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RCA Records

Grammy Contender Lucky Daye Is Waving R&B's Melodic Flag With Pride

The singer has painted a sound all his own.

Perhaps it was a baton passed by February 2019 Vibe digital cover star H.E.R. during Grammy that solidified Lucky Daye’s 2020 nominations. At an intimate gathering during Grammy weekend last year, the 2019 Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance winner sweetly sang a rendition of “Roll Some Mo,” much to Daye’s amazement. As H.E.R. struck gold with five nominations last year, walking away with two gramophones, Lucky is poised for a similar fate, nominated for Best R&B Song (“Roll Some Mo”), Best R&B Album (Painted), Best R&B Performance (“Roll Some Mo”), and Best Traditional R&B Performance (“Real Games”). Though the nominations were announced merely two months ago, for Daye, the news finally sunk in as he attended The Recording Academy’s L.A. Chapter Celebration.

“My body doesn't react to verbal news, it’s like a normal thing. I'm so used to expecting stuff that people say--especially in music--and it not happening,” Daye says, as we speak a day following the L.A. Chapter Celebration. “Now that I should be excited early--because I want to be excited this whole time--it [doesn’t] happen until I walk into a room. Then I get all jittery and nervous, like, ‘oh my God, this is happening.'”

While the Grammys have previously been attuned with Black artists accruing few awards (only ten Black artists have won Album of the Year in the show’s 60-year history), the Recording Academy has attempted to diversify their categories. This means adapting to the stark change in the R&B climate, leaning on subgenres and mixtapes, rather than solely mainstream artists. Daye’s 2019 debut album Painted was transfixed in the lush, instrument-driven sounds of funk’s heyday, enriched by vocal sensibilities and near-spiritual opulence, stamping his destiny in R&B. Fellow singer-songwriter Victoria Monet shared with Billboard that Painted was her favorite album of last year, noting that Daye’s hometown of New Orleans was “the soul of the project”. For Daye, Painted wasn’t just a reclamation of home, but a testament of emotional reverence.

“I got a chance to get everything out, like, my deepest emotions and feelings. To finally say it without getting cut off, or to finally say it and not get a rebuttal before I actually try to get people to hear it… Most times, I get feedback and it discourages me, [but] this time, it was too late for anybody to discourage me since the album was done,” he says. “I was already like, ‘I love it, so I don’t care what anybody thinks’. To me, it felt good to get a response from people [but] a positive one, for once. I’m still adjusting, [so] I’m kind of new to how it’s moving and I’m new to the people liking stuff from me. People don’t really get it, it’s a different side of life that I’ve never been on.”

Daye, previously known as D. Brown during a run of being a songwriter and background vocalist, follows a tradition of fellow songwriter-turned-full fledged R&B artists including D’Angelo and Faith Evans. However, he assures that crafting music behind the scenes wasn’t his end goal, as collaborating with producer D’Mile ignited his passion of re-pursuing solo stardom. In a recent Rolling Stone profile of D’Mile, the producer noticed an uptick in contemporary R&B paying homage to the 70’s, notably psychedelic cut “Redbone”, which snagged Childish Gambino a Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance in 2018.

Both Daye and D’Mile followed suit, with their own formulaic reverence to 70’s funk and soul on Painted, ushering in a modern take. Daye mentions that while D’Mile is knowledgeable of music theory, it was Daye’s “chemical imbalance” over D’Mile’s production and radical instrumentation that essentially made them musical soulmates. “When it comes to music, [it] will teach consciousness in the body to be open, to be understanding of everything. To have multiple perceptions, it’s rare, and [D’Mile] has that,” Daye says. “If anything else, we know that at the end of the day, it’s all going to boil down to music. We’re here to do something on Earth at this age and time, and I’m indebted to him.”

For long-time fans of Daye, some were initially surprised once playing the album, as songs featured on his introductory EPs I and II were featured prominently on Painted. For Daye, he wanted to ease his listeners into living with his music for a while longer before presenting the remainder of his debut, unexpectedly recommended by a rap icon. “I didn’t want [fans] to listen to it and be like, ‘yo, it’s a jumble of a bunch of mess’, because honestly, that’s how I felt at the time. I just felt like, ‘they’re not gonna like it’. If we’re going to really put it out and [make] it a big deal, I don’t want to mess this up. The best advice was putting it out piece by piece. I talked to Nicki Minaj about that and that’s where the idea originally came from,” he says, referencing that he accompanied a friend to a studio session with Minaj.

“This was probably eight months before [Painted] came out. We’re sitting in there, they couldn’t come up with [any] ideas and she was like, ‘Why you sitting over there quiet? What you humming? Sounds like you got something if you wanna hop in, you can.’ I just hopped in and freestyled a whole song.”

