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  • Five On It: 5 Bay Area Projects From August '22

    In a region known for it’s independent hustle August served to be a fruitful month for The Bay Area Hip Hop/Rap scene. The independent realm had numerous releases and celebrations for ground-breaking work. Flynt Nixon allows us a glimpse into the diverse soundscape from Vallejo, Sacramento, Richmond and San Francisco with brief reviews of: Champagne Gummies by LaRussel + Tope, Playing With Fire by Shootergang Kony, Free P The EP by Bez19, Kourtney Kardashian by The Dakota Wytefoxx and Spaceships on the Blade by Larry June. Champagne Gummies by LaRussell x TOPE Like 2 Hydrogen and 1 Oxygen atom, sometimes the formula is perfect! That’s exactly what LaRussell & Tope have with their musical chemistry, the perfect formula. Champagne Gummies, their latest collective release just reinforces that sentiment. Tope creates the music, then no look passes to LaRussell for the finish. Reminds you of a prime John Stockton and Karl Malone (no pun.) At 9 tracks and just under 25 minutes of playtime, Champagne Gummies is a lot like a gummy, short, sweet, and to the point. LaRussell's addictive sing-a-long flow shines through on this project and makes the jewels he drops stick in your mind with ease. No wonder his shows are a lesson in crowd participation and retention (If you haven’t seen him live I highly suggest one of his backyard concerts in Vallejo, CA). Tope does his usual thing and provides the perfect canvas for LaRussell to paint on. A style that keeps your head nodding while simultaneously allowing you to catch every gem. Champagne Gummies is yet another mile in a legendary run that LaRussell and Tope are on. With no signs of stopping, from Portland, Oregon to Vallejo, California the whole coast is in good hands. Playing With Fire by Shootergang Kony Over the last couple of years Shootergang Kony has been establishing himself as a household name in the Northern California music scene. From his breakout single "Location On The Flyer" he’s shown that he has the skill and the consistency to keep the ball rolling. But the one thing that all artists need is that premier album which serves as the highlight in the overall discography... that brings us to his latest offering, Playing With Fire. The growth and maturity Kony shows on this project is something to marvel at. The last year or two has been controversial and eventful for Kony, a lot of rumors, internal misunderstandings, friends lost to death or jail, etc. Instead of the all too common social media rant, he took things back to the heart of artistry and addressed everything in his music. In a real 'waiting to exhale' moment Kony gave the world his most personal and introspective album to date. Songs like "Miss My Dawgz," "Preaching," and "Write My Wrongs" capture internal feelings and expresses them in a way that only art can. Staying true to his sound the album still boasts songs with real hit potential, my favorite being "Bounce Out." No wasted verses, wasted features, or throwaway beats were involved in the making of Playing With Fire. If someone has never heard of Shootergang Kony and wanted to get familiar, this is easily the album I’d suggest. It’s the perfect culmination of his sound, his story, and his lyrical ability. His growth shows that he isn’t taking his craft for granted. Instead, he’s working hard to solidify himself as a legend, and he’s on the right path to get there. Free P The EP by Bez19 Richmond, CA's Bez19 dropped his highly anticipated debut project Free P The EP and exceeded all expectations. As the flagship artist on Lil Pete’s 4ES label he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders being the 1st one out of the gate. One of the few artists to be on multiple tours without ever releasing an album, it was time to step out on his own. And he stood tall! Free P The EP is dedicated to his little brother who is currently incarcerated if the title wasn’t self explanatory enough. The album is full of real life tales of pain, struggle, sorrow, success, triumph, and everything else that comes with life and the streets. Full spectrum! “My cousin killed my cousin, I pray hard cause I love him that’s how it go down Cutting, these streets don’t love nothing” he raps on "No Pop Shots." Giving you detailed accounts of a world a lot of us might not be familiar with. The standout track and single is the Rexx Life Raj assisted "Crazy," that combines a soulful beat with hard lyrics and a melodic hook (a proven recipe for a successful song.) Other standouts like "Dusty Feet" and "Rich Rollin" capture that Bay Area street sound that leaves no question where Bez19 was forged. With features from Lil Pete, Rexx Life Raj, WantmoreN8, and Gleeko, Free P The EP is one hell of an initial offering. If he can stay consistent, Bez19 can establish himself as a force to be reckoned with. Catch him live on a couple upcoming West Coast dates alongside San Francisco star Lil Pete. Kourtney Kardashian by The Dakota Wytefoxx When I first heard the artist name and album title I didn’t know what to expect, The Dakota Wytefoxx - Kourtney Kardashian? When I took the time out to listen, the album cover only added to the confusion. The Dakota Wytefoxx with a blowout, laying on the lawn, posing like Teddy Pendergrass. Next step was to look over the tracklist, seeing song titles like "I Woulda Shot Goldi Locks," "I’m Not Scared To Lose My Life N***a," and "We’re Gonna Tattoo Your Orange Lamb Truck" made me clear out all assumptions and jump in blind. Little did I know the Rexx Life artist had delivered one of the hardest Bay Area rap albums in the last 20 years. As a product of the Hyphy Movement, not the digestible one served to the masses, but the raw and uncut one happening on Bay Area streets. I’m a sucker for hard beats and energy. Now add outlandish bars and olympic level wordplay and what else can you ask for? That’s exactly what The Dakota Wytefoxx gave us with Kourtney Kardashian. “You n****s really p***y need a iced out nuva ring” and “Shout out Jesus but I got other n****s that died for us” are just 2 of the infinite lines all over the album. What stands out most is the originality, a real breath of fresh air in a time where the majority of music is follow the leader. From the beats, lyrics, samples, movie clips, etc. Kourtney Kardashian delivers at every level. I wouldn’t be surprised if this album ushers in a new take on a classic sound and inspires a wave of music that reshapes the region. Spaceships on the Blade by Larry June Uncle Larry is back! It’s hard to find a California artist on a longer, more consistent, or more productive run than San Francisco’s own Larry June. He only widens the gap with his latest album Spaceships On The Blade. With production from legends like Cardo and The Alchemist his signature sound can only be classified as luxurious hood. Imagine champagne flutes, sheepskin rugs, and original art pieces on the walls of a trap house, that’s Spaceships On The Blade. At a playtime of 53 minutes and a track number of 20 Larry didn’t hold back at all. A lot of times longer projects have some filler but this album was carefully curated. Every song fits in place and nothing sounds like a throwaway. In Larry June tradition the album opens up with a legendary spoken word piece provided by Uncle Herm. That transitions right into one of the standout tracks Private Valet, a perfect example of the “Larry June” sound. Smooth flows delivered over an orchestra of instrumentation full of 70’s-esque horns and modern day bass lines. With features from Curren$y, SYD, 2 Chainz, Babyface Ray and others he was able to pull the featured artists into his world and still make it work. Larry June personifies another side of Bay Area hip-hop, the smooth player side that rarely gets shown to the national audience but has been there from the start. That changes now as Larry’s star grows brighter and brighter, merging audiences from trap stars and P’s, to stock brokers and avocado toast eaters. It’s only up from here, keep going Larry, NUMBERS!

  • Camino Season: An Appreciation for B$F's Newest Signee

    PHOTOS BY ABRANISAACC There's a war going on outside, no man is safe from. You can run but you can't hide forever. In these streets that we done took. - Prodigy, Survival Of The Fittest Over the past several years, underground hip-hop's cultural stage has been hijacked by a new brand of emcees and producers reminiscent of the sounds of Mobb Deep's mid to late nineties run. Concentrated within up-state New York, in large part thanks to Buffalo's Griselda roster, this new rap renaissance has not only transformed the underground scene but has made a significant dent in the mainstream hip-hop circuits as well. Of the many hundreds of emcees who have stepped inside this stylistic endeavour, I argue that Griselda-affiliate Elcamino is not only the purest manifestation of the renaissance in question but is arguably one of the greatest rappers of all time. 'Me and my brother man? We like that street shit. We come from that Mobb Deep shit.' - King Ralph [brother of Elcamino.] Word choice is perhaps the most undervalued asset to a rapper’s arsenal. Unlike speed, charisma, subject matter, rhyme scheme, or flow, all of which introduce themselves as visible and tangible components - capable of measuring a rapper's skillset, word choice is often a less flashy - often invisible power that an emcee can draw from. Prodigy and Havoc, the duo that comprised Mobb Deep, are certainly not known for their technical prowess, their speed in delivery, or even subject matter that spoke to contemporary issues of the day. Despite this, emcees like Prodigy are still labelled as some of the greatest rappers of all time, and to those whom the emcee resonated with most, Prodigy is often considered the perfect rapper. I think many people who consider themselves fans of Mobb Deep, would be hard pressed to codify what exactly made them great. My argument is word choice. Word choice is not synonymous with a large vocabulary. Quite the opposite. Sometimes less is more. Furthermore, the ability to be direct and communicate meaning with one swipe, is often more appreciated than communication which requires work deciphering the text on behalf of the audience. Great screenwriters are often very good at this skill. Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi who wrote Goodfellas together, had the ability to paint a vivid and believable picture of New York City crime life with simple, yet punching word choice. When a gangster spoke, the words that came out of their mouth, despite how menacing they may be on paper, were delivered as a veiled threat. The audience understood that the reality was far grimmer and bleaker than what the screen had told them. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times the following after seeing Goodfellas for the first time: 'The screenplay by Pileggi and Scorsese distills those memories into a fiction that sometimes plays like a documentary, that contains so much information and feeling about the Mafia that finally it creates the same claustrophobic feeling Hill's wife talks about: The feeling that the mob world is the real world.' This is the power of word choice. It's the power of good writing. Not in flashy writing, but in powerful writing. When Mobb Deep released The Infamous in 1995 on Loud Records, the feeling was the same. You believed their existence. The apocalyptic landscape that the two emcees painted for Queensbridge New York, felt like a movie. There was a war going on outside, and you were knee deep in the trenches for 66 minutes. When Prodigy spits 'you can put your whole army, against my team and... I guarantee you it will be your very last time breathing.' You not only believe him, but part of you understands that the severity of his message is veiled by a particular humility that comes from respect and confidence. Elcamino is cut from this same cloth. Though he has shown he is capable of flaunting more technically savvy ideas, the emcee has willingly sacrificed these elements to deliver on word choice, potency and above all, mood. As when word choice is at its best, mood becomes the by-product. On the song, "Camino Season," the emcee describes expanding his turf by claiming nonchalantly, "I kidnapped your earth." On the song "Field Trips," he raps "these ni**as brought a knife to a gun fight." A simple reflection on a common refrain that tells you all you need to know about the circumstance being detailed. These hard and poetic descriptions are common-place among Camino's writing. The words he uses matter. His word choice is where he excels, much like Mobb Deep before him. Labeled as some 'laid back, don't fuck with me rap,' by Dead End Hip-Hop's Kinge, Camino carries forward the styles of Mobb Deep to tell an ever-so-slightly different story. Unlike Prodigy and Havoc who told the story of Queensbridge crime life, Camino speaks on Buffalo's crime life to much the same effect. However, although stylistic similarities exist, the differences are important. From an outsider, Buffalo feels less apocalyptic and more desolate. Empty, broken promises, far removed, yet still experiencing the same struggles that New York City in the 1990s felt. In an interview with Toronto's Daniel Son, he recollected experiencing up-state New York in the 2010s, and how it resembled the stories he had heard of New York City in the 1990s. 'When you go do shows up there? It's a whole different type of new energy. When you go to those shows you're gonna see more guns than you ever seen in your life. I guarantee it. Just inside the little club or the little bar that you're in. Shit is grimy out there. Shit is not lovely out there. When I hear OGs talk about the stories from the 90s and how the shows were in the 90s? How it was grimy? Early 2000s? And how shit got soft? And now shit is getting back to that grimy shit. When I go to Buffalo, when I go to Rochester, I come back and tell these stories; like 'Yo, this guy was holding me down in the bathroom. I thought he was going to rob me. Next thing I know he's a big fan but he got those big fucking guns sticking out. Shit is real out there. That's the real proving grounds.' Street rap in Buffalo is therefore capable of tapping into the same mood, the same energy, and the same power that 90s New York street rap had. And although the city communicates these experiences through a number of different (and well-varied) perspectives, Elcamino, with his commitment and focus, is perhaps the closest hip-hop has gotten to Mobb Deep's iconic and signature aesthetic. Although the Mobb Deep comparisons are truthfully appropriate, it's unfair to Camino to solely rely on these comparisons when attempting to communicate his greatness. What Camino has done, is far more unique than other adopters of the style have managed to pull off. Unlike Mobb Deep, Camino has the ability to harmonize his mean-mugged thuggish persona seamlessly into songs and deliver a more soulful interpretation of street life than Mobb Deep was ever able to do. His ability to sing, and sing well, is an underappreciated element of the rapper's toolkit, but has largely made Camino into what he is today. Some of Camino's best work, songs like "Goon Ballad," "James Brown" and "Soul Brother" come to mind as particular exercises in this craft - that stand out as some of my favourites among his catalog. Most of the time, however, Camino blends his verses with these more melodic and harmonized hooks within one song. A track like "Hustle Like Me" produced by 38 Spesh, is an exemplary track; lasting just two minutes and twenty-seven seconds, where Camino ties the knot on his verse by singing lines like: I break it down fast and I'm back on the ave. You ain't fucking with me ni**a. You got a little trap but it don't get no cash. I'm always out first and I take it in last. You don't hustle like me ni**a.' I never go back, so I keep me a bag. Cause I ain't ever have all the shit that I have. You ain't struggle like me ni**a.' There was a certain feeling the listener got when they heard Nate Dogg harmonize and sing lines that felt like they had no business coming out of a soul singers’ mouth. Unlike singers before him, Nate Dogg would sing with the vocabulary of a gangster rapper and make the sentences sound even harder than they could have in verse. Camino, in many ways, is an extension of this same train of thought. Yet instead of occupying the persona of a west-coast, low-riding, gang banger, Camino authentically portrays that of an east coast street hustler - who has seen the glory, as well as the destruction that the lifestyle causes and is here to report back on his life's findings. The mix between the Prodigy-esque rap verses, and the east coast thuggish Nate Dogg-like hooks, makes Camino one of the most interesting and promising rappers to date. The last aspect to appreciate, is something that the new renaissance movement has capitalized on increasingly well. Unlike rappers of the past, who would drop an album once every year, maybe once every two years, today's modern underground rapper seemingly lives in the studio. Elcamino, since 2017, has dropped over twenty projects to his name. This does not include previous work with his group "Local Residents" or solo work put out under the name "Meechy Elcamino" before his style was truly defined. These twenty-plus projects are near perfect. Camino's production choices are absolutely stellar, with full albums produced from greats such as 38 Spesh, Camoflauge Monk, DJ Shay, Bozack Morris, TrickyTrippz, Oh Jay and more. Due to his ability to sing and craft fitting hooks, his feature discography is also outstanding, often contributing hooks to hip-hop giants such as Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, Grafh, Flee Lord, 38 Spesh, and plenty others. Camino not only stands amongst the best in terms of style and musical excellence, but his production choice, his consistency, and the sheer magnitude of his catalog must be recognized and appreciated. Unlike Mobb Deep who performed at their peak for three full albums in the 1990s, Camino has delivered that quality for over twenty projects; all of which have been released on vinyl, and have been given the proper album treatment. These are not throwaways, and these are not loosies left to be forgotten. Although Elcamino has released projects under a myriad of labels in the past, including Air Vinyl, GoodFelons, Duape!, Tuff Kong Records, GGBR, Griselda and De Rap Winkel, the emcee is continuing to elevate his status in the game. In August of 2022, Elcamino was handed his chains from Benny the Butcher on stage as he was inducted into Benny's Black Soprano Family. Although he has held close ties and affiliation with Griselda in the past, and his debut Elcamino 1 was released on Griselda Records, this will be the first time that Camino finds himself at home in a group / roster like setting. The upcoming Black Soprano Family album, Long Live DJ Shay will feature verses from Camino throughout and is expected to be released September 9 of 2022. Don't let Camino fool you. He's one of the smartest people - young people - I know. He knows how to play the drums. He can sing. Like he can SING! He could be an R&B singer. He's just talented. Do not sleep on Elcamino. He's going to be a star. A huge star. That's my ni**a. - Lucky Seven [Drumwork] In light of the new project from Black Soprano Family, and as a companion to this piece, I have included below a curated selection of songs from Elcamino's discography. Although his library is vast and well worth a full deep dive, this will hopefully prove to be a catching gateway into the emcee's music. CREDITS Photos by abranisaacc Prodigy. "Survival of the Fittest." Off of Mobb Deep's The Infamous. Loud Records. 1995 King Ralph. 'The Renaissance Show.' Season 1, Episode 1. Interview by Alex Kuchma. Roger Ebert. Review of Goodfellas. September 2 1990. Camino has showcased technical ability on several songs. 'Buffalo's Finest' and 'On Fire' are two good examples. Elcamino. "Camino Season." From Sacred Psalms by Elcamino and 38 Spesh. 2020. Elcamino. "Field Trips." From Stashbox Chronicles by DJ Nugz. 2019. Kenneth B Kinge, 'Elcamino & 38 Spesh - Martyr's Prayer' on the Dead End Hip-Hop Podcast Network. Released May 2021. Daniel Son, interview with Alex Kuchma for The Underground Vault. 2019. Lucky Seven. 'The Renaissance Show: Season 1, Episode 4.' Interview with Alex Kuchma. Released October 16 2021.

