Stro-shot-by-Elijah-Dominique-for-Mass-Appeal-1549489774 Stro-shot-by-Elijah-Dominique-for-Mass-Appeal-1549489774
Elijah Dominique/Mass Appeal

Stro Doesn't Want To Be A Rapping Pop Star, He's More Than That

The Brooklyn lyricist and actor talks about his new album Nice 2 Meet U, Again, his deal with Nas, defying LA Reid while at Epic Records and more.

Some people say that authenticiy is significantly missing from the new generation of hip-hop, but Brooklyn emcee Stro wants to rock the type of rhymes that made him fall in love with the culture in the first place. Confident, bold and focused, the 22-year-old, who first came to prominence at age 14 on FOX’s short-lived talent competition show The X-Factor, is creating his lane in rap music with his latest EP Nice 2 Meet You, Again.

The eight-track project features a slew of finely tuned cut bars, dreamy melodies, and lucid storytelling reminiscent of what the Brooklyn rapper grew up on. Stro sat down with VIBE to discuss young adulthood, his musical influences, upcoming film/TV gigs and where he sees himself in the next few years.

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VIBE: Given the way hip-hop has changed over the last decade and the current state of hip-hop, how do you see yourself changing the game with your own music?

Stro: I'm channeling a certain level of greatness. I feel that's something that we don't really see too much, especially amongst younger artists today. We always see people like The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac and just write them off as legends and make it seems like they're untouchable, when I feel like I'm an artist that's trying to not only reach that level but extend it and take it farther than they even took it, just elevating the culture. People won't have any more excuses as to why something is wack. Right now if the music is wack, we'll say, “Oh, he's young, he's not supposed to make good music.” Nah, that's bullsh*t because you got all these like myself who are still putting out quality hip-hop from a young perspective.

On the intro of Nice 2 Meet You, Again, you say, "Tell L.A. Reid, I'm not a pop star." You were signed to Epic Records several years ago and at the time, L.A. Reid was the chairman and CEO. Why don’t you want to be a pop star?

That's pretty much what happened when I was signed with Epic Records, they were trying to sway my music or my style more in that direction. I ain't mad at him. Of course, I'm glad it happened how it happened, but that's just not who I am. That’s just not the element I'm from, and that's not the story I came to tell. That line wasn't nothin' too serious to me. It was just like, just off-the-rip I'ma let people know and I figured L.A. Reid will hear this one day. So I'm like, just let him know I ain't a pop star because that's not okay in the industry trying to force everybody into these boxes. And if you can't become what they think you are, then they say, “Oh, you're not ready for the business.” Nah, that just isn’t my style. When the time is right it takes off, and I think the time is right now.

So no ill feelings toward him?

No, no, no. I actually seen L.A. Reid, a few weeks before I released the EP and I was laughing. I told him, "Yeah, I just signed to Nas." I just seen his son Aaron Reid, too. They cool as sh*t. It's nothing personal. It's just hip-hop. That's an element we forgot about in the culture. Just speaking what's on your mind at the moment. It's not always meant in the serious tone.

You’re signed to Mass Appeal. How important is it that a record label coincides with your goals? Nas also has a reputation for not playing the pop star game.

I don't even think in the realm of pop star this or that. I just make good music. I know I'm trying to make the best music period. I'm not thinking about radio or underground now. When we look at Jay-Z, you're not thinking about underground or radio, you're just thinking like “ni**a that's Jay-Z, that's hip-hop.” Same thing with Biggie or Nas. These are legends and that's why I think they are able to be here forever. I'm modeling myself off of Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg has been here forever and been relevant forever. Whatever he's doing is just staying new and just staying hip-hop. A lot of people think hip-hop is old school when hip-hop is really just fresh, so we could get as experimental as we want. We can go back and trace the roots if we want. We can do whatever we want just as long as there's some fresh sh*t.

Have you met up with Nas yet? If so, has he offered any advice?

I haven't hung out with him. I've linked with him in the studio once to play him some tunes and some songs off this project. He had actually heard it before we met, and he was vibing with it. I was just getting good feedback through other people from him.

