Social media has been both a gift and a curse, particularly when it comes to the “celebrity.” The average late 20-something to late 30-something has been through every era thus far, from building web pages on 1-2-3 Publish for their AOL profile, to being on Facebook when you had to have a college email to sign up, and joining Twitter when no one was really quite sure what it was. And through each of these phases, we’ve gotten that much more access into the lives of our favorite celebrities, slowly stripping away the mystique that they were so intangibly veiled in during the heyday of pop culture magazines.

While at times that aspect has been kind of cool (your celeb crush can be just one DM away), it also gave us one of many moments that we can never un-see: Jim Jones, the shit-talking, bandana holding, kufi smacking, down-for-whatever embodiment of the hardest music, crying on camera as he talked to Funk Flex about being taunted by Cam’Ron in Instagram comments, who then responded by taunting him further on a live stream. How did we get here?

To a younger crowd, they really didn’t see anything other than two rappers whose catalogues they know mean something somewhere go at it on social media. They see these public beefs all the time. To those of us who were there to experience The Diplomats in all of their glory, however, it truly felt like the sad, un-heroic and very not diplomatic end to an era that was more than just music. Damn you, social media.

In 2003, you’d be hard-pressed to walk down any street or through any mall and not see The Diplomats’ influence. Whether it was clothing adorned with their logo, men proudly wearing pink, or paint splatters and bandana patches strewn about a t-shirt or a pair of jeans, Cam’Ron, Juelz Santana, Jim Jones, and Freekey Zekey’s presence in pop culture was eminent. If you visited my bedroom at the time, you’d think I was born into a family of Bloods the way it was adorned with red Diplomat bandanas.

“G-Unit was popping and so was The LOX, but I think it was different because G-Unit was Queens, LOX was Yonkers, but Dipset being Harlem—I think that Harlem swag was important,” Hot 97 personality Funk Flex recalls. “And what made it exciting was it was a reinvention of Cam, and then the introduction of Jimmy, Juelz, and Freekey Zekey. So I think Cam introducing artists was really exciting.”

Prior to that period, Cam’Ron saw moderate success as a solo artist. He’d put out two albums through a joint deal with Epic Records and Untertainment, and scored a hit with the “Roxanne”-sampled single “What Mean The World To You” in late 2000. Through a friendship with Dame Dash, he was able to parlay a Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam deal for both himself and his group once he was off of Epic, and Killa cemented his status with the platinum-selling Come Home With Me in 2002.

Though we’d heard a verse or two from Jones and even Juelz on Cam’s prior releases, it was Come Home With Me that introduced his Harlem crew to the masses. The album’s first two singles, “Oh Boy” and “Hey Ma,” both featured Juelz Santana, and both hit the top 5 on the Billboard 200. Don’t get it twisted, though. Sure, the mainstream masses couldn’t get enough of the flamboyant group and their catchy tunes, but they had the streets on lock with their Diplomats mixtape series, too.

In March of 2003, the group released their debut compilation, Diplomatic Immunity. On the day of the release, all four of them were scheduled for an album signing at FYE on 125th St. in their hometown of Harlem. The place was packed with fans waiting to catch a glimpse of the hometown heroes, and Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke stood off to the side, taking it all in.  

Diplomats Volume 2 cover

As the time grew closer for the foursome to make their awaited arrival at FYE, chatter of something big happening began buzzing through the record store. Soon, Cam, Juelz, Jim, and Zeke appeared atop a double-decker bus, and money rained down on the streets of Harlem like a scene straight out of Paid In Full. It caused such a commotion that the in-store had to be shut down, and no one met the rappers that day. I was devastated, but it was proof that the new Harlem legends had arrived.

“It’s gonna forever be embedded in hip-hop as one of the dopest albums done by a group, so I’m grateful for that,” Un Kasa says of the certified-Gold project. He was introduced as part of the growing group by not only having a spot on the opening track of the double-disc album, but having the track actually named after him. It seemed to be Cam’Ron’s formula; recruit talent, give them a platform and let them shine. This would later prove to be what their very downfall was contingent upon, however.

Myself and Juelz Santana at Hot 97’s Summer Jam 2017 – the only photo I cared to ask for!

 

With the success of the group album on their side, they rallied behind the “next up,” Juelz Santana, and released his debut through Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam later that year, with their branding in full gear. With the help of his mother, Juelz launched both a store on the block he grew up on, and a website that included a forum, leaving no dollar untouched and capitalizing on social media before social media was even a thing.

Santana’s Town, located on 151st St. and Amsterdam Ave. in Harlem, became the unofficial hub for the group and their affiliates; a less buttoned-down version of the office space they held at Roc-A-Fella at the time. Through the message boards on his site, fans from all over would arrange meet-ups at the store, which eventually became a breeding ground for even more talent throughout the years. A young Stevie Rodriguez would drop by every now and then, eventually turning the opportunity into an internship at Diplomat Records. He’s better known as the late A$AP Yams. You’d find a young Karen Civil on any given Sunday at the store as well, and she too figured out how to turn the opportunity into a job under Duke Da God for years.

The first day I ever met Juelz Santana: March 29, 2003. We were outside of his store in Harlem.

I actually met Karen at the taping of a Dipset special for Much Music about a month after the failed FYE attempt; a taping we’d both learned of from a posting on Juelz.com.

“Is anyone here from the message board?” I remember Karen asking in the lobby of the TV studio. There weren’t a lot of young people there, as this was also a school day, but of course I had cut school once again. This time I had convinced my best friend to do so with me, though. (This is the same best friend who’d gone shopping with me on 125th St. the previous Summer and introduced me to my very first mixtape Diplomats Vol. 2. She’s a real one.)

“Me!” I responded excitedly, looking around to see if any of the rest of us were there. Nope, it was just her and I. As we exchanged usernames, we realized we’d already “met” on the forums, and we quickly bonded and formulated a plan for max TV time on the special. This would be both of our first times meeting the whole group, and with Karen already being out of high school, she was able to start working with the group within a year or so.

Years later, she’d end up using her relationships to get me an internship under Funk Flex at Hot97, and I worked my way up from there. My working relationship with French Montana around the same time of my internship came via an introduction from Max B—who was a longtime friend I’d known since hanging around the Dipset store. One of my closest friends to this day? A girl I met on Juelz.com, who also happened to live in New Jersey and was the same age as me. My friendship with Lil Wayne? It developed via my friendship with Mack Maine, who I’d been sent to interview in college for my friend’s online magazine….a friend I’d also met on Juelz.com. Whether they’re together now or not, their influence made an impact that will far outlast their prime.

There was something about this Harlem crew that appealed to everyone in a way, and I think that really added to their popularity. Top 40 fans had catchy hooks to bop their head to, underground enthusiasts had bars to dissect, women had bad boys with a rugged sex appeal to hang up on their walls, men had trendsetters to pick up new fashion trends from. Dipset were Harlem’s very own ‘90s boy band.

Myself, Max B and Carol at Club Speed in 2006

By 2004, tensions rose at Roc-A-Fella, and the group soon found a home at Koch, while Cam’Ron got a solo deal at Asylum. He made sure the deal came with an office space for Jim and Diplomat Records, and the label started putting more energy into the other acts they’d brought into the fold in recent years. The group’s second compilation album was released that year, introducing newer acts like JR Writer, Jha Jha and .40 Cal, and continuing to give a platform to their day ones. Jim also released his debut album that year via Koch, and things still seemed to be harmonious within the group as a whole.

Their reign continued in 2005. That year, there were three releases from the group; another compilation (this one under Duke Da God’s imprint,) Juelz’ sophomore effort, and Jim’s sophomore effort, Harlem: Diary of a Summer. The latter spawned quite a few hits, which came as a bit of a surprise, as Juelz had been bred to be the next big rapper out of the crew, and Jim seemed to really be hopping on the mic merely because he could. Still, fans were happy to have such an onslaught of music, and no one seemed to notice that they were making fewer appearances as a crew, and way more on their own.

My college dorm room in 2005 with my favorite Cam’Ron Purple Haze poster. The girl I’m with is my friend Liz, who I’d also met on Juelz.com. Today, she manages Fabolous.

“The downfall of it, I feel like everybody became their own entity and they became their own bosses with their own entourage,” Un says. “In the beginning, it was just Diplomats—one crew, one family. Once money and success comes into play, everybody steps out on their own and gets their own individuality. What happened with that is success and money breaks up everybody if it’s not projected in the right way. It went from just being Diplomats to being Byrd Gang, 730, Skull Gang, Purple City. Everybody had subsidiaries of what Diplomats was. Cam was the head honcho at that time, but then once everybody became stars and got successful, the breakup came.”

By 2006, Jim scored the biggest hit of his career with “We Fly High (Ballin)” and a shift in the regime became apparent. The song dominated airwaves and pop culture, eventually raking in what Jim says was $27 million, just for Koch alone.

“The tension started when Jimmy got his deal. It was around before that, but that was the beginning of the tension with Jimmy doing his own thing and having to fulfill his own agreements with whoever he was doing business with,” Shiest Bub notes. He was an intricate part of the formulation of Dipset in the late ‘90s, and eventually spearheaded one of Dipset’s many sub-groups, Purple City. “Even if Cam was getting money out of it, he still had to focus on that. Then [Jim] got a girlfriend, Chrissy, and that wasn’t a good look because Killa felt, ‘She’s a street bitch. Everybody had her, you’re praising this bitch, you look weak. I’m Cam’Ron, you’re supposed to be Jim Jones and we’re supposed to be bigger than that. That’s all you’re settling for?’ And then it was a bunch of ongoing shit of niggas living their lives and not including niggas. If you see a nigga fuck with certain niggas and you’re in a jealous industry, it happens.”

In 2006, Cam’Ron released his street film, Killa Season, and there was no sign of Jim Jones. The split was apparent, but as fans, we remained hopeful. As a few years went by, there was still no sign of reconciliation, and the powerful movement had resorted into a topic that was reminisced upon during barbershop banter. There were rumors of jealousy between Cam and Jim, and years down the road, we’d get confirmation of it. But how could it have gotten to this point, when it was Cam who set up the platform for the very opportunities that caused the tension?

