“I Look at This Through a Writer’s Perspective:” An Interview with Radamiz

Lei Takanashi speaks with the New York rapper about the long process of finishing album projects and the allure of hookah.
By    May 30, 2019

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The first time I ever heard Radamiz was on a cypher titled “Best of Brooklyn Cypher 2012” that was uploaded to YouTube seven years ago. It always appeared as a suggested video after watching too many Pro Era videos in one sitting. This cypher wasn’t filmed in some studio with a hundred neon lights like the latest BET Awards or XXL Freshmen. It was filmed on the sidewalk probably 10 minutes after these kids walked out of their last class in school. There wasn’t even someone with a portable speaker to play a real beat to spit over. They just got some random kid to beatbox a slapper like when Mos Def dropped that ill freestyle in Washington Square Park. It looked exactly how a cypher was supposed to actually look .  

That 11 minute-video has finely aged to become this YouTube gem from New York’s Beast Coast era. It wasn’t objectively “the best of Brooklyn” that year because there wasn’t a single artist actually associated with the “Beast Coast” in it. But the cypher hit over a million views and captured what the vibe was like in the borough at that moment. In 2012, when the world was supposed to end, The Planet was being rebuilt in Brooklyn. No after school session was complete unless someone was blasting “Thug Waffle” by the Flatbush Zombies out of an iPhone 4. The Underachievers were making songs off acid trips and then getting signed by Flying Lotus to Brainfeeder. It was a moment when a high school kid from Bed-Stuy, with a juvenile name like “Joey Bada$$,” was propelled into the offices of Roc Nation off the strength of one mixtape full of throwback raps. Only to say no to a record deal from Hov himself.

By the time Radamiz released his first project, Writeous in 2016, that moment in Brooklyn rap had faded out. No one was sitting around in circles meditating and spitting bars about opening their chakras over Special Herbs tapes. Instead, GS9 ushered in an era of Brooklyn Drill with Glttts and hammers. But Writeous showed that the revivalist movement in New York was still beating. And to be fair, it’s hard to shake off that bug when you’re a Bed-Stuy native. Writeous wasn’t just a mixtape inspired by the neighborhood rap legends who walked the same blocks and attended the same public schools as Radamiz. Writeous was a sermon by a Dominican rapper that conflicted with the polished narrative real estate agents were pitching to yuppies moving in to the hood.

Three years after dropping Writeous, Radamiz is now getting ready to release his follow up for Payday Records. He revealed his signing last year, shortly after the label’s original founder, Patrick Moxey, announced that he was re-launching the seminal 90s New York rap label.

Before Moxey became one of the key players in the genre of EDM with his record label Ultra, he was pressing the first records for Brooklyn rappers like Jeru The Damaja and Mos Def. Payday was a label that grew out of the cracks of New York’s underground. The label’s was was built off the secret warehouse parties that Moxey threw in the late 80s where rising rap acts at the time, like Guru and De La Soul, performed their first shows. “That was the excitement of that time. I think that still holds true today, but with a new generation,” Moxey explained to Billboard regarding the relaunch of his label. “To have those moments to do the unexpected — that’s what we’re looking to do.”

If Payday was going for the expected, they would have probably signed a Brooklyn drill rapper who was racking millions of views on YouTube. Last year, Atlantic Records signed PNV Jay and 22Gz. Instead, Payday signed Radamiz.

But Payday was indeed once known for discovering some of New York’s finest. Back in 95’, they stumbled upon a Bed-Stuy rapper slinging tapes of his first single out the trunk of his friend’s car. They pressed that tape into his debut record, “In My Lifetime.” A year later, he released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt.

While Hov stays puffin on cohibas, Radamiz prefers hookah. He considers a hookah bar spot near his alma mater, NYU, to be his office space. A place where he can do all the clerical work that comes with being a rapper. Everything from sending emails to booking agents or just writing new material. When asked why he hasn’t released a project since Writeous, Radamiz says with the utmost seriousness that it’s because he knows he’s going to die one day.

“Imagine if the last album I did was just some bullshit mixtape that I tried to put out for SoundCloud. How would that sit with my fans, my legacy the conversation of New York, and Dominican/Latino artists doing hip hop. I would be doing a disservice by putting out bullshit just to stay consistent.”

