Jeezy Interview for Brick Mag

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Profiled the hustle god Young Jeezy for Brick. Available in UK and US stores, or pre-order here.

Here's a snippet too. 

Tech has Steve Jobs, Buddhists have the Dalai Lama, the streets have Jeezy. Trap’s avowed saint, his voice scolds subwoofers like hot coal. Each rasped ad-lib is a street mantra. Every “aye” or “let’s get it” a firm earworm, sticking to the synapses and energising dopeboys. Harder than mortar, renowned for flipping bricks of another kind, Jeezy’s perpetually consistent. The Snowman has soundtracked more white powder than Frosty. But it’s more than that. Whether flipping rock or real estate, Jay Wayne Jenkins embodies the grind. He’s the street dream, the late shift, the second job on a Sunday, the determination to succeed and the hustle to do it. Who else took a pay cut to pursue music and picked Birdman up in a Porsche before fame, just to stunt? Who else negotiated simultaneous contracts with L.A Reid and Diddy, counted America’s most infamous cartel B.M.F as allies and bought two million of real cash to a cover shoot because he didn’t want any fakery? Only Jeezy.

Now 40, and pursuing a tenth street sermon, the Snowman’s an industry vet. From grams to Grammy nominations, number one albums to false arrests and public beef, he’s seen it all. Jeezy should be satisfied, at peace. But that’s not how the resolute hustler operates, he’s addicted to adversity. Years of pot whipping and pistol gripping will do that. “I just feel like you should never stop challenging yourself, that had a lot to do with my success. Just being put in predicaments that I could figure or navigate myself through, that’s the excitement.” Talking to Jeezy is like attending a prime motivational seminar, minus cheering moms and regrettable instalment fees. A hood Tony Robbins, his conversation makes you want to be better, try harder, do more. We half-joke about starting an advice column. Every other line is quotable. He means it too. “Your next move has got to be your best move, especially if you’re from where we’re from. It’s always about getting to that next level, surrounding yourself with the right things. How can you push yourself to do something you’ve never done before? That’s what it’s always about.”

 

London Restaurateurs "Chinese Laundry Room"

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Did this lil write up for London's Root & Bone monthly. 

How did two feisty designers create palate kicking Chinese cuisine despite a fire, cultural stereotypes, all nighters and zero chef experience? A dab of confidence, loads of motivation and a touch of good natured naivety was their blueprint. 

Peiran Gong and Tongtong Ren’s Chinese Laundry Room is nuzzled within Angel’s foodie haven Upper Street. Named after the original immigrant venture, their eatery evokes warm nostalgia through a 80s dining room aesthetic. Interior design outfit Michaelis Boyd Studio crafted a colourful mishmash of kitsch furniture, patterned tiles and kooky vintage art. With a repertoire boasting sweet tofu curd, beer sauce clams and five spice basil popcorn chicken, their food is equally chromatic. Old school exotics such as tripe, trotter, bamboo fungus and chicken carcass also boldly feature. Ren and Gong proudly modernise childhood traditions, educating unfamiliar taste-buds in process. 

The pair were unversed with fast food stereotypes before U.K emigration, their methods at odds to the five minute wok toss. “That’s not the type of food we grew up with, so we don’t want to eat that. We don’t really eat stir fried rice and noodles,” Tongtong attests. Foregoing mass production, sleep and sanity, the duo handcraft their dumplings, noodles and spring onion pancakes. Humble flour balls don’t evoke thoughts of precision, but there’s a difficult art to the folds, dough thickness and wrapping technique. It takes four hours to make 150 dumplings, only 30 servings. As a staple food always sold cheaply despite intensive preparation, it's a selfless pursuit. Ren and Gong say valuing all things edible is Chinese tradition. Families often start preparing dinner in the morning and dishes such as Mei Cai Kou Rou (steamed pork with preserves) take hours of concoction. Peiran says “in China, it's impossible to see someone on the street eat a sandwich for lunch. Every single meal has to be hot, cooked food. They can't understand how someone could go for something that easy.” 

