In driving to pick up O.C.—he of the glasscutter voice, seminal Word…Life and Jewelz albums, and membership with archetypal rap collective Diggin’ in the Crates—I was reminded of the words of another iconic Brooklynite: “I come scoop you in that coupe, sittin’ on deuce-zeroes.” Very different context, naturally, but similar logistics. My head swirled during the trip: how best to couch this, how to balance D.I.T.C.’s vestigial clout and current appeal.

Then it occurred to me: allow the truth to be its own preface. D.I.T.C. has had a volatile history: brushes with the law; the slaying of rising superstar MC Big L; rifts amongst the remaining members. “Like Lord Finesse always said,” O.C. would reflect, “we’re all Alphas. And when you get that many chefs in the kitchen, there are bound to be problems. Shit, I didn’t see Finesse for three years prior to making [2016’s] Sessions album. It really bothered me when I went to Sean Price’s wake. When I arrived, everybody said Finesse had just left. So on top of feeling like it’s déjà vu—with Diggin’ and Big L—I didn’t want to see ‘Nesse on these terms. That woke me up. I was like, ‘Yo, I gotta let this shit go. I don’t care who apologizes to who because this could’ve been me or you. I don’t wanna go out like that. So I apologized; I don’t care who was wrong or right.”

So the story is about growth, personal and artistic. D.I.T.C. still has the power to captivate in the now while retaining rights to the past: “Some consultants recently told us that D.I.T.C. is a multimillion dollar brand,” O.C. would remark. “That surprised even us.” But commas and zeroes don’t accurately author D.I.T.C.’s legacy—a legacy that lives in the hearts and minds of listeners who, for the past quarter century, have held its projects and members up as benchmarks. Count this author among those refusing to let go. Note the insert, an art piece that hangs on my wall. It’s a mockup of a Helly Hansen jacket emblazoned with Big L’s classic single “Put It On.”

But growth can only be called growth if it’s perpetual, a lesson artists and fans alike struggle with: “A lot of people still want that 1994 shit,” O.C. would growl. “So it’s like, ‘Keep listening to that album. You’ll get exactly what you want.’ But people don’t understand. Nobody’s the same person they were 20 years ago. I can’t possibly make the same kinds of records. I wouldn’t try to. But that’s what has my drive so high right now; I’m feeling like I’m back in ‘91 or ‘92, grinding in my mom’s basement. When I had to take the train everywhere. I do the same thing now. It could be three in the morning and I’m coming back from Showbiz’s studio uptown. I’ll take the train, smelling the stinky-ass piss and seeing all the homeless people. All that shit is fuel for me. It gives me something to talk about.”

As it turned out, it gave O.C. and me plenty to talk about, too.

Fresh off his successful solo album Same Moon Same Sun (1st Phase), the veteran rapper discusses all things D.I.T.C.—from the birth of the collective to its current status, and the legacy of Big L.

Let me get this out of the way early: my MySpace name back in the day was Big_L_RIP.

O.C.: Wow. MySpace.

Yeah. Figured I’d lock in my credibility with that one. Moving on…

O.C.: [laughs]

Most heads know the Big L genesis story: how he accosted Lord Finesse while he was record shopping in Harlem, spit for him, and basically two weeks later appeared on the “Yes You May” remix. Tell us a story that only you know.

O.C.: After the Jewelz album came out, “Dangerous” was popping. This was the first time I got real radio play—despite having no ads, no video, no nothing. Fat Joe was on my ass about doing a video, like “Yo, that record could go.” Fast forward, Showbiz told me and L to meet him at this crib he had around the corner from Harlem Hospital. We walked in. and he gave me and L separately two bags; like two bags each. He’s like, “Yo, y’all gonna do an album together.” L was like, “For this, dogs? Shit, you got any more?” We started laughing. Show bagged us up and gave us some bread—quite a few g’s, just to start—just for the idea. We knew it wasn’t no free money; Show really had a vision about us doing an album together.

Which obviously never materialized…

O.C.: Yeah. The first record we did was called “Get Yours.” Diamond D got added to it later, when it appeared on the Black Mask soundtrack. That was the only record we ended up recording for that album; he got murdered right after.

Here’s something that has always confused me about L: rap is one genre in particular that deifies the dead. Even still, L hovers in this nebulous space; he’s beloved by an underground sect, but you can’t ask the average fan about him, whereas you can ask the average fan about much lesser MCs. What was Big L like?

O.C.: Quiet on the surface, but a beast when you pushed him. For instance: Showbiz would be randomly in his hood somewhere, spittin’. He would call L and wake him up, wherever he was at: “Yo, I got $500 for you, hop in a cab and come uptown real quick.” L would get out the cab, yawning, like, “What up dog?”—real cocky and dismissive. And he would shut down a whole cypher. L was not normal. He had rhymes upon rhymes upon rhymes. He was so genius that he had specific shit for people that he never met. I feel like when he went on the radio with Jay-Z, his whole shit changed. He found his pocket and it was scary. He scared a lot of dudes.

What about his creative process?

O.C.: Fluid, man. Constant and fluid. Like, I heard the inception of “Ebonics” on the road, touring for Jewelz. We was in Europe, on Spirit Airlines or some shit. He’s like, “Yo, dogs, check this out: When I’m lifted I’m high, with new clothes on I’m fly, cars is whips and sneakers is kicks…” and I’m like, “Ok, what comes next? He said, “That’s it.” I was like, “Get the fuck away from me, man. You woke me up for that shit?” And he’d do that shit all day. That’s how his mind worked. I took it for granted at the time. But now I look back on it and just shake my head.

Speaking of looking back, how does his death sit with you now, especially since D.I.T.C. has been getting a lot of recent burn: Fat Joe’s success, the Sessions album, and your solo stuff?

O.C.: Think about it like this: Me and L toured before he got murdered. After we came home, we always spoke, but I didn’t physically see him after that tour. And I’ve always regretted that, even though it was something that couldn’t be helped. I had to let go—not in the sense of forgetting about him, but I don’t want to celebrate his death. There’s enough of that. I’m not putting up pictures and shit anymore on the anniversary of his death. People ask me “Yo, you not doing that?” Who the fuck is you to ask me that? This was my peoples. And I’m not explaining it anymore, either.

That’s why I did the record “Real Life” Parts 1&2. I held on to this shit because it really happened in those streets that night. I was pissed at him because he didn’t show up to the studio—not realizing he was laid out. I think Show took it the hardest because he and Fat Joe actually went down and seen him: his boots sticking out of the bloody sheet. But Show and Joe both packed it away, because they’re not emotional dudes; they’re not going to show their feelings. But if I’m dealing with it from a distance, imagine how they’ve dealt with it? Imagine how people deal with things like that in general, man. It’s everyday. Then they got L’s brother Lee as soon as he came home: Finesse sat with Lee in an IHOP that day and he got murdered that night. Then L’s mom died. That’s not just tragedy; that whole family basically disappeared.

That disconnect is another of rap’s unsettling nuances: how the subject matter can be genuine pain to the artist and nothing but a clever line to a listener. So let’s reminisce on better things. How did D.I.T.C. come together?

O.C.: Diggin’ got a backwards-ass story: we came out as individuals, and then came together. As opposed to coming out as a group and then branching off, D.I.T.C. was always a production company prior. But I’m happy things happened that way; we didn’t want to be another Wu-Tang Clan.

Walk us through the specifics.

O.C.: Our history is so weeble-wobble, it’s crazy. I don’t even remember meeting some of these dudes. It was just like, all of a sudden everybody was around and we were crewed. I have to make up some lies about how I met dudes [laughs]. Initially, it was Diamond D, Showbiz, Lord Finesse, and unofficial members like Kid Capri and DJ Premier, because Show taught Preem how to use the SP12 [E-mu SP-1200 sampler] and the 950 [Akai S950 sampler]. There was another unofficial-but official-member of DITC; his name is Ogee, and he produced on my debut album.

But here’s the longer version: in 1991, I went on the first Source Tour with Organized Konfusion, because I had just done “Fudge Pudge.” It was me, Roxanne Shante, Biz Markie, The Almighty RSO, and MC Serch. Serch kept asking me if I was part of Organized Konfusion, but I think he was just fishing. Sidenote: I don’t give Serch enough credit, man. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here—me or Nas. Period. He gave me a career. He gave Nas a career. A lot of people are eating because of MC Serch.

Anyway, Finesse had to leave the tour to do the Trespass soundtrack because he was signed with Rhyme Syndicate. So Ice-T flew him out, and he came back with Buckwild for a few dates. That’s how we three met. That’s how my relationship with Diggin’ started. And that’s where the D.I.T.C. history starts. After the Source Tour, me and Buck started doing demos. It wasn’t no, “Yo, you wanna get down with us?” I went uptown to Buck’s crib and we just started doing demos, early Word…Life shit. We had three, four versions of records like “O-Zone.” Buck is the unsung hero of Diggin’; he got like 50 plaques in our studio—the most of anyone. But Word…Life was his coming out party.

