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Daniel Lewis/Red Bull Music

DJ Collective Teklife: The Musical Conductors Keeping Chicago's Footwork Scene Alive

After a July 19th live taping of Red Bull Radio’s daily show Peak Time Live at the stylish eatery The Promontory, on the south side of Chicago—centered around the Windy City's footwork crew Teklife—a four-hour dance party was set to ensue. As the event's set was being meticulously broken down, and the once-seated audience members eagerly awaited their chance to decimate the dance floor under flashing lights, a small dance circle formed in between the bar and the DJ booth. This small congregation started as a close, tight-knit group of onlookers watching the frenetic leg acrobatics of those engaging in footwork dancing, while most of those in attendance were refilling their drinks, or decompressing on the outside area on that warm, Chicago evening.

Even after the curtains separating the bar area from the prepared dancefloor were removed and access to more space was revealed, those in the circle were too transfixed on the dizzying dance moves to even notice. No one moved until someone continually instructed one of the dancers to start up a “follow me.” At first glance, “follow me” entails one person in the middle of the circle doing dance moves while staring at the person who is supposed to hop into the center of the dance floor after they are finished. If you get too close to the center you're either mesmerized by the dancing or overcome with an unshakable compulsion to show everyone some footwork. After a while, those from outside began migrating to the outer regions of the dance circle, hoping to get just a glimpse of what they had been missing out on.

That’s Chicago footwork—and Teklife to an extent—in a nutshell. It’s a cultural movement that has cultivated a diehard following in a relatively small part of a larger music industry. Its expansion is predicated on how well the music and dancing can turn people’s intrigue into immersion. A movement that may be ignored at first by the larger majority, until they see just how fun it actually is.

But, that’s only the tip of the DJ needle.

Teklife, co-founded by Chicago legends DJ Spinn and the late DJ Rashad, is a collective of producers, dancers and other DJs primarily known for their work in the Chicago footwork scene. Footwork, to put it simply, is a music genre descendant of ghetto house and juke, played at 160 beats per minute (bpm), founded on the foot working dance style of intricate, fast-paced foot dances. In 20 seconds of a Teklife footwork set, you’d probably see one person do 15 leg crosses, a few slides, and an innumerable amount of foot stomps just to keep up with the beautifully chaotic mesh of sounds.

In front of a modestly packed audience seated at cafe-style tables with soft lighting, five of Teklife’s most prominent members—DJ Spinn, DJ Manny, DJ Gant-Man, DJ Taye, and Boylan—spoke with moderator, and world-renowned DJ Vivian Host about how the group came to be, and what exactly Teklife is.

Most of its members have been entrenched in the Chicago music scene before they were old enough to DJ for adults. Gant-Man, at 10 years old, was one of the youngest DJs ever on radio, cutting and mixing at college radio station WKKC 89.3 FM, a fact that still lights up his usually subdued demeanor at the Peak Time taping. Spinn and Rashad met at age 13 at the Markham Roller Rink after Spinn was mesmerized by Rashad’s penchant for dancing and deejaying, almost simultaneously–a style that would later define Teklife.

“He was mixing two records at the same time; blending them. Came down, started dancing with everybody on the floor, went back up there, and started deejaying again. When I seen that I was like, ‘Yeah, I got to get to know fam,’” Spinn said at the event.

Most of Teklife’s oldest DJ’s, including Spinn, Rashad, and 28-year-old DJ Manny, were dancers before they ever touched a turntable, and leveraged that experience into informed deejaying styles. “I was dancing before I was producing and deejaying, so I already knew what I wanted to dance off of,” Manny told Vibe. “I would go to parties and play, and I’d already knew what people wanted to hear. So, I took that in, and made myself a producer.”

Besides being DJs and dancers, some of the Teklife DJs had to be part-mad scientists in order to achieve the futuristic sound of ghetto house, juke, and footwork with the technology of their time. “The old school MPCs from the '90s, you had a lot of sampling time back then, but not a lot of time,” Gant-Man shared before bursting into a hearty laugh. “It was like mad science and physics altogether. Your brain just had to outwork the machine. We didn't have no ability to time-stretch.” Time-stretching is the technique of changing the speed of a piece of audio without affecting its pitch, a key feature in the transmogrifying sound the group would soon become known for.