  • Coast2Coast: Sweet Sixteen Review & Interview with Charlie Wayy

    It's been more than a few months since March Madness but somehow Charlie Wayy's Sweet Sixteen is right on time. With The Bronx being the birthplace of Hip Hop and Wayy also hailing from there commands a certain level of pedigree and expectations for an artist. Fortunately, Charlie Wayy more than rises to the occasion on his first full project since 2019's Sidewalk Chalk. “Vancourtland” produced by Swedish Prodigy sets the tone. If they were making modern day film noire based in NYC, this is what I would imagine it would feel like. Over the sinister backdrop Charlie Wayy unleashes a flurry of observations and affirmations. "We clean up nice, even though we got it out the mud Shit, we never confuse love for daps and hugs" It's a potent 16 bars which reminds me to mention the interesting choice of format for this album. Charlie Wayy made it a point to only bless these songs with 16 bars each, no hooks, and even set the same limitation for his featured collaborators. As a result the listener is treated to something I feel is rather unique. The curation of the beats and the sequencing is done with great care and effort. Even though 12 producers lent their skills here, it feels like one person produced the whole thing. There is a drawback to such brief song structures because you'll definitely want to spend more time with some of the offerings but that quickly fades because the next one is just as good, and it's a lot of next ones. It can feel like a sampler, but if you were in the Sweet Sixteen restaurant all of the bites could be main courses. It's an interesting strategy in an era of short attention spans, and Charlie Wayy just may be ahead of the curve. Charlie Wayy's style is a confident combination of streets, stream of consciousness, bravado, with a dusting of sports and pop culture references that add some fun to offset the intensity of his delivery. On the Ethan Stoutt produced track, “Armageddon 2000” Charlie Wayy and Yon Cash trade WWE inspired bars that mention Bobby "The Brain'' Heenan, and wrestler finishers like the Diamond Cutter and Razor's Edge. On the Erra produced track, “Capital Grille,” Charlie Wayy calls in an assist from one of Portland's finest rappers, Milc. It's a match made as their styles compliment each other, it feels like they've done this together before. The Alesandro Barbosa produced track, “God's Work” brings Sweet Sixteen to its conclusion, it's one of my favorites. Over a simple, dusty sounding loop Charlie Wayy proclaims, "this style is an acquired taste, 10,000 hours and a hundred thousand takes". The way the horns drop on the tail end of the song is magical, it's also my cue that it's time to run the whole thing back! I definitely give Sweet Sixteen a recommendation. I know we're all tired of the heat but summer is just gonna drag out a little bit longer with fire projects like this coming out. Charlie Wayy has worked hard to get to this point, he's disciplined, poised, polished and this album feels like an indication of great things to come. I'll definitely be keeping my ears open for what's next. Check out the interview below for more insight. The interview below has been edited for quality and coherence. Hip Hop as of late is going through a robust DIY phase. All over the nation talented, resourceful and determined individuals are getting things done in their own way, on their own time. In this interview we talk with The Bronx's own Charlie Way about his process, motivations and influences. We also get an inside view of the creation of his latest project Sweet Sixteen. Monk: First of all man introduce yourself to the people. Charlie Wayy: I go by the name Charlie Wayy, I'm from The Bronx, New York by way of Charlotte now. Oh you in Charlotte, North Carolina? That's crazy, I got people down there! Yeah Charlotte is cool but I lived in The Bronx all my life, so October 31st makes a year I've been down here. That's what's up man, let's get into this music. Why rapping, it's interesting having The Bronx influence all around you but what else made you wanna pursue the craft of rapping? I've always been into music, and I just wanted to be around music any way possible. Initially, I started engineering. My brother was always into music, he was rapping. You know, you always freestyle with your friends, I really wasn't worried about it, I tried to make beats and help my brother make beats, I was enjoying it. At one point in time I was helping him with lines every now and then it was like I just felt like I could do this myself. I wasn't too fond of the way my voice sounded, so that's one reason why I wasn't doing it. And then you get over that a bit, and then you start spitting your raps for people. You say it to somebody and they'll be like "yo who that?". I would say it was lines from somebody else and they'd be like "yo that's fire!". When you say it's yours it's like "awww I don't know, I ain't really messing with it." But at one point in time I felt like "yo, I can do this." That is one of the biggest hurdles when you enter these spaces. Even when I started doing my podcast, I had issues with my voice. You get used to it the more you do it. It's funny, I felt like that before I even recorded my voice. And then I started to record my voice and other people liked the way my voice sounded cool, I guess. The shit I was so hard on myself about, nobody ever cared about. So sometimes it'll be funny how you stand in your own way with these things. Long story short, I always had an affinity for music and how music was created. I was always one of those people that read the credits and track listing. I have an extensive vinyl collection that was passed down to me. One of my favorite artists is Rick James. I'm very much into music. If I wasn't rapping I think I'd probably be managing music, or helping others write music like I do now, or just any way I could be around it. So how long would you say you've been doing music seriously? I've been at it with music for maybe 12 years. But seriously like putting things together properly, making sure everything has that proper sound, I would say six years. I've really been driving properly, putting things on Apple Music, Spotify, making sure it sounds right, contacting producers, making sure my BMI is proper. So what are some of your influences from the past that you draw from, artists that inspire you? Rick James, Prodigy, Ghost and Rae, Meth, Jadakiss, Styles P, Jay Z of course, Nas, Eastsiderz, Snoop. I'ma bring that back around, what about people now that are putting out stuff now? Kendrick, Jay Cole, Freddie Gibbs, I like Gibbs a lot despite how people feel about him. Even though he does a lotta lame duck stuff, The Game, he's very talented with the music. Game can really rap and put projects together. He's a really strong artist, it's sad that his antics really overshadow how good of an artist he really is. I like Griselda. Sometimes I draw from producers themselves, Alchemist, Madlib, 9th Wonder. So do you also do production as well? I would love to produce a little more, that's something I would want to get into in the next stages of my music obviously, engineering and other stuff like that. I can sit down with a producer and get what I want. If we sat down and they opened up their DAW, I could tell them to play this sound, quarter step this, half time that, aight lemme get an 808 here, a synth here, tweak this a lil bit, maybe reverse this sound. But doing it by myself, I don't think I have that confidence yet, or that patience yet. If I'm with somebody who has the awareness of what's going on, I can get a beat out of them. My man said "you're producing right there, you may not be producing but you're doing it". Sounds like you're really hands on, more so than I think most people are during the process. They just contribute their bars and hand it off. I like to be hands on, I feel like it's my art and you can't really claim art unless you're wholly in it. Even down to the engineering, I try to sequence my stuff, I record myself, I got my equipment here. Then I'd send it to my engineer, with as many notes as possible. We were working up close but I knew I was gonna move, so I started prepping, I started recording myself. Even though we were a ten minute drive away from each other, I wanted to get in the habit of doing everything myself. I can say the last year and a half of my releases are all things that I recorded and sequenced myself. My engineer Blessed By Saint John, I send him the files and he does what he gotta do. But I leave him with enough notes, I drop out the beats when I need to, I tell him I might need a filter here, or a lowpass there, and I let him do what he gotta do. So it seems like you were developing a shorthand form of communication with your engineer before you left. So how has doing things remotely impacted you? Have things been more difficult or have they gotten easier? Things got easier, I feel like it's almost machine-like now. If I'm in a good space I knock out features the same day, or 48 hours. Sometimes I write them and they'll be done, and I'll sit with 'em and then record them the next day to make sure it has the same feel as when I wrote it down. But it's so good to be able to do these things myself, because now you don't feel handicapped, you don't feel locked in or bound to a particular way to create. I can take this anywhere I wanna go, If I'm on vacation with my lady or family I can take this with me and do what I need to do. I got my MacBook, my rogue, my interface, I pay for my Pro Tools, and I record. If I feel something I can just fire this up. Getting this project together, I completed it while I was moving. I started part of it in New York, obviously out of my house, in my bedroom, while I was moving to North Carolina. Shout out to my guy Ricky Mapes, he's the executive producer on the project, he hit me up and said he wanted to EP my project. He sent me 40 beats and we narrowed it down to 24, came back and narrowed it down to 16. I sent out my verse first on everything. The only one I didn't send out my verse first for was Neako, the track called "Penn Station." We were talking back and forth, I got some production from him and he said, "I like you a lot and I wanna give you a feature". He gave me the beat and it fit what we were trying to do so it's the only feature on the project that I didn't send out my verse first for. What's behind the name Sweet Sixteen? I saw the cover art, and it's interesting looking at your bio, you got the sports podcast, there's a lotta sports commentary on your twitter feed, how did that play into it? I'm a former athlete, I watch sports everyday, doesn't matter what it is. I golfed in high school, in the offseason from football. Sweet Sixteen is obviously from the NCAA, it's always one and done. In college with basketball now a lotta players don't stay around for a long time so they're one and done. So that's kinda what we thought about, project wise, like Sweet Sixteen, these are all one and done tracks. Every track is sixteen bars, and the feature gives 16, there's no hooks, no bridges no nothing. That's why we named it 16, and there's only 16 tracks so it's a lotta 16s in there that we were working with. That's interesting because one of the trends I'm seeing lately is just shorter songs, people are not even bothering with a 3rd verse anymore. Was that a factor in creating this? That's kinda the thought process to a lot of short form content. That's what people are liking with their attention spans. If I'm rapping at the highest level possible and I'm condensing it down you'll be more likely to replay that and it's gonna be shit I say that makes you wanna replay it along with it being so short. Some people hit me like, "yo, I like this why'd you cut this record short?". When I do drop my projects that are full length, it's gonna make you wanna tune in. If I did this with sixteen, what would I do with a hook, and a bridge attached to it, a second verse or a third verse? So that's kinda where I came from with it, and we just wanted to adapt to short form content. Let them know you can still be lyrical as hell, and you can still paint pictures in small spaces of time. We're just adapting to the times, trying something different. The cats outta the bag, I'ma make this a yearly thing, and i'm looking to have the best artist from around the country on this. I have my man Def Soulja, he's from The Bronx, my boy Ricky Mapes, he's executive producer, he's on there as well on "Kumite." I got LOS on there, he's from Mississippi, Milc from Portland. My man J NICS is from Miami, so we moving all around, we had a lotta different people, all dope spitters, all doing their own thing, all in the culture, all moving properly. We're gonna do Sweet Sixteen '23 for 2023, and we're gonna try to get that out there by March Madness. How were you able to the project to have a cohesive sound with so many different producers? Shout out to Ricky Mapes, he did a hell of a job executive producing, and getting the beats. I just had to do what I had to do and make sure I brought it on every record. Every record sounds different but it's all still cohesive. None of the flows are really the same and none of the tracks sound the same but they fit well together. You spoke about working with some of the homies but how did the Milc collaboration happen? How is The Bronx connecting all the way out to Portland. Again shout out to my brother Ricky Mapes, he had a relationship with them. A lot of them were on a tape due to him and then they heard my music and were like "Oh I'm really, really in, this ain't even a favor no more, he's like that!". That was cool and we've established lines of communication, now creating a bigger web and network of artists to work with. It's so cool that everybody is doing their own thing and they're really great artist. That's what makes it better, great artists find great artists and make magic. What can we look forward to in the future after Sweet Sixteen releases? I'm working with every artist possible, If you get a chance to see this contact me. I'm not Hollywood, I'm ready to work at all times, let's rap, let's make music. I feel like a lotta times there's too much Hollywood stuff going on. Let's just rap, let's do that, make dope records, and get 'em out to the people. Ok man I don't really have anything else for you right now, so tell the people when they can expect Sweet Sixteen to drop for them and how they can connect with you on social media. Sweet Sixteen is dropping August 31st. The first video off the project will be "Webside Weber," that will drop the same day the project drops. You can find me on all social medias @ CharlieWayy_, It's also my gamertag. Also check out CharlieWayy.Com. I'm easy to reach, tap in with me!

  • Hibachi III by Panama Jane

    Panama Jane, Otaku It-girl? No. Goth Tsundere Trap rapper? No. Gangsta Boo and La Chat’s sinister love child with Alucard from Hellsing? No. Let's dig deeper. Straight from the frostbit mouth off the source. Jane has her quirks, she unapologetically wears her bright and sarcastic personality even silently when she is completely obscured by a motorcycle helmet and spiked high heel boots and barely anything else. A woman of culture if you will. She and her team at Out da Trunk Studios have crafted an album some might call (it's me, I’m some) the best mashup of classic Southern Rap and raunchy modern pop culture fueled raps one can make. “When you let a young Georgia raised Panamanian girl get her hands on a Three Six Mafia album, Akira VHS, and a bottle of Jack Daniels who knows what may fly out of her mouth! You brought this on yourself America! cover your children's ears! -sincerely senorita petty! Deep in the depths of Wicked City they scheme, scam, sex and soliloquy to roaring 808’s and top-notch sample choices, this imaginary world created in the fabric of Jane’s entire body of work. But today we are here to talk about her latest release, the third and final? Hibachi; Hibachi III. 26 minutes of trunk rattling, new age 8-ball & MJG, Gangsta Boo, and UGK influenced pimping, hustling and shit-talk. Yes, the tall leather and spike-clad woman on the cover is giving it up like that, and it SOUNDS even crazier than it…sounds, to you, reading this. Jane opens the album with a distorted voice recalling his time in school, he mentions a singular girl, weaving a tale of how she wanted to be a spice girl, and was into “anime and shit like that”. She dressed in all black and it was weird, but the moral of that story is an important one, one of the most important in American culture across the ages: “She had some big ass titties.” From there we take a ride with Jane into Wicked City, where the main event is an effortless free associative flow over 808s and flawless chops of Father’s Children’s, "Dirt and Grime." Up next is what some (its me again) may call the HARDEST song released this summer, "Pimps Don't Cry" is an unbeatable pitched up Cee-lo sample over her long-time collaborator Bad Klad, (formerly Skantily Klad…seeing a pattern here?) Holding absolutely nothing back on the drums, bass and percussion. Jane’s delivery and sense of humor carry her through a myriad of brag lines and shit-talk that would fit right in with the early 2000’s dirty south emergence into the mainstream. If you see a P.I.M.P. then you probably seeing Jane If a nigga L.O.V.E. then i disappear, David Blaine I was born overseas so my mama she drove the boat and my daddy was a navy nigga i was born to float Coast to coast, like Toonami, take your space and then go ghost - Panama Jane, Pimps Don't Cry 90s kids, do you feel seen yet? No more sample snitching, "How Long" is the same formula but much more focused, telling a story of Jane breaking hearts and collecting checks in the game of love/lust/lies. How long has this been going on, is in fact a good question to ask by the time we arrive at the end of the second verse’s rather unfortunate reveal for the male suitor who is one of the subjects of the record . "4giveme" is more flexing over another iconic sample and continued amazing production with all manner of vocal stabs and distorted adlibs, dark and chaotic are words that come to mind. Jane is proudly owning both her sexuality and outward sex appeal on this track while paying subtle homage to the forebearers of her sound. "Innie Minnie" brings in the first feature, Jacob Waddy over a bouncing synth as they take their pick of their options to recruit into their cartoonishly humorous but dark brand of Wicked City pimping. Waddy brings charisma and a welcomed energy shift to the track getting off lines that only work in his distinctive lispy southern drawl. 2,4,6,8 make yo bitch appreciate, I invest in ASSests in case that ass depreciate Ghostface comes to mind for being the best example of a rapper who uses their voice and charisma to bring lines to life that anyone more serious or monotonous sounding just simply CAN’T. "SZA" goes back to the sample formula to Jane to relish in more hedonistic desires and bars about getting hers by any means. The hook complete with what sounds like some (hi again) would say is a comedic impression of auto-tuned talk-sing impression of singer SZA. but some could be completely wrong. Moving on, "Telephone (remastered)" is a record filled with dirty talk and moaned adlibs befitting a fantastically absurd alternate world’s sex talk hotline, we are in Wicked City after all, this is world building. "Bitches Aint Us" a 2 minute banger just begging for a million Tik Toks and dance floors. She continues the Harlequin-esque whirlwind romance with sex, schemes and money making. The repetitive hook is simple, and straight-forward laid out perfectly for groups of young women in the club to yell with their drinks up. "Sha'Carri" is more of the same energy but full of metaphors about running track, an intentionally ironic metaphor for, you guessed it, pimping. Hibachi III closes out with what might be the most impressive flows on the album as she brings this insane trip to a close with more of the “hard on hoes and their perpetually inept tricks” attitude she has carried from track 2, "Welcome 2 Wicked City." This album works off the strength of some of the last words on the album: “Jane is a one of one”. Though there may be limited subject matter on this album, the production choices, the charisma on display, the humor, the references and off the wall energy carry it from top to bottom. Artists like Jane, Doechii, and Rico Nasty through a combination of distinctive aesthetic choices, personality, and atypical production and flows make their projects stand out and offer originality in the growing realm of sex-positive rap projects from women. Released July 15, 2022 words by Xlo

  • The Blue Hour by Rexx Life Raj

    The Blue Hour by Berkeley, California's Rexx Life Raj is an island of introspection in a sea of braggadocio. It’s rare that an artist really opens up and invites the listener in to watch them navigate pain, grief, solace, and the cycle therein. But yet this exact formula is what made artists like DMX, Tupac, Lil Boosie, Mac Miller, etc timeless staples in people's lives to always be remembered for helping them out of a hard place. That's exactly what Raj will be immortalized for with The Blue Hour. Having lost both his parents within months of each other his latest offering plays like a live therapy session going through the rollercoaster of emotions between grief and healing. The project is narrated by his mother through pre-recorded phone calls, her prayers and messages take things to the next level of personal. On track 2, “New Normal” Raj toils with the idea that this pain is something he’ll have with him forever. Something that he has to find a way to normalize in order to attempt to heal. On songs like, “Hands and Knees” and “Balance” he details remaining calm to the public while being torn on the inside. Something we all can relate to. Looked in the mirror and realized I was all I had Had fam and the gang as a landing pad But if I don't steer the plane it then this still crash I had to leave you in the past, I don't feel bad Know it's still love, ain't no ill will fam I just had to stay around people who wanted it real bad Or at least as bad as I do - Rexx Life Raj, Save Yourself A well rounded offering, songs like, “Beauty In The Madness” featuring Wale and afro-beats star Fireboy DML have the potential to be worldwide hits. But this album will be remembered most for helping anyone dealing with loss realize that they are not alone. That healing is a process that some say is never complete. That there is always light at the end of the tunnel and The Blue Hour held your hand and walked you toward it. Released: July 15, 2022

  • Windbreaker XL by Milc & Andy Savoie

    Hip Hop has had an undeniable influence on the world. It's no surprise that it's reach has inspired people worldwide to try their hand at making their own Hip Hop projects. Portland isn't as far away as the Ukraine or South Korea but it can feel equally as distant because it's not a place one thinks of first when it's time to go down the list of Hip Hop cities. Reminds me of LL Cool J as God in the movie In Too Deep. One of my favorite lines is when he tells the undercover J. Ried, "I didn't know they was getting money in Akron." Well I didn't know they was rapping like this in Portland. Low key the city has cultivated a formidable and prolific community of MCs and producers and they've been really busy lately. The subjects of this review include one of Portland's finest MCs Milc, and Seattle based producer Andy Savoie. Their latest project Windbreaker XL, is actually an extended version of the Windbreaker EP which released in March. It includes 5 new songs making it a full length project. The EP was a nice enough meal but the extra tracks are like that plate a good host packs for you to take home so you can continue the experience. The Bandcamp page says the bonus songs were pulled from the original album sessions but they don't feel like throwaways. Milc definitely doesn't come across as the kind of rapper that's about wasting bars. Each line in his laid back, effortless, stream of consciousness flow feels like it matters. He's got bars that emphasize the slick talk, blended with some of that good ole street talk. He's definitely had some experience with the shadier side of his city. Windbreaker XL is a mostly mellow, but driven affair with Andy Savoie's lush production providing the perfect backdrop for Milc's observations, bravado, and razor sharp wit. Milc brings along some friends like Blu, Greg Cypher, and Soop Dread to give you an even broader picture of what's happening in Portland. "Citgo" is the posse cut that welcomes more of his fellow MCs like Chima The Stubborn, C'estla, and Farnell Newton who all take turns spilling over a beat that bounces effortlessly between a hard charging main and the smoothest jazz horns on the chorus. Perhaps my favorite offering on the project is the aggressive "Blue Faces." Milc is in his bag as he rides this beat and humble brags with the utmost confidence. It's a shift of tone from the rest of the project but it's interesting because Milc doesn't hurry his flow to match it, he just finds his space and gives it to you just as laid back and as easy as he does on the rest of the album. He's like a sinister surgeon with words as he matter of factly, delivers lines like: "Life is foul, I tried being a righteous child But the evils come out when I write shit down I don't need a piece of the pie, just need a piece of mine Everytime they increase the rent, we increase the crime" Technically this is Milc's 3rd project in the last 12 months if you count the two Windbreaker drops as one, and he shows no sign of slowing down. In my experience this can be a magical time for artists who are putting in this kind of effort back to back. Windbreaker XL is good but I think Milc has a few more gears he can hit and I'll definitely be checking for future releases. Released July 22, 2022

  • Communion: Book 2 by Mani Draper

    The Grand Nationxl collective is doing the groundwork and becoming some of The Bay Area hip-hop scene’s standout artists. One of the men at the forefront of that is Richmond’s very own Mani Draper. He kicked July off with Communion: Book 2, a follow up to his EP, Communion which dropped earlier in the year. With a run time of just over 17 minutes and features from Rolanda D. Bell, Brookfield Duece, Dame Drummer and Kevin Allen not a second is wasted, from beat selection, flow pattern, skit placement, everything serves its purpose. Mani’s baritone voice, variety of deliveries, and range of beats make him like a center that can dominate the post but still bring the ball up court and shoot the 3. The intro track, “Bright Side” produced by Jay Anthony is reminiscent of OutKast, with a hook and beat that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear placed in a T-Mobile commercial. A notable thing Draper remains consistent with throughout the project is his lyricism. On one of favorites tracks, “Kush/Gospel.” he raps, “Red beans and rice on Granny life n****s been prayed over unsigned hype, box for the likes was sposed to get you closer would future me had relayed this sober? in the main sanctuary reekin no sense in tryna mask the odor.” Mani Draper is staying true to himself, creating a lane, excelling and it's not going unnoticed. Communion: Book 2 is the perfect soundtrack for that quick commute. A complete product from content, tone, structure, production, and sequencing. If you appreciate hip-hop in its purest form then you’ll have no choice but to enjoy this EP from start to finish! Released: July 1, 2022