We didn't have a super deep discussion but one thing we did touch on was how hard to go with lyricism. I mentioned my plan as far as putting out Nice 2 Meet You, Again and the next body of work and how I was going to approach the actual records and sh*t like that. I told him I had a fear that sometimes it's too lyrical, sometimes people don't want it. But he made the point that now people actually want to hear that sh*t.

So, you shouldn't hold back. You should go out every time because people actually want to hear it. I feel like that's true though. I think we entertain the bullsh*t, but we know the difference between soul food and McDonald's. Sometimes, people want soul food.

Do you believe that the best work, whether it's yours or others', comes out of the most minimalist involvement? Not having the biggest budget, or having very few producers or writers on your team?

Definitely. That's why I'm grateful to Mass Appeal. Their support is genuine because they don't just post the songs and retweet it. You actually go to the office and motherf**kers like, "Yo, good job on that. What can we do to help you promote this project?” We're always coming up with new ideas whether it's for visuals, what we want to be the next single, what we want to put out next and highlight next. So just to have that is motivating for me that other people are giving a sh*t about what you do, they act as if this is really their job because it is their job. It made me feel like I can't sit back and be lazy.

You're 22 now. How's adult life been treating you?

I know 21 was really like when adult life hit me. Like oh sh*t, I got bills, all sorts of obstacles and then maintaining the music. [Now, at age 22] I understand that sh*t is real. Let me prepare. Preparation is a very relevant word in my life today. Preparation, faith. I got that sh*t tatted. Preparation and faith just in the journey and for moments like these.

Now people take you more seriously when you got facial hair, too. When I walk in the room now...they want to hear what you have to say. I'm being dramatic and exaggerating, but I'm older, I'm wiser, I've experienced more, and I think the music is at a point where it's undeniable. You can say it's not for you, you can say it's not something you'll listen to all the time, but you can't say it's wack.

On songs like "Ghetto Story," you talk about growing up with a single mother. How have your mom and family been involved in your career, whether it was direct involvement or emotional support?

I mean I guess, but it been that way. It's never a situation where it's we're each other's therapist and no crazy sh*t like that. We just talk we like family. I feel like every family does that or should do that, but it's never a situation where it's like some dramatic or sympathetic a** sh*t. If I'm f**king up and my money's low, I'm going through it, my mom would tell me, ‘get your sh*t together.’ She'll do what she can do, but it's not like a Disney family. We still from Brooklyn. They support me, but that's has been there since day one.

So, your mom is Jamaican?

Mom's Jamaican, my whole family's Jamaican.

Do you plan on incorporating reggae and dancehall into your music?

Oh yeah, of course. That's what I listen to. My favorite reggae artist right now is Super Cat. It's been that way for a while, but I look at him as an emcee. If you really go back and study a lot of Super Cat sh*t, that's what inspires a little bit of my aesthetic. Just that original vibe, that unquestionable, undeniable type of firmness when you're in your voice and in your statements and in the way you carry yourself. That's something I get from the West Indian side.

While growing up, was there a record that made you say, "Okay, music is what I want to do"?

I'd been listening to rap since I was like five. The first hip-hop record I would say I fell in love with that I can remember is "Gimme the Loot" by The Notorious B.I.G., and that was real young. But I don't remember saying then that I want to be a rapper. It was just something I feel like I was like involved in since I was born. But I remember when I wrote my first rap, I heard 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" on the radio. I was just copying the structure. I didn't know what the hook was, what bars were, what verses were. I was just saying, "Okay, he keeps saying this part over and over at this time, let me write my sh*t in the same type of form." And that's the first time I ever wrote a song.

Who are your top five favorite singers and rappers of all time that are from your hometown of Brooklyn?

Jay Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Big Daddy Kane. I guess SWV counts with two of them is from Brooklyn. (Editor’s note: Tamara "Taj" George is from Brooklyn, while Lelee and Coko are from the Bronx.) If I had to add one more person, f**k it I'ma put myself in there man. You got the legends, but I try to have like an out of body experience when I'm observing or presenting my art. So, when I listen to my sh*t, I know it's like “this sh*t is wavy.” It's like Brooklyn, but it's a fresh perspective of Brooklyn in a way. We haven't seen it, so I got to throw myself in humbly. But even if you think it's cocky, f**k it. I don't care.

