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Mia X Talks Making 'Mama Drama' And Trailblazing For Southern Female Rappers

No Limit's First Lady Mia X looks back on the making of and climate surrounding her 'Mama Drama' album.

When looking back on the lyrical man-eaters of the '90s, names like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve and Trina often dominate the conversation. However, one artist that often gets left out of the shuffle is Mia X, who helped take No Limit Records from being a giant on the independent circuit to being a global force. Born and raised in New Orleans, Mia X caught the rap bug from an early age, joining forces with a teenage Mannie Fresh during the '80s and forming the group, New York Incorporated, in 1984. "The guy who started the group moved to New Orleans from Queens, his name was Denny D,” Mia X recalls via telephone. “We started a DJ crew, but I was their emcee, and we would go all over New Orleans performing. Sometimes we didn't have but $25 in our pocket at the end of the night, but we were so happy because we were rhyming and we were doing what we wanted to do. When my class night came and they asked what I wanted to be, and this was in 1987, I told them I was gonna be a rapper."

Mia X's desired career path became a reality in 1994 when she caught the attention of California transplant and fellow New Orleans native Master P, who recruited the buzzing rapstress to become the First Lady of his independent label, No Limit Records. Releasing her No Limit debut, Good Girl Gone Bad, in 1995, despite failing to make an appearance on any Billboard charts, Mia X's reputation as a fierce lyricist with a slick tongue and an air of raunchiness caught on big among rap fans in the south, making her one of the premier artists on the label. However, by the time Master P inked his historic distribution deal with Priority Records, Mia X was finally ready for her star-turn, releasing her sophomore album, Unlady Like, in 1997. The album, which peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart—and eventually went on to being RIAA certified gold—positioned Mia X as the premier female emcee out of the South, with the ability to go bar-for-bar with any emcee on a track, regardless of gender. With the massive success No Limit's stable of talent achieved during their first round of major releases and the deafening hype surrounding the label, the stakes were high when it came time for Mia X to return with her third studio album.

However, the following year, Mia X proved to be the real deal, unveiling her third studio album, Mama Drama, on October 27, 1998. With guest appearances from various No Limit artists, including Master P, Snoop Dogg, C-Murder, Mystikal, Silkk The Shocker, Mac, Fiend, Mr. Serv-On, and production from in-house producers KLC and Beats By The Pound, Mama Drama was the biggest release of Mia X's career. The album debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 with 99,000 copies sold in its first week, according to Nielsen Music. It debuted and peaked at No. 3 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, behind JAY-Z's Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life and the Belly Soundtrack.The success of the album, coupled with scene-stealing roles in films like MP Da Last Don, I Got The Hook-Up and Hot Boyz, brought Mia X into the national spotlight and made her one of the more accomplished and respected females in rap, particularly from the South. But after the release of Mama Drama, Mia X seemingly vanished from the music industry, leaving fans to wonder what became of her and her once promising career.

In celebration of Mama Drama's 20th anniversary (Oct. 27), we spoke to Mia X and got the scoop on the making of the album, life on No Limit, her disappearance from the limelight, female empowerment, being a pioneer for female rappers in the South and what she's got cooking up next.


VIBE: Before the release of Mama Drama, you had a scene-stealing guest appearance on the No Limit posse cut "Make 'Em Say Uhh.” In what ways would you say that music video and song boosted your career?
Mia X: Well, I was happy that they liked the verse. "Make 'Em Say Uhh," it was another one of our soldier songs. And honestly, the concept [of it], people were making fun of P saying "Uhh" and I told KL, I was like bruh, we have to come up with some way to flip this ‘cause this ain't funny. KL really did his thing putting that beat together. We were happy that the world received it. I mean, no matter what coast you lived on, everybody loved that record. And for me, I was just happy that I was able to represent for the ladies, ‘cause when I came in the game, that was the only thing that I wanted to do, make sure we were represented right.

How would you describe life on No Limit during the label's Golden Era?
Most of us, we were like family at No Limit, and a lot of us actually were, so my time was really cool, aside from a few things that I went through. I was in an abusive relationship and then I lost my parents. I had some other setbacks in my life, but as far as being an artist and being on the label, I really did love and enjoy everybody, and I'm so thankful that I got the opportunity to, like, christen some of their kids, you know? We really were family and we really stuck together and ran together. We kinda weren't all over the place as a label, so we were around each other a lot. I think that's what people liked about us a lot, too. When they saw us, they always saw us together, but we were just excited. As a label, we were excited that the world was f**king with us. We was grateful because our intention was to hold the South down with everything in us, but we never dreamed that it was gonna blow the way it blew, where the whole world was feeling it and that was a great feeling and we were grateful. We didn't take that for granted at all.