  • Mobb Chains: A Conversation with Lord Mobb's Starz Coleman

    Despite his first record on the label being released only last month; Lord Mobb's Starz Coleman has been a consistent figure behind the scenes of the roster over the past couple of years. Directing music videos for G4 Jag, Flee Lord and others, it's unsurprising that this relationship would have eventually incorporated Starz' musical talents as well. With two albums under his belt and a viral music video with the comedic "I Eat Ass", Starz Coleman is ready to blend his ingenuity and stylistic output with that of the Mobb. I first heard Starz Coleman earlier this year with the release of Canadian producer IM'PERETIV's Burial Plots and Pyramid Schemes. Appearing alongside G4 Jag, the emcee held his own among a star-studded cast. With lines like 'I seen the bitch drowning and I ain't even throw a lifeboat.' Starz proved that he was worth your attention with a flow and hard lines reminiscent of a hungry Meyhem Lauren. Fast forward a few months and Flee Lord himself has given him the chains - propelling his label debut For the Views into new heights. With a colourful and eccentric cover art, it's evident that Starz is bringing something new to the table. This is not alike what we've seen from Lord Mobb in the past. Last year, Lord Mobb introduced Jameel Na'im X (JNX) to the roster with the Mephux produced record Viktor. A favourite of the year, this was a clear departure in sound from what Lord Mobb had been known for. The melodic trap elements of JNX clashed with the hard and abrasive elements of the labels attitude and identity. Viktor worked. It was a great record that indicated a directional shift for the label as a whole. A year later, Starz Coleman adds to that directional change, highlighting Lord Mobb's willingness to experiment and push their own borders outside of their comfort zones. While For the Views is not the wildest Starz has appeared, the record showcases his enthusiasm and character on the mic enough to distinguish it from the rosters prior releases. The record immediately raised questions. I became interested in Starz as a personality and was curious how an artist of his stature found himself in the hands of the one of the grimiest labels out. What was Flee's vision for the label? And how did Starz fit into that vision? Furthermore, what was next for Starz Coleman? Would future records expand on the fun and charismatic character that Starz has created for himself? Or would we see the emcee further gravitate towards the dominant sounds of the label? I would like to thank Starz Coleman for taking the time out of his schedule to sit down with me over the phone and discuss these topics. I learned a lot from his story; and if you're interested in Lord Mobb and the artists who make up this new rap renaissance, then I'm certain this interview will be a good addition to your morning reading. Grab a coffee and enjoy the read. What was your introduction to hip-hop culture? Not even necessarily injecting yourself into it in any sort of way, but just from a fan's perspective? What were your earliest memories of the culture? My mother was a jazz singer. She'd keep me in the studios at night. Trying to keep me out of trouble. So, she'd be keeping me in the studios with her. They'd go through a lot of Sugarhill Gang, a lot of hip-hop that she liked. Then of course my Dad, when he was around when I was younger, he would play a lot of his favourite music like Kool Moe Dee and stuff like that. So that's how I got into it basically. My parents were hip-hop heads. Where abouts did you grow up? I was born in Newark. I basically grew up a little bit of everywhere. I was born in Newark, but I was raised in Plainsville, New Jersey. Spent time in Harlem for a few years. Spent time in Charlotte, North Carolina for a few years. So, I've been around a little bit. So, you're in New Jersey as a kid and you're being introduced to hip-hop culture. At what period of time do you start to realize that there is a scene local in Newark, and in New Jersey? Obviously, it's close to New York, and there's that proximity... but New Jersey has had its roots in hip-hop culture. Even on the underground tip you had cats like The Outsidaz in the 90s, you had Shawn Lov, of course people like Chino XL who ended up moving to the west coast. But you had this local scene that was brewing out there. At what point do you begin to realize that there's a scene locally that you could participate in? Umm, never. Because the way an artist thinks of New Jersey is that we're always going to get pushed to the side. Even Redman, the people who we looked up too, it's 2022 now, we really haven't had too many Jersey rappers in the game since the early 90s. So, we kind of looked at it like New York will always overshadow us. We're going to have to fight by doing everything. Everyone who came out of New Jersey did a little bit more than music. Some might have did comedy such as Redman. Some might have did movies such as Queen Latifah. We try to be a little more than rap. Because we know we have to keep our hands in all of the pots in order to get in the door. Someway, somehow. As a creative, do you think that influenced the decisions you made, early on in your career? Maybe not focusing on rap so primarily, maybe focusing on other avenues? Or do you find yourself just wanting to rap. Of course. I've always been a class clown. I've always did the thug shit as well. I just always wanted to have fun in life. As I grew up I kind of just seen that there was a pattern of always tough rappers. Always everyone wanting to be gangster. I always looked at it and said 'Maybe if I try to be your Redmans and stuff like that, maybe that's how they got the How High movies and things of this nature. So, I always looked at it like that. Do a little more and see what happens. At least from my perception of you, from the music. You feel like a larger-than-life character. You feel energetic. You feel fun. There's a sort of looseness that comes with how you deliver lines. Maybe you don't take yourself as seriously. Of course, some of the singles like 'I Eat Ass', there's that comedy factor. Now this album doesn't necessarily have that straight up comedic relief, but there's still that tone to how you deliver yourself - it feels as though you are THAT presence, and it feels authentic. Yeah. I mean, the intro and the outro has some comedy. And the 'I Eat Ass' thing was something that was based upon true life. I don't like to lie in my music. I ate a girl’s ass one time and I was expecting her to say 'wow, that was amazing.' But instead she said 'I ain't never had anyone eat my ass for that long.' I said 'You know what? I'm going to make a song about this so you don't try to put me out there.' Know what I mean? If I make a song about how I eat ass, now everyone know I eat ass. You can't embarrass me. That's why I did that. That was for all the girls who try to embarrass me. You can't do that now because now the world knows! You feel me? [Laughs]. So, at what point do you start taking music more seriously? So, you're a fan. You're growing up in and around different neighbourhoods. New Jersey primarily. You're a fan of the music. At what point do you start saying 'Hey, this is something I actually want to do. This is something I want to take seriously.' Maybe you can start using some of the recording studios that your mom is frequenting? At what point do you take that leap? Well, my mother back in the 90s she sung at The Apollo. I was so scared for her. She got on stage - cause The Apollo was rough back in the days. You got booed, Sandman would come out and drag you off stage. I just didn't want that to happen to her. She ended up singing very well, gave me goosebumps and the whole crowd gave her a standing ovation. Right then and there I said 'the way there screaming for my mom? I want that for me.' I had to be maybe five? Maybe six years old? Feeling like that? There really screaming for my mom... that amazed me. I said, 'I want that to be me one day.' So as early as five, you had this dream. At what point do you start materializing that dream? Because I heard of you in 2022. You're thirty some years old. You've been around for a long time. This moment is from the 90s - this is 20-25 years ago that we're speaking of. I know your Spotify discography goes back a little bit longer, but still only in the last couple of years. At what point do you start materializing that goal - that dream for yourself? Do you see yourself freestyling at lunchroom tables and shit as a kid? Or is this still something recent and new? Nah that's exactly how it started. Ended up just battling kids at school. Ended up being the top guy that everybody wanted to beat. Beat everybody. Then it moved on to just battle rap basically. Then I went on to 106 & Park. I ended up winning there. Not all of the weeks, but I won like two weeks. And just winning the audition gave me confidence through the years. The streets got to me for a little while. That's why I wasn't taking it serious as the streets was heavily indoctrinated. After that, I just put the streets down and said, 'let me try this rap thing.' And it just started working. But then rap kind of slowed up a little bit, I said 'man I don't want to go back to getting a job. Let me see if I can get nice with videography.' And then that just opened up more doors for me, and that's where we're at now. So, you've been around for a while. And you've obviously been a fan of hip-hop culture for a while and you would have therefore seen the different eras take fold and the rise and declines of certain movements within this hip-hop thing. And I would say 2015, maybe 2016, maybe even 2017, you really begin to see the start of what we're in now. You can call it The Renaissance, or what have you. Just this new movement of underground rap that is seeming to carry a lot more weight. I was covering hip-hop as a journalist in 2011, 2012, 2013 and we seen the early beginnings of it then, but I don't think we really understood people like Roc Marciano, or Planet Asia, we didn't quite understand the weight that they would have in the hip-hop scene. We understood they were making really good music, and we understood that they were authentic and that they were credible within hip-hop culture. But I personally didn't expect there to be this new wave of your Griselda’s, your Lord Mobbs, your Da Cloth's, your 38 Spesh and Trust Gang's... I didn't expect that movement to really end up picking up. To me, it seems like a breathe of fresh air. It seems like something really unique and cool that's going on in the underground hip-hop scene right now that's beginning to enter into kind of mainstream conversations that didn't happen with your Jedi Mind Tricks and Army of the Pharoahs, and Vinnie Paz and all that kind of shit. You just didn't find those conversations taking place. You find yourself now hopping into hip-hop culture in a more dominant way within this new wave, this new movement. I wanted to ask you; how have you seen that evolution of this scene that you now find yourself in? And when did you start to become aware that there was something brewing? Well, to go back to the timeline - I pretty much started taking myself seriously in 2009. We came out with mixtapes and everything like that. I always wanted to keep that 90s sound because of your Planet Asia's and stuff like that but it was sad to see a lot of the south stuff make up north rappers rhyme southern and get on southern beats. It was sad to see that. I just wanted to keep it authentic. As I kept digging for that kind of stuff, then I came upon your Griseldas, your Roc Marcianos, your different people and I said 'oh there's other people doing that.' Cause no one predicted Griselda to actually blow. It was just a great situation to know that there are other rappers who rap the way you do and think the way you think. So, I say the same timeline that you're saying. 2013-2014. I think John Forte had come home. I'm not sure if you remember that artist but a couple of people had came home from jail and started back up again. It's like it formed a world all in itself. Once Eminem stamped it? It just took a world on its own. So about probably 2013-2014 that's when I seen it, and was like 'Oh, hopefully this can grow even larger.' and it did. I see that with other artists as well. Like Grafh for example, or Ransom... These are artists that come from a different era and they had their respect within that different era but they never fully felt like they belonged. And it feels like this new scene has allowed them room to be themselves and be appreciated for being themselves in a way that they just never got to fully materialize before. Do you feel like that's the case for yourself with this new scene and a home like Lord Mobb for instance? Oh, for sure. All of us. I mean, I’m not as known as a Ransom, but we all had the same thinking. At the time we were all listening to your Fabulous's and everything, and then that world shifted. The South took over. So, everybody was put in a fritz. Some people tried to follow along, other people failed. So yeah. We are all on the same timeline. Everybody. And now that it's back and it's prominent again thanks to the Griselda movement, and Eminem stamping it - because that really was important for the political side of it - it's back. I'm not sure if it's here to stay, I hope it is, but we are damn sure going to keep working to keep it strong. Let's talk about Lord Mobb specifically. How do you get connected to Flee Lord and the rest of the family over there at Lord Mobb, and how do you negotiate those ideas to be a part of that crew? So how I look at it - back in 2015, one of my best friends got locked up. He's in the feds now. Free my boy Larry. He got locked up and I really needed to find other ways to get money. I've done a lot of things with a lot of celebrities. I got songs with Sheek Louch, Beanie Sigel, linked up with a lot of celebrities through my travels and I just felt so embarrassed to go get a job again. So, I grabbed up a camera, started shooting my own videos, shot locals, and as I got nicer at the locals - my boy Bad Lungz did a song with G4. G4 took a liking to me. Shout out to my brother G4 Jag who took a liking to me. I started shooting G4 Jag's videos. Got nice at that. Flee started seeing, like 'who do your videos G4?' 'Oh, a guy Starz from New Jersey.' Started doing Flee Lord's videos... Then Flee Lord found out I actually do music, and it was on from there. What was that first video that you ended up doing for Flee Lord? I think it might have been one for him and Roc Marciano. That might have been the first one. Then the second one was for the Delgado album which was "Breeze in the Porsche." So, I think that was my first video I shot for him. I could be wrong. I don't remember the timeline but it was either "Breeze in the Porsche," or the other one. What was your first impression when meeting Flee Lord? My impression - just from being a fan of his music - is this guy is truly one of the heavyweights in the scene. Like not only is the music... the music speaks for itself, it's powerful, it's music that almost demands attention from the listener - but the cultural credibility, the cultural clout that he's been able to gain within hip-hop spheres is so well recognized. What he's been able to do with Lord Mobb feels powerful. It feels like there's something truly special here that we're going to be able to look back and recognize him as one of the greats. What was your first impression meeting Flee Lord? Did you get that impression from him? I don't look at Flee Lord as everyone else. How I met Flee Lord was just by being a great person. A great friend. A person with a great heart. A great father. A great family man. Just a great person all around. I mean, I was a fan of Flee before I met him. Of course, I knew his music before and actually, I knew a lot of his songs by heart. But when I finally met him and I seen how normal he was? Like me but shit... in some places actually a better man than me. So, when I realized that, it took that away and just kind of said 'Yo, this is a great dude over here.' Actually, I want a lot of people to know that. I don't know how people look at Flee Lord, but that's how I look at him. Just a great person. A great heart. Loyal! Even if it kills him, he's still going to be loyal to you. Just a great dude. We're friends-friends. Brothers-brothers. We say, 'I love you,' 'I love you' back. All that. We talk about how the kids doing, all that types of stuff. I don't look at it like that, I look at him just as a great person. If music stopped today - if Lord Mobb were to just cease today, that'd still be my brother. I'd still come visit him. G4 as well. Those two people are just great people. Well said. When it comes to Lord Mobb, I feel as though there have been a sonic aesthetic from the brand. And they really haven't deviated much away from that. If you look at someone like G4 Jag, or Flee Lord, or others that belong to that roster - there's a cohesion to the sound. That hardcore, eerie... maybe a little less eerie than people like Da Cloth do, but yeah. That hard - spooky - almost Griselda - but it has its own little flair to it. And they've kind of carved out that pocket of the underground sphere. I really enjoy it, I really fuck with it. But what I've seen recently with not only your signing, but also JNX (Jameel Na'im), you guys operate a little bit outside of that bubble. I think JNX maybe even a bit more so than you. He's kind of on that trappy wave a little bit, but he bounces back and forth. Does both ideas very very well. A big fan of the records that he's been able to put out. And listening to this new record from yourself - and especially when listening to some of the earlier cuts and singles - it certainly feels like 1) there's a little bit of a bounce, almost like your Redman type persona that almost bleeds through, and you bounce back and forth between different styles. You have those sombre moments off of the record like Figure 8, but then you have cuts like the one with Flee Lord which is super hard and aggressive song. And even on those, you have the rapid flows, you bounce back and forth between different styles on the mic - it sounds natural, it fits, but it certainly seems like Lord Mobb is going into a slightly different direction, or at the very least becoming more comfortable with experimentation. Did you feel that your style was going to fit in with Lord Mobb's roster? Or did you already get the agenda that 'we're going to try to expand this label a bit, we're going to try to play with different sounds.' Because at this point, JNX is already in Lord Mobb, and I’m not sure how familiar you were with his music, but that is a little bit of a different stylistic approach to what they were doing. Did you feel like you as an addition was going to fit in? Or did you feel like you were going to be an outside cast to put into this click? Yeah, that's off the rip. And JNX, that's my guy. I was a fan of JNX before I met him. I knew a lot of his stuff from 2019 and 2018. A big fan of JNX. Yeah, I already knew that. They knew that too. When you have an artist coming out with songs like "I Eat Ass," you already know what direction this guy's going into. It's not your norm. It's not something that's serious, gangster, shoot em up... So yeah, they knew that off the rip. And I knew that. Like, 'listen, I'm trying to push this label, and this culture forward. In a whole new way, that ain't been seen in a while.' And they were with it. So, we've discussed Flee and JNX, but what is your relationship with the rest of the cats out of Lord Mobb? Aye man, those are the brothers. My man G4 Jag, he's the one who brought me into the whole situation. I was shooting videos with him at first. And then Flee took a liking to me. Mephux took a liking to me. And it was pretty much a wrap from there. Everyone from Tianna, to T.F., to Mummz, to Young Act, to Flee Lord, to Mephux, to G4 Jag, those are all my brothers man. I love them dearly, and we're riding to the wheels fall off man. I want to talk about the new record. Do a little bit of a deep dive on some of the ideas and decisions you made when making this thing. When I listen to this thing, it feels as though there's choices that are being made in terms of cohesion, stylistic endeavours you want to partake in. There's certainly diversity when looking at cuts like "Figure 8" to the Flee track "For the Views." These are very drastic choices but there is a sort of cohesion. What I don't see you including is a cut like 'I Eat Ass' on there. Can you explain to me your thought process in terms of cohesion when approaching an album? Cause there are different ways you could have done this. You could do it the way you did. Or you could have had a bunch of cuts like "Figure 8." Or a bunch of cuts like "For the Views." And let's be honest, Lord Mobb's roster is full of artists who make albums filled with cuts aesthetically similar to 'For the Views.' And they work. They sell out vinyl, and the artists do it very well. You have purposely went into an album and made something that has a little bit more diversity, but not to the extremes of what you're capable of. Can you talk about that decision that you made. Yeah. Well, little do people know, For The Views is actually an experimental album. I just wanted to see how to move for my next album. How I approach each album is every album has to have a concept. I've never wanted to be an artist who just rapped. If you notice on certain points on this album, I'm actually saying things that are revolutionary and maybe even controversial. I'm doing that to mix it up. Not everybody listens to the teacher. But if the teacher has a gold chain on and Gucci than they might listen. So that's how I'm approaching this. I'm actually trying to be a bit more of a political rapper. But I also want to be more entertaining. Each album that's pretty much what it's going to be. So, each album is just approaching it with a nice concept, to make people think, use their brain. Each video has secret messages, and secret things that you can interpret on your own and then realize that it's way deeper than what you think you see. So, look again. I just want to play with people’s brains. I love Kendrick Lamar. People like that inspire me to just be little bit different and put some messages into your music so that the music can live on longer than the microwave music. I'm glad you touched on the idea of adding substance to the content of the record. I picked up on a lot of individual lines. Not so much full conceptual concepts for songs. Maybe something like "El Jefe" is a little bit more in that direction, but there's lots of individual lines that are sprinkled throughout this that are really thought provoking. One of the lines that stood out to me was near the end of the record where you say something to the effect of 'Penny for your thoughts? I made a million off of paragraphs.' That line required some meditation for me. You mentioned Kendrick Lamar, and there's a Kendrick line from the 2015 cut 'For Free' where he says 'Ou America, you bad bitch. I picked the cotton that made you rich. And now my dick ain't free.' This idea that Black America had to fight to be valued but now we see Black men and women in the country demand value from the most inconsequential aspects of themselves. That idea is powerful. In your lyric, I think it touches on the same idea. Here's a man, you, who has spent time in prison. Lost chapters of his life to bullshit. Who has been put in an environment where you have to battle to be heard, to have their voice valued. And when we do proclaim value to a voice, we will say 'penny for your thoughts,' but here you are, that same person, who is now able to make a million off of those same thoughts. Those same thoughts are now in demand. Transitioning from those realities ought to be powerful. And reflection on that change - I can't even imagine what that does for someone. I'm not even sure my question here, but this album was filled with those lines that hit - and provoked real internalized dialogue. Yeah, it's surreal. It just shows you the power of words. That's why every rapper wants to be a rapper. When they see that their words can actually change people’s lives. You see people passing out at a Michael Jackson concert - that has to make you say 'mann, I want to be like Michael Jackson.' Because of the power of words. Or you might wake up in a bad mood and I might throw some Anita Baker on and feel totally different. Music is almost like a drug in a sense. Yeah, just to go off of what you're saying, it's just crazy, just surreal. I wanted to ask about the feature line-up on the new record. For The Views has three guest spots from Flee Lord, T.F. and Lenox Hughes. So, you've kept the guest list small, and there's many past collaborators missing from the tracklist. Can you talk about how you went about picking the guests for this album? That was actually easy. I wanted to showcase my talent for this one. I didn't want this album to be a banger because I had Roc Marciano on it - who's my man. I didn't want it to be a banger because it had all these features on it. I didn't want my first album to the public to be like 'Ahh, it's only good because of these people.' I wanted to shine on it for me first. Which means I can always take that with me. Like 'You know, my first album had no features on it.' Even if it don't get the greatest streams. But that's just how I wanted to do it. The next album is going to be full of features, right? We're going to have some big features on the next one. But just this one I wanted to showcase me, and a few other of my guys that I really adhere closely. So, that was the science on that. You said something interesting there. You referred this this as your 'first album to the public.' Now you have other releases under your belt - that are available on Spotify, streaming, etc. Now those weren't released on Lord Mobb, but nevertheless they exist. Do you actually consider this your first album to the public? Oh for sure, I mean, the difference between being a local rapper and a national rapper is the fact that when you keep coming out with these records before you get on any platform, because we already know, it's not about what you know, it's about who you know, so when you come out with records and you just have your local fans liking it and maybe a few of their friends liking it, you're always going to be stuck in a box. So, Lord Mobb provided me somewhere where Alex, you, can hear my records. Or somebody in Canada or somebody in California... So, this is just bringing me out to a bigger market where I can get more ears. So yes. To me, this is my first official album that hits the record books basically. Because I did everything else that never hit anybody's radar. So, this is the first album that I consider hit the record books and being tallied down as being an actual album that he presented to the earth that was pretty dope! And people are praising me for it, so... One of the aspects that's often overlooked on a record is the cover art. But this cover really stood out. It's bright, it's colourful. A lot of personality. You've pulled the trigger on a gun to your head and out comes all of these social media icons. Who drew this, and how did you come up with the concept for the cover? Well, I just want to tell you man... LSD is a hell of a drug! It's a wonder drug. Just smoking, thinkin'. I've always been a conceptual guy. I always wanted to be thought provoking and make people think. And the world we live in now adays, you know, you put a collection together of what we've been doing as humans throughout the years and you put it in front of the faces - and it's like 'Oh wow, you bring reality.' So, that's all I wanted to do. I wanted to bring reality. I wanted to remind people the type of world we're living in right now, where everything is being done for the views. People are going crazy. I mean like literally; people are losing their minds. Some people are depressed. I heard Kevin Gates say that in an interview like 'man, I'm always comparing myself to someone on Instagram, it makes me depressed.' It makes you want to blow your brains out. That's how I came up with the idea for it. Actually, I actually got the artwork done on Fiverr. [Laughs]. I know a good guy on Fiverr who does album covers on the low end. I already had the idea and the cover, it was very easy to execute once I told him the idea. So, it was easy for him, easy for me and we got it done. You say you already had the idea for the cover. When you posed the idea to the Fiverr artist, did you include the request that it be bright and colourful in the way that it is? Because if you look at For the Views, at the very least if you contrast it to the rest of the Lord Mobb catalog, this is a very bright and colourful record in a lot of ways. It's not a pop record by any means, it's still a hardcore boom-bap rap record, but nevertheless, compared to other Lord Mobb releases, it's a lot more bright. Did you have that idea for the album art as well, or is that something that the Fiverr artist ended up incorporating on his own? Yeah, everything you see is pretty much my idea. The Fiverr artist just turned it into a cartoon. I had the cover and everything already. So basically, as I thought of it is - Lord Mobb artists - everything is very dark. The sound is very dark. Mine isn't. There's a few that might be dark, but i'm really trying to be the new Redman, or the new Busta Rhymes of this. I wanna bring a little character, a little comedy to it, keep the hip-hop going by just doing something different. I am the most colourful artist right now when it comes to the comedy. I don't see people incorporating comedy with their music and things of that nature. So, I just wanted to stand out and show everyone, including Lord Mobb that I'm very different from everyone else. And I can prove that through time. The records been out now for a few weeks. And although there's longevity of a record in the long term, in this new climate we find ourselves in, a few weeks is typically enough for the fans to move onto something else. How have you found the reception for this release? A lot goes into making a record, time, thoughts, artistry, business maneuvers, do you feel as though For the Views fulfilled what you wanted for it? Ahh yeah. Like for me, I'm not going to fit into the box of what artists is going through. I would say I'm more of a Kendrick Lamar type thinkin' person where I don't care if everyone else consumes their music fast. If I want to take a year or two to come out with the next album, I will. Because I don't want to provide microwave music. The reception that I've been getting the first week, has been great. The producers, you know, Flee Lord, Mephux, they already said, 'hey man, this might be the album of the year,' but we want the people to say it. But the reception is great. I just don't want to fit into the popcorn music. If I have to take another year to come out with something great, then I will. If that takes three months, six months, whatever, but yeah. What are you working on next? What can we expect from Starz Coleman for the remainder of the year, and if you've already begun planning 2023, maybe you could speak on that as well. Okay, well, what's coming up next? I'm definitely going to be dropping another album. I'll probably be working with Historian and my man Ford again on the next album. The actual next album that's coming out faster than my next album, will be my movie soundtrack. I'm working on a comedy movie called The Elrod. It's like Harold and Kumar, meets Half Baked, meets Friday, meets How High! It's going to be the funniest you ever seen in your life Alex, I promise you. You picked some of my favourites there! Harold and Kumar go to White Castle is a continuous go-too, and I watched the shit out of Half Baked when I lived in BC for a while - we watched that on repeat over and over and over and it was great. Hell yeah! A little bit of Silent Bob and my man Jay. So, it's going to be a mixture of all those movies all mixed together and we're coming out with a dope dope movie soundtrack. Which will basically be my album 2.0 but it will be for a movie soundtrack where I have features from the Mobb, and whatever other features I can get. That will be my next music compilation I put together will be for the movie soundtrack. The movie will probably be coming out the top of 2023, maybe even this winter. We're getting it done as we speak. Monday, I shoot some scenes, we're getting it done. So yeah, that's the next venture. Onto the comedy movie, then onto another album. And just keep pushing out the comedy movies. So, I'm already giving you my te-year plan! Know what I mean! Thanks so much man for taking the time out of your day to speak to me, I appreciate it, and look forward to doing this again. CREDS #1 - #2 - Starz & G4 Jag by Lex #3 - Lord Mobb by New Vegas Films or Dough Networkz (?) #4 Starz & BadLungz


