Fonzworth Bentley: Taking G’s to Gentleman, and Keeping It Real

 

It is the continuation

of a legacy spawned by what has been far from Hip-Hop’s proudest moment. Flavor of Love gave us I Love New York, Rock of Love and Charm School,

and now the VH1 Celebreality machine has created a little brother for the MTV

generation.

 

From G’s to Gents brings together a group of 14 guys described as “rough

around the edges,” and gives them the opportunity to change their ways and

possibly earn a cash prize.

 

Originally rumored

to be a Charm School experience for

the male contestants of I Love New York,

the show follows a similar premise to what comedienne Mo’Nique did with the Flavor of Love all-stars, down to the

$100,000 prize given to the winner at the end of the season.

 

But these are not

guys seeking to extend their 15 minutes, having masked their desire for superstardom

by faking true love. As host Fonzworth Bentley explains, creators Jamie Foxx and

Chris Abrego were after way more than a ratings factor in televising this

social experiment.

 

The artist/author,

and Ambassador of the Gentleman’s movement shares with us how his latest

project goes beyond entertainment.

 

AllHipHop.com: So how did the

show come about?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: I’ve been turning

down reality shows, at least three a week for the last three years, because, as

far as reality, I didn’t really wanna do anything unless it was going to help

somebody else. And you did the interview with me sometime back in September

about the book [Advance Your Swagger: How to Use Manners, Confidence, and Style to Get Ahead]. I had been in talks

with a few companies about developing something around the teachings of the

book, because people were excited about it and enjoyed the book, it’s been

doing well.

 

I got a call from Chris Abrego, and Jamie Foxx had this idea to turn G’s

into gentlemen. And when he thought of it, he thought of me from the very

beginning.  The irony of it is, he’s been

wanting to do a show with me since he met me back in 2001. It’s kinda funny how

six, seven years later, we’re finally able to make it happen, which is a

testament to having relationships and maintaining favorable relationships.

 

AllHipHop.com: So how closely do

the topics you visited on the show work with what you wrote about in Advance Your Swagger?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: It was a perfect fit with the

book, and we wrapped a lot of the things around the book. And we added other

things on to it that, not just men need to know, but that especially the men

need to know. It’s basically about adding other tools to the toolbox, if you

will. Right now, if you’re living in the streets, or if you’re living even the

suburbs, or wherever you’re living, the only way that you know to go about

getting things done or working, or moving your dream forward, let alone just

whatever you do to survive, are the only tools that you know.

 

It’s kinda like, if you have a hammer and a wrench in your tool shed,

and that’s all you got, you gon’ break something! So this is just adding a

drill. If you got a vise, you can cut something event straighter. So it’s

really about adding some different tools to these gentlemen’s toolboxes. I’m

excited because every where I go, I would always get asked questions because

people know I started from an assistant point of view, and also I had an

incredible mentor that knows every gamete of the game. And that’s why I wrote

the book. And after I wrote the book, people would say, “Bentley, you really

need to do a show with this so that folks can really see this and learn.” And

so I think that the show is gonna be really impactful because it’s like, I can

see these guys making a transformation.

 

It was really interesting because, you know the winner gets $100,000. The

show started out with everybody [thinking], “I gotta get this $100,000. This

could change my life.” And as the show progressed, it turned into, “I don’t

wanna leave here Bentley, because I don’t wanna miss the lessons that you’re

teaching us.” We taught them lessons in how to dress appropriately for every

occasion, and they never really thought about it as in-depth as that. Lessons

in chivalry and gallantry. Lessons in how to put together your resumé, and how

to take the things that you’ve done and your work experience and make it look

the best on a resumé.  How to even go

about getting an interview, a lot of folks don’t know.

 

Etiquette, and business savvy; and there’s a different type of

conversation you gotta have if you’re talking to your person on the corner,

than if you’re talking to the person that’s in the boardroom. And nothing says

that you can’t do all of that. We have living, glowing examples right now,

especially in Hip-Hop, of folks that have made that very transition. From 50

[Cent] to Jay [Z], these are prime examples of folks who have made that

transition.

 

AllHipHop.com: You mentioned

some of the glowing examples of how this has worked for others. And you got

some people involved to showcase that first hand, right? Master P, Irv Gotti…

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Yeah. Master P is a

wonderful example of someone who not only started from nothing, but had a dream

to open a record store. And he named his record store No Limit! I mean, just in

the sheer idea of what he decided to name his company, folks really need to

think about when they brand and name their companies, what are they naming

their companies? He named his No Limit, and he did just that. He started with a

record store, then he did the label, then he said, “I don’t really need y’all,

I’ll sell these records on my own.

 

He did one of the most groundbreaking deals for Hip-Hop, and he took

the same mentality of the street and brought it to the record game. He has

upped his profile. His son did his thing. His son was an actor, and his son is

now going to USC. So Master P, I thought was the perfect person, especially

with the guys that I had on the show, he would be the perfect person to really

hit home with them.

