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Rhymefest Interview: Talks New Album ‘James & Nikki: A Dialog’

Rhymefest Interview: Talks New Album ‘James & Nikki: A Dialog’

As an alternative of constructing a simple comeback for his first challenge in over a decade, Rhymefest challenged himself — and aimed to transcend the boundaries of typical hip-hop. The Chicago native turned an iconic dialog between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, two of America’s best writers and activists, right into a full-length musical composition that gives a poignant commentary on the state of the world right this moment.

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See newest movies, charts and information

See newest movies, charts and information

James & Nikki: A Dialog turned a actuality by means of social media: the Grammy-winning rapper was scrolling at some point and located himself intrigued by clips of the 1971 dialog between Baldwin and Giovanni for this system Soul!. Of their dialogue, the creatives explored what it meant to be Black in America, from the lens of each a person and girl, throughout a time of political, social and racial upheaval.

They addressed points akin to morality, freedom and justice, whereas giving listeners an sincere take a look at how the USA operated again then. As the way in which that individuals talk about these points and course of data has advanced over the previous 53 years, Rhymefest felt compelled to discover a method to make the dialog accessible to a modern-day viewers.

“How many individuals truly went to take a look at that interview to see what they have been actually speaking about,” Rhymefest tells Billboard. “Baldwin was channeling the heterosexual masculinity, and Nikki Giovanni was channeling the femininity of 1 in a relationship with a person like that. After I noticed that clip, bro, I needed to dig deeper and see what was occurring.”

He continues, “I noticed instructor and pupil, man and girl, poets freestyling. I noticed someone who lived in Paris and will not have understood what was occurring within the Seventies from the place he got here from. I noticed the long run that was coming by means of within the Black Panther motion. It was simply so layered.”

Earlier than lengthy, Rhymefest found out that turning Baldwin and Giovanni’s dialog right into a musical challenge was the way in which to go, and re-imagined the dialogue as a lyrical change, infusing their phrases with new life and relevance in right this moment’s sociopolitical local weather. Rhymefest took varied audio clips from the dialog and blended them together with his rhymes and an eclectic array of manufacturing.

Maybe most significantly, although, Rhymefest enlisted a number of under-the-radar feminine rappers — together with Helixx C. Armageddon, Teefa, Frayne Vibez, Brittney Carter, Rell Suma and Summary Mindstate — to channel Giovanni’s spirit, whereas additionally pushing him to degree up his raps. The result’s a sonic panorama that serves as a platform for timeless knowledge to resonate with a brand new technology.

Rhymefest spoke with Billboard about this particular challenge, together with its creation, getting Giovanni’s blessing, understanding right this moment’s racial and social local weather, and linking up with the Golden State Warriors leisure division to launch it.

After listening to James & Nikki: A Dialog, it feels such as you’re talking on to the Black group. What do you suppose is happening with our group that made you’re feeling this was the correct second to launch this challenge?

I believe what we name Black identification has been hyperbolically made excessive by means of know-how, myths, and disinformation. I believe that when folks ask me if Dr. Umar is Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, I’m like, “You don’t perceive the organizing energy of Dr. King and Malcolm X. You wanting on the Web.” Come on, bro. Like when persons are not speaking about Tamika Mallory in a means that understands that she is the right this moment’s model of Martin Luther King. She is right this moment’s model of Fannie Lou Hamer. I believe that the identification of Black was given to us as a result of we weren’t Black, bro.

Baldwin speaks loads about this, how white is an identification that Europeans gave themselves. After they did that, they gave us Black identification, and we’re making an attempt to battle from below a system of injustice from a label that was given to us in injustice. I’m not caught up in Black, I’m caught up in values, bro.

This challenge is so vital to you that you simply seek advice from it as extra than an album — as a composition. Why is that?

The explanation I do that’s if you go to the orchestra, the conductor isn’t saying, “Yo, try my new joint. I’m dropping my new album.” They name their work compositions, and guess what, these compositions final for 100 years. I believe what we’ve carried out with our tradition of hip-hop is we made it so low-cost, so accessible. These ain’t songs or an album, bro. These are items and a composition. This challenge is chatting with the Black group of understanding and the black group that is able to pivot right into a majority as a substitute of embracing the title of minority. That is greater than an album.

