Tragedy Khadafi Tragedy Khadafi
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Tragedy Khadafi Talks New Music, Juice Crew Memories, And Evolving With The Times

Tragedy Khadafi touches on his recent album releases, his status as a Queensbridge legend, learning to live with regrets and his foray into podcasting.

When speaking on the lineage of hip hop, Queensbridge is integral to the conversation, as the public housing complex is regarded as fertile ground and the home of some of the greatest MCs in rap history. While Nas, Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga and others are among the first to come to mind when looking back at QB's most renowned exports, Tragedy Khadafi can be credited with helping bridge the gap between the neighborhood's legendary run during the late '80s and its golden era of the '90s.

At a time when rap had yet to fully find its footing, Tragedy Khadafi displayed lyrical abilities and techniques that were beyond his years as one-half of the Queensbridge rap duo, the Super Kids. Tragedy was scooped up by Marley Marl, who inducted the teenage into his Juice Crew collective. However, Tragedy, who was notorious for his exploits in the street, would be incarcerated during the late '80s, returning the to game as Intelligent Hoodlum and releasing a pair of albums during the early '90s. Since settling on the name Tragedy Khadafi around 1995, the rapper has not only made a name for himself, but others, helping usher C-N-N to the forefront of New York City hip-hop and serving as a conduit between Queensbridge's plethora of poetical thugs and the rap game.

In 2018, Tragedy Khadafi was as prolific as ever, releasing the solo album The Builders this past September, as well as Immortal Titans, his collaborative project with producer BP. A seasoned vet with the willingness to adapt to an ever-evolving rap landscape, Tragedy Khadafi is preparing for the next phase of his career, expanding his brand with a new podcast, and a pair of new releases slated for 2019.”We're working on a Drive-By's album for the podcast, “Tragedy reveals. And I'm working on a new solo album, Uniform Garments.”

Tragedy Khadafi hopped on the phone with VIBE to chop it up about his new music, lawsuits against iconic rap figures, being the prototypical Queensbridge MC, memories of the Juice Crew, making the plunge into the world of media, and more.

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VIBE: You recently released your solo album, The Builders, this past September. How has the reception been to that project?
Tragedy Khadafi: I got a lot of good responses on the project and honestly, I kinda did that real quick. I didn't even really concentrate. I don't wanna take away from it, but that was nothing in comparison to what I'm doing right now.

What would you say was your goal or mind-state with while recording this album?
I was looking at the climate and I was looking at the terrain and I wanted to make an album I wanted to hear. And I wanted to give my fans and supporters something that I know that they look to.

One song on the tracklist that jumps out at listeners is "Stacked Aces," which features a guest appearance from Havoc of Mobb Deep. What was it like working with him again, with the QB connection and your history with one another?
It's always interesting when me and Hav’ hook up ‘cause we're like brothers, we’re like family. We got our ups and we got our downs and we go through different things, but we always seem to keep a line to each other, so it was interesting to get back with him because I hadn't seen him in a while. It just always works well when we come together.

How did that song come together?
Well actually, I had reached out to him because I wanted to try to get him another situation. What a lot of people don't realize is I brokered the deal and A&R'd Havoc's first solo album with Nature Sounds, which is The Kush. And the plight was for Hav to be given that decorated honor as the East Coast Dr. Dre, so we wanted to make that album Havoc's Chronic, so we called it The Kush. So I wanted to reach out to him again and create another situation. It didn't exactly turn out that way, but we ended up exchanging some tracks, going back and forth, and I actually liked that one a lot. And he was just like, 'aight, go 'head, rock with it' and we took it from there.

You collaborated with producer BP on the album Immortal Titans this year as well. What's the genesis of your relationship with BP and what sparked the two of you to team up for this project?
Well with BP, it was interesting. He initially reached out through me through a business associate and manager who actually runs Deep Concept and works very close with Erick Sermon. He reached out to me through the manager for a feature and I told him, 'look, I'm not into doing features no more, I’m into doing whole projects. So he was like, 'word,' so he actually came up with some more beats and we worked out the situation where I would record more songs for the project and it went together well. His production was very high quality and it seemed to be a marriage with my lyrics, so it wasn't hard work, it was all natural. I actually did the whole album in seven days.

The whole writing and the recording, too?
Everything, yeah.

You recently filed a lawsuit against Master P. What was the genesis of the lawsuit?
My attorney is helping me put in a lawsuit, which we got back a response from Master P's attorneys. We're basically suing him for copyright infringement and things of that nature due to the fact that he took the title and concept "Intelligent Hoodlum" and actually dropped an album called Intelligent Hoodlum (in 2017). It went over a lot of people's heads because I guess people concentrate more so on his other ventures. But he came out with an album and it came across my attention so I approached him on Instagram and tried to open a forum to have a courtesy talk, opposed to just suing him. Then I waited seven months and he left me no choice but to go at him legally, at that point.

What’s the status of the lawsuit, at this moment?
We just got response back from the label and they're basically admitting fault, to my knowledge. We're also suing Ice Cube for doing a similar act by coming out with a song, "Arrest The President," and not acknowledging who the originator of that is, which is me. So we're suing him, too, right now.

In a recent interview, Marley Marl said that he feels the style of rap coming out of Queensbridge during the '90s can be traced back to your song "Live Motivator" from Marley Marl's In Control compilation. Would you agree with that statement?
Yeah, I would definitely agree. And that's not to take nothing away from Nas or anybody else who came after me out of The Bridge, but truth is truth. You definitely see that there, that was pretty much the archetype and I just think they took it and modernized and made it their own, as they should.

