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Courtesy of The Flight Club

Views From The Studio: Producer P2J Discusses 'The Lion King: The Gift' Album

P2J discusses "Brown Skin Girl," the sonic marriage between dancehall and Afrobeats, and making music definitive of the Diaspora.

When P2J was 14 years old, he had an insightful moment that solidified his career. In school, he realized that spending his time with his head in a textbook was not the path for him. After his history teacher noticed his aloofness, the instructor recommended that P2J transfer to a music course to nurture his creativity. As an adolescent, the South London native never entertained a career in music but the class opened up his senses to a new form of expression that would lead him to work with today's leading artists.

“It’s crazy because there was a loud voice in my head that said ‘this is your calling, this is what you need to do,’” he says. “It was weird how everything happened. It was meant to be and I feel like God put me there for a reason. I always knew I wanted to make music from when I made my first beat and when I saw people’s reaction to it, I think that’s what drove me to really want to do this because the reaction gave me a buzz, a feeling like, ‘Wow, my sound is making people feel this way.’”

Paying homage to his Nigerian roots, P2J looked to pioneering musicians like Fela Kuti and Sunny Ade to order his steps behind the soundboards. He went from curating his “Hands In The Air” project with local kids to producing Stormzy’s “Bad Boys” off of the grime rapper’s debut album Gang Signs & Prayer. P2J’s production eventually landed him stateside where he worked on Chris Brown’s Heartbreak on a Full Moon soundscape and later traveled back overseas to produce for Burna Boy’s studio third album, Outside. Now, P2J can hang his hat on another momentous album: the Beyonce-executive-produced The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack.

For VIBE’s “Views From The Studio” series, P2J discusses his melodic contribution to The Lion King: The Gift, the sonic marriage between dancehall and Afrobeats, and making music definitive of the Diaspora.

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Recently you responded to a tweet by someone who mentioned you went from making “Hands In The Air” to working with Beyonce, which must’ve been a major milestone. Explain that feeling from 2007 to now being an in-demand producer?
It’s been a very long journey. Where I started I was working with kids in the area. From there I moved into the Afrobeat world. When I started making Afrobeat music that’s when I realized the world needs to hear this sound. That was my goal for years, to cross genres and anywhere I could fit in an Afrobeat rhythm or a vibe or an artist I would try to cross it in my production and give it that feel. That’s always been my goal.

When I worked on The Gift, it was a big moment for me because everything I was working toward felt like it was for this moment right here. I felt like this could be the door to open up everything for this genre of music. Coming from where I come from, South London, to where it is now, it’s a big moment especially for producers over here as well. There are a lot of producers that are crazy talented over here that make Afrobeats or Afro-infused music. This could be a chance for the door to be open for everyone to flood through and show their talent. This is a big moment for me personally and a big thing for African music. My aim is to be one of the producers that opened the door for a lot of Nigerian producers or young producers that are coming through to do what you do. Don’t feel like you have to conform to anything. Do what you do and the world will hear. I’m just grateful and happy that it’s on this project. It’s not just a normal project. It’s the soundtrack for a huge film and a huge artist. It’s a great moment.

What have you noticed about your talent and craft from that point on?
Sonically my sound has definitely changed and evolved. It’s a cleaner sound now, but I still feel like I kept my rawness, but it has a polished sound to it. I call it my groove, which for me is what drives my production. My style of playing, my melody and my chords compliment my grooves quite well. My groove is one thing I worked hard at my whole career and tried to master.

Your production is bright and makes you want to dance but can get gritty like Stormzy’s “Bad Boys.” Explain that diversity?
I’m a feels person. I go off of feels and energy. With Stormzy I produced that with my boy E.Y. The mood I had was very dark and sinister. I thought this could be something crazy. I feel like a lot of my feels and the way I play has a lot to do with the artist as well. The energy from the artist when I’m in the room, if I feel like this moment needs this kind of energy, then I’ll try to make that to be mellow, vibrant, dark. I don’t have a specific way of working but I know when I do create, especially when I make my Afrobeat stuff, I try to make a groove that people can move to whether it’s dark or vibrant. That’s my goal.

How’d you come on board for The Gift?
It started with “Brown Skin Girl.” It started as an idea with SAINt JHN. They heard it on their side and they liked it. They heard some of my other productions and called me to come and work on the project. From there it was creating, vibing, trying to hit the pocket of the film, making sure the themes were interlocked with the music and just trying to get the vibe and energy right. “Brown Skin Girl” was the first song that probably put me in the rooms and got me working on the project.

