Fivio Foreign interview: “Pop Smoke was my brother – I have to keep his name alive”

Fivio Foreign is in no mood to chat. It’s morning in New York, where the rapper grew up and still lives, and he got up late last night in the studio. It doesn’t matter that his debut album was released only a week ago; relaxation is not on the agenda. After all, collabs with Nicki Minaj, Drake, Alicia Keys, and Kanye West don’t come to fruition on rest. They are the product of daily grinding. “I’m in the studio every day,” he says on Zoom, his camera turned off. “I just woke up.” His baritone voice, usually heard growling over a club PA system, is heavy with sleep.

“Crazy” is how Fivio describes the release of BIBLE, his debut produced by Kanye West. Offering a softer side to pierce, the album trades catchy choruses and R&B inflections, making it accessible to masses beyond the genre’s most hardcore demographic. This may be just what it takes to finally bring the exercise to the general public. The 32-year-old, real name Maxie Lee Ryles III, is in similar shock that West wanted to work with him. “I didn’t believe it at first. But then, the way my career is going, man, anything is possible. BIBLE is the latest chapter in Fivio’s fast track to the next level of hip-hop. In no time, Fivio found his bearings with the 2019 ad-lib “Big Drip”. He then went viral on a remix of “Body” by British rappers Russ Millions and Tion Wayne. Over the next few years he released tracks with Nas, Drake and French Montana. He held his ground on West’s “DONDA” and Nicki Minaj’s recently released “We Go Up.”

Along the way, Fivio became the new voice of Brooklyn Drill, a Chicago-born rap-style scion with ties to gangs and violence. Blending punishing drum patterns with pounding bass lines, the genre’s sound is every bit as eerie and menacing as the lyrics.

Drill, named after Chicago slang for “kill”, made its way to New York via London when UK producers began uploading their version of drill beats to YouTube, free for up-and-coming rappers such than Fivio.

Until recently, Brooklyn drill was associated with another name: Pop Smoke. The 20-year-old big hitter – behind tracks such as ‘Dior’ and ‘Christopher Walking’ – was on the verge of international breakthrough when he was killed in February 2020. Although Fivio was about a decade older, the couple were good friends. Pop tried to convince the label that signed him to sign Fivio as well. After his death, Fivio was one of the few potential successors to the throne. On BIBLEThe first single from , he proclaims the coronation complete: “Welcome to the city of gods/ Pop was the king of New York/ Now I’m the nigga in charge.” Fivio sees the album as a tribute to his late friend and teacher. “I really want to continue his legacy. He’s my brother, so I have to keep his name alive,” he said. “I learned a lot from him. I may not have asked questions, but I’m still watching.

It helped that Pop and Fivio were on the same side of the Brooklyn gang war. Their music, at least initially, was closely tied to these violent roots. Drill lyrics – the brutal threats and the hyperlocal specificity of those threats – have been linked to actual acts of violence. Law enforcement and politicians in cities like Chicago, London and New York have linked the exercise’s growing popularity to an increase in knife crimes and shootings. Fivio’s mission is to break this association. Although vague on the subject, he wants his chosen genre not to be reduced to a monolith. “Think about it. It’s the violence that comes first, not the music. It’s the same with anything. Heartbreak comes first, not music over heartbreak,” he says. Like any musician, a drill rapper takes inspiration from his surroundings. For lyrics to change, the environment has to do too. But in the meantime, Fivio works tirelessly to prove that the drill isn’t inherently violent.

‘I am a strong person. I don’t like to depend on anything, even if it’s drugs’

(Foreign fivio)

There is evidence of this goal everywhere BIBLE, a boring album that notably lacks the typical idiom of the gun and gang genre. The Fivio who once wrote bloodthirsty threats on tracks like “Blixky Inna Box” – a “blicky” is a gun, and “Blixky” (the x is mute) is the name of a rival crew – isn’t more. “Those days are definitely behind me,” he says. Outside the studio too, Fivio is making inroads. In February, just days before Pop’s death, Fivio was one of many rappers to meet with New York City Mayor Eric Adams to discuss the role exercise plays in fanning the flames of gang rivalry. . While it was reported that Adams hosted the summit, it was actually Fivio who contacted him. “I mean, I just feel like I have a responsibility, so I have to let it be known, you know?” As for what was said at the meeting, Fivio is typically opaque but says the mayor “didn’t want to ban drill music as much as people thought he was.”

It helps that this goal of Fivio goes hand in hand with his other ambition: to go mainstream – or to use his favorite catchphrase, “go viral”. In its early days, creative decisions were made with cross-calling in mind. There’s a feature by young R&B artist Chloë Bailey; a collaboration with Ne-Yo; and a radio-ready Destiny’s Child snippet on “What’s My Name”, which Fivio needed to change the lyrics to clear (“Beyoncé thought it was too vulgar”). The “City of Gods” chorus comes courtesy of pop duo The Chainsmokers. There are a few references to Fivio’s controversial past (“Left Side” nods to his Crips affiliation), but they’re rare and subtle. And while the rapper says he’s “inspired by everyday life,” he clarifies that all of the illegal activities featured in his rhymes are “of course, fake.”

Out of necessity for work and life, Fivio makes for a quieter life. He has a small group of people around him and has hired a professional security guard. He also moved with his three children across the Hudson River and toned down the party. “I say I want to concentrate more. I say I want to be more natural,” he says. “I am a strong person. I don’t like being dependent on anything, even if it’s drugs. Is it hard to stay sober part-time in an industry known for partying? “Nah,” he said nonchalantly. Although he is admittedly too busy to go to church, Fivio remains in prayer. Speaking about her career and the sometimes incredible path she’s taken, Fivio says, “Whatever happens is God’s plan.”

From the outside, Fivio’s rise seems to have happened overnight; a Cinderella story aided by some of the strongest co-signers in the industry. But for Fivio, success has been incremental and hard-earned. “I worked every day and felt it every day and thought about it every day and went through shit every day so that shit didn’t feel sudden to me,” he says. . “To me, that shit felt like the real thing.”

BIBLE is available to listen to on all streaming platforms

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