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Aaliyah Week: Remembering Aaliyah's Final Musical Journey

To round out VIBE's Aaliyah Week, those involved with her last album share their stories from the studio to the video set.

When Aaliyah released her self-titled album in 2001, I was so excited that I scratched the CD while hastily placing it in my Walkman. Because of that eagerness, Timbaland's opening vocals on "We Need A Resolution" skips right after the first repetitive line, "I'm tired of arguing, girl." It angered me every time I played the song back, hoping that the CD would somehow correct itself.

But the more that I got used to hearing that distortion, the more it seemed to fit the original beat of the song. The unintentional, three-second remix prepared my ears for the rest of the puzzling beats that somehow found a way to fit perfectly with Aaliyah's clean cut voice. You could tell the beats were tailor made just for her, showcasing her knack for tackling challenging beats while pushing the envelope even further in the world of sound.

Aaliyah reached new heights on "I Care 4 U" while sending you on a dream with the simplicity of "It's Whatever." The Static Major-penned "Loose Rap" showcased Aaliyah's boastful side, and "Rock the Boat" restated why you were a fan of her in the first place.

To round out VIBE's Aaliyah Week, those involved with her last album share their stories from the studio to the video set.

Bud'da: Producer, "Never No More," "Read Between The Lines," "I Can Be"
Eric Seats: Producer, "Loose Rap," "Rock The Boat," "Extra Smooth," "U Got Nerve," "It's Whatever," "Those Were The Days," "Messed Up," "Erica Kane"
Warren Fu: Album Cover Designer
Jeffrey "J-DUB" Walker: Producer, "I Refuse," "What If"
Benjamin "Black" Bush: Songwriter, "U Got Nerve," "Messed Up"
Dave Meyers: "More Than A Woman" Video Director
Paul Hunter: "We Need A Resolution" Video Director
Albert Watson: Album Cover Photographer

Bud’da: When I first met Aaliyah it was casual. We were in New York and I was working on Tank’s record. Either Jomo [Hankerson, Aaliyah’s cousin] or Barry [Hankerson, Aaliyah’s uncle/manager] had come to the studio and introduced us. I didn’t get a chance to really know her until we were in Australia where there was more time and we were literally over there for a month and some change. Just being over there for so long, seeing somebody not necessarily everyday, but a whole lot every other day, getting to know them, we were able to grow like that. But initially I was very nervous, like, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s Aaliyah!’ She just said, ‘Hey,’ sweetly and they walked into another room because she may have been doing an interview or something. That was my first time meeting her. All the times after that we really got a chance to sit and talk with her, an incredible spirit.

Eric Seats: My partner, Rapture Stewart at the time and I were doing our production together. We were just doing it on the side for fun. We didn’t plan on having official meetings or anything. We ended up being in a band for that whole Blackground camp: Timbaland, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, that whole crew. While on the road with them all the time, and all these different places, Timbaland overheard our tracks. It got his attention and we weren’t trying to get his attention but we got his attention. I remember him saying it didn’t sound like him, because that was during a phase where a lot of producers were starting to sound like the very thing that he brought to the table as far as beats are concerned. We stood out. That was the year of 1996. He signed us to a production deal and that snowball kicked in. We ended up doing a lot of work for a lot of artists, more notable Aaliyah for sure. The bulk of that red album we did about nine songs, and then two on the one that came after that one. It was a beautiful thing.

Warren Fu: Aaliyah was just so cool. She was a visionary because she managed to have this mystique and aura around her, yet the weird thing was that she was also humble and sweet. I can’t think of anyone that has been able to pull that off the way she did, and at the same time, it was not fabricated or planned. She really was that person. She was the first artist I ever worked with, so I gotta admit, I was pretty nervous. But she was so down to Earth with everyone, that after a few minutes you kind of forgot that you were dealing with a big star.

Jeffrey “J-DUB” Walker: I think the first time that I met Aaliyah was in the studio when we were doing the Romeo Must Die soundtrack. We didn’t actually work together but I met her. She was just such a sweet spirit. She was like the coolest artist, endless star ever. A lot of times you deal with an artist that might have an ego or attitude, but with her she was down to Earth. Then she had to go to Australia to do Queen of the Damned. We had started her last album in New York, so basically it was a team of producers that were signed to Blackground. I was signed, Bud’dha, Overdose and Caviar, and Static and we just basically went to Chung King’s Studios in New York and just set up shop and started an album. I would be in one room, Bud’dha was in another room, Static and them would be in another room so we were just vibing off of each other like that.

