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.