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Interview: Theophilus London Doesn't Want To Be A Rapper

Theophilus London isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Much like the ways of his new collaborator Kanye West, Theo will spazz out -- just not publicly (usually) -- about his position amongst his hip-hop contemporaries. For instance, when asked about his favorite songs on his new album, Vibes, the Trinidadian-born rapper started off talking about his 1980s-sounding, uptempo cut "Nue Law." But, soon after, he veered off into a lengthy vent about himself and fellow MCs.

“I don’t want to be in the rap lane," he said. "I never want to be on the XXL cover with those kids. I’m not a rapper. I don’t have to fight to let people know that. I don’t really care. I don’t even remember what we were talking about.”

Some people only vent to garner attention, but not London. He has a solid fan base to push albums to. And, with Yeezy as the executive producer of his new album Vibes. Theo has earned enough stripes to be as boastful as he wants.

After a slew of mixtapes like Jam (2008), The Charming Mixtape (2009), I Want You (2010), the artist released his Warner Bros. Records debut album Timez Are Weird These Days In 2011. The album landed on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop albums charts at No. 30. Then in 2012, London joined forces with A$AP Rocky for the radio-friendly "Big Spender." To finish out 2014 strong, Theo is back with his sophomore project to continue stamping his brash and cocksure voice on the culture.

Decked in all black, including black shades, Theophilus stopped by VIBE’s offices to discuss his new LP, Kanye West, why he doesn’t want to be considered a rapper and much more.

VIBE: What was the process like making this album?
Theophilus: I moved to Palm Springs, [Florida] for a year. Bought a vintage house. Built a studio in the house. Invited Leon Ware over. Played him all thirteen of my demos. So, we just wrote in Palm Springs the whole year.

What are your favorite songs on the album?
I love “Do Girls” I like the authentic story in that. Young Black guy hanging out in Paris. Hanging out with all of the models. “Do Girls” is still very Parisian but it’s still very New York. It has a very good hip-hop tempo.

How did that song come about?
I remember working on that song in an Uber with Kanye. And, he got in the car and he was like, ‘Yo, plug it in.” The speakers were super janky, but he’s such a genius that he still gave me great notes. So, I had to keep the notes until the next day. And, he was like, ‘You know what? I’m sorry I didn’t have enough time to talk about the album. Can you fly with me to Austin, Texas tomorrow?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, dude.’ And as soon as the plane got in the air he was like,‘Theo, put on your album.’ And, that was the first time he heard the album.

Have any other favorites?
Another personal favorite is “Neu Law,” written by John Mouse, one of the songwriters that I hold dear to my heart. “Neu Law” is about authority. Having that powerful presence. Even if the law is crooked you got to abide by it. I also like “Smoke Interlude.” It’s written about sex. A friend’s girlfriend put on her Instagram that every bad boys needs a good girl to only be bad to him. And every bad guy needs a good girl to only be bad to her. So, I thought that was pretty powerful. So, I decided to write a song about that. I had this girl over from Paris. And, she was the only female vocalist on the album. And, she’s singing songs about sex, and hurt me, and fuck me, and teach me dirty tricks. And, I’m just saying yeah, ‘I’m on a good boy, good girl vibe.’

Is that what inspired the name of the album?
I named the album Vibes after all the relationships and it explains a good feeling.

So, how did Kanye become involved with the album?
I played him a song from the album and he was like, ‘Yo, I want to help make it better.’ He sees things that I don’t see. And, he can hear everything. He had a lot of ideas. He’s just a good genuine friend. And, he really wants to help me out.

Have you ever disagreed to something that he suggested?
Kanye wanted me to do only eight songs. But, I told him that he should do that. I have twelve on there.

Why did he only want you to do eight?
He looked at my stuff. He looked at the artwork and heard the music and said, ‘This is a classic album.’ You don’t want to add anything extra on it. Make it eight songs.” I told him that I haven’t put a record out in two years. I really haven’t treated myself in two years. This is like the second rebirth of me.

Ok. You said earlier that Kanye thinks you’re a “sick cultural leader.”
Yes, he thinks I’m a good songwriter. He told me that I’m a better musician than him. I don’t think he was telling the truth. We look up to each other and it’s crazy that he admires me because I super admire him. I learned a lot. I think it was fate. As soon as we met we just clicked. I’m happy to hear two Black man get this far with a braggadocios lifestyles of rapping. But, we also have a conscious too. It’s also a big moment for me because I’ve seen Kanye his whole career trying to fight, whether it was MTV didn’t want to play him or Jay Z overshadowing him.

