Finally Free: Big K.R.I.T Interviewed

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Like it or not, your favourite rapper is a major brand. With hip-hop’s ever expanding popularity, and the introduction of social media, the entrepreneurial hustler’s spirit that we’ve celebrated for years has morphed into full blown capitalism: artists that can best articulate their USP in a snappy elevator pitch are the ones destined for greatness. While this may be a blessing for record label marketing departments everywhere, for consumers it’s watering down the product, making rap stars less real, more two dimensional and unable to truly articulate the complexities of the human condition, for fear of being off-brand.

As a Def Jam signee, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. refused to fit his conflicted realities into a neat, marketable box. A three dimensional talent, Justin Scott was signed to Def Jam by then senior president of A&R Sha Money XL in 2010 after the release of his acclaimed mixtape ‘K.R.I.T. Wuz Here’. Despite inking a deal as a high priority act, he soon found himself surrounded by an unrecognisable team of staff following label restructuring, and felt that those left weren’t sure what to do with him.

While he was by no means a flop - his first two albums charted in the top ten on US Billboard 200, and his 2012 single ‘I Got This’ was declared the Miami Heat’s theme song by LeBron James as they won the NBA championship - K.R.I.T. wasn’t the star he should have been under Def Jam’s regime. It seems that this was due to a misunderstanding of K.R.I.T.’s fan base rather than anything on the creative front. For example, while the label chased the digital world, they failed to realise how important physical product remained for K.R.I.T.’s fans. “Physical copies were so important to me in these small cities, in the Best Buys and shit,” he explained on an episode of YouTube talk show ‘Everyday Struggle’, “because that shit still means something, especially in the South. Streaming hit and it was like ‘Oh, there’s really no space for you.’”

In 2016 K.R.I.T. announced via Twitter that he was parting ways with Def Jam. He’d tell Billboard that this was because of changes in the business, but refused to be too specific. “It’s definitely a longer story,” he said, “but for the most part, it’s no love lost.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, he sees the split as a blessing. “I don’t regret what I’ve had to go through,” he assures us, kicking back at home one Friday morning, “because it got me to this point. You can always say ‘I wish I could have...’ but I’m here now. I’ve got to deal with it as it’s been.” Now afforded the freedom to take his career entirely into his own hands, K.R.I.T. has released one of 2017’s best rap albums, ‘4eva Is A Mighty Long Time’, an expansive double LP exploring two sides to his life as an artist; one disc comprises trunk rattling bass primed for the subwoofers, while the other is a jazzy revelation of the Clark Kent behind his Superman.

 

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Notes From The Road: J.I.D Interviewed

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The afterparty has been under way for some time now. It’s the final night of J. Cole’s ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ tour, and the crew are looking forward to a couple of weeks at home before heading down under for the Australian leg. J.I.D is in the room, but he’s not fully present. His eyes are transfixed on his phone, extracting ideas into his notes, preserved for a future studio session. “I don’t stop writing,” admits the East Atlanta native. “I’ll see or hear something and be like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to capture this moment any way I can.’”

Rewind a few hours and the 27-year-old, real name Destin Route, is sat in his dressing room - a soulless space deep in Leeds’ First Direct Arena’s backstage labyrinth. He drags a backpack to his feet and begins digging for his in-ear monitors, revealing a pile of ruled pads filled with notes from the road. “When we’re in a situation like this I can get to a book,” he explains. “I can just write ideas down that way, or I’ll use voice notes. Conversations often lead to an idea for a song.”

The act of writing has long been an integral part of J.I.D’s life. His father has published “a type of autobiography situation,” but he maintains that his way with words is really drawn from his mother. “She’s witty, so I see myself sometimes when I speak to her,” he says. “We have a conversation and I’m like, ‘Wow, you really know how to drive your point home!’ That’s something I try to do with my music: to get straight to the point in a way that people will feel comfortable.”

The youngest of seven siblings, J.I.D - which you can pronounce either Jid or Jay-Eye-Dee - never envisioned his future as a writer until more recently. The majority of his youth was dedicated to playing American Football, for Stephenson High School and later on a scholarship for the Hampton Pirates at Hampton University, Virginia where he majored in entrepreneurship. His promising professional football career would come to a devastating end, when he dislocated his hip six games into a make or break season. As he worked to rehabilitate, he began losing focus, messing around and eventually being kicked out of college just hours away from graduating. While he’s keen to promote the importance of education, he believes that the college system isn’t something that works for everyone.

 

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In Conversation: Lil Peep

Photo by Bella Howard

Photo by Bella Howard

Writing about death is one of the most difficult things to do as a music journalist, particularly when it’s so untimely.

Just 12 hours ago, Gustav Ahr, aka Lil Peep, posted a picture of three girls dressed in GothBoyClique T-shirts captioned: “Look at my beautiful fans awwwww.” Just a few hours later, after news had broke that the New Yorker has passed away aged just 21, his manager Chase Ortega found himself Tweeting: “I’ve been expecting this call for a year. Mother fuck”.

I have to admit that a couple of months ago when I was preparing to speak to Lil Peep for our latest issue I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the research I’d been doing, his interviews could be somewhat unpredictable. I was going to be speaking with him one morning while he was waiting around to play a festival. I imagined that he might not be particularly thrilled to be faced with an interview.

My concerns turned out to be completely misplaced. He was engaging, inspiring and demonstrated a true passion for his music and a genuine love for his fans. He graciously shared his story of moving from Staten Island to L.A. in order to pursue a career in music: describing how $300 worth of equipment from Guitar Centre led him to a cult following and modelling gigs for Balmain, Marcelo Burlington and Rick Owens - constantly showing appreciation for the fans that have supported him along the way.

Our conversation was so optimistic that I came to name the feature after the hook of one of the tracks on his debut album ‘Come Over When You’re Sober Vol.1’: 'Look At The Brightside'.

Tragically, this no longer feels appropriate. We’re publishing this feature today in tribute to Lil Peep. Rest in peace.

