Busta Rhymes
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Music Sermon: The Underrated Genius Of Busta Rhymes

Busta Rhymes raised the bar and helped broaden the scope of hip-hop at crucial moments in the genre’s evolution.

The word “underrated” is overused. Even though I regularly write about underrated artists, I try to stay away from the term whenever possible–but it’s appropriate for Busta Rhymes. While his cohorts from the Native Tongues collective are highly lauded and celebrated, especially A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, Bus–who enjoyed a longer and more commercially successful hit-making run than the others–has become the old uncle to hip-hop fans. Maybe it’s a case of familiarity breeding contempt, because he has continued to record, instead of falling into a DJ and production role with occasional features like Q-Tip, or releasing indie joints like De La, or pursuing his acting career and branching into other arms of entertainment like Queen Latifah, or just hitting the old school circuit with the classics like Dres of Black Sheep. But Busta was a pivotal artist in hip-hop. Because of his flow. Because of his live performance. Because of his features. Because of his videos. He raised the bar and helped broaden the scope of hip-hop at crucial moments in the genre’s evolution.

Busta’s been referred to as hip-hop’s “jester” several times over the years (primarily by mainstream outlets, but I think we know better). This is a severe misnomer; an indication of how Bus’s high energy, colorful presence, raspy growl and dominating smile were misunderstood. “That energy? It all comes from the appreciation I have for what I’m doing,” he explained in an interview for his debut solo album. “I love the music creating something from nothing, adding the beats, the instruments. When I put the song together and it's banging, that’s my best reward. And when I’m feeling that? Oh my God, I’m trying to make sure you feel the way I’m feeling.” The ability to convey that joy and excitement through every medium, to get you hype ‘cause he hype, is the uniqueness of Busta.

When telling Bus’s story, most start at “Scenario;” the game-changing posse track from A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory (Tribe’s defining album; I will die on that hill.) which heralded Busta’s forthcoming solo career, even if we didn’t realize it at the time. But if you’re walking into the story when Q Tip asks Mr. Busta Rhymes to tell us what he did in “Scenario,” hit stop. Then rewind until you see a Long Island high school cafeteria with a slim, short-haired Trevor Jackson, Jr hitting the East Coast Stomp, highlighted with red animated graphics. Now press play. This is where the story begins.

Busta Rhymes the Mighty Infamous

We’ll get to Busta literally roaring into hip-hop infamy on “Scenario” in a bit. Before he was the breakout rapper on that track, he was the breakout star of The Leaders of the New School…which is ultimately why the Long Island group broke up. But LONS was itself was a standout group, that became part of a standout collective, so Bus sticking out amongst all that excellence was no small feat.

Hip-hop was always youth culture, but it was also a heavy dose of the realism of life and actuality (shout out to AZ). LONS and the Native Tongues were part of a new subculture of rap groups accessible to young hip-hop fans who didn’t grow up in the streets, couldn’t relate to hood tales, and didn’t identify with braggadocio rap, but still wanted to see themselves reflected in the culture. Fans who didn’t rock gold chains and adidas, but sported backpacks (because they were still in school), did regular stuff like homework and hanging out at the mall, and maybe even had both parents at home. This was the early alternative rap movement – hip-hop with lighter fare. “That Long Island environment was some fresh air type sh*t, that spacy sh*t that gives you room to be who you are and want to be without all those urban hangups,” he told the New York Daily News in 1996. “We thought hip-hop was so damn raunchy all the time oppressive. We needed some party, universal, happy sh*t…. We were comfortable, cozy. We were able to focus on hip-hop on a fun level.”

And the fun was infectious. Some hip-hop historians credit LONS for the rise of backpack rappers – young artists who emerged through the underground scene by way of college and mixshow radio. “PTA” got heavy video play on every urban platform, and soon there were black kids with backpacks doing the East Coast Stomp with fervor everywhere. Busta told Ed Lover years later during a radio promo visit, “I wish I could get a publishing check from every ni**a that does that dance.”

