We haven't seen an MC lay his mack down like 100s did on Ice Cold Perm, his superb debut mixtape, since Snoop's last name was Dogg and Too $hort was spitting "Freaky Tales". When I heard it for the first time, I felt like I'd been back-handed because everything about it was so flawlessly executed – from his steely delivery of rhymes like, "Tell your bitch to ride the dick, like I ride the beat," to the funky beats that would sound perfect blaring out of an old school '64 Impala or soundtracking a ménage à trois on a silk sheet-covered waterbed.
I've always been fascinated with the mythos behind pimps and pimping. It's a tradition that runs deep in black culture and can be traced back through blaxploitation films like The Mack and the books of Ice Berg Slim to the mythic tales of the flamboyant 19th-century maquereau, Stagger Lee Shelton. Like those archetypes, the appeal of 100s doesn't have as much to do with manipulating women as it does with they way he controls his environment. Ridiculous and troubling as the pimp fantasy can be, it's this illusion of power that feels comforting when the economy appears to be in free fall, terrorist attacks are always imminent and you can't land a legit gig no matter how much you are willing to work.
I started writing a frantic interview request to 100s during my first listen of Ice Cold Perm, before I even got through "Brick $ell Phone", the second song on the album that just had a music video premiere on Noisey. I had to find out the story behind this 19-year-old light-skinned brother from Berkeley, CA, whose charisma burst through the sound waves and grabbed me by the throat. I figured there was more to him than meets the eye, and I was right. Raised by his Jewish mother and African father, his genesis as an MC is peculiar. Apparently, he started spitting straight pimp shit at the age of 16 when he was exiled by his father to a remote boarding school in the Ivory Coast. I figured it was as good a place as any to start off the interview.
VICE: The word is you really got into hip-hop in Africa? How'd you end up there?
I was fucking up, man.
What were you doing?
I was smoking all the time, never going to school and always trying to fuck bitches. At that rate, I wasn't going to graduate high school. One day my dad called me and was like, “We're going on vacation.” He said we were going to Ivory Coast, Egypt and Paris. But when we got to Africa he said, “You're going to spend some time here.” And he left me there to go to boarding school.
Yeah, it was a punishment. But he also wanted me to know the culture and know my family. I even learned to speak a little French because I was out there so long. I can talk to my grandpa and grandma now. I could have never talked to them before if I hadn't learned French.
Africa is a big place. What part did you stay in?
I was in the Ivory Coast. It was different. I went into culture shock for a minute. But after a year or so, I got into the swing of things.
How was boarding school?
I ran away from that shit. It was terrible. I kept calling my parents because I kept getting malaria. I had malaria five times because of the mosquitos. I kept calling my dad saying, “You have to get me the fuck out of here.” He said I had to stick it out. I was living in a three-bedroom house with 15 people, they had four or five people to a room. The only guy who had his own room was the headmaster. It was bad, man. Real bad.
So how'd you get out?
I formulated a little plan with everybody I knew. I took a bunch of taxis and went to the American Embassy. When I walked in, I thought it was over, I thought I was going to go home. I sat there for eight hours while they were calling my parents. Then they said, “Well, you're not 18, we can't do anything for you.” And that was that.
Damn. So you had to go back to the school?
No. I stayed with my uncle in Abidjan for about a month. My whole family thought I was going to try and run again, so they sent me out to a small-ass town called Bouaflé. So I couldn't go anywhere. I was stuck out there.
How'd being there help turn you into an MC?
Africa is really slow. You sit around all day. All I used to do was watch MTV and this channel called Trace TV, which is really big in Europe. I was watching all of that and seeing rappers come out. I thought, “Damn, I could do this shit.” I had a lot of time to think and reflect. One day I was listening to Mac Dre, it was his song called “Gumbo”, and it just inspired me. So, I started writing. And then every couple of days, to escape from what was going on, I would write. That's how it all started.
Let's talk about the mixtape. The first question I had when listening to record was: Is he a real pimp?
I'm not a pimp. I'm more of a player. But I've been around pimps. I identify with them. Ever since I was little I have been fascinated by that culture.
Who was the first pimp that really struck you and made you say, “Damn, that dude is fly”?
The first pimp I ever heard of was Iceberg Slim. It was way back in the day, I must have been ten. Somebody knew I was fascinated by pimps and said, “Read his book.” But I never read it. Around that time, my uncle was staying in East Oakland with his girl, and he had American Pimp laying around. It must have been a VHS. He said, “Don't watch it, that's one of the movies you're not supposed to see.” They wanted me to watch cartoons or something. But I watched American Pimp anyway. There was a pimp in it named Kenny Red. Damn, he had crazy charisma.