Radamiz says he takes time with his work and pays attention to specific lines that he writes because he’s aware of how his music travels. He wants his music to convey what’s coming of his chest but also live on after it drops. It’s that type of drive that created a bombastic debut single like “V.I.M.” Off top, the title alone resonates with any New Yorker who grew up with one of those discount clothing stores in their neighborhood.  

But on “V.I.M.” Radamiz isn’t flowing forever about the New York apparel store. He spits lines about being the only one at a fashion party not doing lines of coke. Or visiting NoLa and feeling like Lil Wayne while listening to jazz at Preservation Hall. Although Big L’s spirit probably ran through Radamiz’s Helly Hansen jacket when he spit a bar like “Bullet grazed, turned my fro into a fade & stayed calm,” Radamiz doesn’t let these ghosts of New York’s past possess him. Instead he daps them up and keeps it moving. — Lei Takanashi

I personally don’t smoke Hookah but why do New Yorkers fuck with it so much?

Radamiz: Hookah basically relaxes the body. Most people get drunk and then smoke Hookah because it just boosts your drunkness and goes straight to your head. When your buzzed, that shit will have you really fucked up in your head. But if you just do it while drinking some tea and just posted up it zens you out. It’s not like when you’re smoking bud and your mind starts going other places. Hookah just calms you the fuck out and turns your body into a couch. Sometimes I need that. Just sit me the fuck down a little without distracting me mentally and let me just get to work on what I got to do.

It’s a Dominican thing you said?

Radamiz: It’s just apart of the culture. A lot of the slick back hair, tight Polo, tight jean Dominicans all go out and Hookah is apart of their nightlife. It’s rare to go to a club in the DR and not have have Hookah available. I think it just kind of bleeds over. It’s looked at as the lit thing to have. You bring out the Johnny Walker White Label, you got your Hookah, and the girls are lit.

You actually went to school around here right?

Radamiz: Yep, I graduated from NYU. One of the first times I came to this spot was when I was still a student there.

That school has a lot of notable rap alumni like Rick Rubin and Mos Def. How did your experience there shape you?

Radamiz: I’m from Bed-Stuy. And even though it was a 20 minute train ride from where I’m from, the world was different. NYU is really a hub for the entire world. You knew the rich Asian fashion kids and the poor Asians. You knew the high snob Jewish kids and then the poor Jewish kids. You knew the whitewashed Black kids and the hood ones too.

Same thing with Spanish people. Me and you may both be Dominican but you’re from an upper family in the DR and then you got me in the projects. It was a very eye opening experience on a human level. I had an idea about how rich people were and then started meeting actual rich kids. You realize that some weren’t the dicks you thought they were but were cool. I used to always think that rich people were racist. Where I’m from, that’s kind of what’s in your mind in a way. If you’re not of color, you automatically think someone is a certain way.

It kind of educates you and humbles you as a human. And that reflects over into the music. Not that it necessarily encouraged me to speak to a general audience but it made me realize that my individuality is special. On the block where I’m from, I may seem common. But in the bigger world I’m of value. It made me go harder with what my perspective is for real. My take on my environment and making it that much more descriptive because I knew I really had something to represent. It’s like when people go on tour and travel across the world do. I got a glimpse of that just at NYU within my social group.

What did you study there?

Radamiz: Social and cultural analysis with a minor in creative writing. My major was like sociology and psychology but focused on what you think as opposed to what a book says repeated back to you. It really dealt with what’s your perspective and you were graded on how well you fleshed your own opinion on a topic as opposed to what the topic was.

That translated into your music?

Radamiz: Oh absolutely. It made me realize what things I was passionate about. It brought it more into the forefront. One project I did at school was interviewing rapper friends I knew about their interactions with the police. The topic of the class was on authority and authoritative figures. My final senior project was on the monetization of sex in hip hop by looking at Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj. It blended everything together.

So would you say 2018 was your biggest year so far?

Radamiz: I mean, I announced my signing and released two singles from my upcoming album. It was also pretty big in terms of shows and features as well.

