MZM: Excuse Me, Miss

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Photo courtesy of Rainier Castro

Music can be therapeutic, both for its listener and creator. As human beings we’ve all suffered from heartbreak and sought closure from being in emotional limbo. Chicago rap artist MZM puts all of his cards on the table with a release titled, “Excuse Me, Miss.”

Excuse Me, Miss is an open letter to MZM’s ex-girlfriend. The 8-track EP is produced by Cheff Premier, Custom Made, Nero and Rob Fury and features appearances by Wes Restless, Lynn Solar, and Emanny.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to MZM about his start in Hip-Hop, sharing his heartbreak with the world, the gentrification of Chicago, and his new EP, Excuse Me, Miss.

TRHH: What exactly inspired you to create Excuse Me, Miss?

MZM: It’s a conversation with my most recent ex. We had been through our ups and downs. At one point we were about to get married and the day of she decided not to show up. We ended up breaking up and three months later we got back together for another year. After that year that was pretty much it. It became toxic. There’s a bunch of stuff that happened during that entire time. I was holding it all inside of me and it was changing who I was as a person, which I wasn’t too big of a fan of. I decided to put it out there. That’s the inspiration behind it. It’s a conversation to her; it’s an open letter for anybody to hear. Everything is factual on there. It’s an open book. I had nothing to hide and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has gone through something similar. You know what they say, “Pain shared helps heal pain.” So if other people can hear it and find comfort in their own situation off it my job is done.

For me it’s kind of shutting the door and putting the final nail in the coffin like, “Yo, this is all I got to say to you. I got nothing else to say.” I made sure I was not disrespectful on there. Cursing was at a minimum. I didn’t call her any names or anything. I was like, “You know what, I’m going to be the bigger person here. Let me say what I gotta say, but I don’t need to berate you.” Some of the feedback – one person actually sent me a message that he was with his girl almost a decade. He was on the fence about cheating on her and having an affair. He heard it – track 5 specifically – and my shit stopped him from having an affair. That’s the inspiration behind it. My job is done; even if one person was impacted I did what I had to do.

TRHH: After she left you the first time what made you go back with her?

MZM: You know how there is one person? I mean, everybody falls in and out of love a bunch of times, but there’s one person who becomes their master key — that one person who no matter what somehow they have you under their control and it’s always that one person that just fucks your head – she was mine. There’s always that one person who somehow no matter what, you’ve moved on, it’s 15 years down the road, that person pops up and all of a sudden they bring up all the old emotion that you had and you end up reverting to what you were at that time. That type of person, that’s what she was.

TRHH: Do you know if she heard the album and if so what did she think of it?

MZM: Oh, I sent it to her. I made sure I sent it to her. Her reactions were varied. At first it was a message, “I don’t care about this. I’m not going to live in the past,” yadda, yadda, yadda. Twenty minutes later it was a phone call calling me names, yelling, and raising her voice. Two hours after another text message, “Your rapping is good on here.” Two days after, another message, “What are you doing?” Two days after that a series of mixed calls. That was her reaction.

TRHH: And you haven’t spoken to her since?

MZM: Nah. If I had to compare this project I would say this is Hip-Hop’s Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear.” As far as coming up with the titling and formatting of it I was inspired by that album.

TRHH: This is a drastically different thing for you, how was making this project different from making Downpour?

MZM: One, the subject matter is the same throughout it all and it’s talking about a personal experience. Each song on here has a significant meaning to it, so it’s not just a bunch of rhymes put together. Downpour wasn’t either. Downpour was talking different things from depression, to immigration, to politics. With this one from a verse standpoint it was all for her. Each conversation was for her. Sonically I went a different route. I wanted to try different sounds and also I wanted it to appeal to her. She’s not listening to Mobb Deep, KRS, and Nas and so forth. Trying to go with a more boom bap sound for her was not going to cut it. I didn’t want the message to get missing.

I chose a different soundscape and I’m not going against my own personal grain or selling out or anything, I’m a fan of all music. Some of the newer trap shit and some of the top 40 sounding stuff I’m a fan of. I always wanted to push my boundaries artistically and this was the perfect canvas for me to do it. And also certain rhyme patterns and things that I never did before. I got to experiment. Without ever doing it I think it came out great. It shows as an artist that I’m versatile. Also, the hooks – I never wrote R&B hooks before, this time I did. I got to try my hand at writing hooks and coming up with the harmony and so forth.

TRHH: You mentioned on Downpour that you spoke about immigration, what is your ethnic background? Where is your family originally from?

MZM: Bangladesh.

TRHH: And you were born in America?

MZM: I was born in Chicago.

TRHH: What’s your stance on immigration in general and the Trump administration…

MZM: You heard my stance. If you heard Downpour track number 8 with Ras Kass and Emilio Rojas, I said what I had to say to Trump on that one. That song is called “Politricks.” I’ll be simple, fuck 45. His mother should have swallowed him.

TRHH: [Laughs] Alright then. What inspired the song “Old Chicago”?

MZM: You know what’s funny, on Downpour the first song right after the intro is called “Wrong Era.” I had a bar on there that goes, “I’m stubborn as a mule, bull headed, I’m a survivalist/I’m old Chicago, before they gentrified this bitch.” That was the inspiration for that song. I’m old Chicago. I moved out the city for a bit to a different state. When I came back to Chicago I didn’t recognize it no more. The Chicago that I knew was gone! I remember before you couldn’t walk through Wicker Park. Now it’s nothing but hipsters. You couldn’t go through Humboldt Park if you didn’t know anybody, now there’s Starbucks’ and it’s Humboldt Heights. I grew up in Rogers Park. I was born out west in Garfield Park but ended up moving up north to Albany Park and Rogers Park. That’s where I got to cut my teeth.

It’s different. Some of it’s for the good, some of it’s not. Some of it I’m just like, man, it’s fucking up people. Gentrification is pushing people out of their housing and so forth. I get it, it’s a pay day for the developers. But from what they could afford to now what they can’t afford they got nowhere to go now. Now you’re pushing them out further west or out of the city in general. I get that they’re after their pay day but there still has to be some moral responsibility. That’s what prompted “Old Chicago.” That’s who I am. It’s not a tribute song to the city. It’s who I am. I am old Chicago. All of the experiences on the song are just talking about me growing up. That’s pretty much from me as a shorty to like age 22-23. That’s what that song talks about – who I am growing up.

TRHH: How did you initially get into Hip-Hop?

MZM: Man, you know that’s a good question. Growing up on the west side of Chicago and moving up north I was always the odd ball. From a nationality standpoint I stood out like a sore thumb. It was kind of where it was nowhere for me to fit in. Where do I fit in? I’m trying to fit in here. That was a mistake I made because you shouldn’t have to fit in. If you’re born to standout then why try to fit in? That’s what I ended up doing and it seems as if I was trying to find my own acceptance growing up. I ended up experiencing racism, not just from white people, but from everybody! I experienced it from white people, black people, and Spanish people. It was a weird spot to be in. Out of it all it seems as if I embraced my culture I was getting mocked and mimicked, but the only culture that seemed to accept me was Hip-Hop. That’s’ what got me into it. I would say around 11 years old I started getting into it, but I didn’t know it was specifically called “Hip-Hop” until 13. At around 13 years old I found out what I’m into actually is a culture and has a name.

That’s what got me into it. I’ve tried my hand at stuff in the past – I tried writing graffiti, breaking, deejaying and I kind of sucked at it. I was able to say what I gotta say through pad and pen and that worked out for me. I’ve been on the indie scene in Chicago since the late 90s. I put out two projects before 2001. I went by a different emcee name. Then I ended up taking a hiatus in 05. I recorded an album in 05 and never put it out. I had personal things come up — life got in the way. All of a sudden you’re thrown into adulthood and shit changes. It’s not like we were getting famous or anything outside of the city. Things weren’t really taking off and bills have got to get paid. I took a break in what was supposed to be a year and that year turned into ten. Also just the scene and climate of music ended up changing. The sound and direction started to turn me off and I was like, “Man, I don’t feel like making no music.” As of recently I got the inspiration back and got the fire lit up under my ass. During that ten years I think I had enough shit happen where I had stuff to talk about.

TRHH: What was your original emcee name?

MZM: I went by Ebonics. I had to drop that name for a couple reasons. One, when I chose that name I thought of it from a different standpoint. Initially I was battle rapping. So I was battling heads, that’s what I was doing. I went with that name because we’re all talking slang so if I have that name and that’s who I am and you’re talking that means you’re talking me. How you gonna beat me if you’re talking to me? That was my perspective at that point as a battle emcee, and also it was pretty immature. When I started to think about I thought I shouldn’t have that name. One, I’m not black. For me to have that name it was odd for me to keep running with it. I didn’t want an emcee name, period. MZM is just the initial for my name.

TRHH: What’s next up for you? Do you still have that fire? Do you have something new coming out?

MZM: Yeah. Right now I’m working Excuse Me, Miss. That one does have potential to get radio, and that’s kind of what I’m doing with it right now. I’m going to start packaging it, getting it ready, and pushing it out to some stations to see if we can get some spins on that one. That one has more appeal to not just the hardcore Hip-Hop heads, but the casual listeners – women. I think it can reach a bigger demographic and anybody who has gone through heartbreak in that sense.  After that I’ll maybe take a couple months off and then start going in the direction that I want to head in with the next project. Everybody’s on me with, “We know you can rap, we know you can out-bar people, we wanna hear you do something. We want you to bring it back to the gutter.” The next project, the best way I can describe it is either two things are going to happen. One, I’ll either wake people up or I’m going to make enemies.

TRHH: Can you give some insight into the subject matter?

MZM: I’m still going to keep things who I am, because one I’m not a street dude. I’m not going to talk about running the street with a whole bunch of guns. I’m not sipping on lean either. There are things that I still want to talk about. Some are social issues, some are things that are personal, and some are things that I haven’t really touched on, on Downpour or Excuse Me, Miss. After that I have some guest appearances in mind – people that I want to start working with and it’s going to be a bar fest. One song I have the beat for now and it’s some super trap shit. I think it’s a challenge for myself to do that one and I think I want to run with that as the first single. Not because I’m trying to appeal to a bigger crowd, but because I want to push the boundaries of what I can do. I don’t want to keep myself in a box.

Purchase: MZM – Excuse Me, Miss

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Steph Dash Nash: True Grit

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Photo courtesy of Steph Dash Nash

Steph Dash Nash has worn many hats in Hip-Hop. She’s a journalist that has interviewed some of Hip-Hop’s biggest names on Supreme Ultra Radio. She’s the co-host of the Underground Express show on Maximum FM Hip Hop. She’s the CEO of a Hip-Hop inspired clothing company, specializing in apparel for children called “Stitch N Rhyme.”

Nash’s latest endeavor is as a music producer. She produced an entire album with assistance from Big Sproxx that features a who’s who of underground Hip-Hop called “True Grit.” Providing the lyrics on True Grit are Ras Kass, Masta Ace, O.C., Torae, Adam Bomb, Tragedy Khadafi, Rasheed Chappell, REKS, Tona, Napoleon Da Legend, Shyheim, T Gramz, Planet Asia, Havoc, Preach, Theology 3, Kenn Starr, M.O.P., and the late Sean Price.

In the process of creating True Grit Steph Dash Nash was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an incurable, fast growing form of brain cancer. Steph continues to fight the disease in every way imaginable. Through Steph is selling Glioblastoma t-shirts. A portion of the proceeds from each shirt sold will go to the Sunnybrook Health Science Center: Gord Downie Brain Cancer Fund.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Steph Dash Nash about how she got into production, the creation of her album, True Grit, and her brave battle against brain cancer.

TRHH: How did you initially get into music production?

Steph Dash Nash: I was surrounded by Hip-Hop culture since I was a little girl, and I always wanted to be more within it, I just didn’t really know how. I especially loved lyrics, ones that could leave a visual imprint of meaningful stories but I most definitely couldn’t rhyme. I became great friends with an incredible Canadian producer Big Sproxx during a trip to Jamaica, Queens. I was there to interview Tragedy Khadafi. It was after that trip Sproxx starting introducing me to all elements of music production. He became my mentor.

TRHH: What role did Big Sproxx play in the creation of True Grit?

Steph Dash Nash: Big Sproxx provided me a lot of creative control and pushed me beyond what I believed I was capable of. He played a huge role in teaching me even the basics. The first thing he had me change was my use of the language terminology. He often frowned at me calling the metronome the “ticky thingy.” Sproxx gave up a lot of his work, personal and studio time to work with me. Sproxx stepped in more than half way through the project as a co-producer. Sproxx contributed a few songs he had been working on from his own material and he helped me sequence and arrange the album.