    While recording, transcribing and editing this interview all that kept poppin’ up in my mind was the alchemy of the notorious Nipsey line from “Overtime,” they say it’s 6 degrees in life / opportunity, preparation - they meet it’s nice. It’s fair to say that the independent route has numerous challenges and benefits for various artists. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the challenges and sometimes the challenges outweigh the benefits. At times you have access, support and resources and other moments you’re without. But in the midst of it all how do you define your success? Is success a singular never ending goal post -or- merely a myriad of moments where your opportunity and preparation align? Below is an interview that serves more as an inner view into how Aj Snow’s consistency and perseverance put him in position to release one of his best albums to date, NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL. Throughout the interview Snow speaks on his craft, the creation of the album and how the album also allowed for him to gain a deeper connection with producer Jansport J. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Aj Snow: How long have you been doing this? Jameka: Uhm, I’ve always done music shit but as far as starting my own thing and having my own independent publication and stuff - this is my 2nd year doing it. It was just me doing shit for the longest time and I was just recently able to get 4 or 5 other writers on board so hopefully shit gets going to a different level here soon too. Aj Snow: That’s nice, congrats. I been seeing you guys gettin’ to it and consistently how y’all have been tappin’ in with me too and I just wanted to reach out, thought it made sense. Yeah! I love it, I appreciate that. It’s crazy y’all just put out this project together. I’ve followed Jansport J for quite some time and he retweeted or engaged with one of your projects awhile back - OR - somethin’ like that and around then is when I tapped into the music. It’s really cool that y’all are on this now. Aj Snow: Oh damn, that shit crazy. I didn’t know Sport was on board like that. When I met him for the first time he was like, “yeah, I’ve been hearing about you for a minute,” and I’m like, “damn, why ain’t you say nothin’?” That’s too dope. So, how did y’all’s relationship form? Aj Snow: So, he was tellin’ me that Dom Kennedy told him to start workin’ with, you know, the newer talent than what he was workin’ with. He was workin’ with the top of the top artists. I had a show in L.A. in January and Sport’s manager came out and then I performed and then the next day after that Sport had followed me on Instagram. Then, after a couple days later I reached out to him to get 1 beat or 2 beats or somethin’ and he was like, “man, I’ve been thinkin’ bout doin’ a whole project.” Damn… Aj Snow: When he told me that I was like, “ahhh damn, that’s hard,” but you know how the shit goes when people tell you they wanna do somethin’ with you. You know, they say that but they don’t ever follow thru on it. So, the next day or later that day he sent me like damn near 30-40 beats. He was serious. Aj Snow: So, that album, what we did - NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL... those were like the first songs, the first 10 songs we did. I’m real big on just droppin’ what I got. I feel very confident in what I make. I don’t need to go in the studio and make like 50 songs to make 1 project, like nah. I’mma grab these 10 songs and we gonna put them together and make it like that. And that’s how NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL came. That’s pretty cool - so, what type of time frame did it take to come up with the tracks? Aj Snow: With the tracks, shit - when he sent me those beats I think we ended up doing our first studio session at the end of January. I know by then we had done the intro, we had “How I Make It Here?” and that was like the first record we did. Even the first time we went to the studio he gave me some more beats to go home with for NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL. Ideally, we already knew exactly the title, we had everything kinda in play by the end of February. Wow. Aj Snow: Yeah, we were really reachin’ to drop the album in May but Sport he had BudaSport and a few other things under his belt and he was like, “man, lemme give this some space to breathe,” so we pushed the album back to June. Makes sense, so how did the title come about? What does that mean - NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL? Aj Snow: So, "NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL" - with the outro record, when that song came on I was sittin’ and when I was listenin’ it gave me like award show vibes. That’s why I said, the real don't get awards but this is my speech if I did. What I’m rapping is like what I would say if I won an award. That’s why the first bar too is, I Sport fly shit, I got that shit from a Jay-Z line when he said, “I sport fly shit I should win an ESPY,” and that was kinda the direction I wanted to go with it but I ended up playin’ around with it. So, with the “NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL,” I said that in a bar and then Sport was kinda like “let’s make that the album title” and I was like, “let’s run with it.” It seems like it came and flowed pretty naturally for y’all. Aj Snow: Oh yeah yeah yeah, this was really my first time workin’ on a full project with 1 producer and this was really my first time in a professional studio. Oh wow. Aj Snow: Most of the time before that I’ve just been workin’, you know, just home studio. Really just knockin’ out the records from home and send it in to get mixed. This was really the first time I sat down and listened to the album get mixed, mastered and really put my input on stuff too. Man, it was a whole team effort. You can hear it too, in the actual album. I enjoy your work that’s why I stay up with it but there’s something different about this album. This feels like a huge stepping stone. Being in the professional studio do you feel like it affected your craft or did it bring something else out of you? Aj Snow: It was very fun. It felt like I was supposed to be there, you know what I mean. That’s the best way I could put it. And the relationship with me and Sport - I always say it’s like a training camp. Like yeah, I’ve been rappin’, I’ve been doin’ this, I’ve been doin’ that, I’ve had this success, I’ve had that success but now I really got someone who’s really been in the game. That is really in the game and really done and got his achievements and stuff so I’m just sittin’ back soakin’ up everything he really teaches me. So, it’s all training camp. You know, if this is the only project we do and we split our ways and everything I learn from him is going to add to my formula. Yeah, that’s real and real universal alignment. Aj Snow: No, fasho fasho, and those are the types of talks me and him be having. We sit down and we be talkin’ about this, this and this. We definitely feel that. Do you feel like there were any challenges with making this album? Or new challenges? Aj Snow: Nah, not really. My only challenge I would say I feel like I was stuck inside my box. I feel like I’ve developed more as an artist and my challenge was seein’ how the fans were goin’ to react to it. Because you know, when a lot of artists try new stuff a lot of fans, you know - they try to put you in a box. And I have had some fans be like, “where’s the car music at? Where’s this? Where’s that?” And it’s just like - man - this is my best project I ever did. It’s touching the people a lot more so I feel like it was the best for me. That’s so interesting because I definitely would’ve not thought that. It’s a different type of music, you stepped out a lil but at the same time this is still something you can be playin’ in the whip, like fasho. Aj Snow: Yeah, I don't take offense to this shit I just scratch my head. At the end of the day this is my art, you know. That’s how I look at this. This is my art and I’mma give what I feel comfortable with. If my name is attached to it I believe in that. 1000%. About your name tho - where’d it come from? Aj Snow: Man, it’s funny. You know Snow On Tha Bluff ? When that shit was on Netflix and everything I used to tweet Curtis Snow on there and I’d be like “hey unc,” messin’ with him and shit and he’d be responding’ to me and shit. So, that’s where I kinda got it from. Then also, Pimp C was one of my favorites and his nickname was Tony Snow. That’s kinda where I got it from too. That’s dope that it was all your doing. Aj Snow: I hate explaining it but you know that’s where I got it from. Yeah, it comes when it’s supposed to. Where are you based? Aj Snow: I’m in Los Angeles right now. But you're from Illinois? Aj Snow: Yeah, I was born in Dallas. So, it’s very interesting. I was born in Dallas, I grew up in Springfield, Illinois and then I moved back to Dallas and I was there for like 7 years. I been in L.A. for a year. I’ve been out here since last May. So, I just been out here workin’. You like it out there? Aj Snow: I love it. The weather, palm trees, food - man, actually I stopped eatin’ meat not too long ago and I’ve been losin’ weight like a mug. I had gotten a little chunky out here eating all that. That’s what’s up, see, that’s what happened to me when I came down South. I’m from out West and came down here. Aj Snow: Oh okay, what part are you from? I’m from Washington, spent some time in Oregon and spent some time in Oakland too. Aj Snow: Okay, what part of the South? Right now I’m in Memphis but before Memphis I was in Atlanta for a couple years. Aj Snow: Oh yeah, you probably gettin’ all the BBQ out there in Memphis. Man, they got a lotta good food out here fasho. It’s dangerous but the pace of life is so different. Like I miss the West in those terms. And the options, it just seems like there are more options or opportunities out West too. Aj Snow: Oh yeah, most definitely. Man, it’s crazy out here - I ran into Hitmaker, Yung Berg, that nigga was leaving the elevator at my crib jus like damn. You don’t get this type of shit in Texas or elsewhere. Like I saw Casey Veggies at the smoke shop by my crib and if I wasn’t out you know walkin’ the dog then I probably would’ve chopped it up with him. You know, that might’ve been a record. It’s the access, you know. Yeah, a lot of opportunities. Aj Snow: And everybody knows somebody, you know. My bad, I feel like we’re having so much a conversation that we gotta get back to the questions. It’s all good, for real. How would you describe your sound? We’ve heard people call it car music, player music… Aj Snow: It’s more lifestyle. I feel like I became more personal. As I’m gettin’ older, I’ve been rappin’ for a minute but now I kinda look at it like if I’m rappin’ makin’ sure I’m sayin’ something. You know, inspiring people. I say more lifestyle, I’m sharin’ what I see, what I hear, you know, my thoughts. You know, grindin’ for the hopeless. You learn that there’s a lot of people who don’t get to see or even see the stuff I’ve been able to see. I just want to be the reporter and let people know that there’s more out here. If anybody feels stuck or feel like shits not goin’ - there’s more to life, don’t trip. Yeah, I feel it fasho. You’re sharing your experiences with people. Aj Snow: Yeah, you know, I was born in Dallas but I grew up in Springfield which is like a population of 100,000. There’s no music outlet, no nothin’ and now I’m here and I got an album with a Grammy nominated producer under my belt. It’s like, “how I make it here?” That’s where that record came from. I was like, “damn, I’m workin’ with Sport on an album,” and it’s like, “damn, how’d I make it here?” Shit, then you start thinking about all the odds that were up against you as long as you keep goin’ like really just keep goin’ and it’s gonna get better. That’s so beautiful, for real. Aj Snow: It’s been so many times when I would want to quit. Now, when I look back and I might say that shit on a Tuesday and look down 3 weeks later and I’m like I’m glad I didn’t because look at where I’m at now. Of course, it’s not that quick of a return but man there were so many situations and times when a nigga wanted to give up. Now, it’s like glad I didn’t give up. Just out of curiosity what type of things were bringing you to that moment of almost calling it quits? Aj Snow: Looking back - well, I saw Sport tweet this the other day, “if this shit was easy everyone would be doing it” or some shit like that. I feel like where I’m at right now everything is more pressure. Sometimes I feel like I put the pressure on myself because I feel like how Kobe feel with basketball. I just want to be great and I don’t think a lot of people have that same ambition. Maybe they don’t go thru the shit that I go thru but I literally love this shit. This is really what I want to do. This is where my passion is at but sometimes I get discouraged. Certain things happen but then you get that validation, you know and sometimes that’s for you to keep goin’. It feels like as an artist it’s all just kinda part of the journey. Like every once in awhile you’re going to have your doubts - you just grow thru it. Aj Snow: Yeah, for sure. I feel like it’s a cycle to be honest. Man, when you elevate to another level it’s just - man, I felt a little pressure after droppin’ NO AWARDS FOR THE REAL. In my head, I’m like, sonically this is the greatest fucking album. You know, I’m thinkin’ in my head and of course we’re workin’ on album #2. We pushin’ thru the pressure. But you still have these moments as an artist where you’re like, “man, what if they compare or the fans don’t fuck with this no more.” I be puttin’ all types of pressures on myself and I’m learnin’ just to go thru it and that’s why you get these moments and you cherish it more. You really learn to appreciate a lot of shit. I feel like it’s natural for people to fall at the wayside but at the same time I feel like with working with Jansport J a lot more people are getting to hear your music. With that comes new fans and supporters. Aj Snow: Most definitely, I’m real big on paying attention to numbers. I just feel like music is a business, you know, being and artist is a business. I don’t think a lot of people understand that. I pay attention to numbers. I worked jobs where we sat down and looked at numbers. Little did I know - at the time I didn’t think I really needed that shit but now doin’ my own thing it was definitely an honor to learn that and see that shit. Daily, I look at my numbers. I look to see where my music is going. Those type of things help me add to the formula or calculate and put shit together. Where to tap in at. Did you notice quite a number change in this last release? Aj Snow: Oh yeah, most definitely. One big thing was with Spotify. I remember just a couple months ago I was about to hit 2000 monthly listeners. I remember when I only had 3. Now, that shit hit up to 4100 but I think it’s down to 3800 which is natural for an album release. If I could stay in that 3000 realm that’s way more than what I was gettin’. Just a couple months ago I was thirstin’ to hit 2000. I remember one month in and I was right there at 98 or 99 then it dropped down to 60-something or 1950. And I was just like, “fuck,” you know, those little milestones niggas trying to achieve. Definitely understand but I'm sure more numbers are to come. So, there is another project with Jansport on the way? There’s been quite some talk about your latest release by people who really listen to Hip Hop, you know. People who are tapped into the likes of Roc Marciano and that kind of sound. Aj Snow: I didn’t expect you know - we’ve really been building a great friendship. We damn near talked everyday. He kinda just told me his role - and he was like, “I see a lot of me in you and my position of being an OG in the game is to really help groom and shape you. You already got it but I wanna just come in and help polish you up more.” Man, how’d that make you feel? Aj Snow: Man, it’s great. When I quit my job I played one of his productions, that Dom Kennedy, “Life.” I’m takin’ the chances, I want it all. I’m takin’ a risk, I want it all. That’s another thing too, just to finally meet somebody solid and genuinely wants you to win it’s an amazing feeling. It’s like sometimes I still get my little moments like, “damn, niggas is really in the game, this shit crazy.” Or just to have that backing, you know. Really backing you and supporting you. Everything is genuine. If I posted that I’m doing a show right now - he’ll retweet it. You know what I mean. It’s the most authentic, genuine artist-producer relationship you can have. With this game, and I know you know - there’s a lot of people tryna get over and tryna use you to get where they want to go. And with him you can just tell it’s not that. We in the studio and he be playing me unreleased Big Sean and Nas records. Just to be sittin’ in the studio or the car with him playing these unreleased records… it’s just like bro, this shit is fucking amazing. That’s really beautiful. You deserve it. That’s alignment, that’s really for you. Aj Snow: I feel like before I met Sport I was kinda in the headspace of giving up. I feel like this is kinda mine for not giving up, you know. With life man, you just gotta keep mashin’ thru whatever is throw at you - you gotta keep mashin’. I think that’s kinda one of the rewards of putting my head down and still working. I said it already but it’s a stepping stone. You bout to see levels - I’m excited for you. I hope that we’re able to build an artist/editor type relationship so I can continue to check in with you and write about what’s goin’ on. Aj Snow: Fasho, and that’s just another learning experience too. You gotta fuck with who fuck with you and that shit is way more authentic. I’ve been peepin’ that y’all been fuckin’ with me, postin’ me, y’all been on part of the journey. A lot of people would’ve ignored that and they try to go chase where the love ain’t at. I rather build with the people that fuck with me and that’s where I’ve kinda been takin’ my time and really just build in-house and with the people that support me and wanna see me win. Everybody be tryin’ to chase the support that they don’t have and that’s why shit don’t be workin’ out like that. Yeah, or they expect something else from the support they’re receiving. Or they expect something else and so they overlook the actual support they’re receiving. Aj Snow: Yeah, transitioning to live in L.A. I’ve leveled up to a whole other level and I look at a lot of shit differently now. To see even how the people react or other people have their motives and try to use you and be around. So I’ve been able to experience a lot of more shit. You can sit back and you can hate or you can be upset about how the way some shit went or you can just really appreciate it. That shit’ll change your formula. That’s kinda where I stand on it. I was able to see a lot of shit I was blind to. That shit just helped me become a better person and a better artist. That’s why I say now - tap in now, fuck with who fucks with you. That’s always been my type of thing. Niggas be chasin’. It’s funny though because Sport’s brand, All Attraction, No Chasin’. So many people get caught up with the chasin’ - when you attract shit it’s way more genuine. Man, that’s so real. All Attraction, No Chasin’. I’m not trying to bombard you about this new album or anything but what can your supporters and new fans expect from this new project? Like have you began working on it? Is it part 2? What’s going on with that. Aj Snow: I feel like the first album we were kinda introducing you to this new sound. Me and Sport we are about to go crazy. This ain’t the stop, I think we really found our pocket. He even said when the album dropped, “man, Snow helped me become a better producer.” But, we just shot the “2ND II NONE” video on Friday and Sport was DJing while we was shooting the video. What’s different with this album than the first one is that we both sat down and we’re both into the creative process of creating ideas or even samples and shit or changing the format of the records. We both workin’ on it. When it says Aj Snow and Jansport J, it’s really Aj Snow and Jansport J. It ain’t just like I rap and he produces. For instance, the outro I laid a verse on it and sent him a rough draft so he could see where I’m goin’ with it and he’d be like, “man, this should be the hook,” and he’d throw the hook idea. Then I might switch it up a bit to throw my own spin on it. I be tellin’ Sport he need to rap because he be comin’ up with some ideas. That’s another thing though, that’s just me learning from his creative style. He sat down and told me stories about being in the studio with Hit-Boy, being in the studio with Nas, so it’s like I’m really soakin’ up a lot of shit. Like the intro, “MADE BY OGs,” like how we got the hook and shit. Sport was like, “nah, you should make this the hook.” I had the bars and the verse, if I said it I’mma stand on it, found a new wave then I put my man’s on it, he was like, “yo, make that the hook and go back in to add a verse, add a 16, then we’re gonna throw the hook there.” You know, havin’ that coachin’, havin’ that support. This album I’m bringin’, I got a couple of my partners, my brothers - we’re more brothers than rappers. I’m trying to get them in the mix and spread light with them, you know. Plus, they got their shit goin’ on but just to add somethin’ more to their belt. This one gonna be a nice vibe. The last one was too so I believe it. Aj Snow: I think me workin’ with Sport it’s really showin’ my versatility. You know, I’m gettin’ off on some Griselda type beats on this muthafucka, you know what I mean. Ayyy, yeahhhh. Aj Snow: Here, I’ll play you one right now. Mannnnn, y’all comin’ with the clip loaded. Aj Snow: Yeah, we already got the album placed I just gotta go in and lay some verses and shit. We plan on droppin’ it here real soon. We just want to run it up to be honest. That’s the whole motto. He’s independent, I’m independent. Why not. Aj Snow: Why not. We get to control this shit. Man, this is exciting. *plays unreleased record* Yeah, that shit is raw! I like your voice on that type of production a lot. Aj Snow: Thank you, I appreciate that a lot. I’m learning and last time we talked and my fans were like, “that’s not car music,” and that’s another thing that adds pressure. But fuck it, this is my art, I’m going to create. Man, so many people want to limit you to one thing and it’s like nah, I’m an artist and I can jump on these different types of records. That shit be pressure but lowkey I might gain a whole other range of Hip Hop fans on that grimy rap shit. Or shit, I might link with Roc Marciano or some shit and do a whole album. It’s facts. Aj Snow: I’m more thinking bigger than just right now. That track done gave me goosebumps. Aj Snow: Oh man, that’s hard, that’s crazy. It’s still classy, it’s still your real suave type demeanor but the beat brings out a whole other side. Aj Snow: What’s crazy is Sport told me the other day, “I’m glad you jumped on that beat because I didn’t really like the beat,” but that’s one of his favorite songs right now. I’m excited for y’all. Aj Snow: Just to give you a time and you ain’t gotta put it in the interview but we thinkin' late some month. Wow, that’s really exciting. Definitely looking forward to that. On a day like today out there what music are you playin’ in the whip? Aj Snow: Let me check I’ve been playin’ a lot. Oh shit, this is funny. I was just playing Adina Howard, “A Freak Like Me,” G Perico, “Half a Bird,” Keni Burke, “I Get Off On You,” I played Jon B that, whatcha say booooo. That and just played them in the whip. I’ve been listening to full bodies of work from artists. You know you gotta have hits and good singles but I like to listen to a full body of work. I feel like that’s where I specialize at is giving a full body of work instead of one or two singles. I really don't like droppin’ singles unless it’s part of the album. Unless it’s part of the rollout. Aj Snow: Yeah, unless it’s part of the rollout. I probably won’t drop another record until I’m well on another project. It’s kinda like changing scenes… you ain’t gonna change a scene and go back to the last scene. When you change scenes in a movie, you know. Outside of music you also have your own brand - “Made by OGs,” tell me about that. When did that begin? Aj Snow: “Made by OGs,” - I dropped my first project in December of 2015 and you know, I just made a dad denim hat. This was right before the dad hats really started poppin’, you remember that… like 2016. I had made a little hat to just help promote the album. I wasn’t really thinkin’ nothin’ of it. But you know, the response that I got back from it and it did very well. So, I just kept going - and it’s so crazy that I’m doing clothing now because when I first started I was like, “man, I’m not going to do clothes because I didn’t want to deal with the sizes and everything. You know I grew into it. Right now I feel like I'm in a rebuilding stage because you wanna better. It’s like you buy a crib and the crib is cool but then you wanna remodel, you know. Yeah, yeah, evolvin’... Aj Snow: It’s gonna keep changing. So, now I’m at this point and I’m in L.A. too and there’s the fashion district just trying to put the pieces together. I want “Made by OGs” to stand as its own street wear or luxury brand. There ain’t’ no limit to where it can go. That’s facts, you have some cool pieces. Like the Crown Royal version of the Made by OGs hat. That shit real cool. When I saw you put that out I was like yeah, he’s leveling up in everything. Aj Snow: Mann, I’m learning, I’m learning. I’m more than a rapper. I’m an artist. I’ve been learnin’ Andy Warhol, Basquiat, you know. I’ve been learnin’ like, payin’ attention to Frank Ocean. To them, he might just be seen as a singer but he’s an artist. I look at where all these people stand and they're more. I feel like I’m a lot more. I wanna be considered an artist. Like Westside Gunn, he’s an artist. From his music to his clothes, he’s an artist. He’s not a rapper, he’s not a clothing designer, he’s an artist. That’s kinda where I wanna be remembered at or known for, as an artist. If I go design a car people will know, “ayy, Snow designed that,” or if I go design a house like Virgil did, you know. I feel like that’s where my style and my music come from. I’m an artist, I’m decorating it the way I hear it in my head. I’m not copying, I’m my own leader into this shit. PHOTOS: Jehn.w.a - PHOTO 1 & 2 Andrew Diego - ALBUM ART PHOTO 3 & 4 Freddy Dubon - PHOTO 5 Andrew Quesada - "2ND II NONE" VIDEO "'83 EL CAMINO" VIDEO PHOTO 6 & 7