Taking Minaj’s advice made for the organic success of his EPs, and a gradual acclimation of ‘Daye Ones’--a token for Daye’s dedicated fanbase--especially those who witnessed his performances during a streak of three tours in the past year. After joining Ella Mai and Kiana Lede during Mai’s debut tour, Daye launched into The Painted Tour, later heading to Australia with Khalid during The Spirit Tour. Daye admits the stage is where he’s most carefree, but that he’s still getting acclimated with finding time to rest. “It’s so crazy because I look around [and] sometimes I’ll push my friends too hard, or I’ll push other people too hard because of my expectations,” he says. “Fresh off the Khalid tour, I didn’t sleep for a week, I was like ‘I don’t know what’s going on’. I’m calling doctors, Kehlani’s helping me like, ‘maybe you should drink that’, I just realized it was adrenaline. It’s hard to go to sleep when you’re running off that kind of energy.”

Daye’s adrenaline and charismatic stage presence made his mainly-female audiences buckle at their knees, even intimately crooning select attendees to violin-driven track “Concentrate” at shows. But it was the track “Roll Some Mo” that stood apart from his catalog, instantly becoming a fan favorite and soundtracking The Photograph, which premieres on Valentine’s Day next month. Though “Roll Some Mo” is beloved for its penchant in marijuana-infused desire, Daye says he initially rejected the song being featured on Painted. “That was the fastest song I did. Most times when I write fast, I’m not trying and I felt like I didn’t put my all into it. That’s why, to me, “Roll Some Mo” wasn’t strong. I felt like I could do better, but everyone else was like ‘that’s the one’,” he says. “So I should just write and not think, that’s a lesson I’ve learned from misjudging “Roll Some Mo”: don’t overthink and do not try to make it perfect.”

Long accustomed to songwriting, Daye had a natural inclination to join the ranks of Keep Cool Records, especially the intensity of their songwriting boot camps. Prior guests of the boot camps have included Masego and Baby Rose, and Daye mentions that he also attended recording sessions of Revenge of the Dreamers III on their final day. “It’s so much pressure at writing camps like [Keep Cool Records] because there are so many people that are amazing. They go in with that mindset--and I understand that because I can write, as well--I just don’t do it with that type of intensity, because my confidence has been killed in that area,” Daye says. “Being in a room with those people, you learn different ways to make music and that’s the beauty [of it]. Music is art, it’s in me and I can’t do nothing about that, so to be in that environment is paradise.”

With writing credits for Keith Sweat, Boyz II Men and Keke Palmer years prior to releasing Painted, it was mentorship from Mary J. Blige during recording sessions for Blige’s 2017 album Strength of a Woman, that aided Daye with honing in on lyrical simplicity. Co-writing “Love Yourself” and “U + Me (Love Session)”, with admiration for Blige, Daye even attended her 2018 Walk of Fame commencement. “[Blige] always speaks vulnerability and she always taught me a lot about changing words [for them] to make more sense,” Daye says. “I’m way more abstract than I was when Painted came out, and she’d always bring me back, like, ‘why don’t you just say it like this?’ I’m like, ‘that’s ghetto’. (laughs) She’d be like, ‘but it’s good’. I’d be like, ‘Well, alright, I got it; just do what I normally do if I was talking to somebody.’”

With Blige’s guidance in mind, Daye knew that he wanted the apex of Painted to revolve around intricacies of love, his previous relationships being the basis of the album, notably, overexerting himself while in those relationships. “On Painted, I wanted to convey love as being misunderstood and not what you always expect it to be. I feel like we watch all of these things around us and we got these high expectations of what love is supposed to be and it’s really an illusion. When you find somebody who’s actually a real person and they don’t meet your illusion, they fail in your eyes,” he says, subtly warning women to beware of overzealous suitors. “I just wanted to say ‘it’s fine to not be perfect, it’s fine to be normal’. Being normal is actually what love is, everything else is extra. You can’t always exhaust yourself. I’ve exhausted myself and I wanted to portray that on the album, like, I’ve done that already. I’ve tried everything I could to try to stay in love and try to be in love. It allowed me to fall in love and get my heartbroken, and that created more content for me and it created more depth for my character.”

With room to create meaningful content, though not intentional, Daye withheld from having collaborations on Painted. For many listeners, the “Roll Some Mo” remix featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Wale was the first time they heard Daye accompanied by featured guests. “I don’t think I had any power to even get anybody that wanted to get on my record. I would like to think that the music industry would hear good music and want to get with it because it’s good to them, not necessarily good to popular people,” he says. “I wanted to at least do my first album complete and not wait on features. I think all great artists can do an album with no features and you’ll still be able to listen to the whole album. I don’t care who it is, if someone’s not good on my record, I’m not putting it out.”

