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Q&A: Prodigy
-Unpublished- 



 

In May 2011, about two months after his release from prison, I had the opportunity to interview Prodigy from legendary Hip-Hop outfit Mobb Deep. P was on a press run after his autobiography “My Infamous Life” hit the shelves and sparked a little controversy, so my friends at Street Report Magazine commissioned me to conduct the interview. 
P and I spoke for an hour and had what I thought was a good chat, but when it came time to turn the interview into a 1000-word piece for publication, it admittedly lost much of its luster and never made it to print. We entertained plans of putting the audio on the magazine’s website, but that never happened.
I still consider this a very good interview, though — we talked about his past, present and future, how he’d handle the backlash from some of the things he wrote, his faith in God, linking with G-Unit, the arrest that sent him to jail and more — so I’m sharing it here. A loose transcript is below (some of the questions are truncated ‘cause I’m kinda long-winded in real life; P’s responses are basically verbatim with the exception of a few minor edits). If you prefer listening to reading, stream the audio of the chat here.
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How are you different now than when you went in?
I’m more focused. I’m physically stronger, mentally, spiritually more stronger. And my priorities are definitely in order right now, you know? They just in the right position, right place right now. I feel that I’m definitely a much more positive person. I definitely feel like I came out a much better person than when I went in. I was definitely able to transform myself into a much better individual.
You don’t seem to be bitter. A lot of ppl come out bitter after doing time because they lost years of their life that they’ll never get back. You don’t feel that way?
Nah, not at all. I feel like the three years I had to sit down helped me way more than they hurt me. For one, I’d never been in shape before. Now I’m physically in shape – like, for real. And I’d never really thought about the path I was goin’ down before as far as the choices I was makin’ in life. I never really thought about it the way I did when I was locked up. Now I see things more clearly than I could ever see ‘em before.
When you in the world – you know we grew up in the music industry from the time we were 15, 16 years old, and we were so focused what we was doin’ it was like we were suspended in time ever since we did Juvenile Hell and The Infamous. We never really had a chance to grow up ‘cause we was constantly on the road, in the studio, doin’ interviews – it’s like you’re on this rollercoaster and it don’t stop, y’knowhatimean? We had lil’ ups and downs but the ride never stopped. So when I went to prison it was like, “aight, the ride is over” – but it’s not really over, it was just like I was takin’ a break for a lil’ while. But now I get to really see what the hell is goin’ on. I’m not on that rollercoaster; I’m sittin’ still now and I’m lookin’ at everything like, “Wow, this is crazy. I never noticed these things before,” knowhatimsayin’? I just see all the mistakes that I made, all the bad decision-making and just be like, “Damn, I was buggin’!” Certain things I would say and certain things I would do – it just wasn’t good, man. That was cool when we was teenagers comin’ up in the game, pokin’ our chests out and lettin’ people know who we are; but you get to that point where that’s not cool no more. You gotta be a man about things and be a businessman—
You gotta grow up.
Yeah, and concentrate on the business side of the music and not just the music itself. A lot of that I thought I was doin’, but I wasn’t really doin’ it correctly.
There’s a line in the introduction of the book that says it was “like I was sixteen years old for seventeen years.” That’s a deep line.
Yeah, man. Like I said, we was just on that ride and it was like I never got off it ‘til I got locked up. I think it hurt both myself and Hav in a way because I wasn’t around and we wasn’t able to do certain things like touring. I really messed our money up a lil’ somethin’, y’knowhatimsayin’? I put a dent in our bank account by doin’ that. Three years of not touring – that’s a lot of money we missed out on ‘cause Mobb Deep is a big, big touring group. Tour around the world is what we do. I was bein’ real selfish in a way because I wasn’t thinkin’ about how this would affect my family, how this was gon’ affect Havoc, how this was gon’ affect Mobb Deep, knowhatimean? I was just runnin’ around doin’ me, not worried about how it was gon’ effect other people or the consequences of what I was doin’.
How did your time away affect your kids?
It was bad, man. Kids need both parents to raise them correctly, otherwise trouble happens. A mother can’t be a father and a father can’t be a mother. Both parents need to be there to provide that balance of that masculinity and that femininity, that love and that strength. It’s a balance of power that parents have to share to raise their kids. So when I wasn’t around for them three years it hurt my kids. When I was runnin’ around doin ‘what I was doin’ I was bein’ selfish. Not consciously, but I just wasn’t thinkin’.
You think pops’ need to prove he wasn’t soft kinda rubbed off on you? Did you feel you had to prove yourself since you were smaller and had sickle cell?
That’s definitely possible. That probably came into play when I was younger, comin’ up and tryin’ to make a name for myself and be liked. That probably had a lot to do with a lot of the trouble I used to get into, but a lot of that I attribute to the sickle cell and just bein’ an angry kid growin’ up. Like, I was angry that I had sickle cell. I was angry at God – just the pain I was goin’ through didn’t make me too nice.
Felt like you deserved to be there? Even though the way it went down was bullshit?
Umm… well it was definitely a lotta lies goin’ on with the cops. It was definitely an illegal search. I know the difference between an illegal search and a legal search. By law they’re supposed to ask you if they can search your car and they didn’t do that; they just started searchin’ my car. So they broke a law with that. The second thing they did that was illegal was try to get me to set up 50 Cent. They wanted me to plant a gun in his car so they could arrest him. They needed to set him up because they know that 50 keeps his nose clean. He doesn’t get in trouble, he just makes money and does positive things in life and they don’t like that. You got a select group of people in law enforcement that are racists, that are haters who hate their own lives ‘cause they don’t make as much money as they’d like to make. It’s just a select group of them, not all of them. They don’t like to see these young, Black, successful kids runnin’ around in Lamborghinis and Porsches and bulletproof cars, all over the TV and in Madison Square Garden, doin’ giant stadiums – you know, just bein’ successful and havin’ fun in life. They don’t like to see that, y’knowhatimean? So that’s what we were dealin’ with in the case.
But are you not bitter about that? That some haters had you sent to jail?
Nah, I’m not even bitter about it. Let me finish explainin’ it to you so you can understand: So you got a group of law enforcement that’s like that, but then you got a whole ‘nother, larger group of law enforcement that’s not like that. That’s just how it is in life. You’re always gonna have bad apples in the bunch. So during the trial they lied on the stand and said they saw a gun in my hand when they walked toward my car, which would give them probable cause to search it. So they twisted facts around to put things in their favor and make what they did look legal. Aight, so I was kinda angry about that at first but there was nothin’ I could do about it. I knew I had to go to jail at that point. So when I went in I thought about everything that happened, why I got locked up and all the circumstances, and I just always bring it back to “I put myself into the position for this to happen.” So I can’t be mad at a racist, lying cop or anything they did because if I was movin’ correctly I wouldn’t have been in the position for them to do something like that to me. I wouldn’t have been vulnerable and they wouldn’t have been able to take my life away for three years like that. So it’s my fault. Ultimately, I brought this upon myself by carrying myself a certain way. That’s the reality that everybody needs to deal with: you need blame yourself first. Don’t play the blame game and start blaming other people for your own faults. It all goes back to you at the end of the day. You did something wrong. You wasn’t movin’ right and made a bad decision. Of course sometimes people are set up and get locked up when they didn’t do anything, but most of the time it was something that you did somewhere along the line that got you in that predicament.
So it’s karma catching up to them.
Yeah. Definitely.
You think you’ve paid all your karmic debt?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t got too much bad karma. I’m not that bad. Compared to a lot of things I’ve seen in this world? I’m one of the good guys compared to that. (laughs)
You’re admittedly a pretty private person. What made you wanna write it and how hard was it?
Around 1999 when I was working on the Murda Muzik movie I was like, “You know what? We need a book, too.” My ultimate goal for doing these types of things is never about Prodigy — it’s always about Mobb Deep. I tried to make it where everywhere you turned – bookstore, video store, record store, wherever – you’d see Mobb Deep.
You wanted the Mobb Deep brand to be big.
Yeah, exactly. So we’re constantly on people’s minds. So in ’99 I decided we need to make a book. I didn’t actually start writin’ it ‘til 2004, though. I was tryin’ to figure out how we’d do it, ‘cause me and Hav got two different stories. I thought, “How can we pull this off and do it right?” So in ’04 I decided to just tell my side of the story and leave Hav room to tell his. Then I just started writin’ it on my laptop. It was fairly easy gettin’ the stories out ‘cause it was all real – you just gotta pour it all out. Then we got the G-Unit deal and we went on tour and a lot of things started happening around ‘05 so I had to put it on pause. When all that started to settle down I picked it up back up around 2006-2007. Then I finished it up when I got locked up.
I know what makes a good book and what makes a good autobiography: You gotta share things, man. You gotta be for real with the people. I lost a lotta fights in my life, had people try to treat me like a herb or whatever, I got the whole bedwetting thing in there – so I’m showing you the real, not hiding nothin’ or tryin’ to be something I’m not. There’s a saying that goes “if you tell a story, tell the real story – warts and all.” I’m not ashamed of anything. I’m glad everything happened the way it happened ‘cause it made me who I am.
Part of your story intersects with other people’s stories. Did you ever hesitate or think about censoring yourself?
I really didn’t, ‘cause I didn’t have anything bad to say about anybody. Even Capone – I didn’t say anything bad about him, I just said what happened. I wasn’t disrespecting anybody. Even the parts with Keyshia Cole or Lil’ Kim or whatever parts with the females, I’m not bein’ disrespectful. There’s nothing for somebody to be like, “Oh my god, he just exposed this person for somethin’ crazy,” knowhatimsayin’?
But snitching is like a cardinal sin in the ‘hood. Can you understand why a ‘hood cat like Capone would be upset that you brought his name up in that context?
When you’re dealin’ with situations like that – there’s no gettin’ around that. There’s no hiding that. That’s public record. That’s in the County Clerk’s office. The trial transcripts have everybody’s name in it. You can’t hide that. That’ll never go away. You can’t make that kind of story up, let’s put it like that. I didn’t disrespect him in any way, he disrespected himself. I didn’t do anything to him, he did it to himself. He chose to do that, knowhatimsayin’? That’s somethin’ that he has to live with. That’s not on me, that’s on him. If he’s mad, that’s bad. He needs to be mad at himself for doin’ that.
How’s your health these days?
Right now I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life, physically, mentally and spiritually. I work out every day – I’ve never felt this good before.
Are you a religious cat?
I definitely have my own personal connection and relationship with God. I don’t like to followany religions or what have you. There’s nothing wrong with being a part of some religion or whatever; a lot of these religions help save people’s lives. I’m not really into speaking bad about religion because it helps people. But I got my own relationship with God. We good. We tight. (laughs)
I always compare preachers to motivational speakers. One might use a book that they’ve written to motivate people while the other uses the Bible, but at the end of the day it’s about listeners finding the necessary inspiration in those words. Some people don’t need that outside push because they have their own relationship with God and draw inspiration from within, but that doesn’t make the inspiration any less valid just because they don’t go to church every Sunday.
That’s like the best way I’ve ever heard anybody explain it. That’s so perfect right there. It’s just like a personal trainer — some people need that motivation to go work out, some people don’t. So there’s nothin’ really wrong with religion. At times my connection with God wasn’t so great when I was growing up. Like I said, I was real angry kid dealing with my sickle cell and I’ve been goin’ to the hospital since I was born. I’ve been in pain and in situations where I almost died a lotta times. I dealt with a lotta pain and death. So I had to through that spiritual war within myself – that tug-o-war between good and evil – and figure out what it was gon’ be. Everybody has to go through that war.
You spoke on that a bit on “You Can Never Feel My Pain” off the H.N.I.C. album.
Yeah, yeah. I said, “I’m beggin’ God for help / Only to find that I’m all by my goddamn self.” There was a lot of learnin’ that I had to do. I felt for a long time that God wasn’t lookin’ after me and protectin’ me. I didn’t realize that everything happens for a reason and that there are lessons to be learned. God’s givin’ you lessons to learn. You gotta go through things because it makes you the person you’re gonna be. That’s what shapes you.
How did the books you read help you?
Definitely enhanced my vocabulary and my knowledge of certain issues. The more information you take in, the more you have an understanding of what’s really goin’ on. Of course, that depends on what kind of information you’re taking in. That’s why I stay away from fiction. I like to read real stories about history, autobiographies – real things that you can actually learn from. When I read I only read certain books.
Are you really thinking about writing another book?
I got a few books in the works already. The next project I’m doin’ is basically about my prison experience. I left that out of my autobiography for a reason. I touch on it a lil’ bit but the prison parts of the book are only like one or two pages, I don’t really get into it. I did that so I can have another book come out! (laughs) My wife told me to do that. She was like, “Nah, don’t tell ‘em all that. Save something so we can get another deal, write another book!” I said, “Yeah, you right!” (laughs) I got a couple books I’m workin’ on, too. I can’t talk about all that, though, ‘cause I don’t want nobody to do ‘em before me.
Has wifey read this book?
Yeah. She don’t really wanna get too far into it though because of all the girls and the groupies. She checks out certain parts then puts it down like, “aight, I don’t wanna read no more.” (laughs)
She knew what was goin’ on, though. That’s just how it was. She was with me all those years. She didn’t know everything, but she’s a very intelligent individual so she knew what was goin’ on. She decided to still deal with me and stick around ‘cause she saw a better person inside of me even if I didn’t even see it myself, y’knowhatimean? So I’m definitely thankful for her. She made me better and a stronger individual.
What beats did you write to while locked up?
I was actually writing to Havoc, Alchemist and all my producers who’d sent me beats and whatnot. I had beats in there. It was a difficult process gettin’ ‘em in there but I got ‘em. I had to jump through a lotta hoops and do a lotta stuff I wasn’t supposed to be doin’ but I got ‘em.
What was like writing in there? Was your creativity stifled?
My experience locked up was great. I got nothin’ but good things to say. I mean, nobody wants to be in jail and it’s painful to be forced to sit in that cell for years; but I was able to take a bad situation and turn it into something good. I was so focused and determined to turn a negative into a positive that I didn’t let nothin’ depress me, I didn’t let nothin’ bring me down and I used every minute of the day to do something that was gon’ make my future better. So I wrote like 20 albums, movie scripts, books, I got my body in shape – I turned it into a positive experience. I chose to make it a positive experience.
Are you worried about fallin off into your old vices?
The thing about that, man – I been in that life since I was 12, 13 years old and the thrill is gone. That lifestyle doesn’t excite me anymore. I did all that already. I’ve had all the jewelry, the cars, all the nice things, all the groupies – you name it, we did already, knowhatimean? I got that all outta my system when I was young for a reason: God has a plan for me. So right now my personal plan is to be the person I am right now who doesn’t do all that stuff and just focus on health and success and continued longevity.
How will Mobb Deep keep up with the joneses and stay relevant?
One good thing about us is that we had a strong following in the ‘hood and around the world. We had a real loyal fanbase. Now, you got a whole generation of rappers and fans whose parents, aunts and uncles were Mobb Deep fans. They grew up listening to our music. A lot of people come up to me like, “Yo man, my mother loves Mobb Deep. That’s all she plays!” You know? Seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, yo. “I learned about Mobb Deep from my Moms,” or “My pops got all your albums” – a lot of teenagers wrote me in jail and told me that. It’s one generation passin’ it down to the next generation. And I think the style of music that we make is timeless. We don’t rap trendy; we keep it grounded and stick to our formula. So it’s kinda easy for us to keep that goin’. Poverty, which we represent, stays the same. Knowhatimsayin’? No matter what trends is goin’, no matter what’s happenin’ in the world, poverty is forever. People are strugglin’ and it’ll always be like that. Our music represents the struggle. I think that’s another reason we were able to last so long because that just doesn’t go anywhere.
Given any more thought to where you’ll record? Is goin’ indie an option? I know that at one time Havoc wasn’t down with the independent route.
We’re definitely thinkin’ about it more now ‘cause it’s closer to time to make a deal. I been home for two months, and in that two months we’ve probably made 120 songs so it’s about time to start thinking about the next move and how we gon’ release this music. We been tossin’ around ideas; been talkin’ about stayin’ independent. Havoc is definitely more with that now, especially the way the game is now. He understands that it would make a lotta sense to do that. At the same time we been talkin’ to 50, tryin’ to see what his opinion is and what his plans and ideas are. Just pickin’ his brain to see where he wants to go with this and see if he wants to maybe do a new deal with Mobb Deep. We’ve also been talkin’ to other labels, you know? I ain’t gon’ name ‘em, but we’ve been talkin’ to different people. So we’re just tryin’ to weigh it out.
The best thing for us is to just work on the music, because it’s better to let the music speak for itself. I could sit there and tell people, “Aw, Mobb Deep, we did this and we did that,” but nobody cares what you did, it’s what are you doing now. That’s the only thing that really matters. That’s why we’re so focused on the music and not really worried about the label situation because you’re only as strong as what you’re doing right now.
Is it more about getting the music out or making the most money?
When it comes to reaching people, I think we’re pretty much on auto-pilot. I think we could drop some songs tomorrow on the internet and people are gonna know about it ‘cause we got a following that’s real loyal to us and they’re gonna find out about it through word of mouth. So it’s not so much about reaching people. If we’re gonna do a deal with somebody, it has to be somebody who understands preserving the Mobb Deep legacy, it’s not just about right now and how much money we’re gonna make. That’s what Mobb Deep is all about – we’re all about that longevity. What keeps us goin’ is our goal to be one of the longest-lasting groups ever in Hip-Hop, so we gotta deal with a company that understands that.
I hate jumpin’ around from company to company. That’s real corny to me. When we were on Loud, we had a home that we built. We built that house, knowhatimean? That was our house.
Right. You and Wu-Tang.
Yeah, exactly. Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep built that house. That was ours. We didn’t own it, but we were Steve Rifkind’s main focus. We were the focus of the whole label. That was a situation that was perfect for us. Once he decided to walk away from that and not do it anymore it was like, “Damn, now we gotta go deal with some other label? This is wack.” There’s no relationship there; no connection to the music. So when we did the deal with 50, it was a good deal for us because that relationship was there and that connection with our music was there. 50 was brought up on our music. Mobb Deep was one of the biggest inspirations in his life ‘cause we from Queens. It was a Queens thing. So it was definitely a good deal when we did that.
But you know that, from a fan’s perspective, a lotta folks didn’t like that move to G-Unit.
That’s how emotionally attached people are to our music. They wanna see us be independent and start our own label. They wanna see it go down the same way I wanna see it go down — that’s what I would love to see, too. I would love to see Mobb Deep be independent and have our own Roc-A-Fella or G-Unit. We supposed to have ours, too. But what people need to understand is that our life didn’t play out that way. We’re not them. We didn’t have the same life as Jay-Z. We didn’t have the same life as 50. We’re Mobb Deep, and Mobb Deep didn’t start out independent. Mobb Deep started out signed to a label. That’s Mobb Deep’s career: We put out good music and we make deals with different labels. That’s just the way it is. And I’m sure people wanna see it differently ‘cause I would like to see it differently. And it’s something that we could do, but that’s just not how our life played out. Stuff like that is good to do from the door. Like, when they first hear about you you’re independent. That’s how Roc-A-Fella came in the game – independent and rose to the top. Even though 50 signed with Dre and Em, his label was independent the whole time. Mobb Deep didn’t do that. People wanna see us be like that and have that kind of success but that’s just not how it happened. Mobb Deep signed with a label and made good music.
If you look at the big picture, the only thing we doin’ is bein’ consistent. We consistently make new deals. We made a deal with Loud, we made a deal with Sony/Columbia, we made a deal with Jive – like, we really just bein’ consistent. We not doin’ nothin’ out of the ordinary.
What ever happened with your Voxonic deal?
That whole thing went south because got I locked up and it scared them away. It was a good situation and basically I ruined that by putting myself in a position to get locked up and serve some time. I blame that on myself. Even though they made a bunch of promises and a contract that they didn’t uphold. We settlin’ right now, so it’s all good. At the end of the day I only blame myself. I gotta make better moves so I don’t ruin opportunities for myself.

