Robb Bank$
@cam.alexiis / Create What's True

Robb Bank$ On 'Falconia' And Why He’s Retiring

The South Florida artist is heading in a new career direction after the release of 'Falconia,' his multilayered farewell album.

“I think I might be happy.”

It’s one of the first things we hear on Broward County, Florida rapper Robb Bank$’s most recent project, Road to Falconia. If you’re a longtime listener, the tagline is familiar, as Bank$ has been using it throughout his music for nearly a decade. The phrase—taken from the U.S. version of the young adult drama series Skins—is built in to be a noncommittal response for how Bank$ could be feeling on any given day, across any given project.

When we meet in late January, at the Kandypens house in the Hollywood Hills, Bank$ is finally straightforward.

“I’m happy,” the 25-year-old creative says. He’s settled across from me on a gray couch, the two of us sitting opposite a blazing fire. Bank$ is wearing a lime green jacket over a softer, worn-in grass green Weezer T-shirt, and green velvet Off-White Timberlands. “Not with my spot, because I always want more,” he continues. “I’m an artist: I’m hungry. I always want more and more and more. But I’m happy with the little genre and niche I’ve created for myself. I like it because I feel like all my fans is smart. All my supporters are smart.”

When I tell Bank$ we, as listeners, have to be willing to put in a certain amount of work to keep up with him, he laughs.

“Yeah, ‘cause you got to listen or you’re not gonna catch nothing I’m saying and talking about,” he says. “You’re not going to get the little hidden messages.”

To be a fan of Robb Bank$ is to commit yourself to repeat listens, constant Googling, and immersion in as much obscure pop culture as possible. Since I began listening to Bank$, I’ve made it a point to watch anime series he endlessly references in his songs; One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, and Inuyasha are a few.

Bank$ and his stans exemplify a top-level partnership between artist and listener, one, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That degree of dedication—a choice of endless studying—has become enmeshed with my personal approach to music consumption. It’s why nearly every other hip-hop artist can seem bland to me in comparison. To put it simply, Robb Bank$ is my favorite rapper. And, much to my dismay, he’s retiring.

“I’m trying to put artists on,” he says of his new career direction. “When I look at the artists that I’ve helped break—and I’ve never spoken on this, especially publicly, on an interview scale. It’s never been with paperwork, ‘cause I was young and I just… the way I am, I see talent, and I’m like, ‘I just want to help you.’ I don’t know why, but that’s just how I’ve always been. I just want to help. If I got a platform, I’ma help you.”

Bank$ lists in-house producer Cris Dinero, and rappers Ski Mask the Slump God and the late XXXTentacion among the unofficial beneficiaries of his guidance.

“Half of Florida, I took on their first tour,” he continues. “I took DaBaby on tour. Road 2 Falconia tour in 2017. Me, DaBaby, and Kid Trunks. That’s how I met Baby, and I’m so happy for him. He’s doing great. The thing that I love, that I’ve noticed a pattern of, it’s like, ‘Yo, everybody that I came in contact with or helped or put on a tour of mine, they always got right.’”

Bank$ says he’s chosen to have such an active role in artists’ careers because of the lack of a shepherding presence in his own.

“When I was 16, 17, I used to pray a ni**a would just come and I have a big homie in the music business,” he says. “[Birdman] was the only one that did that. Only one that ever did that for me. That’s Unc.”

While Bank$ makes it clear any reports of him previously signing to Cash Money are “fake news,” the artist has been working with Rich Gang Management and soaking up game from the No. 1 Stunna himself since at least 2017. All the while, he’s been working to position himself as a boss in his own right. Bank$’s current company is called 430 Entertainment, evolved from the nascent Smart Stunna (SS) Records. “Even with Bird, that’s my inspiration as far as like, a CEO and just building, accomplishing what he accomplished from nothing,” Bank$ says. “From just being a young ni**a in New Orleans, in the slums, and made a billion-dollar company.”

Robb Bank$’s self-proclaimed magnum opus, Falconia, will serve as his exit from the recording artist lifestyle and into full-blown mogul status. “You’re still going to get content from me, but there will be no more ‘Robb Bank$’ projects,” he explains. “No more full bodies of work.”

Bank$ released his first full-length solo project in 2012, the underground hit Calendars, which saw Bank$ spitting over well-known, throwback beats like Aaliyah’s “One in a Million” and Master P’s “Bout It, Bout It,” as well as recent, subterranean production from SBTRKT and Clams Casino. The marriage of old and new, hardened and hazy, quickly put Bank$ on the radar of listeners frequenting the Tumblr platform, in its heyday. “I can’t even listen to that sh*t no more,” Bank$ admits. “Like that type of sh*t is just, the style of rap was older. It was more traditional.”

