As interns and contributors for renowned urban and hip-hop culture magazine, VIBE, we were given the assignment to recreate our own issue. During a year that saw the rise of many young artists, producers and self-starters, we decided to shine the spotlight on the 2011's most ambitious ones.
2011 SELF-STARTERS NEW BREED OF SUCCESS THE AMBITION ISSUE Hit-Boy THE BOY BEHIND THE BEAT BRITTANY MENDENHALL BROWNSVILLE’S NEW VOICE DAY IN THE LIFE OF JERMAINE HALL FEMME FATALES THE WARM UP AUDRA THE RAPPER + L.A. SWEATERS TO HEAT YOU UP THIS WINTER NOVEMBER | DECEMBER 2011 1 VIBE.COM DEPARTMENTS 5 V-PLAYLIST, 20 QUESTIONS 6 DORMTAINMENT 30 THE WARM UP 31 TLC SHORTS 7 A DAY IN THE “HALL-WAY” 29 SELF-MOTIVATED AMBITIOUS ONES 22 A JOURNEY THROUGH PARIS 9 MISS AMBITIOUS 11 THE NEW GIRL 15 THE INTERNS OF HIP-HOP: CHIDDY BANG 17 REAL SHIT WITH PHONY PPL’S DYME-A-DUZIN 20 ALL ABOUT THE MESSAGE 26 BROOKLYN’S NEXT LEGACY 2 AMBITION STATEMENT LETTER FROM THE EDITOR I t takes very little to succeed. I learned that from a young age. If I wanted to watch the Flintstones, I turned on the TV. If I wanted to have a bowl of Froot Loops, my little fingers would pry the cardboard flaps open (not along the perforated lines), I’d tip the milk jug over to the best of my ability (splashing a couple drops on the counter), mix and enjoy. If I wanted to major in Mass Communications after realizing that getting a psychology degree would adhere to Filipino tradition and only drive me insane, I trashed the idea of doing what was expected of me and opted for a self-made career. Point is: if I wanted it, I did it and when I thought of it, it was done. The same goes for every person who lent a character of copy and a pixel of graphic etched in these pages. Zoy paints literary pictures with a Shakespearian voice and a longwinded love for the written word, with only a year’s experience under her belt. Brittny, a straight-shooter with a dream to see her byline on glossy paper, came to work for a magazine she read as a little girl. Natelege, a forward thinker who used her resources, took an opportunity presented to her while Eric flew to New York with little in his pocket and a resume full of potential. We each rang that Harlem office doorbell and waited to be buzzed in. We each stomped up the metallic stairs and walked our way in. We each took a thought and put action behind it, somehow climbing our way into this jungle we call the industry. When it came time to brainstorm the vision we saw for this issue, D.C.rapper Wale had just released his sophomore effort. The Maybach Music signee had taken a basic word out of the American dictionary and made it the driving force behind his second album, a strategy that clicked. Take a term that summed up the universal hustle behind each person’s struggle to success. Ambition. No longer just the driving force behind Mr. Folarin’s pursuit of a Grammy but the salt in the sweat drops of a writer trying to make a deadline or the bags under the eyes of sleepless interns who spent an overnight in an infested office to construct an issue. It’s the innate passion that comes in individuals like our cover boy, Hit-Boy, who taught himself how to produce and banged out beats until he was heard all the way to Paris. Real recognizes realer in our Ambition issue. Individuals who took their fortes and did something with them, without asking for permission or forgiveness. Check L.A., a female emcee from Brooklyn who does double duty as an investment banker by day and professional rapper by night. Audra the Rapper doesn’t follow the sexy lady spitter formula and keeps the lines blurred with her verses. Chiddy Bang and Dyme-A-Duzin are local favorites who made their own way out of no way while others like Maffew Ragazino and Brittany Mendenhall cultivated their strengths and turned them into platforms. Some might say they don’t know what ambition means, but it’s provocative. It’s productive. It’s procrastination umtil we act on it. Ultimately, it’s a process that we’re just beginning. Adelle Platon | Editor-in-Chief | Twitter: @adelleplaton 3 VIBE.COM 28 VIBE.COM CONTRIBUTORS ADELLE PLATON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Scolded as a tween for being too preoccupied with boy bands and pop stars over the news, Adelle Platon has ironically chosen a career in entertainment journalism nearly a decade later. Her random resume cites experience in human resources, production, social media contribution and booking at NY1, NBC, The Rachael Ray Show and ABC’s Good Morning America. The unwritten list of qualifications include a childhood raised on pop and R&B, deleted dreams of being a performer and psychologist, as well as an enthusiasm as natural as her curly hair. She also offers expertise as a barista and budding wardrobe consultant in men’s suits. Adelle is a senior at St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, majoring in Mass Communications. She returned to her first love of print journalism by interning for VIBE Magazine, marrying her love for hip-hop music to her word craft. Although her accomplishments are still to be announced, she enjoys being unpredictable. NATELEGE WHALEY, MANAGING AND FASHION EDITOR Natelege Whaley is often called an old soul by family and friends for her witty and wise ways on seeing life. This led her to create HeartsConverse.com, a blog where she and other writers explore relationships from young adults’ perspective. She enjoys reporting and writing on human interest stories, as well as hip-hop culture. She proudly received her Journalism degree from Howard University (The Real H-U) in May 2011, and served as the Editor for the university’s 101 Magazine premier issue released in May 2011. She currently has a thing for the “new-west” hip-hop including artists like Pac Div, Polyester The Saint, Kendrick Lamar and DOM K on heavy rotation this year, but she still remains a Brooklyn girl at heart. BRITTNY PIERRE, SENIOR EDITOR Red lipstick fanatic and lover of all things sequin, Brittny Pierre has returned to her birthplace New York to set her sights on the world of journalism. Pierre aspires to be the Wendy Williams of fashion and music journalism, as she has no problem expressing exactly how she feels on any topic. She began at Teen Vogue as a accessory intern, went on to becoming Fashion News Editor at Honey Magazine and now currently writes for the site Lowefactor on both subjects. Just weeks after completing her degree at Rutgers University, she was ecstatic to become an intern at VIBE. As a little girl, Brittny would sneak off with VIBE magazines and get the scoop on the music scene. To be a part of it now is surreal. The journey has only just begun. ZOY BRITTON, MUSIC EDITOR Hailing from the means streets of Dub C and Paris, Zoy Britton is a culture aficionado. A love for music’s entrancing magic began at an early age with classical piano and violin training. Extensive traveling exposed her to a love for international music, specifically an obsessive stint with Hindu music and an unrequited love affair with Punjabi MC. She decided to pour her sensitive passions into her writing. As a health writer with her own website Zoy Milk, she specializes in healthy habits and dope music. Zoy is currently an intern at VIBE magazine, a web editor for PYNK Magazine and a contributing writer for other publications including STARK Digital Mag. A hustler determined to live her dreams while awake, she continues to stay true to herself, God and her passions. ERIC DIEP, ONLINE EDITOR AND ART DIRECTOR Eric Diep is not a native New Yorker. Not yet anyway. Coming from Oregon with a suitcase, a couple dollars and a dream to become a hip-hop journalist, he has finally settled in as an intern for VIBE. The journey has only just begun. When you don’t catch him rapping along to lyrics, he enjoys shooting some hoops and playing video games (especially old-school Donkey Kong Country, all day, everyday). He’s also a recent graduate of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, online editor for his personal basketball and hip-hop website From Downtown and a blogger at RESPECT. 4 V PLAYLIST Here’s what we’ve been listening to during our time as interns: 01 Jay-Z and Kanye West - Ni**as In Paris 02 Drake and The Weeknd - “Crew Love” 03 Iggy Azalea - “PU$$Y” 04 Pusha T - “Tony Montana” (Freestyle) 05 A$AP Rocky – “Houston Old Head” 06 Drake featuring Lil’ Wayne – “HYFR (Hell Yeah Fuckin’ Right)” 07 Maffew Ragazino – “Rhyme Pays” 08 Pac Div - “The Greatness” 09 Foster The People - “Pumped Up Kicks” 10 Frank Ocean - “Thinking About You” 11 Nephew ft. Smoke DZA & Killa Kyleon - “Hustler’s Prayer” 2 01 When will the Kardashians disappear like Paris Hilton? 02 Will the new NBA season be longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriages combined? QUESTIONS 03 05 14 Rihanna - “We Found Love” 15 Meek Mill - “I’ma Boss” 16 Goapele - “Undertow” 17 Drake and Rihanna - “Take Care” 18 Stacy Barthe - “Never Did” 19 Drake ft. Nicki Minaj - “Proud Of U” 20 Polyester The Saint - “Lookin For Luv” Add us to your circle. Check out the Vibe Interns: The Ambition Issue Google + page, featuring our work from this past fall. 12 Can we leave Beyoncé’s baby bump alone? 03 And isn’t the NBA being back the best Christmas present? 13 What the fuc* is Waka talking about? 04 Can JayZ and Kanye perform “Ni**as In Paris” for 24 hours straight? 14 How many sweaters does it take to get to the center of Drake’s closet? 12 05 Should Rick Ross patent his “huff”? 06 By the way, Who is the female behind the Maybach Music Group drop? 15 Why would you get a tattoo on your face like you don’t need a real job? 14 12 Immortal Technique - “Toast to the Dead” 13 Jadakiss & Styles P - “Running Thru the Jungle” 11 Has Ciroc Peach replaced Moscato as the new it thing to say you’re drinking? 07 And with Rick Ross’ repeated seizures, Eric Sermon’s heart attack, and Heavy D’s respiratory issues leading to his death, is it safe to say rappers need to start rhyming about going to the doctor? 08 With Justin Bieber crossing over to hip-hop, who will be the next rapper to experiment in a new genre? 09 Where would we be without reality television, Facebook and Twitter statuses and 24-hour celebrity news? 16 Will Nostradamus arrive in 2012? 17 Can we go six months without a rapper being incarcerated? 15 20 18 Where does Jermaine Hall shop? 19 When did being a groupie become resume material?[Jesus be a fix for this sinful world] 20 After the bold fashion move by Lil’ Wayne, which rapper will be brave enough to sports jeggings again? 