I didn’t meet anybody else until I got the album deal on Wild Pitch. I hadn’t met Big L, Fat Joe or Diamond D. I hadn’t met Show or A.G. yet, but they were already together. Finesse had put Show & A.G. together. That was some crazy shit; Finesse and A.G. had gone to different high schools. Somehow Finesse heard that A.G. was the nicest in his high school. A.G. heard Finesse was the nicest at his high school. This is a time when people used to go up to each other’s high school and battle. So ‘Ness and A. got busy. Sidebar, they battled DMX too. But that’s another story.

Big L, you know about: once Finesse heard him, he was like “I gotta let Show and Diamond hear him.” This kid is in high school and, next thing you know, L got a deal on Columbia. And Show and Finesse are the executive producers of his album. It’s just crazy, man. I love this life: you never know how things are gonna unfold. How destiny plays a path.

Fat Joe happened because Diamond D is a genius. He seen something in Joe. Sidenote: the only person I never been around too much is Diamond. Diamond never even produced a record for me and I just realized that recently. Man, he never did a solo joint for me. But Diamond is Diamond, and he is the O.G. of the crew. And I don’t mean in age, but in stature. He can’t do nothing wrong for me; it’s nothing but respect.

So, back to Joe: he was in the streets, wilin’, and Diamond was like, “Yo, you need to get into this music shit.” Diamond just saw something in him. But Joe wasn’t hearing it right away, because his brothers and his mans was still in the streets. Then he started going to Finesse’s shows. From his mouth, it quickly became “Finesse, you’re the best rapper” at that time. But really it hit home when he realized, “Oh shit, you can make a living off this? Like this shit is possible?” It became what he wanted to do. But Joe said from jump “I want to be a star, I wanted this.” He created that. He wanted super stardom from day one.

That never bothered you?

O.C.: That actually helped us.

You figured it elevated the crew.

O.C.: Yeah. Because none of us can run from that D.I.T.C. brand. Not even him. I don’t care what he did with Terror Squad or Remy Ma; he’s always tagged with D.I.T.C. Every question from this magazine to the nondescript magazine that you’ve never heard of that did an interview with him, always ask him about D.I.T.C. He can never escape that. None of us. So it’s all love.

Here’s the funny thing, though. Before Joe dropped “All The Way Up,” there was talks of a D.I.T.C. tour. And people’s fronting on the bread. Fast forward a year after that shit went Platinum, and people like, “Yo, ‘Ness. Can we still work on that?” And Finesse is like, “You know the prices went up, right?” On top of that, the billing has to be Fat Joe featuring D.I.T.C. now. And It’s supposed to be like that. I’d be happy to take his scraps.

Even still, I feel like it’s my time to wear the D.I.T.C. brand on my back. I’m doing what Sean P did for Boot Camp. Everybody in D.I.T.C. has had the chance to lead: Finesse, Diamond, Show & AG. I feel like it’s my time now. That’s why I’m following up [Same Moon Same Sun] “1st Phase” with “2nd Phase: Road to Perdition.” There’s an appetite out there. I know it sounds insensitive, but Big L brought worth to the brand by dying. Nobody asked for that. That sounds ugly, but it’s the truth; the ugly truth. So I actually call us “D.I.T.C. Immortals” now. I tag everything D.I.T.C. Immortals. We didn’t know what we was. We just was making music. But this shit is special, man. You can’t talk to the dead. So I’m gonna keep creating as long as I keep breathing.

Speak your piece in the comments below or get the conversation started over at the UGHH forum.

David Banner’s journey in music is like a boomerang; first thrown in the mid-‘90s. Forming the down home Mississippi duo Crooked Lettaz (with Kamikaze) at around that time, he gave footing to the argument that The ‘Sip had something to say. When Grey Skies came out, it changed everything.

Hits like “Get Crunk” and “Firewater” were underground classics and propelled a young David Banner to temporary fame. It was a window of time pushing him to make a decision about where his career was heading; and from there he chose to ink a deal with Universal Records after perhaps the biggest song of his career, “Like A Pimp” (with Lil’ Flip), blew up.

Years later (and after more mainstream success), Banner continued to find himself through life and his music. He was underground, went mainstream, and then began easing himself back into what he had started. It’s not that he ever lost his message, but it never seemed like he was in the right space. During a recent interview with UGHH, the Jackson (or Jack-Town as they call it in the South), Mississippi native explained why now everything is coming full circle for him.

Recently releasing his latest seventh solo studio album The God Box, David Banner ended his seven-year hiatus from music with some really “Jammin’” tunes. The LP incorporates the easy-listening, 808-based splendor he’s commercially known for and the conscious lyrical messaging his more contemporary image holds. It’s like preaching the gospel over a live band with the boomerang returning right on time.

It’s been a while since you’ve put out an LP. What’s it like just putting out music again and getting that feeling that you’re going to be presenting something to the public that they’re going to consume?

Psychologically it’s crazy because there’s good and bad aspects of it. When you put out an album, there’s this fever for people to want to be around you or your phone to start ringing again. You can’t walk through the grocery story without being stopped a million times—which I’ve been homeless before, so that’s a good problem to have—but [there’s] so much information and so many people calling and texting.

I’m a more zen-like, peaceful person now, and I’m finding that true success is about centering yourself and centering your spirit. When you have an album out it’s not an easy thing to do. Like I said, I came out to the wilderness to do this interview. What rappers do that?

I’ve talked about this before; I so wanted to tell Dave Chappelle he wasn’t the only one that wanted to go to Africa. I just couldn’t afford it at the time [laughs].


I just ran to Baltimore. That’s all my frequent flyer miles could take me to [laughs]. What I’m saying though is that it’s awesome. This is the first time in my career that I’m starting to hear the talk I want to hear. I’m finally starting to hear “classic album” talk. I’m starting to hear people respect me for my lyrical depth. As many hit records I’ve produced—from Lil Wayne to Chris Brown to Maroon 5 to Quincy Jones—I’m finally getting respect for my production even from all the stuff that I’ve done.

You mentioned being able to do more of what you want on this album. How did you decide what you wanted to present fans on this LP?

Ummm. It’s funny, man, and I don’t really have a deep answer for it. I just write about how I am mentally. I’m a different person now. I’m sober now, I’m not high, so I think my thought process is more clear. I’m a little bit more focused. I’m able to reach places through meditation that I could only get to by smoking weed or being drunk or some shit. I just talk about where I am. I have a deep vested interest in the salvation of melanated people of this world, the safety of melanated people of this world. The treatment of African people is similar all over this fucking Earth, and why is that? Nobody seems to care. The fact that I can make jammin’ music that people can dance to, study to.

I think one of the underrated elements of the album is that it’s very Mississippi, and it gets that way heavy on “My Uzi.” You feature Big K.R.I.T. and he’s someone—at least in interviews I’ve done—who’s point to you as someone that’s been a big influence on him. Explain that bond and where that came from.

Well the thing is, I learn from K.R.I.T., also. K.R.I.T. is a special being. He’s a special person—and to be honest with you, if I could’ve created in a lab the next person to come after me, I don’t think I could’ve created a Big K.R.I.T. I couldn’t have hoped for a better person. Just his spirit and how much he loves the culture. I haven’t met too many people who real life love the culture as much as he does. When K.R.I.T. hears wack shit he gets mad. I be like dawg, calm down. It’s a song, bruh. He real life gets mad. He be like, “Big bruh, you see what they doing to the music?” [I’m like] “It’s alright man, chill out bro.”

The thing I like about K.R.I.T. is there’s an underlining competition between me and him, but it’s not an emasculating competition. It’s not I want to embarrass him or I want to see him harm or hurt his feelings. It’s like it’s two alpha males who really care and are really emotional about this form of music. He makes me better and I hope I make him better.

I was supposed to be the only person on “My Uzi.” I told K.R.I.T. I wanted him to jump on the album and see what he liked and as soon as he heard Pimp C’s voice he was like, “That one.”

Of course [laughs].

When I wrote the first verse, I didn’t write it from a competition standpoint or nothing like that because I don’t compete against other Black people anymore. It was more like a story-type of thing, and then when K.R.I.T. jumped on there and did what he did I was like, “Hell nah. I’m not going to get nobody else get me on this track.” I got on the third verse and stepped it up. I didn’t write it from the perspective of somebody else being there, so the song had another feel. If you end up listening to the record, the music rise, the track rise and keeps going and then just when you think the song is over, we took you to Never Never Land.

I also want to tell people that at the end of “My Uzi,” that’s not a sample. John Dempsey, who scored Passion of the Christ [and all of the Ironman movies], that’s an actual, original composition he made and composed for me. That’s not a sample. I paid for that.

Also in the Mississippi realm you have Tito Lopez on “Black Fist.” He’s always been another guy who does conscious-based hip-hop and is super appropriate for this track. How does he fit in and also, how does this track and even album fit into today’s political climate, or at least how you see it?

One of the things I truly believe is that Tito Lopez is one of the greatest lyricists in hip-hop. Period. I will put Tito line-for-line against any rapper on this earth. For me to be able to help him bring his perspective to the world is something that I’m honored to do. Tito’s outlook on the world in so many cases matches how I see it.

I think when you have two people on the track who are coming from different perspectives, but believe in the same thing, it helps to bring a certain level of synergy. He’s able to bring one perspective and bring people to the table; I bring people to the table and we talk about the matter at hand.