“Jim knows what Killa likes; him and Killa like the same type of shit. But when you do something for someone for so long and that person treats you like Killa does…,” Shiest trails off. “Killa had so many injustices done to him in the music industry that it trained him to be like that, and he wanted whoever to fuck with him to be prepared for that kind of heartbreak also. It was like super tough love, to the point where it’s not even fair.”

Thankfully, it seemed that Funk Flex was going to be able to get the band back together. In 2010, much to the surprise of fans, he announced that the guys would be reuniting and touring, kicking things off with a show at home in NYC. Unsurprisingly, the reunion didn’t last very long.

“I’m one of those people who just fall into habits. Music is a great thing, and I’m greedy, so I want to see The Fugees, I want to see Run DMC, I want to see Dipset, I want to see EPMD,” Flex says. “Once someone says that something isn’t happening anymore, you want it more.”

And it became even more disappointing for fans, who had actually never seen the group truly tour as a unit, even at their peak.

“We never went on a whole Diplomat world tour. Diplomats probably one of the biggest entities in rap in the last 15 years that never did a tour,” Un points out. “You’ve never seen us on stage as a whole—me, JR, Hell Rell, 40 Cal, Jha Jha, Stack Bundles. You never saw that.”

In the years following, we’d see the rise of social media, which Un says only further divided the group, particularly Jim and Cam.

“We all could have mended things before it got too out of hand. You know, we all came in the game pre-social media,” Un recalls. “The only social media we really had was probably MySpace, and then Twitter came later. Once people was getting the avenue to just voice their opinions and just say what the fuck they want to say, that’s when shit really got messy.”

But something else we saw during this period was actually positive; newer groups were popping up, and you could see the clear influence The Diplomats had on them from their heyday nearly a decade earlier. Spearheaded by A$AP Yams, the A$AP Mob’s presence in 2011 and 2012 was just what Dipset was made of, and you didn’t even have to hear the group’s star, A$AP Rocky, praise Cam and his crew in interviews (as he often did) to know that. Wiz Khalifa became a superstar and brought his Taylor Gang crew with him, all under the influence of Killa and Co. In fact, he loves them so much, he actually tattooed “Purple Haze” on his legs in homage to Cam’s 2004 album.

A screenshot of Wiz Khalifa’s 2014 Angie Martinez interview at Hot97, where he discusses his love for Cam’Ron and shows off his Purple Haze tattoo.

In 2015, Funk Flex tried once more for a reunion, slightly over four years since the last one. There were promises of a huge tour, a new mixtape, a new movement, but after a sprinkle of shows and one lackluster song, that too fell apart. If it hadn’t been apparent before, it was clear now—things would never be the same.

“The thing is, I don’t think that they mended the relationships yet,” Un says of why it didn’t work out the second time. “It was just an opportunity that they took. I don’t think they were all the way eye to eye yet. It was like Flex loved them so much, he didn’t want to see a legacy die.”

Jim, Juelz, myself, Freekey Zekey and Cam’Ron at Hot97 during their reunion announcement in January of 2015.

Ever the optimist, Flex still sees a chance to make things happen.

“I still think the mixtape is going to happen. If people can get together twice, they can get together a third time, so I’m confident it will happen again.”

It’s 2017 now, and instead of new music, we get Cam’Ron and Juelz on Love & Hip-Hop, the reality show that Jim kicked off a few years back. We get Cam and Jim sparring in Instagram comments. We get an emotional Jim detailing the downfall of the empire while talking to Flex, and a typical Cam response from his dining room table on an hour-long Instagram live stream. This isn’t the group we grew up on, but it’s the group we’re going to have to accept.

“That shit will never work out. The movement’s over, and it’s literally because of Jim and Cam,” Shiest says. “It’s like damn, all this legacy and all these talented people, and it just lies upon them two niggas. That’s some bullshit, but it is what it is. Nobody cares now, because everybody has their own lives that they have to lead.”

For now, we’ll just have to clutch our Diplomats bandana tightly and bump “I’m Ready” during summer cookouts, fondly reminiscing over that time the group threw chairs during a concert brawl that was broadcasted on Smack DVD, or the time they held down the Summer Jam stage in place of Nas as he went over to Power 105 to diss all of Hot97, resulting in an epic batch of shit-talking and diss records on Diplomats Vol. 2. All good things do come to an end eventually, and even if they do put those differences aside one more time, things still will never be the same.

“It definitely hurts not to see the bird flying high,” says Un, “but when I see groups like A$AP Mob, it puts a smile on my face because I know where the influence comes from.”

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Rapper Problem has been a relevant name on the West Coast music scene for nearly a decade, yet if there’s one thing he’s learned from the tutelage of Snoop Dogg, it’s that the game comes in waves.  

Every time it appeared that he was geared to reach the proverbial next level, fate would rear its ugly head and bring Problem back to square one. How in the world did Chris Brown and Rihanna’s fight stop his money? You’d be surprised. But with conflict comes clarity, and the Compton native has consistently leveled up with each setback.

With a solid team and a new perspective, Problem hit the reset button in 2016. Starting from the ground up, he began rebuilding the bricks he’d haphazardly laid during the initial height of his visibility from 2011 through 2014; but of course it’s not a simple feat. You wouldn’t know that from watching him, though.

While many artists aren’t even able to get one successful run, Problem’s already knee-deep in his second coming, and UGHH had to know how he did it. We caught up with him recently at his L.A. studio and discussed his new mindset, the choice to remain independent, attending “rap college,” and much more.

You initially signed a deal in 2009, but it didn’t work out. How did that even come about?

I was writing for Snoop at the time, who I’d met through Terrace Martin. He and I knew each other from just being in the streets and the whole LA music scene. Everybody that’s kind of lit right now, we kind of all just had some type of story where they either stayed with somebody or was all in the same spot. But I met Terrace when I just randomly fell into this traphouse we was working in. We had an MPC in there and he just came in one day and just fucked with it. We’ve been linked ever since. At the time, he was getting into the Snoop shit real cool. Snoop needed writers because when he released Ego Trippin in ‘07/‘08, he was moving a whole lot and that was his way of putting new people on. So I wrote a song about his life, and they brought me on staff. After that, my thing was, “Shit, if I’m running around with all these people and I’m around everybody in the industry the way they coming through here…if I can’t work something out of this, then I ain’t hustling.” So my whole thing was like, let me get something going. I remember one night after a session in Atlanta, I played the song “I’m Fucked Up” and Snoop was like, “When we get back, put it out.” I got back and put it out, and about three months later, it’s tearing up the streets out here. Universal reached out and offered the most money for a single deal, so we took it. But it was just a two-single deal.

So once you fulfilled that, you left?

Yep, I was done after that. This is crazy as fuck, actually. So the first single, the radio version of it was called “I’m Toe Up.” Dolla, may he rest in peace, at the time he had a record called “I’m To’ Up.” So, it was a conflict there. Then my second record was called “Whatever You Like.” A week later, T.I. dropped “Whatever You Like.” The label was like, “If you get it to 35 spins, we’ll light it up.” I get that bitch going, and then Tip’s record dropped and it was a wrap. He was the biggest thing in the game, you know?

So the label couldn’t get behind that, huh?

At the time, the Internet wasn’t a way they measured anything. They really just checked BDS. They weren’t able to just type something in and see how lit I had the city. It was more like, it’s not reading good on BDS so it’s not happening. It was more that type of shit. My label was in New York; I was on Universal Republic. They’re not out here, you know? That’s how it went; but like, I learned the system. So I started doing a few other things and me and my homies got together and was like fuck it, let’s just try it ourselves! That’s when I created my label, Diamond Lane.

That’s a lot to deal with at one time. Did you ever start doubting yourself and start thinking maybe another direction would be better for you?

I didn’t get discouraged then because at the time, it was a bunch of different things. I was really doing well with writing for other artists at the same time. After the Snoop Dogg relationship, I got a gig to write for Puff, and then I wrote for Chris Brown. He had an artist called Lil Scooter. Scooter was his backup dancer; 14-years-old. Nigga was supposed to be the next thing out here. I wrote on this song for him that featured Chris and was produced by Polow Da Don—who at the time was the biggest thing going! They were setting up Scooter to be the one: Disney Channel show, reality shit, all of that. They dropped the record…and the Chris and Rihanna incident happens four days later.

What is your luck?!

That’s what was going on, so it got to the point where I can’t depend on nobody else. We gotta put the dream in our hands. My boy Bird, he got the vision on shit like that. So he came with the plan, and my job was to handle the music. He handled the business, and that’s when Diamond Lane got going.

So now y’all get in the groove, and you get a great look in 2012 on E-40’s “Function.” Then the following year you had another hit with “Like Whaaat,” and another in 2014 with Rich Homie Quan’s “Walk Through.” That’s a pretty consistent string. How are you feeling at this time?

I felt like I had the city on lock! It was buttoned up! We didn’t even want to get no deal; we was doing it ourselves. We turned down a lot of money, and a lot of that was because they would want ownership and they would want to control my production or control this or that. But, our thing was like, what we did got y’all this money. Why would you want to come in trying to restructure? Again, it’s not a time like right now where they’ll just come in with the money and let you do what you do. Nah, they wanted to come in and try to control the whole play. It’s about owning your shit and being able to put your shit out when you want. And nah, no amount of money is worth that.

Were there any slow periods between those hits where you started to get nervous again?

Not during that time because “Function” came, and my tape Mollywood dropped the same day the “Function” video dropped, and that started a streak until Mollywood 2 came, and “Like Whaaat” was on that. Then it was a wrap. Then “Bout Me” dropped with Wiz Khalifa, then Eric Bellinger’s “I Don’t Want Her” dropped, and the records were just coming. I had records here and there in little spots, different shit. So nah, it was flowing. What slowed everything down to me was just…that shit kinda just came so fast. You could say you’re ready for something all day, but it comes at you and it’s just me and two others trying to handle it all. You get what I’m saying? It was a lot of decisions that, now looking back, we see so many things we could have handled differently. On top of that, I started getting comfortable. I always felt like, “I could always do another one of these or another one of those,” you know what I’m saying? Then there was the battle of feeling like I have to do club ratchet shit, but that wasn’t in my spirit anymore. I started training, I stopped doing Molly and I was refocusing my life, but they wanted me to do those kinds of records still. I feel like that was just a lot. Then the beefs! I had different beefs with different artists and the temperatures are always changing. You’re hotter than them at one point, then they get hotter than you so they’re controlling the climate and having everyone against you. This game is fickle. It was all that type of stuff mixed with my personal growth and different personal shit.