Another question I wanted to ask you was if you actually have a perm?
No. I do not have an actual perm. That would fuck up my curls and I have to keep them because that’s in my blood. I have girls I know that live in different parts of California who hook up my hair. They get it right. There was a point when I was in LA once, shooting a video and it was a real problem keeping my perm ice cold. We had five different ladies come through to straighten it every other day.
When I first saw the album cover, with the black background and your hair, it immediately reminded me of The Doggfather by Snoop. What does that record mean to you?
That's where we got the inspiration. It is classic. And the cover is so iconic. Anybody who sees that cover will always know we got it from Snoop.
Even though there is the obvious influence of Snoop in your work, you switch your flow a lot and have a very original sound. How'd you develop it?
When I was in Africa – because this was before I started recording – I sounded like whoever I was listening to at that time. But once I started recording and listening to my own voice, I had to find my own sound. A big influence in the way I deliver is Boosie. Lil Boosie can say anything, but he will stick a little something on the last line and make it sound hella hard. That's why he's one of my favorite artists of all time. I am always listening to him, so I started to blend his flow with my style.
What were you trying to portray in the video for "Brick $ell Phone"?
I’m playing a character. I'm a big boss type of dude and I have a secretary and people call me for advice. It’s set in the 70s and in 2012.
Are you really into the 70s?
Yeah. Ever since I was little I was fascinated by that whole era, from the music to the comedians. It influenced me, my style, and the way I talk.
It's funny you mention comedians, some say rapping and being a comedian are like the same thing.
They go hand in hand. Your sense of humor comes from your favorite comedians, which is connected to your music. And yeah, I don’t take myself too serious either. I love comedy and making people laugh. It's not one of my main goals, but I definitely like to throw that in there for people.
What’s the next step for you?
I’ve just been focusing on the video for "Brick $ell Phone". Mainly because I have a problem with letting other people do stuff. I always want to have my hand in everything. I always want to have control. Now that it's done, it's on to the next album. We’ve already started recording it.
Are you going to have the same character/persona?
No, it’ll be different. With Ice Cold Perm, it’s all in the name. Ice. Cold. Perm. It’s just cold. It’s mack shit. But this next one is called Sex Symbol. It’s all produced by Joe Wax, just like Ice Cold Perm, but it’s different. It’s more influenced by R&B. I’ve got some singers on there. It’s going to be more funky, too. What I wanted to do, as best as I could, was have a fusion between 90s mack-rap and late 80s pop and soul. Something like Bobby Brown or Rick James. I want to bridge the gap between people like that and today.
That’s dope. Are you going to sing at all on the record?
Oh yeah, I’m definitely singing on there. I sang on Ice Cold Perm as well, but I would say with this new record I’m flexing and showing my range.
So your dad sent you away a few years ago for fucking up. Now that you have found your passion in hip-hop, how does he feel?
His whole thing is that he doesn’t care what you do as long as you give it your all and dedicate yourself. He just wants me to do something positive, because he’s from Africa and you know they work their asses off over there. After Ice Cold Perm came out, I didn’t even really play him anything. People in my family told him about it. I saw him yesterday and he was like, “Yeah, man, I heard your album. I really like it. I like the beats, I like the voice. It’s really good!” Then he told me to keep pushing it.
That's a beautiful thing, man. What about your mom?
Well, she thought that the subject matter was a little rough. She’s from Berkeley and she’s a liberal and an older Jewish lady, so she wasn't feeling all the “bitches” or whatever. But, for the most part, as a whole, she liked it. She loved it because it’s me and she knows I spent a lot of time on it.
Maybe this is a ignorant question to ask, but has your Jewish side influenced your art at all?
My Jewish side? No, not really. It’s more my African side. Maybe if someone put some Jewish music on I might get some inspiration. But if any inspiration comes from my ethnicity right now, it’s from my African side.
Alright, before I end this interview, can you drop some jewels? Break VICE off with some basic pimp shit.
To be real, it’s all about control. In terms of relationships with bitches or anyone or anything, it’s about control. It’s messed up, but in the world today, it’s either you or them. It’s war. So, you gotta keep your head and you can’t ever let your emotions get the best of you. Keep your feelings in check at all times so you can stay focused and do what you want to do. The bitches and the drugs aren't going anywhere. They've been around since the dawn of time. So don't chase those things, follow your dreams instead and get to where you want to be.
That's real shit, my brother. Church.
Follow Wilbert on Twitter: @WilbertLCooper
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