Preparation Lands Benji. Opportunities Across the Country by Alex Young

Benji. | Photo by Alex Young

Benji. | Photo by Alex Young

An orange round highlight bounces back and forth across a hazel brown table. A leather strip stretches the width of the table’s middle creating a net. Two Asian guys wearing glasses match each other in ping-pong. Tall green plants with wide leaves like a Philodendron or Fiddle Leaf Fig line the fresh space with light hardwood floors and cushioned wooden bleachers sectioning off a cafe space. Soon, the floor would fill with bodies sitting on tapestry rugs and the bleachers with cross-legged onlookers ears open.

The audience sings back to the performer repeatedly as he strums a bass line. “Show me love on the way down.” The lyrics were meant to be sung at Benji.’s funeral as they lowered his casket into the dirt. Going through a period of suicidal thoughts, Benji. can smile now because he’s alive.

Top left: Slim Tha DJ, Benji., Julz Powell, and Redd | Top right: Slim Tha DJ and Julz Powell | Bottom left: Julz Powell, Slim Tha Dj, and Benji. | Bottom right: The audience for Benji.’s performance at the Navy Yard WeWork facility for SoFar Sounds D.C. | Photos by Alex Young

Benji. (don’t forget the period) plays a show for SoFar Sounds in Washington, D.C. at the WeWork shared workspace. His bandmates Slim Tha DJ and drummer Julz Powell join him in front of the engaged crowd. “This is a place that knows music,” Benji. says about the D.C. audience. “They can easily offer honest critique… If they don’t like it, I’m not going to quit, but there must be something wrong. It’s almost like an audition.”

Two months before he worried about what the District thought about his music, Benji. was selling out the iconic Mr. Smalls Theatre, a venue in Millvale, Pa. a few minutes from his native Pittsburgh, along with fellow musicians Clara Kent, Isaiah Small, and Mars Jackson. The four-pronged bill created an atmosphere unmatched for the “Pittsburgh’s Very Own” concert showing strength in the city’s music community. Benji. dove from the stage into the swelled crowd. Redd, the photographer named Randall Coleman tasked with making Benji. look as good as possible, says that was one of his favorite moments of his friend. Or when Gucci Mane reposted Benji.’s song “Mimosa” to his SoundCloud. Although, that night in February was a watermark for Benji.’s success. “I had confidence that at some point I would’ve sold a venue out,” Benji. says. The show at Mr. Smalls “acted as a launching pad,” Redd adds.

“I sprang into action to work harder,” Benji. says. Consistent performance opportunities outside of The ‘Burgh presented themselves after his local success. He traveled to New York City for SoFar Sounds shows there. Following D.C., Benji. hits Chicago. In May, he’s part of the Rhythm N Blooms music festival in Knoxville, Tenn. In June, he joins Reviving Real’s music festival called The Block Party in Youngstown, Ohio. Benji. took to Twitter to announce he’ll be in Los Angeles in July. He offers advice. “If other Pittsburgh artists would learn how to present themselves in other capacities… it’s so easy [to perform in other cities].”

All it takes is preparation. “You gotta be a student of the game. You gotta be a student of yourself,” Benji. says to ITR before performing at SoFar Sounds D.C. “Oh, man. We watch game tapes forever. We watch game tape, bro.” Watching old show footage, Benji. and his bandmates pick up ways to improve. “We have a level” they always need to be at to present themselves properly Slim Tha DJ says. “Be honest with yourself. Would you be ready to literally blowup over night,” Benji. asks the music community.

We don’t wait for an opportunity to get better. We just continue to get better every day.
— Benji.

Using music to help other areas of his life, Benji. spreads his message across the map in 2019. He’ll be ready to follow up his uplifting “Smile, You’re Alive!” album with his “Water Cup” record in September.

Read the full conversation ITR had with Benji. moments before his performance in D.C. below.

InTheRough: What do you add to Benji.’s performance?

SlimThaDJ: The Band, Julz, both Joshes, and I, we have a level.

ITR: How many shows have you guys done outside of Pittsburgh?

Benji.: This will be our fifth total and then Chicago in two weeks will be six.

ITR: You’re going to Tennessee too?

Benji.: Yeah, that’ll be in May. That’s going to be crazy.

ITR: Why do you say that?

Benji.: First off, we get to play with Tank and the Bangas and that’s one of my favorite groups. We’ll be in a new spot for the first time and actually play like a big festival, you know what I’m saying, a festival that actually means something to the community. It’s called Rhythm N Blooms. We’re playing in Knoxville. It’s kind of like South by. A bunch of venues in one little area. A bunch of shows going on at the same time. I’ll be playing all three days, so I’ll probably be at three different venues. There’s a main stage too. It’ll be good to really get out there and spread. Youngstown in June.

ITR: Reviving Real?

Benji.: Yeah, The Block Party. That will be fun as hell.

