Lyrics Jones
Lyric Jones

Interview: Lyric Jones Sets The Tone Of Showing All of Her Talents With New Album 'Closer Than They Appear'

At a time when uncertainty and fear has run rampant in the world, Lyric Jones' confidence and self-assurance is akin to a cup of hot chocolate on a chilly autumn morning. Well accustomed to a good cup of joe, The New England native, who is currently based in Los Angeles., exudes a warmth that's particularly palpable when discussing her favorite topic: music. A veteran lyricist, who unleashed her debut project Jones St. in 2012, Jones has spent the better part of the past decade asserting herself as one of the most vicious pens on the indie circuit with a string of solo and collaborative releases.  Her last drop, 2019's Gas Money with producer Nameless, received a considerable amount of acclaim, however, Jones felt she had yet to separate herself from the pack and break through the proverbial glass ceiling of being pigeonholed as a "female rapper." However, a chance encounter with rapper Phonte Coleman, of Little Brother and Foreign Exchange fame, earlier this year led to an artistic rejuvenation on the part of Jones, after Coleman offered to executive produce what is the rappers' forthcoming project, Closer Than They Appear.

Released today, October 27, 2020, the album captures Jones' hunger and grit, as well as her immense talent and versatility, the latter of which she says played into the title of the album. "I think a lot of people kind of wrote me off as kind of staying stagnant," Jones reveals to VIBE, via phone. "Putting me in a box and just not giving me any room to break through, so I think the project kind of represents the title in and of itself. The project is an object that's closer than they appear. I'm an object that's closer than they appear. And Phonte and all of the other people that came together to be a part of this, whether they're mentors, celebrities, or whatever throughout my journey were considered like objects. So it was kind of a triple entendre, in a way, of just tying [together] how everything makes sense."

Featuring guest spots from Little Brother, Vic Mensa, Phil Beaudreau, and Sy Smith, with production by Nottz, Phil Beaudreau, Carrtoons, Focus..., H0wdy, Blaaq Gold, and Nameless, Closer Than They Appear is a culmination of the road traveled thus far for Jones and indicative that her time is now.

VIBE spoke with Lyric Jones about her new album, being challenged creatively by Phonte, working with Vic Mensa and Phil Beaudreau, her appearance on Sesame Street, and more.

VIBE: Your new album, Closer Than They Appear, is your first full length release since 2019's Gas Money, your collaborative album with Nameless. How does it feel to get a new body of work out to the public, particularly being that it's your first solo album in years?  
Lyric Jones: It feels good. I wanted to have some type of a bookmark [to put] on 2020, it's a lot going on this year. I think this is gonna be a year the whole world is gonna remember for the rest of our lives. And as an artist and musician, we use our words for a living...I just would be remiss to not have a body of work to put a stamp on my sentiment and energy on this year.

You recently touched on the album's title being inspired by the trajectory of your own career and breaking through any proverbial glass ceilings as an artist. Would you say that sentiment or sense of urgency bled over into your creative process?  
I don't know if it was a sense of urgency. I don't think urgent is the word. I just think the actual title of the album came together with just me realizing at this point and me questioning did I say all that I have to say already, is this even for me anymore? All of those questions that I was asking kind of started to come full circle when I connected with Phonte.

Earlier this year, an encounter with Phonte Coleman backstage at a Little Brother tour stop in L.A. led to him deciding to hop on board for Closer Than They Appear as an executive producer. Give us the backstory on your history with Phonte?
I've always been a fan of Little Brother, particularly Phonte, throughout his solo career, from the beginning. I was super young, in high school, when Little Brother came out, and then [when I was in] college was where he really came into the Foregin Exchange and his own solo stuff, so I was just very inspired. I had confidence in kind of being myself when I saw him in his career-path because he would sing and he would rap and he would curate and put all types of different people on projects that I would know about already that was bubbling. So I would just be a butterfly and be like, 'Wow, I feel like he's me and I'm him,' you know. So for years, I've just been feeling this connection to him as an artist and how versatile he was and how people didn't put him in a box. Whereas other artists, when they come out rapping and then they try to sing or do jazz or something, people hem and haw about it. I didn't really see that happening with Phonte so I was like, 'He's the blueprint of how I want to be looked at in the industry.' Just a savant, like someone that can do it all.

