Rapper Azizi Gibson is a world builder. He’s not trying to rub shoulders with others in the game for a quick opportunity to be put on, and isn’t easily intimidated. “Create your world and invite people to your world... If you can create something other than what we all know, that’s beautiful,” he says, dropping gem after gem during our recent interview. The 25-year-old self-described army brat, who’s also collaborated with Red Bull and the esteemed Brainfeeder label, is confronting this daunting task full-force.
Half-Tom Robbins, half-Kanye, the belief Azizi has in his destiny makes anyone curious enough to hear what the music sounds like: “I’m too busy trying to become the future and the present right now.” The impressive features he’s landed on his new release, A New Life, (now available on iTunes)—such as DJ Paul and Big Krit, as well as the viral hit, “DJ Khaled,”—shows that the young talent backs up his big words with big moves, even as an independent artist. Decompressing for a bit after a hectic tour for A New Life, Azizi talked to us a few months back about his feelings towards vanity labels, why all artists need to believe in themselves, and why no one pays attention to rappers as they age within the genre.
SENAY KENFE: You went to SXSW recently, right?
AZIZI GIBSON: No, I actually went last year with Keith Ape on some homie shit. Nothing crazy, we just went and kicked it and chilled.
Wait, what was the thing you just played in Austin? Was it there?
Yeah, it was in Austin—it’s called Euphoria, it’s like an EDM festival. It’s crazy because I thought I was going to feel very out of place there, but it actually worked. I don’t make anything like EDM, but the vibe really worked. And I saw why they booked me.
Wow, dope. And this was the first time that you, as a independent artist, played at a festival?
At a festival, yes—to actually have my name on the original flyer. It was beautiful.
How did that feel to see your name on the bill?
It was tight, it was like, “Oh, we’re here.” It’s a major thing to see the progression. To then go there and see the time slot and to have an audience who know the lyrics and are there to have a good time with me while being high and drunk—it’s a blessing for me.
For those who don’t know, can you talk about you as an artist? Can you talk about traveling the world to now, being here in LA, and how you became established here?
For sure. I was raised overseas. My dad is from Harlem, New York. My mother is from Baltimore, Maryland—they’re just OG as they can be [and] decided to do the military thing, so I was brought up overseas. I was the baby, but my pops is in his late 50s now, so he knows all about the jazz—he was there when rap started. And he’s from fucking Harlem, New York, so he’s definitely going to let all of his children know about music and art and fashion and what he was rocking. It’s not even just me—my brothers and sister are very in tune with what was going on. It was just me because I was home alone, isolated, so I wasn’t hearing music and everything going on in the outside world much in the way that everyone in the States was. Like MTV wasn’t playing back to back rap songs in Thailand and Singapore, you know?
So when I got that perfect rap song, it really resonated with me as a kid. Listening to Linkin Park and then Eminem and Outkast and stuff like that, music really just merged in my mind like, “Yeah, this is what I want to do.” Came back to the States when I was like 11, started it all when I was in 6th grade, but I was always rapping, freestyling with my friends. I moved to LA to do my own thing when I was 20—I’ve been out here for 5 years now. I’m 25, and it’s just really hard work and believing in myself and trial and error has gotten me this far. I mean, yeah, the music is really good, but we’re in a era where good music isn’t everything now, so it takes a lot of self endurance to see it through. Lot of you media people say I’m from LA mainly because I don’t have time to correct people, that’s not my job, I’m not going to call a blog for posting my shit. To be honest, I’m just happy to even be on there, I don’t even want to fuck my shit up. I know I could and I know we can, but you know, whatever.
“…We’re in a era where good music isn’t everything now, so it takes a lot of self endurance to see it through.”
You mentioned that the quality of music is no longer relevant—
Yeah, it’s no longer relevant—it’s still a major factor—but it’s no longer relevant. If someone’s 10 right now, he better be rapping better than me when he’s 18. I expect him to if he’s dedicated and really wants this shit, he should be coming from a later generation.
You know it’s crazy I just seen a meme the other day—I believe from a Young Thug fan—and it was saying, how could people say Young Thug is wack if the guy who says “hip-hop, a hippity to the hip-hop yeah and you don’t stop” is a legend? But it’s funny because in a sense, as an art form, you have to start somewhere in order to get to a present.
Yeah, so true. I don’t think people like Young Thug are moving backwards. What makes Young Thug a better artist than the next person who is even the realm of Thug—that realm of ‘we was raised from the gutter trap music…” He really owns his style and a creative voice. That’s why I fuck with Thug, he really owns it. Like even on his girl songs, he still sounds like himself, he’s not trying to switch it up on a hoe, trying to romance them.
Unlike someone else who’s—well, I’m all over the place, so I might be talking shit, but I feel like people just be trying things. I’m not trying shit. I’m definitely pulling off what’s going on in my head. [I] feel like people see something and are like, “Hey, let me give it a try.” I never go to the studio and just say, “Hey, let’s try something new.”
Ah, I see you feel very secure of yourself as an artist and who you are presenting to the outside world.
