kevin gates vibe interview kevin gates vibe interview
kevin gates vibe interview
kevin gates vibe interview

Interview: Kevin Gates Talks 'By Any Mean,' Jail Time and Slanging The D'

In a corner lounge at Atlantic Records' New York office that overlooks midtown Manhattan, Kevin Gates is listening to Gucci Mane on a portable speaker. He says he carries it with him everywhere. Music seems to be embedded in his brain; multiple times during our conversation he bursts into spontaneous rhyme. He’s been making music since about 2006, but the Baton Rouge rapper didn’t get widespread attention until he dropped The Luca Brasi Story last year. With a hit song ‘Satellites’ and other deeply emotive records like ‘Paper Chasers’ and ‘Neon Lights,’ his style is all his own with more than just the trap on his mind.

For a guy riddled with criminal cases and depression, he seems calm, centered, almost Zen-like when VIBE sits down with him. Some answers are roundabout, while others are more profound than we expected. He’s playing Gucci’s ‘Truth’ loudly and I feel like an imposition with my iPhone-turned-recorder, but when it’s time to go, he cuts the music and says, “Ask me anything.”

Was the story [about his child’s birth] on ‘Movie’ true?
Yup. They’re all true stories. I’m inspired by everything that goes on around me. I may make a song about this interview. I’m a sponge. I’m very analytical. I notice the things that most people don’t notice. Like you got on Dunks.

Yours are cleaner.
Yeah, I wear mine two or three times and then throw them away. But I just wear the same [types of] shoes over and over. These are like the only shoes I wear, so it’s different. It’s really…I have a phobia, such as…I really didn’t have a lot at one point in my life. So it’s like if I get one little scuff on my shoes, I gotta…you know what I’m saying? For fear of how…I just love to be clean. I wear the same things, all of my clothes pretty much look the same. I’m a plain and simple type of guy. I don’t really do a lotta busy colors and things of that nature. I feel like less is more.

How do you feel about the early comparisons to Future when you got popping with Luca Brasi Story?
They needed someone to compare me to because it was new. We make comparisons…but if an individual were to go back and listen to Luca Brasi Story now, my voice is very distinctive. I know my voice is very distinctive because in a room of 100 people, my voice is always picked out. So I don’t look at it as a bad thing, they just needed someone to compare me to. [Starts singing] They sayin’ me and Future sound alike, I’m soundin’ like Future, maybe meanin’ Kevin Gates the future.

Who are some artists that inspire you?
I can’t say any artist inspired me, because I’m inspired by the things that go on around me. Now as far as the artists I listen to, they aren’t really in the rap genre. Lately, I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Edwin McCain, Lifehouse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ron Pope. Things of that nature.

Now as far as rappers that I listen to currently, it’s probably Fat Trel, Starlito, Fred the Godson, Maino and Gucci Mane. Because it’s realistic. I can relate to it. I’ve lived that. Starlito’s my brother. We’re gonna do more music.

Is there an official “Album” on deck?
I don’t look at it like that because By Any Means is an album. It was all original tracks and it was a body of work, a collection of songs. When I say By Any Means, we gon’ eat by any means. When I say eat, we gon’ get to this money by any means necessary.

I don’t pay attention to sales because it’s not about that for me. It’s about the music. Music is all I have. I suffer from depression. Severe cases of it. Not one case of depression, not a severe case, but severe cases of depression. Music is my only outlet, it’s therapeutic to me. It’s a release. It’s how I vent emotionally. So it may come out as anger on one song, it may come out as sad on one song, it may come out as happy on one song. Whatever I’m feeling at the time, that’s how I vent. I vent through my music. That’s the only outlet I have. And getting tattoos.

How have you dealt with depression in the past?
I don’t remember. Well…I did a lot of drugs. I didn’t do multiple drugs, but I overindulged in whatever drug of choice. As far as drinking syrup, if it was syrup, I’m drankin’ nothin’ but syrup. It’s an opiate, so it has the same effect as heroin on your body. You nod out. It’s like morphine. But it’s got a beautiful, wonderful taste to it.

I know you got a psychology degree in prison. What made you want to study psychology?
I just always wanted to study human behavior because every psychologist that I would talk to would tell me I was bipolar, and I know I’m not bipolar, so I had to perform a psychoanalysis on myself to find out that I have unresolved grief. I have trouble with letting go. That’s my problem. Anybody that has extreme highs and extreme lows is bipolar to any psychologist and that’s not necessarily the truth. You have to be intimate with a person to know that person, and when I say intimate I mean to know, so how could you come up with the opinion that this person is, in your professional opinion, bipolar when you deal with hundreds of people? You don’t know this person, you don’t live with this person. You sit down with this person on the couch and talk to them and let them talk about their problems. They’re not gonna let their hair down with you because human beings, and I’m included, are naturally guarded. I have trust issues with allowing other individuals to know my innermost secrets for fear of how I may be viewed. Everyone has this.

Can you tell me what you think some of the unresolved grief is over?
It’s everything…it’s on By Any Means, it’s in the music. I don’t want to just say it because my following, they connect with me through my music. They develop relationships with me through my music because of how honest I am, so if I were to just tell you some of the issues, that would take away from upcoming songs, and music is all I have. I don’t have anything else.

You’re somewhat of an avid reader, right? How’d you get into reading?
I’ve just always been a reader. My grandmother just expressed the importance of literacy, if I said that correctly. She just always expressed the importance of being able to write and being able to read. It was something she always instilled in me since I was young. Being in the neighborhood and the poverty stricken environment that I grew up in, I took a detour. I gravitated towards some of the individuals that did a lot of the wrong things with the right intentions.