Technology isn't just a conduit for their artistic expression, it is at the center of the group’s very existence. “The internet introduced us to a lot of people we wouldn’t have ever known,” Spinn told Vibe. Boylan was a substitute teacher with a passion for deejaying when he linked with Rashad on Myspace. DJ Taye first reached out to Spinn on Facebook for advice about what MPC he should purchase, before auditioning to join the group at the famed Chicago footwork dance spot, Battlegroundz. The name Teklife probably would’ve still been GhettoTeknitianz, the original, smaller group the collective sprouted from had it not been for the internet. “Basically, like around 2011 and the beginning of 2012, we said we were going to switch it up one more ‘gain because of the internet, really, and because everyone was claiming they were GhettoTeknitianz.”

Now the group boasts members all the way from South Side, Chicago to Oslo, Norway.

The Peak Time taping also doubled as a crash course on the history of Chicago juke, ghetto house, and footwork, with Host playing numerous songs during intermissions. That’s when the somewhat shy Teklife members who periodically had to be coaxed into even speaking by Host would show their erudition of the Chicago sound.

DJ PJ’s frenetic 808 bass on "Chase Me" had Spinn and Gant-Man gleefully reminiscing on how the song would incite fights. Once RP Boo’s "Baby Come On" transformed from a funk-sounding vocal sample over sparse kick drums into the fast-paced festival of sounds, all the Teklife members gushed about how the 1997 track was ahead of its time. Some people in the audience didn’t let the cafe-style dim lighting and seating stop them from shoulder swaying to the songs either.

Manny, Rashad, and Spinn all met when they were in their early teens, respectively, and on-stage the five Teklife members had a familial feel to their group that permeated the crowd. Some audience members shouted out names of old group members, and some live-streamed the entire chat on their phones, turning the usually informal podcast taping format into one akin to a family gathering. This sight was incongruous with an inconvenient truth every member of Teklife that I spoke with shared: Chicago doesn’t fully support its own.

“To me, Chicago has always been a buyer's market, and not a seller's market, first and foremost. We buy everybody else. It's always been that way,” Gant-Man told Vibe. “That's the reason why Chicago rap couldn't really blow up, because we buy other people’s music.”

During a respite from the organized madness of the Peak Time after-party, I spoke with two young men from Chicago in line waiting to chase their Red Bull drinks with free tacos. The brief conversation we had shared a similar sentiment I noticed from locals I spoke to about Teklife before and after the event:

Me: Do you mind if I speak to y’all about Teklife?
*Both shoot perplexed looks at one another*
Me: It’s for a Vibe Magazine feature. Just your thoughts on Teklife.
Man 1: What’s Teklife?
Me: The reason we’re all here.
Man 2: We’re here for the drinks.

But not every longtime Chicago resident was ignorant of Teklife’s impact. Ron, 38, was born and raised in Chicago and says he grew up listening to members of Teklife like DJ Rashad, Gant-Man, and Spinn. But, he did highlight a trend of Chicago artists having to leave their hometown to gain popularity. “To me, [Teklife] is bigger internationally than they are here, and that may be something bigger than I can speak to, but I know some of the biggest Chicago acts had to leave Chicago to make it bigger.”

Even with a somewhat cynical view of his hometown, Gant-Man does attest there are “times when [Chicago] comes out, and supports, and show out for each other, and really represent.” But, even that upswell of support is hard to catapult Teklife, and Footwork music, from being underground when the national perception of Chicago is that of perpetual violence and there’s already a genre of music that mirrors it.

“As far as Chicago making a really big statement, it wasn't until all of the violence in Chicago and the drill scene that was emerging. So you have the media focusing on the violence in Chicago. Now, here is a scene that talks about it,” Gant-Man told Vibe. “The whole footwork scene is not put in the industry as a part of pop music.”