  • Get Baked by The 6th Letter

    The 6th Letter has been cultivating his craft for a good while now. After catching the attention of Jonny Shipes of the Smokers Club early, he went on to drop two projects on Toronto’s BKRSCLB, NorthernPlayalisticGetHighMuzik Vol. 1 and A Bathing Ape in a Hotbox. These established his spot nicely within the label’s universe: the fly guy who loves to get high. That first tape is especially significant, because this is the latest in a series of spiritual successors, this instalment 8 years removed. Plentiful streetwear bars intertwine seamlessly with lyrics about his love for the herb. Working alongside Raz Fresco for so long here has been beneficial: the label founder and prolific spitter has hunkered down on the production side of things recently, amassing new hardware and mastering it in what seems like the blink of an eye, and dropping beat tapes as well. This latest offering, Get Baked, is entirely produced by Raz, with appearances from Chicago’s Vic Spencer as well as the ever-impressive local Daniel Son. A steady growth is visible now just as it was on last year’s Coneman, which is another project fully helmed by Fresco. The soundscapes bring out some of his most confident flows (see "Chain Smoking Part II"), and that chemistry they’ve shown together in those past collaborations is on full display here. “That’s a cool lil brush, But you paintin the wrong picture, Look I give em sumn to feel, That’s sumn for real For the seeds it’s on me, It cost nothin to build Long as you got ya mind right, You ain’t stuck in the field You ain’t gotta be slangin, robbin or clutchin the steel…” - The 6th Letter, Sincerely While Get Baked isn’t a big sidestep thematically, the maturity that’s present here is hard to miss. He’s focused. He has his family to take care of, and that’s at the forefront in his mind. You can catch the children at the end of "Sincerely," telling the people about their love for their dad and BKRSCLB. It’s sort of similar to the Westside Pootie appearances on Gunn albums, albeit lacking that signature family braggadocio. "Poison" is another one of the more impressive tracks here. While discussing his kids, he’s also laying bare generational trauma and curses, and pledging to beat them. It’s a powerful manifestation, with a recognizable little clip to end the song off. He discusses how “the jealousy changes their perspective”, but doesn’t sound jaded in the least. It’s just the reality for rappers in this current landscape, where clout rules and they can’t help but be paranoid about people’s real intentions. Despite the occasional heaviness of life seeping in, they’ve excelled at making an album to smoke to; even the "Get Baked Interlude" is a decent addition to the canon of rap album radio skits. The standout track might have to be "Hands Clean" though. Daniel Son brings that trademark vicious presence, and some bars to make you chuckle too. “Gotta destroy in order to build, you know the deal, Keep it real with yourself, they gon’ feel how they feel, 10 toes on your square, put some weed in the air, When you play this shit here, it be taking you near.” - The 6th Letter, Hands Clean The beats are real crispy whether in your headphones or the whip, a gift from Raz for him to slide over. They range from classic boom-bap to the real hazy and almost psychedelic. The 6th Letter slips between dropping various sorts of wisdom and straight-up gliding over those pockets. Minds are melding here, and the BKRSCLB vision crystallizes a little further. While they might still be “too raw for the Junos” (When the Smoke Clears), the underground is catching on quickly to the heat that doesn’t stop coming out of Toronto. If in the last decade they’ve been laying a foundation, this is where the structure becomes impossible to miss. Released: June 16, 2022

  • DRILL MUSIC IN ZION by Lupe Fiasco

    A master class in “use what you have to make your own magic.” Recorded in his living room on a cheap mic over 3 days. Lupe delivers on his first LP after 2018’s Drogas Wave.10 tracks as an homage to Illmatic by Nas, complete with its own Halftime record in “KIOSK” on track 5 in the middle of the(m) all… Lu’s pen is sharp as ever, all records produced by Sountdtrakk, only credited features on the record are his sister Ayesha Jaco opening “THE LION’S DEEN” intro with her signature poetic style. As well as Lu’s SOSA guild protege Nayirah. A talented rapper in her own right who provides melodies on lead single “AUTOBOTO,” the slow, haunting “PRECIOUS THINGS,” and Alt-Rock inspired “SEATTLE.” The standout track is of course, “MS. MURAL,” a cerebral and layered concept record on the frustrations of being an artist forced to entertain a hapless patron. Beneath the surface is a very real history lesson on the means of production and subjects of artistic expression, complete with an Edgar Allen Poe-like macabre plot twist. Released: June 24th, 2022

