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Keziban Barry

Meet DRAMA, The Chicago-Based Duo Using Heartbreak As Fuel For Their 'Lies After Love' EP

Chicago's singer-songwriter and producer duo breaks stereotypes while mending a breaking heart.

Love can be tough to figure out, and sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Chicago based singer-songwriter and producer duo DRAMA turn love, pains and underlying optimism into a harmonious combination of dark electro-pop. Songtress Via Rosa and producer Na’el Shehade express their optimistic attitudes toward relationships on their new EP, Lies After Love.

When Rosa’s dark lyrics are paired with Shehade’s danceable beats, it's clear why they are self-proclaimed makers of “happy-sad” music. The two met in 2013 through a mutual friend and fellow Chicagoan, Jean Deaux. As they say, it was a match made in heaven.

Coming from two different worlds, they believe where one lacks, the other picks up for, making for a dynamic combination. Despite their differences, the twosome shares a lot of similarities. In pursuit of artistic freedom, their music acts as a form of talk-and-response, communicated through chords and poetry. They understand their music is bigger than themselves.

VIBE chatted with the duo, who opened up about heartbreak, collaboration, guiding the youth and more.

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VIBE: How do you complement one another?
Via: I feel like we complement another because we both bring something to the table that the other person who, not necessarily understands, but just know that it's not their strongest point. We're not afraid to be like, "Hey, I don't like this." I think we should help each other do this.

Na'el: We treat it like a business. Everybody has a job, and we complement each other and we fill each other's voids, I guess.

What are some voids you help fill for each other?
N: In terms of writing songs, I write music, so it's not every day you get surrounded by someone who understands the format and understands how to write music and stuff. With her, when I first recorded her, she just sang all the way through every song. What I brought was like, 'Hey, let's put some structure to this song. Let's put words here, put a verse here.' She would basically write with no format and I would structure it. That's kind of one way. She let me do my job. A lot of artists are like, 'No, don't touch what I've done.' I was like I'm going to make it better. This is going to sound a lot better, sound a lot more structured, more like a soft format.

V: I think it's also pretty cool to find a producer who your lyrics kind of fit over the production. It's like he would make this beat, and I would just hop back to the beat. He's making the beat, but he's not just making music, he's talking through the music. I would listen to the music, and we would just talk to each other through the music. It was cool.

 

People need music that recognizes their complex feelings. Your music perfectly displays that. What inspired you to make this kind of music? Did you see a need for it in this country?
V: Lyrically, I've always written about dramatic, tragic love situations because that was my way of expressing myself. A lot of the times, I'd break up with [someone] inside my head five times, and get to the destination and be like, 'Oh I love you,' because I don't know how to tell them this isn't working. It would come out in the music. Na'el's production is so optimistic and happy and very upbeat with these dark chords. It was easy for me to hear the pain in the music without falling into it.

I really do think it's important to have this music out in the world because there's a lot going on. A lot of people don't know how to articulate those feelings. I know I don't. Music is the only way that they come out in that kind of form, raw. Otherwise, I'm going to be crying and throwing things. I'd say how [we formed] kind of naturally happened. I'm really glad that [we] did, because if it doesn't help anybody else, it for sure helps me just get through the day and understand why people do the things they do. I just kind of talk my way through situations.

Both of you didn't hop out the womb with intentions on being musical artists. Via, you were a chef at one point while you were pursuing music and Na'el, you're a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. When did you all decide to pursue music seriously and why did you decide to take this route? Do you see yourself branching off into other things?
V: Both my parents are musicians. I grew up on tour with them up until I was 13. I had been cooking since I was nine. I was always around food and music. When I turned 14 years old, I started making my own music. Since I was on tour, the musician life was never glorified for me. I didn't wake up and dance in front of the mirror thinking, 'I'm going to be a superstar.'

I went to two culinary schools and I was making music on the side because it was something that I did. All my friends made music and they would always say, 'Via your music is so cool. Even if you don't put it out just keep making it.' ...I moved to Chicago to be closer to some producers I met that I thought were really cool. I was coming out here to learn Italian, and to go to another culinary school. Slowly but surely, I found myself being more excited about going to the studio to make music than looking up recipes and going to into work. Surely enough, I was getting paid more to do shows than I was to show up at work, a shift. Something felt off.

