Mr. MFN eXquire: 'I Evolved As A Man' : Microphone Check Crown Heights came to North Hollywood so we could talk about crossed signals on the highways between artist and industry.

Mr. MFN eXquire: 'I Evolved As A Man'

Mr. MFN eXquire With Ali Shaheed Muhammad And Frannie Kelley

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Mr. MFN eXquire With Ali Shaheed Muhammad And Frannie Kelley

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Mr. MFN eXquire in Los Angeles in January. GL Askew II for NPR hide caption

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GL Askew II for NPR

Mr. MFN eXquire in Los Angeles in January.

GL Askew II for NPR

Crown Heights came to North Hollywood so we could talk about crossed signals on the highways between artist and industry. We also got into rap performance, being superstitious about writing, being not great about networking and this feeling: "I felt like I was too smart to do a record and not talk about s*** that's happening now."


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: What's going on?

MUHAMMAD: Welcome to Microphone Check.

FRANNIE KELLEY: Yeah. Thank you for enduring the travel to come see us, also.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: It was nothing.

MUHAMMAD: Wait. Let's not make it all about us though. I'm like — if you did ten hours to come to Microphone Check, that's like, man, salute. But why you in L.A.?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I came to do Microphone Check. That's why I'm in L.A.

MUHAMMAD: Seriously?



MUHAMMAD: For real for real?


MUHAMMAD: I'll shut up. I'll take it all back. Salute you, then.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Came to do this, and I'll wiggle around and do some other things.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: And my friend told me he's going to take me to some restaurant I really need to go to, so.

KELLEY: Which one?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I don't know. Which one?

FRIEND: Some good Persian food.



FRIEND: Atari Grill. In Westwood.

KELLEY: Oh nice.

MUHAMMAD: What do you like? What kind of food you like?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I like anything spicy. And chicken. Chicken, always chicken.

MUHAMMAD: Mm. Well --

KELLEY: There's good food out here.


MUHAMMAD: — if you do breakfast, there's a spot called BFD. It's on Beverly — I don't know what the street is.

KELLEY: Oh, I know that place you're talking about!

MUHAMMAD: The breakfast is crazy, and they got this spicy chicken. It just smacks your whole brain.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I think I've been there. Is that spot with the — they make really good French toast?


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: It's like Frosted Flakes on the French toast?

KELLEY: Yup. It's really close --

MUHAMMAD: Oh, no no no.


MUHAMMAD: That's Blue Jazz Café.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Woo! That French toast. Woohoo! Crazy!

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. That French toast, yeah, that's crazy.

KELLEY: Where is this place?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I got a picture of that French toast on my laptop.

KELLEY: Wait. As like your background on your laptop?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: No. Just a picture in there.

KELLEY: Just saved?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: And I look at it all the time like, "Ooh, I want to go again."

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. That French toast is a problem. It's on Melrose. It's called Blue Jam Café.

KELLEY: Blue Jam?



MUHAMMAD: Cause I think they have kind of like a vibe like it was a jam café, like you come in and play instruments. But you don't. And they have like a whole bunch of jazz musician and different artists — pictures on the wall. But that French toast.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That French toast worth the journey. That was worth the ten hours in Vegas.

MUHAMMAD: Well, if you want spicy chicken, go to BFD. It's on Beverly.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So in relation to the — so chicken versus toast. Where we going? If we only have one option. Say I had a plane to catch tomorrow.

MUHAMMAD: Yo, that French toast.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I'm telling you. It's really that good.

MUHAMMAD: That French toast. Yeah. The Frosted Flakes. And the thing is, they don't serve it with syrup. So you — customarily it's like, "Can I get syrup?" And you actually don't need it. I love maple syrup. But it's that --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Powdered sugar. Pff pff pff. That's the sugar. Pff pff. That's the sound of it.

MUHAMMAD: We might have to go there after this now. Cause I didn't eat breakfast at all.

KELLEY: Blow off the rest of the day.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: We have to experience this.

MUHAMMAD: Just — yeah. And be in a coma.

KELLEY: We could just go do the interview there.

MUHAMMAD: We should. Well, thank you for coming though.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Ah, no doubt, man. I appreciate being here.

MUHAMMAD: You been busy? What you been up to?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Me? I just put a record out on September 8th. Just a short EP. It's only five records.

