What if you could combine all the things you love about hip-hop with a way to take better care of yourself? If that sounds like your cup of tea, then meet Shanae Jones the Hip-Hop Herbalist.
She is the founder of Ivy's Tea Company, a hip-hop influenced holistic health brand with a collection of handcrafted herbal teas and herb-infused sweeteners. Her products have taken a life of its own with catchy names like #TrapTea and equally clever descriptions that instantly reel customers in, but it's the delicious taste and sweet aroma that keeps them coming back for more.
This former executive assistant turned entrepreneur/herbalist shares her journey from working with a Quaker lobbying organization to creating safe spaces for black women and men in the holistic industry.
Courtesy of Shanae Jones
How did you come up with the title hip-hop herbalist?
It kind of came from other people. I'm happy too because I always wanted a nickname but I didn't get one (laughs). Now, I have one that I guess goes with my career, my passion. It just kinda came from the way I moved tea and I mixed it with herbs. [My] trap tea sort of took off on Twitter and this is just what it became, so that's how a lot of people [now] refer to me.
What was the concept behind hip-hop influenced herbal tea?
Well, I find that hip-hop is a great teaching tool and I see no reason why herbalism and herbal tea or any tea shouldn't be a part of that teaching. For me, it was quite simple; it was just very easy for me to see that connection between hip-hop and herbal tea. The common nature of hip-hop and also the common nature of herbalism and herbal tea. It's not considered highbrow medicine, and for a lot of people, hip-hop isn't considered this really incredible musical genre.
While I would disagree, there are parallels in that that also herbalism kinda deals with when it comes to conventional medicine. It was really easy for me to see the connection. I knew hip-hop, so [I] was like, I'm going to do something that I'm confident in and comfortable with and I can work with something I don't know much about.
I can make those parallels that people don't see. And I can bring it to people and make it plain for them to understand.
Courtesy of Shanae Jones
Why the name 'Ivy's Tea Co.'?
Naming a business is actually hard because you're like, 'I can't come up with anything!' But one day, it just rolled off the tongue.
I thought that I could name it after my grandmother. Her name was Ivy and she left Jamaica for a better life in London at a very early age. I think she was 16 or 17 years old. Ivy was kickass and very brave and I thought I should take that same energy and same spirit with me as I'm going on to do something very risky.
Being an entrepreneur is probably as risky as it gets and so I decided to name my company after her and it made sense and it sounded good. On the flipside, Ivy kinda smoked and she drank a lot. It probably wasn't the best idea to name a holistic health brand after her but her bravery was important to me and so I decided I would go with that.
Courtesy of Instagram/ @ivysteaco
Do you believe your British-Jamaican heritage influenced you as an entrepreneur?
Sometimes I would like to say 'no,' but sometimes when I look back I could see, [for example] my family owned a Jamaican restaurant. When I was in middle school and high school, I would work there. I would leave school and take the bus to work with my mom and grandmother in the evenings. I saw my family working together and I saw the freedom of entrepreneurship but I think that's why when I think about it, it gave me a real glimpse of how hard it is.
My grandmother now, she doesn't clean chicken at all, you can't get her to touch a chicken because she cleaned so many while she was working at the restaurant. It showed me the grit and it showed me the staffing problems, delivery issues--how do you promote? How do you market? And this was at a time where there wasn't really [any] social media so it gave me a real insight on what it is to be an entrepreneur.
I learned not to quit and I learned that it's not as glamorous as people online would make it look, so I at least got to see that upfront.
I do drink a lot of tea and I always have ever since I was younger. That's how I bonded with my mother and grandmother, just over cups of tea. It's how I grew into womanhood, it's how I learned a lot about my family, that's how I learned about gossip and I learned about news and socio-political issues. I got to learn about my mother and grandmother over those cups of tea so I guess it was the one thing that introduced me to tea, but the tea I make now is so different than what we had and it's so different from what people tend to think of when they think of British tea.
Courtesy of Instagram / @ivysteaco
Besides clever names like "PushaTea" and "What the Flu," what makes Ivy Tea Co. unique?
I'd say it's the mission behind the brand and that is to bring more black people into the holistic health industry and to change the scope of what holistic living is and what tea culture is.
The company is really all about shifting perspectives and subverting assumptions and in some ways, it is to offend people.
To get people to no longer take what they're used to and kinda flip it on its head and to say everything you think you know is wrong and I think that's really important as businesses grow and brands grow. There are lots of big trends we see about having a big face in front of the company and it's all about personality and how people buy into people and not brands per se but I feel that brands and businesses, in general, have the ability to shift American culture and the ability to create the America we want to see and mine is that I want to see a lot more inclusivity of black and brown people.
What are some obstacles you've encountered being a black woman in this space?
Well first off, a lot of people who drink tea don't think that hip-hop is necessary for it. They think that I should make it and make the brand, they would say, "more inclusive," but what they really mean is that they want to see less black people in the ad. They want the language to be a little "less black" but it's me.
When I make product descriptions online or I'm making a caption, it's my voice. I'm speaking the way that I speak on a regular basis not with any regard, it's not that I'm doing this intentionally, I'm just being my authentic self.
I also feel like the holistic health industry is full of wellness porn. Everybody's doing it, everybody's moaning, everybody is having a good time but they all got paid. It's not authentic, and I feel like I have to use my voice to kinda change that and of course, it's scary sometimes to be the first person over the hill, but I'm willing to do that.
