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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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Errol Spence Jr. On His Return To The Ring, The Hip-Hop Community's Embrace And More

Having your life flash before your eyes in the blink of a second can shake a person to the core, but on the backend, survivors of that experience often bounce back with a renewed fervor and zest for life. Errol Spence Jr. falls in the latter category, as he's been able to bounce back physically and mentally, from the horrific car accident that could've potentially taken his life in October 2019. Eager to prove his sustained injuries haven't made his claim of being the best pound for pound fighter in the game any less valid, the 30-year-old boxing sensation is set to face fellow welterweight Danny Garcia in a title bout on December 5, 2020, at the AT&T Stadium in his home state, Texas.

A unified champion, having held the IBF title since 2017 and the WBC title since 2019, Spence Jr.—who is currently undefeated, with twenty-six wins on his professional resume—is regarded as one of the most exciting fighters in boxing, with a knockout-to-win ratio of 80.8%. Having garnered comparisons to boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and victories over tough competitors like Kell Brook and Sean Porter, Spence Jr. is highly regarded and battle-tested. However, there have been concerns if he can recover to his previous form, even within his own camp. According to Spence Jr., any doubt was quelled once he got back to what he loves best: letting his intense preparation work its magic in the ring.

"I mean, you have little small doubts when it first happened, things like that," Spence Jr. admits to VIBE via phone. “But I'm very mentally strong, I stay focused. I just got back in the gym and kept working and kept focusing on my skills in boxing. I think my dad and my coach probably had more thoughts of, 'Can I take a punch? Is my reaction time still the same?', and things like that. But once I sparred, it was all basically back to normal. So I just feel like stuff happens for a reason. It happened in my life for a reason and I feel like it refocused me back on the main mission, on the main goal." And that main goal is continuing on his path to boxing supremacy, which could include a road-block in the form of a potential showdown with rival and WBO welterweight champion Terrance Crawford. However, Spence Jr.'s attention is fixated squarely on his upcoming fight, where he'll face Garcia and remind the world of why Texas ain't nothing to play with.

VIBE spoke with Errol Spence Jr. about his return to the ring, earning respect within the hip-hop community, fatherhood, and what fans can expect come Saturday night’s matchup.

"It's the biggest comeback in professional sports." — Derrick James has been amazed with @ErrolSpenceJr's return back to form 😤 #SpenceGarcia #ManDown pic.twitter.com/MMmsnvlUxZ

— FOX Sports: PBC (@PBConFOX) December 1, 2020

VIBE: It's been over one year since your last title fight, in which you defeated Sean Porter. How does it feel to be getting back into the ring?

Errol Spence Jr.: Man, it feels great, really, indescribable. It's a blessing that I can come back in a little over a year and fight at the top level, fight a top opponent like Danny Garcia, and defend my titles. Especially fighting at home at the AT&T Stadium. I don't think it can get any bigger than that, so it's great. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to be doing this at this type of level coming out of my accident, and it's good. It's definitely a blessing.

Shortly after your last fight, you were involved in a single-vehicle accident in the early hours of October 10, 2019, and hospitalized in the intensive care unit. You sustained facial lacerations, but no broken bones. What impact did that experience have on you?

For me, I just feel like it was an unfortunate accident, but it brought me back down to reality. To take care of stuff that's really important in my life and means something in my life and not take things for granted with life and boxing. For me, it made me feel like it got me back on track and focused, and made me hungry for what I really wanted to accomplish in boxing and in life.

What would you say have been the biggest challenges on your journey back from injury?

I would say my biggest challenge was both mental and physical. There were days where I was hurting physically, but I mentally pushed myself or did something to better myself every day. Whether it was training or stretching or doing some type of work that was positive in my life. Whether it was staying focused and rededicated to the work and not slack off. When I had a bad week or bad day, I didn't let it put me down. I went harder the next day, so I would say mentally and physically.

Who are your biggest influences as a boxer and why?

I take stuff from everybody. A lot of people watch boxers just to watch the fighting, but I'm watching footwork. I'm watching how they react to punches, which way they slip, how they block, their counterpunching, everything. I grew up watching guys like Terry Norris, Lennox Lewis, Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones, and Vernon Forrest. All of these great fighters that as you grow up, you're watching their skillset and you know how they throw their punches and how they react to punches. For me, it was a wide variety of different fighters I was watching.

In addition to surviving the accident, another moment that's impacted your life is the birth of your son. How has that changed your outlook on life and how you approach your craft as a boxer? 

I don't think it changes my life as a boxer and how I approach boxing. But it gave me a different perspective 'cause if I didn't survive the accident or something drastic happened, he would've never have been born or I probably never would've had him. I feel like he's a new blessing in my life, definitely a breath of fresh air. I always wanted a son, too. I've got two daughters and this is my first son. It was definitely a blessing to have a III 'cause my dad's name's Errol, too. It's really a blessing to have somebody else who's gonna look up to me and try to do things I do. It's all about setting the example and setting the table up right for him so he can eat, too, when it's his time.

A Texan at heart, you recently bought a sixty-acre ranch in Dallas and even learned how to ride horses. How would you say the culture of Texas impacted you and helped form who you are as a fighter and a person?

