Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Migos and Post Malone continue to dominate on Spotify, accounting for, at least in part, the 10 most-played hip-hop records over the past seven days.
Before we take a look at the list, a few friendly observations:
Nine of the 10 songs on this list appeared on last week's list (Offset's "Ric Flair Drip" replaced Migos' "Narcos").
Drake's "God's Plan" jumped 52 million streams in seven days, the biggest seven-day increase of any song on this list. Cash Money might have bankrolled Drake's charitable "God's Plan" video but had he footed the bill himself, Drake would be halfway to paying himself back in streaming revenue alone.
In addition to netting almost 44 million streams over the past 41 days, Jay Rock's "King's Dead" single has also helped the TDE veteran gain over 8 million new monthly listeners. On January 4, Rock had less than 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Seven weeks later, he just crossed the 9 million mark.
The List (all-time streams):
Drake "God's Plan" (242M)
Kendrick Lamar "All The Stars" (with SZA) (128M)
BlocBoy JB "Look Alive" (ft. Drake) (33.8M)
Migos "Stir Fry" (83.4M)
The Weeknd "Pray For Me" (with Kendrick Lamar) (61.3M)
Jay Rock "King's Dead" (ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake) (43.6M)
Post Malone "rockstar" (ft. 21 Savage) (804M)
Post Malone "I Fall Apart" (378M)
Offset "Ric Flair Drip" (with Metro Boomin) (159M)
Russ, Mistah F.A.B., Dumbfoundead and more dish out free game.
It helps to have talent if you want to make it big in music—though, as we now know, it's certainly not a requirement—but just as important, if not more important, as possessing God-given skill is having a firm understanding of how the business side of the recording industry works.
If you believe you're the greatest in your field, you might become more successful, but actually taking charge of your career by hiring a professional lawyer, reviewing all the contracts handed to you, and staying on top of your taxes will help to ensure long-term stability and success—the kind of success that allows an artist to have more than a moment on the internet.
To help young artists more easily navigate this insane industry, DJBooth reached out to a few dozen experienced artists, some newer to the inner workings of the business and others 10-plus-year veterans, asking each to share their best business advice.
"Trust your gut and build up your career on your own so that you have the leverage to dictate whatever terms you want. You’re what they want and need, not the other way around. Remember your value. Having the upper hand and leverage in business negotiations is how you get the deals you want. Make sure the other side has skin in the game, though, so they have an incentive to work hard for you and with you. Also, be hands-on. I personally know everyone and have met everyone involved with my career on the business side. I email people. I don’t just leave shit up to my manager. I see everything, have input on everything. Nothing gets done without my approval. Nothing. Take control of your career and don’t put it in the hands of someone else."
"Don’t wait until something goes terribly wrong legally before you begin to take interest in the business side of things. Ask questions and know what playing field and what rules apply in this field before the game starts, so there’s no confusion down the road."
"Keep your publishing and assemble a team of people you can trust and empower. For example, a lot of people thought I was going to sign [a deal] years ago when I dropped 'Ring4x,' but I knew I didn’t have a team in place so signing wasn’t ideal. The offers were available but I was smart enough to wait it out and bet on myself. I knew that over the next few years I would produce AND write for bigger artists, so to sign when I was unprepared—just because the money was there—would have been detrimental to my development. Now I’m able to control the narrative of my career because I haven’t jeopardized it legally or musically. I thought I could take the journey by myself but I learned that I needed a DJ, producer, manager, and close business associates with whom I could build a fresh foundation."
"Be hands-on with every little thing, whether its co-directing a music video, learning about booking, or even finances. For example, most successful restaurants are run by owners who are experienced and have worn all hats from working in the kitchen to waiting on tables. Eventually, you’ll be too busy to be involved in everything, but being fully involved to start helps you better set and manage expectations."
"Absolutely, 100% educate yourself. Knowledge is power and if you don’t understand how your business works you will be taken advantage of at some point. It can certainly be overwhelming to navigate some of the inner workings, from understanding publishing and royalties to putting together contract work with artists and producers, to budgeting for a tour and so on. But these are the things that every artist should commit themselves to learning. Both through online research, reaching out to other artists and trial and error."
"Actually learn the business. Don’t expect or live off of other people having to handle your business for you. Learn contracts, learn how things are supposed to go so you will know when they aren’t going right. Don’t expect people to do "good business." Somebody trying to get the most for their business isn’t bad business, it’s just not business with your best interest in mind, and that’s only something you can avoid or make sure doesn’t become the overwhelming norm by never being the third wheel to your own business meetings and by being the only one at the table that doesn’t speak the language."
"Make sure you have a lawyer. Without one, labels and others will attempt to fuck you over. Make sure maintaining creative control is a top priority. Your brand is your power, don’t let anyone diminish or extort what you created."