You’re very creative. Where does that come from?
I just feel like a kid, three-years-old in my head. I have the skills to talk to people. I just want to be a three-year-old in my head and be a smart 26-year-old too.

Why don’t you want to be called a rapper?
I don’t just sit back and write raps and you do the beat. I pick the producers through my social awareness of the culture. I start having production meetings with them. But, before I collaborate with someone I have to be friends with them. I got to be able to look them in the eye. I got to be able to be naked. That’s the only way people can get on my album.

So, this is about more than the music to you?
I’m a culture... Well, I would never call myself an icon, but people call me an cultural kid. And, I can express myself through more than just rap. I don’t just rap, rap, rap, rap. That shit corny to me. ‘Cause you just rapping about braggadocios things. And, you wrote that rap in five minutes. It took Kanye West two months to write that "Can’t Stop” verse for me. And, literally everyday he hit me back like, ‘I got eight lines, I’m looking for four more.’ These kids ain’t doing that. Dudes is like, ‘I’ll write this tonight.” I can’t sit down and rap with any rappers. My music is made on a whim. I’ve never written with anyone before. The only person I’ve ever wrote with was Kanye.

So, why should people purchase Vibes?
Vibes is not about me. Its really about the culture. Each of those songs, you can live in them. That’s why directors love my music because they love discorded films. It’s not too controversial, I’m not calling special girls in the community, hoes, keeping the women mentality down by having them thinking that’s what they are. I’m not into that, I'm not into that. I’m like one of the only kids in this lane.

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Phil Emerson

E-40 The Ageless: Forty Water Memories of a Bay Area Rap Giant

In 1995 he was rhyming “Floyd Terrace” with “esopha-garus,” rapidly scrunching and expanding rhymes with torrents of slang, often hilarious and strikingly original. The audacity of E-40 has been his ability to be himself, a one-of-a-kind whose business savvy moved him far beyond rap, famously sitting courtside at huge events, funding films, owning restaurants and real estate, condos and cars, even dabbling in the tequila (naturally called, E Cuarenta). At over thirty releases, let us also not forget he’s one of the most prolific artists— in any genre— of the last three decades.

These days he’s community minded, glowingly giving back and accepting his role as local neighborhood champ. “You don’t always have to broadcast what you do on the internet or push it in the limelight or put it on the news. But I definitely do that sometimes because I want to influence other people in my position to do the same thing.”

All of this doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s never slowed musically, releasing double albums, side projects, and even trilogies in staggering artistic spurts. 2012 saw five total projects – three solo albums and two collabs with another enormous figure, Oakland’s own Too Short. His response as to how he’s able to remain in creative overdrive after all these years: “It’s all gravity.”

Practice Makes Paper, his latest release, is brimming with guests who not only add to the album’s interest factor, but also reflect E-40’s continual and far-reaching relevance. Swaths of guests include Method Man and Scarface, but also Chris Brown and G-Eazy, Schoolboy Q, Rick Ross, and others. Whether as E-Pheezy, Charlie Hustle, or 40 Belafonte, he’s one of the most uniquely consistent personalities in music, finding his style early on and never deviating. Musical landscapes change, and we grow older, but E-40 stays the same— there’s a comfort in that.

Here we talk about the early schemes of a young Earl Stevens, his relationships with other Bay giants, his time with Tupac, and other seminal, and at times peerless, moments in the career of the great Earl Stevens.

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VIBE: You started Sick Wid It Records in 1986. Tell us about the beginning. E-40: My brother, D-Shot, and I had a clothing store around the time we had just finished college. D-Shot did 22 months in Preston CYA, a California Youth Authority and after he was released, we decided we needed to slow down and stay out of trouble. So we bought a clothing store in the late 1980s and called it New Fat Clothing. We would just buy our stuff from New York or LA’s garment district and distribute them here in the Bay. At the time it was like a dice roll.