Then you see YG, Ty Dolla $ign, and DJ Mustard really killing it in 2014 and leading the movement of the West Coast resurgence. Were you kind of frustrated like, “I should be at the forefront too and I’m not as big as them?”

I was frustrated, but it was because of the reason why I wasn’t at the forefront, not because they were at the forefront.  If you look at Ty’s first Beach House mixtape, I wrote five songs off that. Even with Mustard, we’ve all worked together. So we go through our thing and I’m not saying they had anything to do with it, but the fact that people knew it was a thing between us made people choose sides. That’s what was frustrating. I got burned in a lot of different situations, like being taken off the Fast & Furious soundtrack. I got taken out of a lot of situations because people didn’t want to cross them because they were so hot. So that is what got frustrating.

In situations like that, do you start getting jaded?

Not me, because I don’t do music to get famous. I do music because I love doing music. I’m like a gym rat, but with the studio as my gym. I like creating music, and not just rap but music period! That’s what I love to do. So my thing was like nah, I’m not about to stop. I know this thing comes in cycles. I learned from the game I got from Snoop. Like, I really went to rap college! My first big “job” was Snoop Dogg, and DJ Quick is mixing the whole album. All my heroes growing up, they were banging shit in my head every day as an adult about waves and temperature changes and sticking with it and making sure you stay you, and different shit like that. So my thing was, I have bread and I got my skill up; I’ll wait this shit out! Climate change is inevitable for anyone, but only the good niggas stay. I remember when people were talking about how Kendrick Lamar was dead for a minute. What the fuck kind of sense was that? Now he just dropped his biggest album ever. So, that’s just how the game goes, and understanding that kept me going. “Walk Through” was a stay afloat joint for me. I got another plaque; I kind of keep my name up just a little bit. Then I had a couple others like the Rams shit and it’s like yeah, we just have to chill for a bit and we’ll be aight.

So then you had a few years of a quiet period, but in the last year, your visibility has been so much crazier than it had been. What do you think you can attribute to that?

Building a team and starting to really understand how shit works. This is going to sound so old, but I started to really understand Instagram, SoundCloud; I didn’t give a fuck about none of that before. Like, I didn’t understand the power of it, and then I didn’t understand how people perceive it! Like, I’m the type of person that will call you on your birthday if I know you, and to the world, it’s a diss that I didn’t post them on social media! So, understanding different shit like that helped, and the fact that my music—it’s me. That’s me now.

You’re no longer feeling forced to put out a certain type of record?

I like what I’m doing at this minute right now. I definitely felt at a point that I had to do ratchet stuff, but I don’t feel like that anymore.

Have you remained independent?

Yeah, I’m still independent right now. It’s Diamond Lane, no slashes. That’s not a fake independent thing either. We’re not like—not saying anything about other secret deals. I know that comes up a lot.

What would you tell the young Problem who was in the studio with Snoop and them?

That’s crazy. I think I’d tell the younger me: “Don’t assume that people are going to understand what you’re saying or what your message is or what you’re trying to get them to understand about you. Just say it.” There were so many times I’d be getting so mad wondering why they don’t get it, when I could have just been like, “Hey, this is what I was talking about.” A whole lot of shit could have shifted a different way.

Are you happy?

Yeah. I really am.

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Joe Moses came up in the same crop of burgeoning LA artists that birthed the careers of Ty Dolla $ign, YG, and DJ Mustard, but he’s taken a bit of a different path than his fellow Los Angelenos.

In the late ‘00s, the rapper vacated his Cali roots and migrated to Atlanta, under the tutelage of a then-scorching Waka Flocka Flame. A deal was inked with Flocka’s Brick Squad Monopoly imprint, but eventually, Joe returned to LA to make things happen on his home turf.

In 2011, Joe scored a regional hit with “I Do It For The Ratchets,” helping add to the growing momentum he already had, and a few more buzz-worthy singles and projects kept Joe’s name active on the local music scene in the years following. When his longtime friend Ty Dolla $ign scored a hit with their collaboration “Paranoid” in 2013, it seemed like this could be the mainstream break that Joe needed—but just before it was sent to radio, Atlantic Records decided that B.o.B. would make a better fit, and gone was Joe’s verse. His ad-libs can still be heard.

Joe has continued to maintain a level of success over the years with no major backing, as the Brick Squad deal is a thing of the past, as is a Pinnacle Records deal. With the independent route becoming more popularized and even preferred in recent times, Joe’s indie success could keep making a living for him, but does he want the big machine to finally get his mainstream break? We caught up with Joe to pick his brain about the next move, and how his career thus far helped shape that decision.

Let’s take it back to the beginning. You came up in the streets, and even have a bid or two under your belt. Was rapping always a hobby for you, or did it develop over time as a response to the street shit not working out?

Rapping was always a hobby, and the streets was always first. Going to jail made me put my priorities in perspective and think about having talent. It’s a lot of raw talent in jail. I used to battle dudes for soups and all types of stuff like that, so when you get real street dudes telling you that you need to go at your craft, that’s when I started taking rap more serious. So after I did my little three years and eight months bid, I came home, and I was more serious about music.

When you finally decided to do this for real, what was your plan? Did you have any knowledge of the game, of where or how to release music?

I had no knowledge at all. I just thought I was gonna go and just out-rap everyone. Being in jail, I just thought I was just gonna be able to hop on everyone’s beat and spit 500 bars and that’s it, you know what I mean? I thought that was gonna be it, and that wasn’t it at all! It was really a bigger process to where it was like alright, we gotta strategize and have a game plan and hit the clubs and it was just everything. It was more of an organic feel—where it was like I gotta get out in the streets and make that happen. It was either that, or thinking everything was just gonna come to you by being a rapper because you’re dope and you’re talented. I started booking my own concerts at Stevie’s on the strip, and that’s how I began. It played out from there.

What was the first thing you released, and what was the response?

The first song I released was an underground song called “Little Red Flag Boy.” The response was on some gang banging shit, so I took the song down off of YouTube because it was buzzing like crazy. So I took it down and I ended up just like fuck it, I’ma just start from scratch. Everybody was like, “Man, Joe, you come off too real! You be too real, the industry ain’t gonna fuck with you! You can’t be too real.” So I was like fuck it, I’ma turn it down a notch. I ain’t gon’ do this, I ain’t gon’ do that. So I actually took the song down. But then it was buzzing so crazy, I put the song back up. Then I took it down again off of YouTube because I thought about it, and it was [about] gang banging. I was on parole at the time. It could have been a violation, you know what I’m saying?

So then I just got in the studio with Ty Dolla $ign, and me and Ty dropped a song called “Go Bitch” with DJ Mustard on the beat. This was 2009. I had been friends with Ty since we were younger, and he’d always been making music. So “Go Bitch” went straight to the clubs, and everybody was fucking with it. Then DJ Carisma called me, and she was like, “This is the hardest song in the streets!” She did a write up on me too, which was a big look. I was killing the clubs in LA and I was getting first like $500 an appearance, and then it started to be $1000. I came from $250 though, so it was just going crazy like that.

At this point, were you looking for a deal, or you just wanted to see what you could do with this?

By this time, I was able to sign a deal with Waka Flocka and Gucci Mane on their Brick Squad imprint. Waka and I are family, and other family members brought it to his attention like, “Yo, you got family out here in Cali that’s doing their thing. Fuck with him!” and off top no questions asked, Waka and Gucci both fucked with me. They bought me plane tickets to go to the A, and I stayed out there with them for about six months. It was on from there!

I started going on the road and doing shows with Waka; he took me on the Drake Club Paradise Tour. I just started going everywhere with him for a minute, but then I really started going through a lot. I was kind of on the depressed side because a lot of shit wasn’t turning out for me. So I’m back in LA, and he’d be buying me plane tickets and shit to go to different shows and stuff, and I’d never go. He bought me like five or six plane tickets, and he used to call me like, “Nigga, why the fuck you ain’t get on the plane?” I’d make up an excuse like, “Nigga, I fell asleep!” Then I’d hit him with another excuse the next time. But at the time, I never told anybody I was going through a major depression because my brother had just gotten killed; the one person I started the music with. I was going through a lot of shit.

How did you finally get past that? Depression can really take over someone’s life, and often times if they don’t get help, it could end up badly.

It took me a few years. I never got help, but I finally came around. It took some years because I kept losing. I lost not only my brother, but my dad, my uncle, five cousins. I lost like 12 people in one year! I was just going through it, so it was just like for a couple of years, I was dealing with not only depression but I was dealing with anxiety too. I didn’t want to go nowhere, I didn’t want to be out. I didn’t want to do anything. It was just a lot going on at the time, just left to right.

Because you were keeping that to yourself, did it end up negatively affecting your relationship with Waka?

I finally came around and told him, because at the end of the day, he’s family and he was looking out for me. So when I finally did tell him, not only was he accepting of everything but he was more concerned about me. He was more like, “Nigga, why you never told me this? Nigga, what’s going on?” I’m like, “Nigga, I’m fucked up.” He kind of respected it more and really cared. A lot of people wouldn’t have gave a fuck, and Waka really gave a fuck about a nigga. That’s why I was so loyal to what was going on in Brick Squad and Auntie Deb. They always made sure I was good, and they’d be like, “Okay fuck it. Joe ain’t gon’ fly right now, so let’s send a tour bus for him!” and they did! They just did shit to make me comfortable.

Eventually, you decided to leave Brick Squad and move to Pinnacle, right? What shaped that decision?

