Belly-VIBE-5 Belly-VIBE-5
VIBE/Stacy-Ann Ellis

Views From The Studio: Meet Songwriter Belly

Belly reveals how he landed on The Weeknd's chart-topping album and more in VIBE’s latest edition of Views From The Studio.

Flight Klub Recording Studio sits on a sleepy, unassuming block in New York City's Garment District, hidden between an inactive thread and supply storefront and industrial scaffolding. It's a premier studio that artists and producers alike use as an escape, a musical getaway to create freely from the radio noise and static cling of the outside world. Despite its grandiose word-of-mouth implications, its front door is actually a riddled freight elevator, conveniently stained with a surprisingly glamour-free garbage stench and miscellaneous liquids puddling in its metal crevices. Nevertheless, it's just the kind of gritty ambiance that Canadian rapper and songwriter Ahmad Balshe, better known by his stage name Belly, works best in.

"I love it here," says Belly, who has spent a decade cultivating a name for himself in the industry, of New York City. While the Palestinian emcee recently rose to acclaim in the states due to amassing several co-writing credits on frequent collaborator The Weeknd's chart-topping 2015 LP, The Beauty Behind the Madness ("The Hills," "Earned It," "Often," among others), those further up north have known him as a solo star whose debut album and slew of mixtapes dating back to 2005, added JUNO Award-winning (basically the Canadian version of the Grammys) to his moniker.

On a balmy August afternoon, Belly is catching a vibe in the metropolis, having chose the dimly lit recording space as the haven to put his newest project on wax. Now, with a Roc Nation deal and his first project in four years pushing his solo career back to the forefront, there's much anticipation built around the wordsmith.

Here, Belly reveals how he climbed Canada's rap ranks, landed on The Weeknd's chart-topping album, and the one word that describes signing to Roc Nation nearly a year ago in VIBE’s latest edition of Views From The Studio.

You have a very diverse background, being born in Palestine and moving to Ottawa, Ontario before your teen years. How did you get into rap? 
When I came to Canada, I would see videos on TV and stuff, and I was like, "Yo, this is me right here." My first two albums that I ever owned were Doggystyle by Snoop and Ready To Die by Biggie. I used those albums to learn English because I was still using broken English. Those albums shaped the sound and style of my music today.

That's interesting. Prior to forming your own musical taste, what were your parents playing in the house? 
Honestly, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. Aside from like Arab music, that was like the only foreign music at the time that we were listening to.

Would you say your background has influenced your music at all? 
Growing up in the Middle East taught me to be hospitable and respectful. It gave me a lot of culture and made me very family oriented. At the same time, it taught me how real life actually is. By the time I made it to [music], it was like a whole different world. It was like a complete culture shock. I think all of my experiences kind of shaped what people hear today. I try to always include my actual experiences in my music. 

Can you recall what sparked your interest in songwriting specifically? 
When I was really young and in school, I used to write poetry a lot so I was really good at rhyming words my whole life. I think that was like my prerequisite into writing songs and making music.

What were those first bits of poetry about?
I was always trying to get some girl so I'm sure it had something to do with some girl I was trying to get or some poem for the prettiest girl in school or something like that.

Did you get her?
I always get her [laughs].

So, how did writing poetry in school service itself into a career?
Well, before [a career] I put out a series of mixtapes in Canada, which nobody was really doing back then, and we did crazy numbers with them. That's what really led to me even being known enough to be able to drop songs like "Pressure" and my early singles.

"Pressure" was one of the standout singles from your debut album The Revolution, which won a JUNO Award for the best Rap Recording of the Year. What do you think helped your rise? 
I think it was something new to everybody. I kind of learned the game from this side. I was coming out here a lot, learning things and just watching the hustle was like the most eye opening thing for me to see the real street hustle that took place, selling CDs on corners and all that and having street teams really wilding out, making a difference. When you go somewhere presence-wise, people feel it. They just all walked in dressed the same. This is like the takeover, and I think I learned some of those things and brought it up north, and it was like unstoppable. Nobody had ever seen nothing like that before.

There weren't any other artists on that same wave at that time in the city?
Nah, I wouldn't say there was. When I first started doing that, there was nobody doing that or no one at least to my knowledge doing that. For me, when I was basically trying to reapply what I learned up north, I wasn't thinking about singles, and I wasn't thinking about mainstream or crossing over. I didn't care. I cared about making mixtapes. That was like the coolest sh*t to me when I came, especially coming to New York and seeing culturally how much impact a mixtape can have on your life, and that's really how I came in the game was with the mixtapes. By the time I did the mainstream stuff, it was like that's the only thing left for me to do. I had three successful mixtapes at that point, and it was time to do something else.