Are you reading anything lately?
I’m re-reading a book I read because I rushed through it. It’s called The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel. It’s more about meditation, and what made me want to study meditation was…it’s like when working out, I used to box. And everything is controlled by breathing, so I was like if breathing has such a great effect on the body physically, what kind of effects would it have psychologically, emotionally, and mentally? Breathing is so important with physical activity, then how much more important is it with psychological activity? And I’m a big skeptic so I won’t just go off what an individual may tell me. I gotta do the research. I’ma get different literature on that one subject and just compare and contrast. I do my own selective studies.

What are your favorite kinds of books to read?
Whatever intrigues me, whatever piques my interest. I love vampire novels by Anne Rice but I also love Nicholas Sparks. Those two individuals couldn’t be more opposite. So how do you go from liking a Nicholas Sparks book about The Notebook and then read Anne Rice Memnoch The Devil about Lestat being a vampire?

A lot of people hinged on you mentioning The Notebook on Luca Brasi. What do you like about that book?
It was a true depiction of romance. It was the happy ever after and I never saw that in real life, I never got to see the happy ever after in reality. He didn’t do anything incredible, all he did was loved a woman. He said it in the book, “There will be no monuments left here for me after I’m gone and I won’t get any gold medals of any type, I’ve never won any awards. But I’ve loved a woman with all my heart.” That’s what he said. It was simple. It was beautiful. It was me. It resonated with me spiritually because that’s me, simple. If you see me tomorrow I’ll probably have on something similar to what I have on now because I’m just simple. Less is more, to me.

You talked to Peter Rosenberg about taking a lot of losses, whether being imprisoned or getting knocked out.
Teeth knocked out, broke nose, yeah…I done took a lotta losses.

What’s the worst loss you ever taken?
I don’t really know yet, because I have more losses to take. And then I can’t really call them losses. I just look at losses as a lesson for me because my greatest losses made me an even greater individual.

What’s the biggest thing that’s changed in your life since the music caught on?
My approach, my mentality, my perspective of it all. It took a minute to process it all, but I can see where…I used to have a certain attitude in the illegitimate realm and [now] I have a different attitude in a legitimate realm. I’m Kevin Gates more than I’m Luca Brasi [laughs].

At one time, nobody ever knew who I was in Baton Rouge. Nobody. No one cared about Kevin Gates. No one knew me. No one gave a flyin’ flip, I guess. No one. But I made believers out of men. I made them believe. They believe now.

What’s been the best experience for you since you’ve started taking music seriously?
I don’t really look at it as a best experience with it all because whatever moment I’m in, I have to completely engulf myself in that moment. Like right now, I am completely engulfed in this moment. I could have left the music on and bullshitted, but everywhere I go I like to turn it into a trap house environment. Even though we working right now, we got music on in the background, I bring my lil’ speaker everywhere I go. We waitin’ on the money to come, but we just talkin’.

The reason I don’t look at my greatest experience is because I would long for that experience to have been longer. So I’ve had good times and I’ve had bad times and I reminisce, maybe when I lay down, but throughout my day I keep myself engulfed in whatever moment I’m in because it could steer me into a depressed state. And I really don’t want to be in that state because then I would become an introvert, I’d be aloof. I’ma be somewhere else.

Who are some of your favorite producers to work with?
I don’t really know, because I know it’s a bunch of new producers I haven’t worked with yet.

Who do you want to work with?
I donno. Because a hot producer might not make a hot beat for me. I just love music. Most of the producers I work with, I don’t even know who they are. They had to tell me what song they did. I don’t want to get caught up in knowing what producer is who, because I would allow myself to be judgmental. “Who? I don’t want to hear him.” Let me hear the music. I’ma let the music instruct me on which way to go. Forwards, backwards, left, right. It’s like boxing. I’m only as strong as my opponent.

It’s like when I first heard that “out my window” [‘Wish I Had’], when I first heard that beat. First time I heard that song, I was in the car, “roamin’ around, all my thoughts been roamin’ around.” I just…it just…I knew. It’s like when I heard it, I got excited. My heart started beatin.’ I knew I was about to do it. It was a beautiful woman, I couldn’t wait to undress her. I told everybody, “Y’all get out the room. I wanna be alone with her.” Everybody got out the room. “In the car while roamin’ around, all my thoughts been roamin’ around, where I come from like a hole in the ground, ‘cept to me, still holdin’ it down / every car pass by with the music up loud while bumpin,’ roamin’ around / and then, tellin’ me to make a hit, but I really don’t get, why they walked on “Roaming Around?”

What was that B.o.B. and Flo-Rida line about? [“With Flo-Rida, nothing in common, I’m not a B.o.B.”]
Oh, because at one time the label was saying, “You know Kevin, you can make the song like that,” but I’m not him. I have nothing in common with him. He’s a great artist for what he does. I’m not him. And B.o.B. is a great artist but I’m not him either. I can’t be them. I only know how to be me. I’d rather you hate me for who I am than love me for someone I’m not. Any day. For real.

Can you take me through the process of how you write a song?
I don’t really know, but I know I write a lot of my best music in the car, like late night. Three, four in the morning. I’m in the passenger seat, I got my driver, my getaway driver. My Bonnie, I’m Clyde. That’s when everything is just settled. In the daytime it’s chaotic. Everybody just goin’ nowhere fast. In a rush to go nowhere. [laughs] The long road to nowhere!