5 VIBE.COM PUNCH LINE DORMTAINMENT Celebrities love the limelight except for when they are slippin’. So we called on the creators of Dormtainment.com, a web comedy series, to play life coaches and drop tickling wisdom for the new year to famous folks toting drama in 2011. CHRIS BROWN’S TEMPER TANTRUMS You can do and say things that make you wish life had a reset button. But since it doesn’t, do the next best thing and delete your tweets. LIL’ KIM’S BEEFING AT NICKI MINAJ Even though people may say you have a fake a**, fake breasts, fake skin, fake cheeks, fake lips, eyebrows, hair, and possible accusations of elbow implants, always continue to keep it real. HERMAIN CAIN’S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN Be more focused on your foreign affairs than your side-chick affairs. KIM KARDASHIAN’S DIVORCE A marriage may only last 72 days but diamonds are forever. DO YOUR THING GIRL! HA-HAAAAAAA (Black auntie) GUCCI MANE GOING IN AND OUT OF JAIL Don’t let jail get you down. Look at the bright side, you ended the recession amongst black businesses with the sale of “Free Gucci” T-shirts. - As told to Natelegé Whaley Top 5 Viewed Dormtainment Videos Press Play at Youtube.com/DormtainmentTV 6 MORE ABOUT @DORMTAINMENT I f you went away to college during the digital age, there’s probably a video floating around Youtube of you and your friends in a dorm room pulling pranks, rhyming to instrumentals of the hottest rap song on the charts at the time, or some other reckless activity that your mom wouldn’t approve. Dormtainment is no different, except they’ve been able to turn this concept into a Youtube channel that has over 6 million video views. Consistency is the name of the game for the funny men Michael Anthony, 24, Jerome Green, 23, Tay Dier, 23, Cameron Miller, 23, Amanuel Richards, 24, and Chaz Miller, 29 (photographed above left to right). The crew conceptualized the idea of the show while in the Atlanta-area for college in 2008. In March 2009 they officially launched Dormtainment.com. Fast forward to December 2011, and the guys are planning a college tour for next spring and shopping their web series to television networks. Every Sunday, Dormtainment releases a new video at 7 p.m. EST to over 51,000 subscribers looking for a knee-slapping way to end their weekend. Their skits include parodies of the popular reality series “Bad Girls Club” and “Basketball Wives” remixed as their own “Bad Boys Club” and “Basketball Husbands.” There’s also a remake of NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.” Their comedic resumé doesn’t end with videos, as they released “the first ever comedy hip-hop mixtape” called We’re Not Rappers But We Rap in September 2010. “We’re all friends so a lot of our ideas just come from casual conversation that we have, and it usually starts with a talk of ‘wouldn’t it be funny if?’ and then it just turns into a skit,” said Michael Anthony. -N.W. 01 ”Straight Outta Dunwoody” (347,822 views) | 02 ”Penny Pong” (320,043 views) | 03 “Dormtainment Bad Boys Club [Parody]” (261,552 views) 04 “The @Dormtainment Musical [Parodies]” (242,272 views) | 05 “5 Ways to be a Bad Roommate” (208,664 views) A Day in the “Hall-Way” ZOY BRITTON T he experience of shadowing a man that can make you feel as small as a thimble with the turn of an eye revealed a friendly but reserved industry veteran, with an exterior skin comprised of an awesome fashion sense and an intimidating aloofness. Hall’s succinct quote, however, was only a cursory summation of the day in the life of an EIC. As an editor, Hall has a specific process that he describes as taking anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months to finish. The first step requires picking the correct writer for the piece, a skill honed by years of reading various authors across medley magazinesa (from The Source to Vanity Fair), then establishing a proper thesis with the writer. “I would rather not cover a person if we can’t present them at a new angle” asserts Hall emphasizing just how difficult the task of EIC can be in negotiating new slants on old topics. After the writer and thesis are established, Hall reads through the with celebs usually involves many complicated layers comprised of publicists, managers etc. Additionally, these relationships establish a level of trust that allows Hall the ability to hit anybody and their mama up and get them in VIBE. Hall’s assertive nature not only plays a role in his position today but got him to where he is now as exemplified by a story of one of his experiences while writing at The Source. Hall went directly to the EIC of The Source at the time, Carlito, and sold the idea that he could write the best Puff piece ever (this occurred in the wake of Puff beating his club shooting case). “I just walked in and told him ‘there’s no one on the staff that can write a better Puff piece than I can,”such confidence sold him and he got the piece which became a cover story. But Hall’s Type- A countenance can’t avoid some of the crazier moments of his career, like his showdown with Ciara and her team. Hall had just got the EIC job at KING and his first cover was Ciara, “The main job as Editor- in- Chief is securing covers, editing [and playing] a politician’s position” piece beginning with broad, structural edits that he discusses with the writer. Then the final phase of editing begins with line edits and addressing the necessities in making the piece the best piece it can be. Although Hall describes himself as a natural born editor, his political prowess is also impressive characterized by a successful 20- year run in the entertainment industry. Hall the politician came into full play at the VIBE photoshoot featuring Machine Gun Kelly, Future, John West and a couple of other rising artists. Hall played the room like Santana on a jazz guitar, making small talk with everyone from the artists to their reps and every other key figure in the room. Though Hall appeared as though he was simply chatting he was, actually, strategically building strong relationships with everyone from managers to agents to PR people. These relationships play a critical role in being able to get celeb’s reps on the phone and negotiate covers as dealing who, after years of negotatiating, had finally agreed to get KING sexy but when Hall arrived on the photo shoot set there were racks of couture stuff without a patch of sexy clothing anywhere. So, Hall had to put her in overalls and a white top when the sight of a lollipop inspired him to pull this shoot from the dreadful clutches of unsexy mediocrity. Hall asked Ciara to put the lollipop in her mouth to portray a girl next door sexy look. The cover’s headline read “Ciara Pops her Cherry” which ignited the fury of her managerial team. When the cover ran Ciara’s team tried to get them to pull all issues and threatened litigation in addition to serving the magazine a cease- and- desist. Someone should probably tell them that when you sign a contract and willingly do a photoshoot, you cant renege the next daythat’s the point of a contract! Hall’s immense responsibilities might leave an ordinary man ragged, but Hall pulls it off all the while maintaining his signature, fashionable cool. 7 VIBE.COM 8 MISS AMBITIOUS BRITTNY PIERRE B rittany Mendenhall can easily be described as the same name of her site, chichi (chee-chee), which she explained is a synonym for “cool” and she’s the epitome of that. Her no holds barred attitude is the reason why her event/nightlife blog Chichi212.com is successful today. Brittany has played in the fields of public relations and even reality television but the only love in her life (besides her fiancé who she recently got engaged to) is writing. She gives The Ambitious Ones a little insight of her journey of writing her first book in the first grade to stealing top-secret menus at exclusive parties and posting all the details on her website. Ambitious One: When did you know you wanted to be a journalist/writer? Mendenhall: A long time ago actually, I wrote my first book in the first grade. My mom still has it. I guess that’s when and English has always been my favorite subject and I enjoy writing. It was pretty much a no brainer and in high school I was the editor-in-chief of the yearbook and the paper and managed the paper through college. It just seemed like the feasible thing to do, writing is one of my talents and I’m not very good at math or science or into any of the other things, so that’s the major I decided to go with. How did you come up with the website ChiChi212.com? [I pronounced it wrong] M: Most people can’t say it, I was nominated for an award they said it incorrectly; I guess it’s a weird name. I knew I was going to do a website about Manhattan and I wanted it to be cool in New York or what’s cool in New York so I was looking up synonyms of “cool” so I found chichi, so I was like okay that’s kind of cool. And it means, “ostentatiously stylish and deliberately chic” and my favorite word of all time is ostentatious. So I thought, my favorite word is in the definition and I already had picked a font that I was going to write it in and the c’s just looked so nice with it. What prompted you to write about what’s happening in New York? M: It’s funny because that’s not what it was supposed to be, it was more like a journal but since I majored in journalism I’m a little bit too sophisticated to use LiveJournal or Xanga. I made a blog but it was more for me, my first job out of college actually wasn’t with a newspaper or a magazine it was with a talent agency. I was an agent in training, I was like Lloyd from Entourage, so you don’t do any writing with that kind of job and I needed to write or it was going to drive me crazy. I really was just posting event invitations that PR firms were still sending me where I use to intern at. Then I thought maybe I should review these parties so I would go to them and write little stories but no one read it, my mom read it when she used the computer and like my best friend read it, so nobody really cared and I didn’t think anyone read it at all until one day somebody called me “do you know that you’re on New York Magazine’s website”. I went to look and they linked you about what you wrote.” And I was like “WHAT?”