One Chicagoan who has always supported Teklife is Chance the Rapper. Rashad and Spinn linked up with Chance backstage at one of the young Chicago MC’s first shows in Paris—thanks to one of Spinn’s proteges, DJ Oreo, being Chance’s tour DJ at the time. “We get to the back, and Chance was like ‘DJ Rashad? What?! Bro, I grew up on the battle shit,’” Spinn told Vibe. “Then, I can almost say this was the first thing Chance said: ‘How would y’all like to go on tour with me?’” Next thing they knew, Rashad and Spinn were spreading the Teklife sound across America on Chance’s 2013 Social Experiment Tour.

In today’s music industry the highest paid EDM DJs last year–Tiesto and Calvin Harris–pulled in $87.5 million in 2017. Meanwhile, members of the most popular footwork crew in the world face the real possibility of not even making minimum wage for their work. “We can work a whole year and not make [$25,000],” Spinn revealed at the event.

No one could definitively explain why this gap in popularity and recognition between two, ostensibly similar genres of music. But, there was this sense that Teklife and footwork as it is, may not be right for mass consumption, yet. “I think this is still very much an underground genre, and it's at 160 bpm, so it's not as accessible to everyone, in terms of just dancing,” Host shared with Vibe.

Teklife’s biggest supporter wasn’t at The Promontory in body, but was unmistakably present in spirit. Teklife founder and leader DJ Rashad was snatched away from the waking world on April 26th, 2014, at the age of 34, when he was found dead in an apartment on the west side of Chicago. Autopsy reports say he died from an overdose of heroin, cocaine, and Xanax, but Rashad’s family and some Teklife members dispute these findings. His cause of death may be debatable, but his lasting impact is immutable; a hush permeated the audience at the Peak Time taping, as well as the group, by simply invoking Rashad’s name.

One minute Spinn was jubilantly recounting Gant-Man’s sexcapades in club bathrooms, struggling to talk coherently through bouts of laughter. Then, in a matter of seconds, his voice grew somber, struggling now to get the words out to recount similar club shenanigans he had with Rashad. A hush blanketed the entire venue whenever anyone spoke about the lauded fallen DJ.

“I think his passing left a huge void,” Host told Vibe. “But to Spinn and others’ credit, Teklife is so meaningful to everyone that they just carried on, and carried on what Rashad’s vision was and what he would’ve wanted for the whole crew.”

Part of that vision is pushing the culture forward, which some in Teklife already have plans to do. “Eventually, I want to make a different genre of music, per se. But, I have to put my feet down for what I’m known for,” Spinn told Vibe.

Until the future arrives, Teklife will keep the feet working, all for the love of the music.

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Darren Xu

Brent Faiyaz Channels International Life Into New Musical Gems

Finishing up his summer in Europe, Brent Faiyaz (born Christopher Brent Wood) indulges in spiked mimosas and enticing conversations with his team after handling business for the day. Jet-setting overseas to add more memories to his life’s reel, the singer-songwriter and producer just celebrated his 24th birthday days before. “I think anytime you go places internationally you get a different perspective," he says. "I felt like creatively, it would bring out some more shit.” Many doors have opened for the DMV crooner since he first appeared in front of the public’s eye with his single “Natural Release” in 2014. Pulling pages out what seems to be his journal entries, Faiyaz shares his autobiography through the dynamics of string ballads, haloed hymns, and tinder timbre.

The Columbia, Maryland R&B talent has shared his soothing vocals with fans ever since. Studiously making beats from the age of 12 or 13, it wasn’t until after graduating high school and moving to Charlotte with his parents that he began to invest in music full time. His rhythmic resonance and gut-punching lyrics turned into his first five-track EP speaking to women, relationships, and sex in A.M. Paradox in 2016 with his hit single “Poison.” He formed a group called Sonder with fellow musicians Dpat and Atu, and released a group EP with them called Into before dropping another solo project, Sonder Son. The 12-track project delved into his childhood: he brought his fans right into his living room in “Home,” gave them a seat at the table in his classrooms in “Gang Over Luv,” and walked his newfound Los Angeles streets with them in “L.A.” He then unleashed his tightly knit six-track EP Lost with standouts “Trust,” and “Around Me.”

