Digital Feature: YG 'How The West Was Won'

There's levels to being a West Coast OG. On one hand, Cali legends like world renowned tattoo artist, Mister Cartoon, are definitely classified as Original Gangstas. Than you have budding stars like YG, who caught the world by surprise with his Def Jam debut, My Krazy Life. After being in stores for less than a month, the Bompton (his hometown as he calls it) general's opus is being labeled as one of the best albums of 2014 thus far. On a sunny Spring day in March, VIBE corralled the Young Gangsta and the Original Gangsta for a tattoo session that will go down in the history books. This is another prime example of how How The West Was Won. --Mikey Fresh

VIBE: There’s a lot going on in hip-hop right now. But one thing is for sure, the fight to be the new King of L.A. has some new contenders.
YG: For me, it’s just about putting on for the culture and talking about what’s really going on in the hood. I want to show people that you can make it out of any situation you’re dealt with. It’s about giving your homies opportunities. And, that’s what I get to do now. I’m giving my people opportunities. It’s cool when you talk about who is “king” or whatever, but the fans will tell you that. It ain’t up to the rappers.

Right, they will crown you. Let’s take it all the way back. When did you officially start rapping?
The first rap I wrote was like in 9th grade. Somebody made a diss song about me in school and I made a song right back. I really just kept going after that day. I started going hard with the songs.

Were you battling live in the lunch room?
Nah, I wasn’t into that. It was just about recording real music for me. I started going to house parties and pushing to get my songs played all night. By the tenth grade, I had everyone in school talking about my joints.

Did you immediately dream about becoming a big rap star?
Nah, it was just for fun at the time. I never really had that dream. We were just doing it for fun and shit. Back then, I had no idea that music would take me out of the hood. In high school, I was performing at parties, high schools, wherever they would let me.

Like talent shows?

Did you have a different rap name?
I been YG! You fuckin’ crazy ?! My name was YG before this rap shit. The music took us everywhere even when we was in the streets. We been though it all from wild house parties, shoot-outs, fights, gang bangin’, that’s what we were doing before the deal. This is really our lifestyle in Bompton.

But was creating music an alternative to street life at the time?
Not really. The music was talking about our lives but we were still thuggin’ in the hood. In the beginning, my music was mostly about partying and poppin’ pills. Shit like that. We was just like some Bebe kids [laughs].

So rap music was just your creative outlet?
I guess so. We was just making songs about our lives but it was just for the moment. We would get faded and just go into the studio. Actually, I used to name all the little bitches I was fuckin' with [laughs].

Oh, man. I bet you started drama with that.
[Laughs] Yeah, I got into some trouble for sure. Some girls was mad and got all embarrassed. I thought that shit was funny, though.

It’s no secret that you rep for the Red team. Were you born into gang life, or did you actively go to the set on your own?
Yeah, I went to the set. It wasn’t like my mom and dad were Bloods or anything. Actually, my momma is from a Crip neighborhood. She wasn’t the type of parent that was into the gangbangin’ though. My situation was a little different because by pops is actually from Atlanta. He wasn’t up on the gangbangin’ shit like that. He was the one trying to keep me straight. He was always the one like ‘Stay in school, play basketball and get good grades.’ But I was a Bebe kid and it never worked out. I played basketball, ran track and football, but I could never play because my grades were fucked up. I was ditching school more than I was really going.

A man is going to do what he wants I guess.
My parents tried. They did, but my pops went to jail when I was 16, so it was over after that. My mom knew what that life was about just because she is from L.A. My dad, though, he was just like from the outside looking in. He didn’t understand it.

What did your father do at the time?
He had his own business going on at the time. Then he went to jail for some shit that happened with that. He was working like at Home Depot at the time, too.

Unfortunately, I know you ended up going to jail as well. However, you really caught a break during sentencing. What was your official charge?
Residential burglary, that was my thing. Most rappers were selling drugs, but I was breaking into houses. Like what you hear on “Meet the Flockers,” that’s what I was really doing. I wasn’t selling drugs because I was breaking into people's cribs. It's just the truth, and I can't lie about it.

Damn, did you get caught red handed one night?
Yeah, I got caught in the act. I had to do 6 months in county with one strike on me. I was supposed to get two years in the pen. But a girl that I knew from high school, her mom worked in the courthouse, so she wrote a real nice letter to the judge for me. She really said how I was a good kid, and it was actually enough to convince the judge to just give me six months in county jail.

You had angels around you at that time, man.
I did for sure. Check this out, after I got out Def Jam signed me three months later. If I would have gotten those two years in prison then I wouldn't never have gotten my deal.

Sounds like that was a huge wake up call for you
Hell yeah it was. I caught my case at the same time I had all this shit going on with my music. We had the streets on lock at that point and I was only 18. My mom was telling me while I was in jail that labels was calling the house trying to sign me. Honestly, I thought I fucked myself but when I got out I had meetings lined up already. I met with Atlantic and Def Jam right away.

What made you go with Def Jam even though you are a West Coast artist?
I ended up going with Def Jam because I was more familiar with their brand, I had the Def Jam Vendetta game and all that [laughs]. I was down with the brand since I was young. Real shit, Interscope is home to more West Coast rappers but I took the hard route. Pecas and everybody at Def Jam is my niggas. They family now, but at first, it was ugly. Even when I got really hot on a bigger level in L.A., Def Jam is in New York so they couldn't see what was happening in Cali. Straight up, there was a separation.

Then I hooked up with Jeezy and we worked for like a straight year. He knew I had something special. I was just rolling everywhere with him to work on music. I would go to Miami and Atlanta to record with him on some friend shit. I really paid attention on how he moved and worked. Things started falling into place after that .

This album seems to be getting better with time. Did you record a bunch of songs for this album and then pick?
Nah, I only did 20 something songs but I did move to Atlanta with my A&R to record most of it. We were at Patchwerk studios like everyday with different producers. First I worked with Metro Boomin as soon as I get got there, then Mustard came down for while, Ty came down for a week and Mustard came back again.

Why, did you want to record in Atlanta?
I can’t focus in L.A. I got too many homies and I get easily distracted. I had to get myself out of Bompton to focus on this music. The “Bicken Back Being Bool” song was actually the first one I recorded, and that was in New York.

You even have non-Bloods and Crips embracing that song.
The people finally get me. Really, I’m just telling stories from my life. This is the culture that I know. I’m representing, and they know what it is without saying anything else. That’s all I got to say about that.

What’s up next for you ?
I’m really just working on my second album. This nigga Mustard doesn’t want to give me any fucking beats right now. I be over there trying to work on my second album and he’s telling me to wait. [Laughs] it’s all good though. I know he got a plan.

Before we go, I have to ask you about the last song on your album, “Dear Momma.” How real is that?
It’s 100% true. We had all the records done and for the intro, I based it on my momma before I got the rap deal. So for the outro, I knew I wanted to apologize for the bad things I did when I was younger. I just felt like she was right about everything the whole time and I wasn’t listening. I felt like it was time for one of those records. Me and moms is real close now, so I wanted to do my version of like Tupac’s “Dear Momma.” Even if you ain’t in the streets, you can relate to that record. I love you, momma.

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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