You’ve also done some acting. You were in Red Band Society with Octavia Spencer and then you were in Earth to Echo. Do you want to be along the lines of Will Smith or LL Cool J in terms of conquering both Hollywood and music at the same time?

I think more along the lines of like the Tupac or Ice Cube. No insult to Will or LL, but I feel like I'm a little more rugged than that. I don't like to see myself as too clean...I'm not trying to be a Jaden Smith or no sh*t like that. I'm just trying to be a Stro.

I want to provide a new example. When we see Ice Cube, that's an example. When we see Tupac, that's an example. Now I want it to be like when we see Stro, that's an example. Even with Drake, that's an example, but I can't say I'm like Drake because we just have totally different paths. With acting, I'm trying to curate it a little bit more because I've been blessed to be a part of a lot of dope projects. I just did a film for Netflix called See You, Yesterday that's produced by Spike Lee, directed by Stefan Bristol. That's coming out in 2019. Did something for TNT, a short series. I was in two episodes that's coming out soon in 2019. Did an independent movie called Loose with Octavia Spencer, we got to work together again, that was dope. That’s coming out in 2019. I try to do a little bit of everything, but at the same time, I try to make sure it's stuff I actually want to do. You want to stay afloat but you still gotta curate and make sure that it's dope content. I feel like I'll be a part of more statement type of films [and shows] in the future, like Atlanta and Insecure.

Who taught you how to act? Was it a coach? A veteran actor in the game?

Stepdad, who used to be my manager. That's literally the only thing we really did was go over scripts and send in the audition tapes in the living room. I think he had dreams of being an actor at some point in his life and he actually dabbled in acting. He's done extra work.

It seems Hollywood is looking to have more diverse roles for black male actors so they don’t have to play stereotypical roles. Have you thought about using your acting and music as opportunities to make statements about social issues?

I try to just make sure I'm a part of dope sh*t as long as it's dope. One thing I don't feel like I need to play into though is any political statements when I'm acting or even [in] my music. I feel like everything is a political statement now. I don't want to do that. I want my music or my brand or the world of Stro to be a voice for the listener, an escape from the politics. Rappers and actors shouldn't be politicians. I mean you can, you should always be fighting, speak[ing] for your people. But I still want the highlight of what Stro is doing to be "Yo, this sh*t is dope," not because he's trying to say this or that.

Cardi B and Chance the Rapper are doing a Netflix rap competition series. Being that you came up through X-Factor, what are your thoughts?

I'm not in that world. I think that's dope, but I'm not going to lie and be like, "Yo, I'm going to be watching you might be a judge on there." That's the thing about X-Factor and sh*t like that. My mind isn't be there, bro. My mind was always on the dream, it wasn't on the attention. So, when people bring up The X-Factor, I don't know if I come off more standoffish when I talk about it, but to me, that was a step that was like what Martin Lawrence did with Star Search before he got his own show. That's how I approach it.

Astro was in X-Factor at 14, Stro is 22 now. Where do you see yourself at 32?

I don't know, man. I don't know exactly where I see myself because my life is very random in a good way. I didn't see myself acting, that's not something I'd go to school for. I never took acting classes but that's just something I ended up trying and sh*t ended up working in. I was very embraced and accepted by the film world.

So, I don't know. I'll definitely be doing more acting, more music, touring. Definitely have my own label Grade A Tribe Records, which right now it was still an idea, more of a concept and it is a label. But over the years I plan to really make that a real thing.

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You can catch Stro on the road for the Starting 5 Tour, which kicks off tonight (Feb. 6) in Santa Ana, Calif. Entry is free for fans and you can RSVP at tix.to/starting5tour.

 

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Courtesy of Netflix

Meet D Smoke, Inglewood And Hip-Hop's Next Hometown Hero

D Smoke is humble. The Inglewood native exudes an aura of maturation, needed for his quick ascension into popular culture as the first winner of Rhythm + Flow, Netflix’s hip-hop reality competition centered on the discovery of hip-hop’s next star. His signature authenticity shone throughout the 10-episode series and international audiences were drawn to his charisma as he proudly rapped about his lived experiences as a young black man in Inglewood.