Actually, I think Tito had the dopest line I ever heard and definitely one of my favorite lines on the album. He said—and I’ve never really thought about it—he said, “We have to play where they lynched us.” If you think about when Black people would get killed or the [Ku Klux Klan] would come for their family—white people never did it in their neighborhoods. They would always go to the Black community.

Imagine if your uncle got hung from a tree and his kids got to go play in they yard the next day or there was a burning cross outside. Think about the psychological ramification of having to play in the same places, in the same woods, the same yard that your people were killed or raped or murdered. That is a constant reminder of how America feels about you. Tito Lopez was able to say that and encapsulate that in one line. I think it was epic.

Yeah, he’s one of those guys. Do you feel though that emcees are more pressured to rap consciously today due to the increasing amount of stories coming out about police brutality, our president and racism in general?

I don’t really know because the three artists you’re talking about now, that’s all they know and all they have been. It’s a way of life for us. We don’t know the pressures that rappers who don’t historically speak about those types of issues [face] because we’ve always talked about it.

If you go back to my first album, I talked about [George] Bush. Actually, with the exception of my second album, most of my albums have always been spiritual, more than anything. So I don’t know the pressures than they have, but I do think our people are waking up.

I think America’s waking up in general and that’s what I was telling people. I thought [that was] the positive aspect of [Donald] Trump. [It’s] that Trump is ripping the veil off of America’s face and showing America what everybody’s already known—maybe besides a whole section of white people—where America stands as it pertains to race relations and the value of life outside of white people. You’re better able to deal with social issues and speak the truth when you really put it on the table. I think with Trump’s presidency, it was thrown in everybody’s face. Black people were basically like, “This is what we’ve been telling y’all since we came over here.”

You literally just went into my next question, bringing up Trump and the comments you made right after he was elected. I was going to ask if you regret that, but it sounds like you’re still behind that, and I understand why. It reveals what certain white people think…

That’s historically what [white] people have been thinking the whole time is the thing I think we don’t put together. Then you’ve got to understand that they were taught that behavior from somewhere. For them to feel bold enough to say it means in a lot of cases those parents also echo those same emotions.

Not to make a lot of this about K.R.I.T. but he said something like that to me once. He said, in Mississippi, you know when white people don’t like you by making it clearly known. Is that true in your experiences growing up there as well?

I do see a difference. I always tell people that white people in Mississippi are the greatest white people on the earth and people ask me why and I tell them, “If a white person likes you in Mississippi, they will die for you. If they don’t like you, they’ll try to kill you; but at least you’ll know where you are.”

Do you think things are playing out like you thought they would since making that statement in November?

Of course. And now people are seeing what I’m saying. A lot of people thought I was crazy and now people are saying, “You were right, Banner.” No matter what somebody does, it is still our responsibility to react in the proper way. We can get all the signs in the world, but if we don’t stand for ourselves it’s going to historically stay the same way.

I wanna take you back for a moment because I’m a big Crooked Lettaz fan and I love Grey Skies. “Get Crunk” is a classic, and I’d love to know about how you and Kamikaze came together with Pimp C for it and your opinion of his legacy.

The thing is, at the time we did “Get Crunk,” Pimp was and will always remain a folk hero to our people. Pimp C is bigger than rap to me. When I first did “Get Crunk,” it was amazing even being around someone we looked up to—that talked like we talk and went through the same experiences and were interested in the same things.

After “Like A Pimp” came out, I started writing him in jail and we became friends, all the way up until his death. Just to have that man in my life… I am proud of myself, but no matter how big I get, I’m still a fan. Snoop is my friend, but I’m still a fan. Scarface is a mentor; I’m still a fan. Pimp C was a close friend, still a fan. I’m just honored to be able to know them. I’m so happy that I was able to find a way to get him or get his voice on this album.

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


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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Anthony “Krayzie Bone” Henderson is attempting to explain the surreal loyalty of hardcore Bone Thugs-n-Harmony followers. Over the last 24 years, the defiant (and at times downright weird) five-man Cleveland rap crew—who unceremoniously crashed the exclusive East Coast/West Coast party with their groundbreaking and controversial 1993 debut EP Creepin on ah Come Up—has translated their nearly 30 million albums sold run into a bankable, consistent touring operation. During a Bone show, it’s not at all shocking to witness locked-in apostles proudly displaying BTNH tattoos as they passionately recite the group’s trademark rapid-fire, what-the-hell-are-they-saying??? linguistics, as if it were some ride-or-die pledge of allegiance.

Krayzie, the de facto Bone frontman and producer, is gearing up for the release of New Waves: a long-in-the-making duet album alongside the group’s most irreverent and infamous member Bryon “Bizzy Bone” McCane. The charismatic tag-team now goes under the no-frills name Bone Thugs. And they can both testify that the cult of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony is real. It’s the kind of dogged fandom lodged somewhere between kabuki-esque ‘70s hardrock behemoths Kiss, and iconic Staten Island kung-fu obsessed hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan. Krayzie is as surprised as anyone that the late Eazy-E’s favorite Ruthless Records standouts are still packing them in.

“People still want to see Bone Thugs-n-Harmony just like Snoop Dogg,” Krayzie reflects of the group’s indelible connection with the fans. “We can tour forever. I’m even shocked sometimes that the fans are still coming out. Sometimes I think, ‘Ain’t y’all tired of hearing this old shit yet?’ [laughs]. I even say it to myself sometimes. I just did a solo tour in Europe that was pretty damn good. So that Bone legacy has been benefiting us for a very long time.” 

But without the assistance of revisionist history, critics and hip-hop zealots early on had little use for Bizzy Bone, Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Wish Bone, and Flesh-N-Bone. Their triple time, tongue-twisting flow was deemed a mere gimmick. And while they were fully capable of writing melodic, heartfelt anthems about celebrating loved ones we have lost (“Tha Crossroads”), finding redemption beyond the streets (“Days of Our Livez”), and staying grounded through fame and fortune (“Look into My Eyes”), they faced criticism for their less pristine content.

If you were to actually take Bone’s records seriously, you would swear they were weed smoking, devil worshipping, dope dealing, welfare check-cashing thugs. On two-fisted statements like “Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” “Foe tha Love of $” and “1st of Tha Month” they foresaw Trap Music before Young Jeezy knew what was good. And yet that over-the-top balance worked, as Bone Thugs-n-Harmony became major crossover stars, hitting the studio with everyone from the Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. (“Not many artists can say that,” Bizzy Bone glows.) to pop siren Mariah Carey.

Which brings us back to the newly christened Bone Thugs. Krayzie and Bizzy swear that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony have not broken up. They view their offshoot act as a dream project for the fans. Sure, it could be argued that Bone Thugs’ New Waves should have dropped 15 years earlier to ensure maximum commercial impact. “But it was never about that,” says an animated Bizzy. “I think it was just time. We’ve been on the road since Flesh got out of jail in ’09. We’ve been on a mission. A lot of comments from our fans we read on social media…that just guided us in this direction. Organically, it all just came together with all the elements and parts.”

So what does a Bone-affiliated album sound like in 2017? UGHH sat down with Krayzie and Bizzy to discuss everything from the evolution of New Waves and their place in hip-hop folklore to why they like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s chances of making the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Read on.

There was a time when Bone fans thought this project would never come to fruition. What finally pushed you guys to make New Waves a reality? 

Krayzie: Me and B have been talking about doing this for a long time ever since we recorded a song together on [1995’s E. 1999 Eternal] called “Die, Die, Die.” Since then we have always tossed around the idea of us doing a duets album. At one point the album title was called Ebony & Ivory [laughs].

Now that’s an album title…

Krayzie Bone: No joke. Ebony & Ivory was out there for a while. Then time presented itself for us to get together and finally do it. We knew that the fans love Bone, but they understand the dynamics of the group and where the harmonies come from. With us two coming together, the fans know that they will be hearing classic Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and more.

Bizzy Bone: And E One made it very easy for us. Our team let me do me because I be off on other shit sometimes [laughs]. It’s like our team is watching both of us evolve into better artists. They knew we were serious about the music. Me and Krayzie weren’t sitting at the negotiation table talking about, “We are going to need $1.7 million for this one!” We took this album very seriously.

Krayzie: We have so much history with not only E One Music, but with Alan Grunblatt (President of E One Music). We have so much history with him from our early Bone days. This is the same dude we’ve had all our success with our whole career. Everything we’ve ever done has been successful with Alan. So I’m comfortable with knowing that our project is in good hands.

So what does this project mean for the future of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony?

Krayzie: It’s still the same…we are definitely still together. The reason we took on the name Bone Thugs is because this is not the whole group; this is Krayzie Bone and Bizzy Bone. But sound wise we are still Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. We wanted to give this project a different look. That’s where the album title comes from: New Waves. This album is something that will add to the Bone Thugs-n-Harmony legacy.

A lot of Bone fans have been comparing the Krayzie/Bizzy dynamic to the Wu’s Raekwon and Ghostface. Do you agree?

Bizzy: That’s exactly what I see…that same type of effortless chemistry. And the fans have been waiting for this for what it seems like forever. It’s just the right time.

