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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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(L-R) Cynthia Erivo at the 25th Annual Critics' Choice Awards on January 12, 2020; Scarlett Johansson at Netflix's 'Marriage Story' L.A. premiere on November 05, 2019.
Matt Winkelmeyer and Kevork Djansezian

Cynthia Erivo, Scarlett Johansson And The Oscars' Ongoing Whiteness

The 2020 Academy Awards nominations were announced Monday, Jan. 13 and, after a few years of glad-handing their supposed embrace of diversity, the Academy’s nominees were once again a distressingly predictable bunch—particularly amongst the major award categories. Bemoaning lack of diversity at the Oscars has become a punchline unto itself, but, for an Academy that is suddenly so image-conscious, this was a step backward. Alongside a Best Director field made up exclusively of men, Black actors were almost totally shut out in the top categories. Strong performances from previous Oscar winners/nominees like Lupita Nyong’o, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx seemed to be likely contenders for a nomination but were snubbed. There is the notable exception, of course, of Cynthia Erivo. The Tony-winning actress received an Oscar nod for her turn as freedom fighter Harriet Tubman in Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, a film that seemed to engender both praise and derision well before it opened in theaters in November 2019.

The British-born Erivo was at the center of much criticism when it was announced that she would be playing the legendary Tubman, the escaped slave born Araminta Ross, who led at least 13 trips along a treacherous journey from Maryland to Pennsylvania to free first her family, then others in bondage; she also became an officer in the Union army and an activist for women’s suffrage. The casting of Erivo as Tubman became a flashpoint after tweets from the actress were widely publicized in which she appeared to mock Black Americans in a Twitter exchange with actor Joel Montague after he asked her to sing a song she’d written.

“@joalMontague (ghetto American accent) baby u know I gatchu imma sing It To you but I still gatta do wadigattado, you feel me #scene xxx.”

The tweet was screenshotted and popped up on countless media sites, as the public criticism of Erivo grew. As she began making media rounds in the lead-up to Harriet, she addressed the issue.

"I would say it took a lot of hard work to get to this place [of playing Harriet Tubman] and I didn't take it lightly," Erivo said in an interview with Shadow And Act back in October. "I love this woman and I love Black people full stop. It would do me no service, it would be like hating myself.

“As for the tweets, taken out of context without giving me the room to tell you what it meant—and it wasn’t mocking anyone really. It wasn’t for that purpose at all. It was to celebrate a song I had wrote when I was 16.”

But the bad will had taken root. Harriet had a successful opening and a strong showing at the box office, but it was met with derision on Twitter as rumors swirled about various aspects of the film’s plot and historical inaccuracies. The word of mouth reception was far from glowing, but the borderline smearing of the film on social media was more scathing than the actual reviews once the movie hit theaters. But while the critical reception to the film itself was lukewarm, Erivo’s performance was consistently praised. “The British singer and actress…nails [Tubman’s] thousand-yard glare with a furious and mournful eloquence,” wrote Owen Gleiberman of Variety; and The New York Times’ A.O. Scott felt that “Erivo’s performance is grounded in the recognizable human emotions of grief, jealousy, anger, and love.” In an age when Black pain on the big screen can make for predictable platitudes from pundits, there is an ongoing question of who such a film as Harriet is meant to speak to and speak for. In the case of Erivo, you have more than a strong performance in a middling film. You have a performer who has, in many ways, lost the audience that would’ve been most invested in that performance.

Erivo's nomination for Harriet comes alongside a double-nod for Scarlett Johannson, another actress who found herself embroiled in controversy in 2019. Of course, ScarJo is much more high-profile than Erivo, an A-lister who finds herself in any number of prestige pictures and major blockbusters. But ScarJo’s defense of Woody Allen, at a time when Hollywood is at least attempting to come to grips with how it has enabled abusers, drew gasps and derision when she made press runs for her role in the acclaimed Netflix film Marriage Story. She told Vanity Fair in November:

“I’m not a politician, and I can’t lie about the way I feel about things,” she said. “I don’t have that. It’s just not a part of my personality. I don’t want to have to edit myself or temper what I think or say. I can’t live that way. It’s just not me. And also I think that when you have that kind of integrity, it’s going to probably rub people, some people, the wrong way. And that’s kind of par for the course, I guess.

