Tagged: artists

A Retrospective Review of Doggystyle

This article was also posted on Passion of the Weiss

You’re sitting in the passenger seat of a car. It’s a hot, muggy Los Angeles afternoon and you’re with your friend in his low-riding convertible, cruising down the boulevard as the wind gently pushes upon your jehri curl. The soundtrack for your excursion consists of melodic synthesizers, a deep bass, slow grooves, and the occasional background female vocals. You friend passes you a smoldering joint as you both sit in silence, listening to rhymes about fornication and felonies ooze through air, delivered in a lazy drawl where the words seemingly blend together in a syrupy flow. This is what listening to Doggystyle should feel like. Unfortunately, it’s not an experience that’s easy to mimic, nor is it a time frame that one can revisit.

That’s why, upon having to retrospectively review Doggystyle, and album that is considered a classic in the hip-hop cannon and one that I missed out on in my early years, I was faced with a horrible problem: I didn’t like it. It’s not that I didn’t like the lyrics, or the beats, or the songs as a whole, it’s just that I couldn’t consider it great. For me to consider an album great it needs to be thematically timeless, sonically irreplicable, and act as a solid touch-point for the artist’s future career. If I were to listen to this album in a vacuum, I would adore it. However, knowing what happens to artist, the producer, and the genre itself takes too much away from the project for me to be able to enjoy it in 2013.

Thematically, the album acts as a blueprint for what gangsta rap should sound like. It’s angry, threatening, direct, scary, and rooted in reality. Doggystyle was released just one year after the Rodney King Riots in May of 1992, a race riot that turned LA into a warzone for days and would go on to paint that area as violent and instable in the years to come. Those events undoubtedly painted Snoop’s worldview and caused him to be mindful of what he decided to put on wax as well. This was not the time for another political group like Public Enemy to emerge but it was also not the time for a Flava Flav-clone to try to break into the mainstream. The rapping in Doggystyle starts off celebratory with the G Funk Intro & Gin and Juice; before shifting to serious in the middle of the album with Murder Was The Case, Serial Killa and Who Am I; and then staying fairly serious with a healthy pinch of bravado for the remainder of the album with songs like Gz and Hustlas, and Pump Pump. With this type of output, Snoopy was giving the public exactly what they needed at the time: something jubilant but done with a sneer.

Sonically, Dr. Dre’s production skills are on full display on Doggystyle. The way that Snoop’s lackadaisical flow snaps perfectly into Dre’s drums is special, and no song seems to overstay its welcome when the entire project is broken up with interludes and skits that feature distinguishable characters and are comical without attempting to be. This album was the penultimate example of g-funk, second only to The Chronic in the way that it mixes the high-pitched synthesizers with the booming drums to give you a distinctly West Coast feel.

All of the videos released for Doggystyle (What’s My Name, Gin N’ Juice, It’s a Doggy Dogg World) are highly cinematic, almost all of them involving characters with defined personalities and etched-out roles. They feature parents, pimps and animorphing canines. With these, Snoop both took over MTV‘s timeslots while redefining the way that music videos should be shot and shining a light on the community that he grew up in. None of the videos from Doggystyle were explicitly violent, but they also never gave you the impression that they were made from a safe place.

So with all of the above being said, why do I still not like this album? The answer comes down to change.

Both the genre and the artist have changed so much since the debut of Doggystyle. Take the artists representing rap currently and stack them up against what Snoop was doing. Freddie Gibbs and Wiz Khalifa may not be better rappers than Snoop, but both rhyme almost exclusively about themes that Snoop rapped about concurrently (being a gangster and smoking weed). Neither Freddie nor Wiz will ever be on Snoop’s level, but to listeners who want to only hear about smoking weed and not about killing people (or vice versa), they now have a rapper that speaks specifically to that niche. So while Snoop is most definitely a trail-blazer, you had to be around to see that trail being made in order to properly appreciate it.

It’s like when people say that Rakim is the greatest rapper ever because he revolutionized the way that MCs flow, even though there have been a metric ton of rappers who have come afterwards and fine-tuned that approach. Just because Henry Ford invented the automobile doesn’t mean that I’m going to acknowledge that the Model T was the finest car to ever have been put on the road.