Let’s talk about your single “If Heaven Had a Cell Phone,” which features Tank. Such a bold title doesn’t leave much to the imagination. How did the track come together?

Krayzie: The beat came to us already titled. And the title is crazy, so we knew we were going to stick with it. When I heard the song I knew that we needed real R&B on it. No Auto-Tune, but real singing. And who better than Tank? He came in and killed it. “If Heaven Had a Cell Phone” is basically us imagining if we really had the opportunity to call up God and talk to him. What would that conversation be like?

Bizzy: Just the entire idea of “If Heaven Had a Cell Phone” took us to the next level. People know what Bone should come out with. They know what we should sound like. This album was put together with the hands of real artists. The struggle and the strife you hear is just where we come from. We ain’t bougie, word to Migos [laughs].

When you are performing some of the older Bone material such as “Thuggish Ruggish Bone,” “1st of Tha Month,” and “Crossroads” what instantly comes to mind?

Krayzie: Just how crazy it is that we were so young and on that level lyrically. We created our style just from being around each other every day. We definitely had influences, but we took those influences and created our own thing. We created a sub-culture within the hip-hop and not many groups have been able to do that.

Bizzy: I think about the fact that I’m still doing the songs that I wrote when I was 18-years-old. I’ve been experiencing it for years and years and years. So each time you are taken back to your past. It’s not just one big biopic. Those classic songs are something we experience on a daily. Every single show we experience it. It’s now a part of our lives. 

Krayzie, you have been pretty open about your personal battle with the autoimmune disease sarcoidosis, which took the life of legendary comedian Bernie Mac. Can you give us an update on how you are doing at the moment?

Krayzie: I’ve been doing good. I have check-ups every three months. My lungs are getting healthier and healthier. I’m just thankful for that because it could have went another way. It can be a very serious disease if it’s not taken care of. I still have to take prescription medicine just to make sure everything goes well. Without my lungs, it’s pretty hard to rap this fast onstage. Thankfully, I’m still able to do what I love to do.

Bizzy: Can I just say Krayzie Bone is a genius? You hear it throughout this album. He has that West Coast and East Coast, and some of the South in him. I’ve watched him evolve. Krayzie is one of the greats. Krayzie was doing all of our live show tapes when we first started. He’s the genius behind Bone Thugs-n-Harmony technically. He was literally our first tech dude.

Krayzie, what comes to mind when you hear such unmitigated praise from your Bone brethren?

Krayzie: What can you say to that? I mean, Bizzy is one of the coldest rappers to ever pick up a mic. Period.

So far we’ve seen Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, N.W.A., and Tupac Shakur all get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony will be eligible in 2019 for the Hall, which is based in your hometown of Cleveland. Do you like your chances?

Krayzie: There’s a great chance we could make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s something we have been looking towards for a long time. We are coming up on the 25-year mark. We bow down to N.W.A., but we feel like we are right behind them…right on their heels. That’s one of the reasons me and Bizzy wanted to come together and do this album.

We want to let everybody know that we are still contending out here. If you look around you will see that everybody is doing Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. We brought this to the table 24 years ago. They are doing us. We birthed this whole era…the good and the bad. So we got to get out here and solidify our careers and just go out like the legends that we are.

Bizzy: We’ve been on this journey together. This is what we do…make music together. When you hear a new song like “Waves” (which features all five original members of Bone) you are listening to years of us touring together. We do our records every night and people love them each time because we put a little different spice to it. We love what we do.

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

There are fewer things more West Coast than when you put the needle to the wax on MC Eiht’s “All For The Money.” As soon as the sped-up sample of Tyrone Davis’ “In The Mood” kicks off the classic Compton cut, it’s nothing but smile-inducing for any fan of early ‘90s Gangsta rap and ‘70s Funk.

“Jeah,” Eiht utters in one of the smoothest renditions of his infamous ad-lib. “Now that’s some of that real gangsta shit / Comin’ from an original n***a from the Compton streets,” he subsequently raps.

Nearly 25 years and a myriad of albums later, not much has changed for the emcee also known as Tony Smallz. He’s still got that rugged CPT street hustler’s voice, the smooth stuttering flow, and rhymes that’ll make you think you’re the victim of a stick-up in ‘91, yet don’t sound a day dated.

MC Eiht Which Way Iz West Album Cover

MC Eiht released his latest album Which Way Iz West in early June and on it, fans get a taste of that classic West Coast vibe with a little bit of a twist. The legendary emcee enlisted the production services of DJ Premier, which at first glance may make some scratch their heads. Has Eiht gone New York on us?


Nah, B. Premo went full G-Funk. You can hear it on the project’s first two singles, handled by the Brooklyn deejay and SP1200 master. It’s particularly poignant on “Represent Like This,” where at around the 50-second mark you can hear that classic synthesizer begin to peek its head out. There’s also a video for it, where one can match the refreshing tough guy beat with scenes of Eiht and Westside Connection’s WC C-walking in some fresh Chuck Taylors (of course).

It all fits perfectly into what MC Eiht is trying to do. UGHH recently spoke with the Compton rap pioneer and conversed about his latest work, his beginnings in hip-hop, and even his friendships with other West Coast legends like Spice 1, Tupac, and The Outlawz.

Which Way Iz West will be your 13th solo-ish studio album release. How did this one all come together, and what were you trying to accomplish on it?

Basically, I was just doing tracks trying to get back into the state of hip-hop at the time. The state of hip-hop, in my opinion, wasn’t doing so well as far as the West Coast was concerned. I know we had people like The Game and Kendrick [Lamar] who was representing Compton and all, but I just felt like we weren’t being represented like we usually were as far as the music is concerned or people wasn’t interested or the fans or whatever.

I just basically went back to the drawing table and started listening to raps from my days and what sustained us and created the foundation of West Coast music. That kind of gave me the title too.

MC Eiht & Premo

DJ Premier handled some of the production on this. Ironically, I saw the both of you perform together at SXSW back in 2013, which was a really ill show. What’s your working and personal relationships like with him, and why did you enlist him on this LP?

I’ve been knowing Premier since my career started, so we’ve always kept in touch and been good friends. He worked on a few of my things when I worked at Sony. I did a couple of remixes with a couple of his artists. He had called me to do the Blaq Poet remix, and from there we just reconnected. He asked me what I had been doing lately. I told him I was just in the studio messing around and wasn’t really geared up for anything, so he told me to just start sending him music so he could hear what I was doing. I started sending him tracks and he liked it so he was like, “Let’s just do a project.”

I saw the video for “Represent Like This,” and it definitely took me back to some older gangsta shit. Do you hope younger fans and emcees listen to this and do you feel it’s a good representation of that ‘90s gangsta shit?

With trying to create that sound and meeting with my producer Brenk Sinatra, he came to me with music geared toward what we used to do in the yesterdays. My focus was to try to bring his sound, mix it with Premier—and then since the younger generation were just figuring out MC Eiht because of the Kendrick Lamar success with “M.A.A.D. City” and Menace II Society being broadcast every other day on cable channels, I felt that was a good way to reconnect with the younger audience.

This is your first project since Keep It Hood, which was released four years ago. How have you and your music changed since then?

I just think being able to construct a project on my own time and on my own pace I would need to dive into the project and make it as good as possible without just dropping material just to be relevant. I think that I really sat down and concentrated on what the subject matter was, what I wanted to speak on, and I had time to choose particular music I wanted to fit the project. I think just having the time to grow over the years wrapped in hip-hop…it enabled me to concentrate on making a better project and discipline myself on subjects I wanted to talk about and just not be too simple.

You mentioned Kendrick. Do you feel that guys like him, YG and Nipsey Hussle are bringing back more pride to the Compton/L.A. hip-hop scene in coordination with guys like yourself?

It gives us a better look to try to keep hip-hop and music going as far as Compton is concerned. The stable of artists we’ve had have always been able to be relevant. I think guys like Kendrick coming along, The Game, YG—they’re able to keep the foundation of what we started back in the days and then [to be] able to reach out to cats like myself to get on projects…it just shows the respect of them wanting to keep the Compton foundation of hip-hop going.

I feel great about young cats that represent Compton—who can represent Compton—in the sense of what we were doing.

The first track “Shut Em Down” on this album features The Outlawz. I know you did a lot of touring with Tupac and them back in the days. What has your relationship been like since meeting them back then and have you remained close over the years?

I try to stay close and sustain lifelong friendships with cats in the music business because it was something [that] people didn’t think it would last this long. Anybody I got down with or toured with or whatever back in the days, I just tried to keep all relationships cemented. It’s just a respect I have for them as artists and vice verse. You never know when you might need a favor or a beat or a verse whatever. Just having that relationship with cats like that over the years while on the road with them enables you to have that connection with dudes.

MC Eiht

Did you meet them before meeting Tupac or was it the other way around?

I met Tupac first ‘cause I was doing the Menace II Society movie and also I had done a couple of shows with Pac. I knew Pac before I knew them but we had grew close, too.

With Pac, what was one of the most profound things he ever told you?

He used to tell me back when he was in jail that he used to listen to my records and that I was always one cat that never tried to switch up to conform to what was going on. It was just a thing for him to tell me to just stay true to who you are as far as MC Eiht and where you come from. You represent music. If you can do that, you’ll always have longevity and be able to sustain that. One of my main goals was just to try to stay humble and do what I do and not try to get out of pocket into nobody else’s lane just to
be relevant.

