nez and rio nez and rio

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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P Diddy promotes his new Diddy Dirty Money single 'Coming Home' and his headphones DiddyBeats at HMV, Oxford Street on January 20, 2011 in London, England.
Photo by Matt Kent/WireImage

'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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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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