(as told to Slant News via Chris Thomas (6/24/15))

New York City has a pied piper’s effect on people living in cities and towns near and far, drawing in transplants who seek greener pastures, fatter wallets, a proper space to self-actualize, or a combination of the three.

This has been the case as far back as my memory stretches, but then again this comes from the vantage point of a Brooklyn-based writer, born and bred in Philadelphia.

I never experienced NYC during the 1990s and early aughts (Hip-Hop’s most popular period), so when I spoke with rapper A$AP Rocky – a Harlem native – he provided clarity for me on how this mass invasion of outsiders has changed “Uptown” as both he and native New Yorkers know it.

Of course, the ever-present G-word — gentrification — has spread beyond Uptown to other neighborhoods and boroughs throughout NYC over the last 15-20 years. The spirit of 1990s Harlem — a combination of early Hip Hop culture and urban, opulent drug dealer chic — created a sense of fun, “jigginess,” and flamboyant flair, all essential ingredients in the gumbo that is Rocky’s star persona. But in 2015, that has dissipated.

There’s a Whole Foods coming to 125th Street, for Christ’s sake.

With Harlem being near and dear to Rocky’s heart, one can understand why the A$AP Mob rapper was especially candid when discussing where he feels things went wrong and what’s to become of the neighborhood.

Rocky speaks with conviction, whether discussing Harlem or his second studio album, At.Long.Last.A$AP (newly released at the time of this interview). Especially since the latter — masterminded by himself, producer and multi instrumentalist Joe Fox, an executive producer core of the late A$AP Yams, Danger Mouse, and Juicy J — is the album he’s always wanted to create.

Confident by nature and admittedly arrogant to boot (Rocky was comfortable enough to ask my genuine thoughts on his latest opus), our conversation quickly deviated into whether or not he considers himself a superstar, if he ever gets tired of being asked about fashion, and how the spirit of Harlem has changed over the years.


Chris Thomas: To say that A$AP Rocky is fashion savvy is like saying that Nas is a talented lyricist. That said, do you ever get tired of being asked about fashion?

A$AP Rocky: I get tired of the same typical questions, but I don’t think I ever get tired of the subject of fashion. I can talk about that sh*t for no reason. I always like that sh*t, I’m gonna come clean.

Fabolous was my favorite rapper, because he was the flyest ni**a. I’m gonna come clean, when he didn’t let me get a picture and an autograph when I was 13, I was about to cry. I went home and ripped my [Fabolous] posters up, and that’s when Killa Cam became my ni**a because he was the flyest.

CT: Creating an album is a mentally, spiritually, and creatively draining process that sometimes doesn’t come out as planned. Is there anything about A.L.L.A. that you wish turned out differently?

A$AP Rocky: The only thing that kind of got me upset a little bit are the songs that I’m on singing. The songs that I’m featured on singing with Joe Fox, they think it’s him singing when it’s me. For instance, like “Holy Ghost,” that’s me with the choir voice going *sings* “Holy ghost, I’m on my knees.” Then “Fine Whine,” with Future and M.I.A., it’s Joe singing, “This love won’t last forever.” But [listeners] think it’s him singing *sings* “Slow, slow. Let me see you whine, slow, slow, aww yeah” when that’s me by myself. “LSD” is me by myself. Well, Jim Jonsin did some background vocals, I’m not going to lie.

I just feel like people overlook all of that. I don’t think people understand that A.L.L.A. was a complete album first, and then I said “You come and do this. You come and do that. And you come and do that.” It’s not like it developed with these guys. I was in a weird space, so I knew intentionally exactly what I needed [each person to do]. I feel like I might be discredited for a lot of [that work], because people don’t know the process. But if I don’t put in that work, no one else will.

CT: London was your headquarters while creating At.Long.Last.A$AP. Will recording on-location be a prerequisite when making an album from now on?

A$AP Rocky: I have to. I have to exclude myself. If I don’t, I’ll get distracted. I have to turn my phones off. That’s why when you see the beepers and sh*t… Why do you think now y’all don’t see me with my beeper anymore? I wasn’t trying to be trendy.

That’s what I get mistaken for; anything I do is trendy, so they’re like “Oh yea, he’s bringing beepers back.” F*ck that, I’m off that. But I get distracted, bro. I’m looking at my DMs. I’m looking at Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr, checking text messages. I need to be right there. Nothing else matters. Cut phones off. Beepers are for whoever needs to reach me if it’s an emergency or important. And if it’s really important, you’ll reach me on both.