 

AllHipHop.com: How did you guys

choose the contestants? Where you involved in that process?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: That happened before I got there. They

basically did castings nationwide. And they had people come in and a

series of questions: what they though a “G” was, what they thought a gentleman

was. And it wasn’t just about getting people who were the most street, who were

the most “G.” We wanted people that not only were that, but people that really

wanted to make a change. Otherwise, they just gon’ be there for TV, and that’s

not what we wanted to do. That’s not what this was about. We wanted people that

fundamentally wanted to make a change, but didn’t have anybody to actually come

to the hood and give them those tools and give them that opportunity so that

they could learn these things.

 

AllHipHop.com: How much of the

development of the show did you directly have a hand in?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Well, after I was

brought on, it was like, “Ok, we definitely want you very much involved, we

want your voice, we want this to go the way you want.” You know, keeping it

real: most reality shows, for the host, they come in and they basically [get

told], “Here, we need you to hit these points, set up these challenges, and

we’ll have you out of here by five o’clock.” I told them before I signed on,

I’m not leaving at five o’clock. I’m staying here as long as I have to stay, to

make sure that they get this information. I don’t wanna test these guys on this

information, if I don’t fully believe that they have been taught the

information well enough to perform.

 

So many days, this was a good 18-20 days a lot of times, because I was

sticking around because I really cared about these guys. And most importantly,

there’s no reason for anyone to want to try and work on being a better man and

work on being person or really adopting the things that we’re teaching if you

don’t see anybody making a transformation. I was very much involved into who we

brought in to teach different lessons, so I had to make sure that we chose

great folks.

 

We had [designer] Ozwald Boateng to come in for the fashion lesson; we

got Sean Yazbeck, who won the fifth season of The Apprentice, to teach business savvy. Here’s a man who took an

opportunity of being on the show, to then working for Trump, to now having his

own enterprise. He really took that opportunity to the next level. We taught

them how to do a PowerPoint presentation, and then they pitched what they

thought would be a sound business to gentlemen out in L.A. called the Dolce

Group. You know [co-owner] Michael Malin won one of these reality shows [Big Brother], and now they have all

these hot spots all over: they have the Geisha House, Ketchup.

 

That’s why they were perfect, because here’s somebody who was sitting

in the exact same seat that you’re sitting in. He took this money and made

something out of it. He didn’t just blow the money that he made. So we were

really specific in choosing that. I was really excited about the commitment

from Chris Abrego and Jamie Foxx for really making this a real thing and not

just a comedic hodgepodge, if you will.

 

AllHipHop.com: What are some of

the other lessons?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: We said fashion and

business savvy. How to interview, the importance of first impressions, being

able to learn how to adapt to different cultures… a lesson in diction and

grammar, because we get so comfortable in how we talk. We had one gentleman who

had never left Miami in his life. That plane flight to L.A. was the first time

he left Miami. He ain’t been to Tampa. If you’re in your environment like that,

you talk how you talk all of the time. It’s about expanding your vocabulary.

 

We literally went through 10 weeks of lessons and challenges. And the

good news is, I’ve already gotten calls and emails from the guys. One of the

gentlemen, he called me on the cell phone and told me, “Bentley, I went for an

interview to be a waiter. I dressed appropriately and I had my resume together.

And because of how I presented myself,” he told me they made him a shift

manager, and he was like, “This stuff is real!” Now you know the economy that

we’re in right now. That’s an extra couple dollars plus responsibility in a

starting position, just off the things that he learned on the show. So that

made me proud. Some of the gentlemen, they’ve gotten into school.

 

AllHipHop.com: At the same time,

everything doesn’t always take. Are there people that you felt were unable or

unwilling to take what you were giving them? Or even guys who you felt were

just there for TV?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Nah, those guys

were gone the first episode. As soon as they walked in the house, you see what

that is, and they exposed themselves. And I think that from that, even they

learned. Like, “Wow. I just walked in the house. Here’s a wonderful

opportunity, not only to learn something, but to win $100,000 and to learn from

someone that I know is a student of the game and has advanced his swagger. And

I don’t got kicked out the house on the first day. I will never mess up an

opportunity like this again.” So no matter which way you do it, it’s a learning

experience.

 

AllHipHop.com: What was the most

challenging thing about the whole set up for you?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: To be perfectly

honest, the most challenging thing was to see certain guys, who because of the

way their personality was, it would hold him back. There were certain guys who

really were listening to lessons, would perform well in the challenge, but

because they had bad attitudes, and because of ego, it would hold them back. That

was really frustrating.

 

There were people on the show who had been fired from every job because

of violence. So it’s like, Brother, when you’re messing up, it’s affecting you!

You’re hurting yourself. I can see you at the end, and look at you: you’re

messing this up because of a simple thing. What good is it to take it to that

level with another man? That’s what this whole thing was about: you can have

fisticuffs going mind to mind. And it’s like the reality is, every person who

got on this show learned that it’s actually very easy to be a G, but it takes a

lot more effort to be a gentleman.