“I come from a very real place. I think that I can give a lot of people around me a lot of real perspectives. I’ve been seeing a lot of people in certain avenues gravitate towards a nigga,” the LA-based artist said.

The indie artist truly received a standing ovation after organically co-creating the 2018 Grammy-nominated single “Crew” with GoldLink and Shy Glizzy. “I’m going to be real; I didn’t go into music with the intention of being an independent artist, especially not this long. But then [I] hopped onto “Crew” and we fucked around a got a hit record without even being signed to a label. After that I started getting paid so I was like ‘Fuck it, we really don’t need that,’” he said.

His first 2019 summer single “Fuck the World (Summer in London)” opened a perspective of contronyms that approached both the literal and lustful world. What he calls “the woes and the woes.” “Meaning the shit that I hate. [What] is terrible about life right now that’s fucked up, fuck the world on the negative end, middle finger fuck the world,” he says. “And then it’s ‘Fuck the World’ where it’s like the girls and the money and the clothes and the bullshit.”

He later dropped his latest track a month later. “Rehab (Winter In Paris)” mirrors a story when the singer was balancing his personal time while being addicted to a person who is addicted to a substance. With “Rehab” already penned, Faiyaz went to producing the track alongside No ID, known for his work with rap greats like Jay-Z, Common and Kanye West. “He’s an OG. I soaked up a lot of game from him. I locked in with him for a whole week and cut a bunch of ideas.” Observing the producer's process, Faiyaz implemented some of No ID’s ways into his own. “I would take certain shit he said and put that in my own shit. Real talk, he is one of those niggas that will put you on game.”

With a uniqueness to his voice that is charming yet elusive, the singer has raised eyebrows by not resembling the stereotypical genetic makeup of a rhythm and blues artist. “I don’t really know how a sound is supposed to look. If somebody tells me how a sound is supposed to look, I will understand,” Faiyaz chuckled. “I don’t really connect the two. I can’t change how I look; I can’t change how I sound. I’m going to keep doing me.”

During what one could consider a hiatus, the vocalist used that time to focus on his craft, give back to his mom, jump on A$AP Ferg’s album Floor Seats, and walk in Pyer Moss’s New York Fashion Week Show. As he has geared up for a musical return that will unveil a different side, Faiyaz is under renovation. “I [don’t] want to give people the same sh*t that I’ve been giving them this whole time. I’m not about to put out a new project and it sounds the exact same as the last project. I want to keep reinventing myself as this sh*t goes on.”

“Right now, I am probably the most creative that I’ve ever been.”

Brent has successfully left his fans longing for more all while remaining authentic, not purposefully trying to create any kind of enigma around himself. “It’s not a goal of mine to be on the tip of everybody’s tongue all the time.”

With the year wrapping up, the 24-year-old is “pushing boundaries” as he prepares to release more original melodies. While he experiments with the production elements of his music and strengthening his vocals, the artist is effortlessly surprising himself in the studio. “I’m kind of saying whatever the fuck I want to say on the track and somehow it’s coming out pretty good. I know how to put it in a way where it comes off ill.”

Plotting his next moves, the creative has become enthralled with art all across the board in his performances as it translates to visual art. “I’m really learning how a bunch of different avenues go aside from just music. I’m on my young renaissance man shit.”

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Robert Glasper performs at Blue Note in New York City on Saturday, Oct. 5 during his residency.
Dennis Manuel

Robert Glasper Talks 'F**k Yo Feelings,' Yasiin Bey, And Lessons From Herbie Hancock

“This second set, bro...”