CT: What do you think separates you from artists who are commonly associated with you?

A$AP Rocky: The problem is ni**as want that title. They’re not happy until they’re “The Man.” It’s all about being the man. I figured out how to be happy, bro. They ain’t got nothing on me.

I figured out that this [rap] sh*t is struggle, but I’m gonna make the best of this sh*t. I’m gonna keep f*cking b*tches, I’mma find out how to get studio time money. We’re gonna hop this train. We’re gonna finesse the engineer, and tell him “we got him next week.” Me and Yams, we used to do what we do, my ni**a. But at the end of the day, still and all, I’m still the same ni**a, because I been f*cking b*tches, I been thought I was that ni**a. I been thought that, even when I wasn’t. But who told me I wasn’t? You can’t tell me I wasn’t. You can’t tell me I’m not now.

CT: And justifiably so.

A$AP Rocky: These ni**as, that’s the mentality that they go reaching for. That’s just me. You feel me? And that should go for everybody. I don’t want to be “The Man,” I want to be “That Ni**a” in my own way. We’re all “That Ni**a.”

CT: You shared thoughts on how Harlem has changed while speaking with Red Bull Music Academy. Do you think the neighborhood will ever get back to what it was?

A$AP Rocky: Musically or as far as the neighborhood?

CT: Everything, from the music to the culture.

A$AP Rocky: Nah. Nope, because of gentrification. The reason why people lived in Harlem was because they didn’t have any place to go as African Americans in New York City. Blacks were either in Harlem or The Bronx. The Italians, Irish and all of them were in Brooklyn or The Bronx, but Harlem was Black city.

The issue is that throughout generations, we’ve been living in Harlem, but we’ve been living in poverty, so we’ve been there. We needed to find ways to entertain ourselves with [less], so we would have cookouts, 4th of July. We needed ways to figure out how to ball, so we’d get dirt bikes. We had the Harlem Renaissance, blues players, all that.

It’s a very legendary place, and that’s because of the struggle that was there and the people. It’s not the city, it’s the people, and together it creates this synergy. When you break that apart, you have one power, one variable without the other. It just doesn’t connect. It’s like Yin and Yang. So I don’t think it can ever be that way again.

That’s just like saying “do you think Hip Hop can be how it was in the 90s?” No, because those were real ni**as rapping. Well, most of them. Now, rappers are giving you “knick-knack patty whack” rhymes and it’s selling, so people think that that’s ok.

CT: Last question. Coming from Harlem, do you ever get jaded by your celebrity status?

A$AP Rocky: You want to know some sh*t? I know I’m famous. That’s the obvious. I feel famous, but I don’t feel like a celebrity, if that makes any sense to you. I don’t know if you can differentiate the two.

CT: Correct me if I’m wrong, to feel famous is to know your status, but to feel like a celebrity is to feel like you’re different from everyone else.

A$AP Rocky: Basically. I know I’m different, but not in a celebrity way. I know sh*t ain’t the same. I just know that the same way how sh*t is hyped today, it can all die down tomorrow and I’m gonna still have to be me. I’m not about to start acting different towards people because I have a few blessings. Without those blessings, I still have to be me deep down inside.

I think the best thing to do is to stay humble and be you regardless, because people are going to judge you no matter if you do right or wrong. So when you do wrong, stand strong by it [laughs].



(as told to Slant News via Chris Thomas (7/2/15))

Fifty years or so ago, the media painted the picture of a new millennium filled with flying vehicles and other tools more technologically advanced than an iPhone.

But here we are in 2015, a year when any new release from Apple (manufacturer of said cellular device) gets the people going and more importantly “racial tension,” just like in 1975, is the phrase that slays.

To be frank, there’s a war going on that no Black man (or woman) is safe from. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and numerous others prove that dying at the hands of those tasked with protecting and serving our communities is simply a luck of the draw.

During times of war, we after 300+ years of experiencing oppression, terrorism, and antagonism have been programmed to focus much of our energy on the battle cry, which is important.

But there’s beauty in the “redemption song”—a reminder that victory is coming, though it may not be just over the horizon. Not unlike the late, great Bob Marley’s “1980” song, Kendrick Lamar provided that feeling with his overwhelmingly optimistic “To Pimp A Butterfly” tune “Alright.”

