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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As PackFM reaches the milestone of turning 40, the Brooklyn-based emcee says of his generation: “We are the Teddy Pendergrass-es of hip-hop.

PackFM isn’t thinking about rapping right now.

He isn’t thinking about gripping a microphone, flowing over a beat, or even putting together a new album. “I’m just trying to live life, and see what life is like outside of hip-hop, the Brooklyn-based emcee explains.

“I listen to hip-hop, but I’ve never been able to live where I don’t have the pressure of completing a project. For 20 years straight that was my life. Now, let’s chill for a minute, and just enjoy life: take walks, get that real balance in there.”

PackFM—who celebrates his 40th birthday this month—explains that when it comes to his music, the ellipsis has become a period.

His career resume is thick. With two solo studio albums released on the legendary QN5 label—2006 UGHH People’s Choice Album of the Year, whutduzFMstand4, and 2010’s I F*cking Hate Rappersplus the 2002 Extended F@mm EP, Happy F*ck You Songs (with Tonedeff, Substantial, and Session) and a plethora of collaborative efforts, PackFM explains, “I’ve said everything that I’ve had to say.”

“I was doing music for 20 years,” he continued, “everything I went through, I put out, somehow, someway. So now it’s like alright, let’s experience some new things, so that in five years or so I’ll have some new stories to tell that people might want to relate to.”

On the subject of creating relatable music, he notes that being older in hip-hop means new topics can, and should, be tackled. He says of his generation, and the generation before his:

“There should be an adult-contemporary section of hip-hop. We are the Teddy Pendergrass-es of hip-hop.”

The Teddy Pendergrass-es of hip-hop, however—and the fan base that should be copping those albums—currently have their focus shifted elsewhere. “All they do is complain,” PackFM notes. As if the people who are closer to what they do want to listen to (and are in their age range) aren’t making music anymore, when that’s totally not the case.” He continues, “A lot of them are still making music today, and it gets ignored because all people want to pay attention to is the music from young people that they don’t like … Did you know Ghostface put out an album like a year ago? Your favorite artist is still making music for you.”

Fans of PackFM, who’s been a key player in NYC’s indie hip-hop scene since the days of the infamous Tunnel nightclub, may one day get new music from him, but right now he’s excited to dive into endeavors outside of emceeing. “I have a lot of other talents I want to explore,” he explains. “Let me just really find my life in a whole bunch of other areas. Whether that translates into songs later on in life, who knows?”

Even if he isn’t recording, PackFM will still hit the stage, and he says the age of the songs he performs isn’t a concern of his. “Most of the songs I do I approach with the idea that I want to be able to listen to this in a decade,” he explains. “I’m always gonna want to do ‘Click Clack and Spray,’ because graffiti is a great art form that I have a great appreciation for. I love being involved in it, and the super amped up songs that I do, those are gonna be fun no matter what.”

Fun is something older hip-hop fans have always enjoyed, but as PackFM recently gleaned from an Uber driver during a ride, the new generation of listeners is almost solely about fun.

“It’s not, ‘He’s so dope, and he’s spitting fire,’ it’s ‘Oh, this song is fun, we all know it, let’s have fun to it,’” he says. “They’re just looking for that song they know to come on so they can keep having fun. It’s an entirely different approach to music, and entertainment, than we had. Ours was all about quality, and how good it is. There’s is just how fun it is to bug out to this song.”

This may sound like an older emcee griping about younger rappers, but PackFM actually has nothing against the younger generation of hip-hop artists, as he’s quick to say that just because he may not like their music, it doesn’t make them any less valid.

Using a sneaker metaphor (because he can’t not be hip-hop), he explains, “I love Nike sneakers, but I only like three or four pairs. I don’t like every shoe Nike puts out, but I don’t get mad because they put out sneakers I don’t like. I just don’t buy those sneakers.” For him, hip-hop is the same way.

When it comes to hip-hop music, I don’t have to like everything that has the label of hip-hop,” he says. “And I don’t have to get offended because something that’s labeled hip-hop (isn’t my taste).”

One thing he’d like to see from artists of all ages is a little more authenticity; but he remarks that it has to start with artists, and fans, accepting, and embracing, who they really are.

“People know about the whole partying, and drinking, and smoking, and all this shit, and then you look at (an artist’s) Facebook pictures and they’re wearing fucking grandpa sweaters, and they’re at baby showers,” he jokes. “Why do you have to put on a costume to be accepted with your art? This is who I am four days a week, but when I rap I gotta put my hat on backwards, and wear a flight jacket from 1996? You should be able to be you, and put your art out there and have it be accepted … I think that’s something that needs to be tackled.”