Beyonce said it’s like a love letter to Africa. Where did you pull your inspiration from to speak to her statement?
I just listened to a lot of the music that was out at the time. A lot of music that was an inspiration to me was Fela’s music. I listened to a lot of music that makes people dance, Wizkid’s songs, Burna Boy’s songs, Tekno’s songs. I studied dance videos on YouTube to see what pocket they move and dance to. For me, I wanted to make people move and dance. That’s one thing I know Beyonce wanted, a lot of energy. She wanted people to have that feeling that it’s from Africa like the dance moves were from Africa. A lot of inspiration came from there, and sonically and production-wise my inspiration came from there.

Do you believe this album has the power to open up doors for listeners to research different artists from Africa’s many regions? There's an article on Okayplayer that outlined how East African musicians could've benefited from being featured on this album?
I think this is a big stepping-stone for people that don’t know about certain artists on this project to research their music. There’s a whole variety of Afrobeats that they never heard before. That person will link to another person and that person will link to another person and open up more doors. This is why this is a big project because the people that are on the project are going to open doors for other artists from Africa. Even Beyonce putting artists from Africa on this project is going to open up doors for listeners to then take in these artists. The other way around as well, being on a project with Beyonce is going to open up doors for other younger artists coming through to say, “These artists have done it so that we can come through and shine. We can put our sound out there and people are going to listen to our music because it’s growing.”

For this section of questions, I want you to give the background on the songs you produced on The Gift, starting with “Ja Ara E.”
I made the beat and I had Burna Boy in mind before I showed it to him. I met him in London and we had a melody idea but we didn’t work on it. I was like, “We’re going to come back to it because we have some time.” We linked up in L.A. He was working on something else. I remembered it and I played it. I said, “Remember this song we had from London?” I played it and he was like “This is crazy!” He wrote it in the session. The team heard it and was like, “This is crazy!”

You’ve worked with Burna Boy in the past, specifically on his track “Anybody.” What’s the process behind that melody?
Whenever I make a beat for him, I always have a feeling this one should be for Burna. I always make it and then hold it. When I play it for him he feels the same energy. Every time I make the beat, I put Burna’s name on it without him even hearing it. It’s a spiritual thing and we make what we make. It always comes out feeling amazing. The first song I’ve done with him is called “Koni Bajer” which is on his last project Outside. I was in session engineering for him. It was the first time I ever met him. He was like, “You got new beats?” I said, “Yes, I made a beat two years ago and I had you in mind.” I played it for him, he loved it, and then he recorded it and it ended up being “Koni Baje.” Ever since then it’s been the same process. I play him a beat and he connects with it. If he likes it, he lays it.

Also “Devil In California” possesses a different sound from previous songs.
I produced that one with Ari PenSmith. That was a different vibe. I felt like we wanted to experiment with different vibes, sounds, energy. That’s the good thing about working with Burna Boy, he has raw vibes.

Next on The Gift album is “Don’t Jealous Me.”
We started watching dance videos and looking at different energetic songs, songs that make you want to dance instantly. We started making the idea with who is featured on the song as well. We had a vibe and we did “Water” in the same day. We went in there and started jamming out with the energy.

“Water”
It started that same way. I listened to a lot of Congolese music and got the guitar rhythm that felt vibrant. I got my guy to play guitar and he sent it over to me. I got a vibe straight away from it, the drums, the idea down and the rest follows.

“Keys To The Kingdom”
That song was a co-production. Producer Northboi [Oracle] started it and I came and added my sauce where it was needed, where things could be enhanced, I added extra drums, extra melodies. That was a cool collaborative process because the song was growing.

“Scar”
That was a collaboration as well. I started it with Ari. He started playing some keys and I was like “this is nice.” I just put a little percussion beat on top of it and had an idea with 070 Shake. She came in and did this crazy idea on it. From there my production was added on top of it and it was a good process.