ITR: How does it feel to be sitting in Pittsburgh and then you get booked for a show in another city?

Benji.: It feels great. I love to travel. It reminds me of college traveling over the weekend for a track meet. It was something to look forward to; something to anticipate; something to get ready for. As soon as we get the booking, call all the guys and prep. Get my mental ready to see what it will look like and feel like.

ITR: What’s involved in that prep?

Benji.: Kind of like some Dr. Strange shit. Thinking of all the possibilities and outcomes and scenarios trying to produce the best possible one. First and foremost, I’ll figure out can I bring the band up. If I can bring the band, we’re prepping for a whole different kind of show. If it’s just me and Slim, it’s bro and bro. It can go from that to going over my music or looking at old show footage.

Julz Powell, Benji., and Slim Tha DJ warming up before their SoFar Sounds D.C. set. | Photo by Alex Young

Julz Powell, Benji., and Slim Tha DJ warming up before their SoFar Sounds D.C. set. | Photo by Alex Young

ITR: Oh, you watch film?

Benji.: Oh, man. We watch game tapes forever. We watch game tape, bro. Hell yeah. Especially this past one from Mr. Smalls. I watched that one the next day.

ITR: So what do you takeaway from that?

Benji.: Everything. You gotta be a student of the game. You gotta be a student of yourself. Period point blank. What I look for is, first and foremost, what I did wrong. How long can I go until I notice something that could’ve been better. Did it feel right? I try to watch it as a fan. Did it feel like a show? Did it feel like you did your best and you put on a good performance? If you can say, “Yeah,” then great. If not, then back to the drawing board. We watch mad game tape of everything. Events, competitions, when Slim deejays.

ITR: Drummer vs. DJ?

Benji.: Yeah, we watch all that film. We watch mad Instagram videos. We study. There’s a lot that goes into this prep. It’s not really preparation. It’s a habit. It’s a ritual. It’s something we do because we all want to get better. We don’t wait for an opportunity to get better. We just continue to get better every day. When someone asks us to come up, we’re already there. It’s just a matter of getting us to the venue where we gotta go.

ITR: What’s something after watching the footage from the “Pittsburgh’s Very Own” concert at Mr. Smalls that you don’t want to do today?

Benji.: Crowd surf [laughs].

ITR: Yeah, this would not be the optimal place for you to do that considering there’s no stage for you to jump off.

Benji.: Yeah, I’d be jumping into people.

Benji.’s stage dive during the “Pittsburgh’s Very Own” concert. | Photos by Matt’s Music Mine

ITR: What’s something that went well at that show that you want to keep doing?

Benji.: Control of the audience.

ITR: How do you do that?

Benji.: First off, making sure that we’re on point trying to lock in as soon as possible. Really just making sure everyone is comfortable. How we present ourselves as soon as we sit down and get ready to play. How I speak. How we introduce ourselves. Make sure that they know we’re cool. We know that they’re cool. Try to make sure we’re on the same page energy wise and go from there. Foot on the gas. We prepare our show but everything is still in the moment. We don’t know what’s going to happen when we start going. It’s really reactionary. We’re preparing for the worst with what we’ve prepared. Controlling the atmosphere. It’s our first time here. We want to make sure they know where we come from. At the same time, we have to be mindful. This is something to be proud of.

ITR: What’s something D.C. has to offer you in this atmosphere?

Benji.: This is a place that knows music. They have a culture of music, especially live music. So they know music. Coming to a place like this, it’s almost like an audition. They can easily offer honest critique. They could easily offer a good opinion. If they don’t like it, I’m not going to quit, but there must be something wrong. They definitely have wisdom of music. D.C. has a lot to offer. The texture of this setup having congas, a bass guitar, and a regular guitar. Already that’s authentic. They know exactly what music is all about.

ITR: NPR is based in D.C. and I saw you reached out to some people there to come to your show tonight.

Benji.: I Tweeted at them and she responded. I just shot my shot and she responded. I don’t read much into it other than if she shows up. It’s as simple as that. If you just gotta Tweet at somebody, shoot your shot. She responded and I took full advantage of that. I don’t want to have any expectations of where it might lead to, but it’s an audition.

ITR: How do you control that when something doesn’t go the way you want it to go? How do you control not getting your hopes up?

Benji.: Continue to be realistic. Shoot for the stars, but you also have to know what game you’re playing. If you’re really trying to pop real quick, there’s a game for that. If you’re playing the longevity game, there’s a game for that too. You gotta know exactly what your goals are. Then, just be realistic. What can you do now if someone were to call you right now. What would you do? Be honest with yourself. Would you be ready to literally blowup over night? If not, don’t even think about it. Prepare what you are cable of doing and then learning and teaching yourself new techniques. Acquire new knowledge. Acquire the game. It might come time for a little heat check. Let me shoot my shot. See what I’ve really been doing. Apparently for her to respond to me she might like something She might have done her research. She’s not coming blindly.

