“Pop was the king of New York”, raps Fivio Foreign on his debut album BIBLE. It’s “Pop” as in Pop Smoke, the Brooklyn rapper who was murdered in 2020. Fivio adds that he is now “responsible”.
Like Smoke, the New Yorker is a star of rap’s most controversial and fastest growing subgenre. Drill music first appeared in Chicago in the early 2010s and is now a worldwide phenomenon. The main New York hub is in Brooklyn, where Fivio (pronounced “Favio”) grew up. “We made it different, we made it mainstream,” he says of his drill scene.
His debut studio album is a big-budget affair. Among its large guest cast is Kanye West, whose 2021 album donda featured a scene-stealing cameo from Fivio. “He’s smart,” Fivio says of working with West. “During the whole process of thinking about how I wanted to put together my album, I had that in mind. I was still at that time Ye.
Released last month by major label Columbia Records, BIBLE debuted in the Billboard top 10. For Fivio, the world of drill YouTube views has been replaced by the music industry’s traditional measure of success, album charts. “I had to explain to people who didn’t know that, yo, 29,000 sales for the first issues is pretty good. I’m proud,” says Fivio.
He speaks from his home in New Jersey. It’s noon and the would-be king of the town across the Hudson is holding court from the royal location of his bed after a late-night session in a recording studio. I am unable to assess the splendor of his nativity scene. He has his video turned off for our Zoom call. I hear children somewhere in the background: there are three of them.
At 32, Fivio is not in the first wave of youth. A fear of failure sparkles everywhere BIBLE, a dark flip to his predominant air of polish and confidence. “All the time, I’m still fighting these demons in my head, about not wanting to lose, because I just can’t lose right now,” he says. “I have too many people depending on me. So I’m still fighting rap, you know what I mean? I still fight rap.
Combat is a key element of drill, and also the cause of the notoriety of this variety of hard and minimalist rap, product of an environment plagued by gang rivalries and extreme violence. Fivio first became aware of this about ten years ago. “I liked the aggressiveness. I liked the rhythms,” he says.
A change of style was accompanied by a move across the Atlantic. The British exercise added slower tempos and sinuously menacing basslines. In the hip-hop equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle, this London-based variation was later picked up by Brooklyn rappers. Among BIBLEFivio’s stable of producers is London-based AXL Beats, who produced Fivio’s breakthrough anthem “Big Drip”, a summer 2019 hit. This led to the rapper’s contract with Columbia Records, for a reputable sum. seven digits.
Real name Maxie Lee Ryles III, Fivio grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Her father served in the US Army and her mother was a teacher. She died in 2016 following a stroke. “That one hit a little hard,” he says. “She made me feel like I was a winner.”
Like its cousins in Chicago and the United Kingdom, the Brooklyn drill has a violent reputation. His first crossover star, Pop Smoke, was shot dead at age 20 in a robbery in Los Angeles. BIBLE opens with a shoutout to fellow murdered rapper, TDott Woo, who was killed in Brooklyn in February, hours after signing his first recording contract.
“Certainly it should stop,” Fivio says of the growing number of rappers killed. The extent of drill’s responsibility has provoked the same causal arguments as gangsta rap did in the 1990s. The line between fact and fiction is blurred. In April last year, Fivio was arrested for possession of a loaded weapon (he has not yet been charged).
Earlier this year, he joined a group of rappers who met with New York City Mayor Eric Adams to oppose plans to ban drilling videos on social media. He supports a bill drafted by two US senators and endorsed by Jay-Z to prevent rap lyrics from being used as evidence in criminal trials.
“I don’t think you can use rap lyrics in court,” he says. “Basically because it’s entertainment. It’s like a movie. And there are people who don’t write their own raps. How do you say you want to use those lyrics when people don’t even write their own raps? »
He usually performs his own verses in the recording booth, making them up on the spot. Those on BIBLE include the usual drill threats to enemies, or “opps”, but they’re generalized rather than specific. Attempts are made to soften Fivio’s image. “I know I’m a gangsta but I get affectionate,” he raps at one point. “It’s like being free and being confident in who you are,” he says of these efforts to broaden his appeal.
A favorite term in his raps is “viral.” Kanye West borrows it for a guest appearance on the album when he says, “Fivi is viral and it’s the ‘BIBLE’.” The endorsement looks “big” for the pretender to the New York rap throne. “Yeah,” said Fivio. “That means I’m really viral, right?”
‘BIBLE’ is out now on RichFish/Columbia Records. Fivio Foreign is currently on tour in the United States and plays at the Wireless Festival, London, in July
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