Tell us what you remember about the making of your first solo album, Federal. I was cold turkey out of the soil, you feel me? I was new and was leaving my old life behind to work on this life and use the money we’d to put into studio time. Whether it was $40 or $400, I used that money to invest back into myself. I’d walk down to Vallejo Check Cashing then walk straight to the studio and be like, “I need four hours for next Tuesday, here’s my deposit.” So while I’m at the store cashiering or stocking or whatever, I’d write lyrics and jot everything all down while listening to beats. Once I got to the studio, I’d finish like four or five songs easily and all of those those tracks over time became Federal.

What do you remember about the actual studio process and technology of the time? I remember doing it all on half-inch reels. Then a couple years later, we would mix everything onto two-inch reels. But those fucking two-inch reels held at most three songs! And each reel was something ridiculous like $350 each. It’s trippy because these days you can pay like a couple hundred bucks and have thousands of your songs stored somewhere. That’s how it was, at least where we were at in the Bay.

On the topic of the Bay, talk about your friendship with another local legend, Too Short. How did you two meet? It came about naturally. We had mutual friends and I knew him and his folks B.R. You know what that means?

B.R.? It means ‘Before Rap’ [laughs]. We had mutual friends but we never kicked it. I used to go to every Too Short show I could too. I don’t look up to too many, but I looked up to him. I grew up on all his stuff and was a real fan. We were on the same label for many years, he signed with Jive Records in ‘88 and I signed a distribution deal with them around ’94. We eventually did a record in 1996 called “Rappers Ball” and shot a legendary video with tycoons like Ice-T, Mack 10, Tupac and hella others. The grind didn’t stop from there though, we went on to do hella songs.

Another Bay standout is Boots Riley (from the Coup) who is now an acclaimed film director. There’s that famous picture of you, Boots, and Tupac together. Talk about Boots. Boots to me has always been one of those dudes that stood for what’s right. I would literally see Boots at every show that was going on in Cali. We did a song called “Santa Rita Weekends” and I felt it was legendary and we just stayed in contact ever since. He had a song where he said, ‘I got a mirror in my pocket to practice lookin’ hard,’ which I always loved. That picture you mentioned was when we were doing a video and Pac just popped in. We weren’t even expecting him but he was in the Bay for a court date.

How was Tupac that day? He hung out all day. He was in the soil. All my in-laws, all my cousins, everyone, he showed genuine love to. We was deep in apartment complexes, Lucky Supermarket, and the local check-cashing place, and everyone was just taking pictures with him. I remember everyone becoming Pac’s security that day [laughs], nobody even think about popping a balloon, you feel me? People was trippin’ because Pac was in V-Town!

Talk about your relationship with him. How did you two meet? He shouted me and the Click out on the track “Representin’ 93” from his album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and I heard it. It was at a Juneteenth event in Davis and I saw Richie Rich, this rapper from Oakland. Rich was like, ‘Yo Pac wanted me to give you his number, he wants to holler at you.’ I said, ‘For real? He wants to fuck with us?’ Rich had already known Pac for years. So I hit him up and from there, there was no turning back.

What was the studio environment like when you two met up? Every time in the studio we had a pervin’ session, you know, getting warped, smoking big turtle, smoking that big broccoli. Every time there was a new deal, we’d be in the studio celebrating, getting twisted, making songs. It was like a family reunion.

On topic of songs, I’d like to talk about a couple classics of yours. “Captain Save A Hoe,” for instance was a hit with a very memorable music video. It was just comedy. Making the music video was tons of fun too. First of all, there’s a difference in having a female that you’re locked in with and she’s faithful, that’s beautiful. But sometimes dudes have females with more miles on her than Jet Blue [laughs] Every Tom, Dick, or Harry has had relations with your girl and you’re trying to make her a housewife? That’s “Captain Save A Ho.”

Another recent song of yours, “Choices,” became a huge anthem. How’d that come about? I don’t always talk in third person but I sometimes rap in third person and I was just talking to myself when I made that song. That’s like my inner dialogue, you know? I’m just talking to myself about making choices and I caught a flow that opened up the direction of the track. Asking myself a question, then answering it. Yup!

You ended up altering the lyrics for the Golden State Warriors’ run a couple years back. Sports fans, especially here in the Bay, see you at games all the time. How do you see the Dubs doing next season? I think they’ll be right back on top of the league. Of course the league has tightened up with good players but Dubs have a lot of experience and know-how from winning so much during these five or six years. I really hated to see KD [Kevin Durant] go but it was the right move. I think the legacy will continue.

