Twista Interview, Jan. ‘14
Forget just Chicago – Twista is a worldwide rap legend. When he came to the Vibe offices to discuss his new EP, Back To The Basics, he told stories of seeing rap heroes like De La Soul and The Geto Boys perform live onstage. He’s so humble that he forgets he’s often considered to belong within the canon as well.
Subdued and humble, we kicked it with Twista for about an hour and talked about his early experiences at Loud Records, what he thinks of the violence in Chicago, and why Dougie Fresh is the reason he’s rhyming today. Read up.
How did you start rapping so fast? Was there a certain way you would practice?
I didn’t step right into it. First I just had like, crazy metaphors, I was battling in the hood, doing my thing. After awhile I just got a little bored of it, so I was like, “Man I want to switch my style a little bit and ride the rhythm better.” So it started with me just changing up the pace of the lyrics and everything. Then I would flip the cadence a little bit, like [rapping] “Tripling-up-the-words, rippin-em-up and rippin-em-up,” and then it got more and more complex.
You began rapping to house music, which is now perhaps better known as juke music in Chicago, correct? And you were on Chance the Rapper’s ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses.’
Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I’m a fan of his music. He’s got his own twist and vibe to the juke music.
Do you think there’s a specific sound dominating most of Chicago right now, whether it’s the juke sound of Chance or the drill sound of GBE and other artists?
I would say it’s the drill sound that’s dominating the city right now. Artists like Lil’ Durk and Chief Keef.
Do you see a relationship between the violence in Chicago, especially the southside, and the music that’s coming out of that city?
The kids are doing the same things that they’ve been doing since you first started hearing about violence in rap. When you first started listening to NWA, you were like, “Oh, shit!” So it’s a continuation of these kids just rapping about what’s going on around them.
I definitely think [the music] plays into [the violence], but until we can change the environment a little bit, it’s gonna be harder to just tell someone who sees violence around them everyday to rap about…you know, something crazy.
Chance the Rapper has said that he’s seen similar things growing up, though, and he’s chosen to make music with a different sound.
Some people are blessed with the ability to be a little more creative out of the box. Some artists are as creative as their environment can take them sometimes, and they tend to want to stick to those subjects sometimes or they’re not able to get out of it. But every once in awhile you’ll have an artist that’s blessed with creativity or a passion for the music that’s deep to that level where it’s too contained, like the hood. The same thing he did is the same thing I did. I grew up watching all of this [violence], but my creativity wasn’t contained just to what I was seeing, so that’s what allowed me to break out the box.
What did you grow up listening to in your house?
Man…everything! Temptations, my mother was bumping Luther Vandross in the house, Freddie Jackson, Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder. Everybody.
Listened to a lot of reggae and R&B classics, 70’s classics. A lot of Bob Marley, mostly. Then I started liking Buju Banton and stuff like that.
Who are some of your favorite rappers of all time since you were younger?
Right off the top, the whole beginning of my career when people would ask me who my favorite rapper is, I’d say Kool G Rap. For a long time, he was my favorite rapper. I like Pharoahe Monch from Organized Konfusion. Big Daddy Kane. Shit, LL was one of my favorite rappers for a long time. Run DMC. The great ones. I grew up off a lot of the East Coast rappers. Then when NWA started to come, then you got Ice-T and everybody, King Tee and the Rhyme Syndicate, Def Jef and all of them, I was into all that shit too. Earlier stuff, too. Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Furious Five.
Let me tell you something. LL Cool J, Run DMC, the Fat Boys and Dougie Fresh are the reason I rap. Those four. The Fat Boys almost played the biggest part in the reason I rap. Seeing them as a group, even though I was looking at Run DMC, looking at the Fat Boys doing what they do. The songs they made, it wasn’t about their weight, it was about how they put their songs together. I was influenced by the style of their music.
I was mostly beatboxing and writing raps for my guys, because I wanted to beatbox, and then Dougie Fresh came out with “The Show” and I said, “Nah, I gotta rap too.” So Dougie Fresh “The Show” is the song that made me officially say forget beatboxing, I’m a rapper now. I wanted to fully be a rapper and not just write the raps for my homies. Nobody around me was into that music, so in order for me to do it like I wanted to do it, being more of a fan of the beatboxing than the rapping, I would write raps for the people around me so that I could beatbox. Then once I heard Dougie Fresh, I had done a few raps, but once I heard Dougie Fresh, that’s what made me say no, I gotta be a rapper too.
