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Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Frequency

Meet Frequency, the next producer to keep on your radar.

Frequency is truly a student of the game. While pursuing a career as a full-time producer, the New York native perfected his craft by digging through his parent's immense collection of records and crafting his own beats on a daily basis from artists like The Delfonics and Jerry Butler on his "little PC computer."

The song structures he learned from those early R&B musicians from the 1960s and '70s helped to dispel his method of "just creating a beat" and shaped the sounds into something that'll stand the test of time. His passion for constructing those sounds can be felt on Eminem's "Monster" hit which went three-times platinum in the United States.

For VIBE's latest installment of Views From The Studio, Frequency discusses how he got his start in the industry as part of the group the Understudies, gaining inspiration from working with Slaughterhouse and his plans for the future.

VIBE: How old were you when you made your first beat and describe that moment?
Frequency: Probably 15, and I was just screwing around on the computer before I had any equipment. My dad had a big record collection, so I was picking some of his old records and sampling them, chopping them up on my little PC computer. It was pretty bad but that was my first little experience. It was amazing that I could make something that came out of my brain basically using somebody else’s music. It was pretty cool.

How did you get your start in the industry?
I started out selling tracks or giving free beats to local people from New York. Some stuff was just meeting people on the Internet and I started going out to shows and passing out CDs to people anyway I could, burning my own CDs with beats and stuff. My first really big placement was a song I did for Snoop Dogg called “Think About It.” I went to one of these producer conferences where aspiring producers come and watch panels, and listen to people talk about their place in the business. There were a whole bunch of A&R’s there and there was one from Geffen Records who I handed a CD to. He walked away with probably a stack of 300 CDs from all of these people. His name is Mike Chavez. Almost a year-and-a-half to two years later I got a phone call from him. I guess the CDs were sitting around his office and he decided to go through some of them. For whatever reason he picked up mine and he found this track. He sent it over to Snoop Dogg and he liked it, recorded it, and called me and said, ‘Snoop Dogg recorded to your song!’ That was my first big thing. I wasn’t expecting it. I threw it out into the world and that’s how it started.

You’re also a DJ, so how did that profession help shape you into becoming a producer?
I was brought up on hip-hop and a lot of the old music that was being sampled in hip-hop. My parents both listened to a lot of Soul, R&B music and had a large record collection. I got into it a lot through the records, going through them and finding samples, different sounds. That transitioned into DJing and seeing how people reacted to different music in a live setting like that. It informed me into what sounds work good in the club or at a party, and it was a back and forth conversation figuring out if I play this break, maybe people will react this way, or loop that idea or groove.

You were also part of a group called The Understudies. How did that group prepare you for the industry, because from that experience you went on to collaborate with other artists from John Legend to The Roots?
When I first started out I was working in a little studio and being in that group, doing shows, being out at clubs and venues, it opened up my world from just being in the studio and seeing how the music translates in a live setting as opposed to DJing records at a party to actually doing a show and seeing how those records that we made are being translated. It solidified everything together. I learned a lot about production and working with artists. When I started out I was making beats for myself. I transitioned into crafting songs for an artist and figuring out ‘This is going to be a song, not just a beat.’

Do you have a song that you produced that you feel didn’t get the recognition it should’ve received?
I did a song recently for this artist, Bebe Rexha, who co-wrote Eminem’s song “Monster” with me. A song that I did for her, a piano balled called “Gone,” came out last year. I don’t know why it didn’t take off. Probably because it’s a ballad and it’s kind of slow but it’s one of the best songs that I’ve been a part of. It’s a really great emotional song. She’s a great artist and a great writer. Maybe down the road it’ll get a sync in a TV or a movie, but that’s one of my favorite songs.

As a producer do you think you have to conform to a popular sound to get a record noticed? For example with DJ Mustard, he has the Bay Area sound that a lot of artists are going for. But as a producer do you feel that you may have to conform to a popular sound?
I would say in the beginning maybe I did. I was listening to what was out there, and maybe not necessarily copying but trying to mimic things. But now I don’t think about that at all. That’s very prevalent in hip-hop and urban music. When you start getting 50,000 songs that sound like the exact same thing, while you might get a placement or it might be on the radio for a little bit, the life of that is going to be short lived. A lot of these songs are out on the radio for a month and that’s it, you’ll probably never hear that song again two years from now. It’s so of the moment. It keeps your name out there, but it’s not what I want to be doing. I want to create songs that are going to last and stand out. When you’re doing something that sounds different, or pushing the envelope a little bit, that’s going to stand out amongst everything else that sounds the same. There’s a lot of records out there right now that may sound like DJ Mustard’s records, and they’re not DJ Mustard’s but everyone is assuming it’s him. It’s not really giving the guy who actually did it any type of credit. I love all types of music and I’ve been trying to make great songs that are going to impact people as opposed to making tracks that sounds like something so I can get on the next whoever else. I’ve really tried to move towards finding artists, trying to develop people and work on songs that I feel connected to as opposed to trying to chase a trend. Honestly, four, five months from now that sound is going to be gone just like certain elements of the Trap sound are starting to evolve. Things change and you have to be on the edge of the envelope as opposed to trying to catch up with it.