But it was a big year for me because I never had my eyes this open. I feel I’m more affirmative and productive with my perspective. A lot of times people get jaded by what they see. But for me, it opened up the atmosphere to what the environment of music really is and figuring out what’s the world I want to build.

How does it feel to be on the same rap label that pressed Jay Z’s first single?

Radamiz: I think Payday itself is finding its voice in 2019 and people like me are reintroducing the label to a new generation. But it’s a great benchmark and label to be associated with because of artists like Jay Z, Group Home, Mos Def and Jeru getting their start there. I think it ties back to that New York trajectory and waving the flag for the team. But at the same time, I believe in taking New York around the world. I’m not just trying to be a hometown hero and not be able to sell out a show in Connecticut. Payday reminds me of my roots but they also allow me to perform as an artist the way I want to.

When looking at that label’s roster, I sort of see you as the signee that really represents what that label was originally like.

Radamiz: I think that too. I think that’s part of the incentive to why they partnered up with me. We still building it up though. It’s not like everybody knows about Payday. It’s not like all these 17-19 year-old kids know but the old heads and OGs who recognize do. But I have the liberty of not being in my 40s and signed to Payday. I’m in my 20s and signed to Payday. I know my history but I’m of the now too. It’s like a perfect marriage. I and other label mates have this opportunity to rebrand what it is. Even though my sound generally relates back to what the OG shit is, we still have this freedom and newness.

So what New York rappers influenced your style?

Radamiz: My top two are Jay Z and Mos Def. It kind of goes hand in hand. Jay Z is from Marcy and I’m from Sumner which is four blocks away. Mos Def, he’s a five minute walk from me as well and we even went to the same middle school. I’ve even been to his first wife’s home and met his kids. In reality, even before any of those associations, that’s who I was really paying attention to style wise. Obviously, Jeru I fuck with, the Group Home, East New York shit. Of course, Biggie, Foxy and Lil Kim, M.O.P, Sean Price. Everything Queensbridge. All that was initial to my start in hip hop. Jadakiss was the one who made me pick up a pen. All those artists were apart of my formative years.

You’re pretty invested in fashion as well and that shows on “V.I.M.” You were even featured on some Subway ads for Depop. I had to check out your page and noticed you fucked with Ralph Lauren Rugby heavy.

Radamiz: Yeah bro, I still have so much Rugby shit. That was my college job. Rugby was on 12th and University and that was my hustle. I would literally get out of class and be at my job in five minutes. That was my hustle and that’s what fed me. I worked stock there and then on the floor. I worked up until the very last day that Rugby existed. I actually got that job because that store had a poetry contest where I got into  the top five for. They had a little platform where people could vote for the poems. I pointed out my poem to an employee there and asked if I could get a job there. That was my introduction to them but I couldn’t afford Rugby. That shit was mad expensive, $140 for Polos and $200 for jeans. But I was an admirer of the style. At that time, my style was really starting to formulate. I was starting to mix in preppy clothing with hoodies. I wanted to expand my style and Rugby was helpful with that.

It’s sad Rugbys discontinued. It’s honestly underrated in the universe of Ralph Lauren.

Radamiz: Yeah, but all the new Polo looks like Rugby now. I still have like seven wooden platform slipper shoes. Velvet, vertical stripes, Chief heads. At the first Lo-Life event I attended I came through with the Chief head slippers. It’s underrated but is so essential to Ralph Lauren’s original vision.

So there’s a lot of anticipation for this album you’re about to put out. What’s it looking like so far? I understand that Writeous took you about four years to complete.

Radamiz: It’s coming before this summer, god willing. It’s a balance of my interests. I’m not a boom-bap centric artist, that’s just part of my arsenal. I will always write and spit. But all of my tempos don’t have to be slow bops. There’s some of that in there because that’s naturally what I’m influenced to do. That’s naturally what I want to put into the world and wave the flag for.

But at the same time I like faster and experimental shit. But I’m going to still out rap and write. It’s like when people try Trap tempos for example. I don’t even know what that means. For me, it just means spitting on a faster tempo. People think if you’re on a faster tempo you’re doing Trap. No, I’m just rapping faster.