I have my whole life to be a chef. I can be 50 years old and open a restaurant, but not everybody gets the opportunity to travel the world and make music and survive and live off of art. I thought I would be stupid to not take a chance on it and just go out because I was already used to it. I'm used to touring and living on the road, it just was never for me, it was for my parents. I just really enjoyed it.

N: My entire life, I've always wanted to be doing music, so I made music while I was in high school. I was the only producer, so I would produce with all the kids and whoever would rap and sing would come over my house and do it that way. I fell in love with rap at 13, and started making rap music and producing artists. My father was a businessman, and I learned from him and his dedication, so I applied what I did and was like I'm going to make a business out of it. I'm going to start a studio. I got a studio, worked my way up and just produced. I got to a point where I needed to switch it up a little bit.

The DRAMA thing saved my life, honestly. It made me passionate about music again. I will continue for the rest of my life to work like this, because this is what I love doing. I feel like my purpose on the planet is to help other people with art, with my finances. Whatever I can do. I'm not saying that I'm rich in any way, but I am rich in a sense like I want to help. I want to help. I want to give.

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You guys are definitely something different coming out of Chicago, and you pride yourselves on that. Was there ever a time where you had to compromise your sound to be noticed?
V: Absolutely not. I don't think so.

Not even in the back of your mind? 
N: We don't make music to please anybody, but I know we are pleasing them. At the end of the day, it's just being yourself. But you get inspired. I get inspired.

V: A lot of the hot artists out of Chicago right now are my friends. We all just inspire each other, but we have such different styles, and we pride ourselves in that our styles are so different. I feel like we made music to what we want to hear. We make music that we would want to listen to.

N: I truly love the music that we make. If no one else listens to it, I listen to it. It's fine.

V: All the lyrics are 100 percent real situations that I've been going through, or have gone through, or Na'el has gone through. We just come from the heart and go from there.

Your EP Lies After Love dropped Friday, May 18. What should listeners be gaining from the project? 
V: They can expect to be safe with a truth they might not want to admit. They might feel some things that they didn't realize that they were feeling, or just have a different perspective on a situation as opposed to being really selfish. When I wrote a lot of these songs and went back and listened to them, I was angry at myself for being so selfish. A lot of it started with 'I said I wouldn't' or 'I told myself or I wasn't going to.'

Na'el and I were talking, and we were just like, 'Wow that's happening to both of us.' [Listeners] are going to be faced with some things that they may not be comfortable discussing or admitting,  but I think they're going to find comfort in the music. It's going to allow them to feel it and not be embarrassed by it, or not feel intimidated by it. 'I'm feeling these emotions, but they aren't who I am and they don't define me. They're just passing through me.'

What's the biggest lie you ever told yourself after a breakup?
N: I'll never fall in love again.

V: That one but also it's like a play on words. Like 'I'll never fall in love again, I won't do this to myself.' But then it's also, like, every time you meet someone and every time you fall in love with someone, you think there's never going to be anyone better than them. It's just like, 'I'm never going to fall in love with anybody else again.' And also, 'I never want to do this again.'

N: It's painful, sh*t.

V: But that's a g*ddamn lie. You fall in love all the time.

This interview has been condensed for clarity.

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The 25 Best Latinx Albums Of 2019

As we inch closer to the end of another memorable chapter in music, the Spanish-language gap gets bigger by the day. To anyone who believed reggaeton's second coming or Latin trap was a trend were gravely mistaken as artists across the diaspora found success on the charts and in the streaming world. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin continued to thrive off last year's releases while dropping memorable singles (and joint projects). Others like Sech broke the mold for the marriage of hip-hop and reggaeton with Panamanian pride. Legends like Mark Anthony and Ivy Queen reminded us of their magic while rising artists like Rico Nasty, DaniLeigh and Melii provided major star power and creative visuals for their tunes. Latinx music has continued to push boundaries and the same goes for our list.

Enjoy our ranking of the 25 best Latinx albums of 2019.