What do you think makes a beat stand the test of time?
I think the biggest thing is I don’t think it’s necessarily just the beat. Whether it’s a hip-hop, pop or R&B song, the song matters. You could have the hottest beat, but if the song sucks you’ll never hear that song again. I think it’s more about the marriage of the right song and the right artist. I don’t think it’s just about the beat. When those songs stand the test of time, there’s something magical that happens in the interaction between the music, artist, and the writing that creates itself. That magic dust that’s in some of those big songs.

Are there any artists or producers pushing the genre forward?
I think J. Cole is one of them especially with the last album that came out [2014 Forest Hills Drive]. There was a single, but it wasn’t really about trying to do what people are doing, he just does what he does. He’s a great producer, rapper, writer, and honestly even Kanye [West]. I know that a lot of people didn’t like his last album [Yeezus] but he’s always pushing the envelope. People may not like what he does, but I really respect that he never does the same thing twice. He’s always looking to do something different. Producer-wise I would say Timbaland. You always know a Timbaland record when you hear it, he’s always pushing the envelope.

How did you link up with Eminem for “Monster?” What was that studio session like?
That was a crazy process. The song was originally written for Bebe Rexha. I had been working with her for a couple of months on her own music and we did a songwriting session for her. The whole song was probably written in two hours and it was a kick-drum piano, some bass and her vocals. It was a full song with verses, a bridge, and the chorus was the same but it wasn’t a rap song, it was a pop song. A couple of weeks later there was a holiday party at the studio I was working at. I know Riggs Morales who is an A&R at Shady Records and I’ve been sending him beats for 10 years. I invited him up to the studio, had a couple of beers and just played him what I was working on. Not to say ‘This would be a good song for Eminem.’ I was like ‘I’m working with this artist. We just did this song a week or two ago, tell me what you think.’ It was in a really rough stage this late in the pro tools session, and he said, ‘This could be a good song for Eminem. This is really powerful, but you’d have to change the production on it,’ because it wasn’t a hip-hop record at the time.

I went back to everybody and I said, ‘Are you guys cool with us trying to pitch this to Eminem?’ Everyone was, and I spent probably two weeks working on the production trying to get it to a point that I thought it would be a good Eminem record. There was a lot of back and forth because there’s about 4 or 5 versions of the production before it got to the final version. Changing drums, guitar sounds, structure wise, and the chorus was always there. I was working off of Bebe’s vocals and it finally got to a point that Riggs liked it and he gave it Paul Rosenberg, Eminem’s manager. He gave it to Eminem and they liked it. A week later they said can I send them the pro tools file. We sent it over to them and it was the track with Bebe’s vocals on it for the chorus. Em ended up recording his vocals at his studio and then sent it to Rihanna to record the chorus. They put the session together and sent it to Dr. Dre who actually mixed it. That whole process was like a year-and-a-half.

How did you react to the success of the track?
It changed my life. I knew when we did the original version that the chorus and the melody was really powerful. When I heard what Eminem did with it, I was like ‘Wow this is going to be really great.’ I’d hoped that people were going to react to it the way that I reacted to it and they did. It was an incredible feeling. I started going to a deli by my house in Washington Heights where I was living at the time in New York. I’d go to get my coffee in the morning and it was playing on the radio. I never said anything to anybody but it was a really interesting experience for sure.

Have you ever had a memorable moment in the studio with an artist?
Probably when I did some stuff with Slaughterhouse. At the very early stages of Slaughterhouse when they first formed as a group, they were pretty much individual rappers. They had recorded to one of my tracks called “Onslaught.” It was one of the first songs that they did together as a group. They all were in New York meeting to talk about solidifying the group and they ended up booking a studio session and invited me over there. I played them some beats and it was one of the first times they were recording together because they conversed separately. It was never like the 4 of them writing and working together. It was interesting to see these four people who are all super talented in their own right and had very successful solo careers to come together and everyone be on the same page and start from scratch. There was another song we ended up doing called “Fight Club” and it was great to see everybody as opposed to people just writing verses and that’s it, we paste it all together. There were a couple of sections where they go back and forth and it was cool to see that collaboration between these four talented minds.

Do you have a time in your career that was like your defining moment?
Probably the Eminem song, success wise, but learning wise or where I wanted to go with my career is the time when I worked with the producers Trackmasters for a couple of years. That was my first exposure to working with songwriters and singers, and not just rappers. I learned so much in that process of really making a song. Not just throwing a couple of verse or three 16s and that’s it. I learned a lot about melody, recording vocals, shaping the transitions between sections of a song. That changed me as a producer and put me on a path of trying to be something different and going outside of what I normally try to do.