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 Lil Peepis wandering the parking lot of Angel Stadium. Tonight, Anaheim’s home of baseball will be overrun with young fans, here to see the likes of Travis Scott, Kodak Black and Khalid, as they open three days of Day N Night festival. Right now, it’s 11:30am and Peep has just finished soundchecking. He drags his feet around the concrete, playing the waiting game as he anticipates his performance, praising the line-up’s perfect blend of acts that cover the spectrum from underground to mainstream.

The 21-year-old, born Gustav Åhr, inhabits a crux between the two. His recently released ‘Come Over When You’re Sober, Part 1’ sees him beginning to outgrow the online underground where he’s culminated a core fan base through an impressive eight solo mixtapes since 2015. His output is a balancing act of pleasing “open-minded people who respect good music and don’t judge things based off what they see on the Internet,” while simultaneously pissing off “music critics who get all technical about shit.”

All sorts of hashtags, buzzwords and genres tend to be thrown around when discussing Peep’s music, but the best way to put his unique concoction into words is by reeling off the list of artists that come up in conversation with him. During our half-hour chat, he references Lil Wayne, Taking Back Sunday, Crystal Castles, 50 Cent, Linkin Park, Gucci Mane, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Paramore.

His own musical dreams began to manifest when, at 17, he left his native Staten Island to immerse himself amongst a bunch of like-minded artists based in LA. “I was really depressed,” he reveals. “Suicidal, self-harming, doing bad drugs that I shouldn’t be doing.” Having spent plenty of time buried in black holes of online music discovery, he’d found artists like Horsehead and the GothBoiClique (of which he became the last official member) and decided to follow their blueprint. “I know that music is what I love to do,” he explains. “I did what everyone else who inspired me in the underground did: you run into the Guitar Centre, spend $300 and then the whole world is in your hands. Literally, you just need to put in the hard work at that point.”

 

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Who We Be: Austin Daboh Interviewed

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For decades now, rap music has been at the forefront of progress and change in the music industry. While the majors were complaining about free downloads, mixtape rappers were becoming global superstars, making their money from live shows and endorsement deals, and now in the streaming era artists like Drake, Lil Uzi Vert and Cardi B are at the forefront once again, as playlists like Spotify’sRap-Caviar become the most important platforms for new music discovery.

South London’s Austin Daboh knows this. As senior editor at Spotify UK, the 33-year-old has been working in music for over a decade, with a particular focus on UK MC driven music. He’s watched his favourite rappers struggle against the system for years, and is glad to finally be able to witness their success in this new playlist paradigm with platforms like Who We Be.

Spotify UK’s flagship urban music playlist - curated by Daboh and his team - is focussed on reflecting listeners habits by serving up the best of UK MC driven music alongside the cream of what the US currently has to offer. After a hugely successful year for the brand, Daboh and his team are preparing to take it outside of the streaming platform and into the live sector, when Spotify presents Who We Be takes over Alexandra Palace next Thursday 30th November, with a line-up that includes Bugzy Malone, Cardi B, Dizzee Rascal, Giggs, J Hus and Stefflon Don.

Ahead of what is set to be a monumental event for the brand, Daboh took some time out to explain his role at Spotify, discuss how playlists are changing the game and offer some advice for artists looking to secure placements on playlists like Who We Be…

 

For those who are unfamiliar, could you explain your role at Spotify?

I'm a Senior Editor of Spotify in the UK, which means that I sort of have editorial oversight from a curation point of view. If you are a user of Spotify you can go and search for whatever songs that you want, albums you want, whatever playlists you want, and consume them, when you're consuming a British owned and operated playlist - that's a playlist that's been run and is looked after by me and the team I work with.

We’ve been seeing the Spotify playlist continue to increase in cultural importance over the past couple of years, could you tell us a bit about that? I think that one of the reasons why Spotify has done so well from a playlist point of view is globally we’ve hired the right people at the right time to look after each market. In the UK [team], we’re good at taking brave decisions over when to support artists.

I think historically - with underground urban music specifically - there's been a feeling that you have to go above and beyond what your peers in other genres have to achieve before being supported on a mainstream level. Spotify has brought a level of risk-taking to the market, in terms of “We like this artist, we like the music, we can see that it's reacting well”, and we take risks off the back of that: that's why so many acts now are being supported on the mainstream level.

I think the other thing that we've got, is a level of data on music consumption that hadn't really been available before. When people are consuming playlists across other mediums, the people that are creating those playlists using their gut feeling way more then they're using empirical data. At Spotify we’ve had the right balance between gut feeling and this vast amount of absolutely brilliant hard data that allows us to make the best informed decisions across any platform in the world at the moment.

How do you find the right balance between data and feeling?

Every playlist has at least a couple of people that are constantly talking about what songs should be going in, what songs could be coming out. I relate it to being like a DJ ultimately: you listen to the music, and before you try it out on a playlist you have to use your own gut feeling as to whether it will work, because often when a song is new on the system there is no data for you to look at.

So, gut feeling is super important at the start of a record. Once you try that on a playlist, every single record will have a different journey. You can look at a record like Giggs’ ‘Linguo’ for example, and straight away you knew that that was going to work. Every single data, sort of piece of data showed that that record was going to work instantaneously.

Whereas, if you look at something like Stefflon Don’s ‘Hurtin' Me’ with French Montana, that record took a couple of weeks before it started to really kick into gear. But even once the records are on the playlist, and we have a hell of a lot of data, to look at that anecdotal evidence is still really important. Because even though its performance was OK in those first couple of weeks, it was the reaction I was actually seeing outside of Spotify on the streets and in clubland that convinced me that initial gut feeling was right, let's stay on this record. And of course it turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the year.

 

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In Conversation: Tiffany Calver

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There are a lot of titles that could correctly be applied to 23-year-old Tiffany Calver, but the one she’d prefer is “music fan”. That’s the role that Tiffany has lived and breathed for as long as she can remember, growing up in Shropshire where she’d dance around the living room with her mother, listening to the latest Dipset records on Tim Westwood before turning on Channel U and texting her friends about SLK’s ‘Hype Hype’ video.