You were also the youngest member of The Juice Crew, which was the hottest rap collective in New York during the '80s. What was it like being around superstars like Roxanne Shante, MC Shan, Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane and how would you describe your interactions with them?
The best way I can explain it was like a young Kobe [Bryant] being under Magic Johnson and Earl The Pearl and Wilt Chamberlain and have them as standards to hold yourself to, but actually in your life, you're having interactions with him them. Because I’m sure those players were a standard to Kobe at some point in his life, with Jordan or whatever, but the difference is that I actually had Jordan in the room with me, you know what I'm saying. Having Kane, having Rakim and having Shan—and Marley, to be honest. That was like having Jordan in the room with you. It wasn't me watching Jordan on TV or watching videos, it was me being on the court with Jordan. So to equate that feeling or try to imagine that as a kid out of the projects, off the streets and now you're amongst rap's elite. It had nothing but a great and positive impact on me, the whole way, even to this day.

A lot of rap fans are aware of your solo career, but are unaware that you got your start in rap as part of a duo called The Superkids as a pre-teen. What are your memories of that group coming together and being one of the first kid rappers with street credibility?
It was all organic. It was fresh off the streets, it was born the streets it took form in the streets and it grew off the streets. It came by way of a relationship I had with a DJ named Larry Panic. Larry Panic was an ill graffiti artist, DJ and street fighter and he introduced me to Hot Day and me and Hot Day formed the group the Super Kids. We was trying to get on for a long time and it wasn't happening fast enough, so we kinda put ourselves on. We went and pressed our own records up, at that age, we went and made our own mixtapes. And I followed the same template when I got with C-N-N because it was like nobody wanted to put us on the mixtapes at first, so I was like, 'f**k it, let's make our own mixtape.' So I got that from being a Super Kid.

I believe I had just turned 13 and that's when it started. Hot Day was a DJ at a local skating rink called USA, located in Queens, and I would go there and perform. We actually did our first record, it was called "Go Queensbridge / Live At Hip Hop USA,” and we rocked there and actually took the tapes and pressed it and made a record out of it. And we actually used "Take It Off" by Spoonie Gee. It was on Tuff City Records and when we brought it to radio it got more spins than the original record.

After your release from prison, you reintroduced yourself as Intelligent Hoodlum, which saw you being to rap more about enlightenment and knowledge of self. How would you describe that period of your life and career?
Initially, when I came home, I can hold Big Daddy Kane responsible. Big Daddy Kane was one of the first people to introduce me to knowledge of self and at first I was like, 'man, I don't wanna hear that sh*t.' And it was an incident where he got into a situation with one of G Rap's entourage. The way he handled it I was like, 'son, this dude is tough.' Not only is he nice on the mic, but he's tough, too. So once that happened, it made me—in a sick way, at that time 'cause I was on my street sh*t—respect what he was saying in terms of knowledge of self and that was my first introduction to it. And I had just came from and I started going through Marley's phone books looking for certain people to talk to and I came across Chuck D's number. Chuck D would talk to me before he even knew me and put me on to certain literature and certain books about certain icons in the revolution, like Huey Newton, H Rap Brown and Assata Shakur. And I started getting interested in it because where I came [from], I was under the ignorance that black people was only hustlers, shooters and killers. And from there it just kinda took off and I took on the moniker Intelligent Hoodlum, which I got from Malcolm X's book after I read his autobiography by Alex Haley. And there's a chapter called "Hoodlum" and I put "Intelligent" in front of it 'cause I saw myself moving in a more different direction and being a better me. And I kept the "Hoodlum" 'cause I was like, 'I'm never gonna forget where I came from, but I know where I'm going now.

One of the more underrated aspects of your career is your track record of helping break new talent, particularly acts like Capone-N-Noreaga. What made you take such an active interest in the careers of others while in the midst of your own?
I saw a lot of talent in those brothers you mentioned and one thing I learned from Marley is how to cultivate talent and bring out the best in people. You know, like when Marley got with LL, it brought out a better LL. Of course it had to exist in LL, but it took Marley to see it and be able to help him direct it and channel it in the right way and that's what I see. I consider myself like the Cus D'Amato; Cus D'Amato brought out the best in Tyson and he understood Tyson. I love hip-hop so much that I understand the MC. I understand, not only his rhyming ability, but I understand his plight and I understand his origin. I'm able to see that in a person the minute I meet them, so it's only natural that I help bring that out in other artists. And like I said, I love hip-hop and I never wanted the MC to die. No matter who it comes through or what form it comes through or what vessel it encompasses, I always want the MC to be alive.

When those relationships didn't always remain amicable, did that ever leave you bitter or disillusioned from collaborating or working with artists in any way?
That's one of the best questions anybody's asked me, straight up and down, 'cause it's true, and it had for a long time because there's a gift and a curse in loving the culture so much. You can't help but become emotionally attached and it's still a factor that it's a business. I was able to cultivate the talent, put myself in it, but I had to learn more to balance in terms of the business aspect and keeping things on a certain level business-wise and keeping certain boundaries business-wise. Now I'm at a place and space within my mind and in my mindframe that I have now, I'm able to do that, but it had to come with maturity. Did it leave me bitter at first? Of course it did, I'm not gonna lie and say it didn't. But like I said, it took time for me to grow and get past it and not hold it against individuals because ultimately it's on you when you have certain expectations of people. People are always gonna be the human nature of people, so you gotta learn to work through that and it took me time to realize that and kinda conquer it within myself. And that's why I feel great about where I'm at now mentally, because I'm able to become emotionally attached to a project or to an artist, but yet still keep that boundary of business with respect to myself and the value I bring to it.