  • The Modern Rap Collective: An Oral History

    The rap collective plays an important role in the landscape of modern underground hip-hop. With Griselda at the top; families across the nation have spawned to add fuel to the fire that the Buffalo giants ignited. In today's climate, belonging to a well-respected collective, carries weight. The identity adds legitimacy and confidence for the unfamiliar rap head. Much like the best crews in the genre's history; these collectives have sustained quality control. In the past, crews such as DITC or Cella Dwellaz have occupied a space in hip-hop closely tied to the streets. Although acts like Fat Joe or Big L received some mainstream attention at various points in their career, the brand that they stood for remained strictly underground and strictly for the heads. In much the same way, are the stories that follow. This article will highlight the stories of three important collectives in the scene. The Umbrella, Da Cloth and Brown Bag Money. Understanding these stories will provide a foundation for understanding how modern underground hip-hop operates as a whole. Although there are plenty of crews not represented in this piece, the three covered have certainly maintained prime real estate in the weekly release schedule for the past several years. Following each story, is a curated playlist which will serve as an entry point into the artists covered. A special thank you to those who agreed to be interviewed for this piece, including Pro Dillinger, Allah Preme, Substance810, Rigz, M.A.V., as well as both Daniel Son and Asun Eastwood who shared their stories last year during an interview for a separate article. The Umbrella: One of the more unique collectives in the modern era is that of The Umbrella. Appearing in circles as a masterly curated supergroup of buzzing emcees and producers; the crew's ethos and structure is not alike anything else we have in the contemporary rap space. Now consisting of ten emcees, and an onslaught of producers - The Umbrella's origins date back four years ago with online conversations between New York's Pro Dillinger and Snotty Dinero. Pro Dillinger: I didn't really have an idea that the underground was going through a resurgence in a sense. I didn't know. But I knew there was something happening there. So, I kind of just started deep diving. I was getting in - trying to find the producers - following the people that were in the comments that looked like they were doing something - following other rappers and stuff like that. And in doing my research, leading up to my first underground release - I encountered Snotty under a comment. What caught my attention initially was his name. Like 'that's a dope fucking name... like 'snotty.' It made me want to see who the fuck this dude was. Right? So, I checked his profile and saw he's a rapper. I clicked the link on his bio and that was it. I was amazed. He had just came out of jail and he released 'Columbian Snow Talk' and I was really into the project. Frequent conversations between Dillinger and Snotty quickly materialized into something greater than the sum of their parts. Out of an apparent necessity for resources, spawned the idea of a common collective. One that could lower budgets - and surround the two artists with likeminded talent - who could push - inspire - and motivate. Pro Dillinger: [Snotty and I] were going to go at it - try to find our way in the underground, just me and him. But we had no resources. We were both still getting beats from YouTube and shit like that and the few people we did know. Cause Snotty was making his own artwork, I'm buying artwork from people - and we're getting beats from other people we don't even know. One night we were having a conversation. Regular shit. Me and Snotty would call each other every night and just chop it up. Like plan and plot and shit. And one day I said to him 'Wouldn't it be dope if we didn't need to reach out to anyone? If we had all of our shit in house? and he was like 'Yeah.' And I said to him 'Like under the same umbrella.' And he was like 'Yo cuzz, that's it! The Umbrella!' In a conversation with Umbrella member Allah Preme, he noted the origins and claimed that it was the 'Gunbrella' symbol that the crew had adopted that gave The Umbrella an identity within hip-hop conversations. Allah Preme: The Umbrella is founded by Snotty and Pro Dillinger. They had created the Umbrella as a way for us to have resources. So, we would have producers under The Umbrella, graphic artists, other rappers, so that we wouldn't have to reach out for no features for nobody. We just wanted to create a network of resources that everyone could have at their disposal. That's what The Umbrella really was. It wasn't no rap group. It wasn't even a collective yet. It was just a band of dudes who came together and pooled their resources together. As time start going along - we start acquiring new members and the Gunbrella Symbol was made. And this is what changed it. Cause now this was a symbol that everyone could identify. Like 'Oh that's them dudes These guys run together!' And the people kind of made The Umbrella what it is now. We really didn't see it like this in the beginning. The people made it this. Today, The Umbrella goes strong. In 2020, Insomniac Magazine wrote that The Umbrella is the "ultimate collective of MCs, producers, and artists set to dominate the Hip Hop scene." That statement, today, holds true. With emcees Pro Dillinger, Josiah The Gift, Mickey Diamond, Snotty, Substance810, Jay Royale, Allah Preme, Big Trip, John Creasy and Mvck Nyce; the crew has established a discography totaling well over 100 releases. Each gaining traction in the underground hip-hop landscape. In May, the collective reached new heights. Despite geographic separation within their roster; the crew held their first live performance as a single identity at Chelsea Music Hall in New York City. The show, hosted by ID Rich and Shaolin Luciano was an opportunity for artists to collaborate, build rapport, and break bread. Speaking of the event, Umbrella emcee Substance810 claimed: Substance810: The comradery was off the charts. It was dope. Meeting everybody in person. It really felt natural. It's not every time that you meet people that you've never met before and it feels natural and organic from the jump. And it just felt that way from everyone - that is as far as the people I hadn't met prior. It was just a dope ass night. We had only agreed that we were going to do it like a month before the show. We put it all together and it was successful. [...] It was just a fire ass night. I know in my mind it was just the one to kick it off. We have so much more coming it's going to be crazy. Pro Dillinger: We got to meet each other. Live in the flesh. Stay at each others houses, host each other, shit like that. That was - for me - the best part - having the whole Umbrella in my driveway bro. Drinking beers, cracking jokes, smoking weed. It's like when you go to a BBQ or a family reunion and see all your cousins. Like you didn't miss anything - you didn't skip a beat. That's how I felt. It was good to just see all of the guys just kick it. And when we got to the show, it was amazing. There was a moment where I was standing there with my wife and we're just talking, socializing with people, and I look down the block towards the venue and the whole block is filled up with just people. It's just mad people catching a vibe, enjoying the vibe. I was like 'Holy shit, I can't believe we did this.' The event was live, energetic, and triumphant. Despite the show being cut short during Pro Dillinger's final set, he took it to the streets, and rocked for fans outside of the venue for an impromptu performance that Substance recalled as 'legendary'. This was hip-hop in its most raw and primal state, and the fans took notice. Pro Dillinger remembers: Pro Dillinger: I feel like that was - not only an important moment for The Umbrella, that was just an important moment in our space of artistry. I feel like that was something that needed to happen for a number of reasons. I feel like the way it came together - was so last minute - that it's amazing that we were able to produce a product of that quality in that short span of time. There was some hiccups, and there were some things that could have went a little better but at the end of the day - it was a moment. I know it definitely was a good moment for me. As even though my set got cut short, I was able to recover and capture another moment after the show. I really experienced something special with the people who came to support us. It was good for everyone involved. What's next for The Umbrella? With an ever-impressive list of releases out in 2022, the collective has been actively discussing the potential of an Umbrella crew album. Despite no release date in mind, everyone seemingly agrees; it's going to happen. Roadblocks in the way are contained only to the logistics of constructing a project with over a dozen individuals. Allah Preme: When it comes to the Umbrella collective. Me personally, I've put out two compilations; I put out one called 'Govament Cheeze,' and I put out another one called 'Stealth Assassins.' Where I kind of just put out my favourite tracks from everyone and put them on. As far as The Umbrella collective album, yes. The Umbrella collective album is going to happen. It's talked about all the time. More than people know. It's just we are trying to really establish the work that we've been doing - and establishing ourselves so that when the time does come, first and foremost everyone is ready. And it's hard. We are a big crew. It's not that no one wants to do it, the challenge is just getting this many people on the same page. Pro Dillinger: We talk about it all the time man. My biggest thing, and everyone else's biggest thing is... we don't want to rush it. We don't want to make it to the point where we're offering our supporters false hope. Like 'The Umbrella album is getting this close to getting done...blah blah blah' you know what I'm saying? Then on top of that; we don't want to record it through emails. We want to all be in the same spot recording it. It has to happen organically, or it's just not going to happen. At some point - we're going to have an Umbrella album. But we don't want to rush it. We don't want to cheat the people. We don't want to give the people just a compilation album. As we could have easily done that. We all have songs together. So, we could just take a bunch of songs that we have together and slap them together on one project and give them that, but it wouldn't be the sauce, you know what I'm saying? It would just be something to pacify. And that's not what I want to do. I don't want to pacify anybody. Fuck that. I want all my guys in a lab. We got to lock in for five to seven days. Nobody go to work. Nobody call their girl. We just gotta work. That's how I envision The Umbrella album. Nothing forced. Put a beat on. Whoever gets on this beat gets on this beat. Whoever doesn't, get on the next one. Shit like that man. No distractions, just come in here and do business. Over the years, The Umbrella has formed a singular identity in the underground. What once began as an opportunity to pool resources, has turned into one of the most respected names in the scene; commanding respect for all that carry the name. If you're new to The Umbrella, there's no bad place to start. That said, below is a playlist crafted from joints within the collective. If you care about underground rap, and find yourself unfamiliar with the brand, then listen intently. Da Cloth: A favourite among heads of the underground; Da Cloth has put their stamp on the landscape over the last handful of years. Consistently providing us with a cohesive array of mood setting albums - their quality control and production choices are something to be marveled. Consisting of emcees; M.A.V. (Maverick Montana), Rigz, Mooch, iLLanoise, Times Change, Symph and Rob Gates - Da Cloth have cemented their legacy in the scene. Unlike The Umbrella, Da Cloth's regional identity is important. Hailing from Rochester, New York, the crew has painted a portrait of the city that has defined the region's identity within the culture. The origins of Da Cloth date back to 2012. While Rigz and M.A.V. have familial ties, the two were well acquainted with the others who all occupied spaces within the local Rochester music scene. Originally consisting of M.A.V., Rigz, iLLanoise and Symph, the collective bonded over shared principles and a vision for each other's craft. M.A.V.: We started doing some music together. That was me, Rigz, Symph and iLLanoise. We started featuring each other on each other’s music and one day after some thought had been put into it, it was like 'Listen, we can really make some noise together. Like everyone's going to continue to make some noise by themselves, that's a given. For the most part, that's something we have all continued to do. But together, I feel like we can be a force to be reckoned with. And I'm not even sure who truly initiated that conversation, but I know that was the root of it. We're pretty tough individually, but together this could really turn into something. At that time there were only four of us. Rigz: The vision was always the same from my perspective. I can't really speak for everybody else but as far as my vantage point? I always seen our collective strength, but it started with our individual strength. What I see in Gates is different from what I see in MAV. What I see in Mooch is different from what I see in Times. So forth and so on. So collectively when I bring that vision together, we all are different, but we all stand for integrity. Like different things outside of the music? We felt wasn't relevant. And when it comes to the artistic side? I felt like our creativity, the way we flow, the way we approach a beat? It's just something fresh and something that isn't really out. So, my vision has always been the same with Da Cloth as far as just getting it out there to the point where it can be acknowledged, and hopefully it can influence something else to continue on and push it forward. The first addition to Da Cloth came quickly after its formation. By early 2013, Times Change had been added to the roster. As a battle emcee in the area, Times had begun a working relationship with M.A.V. after appearing on an early tape titled Angels and Demons. After impressing the rest of the crew, it became a no brainer to syndicate his talents with the group. Rigz: He was brought in, honestly off the strength of M.A.V. - M.A.V. put him on the map as far as me. I was aware of him as he was in the battle circuit, and he was cooking dudes here, but I hadn't really heard any projects from him per say. But M.A.V. had him featured on one of his tapes. I think it was called 'Angels and Demons.' The original one before he did the ones with Hobgoblin, he did one way back. But he featured him on there and I was like 'who the fuck is this?' The way he was showing up on the records was like toe to toe with us. It was a no brainer for me once he brought it to the table. Like yeah, we should fuck with him. His caliber as far as his pen game is ridiculous. And when I met him as a person we gelled. So that's how that happened. But M.A.V. was definitely the one that brought him to my attention. Everyone else in the crew already knew of him. 2014 saw two new members added to Da Cloth. This would be the last alteration of the roster, permanently solidifying the core talent of the crew. Childhood friend of Rigz; Mooch was added to the crew at this time along with Rob Gates. In Rigz' view, this made sense; as Mooch was always present in the conversation, despite not formally being inducted into the collective. Gates on the other hand - was inducted due to his skillsets as an emcee and the fact that his authenticity resembled that of the other members. Rigz: Mooch was always in but he was in off the strength of me. Because I was working with him prior to anyone else. So regardless if he was pulled in or not, he was involved as he was involved with me. So it would have been like a Method Man and Redman thing if he didn't get pulled in. Like he's always going to get standing because of me - period. But the original four was me, iLLanoise, Symph and M.A.V. Then the next was Times. Times was the fifth member. Then Mooch and Gates came in at the exact same time. But like I said, I had been working with Mooch the whole time. Rigz: When I heard Gates, I became a fan of Gates instantly. Because the authenticity on the record, his energy, then who he was... he's the epitome of a diamond in the rough. You know what I mean? He was a star as soon as I seen him. When we met, we had a lot of the same characteristics that we get from the pavement. Everything else was just solid after that. Despite much of their early catalog being unavailable online, the sonic template that the emcees adopted was very much akin to their current sound. Blessed with production from the likes of Eto, and other Rochester natives; Da Cloth's sound is distinct. Eerie and chilling hip-hop with hard drums and potent lyrics that reek of authenticity and street realism. When it comes to the space they occupy in the underground scene, Da Cloth makes some of the most cinematically grimy records out. M.A.V.: Listen, the sound that we do now, is still of the same cloth as 2011-2012. That sound has been part of the Rochester sound for lord knows how long. It's just based on the producers that we used. A lot of other artists started using those producers after hearing what we were doing with them. Those would be guys like Truth the Producer, Fifth, Eto. Eto has been making beats - and Truth and Fifth, those guys have been making beats for eons. I'm talking about early 2000s. Maybe even sooner when it comes to Eto. But even the sound that you hear Eto doing? That's been the sounds for a long time. Like before you heard Beat Butcher anywhere else, you heard him on Eto's music. That sound is like probably more Rochester than anywhere else. Rigz: [The sound] was extremely similar. It just evolved as the producers that we worked with evolved. Everything we stood for evolved. Life evolved. It just grew. But we dropped stuff from 2012-2013-2014. I think 2011 was the earliest. But none of that stuff is on the internet. We're probably going to do some re-releases next year. Just to give a history background of the stuff we did prior. But it's always been the same. Just evolved. In recent years, Da Cloth have grown to new heights; actively collaborating with some of the most sought-after artists in the scene. 2019 saw the first of the Big Ghost Ltd collaborations as Rigz and Mooch teamed up with the Japanese producer to release their album The Only Way Out which got a vinyl pressing through De Rap Winkel. In 2020, Rob Gates and M.A.V. dropped The Dark Side of Nature also entirely produced by Big Ghost. Rigz, earlier this year took a step even further with the record Gold, a record produced by the legendary Soul Assassin himself DJ Muggs. Toronto producer Futurewave, whom has worked with the likes of Rome Streetz, Boldy James and others has also laced Da Cloth with excellence, producing full length projects for both Mooch as well as Rigz respectively. These production credits have not only won over fans, but have proven to elevate Da Cloth to the pillars of culture; with many of their solo projects actively engaging the rap community upon their release. At this point, their legacy is cemented. To date; Da Cloth has released a handful of crew albums. These include their 2015 debut with the XXL inspired Salute the Few, 2017's Broad Day Kidnaps, the DJ Kay Slay hosted Fixtape in 2018, and the follow up joint Da Fixtape in 2020. In 2022, they are hard working on a new joint effort which is bound to drop by the years end. Speaking with Rigz and M.A.V., the two noted not only that the project is near completion, but hinted at a producer list chalked full of Rochester talent. Rigz: It's 98% done. It's called Cloth New York. And it'll definitely be out this year. The tape is basically us putting our flag in the dirt a little deeper. It's us representing our part of New York. It's going to be nice. It's going to be fun. I'm not going to sit here and say 'Yeah it's the best! It's all that!' I'm not here to do that. I want ya'll to hear it and give ya'll opinion. But I’m certain ya'll are gonna enjoy it. It's fun. Just a good joint. M.A.V.: The artwork is being created as you speak. That's a project that's been in the works probably immediately after the first one. Immediately after 'Da Fixtape.' It's sounding good. I actually listened to some of it a couple of weeks back. It's sounding good. We're just trying to make sure that the art work is what it needs to be. And it's definitely a scale up from what 'Da Fixtape' was. And I truly truly enjoy my contributions and hearing what some of my brothers did when it came to 'Da Fixtape.' So yeah, we got one brewing for you guys already. M.A.V.: If you pay attention to the very first 'Fixtape.' On the 'Fixtape' we kept everything predominantly Rochester. So, I know we got some heavy production from Chupra on there. I know there's some Fifth production on there. I think we actually went outside of Rochester for some production on it as well. Cause some production on it for me - listening to it - from the control room - I'm familiar with the production but I can't quite put my finger on - like who could this be? A lot of times I'm listening to that project, and when we're getting ready to go into post-production mode - I just close my eyes and listen so I don't really have any distractions. But we definitely have a heavy element of Rochester production on there. Maybe some Riley Dennis on there. There may even be some Eto on there. I'm really really not positive. Stay tuned for the upcoming joint record from Da Cloth. In the meantime, like the others on this list; take a few out of your day to bump a playlist made for those who slept on the crew. Da Cloth has become a powerhouse. They have some of the most unique voices in the underground scene and are certainly worthy of your attention. Brown Bag Money (BBM): Like Da Cloth has done for Rochester, Brown Bag Money has very much defined what Toronto hip-hop has become over the past several years. Beginning as a high school click in the early 2010s, BBM has experienced multiple iterations of its roster since the inception. However, at present, BBM contains some of Toronto's most sought after and skilled emcees and producers, including; Daniel Son, Futurewave, Asun Eastwood, Saipher Soze, Family Gang Black (formerly Black Nazi) and Snackz. In its earliest days, BBM was founded by Daniel Son and friends as a way to identify themselves as they hustled within the parameters of the city. Though Daniel Son was already involved in writing music, the crew and the name had little to no association with hip-hop music. Speaking with Daniel Son, he noted: Daniel Son: I started that shit back in the days. Me and my friends all had Blackberries. We're all doing our thing. Hustling. Getting our little money. And we would always type through BBM. I just flipped it' like Brown Bag Money. Cause that's what we were doing at the time. Hustling. So, I started that back in the days. It wasn't even some rap shit. Just me and my friends doing our little shit, getting our little money. By 2013, things had changed. Though still fronted by Daniel Son, BBM had a real solidified roster, and had already begun crafting music as a unit. In April of that year, the mixtape Grand Theft Audio 1 was released via DatPiff. Surprisingly obscured to this day, the tape was a glimpse at what BBM had to offer, and an early look at Daniel Son as an emcee. A look at the credits on DatPiff reveals a nearly completely different roster from that of what we know now, including: C Will, Skuddy Rankz, Juvey Don, IC Cash (Cory Cash), as well as the only consistent member in that of Daniel Son. Over time, the roster took on alterations. As others began to shift their priorities away from rapping, Daniel Son kept the brand and continued to add members who stylistically complimented the sounds that the emcee was already curating. Fans of Daniel Son may recognize The Rumbar. Often referenced in his lyrics, The Rumbar was a basement apartment that became the catalyst for many relationships to form in the Toronto hip-hop scene. Not only was the location a breeding ground for community bonding, but it was the spot where multiple early BBM related projects were recorded and produced. Daniel Son: So my dude Blizz. He's on a couple joints. He's on Remo [Gaggi]. He's on 'Divizion Rivals' as well. He had a spot. I rented a room there. It had all the studio equipment - cause he's a big reggae artist. He's got joints with Sizzla, a big reggae artist out of Canada. He went to Jamaica for a month, he's like 'Yo, I'm going to need you to learn all the recording equipment." I mean I've been recording my own shit for how long? Right? I just wasn't familiar with the program Logic. He's like 'I'm going to need you to learn this for when I get back so you can record me." So in that month that he was in Jamaica? We pretty much recorded 'Divizion Rivals,' we pretty much recorded that. I was just learning and working on his setup. And that shit became 'The Rumbar.' I don't know if you ever heard me mention The Rumbar in any of my tracks. But yeah, that was like the hangout spot. Finn and Blizz were friends since they were little kids. It was just a big coincidence. I moved over there, and everybody that was hanging out over there was like an older generation of people I already knew. So I was hanging around Soze, and Soze's older cousin Crisco was hanging around those guys. So, it all just came full circle. I moved in there, recorded so much music. 'Divizion Rivals.' 'Gunner's Tape.' 'Remo Gaggi.' 'Moonshine Mix 1.' 'Moonshine Mix 2.' I think 'Moonshine Mix 2' was the last project I recorded there before I moved out. But yeah, I was there for like five years just living in The Rumbar man. Crazy place. A lot of people in the basement smoking. Listening to reggae. Drinking rum. I'm trying to record, my dude Blizz is over there cutting hair. Sometimes you'd have like 20 people there waiting for haircuts and I'm in the corner recording. I have to tell people 'Yo yo my friends, please keep it down I gotta do these records and shit.' And then they'd be like 'oh I didn't even know you rapped.' So, I would play them the joints, they would fuck with them so it was cool. It was like a whole little community down there. How many times me and Finn recorded in The Rumbar till like 3-4 in the morning? Just me and Finn. Everyone else has gone to sleep. Me and Finn are just down there just recording. The fucking water heater would turn on. We'd have to wait 30 minutes for the water heater to turn off and start recording again. I knew Finn before then but that's when me and Finn really started linking, was in The Rumbar. Ironically the day that I moved in - there was a raptors game too. So, Finn was talking up to The Rumbar as I was moving in. Literally I saw him the first day I moved in there. Yeah man, history ever since. These sessions at The Rumbar were monumental in the development of the Brown Bag Money collective identity. By the time Daniel Son left the complex, a new roster was in full effect. By 2018, Futurewave had replaced Giallo Point as the go-to producer for the crew's art and had even become a legitimate part of the BBM team. Asun Eastwood, who had been steadily building a discography in the Toronto scene, also had become a full-fledged member that year. More importantly, it was Asun Eastwood who brought in the remaining members of the crew with past relationships with both Black Nazi (now Family Gang Black) as well as Snackz. In an interview with Asun Eastwood, he recalled his early connections with Daniel Son as follows: Asun Eastwood: So, when I saw Daniel Son... I ended up seeing someone with a cover that had like the CN Tower. I was like 'What? There's another Canadian?' I thought I was the only Canadian dude in this realm. So, I was like 'What the fuck? Who's this?' And Instagram and social media allows you to go and research. Easily. That's how the FBI be fucking us up anyway [laughs]. So might as well get real FBIish with this shit and see who these people are. So, I saw Daniel Son and I hit him up. 'Yo you're dope. You’re around the way and you do this?' then he told me his age. I'm like 'Yo you're real young and you're into this?' Then I started seeing that he's been on shit. Like he's been really doing this since 2012-13 something like that. And I was like 'Yo, you've really been there for this new era.' Like he had a joint on the new Eto shit and I liked Eto. Like 'this guys really in it.' So I just asked him; 'Let me get a feature!' That was the Nimbus joint. And from there, when it came out, I was like 'Yo, let me come check you.' And I had to pull up in my Jag, at that time I was pushing a Jag, and he was like 'Yo, what the fuck, who are you?' and I was like 'Who are you?' and it was just natural from that point. We started going to studios and linking up. And we're from the same spot. A lot of the energy was the same. We're degenerate. We like getting fucked up. Drinking. Talking shit. He introduced me to the Soze's. He introduced me to the Finn's. I brought Black [Nazi] and Snackz into the fold here. And other than just production - I knew some people out here. So, we're just joining up and kicking it. That turns into music, and it just became something. We started making projects. His name was buzzing after 'Remo Gaggi' with Giallo Point. That buzz, they were calling for him in the States. They were calling him in New York and New Jersey to do shows. I'm one of the guys who can travel, and he's like 'I'd love for you to come with me and get some stage time at the same time.' But it was for him. It was his show. He's buzzing. So, I'm just going for the ride but I am getting to see what this really is. Meeting Crimeapple early. Meeting Al.Divino early. Meeting Estee Nack early. We're shaking hands. Everyone. All the guys you see right there? We pretty much shook hands with all of them. Today, the members of BBM have all left their mark. Daniel Son has appeared on projects from 38 Spesh, Rome Streetz, Estee Nack, Buckwild, Al.Divino, Flee Lord, and plenty of others. Futurewave, the in-house BBM producer has produced full length joints for Rome Streetz, Mooch, Rigz, Al.Divino, Boldy James and a healthy cast of Canadian acts as well. Asun Eastwood, has material with Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine, and Saipher Soze and Snackz are not too far behind. Though the crew has seemingly no immediate plans for a collective album, any look at the rosters discography will discover an ample amount of collaborations within the team. Interestingly, the original roster for BBM has not been forgotten. According to Daniel Son last year, a follow up to 2013's Grand Theft Audio is in the works; sporting the original cast of characters from that project. Daniel Son: But the original BBM was me, Skuddy Rankz. Cory Cash and my dude Juvey Don. And now I’m back working with those guys. We go to the studio every Friday. So, there's going to be like an original BBM member tape coming out soon. My dude Study Ranks? He's the nastiest out of everybody. Out of all the sick artists I know? This guy is the nastiest. He was always the nastiest. Since we were like 16. He's one of those dudes, just an example of cats that could be like the illest rappers but don't really rap. I have to be like 'Bro, we're going to the studio on Friday. Make sure you write something every day of the week.' and now he knows. He has the potential. There's nobody seeing him. I'm just trying to push that. Cause he deserves it. People are going to wild out once they hear that. Though the lead-up to Grand Theft Audio has yet to be released, fans ought to be excited for the prospects of the project. Brown Bag Money, today, has secured itself in the canons of Canadian hip-hop history. They have broken the mold, have become accepted by their New York peers, and have created some of the most authentic and vivid street rap to be released from the skrewface capital of the world. As with the others, I encourage a listen to the playlist below and for the hip-hop connoisseur to take the time out to familiarize yourself with the crew in question. Colombian Snow Talk by Snotty : Govament Cheeze by Allah Preme : "Stealth Assassins Compilation" by Allah Preme : Da Fixtape by Da Cloth : God's Work by iLLanoise : Angelz & Demonz by M.A.V. : The Dark Side of Nature by M.A.V. x Rob Gates : The Only Way Out by Rigz x Mooch : Gold by Rigz x DJ Muggs : Salute The Few by Da Cloth : Broad Day Kidnaps by Da Cloth : The Fixtape by Da Cloth x DJ Kay Slay : Grand Theft Audio 1 by Brown Bag Money : Divizion Rivals by Daniel Son x Saipher Soze : "Party Time" by Blizz ft. Sizzla : Moonshine Mix by Daniel Son : Nimbus by Asun Eastwood :

  • Deniro Farrar - Spook By The Door

    Deniro Farrar's latest EP, Spook By The Door takes it's namesake from the 1969 Sam Greenlee novel The Spook Who Sat By The Door. The book later became an Ivan Dixon directed film in 1973, and is highly revered as a jewel of the Blaxploitation film era. In the story, after realizing he's just a token hire, a Black CIA officer quits the agency. He then uses his training to teach Black men from the streets how to get the man off their neck, and become freedom fighters. Deniro opens Spook By The Door with a song that shares the same title as the EP. A Cenobite produced track is the back drop for Deniro's raspy voice as he tells you what he's about, and how he moves through the streets with both eyes open for these pythons(snakes.) The next track of the EP is LT produced "Mafia." It's a more mellow mood but Deniro is not letting off the gas. What stands out overall in his music is the skill at which he executes. This isn't his first project and it shows. He's an expert rapper who is adept at crafting his bars and delivering them in a way that's convincing and also keeps you on your toes as a listener. He's a strong songwriter and you'll be chanting along to these choruses before the songs are even over. Last but not least, is my favorite, the high energy and infectious "Run It Up." Shaq Gonzoe and Don Kevo share production duty on this certified banger. This is the one that's gonna get you through that last stretch on your run or make you feel like you can lift the whole gym. Deniro's razor sharp wit and delivery are on full display as he gives you the streets in a way that only someone who has lived it can. Spook By The Door is a great project, especially if it's your first time listening to music from Deniro Farrar. I wish it did have an extra song or two. Fortunately he's got a lot of material readily available for that inevitable deeper dive you'll wanna take into his catalogue. Release date: May 13, 2022