Oddly, the duo’s unification wasn’t spurred by edible exploits. Both studied design in Bejing and were acquainted by a friendly tutor. Ren and Gong later owned labels until culinary daydreams took charge. Before setting up Chinese Laundry Room in 2015, they’d drag themselves to 4am meat markets after work or a night out. Their visual instincts, honed by the Royal College of Art, remain intact. “We definitely cook and appreciate food from a designer’s perspective, since that is basically our methodology towards everything” affirms Tongtong. Everything from menu illustrations to the candy pink signage smacks of artistic flair. Unfortunately a terrace fire recently seared their meticulous handiwork. Peiran was locked inside, but fled unscathed. Three forensic scientists failed to uncover the inferno’s mysterious cause. Doors are temporarily shut for the next few months, yet the plucky twosome aren’t defeated. They’ve kept occupied with menu brainstorming, a residency at Marylebone’s Carousel venue, and quickly invited me to sample (gorge on) their recent creations.  

When arriving at Tongtong’s South London flat, it takes microseconds to spot the flamingo pantene lathered on her door. I’m here to sample perhaps their bravest offering. The century egg. Aged for weeks in clay, ash or rice hulls, the six hundred year old delicacy is a rare sight. Tongtong and Peiran are one of few restaurateurs promoting the preserved nucleus. As white and yolk become dark green, it forms a tar coloured globdule with a potent aroma. My timid nibble is rewarded with a singular experience. 

Sliced on soft tofu with a chilli soy vinaigrette, the egg is complemented by diced cashews. Each bite varies slightly in strength, at times rustic or acidic. The flavour variance is caused by salt induced PH chemicals breaking down protein and fat. An acquired taste, but far from stomach shattering, my curiosity is sated. We also feast on meaty whelk snails with celtuce, grandma’s tasty cured sausage on garlic shoot, succulent pig’s head and green wild rice shoots as well as Zhajiang hand pulled noodles and too many other belly stuffers to name. 

Ren and Gong’s experiences as well as a passion for family recipes and local produce spur an abundance of authentic taste. Despite shared values, both chefs hail from regions with differing fare. Tongtong was raised in Hubei, an ancient outpost blanketed by rivers and lakes. Locals are spoilt with rice, unique vegetables and fish aplenty. Hubei’s breakfast scene also inspired Chinese Laundry Room’s covetable brunch staples including tomato omelette dumplings and fresh peanut milk. In contrast, Peiran originates from rural Dailan, where options were extremely limited due to a minus thirty climate. “I remember when I was little there were only two types of vegetables, daikon radishes and Chinese cabbage. [Due to shortages] One family in a month, would share one apple. We don’t waste anything.” This scarcity instilled techniques such as spicing, salting, twice or thrice cooking to wrench all flavour. An unfamiliar texture or colour is an easy sacrifice when you’re on day five of radishes. Families also save by making goods like rice wine or tofu and there’s always something hung out to dry.  

When I mention how ballsy it is to share authentic fare with unversed westerners, the duo resist any lofty ideals. “It’s like telling a story. When you like something so much, you want to share it with other people,” Tongtong shrugs. “We just make what we like.” Sounds fair to me. 

Off season, but on track: Autumn In June

Off season, but on track: Autumn In June

In the tabloid imagination, the underprivileged are depicted as degenerates. Ghetto inhabitants are lazy and stupid. Crips and Bloods are sociopaths and junkies are two-legged invertebrates. Reality isn’t so monochrome. Every shooter, look-out, corner boy and Capo is a breathing contradiction. Gangsters can be articulate, complex and emotional. Autumn in June adds to the alternate reality.

Despite sharing Ice Cube’s proving grounds and dabbling in hip-hop, he’s more Morrissey than Mack 10. “When I was younger, everybody tries to box you, especially when you come from certain places. Once you start letting that get to you, that shit is miserable. It’s the worst thing ever.” A Phil Collins stan, Autumn grips synthesizer not Glock. When friends repped the set, he hustled studio time, even working out of a trap house on unused equipment. The Mexican American produced for Suga Free as a teenager, but accelerated toward a synth highway.