And then there’s the issue of what Snoop himself has become. It’s hard to believe the the current Snoop is the same one that made this album. Not just because it wasn’t recorded under the moniker of Snoop Lion, but because it feel so raw and un-savy that it seems to go against everything that Snoop has done since. You would think twenty years in the game would allow your audience to know the real you, but not with Snoop. It’s impossible to tell if he’s someone who sets trends or chases them. Did his first salvo of albums allow him to achieve the perfection in art that he desired, allowing him to spend the rest of his career experimenting and doing whatever made him happy? Or is Snoop forever chasing the next big thing in music, making songs with Dr. Dre to Pharrell to will.i.am to Diplo in the hopes of being constantly accepted by the rap culture of the time?

One of the things I truly enjoyed about this album is that it came with a lot of “ah-ha” moments. The more old rap I listen to, the more I realize how few of the memorable lines in the “new” stuff are original. Jay-Z borrowed heavily from “What’s My Name” to make “Jigga My Nigga” including the line about being “slim with the tilted brim” and how he “went solo on that ass but he’s still the same”; Kendrick lifted the part about buying his “moma a benz” and his “boo boo a jag” from Murda Was The Case; even Kanye seemingly lifted the opening lines of the “Good Life” chorus from the end of the Snoop’s Bathtub. This album was clearly instrumental in the development of these rappers, as well as many others (hi Game!), which frustrates me and the fact that I can’t connect with it all the more.

The closest possible analogy I could draw is that Doggystyle made me feel the same way I felt after watching The Godfather a few years ago. The movie was good, but since I had already watched the plot unfold in the form of parodies and satires during my childhood spent watching The Simpsons and other shows that borrowed heavily from pop-culture, it didn’t feel the same. I can admire the story arc and the character development and the costumes, but I can never bring myself to time travel back to the era where that piece of art was new. I had watched so many movies that were made after, and clearly influenced by, The Godfather, that seeing the original didn’t bring the sense that I was a part of something new and exciting. Listening to Doggystyle may have been special in 1993, but it’s not a feeling that can be re-enjoyed. I’ve already listened to what has come after, and the sad fact is that detracts from being able to enjoy the album today, regardless of the trail that it blazed.


Big Lean

This article also appeared on Passion of the Weiss

If you’ve been paying attention to the emerging Toronto music scene, you may recognize Big Lean as the rapper who was able to snag a Chief Keef cameo before Keith went to jail (the first time) in addition to Chinx Drugz & Juicy J features. For a novice rapper to secure these types of guests for his debut mixtape is impressive considering he had little buzz outside of his resident Parma Court prior to “Can’t Stop Now” being released. But what’s most noteworthy is how different the finished project sounds from the singles.

Based on the Keef and Chinx songs, you’d except Big Lean to release a tape that caters to low level drug dealers and hustlers looking to make a name for themselves. “My Life Style” with Keef has Big Lean bragging about his ice, money, cars and hoes and on “Squeeze” we are regaled with more street bravado, this time featuring a Coke Boy. But when played in its entirety, Big Lean‘s “Can’t Stop Now” provides a different feel from what these street-centric singles promised.

This is the album that French Montana wishes Diddy allowed him to make. It’s desperate, heartfelt and at times almost comes across as tender while still maintaining a certain level of credibility. Throughout these 15 songs we’re exposed to all the different parts of Big Lean, sometimes rapping and sometimes trying to sing. He’s the hustler who doesn’t trust women unless they’re stripping, the adolescent who just purchased his first condo, the naive street kid who would fold his twenty dollar bills so they would look thicker.

For a rapper who was previously best known for being the most popular act in Parma Court, Big Lean has done a fantastic job of curating the supporting talent that’s associated with this debut. The aforementioned American ratchet squad of Chief Keef, Juicy J and Chinx Drugz do just enough to be interesting without stealing the spotlight. Meanwhile, the local talent delivers both on the mic and behind the boards. Harvey Stripes provides a solid guest verse on “I Know” and Andreena Mill sings a powerful chorus on “Run”, one of the mixtape’s standout tracks. Big Lean shows off Toronto’s deep production talent pool on “Can’t Stop Now” with slowed down, speaker-busting tracks from Boi-1da, DZL and Burd N Keyz.

The only critiques I have with the mixtape stem from Big Lean‘s over-reliance on singing. Tracks like 3AM become grating after multiple listens due to the off-tune goon-croon. The other side of that coin is that songs like “Condo” become infectiously catchy exactly because Big Lean chooses to sing the hoo, albeit slightly less. For now we’re forced to take the good with the bad until we find the perfect dosage.