Being the First Lady of No Limit, you were already well-versed in the No Limit system and how they create and rolled out projects. Given the breakout success of the label and it becoming the biggest business in rap, were there any differences in the recording process for Mama Drama in comparison to Good Girl Gone Bad or Unlady Like?
I recorded Mama Drama in 10 days and [had] already recorded four records [beforehand]. We was shooting I Got The Hook-Up, and [Master] P said if you wanna come out in the fourth quarter, you gonna have to go and finish your album now because I gotta turn it in. I was used to doing 20 records, so it took me 10 days. I wrote and recorded 16 [new] songs. KLC and Beats By The Pound, they was literally recording, dumping and mixing this record, like almost at the same time, to get it out on time. It was a fun album and it was challenging because I had a deadline and I still I wanted to cover all of the subject matter that I like to cover, but I also wanted to be original. It was one of them things like... I felt like that's when I was under the gun as an emcee to finish a project and not finish it at the luxury of my brain just being creative.

"What'cha Wanna Do," the album's first single, paired you with former Gap Band member and R&B legend Charlie Wilson. How did that collaboration come about and what are your memories of creating that song and working with Charlie in the studio?
We were in the studio together, [on] the same day, [at] the same time. I was at Snoop [Dogg]'s house, I was making Snoop some macaroni and chicken and Uncle Charlie was over there. This is around the time Mr. Biggs [Ronald Isley] was real, real hot. So everybody's talking about Mr. Biggs, but I'm telling Uncle Charlie that The Gap Band was one of my mama's favorite groups and she took me to the Burn Rubber Tour when it came to New Orleans. I had the Gap Band 3 t-shirt, I was telling him, you know? I told him "Yearning For Your Love" was one of my favorite songs and I asked him if I rewrote it, would he sing it and he was like, ”Yeah, let's do it right now. It happened just like that. We did the record and after we did the record, he told me he was impressed with the way I rewrote the record. I asked him would he be available for the video. Not only was he available for the video, but he also did a real solid, he brought the whole Gap Band to be in my video.

One of the more uplifting songs on Mama Drama is "Mama's Tribute," which finds you giving words of encouragement to women. What spurred you to deliver that message with that particular song?
The first time I did "Mama's Tribute," I redid "I'll Take Your Man." "Mama's Tribute" is really all about me showing love to some of my favorite emcees and I decided to pay “Mama's Tribute” to my renditions of [MC] Lyte's "Paper Thin." I just wanted to flip the lyrics to represent us as women and just make us feel powerful and make us feel uplifted because it's hard being in a male-dominated industry with so many records that's basically throwing tomatoes at women. And a lot of times, we don't have no choice. We find ourselves just drowning out some of the words and nodding our head to the fiery beats or whatever and, for me, I always wanted to make it like, well, if we gotta listen to all of that, then y'all gotta listen to all of this. At some point, we gonna get together and make us a record that everybody can jam to, but until then, men stand up for men. I was finna stand up for women and just make what we heard in the club sound a little different.

Women are everything, we gangstas. Usually, you learn how to defend yourself and be strong because nine times out of ten, it's your mama telling you that you gotta go outside and hit them back. Don't take no mess from nobody. You learn how to put your sentences together from your mama. And when it gets real, when a lot of dudes get locked up, the only one they have is their mama, and their mama does every one of them years with them. No matter how many times he embarrasses her, she’ll be there like a soldier. So how can a dude figure that a broad ain't a gangsta emcee when we the first gangstas y'all know?

Another song from Mama Drama that stands out on the tracklist is "What's Ya Point," which features guest appearances from Fat Joe and Snoop Dogg. What's the backstory to that song?
I wanted to do that record because we had got so much love from the East Coast and the West Coast. I just wanted to make a record to let everybody know... pretty much, when you travel different places, it's the same stuff going on. It's just the atmosphere and environment is different. The way we talk, the slang is different. The dress code might be different—

But the spirit is universal.
Yes, it's all the same thing. There is no such thing as the toughest live on this coast or that coast. Or the meanest or the smartest. I wanted to do that record because I didn't like the tension. Even in New Orleans, with the tension between the east and the west. I didn't ever like that because you have artists you love and they make music that you love and I just really didn't see a point. I feel, if anything, music is a universal language. You can be a Black Panther, you can be a Ku Klux Klan and little do y'all know, y'all might like the same record. That was my thing, as far as "What's Ya Point." I wanted us to represent our areas, but at the same time, bridge that gap.