Track seven on Kendrick’s masterful 16-song sophomore opus paints the picture of the imperfect world from the perspective of a Compton native whose micro-perception of society expanded exponentially after traveling the world (Africa, specifically) and back. His lyrics speak to the collective plights of Black and brown people in America. The accompanying visual, directed by Colin Tilley, released June 30th, follows suit.

A lengthy opening sequence, drenched in black and white scenery, foreshadow the events to come, capturing the self-destructive nature of urban disenfranchised people and depicting their increasingly tense relationship with law enforcement in one fell swoop. We even got a sneak peak of an unreleased Kendrick song, rumored to be a Thundercat collab.

Then, the soulful vocal sample marked the arrival of Pharrell’s high-spirited, trap-influenced production, and tears began to well up in my eyes soon after.

Perhaps my personal problems or news that a close friend was recently diagnosed with cancer weighed heavy on my mind. It could also be the overall stress of being Black in America, as news rolled in of the 8th Black church to be burned down in recent days. But it was likely answer D—all of the above. By the video’s end, it felt like that weight had alleviated.

Kendrick serves up optimism like a grandmother who cooks the neighborhood dinners for profit, as he flies through the streets of Bay Area California and Los Angeles in true Black Superhero fashion. People follow his every move, hang onto his every word. The only thing missing is the cape. And still, the Grammy-winning wordsmith achieves the desired effect of uplifting his people—Black people.

Even what looked like a tragic ending came with a twist: Kendrick’s smirk, which signified that all would, in fact, be “Alright.”

Grand opening, grand closing.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 9.23.36 AM

(as told to Slant News via Chris Thomas (10/26/15))

There is power in the ability to communicate in layman’s terms, a practice that sounds simple in theory, but, like all hypotheticals is extremely difficult to actualize, let alone master. The ability to present your story in a way that’s palatable across the board improves one’s chances of reaching the masses.

Possessing that ability, a bit of charisma and production crafted to convey a clear, relatable message and aesthetic is a recipe that can transform an Internet sensation into a certified star.

Newcomer Bryson Tiller checks out in the aforementioned categories, but rests somewhere between those two points, with millions of Soundcloud plays to prove that he’s garnered more interest than your run-of-the-mill rap hopeful. However, we’ve yet to see if he can make comparable waves on radio, where casual listeners live.

Tiller, 22, makes a case to be considered a jack of many trades, after crooning his way into music fans streams of conscious on “Don’t,” a record featuring Dope Boi Beatz production that teeters the line of audible melancholy and seething passion. “I actually mixed “Don’t” on my laptop,” he clarified, perched on the edge of a couch in RCA’s New York City office (he recently partnered with the label). That was the most definitive response that he gave during our discussion (other than briefly speaking about fatherhood). Other times, the Louisville product was pensive when replying, displaying an awareness and respect for the power of words and how they affect people like only a songwriter can.

To be one of music’s new faces to watch, Tiller has quite the tame personality. Especially during a social media age where the Internet—the proverbial easy button, before there was an actual Easy Button—creates a platform for artists (and causal users, for that matter) to over share the most shallow tidbits of their lives. But he prefers to keep that kind of intel private, allowing the music to do most of the talking.

Tiller’s major label debut, “T R A P S O U L”, is a 14-track confessional centered around his past experiences with love, lust, and the disparity that he faced as a rising artist. It’s a moody body of work, changing tides from triumphant to poignant in one fell swoop at times. But one thing is certain—people are genuinely vested in Tiller, the growing artist and hit-maker that he can possibly become.

With all eyes on Tiller, we’re getting a glimpse at his musical genesis, which could be the most intriguing part of his journey after the curtain closes. But for now, let’s enjoy the ride.

Slant: One of T R A P S O U L’s greatest draws is the sequencing. Who arranged the tracks as we hear them?

Bryson Tiller: I did it myself, actually. I’m actually a huge fan of The-Dream, and he did that on every album, so that’s just something I learned from him. [I felt like] I had to do it. Drake does it too.

I actually thought we did a bad job on this one, because the times are of on some of the songs. That made me mad.

Slant: Now that the project is out, what do you want to improve the next time you drop a full length release?

Bryson Tiller: The sequences, the way the songs go into each other. I’m going to be more in tune with the mixes next time. I’m going to be really involved… usually I am, but next time around I want to be there [to say] “This has to be this way.” I actually mixed “Don’t” on my laptop.

Slant: You phrase your lyrics in a way that makes you almost destined to become an artist who is constantly quoted on social media. Where did you pick up that skill?