ITR: What was it like to taste your first batch of success?

Benji.: When I changed my name, I got better offers and shows. I was making better music easily because I felt more like myself. For real, the moment was “Pittsburgh’s Very Own” and how that went. To be honest, it was a great show for us, but we fucked up a bunch. We were so in the moment in terms of how it turned out that we had to deal with it. We still want bigger shows. After that, the response we got from that from out of town venues it’s like we’re doing it.

ITR: The out of town success came from “Pittsburgh’s Very Own” indirectly?

Benji.: Indirectly because now I can do that in my city. I had confidence that at some point I would’ve sold a venue out. From there, I sprang into action to work harder. How can I grow my pull to get people to travel to Pittsburgh to see me instead of going out of town? We’re making opportunities happen. We’re trying to meet with NPR. I was already on NPR so I already had a little pull there. I’m trying to maximize my potential of meeting people kind of using the little bit of clout I’ve gained with these publications.

ITR: There’s a positivity to clout. People use it in such a negative way, but inherently it’s not a negative word. It’s influence.

Benji.: Exactly. For me, I’ve done some things and gotten somewhere. This isn’t part of being cool. I’m not sweating it. I’m going to keep driving until I end up somewhere.

ITR.: While I was listening to your interview by WYEP that aired on 90.5 WESA, NPR’s station in Pittsburgh, after the “Pittsburgh’s Very Own” concert, the interviewer asked if artists strive to get on magazine covers like Rolling Stone. What value do you see in a big media outlet recognizing your talent?

Benji.: For me, I’m trying to use music as a spring board to help in other areas of my life. If Rolling Stone were to put me on the cover, I’d feel really good about it. It’s not something that’s a direct goal. You just want to be recognized for what you’re doing not really for who you are. Yeah, that’d be tight to be on Rolling Stone or GQ Especially, GQ because I’m not really a fashionable guy. If GQ puts me on the cover, I made it somewhere. At the same time, success is relevant. The Grammy’s don’t matter anymore. Success is not really defined by any of that. It’s like what Drake said in his Grammy speech. If you got people singing your song, if you got people buying your ticket to come see you, it doesn’t how many, if someone is buying a ticket, you won. You made it. That stuck with me. At “Pittsburgh’s Very Own,” I had people singing my song. In my mind, I’m successful. Now, I’m trying to be more successful. I want my guys to be successful.

ITR: Now you’re in D.C. for a show.

Benji.: That’s just my path. Hopefully somebody goes to Philly next time. Somebody goes to Seattle next time. I’m making my blueprint. You can follow it if you want to. I won’t steer you wrong because I’ll fail first then tell you not to do it. Or you can make your own.

ITR: Okay, your family is having a lot of success too. Your mom received her doctorate. Congratulations. And, obviously your brother Christo with J.I.D. How does your family’s success keep pushing you?

Benji.: Our family has been through a lot. We lost our house in 2003 to a fire on Christmas. My dad had just got his pastor license. The day after the fire he had to go get ordained. We were moving around. We didn’t have money. My parents only having one kid go and finish college. Two dropouts and one who didn’t go ‘cause of teen pregnancy. Everyone just figuring it out for themselves. We’re a family of go-getters but how we want to go get it individually. My siblings are very successful in their own right. My mom got kicked out of CMU to graduate at Robert Morris to get her doctorate at Duquesne. She has the same PhD as my dad. Seeing how they fuel each other, that energy is crazy. When I see my brother being successful and having fun after watching him struggle, when I see that man smile, I work harder because I want to smile too. We just feed off each other. We keep in contact. I’m a big family guy. I love that we’re competitive with each other in that regard, like I want to make my siblings proud and they want to make me proud. We want to start that big family of go-getters and successful people. I love it.

Choo Jackson Focuses on His Legacy in "Anime 2" by Alex Young

Choo Jackson | Photo by  Staxx

Choo Jackson | Photo by Staxx

Sequels should hit differently than the original edition.

Choo Jackson’s “Anime 2” is maturation, “understanding who I am right now and understanding who I will be in the future,” the rapper explained to ITR. “I was tired of making the swag rap, too easy,” Choo said in a HipHopDX exclusive describing the growth from his 2016 “Anime” project to the present offering.

Creating during a different life period, “A1” was a party to break Choo from a rut. Now, “A2” focuses on his legacy. “If it’s not meaningful, it’s not coming out of my mouth.”

Choo and his team, including producer Christo, along with the executive production group Nice Rec, Sean Shores and Omar Meez Lateef, paid close attention to delivering “real content” to the quality music. The producers “tell me if it’s fire. No yes men. These are my real friends too,” Choo said.

“Anime 2” cover art by Travis Carter

Lyric from “Gold Medal”: For a second, we shared the crib with a bunch of roaches. Now, I’m thinkin’ zucchini dishes with designer loafers. Oh Lord, could you let me run into me a Oprah?

