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Views From The Studio: Meet Producers Nez And Rio

The Grammy-nominated poducers detail their plans to takeover the industry. 

For Grammy-nominated producers Nez and Rio, the recipe to making a beat stand the test of time simply rests on their faith in God. "A lot of musicians want to sit there and act like they can take the credit for it, but when you’re really connecting with the music and you’re making the best music you can make, you’re really just being used," Nez says.

This has been a testament to the duo's success within the industry, starting with their higher education careers at Howard University in 2004. The Chi-town natives worked with a fellow student/artist named Brandon Hines, and after selling Hines' album independently, they let the higher power guide their path in the industry. But speaking of a high power, Nez and Rio eventually found themselves in the company of TDE, the West Coast based entity that hosts a Monstar roster which features Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, SZA, Isaiah Rashad, and Schoolboy Q.

Etching a now cemented relationship with Q garnered Nez and Rio a Grammy nomination for their production credits on Oxymoron, namely "Man of the Year" and "Gangsta." Their ability to easily assimilate to an artist's sound or mindset also comes natural to the duo, but they manage to leave their imprint on every instrumental they create. "As an artist and a producer, you have to make music that people can relate to and understand within the times," Rio says. "But it’s finding the part that’s unique about you that stands out that’s most important."

Within this Q&A, Nez & Rio dish on their rise in the industry, their time in the studio with A$AP Rocky, Tinashe and Travis Scott, and what they have planned for their future in the latest installment of Views From The Studio.

VIBE: Do you remember the first instrumental you created?
Nez: It was a Shirley Bassey sample and we made the beat on Fruity Loops and we didn’t intend on making music when were hanging out. We were just chilling and we ended up making a beat, it sounded cool, and it was an ongoing thing from there.

How’d you guys get involved with TDE?
Rio: At that time we were back living in Chicago producing local acts, and we knew that we had to switch up our game plan a little bit to break out and start working with larger acts. At the time, TDE was really well known on the West Coast, but not so much nationally. They had just gotten to the point where Kendrick [Lamar] started getting recognized nationally. We had been listening to his Overly Dedicated mixtape like crazy and we felt like he was going to be one of those next ones to go. We decided to try and set up a session when he had a show in Chicago. It was super small at this club called The Shrine. It wasn’t even full, it was really early on and for us just trying to forecast who was going to be hot. We got a session with Kendrick and it just so happened that Schoolboy Q was there as his hype-man. We got a chance to meet all the guys in TDE and play them some beats. They liked them and we kept that relationship alive until we worked on Habits And Contradictions with Q.

What’s a day in the studio like with TDE?
Rio: It’s cool, they really liked the sound we created. You can imagine being fresh out of college it was really difficult to find a job. Nez and I were basically spending most of our time working in the studio, trying to perfect our craft because we really wanted to be professional music producers. We walked in fully armed with all of these amazing tracks at the time, and our best stuff at that period. TDE, they walked in looking like West Coast guys (laughs) wearing a lot of red and it was cool because they had a totally different vibe from what we knew as Chicago.

In that session, it was probably about four other producers or acts that were playing music for them and Nez and I went in second to last. We played music and they loved it. Heavy nods and constantly gesturing like, “Yeah I need that one.” They took like 20 beats. At the time, Q was on this song called “Michael Jordan,” and he was featured on that record with Kendrick. That was one of Kendrick’s big songs at the time and we knew that they were moving as a record label and there were going to be more people to work with. In that room before we left we made sure that we talked to Q as well like, “Q if you need something too, let us know.” At the time in Chicago, this is pre-Chance the Rappers, pre-Vic Mensas, pre-Chief Keef even, this is pre all those acts and we didn’t have anybody outside of a Kanye [West], or a Common, or a Lupe [Fiasco], guys who were long gone and famous to try and work with. We didn’t have anybody on a local level that really had the national appeal yet. We were trying to figure out an out, trying to figure out how to make it happen and make your dreams come true. This is an opportunity to work with somebody that’s about to get a national look. Fast-forward, Kendrick starts working with [Dr.] Dre, TDE blows up and Schoolboy Q signs to Interscope along with TDE and he has an album. We have a great relationship with all those guys and it put us in a really great position.

]How’d it feel when you found out you guys were nominated for a Grammy for Q’s Oxymoron?
Nez: That was cool just because with things like that you don’t really know when or how it’s going to happen. Both of us were surprised to hear the album was nominated. It was a good feeling because you always work for stuff, you want to be recognized for your work in some kind of way. It’s cool when people like that nominate you for Grammys.