Wishing to keep personal and musical tangents separate, Autumn’s true name is unknown. He focuses on art, rather than earthly details. The wistful singer’s identity is cloaked under a haze of Daft Punk, Prince and a little Depeche Mode. Debut Magenta is equal measures love lost and carnality. Narcotic episodes are recalled under neon afterglow and music to step to. This ying and yang is deliberate.

“The songwriter part of my brain is a sad soul, it’s very personal, but the producer side of me, I love happy melodies. I love to make that type of music and they both connect.” A capable beat-smith, Autumn traverses electronica’s borders, delving into new wave on “Starlight” and channeling Nile Rodgers’ boogie licks on “I Guess It’s Cool To Be Lonely.” He flexes production dexterity across 12 tracks, dabbling in trap, dance and mild dubstep. For those recoiling at the latter, these trials are a brief foray rather than seismic bass wobble. Standout tunes invoke moonman Giorgio Moroder’s Italo disco, launching into space bound synths. “Cocaine 80s” and “You’re A Model Too” mesh danceable robot-rock with moody reflection.

The 20 something fully composed, performed and engineered Magneta, opting for totalitarian approach. “The album is 100% for me. I don’t usually make music for people, I make it for myself and that’s the only way to stay true to it.” Raised in the streets, yet undefined by his past, Autumn’s odes oppose hood stereotypes. Once again, 2Pac’s message is proven true, thugs get lonely too.

People from rough areas are usually portrayed as hardened gangstas. Someone such as yourself show there’s diversity everywhere.

It’s crazy, a lot of media portrays that. Guys need to be tough, when they need to be tough, but people are real people. Criminals are seen as the worst thing ever, but it’s rarely like that. Some people have their good days and their goofy sides. I’ve known friends that are super goofy and love to be playing, but when it comes down to it they turn up and they get with it. I guess there’s a certain thing that a lot of people think because you’re from a certain area, you’re all violent and extra out there. But I feel like everybody in their own mind, not everybody is just angry like all the time. It’s human nature that people look to have fun and they do things they enjoy. There’s obviously people here and there, but that’s in every community, even in rich communities, there’s people that just love violence.  

Wu Tang Forever 20th Anniversary Feature

In Chinese lore, dragons are bonded to the number nine. The ancient serpent has nine forms and nine sons. With the head of a horse, demon’s eyes, clam’s belly and snake’s tail, their interlocking parts can bring success or misfortune. Before greed, tragedy and Martin Shrekli, nine New Yorkers forged an unwieldy beast of their own. And it would never soar higher than Wu-Tang Forever.

Wu’s origin is cherished folklore, recited by greying pilgrims to the spin of anti-skip Discmans. After a failed Tommy Boy contract and vanquishing murder charges in Ohio, Robert Diggs set on industry takeover. A martial arts fanatic, Diggs was captivated by 1978 flick Five Deadly Venoms. The cult hit featured five warriors, each attacking with bestial ferocity. He conceived a similar cast of MCs spitting indomitable verbal Qigong. Diggs, now the RZA, plus his cousins Ol’ Dirty Bastard and GZA along with Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa formed a nonagon of wit, knowledge and metal flying guillotines.

RZA guaranteed supremacy if they’d submit for five years. They’d have solo record deals, clothes, caramel sundae air freshener, our hearts, our minds – you name it. Stunningly, Diggs’ concept worked. Small time hoodlums became action figures and film stars. It was the mid-90s, and Wu-Tang were supremely cool at a time when “cool” was still bankable. It was also the dawn of rap commercialization, before Beats made Dre a fortune and Jay Z hosted reptilian board meetings. RZA, his brother Divine and associate Oli Grant chased Disney money. Their golden crane logo was everywhere. Power launched the Wu Wear clothing brand, cutting the path for Roc-a-Wear and Sean Jean. They created Wu Filmz, Wu nails (really), Wu management, multiple labels and had over 100 affiliate artists, including Wu Latino and that poor guy who cut off his own katana.

