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Illustration By Nicholas Rice

Aaliyah Week: An Ode To Static Major, The Pen Behind Aaliyah’s Self-Titled Album

Collaborators turned close friends share their memories of Static Major in the studio.

As part of VIBE’s Aaliyah Week, we’re rolling out a collection of stories focusing on the legacy of the “One in a Million” singer.

Stephen “Static Major” Garrett could be seen as a lyrical surgeon. He possessed the ability to cut out your aching thoughts and turn them into a string of therapeutic words, providing the much needed mental ease that you got from listening to his songs for other artists, or within the comfort of his Louisville brethren, Playa.

With his roots cemented deep in the church, Static Major's voice transcended the holy sanctuary and landed on the ears of Jawann “Smokey” Peacock and later Benjamin “Black” Bush. They formed the 90s group Playa -- which saw the addition and subtraction of members before it became just the trio -- after being discovered by Devante Swing of Jodeci at a concert. For Playa, music was a way of life. Black and Smoke’s first introduction via three-way resulted in a battle of the vocals, and they instantly knew they would click on wax. From winning top prizes at gospel expos to serving as a source of inspiration for Jodeci, the R&B group was determined to be a force to be reckoned with in front of the masses and behind the pen.

With the success of their debut album, Cheers 2 U, Playa set their sights on spreading their name even further across the industry. Although their second album was put on hold, the trio focused on their personal endeavors and Static was just beginning to jump into the rap world. Two weeks before the release of a hit song that was set to introduce Static to a new audience, he passed away before he could enjoy the success of Lil Wayne's track, "Lollipop." Weezy recalled the moment that Static brought the song to him in the studio, stating that, "Once he pushed play I knew it was going to be magic." He added that working alongside the Kentuckian "brought out the best of me."

Below, Smoke and Black recall their fondest memories of Static and Playa, working in Da Bassment/Swing Mob collective, and producers behind Aaliyah’s self-titled album reveal what it was like to work with the pen behind her last project.

 

From The Pew To Performing For Jodeci: The Formation Of Playa

Jawann “Smokey” Peacock: I grew up listening to a lot of gospel music and not necessarily at home, but I was always in church. At home when it came to the R&B side of things, pretty much anything that came on the radio or when you start talking about all of the 80s and the 90s R&B type hits. I started delving off into a lot of old school stuff, jazz, Harry Connick Jr. I think a couple of my biggest influences was probably John Pee K., Take 6, there’s just so many that I listened to but it all revolved around soul.

Benjamin “Black” Bush: My dad was a church pastor so it was a lot of church music, and I had older brothers and sisters so I had a wide range. It went from Stevie Wonder to Commodores, Al Green and then just being around the family. I got to hear a lot of stuff like gospel and jazz. Growing up, I pretty much liked anything. I appreciated all music.

Smokey: I’ve been a lot of places, touring, and I know it’s kind of hard respecting me saying this because I was born and raised in Louisville, but there is literally no place like it. Just even the way that it’s structured. It’s family-oriented to me. That alone built up motivation to do what I wanted to do. When it comes to Louisville not being accessible to the music industry, that brought forth motivation and pride within, that this is something that’s truly a blessing because not only does this not happen everyday, and not only does this not happen to everyone aspiring to be a singer, but it doesn’t happen with people coming out of Louisville that much because we’re not accessible to the music industry like New York or L.A., Detroit, Philly. One of the biggest aspects of inspiration that it brought to the table was just that motivation and pride that gave you the drive to do it, and to try to become as successful as possible.

Black: You had Nappy Roots, you had Playa, you got Bryson Tiller now, New Birth, there’s a lot of music and a lot of super talented people, musically, here. It’s a melting pot for music, and it’s a real church city. Music is everywhere. You can run up on a wino and he’ll be able to sing you under the table.

Smokey: Being able to sing and go from secular or we’ll be in shows on Saturdays doing songs that are secular and no one knows what we have to do in church on Sunday singing gospel, that was easy. It wasn’t really any different, it was just like singing a different song and having a different crowd in a different facility. But it was no different because we always sang whatever we sang as if it were a gospel song anyway. Gospel was the root of the talent to begin with. That’s where it all began, that’s what we knew best. When it came to singing gospel, we were a little bit more in tune with that than we were with the secular, but we just brought to the table what we brought to the church to the secular. That’s why we had such a fondness for Jodeci because nobody had been doing it like them. These two cats that were singing secular music were singing it like it was gospel. That’s what we were on. It wasn’t anything difficult at all. It was the same thing to us, just different lyrics. Now of course, you couldn’t do no hyping up the crowd, curse, nothing like that, but it was the same thing talent wise.