Q&A: Prodigy

-Unpublished-

 

In May 2011, about two months after his release from prison, I had the opportunity to interview Prodigy from legendary Hip-Hop outfit Mobb Deep. P was on a press run after his autobiography “My Infamous Life” hit the shelves and sparked a little controversy, so my friends at Street Report Magazine commissioned me to conduct the interview.

P and I spoke for an hour and had what I thought was a good chat, but when it came time to turn the interview into a 1000-word piece for publication, it admittedly lost much of its luster and never made it to print. We entertained plans of putting the audio on the magazine’s website, but that never happened.

I still consider this a very good interview, though — we talked about his past, present and future, how he’d handle the backlash from some of the things he wrote, his faith in God, linking with G-Unit, the arrest that sent him to jail and more — so I’m sharing it here. A loose transcript is below (some of the questions are truncated ‘cause I’m kinda long-winded in real life; P’s responses are basically verbatim with the exception of a few minor edits). If you prefer listening to reading, stream the audio of the chat here.

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How are you different now than when you went in?

I’m more focused. I’m physically stronger, mentally, spiritually more stronger. And my priorities are definitely in order right now, you know? They just in the right position, right place right now. I feel that I’m definitely a much more positive person. I definitely feel like I came out a much better person than when I went in. I was definitely able to transform myself into a much better individual.

You don’t seem to be bitter. A lot of ppl come out bitter after doing time because they lost years of their life that they’ll never get back. You don’t feel that way?

Nah, not at all. I feel like the three years I had to sit down helped me way more than they hurt me. For one, I’d never been in shape before. Now I’m physically in shape – like, for real. And I’d never really thought about the path I was goin’ down before as far as the choices I was makin’ in life. I never really thought about it the way I did when I was locked up. Now I see things more clearly than I could ever see ‘em before.

When you in the world – you know we grew up in the music industry from the time we were 15, 16 years old, and we were so focused what we was doin’ it was like we were suspended in time ever since we did Juvenile Hell and The Infamous. We never really had a chance to grow up ‘cause we was constantly on the road, in the studio, doin’ interviews – it’s like you’re on this rollercoaster and it don’t stop, y’knowhatimean? We had lil’ ups and downs but the ride never stopped. So when I went to prison it was like, “aight, the ride is over” – but it’s not really over, it was just like I was takin’ a break for a lil’ while. But now I get to really see what the hell is goin’ on. I’m not on that rollercoaster; I’m sittin’ still now and I’m lookin’ at everything like, “Wow, this is crazy. I never noticed these things before,” knowhatimsayin’? I just see all the mistakes that I made, all the bad decision-making and just be like, “Damn, I was buggin’!” Certain things I would say and certain things I would do – it just wasn’t good, man. That was cool when we was teenagers comin’ up in the game, pokin’ our chests out and lettin’ people know who we are; but you get to that point where that’s not cool no more. You gotta be a man about things and be a businessman—

You gotta grow up.

Yeah, and concentrate on the business side of the music and not just the music itself. A lot of that I thought I was doin’, but I wasn’t really doin’ it correctly.

There’s a line in the introduction of the book that says it was “like I was sixteen years old for seventeen years.” That’s a deep line.

Yeah, man. Like I said, we was just on that ride and it was like I never got off it ‘til I got locked up. I think it hurt both myself and Hav in a way because I wasn’t around and we wasn’t able to do certain things like touring. I really messed our money up a lil’ somethin’, y’knowhatimsayin’? I put a dent in our bank account by doin’ that. Three years of not touring – that’s a lot of money we missed out on ‘cause Mobb Deep is a big, big touring group. Tour around the world is what we do. I was bein’ real selfish in a way because I wasn’t thinkin’ about how this would affect my family, how this was gon’ affect Havoc, how this was gon’ affect Mobb Deep, knowhatimean? I was just runnin’ around doin’ me, not worried about how it was gon’ effect other people or the consequences of what I was doin’.

How did your time away affect your kids?

It was bad, man. Kids need both parents to raise them correctly, otherwise trouble happens. A mother can’t be a father and a father can’t be a mother. Both parents need to be there to provide that balance of that masculinity and that femininity, that love and that strength. It’s a balance of power that parents have to share to raise their kids. So when I wasn’t around for them three years it hurt my kids. When I was runnin’ around doin ‘what I was doin’ I was bein’ selfish. Not consciously, but I just wasn’t thinkin’.

You think pops’ need to prove he wasn’t soft kinda rubbed off on you? Did you feel you had to prove yourself since you were smaller and had sickle cell?

That’s definitely possible. That probably came into play when I was younger, comin’ up and tryin’ to make a name for myself and be liked. That probably had a lot to do with a lot of the trouble I used to get into, but a lot of that I attribute to the sickle cell and just bein’ an angry kid growin’ up. Like, I was angry that I had sickle cell. I was angry at God – just the pain I was goin’ through didn’t make me too nice.

Felt like you deserved to be there? Even though the way it went down was bullshit?

Umm… well it was definitely a lotta lies goin’ on with the cops. It was definitely an illegal search. I know the difference between an illegal search and a legal search. By law they’re supposed to ask you if they can search your car and they didn’t do that; they just started searchin’ my car. So they broke a law with that. The second thing they did that was illegal was try to get me to set up 50 Cent. They wanted me to plant a gun in his car so they could arrest him. They needed to set him up because they know that 50 keeps his nose clean. He doesn’t get in trouble, he just makes money and does positive things in life and they don’t like that. You got a select group of people in law enforcement that are racists, that are haters who hate their own lives ‘cause they don’t make as much money as they’d like to make. It’s just a select group of them, not all of them. They don’t like to see these young, Black, successful kids runnin’ around in Lamborghinis and Porsches and bulletproof cars, all over the TV and in Madison Square Garden, doin’ giant stadiums – you know, just bein’ successful and havin’ fun in life. They don’t like to see that, y’knowhatimean? So that’s what we were dealin’ with in the case.

But are you not bitter about that? That some haters had you sent to jail?

Nah, I’m not even bitter about it. Let me finish explainin’ it to you so you can understand: So you got a group of law enforcement that’s like that, but then you got a whole ‘nother, larger group of law enforcement that’s not like that. That’s just how it is in life. You’re always gonna have bad apples in the bunch. So during the trial they lied on the stand and said they saw a gun in my hand when they walked toward my car, which would give them probable cause to search it. So they twisted facts around to put things in their favor and make what they did look legal. Aight, so I was kinda angry about that at first but there was nothin’ I could do about it. I knew I had to go to jail at that point. So when I went in I thought about everything that happened, why I got locked up and all the circumstances, and I just always bring it back to “I put myself into the position for this to happen.” So I can’t be mad at a racist, lying cop or anything they did because if I was movin’ correctly I wouldn’t have been in the position for them to do something like that to me. I wouldn’t have been vulnerable and they wouldn’t have been able to take my life away for three years like that. So it’s my fault. Ultimately, I brought this upon myself by carrying myself a certain way. That’s the reality that everybody needs to deal with: you need blame yourself first. Don’t play the blame game and start blaming other people for your own faults. It all goes back to you at the end of the day. You did something wrong. You wasn’t movin’ right and made a bad decision. Of course sometimes people are set up and get locked up when they didn’t do anything, but most of the time it was something that you did somewhere along the line that got you in that predicament.

So it’s karma catching up to them.

Yeah. Definitely.

You think you’ve paid all your karmic debt?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t got too much bad karma. I’m not that bad. Compared to a lot of things I’ve seen in this world? I’m one of the good guys compared to that. (laughs)

You’re admittedly a pretty private person. What made you wanna write it and how hard was it?

Around 1999 when I was working on the Murda Muzik movie I was like, “You know what? We need a book, too.” My ultimate goal for doing these types of things is never about Prodigy — it’s always about Mobb Deep. I tried to make it where everywhere you turned – bookstore, video store, record store, wherever – you’d see Mobb Deep.

You wanted the Mobb Deep brand to be big.

Yeah, exactly. So we’re constantly on people’s minds. So in ’99 I decided we need to make a book. I didn’t actually start writin’ it ‘til 2004, though. I was tryin’ to figure out how we’d do it, ‘cause me and Hav got two different stories. I thought, “How can we pull this off and do it right?” So in ’04 I decided to just tell my side of the story and leave Hav room to tell his. Then I just started writin’ it on my laptop. It was fairly easy gettin’ the stories out ‘cause it was all real – you just gotta pour it all out. Then we got the G-Unit deal and we went on tour and a lot of things started happening around ‘05 so I had to put it on pause. When all that started to settle down I picked it up back up around 2006-2007. Then I finished it up when I got locked up.

I know what makes a good book and what makes a good autobiography: You gotta share things, man. You gotta be for real with the people. I lost a lotta fights in my life, had people try to treat me like a herb or whatever, I got the whole bedwetting thing in there – so I’m showing you the real, not hiding nothin’ or tryin’ to be something I’m not. There’s a saying that goes “if you tell a story, tell the real story – warts and all.” I’m not ashamed of anything. I’m glad everything happened the way it happened ‘cause it made me who I am.

Part of your story intersects with other people’s stories. Did you ever hesitate or think about censoring yourself?

I really didn’t, ‘cause I didn’t have anything bad to say about anybody. Even Capone – I didn’t say anything bad about him, I just said what happened. I wasn’t disrespecting anybody. Even the parts with Keyshia Cole or Lil’ Kim or whatever parts with the females, I’m not bein’ disrespectful. There’s nothing for somebody to be like, “Oh my god, he just exposed this person for somethin’ crazy,” knowhatimsayin’?

But snitching is like a cardinal sin in the ‘hood. Can you understand why a ‘hood cat like Capone would be upset that you brought his name up in that context?

When you’re dealin’ with situations like that – there’s no gettin’ around that. There’s no hiding that. That’s public record. That’s in the County Clerk’s office. The trial transcripts have everybody’s name in it. You can’t hide that. That’ll never go away. You can’t make that kind of story up, let’s put it like that. I didn’t disrespect him in any way, he disrespected himself. I didn’t do anything to him, he did it to himself. He chose to do that, knowhatimsayin’? That’s somethin’ that he has to live with. That’s not on me, that’s on him. If he’s mad, that’s bad. He needs to be mad at himself for doin’ that.

How’s your health these days?

Right now I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life, physically, mentally and spiritually. I work out every day – I’ve never felt this good before.

Are you a religious cat?

I definitely have my own personal connection and relationship with God. I don’t like to followany religions or what have you. There’s nothing wrong with being a part of some religion or whatever; a lot of these religions help save people’s lives. I’m not really into speaking bad about religion because it helps people. But I got my own relationship with God. We good. We tight. (laughs)

I always compare preachers to motivational speakers. One might use a book that they’ve written to motivate people while the other uses the Bible, but at the end of the day it’s about listeners finding the necessary inspiration in those words. Some people don’t need that outside push because they have their own relationship with God and draw inspiration from within, but that doesn’t make the inspiration any less valid just because they don’t go to church every Sunday.

That’s like the best way I’ve ever heard anybody explain it. That’s so perfect right there. It’s just like a personal trainer — some people need that motivation to go work out, some people don’t. So there’s nothin’ really wrong with religion. At times my connection with God wasn’t so great when I was growing up. Like I said, I was real angry kid dealing with my sickle cell and I’ve been goin’ to the hospital since I was born. I’ve been in pain and in situations where I almost died a lotta times. I dealt with a lotta pain and death. So I had to through that spiritual war within myself – that tug-o-war between good and evil – and figure out what it was gon’ be. Everybody has to go through that war.

You spoke on that a bit on “You Can Never Feel My Pain” off the H.N.I.C. album.

Yeah, yeah. I said, “I’m beggin’ God for help / Only to find that I’m all by my goddamn self.” There was a lot of learnin’ that I had to do. I felt for a long time that God wasn’t lookin’ after me and protectin’ me. I didn’t realize that everything happens for a reason and that there are lessons to be learned. God’s givin’ you lessons to learn. You gotta go through things because it makes you the person you’re gonna be. That’s what shapes you.

How did the books you read help you?

Definitely enhanced my vocabulary and my knowledge of certain issues. The more information you take in, the more you have an understanding of what’s really goin’ on. Of course, that depends on what kind of information you’re taking in. That’s why I stay away from fiction. I like to read real stories about history, autobiographies – real things that you can actually learn from. When I read I only read certain books.

Are you really thinking about writing another book?

I got a few books in the works already. The next project I’m doin’ is basically about my prison experience. I left that out of my autobiography for a reason. I touch on it a lil’ bit but the prison parts of the book are only like one or two pages, I don’t really get into it. I did that so I can have another book come out! (laughs) My wife told me to do that. She was like, “Nah, don’t tell ‘em all that. Save something so we can get another deal, write another book!” I said, “Yeah, you right!” (laughs) I got a couple books I’m workin’ on, too. I can’t talk about all that, though, ‘cause I don’t want nobody to do ‘em before me.

Has wifey read this book?

Yeah. She don’t really wanna get too far into it though because of all the girls and the groupies. She checks out certain parts then puts it down like, “aight, I don’t wanna read no more.” (laughs)

She knew what was goin’ on, though. That’s just how it was. She was with me all those years. She didn’t know everything, but she’s a very intelligent individual so she knew what was goin’ on. She decided to still deal with me and stick around ‘cause she saw a better person inside of me even if I didn’t even see it myself, y’knowhatimean? So I’m definitely thankful for her. She made me better and a stronger individual.

What beats did you write to while locked up?

I was actually writing to Havoc, Alchemist and all my producers who’d sent me beats and whatnot. I had beats in there. It was a difficult process gettin’ ‘em in there but I got ‘em. I had to jump through a lotta hoops and do a lotta stuff I wasn’t supposed to be doin’ but I got ‘em.

What was like writing in there? Was your creativity stifled?

My experience locked up was great. I got nothin’ but good things to say. I mean, nobody wants to be in jail and it’s painful to be forced to sit in that cell for years; but I was able to take a bad situation and turn it into something good. I was so focused and determined to turn a negative into a positive that I didn’t let nothin’ depress me, I didn’t let nothin’ bring me down and I used every minute of the day to do something that was gon’ make my future better. So I wrote like 20 albums, movie scripts, books, I got my body in shape – I turned it into a positive experience. I chose to make it a positive experience.

Are you worried about fallin off into your old vices?

The thing about that, man – I been in that life since I was 12, 13 years old and the thrill is gone. That lifestyle doesn’t excite me anymore. I did all that already. I’ve had all the jewelry, the cars, all the nice things, all the groupies – you name it, we did already, knowhatimean? I got that all outta my system when I was young for a reason: God has a plan for me. So right now my personal plan is to be the person I am right now who doesn’t do all that stuff and just focus on health and success and continued longevity.

How will Mobb Deep keep up with the joneses and stay relevant?

One good thing about us is that we had a strong following in the ‘hood and around the world. We had a real loyal fanbase. Now, you got a whole generation of rappers and fans whose parents, aunts and uncles were Mobb Deep fans. They grew up listening to our music. A lot of people come up to me like, “Yo man, my mother loves Mobb Deep. That’s all she plays!” You know? Seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, yo. “I learned about Mobb Deep from my Moms,” or “My pops got all your albums” – a lot of teenagers wrote me in jail and told me that. It’s one generation passin’ it down to the next generation. And I think the style of music that we make is timeless. We don’t rap trendy; we keep it grounded and stick to our formula. So it’s kinda easy for us to keep that goin’. Poverty, which we represent, stays the same. Knowhatimsayin’? No matter what trends is goin’, no matter what’s happenin’ in the world, poverty is forever. People are strugglin’ and it’ll always be like that. Our music represents the struggle. I think that’s another reason we were able to last so long because that just doesn’t go anywhere.

Given any more thought to where you’ll record? Is goin’ indie an option? I know that at one time Havoc wasn’t down with the independent route.

We’re definitely thinkin’ about it more now ‘cause it’s closer to time to make a deal. I been home for two months, and in that two months we’ve probably made 120 songs so it’s about time to start thinking about the next move and how we gon’ release this music. We been tossin’ around ideas; been talkin’ about stayin’ independent. Havoc is definitely more with that now, especially the way the game is now. He understands that it would make a lotta sense to do that. At the same time we been talkin’ to 50, tryin’ to see what his opinion is and what his plans and ideas are. Just pickin’ his brain to see where he wants to go with this and see if he wants to maybe do a new deal with Mobb Deep. We’ve also been talkin’ to other labels, you know? I ain’t gon’ name ‘em, but we’ve been talkin’ to different people. So we’re just tryin’ to weigh it out.

The best thing for us is to just work on the music, because it’s better to let the music speak for itself. I could sit there and tell people, “Aw, Mobb Deep, we did this and we did that,” but nobody cares what you did, it’s what are you doing now. That’s the only thing that really matters. That’s why we’re so focused on the music and not really worried about the label situation because you’re only as strong as what you’re doing right now.

Is it more about getting the music out or making the most money?

