look at the time when I wasn’t "on" yet— because I was 18 or 19 when I got to L.A.—that’s 30 years ago. I got to San Diego in ‘87—what is that, 30 years? Twenty-eight years. I graduated high school in ‘86, so it’s a trip that it seems like it went like that [snaps fingers], because you don’t really experience the wait when things are going your way.

Imagine walking into a room where Jim Carrey is writing Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He’s literally writing it on a board, and you ask, "What are you doing?" and he says [mimics Jim Carrey’s voice], "Hey man, working on this movie called Ace Ventura: Pet Detective." So to see it come to fruition and to see him blow up [is amazing]. Or to be on the set with Keenan [Ivory Wayans] and all of these people, and they’re still relevant. That’s amazing.

Are you able to sense In Living Color’s impact when you look at present-day comedians and sketch comedy?

A little bit. Sketch comedy has changed, as far as black folks, where we don’t do it anymore. It’s all Saturday Night Live, which is sort of sad, because In Living Color was not just sketch comedy, there was a flyness to it. It was a lifestyle. It’s a shame that we don’t have that platform, and if you think about it, you can’t think of a crew of African-American artists under the age of 30 who are really sort of blazing that trail. And I’m looking for that. I’m trying to find those guys to give them the avenue so we can branch them out from TV to the movies and keep that going.

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