For as long as he can remember, all Shawny Binladen wanted to do was rap. The self-appointed Mayor of Woodhull, Shawny has lived in that deep neck of the borough his whole life, and made his fair share of friends and enemies. He’s a founding member and de facto leader of the Queens rap crew, the Yellow Tape Boys — yellow tape meaning “caution”.
While Shawny and YTB are definitely of the current NYC drill movement, Woodhull is an hour subway ride from Manhattan and just a ten-minute drive down Jamaica Ave from the Belmont Race Tracks. Their close proximity to Long Island left YTB with their own lifestyle to talk about, a local vernacular to sprinkle in, and a slightly different group of fans. For the past few years, YTB have had the eastern edge of NYC on lockdown, even as the city’s hip hop landscape gets more crowded by the day. You’re more likely to hear Shawny’s music bumping out of a BMW cutting you off on the BQE than on the Subway platform, though it’s truly the LIE that he has on lock.
After all, this Queens drill offshoot, “Yellow Drill,” as he has called it, makes for excellent driving music.
Shawny’s fast paced flow and gravelly growl feel like a revving engine, his hundred mile an hour bursts mimic local traffic patterns as he weaves his way through beats. Spending his whole life in his subsection of Queens hermetically-sealed and incubated his talents. His adolescence was spent running up and down Woodhull Ave between 190th and 195th with the same people that he continues to wreak havoc with. The local NYC rap YouTube page The Culture Plug called YTB mysterious, seeing as they started as a duo and now seem to have as many as a dozen members. But the group never thought of it like that; the way they see it, YTB is just the group of people who have been in the same room, the entire time.
But one of the most impactful figures on Shawny’s life is no longer here. His uncle, Randy “Stretch” Walker, was a Queens and rap icon, first making a name for himself in the late eighties with his group The Live Squad. Stretch was the Andre the Giant of rap. At 6’7”, Stretch towered over his peers, which coupled with his deep raspy voice made him a menacing figure. Yet he was as known for his magnanimous personality as much as he was his bars. Stretch was one of the few men who could call both Biggie and 2Pac not just collaborators but close friends, and he was known to be the man who first connected the two. He and Shawny only got a few years together before Stretch’s murder in 1995, but those experiences formed the bedrock of his career. Among Shawny’s earliest memories is Stretch bumping tracks and telling Shawny he’d take him to the studio when he was old enough. From that day on, Shawny knew the studio was the place he needed to be.
When I asked Shawny about his writing process he revealed that he doesn’t write anything down, it’s all off the dome in the booth. “It’s really off a vibe,” he says. “That’s how the music go — off everyone’s vibes, everyone there is affecting the process.” His IG Lives serve as DIY “Art of Recording” episodes and back up that claim. On one recently, Shawny looped a beat back over and over playing through the lines he had so far in search of the next one. Raps were inspired by the loud his boy was rolling up, the Chrome Hearts he was wearing, and the opps that people had already been clowning on in the comments.
Those same comments got out of hand quickly though when Shawny wasn’t there to supervise. As soon as he got in a groove rapping two Woodhull goofs started airing beef. Things got spicy enough that by the time Shawny got back to his phone that he had to shut the whole shit down, which I am sure inspired even more bars.
Shawny is at his best when he has someone to play off of. He initially made waves with the 2016 YTB mixtape, Gold Tips and Yellow Tape. At the time, YTB was just him and FOUR50 who Shawny has known since elementary school. Their team dynamic, repetitive choruses, top gear flows, and “woo” and “skkrt” heavy ad libs had all of Kings County calling them the Queens Migos. “CBSB” is another banger where Shawny and fellow Queens native CBlack821 bounce off each other like a drill Run DMC. Shawny rips through the track with his trademark “okay huh” flow, one that many a Brooklyn drill rapper has borrowed since.
Shawny also has one of the most dynamic voices in rap. Tracks like “Wipe My Nose” off of last year’s underrated mixtape Sliickladen have Shawny sounding like a rap group all unto himself, as his raspy growl and delicate whisper that bump up against one another in the same verse sound like they’re from different universes. He put this same whisper flow to the best effect on his recent collab with Lil Dude “Yellow Homicide”, helping his DMV bro feel at home on the NYC drill beat.
More than anything, Shawny Binladen likes to keep busy. With how crowded the modern rap landscape is, one moment off can mean losing your momentum. Shawny prefers to be, as he described it, “Grinching all day every day.” Grinching, of course, being Queens-speak for getting money by any means necessary, Shawny keeps his calendar packed with studio sessions, business calls, and video shoots. Shawny took a break from a recent studio session with FOUR50 to FaceTime with me so we could chat about growing up in Woodhull, how much he appreciates having his family in his corner, and what it felt like hearing Drake play his track “Cartel Talk” on IG Live. FOUR50 hung out for the interview and provided some color around YTB’s formation and about how some members of the group originally got connected. — Brendan Higgins
You are a Queens native, did you spend your whole life in Woodhull or different parts of Queens?
Shawny Binladen: Nah I spent my whole life in Woodhull, Queens. That’s definitely where I’m from. I’ve
been there since forever.