Robert Glasper mischievously smiled and widened his eyes as I began to turn off my recorder. We’re wrapping up an interview and sitting side by side near a soundboard at the historic Blue Note jazz club in New York City, where fans are packed downstairs for the third night of Glasper’s month-long residency. He had a previous residency at the Blue Note last year, and it was a hot ticket: acts such as Black Star, Anderson .Paak, and Lupe Fiasco shared the stage with him, while celebrities like Chris Rock, Cornel West, and Chadwick Boseman came to enjoy from the audience.

For the start of this year’s residency, the elusive, expressive Yasiin Bey joined him for four nights in a row, with two shows each night. On Saturday (Oct. 5), the Brooklyn renaissance man wore a black hoodie over a solid black tee, wielded his signature bright red retro mic, and went through fan favorites like “The Boogie Man Song,” “Auditorium” and “Casa Bey,” all over fresh, warmly layered interpretations by Glasper and his bandmates Derrick Hodge, Chris Dave and DJ Jahi Sundance. Bey is visibly impressed by the band, and at one point, dances and spins in place for 10 minutes while vibing to the music. But with Glasper’s reputation and relationships, other artists are prone to just show up, and that’s why Glasper was so excited about the second show: god-level MC Black Thought and soul singer Bilal both made surprise appearances, leaving members of the crowd hyperventilating. Thought exhibited his otherworldly lyricism and breath control, dropping sets of what felt like 100 bars at a time and trading rhymes with Yasiin while the band played a rendition of Madvillain’s “Meat Grinder.” Bilal performed his timeless 2001 single “Reminisce,” with Yasiin spitting his verse from the song. Main Source cofounder Large Professor slipped in the door before the show as well, though he didn’t take the stage. For much of the show, Glasper goofily joked with the crowd, often prompting Yasiin to flash his own bashful, dimpled smile. It's just one night of more to come: the rest of the residency will continue through the beginning of November with Esperanza Spaulding, Luke James for a Stevie Wonder tribute, T3 of Slum Village for a J Dilla tribute, and the original Robert Glasper Experiment, with more guests sure to pop up unannounced.

That same spirit of spontaneity fueled Glasper’s new mixtape, Fuck Yo Feelings. Glasper arranged a two-day jam session with his band and invited artists and friends to keep company. What began as a good time with loved ones resulted with a mixtape that features YBN Cordae, Buddy, Rapsody, Herbie Hancock, Bey, Muhsinah, and many more. It's the latest release in a career that has seen Glasper simultaneously carry on jazz traditions and buck its conventions. As a pianist, bandleader and musical director, he’s excelled with making jazz records for the iconic Blue Note Records that traditionalists can love; but he’s also earned two Grammys for his two Black Radio albums, which employ raps and vocals by Yasiin Bey, Lalah Hathaway, Erykah Badu, and more. He's consistently lent his talents to other musicians’ albums as well – most notably Kendrick Lamar, for his game-shifting 2014 LP To Pimp A Butterfly. Regardless of the platform, Glasper is always making jazz cool, and adding victories to his own belt in the process.


VIBE: You’re back at Blue Note for your second residency here. How was last year, and what made you come back?

Robert Glasper: Last year was amazing, with all the guests that came through and the turnout. We sold out 44 of 48 shows. The shows, the people, the guests following out that were in New York. It was just epic shit. And Blue Note was like, “we definitely need to do this next year.” So I was like “cool, let’s do it.” I get to be home for a month, and I’m never home for five weeks straight. Gives me a chance to be home, hang out with my son every week, and the money ain’t bad either. (laughs) It’s kind of like being on tour without being on tour.

Last time we spoke, you were telling me that even though you live in NYC, that most of the creative energy is in LA because that’s where everyone records.

There’s more recording in LA, because everybody moved there. But the creative energy is still here. From my experience, you learn how to play and create in New York, you get all those skills. And then you move to LA to make money with it. (laughs) New York’s the place to go when you’re dope, kind of for most things. The competition is so crazy. In other places, it’s slim pickings of who’s dope, so it’s not something that’s going to push you hardcore. But when you’re here, everywhere you go, muhfuckas is dope. I went to college here, there’s motherfuckas here who made me scared to play piano. They would call my name, and I’d sit at the drums because I’d rather sound bad on drums than piano in front of these people. It really chiseled my shit to be dope as fuck.