Bryson Tiller: I watch a lot of Family Guy [Laughs]. I watch a lot of Dragon Ball Z. It’s super witty on that show. I hear a lot of quotes, and I pay attention to things like idioms. I don’t know, I guess I’ve just always been good at making lines quotable. I did that a lot on my old mixtapes, but I obviously I’ve gotten a lot better at that.

Slant: You were rather candid in saying that your big brother wasn’t in your life. Given that, who taught you the game on how you speak to women?

Bryson Tiller: Honestly, I’ve never talked to a girl before—like walked up to a girl and said “Hey, wassup?” So I wouldn’t say that I have game. But I’m better at expressing myself in writing music and through music than I am in everyday life. I think that I say things well when I have time to think about what I have to say.

Slant: On “Ten Nine Fourteen” you referenced your career saying, you “do it for funds.” I’m sure fatherhood had something to do with that.

Bryson Tiller: Exactly. I had to man up for sure, and [becoming a father] definitely improved me and my music a lot.

Slant: How so?

Bryson Tiller: Man, I started reading dictionaries and wanting to expand my vocabulary, just so when I do parent teacher conferences I’d know what I’m talking about and I wouldn’t sound like a dumb parent. I don’t know, I just felt like I should be able to conduct myself. And it’s made my music better by reading articles. Before my daughter was born actually, every week I’d read these “How To Be a Good Father” books and stuff. I picked up a lot of things.

Slant: I remember Jay Z saying that Blue Ivy was his “biggest fan,” and that she loved the “Magna Carta” album. Does your daughter enjoy your music?

Bryson Tiller: She loves “Don’t” and “Set You Free,” which is kind of weird [Laughs]. But I’ll probably never play my music for her. I don’t like playing my music for anybody. Is that weird?

Slant: Is that because of the potential judgement?

Bryson Tiller: That’s the reason why. I don’t care if you like it or not. And I don’t ever want to force feed somebody something. That’s why I’m not overly on Twitter or Instagram saying “Here’s my album! Go get it now!” If you want it, go get it. But it’s out there. I’ll tell you this one time, and if you’re a real fan you’ll know that it’s out there somewhere.

Slant: You have been compared you to Toronto artists like Drake, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Tory Lanez, but many people ignored a major hometown influence in Static Major.

Bryson Tiller: Yeah, definitely, especially with songwriting. He’s responsible for a lot of hits out here. The way he put his harmonies together, I want to get better at that.

One of my other major influences is The-Dream. I got compared to him recently and that made me very happy. That was dope, because if I can give a little bit of that [feeling] in my music that’s just amazing.

Slant: You’ve gotten to a point where you’re getting acknowledged by artists that you admire. Do you ever see it getting to a point where your idols can become rivals?

Bryson Tiller: I think the difference between me and a lot of people is that I’m not competitive for real. This might be a cliché thing to say, but I’m really only trying to be better than myself. To do something better than I did last time.

Slant: You’ve stated that you release new songs rather spontaneously. Do you fear having to change your process now that you’ve aligned yourself with a major label?

Bryson Tiller: One of the things that I’m really upset about, and I’m fine with talking about it, is that Sony has this thing with Soundcloud where any artist under them can’t release songs on there. Well, we can, but the songs that are being sold I can’t post, which sucks. Why can’t I? It’s Soundcloud, who cares? It’s still going to sell regardless. I don’t really know, it’s some political, corporate stuff.

Other than me not being able to upload songs to Soundcloud as much [as I’d like to], dealing with deadlines and stuff, it’s all cool. It’s a learning process, one I’ll have to get used to. Sample clearances and stuff like that.

Slant: If that is the case, how are you going to select which songs will be posted on Soundcloud and what makes the album, if you’re factoring in quality control?

Bryson Tiller: I want to give people free music. That’s one thing that definitely I want to do. My guy Tunji always tells me that I shouldn’t. He always [tells me] “Yo, you’re bigger than Soundcloud now,” and stuff like that. But I don’t know man, that’s where I came from. I feel like I just can’t turn [my back on Soundcloud].

Apple Music is coming up, too, so that would be the perfect way to do it. Once they figure out exactly how they’re going to do their thing, and make it where everybody’s using it—when they’re talking about Apple Music the way they’re talking about Soundcloud—then I’ll make the switch for sure.

Slant: You’re very early into your career. What’s been your best moment since becoming highly touted?

Bryson Tiller: The best moment so far was when Drake invited me to the club. He said, “Yo man, come out to the club.” I was in LA, and he was too, obviously. It was a wild experience. I don’t even like clubs, but I’m just in the club singing “Blessings” next to the guy who sings “Blessings.” And that was just crazy.