TRHH: You have a lot of heavy hitters featured on the project. How did you go about securing verses from all of these artists?

Steph Dash Nash: I had previously interviewed several artists and producers over the past few years for my website Supreme Ultra Radio. Incredible artists such as Diamond D, Pete Rock, Masta Ace, Tragedy Khadafi and General Steele just to mention a few. After my video interview with General Steele he told me it was a pleasure to work with a professional and to keep going. I approached a few of my favorite artists I wanted to work with and here we are almost three years later. Big Sproxx later added onto this incredible lineup of gifted lyricists.

TRHH: What does your production set up consist of?

Steph Dash Nash: At the studio I work out of there is a wide range of equipment and production gear but for this album all the music was created on an Akai MPC 1000 with a JJ OS update. The MPC 1000 was the first piece of equipment Sproxx introduced me to. I fell in love with how easy the workflow and functions of that machine are to learn. I realized I was able to create the sounds and style of music I loved right there all in one box and never looked back.

TRHH: Do you have a musical background or is the album mostly sample-based?

Steph Dash Nash: Growing up, listening to and falling in love with Hip-Hop music all of my favorite producers crafted their music using samples. That is the sound that has always moved me and resonated in my soul. That is the type of music that me and my partner Sproxx create just like all the great producers who influenced and inspired us.

TRHH: Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is something no one is ever prepared for. You worked on the album while undergoing treatment, what has kept you strong and moving forward during such a tough time?

Steph Dash Nash: Brain cancer has been a crash course in the differences between expectations and reality. Initially, I never wished to know my life expectancy or what kind of Glio it was. Everyone wanted to know but me. I felt knowing that information would cause negativity and put me in a bad headspace. Unfortunately I found out 6 months ago it’s Glioblastoma IV. The life expectancy is 9-14 months. I am going to be a bit vulnerable; actually I haven’t shared this yet. When I found out by mistake I cried every day for two weeks. Brain cancer stole a lot from me, beside memories and some mobility; I missed both my sons’ graduations. I missed them receiving honor’s roll, partial scholarship and math awards. I was in surgery both days of their graduation. I vowed to never miss another milestone. Fight every day to keep pushing. I guess you can say it’s my will to live that has kept me moving forward.

TRHH: How important have your friends, family, and artists that participated in the album been to you throughout this time?

Steph Dash Nash: Highly important. I’ve never been one to ask for help and to go at something of this magnitude alone is not possible. Everyone has afforded me extra patience and understanding. It takes me longer to complete tasks and sometimes I forget things mid-sentence but everyone including the artists on this project continue to be very encouraging and supportive.

TRHH: Talk a little about your campaign with Sunnybrook Health Science Center.

Steph Dash Nash: Glioblastoma IV is one of the deadliest forms of Brain Cancer. There is no cure. The average life expectancy is 9-14 months. That’s unacceptable. Sunnybrook Health Science Center is the first to breach the blood-brain barrier to allow patients like myself to receive chemo. I made Glioblastoma shirts and with every purchase of a shirt you will receive a free download of the song “Strange Fruit” written and performed by O.C. and a percentage of the proceeds I will donate to the Sunnybrook Gord Downie Brain Cancer Fund. This song provided me with strength to fight every day.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with True Grit?

Steph Dash Nash: I’m a true, dedicated fan of lyricism. I believe this album showcases what real lyricism sounds like. On this album, I have some of my favorite artists that I grew up listening to. I want to prove that it is possible to make good music without sacrificing the fundamental elements of Hip-Hop.

Purchase: Supreme Ultra Radio – True Grit

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Amerigo Gazaway: A Common Wonder

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Photo courtesy of Amerigo Gazaway

DJ and producer Amerigo Gazaway rose to fame for his creative mashups of music from 90s era Hip-Hop acts and legendary artists. Gazaway created full albums that merged the music of Fela Kuti and De La Soul, B.B. King and UGK, and Marvin Gaye and Mos Def.

Gazaway’s latest release combines the music of Oscar winning emcee, Common and musical genius, Stevie Wonder. The free 15-track album titled “A Common Wonder” beautifully blends music from both artists’ extensive careers from their early years to their primes.

Amerigo Gazaway spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about how he got into creating mashups, what goes into his creative process, and his new album, A Common Wonder.

TRHH: Common and Stevie Wonder are my two favorite artists. There are similarities in their soulfulness, did that make it a no-brainer for you to combine their music for A Common Wonder?

Amerigo Gazaway: Yeah, definitely, man. My partner Ricky and I had the idea a while back, but then when the Black America Again single came out that kind of caused me to go back into the archives, dig it back up, and start working on it. Reinvestigating some of those ideas again led me to creating a handful of tracks, one of which was I Was Made to Love H.E.R. and the other was the Sixth Superstition. Once I had those I felt like I had the beginnings of a project on the way. The intro track also – it was a big moment for me finding that sample of Stevie talking about, “Have we traveled this far between space and time, or is this just the vision in my mind.” It all just kind of came together.

TRHH: How difficult is it to find the little interview clips that you use throughout your albums?

Amerigo Gazaway: Usually it’s pretty easy. That stuff is available on YouTube, documentaries, and radio interviews and stuff. For Stevie it’s interesting, I was looking online and there is not really a comprehensive Stevie documentary that’s been made yet. There are a handful of little videos with interviews. There’s talk show appearances and all that but there’s not a definitive Stevie Wonder documentary, which surprised me. It was a little bit more difficult this time to get some of those soundbites and interview quotes that I was looking for, for the project.

TRHH: Are you a Stevie Wonder fan or did you have to discover some of his more obscure stuff?

Amerigo Gazaway: Both. I was definitely a Stevie Wonder fan, but I also ended up discovering a lot of his more obscure stuff that I didn’t know about. That was a great experience for me as a producer and as a fan of the artist. I was definitely a fan of Stevie long before that. Marvin Gaye as well, and all the Motown stuff. Stevie really fascinated me for the fact that he really embraced synthesizers, technology, and drum machines very early on. He kind of paved the way for Hip-Hip in a lot of ways. I definitely wanted to touch on some of that with the project as well.

TRHH: What was the most difficult song to create on A Common Wonder?

Amerigo Gazaway: I think Sugar By the Pound was the most difficult song to create and that really didn’t have anything to do with the song itself. It was just because the acapella was a do it yourself acapella that I had gotten from my homie The Goodwill Projects. For those that don’t know a do it yourself acapella is basically where you create your own acapella from a track by using a technique of phase inversion. So it’s not perfect. You can get acapellas if you have an instrumental of a song and the actual song you can combine those and they’ll cancel each other out and give you a rough acapella of the track. That’s what we used for Sugar By the Pound. It wasn’t perfect and I had to use a lot of EQ’s and sound design on that to try to get it to work. Musically it sounded great so it was really just a lot of engineering audio that I had to do on that track, which was a little bit difficult. Everything else came together really well. That’s the beauty of a lot of these projects is I don’t have to really force it. When I pick the right two artists it kind of falls into place.

TRHH: How many of them on the album would you say are do it yourself acapellas? Some of them you just found, right?

Amerigo Gazaway: Yeah, some of them just came from places. I got my homie The Goodwill Projects – he creates his own DIY acapellas and does a really good job at creating those from scratch. I have 12 inch vinyl that I have sitting around that I’ll record into the computer and I’ll find some stuff online from different websites like and YouTube. It’s just kind of a hodgepodge of different acapellas from different places. I think there are 2 or 3 joints on there that are DIY acapellas. Most of them are studio acapellas that either came from a 12 inch vinyl or something I found online.

TRHH: How did you initially come up with the concept of blending two artists music for a complete album and not just one song?

Amerigo Gazaway: I don’t know, man. That’s something I’ve been doing since Fela Soul. I was always doing mash-ups before that. Me and my homie used to have a DJ crew called Bebop & Rocksteady and we used to do mash-ups, blends, and video remixes. Fela Soul was the first concept album where I created a whole album combining and reconstructing the beats. I was definitely inspired by The Grey Album with Danger Mouse combining Jay-Z and the Beatles. There is also DJ Wicked from Nashville – he’s another remix artist. He was doing stuff like that at the time that was inspiring too. He did this joint called The Brothers of Chico Dusty with The Black Keys and Big Boi from Outkast. I saw people around me doing it, my homies doing it, but with The Soul Mates I wanted to take it a step further and get down to what was similar between these artists. Why should we connect these two artists? I really wanted to examine that and pick artists that were musically meant to go together and make it sound like they were actually in the studio together when the album was created. That was my goal with the whole Soul Mates project.

TRHH: Have you tried to mashup two artists or groups that didn’t go together?

Amerigo Gazaway: Yeah. I’ve definitely run into some road blocks creatively. Sometimes I can get one or two songs to work, but trying to put together a whole album becomes more and more difficult. You really never know, but you also have to give yourself time to marinate and let the project evolve. Make a track, sleep on it, live with it a little while, go back to it, and take a break. I did that with A Common Wonder several times. I had to take a break from it, step away, and come back to it with a new perspective and then I was able to complete some of those songs that I was stuck on. I try not to give up on the ideas. If I get stuck I just move on to the next thing. I can always come back to it. I’m always working on several different things at once.

TRHH: What does your production workstation consist of?

Amerigo Gazaway: Two turntables, one of which is working. A Rane 57 mixer, my laptop, a little keyboard midi controller with some pads on it, another little Trigger Finger drum machine pad. Just midi controllers and random instruments. I have an electric bass guitar, an electric guitar that I’ve been playing live on some tracks. I got that around the time I did the B.B. King project. I got inspired listening to B.B. King and wanted to play guitar on some tracks. I got a trumpet and all types of random little percussion instruments. It’s constantly evolving and growing.

TRHH: What software do you record with?

Amerigo Gazaway: I use a handful of software. I use Ableton Live for a lot of my DJ/acapella/warping type stuff. I use Reason for a lot of my drum programming and because they’ve got a lot of sounds that I like. I’ve used Reason for a long time so I’m familiar with their sound bank so I use that quite frequently. I got a Triton LE keyboard that my homie Domo gave me. It’s got a lot of really good sounds in it. But yeah, mainly Ableton Live and Reason are my two go-to programs. I’ve jumped around programs over the years. I used to use Acid Pro, Cool Edit Pro, and all of that stuff. I’ve had a lot of experience with DAW’s.

TRHH: You travel the world deejaying; do people give you ideas now of artists that they think would sound nice together on a mashup?

Amerigo Gazaway: Yeah, I get ideas all the time on the road, on tour, on Twitter and people e-mail my ideas. It’s kind of fun and I’m always open to it. A lot of the ideas are good as party blends and that’s still something to consider. I’m always open to stuff like that and I’m always doing remixes that aren’t necessarily concepts for a whole album. Maybe it’s like a DJ edit or a tool for a DJ to drop on the dance floor. I’m constantly messing around with stuff like that. I’m always open to ideas.

My partner Ricky is always giving me ideas and feedback, so we’re constantly bouncing ideas back and forth creatively. He kind of helped me come up with the idea for A Common Wonder and the Yasiin Gaye project. I was working on several other projects at the time and he kind of pushed me to work on those two projects. I’m always getting ideas from people and also just digging for records at record stores a lot. That’s where I get a lot of my ideas, just looking at the names, the album artwork, and the liner notes from different albums. That’s something that’s always going to be relevant to what I do.

TRHH: Do you know if Common or Stevie heard the album?

Amerigo Gazaway: I don’t. I haven’t heard anything from either of their camps, but we’ll see. I heard from different artists in the past that I’ve remixed before. It’s always a blessing when the artist comes through and shows love for the project.

TRHH: What’s next up for you?

Amerigo Gazaway: I’m working on a lot of different projects. I’m working with artists, doing remixes for people, production, and stuff like that. I’m working on an instrumental album. I’m traveling. I’m going to Croatia. I’m staying busy out here in the Bay Area playing gigs. I played a Motown Monday gig the other night – that was fun. Check my website, for updates on where I’m going to be.

Download: Amerigo Gazaway – A Common Wonder

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Bru Lei: Selfie

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Photo courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity

Bru Lei has spent the better part of the last decade being a team player. He’s stayed busy doing group projects and doing shows on the road. Now Bru Lei is going for self. Bru recently released his first solo album in nine years called “Selfie.”