Many people today, mainly in America, were introduced to you through The Weeknd. 
Man, he's a real one. He's one of the special souls in this thing, and he's been the same since I've known him. I've watched his life go from having nothing to having the ability to have whatever he wants, and he's still the same guy, and everything is focused on his music and how good his music is. Like the amount of genius that he brings to the table when he walks into a studio is like the reason why he's still here, and he's been able to put out so much music and people can still f**k with him on both sides. His songs can go number one and culturally he can still impact just as hard, which is something a lot of people lose. Like they have one or the other, but I feel like he still has both.

How'd you guys end up working together? 
We actually didn't work together for like the first three, four years we knew each other. We were just homies. We were friends. I was doing my thing; he was doing his thing. When we worked for the first time together, it was just naturally. Just walked into the studio like, "Oh sh*t, this is hard. Let me jump on this." That's how we came together. We never forced it.

Haven co-written many platinum and number one songs, is it ever hard to find that balance of what you should give away to another artist and what you should keep for yourself? 
I think nowadays it's a lot easier for me because I know who I like to work with and who I don't like to work with, and then I know when I make something that kind of feels like me, [where] I have too much of my personality in it to give it to somebody else, that's when I know that I got to keep this. I honestly don't really do songwriting sessions anymore if it's not with people I actually f**k with.

What would constitute somebody that you f**k with because there are some people who treat it solely as a business and keep it pushing. 
I think just someone that I have a real relationship or at least like a real friendship--even if it's not a friendship--like a real connection with because it's going to translate into the music. As good as you can be, if two people with stank attitudes walk into a room and want to make music, they can both be geniuses, and they're going to make sh*tty songs. That's just gonna happen because the vibe isn't right, and the energy isn't there.

What's your writing process like?
I think for me, I write my best songs when I'm tormented. Even with songs and songwriting and stuff like that, I can't sit there around a bunch of people and do it. Like I have to be by myself in my own feelings, in my own thoughts and then I think I can express some of the sh*t that I don't feel like I want to say around everybody. Once it's in a song, it's in a song. It doesn't matter.

How does that lend itself to The Weeknd's multiple chart-topping hits?
With him, it's all him. I'll be honest with you. Like it's all his vision. It's his creativity. It's his conceptualizing. That's his baby. That's his masterpiece. I've been blessed enough to be thought of when he needs me and when I can complement something he's doing, but I could never take credit for the stuff I've done with him.

Earlier you mentioned your best work is done when you're tormented. Do you ever get writer's block or feel like you have to go and live life to really hone in on what you're saying?
My schedule doesn't allow it. I've been trying to take a vacation for two years. I just want to go somewhere for like four days, but just doesn't happen. This is all I do. Every day I walk in here, I know I can create something. I'm confident, and that's why I never feel no way about trying to hoard my music because the minute you do that, subconsciously you're telling yourself that you can't deliver something like that again. With me, I'm so open with giving away music because I feel like I can walk back in here and do it again.

That's interesting, especially after the whole world waited for Frank Ocean's album for four years. You also had a similar time lapse between your most recent project. 
I can only speak on myself and for me, but I did have people waiting for a long time, I can't lie. Sometimes people have to realize it's more than just songs and putting out music. It's mental health involved a lot of times, and a lot of artists go through personal s**t. A lot of artists are emotional and, again, I speak from my own experience and my own views, but that's what caused me to not even want to be in the spotlight anymore. I was loving the fact that I was just writing songs behind the scenes, still getting to make money and make music, and that was cool for me, but this is cool too so this is the part of my life I'm living now. If I decide one day I can't handle this mentally no more or whatever the case may be or this is taking too much of a toll on my family or whatever it is, what's to say I'm just gonna be able to pump out music for people every day? We do have a certain obligation as artists, but we also have certain responsibilities as human beings to ourselves and to the people we love. It's a hard line to walk. I'm learning that right now with just so many things changing for me recently and just seeing how [I'm] losing certain people along the way and just things that you've never expected. My music is only half of it.

in real life.. life goals || roc/xo

A photo posted by Belly (@belly) on

You've been signed to Roc Nation for almost a year now. I'm sure that was a full circle moment for you. 
It feels amazing and it felt amazing to know that Jay Z personally was the one who wanted to make this happen. [He's] someone I've idolized my whole life so it's still crazy to me.

Your most recent release was Another Day In Paradise, which was your foray back into the spotlight as a solo artist after having lots of success behind the scenes, ultimately leading up to your signing to Roc Nation. How did you feel about its reception? 
Working with everyone on that album was incredible. Honestly, it was just really dope getting to work with [Lil] Wayne. I wasn't actually in the studio with him, but just to know that he was on one of my records, that's like a dream as a young rap guy coming up like, "I gotta get Wayne one day," and I got that. I think the reception, like I said, I don't make music to try to be like, "Yo, this one is going to crossover for me." I make music that I know my fans are going to love, and in doing that, I know they're putting other people on to my s**t and that it's growing like that, and every year it gets a little bit bigger, and it doesn't have to get crazy. It just has to grow, and it's grown. That's exactly what the project did. When I dropped it, my fans loved it. They thought it was one of my best pieces of work ever. That's the most I could ask for. That's who I cater to.