Bud’da: We were all hard critics on each other and if I did something that wasn’t kosher, it would be said. If somebody else did something that was wack, you would be like, ‘That’s wack, that’s not going to work.’ Just creating and knowing that if I could say anything to anybody at any point in relation to creativity and trying to be something classic, just creating without boundaries. You could go up the same lane as everybody else and win or lose, and if you win and you sound like somebody else. Now you’re going to have to be stuck to that sound. But if you create your own sound, your own path then you’re going to be a trendsetter and people are going to do what you want to do and then you’re going to be able to change and make some kind of a movement versus just doing something that everybody else is doing. Aaliyah didn’t want to do that and nobody involved with the project wanted to do that. I know Timbaland never wanted to do anything like that. For myself, coming from Dre, that’s a no no. As well as Seats, Rapture, Dub, none of us. Just be creative. Creativity without limits, without bounds.

Seats: I think that she knew that she was not the girl to be blended in with the herd. At the end of the day, she chose all of the records that are on that record. She had to give the okay. She had to like them. She was not a push over to where an A&R was going to come and say, ‘Baby Girl, you got to put this one on there.’ She was running her stuff. Her ear, for her to hear those sounds and say, ‘Aha!’ that’s what I mean by that. Tim didn’t do that. Static didn’t do that. That’s Aaliyah’s work. That’s her executive mind, so what you hear are the songs that she chose to sing. That makes her a genius, to not play it safe. She didn’t come like that.

#Aaliyah #RIP #ES3?3?3?

A photo posted by Eric Seats #3?3?3? #Sidiooo (@ericseats) on

Benjamin "Black" Bush: Working on the Aaliyah album, I did a lot of vocal production on the record. Her uncle and cousin who owned the label [Blackground], they always wanted to create her own sound so if you notice on that last album, there’s wasn’t a whole bunch of different writers. I think it was me, Static, Missy [Elliott] and Tank. We were all in the same camp. Barry wanted to develop her sound and once we did the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack, they knew where they wanted to go. They knew that we were the dudes for the job. By the time we got to the "red album" she was a grown woman. We knew that we could push the envelope a little bit.

Dave Meyers: She was the triple threat: professionalism, beautiful and she had gravitas. She could command big budgets, she could deliver professionalism and she was sweet as could be. She was forward thinking. Some artists stay within the box and she was someone who wanted to push the box. I think that usually hands down is a memorable thing that any director could have the opportunity to work with someone like that.

J-DUB: It was her first album not working with one producer. But I think she learned so much from Timbaland and R. Kelly, she was ready to jump out there and start doing her own stuff and working with different producers. I think she took a lot that she learned with R. Kelly, Missy Elliott and Tim and brought it to this project. By the time she got to us, she already had an identity musically, and in her head she knew what she wanted to do. It was the right time and the right place for her. We were all blessed to meet each other at the same time on the same vibe basically. Once she heard our music it wasn’t a hard fit. It wasn’t like something that we really had to work on. We did a beat and she loved it, they’d write it and we’d cut it. I think by her working with Missy Elliott and Tim and Kells helped her come into her own musically.

Traveling To The Land Down Under

J-DUB: Virgin was very adamant about getting this album wrapped up so they flew all of the producers out to Melbourne, Australia so Aaliyah could cut the movie [Queen of the Damned] during the day and then at night she would come in and finish the album. It was a ball though. We were like superstars in Melbourne (laughs). When we got to Australia we basically knew which songs we were going to cut, so she would just come in and lay the vocals. But some sessions we would bounce ideas off of each other. I still have a few songs in my vault that we did that’s unreleased. We would sit in and cut records that we figured we would get back to, but unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to do that.

Seats: That Australia experience was beautiful because they took us away from everything that was going on. That might have to do a lot with the sound too. They took us away from here. We were over there at least six months. We got very comfortable. We joined the gym and everything. We became citizens of Australia and I love that place to this day. Maybe it’s because of the memories associated with it, I’m not even sure, but we went over there and we felt a way enough to probably be a little more creative as opposed to being in New York. It could’ve happened there too, but something about taking you away, the focus becomes greater on that subject matter.

