Until our recent meeting one placid Wednesday afternoon in the Ford offices, I only knew Madison Stewart as a model for Ford’s men’s division. It took Stewart a matter of minutes after our initial meeting to plop down at my desk and pull up his music videos on You Tube. He was determined for me to know him not only as a Kenneth Cole Reaction, Bloomingdale’s and Original Penguin model, but also as Madison LST, rapper and music extraordinaire.
The “LST” in Madison LST stands for “Light Skin Trouble”, an important piece of Stewart’s background. “My dad is black from Kingston, Jamaica and my mom is white from Little Rock, Arkansas, so growing up I was always in-between categories.” The LST represents his story as a mixed kid growing up facing “light-skin trouble”.
As a little boy, Stewart wanted to be an astronaut, so it is no surprise that visiting outer space is on his bucket list. Performing at the Grammy’s and shooting a campaign for Givenchy (in outer space of course) is also on that list.
For most, this list is quite impossible, but thanks to his mom it’s a serious possibility for Stewart. When he was 15, she submitted photos of him to an LA modeling agency who signed him immediately. Two-years later, while walking in a Teen Vogue runway show on a California beach, Ford spotted Stewart and the rest is history.
After serenading me with lyrics from his songs “Give Me The World” and “Lean On” as well as a couple of verses from Drake’s “Going In For Life” I knew this man not only had talent, but some serious passion.
Here’s his story:
Did you always want to be a model? I actually had no idea this would happen. My mom just went ahead and sent pictures to an agency without me even knowing.
Favorite part of modeling? The whole production. Seeing all the components, and people, and prep, and process of a photo shoot all coming together resulting in one picture is amazing.
Most fun you ever had on set of a photo shoot? At this one shoot in Palm Springs, California for Original Penguin, we stayed at the Ace Hotel and shot at an amazing house that seemed frozen in time (the 60’s or 70s). It must have been [like] 100 degrees everyday, there was a pool, and everybody was wil’in out. The video from the campaign got some great shots of us in action.
How do you use music to inspire you? Music while shooting is always more fun. Anytime I need to get hyped up for something I often play the most wild, high energy tracks I have, back to back to back. I leave the house like I’m about to take over the earth.
So obviously you love music. When did this love start? My parents love music as well, and I grew up listening to Bob Marley and Michael Jackson almost exclusively. My mom told me that when I was three, they had a party to celebrate the world premier of “Black or White.” That day, MTV played every Michael Jackson music video ever released up to the premier of a song that was tailored for our family. I watched every single one.
When did you realize you actually had this talent of rapping? I think I discovered the passion before the talent. A lot of my friends used to rap and I’d always beatbox for them, but one day they pushed me to jump in and spit a verse off the top of my head. I think I put seven full lines together and they all blew up with excitement. My first freestyle. At that moment I was hooked.
Your music video “Give Me The World” looks super fun and it seemed like shooting it was a blast. Seriously, that day was so much work and so much play all at the same time. Definitely the most intense production I’ve ever been a part of and after we finished we were pretty much delirious. But all that being said, every second of that shoot was everything I’d hoped for.
Usually when you see a flashy sports car in the beginning of a music video, it comes with a certain stereotype of what may follow, including lyrics which consist of material things and money. You actually made light of it though adding a little humor. Well, I feel like at this point artists take having money so seriously their main goal is showing it off. The song was called “Give Me The World” and I thought “what would it look like if I was just ‘given the world’ overnight?” I’m pretty sure the reactions I had on camera were fairly accurate (laughs).
I really care about saying something worthwhile in my music and doing it in a way that inspires people to feel the message. I also think a good sense of humor is one of the most potent tools for connecting with any audience. Past that, I’m totally obsessed with comedy and comedians so I can’t help myself when it comes to making jokes.
Your other video, “Who Knows”, is more dramatic and dark though? When I’m talking about something particularly meaningful I try to be as honest to the emotion of the message as I can. My song “Who Knows” is about dealing with loss, especially of a loved one, and I tried to express what best represented my experience of that feeling.
Your suit in that video is pretty chic. Who makes it? The suit is mine. It’s Hugo Boss and I got it at Buffalo Exchange (Shout out!)
So, what exactly is your personal style? I feel like I’m always evolving style-wise. I like clothes that make an impression but are super wearable and comfortable; clothes that look “lived in”. So, although you may be rocking a look, its your look, not a mannequin’s.
Favorite item in your closet? This hand-woven, thirty year old sweater my dad gave me is the truth. I wear it nonstop.
Why do you wear your headphones in front of your face? 1. I don’t want “headphone fro” 2. I look like I’m in Star Trek.
Talk about your fro. My fro is its own thing. I don’t really get to tell it what to do. The days of trying to contain it and make it a perfect orb are long gone, especially after the first few times I showed up to castings with it completely frazzled and everyone loved it. Its abstract and I just gotta let it do what it do.
Hair regimen? Wakeup, adjust, brush at some point.
Do you ever include modeling/fashion in your song writing? I used to more often but my style has changed significantly since then. I will name drop a brand for a good punch line or metaphor though.
Where do you get your inspiration? Sometimes I’ll come up with one line I think is hilarious or really cuts to the core of a specific feeling or experience and I’ll build a whole song around it. Or, the beat might inspire a specific mood and story. When I hear music I often picture movie scenes of what would be happening to that beat. It comes from everywhere all at once I guess.
How is the fashion world and the music world similar? Each world works tirelessly to have their work connect with an audience. Each of them spends tons of time and money on enormous productions, brainstorming with countless crew members all for one moment.
Dream musician moment? The day I can call up any rapper in the game and say,
“Yo, you tryna wile out on stage at my show tomorrow night? … No, it won’t be like last time… Yeah I know, it won’t happen again man… Because I got a HOT AIR BALLOON this time! The crowd is fittna TRIPPPPP!!!”
That is the day I wait for.
Dream modeling campaign? I’d say Benetton just because I’ve been on hold for that campaign since I was like 15. I swear every third person I meet says, “Ohhh you’re so Benetton!”
What advice can you give aspiring models? The sooner you’re comfortable just being yourself, the sooner you’ll see what you’re capable of.
Best modeling advice you’ve received? Chill out, it’s all good.
Now what’s your plan? I didn’t have a clear plan until recently when I decided to fund my debut album through Kickstarter. This would allow me to remain an independent artist and fund the album/music video with the support of my family, friends, and fans. This way I can keep creative control and put out an album that truly represents my vision.
We’re taking the music back in our hands, artist and audience.
–Story and interview by Talia Fabrizio
But first, take a look at the making of his new song, “Lean On” and them some still shots from his videos in the slideshow below.