Katie Spoleti | VIBE

NEXT: Blueface's Offbeat Rhymes Have Him On The Verge Of Stardom

The West Los Angeles native bears the burden as the poster boy for the great generational divide in hip-hop.

Following the loss of XXXTentacion and with 6ix9ine behind bars, Blueface is the latest rapper to usurp the throne and hold the crown as the youth's champion. Within seconds of hearing his scorching Top 10 Billboard Rap Songs hit "Thotiana," listeners probably know where they stand on the polarizing MC, whose flows are reminiscent of a cross between Juvenile on "Ha," sprinkled with DNA from Bay Area legend E-40's unique ability to overstuff words into certain pockets that wouldn't work for just about anyone else. VIBE caught up with a weary Blueface at the tail end of his fully booked NYC press run late last February - and weeks before being charged for felony possession of a unregistered handgun.

At least Blueface, born Jonathan Porter, made sure he was well-prepared for the frigid NYC temps, which turned nearly apocalyptic for a short time prior to our interview 31 stories high overlooking Times Square. Laced in a forest green Champion hoodie under his winter coat, the diehard G-Unit fan fills out his lanky 6'3" frame in the build of a basketball player, rather than the college-recruited quarterback he was supposed to be at Fayetteville State University. (He dropped out after one semester.) His matching green Timberland boots should also be noted as an honorable homage to the Big Apple fashion staple.

Being cognizant of his viral capabilities has played an integral role in Blueface's meteoric rise, as the West Coast rapper's career trajectory has significantly spiked over the past three months to levels that industry insiders can't put a cap on. His newfound visibility even has pop star Charlie Puth tweeting, "Blueface Babiiiee."

Blowing up quickly doesn't have Blueface batting an eye, drawing on the childhood experiences that forced him to grow up "at a little faster pace, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle," he confidently relayed, while fixing up his new $80,000 icy chain. The glistening pendant matches the Ben Franklin portrait he has tattooed on the right side of his face.

Blueface isn't shy when it comes to gloating about his Crip ties either, whether that's channeling his inner-Dub-C to hit the famed Crip Walk or having a breakout track titled "Respect My Cryppin,'" it's all a part of the brand. The Rookie of the Year candidate says he originally got involved with the School Yard Crip gang about four years ago when he was 18 because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his incarcerated older brother. "I always wanted to be like him. He was already full-fledged into it," he explains.

The L.A. rapper speaks sincerely when detailing his brother's legal situation, which found him guilty of accessory to murder charges leading to a 17-year sentence. Blueface says he's already been locked up for 12 years, but the pair still share a strong bond. "We talk all the time, at least once a week. He's proud. I'm just waiting for him to get out so we could ball. He's actually heard a couple songs," he asserts.

It's been well-documented that Blueface fell into rapping almost by accident. After hopping in the booth at a friend's studio session in 2017, the lost then-20-year-old discovered a new calling of sorts with the book shut on his football career. "From then on, that's when I fell in love with it. I fell in love with my voice. I had something inside of me that was like, 'I like this,'" he described of the feeling. "I wanted to do whatever it took."

Blueface began to pick up steam following the positive reception to his debut single "Deadlocs" in Jan. 2018. The SoundCloud plays started to compile and the social media followers began to multiply as the 22-year-old knew something special was on the horizon. Blueface's rise can partly be contributed to the viral social media clips of his impromptu performances, where he'd pull up to various Los Angeles high schools and start rapping atop his minty Mercedes Benz.

Between the viral moments and unabashed boasting of his gang ties, Blueface's rapid ascension is eerily reminiscent of 6ix9ine's glow-up in some ways around this time last year. When asked about potential parallels between their careers, he doesn't foresee himself making the same mistakes Tekashi did, which has led the Brooklyn rapper to cut a deal and plead guilty to a reported nine counts of racketeering charges. "I just tone it down. I got a lot to lose now. I feel like 6ix9ine brought all that stuff on himself," he explains. "You don't see me doing anything illegal? I ain't into it like that. That's just the past."

Being a father to a two-year-old, that conversation led into the noticeable lack of security around to protect himself and his team while running through NYC. Blueface quickly points to his three friends on the couch next to us, all of who claim to also be members of the Crips, and half-jokingly says with a smirk, "Who's gonna fuck with us, you see how we look? I always keep some dark-skinned n***as with me."