J-DUB: It was all of our first time in Australia. The people were wonderful, the steaks are great, the studio that we was in was dope. The hotel that we stayed in ... Melbourne is like the Beverly Hills of Australia. We had a ball because during the day all we did was shop and hang out or ball the city. At night we would be in the studio with Aaliyah. After the studio we would hit the club every night and listen to the music and check out the scenery and the people. By the time we left there everybody knew our name (laughs).

Seats: Before we would start recording Aaliyah would always come back and tell us what she filmed that day. To hear the excitement in her voice from doing something else, she came to the studio with energy from what she had just done. We would listen to her talk about that stuff – I wish I would’ve gotten that on footage– she would talk about the scenes and then we would just get into the music. The sessions wouldn’t last all night because she’s quick in the lab. There’s a difference between seeing it live and a studio session singer, because not all singers I don’t care how good they are, can’t go in there and tame themselves enough to do studio work. There’s two different mindsets, going in the lab and being on stage. Just because you can sing doesn’t mean you can sing in both places. Usually people are better at one than the other, but others have that switch that they can turn it on or off. She was equipped with that already so our sessions didn’t last long. We pushed them out and got it right back. Sometimes we would go out after the sessions and sometimes we wouldn’t.

Bud’da: There was this one beautiful place, and I don’t remember the exact name, but I think they called it the 12 Apostles and it’s on the coast. There’s these 12 massive rocks that at some point they were connected to the land and through time and weather they disconnected themselves. They’re now off into the ocean. I can’t even describe it. They’re like little islands but they’re high up and they sit off in the water. That was really cool and us all not necessarily thinking about music, just living and being over there, experiencing Australia. All of that stuff was part of the creative process and us getting to know each other in a different fashion and enjoy living, being there, creating and looking forward to whatever was in the future.

Taking ‘Aaliyah’ From The Paper To The Boards

"Loose Rap"
Seats: I love the changes on “Loose Rap.” There’s a drum machine called the MPC 3000 and 2000. Rapture and I used both of them. “Loose Rap” started out when Rap did something, and then I would go to the machine and do something. I would walk away and he comes back and do something. I’d walk over there and do something. “Loose Rap” happened just like that. It happened in no time at all. We knew how each other thought. We knew everything was okay.

"Rock The Boat"
Seats: I almost deleted “Rock The Boat” because I’m the kind of guy that once I start producing a track and I don’t feel it right away sometimes, I would delete it and just start something over fresh. Thank God, this day my headphones were so loud and Static overheard what was going on in the headphones. He asked ‘What’s that Seats?’ And I said, ‘It’s nothing.’ And he’s like, ‘Let me hear it.’ I put the headphones on him and I went to the restroom. By the time I got back, and it was very raw, not even all the drums are in it yet or nothing. When I came back he already had the hook. Since he had an interest in it, I said, ‘Let me go and continue building on it, let me embellish it, make something happen since you’re feeling it.’ We didn’t know it was going to end up being “Rock The Boat.” Then I told him that and he said, ‘Don’t delete that, save it.’ He rescued “Rock The Boat” for sure and after that day I stopped deleting stuff so fast. I would put it away and come back to it later, come back with a fresh ear. But he rescued “Rock The Boat” for sure. I had to embellish on that after I saw that Static had some attention to it. I wanted to beef it up so we ended up calling Dave Foreman to play guitar, who was touring with us at that time with Ginuwine and Rapture added some strings, and “Rock The Boat” happened. Aaliyah made “Rock The Boat” the next single because politically Timbaland was supposed to have the singles to the records because that’s just the politics of it. He’s the guy, so it was supposed to be his name on the next Aaliyah single and I believed that was going to be “More Than A Woman.” But Aaliyah herself refused to have “More Than A Woman” come out before “Rock The Boat.” I remember those couple of weeks, the back and forth with her and Tim and she was like ‘No, it’s this one. I don’t care who did what. This one is the next one.’ That’s how it got chosen. I remember hearing her saying, ‘It has to be next.’ She wasn’t aggressive in that way where if she didn’t like something it would be handled, but it wouldn’t be handled in front of 20 people. It’s not her style, but I only know so much about it as a producer. But I know she had to go with Tim and Blackground to make some decisions, but we see who won.

Bud’da: This is how sweet she was. She was actually debating on whether or not to use the line on “Rock The Boat” “Feels like I’m on dope.” I think that was the line or it might’ve been in another line within there or another song, but I think it was that one. She was debating on having that line in there. I thought that showed a lot as far as character, knowing that she has influence and she could possibly stumble somebody, would that be a good choice?