While Painted didn’t lack in vulnerability, Daye is open to the possibility of having features on his sophomore album. With his majorly-female audience in mind, he wants to reintroduce an influx of female features to create melodic balance. “The second album might be a little bit different. I’m probably gonna do an album that has a great amount of features on it and I’m working on that right now. We’re reaching for gold,” he says. “When it comes to singing, girls are listening to me. Most guys, they have too much ego to listen to me, I’m too real. They don’t want to feel soft. I feel like if get girls featured, it’ll make more sense for me than male features because I talk about love a lot. Ain’t too many guys I know that’s gonna open up like that on a record. That’s one of my goals, I want to do a lot of songs with girls like Marvin Gaye did.”

With music videos traditionally having a cinematic, thoroughly crafted feel, Daye shares that a visual album is soon to come, with a slew of screenplays already written. Initially wanting to release a visual album alongside Painted, he’s tentatively reserving it for his sophomore album. Though he’s mapped out his plans for 2020, Daye says that he’s willing to let go of his reigns to get better acquainted with fans. “I’m gonna make myself more uncomfortable this year when it comes to putting myself out there--controlling less of what I think I should be controlling--and just be more free and just be present. I want them to know, if there’s anything I should do, I’m open [to it].”

During a generation of R&B when artists are arguably most hands-on with their creative intention, Daye fits right in, nominated in nearly every R&B category of the 2020 Grammys. Hinting at surprise single before the ceremony, while arguably a veteran, Daye assures that his journey is far from over. “The fact that [artists] can reach so many people, just with one button, that’s awesome. Most people have to climb, they climb a long way from city to city and it takes years just to get to a level. I have millions of views in a year, and I believe [“Roll Some Mo”] might be gold. Just to do that in one year, being able to touch so many people, I feel like we’re getting closer,” he says. “It’s come back around, for sure, [but] there’s way more to accomplish. I plan on having at least eleven albums, and I feel satisfied, kind of, but this is the beginning. I just started, it’s the first day.”

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Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe of Bel Biv DeVoe at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards at in Los Angeles, California.
Jeff Kravitz

"Poison" Turns 30: How Bell Biv DeVoe’s Hit Reinvented New Jack Swing

In February 1990, three R&B underdogs dropped a chart-topping debut single that would be more than just their signature hit—it would become a harbinger for a new style and approach as a new decade dawned. Bell Biv DeVoe may have been unlikely trailblazers, but Ricky Bell, Mike Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe’s classic first single charted a new course for R&B and set the stage for where the genre was heading in the 1990s.

Most R&B fans know the history: fresh off the heels of their bestselling album, New Edition’s members were looking to do other things. Former member Bobby Brown had become a solo superstar, and with the former teen act at a bit of a crossroads following the success of 1988’s Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-produced Heart Break, lead singers Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill were eying their individual projects.

On the suggestion of Jam & Lewis, Bell, Bivins, and DeVoe decided to form a trio. If New Edition was going on hiatus for Tresvant to start his solo career in earnest (as Gill refocused on his own new album with former MCA head Jheryl Busby over at Motown), why not try to do their own thing? Bivins had been brimming with ideas and was eager to try them out in a new format.

Of course, no one was expecting much from the three former New Edition members who’d famously stayed in the background for much of that group’s tenure. Rapper/producer Kwame ghostwrote some of the raps in “Poison,” and he admitted that he wasn’t impressed with the idea of Bell Biv DeVoe as a group—or their soon-to-be-hit.

“The lyrics that ended up making the record were [Ronnie Devoe’s] rhyme,” Kwame would tell Hip-Hop Wired in 2015. “I was hanging out with Mike Bivins. It was me, Mike Bivins and Dana Dane, we were going to a club, somewhere. And [Bivins] put in a tape of the demo of ‘Poison.’ No disrespect, I love the record now, but when I heard the demo I swore it was the worst thing I ever heard in my life.”

“I was like, Y’all gonna put this out? He was like, Yeah man, me, Ronnie and Rick, we going to do a group called BBD. [I’m like], Who wanna see y’all three? I wanna see New Edition! All this breaking up, Bobby solo, Ralph doing his thing, now y’all…what happened to New Edition?!”

BBD’s sound and image was going for something harder than what New Edition or even Bobby Brown had done up to that point. Eschewing the tailored suits and dapper presentation of most 80s R&B, this act was going to set a new blueprint for R&B style with hip-hop swagger.

"The kind of style we were groomed into from our early days had this Temptations, Jacksons, Blue Magic kind of feel. That was what caught us, that whole kind of flavor,” Bell explained to the Baltimore Sun in 1990. But in teaming with producers like Dr. Freeze and hip-house duo Wolf & Epic, they guaranteed that their sound wouldn’t retread what had worked in new jack swing--it would be something unique. "We just figured we'd go in the studio and do what we've been wanting to do all along, the kind of music that we've been listening to," Bell shared. "When we'd go hang out at the clubs or whatever, that's what was happening. We were just into that.