Blueface continued to build momentum throughout 2018, going on to release a pair of projects including his debut effort Famous Cryp and the Two Coccy mixtape. The former spawned the anthemic Hot 100 smash "Thotiana" and "Respect My Cryppin,'" whose video quickly gained traction and compiled millions of views on Worldstar when it was essentially turned to a meme, as viewers compared Blueface's flow to Cartoon Network's Courage The Cowardly Dog.

In November, it was announced that Blueface inked a label deal with Wack100 and Cash Money West. The 22-year-old seemed to be infatuated with Wack's street credibility, history as The Game's manager, and his willingness to flex some muscle to ultimately get his way in the mold of a Suge Knight, even though he reps his rival L.A. Piru Bloods gang. "[It's all] Wack100. Sh*t, I beat people up too, so it made sense," Blueface jokes of Wack's combative nature. "The reason I signed was Wack. He took me to his house and it all felt real."

He emphatically states that he's not in a disastrous 360 deal, but doesn't know much more. Wack then chimes in that their agreement is for one album with an option to renegotiate for the second. "I didn't really understand the off-beat sh*t. I just looked at it like that was his style. He gets in and out of it when he wants to. He was the first young rapper to make me go back and rewind some sh*t," Wack100 says of Blueface's appeal. "Is he a battle rapper? No, but he knows how to make music."

After running through the high-profile co-signs he's already received, which includes the likes of Drake, Ice Cube, and Kendrick Lamar, Blueface may have gotten the most serious during our conversation when voicing his disgust with the fickleness of fans and the generation of followers we currently live in. "You know, someone don't f**k with someone until everyone f**k with them. That's the human race," he genuinely states. "Now it's like, 'Oh, now I want to f**k with them.' People are followers, I think it's disgusting how people switch up like that."

With Blueface firmly standing on his own two feet, Wack100 wants to allocate the proper time in turning his five-star recruit into an all-out force in the industry. Look no further than the mistakes 300 Entertainment made with Fetty Wap in early 2015 to learn from, when the label neglectfully rushed the career building process by squeezing hit after hit out of the New Jersey native. Wack doesn't plan on unleashing the myriad of star-studded rumored collaborations Blueface has in the stash until "at least April," which will kick off the rollout toward his major label debut.

He surely doesn't have to with "Thotiana" surging up the Billboard Hot 100 at an exponential rate, where it recently cracked the top 10. Since being sent to radio at the top of February, "Thotiana" has gone from underground darling to inescapable streaming sensation, accumulating over 37.8 million plays this past week. The tune, which spawned the viral "Bust Down" dance, has really taken on a life of its own, while receiving a pair of spicy remixes alongside YG and Cardi B, with the latter adding fuel to the mainstream fire by accumulating more than 28 million views in less than two weeks.

Many in the industry have attempted to put their own spin on "Thotiana." The minimal piano-laden instrumental was caught in the line of fire of the playful Soulja Boy versus Tyga beef, as the pair exchanged shots over Blueface's hit record. "Thotiana" may have even revived the career of Young MA, who spit an impressive freestyle and garnered the attention of hip-hop for the first time in a long time. Nicki Minaj even took note, releasing her own "Bust Down Barbiana" version during an early February episode of Queen Radio.

Blueface says his anticipated album is tentatively titled Selfish because he's, apparently, "hella selfish with things you need to be, like an opportunity." He hopes to release the effort at some point during the summertime. The "Next Big Thing" MC confirmed a pair of records with Drake existing somewhere in the ethos. He asserts that the forthcoming Boi-1da-produced "In the Zone" is a "Drake-styled song, unlike one of his traditional records," where he "went and matched [Drake's] style."

The 22-year-old goes on to debunk the many internet tales affirming he's got tracks already done with Quavo, Tyga, Soulja Boy, Lil Pump and Scott Storch, Lil Uzi Vert, G-Eazy, and French Montana. Wack also relayed that the newly minted Cardi B "Thotiana" remix would be served to radio stations nationwide on a platter following its release.

Before our half-hour chat came to a close, Blueface hopped on his Instagram Live seemingly out of nowhere, breezing by questions he didn't feel were up to standard, claiming he was looking for something more "ignorant" to appease his juvenile fanbase. Blueface has a Cardi B-esque authenticity factor to him that plays well with his loyal following. Whatever pops into his mind, no matter how brash or politically incorrect, he's going to lay it out there. Whether that trait spells doom for Blueface down the line remains to be seen, but at least for now, the new king of the youth has arrived.

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P Diddy promotes his new Diddy Dirty Money single 'Coming Home' and his headphones DiddyBeats at HMV, Oxford Street on January 20, 2011 in London, England.
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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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