We touched on your history but I’d like to highlight your community efforts. What’s your message when it comes to giving back? The thing is, you have to give back from the heart. You have to do it right and not just for show. For instance, when I gave out backpacks to some school kids, it was on the news and all that, which is fine, it’s all gravity. But I wasn’t just handing out backpacks, I purposely chose Jansport because they have lifetime guarantees, you feel me? So that if something happens, these kids can still help themselves and get another backpack.

Speaking of kids, what’s your take on current rap you hear? Do younger artists hit you up for advice? A lot of the music is out of hand and probably wouldn’t have lasted in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s all gravity because I do like a lot of the newer stuff too. Some stuff people might not even think I’m into it. But for all you young artists: anytime anyone needs anything, needs any advice, I’m here for y’all.

Let’s end this at the beginning; full circle. What music were you into when you were younger? Do you remember when hip-hop entered the picture? I was into soul music and R&B. The Bar-Kays, Cameo, Earth Wind & Fire. For all the young bloods out there, that’s where hip-hop started! And the first time I heard rap? It was 1979 at Franklin Junior High and I heard “Rapper’s Delight.” And that was it for me. Damn brother, that was forty years ago!

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Paul Elliot

Matt Muse Raps His Heart Out On 'Love & Nappyness'

Matt Muse used to hate love songs. Last fall, the Chicago rapper asked his Instagram followers what they’d like to see on his next project, and they answered resoundingly with demand for more songs like “Shea Butter Baby,” a hip-house love song that was a highlight of 2018’s Nappy Talk. “I think love songs are mad corny, so I was like ‘Hell naw,’” he laughs over the phone. “But then I’m thinking, ‘They told you their answer. What is a way I can satisfy this desire?’” Muse then faced the challenge of delving into love songs without repeating himself or regurgitating cliches.

Love & Nappyness, Matt Muse’s new project, explores love from all angles: romantic, but also platonic, familial, even spiritual. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Muse succeeds through sharp writing and soulful production. It’s the best work yet by a rising artist in Chicago’s fertile hip-hop scene.

The rapper born Dexter Matthews found inspiration for the album in his church’s annual Agape Festival. “The festival was everybody feasting together in the basement of our church celebrating love,” he says. Included in the program were Greek and Biblical terms for various kinds of love that provided a framework as Muse wrote his verses and eventually became subtitles for each track. “Love doesn’t just exist in this vacuum of intimate relationships. It actually exists in all these other ways too,” he says.

The South Side rapper was careful to avoid the corniness he sees inherent to the love songs churned out by pop songwriters for “anybody who can look good and sing well.” “The way I automatically combat that corniness is the nappyness,” Muse explains. “It’s real, it’s me, it’s genuine. Everything I talk about in every one of these songs is one million percent real to me.” The EP’s title is less an Al Green reference than a celebration of freedom from external expectations, symbolized by his natural hair.

On the project’s first track, “St. Matthew (Agape),” Muse raps directly to God. “Now me at 26, 10 years from you / But searching for a verse to keep the congregation moved / Guess we ain’t that far removed but I’m still stuck & still confused.” I’d recommend that!Though he grew up intending to be a preacher, he stopped believing entirely after processing the deaths of loved ones in his teens. His distance from divinity is the heart of the song, where he laments earthly racism and disloyalty while admitting his own mistakes. It’s a credit to Muse’s pen that he balances the heavy subject matter with moments of levity, like when he imagines that God will “probably reply ‘Same phone, who dis?’” Muse stresses that his lack of religious beliefs didn’t divide him from his churchgoing family. “I still be pulling up to the church sometimes, people don’t treat me any different.”

Muse continues his family’s musical tradition, as he explains on “Family, Still (Storge).” He raps that his “mom’s in twenty-something choirs,” while his father, stage name Big Ed, has produced house music and rapped all his life. (One of his songwriting credits, Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted,” was recently sampled by a house tribute from a fellow Chicagoan: Kanye West’s “Fade.”) Muse’s music career was kickstarted by an eighth-grade graduation gift from his dad, a drum machine. His younger brother raps and produces as well under the name Syl Messi, a fitting name because “his room still be dirty but his beats be kicking.”

The song concludes with Muse harmonizing to Mon’Aerie singing a yearning melody: “Rest your head and your heart / I’ll keep the family near.” The Chicago singer’s warm vocals add extra flavor all over the EP. “If I’m the heart and brains,” Muse says, “she’s the body.”