You’ve said in interviews before that you’re glad to see Chicago start owning it’s sound in terms of juke. When you look at what’s happening with the New York rap scene, do you think that regionalism is still important in 2013?
I think it’s important in a sense of…that’s how it’s always been in life. People admire other cultures or styles or the way they do things from afar. So I think it’s cool that a region can sound like this or an area can sound like that so we can admire one another and learn from one another and we’re not sounding the same. I think that’s dope.
Most people might know your first appearance from the classic Do Or Die song “Po Pimp,” but I think your first feature was with Subway for “Chi-Town Ride,” correct?
Yeah you took it back…was that the first? I think that was my first appearance. I remember that. Michael Bivens and the guys reached out for that and we did it.
How did you link up with Do Or Die after that?
We just grew up in the same area, the same neighborhood so to speak, and kinda made music with some of the same guys, hanging around each other. So we started to do music together, came up with ideas to do songs and went in the studio and started recording together. Some of our first recordings together are the songs we came out with. They had their own thing and I had my own thing, but once we put it together, it came off a certain way and people liked it.
You were signed to Loud at first back in like ’91 or ’92, right?
Yeah man I was one of the first artists signed to Loud! Look, when I went there to meet Steve, I walked into the office and looked over on the wall and the poster was a 2Pac album, one of those albums, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… or 2Pacalypse Now. Whichever one he was promoting at the time. I walked in there and met Steve and everything. This was before Cypress Hill had put out their album because they took me over to their house to meet them and shit before they’d dropped their first album. The Alkaholiks hadn’t signed to Loud Records yet. I was like the first artist over there. They were promoting Das EFX and shit like that at the time. I was on promo tour with Spice 1. Me, him, I’d see Cypress, I’d see Naughty by Nature when “O.P.P.” came out.
What are some of your fondest memories from the Loud days?
Definitely being able to meet Cypress Hill and then realizing who they were later. The moments I was having [with them], I didn’t know what was happening then until later. I remember I had the chance to see Luther Vandross [live], we were somewhere and the promo put us in that area where we got a chance to see him. I was like, “Yeah, that’s my mother’s favorite artist!”
I’m about to hit you with something, though. I forget the name of the club but it was in L.A. Eazy-E was there and his bodyguards were the Boo-Yaa Tribe at the time. They were in there kicking it and I remember seeing them a few times, big guys. So they were there doing their thing and they were having an open mic session on stage. MC Serch was hosting and I got up on stage and I was rapping with MC Serch, so that’s one of my fondest memories. That was like ’91 or ’92.
I did an MTV Interview or something like that and they all came into one room: Ren, Dre, was Eazy there? DJ Quik. You know what I’m saying, it was a bunch of them there and I couldn’t believe they were all in the same room together like that. We were all upstairs in Steve Rifkind’s office doing an interview. That was the shit to me. D.O.C. was there, I was like, “Daaamn!” We never recorded anything, but I kicked it with DJ Quik a few times and Second II None, they were real cool guys.
Younger generations probably know you best for hits like “Slow Jamz” and “Overnight Celebrity” - basically your work with Kanye. Are you guys still working together?
Not really. Hopefully one day I can kidnap him for a track or tow.
The new EP that’s out right now is called Back To The Basics. What does it sound like?
Lyrics and a style that haven’t been heard in in awhile. It’s a vintage Twista sound with a couple spins here and there in terms of subject matter. Some new Twista lyrical shit is the best way to put it. On some songs I’m talking about females, giving you that patented Twista flow that you hear on the radio.
On some songs I’m bringing just lyrical shit. On some of it I’m talking spaced out stuff, like I try to hit a couple subjects that I don’t hear people talk about. Like sometimes people will try to come with so-called “knowledge,” so what I did with the album was I got into a lot of science. Like I never heard anyone talk about the science of creation or chromosomes or DNA or atoms and shit, so I rapped about some of that on there.
Surely you’re aware of the bop movement in Chicago. Are you working with any artists who make bop music?