LA is the place with a plethora of everything you need to make money. All the studios, the producers, all the film stuff. The opportunities are in LA. Before you used to go back and forth from New York to LA for opportunities because there were still a lot of artists and producers here. But it’s so expensive, everybody moved out to LA. It’s more stuff out here, you get more bang for your buck, get some sun. You might die in an earthquake, but you know, see where it takes you. (laughs)

You’re very intentional with how you label records: you have ArtScience, you have Black Radio and Black Radio 2. Why is Fuck Yo Feelings a separate mixtape, and not in one of those other series?

All my records start off one way, and end up another way. I always say the universe produces half of my albums. Originally this was going to be a jam session with my band, and we were just recording it. I ended up being like, let’s bring people to listen to the recording. Not even artists, just tastemakers, friends, VIPs, to come hang out and put a bar in there, 15-20 pairs of headphones so they can be in the room and be part of the experience. It wasn’t an album; it was just, let’s record for two days and see how it sounds. But people started falling through the studio, and it just became a thing. As we kept recording –- we were only there for two days – I had the amazing singer/songwriter SiR come through. He’s a super-fast writer so I said, “while we’re jamming, if you have any ideas, just write them down, and maybe they can become songs later.” One of the songs he had an idea for was “Fuck Yo Feelings.” That was early on the first day. The singer YEBBA was there, and I’m like, “let her sing that.” And that became the premise of the whole shit.

I feel like that’s a great mantra for today’s times. Where I’m coming from, Fuck Yo Feelings can mean so many different things. This is a time where everybody’s fighting for their place in the world to be who they are, whether you’re LGBTQ, whether it’s the females trying to get equal pay and equal rights, black people trying to finally be equal and end racism. Fuck Yo Feelings is a mantra saying, respect someone else’s plight that’s not your own. Take your feelings out of it and just respect their fight, understand what it is, and hell, fight with them. Just because it’s not your fight, it doesn’t mean they don’t need allies. Or, just get out of the way. Also, feelings can lie to you. You get in your feelings about shit, and a lot of times, feelings aren’t going to be what propels you to the next chapter. Sometimes, feelings can hold you back and give you a false sense of reality. Sometimes, you have to say “fuck how I feel, I need to do this.” There’s so many angles you can go with it, and this is something that so many people feel like saying, or say in their mind.

I hear that, but I can’t front: the cover has you sitting on a throne with your shirt off. So I thought the title was basically saying “fuck these artists who think they’re fucking with me.”

(laughs) Well, humbly speaking, I don’t think there are dudes that think they’re fucking with me. (laughs louder) In a real way, I don’t know the pianist that’s arguably in the top five in the jazz world, top five in the hip-hop world, is arguably the top five in the R&B world in terms of playing my instrument. I don’t know that guy, but me. You can have your little argument, “I’m better than you at jazz,” sure. If you want. But all three? And I have the Grammys to back each one of them up? I put in work out here. So it wasn’t that. It’s more like fuck your feelings when it comes to all the stuff I just said. But also, people have an issue with how I’m crossing all these genres and doing what I do. The average jazz musician doesn’t look the way I look, talk the way I talk, or behave the way I behave. Most jazz musicians are in a box, and it’s a box that people are comfortable with and a box you’ve seen before. People got some shit to say about my shit all the time, and I’m definitely saying fuck your feelings to that, too. Because I’ve done the box you like, I’ve proven I can do that. So what’s next? I don’t need nobody’s approval because Herbie [Hancock] loves me, so I’m good. (laughs) If Herbie’s down with me, I don’t need one other person’s approval in the world.

This mixtape also has a lot of younger rappers: Denzel Curry, YBN Cordae, Buddy. Was that intentional?