Post-Calendars, Bank$ has announced new drops like clockwork; while numerous EPs, mixtapes, and official albums have come about, not all of the projects have seen the light of day. It’s one of several facets that makes the MC an enigma. “It’s a lot of music that exists,” he says. “People be thinking I just be lying. But when you’re an artist, you kinda fried. You kinda crazy. And I know I’m fried. So I’ll do sh*t where I jump the gun and be like, ‘This project is about to come out!’ And I’ll have the name and the concept ready. But then I’ll start recording for it and it’ll turn into something completely different.”

One project fans have been hotly anticipating: the sequel to Bank$’s popular 2016 mixtape No Rooftops, modeled after Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings. In addition to original songs, No Rooftops featured the rapper jacking beats like 2 Chainz’s “Watch Out” and Denzel Curry’s “Ultimate.” In an interlude on the tape, Robb teases the follow-up, saying it could be released within weeks of the original project’s drop. It’s still awaiting a release date.

“[My listeners] will be like, ‘Well, what happened to this? What happened to that?’” Bank$ says. “They be asking me about No Rooftops. That’s like… my ni**a. That’s still gon’ come out, but I’m in a whole different space, you know what I’m saying? I had to do this first.”

Bank$’s current focus, Falconia, is conceptually designed to mirror the Berserk manga, and scheduled to be released in a three-arc rollout in the near future. Despite persistent imploring from his cult fan base, Bank$ won’t say when Falconia, and his subsequent departure, is coming.

“I’ve learned from my mistakes as to don’t say no times,” he tells me. “The thing people don’t understand is, sometimes it is me being a perfectionist, like, ‘No, we can’t put it out yet.’ But a lot of times, it’s the music business.”

According to Bank$, 2019’s Road to Falconia was constructed as a bridge to tide listeners over before Falconia’s orchestrated arcs begin to fall into place. “This one was more so—to the people who read Berserk—it would be like the Black Swordsman Arc,” he explains. “The intro, almost. Just a, ‘Hello, how are you doing? This is me.’”

Considered Arc 0, ahead of three installments to come, Road to Falconia is Robb Bank$ on full display, doling out each of his styles like a money machine. You want to be aurally annihilated by straight bars? “Top Man GOTTI” and “Broward Coward” are for you. You want introspective rhymes that veer toward the vulnerable? “Intro” and “Onme / PrivateShow” are for you.

Bank$ is unsatisfied with simultaneously existing on opposing ends of the standard rap spectrum. Instead, he takes a figurative serrated knife and extends the edges of said spectrum toward territories previously unexplored. To say the result is attention-grabbing would be an understatement. Robb Bank$ knows this.

“That’s the goal, to be honest,” he says. “My goal was always to get people’s attention. Whether you making them upset and making them uncomfortable, making them happy, like anything: any attention for me would be good attention. That’s how I used to think. And I’m just trying to stay true to how I was when I first came in.”

I’ve been in rooms where people are legitimately taken aback by Bank$’s delivery (“I know some people be like, ‘Turn this sh*t the f**k off!’” he jokes), so I press further and ask why he chooses to go to such extremes. He admits it’s his natural inclination.

“I just get bored easily,” he says. “When you’re in the studio for like, 18 hours straight type sh*t, you gon’ do some dumb sh*t. I feel like I have the shortest attention span in the world. So I have to keep doing new stuff. I just want to do something else.”

For Robb Bank$, boredom leads to tracks like the near-inexplicable “430 Kuban Doll,” a Road to Falconia standout. The “interlewd” borrows production from SpaceGhostPurrp’s “730 Goth Blood Gang,” and features jarring, irregular snare chops, and squawks and roars from a pitched-up Bank$, who uses the song to rattle off his own women rapper-influenced version of Pokémon. It sounds like necessary chaos. “It was completely unmixed,” Bank$ says of the finished song. “It sounded like sh*t. We initially was always going to mix it, but we ended up losing the session. The file got corrupted. So I was like, ‘We gotta just put it out how it is.’”

Bank$ also takes a moment in “430 Kuban Doll” to express his frustration over XXXTentacion’s death: “Ni**as took Jah[seh] and I wish they would’ve shot me / ‘Ni**as blew your dog head off and you ain’t kill ‘em?’ / Them ni**as killed X and turned themselves in before we got there.”

While Bank$ is “happy” today, as with any person, that can change at a moment’s notice, especially when dealing with as many losses as Bank$ has experienced. During our conversation, he tells me he started therapy. When I ask specifically why, he exhales deeply. “Bad lifestyle choices,” he says. “Sh*t like that. I just needed to go to therapy.”

He’s had more than one session and says he plans to proceed with the experience. “I like it,” he says, convincingly. “I like it.”

Like countless others, Bank$ and I have therapy in common. My reasons for therapy tie back to 2016, shortly before I had my very first manic episode; I’ve since been diagnosed as bipolar. In my bouts with extreme mania—a heightened mental state that feels like euphoria on a supernaturally interconnected, yet unstable level—I gravitate heavily toward Bank$. Very heavily. I become hyper-obsessed with his music, tweeting about it, playing it on repeat at max volumes, and finding patterns and “clues” in the music that somehow relate back to me. By the time I’ve reached peak elevation, I’m fully convinced it’s me and Robb against the destructive forces of the world: he’s the voice in the sky and I’m the feet on the ground, getting people ready for a global transformation unlike anything the human race has ever seen. In my mind, Bank$’s discography (and the music of a select few peers) is the audio version of a contemporary Bible, the soundtrack to a new, deeply engaging story of life and creation.