Black: My brother, he’s a pastor now, but he’s one of the most phenomenal singers in the city. Just growing up in my house in general helped cultivate everything. Everything I was hearing was just as dope at home.

Smokey: I think we all wanted to and aspired to do R&B more so than gospel. Black I know had been singing since a child, like K-Ci and JoJo, in a gospel quartet group. Static had been singing in the church, in the choirs, and we had all aspired, as most kids in the church, a longing for the street. You have those rebellious preacher’s kids, and I heard a story one time that Dalvin [Jodeci member] told me which I can relate to that type of thing. Him and Devante and a couple of others played instruments for their father’s church. At a point in time, there was something they call a praise break where everybody is shouting and the music speeds up and everybody loses it. He said that they started playing “Jungle Love” and his father looked over at him like, ‘Are y’all serious about that? Y’all better stop playing that type of music in here.’ Kids that are in the church heavy as we were, you long for the secular because it’s something different and it’s something bad but it’s not bad. We actually dealt with some people that would question but would not totally be with us doing both. I’ve heard it said that we were serving two gods and it’s like, ‘No!’ I knew then that I wasn’t serving two gods, I’m serving one God. It wouldn’t be any different than you selling cigarettes to kill people, or working at the liquor store. This is just what I’m doing, it’s no different than what Al Green did, or Aretha Franklin. I serve one God and that didn’t stop us at all.

The legend!!!!

A photo posted by Ben Bush (@blackplaya502) on

Black: Basically my dad wasn’t fond of it in the beginning, but he also knew that I was going to do what I wanted. My mind was made up. I wasn’t really worried about what people were saying, I just wanted to make sure that we succeeded so that whatever they were saying was wrong.

Smokey: In my church [Elim Baptist Church], and this is like in the 80s, we had our own little group. There were like four of us, and back in the days, and maybe they still do it today but I haven’t seen it, there would be something you’d call the brotherhood. The Deacons that sat on the front row of the church sang every second and fourth Sunday. They sang one song right after the scripture reading. We being singers and wanting to have a little group and do singing inside of the church formed the junior brotherhood. One of the guys named Charles Tilly went to Wagner High School with Static and knew him. With us aspiring to also sing secular music outside of the church and be a national R&B group, he mentioned Static and pulled him into the group, which was back in the 80s. We went on to win first place in the gospel expo in Louisville, and we did a number of things inside and outside of the church. After that group disbanded, we formulated another group.

"If I saw the melodies had Static wrapped up I wouldn’t bother him" ~ Benjamin "Black" Bush

Black: It was never one genre that drove me and I think that was probably equally across the board with Static and Smokey too. We all have that range of music. You got so many different genres. But soul music was a big thing.

Static & DeVante. Goodnight! 💖 #ForeverDeVante #devanteswing #StaticMajor

A photo posted by Forever DeVante (@forever.devante) on

Smokey: Back in the days in Louisville, the scene around the late 80s and the early 90s was full of R&B. It was full of different R&B groups. Around that time, boy bands were really big. It was so heavy in Louisville that it was almost like the NBA Drafts. There would be drafts of members from one group to the next, and I remember there was one point that we had six members in my group. There were a lot of us. We ended up one day going to, I want to say it was March of ’91, we went to a concert that had Jodeci, I think it was Boyz II Men, MC Hammer, there were a lot of people on that card. We went there with the aspiration of singing and meeting someone, but of course everybody’s dream is to get backstage. For one reason or another, that wasn’t happening with security.

Black: What’s crazy, Jodeci was our idol, how many people get to study up under their idol or a chance to meet them?