. I had gone to The Eldridge for a Fashion Week party that my friend was having and they had a cocktail menu and everybody was talking about how nobody had seen the cocktail menu and how it was so exclusive and I’m like, “really? This place isn’t that exclusive because I’m here and two the cocktail menu is right there” so I took it home, I stole it, it’s okay now because I’m cool with Matt Levine now, I took it home, I scanned it and I returned it later on when I went back there for another party; but I scanned it and put it on my website and the only thing that I wrote was “I’m really surprised that everybody thinks it’s so secretive and the cocktail menu is so exclusive but here it is.” But I didn’t think anybody would read that but New York Magazine picked it up and my site crashed that day and everybody was like “you have to write more stuff, you have to do this, you have to run with it.” And I was like “I don’t want to have to post every day, I like post whenever I feel like it but then it became like this monster that I couldn’t control and I was like “I guess this is we’re going to do this.” Social media has become a huge part of journalism, how important is it for journalist/publications/bloggers to use certain outlets, and which ones do you think are more efficient? M: It’s two folds, it’s the gathering news and then it’s the getting news after you have written it something. The gathering news is crucial on social media way before the press has time to send out a press release. This is unfortunate but there was a shooting at Juliet and one person died, the minute it happened, the girl was tweeting her bullet wounds. Bloggers were writing the story immediately and everything is all over the Internet and publicist probably doesn’t even know what happened yet because they just got her on the phone. In terms of gathering news you can get up to date news and get it first. I can see everything that’s happening at a club that I’m not at but my timeline will tell me who’s at the club, what’s happening and I don’t even have to be there. You couldn’t do that before social media, you had to be there or you just didn’t know. It’s really great and it’s great to get un-filtered news. Disturbing your article on Twitter and the right people pick it up and retweets it, and now 50 more people are reading it.it’s a great way to get your stories out there and have people read them but it also has it’s negative to it too. You say something on Twitter and people take it as fact. Journalists still need to fact-check just because it’s on Twitter or Facebook it doesn’t mean it’s true. For the most part it’s a really big help for us. What’s been the highlight of your career, thus far? And what would you say you hope to achieve in your career? M: The highlight of my career might be my blog because I own something and it’s recognizable. Lots of people go on the route that they’re going to work for a magazine or a newspaper and you get your clippings and you get overshadowed by the bigger writers or the brand as a hold. And when I write something and the post picks it up, people know I wrote it. And I was actually in the process of selling it and the deal fell apart last minute and I was so happy because it’s something that I own and has value and not a lot of 9 VIBE.COM JUST STAY FOCUS IF YOU CAN’T GET A JOB DOING WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, MAKE A BLOG DOING WHAT YOU DO. THAT CAN EASILY BECOME YOUR JOB. people, especially journalists can say that. It’s great. And it’s helped me do other things, like I had an article with AM which was great because I wouldn’t have been able to do that before. I had a reality show on MTV and I wouldn’t do it again but it’s nice because it opens a lot of doors and allow me to talk to people I wouldn’t normally have access to. People are willing to let me interview them when normally they wouldn’t let me give them the time of day. What sets you apart from other blogs similar to Chichi, like Guest of a Guest? M: Mostly because I write it myself; actually, I wrote Guest of a Guest for a little bit but then I was learning a lot and doing a lot of work and then I thought, “why work for somebody else when I could do it for myself.” So I left there and started focusing on directly on my site but I would say A. it has a personality to it, like Guest of a Guest has so many writers on it that some of the stories are more serious, some are really funny, whereas my site is written by me, I have some writers every once in awhile for fashion week or something like that where there’s a lot of events but people who know me or people who have only met me once, they can hear what I’m saying and what I’m writing. I write it but people can hear me saying it. I think that’s part of it because my personality comes across on the page and mostly because I don’t care. I’ve been banned from clubs multiple times and they’re like “you can’t write that, we’re going to ban you”, well it doesn’t matter because everything is on the Internet anyways, if a celebrity is at a club it’s all over Twitter, I don’t need to go to your club to be able to write these stories. A lot of people trying to play nice, “oh I can’t stay this because this publicist won’t like me” and I don’t really care about that stuff. I think because I was actually taught to be a journalist, you just put out the story, you can’t really worry about if people are going to like you or get mad at what you said, that’s not really how it works. You don’t want everything to be “this place was wonderful, this place was so great, this part was so much fun.” When in reality the party was awful. I read other sites and they went to parties that I went to and I’m like, “what party did they go to?” “it was great and the food was great.” I’m like alright listen they brought out a pig on a blanket, the bread was hard, the drinks were watery, the music was awful, the core had nothing to do with the venue, I’m going to tell it like it is because if you’re event is awful, that’s not my fault. I’m not going to lie to my readers because you didn’t do a good job. What do you want your readers to gain from reading Chichi? M: The direction actually changed a bit, my website use to be so specific on this small groups of clubs and people, if you didn’t know who these people were, you weren’t even interested in reading it but it’s broaden to be more what’s good, what you should know about if a store is opening or this is happening over here. It’s really for people who are looking for something to do or just want to know what’s going on, you can go to my site. I started writing about cool little start-ups, like little companies like these mail gypsies who come to your house and do manicures and pedicures for you which is amazing and they do a really good job. Anything that will benefit me I share it on my blog. How do you see ChiChi expanding ten years from now? M: I don’t know, when you look at Guest of a Guest, Michelle game out of the gate with a plan, like “I’m going to make this blog and it’s going to be huge and it’s going to make me money” I didn’t really have that plan it was more like this is my outlet, this is my little baby. I don’t know if it’s going to expand so much as it will continue and as I get older, it will get older. Like, already the types of things I write are not the things I wrote about 4 years ago, when I was just able to drink and able to party until 4 am. I am in my bed at 4 am and I don’t even know what happens after a certain time and I don’t care because I’m too old for that. I’ll be 26 next month (this month December on the 20th) I can’t be doing what I was doing at 21, 22, my body is just not responding, it’s not having that. 10 What’s the best advice would you give to aspiring journalists? M: Two things: Have a plan. Know what you want and stick to it because I was a journalist major and then I went down the PR direction and then I was working at a talent agency and the whole time I kept saying “why am I doing this? I should be writing” If you’re a journalist, times are hard you have to stay on the journalist route, even if you’re doing science journalism which is nor celebrity news but it’s much easier to cross within journalism than to come back in. The hardest thing for me was going from talent to journalism because people were always asking if you love journalism so much why did you work at a talent agency? That’s a difficult question to answer when obviously I have bills to pay and I couldn’t get a job at a magazine. Just stay focus if you can’t get a job doing what you want to do, make a blog doing what you do. That can easily become your job. If you’re an actually trained journalist, people know! If you don’t mind who reads your blog then feel free to have 50 picture galleries and two sentences that are spelled correctly and all hot messes that are around the Internet, if you respect having educated readers you have to give them a good product. I think that’s where journalists have the edge because we know how to fact-check, we know how to do an interview, or write up a long/short story. Once you have a blog, if you have access to other opportunity, people are more willing to hire you because they know you’re actually a journalist. Since this is for VIBE, what’s some of your favorite music out today? M: Music out today is trash. Some of the stuff that comes out I don’t even listen to the radio anymore because I can’t do it. It’s garbage everywhere. They have song where [starts singing] “you looking better with the lights on” Like Chris Brown and a bunch of people I never heard of, I’m thinking who wrote this track? Why is this on the radio? There are the classics like Beyonce even though with this album  I don’t know what she was even thinking. She was trying to be more critically acclaimed... M: She needs to know her place. But she’s one of the good ones. I like Katy Perry a lot not because she’s super talented because she isn’t but because she knows can only sing funny pop songs and she does it well. She doesn’t try to sing unlike Beyonce who shouldn’t do that ever. I use to like Lady Gaga but I can’t with this crazy nonsense, I don’t know what she’s doing. She’s being Madonna but a bootleg Madonna. I love Nicki Minaj, people think she doesn’t talent but she’s good, she’s fun. People are always comparing her to Lil Kim, I don’t know why it doesn’t make any sense, Lil’ Kim is very different from Nicki. I love Drake. I like his album a lot. I love Celine Dion; she’s my favorite, now that’s a singer. Beyonce is like “I’m a singer” No you are not! You could not sing next to Celine and I love Kanye West. Chichi places to check out in Manhattan: • The Darby’s • Sons Of Essex Three Tips On Being A Journalist: • Stick to the goal • Do anything for exposure • Start a blog The New Girl Rapper L.A.’s First Year On The Rap Scene Has Been A Whirlwind NATELEGE WHALEY D arkness has set in on a Friday evening in December in Brooklyn, New York. Rapper L.A. is sitting in the bright lobby area of the Sheraton hotel at 228 Duffield street, with her video crew (close friends) who have documented her journey thus far on her website UCanCallMeLA.com. Dressed in a leopard print top, she applies fuchsia lipstick as she gets ready for the camera. It’s 7 p.m. and L.A. has had a long day but her bubbly words and giggles cover any sign of stress she has balancing her rising hip hop career, and her nine to five in the “real world��� as an investment banker at (she won’t say). In anyone’s mind that doesn’t add up. But L.A. is used to not following the format. “I was supposed to be a lawyer. That’s what my mother would have said,” she says. The courtroom is a stage for an attorney in a sense, but the Brooklyn-native has chosen