 

AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like

you guys did a good job of showing them the value of putting that effort in?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Yeah. And that’s

why I said, the one payoff was the $100,000. But then it was about, “Wow, I’m

learning things here from experts, and I’m enjoying learning it, and this is

stuff that I really need to learn and things that I really need to know.” A lot

of these guys had kids. So it’s like, you gotta step your game up not just for

yourself, but for your little one. And you know that this is stuff that you

need to not only have for yourself, but you need to be passing down to your

little one. And that’s something that they never could deny.

 

AllHipHop.com: Were you involved

with the editing process to? Because a lot of people who appear on reality

shows complain about the fact that the shows are edited to make them appear a

certain way. And for all of you and Jamie’s best intentions, there’s still

someone out there who’s wanting to make it good TV…

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Well, I can tell

you that one of the things that I said was that I wanted this show to be real.

And a lot of that has to do with the way that I conducted myself. And if I

really came from a real, teachable spirit; all of the guests came from a real,

teachable spirit and not really tryna lame folks out, then it’s gonna happen. People

had real transformations. That’s what’s gonna make this a really good show. It

ain’t just about the quick joke. These folks are really going through real

transformations.

 

That’s why I think people are gonna turn in, because they’re gonna really

get into these guys. There were guys I couldn’t stand. I was like, “I want him

off right now.” And then within another week, I really liked the guy and I was

like, this is a night and day. Because I think a lot of the things that we put

them through and challenged them on, it really helped to turn them inside out,

so to speak. There were some folks, it was rehab for them. There were folks who

came in the house that were addicted to drugs. Hard stuff.

 

AllHipHop.com: How did y’all

deal with that?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Well, they can’t

get none. They’re locked in this house. But there were people that stopped

smoking in here. And it was amazing, because it wasn’t that we made them stop.

It started to be about, you need to be a better person and you know why. You got

somebody back home that’s looking up to you. That’s rooting for you to be

better. You can’t lose here. It’s too much to lose. And I would be very blunt

and very forthright in highlighting there lives to them. I think what it’s

really gonna be, is it’s gonna be some balance in the industry, and it’s gonna

be balance for television.

 

AllHipHop.com: Would you do it

again?

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Oh, I can’t wait to

do it again, because this is really something that I’ve already been doing.

Since my book came out, my goal has been to talk to 80 different schools in two

years. I’m at 65.

 

AllHipHop.com: Wow! And it

hasn’t been a year yet!

 

Fonzworth Bentley: Well, I started

before the book came out. Because I had been writing and drafting, and it takes

four months to print a book. So I started before the book came out. I targeted

a lot of single-gender schools. I’ve been everywhere from Harvard to the

Wharton Business School at [University of] Pennsylvania, to Morehouse, Spelman

and Clark. I’ve gone to speak to students because a lot of these students are

coming out of school, but they’re not getting the information that they need

for the real world, and that’s what I found has been missing.

 

Even at the high school and middle school level, there’s a couple of

school that have been adopting it as part of their curriculum. So this is

something that I’m about. And that’s what my whole mission is. Even with the

music, the whole Cool Outrageous Lovers Of Uniquely Raw Styles [C.O.L.O.U.R.S.],

this is a new school. Knowing how to treat a lady is cool. Knowing how to get

dressed up for every occasion is cool. Being a gentleman is cool.

 

You know just as well as I do, there are folks who grew up in middle

class neighborhoods, who try to act like they thugs because they think that

they’re gonna get accepted in Hip-Hop. And then they’re getting called out

‘cause folks who from they hood say, “He wasn’t like that. He never been like

that.” But you’re already seeing: the gentlemen’s movement is here, and it’s

about to be full pedal to the metal. And I’m talking about the pedals on the

steering wheel.

 

Oh, and there’s a G in gentleman. A true gentleman is someone who’s

classy, someone who’s chivalrous, but somebody who can be themselves in all

social situations, and can adapt. That’s a gentleman. So you don’t have to lose

your G. And that was the whole thing about the show. I didn’t wanna take away

the things that innately made each individual who they are. I just wanted to

give them some other tools, which would give them some other options, to then

be able to expand their territory.

 

AllHipHop.com: So give us some

tips for G’s who want to follow you into the Gentlemen’s Movement.

 

Fonzworth Bentley: If only people

around your way understand what you’re saying when you speak, don’t talk louder! You need to better

enunciate.

 

If you buy XXL shirts, and you weigh 140 pounds, and you’re taller than

four feet, that ain’t your size.

Stand up! Offer your seat to the older person getting on the bus. That’s

right – hold the handle bar for a senior.

 

If you hear “nice gators” and your wearing flip-flops, buy a

Ped-Egg.

 

If everyone at Starbucks knows that you’re behind on your rent, you’re talking

too loud on your cell phone.

 

Profanity is overrated; if you don’t believe me, let one out around

your grandma, then brace for the Rick Flare chop!

 

If all else fails, do whatever Obama does…

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