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Nef The Pharaoh On Breaking Out Of The West Coast: "The Bay Area Is Our Own World"

VIBE sat down with buzzing Bay Area rapper, Nef The Pharaoh.

Right now, it’s safe to say that Southern California is cranking out rap stars by the minute. With exceptional projects from guys like Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, The Game, Ty Dolla $ign, YG and more, the West Coasters have been providing the hip-hop soundtracks for today's youth over the last several years.

The Left Coast has the game on lock, but we can't forget about The Bay Area's burgeoning talent -- who refuse to be left out the conversation. And Vallejo’s hottest rising star and E-40’s protégé, Nef The Pharaoh, has next up.

Neffie’s music epitomizes everything the Hyphy movement has been about in the past but brings it to modern times. Having fun and going dumb-with-it are just a part of the young rapper's repertoire. He's carrying the torch passed to him by acts like Forty Water, The Pack, Keek Tha Sneak, and the king of the Hyphy movement, Mac Dre.

His breakout single, “Big Tymin,' a glorious ode to the now defunct duo of Mannie Fresh and Birdman, has been on heavy rotation in The Bay and his self-titled EP is also available on iTunes now. Also, Nef is taking his energy all across the country as he’s opening up for G-Eazy on his tour while working on his debut album.

Things are looking up for the prince of The Bay. In his interview with VIBE, Nef talks about how he linked up with the Bay Area legend, his early days in music, plans for the future and more.

VIBE: How did you link up with E-40?
Nef: Actually, a former artist from Sick-Wid-It Records was a fan of my work before E-40 was, and I got a chance to show him my songs. Then, 40 hit me up, got me on his album (Sharp On All Four Corners) and kept paying attention to my music before he signed me.

I was listening to the song “Come Pick Me Up” on your mixtape. What was the relationship with your father like growing up?
My relationship with my pops growing up... it was off and on. He would come and go, so it was rough on me But he ended up coming back around as I got older like around age 19, 20. I forgave him, and he’s around now so it really don’t matter.

So pretty much your relationship with him got better as you got older?
Yeah, I was seeing him on and off, that’s it. But as I got older it got a whole lot different. I talk to him man to man. I talk to him like he's my best friend.

What was your upbringing like?
I grew up in a house with three bedrooms full of like 18 people in it. My grandma was one of them people where if she seen you on the street struggling, she would tell you to come on, and live with her to try and help you. She helped me grow up and find my talent.

Speaking of your talents. At what point did you realize you could rap?
I was about 4-years old (laughs). I remember my first rap, too! It went like, “My name is Lil T! Lil T! My name is Lil T and I’m not three! I’m four and I got the keys to the door. I’m in preschool and I’m finna get some more.” That’s all I wrote, bro (laughs)."

What artists did you listen to growing up?
I listened to a lot of E-40 of course. But I listened to an artist from New York named Scientific, too. I don’t know if you heard of him or not. I’m a Nas fan. I’m a big [Lil] Wayne fan. I’m a big Big Tymers fan! I love Juvie, too.

Since you’re a huge fan of the duo, how did they influence your music, and inspire your “Big Tymin’” track?
Man, I loved the Big Tymers so much when I heard them. The inspiration was me flowing over a Mannie Fresh beat and dude wasn’t even tryna make a beat like that. And my brother was like 'this something the Big Tymers would be on!' I was like,' man you ain’t never lied!' And that night I came up with the chorus because I don’t really write my raps on paper. I wrote the chorus down actually. That morning, we paid for the studio time and knocked it out. It was easy.

How does it feel to be considered by major music outlets as one of the best new rappers to come from Vallejo since the legendary Mac Dre?
Man, it's a blessing. I don’t never wanna get too bigheaded but people saying that really makes me realize that I’m making an impact and doing something good. I really try not to get bigheaded. I read the blogs, I scroll over and I love the good things they’re saying, but I never let it go to my head because I’m a person who loves the attention. I already know how I get, so I just try to stay humble and stay hungry.

Do you think those are big shoes to fill?
Not really because as a rapper, I’m a giant, and I can go in any shoes. I might dust off the shoes and make new shoes to fill -- you feel me?

You’re opening up for G-Eazy on his tour. For those who haven’t seen any of your shows, what can they expect from you?
A lot of energy, a lot of jumping, going crazy. I still go dumb like the old school days. It’s just going to be a lot of fun and you can expect a party when I perform.

What’s your take on the state of Bay Area hip-hop right now?
I think the Bay Area is really coming up right now. If you came to the Bay Area, you would see a lot of talent our here making movies. There's a lot of producers and songs, new dances, and fashion that don’t nobody know about. The Bay Area is our own world. I feel like we’re up right now, and not everybody is paying attention. But, I’m finna make everybody pay attention to the Bay.

Out of all of E-40’s expansive collection, what’s your favorite album from the god?
I would have to say My Ghetto Report Card because that one’s crazy. I feel like every song on there was a hit. It was the era where I was in school. “Tell Me Where To Go” was on there. The video was crazy, I got to attend the video way before I way I even met E-40. It was just dope.

Are you in the video?
I’m not in the video. Probably if you see me, it’s a thousand people in the video. But I got to attend the video. It was an open video set.

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Courtesy of Level.com

Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.

 

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