Well the Pinnacle deal wasn’t nothing. That wasn’t even three weeks. So what happened was, I ultimately decided to leave Brick Squad on my own—not for any other deal or anything that was going on—but I just wanted to focus on myself and get my situation in a bigger spot. I just felt like Brick Squad/Waka had a lot on the table at that time with different artists. There was a lot of artists in the Squad, and I just felt like the attention level for me wasn’t what I wanted it to be. That’s family over there, so it ain’t no bad discussion. When I said I was ready to do my own thing, Waka and Auntie Deb signed off on it with no problem! They were like, “Here! Here goes your contract!” It was all love. We’re always gonna be family and never get into it about no cash, no money. Waka just had a lot on his plate, and he was trying to juggle everything and I seen that!

I was the type of artist that I used to try to take stress away from him, like shit I wanna blow up too! My boy was tryna do a lot, and I understood that completely. I made the decision to go do my own thing, and he was with it. Soon after I left, I got a call from some people in Vegas at Pinnacle Records that was tryna give me a million dollar situation. I did a little situation with them, but it ended up falling through, and I ended up getting out of that contract. It was literally not even a month. It was so quick. Like, I signed with them, I went out to Vegas, I came back to LA, I shot five videos and some business stuff had gone on and it was a breach of contract. I just got out the situation.

While you were running with Waka and Brick Squad, Ty Dolla $ign and YG ended up with a hit back home with “Toot It & Boot It.” How were you feeling watching it happen? Did it make you wish you were a part of that or were you happy that members of the home team were making it happen?

I was a part of the wave, because I was on the “Toot It & Boot It” remix, so that wave was my wave also! I don’t get a lot of credit for that, but we was all together at one point: me, Ty Dolla $ign, YG 400, TeeCee4800, we was all a part of that movement. It was AOB/Pu$haz Ink, and that’s how we rocked. So when that happened, it was like when a brother on your squad is winning, we all winning. It was like well if YG is getting on, I’m the next rapper! I’m next up! It was just a lot of confusion within that. It was a lot of people in between our whole little crew, so that didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but shit, the homie got on! And Ty got on, and therefore if we all keep grinding we all got a turn! It never was no love lost or nothing like that; it was just like shit, gotta work even harder.

Ty was for the most part not acknowledged by the label or radio for his part on “Toot It & Boot It,” and he’s said in the past that it bothered him but he understood it was politics. A couple of years later, a similar situation would happen with you and Ty with “Paranoid.” Did seeing Ty go through that a few years prior make that situation a bit easier for you to swallow?

Nah, hell nah! At first when it first happened, I wasn’t going for it at all! I understood it, but I wasn’t going for it. But it was like you my friend and if the label don’t like it, you my friend at the end of the day. I get that business is business, and I have to accept it. Was I mad? Hell yeah! It’s like your first breakthrough on a major scale! That was OUR song, so that was a breakthrough! It was one of the biggest songs in his career, and still is and I definitely had a part in that! It was so many rumors going on with that. I just had to accept it and be like okay, this is what it is. But the streets wasn’t going for it, I wasn’t going for it, but it was between me and him. That’s my brother, and I ain’t gonna let no bullshit come between us because of a record label’s decision. I took his word that it was the label, and we was just like, you know what? We gonna go in and we’re gonna make bigger songs and we’re gonna do it even bigger! He always kept his word on that. That’s one thing he could tell you—when I had my wave going on, I included him on everything that I was doing.

Any artist that knows us knows that I might not be the top artist as far as being mainstream and stuff like that, but when it comes to LA, my movement is very strong and very powerful in LA. I was selling out concerts and all that, so when I had my movement going and Ty wasn’t at his biggest, I included him and this person and that person and that’s what it was. He’s always responded with the same type of love. So you know, going through that situation with the labels, I was kinda fucked up, but I was like this is my boy! We gonna get through everything. Money can’t separate no real friendship. I ended up getting a Platinum plaque off “Paranoid” and then last year, we got a Gold plaque together with “Wavy,” and that’s a huge deal for me. The boy’s out the ghetto and I got plaques. Can’t deny it!

You’ve collaborated with some huge names over the years, you’ve put out some really solid projects, you’ve developed a solid base, and I see kids rap your songs word for word when you have shows out here in LA. Do you feel like you should be bigger, or is this the perfect trajectory?

Nah, I feel like timing is everything. I feel like I handled all that, where it’s like, I can’t bump my head at all. If I bump my head now, it’s my fault. It’s my time right now. Everybody done had they time, and now it’s my time to be here for the next 15, 20. I’m gonna be a reliable artist that you can count on for the West Coast. It’s my time! I just feel like everybody gets their time, and right now it’s Joe Moses’ time.

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It’s 12:54am on a Wednesday, and I’m sitting down with IAMSU and his cameraman in the front room of their hotel suite. Su was in town for a headlining show in Santa Ana, followed by another one the next night in Los Angeles. I had planned to interview the Bay Area rapper at the LA show, but while I was out and about that evening, I’d received a FaceTime call from him, telling me to come and hang. He was an hour out from my house in the Valley, but I still made the trek. We smoked, we hung out with his mom, walked down a highway to get some gas station snacks and then eventually decided, “What better time than now to do an interview?”

I first met IAMSU in 2014, while he was promoting his first studio album, Sincerely Yours. That year, he’d go on a national tour with Wiz Khalifa, following up three insane years that included back to back to back smash singles: a feature on LoveRance’s “Up” in 2011, a feature on E-40’s “Function” in 2012, and a feature on Sage The Gemini’s “Gas Pedal” in 2013. He’s continued to grow his profile in music every year since, while remaining so independent, that I still get a text and an email directly from him for every new song, video, or even a vlog.

IAMSU

His grassroots approach is something you see during the start of a lot of artists’ careers, but now seven years deep in the game, it’s refreshing to see that it’s still not above him. A shift in management following the release of Sincerely Yours likely helped to shape his approach, as he notes that he had to entirely rebuild relationships and almost start over, after not having a representative to speak for him any longer. The setback nearly caused him to leave the game completely, and his hefty publishing checks had him confident that it wasn’t the worst plan in the world. His mother had a different plan, though.

It’s now three years since that album’s release, and Su has definitely rebuilt his career tenfold. He doesn’t need to send those texts out anymore or do his own email blasts, but yet he does, all while likely hanging out with his mom and the crew he’s had since high school; who all are now successful in their own right. He’s really one of the good guys.

On that Wednesday night in Santa Ana, I talked to Su about getting his start in the game, how his mom kept him going when he wanted to quit and much more. The Bay is in good hands.

Take me back to when you put out your first mixtape. It’s 2010, and you’re in college. I know that you had to start doing some online classes in between your freshman and senior year because of the recognition, then dropped out all together.

I was getting recognized for my rapping and my production, because that’s when Big Von from 106 KMEL in the Bay, and My Emotion and Chuy Gomez—they started playing every single song I released. I got picked for the Bay Area Freshmen 10 in 2011, and then after that, I had a song called “I Know What To Do With It” where I sampled Drake and Omarion’s song off of So Far Gone. Von started playing that on the radio, and that was my sound back then; it was like, Auto-tune songs for girls. I was doing that, and then I came with another couple of songs, and every time I sent a song to Von, he’d just play it. They took me to the club right when “Up” was poppin’ too, and I performed my other songs along with “Up.” That really broke me in the Bay.

What inspired you to initially put out your first mixtape?

I actually put out three mixtapes before they give me credit for my actual first mixtape. I was always rapping, but you know when you’re a producer, they don’t really take your rapping serious? I was in a group in high school called the Go Getters, with Show Banga, P-Lo and my other bro. We performed and did hella shit. We were like The Pack! P-Lo made beats and I made beats too at that time. They took my rapping a little bit more serious than P-Lo, but both of us was still being grouped into it like, “You can rap? Cool. But you can go third.” You feel me? It was shit like that, so I was just like, damn. I would get a little bit of anger because I felt like I could really rap, on some, “I need to be respected as a rapper too!” So I would just go in. I made it my life mission to just get good at rapping, so I was just always writing verses.

I’d go to my boy Push’s, and we’d freestyle for six hours. All we would do is freestyle and rap! We had this thing on the X-Box where you could record yourself, and somehow he figured out that if you turn the bass all the way up, you can’t hear the words. So we’d be rapping over hella songs! He figured out a way where if he turned certain things up and certain things down—like you know the EQ—he would take the words out, so it would just be hella bass! I feel like that damn near made our sound, by just having stupid ass bass and everything else is hella low. So it’s just funny how it played out.

You should do a Lost Tapes project or something.

That would be fire because I know I said three, but it’s actually five mixtapes before that time. One was 3, 2, 1 and that was my No Ceilings vibe. No Ceilings hella inspired that. I was chopping my vocals and making it stutter. You remember how Wayne and Nicki’s shit used to do that? I was doing that. I hella wanted to be Wayne, you feel me? So that’s where my head was at. He was music. He super inspired me.

In 2011, you produced and appeared on LoveRance’s “Up,” which would go on to be a national hit. The story goes that it was originally your song and the process didn’t go smoothly. I would say, on a national level, you didn’t get as much credit for that song. Do you think if that situation had been handled better, things would have went differently for you at that point?

I think it worked out for the best. Originally, I was scared of that song because my whole angle that I was pushing when I was making all those mixtapes back in the day wasn’t that. I would rap about sex and all that stuff, but “beat the pussy up” was just a little bit too outspoken for me at that time. So I was scared of it. I was only 20, and my mom heard all my songs. So I was just not comfortable putting myself out like that, so I told ‘Rance like, “Bro, this is your vibe. Go crazy.” Really, that whole situation came about because me and him went to school together. We went out that day, and he had two girls with him, and those two girls came with us back to Chief’s house and instantly started talking shit about sex. We come up with that song in front of them, saying what’s gonna happen. And that’s where that came from.

Was it that song that caught E-40’s attention and led to your guest spot on “Function,” or was that relationship already ongoing?