Musically, Wu-Tang were also completing a flawless coup. Their bulletproof debut was followed by peerless solo strikes with Method Man’s Tical, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx and Ghostface’s Ironman. The dynasty prevailed with supreme talent and street-bred marketing savvy. Fans passionately debated favorite members like sports teams and the Wu were constantly pitched sponsorship ideas. Between Kenan & Kel‘s shenanigans on Nickelodeon, they had prime TV advertising. RZA foresaw going public on the stock market. For those who doubted rap’s buying power, this was a spin kick to the jaw.

‘Triumph’ is Forever’s accurately titled lead single, where Wu-Tang align with fierce verbosity on their finest group cut. At six minutes with 10 rappers and no hook, it radiates thermogenic bars with zero pop concession. Inspectah Deck conjures 25 years of solo shows with one uncanny soliloquy, his karaoke contingent bonded to the words, “I bomb atomically.” Ignoring commercial appeal for lyrical ballast, Wu topped the spire on their own terms.

Read the rest in FACT Mag

Dam Funk In Brick Vol #3

While galavanting around LA last year, I was lucky enough to interview Dam Funk. 

Los Angeles is inherently funky. Remnants of the paisley era occupy the city’s 500-mile radius. It’s in the fluorescent sun- set, Dre’s gangsta bounce and sporadic Impalas sweltering on palm lined avenues. As traffic crawls over motorways and humidity distorts the horizon, rare stations transmit bygone grooves. The zenith might be over, but funk is vital to Ca- li’s hub. Pasadena native Damon Riddick understands this. As Dâm-Funk, he’s advanced the genre more than anyone in the last decade. Yet, the modern funkster may never see his deserved recognition.

No fads, no sell-outs, integrity, sincerity, funk-first. Dâm’s unyielding values and uplifting tunes energise masses. Flick through social media and you’ll find someone who re- bukes fame’s façade. Riddick speaks as someone working in the industry, but not of the industry. His feed is stacked with virtuous mantras, every acknowledgement of success pref- aced by “humbly speaking.” Truly uncommon in an attention craving curriculum, Dâm is about his craft above all. In per- son, he exerts a passion for music, often claimed, but rarely possessed. When we convene at his favorite spot, The Cork in humble Ladera Heights, Riddick spends the first 30 minutes curating an afternoon soundtrack. The bar’s NFL commentary is silenced for a groove history lesson, but no one utters a complaint. You can’t fault Dâm for commandeering the juke- box, he’s more than earned it.

For the full piece, you can purchase Brick here. There's tons of great photography and articles better than mine. 

Rap superheroes

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I wrote about the similarities between rappers and superheroes in Viper #7, with art by Edd Leigh.

You don’t need marvel or dc to be a superhero fan, hip hop has been tied to comic books since day uno. Faster than a foe’s bullet, smarter than a crooked cop with the ability to leap over haters and scoop your girl, MCs boast special powers minus the cape.

Hit play, pause in disbelief and you’ll witness enough uncanny sagas to mystify Stan Lee. On primeval hit ‘Rappers Delight’, former pizza boy Big Bank Hank launched comparisons by stunting on Clark Kent. “By the way baby, what’s your name? Said I go by the name of Lois Lane. And you could be my boyfriend, you surely can, just let me quit my boyfriend called Superman.”

Almost four decades later, we’ve remained covert fan-boys. Heroics and villainy surge through rap’s multiplex of wild deeds, messianic ambitions and cinematic showdowns. Among those unconsciously mimicking printed protagonists is Atlanta’s hit-making overlord Future. Whether poised as a double cupped Yahweh or 808 incubus, the masked avenger narrative remains. Like 70 years of nerd lore before him, Future’s story and perception reflects humanity’s triumphs, struggles and terrors.