Very, very, very, very, very. I’m not going to ever put something out that I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing for somebody. Like I said, I make all kinds of tunes, but I’m very confident with the music I’m putting out right now.
Word. How confident are you about New Life, your new record? How do you feel about it?
I’m super confident about it. I really enjoy the album, this is just album one. It started off as just a mixtape and then people around me were like, “Yo, you can’t just make a mixtape, your formula is just too good for it to be classified as that, so we’re going to put an album sticker on this,” and I was like, “Yeah whatever.” I made this in a month, I don’t take a long time to make music. I made the whole album in less than a month and some change, and then we put it out. People are like, “Oh my god, you’re so consistent,” but really, I just know where to take off. Like, I know they’re not going to like this. There’s like 3 songs that I haven’t released out of the past 3 years that I’m just like, “Yeah, these are not allowed, these joints are going to fuck my shit up and cause doubt in me.”
Did you know that the “DJ Khaled” record was going to blow up the way that it did?
Oh, I knew it was, I knew it was. I tell people it was the perfect timing. If I dropped it today, it wouldn’t have worked. Soon as I got the beat, it came through [while I] was chilling with my ex girl—just to be clear she was my ex girlfriend then at the time, we’re just good homies, know what I’m saying? I was just humming to myself ‘they don’t want you happy, bitch it’s DJ Khaled.’ She was just laughing at me there and I was like, “Watch, I’m going to make some silly stupid shit and it’s going to be tight.” And then next thing you know, we heard it, played it back, and I was like, “Yeah, we need to make animated videos going with this as promotion.” And we knew it was going to be a song that would strike people and bring them in and create a whole new fan base.
Have you had any interaction with Khaled since the release?
Nah, man. Well, Khaled, if you read this, just know we could be making billions. I’m not joking we could be doing a lot of things together, man. We really could be. That’s all I would say. I feel like he might have heard it, been like, “Damn, I can’t put this on because I’m not his manager and I’m not one of his artists and I’m going to get nothing from this.” If I can get a million plays in a couple weeks, imagine what the results would of been if he snapped it! That’s already like millions of people like, “Omg, he’s got a song?” It would have been crazy.
But that’s how the game works. I get it because I don’t put nobody on. I even said in my project, I said it on the song with Big Krit, I was like, “I would rather die than put you on. I’ve worked too hard for the moolah, don’t ask me for shit.” If we can’t meet halfway, if you’re below me—not below me in the sense of I don’t think I’m above anyone, I’m meaning in terms of my career being ahead—I don’t want to say below. If my career and my brand is a little further than you in life and we don’t share a very critical bond that I would be wounded without, then nah, I’m not going to do anything with you. And that’s how everyone in the game’s mentality should be because when you start doing too much shit for random people who expect something, you get fucked over in the end of the day. And I can’t trust the world to know that if I’m putting someone on, I’m supposed to be getting that praise too.
You know how Drake is the A&R of the world because he puts everyone on—
I’m actually glad I haven’t been caught by Drake, you know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t want to be under that—well, let me stop. I wouldn’t mind. I feel like The Weeknd and—
Nah, nah, nah, we can’t ever put those two names in the same sentence. I feel like Makonnen didn’t take advantage of his Drake touch. You know, like The Weeknd did. I don’t even know how that started, but I definitely heard of that man through Drake, and now he’s gone off and did his own shit and he’s The Weeknd, and that’s exactly how I would want to do it if that happened to me. But I’d [be] grateful for that to occur. Like look at Drake’s old videos when he was a baby face motherfucker in the studio—when he was like 22 or 23—people laughing at him being Canadian with Lil Wayne, but look, it takes time. Kanye didn’t make it super young. It takes time to get where you want to be. Rae Sremmurd is so blessed to be where they are in life at such a young age. Kodak is blessed with his presence. It’s hard to be young because we’re all getting older and you don’t want to listen to young people dog… And young people will always be forced to listen to older people, that’s just the way that it is.
“Kanye didn’t make it super young. It takes time to get where you want to be.”
I think it’s interesting in terms of speaking on age in hip-hop. Only in hip-hop is there such an emphasis on age. You look at any other genre and people can be 40 or 50 years old, and they can come out with a record, and not even just for their age demographic, it can play out for the masses. Whereas in hip-hop, it’s so limiting when you hit a particular age threshold. If a rapper is 55 years old and came out with a record right now, probably not going to listen to that shit. Why do you think that is?
You know, because you permit such a groovy sound… The young are going to be the trendsetter[s] even if they are crazy, it’s primarily the young who are going to set the trend. There are a few old heads who are always on their shit and going to come through and do their thing, but you know it’s the youth who are going to motivate the future. But age, you know, is irrelevant, it’s really just your demeanor if you come out [like] 2Chainz, it really doesn’t matter. You know the homie said 2Chainz’s song was in the ending credits of Blue Streak, and I was like, “God damn, I was just a kid when that came out, so if he’s been hustling since then to now, he’s a grown ass man and he’s getting sexy pussy—more power to him.”