Fu: At the time, "More Than A Woman" was my favorite. But over a decade later, I heard "Rock The Boat" at a bar and I was amazed at how well her music has held up. It sounded as current and relevant as ever.

"Never No More"
Bud’da: I did “Never No More” maybe a year prior to recording the song with Aaliyah and I was just creating at some point and came up with the chord progressions with the Finger Roads and did the drums and everything and then thought to myself, ‘Hey, I want to put some live strings on here.’ Went to the studio and did the live strings. The musical elements with the exception of small tweaks and the mixing came prior to the actual song and when Static heard it he went crazy. When he wrote to it, he embodied everything and beyond what I thought the beat by itself could bring forth. He gave it a whole new life, the metaphorical subject matter. I’m always a person that just loves melody, and coming from a world of being self taught in hip hop transitioning into R&B, and then moving from R&B into doing cartoons like The Proud Family, creatively my mind just thinks melodically. I like lush melodies. Once I put the strings on there, and did the bass line, it pretty much sat for a minute.

I didn’t necessarily have someone in mind for that, but when he heard it he knew from day one, he said he had something to it and wrote it. We went back and forth a couple of times and it was done from that point. I did add some percussion stuff after Baby Girl laid some of her vocals, just to embellish certain transitions in the song to make it more powerful. I think I might have done a cymbal roll as well, but the majority of the production of the music happened prior to, with the exception of all of the vocal production, which Static did the vocal production while we were in the studio. Static demoed it in L.A. at Larry Studios, and we all were in the studio like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ She hadn’t heard it yet. I think she was on set somewhere and Barry called me and said she heard it and liked it. I was definitely excited. We didn’t record the vocals until Australia and it was one of those late nights where she would come in after shooting and at times she would take a quick power nap on the couch then she was back at it. I remember her recording it and she had to have been listening or meditating on it. When she went in there, there wasn’t any paper and she knew the song. Static and I were in there and he was articulating certain ways she should do things, or the way she might like her runs in certain places and it was incredible. That process was incredible. Thinking about the content matter and thinking about how many people that song… people hit me up constantly all the time telling me that was their favorite song. They say thank you for this song, and thinking about “Never No More” versus me hoping another song made it on there, I’m blessed that made it on there because I know somebody’s life was changed by that song.

"Extra Smooth"
Seats: I did “Extra Smooth” in my closet one day on my MPC 2000 and I used to do a lot of tracks on that. I put my MPC in the closet because I liked the way it sounded in there. I did “Extra Smooth” in about five minutes. I love that track. I get a lot of compliments about “Extra Smooth” still. That was one of Static’s favorites. You know how much he likes something when he dances. That’s when you know he felt it. No words needed. If he starts bopping so hard that you think he’s about to hit his head on the mixing board, then he loves it.

"Read Between The Lines"
Bud’da: That song is really fun. I had fun going through that process. The studio I was recording at had a midi grand piano. I thought it would be cool if she did something Latin. The beat that Static wrote to initially had a Latin time signature to it. It had the bass line and the drums, and he wrote to that. In him writing to that, I was able to build around his voice in which I brought in live horns, saxophones, trumpet and trombone. A good friend of mine, Ron Blake, put a horn section together. I played the piano from 150 feet away. I was in the control room with the keyboard, the mini cable that stretched all the way into a live room where there was a piano microphone in there and I was able to play the piano from in the studio in a whole other room. Once Static had his vocals, I did the piano, had the horns playing and then I played around with what interesting things could happen with the vocals. If you noticed that song in the beginning of some of the verses, it stutters certain things in her voice or some backwards effects, just trying different things out. Just trying to get all those types of things out of the way in pre-production. She hadn’t necessarily heard it yet, and Static had the liberty to mess around with it for a little bit to get it a certain way before she actually got a chance to hear it. Once she heard it, she got the full picture of where it could go. I don’t remember her mentioning it, but when I talked to her, she said, ‘I love this song. This song is so fun!’ That definitely was inspiration for me. I was like I want to do 900 more (Laughs). We recorded that in Australia as well. Her schedule was such a way, between all of our schedules, doing different things, it was difficult to link up. I think that’s why we ended up doing the Australia trip just to have everybody in one location with the exception of Tim, to be there and just get the record done.