MCs outstep the ordinary to snatch respect, adoration and wealth. Their names trigger a variance of mystique and believability. Akin with David Banner morphing into the Hulk, almost every hot spitta has an alias to channel their power. Quincy Matthew Hanley sounds less like a library warden under his crippy hippy pseudonym; ScHoolboy Q. Radric and Torrence aren’t names to fear, but Gucci Mane and Boosie Badazz have handled more artillery than Tunisia. Play rapper word association and specific attributes leap to consciousness. Lil Wayne – facial tattoos and drank, Cypress Hill –Latino pride and weed, Young Thug – weirdo genius. Some artists went full nerd when choosing their titles; DJ Clark Kent, DJ Green Lantern, Grandmaster Flash, Jean Grae and Big Pun all borrowed namesakes from panelled characters. One slick nom de plume isn’t enough though. Alter egos are as common as regrettable tattoos, platinum teeth and video vixens. Wu Tang Clan are the best example - each verbal assassin has a hero equivalent, most notably Ghostface Killah conjuring Tony Stark on wordplay master class Ironman. They’ve made comic books, video games and movies. RZA bought an impenetrable truck and $20,000 suit with bulletproof briefcase to realise his Bobby Digital ego. Yes, you read that right.

Read the rest here: viperpublishing.bigcartel.com

Updates


Doing too much writing to focus on a new site right now, here's some of it....

Trap transcendence: My journey to see Kevin Gates live. 

"I might get killed for being black and wearing a seatbelt" - An Interview With Maxo Kream

I interviewed Enya for Forbes. 

That's How I Get Down - The Ultimate Ginuwine Mix

The immortal E-4O over at Pigeons and Planes

 

Hurricane Chris Interview

Hurricane Chris Interview

In the late 2000s, Shreveport, Louisiana rapper Hurricane Chris scored the platinum hit “A Bay Bay,” a shoe deal with Fila and the best selling ringtone in the country. At the time “A Bay Bay” producer Mr. Collipark was the king of “snap music,” a critically derided subgenre accused of watering hip-hop down into rhymed jingles from artists known to quickly fade away. A millionaire before 18, Chris followed his successful single with minor ones including “Halle Berry (She's Fine),” but his second album, 2009’s Unleashed, failed to chart. In 2010, Chris left Sony’s Polo Grounds imprint (now home to the likes of A$AP Rocky) and retreated from music. Many assumed his career rightfully fizzled out. He silently endured insults. Novelty rapper. Talentless. Has-been. But that’s not the whole story.

Chris’s teenage success was dramatic, sudden, and dangerous. Now 27 years old, he concedes without getting into specifics that he suddenly found himself doing things he’d promised he never would. He struggled to navigate the music business and spent months on the road with limited adult guidance. His days were spent blowing money and pushing away at his moral compass. What the public doesn’t know is that Chris retreated from music on his own terms. Hurricane gave birth to a son and wanted to prioritize family.

After three years off, Chris is returning to music on his own terms. In 2014, he released “Ratchet” with fellow Louisianian Boosie Badazz and dropped the gratifying Hurricane Season mixtape last year. With a clear head and full creative control of his sound, he spoke about the reality of sudden fame as one of rap’s first viral artists.

You were one of the first stars to go viral on the internet. Did you have an understanding of the web at the time?

Hurricane Chris: I had zero understanding of the importance of the internet. When they were trying to make me do Myspace, I was like, “What the fuck? Get out of my face with this shit. I don’t want to do this shit.” I told him to let my media guy do it, and the media guy did it, and I didn’t even really fuck with Myspace. That’s why you realize Soulja Boy took off on the internet, he got it, he understood it. He was the young kid that understood the internet. All of the ideas that I was lazy on, he was like, “Hell yeah, I want to do all of that.” He was the young energetic kid that was like “hell yeah, let’s do it.” They used to just hold the camera in his face all day and he didn’t mind doing that stuff.

OG Ron C Interview

OG Ron C Interview

O.G Ron C has spent two decades cementing a mixtape empire and furthering Houston’s rap culture. With limited industry experience, the DJ founded Swishahouse Records alongside partner Michael “5000” Watts after they met at radio station KBXX in 1994. The duo promoted overlooked Northside talent, while music pioneer Robert “DJ Screw” Davis dominated the scene with his demiurgic Southside records. Not only did Ron C’s business savvy and unorthodox distribution methods helped make national stars of Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire and Mike Jones, but the O.G was also pivotal in uniting Houston’s swollen metropolis and calming the deep-rooted tensions between North and South by allowing both sides on his projects.