Selfie comes courtesy of Public School Records and is produced by Noshess, with one track crafted by Styles 1001. The profanity-free album guest stars Killah Priest, N.O.N., Mic Jordan, Jimmy the Saint, POOR, Pharroh, Malia, Mi Amor, and DJ Billy Lane.

The Real Hip-Hop chatted with Bru Lei about his clean style of rhyming, his love of the Wu-Tang Clan, and his new album, Selfie.

TRHH: Why’d you call your new album “Selfie”?

Bru Lei: I think it’s basically self-expression for myself. I was doing a lot of stuff with groups and crews – was working well with others. I just wanted to have creative control and express myself, but also still include people in the project. It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is out of the picture just because I’m taking the picture.

TRHH: You’ve been doing other things but haven’t released a solo project in a long time, how long did it take you to create Selfie?

Bru Lei: I’d say from the first song to now 2-to-3 years. I think in between there are tons of songs in my archives. None of them have any intention of going on a specific project. The first song that I recorded was with the homie Noshess — he produced most of the album. He was always sending me beats and getting me motivated. He said it was his dream to produce an album for me. We had been recording songs but I was going to call it something else and it was going to be totally different. I think the first song that I thought was a good one was “Stay Human.” We recorded that and I archived it and knew I wanted to put it out on the album, but I didn’t know what the title of the album was going to be. From there we started doing more songs and at the same time I was recording with him I was doing other projects on the side. I would say two or three years.

TRHH: How did you link up with Killah Priest for the song BRUTANG?

Bru Lei: It goes back to when Killah Priest was dropping that Heavy Mental album. He’s dope. He’s one of the elite rappers as far as lyrical content. I remember I was living in Ohio and the internet wasn’t really a thing like that. He was in town and I went up to this spot. I went in there and there was nobody up in there. He was leaving and I was like, “It’s over?” It was still early, like ten o’clock and he was like, “Yeah, it’s over.” I didn’t even know who the promoter was, but in this town you have to have local support for the word to spread because you can’t just put it in the paper and expect people to show up. That was a while ago and I had lost contact with him throughout the years.

Ghostface was scheduled to come to Cali to perform. I love Wu-Tang, I love Ghostface so I spent my last dollars on party preparation, the ticket, and Killah Priest comes out to the 4th Chamber beat, but he doesn’t rap though. It was weird. He saying shit but everyone was hype so you couldn’t really tell what he was saying. He was saying, “Ghostface is still stuck in the airport. He’s not going to be here tonight, but we’ll reschedule it.” I was like, “Wait a minute, did he say something about Ghostface not being here?” He said, “Do any emcees wanna rap?” and he just gives me the mic and I’m still confused. I’m on stage with Killah Priest and there is no Ghostface. I’m rapping and I say something at the end like, “Ghostface ain’t here, we want our money back.” And I got the crowd saying, “We want our money back!” The promoter was hella mad at me and Killah Priest thought it was funny. They came back and he recognized me and said, “I told you we were coming back.” It was a whole totally different vibe — I think he came back on 4/20.

I was at this art festival in Oakland and I was just standing in this one spot the whole night. It was so many people there and all these random people that I would know and not know would pass by and say what’s up. I was just about to leave that spot with my homie and took two steps and looked over to my left and Killah Priest was just standing there. I was so confused. He was already beside me but I didn’t see him. I was like, “What are you doing here?” and he was laughing at me and said, “I live here.” Killah Priest lives in Oakland? That’s not really known I don’t think. From that we were just building. Before we recorded that song I had recorded two songs with Cappadonna for two other projects.

I’m trying to put together a whole project called BRUTANG that’s Wu-Tang influenced with Wu members on it. I’m like halfway done with that one. I’m talking with Killah Priest that night at the art festival and we ended up hanging out. It was me, Killah Priest, Opio from Hieroglyphics, and Souls of Mischief was there too. We ended up going to this after spot and hanging out. I got his math and my birthday came along and I had no idea what I was going to do for my birthday. I wanted to go on a trip and it dawned on me to hit him up. I thought even if I don’t do it today, do it sometime soon. This is what I would actually want for my birthday. Instead of spending all this money I’d rather put some money in the studio, put some money into my art, and myself. I hit him up, he drove up to the studio, we kicked it, and that’s what it was. I had a few beats – maybe 4 or 5. That was the one that he picked. That was the first beat I played but I played four more. He was nodding his head to some other ones but he kept saying, “The first one.” I appreciate him for jumping on that.

TRHH: The song “P!!!” is really creative and at the end you shouted out some of our own that we’ve lost, which was dope. What inspired that song?

Bru Lei: I was listening to some old Spitball. That was one of my first crews that I was in and DJ Przm, rest in peace, he was a dope producer. He was like the RZA of our town where he had the dope production and he would put people on tracks that had beef with each other and you wouldn’t even know. It would just be dope music. There was this one song that he has, I don’t remember the name, where he said, “I take a longer piss than Adam Sandler,” from some movie — I forget what movie it is. He keeps rapping and in the background all you hear is Adam Sandler peeing in the background for like a minute and a half. He starts rapping about it and I was just cracking up laughing about that. I was thinking about that and thought what if I did a whole song in memory of him where I did the same thing and peeing for a long time but I’m saying a bunch of P words at the same time. That was the original concept of it. After Sean Price passed and Pumpkinhead passed I started writing that song. It cuts it off but I wanted that song to be for all of them – Phife Dawg, Prince, Prodigy. I really love alliteration as well too. That’s one of my favorite things in Hip-Hop. I love the letters and the letter game and stuff like that.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Do you write to the beat or when rhymes come to you?

Bru Lei: I usually do write to the beats. On that album I definitely did write to the beats. It’s quite a challenge because sometimes people will give you the beats broken up into a basic stem of just the beat and the melody and the producer will produce around the emcee. On this one it was kind of like the beats were already laid out and I had to match the rhythm and know where the hook was. I normally just listen to the beat and freestyle over it and try to come up with some type of concept. Not even a hook or anything specific, I just try to freestyle and bring out the emotion of whatever the beat is saying to me. From there I just start writing. A song like “P!!!” or “M.C.” or “Magic” were brainstormed first. It doesn’t even have to rhyme at all, I just write as much as I possibly can and then I just build from there. I start crossing out words, circling words, and it’s process of elimination with thoughts and ideas. Now I’ve been writing a lot to no beats. I have dope ass concepts that I’ve been writing about, but the album I wrote to the beat.

TRHH: Selfie is one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2017 and I didn’t even notice that the album contained no curse words until I read it somewhere. You’ve proven that vulgarity isn’t necessary to make dope Hip-Hop music, why do you think curse words are so rampant in popular rap music today?

Bru Lei: Thank you, man. Word! That means a lot to me. It’s weird because I remember when I was in second grade, I guess I was like 7 years old. One of my aunties said, “What are you gonna do when you grow up?” and I said, “Cuss!” I remember that to this day. I was in my grandmother’s kitchen. At that point there was never cussing on the radio or music videos, so I was getting the cussing from inside the home. It was a grown thing and I never understood why bad words were bad words. How can a word be bad? No matter what the word is. There are some pretty cruel words, I get that now, but at that age I didn’t know. And I didn’t know the power of words back then. I feel like it was forbidden to do it as a youth so anything that’s similar to I feel like people just do it more. I don’t know if it’s really like a status of being a bad ass or anything like that. I think a lot of times people will challenge me to battle and if they are saying cuss words in between their bars it’s like, man, just walk away. You have so many choices of words to say. If you’re rhyming cuss words together and shit, I’m cussing right now, but it doesn’t make sense to me.

My favorite group is Wu-Tang and my second favorite group is Mobb Deep. Their subject matter and all the stuff that they talk about has never made me live that lifestyle or try to be what they actually are. It’s never had that effect on me. Then there is music that I get tired of after a while when they say the same things. Why’d they have to shoot this dude? Why’d they have to shoot me? Why’d they have to do these things in the song? It’s like a movie. They’re explaining what’s going on and painting the picture for you and I get it. It’s a picture of the life of having to hustle and stay alive. Do you know off hand of a song or group that just has a ridiculous amount of cussing? Besides someone like N.W.A. but someone that’s like, “Motherfuck, fuck, shit, motherfuck, fuck.”

TRHH: 2 Live Crew comes to mind [laughs].

Bru Lei: I was thinking of 2 Live Crew, that’s why I did that cadence but then at the same time I’m thinking about their songs and except for the P word they really weren’t cussing like that. Too $hort, didn’t he have a whole thing on that?

TRHH: Yeah, CussWords.

Bru Lei: I think back in the day it was the shock value. Like for a kid to say, “Oooh he said a bad word.” It was first a sign of being grown. I don’t think it was a thing of not being creative. In high school or middle school there was a group of people that weren’t scholars. That wasn’t the cool thing, maybe it is now — I hope it is. When you get grown it becomes a thing to be proud of, talk about, and brag about like, “I got a college degree,” or “I got a high school diploma” or “I didn’t drop out of school.” It becomes a good thing but at the time when you’re in it it’s kind of cool to not be on top of your game with your books, reading, and all that stuff. I think it falls back on that.

I don’t know, I feel like even in TV it’s changed a lot to where they are saying certain words that they weren’t saying 5 or 10 years ago. It pushes the culture in that direction of what’s edgy. It’s like being a bad ass or not being soft. If you don’t cuss it might be considered soft or weak. It doesn’t have that much emotion in it. I guess when you cuss somebody out you have a lot of emotion usually, unless you’re like used to cussing all the time and you’re just cussing for no reason. I wasn’t even going to tell anybody that there was no cussing just to see if they would figure it out. I like that you said you didn’t know without it being written. That’s one of the things I’d like the feedback on like, “Did you know I didn’t cuss on that?” and they’d probably be like, “Nah, I didn’t.” That would make someone go back and listen to it.

TRHH: Who is the Selfie album made for?

Bru Lei: That’s a good question. First and foremost I made it for myself. Sometimes I get depressed or sometimes I feel like, “What am I doing this or that for?” Why am I rapping? I love martial arts and all that but to just kick a crowds ass every time it’s like, why am I doing this? Why am I getting on stage and talking about doing this? I think it’s for people with an open mind — people that are expanding their minds. The term is “woke” but that’s cliché. I would say it’s for people that are woke but also people that are awakening. The whole earth is on some awakening vibes right now. It’s for the creative people, it’s for the youth, but it’s also for the older generations of Hip-Hop that miss the golden era and call certain Hip-Hop “real Hip-Hop” and say that other Hip-Hop is trash. They don’t even give it a chance, but at the same time this is music that should be relatable to those people who have kids that they can play in front of their kids without actually influencing them in a wrong manner. Some people still rock out to that stuff and they don’t even realize that the words are getting inside these kids heads and is guiding them in a certain direction that may be wrong or right, depending on whose opinion it is. They may also want to embody those things that it’s mentioning.

I think it’s for adults and second It’s for the generations to come to see that it could be done in that matter. Life ain’t always a party. I got a lot of friends that drink, smoke, and just party. They come over and ask me to kick it and I look at my walls and these are the pictures that I’ve painted, or all the videos that I made on the internet, and those things take time. It wasn’t time that I was wasting. I feel like you can waste time and time could just fly by before you know it. You could also take control of that time and each day chip away at a project, or be creative, or leave the world with something to remember you by. A lot of my friends have passed away that can no longer create art. I think that was a true reason why I wanted to release this because man, you never know. I’m sitting on this music and who would put it out? Who would know what to do with it? I know the creative process that it took so I just wanted to push it out for that. I was doing a lot of shows at high schools getting paid good money. I would just do the songs that I had and I would cut out the curse words. I got tired of bleeping out words and not having a radio version. I would go to these schools and they would see my old videos anyway and know the real words. It was like, “Whoa,” that was a major thing.

I was dating this girl at the time that said she would call me out every time I mentioned smoking or drinking something. She would say, “You’re just regular. You’re just a regular rapper.” She was like my dream girl so I had to prove something to myself and to her that this was a body of work that I did that I could look back on. I don’t know what 2Pac’s mission was always, but he always had those songs that you could not take away from him. He had Keep Ya Head Up, Dear Mama, and plenty more that you could name that were of a positive nature. No one could ever take that away from him that he put it there. With people passing away I was getting depressed and I wanted something that I feel good about when I listen to it. A lot of music I couldn’t even listen to anymore because it was all senseless stuff. It doesn’t really help my spirit. Even the good stuff that was talking in that manner. I would miss my homies and stuff like, “We could make the beats this tight,” and “We could make the rhymes this tight.” I just made a self-help album for myself. That’s the best way to put it.