hip-hop as the venue for her talents. Only taking rap seriously a year ago, L.A. has created a brand that’s landed her gigs that would make any unsigned rapper jealous: being hand-picked to open for Big Sean at NYU, an MTV Sucka Free Freestyle, being featured in the “That’s Rocawear” campaign, and also opening the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival this past summer, headlined by Q-Tip. All a result of going off path a little. In summer 2010, L.A. was approached to do a cypher called “We Got Bars.” The response brought L.A. more attention, and people in her circle encouraged her to take things a step further. That’s when she conceived The Presentation, her own version of one of her favorite albums, The College Dropout. She also filmed a mini-movie, (imagine a hip-hop Glee) for the project in which she acts, dances, and dons the brown bear mascot. Her follow-up project L.A. Riots, released in September, takes a turn to a darker and edgier L.A., who comes intentionally to shred each beat to pieces with her emotional lyrics. She’s a lady in the rap game but she believes the label “femcee” is an attempt to limit her. “Don’t put me in a box!,” she says. But spend any time with L.A. and it’s apparent, no packaging could hold her. L.A. (who happens to be a former VIBE intern) sits down with VIBE and tells us about her come up, dating another rapper, her thoughts on Nicki Minaj, and what her dream rap collaboration would be. Read on to get off track with L.A. Ambitious One: What is a normal day for L.A. like? L.A.: I’m an investment banker in the morning. I work at “omits name.” By the evening time, I’m back to this career of mine of being an official hip-hop rapper, along side with a million other things that I do, that we’ll probably talk about later. Did you have any idea you would be rapping right now? L.A.: No idea at all. I was supposed to be a lawyer that’s what my mother would have said. I started getting really interested in performance and art and in college and in high school I was doing poetry. I graduated from Wesleyan University and majored in African American studies and performance arts and psychology and that was like my main thing. I was like I’m geared to black art, nobody can tell me anything. That’s what I wanted to do. 11 VIBE.COM So when would you say your rap career officially began? L.A.: Some kid just randomly hit me up and was like ‘Yo you want to be in my cypher?’ Cause I did poetry, and I was like yea whatever I guess. That one cypher triggered everything. Everybody was like, ‘woah who is this chick and why is she rapping like this?’ And it was just a really dope natural thing that I found, that I fell in love with. How was the idea of of your first mixtape The Presentation conceived? L.A.: I’m a huge Kanye West fan, huge. Back in the day I was just like retarded with Kanye posters everywhere, then the DJ I was working with at the time, we didn’t know what we were going to do next after the cypher, but we we were just joking around, and was like what if I did a project based on all Kanye West? So that’s how The Presentation came about. The concept was me revealing myself to the world, and on the cover you’ll see me with the mask off and stuff. And you know it also spoke a lot about the industry just being a student and all the crazy stuff that life throws at you. every single day. Then my album for September is called Revelations of a Life Addict and I’m so excited because I’m already working on it. Then I have this funny series that’s called “10 Things That Are Illuminati,” it’s mad funny. We do that too, and just do these shows and possibly a tour next year. Do you listen to other female rappers today, like Nicki Minaj? L.A.: Yea, I listen to Nicki. I have a song for Nicki Minaj called “Brand New.” Just because of the image. My biggest thing was like I love Nicki but I just can’t deal with that Barbie image, because that was everything I was against in life. But she’s amazing! She’s a hard ass worker. Like I can not knock her hustle and that’s influential in itself and inspiring and just being a female artist and being able to do that. Now everybody knows, you’re a household name. And you were just a little girl from Queens. I really appreciate her for that. I listen to everybody out here, Listen to a lot of Rhapsody. So dope I love her. Female rappers I really appreciate where they are going right now because they’re so diverse and each of us have our own thing right now. And that’s dope because I think that is what’s necessary. People don’t want to always hear about sex. Dudes may want to but that’s besides the point (Laughs). What are guys’ usual response when they are witnessing you perform for the first time? L.A.: There’s like two reactions. It’s either like “O my God I’m so in love” or like “Yo what the hell?” (Laughs) It’s never like and in between. They’re either absolutely infatuated with L.A. or I can’t stand her, because they don’t know how to deal with a girl coming out and being herself and saying whatever I feel and never holding back. I like it though. And you’re going to figure it out. And if you don’t it’s cool. Just enjoy the music for what it is. I know with every creative person they go through a process where they want to take things to the next level. What did you want to do better as an artist going from The Presentation to LA Riots? L.A.: The LA Riots was growth in all types of aspects. You know like how when somebody’s growing their hair and it’s at that really ugly stage and they don’t know what to do with it, that’s what the LA Riots was to me. It was that ugly stage of realness and being natural. So when I was writing it, I really wanted it to be as raw, as possible and it’s called the LA Riots so of course it’s gotta be hard. Also like I said I was a poet before I was a rapper. So a lot of it has poetics in it. and you don’t understand it the first time you hear it, but if you hear it again, you’ll get it. And that’s the type of music that I like to make, got that from my uncle Jay-Z. To me the LA Riots was about me finding my voice. What’s the next project you’re working on? L.A.: I have this dope project called L.A. Lights coming. It’s an EP project so it’s gonna be shorter. It’s with Fresh Nerd from 100 Akres, he’s from London, amazing, amazing producer. He has all types of crazy samples in his music. And the project is a very huge transition from the LA Riots. Now you guys are going to see that quirky weird L.A. that you guys read on Twitter and I really like the sound. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of dance tracks. But I’m still staying to my realism within it. I’m getting crazy influence from M.I.A. right now and so I’m listening to her 12 But you’re also dating a rapper. How does that work out with such hectic schedules? L.A.: Um I don’t know. My boyfriend’s also a rapper his name is Lyriciss. So he kind of understands the lifestyle that I’m dealing with right now. And he also knows that I’m a new artist so people are always looking for me. He’s been out for a little while, and he’s coming back with a new project so people have been really on the clock for him. But we kind of just understand. And this is mad emo- and mad lovey, but we Skype everyday. He lives in D.C. so it’s a long-distance relationship. It’s nice to just have somebody who cares. He’s always looking out for me and everything that I do. I’m always the tough one in the relationship and he’s like the really nice guy , friendly, and he’s always like “Hey!” and I’m like stop talking to them! (Laughs). We balance each other out, that’s my boo. What’s your dream rapper and producer collaboration? L.A.: Sheesh, there’s so many. I want to work with Kendrick Lamar. But I also want to work with Kanye. So like Kendrick and Kanye both rap on the track and then Kanye make the beat. What do you think the song’s concept would be? L.A.: It would probably be on some “Murder To Excellence” from Watch The Throne, but more introspective and more alien, because that’s all Kendrick Lamar talks about. And Kanye is an alien. So it all works out. Lastly, for the Ambition Issue, we are covering artists who we feel embody ambition the most. So to you, what is ambition and how do you garner that? L.A.: Ambition to me is being able to go through anything without fear. And my biggest thing is being brave and being fearless in this thing. I’ve gone through so much in my life that it’s like what’s the point of being afraid anymore. I can make anything happen. 13 VIBE.COM 14 THE INTERNS OF HIP-HOP: CHIDDY BANG BRITTNY PIERRE C hidera “Chiddy” Anamege and Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin are the innovative members of Philadelphia based hiphop group, Chiddy Bang. Chidea and Noah met while attending Drexel University their freshman year while Noah was DJing and Chiddy was a known freestylist. After generating buzz from doing shows at Drexel in 2009, they got a nod from music blog “Pretty Much Amazing” which posted five songs- testament to their popularity among music blogs. Since then, the pair has released The Swelly Express, (featuring their breakthrough singles “Opposite of Adults” and “All Things Go”) a second mixtape Air Swell and finally their debut album Breakfast. “Ray Charles” is their official first single off the album that has a stellar piano riff that emulates its namesakes, coupled with Chiddy Bang’s flair; it’s a stand out track in hip-hop. In the interview with the duos, Chiddy Bang explain to their listens should expect something they’ve never heard before in hip-hop from their debut album. So far we’re more than certain that they were capable of delivering. On an afternoon in Manhattan with torrential downpours, I arrive to the Clutch Entertainment and sit patiently in an office filled with plaques commemorating the moment Katy Perry “Kissed A Girl” and liked it, Jock Jams (remember those great compilations filled with ridiculously awesome pumped up songs you hear at live games?) and Gym Class Heroes. Xaphoon and Chiddy are late. Xaphoon is coming from Philadephila while Chiddy couldn’t catch a cab in time. After about 30 minutes, Xaphoon arrives very apologetically. Yet he’s still cool. He spots an old keyboard and excuses himself to play a few chords, but when neither of us can figure out how to turn it on, he settles himself in and asks if we could start the interview (Chiddy enters the interview midway through the session). We find a small room with their make-up artist and decide to knock out two birds with one stone. Ambitious One: How did the idea of “Ray Charles” come about and how exactly did Ray Charles inspire the song? Xaphoon: Me and Chiddy both get into our zone individually.I like to get in the studio hours before he is to make more tracks and he likes to show up and there’s an overlap period. He writes best when