Freddie Gibbs
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Freddie Gibbs Is Making Bigger Business Moves Than You Think

Don't worry about Freddie Gibbs, The Businessman. He's winning.

Rapper Freddie Gibbs has made a pretty penny flipping street sales into big business.

 

Freddie Gibbs doesn't like seeds in his weed. Even more importantly, Gibbs' right hand man, Diego, doesn't like seeds in his weed. A cozy trailer parked behind Bonnaroo's The Other Tent has become Gibbs' backstage birthday pre-game spot. Plastic cups, ice bags, wine, champagne, an assortment of juices, sodas and energy drinks, and a half full bottle of Patron (the rapper will take the rest to the face during his debut performance an hour later) crowd the countertop. Gibbs is coolly seated on top of the cooler housing all the cold beers and water. His manager, Pun, is leaning back in a cushioned recliner playing DJ with his iPad, rattling the room. Madlib—the producer, DJ and Piñata collaborator who linked with Gibbs thanks to mutual friends, good marijuana and a musical chemistry that just clicks—is posted up against the wall, passing an already lit blunt to another one of Freddie's L.A. homies. And a stressed out Diego is interrupting Freddie's VIBE interview to point out all the seeds in a batch of weed they copped.

"Aye, shut the f**k up, I'm doing a motherf**king interview, dog!," Freddie jokingly snaps at his childhood friend, hardly bothered. "Can you just roll the weed? I know it got seeds but don't complain right now." Instead of fussing over the problem, he's looking at a solution he can easily provide. "Don't nobody grow no weed like us, n***a. I'm about to put you onto that Freddie Kane strain." ESGN Records' head honcho is referring to one of his moneymakers besides his gift of gab. Gibbs made a name for himself spitting firsthand street narratives of dope sales, robbery and violence, but the budding businessman doesn't intend on gangster rap being the end-all be-all of his legacy.

"I grew up a drug dealer. So now I can deal drugs legally," the Gary, Ind. native says of going the legit route with his strain of indica weed. Originally, Gibbs partnered with Northern Cali's Loompa Farms to grow his product, but business is expanding fast. "We're about to open up a new dispensary. And I'm paying taxes on it. In 2012, the IRS tried to get at me and take a n***a to jail. But f**k them. Now I got sh** in order."

Those who've already sampled the green can vouch for its potency. One Nugs.com toker wrote that Freddie Kane OG could either "[put] your day on smooth cruise control" or "result in skipping a day of the week" depending on how much is consumed. Although Gibbs hasn't specified just how many customers are lining up at the door, his biggest co-sign is telling of his business' success. Gibbs insists that when herbal enthusiast (and his number one favorite rapper of all time) Snoop Dogg tried the strain, he was seeing double. "If I impressed Snoop, f**k everybody else," Gibbs says with a satisfied shrug. "Snoop told me I got good weed and that n***a told me I could rap. I don't give a f**k about what another n***a says.”

SEE ALSO: Snoop Dogg On Taking A Dab And The Nate Dogg Record That Almost Made ‘BUSH’

The same nonchalant attitude he exhibits towards his seedy weed spills over to his way of banking off a finicky music industry. Eyeing a future as an A&R or major music exec a la L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, he knows how to pimp the system in more ways than one. First of all, the music streaming giants, namely Spotify, Pandora, TIDAL and SoundCloud, that have a bad rap for gypping artists are his friends, not his foes. There’s no one he likes over the other. When we question whether or not he makes substantial funds from Spotify & Co., he bursts into laughter. “F**k you mean? Gangsta Gibbs gets a check,” he says. “These motherf**kers don’t want you to know you get money off of this.”

In an era where record sales are dwindling and performances are primary streams of revenue, Gibbs has found a cozy spot in the festival circuit and touring for his niche audience. “These n***as’ whole careers are predicated on if they can make a radio record or not,” he says of mainstream rappers. “I don't gotta be the n***a at the tippy top. I'm gonna get money like this for the next 20 years. I'll be at these festivals and Europe and American tours for the next 20 years of my life.”

SEE ALSO: First-Time Dad Freddie Gibbs On The Toughest Lesson He’ll Teach His Daughter

After making self-investment his top priority, the new dad—his fiancée Erica Dickerson (formerly of Fuse’s scripted series, The Hustle) recently gave birth to Irie Jane—will always be able to spoil his daughter the way he wants. Even more so than building a loyal fan base from the ground up over the past seven years, Gibbs takes pride in doing it all independently with no machine behind him. “I did that all on my own, so when my check comes back… [It's mine],” he says. “We're getting money. I always got a check. My daughter always has a check because I did that sh** myself. I'm gonna make money off this sh** I made with [Madlib] for the rest of my life. A millionaire off one record.”

Here, the booming entrepreneur details his plans for longevity, the root of his business acumen, how he can breathe new life into dying record labels and why Freddie Gibbs is doing much better than the world thinks he is. —Stacy-Ann Ellis

VIBE: Your Freddie Kane OG supply is taking off during a pivotal time for marijuana in America. Any words of advice for people trying to come up in the legal weed business?
Freddie Gibbs: Hell nah, because I want to get all the money. It's just like the dope game, try to move in on me and you gotta get up. I ain't telling you n***as how to do nothing. I'm gonna keep bringing the n***a fish. You bring a n***a fish, he's gonna eat good. I'm gonna keep letting you n***as eat good, but I'm never gonna take you to the motherf**king water and show you how to fish yourself. My granddaddy taught me that. Never show another n***a where you fish. I'll never show another n***a my fishing hole because he's going to try to get my fish.