Do you feel your street cred or rep hindered your career?
At times I did, but I realized of course I want more, who doesn't? Jay-Z wants more, Rick Ross wants more. LeBron James wants more, Nas wants more and these are some of the upper echelons in the game. And at first, I felt that way, but I'm exactly where I need to be at this moment in my life and I'm not gonna have any regrets cause all that's gonna do is stifle my growth. I just feel like I am what I am and who I am and to some its means a lot, to some it may not, but to me, it means everything. And that's what's more important.

With 30 years deep in the game, what would you say are your biggest milestones and lessons learned?
The parting of C-N-N taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about people, human nature and myself. The passing of my mother, the passing of Big and Pac, and I can honestly say when my son fell out the window and almost died, those are like the biggest milestones of my life.

In addition to staying active on the music front, you've also jumped into the world of media with your new podcast, DBWCC. What does that acronym stand for, and what sparked your interest in starting a podcast?
It was initially my brother's creation. It's funny because when I went to do the Lessons album with N.O.R.E.—and this is us getting back together after the wars, after “Blood Type,” after "Halfway Thugs," the back and forth, the rumors, the blatant attacks on each other—we finally got back together and developed some form of relationship. And I drove from New York to Miami with my sister and my brother Chris Castro and that's what DBWCC stands for, Drive-Bys With Chris Castro. So we all drive out to Miami and while I'm out there recording with N.O.R.E.— we did the album in like two days—my brother is telling me that I should create a podcast. And this probably like year or two before Drink Champs and my brother is like, 'the new thing is podcasts;' he told me and N.O.R.E this and we kinda brushed it off.

Later on, N.O.R.E. obviously got into it, but he put this seed in my mind then because he's always been immersed in the now culture of hip-hop, as well as the true era of hip-hop. I looked around at the world I'm in and looked at the marketing and said, 'you know what, this makes sense because people aren't buying records anymore, they're buying experiences. They're buying cultures and they're buying brands,' so we came together on this. And I executive produce it and I'm a co-host on the show and we kinda wanted to take it in a different direction from a "Tragedy" thing 'cause like you said, I have so many titles and labels attached to the artist that we wanted to give DBWCC its own start, its own lane, so to speak.

Away not from Tragedy, per se, but to give people another side of me because people are so used to me being serious on tracks that they don't realize that I have a humor side, that I'm a funny motherf**ker. This particular forum allows me to be that person I am, that other character my family knows me for, but my fans and supporters in the world doesn't necessarily see that from me because I'm always coming at issues. But with this show, I'm just able to be more comfortable more to speak. Not to say I'm not comfortable with my music cause I am, it's just a different side of me and I'm not gonna lie, I love it. It's growing. I'm getting a lot of good feedback and we want our show to be an organic show. We don't want the regular bio-link interview, so that's why we get you in the car, we get you in the seat and we come at you from an organic way, an authentic way. It's more so conversation, opposed to an "interview."

With Noreaga, Fat Joe, Joe Budden and other veteran artists expanding their brand in various ways, do you feel the shelf life for a rapper to be relevant in hip-hop is longer than ever before?
I feel like we live in a different time and KRS-One said something some time back that I'm seeing come to fruition. He said, 'we're off the plantation now, but ni**as don't realize we free.' This technology, it levels the playing field; you don't necessarily need a label, and it allows you to be more direct with your fans. Your fans want to grow with you, they want to walk with you, they want to see into your life. And sound is one thing, but visual helps bring it all together and through this particular forum, it helps to do that. Now your music or your records are more or less like commercials, they're not the pillars of your career or the pillars of your climb, not they're more like commercials that should segue into your visual, into your medium forums. That's what they should be and that's what I see them as.

What would you say is the next step or level for Tragedy Khadafi, musically or otherwise?
The next step, otherwise, is I wanna come out with a series of books as opposed to just looking at hip-hop as music and I wanna touch on these certain things that we're talking about. l wanna touch on media, I wanna touch on diversity. I wanna touch on overall growth and building social value and allowing to create wealth for artists; that's something I'm very adamant about and that's something that I'm very proactive in doing. Musically, I'm just gonna keep making the music I make and giving the fans what they want from me, what they need from me, and that's where I'm gonna keep growing and evolving into. But more so concentrating on my social platforms, in terms of marketing and branding and really just creating more wealth around my brand and within my brand.

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Interview: Hit-Boy Talks Producing Benny the Butcher, Big Sean & Nas, Plus Nipsey Hussle and Juice WRLD Connections

When you're audacious and cocksure enough to assume the tag Hit-Boy, in a game and industry where you're only as good as your next big single or album release, chances are you have a glaring lack of self-awareness or you're operating at a level of excellence that's unique. That said, Chauncey Alexander Hollis has proven himself to be closer to the latter, as he's spent the past decade crafting some of the biggest anthems for the biggest artists in the game, including Beyoncé, Drake, JAY-Z, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar, just to name a few.

With credits on many of the biggest rap releases during that time, Hit-Boy is considered an elite boardman by most measures. However, somewhere along the line, he felt the need to stamp himself as more than a hit-maker for hire, but a producer with the ability to oversee, compose and help craft a body of work that touches the hearts of the people and can stand the test of time. And if 2020 were any indication, the Los Angeles-based producer is well on his way to putting his name alongside other greats who've built a reputation as sonic architects.

With his work on acclaimed releases by Nas (King's Disease), Big Sean (Detroit 2), and Benny the Butcher (Burden of Proof), all released within a two-month span, Hit-Boy has put the rap world on notice [even with his own duo Half-A-Mil with Dom Kennedy] that he's got the Midas touch and is the current frontrunner for the title of hottest producer in the game.