“There’s such a rich history,” he says about his hometown, the inspiration for his forthcoming EP, over the phone. “I feel like it’s a beautiful but brief journey through my mind, my lived experiences, and the place that I’m extremely fond of.”

His musical confidence was displayed on the three-week series as he incorporated Spanish and live instrumentation to uplift the community-centered messaging embedded within his raps. Inspired by his childhood friends in Inglewood’s Latinx community, Smoke found music as unifier and way to remove barriers between Latinx and Black communities in his hometown. Demographics reflected in his students as a bilingual and music teacher at Inglewood High where he invests in the next generation of leaders.

He’s won an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) award with his older brother, Sir Darryl Farris aka SiR, for “Never,” a Billboard-charting song from Jaheim in 2007, and received songwriting credits for Ginuwine and The Pussy Cat Dolls projects.

As the show’s first winner, there’s an added level of pressure for the rapper who has completed three music videos and started work on a 15-track mixtape since the show’s release. In the midst of press runs, D Smoke opened up about his experience on Rhythm + Flow, his Inglewood High EP, and his next steps as an independent artist.

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VIBE: Tell me about Inglewood High, your latest EP.

D Smoke: Inglewood High is an EP about my experience coming up on Inglewood, going to Inglewood High, and teaching at the high school after I graduated from UCLA. It’s an important project for me because Inglewood High School holds stories for me as a student and teacher. There are so many youngsters that I had the privilege of teaching that still walk those hallways and are walking the same path I did. I thought it was only right to start with this project first; some of the songs are about my experience, while others are about trends or stories that I often heard growing up in Inglewood. I took a third person approach to tell these stories; some bright, some dark, but they really capture what’s going on in the city.

In a Time interview, you stated Rhythm + Flow’s authenticity around cyphers and battles undid your skepticism. Could you speak about your transition process from being a bilingual teacher into a contestant on the show?

As a teacher, you’re performing every single day, right? Your students are your harshest critics, so performing wasn’t nerve-wracking for me. It was more that I didn’t want to subject myself to the critique of another artist. In the later rounds, I was unsure that their biases would either serve in my favor or to my detriment. So it wasn’t the nerves of performing, but how would they receive and understand my art? Because I believe the audience...before I went on the show, I knew that there’s a large audience for what I do. Submitting to three judges is very different, but by the time we had gotten into the later rounds, I felt like they appreciated what I was doing artistically and creatively. By the end of it, they thought of me as a peer.

Towards the later episodes, you incorporated live instrumentation into your performances which won over Cardi, T.I., and Chance. Is the next direction for your artistry going to implement live band performances?

Going into the show, my goal was to do that before I left. [With] the last round’s challenge of making a live performance, I was like, “Okay, this is the time where we’re going to pull that rabbit out of the hat, so to speak, and show them my musicianship side.” To be honest, I’m a musician first. My first love was playing piano. My mom is a music instructor and minister of music. Since the age of six, I’ve been playing the piano. That’s going to be a huge part of my artistry; to the same extent that playing the drums, singing, and rapping. It speaks to me authenticity as an artist, creative, and musician.

Being on the show has developed your relationship with the audience, in addition to your original support system of Inglewood. How do you feel about having fans around the world who have fallen in love with your music during your time on Rhythm + Flow?

To keep it completely honest, the reception has been amazing. I’m getting messages from all over the world. People love what I did and represented on the show while being entertained by it at the same time. I think when you combine somebody believing in your message, but being thoroughly entertained by your presence, I feel like that’s a true impact on the audience. I’m really overwhelmed by how much love people are pouring out and the messages. I’m trying to read as many as possible, but I’m only one guy. My following grew from 7,000 followers prior to the show to 700,000 and counting, and that’s in less than a month.

 

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We climbing the Charts!!! Let’s push it to #1 #share #tellafriend #GodisGreat

A post shared by Supa Good (@dsmoke7) on Nov 9, 2019 at 12:31am PST

Some viewers waited until all episodes of Rhythm + Flow were on Netflix to binge-watch. Why do you think people should've watched and witnessed your evolution as an artist to step into confidence?

