ncbig1 - FEATURE: Nick Cannon

FEATURE: Nick Cannon

by Kathy Iandoli

 

Photography by Garth Aiken

 

Styling by Darius Baptist

 

Grooming by Jackie Sanchez/Dermalogica

Hollywood’s most ubiquitous funnyman recently added father to his extensive résumé. As he makes his return to scripted comedy on Up All Night, Nick Cannon breaks down the perks of a bicoastal hustle and how sleep is the cousin of a career’s death. All the while he still asks: “Why So Serious?”

Nick Cannon barely sleeps. When he does, it’s at most for two hours at a time. It’s about 7:30 in the morning in Los Angeles and Cannon just wrapped his radio show for New York’s 92.3 NOW. He’s been up for six hours already and doesn’t seem the least bit tired. As a father to infant twins, sleep isn’t really in the cards, but he’s used to it. “I was kinda built for that,” Cannon says in his car on the way to the gym. “So ain’t too much changed.”

Nick Cannon was raised in San Diego to a family of ministers. In his younger years, he used to cut hair for kids in his neighborhood before going full throttle in entertainment. By the age of 17, he was already leading the bicoastal life, traveling to New York City for stand-up gigs in the comedy club circuit. “I always loved the hustle of New York. Out there you can really just get it more than anything. Everyone is on the grind,” he says of the Big Apple. “There are probably more opportunities in L.A., but you’ve gotta seek them out.” At 18, Cannon landed a recurring role on Nickelodeon’s teen sketch comedy show All That, a former home to other stars like Amanda Bynes and Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson. By 22, Nick had his own show on Nickelodeon called The Nick Cannon Show. Then, the film roles began, with a supporting role in Men in Black II and starring roles in Drumline opposite Zoe Saldana and Love Don’t Cost a Thing with singer Christina Milian. While comedy was the primary move, the music was always there. In 2001, Cannon signed to Jive Records, releasing his self-titled debut album in 2003. His career trajectory is only parallel to that of Hollywood superstar Will Smith’s (who he’s repeatedly been compared to in the industry), where universal acceptance rules over everything. “I just knew I wanted at least a nationwide, if not a global, appeal,” Cannon recalls. “It’s kinda how I had to do it.”

After the gym, Cannon heads on set to finish an Adult Swim pilot he only describes as “hip-hop based.” Later in the week, he’ll be flying to Miami to (as Jay-Z would say) fuck up the Fontainebleau, deejaying at Arkadia. The weekend prior, the 30-year-old was spinning at the Chateau in Vegas. “I got my finger on the pulse of what’s going in the clubs,” he says. His decision to put Akon on his single, “Famous,” released earlier this year, was no doubt a by-product of that. In the video, Cannon is dressed like MC Hammer and taking dance instructions from Debbie Allen while stretching in a neon unitard. The track appears on Cannon’s Mr. Showbiz Sings the Hits, the follow-up to his comedy album Mr. Showbiz released this past spring.

He’s already tapped T-Pain and Flo Rida for the new project and additionally hopes to work with David Guetta. His rap project Children Of the Corn is also still in the pipeline. “I’m bringing fun back to hip-hop,” he says. “Everybody’s way too serious right now. People used to have fun with music back in the day. Everybody wanna talk about how much money they got, how many keys they could sell, and all that. If everybody’s a drug kingpin, what is the world really coming to?”

Raised on humor-filled rap acts like Digital Underground, Biz Markie, and Slick Rick, Nick Cannon took his cue from those guys when it came to his own music. “It takes a person with a certain type of self-confidence to say, ‘I’ma be the silly dude. I’ma be the guy that has the good time,’” Cannon explains. “I have no problem doing that.”

Now flirting with the real move into his thirties, Cannon is already looking toward the younger generation in hip-hop. “The shelf life in hip-hop is short and that’s why I knew right when I got in the game, I always treated it like a business,” he explains. Cannon manages acts like The Rangerz, New Boyz, and Cory Gunz, detailing the latter of the three’s career on the MTV series Son Of a Gun. “I ran up on Cory probably about two years ago,” Cannon remembers. “Found him in the Bronx, I hunted him down and told him, ‘I could take your career to the next level. Just roll with me.’ He was like, aiight, and like two years later I got him signed to Young Money and a television show on MTV.”

While an avid supporter of all hip-hop, Cannon says he’s excited about the young movement happening now. He’s still a fan of the greats like Jay-Z, and even Eminem – despite a medium-rare beef that occurred between the two over Eminem’s rumored former love interest and Cannon’s wife, Mariah Carey. Cannon even purchased Em’s collaborative Bad Meets Evil project with Royce Da 5’9. “I can definitely separate the artist from a man’s personal feelings. I don’t feel like it’s a real beef or anything like that,” he says on the situation with the Detroit rapper. “Beef is when two people have a real issue with each other. I never personally heard from the dude. Until I’m approached with it that way, it’s nothing to me.”

