How The Seeds Of Dreamville Fest Planted New Culture In Raleigh

J. Cole’s communal gathering makes Dreamville bigger than a record label, an aspect the rapper’s fans knew from its inception.

The early hours look enchanting on the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. The nine-hour bus commute from New York allowed plenty of J. Cole’s lyrics to flow through my headphones, including the poignant reminder of faith and ambition from 2014 Forest Hills Drive standout track, “January 28th.” “If you believe in God/ one things for sure/If you ain't aim too high, Then you aim too low.” As the moderate water vapor filled the brisk air in the 5 a.m. hour, the ambition of that song would later translate to a joyous hymn of harmony at the inaugural Dreamville Festival.

It’s not the only festival to excite the college town as KIX 102.9, Carolina's Greatest Hits radio station ran an ad for the city’s upcoming Midtown Music Festival. Promises of hip-hop dancers and stilt walkers in May might make residents’ hearts smile, but what embarked on the city hours later would serve as a family reunion for thousands of J.Cole’s fans and a new identity for the cozy city.

Dreamville Festival was born three years ago with Cole, label creative director Adam Rodney, label president Ibrahim “IB” Hamad and ScoreMore president Sascha Stone Guttfreund meeting with city leaders to secure Dorothea Dix Park as their foundation for the event that would later welcome 40,000 people from across the country.

“We knew that North Carolina was a prime location for a festival,” Hamad tells VIBE. “There's nothing like this kind of magnitude there.” Dreamville executive Derick Okolie also explained the method in not only setting up Raleigh as a hub for Dreamville fans but an area where artists can thrive in their craft.

“It was important for Cole,” he said. “Cole always talks about how you meet a lot of great talent from ‘Carolina, whether it's musicians but also creatives as a whole. He always said he ran to New York to do [music] because he thought he couldn't do it here in ‘Carolina, and he might've been right. What he wants to do now is turn it around and give the next Cole, the next Bas, the next J.I.D, the next Ari Lennox the opportunity to come here, stay here and work here; you can find us and we can find you.”

It’s not a lost idea that artists are taking a liking to the festival space. Fellow melanin-driven events like Tyler The Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, The Roots Picnic, Childish Gambino’s immersive PHAROS experience and Jay-Z’s Made In America have provided successful blueprints for how artists can lure day one fans into trekking across the country for a memorable show. The difference in the “For Us By Us” landscape is Cole’s ability to make Dreamville Fest an honest gathering for his wide-ranging fans.

Raleigh’s cultural footprint has always been rooted in advancement. After the Civil War, the city formed its scholarly identity with Shaw University, one of the oldest historically black colleges, in 1865. Many institutions followed after like Saint Augustine and North Carolina State University, known widely for its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program.

Dreamville’s injection of hip-hop culture leaves visitors more inclined to stick around. With slick precision, the city’s personality has shifted from a traditional college town to a city where youth are inspired to look beyond the thick forests and see an opportunity for their own wildest dreams. Just a glimpse at our footage captured with the Samsung Galaxy 10+ (video above) shows this.

With Raleigh in destination conversations with other cities like Houston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, the area now has an opportunity to provide cultural and economic wealth to its residents. Here are just some of the coordinators, fans, and artists who made it happen.

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Bringing Dreamville Festival’s Communal Vision To Life

Derick Okolie, Head of Strategy and Marketing For Dreamville

We always looked at Dreamville as a state of mind or a community rather than an actual tangible place. I've been going to EDM Festivals and all these big festivals and just thought, “How come we can't do this?” And today, we can put our Dreamville flag in the ground and be like, “This is Dreamville Fest, pull up,” and 40,000 kids did which is awesome.

We care. That's the bottom line. Of course, you want to make money in anything you do in business but that's not the driver. We're not charging a $1,000 for tickets or shoving the partners down your throat to make an extra dollar. Cole cares. I'm a snitch but Cole is watching the livestream like “You need to fix this, you need to fix that” from his hotel. Homie cares.

