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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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Beyonce, Jay-Z and Blue Ivy Carter attends the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018 in New York City.
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An Ode To Jay-Z, The Ultimate Rap Dad

Rap, throughout its history, has always referenced parenthood in some form. Most often, it was to extol single mothers for their goodness while deadbeat fathers were berated and called out for going ghost. In recent years, as the social media landscape has blown open the avenues of communication, famous rap dads, in particular, have become increasingly transparent about their lives as family men. Where years ago there seemed to be endless bars mourning the demise of the father, artists are now using their platform to balance the scales. They’re showing themselves to be present and intentional.

Few albums make me think more about the concept of parenthood, and legacy, than Jay-Z’s 13th studio album, 4:44. It’s a stark and blistering work of memoir, heavy on confession and self-examination. When 4:44 finally dropped, I, like many others, was filled with wonder. How was it that Jay had managed to so fluidly deconstruct everything I’d been wrestling with for the last few years? Though the specifics of our experiences differed greatly, the central ideas dissected on 4:44, especially those concerning fatherhood and family life, had been swimming around my brain for some time.

***

Hip-hop saved my life. And it was fatherhood that set it on fire. This bears explaining.

What hip-hop has done for me, is what it has done for millions of fatherless and heart-wounded kids—it provided, at the very least, the shading of a better life. If it wasn’t for hip-hop, and the value I ascribed to it, it would be impossible to know just how far I’d have settled into the more lamentable aspects of my environment. Forasmuch of a goon as I was growing up, something always kept me from becoming too emotionally invested in harsh crime. I dabbled in mischief like an amateur chef knowing he would only go so far. I saw in hip-hop, in the art of it, something worth pursuing with tenacity; something like a healthy distraction. So I committed to finding my lane.

Though there were brief stints dedicated to developing my modest graffiti skills and footwork, it was the words that flowed and came without struggle. The school cyphers sharpened my wits and compelled me to feed my vocabulary daily. Only my wordplay could save me from getting ripped to shreds in a lunchroom battle. I read books and scoured the dictionary for ammunition, I listened to stand-up comics who fearlessly engaged the crowd and proved quick on the draw. It seemed fruitless to know a billion words if I couldn’t convert them into brutal attacks. I had to break the competition down and render them defenseless, stammering for a rebuttal. There could be no confusion as to my superiority. So instead of joining the stickup kids or depositing all of my energy into intramural sports, I put my soul and mind into the task of taking down all manner of wack MCs. That’s why I say that hip-hop saved me.

But fatherhood was its own saving grace. It showed me that the world did not revolve, nor would it ever revolve, around my passions. Fatherhood put an extra battery behind my back as a creative, sure. But it’s more about being a consistent presence at home than chasing any dream.

***

As an artist and writer, I cannot so much as think about fatherhood without considering some of the material that deals with feelings comparable to those I felt after I became a father. Songs that contextualize very specific emotions over the drums.

In his 2012 track “Glory,” Jay-Z, someone who had long been vocal about his strained relationship with his father, reflects on the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy, his first child with wife Beyoncé. Produced by the Neptunes, “Glory” was released on January 9, just two days after Blue was born. From start to finish, it carries a sort of gleeful melancholy that resonates on multiple levels. While it is, in essence, a comment on the exuberant joy attached with welcoming a child, “Glory” is also a note on death and mourning.

Before Blue came along and flipped the script, Beyoncé had suffered a miscarriage. The pain the couple experienced left them fearful of not being able to conceive. The dual purpose of “Glory” is made clear from the outset, and with blazing transparency. “False alarms and false starts,” offers Jay, laying the groundwork for what immediately follows: “All made better by the sound of your heart.” The second half of the couplet establishes what was, as we come to learn, the most pivotal moment in the rap mogul’s life up until then. The moment where all is made right, where the sting of loss is eclipsed by the possibility of new birth. Jay continues in this mode, shining light on the redeeming gift that is Blue and, also, how the child is a composite of her mother and father, yet more still.

The opening bars of the following verse are equally striking as Jay, addressing Blue, touches on the death of his father from liver failure. Jay is signaling here, leading us somewhere but with the intent to shift gears. Instead of dwelling on his father’s shortcomings like one might expect him to, Jay breaks left, resolving that deep down his father was a good man. What begins as an indictment of a cheat who walked out on his obligations, ends with a declaration of forgiveness and generosity. But Jay soon directs the focus back to his blessing and how hard it is not to spoil her rotten as she is the child of his destiny. It becomes apparent that this is a man at his most self-actualized. A few more welcome digressions and “Glory” closes the same way that it begins, with the final line of the hook: “My greatest creation was you.” This points to something that I, too, came to know as fact. That no matter what I do, and regardless of what I might attain—power, wealth, the esteem of my peers—nothing is quite comparable to the happiness and the terror that comes with siring a child. “Glory” succeeds as it casts aside any traces of bluster and bravado, making room for Jay to unearth lessons that were hard-won yet central to his maturation. And what is the purpose of making art if not to bust open your soul and watch it spill over? Shout out to the rap dads raising babies and doing the work to shift the narrative.