In addition to the content, “Anime 2” is sonically versatile. “Too many styles I’m a group,” the rapper boasted on his Instagram story. Choo brings bars like an Outkast flow in “Gold Medal” he told Respect Magazine. Then, “The Letter B” sounds like a Pharrell beat or N.E.R.D with the influx of guitar. “I wanted to bring that sound from my childhood to my work,” Choo said.

Importantly, as a legacy artist on Mac Miller’s REMember Music record label, Choo honors the late rapper who he calls his “long lost brother.” The song “Loner” dedicates to Mac. At the 2:20 mark, it breaks down, and listeners can hear Choo grieve for his friend. Mac’s voice also features on “Gold Medal.”

I could try and evolve as a artist all I want, but if I’m not evolving as a human being first, it’s gonna be a disconnect...
— Mac Miller in "Gold Medal"

“Anime 2” is Choo Jackson being true to himself, making an authentic 13-track project. Listen to “Black Clover” with ForeverKool member Phil Wushu when you stream the music. It bangs.

Woolane Has Been Through The Dirt To Sprout by Alex Young

His Growth Leads Him to Release His Debut Project “Petals”

Woolane | Photos by Alex Young

Woolane | Photos by Alex Young


In McKeesport, Pa., rapper Woolane hung out with fellow hip-hop artists Chino Bandz and YungDrip, along with their friends Tre87 and Haze. The PlayStation 4 ran. I brought up the new fad taking over Fortnite, the teamwork-focused Apex game. PSN usernames exchanged. Backwood cigars rolled to blunts, and the group continued their hangout laughing, reminiscing about their friendship.

 “I went to your [Woolane’s] house that day and y’all were having that rap session for like two hours in the attic,” Haze recalled.

Freestyle rapping with friends came from hotbox sessions in Woolane’s attic closet. But, Woolane got the itch to rap from his brother and cousin. “My older brother, his rap name was Tre80. My older cousin, his name was Nation. He was in this rap group, and I looked up to him,” Woolane said admiring his family. “They were my idols when I was young. I just thought it was so cool. They had the music videos, chains, nice shoes and stuff.”

Admittedly, Woolane’s style now is different from his brother and cousin’s. “My cousins and them were drug dealers. There’s a little bit of influence from the bad side and the good side. I was able to see that and steer my own way,” he said. Melodies separate his sound from the trap tones that occupy Pittsburgh’s current rap scene. “You can’t have that G Herbo going all the time,” Haze said talking about the contrast in music. “The melody type of my pop star shit strikes me. I can feel it. I want to perform that,” he said. “Make a nigga move a little bit,” Tre87 replied.

The self-described pop star Howard “Duck” Clayton, otherwise known as Woolane, readies his first major project, the “Petals” EP releasing on April 10.

Each song from “Petals” names after a flower or symbolizes a flower. Early in his childhood, life was dark for Woolane, literally and figuratively. Sometimes he didn’t have electricity. When he was nine, he witnessed somebody get shot. In 2009, when Woolane was in seventh grade, his rapper and star high school Quarter Back cousin, Stephen Grandison, was murdered when somebody he trusted set him up. “It was a traumatic experience. Just the memory of people crying and screaming never leaves you,” Woolane remembered.

We gotta stop the hate in the city. There’s a curse in the city. Not just in my city [Duquesne] because people there be killing their best friends, but in this whole city it’s the same thing. People really just be running around killing each other. What’s the point, bro? What do we get out of it? At the end of the day, you go to sleep at night and you’re seeing faces in your dreams, bro. You are crazy. Stop that killing. Pull up and fight it out. We could rap. We could do whatever. Keep it in the music.

Despite coming from the dirt, Woolane sprouted and will grow until he’s gone. “I learned how to get it going so I could see brighter days."

In a detailed conversation, Woolane talks more to InTheRough about his background, the “Petals” EP, what Jimmy Wopo meant to the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene, football, and more. Read more below.

InTheRough: The first bar of yours I caught was “I’m a Steeler, nigga. Fuck a Raven and a Bengal too.” I see you in the white Troy Polamalu jersey too. What do The Steelers mean to you?

Woolane: Pittsburgh is where I grew up. This is like where I went through everything. I’ve never been anywhere else. I only traveled one time in my life. This is everything I know. I take pride and joy in it. Even the littlest thing like repping my team I’m going to do to the fullest.

ITR: You said only traveled one time Where did you go?

Woolane: North Carolina— family visit.

ITR: Do you have family anywhere else?

Woolane: I got a cousin in Florida. He actually does pretty good for himself. He has a RV business. He still comes around every once and a while. He’ll take everybody ice skating or something fun.

ITR: Are you from here [McKeesport]?

Woolane: I’m from Duquesne. I was born in West Mifflin, Mon View Heights. I moved to McKeesport for a couple years when I was young, but I lived in Duquesne my whole life.

ITR: When did you start rapping?