Slant: It’s one of those moments when you have to go outside of yourself, because you’re floating.

Bryson Tiller: It was very surreal. It was crazy.


There’s irony in Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter 3 becoming such a commercial success, because it isn’t the album that he initially intended to release.

The project suffered what was thought to be a crippling leak in mid-2007. With most of his new material on the streets, Wayne had no choice but to roll with the punches, packaging some of the unauthorized songs – “I’m Me,” “Kush,” and “Gossip” included – into an EP titled The Leak.


The leaks continued, leaving the New Orleans rapper further exposed and fans clamoring for more freebies. It appeared that his Tupac-esque work ethic (and negligence with selecting more trustworthy handlers of his music) did nothing but harm him and the album many assumed to be a classic in the making. Some of Wayne’s best material came and went, as a steady flow of songs began to hit the Internet and mixtape circuit.

Among them was “Do It Again,” a love song and quite possibly the best Wayne song no one talks about. Produced by StreetRunner, it’s an introspective tune with more soul than a sock with a hole. Sonically, it’s built around a finely chopped and arranged sample of funk band New Birth’s 1974 song of the same title.

Wayne’s rhymes are palatable, yet poignant, as he recalls a love gone awry. He admits to his faults, but also holds his former significant other accountable for her wrongdoings.

“I put it on my momma/ ‘Cus baby girl is a flower/ A flower without a vase/ No water needed at all/ She continues to grow/ More beautiful everyday,” he raps in one of his more vulnerable moments.

In retrospect, the Carter 3 leaks may have been the greatest blessing in regards to “Do It Again,” as it circumvented any possible sample clearance issues that may have prevented the record from seeing the light of day. Stream it below.



Led by the sultry love sounds of “Adorn,” Miguel delivered his sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream, on September 25, 2012 to much fan fare.

Also featuring singles “Do You…” and “How Many Drinks?,” it wasn’t long before the 11-song opus was critically acclaimed, eventually earning the Los Angeles crooner a gold album certification. But the true beauty in Kaleidoscope Dream, like other extremely nuanced projects, is in its deep cuts – primarily in the funk-laden, bass-heavy groove “Where’s the Fun in Forever?”

Produced by Andrew “Pop” Wansel, Steve “Ace” Mostyn, and Warren “Oak” Felder, the song is a master class on blending the intricacies of the bass heard in ’70s funk records with crash-thump boom-bap of a proper Hip-Hop drum break. And then there’s Miguel’s vocals, crisp and fresh, full of love. A true feel good moment in the midst of a highly calculated, sonically cohesive body of work.

Where “Adorn” flourishes in it’s buttery smooth sonics and Miguel’s lyrics, suitable vows for any couple entering holy matrimony, the live in the day messaging detailed on “Where’s the Fun in Forever?” expresses a sentiment that keeps that same love fresh 30 years down the road. Focus on enjoying the moment with that special someone. Celebrate.


Companies wonder why their marketing initiatives fail to appeal to younger demographics, when they refuse to align themselves with knowledgable, youthful individuals who know what’s happening in the streets. Top marketers know when to outsource, leaving stragglers struggling to figure out where they went wrong. In this case, these laggards should take advice from the late, great Michael Jackson: look at the proverbial man in the mirror, get with the program and do what it takes to adapt.

Nike has an exemplary record of effectively marketing to a range of demographics, due in large part to their willingness to work with a strong list of who’s who among niche agencies, tastemakers and creatives. Considering this, it’s no surprise that the brand would approach Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs of Street Etiquette to conceptualize the “Be Bold. Be True.” campaign to commemorate Black History Month. Though their styles are built on an array of influences, the duo’s lifestyles reflect a strong sense of self and promote a new black aesthetic, which the visual conveys.

According to Kissi, the story follows three people representing the overarching theme of showing perseverance to accomplish their goals. Kilo Kish, Phillip Annand of Madbury Club and Brandon lend their hands playing the respective characters, while poet Joekenneth Museau uses his wizardry with words to orate a tale of overcoming adversity. All of this would not be possible without the expert direction/production by Sam and Chad of We Are Not Pilgrims. The final result of the collaboration is a campaign that represents more than a varsity jacket and quickstrike Air Force 1. This a testament to an era comprised of movers and shakers defying the odds stacked against them. I believe the proper name for these individuals is the millennial generation.