Gunplay is volatile, likeable and mildly insane. He’s also a hell of a rapper. Among his polished MMG label mates, Gunplay is the half Puerto Rican, half Jamaican wildcard, rapping like he’s throwing evidence out of the car mid-chase. And sometimes he just might be. The stories of Richard Morales Jr. are the stuff of rap legend and often eclipse the music. Gunplay robbed his accountant at gunpoint. Gunplay’s been knocked out twice on camera. Gunplay loves cocaine and fishing. Like his precursor ODB, the mythos of Morales is unparalleled.
When Gunplay told reporters between sniffs that he could quit coke any time he wanted, no one believed him. After all, this guy publicly admitted to spending £1500 a week and was filmed traveling to Columbia just to partake in the purest China White he could find. But so far, he’s kept his word. Gunplay assures me multiple times during our interview that his focus is now entirely on his career. Wrongly perceived as a Rick Ross weed carrier, he sprung into profile after the collapse of their group Triple C’s in 2009. On the strength of potent guest verses and unrestrained mixtapes, Gunplay signed a solo deal three years later with Def Jam. That same year, his aforementioned bookkeeper robbery case almost derailed any chance of a career as Morales faced life in prison. Gunplay narrowly avoided the charge due to the witness refusing to testify and has spent the last few years rebuilding his momentum.
With the long delayed release of his debut album Living Legend set for the end of the month, I spoke to the determined Miamian about his new outlook. Like Gunplay’s persona, the interview was unpredictable with his phone line and concentration frequently dropping out as he shopped with his girl for $300 Chanel perfume. We chatted about the time Gunplay pulled Rick Ross from a car wreckage, the longest he’s gone without sleeping and learning to write while sober. He also rapped for me, recalled seeing Biggie live and discussed why fans still love him.
If Thugga continues to spit, mumble, and stutter artful raps at this pace, the staff at Passionweiss might get twin lip piercings to celebrate. With “I Need Chickens,” Young Thug throws out his second freely inventive single alongside Mike Will Made It in four days. Much to the annoyance of the U.S Marshals Office and Conservative Rap Coalition, the persistent rise of the skinny jeaned martian continues.
Young Thug doesn’t need extended metaphors and multi-syllabic wordplay; he barely needs English. The tropes might not change, but the vibe is on a thousand. For a joyous three minutes, Jeffrey Williams harmonizes with himself, ad-libs bird calls and slings a few rhymes about moolah. Being near incomprehensible doesn’t make it any less vital. This is music for distorting how you think rap should sound. What Thugga does in five words is more exciting than what many rappers do with an entire song.
Human megaphone Meek Mill takes a break from sobbing like a broken-up boss to offer more adrenaline in MP3 form. “Check” is Meek’s fifth single from Dreams Worth More Than Money and if you’ve been counting, his fiftieth “I’m a Boss” sequel. The thin-voiced rat-a-tat is more music for extreme sports, face-punching and seven figure bank deposits. Essentially, it’s the same as last year’s “FYM” only this time without a hungry Boosie verse. “Check” is a formulaic hustlers ode for those with an insatiable thirst for thumping drums, menacing pianos and minimal ambition. Meek and his cohorts are in the building, counting money and some other stuff he’s told you about before. But it doesn’t matter, Meek Mill is the human Monster Energy Drink. I can’t take it in large doses, but he’s not about to put you to sleep. (Presumably).
Dave Meyers’ frenetic imagination has conjured some of this era’s most recognizable music videos. Active since the 90s, his resume consists of over 200 projects with a genre-spanning list of artists from Jay-Z to Mick Jagger.
A chance meeting with Good Will Hunting filmmaker Gus Van Sant inspired Meyers to pursue videos and he landed his first MTV slot in 1997 with underground Oakland duo The Whoridas. The Californian director’s most iconic work includes eleven of Missy Elliot’s career defining videos as well as visuals for Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad” and “So Fresh, So Clean.” He won a best video Grammy Award in 2005 for Elliot’s “Lose Control” and has also received eleven MTV Awards.
Meyers recently took a three-year sabbatical to pursue film and advertising, but is now diving back into capturing music. During more than an hour of conversation, we discussed a fraction of his filmography and thoughts on industry issues such as lower budgets and product placement. He discussed early interactions with Kanye West, shooting with Nas, making 44 videos in one year and a whole lot more.
Do you think music videos have worth in 2015 or are they in danger of becoming content for content’s sake?
They certainly have regained value for me. I took a three or four year break there and focused on commercials. What I’ve learned with the reach of a music video, especially to it’s fans, is there’s nothing quite like it other than maybe Jurassic Park [laughs]. It’s a very strong connection that artists still maintain with their fans, even more so than ever, because of the way the Internet is. To be part of that and to be a creative entity associated with that is kind of the purpose of filmmaking, or my particular passion. I’ve reached out to all of the folks you’d expect me to reach out to and we’re brewing some cool stuff that is coming our way. You’ll hopefully see some collaboration later this year with Missy [Elliot], Janet [Jackson] and there are a variety of things that might be coming. My passion for videos is alive and well and as I think the artists have sort of gotten used to the lower budgets, the resulting climate is a push for creativity.