I look at this through a writer’s perspective. I have a Statik Selektah joint on it called “Fake Gucci.” But it’s not a Termanology or Sean Price Statik Selectah beat. It’s a Radamiz Statik Selectah beat. V-Don’s the same shit. He either does Trap or super dark shit. But with “V.I.M.” it was a balance of both. I’m current but this is the flow that I’m choosing.

Same thing with “NYNYNYNY.” People said that had a Trap sound and that shit don’t sound like nothing. That shit was just energy and that’s was the point. It’s just New York anxiety. Of course you’re going to get the slow, mellow, smoking a blunt on a cold winter, rap. But you’re going to get the introspective shit also. My shit is just open.  I sound like New York no matter what kind of beat I’m on and that’s the point.

Any other producers and features?

Radamiz: I didn’t really do a lot of features. I’m holding out on producers because I don’t want to reveal too much. But I have a myriad of people on it. Producers from London and Chicago who all reflect my sound. You’re not going to get big name features on this one. I don’t want to be the dude that has people going to his album just because of the features on it. I want people to go to my album because they are fucking with me. And if there is an ill feature on it, they’re featured on my song and you’re not bumping it because that artist is on it. We’ll do more of that stuff in the future.

Did you start working on it right after you dropped Writeous?

Radamiz: Yes, “NYNYNYNY” was actually one of the first beats I received, which I got two weeks after I dropped Writeous. So I’ve been working on it since the Spring of 2016. Through 2016 a bunch of the songs didn’t make it. In 2017 I was just figuring out my stride and taking a break from making a lot of shit so I could just figure out what I wanted to do as an artist. That’s because I was so experimental but there was no core foundation.

In 2018, it became clear what the fuck I was doing and I honed in on it. A lot of the album got made in 2018 in that sense. Brasstracks produced two records on the album and that didn’t happen until 2018. They’re from New York as well even though people know them more for Chance the Rapper’s “No Problems.” V Don’s stuff happened at the beginning of 2018 as well.

I feel that most artists look to release several projects in one to two years. But you seem to take your time with it. What’s your process like?

Radamiz: A lot of people hit me up to work. If I wanted a star studded tracklist of producers and rappers it would be very easy to do. Because you just hit people’s DM’s and reach out to who’s credited on what.

But I know I’m going to die one day. And I don’t mean that in a heavy way but in a real way. If I’m comparing myself to other people’s paces, I’m not listening to what it is that I want to say or what I want to contribute to the world. God forbid this is the last album I do on some Biggie shit.

But imagine if the last album I did was just some bullshit mixtape that I tried to put out for SoundCloud. How would that sit with my fans, my legacy the conversation of New York, and Dominican/Latino artists doing hip hop. I would be doing a disservice by putting out bullshit just to stay consistent.

So for me, I try to take my time and really pay attention to what is it that I want to say. Whether it be a forefront topic, nuance or just specific lines. Because I know music sticks in your mind at some point. You don’t memorize a song as soon as you hear it. You memorize it as it plays. The project might drop in April but that one song may not hit you until that first cold October day. I have to be aware of how my music travels. Not only for when it’s released and how it feels off my chest but how it’s going to continue to live on. I don’t drop a project with the intention of dropping another one in three months. I drop a project with the intention of: if this is what it is, this is what it is. I treat it real and I think that’s what it actually is, I’m just aware of that now.

I hope you didn’t end up putting up $15,000 of your own bread for this one.

Radamiz: This album was definitely more expensive to make. When people see you signed to a label they think that you have all the money. You still have to pay everything back because that’s just the music business. But it’s not even about the money for me, it’s just the output and getting the right people on it to work. Not reaching out random people just to have random names. I don’t want my songs to sound like paid features. I had a producer who worked with Black Star and Kanye West but it didn’t feel right. I’m not just going to put someone’s name in because people are going to love it but then the song’s trash when you actually play it. It’s worse to be excited by a track list and disappointed when you hear the actual songs.

The first time I saw your name, it was actually in high school when I was heavily into the Beast Coast wave. I remember I stumbled across this YouTube video of a bunch of kids in a rap cypher. Could you tell me more about Mogul Club?

Radamiz: Yeah man that’s our brotherhood. King Critical, Madwiz, History, Dre Dollasz, Riz Allah, there’s a lot of us. The first ‘Best of Brooklyn Cypher’ was filmed in front of the high school where we all met. But the second one took off and it’s just a testament to what we’re in the game for.