When it comes to reaching people, I think we’re pretty much on auto-pilot. I think we could drop some songs tomorrow on the internet and people are gonna know about it ‘cause we got a following that’s real loyal to us and they’re gonna find out about it through word of mouth. So it’s not so much about reaching people. If we’re gonna do a deal with somebody, it has to be somebody who understands preserving the Mobb Deep legacy, it’s not just about right now and how much money we’re gonna make. That’s what Mobb Deep is all about – we’re all about that longevity. What keeps us goin’ is our goal to be one of the longest-lasting groups ever in Hip-Hop, so we gotta deal with a company that understands that.

I hate jumpin’ around from company to company. That’s real corny to me. When we were on Loud, we had a home that we built. We built that house, knowhatimean? That was our house.

Right. You and Wu-Tang.

Yeah, exactly. Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep built that house. That was ours. We didn’t own it, but we were Steve Rifkind’s main focus. We were the focus of the whole label. That was a situation that was perfect for us. Once he decided to walk away from that and not do it anymore it was like, “Damn, now we gotta go deal with some other label? This is wack.” There’s no relationship there; no connection to the music. So when we did the deal with 50, it was a good deal for us because that relationship was there and that connection with our music was there. 50 was brought up on our music. Mobb Deep was one of the biggest inspirations in his life ‘cause we from Queens. It was a Queens thing. So it was definitely a good deal when we did that.

But you know that, from a fan’s perspective, a lotta folks didn’t like that move to G-Unit.

That’s how emotionally attached people are to our music. They wanna see us be independent and start our own label. They wanna see it go down the same way I wanna see it go down — that’s what I would love to see, too. I would love to see Mobb Deep be independent and have our own Roc-A-Fella or G-Unit. We supposed to have ours, too. But what people need to understand is that our life didn’t play out that way. We’re not them. We didn’t have the same life as Jay-Z. We didn’t have the same life as 50. We’re Mobb Deep, and Mobb Deep didn’t start out independent. Mobb Deep started out signed to a label. That’s Mobb Deep’s career: We put out good music and we make deals with different labels. That’s just the way it is. And I’m sure people wanna see it differently ‘cause I would like to see it differently. And it’s something that we could do, but that’s just not how our life played out. Stuff like that is good to do from the door. Like, when they first hear about you you’re independent. That’s how Roc-A-Fella came in the game – independent and rose to the top. Even though 50 signed with Dre and Em, his label was independent the whole time. Mobb Deep didn’t do that. People wanna see us be like that and have that kind of success but that’s just not how it happened. Mobb Deep signed with a label and made good music.

If you look at the big picture, the only thing we doin’ is bein’ consistent. We consistently make new deals. We made a deal with Loud, we made a deal with Sony/Columbia, we made a deal with Jive – like, we really just bein’ consistent. We not doin’ nothin’ out of the ordinary.

What ever happened with your Voxonic deal?

That whole thing went south because got I locked up and it scared them away. It was a good situation and basically I ruined that by putting myself in a position to get locked up and serve some time. I blame that on myself. Even though they made a bunch of promises and a contract that they didn’t uphold. We settlin’ right now, so it’s all good. At the end of the day I only blame myself. I gotta make better moves so I don’t ruin opportunities for myself.

Blog Archive: SoulCulture



 
Worked with London-based entertainment and lifestyle brand SoulCulture off and on over the years of 2011 and 2012, most frequently through the midsection of 2012. I contributed daily, assisting with music/video posting, news aggregation and copy editing. Check out my SoulCulture archive here.

Blog Archive: SoulCulture

 

Worked with London-based entertainment and lifestyle brand SoulCulture off and on over the years of 2011 and 2012, most frequently through the midsection of 2012. I contributed daily, assisting with music/video posting, news aggregation and copy editing. Check out my SoulCulture archive here.

"Fitness for Free: How to Get Right Without the Gym"
FeelRich.com - February 2012


** This story was written in December 2011, just in time for the holiday season, but wasn’t published until February due to a stacked publication schedule. The version that follows is the original; the version that appears on the site was edited by FeelRich to remove the holiday references. **


For those of us concerned with our health and fitness, the holiday season can be rough.
Not only is there a bounty of delicious foods, candies and pastries waging war against our midsections, there’s also a never-ending stream of toys, trinkets, gizmos and gadgets on a mission to stick us for our paper, making it practically impossible to fit a gym membership into our budgets. With such devious forces at work against our physical and fiscal fitness, many of us feel forced to put our aspirations of getting right on hold until the New Year.
Well, we’ve got a message for you: That’s totally unnecessary. You can start getting right immediately and it won’t cost you a dime.
With parks and playgrounds all over just about every municipality in the country, a gym membership is truly a fitness luxury, not a necessity. You don’t need fancy equipment, air conditioning or walls to get yourself together. You can get a great full-body workout with a park bench, a jungle gym or bar to hang from, a lot of open space and your own bodyweight.
That’s right, kids, the word for today is calisthenics — or “bodyweight exercises” – and we’re gonna show you a few simple moves you can start doing today:


JUMP SQUATS
What you need: Enough space to jump up and down in.
Muscles/Areas worked: Quadriceps/Hamstrings (Front/Rear Thighs), Calves.
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Squat down until thighs are about parallel with ground then jump straight into the air as high as you can. Land on soft knees (bend knees to absorb impact) and repeat.

PULL-UPS
What you need: A bar to hang from. Jungle gyms and tree limbs are perfect.
Muscles/Areas worked: Latissimus dorsi (back), biceps (front of arms).
How to do it: Hang from bar/limb with hands palms-out and slightly wider then shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up until your chin is at the same level as or higher than your hands. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position, then repeat.
*Pointer: Change your hand position to palms-in (facing you) and vary how far apart they are to hit different areas of the back. If this move is too difficult to perform alone, have a partner assist you by holding your feet.

KNEE RAISES
What you need: The same bar/limb you did the pull-ups on.
Muscles/Areas worked: Abdominals (stomach)
How to do it: Hang from bar/limb and bring your knees straight up to your chest. Slowly lower them to starting position, then repeat.
*Pointer: Vary this exercise and isolate your obliques (side abs) by raising knees up to the sides. Do the same number of reps on each side.

PUSH-UPS
What you need: The ground and a bench.
Muscles/Areas worked: Pecs (chest), deltoids (shoulders), biceps/triceps (arms)
How to do it: Everyone knows how to do a push-up, but it is important to make sure that you get the full range of motion by lowering yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle before pushing back up. Vary the width of your hands to hit different areas of the overall chest. You may also vary the exercise by placing either your feet (incline) or your hands (decline) on a bench to focus on the upper or lower chest, respectively.


Do these very basic exercises regularly and you’ll be well on your way to having the body you always wanted. As time passes, you’ll begin varying these moves and adding others to your repertoire. By exercising outside you’ll not only be saving money, you’ll also be adding a fresh-air cardiovascular aspect to your workout that you just can’t get while strength training at a gym.
It’s a win-win.

"Fitness for Free: How to Get Right Without the Gym"

FeelRich.com - February 2012



** This story was written in December 2011, just in time for the holiday season, but wasn’t published until February due to a stacked publication schedule. The version that follows is the original; the version that appears on the site was edited by FeelRich to remove the holiday references. **



For those of us concerned with our health and fitness, the holiday season can be rough.

Not only is there a bounty of delicious foods, candies and pastries waging war against our midsections, there’s also a never-ending stream of toys, trinkets, gizmos and gadgets on a mission to stick us for our paper, making it practically impossible to fit a gym membership into our budgets. With such devious forces at work against our physical and fiscal fitness, many of us feel forced to put our aspirations of getting right on hold until the New Year.

Well, we’ve got a message for you: That’s totally unnecessary. You can start getting right immediately and it won’t cost you a dime.

With parks and playgrounds all over just about every municipality in the country, a gym membership is truly a fitness luxury, not a necessity. You don’t need fancy equipment, air conditioning or walls to get yourself together. You can get a great full-body workout with a park bench, a jungle gym or bar to hang from, a lot of open space and your own bodyweight.

That’s right, kids, the word for today is calisthenics — or “bodyweight exercises” – and we’re gonna show you a few simple moves you can start doing today:


JUMP SQUATS

What you need: Enough space to jump up and down in.

Muscles/Areas worked: Quadriceps/Hamstrings (Front/Rear Thighs), Calves.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Squat down until thighs are about parallel with ground then jump straight into the air as high as you can. Land on soft knees (bend knees to absorb impact) and repeat.


PULL-UPS

What you need: A bar to hang from. Jungle gyms and tree limbs are perfect.

Muscles/Areas worked: Latissimus dorsi (back), biceps (front of arms).

How to do it: Hang from bar/limb with hands palms-out and slightly wider then shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up until your chin is at the same level as or higher than your hands. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position, then repeat.

*Pointer: Change your hand position to palms-in (facing you) and vary how far apart they are to hit different areas of the back. If this move is too difficult to perform alone, have a partner assist you by holding your feet.


KNEE RAISES

What you need: The same bar/limb you did the pull-ups on.

Muscles/Areas worked: Abdominals (stomach)

How to do it: Hang from bar/limb and bring your knees straight up to your chest. Slowly lower them to starting position, then repeat.

*Pointer: Vary this exercise and isolate your obliques (side abs) by raising knees up to the sides. Do the same number of reps on each side.


PUSH-UPS

What you need: The ground and a bench.

Muscles/Areas worked: Pecs (chest), deltoids (shoulders), biceps/triceps (arms)

How to do it: Everyone knows how to do a push-up, but it is important to make sure that you get the full range of motion by lowering yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle before pushing back up. Vary the width of your hands to hit different areas of the overall chest. You may also vary the exercise by placing either your feet (incline) or your hands (decline) on a bench to focus on the upper or lower chest, respectively.


Do these very basic exercises regularly and you’ll be well on your way to having the body you always wanted. As time passes, you’ll begin varying these moves and adding others to your repertoire. By exercising outside you’ll not only be saving money, you’ll also be adding a fresh-air cardiovascular aspect to your workout that you just can’t get while strength training at a gym.

It’s a win-win.



Review: Black Rob’s “Game Tested, Streets Approved”
SoulCulture (UK) - August 2011


Let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? When Black Rob was sent to prison after a grand larceny charge a few years ago, it seemed like his career was over. Even with a certified platinum debut and a criminally slept-on follow-up in his catalogue, we thought Rob had become just another tragic example of what happens when the transition from the streets to the fame isn’t a smooth one.
Fortunately, Black Rob seems determined to make his a story of redemption, not of tragedy and wasted talent, and has finally returned to our speakers with Game Tested, Streets Approved, his first release for new label home, Duck Down.
Like Life Story and The Black Rob Report before it, GTSA is an incredibly well-balanced piece of work, effectively and effortlessly shuttling between topics both hardcore (“Get Dough”) and heartfelt (“Showin’ Up”), thugged out (“Fuck ‘Em”) and carefree (“Celebration”). Even after his 10-plus years in the game and a stretch in the bing, Rob still sounds as fresh and hungry as he did when he was throwing bottles with Puff on No Way Out.
GTSA is sonically on par with Rob’s earlier work as well, proving that Banco Popular’s ear for beats is still just as on point as his spit game. Whether it’s a simple, stripped down, piano-driven banger like “This Is What It Is;” something dramatic and menacing like the Sean Price-assisted “No Fear;” or something cooler and more laid-back like “Shit,” the lion’s share of GTSA is very likely to induce some serious head nods.
But as strong as GTSA is, it also has its flaws. Corny shit like “Bumpin’” and the absolutely embarrassing “Sand to the Beach” are rare missteps from an artist who generally makes very good musical decisions. Between the super-simple hook, juvenile, video game-ready beat, and cliché subject matter, the latter song might be the worst I’ve ever heard from Black Rob. That shit is bad. Real bad.
Fortunately though, these total duds don’t totally ruin the GTSA experience. They’re just a couple speedbumps on an otherwise smooth and easy-to-ride album.
Welcome back, Rob.

Review: Black Rob’s “Game Tested, Streets Approved”

SoulCulture (UK) - August 2011



Let’s be honest for a moment, shall we? When Black Rob was sent to prison after a grand larceny charge a few years ago, it seemed like his career was over. Even with a certified platinum debut and a criminally slept-on follow-up in his catalogue, we thought Rob had become just another tragic example of what happens when the transition from the streets to the fame isn’t a smooth one.

Fortunately, Black Rob seems determined to make his a story of redemption, not of tragedy and wasted talent, and has finally returned to our speakers with Game Tested, Streets Approved, his first release for new label home, Duck Down.

Like Life Story and The Black Rob Report before it, GTSA is an incredibly well-balanced piece of work, effectively and effortlessly shuttling between topics both hardcore (“Get Dough”) and heartfelt (“Showin’ Up”), thugged out (“Fuck ‘Em”) and carefree (“Celebration”). Even after his 10-plus years in the game and a stretch in the bing, Rob still sounds as fresh and hungry as he did when he was throwing bottles with Puff on No Way Out.

GTSA is sonically on par with Rob’s earlier work as well, proving that Banco Popular’s ear for beats is still just as on point as his spit game. Whether it’s a simple, stripped down, piano-driven banger like “This Is What It Is;” something dramatic and menacing like the Sean Price-assisted “No Fear;” or something cooler and more laid-back like “Shit,” the lion’s share of GTSA is very likely to induce some serious head nods.

But as strong as GTSA is, it also has its flaws. Corny shit like “Bumpin’” and the absolutely embarrassing “Sand to the Beach” are rare missteps from an artist who generally makes very good musical decisions. Between the super-simple hook, juvenile, video game-ready beat, and cliché subject matter, the latter song might be the worst I’ve ever heard from Black Rob. That shit is bad. Real bad.

Fortunately though, these total duds don’t totally ruin the GTSA experience. They’re just a couple speedbumps on an otherwise smooth and easy-to-ride album.

Welcome back, Rob.

Review: Don Trip & Starlito’s “Stepbrothers”
SoulCulture (UK) - August 2011


When video of a frustrated, unknown father recording a deep and highly emotional track titled “Letter to My Son” hit YouTube about two years ago, it quickly went viral and had many in the Hip-Hop community clamoring to know more about the MC with the passionate bars soaked in a syrup-thick southern drawl. 
Today, about 1.4 million views later, Memphis, Tenn., native Don Trip has the respect of many of the game’s top artists and producers; is signed to Miami-based super producers Cool & Dre’s Interscope-distributed Epidemic Records imprint; and is busy putting together his debut album, tentatively titled Help is on the Way.
In anticipation of his forthcoming debut, Trip linked up with fellow Tennessean Starlito – his brother from another mother – for the Stepbrothers project, a mixtape inspired by the Judd Apatow film of the same name. 
Just like the movie’s principal characters Dale and Brennan, Trip and Lito came to fuck shit up – but only figuratively, not in the typical, drunken, the-party’s-over-‘cause-we-just-made-fools-tear-the-club-up manner you may have come to expect from artists hailing from the home state of Three Six Mafia. Stepbrothers is (refreshingly?) devoid of any clear-cut riot inciters but is heavy on catchy tough talk, vivid trap tales and humorous wrestling metaphors (such as Starlito’s “I’m Brian Pillman high” proclamation), all spread over original production and sequenced around some of the film’s funnier soundbites. It’s basically a couple good friends who got together to unabashedly have fun doing and talking about things they enjoy – almost like a sonic incarnation of Dale and Brennan’s “karate in the garage” episode. 
Trip and Lito’s almost-brotherly chemistry and traditionally Tennessean beat selection (mid- to uptempo, bass and hi-hat heavy) make Stepbrothers a generally entertaining effort, but Trip is certainly the primary draw and his MC superiority is apparent throughout. 
With a technical prowess comparable to that of Eightball but with more introspective and narrative ability, Don Trip could prove to be the nicest rapper that Memphis, Tenn., has ever produced. His microphone presence is arresting, grabbing listeners’ attention with an energy and honesty rarely seen in in today’s Hip-Hop. While even his superficial rhymes are pretty official, Trip’s skills shine brightest (and totally dwarf co-star Starlito) on tracks like “Life” and “I Hate You 2” from Stepbrothers that allow him to really tap into his trove of emotional experiences and really pour his heart out. The depth and poignancy of many of the tales Trip weaves evoke visions of the legendary Scarface who, like Trip, often uses the vocal booth as his own personal confession room.
Of course, Trip has quite a ways to go before he can be fully and fairly compared to the one and only Brad Jordan, but this particular juxtaposition is not jumping the gun in the least bit. Don Trip has the potential to be the next big artist to come out of the South — not a One-Hit Wonder with some corny dance record, but a complete artist with swagger, sensibility and substance.
So while Stepbrothers as a whole isn’t breaking any new ground in the mixtape game, it most definitely served its purpose of whetting the collective appetite of those hungry for more from this Don Trip character.

Review: Don Trip & Starlito’s “Stepbrothers”

SoulCulture (UK) - August 2011



When video of a frustrated, unknown father recording a deep and highly emotional track titled “Letter to My Son” hit YouTube about two years ago, it quickly went viral and had many in the Hip-Hop community clamoring to know more about the MC with the passionate bars soaked in a syrup-thick southern drawl.

Today, about 1.4 million views later, Memphis, Tenn., native Don Trip has the respect of many of the game’s top artists and producers; is signed to Miami-based super producers Cool & Dre’s Interscope-distributed Epidemic Records imprint; and is busy putting together his debut album, tentatively titled Help is on the Way.

In anticipation of his forthcoming debut, Trip linked up with fellow Tennessean Starlito – his brother from another mother – for the Stepbrothers project, a mixtape inspired by the Judd Apatow film of the same name.

Just like the movie’s principal characters Dale and Brennan, Trip and Lito came to fuck shit up – but only figuratively, not in the typical, drunken, the-party’s-over-‘cause-we-just-made-fools-tear-the-club-up manner you may have come to expect from artists hailing from the home state of Three Six Mafia. Stepbrothers is (refreshingly?) devoid of any clear-cut riot inciters but is heavy on catchy tough talk, vivid trap tales and humorous wrestling metaphors (such as Starlito’s “I’m Brian Pillman high” proclamation), all spread over original production and sequenced around some of the film’s funnier soundbites. It’s basically a couple good friends who got together to unabashedly have fun doing and talking about things they enjoy – almost like a sonic incarnation of Dale and Brennan’s “karate in the garage” episode.

Trip and Lito’s almost-brotherly chemistry and traditionally Tennessean beat selection (mid- to uptempo, bass and hi-hat heavy) make Stepbrothers a generally entertaining effort, but Trip is certainly the primary draw and his MC superiority is apparent throughout.