"U Got Nerve"
Seats: Rapture started that track and I did very little on “U Got Nerve.” I’ll tell you why, because I wasn’t really feeling it (laughs). I let him do the bulk of that. I don’t want to dissect it, but the overall thing didn’t hit me. Maybe it was the sound, maybe it was the day, I don’t remember specifically what I didn’t like about it. I’d probably skip it still. I’m just being honest.

"I Refuse"
J-DUB: I actually did that beat at Music Grinder in Hollywood, California. It was right when Blackground told us that we were going to start on her album so I started doing tracks for her. I think it was raining that night too, and I went back to the studio. It was raining already and I was playing with some sounds and I heard the horses. I put the horses on and the rain, and from there I started playing the piano. I built from the piano to the strings and then after I really got the hook going I put a live guitar in it. The live guitar off set the theatrics of it. It was theatrical but then you have a live guitar blazing it. I think Static was in the studio that night with us, and Static heard it and he immediately went in the booth and wrote it. Whatever that first verse is, he started singing and said, ‘That’s it!’ We knew it was it, and when we played it for her she went crazy. From there she cut it, and after she cut it that’s when I went in with the orchestra and we did our part. The mix was huge. I think we did 106 virtual tracks in that mix. We had a SSL board plus an extension. It was a huge mix, but it was huge record and I’m really happy how it came out. I’m really happy with that record.

"It's Whatever"
Seats: That whole track started with those bells and I just did the beat. I asked Rapture to play piano on it. I knew we wanted a simple piano on it so not a lot, not a solo, just the subtleties. I love how basic that track is but it’s so crazy effective though. That’s the one track that we did that had the least amount of tracks. Let’s say there were 56 tracks, “It’s Whatever” probably had like seven. It was beefy still, there wasn’t a lot going on but we need that space sometimes. That worked. Everybody liked that one. From that first line, ‘Just like a bird,’ that was a big one. I love “It’s Whatever.”

"I Can Be"
Bud’da: “I Can Be” was interesting. It started off one way in terms of the process in which that came about. I did the music and I played it for Tank at one point because we were recording something and I don’t know if we were doing a remix or another song for somebody else, but I played it for him and Tank and I did about four songs for her. That’s the only one of mine that ended up going on the record. I think he wrote one for Dub that actually went on the record as well, but he wrote the lyrics to it and where I was going with the music I felt that it changed. I thought that I could bring even more out of what he wrote because what he wrote was incredible. I thought, ‘Man, if I go here we’re going to take it to the moon,’ in my opinion. He recorded the whole song and I maybe had a four bar loop going, and from that point with his melody, just like we did on his record, he’s clearly one of the best singers I have ever worked with. He laid down the vocals and because his vocals were impeccable, it really charged me to go in directions to merge everything together even more. He did certain things, and I wasn’t even going in the rock direction, not that it’s all rock, but it’s a combination of an early trap and rock. When he did what he did and thinking about the subject matter in itself, it was dark, but even I thought it felt light. The subject matter was sneaky and dark, but it paint the picture of what this song was on top of her voice being the way it was. The first thing I started messing with was changing the drums around and then brought in some guitars. My buddy Sean Cruz played guitar on there and had to articulate the parts I wanted and added bass with it. I wanted to articulate a crunk, rock feel with her being able to stay on top of it. That’s how that one came about.

"Those Were The Days"
Eric Seats: That was another funky one. I can see Static dancing to it now. He was acting nuts to that one. It was just an easy-going song. It’s hard to have a problem with that song. Rapture started “Those Were The Days” off. I remember he started it with that bass and that was it. What’s funny is that we can hear one sound and we know what the rest of the track is going to sound like. “Those Were The Days” for me and Rapture, that happened for us. He did the bulk of that one. That’s a funky track.

"What If"
J-DUB: It was a good time. It was definitely a good time. Like I said, a lot of people weren’t used to R&B with guitars and stuff. My engineers at the time, they were some of the best engineers out there, so they would have my music sounding like it was already mixed. When she walked in and heard that guitar line, she was hooked. It was definitely the guitars and just because it was different. She really liked stuff that a lot of artists wouldn’t pick because they wouldn’t know what to do with it. She loved those types of records because that track I already know back then nobody would’ve picked that track, but she did so that’s a testament to how great her ear was.

"Messed Up"
Seats: That was a latecomer. I did “Messed Up” in Australia and we were already finishing up. Even though it was a bonus track on that record, they weren’t going to put it on there. They were going to make it a separate thing. But she wanted “Messed Up” on there. She had her song limit and she still made them put that bonus track on there. It just felt good.