It definitely came from the attention from that time. It was “Up” and like I said, I was putting out a lot of music. So during that Bay Area Freshmen time, me and Chief would record a song and put it out every day for months. Maybe it was like two or three months while the voting process was going on. We would spam online too. So E-40 saw my work ethic at that time, and he came at me! A number called me and I just didn’t know who it was, and he’s like, “It’s E-40.” At that time, that was the biggest thing that ever happened to me. He’s a legend! It was like wow, I just met 50 Cent but E-40 is literally the president of the Bay Area, culturally. He was like, “I wanna get you on this song, nephew! I see you doing yo’ thang.” I’m like, “Daaamn!” So I do the song, and that’s when I noticed my stock rose as Iamsu! “Up” was kind of like, I’m poppin’, it’s cool, but THAT moment was when everything really changed. It was big for all three of us on the song—myself, Problem, and YG. That was mine and YG’s first time performing on national TV. We were on 106 & Park.

After two big hits in 2011 and 2012, the following year you got another hit with Sage The Gemini for “Gas Pedal.” Did it ever bother you that you were seeing your most success as features and not as the main artist, or did you feel this was only building you up for your next win?

Honestly, it did bother me, but I had to realize that my situation is hella different. All of those situations were major label-signed artists. I’ve never been signed to a major label. I was signed to Warner for my album process, but it wasn’t like I’m an artist on their roster. It was just a straight distribution deal. So, I’ve had to take everything with a grain of salt. Like, I’m seeing hella shit, but it’s not me that’s the front guy and you’ll never feel what it’s like to be the front guy until you’re the front guy. So being a supporting cast but really playing a big ass role while shit is happening, it kind of made my vision different. I don’t know. I see things differently now. I think it just makes me work harder.

Has there ever been a point in your career when you were considering getting a regular job?

Ooh, a regular job? Nah, but I’ve had one way back, but that was when I was like 19. So before all the “Up” stuff, I was really hustling hard with beats and verses and shit, so I was cool. I dropped out of college before any of that shit happened. So I didn’t have a point where I wanted to get a regular job, but I had a point where I wanted to quit rapping. At that point, I thought I was just good for life and didn’t see how far I could go. I was looking at my publishing checks like, “I’m straight! If I just stop right here, I’m good forever!” I was producing hella shit and at that time, I was on the biggest songs in the country back to back to back. So I’m like, fuck it. It was a point after my first album that I was really gonna quit and just be like, “I’m good. I did what I was supposed to do.”

So what re-motivated you?

I just got thrown in a crazy situation over the course of a year. I had some family members that passed away, I went on a tour and it got really stressful on the tour. Some of my closest people had to go home. It was weird shit going on. My mom came in the picture as management, and she really just helped me get my head together and my life together. So that’s what re-motivated me. It reminded me why I love music and why I even wanted to rap, and that’s where I’m at right now.

Why did you decide to leave Warner?

I just decided to stop because the management team I’d been with, I stopped working with them, and my deal came by way of them. I had tried to re-approach the distribution team, but it was just too much complication. So I wasn’t able to put music out for about 11 months, and you know 11 months in rap is an eternity! I’m an artist that’s always putting shit out. I was able to put shit out for free, but it doesn’t have the same impact. People were like, “Why aren’t you selling this? I just bought your first album! Shit’s not adding up.” I didn’t have the same access, I had to rebuild relationships on my own because I’m not having people doing it for me. I’m not having management calls every day, or a digital marketing team or any of that kind of stuff. So it was a setback, but it made me learn. I had to work ten times harder, and I think I needed that at the time. Now every success is so much bigger because I made it happen myself.

A lot of young artists don’t set up their money right, especially in the beginning. Did you get a financial planner that helped you with all of that?

My mom! I’m telling you, my mom is like Cookie, bruh. My mom can do everything. She gets all my shit straight. Before I had my mom in the picture, I was spending a lot of money a month, honestly. Even when I was signed, I was spending like 30 bands a month on marketing and publicists and stuff. I was paying that myself. Well I guess I was really independent if you really think about it! I was paying for the whole team and everything and still having money, so I was earning a lot. But once my mom came in the picture, I still had a lot of money just tucked. I hadn’t been buying hella cars and chains or anything. So I invested a lot of money. I bought a house, I got a retirement fund, I started my companies. I did a lot of shit. Now I’m in just a bit of a different position, so if I went to a label, they would have to really make some shit shake. I need like a Jay Z deal, like a life-changing situation. Fun fact: I almost signed to 300, before it even was 300. I had a breakfast meeting with Lyor [Cohen] and he was talking about starting 300, but I didn’t do it for whatever reason. My manager just told me we weren’t going to do it. It probably wasn’t enough money or something.

How’s 2017 looking for you?

So I released two mixtapes this year, Boss Up 1 and 2. I’m very proud of them. It’s just fun music. I make a majority of my beats, and I put them both out on my record label, Eyes On Me LLC. So I’m pumped about that. That’s four releases in one year! I’m about to put out another mixtape called You Can’t Ban The Sudi Man. And then I got my I Am Summer show I do every year in the Bay. It’s been getting bigger every year. I’m doing a full week this time, so it’s gonna be poppin’.

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In the latest wave of artists that fans have handpicked to keep the West Coast resurgence going, G. Perico is at the forefront. The slim, jheri-curled, slick-talking rapper has a look reminiscent of an era long gone, yet his sound speaks much more to today’s climate. Often compared to California staples like DJ Quik and Eazy-E—which the South Central native understands and appreciates—Perico is determined to make his own lane, and leave his deep-rooted history with the streets behind him.

It’s a scenario that’s not unique; Perico grew up in the streets and got caught up in that life one too many times. With multiple jail bids behind him, the longtime writer turned to music as a way out, but just when it seemed like he would finally progress in his rap career, his past life would keep trying to pull him back in.

While in his neighborhood just before a major show at the legendary Roxy last year, Perico was cornered and shot at multiple times. One bullet connected with his hip, and though a hospital visit was mandatory, he only stayed an hour before still making it to the venue and performing—blood dripping down his leg and all.

Things are different now, though. As we sit in his studio, built in a room in a Hollywood Hills mansion he now calls “home,” the self–proclaimed “street poet” is finally seeing a real change. He’s gearing up for his first headlining show, artists are lining up to work with him, and there are offers from labels on the table. However, he still operates a store from the neighborhood he grew up in, and he understands that one wrong move can change everything. One thing is for certain: G. Perico is not going to let his past affect his future.

Growing up, how important was music to you?

Shit, it was everywhere. You can’t escape music, especially in the ghetto. But I can’t say I grew up like “Wow, I want to do this too!”

You’ve said in interviews that you got into the street life pretty early. Prior to that, did you have aspirations of anything else, or was the streets pretty much what you were set on? I know that you can draw pretty well, and you’ve said you’re pretty nice at ball.

You know how in school, they put those ideas in your head of what to be? I might have had that for a little while, but there was nothing that I was really set on. But you know, basketball could have been something. I probably could have been a basketball player, but that shit hit the back burner quick, because I got wrapped up in the streets in junior high school. That shit clearly didn’t go far.

What made you realize that doing music was a better route for you?

I saw the possibilities. Around the time, YG, Nipsey Hussle…all of them was making their transition and blowing up. It was so close to me, because YG used to come to my block back in the day and stop through. Just seeing that, I knew where it could go. I just felt like I had the same talent, and I peeped how they operate. It’s a team, you know what I’m saying? I just noticed that everybody that don’t have a team, they might be dope as fuck, but that shit don’t leave past the garage or wherever they’re recording. Everybody got a team and a movement. I naturally already had a movement just based on being from around here, and everybody in the community and shit.

What made you first record a song, and what was the initial reception?

I probably recorded a song I think right before the period of the “Shit Don’t Stop” cover. I think I had to be like 16, maybe. We were just fucking around. Initially, it was just street love. Right now, the industry is paying attention now, but back then, it was just the streets. And I was cool with that. My focus is the people, so that was what I wanted. The people fucked with it and gave me the confidence to do this.

It was soon after that you had to do another bid, right?

Yeah, that slowed up my momentum, but it helped me get focused too. I had music floating around while I was in there, and it helped at least keep my name in the conversation.

Wasn’t that bid around when A$AP Yams actually found your music?

Yep! Yams came across my music in like 2013. I was doing a bid in Lancaster State Prison, and Yams came across “Bustin.” They was listening to “Bustin’” I guess in New York. Jay Worthy from Canada, I think he put them up on it. So when I came home, I met Yams. He’d just hit me when he was in town and whatnot, or he’d just call me and give me advice and shit, because people wanted to sign me back then. He’d give me advice on do’s and don’ts and shit like that. He was a cool dude. I miss Yams.

That’s dope that he was really looking out for you and helping guide you. Do you have someone like that in your life now?

I have a number of people right now. I have my partners Westside Webb, Lil Ant, and Poly Boy. I have my management, Pun. They pretty much help me paint my picture a little more vivid and the shit that I’m trying to do. It’s a team. You can’t do everything by yourself. The only thing you can do well by yourself is rap. Maybe. Rap is art; that’s not business. So rap business is different, and you’ve got to transfer your art into business, depending on how deep you want to go.

I know that you have a pretty good team in place, even getting a PR team at the beginning. How’d you build the whole team?

It was trial and error. I got my partners Lil Ant and Poly Boy who just believe in everything I do, because I have a history of success. Of course that was like, street nigga success, but still—they believe in anything I do. Then as far as management and PR, that was trial and error too. I’m satisfied with my management and my new PR and shit right now. I made sure I had them in place because I know that’s necessary things for an artist, especially an independent one. If you’re signed, they’re gonna do it for you anyway. A lot of people don’t care to know what’s going on, and it says a lot when shit starts happening. But for an independent artist, there’s like maybe three or four necessary things you need, and that’s that.

You also have a store back in your neighborhood. Did you create this with the sole intent to sell G. Perico merch, or was it just a revenue stream for you at first?

Initially, I opened it just to sell my merchandise. It was just to let people know that So Way Out is right here, and this part of the city is where I come from and what I’m representing. It was a hub for people to identify with, and it just showed that I’m really part of the community. A lot of rappers are really not what they rap. That’s probably not a bad thing because like I said, rap is art. It’s hard to be a gangster and a successful artist. It’s damn near impossible. Even with me, I had to change a lot of things that I do, because I was a full-time street nigga. I ain’t really plan to do nothing else. It sounds crazy, but I don’t care. That’s my life. So once I understood that part, I put the team together and took off.