Taking you back even further than that—from the beginning—how did Compton’s Most Wanted come together and how did you all meet?

Well basically, me and [Tha Chill] knew each other since junior high school, so with that, Chill used to beatbox and I used to rap. We kind of created Compton’s Most Wanted with each other because we also used to bang from the same neighborhood. We was already connected like that, so we just started off like that and so Chill used to live across the street from [MC] Ren.

Ren’s people were dating this dude who was trying to be a singer, so from there [he] had us meeting with Lonzo [Williams] and DJ Slip. That’s how we ran across DJ Slip. That’s how we basically founded Compton’s Most Wanted. [We knew] each other from childhood. Then in the early days working in the studio day and night, not knowing what hit records was. We was just making tapes: me, Chill and Slip and [DJ Mike T] and Boom [Bam]. That’s how we formed.

This might be a weird question, but when you all started to rap, was it always going to have that gangsta element? You guys were from before the N.W.A.-era, where it was more electronic-based so you could really go any way musically at the time.

Yeah [L.A.’s] music was, like you said, technotronic, electric—Uncle Jamm’s Army, Egyptian Lover—that type of stuff. That’s what we were on and [Eazy-E] basically opened that door. We were banging and we were seeing the crack sales and shootouts and all that was going on in the neighborhood everyday, but we never even envisioned doing records and talking about it.

We used to have a homie that would make TDK tapes and sell them throughout the neighborhood. They would be rapping over Whodini beats or whoever beat and they would be talking about the neighborhood—“Lil Loc got jacked last night when a battering ram came through and pushed down the dope house” or “The homies got shot at.” From there, that’s where the street music started forming for Compton. Dudes like Toddy Tee, Mixmaster Ken, Mixmaster Spade—those type of dudes were selling tapes out they trunk like Too $hort did. That’s basically how Compton rap started forming.

How big was it for you to see Eazy go from being a semi-big time drug dealer to someone who turned those experiences into music and eventually getting paid for it?

Yeah, just to be able to see him get on and see all the success he had basically made us go, “Maybe this can work for us, too. Maybe our music and what we’re talking about, too can get out there.” Eazy had opened the door for cats like us to be able to put our music out there. We never envisioned being as big or trying to outdo. We just kind of figured that if Eazy and N.W.A. could do it then we should be able to do it too, especially since we were coming to it from a different side, different angle as far as Compton’s Most Wanted is concerned. Just because of the success of Eazy and N.W.A., it just opened up a lot of channels for other rappers to be able to succeed also.

“The Murda Show” is one of my favorite collaboration tracks you’ve ever done. How did you and Spice 1 come together, because in that era a lot of people considered your content and sonic lane pretty inseparable?

[We met] from doing Menace II Society. Jive had the soundtrack rights, so when it was time to do the song—they were putting together the soundtrack—I did [“Streiht Up Menace”], he did [“N***a Gots No Heart”]. From there—and producing the song and being in the movie—Jive just came to me and asked me to produce a song. I said “Okay,” and from there I flew to Oakland, and that’s where we created “The Murda Show.” That was the first time I met Spice when I flew out up to Oakland. Everything was cool and copacetic, so from there we’ve been cool for all this time and we’ve had a relationship in the music business.

I’m an Ohio native and usually when I interview West Coast legends I ask about G-Funk influence. A lot of what Dre and DJ Quik, etc. sampled was a lot of Ohio Funk and Soul—whether that be the Isley Brothers, Bootsy Collins, Roger Troutman, The Ohio Players… Samples from those artists appear on your first couple of albums, and I just want to know if they were personally big influences for you even before getting into rap.

Basically it was the music [that] cats played. My parents played Isaac Hayes, The O’Jays, and all the stuff like that, so I was just growing up in the household listening to that music. I was able to go outside and see the cats on the block with their low-riders and cars. That was the music they played—stuff like The Dramatics, The Isley Brothers, The Meters, that type of stuff.

That’s where the direction of music came for us, and when it was time for me to start doing records. I would always suggest those type of records because those were the records I grew up on.

You’ve always had this flow that was way different than what has come out and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been a fan of your catalog. What made you want to do that kind of smooth and beat-following flow, especially early on in your career?

I just wanted people to be able to understand my delivery. That was one of my points when I starting in music: I wanted people to understand every point and where my raps were directed or designed to be slow, stutter-stepped so people could be able to focus on the lyrics instead of the music. That was my main thing because I wanted people to know what I was talking about for those who didn’t know where we was coming from as far as Compton, and didn’t know what the slang was. It was so they could figure out what we was talking about. Everything had to be slow and slow-grooved and melodic.

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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.


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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The studio can be a place of utter mystery for some rap fans.

For many, the idea of going to “the stu” is synonymous with going to the club. It’s a much more exclusive venue, though, directly related to who you know. An elusive cave of luxury, the studio in its most romantic form boasts a scene full of empty liquor bottles, ashtrays full of blunt guts and braggadocios Instagram posts not-so-subtly begging to be taken.

While having a good time is a part of what comes with the territory of being a buzzing musician working in hip-hop, for an artist like Gizzle, the studio is a sanctuary; a second home and a place to get down to work, ironically, in silence.

As a tried and true studio dweller, it’s a place she visits every single day, and quite often, her productive late nights turn into mornings without even a glance at the clock. Having spent the majority of her career sharpening her swords and lending her talents as a songwriter to a high caliber laundry list of industry mainstays, the studio represents sacred ground. However, while she has shined behind the scenes for years, working with the likes of Kanye West, Puff Daddy, Pharrell, Timbaland, Teddy Riley, Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, YG, Travis Scott, Meek Mill, Trey Songz and more, she’s now ready to invite a different element of her artistry to step into the spotlight: her own career as a solo artist.

For those just becoming acquainted with Gizzle, it’s clear she prefers her work to speak for itself. She won’t casually namedrop any of the aforementioned artists into conversation just because she can. I know firsthand, considering we spoke for an hour and I had to drag out names at the tail end of the convo—prying to see if Diddy showed her love on her new project (he did) and ask who else she’s previously worked with encouraged her individual career (many, with Ty Dolla $ign offering her an “I told you so” moment once she finally took the leap). With over a decade in music under her belt and experiencing her favorite artists becoming her mentors, the next step organically presented itself in the form of an on-the-spot creative challenge that evolved into her first solo release.

Releasing her debut project 7 Days in Atlanta further proved for Gizzle that the studio is more closely related to a creative mindset than it is an opportunity to schmooze for social media street cred. That is part of why she’s been able to accomplish as much as she has. After years of making ripples, Gizzle is getting ready to make waves.

Born and bred in Los Angeles, the 28-year-old artist first got her footing living her artistry as a teenager, writing lyrics on her homework and wondering where exactly her pen game could take her next. Now that Gizzle’s long-awaited debut as a solo artist has finally arrived, she’s about to find out.

What made you want to finally release a solo project? Why now?

The anticipation was building for a while, and I didn’t really have a chance to get my message across. I wanted to be able to say the things that I feel can only be said from my voice. While working with so many people and having the blessing to be a part of so many different people’s careers, I’m still essentially helping other people tell their story.

Eventually, I got to the point where I was just going to have to speak for myself and put that same kind of effort and energy into my own product or projects; make my own legacy. I started off by rapping, and I’ve just been rediscovering my love and passion for that. From an artist’s standpoint, songwriting has been so good to me and is such an important part of who I am. I enjoy it so much and I love being able to speak from different perspectives and help people get out whatever their ideas are and their dreams are. But I think it’s very important for me to step in and say things that I always don’t get to say because you can’t always say or do what you want when it’s on someone else’s behalf, you know?

How did the idea come about to create 7 Days in Atlanta?

We know that a lot can happen in a week. A lot can happen in a day. I planted the seed for the idea last Summer, and the reason I was thinking about it and talking about it was because it was something I wanted to do with other artists. Like maybe we can just go somewhere dope and make a whole project out of the trip. I planted the seed and let it sit there for a while, but last December, I was in an interesting place creatively and personally. I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to go to Atlanta for a week and create.”

We literally locked in just seven days straight where we woke up and went straight to the studio. At the end of the week, I realized that this was the same idea I had from six months ago, and I did it without even really thinking about it.

Going through the material, I realized we really had something there and it was bigger than Atlanta. I’m very familiar with Atlanta and I’m comfortable there, so it’s like a second home to me in a lot of ways. Creatively, I just always find freedom there. Not to mention, the food and the people, too. I have a pretty bad addiction to lemon pepper shrimp, and it’s basically all I ate while I was there. I wanted to figure out which place has the best lemon pepper shrimp, and while I was waiting for my food one day I got the idea for “Single And Poppin’” because my friend and I were just joking and catching up. She asked me about my ex; I just answered, “I’m single and poppin’!” We started chanting it at the bar and making it snap. When we got back to the studio, the idea just stuck. It made a lot of sense too.

So, with the songs stemming from a specific experience, how did “Melanin” come together, for one example?