The Chicago MC has come to collect on his latest single.
There’s honest, there’s blunt, and then there’s Vic Spencer.
The self-proclaimed Rapping Bastard’s stock in trade is an unfiltered rawness and humor stacked on top of fierce lyrical skill that’s likened him to Sean Price and Redman. There’s caustic wit in lines like “He didn’t want nothing but the worst for niggas / He sat up in the church with Swishers” from the self-eulogy “Vic Spencer Is Dead.”
He doesn’t rap on songs as much as he barrels through them on his own terms like the brick wall on the cover of Doc’s Da Name 2000, a skill he attributes to his adventurousness with flows and bars:
“I know that I’m doing a lotta rapping, so instead of keeping it traditional with hooks and what not, I just write what the beat tells me. I think music is an artform, and it’s your creativity and how you create things and how people gravitate to your sound. If I do take a beat and start rapping crazy and coming with different flows, that’s because I know I ain’t have no hooks on deck [laughs]. So I got tons of bars to keep you intrigued and keep you in that moment and still paint a picture.”
When Spencer began work on his latest single, “Ultra Magnetic Bodybags,” premiering exclusively at DJBooth, those same rap spirits caught him. Like most of his songs, it’s a buffet of lyrical punches, some absurd (“I make shit that make niggas park the Mercedes / And kill you, your security, and your baby”), some self-aggrandizing (“I toe tag beats / I’m gettin strong as shit, I can lift a car soon”) but still potent as a Chicago freight train and carried by Spencer’s rich baritone. It takes a certain kind of MC to turn lyrical shadowboxing into a UFC-ready spectacle and add their own tint to golden age nostalgia.
Spencer found the beat—produced and split in half by Boston beatmaker EvillDewer—on SoundCloud after listening to his latest project, the SonnyJim collaboration Spencer For Higher. One boisterous tweet later (“I would body this. Period."), the two moved to whittle the five-minute instrumental down to suit his cadence. He originally wanted to only rap over the hazy drum kicks of the first part but was eventually drawn to the more menacing back half as well. Both sides lurch and bend around the 4/4 time signature sweet spot most rappers are scared to leave, but Spencer wrangles it with a bitter smirk.
As plain-spoken as his lyrics are, Vic still feels misunderstood by a scene that doesn’t support him and gatekeepers and fans eager to write him off as a “trash starter.” He rarely holds his tongue both in his music and on social media, a habit that’s burned plenty of bridges in the past. But seeing the crowds scatter when there’s no shit left to be talked continues to get under his skin:
“I feel like Chicago doesn’t have a 'Chicago’s Redman' or a balance to where the type of music that I make is an option. That bothers me more than anything. Like, you see a person working hard and selling out vinyls, doing this and that. But you don’t give me no love when I’m doing that. But when I’m at these rapper’s heads and speaking my mind and speaking my truth, you got all the words for me. I believe that it’s a consensus and I just use it to my advantage. They don’t understand why I’m doing that. I used to be cool with some of these people. They did some things that struck a nerve and they can’t be fixed at this point, so I’m misunderstood because people ask, 'You heard of Vic Spencer?' and they say, 'Oh yeah, Vic Spencer is that guy that be hating on all the other guys.' It’s people that’s in positions to get the music out there that believe this stuff. When you really get to know me, you know it’s not like that, but it’s a shame that it’s people’s perception based off of social media and not real life, so I just take the berries with the lemons and make some type of concoction.”
As our conversation ended, it dawned on me how far Vic has come as an artist. He forged a bond with Sean Price and his family shortly before Price suddenly passed in 2015. He found a kindred spirit in fellow Chicagoan Chris Crack and formed one of the most lyrically vicious duos this side of Run The Jewels with Chris $pencer. He formed a relationship with European label Daupe! Media, which specializes in limited CD/vinyl runs that sell out in seconds. He’s released no less than 10 projects over the last six years, with dozens of other songs burning holes in a stack of hard drives. And this is before you consider his work in Chicago’s public school system.
On paper, Spencer has little left to prove. Sure, keeping it real can go wrong sometimes, but every once in a while, Vic just needs to lay out a lyrical body bag.
Navigating the sonic atmosphere of a song is crucial.
Navigating the sonic atmosphere of a song is crucial. EQ, compression, and tonal choices in the mixing and production phase revolve around the sonic environment of a song. Every choice you make affects the song entirely.
Sonic imaging choices affect where something else sits in a mix. This, in turn, affects phasing, audio clarity, and EQ, which is why mixing can be tricky.
The most common technique used to manipulate a sonic environment is incorporating reverb.
Why Use Reverb?