I think the culture of Texas impacted me a lot just because of being outside. It's wide open in Texas, everybody's outside. Owning the land basically gives me something to do with the cattle and the horses and all different types of things. I think it's a peace of mind to ride horses that I never had before. I've never been on a horse and I've never even petted a horse prior to me buying land. I feel like it's a positive in my life and it's something that I can pass down to my daughters and son, or they can grow up on a ranch and ride horses. I'm putting their mind into other activities rather than doing the other stuff that's not gonna benefit them.

A large segment of the hip-hop community are boxing fans, with many artists and listeners listing you as one of, if not, their favorite fighter in the game right now. How has it felt to be embraced by the hip-hop community and get that street cred and tag of approval?

I mean, it feels great. Rap culture is hip-hop culture. Period. That's what kids like me grew up on, watching BET and 106th & Park, and all the rappers' videos as a kid. That's basically who we idolized when we saw them get cars and jewelry and girls and money and things like that. Naturally, that's who we were drawn to. So that means a lot to see them embrace me and support me.

What are some songs or artists you usually listen to that get you hyped up while training or before a fight?

Artist-wise, I listen to Lil Baby. I listen to Yella Beezy. Jay-Z, Nas, those type of people when I'm in chill mode. Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo. Yeah, that's about it.

You're currently signed with Premier Boxing Champions, one of the best boxing teams in the game. How has it been working with PBC?

It's been great. That's really all I know so it's been great. I haven't had any complaints, never had any issues, everything's been going well. Everything's been going great, it's been a smooth ride.

Your fight with Sean Porter was billed as one of the best fights of 2019. With him being such a respected fighter, what did you learn or take away from that particular matchup that you'll be using moving forward?

Sean Porter, he's a different fighter. He's basically gonna go out and give his all and brawl and fight. For me, I didn't really learn anything going forward. Everybody just realized that if I have to fight, I can fight. I think I really showed that I can stand there and beat somebody at their own game and really buckle down and be really gritty with opponents if I really have to. I think that's the main thing I learned: that I can fight in the trenches.

Would you say that's been your toughest fight thus far? If not, who would you say presented the biggest challenge thus far and why?

I'd say my toughest matchups so far was...well, I think Sean Porter wasn't my toughest matchup 'cause I feel like it wasn't as mentally tough as Kell Brook. Taking a ten-month layoff and basically fighting someone in their hometown. Going overseas and having to train two weeks before the fight and all the different types of things you have to go through. Training somewhere different, different food and things like that. I would say Kell Brook. The mental preparation was very hard, especially fighting in front of 30,000 of his hometown crowd. That was mentally tough in itself.

On December 5, you'll be fighting Danny García, one of the more imposing boxers in the welterweight division. What do you feel sets Garcia apart from the other boxers you've faced?

I feel like Danny Garcia has great timing. He's very tough, packs a great punch, and he's a guy that's gonna fight. He has a great chin and he'll fight if he has to.

The fight will be taking place at the AT&T Stadium in Dallas. How does it feel to make your return in front of your hometown fans, where it all started?

For me, it feels great. It's a blessing just to fight in my hometown, in front of family and friends. I'm able to get tickets to a lot of family and friends who aren't able to travel to L.A. and New York to come to watch me fight. Just to get that hometown love. They're the people that supported me since day one since I was an amateur. And I feel like it's just a blessing to be able to do that and draw that many fans to really come to support me.

What can fans expect from you once you step in that ring on December 5?

They can expect from me what they get from every fight: an action-packed, one-sided beating. I want everyone tuned in on FOX Sports and Pay-Per-View. It's gonna be exciting. I've never been in a boring fight, Danny Garcia's never been in a boring fight, so [they'll see] an action-packed, electrifying fight.

One name you're constantly mentioned with is Terence Crawford, who many feel is the best pound for pound fighter in the game. What are your thoughts on Crawford as a boxer and are you looking forward to stepping in the ring with him one day to prove you're the undisputed champion of the welterweight division?

Right now, I ain't got no thoughts on Terence Crawford. I feel like l gotta get past Danny Garcia for that fight to even happen. So if I don't focus 100% on Danny Garcia, he's a real spoiler and he spoils the apple cart. My 100% focus is on Danny Garcia right now.

People often speak about the politics of boxing and how it prevents certain fights that the fans are clamoring for. What would be your message to the fans about how the business side of boxing matches up with the entertainment aspect?

I'd tell them to be patient. The fights worth happening are definitely gonna happen, especially if the two fighters want it. But at the end of the day, there's a business side of entertainment. You've got managers, promoters. You've got TV networks involved, things like that, and everybody wants to get paid. It's like you can have a great fighter. If he's not having any draws on TV and nobody likes to watch him and he's boring, he's gonna get shut out. Just like guys like [Guillermo] Rigondeaux. He's a great fighter, but nobody wanted to fight him. He wasn't a crowd-pleaser, so he basically got shut out. You gotta be patient, at the end of the day. Yes, we fight. We take punches and things like that, but we also wanna get paid for what we do. And we wanna get paid righteously just like the manager is gonna get paid righteously and the TV people are gonna get paid righteously, too. We wanna get a fair shake and get paid the same way.

What's next for Errol Spence Jr.?

I just wanna tell everybody that after this fight, I'm gonna go back to the gym and keep working and stay focused. I want everybody to go order the merch. Esjthetruth.com—get your fight merch there. And basically, for me, just like every fight, stay focused, stay dedicated, and stay ready for a call.

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Mark Barboy

Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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T.I.

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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