MUHAMMAD: Is this the Live Forever?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Live Forever. Exactly. That's what it's called. So I been working that. This is the first interview I've actually done since I did it. This is like my first interview in two years.

KELLEY: Wow. Thanks.

MUHAMMAD: So you feel like — you didn't feel like talking to people?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. I guess I didn't. Nah. I wasn't feeling — I didn't have a reason to. I didn't really — only talk when you supposed to. Don't talk just cause.

MUHAMMAD: I'm of that ilk as well. But --

KELLEY: I disagree with that.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: For real?


KELLEY: No no. Not with your stance. I think it would be great if journalists could talk to musicians when they're off a cycle. Sometimes I wonder if that might lead to a more honest or more interesting conversation.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: It's not about honesty.

KELLEY: Yeah. I know exactly what you're saying. And I also understand that — why would you want to speak to strangers and be, like, poked and prodded if there's no benefit to you. But I do think there's a lot of value in the conversations that we have with musicians that are private, because it's not on a cycle.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I could see that.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Well, we — I guess cause we have a different kind of a conversation, you know. But --

KELLEY: Yeah. I guess it's like, "Why do you talk to people?" So ...

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Like, for me, I'm just a true believer in the fact that music is something that you live, you know. So like, I haven't done in a record in two years. But everybody's like, "Yo, where's eXquire?" I'm walking the streets, "Hey! Where you at? What you doing? What the f*** you doing, n****?"

So it just be like — for me, it's like, "Well, I'm living, so that I can have something to say." I'm not somebody that just like generic, like, "Shoot you in your face! Shoot you in your face!" And yeah, you can do that a 100 times. I'm not like that. I'm creative, but I'm not creative in that way of just repeating myself 100 times. I have to go live, and then once I live, alright. I feel this. Alright. Now I want to make music, you know?

So really for journalists to talk to me during the time where I'm just living, I'm probably pretty boring.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So it'd just be wasting your time. Like, "What're you up to?" "Ah, just reading." You know, and that'd just be it.

KELLEY: You're the second person in two days to say reading in your off-time. I think that's like — that's not talked about enough, is how much goes into your work that is other people's interpretations of the world, and words. What have you been reading?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Right now I'm reading — so I read this book a bunch of times, Autobiography Of Malcolm X. I'm reading that again, because every time I read it I just get a different meaning from it. I'm reading that. And my uncle gave me this book the other day called The Metu Neter, which is about Egyptian religion and spirituality. It's supposed to be — I've read like two pages and it was mad heavy and I was like, "Alright. I'm not doing this today."

KELLEY: Take a break.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. And my homeboy, he put me on to this book, Motorcyle something. Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle --

KELLEY: Oh, yeah yeah. I know that. I've never read it, but I know of it.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So those are like my three — that's in my queue. If this is Netflix, that'll be in my book queue.



KELLEY: That's very philosophical stuff.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. I don't like to read fake stories. I like to either read like somebody's life — like, I like to read biographies and see how people come back from s*** and what they go through — or I just read something that's more about like spirituality or thought or some s***. You know, to put it in my music so I can sound smart.

MUHAMMAD: Well, let's just say you're smart.

And I respect your process of living, cause your music comes off to me very much like a author. And those great authors who write really deeply and intricately. It's almost like multiple authors. Some authors have like the same consistent voice throughout their books, but you go into different voices, but still with the concentration, I think, of a excellent writer. And so I guess that's through really taking the — absorbing what you experience in life and putting out there. But you do it in such a way, man; it's a lot.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Mm-hmm. It is. I know that. That's kind of like my double-edged sword of my career. I'm very heavy. I know that. And I think when I first started — when I first came out, I came out one way. And I think everybody expected me to be something else — which I was, but I was kind of growing out of that and becoming a man, at that time when people discovered me.

It was like, "Oh, he's so wild!" But I was — kind of did that for seven years before anybody heard me rap, so it was like, "Alright." When I first — when I got my record deal, my first record deal, my mother was sick and I just — I had to be a man now. It wasn't like — before it was just like, "Oh! We in the projects! Oh, who that? Where the b******? Ah! Oh, whatever!" You know? But I still had this other side to me, too.

But then as I matured, my music changed a lot. And I know it put a lot of people off, but I didn't give a f***. Cause — what? I'ma fake it? I'ma be a fake person? So I know my s*** is really heavy, especially now. My s*** even got super duper heavy. It just gets heavier and heavier. My next record is super heavy. It's so heavy I'm like, "Maybe I shouldn't even put it out." You know what I mean?