What was it like growing up in Woodhull?
Shawny Binladen: It was good growing up in Woodhull. I’m like the mayor over there so it was good for
me. We’re good over there, can walk in the park over there.
Woodhull is very deep in Queens, do you feel more connected with Long Island or New York City? Cuz you probably drive more than you take the subway.
Shawny Binladen: Yea definitely, I ain’t take the subway in years. *Laughs* But I get love from both like evenly, honestly. My cousin is from Elmont so that’s how we got plugged in over there.
My dad grew up in Queens but in Woodhaven, so kinda on the exact opposite side of Queens, but we got both the Woods covered. [laughter] What was your situation like growing up? Did you have any siblings?
Shawny Binladen: Yea I got two brothers.
Younger or older?
Shawny Binladen: Older, two older brothers, one older sister, one younger sister. I’m like the man of the house.
Are you close-knit?
Shawny Binladen: Yea we close. I take care of them.
Love that. Your uncle Stretch was a legend. Not just rapping with 2Pac but everything he accomplished in his life. I know he passed when you were really young but what did he mean to you?
Shawny Binladen: He meant a lot. Definitely still to this day me and the bros still look back on his story. Basically I see how hard he was going and I want to continue that. We don’t want his legacy to die. That’s why I’m here now, I feel like Stretch resurrected.
I didn’t realize what a legend he was till I did my research, did you have any kinda stories your mom or aunt told you, or anything you remember?
Shawny Binladen: When I was super young I remember he’d be playing music a lot but I really didn’t get that much time with him at all. That’s all the memories I got, that and he’d be like “When you’re older imma take you to the studio” and whatever. Now I know he looking down smiling like “Yeaaaa,” I feel like I’m doing exactly what he woulda wanted me to do.
You’ve talked about family support meaning a lot and that your Mom and Aunt bump your music proudly. Were they supportive from the jump?
Shawny Binladen: Hell yea they were always supportive, always pushing me forward. Definitely, I always got my Moms in my corner with that shit for sure.
What is the best advice she’s given you?
Shawny Binladen: Watch your surroundings and stick to your day ones. Everyone ain’t your friend.
Yea quite literally you’re rapping with the same ten people you grew up with.
Shawny Binladen: For real, and that is not an accident. No sir.
What were you into growing up? Did you play sports?
Shawny Binladen: I used to play a little ball here and there but I was always rapping, always.
Are there any like middle school age Shawny Binladen tapes we could go dig up?
Shawny Binladen: [laughs] I mean I got shit on SoundCloud probably from when I was in like eighth grade probably.
So let’s talk about the Yellow Tape Boys, YTB.
Shawny Binladen: Yessir, I made YTB with FOUR50 these are the founders right here.
So it was originally the two of you guys now it’s eight. How was YTB developed and what are the goals for yourself and your goals with YTB?
Shawny Binladen: We all developed independently within the team structure. I can’t say we all went solo, but we all have individual projects and are featured heavy on each other’s projects. We all got skills we need to show off but it’s ultimately a team effort.
It’s kinda like Wu Tang or something.
Shawny Binladen: Definitely, definitely, a lot of people compare us to the Wu Tang. I wanted all my brothers to have everybody hear their sound. Whenever the spotlight was on me, I wanted it on all of them as well. I wanted them to know it ain’t just me, there’s no Shawny without YTB, it ain’t gonna be me without them.
In tune with that, in another interview YTB did, Big Yaya talked about how when you got locked up Shawny, it was a big motivator for him. He hit the studio hard and was like “I gotta pick up the slack.” What was that experience like for you? How’d it motivate you? And what was it like coming out and seeing everyone going way harder than when you went in?
Shawny Binladen: It was definitely ill when I heard it. I was locked up and heard my boys on Power 105.1.
Oh shit! That must have been crazy.
Shawny Binladen: It was crazy for me, I was punching the wall. I was supposed to be out there, I got so hungry. But it was good because Yaya wasn’t rappin’ like that before. When I got locked up I saw the work they all put in, so when I got out I was like “I ain’t gonna lie y’all was doing your shit.” I respected it crazy like y’all ain’t slack. You picked up the pages. So I hopped right back in the booth and kept it going.
It’s almost kinda funny. It was such a negative thing in one respect. You almost had to sacrifice a little for the whole group to grow.
Shawny Binladen: Definitely, it felt exactly like that.
You and Big Yaya caught Drake’s ear, he was spinning your track Cartel Talk on IG Live last month. What was that like hearing that and did he connect with you? Any buzz off of that?
Shawny Binladen: Definitely we got hella buzz off of that. It was crazy because we were in the studio, I was laying my verse down and I seen that shit and I was like “Yooooo I know I’m not bugging right now.” Drake bumping my shit, like I went ten times harder that day, shout out to Drake. And definitely OVO Mark we’ve connected with so shout out to OVO Mark. God willing we got something on the way, so stay tuned.
Yeah I can’t even imagine. So you were in the studio? I’m sure you went wild after that.
Shawny Binladen: What! Like I went crazy after that. I told Instagram I need my check already after that. How Drake knows me and Instagram don’t, I don’t know. [laughs]