VIBE linked with Hit-Boy to talk about connecting with Benny the Butcher for Burden of Proof, working with Big Sean and Nas, getting music advice from JAY-Z, his relationships with Nipsey Hussle and Juice WRLD, and much more.

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VIBE: Rap star Benny the Butcher's Burden of Proof, which you executive produced, was one of the more anticipated albums of the year. In addition to overseeing the album, you've also been promoting it heavily on social media and interacting with the fans. What has the feedback been like?

Hit-Boy: Man, the crazy thing is we put this thing out independent. We were supposed to go through a major, but whatever behind the scenes stuff transpired that didn't allow for it to happen so we still put it out indie. It feels like a major release, so that's the good thing about it. I've just been getting a lot of love, like a lot of people tapping in, telling me how much they respect this shit, it just sounds authentic, you know?

Being that Benny comes out of the Griselda camp, which works closely with their own production team, how did you and Benny first cross paths and what was the catalyst for you to go beyond producing individual records and working on the album in its entirety?

We stuck to them guys, for sure. Obviously, I'm my own type of producer and got my own flavor with this shit, but the first song we made, the very first song we made was "Legend." It's the outro on the album. That should tell you a lot right there. We set the bar up real high with that first song and from there, it just was like the energy was just crazy and we just kept it going. It was song by song, beat by beat, by the time we got to, like, four or five songs, he was like 'Man, you might as well do the whole joint.' His team started pulling up and it just became a real thing.

You earned the name Hit-Boy as a result of your ability to make records that dominate the charts and become anthems. Being that Benny’s production on previous projects was more boom-bap inspired, did you feel any desire or pressure to bridge that gap?

Only a select few people really study me and understand what's going on. Like if you listen to "One Train" on A$AP Rocky's first album, that had all type of heavy-hitting ass rapping niggas on it, so I do this, man.

I did shit on G-Unit projects, I did shit on Game projects. Real gutter, gangster-ass, dark sounding shit, so I'm just a music motherfucker. That's why for me to even be able to have this bag, half of this shit, niggas think that you only got "Niggas In Paris" shit, that's the battle I've been fighting. It's an even bigger thing because I'm like, 'Y'all niggas thinking that this is all I do.

The Burden of Proof intro, I started that in 2007. I added a couple of flavors up to date, but the gist of that beat was done in '07. Fucking "Timeless" was done in 2011, like, I do this, for real, bro. I been doing this shit, but for me to catch the joints I have and they be so simple, it was such a mindfuck for me, man, 'cause it's like I got all of these bags, but niggas don't get it.

The album's first single, "Timeless," features Big Sean and Lil Wayne. What's the origin of that collaboration and what hand did you play in its creation?

So "Timeless," we just started our part, me and Benny and next thing I know, he texted me early in the morning with the Wayne verse. I ain't know what it was, he just texted me the file, I listened, he had a Wayne verse. I'm like, 'Damn.' That shit had me so hype, I'm like, 'This shit sounds like Carter II Wayne all over again, it sounds like he went in a time chamber or some shit.' From there, I obviously got my relationship with [Big] Sean, I put him on the Nas album and I also put him on this album just by being the homie and pulling up. I really just work with motherfuckers who pull up on me and really wanna work, it really ain't too much more magic than that.

On social media, you revealed that only two artists have cried in the studio while making a record with you, Nipsey Hussle when he recorded the second verse on “Racks in the Middle” and Benny the Butcher on “Thank God I Made It.” Touch on what it was like to witness that emotion come out of Benny and what those moments mean to you as a producer.

I mean, it's just crazy that I done worked with so many, so many artists and just, like, the two most thorough, solid two A-1, gangsta type niggas was in this shit, like, really connecting with the music. That was really the point I was trying to get across, it's not like I'm just clout-chasing, trying to tell that them niggas was crying. That's some stupid shit. I'm trying to tell y'all this is not just a nigga fucking making a beat and doing a song, this shit is like peoples lives on the line everyday. I'm putting my life, my energy [on the line]. Benny was doing the same thing...Nipsey was doing the same thing. It's just deeper than rap, this is deeper than the surface.

Another revelation you made involved JAY-Z's post-production assistance on “One Way Flight” featuring Freddie Gibbs, which you say he helped arrange. How would you describe your creative connection to JAY-Z and what made you send that particular song to him?

Obviously, I've got joints with him, but also, me and Benny are managed by JAY-Z, so it's like I just took a chance. I was like, 'Check this shit out if you get a minute, what do you think of this arrangement?' He hit me back and he was like, 'This shit is amazing you should do this, you should try [that],' you know what I'm saying? 'Cause I had sent him the song, so he just helped me overall arrange the song, so it was parts of the beat and parts of the song, he was like, ‘Move that, do this.' And then I sent it back to him and he was like, 'Okay, this shit's crazy, but if you do this one more thing, it'll just take it over the top,' which was giving Gibbs that spacing and letting the verse kinda be a surprise and come in. I felt like that made all of the difference. Obviously that's JAY-Z, man, he done made some of the greatest songs he ever heard, so for him to give me his opinion and help me dive into that bag, that shit was unreal.

Aside from the songs that were already mentioned, what are your favorite songs on Burden of Proof and why?