“Brown Skin Girl”
I had a groove that started prior to that day and I had the snare and drums. Then I pulled out a piano but I wanted it to feel a certain way. I wanted it to feel like it was outside, chilling on a porch, a playground or the park, that’s why it’s very minimal. I wanted it to feel very intimate. The piano rift came to me instantly. I didn’t think about it. I just put my hands on the keys and God just guided me. That’s exactly what you guys are hearing. I didn’t want it to sound too clean. I wanted it to have a real rawness to it, to feel extremely intimate but have a vibe to it also. As soon as the idea was done I felt like it was very special. It was a crazy moment. I felt like this could be a beautiful story and I’m glad about the timing. I can’t explain how I feel about it right now, but it’s a beautiful moment. I can’t put it into words. The day we made it I felt that it was special.

So it was a conscious decision to produce with minimal instruments?
Yes, I didn’t want to add a lot of production to it at all. I wanted to keep it as minimal as possible because the message is so beautiful and strong that I want it to cut through. Sometimes when you hear ballads it’s just keys and it’s just a moment. You don’t need anything. You might have a string here or there but it’s just a moment. I want it to have that same feel but I still want it to have a groove to it, have people dance to it, and it still have a message. You can cry to it, you can dance to it, you can do whatever you want with this song but it’s still a moment that’s why I wanted to keep it as minimal as possible. I didn’t want to overproduce it. I felt like it would’ve taken away and I did try a few things, but I felt like it was taking away from what I originally had in my head. On this song, less was definitely more. It’s funny because somebody tweeted me saying, “I’m upset that P2J didn’t add to the production at the end but I’m so happy that he didn’t.” That’s the feeling I want you to have, to feel like should it have more but, “No, I love it the way it is.” Feel the song’s energy, you know what it’s supposed to be doing.

Were you aware that Blue Ivy Carter was going to be on the song?
Me and my friend spoke about it and we thought it would be cool, I didn’t know she was actually going to be on it. Maybe the idea trickled up and trickled down and put her on it. That was a huge moment in itself.

Out of all the labels associated with Afrobeat, like Afropop, Afrofusion, Afrohouse, what purpose does the music seek to amplify despite the subgenres?
The purpose of it is a wide scope. Even with certain artists like artists from Ghana that do a genre that’s like afro-reggae, there are artists that cross genres with reggae or R&B and house music as well, which is a big scene in South Africa dance music. It’s a thing where all these genres are coming to light now. The purpose it’s serving is big because there’s a lot of collaborations happening now. Chris Brown and Davido, those are two artists from two different worlds that have done a song together. That’s the R&B, Afrobeat fusion. It’s all for the greater good. Wizkid, Beyonce, another big collaboration there. I feel like we’re in the age of collaboration and this sound is carrying onto the world. People are taking to it and want to learn about and soak in and be a part of.

That’s interesting you mentioned the overlap with certain artists. I know you worked with GoldLink on his Diaspora album which is a blend of genres. One song you produced, “Yard,” is reminiscent of that blurred line between Afrobeats and dancehall. How do you think the genres can overlap?
In London, those genres are very intertwined. It’s growing out of London as well and getting exposed to where a Jamaican artist or a Nigerian artist come together to do a collaboration. Sonically as well, the rhythms and the vibes are very close and connected. That’s an amazing thing because it’s almost like a genre that’s not there, it hasn’t been created. That’s a beautiful thing about music because you can express yourself and not be pigeonholed. Even if it’s intertwined and one mash of everything, I think that’s amazing.

What was it like working with GoldLink?
It was an amazing and beautiful learning process for me. One thing that I got a lot of feedback from was that it felt energetic, that you want to have a good time. That’s exactly what we felt in the studio. It was enjoyable. We were trying to figure out which songs would fit this moment but everything played its part, everything happened for a reason. This project will stand out for years to come and people can enjoy it in years to come as well.

“Zulu Screams” is a standout on the album. How’d that song come to be?
I started that beat in 2014. I was working on my own project at the time. I had a guitar riff and percussion idea on top of it. When I met GoldLink he showed me a song he wanted to try a flow with. It was an Afrobeat. I said, “I think I might have something for you.” We went to the studio the next day, I showed him the idea and he was like, “This is crazy!” That session was like a party. GoldLink was writing, going in bar for bar as the beat was playing. Ari came in and wrote the hook and it felt amazing.

“Maniac” and “Coke White” don’t have those same vibes. Both melodies are more geared toward hip-hop rhythms. Can you explain that switch up?
Before I was making Afrobeats music I was making rap and grime, that heavy and gritty sound, stuff that people can do flows on. That’s something I’m very close to. This is another avenue that I can shine and show I can do it in a different way. OBR sent me a sample and then I took it, flipped it and made a beat around it. The same thing with the second half of “Coke White,” Goldlink’s part. It was a sample from Kurtis [Mckenzie] and [Sean] Momberger. I got the sample from there and flipped it again and made the beat around it. I went in my rap bag and tried to create something energetic and something people could go crazy over.