In what ways did Phonte challenge you during the creation of this album and how would you describe his role in the overall recording process?  
Since I was younger, when I first started making music, I never really had anybody pick apart a bar and kind of go, 'Hey, this reference is good, but it's not landing the way I think you're trying to land it, so rework that.' Or, 'I see this double entendre, I see this metaphor, but I have to ask you about it, so try that again,' you know? That was a good challenge 'cause I got so used to everybody just saying, 'You're dope, you're dope, bars only.' But having my favorite rapper really dig into the bars [on] a couple of these songs, it's like I expected it, but when it happened, it's just like, 'Oh...Damn, OK.'  So that was a good challenge. And his role was executive producer, so he A&R'ed, he arranged the songs. I brought some tracks to the table that he liked, which was good so, he would give the yay or nay on all the tracks, what order we put it in, the personnel that was on the records, So he oversaw, and that was the first time that's ever happened for me, too. I'm usually in the driver's seat with everything, all of my music, every aspect of my career, so that was also a challenge.

Being that the COVID-19 pandemic came in the middle of the making of the album, did that have any impact on your ability to lock into a creative zone, for better or worse, and how did you go about that in the face of uncertainty?  
That's exactly what it was for me. It was very paralyzing in the beginning, because it's just news porn and police brutality porn, it was just hard to talk about anything else. Like, at one point, with "Show You How," I'm like, 'I don't wanna write about no love or nothing like that, I'm just not in that space,' but Phonte's enthusiasm at one point got me going again. I was already in a funk before we started on the project so what got me wanting to do anything was this was his idea and brainchild of wanting to do this. So him being motivated and having a jolt of energy got me wanting to do it, too. So, with COVID, the beginning definitely was a standstill for a while 'cause everybody's just trying to figure out what's next, but then, once I did the [NPR] Tiny Desk [performance], that kind of got my gears going again."

The first single from Closer Than They Appear, "Show You How," includes a guest spot from Vic Mensa. How did that collaboration come about and what was it like working with Mensa?  
"Show You How" was the last song that we were working on when I went to Raleigh [NC] at the start of the album, so that was when we really locked in. Unfortunately, I had to leave to come back to L.A. to go back to work, but that was one of the songs where we were really catching the vibe. I was sitting on that track for a couple of years, so that was one of the tracks I let Phonte hear and he was like, 'Yeah, this is it.' That went through a few phases, we laid down some background vocals and then I think I started writing the verse around the beginning of quarantine, like right before COVID kind of hit off. And once I finished, Phonte originally was supposed to be on the rap part and Phonte was just like, 'You know, what we're talking about and how you're talking, I don't know if that's the message that we're trying to come across. I'm the executive producer, this topic-matter, I just think we should find somebody closer to your age, a young dude that can vibe in both worlds just like you.' 
And we ran through a couple of names, but I had mentioned Vic Mensa. He just crossed my mind. I remember him on Kaytranada and just a whole lot of different things where he's a chameleon just like me, and Phonte was like, 'I like the idea of Vic on, let me see what I can do, let me reach out.' He did and Vic sent that back, like, asap. From then on, I've texted Vic a couple of times, of course I thanked him immensely, but that was a perfect example of Phonte doing the curating and being the executive producer here and players together to have the song do the right thing.