You’ve produced melodies from hip-hop to alternative rock. Do you find a certain genre to be more time-consuming?
Everything has it’s own things that are faster or slower. Sometimes a hip-hop track can be a bit quicker, but with the rock stuff I’m starting from scratch with a band, guitars, drums, horns, everyone is collaborating together. A lot of my tracks, aside from a piano ballad, the drums are really important. If I’m working on a rock record I’m going to make sure the pattern, sound and drums are going to knock. Obviously I’m not going to make it sound like a hip-hop record, but I pick some of what I do with different genres and apply them in my own way on different things.

What was the process like being the executive producer for the MisterWives’ album Our Own House?
That was a different experience for me because I haven’t worked with a live band like that. That was recording live drums, horns, and accordion. We locked out in the studio for two months and everybody had the drums, mics, pre-amps, everything was set up and Mandy the lead singer wrote all the songs. She was bringing ideas to everybody, and everyone would contribute their own input to the songs. Just helping them shape that sound, they had a strong idea of what they wanted and it was doing what was best for the songs. It was a lot of fun because one of the things that’s great about something like that is the freedom to experiment. You’re not trying to pitch songs to anybody or place a song on an album. This is the band and this is what we’re doing. We’re not trying to sound like anybody else. We’re trying to make fun songs. It was a lot of fun to experiment with things and going outside of my comfort zone. Trying to get the snare drum to sound a different way, and how are we going to mic an accordion (laughs). The bathroom in my studio is big for no reason and we got some crazy reverb. We brought some microphones and did some snaps in the bathroom, other weird sounds and that’s not something I would do on a normal day in the studio. But being around that collaborative environment of experimenting was really fun.

From your travel experience as a DJ, has it ever influenced your music?
Yes, when I was DJing with Slaughterhouse for their tour. Just being out there and hearing stuff on the radio and hearing stuff I never heard before or would never hear here in the States, it made me realize there’s so much music out there. There are so many different kinds of things we may never hear and just be more open to other sounds and types of music. It opened up my mind to see that there are people from all over the world from different walks of life. That being said, it made me realize that music transcends the language barrier. A lot of these countries that we went to they don’t speak English, but they like the music. That’s something that’s really powerful. You don’t understand a word that’s being said, but it speaks to you.


Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Ester Dean

Views From The Studio: Meet Producer Tommy Brown

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Bibi Bourelly

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwrtier Bobby Brackins

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Ugo Mozie Talks New Partnership With Allbirds, Building His Craft And Working With Beyonce

In December 2018, Allbirds, a billion dollar sneaker line, partnered with trendy media company Complex to host its environment-conscious themed event titled "Sustain This." The name of the gathering is a huge part of the San Francisco-based footwear corporation’s eco-friendly stance.

Held at Manhattan’s trendy and spacious Foley Gallery, tastemakers from fashion to entertainment arrived to see the uniquely crafted displays and visuals of sustainability. Whether it’s food, new fashion, or recyclables like wood and metal, these different products all centered around being environmentally friendly.

Sitting inside the small, compact basement is Allbirds’ latest partner, creative director Ugo Mozie with his hands crossed and eyes closed in deep thought while discussing his new ventures and many accomplishments — all before age 30. Mozie was born in Nigeria and predominantly raised in Houston, Texas before attending college at St. John's University in Queens, New York to major in Public Relations & Business Law. Since 2009, the year he dropped his first fashion line, he racked up quite the clientele that includes Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Travis Scott, Larry King, Jeremy Meeks, and Celine Dion.

What makes Mozie standout from the current wave of fashion stylists and creative directors is that he never lets go of his culture. Instead of shying away from it, he embraces the unique style of Nigerian attire from his hip fedoras to sleek male fits to the colorful pants and pattern-spotted shirts. Aside from his day job as a fashion creative, he also gives back to his African community as a social activist with his non-profit organization WANA. Its mission is to let the world know of other great African talents and creatives.

Rocking a Nigerian kufi cap with a smooth caramel leather jacket (reminiscent of movie character Indiana Jones), the 27-year-old dives into his partnership with Allbirds, how his upbringing informs his professional decisions and having someone like Beyonce on his list of clientele.


VIBE: How did your connection with Allbirds come about? Ugo Mozie: My partnership with Allbirds came about with mutual friends knowing some teams at Allbirds, and Complex recommending me as a person who had an insight in sustainability and doing projects that are helping the environment and promoting sustainable living. We had a conference call, and I realized that we pretty much vibed in the same frequencies and had the same vision when it came to preserving the Earth and doing things to also upcycle things we found from the Earth like trash and recyclables.