For “Melanin,” that song was a little bit more focused and less spontaneous than “Single and Poppin’.” We had some girls over to the studio, and we got into a little bit of a debate over the Black experience in America. They actually weren’t Black and they were saying the N-word, and I just wasn’t with that. So I told them, “I don’t know if you probably hang with other people where that may be cool, but I’m not into that.” They weren’t, but they were of Middle Eastern descent and I just felt like they didn’t identify with being Black, so I just didn’t understand why they felt the need to say the word so much, you know what I’m saying?

I didn’t want to discourage these girls or leave a bad taste in their mouths, but I never want to sit idly with something that’s not appropriate, especially if I have a chance to educate or help someone get a different perspective. Although I felt a little bit shitty over the situation, since they got mad and felt bad, I just wanted to make a song that could make all people—but specifically my people—feel good when they wake up. I wanted to let people know that it’s okay to be Black, and it’s okay to be proud. We see that dialogue more now, especially with movies like Get Out, but even though it’s more of a conversation, I just wanted to make something that would be a reminder to my people to feel good about being Black. You can feel how personal it is and that’s not just specific to being Black, it’s specific to being proud of who you are and where you come from and take into account your entire history. This song just kind of wrote itself.

For you, how does your environment relate to your creative process?

Because I’m a creative and I work on a lot of different things, in order to make myself a priority, I have to put my own pressure on myself and put that fire under me. I’ll be doing seven days in Denver next, and I’m so excited.

I feel like, of course, you always have to be in the right mind space, but just living life is very much a part of my creative process. If I’m not maxing out every day and doing everything I can to really be living—enjoying myself and having a full life—then it’s hard for me to be inspired. That’s why I’m able to be inspired when I’m traveling, because I love traveling. This will be my first time in Denver, but I know that things are going to come up and it’ll result in really good music. I’m making a conscious effort to create something special, and from that point on, I’ll always have an ongoing connection to that city. Denver and I will always have that little baby we created.

Why Denver?

I picked Denver because it’s a city that’s pioneering in a lot of ways socially, especially with the legalization of marijuana. I feel like it’s just an up-and-coming city. There’s culture there but nobody off the top is like, “Oh I’m going to go make my album there,” so I feel like that’s important. It’s also a place that called me. I’m excited to see whatever it has to offer.

Do you think that there is a pressure to create socially conscious music under Trump’s presidency?

I think if you’re an artist and you’re not making music that reflects the times then you’re doing yourself, your fans, and the culture in general an injustice. Every day that I wake up, my aim is to learn something, to widen my perspective, and to grow as a person. I’m not a conscious rapper, or a backpack rapper or an overly pop rapper. I’m not a preacher. But I do aim to covertly slip some consciousness into my music. If I experience happiness, sadness, love, or injustice, it’s going to be in my music.

Does anything change in your creative process when transitioning from making music for others versus yourself?

What has changed is that I am a bit more selective in the things that I decide to take on. I’m in an interesting place because I’ve been writing songs for so long—primarily in an R&B and a hip-hop space—so I’m trying to do things that challenge me as a writer. That’s easier to do on your own work. When people call me and say, “Hey, Gizzle, what you got for this?” if it’s not something that really excites me, I don’t want to do it. No matter what it does in terms of success or money, if I’m not growing as a person or if I’m feeling like I’m just doing the same thing I was doing last year or even yesterday, I just don’t want to do it. So for me, it’s about finding that balance of doing things that excite me, working with people that I really care for and if I can aide their career in any way, all while challenging myself. I want to grow and get better, so that hasn’t really changed. I have turned down a few things and that can feel really good. Personal legacy has always been number one for me. I want to feel proud of everything that I’m a part of. Doing the 7 Days project is exactly that. It’s something I am excited for and get passionate about every single time. As I grow, it’ll grow. That’s where I’m at.

Being a songwriter and having spent so much time behind the scenes, how is your live performance?

I’ve always been a natural performer, and I love it. The studio is my favorite part, but both are my safe havens. I go to the studio every single day, but putting on a live show is a lot of work in a different way. My live show has definitely gotten better over the past six months alone. I’m just trying to do something that people are going to remember.

I’m most comfortable having my live band, but am working on tailoring the experience the best I can with the resources I have, since you don’t always get to bring a live band with you. It takes conditioning. I have a deeper voice than most people too, so it takes me a little bit of extra time and care to prepare and recover. With 7 Days in Atlanta, I’m performing it in order so it’s been cool to see how it comes to life in the live setting and just coming with that energy. Slowing it down in the middle and then building back up the energy.

What did you learn from your time at SXSW this year?

It’s all about the importance of the live show. There are so many artists performing and every body has their own angle. It’s cool to get down with your peers, discover new talent and see where you fall into the fold. Make new fans along the way and take them on my journey with me. SXSW just fortifies the importance of getting out there, finding a demographic, reaching out to your fans, testing the people and it’s definitely a great investment for a new artist.

For myself, I say that loosely, that I’m a “new” artist. I definitely paid attention to some of the marketing things that newer artists are coming up with down there, so much of it is genius. Everybody doesn’t have a huge budget and you just see people making due with what they have and with a lot of passion. Some people, who didn’t have CDs or anything, would just come up to you and rap. I love that part of the culture. That part of hip-hop is how I first got into the game. I just decided I wanted to rap when I was 11 after a poetry reading I did had people asking for an encore. Whenever that happens in my live show now, it just takes me back and gives me a little confirmation that I am on the right path. So, yeah, that was a moment for me at South By.

With getting your start in music so young, when did you realize this was going to become your career and your life?

I had an aunt that was signed to Snoop Dogg’s [label] when I was like 12 years old, so I got to see that firsthand. I got to see my aunt go from writing raps in my grandma’s house to being on television. So I saw that, coupled with what I felt like was my natural ability and the work that I was willing to do. I always thought it was a plausible thing; seeing those experiences and seeing the growth that I was making just from writing everyday and the response I would get in school. I wrote raps on all my homework so I’d turn in my homework and I’d have to get it back from my teachers, like, ‘hey, my rap is on the back and I need that!’ [Laughs] I’ve always had that kind of encouragement since I was a kid, so it’s always been clear to me that I had a future in music. I’m really grateful for that.

I think because my family has seen that I’m not quitting and I’m not stopping, their respect level has grown for what I do. When I was younger, it’d be like, “So, what college are you going to?” I think as I’ve reached adulthood and accomplished a few things, saying that you’re a rapper at the family reunion isn’t a joke anymore. It’s now all, “that’s my cousin and she raps!”

Is remaining independent an important focus for you right now or would you consider signing with a record label if the fit was right?

I think ownership is important. I wouldn’t entertain a record deal, but I’d entertain a partnership. You can’t do everything by yourself. The goal is to get the music to as many people as possible and to share and spread the message—the love and the light. But owning what you create is very important. I’ve been offered a record deal every year since I was 16 years old, and I haven’t accepted one yet. At this point, I feel like it’s kind of too late, especially with everything that’s available to you now. I’ve been putting my blood, sweat, and tears into this since I was a teenager, so I feel like I should be able to make decisions and be in control of the message. There’s nothing wrong with signing a deal if you have a great label and a good relationship and partnership. For me, it’s always about making sure that I have the choice and the control to say the things that I want to say, and be conscious of the energy that I’m putting out there. The same thing goes with my songwriting. I’ve had chances to be on many different singles that went on to be successful, but for me, personal legacy is everything. I’m not ever going to compromise that. I just want to be able to look back at all of this and be proud of it. That’s why being independent is important for me at least: to be able to show all the business people, the higher ups, and the powers that be what I can do as a businesswoman.

At the end of the day, what’s your main goal?

At the end of this, the goal is always to just be a better human being; to be better than I was yesterday.

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Every artist starts somewhere. For many, their roots lie in making music in the confines of their own bedroom, recording in their closets and reassuring their not-so-convinced mothers that it’ll all pay off or make sense one day. For Philadelphia rapper Chill Moody, that day is getting closer and closer to finally arriving.

While it’s commonplace for an artist from a small city to have an innate urge to leave it behind them as soon as possible (with dreams bigger than their hometown in tow), for Chill Moody, the opposite rings true. With Philadelphia as ingrained in his identity as it is in his purpose, he’s never going to write off his humble beginnings solely as part of paying his dues. Instead, he’s taking his self-imposed responsibilities to help Philadelphia reclaim its prestige in the music and entertainment industry in stride, doing so by stacking up small victories. For now.

As Chill puts in his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice honing his craft as a rapper, he’s packing a lot more into his days than just his own music. The fact that he recently began assuming the official role of Philadelphia’s Music Ambassador makes for a perfect extension of his artistry; despite admitting he personally has a minimal interest in politics. For Chill, it’s more about seeing an opportunity to effectively bring about a positive change and accomplish what others in his city haven’t yet achieved, such as being the first rapper to perform at City Hall, as a way to inspire others to do the same.

As a trailblazer, Chill Moody is able to separate himself from the hometown hero-esque narrative he’s been quietly and consistently crafting over the years, proving that being a leader doesn’t always mean he requires the validation or the props that come along with taking charge. He’s got his eyes on the bigger picture, and he’s taking Philadelphia with him every step of the way.