Also, at the time of Mama Drama's release, which included songs like "Thug Like Me," "Play Wit P***y" and "Sex Ed." Aside from Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, there weren't many female rappers infusing sexuality into their lyrics as boldly and bluntly as you, particularly from the South. With the current feminist movement and trend of women empowerment in rap, do you at all credit yourself for being one of the pioneers of that style of rap for women?
Let me tell you something: yeah, I feel like I'm definitely in the front of the game with it. My first record, "Da Payback", it came out in 1992. It moved close to 50,000 units and I was saying stuff like "Suck a ni**a d**k for a outfit/And suck a ni**a d**k for some K-Swiss/Will eat lady's p***y for a home-cooked meal/And blow the a** for a forty, bi**h!" (Laughs) That was in 1992, so... yeah. Me and Choice, actually. Choice is one of the first to talk that sh*t, period, because she talked it in '86 on Rap-A-Lot. We've always been very, very, very strong and outspoken women in the South, because we've had to hold down a lot of stuff. That kind of rap in the South was always what that was. Trina, Gangsta Boo, La Chat, Jackie-O. The South has produced some really good women and even now in New Orleans, they got some really good females [rapping].

On the song "Fallen Angels (Dear Jil)," you honor the memory of a close friend. Do you recall the process of writing and recording that particular song?
I just let KLC and them run the beat and I sat on the floor, went over and over it until I got what I wanted to say to her. Jil was my best friend and had just got murdered right before I dropped Good Girl Gone Bad, so I just kinda wanted that record to be a conversation, just catching her up on what had happened since she was killed. And man, you know, ‘til this day, Jil is my best friend. I've had a lot of beautiful women in my life that have been nothing but 100 to me, but she absolutely was, I think, the best friend I've ever had. That record was a heavy record. After I got the girls in and told them to do the fallen angels part, it was just [everybody] kinda sitting there [in the studio] and looking [around] ‘cause everybody had been through something. There was a lot of girls getting killed [in New Orleans] in the '90s.

Of all of the songs on Mama Drama, which ones hold a particularly special place in your heart?
One of the records I like a lot was this record "Like That" because I was really just expressing the way I was feeling about a lot of things. You know, not feeling appreciated, but always expected to do things. It's just one of those songs where I felt I needed to get a lot of stuff off my mind and when I finished, Mac was like, “I think this is gonna be one of my favorite song on the album." But then one of my favorite records on the album was when I did "Flip & Rip" ‘cause what we did [was] we sat in the booth and we just went back and forth. That was really cool because it gave me a chance to get a little rhyme exercise out, as the same way on Unlady Like when Mystikal and I did "Who Got The Clout." The last verse, we just went in the booth together and freestyled that and I like that because it makes me feel like I'm on my game. But I like "Flip & Rip." I like "Thugs Like Me." I like "What'cha Wanna Do." I like "Play Wit P***y."

You like everything because it's your album. (Laughs)
I wouldn't say I like everything. Out of the 20 songs, I probably like about nine of them. The rest of them, I feel like, sh*t. I was just hurrying up and thankful that people were coming in the studio where I could say, “Look, just hurry up and write a verse and jump on this record so I can feel this space up.” But there's about eight or nine of them I like, that's just the way it is. But overall, Mama Drama, I think it is a good album. I'm proud ‘cause I wrote those records and I'm proud because I have made a lot of young fans off of my old CDs and that's really a blessing. To go to concerts and have records that's almost 20 and over 20 and have these families come up to you with their now 20- and 21-year-old children, saying, “Oh, we been listening to everything, so I had to bring him to check you out." That's so rewarding, to be celebrating an album 20 years later. Because I know people have a choice when they're buying music and I'm very thankful.