The job of the producer or engineer is not just mashing sounds together into .mp3 form. It’s bringing something new and exciting into the world by creating an environment of its own. The best songs are almost surreal; they exist in this world, but sound almost magical.
This is one reason we use reverb – to create and establish a space.
There are other ways to establish a sonic environment, but reverb is most common, as it is a part of your daily routine. The echoes of sound exist in the real world, so it’s only natural to incorporate this phenomenon into our music.
Here are a few ways one can use reverb:
As a mixing utility
To make a track present in the mix
To widen a track – giving it stereo girth
Making something sound weird, unique, or surreal
For light audio repair or turning mediocre tracks
To solidify sonic continuity throughout the song
A Couple of Need to Know Terms
What is an auxiliary bus?
Knowing how to use buses is paramount to smart mixing decisions.
A bus, or an auxiliary bus, is an audio pathway. This pathway allows you to route audio signals together, channeling them to your location of choice.
DAWs allows you to insert bus sends on tracks, and to set the input of an auxiliary track as a bus of your choice. Every DAW is different, so the terminology and process vary. For instance, Ableton uses “returns”, and Cubase has a more integrated interface.
Start by creating an auxiliary track. Set the input to bus 5 (or any number). Now access the bus for two existing track. Select bus 5 as your send output. You’ll notice that the auxiliary track is receiving audio from the other tracks. Audio magic!
Once again, not every DAW will look exactly like the process just described. It’s the principle that’s important. Think “sends” and “returns” like on analog mixers.
This is useful for a few reasons:
This saves your computer an inordinate amount of processing power. You can use one auxiliary track as your allocated reverb bus.
Busses save you time. Instead of dialing in 12 different verbs for 12 separate tracks, you can just plop a bus send on the tracks you need reverb on.
It promotes mix continuity. In the days of old, engineers had only a few reverb busses to choose from. Every track had similar reverb, and these records sounded amazing.
What is pre-delay?
Pre-delay is the time it takes for the reverb to take effect. It’s the amount of time between the start of the original audio and the reverb effect. Reverb is messy, but when properly incorporated, pre-delay will greatly affect clarity and crispness.
30ms is a great starting point when it comes to pre-delay. More pre-delay will increase clarity but can sound unnatural. Too little pre-delay could be a bit cluttered.
How to Use Different Types of Reverb
The types of reverb listed below are by no meansevery type, but we chose to include, and the ones you will encounter quite frequently.
Brief History: Reverb was once the natural phenomena of recorded song elements. If you wanted reverb, you had to record in a “verby” room.
However, engineers became craftier over time. One of the first techniques they used for artificially adding reverb was the incorporation of plate reverb. Using a suspended sheet of metal with a contact mic, the desired signal was sent to the plate, and the signal from the plate was sent back to the console. The result is a mellow and shimmery reverb that plays well with the dynamics of a track.
Plate Reverb Tips:
Since plate reverb can be emulated digitally, almost everyone can have access to the delectable effects it provides.
Try subtly adding plate reverb to polyphonic elements if you don't want to crowd up the mix. The bright and delicate reverb tail contrasts other reverbs you might use in the mix.
You could also adjust the decay time to around 500ms and add it to vocals or drums for a slappy and wavy sound. Plate reverb is used this way as an effect rather than a utility.
Brief History: Room reverb is the oldest reverb form. Before the advent of artificial reverb, engineers chose (and many still do) to record in rooms that exhibited natural reverb characteristics. Microphone placement and sonic temperament of the room were their reverb tools.
Today, we can use digital room emulations.
Room Reverb Tips:
Room verb is great for adding an intimate, closefeel to a song. If you want to add a bit of liveliness to track, toss some room verb on it with a small decay time (under 1.5 seconds).
Typically, the tail end of room reverb is nice and mellow. Unlike plate verb, which is subtly bright, room verb doesn’t have as much of a lingering effect. Putting a touch of room verb on brighter elements will smooth out harsh and robust high end.
Brief History: Like plate reverb, spring reverb is the sound that emanates from a tangible artifact… in this case, it’s a coiled spring.
It works by sending an audio signal through one end of a spring to a transducer located at the other end, which converts the resulting vibrations to an electrical signal. The culmination of dry signal and spring sound produces a twangy, warm depth.
You’ll commonly see spring reverbs in guitar amps and many vintage amplifiers.
Spring Reverb Tips:
Many engineers use spring reverb to add lo-fi depth or an animated mid-frequency range.
You can use spring reverb to give individual tracks a spatial uniqueness, or if you want something to pop out in the stereo field.
Throughout the energetic soundscape exists continuity and ingenious production choices. Reverb is used to accentuate the "vibe" of the song. Instead of acting as a spectral, atmospheric effect, reverb is used as a tool and “spice”.
