Amanda Demme Photography/Art Direction

Respect The Pen: Royce Da 5'9 & DJ Premier Speak On 'PRhyme 2' & Gun Control

Nickle & Preemo break down their second PRhyme album and give their thoughts about the gun control controversy that's plaguing the country. 

PRhyme is doing their part to make a positive impact on today's generation of hip-hop, especially the children of the future. Since first embarking on their mission to take one artist's sound and flip it, Preemo style, in 2014, Royce Da 5'9 and DJ Premier have created gritty, yet modern records that cater to their loyal fans. For the first time since in over decade, DJ Premier can finally rely on an unbreakable chemistry with a seasoned lyricist the way he used to with his late Gang Starr brother, Keith "Guru" Elam.

"It’s always so easy with Royce," DJ Premier told VIBE. "Because he’s the closest thing to Guru that I’ve been able to click with so easily by creating dope records. It’s just that easy.”

As an emcee coming up in the Slaughterhouse gang under Eminem's wing, Royce never worried about making radio-friendly music because his favorite era of hip-hop wasn't considered Top 40 in the beginning either. Nickle Nine grew up listening to DJ Premier's generation of rappers like A Tribe Called Quest and Big Daddy Kane, who were making history with each record they released. In 2018, there are times when Royce is stuck in another era, but nonetheless, he's is all about helping the new generation progress with his rhymes.

DJ Premier took the lead on PRhyme 2's production, which is all inspired by the sounds of Philadelphia producer Antman Wonder. After saluting the original source of the PRhyme series --- Adrian Younge --- in the intro, Royce spits straight facts on 16 records with roots in the golden era all the way up to the new generation. Songs like "Rock It" and "Respect My Gun" featuring Roc Marciano are a nod to the OGs --- while the album's first single "Era" featuring Dave East, "Made Men" featuring Big K.R.I.T & Denaun Porter and "Loved Ones" featuring Rapsody reflect what the future of hip-hop should sound like.

"I don’t always like to dump everything on Preem and put the pressure on him," Royce told VIBE. "But this one in particular I kinda need Preem to take the lead on."

In our conversation about PRhyme 2, DJ Premier digs deep into the concepts behind some of the album's stand out records, and explains how Q-Tip helped him out in the beginning. Although he kept Antman's sound as the sole inspiration, Preemo also reveals which new artists he checks on. Meanwhile, Royce reveals PRhyme 2's other producer choices, describes how "Era" came to fruition, and explains his stance on America's gun control controversy.

Antman Wonder is the fresh component when it comes to foundation of the album’s production. What made you get Antman Wonder involved with the second installment of the project?

Premier: It was similar to Adrienne Young being the one for PRhyme 1. When Royce brought up the idea to me through Mike at Shady, who’ve I’ve known since way back as well from him being in the music business with Black Poet and Screwball and all that, he brought the idea for the album to be a Slaughterhouse project as an EP. I was kind of into but not into it based off of the fact that I’ve never been approached to just take one sound and make beats out of those sounds. I want everything to be different. Making an album with Royce as Royce Da 5’9 is different. That’s sampling and digging for horns.

Once I got comfortable with the first PRhyme, we didn’t know we didn’t know if we were going to do a PRhyme 2. It was almost like PRHyme 1 was so special that we were good with just that one because no one in hip-hop has ever done this. When it came to PRhyme 2, Mike actually mentioned Antman. Royce had already been in communication with Antman because he had given some things for Layers. Right Royce?

Royce: Yep I worked with him a couple of times. I worked with him through J.U.S.T.I.C.E League before for the Slaughterhouse album. I just had relationship with him already and was super familiar with his sound and compositions. Mike brought his name to the table, and I didn’t want to show favoritism even though Antman is family. We talked about Antman, Madlib, Frank Dukes, the Westbound [Records] catalog but as soon as Preem heard Antman’s shit, he just started vibing and coming up with ideas. That’s when he said ‘We going with Antman.’

Antman’s brings Philly alive through his beats without question, but tracks like “Era” and “Rock It” sound like there’s influence from the birthplace of hip-hop too. “Rock It” in particular reminds me of A Tribe Called Quest. Did they directly influence the record or did it coincidentally come out that way?

Premier: Nah, “Rock It” was actually the first beat I made for this PRhyme album just to get the first vibe with somebody different than Adrian. The singles started to come to us over time, but “Rock It” was the first one I experimented with. When I sent it to Royce, I gave it to him with the scratches already except the “Oh My God.” I got that from Royce because he was saying it later when he cut his vocals. So I was like ‘Yo man let me see if I can get an acapella from Q-Tip since no other ones exist.’ I called Q-Tip and he said he would burn it off the reel and give it to me. Since Royce said it, I thought it would be more respectable if I scratch Busta’s actual voice doing it from the record, and we’re getting it directly from the source. He [Royce] said he liked it, and started with that.

Royce, how was working with Dave East on "Era." Was he your first choice to get on it? He has proven himself to be one of the youngest lyricists who fits in among the golden era that both of you came up in.