How does Allbirds fit within your business goals? Allbirds fits into my personal business goals because we share the same vision when it comes to preserving the environment and sustaining the Earth.

What looks are in for the winter season, for men and women? For the winter season, I think this year is really all about minimal chic. It's about strong statement coats, underdressed by simple silhouettes and simple color, monochromatic under. I feel like where there is a lot going on in the environment with the politics that people are really showing their style of simplicity,elegance, and the details.


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While working on these amazing projects this year, I had no clue that I would be recognized and able to share the story and project with you all so soon. Thank you @complex & @allbirds for allowing me to share a big part of my passion with the world. Let’s keep spreading the love and pushing toward sustaining the world. #shadowmanvan @wanaorg

A post shared by Chief Ugo Mozie II (@ugomozie) on Dec 13, 2018 at 2:05pm PST

If you were working with popular brands that don’t use eco-friendly methods, what suggestions would you give? I feel like [a] brand that is including recycled products and eco-friendly material sustainable products are brands not only considering the future but also are innovative enough to cross that bridge. Sustainable fashion is the future, and I know that any brand who doesn't understand or take note of that is going to lose and suffer the repercussions in the future.

One of your clients was Beyonce. What does she tend to look for in her designs? Having Beyonce wear my products was definitely an honor and amazing. Beyonce as a person looks to not only wear the high-end big designer, she gives young fresh designers a chance. She's very interested in incorporating culture and cultured pieces into her wardrobe. hat's a true fashionista, [a] true stylish person doesn't distinct one-sided.

How has your background as a Nigerian man contributed to your style and success here in the States? My background as a Nigerian man contributed a great deal to my style and my aesthetic and the way I think, the way I work. The confidence I have from knowing where I came from and who I am plays a large role in the way my clients relate to me and also respect me. As of recent, I've been the go-to person for African fashion, high African style, and high-level African taste and I feel like people are now understanding that you can get quality and great products out of Africa as well from what I've been putting out and showing in the media.

Many African parents are bent on their children being doctors, lawyers, engineers. How did you your parents react when you told them that you wanted to work in the entertainment industry? My parents, although they're both African, born and raised in Africa, were very liberal and understanding I feel like, from an early stage or early age. I was very confident and aware of the role I wanted to play in the world, and my parents have been supportive., Unlike your typical African parents, they were open-minded and supportive on my risks and dares to go into the entertainment industry, go into fashion. They knew that whatever I was passionate, ambitious, and driven about, I will succeed. And I did.

What obstacles did you face while developing your craft? Like every successful person, I definitely faced a lot of obstacles during my journey. And I still do every day, but the most challenging ones are up here. Where, what happened when it came to moving? No, moving from Houston where I grew up to New York was definitely a challenge. Having to understand the ways of the city, how to communicate, how to navigate, how to develop myself in the city. There wasn't anything like what I was used to. And then after moving from New York to Paris, another obstacle was having to transition to another culture, another language, and then from New York from Paris to L.A. was one of my most challenging transitions because after that I was most pivotal for my career. ost of my challenges come when I make a big change and the biggest changes for me came when I moved.

In September, you visited Uganda’s Nakivale Refugee Camp to connect with refugees. Why did you decide to support this cause? That trip was honestly a life-changing one. I was invited by my friend, Nachson Mimran who was visiting there and invited me and I thought I was going to go to a refugee camp and see a lot of sad things and see, you know, a lot of poverty. But I was very inspired by the fact that they had a great system, great learning system and a lot of enthusiasm and positive outlook on life. These people have been through so much heartbreak, lost their families, lost their homes, still have to deposit them out beyond life. I was very inspired and motivated to help them. So we developed different, sustainable ways to provide help for the community. One being the big project and also implying the passionate ability, sugar, bad upcycling with designers out there as well.

Who are your top five all-time artists from Nigeria or of Nigerian descent? My top-five favorite artists are Fela Kuti, Sade, Seal, Wizkid, and Runtown.

What advice do you have for others trying to come up in fashion? What I can really say is just dig as deep as possible and try and be as authentic to who you are. Your value and your uniqueness comes from your culture, comes from your personal style. It comes from who you are. Don't see too much inspiration from the outside.

What are your goals in 2019? I hope to create more projects or activations real quick. More artists that are adding value to the world and doing things to make the world a better place.

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Prince Williams

Future Keeping His Sobriety A Secret Says More About You Than Him

On Tuesday (Jan. 16), Future made the revelation that he was sober. Who knows, maybe he traded the lean in for alkaline water and fresh juices. While this may have come as a shock to fans who have often linked the rapper to heavy drug use, what was even more astonishing was that Future concealed his sobriety for weeks or even months—not because he was diligently working on weaning himself off of the dangerous drug of choice without distractions, but because he feared how the announcement would affect his music stats and fan base.

