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.
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.
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.
Denzel Curry’s psychotropic world is a fluid concoction of 90s rap, Adult Swim cartoons, and illicit activity. The 20-year-old flows effortlessly over multi-coloured production ranging from Yeezus era beats to murky lo-fi. Within the same breath, he’ll recall experimenting with LSD, eulogise fallen comrades and shout-out Super Mario Bros. Raised in Miami’s infamous Zone 3, Curry’s music reflects an upbringing peppered with the innocence of a good home and the eye-opening violence that surrounded it.
The self-styled “Aquarius Killa” posted his debut mixtape on SpaceGhostPurrp’s website in 2011 and was invited to join Raider Klan while still in high school. His confident double-time raps and retro Memphis Horrorcore aesthetic quickly gained attention, but his parents insisted he focus on school. Curry released three projects before leaving the Klan to pursue a solo career and in 2013 dropped his debut Nostalgic 64. This year, Curry followed up with double EP 32Zel/Planet Shrooms, which bangs front to back. The projects also serve as a dedication to Denzel’s brother who was killed by a policeman’s taser and his friend Tiara Grant who was fatally shot during recording.
We caught up with Denzel before he tore shit down at his London show last week. The undeniably passionate MC discussed getting a million plays on Soundcloud, mixing art with music, why he keeps his collaborations in-house and how personal tragedy impacts his content.
Your family is from the Bahamas. Did you grow up with that culture?
I grew up in South Florida. It’s like a cultural melting pot where I come from, but my people’s are of Bahamian descent and I have cousins in Nassau on the other side that stays in the Bahamas. It’s both Bahamian on my mom and dad’s side.
You’ve been open about not being a gangsta. Your lyrics are based on your environment as well as people you know. What kept you away from the streets growing up?
My parents. Even though they had disputes and they had their problems, I would say yeah, they’re good parents. Like my moms is very independent, my father is very independent and that’s pretty much where I get it from. They always stress that you should make something [of yourself]. You don’t want to stay in the same crib until you’re like 23. I’m not trying to do that.
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.
The Dream can’t sing like
Usher or dance like Chris Brown, but the music is better. In a genre harvested
for disposable singles where performers adopt electronica-lite to crossover,
Terius Nash is one of the few doing it differently. His songs are at times
lewd, bitter and self-reflective.
On the Mobb Deep sampling “Cold” from last
year’s Royalty: The Prequel EP,
Nash’s lover dances to his contemporaries and he’s jealous of their audio
seduction. During “Turnt Out,” Dream mentions forgetting to sing in falsetto
and throughout “Lake Michigan” admits to being a jaded ex-romantic. Even
lighter work like “I Luv Your Girl” and “That’s My Shit” aren’t innocent love
songs, but transparent references to Lil Wayne’s relationships with his ex partners.
Among the assembly line ten-packs, The Dream conveys more than cliché. We’re
not talking Shakespearean wordplay, but as 90% of mainstream R&B is more
worried about consuming a refined carb than music, Dream’s imperfect
personality is necessary.
Production is another of the
self-proclaimed Radio Killa’s strengths. When Beyoncé and fellow hit syndicates
aren’t tapping Nash's song writing with partner Tricky Stewart, his most
interesting work stays in house. The majority of Dream's tracks aren't audio
throwaways for a tweenage audience, but compelling finger-snappers.
catalogue is an instrumental master class with drums that knock and synths that
trigger your internal dancing machine. Terius’ first three albums
twisted the influence of R&B demigods with simple romantic themes. Later
work is darker and experimental as he hardened his subject matter after two
Not shy of exhibiting his influences, Nash is a music student. He’s
paid tribute to R Kelly (“12 Play”), reworked lyrics from Ginuwine (“Ghetto”),
channelled Prince (many tracks) and mimicked MJ (“Michael.”) Dream's also used
enough of the "AY!" ad-lib to make even the most dedicated
regionalist wish they were from Hotlanta.