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Pictured (L-R): WurlD and Sarz
Courtesy of Management

Meet Sarz and WurlD: The Nigerian Producer-Singer Powerhouse Showing Africa’s Sonic Range

There’s a slow infiltration of sultry, soulful, lo-fi music in afrobeats—and the latest from Nigerian producer Sarz and his fellow countryman and singer-songwriter, WurlD, is just a taste of how the scene is evolving. Before landing at No. 1 on Nigeria’s iTunes Albums Chart, I Love Girls With Trobul was a long time coming. Backed by Sarz’ fresh instrumentals, WurlD flexes his songwriting chops to talk about all things love and lust in this eight-track EP. The project is a cohesive narrative of the ups and downs people face when grappling with relationships.

On the origin story of how this project came to be, the duo notes that a mutual friend of theirs made the initial connection for them to explore working together. Sarz, born Osaretin Osabuohien, then sent over a few beats, with WurlD delivering with 2018’s “Trobul” in less than 24 hours. Sarz says he was so in love with the song that this collaboration needed to go beyond one track. They both describe the foundation of the EP as “seamless,” and for WurlD, this was one of the few times he made a decision to work on a project with someone without overthinking it. It just felt right.

I Love Girls With Trobul is the duo’s take on balance while pushing the culture forward. WurlD comes with his relatable, minimal lyrics (he’s also worked with the likes of BOB, Trinidad James, Mario, Walshy Fire and more during his time in Atlanta) while Sarz (a chart-topping producer who’s had Niniola and Wizkid grace his beats) delivers trendsetting instrumentals. There’s a song on I Love Girls With Trobul for everybody—for those on the continent and in the diaspora alike.

“Mad” is the newest music video to drop from the EP. A continuation of the storyline that the collaborators showed us in their previous single “Ego: Nobody Wins,” we take a look at the dysfunctional insecurities of a relationship between WurlD, born Sadiq Onifade, and his love interest (played by Bolu Aduke Kanmi). The relatability of the visual and the song will surely get you in your feelings.

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VIBE: Sarz, what kind of sonic journey did you intend to take listeners through in this EP?

Sarz: I was trying to make something that suits WurlD’s sound, makes him comfortable enough to express himself, and also isn’t alien to the afrobeats space. I was also trying to push the narrative with the sound because that’s what I’m known for. I’ve always been that producer in Nigeria that doesn’t really follow trends and does stuff that other producers use as a template to make music. This is just one of those projects where it doesn’t sound like anything else in the afrobeats space right now. This time next year, you’ll hear so many songs that sound like songs off this project.

How would you describe the creative process of working with each other?

WurlD: We had to trust each other—I was very open. It was all about both of us meeting in the middle. There were times where Sarz would advise me to tweak the conversation in my lyrics. Another thing we focused on was bringing Africa along as much as possible. He’s Nigeria at its core. I learned how to create music in America, though I was born in Nigeria—so I know the culture. I lived there until I was a teenager. We understood each other and I was open to the idea; we were both determined to do whatever we needed to do to make the best project. One of our biggest challenges making this was that we were both in different places throughout the process, so the ongoing support we got from “Trobul” kept us alive. We recorded the first series of songs in L.A., the body of it in Atlanta and we then finished it in Lagos earlier this year.

Sarz: We had to go back and forth with ideas because his musical background and experiences are different than mine. There were certain songs that we had to go back and forth with to make it more relatable and right for the project.

Why is a project like I Love Girls With Trobul needed in the popular African music scene now?

Sarz: From my end, I feel like when you’re genuine with your art and speaking your truth, people will always gravitate to that—because there’s someone out there that feels the same way you feel. I don’t know who’s out there who feels the same way, but judging from the reviews and feedback we’ve been getting, there are so many people that we’re touching right now with this.

WurlD: I like the idea of collaboration. I wanted to shine a light on the importance of collaborating with producers. Living in the States for so many years, I saw this happen every day. I noticed how there are different ways to collaborate and how in general there’s not a lot of love for producers. I hope this inspires other producers to put more value in themselves.

Wurld, what inspired you to be so vulnerable with the stories you share in the EP?