All wasn’t good inside the group, though. Even before the Leaders recorded their first album, the group was having issues and had split up, with Bus going off to pursue a solo career. When former Tommy Boy A&R Dante Ross summoned Charlie Brown for a meeting at his new label, Elektra, the guys initially went without Bus – but Dante wouldn’t sign them without him. Busta came back for the sake of everyone’s dream, but he and Charlie were continuously in a fight for control and prominence in the group. Literally. “Me and Brown used to fist fight and be bleeding at the mouth before we (would) get on stage,” Busta revealed to Vlad TV while discussing his tumultuous relationship with Leaders, “and then get on stage and be suckin’ and swallowin’ the blood in (our) busted lip while performing so the audience wouldn’t see the blood leakin’ from (our) mouth. And smile in front like everything’s good, and get back offstage and finish the fight.” Ew, Bus. Ew.

Publicly, however, the group was solid. They even scored a No. 1 with their final single from A Future Without a Past.

Busta spent time and put in work with established acts of the era, including his mentor Chuck D who, along with The Bomb Squad, gave Bus and Charlie both their emcee names and the group’s name (they had to battle another up-and-coming group for use of the name; the losing group took the title Young Black Teenagers), but was especially tight with Tribe. ATCQ was his creative refuge when he was feeling constrained within his own group.

When Tip came up with the concept for “Scenario,” his idea wasn’t just to give LONS a look; it was a platform for Busta. Tip wanted to position him as next. “’Scenario’ for Busta was like his step-out [moment],” he later explained. “That was my purpose… because I thought he was ill.”
Tip wrote Bus’s early lines in the track, an introduction that keyed him up for his big finale. That moment changed Busta’s career, and I believe changed the weight and status of the posse cut’s anchor position.

Busta recounted the moment from his point of view to XXL around the track’s 20th anniversary. “(Q-Tip) handed me the ball. He was setting me up with an alley-oop. I could just dunk the shit on niggas. That was his idea. Once it got to the, 'As I combine all the juice from the mind,' that was me all day. He heard that 16 bars of the verse I said, he said, ‘Nigga, I’m gonna set you up to come in so crazy. That verse is so retarded! Nigga, I got to set that bitch up right.’ I was like, ‘Alright, big homie what you got in mind for me?’ He said, ‘I want you to say this line in my verse.’ I said, ‘Alright, cool.’ Did it and went into my shit. My life changed dynamically after that.”

The Leaders went on to do a second album, but internal tension continued. After “Scenario,” Busta was tapped for more collaborations. His energy immediately elevated everything, even just talking trash on an interlude.

His rapidly ascending star was a problem within the group, namely with him and Charlie, in part because Charlie considered himself the leader. The cracks became publicly visible, right up to the point of the group famously breaking up on air in front of Yo! MTV Rap’s cameras, mid-interview with Fab Five Freddy. Good news, Bus and Charlie finally reconciled in 2012.

Bus the Magic Dragon

Leaders split in 1993, but it took a few years for Busta to finally release his solo debut. For artists with heat and anticipation, that kind of delay can prove dangerous, however in that span of time Bus didn’t lose any energy or clout. Between LONS’ last album and his debut in ‘96, he had a look on another legendary posse cut, once again holding down the close.

From the first single of The Coming, it was clear that Bus was no longer an underground backpack rapper. He had graduated from repping the MTA-taking, still living at the parents’ crib, fresh out of school set; to pushing Lex’s through Times Square with Hype Williams budgets and major radio play. The years of 1993 to 1996 were a damn near time-warp sized leap in hip-hop, but Busta made the transition with no hiccups.

“Woo Ha” is the essence of Busta Rhymes in one record. It’s loud and disorienting and distracting - the track sounds like of like a distorted carnival calliope. It’s also fun, and almost annoyingly catchy. But it’s not silly. It’s a mistake to ever confuse Busta’s playful energy as silly (which is why I take umbrage with the “jester” descriptors). It takes skill to spit whimsical rhymes without just stringing a bunch of hat, cat, bat rhymes together. Busta and Missy Elliott both did that well, and they both translated it to visuals with great success. (Honestly, why more people don’t talk about the two of them as hip-hop’s creative twins is beyond me, but that’s another sermon). Hype’s fisheye lens was tailor-made for the two artists, and with his help, Busta’s first solo outing revealed that he wasn’t simply talented and animated, but a creative visionary. His delay was perhaps beneficial because he landed right at the beginning of the golden era of music videos.