In my most recent episode, last October, I took it a step further and did everything in my power to emulate the rapper: I squawked; I roared; I yelled at the top of my lungs about the opps; I mimicked his outbursts and ad-libs. My family sent me straight to a mental hospital, and told me they no longer wanted me to listen to him.

To keep it a buck, I went into this interview thinking I’d have to “break up” with Bank$. I was prepared to tell him to his face that I couldn’t listen to his music anymore, that I couldn’t support him on social media or involve myself in anything that pertained to him, in the slightest.

If anything, the complete opposite happened.

When I tell Bank$ about my manic transformation, a diamond-sprinkled smile extends across his face. “That’s hard,” he says, repeating the phrase several times as I go further into detail. “That’s hard.” It’s a simple response, but it tells me everything I need to know: that I’m a pure fan, and Bank$’s music has done what it was designed to do—stick with me. Neither of us have a real answer for why I react the way I react. There’s no exact way to prevent myself from burrowing him into the chemically imbalanced crevices of my brain. Further, there’s no way to extract what’s already been placed. I might as well enjoy the ride, and enjoy the f**k out of Bank$’s music while I’m riding out, manic or not.

After we wrap up our formal interview, Bank$, his manager, and security guard lead me outside to a black SUV, where Bank$ plays unreleased music, including an updated version of a collaboration with Lil Uzi Vert, tentatively titled “ShootOut.” Minutes earlier, I questioned why Bank$ had not yet released it.

“It’s just timing,” he says. “Everything’s about timing. It’s going to drop at the right time. It’s going to do what it’s supposed to do: f**k up the internet. Just f**k everything up.”

For the past several years, I’ve been on the edge of my seat, waiting for Robb Bank$ to shoot into the musical stratosphere a.k.a. the top of the charts. I’ve always believed he’s more than capable of being mainstream. I ask if that’s something he wants, after having a cult fan base for most of his career.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t,” he candidly replies. “Yeah, of course, I want to be mainstream. But I want to do it on my terms. I don’t want to do it on nobody else’s. I don’t want to have to go in there and have a writer next to me and like, tell me what to do. That’s not what I came here for.  I promise—it will be on my terms.”

Another thing Bank$ refuses to compromise on is his penchant for fast-tracked evolution. His listeners exist on both the adoring and analytical sides of fandom, and some can be critical of Bank$’s habit of leaving behind old vocal styles and topics as he grows into a more mature artist.

“I get it,” he says. “When people be like, ‘I don’t like this sh*t, go back to your old sh*t,’ unfortunately, I’m just not one of those people. I’ve tried. I’ve tried everything—everything—to go back to that old Robb like they be saying, but it’s impossible at this point.”

Bank$ continues, sounding resolved, but compassionate toward his day-one fans.

“I can still do that same sh*t, but the subject matter won’t always be the same,” he says. “I’m not going through the same things I was going through then. A lot of that sh*t back then was kid sh*t. You know what I’m saying? I was 17, like, kid depression. Not the sh*t I’m going through now, the real-life sh*t. This is life or death. No matter what, the only thing that will not change, I will always leave everything on the song. Everything that I’m going through, always.”

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Blacc Zacc Looks To Put South Carolina On The Map With 'Carolina Narco'

Many rap artists claim to be closely associated with the plug, but Blacc Zacc's hometown reputation makes those ties wholly believable. Hailing from South Carolina, the former street entrepreneur has spent the last few years on a mission to transcend the trap while legitimizing himself within the music industry and becoming one of the most buzz-worthy artists to ever emerge from his state. Building his audience with projects like High Class Trapper (2017), New Blacc City (2018), and Blacc Frost (2018), Zacc elevated his stock to unprecedented levels with his 2019 mixtape, Trappin Like Zacc, which saw the South Coast Music signee coming into his own. The project, which boasted the Key Glock-assisted heater "Hahaha," was strong enough to help garner the support of Interscope Records, with whom he inked a record deal with last year, a move he hopes will further increase his profile.

“It wasn't more so about the money," Zacc says of his decision to make the transition from an independent artist to one signed to a major label. "Of course everybody's dream is to get a deal when you're a rapper and you really wanna be for real with it, but it wasn't more so about the money with me, it was more so about having the connects. I feel like with me being independent and having to move on my own, I don't really have industry connects like Randy [Interscope publicist] to be able to have me in this office with you right now, it's only so much you can do to get where you wanna be when you're independent. Like you can't buy everything, [but] certain stuff you gotta have connections to."

