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VIBE / Mikey Fresh

AZ Premieres 'Save Them' (Feat. Raekwon & Prodigy), Reflects on The Firm & Teases 'Doe or Die 2'

Hear the official full track.

Brooklyn rap veteran AZ may be best known for his contributions to The Firm -- the '90s hip-hop supergroup which also included Nas, Foxy Brown, Nature and at one point Cormega -- as well as Nas' Illmatic cut "Life's A B-tch" -- but the hard-hitting rhymer behind 1995's Doe or Die album is back to remind the rap game of what it's been missing.

For his new offering "Save Them," AZ calls on Raekwon and Mobb Deep's Prodigy, both hardcore lyricists in their own right, for the socially conscious track, produced by Buckwild.

Before performing at New York's B.B. King's as an opener for Das EFX's 25th anniversary of their debut Dead Serious, AZ reflected on his past career and teases his upcoming album Doe or Die 2 with VIBE. Read the full interview and listen to "Save Them" in full below.

 

VIBE: What were some of your issues with labels back in the day? 

You know back then, that's when the merger started going on, before we even knew what the merger was about, going from cassette to CDs to digital to streams and what's going on now. Record labels were merging. For the record, I've never been dropped from a label and I've been on five. I've been on EMI, financial thing [happened] then I went to Virgin. From there, I went with Electric. For a minute I was on Transcending [Records]. Then, I went to Motown and from Motown that's when "I started dealing with [independent label now known as EOne] Koch. I wanted to do my own thing going indy and I'm here now. I kept it moving trying to figure it out as time went on.

In between changing labels, what was it like creatively? How did you stay creatively sharp?

I was just trying to stay afloat. Nine Lives, I think that was the Motown one because in the process of me doing that, they folded and it was collapse after collapse. I guess I was just writing what I lived and I knew I had to get it done and it was off sheer talent. It wasn't like let me sit down and make a masterpiece, it was let me put something out to stay afloat, because you know the fans are fickle. They are with you now then they're over here. I respect it -- that's just how it is so you have to stay on top of your game.

That "Problems" single encapsulates what you just said.

Yeah, you right. That's what went on at that time and thank god for that particular [song] because it helped me go to [make] AZiatic, which I was more comfortable with on Motown, but they were going through their own infrastructure issues. The blessing is each label saw my struggle and knew [the problem] wasn't me per se. Some of them didn't know how to market you [as an artist]. A lot of cats get shelved and it's a wrap, and I've never been dropped from a label. I've been blessed to consistently create and put music out.

Where are you getting inspiration from now?

Now I got love for the game. I love creating, feeding the people. I feel like the narrator and I know I got a core fan base out there that listens and they know I'm going to drop a jewel or two.

You had the book Jewels, Gems and Treasures drop in 2015. Could you tell the people about the book?

The book is like a memoir. Those that know me and really wanted to know the intricate parts of AZ, I put in there. My learning was really from the streets and family -- the lessons I've learned through the game as far as performance, respecting the art and the craft. Then, learning the business and respecting the business.

The book led into you doing the 20th anniversary run of Doe or Die and the merchandising aspect. What's it like for you now to collaborate with brands?

Now, social media is everything, so when you create your own [platform] and sell your own merchandise, it's a good look. I guess my name being out there makes it better but even someone coming from scratch, they could make it happen and make it happen in a big way as well. It's a blessing at the end of the day now that I see how the whole thing works. We're going to keep expanding and growing. That's my goal. We got one book out and getting ready for another book. I got this Doe or Die 2 ready to come. I collab with Azad Watches, got the Brooklyn edition. Things are constantly going on.

For a while, we heard this might be the last project, but now it seems you got this new energy to kick in.

Things shift and I was like I could really do this on my own, seeing how the store is going. I'm in a better creative space.

It's wild that this is the 20th anniversary of The Firm. What was that whole experience like working with Dr. Dre and being on Aftermath?

I mean you got to understand, we all were popping before that, so dealing with Dre I was appreciative and I could respect it, but at the same time, the family thing was better. We all could connect and had love, especially me and Nas, and [Foxy Brown] was doing her thing. So to come together and do a project it was a blessing. Of course Dre was going through his transition at the time too. He represented that West Coast so crazy. I just wanted to really get some of that Dr. Dre music and that "Phone Tap" really set it off.

That crew solidified two strong MCs. It put a blueprint together. What do you think The Firm brought to the game?