Tip No. 1: Don’t Drench The Track
When producing or mixing, listen for anything that sticks out. Does anything sound like it exists separately from the other elements in the track? If you were listening live would it sound like everything was playing from the same stage, or is there something that sounds like its playing in a colosseum while the other instruments play in the same room?
It’s easy to add reverb, but be intentional. Instead of just adding a wet verb to make something sound big, make sure it fits. This is why many producers set a number of reverb busses. If a large number of your tracks incorporate the same reverb, the sonic space will have continuity, or in other words, a similar feel.
Tip No. 2: Being Subtle can Make a Big Change
Subtle reverb brings a song to life. For example, adding a little bit of spring verb panned left, paired with a touch of plate reverb panned right, can bring a soothing uniqueness to your main vocal track. Adding some reverb to the snare panned a bit to the left with the pre-delay set at 55ms, will give the snare a lifelike room feel.
Maybe even try duplicating your vocal track and tune it up an octave. Put heavy reverb on it and quietly blend it in.
Making small decisions will take a dry track and make it "vibey." Experiment with instruments, finding what is best for the polyphonic, monophonic, and percussive elements.
Tip No. 3: EQ Your Verb
[If you’re new to some of this terminology, just understand that you NEED to create a reverb bus to properly EQ a reverb effect.]
Putting EQ on your reverb bus isn’t always necessary, but it can be effective. Technically, reverb happens when a sound wave hits a surface and hundreds of little echoes sound off of the surfaces.
If you’re not careful, these little echoes will clash with one another. This is why EQ can be a useful tool. Carving out frequencies on your reverb busses can keep your frequency spectrum clean.
You can also EQ verb as an effect. High-passing a reverb bus can add sizzle and presence to a track, and low-passing a reverb channel can give the effect of distance.
Tip No. 4: Avoid Letting Reverb Clash with the Beat
In many cases, the beat is the driving force of the song, letting the listener feel rhythm and drive.
Reverb adds space. If you add too much space to a kick or snare, the “pop” starts to dissipate. The force that once drove the song is now lost in the audio ether.
There are a few ways to keep the drums clean and present.
Add pre-delay. Start at around 30ms and adjust to taste.
Be subtle. Unless you’re going for a compressed, crushed talk-back mic effect, the drums should stay poppy and in the mix.
Use a different reverb bus for the drums. Make sure your vocals and guitars are not sharing a reverb bus with the drum bus.
Pay attention to detail. If you make 40 little choices during the production process, your song will feel much more refined than if you made 10 big choices. Be creative and create a sonic space that resonates with listeners.
Learning how to incorporate space into your mix is a craft. It will indeed take time, so don’t get frustrated when you find yourself swimming in muddy audio. Just start small and take your time.
It was only a week ago when Rakim had Rap Twitter going HAM over statements chastising the current generation of rappers. Except, just as we suspected, Rakim wasn't the voice behind the keyboard.
"The Eric B & Rakim account is managed by a third party office that Rakim has no affiliation with," Rakim's manager Matthew Kemp confirmed in an email to DJBooth. "Rakim does not directly contribute to the account posts and this and other messages are not reviewed or authorized by him.
“The post you refer to in particular does not reflect his sentiment,” he continues, “which in my words—only paraphrasing what he has said many times before—is that hip-hop has always been founded in experimentation and individuality. That is the core of the culture and should be celebrated regardless of someone's personal taste. The ONLY time he ever makes a criticism is when artists abandon what is true to them to chase a trend. In his exact words, 'Always Do You,’ not what anyone else tells you to.”
The post that Kemp referred to in his email is a since-deleted tweet from the official account for Eric B & Rakim that read:
“You are now witnessing the devolution of rap music. The death of poetry and smoothness, they use this. The absence of a message. The inability to create meaningful change through words and verses, but the worse [sic] is, they don’t even know they hurt this artful purpose, it’s tragic.”
Shortly after the tweet went viral, hip-hop media decided en masse to run with the story because that is what hip-hop media does, but instead of following in lockstep with nearly all of our peers, DJBooth reached out to several contacts within the same circle as the two hip-hop icons, among them Rakim’s own booking agent, and the press contacts for their 2017 reunion shows.
Our question: Did Rakim actually voice any part of the above statement, and if he didn't, does he agree with it or not?
Within half an hour of hitting send on all three emails, the entire history of the Eric B. & Rakim Twitter account was deleted. Though we’ll probably never know for sure if this firebomb approach to avoiding a question was, in fact, a direct response to our question, we at least now know that our gut feeling about Rakim’s involvement with the account was indeed correct.