You’ve been seeing more progress with music as every month goes by, but you’ve obviously had your fair share of issues back on your turf too. Do you find it to be true that with fame comes a lot of jealousy? Or do you think these issues date back to things you got caught up in before the music started popping off?

With fame comes a lot of jealousy for anybody. Money and having a big personality come with having a lot of hate. And then yeah of course if you’ve got an actual active past, that shit could put gas on the fire. But I mean, that’s life, you know? I’m not gonna stop living my life. Shit is changing now. Every project is gonna be different. I don’t just write raps as shit that rhymes and makes sense. I’m talking about my life, and I’m spitting game. I ain’t just rapping! I’m telling stories and shit. With my 2016 project, Shit Don’t Stop, I got shot while I was recording. My house got raided, my parole officer was fucking with me, so I was missing money because I couldn’t take trips. Now with my latest release, All Blue, I’m a little more well known. People are kind of expecting it now. I’m just in a better space right now in life, but it’s still gangsta as a motherfucker. I’m here. I could have been taken the little bit of money I made and took my store to the other side of town, but I’m keeping it here. I want to show my community that we can make it.

Which artist’s business model would you say impressed or inspired you the most?

It’s a lot of different things. The closest to me would be Nipsey Hussle, the way he branded and created the power and the clothing and the audience. Then all the way up to Jay Z and Dr. Dre and shit, to where they’re moguls and have so many different things under their umbrellas. I look at everybody that’s doing good business. There’s something that I can take from them and incorporate it in my shit.

What was behind the decision to do the jheri curl?

I got the braids today! But the curl, it’s something that people grew up on around here. I’m a little older, I’m 29, so I got to see that shit with my own eyes and see how tight it was. I’ve always been interested, so I think whether I was rapping or not, I’d have a curl. I have old pictures before all that shit with my shit curly. It’s just a shock to people probably that I’m not running around with dreadlocks or a nappy ass fro like everybody else. That’s really just all it is: just people not used to moving at the beat of their own drum. So of course it would seem out of the ordinary because everybody is so much the same these days!

What’s your ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal is legacy: to be remembered for my art and being a mogul. I just want to leave something for my family, for generations!

Speak your piece in the comments below or start the conversation at the UGHH Forum.

It’s been over four years since Mike Zombie was introduced to the masses on what couldn’t have been a larger-scale. Not only did the New Jersey native place a beat with Drake on a song that would go on to be one of the Toronto superstar’s biggest tracks [“Started From The Bottom”], but he also inked a production deal with OVO. The future looked bright for the talented 20-year-old, but while he’s maintained a presence in music, it’s nowhere on the level that he (and everyone else) thought it would be by now.

Glances at his Instagram show the now-24-year-old still has an affiliation to OVO, often rocking clothing adorned with Drake’s signature owl. He is sure to post about new projects from the OVO camp and congratulates The Boy on his various successes throughout the years, but yet, the posts seem rather one-sided. There has been no sign of Zombie on the track on any of the aforementioned projects, from lesser-known acts like Roy Woods, up to the capo himself. And though Zombie has put out multiple projects of his own over the years (as he raps as well), there hasn’t been any posts from his labelmates about those either.

He’s not tripping, though.

Zombie is patiently waiting in the wings for his next shot, though he does admit that the cryptic formula that OVO uses for their roster has hurt him, while it helped peers like PartyNextDoor and even The Weeknd early on. Naturally, he’s battled frustration over the years with the stalled momentum, but he’s remained loyal to the camp—despite urges from his family and friends to the contrary. They’d like to see their loved one move on and even diss the man who gave him his start, but Zombie is firm in his belief that things will soon change.

After picking up and moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles earlier this year, Zombie is working more than ever and he’s ready to put out a few more “Started’s”. We caught up with him to discuss the journey since that life-changing song was released, how Twitter played a part in helping get his business straight early on, why he never said anything when Joe Budden dragged his name into his beef with Drake, and much more.

Don’t count Mike Zombie out just yet.

It’s been 4 years now since “Started From The Bottom” changed your life. How old were you at the time? What was your life like?

I was 20 years old and in school for digital art design. Art was my Plan B if music didn’t work, but since music was taking too long, I needed to do something with my time. I had been producing since I was 13, so this is 7 years in at the time. Only local artists were taking my beats, though.

I was on academic probation, my daughter had just been born the month before, my mom had just gotten fired from her job, and we weren’t sure if we were going to get a loan for the rest of school. I was kind of like, “What the fuck am I gonna do?” and then Drake tells me that he wants to sign me.

I know the story goes that battle rapper Hollow Da Don connected you with Drake, and you sent a crazy amount of beats and he ends up picking “Started.” What was that phone call like from him when he said, “This is the one?”

I was at home in Orlando, where I was at for school. We had been talking all night through text, and he was just talking about how he likes my stuff and how he wanted to fly me out and that he was going to call me the next day. At the time, I had a phone that would just randomly shut off. I was basically trying to keep the phone on the whole time, so I never left the house. If I took it off the charger, it would have turned off. So I just stayed home and sat next to the phone.

He finally calls the next day at like 5 o’clock in the afternoon, so I stayed up for like a day and a half. Then the next month, he flew me and my mom out, and we got the deal done.

It wasn’t a long conversation. For real, it was one of those conversations that it was kind of like…I couldn’t believe it was happening, so I wasn’t really listening. It’s like you’re not really there, and you’re just going through the motions and hopefully saying something that makes sense. But I do remember him saying that he wanted to sign me and fly me out so we could get the deal done.

So you go out to Toronto. How long are you there? What’s going through your head?

It was in Atlanta, that’s where he was recording for Nothing Was The Same. I was staying at the Westin.

Oh, so he put you up in a nice hotel. Okay!

Yeah, but he was staying in the Mandarin [laughs]. But yeah so we were there, my niece and nephew that I haven’t seen in mad long were there. So we went out to dinner with Drake, talked about the deal.

Where does someone like Drake take people to eat?

It was in the lobby of the Mandarin. And we didn’t actually eat, it was just a sit there and talk type thing [laughs]. So when we were there, he was telling me about PartyNextDoor before anybody even knew who he was. He was talking about me, asking if I’d heard the song yet.

Oh, so he recorded “Started From The Bottom” already, before you’d even gotten there?

Yeah, so he brought a laptop downstairs and gave me some headphones, and I listened to the song. He also asked me what I was going to do with rapping.

So he knew you rapped too?

Yeah, actually when we were texting, he was talking about one of the songs I have on my SoundCloud. But yeah, he said he had a meeting with Chilli from TLC, so he was going to go to that and then after that, he was going to go to the studio and invited me. I said “of course,” and then we went to the studio after that.

What was that session like?

I think he was recording the intro to Nothing Was The Same, “Tuscan Leather,” but I was in the back making beats. He was telling me shit that he wanted to sample, and I was just making beats there.

There is a huge business side that a lot of young people don’t get right in the beginning. Hell, a lot of people still don’t have it right. Did you know to set up publishing and work out splits and all of that?

To be honest, I had no idea. Luckily, I had a few friends that I could get advice from, and I hit them up even before I had physically met with Drake. While we were still in the texting stage, I hit them to figure out what was the right move. I spoke to a lawyer from back home about my deal as well, once I had the paperwork. He was my brother’s friend’s brother. He and everyone else told me it was a good move.

I didn’t really know much about publishing at all either, but one person who actually helped me a whole lot to get a better idea of it was Wayno.

Dave East’s manager? How did that connection come about?

Twitter! In the early days of Twitter, he used to just be online saying some funny ass shit, and I used to be up there clowning too. We followed each other and just connected there, and at the time when he was helping me—we had never even met. It’s so crazy what social networking can do. And it’s not like he was someone big or I was someone big—this is way before Dave and way before “Started.” We just followed each other off the strength of funny tweets and I guess “Black Twitter.” And he really would be sending my beats to people too, trying to help me land placements when I was in college.

One thing I did know to do was sign up for ASCAP, though. It’s not hard—it’s like literally you just sign up online. In doing my research about publishing and the business side of music online, everything said that you’re either with BMI or ASCAP. That’s how you get real money for your music. When I would send beats and stuff, people would always ask me, “Who are you with?” so I’m like okay, I need to figure this out. And really, ASCAP just looked more user-friendly when I was on the site, so that’s what I went with! BMI’s site gave me anxiety.

You sampled one of those songs that people listen to when they want to focus or calm them down, right?

Well I have ADHD, and I would listen to calming music that could help me focus when I was doing my homework in college. So Bruno Sanfilippo’s “Ambessence Piano & Drones 1” was one of them, and I was listening to it one day and I’m like, people aren’t sampling music like this, let me try and do it and see how it comes out! And even the way I sample now, nobody samples the way I sample. The way I sample is just different, and once I made that song, I just knew! I was making songs for people out in Orlando, and this one dude kept asking for that beat. I kept telling him no. I had a reason.

It’s funny because I actually commented on the YouTube video of “Ambessence” and I said, “This song is going to change my life forever,” and somebody commented under, “Don’t kill yourself or do something crazy like that!” [laughs]

I want to get into the fees of sampling too, since this was your first big record. How did the sample fee work out with Bruno?

It was a flat fee. He actually didn’t even know who Drake was, so I don’t know if it would have been different if he had. But 40 donated a lot of money to his music school over in I think Germany, so that helped.

What did you spend your first big “Started” check on?

A lawyer for one of my older brothers. He was locked up at the time.

Did you make any changes in your personal life to prepare you for this entirely new journey you were about to embark on?

My whole fucking life did a 180. I had to change my number, I had to open new bank accounts, I had to start a business. I had to move back home from school. I really had to change the way I was thinking! Literally, I became a target: money-wise, friend-wise, girl-wise. It was mad weird. When I flew back from Atlanta after signing the deal, they had a surprise party for me at my house, and I don’t know, the things people were saying was so weird. A lot of people meant it, but a lot of other people like, they’d say, “Hey, I’m happy for you! Just know, I don’t want anything from you, and I’m not going to ask you for anything!” Just by them saying that, you know they meant the exact opposite.