The energy in the daytime is so different because everyone is so unhappy and depressed and you can pick up on that energy psychokinetically. So I like to come out at night. Everything’s settled, you can see more. You know, that’s when things like, “My favorite book’s The Notebook by author Nicholas Sparks / built a fake case just to run away but she won’t make it far.” That’s when those types of things come out, things like, um, “Deep conversation where I was always elated as if celebrating a thing of the past / ‘happy belated’ while handing her Franklins, just thought I restated if stated too fast / went to the pen and was livin’ upstate but feel I got away ‘cause I skated with cash / Made crooked lawyers and dirty attorneys who take all the money and say that they workin’ / FUCKIN’ WITCHU! STUCK IN THIS LOOP! WE JUMPIN THROUGH…” You know, I channel that emotion.

Some songs, like ‘Roamin’ Around,’ I rode around and listened to that beat for a month. It wasn’t on a project, I just had to leak it. Which is a greater, better song than ‘Satellites.’ ‘Satellites’ is a great song, but ‘Roamin’ Around’ is a bigger song. It’s way bigger. To me.

I would agree.
But I know this. It will come back and be bigger than ‘Satellites.’

Are there any artists you haven’t worked with yet that you want to work with?
Really, I believe what’s meant to be will be. And I don’t say that because I feel like I’m a psychic or anything, but if I wanted it to not rain today, that’s beyond my control. I couldn’t do anything about it not raining. So whatever’s meant to be, will be. It’s like if I don’t make it to one of my interviews today, it just wasn’t meant to me. So any artist that’s as serious about making music as I am, I’m cool with that. But if you tellin’ me, “Man, send me a verse and I’ma send you a verse.” No. That’s not collaborating. We don’t know each other and I’m serous about this music. I’m not about do to it because I think cross-marketing would be a great – no. Eff that. I don’t wanna do that. I wanna work with you. So if I’m not important enough for an artist to want to work with me, come sit down, block your schedule out, I’ma block my schedule out, let’s work, then we don’t need to work. And whenever we get a chance, we’ll work then.

I didn’t want to take my mixtape and pile it with features. For what? I don’t need that type of look. I can stand on my own. I’ve always been like that. I’ve always stood on my own two. I don’t need a team. I don’t do the entourage thing, you know, 30 people. I don’t do that. That’s just not me.

I want to ask you about video footage of you performing…
Go ahead, ask me.

You were on stage and you said, “I’m about dick too.”
I am. I meant that but they misinterpreted when I said, “I’m bout dick too.” I eat pussy good, but I got a big dick. I’ll dick you down too. Yeah I’m bout slangin’ dick too. In New Orleans – ah, I’ma say Louisiana – we call each other “bitch.” Like me and my dudes, “What up bitch? Bitch, I love you, bitch. I miss you, bitch. Wazzamn, bitch?” And people might misinterpret that like, “Y’all call each other bitch?” That’s just part of the culture. I ain’t gon’ lie. Gates will eat that pussy, but bitch, bout dick too. I got a good dick report. So a lotta people misinterpreted that, but I really don’t care. I don’t think it hurt anything, to me.

And then…everybody’s entitled to their own opinion of me. You could have your own opinion, but that’s not fact, because no one will ever think what I know. And it’s just all about me being secure in who I am as an individual. That’s opinion, that’s not fact. “What you mean he about dick?” Yeah, bring your ol’ lady over here and I’ll show you.

Because I rap a lot about eating pussy, eating booty. I do all of those things and people think, “all he gon’ do is eat pussy, all he gon’ do is eat booty.” Man I’m ‘bout dick too. Yeah I’m ‘bout dick. Don’t get it fucked up. I dick shit down. When I finish with her, she gon’ say she felt it in her stomach ‘cause I’ma put something long in her shit. That’s what I mean. So a lotta people tease me a lot, they used to tease me, ‘Kevin, all you do is talk about eatin’ pussy and lickin’ hoes in the ass.’ Yeah I eat booty, I eat pussy. But I slang dick too.

I tell every woman, if you want to be respected, Drake is a gentleman, but if you want a nigga that’s gon’ put you in your place, come fuck with me. Because when I approach women, ‘Good evening. How you doing? You’re very beautiful. I mean this with all due respect.’ ‘What?’ ‘I wanna spit on your pussy.’ [mimes gasp] ‘No one has ever told me that before.’ No, no one has ever had the confidence to tell you that before, but you look like a slut. I just really wanna treat you like a lady in the streets but treat you like a slut in the bedroom. And most women that love me are aggressive, like Luca Brasi, because I fight hard, I hustle hard, I also love hard, I fuck hard.

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet about Young Thug calling male friends “love” and what not.
Yeah, I call all my patnas love. “What up, love? I’m coolin’, love. What it do love?’ I can call right now on the speakerphone and my brother will pick up like, “What up, love?” Or “What up, loved one?” Things of that nature. “Loved one,” that’s too many syllables, so we’ll just say “love.”

But it’s misinterpreted. Most individuals are sheltered. They didn’t grow up in the streets. I grew up in the streets, I’m from a poverty stricken environment. I have a D.O.C. number, a Department of Corrections number, so my terminology and my colloquialisms will be different from an individual that never was around it. It doesn’t make them a bad person or anything, they’re just trying to figure out. But it’s a culture. It’s a way to speak without speaking. It’s a way to speak without words, but a lot of people don’t know that. It’s hand signals and everything that come with this shit.