But it's like that for me. Which is kind of weird. Like you said like with the author, like — what's the dude's name? Johnny Depp played him. Hunter S. Thompson?

KELLEY: Oh, yeah.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. He has this quote about like when he leaves life, he wants to be — he doesn't want to leave life in a protected shell. I don't want to leave life, you know, pretty. I want to leave like a broken, battered car, just f***** up because I gave everything I had.

And that's kind of been my philosophy to life forever. Which is scary, cause it's like, I still gotta be a person, too. Like, I'm a musician. And you know, you're a musician. So you know. This is something you give everything to.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Like, I'm getting emotional talking about it. Like, everything. Girlfriends. Friends don't like you no more. You don't see your mother. You don't see anybody. It's heavy.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, yeah.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: And sometimes that's such a big sacrifice you like, "F*** it." But to not do it is to die physically. Like, be alive and be a zombie. But then to do it is kind of like — you're not going to leave this intact, you know?


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Because you give so much of yourself to it.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You know what I mean? So s*** is heavy. S*** is heavy. That's all I can really say about it. From my perspective. That's how it is for me.

MUHAMMAD: It's heavy, but it feels good.


MUHAMMAD: And compared to — I mean, there's things that I think, with a matter of age — for me personally, it's just, it doesn't come into my — my shell just can't receive it. But things that are really heavy and real and has a lot of depth, I'm way open to it. And I want to go on that journey, and there seems — I love the fact that you have sort of unapologetic spirit towards everything, which — I'm like, "Wow."


MUHAMMAD: It's admirable. It makes me wonder how you walk through Earth, but probably more free than most people.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, definitely.

MUHAMMAD: What's been your — let's just go back a step, because on the MC tip, you fierce as all the greats. Like, your lyrical stacking, your rhythms. As great as Rakim, as great as KRS, as great as Chuck D. What was your inspirations?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You know, to be honest, I was just a good thief. I'm a thief. Like, people don't — I'm just a thief. To be honest.

Like, I was a kid — I was an only child, so like, I wasn't outside a lot when I was young. I was a nerd. I was just in the crib. I was reading comic books. I was watching wrestling. And I was listening to rap. That was just my escape. But I was just a loner, just a weird kid. Always. When I was young.

KELLEY: So how did you get the music that you had? Like, who put you on?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Just my friends, growing up. I would meet older dudes in my projects and they were like, "Oh, you never heard Biggie?" I never heard Ready To Die till I was 16, you know what I mean? But I would get — my uncles would have a lot of records. My uncle had a vinyl, so I heard everything. It's a lot a s***. People like, "You know that record?" My mother always did that. Like old '70s songs. "You know that record?" "Yeah, I know Gil Scott-Heron. I know Johnny 'Guitar' Watson."

I studied. And I take from — as a MC, I'll take from them. I'll take from Gil Scott, as a MC. I'll take from Raphael Saadiq, as a MC. You know what I mean? So that's kind of how I've been able to always kill s*** or build myself as a musician. Is, I'm not afraid to listen to anything. I'm not afraid to borrow from it and just twist it and interpret it in my own style.

But like, heavy — like you said, Chuck D is a very heavy influence on me. Ice Cube on his first two albums. Very heavy influence on me.

KELLEY: That makes total sense.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Eminem. Heavy influence on me. Brother J. S*** like that. I just was — Just-Ice. If you want to talk old — Melle Mel. I listened to them. And then Nas, of course. Cause Nas was like me, to me. Like he was in the projects, and he was talking about s*** I saw every day.

And everybody. Beanie Sigel. You name it. I was listening to it. And I listened to Cash Money. I listened to 8Ball and MJG. I listened to Trick Daddy. I listened to Young Bleed. I listened to — yo, I'm like a rap dictionary, cause I listen to everything and I never was a closed-minded person like, "What? That's not New York rap. F*** that. That's corny. They —." Nah. Cause it's just everybody's experience.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: — so I'm just soaking you up. "Oh, OK. Who's this dude? This is Kendrick Lamar? Let me see what his life is like. I relate to that. I'ma take this part, but I'ma give him this part. And I'll put that with x."

