DJ L
DJ L

Interview: Chicago's DJ L Reflects On The Problematic Evolution Of Drill Rap

 Chicago's DJ L sits down with VIBE for a rare interview.

For a man of his massive physical stature, Chicago’s own DJ L is one of the city’s more elusive, yet highly influential producers. From the shadowy profile picture on his Twitter account and the fact that he's a bit of a studio rat, the Windy City beatsmith purposely keeps his profile low-key. But his work speaks for itself, and he was one of the major catalysts behind two young Chicago emcees you may know as G-Herbo and Lil Bibby. L is a calculating figure who spends his days plotting the next moves in the music business, often alongside his longtime friend, radio promoter, and manager, Blakemore.

After the release of G-Herbo’s critically acclaimed debut album Humble Beast earlier this year, it was back to work as usual. Recently, he made a rare appearance at Andrew Barber’s Fake Shore Dive 10th-anniversary party where VIBE caught up with him.

WATCH: G Herbo Discusses Debut Album ‘Humble Beast,’ Tupac And Conversations With Fans (Watch)

To date, L has worked with a large number of Chicago's legends and new stars, including Dreezy, Common, King Louie, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, Chief Keef, and Tink, among many others. Nationally, he has worked with the likes of Juicy J, Fetty Wap, Project Pat, PNB Rock, Lil Uzi Vert, Plies, Dej Loaf, Kevin Gates, A Boogie With Da Hoodie NBA Youngboy and more.

DJ L is known for his hard-hitting, rapid-fire snare drum loops and ominous soundscapes that not only helped further define the sound of Drill music but modern day rap as well. The producer's sound was influenced by his marching band days, trap music and Chicago footwork.

“Like Bibby used to always say when he heard my beats: 'I need the footwork sound.' That influenced me as well as playing the drums because I was in the Bud Billiken parade four times doing the band sh*t,” he explains. “It was a mix between those two sounds and the trap sound. It was the trap Atlanta sound, and two Chicago sounds, the house music, juke sh*t and the marching band, drumline sh*t. That’s why [some of] my sh*t sounds like its clashing because I’m trying to get all three of my elements in. I want the kick and the feeling of the trap with the drums from the drumline --- and then you go into the feeling and the pace of the juke music.

LISTEN: Lil Bibby Keeps It G “For Real” (Video)

L, real name Londen Buckner, grew up with what he describes as a “proper upbringing." He was born in Hyde Park, a mixed-income neighborhood on the South Side, between Lake Shore Drive and downtown Chicago. Eventually, he and his working family moved farther east to the notorious 79th street in the Chatham neighborhood. By his account, he lived “down the street” from Chance The Rapper and about a mile away from a very, very young Lil Bibby and G-Herbo in the neighboring South Shore community. Like most young people in Chicago’s inner cities, it was not long until the streets came knocking at the baby-faced producer’s door at an early age.

“Chatham at that time was gangsta, but residential. You could play, you could go to the park and it was long big blocks where you could ride your bike and the police were over there and it wasn’t no problem,” L recalls. “Then you started getting to fourth and fifth grade and there’s this new sh*t called ‘G.D.’ You don’t know what the f*ck it is, I was a wrestling fan watching The Rock and now everybody’s calling themselves ‘G.D.'"

Despite this sudden change that Buckner saw among his peers, his environment would drastically take a turn for the worse after his Godmother died. He went from green grass and elderly neighbors to boarded-up apartment buildings, trap houses, and the overall horrific underbelly of the streets where a person, even a child, could be murdered at any moment. It was at that point where his innocence was lost and was forced to grow up… fast.

“I was comfortable walking to the corner store in my old neighborhood. In fifth grade, you scared, you don’t know what to do," L told VIBE. I go to the park and hoop, a ni**a might come and knock your ass out. It got real street, real fast. You realize this the f*cking ghetto and you have to get wiser quicker because you're dealing with people and seeing that everybody’s not nice. Don’t leave your basketball, don’t leave your bike because your sh*t will be gone. Chicago was really that type of city."