It was just young kids rapping and figuring it out from there. I love how that went viral because we had no internet connections or press. We just uploaded it, named it “The Best of Brooklyn Cypher 2012,” and if you watched it you watched it. Thankfully people did.

It created a point of conversation for the latter years because with every release I get one or two comments where people say they remembered me from that cypher. ‘Yo I remember you from that cypher. You were the underdog in that shit and no one was talking about you but I paid attention.’ I just got a DM like that two days ago. The video was big in itself and as individuals we didn’t really benefit that much from it. But the fact that people still bring it up today is a testament to putting in work and figuring it out as it goes.

I feel the NY rappers that break into the mainstream usually stray away from the traditional New York sound. Do you think that makes it harder for an artist like yourself to get your name out there?

Radamiz: I generally don’t try to box in what the New York sound is even though I know what it’s referring to. For me the New York sound is whatever the case is for you. Instead, I ask how I’m adding to the legacy and how can I broaden what’s considered the New York sound. If you tell me I sound like New York, I tell you that I don’t think I sound like New York. I’m just making music.

Naturally, it’s going to be New York infused but I’m not trying to make “Shook Ones.” I’m trying to make “V.I.M.” I’m trying to make “NYNYNYNY” because it doesn’t sound like anything  that would be considered the New York sound to me. I’m rapping and I’m still a writer but my focus is more on how can we expand what’s considered the New York sound as opposed to only referencing what the 90s era did.

On a song like “New York Don’t Love Me” you speak on the rap game in New York and how it’s kinda staticky. How do you feel about that now?

Radamiz: Me specifically, I’m not insecure about my talent. I don’t think it’s limited to New York because everyone says it where they’re from. Nobody feels like everybody supports each other. In Atlanta, the studio vibe is what supports itself. In Miami, the club vibe is what supports itself. In L.A., the parties is what supports itself. In New York we don’t have any of that. There are no consistent parties you can go to or communal studios. I can’t get into where Wiki records. I can’t get into where Action Bronson is going to record with Meyhem Lauren. It’s cliquey in that sense.

But back then, when I made “New York Don’t Love Me,” I was trying to get some wind under my wings. I wasn’t in a position to make an impact with my decisions. But now, a lot of those artists who didn’t show love back then don’t matter as much to me anymore. They mattered to me then because I wanted that. What matters to me now is how can a 18-20 year old look at an artist like myself as upcoming, starting to get those looks for real, and starting to get those placements for real, and that there’s an open space for it.

I’m not going to work with you because you rap. I’m going to work with you if I want to work with you. It’s not like I’m supposed to be rapping on everybody’s fucking songs. But at the same time, you’ll still me on songs with YL, Dot Demo, Marlon Craft, Koda The Friend or Chelsea Reject. The worlds are still going to associate itself because we are now in the position where our careers are elevating. We can leave the door open a little bit more.

I still don’t believe in inorganic collaborations and I don’t believe you have to work with every artist you are cool with. Just because I know all these rappers doesn’t mean all of them are going to be on my album. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help each other in other ways. If I can’t work with an artist on a song, I’ll still introduce them to a producer, a promoter, or an opportunity.

That’s how we help make this shit formative. These are new formative years in New York. I’m happy to be apart of that wave that can open the door more and I hope to continue to do so.

So you started rapping when your were 12. Ten years later, you performed at Hot 97’s Summer Jam and even had “Ali’s My Big Brother” play on the station. How did you manifest that?

Radamiz: Summer Jam was from a Hot97 contest at the time. It was the ‘Who’s Next’ contest and I hit up people every single day on Facebook asking them to vote for me. I would be in classes at NYU and these TA’s and Professors would pardon me for 30 minutes because they knew I wasn’t focusing in class while I was chasing this dream. I got into the top eight and I won it for New York. I was chosen and apart of the package for that was opening up at Summer Jam.

Obviously at that point people still didn’t give a fuck about me. But that bill had New York back then in that sense. Joey Bada$$, Ferg, Action Bronson, Bodega Bamz and Vinny Chase were on the bill as well. It felt like I was clearly apart of all that too even if those guys didn’t fuck with me like that. That was on some for me shit. That was me and my team. I performed songs that my people produced and I brought Madwiz and Critical to perform on that stage with me to share that experience together. That was hard work for real.