Purchase: Bru Lei – Selfie

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Anti-Lilly: It’s Nice Outside

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Photo courtesy of Don’t Sleep Records

When referencing 2Pac Hip-Hop legend Ice-T once said, “You don’t become the greatest rapper by being able to rap well, you become the greatest by being able to touch people.” Stories of pain, hardships, joy, and love are relatable to everyone walking the earth. When conveyed through music those messages are easily delivered to the hearts and minds of the listener without ever perishing.

Houston emcee Anti-Lilly has never been one to shy away from bearing his soul in his music. His latest release with producer Phoniks takes Lilly to a new level as an artist and as a man. “It’s Nice Outside” is a 17-track album released on Don’t Sleep Records. Throughout the album Anti-Lilly details his real life battles with depression, financial woes, and betrayal. The project is produced entirely by Phoniks and features Awon, LC, Mariel, Jon S, Scolla, and Devante Hunter.

Anti-Lilly spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about what he does to cope in trying times, the positives that can be taken from negative situations, and his new album with Phoniks, It’s Nice Outside.

TRHH: “It’s Nice Outside” is an interesting title. How did you get to the point that you realized it was nice outside?

Anti-Lilly: To be honest it’s something I’m still going back and forth on. I’m still struggling with it. It’s kind of an ironic title. Just to explain it a little more, everybody has a different vision of a nice day. Some people prefer the rain, some people like a little more clouds, and some people don’t mind the sun. Everybody sees something different. No matter if you’re going through your ups or downs it’s all about how you see the day and how you want to address it. All the stuff I’ve been going through, I’m choosing to say it’s nice outside. I don’t have no other choice and I can’t let that negativity eat me up. So I just use that in a sense to motivate myself. I’m still getting through it right now.

TRHH: Would you say that you are depressed now?

Anti-Lilly: Man, you don’t really want to play with that word. I can’t say. I haven’t gone to a doctor. I don’t know what’s going on with me, but I have my days where I kind of want to shut out from everything. I don’t answer the phone; I don’t get on the internet, some days I’m better off by myself. Some days I’m a little more happy, but it’s a battle every day. It’s been more sweet than bitter these past few months. It’s an ongoing struggle, man. I’m just staying prayed up, trying to stay busy, and staying on my grind. I’m of the mind state that everything is going to pay off because usually it does.

TRHH: What are you doing to be proactive and fight off the negative feelings?

Anti-Lilly: You can’t leave your mind idle. You have to stay busy whether it’s visiting my mom or visiting my dad more and being more involved with my family. It was times where I couldn’t write or record. It was something holding me back. What’s been helping Sherron is getting more involved, moving around, and trying to stay busy. Whenever I sit with my thoughts I’m just thinking on them and I don’t have a way to get them out. That’s when it gets really dark for me. I just want to thank Phoniks for reaching out to me and helping me get through this tough time, because music is really the best way I know how to get everything off my chest. I think people who listen to ‘It’s Nice Outside’ are going to get a good mixture of the ups and the downs.

TRHH: How have you changed as an artist and as a man since Stories from the Brass Section?

Anti-Lilly: Much older. I’m more patient. I lost some really close friends that had been with me. We were going in different directions. Just life, man. More stress, more bills, and more responsibilities. It’s made me more patient. With Stories I had more of the mentality that, “I’ve got to get it now, this is my time, I have to seize it,” but I’m learning to this day that everything won’t always happen on your time, but that doesn’t mean you stop. You have to keep going. I’m a lot more patient, I’m thinking things out a lot more clearer now, and I don’t have the afro no more, so that’s something else [laughs].

TRHH: [Laughs] On the song ‘I Found Me’ you spoke on a friend who ripped you off. What lesson did you take away from that situation?

Anti-Lilly: It’s a lesson I’m still learning today. As much as it sucks to say, you can’t trust anyone. To my mom’s credit she always told me that growing up, but my heart is so big I’ll give anybody the shirt off my back. I’ll give somebody my last dollar, but folks tend to take your kindness for granted and confuse it with weakness. I’m not a weak person at all. It’s frustrating because you think you can trust people and try to put folks in situations to succeed but when the shoe is on the other foot you don’t really get that back and it hurts your heart, especially when it’s someone you’re close with. I’m not here to throw anyone under the bus, it’s all good. That’s the only way I knew how to get through it was through songs and getting those feelings out. I’m moving a lot smoother now. I’m looking over my shoulder a little more now, trying to watch out for the snakes. It’s only a few folks that I can confide in nowadays. I’m a lot more paranoid than I used to be. I don’t know if it’s for the better or for the worse, but I’m just getting through it like everything else.

TRHH: On the song ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ you speak on your ex and your friend getting together and having a baby. How were you able to make peace with that?

Anti-Lilly: You really don’t have any choice. First of all, it’s been a few years. I’ve been in a good relationship for about four years now myself. Time has passed and I’m happy that they’re happy, but as far as making peace, that’s the only option you have. If you let that type of stuff sit on your chest you’re thinking about it every day, you start to question why, you’re wondering “what if” and you can’t. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe I was the instrument to introduce those two souls to each other. All I can say is I’m in a better situation, they’re in a better situation, that’s in the past and I just wish the best for them. Wishing the worst on somebody especially when a life is involved is not in my character. I can’t do that. We don’t talk and we don’t follow each other on social media, but I don’t hold any hard feelings toward what happened because it was just out of my control. You just gotta kinda deal with it and you feel better when you make peace. I don’t want to have anything sitting on my chest and sitting on my brain, so I’d just much rather make peace with everything.

TRHH: There is a recurring theme on “It’s Nice Outside” of wanting wealth to help yourself and your mother. How much did the pursuit of money contribute to you being in that dark place and is it possible to take some of these responsibilities off of your plate to help you to stay out of that place?

Anti-Lilly: Man, that’s a good question. Where I am now some of the things I was doing to make my ends with this album, and I’m confident it’s going to ease some of the load, because I want to be in a position when I say I need money it’s not that I want to floss or want to flex. I want to be in a position where I can invest it and where I can save it to set my family up for generations. Some of the stuff you need like credit scores they don’t really teach you in school. They don’t let you know how to set a checkbook up. Learning a lot of that stuff on my own that can weigh on you. I’ve always been blessed with the spirit to go get it. I’ve been hustling as long as I can remember.

That does have its stresses because you have to be extra-cautious of people while still working a full-time job and still trying to go for this dream. You lose time and you start thinking about what you’re investing your time in and that can really weigh on you and you start to feel as if you’re a new person. Between my other ventures, my job, and my music I felt like I was on a hamster wheel. You get all of that on the album – it’s the money, it’s the family, it’s old friends, it’s life in general. You let stuff weigh on you and it will stress you out and you will feel a bit overwhelmed, but we gotta keep going at the end of the day.

TRHH: Did you ever at any point think about quitting rapping?

Anti-Lilly: Never, man. That’s never crossed my mind. You’ll hear that on a song like “Nobody’s Perfect” as well where I feel like I’m falling out my prime. Instead of spending this time with this cloud over me, I could have been using that time toward something productive. Those thoughts definitely come up where I feel like, “If I drop something are they even going to give a damn? Are they still checking for me?” It’s been a few years. I wasn’t doing anything, Sherron. I wasn’t on Twitter, I wasn’t on any kind of social media platform. I developed a lot of anxiety from that feeling of if I drop something is it going to get 5 views or 100 views? That’s the closest I came was having that paranoia and anxiety. This is something that I always wanted to do. This is the only way I know how to get my feelings out to the world. I never wanted to quit. Sometimes you have roadblocks and adversity in front of you. This project is me getting through everything.

TRHH: You always put a lot of yourself out there, but it seems different this time. Was it hard for you to share these particular struggles with others on “It’s Nice Outside”?

Anti-Lilly: Not necessarily, man. That’s just how I am. People that know me know I’m an open book. It’s much better to be honest with people and tell people the way things make you feel. I’ve never been afraid to share my feelings and maybe that separates me from other artists. This is my art. When I’m on a song I wanna be the best at what I do. Primarily the way this started was as an avenue to get my feelings out. I’m comfortable venting about what I’m going through than picking a subject or making a hit for the summer or the fall and trying to get on the radio. This is all I know how to do is to get it out there. It’s been a good response. By me being so honest and showing my vulnerability I’m not no better or bigger than anyone else.

On songs like “Grow” somebody reached out to me and told me that me talking about my hard times helped get them through their hard times. If I wasn’t being vulnerable and laying my feelings out there I would have missed out on that opportunity and lord knows what could have happened. Sort of like the butterfly effect thing. This is something I’ve always been comfortable doing, but this one does have a darker sound. I was just going through a dark time and I had a lot to get off my chest. That’s maybe why the sound is a little different than some of my past projects. I’m just a little older and going through a few more things, so you just kind of get a hint of that progression.

TRHH: What do you want people to take from “It’s Nice Outside”?

Anti-Lilly: No matter what the weather is in your personal life, no matter what storm you’re going through you have to understand that it’s necessary. You can’t grow if you don’t take a step back. We all have our storms that we’re going through, whether small or big. Life is just a continuous lesson. It’s very easy for us to appreciate stuff when things are going good, but the purpose of this album is we gotta know how to get through it when things are going bad and try to find the lesson. It’s there in everything we do, we just have to find the lesson sometimes. That’s what I would want to get out to the people – you’re not alone. We’re all going through it and all we got is each other at the end of the day. This album is truly for the people, man.

Purchase: Anti-Lilly & Phoniks – It’s Nice Outside

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Introducing: MitZfit

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Photo courtesy of MitZfit

Photo courtesy of MitZfit

Social media is a unique thing — it connects us all. The people you can encounter and the words you may read can either be flat out ugly or extremely beautiful. Quite honestly, beautiful incidents are a rarity in cyberspace these days, but when they do occur the feeling is refreshing.

Thanks to Twitter I was able to connect with a female emcee from across the pond by the name of MitZfit. A click on her SoundCloud page immediately blew me away. Her voice, her flow, and her lyrics were all striking. She rhymed over industry beats from the likes of Kev Brown, 9th Wonder, Tom Misch, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and sounded right at home.

During a trip to London I had the opportunity to meet MitZfit. She showed me around her hood in the Brixton district of London and we chopped it up about UK Hip-Hop, her musical inspirations, and her goals in the music business.

TRHH: How did you first get into Hip-Hop?

MitZfit: I’ve always grown up around music. I grew up in an era where I was listening to a lot of R&B. I was born in the 80s and grew up in the 90s. In the 90s R&B music was really in but it was heavily influenced by Hip-Hop. I was always listening to R&B. My mom loved R&B music so that’s what I grew up listening to. Because of the Hip-Hop influence you had a lot of R&B tracks featuring a lot of rappers. That’s how I got into Hip-Hop and learned to rap, hearing the rap verse on the R&B track.

TRHH: When did you start rapping?

MitZfit: I started rapping when I was like 6 years old. It’s crazy, I know.

TRHH: What were you rapping about at six?

MitZfit: I was rapping about getting sent to bed! No, I’m only joking [laughs]. I learned to rap because my mom bought the TLC album Crazy, Sexy, Cool. I loved the album. I’m a big fan of TLC. They showed me what it was like to be a female. They were like big sisters to me watching them on screen. I loved Left Eye, I thought she was so dope. Obviously when that album came out I learned it back to front, page to page I studied the booklet. I learned all of Left Eye’s raps. That’s how I learned to rap, memorizing Left Eye’s verses. I was six, I didn’t think it was what I was going to do in life [laughs]. I was just loving music. That was how I learned how to rap.

TRHH: Who are some of the emcees that influenced you?

MitZfit: I used to listen to a lot of Will Smith growing up, I’m not going to lie. Queen Latifah – I listened to her a lot. Missy is someone I grew up on as well – I love Missy Elliott. MC Lyte here and there. It was weird for me because if I’m being honest I’m not going to sit here and try to reel off all these rappers that I know. R&B music taught me how to rap and that’s real – that’s honest. Any rapper that I was influenced by it was because I heard them on an R&B track and I learned their verse. I couldn’t tell you the names off the top of my head. I mentioned a few because they had albums out. I learned about Mase because he was on a Mary J. Blige album.

TRHH: How did you come up with the name “MitZfit?”