So there you have it. The only devolution as far as this story is concerned is the reporting done by the rap media, which has largely become an adult version of the children's game Telephone.
Atlantic Records signee Lil Skies might only be 19, but the rising star appears to be wise beyond his years.
During a recent interview with French media outlet Rap Fire Officiel, the rapper born Kimetrius Foose was asked to talk about the popularity of lean and Xanax among today's new generation of rap artists. While Skies doesn't completely denounce either drug (and is an avid smoker), he does explain why, for him, using or abusing them has never been an option.
"I'm not against people that do that shit, [but] to me, it's just not a way of life," Skies said. "I don't want to ever rely on something [like that]. I've said in my interviews, I'm scared, bro. I'm not going to sit here and act like I want to do drugs. Bro, I know I'ma have a bad trip so that's why I won't do it. I'm the type of person, my mind is too strong, I think too hard. I'm not going to put myself in that situation where I can get fucked up. But I've seen drugs really badly fuck up my friends, got some of my friends locked up for life. It's not for me."
Following the accidental drug overdose death of Lil Peep this past November, several of Skies' peers have formally denounced both lean and Xanax, including one-time Xanax endorsers Lil Pump and Lil Xan (who has since flirted with changing his stage name to Diego).
In December, Skies released his formal debut, Life of a Dark Rose, which, so far, has produced two charting singles: "Red Roses" (peaked at No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100) and "Nowadays" (peaked at No. 55).
The fast-rising Memphis rapper is the latest participant in our freestyle series.
Fresh off the recent release of his Glock Bond project, Memphis rapper Key Glock, the latest addition to Young Dolph's Paper Route Empire, goes off top for the latest installment of our weekly Bless The Booth freestyle series with TIDAL.
Shot at DJBooth’s SoHo, New York City studios, Bless The Booth showcases the lyrical dexterity of rappers both established and on the rise.
Head on over to our YouTube channel right now to watch past Bless The Booth episodes from Rapsody, G Herbo, Don Q, CyHi The Prynce, Wyclef Jean, Nyck Caution, Mir Fontane, Zoey Dollaz, Rob $tone, Jimi Tents, Khary, OMB Peezy, Kris Kasanova, Jarren Benton, Sylvan LaCue, Skyzoo, Yung Pinch, and Cozz.
The days of making chicken tender subs as a Publix deli employee are now a distant memory.
I. The Sound of Humility
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.” —H.E. Luccock
The music industry has sharks in the sea, crooks in the castle, and knives for every unsuspecting back. There are con artists who wear the masks of managers, dreams sold by finessers disguised as friends, and record labels as trustworthy as a talking snake offering a golden apple. This is the game, devious and unforgiving.
The only way to know what's happening behind the veil is to exchange horror stories, but on January 8, when I spent three hours watching Alabama clash with Georgia in the NCAA National Championship game alongside rapper, producer, and songwriter Childish Major, his day-to-day co-manager DaShawn, and their close friend and collaborator Groove, there was no talk of past beef, burnt bridges, or deals gone bad.
Instead of stories about their time spent in the belly of the beast, recounting nightmares before their dreams were realized, we talked about memorable collaborations, brotherhood, and the willingness to starve in a city full of artists who are equally hungry.
Long before Gucci Mane offered to sign him as a producer during the Brick Factory days (he says he only entertained the thought for a day), and before he produced Rocko’s 2013 wave-making and controversy-stirring single “U.O.E.N.O.,” Childish was signed to the Atlanta producer and DJ collective Hoodrich. There was one problem, though: he had no real management and survived only by making chicken tender subs as a Publix deli employee:
"I was still with my ex. I was living in Sandy Springs. I had been working there for a minute. I was down so bad I was thinking I’m going to work this job and become a manager. Still making music, but not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I was going to work my ass off. I ended up getting my boss a promotion, he goes to another store, and I have to start over with somebody else. It was at that moment I said, 'Fuck this.' I was already signed to Hoodrich at the time, but I didn’t have a hit so I was still working a job. After I get off work, I would just go straight to the studio. It was me, FKi 1st, Spinz, and Alkebulan. Once I caught 'U.O.E.N.O,' I probably waited two weeks before saying, 'Fuck it, I'm going to figure this shit out.'"
II. Disturbing tha Peace
Childish Major had previously worked with Two-9, Rome Fortune, Spillage Village, and other blossoming talents in Atlanta’s underground scene, but “U.O.E.N.O.” escalated everything. First Pigeons & Planesnamed him a producer to get familiar with, then Billboard placed him in the top five producers shifting the sound in Atlanta's rap scene, and finally Complex hailed the work of the South Carolina transplant in their list of 25 new producers to watch for. Childish doesn't employ a tag on any of his beats―he's a student of the school of Timbo and The Neptunes―but that didn't stop his sound from being acknowledged. Quickly, his name was starting to travel. Everyone from Jeezy and J. Cole to Quentin Miller and SZA blessed his audio foundations. Success, however, didn't turn him into a mainstream darling.