Although PackFM admits that when it comes to dealing with this, he doesn’t have the answers, he has one suggestion: eliminate the age. “I just feel, in general, the hip-hop community needs to let go of this stigma they have of age, whether it’s younger, or older.”

Perhaps this will be something PackFM tackles when he decides to record again, but up next on his agenda are new life experiences. A recent eye opening one involved taking a real vacation, since so much of his traveling was previously for world tours which covered North America, Europe, and Australia. “I remember the first thing that really hit me was going on a real vacation, actually traveling and not having to rap,” he recalls. “It made me realize there’s a lot of life to be lived out there that’s a lot different than we do as emcees, when we do that as an occupation.”

PackFM will likely pick up a mic again, it’s in his DNA. However, he’s currently much more excited to pick his next flight to a destination with no stage. Hey, he’s earned it.

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.


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

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

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

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

Growing up, how important was music to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was behind the decision to do the jheri curl?

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

What’s your ultimate goal?

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

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The Cool Kids, a duo composed of Antoine “Sir Michael Rocks” Reed and Evan “Chuck Inglish” Ingersoll, are back. While some may have no idea what that even means, those who won’t be awarded proper late passes have a lot to be excited about.

Gaining momentum using a medium we all low-key miss tremendously, the Chicago wunderkind rappers first joined forces in 2007, perhaps to appease die-hard hipster fans of underground music that were craving something completely out of left field. With an Internet era defined by the addiction of discovering music that gloriously existed on the fringes of the Internet, by way of scouring for low-quality MP3 downloads, the group began to make a name for themselves way before putting out their first album. As the group capitalized on a movement so many of us are now hopelessly nostalgic for, the late 2000s were a time where fans’ voices not only were heard, but they were also the loudest in the room. It was an uprising rebel-yell of a trend that the Cool Kids totally understood how to use to their advantage.

During a time when you really had to seek out music and put effort into scanning personal blog pages to find the next dope artist, the pre-Twitter era allowed music fans to take control over deciding what was up next and what wasn’t—a natural ability that defines who the Cool Kids are and what they are all about at their core. With experimental sampling drawing from video games, ‘80s hip-hop-era drum machines and other feel-good-weirdness alike, the group created a distinctive forward-thinking sound that promptly captivated a cult-like following and inspired a new generation of unprecedented DIY creativity.

For many, the Cool Kids were not only one of the first breakthrough artists you got to know online—and in turn felt like you were best friends with the whole time they were rising to prominence—they represented something bigger. It was the official shift of the “nerd” becoming the “coolest” in the room, achieving such a feat solely by being themselves and taking calculated risks, albeit carelessly. Hailed as Internet fan-favorites, their quirky 2008 mixtape The Bake Sale gloriously represented everything they achieved in a short amount of time, fully capitalizing on the power the no-parents MySpace era fostered. With a generous handful of incredible collaborations over the years, including working with the likes of Drake, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Maroon 5, Mac Miller, Yelawolf, and Curren$y, the rapper-producer duo covered an insane amount of ground despite their 2011 debut studio album not finding the same successes their self-released mixtapes had.

Although the road to their comeback was previously permanently closed off—with Chuck Inglish declaring on Twitter that the group would never return—as time went on, it just didn’t sit right. The two members promptly ended their hiatus in 2015 and have been slowly-but-surely returning to the spotlight once again, patiently working towards reminding everyone why they previously were fondly referred to as the originators. With the promise of their new album arriving sometime this Summer, a brand new sketch comedy series titled “Shit Show” and plenty of surprises in store, the Cool Kids are plotting the next installment of their takeover.

While it may have taken them a decade to get to this point of reclaiming what is rightfully theirs again, both can agree that mastering the art of timing is one of those sneaky 48 Laws of Power that still applies to millennials. Considering everything the Cool Kids have been through and have yet to achieve, there’s no better time than right now to dive right back into it. And with both middle fingers up, no less.

How have things been going since you began rolling out your comeback?

Chuck Inglish: It’s actually been way better this time around. It’s like if you were good at sports in one grade, and you come back to school the next year, you’re just way better at everything. It feels like we weren’t as good then as we are now, so it’s definitely been really exciting.

Do you think fans should revisit your old material to get an idea of what you’re doing now or is this an entirely fresh start? Why now?