Most people, they try their best to understand it and they take things so literal. But it’s really a beautiful thing because slang terminology is code lingo. Other people understand exactly what I’m talking about. Some people don’t, and that’s cool. I ain’t trippin’. Like I got an Elvis tattoo. Most people don’t understand what that Elvis mean. But if you’d have been in the streets, like they got dudes I’ve seen with a black panther tattooed on ‘em. I know what that panther mean.

Thank you for clearing that up.
I don’t feel like I cleared anything up. I don’t think I provided clarity. It’s just me. Not knocking anybody that’s involved in anything. I’m not opinionated. I love all of humanity. Whatever an individual chooses to do with themselves, long as it doesn’t affect me and they’re respectful with it, I don’t care what they do. Because I’m not perfect and I have flaws, so who would I be to be judgmental?

From the Web

More on Vibe

Scott Harrison

Music Sermon: The Divinity Of Luther Vandross

“There are voices in this world and once they sing, it’s a stamp on everybody.” Bravo producer and personality Andy Cohen was asking Patti Labelle about her dear friend Luther Vandross on talk show Watch What Happens Live. “Luther’s done that.”

Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. was the preeminent urban pop singer; the essence of ‘80s quiet storm R&B. He was called “the velvet voice” and “the Black Pavarotti,” but there’s not really a male predecessor he compares to because he didn’t pattern himself after the soul men like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, or Teddy Pendergrass. He studied the divas. Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Patti Labelle were the voices that fascinated and inspired a young Luther. Seeing Dionne Warwick live at the Brooklyn Fox Theater made him realize he wanted to sing. “She came on stage and just killed me; the music was more serious, the song value was more serious. 'Anyone Who Has a Heart' was a masterpiece,” he told The Washington Post. “I decided at that point that I wanted to do something in music."

The difference informs the distinction between him and most other men of R&B. Luther sang from a softer space, topically and tonally. He usually sang from a gentle, easy place. Not urgent. Not aggressive. Never suggestive. His first greatest hits compilation was titled The Best of Luther, The Best of Love because his entire catalog was love. Romantic and devoted love, not sex or lust. Adoration. And while his voice is appreciated–he’s featured on every greatest vocalist list of note–the full range and depth of Luther’s vocal craftsmanship are not. He was a writer, producer, and one of the greatest vocal manipulators in the game, as well-known and sought-after from early in his career for his vocal arrangements as his singing. The New York Times once described Luther as having an “obsession with the human voice, bordering on clinical.” Some people’s gifts are leagues beyond the old talent-plus-preparation-equals-opportunity equation. Some are truly called, anointed even. Luther was divinely appointed.

The world was officially introduced to Luther in 1981, but he was already an established singer’s singer on the professional circuit. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, teenaged Luther was part of youth performing arts group sponsored by the Apollo Theater called Listen My Brother. Their music was largely social commentary, and they performed in and around New York, including on the very first episode of Sesame Street.

In 1974, Luther accidentally landed a gig as a background singer and arranger for David Bowie. He visiting a friend in Bowie’s band at the studio, and talking about an idea to improve the hook for “Young Americans,” unaware that the singer was standing within earshot. Bowie loved the idea, hired Luther, and quickly became a champion for the young singer’s budding career. Luther handled vocal arrangements for the entire Young Americans album, and additionally wrote the album cut “Infatuation.” He also performed a 45-minute opening set of his own material each night on tour, at Bowie’s insistence.

Luther’s singing here on the far left.

Bowie then introduced the crooner to Bette Midler, who took him on tour, and Luther’s career as an in-demand background singer and arranger was underway. His study of great female vocalists helped him develop an ear that set him apart. “One of the contexts you have to understand was that the background singing has always been a female-dominated area,” Luther explained in an early interview. “I was bringing stuff on my own to the sessions that was kind of unique in terms of how to do background vocals. And later I learned never to give away anything you can sell, so I started charging for this extra bit of approach, which was fine, because by this time everyone wanted it so bad that they were willing to pay for it.”

Over the years, Luther sang with Carley Simon, Chic (“Everybody Dance”), Average White Band, Chaka Khan, and Roberta Flack, who chided him for getting too comfortable as a background singer and encouraged him to finally put a demo together. Due to his own intimate relationship with excellence in backing vocals, Luther was famously known to always use the top talent in the business for his albums. A read through the personnel of his catalogue will reveal names including Cissy Houston, James Ingram, Darlene Love, Tawatha Agee (lead singer of Mtume), premiere professional backing vocalists like Fonzi Thornton, and Lisa Fischer, who Luther pushed to get out of her comfort zone and record as Flack did with him.

During a recording session for Quincy Jones, Luther was introduced to a commercial producer, who then helped him break into the jingle-writing business. He’s always been credited with his ability to write an infectious hook–that talent was honed with jingles.

Before Luther took the solo leap, he tried the group route. He briefly had a deal as part of a group called, appropriately, Luther. They recorded two albums, but neither made any noise. Then, he joined disco group Change as their frontman and had two hits, including one of my favorite mood-boosting, make everything right anthems.

Luther had a little money in his pocket from commercials and background singing, and from writing and producing a song for the Broadway musical-turned-major motion picture The Wiz.

Oh, you didn’t know Luther wrote “A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice)”?

He had the means to record and produce his demo himself, and assembled what became his career dream team. While in the group Listen My Brother, Luther met pianist Nat Adderly, Jr., son of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley and nephew of saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. As a session singer, he met bassist Marcus Miller and recommended him to Gladys Knight, and the two bonded while on tour. He recruited them both to put together the songs that eventually became Never Too Much, and they were key contributing architects to Luther’s signature sound.