We brought something together that some people probably have never thought of. As of now, a lot of powerhouses come together even in R&B. I think we set that off. Usually, groups came in the game. It never was people coming together individually. We were the first ones to get together after having our own lane.

Are you still collaborating with a lot of people from the era?

Yeah, [my new single] "Save Them." The sound was shifting. A lot of brothers in the street were [telling me], "You got to save us." And I'm like, "Save y'all from what?" So I took that title to save the people, then [producer] Buckwild played a joint in the studio called "Save Them" and I was like this is it. I just wanted to bring some brothers who I know respect the craft. Raekwon -- that's my brother from day one and Prodigy [of Mobb Deep] is from that era as well and I just wanted to put something together that I know that audience will appreciate. Even the shorties will say oh that's what this about and they will gravitate towards it, so that's the goal we want to save the people and save them from themselves.

Are there any new artists that have caught your ear?

I dig Meek Mill, Wale, Drake, J. Cole, Kendrick [Lamar] -- they're new but not that new. Every year, there's a new crop, but those cats I respect. As far as right no, I been trying to stay away from the radio and lock in and get mine out the way and do what I do.

There's certain artists when they hear a beat, they say that's the AZ sh-t. You have your own sound and if you had to define it, how would you explain it?

I'm not complicated. I'm like the saxophone creating a relaxing tone. I'm from that era, so I'm going to send that music out with a relaxing type of vibe, a thinking type of vibe and a chill vibe. I respect all the vibes, because all of them create one and it's all needed but I'm trying to get you to that one place where you're going to wind up regardless. Like if you're off the hook [going crazy], you're seeking for calm and peace. That's at the end, you start off calm as a baby not knowing what’s up, then you go through your trials and tribulations in life and then you want to relax with the kids and take it easy. I'm already there. I've always been there since I was a youngin'. That's what we're seeking. Some people just take the long route. That's always been on my mind from day one. I want to get the money, I want to chill out and do what I want to do, y'all could have all the headaches in the world. Even as a young guy, I used to tell the homies, "You need to take it easy." You don't want to get locked up and it plays out like that. Only the strong survive.

You're doing a show tonight in New York. Let the people know your anticipation and what it's like to give back to the crowd live.

I'm back in the hometown so it's love but any show that I do, I just try to represent the art and give the songs the people want to hear and the songs they've never heard so they could appreciate that, and just have fun on that stage.

AZ #Brooklyn #TheFirm

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Your son is entering the industry as well. Speak on your feelings about his budding entertainment career. 

My son is trying to do the music thing. I really want him to get focused and be more scholastically motivated. There's a lot that comes with the game. I try not to knock him and lead him the right direction and let him go where his heart wants to go. But of course everyone wants to gravitate toward the light, everyone wants the light. That light will blind you sometimes. I try to tell people stay away from the light, but who am I? Everyone has to walk their own path.

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Premiere: Papoose Gets Suited And Explains How "Maturity" Focuses On New Album: Endangered Species

Amid these wild times of break-ups and no make-ups, we fortunately get to see more visions of #BlackLove with the likes of the happily married union of rap/tv stars Remy Ma and Papoose. Surviving some of the rough experiences that their early courting to locked-in relationship endured, Papoose in some ways, fell back from going super hard with his burgeoning rap career in supporting his wife and family from the sidelines. Let's be clear through, his rapid fire, high level bar game was and is always on deck and he proves this with the release of his newest single, "Maturity," from his long-awaited album, Endangered Species, dropping today (Oct. 9th).

Papoose explains what he feels is a true coming to terms with his current life status, as the video and song blend perfectly. "'Maturity,' is one of my favorite songs on the album! The time in a man's life when he matures is life changing," he states. "It is the moment that he treats his woman like a Queen, remains loyal, faithful...and puts his family first!"

Looking at the time period production of the video, you can tell this was a different experience for Pap, especially since the leading lady in it is his real life leading lady. "Shooting this maturity video was so much fun. The classical sound of the instruments played in this track reminded me of the 1920's/30's era," he continues with ampness. "My wife once gave me a 1920's themed birthday party. It was the best birthday of my life. I wanted to relive that moment. That's why I shot this video in black and white. 1920's style. Black love."