Adam Rodney, Dreamville Creative Director

The real advantage to an artist-driven festival is that you're being an ambassador for this place, this entity you're creating. No knock to those other festivals but this isn’t a corporate thing. We wanted to make this a homecoming for our fans and family and that's special.

Ibrahim “IB” Hamad, Dreamville President

We thought if we can do it right, people would come every year since they're aware of what we're bringing as far as, curation and believing that we would put together the best event, lineup, and concert together for them.

You can drive here from Atlanta, Louisville, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc. so it's a perfect location right there in front of that Interstate 95. People are treating it like a getaway and are excited to come to North Carolina and it's great. With Cole being from North Carolina, being able to bring something there, that's exciting.

Local Fans And Beyond Catch A Glimpse Of A Hometown Hero

Miya “YaYa” Morant, 19
Hometown: Durham, North Carolina
Attendee

I saw a lot of familiar faces whether it was from my city (Bull City) or people I saw at other Cole concerts. It was definitely a Dreamville family reunion. I didn’t even wanna leave when it was over. It was maybe over 40,000 people there and not a stranger in sight, all love. Every artist showed out especially J.I.D., he really shocked me with his performance.

The whole crowd was going crazy. Watching Cole up on stage and seeing how many people were out there supporting made me tear up a little. I’ve been following Cole since a jit and seeing how big he’s become and witnessing the movement he started made me so proud! I definitely got my money’s worth.

Parrish Mitchell, 25
Hometown: Queens, New York
Festival Ambassador

Sascha Stone Guttfreund got me this gig when I attended JMBLYA in Texas last year. It was fun yet emotional since we lost one of our brothers Hassan last week. He was one of the biggest fans the world had to offer so I made sure I celebrated for him. As a fan, the festival felt like a reunion since a lot of us fans grew up together. We’ve seen each other graduate, get real adult jobs and chase our dreams.

Eugene Vernikov, 27
Web Developer
Born in Ukraine, raised in Brooklyn, NY

I hopped on a discount bus from Canal Street in Manhattan and got there on time and in haste. I thought everyone was friendly and open. To see him perform at a maiden venue located near his hometown is simply a recipe for magic. And that's really what the event ended up being...pure magic.

I think with some infrastructure adjustments, Dreamville Festival (which they should rename DreamFest since it's a dream of an event) could be the next destination for music lovers anywhere, the next OVO Fest or Coachella. It could expand and grow along with the city. That would be amazing!

Sheena Simpkins, 29
Entrepreneur
Born in New York, resides in Raleigh

I was inspired to attend Dreamville Festival because J. Cole is one of my fiancé Roshane’s favorite artists. I purchased these tickets for his birthday. It was also perfect that it was in Raleigh and we didn’t have to travel far. Roshane felt like it was a family reunion because he saw a lot of his friends and people he knew from college since he went to undergrad here at NC State. Beside our feet hurting and going numb, we really enjoyed the festival.

Raleigh has grown tremendously over the last few years and it’s been a blessing to the original residents that grew up here because there wasn’t too much to do 10-15 years ago. Most residents of Raleigh have relocated here from out of state due to education, jobs, and cost of living. The festival was a great addition to the fast-growing city. For Dreamville to be here was a big deal and for J. Cole to come back home to North Carolina to put this together was greatly appreciated by most North Carolina residents. As residents of Raleigh, we appreciate it because we want more concerts, festivals, and tours in this city. We’re both from New York City so the more things to do the better. We would definitely support another one.

Dreamville’s Random Acts Of Blackness

Omen, Dreamville Artist

In a sense, I've been on a hiatus with my music so it's like I wasn't sure if people were going to come to the set. Seeing tons of people out there allowed the nerves to go away. They knew the words to my songs and I can tell a lot of people were here to see me. I've seen people in the crowd that have been coming to shows for years, where I know them and they've become supporters so it's a dope moment for everybody. As an adult, my festival experience was seeing Jay-Z. I've never seen a more commanding performance. To even experience a glimpse of that today was amazing.