So that's kind of how my style was constructed. Like, you ever had a party mix bag of chips? You know, it got the cheese doodles. It got the pretzel, corn chip. You know what I'm saying? The Lays. That's my style. Just put it all together.

MUHAMMAD: So when you make a song like "Nostalgia," is that just pretty much like laying up — what is that song to you?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Oh, "Nostalgia?" Oh that's like the first song on my last EP, Live Forever. I wrote that song three times. I wrote that song one time when I was 19. I wrote it another time when I was like 22. And then I wrote it again for this record. I wrote it three times, cause I could never get it right. Or I would lose the beat or —

But I just was so married to that concept of just what it was — the concept of it was like — how do I explain it? Like, just random thoughts of your past. You know what I mean? Just all the things that make you feel good. Cause I know — you have your nostalgia goggles on, and certain things that you might not even gave a f*** about when you were 10, you think about them now; it gives you just a good, warm feeling, and it makes you remember who you are.

And like that's kind of what Live -- it was the perfect intro because that's what this record was for me. It was like — like I said, I didn't do a record for two years. So I feel like I lost myself in the industry. I got that deal, and I was in it and I didn't know what the f*** was going on. And I was like, "Ah, f*** it. I'll make music, but I'm not going to even put it out."

And then I did this record as a statement piece of kind of — not so much for everybody else; that's why I didn't go hard and do a hundred interviews. I just wanted to do it for myself, and remind me who I was. And that's why that was such a perfect intro. Because it was like a love letter to myself and the things that — all the ingredients that made me.

And it didn't have any rhyme or reason to it, because your brain doesn't have a story. Your brain is just your brain. It's just scattered memories. You probably remember s*** that didn't even happen the way you think you remember it, if you really went in a time machine. But it's just, you remember those good parts. So that's what "Nostalgia" was about. Just jogging my memory, so to speak. You know what I mean?


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I was really proud of that record actually. I really like that. I like that joint.

MUHAMMAD: So when you wrote it, each time you went back to revisist, did you like completely throw it in the trash and start over?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. It's like three different versions to that song.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. Similar stuff, but lyrically totally different. Totally different references and totally — everything. But just a similar point of what it is. So I did it three times. I did it a lot of times. Originally I did it over a Dilla beat, but I don't even know what happened to that version of it.

MUHAMMAD: How do you get with your producers? Cause your music is so complete.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: For me, I just — whatever moves me. Cause people are — I don't really have a — I wish I was able to work with like a Flying Lotus or like — I don't even know. I don't even know — just FlyLo. Let's just use him as an example or whatever. But I'm never really around like that. I'm not a networker dude. Like, I'm not always like, "Yo, what's up, bro? Yeah. Gotta get up. Gotta go to the studio, bro." I'm not like that. If I see you, I go, "I like your music. Alright. Whatever."

So like I usually work with who comes to me. If I find a producer or I'll just be scavenging online, I'll hit a dude up. Email him, "Yo. I like you work. You want to do something?" That's how I met the kid that did "Nostalgia." Maybe he'll never do another beat for me again. That one just spoke to me.

But my main producer that I work with, Constrobuz — he's been on every record I've done — we just met online. We've never even met in person, but we're really close. He just — he'll call me and just call me a b**** and hang up type of s***. S*** like that. We do s*** like that to each other.

KELLEY: I read this article recently about how the people that you have the best relationship are the meanest to you.


KELLEY: I think it's kind of true.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Me and my best friend, we mean as hell to each other all the time.

MUHAMMAD: I don't have any mean people. People are not mean to me.

KELLEY: Well, you need to get closer to people.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, you might not be close enough to them.

MUHAMMAD: Note to self.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Find meaner people.

KELLEY: I'll be meaner to you from now on.

MUHAMMAD: Adrian has probably been the meanest to me.

KELLEY: That's true. That's very true.

MUHAMMAD: Seriously. I'm like — I'm not used to it.


MUHAMMAD: So now I know. He's good people.

KELLEY: Do you know this guy Jeremiah Jae? He's a producer from Chicago.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Jeremiah Jae.

KELLEY: He's kind of like — he's on Brainfeeder. Or not anymore actually. But I feel like you guys would be good together.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I've never heard of him. I'ma check him out though. I'ma give him a Google.

KELLEY: OK. That's fair.