With ASAP Rocky, you guys did "Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)." What was the studio atmosphere like for that?
Nez: Real chill, Rocky is cool, he’s one of the homies. He’s just like us, trying to make good music, just sitting there talking about culture, art, design, and fashion. We just kick it so the atmosphere is chill, and positive vibes and energy.

I saw that you guys re-tweeted someone who said they played "Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)" nine times in a row. What’s the recipe to creating that melody that’ll make a person hit the repeat button continuously?
Nez: Keeping your ego at the door and letting God in and let him work through you. That’s the best recipe. A lot of musicians want to sit there and act like they can take the credit for it, but when you’re really connecting with the music and you’re making the best music you can make, you’re really just being used.

It seems like you guys definitely work with people who you share a lot in common with and those same people turn into your friends. But what’s the most intense studio session y’all ever had?
Nez: I wouldn’t say intense. We’ve had some hilarious studio sessions.

Rio: We usually try and keep it as relaxed as possible, everything to make people relax is usually better. When people get relaxed we have a lot more fun. It doesn’t feel like work. You just sit there trying to catch a vibe. That’s usually what creates the best music.

Nez: We were in a session that we didn’t want to be in one time. That was pretty hilarious. There was a rapper that won’t be named, but he decided to try to sing Country Western vibes over the beats. He was scatting over the beats in auto-tune that was out of key. That was pretty funny. It’s always funny when there are different kinds of energy in the studio or people that are either feeling themselves or out there to make the sessions pretty interesting. But for the most part we have really chill sessions.

You also worked on Tinashe’s track “Something To Feel.” What was that studio atmosphere like?
Nez: We had the chance to meet and work with Tinashe before she really blew up like that. We connected through my homegirl, Brittany, who works at Global Grind. She also went to Howard. She said that Tinashe was trying to link with us because of the work we did with Q for his Habits And Contradictions album and that’s how we linked with Tinashe, which was years ago. We worked on a mixtape and that led to “Something To Feel.” Being in the studio with her is cool too, it’s like the same type of thing where she’s really chill, very talented, she knows what she wants and she goes in there and just vibes out with us. We’re just sitting there cracking jokes. It’s real cool and family-like.

You also mentioned you worked with Travis Scott. With him being a fellow producer, describe the brainstorming session?
Nez: Travis is really dope. We actually got a chance to do a little bit of work with him. He’s really talented. He has a lot of ideas and he’s full of energy, so for us at this session particularly, we were playing him some beats and we were trying to come up with ideas to make songs out of beats, and ideas that we had already created and try to build on those. It was a lot of fun with Travis because he has ideas for days.

How do you stand apart from the sound that’s on the radio?
Nez: Rio and I really try to stick to our sound. All the experimenting that we’ve done up to this point have helped cultivate our sound and we take pride in not sounding like anyone else. That’s a big deal for us. In the times where everyone is being championed for sounding like the stuff that’s out, we really try to keep going in this monotonous industry with some new unique styles and sounds. We’re going to try to keep pushing the boundaries because that’s how we look at art, and that’s how we look at culture.

Rio: There has to be a balance between being current and being yourself. As an artist and a producer, you have to make music that people can relate to and understand within the times, but it’s finding the part that’s unique about you that stands out that’s most important. In this day and age with the Internet and how music and information is passed around, everyone listens to the same music, everyone basically listens to whatever type of genre and artist that they’re into. But for the most part it’s not based on where you live anymore, geographical location anymore. It’s very important for us to stick to our guns and our sounds and certain trademarks that we have. You have to stand firm sometimes because if people don’t necessarily know or whatever, creatively you have to force that a little bit.

Do you gather inspiration from listening to other producers’ work? I see you guys were fans of the Social Experiment’s Surf?
Rio: Those are our homies from Chicago. A lot of times we’d talk music or developing where things are going, but for the most part, Nez and I cook solo dolo. Of course just being human you always pick up things that you like, just naturally being a creative person, you’re always going to pull from different things, but for the most part unless it’s a collaborative project, song, effort, you typically pull from people that are in other generations. I might pull from Curtis Mayfield, or Fela Kuti. There’s a ton of different artists that we might look to for inspiration, but typically it’s not artists that are out right now.