Can't be too mad at you for that. Have you tested Freddie Kane on other rappers?
I just tested it with the number one rapper of all time, Snoop Doggy Dog. He smoked that Freddie Kane and he said I thought Freddie Kane was another n***a. Shout out to Snoop. He's the Godfather. The Doggfather. Much love always and respect. Once Snoop Dogg gave me the plug, the stamp, it's all love.

Me and my uncle smokin that #FreddieKane @loompafarms all we smoke #ESGN

A video posted by Frederico Soprano (@freddiegibbs) on

Getting a thumbs up from Uncle Snoop is huge.
I got much love for Snoop. He brought me on GGN and it was an honor and a pleasure. I grew up on that sh**, man. I was a little n***a, maybe second or third grade, I don't know, bumping that "Lodi Dodi." I used to be on some gangsta sh** walking to school with that. And that Chronic.

Were you rocking with N.W.A., too? Because Straight Outta Compton is about to come out.
I grew up on N.W.A, Geto Boys. My dad was listening to that. My mom had me at a young age, like 20, and she was the oldest child. All her brothers were seven and 10, so I was like a younger brother more so than the oldest child. I was the younger brother to all my uncles, so they were going through their childhood and their teenage years and I was right there. Everything that they were loving, I was loving. I wanted to be a gangsta from birth, not because of the music but moreso what I was seeing. What my uncles were doing. I was just fascinated with the street lifestyle from a young age. Of course I wanted to do other sh**. I wanted to be in the NBA. I wanted to be in the NFL. I went to college to play sports, but I got kicked out because that street sh** is just always a part of me. Looking back in hindsight, I used to go through a period in my life where I used to regret it. I used to be mad at myself for not doing the right thing, but I don't feel that way anymore.

Because you still became successful.
Yeah, I became successful and because all of that. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be where I'm at right now. When I got over that and feeling bad about all of that sh**, I became a new me.

And you can't dwell on ill thoughts.
If you've seen the sh** that I've seen, it's a lot of sh** to dwell on. F**k it though, I'm here. You're interviewing me. I'm an interesting ass n***a.

True. Switching gears, given all that's going on in society right now, what would your State of the World address be right now?
You know what, I could say a lot of my thoughts about society right now, but it might f**k me up with my money. There's a lot that I want to say about sh** but I can't say it because I don't want to f**k up my paper. I think a lot of motherf**kers are going to hell in a hand basket with gasoline drawls on their ass. But I ain't gonna call them out. It is what it is. If you turn the mic off, I'll tell you exactly what I'm talking about. The world is some bullsh**. They're gonna try to fool you with money. They're gonna try to f**k you up with religion. They use religion to f**k your whole world up. They'll use religion to have you give you all your money and have you doing some sh** that you don't even want to do. It ain't just Christianity, it ain't just Islam. It's all that religion stuff. I believe in God. I'm not no atheist. I believe in God all day, from all types and kinds of different perspectives. I read the Quran word for word, front to back. I read the Bible like twice. I like to read.

What's one of the latest books you've read?
Scarface's book. That's one of the best books I've ever read. And that's my homie too. So as I'm reading the book, I'm calling him. He had to tell me like, man, just finish the book. So when I got done, I called him and we were on the phone for like an hour. It's a lot of layers to Scarface. That's probably why he's one of my favorite artists. When you peel all those layers back you really get Brad [Jordan]. He's a close friend of mine, so to be able to get that knowledge from him is priceless and helped me get through the last five years of my life and career.

What's the best piece of advice he's given you?
To just always be my own boss. You see the trials and tribulations of what he went through with his career and when you read the book, you see the timelines during the course of the book, when he was happy and the times when he was sad. It seems he was happiest when he got that Dej Jam job. But then that peaked and went down when they wouldn't really sign nothing that he brought. Then Ludacris brought him back up and that made him happy. You can tell his emotions from the book. When I write my book, y'all ain't ready. The sh** that [Scarface] was talking about with crack houses and bleeding n***as blocks out and moving them. I was listening to his sh** as I was doing it. There's probably another n***a out there listening to my sh** as they're doing this sh**. When Jeezy came out, he was telling it to a T. The stove, bricks, these are the measurements. He was breaking it down. That's what made Jeezy so special. He was giving you a clear cut vision of the kitchen and that dope boy lifestyle. Then 'Face talked about it too. He was talking about it in the early '90s. The way Jeezy did it, he made it like… damn. And then Ross compounded upon that and so on. From that you got a whole genre of trapping rap. Me and dude ain't on the same page but I definitely can respect that.

You mention Jeezy, who's well-established and widely known in the music game. What are your thoughts when people refer to you as underrated?
I like it because when you're underrated you always got room to grow. If I'm overrated then I can fall down, but when I'm underrated then I always have room to grow. [Pun: He makes more money than n***as that's overrated though.]

How so?
A n***a can have a hit on the radio and he doesn't make as much money as me. Name a person with a song on the radio and we can run the bank accounts. We can run the checks. I guarantee I get more for a show than most of them n***as on the radio.

And festivals like Bonnaroo are major. It means middle America knows and loves you.
Because it's an organic growth. It was never fake. Ain't no label come behind me with no $100,000 behind a single and put it to the radio. Every place that I've gotten in my career, I've gotten on my own from real growth. I didn't go pay DJs for radio. I was like, I'm just going to grow a fan base. I think everything that happened for me happened organically. That's why I say I'll last longer than the next n***a. I'll be around longer than them because I have classics under my belt thanks to [Madlib].