Bush: That song had a girly vibe it, trashing dudes a little bit. That’s where that came from. It was me trying to speak for the ladies, the beat would tell what to write. The beat would tell us what to write and the melody would come and we would just go from there.

Bonus: "Erica Kane"
Seats: I think “Erica Kane” came out of the Kentucky time, during those pre-production sessions. I think we just had it already, it was done and it was good. We just went and mixed and mastered it and probably embellished it a little more. I have an older daughter, Erin who is 19 now. One day I overheard her listening to “Erica Kane” and she had no clue that I did that song. My own kid! I’m like, ‘You like that song?’ and she said, ‘Yeah that’s one of my favorites.’ I said, ‘You know who did that?’ and she tripped out. She didn’t know her dad did it. That was cool, when she said that I was glad my own kid liked my work. I remember Static talking about how they would confuse people whether they were talking about the soap actress or cocaine, because the song is about cocaine. The association with the soap star Erica Kane was what he wanted to do, he wanted to throw people off, but indirectly giving a message without being blatant. That was a witty approach for sure. I remember I initially didn’t know what he was talking about (laughs).

Aaliyah Steps In Front Of The Camera, On Paper And On Screen

Paul Hunter: I met Aaliyah in a recording studio. She was very quiet, but at the same time she had a side to her that you knew that there was more. Her personality or who she was expressed more in her music and in her performances. I would say she was more shy than quiet.

Meyers: My impression of her was she was very professional, very sweet and funny enough my impression was that she’d always covered one of her eyes with her hair in all of her videos, but for my video she wasn’t going to cover it. You know how you start to build up a mythology of that there’s something that they’re hiding? (laughs) It was really funny because she was just sweet and normal and real professional. I was really impressed with how balanced she was on her whole deal and really had a great understanding of all sides of the artistic equation. She was pulling tears out of magazines and sharing those with me, it was a little bit more of how she wanted to present herself and I built the world around her with the motorcycle and the lights and the dance. I feel like it might’ve been a correlation at the time. She was with Damon Dash, her boyfriend I think, or at least they were friendly. Damon was hiring me for a lot of Jay Z’s videos. I think that might’ve been the way I got into that job. I don’t remember exactly. I just remember Damon telling me I better make his girlfriend look good (laughs).

Hunter [On shooting "We Need A Resolution"]: We had a pretty good connection to other projects and both went our different ways [after shooting “One In A Million”]. I wanted to work with her on a couple of projects after that but she wanted to go in another direction. She’d gone her direction, I’d gone my direction and then over time we started to see each other around and as she was making the record, she called me and said, ‘Hey, I want to connect back with you on this project, try to recreate the magic that we did on “One In A Million.’” One of the things that she wanted to do, she wanted to obviously dance, and she was really great at it. I felt that the idea behind that connection, we wanted an exclusive peek into her life, so the idea there was to create a sense that every room, every scenario that you’re looking at something that only certain people can see. It’s almost like if you’ve ever seen a celebrity in the airport, they’re going into a first class lounge, or they’re going into a private hallway, they sort of slip past you. The idea was to have this experience where we create these rooms that felt like they were exclusive.

Meyers [On the concept of “More Than A Woman”]: That was just a brainstorm I actually had with another younger director at my company. I was really excited about the video so I sort of did a little roundtable. The light show was something I’ve been wanting to do ever since Lenny Kravitz “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” and then the motorcycle motif I think one of the younger guys had initially tossed it out there and I thought it was awesome. I’d never seen a dance video with… there’s a lot of good metaphorical aspects of being inside the petitions of a hot motorcycle. The dance itself, her energy is fueling that. It was during the time of Ruff Ryders and all that stuff so this motorcycle mania was on my mind, and the culture. It just seemed like a nice marriage.

Hunter [On the cobras]: I think that idea was about danger. I don’t know if it was her idea or my idea, but ultimately it was about her being in control of something that was dangerous or that would create some sort of tension in the story and that ultimately she was in control of it…Aaliyah always wanted something that was different from what was going on. She always wanted to stand out, she wanted her visuals to stand out… We were very clear about connecting to the roots of her vibe and what she was all about, what she established with her audience. We worked hand in hand to make sure that came across.

