Beyonce 4 Beyonce 4

Five Years Of '4': Creatives Reflect On Their Time With Beyonce At Her Boldest

Symbolyc One and Luam open up about sharing the same creative space as Beyonce during the age of '4'.

Beyonce's 4, her straightforwardly-titled fourth studio album, was unleashed for the world to hear on June 24, 2011. As her first solo album independent from her former manager and father Matthew, Beyonce experimented with more intimate themes and eclectic sound stylings, setting the album apart from her first three LP’s. 4 seemingly serves as the catalyst for her musical journey of deeper, more personal themes displayed in her self-titled fifth album and her recent sixth opus, Lemonade.

However, we know a ship needs a strong crew behind it to keep it afloat. Beyonce meticulously chooses to work with a select team of creatives who she believes will give her work that certain je ne sais quoi, and develops professional relationships with those who focus on the art as a whole. We thought it would be interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at the album from some of the people who were immersed in its development. Read on to see what it was like to work with Bey both in the booth and in the dance studio from colleagues who aided in the sonic and visual success of this project.

Symbolyc One (S1) was a co-producer on “Best Thing I Never Had.” A Very GOOD Beats signee, S1 has produced for Kanye West (“Power”), Eminem (“Bad Guy” from the Marshall Mathers LP 2”) and The Throne (“Murder To Excellence”).

VIBE: Before you worked on 4, have you ever worked with Beyonce before? And if not, how did she initially get a hold of you?
S1: So, this was actually my first time working with Beyonce, on the 4 album. The way I began a working relationship with her was that I worked with Kanye [West] on the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album, and I had the honor of going to London and Australia to work with him and Jay Z on Watch The Throne. So, while we working on the Watch The Throne album, Beyonce was out there of course, so that's when I really started to build a relationship with her. On our second trip—we went to London first—so on our second trip to Australia, we really started to build a working relationship. We were in this mansion together that they built that had these three studios, and they built a studio for Beyonce on the third floor. She invited me up to her floor to listen to some songs that she was working on for 4, so I went up, listened to some songs and gave my critique on some of them.

There was one particular song that I thought the drums could be better on, and she gave me the section and was like "go re-do the drums." I took the session downstairs, re-worked the drums and she loved it. She was like, "At the top of the year, I wanna bring you out to New York to help me work on 4." January 2nd, I got that call, "Yo, Beyonce wants you in New York tomorrow. Can you come out for a week?" I wound up going out there and I bought one of my production dudes, Caleb McCampbell [Caleb Sean], and Beyonce played us seven records that she loved, but she didn't like the production on them. We picked out five records, "Best Thing I Never Had" being one of them, and we re-worked those records the whole week while we were out there with her. That was my first introduction to actually working with her, in New York.

Was she someone who you've always had an interest in working with?
Oh, absolutely! What's crazy is, me and my partner who I took out there to work with me on the album, Caleb Sean... this was 2010, so I'd say maybe two or three years prior, we did her "Single Ladies" track. We wanted to do our version of it, so we took the a cappella and re-worked it. We started getting really good buzz because we put it up on YouTube, and people started loving this remix! It ended up on a mixtape, and I actually got to play it for her [Beyonce] when we first met. She loved it, she was like "Man, I think I wanna use the track for another song!" [Laughs] We were really big fans prior to actually working with her, so just being able to work with her, being in the studio with her, was just a dream come true. Truly a blessing.

Was there a specific style that she was going for when you were coming up with the song at first?
No, actually it wasn't. There was never a case where she was like, "I want this to sound like this." It was just, "Take these songs and make the best possible production that you guys can do with it." We got in our room and it was like, what's the best possible way that we can showcase these songs...? We kind of just did what we felt. She would just come in the room and listen and be like "Yo, I like this," or "Change this part, I think this could be better," or "I really really like this section." It kind of just built into what it is today.

When you're watching her in her "zone," when she comes in and she's kind of feeling out the music, what is she like? Is she vocal? Hands-on?
Very. Oh, she's incredible. Like, I've never seen anything like it. And she's so precise! Seeing her in the booth? It's crazy, because she nails stuff to where you can tell she's practiced and prepared up until that point to where it's automatic for her, and she doesn't have to think about it. She's just knockin' it out, knockin' it out, and knockin' all her vocals out, and then it's done. And it sounds so good! Like… flawless! [Laughs] You can tell she's worked for that up until this point, so when she's in that moment, she's not thinking about it, it's automatic, first instinct.

