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WUNC Youth Reporting Institute Production. Youth Reporting mentor Caitlin Leggett hosts weekly instagram lives with the movers and shakers of our community. Her introspective interviews bring the community to the world, and amplify the voices of the marginalized.

J. Alphonse talks about vulnerability, life lessons

Caitlin Leggett interviews J. Alphonse Nicholson on Changing Channels
Lil Murda on P-Valley
Screen Grab
Lil Murda on P-Valley

“Down in the valley where the girls get naked..."

If you know the rest of the song, then you are in fact a P-Valley fan and you have found your tribe.

On today’s episode of Changing Channels, Caitlin Leggett sits down with a star of the show, J Alphonse Nicholson, better known as "Lil' Murda."

Nicholson portrays a man who goes from rags to riches by building his rap career. In his journey through the Mississippi Delta, we see his struggles with revealing his true self to the world, while balancing the persona he wants his fans to see. An intricate part of Lil' Murda's story highlights the pressures of being a Black man in a setting that is not always accepting of vulnerability. The show focuses on themes of mental health, abortion, nontraditional family structures, unconventional wealth building, hyper-sexualization, sex work and the struggle for transparency.

Follow @915wunc and @wuncyouthvoices to keep up with the Youth Reporting Institute and watch episodes of Changing Channels.

Interview Highlights

Talk to me a little bit about your upbringing here in North Carolina.

"It's just a beautiful place. Especially when I was growing up there in the '90s, Greensboro just felt Black, felt like culture, felt like A&T homecomings. It felt like Dudley High School, which is where I went to high school. It was just an amazing experience full of culture, full of Black history. All the way up to North Carolina Central University. I just had some amazing people around me, amazing professors. My best friends that are still in my circle to this day were formed in North Carolina. So, who I am at the core is that southern gentleman that North Carolina raised me to be."

Describe the importance of Lil' Murda and his character.

"When he was first introduced to me, I said, 'Man, I know this brother and I just want to take care of him, I want to make sure he's good.' [I want to] make sure that the world sees him in the best light possible and even when they do see him in a dark light that he’s still shining. So, you know, he means a lot to a lot of people at this point.

J. Alphonse poses as his character "Lil Murda," from the Starz show, P-Valley.
Starz Entertainment
J. Alphonse poses as his character "Lil Murda," from the Starz show, P-Valley.

"Shout out to Katori Hall for using her imagination but also pulling from real life and placing it onto the page, and allowing people to see themselves [who] haven't seen themselves [portrayed] in a long time. I love that in Episode 10 of Season 2, we see Uncle Clifford and Lil' Murda essentially come out. It meant the world to me, for him to have this arc. And for my brothers and sisters and everyone in between in the LGBTQ spectrum, who don't feel like they're being seen. Lil' Murda has given me a small slice of what people go through on a daily basis who can't be themselves."

In Black culture, we have unconventional families and family structures. In the show, we see Lil' Murda create a "found family" through his relationship with Uncle Clifford, and Grandmuva Ernestine. Tell me how you dove into that journey.

"I had to learn a lot about the families that the LGBTQ plus community create[s]. You know, our family, our people who get outcast have to form these other families for themselves. So, I think it's important that we see that in P-Valley. Katori has shown that obviously, and Lil' Murda, I think he's still figuring that out for himself. He’s a part of his gang, those are all his brothers, and I think life is a very interesting thing. You know, a lot of people join gangs, not to commit violence, but to have a family, to have systems that they can lean on. And early on, when gangs were created, they were created to help them better the community. It’s like, this is your family. This is where you can lean on, and how can we go out and serve a purpose? Violence has always been around. I don't think it's going to go anywhere. But we can have our impact, [and] we can help it by having different stories and accepting these families that we see created, right?"

There's no, “Look at this person and this is how you do it.” So tell me, where do you pull your [inspiration] from?

"There's no blueprint for capsulizing Lil' Murda. I'm obviously inspired by so many actors and the depth that actors can go. Obviously, Denzel Washington is a huge inspiration. You know, Viola Davis, David Spencer, Matthew McConaughey, Meryl Streep. So, when it comes to the technical part of it, when it comes to storytelling, I pull from the great artists that I've worked with and the great directors I worked with.

Lil Murda and Uncle Clifford from P-Valley.
Lil Murda and Uncle Clifford from P-Valley.

"With Lil' Murda, the actual character, I had to rely on like, who do I know that is Lil' Murda? I have to think about it like my cousin, [like] some of the homies I grew up with in school. We all know an Uncle Cliff, and we all know a Lil' Murda. I've had those real experiences, you know, where you discover that this brother can't be himself. So I can only go off of things that I knew were real. Love is real. Anger is real. All those things are playable. As I've said before, what's the inner monologue behind it? As an artist, I think it's imperative that you have an inner monologue."

For Uncle Clifford, the Pynk was a legacy. Right? A way of building her own wealth. Talk a little bit about unconventional wealth building.

"Dang, Caitlin, you hit me with a new loaded term. I have never ever heard of unconventional wealth building but that's dope because you open it up — I think I've been able to do that to a certain extent. You know, I was a street drummer the majority of my adulthood, you know, so that's unconventional. People [are] like, 'How you make money by being a street drummer?', and I was able to do it. Like you said, [it was] believing in something, loving something so much to where I knew it was going to take care of me if I took care of it. And I think that's how Uncle Clifford, that's how he sees the Pynk. As we like to say, “If I take care of the Pynk, it's going to take care of me."

The actor has recently taken on a new role: philanthropist.

By starting the J. Alphonse Nicholson Foundation based out of Greensboro, Nicholson uses the hashtag "#TheGiveBack" as a mantra for what the foundation looks to accomplish. He will be having a meet and greet, and launch party for the foundation on Friday, Sept. 2 at 4 p.m.

Flyer for the launch/meet & greet of the J. Alphonse Nicholson Foundation Inc.
Flyer for the launch/meet & greet of the J. Alphonse Nicholson Foundation Inc.

Caitlin Leggett was WUNC's News Administrative Intern & Youth Reporting Mentor.
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