Smokey: There ended up being a security guard at a door where all the buses for the incoming acts loaded and unloaded, that remembered us from singing. It was either at a school or a church. We were so booked that we were singing at three churches every Sunday. We would sing at Sunday school, at the morning worship, then at the worship the churches would have in the afternoon or the evening. He remembered us from singing at something and was willing to let us go out there and see if we see anyone and sing for them, and he’d let us back in. When we went out there, Jodeci was the first people we saw. I think it was either JoJo or Dalvin that we saw and he said, ‘Let me go get my people, let me go get my brother.’ He brought Devante out and we sang “Stay,” and then we sang “The End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men. He liked us, took down our numbers and actually remembered my number over the course of a year or so, and ended up reaching back out once he got his Swing Mob label together, basically saying he was ready to deal. So were we, but at the same time since the groups had so many drafts, what ended up happening was there was a totally new group at the time. All he wanted at the time was me, so I said, ‘No, you need to come down here and check out my group.’ He came down, I think it was right after the Soul Train Awards, he had a stop in Cleveland and checked out a group named Sugah, which was Tweet. At the time Tweet wasn’t in it, but that’s the group Tweet became a part of in Da Bassment later on. After that he came to Louisville and checked us out. That wasn’t the time he created Playa, but that’s when he went on ahead and said, ‘I’m digging it. You three let’s roll.’ And there it was in ’94. Now, my mom don’t play. She didn’t give a sh** whether or not Quincy Jones was sitting right in the living room with us. I wasn’t going nowhere until I graduated high school. I graduated in ’94, and 45 minutes after I walked down the aisle for my high school graduation, I was on a plane. I was moving out to live with Devante in New Jersey.

Goood Morning y'all! 👋 #DaBassment

A photo posted by Forever DeVante (@forever.devante) on

Black: At the time, Devante had a studio rented for two or three years in Rochester, New York and we all moved there. We would go in the piano room and have this live singing session, set the mics up and just go. That could last for hours. I have fond memories of that time just because it helped cultivate me into the singer and writer I am now.

 

Class Is In Session: Da Bassment’s Crash Course On The Music Industry

Smokey: We always referred to that period of time as school. I’ll even go as far as saying as paying dues time. We learned so much—more than we actually did—and that prepped us, watching Jodeci and Devante just being around all of that talent. Missy, Tim, Magoo, Tweet, there was tons of talent that only the die hard Bassment fans know about that came out of Rochester, N.Y. It came to a point where Devante was working on The Show, The After-Party, The Hotel for most of that time and we never really had an opportunity to actually work with Devante on a record, maybe once or twice. In this big studio that we pretty much had to ourselves for a certain amount of years, there was what you called the pre-product room. Things that you want to lay down the groundwork for right now and it was wide open. I got in there and started messing with some knobs and started learning how to record, how to mix, how to produce, learning the actual keyboard and production equipment. That was the start for me, I pretty much knew how to prior to that when I was younger before I moved up there with them. I would get a dual cassette tape deck, record on one side, put that tape in the play back and record as if I’m copying it to another tape, but sing along to it at the same time and just keep switching as I stack stuff just to try to create stuff. I knew the method of that, but when it came to actually doing it on this real studio equipment and producing, that’s where I learned it all. Watching Devante, asking questions, being hands on... they say experience is the best teacher. That whole period of time was straight school. We wouldn’t be who we are today if it had not been for that period of time. I absolutely have no malice for that period of time.

Black: Rochester is similar to Kentucky, it’s just cold. It wasn’t moving as much as New York City, nowhere near. It still had a New York vibe, but demographic, size-wise it wasn’t. Louisville might be bigger than Rochester.

Smokey: I remember when we first got up there that morning—it was the first time I had ever been on a plane—and within 12 hours coming up there, Devante had just gotten robbed. I’ll never forget that. Moving up into that and saying, ‘It’s going down like that up here?’ I’m from the hood so it didn’t bother me, but at the same time, I am moving away at 17, 45 minutes fresh out of high school to New Jersey/New York, but I was the happiest person you could’ve ever met. Picture one of your biggest admirers and you get to actually work with them or they want to work with you and you move in with them. That sh** doesn’t happen everyday.

Black: Right before Jodeci, the Boyz II Men era came out and most of the guys were singing in falsetto. There wasn’t really any heavy crooners back then. No knock on that, those dudes were phenomenal. Al B. Sure still is in my playlist, those type of cats are definitely super talented, but Jodeci sounded like me. When I heard “Forever My Lady,” I was like, ‘Oh my God, those dudes sound like…’ it was just so soulful. We finally fit in. The church sound finally fit in.