From ensuring that his own branding stays on point to crafting his own beer to knocking out five shows at SXSW this year, Chill Moody is building a case playing off his recent EP that It’s Gon’ Be a Nice Year. With his “just getting started” mentality helping him maintain through the madness of making a name for himself in the rap game, Chill Moody is a living testament to the fact that at the end of the day, the goal is all about having nice things. That’s not necessarily in a materialistic way, either. As he puts his work in and motivates others to make the day a “nice one,” Chill Moody is redefining what it means to be a hometown rapper—by way of putting on for his city in every way he imaginably can while perfecting his own razor-sharp and relatable rhymes.

When getting to know Chill Moody through his music, stubborn passion shines through that makes it nearly impossible to want to root against him. With eyes on making his city a better place and his own exploration of his talents unwavering, Chill Moody’s got all the keys.

Do you feel as though attending this year’s SXSW proved to be fruitful for you this year?

This was my 5th year going and my 4th year performing, and it’s all about meeting a lot of people. This year, I probably met more people than I’ve met in any of my years going down there, especially in regard to people who can either directly help or support what I’m trying to do. This year, I went down there with specific goals and it definitely ended up being my best SXSW trip yet.

What was it like performing live now that you’ve got a footing as to how the festival works?

Every audience is different down there and with so much going on, it’s a different crowd every time. I had five shows this year and each one was better than the last. After the very first show, this guy walks up to me like, plastered drunk, says “Hey mate,” and ends up telling me he’s from Australia and that my set was the best he’s ever seen at SX, which is amazing. For me, there happened to be one of those experiences at every show. Either someone was like either “you’re one of the best rappers I’ve seen here” or told me the performance was great. It just felt really good.

Would you say performing live is your favorite part about being a rapper?

Yeah. I 100% lose myself up there. It’s also where I get the best feedback. There are a lot of people who love the music and support my movement but when they see it live, that’s when they’ll be like, “alright I get it now.” Especially because performing evokes a lot of emotion and even just hearing live drums as opposed to listening through your iPhone or something, can really help win someone over to become a fan. I’m pretty seasoned in working a crowd and have performed in front of bunch of people throughout the years, so I always just watch little pockets of the crowd and really just give my all ’cause I know what the takeaway should be.

Listening to your 2013 music versus your more current, it feels like two completely different artists at times. What inspired the transition in direction?

It was mainly a change in producers. There’s always been a lot of instrumentation in my music, but I started working with new producers and new engineers who just brought a different vibe to the table. My voice sounds a little bit different from my older stuff, too. You know, just living and having more to talk about, as well as coming into myself, it all had me pulling back on the aggression a little bit. I’m also more sample-heavy now and just trying to find a balance with everything.

What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?
I want my music to be my representation. I want you to learn about me through my music, first of all. That’s the overall goal that I’m aiming towards, so I just try to give as much of myself as I can in my music and say a couple clever things in between. You know, so you can go tell somebody like, “Hey, did you hear what he said?”

What is your dream for Philly’s music scene specifically?

Just the reclaim. I always talk about the prestigious sound we used to have. When I was growing up, you always used to hear about the sound of Philadelphia and how the Jacksons came here to record… Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass and you know, just the sound of the old school. It all came from Philly. I had a lot of pride in Philly music growing up. It’s all my mom was listening to, so that’s what I came up on. As I got older, I started seeing things like what The Roots were doing and Jill Scott and so on, and it was like the city was at the forefront of music and somehow it kind of tipped off a little bit. Anybody that’s touring right now got something from somebody from Philly. So it was like, y’all should take more pride in this. I just want to reclaim that and be a part of reclaiming this prestigious spot we once had in the music industry.

How did you initially get involved in local politics?

I was named by Councilman David Oh as the Philadelphia Music Ambassador for an initiative called THL Live, which was kind of like a music festival meets a battle of the bands and was stretched out over a couple of months. It involved artists from all genres of music; everything from jazz to hip-hop to rock to pop and there was even a DJ category and gospel category as well. People from Philly submitted their music and we’d go through it to organize a show of our picks for each genre. Eventually there was a vote from prestigious and esteemed judges from Philadelphia’s music scene and an awards ceremony at the end of the year and everything. That was the initiative that I was very hands-on with, helping them put it all together and finding other outlets for independent artists in the city, such as connecting people with brands and helping them use some of the resources that the city has to offer.

Around two years ago or so, a councilman by the name of Mark Squilla tried to pass a bill that wouldn’t make any sense for our music scene. Everybody pushed back on it and there was a huge meeting at city hall. I was invited to that meeting and I suggested what I thought was wrong with it. I mentioned that he shouldn’t really be making music decisions without consulting some people who have a background in music. That led to the idea of a task force type of committee and now I’m a part of that even though it took a couple years to get started.

What comes with being involved with the committee? How hands-on is everything?

We will have monthly meetings but it’s still brand new. Right now, we’re picking board members, with the group being made up of 15 people. We’re really just there to be the liaison between the artist community, the music community and the city. So that goes as far as us suggesting stuff, us helping get stuff across that the city wants to do, and us taking the concerns of our constituents in the city and seeing how we can make things happen through the city. This also means providing newer, bigger opportunities because we have more resources now to do so. So more free subsidies, less venues shutting down hopefully and in my mind, the end all be all will be a more unified music committee. There are people on the board with classical music backgrounds; there’s like two conductors, lawyers, entertainment lawyers. I think I’m the only rapper. Either way, it’s a vast array of people so we should be able to get a lot done because we can connect through a lot of different genres.

What made you want to approach changing the local music scene by going through, per se, the actual system?

If you come at somebody the right way about a problem, and it makes sense, it’s going to be fixed or a compromise can be found. I don’t think you should get discouraged when things don’t happen right away. I’m also in the Recording Academy on the Grammy board for Philadelphia and I just got invited to go speak to Congress at Grammy’s on The Hill, which is a big invite-only two-day junket in DC. There’s an awards ceremony and a reception and all that, and then we go and basically lobby for artist advocacy. If I can go to DC and talk to congressmen about making progress, then why not?

Does your political persona change from your rap persona in any way, or do you balance these roles?

I’ve always like I’m me, everywhere. I’ll go to City Hall in sweatpants and a snapback one day, or I can also go there in a full-out suit and I feel I’m still representing myself well. I don’t have to be like, “Oh, you know I’m going to talk to a senator today so I gotta be a little…” Nah. Hip-hop got me here. I’m here because I rap. I don’t gotta back off of that. If a Senator comes out to one of my concerts, they ain’t gotta act hip-hop.

So do you have an interest in running for office someday, or do you feel like you can be a leader without being in politics? How does this influence your music?

I have NO interest in politics. Not at all [laughs]. It all came from the type of events I was performing at in the city. So a lot of people don’t know this, but for the past six years or so, I don’t really curse in my music. A lot of people don’t know this because I’m not like hugging a tree or saving the world in my lyrics, but there’s no profanity. Because of this, I was able to get a lot of shows that a lot of other rappers in the city weren’t able to get. Everybody loves hip-hop but everybody still feels a certain way about it when it’s playing loud. I was actually the first hip-hop artist to perform at City Hall like ever because I chose to do that. It’s like if the radio wants to play your music, you have to go get them the edited version anyway. This way my mom can tell her friends I’m a rapper and she doesn’t have to worry about me saying ignorant shit. I didn’t make those choices because I wanted to be a political figure one day. If I was a different type of rapper, I’d never be able to perform at City Hall. For me to be able to keep doing those types of things is really important to me. The message is the same and I’m not changing who I am; I’m just replacing words with other words, really. I definitely don’t want to be a politician one day, though. I feel like not helping others to achieve their goals is just plain evil and weird. I’m like addicted to the idea of “Yo, this is wrong so let’s fix it.” I’m an avid problem solver.

How does repping for your city come into play?

I’ve never been anywhere or met anybody from outside of Philly that didn’t know I was from Philly. Either they knew me or they said something or I told them. You’re gonna know I’m from Philly because that’s a part of me just as much as my last name is. I carry the flag proudly and I make sure I rep everywhere I go. Not only do I represent, I also don’t misrepresent my city in any way. It’s kind of like when your mom takes you to a store and tells you not to embarrass her. You don’t want to do that!

When did you realize that rapping was going to be more than just a hobby?
The first Roots Picnic I did in 2012; it was live. I performed for maybe 5,000 people, and when I was performing, people knew the words and were really engaging with me. Out of all of those people, my mom was standing right there in the front row, and my dad was right over her shoulder. It was like, “How did you get all the way up front?!” Looking at the bigger picture and seeing my family right there made me realize I’m doing something right. They’ve been supporting me from the beginning, and my family ain’t about no bullshit. They ain’t yes men. So to see them there, it was like, aight we good. That was one of the biggest moments of my career so far for me actually.

Tell me more about your alter ego, Drunk Chill.

I just created it so that I could have a separation from the stuff that I really want to say when I’m drunk. Like I had just performed at City Hall and did some other shit, and it’s like, I shouldn’t probably be tweeting about this. So I made a drunk Twitter just so I could sound off on there and be funny.