Tiffany’s love for music has been her North star, guiding her from her bedroom in the West Midlands to a career in the capital. The path has lead her through a number of different roles, including journalism, PR and throwing parties, but she’s eventually found her place - at least for the time-being - as a DJ and radio host.

This year Tiffany has joined KISS FM as the UK’s youngest FM radio host and the first female hip-hop DJ to have a national show, in September found herself in the global spotlight when she was asked to put together a mix for Drake’s OVO Sound Radio show. She’s still a fan above everything else. You’ll find her in the mosh pit…

 

You’re playing OVO’s store opening tonight and obviously did the mix for their radio show recently, how did that relationship come about?

By absolute chance! I was supposed to be going to Berlin straight from Skepta’s SkAIR launch, because obviously No Merci always throw the best parties afterwards. I wasn’t even supposed to be playing that night, but I had all of my stuff with me to go straight to the airport with. I’m as waved as I intended to be, but it turns out that other people had gotten really, really drunk too! DJ Maximum comes up to me like "Do you have your USBs, by any chance?", and I was like, "Yep." So he's like, "Can you possibly play? For like an hour?” Because the person who was supposed to be DJing was just mash up. I just had to jump on.

Then a couple of days later Drake’s manager Oliver [El-Khatib] followed me on Instagram. I was half asleep, so I just looked at it like “What!?” Then when I properly woke up I was like “Wow, I didn’t actually dream that!” He DM’ed me saying “I loved your set at Skepta’s party. I’d really love if you could do a mix for OVO if you’re up for it?” Two days before the next OVO show he messaged me again like, “Hey, so there’s a space in two days…”

 

 How did you decide what should go into that mix?

I mean obviously it’s OVO and they’re renowned now, especially Drake, for being into UK stuff, so I wasn’t necessarily scared about using the platform to showcase a lot of new shit, because I know that’s what they’re into anyway. When Oliver was telling me the brief for the mix, he was just like, "Just make a mix that showcases you and your taste in music."

I feel like I've always been really clear about the fact that I'm always trying to bridge the gap between the UK and the US, with everything I do. I feel like OVO, to an extent, has really been a great platform to help and assist with bridging that gap. I remember when they played Section Boyz on OVO Sound radio and that just went fucking viral.

I was just like, "Well then, cool, I'm gonna use my mix to do the same thing." So I was working with people who were friends of mine, or songs that I really loved from the UK. The hits over here that I know haven't crossed over there yet, or songs that are completely unknown but I fuck with as a person that's into music.I just tried to blend everything so that it was as true to me as possible. At the same time, I proper just wanted to use that moment to help push as much new stuff from the UK as I could. And it worked. It wasn't a bad mix.

 

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Perspiration Ting: Five Minutes With Michael Dapaah (AKA Big Shaq)

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Late in August this year, MC Quakez and MC Shakez were given the opportunity to pass through Charlie Sloth’s BBC 1Xtra show to promote their single ‘Balance’ via Sloth’s legendary ‘Fire In The Booth’ segment. Unfortunately, Quakez wasn’t able to deliver on his freestyle, struggling to catch the beat and unable to get his bars off without error. Charlie was forced to cut the session short, sending Quakez and Shakez out to recollect and come back for a second take, unwittingly making an opening for a future star by the name of Big Shaq to step in.

Shaq was hanging out by the studio because threatening to send for triple-threat Roll Safe, who’d allegedly stolen his leather jacket. When he was given the opportunity of entering the booth however, he denied the rumours, instead channeling his aggression through an electric freestyle over sinister drill production. In his second verse, Shaq would attack the mic with an arsenal of gunfire sounds, which ended up becoming the hottest meme of the next few weeks: “The ting goes skrrahh, pap pap, ka-ka-ka...”

Michael Dapaah, the South London comedian behind Quakez and Shaq, wasn’t prepared for just how successful the sketch would be. The freestyle would later be released by Island Records under the name ‘Man’s Not Hot’ and has attracted attention from both sides of the pond. In the months that followed, everyone from Jeremy Corbyn and Liam Gallagher to US hip-hop heavyweights like Drake and DJ Khaled would make reference to the track.

It would achieve chart success, peaking at number 11 on the UK charts and even infiltrating the US Billboard Hot 100 at 64, and even caught the attention of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal who enlisted Toronto rapper ShaqIsDope to respond with a bizarre diss track. It’s safe to say that the past few months have been a whirlwind for Dapaah. When we meet him, he’s backstage at Manchester’s M.E.N Arena where he’s preparing to make a surprise appearance for BBC 1Xtra Live, which is celebrating the station’s 15th anniversary this year. The performance will be broadcast live to tens of thousands around the country, not to mention the 13,400 people currently packing out the venue. Dapaah doesn’t seem phased, as he laughs and jokes with his team. He might not have been used to performing in front of audiences like this a few months ago, but he’s been forced to learn quickly.

Just before his transformation into Big Shaq, we caught five minutes with Michael Dapaah to discuss his mindset entering the booth, adjusting to the success that’s followed and his love for rap culture…

 

What are you most proud of about your success this year?

The journey. It’s been a hard one, but it’s nice to see your following and everything build up. So that’s what I’m most proud of, and what I’m most grateful for as well.

What was your mindset when you were going into that ‘Fire In The Booth’?

It was mad because it was something that was on my vision board to do. So when we were going in there, it’s surreal bro. When things start to happen you just think ‘Yo, this is mad!’ I think because this was on my vision board to do and it actually happened, I was just like, ‘Do you know what, I just have to go and give this thing my best shot.’ Because you only get one shot!

I didn’t even know that you get to do takes in their. But we didn't get to, because I went in there as a performer, just one whole take. Some people go in there and do four or five takes just to get it right. But I wanted it to be like a sketch almost, where you get to see both of the characters. So I went in there with just one shot and gave it everything.