I think people should watch the entire journey; go back and do their detailed research because we aren’t necessarily doing different things than we were already doing. I speak in “we” because I have a strong team of people that were working with me to prepare for being on the show. When the audience watches my performance, it’s not like this is something that I haven’t already been doing. I look forward to seeing the growth in numbers of my previous works, whether it be Subtitles - the series that I did demonstrating my rapping ability in both languages and having fun over beats that I loved and influenced me. It’s super vital to go back and see the whole story because although I’m new to a lot of people, I’m not new to music by any means.

On Rhythm + Flow, Cardi referenced Kendrick Lamar in relation to your music. You have close affiliations with Top Dawg Entertainment, your brother SiR is Kendrick’s labelmate, and you’ve opened for the Pulitzer Prize winner in 2011 at the Whiskey A Go Go. Do you see yourself continuing your relationship with TDE?

 

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Today is my younger brother’s birthday. Same mom, same dad, same blood, same schools, same hair, same goals, but @InglewoodSiR is and will always be his OWN MAN. My younger bro opened doors for me that he may not even be aware of. He’s fearless and original. His music is DOPE as Fuck and he’s as real as they come. Go wish my lil bro @inglewoodsir of TDE a happy Birthday! LOVE YOU BRO! 7

A post shared by Supa Good (@dsmoke7) on Nov 5, 2019 at 7:42am PST

I like the way you put it..continuing that relationship. We’re neighbors; they’re less than 10 miles from me. I was my brother’s keyboard player and musical director while he went on tour with Miguel. For a couple of years, Top Dawg Entertainment has been somewhat of a home base in the sense that I’m supporting their works indirectly. What TDE is to my brother or was to my brothers in terms of the platform to allow his following to grow exponentially. It’ll be more of a partnership where there’s an open dialogue about best practices to collaborate with artists, how we can plan community events, and coordinating impactful things. It’s opening the door for me to collaborate with my brother, similar to how we started off, and have the full support of TDE. That’s something I’m excited about and look forward to sharing.

Are you hoping to bring the spotlight to Inglewood similar to TDE’s upliftment of Compton? On Rhythm + Flow, you rapped about the familiarity of victims of fatal police shootings, because everyone in Inglewood knows each other.

I’m certainly looking to put Inglewood on the map. A lot of things are happening on the business development side with the stadium being built and the rise in property values. I’m looking to make investments in property and building connections within the city to continue education and community development work. My background is in mentorship, so being a visible face in the public, championing youth-driven programs is something I look forward to doing.

Do you plan on using your cash prize to start educational programs at Inglewood High and give back to your students who inspired your performances in the competition?

I’m looking forward to doing the scholarship. I’ve initiated the conversations with the city of Inglewood and Inglewood High School. We’re going to have an event to celebrate. I want to see the marching band come out and play the same cadences they played when I was there. I want to drive the energy back towards competitive academics because that’s what Inglewood was for me. It may not have that reputation but I can go back and name all of the teachers who had that impact and pushed me into being an academically competitive student.

Since winning Rhythm + Flow, you’ve gained a greater following and secured a series of upcoming collaborations. Are you aiming to remain independent, reflective of your underground spirit?

I haven’t altered how I move through the world since winning Rhythm + Flow. I’m always seeing my family, eating healthy, getting my workouts in, and connecting with people that I love, admire or respect. Engaging in different texts and conversations that really keep me sharp. Those things aren’t going to change. We also got business endeavors that keep me sharp and very grounded in conversation. I’m not concerned with the about of new publicity, altering how I operate. It’s cool and flattering, but prior to this, I knew exactly what I’m here to do and those things are still in motion.

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Nic Harcourt hands Quincy Jones the AKG Lifetime Achievement Award.
Courtesy of AKG

A Night Of Timeless Moments: AKG Honors Quincy Jones At 'History of Making History' Event

Quincy Jones can hang.

As AKG Audio's special event honoring the legendary composer in Hollywood came to an end just before midnight on Tuesday (Nov. 12), the 86-year-old was in the third hour of meeting guests. Sitting on a piano bench with a wide smile, Jones showed genuine love, laughs and hugs with every fan who had their own special story of how his work changed their lives.