MUHAMMAD: In terms of your former record deal and some of the maybe frustrations that may have come after in life for you, just in — through that that entire experience, to me, it sounds like you're too much of a loner. What's up with that? Why?



MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I don't know. I think I'm like Prince or some s*** like that. I'm weird.

KELLEY: Paisley Park in Crown Heights.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. Exactly. I got my space, and that's where I work. And that's bad, cause we rappers and s***, and that ain't how rap work. But — and I know that. I know. I know. But that's just how I work. Cause I —

You know what it is? I'ma tell you. When I first started, when I first came out, like — I have a very big personality on screen, but when you meet me, I'm actually a very subdued person. So people — I used to feel like people used to always meet me wanting me to be something I'm not, even though that's a part of me. But it ain't the whole me.

And I always would be afraid of letting them down. So like, I'd go to spots and I'd try to get drunk and, "I'm having fun!" But I really wasn't having fun. I don't think that you should be outside of yourself to do something you love.

MUHAMMAD: Absolutely.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So it made me withdraw, cause I'm like, "Eh. I don't like that s***." I never really went out. I wasn't no party — I'm not an outside person. My life revolves around music and women and my family.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That's — those three — that's what's important to me. And my nerdy s***. Sitting in the house and color, collages, or make a jacket or some s***. You know? That's my fun. I don't really be wanting to be out like that. But I know I have to, to progress my career, cause that's just the game.

But like, if it was up to me, I would just be a dope artist that I could just put a record out. Got my fans; they f*** with it. And they'll wait for the next one. And I'll go do my shows, and I'll tour, and we'll have our fun, and I'll make the crowd laugh. I go the f*** home.

But it ain't like that, you know what I mean? It's like, "Oh, you gotta go out, and, 'What's up, Joey Bada$$? What's good, my n****? Yeah, boy, let's get in the studio! We gotta work!'" I just can't do it.

MUHAMMAD: I understand.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So that's why. I am a loner, cause I just am a loner.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I'm cool with that though. I'm cool. I'm good with that. I'm comfortable.

MUHAMMAD: I completely understand. I grew up sort of the same way. My mom used to be concerned cause I would never go outside. And when I'd go outside, I'd have friends, but I just was always in the house listening to music, practicing DJing all the time. Then my uncle got a keyboard, drum machine, so I'd just be in the house at 12, 13 just like messing up his presets. And my mom was like, "My son is strange."

And I'm still the same way. There're aspects where my managers and people'll are like, "You know you need to go out and be seen. If you not seen, then people forget about you." And that's a really truthful statement. I'm very comfortable staying in the studio all the time. Like, I'm good.

But just for you and someone who's as talented as you are and for some of the spaces that — the things that exist in the current space of promoting music and just networking and advances, I think like — I'm not saying go and go outside of yourself. But I feel like if you just made a couple of connects — I'm just curious how — maybe this is me projecting. I'm sorry. I don't mean to project.

KELLEY: Well, I think part of it is because — I mean, part of people's expectations is that when you were first introduced to sort of a broad audience, it was with a bunch of other people, cause of "Huzzah" and the video. And all those people are people that everybody wants to drink with and party with and get that late night text from or whatever, and so —

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Don't wait for no text from me. It ain't coming.

KELLEY: Yeah. That's fair. But I mean, that's a thing, sort of choosing — I don't know. Did you decide to sort of enter like that, or did you know that that was going to happen? Did you plan it?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Honestly, like, at that time, I was just working. I was making eight dollars a hour, and we was rapping. And people just started liking what we was doing. But I never thought anybody would really know it. I hoped that. But — in your heart, you like, "I'm going to do this. I'm going to do this." But I never really had a idea of what doing this even was. It was just like, "I know I'm good. I know I could rap. So, alright. Whatever."

Even when I did that record, I didn't know none of them dudes. I didn't even know their music.



MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Honestly, I heard — when I first heard it, I'm like, "This s***'s trash." You know what I mean? And people love that song. When I heard it, I was like — I like the one I did by myself more.

But El, El was like my favorite at that time. And Danny. I knew them. Everybody else I didn't know them. But it was just, you know, s*** where you're all, "Oh, they doing they s*** right now. You're doing your s*** right now. Just jump on a song." S*** like that.

But for me, that really wasn't — that wasn't our music where I'm from.