I'ma say "Sly Green," that beat is just prime-time, what I grew up on. First album I ever bought with my own money, my own bread I made was The Blueprint, so I feel like it's just a fusion of that shit with elements of that with, like, some older Hov shit. A little bit of "Hola Hovito," shout-out to Timbaland, like I just put all my influences into this shit and tried to bring the sound up to date without going and doing some corny shit. Like, 'Oh, I'ma sample "Ain't No Love in The Heart of the City,"' that's some basic shit. I made some shit to where it sounds like, but they know it's original, it's fresh, like I ain't do no basic, surface-ass shit.

Two other albums you worked on that made a big splash this year was Nas' King's Disease album and Big Sean's Detroit 2, both of which got an overwhelming amount of praise. What would you say you learned from working on each album and how would you say their creative styles differ?

I mean, they're all their own artists, they all needed different things, so I pride myself on my versatility and just always trying to make sounds to where it's like, 'Damn, we don't know who did this for real.' I mean, I just learned personally, that I'm able to do this shit, that I'm able to see multiple projects through damn near at the same time. And just, I guess, learning to have patience with everything. Everybody in their own pocket, everybody does different things everyday when they wake up, so you gotta be patient with people. You gotta understand it's two worlds, it's your world, but it's also their world. So you gotta have that perfect meeting place in the middle and have that match-up and be perfect.

For King's Disease, how important was it to pair Nas with younger artists like Lil Durk, Fivio Foreign, and ASAP Ferg and bridge that gap between both generations?

Honestly, I wasn't even thinking like, 'I gotta get him with some young dudes.' It was more so these are certain artists I rock with that I'm already working with, I might as well do it. I texted to Durk, he hit back immediately, like I don't really gas this shit. It was simple, the whole process was real organic, so I like how it all shaped up knowing that people kinda put it in it's frame to where it's like, 'This is a really fresh Nas.' That's a beautiful thing.

2020 has been a landmark year for you and has seen you become more of a maestro and conductor that delivers bodies of work than a quote-unquote hit-maker. Has that evolution been a calculated one or was it organic?

It's kinda both, but it definitely was calculated. Like I just kinda got to a point where I'm like, 'Man, doing one or two songs on peoples' project ain't really getting me to where I wanna be.' Like I'm looking at stuff online, I do big joints and people will still be hitting me, like, 'Where's Hit-Boy at, what's he doing?' I got "Sicko Mode" out, I got "Racks in the Middle" out, I got all these huge songs and niggas are still questioning the level that I'm on and what I'm doing. So I just said, 'Man, let me really dial in, tap in and just take a whole different route with this shit.' I'm not trying to do anything. I'm just doing this shit. I'm just rocking with the artists who rock with me and just trying to make the most quality music, everyday.

With Burden of Proof, King's Disease, and Detroit 2 all under your belt, you've put together one of the strongest year's for a producer we've seen in quite some time. Would you say that you've proved yourself to be the MVP of 2020 so far, in terms of producers?

Nah, man, you can't call it, somebody may be looking at it, like, a whole different way. I do see a lot of people, I haven't said that shit one time, I'll let the people decide. That's the type of person I am. A lot of people I respect doing fly shit and I'm just doing mine, so however it lands it's gonna land, period.

2019 was a bittersweet year for you, in the sense that you won your second Grammy Award for your work on Nipsey Hussle's "Racks in the Middle," but also had to mourn his death. [The same with] rap star Juice WRLD, whom you worked with closely on his album, Death Race For Love. What was your professional and personal relationship with those two like?

Man, crazy. Like I was working on Juice and Nip at the same time, at two different studios. I would have Nip at my studio working, he'd be writing a verse, he'd take his time. Juice, on the other hand, young kid, twenty years old or however old he was, we were working on an album, he's doing songs in 20-25 minutes, tops. Crazy melodies, never run out of words. And they both needed two different things, but just going from each session. And losing both of them, that shit was mind-blowing 'cause I specifically just remember those moments where I would see Juice for an hour-and-a-half, do three or four songs and then come back and Nip still be here vibing or he done laid the verse or whatever the case is.

But me and Nip, we started working way back, we did a song called "Thuggin'" with him and Boosie, it was on, I think, Bullets Ain't Got No Name Vol. 2 or something like that. And then we did stuff on Mailbox Money, different projects of his. But "Racks in the Middle," that was just a moment where we connected. He was pulling up nonstop, just rocking with me. And then Juice, he was so energetic anytime we linked up, he would damn near wanna record to every single beat I played. They both respected me creatively and I respected them, so we got a lot of work done.

 

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Both students of the game my brother nipsey and I weren’t afraid to be our most humble selves when we were in each other’s presence. I remember him as a man who was Always eager to share information to help me think of things in different ways and ultimately grow to be a better musician and overall person. Before I even got confirmation of his passing I felt for nip . I felt for the person who was always positive and always had the energy to light up a room without being extra or even saying too much. I felt for the man who was doing things that were bigger than him in his community. Things that brought people together and ultimately advanced the “naybahood” (NIP voice) I told you that you were a legend while you were here and I will continue to push that on and say your name with pride and love anytime I speak of you brother. Tears running down my face as I type this i sincerely miss and love you bro. Even up there I know you got a smile on your face 💔

A post shared by HIT-BOY AKA Tony Fontana (@hitboy) on Apr 2, 2019 at 7:20am PDT

Did those losses make your professional wins this year even sweeter?

Oh, for sure, but it's crazy 'cause they both did work at my studio and I feel like they both left a piece of [themselves.] They were really giving their all when they was in here, so when I come in, I feed off of that. I feed off of the energy and I can still feel their presence so that just makes me go harder everyday.

You've worked with a number of legendary artists over the years, which ones would you say that you've learned from the most?