With a technical prowess comparable to that of Eightball but with more introspective and narrative ability, Don Trip could prove to be the nicest rapper that Memphis, Tenn., has ever produced. His microphone presence is arresting, grabbing listeners’ attention with an energy and honesty rarely seen in in today’s Hip-Hop. While even his superficial rhymes are pretty official, Trip’s skills shine brightest (and totally dwarf co-star Starlito) on tracks like “Life” and “I Hate You 2” from Stepbrothers that allow him to really tap into his trove of emotional experiences and really pour his heart out. The depth and poignancy of many of the tales Trip weaves evoke visions of the legendary Scarface who, like Trip, often uses the vocal booth as his own personal confession room.

Of course, Trip has quite a ways to go before he can be fully and fairly compared to the one and only Brad Jordan, but this particular juxtaposition is not jumping the gun in the least bit. Don Trip has the potential to be the next big artist to come out of the South — not a One-Hit Wonder with some corny dance record, but a complete artist with swagger, sensibility and substance.

So while Stepbrothers as a whole isn’t breaking any new ground in the mixtape game, it most definitely served its purpose of whetting the collective appetite of those hungry for more from this Don Trip character.

Review: Gorilla Zoe’s “King Kong”
SoulCulture (UK) - July 2011


When analyzing the artistic progression of Atlanta MC and Bad Boy South rep Gorilla Zoe, a quick recap of his album covers is very telling. 
On 2007’s Welcome to the Zoo, the Miles Davis-inspired cover featured a very simple, black-and-white extreme close-up of Zoe’s menacing ice-grill. It seemed totally natural for Zoe; like a picture he might have taken even if it weren’t for an album. Similarly, the music on Zoo, while far from groundbreaking, seemed very organic, with Zoe flowing about things like how nice his car is, life in the trap, money, bitches – you know, the usual. The album’s lead single, “Hood Nigga,” is, to this day, the perfect Gorilla Zoe song: a bare-bones track that banged but still allowed Zoe to put his most valuable asset – his deep, gravelly voice – on full display. Zoe stayed in his lane and drove his debut straight to gold certification.
His second album cover featured a flossy and very posed Zoe sitting at a desk with a glass of what is assumed to be cognac and smoking a cigar, with several stacks of money, an open briefcase and a money counter in front of him – all in an obviously computer-generated office environment. For an album titled Don’t Feed the Animals – which is usually a warning that, if ignored, might get you fucked up – this cover seemed kinda… tame. Maybe this was the “Bad Boy” beginning to emerge from the hardnosed Southerner. Beat-wise, the music didn’t stray too far from that on Zoo (hard, club-friendly, trunk-worthy) but the use of the autotune effect definitely took the grit and grime we’d become accustomed to out of Zoe’s timbre, making his already mediocre rhymes even harder to listen to. It’s almost like he put a shiny suit on his vocal chords.
Obviously, we’re headed in the wrong direction here. Which brings us to his latest release…
Released on June 14 of this year, the King Kong cover looks like the guy from the Zoo cover doing his best Flo-Rida impression – and much of the music does nothing to prove that notion wrong. 
The album starts off strong enough, as the Drumma Boy-produced title track snatches you by the collar with an electrifying hi-hat and snare while Zoe gets in your ear to remind you just how beastly he still is. Great punch-in. Unfortunately he follows that solid opener with a series of similarly-tempoed records echoing the all too familiar “money, cash, hoes” ethos of Zoe’s previous two albums. Honestly, things get boring very quickly as he experiments with ill-fitting melodies (“At All”), stumbles through a corny and clumsy attempt at rapid-fire (“My Shawty”) and uses WAY too much autotune and other voice modifications. Maybe he doesn’t realize how dope his natural voice is.
What’s most surprising (and maddening) about King Kong is the totally unexpected and uncalled for techno turn the album takes around track 10. This song (“Twisted” ft. Lil’ Jon) is the harbinger of what is surely the most unusual deviation I’ve ever seen a hood nigga take. “Twisted” and the three songs that follow it (“Turn Me On,” “Main Thing,” and “It’s Over”) are so far from what Zoe is good at that listening to them might make you angry (unless you’re into electronic music, in which case you’ll be absolutely giddy). Zoe’s no stranger to party records, but they’re usually made for dark, goon-filled clubs full of weed smoke, not weird-ass raves full of ecstasy and twirling glowsticks. The latter is more Flo-Rida’s terrain.
It seems that Zoe has abandoned growling and beating on his chest in favor of hopping around and pulling lame stunts. Quite frankly, a Gorilla shouldn’t be doin’ such monkey shit.
So if Zoe’s covers really say a lot about the album behind it, hopefully he puts his unhappy face back on for the next one and leaves the flashing lights and stunna shades to the other guys.

Review: Gorilla Zoe’s “King Kong”

SoulCulture (UK) - July 2011



When analyzing the artistic progression of Atlanta MC and Bad Boy South rep Gorilla Zoe, a quick recap of his album covers is very telling.

On 2007’s Welcome to the Zoo, the Miles Davis-inspired cover featured a very simple, black-and-white extreme close-up of Zoe’s menacing ice-grill. It seemed totally natural for Zoe; like a picture he might have taken even if it weren’t for an album. Similarly, the music on Zoo, while far from groundbreaking, seemed very organic, with Zoe flowing about things like how nice his car is, life in the trap, money, bitches – you know, the usual. The album’s lead single, “Hood Nigga,” is, to this day, the perfect Gorilla Zoe song: a bare-bones track that banged but still allowed Zoe to put his most valuable asset – his deep, gravelly voice – on full display. Zoe stayed in his lane and drove his debut straight to gold certification.

His second album cover featured a flossy and very posed Zoe sitting at a desk with a glass of what is assumed to be cognac and smoking a cigar, with several stacks of money, an open briefcase and a money counter in front of him – all in an obviously computer-generated office environment. For an album titled Don’t Feed the Animals – which is usually a warning that, if ignored, might get you fucked up – this cover seemed kinda… tame. Maybe this was the “Bad Boy” beginning to emerge from the hardnosed Southerner. Beat-wise, the music didn’t stray too far from that on Zoo (hard, club-friendly, trunk-worthy) but the use of the autotune effect definitely took the grit and grime we’d become accustomed to out of Zoe’s timbre, making his already mediocre rhymes even harder to listen to. It’s almost like he put a shiny suit on his vocal chords.

Obviously, we’re headed in the wrong direction here. Which brings us to his latest release…

Released on June 14 of this year, the King Kong cover looks like the guy from the Zoo cover doing his best Flo-Rida impression – and much of the music does nothing to prove that notion wrong.

The album starts off strong enough, as the Drumma Boy-produced title track snatches you by the collar with an electrifying hi-hat and snare while Zoe gets in your ear to remind you just how beastly he still is. Great punch-in. Unfortunately he follows that solid opener with a series of similarly-tempoed records echoing the all too familiar “money, cash, hoes” ethos of Zoe’s previous two albums. Honestly, things get boring very quickly as he experiments with ill-fitting melodies (“At All”), stumbles through a corny and clumsy attempt at rapid-fire (“My Shawty”) and uses WAY too much autotune and other voice modifications. Maybe he doesn’t realize how dope his natural voice is.

What’s most surprising (and maddening) about King Kong is the totally unexpected and uncalled for techno turn the album takes around track 10. This song (“Twisted” ft. Lil’ Jon) is the harbinger of what is surely the most unusual deviation I’ve ever seen a hood nigga take. “Twisted” and the three songs that follow it (“Turn Me On,” “Main Thing,” and “It’s Over”) are so far from what Zoe is good at that listening to them might make you angry (unless you’re into electronic music, in which case you’ll be absolutely giddy). Zoe’s no stranger to party records, but they’re usually made for dark, goon-filled clubs full of weed smoke, not weird-ass raves full of ecstasy and twirling glowsticks. The latter is more Flo-Rida’s terrain.

It seems that Zoe has abandoned growling and beating on his chest in favor of hopping around and pulling lame stunts. Quite frankly, a Gorilla shouldn’t be doin’ such monkey shit.

So if Zoe’s covers really say a lot about the album behind it, hopefully he puts his unhappy face back on for the next one and leaves the flashing lights and stunna shades to the other guys.

Irene the Dream: “From Tragedy to Triumph”
Street Report Magazine - February/March 2011

 
“I feel like it’s a curse – and I’m the one that’s breaking it.” – Irene the Dream
If you were just looking at Irene “The Dream” Chambless or rocking to one of her songs, you’d probably think she’s had it easy her whole life.
To the contrary, the warm, Colgate smile that often decorates her lovely face and the damn-I’m-really-feelin’-myself vibe of her music belie the ugly truth of the earliest part of her history. That she’s even able to smile after some of her experiences is simply a testament to her strength, as many of us would probably have given up years ago and certainly would not be smiling. Fact is, Irene the Dream has been through more turmoil in her 25 years than many people will ever go through, and the reason she’s so damn confident is because she is truly a survivor.
The “curse” she speaks of is the consistent pattern of dangerous relationships, both familial and romantic, that has been the bane of her family’s existence for generations.
“Something in my family is just not right,” she says. “I can’t really explain it.”
Irene’s pain began in her native city of Pensacola, Fla., in her own home, before she even hit puberty. She loved music growing up, singing in her church choir since the age of 5, but also endured years of daily mental, physical and emotional abuse from the ones she loved and trusted the most. Finally, something went off in her head that told her she couldn’t take it anymore.
“I just got tired one day,” she remembers, recounting the feelings she had before deciding at age 13 to run away from home. The police eventually found young Irene and took her home to her mother, but Irene wanted no parts of that household anymore. She was given her mother’s permission to move in with her father, with whom she moved to Atlanta soon after.
Irene expected things to get better in Atlanta. Instead, they got worse.
It was in Atlanta that her father – the man she ran to for solace when home got too rough – began to physically abuse her. She ended up leaving his home and starting a relationship with an older man whom she trusted wholeheartedly, but who ultimately betrayed her and gave her the worst physical, sexual and emotional abuse she’d ever experienced.
“The worst beating left me with two black eyes, my lips swollen, my hair snatched out – I literally had a bald spot – and he beat me with a hickory stick,” Irene recalls, fighting back tears. “Then he wouldn’t even take me to the hospital.”
She dealt with this man’s abuse for years before finally getting away from him. When she did, she was only 17 – practically a baby, already going through things grown women shudder at the thought of.
After a stint in the foster care system saw her shuttled to five or six different homes, Irene finally landed in an apartment of her own. Knowing that working two part-time jobs to pay the rent was stressing her out, a friend of a friend introduced Irene to the Atlanta strip club scene. Needing the money, Irene decided to try it – and did very well.
“Ain’t nobody make the kind of money I made dancing,” she proudly recalls. She made more money dancing at Strokers than she ever had, but the lessons she learned while there are what she values most. “Being in a strip club kinda opens your mind because you hear so much. If you were green startin’ off, you won’t be green as time rolls by. It really sharpens the mind ‘cause there’s just a lot goin’ on.”
Her experience at Strokers is also what inspired Irene to focus once again on her childhood love of music, as the litany of celebrities and other industry bigwigs who frequented the club gave her constant encouragement.
“They were tryin’ to get it!” she laughs, thinking about the attempts made at signing her as an artist while she was still working as a dancer. “They really respected my talent and got to know me on another level, not just as a dancer.”
People like T.I., Bobby Creekwater, Rico Love and others have all been impressed by Irene’s singing voice, rhyme skills and overall presence, even when they thought they wouldn’t be. “I expected not to like it,” Love admits about Irene’s music, “but I did.”
After all she’s been through, two things that have never wavered in Irene are her resolve and her love for making music. After a six-year run at Strokers and the birth of her son, she decided to move on to the next phase of her life and pursue not only her musical dreams but also her dreams of being an inspiration to others who’ve been through hard times.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, and that’s to help somebody else,” she says. “I went through a lot of things, so I just wanna use my experiences for a good cause.
“There’s a lotta people that go through stuff but they’re scared to talk about it or ashamed to talk about it,” she continues. “But it’s got to be talked about! People need to really be free.”
There’s an old quote that goes, “experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.” Irene the Dream has taken a lifetime worth of tragedy and molded it into a life outlook that guarantees triumph.
Destined to simultaneously enlighten and entertain, Irene the Dream has arrived.

Irene the Dream: “From Tragedy to Triumph”

Street Report Magazine - February/March 2011


“I feel like it’s a curse – and I’m the one that’s breaking it.” – Irene the Dream

If you were just looking at Irene “The Dream” Chambless or rocking to one of her songs, you’d probably think she’s had it easy her whole life.

To the contrary, the warm, Colgate smile that often decorates her lovely face and the damn-I’m-really-feelin’-myself vibe of her music belie the ugly truth of the earliest part of her history. That she’s even able to smile after some of her experiences is simply a testament to her strength, as many of us would probably have given up years ago and certainly would not be smiling. Fact is, Irene the Dream has been through more turmoil in her 25 years than many people will ever go through, and the reason she’s so damn confident is because she is truly a survivor.

The “curse” she speaks of is the consistent pattern of dangerous relationships, both familial and romantic, that has been the bane of her family’s existence for generations.

“Something in my family is just not right,” she says. “I can’t really explain it.”

Irene’s pain began in her native city of Pensacola, Fla., in her own home, before she even hit puberty. She loved music growing up, singing in her church choir since the age of 5, but also endured years of daily mental, physical and emotional abuse from the ones she loved and trusted the most. Finally, something went off in her head that told her she couldn’t take it anymore.

“I just got tired one day,” she remembers, recounting the feelings she had before deciding at age 13 to run away from home. The police eventually found young Irene and took her home to her mother, but Irene wanted no parts of that household anymore. She was given her mother’s permission to move in with her father, with whom she moved to Atlanta soon after.

Irene expected things to get better in Atlanta. Instead, they got worse.

It was in Atlanta that her father – the man she ran to for solace when home got too rough – began to physically abuse her. She ended up leaving his home and starting a relationship with an older man whom she trusted wholeheartedly, but who ultimately betrayed her and gave her the worst physical, sexual and emotional abuse she’d ever experienced.

“The worst beating left me with two black eyes, my lips swollen, my hair snatched out – I literally had a bald spot – and he beat me with a hickory stick,” Irene recalls, fighting back tears. “Then he wouldn’t even take me to the hospital.”

She dealt with this man’s abuse for years before finally getting away from him. When she did, she was only 17 – practically a baby, already going through things grown women shudder at the thought of.

After a stint in the foster care system saw her shuttled to five or six different homes, Irene finally landed in an apartment of her own. Knowing that working two part-time jobs to pay the rent was stressing her out, a friend of a friend introduced Irene to the Atlanta strip club scene. Needing the money, Irene decided to try it – and did very well.

“Ain’t nobody make the kind of money I made dancing,” she proudly recalls. She made more money dancing at Strokers than she ever had, but the lessons she learned while there are what she values most. “Being in a strip club kinda opens your mind because you hear so much. If you were green startin’ off, you won’t be green as time rolls by. It really sharpens the mind ‘cause there’s just a lot goin’ on.”

Her experience at Strokers is also what inspired Irene to focus once again on her childhood love of music, as the litany of celebrities and other industry bigwigs who frequented the club gave her constant encouragement.

“They were tryin’ to get it!” she laughs, thinking about the attempts made at signing her as an artist while she was still working as a dancer. “They really respected my talent and got to know me on another level, not just as a dancer.”

People like T.I., Bobby Creekwater, Rico Love and others have all been impressed by Irene’s singing voice, rhyme skills and overall presence, even when they thought they wouldn’t be. “I expected not to like it,” Love admits about Irene’s music, “but I did.”

After all she’s been through, two things that have never wavered in Irene are her resolve and her love for making music. After a six-year run at Strokers and the birth of her son, she decided to move on to the next phase of her life and pursue not only her musical dreams but also her dreams of being an inspiration to others who’ve been through hard times.

“I believe everything happens for a reason, and that’s to help somebody else,” she says. “I went through a lot of things, so I just wanna use my experiences for a good cause.

“There’s a lotta people that go through stuff but they’re scared to talk about it or ashamed to talk about it,” she continues. “But it’s got to be talked about! People need to really be free.”

There’s an old quote that goes, “experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.” Irene the Dream has taken a lifetime worth of tragedy and molded it into a life outlook that guarantees triumph.

Destined to simultaneously enlighten and entertain, Irene the Dream has arrived.

Young Chris: “Can’t Stop”
Blues & Soul (UK) - January 2011

 

Christopher “Young Chris” Ries isn’t big on excuses, nor does he find any pleasure in playing the blame game. So it should come as no surprise that, after the breakdown of Roc-A-Fella Records, his voice was not among the chorus of disgruntled ex-Roc stars with negative things to say about the breakup that shook up the Rap world.
But Chris’ decision to take the high road when discussing the split doesn’t mean he wasn’t affected by it. In fact, the very opposite is true. “Oh, it was real tough in the beginning. At times it was hard to stay motivated,” he recalls while navigating through New York City traffic – with his best friend and Young Gunz groupmate Hanif “Young Neef” Muhammad riding shotgun – on his way to Madison Square Garden to watch his beloved Villanova Wildcats face the UCLA Bruins in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT. But rather than mope about and feel sorry for himself and his situation, Chris decided to go in another, more proactive direction and work on pulling whatever positives he could from this negative situation – a very mature move for a man at the still somewhat tender age of 21 at the time. “I’m a fan of taking responsibility, that’s why I never pointed the finger. I just appreciate the opportunity that they gave me. I took it and ran with it.”

B&S: What did you do immediately after the Roc-A-Fella split?Young Chris: I was getting work done. I spent a lotta time in Cleveland and worked on mixtapes, spent time back home in Philly with Chad West my in-house producer, I was workin’ with TrackMasters – I was just all over. As long as it was positive, I was with it.
But how’d you keep your name alive considering the fact that people really only knew you from Roc-A-Fella at that point?My marketing team (Third Eye) came on-board in ‘07 or ‘08 and that’s when I really started jackin’ the internet and really building my brand and running campaigns like ’30 Days, 30 Verses’. You know, things like that that held me over and kept me relevant.
You mentioned that it was sometimes hard to stay motivated. How’d you overcome that?The fans play a major part, man. Little do they know. When I started to see people embrace me and my brand, it motivated me. Seeing people embrace you is motivation. The good friends and positivity I kept around me was motivation as well.