“Even though there’s moments where I feel maybe more vulnerable because I’ve spoken my own opinion about something, my own truth and experience about it—and I know that it might be picked apart in some way, people might have a visceral reaction to it—I think it’s dangerous to temper how you represent yourself because you’re afraid of that kind of response. That, to me, doesn’t seem very progressive at all. That seems scary.”

Johansson’s controversial statements surrounding Woody Allen (and earlier comments about her playing trans and Asian characters) were met with widespread criticism that was subsequently muted by the acclaim following her turns in both Marriage Story and the WWII-set period comedy JoJo Rabbit. They weren’t misguided or misrepresented tweets from six years ago, they are her expressed positions on the subjects; she’s announced that she doesn’t intend to continuously apologize or even recant where she stands. And at the end of the day, she’s now a two-time Oscar nominee.

Obviously, Erivo is also basking in the recent glow of Academy recognition. This isn’t a case of a white actress bouncing back from backlash while a Black actress fades into obscurity because of it. But when Scarlett Johansson walks the red carpet on the night of the Oscars, if she takes the stage after her name is read as Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress or both, she won’t have to contend with the idea that those who have given her the award stand in stark contrast to those for whom she wanted the film to resonate. Scarlett Johansson also wouldn’t have to wrestle with the idea that she’s only the second woman of her background to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. She won’t have to face the hurt that she and others like her were shut out in her native country’s biggest movie award. She won’t have to think about all the criticisms of “slave movies” and being nominated for being in one.

Whatever criticisms there may be of Cynthia Erivo, whatever criticisms there may be of the film in which she starred, there’s always a softer landing for those who don’t have darker skin; simply because being Black on the whitest of nights means that all eyes are on you. It also means you have to carry so much more than your white counterparts will ever be asked to shoulder. Oscar or no Oscar; criticism of Cynthia Erivo never required condemnation of Cynthia Erivo. But on a night when white actresses will once again be widely represented, from the reliable grace of Little Women to the martyr-making propaganda of Bombshell, it’s disappointing that this one Black actress being amongst them is going to be picked apart.

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Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans during The 2004 Teen Choice Awards - Backstage and Audience at Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, California, United States.
KMazur

10 Most Memorable Episodes Of 'The Wayans Bros.'

If you're a product of hip-hop, the '90s was a glorious time for television, with a plethora of shows being introduced to the public that helped inform and reflect the culture, from music to fashion and every aspect in between. One program that embodied the raw essence of hip-hop was The Wayans Bros., which made its debut as the first sitcom to air on the newly launched network, The WB, on January 11, 1995. Created by Marlon and Shawn Wayans, Leslie Ray, and David Steven Simon, The Wayans Bros. put the focus on the two youngest brothers in the Wayans clan, both of whom had tasted fame alongside their elder brothers when their appearances on In Living Color and in films like Mo’ Money putting them on the radar. Set in Harlem, the show revolves around the Williams brothers' ill-advised attempts at turning a quick buck, maintaining their romantic relationships, helping out their father, Pops Williams (John Witherspoon), and assisting friends and family in their own times of need.