Is there anything you feel like as an artist and songwriter that you haven't gotten that you deserve?
I'm humble man. Honestly, I can sit here and tell you what I expect. Just to even be able to do this--the most important thing for me is to be heard. To a lot of people, they want to be seen. I rather be heard. As long as people hear me, and I have that platform, and I have people's ears, what more can I ask for? I'm going to sit around and complain that someone has it better than me or people look at somebody in a different way that I feel like I should be looked at? What am I going to do? I'm going to make music for the people who love me for it. That's who I'm here for.

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L.A.'s Problem Explains The Making of His Short Film “A Compton Story” And Releases New Single “Don’t Be Mad At Me”

We know that Los Angeles, California produces top tier talent when it comes to Hip-Hop, so we won’t even start with the long list of MCs and beatmakers that comprise that grouping. Yet, we have to acknowledge that Jason “Problem” Martin is right on that list with the greats of his city. Beyond ghostwriting for legends and presenting a slew of mixtapes, which has lead to his trifecta of self-produced Selfish themed albums, Mr. “Whaaat!” (his signature catch phrase) is now in the cinematic realm with the release of the short film A Compton Story, exclusively released on the Tidal streaming platform.

Based on events that could be from his real life, Problem squeezes in the everyday occurrences that a black man can go through whether famous or infamous. "I wanted to do a comedy. I thought ‘some gangster movie’ would be expected from me," explains Problem. “I grew up loving stuff like Martin, Friday, Purple Rain...so those projects were my major inspirations and the blueprints to tell my own story, A Compton Story.” Executive produced by Problem and President of the mighty Top Dawg Entertainment, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, A Compton Story twists and turns and features music that goes along with the scenes. It also debuts Problem’s newest single “Don’t Be Mad At Me.”

Watch the likes of Mike Epps, Jackie Long and Snoop Dogg enhance the visuals, along with the love of Problem’s life...we’ll let him tell you all about her.

------------- How did you go about casting your short film “Compton Story?”

The casting process for Compton Story was random as hell. It was a mix of people I’ve worked with or currently work with in some kind of capacity that was around during that month period that I was shooting. Once I drop the documentary to the film, you’ll see how random a lot of things ended up happening. It was a blessing. I just called up all my friends...I heard Deon Taylor say something, ‘Just work with who you fuck with.’ And that’s what I did, I just happen to have some real cool friends. Shout out to them for giving me their time and taking their time with me for this, cus it was a new process. I was dealing with some really high level people.

When did you meet the leading lady of the film, Daphne?

Me and Daphne met when I came back from Germany, I was one years old and I went to my Pa-Pa’s house and she lived three houses down. I been knowing Daphne since I was damn near born. I used to watch her down the street, I used to sneak in her house. Her Dad was one of my best friends on the block, he used to give me candy. He knew I loved his daughter. I used to tell her I was going to marry her when I was like four, five and six… I just been plotting on this for a long time. For us to kick back off when I’m grown, she went and had a fabulous life and went and did what I did, for us to reconnect right now is still strange to me. But you know on some confidence shit I told her, “I knew I was gonna get you.” So it’s funny man.

Is “Whaaaat!” your preverbal light blub saying when you come up with a genius idea?

Honestly, I would say “Whaaat!” to everything. It was just like my period to the end of the sentence or my exclamation point or whatever. I’d be sitting with the homies and somebody would say something funny I’d be like “Whaat” or if they did something crazy I’d say, “Whaaat!” But I was sittin’ with one of my partners at Diamond Life and he was like, “Aye man, why don’t you ever put one of those shits in your songs?” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “That, the ‘What.’ Put that shit in your record.” Every record after that, I put “Whaaat!” in it and it just stuck.

“Compton Story” shows us just one day of the pressure it is to be a young successful black man in those L.A. streets. Do you feel or live as though every day is this hectic for you? And if so, how long before you realized these [L.A.] Valley streets are crazy as hell too?

It’s just hectic for any black man, let alone a successful one. Just the randomness of shit that can happen. Then especially if you came from an urban area or poverty stricken area, or low class area...and then to become successful you battle with the nuances of what you learned and what do you take and use in what situation is always the hardest parts for me. Like, ‘Do I use my Compton shit here? Or do I use my about to be 40 (years old) vibes?’ That’s the toughest part, knowing when to hit the gas and when to hit the brake.