Definitely. I’ve got a couple artists that I work with and kind of manage right now, and that’s what they do. That sound is coming from a lot of guys on the west side of Chicago. That’s where it originated. One of the guys that does a lot of production in that scene, his name is Mudd Gang. Then you got all the little guys, Lil’ Chemo. That’s one of the guys known for doing the dance a lot. You got groups like Stunt Taylor, that’s a new guy coming out. He’s not necessarily the full bop music sound, but he’s familiar with it. You got the Sicko Mobb, they’re definitely some of the most known for that sound. I’ve got a song with the Sicko Mobb called “Bitches & Bikinis.”
What do you think it is about Chicago that produces such unique artists like you, Kanye, Chance, the bop kids?
I think just being more in the middle of the map. When you’re closer to the edge, those areas tend to have a more regionalized sound, but us being in the middle, we’re fans of everything – up, down, left, right, you know? You just get this melting pot of music that comes to us from all angles, so there’s no telling what type of artist you might get [out of Chicago].
How did you hook up with Cam’ron for “Adrenaline”?
Oh that’s the homie right there. He was just familiar with my sound coming up, I was familiar with his and he wanted to flip some of my music, so he reached out to have me be a part of it. We did the remix to it and everything. Cam’ron really was a person that was a fan of my music and fucked with me hard. He still be killing it, too. I love everything he puts out.
Who are some of your favorite new artists?
Man, I like everybody. Everyone will say Kendrick Lamar, but I like Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, all those guys. I like Childish Gambino, I’ve been listening to that stuff lately. Definitely Chance. I like King Louie too. I think he’s underrated. He puts a lot of music together that I feel like people would pay a whole lot more attention to him. I like a lot of the new sounds that artists are doing too. Travis Scott. Rich Homie Quan. Danny Brown.
You’ve travelled the world, done shows in Europe and such. How do you gauge the difference in how hip-hop is received over there versus over here?
To me, over there reminds me of the old school. You feel the energy and you feel what you miss from hip-hop today. You go over there and feel that appreciation on the level of what it used to be. Not just a bunch of kids in it for the money. Real deep appreciation for the music.
America is driven by the dollar in a certain way where a lot of artists are also in a life situation where they have to make something happen, either with the music or something else, to put them in a better situation. Whereas, I’m not gonna say that people overseas are rich, but they’re in a different financial system that allows them to live in a way where they can concentrate on just loving the artist and doing things a certain way. I don’t think it would be as happy and cheerful and deeply rooted if [people overseas] had the same type of problems that some of our people have.
Have you noticed a difference in race relations in the U.S. versus how it is overseas?
It’s definitely different. I don’t know what it is…they got a lot of black people over there! [Laughs] It’s just a different vibe in terms of how they relate to black people. The thing that blew me away is when I got to Copenhagen and [I saw] the jail system, the money system…I think the most years you can do over there is maybe 17 years? There’s no life sentence over there. You go to jail and you got TVs, games, phones. You can go home on the weekends, crazy stuff! It’s just a different system.
The first thing that comes to my mind is slavery. Maybe America was a little more involved with slavery than they were [overseas]. Here, you got a lot of people that still have a little bit in them from their upbringing, their fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers. A little bit of that shit still be left! [Laughs]
I think some people are unconsciously prejudiced. I don’t think it’s intentional all the time, some people do stuff and then later on in life realize, “I was caught in one way of thinking. Because pops was doing this, I thought it was cool.”
Why do you think there’s so much violence in Chicago?
There are a lot of reasons. On a simple level, you got a bunch of kids with no money and nothing to do. They start to figure out ways to survive and ways to entertain themselves and they do what comes natural to them, and they don’t have a lot. If they had more things, more activities to do, than I think their minds would be in others places. But it is how it is now because of a system that makes it like that. A lot of these areas exist because they’re made to exist, political reasons, whatever.
Who are some artists that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to get in the studio with?
I love Kid Cudi, I’d love to do a song with Kid Cudi. I like Eminem a lot. Yeah, I think it’d be the craziest rap you ever heard if we do something. Me and Jadakiss never got into the studio together. We always see each other, chat it up, but never got into the studio together. Him and Styles P.
1:41 pm • 16 June 2014 • 2 notes
Forgotten Classics: Kwest tha Madd Lad - “This Is My First Album” (1996)
In 1988, a year considered by many to be the peak of rap’s Golden Era, the guys behind the period’s most notorious record label went separate ways. Lyor Cohen shot up the ranks of Rush Management to become Def Jam’s president in ‘88, and four years after T La Rock’s ‘It’s Yours,’ Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons had started seeing things different ways. Rick had lost some interest in the hard-hitting rap-rock that he’d built Def Jam’s foundation on and Russell was often partial to R&B sounds, but in a two-and-a-half page letter to Rubin and Simmons, promotions director Bill Stephney made the real problem clear: “The company [was] like a body with no head.”