You showcase your talent as a vocalist in multiple instances on Closer Than They Appear, which has become a calling card for a number of artists in recent years. With proven lyricists making a splash off the strength of their crooning, was it important for you to place an emphasis on that side of your artistry?  
Absolutely, that was like the key thing to highlight. I've been singing my whole career, from my debut album in 2012, I was doing a whole lot of hooks for people, like J-Live, Planet Asia. There's a lot of stuff out there with me just singing, but somehow, a lot of people still don't know that I sing, it baffles me 'cause I sing a lot. I sing way more than people think and people still aren't connecting the dots, so Phonte, yeah, I don't even think we discussed it. I just think it was understood, like, 'Yeah, you're definitely gonna be singing on here, we're gonna showcase what you can do.' But for me, it was very important that I'm singing on stuff and showing that I can play in other sandboxes. I'm not just over here, again, in this female rapper box that is over here, I can do a house song or dance song. I can sing a ballad, just a ballad [with] no bars. I can do a basa record with Phil Beaudreau, but then I can fuck with Little brother you know [laughs]? I can get on a Nottz track, like, all of that was an intentional thing for creating this.

Another artist that isn't listed as a feature, but appears on the album is Rah Digga, who you've toured with over the past few years and has become a mentor of yours. Describe the chemistry between the two of you, musically or otherwise, and the influence she's had on your artistry and career?  
Digga is on track seven, it's called "Wanna Say," and she's doing adlibs on there. And initially, we were really thinking about how we could include Digga on the project, whether it's a verse or whatever and Phonte was like, 'Yo, her doing adlibs is such a subtle enhancement and it represents how she's been behind you for so many years.' Like the symbolism of her just doing adlibs, granted that we've done two or three songs already, I loved that idea. So Digga just hopped on that real quickly adlibs on her phone and the way it came together, I really love it.   But yes, to answer your question about our relationship, Digga is like my sister, for real. People say that in this industry and it's just, like, cap  [laughs]. Digga's mom calls me daughter, her little daughter is like my niece. She's been at my crib, slept over here multiple times, she's really like my sister. We talk all of the time, we bicker, we challenge each other. And I love that Digga doesn't make me feel small. she talks to me like I'm her equal, like I'm her peer. Now, she'll gather me if I'm wyling [laughs]. She'll get me together, but she lets me be myself, even if it's to a fault, but she'll correct me later. I feel comfortable being who I am with Digga and that's true family, true love and unconditionally, so I'm immensely grateful. And it really just started with me being a big fan and running up on her, and she always tells how it wasn't the music that attracted  me to her, it was my work ethic and how positive and assertive I was. She sees a lot of me in her so that's how everything started in the beginning."

 

 

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Are there any particular songs on the album that you're excited for fans to hear or hold extra weight to you from a personal standpoint? If so, why?  
"Face To Face," I think, was the real honesty. I think out of all the songs, people kind of get a gist of who I am. The good thing about me through my career is you literally learn something about me on every song. I don't just rap in fluff [laughs]. I have a couple of those, but everything is insightful unto who I am, but I think "Face To Face," how it kicks off, I really think it's eye-opening and real and relatable. And "Angelina," I think [that track] really shows my ear. That was a track that Phonte was surprised that I liked. He kind of was playing it and was skipping to the next one and the next one and I was like, 'Hold on, go back to this, go back to this.' He was like, 'You like this one? Ok.' And the way we came up with the metaphor and collaborating with Phil, I hope the musician heads really love that one. Like, that one is for the people with an ear, for sure.

On another note, you recently did voice over work on an episode of Sesame Street, which cast you as a rapping hamburger battling against a hiking boot, voiced by Phonte. Being that Sesame Street is such a legendary program that transcends hip-hop, what was that experience like?  
It was so different because me being in L.A., I've been wanting to do voice-over stuff for so long. I just think it's a fun thing to do and kind of step out of the realm of being an artist, like, being Lyric Jones. I've been waiting for those opportunities. Again, that was something like March, I wanna say right when COVID was starting to get real. Phonte, he was like, 'All right, I need you to do this voice-over thing real quick. I need it, like, tonight, so'...[laughs]’. I was like, 'Ok,' and I just, like, hopped up, opened up Logic and it was just so fun doing a little trappy animated voice 'cause that's not something I would normally do for me on my project. So the thought of all these little kids that may know me as a rapping hamburger and not Lyric Jones is kinda cool to think about.