It sounds like you know exactly what you're doing.
These record labels need to hire me. There are a couple big record labels that want to hire me as an A&R. I'm about to do that. That's going to be the transition of my career. I mean, come on, man, I kept Freddie Gibbs relevant for the last seven years with no label. So imagine if I apply those tactics to another artist with a label's money? I can do that. I kept Freddie Gibbs relevant with dope money. My own money. I ain't never take a check from a label. I ain't never take a dollar from Young Jeezy, contrary to popular belief and contrary to what that n***a said on Hot 97. I never took a dollar from him. That's our discrepancy. But back to that label head sh**, that's definitely in the works right now. I definitely have tactics that a label doesn't have. I took a meeting with a couple labels and they were asking me questions. They don't know what the f**k to do. Major labels are about to be obsolete. They hire young Gibbs in there and they can last another 20 years. They put me in the office and they can do it. But they gotta pay, because we've been doing it on an independent level so smoothly. Now the labels are asking the successful artists questions.

If I'm overrated then I can fall down, but when I'm underrated then I always have room to grow.

So with your business acumen being what it is, what would you tell Lil Wayne with the Cash Money situation he's going through?
Sign with ESGN, let's make this a partnership. Tell him YMESGN. [Laughs] You know what, Lil Wayne is still one of the best rappers of all time. I definitely want to do a record with that man. I definitely respect his pen game and respect his records. I'm not in on their whole business shit, I don't know how that shit is and how it goes.

What are your thoughts on TIDAL and its battle between the rest of the streaming world?
We getting checks off that streaming.

That’s crazy, because several artists have said they don’t make much money from Spotify.
They’re lying.

<So all of them are giving you checks? And do you prefer any over the other?
I don’t discriminate. I got all them apps on my phone. SoundCloud, y’all give a n***a a check now. SoundCloud just monetized. These n***s don’t know. They let the media perpetuate some sh**, ‘Oh, you don’t get money off of this.’ They don’t want you to get your money. They want you to be stupid so they can go get your money. F**k that. I sold dope. You think I’m gonna let a n***a get my money for me? I was in all their faces.

Is it because you’re independent?
Yup. Shout out to the labels. 360 deal killers. We don’t get 360s. Freddie Gibbs doesn’t do record deals with a label. We’re gonna do a partnership if we do some sh**. We’re gonna be partners. You’re gonna have to make me L.A. Reid.

That’s the new way?
That’s my way. That’s the only way. [Pun: If a n***a isn’t independent, he’s lazy.]

Really?
He’s lazy, scared to get out there and scared to use his own motherf**king money. If you ain’t gonna use your own money, how are you gonna get another guy to use their money? Go to radio with your own money. Do this sh** with your own money. Quit depending on a n***a. Quit being a b*tch.

Photo Credit: VIBE/Stacy-Ann Ellis

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Skyzoo And Von Pea On Brooklyn Gentrification, Modern New York Hip-Hop And Artistic Integrity

Initially using rap’s blog era to make a mark, for over a decade Skyzoo and Von Pea have taken different approaches to the same concept - lyrically deft music that pushes the creative envelope while simultaneously landing well with trained ears.

Commonly recognized for the dual role of rapper/producer in the whimsical group Tanya Morgan, most of Von’s core following stems from 2009’s Brooklynati - a concept LP centered around a fictional city merging the influences of TM’s New York and Ohio members. A decade later, his latest solo LP City For Sale focuses on the true to life socioeconomic devastation caused by gentrification in his actual hometown of Bed-Stuy.

A kindred spirit of sorts, Skyzoo is heralded as a multilayered thinking man’s emcee who is street smart yet sophisticated, bleeding Brooklyn culture through songs like “Spike Lee Was My Hero” and never hiding his affinity for jazz. Blessed with the good fortune of working with production titan Pete Rock for a whole album in the same vein as Gang Starr, Retropolitan captures the essence of coming up over the past three decades in New York’s five boroughs. Contrasted with City For Sale’s narratives about how systemic change affects neighborhood residents, both artists present themselves as pillars and modern upgrades to what their golden age predecessors achieved.

Two sides of the same coin, Skyzoo and Von Pea displayed a mutual respect and camaraderie on a conference call with VIBE, as they waxed poetic on where they’ve been in and outside of music, the keys to maintaining consistency over the years and what it takes for underdogs to get their just due on the heels of 2020.

VIBE: Your latest albums City For Sale and Retropolitan are acclaimed companion pieces with seemingly similar aims. How does it feel to lead the charge in a sense for keeping traditionalism alive?

Skyzoo: For me, whether New York was the way it is now or how it was 15 years ago, my music would sound the same. I probably speak for Von as well knowing the type of artist and individual that he is. When I made Retropolitan, it wasn’t about saving New York rap. It was about making music that reflects who I am and who Pete Rock is from a production standpoint. I did what came naturally, rapping about the changes going on in my world. If the idea of us leading the charge comes with it, then so be it.

Von Pea: We spoke before both albums came out, and Sky was telling me how what was happening with the Slave Theater [as shown on my album cover] was an early idea that sparked Retropolitan. We’re both from Bed-Stuy and around the same age, so we’ll talk about the same thing in our music from different perspectives. What’s happening in Brooklyn [with gentrification] is happening in so many other cities, but us being from Brooklyn is [reflected] in the music. We’re not trying to pretend it’s still ‘94, it is 2019 but our music comes from who we are and everything we’ve gone through from day one.