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Recording artists Swizz Beatz and Timbaland attend The Dean Collection X BACARDI Untameable House Party on December 4, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
Frazer Harrison

Interview: Swizz Beatz And Timbaland Talk 'Verzuz' Battles, Respond To Fan Requests

Phrases such as “do it for the culture” or “push the culture forward” are used so often that their meanings have been diluted. But with their new series Verzuz, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland are doing exactly what those terms mean. Part beat battle and part educational seminar, two legendary producers, songwriters, or artists take 20 of their biggest hits and pit them against each other as the audience watches and comments on Instagram. Timbaland and Swizz competed against each other first, and then they coordinated other matchups: Boi-1da vs. Hit-Boy, Neyo vs. Johnta Austin, The-Dream vs. Sean Garrett, Mannie Fresh vs. Scott Storch, and T-Pain vs. Lil Jon. Each matchup has its own standout qualities - whether it’s Sean Garrett's wacky faces before launching a late comeback, Scott Storch adding harmonious keys in real time, or T-Pain and Lil Jon clowning with each other before previewing new music, every battle is a must-watch.

Coming up next, music fans will be treated to the biggest matchup yet: Teddy Riley vs. Babyface. In an interview with VIBE, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland break down how they came up with Verzuz in the first place, their favorite moments so far, and why they want the culture vultures to slow down for once.

 

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@teddyriley1 VS @babyface 🙌🏽 This is one of the iconic moments me & @timbaland have been working on! The Sunday will go down in the history books! Once again VERZUZ made it happen ! See you Sunday 6pm est on @teddyriley1 Live Zone Zone Zone !!!!!!!

A post shared by No Breaks In 2020 (@therealswizzz) on Apr 2, 2020 at 9:27pm PDT

--

What made you decide to do the first battle between yourselves?

Timbaland: I think the first battle was something that I can say that me and Swizz had this idea for Verzuz three and a half years ago. The world is so dark right now, I woke up one day just feeling brave and I called Swizz like, “we should do it over IG Live.” As soon as I said it, we just did it, we just had fun with it. We just gave the world something beautiful for 5 hours to take their mind off of what's going on.

Swizz Beatz: We did it before at Summer Jam, so that was the first one, and then Timb came back to me and said,  “you know what, this is the time where we should do it again.” And I thought it was a great idea. Plus it fits right into what we were building anyway

Was it both of you guys at Summer Jam or was it a different battle at Summer Jam? Swizz Beatz: It was me and him. We didn’t have enough time to do how we did on IG, so IG was the real one. Summer Jam was the warm up. Because we only had like 12, 15 minutes on the set so it was very short but it was effective with 50,000 people there. And we were just celebrating each other, and that's the thing I wanted to tell everybody. It's an educational celebration, even though we talk smack and we make it interesting, cause we gotta have that for fun, but it's really educational and it's really a celebration. So everybody that's been on Verzuz has been an educational celebration. I mean, look at tonight. We got Ryan Tedder vs Benny Blanco, you know that's a whole other side of the music, but those guys deserve to get celebrated as well. I think it's gonna be a great battle, they’ve got big big big records.

So from you guys' battle, what were your favorite moments from each other's sets? Timbaland: My favorite moment was seeing my friend, and we were both in a great space. He went to the car and plugged up, and was really into the music. It wasn’t about what songs did I play, it was about just seeing my friend and both of us having fun. I think that was a moment in itself for me.

Swizz Beatz:I agree with that. My favorite moment with Timb was his energy. We haven’t seen Timb get loose like that: glass of wine in his hand, his energy was way up, his spirit was way up. This was a crucial time cause the entire world was watching and feeding off of our energy. When we did it at Summer Jam, we wasn’t going through all these trials and tribulations, so people had a lot of other options and different things going on, and not really paying attention as they probably should. But this time, people really got to pay attention ‘cause we all on lockdown, we all sitting down and people got to pay attention to the energy. I think that energy transpired into Hit-Boy and Boi-1da wanting to contribute to that energy and all the others that came because of that. But what we inherited was a real job, Tim [laughter]

Timbaland: A real serious job.

Swizz Beatz: What people don’t understand is, they can be home and type up a wish list. If they don't think we don't want the same wishes they do? They crazy! But everybody not coming outside. It's hard. When we get these people to agree, it's a celebration man cause it's not an easy thing to do. It’s a lot on the line. And a lot of the women are like “we want the ladies, we want the ladies.” Okay, but the ladies ain't answering yet. You think we don't want the ladies? We working on it, you know, we delivered mail to all of your favorites to come outside, and it's looking real good. We got some great things coming, but I just want the people to be patient and know that me and Timb is doing this from our heart, for the people. A lot of people are like “I need JD and Puff,” and I’m like well if it were that easy, it would have been already. … But nobody is gonna be mad, nobody is gonna be mad. At the end of the day, they just gotta trust the curation.