Mama Drama was an overwhelming success, but would be your last album under the umbrella of the No Limit family, as you went on a hiatus shortly after. It's been reported that the decision was due to turmoil and tragedy in your personal life. Can you touch on that?
A few months after Mama Drama, going into 1999 actually, my mom was killed and then five months after that my dad was killed and then seven months after that, my grandmother died. At the time, my children were still kinda young, they were still in elementary school and I had a younger sister and she was entering college, so I made the decision so that I could do what I needed for my children. ‘Cause when I was young, on the road, my parents and grandparents were hands-on with my children. They pretty much handled everything. And when they died, when you have children, you're always a parent first, so I had to go and parent. And then a lot of producers was leaving the label and I was used to working with them. Some of them I've known forever, so my whole drive just went away. I talk to emcees, we go through these different phases where you can perform forever and then there’s some times you don't even feel like it and the excitement my parents and grandparents had as far as my records or when I was about to do something, that was like fuel for me. I felt like my light had been put out because they was so important to me. So I stepped away from the game after they [my family members] died. There was a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff happening, so I stepped away. But I didn't stop writing, I have crates and crates of notebooks!

READ MORE: New Orleans, A City Known To Create Moments, Is Having One Of Its Own

Did you ever have any regrets about stepping away from No Limit and the music industry?
Yeah, I felt regretful when the boys, when Mac and C[-Murder] and Mystikal, when they went to jail. I wish I could've stayed because we were always together and creating and thinking of something we could do to make a sound and push the envelope with the soldier beats. I felt like I kept everybody so preoccupied. I felt like I shouldn't have left because we would be busy and we would be planning. Sometimes I still feel like... I wonder how things would've turned out had I just tried to work through the process, but then I don't think that that would've been a good thing for me because I had to grieve, as much as I wish I could've stayed with my label-mates. We made records and we traveled really close together. We was always together, we really ain’t have time to be nowhere else, couldn't nobody accuse us of being somewhere else. So as much as I sometimes regret not just staying around, I think about all of the mental breakdowns I had in private as I grieved my parents. And I'ma tell you something, I always tell people when Kanye [West's] mama died, I always felt he should've stepped away for six months to a year. When you have a really good relationship with your parent and then they die suddenly without any expected illnesses, no prolonged sicknesses, when they pass suddenly and they are hands-on with a lot of stuff that you do, it takes you to a whole 'nother level. I think people would've seen me cracking up and tripping out in person right when the internet and blogs and stuff had just started blowing up...camera phones and things like that. I think people would've caught me tripping out during those early 2000s because I wasn't all there. I was really missing my parents, you know? I know we all grieve differently, but sometimes we gotta take that little sit-down. So as much as I regret it sometimes, I get slapped back in my senses because it's like, no, you needed to go through what you went through cause sometimes it was hell for me.

One of your latest endeavors is Team Whip Dem Pots, your catering business. When did you make the decision to jump into the culinary world?
#TeamWipDemPots is a cooking squad where I inspire people to cook and convince them that cooking is actually cheaper than going to buy food in those fast[-food] lines. Everyday we cook meals and we’re from all over the world. We post the meals, post recipes, inspire each other to cook and we're like a real serious squad. Got a lot of women and a lot of men, got people all through the U.K. and it's just about inspiring each other to cook. ‘Cause when you cook, you get your children involved and through preparing the food, you can find out how their day went, who they like, who like them, who don't like them. You find out a whole lot of things when you're in the kitchen and you're creating a meal. It creates that bonding time, so that's the whole purpose behind. But also, I was Essence Festival's 2018 Best-Selling Author in their bookstore this year. I did a cooking demo at Essence Eats and I dropped my memoir, Things My Grandma Told Me, Things My Grandma Showed Me and it's been doing very well. It's a memoir from 1975 to 2001, a lot of stuff that was going on at No Limit when I moved to California and how different it was living on the [West] coast and just how it was overall in the business. [I] talk about how my grandmother's house used to be a spot where people gambled and brought food and liquor and it had been like that since the early, early '40s. My grandmother, she had a lot of quotes. She was a straight-up talker. She had a sack of bullets on the side of her bed, she would loan people money. When you get her money, she throw a bullet at you. If you don't bring her money back, she gon' see if your a** catch the next one, so that's why I did that in “Bout It Bout It.” (Laughs)

My grandmother, I feel like she had a lot to do with the way I write rhymes, my style, the way she talked to us. When we were growing up—and thinking we cute and all that—and she tell us, “Your p***y don't make him stay, it make him skeet, the way to his heart is not your draws.” And [when] we have heartache—”our heart don't care how stupid you look, it just knows what it feels. That's why your common sense gotta have your heart's back.” So this cookbook is about her quotes and when she told me things and we would be in the kitchen cooking and she would be schooling me because I was a teenage mom and did a lot things in my life I shouldn't have did cause I had people that I could talk to. I talk about my mistakes, I talk about my grandmother's profound words that she would drop constantly on us and just teach us so much. I talk about how I've come to cook the food, because a lot of people in the industry, they know that I'm a fool with the pot! ‘Cause I been cooking since No Limit. I was always cooking for people. Cooking for all of the editors, all of the journalists. I cooked on Yo! MTV Raps. I was really getting it in ‘cause it's a passion, I absolutely love to cook, and now I'm happy. I'm leading a new generation and walking them into this age of home-cooking and growing produce and just bonding and just having real conversations with their children.