Woolane: I started rapping when I was a young kid. My older brother, his rap name was Tre80. My older cousin, his name was Nation. He was in this rap group, and I looked up to him. They were my idols when I was young. I just thought it was so cool. They had the music videos, chains, nice shoes and stuff. I’m like a little kid seeing that. My cousins and them were drug dealers. There’s a little bit of influence from the bad side and the good side. I was able to see that and steer my own way. I obviously stayed out of the jail system having never been arrested. I just used what they were doing, but I actually tried to do it instead of being stuck. You ain’t getting nowhere doing that.

ITR: How would you describe that trap music compared to what you describe as your pop star music?

Woolane: As far as the topics, I address some of the same topics. You might hear a Woolane song that you might find kind of “trappy.” But usually you’ll definitely hear the pop star side of Woolane. Even if I’m taking a trap topic or trap words I’m bending it and twisting it into a pop fashion, pop style way on the beat. That’s just my way. I can’t be different than that. Those type of songs don’t attract me. The melody type of my pop star shit strikes me. I can feel it. I want to perform that.

Tre87: Make a nigga move a little bit.

Woolane: Yeah, I want to make the party jump.

Haze: You can’t have that G Herbo going all the time.

YungDrip on the phone Woolane telling him to drop music: “It’s a good day hope it never ends and I bet she let me hit it on the first night. Roll a Backwood with all my friends.”

Top Photo: Woolane; Bottom Left Photo: Chino Bandz, Haze, Woolane, Tre87, YungDrip; Bottom Right Photo: Haze, Chino Bandz, Tre87, Woolane, YungDrip

Top Photo: Woolane; Bottom Left Photo: Chino Bandz, Haze, Woolane, Tre87, YungDrip; Bottom Right Photo: Haze, Chino Bandz, Tre87, Woolane, YungDrip

ITR: How long have you all been friends?

Woolane: I met Drip when I was 11-years-old. He moved on High Street. It was weird because there were no other guys that lived on my street. There were dudes up the street in Burns Heights, which was a real bad area. My mom didn’t like me being up there ‘cause of people getting shot. That’s the first time I saw somebody get shot.

Haze: My cousin got shot up there real life.

Woolane: In front of me like nine years old. I was like, “Oh shit.” That’s the craziest shit I ever saw. That’s some wild shit. So, Drip moved on my street and I’m like, “Oh, there’s another dude on my street.” I walk up to him and I’m like, “What’s your name?” He’s like, “Tyree.” “My names Howard. We should chill some time.” Then we just parted our ways. Then I saw him the next day and we played together. Tyree moved to McKeesport in high school and that’s how he met these guys.

Haze: I met y’all through Tyree too. I went to your house that day and y’all were having that rap session for like two hours in the attic. Bro, we sat in the little closet space and smoked ganja.

Woolane: My room was the attic in my mom’s house and I had this huge walk-in closet, but it was small for a room to chill in. We used to hot box the shit out of it and freestyle.

Haze: Y’all would freestyle for hours.

ITR: So in essence, you’ve been practicing for a minute, or just like how you talk over a beat.

Woolane: The craft is still in the making if I’m talking about making it on a professional level. It’s been brewing for so long, like since I was a little kid. Writing love songs is nothing new. The first song I ever wrote when I was young, my brother and my cousin were writing songs in the living room ‘cause they were doing a feature, and I was like I’m going to write a song too trying to be like them. I wrote a little love song for girls. That’s where I get my R&B type feel like “Comfortable.” That’s deep in me. That’s why when I make those type of songs you feel it. It’s like, “Mmmm, he meant that.” I feel like adding that with the hip-hop I can make anything. I got this new jam I made called “Baby’s Breath.” It’s on “Petals.” It’s actually named after a flower. Baby’s Breath is a deadly poisonous flower. It’s the last song on the tape. It goes crazy, bro. It doesn’t sound like nothing I’ve made before. It might throw you off when it drops because it’s like some electric shit.

ITR: Why flowers?

Woolane: I like what a flower symbolizes. My girlfriend loves sunflowers. That’s like a bonus. The real reason why I like flowers is ‘cause I came up kind of hard. Life was always dark in the beginning. There were times I didn’t have lights. There was literally a summer when my mom didn’t have anything on in the crib. Lights. Air. I couldn’t live there. I had to go live with my brother so nobody called C.Y.F. There were hard days. I learned how to get it going so I could see brighter days. It’s like you came from the dirt and you sprouted. I see the flower symbol right there and I feel like I sprouted. I feel like I’m going to continue to grow until I’m gone.

Haze: That’s true though. When you first started rapping, I can see the evolution.

ITR: How did you link up with Serene Team?