While Lela Rochon (Lisa Saunders), Paula Jai Parker (Monique), and Jill Tasker (Lou Malino) were all main cast members at some point during the show's first two seasons, the core cast was comprised of both Wayans brothers, Witherspoon, and Anna Maria Horsford as Deirdre "Dee" Baxter, the latter of whom made her debut appearance midway through the show's second season. Recurring characters included Thelonious "T.C." Capricornio (played by Phil Lewis), White Mike (Mitch Mullany), Dupree (Jermaine 'Huggy' Hopkins), and Grandma Ellington (Ja'net Dubois), all of who left their own imprint and were instrumental in some of the show's most memorable moments. In addition to the core cast, The Wayans Bros. also presented additional star power in the form of cameos, with athletes (John Starks, Kenny Lofton, Hector Camacho) actors (Bernie Mac, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Elise Neal, Shari Headley, Gary Coleman, Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Monica Calhoun, Garrett Morris, Garcelle Beauvais, Richard Roundtree, etc) and musicians (Busta Rhymes, Keith Sweat, En Vogue, Missy Elliott, Paula Abdul) all appearing on the show, as well.

The Wayans Bros. show's run would be cut short after five seasons, with its final episode airing on May 20, 1999, marking the end of an era. However, the show has continued to entertain a new generation of viewers through syndication and is one of the definitive television shows from the '90s that spoke to and for the culture. In celebration of the show's 25th anniversary, VIBE looks back at ten of the most hilarious and entertaining episodes of The Wayans Bros. Show that made it one of the most beloved sitcoms of the hip-hop generation.

Season 1, Episode 1 "Goop-Hair-It-Is"

Our introduction to the zany hijinks of The Wayans Bros. came via the show's pilot episode, which found Shawn and Marlon attempting to cash in on a half-baked foray into the world of cosmetics. After accepting a proposition to become the manufacturers of a new hair product called Goop, Hair It Is, Marlon creates a homemade concoction that appears to work wonders for his follicles, prompting Shawn to create a scheme to sell it via an infomercial. Enlisting the help of Gary Coleman, the brothers and their new pitch man go live on air to wax poetic about the goop, but their presentation goes awry when Coleman's new hairdo goes ablaze, resulting in an impromptu fire drill that gives "Stop, Drop & Roll" a whole new meaning.

Season 2, Episode 4 "Two Men and a Baby"

Brotherhood may be second nature to Shawn and Marlon, but fatherhood is a whole different story, which we find out during the course of this classic from the show's second season. After discovering an abandoned baby that's supposedly Shawn or Marlon's kin outside of the front door of their apartment, the bros get into a heated rivalry over who's the biological father of the child. With little background information other than a note from the child's mother to go off of, the Williams' take matters into their own hands, stepping up to the plate to provide a nurturing environment for the newest member of the clan. The responsibility of parental duties prove to be too much for either brother to handle on their own, but they’re bailed out when the mother returns to recover the child after realizing a mix-up in her delivery process.

Season 2, Episode 5 "Loot"

The fortunes of the Williams family are on the brink of changing for the better after Shawn, Marlon, Pops and the rest of the gang discover a garbage bag filled with $100,000 in cash. A police report is filed, but the Williams' keep their fingers crossed that they'll be deemed the rightful owners of the money when the goes unclaimed. This doesn't stop the members of the family from counting their chickens before they hatch, as extravagant plans and pricey purchases are made in the ensuing days. Greed nearly causes the Williams' to turn on one another, but when an elderly woman shows up to recover her belongings, their dreams at a come-up are quickly dashed, putting the family back at square one.

Season 2, Episode 8 "Head of State"

During the second season of The Wayans Bros., Dee Baxter (Anna Maria Horsford) replaces Lou (Jill Tasker) as the Neidemeyer Building's security guard for the remainder of the series. When the President of the United States comes to Harlem during his campaign trail, Pops' Diner is designated as the location where the prez can relieve himself, which the family considers an honor. With Pops eager to reap the benefits of having the leader of the free world pass through his establishment, and Marlon determined to shake the President's hand, the visit is a pretty big deal to the family However, the Williams' world is flipped upside down when the Secret Service lock down the diner due to safety concerns, infringing on their privacy. In the end, Pops' gets an uptick in business, Marlon gets to shake the President's hand, and Dee gets to experience a bit of sexual tension in her debut appearance.