I’m positive you met with Nikki Giovanni and let her know what you have been making an attempt to attain with this composition. What was that dialog like?

Dr. Giovanni heard the unique demo, which had completely different songs however the identical audio clips from their dialog, and he or she was amazed. She mentioned, “I solely want Jimmy was right here. Jimmy would love this.” I couldn’t imagine she was calling James Baldwin [who died in 1987] Jimmy, and I used to be listening to it from her. For me, that was like Kanye West speaking to Stevie Marvel, or Mark Ronson speaking to Quincy Jones. Right here I’m right this moment doing my artwork, however I’m chatting with the one who cleared the comb and laid the highway. I used to be in a position to make this challenge and be capable of thank her, however not solely thank her. This challenge is an instance of giving flowers.

Many contemplate James Baldwin a forefather of hip-hop due to the way in which he used his phrases over completely different musical sounds, as he did together with his 1987 album A Lover’s Query. What does it imply so that you can be a rapper, listening to that he would’ve cherished this composition?
 
That boy was chilly, bro. There are issues right here on this challenge, as a result of we intertwined Jimmy and Nikki, the place I gotta return and take heed to what Jimmy is saying as a result of he was so prophetic. He says, “No tyrant in historical past may learn, however all of them burn the books.” You see what’s occurring in Florida, you see what’s occurring across the nation. James says issues like, “Child, it takes a very long time to study a bit bit,” and that makes me take into consideration my life and the way lengthy it’s taken me to study a bit bit, how lengthy it’s taken me into my forties to not be egocentric.
 
You labored with a number of feminine rappers on the album, who have been meting out some heavy bars. Who gave you a run on your cash?
 
All of them [laughs]. There have been occasions the place I used to be caught like on the tune “Triggered.” Like I acquired to a degree in a challenge the place I couldn’t consider nothing, I used to be simply at a block and I used to be caught, man. It needed to be completed. Helixx C. Armageddon got here with the primary verse and it was such a muse, and impressed me a lot, and rebooted the entire challenge. Numerous the songs I’d include the imaginative and prescient and the way in which these ladies simply rhymed, bro, it frightened me at occasions, and I’m speaking for actual. I ain’t had nothing out in a long time, and I used to be like, yo, I can’t simply be sitting up on my challenge getting burned. In a means, plenty of these ladies actually rebooted my rap profession and made me should go laborious like they did. We’re in a time proper now in hip-hop the place ladies are within the lead.
 
How does the continuing dialogue that rappers of their 40s and 50s don’t have anything to rap about make you’re feeling?
 
It disappoints me after I hear artists say, “Man, if you get a sure age, you don’t be rapping no extra.” Then you’ve got the younger youngsters that cease all of that. It takes the knowledge of the elders and younger folks’s vitality, and we don’t maintain giving them these lived experiences by means of language. So we, because the modern-day prophets and ministers, this can be a ministry, James & Nikki ain’t no album. It’s a part of a ministry. We gotta maintain rapping and maintain giving them our lived experiences by means of an academic language that they perceive.
 
You labored with the Golden State Warriors’ leisure division to launch James & Nikki: A Dialog. How did that come collectively?
 
You take a look at these file labels, and so they destroyed others. There’s no means you can put out among the unfavorable vitality plenty of these main file labels put out and the vitality not return in a means that breaks your complete s–t up. Due to that I used to be by no means going to signal to a different firm once more. I used to be by no means gonna get with a file label, as a result of I used to be making music for remedy. I wasn’t placing something out, and other people have been mad at me. I had producers cease speaking to me as a result of they felt I used to be losing their time. I’ve an entire challenge with Black Thought that didn’t come out.
 
When my man David Kelly, head legal professional for the Golden State Warriors, mentioned, “Look, we’re going to begin an leisure firm, Rhymefest. We would like you. What’s up? What you bought?” I mentioned, “No, bro, I ain’t signing on no labels, man. You loopy.” He mentioned, “Let me ask you a query. What would success appear to be for you should you put out a challenge?”
 