What message or feeling do you hope listeners walk away with after giving this album a spin and what would you say someone who wasn't privy to your music beforehand can expect?  
This project is for the people, it's not for me. I'm more concerned about how everybody else feels, like, I really feel this album is for everybody else and that's a unique perspective. I just want people to grasp the range. This project was really supposed to highlight the versatility and the range of Lyric Jones as a writer, as an emcee, but also as a musician. I want people to grasp my ear and grasp my style, holistically. But I really think this project kind of shows the range of all that I can do and all of the worlds that I can play in and that's what I want people to get. I don't want to be labeled 'female rapper,' that's like the biggest thing I'm trying to run away from with this project. It's like, 'Nah, we're not doing boxes here.'"

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Interview: BET's Soul Train Awards 2020 Debuts DJ Cassidy's Pass The Mic Vol. 4 On Television

Handpicked by icons like JAY-Z & Beyonce, Diddy, President Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey to rock various parties over the years, DJ Cassidy is well-versed in the art of creating a joyous atmosphere that leaves dance floors at their capacity. A native of New York City, Cassidy has spent the better part of the past two decades making his rounds as one of the most sought-after DJs on the globe, jet-setting from city to city around the globe, while building relationships with entertainers across all mediums and genres. That network of creatives came in handy earlier this year when Cassidy launched the first installment of his series, Pass The Mic, which finds him rounding up musical icons in Hip-Hop and R&B to perform their biggest hits from the comfort of their own homes, for the world to see. 

Having amassed over 20 million views across various platforms, Pass The Mic has become a massive success, to the point where BET took notice of the buzz surrounding the first three volumes and tapped DJ Cassidy to premier the fourth as part of a holiday special in conjunction with the 2020 Soul Train Awards. Cassidy, a longtime fan of Soul Train and its legacy, considers the opportunity as one of the highlights of his career, one which comes with expectations he plans to live up. “To be contributing something to Soul Train Award night is really an honor and I don't take that responsibility lightly,” he shares with VIBE, via phone. “When BET asked me to produce this special for Soul Train night...I really, really felt a weight on my shoulder, in a good way. I felt a responsibility to put the legacy of Soul Train on as high of a pedestal as I possibly could and I wanted the music on my show (and) the artists of the show to really reflect the spirits of Soul Train.”

Taking place on November 29th, DJ Cassidy’s Pass The Mic: Soul Train Edition (7 pm PST / 10 pm EST) will feature some of the most popular artists from the first half of the 1980s, which Cassidy says is his personal favorite era of dance music, a realization he came to while putting the initial pieces of the puzzle together for Volume 4. “Nearly all of my favorite dance records of the 1980s, particularly the first half of the decade, he explains. “When I started making a list of potential songs to include in this edition, I realized very quickly that the mass majority of songs on my list were songs that were released in the 1980s and I put them in chronological order. And then I noticed something even more specific, I realized that the majority of the records were released in the first half of the decade and formed a conclusion. My favorite dance records of all-time were the R&bB records released in the first half of the 1980s. And it became clear at that moment that that was the era that I wanted to celebrate with BET Pass The Mic: Soul Train Edition. And what greater era to celebrate all that is Soul Train than that era?”

VIBE spoke with DJ Cassidy about the runaway success of Pass The Mic, partnering with BET, the influence and legacy of Soul Train, and much more.

 

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VIBE: With over 20 million views across various digital platforms, Pass The Mic has become one of the more popular live performance series to take the world by storm. How has it been seeing a project that stemmed from a phone conversation take on such a life of its own?