Being from Harlem, I know how I’ve felt about gentrification, but growing up I didn’t experience the same blocks as Brooklyn natives. What are your memories of your area when you were growing up and how did it feel to see the changes happening around you?

Skyzoo: It’s funny you said you’re from Harlem, me being from Brooklyn I feel just as bad for Harlem and I ain't even from there. Harlem was ours even before we were in Brooklyn. When you were down South, you just wanted to get to Harlem and make something of yourself. To see that happen there is a slap to my blackness. It’s like how much of this sh*t you gonna take from us?

Brooklyn was one of the first places to get hit by gentrification on a wide scale, and it started with proximity. Manhattan was too expensive and overcrowded, so people figured “Williamsburg is right there, we can get on the L train for one stop and be in Manhattan in 3 minutes.” Then Williamsburg gets overcrowded and expensive, so let’s push it back to Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene. Then the Barclays Center is built and you can’t just have a billion dollar stadium in the middle of the hood. You gotta build bars and cafes around it and now you’re kicking grandmothers out and people trying to make it to the next day.

People will be walking their dogs and if I’m walking my dog and nod, they don’t acknowledge me because in their mind they’re like “You’re not gonna be here in three or four years anyway, we’re gonna own this.” We can enjoy this together, don’t look at me like I don’t belong, because if we had to take a test on who belongs more, I’m gonna ace that (laughs).

Von: I remember looking at reviews from people moving in and they would flat out describe the neighborhood saying “It’s sketchy, but we’re waiting it out.” That planted the first seed for City For Sale, it was the first time I thought of the concept of somebody coming for my neighborhood and it no longer being for me.

Skyzoo: You can enjoy the neighborhood despite your nationality, background and tax bracket. It’s not about keeping people away, but when we wanted the garbage picked up or for police to show up, we couldn’t get it. So now that all of that has changed and the neighborhood is pristine, if we had to thug it out when it was pouring rain, we should be able to enjoy it when the sun is out.

City For Sale by Von Pea VIBE: You’re both ambitious artists who use narratives in your music. How did you come up with the concepts for these albums, and what were the exact statements you were looking to make?

Von: Going back to New York and thinking about Jay-Z, no matter what you think about The Blueprint, The Black Album or 4:44, he’s gonna let you know Reasonable Doubt is his masterpiece. I would never say I was trying to make my masterpiece, but I was trying to make that album that was the one for me. My group Tanya Morgan has Brooklynati and on the last song I said that for the past 40 minutes I was trying to beat that album and make a solo version of that for myself. I wanted to make a record about my city for today, people like Skyzoo and Torae never tried to bring New York back, they talked about where they were from presently, so I thought about what Sumner Projects and Myrtle Avenue were like today.

Skyzoo: Working with Pete and knowing what I was getting into, he’s one of the greatest of all time and I didn’t just get one joint, it’s like 11 or 12. Think of all of the people who have done all of these wonderful things in the game that don’t have a whole album with him, being on that shortlist was serious. The only pressure on myself is to beat what I’ve done before, knowing what he brings and what I wanted to do to match that. Like Von said, it was never about bringing New York back. It was just about making music that represented me. I always respected how the South never tried to sound like New York or LA when nobody was thinking about them. Master P, T.I. and Pastor Troy represented who they are and never tried to be us. As much as they respected us, they never tried to make a Wu-Tang joint.

Von: You gotta be yourself. You can’t tell somebody else’s story and sound authentic.

VIBE: Along with gentrification and other changes in the city, some would argue New York lost its musical identity. If you can identify with that feeling, how do you think that came to pass?

Von: I would disagree. Maybe you could say that was the case for a little while, but a record like “All The Way Up” [by Fat Joe & Remy Ma] sounds like a New York club record today. French Montana’s music has trap elements but to me they sound like current New York club records. You can get traditional sounds from people like us and the city’s current sound comes from things like transplants and the internet. You look at A$AP Rocky’s generation, they don’t just sound like Dipset, they sound like they were listening to Scarface.

Skyzoo: I think that’s a dope point. As large as the internet is, it made the world smaller. No matter where you are, everybody has access to the same things at the same time. While I agree with Von, I think on top of that New York has always been the home of the hustle. Whatever is winning, New York is gonna do it because we’re about that paper. If heads is wearing white tees down to their knees, we’re doing that, and if we’re scamming and swiping cards we’re doing that too. Being the home of the hustle is a pro and a con, because musically all these little kids in their early 20s see what’s winning and run after whatever is gonna get the paper, and the identity gets lost in that.

VIBE: The three of us have similar stories, growing up in the hood but never letting it define our limitations. This idea tends to come up in your music often, what gave you focus to see that there was more to the world?

Von: It really was just rap. I had an older cousin who was pursuing a rap career. We would drive around in his car listening to whatever was popular whether it was [Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s] Mecca & The Soul Brother, The Cactus Album by 3rd Bass or LL Cool J. He was trying to be a rapper and I had only seen rappers on TV. I was never into comics but Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick and KRS-One were my Superman and Batman growing up. Then I discovered Tribe and De La Soul and my best friend growing up put me onto Death Row, and I realized all of these people were from the hood like me.

Skyzoo: For me, it definitely was Hip-Hop but the difference was having my pops. I grew up with both of my parents my whole life, even though they never were in the same house. I spoke to my pops every day even if I was staying at my mom’s crib. When I eventually moved in with him, I would come from hanging out in the hood and we would have Leroy Campbell paintings on the wall and he was listening to artists like Ronnie Jordan, Anita Baker and Sade. It taught me how to be comfortable in both types of surroundings.