For me, I just want to get on when I’m young so I can fuck bad bitches until, you know, I get older and then I can slow down and develop a choice. When you’re older, you’re like, “Ah, I wish I was younger!” But yeah, be nice to do the music shit when I’m young and then as I age, veer off and do some scientific shit and make video games for the rest of my life. When you’re older, you just don’t have that much time or energy. Imagine being older and you just started getting popping at 55, and it just going crazy.
Is this any advice that you got from being around DJ Paul?
Well no, DJ Paul said to hit him up if I ever wanted any advice. The shit he told me wasn’t really advice, it was more of him saying you got it man, I see it, and you know just [own] your style and remember everything we do, and put out to know that we don’t try to bite others or what was done in the past. When people send me art and you know—damn wish I had a better example, this is a terrible example, but taking the Supreme logo and putting “Prehistoric” inside of it. Like, nah, fuck that, I want my own logo, I want my own shit, let’s pay the guy who’s going to make me go down in history so that people can go, “Oh, that’s a dope logo,” in 30 years. So kids can go “Oh, that’s the Aziz Gibson logo.” I want them to want to flip my shit, you know what I’m saying? I just can’t flip anybody else’s stuff right now.
Well yeah I would imagine that’s how it works when, as an artist, you’re still developing a sense of self. Don’t get caught up in the fake nostalgia.
Exactly man, I’m creating the world of Azizi straight up. That’s the best advice I can give to anyone. Create your world and invite people to your world. And the world isn’t just music, the world has to be what you eat, what you play—you know video games and anime that you reading at home like, “Oh shit.” If you can create something other than what we all know, that’s beautiful. You just have to create your 360 panoramic world. We want everyone to jump in and walk around and try to see things through your eyes.
“If you can create something other than what we all know, that’s beautiful. You just have to create your 360 panoramic world.”
Do you want to tell people what you’re doing with Prehistoric and what it is?
It’s my company, it’s my business, but it’s also a lifestyle and the lifestyle that I represent. It’s about always doing shit first that you might have not gotten credit for, but it’s cool because it was Prehistoric. I’ve been in the same shoes, trust me. But really owning everything you do is just what I call it: Prehistoric. It’s about owning every piece of shit that you do at all times. Always been positive about it getting rid of the negative shit, getting rid of the darkness, you just always gotta move towards the light. Never step on anyone to get towards your next move, you just gotta avoid it if you can.
Actually, you have to sometimes because that’s a part of life, but always do it in the most positive, respectful way that you can, and pass that on to your neighbor. But it’s about killing shit and enjoying the skin that you’re in and knowing that that’s what I do. And if there’s anything you relate to regarding my music or video games shit like that, all that is Prehistoric to me. I don’t want it to be a label, I’m not signing any other artists, you know what I’m saying? I mean yeah maybe—
The Suge Knight moment hasn’t come up yet.
I’m too busy trying to become the future and the present right now. And I can’t do that by bringing on artists and running a label.
Do you often feel that it comes off a little weird when artists are signing other artists?
Hell yeah, it’s like who are you? Who are you dog? You ain’t shit. Anybody who has done that is not relevant today. Anybody who has gotten signed and then signed others within the past—well, not even Chance and Vic Mensa had that shit before niggas got popping. Didn’t even really sign him, just reps him hard because they’re brothers. So that’s not a good example. The greats don’t have time for other artists, man. My manager doesn’t have time to deal with other artists. People who want the most, who really strive to be fucking Wayne or Miguel or some shit, guarantee their managers have either one or two artists on them. Because they understand the game that you fucking didn’t.
But yeah man, you can’t focus on others. You gotta focus on you. If that’s what you want to do, you want to put all your homies on, that’s cool, do what you want to do. At the end of the day, do what you think will make you feel happy. I’m trying to be legendary, I only want to be Jay Z, nothing less, I’m not out here trying to be anything less than that.
Well, I always say the minute I hear a humble rapper, I don’t want to listen to rap music anymore. Or their music at the very least.
You gotta be hungry, man, at all times. You gotta be ambitious. I don’t give a fuck about any rapper. I don’t know anybody in the game fucking with me. Far as anybody else, I don’t know their music like that, but when I hear it, it doesn’t affect me. When I hear a Kendrick song, I’m not scared. And I love Kendrick. But his songs don’t intimidate me. That shit gets me ready. I’m like, “Oh ho ho! Just wait.”
You gotta be humble, but you gotta know when you want to stand out for someone. I don’t want you to be like, “Check me out, it’s aight.” Nah, that doesn’t sound like it’s worth my time. No, I need you to be like, “This shit is ridiculous.” And of course, I’m going to be like, “Hmm, okay, sure,” but at least if it is ridiculous, I will remember that you indeed said it would be ridiculous and kept it real… That shit will go long way. Yeah, being humble is cool and it can work sometimes, but you might get a call from someone who recognizes that side of you, and then they try to take advantage of you because they know you as this super humble guy. It’s a crazy world gotta find the balance.
Stay up to date with Azizi Gibson’s music via Soundcloud. Follow him on Instagram @azizigibson, Twitter @azizigibson, and Facebook.
Get a copy of A New Life on iTunes. Photos by Max Reyes.
This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.