In response to being asked about producers being shafted by major labels over beat placements, Childish recalled the time when, years ago, Atlantic Recordsoffered him and a younger, less notable Metro Boomin $2,500, in total, to be split in half for a beat the two co-produced. “The placement was for Trey Songz," he said. "They wanted to put the record out online, but they called it a digital release to downplay the price.” Sound familiar?
Instead of taking the offer and securing a placement with the popular R&B singer, Childish took the advice of his current co-manager, Jeff Dixon, who convinced the young creative that agreeing to the deal presented by Atlantic would put him in a similar position in the future. Of course, it takes someone with a vision of tomorrow to turn down unworthy opportunities today. In addition to being one-half of Major’s management team, Dixon is well known for co-managing Ludacris with his brother Chaka Zulu and co-founding Disturbing tha Peace Records.
In fact, DTP's early team members represent some of the biggest movements currently bursting in Atlanta and overflowing into mainstream music media:
"Love Renaissance can be linked to DTP because Sean Famoso and Tunde Balogun started there. Courtney Stewart manages Khalid. Meezy co-manages 21 Savage. Paris “PK” Kirk is manager of label services for Tunecore. B.write is head of Eardrummers marking. Producers Ducko McFli, DJ Fu, and Syk Sense. As far as the new niggas, they all came out of the DTP studio."
III. Shadowboxing in Studios
In 2013, following SXSW, a then-21-year-old Childish Major was invited to DTP by TundeBalogun for a session with a songwriter. There he met Jeff and Chaka Zulu, the three chatted, and a connection was made.
“Before I left, Jeff tells me to take down his number and offered for me to hit him up if I ever needed any advice or anything," Childish recalls. "Funny enough, I [started] blowing him up asking him all kinds of questions. From there he said I could use the backroom whenever I wanted.”
Now 26 years old, Childish has spent the last five years in DTP's backroom studio, turning the space into his own personal dojo. He learned to record and engineer, needing no assistance to make music. At all hours of the night, you could find him there, making music and—in the process—finding himself.
Jeff and Chaka gave him access and keys to the studio, but more importantly, they provided priceless insight:
“There’s a lot of questions artists don’t ask themselves. Taking my first couple of songs ever recorded over to the office side of the building, playing them, and getting asked: ‘What type of space is your music going to live in? What are you molding this after?’ There’s a lot of artists who don’t know where they want to go. They don’t know where they want their music to live. After having those questions asked it was [time] for Deshawn and me to figure out.”
IV. Aim High
This past December, Childish Major released his debut album, Woo$Ah. The album cover, shot and edited by Gage McRae and Justin Dunnigan, is one of my favorites from 2017. The image of his head split open grabs the eyes and makes you wonder, a feeling encouraged by good, original art.
The music found on Woo$Ah is mostly mellow, but full of venting lyricism and dulcet production. It’s soft, but true to its title―stress is a common denominator intertwining each song. The weight of relationships crumbling, financial shortcomings, and life’s pressures burdening shoulder blades.
The project stands tall at eight tracks, but two entire projects were made and scrapped in the process of finalizing what would be the third version of the same album. The first project was called Humility City, named after Childish's company. Then it was Apples Don’t Fall. The only tracks that made it on to all three projects were “I Like You” and “Happy Birthday.”
Both Lorine Chia and DreamvilleMC J.I.D were set to feature on the original version (Humility City), with the intro and outro narrated by Big K.R.I.T.―think Common on the first Man on the Moon, T.I. on Travis Scott’s Rodeo, or Big Rube on various OutKast albums. Two iterations later, however, Woo$Ah boasts features from Isaiah Rashad and SZA, 6LACK and DRAM, and the excellent Hero The Band. Even with such a talented cast, Childish utilizes everyone as assistants to his vibes, like background muses.
Building an album around the concept of stress is a relatable subject. Even someone who has seen varying degrees of success in music has days where it all becomes too much. When asked about his lyrical approach, the young artist provided an answer that displayed an innate sense of awareness for his audience and the desire to connect with listeners who are more grounded in reality:
"There’s four records that I feel like define me: “Damn,” “Window Seat,” “Madd Hatter,” and “Woo$Ah.” All are essentially the same type of records. Vent songs with different beats. Coming up in the production world and the songwriting world, I know a lot of songwriters who want to be an artist. I think the problem is… The reason it doesn’t work out for a lot of them is they think since they’re able to give so and so a hit, that they can give themselves a hit. It's less about that, and more about people connecting to you personally. I felt like that’s my approach. It needs to be my approach. To be personal."