there isn’t anyone there, it’s just him and two more people and just the tracks – that’s when he’s at his best. I wasn’t actually there for the “Ray Charles” session and it was a very spontaneous song that they made because Chiddy’s brother fell asleep with sunglasses on and his head was tilt to the side and they were like, “oh you swagging right now, you Ray Charles?” They made that and Adam (Pallin producer of the single) did the piano thing and then I did the drums. “Ray Charles” is really just me and Chiddy doing bits, and then Adam just rearranging stuff but I don’t know too much about it because it’s one of the two songs out of the whole album out of 14 that I didn’t produce. I like it, it’s a fun energy, it comes from when we were listening to “Otis” on the radio all the time and we were like “oh we want to make something that sounds like this.” You two met at Drexel, how did you two start Chiddy Bang? X: We were two 18 year old kids and I was DJing at lot. I was really bad at it but I was DJing a lot and making beat and Chiddy was rapping all the time and a business major. He was one of those kids who didn’t really want to be a business major but his parents wanted, I didn’t even want to go to college at all. I just wanted to do music but my mom was like “You never know, you might meet some kids that you can make music with.” I was like “alright, I’ll try it for about five months.” [Chiddy] was rap battling at some kid’s party, I would DJ and he would rap battle kids and eventually we would start making tracks and people would considered us a group before we consider ourselves a group. People would play it at house parties and we were like, “we’re just making songs we’re not serious” and then a year and half later… Your mom was right on track? X: Yeah and towards the end she was like you should gain more momentum and just drop out and I was like, “I don’t know, we don’t have a record contract I’ll probably just stay in college just to be safe,” and mom was like “Nah, fuck that.” So if you’re mom is cool, listen to your mom. What can we expect from your debut album? X: There’s a bunch of collabs on the album with producers that I’m fans of and work really well with, there’s a lot of vocalists. There might be one or two rap features. What you can expect from the album is a more mature, layered sound. Everything that people know us for so far, me and Chiddy a microphone and a laptop, and so we have to rely more heavily on samples when you don’t have equipment to make music with so you do everything in your laptop and chop up a bunch of stuff and rap over it. But now we have more at our fingertips, we have string sections, pianos… and someone who has a music background it’s nice to write out everything on sheet music. I’m proud of the album, I think the album represents what we’re about more than the singles do and I think that’s rare. 15 VIBE.COM You can have all the talent in the world but you’re going to need people to get you where you need to be. You used more indie samples like MGMT, Passion Pit on your mixtapes, can we look forward to any other samples on Breakfast? X: There’s definitely some but I think I’m drawing more. There’s a couple. There isn’t really a lot of indie band samples but now that I think of it, there’s a folk singer sample, a jazz/bass singer sample. Once people start trusting you can get more experimental with it. This time it’s me trying to make big songs without sampling big songs but there’s definitely aren’t many huge bangers like Chiddy rapping over MGMT, but there are samples, things you wouldn’t normally sample. Who are your dream collaborations? Chiddy: I’d love to get on a song with Juelz, Cam and Jim; I need Xap to channel old-boy Heatmakerz-type beat, Just Blaze. That would be my dream collaboration. I grew up listening to a lot of Dipset, a lot of Jay-Z’s Blueprint where Kanye produced a lot of the tracks on there. Kanye West a big influence, I find myself really liking samples, people who rapped over samples, I just figured that out. That’s what I always been a fan of and we just started doing that in our own way. X: The hip-hop producer in me is Kanye, Jay-Z…. I’m such a fan of music that you have to break it down with dream collabo sing/rapper/cello player; my dream collab is everyone. Even Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears? X: I would love to do a song with Britney with the grimiest beat and RZA, Wu-Tang beat and make Britney sing on it. Kanye did Wu-Tang with Justin Bieber… X: That was amazing, I didn’t think the elements were combined – taking things that don’t work together and making them work together and that’s Kanye’s strength – that’s why that song is listenable but I think he could have done more with it. Raekwon’s part and Bieber’s part are too different; you need Bieber to sing what Raekwon is actually rapping about, JB is all singing “Ohh my runaway girl” and Raekwon is like “I’m chilling in the project…” Join the subject matters could make it a really crazy track. Many artists have said they have discovered their sound while recording their first album, would you say that was the same experience while composing Breakfast? X: In a way, yeah! When this album comes out, I don’t know whether people will say good or bad things but there’s definitely nothing in the world that sounds like it. After a while elements in hip-hop sounds become really noticeable like,“Oh this is a Lex Luger beat or this is a Rick Ross track,” and I think what’s cool from the album, it definitely has a whole album feel to it compared to a rapper working with 4-6 producers on one track, it’s really just me and John Hill ( he worked with the likes of Sanitgold and Shakira). But it’s still in our pocket. We definitely found our sound, it’s Chiddy rapping over my beats. He’s not really doing anything different but he definitely pushes himself harder. Definitely settled into my sound and my goal is definitely hoping people will say,“Oh he’s a dope producer, I’m going to let him produce our rock record” C: It was an evolution process for us, just taking time for us to come into our own but I think this album was set in the right pocket. I was listening to it the other day and there’s a lot of good stuff on there. We didn’t work with a lot of well-known artists or producers but we did work with some cool people that we vibe with. We got a song with Sam Frank. He’s a writer out in the U.K. X: Gordon Voidwell. He’s an amazing singer in the Bronx he does his own vintage throwback ‘80s stuff. C: We had him on our mixtape on a song called “All Over” but we got him on the album. 16 Will there be a lot of electronic feel on the album since you’re working with Sam Frank? X: Oh yeah lots of synths. Lots of big spacey, kind of like a military drums/ hip-hop/dubstep song. It sounds like a Kanye song but with drumlines and dubstep and that’s a bonus track. Big synths out to space, I think the second single will be “Manners” and third single will be big synth and strings. Good or bad, there’s not going to be anything that sounds like this, in a way we did find our sound. Maybe we’ll go for a different sound for the next album, but for this album, there’s nothing else that sounds like it. Why title your album, Breakfast? C: So many meanings for Breakfast, for us. Whenever we’d have a good moment in our career, when we found out we were platinum in Australia, we had breakfast. When I broke the Guinness World Record MTV asked, “What do you need”, I said “I need you to get us some breakfast”. I had a big breakfast that day. It was great a couple of hours later. I had the Guinness World Record for longest freestyle Longest freestyle ever in (9 hours, 18 minutes and 22 seconds, Chiddy clarified) hours, how was that experience and how does that feel to hold that title? C: I knew I could do it; it was just like “how am I going to pull this one out?” X: I became the nervous mom but Chiddy was like “I got this.” C: In the beginning, I was extra hype about it and I realized if I keep trying to go like this, I’m going to fail because I’m going to run out of energy. There’s a portion where you just see me laying down on the couch, just chilling for four hours. There were points where I was jumping on the couch, in the bathroom taking a piss, still rapping. X: He was mic’d up so the guy from Guinness could hear him no matter where he went. C: They would say, “Not rapping enough” I’m like, “Dawg, I’m peeing” But that was definitely a great experience. It goes to show you, if you think you could do something and you actually believe it, you probably could. Even as crazy and as difficult as rapping for 9 hours. I visualized us getting those plaques and at the end of the week, we had those plaques. Describe your sound in less than three words? X: Fun, rapping and in-space. C: Simple, complex and texture. It’s the Ambition issue. What advice do you have for up-andcoming rappers who are trying to get in the industry? C: Find someone you gel with. No one man is an army. You can have all the talent in the world but you’re going to need people to get you where you need to be. You need to find someone you can do that with in a creative space. Believe in it and you really want to do it at the end of the day, if you don’t at the end, you’re going to end up fucking yourself. X: It’s very simple. The easiest way to do music: generally, people who are trying to do music have another job or they have school, and you actually going to do it you’re going to have to get rid of that stuff and just do it. It sucks but it’s the sacrifice you have to make. In this era, the tools are available to everyone to make music like the same computer software is used to make all the pop music out today. The advantage you have is to figure out what makes you different and draw upon that and try to stand out. If Chiddy and I just sound like regular kids from New Jersey rapping over Lex Luger beats, that would be nothing new to say about it. Do something different and people will notice you more. REAL SHIT WITH PHONY PPL’S DYME-A-DUZIN ZOY BRITTON 17 VIBE.COM T his past December in downtown Brooklyn, VIBE sat down with recently signed Warner Bros. artist Donovan Blocker AKA DymeA-Duzin of the Brooklyn-based collective Phony Ppl. Dyme is a contemporary anomaly as he seeks to deliver his musical message without depicting negative racist and sexist stereotypes or using profane language. This precocious fellow radiates a zen- like calmness and discusses life with a wisdom much older than his 19 years. Surprisingly, he doesn’t mention the fact that the ink has barely dried on his contract with Warner Bros. Records label. If that doesn’t demonstrate the kid’s humility then check out this Q- and – A summary of our lengthy conversation. Ambitious One: Inspiration for the stage name Dyme-A-Duzin? Dyme- A-Duzin: When I was younger