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?
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.”