Tell me about the work it takes to make these things happen. Timbaland: Aw man. It’s transforming the mind of the mindset that was set for so long. People get caught up on the word battle, and I have to remove that and say “look, that's just a context, don't look at that. It’s really a celebration and an education”. And once I say education, the talk slows down. Me and Swizz set the rules, it's 20 for 20, so it's not what you thinking but people always throw other stuff on. Let's just celebrate you, people wanna give you your flowers while you here, and just give people education on who did what, what transpired in the past as far as creation. show your talents, show your work. Let us celebrate you right now. We need feelings right now, we don't have nothing, everybody is on a common playing field, it ain't about no money it ain't about no nothing, just come and let's celebrate this greatness that you presented to the world. That’s when they get it and start shaking their heads, but it's a process. And then i pass it over to Swizz. (laughs)

Swizz Beatz: And then you get phone calls from people who don’t qualify. You gotta have 20 joints, a lot of people wanna just jump into it because they feel like it’s a dance challenge or something, or a challenge we would see on Instagram where everybody is just doing it to get the looks. No, these are real architects that’s on this. Everybody that we’ve officially presented are architects. Now, some might have played the wrong songs at the wrong times and different things like that, but that's not on us. But these are people that got 20, certified. So a lot of people don't wanna come outside that do have the 20, and a lot of people that do wanna come outside that don't have the 20. So we gotta keep this thing curated because once it gets silly, it just gets silly. And a lot of people are doing their own thing, which is cool! But what me and Timb are trying to offer, once again, is an educational musical platform where people might talk some smack, people might get excited, some might lose some might win but at the end of the day the culture wins. These people are putting this on for free, ain't nobody got a dime yet. And all the corporations and everything are all to the table, but right now we just enjoying it like this. It’s 6 million people unemployed, what type of business are we talking about right now? That’s not what this is about right now. This is about healing as we get through this time together.

And of course me and him had a plan, we had to plan for three years for it to be done with businesses and partners and things like that, but right now this is not the time for that. We would look crazy. And a lot of people call us like we not on our game and we got such a great idea that we just letting wash down the road. I don’t feel like we letting anything wash down the road. I feel like 1.) We making history, 2.) It's educational, 3.) It’s for the people and 4.) We hit 203,000 people yesterday on live. That's not a small number, that's a few stadiums. With no sponsors by the way, just the music, no negativity, just the music. And that's what gives us the energy to be on these phone calls with these artists. The artists are hard bro, these people not easy. The requirements and... it's just a lot. My wife looking at me like “I don't know how much longer got dammit” cause this is...you late for dinner now. And we in the house, it ain't like I'm coming from somewhere, I'm in the house [laughter]. But it’s something we devoted to and we gonna keep it special.

One thing that's been really interesting to me in all these, neither the artists or the commenters feel the need to hold back. It’s interesting because sometimes when artists are talking to each other, egos can be fragile. So an artist may not say something cause they dont want to jeopardize that relationship. But i’m seeing artists talk sh*t. So what do you think makes the commenters and the artists feel so free and so open to say what they want in these battles? Timbaland: Thats a good one. For me personally, I think it's because it's from the heart. This aint bout nothing, it's for the people, by the people. That's how I see it. And you gon get what you gon get. And I think artists are engaged with it and they be in tune because it's a musical history. I believe Meek posted something on Twitter saying that “these battles make me appreciate music way more than i ever did.” Fans just being free. Like Swizz said, we filling up a stadium, but a stadium where everybody can speak their minds. And I feel like right now, in the world, we on one playing field. You ain't talking bout what Range Rover i got, what diamond chain, that don't even matter. So all you have is your opinion. That's it.

Swizz Beatz: I think the comments is a safe space as well. I think it just feels like a community and everybody got a license to keep it real in that community. I thought that was interesting too, because I see people in there talking crazy that, man if it was somewhere else, it would really be these things we talk about. But it's like being at a fight, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, we gon talk shit on the sideline. Like “Aw man that aint it right there.” It’s like that, vs. pointing in someone's face and talking to them like that. It’s like friends communicating at a showdown. People are looking at it more as a sport than anything, I believe, when they in those comments.