I heard some rap critic say that rappers come a dime- a- dozen and I took that name despite its negative meaning and decided to flip it by striving to be the best rapper out there, the best I can be with that name. Inspiration for your blow- up track “IDELY” which appeared on Complex.com? D: A few years ago, sophomore year of HS, me and my two friends Matthew and Riot (who committed suicide 2 years ago) came up with this acronym and that was our little crew. So, the three of us just always used that term so like, in remembrance of [Riot] I made that song with my boy Sherriff PJ who is a part of my band. How did you get into music? D: I went to a performing arts High School, though I attended for communication arts, but there was music all around me. I grew up in the church, I did the whole gospel choir thing, then when I was 11 I started out as a gospel rapper. As I progressed I started listening to more music, getting more inspiration and I became me. I started speaking on more things and delivering more content as I evolved as a person and artist. Considering your spiritual background do you find that your music’s messages are influenced by said faith? Do you try to deliver a specific message through your music? D: Well, it’s not really a message it’s more so just a self- chosen lifestyle. I don’t ever want to preach to anybody because we all have our own way of doing things and I’m all about people being free and being themselves. My motto, in raps, and it might even be the name of my first album is We Don’t Follow Standards so it’s just me telling everyone do what you want to do, follow the path you’re granted and I have no right to judge. You’re very precocious, your focus and attitude is impressive for a 19-year old young man. What influences which led to this disposition? Life influences? D: Riot’s suicide is definitely a big part of why I do what I do, behave the way I behave or think the way I think, so when I think about the things he went through, like being scared of, or not being able to handle certain things I look at him and myself and say I have to stay strong and make him proud because he couldn’t go through life the way I have the opportunity to. So I have to stay clean, present myself well and be a great person in his, my mothers and my family’s honor and I just want to make them proud. So hip-hop has definitely evolved over the past few years from a gangster- lifestyle oriented tradition and merged with other genres like electronica via new school genres like grime and dubstep with artists like MIA and Santigold leading the mainstream rally of this new sound. You definitely, creatively, come across as a member of this new school genre. Is that something that was inspired by other artists who operate within said tradition or did it come about naturally? D: Well, someone always has to pave the way. I feel that Kanye West is one of the bigger influences to me in terms of that type of music. One quote of his that always stuck with me, that I heard on like Vh1’s Storytellers or something like that, is “It’s like I’m fighting to be me but I have to lead the fight so that other people can be themselves.” So like I think the whole “gangster” era is not even full of gangsters it was just people trying to fit in and not be bothered for being someone else. So like okay there might be real gangsters on this side but then there are the guys who are trying not to be those gangster’s targets so they dress and act like them- it’s the trend. But now the people like Kanye, Santigold, MIA, they allow us to be free and I just want to keep on carrying on that legacy. Is your rap style more poetic in the sense that you sit down, write, edit and go through the writer’s process or is it more stream- of- consciousness much like Weezy who doesn’t write anything down and records it all? D: It depends. Everything I do, I want to be quality and creative so I always go into deep thought on what I do. Some pieces take more time than others. I do freestyle. There are songs that don’t take a lot of effort, like earlier in my career I used to take songs and remix them as parodies and that came naturally. But when I create my real records I like to dig deep in my mind and create as a best a product as possible. Name some of your musical inspirations, why or how they inspired you? D: My favorite rapper is Eminem, I enjoy and respect Busta Rhymes just for the fact that he’s so animated and creative and fun. Ludacris is another one- these guys are not scared to say, perform, appear the way they want even if it seems crazy; Corinne Bailey Rae; I love Amy Winehouse, she is my biggest singing inspiration, my dream collaboration and her passing definitely hit me hard. Frank Sinatra, I definitely appreciate that jazzy, orchestral big sound with that retro feel because there was more work put in back then and it was much more raw versus a digital sound. You can find much much more of his dope music off his new mixtape 20-x at soundcloud.com/dymeaduzin 18 19 VIBE.COM All About The Message ZOY BRITTON C lad in jeans, a gray varsity sweater and a simple bun, one might think the current queen of The Source “Sweet and Sour Cypher” is just an ordinary cat, until glimpses of Audra the Rapper’s lime green talons are caught at gesticulating intervals; her silver septum piercing flashing as she, welcomingly, beckons me into what appears to be a warehouse. Several flights and a huge-ass step later, we emerge into an open space with white flowing curtains, a small stage and a red-lit studio complete with an exhausted fellow artist, Siya, napping on what looks to be a pretty uncomfortable couch. The smell of artists on the come-up runs rife through this unassuming space, fitting for the humble rapper just recently signed to Maybach Music Group. Despite such accomplishments, Audra’s story began with a cheap mic and a dream. Audra’s journey began at 13 years old when she recorded the track “Got Your Weave” using a free software music program and a standard computer mic circa 2002. Three years later the track got local radio play in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia and began the buzz that eventually catapulted her to MMG and, eventually, NYC. What started with a ratchet theme song has evolved into the lyrical flow of a polished rapstress with collabs with everyone from Rakim to Mickey Factz under her belt. To give an idea of how far Audra has come, consider that just a year ago she was navigating the college gamut and doing free shows on campus. Audra’ s perseverance paid off and her local buzz ignited a flame that led to Rick Ross’ door after declining suspect offers from the majors that included being shelved for 20 three years without any upfront funds or promo. Surprisingly, declining the chance to get signed-the dream of a lifetime for many artists-birthed a tremendous respect for Lil’ Mama (yes, the stage-crashing, dance showjudging Lil’ Mama). “Believe it or not that’s why I have so much respect for Lil’ Mama because even though niggas say she’s wack, oh she’s this or that, maybe true may not be true but at the end of the day she’s one of the few if not the only female rapper that I can name to date that infiltrated the mainstream level…airplay, 106 & Park, radio with ‘Lip Gloss’ without a co-sign.” Audra realized what a feat Lil’ Mama had accomplished after she was taken aside by one of the folks at the record label-that she declined-and told to get a co-sign, because female rappers “need” a co-sign. But if Lil’ Mama pulled that successful shit, then best believe quasi-feminist Audra can. Audra’s feminist roots lie in her gender-relations education during her brief college stint which taught her that the term “female” implies secondary, hence her aversion to the term “female rapper.” Yet, Audra also recognizes that women must blaze a different trail than male rappers, which truly came to light after one particularly negative experience in which she was told to come to said fellow’s house to “discuss business” despite setting original “professional” plans to meet in this joker’s studio. But being the boss bella that Audra is, she didn’t attempt to retaliate. She took the high road and threw his trill ass the deuces, a move which exemplifies an important piece of advice to women working their way up in the industry: don’t Believe it or not that’s why I have so much respect for Lil’ Mama because even though niggas say she’s wack, oh she’s this or that, maybe true may not be true but at the end of the day she’s one of the few if not the only female rapper that I can name to date that infiltrated the mainstream level…airplay, 106 & Park, radio with ‘Lip Gloss’ without a co-sign. try to reason with someone who is clearly trying you and your values, just move on because any business relationship begun on a shaky foundation will only yield bitter fruit. However, such experiences are a rarity for Audra, a fact she attributes to dudes and other artists seeing her as a “nigga” and an “artist” which gains her a certain level of respect- and its apparent that Audra is about two bars away from bleeding artistry. When asked to define her maturity as an artist, Audra responded, “It’s all about progress and I’ve made a lot of [that].” From her Lil’ Boosie, Webbie and Wayne-influenced Richmond roots that had her craving heavy bass and snares to learning about everything from heavy 808s to B-sections, her fortunate meeting with one of Timbland’s producers led to a relationship that helped open her ear to other musical formats and mature her personal musical taste in her bid to craft her artistry around her personal focus: her lyrics. To Audra, a self-proclaimed lyricist, there are two kinds of musicians: people who care about the words, or the message, and people who care about the way the message is carried out, meaning the sound. But Audra is “about the message” and getting it out to the masses. In essence, respecting and adhering to a love of lyrics and the perfecting of a craft versus riding the industry vehicle that can often careen artists into a boxed-in, formulaic lane that is difficult to arise and reinvent oneself from. But remaining true to oneself as an artist ain’t cheap. Currently, Audra derives her main source of income from shows but admits to experiencing days of doubt. Dour days often bring her to her friend and fellow artist Nickelus F’s door who she goes to for advice, commiseration and comfort. After their sessions, the two always come to the same conclusion. “Niggas just can’t leave this music, making shit” and that’s the sort of attitude that reflects true love and passion for their craft. Any ambitious person coming up in any industry needs a source of comfort that can relate to you on the days when Plan A seems pretty hopeless. But Audra claims that those days only serve as motivation because “if you get content with knowing you have a Plan B, you won’t go as hard on Plan A.” Respect. 