 

Although it's all love in his life, the troubling  times we are enduring as a people weighs heavy on Pap as well. Always one to lyrically depict the days and times, this new work does just that, but with Pap at his socially sharpest (especially on the heart wrenching track, "Tribute"). "Real artists are an endangered species! Due to police brutality, this pandemic and so much injustice. Our people are also an endangered species.  I didn't choose this album title, it chose me," he states strongly. "I used all live instruments because real musicians are also rare and [they are] endangered species these days. Brady Watt played all the live instruments. He's a true musician."

 

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NEW LP AT MIDNIGHT... "ENDANGERED SPECIES" @papoosepapoose and @bradywattbass have been plotting this album since THIS DAY in February... COVID tried to shut it down but they PUSHED THRU... ENTIRELY PRODUCED BY BRADY WATT...

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Getting to the main frame of rapping for the people again, Papoose's energy is in attack mode. You'll hear it on the album, but also see it in how he's active in the streets again. Check him tearing up Funk Flex's new freestyle format series, Block Work. He's still got a way with that alphabetical and numerical slaughter.

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Premiere: Chronixx's “Same Prayer” Music Video Feat. Kabaka Pyramid

Do not be deceived by the gorgeous vistas of Jamaican mountainscape displayed in the visuals for Chronixx's “Same Prayer.”

The subtly crafted song is more concerned with navigating the treacherous terrain of humanity's inner landscape than enjoying the view outside. And it's definitely not all zen, yoga, and spirulina. "There’s so much good in the world," Chronixx sings, "and still evil a lurk." The song finds him beseeching the Almighty (Jah) to protect him and his loved ones (I and I) "from the ones who nuh care 'bout the fact we share the same air / and the blood that we bleed is alike." In other words, it's a song for this exact moment—when people are dying every day and nobody seems to have the answers. A time when we all do what we need to do. Seen? By the end of the third verse, Chronixx is left crying a river of tears and hoping Jah Jah hears. Then it's time to touch the road—"Tuck it inna me waist and start up the bike." Today Boomshots and VIBE proudly premiere the official visuals for "Same Prayer."

This is the second song we've heard from Dela Splash, the follow-up to Chronixx’s Grammy-nominated debut Chronology. Where “Dela Move” explored fast-forward flows and trap-influenced drum patterns, the newly released Zion I Kings–produced track is grounded within the ancient traditions of the Niyabinghi order.

Judging by the first fruits of Chronixx's labor, the sonic palette of the new album will be diverse and the mindset noticeably hardened. Sorta like when 3 Feet High & Rising gave way to De La Soul Is Dead. While any similarities between the Long Island rap trio De La Soul and Jamar McNaughton’s beloved De La Vega City may be coincidental, both artists are attuned to Da Inner Sound Y'all.

“‘Same Prayer’ is, in part, a prayer for the younger generation to reflect on internally," Chronixx explains to Boomshots. "It’s also a reminder that there is a greater power directing things in the physical space." On the timeless tune "Exodus," Bob Marley challenged listeners to "open your eyes and look within." Chronixx approaches his latest release with similar introspection: "Instead of looking for solutions in our material lives," he advises, "we can both reach out to this higher power and look deep within ourselves.”

The Chron Dada is joined on this one by longtime sparring partner Kabaka Pyramid. “It seems only a divine Power can help humanity at this point," says Kabaka. "This song is a call to reach deeply within oneself to find that Power, and ask It to guide and protect against the unknown elements along the way. So many things happening in realms that we are not yet able to perceive with our limited senses. Until we reach that stage we must trust the process with faith and determination."

The creative chemistry between these two artists is bubbling as usual, although Kabaka is better known for rattling off bar after bar of deadly wordplay, "Same Prayer" finds him in a more melodic mood. "Give thanks for this work of art Chronixx," he says, "I’m glad to lend some smooth vocals to it 😅” Don't get it misconstrued though, Kabaka's lyrics are as accurate as ever. When he declares himself to be "confident in the victory," he's quoting Haile Selassie I by way of Bob Marley's classic anti-racist anthem "War."

Kabaka first met Chronixx in April 2011 while celebrating his earthstrong (Rasta slang for "birthday") at Protoje's house in Kingston. "At the time I was recording my first reggae EP Rebel Music," Kabaka recalls, "and Protoje had given me some beats produced by Chronixx and Teflon (Zincfence). Our mutual respect was instant and still remains years later." Since then the pair have given us memorable musical moments like "Mi Alright" and "Blessed is the Man."