As he grew older and transferred into an Afrocentric charter school, Butler developed his cultural awareness as a black man and a much deeper understanding of why his community was the way it was (while maintaining good grades throughout). By the time he attended his freshman year at Hales Franciscan Catholic High School he saw the city for what it really was as he rod the local CTA buses.

“That bus ride showed me how real Chicago was on my own. They were throwing ni**as through the bus stops, it was gladiator school,” said Butler. "You was either a goofy or a man. Anybody who was a savage and tough all the time, their asses are in jail, they’re not here to talk about it."

Throughout his life, he has always been one with music. L started off as a drummer at his local church and elevated his craft by participating in various local marching bands in elementary and high school. While figuring out what would the “pro” level for being a drummer, he came to the conclusion that being a producer would take him to the next where he wanted to go.

In a rare interview with VIBE, DJ L discusses what inspired his sound, how he discovered Herbo and Bibby, the issues he feels drill rap has created, the uncertain future of rap as he knows it and much more.

How did you first meet G-Herbo and Lil Bibby?
I had came back home from [The University of Illinois] and I was doing something important that day. My blood brother [Ace Boogie] seen me when he was riding by and he was like, “Yo, hop in the car”. I hopped in the car and he played me Herb rapping. I was trying to sell beats on the internet at the time, and I was trying to get my brother to put some money into it. He was like, 'man well if you work with my shorties, these are some little homies that I know that’s like my little brothers, I’ll get down.' He played me Herb’s “Ya’ll Don’t Really Hear Me Though” freestyle. He had about 50, 100 n*gga’s in the background. They had guns and them dudes were just like woah. It was hard. At the time, however, I wasn’t initially impressed even though he was rapping.

The next day, my brother comes down and says he could finance my website. He pulls a fast one on me and plugs the phone into the speaker and plays Herb's video. They had a loft downtown near Milwaukee St. They’re playing the song and at the time his name was "Lil Heroin." They’re playing the sh*t through the speaker and I’m like damn, what the fu*k is this? He played that sh*t through the aux cord, “I don’t f*ck with no snitch, No Limit gang,” I was like oh my God, take me to meet this ni**a tomorrow! He took me to meet him the next day, and I pulled up on 75th and Euclid. Herb came out and hopped in the back of the car. I was acting like I was somebody at the time [laughs].

Now Herb, he obviously ain’t the G-Herbo rapper we know now, he was trying to get something cracking. At the time, I don’t know how good the kid is so I asked him to spit something for me. I’m in the front seat, and he’s in the back, and we’re both tall as hell, we’re crunched up in my brother’s small Ford Focus rental. Herb rapped for like 45 minutes straight, just straight bars and I was like "oh my God". I felt like I found Jay-Z!

Keep in mind that I didn’t know who Bibby was at the time either. The first person that I called was DJ Hustlenomics because he had just done Chief Keef’s first mixtape Bang. This is June of 2012 so we had rode to 78th and Vernon. Herb rapped for another 45 minutes back to back. I’m just introducing Herb to everybody I know so the next man I called was Spaceman Music. I called him and Herb rapped for another 45 minutes [laughs]. Anybody who saw that could attest that he was crazy. For him to be that young, 15, 16 years old, it was crazy.

Herb was telling me he had other n*ggas that rapped and said, 'One of my homies is locked up, he gets out tomorrow. One of the guys I be rapping with his name is Bibby. He’s just as cold as me.' That’s how Bibby came into the fold. So now, anything they’re playing I’m really listening to. They played me the video for “Do This Sh*t For Ya’ll” and I was highly impressed by it. All this sh*t that everybody felt about Bibby’s voice, I didn’t get that at first. I was just stuck on his look, like “This n*gga’s look is fu*king crazy, he looks white!” I was like, this ni**a looks white as sh*t! We finna get rich! I felt like I hit the jackpot. So now I got him and felt like I had two for the price of one in the first three days from being home from school I made a decision at the time that I was gonna make it happen this summer or I was going back to school --- and I won.