While entrenched in Southern rap heritage, Big Krit aims to chisel his own path through the polished grill wearers and double-cup sippers. Too smart to be ignorant, too worldly to be preachy, he embraces the challenge of pleasing fickle fans, carrying tradition and promoting the culture of his oft-ignored state Mississippi. The 28 year old is a veteran of the digital era’s exhausting release culture with six mixtapes, two albums and two EPs released since 2010.
Producing and rapping across 200 songs in four years, a sub-plot developed around Krit’s talent. Was he creatively burnt out? Would he make concessions to chase the elusive hit single? Krit’s 2012 Def Jam debut Live From The Underground was decent, but not quite the grand reveal fans expected.
Last November, he finally silenced speculative fears with his sophomore album Cadillactica. Krit outsourced collaborators including Dj Dahi, Raphael Saadiq and Jim Jonsin to share his vision as well as working on expanding his own production universe. The concept record about a planet created by 808 drums showcased a reinvigorated Krit cultivating his introspective lyrics while dabbling further in storytelling, singing and contemporary flows.
Now taking a deserved breather to consider his next move, I asked Krit about his early records, if he’s still chasing commercial success, what draws people to country rap and why he decided to take this album off-planet.
What was your first local hit in Mississippi?
Man, the first record that I did in Mississippi that got played on a radio station was called… ha, “Adidas 1’s in the Club.” It was basically a remake of Crime Mob’s “Stilettos (Pumps),” but we did our own version.
Did you start with a cliché street sound on your very early records before you found your own style?
Oh yeah, definitely, because I was a hardcore Three 6 Mafia fan too. Just a lot of the instrumentation and a lot of the content was extremely aggressive, so it was like more of a shock value thing of just how aggressive and how violent you could be on a song. I was probably like 13 or 14, man, and you grow out of that pretty fast because you grow to the point where you start playing your records for a lot of people that actually know you, older people, and they know damn well that you ain’t living that kind of lifestyle. In the beginning it was just your imagination ran wild on a record, and you could pretty much rap about anything and everything under the sun just to kind of build this superhero character of yourself on record.
Originally published at Passionweiss
Kevin Gates' sexcapades are a double-edged sword, or other phallic object. While shock at his bedroom activities generates publicity, gossip around his personal life often conceals he's among the best rappers working. As I've stated here, here and here, few combine lyrical proficiency and remarkable life-experience like Gates. "Pourin The Syrup" from 2014's Luca Brasi 2 mixtape references his sexual interests in full clarify, providing instant gratification for Chatty Patty’s in your chosen comments section. The Louisianan’s retellings of an unconventional sex life are just a fraction of his audio confessions made of compelling, autobiographical raps.
"Syrup" is filled with enough detail for a full season of The Wire. Gates killed someone at 13. Before fame, drug money ensured he could ride through Baton Rouge's infamous Highland Road with the same Monte Carlo his rap precursor Boosie had. Gates was selling cocaine under roofs equipped with security cameras. He wouldn't give his product to a thief and was shot while attempting to grab the gun. The tear-dropped sex fiend caught an STD and a friend laughed behind his back while he was sleeping with their sister. Over the course of four minutes, Gates has given you more of himself than a dozen Datpiff trap fakers.
The hallucinatory video was released last week and doesn’t glorify drank as an easy crutch for A$AP-inspired cool points. Gate’s purple tinted face appears while he traverses difficult memories with an intense black-eyed stare. It’s probable the tortured rapper uses drank as a therapeutic device rather than a fun accessory. Feverish visuals switch between a vehicle speeding through twilight roads, Gates as a blurred lavender entity and of course, him spilling explicit raps about the dirtiest of sex acts next to a woman he’s rumoured to be seeing in real life.
Gates is smart enough to know how to work the media. If you were looking for lyrics to be shocked by, you’ll find them here. But you’re also witnessing the ascent of singular storyteller putting all of himself on the record.
Organized Noize emerged from a dirt floor studio with underclass tales that resonate in every neighbourhood from Bankhead to Brisbane. Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade and Ray Murray fused hip-hop, soul and funk to produce records for Outkast and Goodie Mob that are divine rap canon. Proudly Southern at a time when many Atlanta artists mimicked Miami bass for commercial ends, the trio were among the first to shift attention below the Dixie. Dubbing their collective “The Dungeon Family” as a tribute to their dank beginnings, Organized Noize’s run surpasses two decades and their contribution to quality music can’t be overstated. With credits including TLC, Future, Killer Mike, Bubba Sparxxx and Janelle Monáe, it’s fair to assume if you enjoy rap, you’ve heard a Dungeon track.
Characterized by a scintillating grin, oversized sunglasses and Superfly persona, Sleepy Brown is the trio’s retro futurist. The 45 year old’s musical ambitions were inspired by a childhood spent watching his father Jimmy perform in Atlanta funk-staple Brick, and he’s always paid tribute to the 70s. Aside from production and writing, Sleepy sung falsetto on Outkast’s No. 1 hit “The Way You Move, ” their universal player’s theme “So Fresh So Clean” and “Saturday Ooh Ooh” with Ludacris. He also maintains a solo career, which is four albums deep and includes lover’s decree “I Can’t Wait.”