Chuck Inglish: I would say our new single “TV Dinner” is a good representation of what we’re about these days. I don’t think it’s necessary to listen to the old stuff to get what we’re doing now.

It was just time for it. You have to have a good spirit of timing when you’re doing anything artistic. It’s all about timing right now; it just feels right. We wanted to give people time to appreciate what we were doing and understand that we’re moving forward again. We had enough time to do things on our own and go in our own directions, which was definitely good for both of us. But now it’s like, so many things have happened in rap music from 2011 to now that you can kind of tell what was missing. Maybe some people weren’t fully getting what it was we tried to do the first time and that might be different this time around. We are owners of our masters again and our name again. At this point, we know what we are doing in our careers and we have everything we started with. Now it’s about knowing how we want to display our music, what song we want people to hear first, that kind of thing. It’s all about the details. What we did the first time around was a lot of really amazing accidents, if you know what I mean. Now we have a tighter grip on what we’re doing. Between the two of us, we know what’s cool and what’s not cool, what works and what doesn’t work. We definitely have more of a specific plan now and more goals.

At this point in the year, what does your day-to-day look like?

Chuck Inglish: We’re just working on the album every day. If we aren’t technically working on the music, we’re doing something else related to it. Once this is done, I’ll be able to create a routine again and like, read the newspaper, drink tea and spend less time on the Internet [laughs]. But right now, my life is completely dedicated to this and making sure that this album is something I know that I can feel proud of. Right now, I feel that way, but you know, we still have to finish it. We’re thinking sometime in the Summer will be our best bet. It definitely has a summertime feel and it will only make sense that we put it out in the summer.

How has your new comedy series, “Shit Show” been going?

Sir Michael Rocks: I feel like it’s something that we should have always been doing. We’re just a group of people that funny stuff just always happens to all the time. We got a lot of funny stories and experiences, along with just being funny people off top.

At this point, we have a lot of material filmed and edited, with more stuff being edited. We’re going to arrange it so that it can be a full series. We’d like to take this to a bigger audience and are looking to work with a larger partner. Whatever medium or network we end up going with, it’ll definitely be on your screen pretty soon. In the meantime, we’re just working on editing and putting out clips and content. We’ve been shooting for a couple months now and have some crazy episodes on deck. We’re just sitting on footage and having a little bidding war to see what will be the best fit.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first starting out?

Chuck Inglish: I’m having more fun now than I was having then so just knowing that it’s about enjoying the journey and appreciating how long it takes to make something happen that you once dreamed of. Even if it seems overnight, it’s never overnight or out of nowhere. We’ve been keeping something afloat for the past ten years that’s artistic, so just knowing we have the ability to weather the storm. Right now, it’s like we’re living out in real time what we had expected to have happen the first time around. Except back then, we didn’t have as many goals and we didn’t expect everything to happen so fast. Now that we know what we’re capable of, it’s easier to set goals and see them out. And we know how important it is to have control over what we are doing so we can actually reap the benefits. What keeps us going is just knowing that there’s still a lot to be accomplished.

How connected do you feel to the local rap scenes, especially being in both Chicago and Los Angeles?

Sir Michael Rocks: It’s impossible to feel disconnected because it’s all relative. We are living it. What’s crazy is that a lot of the new generation, they grew up on us. I still live here in Chicago, so I’m immersed in it a little bit more, just naturally, by being physically here in the city so I’m always connecting with my friends that make music. I think the easiest way to feel connected to [local music] is just to be living it. Always connected and always growing. Chicago is a small city and a big city at the same time, so everyone is one degree of separation away from one another.

Do you feel like you’re a role model for Chicago, similar to Chance putting on for the city?

Sir Michael Rocks:  I’m not a role model at all [laughs]. I fuck up and do terrible things. Don’t make me the role model guy. Chance is the best person for that. I’m like the big brother that always does shit and gets in trouble, but he doesn’t always get caught for it.

However, when I do encounter new artists from the city, I try to be a real person and a real friend. I remember when I was coming up and in high school, I would come in contact with bigger Chicago artists and there was a real disconnect that used to be there. Like people were already too big of a star to engage with you because they were already poppin’ or whatever. You’re better off now engaging with people than you are playing the isolated superstar guy. Everybody is more or less involved with each other so using your celebrity to isolate yourself is counterproductive. I’m not really big into giving advice because I think everyone should do their own thing. I’m still figuring shit out myself and I’m still young too. I think everybody’s best bet is to trust their gut.  