With a machine like Interscope behind him, Blacc Zacc finds himself asserting his boss status with his 2020 debut. Carolina Narco is inspired by incarcerated drug kingpin El Chapo, who garnered headlines worldwide with his epic escape from prison in 2015. Accompanied by a short film that finds Blacc Zacc tapping into his skills as a thespian, Carolina Narco is the newcomer's biggest release to date and builds on the momentum of his previous offerings. Boasting guest appearances from DaBaby, Moneybagg Yo, Yo Gotti, and Stunna 4 Vegas, Carolina Narco captures Zacc displaying the breadth of his artistry across the project's eleven tracks, resulting in an LP that positions him as not only one of the more promising prospects out of the south, but a trailblazer within his home state. 

VIBE sat down with Zacc to get the scoop on the making of Carolina Narco, expanding his business portfolio, his plans to put South Carolina on the national radar and much more.

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VIBE: 2019 was a breakout year for your career, as you expanded your fan base while reaching multiple milestones. What's a moment from that year that made you realize that your hard work was paying off?

Blacc Zacc: When I started going to shows outside of my city and I started realizing people knowing who I am and recognizing the song and stuff like that. And of course, when I got my deal with Interscope, that's when I knew it was real. Like I really got a chance and an opportunity at this.

Musically, you've garnered comparisons to Gucci Mane, who you've also listed among your biggest influences. What are some things you picked up from watching and listening to Gucci and how has that benefited you as an artist?

Gucci Mane was just like one of my favorite personal rappers just from what he stands for. His delivery, the type of songs he made and I feel like he'll always be a trap legend. So it ain't necessarily that I'm trying to be like him, but I'm so influenced by him that it probably rubs off, like people will probably just get that vibe from me.

For those who may be unfamiliar with your backstory, how would you describe the man you are behind the music and your outlook on life?  

My outlook on life, I'm a thinker. I know in my music it may seem like, “Oh, he's one of those dudes that just talk about the trap or the hood,” or the bad that comes with the trap, but I got sense, too. I'm a deep thinker, I think a lot and I got kids so I gotta think for them and me. I'm the first from my family to really be on this type of level I'm on so I got a lot on my plate, but I don't really complain about it because this is what I signed up for.

You recently released your latest project, Carolina Narco, your most high-profile project to date. How did it feel to take this next leap in your career and what's the reception from the fans been like?

It's been a good one. This project might be one of my biggest I ever have done because I been getting so much feedback from it. Like from Twitter to everybody just calling and just having all positive stuff to say, and the feedback I was getting from everybody just really rocking with it. But this is what I set this out to. Because when I was planning it and I knew this was gonna be my first project from being with Interscope and having my situation, what I got going on, I wanted this to be one of my biggest projects to show people I really can rap. I'm an artist for real. 'Cause like I tell people all the time, a lot of people was respecting me from other stuff, so it never was from music. They wasn't respecting me for music, but now I'm transitioning over and making them respect me for being a rapper and an artist.

Speaking of that transition, was there a moment that really spurred you to use your musical talent?

Like I said, just being a thinker. You got to know, like, if you really in the streets and you're really doing your thing, you got to know that don't last forever. So you got to have your turning point, whether it's rapping or whether you're gonna hustle to start a legitimate business, but you gotta have some kinda way out of it. And I know I wasn't gonna get no job with nobody and I was getting good feedback from rapping. And then, I always knew I could rap, but I learned the hard part about rapping is not making a song, it's getting it out there and marketing. Once I realized that's what really matters, that's when it became like a real job to me, when it came to that, but I always knew you can't do that other stuff forever. So I knew it was gonna have to be a turning point someday, anyway.

How do you feel about rappers speaking about the trap life, but not living it?

I feel like... like if it's working for them, but it's gonna catch up 'cause when you come around somebody that really comes from that and they may ask you something and you don't know about it, or it might even be an interviewer, but some way it's gonna come out. Whether you're acting like a drug dealer, whether you're acting like a gangster or a shooter or whatever, and you walk outside on these New York streets or anywhere and somebody come snatch your chain or do something to you and you don't do nothing about it, it's gonna come out so it's not gonna last long. Either way, it don't matter how good it's lasting right now, it's not gonna last long because the universe is gonna make you stand on everything you're trying to be.

Last year, you released the song "Carolina Narco," which inspired you to build on that theme throughout an entire project. Tell me how that song came together and why you decided to run with that concept?

That song came together when I got in the studio with Youngkio, me and him locked in. I wouldn't even expect Kio to make that kind of beat because he made the "Old Town Road" beat, which is a banger, of course, but I didn't expect him to be on no trap shit like that and his vibe and he's such a cool person outside of the music. But once he came in there with that beat, it had like a Narcos feel and I just started freestyling and that's when I made that song and I was like, 'You know what, I like the song so much, my next album is gonna be like a Narcos feel.' I wanna do a movie with it; I want the front cover to look like when El Chapo got arrested; I wanted the actual song, "Carolina Narco," to be like how when he was getting out the plane and he escaped. Everybody knows El Chapo escaped, so I wanted it to be like him escaping and stuff like that. I just wanted everything to be on some Narco sh*t but in a Carolina way.