Before shit got so ugly among the leadership of Roc-A-Fella Records, it was really starting to look good for Young Chris. The Young Gunz’ first album, Tough Luv, debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, led by their radio-smashing single “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” – which is probably the label’s most successful record not made by people named Kanye or Jay-Z. As a member of the Beanie Sigel-led State Property collective, Chris had yet another means by which to be heard and seen, as the crew’s album was given high priority, they were featured heavily on Jay-Z’s Dynasty: Roc La Familia project, and were featured in a titular, feature-length film (produced by Roc-A-Fella, of course) to ensure they were extremely visible. What’s more, of the seven MCs who comprised State Property, Chris was arguably one of the standouts thanks to his laid back, street smart, so-confident-it-just-might-be-cocky and obviously Jay-Z-inspired rhyme style. With his boy Neef right by his side as he had been since they were in middle school, the future looked extremely bright for Young Chris.

So how’d you and Neef even get down with the Roc? You guys were super young, right?Yeah, man. We were only 14! We went to Roc-A-Fella for high school. (Laughs) Nah, but shout out to Stevie! He managed a lot of people that were hot in Philly at the time. Somehow we got with him and he started shopping us around to major labels like Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella – it was like a bidding war. So we were just all over. He took us on our first flight to L.A. We were so young and just excited to go perform for these guys like Chris Lighty at Violator – we were just teenagers!
But we were so young that it was hard for people to believe that we were writing our own rhymes. So Jay and them pulled us to the side one day and was like, ‘Yo, come back up in a week with five songs.’ We came back in five days with five records and performed ‘em on the spot. See, today they go in there and just play the record; we went in there with the songs memorized and performed ‘em! They was blown by that. In due time, we made the deal happen.
Nice. How were you able to avoid the run-ins with the law that had befallen so many of your State Property peers from Sigel on down?I just stayed out the way as much as possible. More studio, less streets. You really got me lookin’ for some wood to knock on right now, man. (Laughs) I never been to the district and I wanna keep it like that, you know what I’m sayin’? I’m blessed right now, man.
Are you still cool with the other State Property members?Yeah, man. I still speak to everybody. I was with Beans last night for a few hours. Me and Neef went over there and kicked it with him. Spoke to Freeway last night. Spoke to Sparks the other day. Me, Peedi [Crakk] and Freeway did a lil’ cipher thing this past weekend – we brothers, man.

Now that Roc-A-Fella is no more, Chris is ready to truly make a name for himself on the solo tip, outside of the crew. His years of tireless grinding on the mixtape circuit and calculated efforts to keep his brand value high recently paid off when he was offered a deal to be the flagship artist of the newly-minted, Universal-distributed Division 1 imprint, helmed by Grammy-winning songwriter and Usher protégé, Rico Love. “Line for line he’s just one of the nicest MCs I’ve heard. His voice, his personality is just so nonchalant,” Love says, explaining why he handpicked Chris to lead his new venture. “The first time I met Jay-Z I told him how much of a Young Chris fan I was. He’s just got this wisdom about him when he rhymes. He’s, like, ahead of his time.”
Taking his Young Chris endorsement a step further, Love even offered a sales prediction for the first Young Chris album. When asked what he expected from Chris’ as-yet untitled debut LP, Love stated very flatly and without a hint of jest or trepidation, “We’re gonna sell a million albums.” High expectations, indeed.

Your new CEO says that you’re gonna sell a million albums. Considering the current state of the music business, that’s a pretty bold statement. Do you think it’s realistic?Yeah, man. I’m pretty confident. Set the bar high for me. You know how people limit themselves and say ‘I don’t care about sales’ – well, they lyin’, man. Who wouldn’t wanna sell a million? Set the expectations high. Pressure might bust pipes over there, but it creates diamonds over here.
You and Rico seem to have this very natural rapport. How’d you two meet?I had seen him in ‘08 in [production duo] Dre & Vidal’s studio. I was workin’ in their studio at the time, spending a lotta time there, and they’d have Rico there sometimes writing records for whoever they were producing for at the time. So we’d just run into each other randomly. We’d end up playing ball together at the basketball court or whatever, and every time we talked it would be good.
I did a [series of] mixtapes called ‘The Network’ – [DJ Don] Cannon hosted ‘em – and for Part 2 I shot a few viral videos. One was ‘Moon and Stars’ produced by Sean C and LV. [When Rico saw ‘Moon and Stars’ on WorldStar] he reached out, man, and was like ‘Yo, I almost forgot how nice you are – what’s your situation?’ I was like, ‘I’m a free agent.’ I had a few deals on the table at the time but [Rico] was real confident in what he had goin’ on. He was like ‘Yo I just wanna talk,’ so he came out to Philly the next day. The day after that we were at Universal talking with Sylvia Rhone. A few days after that I was down in Miami recording “Philly Shit” and “Break a Bitch Down.” So the chemistry just kicked off right away, man. We bonded real good and, as you can see, we work real good. We’re showin’ and provin’ right now.
Rico made his name writing R&B records but wants to put you, an MC, out as his first act. Despite your chemistry, were you at all hesitant to mess with Rico considering his heavy R&B background?Nah. Absolutely not. I felt like it would be a great marriage because of that, you know what I’m sayin’? ‘Cause he’s got something different to bring to the table. Creatively, I think that we’re both versatile and we both got a lot to bring.
You mentioned the sorta whirlwind courtship you had with Division 1 and that you were at work in the studio in a matter of days. How long did it take to complete The Reintroduction mixtape?Not long at all. Those are just the records we first kept when I got to Miami. We just got real cocky wit it like, ‘Yo, we just gon’ put these out.’ All the big dogs drop in the 4th quarter, so we wanted to drop and just show up, man.
You definitely showed up. The mixtape is impressive. Considering that you’re working on your album with a new team now, has your creative process changed at all?I challenge myself on a lot of these records I work with Rico on. I’ve never really opened up and let nobody have control over the creative side of my music, but Rico is real creative and I feel secure with him working on the project with me.
Still plan on calling it Now or Never?Nah, actually I’ma change that. I feel like I dragged that title so long. I’ma just deliver that to the people, to the loyal fans that rolled with me and stuck with me over the years. It’s gonna be a free tape, probably delivered after the album. When I come up with the new title, y’all will be the first to know. (Laughs)
Did you ever consider heading over to (Jay-Z’s) Roc Nation or (Damon Dash’s) DD172?I speak to them on the regular. That’s my extended family. Always will be. I believe in keepin’ relationships tight.
But you don’t see yourself doing business with either of them in the future?Maybe…

Just “maybe.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a reunion with either of his ex-bosses, but not an outright objection to it, either. Chris seems to be one of those “cross that bridge when we get there”-type of guys: He doesn’t try to prepare for every scenario imaginable, he just kinda rolls with the punches and plays the cards he’s dealt as best he can – and always looks to put a positive spin on the situation. That’s an admirable quality.
He’s also not the type to hold grudges. “I still throw it up,” he admits. “At my shows, I still throw that diamond up. I’m Division 1’s first off the label, but Roc-A-Fella is always my family. That was the ‘96 Chicago Bulls – c’mon, man. That’s history that can’t be erased. Our biggest record says ‘can’t stop, won’t stop, Roc-A-Fella Records’ and I still perform that to this day. They sing it word for word. I’m blessed to have a record like that.”
If we can learn anything from the Young Chris story, it’s that situations are often only as bad we make them. Even the biggest car wreck can leave some salvageable parts, so it’s up to us to take what’s left and make something of it. That’s what Chris has done. Sifted through the rubble leftover after the Roc crumbled, picked up the pieces he could still use and built himself a new opportunity.
But even with this new opportunity, Young Chris still goes into the studio with the same mindset he had when his journey in the music business began almost half a lifetime ago: “I’m not here to make music forever. I’m here to make forever music.”

Young Chris: “Can’t Stop”

Blues & Soul (UK) - January 2011


 

Christopher “Young Chris” Ries isn’t big on excuses, nor does he find any pleasure in playing the blame game. So it should come as no surprise that, after the breakdown of Roc-A-Fella Records, his voice was not among the chorus of disgruntled ex-Roc stars with negative things to say about the breakup that shook up the Rap world.

But Chris’ decision to take the high road when discussing the split doesn’t mean he wasn’t affected by it. In fact, the very opposite is true. “Oh, it was real tough in the beginning. At times it was hard to stay motivated,” he recalls while navigating through New York City traffic – with his best friend and Young Gunz groupmate Hanif “Young Neef” Muhammad riding shotgun – on his way to Madison Square Garden to watch his beloved Villanova Wildcats face the UCLA Bruins in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT. But rather than mope about and feel sorry for himself and his situation, Chris decided to go in another, more proactive direction and work on pulling whatever positives he could from this negative situation – a very mature move for a man at the still somewhat tender age of 21 at the time. “I’m a fan of taking responsibility, that’s why I never pointed the finger. I just appreciate the opportunity that they gave me. I took it and ran with it.”

B&S: What did you do immediately after the Roc-A-Fella split?
Young Chris: I was getting work done. I spent a lotta time in Cleveland and worked on mixtapes, spent time back home in Philly with Chad West my in-house producer, I was workin’ with TrackMasters – I was just all over. As long as it was positive, I was with it.

But how’d you keep your name alive considering the fact that people really only knew you from Roc-A-Fella at that point?
My marketing team (Third Eye) came on-board in ‘07 or ‘08 and that’s when I really started jackin’ the internet and really building my brand and running campaigns like ’30 Days, 30 Verses’. You know, things like that that held me over and kept me relevant.

You mentioned that it was sometimes hard to stay motivated. How’d you overcome that?
The fans play a major part, man. Little do they know. When I started to see people embrace me and my brand, it motivated me. Seeing people embrace you is motivation. The good friends and positivity I kept around me was motivation as well.

Before shit got so ugly among the leadership of Roc-A-Fella Records, it was really starting to look good for Young Chris. The Young Gunz’ first album, Tough Luv, debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, led by their radio-smashing single “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” – which is probably the label’s most successful record not made by people named Kanye or Jay-Z. As a member of the Beanie Sigel-led State Property collective, Chris had yet another means by which to be heard and seen, as the crew’s album was given high priority, they were featured heavily on Jay-Z’s Dynasty: Roc La Familia project, and were featured in a titular, feature-length film (produced by Roc-A-Fella, of course) to ensure they were extremely visible. What’s more, of the seven MCs who comprised State Property, Chris was arguably one of the standouts thanks to his laid back, street smart, so-confident-it-just-might-be-cocky and obviously Jay-Z-inspired rhyme style. With his boy Neef right by his side as he had been since they were in middle school, the future looked extremely bright for Young Chris.

So how’d you and Neef even get down with the Roc? You guys were super young, right?
Yeah, man. We were only 14! We went to Roc-A-Fella for high school. (Laughs) Nah, but shout out to Stevie! He managed a lot of people that were hot in Philly at the time. Somehow we got with him and he started shopping us around to major labels like Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella – it was like a bidding war. So we were just all over. He took us on our first flight to L.A. We were so young and just excited to go perform for these guys like Chris Lighty at Violator – we were just teenagers!

But we were so young that it was hard for people to believe that we were writing our own rhymes. So Jay and them pulled us to the side one day and was like, ‘Yo, come back up in a week with five songs.’ We came back in five days with five records and performed ‘em on the spot. See, today they go in there and just play the record; we went in there with the songs memorized and performed ‘em! They was blown by that. In due time, we made the deal happen.

Nice. How were you able to avoid the run-ins with the law that had befallen so many of your State Property peers from Sigel on down?
I just stayed out the way as much as possible. More studio, less streets. You really got me lookin’ for some wood to knock on right now, man. (Laughs) I never been to the district and I wanna keep it like that, you know what I’m sayin’? I’m blessed right now, man.

Are you still cool with the other State Property members?
Yeah, man. I still speak to everybody. I was with Beans last night for a few hours. Me and Neef went over there and kicked it with him. Spoke to Freeway last night. Spoke to Sparks the other day. Me, Peedi [Crakk] and Freeway did a lil’ cipher thing this past weekend – we brothers, man.

Now that Roc-A-Fella is no more, Chris is ready to truly make a name for himself on the solo tip, outside of the crew. His years of tireless grinding on the mixtape circuit and calculated efforts to keep his brand value high recently paid off when he was offered a deal to be the flagship artist of the newly-minted, Universal-distributed Division 1 imprint, helmed by Grammy-winning songwriter and Usher protégé, Rico Love. “Line for line he’s just one of the nicest MCs I’ve heard. His voice, his personality is just so nonchalant,” Love says, explaining why he handpicked Chris to lead his new venture. “The first time I met Jay-Z I told him how much of a Young Chris fan I was. He’s just got this wisdom about him when he rhymes. He’s, like, ahead of his time.”

Taking his Young Chris endorsement a step further, Love even offered a sales prediction for the first Young Chris album. When asked what he expected from Chris’ as-yet untitled debut LP, Love stated very flatly and without a hint of jest or trepidation, “We’re gonna sell a million albums.” High expectations, indeed.

Your new CEO says that you’re gonna sell a million albums. Considering the current state of the music business, that’s a pretty bold statement. Do you think it’s realistic?
Yeah, man. I’m pretty confident. Set the bar high for me. You know how people limit themselves and say ‘I don’t care about sales’ – well, they lyin’, man. Who wouldn’t wanna sell a million? Set the expectations high. Pressure might bust pipes over there, but it creates diamonds over here.

You and Rico seem to have this very natural rapport. How’d you two meet?
I had seen him in ‘08 in [production duo] Dre & Vidal’s studio. I was workin’ in their studio at the time, spending a lotta time there, and they’d have Rico there sometimes writing records for whoever they were producing for at the time. So we’d just run into each other randomly. We’d end up playing ball together at the basketball court or whatever, and every time we talked it would be good.

I did a [series of] mixtapes called ‘The Network’ – [DJ Don] Cannon hosted ‘em – and for Part 2 I shot a few viral videos. One was ‘Moon and Stars’ produced by Sean C and LV. [When Rico saw ‘Moon and Stars’ on WorldStar] he reached out, man, and was like ‘Yo, I almost forgot how nice you are – what’s your situation?’ I was like, ‘I’m a free agent.’ I had a few deals on the table at the time but [Rico] was real confident in what he had goin’ on. He was like ‘Yo I just wanna talk,’ so he came out to Philly the next day. The day after that we were at Universal talking with Sylvia Rhone. A few days after that I was down in Miami recording “Philly Shit” and “Break a Bitch Down.” So the chemistry just kicked off right away, man. We bonded real good and, as you can see, we work real good. We’re showin’ and provin’ right now.

Rico made his name writing R&B records but wants to put you, an MC, out as his first act. Despite your chemistry, were you at all hesitant to mess with Rico considering his heavy R&B background?
Nah. Absolutely not. I felt like it would be a great marriage because of that, you know what I’m sayin’? ‘Cause he’s got something different to bring to the table. Creatively, I think that we’re both versatile and we both got a lot to bring.

You mentioned the sorta whirlwind courtship you had with Division 1 and that you were at work in the studio in a matter of days. How long did it take to complete The Reintroduction mixtape?
Not long at all. Those are just the records we first kept when I got to Miami. We just got real cocky wit it like, ‘Yo, we just gon’ put these out.’ All the big dogs drop in the 4th quarter, so we wanted to drop and just show up, man.

You definitely showed up. The mixtape is impressive. Considering that you’re working on your album with a new team now, has your creative process changed at all?
I challenge myself on a lot of these records I work with Rico on. I’ve never really opened up and let nobody have control over the creative side of my music, but Rico is real creative and I feel secure with him working on the project with me.

Still plan on calling it Now or Never?
Nah, actually I’ma change that. I feel like I dragged that title so long. I’ma just deliver that to the people, to the loyal fans that rolled with me and stuck with me over the years. It’s gonna be a free tape, probably delivered after the album. When I come up with the new title, y’all will be the first to know. (Laughs)

Did you ever consider heading over to (Jay-Z’s) Roc Nation or (Damon Dash’s) DD172?
I speak to them on the regular. That’s my extended family. Always will be. I believe in keepin’ relationships tight.

But you don’t see yourself doing business with either of them in the future?
Maybe…

Just “maybe.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of a reunion with either of his ex-bosses, but not an outright objection to it, either. Chris seems to be one of those “cross that bridge when we get there”-type of guys: He doesn’t try to prepare for every scenario imaginable, he just kinda rolls with the punches and plays the cards he’s dealt as best he can – and always looks to put a positive spin on the situation. That’s an admirable quality.

He’s also not the type to hold grudges. “I still throw it up,” he admits. “At my shows, I still throw that diamond up. I’m Division 1’s first off the label, but Roc-A-Fella is always my family. That was the ‘96 Chicago Bulls – c’mon, man. That’s history that can’t be erased. Our biggest record says ‘can’t stop, won’t stop, Roc-A-Fella Records’ and I still perform that to this day. They sing it word for word. I’m blessed to have a record like that.”

If we can learn anything from the Young Chris story, it’s that situations are often only as bad we make them. Even the biggest car wreck can leave some salvageable parts, so it’s up to us to take what’s left and make something of it. That’s what Chris has done. Sifted through the rubble leftover after the Roc crumbled, picked up the pieces he could still use and built himself a new opportunity.

But even with this new opportunity, Young Chris still goes into the studio with the same mindset he had when his journey in the music business began almost half a lifetime ago: “I’m not here to make music forever. I’m here to make forever music.”