You’ve mentioned your vision board a couple of times now. Could you tell us about that?

You are what you think, and you become what you see as well. So my vision board is a thing of faith. Because I’m a man of faith. You’ve always got to have a vision for what you want to do in your life or for whatever you’re trying to achieve. So I got these pictures of the things that I wanted to do and I stuck them all over the board, and literally said my prayers over it and then just started doing my work over it. Then boom, one thing after another and then we’re here today and I’m sitting with you!

 

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A Celebration Of N.E.R.D

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N.E.R.D. is everything.

 

They were the bridge that made our generation go beyond the rap music that we were into. Hip-hop had begun to get a little insular again, and they blasted the doors off.

N.E.R.D fans were exposed to a school of thought in which skateboarding, Japanese streetwear, contemporary art, punk and rap were all part of the same thing. There was no need to try and fit into any stereotypes, in fact, the stereotypes weren't even cool. Pharrell, Chad and Shay celebrated being ‘other’: to this day there isn’t a term to describe the sound that they established across four game-changing albums.

With a new self-titled album on the way, we gave some of our favourite artists and creatives the impossible task of choosing their favourite song from N.E.R.D’s incredible back catalogue…

 

'Fly Or Die' (As picked by Saba)

I have no recollection of my life without Pharrell, so I was already a fan of N.E.R.D the first time I heard ‘Fly Or Die.’ I was really pissed off that I had to go to this scholarship thing at the time, and that was a song that I used to listen to and it used to make me feel less pissed off about it. The lyrics had a very literal impact on what I was going through at the time. I was listening to N.E.R.D every day at this extracurricular shit that I had to do for high school - I used to hate that shit. I hated everybody in it, and I think the song helped me not hate everybody.

 

'Am I High' (As picked by Murkage Dave)

This song reminds me of when I first moved to Manchester. The crud level was high! I love the beat so much. It feels like you're getting driven to heaven in a muscle car. All the parts of the arrangement are kind of fighting for space but working in tandem like engine pistons. Pharrell's lyrics are sinisterly ambiguous, and then when Malice comes in it becomes the coolest record ever. Just the sound of his voice over those pianos is everything to me.

 

'Tape You' (As picked by Christian Rich)

Our favourite NERD track is ‘Tape You’ (the UK version). This track summed up our love for the guys. Before we ever met Shae, he was always our favourite because of his verses and ad libs on the album. The clavi sound on this track is great. The chords are everything. The kick and snare add that familiar Neptune sound. The outro strings are brilliant and the fake/real sex overdubs were hilarious. ‘Tape You’ got us through a lot of boring days and kept us musically inspired over the years.

 

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The Process: Brent Faiyaz Interviewed

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Brent Faiyaz has been picking up a pencil to fight his demons since he was a child; sketching his escape from whatever was plaguing his young mind. Now in his twenties, writing has replaced drawing; from poems in his iPhone notes, to words poured through melody onto a canvas of tender production. The form has changed, but the function remains the same.

For Faiyaz, the act of writing is a selfish one. It’s a self-serving process that helps him navigate life’s obstacles. The fact that his work is attracting an audience is something that is relatively new, and genuinely surprising to him. He’d be doing this anyway, but he’s overjoyed to look back and see thousands joining him for the ride. This year he’s watched a hook he recorded for D.C. rapper GoldLink become the platinum selling ‘Crew’, and ‘Into’ a project that he put together with regular collaborators Dpat and Atu - collectively known as Sonder - lead to a sold-out headline tour across the states.

Throughout this period he’s simultaneously been working on ‘Sonder Son’, a deeply personal collection that follows his journey from daydreamed sketching in his Baltimore high school, to dealing with a successful music career in Los Angeles, with a hell of a lot of hustle and hard work in between.

A few days prior to the release of ‘Sonder Son’, Brent Faiyaz spent half an hour unpacking his creative process for us…

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This album is your autobiography. How did you distill your life into this collection of tracks?

Initially when I first started the project it was going to begin when I got to L.A. and it was going to be conceptual and based off my experience when I got here. But then I realised I’d be skipping out a lot of shit.

It’s one thing for somebody to hear some music, hear shit that you write, and really take it in and resonate with them, and it’s another thing for them to have the same experience and to then [resonate with you as an artist]. So there’s a lot of things that I want to say and a lot of subjects that I want to speak on, but if the fans don’t really know who I am then they’re not really going to listen to that shit. I feel like an introduction piece just to who I am, to let people know what I’m about, is the best way to go about gaining real fans and people that really fuck with me.

It was natural though, it wasn’t really a considered effort to make this shit super personal. When you’re writing music I guess the easiest shit to flow is the shit that you’ve really been through, so that shit just kind of came out.

 

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Gucci Mane: Metamorphasis Of A Trap God

📸 by Simon Rasmussen  

📸 by Simon Rasmussen  

The story of Gucci Mane will remain etched in rap lore for decades to come. While the East Atlanta veteran’s 12-year career hasn’t yet spawned any household hits of his own, and his discography doesn’t boast an undisputed classic LP just yet, his cultural influence is unmatched. The destruc-tive duality of a life balancing entertainment and crime has plagued Gucci’s career: whenever it looked like he was on a home run musically, the street life would strike him out. Since the turn of the millennium he’s been incarcerated at least 10 times.

When we meet up with Radric Davis to interview him for this cover story, he’s still not permitted to enter the UK. Instead we’re invited to join him at K Club, a luxurious golf and leisure complex just outside of Dublin where he’s residing ahead of a show at Longitude Festival. It’s the 37-year-old’s first time outside of the United States, and he isn’t too cool to reveal how much fun he’s having. Pulling up a chair in the corner of the closed restaurant area, he’s unable to hide his gleaming white veneers as he reaches out for a handshake.