DJ Cassidy: Well, watching Pass The Mic transform from a living room pandemic-era one-man show into a primetime BET Holiday Special has been truly surreal. Never in my wildest imagination, in late April, when I conceived the idea, did I ever think that I would have an entire production company backing my efforts. And never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be taking part in such an iconic award show night as The Soul Train Awards. 2020 has continuously brought on surprise after surprise for everyone across the world, in so many ways, but I do believe behind the many stormy clouds have been some breaks of sunshine. And I'm really honored that so many people across the world have reacted so emotionally to these few episodes.

In the last edition of Pass The Mic, you focused on the R&B music of the late '80s and early '90s, with legends like Keith Sweat, SWV, TLC, En Vogue, Full Force, Bell Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown, Teddy Riley, and Boyz II Men all performing their greatest hits. What are some moments from that volume of Pass The Mic that stand out as your favorites?

This is always the hardest question because each interaction that I have with an artist is personal, each interaction is intimate, and each interaction is special in its own way, but I will tell you a couple of stories.

I had a particularly fun time with Full Force. I was really excited by the fact that all three brothers in Full Force, Bowlegged Lou, B. Fine, and Paul Anthony, in addition to their cousin, Baby Jerry, all wanted to take part. Now, the story of Passing The Mic to Full Force dates back to before I even started filming. I had asked DJ Chill Will of Doug E. Fresh fame to help me in recruiting some of the artists for Volume 2 and when I started recruiting in Volume 3 I asked Chill WIll if he knew anyone from the group Full Force, and he said, 'Of course.' So, about an hour later, I got a call from Bowlegged Lou and Bowlegged Lou's personality jumped out of the phone. He was the same guy you saw in House Party that said, 'I'm gonna kick your fu**ing aaaaas*****.' But instead of being a bully, he was the sweetest, warmest, most endearing person that I had ever met on the phone. He said, 'Consider Full Force in and let me know if you need helped recruiting anybody else.' From that point on, Bowlegged Lou became my unofficial captain's coordinator the same way Chill Will had been on Volume 2. Bowlegged Lou and I became best friends very fast and by the time I recorded my segment for the show with him, his brothers, and his cousin, we had already grown close. His brothers, B. Fine and Paul Anthony, all live on the same block as him and they all went to Lou's house and one at a time, they filmed their part and it was really exciting for me. It was all three members of Full Force, the iconic R&B group, the iconic characters from the House Party films and they were right in front of me. And they were doing this iconic record that was the soundtrack to this iconic scene in House Party, and it was really a great moment.

Another really special moment was Teddy Riley. Teddy really laid the musical foundation for this era, so to have Teddy take part was not only very special, but was very necessary. I'll never forget the feeling of going back and forth with Teddy Riley and kind of rapping the parts of the song ["Rumpshaker"] with him. And we're going back and forth, lyric for lyric, phrase for phrase and the 11 year-old in me couldn't believe what I was doing and I feel the same excitement as an adult that I would've felt as an 11 year-old going back and forth with Teddy Riley on the lyrics to "Rumpshaker."

With the growing popularity of Pass The Mic, I'm sure many more artists have been receptive to participating in the series. Has it become difficult to be able to fit all of the artists into the lineup and if so, how do you curate and decide which acts and songs are most important to showcase?  

Well, in producing Volume 1, 2, and 3, I had no time limit, parameters, guidelines, or restraints. I simply decided on a category, an era, or a genre and I made a master list of my favorite records from that era. And then, I went down that list, one at a time, and reached out to every artist on that list. I was so lucky and so fortunate that the mass majority of the artists I was able to get in touch with right away and they wanted to take part. That reaction was partly due to the fact that they had seen previous episodes and I didn't need to explain the concept or educate the artists, they were already informed and enthusiastic about the show. As I continued to produce these episodes I did start to hear from artists unsolicitedly expressing interest to be a part of future episodes and I must say that that has been one of the greatest feelings.