It’s certainly customary for fans to tie a characteristic or specific subject to an artist’s music or brand. For instance, Mary J. Blige makes breakup music, Trey Songz markets sex, and Lil Peep frequently made emo, drug music. Future’s artistry in particular is deeply rooted in drug use as a method of self-medication to cope with heartache, pain and suffering. He’s arguably recognized as the godfather of this new generation of mumble rappers, who romanticize drug use as a form of self-care. Percocets and molly not only served as the tools for a catchy chorus in 2017’s “Mask Off,” but also provided a lens into Future’s real-life pastime.

When messages such as a breakup, sex and addiction become the primary focuses of an artist’s narrative, we inherently expect them to continue with those trends, especially if the music is a success. Future’s DS2 debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Mary J’s 2017 studio album Strength of a Woman—which discussed her public divorce from manager and husband Martin “Kendu” Isaacs—debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. But Hendrix’s inability to share such a positive transition in his life says more about the negative effects of fan culture and the music industry as a whole than it says about him.

“I didn’t wanna tell nobody I stopped drinking lean,” Future admitted to Genius. “I didn’t tell because I felt like, then they gon’ be like, ‘Oh, his music changed because he stopped drinking lean.’ It’s just hard when your fans [are] so used to a certain persona you be afraid to change.”

The weeknd needs to get back on drugs and make some good music like he used to

— alaina (@lalalaina_) January 13, 2017

Fans naturally equate spiraling and unhealthy behavior with good music and would rather see their favorite musician continue to spiral for the sake of their craft and our entertainment. Although there are new movements promoting mental health awareness and self-care within the hip-hop community, fans still praise the destruction of the genre’s biggest artists.

When The Weeknd split with his girlfriend Bella Hadid in 2016, many prayed for another dark, narcotic-fueled album comparable to 2011’s stellar House of Balloons, which was released during a time when he was deeply involved with cocaine and pill-popping. Twitter users seemingly encouraged such behavior, leveraging musical satisfaction over the well-being of the XO artist.

While fan approval shouldn’t necessarily dictate an artist’s creative process, the possibility of negative feedback that comes with “switching things up” can often be too loud to ignore. In an interview with VIBE, A Boogie wit da Hoodie also reiterated his hesitation with stepping away from his usual themes of relationships and heartbreak on his No. 1 album, Hoodie SZN. He ultimately included both versions of himself—the heartbreak and the new A Boogie—in order to appease his loyal fan base and evolve as an artist. “I feel like all my fans saw what I was doing, but they just didn’t care. They loved how I started so much that they didn’t care about the switch up. They wanted me to be heartbroken.”

Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ

— John Canales (@_JohnCanales) April 25, 2018

The association of success and pain doesn’t only revolve around drug use or broken relationships. It was suggested that Meek Mill’s brief incarceration for a probation violation set the foundation for his 2018 comeback and No. 1 album, CHAMPIONSHIPS.

“Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ,” one user wrote on Twitter. Despite the frequent protests for his immediate prison release, it’s almost as if some fans approved of his demise once it was over because it somehow forced him to make better music.

There is a danger in requiring artists to stick to their brands, especially when it focuses on abusing and glorifying a harmful lifestyle. Fans have to be willing to allow artists to evolve because that transformation extends far beyond the music; their art mimics life. You will not die if artists like Future or The Weeknd pivot the focus of their music away from chronicling drug use, but they could, and that should be the only point that matters here.

If we can support artists like 21 Savage as he explores other subjects besides his chains (Nipsey Hussle cosigned 21’s decision after DJ Akademiks suggested that he didn’t want to hear anything else from the artist) or salute Jay-Z as he's evolved into talking about investing in stocks and collecting priceless artwork, then it shouldn’t be difficult to endorse the Future's new chapter—whatever that may be—as well.

Future is gearing up to release his new album The WZRD on Jan. 18, and if you can seriously criticize his music not because of the quality but because it doesn’t sound like his typical doped up brand, then Future was never the problem—it’s you.

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Tragedy Khadafi Talks New Music, Juice Crew Memories, And Evolving With The Times

When speaking on the lineage of hip hop, Queensbridge is integral to the conversation, as the public housing complex is regarded as fertile ground and the home of some of the greatest MCs in rap history. While Nas, Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga and others are among the first to come to mind when looking back at QB's most renowned exports, Tragedy Khadafi can be credited with helping bridge the gap between the neighborhood's legendary run during the late '80s and its golden era of the '90s.

At a time when rap had yet to fully find its footing, Tragedy Khadafi displayed lyrical abilities and techniques that were beyond his years as one-half of the Queensbridge rap duo, the Super Kids. Tragedy was scooped up by Marley Marl, who inducted the teenage into his Juice Crew collective. However, Tragedy, who was notorious for his exploits in the street, would be incarcerated during the late '80s, returning the to game as Intelligent Hoodlum and releasing a pair of albums during the early '90s. Since settling on the name Tragedy Khadafi around 1995, the rapper has not only made a name for himself, but others, helping usher C-N-N to the forefront of New York City hip-hop and serving as a conduit between Queensbridge's plethora of poetical thugs and the rap game.