WurlD: I feel like when I’m creating music is when I’m the most vulnerable. Music is communication—people go through things. I like the idea of empowering people through words where a sad song can actually lift you up. If it’s done in a happy space, you don’t feel so sad after all. I can’t really explain how I balance that but it’s a free, caring space. I care about the listener. I understand how difficult it is to empower yourself through a heartbreak. It’s being vulnerable, but it’s to be free and accept a loss. I understand the need for people to feel empowered to get up and keep going, so that makes it easy for me to tap into my vulnerability and to keep the audience lifted.

Sarz, what inspired you to conjure a sinister, dark sound with “Mad”?

Sarz: There’s nothing like that in the African space right now. That was the last record we made, and I felt like the project needed a little edge. After working on a few records, “Mad” was the standout one. We just knew this is what we’ve been looking for—it was just me trying to make a global soundtrack. I feel like anyone, anywhere in the world can relate to “Mad,” even though it’s afrobeats.

Walk me through its music video. What should viewers keep in mind while watching?

WurlD: We wanted to stay close to the conversation of the song. And “Mad” goes through different emotions with an afro-dance element. The key part in the record is how I’m dealing with my issues and I’m dealing with yours, but at the end of the day we get mad and we’ll make up. This is an everyday situation. We fight, we come together. And we wanted to highlight that in the video. With “Ego,” we were disconnected. With “Mad,” we give it a try when you break up to make up. The making up part is not easy, so there’s a lot of highlighting the highs and lows of those emotions to get past what made you mad. The dance elements highlight African culture and we wanted to keep it simple, stylish and straight to the point.

Sarz: With this project, we were really just trying to do things how we feel. And the project itself sounds like a story from the first song to the last. We wanted to try and keep that visually and interpret it as much as possible so people understand that journey with the visual.

What’s next from the project?

WurlD: I feel like this project we created is the first of its kind coming out of this region in Africa. We hope to inspire and show the rest of the world the necessity of range. Africa is not just one thing, and there’s so much more that we have to offer. We’re planning on doing more visuals because we feel strongly that these records deserve A1 narratives and visuals that push the culture forward and shines a light on African art.

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Jenny Regan

NEXT: Kemba Makes The Song Cry On His Painful Masterpiece ‘Gilda’

Kemba doesn’t look like the stereotypical rapper. He's not loaded with expensive jewelry, a large entourage, "exotic" women, and stylish clothes. The budding MC is reserved. Remember the quiet, artsy, yet cool kid in high school who didn’t put on a thick shield of toughness, but you knew he’d fight when invited to? That’s Kemba, the seemingly reticent kid moving to the beat inside of his headphones.

It’s a dreary Thursday afternoon near the end of September. Exactly six days prior to this date (Sept. 28), the Bronx native released his sobering album titled Gilda, the follow-up to 2016's Negus album. But even in the face of album release parties and the fame that comes with having a record deal, the Republic artist refuses to put on the clichéd mask of a rapper.

The regular degular kid arrives solo, and on time, at VIBE’s Times Square office. Despite his mother’s death still fresh on his mind, Kemba seems to be in great spirits. He’s generous with posing for pictures, calmly standing where the photographer asks him to. While Kemba is totally alert, his eyes hold a glare that shows he’s pondering some valuable lessons recently learned.

One listen to Gilda, named after his mother who died of a stroke, and it’s clear that the bubbling MC is adept at sorting through thoughts and unearthing lessons from deep-rooted pain.

“I’m just getting into the habit of speaking about things and not holding anything in,” Kemba says when asked about extracting lessons from discomfort. “I haven’t had a lot of revelations yet. I’m still getting accustomed to recognizing my thoughts, and feelings, sharing my thoughts, and looking at the feeling wheel, and identifying all of the things that that situation makes me feel.”

Kebma began his rap career as YC the Cynic. With Eminem being a big influence on his early rap style, Kemba’s lyrical ambition is evident on early mixtapes like 2010’s You’re Welcome and 2011’s Fall Forward, where he’s rapping over a mix of industry instrumentals and original beats. Kemba was also doing a lot of open mics around the Rotten Apple, tapping into his gift of wordplay and building his fanbase through an old-school path of impressing local crowds. His burgeoning career leveled-up after being discovered by Queens MC, Homeboy Sandman, who introduced Kemba to Hot 97 radio personality Peter Rosenberg.