Jones and innovative sound leaders AKG Audio have a lot in common. For the last seven decades, both have commanded the world to open their ears to new styles of technology, music, and production. It's a bond that brought the two to the Capitol Records Tower for "A History of Making History: Celebrating 70 Years of AKG," an event honoring the massive brand while tipping its hat off to one of the most important music composers of all time.

Jones accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award in front of an intimate crowd that included guests like singer-songwriter Daley, Maejor, Bobby Brackins, Jones' protege Jacob Collier, longtime friend and host Nic Harcourt, and many more captivated by the musician.

 

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Quincy Jones, the legendary composer, producer and founder of @VIBEMagazine, was honored last night in Hollywood by @akgaudio with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to music for over the last 7 decades. Check out our stories for more with Mr. Jones and AKG’s legendary role in the history of headphones! #AKGX70

A post shared by VibeMagazine (@vibemagazine) on Nov 13, 2019 at 8:51am PST

"Thank you from the bottom of my soul," Jones said. "This is as good as it gets for an 86-year-old bald-headed beep bopper (Laughs). Seven kids, eight grandkids; life is great. I hope you all experience a long, long life filled with love to share, health to spare, and most importantly, friends who care."

“Throughout his legendary career, Quincy Jones has created some of the most iconic records in the history of the recording industry and we are honored to present him with a Lifetime Achievement Award,” Erik Tarkiainen, Vice President of Global Marketing, HARMAN Professional Solutions tells VIBE. “For 70 years, AKG has been creating headphones and microphones that empower the spirit of creativity and innovation, and no one embodies that spirit more than Quincy.”

Some of AKG's classic mics were on display like the model Beyonce used for the album 4 and another used by both the late 2Pac and Luther Vandross. Jones even shared how he's used their products over the years.

"For almost seven decades in this business as a musician, composer, arranger, conductor and producer, I have always gone for the music that gives me goosebumps. And whether it was Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie Orchestra, the Brothers Johnson, Michael Jackson, the artists who contributed to the recordings of "We Are The World", right up until today, without fail that music was delivered through AKG audio products,” Jones said. “As you celebrate your 70th anniversary, I have no doubt in my mind that AKG will continue to be an essential part of the music recording and listening experience for many, many more decades to come."

Collier's covers revealed just how sharp Jones' ears remain over the years. Collier's jazz-tinged covers of Jones' compositions like "Human Nature" (Michael Jackson), "Fly Me To The Moon" (Frank Sinatra) and "Give Me The Night" (George Benson) included jazz and R&B blends with the multi-instrumentalist using his voice as the most powerful card in the deck. The Grammy-winning artist's performance was a gift to the audience and to Jones, as he sat front and center enjoying an icicle and while tapping his shoe to the new-wave rhythms.

Just before Collier united the room, several studios at Capitol Records acted as classrooms. One studio featured a conversation between Harcourt and acoustics expert Dr. Sean Olive where they touched on the history of AKG's role in the headphone industry, dating back to 1949's AKG DYN Series. Another room included the stems of Quincy's most iconic production—Michael Jackson's "Thriller"—available on laptops for guests to mix while AKG's latest releases like the AKG K361 and K371 were on display. In the Crow's Nest studio rested with elation is Ramzoid, who offered his own remix to Jones' music.

One of the main studios featured a DJ set by Austin Millz, one of the creatives behind D’USSE Palooza and admirer of Jones. "It was an honor to play for the Quincy Jones/AKG event," he tells VIBE. "Quincy is one of my biggest influences in music. His path, journey and all his contributions in music is countless and is a great example of setting the tone for what is an extraordinary career. His accolades and what he stands for is exemplary. Last night was a night that I will never forget."

The bubble with Jones and AKG was a music lover's paradise. As the legendary composer continues to receive his flowers, new and old friends are learning more about him each and every day. "It's the left brain and science," he said of the intersection between God-given instrumental talent and technology. "You have to master the rules before you can break them, so you better know what you're doing."