Retropolitan by Skyzoo & Pete Rock VIBE: You’re both pretty prolific, dropping quality music almost annually whether free or for sale. What would you say has been the key to your consistency over the years?

Von Pea: For me it’s being a fan and competitive. I could be listening to Sky’s latest record, Drake or a dude I just heard of yesterday, but if somebody is spitting that sh*t I’ll be like “That was ill, why didn’t I think of that? You hear that flow? This beat is ill, I should have flipped that sample.” Then I’ll turn on the drum machine, fire up the Notes app and write some sh*t. I’m a huge fan, but I have to remember I’m one of these people and I have to keep up too.

Skyzoo: Same for me. If you’re doing anything creative, the day you’re not a fan anymore is the day you lose because you gotta know what’s going on out there in order to compete and coexist. I always want to one up myself creatively, while knowing the business end and what it takes to stay out here. You can’t drop every five years unless you’re Jay, Beyonce or Nas, that’s the era we’re in. I don’t believe in dropping 30 mixtapes a year, but one a year will keep me on tour, selling records and merch, and collecting feature money because the new record is out. You have to keep the fans locked in without them forgetting. If you’re gonna be in this, you gotta actively work.

VIBE: What is it like to take the road less traveled at a time where it can feel like there’s a limited audience hanging onto the type of music you make?

Von: I met Skyzoo at the Little Brother “Lovin’ It’” video shoot in 2005 and in all of that time, you see people try to get signed only to sit. People who were dope as f**k being themselves would be like “I got the Lil Jon-sounding record because Im trying to put my album out.” Even sadder is seeing someone become totally different because they’re trying to get on...I say it’s integrity on my part. A label will want to sign you only for you to sound like another person on that label and I never understood that, so I’m just gonna do me. If I could make a hit record being myself I would do that.

Skyzoo: Like Von said it’s about integrity, where I’m able to look in the mirror and be happy with the music I made. You never want to have moments where you’re like “I can’t believe I made that type of record.” There was never a moment when I dumbed down, for me it was like how can I do what’s working, while doing me at the same time and making it make sense.

Von: Fat Joe tells this story where KRS-One said “No one is shooting at my shows because I don’t talk about that.” We see what’s going on with [Tekashi 6ix9ine] in court, you talk up certain things and people are gonna approach you [with that same energy.] So I keep it true to who I am and what I’m doing.

VIBE: I know gentrification, fixing New York’s infrastructure or even the state of Hip-Hop are issues that are too big for any of us to tackle, but what’s the role you want to take on with your music?

Von: It’s part selfish, but as I’m trying to figure out what I want to say and do next, I just want to continue to have the respect of my peers and for people to say “Von is dope” or “Tanya Morgan dropped another classic record.” I don’t know if that’s vanity (laughs), I just want to be acknowledged for being dope and anything else is a nice perk.

Skyzoo: I want people to relate to the music, see themselves in it and leave a legacy. We’re always celebrating 15, 20 and 25 year anniversaries of incredible albums and I want my music to be looked at like that. We do that with Marvin Gaye, Stevie, James Brown, Michael Jackson and all of the music that shaped this country and world. I want my music to be represented like that as something that lasts, having the same impact as Illmatic, Ready To Die, Reasonable Doubt, Midnight Marauders, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and sh*t that I listen to like it dropped yesterday.

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Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Missy Elliott's "Hot Boyz" Remix Remains A Heater 20 Years Later

“This is for my ghetto motherf***ers…”

When needing to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” while crafting 1999 album Da Real World, Missy Elliott called upon the talents of Nas, Eve, Q-Tip, and Lil Mo to create a remix of her single “Hot Boyz.” The track’s legacy is being one of hip-hop’s most beloved all-star posse cuts. When icons at the height of their talents and popularity execute in the manner that this quintet does on this track, magic transpires. Having spent 18 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles from December 4, 1999 to March 25, 2000, its prestigious chart record was recently topped by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road.” On the Hot Rap Singles charts, the track hit No. 1 in January 2000 and spent nine months on the charts. The song’s longevity as a hit is undeniable.

Join vocalist Lil Mo as we revisit the cusp of the millennium to celebrate an unlikely track worthy of super-acclaim, finally receiving long overdue recognition of its excellence for its 20th anniversary.

AN ICONIC PRELUDE

In the era between 1995–1998 (1995 included as tracks produced in 1995 that were released in/impacted 1996), Missy Elliott likely accrued 65 official production credits, 70 singles, features, or guest appearances, and worked on her first two solo albums with a combined total of 34 tracks between them. In compiling this impressive volume of work, she also spent time in the studio as a producer, songwriter, arranger, collaborator, and engineer with somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 artists, highlighting the fact that when the “Hot Boyz” remix dropped on November 9, 1999, the idea that a song featuring an artist of her then already prodigious talent, combined with that of Nas, Q-Tip, Lil Mo, and mega-producer Timbaland was a guaranteed hit. It actually wasn’t.

By 1999, Missy Elliott was a breakout hip-hop star following up the success of her debut album Supa Dupa Fly’s singles “The Rain,” “Sock It 2 Me” and “Beep Me 911.” But as a collaborator, she was thriving and maintaining relevance. Missy’s protege Nicole Wray’s seductive rap ballad “Make It Hot,” Timbaland & Magoo’s artist album lead single “Up Jumps Da Boogie,” and Total's simmering hi-hat driven soul ballad “Trippin’” were all hits bearing Missy’s musical fingerprints.

