“Pimp would take people on a 1-on-1 basis”: An Interview with Author Julia Beverly

Torii learns about Julia's start as a magazine publisher, the many subjects and interviewees of 'Trill Life,' and the time Julia thought Snoop and Bishop Don Magic Juan were about to kiss.
By    October 27, 2015


If you know Southern rap, you know Pimp C. If you know rap journalism, you know Julia Beverly, creator of the now-defunct Ozone Magazine. And, if reading about Master P putting a gun in Pimp C’s mouth seems an enticing prospect, perhaps consider purchasing Beverly’s Sweet Jones: Pimp C’s Trill Life Story. Sweet Jones is, undoubtedly, the most extensive rapper biography to date. Beverly’s research is wide-ranging; over nearly 700 pages, Beverly covers not only the tragically truncated life of Chad Butler, but the people, places, and situations which molded him.

A book about Pimp C, ideally, would be an easy sell to publishers–It’s Pimp C!–but Beverly had trouble finding a deal she was comfortable with. So, like the tirelessly grinding rappers she’s made a career covering, she self-published. When I sat down with Beverly, she was passing through Los Angeles as part of a seemingly endless book tour. Pimp C would admire the hustle. — Torii MacAdams

You started at Ozone to do photography stuff, right?

Julia Beverly: I kind of just fell into it. Originally, I was working with a local magazine, Orlando Zone, doing photography and graphic design, and the owner was like “Well, you’re doing everything, so why don’t you become a partner?” After about a year we went our separate ways. Ozone was kind of a continuation of that—we already had a base of stores and advertisers. I had gotten the formula down to put out a monthly magazine.

Were you aware of Murder Dog Magazine?

JB: I wasn’t even up on Murder Dog at the time. Murder Dog was always underground. Their release dates were kind of unpredictable. I wasn’t really aware of any underground magazines at the time, so what we were doing was really kind of unique for that time period. I would read The Source and XXL and see their photo galleries and think “How do I get to be that person?”

How did you feel about The Source’s coverage of Southern rap? I was pretty young, but I remember The Source not covering the West Coast or the South very fairly.

JB: The more I got into the industry, I really started paying attention. [Magazines] would always interview Southern rappers in New York, so they would always start like “Chamillionaire’s sitting in a Times Square Deli.” I would be like “Why don’t you go and make the story about his environment? How are you going to write about artists when you’re not in their environment?” It used to irritate me that they would always clean up their language and make it proper. You would be reading an article and they would quote an artist saying something, and I would be like “He doesn’t talk like that!” When we started doing interviews we would always keep it open.

Did you ever get any offers from XXL or The Source to work for them?

JB: I ended up doing some freelance stuff with The Source. That didn’t turn out so well because they didn’t pay me. I wrote the article about Benzino and then he cussed me out on the voicemail [Note: which is available to hear online].

When did you stop printing Ozone?

JB: We stopped in 2010. I was just kind of bored. That was really the main part of it. Of course, print media is not really profitable. I got an email this morning from someone asking for advice on starting a magazine. You don’t want to crush someone’s dreams, but you’re not going to make money. If you don’t make money you can’t run a business.

People always blame the Internet, but for me it’s Twitter or Instagram. People expect things instantly now, and the artists can reach the fans directly. The magazines were always kind of the middle man. Now that you don’t need the middle man—you read news headlines that are based on a tweet, that’s just corny to me. They already said what they wanted to say, you don’t have to write a story around their Tweet.

One of my impressions of Southern rap is that a lot of disputes tend to get aired out publicly. I wanted to ask about Deborah Antney [Waka Flocka Flame’s mother, and former manager of Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj]…

JB: I haven’t heard that name in a long time. I was just exposing what they were doing. They took hundreds of thousands of dollars in show deposits and never did shows. Someone needed to call them out on it. If she/he wants to call me a bitch because of it, then fine. But give the people their money back.

What’s been your experience as a female journalist in rap music?

JB: I feel like it wasn’t too bad. When you first start out they’re definitely going to try you, or test you, and see how you’re going to react in certain situations. Once I got established, or people knew I was actually legitimate, artists were nice to me. Of course it’s different than another workplace, where things that would be sexual harassment [happen]. They’re going to make a pass at you, artists or entourages. I just tried to be the homie. If they say something slick to me I say something slick right back.

It’s funny, because you always hear these women who are successful in the industry, “She sucked her way to the top.” In my experience, the women who actually have succeeded are the ones who are not sleeping with the men in the industry. You have to be able to be like the homie, and fit in like one of the guys. Most women that are successful have kind of mastered just being the cool friend. That’s how you’re able to have access to those circles.