With this fourth installment, BET Soul Train edition, for the first time, I had parameters. I was producing a thirty minute special for a television network in which there would be commercial breaks. I learned quickly, that when all was said and done, I would have nineteen-and-a-half minutes of airtime that had to be broken up into four segments. Now, for someone that's used to creating episodes with no boundaries regarding time and with no breaks or pauses. This was going to be a new process and I had to figure out early on in that process how to not let momentum simmer for one second in those breaks. I knew it was possible, but I knew it depended on the music. The music, the songs, the artists all had to share a relentless quality, they all had to literally knock you down with excitement, to the point where every time we broke, you were left on the edge of your seat. And that was my goal and I think I achieved it, but I guess we'll know on Sunday [laugh].

Let us know how the opportunity to partner with BET come about?  

About a week after I premiered Volume 3, I got a call from BET and they said, 'We absolutely love what you've been doing and we'd love to be a part of it, when is your next episode?' I said to them, 'I haven't left my house in six weeks, I haven't begun to think about it.' And they said, 'Well, could you think about it and could you think about it fast, because we'd love to premier your fourth installment as a holiday special after the 2020 Soul Train Awards on the network on November 29.' Well, I nearly fell off my chair because I was not expecting this call. I knew Pass The Mic was growing, I knew Pass The Mic was becoming something greater than I had envisioned, but I wasn't yet thinking about here or how it could live on another type of platform, particularly television. I said, 'Yes,' immediately, and soon realized that if all went according to plan, I would have less than 21 days to produce the entire show, from conceptualizing the playlist, to recruiting the artists...to passing the mic, as I call it, to editing, to post-production, to delivery. I was used to taking four, five, to six weeks producing this show, again, with no parameters, with no guidelines, with no delivery specs. So I knew that I was heading toward unknown, unchartered territory for myself, but I was ready for it, and 21 days later, I delivered DJ Cassidy's Pass The Mic: Soul Train Edition.

 

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Being that this is the Soul Train Edition of Pass The Mic, what are your favorite memories of watching Soul Train and what influence did that have on you as a music fan and a creative?  

I'm gonna tell you about two things you might not expect me to talk about. So growing up watching Soul Train, as we all did, I would say the most influential part of that experience, to me, was the Soul Train Line because the Soul Train Line went on to affect my experience as a DJ.

I can't begin to count the number of dance floors in which I've been responsible for instigating a Soul Train Line. Taking that a step further, I can't begin to count the number of iconic dance floors that I've instigated a Soul Train Line, and what I mean by iconic dance floors, there have been so many legendary nights that I've had the honor of DJing in which Soul Train Lines have formed. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at Barack Obama's second inauguration at the White House. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at Oprah Winfrey's school opening in South Africa, on New Year's Eve. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at JAY-Z and Beyonce's wedding. I remember seeing a Soul Train Line form at so many iconic parties, on so many iconic dancef loors, and that brings me back to those early days in my bedroom watching Soul Train, seeing the Soul Train dancers come down that line.

The second Soul Train memory I wanted to discuss involves the Soul Train theme song. Now, everyone remembers when the Soul Train theme song was "The Sound of Philadelphia," by the Philly soul group MFSB. So, MFSB, "The Sound of Philadelphia" is this iconic Philly soul/dance record produced by Gamble and Huff. But, as a kid growing up in the early '90s, I remember when that transformed into a theme song that was performed by Naughty By Nature, and at the time, Treach was my ultimate hero.  I thought Treach was the coolest man to walk the face of the planet, so the evolution of the Soul Train theme song has always been an interesting evolution to me and kind of an evolution that kind of reflected the times of Hip-Hop and R&B. And that Naughty By Nature theme song really speaks to my memories as a child watching Soul Train.

With this edition of Pass The Mic taking place on a holiday, where many viewers will be tuning in with family members across various generations, does that make this particular Volume of Pass The Mic even more special?