Other than El Chapo, who are some other gangsters or hustlers who you got inspiration from or just have a level of respect for?

Of course, like all of the popular people that everybody may know of, like Pablo [Escobar], El Chapo, Griselda Blanco, those types of people, but I mostly was influenced by a lot of people that I seen with my own eyes coming up in my neighborhood. Like Hot Boy, this guy named Boss G, those type of people was getting a lot of money on my side of town that I seen and I was kind of in tune with them, too, but I most definitely know all of the popular people. Pablo, Frank Matthews, Frank Lucas, all of those people. I knew all of them, but I was influenced by a lot of people that were from my neck of the woods, too.

Another song from the album that's been gaining traction is "Make A Sale," featuring Moneybagg Yo. What led you to reach out to him to hop on that song and what was it like recording the music video with him?

For that particular song, how it came about, we was on the Baby On Baby Tour or the Kirk Tour, one of 'em and he was backstage. And we was introduced and I was like, “I wanna do a song with you,” and he was like, “Send it to me.” So I sent him the song, I'm thinking like, 'He gonna take forever to get it done,' you know how these rappers be sometimes, but he sent it right back to me. And as far as the music video, we was both in Miami and I was like, 'Shit, let's shoot the video,' and he was with it. Moneybagg Yo, he been solid, anything I done ever asked of him to do, he's done it.

Over the years, you've collaborated with a number of artists from Memphis, Tennessee, including Yo Gotti, who appears on the Carolina Narco cut "Fucc Up A Check.” Is that a coincidence, and if not, what's the backstory behind your connection to the city?

I ain't never been to Memphis, crazy part about it, but I most definitely done worked with a lot of artists from Memphis, but they just be like my personal favorite artists at the time that I really can rock with and vibe with. When I got a feature from Dolph, I paid for that 'cause I was really rocking with that. I was rocking with that, and with Gotti and stuff like that, that just came later on down the line from just working. They just shot me the feature, that was on the love, that was on the house. Sh*t, it's just a coincidence, I guess, that I work with people [from Memphis]. I even worked with Key Glock from down there.

What are three songs from Carolina Narco that you're excited for the fans to hear and why?

"Cocky" stands out because I like the instruments in it. It got that Narco feel like I wanted and, of course, I put my brother on it because of some other stuff. Stunna, I put him on it 'cause of course, I know he's dope, but that cocky means something else different for him so I was like, “I'ma put him on that one.” And "Bang" came across like...  with DaBaby, I put a snippet up and he wanted to jump on it. I didn't even hear Baby on that song, to be honest, but I wasn't gonna tell him no. But he snapped on that and then it got that aggressive feel on that. And the "Murder For Hire," I feel I started the album off right with that one. I like how the sample in the background gives you that feel like, “This sh*t bout to be hard.”

North Carolina has produced stars like J.Cole, DaBaby, Little Brother, Rapsody, Petey Pablo and many others, but artists from South Carolina haven't been able to attain that same level of success. What would you attribute that to?

It's probably the opportunities, cause South Carolina is not as lit as North Carolina. North Carolina got the Panthers, they got baseball teams, they got all kinds of little stuff up there. Like their city's way more lit than South Carolina but you can't use that as no excuse, it's just that nobody from South Carolina hasn't made it yet because I guess they ain't working how they're supposed to be working. But that's why I'm here to open that door and break that curse.

Being one of the more popular artists to come out of South Carolina in recent years, how does it feel to have the opportunity to put your state on the map?

It feels real good because if you're that person that do that, you're forever a legend you're gonna forever be known for being that one that did that. And just being able to show people from South Carolina that it's possible to do 'cause at this point you ain't gotta act like you're from nowhere else but South Carolina. You can go somewhere and be like, 'I'm from South Carolina, I'm a rapper,' or North Carolina or Carolina, period. Back then, you couldn't really do it.

You launched your own record label, D.M.E., a few years ago, and have been vocal about your focus on being an entrepreneur. Where did that business sense stem from and are there any CEOs in particular that you've modeled your approach after?

To be all the way honest with you, I didn't even know what a CEO was when I was calling myself that, I just knew it was a high position [laughs]. But once I got knowledge of what was going on, people like JAY-Z, Diddy, and even Rick Ross, those type of people motivated me because I got more of a CEO lifestyle than a rapper, people. I had to mold myself into wanting to talk and stuff like that, you can't be anti-social, people will take it the wrong way and take it like you're being cocky. So you really got to be a certain way when you're a rapper versus being a CEO, you ain't gotta be in everybody face all the time, you can kinda play the background.

You signed with a deal with South Coast Music, home to Da Baby and Stunna 4 Vegas. What's the backstory behind that partnership?