After emerging last year from his longest prison sentence yet - three years for possession of a fire-arm by a felon, which at one point looked as though it could be ten times as long - the transforma-tion of his appearance has been written, tweeted, commented upon and memed thousands of times. Just days before our interview, Rihanna posted a before-and-after shot of his 75lb weight loss on Instagram along with the caption “If you can’t handle me at my 2007 Gucci Mane, you don’t deserve me at my 2017 Gucci Mane,” which he laughs about during our conversation. However, Gucci’s biggest change lies beyond the surface.

On ‘1st Day Out Tha Feds’ - a track that was penned in prison then recorded and released a day after he regained his freedom in May last year - he describes the plague of thoughts that had been troubling him; paranoid, numb, violent and impatient as he struggled for survival. “I did some things to some people that was downright evil,” he raps. “Is it karma coming back to me? So much drama. My own mama turned her back on me, and that’s my mama.”

Today, overlooking the K Club’s vast golf course, Gucci is thankful to have overcome that self-destructive internal narrative. “I just monitor what I think,” he explains. “I didn’t know that what you think all the time is really what you end up doing. I always used to think that everybody was against me. Nobody really wanted to see me win.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. While inmate #65556019 was holed up in Terre Haute, Indiana, he received countless letters from fans around the world, and read every single one. With “Free Gucci” ringing off around the globe, his trusted engineer Sean Paine kept fans fed, releasing countless mixtapes from his expansive stash of unreleased music. And when news spread that he’d be being released a few months early, Drake and Kanye West were lining up to work with him.

A year on and Gucci is truly appreciative of how his life and career have progressed. Two months after his release from prison he dropped ‘Everybody Looking’, his most successful album to date, followed by ‘Woptober’ and ‘The Return Of East Atlanta Santa’ both before the end of 2016. In August last year he joined Rae Sremmurd on their viral hit ‘Black Beatles’, which would be his first number one single on US Billboard, and his Drake-featured single ‘Both’, released in December, would become his first platinum single as lead artist.

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Where I Came From: Boston

📸 by Nathaneal Turner

📸 by Nathaneal Turner

“All of this shit is something I thought I would never do,” Cousin Stizz looks up from under the brim of his cap. It’s pulled low to shade him from the overpowering afternoon sun, which bounces off his gleaming grills. He’s laid back on a sofa that’s been dragged into a makeshift backstage area on one of Harvard’s sports fields, as he prepares to hit the stage for the Boston Calling festival. “Boston Calling is the only thing I thought about ever doing,” he says, looking up with a grin. “I went to the first one [that Wiz Khalifa headlined]. It was my first concert and that’s the first time I ever wanted to become a rapper.”

A few minutes later and the 25-year-old is making this ambition a reality, posed like a warlord on the edge of the stage, gazing over his legion of followers who chant back lyrics from his ‘MONDA’ mixtape. An uninitiated attendee wandering over from another stage would likely get the impression that Stizz was performing back-to-back chart toppers.

“There’s good music coming from everywhere, but when it comes from your city it’s a little more fun to listen to,” Michael Christmas offers a few days later. Born and raised in Roxbury, the 23-year-old was something of an instigator to the city’s burgeoning scene. With his larger-than-life personality, Christmas’ blend of humour, self-deprecation and pop culture references he was the first of the current crop of Bostonian rappers to gain notoriety outside of the city when videos for his songs ‘Daily’ and ‘Michael Cera’ dropped mid-2013.

Released in the space of a few months, their success would mark a turning point not just for Christmas’ own career but a new generation of budding creatives. “That was the first time anyone in Boston could look up [to someone] that they see walking around,” explains Tim Larew, manager of Christmas and Stizz. “This is a young brand new artist getting major press love.” Stizz confirms this notion: “One of the most important things in my career was having Michael Christmas’ first mixtape ‘Is This Art?’” he admits. “It showed me this shit can happen.”

 Read on via Clash Magazine...

Julie Adenuga: The Voice Of London

📸 by Vicky Grout

📸 by Vicky Grout

It’s been two years since Julie Adenuga first went live to over 100 countries. The multi-faceted career of Beats 1’s ‘Voice of London’ spans everything from web design to youth mentoring, but radio has always found its way to the surface.

The 28-year-old Tottenham native first discovered her passion when she was offered a chance to trial for a presenting role on Rinse FM in her early-20s. Never one to back away from an opportunity, she gave it a shot, and quickly progressed from weekly appearances to the daily drive time slot. It was there that Julie would find her voice; an enthusiastic, effortless and familiar presence that listeners welcome into their lives like an old friend.

“Out of everything I do, radio just feels the most natural,” she says, despite having never really been a radio listener herself, other than when her older brothers, Skepta and Jme, would leave her at home as a kid to tape their radio freestyles. Rather than allowing disc jockeys to tell her what to listen to, she’d spend her younger years creating her own eclectic compilations, which would include everything from her brothers’ favourite 2Pac songs to Spice Girls deep cuts.

“I wouldn’t have whole albums,” she admits of her sometimes-obscure taste. “I’d just have one song that I really liked, like ‘Everything Fades Away’ by Mariah Carey on ‘Music Box’, which is like a deluxe version of the album. I think my love for radio just came out of enjoying it.”

Read on via Clash Magazine... 

PUSH 2

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The second issue of PUSH is out now. 

This issue is dedicated to those taking those “next steps” that will see their career progress to higher levels. 

Features include Mura Masa, Vince Staples, GoldLink, Donae’O,  JD. Reid, Jammz, InBloom, S4U and more. 

Get yours at PushMagazine.net

 

 

“REMIX & RECONSTRUCT” with A$AP Nast

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The Air Force 1 was never meant to last this long. Released in 1982, Nike’s first “Air” basketball shoe, was discontinued two years later. But, thanks to the demand from those customising and remixing the shoe, it would be reissued as Nike’s first retro model two years later and is still going strong over 30 years on.