For sure. I wanted every song on this edition to be a song who's words everyone knew. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what year you were born, you know the words to these songs and that was really important to me.  The show is airing on Thanksgiving weekend now, even though the world is still in quarantine. I'm sure many people are still getting together in small numbers with their immediate family and maybe some close friends. And even if you're not celebrating with friends and family in person, you might be celebrating with friends and family on FaceTime or Zoom, so I wanted this show to speak to everyone in your living room. I wanted these songs to transcend a decade, to transcend era, to transcend category, to transcend genre. And I believe they do.

Being that Pass The Mic has made the transition from online to network television, how do you see the series evolving moving forward and what can fans of the series look forward to moving forward?

Well, I think the sky's the limit and I think the opportunities are endless. As I mentioned earlier on in our conversation, I would've never imagined back in April that I would be premiering my first episode on television. And certainly never on BET and certainly never on their last award show night of the year, and that can only make me believe that the journey is just beginning. And I don't know where the path is leading, but I know it will continue to lead me into more homes of people around the world.

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Dirti Diana

New Music: Dirti Diana Dominates, Benny The Butcher's Even More Famous, Flee Lord Blesses Us, BWLR's Pink Range Rollin' & Statik Selektah Balances The Game

Dirti Diana ft. Euro GotIt - "Self Made"

It had to be around 2017 or so, I attended a show at the now-shuttered Times Square New York favorite B.B. King's performance bar. If memory serves me correctly, Dirti Diana was one of the opening acts for the legendary Juice Crew reunion show. While all in attendance were waiting for the main event, we were all thoroughly shocked by the superfly fitted, curvy brown-skinned MC with the strong voice, blazing bars of fury, and sparkly smile.

I was so impressed by her stage presence and powerful punchlines, I ended up texting a few record label execs a video clip of her performance and suggested they grab her up. This is without knowing a single thing about her other than her name. It is a rare feat for me to do such an act without any backstory or other music, but I just knew she was dope and needed to be on bigger platforms. So it makes me smile to see that D.D. the Diva (I just made that up, haha) has linked up with AB Butler (formerly of Chris Lighty's Violator management company) and his Back in the Game Entertainment and the Imperial Records crew to release her new music.

Get with her and new talent EuroGotit, as they shower you with that luxurious, lavish talk on "Self Made." You are sure to see more from the fly boss of body and bars.

Benny The Butcher - "Famous"

Buffalo, New York builds a different breed. Conway the Machine survived gunshots before his days in the limelight and now his family member Benny the Butcher can claim the same, but the twist is Benny is well known as he recovers from a recent attempt on his life. Earlier this month, while out shopping in Houston, Texas, Benny and his boys were approached in a Walmart parking lot and the scene ended with Benny being shot in the leg. He's been posting his progress after addressing the situation through a few Instagram posts.

This situation bookends a big year for the Griselda crew member as his stardom has come into focus in 2020. His second studio album, Burden Of Proof, musically conducted entirely by red hot producer Hit-Boy, showed a new side to Benny's usual dark yet dope feeling tracks. Hit took Benny in a new space which you can hear on his latest single, "Famous." On this track and the video to match, we find Benny contemplating his newfound celebrity against his thoughts of still being Benny from the block.

We wish him a speedy recovery and to continue to shine against those that wish him otherwise.

Flee Lord - No More Humble Fashion

You aren't familiar with Flee Lord, the street God? Where you been? Damn, homie...catch up with the hardest working rap word pusher who has dropped a project for each of the last 11 months of the year. It's a huge feat for an MC that rhymes on the gutter side of the game. He's a frequent collaborator with the mighty Griselda team and on his newest release, No More Humble Fashion, he boasts heavy heat from Conway and Westside Gunn. Both tracks are worthy of your time, as is the whole project.

Flee has the voice of the dude you'd imagine tell you to, "Take all that shit out your pockets! Right now!!" Yeah, his style is that grimy. A co-sign by the late great Prodigy (of Mobb Deep) a few years ago, put Flee on the radar for a few in the know, but he didn't rest on that accolade alone. Overworking, doing shows and having fire artwork for his music has garnered the attention that is bubbling to the surface.