Miller is responsible for those slappin’ basslines that were prevalent in Luther’s early work, and for most of Luther’s uptempo cuts. “I never had any official responsibilities with Luther because we used to just work,“ Marcus shared in an interview, “but I felt like one of my (unspoken) responsibilities was to make sure Luther had tracks on his album that could be played on the radio during the day time.”

Adderley’s genius came through in Luther’s trademark covers. In Luther’s case, “remake” is a more apt description than “cover,” because he and Nat would take the original songs apart, stretch them out, invert them, slow parts down, add sections, reverse some sh*t… it was a whole different composition when they were done. The lush string and woodwind arrangements in Luther ballads are Nat’s handiwork. Incredible piano flourishes and solos, also Nat.

When both Miller and Adderley worked on the track, magic ensued, starting with Luther’s forever-a-bop solo debut “Never Too Much.” Coming out of the funk band driven ‘70s landscape, labels were doubtful of Luther’s smooth solo style. Epic finally took a chance, and it hit just as popular urban music went through its next evolution, which happened to be right in Luther’s sonic pocket.

“Luther, Marcus Miller and I had a real musical connection,” Nat has said. “We saw stuff the same way. We thought of things in the same way. When we came together, we really learned about each other and fed off of each other.”

Luther knew who he was as a singer and an artist. He wrote and produced the majority of his early material, and continued to co-write and co-produce through most of his career. He was clear on what worked for him both vocally and formulaically. Marcus Miller shared, “One of the things I used to hear him say was ‘I don’t need to compete with any other singers. Other singers sing hard, high, and with a lot of riffs. That’s not me. That’s not my thing. I’m just going to style these people to death.’” And he styled us to death, honey. Luther was the king of melisma and dramatic effect, but without oversinging. Where most vocalists would build towards a climax in the song, Luther’s structure was often reversed. He’d start easy, build during the middle, and come back to a soft, light, but emotional close.

This careful, deliberate singing was part of his genius. There’s a reason Black folks yell “Take your time,” to soloists when they’re in their bag–mastery isn’t rushed.

As I mentioned before, Luther was also a transformative cover artist. Would straight Deebo your song – that was his song, now. And artists didn’t even mind, because he elevated it so incredibly. Some of Luther’s biggest hits are covers: “Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me” (The Carpenters and Aretha Franklin), “Anyone Who Had a Heart” (Dionne Warwick), “Since I Lost My Baby” (The Temptations), “Bad Boy/Having a Party” (an interpolation of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party”), “If Only for One Night” (Brenda Russell), “Creepin’” (Stevie Wonder). He was a repeat offender with Dionne Warwick’s material from Burt Bacharach and Hal David, jacking not just “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” the song that blew him away at a young age, but also “A House is Not a Home”–on the same album. And she didn’t even care, look at her.

Luther’s capabilities as Mr. Steal-Your-Song also translated to his strength as a duet partner. He knew how to blend voices so perfectly, he was outstanding when paired with another strong vocalist. Luther produced Cheryl Lynn’s 1982 album Instant Love, and took the opportunity to use a Tammi and Marvin classic to showcase the singer’s strength beyond uptempo dance hits.

One of my favorite Luther duets and covers is an album cut with the tragically uncelebrated Martha Wash. Their version of the torch song standard “I Who Have Nothing,” is a little heavy on production in some places, especially the early ‘90s R&B sax, but their voices are perfect together. And the breakdown at the end? Whew. All the feels. All of them.

But Luther could also do very sweet and simple arrangements, like his duet with Gregory Hines. This song always makes me wish Gregory had done more professional singing after he left musical theater.

Don’t get it twisted, though, Luther specialized in controlled vocals, but he could act a fool when he wanted to. Especially when playing off the energy of another singer, like his dear friend and my favorite Auntie, queen of extra just because she can, Patti Labelle.

Jenifer Holliday and Luther messed around and pushed poor Paul Simon out of his own damn song.

Luther was a balladeer of elite caliber, but he’ll also get an uptempo jumpin’, literally. When Aretha’s career was in a lengthy lull and facing the challenges of a new musical era, Clive Davis called Luther to write and produce for her. Luther, who once called himself an "Arethacologist," was thrilled to work with one of his biggest idols and inspirations. But Luther was a very exacting producer; he would tell vocalists specifically what and how to sing. Auntie Re wasn’t playing that at first, and even stormed out of the studio at one point, but the end result was her biggest hit in seven years.

Luther himself has several cookout and red cup party classics. Tunes that me, you, your mama and your cousin can dance to. That’s part of the beauty in Luther’s music; there’s no content too mature–or too immature–for anyone. While recalling Luther, Marcus Miller remarked, “There is no greater feeling in the world than walking down the street in New York City and hearing a Luther song blasting in the street.” I can personally confirm, as someone who’s heard Luther blasting while in these New York City streets.

What I don’t believe is acknowledged enough is Luther’s longevity. A 20-year career is a rare feat for any artist, but especially for a core R&B singer who started in the ‘80s. Luther did have pop hits–“Here and Now” was one of the biggest wedding songs of the ‘90s–but he was always a core R&B artist, and always stayed on brand and on topic. He was somewhat inactive in the latter ‘90s after ending his contract with Epic Records; he released one album with Virgin records in 1996, but it’s not usually included in his definitive material. Whispers and speculation about his health began, as he’d spent much of the ‘90s going up and down dramatically with his weight. But he made a fierce return in the early aughts. His final two albums, with Clive Davis’ J. Records, were two of the biggest in his career, with material that was relevant and contemporary without sounding contrived.