Despite dropping Public Enemy’s seminal LP It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Def Jam had a rough 1988, suffering through a lawsuit between Run-DMC and Profile and losing their biggest selling act in the Beastie Boys. They also released the first Slayer album that year through Geffen Records, where Rubin would eventually go off to start Def American (later known as American Recordings) and focus on rock.
American’s lineup was pretty eccentric – staple acts included Danzig, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Andrew Dice Clay. They even released Nonce’s one-hit wonder ‘Mix Tapes’ back in ’94, the same year that a young Queens rapper named Kwest tha Madd Lad would record his debut album for the label. He had met A&R Dan Charnas four years earlier at the New Music Seminar, where Kwest was competing in the MC Battle for Word Supremacy. Kwest recalled the introduction affectionately in an old issue of Ego Trip: “[Charnas] look like a lil’ sicko. He might try to get me in his house and try to fuck me or something. But then I started doin’ a couple tracks wit’ him and it was all good.”
In ’91, Kwest signed with American and began recording with Charnas, who produced some of his early records (and would go on to write one of the definitive histories of hip-hop business, The Big Payback). Kwest quickly learned that having the label’s A&R dude producing his records wasn’t putting him in the best situation. Whenever a dispute arose, Charnas would have to side with the label instead of the artist. “I knew that these cats were really not tryin’ to do nuthin’ [sic] for me, man. I guess they wanted to put the priority on [Chino XL] because he had a buzz goin’.” His first single, ‘Lubrication,’ made the rounds on rap radio, but it didn’t connect to a larger audience, and his debut project, This Is My First Album, floundered for two years until proper released in 1996.
In spirit, Kwest was an entertainer - one skit on the album finds Andrew Dice Clay singing about eating ass “like a slurpie” and another has Kwest describing a day in the life of his anus. Kyumin “Q” Lee, a.k.a. Chino for Small but Strong, created Kwest’s logo, which would appear on the front of the ‘Lubrication’ single – Kwest wearing a diaper and socks, which “really captured Kwest’s straddling the juvenile with the adolescent,” according to Charnas. His rhyme style stretched and contracted – he’s at once playful and somewhat rushed on album opener “101 Things To Do With Your Girl,” but he’s never out of control. He sounds like he would have fit in with Def Squad – he had Keith’s energy, Redman’s humor, and Sermon’s laidback demeanor, all rolled into one. On “Disnexone” he screeches in a higher pitch that lets us know he’s totally loose on the mic as he slips in and out of characters during a story about some skins. “I Met My Baby At V.I.M.” is a hilarious highlight that samples The Deele years before DOOM flipped the same sample on ‘Red & Gold.’ Kwest meets his love while shopping for some discount sneakers, embarrassing himself before scoring a date at McDonalds. It’s the kind of humor you only yearn for once you hear how well it was done back in the day. He even flips a bugged “ehh” flow on 'Skin Care,' sounding like a mix between a mental patient and a washing machine alarm.
It’s obvious that American focused on the more sexual songs for Kwest’s debut. With a freewheeling flow that he perfected on the battle circuit (peep him catch wreck on the ‘Lubrication’ b-side ‘The Anatomy Of An Ass Whippin’), it seemed like Kwest could rhyme about anything with ease, but the record label seemed hell-bent on pushing him as a cruder Soopaman Luva. He had recorded up to 50 songs for the album, and Charnas recently gave him his masters back to release These Are My Unreleased Recordings, a collection of songs that didn’t make it onto his debut. It showcases a wider range of topics, handled with the same cockeyed technique that makes Kwest an engaging MC on his debut.
Needless to say, This Is My First Album flopped pretty hard, and Kwest split from American soon after. When Unkut caught up with him back in 2007, he said that he’d gotten a day job to support his lavish taste after rap didn’t work out. Despite live beats from the likes of Charnas, L.A. Jay (Pharcyde), Tony D (Poor Righteous Teachers), Fat Jack (Project Blowed), Erik Romero, and the Baka Boyz, Kwest was never able to translate his freestyle skills into mainstream recognition. Nonetheless, This Is My First Album is a cult classic that stands the test of time to this day.