Today, in an East London warehouse that’s been temporarily transformed into a hypebeast haven,  the topic of discussion is “REMIX & RECONSTRUCT”, and the Air Force 1 sits firmly at the centre. The workshop is part of ‘The Ten’, a collaboration between designer Virgil Abloh and Nike, that sees him reimagining pioneering silhouettes from Nike and Converse that date back as far as 1923.

Across ten months, Abloh has created ten new trainers, making the project one of the fastest moving collaborations that Nike has ever been involved in. With the aim of re-introducing their human-made quality, the silhouettes have been broken down, hand cut and reconstructed, resulting in open source products that allow the wearer to interact. Virgil is not simply inviting people to wear sneakers with his name on them, but to get involved in the design process themselves, embodying Nike’s “Just Do It” mentality.

At today’s event in East London he’s flanked by fellow creatives, including A$AP Nast, visual artist Eddie Peake, and designers Grace Wales Bonner and Michelle Lamy, each leading workshops with the Air Force 1 as their canvas. For Nast, the silhouette is of particular personal resonance; as a Harlem native it’s in his DNA. Nike might have named the shoe after the presidents plane, but the streets rebranded it the “Uptown”. The Air Force 1 became an icon of Harlem culture and it’s intrinsic flyness.

Clash took ten minutes with the A$AP Mob rapper and multifaceted artist, to discuss his involvement in ‘The Tens’ and what the Air Force 1 means to him...

 

Can you describe your involvement in ‘The Ten’?

I would say my involvement is just adding my own personality and taste to it. I’m just giving these kids something to look forward to.

[I was attracted to] the fact that we get to be teachers. For the most part I’m a learner, and I like to be a learner. I look at this like open of those things where I get a chance to be able to teach and give my input on what I think is cool.

 

What does the Air Force 1 mean to you?

The Air Force 1 is a sentimental one because I’m from Harlem, Uptown New York City, so that’s like wearing your heart on your sleeve.

I don’t remember my first pair, but I remember having pairs all my life. I’ve grown up wearing them. I remember the nineties, everyone wearing them, flavours everywhere: that’s a Harlem thing.

 

Read on via Clash Magazine... 

J Hus: The Sound of the UK

📸 by Olivia Rose

📸 by Olivia Rose

The narrow street outside of Clash’s office is consumed by a pair of Mercedes-Benzes.

Stratford’s J Hus wanders between them - one black, one white, as in his hit single ‘Did You See’ - soaking them in with a smile. Suddenly his attention catches a congregation of school kids at the end of the street. As he looks up at them, they hide their phones away and do their best impressions of calm-and-collected, unable to disguise their excitement at sighting the unassuming star.

“What do you lot want?” Hus shouts, a broad smile spreading across his face. “You want a picture? Come on then.” He obliges, getting into the centre of a huddle of 10 of them to take the photo. Only a couple of years out of his own teens, Hus looks more like one of the group himself than the pop star that they can’t wait to run and tell their friends and siblings about. It’s a role that he’s having to grow into, and quickly.

Momodou Jallow has matured into one of the country’s most exciting new musical talents, with his debut album ‘Common Sense’ currently enjoying a solid Top 10 run. “When you put work out there you want people to acknowledge it,” says Hus, reflecting on the fan photo opp. “It just means that it’s working. The music is doing its job. I’m very happy right now.”

Read on via Clash Magazine... 

Donae’o: “You’re going to die if you don’t adapt.”

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 With sixteen years in the game, Donae’o has celebrated wins and suffered losses.

The fickle music industry has left him battered and bruised, but instilled him with great wisdom; and luckily for those setting out on their own path, he’s not too greedy to share.

Since his 2001 breakthrough single ‘My Philosophy (Bounce)’ he’s weathered the storm of several scenes – garage, funky, dubstep – but despite the changes in landscape, has always created music that is true to himself. This is largely thanks to two qualities; an openness to learning new things and a willingness to adapt.

Right now the North West Londoner feels more relevant than ever before. Unafraid to selflessly hand off some of his best work to collaborators, he’s making the best music of his career with hits like Giggs’ ‘Lock Doh’ and WSTRN’s ‘Come Down’. He’s also injecting the collaborative spirit into his own releases, from club banger ‘Black’ with Jme and Dizzee Rascal to deeper cuts like the Cosima-assisted ‘Alone’, allowing the Donae’o sound to be more versatile than ever.

Much of his recent success can be attributed to this mindset; having matured into the game, he’s able to cast ego aside, and do what’s best for the music that he lives to make. He’ll unashamedly talk about his failures, but only in order to highlight how the process has made him stronger.

For his new mixtape ‘sixteen’ his first release under a new deal with Island Records, he spent three years jetting back and forward between London and the US, immersing himself in the rap cultures of New York and L.A. in order to crack the secret behind making music that translates across the Atlantic.

We caught up with him to discuss the experience, and how it helped him to overcome his obstacles to become stronger than ever…

 

Your new mixtape ‘sixteen’ was inspired by time you spent in America, when was that?

For like the last two or three years, I’ve been going back and forth.

And where was it that you were staying?

Mainly New York – actually, it was equally New York and L.A.

In New York there’s a community out there that follows my music. So thats why I went to New York, and with regards to L.A. there was a guy that I met with Morgan Keyz called Dre and he was moving out to L.A. because he felt there was business out there. He was trying to change his life. And that’s where we met Post Malone and that’s where we all came up.

How did your experience differ between those two cities?

L.A.’s very business orientated. You can get a lot of links and business and stuff like that done in L.A., whereas New York is more like vibes. New York is more like London.

[The New York scene discovered me] through ‘Party Hard’. It’s like an Afro Punk kind of movement, DJs like mOma and Khalil who runs Livin’ Proof, Electric Punanny which is done by Jasmine Solano. Those raves were playing African music, British music and West Indian music. They booked me for a rave once, called Everyday People, that’s how I got in contact with DJ mOma and that’s how it started really.

I know you’ve cited KRS-One, Kool Moe Dee and EPMD as your early hip-hop influences, what rap music is out now that had you inspired to go out to the States?