In the time since your departure from No Limit, you've released projects like your Unlady Like Forever and Betty Rocka Locksmith mixtapes and appeared alongside artists like Gucci Mane. What have you been cooking up in the studio as of late? Can fans look forward to a new project from you anytime soon?
I'm putting out a soundtrack to the cookbook, actually, and I'm also doing an audio-book of the cookbook where I actually read it to the fans cause they say they like the way I talk. I'm gonna read the book to the fans, but I'm working on a soundtrack. I love music, I'm still open for features, I still do concerts. I'm just enjoying myself. I'm allowing the game to feel the way it felt for me when I first got in it. And I fell in hip-hop in 1979 so it's like... I love it. I will never stop loving it. I will never stop writing, I will collaborate, but now, I'm also standing behind my son. My son, his name is Jakk Jo and he is dropping some incredible projects, he does tribute mixtapes. I've had him with me around the studio since he was four years old so he was around the early Cash Money, UNLV and Lil Slim making records. We would all be in the studio together, so his influences go all the way back to 1992. He drops these mixtape series called Wohday Musik, he's about to drop Wohday Musik Part 4. People really, really love him because he is naturally New Orleans. So I've been supporting him and I'm proud of him, but like I said, I'm still open for collabs, I'm doing the soundtrack, that's gonna be the little EP for me. And I'ma be whipping pots and getting where I fit in and then, what else? (Laughs)


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Filmmaker Coffey's 'About The People' Depicts Honest Conversation On Being Black In America

About The People, a short film created by New York City-based filmmaker Coffey is an ode to the power honest conversations about social justice, equity and race have within black and brown communities. The movie hosts a group of black men that hold court at a conference table to discuss how they can improve society for their kinfolk.

Their discourse concerns the social-economic inequalities that often grips black men at the hands of police brutality and lack of opportunity. In the end, a young black woman joins the conversation as well. Each character is named after their respective accomplishments in life.

There’s The Militant (Coffey), The Athlete (Akintola Jiboyewa), The Professor (Nashawn Kearse), The College Boy (Diggy Simmons), The Celebrity (Sterling Brim), The Executive, (Tyler Lepsey), The Preacher (Dorian Missick), The Author (Hisham Tawfiq), The Senator (Michael Kenneth Williams) and The Janitor (Ebony Obsidian).

Throughout the story, The Militant challenges The Preacher on his religious beliefs and optimistic viewpoint in believing that, through a higher power, all things are possible. Coffey, who grew up in a religious home in a small town in South Carolina, says his character’s defying ways were intentional. Through The Militant’s anger, he was able to release his own rage.

“As the co-writer, I could have been any one of those characters but I chose The Militant because I knew he was the one that was shaking up that room,” Coffey explains over the phone. “When you get that many brains in one room there’s absolutely no way everyone is going to say, ‘Okay everything is going to be joyful and we’re on the same page,’ it never happens that way.”

“There’s always a throw off in that room and it had to be The Militant, who ruffled some feathers,” he continues. “So, because I was pissed off in real life, I choose that character.”

About The People is inspired by a conversation Coffey had with his eldest son on police brutality. After not giving his son a curfew during the summer, he questioned why he would come home while the sun was still out. His son replied, “Me and my boys are making sure we get home before dark so we won’t get killed by the cops.”

That same fear plagues millions of black and brown men in America, where your skin color determines how much your life is worth. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s something Coffey didn’t want to shy away from. His first encounter with police brutality was watching the news of the L.A. riots after Rodney King was beaten by the LAPD in 1991. At the time, the world was a simpler place; social media didn’t exist, the Internet was in gestation and ubiquitous movements like Black Lives Matter hadn’t made CNN headlines yet. However, injustice was something that inevitably would enter Coffey’s life. It became clearer when he became a father in New York City.