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Duane Prokop

Big Baby DRAM Is Prepping For A Big Comeback

In 2016, music connoisseurs were graced with the introduction of acts who injected fun back into hip-hop . These new rappers like Aminé, Lil Yachty and DRAM steered clear of hardcore trap beats, and instead supplied the industry with exultant, infectious records. DRAM stood out with multiple hits that year, including “Cha Cha,” “Broccoli,” and “Cute.” But as much as the Hampton, Virginia native and his fans hold his debut album Big Baby D.R.A.M in high regard, he is now ready to flip the switch and show a different side of his musicality with his upcoming sophomore album.

“For the whole history of me releasing music ever since my first mixtapes in 2014, I've had a couple of records that were so jubilant, uplifting and uptempo, just automatic feel good,” the 31-year-old shared. “There's no denying that those records in the past have been phenomenal, but that was for that moment.”

Although no physical sit down occurred with DRAM for his conversation with VIBE, it was easy to envision his signature smile on his face through the phone as he shared his album-making process from over the last three years, as well as his endless side hustles. From delving deep into songwriting, to partnering with Sprite and LeBron James, he has kept busy and obviously music has consistently stayed on his mind. But he's taking a new direction musically.

An illustration of this is “The Lay Down.” DRAM's latest single shows him shifting from his jovial, happy-go-lucky persona into a passionate, seductive lover. The bedroom jam shows off his vocal chops as he shares vocal harmonies with H.E.R. over a beautiful, soulful production by WATT that's highlighted by a soaring guitar solo at the song's climax. It's one of the greatest songs of 2019, and it shows just how comfortable DRAM is with his versatility.

Although his sophomore album has no specific release date, nor a title available to the public (he apologized for the vagueness), DRAM is ready to welcome his fans into a new, previously slightly hidden chapter of his music career.

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VIBE: I know you're currently working on your second album, but you've also kept yourself busy this past year with things outside the album making process. Last year you worked with LeBron James and Sprite, recently you worked with them again for a remake of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" for the upcoming holiday season. What has it been like to collaborate with King James on your Sprite partnership?

DRAM: It's just really dope how, it places us in the same vicinity. I don't know, it makes me chuckle because he throws me a can of Sprite every time I see it. I got on these glasses, looking happy as hell. It makes me happy to see it.

In working with Lebron and Sprite do you feel like you learned something from him? What did you admire working with him?

I just admired how the whole thing went down to be honest. That everybody agreed to do it. I think what I took from that is that you can rub shoulders with just about anybody as long as you be about yours and do what you came to do.

Getting into your music, it's been a minute since you've released a project, three years to be exact. You recently just celebrated the three-year anniversary of Big Baby D.R.A.M. In these three years how much have you changed artistically and as a person?

I think it's more so about growing up. Growing up into what this has become. I can think about it as me putting out a merch project, like a newborn baby. And now I'm at the age of like a toddler, like preschool. No longer having the spoon or the bottle, maybe even have a sippy cup and a bag of chips. It's just more mature. Things that would excite me and things that I would be eager or nervous about, it's almost second nature now.

You become accustomed to the lifestyle that comes with putting out an album or doing the things of album mode. Going out and doing shows, and now it's no better time. It's so time for the next effort. The question is, what's going to be next for me and it's really just growth. Evolution, a slight change of perspective in a sense.

For sure. And then back in 2016, you were releasing records like “Broccoli” which was more feel good and kind of poppy. Now, you just released “The Lay Down” with H.E.R. and Watt, which is more soulful. Why have you decided to go that route? Was it a smooth process for you to go from making records like “Broccoli” and “Cute” to “The Lay Down?”

For the whole history of me releasing music ever since my first mixtapes in 2014, I've had a couple of records that were so jubilant, uplifting and uptempo, just automatic feel good. But then as a body of work, its majority is sensual, thought-provoking, emotion-provoking records, such as “Caretaker,” “Wi-Fi,” “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” which was centered on the first Sprite campaign that I was on. These records are really what the core, diehard DRAM fanbase, that's where, in the grand scheme of things, the whole scale. As the years went on, you aim to grow towards what you really want. There's no denying that those records in the past have been phenomenal, but that was for that moment. That was what it was.