There are certain situations where a guy’s traveling with artists with an entourage with seven guys, sometimes they’d want to have a female around just to lighten the mood a bit. It’s probably given me access to situations that I might not have been able to get into, like slipping into concerts and venues.

I wanted to ask about the Ozone Awards. Were you witness to Trae The Truth punching Mike Jones?

JB: I didn’t see that happen—I was arguing with the fire marshall. Trae apologized to me after that. Stuff like that makes it hard for us. People always ask me “Will you bring [the Ozone Awards] back?” The venues we went to wouldn’t let us come back, it was too much headache. It’s easier for them to make money, they could be doing a country show or something, a boat convention. They could do any other type of event and people are going to wait in line, come when they’re supposed to and bring their tickets.

We had 4,400 seats, 4,400 tickets to that show and there were 6,700 people in there. Somehow 2,300 people got in. The police were taking bribes to get in people in, it was crazy. When you’ve got an unruly crowd and people punching each other, as an event organizer it makes it impossible to continue doing it on an annual basis. I felt like if I kept doing it it could have been worse. Somebody could’ve been killed and I didn’t want to in any way be in any way responsible for that. The drawback too is whatever the positive things that happen, that’s the one thing everyone remembers.

You were late learning about UGK. Which UGK did you get into first?

JB: My family, we weren’t allowed to listen to the radio. I was very isolated until 14, 15—I was homeschooled, all of that. When I finally went to actual school, they were playing Outkast and Tupac. I was getting dubbed tapes from people, and that exposed me to hip-hop. I felt like their messages were something anyone could relate to across racial backgrounds or anything like that. Their messages were very universal. That’s kind of what captured my attention.

I was pretty late on UGK. I grew up in Florida. I mean, the music definitely reached worldwide, but the stuff I heard was more from Miami, Uncle Luke-type stuff, the booty bass type stuff. I wasn’t really exposed to UGK until I started doing the magazine in like 2002, 2003. Pimp C was in prison at that time. The first time I met him was when he was in prison. I didn’t do the music reviews at Ozone, because I knew that wasn’t my area of expertise. I had music editors do reviews or advise me on material so I had [to] ask several people who I worked with; Wally Sparks was a DJ out of Tennessee, he was our music editor for a while. I had to ask Wally to give some feedback, or some questions, Matt Sonzala, too, and guys like that who were more versed in UGK history.

Did you decide to write the book when you stopped doing Ozone?

JB: It was around the same timeframe. I never officially decided to stop doing it. I decided to take a little hiatus. I kinda felt like I had been missing out on a lot. Doing a monthly magazine is a solid 2-3 weeks out of the month put into that. I wanted to travel and do things, and not do this magazine all the time.

[The book] was an idea that I had had. I remember one day I was sitting at brunch and I called Bun B and said “What would you think about this?” and he gave me the green light on it. I went to meet Pimp’s mom [Mama Wes] but I didn’t know she was actually his manager. So, when I sat down with her, I was kind of nervous, and it’s kind of nerve-racking to go and meet an artist’s mother, and not know if she was real emotional about losing him. I didn’t want to be insensitive. I was gonna give her this whole speech I had prepared, but she was like “Okay, so we’re doing a book! Let’s do it!” She was telling me the stories, and until that point it was just an idea. She was all gung-ho, ready to go. She had so much material that it was a no brainer, we had to do this.

It seems like you and Mama Wes were really close by the time you finished the book…

JB: I kind of felt like we were kindred spirits or something. That was one of the coolest parts of doing the book was being able to get to know her. She was like an older, female version of Pimp C. She was funny and was great to spend time with. All these stories she would tell me, like “This has to be in the book, this needs to be compiled somewhere.”

Are you and Bun close?

JB: I was always closer with Pimp than Bun. We’ve always known each other. It’s interesting, and Bun said this in the book, their groups of friends were always different. People that got along with Pimp didn’t get along with Bun, and vice-versa. They were very different people. It’s complicated because, and he kind of eluded to this at the beginning of the process, that whole story and everything isn’t a rosy picture as people may think. I think people think that he and Bun were BFFs, arms around each other all of the time.

To do a book like this, I couldn’t let my personal opinions be in the way of how to tell the actual story, so there’s some things in the story that maybe aren’t complementary to Bun, but they happened. I tried to do it as an objective journalist and tell both sides of the story. We’re cool as far as I know. I saw him two weeks ago, he was in Atlanta, we crossed paths and he said what’s up.

