The Wow

The Wow May Have The Most Slept-On Album Of 2014

It's been a good year for hip-hop. Both rookies and veterans have released an array of stellar projects. For instance, Logic’s Def Jam debut album, Under Pressure stood up to T.I.’s true-to-life Paperwork album and peaked at No. 5 on Billboard charts. Long Beach native Vince Staples recently dropped his respectable project dubbed Hell Can Wait while Killer Mike and El-P—collectively known as Run The Jewels—released the second installment of their self-titled LP, which is definitely one of the year's best LPs.

Missing from the conversation is California-based rap group The Wow. The rugged boom-bap and lyrically energetic duo consist of a nerdy, swaggy white guy named Balthazar Getty and former battle rapper, KO The Legend. On Oct. 14, the rappers released their debut project titled LGNDRY on their independent Purple House Music label. The album boasts appearances by well-respected MCs such as Method Man, Prodigy of Mobb Deep and The Pharcyde's Fatlip.

The black-and-white rap tag team have been putting in work for more than a decade. KO barged his way into the industry after murking a rap battle competition at L.A. radio station, Power 106.1. “They had this battle competition called the Role Call," he tells VIBE. "I had this record on there. It was on there for five months. They had to retire it.”

After obliterating rappers with heavy bars and metaphors, KO garnered a following as artists like Lil' Flip and Britney Spears reached out for help with their respective projects. Industry connections provided a plug for Balthazar, who was also producing and acting at the time, to KO. Here, The Wow stopped by VIBE HQ to discuss their album, recording process, trap music, their childhood and much more.—Darryl Robertson

VIBE: Why the name The Wow?
Balthazar Getty: It started as a joke. I thought that it’d be funny if an announcer came out to announce a band and a white guy came out in a suit and he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, The Totally Wow.’ We were calling it The Totally Wow just as a reference. In time, it just broke down to The Wow. It’s just one of those words that you start to notice by how often we say it as a culture. When we play the record, people go, 'Wow' and 'The guy who makes the beats is white? Wow.’ It’s just a fun word to play on. It’s in the vein of The Beatles, The Who, so it doesn’t feel hip-hop, it’s not the Kush Mafia, or something. It feels timeless in a way.

The album is very aggressive and it seems as if you guys were homeless and had only one shot at getting off the streets.
KO: What’s crazy is every single song from beginning to end was created there. The way the album was sequenced was very well thought out. Balthazar had the beats, and he literally said, ‘This is the feel, this is the vibe I’m hearing. Go for it.’ Then we added accordingly so it was a very organic process.

Your beats are so '90s inspired but aren’t dated. How do you manage that?
Balt: I appreciate that. For the most part, I want you to make that face (makes screwface) when you hear it. I just like shit that knocks. Guys like Premo, DJ Muggs, Large Pro, and Diamond D—I’m inspired by all of those guys. But, I can also embrace something like a LGNDRY to embrace where music is going. We don’t want to be a retro 90s band. That’s not The Wow. We’re not some hip-hop purists that don’t fuck with 808s. We love that shit. If you just follow the trend, you’re a wrap but if you move with it and make it your own, you're good.

What are your favorite songs on LGNDRY?
Balt: My favorite is "Talk My Shit.” No features. Just me and KO doing what we do—sick bars and that ol' boom bap shit.
KO: I’m going to agree and say "Talk My Shit" as well. As a relatively unknown MC, I feel this record best displays my aptitude for rap. It validates the gods [like Prodigy, Method Man and Fatlip] giving The Wow their stamp of approval and blessing our album with those jade tablets of knowledge.

This is your first project together, but you’ve been in the game for a while.
KO: After Power 106 retired me, I met different people. Lil' Flip was one of the people that I started producing for. Brittany Spears heard me on the radio once so she brought me to the studio. I recorded a joint with Britney Spears [which] led me to me some people and that led to Balt. It’s crazy because I started in the pop world and Top 40.

But you spit like a battle rapper. Would you be interested in stepping into that arena?
KO: Not anymore because I did it for so long. It kind of broke my heart. I did Sway and [King] Tech's battle and I got robbed so bad that the people were screaming and booing at Tech and Sway because they knew I won. But the dude that beat me had just come off an MTV battle.

Who’s the guy who beat you?
KO: His name is C4. I’ll never forget. He’s an Irish dude. He’s dope as fuck.

When did you start experimenting with music?
KO: I grew up in a place that had zero hip-hop—San Luis Obispo, California—and I was one of twenty blacks in the area. Me and some of my friends were just obsessed with the culture, and all we could do was go to 7-Eleven and buy XXL, The Source and VIBE. We bought every magazine because that was our only plug to hip-hop. Then the Internet broke things wide and I started creating a following there.