I’ve by no means been requested that query. Success has already been decided by many corporations from what number of streams you bought, how a lot product and merch did you promote, what number of numbers you bought. David Kelly requested me what success seems wish to me for a challenge. I mentioned it seems like an affect was made. Can we make an affect locally? Can we get the NAACP Picture Award? Can our group obtain this and love us, and may we do one thing from our group that’s for all communities?” And he mentioned, “Oh, I like that imaginative and prescient of success.” That in the end sealed the deal.

What do you in the end need your listeners to remove from James & Nikki: A Dialog?
 
One of many greatest compliments I acquired on this challenge was from a younger man who mentioned, “Hey, man, this challenge is the dialog I want my father would have had with me earlier than he died.” So what I would really like folks to remove is that this challenge is the duality of humanity.  The ethical of the story is that life is temporary, and revel in it with James and Nikki within the background speaking about {our relationships}.
 
That is an expertise, and I encourage everyone to take the journey with us. The individuals who James & Nikki is supposed for know who they’re, go get it and test it out. Jesus had a phrase when he mentioned, “I ain’t searching for the proper. I’m simply searching for the keen.” For all those that are keen to develop with this expertise, this gained’t be the final. That is the primary in a collection and I’m solely doing conceptual initiatives proper now.
 
You additionally accomplished a fellowship on the College of Chicago for the autumn 2023 semester. What was that like?
 
Hip-hop is getting into one other state proper now. The one factor that we didn’t have in academia that we’re beginning to see now if you see folks like [Bun] B train humanities programs at Rice, or hip-hop programs being taught at MIT. We’re not battling with rhymes no extra. All of us come at it with mind and say, “You at MIT? I’m gonna go and get this political fellowship on the College in Chicago.” One of many issues I’m happy with is that it wasn’t identical to I’m instructing hip hop, like, you understand what I imply? I’m instructing the intersectionality of politics and tradition, as a result of I ran for workplace. I’ll even be operating for the varsity board in Chicago this yr, so we’re doing it.

As an alternative of constructing a simple comeback for his first challenge in over a decade, Rhymefest challenged himself — and aimed to transcend the boundaries of typical hip-hop. The Chicago native turned an iconic dialog between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, two of America’s best writers and activists, right into a full-length musical composition that gives a poignant commentary on the state of the world right this moment.

Discover

Discover

See newest movies, charts and information

See newest movies, charts and information

James & Nikki: A Dialog turned a actuality by means of social media: the Grammy-winning rapper was scrolling at some point and located himself intrigued by clips of the 1971 dialog between Baldwin and Giovanni for this system Soul!. Of their dialogue, the creatives explored what it meant to be Black in America, from the lens of each a person and girl, throughout a time of political, social and racial upheaval.

They addressed points akin to morality, freedom and justice, whereas giving listeners an sincere take a look at how the USA operated again then. As the way in which that individuals talk about these points and course of data has advanced over the previous 53 years, Rhymefest felt compelled to discover a method to make the dialog accessible to a modern-day viewers.

“How many individuals truly went to take a look at that interview to see what they have been actually speaking about,” Rhymefest tells Billboard. “Baldwin was channeling the heterosexual masculinity, and Nikki Giovanni was channeling the femininity of 1 in a relationship with a person like that. After I noticed that clip, bro, I needed to dig deeper and see what was occurring.”

He continues, “I noticed instructor and pupil, man and girl, poets freestyling. I noticed someone who lived in Paris and will not have understood what was occurring within the Seventies from the place he got here from. I noticed the long run that was coming by means of within the Black Panther motion. It was simply so layered.”

Earlier than lengthy, Rhymefest found out that turning Baldwin and Giovanni’s dialog right into a musical challenge was the way in which to go, and re-imagined the dialogue as a lyrical change, infusing their phrases with new life and relevance in right this moment’s sociopolitical local weather. Rhymefest took varied audio clips from the dialog and blended them together with his rhymes and an eclectic array of manufacturing.