What does the rest of this year have in store for you?

Chuck Inglish: New music to get out and new visuals. We’ll be doing more episodes of “Shit Show.” Solidify our names even more. We’re just putting the work in and having fun with it and just getting better and better.

Sir Michael Rocks: Having fun is the key, especially with rap music or at least with the kind of rap music that we do. It has to be fun for us or all of this would all be kind of impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re welcome, NEF.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So did you present this kind of deal to 40?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if he wanted to rap?

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

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

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

Can you sing though?

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

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

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

Well at least you have a singer on your label!

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

What is your ultimate goal in this game?

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

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Roc Marciano’s rap career has been longstanding, but solo-wise, it seems like the veteran emcee has a lot more gas in the tank. He made his landmark debut with Marcberg LP in 2010 and since then, his music’s been one of the preeminent hubs for really grimy New York street rap and/or delicately crafted word-schemes that reveal obscure, yet appropriate metaphorical references.

Citations of everyone from Anna Kournikova to Gloria Estefan litter the verses of the Hempstead, Long Island native’s recently released Rosebudd’s Revenge album. The wordplay is perhaps its most notable element and fits in perfectly with Marci’s eerie and heavily sample-driven instrumentals, some of which are provided by the emcee himself.

It’s been four years since the release of Marci Beaucoup, his generally well-received last LP. Since then, Marciano’s been experiencing life and sharpening his wordplay all while recording.

During a recent interview with UGHH, Roc Marci detailed putting together his latest work, among other topics. He says his recording process is natural with how he lives his life. His everyday experiences simply inspire what later ends up on wax. “Push the pen with a vengeance” is how he’d describe it.

What’s been up recently besides strictly music-based stuff?

Outside of music, I got a couple of business-side things. I’ve got a couple things coming in the tech world. [I’m] living life, you know, family and stuff like that, so yeah. I’ve got a couple of things coming outside of music.

You put out Rosebudd’s Revenge in February. It’s been bumping in my headphones and the whip for the last two weeks or so. How has the reaction to it been so far from what you’ve seen?

It’s been very positive, man. I’ve got no complaints.

This is your first project since 2013 with Marci Beaucoup. How has this almost four-year gap provided you the experiences necessary to put out a project like this?

I feel like I get better every day. It all depends if I’m in the recording mode. I’m not always in recording mode. I recorded a lot of music while I wasn’t putting out music. I was completing other projects and things I’ve been working on. I started on Rosebudd’s Revenge and then I stopped, and then jumped back in it and finished it in probably like a couple weeks or something.

You’re also a producer as well, so how much does that affect your mindset when another producer is working with you. Is it more bouncing off ideas and then you both come together with it?

I let everybody do they thing, man. We just compare notes. Pass tracks back-and-forth like, “This is what I’m on.” Then they say, “This is what I’m on.” Then we kind of start to figure it out like, “Ok, this is where you’re going, aiight.” I kind of give them a vibe and they send me something, and I’m like, “Right around here is where I’m trying to bake.” We just communicate through it and put beats away and join styles and just compare notes. It’s kind of simple.

On “Marksmen” you feature Ka—someone you’ve worked with a lot over the years—and I think you two on a track together is perfect because you have similar styles but different content and different flows. You also challenge each other to do something a little different when you’re on a song together. Talk about that relationship and how you work creatively when you’re in the booth together.

Working with Ka. Hmm. I mean you know, Ka’s incredible, man. I’ve felt like that since the first time I heard him. It’s just always a pleasure working with somebody that you know is going to deliver, so I really can’t say much more about it ‘cause it’s like working with family. It’s actually just fun. We push each other. It’s not like who’s going to get off on who or nothing like that. It’s just like, “Yo, let’s just do a fly joint.”

He does always bring the bars, so how much does that affect—not even in a competition way—how you prepare when doing a song together?

I think with my history of my bars, I don’t have to be pushed by anybody. Bar for bar, I don’t really have nothing to prove. My discography speaks for itself. I don’t really feel I need to compete. I just do what I do and that’s that, you know what I’m saying?

Where do you see yourself at this point in your career and how have you grown from Flipmode Squad in the late ‘90s to your earlier solo material like Marcberg to now in 2017 with Rosebudd’s Revenge?

I feel great. I definitely have made history. I brought a lot of game to the game, made a nice amount of money doing what I love to do. It’s a success story coming from where I come from. I feel great. What more can I say? I’m blessed.