How old were you?
KO: I was eight years old. My pops was a preacher and they had this talent show at church. I don’t remember the name of it but I did not want to do this one song and the whole time I sang it, I cried on stage. I was so nervous but after [the show], all these girls ran up and every one was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ and that was like my first hit of crack. I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’

You went home and started writing?
KO: Actually, I just got into music generally but I couldn’t listen to secular music so my parents were like, ‘You can make music. That’s your only option because you’re not going to listen to what’s out.’ I started writing and when that happens, everything just comes to you. I couldn’t go to school dances, couldn’t read what I wanted to read, listen to what I wanted to.

What do your parents say now after listening to LGNDRY? You have some vulgar stuff on there.
KO: They never saw music as a career choice but once they saw that I opened for Nelly Furtado—it was like 20,000 people there. That was the first show that they’d come to and I’d done like 100 shows before that. When they came, they were like, ‘Oh, shit. This is a reality. We don’t like it, but we get it and you got our support.’

It seems like getting to this point came fairly easy.
Balt: We don’t see [obstacles] as roadblocks. They’re opportunities that we learn from. We believe in it and we believe that we’re going to connect with enough people.
KO: One thing great about the Internet, it’s an equalizer. It’s not about everybody having to fuck with your shit. If our music doesn’t resonate with you, then it’s not for you but there’s a group of people that it is for and that’s who we’re talking to.

I can tell you guys listen to a variety of hip-hop.
Balt: When I’m in the club and they drop some trap shit… It’s not even about the music. It’s the same reason people pray in groups. Anytime you get 300 people moving to some trap shit and you get all that energy, that critical mass, that happens, some 2 Chainz happens, Chief Keef happens. I love that shit.

That "Kill a Top Dawg Nigga for entertainment” line was dope.
KO: I wrote that the same week that the “Control” verse came out. I knew I wasn’t going to do a “Control” response. There’s not a rapper alive that I’m scared of. That’s just me saying, 'I’m here.'
Balt: It wasn’t disrespectful. It was a way of capitalizing off of the battle rapping that they reignited, and throwing it back in their faces. I think if anything they’d appreciate it. There’s no malicious intent behind it at all.

Talk about how you hooked up with Method Man and Prodigy. Were you in the studio with them?
KO: For Prodigy, no. But, for Meth, yes.

What’s Meth like?
Balt: What’s funny is that KO came over later because I had to do Meth’s stuff first. He said he’s going to show up at 9:30pm so I’m thinking, ‘It’s Meth. It’s going to be midnight.' He shows up at 9:00pm. He’s completely prepared. I’m like a little kid seeing Bugs Bunny and Micky Mouse. He walks into my studio and I give him a hug like, ‘Meth, you my fucking hero.’ He was just so cool, man. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know where he lived, about his kids and family. We had some greenery and then KO showed up and Meth came over and said, ‘Yo, KO, you’re the man.’ And then he said, ‘Are you humble?’ That was basically his advice. Approach everything with humility. (Says to KO) I think it almost threw you off-guard.
KO: That’s not what I expected to hear. He pulled me in and tapped my chest but I said, ‘If you knew my family, I don’t have any other options but to be that.' That’s my reality. Humility is just ingrained in me. That’s a core principle. I told him about my father being a preacher and I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music. But Biggie is my favorite rapper and "The What" is my all-time favorite Biggie record. That’s the only record where I feel that someone [like Meth] has gotten with Biggie so I told Meth that I used to sneak in the back of the church with my headphones. While my pastor’s preaching, I’d be listening to “The What.” He really influenced me as an MC. His "Triumph" verse is one of my all-time favorite verses.

How'd you link with Fatlip?
KO: I was leaving this club called Embassy. It was like 2:00am and this dude bumps me. So I look at him with the screwface and it’s Fatlip. I’m like, ‘Yo, are you Fatlip?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah.' I was like, ‘Yo, I got this project that I’m working on and I know people tell you this shit all the time but it’s really real, it’s boom bap, and it’s West Coast and we need you.’ He gave me his number. I thought he was going to be bullshitting but I texted him the next day and he was on it. His verse is nasty.

What are you trying to accomplish musically?
KO: Tech is everything to me. It’s going to be the new purveyors of content and control distribution methods. They control how we adjust content now. I really want to be that label that disrupts the way that major labels and artists see how content is put out because there’s so many things at our fingertips.
Balt: This isn’t some shit that I’m just trying haphazardly. We’re trying to be Def Jam, Geffen. Everything starts with a dream and the guys who make it are the guys that hold on a little bit longer than the others. This isn’t something that we turn on and off. This is Purple House Music.

What do you want to accomplish with LGNDRY?
KO: I’ve been grounded for years because I used to listen to hip-hop in the back of the church. I’ve gotten lashes for hip-hop. Basically, LGNDRY is me inspiring everyone to be legendary.

Stream The Wow's LGNDRY LP below.

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Derrel Todd

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

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

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

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

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

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

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LUCY PEARL

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

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLO SAADIQ

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

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

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

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

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

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

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

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

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

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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