So I had to figure out what I was going to do with my money, what I was going to take care of first. And for real, I’m surprised that I wasn’t as frivolous with the money as I could have been. I’ve done a couple of irresponsible things, but it was stuff that I wanted! Like, I spent $3k on my 21st birthday party, and I rolled up in a Maybach that I rented. But it was worth it!

But really, I didn’t change too much—it was everyone around me who changed. This is the thing; when it happens, it kind of doesn’t surprise you if you prepare for it. I was more prepared for that, than the song and it actually being a success. I didn’t even know how to prepare for that.

Did Drake or anyone on his team have conversations with you about that to help prepare you?

More so Future The Prince, his DJ.

A year and a half later, you land another huge record, “They Don’t Love You No More,” getting not only the legendary Jay Z on your beat, but also Remy Ma’s very first post-jail verse. 

That was so crazy! I feel like if that song would have come out just a few months later, it would have done so much better, because that’s when Khaled’s celebrity was really started to rise. But hindsight is 20/20, and it wasn’t my song to even say so. But yeah, I chose not to sample anything on this one because people were already trying to put me in a box when I sampled on “Started,” saying that sampling was all I could do. I actually didn’t even know I produced the record at the time that it came out, because Khaled bought that beat and another beat off of me months earlier. I found out when the record dropped and I texted him asking who produced it, and he replied, “Zombie On The Track!” Then Flex was playing it, and when it came on, I heard my tag and I was like, oh shit!

In that time between that song and “Started,” did you get frustrated that you weren’t placing anything? Did you expect “Started” to launch you into a Metro Boomin/DJ Mustard kind of stratosphere?

I was VERY frustrated. The way OVO operates is very different. They felt like I should pull back instead of going hard and flooding with my beats. I get it, and I did it, but I feel like my career would be in a different place if I would have just done what I’m doing now. I was under the impression that if I went with their plan and didn’t flood the world with my beats, then there must be a plan later on to suffice for the time pulled back. There wasn’t a person that I couldn’t get on my beat at the time; so many emails, Roc Nation, a bunch of people just hitting me up. OVO wasn’t flat out saying “no” to anything, but I was going based off their recommendations. I was just trying to understand it all and not be frustrated. But there was some times that artists would do stuff on my beats and OVO would be like, “Nah,” and I’d actually agree. But yeah, it was just frustrating. Now I just do what I want.

Are you still signed to OVO?

Technically I’m not really signed to OVO Sound; that’s for artists. I’m signed to Drake under his publishing company. There are terms you have to meet, like x amount of songs, so yeah, I’m still there. And I’m happy to be there. I can do stuff with other people, and I’m still a part of the team that I started with.

What has your relationship with Drake been like over the last four years?

The last time I spoke to him was like, last year. I don’t even know what date, but I just hit him up on Instagram to send him some beats, and he gave me his email, and that was it.

Did you ever get frustrated with your lack of relationship, and seeing other OVO producers working closer with him? Did your friends put a battery in your back and have you feeling like Drake/OVO should be doing more?

No, because at the end of the day, me and his relationship is our relationship. I’m never gonna sit there and be like, “I’m mad because PND is doing what he’s doing with Drake!” We have a different relationship. One, I’m not from Toronto, so I’m not around as much. And two, I lived in South Jersey, damn near by Philly. New York is two hours away from Willingboro. I was out of sight, out of mind! When they’re in New York, I’m not the one on their mind. Vinylz stays in New York, they can hit Vinylz. When they’d be in Philly, I would go through—but how often would they be in Philly, you know?

My brothers can’t stand Drake though, to be honest. A lot of my family have tried to put the battery in my back, but it’s not going to work. Like when Joe Budden’s diss came out and he said:

“Are you lifeless? Sound like a zombie on the track
Remember “Started From the Bottom,” it was Zombie on the Track
Know who else started from the bottom? Zombie on the Track
How come after that joint I don’t see Zombie on a track?
I’m from Jersey, so Zombie I got your back”

They wanted me to drop a song then, but I looked at it as two men doing what two men would do when they dislike each other. So that was that. My friends and even random people who walked up to me would be like, “Yo, why Drake doesn’t do this? Why Drake doesn’t do that?” It only makes me mad because it’s like, why not ask the source instead of asking me? It doesn’t make sense. There’s never going to be an interview where they’re like, “So Drake, why did you do this with Mike Zombie?” They’re always going to ask me, and how could I answer what he would know?

You’ve always been a very proud NJ native, but recently up and moved to California. What was the motive?

The first time I got here off the plane in 2014 when I came for the Grammys, the vibe was just different. I loved it. I was just 21, out here in the studio with all of these people. Back home, that was unheard of. I don’t have sessions like that in Willingboro. There hasn’t been anybody from my town to do what I’ve done. There was just a good energy as soon as I got off the plane, and there’s just so much work out here. Even in New York, it’s slower on the working side. And still, it’s two hours away from me, and like $50 in tolls each way! Now that I’m here, I’m having to turn down sessions because they’re coming in so rapidly. I knew that it’d be like this!

Drake lives out here too, so I’m no longer out of sight, out of mind! There’s definitely an opportunity to strengthen our relationship and do more work now that I’m here.

But yeah, I love it here. I want to bring my family out here eventually. I want to stay here forever.

You also rap, and seem to have garnered a decent buzz on that side of things in the meantime.  Do you feel one thing suffers if you’re trying to do both? 

No, but I feel like other people look at it as that. People will always ask me which one I like to do more, but at the end of the day, I would say both. But I produce more than I write anything. I probably produce more than I fucking sleep. People always look at it as…being that I’ve put out more content rapping in the last few years than placing beats with big artists, they think I’m not producing at all. At the end of the day, I produce every song I make on my projects! We’re only in March, and I’ve already made 70 beats this year alone. I have thousands of beats in the stash.

If “Started” never happened, what would be different for you today?

I think I’d still be where I’m at now, but it would have just been a different placement. I think I would have way more music out, though. At the end of the day, they have a formula that works. When you have such good content and people want it that bad and you make them wait, it increases the demand and once it does come out, they appreciate it more.

But do you feel like that worked for YOU, though?

[laughs] For me, no. Not at all.

Speak your piece in the comments below or start the conversation over at the UGHH Forums.

There’s a short list of big names that hail from Vallejo, California. You have the late Mac Dre—one of the most influential artists to ever come out of the Bay—and E-40, a rap legend who introduced a whole new vernacular to the masses and has maintained a career that spans decades. And then you have NEF The Pharaoh. He’s in pretty good company, to say the least.

At just 22, the “Big Tymin” rapper has already toured the world, signed a record deal, collaborated with multiple brands, and has rubbed elbows with some of the greats. To think this all began with just a pair of regional hits. NEF hasn’t even scored his “breakout” smash yet, but suffice to say, he has more under his belt than some of his peers who already have that hit.

The young star constantly flashes his ear-to-ear grin; truly enjoying every moment this journey has brought him thus far. As he flails his dreads around while dancing on stage with moves that I’m not even sure have a name, NEF can make even the coolest of concert-goers turn up with him, and that’s a talent that not many can boast. This guy is a star.

Following a headlining show in Los Angeles, I met up with NEF to discuss his trajectory thus far and how he’s gotten to where he is. At one point, he excuses himself to the bathroom, but he’s sure to keep the door open while doing so.

“I can’t wait until I’m to the point where like, Rolling Stone is asking for fun facts about me that no one knows,” he tells me, as I sit on the other side of the wall. Of course, he is looking for me to ask why, so I curiously oblige.

“Like, no one knows that I have to use the bathroom with the door open because I’m afraid of being boxed in. It’s real, that’s real,” he says with a laugh. “I can’t wait until I can let people know stuff like that.”

You’re welcome, NEF.

You’ve accomplished a lot at 22—more than some have accomplished much later in life. What are some of your biggest accomplishments thus far, and which would you say means the most to you?

I’ve accomplished a lot. I have my own touring company, I have my own record label with successful artists, my own pre-rolls. I’m even about to start my own series of illustrated children’s books! I feel like one of the dopest accomplishments though is being 22 and being interviewed by Forbes. A lot of people can’t say that! A lot of men read Forbes and want to be in there, and I made it in there by 22.

You’re signed to E-40’s legendary Sick Wid It imprint, but it’s not a traditional deal. Can you talk a little bit about the partnership, and what it means business-wise?

My deal is better than damn near 99.9% of these artists in the game, simply for the fact I have a 50/50 profit venue share. I’m not signed as an artist; I’m signed as a business partner! Everything we do, we go half. It’s E-40 and Sick Wid It and NEF The Pharaoh and my imprint, KilFMB. It’s not me signed as an artist. Of course I am a Sick Wid It artist; I do represent Sick Wid It! But you know, I want to be in this business with longevity and I wanna learn the game, so me and 40 worked out a way for me to learn game and have longevity in this rap shit. And for me to be a dope ass businessman!

Why was it important for you to sign such a deal? Have you heard horror stories from other upcoming acts?

I always was taught that reading is fundamental. I’m not gonna dwell on the pitfalls of others with their mistakes in how they signed, but I just read up on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I prayed on it, went over it with my mom and my people, and I made it happen.

So did you present this kind of deal to 40?

I made it a way where we could both win. Basically, he came with the idea too. I don’t want to just sit and get all the credit; that’s my sensei. But we both came up with the deal as a mutual agreement. You know, you gotta sign on both ends. That shit was amazing, man. I thank God for that deal.

You started getting a pretty big local buzz in 2014 with “Bitch I’m From Vallejo.” Did you have any management at that time, or were you just throwing things out there to see what worked?

You know, I had my uncle as my manager, but it wasn’t really like managing my music and telling me what to put out. I put out all my music on my own, so the choices and the steps I took to get there, to get to the “Big Tymin,” that was all NEF. The “Bitch I’m From Vallejo” track, I chose how we shot the video, who we had to shoot with, and the same for the “Big Tymin” video. I picked where we shot it, the concept, how we’d drop it, all of that shit! I just sat, and I came up with a little masterpiece and a play, and we just ran the play. It’s a good goddamn game! It’s not even over yet. That was just one play.