If you weren’t producers, what would you be doing now?
Rio: I don’t know (laughs), I’m just glad we’re producers. If it came down to it, both of us would probably be doing something else creative. Our plan B was making plan A work. It goes to show when you put your effort in, and as a musician when you go so hard at something, you force yourself to find other ways to make it work. I’ve met people in the past or aspiring musicians who said, “If music doesn’t work out I’m going to do this, that and the third,” and I’m like it doesn’t work like that. Everybody that you know that’s on stage or that has fans is 100 percent in it for what they’re doing because there’s no other way that it works. There are too many people that want to do it. For us that was the best way to go about it, putting all you eggs in one basket and saying “If this is how I’m going to eat, I have to make these beats hot.” Those beats are going to be hot as hell.

If you could EP anyone’s album, who would it be and why?
Nez: Our own album just because we know ourselves the best so I think it’s going to be the freshest. We are progressively working on our own project right now. We’re going to introduce ourselves as artists, musicians and show our own perspective on this thing.

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Saba's Rhymes Mean A Lot But John Walt Day Means More

“Act like ya’ll know, man. This a holiday,” boasted Frsh Waters, the co-founder of Chicago collective Pivot Gang and the opener of the second annual John Walt Day concert. It's Thanksgiving weekend and while families are gathered around the dinner table, lovers and supporters of Pivot Gang–comprised of Saba, MFn Melo, Waters, SqueakPIVO and a few more–filled the spaces of the city's Concord Music Hall to keep up a holiday tradition of their own.

With a newly-grown fro, Waters enters the stage with no introduction, a contrast from initial mic stand-clasping nervousness during the inaugural John Walt Day, launched at House of Blues Chicago in 2017. Walt Jr., the cousin of Saba, was killed last year and is the sole inspiration for the rapper's John Walt Foundation that brings the arts to children in the city.

The concert is a resounding tradition that his Pivot Gang brothers don’t plan to break anytime soon, with anticipation flooding the city each Thanksgiving weekend and a simultaneous celebration of Walt’s birthday on November 25th. The concert is just a piece of the loving puzzle Saba, Waters and the rest of the group created to keep his legacy alive.

With repeated crouching and soulful backing by Chicago band, The Oh’My’s, Waters regained balance after kneeling on an uneven speaker, referring to the crowd as "Church,” a christening that he echoes on the ending of "GPS" a feature from Saba’s well-received debut album Bucket List Project.

 

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Happy 26th @dinnerwithjohn Long Live my niqqa Johnny 📷 @bda.photo

A post shared by Westside Cat (@frshwaters) on Nov 25, 2018 at 11:37am PST

Saba may have dropped the stellar sophomore project, Care For Me this year, but the continuation of John Walt Day means more. Sold out for its second year in a row with 1,400 in attendance, Pivot Gang house-DJ Squeak Pivot blares "Scenario" by A Tribe Called Quest as the crowd multiplies before his booth. Avid fans gather in all creases of Concord Music Hall, especially on the second floor, where a merch stand resides exclusively for John Walt items. A haloed painting of Walt (or DinnerWithJohn as listeners knew him best), sits next to an assortment of buttons and t-shirts, as a guest brings a newly finished painting of Walt to the show.

Between sets, the crowd roared for cuts by Chicagoans Ravyn Lenae and Noname, who’s Room 25 track "Ace" is cut abruptly before MfnMelo takes the stage. With orchestration by Care For Me co-producer Dae Dae and harpist Yomi, Melo flowed through "Can’t Even Do It" and briefly spoke to the crowd about Thanksgiving, inviting attendees with leftover pies to meet him after the show.

Strutting to Ariana Grande's kiss-off anthem "thank u, next," The Plastics EP rapper Joseph Chilliams poses freely, cloaked in a light pink teddy bear coat. “I made this song because there aren’t a lot of black people [in Mean Girls]. I realized that the fourth time,” Chilliams joked before performing "Unfriendly Black Hotties."

Joined by four-year-old Snacks Pivot, John Walt’s mother Nachelle Pugh pinpoints her nephew’s curiosity of joining his older cousins Saba and Joseph Chilliams as their miniature hype-man.

 

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John Walt Day It didn’t even feel real, so much love in the room. For the encore they usually yell the artist name or one more song or something like that. But on this night they yelled “LONG LIVE JOHN WALT”. I wish this could be everyday. I wish I could play you this new shit we just did. I wish you were here. Love you @dinnerwithjohn look at this coat” lmao 💗💗💗💗 📸 by my shooter @notryan_gosling

A post shared by Joseph Chilliams (@josephchilliams) on Nov 26, 2018 at 3:29pm PST

“It’s like Walter jumped into his body and he’s coming back through this kid," she said of the toddler's enthusiasm. "He’s studied Saba, he’s studied Joseph, and he’ll say 'Auntie, can I use your phone?' So he’d use my phone and watch the boys’ videos on YouTube. Joseph is a person that the kids look at and say ‘He’s so fun,’ and [Snacks] wants to be like him. Everything that they do, [Snacks] is studying them.”