Toronto’s socio-political climate has been on pins & needles for the past few days, thanks to a police force that’s quick to shoot first and ask questions later. When events like these take place, they cause a ripple of outrage amongst the general population that diminishes quickly in the following weeks, leaving everyone with nothing but a lingering feeling of doubt that the metropolis truly has the best people possible at every position of power. This feeling of impotence creates an edge and uneasiness that hangs around the city, and although you can’t prove that this type of environment acts an incubator for gangster rap, the amount and quality of it to come out of Toronto recently points to the affirmative. Artists like Big Lean and Roney show the gritty face of our city, but they are also faces that could have very easily been intoxicated and shot nine times by a police office on a downtown streetcar. In any case, artist’s like Big Lean getting popular on a stage outside of Toronto show a refreshing side to the city. And though it may not exactly be a “positive” side for the world to see, it’s better to be known for having an authentic rapper than trigger-happy cops. That’s how Toronto becomes Detroit and Big Lean becomes Big Sean — ohmygod what have I done?!

5 Things Soulja Boy Invented

This article also appeared on Noisey

Take yourself back to a more innocent time. A time when the final Harry Potter book had yet to be released, when Bob Barker was still hosting The Price Is Right, and when wearing a long white short sleeve t-shirt was still considered fashionable. It was 2007, and DeAndre Way was 17 years old. Looking to get his talent out of Atlanta and in front of millions of potential fans, DeAnre recorded a music video equipped with a catchy dance routine. It worked. DeAndre Way went on to become Soulja Boy and Soulja Boy went on to become the most polarizing figure in rap music since Vanilla Ice.

While certain old people criticize him for ruining hip-hop and being on their lawn, others laud him for embracing the invigoration of the “Singles Era,” where a string of catchy songs could lay as the foundation of your career. It’s the ages-old pop formula, applied to rap and done so perfectly. Soulja Boy‘s debut was literally everywhere in 2007, but he also followed it up with a number of hits off all of his first three albums after that. Even though these days he seems more interested in making weird, occasionally wonderful mixtapes than sculpting bangers that both soccer moms and teenage girls know the words to, Soulja Boy has done more than just release potentially some of the greatest albums ever. Here are five things that Soulja Boy invented by himself with no help from anybody!

Being An Early Adopter

Up until 2007, artists were mainly using MySpace to spread their talents around. Soulja Boy was one of these MySpace users but he also saw the opportunity present in using YouTube—then only two years old—to release not only his music video, but also an instructional video where he explained how to perform the dance in an abandoned swimming pool. Before “Crank Dat” took over YouTube, the faux-marketing concept of a viral video didn’t even exist. In addition to helping YouTube become the multimedia giant that they are today, Soulja Boy continues to be one of the first users to successfully grasp how a new app works. Twitter, Instagram and Vine were blessed with Soulja Boy‘s presence in their infancy, making DeAndre the biggest celebrity in Silicon valley since that time the guys at Twitter made Kanye West perform in exchange for a verified check mark.

Intricate and Widely Accepted Dance Routines

The thing that never gets mentioned when criticizing the Crank Dat dance is just how damn difficult it was. Jump-cross-jump-uncross-right-foot-to-left-hand-stomp-right-knee-tap-superman-pushoff? Are you fucking kidding me? It brought together the popular snap dance craze, was made better when performed with a long t-shit and looked great when properly executed on a high-school gymnasium floor. Compare that to the Gangnam Style Pony Dance or the newfangled, no-guideline bullshits like the Harlem Shake and the flailing invisible pull-up monstrosity that is “Rap Hands,” and marvel at the amount of coordination the general population had in 2007. There’s a good chance that everyone that has ever said anything negative about Soulja Boy has only done so because they were unable to pull off the Crank Dat dance. Those people deserve all of your pity.

Internet Rappers

What do Lil B, Chief Keef, Riff Raff and Migos have in common? All of them honed their talents in the SODMG incubator. And although Soulja Boy may not have been able to keep some of these bridges from being burnt as time went on, he’s still discovered more made-for-the-internet rappers than Lyor Cohen or Tumblr. It’s almost become a weird rite of passage for upstart talent that looks to make popular music that pisses purists off. Making a song with Soulja Boy is the audio equivalent of Hollywood’s casting couch: off-putting but necessary.

Being a Bad Influence on Justin Bieber

Before Lil Twist taught Justin how to roll a joint and turned him into Biebervelli, the foundation had already been set by DeAndre. Justin couldn’t help falling under Soulja’s influence and has done some very Soulja-like things since his floppy-haired days. The tattoos, the explosion of attitude, the pet monkey. All of these events stem from listening to too much Pretty Boy Swag.