Yeah, well the whole record really came together a little bit differently from any other thing that me and Preem have ever done. I’ve always liked East, and I always wanted to work with him from the first time I heard him. I had a project out a couple of years ago called ‘Trust The Shooter’ and I hit him about a verse for that. I had a song called ‘The Banjo’ that he was supposed to get on. He wrote the verse, laid it, and sent it to me like two days too late. I had the verse and the vocals.

So me and Preem were in the studio, and I was like ‘Yo I’ve got this East verse. I really like the verse. It’s fresh. It’s not trendy. It’s a verse that’s not going to go out of style. He’s not talking about current events or nothing like that. He’s just really tapping into something that fits the era.  It really sounds like a mixture of the two eras together. If you listen to it, it sounds like Dave was walking on the drums. That immediately gave me the idea of “Era.”

Sometimes it seems like this era isn’t progressive enough for me because I like music from different eras, and I believe we could’ve been more productive in other eras. So I was just fucking around with that concept, and it just came together from there.

Preemo you’ve also been working with the new generation of artists like A$AP Ferg and Torii Wolf lately. Did you draw any kind inspiration from other young MCs for this project?

Nah because I keep up with everybody from what [Tekashi] 69 to what Casanova 2x is doing to what Joyner Lucas is doing even to the two records Drake just dropped. A lot of artists from my generation don’t want to even go as far as to even listen to those records, research them or even care about them. It’s like ‘fuck all of them. They ain’t got no respect for us.” But with me, I’m still enjoying all of what these guys are doing. I just don’t want mix records like that production-wise because that’s their lane, and we had our lane in our era. I still make time to study it, know it exists, and make sure I have it in my Serato in case I do a party like that.

Royce, you’ve scattered jewels all over this album, but you & Preem recently dropped off some more in your Hot 97 freestyle. One line in particular sticks out: “I’ll pull the .44 and let it bang like Post Malone.” Your stance on our Second Amendment right is clear but, what’s your take on the snowballing gun control controversy in America? 

I feel like the world in general, not even just the black community but especially in the black community, our focus should always be the children. Our focus should always be the future, just like in hip-hop. We have to take care of the world. We have to take care of our children. One thing I’m against is arming teachers. You basically creating an environment where there may just have to be a shootout with bullets whizzing by the faces and heads of our children. That’s a fucking horrible idea. I think that every man should have the right to be able to protect his family with deadly force. We should have the right to bare arms still. I feel that we should figure out a way to protect the entrances, exits and hallways of the schools. There’s no excuse for us not to be able to have armed guards and trained professionals who are not teachers on the premises to protect our children. That’s what we need.

My son goes to Central Michigan University. There was just a shooting out there. The first thing I heard was that it was a mass shooting. The first thing I thought was that I’m snatching him outta that school. Then I found out unfortunately that it was a kid who killed his parents in the dorm. They came up there to see him and he killed both of them. I don’t really know the whole story behind what his motive was, but all I heard was gunfire and CMU. I was like ‘He’s getting out of there and going to another school.” I’m not taking any risk when it comes to my children and I don’t think anybody else should either.

That’s something most sane people like us can agree on. What about you Preem?

I pretty much feel that same way because I think baring arms is still something that we should have the right to do. I agree with all the mental stuff, but come on it’s beyond that shit. Stop making that excuse as a scapegoat. People are always claiming that it’s a mental thing and that was the only reason why it happened. We already know what pleading insanity can do. It gets you off the hook. I’ll be honest I know people who can use that because they have been certified to a degree of being mental and be doggone killers and get off with the same thing.

That being said, you both have a record with the OG Roc Marciano called “Respect The Gun.” I know the record isn’t meant to be insensitive or in bad taste, but with all the drama surrounding guns in general, what would your response be to some Twitter troll who judges the record solely on the mention of a weapon without reading into it?

Premier: Well, they definitely have to listen to it to, first of all, understand the meaning of where we’re coming from. It’s like we said ‘You ain’t gotta respect me, but better not disrepect my gun.’ That is the mentality of most people, especially black people. Black men, we’re known for getting into some drama with other black men, specifically black-on-black crime. We’re used to the confrontational attitude. I mean, even hip-hop brings an element because it comes from the ghetto and the streets. It’s the one that’s going to always be tested upon you if you do rap music, especially on the level that we’ve been on. During all my GangStarr years, we put that shit out about thieves, robbers and everyone who had that reputation for being stick-up men and all that.

Well even with your song “Tonz Of Gunz” it’s always been best to approach your music with an open mind and look beyond the titles.

Yeah! Also it’s important to know how to listen to a hip-hop record. They way that Royce puts down his verses, he says “god with the semiautomatic, but don’t call me no semi-god because he’s saying that he’s doing wordplay in his rhymes, but if you want to disrespect me as a man, the one thing you won’t want to do is disrespect my gun because you don’t want to get popped off. It’s a warning for those who would even think otherwise, but it’s also a clever wordplay that you have to know to read as clever wordplay in music, not about what follows if that situation arises.