Pugh credits Young Chicago Authors for sparking her son’s musical pursuits, with guidance by poet Kevin Coval. “Kevin mentored him until the day he passed. I really love and respect someone that can just work with kids and give them a place to express themselves creatively,” Pugh said. “Working towards a goal of creating something that I know [Walt] wanted to do, and to help others in the same token, that gives me a sense of accomplishment.”

The stage then transformed into a resting kitchen with illuminating lights on the bottom of side-by-side counters, with Care for Me co-producers Dae Dae and Daoud behind their respective keyboards. Once settled, Saba rushed the stage to perform "Busy," with a special appearance by singer theMIND. The pulse of the venue throbbed as Saba took brief pauses to talk intimately to the crowd. “I lost a lot of people close to me,” he said. “A song like "Stoney" is such a celebration of life. It’s crazy to think how long ago that sh*t was. John was still alive.”

As Saba diverted into memories of Walt’s life, Nachelle recalled the album listening event for Care For Me. “Saba wouldn’t let me listen to it. He didn’t even tell me that he was working on it until it got really close [to the album’s release]," she said. "Then, he warned me about "Prom/King." I think he was thinking about letting me listen to it by myself at first, but then he thought about it like ‘Nah, I’m not gonna do that while she’s by herself, let me just let her listen to it while she’s with everybody else.’ That was an easier way to break it to me, so I wouldn’t really break down.”

Saba capered into "Prom/King," but performing the heart-tugging ode to Walt was a first, even after embarking on his 2018 Care For Me tour.

“I didn’t know he was gonna do that. I didn’t think that he’d ever be able to do that. I don’t think he thought he’d be able to do that,” Pugh explained. “I don’t know if anybody captured the expressions, but I think he was in tears and he was just fighting through it. We went through this fight together on the day we found out what happened with Walt. When he got finished, he sat down, turned around and he looked at me and I’m like 'We did it.'”

Even with "Prom/King" being the most grief-stricken track on Care For Me, Nachelle revealed that the most poignant song about her son was "Heaven All Around Me," realizing the message just months after the album’s release. “I was like, 'Walter wrote that song through Saba,' she said. "That’s the song that gets me the most off Care For Me. I don’t think [Saba] intentionally did so, but it just put so much power behind "Prom/King" because you see what happened. He told a story.”

The storytelling of Walt’s legacy was fulfilled throughout John Walt Day, from Joseph Chilliams doing a comedic, warbled rendition of "Ordinary People," Walt’s favorite song to play on the aux cord, to the entire Pivot Gang reuniting to perform their ensemble track "Blood" for the first time. Walt’s presence was unwavering, with remaining Pivot Gang members continuing to carry his eternal flame.

“This year’s show, the passion was a little bit stronger, because at the time we did last year’s show, I think we were all still in denial, like 'We’re gonna wake up from this dream’ type of thing.' Pugh said. “I think we accepted the fact that [Walt’s] not coming back. They wanted to go as hard as possible because they were doing this for him.”

 

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JOHN WALT DAY was so beautiful. We gotta find a bigger venue for next year. I made so many new friends. Pivot tape up next 💪🏽🔥

A post shared by Joseph Chilliams (@josephchilliams) on Dec 1, 2018 at 5:15pm PST

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15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

Hip-hop may have become the Nielsen Music-declared most dominant music genre, but let's not overlook the strides R&B (including all its many sub-genres and cousin genres) have taken on the airwaves and within the culture in this year alone.

While persistent naysayers keep peddling the tired argument that "R&B is dead," the most recent news cycle has proven the exact opposite, as talks of a supposed King of R&B dominated discussions both on- and offline. Jacquees' lofty declaration notwithstanding, there's no denying that there are ample songs swimming around the 'Net from talented vocalists killing it within the genre.

For those looking to satiate rhythm and blues earworms—and in no particular order—VIBE compiled a list of the 15 bonafide R&B songs of 2018 (or at least ones that fall within the genre's orbit) that pulled us into our feelings each and every time we pressed play.

READ MORE: Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

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Ian Reid

Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.

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What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?

Jac

quees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

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