Be sure to give the Lord 32 minutes of your time this weekend, you won't regret it.

BWLR - Pink Range Lyrics that lyricists love is all that flows from Rugz D. Bwlr. I've been listening to the Harlem native for many years now and this project shows his ever-evolving skills at mastering words on beats. Speaking of beats, how crazy is it that an ill MC in his own right with Passport Rav, did all the production on Pink Range. The laid back melodic mood music takes both of their statuses to the next level of dope, especially on the floating measure of "Harlem River Drive." There is a certain bop that Harlem cats carry...it's something that's known by cats from all over NYC. BWLR goes on to explain this and the meaning behind the album's title in this Instagram post: "In the late '80s, the Range Rover established a rugged symbol of wealth for the classy roaming the concrete jungle. In the late 2000s, the Pink Range represented the flamboyance of the Harlem dope boy. This mythological piece of machinery stood for something and the streets that it drove on spoke the trials and tribulations of Harlem. With that BWLR adds his stories with a personal and sometimes dark side of the family going to jail, friends dying and the spoils of gentrification. " That pink Range really was it back then...ask Cam'ron and Lala Anthony. In the meantime, spin the block with this blasting out your own cool whip.

Statik Selektah - The Balancing Act

There really is much to say about how ill Statik Selektah is...like, insanely sick with the rap game beats. I mean, early in the quarantine Statik rocked an IG Live DJ set for our VIBE account and it was scheduled during an East coast shutdown where none of the social media platforms were working. None of them. But, Statik found a way to fool the ISPs and transmitted from Brooklyn, by way of Hawaii! Yep, don't let that go over your heads. It just shows how he is an under pressure, high-level performer, on that all the real hip-hop artists want to work with. Just check his album line up...

Where most of the careers of boom-bap lane producers seem to stay right there, for the underground heads, Statik made the supreme effort to expand his sound with more melodies and bridges and chord switches. It's refreshing to hear our greats go beyond their comfort zone and challenge both themselves and the artists they collaborate with.

The Balancing Act album art cover finds Statik looking directly at us with his young daughter in tow. When hearing the themes of this album you'll see why he choose this heartfelt moment to freeze for our own contemplation. Listen to "Time" with Jack Harlow, "The Healing" featuring Black Thought, "America is Canceled" showing Jadakiss, Styles P, Termanology, and the album in full for the harsh lessons of life wrapped in love and light of the current state of the world.

Much respect Stat.

 

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Taraji P. Henson performs onstage for the 2020 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 22, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for dcp

Watch Taraji P. Henson Bring The Party To The 2020 American Music Awards

What can't Taraji P. Henson do? The actress, philanthropist, and new podcast series host kicked off the American Music Awards 2020 with an energetic opening number many of us didn't know we needed. Live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, Henson hit the stage with The Wiz's "A Brand New Day" and danced through other classics like Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder, and Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage."

By the end of Cardi B's "W.A.P.," Henson's outfit changes a gold bodysuit and a slew of masked dancers by her side, let's just say Ms. Henson did that as this year's host of the annual music award show. After completing her performance before America (and a small socially distanced audience), she got powdered up and got right into it. Alright, Taraji!

You betta @tarajiphenson! #AMAsWithUs #AMAs pic.twitter.com/tVEH4bpHvC

— LaTonya Holmes (@LaTonyaHolmes) November 23, 2020

ICONIC: @tarajiphenson dancing "WAP" to open up the 2020 #AMAs. pic.twitter.com/co5EylXJ2n

— Cardi B Stats (@CardiStats) November 23, 2020

Okay @tarajiphenson I see you baby 😂🥰🔥#AMAs pic.twitter.com/W49Zle6xqO

— YA FAV ♓️ (@Yafav_Petty) November 23, 2020

We just hope to make 2020 a little brighter with our show tonight! ❤️ #AMAs pic.twitter.com/qfHrwBxZ8Z

— American Music Awards (@AMAs) November 23, 2020

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