This song makes me want to put on some white linen and go on somebody’s boat ride.

As secure as Luther had always been in his artistry, he still felt overlooked as a writer and producer and longed for critical recognition beyond R&B. Out of 33 career Grammy nominations with eight wins, only two were in the Pop category. It wasn’t until his final album, 2003’s Dance With my Father, that Luther earned the elusive Song of the Year nomination and subsequent win he’d been longing for, for the album’s title track. But he also suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2003, before the project’s release. Since he was unable to shoot a video, artists who loved him stepped in with their children or parents as a tribute. Warning: this video may cause severe allergy flareups.

I have no doubt that barring health issues, Luther would at minimum still be touring. He was one of the most thorough live performers I’ve ever seen, with production simple enough to keep the vocals as the centerpiece, but extra enough so you were visually entertained as well (lots of sequins). Luther was touring in 2003 until his stroke (do yourself a favor and listen to his Live at Radio City Music Hall album, his last live appearance), and was scheduled to perform at Essence Festival that year. Can you imagine Luther at Essence Fest?

When news of Luther’s death broke, my mother and I–both huge fans–were driving to a family reunion, and we played and sang along to his music for about four states. I still play Luther when I need a boost, or when I want to burrow deep down into my feelings. When I want to go into chill mode, or when I want to dance around the house. Luther is all-purpose. He is all-emotion. He is everything. He was a gift.


#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.

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Issa Vibe: The Best Songs To Fit Your Different 4/20 Sessions

April 20th isn’t a national holiday, but it might as well be.

Although recreational marijuana use is only legal in 10 states, the U.S. is home to approximately 35 million regular users of cannabis, according to a survey done by Yahoo News and Marist University. That's 10.6 percent of the American population and while that may seem minuscule, the numbers are growing daily and it's understandable.

Weed has now become a staple of American culture; it's become a legitimate business in the states where it's legal, it's now part of the way people socialize, and better yet it's a theme in some of the hottest music out today. "Kush" has been included in some of the hardest verses that millennials and generation-z kids have heard in their lifetime.

Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg, amazing emcees in their own right, are also widely known for their love of the green plant. Wiz's biggest album, Rolling Papers is clearly influenced by weed and along with the Snoop Dogg-assisted "Young, Wild & Free" is all about that green positivity.

There's an endless list of hits about rolling up a joint, hitting it and passing it, but what about moods? Whether it's a bowl, a blunt or an edible weed, can leave people feeling a variety of ways and that all can be traced to a certain strand of weed someone's inhaling, or the mood they're already.

Regardless, it's important to be prepared and have music ready to match whatever feelings marijuana concocts; and that's why VIBE compiled an adequate list of songs for each of the main pot moods.

So on this 4/20, sit back, relax, smoke and find the songs that suit the vibe.


The "Let Me Chill Out" Mood 

Sometimes the best way to come down from an over the top high is to play some tunes with a soft beat and a light voice. The best artists in the game right now, like Jhené Aiko for instance, have created that sound that's perfect for when relaxation is needed, so of course, she made the list.  These are the top four songs that can help anyone kick back and relax if a pull from a joint just isn't hitting the right way.

"Blue Dream" by Jhené Aiko "Muse" by Afro Nostalgia "Summer Games" by Drake "LOVE." by Kendrick Lamar (feat. Zacari) The Bad B*tch Hours or "Top Two and I'm Not Two" Mood 

You look around the room and realize: you're top two and you're not two in it. All it took was one or a couple of puffs and then a pass to make you feel pretty good about yourself. One of the main upsides to smoking that's constantly mentioned in the media is that it can help alleviate chronic pain, well, another positive to it is that it can leave you feeling sexy, sensual and everything in between.

This is that high that can make you feel that you're significant other is lucky to have you, and subsequently makes you hit them up, that tells you: you're single and ready to mingle. It's a smoking session that lets you know: if you shoot your shot now, you'll score and it's a session that you want music playing that only affirms how sultry and seductive you feel. If this is how 4/20 leaves you feeling, putting on some RiRi or even Young Thug can effectively get you 'in your bag.'

"Same Ol' Mistakes" by Rihanna "Tyrant" by Kali Uchis (feat. Jorja Smith) "Worth It" by Young Thug "Smoke Break" by Chance the Rapper (feat. Future) The "Head in the Clouds" Mood 

More often than not, edibles have the power of leaving people spaced out and speaking slowly, after consuming them. Sometimes smoking weed, or hotboxing with friends is a silent event. Either everyone's consumed by their phones, or every other person has been looking at a nonexistent spot on the wall for the past 15 minutes.

Regardless this isn't the high where people want to hear "Act Up" by City Girls, no matter how much they love them. No, this is the high where people need music that takes them on a journey. Songs where the production is out of this world and it seems like the artist specifically made the song for a smoke session like no other. Travis Scott's ASTROWORLD is full of tracks with that vibe, and Lil' Wayne, a weed connoisseur of his own, has songs that fulfill that need too. Smoke a bit and let the weed do its thing.

"ASTROTHUNDER" by Travis Scott "I Feel Like Dying" by Lil' Wayne "Hyyer" by Kid Cudi "St. Tropez" by J. Cole The "Got the Giggles" Mood 

This is when the blunt hits perfectly and there's nothing wrong in the world or when the bowl did its' job and leaves everyone feeling silly. A "feel good high" is the best way to describe and the best way to live through that kind of smoke session is to listen to some "feel good music." These are the songs that can have people swaying unknowingly to its' beat, or the tracks that leave people smiling from ear to ear. This is the session that lets people know that "this is it chief," and here are the best songs to go along with it.