Interestingly enough, I recently brewed a beer with Dock Street Brewery called Nice Things IPA. It will cater more to the beer crowd when we relaunch it in a bigger way but seeing Jay-Z and Diddy take things to the next level with alcohol, it’s pretty cool to get involved with something like that. I went to the brewery and learned about the process for about three or four months. I helped pick the ingredients, I put my marketing plan together for it, and I learned everything I could about the product. My hands are in this, so it’s a little bit different from other types of endorsement deals where people are just drinking it or promoting it and get involved that way. I don’t think people know how much I did with that and I really take a lot of pride in it. Had a lot of fun too.

What’s up next for this year?

My goal is to take the show on the road, as cliché as that may sound. Leading up to Fire Fly, I’ll drop some records I’ve been holding onto. I feel like I’m underground but not necessarily new, so just seeing my message continue to spread to bigger outlets. What I’m doing needs to be as big everywhere else as is it is in Philly.

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Page Kennedy just might be the only Shakespeare-trained actor who can say that they once opened up for Biggie Smalls.

While such a duality has been a part of his life for decades—getting his start rapping before he turned double digits and coming into his own as an actor—it was perhaps inevitable that one passion would take center stage over the other as he got older. With his energy fully dedicated to his acting, Kennedy’s love for rap inspired him to work to the point where he could independently fund his own album release, further proving that at the end of the day, if you want to make it happen, you will find a way. No matter what.

With noteworthy roles, such as playing U-Turn on the Emmy Award-winning TV series Weeds and Radon Randall on Blue Mountain State, tying up his time on set, the 40-year-old began building up a substantial audience on social media, something that would later play a direct role in his success as a rapper.

Establishing himself on platforms such as Vine and YouTube helped keep his creativity flowing, and when it came time to put the pen to the paper, he was ready to challenge himself in a way that legendary artists such as Royce Da 5’9″ and Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius couldn’t help but genuinely tip their hats to. It’s not everyday that a new rapper is able to secure such high-profile features without relying on a beefy budget, something that Kennedy was able to impressively do off the strength of his relationships and reputation alike. With his first official foray into the rap game, Kennedy demands both attention and respect as a lyrical emcee, doing so with a confidence that not even the best actors could pull off faking.

While it’s arguably been a long time coming for this day to arrive, his debut album Torn Pages is a testament to the fact that things happen how and when they are supposed to. While the 14-track collection is not his magnum opus, it’s an impressive first offering. Full of a humble balance of hits and misses, the album builds a strong argument that the 40-year-old is only going to continue improving as a rapper and executive producer with each and every release.

As someone who has lived many lives (both on and off screen), Kennedy’s commitment to the rap game is strong enough to make a believer out of even the most unconvinced critics. As he reintroduces himself to listeners, his personality shines through, showing that when it comes to being authentic to his artistry, that vital quality doesn’t change between mediums.

With each track representing a different story or concept, Page Kennedy delves deeper into his calling as an emcee, inspiring those who have watched his journey unfold from day one to keep tuning in.

When did you transition from acting into rapping?

I actually started rapping when I was seven years old, after my brother first introduced me to it. I moved from Los Angeles to Detroit with my dad when I was six and that’s when I first met my brother. He introduced me to Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, the Fat Boys and I instantly fell in love. It got to the point where I would learn other people’s raps and perform them before writing my own. All throughout school, I was known as a rapper, and I was always the youngest one in the neighborhood. So it was like, “Yo, that little kid can rap!”

When I went back to LA later on, acting stuff started happening for me, so I was like, let me live in the moment. I would still make little CDs and make a bunch of songs, but that was really just for my friends because I didn’t have a way of getting it out to the public. All my friends would tell me that I was so good I should be signed. I always felt that when I made enough money as an actor, I’d put out my own album, exactly how I want to. I was able to do just that.

Do you identify more with being an actor or a rapper?

I feel like the acting is always going to be at the forefront because I’ve established myself enough to be able to do that for a living. With rap, it’s a little bit more difficult to truly flourish and make real money in it, unless you are a certain type of rapper who has a solid label backing or crazy social media following so you can make money from YouTube and touring and all that. For me touring is a little bit more difficult because it could compromise different roles, but I’m definitely interested in doing shows when I can.

Right now, I’m really excited about the rap stuff again. I just put this album out and it was a year in the making. I’ve already committed to doing a mixtape to follow this up, and then I want to get right back into album mode. I have a big movie coming out in August 2018, so I want to have an album lined up to go along with it.

How do you approach making music over preparing for an acting role?

My album is full of concepts and stories and isn’t your typical album. I feel like nowadays, albums are full of things to make you feel good. You turn it on when you’re getting ready to go to the club or you’re in the club. I’m not interested in making that kind of music because there are enough people out there making that kind of music. Why do I need to add to that? I’m interested in making the type of music that you want to listen to in one sitting and makes you feel some kind of way like movies do. So that’s my process.

Was it natural for you that your debut album would be so personal?

Torn Pictures is definitely my most personal album, and part of that came from how I already give my life away to the public with social media. I feel like my fans are my friends and that’s the relationship that I wanted to have with my music too. I want them to feel like they know me. When someone is a supporter of you and they feel like they actually know you, they feel like they have a real connection with you. What that means is they will support you whole-heartedly, and it’s not fleeting. Because of that, I wanted to be transparent in my music too. Plus, it’s therapy for me. People think that just because you have money or are in the public eye, your life is made and everything’s perfect. It’s not. I’m still a human being. I still go through what everyone else does and it’s therapeutic for me to be able to express that with my creativity. That’s why I chose to be so personal.

Considering your acting work has taken the lead over the years, were you nervous to get feedback on the album?

Any time you let other rappers that you respect listen to your work, you might get nervous. That’s just because you really want them to like it. I definitely had a bit of that. But so far, it’s been crazy and overwhelmingly amazing. I haven’t gotten much negative feedback from this album even though I was expecting some of that because it’s so different. You don’t hear albums like this anymore. Since it’s different, I felt like maybe some people wouldn’t gravitate towards it because they’re used to something else. It’s been all positive, though, because I feel like there’s something for everybody. Songs like “Find a Way” inspired some people and then others liked what I rapped on songs like “Assassins” and “Testing Me,” or my story on songs like “Torn Pages,” “The Audition,” or “Therapy.” Any time someone that I respect listens, I definitely get a little nervous.

You definitely have some bucket list features on this project, such as with Royce 5’9”, Mr. Porter, Elzhi, KXNG Crooked, and Marsha Ambrosius. How did it all come together?

I definitely had a plan in mind where I felt like I wasn’t afraid to ask people for stuff, and I’m not afraid to get told no. I put together a list of people that I love, whose music I listen to and who inspire me. I reached out to everyone and tried to get them on my album. Luckily, most of the people on my list I knew beforehand or was connected to on Twitter. I pretty much got everybody that I asked for with the exception of Dej Loaf. I really wanted Dej Loaf, but the timing wasn’t there because I had to leave to film and she wouldn’t have been able to get it done in time. Royce was the biggest bucket lister for me because I’ve wanted to get him on a song for so many years, and it just didn’t work out in the past. Even when it finally aligned this time, I still had to wait a while for it. But when those vocals came in, man, it was well worth the wait. I had to go back and make that one perfect.

With Marsha, she’s been my favorite singer for many years. I’ve been a Floetry fan forever. I knew the song had to be just right because I knew she wasn’t going to get on just anything, which is why I chose to put her on the most personal track that I had (“Torn Pages.”) She said she would get involved if it made sense, so I made sure that it made sense. She’s the only one, with the exception of Elzhi who was with me every step of the way, who actually came into the studio to work on the song with me. I was a little star struck. When she got in the booth and sung her first line, I almost started crying. That’s how crazy her voice was. She was in there full on pregnant too. I just couldn’t believe it came together. Plus, she didn’t just do her job and leave. She hung out with us and told us stories about Michael Jackson, who is my biggest influence in entertainment. It was just amazing.

What’s it been like doing the project from the ground up as an independent artist?

I went the independent route because of the main reason why people go independent: I had no other choice. It’s not like I had record labels knocking on my door trying to sign me and I’m like, “Nah I wanna do it myself.” It’s definitely a roller coaster. I like being in control of everything, so even if the right person hears the project and wants to take everything to the next level, it’s still a little scary to me. I spent a lot of money on this album that I’m never going to get back, but I got to do everything my way. For me to sign to a label one day, it would have to make sense. Being independent just gives you freedom to do what you want. It also gives you the freedom to be broke [laughs].

How connected are you to the music scene in Detroit now, especially since being back in L.A. again?

Detroit is definitely my hometown, but I don’t know if they’ve got the same love for me, like with local radio and everything. I would love to have hometown support because I love my city so much. I ride for my city so much that I want that love back, but I’m not really sure. Maybe I’ll feel different when I go home. It would definitely be nice.

However, Detroit hip-hop is the greatest thing in the world to me because the greatest rappers come from there. Eminem and Royce are my two favorite rappers, and I just feel like the best emcees are from Detroit.

What would you like to accomplish next?

Even though I’ve been rapping my whole life—even before acting—the fact that I never put out a real project makes me feel like I’m a new rapper. So right now, I’m just trying to build a name for myself in this game and see what happens. I want to be the greatest rapper-slash-actor ever created in the world.