Now what's leading the way, it's the records that’s still with the substance, that keeps the actual diehard fans here and there. It's like for the outsider, it's such a sudden change because if you haven't really delved into the world of "Big Babes" then you wouldn't get it. To the point where the fans that's been there for quite some time, they're right on key. Anyone else who comes just there for that, the instantaneous party, you might stick around or wanna kick back with a Daiquiri, or go back and drink your drink somewhere else.

Getting more into your track with H.E.R. and WATT, what was it like working on “The Lay Down” with them? Was the process of making that song different from any of your other songs?

Oh no! Like I said, it's second nature. It really just comes. I'd like to say, I can't really think of myself just off of one lane, I know that I concentrate more toward the sensual, what I was saying previously. There's no box to put me in. Just last week I was in a session helping a very prominent rapper. I'm coming up with lines for somebody else in a rap song. This whole campaign, it's really just whatever I put my energy towards, and I'm just very thankful that I have the strength and the feeling that I can do it.

Do you feel like the industry tries to box artists into the specific genre that they first come out with?

I'm not gonna sit here and be the one that's going to give you a huge leftist, huge rightist position. I think it's all on what that person that's there, is the entity, the artist. So no matter who else is behind them, no matter how much shit is going on behind them, it's all on that person and what they choose to do with their craft. Somebody can go into the game and really be in it for the heart and once the money starts, and then it's like all right boom, boom, boom, and then they say they want to change, and they're like "well let me go back to that thing" because the coin is good, everybody wants to get that coin back. Make sure you invest and save, you're not watching them do enough of that, you still want to keep it around. Some people will go into the trash can, before they compromise their brain.

I think it's all about balance and knowing your fan base may be slightly different from your true desires that you want to get out there. The thing is lace up and weather the storm if that's what you want to do or sit back and chill in the breeze if that's what you want to do. Don't be mad when the clouds start coming.

You recently said in a Twitter post that you feel that no one really sings anymore and that there aren't any "true sangers" out there. Why do you think that is?

You know, it's very croonery, very “monotone-y,” it's not daring, it doesn't sound like anyone is willing to jump off of a cliff and see if that parachute thing comes up with hope and a prayer. Trust me, some hope and a prayer gets you down there if you really believe. Nobody's channeling, I feel like in the correct manner. There's some people that are really killing it and making phenomenal music in what they do. What I'm saying is that there's a certain type of energy, a certain type of presence that is no longer being made, being honored. I'm just here to let that continue to live on, and it never die.

Do you feel like there are still singers that are out today that give you goosebumps, that you feel aren't monotone-ish or anything like that?

When I hear that girl named Yebba Smith... it's this girl named Yebba. She's like low-key, but she's probably a lot of people's favorite singers’ favorite singer. She's gonna f**k up a lot of sh*t. Her sh*t is fire. I stumbled across her at a session at my publisher house, we have the same publisher and she was in the other room and I was like damn bro. They played me her sh*t, I had to walk over to the other room and meet her. When I hear her sing that sh*t f***ing....damn! And that's what we need, that's what I'm talking about. All that other sh*t, it's cool, but c'mon now we need that energy.

I know you also mentioned in your tweet that you've also been focusing a lot on songwriting, I wanted to know what your songwriting method is like and if it's always come easy to you?

Anything can inspire to do something musically. I can hear a door shut funny and have a note and be like oh sh*t. Or something like the phrase “gotta be quicker than that” or something. I like to just use the things that I really feel inside. When I hear it and then when I say it, it's gotta match. It's like a secret language that I'm speaking with the beat. I just want to make it feel right.

What more can your fans expect from your second album? What do you hope that they take away from it?

Take away the growth of where I am mentally, where I am musically and to kind of get a better understanding of why I've been in kind of a recluse type of state in these years and the things that I've been going through in regular life.

Why the three-year wait for your sophomore album?

It needed that you know. I don't want to sound like that, by saying I don't want to sound like that of course it's probably going to sound like that, but it takes time for these type of things. I believe that the bodies of work that I've been putting out and more specifically, the first mixtape and then the first album, that really changed a lot of today's music, to be honest. You gotta give them some time to really cycle out so you can really see how much you've influenced music. I promise to God the three-year wait was worth it.

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