Season 3, Episode 1 "Grandma's in the Hiz-House"

When Grandma Ellington (Ja'net Dubois) stops in town, Shawn and Marlon are ecstatic to see the family matriarch, even making room for her to stay in their apartment. The decision is one that the brothers will quickly regret, as Grandma Ellington begins to infiltrate their life, from ruining their clothing to chasing away their dates. Shawn and Marlon decide to make things uncomfortable in hopes that she will leave, but the plan backfires, with Grandma Ellington’s discovery of the ruse putting a wedge between her and her grandsons. Realizing the error in their ways, the brothers attempt to win their grandmother back over and get back in her good graces.

Season 3, Episode 9 "The Return of the Temptones"

Pops gets a blast from the past when Shawn and Marlon decide to round up the members of his old group The Temptones for an epic reunion after thirty years. While the gesture is well-intended, things fall apart when the members let bad blood get into the mix, which puts The Temptones' upcoming performance in jeopardy. As Pops and the crew struggle to find common ground, Shawn and Marlon stand-in for the missing members, resulting in a hilariously horrendous rendition of The Temptones' hit, "Bang, Bang Bang." However, the original members of the group decide to put their differences to the side for the sake of the group's legacy, tearing down the stage in one of the more memorable moments in The Wayans Bros. history.

Season 4, Episode 9 "Can I Get a Witness?"

After finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, Marlon becomes an eyewitness to a bank robbery and identifies the criminal in a police line-up. This results in the Williams' being put in protective custody until the case is resolved, but when word gets out that the culprit's brother is on the hunt for them, it appears as if they cannot avoid meeting their eventual fate. However, the criminals' thirst for vengeance gets thwarted just in the nick of time, keeping Marlon, Shawn and Pops in the clear and out of danger.

Season 4, Episode 19 "Talk is Cheap"

Shawn and Marlon are summoned to The Jerry Springer Show to see just how close their relationship is, which leads to a few secrets between the two being revealed. When Marlon finds out that Shawn had paid his girlfriend a visit at her apartment, the two begin to bicker with one another in front of the studio audience, with Pops and Dee getting involved from the comfort of the crowd. As things get heated between the two, the bros resort to throwing blows, hurling insults and embarrassing one another. While the pair eventually come to their senses and patch things up, their dust-up and Jerry Springer's appearance made for classic television.

Season 5, Episode 7 "The Kiss"

Dee Baxter catches up with old friend Missy Elliott, who gives her a pair of tickets to her concert later that night. Deciding to take Shawn as a guest, the two enjoy one another's company to the point that they wind up kissing after a long night of drinking before passing out. Waking up half-naked and in the same bed with one another, it appears as if the two had slept together, making for a string of awkward encounters between the two. However, the potential lovebirds discover that they were victims of a prank by Marlon, which brings Shawn and Dee's friendship back to normal.

Season 5, Episode 18 "Hip Hop Pops"

Shawn and Marlon gather Pops' closest friends and throw him a surprise party to celebrate his 50th birthday. However, while the brothers' efforts were meant to put Pops in good spirits, they actually put him in a depressive and reflective state due to his age and fear of death. Looking to infuse a little fun into their father's life, Shawn and Marlon takes Pops out to the club to help make him feel young again, but the experience inspires Pops to change his wardrobe and slang in an attempt to hold onto his youth. From engaging in freestyle battles to donning iced-out chains, Pops' new style rubs Shawn and Marlon the wrong way, forcing them to cook up a plan to get him to revert back to the man they used to know.