I don't feel like I have much to lose, so I can take that chance but it is certainly a challenge. A lot of people don't want to see the brand the way that it is but I have proof of concept. I have customers who come back again and again. I have first time customers who come and are very appreciative of the fact that they can see themselves and hear themselves in the branding and that's enough for me to keep going because I know if I got them, then I can get one more and I can keep going and that's the point of the whole thing. I welcome the challenges. If it were too easy I think I probably would have quit by now.
Courtesy of Instagram / @ivysteaco
We've seen a rise in holistic awareness especially in the black community, but there are still some misconceptions about holistic medicine. How does your herbal teas address that?
I try to step away from that. I don't feel that Ivy Tea Company is here to address any misconceptions. It's gonna be there no matter what but we are here to bring acceptance and inclusivity into the industry and to create a space with people who have questions about holistic health but don't look like or live like the typical wellness guru. I want those people to come to me and feel comfortable asking questions and I want them to feel invited to approach the industry.
We don't have a medical industry in this country right now [for] holistic medicine or even alternative medicine practices like homeopathy, for example. Outside of the states, they do all the time but there are big pharmaceutical companies and lots of money to be made, so anything that encourages you to do something outside of taking a pill is oftentimes discouraged.
That's what herbalists like myself have to overcome and so that's why I feel like I'm here to stand in the gap. That's why it's important that I do this work but that I get more involved and give back to the community in a way. I don't want to address the misconceptions but I'll at least add information to it to make it a little more understandable as something you can take in conjunction to what you already know as far as conventional medicine is concerned.
What are the benefits of living a more holistic life?
I can speak for myself and say that it is a more focused, much more disciplined life. I also have much more self-confidence. I'm just a lot healthier because when you have teas and things, it's typically dry herbs but also when I cook my own food now, I use fresh herbs. I'm like the parsley person now, you know black chefs love to put parsley on everything.
I'm using fresh mint, I'm using fresh basil, I'm more into green juices and I'm also more interested in it. I used to have dry scalp, I used to suffer from a lot of migraines, and I no longer have those problems so for me the benefits have been tremendous.
You can find her products on www.ivystea.com. Follow Shanae on Instagram @ivysteaco.
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London Alexaundria is a writer and contributing editor for xoNecole. After graduating with a B.A. in mass media arts from Clark Atlanta University, London went on to work for several media outlets and started her own writing coaching business.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Text This Before You Ghost Them, Sis.
We’ve all been there at least once (or a few times) along our dating journey. Maybe you’ve had a date or two with a potential suitor, but the spark just wasn’t there. Perhaps you convinced yourself that just “one more” date would help you overlook a non-negotiable ick. At this point in the dating cycle, you’ve probably reached the point where you must decide to either communicate “why” things won’t be moving forward or simply ghost them.
What Is Ghosting?
“Ghosting” refers to the act of suddenly and unexpectedly cutting off all communication with someone you've been dating or talking to without any explanation or further contact. It typically occurs in the early stages of dating but can also happen after a few dates or even in more established relationships.
The act of ghosting has become quite a common practice in our modern dating culture and can manifest in a number of different ways. From days of ignored text messages and phone calls out of the blue to not showing up for pre-arranged plans and sometimes disappearing from someone's life without any notice or explanation.
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The Problem With Ghosting
Being ghosted may seem like a harmless act of “self-choosing,” but the person on the receiving end of your decision can be left feeling confused, rejected, and even abandoned, wondering what happened and where they went wrong.
And we get it, what explanation do you owe someone for leaving after a few cocktails and a $100 date? While that may seem like the perfect opportunity to cut and run, taking an alternative approach to fizzle out a fling is a great time to practice clear and effective communication that can pay off in the long run.
While there is a time and a place for ghosting (and even blocking) if your boundaries have been crossed or safety has been threatened, if we’re looking to live out our best healed, secure-girl summer, there are ways to date freely without leaving others with damage of their own to recover from.
Being honest and upfront about your feelings while being respectful of the other person's time is the best way to leave a situationship or fling with both parties emotionally unscathed. So if you’re looking for ways to break things off with care and consideration, we’ve provided five text scripts to send instead of ghosting somebody’s son:
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5 Texts To Send Instead of Ghosting Them
1. If you want to take the honest but gentle approach:
"Hey [Name], I've really enjoyed getting to know you, but I've been doing some thinking, and I don't see this going any further. I wanted to be upfront and honest with you rather than leaving you wondering. I wish you all the best."
2. If you want to express gratitude before saying goodbye:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to reach out and say thank you for the time we spent together. You're an amazing person, but I think we're better off as friends. I hope you understand and that we can still maintain a positive connection."
3. If you want to leave a note of appreciation:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to let you know that I've had a great time with you, but I don't think we're compatible for a romantic relationship. I appreciate the moments we shared, and I hope we can both find what we're looking for."
4. If a face-to-face convo is needed:
"Hey [Name], I've been doing some thinking, and I believe it's important for us to have an open conversation about where we stand. Can we find some time to talk about our relationship and how we both feel? I think it's important to address things honestly."
5. If you want to keep things cute and concise:
"Hey [Name], I've realized that we're not on the same page, and it's best if we part ways. Take care."
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