By chance, I had an affordable studio for them, my brother had some money at the time. He had a car, I had my car and we had the two hottest rappers. They wasn’t quite hot yet but the two I felt like was better than everybody skill wise. But then I started to figure out the inner workings of the scene and how we could manipulate things to our favor.

I think Herb and Bibby’s coming out party was a party two DJs I knew was having on 79th and Vernon at a multi-purpose center and, man, they literally came in there 100 kids deep! They came in and did “Kill Sh*t” and “Gangway”, which is funny because they’re my biggest songs to date and the first two songs we did together. They had ended up beating the security guard’s ass and five other guards that night because Bibby’s verse was on “Kill Sh*t” and Herb was at the center. They didn’t know Bibby had a verse, too, and he didn’t have a mic. Security was telling him to get off the stage, Bibby told him he was going to rap. They threw him off the stage and it was like a swarm of bees. They tore that club up! I won’t say names but some folks outside [shot guns in the air] and was like “'No Limit b*tch!' And that let the street know that we are here --- and we are just as important as the 300 guys.

You and many other people in Chicago often call “Kill Sh*t” one of the most influential songs to come out of Chicago in recent years. How did “Kill Sh*t” change the landscape in rap?
Because it was the first song in the modern era that you could rap completely over the hook and there wasn’t a hook at all. It was the predecessor for [Bobby Shmurda’s] “Hot Ni**a” and that’s how a lot of rap is now. Look at Tay-K’s “The Race,” where’s the hook? YBN Nahmir’s “In The Mirror,” where’s the hook at? Cardi B’s ["Bodak Yellow"] didn’t have a hook at first. We started that and nobody did that for us before the modern era.

What was the rap scene in Chicago like for you around that time?
At the time, Keef and them was the reigning faction and everybody wanted to get down with them, and I was one of them. My mom worked on the school bus with Chief Keef’s grandmother, and I was trying to get some beats to him. I was in Champaign at the time so I couldn’t attack it aggressively. I was sending beats and we’re on the phone, calling each other “cousin” because our parents worked on the school bus together for so many years. But, Young Chop was with him every day. [If his grandmother had a say], I would have had all the beats on Keef because his grandmother would have said “Uh uh, you gon’ work with London!' He was f*cking with me but I didn’t have a name. I had a few King Louie placements but it wasn’t like Chop who was his man. That’s his close homie and he was recording him. Nobody was doing as much as Young Chop. Nobody was doing as much as him, and I always give respect because he caught that wave right on time.

When I saw how Young Chop was moving in that moment, I was like okay, I gotta get some land. What don’t we have? We don’t have lyrical rappers that are in this movement yet so I’m going to go get that. It’s a funny story how that even happened because, at the time, I thought King Louie was the best rapper, who I believe still is. But the problem was Louie was older, he was like 26 and sh*t at the time, and he lost touch with the youth a little bit. But when John Monopoly and all of them came back looking for the next guy, they grabbed King Louie. They did the deal with him and to his detriment, the ni**a Keef literally, a month, two months later after that. Chief Keef came down like a monsoon! There was no way to prepare for that kind of impact. King Louie to this day, his whole career hasn’t recovered from that. He came back a little when I got with him [on the T.O.N.Y. tape].

How does that relate to the eventual rise of Herb and Bibby?
When we came out with Herb, Bibby, and them young ni**as rapping, it threatened Louie and them because they were some young, rapping dudes. Everybody painted the clear distinct difference. Louie and them were really rappers though. Keef and them cool but dude could really really rap. But then you had the shorties who could rap too so now it’s like you’re getting replaced. I think that lit a fire under him because he was going crazy with the raps around that time because everybody wrote him off.

The point is, the sh*t with Herb and Bibby, we came up on a side of town that was not represented and then they had underlying ties with the streets. That’s a faction that’s outside of two warring factions, the Gangster Disciples and the Black Disciples, so we were already kind of had a lot of advantages. The Moes was not represented so we weren't in a situation were the B.D.s could hate because they were the ruling faction. We were on the sidelines.