"Pass the Vibes" by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment "Dreamcatcher" by Metro Boomin' (feat. Swae Lee & Travis Scott) "It's a Vibe" by 2 Chainz (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz & Jhené Aiko) "Binz" by Solange
Continue Reading
Photo by Richard WALTER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Getty Images

4/20: A VIBE-Era Timeline Of Hip-Hop's Relationship With Cigars And Rolling Papers

Hip-hop's relationship with Mary Jane has always been a beloved one. From song from artists like Styles P, Curren$y and Snoop Dogg, laying back and enjoying nature's herbs is a coveted pastime in the game.

But we wouldn't be able to enjoy it all without the inclusion of cigars and rolling papers. Sure, we have vapes and other creative ways to reach aerial heights, but the OG accessories bring a different element to the table. The herb holiday might be a perfect time for enthusiasts to light one in the air, but VIBE was inspired to pay homage to hip-hop's love for the preroll.

Only keeping the VIBE-era in mind (starting from 1992), we analyzed companies like Swisher Sweets, Phillies and more, along with its ambassadors throughout the game like Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill and Wiz Khalifa.

Enjoy the brief timeline of Hip-Hop's relationship with cigars and rolling papers below.

Made with Visme Infographic Maker

___ 1. Zig Zag


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Zig-Zag World (@zigzagworld) on Apr 15, 2019 at 1:06pm PDT

Established Since 1855

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1992-1996 / 2009-2013

Most Popular in California

Top Ambassadors: Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, Juicy J

In 1988, N.W.A. founder Eazy-E established Zig Zag as the official rolling paper for west-coasters after referencing the brand on a song from his solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It. In subsequent years, Zig Zag would appear on songs from legends like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, and B-Real, resulting in the brand becoming synonymous with the west coast.

The decline in west coast rap's popularity during the latter half of the '90s would result in a decreased amount of nods to Zig Zag within hip-hop, as other brands continued to dominate the conversation. In 2009, Zig Zag's standing among rap fans would receive a jolt when Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y teamed up for their collaborative mixtape How Fly, which included numerous references to the brand. However, as other brands of rolling papers began to dominate the market, Zig Zag's approval rating faltered slightly, but continues to transcend generations and will forever be remembered as the O.G. smokers utensil.

2. E-Z Wider

Established Since 1972

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1992-1996 / 2008-2011

Most Popular in New York

Top Ambassadors: Wiz Khalifa, Chris Webby

The east coast's affinity for blunts is well-documented, but for a brief period during the '90s, EZ-Wider became the alternative for a select group of rappers out of New York City. Introduced into to hip-hop lexicon by A Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg on "Scenario (Demo 2)," EZ-Wider enjoyed a short run among smokers in the hip-hop community before losing its luster by the mid-'90s.

After more than a decade of sporadic mentions in rap songs, EZ-Wider made a comeback. This was largely on the strength of rappers like Wiz Khalifa, who brought the brand back to prominence in the late aughts during his transition from rolling cigars to smoking using paper. Over the past decade, EZ-Wider's popularity has been eclipsed by competing brands in the market, but its place within hip-hop history is secure.

3. Phillies Cigars (Known as Phillie Blunts)


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Phillies Cigars & Tobacco Fans (@philliescigars) on Oct 7, 2018 at 1:19pm PDT

Established Since 1910

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1992-1999

Most Popular in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Atlanta

Top Ambassadors: Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Redman, Big Pun, Big Boi, N.O.R.E., Big L

The first cigar to truly reign supreme in hip-hop is the Phillie blunt with a history that runs deep. Referenced as early as 1989, the Phillie came to prominence during the early '90s, with rappers like Redman, Nas, and The Notorious B.I.G. becoming unofficial ambassadors of the brand.

Found in some of the most memorable rap songs of all-time, the Phillie blunt was the cigar of choice on the east coast but began to spread to regions like the south and midwest, with artists like Big Boi of Outkast, and Twista singing its praises. By the end of the '90s, the popularity of the Phillie blunt began to wane, and while it still receives the occasional mention for nostalgic purposes, has never regained its stature as the go-to cigar in hip-hop.

4. Swisher Sweets

Established Since 1959

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1993-Present

Most Popular in California, Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, Louisiana

Top Ambassadors: Three 6 Mafia, UGK, 8Ball & MJG, Scarface, Kid Ink, Lil Wayne, Freddie Gibbs, Gucci Mane, Wiz Khalifa, The Game, Lil Durk, Fat Trel, Ab-Soul, YG, Danny Brown, Fredo Santana, Machine Gun Kelly, Wale, Mac Miller, G-Eazy, G Herbo, Kevin Gates, Jeezy, 21 Savage

During the early '90s, Swisher Sweets emerged as the cigar brand of choice among marijuana enthusiasts in the south and western regions of the country. Since as early as 1993, when rap group Souls of Mischief helped put the brand on the map, Swisher Sweets cigars have become a staple in hip-hop, maintaining their popularity for the better part of a quarter century.