Once Busta’s solo career was moving, it was full speed. Elektra had given him the Flipmode Squad imprint, and he was working not only on his own moves but building his camp. Between solo projects and Flipmode, he cranked out six albums in as many years before slowing down with his last two studio releases.

The Coming was a solid debut, but it wasn’t a classic. Really more of a follow-up from all his features; proof that his Busta-ness could sustain more than sixteen hot bars and some adlibs.

When Disaster Strikes announced his versatility and staying power. The first time I heard “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” on Hot 97, I was in my little cubicle at my first full-time job, and before the song was even all the way over, my friend and coworker called me from her cube down the hall, “That beat is so sick, I’m nauseous. I might throw up right now.” The beat was sick. More surprisingly, though, Bus had toned his flow down so we could appreciate his wordplay, and rode the Seals and Croft sample perfectly. This was a flow we hadn’t heard from him before – but he’d done it as a joke, after Puff and Q-Tip told him to chill with all the screaming on tracks because “b*tches don’t wanna do that sh*t all the time.”
This is such a great big homie/little homie story.

Then, the video dropped. Listen (motions you to come closer), I’m not supposed to curse, but that shit was. a. f***ing. moment.

No blogs. No social media. But everybody was talking about this amazing ass video. The theme, the dancers, the women, the costumes, the damn elephant! The combination of Busta, Hype, Fatima Robinson, and production designer Ron Norsworthy (who also designed the sets for “Woo Haa,” “Supa Dupa Fly,” “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” and “If I Ruled the World”) came together for a stunning, surrealist take on Coming to America. And while Bus hadn’t toned down his extra-large performance style, it was obvious this was grown man Bus. Established artist, comfortable in his space Bus. The outlandish fits were a little less outlandish - and tailored. They looked expensive. Plus he’d been in the gym, and his locks were intricately and immaculately styled. This was a platinum artist – even if he hadn’t hit the sales yet at the time.

Bus’s glow up didn’t change the playfulness and incredible imagination driving his art. His follow up single, “Dangerous,” came from an old Long Island Regional Poison Control PSA warning kids not to play with prescription meds. I know we have plenty of nursey rhymes-turned rap songs in the annals of hip-hop, but I’m still baffled at the mind that said “Yo, remember that commercial about drugs? We should flip that.” Oh, but that's why it's Flip Mode! (Imagine Weebay gif here.)

Bus and Hype delved into movie territory again for the video, borrowing from Lethal Weapon and The Last Dragon (Bus is such an obvious Sho Nuff). Part of the reason Spliff Star is the greatest hype man in hip-hop history (except for maybe Flavor Flav), is his ability to so perfectly play Arsenio Hall to Busta’s Eddie Murphy.

If you don’t care to give Bus credit for being one of the most agile and adaptable MCs of his time, you have to acknowledge the inspired originality in his videos. Again, the only person even touching him in ideas and innovation was Missy.

It’s not an accident that Busta is featured in two of the 11 most expensive videos of all time (two of the top three most expensive if you limit it to hip-hop). “What’s it Gonna Be” remains Hype Williams’ biggest budget. This is the kind of budget you get once you’re not just a rap star, but a crossover hit, a benchmark Busta had reached by his third album E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event).

Busta’s complete albums haven’t been super consistent - a reason he’s overlooked as one of the greats of the era – but his singles and videos rarely failed, until the early aughts.

Also, the Harlem Nights scene in this video is also incredibly underrated. Mo’nique was perfect.

The People’s Choice

Busta is a cameo MVP, for obvious reasons. From the time he shouted, “Oh my God” over a Tribe track, Busta has been a go-to choice when folks want to turn the joint up a little.

I mentioned two of the most expensive videos of all time. “Victory” was the second, more expensive one. What other rapper can you perch on a statue at the top of a towering building in some dystopian, Running Man-esque scenario, covered in feathers, and it seem perfectly normal? Like “Oh, hey Bus.”

Even when Busta is opening a posse cut instead of closing it out, he adds a little extra something. “Ante Up” didn’t exactly need any additional cranking up, but why not?