Bio: GOD-FR33
October 2010


 
In today’s music climate, where everyone seems cast from the same mold as if mass-produced in some obscure Autotuned, Ciroc- and champagne-fueled artist-building plant, a sonic craftsman like GOD-FR33 is an anomaly.
Born in Milwaukee, WI, and raised on a steady musical diet of funk and soul from the 1970s and ‘80s, jazz and ‘90s Hip-Hop, GOD-FR33 is an artist’s artist; an amalgam of lyricism, musicianship, technical production skills and, perhaps most significant, complete reverence for and deference to the musical greats before him.
“My music is heavily influenced by yesteryear,” he admits. With a hodgepodge of legendary and not-so-legendary (yet extremely talented) acts as sonic influences – rap juggernauts Nas and Common, King of Pop Michael Jackson, funk purveyors Slave, riddim master/cannabis advocate Peter Tosh, iconic Hip-Hop beatsmith J. Dilla and English R&B band Loose Ends, just to name a few – GOD-FR33 aims to revitalize the notion of quality over quantity and create a body of work that will not only last forever, but be forever appreciated. “Today’s artists are all about looks, what they’re wearing and what kind of car they drive instead of focusing on their actual body of work. I think that’s what’s missing from music today. A lot of these artists – and I’m not talkin’ just Hip-Hop, but music in general – if they died today, how many of these tunes would you actually remember?”
If asked that question about his music, GOD-FR33 wants to ensure that everyone who hears his material – be it his own Hip-Hop, the R&B he writes or the instrumentals he produces – can confidently answer, “ALL of them.”
To make that happen, GOD-FR33 takes extreme care in crafting each rhyme he spits, weaving firsthand experiences and those of others into cohesive, truth-filled bars focused intently on real life instead of the iced-out, sexed-up fantasy perpetuated by many MCs. He also takes extreme care in creating the soulful soundbeds on which those words lie, utilizing both the sounds stored in beat machines, keyboards and other electronic devices and live, self-played instrumentation. “I grew up listening to and playing music so mine is a whole different sound than someone who strictly samples,” he says. “I think the person who plays gives you a deeper feeling when you’re listening to their music.”
And GOD-FR33 is eager to give that feeling to as many people as he can. Though fiercely independent and proud of his underground artist status, he is not anti-major label and admits that if the right opportunity presented itself he’d definitely sign a deal. “I worked really hard to be heard,” he reasons, and a major label backing is the best way to extend his music’s reach.
Still, a deal isn’t necessary for GOD-FR33 to continue doing what he does best. “I do music for the feeling I get when I’m in a room by myself just creating, not worried about being judged or about anyone else’s opinion. It’s a part of who I am. Even if I never get signed, I’ll always create.”
An artist who makes the music he wants to make and truly does it for the love? This guy really is different…

Bio: GOD-FR33

October 2010



In today’s music climate, where everyone seems cast from the same mold as if mass-produced in some obscure Autotuned, Ciroc- and champagne-fueled artist-building plant, a sonic craftsman like GOD-FR33 is an anomaly.

Born in Milwaukee, WI, and raised on a steady musical diet of funk and soul from the 1970s and ‘80s, jazz and ‘90s Hip-Hop, GOD-FR33 is an artist’s artist; an amalgam of lyricism, musicianship, technical production skills and, perhaps most significant, complete reverence for and deference to the musical greats before him.

“My music is heavily influenced by yesteryear,” he admits. With a hodgepodge of legendary and not-so-legendary (yet extremely talented) acts as sonic influences – rap juggernauts Nas and Common, King of Pop Michael Jackson, funk purveyors Slave, riddim master/cannabis advocate Peter Tosh, iconic Hip-Hop beatsmith J. Dilla and English R&B band Loose Ends, just to name a few – GOD-FR33 aims to revitalize the notion of quality over quantity and create a body of work that will not only last forever, but be forever appreciated. “Today’s artists are all about looks, what they’re wearing and what kind of car they drive instead of focusing on their actual body of work. I think that’s what’s missing from music today. A lot of these artists – and I’m not talkin’ just Hip-Hop, but music in general – if they died today, how many of these tunes would you actually remember?”

If asked that question about his music, GOD-FR33 wants to ensure that everyone who hears his material – be it his own Hip-Hop, the R&B he writes or the instrumentals he produces – can confidently answer, “ALL of them.”

To make that happen, GOD-FR33 takes extreme care in crafting each rhyme he spits, weaving firsthand experiences and those of others into cohesive, truth-filled bars focused intently on real life instead of the iced-out, sexed-up fantasy perpetuated by many MCs. He also takes extreme care in creating the soulful soundbeds on which those words lie, utilizing both the sounds stored in beat machines, keyboards and other electronic devices and live, self-played instrumentation. “I grew up listening to and playing music so mine is a whole different sound than someone who strictly samples,” he says. “I think the person who plays gives you a deeper feeling when you’re listening to their music.”

And GOD-FR33 is eager to give that feeling to as many people as he can. Though fiercely independent and proud of his underground artist status, he is not anti-major label and admits that if the right opportunity presented itself he’d definitely sign a deal. “I worked really hard to be heard,” he reasons, and a major label backing is the best way to extend his music’s reach.

Still, a deal isn’t necessary for GOD-FR33 to continue doing what he does best. “I do music for the feeling I get when I’m in a room by myself just creating, not worried about being judged or about anyone else’s opinion. It’s a part of who I am. Even if I never get signed, I’ll always create.”

An artist who makes the music he wants to make and truly does it for the love? This guy really is different…

"Boot Camp"
Enliven Magazine - January 2010


 
The year may change, but the actions often stay the same. Every year, “I’m gonna get in shape” is the clarion call of those eager to lose that troublesome embonpoint, and every year that call goes unanswered like it was made from an 866- number.
We get it, though; sometimes the luxuries of a lazy existence make it hard to uproot yourself and break the sedentary stalemate, no matter how badly you may want to. Trust, we’ve all been there. There’s just something alluring, almost hypnotic, about the randomness of reality TV and Status Updates, isn’t there? Guess it’s the medley of personalities.
You see, variety is the spice of life, TV and fitness. Chances are, previous attempts at working out left you bored pretty quickly once the routines became… routine. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that switching from your monotonous, me-against-the-gym workout regimen to one offering diversity in both exercise and assemblage would be much more interesting and easy to stick with?
It sure would, and that’s where the fitness Boot Camp comes in.
“I used to be active; then I got kinda lazy,” admits 27-year-old Marcy Brewington. Marcy’s activity waned after her limited workout routine killed her motivation. “I don’t like doing cardio, so when I was going to the gym I would end up just lifting weights. Not only did I not get the results I wanted, but I was really bored. Eventually, I just stopped going,” she recalls.
After years of doing nothing much, Marcy’s proportions were admittedly more generous than she desired. After several wishful lunchtime conversations about how they wanted to get themselves together, one of Marcy’s friends from work finally made a call to Fitness 411 and suggested trying their boot camp program. Though intrigued by the idea, Marcy still needed a little push to loose herself from her laziness, admitting, “I didn’t wanna do it, but my coworkers pressured me. I lost my first five pounds pretty quickly, though, and thought, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ After that, I totally got hooked.”
“It can definitely be addictive,” explains Anggie Pope, Founder of Fitness 411. Anggie explains that the appeal of boot camp lies largely in its mashup of fitness activity and social gathering, and how the aspects of this junction are mutually beneficial. “Being in a group setting allows you to build new relationships and make new friends. In turn, friends in your group keep you motivated and push you to stick with it,” she says.
Marcy attests to these claims, acknowledging that the personalities in the class increase her attraction to it, and revealing that on days she considers playing hooky she usually doesn’t, because “I don’t wanna get those text messages and phone calls later” from some of her more supervisory co-campers. Similar to the military, each soldier in fitness boot camp is accountable for the next.
But while the military fights the battle for freedom, fitness campers are battling the bulge.
A good fitness boot camp arms you with an array of cardio, resistance training, calisthenics and plyometrics techniques to not only keep the bulge at bay, but also to stave off that pesky boredom. Look for a camp that offers both indoor and outdoor workouts, as each offers something a little different. Use referrals from friends, relatives and coworkers to help narrow your choices down; and, most importantly, be sure that the trainers are certified, their personalities mesh with yours and that nutrition is a MAJOR part of their program.
Follow these rules and you’re sure to find the ideal fit and can really get thin in 2010.
Forty pounds lighter than when she started and more motivated than ever, Marcy has been attending boot camp for over a year now and is happy she stuck with it.
“I’m 27 and look better than I’ve ever looked,” she glows. “I’ve lost the weight, I have muscle definition – not gross and manly or anything; very nice — I have more energy and I’m extremely comfortable. It really boosts your confidence in everything you do, too. I love it!”

"Boot Camp"

Enliven Magazine - January 2010



The year may change, but the actions often stay the same. Every year, “I’m gonna get in shape” is the clarion call of those eager to lose that troublesome embonpoint, and every year that call goes unanswered like it was made from an 866- number.

We get it, though; sometimes the luxuries of a lazy existence make it hard to uproot yourself and break the sedentary stalemate, no matter how badly you may want to. Trust, we’ve all been there. There’s just something alluring, almost hypnotic, about the randomness of reality TV and Status Updates, isn’t there? Guess it’s the medley of personalities.

You see, variety is the spice of life, TV and fitness. Chances are, previous attempts at working out left you bored pretty quickly once the routines became… routine. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that switching from your monotonous, me-against-the-gym workout regimen to one offering diversity in both exercise and assemblage would be much more interesting and easy to stick with?

It sure would, and that’s where the fitness Boot Camp comes in.

“I used to be active; then I got kinda lazy,” admits 27-year-old Marcy Brewington. Marcy’s activity waned after her limited workout routine killed her motivation. “I don’t like doing cardio, so when I was going to the gym I would end up just lifting weights. Not only did I not get the results I wanted, but I was really bored. Eventually, I just stopped going,” she recalls.

After years of doing nothing much, Marcy’s proportions were admittedly more generous than she desired. After several wishful lunchtime conversations about how they wanted to get themselves together, one of Marcy’s friends from work finally made a call to Fitness 411 and suggested trying their boot camp program. Though intrigued by the idea, Marcy still needed a little push to loose herself from her laziness, admitting, “I didn’t wanna do it, but my coworkers pressured me. I lost my first five pounds pretty quickly, though, and thought, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ After that, I totally got hooked.”

“It can definitely be addictive,” explains Anggie Pope, Founder of Fitness 411. Anggie explains that the appeal of boot camp lies largely in its mashup of fitness activity and social gathering, and how the aspects of this junction are mutually beneficial. “Being in a group setting allows you to build new relationships and make new friends. In turn, friends in your group keep you motivated and push you to stick with it,” she says.

Marcy attests to these claims, acknowledging that the personalities in the class increase her attraction to it, and revealing that on days she considers playing hooky she usually doesn’t, because “I don’t wanna get those text messages and phone calls later” from some of her more supervisory co-campers. Similar to the military, each soldier in fitness boot camp is accountable for the next.

But while the military fights the battle for freedom, fitness campers are battling the bulge.

A good fitness boot camp arms you with an array of cardio, resistance training, calisthenics and plyometrics techniques to not only keep the bulge at bay, but also to stave off that pesky boredom. Look for a camp that offers both indoor and outdoor workouts, as each offers something a little different. Use referrals from friends, relatives and coworkers to help narrow your choices down; and, most importantly, be sure that the trainers are certified, their personalities mesh with yours and that nutrition is a MAJOR part of their program.

Follow these rules and you’re sure to find the ideal fit and can really get thin in 2010.

Forty pounds lighter than when she started and more motivated than ever, Marcy has been attending boot camp for over a year now and is happy she stuck with it.

“I’m 27 and look better than I’ve ever looked,” she glows. “I’ve lost the weight, I have muscle definition – not gross and manly or anything; very nice — I have more energy and I’m extremely comfortable. It really boosts your confidence in everything you do, too. I love it!”


"Rock Out"
Enliven Magazine - July 2009



In American popular culture, the word “rock” conjures up a slew of images, most of them of people: Eddie Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, Dwayne Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Marion Barry (think about it) and a few others immediately come to mind. Some may even think first of the word’s cold, hard and inanimate connotation, but even those few folks probably don’t see said inanimate object as a fun way to diversify their fitness regimen – not immediately, at least.
And now that we’ve mentioned it, they’re all probably curious; but their imaginings of dangling perilously from some mountainside like Wile E. Coyote makes them unable to seriously picture themselves ever even attempting any rock climbing. Fortunately for them, rock climbing is not nearly as dangerous as it may sound; and with its surge in popularity over the last several years, man-made “rock” walls have been popping up in gyms across the country, altogether eliminating the mountain, any actual rocks, the elements and the Wile E. premonition from the equation. What’s even better is that Atlanta has at least five indoor climbing walls inside the Perimeter, moving the sport from an Outdoorsmen-only activity to one that everyone from on-the-go businesspeople to teenagers and stay-at-home Moms can enjoy and benefit from.
“I love rock climbing! It’s a lot of fun and a great way to exercise,” says schoolteacher Sha Fanion, who has been climbing outdoors at Stone Mountain for a few years and sometimes visits the indoor wall at Georgia Tech with friends. “It’s one of those activities that engages the total body. More specifically, it helps tone your core and leg muscles.”
Fanion, an exquisitely-built admitted fitness freak and “gym rat,” knows a thing or two about exercise, and her observations are right on point. Aside from the easily noticeable leg and core toning and enhancement of overall body composition, rock climbing also improves back, arm and finger strength – Mrs. Fanion’s firm handshake affirms the latter claim – and provides more covert benefits like flexibility and endurance increases as well as respiratory and circulatory workouts. Some even argue that rock climbing has physiological effects, claiming that tackling the sometimes daunting wall or rock increases one’s self-esteem and level of responsibility.
Obviously, the benefits of climbing are plentiful – and we didn’t even mention the balance, agility and strength-to-weight ratio aspects – but perhaps the best thing about the sport is the unique socializing opportunity it provides when done with friends and loved ones. “I love physical challenges so I was never intimidated by any wall or rock, but seeing a couple of my friends kinda freak out the first time they looked up at the wall was pretty funny,” Fanion laughs. “To me, climbing is much more fun than most of the typical social activities – you know, the movies, parties and whatever – and you kinda feel closer to your friends after you help each other up the wall. It’s pretty much a bonding experience.”
A fun, healthy, bonding experience? You can’t beat it. There’s nothing wrong with breaking out of the ordinary and employing new means of getting that metaphorical fitness “wall” to crack. Simply put, if you want to really tone up and work literally every muscle in your body all at once, you should really try climbing. It’s like magic, and it’s mainstream now.
Pop culture has officially been rock’d.

"Rock Out"

Enliven Magazine - July 2009

In American popular culture, the word “rock” conjures up a slew of images, most of them of people: Eddie Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, Dwayne Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Marion Barry (think about it) and a few others immediately come to mind. Some may even think first of the word’s cold, hard and inanimate connotation, but even those few folks probably don’t see said inanimate object as a fun way to diversify their fitness regimen – not immediately, at least.

And now that we’ve mentioned it, they’re all probably curious; but their imaginings of dangling perilously from some mountainside like Wile E. Coyote makes them unable to seriously picture themselves ever even attempting any rock climbing. Fortunately for them, rock climbing is not nearly as dangerous as it may sound; and with its surge in popularity over the last several years, man-made “rock” walls have been popping up in gyms across the country, altogether eliminating the mountain, any actual rocks, the elements and the Wile E. premonition from the equation. What’s even better is that Atlanta has at least five indoor climbing walls inside the Perimeter, moving the sport from an Outdoorsmen-only activity to one that everyone from on-the-go businesspeople to teenagers and stay-at-home Moms can enjoy and benefit from.

“I love rock climbing! It’s a lot of fun and a great way to exercise,” says schoolteacher Sha Fanion, who has been climbing outdoors at Stone Mountain for a few years and sometimes visits the indoor wall at Georgia Tech with friends. “It’s one of those activities that engages the total body. More specifically, it helps tone your core and leg muscles.”

Fanion, an exquisitely-built admitted fitness freak and “gym rat,” knows a thing or two about exercise, and her observations are right on point. Aside from the easily noticeable leg and core toning and enhancement of overall body composition, rock climbing also improves back, arm and finger strength – Mrs. Fanion’s firm handshake affirms the latter claim – and provides more covert benefits like flexibility and endurance increases as well as respiratory and circulatory workouts. Some even argue that rock climbing has physiological effects, claiming that tackling the sometimes daunting wall or rock increases one’s self-esteem and level of responsibility.

Obviously, the benefits of climbing are plentiful – and we didn’t even mention the balance, agility and strength-to-weight ratio aspects – but perhaps the best thing about the sport is the unique socializing opportunity it provides when done with friends and loved ones. “I love physical challenges so I was never intimidated by any wall or rock, but seeing a couple of my friends kinda freak out the first time they looked up at the wall was pretty funny,” Fanion laughs. “To me, climbing is much more fun than most of the typical social activities – you know, the movies, parties and whatever – and you kinda feel closer to your friends after you help each other up the wall. It’s pretty much a bonding experience.”

A fun, healthy, bonding experience? You can’t beat it. There’s nothing wrong with breaking out of the ordinary and employing new means of getting that metaphorical fitness “wall” to crack. Simply put, if you want to really tone up and work literally every muscle in your body all at once, you should really try climbing. It’s like magic, and it’s mainstream now.

Pop culture has officially been rock’d.