“At that time I didn’t have kids,” he recalls when the L.A. riots were happening. “But the moment I did birth a child, which was here in New York that’s when it became like, ‘Okay my color is a problem because I’m a person of color, it’s already one strike against me which is crazy, but it’s reality.'”

In addition to discussing the conundrums that accompany being a black man in America and attempting to arrive at a consensus on how they can all make this situation better, there’s also a bigger topic at hand which deals with the inclusion of black women in this conversation. Near the film's end, The Janitor, a young black woman with an afro overhears their conversation. She’s intrigued by their discourse and takes it upon herself to jump in—unexpectedly, but with urgency.

Though she is met with opposition from some people in the group, they quickly realize she has the answers they’ve been looking for. She’s the missing piece to the puzzle they’ve been trying to complete. Historically, black women have played a major role in activism and have held the weight of the plight that swallows black men into a system that wasn’t made to protect them. But somehow don’t always get the credit they deserve.

Gillian B. White of The Atlantic breaks down this dichotomy in a 2016 article, titled Why Black Women Matter. “The necessity of black female activism, to me, is one of the most complex and important parts of this conversation,” White notes. “Black women haven’t been the backbone of agitation just because they wanted to be, but because oftentimes, they are the only ones who are able to.”

“Black men are America’s favorite victims. The country’s racial brutality and bias all too often truncate the lives of black men—either through death or incarceration,” she continues. “Even before the modern versions of mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and recent police violence, black men had targets on their backs. From lynchings to indentured servitude in coal mines during Jim Crow, the country’s legacy of taking black men’s lives and liberty has left black women to bear the burden of caring for families and advocating for justice for their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers whose voices are often silenced.”

The Janitor was created in honor of Coffey’s grandmother and Angela Davis. Reminiscent of his childhood he decided to put the character in the end since his grandmother always had the last word. “The structure of the film is personal to me,” he explains. “My grandfather would have his friends over and they would drink and watch sports, and if there were problems it would be him and friends that would talk about these problems. But when my grandmother would find out they didn’t have the answer to these issues, she would provide the solution.”

In About The People Coffey creates an honest dialogue about what it means to be black in America and feel constantly oppressed by authority figures that are the direct product of white supremacy. The admission is universal considering how much of this world has been colonized by greedy European settlers, but its message is deeper than that. Money is another toxic element in the lethal poison where oppression and inequality are formed. Yet he made this film as a catalyst of hope—not to go against the powers that be.

“The honest to God truth is this isn’t written to go against any white people at all,” he says. “This is written for people of color, my kids and everybody else’s kids to try to follow these guidelines so it will be a better world for them.”

Special thanks to director Sterling Milan, Sincere Giles and Samuel K. Rhind.

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Courtesy of Endeavor Audio

Peter Rosenberg And Cipha Sounds Talk Juan EP's Return And All Things Jay-Z

Hip-hop podcasts are everywhere. Yes, everyone wants to be heard, but not everyone who wants to be heard is focused on moving the culture forward. Enter hip-hop nerds, Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds. After a year hiatus, the duo is returning to these podcast streets with the Juan EP, where they bring their valid expertise on all things hip-hop.

Cipha and Rosenberg joined forces with Mass Appeal and Endeavor Audio to deliver comprehensive conversations about the culture, some of our favorite moments in hip-hop, favorite albums, best rhymes, among other things. During the podcast's first season, the DJs touch on who is arguably the greatest MC of all time, Jay-Z.

"I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes," Cipha Sounds tells us in our phone conversation. "Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic."

Drawing help from some of Shawn Carter's closest friends, Cipha and Rosenberg dig into Jay-Z's career to discuss his best collaborations, beefs and pinpoint moments of Hov's greatness. VIBE caught up with the fellas and chatted about the Juan EP, Jay-Z and much more.

VIBE: First, this has been bothering me for years. Who is Juan Epstein? Rosenberg: Juan Epstein came from the fact that Cipha and I got paired together. He's Puerto Rican and I’m Jewish. Juan Epstein was a Puerto Rican/Jewish character on the show, Welcome Back, Cotter. I never watched the show, I think Cipha may have been the one to tell me about the name. That was perfect.