MitZfit: It just came to me one day. I used to call myself “RV.” That’s just the initials of my first and second name. One day my sister was like, “Rochelle, you can’t call yourself RV!” I uploaded one of my songs to YouTube way back in the day under RV and my sister said, “How do you expect someone to find you because when I typed in ‘RV’ in YouTube it came up with RV trucks?” [Laughs] She was like, “You’ve got to think about your name,” and I said, “You know what, you’re right. In the right time it will come.” And one day it just came to me. I don’t remember when or where, but it did. I guess I was in a space in my life where I was trying to figure out my place in society and within the world.

It just dawned on me that I don’t fit it in anywhere. You can’t put me in a box. You can’t define what I am or who I am. There’s a term where they say, “I’m trying to put my finger on it, but I don’t know what it is.” With me I’m a misfit and it’s not a negative thing, it’s a positive thing. I don’t fit into crowds with people, I’d rather do my own thing. I’m a misfit. I’m different from the status quo. I’m always outside of the box. I don’t agree with following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing or talking about the same thing everyone else is talking about. I’m just me. People will look at me and ask where do I fit in – I don’t. You can’t place me with one group of people because I’m just a misfit.

TRHH: What exactly makes you a misfit? Why don’t you fit in? Give me an example.

MitZfit: Listen to my music. Who is really talking about what I talk about? I mean, I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there that aren’t spitting conscious lyrics – there are a lot. But what female is really out there talking about what I’m talking about apart from maybe Rapsody? Who? The market for conscious female rappers is not a lot. You’ve got really good female rappers doing their thing but they’re not talking about nothing. I remember back in the day females were doing their thing but they were talking sense. They made it fun, they made it sassy, they made it strong and they made it powerful. No female is really doing that today. They’re just talking about whatever it is they’re talking about. That’s what makes me a misfit. I’m a female rapper but I’m not nothing like the rest – I’m different.

TRHH: What is the London Hip-Hop scene like?

MitZfit: I mean, there is one, for the record [laughs]. There is one but it’s very underground. It doesn’t really get the recognition that it deserves. London does have a lot of Hip-Hop artists that have done and are doing their thing right now. We’ve got Little Simz, she’s dope. I love her. I’ve been to a couple of her concerts. She’s doing her thing right now. The UK Hip-Hop scene is hard to define if we have a “Hip-Hop” scene because Grime is classified as Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop is classified as Grime in the UK. So you’ve got emcees that are spitting Grime but are considered Hip-Hop. It’s just so hard to define and no two are the same. London is not very strong on the specifics of Hip-Hop. Everyone just kind of throws it in the bag and says, “Yeah, they’re rapping on the mic so let’s just call it Hip-Hop,” or “Let’s just call it Grime.”

TRHH: It’s the same way in America.

MitZfit: Oh really?

TRHH: People just throw it all together. What inspired the song “Away From Me”?

MitZfit: [Laughs] I just wanted to get away from me. No, I guess I was just having one of those days. Life inspired me to write ‘Away From Me’! A lot of things had been happening within the world. If you listen to the track you notice I say, “How do you expect people to put their head up/ When they keep the lead up,” In Flint those things were happening and it was like, even though I’m over here in London it effects me because how can these things go on and no one not do nothing about it? How is that even allowed? As a black person living in London I’ve got my own struggles and sometimes it just gets too much. I can’t handle it.

To hear some fuckery going on in another part of the world where people can’t even get water, water, the most basic resource that humans need. That’s what’s happening and that caused me to write that sometimes I feel like I just want to get away. I’m trying to get away from me. If you listen to the chorus it’s like, “You wanna get away? Come over here, let’s smoke this weed, come, let’s escape.” Sometimes we can’t get away how we want to so we turn to weed to escape in that moment.

TRHH: Or whatever else.

MitZfit: Or whatever else. Whatever rocks your boat that that moment.

TRHH: In your music you’re open about your sexuality, which is not very common in Hip-Hop. Why is it important to express that side of yourself and did you ever worry that it might hurt you in any way?

MitZfit: See the thing is with me is it’s not important for me to express my sexuality. I haven’t made it a point go out and write these songs to prove that I like women or whatever. It’s just me writing about me. I’m just being me. It’s me living my life. I can only write about me and what I’m doing. If I’m going to be open with that, then I’m going to be open with it. It hasn’t caused any problems and I would hope that it doesn’t. I’m hoping that the people don’t focus on my sexuality, but rather what I’m talking about. Sexuality is just a small part of us. It’s not supposed to take up everything. I don’t think it’s necessarily important. I haven’t thought that it’s going to do me any damage in any type of way, and if it does then it’s dumb ‘cause it shouldn’t. It is what it is.

TRHH: What are your goals as an artist?

MitZfit: I wanna put out good music and continue to do that. I’m not doing this for fame or for the money. I hate fame [laughs]. I’ve seen what fame does to people. It’s not a nice thing. Obviously I want to be successful financially — if I can be that’s a blessing. My goals are to keep pushing out good music and be continuous with it. To have longevity and being known for an artist that has continued to put out quality material. Each time I release something for it to have meaning. My goals are for someone in another part of the world to hear my music and feel inspired. That’s my goal and it’s happening already. In a sense I am achieving that goal and it feels wonderful to know that someone else in another part of the world, a completely different time zone, is listening to what I’m saying and can relate to it and can also be inspired or empowered from it. That means a lot to me.

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Tone Chop & Frost Gamble: Respect Is Earned Not Given

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Photo courtesy of Brett Enquist & Movie Mike

In 2016 longtime collaborators Tone Chop and Frost Gamble joined forces to release an EP called Veteran. The emcee/producer duo wasted no time getting back in the lab to create what is one of the best albums of 2017, “Respect Is Earned Not Given.”

The 14-track album magically mixes Chop’s grit and wit with Frost’s phenomenal production. Respect Is Earned Not Given is produced entirely by Frost Gamble and features appearances by Tragedy Khadafi, Planet Asia, White Rhino, Bigga Haitian, DNA, DJ Waxamillion, and the legendary Kool G Rap.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Tone Chop and Frost Gamble about taking their music to the next level, collaborating with some of their Hip-Hop influences, and their new album, Respect Is Earned Not Given.

TRHH: Why’d you title the album ‘Respect Is Earned Not Given’?

Tone Chop: I had the title for like a year or so. Basically I feel like you should earn your respect lyrically. These guys nowadays don’t have to. It’s just me showing everybody we gotta earn our respect and we’re going to earn it. When I came up we had to have rhymes ready all the time. You couldn’t just be like, “I rhyme,” or whatever. Nowadays they just get over. They get hot over a YouTube video and you didn’t really earn nothing. You didn’t have to sit in the trenches and rhyme it out. When I battled somebody you had to have 25 verses, not three rounds. You had to have verses on deck. I always had rhymes on deck. I had that title for a while now. I told Frost about it and he was like, “Yeah, let’s go with it.” That’s really it. It’s a popular quote anyway. At the same time to me it means musically you should have to earn your spot. I have done it, but not worldwide, so we’re earning it worldwide right now.

Frost Gamble: The EP was the warm up, especially Chop’s back story on who we are and what we’re about. On the LP Chop goes much deeper lyrically. You get to find out more of his story, more of his personality, and more of our complete style and sensibilities. I’m really proud of what we made. I feel like it’s a complete cohesive album. There’s nothing throwaway about it. We put our heart and soul into every track.

TRHH: Chop, would you say you took your skills to a new level this time around?

Tone Chop: Absolutely, absolutely. Frost will tell you that even when I make a mixtape I try to push the envelope every time. Veteran we did before the deal and all of that. This is me with the deal and really making the album. The EP, we did 7 songs and put them on there. This is me trying to make an album. I got over 20 mixtapes. This is me trying to spill it all out without having to do certain things like club tracks or whatever. I’m not into that type of stuff. I spilled it out a lot more. There’s a lot more to this album than Veteran by far. I feel like we both stepped it up.

TRHH: Was stepping it up a concerted effort to step it up or did you just get better over time?

Tone Chop: I think we got better over time. If you listen to the intro it say, “They’re praying I fall off, we just got better with time.” There are a lot of people waiting to say, “He’s hanging it up, congratulations.” But that’s not happening. The movie that we got after this is just ridiculous. We just keep getting better – it’s crazy. I’m 44 years old, I ain’t no youngin. For me to keep getting better at something is a positive thing.

Frost Gamble: I think it’s validation, too. Chop and I have been getting our energy from fans. Just like he said, it’s crazy at our age that we’re just breaking through and just starting to get this love. We have people from the UK and France telling us that we’re into the music and it’s inspiring. It erases that self-doubt. I spent a lot of years hearing a bunch of bullshit from A&R’s about having to make a beat that sounds like whatever the trend is. Chop and I have never been about that. We stuck to the Hip-Hop script right from jump and we’re fortunate that after 20 years of being stubborn people that it’s come back our way and it’s working. We’re blessed.

Tone Chop: Imagine being a basketball player and you’re great. You’re telling everybody all the time and show them what you do for years, but you never made it on the right team or made it to the next level. This is just me showing them and I appreciate it. I’ve been telling them for years. If you go back and listen to my mixtapes, I’ve never been garbage. I always had hot music it just didn’t get to the masses. I didn’t have the platform to get it to the right people. If I did then this would have happened a lot sooner, I know it would have. That’s why we say everything happens for a reason. It just wasn’t our time and now is our time. We stuck to what we do and we do the music that we like and the music that we would listen to. It’s not too many people that inspire me lately, seriously. It’s a lot of dudes out there that aren’t really impressive. I got love for this. This is what I do for a long time. I always try and push my pen more and more every time.

TRHH: How’d you link up with Kool G Rap for ‘Walk The Walk’?

Frost Gamble: That’s the beauty of this label situation, now we have the connections to reach out to people and be credible. With G Rap I basically just reached out to his manager and started a conversation. He saw that we were official and weren’t bullshitting and wasting their time. It was such an incredible experience because G Rap is clearly, if not thee, one of the greatest of all-time. He’s incredibly important to our culture and lyricism. He has unquestionable contributions, but he was so humble and so cool to work with. We sent him the track with Chop’s vocals on it and he hit me back right away. We’re texting and he’s not doing it from a distance. He’s like, “Man, Chop killed this. This is dope. I hope I can keep up!” He said something real complementary like that, what a great person. He doesn’t have to show us love like that, but he did. That’s exactly the kind of thing that feeds Chop and I energy. That’s all we ever really wanted. We don’t want to be rich, we don’t want to be famous, but we do crave acknowledgment from the architects – the people that we admire, the people that we respect. It all ties right back, respect is earned, not given.

Tone Chop: I’m highly grateful that he liked the record before putting himself on it. Nothing is revised. He got the record how it was. I didn’t change none of the words or nothing after he did his verse. I kept everything the same. I’m grateful that he even gave me the props and said that the record was dope before he even got on it. That was one of them records where I was telling Frost that we don’t even need a feature on it at all. He said G Rap was the right feature for it. He put it together and the record is making a lot of noise. Hopefully it catches fire. He’s got an album out right now and he’s been one of my favorite rappers and I’ve never changed. I got certain rappers that I hold to a certain pedestal. That’s why when they ask me about the Jay-Z album, I’m a fan of Jay-Z, don’t get me wrong, this one is better than the last one but this ain’t the Jay-Z that I want to hear. I feel like the 4:44 joint, I don’t know, I feel like my album is better. I know as a rapper you’re supposed to feel like that, but I’m not just saying that. I feel like we put together a solid body of work.

TRHH: I’ve only listened to your album once so I’ll have to go back and listen again and judge that. I hit Frost up when I was listening to it and I was like, “Holy shit, this is crazy!” It’s banging from beginning to end. I love it, but I do like the Jay-Z album a lot.

Tone Chop: I like the Jay-Z album, don’t get me wrong. I like it better than a lot of the last few that he did. He went back to his roots this time with the beats and everything. It ain’t a bunch of trap bullshit on there. I do like it, but I’m not like, “Wow.” Like I said before, anything he puts out people are going to hop on it anyway. He can call it anything he wants. They’re saying he’s the GOAT so maybe next time he’ll call it The GOAT and have a picture with him looking like a goat on there.