“We wanted that hip-hop flavor, but we wanted to kind of smooth it out. We figured we'd put some harmonies, some melodies over and that would kind of smooth the whole thing out.”

Hitmakers like L.A. & Babyface, Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis had dominated the R&B charts during the late 1980s, as new jack swing took over airwaves and dance floors with an infectious blend of tuneful R&B and hip-hop beats. BBD’s manager Hiriam Hicks knew about an up-and-coming producer named Elliot Straite, who went by the name Dr. Freeze. Hicks tapped Freeze for the BBD project, which by then already featured big names like The Bomb Squad.

In a 2016 interview with Red Bull Academy, producer Dr. Freeze said the song’s lyrics were personal for him—even before he had a song to put the words to. “It wasn’t a song at first,” Freeze said. “It was a letter. When I wrote it as a song, I let a lot of my friends hear it, and they said it was weird.”

Freeze’s beat featured a sample of hardcore rhymer Kool G Rap’s hit “Poison” as the hook, and when paired with the group’s image, it helped reintroduce BBD as something more than just “the other guys” in New Edition. Almost immediately, the trio was rebranded as something fresh and exciting. And they had a name for their unique sound and look: “mental.”

"Our music is mentally hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip, with a pop feel appeal to it,” Bell would continuously explain. “We want to be the first to express this kind of music. We knew what we wanted to do."

The group would work with hip-hop powerhouses like the aforementioned Bomb Squad and superproducer Marley Marl, setting the table for hip-hop producers to tackle R&B projects. With the notable exception of Teddy Riley, the idea that hip-hop producers crafting R&B tracks was still novel in 1990, but over the next ten years, hip-hop heavyweights from Jermaine Dupri to Kay Gee to Timbaland would produce some of the biggest R&B records of the decade.

"We listened to Public Enemy's stuff and we were just amazed," Bell said at the time. "We just thought, 'Damn! Imagine us doing something like that.' Because we always think 'Why not?' We always ask that question. A lot of artists don't. So we'll just do anything, just go with our feelings. And that's usually what works best for us."

Bell Biv DeVoe’s uniquely “Mental” approach would prove wildly influential. Even in the new jack swing era, R&B acts mostly marketed themselves in the sophisticated, urbane mold of Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, and Freddie Jackson. BBD’s former New Edition cohort Bobby Brown had done much to shift the image of the contemporary R&B singer to something much more brazen and aggressive, but even his smash 1988 album Don’t Be Cruel featured mostly slick, romantic R&B/pop. With “Poison”s thumping beat and “never trust a big butt and a smile” refrain, it announced a brash new approach to R&B that would come to define the genre in the 1990s. When one considers the hip-hop-drenched look and attitude of everyone from Jodeci to Usher, Bell Biv DeVoe and “Poison” represent a seismic shift.

“The engine for Bell Biv DeVoe was Michael Bivins,” Shocklee explained in 2015. “He had a vision for the group. New Edition was all about wearing suits and dressing upscale. Michael brought it back to the street realm. They really brought out the hip hop element by wearing Timberland boots and sagging pants. This is what gave the group their visual look.”

Thirty years later, it may be easy to take “Poison” and BBD for granted. It’s the kind of dance floor classic that becomes ubiquitous at family reunions and wedding receptions. But the last three decades have proven its staying power—and its lasting influence. Nobody may be calling it “mental” anymore, but it’s still pretty damn cool. In 1990, nobody would’ve predicted this song would be this influential. Or this timeless. It made stars out of a trio of backup singers. Not a bad look for “the other guys.”

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Tremaine Edwards / @kardiakfilms

Royce Da 5’9” Talks Consciousness And Self-Sufficiency On ‘The Allegory’

How do you move forward when you’re already one of the greatest of all time? In rappers’ circles, a 20-year career has seen Royce Da 5’9” considered one of the best MCs on earth. His witty punchlines, versatile flows and irreverent sense of humor have seen him compete with the likes of Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar, his former Slaughterhouse groupmates, and his longtime friend Marshall Mathers. “Eminem himself will tell you I'm the only ni**a livin' that done ever spanked him on the same record with him,” he pointedly rapped once. In recent years, he’s added a personal tone to his music, using songs like “Cocaine” and “Boblo Boat” to grapple with his family history of substance abuse and incarceration while conquering his own alcoholism and infidelity.