Though he initially planned against featuring any guest rappers, Muse tapped Pivot Gang member Joseph Chilliams for a verse on “Myself (Philautia II).” The song shares a subtitle with “Ain’t No,” which is a dexterous boast like vintage Lupe Fiasco, but “Myself” is about self-love in a physical sense. “Love how you treat me baby,” Muse sings on the hook. “But first let me treat myself.” As the sugary sweet beat dissolves to drums, Chilliams raps “Looking in the mirror, I just gotta thank the lord / In love with myself just like Regina George.” Chilliams is familiar with showing his feelings, his humor and his Mean Girls knowledge, dating back to past projects like The Plastics and Henry Church. “Listening to Joseph Chilliams’ music was a huge inspiration for me to even be comfortable being as vulnerable as I am on this song,” Muse says. “To me, he embodies self-love in the way he raps.”

Muse addresses romantic love on “Love Wrong (Eros),” a sequel of sorts to “Shea Butter Baby.” If the fan-favorite track depicted puppy love, “Love Wrong” documents the same relationship later, as the two navigate disagreement and miscommunication. “Both songs are about the same real person. ‘Love Wrong’ is a more in-depth analysis of what her and I have experienced since being involved with each other,” Muse says. “The realities of it, like ‘Oh we gotta learn each other, this sh*t doesn’t just work overnight,’” he continues. The song ends on a hopeful note, as he chants “We gon get it right” like a mantra to get through the tough times. Muse is still seeing the woman who inspired both songs, after all.

Perseverance through discord and death is the common thread through Love & Nappyness, the same grit in the face of adversity that drives hometown heroes like Kanye and Common. Muse is releasing his latest work independently, and he passed up opportunities to play festivals in order to book the release show, his first time headlining. For him, the payoff has been worth it. “The whole theme of my year,” he says, “has been betting on myself.”

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YouTube/VEVO

6 Pop Culture Tributes In Normani's Jam-Packed "Motivation" Video

Since its release this morning at midnight (Aug. 16), Normani has been the name on everybody's lips. The former Fifth Harmony member dropped a video for her latest single, "Motivation," which shows off the 23-year-old's incredible dance moves and also pleasantly pays homage to some of our favorite visuals and pop-culture moments from the 2000s.

"Motivation" was produced by ILYA, and Normani revealed that Ariana Grande was one of the song's co-writers. The video was directed by Daniel Russell and Dave Meyers, who is as iconic (and throwback) as it gets. Take a look at a few moments the video pays homage to below.

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106 & Park (0:00- 0:29)

BET's music countdown show is the basis for the visual. A teenage girl is shown running into her living room, and she is eager to see if one of her favorite music videos will be shown. To her delight, Terrence J and Rocsi announce that Normani's video will be playing.

Beyonce, "Crazy In Love" (0:30-0:42 and 2:43-3:08)

A given considering Normani's vocal appreciation of the Queen Bey. To start the video within the video, 'Mani is seen strutting down the street a la 'Crazy In Love' with denim bottoms and a white tank, serving us life on a silver platter.

She also served us sexy choreography in the rain, a likely homage to Bey's iconic video. The bedazzled outfit screamed 2000s, but there was no denying there was Bey influence for the scene.

Ciara, "1, 2 Step" And/Or Ashanti, "Happy" (0:45- throughout)

Normani storms into this scene with energy, which prompts everyone else to get in formation and dance with her, reminiscent of when Ciara showed us how to 1,2 Step. Much like in the homage, everyone rallies behind CiCi to have some fun.

This could also be an homage to Ashanti's "Happy." Videos in the 2000s were clearly all about dancing in front of houses, and with the synchronization of both groups of dancers, we could also lean towards Ashanti being a definite inspiration.

Jennifer Lopez Feat. Ja Rule, "I'm Real (Remix)" (1:42-2:13)

The 2000s were all about the basketball court too, and "Motivation" screams "I'm Real." The OG video features J. Lo and Ja playfully canoodling on the court, which is also what we see during Normani's take on the hit.

Britney Spears, "...Baby One More Time" (1:54- 2:05)

You can't deny that this particular scene has Brit Brit written all over it. The Louisiana native, who is a former dancer and gymnast, pulled out all the stops in her debut music video. Normani (a fellow Louisiana girl as well as a dancer and gymnast) pays homage in a very loaded way.

via GIPHY
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