Over the years, Swisher Sweets has been name-dropped in songs by rappers from all corners of the country, but rap legends UGK and Three 6 Mafia were among the brand's most fervent supporters. Today, artists like Gucci Mane and Lil Yachty continue to keep Swisher Sweet in the public consciousness and recognized as one of the legacy smoking utensils in hip-hop culture

5. White Owl Cigarillos


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Gotham Cigars (@gothamcigars) on Sep 9, 2014 at 8:29am PDT

Established Since 1887

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1993-1997

Most Popular in New York

Top Ambassadors: Wu-Tang Clan

One cigar that caught traction among marijuana aficionados during the early-mid '90s was the White Owl, which became one of the leading brands on the east coast at its peak. Initially popping up on the rap radar via a mention by Gang Starr member Guru in 1992, White Owl would be championed by a number of rap artists out of New York. One act that helped solidify White Owl's standing within hip-hop culture was the Wu-Tang Clan, as numerous members of the Staten Island-based collective paid homage to the brand until its sudden decrease in popularity during the latter half of the decade.

6. Optimo


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by | Cigars (@optimocigars) on Feb 24, 2019 at 5:02pm PST

Established Since 1898

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1997-2001

Most Popular in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee

Top Ambassador: Juicy J

The Notorious B.I.G. may have immortalized the brand after referencing their cigars on his hit single "Big Poppa," but Optimo's lineage in hip-hop can be actually traced back to the southern region of the country. As rap acts out of the south began to reach a national audience during the latter half of the '90s, Optimo's approval rating skyrocketed as well, quickly becoming the cigar of choice for many of the region's star talent.

This particularly proved true in states like Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, where Optimo was considered king among blunt smokers and mentioned at a seemingly constant clip. Optimo cigars are not as prominent in rap lyrics as they once were, but remain a legacy brand in the south and have earned their rightful place in the annals of hip-hop history.

7. Garcia Y Vega


View this post on Instagram



A post shared by Garcia Y Vega 1882 Cigars (@1882_backwoods) on Jun 22, 2015 at 10:57am PDT

Established Since 1882

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop):1995-2001

Most Popular in New York, California

Top Ambassador: JT tha Bigga Figga

One cigar brand that had a brief, but noteworthy run within hip-hop was Garcia Y Vega, which was touted by various rap artists on the east coast in beyond. Finding its way into a rap song as early as 1994, the popularity of the Garcia Y Vega cigar was largely relegated to the east coast during its peak years in the latter half of the '90s.

The brand's popularity reached all the way to California, where rappers like JT the Bigga Figga helped give Garcia Y Vega its cultural clout. Today, a Garcia Y Vega cigar is largely considered a relic, but its recognition within the hip-hop community as one of the defining brands for blunt-gut spillers is well-deserved.

8. Dutch Masters Cigars


View this post on Instagram



A post shared by Russian Cream (@dutchmasterscigars) on Apr 15, 2019 at 5:31pm PDT

Established Since 1911

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1996-2008

Most Popular in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia

Top Ambassadors: Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, The Lox

In terms of sheer dominance of the market, Dutch Masters was once at the top of the list of cigars among marijuana smokers. Introduced by members of the Wu-Tang Clan during the group's rise to power, Dutch Masters would quickly catch on with fellow New Yorkers, including like-minded rap acts Mobb Deep and The LOX.

By the time the smoke from the cigar wars of the '90s cleared, Dutch Masters was the clear victor, as the brand extended its dominance into the next decade. While Dutch Masters' stronghold on the lungs of rap artists and fans alike began to dissipate by the end of the aughts, the brand still receives nods til this day and remains the go-to cigar within the hip-hop community.

9. Backwoods Smokes


View this post on Instagram


Rate these 1-10 and why? #exoticbackwoods

A post shared by Backwoods Cigars (@backwoods_cigars) on Mar 26, 2019 at 3:41pm PDT

Established Since 1973

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 1998-2005, 2013-Present

Most Popular in New York, Philadelphia, California, Texas, Atlanta

Top Ambassadors: Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Mac Dre, Travis Scott, Lil Yachty,

One cigar that has transcended regions and managed to sustain its standing among marijuana smokers is the Backwood, which has a history that is as rich as any brand in hip-hop. Referenced in a rap lyric as far back as 1994, by the turn of the century, Backwoods saw a spike in popularity, with rappers from the east coast and west coasts singing its praises.

After finding equal footing with the competing cigar brands at the time, Backwoods' visibility within rap dipped during the latter half of the aughts, before returning to prominence the next decade. This was due in large part to the influx of a new generation of rap stars gravitating to the brand, resulting in it regaining its reputation as the unofficial cigar of hip-hop as of 2019 and moving forward.

10. RAW Rolling Papers


View this post on Instagram


A few cones a day.. : @ganjawitness #rawlife #natural #rollingpapers #alcoyspain #rawpapersovereverything

A post shared by RAW Rolling Papers (@rawlife247) on Feb 10, 2019 at 5:10pm PST

Established Since 2005

Peak Years of Popularity (In Hip Hop): 2012-Present

Most Popular in North America

Top Ambassadors: Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, 2 Chainz, Mick Jenkins, Chris Webby, Z-Ro, Futuristic

As the new kid on the block, RAW Rolling Papers may lack the rich history of other brands in the market, however, its place as the current smoking utensil of choice in hip-hop cannot be denied.

Establishing itself right in time for the cultural gravitation to rolling papers during the late aughts, RAW Rolling Papers capitalized on early cosigns from marijuana mavens like Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y to infiltrate the culture. With about a decade since its first mention in a rap song, RAW Papers have become a cultural institution in their own right, partnering with various rap artists and connecting the dots between hip-hop, culture, and marijuana.

Continue Reading

Top Stories