What does Diaspora mean to you and how do you translate that into your productions?
It’s drawing sounds from all around. We tried to hone in on black people and black music. Before that, every black person essentially is one but we draw from different energies and sounds. We try to do the same thing musically and draw from the Afrobeat world, the reggae world, the hip-hop world and merge it into one and make something that’s fun and cool and have a good time. We want it to have depth as well and hone in on the fact that this is a black album. That’s what it means for me in this project and that’s what we tried to do production-wise, sonically. For example the Wizkid song (“No Lie”), it’s not an Afrobeat song but he’s singing on a really mellow sound, trap-influenced beat. It’s a completely different vibe, different energy from a different world. It’s essentially one world.

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Martin Lawrence And Will Smith's May 1995 Cover Story: 'Flippin' The Script'

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 1995 issue of VIBE Magazine.

One big summer movie - Bad Boys. Two prime-time funnymen - Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Teaming up to bust caps as well as guts, Smith and Lawrence are an odd couple on the screen and off. Scott Poulson-Bryant talks with both of them about Blowing Up and Growing Up.

Written By: Scott Poulson-Bryant Photographs By: Jon Ragel

When you think about it, it's downright unprecedented. Prime-time television's biggest black stars—Will Smith of The Fresh of Bel-Air and Martin Lawrence of Martin—are starring in Bad Boys, a big-budget Hollywood action comedy full of stunts and explosions and big, crowd-pleasing laughs. Two for the price of one. Call it Beverly Hills Cop 2 meets Miami Twice.

It's easy to think these entertainers, who hold sway over their own hit network sitcoms, would have been at each other's throats, throwing prima donna shade over the slightest of perceived slights. But according to both actors, things were smooth. "We basically ad-libbed every scene," Will says. "It was two and a half months of two of the silliest guys in comedy doing exactly what they wanted to."

In Bad Boys, they play two Miami detectives in the special narcotics division whose temperaments are 180 degrees apart: Will is Mike Lowrey, a flashy playboy; Martin is Marcus Burnett, a homebody family man with a mortgage to pay. After making the biggest arrest in the department's history, the duo have to find the thief who stole $100 million worth of heroin from the station house, or they'll lose their jobs.

Smith and Lawrence weren't necessarily playing their roles from experience—offscreen they're different, but not in the way the Bad Boys are. At the time of filming, Will was the married-with-child brother who wanted to focus on family values, and Martin was the recently dis-engaged rascal, doing his thing on the singles scene. Now, on the eve of the film's release, it seems they've done another role reversal. Will Smith is grappling with an impending divorce from Sheree, his wife for more than two years, and with how it will affect their two-year-old son, Willard C. "Trey" Smith III. He says he's not yet ready to talk about the situation, though he does note that the sudden death of his infant half brother, Sterling, took him back to Philly, where he now intends to spend more time. On the flip side, Martin Lawerence got married in January to ex beauty queen Patricia Southall. He and his wife are planning for children, and Lawrence, after a year of professional ups and downs, looks at the future with great expectations.

Everything's happening so fast for these two transplanted twentysomething East Coast guys who found fame and fortune out West by doing their versions of black-boy cool for the masses. So fast and furious, in fact, that crammed schedules never allowed all three of us to meet at the same time. I had to wait endlessly for Martin. First he was just back from his Caymans honeymoon, then he said he had injured his back, then he was busy finishing his show's "Player's Ball" episode, featuring an array of blaxploitation stars. All that waiting, however, left plenty of time to chill with the very accommodating Will Smith.

We spent one day cruising around L.A., pumping Teddy Riley's BLACKstreet tape in Will's white Ford Bronco. I had been there last June when the media began its all-out assault on OJ, so driving along the freeway in this particular ride with a black male superstar at my side took on an almost surreal quality. "I had mine before all that started," Will noted. But the irony didn't escape him. When the ringing car phone signaled Will's booming system to automatically pause, one thing raced through my mind: The rich really are different. But the price of livin' large is steep out in this bright-lights, big-titty world, where dream seekers flock and where black boys, in particular, come to Blow Up, if not to Grow Up. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are trying their best to do both.