Hot 97 playing “Ali’s My Big Brother” came through Peter Rosenberg finding me through that showcase and just staying on his ass. That’s the other thing. People think you make a connect and these connects are supposed to open all their doors for you. You still have to put in work after that. You have to keep following up. I would show up to every Who’s Next showcase event just to talk to the DJ’s and other personnel. I was putting in my work bro. I don’t know how else to put it. I was going out for mines and moments like that happened. Nothing was handed and I don’t want nothing handed.

You frequently mention your upbringing in the Sumner Houses within your music. I felt Writeous really captured that story of where you came from. How did your growing up there shape you.

Radamiz: Before we started this interview my boy who’s locked up, his mom just called me. That was somebody I grew up with since childhood. You clearly see what the negative outcomes are when you don’t have a lot of positive figures and your day to day decisions aren’t being paid attention to much.

You realize that negative things start to become habitual to you and you need to just open up your mind. I’m grateful to be from where I’m from because it teaches you how to walk and look. How to look for signs of danger and not be pussy. But I also had parents who were aware of me and always went to DR once or twice a year since I was born. That gave me a different perspective on life whereas for most kids who grow up in the projects, that’s all you know. You’re in the projects because you don’t have money, surviving on EBT and minimum wage, and this is just the housing you can afford. So your traveling experiences and exposure are going to be limited.

Although Sumner and Bed-Stuy raised me I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to culture myself in other ways and expand on that. I was able to realize that ‘Oh, my boy’s doing this. I don’t think I’m going to fuck with you today. I’m not going to that hood and turning Crip today. Nah, I’m not going to the Blood initiation.’ You’re aware of certain things that you are obviously exposed to but you make decisions for yourself. Unfortunately, 9/10 times, you see those decisions save you. It gave me the real world and I gave myself the option to choose otherwise.

One song you were featured on recently year is titled “Gentrification.” How do you see this duality in a place like Bed-Stuy?

Radamiz: It’s terrible bro because there’s no respect for the culture that exists. There’s no respect for the family owned businesses that support themselves on the community buying its own product. It’s like gentrification almost makes you want to be racist. It makes me feel racist towards white people even though I have really close white friends who I really love. Well don’t just be cool with me, be cool with the 10 other people who look just like me on your train.

When you don’t support the businesses from here, that’s the double slap. It’s one thing for my Aunt, a single mother of two, to be kicked out of her apartment in Bushwick because you decide to move in. A landlord is trying to make money and they know you can afford it. I can’t judge you for wanting to live in a cheaper place. When I travel to other cities, I intentionally don’t go on Yelp. I try to walk around and look for the family-owned businesses that appreciate my dollar because I know the negative effects it has when people don’t do that where I’m from.  I was just in Bushwick the other day and I avoided all the fancy shit. I went straight to the Mexican, family-owned eatery and put money in their pocket.

It’s like a horror movie sometimes for real. You walk around and you’re being judged on your block. Bitch, you look scary. You and your athletic gear, Louis Vuitton purse, is a monster to me now. It’s not the way you’re looking at us. We’re looking at you that way.

What are some difficulties you feel that Dominican or Latino rappers face?

Radamiz: It’s weird because Latino representation has been very minimal in hip hop. My black friends tell me that if I was black, I would be way more successful. But because I’m Spanish, people don’t fuck with you. It is not necessarily intentional but maybe subconsciously. It’s like hip hop expects black expression. But where it was born and what it’s referencing is also my culture too. I’m on the same block as you, go to the same stores, the same trains, same friends. It’s the exact same experience when it comes to the real world.

It feels like it may be a burden but I don’t try to look at what pins me down. I try to look at what I can expound on and succeed through anything. I don’t think I’m just supposed to speak to a Latin community. That’s why I don’t make Spanish songs or rap in Spanish. If I could answer your question, I would be successful. But I’m figuring it out from day to day. Ask me that again when I’m still doing what I’m doing now but selling out tours all over the world. Maybe I’ll have a better perspective then.

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