In 2018, Tragedy Khadafi was as prolific as ever, releasing the solo album The Builders this past September, as well as Immortal Titans, his collaborative project with producer BP. A seasoned vet with the willingness to adapt to an ever-evolving rap landscape, Tragedy Khadafi is preparing for the next phase of his career, expanding his brand with a new podcast, and a pair of new releases slated for 2019.”We're working on a Drive-By's album for the podcast, “Tragedy reveals. And I'm working on a new solo album, Uniform Garments.”

Tragedy Khadafi hopped on the phone with VIBE to chop it up about his new music, lawsuits against iconic rap figures, being the prototypical Queensbridge MC, memories of the Juice Crew, making the plunge into the world of media, and more.


VIBE: You recently released your solo album, The Builders, this past September. How has the reception been to that project? Tragedy Khadafi: I got a lot of good responses on the project and honestly, I kinda did that real quick. I didn't even really concentrate. I don't wanna take away from it, but that was nothing in comparison to what I'm doing right now.

What would you say was your goal or mind-state with while recording this album? I was looking at the climate and I was looking at the terrain and I wanted to make an album I wanted to hear. And I wanted to give my fans and supporters something that I know that they look to.

One song on the tracklist that jumps out at listeners is "Stacked Aces," which features a guest appearance from Havoc of Mobb Deep. What was it like working with him again, with the QB connection and your history with one another? It's always interesting when me and Hav’ hook up ‘cause we're like brothers, we’re like family. We got our ups and we got our downs and we go through different things, but we always seem to keep a line to each other, so it was interesting to get back with him because I hadn't seen him in a while. It just always works well when we come together.

How did that song come together? Well actually, I had reached out to him because I wanted to try to get him another situation. What a lot of people don't realize is I brokered the deal and A&R'd Havoc's first solo album with Nature Sounds, which is The Kush. And the plight was for Hav to be given that decorated honor as the East Coast Dr. Dre, so we wanted to make that album Havoc's Chronic, so we called it The Kush. So I wanted to reach out to him again and create another situation. It didn't exactly turn out that way, but we ended up exchanging some tracks, going back and forth, and I actually liked that one a lot. And he was just like, 'aight, go 'head, rock with it' and we took it from there.

You collaborated with producer BP on the album Immortal Titans this year as well. What's the genesis of your relationship with BP and what sparked the two of you to team up for this project? Well with BP, it was interesting. He initially reached out through me through a business associate and manager who actually runs Deep Concept and works very close with Erick Sermon. He reached out to me through the manager for a feature and I told him, 'look, I'm not into doing features no more, I’m into doing whole projects. So he was like, 'word,' so he actually came up with some more beats and we worked out the situation where I would record more songs for the project and it went together well. His production was very high quality and it seemed to be a marriage with my lyrics, so it wasn't hard work, it was all natural. I actually did the whole album in seven days.

The whole writing and the recording, too? Everything, yeah.

You recently filed a lawsuit against Master P. What was the genesis of the lawsuit? My attorney is helping me put in a lawsuit, which we got back a response from Master P's attorneys. We're basically suing him for copyright infringement and things of that nature due to the fact that he took the title and concept "Intelligent Hoodlum" and actually dropped an album called Intelligent Hoodlum (in 2017). It went over a lot of people's heads because I guess people concentrate more so on his other ventures. But he came out with an album and it came across my attention so I approached him on Instagram and tried to open a forum to have a courtesy talk, opposed to just suing him. Then I waited seven months and he left me no choice but to go at him legally, at that point.

What’s the status of the lawsuit, at this moment? We just got response back from the label and they're basically admitting fault, to my knowledge. We're also suing Ice Cube for doing a similar act by coming out with a song, "Arrest The President," and not acknowledging who the originator of that is, which is me. So we're suing him, too, right now.

In a recent interview, Marley Marl said that he feels the style of rap coming out of Queensbridge during the '90s can be traced back to your song "Live Motivator" from Marley Marl's In Control compilation. Would you agree with that statement? Yeah, I would definitely agree. And that's not to take nothing away from Nas or anybody else who came after me out of The Bridge, but truth is truth. You definitely see that there, that was pretty much the archetype and I just think they took it and modernized and made it their own, as they should.