I’m guessing that Busta would consider his most significant career features – aside from “Scenario” – to be the four tracks he was part of for ATCQ’s comeback album, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. Also Tribe’s final album due to the passing of Phife Dawg, We Got It from Here…  reunited not only core group members – including original member Jarobi White – but also brought together “unofficial” folks, like Consequence and Busta.

Bus stepped in for Phife at the 2017 Grammys for the incredible performance of the timely and topical “We the People.”

The Showman and the Hypeman

As I said before, it’s a mistake to believe Busta is any less serious of an artist because of his humor and high energy style. He’s remained active in the game for the last 30 years because his love for the art is real. He once referenced a concept instilled by Chuck D: CLAMP. “That’s this thing he would say when we was trying to get on,” he told The Daily Beast. “(He said) ‘If you muthafuckas don’t got your concept, your lyrics, your attitude and appearance, your music and performance right, you don’t have a CLAMP on this shit.’ I took that, applied it to everything: Concept. Lyrics. Attitude/Appearance. Music. Performance.”

People who know Busta personally or have seen him live often rank him amongst the best live performers in hip-hop. Bus will give the same performance in front of 24 people as he will in front of 24,000. He boasted during promo for The Coming, “If I have to bark louder, I will. If I get on stage before the other man, I’m taking all that energy, just to make sure he don’t catch wreck.” And right next to him, keeping the energy going, is Spliff Star.

Spliff has known Bus most of his life, and worked with him his entire solo career. As the hype man becomes a relic of the old school and members of artist’s camps eschew the name, Spliff is proud of being both one of the last hype men standing, and one of the best to ever hold the title.

“If I was going to be the hype man, I was going to be the best hype man,” Star told VIBE in a recent interview. “I wanted them to remember my name. Spliff Star never dropped a solo album, and I’m still a household [brand]. When the books close on hip-hop, I hope I’m on one of the pages, even if it’s on the last page.”

It helps that Bus and Spliff are of the same mind about the importance of a tight performance, something that even the Leaders agreed on. Early hip-hop performances could be boring unless the MC had dancers and/or danced himself (like Big Daddy Kane and Heavy D), or was high energy (like L.L.), or just magnetic (like Eric B. and Rakim). The acts you knew would deliver an excellent show had added elements to keep the energy up. We joke about Flavor Flav now, but his energy paired with Chuck D’s commanding voice and the S1W’s military maneuvers added up to a hell of a show.

“When you get on stage, you’re supposed to give the people a performance. I’m passionate about mine,” Spliff added. “I want you to be like, ‘Yo, that light skinned n***a was whyling.’ I want to bring you that energy, so when you see me, you know what it is. And if you see Busta performing by himself, you know it can’t be the same if I ain’t there.”

The Big Homie

A major point of distinction between Busta and some of his contemporaries is his desire to bridge the gap between his generation and the new. While he doesn’t love everything he hears, he doesn’t dismiss current music as out of hand, either. Because of his own experience coming up under more seasoned artists, he believes in mentoring and helping new artists find their way. “Leaders of the New School, we had a bunch of artists in a clique called New School Society,” he has explained. “Then we broke up, I start my own shit: Flipmode… There was always a lineage. I’m always an advocate for putting out artists, breaking artists, creating legacies and careers – and being able to pass on the information, giving them some guidance. Something that we can be proud of.”

Past what most would consider his peak years, Busta collaborated with artists including Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, ASAP Ferg, O.T. Genasis and more, plus projects with his contemporaries, like The Abstract and the Dragon mixtape with Q-Tip. Some may argue he needs to sit down and chill, especially after he fell off stage a few years ago during a performance. Bus claims he’s not trying to keep up with the young cats, just stay connected. He’s not stopping yet, either. Producer 9th Wonder tweeted a couple of years ago that new Busta music is coming, and I personally have confirmation that he is, indeed, in the studio. He still loves this, and still wants us to feel how he feels.

In 1998, Tourè asked Busta what kept him motivated in his career. Busta’s response was that there was no other option. “I attribute that to having no Plan B. No other plan of survival. A sense of determination that’s so extreme, I can’t accept failure as an option. I dropped out of school in the tenth grade; I don’t know any trades; I don’t know any particular field of business. If I don’t win at this rap shit, then I’ma really be fucked up.”

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past. 

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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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