Although his own influence is yet to
be properly acknowledged, fellow singers undoubtedly pay attention and he's hinted
The Weeknd listened to "Fancy" a bit too closely. Six track EP Crown was released earlier this month
ahead of his July full length Crown Jewel.
As with all Dream projects, there’s some tracks I’ll be listening to in a few
months and some I’ll only return to occasionally. The aforementioned Royalty is the closest he’s come to a
perfectly cohesive project with dynamic production, personal references, no
unnecessary features and the most tasteful Outkast reference in recent memory.
There have been concessions for radio and IV
Play suffered from forced guest spots, but there’s rarely a release that
doesn’t have a baby-making masterpiece.
As someone with a PhD in The Dream's
music, I've listened to his full catalogue and made the below playlist with my
favourite songs. You might want to leave a comment about how a song you like
isn’t featured or turn your nose up at R&B, otherwise you can two step with
the rest of us. Download Link
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.
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.
As per usual, modern funk
authority B. Bravo combines old and new to form a potent dance elixir that
makes involuntary toe-tapping a certainty. The L.A. beat architect appeared on
Salva’s Peacemaker project along with partner Teeko last year and welds the
vocoder like few other boogie cyborgs can.
“Nights (Feel Like Getting
Down)” is a tribute to Billy Ocean’s classic disco floor filler and keeps the
vibe going over thirty years after the original. During my interview with B.
Bravo last year, he co-opted Dam Funk’s mission to uplift people with funk
rather than chase success and this track doesn’t deviate from the game-plan.
Synths, talk-box and drums, B. Bravo keeps it simple because when you’ve got
interplanetary vibes this strong you don’t dare mess with the groove. A free
download to celebrate his upcoming Europe mini-tour, this belongs in your
playlist next to Zapp’s finest.
step to this ‘cause I got a live crew / You might be kinda big but they make
coffins your size too / I was taught wise / I’m known to extort guys / This
ain’t Cali, it’s Harlem nigga, we do walk-by’s.”
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.
Hit Boy went from his mom’s house to working with Lil Wayne, Eminem, Kanye West and Jay-Z in the space of two years. He released the quadruple platinum “Drop the World” and “Niggas In Paris” almost back to back and was on the stage with Watch The Throne when they performed the track 11 times. But, for him, it’s not enough. The 27 year old, real name Chauncey Hollis, spends every day thinking about the producer he’s working to become.
In 2013, Hit Boy left Kanye’s GOOD Music label and broke out on his own. Details on the split are murky and naysayers claim he shouldn’t have left Yeezy’s side, but Hollis doesn’t care. More focused than ever, he’s launched the Hits Since ‘87 imprint and modelled his career after Timbaland’s history of working with hand-picked talent. Hit Boy has since formed a collective including long term friends Audio Push, started a solo rap career and released music with his formerly incarcerated father Big Hit. While preparing to release new tracks “Automatically” and “Show Me Something,” he talked about producing for Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, and life after GOOD Music.
Was last year your quietest production-wise in some time?
As far as producing for a bunch of people, yes, because I took time to focus on my label. I put out We the Plug and I produced a bunch of songs on there, that if you go listen to those beats, there aren’t really a lot of urban beats that match that. But it’s just that we’re a growing label and we’re a growing situation so not as many people are paying attention to us right now, but we’re on the radar and we’ve been dropping just as much music as everybody else. It’s just that people aren’t paying as much attention because it’s a new situation, you know.
Other than the obvious choices like your squad or Jay/Kanye, is there someone particularly hands-on you’ve worked with?
Honestly, I mean there’s Bey[once] you know. She’s part of the whole Jay-Z/Kanye level, but she definitely knows what she wants when you’re working with her. I might do a drum pattern and she’ll tell me it needs to sound more “futuristic” or it needs to have different textures, so I like working with her a lot too. She knows exactly what she wants.