TRHH: [Laughs] You know what I think the buzz is? Number one, it’s the whole Beyonce thing. 2, I’m a fan of what people call “rapping about rap,” just lyrics. I love that, but the majority of people like when they can connect with you on some shit. 2Pac didn’t have the greatest flow, but because of the shit that he said people love him to this day. They could relate to the shit he was saying and Jay-Z doesn’t really do that. There’s not one club record on that album, which is not normal for Jay-Z. Jay-Z is being vulnerable, which he’s only shown glimpses of over time. That’s why people dig it.

Tone Chop: Speaking of 2Pac, I actually appreciate 2Pac more now than when I was younger, actually.

Frost Gamble: Oh yeah, me too and it’s not even close.

Tone Chop: I listen to 2Pac now and I get a whole different chill listening to 2Pac now than I did when I was younger.

Frost Gamble: We were East Coast kids. That whole East/West thing, media induced or whatever, I felt like at the time he was pouring fuel on that fire. I loved Biggie deeply, so I was not messing with him back in the days. I deeply appreciate and respect his artistry, the impact he’s had, and his legacy and all of that. I do listen to his music now, but at the time outside of the Digital Underground stuff he was on radio silence as far as I was concerned [laughs].

TRHH: I’m the opposite of you guys because I was heavily into him back then, but now I can’t listen so much. Only because I don’t think the production has held up. He’s got some shit but some of the beats sound very dated. I can listen to some Preemo shit from back then and still love it, but some of the production was not that great to me. It’s hard to argue with a guy who had that kind of success.

Frost Gamble: Right.

Tone Chop: Absolutely.

TRHH: Frost, did you take a different approach working with Chop than when you worked with ZotheJerk on Black Beach?

Frost Gamble: With Chop we’re so much further along in our understanding of each other. Zo is my twin and we’re really close, but we’ve only been making music together for 3 years. Chop and I have been making music together for 30 years. When Chop says, “I’m looking for such and such,” or “I got whatever on my mind,” I know what he’s talking about right away. I know what’s he’s going for and it’s very easy for us to communicate. We’ve done so many songs with each other and Chop still surprises me with flows and styles. Even though he surprises me I’m well prepared to lay down the sonic blueprint that he needs. We laid almost 30 songs for Respect is Earned Not Given and just picked the best 14 and put it on wax. Yes, we’ve gotten better but we’re working like crazy to get there. It’s still fun. Sometimes we have deadlines that stress you or other projects we’re working on, but with Chop it’s always fun. It comes very easily for me.

TRHH: The beat on ‘Bing Stories’ is crazy. Without sample snitching, how did you find that sample because that was nuts? What genre was that?

Frost Gamble: That’s a jazz sample. That’s an old jazz record. It’s just a loop. You can hear from the album that sometimes I chop things up and take it crazy, but that’s just a loop. As soon as I heard it I was like, “This is a storytelling joint right here.” Chop has lived an interesting life so I knew he had some stories. I said, “Check this out if you want to tell some experiences to this,” and man did he write a compelling story.

TRHH: Chop, on the last couple songs “Inspiration” and “See You Again” you kind of got personal. Was it easy for you to spit those rhymes?

Tone Chop: With the Inspiration joint I go to this group and it’s church based, but it’s a recovering group. I’m not necessarily recovering but it’s a friend of mine who runs it and he’s a pastor. He reached out to me because he knows that I have a voice. He tries to help me out. Sometimes I have a lot of things on my mind and I can go to that group and express myself without anybody judging me. Inspiration really comes from going to that group and being around people that are trying to do positive things in their life. They have people constantly knocking them down because they had a drug problem or an alcohol problem, so it’s actually inspired by that. I’m trying to inspire you and inspire myself as well. You know how people quote things all the time? I took a few popular quotes and weaved them in the rhymes to bring forth a positive message. I have kids and I want my kids to be able to listen to my album top to bottom. I don’t want them to have to skip through songs. My oldest son is into Hip-Hop very much. I’m trying to show him the ropes at the same time because he’s already writing and ready to jump in the bag already. I’m trying to inspire people with that one.

See You Again is about a good friend of mine that passed away. It was a couple of years before I made the record, but it just wasn’t the time to make the record. I was just sitting there thinking and it just all poured out the way it was supposed to. I feel like those records all come from a special place. It has to come from that special place. If I tell Frost I need something pain wise he knows what I’m talking about. Those two records really came from a special place. I’m a street dude. Frost knows what it is, but unless you really know me personally then you don’t know what I mean by that. I was a person that was really in the streets. I’m not trying to glorify anything but I was really getting money. I went down the wrong path and got in trouble. To cut a long story short I just went through a lot of changes. That’s why it says in the song, “I’m making changes, so if you don’t hear from me that means you’re one of them.” That means I cut you out of my life, I don’t need you around, you’re not helping me in any way trying to further what I’m trying to do. If you’re not going to be behind me positively it’s no sense in having you around. I cut my circle down a wicked lot in the past five or six years. If I see somebody I won’t turn my back on them.

Frost will tell you, where I come from I’m popular. I know a lot of people. I’ve been here all my life so it’s hard for me to go anywhere and not see anybody I know anyhow. I don’t ever shrug them off or nothing. We just might not chill or go hang out at my barbecue or nothing. We’re still cool though. I just don’t need those types of people around. I need positive energy. I got a lot of feelings and everything. Everything that I do is for my kids. I really tried to make an album this time. This ain’t no mixtape. Veteran was dope, don’t get me wrong. I told everybody that this was going to be way better than Veteran and I feel like we accomplished that. All 30 joints could have went on the album and we could have got away with it, but we had to narrow it down. I let Frost pick everything to be honest with you. There’s only one joint on there that I really wanted on there and he made it happen. He picked out all the other joints. I let him use his instincts on that and I think he did well. Everything flows well throughout the whole album.

Frost Gamble: That’s another reason why I’m so blessed because Chop gives me that kind of latitude and reach. It’s beautiful for me as a producer. Think of the power of that. Chop is a master emcee. He’s been doing this his whole life. He’s wrecked stages, cyphers, battles, corners, every place. For him to go, “I’m just going to go in lyrically. I’m going to dig deep, give you personal stories, battle bars, and be a good caretaker of that for us.” That’s the opportunity that he’s offered me and that’s a privilege. I take that seriously. We package up these products as carefully and as thoughtfully as possible.

One thing I wanted to share with you real quick, on the See You Again track that was a last minute decision on if that was going to make the album or not. When we made the song I was beside myself listening to it over and over again. I couldn’t believe how much of his soul he poured out on it. He was like, “Yeah, but this is a touchy thing. It’s about a real person who has a real family.” I won’t put too much info out there but Chop went to the family and had some chats to make sure he had their support before doing anything more with the song. It was very much a last minute decision to include the track and I’m so glad that we did. I think what Chop did on it is just brilliant.

TRHH: I agree. It was the perfect way to close it. What are some of the positives and negatives about being an indie Hip-Hop artist?

Frost Gamble: Lots of positives. We still have our creative control. The label never pressures us to make any bullshit. They never say, “Go make a club record,” or “Go make a trap record,” none of that. They will challenge us to get features and create our art in a way that they can deliver. They want strong albums and they are looking for features. There are a lot of positives. We have such a good situation with 22 Entertainment. We’re incredibly thankful. I guess the downside of being independent is you have to fund everything out of pocket. Rap money is slow money. It takes a long time for iTunes to pay the labels, it takes a long time for the labels to pay the artists, and it takes a long time for the radio stations to pay for spins. It’s not fast money by any means. For me that would be the downside, but the upside far outweighs it.

Tone Chop: I wouldn’t want to see it any other way to be honest with you. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where they’re telling us what to do and all that. Creative control has got to be there. When he hands the album in and they go, “Man, this is dope,” and they didn’t hear nothing before then that’s like if you give somebody 16 songs and they tell you it’s a masterpiece and they didn’t hear one of them, that’s got to mean something. That shows that the label is behind what we’re doing. They didn’t hear no songs at all. We did the album, he handed it in, and that’s that. They were like, “It’s a masterpiece.” That makes me feel good and makes me push harder to know it’s appreciated.

You know how many people go unappreciated nowadays? There are millions of rappers that go unappreciated. It’s not that they ain’t dope or nothing, it’s just that they ain’t get the right look. I think we got the right look and we’re in the right situation. Like I said, I got all my trust in Frost. Not just because we’re friends, but I know he knows what we do together as a team. If you’re telling me he’s making a certain move I don’t generally go against it because I know it’s for the good. I would go without no features if it was up to me. I feel like I’m strong enough that I don’t need features at all. The features I do have, all the records came out dope. I appreciate it but I’m not stressing about having a feature.

Frost Gamble: We haven’t told the label yet, but we’re going to try to do the next project with no features. We’re going to try to convince them that we don’t need any features on the next project. We gotta get this one to pop first.

TRHH: Speaking of features, Tragedy Khadafi is on the album, how’d you hook up with him?

Frost Gamble: It started with my compilation album. For a couple of years now I’ve been working on a compilation album called “I Missed My Bus” which is all features. When things started popping with 22 Entertainment I reached out to Tragedy. This was around the time we working on Chop’s album and getting close to having to turn it in. I knew they would want features. Tragedy and Chop actually have a little bit of history because Chop had sent beats to Tragedy before and Tragedy liked them. When I hit him I was like, “Let’s do a Queensbridge to Binghamton connect,” and he was with it. We had that Here I Go record. It’s just a fun straight Hip-Hop joint. It was the perfect vibe to get someone like Tragedy on. That relationship has really grown. We’re in regular contact and Trag and I are working on an LP, and you’re definitely going to hear more Tragedy and Chop together. It’s a must, they just sound amazing together.

TRHH: Who would you say Respect Is Earned Not Given is for?

Tone Chop: I think it’s for everybody. Why wouldn’t it be? I know people who don’t listen to Hip-Hop at all and they listen to my music. They got a whole different perspective on Hip-Hop when they listen to my record. I got family that don’t listen to rap at all. They’re going to support regardless, but they don’t just support, they listen to it too. I feel like it’s for everybody. I feel like anybody can get something out of it. Like I said, I got children. My son is a critic. He doesn’t like certain things. He doesn’t listen to what’s on the radio. He listens to the same music his daddy listens to and he’s ready to rap right now. We’re going to do something very soon – I already see it coming. The rhyme he’s got put together right now is pretty good for only being in fourth grade. He raps better than some of these guys on the radio already. I don’t ever shoot for a particular crowd, I just do what I do.

I just make music. I make music that comes from a certain place – it’s natural. I feel like if your music don’t come from the right place it’s not real then. You can have all the money and cars that you say you got, but at the end of the day if it ain’t coming from the right place it’s not real. There’s dude that got ten children but they don’t have one single song that’s positive on their album at all. It’s about trapping and popping bottles. Can you play your record for your children? Can you kids listen to the music you do honestly? Can you let your children listen to it and you feel good about that? I would have to question that. I know I can play my record for my kids. There’s nothing on there too vulgar or too crazy, right or left. They can listen to it top to bottom and I don’t have to have an unsettling feeling at all about it. They can listen to it and enjoy and know I made it with them on my mind because they’re always on top. That’s just me.

Frost Gamble: I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, you totally can play this album in front of kids, but that’s Chop’s rare ability. He can make the toughest, hardest songs without swearing. He has a vocabulary, he has character, and he has a presence that comes across on the mic. He can threaten you without using the F word. He’ll let you know what he’s about to do to you on the microphone without using offensive words. That’s a rare skill. I agree with Chop, I think the album does have something to appeal to everybody, but who we made it for is honestly ourselves. We’re going to stick to the script. We make music that we like to listen to. I got no idea what half the music on the radio sounds like. Most of these famous artists that people hate, I don’t hate them because I don’t know what they sound like. I don’t listen to them.

Tone Chop: I never heard one Lil’ Yachty song, Uzi Vert, nothing. I never heard one song by them. I heard Kodak Black once. A friend of mine showed me a track and I almost puked. That’s how terrible it was.

Frost Gamble: I recently listened to that Desiigner joint, Panda. I’m not hating on him, I don’t know if he’s dope or not. I sincerely wish everyone in the industry wealth, success, and all of that, but I wondered what’s the big deal? I know I’m an old guy because I don’t get it half the time. I’m like, “This is the beat to the song they’ve been talking about for months?” Did they hear Ransom’s album? Did they hear our album? I don’t get it. I don’t understand why it gets any attention at all.

TRHH: You know what? We’re dinosaurs, man.

Frost Gamble: [Laughs].