"It’s always a joy to collaborate with Chronman because he’s simply a genius in the studio," says Kabaka. "Everything he does somehow just works. On 'Same Prayer' I wrote my verse and he recorded and coached my vocals at Skyline Levels studio. You can give him a lot of the credit for the sweet vocals I delivered—haha.”

Art direction, Editing/VFX: Ivor McCray

Animation: Vo7can

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BH Releases “Code of the Streets” Music Video Feat. Lil Baby

“I love my haters, they my biggest fans,” stated BH on “1 of 1,” his collab with Nipsey Hussle off the landmark Crenshaw mixtape. Hussle encouraged BH—aka Boss Hussle—to focus on music after the young homie recovered from a damn-near fatal shooting sustained while running the streets of the Crenshaw district. “Nip was my mentor with this sh*t,” says the All Money In affiliate who joined Cobby Supreme and YG on stage for an emotional BET Awards tribute to Nipsey in June of 2019.

Over a year since Hussle’s tragic passing, BH has stayed in Marathon mode just like Nip taught him. Today he drops the official music video for “Code of the Streets,” a no-nonsense collaboration with Lil Baby. The visuals were shot in a Beverly Hills mansion with a few of the homies—Cobby, James Harden, Meek Mill, and Young Thug—counting stacks of crisp 100 bills amidst the old master paintings, chandeliers and lion skin rugs. But don’t assume that money is going to BH’s head. “You know how people get rich and they change?” he asks, rhetorically. “No matter how much money I get I’m still hood. I wouldn’t care if I had a billion dollars, bruh. I ain’t switchin’ up. I still come from this.”

BH and Baby’s chemistry on the track feels real because it is. Hussle’s always had strong Atlanta ties—Crenshaw was hosted by DJ Drama and Thugger featured on Victory Lap—and BH would often roll with Nip on trips to the A. “I would f**k with all the cool lil homies,” says BH. “And it just so happen that Baby, Gunna, all these ni**as lit now.”

The new track is taken from BH’s forthcoming project Blueprint, which he’s planning to drop sometime this summer. “I want the people to know no matter what you start with, that don’t mean that’s how you gotta end,” he says. “So I’m basically givin’ em the blueprint of how I did it. If y’all believe in me and what I stand for, this is my blueprint that took me from nothin’ to somethin’.”

BH was raised to abide by certain principles, hence the title “Code of the Streets,” a timely reminder of the rules he adheres to. “Look at Tekashi,” BH says as an example. “Nothin’ against his music—he dope. But that ain’t the f**kin’ code of the streets, man. What the f**k wrong with you, boy? You f**kin’ the code up. Get your bi**h a** outta here! Go raise your family and do whatever the f**k a snitch ni**a do. Don’t come back to music f**kin’ the game up where these kids thinkin’ it cool. Nah. You got ni**as you say you love life in jail. You knew what you was doin’. Don’t fold and give everybody else life and then come back out talkin’ all that sh*t—’I’m the king’ and all this. Ni**a, this is hip hop. This sh*t ain’t built on rats. How you the king? You the king of snitches.”

Speaking to VIBE amidst the wave of Black Lives Matter activism triggered by George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, BH shared his thoughts on the incident. “Man, they did him wrong! My thing is this: if you resisted and you fightin’ and you free, alright it’s one on one. Y’all could fight until whoever get it. But when you in handcuffs and you layin’ on the ground, you can’t even do nothin’. You couldn’t’ hurt the f**kin’ ground if you tried to. Man, why the f**k is he still bein’ choked out like that? He tellin’ you he can’t breathe. You see the man checkin’ out, bro. He can’t even move.”

BH has had enough experience with the LAPD over the years to know what he’s talking about. “The LAPD used to stop me every day,” he says matter of factly. But some days are worse than others. This past November he was pulled over in Beverly Hills by a small army of cops for driving a car that police claimed was stolen. After holding him a gunpoint, police cleared BH of any wrongdoing, but the trauma of the incident still remains.

“They said I fit the description of a stolen car or some bullsh*t,” he says. “My mind state was like ‘BH, I know you been through it. Don’t make them shoot you.’ When they realized it was not me they let me go.”

“Police feel like they can do that sh*t,” says BH, still angry from the experience. “Come on bro. Something got to give. It’s so much sh*t goin’ on that we let slide and go under the rug.” Nipsey may not be around to lead the resistance to the pandemic of racism and police brutality, but his All Money In team is definitely out here making sure The Marathon don’t stop.

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