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Rockie Fresh Opens Up About Signing With Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group

VIBE.com alumni Rockie Fresh is destined for another plateau of rap greatness. In the midst of finishing up his upcoming mixtape, Electric Circus, Rockie signed his first major record deal with Rick Ross' Maybach Music group. The news shook up the blogosphere and gained Fresh a gang of new fans and believers. Days after he gave his John Handcock to MMG's paperwork, VIBE scooped him up again for an in-depth interview on his road to MMG.

VIBE: Congrats family!
Rocke Fresh: I appreciate y'all for supporting me, even before this went down; when I was out posting records and building my fan base. To see everybody believe, now I have something to be proud of. It's a real good time for me.

No doubt. Do you almost feel validated now for believing in your musical abilities even when no one else did?
Yeah, it feels like a little bit of weight has been lifted off my shoulders, but at the same time, it's one of those things where I was working out all of these record deals, basically since February, I've been taking meetings, and it was just one of those things in which I finally found a place where I was real comfortable with and that I knew I could flourish in, and for that there was a relief, and more of a relief than anything and that's what made it so special.

I know you said before you had major labels courting you. You had RCA, Columbia, Universal, even Puff and Bad Boy, were you close to going with any one of them prior to the whole MMG thing?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, all of them were good people. I had some really solid A&Rs that were courting me and showing me a lot of love, and Puff; he's a great dude, like I definitely see why he's still so respected in the industry. I was definitely close to making a couple of other moves, but this situation really felt like the best one for me. That's why I went with it.

From what we see on Twitter from Ross, he really seems to believe in your whole movement, and not just “Rockie Fresh, the new MMG rapper.”
Definitely. I mean, he really saw my vision. Just me being where I'm from, in Chicago, we're just now starting to get our brand back with a lot of things, you know with Lupe, and a lot of dudes coming up, labels are taking notice earlier. You know Chief Keef, he's young; he's like 17, 18; I'm 21; and so we're at a really young age, and people are just seeing it. Ross really believes I'm going to be a big player in this rap game for a long. I feel the same way. We connected on that.

Do you remember the first thing Ross said to you. What was that moment was like when you met him for the first time?
The first question he asked me was, ‘What's your story? What's your motivation?’ And then I kind of broke it down to him, and he took this pause, he paused...there was my story, and after he was like, ‘It's the same way for me man! You know what I'm saying...’ And I was like, ‘Aww, that's what's up!’ You know, me and Ross we just related and it was a real smooth conversation. We talked about the industry; we were talking about the success of Meek and Wale...it was just dope. It was a real organic thing. I got to go to a couple of video shoots with him, and just really grew respect for him as a person more than anything. We just built from there.

In my opinion Ross doesn't try to stop what you're doing, but more or less lets you run with your own thing but also adds the Maybach flavor to to your music.
That's exactly what it is. Like Ross really respects my sound and respects Driving 88. He liked a lot of records that were out there and told me what he liked about those certain records, and it was giving me a platform for people to appreciate what I do on a higher level, and now I’m combining that with theMaybach sound. Right now, me, Wale, Ross, Stalley, and even Omarion, everybody's turning up and we're becoming that next label in the industry, and I wanted to be a part of something like that. And especially because knowing they appreciate what I do and aren't looking to change it.

Did Ross actually tell you what his favorite joint was from 88?
Oh yeah, definitely. He said his favorite was "Twenties.” He's a huge fan of that joint, and it surprised me because that's one of my favorite records off the tape, too. It really sums things up for me, so for him to appreciate the hunger from that record was dope for me.

I was going to say that song kind of goes with Ross' whole theme. I feel he's really out for longevity. It's about being “rich forever,” not just ‘let's just get it real quick.’
Exactly. And I guess that's just one of those things that we related on, and we really want this to be a long term thing. Like, I'm not looking to jump in and out of situations. I really want to make history here the same way Drake did with Young Money; the same way B.o.B. did with Grand Hustle; Kanye with Roc-A-Fella and so forth. I want that type of run, and we both feel like that was about to happen.