How I won with them was that I was going to the University of Illinois, and I knew all of the frats and sororities, the Alphas, Kappas, the AKAs, I’m just knowing what kind of music they liked. From 2011-2012, it went from a lot of lovey, dovey Travis Porter, Drake, raunchy club shit, Trey Songz, college love to ni**a I’m 300. Gangbangin sh*t with the college kids.

From your perspective, how did that impact Hip-Hop?
When Keef and them came out, it completely changed the landscape of hip-hop. That made Waka and all them look crazy and he didn’t even look street no more. It was the hyper-masculinity of black males. Think about the power vacuum that came out of that. From Keef and them coming out, and this ties to Herb and Bibby as well, I was going to the college parties in the Spring of 2012 and started to feel like how a lot of people felt about N.W.A. when they had people in Middle America screaming f*ck the police.

It was like that. People from Flossmoore, Illinois and all these people from affluent communities screaming ni**a I’m 300, I’m B.D., G.D.K. --- all this sh*t. It brought the most ignorant part of the hood to your living room. When I saw that, it made me feel like this was going to open the doors for some crazy sh*t. Now, if you could bring in some kids who could tell the story of why it’s like that, then you’ll have a niche market. I knew right then and there [Drill] was going to change America because it was just too magnetic. Everybody was honoring that sh*t.

I knew it was going to be a problem because it felt like a rat race. I felt like this was going to open the floodgates for later. I felt like people wouldn’t get it then. I went immediately and attacked it early so that’s why we won.

Let’s go back to your early days for a second. How did your experiences as a child and teenager influence you getting into the music scene?
At the time, I felt like I couldn’t run from it. I needed to go to the heart or the source of who was running the streets among the shorties at the time. I felt like running away from it would just make the situation worse. Not for me necessarily, but in general. In order for me to survive, because my mom couldn’t take me everywhere [because] she’s working, I had to fend for myself, but she did a lot for me though.

I started going to the skating rink, The Rink on 87th street. That was pretty much the central location for all the kids that was on the South Side or the city period to come to --- it’s like the cultural center. If you learn the cultural center, you win. The first time I went during my freshman year, I didn't know anybody. By the time I went to my senior year, I knew everybody and everybody knew me. I was popular and I was known. Me and my friends, we’d go in there deep and we learned Chicago. I did the Bud Billiken parade three or four times, too. That’s why we as able to conquer. I had the knowledge of self and I understood the teachings of Hon. Louis Farrakhan and Hon. Elijah Muhammad as far as black people not being together. I had this in the back of my head while watching 200 black dudes jump one another one at the rink. I’m not going to take the typical approach, I can’t just say 'brother you’re not doing this right' because I was a kid. You got to have that in mind and infiltrate to be affiliated with that. I didn’t join a gang because I already knew that it was goofy, but I had to survive that. My whole goal was getting into school, getting into college. That’s why it f*cked me up when Keef and them had infiltrated the schools because it was like 'damn, this sh*t is still going on!'

How do you view what you’ve helped create in the long run?
In retrospect I feel like, would I do it all again? No, I wouldn’t because I feel like we hurt the community so bad. They might beg to differ but I think so. We’re providing, but the kids nowadays, they could say whatever they want to say. They’re not listening to the lyrical content and be like I understand. Even if they understand they’re still out here on some killing their own people sh*t. It’s fu*ked up because I don’t think we’re helping the community. We're not giving any real solutions so I’m conflicted because professionally, I could say it changed my life and opened some doors for me, even in my personal and business relationships. But, I don’t think we’re helping the f*cking community, bro.

Hip-Hop is destroying the black community... when I say that me, Herb, and Bibby make records about “doing hits," some young mothaf*cka thinks it’s cool, and their choices in life are based off what we just said.

