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Interview: theMIND Talks His Debut Project & Chicago's Rising Music Scene

The Chicago-based R&B singer/producer flaunts his craft on his first ever solo project. 

The Chicago hip-hop scene is bursting at the seams with fresh talent. One artist in particular who is making waves and carving his own path in the bubbling scene is R&B singer Zarif Wilder, also known as theMIND.

The 27-year-old singer/producer is showing himself to the world, creating an alluring listening experience with his newly-released full-length project, Summer Camp, after racking up credits on Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book (“No Problem” and "Finish Line/Drown"), Joey Purp's "Cornerstone," and more. Combining his unique sound with a higher level of artistry, the 11-track mixtape is a cohesive body of work that takes listeners on a musical journey, showcasing his soft, dreamy vocals over lush piano instrumentation balanced by a surge of electric, psychedelic vibes, separating him from other R&B acts.

And although a Philly native, Wilder’s sound is a true product of the city of Chicago, collaborating with the on the rise acts like Knox Fortune, Noname, Towkio, Donnie Trumpet, and Mick Jenkins, fusing their varying sounds to create a groovy sounding concept album.

“It’s so much easier to make music with friends," Wilder explains over the phone. "I feel like if you make music with your friends you’ll literally come up with the best sh** you could ever possibly make. Just because they know you and you know them. It’s just like playing basketball with your homies.”

Just 48 hours after the release of Summer Camp, theMIND filled us in on his first foray into music, creating his debut project, and more. —Ben Rappaport

VIBE: How did you get into music?
theMIND: I started writing around the age of nine. Not music but poetry.  I don’t know if it was really in any format at that particular time but that ended up in me writing small raps here and there doing small monologues and a bunch of other stuff—really anything that let me get my hands and feet wet at that age.

So, how did that evolve into something, and eventually into theMIND?
It kind of evolved into something else once I started to link with my friends who were producers. I was around 15 or 16 when I really started taking it seriously. I remember my dad helped me build a studio in my basement and I started recording people in my neighborhood. Some of the sh**tiest recordings on PRO II because I never really used it before, but just the simple fact that I could record made everyone f**k with it. My dad also started to realize that I wanted to do music and was like, 'Okay, let's figure out a school where you can go and do that.' At that time the only two schools I knew of were Columbia College in Chicago and Boston. I visited Boston and it sucked. Then I went to Chicago, not even to see the school, just the city, and I knew this is exactly where I was supposed to be. Chicago is dope. The colors are just brighter. It was cold as hell, but the people were out.  That was the first time I experienced a Chicago winter and I was like, damn! And if you can fall in love with the Chi in the winter you’re in. The summer time is definitely the reward.

Who are some of your musical influences?
The list is limitless so if you're going from the beginning of time it would have to be the artists like Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, the Isley Brothers. Being an eight-year-old kid listening to those legends! I don’t even think I appreciated it at the time. As I got older it was Dru Hill and a lot of 90s R&B groups. B2K, too. And I love all the alternative sounds like James Blake, Sampha and Blood Orange.

Summer Camp has a cinematic feel to it. What was your thought process behind the mixtape's vibe?
When I was creating it I wanted to make a full body of work. I hate when you listen to albums and artists don’t make it sound like cohesive. You know what I'm saying? I wanted to make a front to back project that makes you have to listen to it all to get the message. Like you have to get every vibe.

I love how you were able to adopt the Chicago sound on Summer Camp, too, with Towkio, Knox and Donnie Trumpet. 
It's so crazy because we're all friends. The Chicago scene is really, really dope. I was so happy that Knox was getting this acclaim because I've f**ked with Knox since the beginning. Everyone is realizing how dope he is. And I think it’s the same mutual feeling when any of us drop a project. I love the way that we function out here because it’s all one big family.

The mixtape is also co-produced by creative collective THEMpeople. What's your relationship with them (no pun intended)? Is it another organically formed collaboration? 
ThemPeople is everybody. It started originally with five members: this guy named Joey Maze, who I came up to Chicago with from Philly, Lon Renzell, Sean Deaux and Michael Anthony, who is like the band leader and curator. But now it's three producers: Sean, Mike and Lou. If we were The Jackson 5, I’d be like Janet. I’m not in the group, but I’m still a Jackson, you know? People still associate me with them because that’s literally the squad. So, it's a collective, but they’re all individual artists as well.