What were some of the tools that you used to create the sounds and the beats for the song?
It was just a matter of how I do all my production. I go through sounds, and if there's a certain sound that triggers or inspires me, I'll pull it up and I'll start building around that sound. It was the same thing for "Best Thing I Never Had." The tone was amazing, the vocals were amazing. How can we make sure the production compliments what's already great? It was a matter of going through sounds, and Caleb Sean is an incredible musician. He started playing certain chords around it, and I was like okay, this is it. The intro of the song was the very first thing that he started playing, so once we locked that it, it was like, "Yo, this is it right here!" and we started building around that. We got the song to a certain point, and my dude Shea Taylor came in and he put the finishing touches on the song, and "Best Thing I Never Had" was birthed.

It's beautiful work. And I know Shea Taylor had a hand in a lot of the stuff on 4.
Shea is incredible, that's one of my brothers. He's just an incredible dude and an incredible producer. He came in and put his touch on all the songs to make it what it is today.

How do you think that Lemonade differs from her other projects from a production standpoint?
With every album, I think her approach is she always follows the space that she's in. She's always true to that. Lemonade is basically a representation of where she is now. When we were working on 4, that was a representation of where she was at, at that point. She's always able to capture where she's at, and present where she's at to the world through her albums.

In what ways have you seen Beyonce grow as an artist and a performer?
Man, she's a constant growth, a constant evolution. I would say that in all aspects, in artistry and as a business mogul, period. She's top-tier of what she does in all aspects, and I think that's her being able to... it's her practice. She's constantly trying to push the envelope and better herself as a songwriter, as an artist, as a performer, as a businesswoman. I think she'll continue to get better and better in everything she does. She's very driven and she just has it. She doesn't have to think about it. It's a part of her DNA now, so she'll continue to grow and evolve. She's really amazing, and being around her, her energy, she is everything. Literally the first day in the studio with her, I felt like I had been knowing her for, like, ten years. It was just like that. I'm from Waco [Texas] and live in Dallas, so I'm Texas-born too, and it was just an instant connection, like "Oh, you definitely Texas!" [Laughs]

Luam is an NYC-based choreographer who worked as a co-choreographer for the music video for “Run The World.” You may have seen her choreography for Janelle Monae’s Pepsi commercial before this year’s Super Bowl Halftime show.

How were you approached to work on the video for "Run The World"? Because from what I understand, there were several choreographers involved.
Luam: Yes, there were several amazing creatives a part of this. Jeffrey Page and Sheryl Murakami contributed a great deal in particular, and there were choreography contributions by really great folks to complete the full story. Frank Gatson, who was the director of her choreography, pulled us in. He pulled me in while we were working on Beyonce's "Move Your Body” campaign, the Michelle Obama exercise & dance initiative for kids. We were in rehearsing for that and he said, "Hey, we've been workshopping this song in L.A. and other places, and she's looking for some fresh movement for this." I had an opportunity during the those campaign rehearsals to sit down with her and really understand what she was looking for. She wanted more than just dancing she told me, she wanted something special. She said, "I don’t want just steps. I want them to feel something, to get up and want to do the dance with me.” I really felt that she cared about her fans, her audience, wanted to make sure it was accessible. That it's not about just impressing folks, but including them, and saying, hey, the little girl in Houston who's eight years old is gonna see this and want to try it out, or that 36-year-old professional in the office of her building is going to go into the bathroom and see if she can do the moves in the mirror. [Laughs] That's the type of inspiration I think she likes to engender in anybody listening and watching the music. For me, I just wanted to give her something special, something that wasn't just a step, but that meant something to me as well. If it's important to me, then it's going to resonate with her. She always has a great team behind her, and for this, the folks contributing were giving her movements [she] kept her in mind. They could still be genuine in their style but knew how to make her look great. Seeing the whole process come about, it was beautiful to see each person presenting movement that was true to themselves, that came together through her. Really powerful. At the end of the day, you don't get a lot of female anthems like that, but she made it cool. It was a definitely tapestry of movement, of power and... it was just cool!