Overview: “Can I Kick It?” Film Project
July 2009


 
When Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich referred to soccer – or football, as it is properly called – as the “ballet of the masses” almost 80 years ago, he was referring to the grace, beauty and organization of the game he so loved. In his eyes, each team was a virtual corps de ballet, with each footballer acting as a danseur whose duty was to put on a breathtaking show while simultaneously leading his team to victory. Shostakovich was so enamored with football that one of his most popular works, a ballet called The Golden Age, had a plot centered on a Soviet football team’s trip to a Western city and their triumph over greedy capitalists.
Nearly a century later, though, Shostakovich, if he were still alive, may not hold the same unyielding affection for football he once did. That’s because today all of football’s majesty on the playing field is too often matched or exceeded by an ever-increasing amount of menace in the stands surrounding it. As racial tensions continue to rise, particularly in the European nations, footballers of African descent are regularly met with a barrage of racial taunts, demeaning signage and physical violence from unruly spectators upset with their skin color. A cadre of racist fans armed with banners emblazoned with disrespectful phrases like “AN AFRICAN CAN’T BE ITALIAN,” ready to hurl bananas on the field and direct a range of ape-like grunts and squeals at dark-skinned players await teams at nearly every turn.
Since the so-called “Global Game” is barely a blip on the sports fan’s radar here in the States, most of us are unaware of the rampant mistreatment its Black and brown players too often endure. This general ignorance is disappointing to many, as they feel the rocky history of race relations here in the U.S. should make our citizens more sympathetic to the Black footballers’ plight. But there is one American man who has noticed, and he sees soccer’s disgusting racism overseas as an opportunity to unite the global community against intolerance and bigotry while encouraging mutual respect and cooperation among various cultures.
“We live in this global community now and it kinda feels like people of color, religious and ethnic minorities as a whole are being targeted,” says Curtis Taylor, a New York-based educator and the mind behind Can I Kick It?, an ambitious documentary film project that aims to use soccer as a backdrop for fighting racism internationally, promoting education and increasing self-esteem among youth.
Can I Kick It? will juxtapose the prejudices and hatred Black soccer players face while playing in Europe with that faced by religious and ethnic minorities from both those in the community at-large and from each other as they matriculate through the global community.
Already too familiar with the societal ills here in America, Taylor’s exposure to soccer and its maladies didn’t come until he spent time studying abroad as a college student. “Like most Black people in America, I thought it was a ‘White sport’ at first,” he admits. “I mean, I’d heard about Pelé, but that’s really it. I thought it was a sport that only White people played and I wasn’t really interested. Then I found out that some of the best soccer players in the world happened to be Black and was shocked to learn that African-born players were regularly being targeted by White crowds. As a kid, I’d heard a lot of talk from older relatives about how Black Americans were being treated better in Europe than in the United States and it always piqued my interest, but seeing it firsthand really made it sink in.”
Noticing that neither Black American athletes, mainstream leaders nor governing bodies of European soccer were making an effort to support their embattled peers who’d become victims of racial oppression in Europe, Taylor has taken it upon himself to do something in concert with some of soccer’s anti-racism organizations to try using education to put a stop to what’s going on. Can I Kick It? is intended to be a wake-up call to those guilty of the international mistreatment and prejudice, both on and off the soccer field.
The storyline of the film will focus on the mistreatment of soccer players and various individuals whose lives have been affected by intolerance, bigotry and the ideological barriers that often exist between fringe groups and abuse victims. The film’s recurring theme stresses the importance of promoting tolerance and mutual respect among youth while also focusing on how, until recently, both the elite bodies of soccer and general European society benefitted from extremist behavior.
To drive home the importance of encouraging youth to take a stance against intolerance, bigotry and hatred, groups of teens from two polarized communities – namely, Protestant and Catholic Ireland and Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East – will spend time with each other through a soccer-based event in attempts to show each that they’re really no different from the other. This part of the story comes directly from Taylor’s experiences as a culturally-isolated Black kid from Rochester, New York. “A film like this would have had wondrous effects on me as a teenager,” Taylor says. “It would’ve given me self-esteem and a much broader perspective of the world.”
“Perspective” is probably the best word to describe the goal of Can I Kick It?. With a broadened perspective of Black people from around the world, racists both international and domestic may be compelled to change their views. Meanwhile, Black kids here in America will be forced to take off the blinders, move beyond the periphery of their immediate surroundings and gain worldly wisdom. If all goes as planned, Taylor’s film will help create the next wave of leaders from various parts of the globe – including, quite possibly, the next Barack Obama. “People think that it’s remarkable what Obama’s doing – and it certainly is – but in a sense it isn’t really that remarkable,” states Taylor. “He had the advantage of seeing the world and having broad horizons as a youngster. I think if you give disadvantaged kids a chance to travel abroad and exposure to a wide range of cultural experiences they’d never have otherwise, we, as a people, would be much better off. Obama’s just an example of the greatness humanity can achieve if we invest the necessary time in our youth.”
Taylor stresses the importance of both Black Americans and members of religious and ethnic minorities around the world seeing themselves as part of a larger global community instead of merely a small, isolated segment of society. In order to empower themselves and have their message heard by the world, it is vital for individuals to collectively reach out with a common cause to improve the quality of life for all humanity. This way, Taylor believes, casual onlookers will be more likely to extend a hand to your cause because you took the initial step towards them – sort of quid pro quo agreement.
Though Can I Kick It? will be centered on soccer, Taylor has no delusions of making the sport an American phenomenon. Rather, the film is meant to be an eye-opener for citizens of the world. “I’m not expecting for Black kids [in America] to go out and fall in love with soccer,” he clarifies, “’cause I know that probably won’t happen. But there is definitely a lesson to be learned from the harrowing experiences soccer players and religious and ethnic minorities have encountered in Europe and other parts of the world.” Taylor also encourages Black American youth to look at the sport as a viable alternative to improve their lives because of the many benefits associated with soccer.
“Also, I want to improve how American Blacks – young Blacks in particular – are viewed throughout the world, including here at home,” he continues. “We need to advocate on our own behalf like the jazz musicians from the Harlem Renaissance. We need to interact with and learn about various cultures of the world to show people that this is what we’re doin’ and we’re on point – but we need to do it on a global scale. We need to show the good parts of the Black American community to the global community at-large because if we don’t, nobody will.”
Beautiful.

Overview: “Can I Kick It?” Film Project

July 2009



When Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich referred to soccer – or football, as it is properly called – as the “ballet of the masses” almost 80 years ago, he was referring to the grace, beauty and organization of the game he so loved. In his eyes, each team was a virtual corps de ballet, with each footballer acting as a danseur whose duty was to put on a breathtaking show while simultaneously leading his team to victory. Shostakovich was so enamored with football that one of his most popular works, a ballet called The Golden Age, had a plot centered on a Soviet football team’s trip to a Western city and their triumph over greedy capitalists.

Nearly a century later, though, Shostakovich, if he were still alive, may not hold the same unyielding affection for football he once did. That’s because today all of football’s majesty on the playing field is too often matched or exceeded by an ever-increasing amount of menace in the stands surrounding it. As racial tensions continue to rise, particularly in the European nations, footballers of African descent are regularly met with a barrage of racial taunts, demeaning signage and physical violence from unruly spectators upset with their skin color. A cadre of racist fans armed with banners emblazoned with disrespectful phrases like “AN AFRICAN CAN’T BE ITALIAN,” ready to hurl bananas on the field and direct a range of ape-like grunts and squeals at dark-skinned players await teams at nearly every turn.

Since the so-called “Global Game” is barely a blip on the sports fan’s radar here in the States, most of us are unaware of the rampant mistreatment its Black and brown players too often endure. This general ignorance is disappointing to many, as they feel the rocky history of race relations here in the U.S. should make our citizens more sympathetic to the Black footballers’ plight. But there is one American man who has noticed, and he sees soccer’s disgusting racism overseas as an opportunity to unite the global community against intolerance and bigotry while encouraging mutual respect and cooperation among various cultures.

“We live in this global community now and it kinda feels like people of color, religious and ethnic minorities as a whole are being targeted,” says Curtis Taylor, a New York-based educator and the mind behind Can I Kick It?, an ambitious documentary film project that aims to use soccer as a backdrop for fighting racism internationally, promoting education and increasing self-esteem among youth.

Can I Kick It? will juxtapose the prejudices and hatred Black soccer players face while playing in Europe with that faced by religious and ethnic minorities from both those in the community at-large and from each other as they matriculate through the global community.

Already too familiar with the societal ills here in America, Taylor’s exposure to soccer and its maladies didn’t come until he spent time studying abroad as a college student. “Like most Black people in America, I thought it was a ‘White sport’ at first,” he admits. “I mean, I’d heard about Pelé, but that’s really it. I thought it was a sport that only White people played and I wasn’t really interested. Then I found out that some of the best soccer players in the world happened to be Black and was shocked to learn that African-born players were regularly being targeted by White crowds. As a kid, I’d heard a lot of talk from older relatives about how Black Americans were being treated better in Europe than in the United States and it always piqued my interest, but seeing it firsthand really made it sink in.”

Noticing that neither Black American athletes, mainstream leaders nor governing bodies of European soccer were making an effort to support their embattled peers who’d become victims of racial oppression in Europe, Taylor has taken it upon himself to do something in concert with some of soccer’s anti-racism organizations to try using education to put a stop to what’s going on. Can I Kick It? is intended to be a wake-up call to those guilty of the international mistreatment and prejudice, both on and off the soccer field.

The storyline of the film will focus on the mistreatment of soccer players and various individuals whose lives have been affected by intolerance, bigotry and the ideological barriers that often exist between fringe groups and abuse victims. The film’s recurring theme stresses the importance of promoting tolerance and mutual respect among youth while also focusing on how, until recently, both the elite bodies of soccer and general European society benefitted from extremist behavior.

To drive home the importance of encouraging youth to take a stance against intolerance, bigotry and hatred, groups of teens from two polarized communities – namely, Protestant and Catholic Ireland and Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East – will spend time with each other through a soccer-based event in attempts to show each that they’re really no different from the other. This part of the story comes directly from Taylor’s experiences as a culturally-isolated Black kid from Rochester, New York. “A film like this would have had wondrous effects on me as a teenager,” Taylor says. “It would’ve given me self-esteem and a much broader perspective of the world.”

“Perspective” is probably the best word to describe the goal of Can I Kick It?. With a broadened perspective of Black people from around the world, racists both international and domestic may be compelled to change their views. Meanwhile, Black kids here in America will be forced to take off the blinders, move beyond the periphery of their immediate surroundings and gain worldly wisdom. If all goes as planned, Taylor’s film will help create the next wave of leaders from various parts of the globe – including, quite possibly, the next Barack Obama. “People think that it’s remarkable what Obama’s doing – and it certainly is – but in a sense it isn’t really that remarkable,” states Taylor. “He had the advantage of seeing the world and having broad horizons as a youngster. I think if you give disadvantaged kids a chance to travel abroad and exposure to a wide range of cultural experiences they’d never have otherwise, we, as a people, would be much better off. Obama’s just an example of the greatness humanity can achieve if we invest the necessary time in our youth.”

Taylor stresses the importance of both Black Americans and members of religious and ethnic minorities around the world seeing themselves as part of a larger global community instead of merely a small, isolated segment of society. In order to empower themselves and have their message heard by the world, it is vital for individuals to collectively reach out with a common cause to improve the quality of life for all humanity. This way, Taylor believes, casual onlookers will be more likely to extend a hand to your cause because you took the initial step towards them – sort of quid pro quo agreement.

Though Can I Kick It? will be centered on soccer, Taylor has no delusions of making the sport an American phenomenon. Rather, the film is meant to be an eye-opener for citizens of the world. “I’m not expecting for Black kids [in America] to go out and fall in love with soccer,” he clarifies, “’cause I know that probably won’t happen. But there is definitely a lesson to be learned from the harrowing experiences soccer players and religious and ethnic minorities have encountered in Europe and other parts of the world.” Taylor also encourages Black American youth to look at the sport as a viable alternative to improve their lives because of the many benefits associated with soccer.

“Also, I want to improve how American Blacks – young Blacks in particular – are viewed throughout the world, including here at home,” he continues. “We need to advocate on our own behalf like the jazz musicians from the Harlem Renaissance. We need to interact with and learn about various cultures of the world to show people that this is what we’re doin’ and we’re on point – but we need to do it on a global scale. We need to show the good parts of the Black American community to the global community at-large because if we don’t, nobody will.”

Beautiful.

"New Bell on the Block"
Enliven Magazine - May 2009


 
If somebody told you that working out with a chunk of dead weight that strongly resembled some kind of iron handbag could get you in better shape than almost anything you’d ever trained with, you probably wouldn’t believe them. If somebody else told you this same metal contraption could effectively work several muscle groups at once and make you noticeably better at just about any physical activity you engage in, you’d still be skeptical but you’d start listening closer. If a third person told you the way this thing worked was something like magic, you’d really wanna know what everybody was talking about.
This is pretty much how the past five or so years have been within parts of the fitness community as the benefits of kettlebell training seeped down from the inner circles of athletic trainers and into the consciousness of the general public.
Though new to most of us, the kettlebell has actually been used for building leaner, stronger and better-balanced bodies for hundreds of years. Seventeenth century Russian soldiers used them to get stronger without adding mass, a benefit that athletes and regular, fitness-minded Russians also saw value in, quickly making it a popular training method throughout the country. Kettlebell training is believed by many to be one of the most effective strength development and overall toning methods there is; even better, in many ways, than traditional dumbbell and barbell workouts.
“Dumbbells train muscles in isolation, but you don’t use your muscles in isolation so, unless you want big muscles, there’s really no reason to train ‘em that way,” says Delaine Ross, an Atlanta-based personal trainer, fitness competitor and RKC certified kettlebell instructor who swears by the advantages of the awkward iron ball. “The reason I love it is because you’re training for strength and flexibility all at the same time – and getting your cardio! So instead of training muscles separately, you’re doing them all together and getting your cardio without putting any stress on the joints like you would when you run. It’s great because [with kettlebells] you’re training your muscles to get longer and leaner without getting bigger.”
Kettlebell training consists mainly of a variety of swings, cleans and snatches, squats, lunges and deadlifts, but the exercise variations are nearly limitless. There are kettlebell exercises to help improve performance in just about any sport that requires balance, strength and concentrated force – and that’s just about all sports, in case you were wondering. The shape of the kettlebell and the placement of the thick handle (which will also improve grip strength) create an off-center weight distribution that seriously engages stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, back and torso that you’ve probably never even felt before, giving you that strong core so vital to creating a balanced physique. Your cardio gets figured in when you consider the way your upper body muscle systems work in tandem with your legs and hips through high-rep sets with little rest.
Sound tough? That’s because it is. “It’s hard – you know, it’s not 15 Minute Abs,” Ross admits, “but if you work it’s not hard to see results in a short amount of time.”
And, according to Ross, this thing even trains your nervous system. “The snatch move, for instance, is a more ballistic move and it’s training your nervous system to go back and forth from a state of tension to relaxation really, really fast,” she explains before really waxing scientific. “It teaches your muscles and your nervous system to twitch back and forth really quickly, which is why the athletes use it. Barbells are good at production of power, but if you look at the movements [in kettlebell training] – the swinging and lifting exercises – not only are you training the production of power, but also the reduction and redirection of power. So if you’re a shortstop, for example, you’ll be able to run to the ball, grab the ball and change directions really quickly to throw the ball. And eventually you’ll win the World Series. (laughs)”
But shortstops aren’t the only athletes who benefit from kettlebell training. A simple web search unearths specific kettlebell workouts for Olympic weightlifters, basketball players, golfers, boxers, surfers, MMA fighters, football players – even marksmen and snipers!
If it’s good enough for world-class athletes and surfer dudes, it’s gotta be good enough you, right? Certainly. One of biggest draws of kettlebell training outside of the obvious physical gains is the fact that it takes only a fraction of the time of so-called “traditional” workouts because it works multiple muscle groups at once, making it ideal for the on-the-go professional who doesn’t have hours to spend in a gym.
Detractors argue that traditional training methodologies trump those of kettlebell training, but for no reasons other than the kettlebells’ somewhat awkward shape. But, since no one ever said you had to choose one over the other, the detractors’ cries generally fall on deaf ears. Though many swear solely by the kettlebell, several trainers and experts simply incorporate it into their clients’ and patients’ varied routines. The only other concern would be the limited range of motion of the heavier kettlebells and their weight resting on your forearm during the lifts, but the solution to that is simple: train with an expert. Ross contends, “As long you’re in the right setting with someone like a certified instructor who knows what they’re doing, it’s one of the safest ways to lift weights.”
Of course, any exercise routine can be dangerous if done recklessly, so do the right thing and workout safely. Always consult a physician before beginning a workout regimen, and never snatch or swing medieval-looking training tools without the supervision of a professional.

"New Bell on the Block"

Enliven Magazine - May 2009



If somebody told you that working out with a chunk of dead weight that strongly resembled some kind of iron handbag could get you in better shape than almost anything you’d ever trained with, you probably wouldn’t believe them. If somebody else told you this same metal contraption could effectively work several muscle groups at once and make you noticeably better at just about any physical activity you engage in, you’d still be skeptical but you’d start listening closer. If a third person told you the way this thing worked was something like magic, you’d really wanna know what everybody was talking about.

This is pretty much how the past five or so years have been within parts of the fitness community as the benefits of kettlebell training seeped down from the inner circles of athletic trainers and into the consciousness of the general public.

Though new to most of us, the kettlebell has actually been used for building leaner, stronger and better-balanced bodies for hundreds of years. Seventeenth century Russian soldiers used them to get stronger without adding mass, a benefit that athletes and regular, fitness-minded Russians also saw value in, quickly making it a popular training method throughout the country. Kettlebell training is believed by many to be one of the most effective strength development and overall toning methods there is; even better, in many ways, than traditional dumbbell and barbell workouts.

“Dumbbells train muscles in isolation, but you don’t use your muscles in isolation so, unless you want big muscles, there’s really no reason to train ‘em that way,” says Delaine Ross, an Atlanta-based personal trainer, fitness competitor and RKC certified kettlebell instructor who swears by the advantages of the awkward iron ball. “The reason I love it is because you’re training for strength and flexibility all at the same time – and getting your cardio! So instead of training muscles separately, you’re doing them all together and getting your cardio without putting any stress on the joints like you would when you run. It’s great because [with kettlebells] you’re training your muscles to get longer and leaner without getting bigger.”

Kettlebell training consists mainly of a variety of swings, cleans and snatches, squats, lunges and deadlifts, but the exercise variations are nearly limitless. There are kettlebell exercises to help improve performance in just about any sport that requires balance, strength and concentrated force – and that’s just about all sports, in case you were wondering. The shape of the kettlebell and the placement of the thick handle (which will also improve grip strength) create an off-center weight distribution that seriously engages stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, back and torso that you’ve probably never even felt before, giving you that strong core so vital to creating a balanced physique. Your cardio gets figured in when you consider the way your upper body muscle systems work in tandem with your legs and hips through high-rep sets with little rest.

Sound tough? That’s because it is. “It’s hard – you know, it’s not 15 Minute Abs,” Ross admits, “but if you work it’s not hard to see results in a short amount of time.”

And, according to Ross, this thing even trains your nervous system. “The snatch move, for instance, is a more ballistic move and it’s training your nervous system to go back and forth from a state of tension to relaxation really, really fast,” she explains before really waxing scientific. “It teaches your muscles and your nervous system to twitch back and forth really quickly, which is why the athletes use it. Barbells are good at production of power, but if you look at the movements [in kettlebell training] – the swinging and lifting exercises – not only are you training the production of power, but also the reduction and redirection of power. So if you’re a shortstop, for example, you’ll be able to run to the ball, grab the ball and change directions really quickly to throw the ball. And eventually you’ll win the World Series. (laughs)”

But shortstops aren’t the only athletes who benefit from kettlebell training. A simple web search unearths specific kettlebell workouts for Olympic weightlifters, basketball players, golfers, boxers, surfers, MMA fighters, football players – even marksmen and snipers!

If it’s good enough for world-class athletes and surfer dudes, it’s gotta be good enough you, right? Certainly. One of biggest draws of kettlebell training outside of the obvious physical gains is the fact that it takes only a fraction of the time of so-called “traditional” workouts because it works multiple muscle groups at once, making it ideal for the on-the-go professional who doesn’t have hours to spend in a gym.