A friendly and open interviewee, Sleepy didn’t exhibit signs of being jaded or arrogant despite his lengthy achievement list. He laughed while describing how Busta Rhymes influenced the conscious side of Organized Noize and shared Future’s nickname when he was still a “knucklehead.” The Isaac Hayes lookalike also described working with Curtis Mayfield as well as Pimp C, why Outkast’s 2014 tour is their last and almost every other Dungeon Fam query I had.
Just a little one for Passionweiss.
Spite incarnate, Big L’s music was forever shadowed by death. Every other line was a blast of threats aimed at enemies, doubters, competitors and anyone who had something to lose. Lamont Coleman was undermining parent’s attempts to raise well-adjusted children, years before Shady gripped a chainsaw. L splattered his bars with an encyclopedia of offensive content and spat them with enough malice to traumatize a Juggalo. Who else would end a song by shouting out murderers, thieves and people with AIDS?
Coleman’s debut was the only full-length album recorded during his short life and he named it in direct opposition to television showLifestyles of the Rich and Famous. As someone who had no time for caviar dreams, Big L was the quintessential disaffected youth. He was too poor to afford a conscience and rarely paused between dome cracking bars to reflect on social issues. Cold angst permeates throughout the record and as a fan of horror films, L relished playing the villain and shocking the listener. While other emcees claimed the means justified the ends, Lamont laughed off constraint and poisoned eardrums with comparisons to the devil.
The power of Lifestylez doesn’t just lie in dark imagery though. Big L was a paradigm of technical ability with internal rhyme schemes and caustic wit. “I got styles you can’t copy bitch, it’s the triple six, In the mix, straight from H-E-double-hockey sticks.” Coleman’s lyrical bloodbath was also backed by D.I.T.C’s production and the album knocks front to back. Unfortunately, Columbia couldn’t predict suburbanites enjoying jokes about killing nuns and found Illmatic’s conscious spin on street-life was easier to market. Big L was dropped a year later and gunned down before he could record a proper follow-up making this project a haunting reminder of the realities of Harlem in 1995.
"To Be Real" hit 45k plays in 24 hours and the rework of Cheryl Lynn’s 70s disco hit is another production win even she commended. CyHi often trades in back to back simple metaphors e.g “treat rappers like trampolines. I just bounce on ‘em.” This is the specific technique that divides listeners into opposing camps, you either think the quick-wit works well with the bubbly beat or it makes you cringe. No matter what side you fall on, the beats are enough to overlook CyHi’s wordplay. As a fan of both, I happen to agree with the eloquent commenter who stated “anyone who doesn’t like these can head-butt a knife.” If the man who insists on misspelling prince and using elementary rhymes keeps his production team close, Kanye might just let him put some numbers on the board.
Run The Jewels are in full attack mode. Two critically acclaimed albums, riot provoking tours, a growing legion of like-minded fans and DJ Trackstar at the core loving every chain-snatching second. Before he DJed for the unruly duo, Gabe Moskoff was an avowed rap fan from Madison, Wisconsin. He collected magazines, played on college radio, organized gigs, wrote articles and taught classes on hip-hop, all while working full-time. A chance encounter with Killer Mike introduced him to the world of politician smacking rhymes just over five years ago and he’s never stopped pinching himself. During our chat, Trackstar often shared his appreciation for Killer Mike and EL-P’s artistry as well as genuine wonder at how his music career has panned out. He also covered being best friends with his favorite MC, T.I’s inspiring speech at a juvenile detention centre and St Louis rapper Tef Poe’s inspiring Ferguson activism.
The story of how you met Killer Mike is incredible. You saw his number printed in an article and called it on a whim. It wasn’t until later in the conversation you came up with the idea for the collaborative mixtape Anger & Ambition. Was it awkward when he first answered the phone?
I don’t think it came off as awkward, but I was going crazy in my head because I didn’t expect him to answer. I thought it was going to be some sort of answering service that asks for your email address or a sort of fan-club type deal. I did not expect Killer Mike to answer the phone, I expected an assistant or something so it definitely screwed with my brain and took me a second. I was sitting in my apartment in St Louis stoned. I wasn’t prepared for what probably turned out to be the most important phone call of my life.
He was your favorite rapper, and still is.
Absolutely, once I heard “That’s Life” from Pledge one. I was aware of him previously and I thought he was dope. I’m sure I listened to Monster for a time or two, but it wasn’t the record that stuck with me super hard for whatever reason. As rap fans we go through obsessions where we discover someone or get a new view on someone and they’re just our favourite thing in the world. Mike’s basically been my favorite rapper since and no one has dethroned him.
Not many people can say they’re best friends with their favorite rapper.
It’s crazy, he’s been my favourite rapper since ’08 or whatever and I spend more time with him than anyone except my wife. I mean that’s nuts [laughs].
Originally written for Passionweiss
Correct me if I’m wrong, but your recent single “Freaky Dancing” has quite a retro vibe.