What did you do to draw inspiration for your choreography in the video?
We heard the actual song just a few times, since it was unreleased, but in choreographing I took the rhythm that it referenced and used that as a template for what I could create. I wanted to tap into what was personal, so I went into my culture. I'm Eritrean, born in Asmara, and I just love how our women are so powerful and so feminine at the same time. The movement that they do is beyond intricate. It's beyond story-telling, it's masterful. This isolation of shoulders, these hits, ticks, the popping that they do—there's a style and technique to it that is difficult to learn for any dancer. I did a lot of research and I showed her [Beyonce] these different ways that we swing our hair, that we pop our necks, our chins, that we sway, that we shake and isolate our shoulders, because to me, it conveys feminine power and mystique so very royal and strong. It was also hard! Very technical and intuitive at the same time. I found a way to keep the essence of the style and also fuse it into a sequence that could feel good to her. Working for Beyonce, you want to give her as much as you can, to take the opportunity to have her perform as much of your choreography as possible, but to me, I resolved to give her that one moment. Just the opening sequence. What she asked for, something special and singular, that moment of just "Wow, let me try that." And on the backend, it conveyed the power, the mystery and the strength of this culture of women. There's nothing more personal and more meaningful for me than that. I kind of took off my choreographer's hat for a second and said, "Let me be a fan for a second. What would I want to see?"

What was it like to see Beyonce in action processing the moves and practicing the choreography?
She does not stop working, she owns her vision. To me, owning your vision is not what time rehearsals start and stop; it’s saying, "Do we have it?" You have a horde of amazing female dancers in the room, and the guys she brought over from Tofo Tofo to do their dance [while in L.A.]. They were workshopping that dance for a while. It was difficult to get complete essence of their [Tofo Tofo] dance and not everyone had it, me included! It's simple yet extremely specific in a very controlled way that you don't really realize. And Beyonce was relentless. While people were sitting down on break, she's in the corner practicing. She's such a hard worker, and it was inspiring to see, to witness. That's what happens when you have creative and executive control of your artistry. She's got a mentality of, like, of course, yes, why wouldn’t I keep going until it’s right? Watching her practice the shoulders over and over, I totally got it. She’s done the research, understands exactly what she wants it to look like, and gets it there. She will just continue to practice, making all the elements are perfect and intuitive as they can be. I'm curious to see where she goes next. I feel like there's more, and there's always going to be more.

How was choreographing for this video different from other videos and shows that you've worked on?
Every project is very different, you know? It's really top-down in the sense that it starts with the artist and their choices, and it comes down also through their team. Beyonce’s work ethic and search for the right moment resonates throughout her process. It pulls the best out of everyone, to be at their top game. Also this job was different in the sense that I had no idea how it was gonna come out. We started in a small room in a dance studio in New York, they had been workshopping in L.A, there were different creatives coming together and contributing from coast to coast under Frank’s direction and collaboration with Bey. I was curious to see the finished product. Also this one was very personal for me. It was allowing not the dance or choreography part of me to come through, but the little Eritrean girl who grew up speaking another language at home and living a dual culture. It was the first time in my life that they my two identities had come together. It was the first time ever where I could be all of me in one moment. I was whole. I could be East African, and I could also be American creative. I could bring my history to the commercial world, to this industry as a choreographer, and do it through the biggest artist on the planet. For myself, it was an epiphany. You don't have to leave parts of yourself at the door in your craft, in your art. You can bring all of who you are in what you do.

That's what I think she [Beyonce] does, and that's why she evolves. For me, the last three albums have been so different because she's discovering things about herself and exploring that. I got it. I get it, and also understand it within myself! This is a new place for me that I've never been before, and I can't wait to see what more there is to discover as a woman, as an artist. Without knowing, I think she does the same thing. She's constantly evolving because that's what we do! As artists and women, there are so many different dimensions to discover. Being a woman—a black woman—whatever it is, there is so much to discover later. When you're older, that's when the meat of you comes out, and when you're an artist, that's your canvas. That's where you unleash your exploration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Prince Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

— alaina (@lalalaina_) January 13, 2017

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

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

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

Going to jail unjustly was the best thing to ever happen to Meek Mill. Greatest resurrection story since Jesus Christ pic.twitter.com/EXiOKoT72v

— John Canales (@_JohnCanales) April 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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