Being that you're open to collaborating, if you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
Damn, that’s a tough question. Definitely Sampha. Definitely James Blake, he's just a freaking genius. Kid Cudi! He is perfect. SZA for sure. I like Logic a lot, too, how he goes off the reservation a lot.

Now that you've put out your solo debut, what’s next?
I want to do it all. Tour definitely. We are trying to link up with some cool people right now to make sure we make something really dope. The live aspect of all the songs is important to get it across. I want it to be as represented in the same manner that we introduced the project. So I’m definitely doing that, and I'm working on a small EP next. Then I'll probably move into the realm of working on my album. I’m taking everything one step at a time.

Take a listen to Summer Camp in its entirety below.

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Genres Aside, Here Are Our 25 Favorite Songs Of 2018

Keeping up with all of the music from 2018 was a full-time job, with loads of songs releasing every week and not enough ears to keep track. But the volume of music comes with an advantage: there’s something for everybody. Fittingly, our list of the 25 Best Songs of 2018 represents the multi-genre mayhem that is in everyone’s playlists this year.

Some of the entries on our list, like cuts by Drake, Travis Scott and Childish Gambino, were at the forefront of the conversation in 2018, dominating streaming services and radio around the country. Indie darling Saba made waves, and he’s included here as well. Jazz wizard Kamasi Washington dropped some of the best protest music of the year. But there are also some songs on this year’s list that spoke to the VIBE Tribe in a different way. Cardi B had hits all year, but an album cut impressed us most; Usher and Zaytoven’s new album didn’t make a huge splash commercially, but one of its songs appears here. And Beyonce appears on one of the best songs of the year that never even saw an official release–but that didn’t stop us from including it here.

Music broke the rules this year, and so did we. Read below, and tell us what surprise choices are making your songs of the year list.

READ MORE: Debate Us: The 30 Best Albums Of 2018

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A look back at the collaborator's up and down relationship.
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Remember The Time: 10 Times Drake And Kanye West Were Stronger Together

Kanye West and Drake aren’t exactly in the best place at the moment. West’s Dec. 13 Twitter rant detailed their issues, in which he accuses Drake of “sneak dissing” and threatening him.

“You sneak dissing on [Travis Scott] records and texting Kris [Jenner] talking about how’s the family.” he wrote among many other tweets and allegations against the Scorpion MC.

While this is a bump in the road, the two haven’t always been enemies. Despite the shenanigans surrounding them, Kanye West and Drake have had a very fruitful relationship. All drama aside, the duo have created many memorable moments in hip-hop and pop culture. They’ve written and recorded some incredible songs and shared countless stages during concerts and tours.

To abstain from dwelling on the negativity, VIBE has collected a list of moments taking you through the high points in the rappers’ relationship. Check it out below.

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Before he was one of the most sought-after rappers in the world, Drizzy has looked up to Kanye West and sampled his work. For “Say What’s Real,” a single off his mixtape So Far Gone, the “In My Feelings” MC sampled Yeezy’s “Say You Will” off of his 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak. The admiration continued throughout the years, resulting in more freestyles over songs like “Swagga Like Us” and “Barry Bonds.” Both tracks feature beats created by the Chi-town native. 

‘Thank Me Later’ Proves Their Shared Power 

After meeting in 2009, the duo came together to bring Drake's Thank Me Later album to the next level. They collaborated on two tracks- the futuristic love songs “Show Me A Good Time,” and “Find Your Love.” With West holding down production, deep-pocketed 808’s and table-top scratch sounds were highlighted. The accolades for the latter song resulted in the No. 5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts as they created their own lane.

Drake Calls Kanye “The Most Influential Person”

In a 2009 interview, the then-industry rookie had some nice words for West. Speaking specifically about the 41-year-old’s 808’s and Heartbreak album, the Toronto rapper described ‘Ye as "the most influential person” who was important to young emcees in the game.

"Before I ever got the chance to meet him, Kanye West shaped a lot of what I do, as far as music goes," Drake said. He knows how to utilize great sounds and great music. So before I met him, I had the utmost respect for Kanye West. I'd even go as far as to say he's the most influential person as far as a musician that I'd ever had in my life."