I love Future. Mainly like Future and Drake. But you know what Drake being a Canadian, blowing up in America was quite interesting to me as well.

Read on via RWD Mag... 

Rich Chigga: When The East Is In The House

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When 17-year-old Brian Imanuel from Jakarta, Indonesia pulled on a pink polo shirt and fastened a fanny pack around his waist, he had no idea how his life was about to change.

He’d originally been planning to dress in ultra-cool fashion that day, but changed his mind last minute. Coupled with the incredibly violent lyrics he was about to deliver, he thought the contrast of “white dad” attire would provide a necessary contrast.

For the career of his rap alter-ego Rich Chigga, it was perhaps the best decision he ever made.

‘Dat $tick’, the video he created that day, would become an international success when YouTube channel 88Rising, who dedicate themselves to celebrating global Asian culture, created a short clip in which they’d record rappers - including Ghostface Killah, Cam’ron, Desiigner, Tory Lanez, 21 Savage and Flatbush Zombies - reactions to the video.

The majority of the rappers involved were taken by surprise initially, but praised Brian’s skills as a rapper. Ghostface enthusiastically demands “Let me get on that!” delivering a verse for the remix which would be released a few months later.

Since then, Brian has made it out to the US where he played a handful of headline shows, delivered features for Skrillex and Diplo, surprised Post Malone with a Mariachi band and even sat down to be interviewed by Pharrell Williams on Beats 1.

We caught up with Brian to discuss the rise of Rich Chigga…

In your mind is Rich Chigga you or is it an alter ego?

I think it's just like a part of me, that's like somewhere in the back of my head but I just don't show it when I'm talking to people. So it's kind of nice to say things that you're not able to in real life, to say it on a song is really cool.

When you broke through with the ‘Dat $tick’ video, a lot of the commentary surrounding it regarded the way you were dressed, with the pink polo shirt and fanny pack. What made you choose to present yourself in that way?

It was just part of the concept. At first, I was going to dress all cool and stylish and all that. Last minute I was like, "Maybe because the song sounds so serious, maybe I should do something different with the video. Maybe I should make it kind of comedic almost, but at the same time it was cool as shit so."

I thought about the polo shirt and the fanny pack - that's like the classic like white dad look - and I'm like, "Damn. If I wear that it could either completely ruin it or make it really good." I thought about it for a while and then wrote a full concept behind it. So it turned out pretty good I think.

What was the first hip-hop that you started listening to?

I started listening to hip-hop in 2012 when my first American friend introduced me to it. I mean, I heard hip-hop around before but back then I only heard super old school stuff.

In 2012 I started listening to Drake, 2 Chainz, Kanye, Macklemore, Logic and a bunch of other stuff. But the first song that I tried rapping to was actually Macklemore, ‘Thrift Shop’ and that was when my English was really bad. Learning how to rap actually improved my pronunciation a lot back then. That’s also why I really like hip-hop too and I got super deep into it.

Read on via Clash Magazine... 

Travis Scott: Rage & Responsibility

📸 by Simon Rasmussen  

📸 by Simon Rasmussen  

“AstroWorld?” the Uber driver echoes solemnly, as if being reminded of a long lost friend. “I used to have season passes for the kids. Used to go there in the summer, it would be packed.” He pauses for a moment, the excitement of his memory quickly burning out. “I still don't understand why they closed it down. I'd end up paying $20 for parking just to get near it.”

We reach the site on the Southside of Houston, where the theme park stood proudly from 1968 until 2005. It was levelled off to be used as an overflow car park for the rodeos that take place in the overlooking NRG Stadium, neighbour to the “Eighth Wonder Of The World” - the Astrodome, home of the Houston Astros baseball team. Twelve years since its closing, it's a sparse wasteland that spends the majority of its year deserted, fenced off to stop intruders from even wandering across it.

To Houston natives AstroWorld represents youth; either through their children, or memories of their own childhood. A young Beyoncé Knowles tasted stardom there, performing as part of Girl's Tyme, and Travis Scott spent his formative years there, allowing his imagination to run wild. The 25-year-old rapper and producer is currently in his hometown for the 'Birds Eye View Tour', in support of his second album 'Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight', which scored him his first Billboard Number One when it was released in September last year.

We're taking an early ride to the site, sounding out the area ahead of our cover shoot later in the day. An icon of contemporary youth culture, Travis intends to reconnect with the “pure life” that comes with being a carefree teenager on his forthcoming third album, which will be named after the park.

That night two cars pull up to a service road around the back of the site: a blacked-out Escalade and a white Maybach. Upon arrival, Travis and his crew hop out of the Maybach, and he wanders over to the industrial wire fence, wrapping his fingers around it and peering through over the land that was once so important to him.

“It got taken away from the city. It was like taking our heart out,” he laments. “We were having fun at that place. It represented imagination; it was our Disneyland. A lot of my ideas were sparked at AstroWorld.”

Read on via Clash Magazine... 

iSpy: KYLE interviewed

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For many ‘iSpy’ was a sneak attack.

The tongue-in-cheek hit by Californian rapper KYLEand hip-hop’s man of the moment Lil Yachty, seemingly exploded out of nowhere and took many by surprise when it found its way into the Billboard Top Ten.

The song, about getting girls that don’t rack up Instagram likes, was originally released in December last year and crept up the charts over a period of five months. By mid-January it had debuted at No. 80 on the Hot 100, and peaked at No. 4 in April. Prior to that KYLE’s name had never found its way into the Top 20, and he had now RIAA certifications to his name.

Despite appearances, it was a long time coming; KYLE is playing a long game, and has been grinding for years to achieve his recent success. Since writing his first rap aged 13, the 24-year-old has been building his fanbase since 2013 with a pair of mixtapes, ‘Beautiful Loser’ and Smyle’, as well as collaborations with the likes of Chance The Rapper, Kehlani and G-Eazy.