 

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Two icons went head to head in a Epic battle . Thank you for doing it for the people 🙌🏽 203k in attendance let’s keep it going @timbaland VERZUZ 🎬🎬🎬 @artokoro

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I know that some artists can be very cautious about things that they agree to. And they may be like, "I don't wanna do this because if I lose I’ll look crazy.” Has it taken a lot of convincing to get some of these people to do it? Swizz Beatz: Man that's what we tryna tell you, this is not an easy job. Like people are overthinking, this is a lot on the line. And so far everybody in Verzuz has been taking it...I spoke to Mannie today and I know that he know that he probably didn’t win that battle, you understand? But in his mind he had fun, he put on for the people, he felt he probably could have played a couple of different records, and he kept a high road about it. Some people say that he won, some people say I won, and you know the energy is good. But everybody can't take that to the chin, and that's what I’m learning. I'm like man, especially a lot of artists in the younger generation, they got all these excuses not to show up. Me and Timb don't wanna just put on shows from a different era, we wanna put on shows that’s from them! But I'm telling you, it's a lot of ego involved. And my message to those artists is “leave your ego at the door, bring your music and have fun.” That's it. It's for the people. But a lot of people that I know wanna jump in but he like “man I can't,” “he saying this one did this, this one did this to me.” Like that's crazy. That's a young mentality. A more mature mentality is like yo, he might win some, I might win some, he might lose some, I might lose some, let’s just do it. It's music, we just celebrating music, it ain't that crazy. So a lot of people requesting all these battles it's like, yeah that sounds easy, now who's gonna go get it done? (Laughs)

A colleague of mine found a lot of similarities between these and soundclashes from the carribean. Are you using that influence on purpose or no? Swizz Beatz: Not necessarily. At the end of the day, Verzuz is not just about music. We didn’t get into the sports side, we didn’t get into the comedy side. There's other things that we’re gonna do, but this is a well thought out plan and we’re starting it with music because that's our strong point. But we got other things thats gonna blow people's minds that's set up, but this is a very calculated thing. This is a duration, this isn't just for the hype of quarantine. This is for us to have a different platform that celebrates creativity period, not just music. So we would love for people to understand what we’re thinking, cause I see a lot of people tryna pull from what we doing and tryna run with headlines of their own quicker than what we’re doing, but we don't care about that shit, that's not even their type of business, the people that's doing it. They don't got no musical background, no creative background, they just wanna feel like they’re part of something. Which is great. But what we plan on doing is...when you free the artist, you free the world, right? So we plan on giving a lot of artists and creatives the voice that they probably never had, or was never understood. We’re thinking very very big, but right now we like the level that we’re at because we vibing with the people, and we gonna also vibe with the people but right now we just having fun. That's all you can do.

Now Swizz you had also posted on your IG that a lot of companies and corporations are tryna cash in on this right now. What kind of offers are they putting out there and how does it make you feel to get those offers so early on in the process? Swizz Beatz: Me and Timb were definitely appreciative, but there's a time and place for everything. Not saying that we won't look at everything, we not silly, we gonna look at everything, there might be something that's really amazing. But, and I think I can speak on Timb’s behalf too, but with a lot of people and ideas, people are so short-minded sometimes. They think about what can help their basic now and not their overall period. For me, it's a time and place for everything, and going direct to the artists and all of this stuff here, which all of the companies are doing, which is cool, but I don't like how they tryna play on them as well. Like don't do that, don't do that. Right now, there's no politics involved and we’re having a great time. The minute you see a logo running across that screen, it's just gonna feel crazy. And I think we should be promoting what we promoting: the artists. Period. The creatives. Period. No interruptions. Give us five minutes on that, let the creatives have theirs, five minutes without being interrupted by a logo. That's our vibe right now. Let the creatives get their five minutes without being interrupted by a f***in logo. Let the artists be people for five seconds, you know what I’m saying? Timb, you can expand on that if you want.

Timbaland: Nah you said it right. Just give us a minute. I was gonna sum it down to just let us breathe. We're having fun. Don’t mess up the fun. Just give us a minute. We’ll come to you.

Swizz Beatz: Or put your proposal in now and come talk to us after the quarantine. You can do that now, and then after the quarantine we can get to it. Cause right now we in a very hardcore situation. This is the second of April, so this is a very crucial month. If things don't change this month, there isn't gonna be anything to talk about but survival. It's not gonna matter anyway. We got 6 million -

Timbaland: It’s 10 million now.

Swizz Beatz: It’s 10 million?

Timbaland: It’s 10 million now, Swizz.

Swizz Beatz: Well okay.

Timbaland: 10 million unemployed, we can't even talk about a business right now, like come on.

Swizz Beatz: That's 10 million wolves. That's nuts man. That's 10 million good people that can turn bad.

Timbaland: Very quick.

 

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Attention 🚨 #VERZUZ @scottstorchofficial vs @manniefresh tonight 9pm est on @scottstorchofficial live.........