A decade after leaving Swishahouse, Ron C continues to grow the legacy of DJ Screw by bringing his city’s now famous sub-genre “chopped and screwed” to an international audience. The DJ keeps busy with a 24-hour radio station, charity music conference, thousands of mixtapes and some of the best selling chopped remixes out there. He spoke about his biggest financial regrets, experiences in mixtape distribution and the current status of his “chopped not slopped” brand.

What has been your most profitable venture to date?

My biggest profit was the Swishahouse days when I was working with Michael Watts. As a small businessman, I’m trying to climb back to that. The actual saying [“Chopped Not Slopped”] is bigger than the actual income, but maybe one day we’ll be at the [same level as] Swishahouse. We’re just getting our business together and preparing a proper launch in the summer time of 2016. What we’ve just been doing the last four, five years is really branding it, and there’s really been no profit.

Eiffel 65 Interview

Eiffel 65 Interview

When we think of one-hit wonders, we are reminded of the most embarrassing people on planet earth. The burnt out wannabe rocker, the deluded pop singer, Shifty Shellshockand Crazy Town, the guy who had that one novelty hit they play at the supermarket. These people are easy targets and often, well, idiots.

I have been to the mountain, friend, and I can confidently say that Eiffel 65, the Italian trio best known for their 1999 robo-hit “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” defy that stereotype. I know this, because I talked to E65 frontdude Jeffrey Jey, and he was awesome. He’s also multilingual and can sing, two skills my monotone self is lacking.

This isn’t the only thing that Eiffel 65 has taught me. I learned that like many groups known for being one hit wonders, the group are technically two hit wonders as their second single “Move Your Body” peaked in second place on the UK chart. Jeffrey also schooled me on the time he met Bon Jovi, singing “Blue” in Mandarin for the Iron Man 3 soundtrack and most importantly, having one hit is a hell of a lot better a lot better than none hits.

Is being a musician your full-time career at the moment?

Always. For the last 23 years that’s been the only thing I’ve been doing.

Rich Homie Quan For Brick Mag

Even More New Stuff

N.O Joe Interview (UGK)

N.O Joe Interview (UGK)

The potent knock of Scarface’s 187 raps. The blues inspired swang and bang of UGK. Though his name might not be immediately recognizable, N.O Joe helped shape Southern hip-hop. As Rap-A-Lot’s former in-house producer, the man born Joseph Jackson spread his “Gumbo Funk” sound across the globe. Like Organized Noize in their Georgia basement, Joe was inspired by his country upbringing to mix West/East Coast flavor with the influence of soul music and church instruments. The underrated Louisianan is considered among the first to add organs to rap and counts Dr Dre, Jay Z, Biggie and 2pac as fans.

Weeks after producing Scarface’s latest album Deeply Rooted with help from Spuf Don, whom Joe mentored along with Travis Scott, the production savant gave one of his most in-depth interviews. Jackson spoke beforehand of his photographic memory and said he can recall every instrument played on The Diary. But, he’s only half-joking. For almost two hours, he retold working with LL Cool J, his initial chance encounter with Scarface, meeting Mike Dean and his feelings towards J. Prince. Joe also does one of the best Pimp C impressions ever and shared memories of his close friend as well as tales of his decades behind the boards with UGK. This ain’t no 2015 listicle containing nothing but disappointment, settle in for a wealth of rap history.

Warren G Interview

Warren G Interview

The G Funk era is eternal. Dre, Snoop, 2Pac, Nate and Warren G are the holy quintet. “Smoke weed everyday” is their sacred mantra. Thirty years after Above The Law and Dre conceived Gangsta Funk, the influence continues through DJ Mustard’s minimal bounce. Kendrick and YG tried their hand at it. Quik never stopped. Rap fans recite the “California Love” chorus quicker than their national anthem. You can be anywhere in the world and theoretically know how it feels to roll through Long Beach in a Dickies suit with a bottle of Malt Liquor. I could Crip Walk before I really knew what a Crip was. My fingers involuntarily twist into W’s anytime Doggystyle plays. I still miss Nate Dogg.