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Perhaps the greatest nod to hip-hop in Cannon’s career was the purchase of PNB Nation in 2007. The clothing line (which started as a tagging crew) went up for sale and Cannon readily grabbed it. “When I saw that [PNB] was on the market, I was like, yo that is something that – whether I even made a profit off it or not – it was something that I would love to have in my catalog just based off the nostalgia sake,” he recalls. “I just wanted to rock with it.” And while Cannon is a fan of fashion, he’s also aware of his own questionable choices at times, like rocking pink suits. “When I dress now, I dress to make a statement,” he says. “Sometimes those statements are a little abrupt.” According to the entertainer, he has no qualms about dressing “flamboyant,” and if his outfits shock anyone, then a statement was made. Mission accomplished.

Catching up with Cannon at a later date, he’s just left the boxing gym and is headed to his office at Viacom. While primarily N.Y.C.-based with his wife of three years and their fraternal twins, Monroe and Moroccan, they’ve learned to balance both coasts. Despite having a household with two huge careers to manage, Cannon says it’s always family first for him and Mariah. “She’s getting her full-time mom on, but she’ll be getting back to work pretty soon too,” he says of Carey. “Between the two of us, we’ll balance out who’s taking care of the kids.” Now cast as Calvin on the new NBC comedy <Up All Night>, the show films in L.A. and when asking the new dad how he’ll handle his latest job, he says he’s “trying to figure it out.” The commute to the Cali set could be cut in half if he uses his private jet, but per Cannon, the fuel is expensive. “If somebody else is paying for a flight, I have no problem hopping on Southwest,” he jokes. “Just because you got money don’t mean you have to be frivolous with it.”

Cannon describes his character on Up All Night as “an extreme version” of himself, acting alongside comedic heavyweights like Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph. While it took some elbow grease to fit the show in his schedule, Cannon said it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. “Lorne Michaels actually gave me a call directly and asked me to be a part of it,” he says. “You can’t really tell that guy no. I was just honored by the phone call.” The show places Cannon back on scripted television since for the past two years he’s been hosting America’s Got Talent. “It’s kinda good to get back to something that’s just not improv,” he admits. “I’ve got my student hat on.” Improv has been a running theme in Cannon’s career. In 2005, he created MTV’s Wild ‘N Out, a hip-hop skewed sketch comedy show that catapulted the careers of Kevin Hart, Katt Williams, and Affion Crockett. “That’s my man,” Cannon says of Crockett, who has his own comedy series, In the Flow. “Whatever we do, we’re always gonna be looking out for each other.” Out of everything he’s accomplished, Cannon says that bringing back Wild ‘N Out is one of the biggest requests he receives. “I don’t wanna mess up a brand that was kinda fly by itself. I have an inner struggle if I should do it or not, and will it be as good as when I first created it,” he says. However, it might happen again. “You’re gonna see something similar to it, if not exactly that, soon,” he hints. “When I created Wild ‘N Out, it was so all my funny friends could be showcased – so you could see people like Katt Williams and Kevin Hart and Affion and we’re doing it all over again. We got a few shows I’m producing where people can showcase their talent and give new, young talent the opportunity to branch out.”

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While he can’t disclose the details, Cannon will also be starring in a film with Katt Williams and Mike Epps. In addition, he wrote and produced an upcoming Nickelodeon project with Keke Palmer, with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins manning the soundtrack. He’s also working on a film with The Rangerz and New Boyz for Lionsgate. There are also several shows in the works for MTV. Cannon says being in front of the camera has its perks, but behind the camera allows him to multitask. His only request when it comes to acting in films, though, is that they are his own. “I only want to act in films I produce,” he says. “Get my Spike Lee on.”

 

Sitting in his New York office, Cannon claims he isn’t fully aware of everything he’s accomplished. “I have yet to sit back and look at everything because I’m too busy working,” he says. While he and his wife manage some semblance of a private life, he says there’s a formula to it. “You give them enough and people will rock with it,” he says of the media. “It’s those people that don’t know how to operate within the media that end up getting frustrated and upset with the business. But we all know what we signed up for.” When asked if he and his wife would ever share studio time, he emphatically says, “No. I’m not worthy enough to be in the studio with Mariah Carey,” Cannon says. “I make silly music. She makes real, award-winning music.” While most of the negative feedback surrounding Nick Cannon involves his slapstick humor in entertainment, he’s clearly in on the joke and refers to the haters as “funny.” “At the end of the day, the majority of this is entertainment and that’s how people should perceive it,” he explains. “Sometimes people tend to mix entertainment with reality, especially with things like reality TV, which is clearly entertainment as well.”

With three decades down, Nick Cannon is still just getting started. While his greatest role is now being a father, he hopes his kids aren’t entertainers when they grow up and aim for more “remarkable” careers as brain surgeons and physicists. They can leave the entertainment up to their pops, who says he’s doing this all for them anyway. A man of many hats, the secret to Nick Cannon’s success is pretty simple. “I wake up earlier than everybody else does and go to sleep after everybody else,” he says. “There’s only two hours in a day that really get past me.”

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About Kathy Iandoli

Kathy Iandoli e1605684588319 - FEATURE: Nick Cannon
Kathy Iandoli is an American author and journalist.

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