Ari Lennox, Dreamville Artist

It feels legendary. It's just so amazing to be black and I'm so happy to be a part of Cole's black a** lineup. He's just great and I'm proud of his black self and proud of Dreamville's black self and the festival is just great for blackness. We're just killing it. I feel great to be a part of this as a woman and I can represent for the natural ladies, so I feel lucky. The world needs to see that there are real fans of genuine real hip-hop and R&B and I was just so happy that there's proof that there are 40,000 people here.

I think there's gonna be more people next year once the word gets out about how lit this was. How chocolate it was. There are so many beautiful people here and if you're looking for a man or a woman you can come here and change your life, get smashed and it would be a beautiful thing to indulge in.

Derick Okolie, Head of Strategy and Marketing For Dreamville

Honestly, if you're one of the 40,000 people at this festival, this is the guy you should thank because Adam really put in the work. We had to meet with the mayor, city councilman, vendors, etc. When was the last time in North Carolina they let 40,000 hip-hop fans pull up for a festival? That doesn't happen in many places. You're not gonna be able to get a hip-hop rap crowd in one place and it be smooth. No fights, no nothing, that doesn't happen.

Adam Rodney, Dreamville Creative Director

I would say it was just a thought, just an idea. There are all these things like working in music and working with creatives that you wanna get done and a festival, a place where we could bring all of our fans together, was always something we wanted to do here in North Carolina and bring it back to where it all started. We always wanted to have this homecoming moment.

Dreamville’s Economic Impact For Raleigh

Celestine Stamper, 55
Hometown: Raleigh-Durham, NC
Uber Driver

There were massive amounts of people walking, riding scooters, and being dropped off by Uber, Lyft and family members to the point where I couldn’t get close to the venue. I’m from here and I have NEVER seen such a wonderful successful production put on in the city of Raleigh before.

The festival did a number of things for the city: it dumped money into the economy, it put life back into Dorothea Dix Park, and most importantly it showed the city that more than 40,000 people can come together and fellowship and have a good time without incident.

Dreamville has been the talk here in the Triangle. It was on the news for days after it was over. My 75-year-old mother called me talking about Dreamville because she saw it on the news. In addition to the news, I heard on the radio that Dreamville is going down in the city of Raleigh’s history as the largest and successful festival in the history of the city. Dream on J. Cole, dream on.

Adam Rodney, Dreamville Creative Director 

All the vendors are local whether it be the city or the county or the state. We have partnerships with the vendors in terms of merch, we have our own festival beer that's brewed here. We worked with the brewery to create. We're keeping it kind of home. It was important for the city.

Derick Okolie, Head of Strategy and Marketing For Dreamville

My favorite thing about Dreamville is you know, whether it be a Dreamville hoodie, a Fiends hoodie, or a J.I.D., Earthgang whatever it is, you're putting on a flag and saying, “I'm part of the family,” and whether you're an artist at Dreamville or you're filming Dreamville, these kids know who you are and they're like “Oh, Scott I love the work you did” or “Yo Shades, thank you so much, keep going.”

They treat me like I'm somebody and they love that we gave them this opportunity to meet other people and be part of something bigger than just themselves and that trickles down from the top. Cole set the tone at Dreamville and we fall in line because it feels good to see you wanna f**k with it. It feels good to see people you can look at say and say, “That's my family.”

When you get those emails from ScoreMore and Dreamville asking what did you like and what you didn't like, let us know. I have a notebook I've been walking around with thinking we have to do this better, we have to do that better. We need this kind of activation. We need that, this food was wack, make sure you have this next time. We're gonna do it next year and the year after that and have bigger acts and better and people you wouldn't expect. We got Davido to come out from Nigeria. That's a beautiful thing. It could be J. Balvin, it could be Beyonce. The sky's the limit. Just keep talking to us as fans and we'll get it poppin'.

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Darren Xu

Brent Faiyaz Channels International Life Into New Musical Gems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This second set, bro...”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He got fired on his day off?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BET Hip Hop Awards 2019: Watch All The Performances Here

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

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

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