Four years after his hit song with Rocko, Childish Major is seamlessly transitioning from behind the boards and into the vocal booth. Patience has been a virtue he’s practiced since entering the backroom studio. When he speaks of improving, it’s with a sense of excitement. The ambition to progress has driven him this far and the results prove it has paid off.
This is a South Carolina hip-hop fan who earned a placement on HBO's Insecure for a song J. Cole produced for him, who remembers downloading Cole’s Warm Up mixtape from Datpiff like it was yesterday. From being a fan of Little Brother to bringing Big Pooh out at his first-ever concert in Raleigh, North Carolina, to opening for Big K.R.I.T. and speaking to 9th Wonder afterward―this is what kids dream of when they think about a career in hip-hop.
When he moved from South Carolina to Atlanta, Childish Major had music connections but no family to fall back on. That’s what makes his story one worth telling; his success has been a product of patience and personal growth. We often hear about the foul side of an artist's rise, the pitfalls and the dirty deals and the broken promises, but Childish is an example of all that can go right. Be good to people, be good to your team, work damn hard, and don't forget to woosah.
If you've run through the credits for Nipsey Hussle's newly-released album, Victory Lap, you might be wondering why JAY-Z is listed as a composer on "Hussle & Motivate."
According to Hussle, who sat down for an interview this morning with The Breakfast Club, it was JAY-Z who signed off on the "It's the Hard-Knock Life" sample from Annie for the record, which Hov famously cleared for his 1998 single.
"You know what's crazy about that record?" Nipsey said. "This is what I learned when we was going through the process and the paperwork. When JAY-Z got Annie to clear the record, I guess when he paid them, he said, 'Y'all gotta let every rap artist after me use this.' That was his deal with whatever producers and writers—so we benefited off his negotiating in 1998. We just had to get JAY-Z to clear it."
To confirm Nipsey's claims that Jay managed to both clear the sample for himself and for all future rap artists, we have reached out to the Warner/Chappell Music representative listed by performance rights organization ASCAP, who, per their public database, oversees 50% of the copyright on the original song by Andrea McArdle, an even split between Charles Strouse Publishing and Morris Edwin H. & Co. At press time, we have received no reply.
For those unfamiliar with the origin story of Jay managing to clear the Annie sample, we highly recommend reading the now-defunct Grantland's 2014 oral history, which includes this gem from Hov himself:
I decided to write the company a letter myself. I made up this story about how when I was a seventh grader in Bed-Stuy, our teacher held an essay contest and the three best papers won the writer a trip to the city to see Annie. A lie. I wrote that as kids in Brooklyn we hardly ever came into the city. True. I wrote that from the moment the curtain came up I felt like I understood honey’s story. Of course, I’d never been to see Annie on Broadway. But I had seen the movie on TV. Anyway, they bought it, cleared it, and I had one of my biggest hits.
Rappers, Hov (reportedly) did that so hopefully you won't have to go through that.
Sharing music with his son has completely rewired XV’s understanding of the artform.
There’s dad rap, and then there are rap dads. Navigating the world of fatherhood is tricky enough—just ask our editor-in-chief—but being a father and a professional recording artist at the same time is whole other beast.
All of these examples have led to some great material, but how does becoming a father change the creative process? Or hip-hop fandom, in general?
In an effort to answer these questions—and because who doesn't love to talk to rappers about their kids—we proudly present Rap Dads, a new series that aims to highlight the roller coaster ride that is trying to be a legendary parent and a legendary artist at the same damn time.
First up, we have a born-again XV, who recently announced his return to hip-hop. After his son was born in 2008, and following some major complications, Vizzy’s entire workflow changed—for the better. Where he was once loose in his process, being a father forced him to become more organized and better at managing his time. In fact, he affirms that there is a whole new level of creativity unlocked when you are no longer living for yourself.
Of course, music has also been instrumental in his connecting with his son. While XV admits he’s protective over what material his son hears, sharing music together has completely rewired XV’s understanding of the artform.
“The music that my son gravitates to changed my music taste completely because it made me realize the power of melody and how children will gravitate to feel-good and uplifting music without even understanding the lyrics,” he explains. “It just made me realize how powerful the frequencies and vibrations music have over us even as kids. Especially when it's something from the heart.”
The full transcript of our equally heartfelt interview with XV, which has been lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Tell me a bit about your son and your relationship.