Do you believe that the Chicago rappers you’ve worked with over the years have a responsibility to the youth?
Absolutely, because we’re making money off of it. Every time someone plays a song on YouTube, it’s money if you monetize your sh*t right --- you’re getting paid. The thing is, I feel like it’s too late now because if you really think about it, look at how Waka looked after Chief Keef came out. It was like, 'damn we’re at this point?' Look at Young Thug after Keef. Thug came out after Keef and people were like oh my God he’s wearing a dress. Now you got a ni**a in a dress sucking the muzzle of a gun. At this point, how far down the rabbit hole are we going to go? So, of course, Chicago rappers have a responsibility to the youth. You’re making money off these people and in 20 years, we’re going down a fu*king rabbit hole. We’re sending off the culture, and I don’t think it’s intelligent to do that.

In a lot of ways, the culture has literally reverted to the minstrel show days and to be honest, I don’t be into hip-hop anymore. I got all types of other sh*t I plan on getting into that’s going to help, which I can’t speak about just yet. Steve Stoute said it’s getting too random and he left in 1999. The rappers they’re signing is too random, the executives are too random, and this is his word for word quote: “In a business where it’s no determination of whose really good and who’s not, at some point that business will falter.” Because, what would the NBA be if I could play in it? If I could join the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA would be like, man, please. Because there are people in it who take this basketball sh*t seriously as far as practicing and exercising. I get a chance to play at the highest level in the culture and I’m not sh*t, then anybody can do it. And when anybody feels like they could do it, it opens the floodgates for the diminishing of the special nature of what it is.

Rap should take a lot of notes from the NBA because if you really think about it, every part of that experience is monetized. When you got that special sh*t, that’s what makes people pay! Hip-hop is not special anymore. That’s why the money is starting to dry up. It’s still money in it, but it’s too easy for anybody to get it. There’s no clear barometer as far as who’s better and who’s not. It’s like, you could be the worst point guard in the NBA and make more money than LeBron. That’s how hip-hop is right now.

What does that mean for producers such as yourself?
Even with the producers, they're are getting raped right now. You’re at the bottom of the bottom when it used to be the other way around. You used to be the head, and now you’re the tail. And it’s not because the beats have gotten weaker, they’ve gotten better. Technology has helped us make music better. It’s because technology simplified it which means more people can do it, which means it’s a dime a dozen. What do they say in business? Too much circulation makes the price go down. Period. Why the f*ck would I pay you when I have 50 other people who could do it. But, if you have that one LeBron, that one D. Rose, you’re not going to get that again. When you make something that’s so classic, you could sell that sh*t forever because people want that. People want that original recipe, that A1 steak sauce because there’s nothing like it.

The kid SahBabii, I saw a story with his producer, they reached out to him and said we got $7,000 for you” to buy the [“Pull Up With The Stick” beat]. That’s all you get. I wouldn’t even sell beats or complete rights to rappers, unless the monetary value was that great. I’d monetize off the backend. But honestly, don’t even do that. If you’re a producer, sign you a rapper. Do whatever you can. I think it’s over for producers until... if we don’t come together and do some type of union right now then it’s no way for you to eat. Don’t let all these other successful producers tell you “well we got placements." I’m not going to have my life depending on whether or not another person likes my product. Or rather, if they like it or not, trying to figure out where they want to put it out or not. That’s too much control for one man to have over your art. When Derrick Rose and them go out and play basketball, they have a collective bargaining agreement, the veteran’s minimum that you can get. So, he knows that no matter what, he’s going to get a particular minimum. Ain’t sh*t like that in Hip-Hop. The veteran minimum is "nothing ni**a, send this beat, we got 1,000 other mothafu*kas that got beats".

So, I tried to be the “Malcolm X” on the producer’s side and it ain’t get me nowhere so I don’t give a f*ck. I tried to galvanize everybody but you’re not going to get producers in hip-hop on the same page. There are too many varying levels and there’s no value in quality. How can we determine value in it? What’s a good beat anymore when DJ Mustard singlehandedly drove down the value of beats. It's not that he wasn't a good producer because he was the biggest in the game, he was coming with the simplest beats and was making more money than anybody, signed a publishing deal, then that ran out --- now what? Now Metro's the king of the hill and they're not looking for his sound anymore. It's the biggest sound right now, so what happens to him?