Recorded over eight months between 1998-1999, Elliott’s sophomore release, Da Real World was originally titled She's a Bitch, as a positive way of expressing herself as an empowered woman. Previous to this, Elliott had crafted five top ten singles for other artists (702’s “Steelo,” Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” and “Are You That Somebody,” SWV’s “Can We,” and Total’s “Trippin”) so far in her career, quite possibly a case of giving away her A-level material for others while retaining significant, but not quite breakthrough pieces for herself.

“Missy had hits, but yeah, we knew we had that ‘one’ in us," Lil Mo remembers. "The team was incredible. We felt excited and unstoppable.

"We were working nonstop. We were also working with Jay-Z, Puffy, Beyonce, I even vocal produced Whitney Houston and Aaliyah, there was so much happening. We knew we had hits, we just didn’t expect a ‘Hot Boyz’-level hit.”

THE INGREDIENTS OF SUCCESS

Nas’ rap career reheated after his debut and follow up albums Illmatic and It Was Written. Namely, 1999’s “Hate Me Now” featuring Diddy was a global success. Q-Tip was still a member of A Tribe Called Quest but making solo waves—his single “Vivrant Thing” dropped a month prior to Missy’s remix. Eve came to the record by way of the Ruff Ryders clique, and likely because she was the most-anticipated female emcee of the moment. Lil Mo was Missy’s protege and worked with (but not signed to) her GoldMind label, having done considerable songwriting for the aforementioned Nicole Wray’s debut album. As for Timbaland, he had recently exploded into mega-stardom, having produced 18 top ten Billboard Hip-Hop and R&B Chart singles in three years' time. Timbo brilliantly found a way to blend the coarse edge of urban radio with the seductive vibe of the late-night quiet storm format into a potent, pop-friendly formula. His trademark sound was off-kilter: not so hard that it offended adult contemporary listeners, but also not so smooth that it alienated the streets.

Lyrically, this song plays as a haughty come on from a social-climbing female looking to land a date with a hard-hustling playboy pushing the hottest whip on the streets. Pulsing, MPC-boosted violin samples over a skittering hi-hat provide the underpinning. There’s the slightest bleed of one note that reverberates in a way that makes it a perfectly imperfect earworm. The excellence of the track is that it's a bed for Missy to showcase her soul vocal chops. The emcees fill in the edges with familiar, pop chart-aimed voices. Lil Mo's vocals filter through the entire mix, so loud and still somewhat unrefined, but for the purposes of a track so minimal in its construction, absolutely perfect. If ever needing proof that the greatest hits oftentimes break the “rules” of conventional production logic, look no further.

“When Missy was writing ‘Hot Boyz,’ we got there that night, and we immediately ate dinner. We had unlimited budgets back then, so why not! (laughs) Then, we—as we always would—would start cracking jokes while in the lounge,” Lil Mo recalls. “I heard the beat, she started putting down the words, and then she’s like, ‘Go record some ad-libs [to the beat], and take it to church!’ When I first heard the track, there wasn’t much to what Timbaland had put together, but it still had that magic. Missy heard it once, told me to not be worried about what it sounded like now, because she knew what it would become. We finished the version with her and I on it alone, but she had already told me who she was reaching out to for the remix. The song—with Nas, Eve, and Q-Tip’s parts added with mine—and the video were done in a week. Missy’s powerful. And when she has a plan, she’s going to do what she says she’s going to do.”

“We recorded and mixed the original version of the record in the same night,” Mo continues. “Timbaland’s production, mixing, and engineering team at that time was incredible. Jimmy Douglass was his engineer, and once he got the record, he went into seclusion and came back with a hit.” Douglass is likely the most decorated of the modern era session engineers, having worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, the Rolling Stones, Hall and Oates, and every significant Timbaland production in the past two decades of his career.

THE SONG “RADIO DIDN’T WANT TO PLAY”

Regarding the single which she noted that “radio didn’t want to play,” Missy told Billboard, “I remember one of the stations in L.A. was the first to pull it. And something happened, I can’t tell you what happened, but whatever happened, it ended up back at the stations...and it ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records.”

“I want guys to feel like they could ride around and listen to this because the beat was so hard. This beat feel like all the male rappers would want to get on this joint right here,” she said. “Eve snapped EFFORTLESSLY and came through on this song,” Missy also noted via Instagram. Lil Mo continues regarding Eve, “Missy gave her 16 bars on the record and she wasn’t even lit yet! That’s the equivalent of giving someone one million dollars!”

 

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“HotBoyz” one of the hardest R&B bangaz🔥 Let’s talk about how @therealeve SNAPPED EFFORTLESSLY on this song here 🙌🏾 Eve came through👏🏾I remember this song had so many bad call outs at 1st that some radio stations stopped playing it 😩🙁but through the grace of God it went #1 stayed there for 18 weeks & ended up in the Guinness World Book of Records🙌🏾Won’t he do it🙏🏾 big up @nas @thelilmoshow @qtiptheabstract

A post shared by Missy Elliott (@missymisdemeanorelliott) on Nov 21, 2018 at 7:35am PST

The first voice heard the remix is that of Nas. The flow is reminiscent of Firm-era Esco, equipped with swagger raps and cop-bait. Then, as Nas correctly says, “Missy’s about to tear it up....”