XV: I have one kid, my son, and he was born in 2008, the same year I turned 23. His mother had complications early on and ended up having them at only 22 weeks. He was born a twin, but his brother passed away a month after they were born. As early as they were born neither of them should have survived, and my son should have had major complications, but he was blessed. He didn't get to come home from the hospital for about three months, so when he finally did, I spoiled him like crazy. Just because of all of the hardship he had endured for the first few months of his life. He got pretty much every toy he wanted those first few years. It's been hard weaning him off of that lifestyle, [laughs].
Aside from toys, what tunes do you put your son on to? Has sharing music together changed your music taste?
I'm always lowkey protective over the things my son hears and sees at an early age, so I would play only the classics around him growing up. Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and of course hip-hop like Kanye West, the uplifting 2Pac, Macklemore, and myself. It's dope because when he was only six years old and watching movies like Shrek and Guardians of the Galaxy, he would be singing every word to the songs from the soundtracks like he grew up on them.
The music that my son gravitates to changed my music taste completely because it made me realize the power of melody and how children will gravitate to feel-good and uplifting music without even understanding the lyrics. It just made me realize how powerful the frequencies and vibrations music have over us even as kids. Especially when it's something from the heart. My son's favorite songs are all amazingly written records with great production like Kanye's "Power" or Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us," and even the rock songs he finds on his own now through YouTube.
How has being a father changed the way you create music?
Well, I had my son the year my music career started taking off, so I always think he was helpful in the change in my mindstate and my music. He made me realize who I was as a man, and the journey that I went through just having him and having to man up to the situation I was in helped me realize who I wanted to be as a man and that transcended into who I wanted to be as an artist. I also started grinding like no other, really trying to make it as an artist. I created my mixtape, Square in the Circle, the month he returned from the hospital. After that, I started working on my concept album, The Kid With the Green Backpack, and even did 80 songs with my 40 Days, 40 Nights series. So, he definitely triggered a work ethic that was in me that I never knew was there.
What was your process like prior to that?
It was a lot more loose and free. Not in a good way, though. No schedules. No organization. No release dates. I was releasing music, a lot, but it didn't have the same direction that came after becoming a father. Being a young dude pursuing music without any responsibilities outside of himself and his own bills gives you this freedom of self that sometimes can hold you back from figuring out who you are and what your purpose truly is. Not saying a child does that for everyone, but it definitely changed my writing. I was trying to be someone I wasn't in my music, I didn't care about repercussions of things I said in my music. I was like Peter Parker with the spider bite but Uncle Ben hadn't died yet. I needed that life-changing moment.
Would you say you’re a more organized creative now? Does that help the music?
Definitely more organized now. Even more so, since my son is in school and has his own schedule that I have to keep him on as a father. So it will help me organize studio dates and times. I'll fly out so I can still get to be part of his day. Depending on your priorities, it can help or hurt the music—I've learned that just from trying to learn how to balance it. I would feel overwhelmed when I'm in the midst of promoting or touring for a new project but I also want to enjoy all of the moments I can with my son.
Too many people feel like they'll get those times back or be able to create them when they want to, but that's not how it works. So I would have to say it helps the music have a certain style of rollout and release schedule which also helps an artist be able to balance his personal life. But if the artist creates better by having a more free lifestyle and schedule, then it can definitely have a negative effect as well.
How has fatherhood changed the way you approach the business side of music?
It made me start looking at music as an actual business. I've never been a money-driven person when it comes to creating music. But, I've always wanted to have my own record label so I've been reading and studying up on the business of music since I was 15 years old. It just made more sense when I had this other person that I said I would be responsible for.
What’s the best surprise that has come from being a father and an artist?
My son's school friends knowing my music, either from their parents showing them who I am or them looking me up because I do a lot of school events with my son and talk to kids at the school. It's amazing when they come up to me knowing my songs, and my son develops a sense of pride and confidence from that too so it's a great feeling.
Your daily routine changing from being a solo artist and free person to having to be this responsible, nurturing, intuitive father of a child that is watching what you do, not just what you say. It changes the way you move. I'm sure a lot of your favorite trapper rappers chose to take music seriously after having that responsibility hit them in the face.
Is there a level of creativity that becomes unlocked when you’re no longer living for just yourself?
I would say so, just because my career and so many artists that I'm friends with have evolved creatively after that change in fatherhood happens, from JAY-Z to Wale to Wiz Khalifa. It also depends on the time that you became a father and the place you're at in your career. For some, when you're at a loss for creativity or feel like you don't have the inspiration to make new music, a change in your lifestyle can jolt that creativity. It definitely did that for me when I was 23.
I know you’ve got new music on the way. Has fatherhood directly influenced any of your forthcoming material?
Definitely, I started taking off in my career when he was born and now I'm seeing him turn 10 years old, I want him to understand and hear my growth just as much as my fans do now. He understands music completely different now that I've raised him with so much good music so I want to add to that catalog and give him classics of my own.
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