The same thing happened to me. I signed a publishing deal, and when my advance runs out, then what? Then you’re looking outside of hip-hop. I’m not looking at rap, I don’t see where the money is at. I am not looking at hip-hop for long-term stability anymore. When you get to 2019, when the hammer really hits, then what?

It’s not about dope lyrics anymore. That’s the battle I tried to fight with Herb and Bibby, but [fans] don’t care about real rap so it’s like a losing battle. Maybe the core hip-hoppers do and some young people, but the majority of pop music is as simplistic as possible. Like, people always want to say that “all this stuff is going to exist in hip-hop and people are going to do them and it’s going to be different,” but it’s too much of the other sh*t. It’s too easy to make a drill record, a trap record. 21 Savage is a direct combination of the musical influence and energy of Lil Reese and Fredo Santana and to an extent --- the drill movement as a whole with an added Atlanta bounce. He’s more commercially successful than any artist Chicago artist from the drill movement, with a possible exception of Keef. How could he take that style and get on with it? But nobody wants to say the sh*t because everyone wants to be “politically correct."

WATCH: Chance The Rapper To Joe Budden: “I Am The Culture”

I can see some similarities too as far as their Fredo’s menacing swagger and Reese’s distinct cadence and flow, but just so I understand, are you saying that he bit those two artists?
I’m not coming at 21, I love 21’s music and I play "Nothing New" every day. I’m just saying that if you don’t think that’s a direct copy and plagiarism of, but maybe I’ll rephrase that. Maybe that’s what inspired that [the same way] Waka Flocka birthed Keef, which birthed [21’s style]. [Atlanta] went back gangsta after Chicago assumed the throne of making the most vulgar hip-hop in the country.

For me personally, I continue to make rap music in the lanes that are open. Like the female lane, I think that’s wide open right now. I feel like you can still come in there and make something special. That’s why the OGs are coming in and trying to do the female rap think like how 9th Wonder got Rapsody. But the male rap game? Man, listen if you’re trying to be a male rapper, you’re better off trying to play basketball and go to the NBA. And that’s like a 1 in 10 Million chance your ass is going to make it. You’re better off doing that because you still have to have physical abilities. It’s still some type of barrier to get in that. This sh*t, it’s too many people and way too demographics. It’s too many niches in this sh*t.

I think female rap is still volatile and it’s still forming because look at Cardi B. She’s the Jackie Robinson of this sh*t bro. The only hip-hop that I really care about right now is female rap.

What can fans expect from Bibby’s Free Crack IV?
Gangsta Sh*t. This is us getting back to—well, me and Bibby never did anything exclusive. It’s funny because we did a sh*t load of tracks but never a whole project. He still has other producers on there but I did the majority of the tracks. So, it’s like how me and Herb did Ballin Like I’m Kobe. I think we gave a lot of cautionary tales and I think it’s the best Bibby project since his inception because I’m involved (laughs). Went for more turn up and if that’s what the fans then we’re giving the people what they want. They don’t really want to be rapped to but he still brings it home with the spittin’ and we know he can rap. But I think if you listen to Herb’s project with Southside, it’s turned up like this is.

Bibby's actually putting out an EP before that called 4Real. It's going resurgence of true street rap and we're providing nothing but street anthems that will prompt our resurgence of Chicago as the capital of street rap in hip-hop.

Lastly, what do you want your legacy to be in hip-hop when it’s all said and done?
Just somebody who was able to change lives, man. And changed my own. I want people to put me in their top 4 among the best producers to come out of Chicago. That’s about it. But, I was mainly inspired by my mother, my brother Ace Boog, my big homie Peanut G, and my life partner Asha. These are the people who shape me thus far and I wanna inspire people the same way they inspired me.

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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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