Caverting around the low-key set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air wearing oatmeal colored linen and boots, Will Smith seems thinner in person, wiry almost, even though he had to follow an extensive workout regimen for his movie role. His face does its trademark dance between seriousness and just buggin', the balancing act between sophistication and boyishness that has kept this 26-year-old in the public eye for the past eight years.

Smith's office conveys the same sense of his multi-layered self. A big-screen TV is in one corner, the tangled joystick cords of a Sega video game in front of it. A mini-stereo rests on a low table, surrounded by cassettes. A plethora of gold and platinum DJ JazzyJeff and the Fresh Prince records line the far wall, a reminder of the up-and-down road that led to Will Smith's current state of Blowing Up affairs. And adjacent to that wall hangs a huge painting—by a fan from Miami—of Will uncharacteristically in repose. It doesn't seem vain for Will Smith to have a massive painting of himself in his dressing room. One gets the impression he needs his, more serious side to look down upon him, to bestow the necessary intensity to reach his goal: to be the reigning funnyman in the prime-time wars—which is as serious a job as any, as Martin Lawrence also well knows.

"What makes you an effective superhero is that you don't want to be," says Bad Boys costar Will Smith. "Like Bruce Willis in Die Hard--- the last thing he wanted to do was run over that glass barefoot."

With five years of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air under his belt, Will Smith has the hip teen thing down. I ask him if he thinks he's a natural clown—considering the comedic video persona of his early rap days and raucous appearances on late-night talk shows—and he laughs. "I'm just outgoing," he says, then pauses, as if that doesn't quite sum it up. Then he jumps right back in to answer, appearing to try out responses in his mind as he goes along. "I'm comfortable enough to impose myself on my surroundings," he continues. "That's the best way to describe it, really. It's a gift. It's the ability to impose myself on my surroundings without making people feel imposed upon."

Good answer, I'm thinking, as he continues on, knowing innately that a good answer isn't enough. Only a great answer will suffice. "But it's always been like that. When I was younger, it was more about being different when everyone else wanted to fit in. I always wanted how I talked or my clothes to be different. Peer pressure never meant anything to me. If something was done one way, something in me resisted it."

He pauses again and laughs. "It was the same way in my music. Something in me enjoyed coming to New York from Philly and people not liking us at first. When everyone else was trying to act tough and grab their dicks, the first thing anyone heard me say on record was, 'Oh man, my eye! This guy just punched me in my eye for nothing.' I enjoyed that. I strove for that. Oris is it strived? Or striven?" He throws his hands in the air, deferring to the writer in the room. "Whatever, just put it right in the article."

Will Smith can make that kind of demand. In fact, you want him to make demands of you because he's so demonstrative, acting out scenes from his life when words won't suffice, rapping entire verses of "The Message" to make his point about rap's changing style, reciting complete Tony Montana monologues from Scarface to illustrate a point you just made, challenging your taste in movies ("You haven't seen Pulp Fiction yet?"), challenging you to one-up him ("Don't you wanna ask me some more questions?"). But it's almost more interesting just to observe Will Smith. He's a perpetual performer, always doing his job, always giving his all.

Six years ago, though, the Fresh Prince nearly gave it all away, nearly lost the crown off his head. He blew up too big too fast, and it all came crashing down. He suddenly went broke. His first album, 1987's Rock the House, went gold the following year. Then 1988's He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper eventually sold 3 million copies, spurred by the single "Parents Just Don't Understand." Next, And in This Corner merely went gold, before 1991's Homebase, the return to Philly roots featuring "Summertime," went platinum. His most recent album, 1993's Code Red, went gold. The DJ. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince phone line, the first celebrity 900 number, minted money—in its day it was the second-highest-grossing line behind Dial-A-Joke. "In '87-'88 I was rich," he says. "In '89 I was broke."

Broke like, rich-folks broke? I ask. No dollars in your pocket, but a couple hundred thou tied up in investments and CDs? He laughs and shakes his head vigorously. "Nah, man. I was broke. Like, can't-buy-gas, sell-the-car broke. Actually, you know what? Sell everythingbroke. I was a moron. I had the suburban mansion, a motorcycle, I was traveling the world. I was 18 and the world was open, and when the world is open like that it makes you crazy, you want everything. I wasn't any happier with money, and I wasn't any less happy when I went broke. It hurt, and mentally it was tough dealing with, but inside it didn't change. I still had my family, and I could still have a good time. I could still laugh."