Now, after introducing listeners to his lineage, Royce is using his new album The Allegory to continue his artistic progression. His first two singles are more sociopolitical, lines that he isn’t known for drawing in his music: “Field Negro” chastises uppity blacks for forgetting their roots, while “Black Savage” calls on T.I., CyHi Da Prynce, and Sy Ari Da Kid to unite for an anthem against white oppression. The latter was chosen for the Jay-Z-led Inspire Change initiative with the NFL. And the third single, “Overcome” with Westside Gunn, features a music video that tells a “fictional” version of the story of 6ix9ine’s gang affiliation and his infamous testifying on the stand. “I hate when rappers get a mic in front of them and somebody asks them about something that affects us socially, and they write it off,” Royce said while visiting VIBE’s office in Times Square. “... I think with as much emphasis as we put, there’s certain rules that you’re supposed to be tapped into the hood. Just as much as you go out of your way to be tapped into the hood, you need to be tapped into us.”

There’s also one other detail: after a career working with legends like DJ Premier, Bink! and The Alchemist, Royce has decided to make his own beats this time around. He even landed a production credits on Eminem’s new surprise album Music To Be Murdered By, to go along with his trio of guest verses. “I call it rabbit hole behavior – I just start practicing a whole lot, just like I do anything else if I’m interested,” Royce shared. “...I didn’t set out to produce the whole album, it just happened that way.”

In a conversation with VIBE, Royce Da 5’9” talks about the importance of keeping up with your community, a musical lesson from T.I., and why he doesn’t care if he makes a wack beat.

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VIBE: On your last two solos, Layers and Book of Ryan, you shared more of your personal life than ever before. After sharing that much, where do you go next creatively?

Royce Da 5’9”: I’m definitely taking my time. I don’t always know what I want to do, but it’s pretty easy for me to look at what I don’t want to do, and rule that out. I just create and try not to think too much. The important thing for me was, when I did do the super personal thing, when it was about myself, to make sure that I really did it thoroughly. Did it in a way where people get it. And also, I’m presenting the people in my life in a respectful, positive way, but truthful, honest way. From there, it’s just taking in as much information as I can and just talking about the way that I see the world. Whatever inspires overrules.

You said that you ruled out what you didn’t want to do. What did you not want to do?

I don’t want to look like I’m an artist that’s doing this as some type of job. There’s nothing wrong with that; I just don’t want to do it. I’m not an employee of the people; I don’t make music for people. That’s not my job, that’s not what I’m here to do. I think some people can do that, but in my mind, that’s crazy. I express myself through the art as a coping mechanism most of the time. I look at it as putting paint on a canvas and hanging it up. You’re more than welcome to come by look at it, but if you don’t, that’s fine. And then when I’m leaving, I’m taking it home with me so I can look at it for memories. Whatever that feeling is, money won’t give me that feeling.

Between “Field Negro” and “Black Savage,” both songs have a more conscious, sociopolitical slant. People don’t associate that with you. 

I like “conscious” better than political. I think we separate those a little bit. I’m very conscious. I’m not very politically-inclined, but a lot of things that people associate as political are important to me. I don’t care who the president is. I don’t care about that type of sh*t. But I do care about the way that some of the things that happen on a higher level of government affect us in our community. So I’m very conscious of our people, and I’m very conscious of artists having a platform and understanding how important that is and understanding how important it is to be connected to us and how we need to take care of each other first. Then we’ll be able to take care of everybody. I’m conscious of that. But I’m not trying to run for senator in ten years. I don’t have any aspirations of being president or a political activist. But as I get older, the things that I say begin to get more important.

A lot of artists have their feelings on issues like that, but they completely separate them from their music. What made you decide to integrate it into your music?

Everything I’ve made has always been a reflection to what I’m doing at the time, who I am at the time. As black men especially, our perspective changes so much. I don’t know exactly what did it, but I know I hate when rappers get a mic in front of them and somebody asks them about something that affects us socially, they condemn it, and they write it off. That’s a pet peeve of mine. They condemn the concept all the way together. They don’t want to answer it, and they condemn it. Most of the time I feel like it’s because they don’t know, they’re unaware of it. They don’t know enough about it to be able to speak on it. Or they just look down on being smart or being socially aware. I think with as much emphasis as we put, there’s certain rules that you’re supposed to be tapped into the hood. Just as much as you go out of your way to be tapped into the hood, you need to be tapped into us. That’s important. But it’s not going to become important to you until you start taking in information the proper way.

So how do you keep in touch with what’s going on?

I mostly read. I don’t watch a whole bunch of TV. I just read. I do research online like a crazy person. I just stay aware, I look at what everyone is talking about, constantly on my phone. When I used to get drunk, I’d see everybody talking about something, and I’d just go look at something else. I don’t do that no more; I need to know now.

It’s always interesting to me when I hear about your life pre-sobriety and post-sobriety. Because I realize how many things stem from that - getting your personal life in order, being more lucid with your family, being more aware of the world around you.