Woolane: I moved in with my girl and I told her I was tired of sitting in the crib everyday. I was like, “I want a job, yo.” She was like, “Well, you can go work with my aunt over at Giant Eagle in Edgewood.” So, I’m working with her aunt and her aunt is the manager of the deli. So, I’m working in the deli and Jet works in the deli. Jet, this dude named Jeremiah and I become so cool. Then, Jet shows me the song he had out at the time, “Super Saiyan Jet,” that goes stupid. I’m like, “Oh, you make music? Say no more!” Ever since then, I’ve been linking with Jet. We’ve been doing shows and Serene they’ve been the brothers ever since then from Giant Eagle. Jet’s cool as fuck. We made this one song and it was hard and everyone was loving it. It’s called “Lames.” He was like, “Bro, we met at Giant Eagle and now we’re making bangers.” That shit’s wild how you link with certain people.

ITR: Do you care to link with other rappers in the scene or keep your circle tight?

Woolane: I definitely want to work with other rappers ‘cause it’s networking. Some rappers are just hard to get in contact with.

ITR: That’s because they’re on that rap shit.

Woolane: I got a lot of people who do want to link up and it’s mutual. There’s this rapper named Da Creez.

Haze: Have you heard of RamıÅgu?

ITR: No.

Haze: He’s decent. He’s real decent.

Tre87: There’s a lot of different arts out here. I don’t understand why they’re not exposed.

Woolane: When I’m on SoundCloud and the other local music starts playing I listen to it. That’s how I discover people.

Haze: Ever since Wop died it’s harder to find.

ITR: Why do you say that?

Haze: The inspiration is not there anymore. Muhfuckas ain’t got that idol. He was doing something for The ‘Burgh more than what Hardo was doing or Wiz was saying he was doing. He was doing something from in the hood. Niggas saw that as, “Maybe it’s my time to shine.” He was doing features with a bunch of random muhfuckas that I’ve never heard of personally. He put people on. He was showing love like that.

Woolane: I’m not saying Wopo’s better than everybody in the city like talent or anything like that, but as far as Pittsburgh, Wopo was it. He was the light of this city regardless. I don’t put myself or anybody higher than what he was doing. He was taking this shit to a mainstream level regardless of the style of his music. He was getting to that level because he had that drip. He was going to make Pittsburgh pop real quick. The city is so selfish, bro. Y’all wanted him dead. Why? It was benefiting all of us. We gotta stop the hate in the city. There’s a curse in the city. Not just in my city [Duquesne] because people there be killing their best friends, but in this whole city it’s the same thing. People really just be running around killing each other. What’s the point, bro? What do we get out of it? At the end of the day, you go to sleep at night and you’re seeing faces in your dreams, bro. You are crazy. Stop that killing. Pull up and fight it out. We could rap. We could do whatever. Keep it in the music. Keep it on wax. I addressed that in that song, “He should’ve lived passed 21, but he wanted revenge.”

ITR: What song is that?

Woolane: It’s “Baby’s Breath.” I know young kids in Duquesne. Back in the day, there was this young nigga who got killed. He was like 15 years old. I used to see him in the hallway like, “Bro, come to football practice, bro. Join the football team. What’re you out here doing, bro. You’re hard. You’re a running back.” Bro’s out here running the streets and shit. Then some wild situation ended up happening, and he got killed. It was senseless. He was only 15. Situations like that just make you want to do better for yourself. If you think about all the murders, none of them make sense. They’re all over something stupid. The reason I go with the pop star thing is because I want to let people know you can have your pride and not be a thug and a gangster. You don’t have to be too crazy out here.

Tre87: At the end of the day, we’re trying to turn the city up in a different way. We’re trying to get flashy.

Woolane: I want to take people with me because Pittsburgh is a lit city. Look at where we live, bro. Pittsburgh is so diverse and people don’t know about it. It does not get what it deserves. The Point if you go down there and look around it’s not even the clearest water, but it’s Pittsburgh root. The mist of the fountain.

ITR: What position did you play in football?

Woolane: Wide Receiver. I started playing football in seventh grade. But, I didn’t play on the middle school team. I played in the little leagues. My mom would never pay the little $70, so I never could play. I would only be able to practice and never get my practice so I could never do anything else. I played in seventh grade and then my cousin died in 2009. He got murdered. He got stabbed. The next day after that, that was close to home. It was a traumatic experience. Just the memory of people crying and screaming never leaves you. We found out late as fuck at night too so it woke us up out of our sleep. Drip lived two doors down from me so when we found out I had to go over there and I was on his couch sobbing. He [my cousin] was 21 at the time in 2009. He used to always come over and be cool. He played football so he was an influence in my life. He was a bad kid though. He played at Summit Academy. He played quarterback. His name was Stephen Grandison. He was a nice quarterback. He had a scholarship. He was supposed to go to college and he didn’t go. He ended up getting setup by somebody he trusted basically, and the dude cut him up pretty bad. It was a bad experience, especially for my older sister because she didn’t have a date to prom that year. He took her to prom. He died three days before my birthday.