Juan Vidal is a writer, critic, and author of Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture That Shaped a Generation.

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Mike Coppola

The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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Sony Music

Meet Zhavia, The Musician Who Refuses To Be Boxed In

If you haven’t heard of Zhavia before, that will likely change very, very soon.

The 18-year-old Columbia Records signee is readying her first major EP 17, which is scheduled for June 14. A native of the Golden State, Zhavia catapulted to national consciousness after making it to the top four of the inaugural season of FOX’s singing competition, The Four, which features Diddy and DJ Khaled as judges. Since then, she continues to rise and tantalize audiences with her powerful, chill-inducing vocals.

The singer-songwriter—who tells VIBE she’s hopeful that her forthcoming EP will be “inspiring” to her ever-growing fanbase—dropped the project’s latest single “17” on May 31. Produced by hip-hop hitmaker Hit-Boy and co-written by RØMANS, Zhavia explains that the retrospective song is more personal than her previously-released tracks, such as the trap-tickled “100 Ways” and “Candlelight,” the stand-out single that showcases the vocal prowess of the petite blonde ingenue.

"’17’ is a song that I wrote about my life story, and how I got to where I am right now,” she says. The track details hardships such as a lack of resources to thrive in her childhood home and staying in a motel in order to accomplish her musical goals. “I just wanted it to be something that [fans] can relate to, whatever it is that they're going through.”

“I saw it in my dreams, I knew that life would change for me,” she croons on the new single. “This is reality, look at me now.”

Zhavia’s humble beginnings start in Norwalk, Calif., as a daughter of two musicians who introduced her to numerous genres. In fact, her mother was a member of a metal band called Xenoterra, and Zhavia’s impressively-versatile vocal range could be attributed to this Chex Mix bag of sonic stylings.

“From doo-wop to punk to R&B, metal, rock...” she says, listing of the types of music she was brought up on, which helped her in honing a unique style. Her own tunes feature an R&B and hip-hop flair and sprinkles touches of other genres throughout, in order for her to remain true to her roots.

“I feel like for the most part, [my music will] always have that R&B feel to it, but I'm always gonna have a lot of different vibes for people to pick and choose what they like,” she explains.

Zhavia's urban-tinged musical affinity was palpable during her time on The Four, where she put her spin on hits such as French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Although she was unanimously selected by the show’s four celebrity judges to advance after a stellar first-round performance of Khalid’s “Location,” she admits she initially wasn’t planning to compete.

“When I was younger, I had wanted to go on a [singing] show, but I had made up my mind. ‘I'm gonna try to do it myself,’” she chuckles. “But, the people that were having auditions, they happened to be at the studio that I was recording at when I was making my own songs. My manager told me, 'Just go sing for them.'”

After showing off her impressive pipes, she was convinced to join the show, and was further influenced to compete after discovering that The Four appeared to focus on R&B and hip-hop-leaning artists.

“I was like, 'Okay, that sounds like me, they'll probably accept the style of music that I do,'” she continues. “I feel like on other singing shows, it's a little more pop, or towards the pop genre. Also, the panel that they had [DJ Khaled, Diddy, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk] seemed really relevant, and I could tell it was legit. I figured I'd just try it out, and it led me to where I am now.”

Since placing fourth on the show, Zhavia has proven that her star power was built to last longer than 15 minutes. Other than her forthcoming EP’s release, her gifts have found her among the company of some big names. She can be heard on the soundtrack for Deadpool 2 in the song “Welcome To The Party” with Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump. Recently, moviegoers were treated to her rendition of the Disney classic “A Whole New World” with Zayn Malik, for the live-action version of Aladdin, which plays during the film’s end credits.

“I think it's been amazing, and it's definitely a lot of exposure that comes in a unique way,” she says of working on big projects with even bigger industry names. She continues by stating that she’s had a blast “putting her own twist” on songs she didn’t pen and doing material “totally different from what [she] would normally do.”

The pressures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry could be difficult on anyone, however, young stars under the U.S. legal age in the limelight may find themselves succumbing to various pressures, temptations and burnout. For Zhavia, she makes sure to keep a level head and a positive attitude in order to persevere in the industry as she matures.

“I feel like it's not that hard to stay focused, because I've wanted to do this my whole life,” she says affirmatively. “It's what I live for. For me, one of my number one priorities besides my family is music. I don't really go out, I don't party, I don't do none of that. I just work! [Laughs] I think for me, it's just focusing on myself and what I wanna do, and what I wanna get done.” She’s also hoping to keep surprising people throughout her career by coming up with genre-bending songs that show off her style, personality and abilities. Let her do her, and watch her as she goes.

“I'm not gonna be put in a box to do just one type of music or one style of song,” Zhavia affirms. “I don't want people to get used to one thing, you know? That's kind of a hard thing to express to the world. I feel like it comes with me coming up with more music, and to keep creating music for people to listen to and get to know me.”

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