Maybe most significantly, although, Rhymefest enlisted a number of under-the-radar feminine rappers — together with Helixx C. Armageddon, Teefa, Frayne Vibez, Brittney Carter, Rell Suma and Summary Mindstate — to channel Giovanni’s spirit, whereas additionally pushing him to degree up his raps. The result’s a sonic panorama that serves as a platform for timeless knowledge to resonate with a brand new technology.

Rhymefest spoke with Billboard about this particular challenge, together with its creation, getting Giovanni’s blessing, understanding right this moment’s racial and social local weather, and linking up with the Golden State Warriors leisure division to launch it.

After listening to James & Nikki: A Dialog, it feels such as you’re talking on to the Black group. What do you suppose is happening with our group that made you’re feeling this was the correct second to launch this challenge?

I believe what we name Black identification has been hyperbolically made excessive by means of know-how, myths, and disinformation. I believe that when folks ask me if Dr. Umar is Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, I’m like, “You don’t perceive the organizing energy of Dr. King and Malcolm X. You wanting on the Web.” Come on, bro. Like when persons are not speaking about Tamika Mallory in a means that understands that she is the right this moment’s model of Martin Luther King. She is right this moment’s model of Fannie Lou Hamer. I believe that the identification of Black was given to us as a result of we weren’t Black, bro.

Baldwin speaks loads about this, how white is an identification that Europeans gave themselves. After they did that, they gave us Black identification, and we’re making an attempt to battle from below a system of injustice from a label that was given to us in injustice. I’m not caught up in Black, I’m caught up in values, bro.

This challenge is so vital to you that you simply seek advice from it as extra than an album — as a composition. Why is that?

The explanation I do that’s if you go to the orchestra, the conductor isn’t saying, “Yo, try my new joint. I’m dropping my new album.” They name their work compositions, and guess what, these compositions final for 100 years. I believe what we’ve carried out with our tradition of hip-hop is we made it so low-cost, so accessible. These ain’t songs or an album, bro. These are items and a composition. This challenge is chatting with the Black group of understanding and the black group that is able to pivot right into a majority as a substitute of embracing the title of minority. That is greater than an album.

I’m positive you met with Nikki Giovanni and let her know what you have been making an attempt to attain with this composition. What was that dialog like?

Dr. Giovanni heard the unique demo, which had completely different songs however the identical audio clips from their dialog, and he or she was amazed. She mentioned, “I solely want Jimmy was right here. Jimmy would love this.” I couldn’t imagine she was calling James Baldwin [who died in 1987] Jimmy, and I used to be listening to it from her. For me, that was like Kanye West speaking to Stevie Marvel, or Mark Ronson speaking to Quincy Jones. Right here I’m right this moment doing my artwork, however I’m chatting with the one who cleared the comb and laid the highway. I used to be in a position to make this challenge and be capable of thank her, however not solely thank her. This challenge is an instance of giving flowers.

Many contemplate James Baldwin a forefather of hip-hop due to the way in which he used his phrases over completely different musical sounds, as he did together with his 1987 album A Lover’s Query. What does it imply so that you can be a rapper, listening to that he would’ve cherished this composition?
 
That boy was chilly, bro. There are issues right here on this challenge, as a result of we intertwined Jimmy and Nikki, the place I gotta return and take heed to what Jimmy is saying as a result of he was so prophetic. He says, “No tyrant in historical past may learn, however all of them burn the books.” You see what’s occurring in Florida, you see what’s occurring across the nation. James says issues like, “Child, it takes a very long time to study a bit bit,” and that makes me take into consideration my life and the way lengthy it’s taken me to study a bit bit, how lengthy it’s taken me into my forties to not be egocentric.
 
You labored with a number of feminine rappers on the album, who have been meting out some heavy bars. Who gave you a run on your cash?
 