But as Kemba found his footing in the underground scene and came into his own as an artist, he decided to trade in his YC the Cynic tag for a handle more befitting to the picture he wanted to paint of himself.

“I try to separate myself from constructs. I never really had pride in my name [YC the Cynic]," Kemba recalls. "I always felt detached from my real name. So I just wanted to choose something for myself.”

“I wanted it to sound youthful, like it had african roots to it, and to sound strong," he continues. “And I really just searched a bunch of names. I went through names for about a year. Like YC the Cynic, you hear it, and you can think of the type of person that would have that name. I just wanted a name that, to where I could do whatever [musically].”

Fast forward to 2019, Kemba’s departure from the battle rhymes on Gilda is his best project to date. The album moves through a series of revelations, family issues, and takes listeners on a journey of a young man trudging through hardships.

One week after the release of Gilda, Kemba sat with VIBE for a discussion about regrets, finding meaning from traumatic situations, and controlling his narrative.

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VIBE: Gilda sounds like a project where you’re exposing a bunch of lessons that you recently learned. Kemba: I feel like it led to that. It started with me examining my life in a way that I haven’t before. It started with me not being able to process my mom’s death. At some point I started to write again and it was like, “Oh shit, this is how I feel.” But I didn’t know that until I wrote it. This is the only way I’m going to find out about myself, so let me just do this. Let me think about my childhood and write. And then at some point that became me examining myself, reading back what I wrote. I’m going to therapy now, and I’m figuring out different ways to understand myself. But that started from me realizing there was more to it than writing.

I sense that you have some regrets about the relationships in your family? It’s hard because a lot of the relationships in my family are so broken. There are a lot of family members that I love and talk to on a regular basis, but there are still some that I do not know if it will ever be repaired. And I realized that as you get older it becomes harder to link with people, and you look up and it’s been a year since you saw them. Just spending time gets really hard as you get older. But that’s the goal.

Do you wish you spent more time with your mom? I think my mom is like a whole different relationship. I wish I would’ve been there with my mom. And I did spend time with my mom. I wish it would’ve been more quality time. Now I know the difference between spending time and quality time. I wish I’d known more about her, her history, and her upbringing. So yes, there are regrets.

Has your family heard the album? A lot of my family has heard the album, and I’m pleasantly surprised that the acceptance has been as good as it has. I imagine that a lot of the people that it was about didn’t hear it. But everybody that I heard from said they were proud. Some cried at some point and said they love me. And that’s a good of an acceptance that I get from them. There’s this theme of controlling your narrative throughout your music too. How young were you when you realized that that’s important?

There's a lot of talk of controlling your narrative in your music. Most 23-years-old are not thinking about controlling their narrative. When did this become a thing for you? I can’t remember when I had that idea that that was important but I do know that in general that if you don’t control your narrative someone else will. There’s a laundry list of evidence, from the history to America to the history of hip-hop, where people don’t really stake claim, and they get the value to the point where the story is up for grabs. Like right now, for as long as I have lived it’s been recognized that Kool Herc is the Godfather of Hip-Hop and as the story goes on the story gets misconstrued. And other people take claim. So controlling your narrative is super important.

Are you into activism? Your album Negus gives me that feel. That’s how I came up. I came up being part of a community organization called Rebel Diaz. They showed me the way of the social activism. We lead and organize a bunch of marches. We went down to Ferguson,down to Baltimore for Freddie Gray. I was doing that a lot, but music took more and more of my time. But I would love to get back to that. Those are my brothers. I look to them for advice often.

What will Kemba’s story read like? I’ve thought about it. I don’t know the exact answer. I just know the things that I love to do. I want to be a part of making incredible art as long as I live. Making my own art, and helping people with their art. Whether that means creating music, helping other people create music, or just executive produce projects, producing, writing for people. I just want to be involved in art, and more involved in social service.

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