A Renaissance In Indie Gaming

Braid was the critically-acclaimed independent video game that was very popular to a small group of people when it was released on the Xbox Live Arcade. But praise from critics can only take you so far and positive reviews don’t pay the rent, so the game’s creator needed someone to help bring the joy of Braid to the masses. Fortunately, Soulja Boy downloaded it and thought it was fucking brilliant. He posted a video where he praised the time-travel mechanism and Braid sales climbed as a result. The financial success that the game’s creator Jonathan Blow received caused a number of game developers to begin working on their own dream-game. This renaissance in gaming even went on to inspire a documentary called Indie Game: The Movie. Unfortunately, in the movie Jonathan Blow says that Soulja Boy‘s praise of the game’s top layer (the mechanics and the aesthetics) may have caused people to not look beyond the surface and see the true meaning of Braid. I’m not sure what the true meaning is, but it obviously doesn’t revolve around being grateful because JONATHAN BLOW IS A GIANT SACK OF SHIT FOR NOT UNDERSTANDING THE GIFT HE HAS RECEIVED.

King of Quans

This interview also appeared on Noisey

Rich Homie Quan is on fire. In the past few months, this Atlanta goon-crooner that talks like Boomhauer has been able to establish an international following on the back of his extraterrestrial anthem “Some Type Of Way”, a song that almost forces you to do invisible gym-exercises and has caused the general rap audience to label him a Lil Boosie/Webbie hybrid. The similarities are certainly there as Quan writes songs with infectiously catchy hooks in a voice that sounds like it’s not meant to sing, but stubbornly does so anyway. However, what sets Quan apart is just how quickly he’s been able to leak into the mainstream after being released from prison after serving 15 months. He used his time away from society to hone his writing craft to where it’s almost effortless for him to create realistic and melodic songs like the ones packed on his Still Going In mixtape. The musical inspiration flows through Quan like he’s some sort of tattooed and vulgar garden hose – and after being pinched for 15 months, he’s ready to explode into the rap game.

Congrats on the video.
Yeah, man, I wanna shout out Motion Family. I love the video, man. It shows it like it is, it’s real footage.

My biggest question is ‘where can I get a pair of those pants’?
Polo made them thangs. You can go to Polo Ralph Lauren to get them

Does your business card actually say Mr. CEO?
Nah, but it does say Rich Homie Quan’s business. I wish it said Mr. CEO.

Now that you’re getting a lot more popular, have you had any thoughts on changing your name to something shorter?
Nah, man. I’m Rich Homie Quan. It’s not about the length, it’s about the story behind the name. It’s like rich as in spirit; homie as in brother & loyalty; and Quan, that’s me. I really like my name. I feel as if it stands out; it’s different. It’s not like any other artist.

If Rich Homie Quan had his own cologne, what would the name be?
I would name my cologne Savoi. I think it’s a Greek word, but it’s almost like the love of music. I be trying to do a lot of stuff based off of real stuff, so I would name my cologne Savoi because it has a meaning.

When did you go to jail?
I went to jail 2010, came home 2012. 15 months.

What was it like adapting when you came back out?
Adapting was the hardest part, because my brain had gotten adjusted to being locked, incarcerated, so when I came home to get my feet muddy in this music thing. When I came home, that was really the first time I started taking music seriously. That was my first time getting in a real studio, my first time really getting that real vibe. So after my first times in the studio, I wanted to do it again. ‘Cause I been getting better at music, and as I got better, I began to drop good music, but I was still kinda shy and timid of how people would react to me. Being that I’m coming from the streets, my album is gonna sound like that, but melodic.
Where did that actually come from for you? That whole melodious way of rapping?
It’s always been in me. Even if you go back and do research on me. Like, I have a Myspace page that had music on there from before I got locked up. The melodic way, I feel like that was gonna be my secret to the game. To try to bring something new. But I feel like it’s the way I go in on the beats, even as far as my adlibs go. I just want everything to be noticed. That’s why I try to take my time on every song I do. As far as “Some Type of Way,” we didn’t even write it; I freestyled the whole song ‘cause it came off a feeling. It came off a feeling. I’m not much of a crunk person, but the reaction you get in the club, man, people just go crazy. I think it’s more so the feeling that the song gives you that I like, it’s the feeling you get when you listen.