Yeah. I want to keep my hand in the young pot, too. I’m not getting any younger. I wanted this record to be something that everybody could love and like, even different generations. I felt it was important to have younger cats on here, and to put younger cats in situations they wouldn’t normally be in. YBN Cordae wouldn’t normally be on a track with Herbie Hancock, but he’s so dope. YBN Cordae is an old soul, and he respects the people that came before him, while he’s making new things. Terrace Martin hooked me and YBN up, and Terrace is all about that too. People always associate me with the backpack rappers, and they should, because that’s what I’m dwelling in all the time. But I like other shit, too.

I want to talk about your relationship with Yasiin. I know he was on the first Black Radio, and you’ve worked together before that too, right?

Live, all the time. He basically used my band for his live stuff all the time. I was his music director, starting in like 2006. Whenever he would do things with a live band, they’d be with my band. At first, something happened and his piano player couldn’t make one gig. So when I sub a gig… (laughs) I went in there and put the kitchen sink in that mufucka.

He got fired on his day off?

It was a wrap. So I start putting my guys in his band. “I see what you’re going for. You need Chris Dave. You need Derrick Hodge.” But I’d met him before because he was around Bilal all the time. He was on Bilal’s first record, and I was his music director the whole time till 2007. But I started doing my own thing and we’ve been rocking ever since. We just have one of those connections on stage, bro – he’s like another instrument. He’s always comfortable to the fact that we play shit that most rappers would not rap over because they don’t know how. It’s not your average four-bar chopped beat. He’s like, “I love that. It’s got 32 different changes in it, and I want to rap over the whole thing.” Or odd time signature shit that’s not normal, he’s comfortable. He can go anywhere on stage, and that’s why every show we do is different. It allows me to still be free and not have to worry about, “we have to stay in this box for him.”

He seems to be a recluse in a lot of ways, especially in the past five or six years. But he’s on your new project, he’s doing four nights in a row with you with two shows per night, and he did shows at the Kennedy Center with you recently. How do you get a hold of him?

I got the bat phone, my nigga! (laughs) Nah, we have mutual respect for each other. He tells me this: this is the highest musical level, I feel, you can possibly be in when it comes to rocking with a band. It may be different, but it ain’t gon get no higher. He has such a love for jazz and hip-hop and other styles of music, he knows we can go anywhere. We’ve done pop songs together. I’ve done Cyndi Lauper stuff with him, Neil Young, Radiohead, we go all over the place because he loves to sing too. He has a respect for what I do and respect for the musicians I have. And he wants to do it. It’s different when it’s a gig, versus, I want to do this, because it feeds him musically, too. Some gigs are just gigs; you show up and you might not, because you’ve done this before. We could do the same songs and it’s going to be totally different than last night. I think he feeds off that.

But he’s definitely a recluse, and sometimes he won’t show up every now and then. (laughs) He’s never stood me up. It was never, “where’s Mos?” He can do that to people, but he’s never done that to me. He may say, “ah, missed a flight,” so we have time to figure shit out. It’s a respect thing.

What are the chances you two make an EP, or a full album together?

We’ve been talking about that for years, and that’s super, super duper most likely going to happen. Without a doubt. He wants to, every time we talk, we talk about that. All these shows are being recorded every night, by the way. So it could be shit from here, live.

He was supposed to drop multiple albums over the past few years. He had the album with Mannie Fresh, and another solo, Negus In Natural Person. He dropped the album with Ferrari Sheppard, December 99th, on TIDAL in 2016, but that wasn’t my speed.

I give him shit about that every day. (laughs) I give him shit about most of his last albums. “Fuck that shit, my nigga. What are you doing?” That’s my dude, I can talk to him like that. “What are you doing, my nigga? You know what this is. This is magic! That shit ain’t magic!” He looks at me like (curls top lip and lowers voice to impersonate Yasiin Bey) “nah you right, you’re right, Ron.”

His second album, The Ecstatic, isn’t on streaming services anymore.