Smokey: There was a time when I had produced a record, and it was rare that we were able to really work hands-on with Devante because he was so busy with Jodeci, but I was in the studio by myself and Devante just happened to come down there. When he heard it, he loved it so much that he wanted to sit down at the keyboard and start playing over it. I just felt so accomplished at that moment because it’s like, ‘I’m finally getting to work on my production and here Devante comes in, hears it and likes it, gives me the approval on it.’ He likes it so much that he starts playing on it. There was a time that I recorded a record that K-Ci and JoJo had came in and liked so much that K-Ci called his mama and was like, ‘Listen to this!’ They both got on [“Anything”] and sang it because it reminded them of a quartet gospel record. Being not just an aspiring singer but an aspiring producer and writer and having whom I look up to and whom I’m blessed to be in the company of comes in and validates what I’m doing and validates it so much so that you got somebody calling their mama, or got them wanting to be a part of that record.

Black: We all came up from Da Bassment, but we all stayed together. Missy, Timbaland, Ginuwine, Magoo, Tweet, we all stayed together, so even though we weren’t up under Devante’s umbrella, Timbaland produced half of our first album, Missy wrote on our first album, we wrote for Missy’s artists, Nicole Wray, we were still a family. Once we met Aaliyah it was like family. We went to prom with her, a lot of people might not know that. The business had to get handled, but anytime we were dealing with Missy, Timbaland, Ginuwine and Aaliyah, it was family first.

Smokey: There was always something innovative when you had Timbaland doing that beat that was just going to be straight up something crazy, and then you had Missy come in and she could write, she had melodies, she could sing, and she could rap, too. Then you got Magoo who could rap, and I know a lot of people familiarize his voice with Q-Tip, but regardless I don’t feel like they’re the same. I feel like Magoo had a unique voice. You start bringing in singing and it’s like what the hell just happened? What’s going on? Just working with them there was so much talent from different areas and with different backgrounds that you bring them together and it’s phenomenal. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, a lot of people have said it, it was like Motown. You can’t forget Ginuwine, Stevie J, he was in Da Bassment too. Prior to him getting with Diddy he was with us. He never really did get to cut any records. His biggest role was producing and he did a lot of stuff. He was playing guitar. We were all Da Bassment, we were all a family, but he was a part of Klownin Records which was Dalvin’s record label. But we were all there, we were all family and doing stuff together. A lot of the guitars and stuff like that that you hear on The Show, The After Party, The Hotel was him. Me and Stevie J in that pre-production room, we cut some records together. I knew that he could sing and play and everything.

Black: It was like college, because you were around arguably the most talented people. It’s like a football player going to Alabama. It’s the elite of the elite prospects. Everybody was super talented which made you bring your A-game everyday and you learned something from everybody so it was a melting pot. Sista learned something from Playa, Playa learned something from Sugah. It’s like being in music school.

Smokey: Devante always said, ‘Even if you ain’t a star yet, or a celebrity or famous, you still need to carry yourself like one.’ I think that’s one of the biggest things that I can remember, learning that regardless, still look the part, still carry yourself that way, which I felt like built self pride.

Black: Missy and Tim already set the bar high, and Ginuwine, too, so it wasn’t pressure behind our debut album. It was more so lets do what we do. We were up next. I always felt I was too young to feel pressured too. We were just doing music so I don’t think the pressure wasn’t doing the album. The pressure probably came from how are we going to write the album?

 

The Hurdles And Triumphs Of Cheers 2 U Debut

Smokey: Initially the brainstorming session was very frustrating. The business has a way of not respecting you or what you do unless you have plaques on the wall or you got hits under your belt. The irony about that is that somebody had to give whoever has a plaque a chance to get the plaque. I don’t think nobody understands that.

Black: We fought to work with Tim. Def Jam was thinking Timbaland hadn’t really blew up yet, so they were looking at Tim, Ginuwine, all of us as country. Once we got with Barry and Jomo Hankerson, once we got with them for management, and Aaliyah was winning, they had to listen to what they were saying, too, because we were the guinea pigs for their R&B even though they had Montell. He had a super big smash so they still didn’t know how to work an R&B record from the ground up. Barry came in and was very instrumental with them letting us write. Initially they weren’t trying to let us write at all. I can remember having big arguments in the studio, I can remember getting kicked out of sessions a couple of times for voicing my opinion about certain stuff in the studio. You’re dealing with Jodeci, Mary J. Biige, all these dope people and we got somebody that’s trying to produce our record that can’t sing, who’s trying to write our songs that can’t sing. It was very frustrating and sometimes I couldn’t hold it back. I had to let them know how I really felt.