Well, that’s the problem. Drinking makes it to where you don’t care. Perfect: I’ll go cheat on my girl, I’ll become a ridiculous person. Nothing is connected into nothing until I started going to therapy, then I realized everything was for a reason. And then, I started learning about myself in a way that made me elevate, first my mind and then better as an artist. I’m like damn, I can keep learning about myself – how can I stop being better at everything? Most of us we come in, and if we want to get better at rapping, then we just figure we’ve got to keep up with the times, let me keep up with rap and I end up being a better rapper. That’s all you’re dialed into, all of that misinformation that’s being spread around. You’re doomed. There’s no way you’re gonna get better. No way. It’s impossible. If I’m keeping up with what’s current, but everything that’s current, there’s no future in none of it. I focus on me, getting myself better. I make a lot of music I don’t use. Every time I do something that I feel is cool, I let it go.

How old are your kids?

Twelve, 10, 5 and 3. And 21.

Do you have conscious conversations with them?

Only Roycee, my oldest son. We can go pretty deep. My daughters, they’re just having fun right now. I’m not going to lay too much on ‘em. [laughs] Just let them be kids. I’ll eat with Kino, his kids know how to order at a steakhouse. … Nah, none of that. They don’t watch rap videos. They aren’t tapped in yet. Just chillin’. That’s one of the only reasons I celebrate Christmas: I just want to see them open gifts and having fun. But there’s lots to tell, lots coming on the horizon.

On this new album, you made all of the beats. Did you make beats at all before then?

Nope. But I have made a beat here and there before in different situations. Sometimes in the studio 4 in the morning, and we’re all drinking, I just decide to start hitting piano keys. Make some terrible beat that we rap on at the moment. [laughs] But I never had equipment, this is my first time doing that. But I’m glad I did it that way. I learned Pro Tools first. I learned how to cut my own vocals first, just engineering. Denaun showed me how to make beats in Logic, and it was easy for me to catch onto because it was very similar to Pro Tools. I call it rabbit hole behavior – I just start practicing a whole lot, just like I do anything else if I’m interested. I just kept on practicing and came up with this song, came up with that song. If you do it enough, stuff comes out of it. I didn’t set out to produce the whole album, it just happened that way. That’s the fun part. Normally, we would tell ourselves, you can’t do nothing like that. I’m glad I didn’t even have expectations. I wasn’t even thinking. I just love practicing. If I make something and it’s terrible, it does not bother me, as long as I don’t have to play it for nobody else. [laughs]

Did anything spark that initial creativity to start making beats more?

It was boredom. But there wasn’t a starting point. One time we were working on a mixtape or something, and I decided I was going to do the beat. I’ll just have my engineer play something. I never applied myself and bought equipment like, “I’m going to make beats.” Little stuff in passing. But just drunk shit. This is my first time deciding to do it that way. I went to Guitar Center. I bought Ableton, bought the Maschine, it starts out like that – get a bunch of stuff, and see what sticks. Everything went back except the MPC. [laughs] I kept that, but I gave it to my friend. I just use Logic now.

What’s interesting about what you’re saying is that your raps are very meticulously crafted. I think if you were to write a rap that was wack, you’d be upset. But you’re saying that if you make a beat you don’t like, you don’t have an issue with it?

It goes both ways for me. But I do understand being that way about a rap. I was that way for a long time. I think we start out like that. I don’t know if it’s “upset” – it’s more of a fear. Most people won’t admit that, but it’s like a creative fear. You don’t want to come up with something that’s not good, or you don’t want to admit that it’s not good. If you don’t know no better, that’s synonymous with falling off. You never want to admit that. But the more honest you are with yourself, the better off everything is. So going out and working with Puff, and him making me rewrite the same verse 8,000 times, is what made me introduce the art of rewriting into my lexicon. I just started rewriting stuff to rewrite it. And then i developed this relationship with the verses in a song where it’s just, I don’t have no respect for it. I call it clay. I just lay a bunch of stuff, poke holes in it, fill a line in, take the bottom half out, fill that in, remove the top of it, put some back on top of it. [laughs] It’s like playing LEGOs or something. Take the best pieces, take it from there, and then just A&R it. There’s no such thing as a bad verse – I’m sorry, yes there is. But it can be great for different reasons. Just because it’s lyrical, that doesn’t make it great. “Ain’t Nuttin But A G Thang'' is a perfect verse. Add too many syllables, you f**k it up. I’m sure that if Dre knew Marshall back then, and Eminem hit him with a super technical verse, he’d probably be like, “that’s lyrical, but that ain’t it.” It’s almost like you’re A&Ring yourself. It’s so much going on, you don’t have to be so tight if it’s not the right one.

“Black Savage” is you, T.I., CyHi Da Prynce, Sy Ari Da Kid, and White Gold. How’d that song come together?