You were also the youngest member of The Juice Crew, which was the hottest rap collective in New York during the '80s. What was it like being around superstars like Roxanne Shante, MC Shan, Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane and how would you describe your interactions with them? The best way I can explain it was like a young Kobe [Bryant] being under Magic Johnson and Earl The Pearl and Wilt Chamberlain and have them as standards to hold yourself to, but actually in your life, you're having interactions with him them. Because I’m sure those players were a standard to Kobe at some point in his life, with Jordan or whatever, but the difference is that I actually had Jordan in the room with me, you know what I'm saying. Having Kane, having Rakim and having Shan—and Marley, to be honest. That was like having Jordan in the room with you. It wasn't me watching Jordan on TV or watching videos, it was me being on the court with Jordan. So to equate that feeling or try to imagine that as a kid out of the projects, off the streets and now you're amongst rap's elite. It had nothing but a great and positive impact on me, the whole way, even to this day.

A lot of rap fans are aware of your solo career, but are unaware that you got your start in rap as part of a duo called The Superkids as a pre-teen. What are your memories of that group coming together and being one of the first kid rappers with street credibility? It was all organic. It was fresh off the streets, it was born the streets it took form in the streets and it grew off the streets. It came by way of a relationship I had with a DJ named Larry Panic. Larry Panic was an ill graffiti artist, DJ and street fighter and he introduced me to Hot Day and me and Hot Day formed the group the Super Kids. We was trying to get on for a long time and it wasn't happening fast enough, so we kinda put ourselves on. We went and pressed our own records up, at that age, we went and made our own mixtapes. And I followed the same template when I got with C-N-N because it was like nobody wanted to put us on the mixtapes at first, so I was like, 'f**k it, let's make our own mixtape.' So I got that from being a Super Kid.

I believe I had just turned 13 and that's when it started. Hot Day was a DJ at a local skating rink called USA, located in Queens, and I would go there and perform. We actually did our first record, it was called "Go Queensbridge / Live At Hip Hop USA,” and we rocked there and actually took the tapes and pressed it and made a record out of it. And we actually used "Take It Off" by Spoonie Gee. It was on Tuff City Records and when we brought it to radio it got more spins than the original record.

After your release from prison, you reintroduced yourself as Intelligent Hoodlum, which saw you being to rap more about enlightenment and knowledge of self. How would you describe that period of your life and career? Initially, when I came home, I can hold Big Daddy Kane responsible. Big Daddy Kane was one of the first people to introduce me to knowledge of self and at first I was like, 'man, I don't wanna hear that sh*t.' And it was an incident where he got into a situation with one of G Rap's entourage. The way he handled it I was like, 'son, this dude is tough.' Not only is he nice on the mic, but he's tough, too. So once that happened, it made me—in a sick way, at that time 'cause I was on my street sh*t—respect what he was saying in terms of knowledge of self and that was my first introduction to it. And I had just came from and I started going through Marley's phone books looking for certain people to talk to and I came across Chuck D's number. Chuck D would talk to me before he even knew me and put me on to certain literature and certain books about certain icons in the revolution, like Huey Newton, H Rap Brown and Assata Shakur. And I started getting interested in it because where I came [from], I was under the ignorance that black people was only hustlers, shooters and killers. And from there it just kinda took off and I took on the moniker Intelligent Hoodlum, which I got from Malcolm X's book after I read his autobiography by Alex Haley. And there's a chapter called "Hoodlum" and I put "Intelligent" in front of it 'cause I saw myself moving in a more different direction and being a better me. And I kept the "Hoodlum" 'cause I was like, 'I'm never gonna forget where I came from, but I know where I'm going now.

One of the more underrated aspects of your career is your track record of helping break new talent, particularly acts like Capone-N-Noreaga. What made you take such an active interest in the careers of others while in the midst of your own? I saw a lot of talent in those brothers you mentioned and one thing I learned from Marley is how to cultivate talent and bring out the best in people. You know, like when Marley got with LL, it brought out a better LL. Of course it had to exist in LL, but it took Marley to see it and be able to help him direct it and channel it in the right way and that's what I see. I consider myself like the Cus D'Amato; Cus D'Amato brought out the best in Tyson and he understood Tyson. I love hip-hop so much that I understand the MC. I understand, not only his rhyming ability, but I understand his plight and I understand his origin. I'm able to see that in a person the minute I meet them, so it's only natural that I help bring that out in other artists. And like I said, I love hip-hop and I never wanted the MC to die. No matter who it comes through or what form it comes through or what vessel it encompasses, I always want the MC to be alive.

When those relationships didn't always remain amicable, did that ever leave you bitter or disillusioned from collaborating or working with artists in any way? That's one of the best questions anybody's asked me, straight up and down, 'cause it's true, and it had for a long time because there's a gift and a curse in loving the culture so much. You can't help but become emotionally attached and it's still a factor that it's a business. I was able to cultivate the talent, put myself in it, but I had to learn more to balance in terms of the business aspect and keeping things on a certain level business-wise and keeping certain boundaries business-wise. Now I'm at a place and space within my mind and in my mindframe that I have now, I'm able to do that, but it had to come with maturity. Did it leave me bitter at first? Of course it did, I'm not gonna lie and say it didn't. But like I said, it took time for me to grow and get past it and not hold it against individuals because ultimately it's on you when you have certain expectations of people. People are always gonna be the human nature of people, so you gotta learn to work through that and it took me time to realize that and kinda conquer it within myself. And that's why I feel great about where I'm at now mentally, because I'm able to become emotionally attached to a project or to an artist, but yet still keep that boundary of business with respect to myself and the value I bring to it.