Smokey: When we had a direction we wanted to go, we had certain records we wanted to do, we were unable to do them and we were bound by what they were telling us to do, Def Jam, and eventually whatever happened, happened with that and we ended up being able to direct our own path on the music tip. That’s why me and Tim pretty much produced half of the album. We were able to do what Playa does, not what they want us to do. They allowed us to go ahead and do what Playa does.

Black: We were just so happy to be able to put a record out. We were constantly recording. Even when we were working on Playa’s album, we’d be in the studio working on somebody else. When it came time for us, we pretty much knew what we wanted to do and how we wanted to sound.

Smokey: We had just embarked on management from Blackground and they became our voice. They were able to get us to where we wanted to be in order to let us create our own identities and not only the music, but the image was screwed up. It was what some guys from Louisville, Kentucky, and some guys from the 'hood looked at as, ‘I ain’t trying to wear this sh**.’ The shirt so tight you can see your heart beating through it. Tight pants, leather pants, and we’re like we don’t dress like that, we’ve never dressed like that. But we were still blessed and highly favored to even be in that situation. It had a lot to do with Blackground fighting on our behalf for what it was that we wanted and what we should’ve been granted from jump to be able to do and that’s let us be who we are, not who you want us to be.

Black: The biggest thing was when we first got with Def Jam, our A&R was trying to produce the record a little bit. We had to fight initially to even write and produce on our record. Imagine having a song out, “Pony” that’s rising on the charts and the A&R is telling you that’s a country record, that record isn’t going to do anything, but it’s steadily rising. Our management had to go in. We probably did about six or seven songs with that particular A&R and we scrapped all of that. Def Jam didn’t have a problem once we went in the studio and they actually saw what we could do. They didn’t have a problem with us writing our whole album outside of one song that Missy wrote. Smokey produced 70 percent, Timbaland produced 30 percent of the record. It was just more so once we got a strong management, the writing and other stuff opened up. Making that album was a dope process, but it made it special because it was our album. I don’t want to say seasoned vets, but we had been writing and producing in major studios from the mid 90s on down. By the time it came for our album our pens were sharp. Smokey’s production was sharp and we were ready.

"Static had reached a point where whatever he wanted to do after "Lollipop" was going to be major and bigger than it was." ~ Jawaan "Smoke" Peacock

Smokey: Whatever Tim did we already granted it as it’s the sh** and we just did what we did on it. He might come back and add something else, but he’s just so out there mentally when it comes to creating stuff. Like how the hell did you hear that? Or where the hell did you get that sound from? He’s just out there. It’s like if I went to the store and bought a pink suit, I’ll probably look damn good, but there’s a whole lot of people who will look at me and say, ‘I will never do that.’ There are a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with stepping outside of the box and that’s what Tim is best for and what gives him the title of innovator is because he steps outside of the box. It’s always interesting to hear and see what’s he getting ready to do now, what’s he going to do now? When I go to the studio tonight, what am I getting ready to hear coming out of them speakers because I know he’s on some other sh** and that sh** excites Tim. It excites him to innovate. That’s what I love about it. That just shows the passion that he has for music.


Black: We’ve been working with Tim since ‘93 or ’94. He never micro managed us. He would give us the track and let us do our thing. By the time “Birthday” came out we already had songs on Ginuwine and Nicole Wray and different artists. Tim and Missy knew, we all came up in the same camp together, so they knew the talent level before anybody else knew the talent level.

Smokey On The Album’s Title Track: When you think of a hit record you think that a lot went into it and I’ve learned, even some of my solo stuff, my first solo album that I put out had like 29 tracks on it and the song that I whipped up the quickest and didn’t put a whole lot of time and effort in to was the song that a lot of people were like, ‘That song right there!’ I’m like, ‘For real?’ I came up with that and been in the studio all night and just started playing some old stuff like at six or seven o’clock in the morning, cut it and went about my business and put it on the album, but never did I think that was a song that everybody would be like that one right there. I grew to learn that less is more and us recording “Cheers 2 U” was hearing that beat that Tim did, loving it for no other reason beside the fact that it kind of emulated “One in a Million” which we loved. We just wrote to it and sung it. It was nothing to go in the booth and sing this stuff and it’s done. It wasn’t any massive process or anything to ensure that it would be a hit record. It just turned out to be that.