Have you seen or spoken to Chinara Butler [Pimp C’s ex-wife]? I saw that you’ve been doing signings with Corey [one of Pimp C’s sons].

JB: I’ve done signings [with] Corey. Chad is going to come out this weekend. His wife doesn’t have a relationship with his sons, they don’t speak. That’s why the whole situation is even crazier.

Corey’s not Chinara’s son, right?

JB: [Chinara] doesn’t have a son, she has a daughter, but she doesn’t have custody of her daughter—from my understanding. I understand how people on the outside may look in like “Well, his wife doesn’t approve.” I get how it looks. People ask me about my relationship [with] the family–I have a great relationship with the family–but I don’t have a great relationship with the wife. They aren’t the same thing.

When you read the book it’s clear that a wife to Pimp C wasn’t necessarily how a husband and wife are commonly perceived as functioning.

JB: I wasn’t part of their relationship, so I can’t tell you what their relationship was. I can tell you how everyone else perceived it as that, it wasn’t really… he was in prison when they got married. She’s in a position where she’s supposed to make sure his children are straight—that’s what he would’ve wanted. So for her to do other things with his name on it, his album—they don’t benefit from that, that’s not right. That’s all my comment on Chinara.

You had trouble getting the book published, right?

JB: I wouldn’t say trouble, but I didn’t have people jumping at it like I thought I would. It’s just so foreign to corporate America. It’s similar to an underground artist trying to get a record deal, and they sell out clubs every night, but then they walk into corporate America at 8 o’clock in the morning and they’re totally out of touch.

So I tried to explain to them who Pimp C was, or that he was a cult hero, but I wasn’t really getting much response. I didn’t feel like I could get a good deal. I ended up just publishing myself. It’s done very well for being an independent project. It accomplished what I wanted it to; so many people going into bookstores and asking for it that bookstores were coming and asking us, so we got a distribution deal and everything now. I feel like you have to pressure people sometimes to come to you instead, versus you coming to them.

I was joking with one of my friends about reading the book, like “Oh man, I wonder what Critical Condition” are up to, and you actually tracked down guys like Critical Condition! Who were the hardest people to get a hold of?

JB: Yeah I did talk to Merrick, who’s from Critical Condition. Most people probably wouldn’t know who he is. He allegedly pointed the finger at Pimp as a drug trafficker [when speaking] with the FBI. [Merrick] was a major drug trafficker in Louisiana–he did fed time. The information I had led me to believe he tried to snitch on Pimp C. I wouldn’t want to put an allegation like that in the book without allowing him the chance to speak on his own behalf. He’s actually in construction now. I think I found him on Facebook or something. He’s completely turned his life around, he’s into gospel music now. He turned out to be a more interesting interview than I thought. He was very reflective on the things in the past he’d done, the harm he’d done, and where he was in life now, that was interesting.

One person who I didn’t get to talk to, who I would’ve liked to, was Four Finger Larry. [Pimp C] was, Pimp’s mom believed, murdered and Larry was believed to be one of the persons of interest. I did go to some pretty interesting lengths to track him down–which I won’t discuss herebut I did get his number but he wouldn’t do an interview. You’ll have to read the book.

Having done Ozone I had pretty good contacts on the artist side, with everybody else his mom would kind of point me in the right direction.

Speaking of gospel music, what do you think of DJ DMD’s conversion. Do you think that’s authentic?

JB: I don’t know him well enough to have an opinion on that. Other people didn’t think it was authentic. DMD had kind of pissed off people in his hometown. As he said, a lot of people were kind of depending on him for their careers, and they felt like he kind of left them hanging. DMD was a cool guy with me, I don’t have any issues with him, I don’t know him that well. I just know that people I interviewed did not really care for him too much. He seemed like he’s trying to move forward in a positive direction, so more power to him.

How was talking to 3-2? One of the more striking parts of the book were the passages about the widespread use of PCP in Houston.

JB: I couldn’t even…[waves hand in front of face]…interviewing him was like talking to a brick wall. I don’t know if I caught him at a bad time. He wasn’t there.

I was surprised how that aspect of it had never been discussed. You always hear about the codeine. That was a learning experience for me to know how evolved that was, the whole album Super Tight was PCP-fueled project. I never realized that either. Still today it’s a problem in Houston. There was a fairly recent news report with a guy who took off all his clothes and was just walking down the middle of the street yelling at everybody. That’s relatively common.

Were there any interviews you thought were a terrifying experience?