The podcast has been on hiatus for a while now. How was the process of bringing the podcast back? Rosenberg: We’ve been wanting to bring it back for a minute. We’ve been looking for the right opportunities and the right partners. And we thought Mass Appeal was a really good home. And when the opportunity came up, it just seemed like a really good fit. We’re trying to do something right for hip-hop, and curated well, and do right by the culture. When Mass Appeal came up with an option it seemed like a perfect fit. It was a great excuse and forced us the get organized and bring it back.

Cipha Sounds: The reason I love this podcast is because it really is two hip-hop fans who were lucky enough to get paid from hip-hop, and we get to talk to some great people from the hip-hop community about hip-hop. There aren't any outsiders speaking about our culture. And we learn new things that we never knew before.

With you guys coming from radio, do you prefer podcasts over radio programming? Rosenberg: It’s a different thing. [Podcasting], it’s more in line with what I’m really passionate about. And it’s really fun. It’s two different versions of a similar thing. They’re both broadcasting, but this gets to be about hip-hop, and not the bullsh*t side, the gossip. This really is about the music.

Cipher: I don’t consider one over the other. I definitely like having long conversations with hip-hop artists.

Season One of the Juan EP is about Jay-Z. Why him? Cipha: Everybody always has all these conversations about the top five [MCs] and who’s the G.O.A.T. I wanted the same street corner, lunchroom conversation with some actual research, and facts from people who were there. People who handle the question with some real information. And also, it is fun to get people’s opinions on it. Of all the sh*t that Jay-Z does that influences the culture, whether it be becoming the first billionaire or marrying Beyoncé, I wanted to make sure we always kept the conversation about Hov’s rhymes. Don’t forget about how nice he is on that mic. Since we're talking Jay-Z, there was a time, well, at least in my hometown of Mississippi, where people were aggravated with Hov for frequently using B.I.G's rhymes.  Cipha: Let me answer this one. Let me tell you and all of your friends in the barbershop in Mississippi, every time Jay says a B.I.G. line, Biggie's kids eat. The reason he does it is because it pays for Biggie’s family to live the way that they should’ve lived if Biggie was still alive, so he pays for school, and homes all off of saying a line.

Wow. I didn't know that. Rosenberg: Yes, anytime Jay-Z samples a B.I.G. line, thanks to B.I.G.'s publishing, his family eats.

What are some of your favorite episodes so far? Cipha: My favorite is the Clark [DJ Clark Kent] episode. I loved how he broke down the details of how Jay-Z and Biggie met. For me, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know and I’d be like, "How will I ever, ever know that?" There’s no way. Like, I don’t know where it was. I don’t know who was in the room and basically to find out not only was Clark Kent in the room but basically orchestrated it.

At times, Jay-Z takes a lot of heat. For instance, this NFL partnership business. Some people have even said he's partly responsible for the gentrification happening in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Rosenberg: We talked a lot about Jay-Z's ventures and how he’s taken flack for some things. And Jay-Z the businessman is a different thing than Jay-Z the artist. We go into a lot of detail about the business and how he’s viewed, And we defiantly get into the question, on the episode, actually next week [on the Nov. 19th episode titled, "I'm A Business Man"].

Here's some fun Jay-Z stuff. To me, the best intro song in the history of hip-hop is Jay's "The Dynasty Intro." Let's debate this. I'm ready.  Rosenberg: I agree that it’s up there. I probably haven’t done the extensive research like you have. But The Dynasty is definitely one of my favorite Jay-Z albums, which is funny because first, it wasn’t a Jay-Z album, then it was a Jay-Z album. So I wonder did he have that intro on there already when it was just a Roc-A-Fella album or did he add it once it became a Jay-Z album? Who would I even ask?

VIBE: Guru.

Rosenberg: Was he around then?

VIBE: Bean’s first album came out before The Dynasty album...

Rosenberg: And Guru did Bean's album...

Cipha: Yes, but even if he wasn’t around... this guy is so strategic. I know that the Pharrell [Williams] record made him make it a Jay Z-album instead of a Roc [A-Fella] album, but that intro, it’s not long and the beat is not complicated. It's a simple hip-hop beat. Damn, we now have to do an episode about this.

Rosenberg: And that's what this show is about. For people who are interested in stuff like that. And this is the perfect time to dig into the podcast because all of the episodes are available. You don't have to wait for the next episode.

Hip-hop fans can tune into every episode of Juan EP below or on Stitcher, and Endeavor Audio.

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Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.


VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party at the W South Beach, where the pajamas designed by February James and LaKela Brown will be premiered.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit," just like everything else in the world.


View this post on Instagram


🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out of the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “That looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

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