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Orange Is The New Black's Uzo Aduba took to the stage following Lee's welcoming statements. The Emmy-award winning actress and gifted orator delivered a passionate rendition of Mandela's May 10, 1994 inauguration speech.

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After guests dined, Graça Machel, stateswoman, activist and Mandela's widow spoke. Donning a small blonde Afro, a pink silk scarf and a navy blue knee-length dress, Machel expressed her appreciation to all those who continue to champion her late husband's work and even quipped about her love for leaders.

Aduba returned to the stage this time as a moderator leading an intimate conversation with representatives from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela's Children Fund, and the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital. Before the afternoon was over, guests were treated to live entertainment from Grammy-award nominated singer-songwriters, Chloe X Halle.

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Take Five: DJ Khaled Talks ‘Father of Asahd’ And #Summergram Partnership

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It seems like you’ve been intentional with this album rollout even more so than your past projects. What can you tell me about your strategy for this rollout? I decided we can’t do anything dinosaur anymore. For this album, everything had to be big. From the music to the rollout, everything had to be big! And watching it all come together is just beautiful. And I love to see the excitement from my fans! At the end of the day, it’s all for my fans.

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How CJ Wallace Turned His Connection To Notorious B.I.G. Into A Cannabis Brand

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“As a kid, watching [how] the AIDS crisis ravaged the world and seeing the LGBT community fighting for cannabis to help them with nausea during AZT [antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS] was my first indication of [thinking] cannabis was a drug, but people are actually using it to try to stay alive,” Mack said, noting that he had several family members who were dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Similarly, Wallace uncovered the alternative nature of the plant when his family experimented with it as a form of medication for his younger brother, who was diagnosed with autism. After testing various strains, Wallace confirms they found the right balance, but since cannabis isn’t an approved medication, his brother is unable to use it publicly. “This is helping my youngest brother every day,” he insists. “It’s unfair because we can’t give it to him and let him take it to school and have the school nurse actually prescribe it to him so he’s constantly getting that regular medication. You can’t take it to school, but the kids in his school are being given opioids, which has crazy after effects.”

Creatively speaking, Wallace and Mack consider cannabis to be the “ultimate ghostwriter.” It’s no secret B.I.G. was an advocate. From numerous consultations with his family members, he learned his dad often smoked while recording. (Mack also notes famous smokers like Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley.) Just about every corner of the music industry has dabbled in recreational smoking, but no genre has been hit as hard as hip-hop. While fans love to watch Snoop Dogg smoke on Instagram Live or share a spliff with Kid Cudi during a concert set, the hip-hop community as a whole is met with backlash and often times targeted by police due to cannabis.

“I feel like anything associated with black men is just immediately going to be deemed bad or evil,” Wallace says, referencing the negative connotation rappers receive. It’s Wallace’s mission, however, to adjust that perspective. “I feel like it’s really up to us to change that narrative. That’s why I try so hard to stop saying words like ‘weed.’ Cannabis, it’s actually a plant," he continues. Both Wallace and Mack noted the terms "weed" and "marijuana" hold negative connotations and are commonly used in connection with minorities. "We were lied to for so long. If we were given proper knowledge from the start, I feel like the entire hip-hop community and the entire way we talked about it would’ve changed.”

Beyond educating consumers with their message and products, Think BIG also seeks to improve the criminal justice system as well as launch charitable projects. According to “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Such racial disparities reportedly exist in all regions, states, and counties around the United States and largely contribute to today's mass incarceration crisis.

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant strides to correct this injustice. California, Nevada, and Maine are among the first states to legalize cannabis; states such as New York have already begun the process of exonerating offenders convicted of nonviolent charges and marijuana possession. Despite the steps forward, Wallace and Mack say there is a long road ahead.

Not only is it difficult to eradicate a vicious cycle that has left many black and brown people behind bars, but it is also hard to forge spaces for them to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. “Being able to understand how to navigate the industry that’s constantly changing and to do it without a bank account or full funnel of money, makes it that much harder,” Mack says. “Then on top of that, you got people sitting in jail who should be out of jail for nonviolent possession of cannabis. So, we’re faced with having to work four times as hard to make half as much because of the color of our skin. It’s a constant fight and we look at it as how can we set an example, share our knowledge, [and] show more information?”

It takes a group effort, Mac says. While Think BIG is setting a place at the table for black businesses in the cannabis industry as well as shifting the conversation around the plant, Mack suggests other ways to get involved that ultimately uplift the black community. “It’s much easier to enter into the market based on something you already know,” Mack insists, pointing out the opportunities for design firms, packaging, and communication firms to join the movement.

Wallace and Mack know the journey ahead is going to be a roller-coaster ride fit with many twists and turns, but they’re ready. “You got to dream big, as your dad said, and think big,” Mack says. “Everyone else in this industry is thinking about global billion-dollar companies, why shouldn’t we?” As for Wallace, he understands how difficult the process is and will be, “but, it wasn’t more emotional than the first 21 years of my life.”

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