The first time I heard you as a solo artist was on GZA’s “Short Race” from Pro Tools. You, in your own production, use a lot of very obscure samples within some of your best songs, which is almost RZA-esque. Obviously Wu-Tang means a lot being an emcee from New York, but how specifically did they inspire you when you were beginning to rap?

[They were a] tremendous influence. Wu-Tang Clan, them the older gods. That’s part of the foundation. That’s how I feel about the Clan, man. I got a lot of love for them.

When you put out music what do you want people to take away from it even if they spin your new project just once?

I just want them to enjoy it. Enjoy it. Take it for what it is. I’m not trying to school n***as all day. I’m trying to enjoy myself. I love what I do. If brothas digging it, if they can ride to it, good. It’s really that simple to me. I don’t really put more thought into it than that.

I like the instrumental switch-ups you offer on this project within songs. You did it with your “Rosebudd’s Revenge Part. 1” video, but it’s really prevalent in “Herringbone” and “Pray 4 Me.” What was the inspiration behind that because you don’t see that that much these days?

I do that because that’s fun. It keeps things interesting. That’s pretty much why I do it. It’s pretty much like hip-hop meets progressive rock, right? “You never know what might happen” kind of shit in a song so, I do it ‘cause that’s fun.

When you hear a sample that provides something different, how do you determine its value for a song? Like what makes you go, “Oooh, that’s gotta be in something”?

It’s really about if it matches what I’m trying to say, what I’m feeling at the time. I make a lot of beats when I’m making beats. I’ll get a bunch of records and make a lot of beats because I don’t make beats all the time. I’m kind of going through the records, and I’m taking visual photos so to speak. Anything that stands out to me, I’ll fuck with it. I put all those notes to the side and I’ll go through them and depending on how I’m feeling that day, I put the beats on like clothes. That’s how I’m feeling today, so I’m going to jump on this.

You were on De La Soul’s album last year via “Property of” What did it mean to be a part of not just a legendary group’s LP, but also being on one that got high praise?

I’ve always been a De La Soul fan, man. I feel like they’re part of the foundation to me also. I look at those dudes like those guys are big brothers in the game. I get a lot of inspiration from De La Soul. They make some of my favorite music in life so for those brothers to reach out for me to spit on something, do a record, what can I say? I’m honored, man. Calls like that, that’s what it’s all about.

What’s your relationship like with Busta Rhymes currently? Do you guys still keep up with one another?

Busta, that’s my brother. I was just with Busta not long ago. Probably like two weeks ago I was on set of his video. We was shooting a video out in Cali. He got some new shit ready to drop. It’s crazy. That’s my brother, man. I fucks with Bus real heavy.

I know you’re a big NBA fan, Knicks fan. The big story now is Phil Jackson’s missteps this season. I love asking New Yorkers about the direction of the Knicks since it’s been a while since they’ve had success?

Ah man, you had to go there [laughs].


It starts in the front office, man. That’s all I can say. It’s time to clean house. We need a clean slate. Shit is worse than it’s damn near ever been. What more can you do? You got to scrap it and start over. That’s all I can say about it. Shit is a bust right now, unfortunately. I love my Knicks, but it ain’t nothing to talk about. It ain’t even a story right now.

Does Carmelo Anthony have to go as a part of starting over?

Honestly, I feel like if Melo wants to leave and wants to win of course he’s got to go ‘cause he ain’t gonna win here. I think Melo should go. I want Melo to win. When they was trying to do that trade with the Cavs, I wanted it to go down to see him get a chance to win. We need to just scrap everything. Keep Kristaps [Porzingis]. I like [Willy] Hernangómez, I like [Mindaugas] Kuzminskas. We got some good young players but we need to do something with the rest of the organization. The front office needs to get some of those people out and put Melo on a championship team. That would be good for him. We in a rebuilding process right now.

I live in Ohio and am a Cavaliers fan. We weren’t too sure about getting Melo, especially if it meant giving up Kevin Love…

Melo’s firepower. No matter how you slice it. Melo is firepower, and it look like with [Kevin] Durant on the floor, you could use an extra gun.

Right. I can see that. Lastly though, what’s next for you now that the album’s out and the people have it?

There’s a lot more music to come. I’ve got more visuals, things like that, staying busy. As for touring, when it warms up, I’m going to go out on the road, touch a few spots. That’s pretty much it.

Listen to Roc Marciano’s Rosebudd’s Revenge album below and purchase it here.

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

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