I have management now, though. He’s always been a factor in my region. I always seen him when I was growing up, and we know mutual people. He’s a good man in the business, and so it was only right for us to link up. We had actually linked after I’d already signed with 40.

So you really did a whole deal and everything by yourself, before you were even 21?

Yep. 40 hadn’t even signed me yet when I had “Big Tymin” out. That was the record that made him sign me. I did all of that shit by myself with word of mouth. I didn’t have no manager, no professional backing; I just worked the fuck out of social media! That’s what it was. Then Cousin Fik found me, and we did a song on 40’s album, and we got the deal done. After that I got with my manager, and we’ve been going hard ever since.

What did you do on social media that was so crazy?

I just moved precise. It was chess moves. I watched what I would post, when would post it. There’d be a few things I’d post and I wouldn’t even tweet people from my own Twitter. I’d make fake Twitter pages because you don’t want to spam motherfuckers from your own shit because it’s like, “This nigga’s annoying!” Don’t nobody wanna see that shit anyway, so if you already make it seem like you got fans, it’s a different move. I just made hella different Twitter pages, and I was tweeting hella people, and all that type of shit. This is kind of before Instagram got super big. I had an IG page, but motherfuckers wasn’t really on it like that, so it was Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook campaigning for me.

Well now you have a whole team, and it’s all comprised of people you grew up with. That has to feel good achieving these things together.

Family is everything. The majority of people that you see me rocking with is family or I’ve been involved with them for over five years. I got my cousin with me, my OG, my best friend since high school, shit like that. All my niggas is my day ones. We’re family.

And they all really stepped up to the plate and assumed their roles in helping get you going.

Yeah, most definitely. We’re running like a mob!

G-Eazy brought you on your first tour in 2016, and since then, has brought you out on a few other legs; including an international one. Why do you think he rocked with you so hard? I mean, there are other Bay Area artists that he’s taken on the road as well, but it seems he gave you a few more opportunities.

It’s probably the chemistry we have. I’m a good person, and I gravitate toward good people. G has a good soul, I have a good soul; his team is full of joy and love, so is mine. You feel me? We just mesh. We’re like family, and that’s my brother. If motherfucking anybody say anything crooked about G, if somebody even say they don’t like his raps, I will go to bat! Like, “Why don’t you like him? You’re not even listening to him!” I even got my niggas in the hood that stand on the block everyday that listen to really “murder murder, kill kill” type shit, and I even got them to fuck with at least one G-Eazy song. He’s just a genuine person and we clicked the first day we met. I learned a lot of things from G; my performance was enhanced by his team, the way I carry myself, the way I move! Like, I don’t go out all the time now, and if I go out, it’s to get the bag for the walkthrough. It’s shit like that, that he taught me; just how to move precise. I move like a rockstar now, and I learned that from him.

Do you think part of the reason he brought you out with him so much too is because of your stage presence? You really keep the crowd hype!

I think so, yeah. I really do. I make motherfuckers move, and they don’t even have to know my songs! I be having dumbass fun on stage, and I never run out of breath either. I don’t do no cocaine, I don’t drink energy drinks; it’s just all pure core power from the Lord.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize your star rising around you, because you’re immersed in this lifestyle all day, everyday. I think a good point of reference is SXSW, though. How did it change from 2016 to 2017?

My first SXSW, I walked on the street and didn’t nobody know who I was. Every fucking show I had, didn’t nobody care. I had the crowds moving when they actually paid attention, but it was bootsie. We had to mix and mingle and really get connected out there the first year. It was cool though; it was a good experience. We took it like, “What can we learn from this to come back and beat the crowd up this year?” Whatever the Lord did for me with blessings he gave my way, I really wanna thank Noisey for what the fuck they did. Their documentary on the Bay Area was so fucking dope. They made us look so well! We are dumb and hyphy; we go stupid and retarded, but we’re intelligent hoodlums. That’s how I would put it, and they really made us look well. My side of the city, South Vallejo, it really didn’t get a lot of shine because Mac Dre is from the Crest. When you go to Vallejo, everybody thinks of the Crest. So I got to bring them to my side of the city. We really was in South Vallejo, we was really in the hood! The police yanked up on us and shit, and everybody saw a piece of my life and how real it was! They saw that I’m a real person making real good music, and that coming out before SXSW really made a difference this year. When I went this year, I couldn’t go nowhere without people stopping me! Somebody was taking a picture here, someone’s yelling like, “Nigga, that’s that nigga from Noisey! Boy them niggas really be outside!” They was taking pictures with my partnas too; they knew my niggas’ names and shit! That shit is tight. It was amazing! God has been working good for me and my team.

Are there other things that have changed for you that made you say, “Wow, I’m on my way!”

I’ve been doing exclusive shit on Beats1 Radio. I got to come out on Beyoncé’s show in the Bay when DJ Khaled brought me out, Diddy be playing my songs on his Snapchat! He be playing “Boss Me” and “Big Tymin,” and that shit is tight. The Lord is good, man. Chris Brown be playing my shit, fucking everybody be playing my shit. It’s tight.

Well one of those people is Drake too! At the top of 2016, he posted you to his Instagram page—something he does when he really wants to co-sign an upcoming talent that he feels is going to be big.

Our managers had talked I guess, and they had me come out to the OVO store, and I got some gear. They took a picture of me rocking some of it, and he posted it and he hit me like, “Yo when I come to the Bay, we gon’ fuck around!” He really kept his word and brought me out when he came to the Bay on tour! It’s funny because when I had came back to the crib the day he posted me, I’m like, “Nigga! Drake fuck wit me, nigga!” and my niggas was like, “No he don’t. He just posted you and that’s it.” I’m like, “Yeah aight! Watch when that nigga come to the Bay!” So he comes a few months later, and the first night, he didn’t bring me out so everyone was like, “Nigga, that nigga didn’t bring you out! You lying!” So I just stayed quiet, and I ain’t say nothing, and the second night…grand finale, bro! He brought the Chang out with Mac Dre’s mom and Mistah FAB and that shit went up! We was doing the Thizzle dance and all this shit and I was giggin’ and really turnt the crowd up. Shout to Drake and the OVO team for real.

The Bay is seeing more recognition now than it has in quite some time, and you’re really at the forefront of it. You have IAMSU, Kool John, P-Lo, Sage The Gemini, Mozzy, Kehlani, Kamaiyah, G-Eazy and so many more. It seems like everyone really helps each other out, too. As a matter of fact, I actually got put on to not only Kamaiyah from your Snapchats but GetItIndy as well.

It’s just because the Bay really is a “crabs in a bucket” area. Motherfuckers just don’t know that! When the hyphy movement came out, niggas didn’t want to see each other on and that’s why it disappeared and got so fucked off. I feel like the new school—me, Kamaiyah, G-Eazy and Kehlani, Philthy Rich, Berner and whoever else you wanna add in the new school—we saw that happen to the Bay. So I feel like we all just made this invisible vow to each other to not let that happen again in this area. Even if we don’t fuck with each other on a personal level, we post each other’s music and support each other’s music because it’s going to bring light back to the Bay Area and bring money back to the Bay. It’s gonna bring more jobs, more tourists, and all of that shit! It’s gonna bring joy back to the Bay Area. It’s a real rough and rugged motherfucking place and people don’t know that, but we make good music and 99.9% of the rap game gets their swag from the Bay Area. Period! From the motherfucking language—the slang, the independent game, to giving yourself aliases and aka’s and nicknames, doing hella crazy shit—we just started all of that shit and a lot of motherfuckers don’t be giving us our credit. I feel like the era I’m in, we’re gonna do that and we’re gonna continue to make that invisible vow and that invisible pact to hold each other down and put the Bay back on.

You’ve been open about your battle with dyslexia. Does it affect how you make music or how you operate at all?

It hasn’t affected me too greatly, unless I really allow myself to get sidetracked. I’ve learned to control it for the most part. It’s really if my body is stressed, then all that shit kicks in. I’m not sure how it came up when I was younger, but I think my mom saw that I would mix words or mix letters and shit. I could read stuff backwards hella good, and she’d be wondering how I could do that. It was never a problem in school, though. I always had good grades and stuff too. I was just a badass, and that’s why I got kicked out.

You have a young son who is obviously your world. Is making sure he doesn’t follow in your footsteps with not finishing school a priority to you?

Yeah he has to finish high school. If he doesn’t want to go to college, that’s fine. That’s his decision. But he’s gotta finish high school. I gotta go back and finish too so he can’t say, “Dad you didn’t finish, so why should I?”

What if he wanted to rap?

I want him to be a singer, but if he wanted to rap, so be it! Let’s do it. Whatever the fuck he wants to do, I’m with him. If he wants to take over the world, he might be crazy, but I’m right behind him. That’s my son.

Why’d you say a singer? Is he trying to sing now?

I just always wanted to be a singer, so I would love if he was. I’d rather be a singer than a rapper, everyday.

Can you sing though?

My niggas say I could sing. I don’t think I could sing.

Throw a little Auto-Tune on that shit and you’re set.

That’s cheating! Auto-Tune is cool, and I’ve done it a few times, but I’m gonna put myself in vocal classes one day soon. Watch!

Well at least you have a singer on your label!

Yeah, KilFMB the corporation. It stands for Keep It Lit For My Brothers. Our singer is Deltrice, she’s more for the ladies. She got that heartfelt shit. Then we got OMB Peezy—everybody’s seeing him right now. That’s like the main focus. He’s going crazy right now, and he’s just amazing. He’s from Mobile, Alabama and right now what we call his shit is reality rap. Then we got Eric D. He’s a Sacramento native and he keeps putting on for his city like I am. We’re the same age too; that’s my brother.

What is your ultimate goal in this game?

I want to become one of the pioneers in this rap shit. I want to be up there with the legends. I’m not gonna say any names, because I don’t know who y’all classify as legends, but to be up there with the legends of this rap shit is where I want to be.

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