So let me just ask you, is it true that you and Future are not cool?
No, that’s a lie. I don’t know where people get that from. I’ve never met Future a day in my life, never had an encounter with him whatsoever. I listen to his music. We’re from Atlanta. I don’t know why I get compared to him. It’s someone’s opinion, but at the end of the day, I can’t help how I sound. But I can control what I talk about. The contents of the music are totally opposite. We rap about totally different things. The way I talk normally is the same way how I sound on my songs. I don’t even use Auto-Tune. But I salute Future. I’m doing my thing, he’s doing his thing. This is my comment: I’ve never met him. I’ve never met him.

So there’s no animosity? If you bumped into him in the studio tomorrow, everything would be cool?
I’ve never met him. Even a ‘hey’ or ‘bye’, I’ve never met him, never seen him. I don’t know where that came from. But at the end of the day, I salute him. He’s doing his thing, I’m doing my thing.

Getting back to prison, when you came out, what made you want to do music? Did you look at the landscape, like I could do better than all this?
Nah, it was the soul of me. Really, it’s the process of elimination. Before I want to jail, man, in high school, I played baseball. I was Mr. Baseball. I played baseball from four to 18, so baseball was always kind of like my dream. While I’m in jail, it’s a process of elimination—basically asking myself, what am I gonna do when I come home? So I start think about what I was good at, or what type of way do I gotta hustle? But I know that by hustlin’ I can’t get me no legit money ever. So I thought I could try my voice. Being locked up, I wrote every night, man. I wrote every night. Even if it was a hook, if it was a verse, or even if it was a paragraph. I wrote something every day, to complete my craft. So by the time I came home, I had like 100 songs. But when I’m coming home, I’m not talking about nothing that the other active rappers were talking about, I’m rapping about a lot of stuff that I thought of being in jail. So I couldn’t use a lot of those songs, but I went back to them, I kept critiquing my craft, I stayed in the studio. So what I gotta do is, just try to use my voice to the best I can. We dropped a mixtape, I go in on every song. I did that mixtape myself. Every song I dropped in my room, I was mixing myself. Even as far as Still Going In , some of those songs dropped in my room. I didn’t have an investor, I invented it myself. I didn’t go to no studio. I had bought my own equipment. I got on YouTube and watched how to learn how to mix. Because at the end of the day, nobody gon’ want it as much as I want it. That’s the mentality I have, so I try to push myself 150 percent. So then, once the music started getting around in the street, we didn’t have to pay the DJs ‘cause it was good music. I critiqued my craft so hard, I wanted to be ready. Like, even before I went to jail, I coulda tried to rap then, but I don’t feel that I would have been where I’m at. ‘Cause I feel as though God makes no mistakes. At the time, I didn’t have a story to talk about. When I came home, I had been through feelings, so I put everything down on paper. Now I got a story to tell. And all I do is tell my story, stick to the script. I know no one story is like my story.

So is your goal to be a great story-teller or to become the best entertainer-rapper possible through telling it?
At the end of the day, I do want to become the best entertainer, the best rapper. But what’s more important to me is just getting the story out and then touch the people, man. I never grew up saying “When I grow up I wanna be a rapper” or whatnot. I knew I could rap. It started with poetry. And it went from poetry to a verse, from a verse to a chorus, from a chorus to a song. I go in on every song, I go in on every song, and I’m still going in—and look where we at now.

Has writing music become easier for you since you’ve had all that practice in prison?
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I feel as if I wrote so much in jail, when I came home, I haven’t picked up a paper since I been home. Everything out of jail I’ve dropped has been straight off my mental, off my brain.

They say after you do something for 10,000 hours, you become perfect at it.
I wouldn’t say I’m perfect ‘cause I have a different way of performing, but I’m comfortable with what I do. I didn’t look to be no rapper, I’m glad I am a rapper, and I’m glad that my story, my art, is touching people and having an effect. You have to think, like, before Some Type of Way dropped, I wasn’t get any major radio spins or whatnot, but I was still doing shows. And the response I get from the crowd, man, you have to see it. I’m not a sex symbol. But the girls go crazy though! ‘Cause it’s so real. You feel me? It’s so real.