The producer me picked the people. I always knew I wanted to work with CyHi on something. Anytime I ever do anything that’s a little bit socially conscious, I always think of T.I. He’s very aggressive, I can tell he hit that point in life. I think we have spiritual awakenings, man. Us as black men, we just wake up one day like, “this is what I am,” and we have no idea where it came from. T.I. seems like he’s there with it. You get to a certain point and start seeing things for what they are. You don’t always like what you see. I think T.I. is at that place, so I always told myself if I was ever doing anything along the truthful line, to speak up for us, I would call Tip. We did some stuff before, but it ended up slipping through the cracks. Tip actually suggested Sy Ari to sing the hook. He said, “the hook we have is a little bit too direct,” and he asked me what I thought about somebody else taking a shot at it. I said, I’m more than open if you think you can make it happen. He reached out to Sy Ari, and he sent it right back. That’s one dope thing about collaborating. I learned that in Slaughterhouse: learn that with an open mind. A lot of guys would’ve taken it personal. I was cool with what we had, but when he sent Sy Ari’s hook, Sy Ari’s was better. But I still liked what we had, because the part that we had as the hook was White Gold’s part. So I was able to use both, and I moved them and made it more like a bridge. I had to change the music around a little bit, but it worked way better. But he was right – it was super direct. I’m a very blunt, direct person, and I heard what he meant. So it actually taught me something, so I’m glad we had that conversation.

That really sounds like Producer Royce, man. Not just beatmaker Royce, but producer Royce.

I could never be a beatmaker, because I’m around too many guys who make beats who have been doing it their whole life. You can’t catch up, it’s impossible to catch up to Bink!, Denaun, DJ Premier. I’m way behind. There’s never been a beatmaker Royce, but I’ve been producer Royce even before I was making tracks. I had to play that role in Slaughterhouse, I had to have that relationship with the music in Slaughterhouse. I was the guy that was more on the technical side, doing the drops and stuff like that. I just always had a knack for the sonic stuff. After us getting our own place, I think it was the logical next step. It just kind of happened spur of the moment, and I like for things to happen like that. Every time I ever planned to do beats, I didn’t end up seeing it through. But the one time I just thought of it real quick, I was at Guitar Center 30 minutes later. I came back and it didn’t just end up being a conversation – I saw it all the way through, because I wasn’t thinking about it.

How did you connect with the NFL for their campaign?

Kino was talking to Jason from Tidal, and he said they were looking for a song to launch the initiative. Everybody knows about the initiative. They were saying they were looking for something, and Kino was like, “I think I may have the perfect song for you.” It was just a shot in the dark. He sent it over to them, and they loved the song. Once he explained to me what the initiative was and all of that, I was 100 percent with it. After that, I found out that we needed to partner up with them and go do stuff, which was cool too. Anything Jay-Z related, man, I’m in. I’m not a real big football guy, but I’m willing to be for that cause.

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Courtesy of adidas

Rapsody And Pusha T Inspire Students At Adidas' All-Star Weekend Career Day

The recording artists, alongside WNBA star Liz Cambage, encouraged student-athletes to chase their musical dreams at adidas Legacy's “World’s Best Career Day.”

Last weekend, stars from all over the country flew into a frigid Chicago for the 69th annual NBA All-Star Weekend, where they celebrated their accomplishments, promoted their projects, and rubbed elbows with other industry leaders.

The NBA All-Star Weekend often serves as a fun spectacle with slam dunk competitions, brand-sponsored parties, and big music showcases. But on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 15), adidas gathered professional athletes, media personalities, musicians, filmmakers, and other creatives to participate in a more impactful endeavor – making connections with the youth and giving them the exposure and resources to chase their dreams.

adidas hosted 240 student-athletes from eight Chicago public high schools at its “World’s Best Career Day” event in downtown Chicago during the highly-anticipated weekend. The event gave the kids an opportunity to get some hands-on learning experience using professional equipment and face-to-face time with celebrities, including Jonah Hill, James Harden, Candace Parker, and others.

Rappers Pusha T, Rapsody, and WNBA star Liz Cambage ran the “Sound Lab,” which served as the music portion of the seven interactive workshops during the career day. The “Sound Lab” consisted of professional recording equipment, including a vocal booth, turntables, mixing consoles, and drum machines. After a brief panel discussion, the students broke up into three groups, where they could work more closely with one of the stars.

“A lot of people don’t have these opportunities, I didn’t have these opportunities,” Pusha T told VIBE after the workshop. “People weren’t really pushing you to go toward your dreams if they were in the music business. To see all of this put together like such, to have makeshift recording studios, engineers, people of quality, who can really explain the game to you. To me, it just sort of reinforces the idea of pushing kids toward their dreams and goals. I think that’s what it’s about.”

Pusha’s workshop mostly focused on the technical aspect of working in a studio and emphasized the importance of the vocalist and recording engineer relationship. He referred to engineers as “the cornerstone of making music” and explained that while it’s an overlooked job in the music business, it’s an important and lucrative one.

After he spoke with a group of about 13 students, a couple of them went into the vocal booth to spit a verse. The G.O.O.D. Music President gave them tips on recording vocals and explained that having a trusted engineer is crucial.