I think I signed with South Coast in the end of 2018. I been knew them, like (Daud “King”) Carter and all of them, but just being part of that, it's good 'cause being in the same loop as the winning squad. It's a lot of people that probably just hate that, just not being in the mix of all that's going on, but that just came from everybody working

In what areas would you say you've grown as an artist over the years?

I got more confident on the track. I got more confident performing, I got more confident talking in interviews. It's just a growth, it was a learning experience. I learned the business more. The main thing I learned about it is my audience, I learning who I'm catering my music to. you gotta learn who you're rapping to. You gotta really realize what's your message and who you're trying to deliver your message to.

In 2017, you teamed up with Hoodrich Pablo Juan to release the collaborative mixtape, Dirty Money, Power, Respect. How did that project come about?

Really, I always knew Hoodrich Pablo, but I wasn't really no big fan of his music, my brother felt like it was a good move. So we was in L.A. and my brother brought him to the studio and we knocked out three or four songs. And they wanted to drop it like a little slick collab, so we just put it out there like that.

If you could paint a picture of what your life and career will look like in five years, what would the portrait look like?

One of the biggest in the game and South Carolina being known as a music capital. I want a lot more artists to come behind me, at least five to ten artists to come behind me within these five years and be like megastars including myself.

You've mentioned making a short film to accompany the album, what inspired you to do that and how did it feel to tap into your talents as an actor?

It was really good to see how I can really transform from rapping to acting. I feel like I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it, though, not on no cocky sh*t, but I feel like I can do anything. But it was some real good experience just from testing myself and putting myself in that lane where you have to get in character mode and be serious on the camera all the time and really get into that mode, but then I wanted to do something different. There's nobody I can think of or nobody that's done it in a while where they dropping a short-films with their project. Because a lot of people listen to music, but it's a lot of people that will go look at a movie, too.

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Phillip Harris

Jessie Reyez: The People's Pop Star

Love isn’t an afterthought in our current time of self-isolation. The mélange of it all is felt in the spirit of singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez. Resting with her family in Toronto in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, her tribe of fans waits patiently for her to jump on Instagram Live. The intimate meetups were provided in the past but with her debut album Before Love Came To Kill Us in the ethos, fans are eager for Jessie’s magnetic energy.

One of her Lives, in particular, was life-changing as aspiring artists had the opportunity to sing for her. Diligently listening to every nayhoo, chord, and harmony from Israel, Florida, and Brazil, Jessie gives strong advice to her young fans. From taking advantage of studio time to the perks of platforms like Soundcloud, the gems are passed from one growing artist to another through the telephone screen.

The transfer of loving energy is something that comes easy for Jessie. At 28, the Colombiana embodies the wisdom of her ancestors and wit of a whiskey-toting millennial. The world’s current apocalyptic omens would shake some, but Jessie is focused on the brighter elements of life. “Love can help with actual survival tactics; survival not for the individual but for the community,” she says on her current mindstate around the outbreak. “The only way I think it could hurt us is if we don't think about the community and approach this selfishly. Anyone that’s scared of losing people to this is hard. Every day I’m calling every single one of my elderly family members to make sure they’re good. There are so many celebrities and politicians talking about it so I feel silly reiterating the same information but it’s literally about the curve.”

Our conversation comes days before the release of her debut, a concept album ripened with the everlasting relationship between love and mortality. We have her fans to thank for its release. After an online poll pushed for the album, Jessie committed to the March 27 release date. “I had a hard time too because the title is literally Before Love Came To Kill Us, like, the whole premise of the album was to trigger people into thinking about mortality and now it almost seems like it's a theme song to what everyone is going through. Everybody is thinking about how to survive right now so I’m embracing it because I made the decision to go with it. I've been connecting with fans online, which has been a nice silver lining. I'm not mad at this. It can be worse for me right now.”

The project arrives four years after her breakthrough hit “Figures” lodged a dagger into our musical hearts. With just a guitar and her signature messy up-down hairstyle, Jessie highlights her worst fears—giving love but never receiving it. It made her stand out in 2016 and soon become a notable rising act and fan-favorite alongside fellow newbies like Khalid and SZA.

”I’ve been chasing this sh*t my whole life man, don’t ever think I take this sh*t for granted,” she said during a VEVO Halloween show in 2017. Her debut EP Kiddo proved this with diary-entry songs about her journey in the industry. The harrowing “Gatekeepers” dropped in the middle of the #MeToo movement and pointed out a producer who attempted to pressure the young singer into sleeping with him. The single showcased Jessie’s lethal songwriting skills and her bravery in a competitive, and at times, misogynistic industry.

Jessie’s resilience paired with her unparalleled voice has kept her shining in R&B. With the release of her EP Being Human In Public in late 2018, Reyez began to align herself with other fearless women in the game like Kehlani and Normani. The project, featuring sobering tracks like “F**k Being Friends” and “Sola,” earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Despite losing to Lizzo, Jessie’s voice in R&B had finally been heard.