Man, I learn everyday, bro. I learn from every artist so I can't even say, but you know what, when I was having my run with Kanye. Just learning that this shit moves fast and it's at a high level if you wanna really succeed, like, you gotta really focus and you gotta be on your shit times ten so that era, I learned a lot. And still being managed by JAY-Z, anytime I get to interact with him or talk to him in any capacity, I just try to soak up whatever game I can. So I would say those top two, but anybody I'm around I try to learn, whether it's a producer, writer, artist, whatever it is, I'm trying to just soak up gems.

What's next for Hit-Boy for the rest of 2020 and in the new year?

Freddie Gibbs' first single dropping, [4 Thangs] produced by me featuring Big Sean. That shit's coming real real soon, sooner than y'all probably think [laughs]. Man, I got a bunch of shit, I can't get too deep into it, but I got some high level stuff coming.

 

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4 Thangs featuring @bigsean & @hitboy. Friday. Drop a 🏆 if you’re ready.

A post shared by Skinny Suge (@freddiegibbs) on Oct 27, 2020 at 9:00am PDT

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Free Marie Talks 'Team Cancer Free' Foundation, Teaming Up With Slutty Vegan And Importance Of Voting

TV personality Marie 'Free' Wright is back in her hometown of Boston balancing work with good deeds for the community. This month, the radio host partnered with Buzzfeed, Cocoa Butter, and fellow BET 106 & Park alum Rocsi Diaz to co-host And Still I Vote, a digital TV series that shares important information on voting for the 2020 election.

Free's non-profit organization, Team Cancer Free, is also hosting a fundraiser in Beantown on Wednesday, October 28 from 4 pm - 9 pm at Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen. The event includes an official 'Slutty Vegan' pop-up shop, to give residents a taste of what they've been missing from the popular Atlanta based vegan burger joint. This event is in support of Breast Cancer Awareness and Research. Log on to Teamcancerfree.org for more info.

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(L-R) Flex Alexander and Shanice attend the Soul Train Weekend Kick-Off Party on November 5, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Photo by Earl Gibson/BET/Getty Images for BET

Interview: Flex and Shanice Talk 'Virtual House Party,' Staying Together And That Call From Aretha Franklin

Shanice and Flex Alexander are ‘90s Black pop culture in the form of husband and wife. Shanice was an R&B ingenue with a hypnotic smile and powerful voice beyond her years when her sophomore album Inner Child propelled her to pop status thanks to the 1991 hit “I Love Your Smile.” Flex was a background dancer for acts like Sal-N-Pepa, before becoming a comedic actor and a mainstay on our TV sets during the golden era of Black TV in the ‘90s through early ‘00s.

After years of pulling in approximately $25K per week (according to Alexander) and not knowing how to properly manage the income, the couple lost their home, liquidated their assets, and filed for bankruptcy in 2010. They chronicled part of their journey with their reality show Flex and Shanice on OWN from 2014 to 2016 and are now positioning themselves for their respective next career chapters.

A big part of Flex’s next chapter was announced in July, when Netflix revealed they were bringing a slate of UPN shows from the early ‘00s arriving to the app this Fall. The line up includes Girlfriends, on which Flex originated the role of Darnell Wilkes; and One on One, which features Alexander as a single dad to teenage Kyla Pratt (and also features Shanice singing the theme song). Following the eagerly met premieres of classics Moesha, Girlfriends, and The Parkers, One on One and Half & Half (Essence Atkins and Rachel True) premiered on Thursday on the video streaming platform.

The couple, who celebrated their 20th anniversary this year, talked to VIBE recently about adjusting during the COVID-19 pandemic, growth as a married couple, and that time Aretha Franklin asked her to play a role in the upcoming Respect biopic.

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VIBE: How have you all been doing with everything that's going on?

Shanice: We're hanging in there. (Flex) doesn't like it when I say, "We're hanging in there."

Flex: We are doing exceptionally well. We are alive, we are healthy. Just dealing with it like everybody else, taking it one day at a time because you can't really plan too far ahead.

Did you ever think that we would be going through something like this?

Shanice: No, never. Flex said he kind of...Didn't you say over the years you thought...No. You said you read a lot of books and stuff.

Flex: Yeah. I do a lot of reading and stuff from my college days. Just stuff that talk about this stuff that's going on I like to get into. Everybody thinks it's conspiracy or whatever, but I just didn't think it would be in my lifetime. It is an adjustment for everyone. Like she said, we try to find the positive in it. We sit at the table, we eat dinner at the table, we can sit down. I say, "Baby, do you want to watch a movie?" We sit there and just hang out. Before, we were just crossing [paths where] everybody's hustling and grinding, hustling.

With the senseless police killings, racism seems to be at an all-time high. What type of conversations are you guys now having with (teenage children) Elijah and Imani now that they're older and this could happen to them or any other young adult? What are you telling them?

Flex: This is something I know I've been talking to Elijah about not just since this. When he was younger, just explaining him as a young Black kid, being a Black teenager turning into a young Black man, just the crosshairs that's on their back. You talk to them about if you're pulled over what to do, what not to do. We don't like to let him ride. He has friends that have cars and I'm like, "No, four or five of you all in the car? No. That's an open invitation." It hurts us because their regular daily livelihood has just changed. They would just walk down the street to the store. Now, we're like, "No."

Shanice: He [Elijah] has one friend that we allow him to be around. One of them wanted to play basketball and wanted me to drop them off at the park and I said no. There was a noose in our area.

Flex: Less than a mile from our house.

Shanice: Less than a mile from our house, there was a noose at the park. I sat in the car and I just watched him play. Normally, I would just drop him off and come back and pick him up, but I don't feel safe anymore.