Tone Chop: If I’m a dinosaur or not if you’re horrible, you’re horrible. If you got anything to say about my opinion we can meet somewhere and I’ll surely shred you. It’s not a problem. I don’t battle no more but people still try to do it nowadays and I tell them, “You really don’t wanna jump in that bag. Just stick to doing what you’re doing.” My record is flawless. I took one loss and it’s not really a loss because I beat him too, and that’s like one of my dudes I rhyme with all the time and he’s nasty. I don’t take that loss as nothing. That’s one loss out of a gazillion rappers I done tore to shreds. A bunch of mumble rappers, too. They come to me all the time. My boy got the bodega and they come up to me all the time like, “I heard about you. You ain’t that nice,” and six bars in they’re already getting their bottle of soda and breaking out the door, “Can I get that Dutch Master and that pack of cigs? I’m outta here.”

Purchase: Tone Chop & Frost Gamble: Respect Is Earned Not Given

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A Conversation with Bernadette Price

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Photo courtesy of Duck Down Records

On August 8, 2015 the Hip-Hop world lost one of its giants when Sean Price passed away at the age of 43. From his work with Heltah Skeltah, Random Axe, and his solo material Sean Price was consistently one of the nicest emcees in Hip-Hop. His gritty, yet humorous style of rhyming garnered him fans all across the globe – he was beloved in the world of rap.

I interviewed Sean Price on a few occasions and the thing that stuck with me the most was just how much he loved his family. Sean contemplated leaving rap to work at Costco because, “Pride don’t feed the babies.” Sean left behind three children and a wife, Bernadette, who took on the task of sifting through Sean’s music to give his loyal fans a gift called “Imperius Rex.”

Imperius Rex is a 16- track album that was released on the two year anniversary of Sean’s passing. The album features production by Alchemist, 4th Disciple, Stu Bangas, Crummiebeats, Joe Cutz, DJ Skizz, Harry Fraud, Marlon Colimon, Nottz, Dan The Man, and Marco Polo. Joining Sean on Imperius Rex are Junior Reed, DOOM, Ike Eyez, Buckshot, Rock, Vic Spencer, RIM., Freeway, Smif-N-Wessun, Foul Monday, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Method Man, Styles P, the late Prodigy, and Sean’s wife, Bernadette.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Bernadette Price about putting together Imperius Rex, the hardships her family has faced since losing its patriarch, and the legacy of her husband, Sean Price.

TRHH: How does it feel that Imperius Rex is finally here and being so well received?

Bernadette Price: It feels great. I was excited to let it go.

TRHH: How long ago did you finish the album?

Bernadette Price: I would say maybe two months before it came out it was done. It was some things coming in a little late, but it worked out.

TRHH: How difficult was the process of going through all of his music to put Imperius Rex together? I know it must have been a lot, I even sent him beats at some point.

Bernadette Price: It was difficult having to sit there and listen to him and dealing with the things that I was dealing with after his passing. It was very difficult.

TRHH: What troubles did you have after he passed?

Bernadette Price: People change. What I thought while he was here wasn’t all that I was seeing while he was gone. It was a lot of that, and then the emotions of having to deal with our children at the same time while dealing with everything else.

TRHH: How are the children holding up? I know you have the baby and two older ones. Shaun was five when he passed, right?

Bernadette Price: Yeah, she was five. She’s now seven.

TRHH: How have the kids been since he passed?

Bernadette Price: Definitely it’s different. The older ones are spaced out. They’re over here and over there trying not to think about it. Baby girl goes through it a lot.

TRHH: Before Sean passed I kept hearing him say he was planning to drop an album called “Niggletius Con Queso.” Why was the title changed to Imperius Rex?

Bernadette Price: [Laughs] It was changed because I told him that I didn’t like that title. A lot of people call him by his album name. To avoid any type of misunderstanding I said, “Nah, you gotta change that,” and he understood so we changed it. That’s how Imperius came about.

TRHH: [Laughs] I liked Niggletius!

Bernadette Price: I mean it is a dope line, but nah, not for that. That’ll cause problems in the future.

TRHH: You appear on the album rhyming a little bit, how was that for you to get in the booth and let your voice be heard?

Bernadette Price: I just thought about him and all that other stuff went out the window. I didn’t think nothing of it, really. I’ve been around him a long time so I picked up a lot of things.

TRHH: Were all of the features on the album done after Sean’s passing?

Bernadette Price: A lot of them, yeah.

TRHH: How many actual songs on the album were done before he passed?

Bernadette Price: Four. I can’t even say whole songs because when Sean wrote, every 16 was a start to a new song or it was finishing up another song. I just basically built it up that way.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Bernadette Price: I love them all [laughs]. To me the whole album is my favorite right now.

TRHH: I interviewed Sean like three times and he was always a funny guy and one of my favorite people to interview. How different was Sean the rapper to Sean the man?

Bernadette Price: It’s not really a difference because he was always him. When it was time to be serious it was time to be serious, and that worked both ways as far as music and home life. Sean was always funny from growing up when we were kids, so that’s no surprise that he was still doing it in his home as well as in his music.

TRHH: How long were y’all together?

Bernadette Price: We were together 23 years, but we broke up a few times. He said it in his songs that we broke up and got back together. We did that a few times, but were always in touch with each other and with each other.

TRHH: Sean always mentioned you in his songs, which is rare in Hip-Hop. Most rappers don’t even acknowledge that they’re married. How did you feel being shouted out in your husband’s music over the years?

Bernadette Price: [Laughs] In the beginning you’re one way and once you get it and understand then you feel more free to open up and be like, “This is who I am, this is what it is.” You hear him say that a lot, “It is what it is.” It felt great to me. It didn’t bother me [laughs]. He’d always ask me, “Can I say this, can I say that?” when it was concerning me or any other woman. It was cool.

TRHH: I watched an interview with him where he talked about rappers throwing away money in the strip club and he said, “How do you think your wife would feel about that?” It’s not something I would consciously think about but I was like, “Wow, he’s right.”

Bernadette Price: [Laughs] Right. I mean, like I said he grew. He grew tremendously. I’m not going to say our relationship was perfect, because no relationship is perfect. We grew together. He noticed his faults and I noticed mine. Once you get past that and you understand you become more aware. Me being his wife, there are feelings for everything that the husband does. Women are not just crazy [laughs]. Some you do have that are crazy, but for the most part they are not. It’s always something that a man does to make them crazy. Once you start realizing you become aware, get it right, and everything is gravy.

TRHH: I’ve heard that a lot recently [laughs].

Bernadette Price: Nah, it’s true! Me and him we grew up from teens. There was a lot of things that were going on that shouldn’t have been, but like I said, everyone is growing. You adapt to the negative as well as the positive. With growth everything’s made great [laughs].

TRHH: Will there be more Sean P music in the future?

Bernadette Price: Yes, there will be. He definitely let me know and a few others know that this is what he was working on. There will definitely be more.

TRHH: What is Sean Price’s legacy in Hip-Hop?

Bernadette Price: It’s awesome. He’s a great person in and out, regardless of anything. He’s definitely missed. His legacy means a lot to everyone around the world, and I’m going to try my best to keep it going as long as I’m here. It’s going to be great.

Purchase: Sean Price – Imperius Rex

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Nick Weaver: Photographs of Other People

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Photo courtesy of Ryan Skut

For nearly a year Nick Weaver has released single after single giving listeners a glimpse into his state of mind at each time. In typical Weaver fashion, the songs were thought-provoking and heavy on lyrics. The culmination of Nick Weaver’s stream of consciousness is a 5-track EP called “Photographs of Other People.”

Photographs of Other People finds the Seattle native taking his art to a new level, incorporating ideas, sounds, and methods not previously touched upon in his music. The EP is produced by Sendai Mike, MEMBA, Kevin Boris, and Nick Weaver himself.

Nick Weaver talked to The Real Hip-Hop about the importance of focusing on yourself, why it’s important to invest in your sound, his upcoming tour of Germany, and his new EP, Photographs of Other People.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the EP, Photographs of Other People?

Nick Weaver: The whole album is super-centered on focusing on yourself. Specifically on this album for me, focusing on mental health and not focusing on others. It’s kind of a literal and figurative name. If you take a photograph of other people you’re not focusing on yourself. This album is really about that – coming to terms that you really need to do some work on your own, and prioritize yourself over everybody else or you’re never going to overcome whatever it is that’s irking you.

TRHH: That’s kind of the mode I’m in these days, man.

Nick Weaver: It ebbs and flows. I feel like it just sort of hits you at different times. Obviously it’s a byproduct of getting older too. You realize that I got tons of my own shit that I need to deal with, process, and improve so I can be happier in my own life. I can’t take on all these outside influences right now.

TRHH: How much does that affect romantic relationships?

Nick Weaver: For me personally it’s a mix. It’s all relationships in my own life. That goes all the way to professional music industry relationships. I think more than anything it’s just a newer perspective for me. It’s always in the back of your mind that of course I’m always going to help people, hear people out, and listen to their problems. But at the end of the day I’m not their psychiatrist or their manager or their therapist or their doctor. I’m still just myself and I have my own life that I need to fulfill. It’s really the idea of never losing sight of that. When you’re younger you get so invested in other people’s lives. Everything else is invested in other people that you lose sight of the fact that maybe you are overlooking you own issues and maybe you’re putting your own stuff aside.

TRHH: How much has social media help or hurt your goal? I find that social media can be draining, but it’s also helpful in some ways.

Nick Weaver: There’s a good amount of commentary from myself on a few songs on the album about social media and a little bit about the strain. I think it’s like anything else, if I could I would eat Dick’s cheeseburgers in Seattle every single day because they’re amazing, but I can’t because it’s not healthy to do that. I feel the same way about social media at the end of the day. I feel like it is good, it is entertaining, and it’s vital for independent artists like myself – it’s the only way we have to really communicate with fans and make sure that they see everything that they want to see. It’s super important but at the same time you have to draw a line for yourself and be aware.

I ask myself a lot, “Why are you picking up the phone and opening Instagram? Is it to really do something important or distract yourself from the other three things you need to get done today?” When it comes relationships and how I view my friends, family, and peers, I definitely feel overall it’s a strain and a lot of times you see uglier sides of people which is something that I touched on, on a few songs on the EP. A lot of times I just have to not even look because if I want to check in on somebody I go directly to their Facebook page or their Twitter and just handle it like that.

TRHH: How would you compare this project to your past releases?

Nick Weaver: This one is crazy different because it’s got a lot of singing on it. I think that’s the first thing anybody is going to notice the first time they listen to it. Honestly, people are familiar with a lot of my older work because it’s a lot more personal and has a lot of emotional stuff tied to it. This album brings back that but it’s different in the whole vibe that it’s about a whole different side of emotion that I don’t think I’ve ever really written about – yourself first. Everything else has been written about — maybe issue I’m going through but this idea of focusing on yourself, working on yourself, and never losing sight of that, that’s that overarching theme.

TRHH: Was it a concerted effort to make this project more melodic?

Nick Weaver: Absolutely, and a big part of that is just that I love all types of music and I think creatively I was hitting my own wall with what I was doing. I’ve been doing Hip-Hop for a long time now and I needed to do more than just write 16s, write hooks, and write verse after verse and bar after bar. Introducing singing really made it a lot more fun for me and a lot more interesting. I found my attention for the songwriting and song creation process went way up when doing that. It’s been a lot of fun, man.

TRHH: The last verse of “What You Doin’ These Days?” is excellent. You’re going at Trump supporters. What sparked that verse?

Nick Weaver: Thank you. That verse is pure and simple – it’s a product of the times. That verse touches on everything that I have been feeling and seeing. That’s another kind of duel name for Photographs of Other People, it’s this sort of examination of society where it’s at. There are pieces of that slammed in and out of the album. Both What You Doin’ These Days and Soundbyte are super politically and societal critiques. What really sparked that was where we were at during that time. I understand that just because you rap about it and tweet about it doesn’t mean you’re really changing the world and going directly at the cause, but for me it’s important to reflect how I feel about that stuff in a way that will get to people. Luckily I have the ability to do that through my music.

TRHH: As a lyricist how difficult is it to come up with the correct words to fit a song and how often do you scrap rhymes?

Nick Weaver: All the time, all the time [laughs]! I can’t even tell you. I’ll write a song and sit for a few minutes with it and go, “Yep, that’s the one.” I’ll go grab a glass of water, come back, and instantly delete it. As you’ve probably have heard very many times in the writing field, just write it down. Let it flow and don’t worry about editing it in the moment, because then it’s not in the moment. That is very true but at the same time something about writing lyrics, you can put the beat on loop and write for 3-4-5 hours if you want. Then you go back and have all these concepts. Just like I’m sure you have with your writing there are songs when you write them you know in your gut instinctually that that’s what you want to say and it’s perfect. Then there’s also songs where you don’t know and then there’s stuff that you write and you hate it. For me it’s never been a super fluid process. It’s never that easy, although sometimes it does come more naturally than others.