Women of Latinx descent have always been entwined in soul music. Lisa Velez, known for her groundbreaking group Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam in the 1980s, released songs like “I Wonder If I Take You Home” (1985) and “From Head to Toe” (1987) in a time where Latinas were expected to sing in Spanish or constantly keep the party going with 120 bpm tunes. The release of their tender, 1986 ballad “All Cried Out” would go on to be sampled by R&B quartet Allure in 1997. Sheila E.’s vital percussions not only inspired Prince but are also infused into the tracks by Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, and Lionel Richie.

These steps would also go on to enlighten artists like Amy Winehouse and Ms. Lauryn Hill–two pivotal artists who Jessie Reyez looks to for inspiration. With fearless grit, Reyez takes risks like her sheroes. For one, she’s not afraid to tap into her latinidad by singing in Spanish (hear the touching “La Memoria”) and incorporating the Mexican traditions of Día De Los Muertos in her new video for “I Do.” As R&B turns a new corner with acts like H.E.R., Ella Mai, and Tory Lanez topping the charts, Jessie's abilities make her a new leader Latinx R&B heads can stan and the music industry execs can take note of.

The combination of mindfulness and rustic songwriting taps into a new kind of pop star for people of color today. With love taking a new shape through apps, FaceTime dates and social media, the love songs have become more brutal with Reyez hitting every wrapped high note.

Speaking with VIBE VIVA, Jessie shares the tragedy of soulmates, creating Before Love Came To Kill Us, her consistent chemistry with Eminem and the perks of being yourself.

Before Love Came To Kill Us seems to be here at the right time. How are you feeling about the release?

Jessie Reyez: I'm definitely nervous and I hope it's the best it can be, I hope it is. I tweaked the sh*t out of it. I kept loving it Monday and hating it on Tuesday. Then I would love it on Wednesday and hate it on Thursday. It was very tumultuous. I wasn't feeling pressure when I started. I was free. The more you fu**ing talk to people, the more you risk their perspective affecting your core. Like when people say, “Oh, it's your first album, did you feel pressure?” “Uh, Nah.” And then the second person asks I say, “Nah.” But then the tenth person is asking if you let that sh*t seep in. You're getting closer to the zone where you might be second-guessing your intuition and that never ends right.

On top of that, we had certain people being like, “We have to make sure the album is cohesive.” I remember dealing with song selections and having this word in my head. As a human being, my innate nature and soul are sporadic. I am polar. I am high and low. I am a Gemini. I am a loving woman and a violent woman. I am all these things and for me to comprise and make this album cohesive, as opposed to making the first album me? I had a window of clarity where I was like, f**k that. People are gonna cry and people are gonna bop. The same way they did on Kiddo and the same way they did on Being Human In Public. I didn't want to make everybody cry for the sake of having everybody cry. F**k that. If I'm a rainbow, I'm the worst ends of the rainbow. If it's a bloody rainbow then it's gonna be a bloody rainbow, you know?

I enjoyed the highs and lows of the album because that’s what love is. I enjoyed the collaboration with Eminem. How was it hearing his verse for the first time on "Coffin"?

He's actually one of the last features of the album. To be honest, Eminem could've sent me the verse saying “Quack, quack, quack,” and it still would've been dope. He's a legend and to welcome a legend on my project, someone I listened to as a kid, it's an honor. When I got it, and it wasn't “Quack, quack, quack,” I was like, “Ahh this is dope.” It could've been nothing and I still would've been honored. The fact that's it dope it's a double W.

There’s a quote about soulmates I heard on The Good Place. It goes, “If soulmates do exist, they're not found, they're made.” Do you believe in soulmates?

I'm one of those people who are reluctant to love because I know that the moment I do, I'm f**ked. When I say I'm f**ked I mean it's an uphill to get me to fall in love. Once I get there, it's like I'm crawling out of hell. Like a vertical crawl. It's the worst because now I'm at the point where...everybody's great because everybody starts great. I'm trying not to let my past experiences harden my heart. Sometimes it feels like the hell always wins for me. I think it's a beautiful sentiment.

I'm not sure if I believe this anymore but there was a point in my life where I really thought that you choose to love. You choose who you love because it's not always going to be easy. But you fight through it when it's hard because it's not always gonna be there. Some days I'm an optimist and some days I'm a pessimist. It just depends. Today, I guess I'm just indecisive.

Does it ever get annoying being the "deep girl?"

Well, I did when people were telling me to make the album cohesive. But sometimes I just wanna go nuts and it's not that serious, it's just who I am. I definitely feel that sometimes people have that expectation but I think I have that discernment to not let that affect how I'm gonna move. So when Monday and Tuesday show up and I feel like I want to be an intellectual, then on Wednesday I wanna post some ridiculous f**king meme or like Sunday I wanna just mess around with my nieces and put it online, I'm gonna do that. I feel like people expect it but I don't really care (Laughs).

What do you think of people still looking for love via FaceTime dates during the coronavirus outbreak? I don’t understand how dating can be a priority right now.