Do you feel your street cred or rep hindered your career? At times I did, but I realized of course I want more, who doesn't? Jay-Z wants more, Rick Ross wants more. LeBron James wants more, Nas wants more and these are some of the upper echelons in the game. And at first, I felt that way, but I'm exactly where I need to be at this moment in my life and I'm not gonna have any regrets cause all that's gonna do is stifle my growth. I just feel like I am what I am and who I am and to some its means a lot, to some it may not, but to me, it means everything. And that's what's more important.

With 30 years deep in the game, what would you say are your biggest milestones and lessons learned? The parting of C-N-N taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about people, human nature and myself. The passing of my mother, the passing of Big and Pac, and I can honestly say when my son fell out the window and almost died, those are like the biggest milestones of my life.

In addition to staying active on the music front, you've also jumped into the world of media with your new podcast, DBWCC. What does that acronym stand for, and what sparked your interest in starting a podcast? It was initially my brother's creation. It's funny because when I went to do the Lessons album with N.O.R.E.—and this is us getting back together after the wars, after “Blood Type,” after "Halfway Thugs," the back and forth, the rumors, the blatant attacks on each other—we finally got back together and developed some form of relationship. And I drove from New York to Miami with my sister and my brother Chris Castro and that's what DBWCC stands for, Drive-Bys With Chris Castro. So we all drive out to Miami and while I'm out there recording with N.O.R.E.— we did the album in like two days—my brother is telling me that I should create a podcast. And this probably like year or two before Drink Champs and my brother is like, 'the new thing is podcasts;' he told me and N.O.R.E this and we kinda brushed it off.

Later on, N.O.R.E. obviously got into it, but he put this seed in my mind then because he's always been immersed in the now culture of hip-hop, as well as the true era of hip-hop. I looked around at the world I'm in and looked at the marketing and said, 'you know what, this makes sense because people aren't buying records anymore, they're buying experiences. They're buying cultures and they're buying brands,' so we came together on this. And I executive produce it and I'm a co-host on the show and we kinda wanted to take it in a different direction from a "Tragedy" thing 'cause like you said, I have so many titles and labels attached to the artist that we wanted to give DBWCC its own start, its own lane, so to speak.

Away not from Tragedy, per se, but to give people another side of me because people are so used to me being serious on tracks that they don't realize that I have a humor side, that I'm a funny motherf**ker. This particular forum allows me to be that person I am, that other character my family knows me for, but my fans and supporters in the world doesn't necessarily see that from me because I'm always coming at issues. But with this show, I'm just able to be more comfortable more to speak. Not to say I'm not comfortable with my music cause I am, it's just a different side of me and I'm not gonna lie, I love it. It's growing. I'm getting a lot of good feedback and we want our show to be an organic show. We don't want the regular bio-link interview, so that's why we get you in the car, we get you in the seat and we come at you from an organic way, an authentic way. It's more so conversation, opposed to an "interview."

With Noreaga, Fat Joe, Joe Budden and other veteran artists expanding their brand in various ways, do you feel the shelf life for a rapper to be relevant in hip-hop is longer than ever before? I feel like we live in a different time and KRS-One said something some time back that I'm seeing come to fruition. He said, 'we're off the plantation now, but ni**as don't realize we free.' This technology, it levels the playing field; you don't necessarily need a label, and it allows you to be more direct with your fans. Your fans want to grow with you, they want to walk with you, they want to see into your life. And sound is one thing, but visual helps bring it all together and through this particular forum, it helps to do that. Now your music or your records are more or less like commercials, they're not the pillars of your career or the pillars of your climb, not they're more like commercials that should segue into your visual, into your medium forums. That's what they should be and that's what I see them as.

What would you say is the next step or level for Tragedy Khadafi, musically or otherwise? The next step, otherwise, is I wanna come out with a series of books as opposed to just looking at hip-hop as music and I wanna touch on these certain things that we're talking about. l wanna touch on media, I wanna touch on diversity. I wanna touch on overall growth and building social value and allowing to create wealth for artists; that's something I'm very adamant about and that's something that I'm very proactive in doing. Musically, I'm just gonna keep making the music I make and giving the fans what they want from me, what they need from me, and that's where I'm gonna keep growing and evolving into. But more so concentrating on my social platforms, in terms of marketing and branding and really just creating more wealth around my brand and within my brand.

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