A post shared by No Breaks In 2020 (@therealswizzz) on Apr 1, 2020 at 11:49am PDT

Swizz Beatz: Inshallah, a lot of things need to turn around quick. When I say quick, I mean quick. Everything needs to go in effect now. Because you telling us we cant go outside? And then you saying we can't work, and we can't pay our bills and all this and now you got blackouts happening? All right now. This is a Will Smith movie. And the crazy part is it's for real. The economy is what, 16 trillion now? In four weeks? That's a different type of bleeding.

Timbaland: That's why this is so important. Because even for me, and I tell Swizz this all the time, it's giving me joy for three hours out the day that feels like I left my house. But I didn’t leave my house. It’s that feeling of great music and curation and you don't be thinking bout the offers and...nah man. I'm looking at the people. It can be frustrating because they asking “who next who next,” “I want this person next,” but that means these people are engaged in a time like this, where people are losing jobs like...you can't do that, you gotta give us those five minutes. It’s serious out here. Very serious.

What were some of your favorite moments from the other battles so far? Timbaland: My favorite moment from Sean and Dream’s battle was Sean kept making them faces (laughs), like what is wrong with you? But then he’d drop a bomb so it's like oh snap! That was one of my favorites from that. And then with Johnta and Neyo, it was like i was on the dance floor just going crazy cause I didn’t know Johnta did all these records and I didn’t know all the records that Ne-Yo did, so every moment of that was amazing to me. My best moment with Mannie and Scott was that Scott saved “Still Dre” for last and it was like “Goodnight, close the curtains.”

Swizz Beatz: My favorite moment was when Hit-Boy and Boi-1da was playing exclusives that people respect in a battle, cause thats a hard card right there. I like that they both had mega records that nobody had heard of, to pull out in a battle. I like that they had exclusives. But big exclusives. Cause it's hard to play exclusives in a battle, people are playing hits. So he had to pull out Drake, Hit-Boy had to pull out Nipsey. So I thought that was amazing. As far as Johnta and Ne-Yo, still my favorite battle so far, for many reasons, for the educational reasons, for the diversity in the playlists, how they were gentlemen about it, how the energy was. But man, to find all these hidden tracks from both of them that I never knew either of them produced, that was the best for me. And then artists calling me for Johnta’s number like right after that; young artists by the way, big ones too. I thought that was super cool, they called for Ne-Yo too. With The-Dream and Sean Garrett, my favorite part was The-Dream playing golf (laughs) and Sean Garrett swinging at the last minute and made everybody respect his name at the end of the day, no matter how we felt at the beginning of the battle, he made a great comeback on that.

I liked that Mannie Fresh had skits, I would have cut like two or three of those skits out, but I liked that he came with character. I like how Scott Storch was comfortable. It was calculated. He said “you got the skits but you aint got the hits.” I just love how smooth he was with his weapons, like he had a dangerous hand of weapons and he was just handling himself like a boss. And Mannie wasn't scared to show up to the competition, which, trust me, we had other people we wanted to go against Scott but people are not coming outside. So I respect that Mannie came outside. I respect that. So when two people say yes we gotta respect that. Cause obviously you wanna see Scott vs whoever in your head. Nine times out of 10, we called that person and asked them to come outside. So that's how we got to have fun with Mannie and Scott. 203,000 people showed up for that and they didn't leave, so we had a great time with that.

So what are you guys expecting from T-Pain and Lil Jon? Who are your early picks on that?

Timbaland: I think we gonna get a lot of high energy, cause T-Pain is a character and Lil Jon is definitely a character.

Swizz Beatz: I think they’re both gonna have everybody on the dancefloor heavy. We felt at the last minute that T-Pain is (accomplished) sonic wise, producer wise, as far as a writer and as an entertainer. I feel that Lil Jon’s energy is gonna be great because, you gotta curate these things as much as possible even tho people were like “aw man we wanted see T-Pain go against Scott Storch” but i just felt like that wasn’t gonna be a fair match for T-Pain and T-Pain would agree as well. But it wasn’t about him backing down, he obviously signed up. But us as executives had to ask “is this really good for anybody?” … Now T-Pain and Lil Jon, the energy’s better with them. T-Pain's energy went up like “Yeah, that's what I'm talkin bout.” When they doing this together, we want it to be an equal exchange and equal excitement ‘cause people feel that energy. T-Pain and Lil Jon just feel a like a party on Saturday, so that's why we did it on Saturday. Let's do a party on Saturday, get the tempo up and energy up. What do you think?