    It’s Saturday in late May, and the eve of PhoeNix’s latest, an EP titled Walkthru. In the past year, he’s released an album Redbird, as well as the second in the Crybaby Soprano series. When he picks up the call, he’s sparking a blunt, the smoke tinged pink from the lights above his head. We start by talking touring with Jack Harlow and Babyface Ray alongside Mavi, but quickly move to discussing it all: his beginnings, story, thoughts and goals. When I ask about the music that shaped him, he laughs, grumbling out, “I guess I’ve been influenced” before generously listing out tapes that he grew up on. He’s been in this game for a while, beginning in Texas as K. Mitch. He had a few small projects out under that name before adapting the moniker he’s got now. The story behind this one? “I overdosed, twice, actually died. My mama was there. Shit. And then, I felt like, oh, I need to let my old ways die. Phoenix, life and death, all embodiment. Closest thing to having a pseudonym that’s not a pseudonym.” He’s gracious, honest, and open, smiling as he reassures me not to worry; “Drugs can’t kill me, and these fuck n***** can’t either.” I believe him. He’s at The Bridge this evening, a studio in Charlotte he describes as “a creation hub that also serves as a catalyst to get paid.” It’s an easygoing, lighthearted atmosphere, and while we talk, various folks pass through the doors. This space became his second home when he linked up with his manager Cody, who runs the spot. He tells me the story of that day: “Mavi dropped me off here. I ain’t really have nowhere to rap yet, I wasn’t really rapping yet. And, we was really just kicking it, it was on Thanksgiving! And I was kinda lowkey fake sad, because n***** wasn’t out there with their families and shit. But, you know. So n***** was here. My n****, we went and got some soul food, and shit, n***** just let me rap. If not all day, close to all day. And, let that shit happen for a week, two, three, got turned into a month. And we just got so cool, and then he turned into my manager. And I can honestly say bro, it’s been the most beneficial shit in a bunch of different ways. Even outside of directly music, you know, we’re real good. I like the team I have. And it’s not a huge team! It’s really my manager Cody, my partner Jo. Shoutout Sean Stanley, who’s recently been added because when Jo’s not around, he’s like the n**** who shoot all my shit. But he stay in Atlanta, and I be out here in Charlotte. I met Sean through Cody. But that’s it, as far as intermediate team of curation of content. Outside of that, of course gang is gang. Shoutout Backkkseat, KS, etcetera. But it ain’t no million people that we got involved in this. You know, real home, ground-up foundation type shit. Really, I put a lot of that on the Bridge. Shoutout to the Bridge, man. This is a wonderful studio to be able to come to and create man. A lot of good things happened here.” A lot of good things indeed. TheBridgeCLT’s channel is home to a number of session videos from some of the brightest talents around. Among two from PhoeNix, you can see the likes of Fetty P Franklin and 10Cellphones, as well as his friends/contemporaries Mavi, Ahmir, Messiah!, Marco Plus and more. He never hesitates to shine a light or heap praises on the people around him. When I ask for recent album recommendations, he immediately names the latter four’s latest, and then mentions Smiles’ D.E.M.M.O tape a few minutes later. The Houston native has found community in Charlotte with the members of Killswitch and Backkkseat, and when it comes to his people he’s all the way serious. Today happens to be his longtime friend and cameraman Jomir’s birthday, and everyone is showing love. There’s whoops of welcome and cheer when he’s let in. Jo filmed a number of his older videos, as well the Redbird documentary, but as PhoeNix explains, he wasn’t just a videographer. “Bro, that’s my twin. Me and Jo was homeless together bro.… hell yeah. Me and Jo got evicted out of one of his spots together, we had to sleep in the car for like a month. And was just jumping from hotel to hotel. And that was like, the whole time period of making Redbird.” Redbird is the project that I fell in love with, and I expressed as much when I reached out to organize this interview. We agree it’s overlooked; he even confesses he started to doubt the quality, before we both laugh about that. It’s full of twists and turns, and serves as a great introduction to him as an artist. The Houston roots are made clear early through the chopping and vocal sludge in this collection, but there’s the breakneck euphoria and rush of songs like "Cellphones" and the heartbreak in "Fly High" that make it impossible to pin down. "Homerun" is a BeatsbySav canvas, so you know the drums are knocking. "Truestory", the intro, is devastating, and he breaks it down for me: “To this day, [Redbird] has my favourite intro. I don’t think it’s my best intro no more, because this shit, you know what I’m saying? But, it’s my favourite intro. That Truestory song is about my best friend getting killed in college. And I had came from this girl house, and pulled up on him and I seen that shit. I pulled up, and the cops had the shit taped off at my brother’s house. Just the whole situation, I remember going to therapy for like three years, and I had stopped outta nowhere, because it got to the point where they tried to force me to write a grief letter about the situation, and I couldn’t. So that was like my own form of that.” Grief might loom in the music, but it isn’t at the forefront. He’s truly versatile, able to ride a hazy blunted beat and skip right into the pocket of trap heater next. Switching cadences isn’t a problem, and free association makes way for vivid tales. "Sky" has a jaunty piano central to it that’s reminiscent of Kevin Abstact’s "Empty." His philosophy about song length and curation is fascinating, and best understood by listening to his projects. They’re short, yes, but as a whole, “very complete, in sonic and sound, and conveying the story. I feel like we’re really in and out… It’s gon’ really frustrate people, because it’s good music but it’s over really quick. And I like that. I want that kinda sensation with desire, where people are like I want more of this. And then, if people don’t feel that way, then I kinda did my job wrong. Back to the drawing board, you know.” He’s devised a formula as well: “I try to always master having a really good three track run, having a good intro, and having a good outro. And if you follow that equation, successfully do it each time, 60% of your project gonna be good every time. Because, the first impression, the last impression, and that three song run.” Even with a clear formula and a vision like his, luck never stops playing a part. Having fallen in love with the sonics, I had to ask who’d been producing these songs. He mentions himself, Wulf Morpheus, Malik Burns, Jaylace and inFull, before dropping a surprising anecdote. A YouTube producer, ProdByNev, contributed almost half of Redbird without even knowing. As he tells it, “it was this n**** on YouTube, beats I was ripping. I ain’t even remember that I was ripping them, Produced by Nev. and I used like, 4-5 of them hoes for Redbird. And so, shit, I think.. Which music video was it? I forget which one exactly, but I was running Instagram ads… So one of the people that liked it was him, he swiped up and said like “Bro, you know I produced like 4 songs on Redbird?” Like, this one, this one, this one. I was like, no way, bro send me your YouTube page, send me the beat links. Sure enough, he sent me the page and I was like “Oh shit!!!”. Even more lit. It was so cool that he was cool about it; he could’ve definitely got my project pulled down. But he was like nah, you’re fire, I like your rapping, and sent me more beats! So shoutout Produced by Nev, I really gotta love it.“ No formula is going to be able to account for all the variables. I reached out to Nev, and he told me how a copyright strike led him to finding the album: “I remember making that beat [Greyfeel] and hoping someone would do what he did on it. I loved the song, the direction and I listened to the whole project and I heard "Feel Something," which is another song I produced on Redbird. I was going through a lot at the time and beats were the last thing on my mind, but it brought me motivation again. I reached out to him in maybe mid-December of last year, and I’ve been sending new beats every month hoping something comes of it. He’s got a refreshing sound that I would love to help build and be a part of as a producer.” The urge to build is strong in his presence. On top of fostering the community around him, he preaches forever motion. He’s constantly making plays, on the move and working at his craft. In the weeks since our call and the EP releasing, he’s teased a few different songs, with new rapid-fire and staccato flows over a whole different range of beats. He’s not prominent on social media; in fact sometimes it seems like it’s ultimately a distraction to him. His Twitter disappeared early this year, and his Instagram went with it sometime this month. He doesn’t plan on stopping this pace; Walkthru is just one more step along the road. But he’s proud of this project, and it shows. After listening through the EP a few times in the week before we talk, I can’t help but be convinced of his ascent. Redbird hooked me with its honesty, and Crybaby Soprano 2 made me double down, maybe even off American Gangster alone. But Walkthru is where he steps into an entirely new level. He’s confident, composed, and in charge of the story. It’s undeniable. During our chat he makes an offhand reference to a collab project with the relentless Marco Plus, to expand upon their song Walk Hard on CS2. If all goes as planned, it could be a breakthrough. But what does that even mean, when so much is happening at once in the scene? From all the fresh collabs and posse cuts, to the classic albums dropping, we’re watching in real time as this movement expands and the collectives grow. They’re doing their thing down South, representing hard for the region. I consider myself lucky to witness. As for the rest? Fuck em. *** This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. *** Sai: Damn, you were on that tour with Babyface Ray, right? PhoeNix: Yeah!! I’m not the biggest into Jack Harlow, but I loved how he put you guys on that. P: *laughing* Ayy, look bro. Shoutout Jack Harlow bro. Jack.. Shoutout Jack Harlow bro. Okay, if he’s got your stamp of approval that’s all I need to hear. P: I’m definitely part of the Jack Harlow agenda man. He’s a really nice young man. Especially even beyond putting Mavi on tour, allowing Mavi to bring n***** like me and his friends, putting Babyface Ray and all of fuckin’ Daisy Lane on that bitch too. That’s turnt man. Shoutout Jack Harlow. I’m tryna catch them in Toronto. They’re here next week, I love Los and Nutty man. [this got cancelled, they didn’t let Face in] P: Bro! On the tour, they was actually supposed to do a Toronto date. But Babyface Ray nor Mavi could make it. So I think Toronto, for the Jack tour, was just Jack and the homies. Like, who he grew up with, honest where he’s from. They didn’t get the full Toronto crème de la crème tour experience. I gotta see Face next week then man. (nope) P: Oh yeah, facts. Fun fact: I’m opening up for him in Charlotte! That’s crazy. You’ve been holding it down in Charlotte, you and Mavi, Ahmir and them. P: Shit, trying to. I’m really not even a native from out here, I’m really really, like really really a Houston n****. Even to this day, my home is still out there. I’ve just been grateful to come out here off the strength off my partner Mavi. ‘Cause, the way me and Mavi even met is wild, bro. For the first two years we knew each other, we didn’t even rap. Like when he posted my shit, when you seen Redbird, we hadn’t even rapped together. Damn! P: Nah, for the first two years we knew each other we didn’t even rap together, it was just like oh you rap really well, and you rap really well, and I like you. And I opened up in his first show in Houston. Pandemic happened; everybody’s life went to shit for like a year and a half, two. And I remember one day, just randomly, he was calling my phone like “Mitch, how you been?”. *laughing* I was like *confused* “Mavi??”. Like, it was just so random and odd. It was in the middle of the pandemic, the last thing I expected. But shit, we just got to talking, and I flew out to Atlanta, probably three weeks after that conversation. And we ended up playing another Houston show. Because like, after a year and a half had passed, it was like shit, time to be back outside. Jack Harlow tour happened. Hop off that, come to Charlotte. Crybaby Soprano 2. Then what we’re doing now. Jeez! I love that tape. P: Man! It’s - I love it too, it’s one of my favourites. It’s just, I shouldda mixed it better. *laughing* but I like it for music’s sake. Out of all my projects.. I don’t know, I like all my projects a lot. They like kids bro. I love all my projects. I don’t even got no favourites. But I can honestly say - ever since you and me had talked that first time, through DM.. I went back, and I’ve been listening to Redbird. Because I’ve been sleep on Redbird. The fact that you even knew something… like, everybody be like nah, Redbird really the sleeper of all of them. Because of how long it is, I guess it feels more complete. It’s not like, a little in-and-out. It feels like a full on experience. So, I appreciate that. Nah, I meant it. P: And I think Redbird does a good job of showing, like, at least a sneak peak of what my range is. Oh yeah, for sure. I was going to say, you definitely rep for the South hard. I can see that Houston influence just from the chopped-n-screwed stuff on Redbird, sounds incredible. P: Born and raised, man! All I know. That’s the- man, Screwed Up tapes, Z-RO, Big Hart, Moe. Shit, even my father grew up in the scene. Slim Thug. Mike Jones, Paul, everything! All of it! It’s all I know. It’s really what I was raised on. 8Ball, MJG. Like, all that Southern soil man. I think for Crybaby Soprano 1, and Redbird, you got lil glimpses of it. You know, how I get into pockets that are kinda confusing, like “I don’t know where this n**** from.” But I think on this one, the shit that drop tonight at 12AM, it’s no debate. It’s like, “Oh, this n**** is from the South.” Southern, like, if you don’t understand what Houston or the South is, I think this do a real good job of conveying that. I love that Southern talk man. I was going to say … I wanted to ask about Southern influences, how you linked up with Mavi. But yo, it’s honestly just really nice to sit and talk to you and hear all this. P: Aw man. Well, just to give a brief bit about Southern influence. Honestly bro, I’d have to say, the biggest one out of allll of them: Wayne. Wayne. He ain’t like everybody else bro. You gotta understand, Wayne really ran a whole generation. Like, it was a point in time where Wayne would get on your song and it’s not your song no more. Bro, what Youngboy is to the kids now, Wayne was to us. I say, Wayne, 3 Stacks, and then.. Houston is so big, I can’t even name one collective, it would be so many like - I said Screwed Up Clique, then you got UGK, and you got, shit, more modern shit like Travi$, Maxo. Fun fact, in high school, when I was a freshman in high school.. nah, middle school bro, 7, 6, 8th grade, we was all listening to - transferring outta that DatPiff mixtape era, going into like, beginning Soundcloud era. Maxo Kream. He had a tape in the city call Retro Card. And he was still in high school at the time. Deep in the swamp, which is like the southwest part of Houston. And shit. I ain’t going to lie, that kinda influenced a lot of everybody’s shit. You have to hear Maxo to kinda understand the ways, but it’s definitely there. And of course Sauce Walka. Duh. *laughing* I gotta go back to that Maxo tape, thank you for putting me on, damn. P: Nah, nah, Retro Card, definitely. He did a remix, a remix to "Rigamortis" by Kendrick and that shit was so tough. Like so so tough. To hear somebody Southern, with that kinda dialect and cadences similar to mine from an area I’m from get on shit. But to me, influences, I don’t know. Specifically Houston influences. All them mixtape CDs n***** used to play, we’d get em at the barbershop, slide in my uncle truck and listen to all the time, and then blended in between that would be some Wayne. And a lot of more shit too though. A lot of more shit too. Like, Jay was played heavily throughout - Jay and Pac was probably played a lot a lot a lot. And Young Jeezy. Cause my momma favourite rapper was Tupac and Young Jeezy. She got a thing for bald n*****. Them n***** was played a lot. So that’s why I think I got.. it’s certain ways I rap that n***** kinda, it be hard to identify exactly, region-wise where I’m from. Until I let that shit out. That’s why I lean into it so much. Cause I love being such a Southern man. The South is the best place to be bro. Yeah! I know I’m from the North, but I love how hard you rep for the South. P: Aw, bro! South man, that’s where all my shit be popping. Like, we the south, and etcetera etcetera. I don’t know, it’s a large stereotype in hip hop with the whole “Southern people are dumb, or slow, or we draw our words out like this”, and it’s so.. Nah bro, we really the coolest. We set all the trends. Like, Atlanta been running the rap game for the past 10 years. Bro, everybody and their mama started saying drip, when Sauce came through on his way. So I don’t know, I don’t be understanding too much of that. N***** let A$AP Rocky make a whole project off of literally our sound. We take a lot of ownership and claim to this Southern shit, because we where this shit started. I love that, I love that. I noticed guitars play a role in your music, you might pick some beats that other folks might not. Is that a Houston, Texas thing? P: Uh, not so much. My thing about guitars really be bro, sometimes when I’m rapping, especially when I get in that singing-rapping bag, I feel like drums’ll condition me to rap a certain way, so most times if you listen to shit like “Serious”, “Speed”, where it’s bare minimum drums and just guitar and synth looped, it’s cool little sounds in the background… I get to walking in that bitch. It’s no debate. I can dribble whatever way I want to, and so it be a little more fun. That’s what that shit be about. The only shit I say bleed into my influence from the city, it’s kinda more like, if you hear on Redbird, all of the songs that are slowed, double time, chopped, and then of course it’s naturally how I talk, but that’s gonna be like, in my music regardless. I don’t ever have to make it a point to show that. I have no choice but to talk like a certain person, because that’s, shit, all the language that I have access to! *laughing* That’s where I’m from, that’s where all my friends from, where I grew up, so. I just try to, if anything, add other pieces into this. Because I feel like the main foundation, I’m already a Southern man, so what other little shit can I figure out and add on to make it different? That nobody else has done here. I’m just trying to figure it out. I feel like each project is me getting closer and closer to figuring it out. We almost at album time! It’s almost album time. So, Walkthru, is this an EP then? P: Yup. 8 songs, it’s an EP. So, after the tour, once I touched down in Charlotte and got acclimated.. I can actually trace it back to the exact day! My mans just walked in, his name’s Cody. I was out here in the studio I’m in right now. It’s called the Bridge, in Charlotte. And Mavi dropped me off here. I ain’t really have nowhere to rap yet, I wasn’t really rapping yet. And, we was really just kicking it, it was on Thanksgiving! And I was kinda lowkey fake sad, because n***** wasn’t out there with their families and shit. But, you know. So n***** was here. My n****, we went and got some soul food, and shit, n***** just let me rap. If not all day, close to all day. And, let that shit happen for a week, two, three, got turned into a month. And we just got so cool, and then he turned into my manager. And I can honestly say bro, it’s been like, the most beneficial shit in a bunch of different ways. Even outside of directly music, you know, we’re real good. I like the team I have. And it’s not a huge team! It’s really my manager Cody, my partner Jo. Shoutout Sean Stanley, who’s recently been added because when Jo’s not around, he’s like the n**** who shoot all my shit. But he stay in Atlanta, and I be out here in Charlotte. I met Sean through Cody. But that’s it, as far as intermediate team of curation of content. Outside of that, of course gang is gang. Shoutout Backkkseat, KS, etcetera. But it ain’t no million people that we got involved in this. You know, real home, ground-up foundation type shit. Really, I put a lot of that on the Bridge. Shoutout to the Bridge, man. This is a wonderful studio to be able to come to and create man. A lot of good things happened here. Yeah it looks really nice. I’ve seen a few videos of the sessions and stuff like that held there. P: Oh, you tapped in! Turn up! Nah, I had to! P: Yeah! Fetty P Franklin’s shit was here, Mav had one here, Messiah! had one, Ahmir, Marco. 10cellphones has been here if you’re hip to him. Woo! Marco Plus, that guy is nasty. P: Yeah, Marco Plus. Hard!! Oh man. Bro I’m biased, because Marco is literally one of my favourite human beings, but Marco got one of my favourite ones. That shit was tough. And because, you had to be here while bro was recording. Bro was really on walk-down type shit, because you know Marco don’t write? …No way. That’s crazy. P: Oh no. Marco don’t write. That’s what me and Marco have in common. That’s wild, I would have never guessed. Nah. P: Nah, he’s probably going to walk through this door within the next 10-15 minutes. Today Jo’s birthday, and that n**** coming out here because we about to work on this collab project. Damn bro! You’re really dropping all of this heat right now, I can’t believe you said collab project. This year is going to be crazy. P: Oh, bro, I’m trying. You gotta keep in mind, I did Redbird. And we waited liked, what, 4-5 month stretch. Crybaby Soprano 2. And then shit. Yup, you had last year in the bag. P: That’s what I’m saying. So, now I just wanna go into overdrive bro, I really need to drop mad good music though. And none of it’s forced. I promise it’s so calculated, and put together. Like, this Walkthru shit, I really really feel like people gonna love it. It’s very complete, in sonic and sound, and conveying the story. I feel like we’re really in and out. None of the songs are.. I don’t think… yeah, no songs are longer than 3 minutes, and it’s only one 3 minute song. It’s gon’ really frustrate people, because it’s good music but it’s over really quick. And I like that. I want that kinda sensation with desire, where people are like I want more of this. And then, if people don’t feel that way, then I kinda did my job wrong. Back to the drawing board, you know. But I don’t think I did my job wrong. Definitely not! That’s the thing, it’s got hella replay value, because it’s these moments of brilliance, super gorgeous production. And you have.. I meant to ask you this later, but you have great choices in production. You gotta tell me about some of the producers you work with too. P: Aw man. Well, shoutout to myself, because I produce. Shoutout to Wulf Morpheus, he’s super hard. Let me not forget nobody. Shoutout my n**** Malik [Malik Burns], he did the intro and outro on this joint. I know so many more producers… Shout Turk Money, I haven’t got no beats from him yet but he’s super fire. I also wanna shoutout inFull, dumb fire Charlotte n****. Jaylace, dumb fire.. Oh my god, I smoked too much weed, now I can’t remember everyone’s name on the spot. Mad producers, and I’m very thankful for all of them. I don’t wanna leave anybody’s name out, and exclude them. I’m thankful for everybody. It’s a lot of people, over the little span I’ve been rapping bro, in these lil nooks and crannies of the world, know about my shit and just be like “Nah, let’s work”. OH! Main one. ProdbyNev. He’s so fye. And let me tell you why he’s so fye. Because he made probably 40% of Redbird, and we don’t even know each other. I didn’t even know he did it. What? That’s insane. P: So, it was this n**** on YouTube, beats I was ripping. I ain’t even remember that I was ripping them, Produced by Nev. and I used like, 4-5 of them hoes for Redbird. And so, shit, I think.. Which music video was it? I forget which one exactly, but I was running Instagram ads. And, this n****, you know, was one of then like, 13,000 views, 1000 likes, whatever whatever whatever. So one of the people that liked it was him, he swiped up and said like “Bro, you know I produced like 4 songs on Redbird?” Like, this one this one this one. I was like, no way, bro send me your YouTube page, send me the beat links. Sure enough, he sent me the page and I was like “Oh shit!!!”. Even more lit. It was so cool that he was cool about it; he could’ve definitely got my project pulled down. But he was like nah, you’re fire, I like your rapping, and sent me more beats! So shoutout Produced by Nev, I really gotta love it. Nah, that’s a really crazy story, I gotta check him out for sure. P: Nah, he’s super hard. A lot of them beats where you be hearing, it’s just them synths and like, maybe at most a little bass in the background, no heavy drum, snare kicking on that.. That be him! And I be walking them bitches down. The outro track, Crybaby Soprano 2. That’s got a crazy beat, crazy instrumental at the end, you know what I’m talking about? P: Oh, this how you know I do too much drugs. I gotta think about what the outro track on Crybaby Soprano 2 is. Haha, it is- P: OH! Serious!! Serious! No, no no no no no no no. Bro bro bro bro bro, listen. “Serious” is literally one of my favourite song ever, like, period. You gotta understand wy it is though. It’s not even about the quality of the song. When me and this n**** Mavi was on tour bro, every, like every long stretch of drive - because we didn’t have no sprinter, we was in the Denali going state to state. So, certain shows, we’d have to perform and jump right in the truck and drive for like 2 days. So that’d be the anthem, *starts singing* “Put a big body on road,” that’s where that whole thing came from, big body whip Denali, like, facts. That’s one of my favourite songs. But, yeah, I don’t know. Don’t put this in there, but I definitely ripped the Serious beat. That’s another Youtube. I don;t even know. But shoutout to them, cause that beat OD hard. Haha shoutout to them for real. You’ve got a thing for outro tracks too, you got a good outro on this one as well. P: I try to bro! Like, that’s how you stay good on your projects. I try to always master having a really good three track run, having a good intro, and having a good outro. And if you follow that equation, successfully do it each time, 60% of your project gonna be good every time. Because, the first impression, the last impression, and that three song run. Because, if your first three songs are good, chances are, people not gonna.. Nobody wants to keep going. I’ve never heard of a project that had three bad songs first and then the last eight was good. N**** know, that is not how that works. *laughing* but, hell yeah man. I try. I’m tryna get better at it. It be a little - I be hard on myself bro. For a minute, it’s crazy, you wouldn’t believe it. I started thinking Redbird was bad. Oh man, you’re straight tripping. You gotta be kidding! P: Have you seen the Redbird documentary? ..I did not know that existed. You just blew my mind. P: Oh, bro! There’s a whole hour documentary on it. On YouTube. It shows like, the whole buildup making Redbird. Type in “PhoeNix, Redbird The Conversation”. You fully put me on, I didn’t know this existed, thank you bro! P: Oh nah, bro it’s okay. It’s really one of them gems in the cut, but the fact that you appreciate Redbird, you’ll see that and appreciate that a million times more. Jo shot that though, Jo definitely shot that one. Shoutout to Jo again, that guy is real as fuck. It’s his birthday today right? P: Bro, that’s my twin. Me and Jo was homeless together bro. No, not really my twin, but figuratively, without being born from the same mother. My twin.We was homeless together, hell yeah. Me and Jo got evicted out of one of his spots together, we had to sleep in the car for like a month. And was just jumping from hotel to hotel. And that was like, the whole time period of making Redbird. Oh wow. P: and then n***** just stumbled into some pretty good money that got consistent. And shit. I was going to say, a lot of your music, I wouldn’t say it’s driving music but you talk about cars, being on road and moving around a lot. Like, the experience. P: Nah, I do! Cause I be on road a lot. I uh, you know, I’m on the road a lot. Yeah, I hear you. I listen in the car a lot too, I feel that. P: So that’s where a lotta that comes from. Just a lot of traveling, and having to get it in anywhere, at random moments, anywhere. That’s what I feel like all of the team be good at. Bro, the Bridge, what the Bridge is, is literally like a creation hub that also serves as a catalyst to get paid. That’s it, like, for real. That’s a great name for it then. P: The Bridge? Oh yeah, facts. Shoutout to him for that. Yeah man. This is the guy man. Cody’s the man with the plan. *turns camera around* Ayy, he’s the one I emailed right? P: Yeahhh!!! He the one that told me - look, when he told me, he showed me the email, he was like bro, look at this! I was like no way. And he was like nah, I think it’s real. *laughing* I know, Canadians sound fake! P: Aw, I been a felon for the last three years. But my shit gets expunged this year. So I’m getting to touch road - I get my passport and shit, n***** definitely gotta come to Canada. I wasn’t able to come to the Canada show when they was about to go. That had me sad. So when it got canceled, I wasn’t happy, but I was like yeah, I ain’t gotta miss Canada. I was feeling super OD depressed when everybody was about to go to Canada and I wasn’t. *laughing* Nah, you gotta come here. I’ll catch you. P: Oh yeah, I gotta pop out. I heard you guys got the real island tings!! Pretty pretty island tings. *laughing* You aren’t lying. There’s a big West Indian and Caribbean diaspora here, pretty dope culturally. P: I’m fucking with Canada already. But nah bro, this shit super fire. Like, the fact that you knew about Redbird.. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it. Because the time period it took to go through making that bro, it was a really really, like, murky part of life. And I like that project a lot! I feel like it fell upon deaf ears, but it’s one of the ones, as my shit go up, when you go back catalog, it’s like.. Cause Redbird, to this day, has my favourite intro. I don’t think it’s my best intro no more, because this shit, you know what I’m saying? But, it’s my favourite intro. That Truestory song is about my best friend getting killed in college. And I had came from this girl house, and pulled up on him and I seen that shit. I pulled up, and the cops had the shit taped off at my brother’s house. Just the whole situation, I remember going to therapy for like three years, and I had stopped outta nowhere, because it got to the point where they tried to force me to write a grief letter about the situation, and I couldn’t. So that was like my own form of that. So that’s probably like, my favourite intro. Oh wow, I love that song, but that story makes it a lot more powerful. I think that’s what hooked me as well; you were talking about the importance of a good intro, outro and three song run. That record’s basically - however many songs are on there, it feels like a run all the way through. The flow of it is crazy, the storytelling is crazy. It touches on so many of the sounds you expand upon later. P: So how’d you - you got put on through Mavi tweeting it or Instagramming it or something? I think - yeah, it was Twitter. I don’t know if it was Redbird, or when you dropped American Gangster with him, but I know he was tweeting about you a bunch before that dropped. P: Nah, yeah! Shoutout to Mavi. Mavi’s been putting me on his social media for two years now. And the world is finally listening. He’s like the best A&R ever. But not A&R, he a rapper. That’s really my guy, it’s really a family-knit thing over here. One thing I could really say, none of it was forced. Like, even from my relationship with Cody, my manager, it was like at first it was like aight, we just two n***** chilling in the studio on Thanksgiving. Aight, you rap cool so you can rap on my shit. To aight, I actually fuck with you. All of them too, same thing with Mav, same thing with.. A lotta love, a lotta love man. What are you most proud of off this new stuff? “2step” hit me really hard, and I keep going back to all the features too, everyone brought their shit. P: Ooh, most proud. Uh, I’d say.. What I’m proud of, I’d say is the completeness of it all. You know like, I feel like it’s no filler, I feel like I tell each point pretty bold. And, full course meal wise, it doesn’t feel like it was lacking this, this, this, and I get out of there. So I appreciate that. And my standout favourites bro, I been listening literally three times a day, every day since I finally got it sequenced inside of the lil Apple Music shit on the computer. And it changes by the day to day bro. I’d say this: I like “Floor Plan,” a lot a lot, because I feel like bro, that’s the best rapping I’ve ever done on an intro from like, beginning to end. Like, it just like, “Oh okay, this is why no one can fuck with me.” Yeah, you gotta notice. Love your intros man, you don’t let them enter without noticing. P: And I like the outro a lot. But that’s biased, because I be making intros and outros to be that! But, if I had to pick outside of intro and outro - what you would say Cody? I say “Off the Head.” Yeah. “Off the Head.” It’s always fun rapping with my friends. I would say Fuck Em. “2step” is hard too. I don’t know bro!!! My first favourite, Imma go ahead and cash in my vote on “Off the Head.” Nice. P: But if I had a sleeper pick? “Choreo” for sure. I feel like, I be fucking with “Choreo,” like damn. Yeah! “Off the Head” is a good one. You and Mavi always sound so good together man. P: Yeah, I like rapping with him! It’s funny we ain’t rap that much together. Like, me and that human being have like 3 songs, 3-4. Nah, 5 now. Eh. we got… we just started though. But this is like the first year me and him started rapping, so I guess that’s why it don’t feel like that much. But then this year… yeah we got a few. *laughing* we got a few. Yes, we got a few. I’m excited for this shit to come out man. I’m anxious. We finna be in a lil hotel, it’s finna be cool. We got a lil penthouse, it’s my patna - it’s Jo birthday! Yeah, Jo! Shoutout to Jo!! Send my regards to him once he pulls through. You told me he shot a lot of your stuff right? *(Jomir) P: Man. What!!! He shot River Turn. he shot Homerun. He shot Fuck Em. He shot.. You don’t even know about this song, “22.” That’s some mad old shit. I don’t even think it’s out no more. When did you start? … Like, how far back should I be going? P: Oh, nah that not out no more. You wouldn’t be able- but, I dropped my first three songs in high school, but deleted them. But they went viral when I was in juvenile. That shit was turnt. And when I went to college, I dropped like… I wanna say I dropped a tape but I pulled that down. But I dropped four songs that are still there. Because I can’t even find out the login. They got like, mad views. But they hard. Like, them are like the songs I want to still be out from me being a super young n****. Did you always go by PhoeNix from back then? P: No. I used to go by my name. Like, Keegan Mitchell. K Mitch. And so, I dropped Mixed Emotions and Babyboy, two projects under that. One got pulled down because I had a popular feature on there, and the label wasn’t fucking with that. So, that had to come down. And one got pulled down.. Because I wasn’t seeing the money from it. Because I had bad business with one of my first managers, it sorta frustrated me and I stopped rapping for like 2 years. Damn. P: I was off that shit. But, nah, you starting at a good point. Redbird is the only traceable start on the internet of my existence. Okay, I thought I was tripping. *laughing* from my view, you came outta nowhere and I had no idea how. Like, Mavi just found you. P: Nah, I like that! I like how it feels - I feel like the city’s best kept secret man! I be feeling like I came outta nowhere. You really are. And, Charlotte in general, all them guys are way underrated nationally. P: That’s the only thing bro! I need people to stop associating me to Charlotte so heavily. And I love Charlotte. At least stop associating in the extent of like - that I’m a Charlotte artist. ‘Cause that do so much discredit to like, my Houston upbringing and how far it’s pushed me. But yes, Charlotte is like - bro, my number one streams are in Charlotte. Bro, Charlotte.. I feel like backwards Drake. I love the city bro. I definitely love Charlotte. I can’t find no negative words to put to it. I only have love for Charlotte. But, I am a Houston Texas artist, a Houston Texas man. But shoutout to the 4! I love the 4. Like I really do. And it’s so much good shit out here man. And I couldn’t dare take credit for none of the good shit out here, you know. I just come out here and appreciate it and integrate with it. And let it nurture me. This isn’t really a music question but I gotta ask. You’re in the South, I’ve always wanted to come out there and just try a bunch of different food. The culture seems incredible. P: Yeah, come to Texas! Go to Houston, Texas. Go to Dallas, Texas. Charlotte food… Nah, Charlotte got some spots, I’m capping. *laughing* But it’s a growing city bro, that’s what it is. So they got a lot more on the way. And I think that’s why I love it so much. Because it’s growing real fast. They on baby Atlanta time. And I think if you get them in like 5 years, with the help of my boy Mavi, and the rest of Killswitch, and [Lord] Jah-Monte, and their just, cultural life - ‘cause it’s a lot of culture out here bro. They’re their own people, you know. And they have a very beautiful and rich culture as far as even in the South, they own food, what they do… it’s Queen City man! You just gotta come out here and experience it. I definitely got a nice love for it. It’s real hilly, as far as the terrain. They got pretty colour, uh, they leaves on they shit. In the seasons, you can actually see the change of seasons. In Houston, the biggest thing for us in fall, some shit might be all red, all yellow, but it don’t be like multicolour palette and shit. I came out here, and looked at this and was like, oh shit, shit really beautiful!! I love it. I love it, I can’t lie. Good people too. I’ve got some music questions, about stuff you grew up on, mixtapes you ran the most in high school. P: Um, mixtapes.. I don’t even wanna shout a lot of these lame ass n***** out. *laughing* Okay, let me rephrase that. P: Nah nah, it’s cool. I’m… I’ve been influenced (grumbles the word out jokingly). Wayne, the whole the Drought series, No Ceilings, and Sorry for the Wait. Chance, 10Day, and Acid Rap for sure. Damn, real high school mixtapes for sure. P: Isaiah Rashad, Welcome to the Game. Mick Jenkins, The Waters. Mac Miller, Faces. What’s the name of Kendrick’s shit, I can’t remember. Overly Dedicated. All of Drake, literally. Comeback Season. The other one, So Far Gone. Bro, mixtape runs are so big ‘cause I really lived through that era. Wiz Khalifa for sure bro. Taylor Alderdice. Kush and OJ. He has one of the more classic mixtape runs. Curren$y too, Meek Mill shit, Lil Snupe, the RNIC one, before he died, RIP him, rest his soul. Kevin Gates, “Satellites”. Bro, I was a real mixtape junkie bro. I was listening to everything. I may be Southern, but for real for real, everything. I love that. P: Like, you probably don’t even know who Short Dawg is. You caught me, I’m lacking. Do I need to know? P: Okay, he’s popular in Houston. And he was signed to Young Money later on. But the most notable verse you’ll probably remember him last for, is, do you remember the Ab-Soul tape? That had.. Not tape, second album, that had “Stigmata” and shit on it, had Dash and em? The song.. "Waverunners." "Waverunners" had a verse from Short Dawg on it. That was probably the last mainstream notable things from him. He definitely was - in middle school? Mixtape series? Yeah. Before he got signed to Young Money? Definitely was listening to Short Dawg. And like I said, Screwed Up Clique tapes, etcera etcera. Who’s someone you listen to heavy that people might not expect? Something you don’t tell people often. P: Yeät. *laughing* You’re tapped in with the new stuff too huh. P: Boy what?? I listen to everything!! As long as I like it. And as long as you not doing a whole bunch of cap. Alright, alright. In that case, let me ask you, what are your three favourite projects released this year? Or this year and last year. P: End of the Earth. The Souf Got Sum 2 Say. and PERFECT 7. Aw, that’s not fair, you gotta give me 4. And Timeless, by Ahmir. That Messiah! project is crazy! P: Bro, Cody. we was at Baby’s Alright, New York, when bro performed it all the way through for the first time. Ooh. Hard. Down to the art and everything, yeah, definitely one of the best of the last year. P: Bro!! The best thing is, we’re all friends. In real life. That’s beautiful. I can tell. Well. I don’t want to say I can tell, I guess I could have been wrong, but I felt like I could tell when I was watching the videos, seeing you guys rap and have fun with each other. P: Aw yeah, nah. You definitely, like - the chemistry is there. When can like , call each other and you understand each others’ art, it be like literal layups. Like, I could pull up, like aye I got this, and I already know one of them gon’ go on there. Or if we all collabing on some shit, it be like boom, here you go, and then here you go. It’s very efficient, I like to say. Oh!! Fun fact. My manager Cody bro, he’s an engineer. He engineers the Bridge and owns the Bridge. Like, this is his shit. Like, this is his place, all of that. Bridge is him. Damn!! Nah, he’s doing work. I’ve seen the Bridge stuff, I’m a big fan. P: I know!!! OH! OH! I can’t hang up on you, but Jo’s outside, I gotta get Jo and Marco Plus. I’mma keep you on the phone though. Aight, say happy birthday! P: Hell yeah, the Bridge!! *as he walks to the door* TWIN! This is him. I’m in the middle of an interview. This is Jo. This begins a brief, surreal bit where PhoeNix’s phone gets handed around. He extends me over to Jomir, and we exchange pleasantries, me telling him I love his camera work and wishing happy birthday. Then, he gets the phone back and proceeds to introduce me to Marco Plus, telling him he’s in an interview. Before we resume talking, I’m convinced of the magic that is inherent to the Bridge. P: It’s my first interview. See I got famous friends man. Marco Plus be stunting on me, you know what I’m saying. He got classic albums out and stuff. I just got here to Charlotte myself. N***** is here. *to Marco as they enter the studio* I know you wanna get high. Aw bro, I just got finished telling him my favourite projects of the year. End of the Earth, Souf Got Sum 2 Say. Timeless. Perfect 7. But he only gave me three, four, and I really wanted to keep going. My n**** Smiles dropped some crazy shit this year too. Are you hip to Smiles? I’m not, but please keep putting me on. P: You gotta get hip to everybody. That’s Backkkseat. There’s more people, another collective. Like, that’s Marco’s shit. How’d you choose the name PhoeNix? What about it sticks out to you? P: Really easy. I overdosed, twice, actually died. My mama was there. Shit. And then, I felt like, oh, I need to let my old ways die. Phoenix, life and death, all embodiment. Closest thing to having a pseudonym that’s not a pseudonym. Wow, yeah, that’s very literal, I can see why that means something to you. I’m really glad you’re still here. P: Aw nah, it’s good. Drugs can’t kill me, and these fuck n***** can’t either. Why’d you call it Walkthru? P: Oh shit. The literal definition of a walkthrough is just the demonstration of an area or a task. And I’m just demonstrating to these n***** how to be that n**** while existing. My whole life is a walkthrough. *laughing* that’s dope P: Deadass. Like, I’m not laughing. I’m so serious. I done a lot of shit that I don’t think these n***** could do. Yeah, it’s not funny, just makes sense honestly. You don’t mince your words. P: Yeah, I be tryna keep shit simple. Jo dropping phones and shit. But nah, that’s definitely it. That’s why I named that shit Walkthru. It really wasn’t nothin’ too complex. And I tried to play with the names, to keep it, you know, playing around like, anything that had to do with feet, and “Floorplan” taking up space within that regard. So, “Choreo,” “2step,” but then after a certain point I started running out of words. So I just started naming them shits. Damn, I really didn’t even realize … with the names and feet and all that. P: Nah, facts. And “Decorated,” just by chance started to work out. That song is beautiful. P: Appreciate it! That’s Ahmir on that joint. Marco Plus would’ve been on that tape too, but.. I tried to tell you. I need to hear more PhoeNix-Marco Plus stuff, you guys are killing it together, just fire. P: See, Marco Plus! INTERVIEW BY SAI. ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF PHOENIX. EDITS & DESIGN BY J.