All of them [laughs]. There have been occasions the place I used to be caught like on the tune “Triggered.” Like I acquired to a degree in a challenge the place I couldn’t consider nothing, I used to be simply at a block and I used to be caught, man. It needed to be completed. Helixx C. Armageddon got here with the primary verse and it was such a muse, and impressed me a lot, and rebooted the entire challenge. Numerous the songs I’d include the imaginative and prescient and the way in which these ladies simply rhymed, bro, it frightened me at occasions, and I’m speaking for actual. I ain’t had nothing out in a long time, and I used to be like, yo, I can’t simply be sitting up on my challenge getting burned. In a means, plenty of these ladies actually rebooted my rap profession and made me should go laborious like they did. We’re in a time proper now in hip-hop the place ladies are within the lead.
 
How does the continuing dialogue that rappers of their 40s and 50s don’t have anything to rap about make you’re feeling?
 
It disappoints me after I hear artists say, “Man, if you get a sure age, you don’t be rapping no extra.” Then you’ve got the younger youngsters that cease all of that. It takes the knowledge of the elders and younger folks’s vitality, and we don’t maintain giving them these lived experiences by means of language. So we, because the modern-day prophets and ministers, this can be a ministry, James & Nikki ain’t no album. It’s a part of a ministry. We gotta maintain rapping and maintain giving them our lived experiences by means of an academic language that they perceive.
 
You labored with the Golden State Warriors’ leisure division to launch James & Nikki: A Dialog. How did that come collectively?
 
You take a look at these file labels, and so they destroyed others. There’s no means you can put out among the unfavorable vitality plenty of these main file labels put out and the vitality not return in a means that breaks your complete s–t up. Due to that I used to be by no means going to signal to a different firm once more. I used to be by no means gonna get with a file label, as a result of I used to be making music for remedy. I wasn’t placing something out, and other people have been mad at me. I had producers cease speaking to me as a result of they felt I used to be losing their time. I’ve an entire challenge with Black Thought that didn’t come out.
 
When my man David Kelly, head legal professional for the Golden State Warriors, mentioned, “Look, we’re going to begin an leisure firm, Rhymefest. We would like you. What’s up? What you bought?” I mentioned, “No, bro, I ain’t signing on no labels, man. You loopy.” He mentioned, “Let me ask you a query. What would success appear to be for you should you put out a challenge?”
 
I’ve by no means been requested that query. Success has already been decided by many corporations from what number of streams you bought, how a lot product and merch did you promote, what number of numbers you bought. David Kelly requested me what success seems wish to me for a challenge. I mentioned it seems like an affect was made. Can we make an affect locally? Can we get the NAACP Picture Award? Can our group obtain this and love us, and may we do one thing from our group that’s for all communities?” And he mentioned, “Oh, I like that imaginative and prescient of success.” That in the end sealed the deal.

What do you in the end need your listeners to remove from James & Nikki: A Dialog?
 
One of many greatest compliments I acquired on this challenge was from a younger man who mentioned, “Hey, man, this challenge is the dialog I want my father would have had with me earlier than he died.” So what I would really like folks to remove is that this challenge is the duality of humanity.  The ethical of the story is that life is temporary, and revel in it with James and Nikki within the background speaking about {our relationships}.
 
That is an expertise, and I encourage everyone to take the journey with us. The individuals who James & Nikki is supposed for know who they’re, go get it and test it out. Jesus had a phrase when he mentioned, “I ain’t searching for the proper. I’m simply searching for the keen.” For all those that are keen to develop with this expertise, this gained’t be the final. That is the primary in a collection and I’m solely doing conceptual initiatives proper now.
 
You additionally accomplished a fellowship on the College of Chicago for the autumn 2023 semester. What was that like?
 
Hip-hop is getting into one other state proper now. The one factor that we didn’t have in academia that we’re beginning to see now if you see folks like [Bun] B train humanities programs at Rice, or hip-hop programs being taught at MIT. We’re not battling with rhymes no extra. All of us come at it with mind and say, “You at MIT? I’m gonna go and get this political fellowship on the College in Chicago.” One of many issues I’m happy with is that it wasn’t identical to I’m instructing hip hop, like, you understand what I imply? I’m instructing the intersectionality of politics and tradition, as a result of I ran for workplace. I’ll even be operating for the varsity board in Chicago this yr, so we’re doing it.

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