Missy’s opening verse takes her from quirky, awkward 'round the way high school homie to college senior home before graduation looking to make a move on making babies, then quite possibly getting married. She’s the embodiment of a thug’s dream wifey: able to cook, clean, and provide ultimate sexual satisfaction in the same breath. When she says “I’m a fly girl, and I like those…” she’s effectively refreshed much of her entire brand imaging and also opened herself up to female fans of say, Nas, who kicked off the record. It’s a stroke of genius.

The second verse is a stunning evolution. Missy’s now best renowned as a feminist sociocultural bellwether. However, here, she’s cooing about being a hot guy’s date because he drives a Jaguar XK8. Moreover, she wants all of her friends, if his friends drive cars similar in luxury to the XK8, to meet. Yes, feminism is not a monolith. This moment is empowering in a sense that actually fits the notion of feral female sexual desire showcased here like a glove. It’s truly fantastic songwriting.

Eve’s up next, having notched two top 40 features (The Roots’ “You Got Me” and Blackstreet/Janet Jackson collaboration “Girlfriend/Boyfriend”) and two debut album singles (“What You Want” and “Gotta Man”) at this point in her career. In the 45-second feature, the “illest pitbull in a skirt” wastes no lyrical motion. No cute ad-libs, nothing approaching platitudes about her sexual prowess. Spitting gangsta vitriol is her method, and what’s to boot, in the video version of the remix (sans Q-Tip), Missy returns to maintain her lyrical aesthetic, going in about how she’s going to “dig in your pockets, dig in your wallets, is that money I’m foundin’, now you got my heart poundin’...” Missy’s a true lyrical chameleon, showcasing her ability to meet any rhymer halfway. In the non-video version, Q-Tip, uncharacteristic to his Native Tongue ways but likely more method acting in time with the aesthetic set by his fellow performers on the remix, is pure cocksure sex fiend here. It fits.

A LEGACY THAT CAN NEVER BE REPLICATED

“What? 18 weeks at number one? Yeah, people thought we were paying for that. MTV, BET, everything,” says Lil Mo, answering the questions surrounding if payola or illicit wrangling was involved with “Hot Boyz’s” epic run. “To this day, people go crazy when you play it. It was a genuine hit record. We had no Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Myspace to boost it...that single hit because of nothing but Billboard and radio.” Continuing, she remembers, “when I used to get my hair braided, it would take the girl six hours. I swear, in that six hours, I might hear ‘Hot Boyz’ 12 times.”

When asked if it would be possible to recreate that “Hot Boyz” moment, Lil Mo pauses, and then bittersweetly opines, “artists today don’t have the same type of confidence or creativity that we had back then. We had both, plus genius creatives pushing us to not fit into expected standards, but to be ourselves. That’s a gift and blessing. It inspires you to, when they give you the mic, to just kill it.” Lil Mo also credits the tune for kicking off her career “in a major way. It opened the door to me working with Ja Rule, Jay-Z, it helped me blow up out of control! My career struck gold.”

Upon hearing that artists like Kash Doll were inspired to become rappers because of songs like “Hot Boyz,” in her recent live performances, Lil Mo has updated the song’s hook to reflect modern times. Switching the hook from “Where your Lexus jeeps, and the Benz jeeps, and the Lincoln jeeps, and the Bentleys and the Jaguars, and the fly cars...Where you at” to “Some drive Bentley jeeps, some drive Lambos, even if they drive an Uber now, as long as he’s driving, baby,” has allowed the song’s relevance to resonate with just as much excitement for the current generation.

For her final note, Lil Mo reflects on her decades-long friendship with Missy. “This is 20 years of friendship. I just saw Missy last Saturday and though I don’t see her like I did all of the time two decades ago, it’s like we pick up exactly where we left off. The camaraderie that comes from making records that big is real. Our friendships, a song like this, they sustain and surpass the test of time.”

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Stalley Talks 'Reflection of Self: The Head Trip': 'I Haven't Been Vulnerable Enough’

Ever since leaving Maybach Music Group and making a dive into the independent market in 2017, Stalley has been peeling back the layers and giving listeners access into his life and thoughts through his music.

Fans got their first taste of Stalley's personal life post-MMG with his noteworthy three-volume EP series Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil. Through this series, Stalley updated listeners on his well-being and voiced his feelings about the trials and tribulations of the music industry. Last January, Stalley continued to flirt with vulnerability with his EP Human. On that project, the Ohio lyricist looked beyond the flashy rapper lifestyle and showed his listeners that he's human just like the rest of us.

This month, Stalley is making his return to the music scene with his latest musical effort Reflection of Self: The Head Trip. The nine-track EP is Stalley's most eye-opening project yet. Teaming up with producer Jansport J, Stalley again invites listeners into his closeted life, this time revealing the inner workings of his mind. "This project came from me doing a self-reflection of myself and kind of figuring out where I was in my headspace," Stalley tells VIBE. "I'm taking you all on a trip through my head and the random thoughts and ideas that come through my head. You guys have never heard me like this before."

VIBE chopped it up with Stalley some more to talk about Reflection of Self: The Head Trip, his favorite tracks off the project, opening up and being vulnerable in his music, how writing his rhymes helped elevate his lyrics, and more.

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VIBE: What was the inspiration behind Reflection of Self: The Head Trip?

The first part, Reflection of Self, is me reflecting on where I've been and what I've been going through. The Head Trip is me taking you on a trip through my head as a listener and just getting you to bend those corners and every avenue and crevice of my mind to kind of see where it all comes and plays out. It's present Stalley. I think a lot of my music I've touched on the past. Now it's very current and emotional and what I've been going through and what I've been seeing musically as a man, as a father, just observing the world and itself. Not just sinking myself into music but just really observing the world and what's going on and putting it into the music.