Flex: And we have to have the conversation with Imani as well because it's not just relegated to just men and boys, women, too. We get ahead of the conversation, but they are very keen. Listen, information is traveling fast. They got these phones, they see stuff as well. A lot of the time, they tell us stuff and we're like, "What?" We just try to instill in them the best that we can and just pray over them.

 

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Throwback photo of @flexaforeal and I ♥️ We look like kids Flex lol

A post shared by shanice (@shaniceonline) on Sep 21, 2020 at 7:22pm PDT

Shanice, nobody sounds like you. You were a young pop icon, not just as an R&B artist, but also in pop - and paved the way (for other young crossover singers). How does that feel today?

I just feel blessed to have longevity in this industry. I've had my ups and downs. You know how crazy this industry is and sometimes you get frustrated and it's like, "Why am I doing this? I want out. I don't want to do this anymore." But then, when I get online and I talk to the fans directly on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, it keeps me going. I get emotional because I've had some great moments in the industry, but then I've had some very low moments and it gets frustrating sometimes. I love music. I love singing. It's in my blood. I've been singing since I was seven months. I do it because I love to sing and I love my fans. I have the best supporters out there.

You both are such a likable couple and people gravitate to you from all walks of life, from all nationalities. What is it about you two that they can identify with Flex and Shanice?

Flex: Just being us.

Shanice: I think we're just being ourselves.

Flex: We're just being ourselves. I'm on here deejaying on Instagram and she's here dropping it like it's hot. (Shanice laughs) That's what she does. We just try to be ourselves and we show a little bit of that doing the reality show and sharing what we went through because we wanted people to know what we went through and that you can come out of it. We just don't, I'm going to say a real old school word, we don't put on airs-

Shanice: Airs. (Laughs) That is real old school.

Flex: ... for anyone. We're in here every day. I want to throw it back to her real quick. I see the pain and stuff that she goes through the ups and downs and disappointments. Even through all this, you're still like, "Man, is it a place you want to reach?" She feels like, "I didn't get there." I said, "Listen, you've had more success than a lot of people and it may not have been here, but people love you." Whether they like to hear it or not, she's paved the way. There's no dig against anybody because a lot of them have said it. You paved the way for the Monicas, the Brandys. Beyonce even spoke to her and told her Solange sang your song (“I Love Your Smile”) at a talent show. I try to tell her just, "Hold on to that and just keep doing what you're doing," because you see where everything is going in the business, in the industry. And to have a good name and people that love you, I think, is a great thing. That brings longevity.

You guys have been staying creative. I see you’ve been doing virtual house parties. Who came up with that concept?

Flex: It came from me starting deejaying back in 2016. I was doing it once a week. Every Thursday I was doing, and she would be in the bed. When we got here, I started doing it again. It was right at the beginning of the pandemic. I just jumped on, and then she came over and then just started—

Shanice: I was like, I said, "Let me be your hype girl." (Laughs)

Flex: It worked. It's at a point now where if I get on it by myself, people are like, "Where's Shanice?"

Shanice: I like to drop it like it's hot. (Laughs) It’s fun.

Flex: It helps our mind because we didn't know what ...I'm talking about when it was like March when it was cold and rainy out there and all of this gloom and doom...we didn't know what was happening. The people that came in and people that were on our page, people said, "Yo, this helped me so much get through the night or helped me get through the week. Man, that meant more than anything." I didn't care if there were 10 people on there or 10 thousand. We just go on there. We shout everybody out.

 

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Thank you EVERYONE for rocking last night!!! We appreciate your undying support, to our day one #LockdownwithFlex family you already know!!! And my fellow New York brother @lilcease thanks for hanging last night we hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane✊🏾✊🏾

A post shared by flexaforeal (@flexaforeal) on Jul 24, 2020 at 11:39am PDT

Flex, you’ve written and produced your own TV show, you’re a comedian....Are you working on any other current TV projects? Will we see you on a screen again soon?

Flex: Before I mention that, I'm excited about Netflix releasing One on One. It was through the Strong Black Lead who really pushed for us to be in more places and to have another life. This is crazy because two years ago, I wrote the reboot. I had it ready to go, and then that happened and I'm like, "Man, This is perfect."

Shanice: It's perfect timing.

Flex: This could lead right to it. I'm thankful for that. I just wanted to throw that out there. We have an animated series that we're working on now. We just got a showrunner attached and we're working on that. I have a drama that I've developed right before the COVID hit. We also worked with a Black-owned company called Ceek, where we do the Flex and Shanice Virtual House Party. They have great programs and they do live concerts. They've had Elton John, they've had Lady Gaga.

Shanice: Jennifer Lopez.

Flex: They have DL Hughley on there with Chris Spencer, [and] we're on there now. What they're trying to do is create this virtual experience [where] I come in, I deejay, [you] put your (VR headset) on and you're in the party. It’s great to partner with them and just continue to stay active and creative. It just keeps you going.

Shanice: And I've been doing live concerts in my living room.

Flex: Yeah. It's crazy because we've worked a lot.

Shanice: We've been doing so much in this living room. (Laughs) Like Flex said, we were working before the pandemic, we're working our butts off more now.

Tell us how you balance being in the entertainment business, being stars, having a family and being married. You're probably going to tell me love, but there has to be something else besides love that has kept you together. What do you think it is?

Flex: Honestly, praying is the first.

Shanice: Praying. Yes.

Flex: And communication. We can agree to be disagreeable.