21 VIBE.COM 22 Journey Through Paris ADELE PLATON It took three calls to get a hold of him. Two weeks, seven e-mails, three rescheduled dates and 14 minutes to hear his voice on the other end of the receiver. By the third ring, he picked up. “I’m making beats right now, I’m feeling good. My phone was on the charger and I’m deep in the zone.” 23 VIBE.COM Classic excuse for a producer but yet you expect nothing less. But then there’s the song…the song that shattered expectations. Even if you’ve never heard of his name, you have heard his work. Probably more than once… consecutively. As blog headlines read and cell-phone recorded videos show, “Ni**as In Paris” is the first song to break its own repetitious records. Rap kings Kanye West and Jay-Z performed the ode to black excellence back-to-back-to-back as what seemed to be an extended encore at the start of their Watch The Throne tour. But then it became an ongoing tradition – four times in one city, six times the next city, then nine. (The current record as of press time is eleven at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver B.C., Canada) “Niggas” were also doing impressively on the charts. It hit the top spot on Billboard’s R&B/ Hip-Hop list upon its commercial release in November as the first #1 single from the year’s most-talked about collaboration album. But the track that made live-loop performing a standard also celebrated the success of a major behind-the-scenes contributor: West Coast producer Chauncey Hollis, more favorably known as Hit-Boy. “It’s crazy that one of my simplest beats ever is the one that people think is the best beat ever. I got beats that I went in crazy with a guitarist and big sounds and none of that shit popped off but one of my simplest beats ever, Kanye took it and you know, we’ve been at #1 for 5 weeks now so it’s a blessing.” His definition of simple varies by interpretation given that his musical career elicits the same reaction of amazement as his bass-heavy “Paris” beat but started from the ease and comfort of his own household. “I started rapping first when I was 13,” the producer signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label recalls. It was a self-made CD-selling rap group in high-school and a make-shift studio at his friend’s house that introduced Hit-Boy to the art of production. “One day, I was at [my friend’s] crib, messing around on Fruity Loops (a music program now known as FL Studio because of cereal copyrights), which I still use to this day, messing around on a beat and I started taking interest in it then I finally asked my grandmother to buy me my own computer to make beats and from there, I just really fell in love with it and started doing it everyday.” Young Hit-Boy never had any special music education or played instruments, he just simply followed his ears. “I’m just now getting to the point of being 24 musically inclined. When I started, I had no knowledge of making music. I didn’t know about instruments, like I was just messing around to what sounded good to me.” He then constructed his own producer station in his bedroom next to his mom’s room and usually opted to make music instead of going out. He says his daily agenda was “going home from school, making beats. Not going to parties. Any time I could make a beat, I was just making a beat.” At 16, Hit-Boy was bumping Fabolous’ Street Dreams album (“What that album was for me sonically was everything”) and studying the computed melodies from the likes of Dr. Dre, The Neptunes and Just Blaze. However, it was a soon-to-be-mentor who initially gave Hit-Boy the chance to be heard. “Kanye really likes your sound, he thinks you got a lot of hits but they just don’t fit this album,” Hit-Boy recalls his current co-manager (and West’s cousin) Ricky Anderson telling him after shopping beats to the Chi-town native, who was then working on his fifth studio album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “And I thought he was gassin’ just bullshittin’, so around the [MBDTF] release, Ricky called me and was like, ‘I think Kanye’s about to do a Christmas song by one of your beats.” Thus in December 2010, “Christmas in Harlem” was leaked, the hip-hop holiday melody that forged West and Hit-Boy’s musical bond. By the next month, West was having him flown to New York, Dubai or wherever the music took him. Even before West utilized Hit-Boy’s production, the young Fontana, Calif.-native had a MySpace with only four beats posted, enough to get a message from club-banger producer Polow Da Don (Fergie “London Bridge,” Mario “Cryin’ Out For Me”, Keri Hilson “Turnin’ Me On”) to send him a message within hours of sending a request that simply read, “Let’s get this paper.” The exchange turned into a deal with Don’s Zone 4 label for the producer. But even with standout beats and early recognition from seasoned predecessors, Hit-Boy had his share of misses. “When you got a lead like a certain artist be like, ‘Yeah I’m about to put a single out’ and shit don’t even end up makin’ an album. They super hype about it one minute then the next minute they don’t even remember the song. That’s very frustrating but you can’t doubt yourself. You just gotta know when it’s gonna align, it’s gonna align.” Now he has a list of artists lined up: John Legend, Bryan Kennedy, Ciara, Brandy, Monica, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, the G.O.O.D. Music family and even Joe Jonas. But it was the belief from his uncle, Rodney Benford, a member of the early R&B group Troop, famous for the smooth schoolgirl-crush single “All I Do Is Think Of You,” that first recognized the artistic passion in his young nephew. “My uncle was the first person to ever believe in me. Even when I started rapping when I was 13, he would just kinda give me advice, tellin’ me you know if I really wanted to do it, I should just take it serious. He was the first person to just tell me you should focus now and once you get to like 20-something years old, you’ll get to where you want to be and everything will just be surrounding around you.” Now at 24 years old, Hit-Boy can say the world revolves around his music. As a founding member of the young artist/ producer collective known as the Surf Club (comprised of Chase N Cashe, Chili Chill, B Care and Stacy Barge), Hit-Boy has already engraved his musical signature in songs for Lil’ Wayne and Eminem (“Drop The World”), Mary J. Blige (“Stronger”) and Pusha T (“My God”), among others. Funnyman Will Ferrell enjoyed “Paris,” as well as the Anchorman snippet that makes its way mid-beat while NBC’s 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin has tweeted his love for the song, even suggesting his own version “Niggas in Montauk.” Victoria Secret runway models strutted to the Hit-Boy beat during Jay and ‘Ye’s live performance during CBS’ late-night fashion show broadcast that reeled in 10.3 million viewers, the annual underwear display’s biggest audience since 2002. Yet, you won’t find him popping bottles in the club just yet. In his mind, he’s only getting started. “I have a little fun but right now I’m focused. I really wanna be the best producer in the world and I won’t stop until I achieve that…I wanna be known as one of the most versatile producers ever and that’s not gon’ come unless I’m just bangin at my craft and make many different possible beats as I can.” The one aspect that stays constant: working for the love of the music. Something Pharrell Williams taught him, that he stresses to artists who want to tackle the same hit-list for their musical resume. “Just focus on the craft…as long as you keep the love, that’s the one thing Pharrell taught me. He was tellin’ me that he could really sense my passion and I really loved what I did just from the way I made my music. Just as long as you keep the love for it, then everything else will fall into place.” I got beats that I went in crazy with a guitarist and big sounds and none of that shit popped off but one of my simplest beats ever, Kanye took it and you know, weâ€™ve been at #1 for 5 weeks now so itâ€™s a blessing. 25 VIBE.COM BROOKLYN’S NEXT LEGACY THIS BROWNSVILLE, HOMETOWN REPRESENTER HAS ONE THING ON HIS MIND: TO GET INTO HIP-HOP’S HISTORY BOOKS ONE FAN AT A TIME ERIC DIEP T STEVEN LAU here is a slight change in location for my interview with Brooklyn rapper Maffew Ragazino Sr . His manager Sha Banga says to meet them at The Source offices instead of PNC Radio in DUMBO. For this VIBE intern, crossing over to the competition isn’t as awkward as it sounds. Watching the magazine’s 2011 Unsigned Hype artist wrap up a freestyle and video shoot, it’s just another day of a twenty-four-seven hustle. For Ragazino, the priorities never change, no matter where the location. Do the footwork. Try to get accepted by the masses. Put Brownsville on the map. “We have a long history, aside from the gangs, its music that a lot of people forget about when they bring out the history books in hip-hop,” Ragazino says. “That’s like the page that was ripped out that you don’t know what the contents were.” To hear Ragazino talk about Brownsville’s influential talents, he has a strong sense of pride for his hometown. Before Ragazino, Brownsville birthed some of hip-hop’s most prominent names. Masta Ace, from the legendary Juice Crew, Boot Camp Clik with members Smif-N-Wessun, Sean Price and Buckshot of Black Moon have all led the pack of transcending early 90s hip-hop. Brownsville also houses Duck Down Music Inc., an emerging label for underground talent such as Kidz in the Hall and Skyzoo. While still a hotbed for artists, Brownsville has been overshadowed by other hip-hop regions in the spotlight over the years. For the MC born as Shawn Corde, his mission is bringing the attention back to this section of BK, where he compares its need for a leading voice in hip-hop “like living in hell where you have no way out.” 26 27 VIBE.COM “You have talented brothers and sisters out there who don’t have any outlet,” Ragazino says. “And when you have one person come from a place that’s being accepted and they becoming semi-successful or overly successful, it’s going to shed a light on that place. I’m still a black sheep. But I’m getting some love now.” One of BK’s veteran DJs, Clark Kent, heard a 15-year-old Ragazino tearing up a freestyle outside of a record store near the Glenwood Houses. On the intro “Battle of Metropolis” from Where I’m From: The Experience, he describes young Maf as “a little dude who gets super busy.” There were also other co-signers for Ragazino that date to his early childhood, namely his six grade classmates who dubbed him an “old school” rapper. This moment was the first time anybody has said he was old school, a compliment that still drives his writing process on many of his tracks