One of the themes of a lot of the younger artists is the fact that the old guys have to move out of the way for the new guys to have a place. Do you feel that it’s still true in Atlanta, or is Atlanta so welcoming of all its acts that it never really feels like anyone overstays their welcome?
I’ma tell it like this, man: I was born and raised out of Atlanta my whole life. Atlanta is funny when it comes to music, man. And the greats, like T.I.’s, the Jeezys, the Gucci Mane—the Atlanta greats, man. It’s a new era that’s coming out of Atlanta. You got the Trinidad James, you got me, you got the Migos. What I’ve been saying in a lot of my interviews is, I really feel as if we’re trying to bring that Atlanta back—like Outkast shit, the Goodie Mobs, like I said—the T.I.’s, the Jeezys. We wanna bring it all back at once and move together. But they have been welcoming, man. I got new material with Jeezy. I talked to T.I. on numerous occasions more so as a mentor. I get a lot of advice from Gucci. And all they do is give me great advice on how not to mess up my career, how to situate myself around the right people, or how I will continue to succeed at what I do. So, yes, they have been welcoming. And like I say, it’s a new experience, it’s a different world, but it’s something I’m content with, and I’m glad God has me in the position he has me in.

How did you go about meeting someone like a Gucci?
We’re from the same hood. We’re from Zone 6, I’m from Gresham. Gucci’s from Gresham. He knew a lot of my family, so once he heard about me, he pulled up at my grandma house, and we had an instant bond. After I met him at my grandma house, we got in the studio the next week. We did like seven songs the first day I got in the studio with him. What you gotta think, I’m young, and I learn a lot from him. ‘Cause these are the greats, these are my favorites. So when I’m in the studio, I don’t even start saying anything. I just sit back, I listen, and I learn what he did. But I learned a lot from Gucci, man. His work ethic is crazy. Craaaazy.

What’s the best thing you learned from Gucci?
Like I said, his work ethic. When I first got in the studio with him, the first night, we did seven songs. I had never did seven songs. He had already did like three, four songs prior to that. So that’d be like, what, 11, 12 songs in one night. It’s like an album. It showed me, it motivated me. Every song doesn’t have to be a hit, Quan, but you can aim for it to be a good song. In spite of what it sounds like, drop material! Make yourself better! You can quote every song. Every song has quotes. And that’s what I learned from Gucci. He’s a great, man, a great mentor, great music. One of my favorites.

I think a lot of your music’s so interesting because it is a little bit poppy, and it stays in your head, but at the same time you’re saying something that’s actually real.
Exactly. It’s contact music. Every song, I try to write like it was a book. Every book, the objective is to get your point across. Every song, I try to give a moral. It’s a moral to every song I make, I don’t wanna just drop a song to drop a song. It’s a reason why I dropped something like “The Difference Between Me and You.” It’s something you gon’ be feeling forever. “Some Type of Way”—you gon’ be feeling “Some Type of Way” ten years from now. So I try to make songs not just for the time, but something that can last— like Tupac. You got people that play Tupac to this day. Even when I started rapping, I want my legacy to live forever. So I don’t wanna just make in-the-time songs. I wanna make songs that last forever, man.

Who do you listen to right now as a fan?
I listen to Meek Mill, French Montana, Rick Ross. I’m a big fan of Drake. YMCMB. I wouldn’t say I’m a hip-hop head, but I’m a fan of good music. I listen to R&B, I listen to oldies. I listen to all types of genres of music. But Meek, French, Wayne, Ross—top of the list.

I know you’ve said that you want to go independent. But what if Birdman just comes to you with a number that you can’t say no to?
I really leave it in God’s hand. I’ve talked to Birdman. Birdman’s a real good dude. Right now, I’m not focused on a deal. I just wanna keep focusing on making my fan base bigger. Not saying that I would never sign a deal, but right now, I just wanna keep making this fan base bigger than life, so when I do sign a deal, I know it’ll be on some real money. I don’t wanna be here today, and no one hears about me next year. I wanna have a longevity career man.


Roney: Toronto’s Gangsta Rap Wunderkid

This profile was also published on Noisey

Welcome to Polson Pier in Toronto. It’s an industrial seaport that’s famous for its amazing view of the metropolis skyline and the fact that it houses The Sound Academy, the largest indoor concert venue in the city outside of the modern coliseums known as the Air Canada Center and The Skydome/Rogers Center, both of which sit across the lake in the downtown core. This venue holds 5,000 people and will be packed in a few hours with die-hard fans all waiting to see Redman and Method Man take the stage to perform their greatest hits. The show will also act as a milestone for Roney, the 18 year old gangster rapper with an palpable buzz that supercharges the city’s youth. Tonight will be the first time Roney performs live.