Black: The track came on and Static came up with a melody and he just ran with it. Sometimes we would hear something and he wouldn’t need nobody else, if I saw the melodies had Static wrapped up I wouldn’t bother him and vice versa. He would let me finish, we were very cognizant of that zone. We were very cognizant of that part of the game too. We had been writing together since we left Louisville. That was my best friend, my big brother. Us three, even with how we sung, a lot of people don’t know this, Smokey might start off singing the top harmony, but by the middle of the song he might sing the bottom note. We would intertwine our notes or I could look at Smoke and know that we switched notes in the middle of the song.

Smokey: There was one time that Static said—and I don’t really know where that stemmed from and looking back now and connecting his death with it, it makes me think even more—but I remember one time he said when it came to his writing, he began to take more of a love for the writing more so than he did the actual singing because being from the 'hood, being from Louisville, singing was not a manly thing to do like rapping would be or playing football would be. I don’t think it had anything to do with that, I do know that’s how he felt and Black, too. I think he started to get more into the writing and enjoying the writing and he had said once that as far as me and Black that, ‘Y’all are my voices to my lyrics.’ We’re bringing his lyrics to life.

 

The Pen Behind The Red Album

Eric Seats (Produced "Rock The Boat," "Extra Smooth"): When we met Static, we flew out to Kentucky where he was living at the time and stayed there for a month just to do music. We stayed at his home and that’s really when we wrote the bulk of those Aaliyah songs. We did all the rough drafts in Kentucky at Static’s house, just pushing ideas out to present to Aaliyah. By the time we got there to present some stuff to her, she was checking off songs left and right because her and Static were tight. He knew how to convey her messages or whatever she was going through at the time and that’s why he ended up doing pretty much the whole record. She could bank on him to get that message out and still be her without forcing his own thing.

Bud’da (Produced "Never No More," "I Can Be"): His harmony choices, oh my goodness. Sometimes it was even hard to… when he would demo a song, whoever it was for, he would do certain songs and once the artist got on it you would miss Static being on it. The only person that wasn’t necessarily like that was Baby Girl. Aaliyah would get on there and she would take on what it was that he did, but give it a whole other energy and you’re like, ‘Okay, I get it.’ Missing all those nuances of being melodic, being clever and what the writing was, and just having the content of it all. When you think of the process we went through to do “Never No More” and it’s addressing abuse, it takes a certain person to go there. You could always write things that are relevant to the times and dealing with issues, sexual, or whatever the case would be, but there’s so many more people dealing with things like that, and we have a platform to create. I just thought it was admirable of him to even write something that would help to deliver people from situations and let them know that they’re not alone.

Seats: He’s the one guy that can make you feel like a woman wrote it. His range, and him catering to the individual that he’s actually in the lab with instead of just showing up and saying, ‘I’m Static and I write like this.’ The diversity to go from writing a “Pony” for Ginuwine to a “Rock The Boat,” he had the sensual side as well as the hard side too. He could separate that and write in that way. That’s what stood out because everything was different. Every song on that record, he didn’t use the same lyrics over and over.

Bud’da: Static was a muse for her, if that’s the right word. He was able to embody what it is that she was thinking. They could sit down and have conversations and laugh and certain things come about from the relation of it all, the relation of being cool. Fitting like a glove was one thing that was unique about Baby Girl. Out of anything that I’ve heard him do not just for myself, but for other people, whenever he would record something it had so much swag, it was so much him. It was hard for other people to articulate that without it sounding like him. Aaliyah was able to articulate what it is that he wrote and it’d be her. It’s not an easy thing to do unless you are exceptionally talented. Unless somebody really knew the inner workings of Blackground, of her process of making music, you would never know that there was this element behind her because it just fit so perfectly. Everything prior to the album was witty and just her. They were able to, together, cast this persona, make this person Aaliyah. It just fit like that.