ITR: It sounds in that case that music, football and your friends are your outlet or your safe space

Woolane: Yeah, I played football all the way through high school. I went to West Mifflin. I was actually in the newspaper one time my senior year ‘cause I got the first touchdown of the year.

ITR: Okay! I never played football, but if I did, bro, I would lock you up.

[Everybody laughs]

Woolane: You probably got me right now. I’ve been smoking and shit. I was pretty nice though back in my day. (Check Woolane’s highlight tape below)

Haze, Chino Bandz, Woolane, Tre87, YungDrip | Photo by Alex Young

Haze, Chino Bandz, Woolane, Tre87, YungDrip | Photo by Alex Young

ITR: My parents never let me play football because it’s too dangerous.

Haze: I was the same way. My first game, I was in fifth grade. I got smacked. I didn’t get up immediately. My dad rushed on the field and he was like, “I gotta get my baby off this.”

Tre87: I played football and never once got smacked to the point where I wasn’t playing.

Woolane: I remember in middle school I didn’t understand why I had to back peddle on defense. In eighth grade, they kept saying, “Duck, back peddle!” My nickname was Duck ‘cause my name is Howard, so my coach called me Howard The Duck. I’m like, “What do you mean. Why do I have to go back there? Doesn’t somebody else have to watch that nigga? I can sit right here and make sure he doesn’t QB sneak!” But, niggas got touchdown passes and I’m playing Safety. [Woolane starts crying of laughter] I was just sitting in the same spot. They were like, “Duck! You gotta back peddle!”

ITR: Yeah, I thought you played defense because in “Fingers Blue” you talk about having D.

[YungDrip and Chino Bandz walk in the room. Drip begins to tell the story of his face tattoo.]

Drip: It’s my grandma’s name, Irene. She passed. If you really want to try some shit in the music game, you gotta push yourself. This right here [points to his Grandmother’s name on his face] is like I’m in this shit now. Do or die.

Woolane: I want to explain to you the layout of my tape. The first song is called “Dahlia.” It’s a dirty song. It’s about some pussy. It starts off when the seed is in the dirt. “Pop Star” is next. Then there’s a song I chose to call “Poppy.” Those songs bring a brighter mood. Each song that comes on is lighter when the flower is grown. The sunlight is hitting it. It’s living the good life. It’s flourishing. Then there’s a song called “Buttercup.” You know how flowers mate and the pollen. It’s a bit more sensual. I mention my girlfriend’s name. Then there’s “Black-eyed Susan.” It’s the cousin of a Sunflower. It just looks like a Sunflower. There’s one that’s not literally a flower, but it’s the flower concept, “Love Me, Love Me Not.” That’s a little bit darker. “Black-eyed Susan” and “Love Me, Love Me Not” gets a little bit darker. Leaves start to get crusty. “Baby’s Breath” shit starts falling off. I wanted the whole concept of the tape to be the life cycle of the flower. I plan on making “Petals 2” and “Petals 3.”

ITR: There’s so many plants out there.

Rap Corral by Alex Young

12 Songs from Pittsburgh hip-hop artists featuring NVSV, FTR Drama, ALLHAILKELLZ, Jaii Locc and more

Art to NVSV’s “Amethyst” album by  Cliff Fields

Art to NVSV’s “Amethyst” album by Cliff Fields

The ‘Burgh’s hip-hop sound changes depending on which artist you listen to. Drill music hitting with quick bars about trap life occupy a dark part of the scene. Introspective lyrics tackle conscious subjects, or digital contemporaries have fun with their bop-style music.  ITR corrals the good rap songs out right now in the city.

NVSV - Shine

“No one makes content the way I do. At least no one in the city of Pittsburgh who calls themself a rapper. People expect substance from my music. They definitely look for the bars, but also the production quality,” NVSV spoke on his new album “Amethyst” in a video interview by The Pi Company. “Shine” is a favorite. Play “Fallen” too while you’re at it.

FTR Drama - City Ain’t Safe (feat. Jimmy Wopo)

Taking time to collect himself and his music after going through struggles like the law and loss, FTR Drama releases his “Cold Sweats” album. “It’s like stress… Pain is ‘Cold Sweats’ too. I was going through a lot of that as I was a youngn’ coming up and still to this day,” FTR Drama said about his new album in the mini-documentary filmed by Jake Martin, Art Like Us and Jordan Beckham. Check out “City Ain’t Safe” off the project.

London Yellow - Im crashing In a car

At face value, it’s hard to take London Yellow seriously because a lot of the time he’s screaming in the mic and on his Instagram live videos, he twerks nude on social media too, and he makes a lot of pee-pee jokes. His song titles puzzle people, like “Let The White Kids Say Nigger” or “I’m Not A Rapper I’m A Gynecologist.” However, if you can get passed the foolery there are takeaways in London’s music, such as safe driving habits. Listen to “Im crashing In a car.”