In his music videos – which have racked up hundreds of thousands of views over the course of months, Roney can be seen looking menacingly into the camera, sneering and pulling imaginary triggers as he’s surrounded by hoardes of his peers. Everyone featured in these videos is from one of two regions: Regent Park or Parma Court. Regent is tucked into the eastern corner of downtown while Parma is located more to the north, but they both share the notorious designation of being some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Toronto. A quick foray into the YouTube videos that artists from Regent and Parma produce shows off a grimy lifestyle with a gang of youth stationed outside of community housing, waving both blue and red bandannas and proving that these are not regions that you’d like to walk through alone after the sun sets.

So imagine my surprise when the taxicab that pulled up to the Sound Academy that afternoon carried a solitary teenager, dressed in a dark blue outfit that coordinated perfectly with his St. Louis Blues fitted. The hat sat atop Roney‘s slight, pubescent frame and covered both his tight braids and the devilish smirk that would go on to accidentally spread across his face as he guided me through his first ever sound check and concert appearance.

Although this is technically his first showing, Roney was scheduled to perform twice in the past but fate kept that from occurring. The first possible show was called off due to a disagreement with the venue that stemmed from the fact that he was too young to even appear at the club (Roney‘s 19th birthday will be in October). The second show never happened because he ended up arriving past the scheduled time, a problem that was caused because the people that Roney was depending on got him there late. He’s learned from these mistakes now, as evident by his solo cab ride to the venue, but he’s obviously wary of having too many voices in his ear. “Every single day there’s someone telling me what to do with my career” Roney tells me sullenly.

At best, Roney‘s music can be described as being primal or raw. At worst, it can be categorized as uninteresting or seemingly unfinished. But taking both his age and social conditions into consideration is necessary to truly understand why Roney‘s music is resonating with such force within the city. A good piece of music will cause you to forget your current reality for a brief moment – a great piece of music will put you in an entirely new rendering of reality, one of the artist’s choosing. This is what happens when you listen to a Roney song. It’s music that sounds like it’s being made from a desperate place by a desperate person – desperate for credibility, popularity, or simply having his voice heard in an area that’s congested with noise. Since almost anyone can have a rap career in 2013, Roney needs to set himself apart from the pack. He does this by rapping about the street life from the point of view of a soldier on the ground, recounting and celebrating his wins while mourning and remembering the losses. These battle-tales are told in a deliberate pacing, accented with the same delivery a grime rapper would use and punctuated with Roney‘s “Baom Baom” ad-lib.

Roney‘s family hails from Jamaica originally and a quick foray into his music shows heavy grime-influences. One of his major musical influences is K Koke, a white rapper from the UK who was raised in Stonebridge, an area with very prominent Jamaican roots. His other biggest musical influences? Meek Mill – a rapper that Roney credits for keeping believable gangsta rap afloat – and dance-hall sensation Vybz Kartel. “Before I started getting back into the studio I was listening to a lot of K Koke and a lot of Vybz Kartel. I came up with a flow based on a tweaked version of what I was hearing and ran with that.”

So how does one fall into becoming a successful local rapper? For Roney it began early. “I started in Grade 4 at a hip-hop literacy program where we would go after school and just read about hip-hop. It was in Regent Park and we would learn to write tracks. I did that for about three years up until Grade 7. I got back into it three years after that in Grade 10, when I started doing it for fun, put out a video, and then all of a sudden people I never talked to started asking me when the new track is coming out.” In addition to helping him find an audience, the hip-hop literacy class also taught Roney about what successful rappers had gone through in order to achieve their dream, including the two artists he would be opening up for later that night “we studied all those old guys like Redman, Method Man, Jay-Z, everyone from way back. That’s when I found out that rap is more than just rhyming words and coming up with a slick rhyme, it involves stuff like counting bars, which I learned there as well.”

Does Roney have a gameplan for his future? Kinda. “I’m trying to expand as much as possible. I just keep putting out music steadily and try my hardest and hope for the best.” There’s been interest in his art. Roney‘s mixtape series ‘Don’t Sleep’ has become almost like a label for the young rapper. “When I’m in the hood people always joke with me like, ‘why are you sleeping? I thought you don’t sleep’. But I chose that name for my tapes because when most dudes from the hood make album names they always choose come long shit, and I just wanted to keep it simple. It started off meaning ‘Don’t Sleep On Me’, but it’s gone both ways since and I just went with it.” And the tape’s popularity has even earned Roney local celebrity status to the point where he gets recognized around town, “at Wonderland, I had girls coming up to me asking my girlfriend if it was okay that they take a picture with me. Just the other day I was at my house and I needed to park my dirtbike, but the shortcut to get to the garage ran through this old lady’s yard through her new grass. So I was preparing to go around when a bunch of little kids shows up and crowded around me saying ‘hey, Roney, do you want me to come open the gate up for you?’” This run-in with the youth isn’t too uncommon according to Roney, who insists that his key demographic is white fans, as well as young kids, “there are 5 or 6 year olds that don’t know the alphabet yet but they know all my lines.”