After opening up on Human, what did you do differently on this project to bring listeners into a journey through your mind?

I think with this I tapped more into my emotional side. I dug deep and I'm a very closed off person sometimes and I don't really open up, not even to friends and family. I kind of pushed myself and pushed those limits to really talk about some things that have been bothering me whether it's been mental health, whether it's been my relationship with God, whether it's been my relationship with music, and how I want people to listen and perceive and grab my music. I want to be able to teach, and help people to grow, and help people to learn and to do things that the music did for me when I was growing up.

What was the hardest topic for you to talk about on Reflection of Self?

I think it was just the whole fact of people not seeing me sometimes. People don't see me posting on social media or speaking. I touched on it on the second verse on "All So New." I said “I kept it inside I was barely outdoors,” and that was real. There was a time where I would only go to the gym and back home. I would be in the studio or whatever but I was really closing myself off to the world and a lot of friends and family.

Upon listening to the album the production sounds like it was heavily influenced by early 90s rap. Were there any projects or producers from that era that you listened to as a source of inspiration for this project?

No, it was really just conversations Jansport and I would have when creating this project of just bringing ourselves with that kind of essence but making it current and making it about us. We definitely are fans of the Pete Rocks and MadLibs and the Dillas and people like that. We wanted to make our own version of that and make it current. I think we succeeded and did a great job. But I didn't really listen to anything in particular. I really wanted to close myself off, especially musically, and just really dive into my own head. I didn't want any influences. I wanted to speak from my heart and my soul. I think that Jansport was able to give me the perfect soundtrack to that and with that, it came out that sound.

How'd you link with Jansport?

I linked with him actually through Twitter. We chopped it up on there and followed each other. We spoke and talked about building and doing some music together. We exchanged information, got on the phone, and really just built. It took us a couple of months to really get where we got but it was awesome.

What are some of your favorite tracks off the project?

A couple of my favorite tracks are "Peppermints and Water," "Hold It Up," and "Bad Ass Kids." "Bad Ass Kids" that's a record that it kind of brought me back to when I was a kid and then to observing even my children and the kids that I've seen and been around and just really wanting to protect them. I want to be that person that they can come to for knowledge and grow with. I think that we lost that sense of community and the OGs and the older people really giving morals to the kids and that's what "Bad Ass Kids" was for me.

"Peppermints and Water" was just me reflecting. In the studio, I always have peppermints and water and I just kind of reflected over that. Some people reflect through weed or through a drink or whatever but that was something that I reflected on. "Hold It Up" you know everybody in hip-hop says you have to hold it down and stay this way, but I feel people say it but don't really hold it down. So I'm like instead of holding it down I'm trying to hold it up. I'm trying to uplift, build, inspire, and help people grow mentally and spiritually. Whatever it is I just want people to be better people. I'm trying to be a better person so we're working together on that.

These are some of the sharpest bars you ever spit. What did you do to elevate them this go around?

I went back to writing. I got out of my head and I let my soul talk. I let my spirit talk and guide me. I think before I was more into my head like I gotta say this a certain way or just putting unnecessary pressure on myself. But literally, the music is more spiritual for me. I tell people if the music doesn't move me to move you I can't do it. I don't want to do it. So with this, it's just straight spiritual and letting my spirit, soul, and God guide my pen. I'm so proud of the writing. This is some of my best writing if not my best writing by far. I'm proud of myself for always continuing to get better and pushing myself to try to help and inspire.

Did writing your verses down help you get all your thoughts out in a concise manner?

Yes, I do. I think that I was able to guide myself a little better. People like to say “guide your pen” but I really was able to guide myself and my thoughts. I was able to structure it a little bit instead of it being me regurgitating s**t out. It flowed more like poetry and like a book. I like to look at my projects as a good book. I want to write you a chapter or a book of my life and just give you myself. I think I was able to do that by picking up the pen and putting words to paper again.

Did you have any fear that writing would take away from the raw emotion of rapping from the head instead?

Yeah sometimes because I think that the freeness comes when you have the cadences and you say things a certain way. Sometimes you don't want to feel like you’re reading off of a paper or you don't want to be reading your thoughts because then it becomes more of a spoken word type feel. But I think that my flow was immaculate on this even then because I think from previously not writing and having that experience of just going off the top of my head I'm able to be more comfortable in my pocket when it comes to writing.

Do you see yourself continuing to be vulnerable throughout your music in the future?

Yeah, I think I need to for myself and my fans. I think that I haven't been vulnerable enough. I haven't given my fans enough of me. I haven't given the world enough of me. Again like I said earlier I have been very closed off and secluded in my own thoughts and in myself because maybe it's my upbringing or maybe that's just my star sign. (laughs) I don't know where it comes from but it's just me. I really want to be more personable. I really want to help. I keep bringing up the word help because I know there are people who are like me who go through things that I go through and I want to speak more current and I want to speak more present. I think that this project is the most current and present that I've been in my music.

After a project like this, what other stories or what else do you feel you have to tell people about yourself?

I think that with timing and growth it will show. There are a lot of things that fans or even myself need answers to, but I think it's going to take a little bit of time for me to do a little bit more reflecting and growing. I always try to push myself to the limit and I'm going to do that even more with this now that I have started to open up, I really want to crack that shell and truly open up.

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