JB: Not really terrifying, but I interviewed Snoop Dogg out here along with Bishop Don Magic Juan. I really should’ve filmed it because [Bishop] started singing halfway through. It was really bizarre. While I was interviewing him, Snoop was smoking [weed], and he leaned in—and I don’t smoke weed so I’ve never seen this before—he leaned in like this close [holds hands about 8 inches apart] and shotgunned him, like blew the smoke out and Bishop inhaled. I thought they were going to kiss. That was the most bizarre thing. I could never get that visual out of my head. I definitely could’ve done without seeing that.

Another interview I did that was kind of interesting was Lee Master, one of the rappers from Port Arthur. They used to smoke PCP. Lee Master had this bizarre story of him driving his car up on the sidewalk, and he thought his hands were on fire or something. They were just sitting around the studio, it was like four or five in the morning and they were telling me all these stories about things they saw when they smoked PCP.

Have you been at all worried about blowback from Master P? You went into pretty deep detail about him pistol whipping Pimp C. He was also with one of the Hankton’s, right? [The Hankton family, until recent imprisonments, conducted New Orleans’ most blatantly violent criminal enterprise.]

JB: I wouldn’t have put it in there unless I was absolutely sure it happened. There were so many people who verified it happened. I couldn’t get in touch with [Kirt Hankton]. Someone who worked with No Limit told me, you know, he was one of the bodyguards. From a journalistic standpoint I’m certain enough that it happened that I felt comfortable including it. I stand by everything I wrote—so as far as blowback, not really. It was so long ago, why don’t you just tell us what happened. It’s not like he’s going to be prosecuted for it.

How would you describe Port Arthur, for those who don’t know?

JB: You’re not missing a whole lot. It actually grew on me. There’s not much going on out there. It started to decline in the 70’s and 80’s. It was an oil town, and as demand started slowing down, or the supply started slowing down, the downtown area [became] kind of a ghost town. To hear them describe how Short Texas used to be–there’s literally nothing, you can stand in the middle of the road. Downtown Port Arthur is kind of dead, but as I spent more time out there, it started to grow on me. It’s kind of a peaceful vibe once you get used to it.

It’s on an inlet so there’s a levee where they took their first album cover. It’s a Port Arthur landmark. I think it’s the most humid city in the US, tied with Lake Charles. The refineries have extremely high cancer rates and asthma; Pimp had a lot of problems with allergies and respiratory issues. When they compare Port Arthur to another city, Galveston or something nearby, the rates are like 3 or 4 times higher for all these different illnesses. The refineries play a big role. At the same time, everyone in the city makes their money off of the refineries, so it’s hard to get regulations passed, but these refineries are emitting all kinds of chemicals into the air. It’s a big drawback to living in Port Arthur. Pimp loved it obviously, he said the people were real friendly. It’s southern hospitality down there.

Would you consider doing a Bun B book?

JB: I think Bun is doing his own book. I don’t think Bun would need me to do his book. He’s pretty articulate. Probably more articulate than me. He should do his own.

People interviewed for the book have an opinion of him that he’s shady. There’s talk that Bun B killed Pimp C, which is a pretty shocking allegation.

JB: That surprised me. That was mentioned by enough people that I interviewed…. that’s a testy one. Pimp’s mom, she doesn’t suspect that, but she did say that she thought he was [in Los Angeles] and she thought that was weird. If she hadn’t said that I probably would’ve just left that out. I kind of used [Pimp’s] mom as a gauge. Is this something credible enough to include it? I don’t think that, I don’t think he had anything to do with killing him—I think that’s farfetched. I was surprised how many people on Pimp’s side don’t like Bun. They’ve had very separate groups of friends, very separate lifestyles, so there’s kind of a little mistrust on both sides.

Did you find that Bun’s friends were distrustful of Pimp C in the same way Pimp C’s friends were distrustful of Bun?

JB: I wouldn’t say that. I think that having known Bun for a little while, I understand him a little better than some people because with me, when I became known–it was weird to me. At a certain level, people expect you to be like “Heyyyy!” and be very outgoing and friendly and personable. Everybody’s not like that. That’s not my personality, I don’t think that’s Bun’s personality. People have different opinions of Bun, but I think some people come into contact with him and he comes off, even by his own admission, he can be a little standoffish. Some people take that personally or are offended by it, when he might just be in a mood or dealing with something else. People definitely have different opinions on Bun. He’s just like everybody else: he’ll have good days and bad days.

Would you say your opinions of UGK’s or Pimp C’s music changed while you were writing the book?