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Che Pope interviews Vincent “Tuff” Morgan, peermusic’s head of A&R urban/pop, on Q&A With Che.
HiStudios

Che Pope Talks ‘Q&A With Che’ Podcast, Kanye West, And Why He Left G.O.O.D. Music

At some point in your career, you want to pay it forward. Regardless of the industry you’re in, there comes a time when you reached a certain level of success and want to groom the next generation with your knowledge and expertise. Che Pope, a Boston native, veteran music producer, songwriter, and former head of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, is in a position to do just that. After spending seven years with G.O.O.D., as well as making music with critically-acclaimed artists like Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, and The Weeknd, Che Pope has utilized lectures and podcasts to discuss his diverse career, sharing a perspective tailored to young creatives who want some mentoring in their own paths. Pope’s experience allows him to give gems in all aspects of the music business – no matter if you’re an aspiring manager, producer, singer, or artist, he has a piece of advice that can apply to you. 

It’s why he’s finally launching a podcast of his own called Q&A With Che, a HiStudios Original, that’s available on the Himalaya app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more. He describes the show as “Ted Talks with the urban entertainment industry,” using his large network of friends for real conversations on how they made it. The format is more for educational purposes and using the platform to expand his Q&A section of his discussions, with each guest detailing what they do, how their industry works, and their take on the future. Che’s first guest is DMV rapper IDK, who is coming off a major 2019 with his partnership with Warner for his label Clue and the release of Is He Real? 

Speaking with VIBE over the phone, Che explains the genesis of Q&A With Che (the idea came after having a convo with Jay-Z), why IDK was the perfect first guest, his thoughts on Kanye and G.O.O.D. Music, and the books he’s reading today.

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VIBE: Q&A With Che is going to be part of HiStudios’ original programming slate. You’re alongside sport personalities that also have podcasts like Mike Tyson, Gilbert Arenas, and Caron Butler. If I did my research, you’re the first “music veteran” with a show on HiStudios. Was podcasting a logical next step in your career?

Che Pope: I think it was important for me to share the information. And just really what’s the best way to? Obviously, the lectures are great. That’s like, ‘Okay, cool. I go to Harvard Business School just so those kids get it.’ This was a way to really share it with a wider audience, with anybody. And I’ve been getting hit up on Instagram or Twitter where people are always asking me tons of questions and this was a way for me [to reach them]. So many people would be like, ‘Hey, can you mentor me?’ I can’t mentor all of them. This was kind of my way of like, ‘OK, I can’t mentor all of you, but I can do this.’ I think that is what really attracted me.

I had a really great conversation with Jay-Z about it and he just loved the idea of it and that really put a battery in my back. Because at one point in time, it was this great idea we had, and just getting caught up in work and [being] busy and not pursuing it. Once I spoke with Jay-Z and he said, ‘This is amazing. You have to do this.’ That really put the battery back, and then partnering with HiStudios and Himalaya, it just really gave me the team I needed to really bring it out there in the manner that I wanted to do, the professional level that I wanted to present it at.

So you were already thinking of podcasting back then. When did that Jay-Z convo happen?

That happened about two years ago in his living room.

How’d the convo go? Were you trying to pitch yourself to Tidal?

No, I actually wasn’t. He said, ‘You know, you’re more than welcome to consider Tidal.’ But he was like, ‘I just think it’s a great idea.’ I wasn’t actually pitching anything. We were just having a business conversation. I guess you could say the next step in my career is not only the podcast, but I also have a start-up. I was just getting business advice and out of that meet, Q&A came up.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the hip-hop podcast landscape. We got everybody from ItsTheReal’s, which you were on. The Joe Budden Podcast. Rap Radar Podcast. Do you see the success of those guys as motivation to reach that level or are they competition?

I don’t think they’re competition. We are really two different things. I’m much more like Ted Talks than I am No Jumper, ItsTheReal, Joe Budden. Although ItsTheReal is a little bit different than Joe Budden. Joe Budden wants to be opinionated, sort of controversial at times and really drive listeners on entertainment. Mine is much more educational focused. Entertaining in the fact that people who are going to be on it cause anyone could be on it. It could be anyone from Diddy to someone you haven’t heard of. I think it is entertaining in that [regard], but it is much more educational than I am trying to entertain you and be controversial and all that kind of stuff.