He rebounded in a new arena-prime-time TV as the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, post-Cosby sitcom with a nod to The Jeffersons: movin' on up with a hip hop twist. Then, through sheer force of will, Smith made it to the big screen in 1992, debuting in Where the Day Takes You as a wheelchair-bound street kid. His role in the Whoopi Goldberg comedy Made in America (and the screams of teenage girls on the set) led to his landing the plum role of Paul, the sad, confused con man in the critically acclaimed film version of the Broadway hit Six Degrees of Separation. In the process, Will Smith's screen persona grew exponentially, acquiring layers of resonance devoid of the street corner histrionics usually demanded of young black male actors.

As Smith copes privately with the dissolution of his marriage to a woman who shunned the amusement park of the klieg lights, his public persona enters the high-stakes world of shoot-'em-up, make-'em-laugh, big-bank movies. And he may have just found his Axel Foley—the role that will give him a defining big-screen image. Produced by the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer team behind Eddie Murphy's Beverly Hills Cop series, Bad Boys stretched Smith in ways he's never been stretched before.

"With all that jumping and shooting when you're making an action movie, you realize that it's a stunt, not a trick," he says. "And it brings out all that testosterone. I saw how the situation brings that stuff out in people. Everybody has an action hero in them; everyone wants to kick in a door and shoot somebody." On the other hand, he says, "I knew it had to be as real as possible, because what makes you an effective superhero is that you don't want to be. Like Bruce Willis in Die Hard the last thing he wanted to do was run over that glass barefoot. People can't relate to a guy who just jumps in front of bullets."

Martin Lawrence knows that too, considering the potshots he's taken in public over the past year. Coming on the sitcom scene more than two years ago as Martin Payne, Lawrence instantly became the quotable cock of the walk with a bop in his step. He was the leading man in Martin (the funniest post-hip hop black show on the air) and did double duty as the host of the successful Def Comedy jam.

But somewhere along the line, Martin lost its stride. Year No. 2—the 1993-94 TV season—was supposed to be the one in which its star, Martin Lawrence, Blew Up, bringing his candid ghetto realness to the moviegoing, record-buying masses with his first concert film, You So Crazy, and comedy album, Talkin' Shit. Things didn't quite work out that way. The endearing wannabe who played Bilal (a.lea. Dragon Breath) in the House Party movies seemed to morph into a larger-than-life, self-made superstar from the 'hood, whose comeuppance was—like Tony Montana's—just around the corner.

First, there was his battle with the Motion Picture Association of America over the NC-17 rating they slapped on his concert film, You So Crazy. Of course there was race issues here (why a brotha gotta get the NC-17?) and censorship issues (why a brotha gotta get told what to say?), but what got lost in all the hoopla was that this comedic performance didn't meet the high standards he had already set for himself. Neither did his next notorious public moment.

Last winter, on his first Saturday Night Live hosting gig, Lawrence brought Def Comedy Jam to Lorne Michaels's crib. It was a debacle. Spraying the small stage with the scent of his insecurity and nervousness, Lawrence littered his opening monologue with scatological references that play fine on cable but shocked NBC's brass. He subsequently found himself at the center of a media storm regarding his not-ready-for-network language and subject matter, which ultimately led to his being de-scheduled from an appearance on Jay Leno.

Looking back at the whole situation, Lawrence believes he was "set up" by the SNL people ("They kept telling me, 'Do what you do.' And I did.") and admits to a certain nervous energy that informed his antics. He also says that after so many black folks came out to see him at Radio City Music Hall in New York earlier that year, he anticipated playing to a more racially mixed studio audience. Yet ultimately he chalks the disaster up to youth, to being intimidated by the history and mythology of the once-cutting-edge late-night dinosaur. But for a minute there, it looked like Martin Lawrence was about to be taken out like just another sucker MC.

Lawrence wasn't going to let that happen. He laid low after enduring those storms, held back on public appearances, broke up with his then girlfriend, actress Lark Voorhies, and concentrated on Martin—which was still being talked about, although two years into its run the funniest thing people were saying about the show was that it wasn't funny anymore. (And exactly where was Sheneneh, anyway?) Lawrence also started looking for a movie script that would have a "buddy-buddy feel to it, but something that was real, that would be good for my audience and work for other audiences as well." Which was probably a good move for him: That way he wouldn't have to carry the burden, or the risk, alone—as he did in his concert film and on SNL. 