TRHH: You were asking fans in Germany for ideas about venues to perform in. What’s the status of that and what’s your touring schedule looking like this year?

Nick Weaver: We are hoping to go to Germany in November. We’re working right now on getting the booking all in place. We’re going to hit my top 5 cities in Germany, and that’s actually my top 5 Spotify streaming cities. That’s still Berlin, Munich, Essen, Hamburg, and Dusseldorf.

TRHH: As an independent artist what are some of the ups and downs that you have to deal with trying to make it financially?

Nick Weaver: Some independent artists may have some other financial backing, but for me every dollar that goes into anything is mine. You always toe the line between how much can I do myself and still be happy with the results, and how much can I invest in whatever it may be – creative design, videography, and photography. I think the one thing that never can change is you are investing in your sound. Even if you don’t have a lot of money or hit a period where your money is low, don’t ever compromise the quality of your sound. You can find cheaper options and maybe your quality goes down a little bit, but don’t go all the way back down to when your recordings don’t even resemble what you want your art to be like. Those are just the struggles. All of us that do this stuff want it to come out as perfect as possible, but the reality is you don’t have all the endless resources. Just maintain the quality that you like and you’re comfortable with anyone in the world hearing it, and always adhere to that. If you don’t have the money right now to do it, grab that second and third job and stack it back up so you can do it.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Photographs of Other People?

Nick Weaver: I want to obviously give my fans something new and different from what I’m doing, because I’m always trying to elevate my art and take it somewhere that I love and other people will love. I really hope that people listen to this and feel what I’ve got to say. I really did put a lot of thought into what I wanted this entire project to capture about my own mind. Luckily I got to work with some amazing producers with MEMBA, Sendai Mike, and my good friend Kevin Boris, who is my drummer. They really, really helped turn this into a really nice sounding project, so I’m super thrilled about that.

Purchase: Nick Weaver – Photographs of Other People

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Dephlow: Most Dephinite

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Photo courtesy of Georgia Jackson

Dephlow is one of the dopest emcees in Hip-Hop. His voice, his flow, and his lyrical content check all of the boxes for what it takes to make a great emcee. The Virginian’s latest release, “Most Dephinite” is a head-nodding happening that should heighten Dephlow’s profile in the culture of Hip-Hop.

Most Dephinite is an 11-track album released by Don’t Sleep Records. The album features Deph’s frequent collaborator Awon and is produced by Boom Beats, F Draper, and Phoniks.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Dephlow about being vulnerable in his music, the ups and downs of being an indie artist, and his new album, Most Dephinite.

TRHH: How would you compare Most Dephinite to your first solo album Deph Threats?

Dephlow: I thought the Deph Threats album didn’t start the way that it ended. I was in a different place when I started that project. I got to the point where I felt like I was done with it. My pops passed away in the middle of working on that project. It was a lot of shit going on besides that that made that project real personal. The space that I was in at that point in time was different from when I was creating this one because in a sense I didn’t have a lot of content talking about that, it’s just a matter of my mind state at the time. In doing this one it was a lot more focused and to the point. I knew where I wanted to go with it based on the production.

Basically Boom contacted me and just let me know that he was trying to work. At the time I was trying to get production from wherever I could get it from because I just wanted to stay working. He sent me a folder full of beats and the first one I clicked on was ‘No Rappers Allowed.’ That was the first record that I wrote. It tells you where my mind state was. I was hungry. I’m still hungry! I feel like when I put Deph Threats out people were paying attention because of Dephacation. This one I’m hungry because I feel like people ain’t really understanding what it is I do and where I’m coming from. I feel like I have something to prove on this album as opposed Deph Threats where I just had something to get off my chest.

TRHH: How was it different having Phoniks take a backseat on production this time around?

Dephlow: He didn’t necessarily take a backseat. When Boom sent me the folder of beats I basically went through and wrote something to all of them because it was that good. He sent another folder of beats and I wrote something to the majority of those, because they were that good. He came at a time when I was looking for production and it was perfect timing. It gave me a different vibe and it was exactly what I was looking for. Some of it was aggressive, a lot of it was just well put together from front to back.

My style is a little less formatted but the production was a lot more formatted. The blending of the two for me was just something. Every time I heard a new mix of it I was excited. I would say that it just gave me a different energy. It was a little more aggressive than what you might have heard previously when working with Phoniks. Phoniks was working on a couple of different projects. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to work with him, it was more of a situation where we had to figure out the timing.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘My Brother’s Keeper’?

Dephlow: That’s about a true story. The little kid at the end of the record is this little dude I’m still cool with from a previous relationship. It didn’t work out. When I met him he was just turning one. I thought if I was in his life from this point forward I can be some sort of positive influence for him. On a personal level, I knew what he needed. This is five years worth of experience that I’m talking through and watching him grow up and wishing I could be the coach or the teacher, but being that the relationship didn’t work out you don’t have the right to do that.

Yet and still you know he’s not going to need that guidance any less. You just hope that he gets it from someone else who has the same game, or at least as much of something to offer him other than Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto and shit. If he’s six right now this ain’t what he would be listening to. We hung out and I see that he likes all of the shit that kids like. This ain’t his lane yet, but one day just like everything else it will come full circle and he will hear his year old self on a record and he’ll understand what it is I was trying to get across. Hopefully he will carry on that sort of intent.

TRHH: Is the song ‘Round One’ related to this song?

Dephlow: It’s basically tied in to My Brother’s Keeper. It’s the same situation, but now I’m addressing the relationship. This is separate from the kid. This is the relationship in that same situation. It’s all written from experience and if it’s not personal experience, it’s something that I’ve seen my OG’s and people close to me go through. I’ve added pieces in there. When I played those two records for people close to me some of them were in tears, some of them had goose bumps. That reaction you know is genuine because there is a physical reaction to a sound or words and thoughts that you put together. I felt like those two records in particular were tired together and those who needed it or those who understood would instantly get it – they would feel it.

TRHH: I find in Hip-Hop that different people like different things. Some people like the beat, some people like the flow, some people like the content. I listened to Jay-Z’s album and I think some people don’t like it because of the music, but a lot of people do like it because of the vulnerability and the substance. I think we can trace it back to 2Pac, which we talked about two years ago. While he’s maybe not technically the greatest rapper, but his passion and substance is what touched people. A lot of your rhymes are witty and have punchlines and stuff like that, but how important is it to you to touch that nerve with people?

Dephlow: When you think of a 2Pac and you think of the fact that you can’t kill 2Pac, even though he wasn’t the best lyricist of all-time, you can’t kill who he is. I don’t even speak in the past tense when I speak about 2Pac. I speak about who he is because he’s still here with us, because of the fact that he made a mark and he said some things in casual conversation that people still quote. People still use his words for motivation or a way of contextualizing something that has happened. We live in an age now where everybody has an opinion. Everybody can make noise about whatever they want to make noise about, so when you say something about yourself that may be something that people can use against you, and at the same time you’re doing that you’re offering that strength to somebody else who is dealing with the same issues. In a perfect balance of how we live I guess it’s necessary to do as an artist. I haven’t listened to the Jay-Z album but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people that by the time he gets to the point where we understand who he is outside of being a hustler, it’s going to be too late. People will have already made up their mind about who they want him to be. He’s just that guy, you can’t be anybody else.

People reinvent themselves all the time with how they say things, but what they’re saying doesn’t change too much when they’re not really touching those nerves. On certain records like “Song Cry” he did, but he ain’t a social media guy and he’s not wide open and neither am I. The only way you can do that sometimes is by adding those records that really reflect who you really are and hope that it helps the people who it’s intended to help – the criticism be damned. If you didn’t get it, it wasn’t for you to get. That’s the great thing about having independent artists like the team of people I’m working with. We’re going to give you something that you don’t actually have to buy into. You already know what it is when you listen to it, you just have to take the time to hear it.

TRHH: Speaking of the people you work with, on the song ‘Blood’ you work with Awon. Your verse touches on a lot of different things. What’s the message behind that song?

Dephlow: When you look at how we live, especially here in America, and all the little shit that we covet and we don’t want to lose, and kill and die over, there are other people who are actually being killed and worked to death in order to obtain the shit. What I’m saying is when we buy into that we buy into somebody else’s misery. And we contribute to our own. None of this shit really means anything at the end of the day. That diamond ain’t as rare as they tell you it is. It’s a good marketing scheme. That big ass gold chain that we want to rock is basically rocking a few souls on our neck. Them Jordan’s we put on our feet, a whole family is working to put together some shoes that don’t cost shit to make that we kill each other for, for no fuckin’ reason. The status shit that we do, all the shit that we buy, where they’re taking the resources, whether it be human or natural, and exploiting the people who do it.

We want to take trips to Dubai and front like we’re royalty, or whatever the case may be, and when we get there and see all of the shit that they built, but what you don’t see is the people that built that shit. When you go to the Dominican Republic or wherever you go on your vacation and you don’t see the natives on the beach with you and you’re not asking questions like, “Why is this like this?” or “Why are the people who work here the darker they are they get exploited more and have less freedom?” While you’re enjoying yourself, having a good time, and taking pictures for the gram, there’s some motherfuckers suffering. It’s all tied in to the fact that it feels good at first like, “Oh shit, this production is different from the message.” That’s exactly the parallel that we have in real life. The production is different from the message or the product.

TRHH: I saw you speak online about the support you’ve received worldwide. What are some of the hurdles you have to leap over being an independent artist and how important is getting support from the listeners?

Dephlow: In my situation I hit a window of opportunity where Soundcloud was still a platform where a lot of people were trying to find music. I found a window through there when it was still a viable option to get it out. Because where I’m coming from I wasn’t able to build the pieces to start from home and move outwards – I did try. Nobody from where I’m from does that, even though everybody knows who Pharrell is, who Timbaland is, and who D.R.A.M. is. These are all people who are from the same place, but had the same problems. In the situation now where the internet allows people to get it wherever they are, to have that support worldwide and for people to actually show it by purchasing your music and asking you to come to where they are to perform, it reminds you that it’s worth doing. It’s worth continuing to make music because it is appreciated. Certain places in America, especially where I’m at in Virginia, seem to be some of the last places to really embrace the type of music that I make or the type of things that I do.

It’s not really about me. I’ve always been the type of person who has championed the basics. Regardless of what people feel like about Dame Dash I know he knows what he’s talking about. So when he says, “Get your merch game right and perform,” I always wanted people to look at like you don’t need whoever the local DJ is to host some shit where you gotta pay him to go and perform. We can do that ourselves, get the building and let’s make it happen. Nobody has bit on that idea but I guarantee you whoever does is going to win. These kids are figuring it out. 18-25, they’re working together to make it happen. Eventually Virginia will have a culture, but for me to get embraced from so many different places I need to see that – it keeps me motivated.

TRHH: Who is the Most Dephinite album for?

Dephlow: It’s really for me. This one is, “Alright, I said what I had to say for right now and if I never make another album, so be it.” I really don’t like the way this shit is headed in terms of either side of it – creatively or the way the business side works. Really it’s just for me to be able to say, “I said what I had to say, I offered something to the culture, and hopefully the people appreciate it.” I gave the type of effort that I would want anybody who has a major backing to have and not just take advantage of their opportunity to make money. I really just want to be able to say that at the end of the day in time either the people will understand what I was trying to say. On Deph Threats I said a lot of things on that album before they transpired and when it came to pass I didn’t have nothing else to say.

I didn’t want to tell you, “I told you so.” All I want to do is say, “What do you want to do now? Are you ready for the next step?” That’s where I’m at in the point of making music – what do I want to do now? I had another plan the whole time. All of the videos that people see are the videos that I produced and that’s where I want to stunt. Your Benny or your Hype, or anybody else started with that. Ultimately I want to tell our stories where they need to be told, on film, short stories or documentaries. Whatever I can do in order to try to further this shit the way I feel like it needs to be represented and address some of the issues. I might talk about them in my rhymes, but it’s nothing for me to really sit down and discuss tight jeans with somebody like, “Why you got those on?” Really talk about what’s going on with who we are and who want to be more importantly.

Purchase: Dephlow – Most Dephinite

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