John$ - dumbfounded

Lo-fi rapper John$ (Johndollarsign) celebrated his 25th birthday on March 7 with this song “dumbfounded.” He raps, “Imagine if this world wasn’t real. Imagine if you couldn’t have a beer.”

Phalo Pantoja & Moemaw Naedon - Transferred Connection (feat. Fadewell)

Hip-hop lyricist Moemaw Naedon presents his new album “Hard Head Mush Brain” in collaboration with French producer Phalo Pantoja. Naedon’s bars are complex and intricate, so take time to digest what he says. Appreciate his wordsmith and the quality to Pantoja’s beats. If you’re unfamiliar with Moemaw Naedon, introduce yourself with his episode on the I’ll Call You Right Back podcast.

Jimmy Wopo - Ghetto Stories

Long Live

Jaii Locc - No Talkin

Save all the jibber-jabber. Around Homewood emcee Jaii Locc, bring your bars or shut up. “I don’t cap rap. You seen what I said… I only chase the fish I’m catchin’… You tryna go bar for bar with Jaii Locc fuck around and get chewed up.”

Pompeii - Lost N Found

Forever The Original entertainment pushes the debut mixtape from Pompeii called “Trapbag.” Spin “Lost N Found,” a track local DJs could easily spin in clubs on the South Side.

Pet Zebra - Whippin Up (Once Again) (Prod. D_Vnte)

“This nigga talking shit, I’ll give his address to my cousin.”

Kremmy Six Saucin’ and Slicky Williams’ Two Separate Songs on Six Hunnid Beats

Hop on Triller and do your dance to either of these tracks produced by Lithuanian producer Six Hunnid: “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR” by Kremmy Six Saucin’ and “Run Run” by Slicky Williams.

ALLHAILKELLZ - NASSY (feat. Shady Higg, Fat Ma, Indo Rae, Fedd & Semaj Regah) *NSFW*

Kellz, formerly of the Knuccleheadz rap group, is now a solo artist. He kicks off his career as ALLHAILKELLZ debuting a raunchy song for ladies to bounce booty to, “NASSY.” The track also highlights female rap emcees like Fat Ma and Indo Rae. Shady Higg and Fedd add flavor to “NASSY,” which is made by “phenomenal” producer Semaj Regah.

After Livefromthecity Said He's Lit, Pk Delay Said He’ll Extinguish Him by Alex Young


PITTSBURGH— Rapper Livefromthecity Tweeted he was the best rap emcee in the city on March 2.

On March 3, Livefromthecity followed his statement with a track called “Offseason (Balling For No Reason).” The hook has a line, “Lit like Bic, they charge me with arson.” Live hits the basketball reference with, “23, way too many rings. MVP, that’s in every league.” His confidence booms.

After the Tweet and “Offseason” release, the following days provided many responses from the hip-hop community. Some supported Livefromthecity’s claim as the best rapper. The Pittsburgh City Paper even hopped on the bandwagon advertising the conversation. Others disputed Live’s claim. “You should wait to hear some raps, that talking shit dead,” NVSV said. Javed, the co-owner of the Senseless streetwear boutique chimed in saying, “Being the best rapper in Pittsburgh is thinking too small.” Self-confidence is great, but it will be tested in hip-hop, especially if you say you’re the best. “People are being challenged to grow or fall with the leaves. (I love a good competition when it’s about skill and content. Ain’t gon' lie lol). Hopefully, this will make for some dope music and art,” songstress Clara Kent said.

Of all the talking done on Twitter from Pittsburgh’s hip-hop scene, Pk Delay has been the only rapper so far to respond to Live with music. “Prove it WITH BARS,” producer C.Scott said. Once Livefromthecity took advantage of the conversation and publicity announcing his next project called “Lightwork” dropping April 1, Pk dropped his response to the discussion called “LIGHTWORK.”

Here are some of Pk’s bars in “LIGHTWORK” to pay attention to:

  • “I’m Live In My City. I’m the nigga that get it crackin’.”

  • “These niggas don’t really rap they just like singing to these bitches.”

  • “Don’t pull up to they spots ain’t being seen with these lil niggas. Nephs it got me hot I’m even on the scene with these lil niggas.”

Peoples’ opinions on who is the best rapper are only entertainment. What’s important is the challenges that come from pushing yourself, which Clara Kent alluded to. Also, Zeke Nicholson, who boomed out of the city managing national rappers J.I.D and EarthGang, offered sage advice. “Being the best in the Burgh doesn’t matter AT ALL. If it doesn’t find a way to spread out it will only Live there,” he said. DJ Spillz tagged in, “That title means nothing if your music cannot resonate outside of this city!” The positivity Don, Mars Jackson told people to focus on love and put their egos aside. This particular thread earned lots of responses, which you should read here.

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Overall, we’re excited to see the music that comes from this situation, and you should be to if you’re a fan of the local scene and hip-hop in general because we all know we want Pittsburgh to shine to the world.