KELLEY: Right.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: In my hood, nobody know who them n***** was. It was just like, "F*** is eX doing?" That was kind of the vibe. Like, it was weird.

So that wasn't really no plan of mine. It wasn't like, "Yo, that's part of the plan. OK. We got the six-month rollout." I didn't know what rollout meant. Roll out meant we was gon' jump somebody. So, nah, I didn't even think about it that way.

KELLEY: And so was that part of the divide or miscommunication between you and the label?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I never had no miscommunication with the label. Honestly. Honestly, like, with the whole record deal s***, cause everybody — I never really spoke on it. But no. Like, I got a record deal; I didn't have a manager.

KELLEY: Right.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You know what I'm saying? Like, f*** I thought I was doing?

KELLEY: Yeah. Sorry.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: It ain't really nothing to talk about. People'll be like — it's not no deep s***. You can't have a record deal and not have a manager. It just don't work. You can't have your friends come in there like, "Yo, I work at Vitamin Shoppe on Wednesdays but I'ma help manage you, boy." Like, "Alright. You're going back to the ghetto, cause that's not gon' work for you."

So I didn't really have no manager and s***. I ain't have no booking agent or no none of that. At the time, I just had talent, but I didn't know. People just tell me, "That's what you need to do when you rapping. You signed." And you just caught up in that whirlwind, and then you don't even know what the hell is even going on.

So I never really had a problem when I was signed, like with the label. Like, "Yo, let me go! I'm coming in with some bats." I was chilling. I was good. It was more frustrating just not being to able to get my vision out quick and how I wanted to. Cause I didn't know how to make it happen.

KELLEY: Did you know what it was, your vision?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: What I wanted to do? I knew what I wanted to do.

But once again, it's like — it's like climbing a — it's like if I was to take a wet piece of tissue and throw it on the wall. Psh. That s*** is only going to go down. It's not going to crawl. It's not going to go up. So that's how it is when — I'm going to explain that analogy. That's how I look at any record you do when you get a deal. Say I came out and I was on some Wu-Tang s***. "Come through with the --" that's what they going to want, 100 times. They going to want that. "We signed you to rap like Wu-Tang."

But like I said, I evolved as a man. I didn't just get a deal and, "I'ma blow all my money and be a d*******." Nah. I'm like, "You know what? I should have somewhere to live that's nicer and s***. Nobody should be shooting at me." Just thinking about things in a broader sense, and still to this day I do. I don't think they expected me to grow, when I got on.

So it was just like — it was just a conflict of the music I wanted to do and what they understood me being capable of doing, even though what I was doing was really good. I mean, I had a record with Adrian that's really good. So it's just like — that was the only miscommunication, just not having anybody to advocate for my ideas.

KELLEY: I mean, that's a big deal. That's a really big miscommunication, I think.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Oh, yeah.

KELLEY: Yeah. I mean, cause my guess would be that they thought that you would sort of bring in other people and show up and make a lot of cameos, and that was their plan. And that's what I was saying, is that I think that they probably expected more "Huzzah"-type activity, not even just from you but in the ways that you entered the room with other people.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, yeah. I don't know what they wanted. I try not to — the way I look at all that s*** in retrospect is kind of like: s*** happens. Charge it to the game. Then you move on and continue your life, cause if you dwell on s***, you be sitting around 50-years-old wondering where it all went wrong. You gotta just keep it moving. Like, "Alright. I got that. I learned from it. I know stuff I didn't know before I went in. My life is different from the way it was when I started, so I won." You know, regardless of however, you still won, cause you — I'm in a better position than — I'm in L.A.

Mr. MFN eXquire: "I have a very big personality on screen, but when you meet me, I'm actually a very subdued person. So people — I used to feel like people used to always meet me wanting me to be something I'm not, even though that's a part of me. But it ain't the whole me." GL Askew II for NPR hide caption

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GL Askew II for NPR

I have friends who have never been to The Bronx. Like literally, I have friends who never been past downtown Brooklyn. They don't even know like, "Oh, Lower East Side? Soho? What's Soho?" I have friends that will say that, like, literally. That's crazy. So when I'm in L.A., I don't care about a deal, cause, like, I'm in L.A. I was in the ghetto. No money. I won.

Maybe I didn't do exactly what I wanted to do, and it didn't work how I envisioned it. But, so?

KELLEY: It can be instructive to other people, too.