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The pair has been making music together for nearly 10 years, with some standout tracks including “Forever,” the remix to “All Of The Lights,” and “Pop Style.” On their 2017 song “Glow” off of Drake’s playlist More Life, both rappers discuss their growing, limitless success. West was rumored to initially appear on Drizzy’s smash-hit “Nice For What.” He reportedly had a verse on the critically-acclaimed track until the beef between Drake and his G.O.O.D. Music cohort Pusha T became lethal.

The Joint Mixtape That Never Happened

Drake and Kanye are no strangers when it comes to making joint albums with other artists. Drake worked with Future on the platinum-selling album What A Time To Be Alive, while Kanye released Watch The Throne with JAY-Z to critical acclaim. However, it has been hinted for the longest time that the two were working on a full-length album of their own.

Kanye confirmed the plan to release an album with Drake to Vogue in 2016, shortly after hinting at a joint project during OVO Fest. The Take Care rapper co-signed the announcement, saying "What my brother was asking before was, are you ready if we make an album?"

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Drake wrote a song for Kanye’s 2016 effort, The Life of Pablo. The Canadian hip-hop star helped pen the Isaac Hayes and Nelly-sampled “30 Hours.” Drizzy was also reportedly on the original, unreleased version of Pablo’s “Wolves,” which featured Icelandic artist Bjork (the album version features Vic Mensa and Sia).

The Duo Become Friendly, Competitive Neighbors

By the time of their initial meeting in 2009, Kanye already clocked in nearly a decade of music industry knowledge, and Drake was making the transition from teen TV star to full-time rapper. But who would have thought the duo would have eventually become actual neighbors?

Drake eventually moved to Calabasas, Calif.- a neighborhood in Los Angeles many celebrities call home- around the same time West began publicly dating his now-wife, Kim Kardashian. In the 2016 bop “Summer Sixteen,” Drizzy jokes, “Now I got a house in LA, now I got a bigger pool than Ye / And look man, Ye’s pool is nice, mine's just bigger's what I’m saying.”

 

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There goes the neighborhood

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Kanye Supports OVO Fest

Drake created a hip-hop festival called OVO Fest in 2010. Not only does it feature notable acts in urban music, but it also gave a platform to upcoming artists from Canada who might not have gotten a platform back home. Kanye West was one of the first supports of the music event, performing at three of the festivals.

He also admitted that Drake inspired him and JAY-Z to record Watch The Throne during 2013’s OVO Fest, stating, "Me and Hov would've never made Watch the Throne if this ni**a wasn't putting pressure on us like that, so I just wanna pay my respects.”

Kanye Apologizes To Drake Over G.O.O.D. Music Album Rollouts

Earlier this fall, Kanye West apologized to Drake in a series of tweets for planning the rollout of albums by artists under his G.O.O.D music roster around the proposed release of Scorpion.

In one of the tweets, Kanye wrote “Let me start by apologizing for stepping on your release date in the first place. We were building a bond and working on music together including squashing the issues with Cudi at our office.” In another tweet, ‘Ye revealed that he never listened to the diss tracks between him and Pusha, and didn’t have conversations regarding Drake’s child with him.

Let me start by apologizing for stepping on your release date in the first place … We were building a bond and working on music together including squashing the issues with Cudi at our office.

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Debate Us: The 30 Best Albums Of 2018

What a year 2018 has been for music lovers.

Listeners enjoyed a buffet of diverse melodies, savoring in the choice of curating the tunes they craved as opposed to consuming more than they can digest. Rumored albums from veterans like Lil Wayne's Tha Carter V and The Carters' first joint project battled its way to the top of our personal charts alongside music's innovators like Noname, The Internet, Buddy, and Janelle Monae.

Within that aforementioned list of artists, a new generation of lyricists and vocalists found their footing with fans and critics alike. The rising crop of talent released projects that should motivate each of them to carve out space for forthcoming awards. While we took into account the albums released from Dec. 1, 2017 to Nov. 20, 2018, that moved us emotionally, we also checked off a list of requirements like replay value, overall production, critical reception, and cultural impact.

Here are the 30 albums (in alphabetical order, not ranked), that instilled pride in our culture, made us take a look within, and encouraged us to appreciate music all over again.

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