11:34 am • 29 April 2014
"How To Be A Player" OST (1997)
"How To Be A Player" OST (1997)
Foxy Brown and Dru Hill set it off with an interpolation of the ever-infectious “She’s A Bad Mama Jama” for "Big Bad Mamma," which is typical Trackmasters sugar water jams but also leaves the distinct impression that Def Jam (who produced the film and naturally released the soundtrack) thought Foxy Brown was next. “Ain’t No Nigga” was probably the signal that she’d be a star, but be real, Hard Core > Ill Na Na. Too bad Nas couldn’t ghostwrite that too.
Rick James serves up a revisited version of "Hard To Get" with Richie Rich, an Oakland rapper who apparently inspired Snoop to form 213 with Warren and Nate. Best thing about the track is DJ Quik did it. Foxy Brown and Playa take those ‘91 piano stabs from N.W.A. (which would be used to much better effect two years later) for "I Gotta Know," hereby concluding the somewhat wack front part of the tape.
From there, things look up. Junior M.A.F.I.A. recruit Mase and Cam (inexplicably credited as Kam) for “Young Casanovas,” where Mase jacks the melody from “Pusherman” for the hook. Big doesn’t show up, but Cam courts proposals of indecency so it’s cool. Mase should have spit a verse though.
Redman follows with a grungy throwback on “Down Wit Us” produced by E Double. If you’re not fucking with this soundtrack right now, I feel you, but this song should remind you why you’re here.
This is a little weird, but Mic Geronimo has a song called “Usual Suspects” from his sophomore album that appears here. The thing is, the album version features Jada, Styles and Tragedy Khadafi, while the version that appears here has Cormega and Fatal Hussein instead. Not X’s best verse (though he has a way of making conversational rhymes chill your spine), so either Mega or Trag has the best verse between both versions (Jada and P go back n forth, but i’ve never been a fan of that verse structure).
You don’t have to profess your love for all things No Limit to realize that Master P knew how to sound singular. “How To Be A Playa” features Silkk The Shocker and Fiend, and the former doesn’t even sound that bad (you can hear the left-of-beat influence that Noz mentioned recently). Early Fiend is something more people should indulge in, because while I know him primarily for his later work with Curren$y, he was a thorough No Limit player (*cue the scoffs of No Limit dickriders at such “no shit” logic).
Now things pick up. Too $hort shows up with a song that features fucking George Clinton vocals called “It’s A Cold Day (Funk Wit U Mix).” $hort is concerned - he’s got too many girlfriends. You could never know his pain. “You’ll never hear me rap about the same bitch.” I feel like this hook jacks a melody as well, but I can’t put my finger on which one.
Jayo Felony provides the best hook so far on “Street 2 Street,” where he says delectable things like “bringing paprika to your speaker,” so your loss if you skip this shit. Plus, CMT and E-A-Ski did the beat so it’s a no-brainer. Peace to Willie Lump Lump.
Next are Eightball and MJG with “In The Wind,” a rare instance where I fucks with MJG more than Ball, even though the latter is in the club smoking on “sticky catnip.” (!) T-Mix’s beat is also flawless. This chorus is some other shit. I’m not even high and it lifts me up.
EPMD come with the original version of “Never Before Seen” from their ‘97 album Back In Business (the remix is fresh too), followed by some bullshit about your feelings, but Crucial Conflict makes us stick around with “When The Playas Live.” Wildstyle’s beat sounds like the soundtrack to a late night blunt ride, and the track should be an impetus for newcomers to peep some of the music this unheralded Chicago group released. Start with their rare EP from ‘93, if you can find it.
Final stretch. Pac lends a hand with the studio version of “Troublesome" (not "Troublesome ‘96"), raising the question of where else you can hear two "UFO" samples on one project. Suga Free’s "If U Stay Ready (Remix)" is a hidden gem. See his brand new second verse for confirmation. I don’t quite prefer this to the original, but where the beat slacks, Suga Free more than makes up.
Now we should be done, but one last thing. The last song is by a guy named Black Azz Chill, and I have absolutely no idea who that guy is. “Don’t Ever” naturally handles the topic of being a player, but I wouldn’t mention him if the song wasn’t worth checking. OK i probably would because of a name like Black Azz Chill, but I wouldn’t put the song here for you to check.
6:15 pm • 30 March 2014 • 1 note