I'm looking forward to it for sure. I think they're both salesmen and they have good energy. As far as who's gonna win, I don't know. In these battles you realize there's these songs that come up that you didn’t know that they did, so it's difficult to predict the winner. Swizz Beatz: I agree with that. But that's the good part, it keeps you watching. It’s a lot of predictable battles we could do. But it's like it's too predictable. So a lot of the battles people, when they first see them, some they’re gonna agree with but a lot they’re gonna be like “but why?” Certain big names you’re gonna see, and you’re gonna see names as big as those names and you’re gonna be like “Come on Swizz and Timb, how you gonna do that?” but when you actually see it, you’re gonna see why and how we did that, and i just want everybody to trust the curation. Look at Johnta Austin, people was like “Man we need Ne-Yo to go against Dream, thats not a good thing” and next thing, look, everybody got educated on that shit. So we don't wanna do predictable battles, then it starts becoming like a candy store and it's like no man, we took our time with this.

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T-Pain performs onstage during day two of Nickelodeon's Second Annual SlimeFest at Huntington Bank Pavilion on June 09, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
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T-Pain Talks Upcoming Battle With Lil Jon

Instagram Live has been the place to be in recent weeks when it comes to the music world, and Swizz Beatz and Timbaland have coordinated a series of battles between some of the greatest producers and songwriters of all time. The next battle: T-Pain vs the king of crunk, Lil Jon. VIBE spoke to T-Pain about why he decided to participate, and what he expects from Lil Jon.

VIBE: I just spoke to Swizz and Timbo yesterday, and they were saying that some of these battles were difficult to set up, in part because some of the artists were scared to lose. What made you participate in this?

T-Pain: Well for one, I don’t see it as competition. I know the public sees it as competition, but I see it as a celebration of history. If all these people are going hits for hits, it’s not about who has the biggest hits. We had hits! There’s millions of millions of people who would pay to even be in these battles or be mentioned in the name of the people who are doing these battles. We all had hits. It’s not really a competition about who has the bigger song, it’s about two people getting together that actually had hits. That’s pretty difficult to do, to run for as long as anybody that’s been doing the competition is running. Like I said, I don’t see it as a competition; I see it as a celebration. Either way, the people win. Win or lose, it ain’t gon change my life tomorrow. (laughs) Even if they see it as me losing, I’m still T-Pain after that. Those hits still exist.

Have you watched all the other battles?

Oh of course. I’ve been tuned in crazy.

 

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Tomorrow who you got ???? @tpain vs @liljon ........... VERZUZ.... 9pm est

A post shared by No Breaks In 2020 (@therealswizzz) on Apr 3, 2020 at 4:19pm PDT

Which have been the best to you?

The obvious one. (laughs) Fucking Dream and Sean Garrett is my favorite one, just cuz of how Sean was tripping for a while. (laughs) But it made for a good show, and we got to hear a lot of dope records that a lot of young people not only didn’t know about, but that even older people forgot about. Like I said, the people watching are the real winners. Nobody’s really going against each other. It’s a competitive industry as it is, and we proved our point by putting out the hits in the first place. Seeing Sean and Dream go against each other, two of the greatest hip-hop/R&B songwriters of our generation, it’s a great thing to see.

One element from these battles is that they’ll bring out songs that the audience didn’t know that they did. Do you think there are a lot of songs you’ve done that people don’t associate with you?

There’s a ton of those. People don’t even know that I produce my own sh*t. People don’t look at credits no more. It’s a bunch of country records I did that I’m not even trying to put out there that I did. It’s an honor to do it, I just don’t look for that kind of props. I know what I did, the check’s coming in, I’m fine if people don’t do that.

What kind of strategy are you looking at for this?

I don’t really have a strategy man. I’m just playing songs. If I saw it as a competition, I’d definitely have a strategy. But I’m just playing music. I’m not trying to beat out Lil Jon. Lil Jon is a f**king GOAT. He changed sh*t. He created party music, the crunk era, sh*t like that. Not only are we completely different –– obviously you want to make it entertaining, but if there’s nothing there, you don’t want to force it and make it silly.

At first, the matchup was going to be you and Scott Storch. Did you feel any way when they switched it?

Nah, not really. I understood. It made complete sense. They said they didn't want it to be a pure producer against a songwriter. Even Lil Jon is a songwriter, he's on a lot of the songs that he's going to play. It's not pure production against songwriting, you wouldn't have anything to compare. I like keeping it the way it makes sense. Give me someone who's written a verse before.

That’s all the questions I have for you. 

This was probably supposed to be way more controversial than this. (laughs)

(Laughs) I wasn't expecting controversy, you're not a controversial guy.

I'm not, man. I wish I could come in this b*tch like “I’ma kill this ni**a, ima murder that motherf***er.” But nah, the ni**a got slaps for real. (laughs) Ni**a got slaps. I can't wait to hear em. I know he's gonna have a DJ set up, he's gonna come in there screaming all over my goddamn phone. I'm more excited to have fun on live with Jon, I ain't seen Jon in a while. I'm more excited about that than the competition.

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