  • Namir Blade - Metropolis

    "I create what the future sounds like" is the statement that greets you in the first line of Namir Blade's Twitter bio. Shortly into the Nashville native's latest album Metropolis, one realizes that he's not messing around. The album draws its namesake from the films Metropolis, one being a silent film from 1927 and the other being a 2001 anime film. Both films tackle utopian futures, which hide darker realities just below their surfaces. The first thing that grabs you is the production of which Namir Blade handled 100%. Throughout the 16 tracks of the project we get a diverse wall of sound. Everything here sounds familiar but next level at the same time. A lot of albums try to cater to all the ears of hip hop and fail, Metropolis is the exception. We got trap bangers like "Cain and Abel" that have you ready to ride out, afro-beats inspired dance grooves like "Boa," and "Mephisto" is something you imagine Benny or Westside Gunn going off on, and there's ultra mellow lo-fi style rhythms as well. I can't harp enough on how seamlessly it's sequenced and blended. We're actually getting more than one beat and style on several of these songs and it's all silky smooth. Lastly, much respect to Namir Blade as a rapper, he's just as comfortable going in and out of various rap styles and singing as he is doing the production on this project. These bars are potent when they need to be and introspective and personal when it's time for those quieter moments. It is amazing to hear him jump from street bars, to referencing One Piece and Kevin Feige, to crooning about a hopeful future. Namir Blade is the real deal. This is easily one of the best of the year! I Looking forward to what's next! Released: June 3rd 2022

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