Meyers: I’ve always loved lights and dance. I think light shows are a synonymous expression of music and I think you see it in live concerts. Back then and even particularly now it’s very rare that you get the budget to express the light show for a music video the way you once did. Now in video form it tends to be more artificial with post effects or it’s done over a concert, concerts that do 40 cities can afford that, a 12 million dollar light show like the Coldplays, the U2s. It’s really hard to bring that to a video, and that one was a very expensive video where Aaliyah was insistent on hitting that level. I think I was a little bit nervous because the budget was high and she was like, ‘No I want to do this right.’ She got it approved, and the next thing you know we’re doing it.

Hunter: Her vibe has always been easy going and chill and laid back. You see the way she dances, the way she sings is very much her personality. She was in an extremely good mood because she was happy about her album and her new music that she had coming out, the music video that we did. She was really happy about that.

Albert Watson: She was fresh and she was very young. She had a lot of connections within the industry and she fed off of that. Her smartness was part of her whole persona. I think there’s lots of beautiful women, but she was beautiful and talented. She projected a very honest aura

Fu: I met her father backstage at KMEL Summer Jam when I was living in the Bay Area. I gave him my business card and told him I was a visual artist and I would love to work with them. It’s been so long, but think I emailed them some samples of my work and I didn’t think anything would come of it. To my surprise, her management team hit me back and asked me to come up with some designs for Romeo Must Die. The ideas never got used, but they liked what I showed them and eventually reached out again when she was finishing up her next album.

Watson: I think the whole shooting time was maybe 3-and-a-half hours in front of the camera. For the album cover, they wanted to do it in red so I did quite a lot of different shots on her and we thought that the red could be added later, almost like a gel on top of the shot. That ended up being the album cover. It was a natural thing. They had a lot of clothes. I think the thing they wanted to make sure was they wanted the shot to have some energy. It wasn’t just a beauty shot of her that had some sort of energy to it. But they wanted it to feel like a beauty shot.

Fu: I was sent proofs from so many of the top photographers of the day, including Albert Watson, Jonathan Mannion and David LaChapelle. To be completely honest, my favorite photos of her were from Jonathan Mannion. But of all the photos, there was one photo from Albert Watson that spoke to me. It was a symmetrical composition, with Aaliyah facing directly at you, with a look of confidence and maturity. Perhaps it was a reaction to her being mysterious and aloof behind her sunglasses in previous covers, but this particular photo seemed to say “Here I am, this is me.” It just felt like her arrival from her adolescent years to womanhood. I think the cover was more of a result of understanding her vibe and stage in her career. The fact that she also picked my favorite cover shows that we were on the same wavelength. I wasn’t sure why I decided to tint the cover photo red at the time. But there is something so bold and celebratory about it, it just felt right.

Hunter: One thing about her was that she brought a sense of independence and she pushed things past just her being standard.

Fu: I think I was still dealing with the concept of such a vibrant life being here and suddenly not. So after she passed, it was hard to look at that image. She is so full of life, so ready to embrace the next chapter in her life.

Meyers: The most sentimental thing about the last shot, just because it was the dedication, her on the motorcycle with the helmet off, was a very uncomfortable post-process. We shot the video and then she went to the islands to shoot her final video and she was coming back to give me notes on my final video and didn’t make it. As a result of probably public pressure and curiosity and just the way that the family wanted to manage it, they released her island video first and I didn’t even know if they were going to release mine, but about six or seven months later I got the phone call to finish up the video. That’s when I put the dedication on because it had been about six months from her passing when I was asked to finish the video. It was a very sad ending to a really fun video. The time I did get to spend with her was really meaningful and inspiring. Interestingly enough, she gets referenced even now. That video, her impact matches her death, but the impact she had culturally on the next wave of artists I’ve worked with, like four or five artists that want to be the next Aaliyah. She had a huge impact on her peers and young women that were around the corner coming up. It’s interesting to live through both generations of that.

Remembering Baby Girl

J-DUB: I always knew that Aaliyah was dope and by the grace of God I was blessed to work with her on that final album. The songs that we did are some of my favorite songs actually I ever done with any artist.

Bud’da: There’s a book called "Heaven Is For Real" where there was a kid that had an experience with dying and going to Heaven and in the book it mentioned the fact that in Heaven there were colors he had never seen before. There were colors we never seen on Earth. Thinking about Aaliyah creatively and how forward she was and ahead of time in her process then, that’s the only thing I could think about if she were here at this point. She was painting with a palette that hasn’t been painted with yet. It’s hard to articulate what it is but it would be beautiful.

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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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