Seats: Static is actually on every background vocal that KeyBeats did. He sung on there first and Aaliyah is like, ‘Don’t erase his, I’m going to sing on top of his.’ Much like a Sade does. I love that contrast of a male voice and a female voice without you necessarily having the male all in your face, like a duet type but just present. That’s magic, because you have a lot of people who like to do their own background so after you hear a whole album like that, you’re like, 'This is too much.' You want to hear another soul singing, another presence, another tone and it’s hard for one individual to be 10 individuals.

Jeffrey “J-DUB” Walker (Produced "What If," "I Refuse"): He just went with the flow. I’d go in and blaze up a beat. He’d come in and just start writing. With him, if he liked the beat he’s not going to wait too long, he’s going to jump in the booth and start singing and just lay it down. He was just dope, smooth. That whole camp was smooth.

Bud’da: Anybody who knows Static would say this. When he’s writing something or listening to something, he may be at the board and the music is really loud and he’s bopping, moving his head. If you’re bopping along with Static, you best not look at him because he’ll throw you off beat (Laughs). Static had his own bounce and it’s almost like he’s feeling the music. If you could envision it, it’s like a cartoon where you see a music note just floating around in the wind and blowing it around. That’s how he was. I loved that about him. He was so funny and always open. He was a genius and to this day I know that he’s inspired so many in relation to not just what he’s done, but just his process. Me writing songs to this day, I literally still think about Static and how would he attack this? Thinking about the process in which he meditated on things as well, he would sit there and listen. He had a notepad and he would go into the booth and sing some craziness, with the melodies and all the harmonies in his head.

"Sometimes we would hear something and he wouldn’t need nobody else,
Aaliyah could bank on Static to get that message out and still be her without forcing his own thing." ~ Eric Seats

J-DUB: Static had a weird way of writing where instead of his rhythm being 2-4 it would be on 1-3. The way that he moves when he wrote was so unorthodox, but it came out so dope. Static was in his own lane. He was just in another world. It’s like you have great writers and Static is one of them. He had a sound. Nobody could really write like him, still to this day. He was so clever with it, his wordplay was so clever, his harmonies and melodies and just how he rode a beat. It was incredible.

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The Influence Of Playa’s Music In Hip-Hop & R&B

Smokey On “If You’re Scared, Say You’re Scared:” It was initially a Playa song and it was going to be on the Woo soundtrack. It was to be in that movie but we ended up not putting it on the soundtrack. It’s just a record amongst others that we had from creating on the piano as you saw on that video that we had never released. It’s a song that I went on ahead and released myself because I felt like it needed to be heard. It was a good song. Through Drake, because a lot of people are doing it, even Chris Brown did it, being interested in that sound and that era of music, he dug through the crates and found some things that he wanted to use and sample. I definitely appreciate the acknowledgement that we were talking about something enough for him to want to use one of our records.

Black On “Don’t Think They Know:” That was the song that I wrote for the second Playa album. Chris Brown took Aaliyah's chords, they made a track around her parts, and I guess he wrote his part. The Aaliyah part was to be for the Playa album.

A photo posted by Ben Bush (@blackplaya502) on

Smokey: I believe though that had he been here, something different would’ve probably came of that situation, something more would’ve came out of that situation because I think that Drake’s true interest came from wanting to sift through Static’s catalogue and when he heard that he said, ‘I’ll take this right here.’ I thought it was amazing to me that he could take that and turn it into a rap record at that, but I love that record. That’s a record where he’s talking about something.

Black: It was funny because Chris Brown is an amazing talent. For him to like a record of mine that I recorded in 2000, 2003, it felt good as a writer and musician. You want to have a legacy too. It just proved that our music transcended us. It feels good to be liked. It was cool to see the next generation appreciate our music.

Smokey: Static would still be writing for everybody because he had reached a point like Missy before she came out as an artist, where she made a name for herself through her writing prior to. I think with that record “Lollipop,” Static had reached that point where whatever he wanted to do after that was going to be major and bigger that it was, and he was doing tons of stuff prior. He did stuff with David Banner, Jay Z, Destiny’s Child, he was at that point where he was on his way straight up hill. His solo album would’ve dropped, I believe, and would’ve been off the chain. But in all honesty, if you believe in the God I believe in, where he’s at right now is greater than where he was on his way to when he was here.

R.I.P. Static Major 2/25/08 #iAintForgot #StaticMajor #smokedigglera

A photo posted by Smoke E. Digglera (@smokedigglera) on

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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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