Honestly, I think an Omarion hook on a Rockie Fresh joint will take you to mainstream radio. He really surprised a lot of cats on Self Made 2. No one was expecting him to bring that project together.
He definitely did, and he even surprised me because I always knew that the dude was dope, but he really took it to another level and just showed that he's here to stay. He killed it.

Being that you’re also from Chicago. Have you had any interaction with Kanye and the G.O.O.D. Music Crew?
Nah, not him directly. But I’m pretty cool with Don C. And with Virgil who does a lot of Kanye’s creative direction. I’ve done a bunch of shows with Big Sean and I met Cudi. I always wanted everything to be organic so when I meet Kanye, even now, it’s going to be more respect versus if I met him earlier and tried to sell myself.

Who’s your dream producer collabo?
Its three dudes that I really, really want to work with. I got a lot of respect for a lot of the young producers now, but just me being someone who is new and trying to produce classic albums and knowing people that have done that. I really want to work with Timbaland, I feel like I could make some sick records with him. Also Pharrell just because I have that more mellow rap vibe and I feel like his production would really fit my flow well and also Kanye with him being from Chicago. I feel we could make a classic Chicago type of record.

Tell me about your first mixtape, Electric Highway, under the MMG umbrella.
Man, I recorded a bunch of songs for the mixtape already but just with the new situation that happened and the production resources that I’ll have, even the story that I can tell now, I’m going to, within the next weeks, really go back in and try to create some amazing new stuff that may wash out a lot of the old stuff that I recorded.

Even the title sounds more eclectic than something you’d hear from Maybach. Can you break it down for us?
My last mixtape was called Driving 88 and it was really explaining to my listeners in a long way that this is the speed that I’m moving at, and I’m comfortable with my pace. At the time I was an independent artist, and I was getting hit up by a lot of fans saying that they felt I was underrated or that I should’ve been signed and things like that. But I was comfortable with the pace that I was at, so that was Driving 88 pushing. Now, I’m moving into a different realm even before the Maybach situation went down I got blessed with the opportunity to headline my first tour. With that it’s just a different side, I’m on a different ramp on a different highway, but I’m still moving at the same speed and I want it to show that. That’s why I named it Electric Highway.

Well put, man. I’m sure your phone has been blowing up nonstop. Did Diddy reach out after the news broke of your signing?
He always showed love in the sense that I was honest with him in letting him know that Ross was interested in signing me, and with that being said, it was one of those things where he said he’d show love to me no matter what decision I made. I’m still going to hold him to that. I feel like things will still be smooth.

Is there one piece of advice that Puff gave you that sticks with you?
It was more so on a personal level, his respect for Driving 88 and the way that he broke down certain records out the tape too, made me respect him in a different way. With that, when I started to work more on Electric Highway, after meeting him, then that made me look at my records differently and have a better understanding of what I wanted to do. And I wouldn’t have had someone of that caliber break certain things down to me that made it special and help. So that was the cool part about Diddy conversations. He was a real explanatory dude and he went real in depth in explaining things and allowed me to see the records in a different light.

Honestly, what’s your favorite Ross song of all time?
That’s a tough one. Top 3, the first "Maybach Music" with Jay-Z, that record was insane. He had this freestyle, because I used to be super thirsty for Lil Wayne and Rick Ross releases and he released this freestyle called the "Teflon Don" freestyle and it got snatched off the internet, but I was able to get it because I was on it early, and we all listened to that like every day. That, and he got this other record called "Yacht Club" on Teflon Don. That joint is in-sane. The lyrics and the way he throws down stuff is cold.

One last thing, Ross said something about bringing Nipsey and Dom into the picture. Do you know if he’s still planning to sign them?
I never talked with him about that, but I wouldn’t be mad at that. I’m not too sure.

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Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.

LUCY PEARL

When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.

SOLO SAADIQ

As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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