“When the kids did get in the booth, sometimes there’s a bit of anxiety and feeling like, ‘oh man I gotta rush and hurry up,’” Pusha said. “The engineer is the reason you don’t have to rush and hurry up. You can take your time. You can do four bars at a time, get it perfect. And get another four bars, put it all together, and make it sound seamless. You know just being new to the recording structure, I was trying to share those tips with them.”

Rapsody also shared how she hopes the kids in attendance will learn to “think outside of the box” after the career day event. She said the “Sound Lab” workshop will show them there are many different avenues to pursuing a career in music.

“There are so many ways to inject yourself into the music business, outside of just being an emcee, or just being a producer,” Rapsody told VIBE. “Just opening their minds creatively and interacting with them one on one. It’s always dope to look at people who are doing things that are successful and be able to reach them and talk to them because it gives you an aspiration.”

During her section of the workshop, she and her producers, Khrysis and Eric G, showed the young athletes how to use drum machines and samplers while using her song “Aaliyah,” from her 2019 album Eve, as a reference of how to chop up samples.

“Exposure is the biggest thing for kids,” Rapsody said. “Once you expose them to something, it’s endless, like their mind goes. But if you don’t expose them to it, it’s sometimes* they think that it’s not for them and they put themselves in a fishbowl. So it’s dope to be able to have these kids touch machines and talk to myself.”

After the workshop, Rapsody was approached by a few of the student-athletes, including a young, teenage girl who sang for her.

“I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and for music and creativity, all I really had was TV. I watched videos,” she said. “If I had something like this, I would’ve started following my heart, my passion a lot sooner. Just to have the knowledge, for somebody to teach, to show me that it is available to me. Whatever I want to do is available to me, that I can do it.”

Cambage, who is a house DJ in addition to playing for the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, spoke to the teens about being an athlete who also has a passion for music and other creative outlets.

The three-time All-Star center spoke to them about her love of house music and referenced Canadian DJ/producer KAYTRANADA as one of her favorite current artists because he often takes “old ‘90s hip-hop and (puts) a house beat with it.” During her interactive workshop, she showed them different mixing and beatmatching techniques.

“You don’t know how talented someone can be at something until they try it,” said Cambage, who won a 2012 bronze medal as a member of the Australian women’s basketball team. “We could have the next Mozart in the building today, and I think that’s the really exciting thing. Kids are putting themselves out there, being like, ‘yeah I really am interested in this, and I do want to learn about it.’ And adidas is giving them that platform to go chase another dream.”

Since all of the students that attended the career day event are basketball players, Cambage told VIBE she wanted to show them that they can “break that mold of just being an athlete.”

“We do it all, it doesn’t have to be just one thing,” she said. “There are so many things I love and things that inspire me... So I think it’s really important that we’re not just one thing, we can keep learning, we can keep evolving, we can keep finding things that inspire us.”

Fellow WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike, who moonlights as full-time basketball analyst at ESPN, also emphasized to the kids at her workshop they can be a successful athlete with other interests. Ogwumike worked on the broadcasting workshop, alongside Tracy McGrady, Candace Parker, and Maria Taylor.

She viewed the event as a great way to show the teens, particularly the girls and young women, that they can achieve so much when they have opportunities and the infrastructure to succeed.

“Visibility matters, especially for those who feel invisible in society,” she said. “It’s on us as women to uplift others. For so long, we’ve been so competitive, because like a seat at the table, there’s only one for a woman. Now there are more seats at the table, so instead of being competitive, we’re now being collaborative. We’re harnessing our collective power to lift each other up.”

The “World’s Best Career Day” coincided with the launch of adidas Legacy’s expansion to Chicago. The high school basketball program, Legacy, partnered with eight underserved Chicago public high schools, providing their boys and girls basketball teams with fresh adidas gear and opportunities to connect with peers, learn from mentors, and gain exposure to different career paths. The program was founded in Los Angeles in 2017, later expanded to New York City in 2018, and now serves a total of 28 schools and 840 student-athletes within those cities.

Brandon Walker, adidas’ head of North America Sports Marketing - Basketball,  highlighted how Legacy equally serves the boys and girls basketball programs and is made up of 98 percent of students of color.

“I just hope it’s an opportunity for these young men and women to reimagine their future,” Walker told VIBE. “It’s very difficult to dream it if they’ve never seen it. And for them to be in these workshops and see people that look like them, it gives them a chance to realize their potential long-term. Them having a chance to sit across from somebody and get hands-on learning, and say, ‘you know what? Broadcasting isn’t all that difficult, I might be able to do it myself. I’m a real good sketch artist or I can draw, I could be a designer for a major brand.’ Those types of moments are what we hope these young men and women leave with, just opening up their ideas of what’s possible in the future.”

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