today. During their freestyle battles at lunch, instead of rapping over the latest instrumentals, he went straight to the crates. He pulled out the record “Small Time Hustler” by Dismasters. It was a new age remake by the young Maf. “I took it to school, I thought it was such a perfect marriage and I’m new and it’s an old beat and I flipped the lyrics,” he says. “It was dope!” He has cultivated his artistry since then, taking inspirations from the legends such as Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One and Rakim. He is also getting some major pushes on hip-hop blogs (2DopeBoyz, NahRight), even highlighted in the Village Voice as Brownsville’s rising star in February 2011. (“Top Five Young, Hometown-Obsessed New York City Rappers”) Ragazino may look to be a rapper on the rise, but behind the cameras and music, he is also a father. On this day, he brings along his youngest son Matthew to join him. His videographer captures some B-roll of Ragazino rapping the freestyle with his son. Afterwards, the Cash in Cash Out Records crew decide on lunch at the Flying Puck. Located on Seventh Ave, it’s a hockey-themed sports restaurant, where Ragazino settles in the booth with Matthew on his lap. Once 28 burgers are set on the table, Ragazino delves into his meaning of his rapper name Maffew, which is an acronym for “Money and Fame Fuels Everyone’s World.” This may drive many MC’s ambitions, but his runs a little deeper. “You’re looking at it right here man,” he says, helping his son eat a French fry. “My young’ns. That is straight and as honest as it gets. Who knows where the music is going to lead me, but that’s not where it stops at. What pushes me are my kids.” When Ragazino shout-outs “Senior!” in his music, he is saying hello to his children. “I got three. [I have] my junior, my daughter and the real Matthew.” Pardon the cliché, but Ragazino tells it like it is when family and reallife situations are involved. He’s honest and personal in his music, choosing to not fall into a façade of rappers who rhyme about chasing money and fame. Take for instance, his dedication track to his daughter on “Isis,” or surviving the recession in “Lord Please” off 2011’s Rhyme Pays. Ragazino shows his passion in his music, starting first at the creative process by carefully examining everything that inspires him. Ragazino’s growing success of a rapper with real rhymes and real emotions is the reason everybody has pegged him as Brownsville’s new voice. Even when fans are starting to listen in, his buzz is a combination of hardwork in both social media (@RagazinoSr) and independent moves with a small team in New York, Virginia and overseas. Coupled with the Nottz Raw-produced single “Where I’m From” featuring Masta Ace still in rotation on the Internet, Ragazino has all avenues covered. Still, don’t expect him to stop there. He’ll continue to do what he’s doing, maneuvering around any obstacles to stay on the right path. Call him the next hot MC out of New York or just another rapper, but his determination lies in adding another chapter in Brownsville’s hip-hop legacy. “I want people to see my growth, not only as an artist, but as a man,” Ragazino says. “That’s what I think is setting my legacy apart from alot of people because I give you a peep into my life and I’m not afraid to be me.” Self-Motivated ERIC DIEP I f you were to ask former VIBE intern Keenan Higgins’ favorite moment of his internship experience, he wouldn’t give you just one. “Definitely covering the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival and going to Rock the Bells,” he says. Near the end of his seven month internship, he found out about these events happening in New York City. He offered to cover the Brooklyn HipHop Festival, which went on for six days, but also felt that this year’s Rock The Bells needed some attention as well. As a proper send-off, VIBE was able to get him some guest passes, where he was able to network, make new connections, and provide the magazine with exclusive content. While this was one of many rewards, he says the best moment during his Rock The Bells coverage was watching Nas perform Illmatic. “That’s my favorite hip-hop album, so I was like, ‘man I’m really here.’ Watching this concert with one of my favorite hip-hop artists,” he says. Higgins wanted to get an internship at VIBE to test his abilities as a writer. He recalls a day during English class, when his professor complimented on his writing: “My professor told me, I write really well. [He said] I should think of a career in writing,” Higgins says. This encouraged him to look deeper into the field of journalism. He had a passion for music, hoping to take on music journalism further at either VIBE or Rolling Stone. When he decided to apply at VIBE, he knew the internship would be perfect for his early career goals. “I wanted to get self-assurance,” Higgins says. “This is what I wanted to do.” Two months in, Higgins got introduced to the wonderful world of transcribing interviews. “It can be fun at times because it lets you get the back story behind the story,” he says. He remembers transcribing a thirty minute interview, which took the majority of the day for him because it was his first one ever. KEENAN HIGGINS Deciding to continue his stay at VIBE after the semester was over; he had plenty of time to improve his transcription speed. He was look to as the intern with the most seniority, helping out new faces with posting content on VIBE.com. When it came around to the intern project, he was appointed as editor-in-chief for VIBE: The New Edition. Some of his duties included being a voice of reason, photography, coming up with the cover story and the deciding factor for divided issues. Higgins left VIBE and is currently an intern at Complex. He has taken the skills he learned at VIBE and carried them over to his new workplace. For one, he says transcribing interviews is much easier, taking him less time to do them then before. In terms of the workspace, he enjoys interacting with new personalities. However, the same mentality still applies. “It’s definitely different, but the struggle is still there, the grind is still there, at the end of the day, I’m a writer,” he says. “Wherever I’m at, I’m still going to be writing.” As a junior at Pace University, studying both journalism and photography, Higgins hope to find other internship that challenges him. There have been talks of The Fader, but he believes on keeping his options tightly-lipped to avoid any “jinxes.” But as far as achieving goals after graduation, he hopes to expand beyond music, possibly going into travel journalism or broadening his scope and cover more subjects. Like many of us who pursue our dreams, Higgins puts in all his hard work for a better future. “You have to realize all this intern work, the struggle, the hustle, ‘the grustle,’ it’s all going to pay off,” Higgins says. “One day I will get that call that I’ll get a steady job.” That time will come soon enough. 29 VIBE.COM SPLURGE THE WARM UP The Big Apple can be ice cold -- especially for Houston-native Ashton Travis, new to the concrete chill this year to pursue his budding hip-hop career. To armor him, we put him on to four rising designer sweaters that will keep him warm and flexing this winter. —Natelege Whaley, Photographer: Keenan Higgins 03 Triple L Society handmade toggle hoodie, $120 Ashton says: “This is extremely dope. Look at the tags on this one. This is my favorite one so far. It feels warmer.” The “KREEMO Dropout” Sweater, $50 01 Ashton says: “I like the colorway and the spin-off of Kanye’s first album cover College Dropout. I’m familiar with Kreemo so I’ve seen this before. It’s tight.” 04 L’Creme wildcat crewneck, $50 Ashton says: “I like the black on black and I like the Kentucky Wildcats, so I’ll take that. Simple, comfortable, I’d wear this to a basketball game.” COMING ATTRACTION ISO “Balloon” sweater, $40 02 Ashton says: “A very hip-hop inspired crew neck line. This reminds me of So Far Gone with the colorway. I also like how Iso has the balloon letters. Real dope.” Get like Ashton. 30 0 1 S h o p . k r e e m o . c o m | 0 2 Te a m I s o . b i g c a r t e l . c o m . | 0 3 T r i p l e L S o c i e t y. c o m | 0 4 L c r e m e n a t i o n . c o m Ashton’s latest project Good Vibes is available on DatPiff.com. PROPS CRAZY, SEXY, COOL C razy, sexy, cool could only describe the trio that was TLC. In February 1992, when Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, no group (especially not girls) wore condom eye patches and bright baggy pants quite like this spunky ladies from Atlanta. When hip-hop was trying to figure out the “Scenario” or drinking “Gin and Juice”, T-Boz, Chilli, and Left Eye exploded on the scene with “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, “What About Your Friends” and “Baby-Baby-Baby”. Their lyrics were fun, quirky and empowering for women. When many new acts fizzle away because of the sophomore slump, TLC’s CrazySexyCool released in November 1994, skyrocketing the group into superstardom. Their third single “Waterfalls” had a multi-million music video with special effects and tackled heavy subject matters. Anyone 21-27 years old today, probably were scared to death after viewing the music video, but we all learned these lessons: never drug deal on the street in broad daylight and if a girl says “no” to a condom the first time around…. She may have AIDS. Two ultra valuable things to know! Unfortunately with success, there’s always a downfall. Shortly after their strong debut album, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was arrested for setting her then boyfriend, Atlanta Falcon player Andre Rison’s shoes on fire in a bathtub. This shortly led to his house’s structure quickly catching on fire. She was having the Waiting To Exhale, Angela Bassett moment before the movie even released. Two years later, the group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy although their second album CrazySexyCool sold over 11 million dollars. Even with their madness, TLC still brought us the number one hit “No Scrubs,” a smack at the no-good types on the men spectrum. Fan Mail put another platinum-selling album under the group’s belt. Despite the feuds we always thought the ladies would keep churning out the hits we loved them for. But destiny doesn’t always turn out so sweet. The tragedy of Lisa “Left Eye Lopes” in 2002 in a car crash in Honduras was unexpected and heartbreaking. Chili and T-Boz put on emotional muscle and released 3D after, hoping to give fans closure. But the angel’s missing presence left a void unfulfilled. Now almost ten years since being introduced to these energy-pumped pretty faces, girl gimmick acts have come and gone - but TLC forever holds down their spot as the cool girls we’ll always love. --Brittny Pierre and Natelege Whaley 31