Shanice: We've had our ups and downs. It's not like it's been all great, but we do love each other and we don't go to bed angry. We're mad at each other and we try to talk it out, and I just feel like you’ve got to try to make it exciting and you can't get too comfortable. People, after a while, they get bored in their relationship.

Flex: There are times that she ain't checking for me; she doesn't like me right now, so I'll come downstairs and she'll be up here. There's time's out like that. We go to different parts of the house and we figure it out.

Shanice: And we try to give each other a little space to breathe. We may come back to the situation and talk about it.

Flex: Every day you figure it out, you grow. I think I'm understanding who I am more now at 50 than I did at 30 or 35. I just love being here, being with my family, us having fun together, the kids. It's a beautiful thing, man. It's a beautiful thing.

Flex, what’s one thing that Shanice has taught you about being married? What have you learned from her?

Flex: Growth. I would say growth because if there's anybody that I've seen grow is her. If there's anybody I've seen with perseverance, it’s her. Her patience, her kindness, her. It has really taught me to listen more because as the man you're like, "I got it." She says, "Something ain't right," and I'm like, "I got it." Learning how to cut that off in my brain and go, "You know what? I need to listen. I need to listen to her. I need to hear her." I think that was probably one of my biggest hurdles is not that I didn't listen, but listen and go out, really listen and apply it. I've just seen so much from her in 20 years that I'm just like, "Wow, man. We've got 100 more to go." I just want to grow some more, and we’ve got more fun to have and love to have. We're done with the babies, though.

Shanice: Right. No more babies.

Flex: We're done with the babies.

Shanice: No more babies.

Flex: No more babies.

Shanice, what one thing Flex has taught you, or that you’ve learned by being married and connected to him for so long?

Shanice: I've learned that people over the years grow and they change, and sometimes you have to learn how to go with the change. I've learned to try to adjust to the change because we're not the same people we were 20 years ago.

Flex: Not in a bad way, though.

Shanice: Not in a bad way.

Shanice, you’re an international pop star. You started in pop and then crossed back to R&B, and can travel the world with just “I Love Your Smile.” That's big in itself, but can you share some of your greatest accomplishments? 

I think when I got nominated for a Grammy, that was like a big highlight for me because when I was a little kid I used to always look in the mirror and I used to practice my speech. I used to always dream about getting awards. I have several moments: the Grammys, (Aretha) Franklin, rest in peace—when she turned 50 the Queen of Soul reached out to me and flew me and my band and my dancers down to her house. I did a whole concert in her living room with a band and dancers and everything. That was so big for me.

Meeting Michael Jackson, singing on three of his records. I sang in the background for like three songs, and that was big for me. Just being able to travel all over the world. “I Love Your Smile” was No. 1 in..I believe it was 22 countries. I've traveled all over the world and I'm still traveling the world because of that song. “Saving Forever For You” was a big record for me as well with Diane Warren and David Foster. That went to No. 5. It didn't go No. 1, but it was almost number one. That was another big pop record for me. So you're right. I came out pop and then I crossed over to R&B.

I’ve got another Aretha story. I have to say this. I was having one of my moments when I was frustrated about the industry. I was home and I was crying and I said, "God, I don't want to do this anymore." I was feeling really low. I was like, "I'm done. I don't want to do this." And then, Flex came home and he was like, "Somebody reached out to me.” I think it was Aretha’s sister-in-law saw Flex and said Aretha wants to get in touch with Shanice. Here’s her cell number. So Flex comes home and says, "Miss Franklin wants to get in touch with you. This is her cell number." I'm like, "Me? Really?" I called her and we talked for like probably an hour. We talked for a long time, and she said, "I reached out to you because I want to tell you I know real talent when I hear it, and you got it." This is when I was feeling down. This was nothing but God telling me keep going.

So she said, "We had auditions. I'm doing a movie about my life, my life story." And she said, "Most likely Jennifer Hudson is going to play me, but I would love you to play my sister." I’m sitting on the phone like, "Yeah!" They'd been talking about this movie forever. Even when she was alive they were talking about the movie, and I said, "Anything you need. I would love to be a part [of it]." We talked several times over the years about the movie. Unfortunately, she passed. I think God wanted just to encourage me to keep going. I think that's why that happened. It was just to tell me to keep going. I just had to share that story.

Flex, what would you say to the younger Flex as he’s just starting out in the entertainment industry?

Take everything in more. Enjoy it. Don't fly through it so fast. Tell the people you love that you love them while you have them. I would have learned more about the business on the financial side to plan better. Those would probably be the things I would say, but I think overall, it would be to take it all in, sit back and take it in more. I think things happen so fast and it's like, I'm here, I'm there, I'm dancing, Salt-N-Pepa here, boom, traveling the world. And then, you think it's all going to keep going. You think it's all going to just last forever. And then, next thing you know, you look back and the time has passed and all you have is maybe a picture. I think that would be the thing I would tell myself.

Shanice, what would you tell up and coming talent that is trying to break into the entertainment business?

Shanice: I would tell them to definitely do it not for the money, do it for the love. The money and all that stuff will come. Believe in yourself. Back when I started, you had to get the approval of a huge record exec to put you out there. And now, because of the internet, you don't have to wait on somebody to tell you if you're good or not. You can put out your music on iTunes and get out there and create an audience online. I would say just don't give up on yourself, keep trying. It may not happen overnight. It might. There are people like Justin Bieber. He got on YouTube and he's one of the biggest stars in the world. Everybody's story is different, but you just have to keep trying and keep believing in yourself.

Flex: Yes.

Shanice: Just don't give up. You’ve got to keep going. Even when it seems like it's impossible, you just gotta keep going.

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