Detractors argue that traditional training methodologies trump those of kettlebell training, but for no reasons other than the kettlebells’ somewhat awkward shape. But, since no one ever said you had to choose one over the other, the detractors’ cries generally fall on deaf ears. Though many swear solely by the kettlebell, several trainers and experts simply incorporate it into their clients’ and patients’ varied routines. The only other concern would be the limited range of motion of the heavier kettlebells and their weight resting on your forearm during the lifts, but the solution to that is simple: train with an expert. Ross contends, “As long you’re in the right setting with someone like a certified instructor who knows what they’re doing, it’s one of the safest ways to lift weights.”

Of course, any exercise routine can be dangerous if done recklessly, so do the right thing and workout safely. Always consult a physician before beginning a workout regimen, and never snatch or swing medieval-looking training tools without the supervision of a professional.

Fat Joe: “O.G.”
-Unpublished- (Written for StreetsMOS Magazine)


 
Fat Joe is a veteran. Entering his 19th year in the music industry and with his 38thbirthday right around the corner, Joe’s resume already boasts some weighty accomplishments – for instance, he’s a member of the legendary Diggin’ in the Crates (DITC) crew, he’s solely responsible for both of the only Latin MCs to ever reach a million in sales, he’s spent weeks at the top of the charts on more than one occasion, released 8 solo albums, headed a label and launched a moderately successful clothing line, among other things – but he’s still not satisfied. He’s been both acclaimed and disrespected by a wide range of characters from über-rich rappers to backpackers and local pastors, but he still can’t get enough. He’s one of the few MCs able to enjoy commercial success without it affecting their street credibility, but claims it isn’t something he even has to work at.
We recently caught up with the Bronx O.G. and talked respect, motivation and why the industry so often seems to draw a collective blank when it comes to a guy named Christopher Rios.
Streets MOS:  After nearly two decades in the game, how do you manage to stay relevant in an industry dominated by cats who’ve barely been alive that long?
Fat Joe: I just try to make good music, man. A lot of the young guys may not be real familiar with the older stuff, but I’m blessed that certain artists consider me a legend and are willing to work with me so I can make new hits they can rock with.
How do you balance street credibility and the commercial success?I don’t know, man. The street cred kinda speaks for itself considering all the turbulence and other things I’ve been through in the streets. But when it comes to making music, I come from the underground so I’ve always loved makin’ hardcore records, but I also love makin’ hits so I’m kinda caught in the middle.
You show a lot of love to a lot of people, but you’ve been disrespected quite often. How do you deal with that, particularly when it comes from people who were once down with you?It’s sad when you look out for people and they turn around and wanna disrespect you and not take credit for their failures, you know? Unfortunately I was dealt a bunch of sore losers, man. Their work ethics weren’t like mine. And the thing they love to put out there is that “Joe is all for self and don’t want nobody to come out.” Wrong. I helped all these people. Like Remy Ma – I’ve never done nothin’ wrong to that girl, ever in my life. All I did was take her out the projects and got her a house in Jersey, a car, money and fame, man, so I don’t even know how [our disagreement] even happened or how that went.
When I wanted to get on, nobody was there to put me on. So when I come back and try to help someone from the projects that ain’t doin’ good and make them rich and famous and then they shit on me? That’s very disrespectful and it really hurts me. So I just try to keep it movin’, make good music and represent for my family and for Hip-Hop.
Do you still have relationships with these people?  Remy and whomever else you’ve disagreed with from Terror Squad?Nah, there’s something wrong with Fat Joe. He’s stubborn, so once you diss him and break the trust and honor he had in you, he’ll never fuck with you again. And that’s the rule with everything I do.
OK, let’s switch gears a bit. You mentioned having nobody there to put you on in the beginning, so how did you finally get into the industry?I ended up getting down with DITC. Most of them were from my projects [Forest Houses on Trinity Ave. in the Bronx] — Showbiz, Finesse and Diamond D were all from my projects. Everybody was just rappin’, goin’ to jams and all that when Finesse was just like, “Yo, I’ma be a rapper.  I’ma get this deal and do my thing.” Once he actually went out and did it, it made me believe that I could do it, too.
I went to the Apollo Theatre four weeks in a row and did Amateur Night. I walked up 31 flights of stairs and snuck in buildings just so I could play my demo tape for record company people, you know what I’m sayin’? I put in all this work, and it eventually paid off. A lotta cats put out a hot 16 and think they the shit when they don’t really know what it is to walk through the fire.
You were also the game’s first widely respected Latino MC. Do you ever worry who’ll be the torch-bearer after you’re done?Absolutely. I mean, I been tryin’ to hold it down forever so I’m wonderin’ who’s the next guy comin’, ‘cause I know somebody’s comin’. Hip-Hop has been Black and Latino from day one. You look at the first pictures from a Hip-Hop party, half the crowd is Latino and the other half is Black. It’s only a matter of time before another Latino brother comes out and just cracks open the game and does what he does, I’m just surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. We got a buncha Latinos in the NBA doin’ they thing, so I don’t really understand why [more Latins] haven’t picked up the mic and did what they have to do.
Would you like to be responsible for the next big thing when he or she is found?Nah, I already brought Big Pun in the game, know what I’m sayin? Millions sold, one of the most lyrical cats in the universe. If I could find a Latino guy, so be it, I’d definitely wanna do that; but at the end of the day it’s all about music to me. It ain’t about Latino, Black or whatever – it’s about makin’ great music and representin’ everybody.
Speaking of Pun, do you feel like he’s underappreciated?Oh, no question. If Pun ain’t the best lyrical nigga ever, he’s definitely top 3 to me. I’m talkin’ straight lyrics, not all that other stuff. If you put it on paper, Pun is killin’ niggas. I don’t know why mufuckas is catchin’ amnesia and actin’ like they don’t know what he did and the body of work he produced in the short period of time he was here. That’s a question people gotta ask themselves ‘cause when he was alive you had rappers comin’ up to him all the time like, “Pun, you’re the greatest! You’re the best in the world!” But you turn around and see people asking the same guys about who’s the best or in their top 5 and they never seem to mention Pun. It’s amazing to me.
Your next album is a sequel to 2002’s platinum-certified J.O.S.E. (Jealous Ones Still Envy).  Do you feel any pressure to have J.O.S.E. 2 match the success of its predecessor?Nah, ‘cause it was just a natural thing. I never planned on making another J.O.S.E. album, I was just makin’ music and the album just started soundin’ so big that the only thing I could compare it to was the biggest album I ever did. But there’s no competition at all with the first one.
How does the new one sound?Real big. I got Lil’ Wayne on there, T-Pain, Raekwon, Lil’ Kim, Fabolous, Akon, and Rico Love [formerly of Us Records]; got beats from Jim Jonsin, Pete Rock, got Premier on there – I’m very excited about this one, man.
This’ll be your ninth solo album. What keeps you going after all these years, all these albums and all you’ve accomplished?The desire to be hot. I’ve never had another job besides rap so this is all I know. As long as I feel like my game is up to par, I’m better than ever and still bringing something to the game, I see no reason to stop.

Fat Joe: “O.G.”

-Unpublished- (Written for StreetsMOS Magazine)



Fat Joe is a veteran. Entering his 19th year in the music industry and with his 38thbirthday right around the corner, Joe’s resume already boasts some weighty accomplishments – for instance, he’s a member of the legendary Diggin’ in the Crates (DITC) crew, he’s solely responsible for both of the only Latin MCs to ever reach a million in sales, he’s spent weeks at the top of the charts on more than one occasion, released 8 solo albums, headed a label and launched a moderately successful clothing line, among other things – but he’s still not satisfied. He’s been both acclaimed and disrespected by a wide range of characters from über-rich rappers to backpackers and local pastors, but he still can’t get enough. He’s one of the few MCs able to enjoy commercial success without it affecting their street credibility, but claims it isn’t something he even has to work at.

We recently caught up with the Bronx O.G. and talked respect, motivation and why the industry so often seems to draw a collective blank when it comes to a guy named Christopher Rios.

Streets MOS:  After nearly two decades in the game, how do you manage to stay relevant in an industry dominated by cats who’ve barely been alive that long?

Fat Joe: I just try to make good music, man. A lot of the young guys may not be real familiar with the older stuff, but I’m blessed that certain artists consider me a legend and are willing to work with me so I can make new hits they can rock with.

How do you balance street credibility and the commercial success?
I don’t know, man. The street cred kinda speaks for itself considering all the turbulence and other things I’ve been through in the streets. But when it comes to making music, I come from the underground so I’ve always loved makin’ hardcore records, but I also love makin’ hits so I’m kinda caught in the middle.

You show a lot of love to a lot of people, but you’ve been disrespected quite often. How do you deal with that, particularly when it comes from people who were once down with you?
It’s sad when you look out for people and they turn around and wanna disrespect you and not take credit for their failures, you know? Unfortunately I was dealt a bunch of sore losers, man. Their work ethics weren’t like mine. And the thing they love to put out there is that “Joe is all for self and don’t want nobody to come out.” Wrong. I helped all these people. Like Remy Ma – I’ve never done nothin’ wrong to that girl, ever in my life. All I did was take her out the projects and got her a house in Jersey, a car, money and fame, man, so I don’t even know how [our disagreement] even happened or how that went.

When I wanted to get on, nobody was there to put me on. So when I come back and try to help someone from the projects that ain’t doin’ good and make them rich and famous and then they shit on me? That’s very disrespectful and it really hurts me. So I just try to keep it movin’, make good music and represent for my family and for Hip-Hop.

Do you still have relationships with these people?  Remy and whomever else you’ve disagreed with from Terror Squad?
Nah, there’s something wrong with Fat Joe. He’s stubborn, so once you diss him and break the trust and honor he had in you, he’ll never fuck with you again. And that’s the rule with everything I do.

OK, let’s switch gears a bit. You mentioned having nobody there to put you on in the beginning, so how did you finally get into the industry?
I ended up getting down with DITC. Most of them were from my projects [Forest Houses on Trinity Ave. in the Bronx] — Showbiz, Finesse and Diamond D were all from my projects. Everybody was just rappin’, goin’ to jams and all that when Finesse was just like, “Yo, I’ma be a rapper.  I’ma get this deal and do my thing.” Once he actually went out and did it, it made me believe that I could do it, too.

I went to the Apollo Theatre four weeks in a row and did Amateur Night. I walked up 31 flights of stairs and snuck in buildings just so I could play my demo tape for record company people, you know what I’m sayin’? I put in all this work, and it eventually paid off. A lotta cats put out a hot 16 and think they the shit when they don’t really know what it is to walk through the fire.

You were also the game’s first widely respected Latino MC. Do you ever worry who’ll be the torch-bearer after you’re done?
Absolutely. I mean, I been tryin’ to hold it down forever so I’m wonderin’ who’s the next guy comin’, ‘cause I know somebody’s comin’. Hip-Hop has been Black and Latino from day one. You look at the first pictures from a Hip-Hop party, half the crowd is Latino and the other half is Black. It’s only a matter of time before another Latino brother comes out and just cracks open the game and does what he does, I’m just surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. We got a buncha Latinos in the NBA doin’ they thing, so I don’t really understand why [more Latins] haven’t picked up the mic and did what they have to do.

Would you like to be responsible for the next big thing when he or she is found?
Nah, I already brought Big Pun in the game, know what I’m sayin? Millions sold, one of the most lyrical cats in the universe. If I could find a Latino guy, so be it, I’d definitely wanna do that; but at the end of the day it’s all about music to me. It ain’t about Latino, Black or whatever – it’s about makin’ great music and representin’ everybody.

Speaking of Pun, do you feel like he’s underappreciated?
Oh, no question. If Pun ain’t the best lyrical nigga ever, he’s definitely top 3 to me. I’m talkin’ straight lyrics, not all that other stuff. If you put it on paper, Pun is killin’ niggas. I don’t know why mufuckas is catchin’ amnesia and actin’ like they don’t know what he did and the body of work he produced in the short period of time he was here. That’s a question people gotta ask themselves ‘cause when he was alive you had rappers comin’ up to him all the time like, “Pun, you’re the greatest! You’re the best in the world!” But you turn around and see people asking the same guys about who’s the best or in their top 5 and they never seem to mention Pun. It’s amazing to me.

Your next album is a sequel to 2002’s platinum-certified J.O.S.E. (Jealous Ones Still Envy).  Do you feel any pressure to have J.O.S.E. 2 match the success of its predecessor?
Nah, ‘cause it was just a natural thing. I never planned on making another J.O.S.E. album, I was just makin’ music and the album just started soundin’ so big that the only thing I could compare it to was the biggest album I ever did. But there’s no competition at all with the first one.

How does the new one sound?
Real big. I got Lil’ Wayne on there, T-Pain, Raekwon, Lil’ Kim, Fabolous, Akon, and Rico Love [formerly of Us Records]; got beats from Jim Jonsin, Pete Rock, got Premier on there – I’m very excited about this one, man.

This’ll be your ninth solo album. What keeps you going after all these years, all these albums and all you’ve accomplished?
The desire to be hot. I’ve never had another job besides rap so this is all I know. As long as I feel like my game is up to par, I’m better than ever and still bringing something to the game, I see no reason to stop.

Don Cannon: “The Growth”
Street Report Magazine - February/March 2009


 
Let’s start at the end. This past December, Don Cannon announced via press release the termination of his professional relationship with the Asylum-distributed Aphilliates Music Group. After helping launch the Aphilliates movement a decade ago, Cannon cites “a business and creative difference” for the split, but, despite rumors that swirled throughout 2008, says his personal relationship with fellow co-founders DJ Drama and DJ Sense is just fine.
“Nah, everything is cool,” Cannon explains, “but when you got a 3-headed monster, everybody has their own idea of where they wanna be. [Every crew] breaks up ‘cause they get their own direction. That don’t mean they ain’t friends no more or that there’ll be beef when they see each other, but at the same time everybody’s gotta do what they believe in. Look at it like this: If you got three Iversons or three Kobes on one team, what’s gon’ happen? (laughs) You’re gonna bump heads. Everybody held their ground as to what they wanted to do, so it was either stay and keep bumpin’ heads or go ahead and do my own thing. So I had to make a move.”
In many observers’ opinions, if Drama is the face and voice of AMG and Sense is the brains, Don Cannon – with his infectious, “electrifying” production – was the heart and soul. He created many of the soundbeds that helped catapult the movement to the premier status it enjoys today. Already renowned as a DJ, his work while with the Aphilliates made Cannon one of the most sought-after producers in music. With a portfolio that includes work with hardcore artists like Young Jeezy and Freeway, underground acts such as Little Brother’s Big Pooh, even R&B singers like Claudette Ortiz, Cannon’s versatility is practically limitless, and his desire to pursue that versatility played a big part in his decision to leave the AMG fold.
“I just felt like where I was going musically was different from what they do,” he says. “[Me, Drama and Sense’s] thing was never about money, it was always about brotherhood; but at the same time I had to put the pieces together to take me where I wanted to go as a producer. If I’m not in charge of how I’m gon’ be as a producer and have to cater to one style of music, I’m not gon’ be happy ‘cause it’ll feel like work and not be fun anymore. It’s about being happy, know what I mean? It was good while it lasted; I just felt that situation was something I had to move from in order to get to where I wanted to be as far as music.”
Now managed by Disturbing the Peace co-founder Chaka Zulu and Ebony Son Management’s Jeff Dixon, Cannon hopes to take his Cannon Music brand to the heights he’s been dreaming of since 5 years old. With joints already in the bag for upcoming albums from 50, Fabolous and Asher Roth, an album-in-progress with the Cool Kids and pending work with Wale and Mark Ronson, ’09 is sure to be quite a year for one of the most productive producers in music.
“I wanna be Lil’ Wayne the producer – you know, put out so much product that I’m just killin’ the game,” Cannon laughs. “I’m just gon’ continue producing and trying to build a stronger brand, probably drop an album pretty soon and hopefully get my own situation. Hopefully I’m making the right choices with every step I take.”
The evolution has begun.

Don Cannon: “The Growth”

Street Report Magazine - February/March 2009



Let’s start at the end. This past December, Don Cannon announced via press release the termination of his professional relationship with the Asylum-distributed Aphilliates Music Group. After helping launch the Aphilliates movement a decade ago, Cannon cites “a business and creative difference” for the split, but, despite rumors that swirled throughout 2008, says his personal relationship with fellow co-founders DJ Drama and DJ Sense is just fine.

“Nah, everything is cool,” Cannon explains, “but when you got a 3-headed monster, everybody has their own idea of where they wanna be. [Every crew] breaks up ‘cause they get their own direction. That don’t mean they ain’t friends no more or that there’ll be beef when they see each other, but at the same time everybody’s gotta do what they believe in. Look at it like this: If you got three Iversons or three Kobes on one team, what’s gon’ happen? (laughs) You’re gonna bump heads. Everybody held their ground as to what they wanted to do, so it was either stay and keep bumpin’ heads or go ahead and do my own thing. So I had to make a move.”

In many observers’ opinions, if Drama is the face and voice of AMG and Sense is the brains, Don Cannon – with his infectious, “electrifying” production – was the heart and soul. He created many of the soundbeds that helped catapult the movement to the premier status it enjoys today. Already renowned as a DJ, his work while with the Aphilliates made Cannon one of the most sought-after producers in music. With a portfolio that includes work with hardcore artists like Young Jeezy and Freeway, underground acts such as Little Brother’s Big Pooh, even R&B singers like Claudette Ortiz, Cannon’s versatility is practically limitless, and his desire to pursue that versatility played a big part in his decision to leave the AMG fold.

“I just felt like where I was going musically was different from what they do,” he says. “[Me, Drama and Sense’s] thing was never about money, it was always about brotherhood; but at the same time I had to put the pieces together to take me where I wanted to go as a producer. If I’m not in charge of how I’m gon’ be as a producer and have to cater to one style of music, I’m not gon’ be happy ‘cause it’ll feel like work and not be fun anymore. It’s about being happy, know what I mean? It was good while it lasted; I just felt that situation was something I had to move from in order to get to where I wanted to be as far as music.”

Now managed by Disturbing the Peace co-founder Chaka Zulu and Ebony Son Management’s Jeff Dixon, Cannon hopes to take his Cannon Music brand to the heights he’s been dreaming of since 5 years old. With joints already in the bag for upcoming albums from 50, Fabolous and Asher Roth, an album-in-progress with the Cool Kids and pending work with Wale and Mark Ronson, ’09 is sure to be quite a year for one of the most productive producers in music.

“I wanna be Lil’ Wayne the producer – you know, put out so much product that I’m just killin’ the game,” Cannon laughs. “I’m just gon’ continue producing and trying to build a stronger brand, probably drop an album pretty soon and hopefully get my own situation. Hopefully I’m making the right choices with every step I take.”

The evolution has begun.