And I think it's really interesting that you chose IDK as your first guest. He’s coming off his Warner partnership for Clue and his album Is He Real? dropped last year. He’s a younger rapper but he has this business savviness to him. Why did you want to interview him?

That’s specifically why. I built a relationship with the kid cause he was in negotiations at one point and time to sign with G.O.O.D. Music. He is from the DMV area originally, which is where my mom is from. So we kind of made a cool connection a few years back when he was still this independent kid coming up trying to figure it out. But he was far more informed than most artists I meet. He was talking to me about his independent promotion and his marketing plan and things of that nature, which he had written himself. And I was like, ‘Wow, this kid is [incredible].’ When he finally did the deal with Warner, he was just the perfect first guest for me cause he is living what these kids want to do, what many of them want to do. His journey is really a testament to educating and empowering yourself and challenging. He had overcome adversity. He had been in jail before. It built himself up from scratch. Really talented story and his story is just getting started. I think the sky's the limit to where he can go.

Before I let you go, I want to talk about Kanye. You’ve been there since Yeezus. You’ve been there since Cruel Summer. Now, he’s on this new trajectory of dedicating himself to God, releasing Jesus Is King and Jesus Is Born. He’s no longer making secular music and is reportedly done performing solo shows. When you were working with him, did you see any early signs that his artistry was progressing towards this?

No, but I would say the thing with him is he is always evolving. I would say you never know what is next, which is exciting. I couldn’t say I saw this coming, at all. You never know what’s next, I will say that, which is one of the exciting things when working with him, for better or for worse, you know? Whether it was a Trump hat or “slavery was a choice” comment or whatever, or those amazing moments like Yeezus or some of the amazing musical experiences I was apart of. You never knew what was coming and that was exciting. I wish him the best on it. When it was time for me to move on? I wish him the best with it.

You were with G.O.O.D. Music for six and a half years?

Yeah, seven years. Since 2011. I was one of the longest running people that lasted the longest with him [Laughs].

Why did you want to leave?

I think for me it was the next progression in my career. To transition from working with somebody and helping them build their stuff to building my own company. I am building a music incubator, start-up. It was really sort of the next progression in my career. I had to take that step as a business owner. And that takes a lot of work, a lot of focus, and a lot of commitment, you know? It’s one of those things. They say that saying, ‘if it was easy, everybody could do it?’ It’s not easy.

You once described your role at G.O.O.D. with Noah Goldstein as “getting shit done.” Now that Pusha-T has taken the role as president, what do you think of his “term” so far?

I think Pusha-T is an artist, and I think he has aspirations of his own label. I don’t know what’s going on with G.O.O.D. Music. It’s kind of like in…what’s the word when something is in suspended in time? Desiigner left the label. I know 070 [Shake] is putting her album out, but that’s more Def Jam. I don’t think there’s really a G.O.O.D. Music focus there.

I think Kacy Hill isn’t there either, right?

Yeah, Kacy Hill left. I do think they still have some artists. I know Teyana is active. I don’t really know much about what’s going on these days at G.O.O.D. Pusha-T is one of my favorite artists, and I think he’s still focused on Pusha-T. I don’t know what his involvement is with the label at all or a day-to-day basis or if he’s still involved at all. 

I think that means we’re going to see something major happen. Big Sean still has his album coming out, so maybe something like that.

Yeah. Big Sean’s coming. I’m sure Pusha’s coming. I know 070 Shake’s album is amazing. I’ve heard it so I’m excited for her because I know it’s a long time coming and she’s great. She’s gonna be on the Swedish House Mafia project as well. I think she could really be one of the next, big young artists.

I saw that books are your thing. What are you reading now?

As far as this year, I want to read as many as I can. I have different people that turn me onto books. You never know what someone is going to refer. Right now, I am reading Ben Horowitz’s new book What You Do Is Who You Are. I think Ben is just a brilliant guy and the fact that he loves hip-hop too, which is really cool. Anytime he drops a book, I try to get it.

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