He doesn’t believe in all that. We talked about that last night. He’s not necessarily in with the new times like that. “I gotta give away my shit for free, just because you’ve got Wifi? Nigga, you know how hard I worked on this shit?” He ain’t even got a cell phone, so getting him to understand the new wave of shit is different. (Ed. note: at the beginning of both shows, Yasiin Bey requests the crowd not use their cell phones during his performance, and promises to “enforce” if they don’t get with the program. ) He’s very much anti all that shit. It’s going to be something to gradually get him to understand. We put “Treal” (from Fuck Yo Feelings) out and he’s like, “yo. I just saw a video of our song on YouTube. For free?!” Mos, no one buys music. That’s just not what it is. These days and times we’re in, you get out there and try to be popular as you can, and when you do shows, that’s where your money comes from. But no one is baking cake off of music anymore. That's not the day we’re in. Unless somebody like Taylor Swift. I know at one point she was like “fuck that shit” and it wasn’t on Spotify. But her fan base is millions of people; she puts something out, and they’re going to pay for it. Our people, eh, not so much. (laughs)

You also said a few years ago that you’d be forming a group with Terrace Martin and James Fauntleroy. Is that still going on?

We did like one or two songs, fucked around. This is one of those things where everybody got busy. I’ve had a few groups go like that. But it takes a while for a group to do a project. You do a song this month and then three months later you do another song, so the album may not come out until two years later sometimes. But that’s still something we want to do. It was hard to do August Greene, with Common [and Karriem Riggins]. That was hard to get done, and it’s not easy to tour that. We all have our respective things happening, so we’re looking in the cracks like “let’s try to do a show here.” Rashid’s doing movies and that kind of stuff.

What would you say you’ve learned from Herbie Hancock, and do you think you’ve given him any gems that he didn’t have before?

There’s two things I learned from Herbie. You’re a person first, and you’re a musician second. No matter what you do in life, you have to remember that you’re a human being first, and what you do is secondary. What you do can always be taken away from you, and then you’re just left with who you are. I was at his house doing chants with him, because he’s a Buddhist, and I just listened to him talk and that’s one of the things he said. The music is connected to the person and the music, person and spirit are all combined. If you’re a good person, that can come through the music. You just have to remember you’re a person first, and a musician second. That’s how he is, how his aura is.

Second thing I’m learning from Herbie, you can learn from anybody. No matter how high or great you think you are, you can learn from younger people. That’s something that he saw firsthand with Miles (Davis). Miles got Herbie in his band when he was like 19. And Miles trusted the young cats. When he saw these young people got something to say. All Miles’ bands were young people. Miles was a genius at knowing what situation to be a part of because he saw they were on the brink of something. Miles put himself in that and could help grow that, but he knew he could learn from young people. That’s why Herbie hangs out with us. Where we be at, he be pulling up. So I learned that from him: always have your ears open. Even if you’re a master at something, masters can learn.

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Lil Kim performs onstage at the BET Hip Hop Awards 2019 at Cobb Energy Center on October 5, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

BET Hip Hop Awards 2019: Watch All The Performances Here

There were awards given out at the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards, but this year's festivities were all about the performances. Hip-hop's biggest up and comers (Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, YBN Cordae, Saweetie), more established names, (Rick Ross, Rapsody, Chance The Rapper), and flat out legends (Lil Kim) all blessed the stage.

This year also saw the return of the annual Cyphers and connected with URL to integrate battles into the show for the first time. Look below for the performances from the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards.


Lil Kim Performs Medley Of Hits with Junior M.A.F.I.A., O.T. Genasis, and Musiq Soulchild Megan Thee Stallion And DaBaby Perform "Hot Girl Summer" And "Cash Shit" Lil Duval, TOM. G, And KaMillion Team Up For City Boys Performance YBN Cordae And Anderson .Paak Perform "RPN" Saweetie Performs "My Type" With Lil Jon And Petey Pablo Rapsody Performs "Nina" And "Serena" Chance The Rapper Performs "Sun Come Down" DaBaby Performs "Intro" And "Baby Sitter" With Offset Rick Ross and T-Pain Perform Medley Lil Baby and DaBaby Perform "Baby" T-TOP Vs. Shotgun Suge – Battle DNA vs. Geechi Gotti – Battle
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