He found Bad Boys, a movie that was, ironically, originally slated to star former Saturday Night Live clowns Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. In the box-office-friendly blend of action and comedy, perhaps Martin saw the opportunity in his first starring role on the big-screen to follow that other foulmouthed black funnyman who found fame on TV. Eddie Murphy, the post-Pryor model of black comic as household name, has already primed the box office for Lawrence and his generation's brand of raw good humor. Maybe Martin Lawrence too had found his Axel Foley—a role that could establish him as a cinematic franchise with Badder Boys and Even Badder Boys to follow. As creative and fluid as his work can be, Martin's savvy very much includes keeping the business plan in full focus.

"I called him Martin Lawrence King," says Smith of his costar. "It's really important to him to be real, and present himself and his work to his audience with integrity."

Sitting in his small office in the Martin bungalow on the Universal lot, with fake African masks adorning the end tables—"I don't know where they're from," he says casually—Martin Lawrence, dressed in a black turtleneck and gray plaid slacks, comes off less like a creative dynamo than as the Hollywood hyphenate he is: sitcom star, executive producer, sometime writer, and soon-to-be feature film director. He's very wary, even difficult, toward the press these days. Like other stand-up-to-sitcom stars, Martin fought through the usual creative control issues, in part by firing longtime manager and show cocreator Topper Carew, reportedly before a live studio audience. When asked about that incident, his reply is, "I have the utmost respect for him, but I don't wanna go there."

Ask Lawrence if he likes having more power on the set, and he looks at you with a blank stare and asks, "What do you mean by power?" Then he adds, "I have more say, so if I don't like something, we won't do it. If I do like something, we do." Does it make work more difficult with more responsibilities behind the camera? "You have to be the judge of that," he replies tersely. "If people are saying the show's suffering because of it, maybe I'm too much involved in the business."

While making Bad Boys, it wasn't hard for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to find a working rhythm, even though both guys are more accustomed to having straight men than being them. "You never see two brothers from different networks getting together to do something like this," Lawrence gushes. "But we had a lot of fun. We worked hard together. Since both of us have comic timing on the sitcoms, we knew it was just a matter of getting together and finding out how we complemented each other."

"That's the beauty of working with another comic," agrees Smith. "You go in in the morning and you have no clue what's about to happen. I'm used to changing lines on my show, and he does the same thing. It was like a tennis match. He would say something, then I'd toss a line right back."

Smith was also taken with Lawrence's devotion to the social and cultural impact of their collaboration. "He has a lot of interesting insights," Smith says. "I called him Martin Lawrence King. It's really important to him to be real, and present himself and his work to his audience with integrity. We'd talk for hours about whether our coming together would mean anything to young black kids. Would it mean anything that we were being strong enough for it to work with no problems?"

Which begs the ego question. Compared with Will's accessible playfulness, Martin is guarded and defensive in person. Yet on-camera, he invariably thrusts himself centerstage, as if demanding his costars catch up to his manic energy. His mercurial reputation precedes him. When I mention that he's regarded as a taskmaster, Lawrence replies, "I feel everyone should come to the project as I do. If you don't care as much for it as I do, why are you there?"

When I ask Will Smith, "Do you have a big ego?" he replies, "Yeah, I have a huge ego, but I don't impose it on people. You have to have a big ego to be an actor. But I have control over that, because I don't like how it feels when other people throw their weight around. That experience makes me struggle really hard not impose myself on people for selfish reasons. Ego drives you. I think it's really important. But you have to control your ego; you can't let your ego control you."

When I ask Lawrence the same question, he looks at me for about 20 seconds before responding. After a bit of verbal jousting and nonanswers ("Do you think I have one? What defines a big ego?"), I ask him how he's changed as a result of having a hit TV show, a wedding that was covered by the tabloids, and a big summer movie about to drop.

"I've grown up a little more," he says, "though I don't know if I'll ever be fully grown-up, 'cause I ain't trying to lose the kiddish things in me, 'cause that's what I love. I love to bug out and be spontaneous and talk some shit. I changed for the better, and I'm steady trying to get better at what I do. But by the same token, I talk shit. We all do. "Spoken like a true bad boy.

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Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.

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Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

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Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
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Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 

 

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A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

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