JB: I discovered a whole lot of underground stuff I probably would’ve never heard if I hadn’t researched for the book. To me, UGK’s radio records are the weakest in their catalog. They’re still good, but “[International] Player’s Anthem” and “Big Pimpin”—I don’t ride around listening to those songs, but their underground stuff, yeah.

What’s your favorite underground stuff?

Pimp C: I like [Pimp C’s] “I’m A Hustler” and other underground songs. I came across “Swing Wide” Pimp C did with the 5th Ward Boyz. They did a record called “Let Them Have It” with Rick Royal, who was going by CoCo Budda at the time. Just really underground stuff, I put it all in the discography section. There really needed to be a discography.

What’s your impression of people like Drake appropriating Southern rap?

JB: [Drake] was actually quoted in the book because he’d been asked that same question and he was basically like “I feel guilty almost for how much I love it but I just love the music and the culture,” so I don’t think you can really fault him for that. A lot of people are offended by the Drake-Pimp C collaboration, and people say Pimp would’ve never worked with him. But somebody else who was close to Pimp pointed out that you don’t know what Pimp would’ve done—Pimp was unpredictable. He might’ve loved Drake. It’s not our place to theorize what he would or would not have wanted to do. I kind of agree with that.

Pimp would take people on a 1-on-1 basis. He wouldn’t have looked at Drake and said “He’s Canadian, he can’t love our music.” I think he would’ve met Drake and formed his own opinion, so who are we to say he wouldn’t have wanted to work with him.

One of the things I found illuminating about the book was the information about Fat Pat’s death.

JB: Stuff like that had nothing to with Pimp C at all. I just thought it was interesting. I was like “Well, I can slip this in.” Stuff like that, you’d always hear on records, like “R.I.P. Fat Pat” and after a while you’re like “Who is Fat Pat? And how did he die?” I actually corresponded with the guy that allegedly killed him. He sent me like this 12 page double sided letter and it was like all of this is off the record, don’t use any of it. He denied that he killed him. He’s serving some time on some drug charges.

Did you interview inmates in-person in the process of writing the book?

JB: Most of the people who are quoted, who are incarcerated, wrote letters. It’s not really that easy to interview someone in prison, like go in with a recorder. It’s usually better to just send them a letter.

The incarceration statistics during Pimp C’s imprisonment are insane. [In July of 2000, Texas incarcerated their millionth prisoner. The state’s criminal justice population, including parolees or probationers, exceeded the entire populations of Vermont, Wyoming, and Alaska. 5% of Texas’ population was under the control of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. For black males between 21-29, the percentage rose to 29%.]

JB: It really is. You always hear that the Texas criminal justice system is extreme but to actually research it…the whole prison system, that could’ve been several chapters, it is its own book. I had to condense it down a bit. Understanding the environment and the things that were going on when Pimp C got arrested make you understand him going to prison. Had that situation happened anywhere else, or any other time period, he most likely would’ve never ended up in prison for something that minor.

What do you think of the DEA’s prolonged investigation of J. Prince [CEO of Rap-A-Lot Records]?

JB: No comment.

Are you and J. Prince close?

JB: I have a lot respect for him. He’s a very smart guy. I was able to spend some time with him over the years. That’s one thing Mama Wes said—early in her career, when she went from a librarian to a rap manager—you can soak up a lot from J just being around him. You’ll learn some things, so I was kind of the same way.

It’s amazing how much of a power player he still is.

JB: I think people outside of Texas maybe don’t understand why he’s so revered or held to the status he is. Even the chapter about him being at war with the DEA; that wasn’t directly related to Pimp C, but I felt like it kind of explained a lot about that whole era and kind of helped people understand what Rap-A-Lot means, why J. Prince is so revered in Texas, and what it meant for Pimp to be affiliated with him. I think people outside of that region don’t really know the history. For someone to kind of play chess like that with the government was pretty impressive to me.

Did running Ozone help you identify with J. Prince and other Southern moguls?

JB: I think I identified with the artists even because I’m kind of like one of them, being independent. I think a lot of artists don’t want to talk to journalists because [journalists] might be someone who works an 8-5, and they don’t really live it, and so the questions they ask [show that] they don’t really understand the lifestyle. For me, I’m living it just like they are. Even with this book, I’m promoting it like I’m a rapper on a promo tour. I’m hosting parties all night, and I”m getting up at 6 to do radio. I kind of took a lot from the independent artists I do know. I was always a hustler anyway, but I took a lot from them, and model what I’m doing after what they’re doing. I think I’m able to get better interviews, or just have better relationships with artists ‘cause I’m kind of the same. I don’t rap, I create. I live the same lifestyle in some ways.

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