“I ask myself all the time, where did these fans all come from” Roney wonders aloud as we wait in the backstage area before his sound-check, his feet kicked up as he browses through his phone. If he’s nervous to take the stage, he doesn’t show it, choosing to devote his energy to asking questions in person while delivering directions to his friends on the phone simultaneously. “When I dropped my first two videos I didn’t even have Twitter yet. Now it’s gotten to the point where a rack of views a day on YouTube is nothing to me. In fact, I get mad if I don’t get that.” But in spite of his viral success, Roney is still agitated when he compares himself to the local climate. “The only thing that makes me want to quit rap is when I see big rappers come to Toronto, then I look at the bill and see that the artists opening for these rappers have been releasing videos for two years and my newest video has more views than their old shit. It make me wonder ‘why are these guys getting everything?’ The opening gigs, the features, all that. Even a guy like Big Lean, who gets one or two thousand views on his video still manages to get all the features.” Upon further examination, Big Lean‘s video with Chief Keef has amassed roughly 880,000 views, but there’s no way to tell whether the popularity was caused by a devoted Toronto following or thanks to the Keef feature.

Speaking of Keef, Roney has often been compared to the youngster from Chicago, a comparison that Roney thinks is unfair because “we rap differently. We’re both popular though, so I understand.” But in addition to their similar age, popularity and gunshot ad-libs, Roney and Keef are both rapping, and some would say glorifying, violence. “People always tell me I have to stop rapping about that stuff” Roney explains, “but the way I look at it is, actual rappers are still rhyming about the streets, they just add other stuff in there. Since I don’t have cars and jewels and Maybachs I can’t rap about that right now.” Since he’s from the toughest areas of the city you’d be hard pressed to call his rhymes an outright lie, and as we continue to talk he mentions in passing that his recording career is funded by his career of being an “entrepreneur” or “street pharmacist”. In short, Roney is best described as being very much about that life.

As we wait in the back room, Chopz, the promoter who organized Roney‘s first appearance alerts us that Roney is needed to do soundcheck. Chopz is an older gentleman wearing a complete Lacoste outfit with matching white durag. He has whisper-thin hairs growing from his chin and stands in front of the stage with an athletic build as we wait for Roney to complete his first-ever stage set. Chopz also acts as the manager for the other Parma court artists on the bill tonight, Skrillz and Big Cheese, and we end up talking about what makes Roney so popular. “He’s hungry as fuck” replies Chopz stoically “he never stops, his work ethic is amazing. He’s coming from an area that all eyes are on and he’s able to stay hot week after week without losing the people’s attention. There are a lot of young guys rapping, but Roney is appealing because he talks about real shit. You can see it in his videos, you can see it in his eyes when he raps. He’s an old soul.” Although Roney is typically associated with Parma Court, he identifies more with Regent Park, the area where he learned about hip-hop. He’s only been in Parma Court for four years, but that hasn’t stopped him from working with people like Chopz. Or rather, it hasn’t stopped people like Chopz from working with Roney.

There’s a hiccup regarding Roney‘s actual stage time later that night. Although everyone was supposed to get the same amount of time on stage, Chopz’s artists get a majority of it with Roney only being able to do a couple of his songs, a problem that Roney attributes to the fact that those artists readily put Chopz’s Parma Court logo on their videos and promo material, while Roney prefers not to. “I get frustrated because of industry BS like this” says Roney who hints at the silver lining. “I get caught up in it and get really pissed, so I go home and write crazy tracks because of it.”

What does Roney have in store for the following years? To put it simply, “I want to get signed.” Although he’s aware that he has the raw talent, Roney knows that it can only take him so far. “My only problem is that I need a better manager. Because right now, my friend is my manager, and he doesn’t take it very seriously. I want to be a rapper, I’m serious about it, and I need the people around me to be serious too.” Roney plans to release two more installments of Don’t Sleep and an official album by 2015. Time will tell whether or not he gets signed before that happens, but when you take into consideration that he was born in 1994 it’s safe to say that time is on his side.