In a guest verse on The Social Experiment’s ‘Wanna Be Cool’ in 2015 he asked: “So why don't you just be the you that you know you are, You know, when nobody else is there?” And has continued to demonstrate self-confidence and authenticity by his own example.

KYLE rides against many archetypal hip-hop ideals; the subject matter in his lyrics has more in common with the bands he’d hear when his mother turned the dial to K-Rock, than it does the rap music that his father would play him. He promotes himself as “anti-cool”, and is comfortable in his own skin without having to exude braggadocio and take himself too seriously.

Whether or not he’d ever had a Billboard hit, KYLE would have made his mark. It’s all about endurance…

 How would you describe the kind of last couple of years since you put out your last mixtape ‘Smyle'?

They were good. They had ups, and they had downs. They had really awesome wins and they had, some really devastating losses. You know, it was normal life. That's what kind of felt the best about it. I don't know if I'm going to be able to get that back.

But it was dope. It was exciting. We put so much work into ‘Smyle' it's almost like we expected to pop off off of that album. We put it out, and then for those two years we had to go do like a lot of grinding. But the whole time was like very memorable to me. That ‘King Wavy’ [US headline] tour was probably like the funnest time of my life.

I first heard you on the Social Experiment’s song ‘Wanna Be Cool’ and your verse really stood out. But from that even to ‘iSpy’ there’s this theme of poking fun at social media that you revisit. Why do you think it’s important to address that?

It's just like such an easy place to use sight of what is good about you. I can't even imagine what it's like now, being like a middle schooler trying to look good on fucking Instagram where you got all these people that are being manufactured. Literally like plastic manufactured, like out a fucking assembly line. You've got all these people who portray this image of perfect that, you have like little guys and little girls trying to be like these people on social media that invest all their money, time and effort into looking good. It's like an easy place to lose sight of what makes you dope about being you.

It's so important for kids to be proud of just what they're given naturally. And be proud of the way God made them and the gifts that God has given them. If they lose sight of that, then we're just going to have a bunch of people, trying to be like a bunch of people, who are trying to be like a bunch of other people, and it's just going to get weird. Everybody's gonna have fake everything. They even have fake six-packs now, it's crazy. You can go purchase a six-pack. I just think the Internet is just shady.

Read on via Clash Magazine...

PUSH 001

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I’m proud to announce that I’m editing a brand new publication. 

PUSH 1 is a UK music special and features Novelist, Cadenza, Belly Squad. Jamie Isaac, Radar Radio, Taya, Oscar #Worldpeace, Nathan Miller and more.

Get yours at PUSHmagazine.net

Jessie Reyez: “Music is my world.”

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Despite technology allowing more people to make and release music than ever, it can sometimes feel like attention to musicianship is on the decrease.

We expect our artists to be so much more; fashion icons, video directors, inspirational speakers, reality TV stars – sometimes all wrapped into one. It’s unsurprising that at times the music gets lost in the mix.

Jessie Reyez is quick to admit that music is her world.

The 26-year-old Columbian-Canadian songstress isn’t afraid to put time into the betterment of her craft, and has been building her unique sound – an almost indescribable concoction of raspy vocals, R&B melodies, rap cadences, vivid storytelling, acoustic guitar and bass-heavy beats – unhurried by the need for online gratification or a quick fix of fame.

She first made waves beyond Toronto in 2014 with ‘Living In The Sky’ a collaboration with Chicago rapper King Louie who had appeared on Kanye West’s Yeezus the previous year.

The link up was the result of a workshop at The Remix Project, a creative initiative for young people from disadvantaged communities between the two cities where Reyez would work on her music, and was identified by Louie as a future star.

This year, having further refined her sound and skills, she returned with a debut EP, Kiddo, an incredible introductory collection which shows off her ability to pull you into her world, as she emancipates herself from the pain, stress and anger of her life. It’s not necessarily an easy ride, but Jessie music is filled with unbridled emotion and candid storytelling that make it almost as therapeutic for the listener as we suspect she found in its creation.

Kiddo sounds like the music that Jessie Reyez had to make; whether she wanted to or not.

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How has the reception been to your Kiddo EP?

It’s been good, thank God. For different songs it’s been a different kind of response: from ‘Figures’, it’s crazy. I’ll get messages from people or comments that are like, “This has made me stop calling my ex” or “It’s made me feel more powerful.” And then there’s messages from the ‘Gatekeeper’ song where people are saying, “Man, I’ve been through this too. Thank you for talking about it.” Just crazy how everything’s resonating in different ways.

You first appeared on the radar a couple of years ago on ‘Living In The Sky’ with King Louie. Obviously a lot has changed since then, how would you describe the past few years?

My message has gotten more potent. I think it more has to do with my skill level because time and practise makes you better. I guess it happens to a lot of people, but when you hear your old work, and you kinda cringe because you see your own progress? It’s not like it’s super far back, but you can still sense and see the difference, that’s really helped. Working with new people in these three years of this crazy hustle. It’s been able to affect me positively in regards to how will I write and how well I think.

I’ve still got a ways to go. I still feel like if I’m in a studio with a crazy producer, I walk out of there a better musician. Anytime that I interact with someone. There’s always something that someone can teach you.

I learned a lot from King Louie too, man. That guy looked out. He’s dope.

How would you describe your creative process?

I know some people have a different way. I find it interesting, kind of how I just said when you work with other people and you become better because you see their process and how some people do melodies first or all that. I speak from reality, so the emotion kind of drives it forward, and anything else comes secondary to that. I feel like if the emotion isn’t there, then the song’s gonna fall short because the reality, the trueness is gonna be missing.

Anything after that it kinda comes. It’s not like there’s a formula. It’s just a matter of getting the emotion out and vibing. Sometimes it’s melody first. Sometimes it’s words first. Sometimes it’s both at the same time. I’m a fan of both at the same time. I feel like that way the message comes out clearer, because you’re not thinking. If you think too much, it becomes a science, and then what’s art?

 Read on via Clash Magazine...