It's funny how situations like this can pull people in different ways. I was having a conversation with someone about this too and they were like, “How the f**k can you be thinking about this right now?" They had the same reaction as you. I don't know but that's just people are different. If you push someone towards death, some are going to figure out ways to get out and some people are just going to accept that it's the end and they're going to see what else they can do before the end. Go find a King or Queen.

The pandemic put a hold on the music industry and like many other events, your tour with Billie Eilish has been postponed. How were the first two dates you got to do together?

We got to do Orlando and Miami together and that was nice. It was great man, she's got puppies on her rider which has gotta be the smartest most potent way to happiness. To see a little baby puppy everywhere you go while you work, that's been my highlight.

If you had to pick the “Best Part” and “Worst Part” of your life, what gets put on the table?

The best part is (pauses) not dealing with slimy dudes anymore, like when I was a bottle service girl/bartender. There were a lot of times where I had to bite my tongue and just thug it out. Especially when I was a bottle service girl, that job is f**king hard. At least when you're a bartender, you have the bar standing in the way, so there's a little bit of protection against you. But the bottle service girl, you're in the trenches. You have to slide through there and cover your ass because guys will slap your ass and be matter-o-facto, it's a f**king jungle and I'm happy I went through it because it made me thicker skinned and it made me hustle more.

The worst part would be (pauses) I read this often in books, the f**ked up part is that when you get everything you want and you're still not happy. There are a lot of things I have been blessed with; a career right now that's blossoming right now and I've been blessed to help out people in my family financially, but I still battle a lot of demons internally that I haven't been able to grab a hold of yet. There are just times on the road where I'm like, “I gotta figure it out.” I gotta figure out how to make my psychological health a priority because as good as my brain and my heart are, I wonder, "Am I doing life right?"

It’s so amazing to watch you grow. How do you keep yourself so centered?

When I started, I made it a point to be as authentic as possible. From the jump, it's been that and I owe a lot of that to my parents. My family was very strict in regard to me not being able to go to sleepovers, not having boyfriends, being raised in a Colombian household in Canada because kids are allowed to do whatever they want but you're not.

Your a** is still getting beat, your ass is still in the house. So that's the case with a lot of minorities, the culture is just different in regards to what we're allowed and not allowed to do as kids. I wasn't allowed to do a lot of sh*t but the stuff I was allowed to do was through self-expression. Even if I wasn't allowed to go to sleepovers, have a boyfriend or leave the block, I was still allowed to wear all my brother's clothes. If I didn't wanna wear any girl clothes, it was fine. I was still allowed to bleach my bangs if I wanted to bleach my bangs.

My dad was prepared for me to cut my hair off and dye it pink, I used to take the old curtains my mom was going to give away and chop them up and make dresses and make hairpieces and all this sh*t and if I wanted to go to school like that I was allowed. My parents were very liberal in that regard, allowing me to spend time writing and doing poetry all day.

I remember once when we moved, they were taking down the (switch border light). The place we moved into had a ton of those that were metal and embellished and my mom hated them so then she took them all down. They all had them downstairs in a box and I took the whole box and brought them to my room. I thought it would be so dope if I took them and hammered them all over my room. So my mom came in and saw and was like, “What the hell did she do? This looks ridiculous but okay.”

Now, I'm grown. If I feel like someone is telling me what to wear, or if I feel like someone is strongly suggesting I need to be in this, the first thing I think of is, “My parents don't tell me what to wear. You think you're gonna tell me what to wear?” I've had that feeling of self-expression since I was a kid. That's not something I'm willing to give up cause I know that it was a gift from my parents. A lot of kids have that repression. You have to make sure your hair looks like this, your shoes are f**king this, all that sh*t and I didn't have that. So I honor it by being true to myself now.

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J Stone Talks Touring, Nipsey Hussle, New Music And More

It was all good just two weeks ago. On Thursday (March 12), I headed downtown to meet with West Coast rapper J Stone, who was set to make a comeback performance at the legendary SOB’s. Little did we know, COVID-19 was on the cusp of shutting the entire country down, let alone the city that never sleeps. Earlier that day, New York City Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his decision to ban gatherings of 500 people or more.

I enter the doors of the popular music venue a little after 6 pm and see J Stone on stage for soundcheck. Twenty minutes later, he greets me with a hug and we head downstairs to the green room. He asks me if I want anything to drink and I reply, “Vodka with a splash of cranberry, please.” He kindly comes back with drinks in hand and our interview begins.

I curiously ask him if the Coronavirus has affected his #LoyaltyOverRoyalty Tour and he immediately responds, “Not until today. It’s starting to affect me today. They’re telling me only a certain amount of people can come into buildings.

"They already canceled one of my L.A. meet-and-greets," he adds. "Yeah, it’s serious.” We continued our conversation talking about The Marathon Continues (TMC) and Puma collaboration, Nipsey Hussle, new music and much more.

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