Luke Christopher

Meet Luke Christopher, The West Coast's Next Big Thing

Luke Christopher found his career in a bunk bed. Holed up in his makeshift room studio, the Los Angeles rapper-singer-producer was up until 3am, working on his art. In 2012, Luke released his debut mixtape TMRW, TMRW. Nearly two years later, he's still pushing with his e-street gang (he calls them TMRW gang) with the release of TMRW TMRW II, which highlights Luke's creativity and diverse influences from James Blake and Laura Mvula to Frank Ocean.

With the co-sign from Chicago wordsmith Common, Luke's lyrics are food for thought (see: "Life Jackets"). Fallouts with Def Jam and Atlantic Records also fuel his spitfire rhymes but now, with ByStorm Entertainment/RCA Records as his new home, his pipe dreams are slowly becoming a reality. "You need that to light a fire under you," he tells VIBE, "so sometimes there will be a down moment but think positive. You have to think positive." Get familiar with the wise 21-year-old MC below.—Maya S. Jones

VIBE: When did you first get into hip-hop?
Luke Christopher: It was Christmas and I got the Tupac All Eyez On Me album. It was my first introduction to hip-hop. I was like 10 or 11 and like, 'OK, this shit is crazy.' Then my cousin showed me A Tribe Called Quest and I started getting into a lot of old school stuff too. So that's when I first fell in love with it. When I was probably like 13, my cousin and my brother were like making nursery rhymes into raps and recording it on Garage Band. It was incredible so I started messing around with writing rhymes. I would spend all night, hours, like 3am just making music.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?
The first song I wrote was kind of like a constant play of a nostalgic type track. It was talking about my move from California to Las Vegas when I was young.

What were some of the highlights growing up that sort of shaped you into Luke Christopher today?
I was open to all different types of music, and all different types of art, music and movies. I'm still kind of like that. I'm not close-minded in any way. I think it helps growing up in L.A where it's like you know such a multi-type of culture and as I got older, getting to high school, it started to shrink. I was in areas that were more secluded and like a bubble. I kinda had that mindset so I was kind of like the one kid that you know didn't fit in with the "normal" so that was cool.

You have aspirations of starting your own record label so who would you sign in the game right now?
I would sign James Blake. When I run my label, I don't want it to be strictly hip-hop. I want it to be artists that I can produce stuff for. I'd sign Chance The Rapper, Frank Ocean and Lorde.

You also referenced the Atlantic Records and Def Jam fallout. What went down?
When I was 17, we sent my first song to Atlantic Records and the A&R flew us out overnight. They were like, 'Yo I wanna fly you out to Atlantic Records. We wanna do a deal.' We were naive and so we flew out there. We had to put on a showcase in this lobby with tracks we didn't even have and it was kind of a weird vibe. Then in the end it was like I was too young to fully understand what they wanted to do. They were like, 'You're too inexperienced.' That's basically the feedback we got. Like I said, it was all purpose. Then with Def Jam, the next person was like, 'Yeah we're tryna sign a singer.' Then the next person was saying, 'Nah we're trying to sign a rapper,' and then a lot of stuff just happened with people talking. It just lit a fire and I'm not the type of person to be all sensitive and upset when somebody gives me negative feedback. I'm just like, 'OK, I'ma show you.' Like even when somebody tweets, 'Yo you sound stupid,' I'm like okay "@ John Jacob, I'ma show you In the next track.'

I wanna touch base on your love life real quick. After listening to “Life Jackets,” you know it seems like you'd rather not put up with women.
The concept itself was basically you're in a relationship with this one person that is ready to commit but they want that exclusive commitment and then it's just not what the next person wants. I'm saying I'm not ready to commit in an exclusive way you know. I don't have to be so exclusive. I work late and stuff then it's like, OK, I don't wanna be with you unless I don't have that safety net on, a life jacket, which is like love, commitment. We wanted to show that in the video with the girl searching for that and just not finding it from me.

Are you single right now?
Nah, I'm seeing somebody. Shoutout to her.

You teamed up with Common. What was that like?
Yeah that was crazy! He's an idol of mine in hip-hop. Common was parked at the parking lot of the studio and he heard some of the tracks and he walked in on my boy. They were from Chi-town and my man started playing a record. Then he texted me because I was at rehearsal and he was like, 'Yo Common is in the studio come through.' I got in the car and drove to the studio. We just kinda started chopping it up for like an hour then he was like, 'Man, I wanna get on this record,' so he hopped on. It was crazy how it happened so fast.

Where did you get the idea to sample Laura Mvula's "I Don't Know What The Weather Will Be."
Yeah, I love that album. When I heard that, I just thought it sounded so creative. Her voice is insane but I gotta find a record that I can play with, so when I found that, I started chopping with it. Her whole album is crazy.

You define TMRW Gang as "Everybody who believes in making a better tomorrow for themselves, and for the world based on fashion music and art." How have you given back to them?
We're starting an educational foundation now actually. Kids in school don't really learn about anything besides academics. A lot of kids don't learn like that. A lot of kids excel in things that aren't taught too, so we wanna be able to show people there are other forms of intelligence. You don't have to feel stupid because you don't excel in math or science, but you might be an excellent singer or painter. Whatever it is, that's TMRW Gang. It's about expressing yourself through art, music, fashion and creativity.

Is this a future project in the works?
Probably the end of this year. As we grow the fan base, we're going to be putting singles and albums out. We will start doing projects in different vicinities and a concert series. Then it will eventually become a label too.

How does your mixtape TMRW, TMRW II differ from what's on mainstream radio?
People are craving for something more meaningful right now. Even mainstream radio is craving for something more hip-hop, especially in L.A where the radio is so monotonous. You hear the same thing over and over. We wanted to have something that people can listen to by themselves, but at the same time, feels commercial for radio, whether you're driving with your girls or whatever it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUCY PEARL

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

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLO SAADIQ

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

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

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

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

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

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

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

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

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

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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