KELLEY: It can be instructive to other people too, to hear you say it.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I would hope so.

KELLEY: To say that.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. That's why I could be honest about it, cause I would hope that somebody would hear me and understand it, and they'll take that in. And then move with it.

MUHAMMAD: How have you taken those lessons moving forward? Cause you're still making music obviously and you putting stuff out.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Always going to do that. I'm not sure yet. I'm not gonna sit here and lie to you.

MUHAMMAD: You have a manager?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: No. Not really. No.

MUHAMMAD: Why not?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yo! I could never meet anybody who wants to manage me. I ask people to manage me, and they be like, "Nah, I'm busy." Or whatever. So I just be like, "Alright." I ain't gonna, "Alright, yo. Come in the bathroom, and I'll suck your d***. Get this manager." So nah, you know what I mean? I don't really — I don't have one yet.

I want one though. Cause I think that's a good missing component for me. Somebody that could go out and advocate and network for me when I don't want to go out, or at least bring me out with them. I could do that good. Like, just go and chill. "Hey, what's up, man? Have some wine coolers."

MUHAMMAD: Hopefully after this interview people will be hitting you up. But not the people who cannot handle the task, but the right people will say, "You know what? We understand who you are." Cause your stuff is too dope for you to not be able to take advantage of what's out there for you. In representation. Just in content of the music and just your personality, it's large.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I appreciate that.

MUHAMMAD: Just the name is large as — I remember — I think the first time I heard your name was from Frannie, and I was like, "What? Who?" I was like, "Alright. I need to investigate with a name like that." So I just think, you know — it's just too much out there for you really, so I'm advocating for an advocate for you.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Advocate for advocates. I like that.

KELLEY: So what you're working with now is different. Have you performed it out?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Nah, I haven't done anything yet.

KELLEY: Are you planning to?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Of course. Yeah. I love to perform. I love it.

KELLEY: OK. Yeah. Is it like — I feel like — not knowing at all, I feel like there are kind of two approaches to performing where it's like, "I need the crowd to come with me." And it's like, "I'm going to lead. I'm going to be the thing that the crowd is passive and receives." What's your — I don't know if that's true. Is there a third way?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I think somewhere in the middle.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. Depending on the record.

KELLEY: Right.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: It's tone. It's like the tone that you set. Me personally, I prefer to — cause I always look at — I look at records like — it's like categories for how you doing s***. Like, this is a record that's more hype and crowd involvement. Chorus heavy. It's like call-and-response they chanting with you. Then you have certain things that they just want to listen to you. It's story time, bed time type s***, you know?

So I think you — for me, I tend to start with, "Ah! Let's go!" Tire 'em out, and I'ma be tired too cause I'm a big m***********. And then speak to 'em. I could talk to them and get those real messages in. Cause now they receptive. Like, if they didn't know me, they're like, "Oh, this dude's ill. Let me see what else he got to say." Now they're open. They're receptive. Once they tired; they probably jumped for like six songs. Now they like, "OK. Let me see what he got to say."

But it's a balance of it. Too much of one thing — that's kind of what I think is the missing component with a lot of rap now. Is that every artist is like a f****** Converse, let's say. Like, it's just, "Alright. I'm a Converse." But like before, it's like, "Alright, well I'm a high Converse, a low Converse, a mid. I don't have laces." Like, rappers were more diverse, and what —

Like, Biggie got a song about his mother getting cancer. Then he's a player on the next song. Then he kill his self on the last song. He's a player who just killed his self on the last song. That's what a artist is supposed to be. Now you hear these dudes; they don't lose. They win every time. They f*** every girl. The cops come, but they don't: "We don't give a f***! F*** the cops." That's not reality. No! You know what I mean?

So it's like, they don't — it's just — and that — what I think that does, it numbs the music. Cause it's not — it's no consequences to what you're stating. You're not really a man anymore. You're like a cheeseburger or some s***.

KELLEY: Yeah. I think people --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: But — I'm sorry. Sorry. Go ahead.

KELLEY: No no no. I think people are just doing super short sets, so they don't have to deal with what you're saying. Also, I think that people are using the word artist, and some people — it has very different meanings.


KELLEY: You know, "artist" can be interchangeable with "musician" or "rapper" or just a person who one time put out a rap song.


KELLEY: And then artist as somebody who synthesizes the whole world and can't not do this work and, like, changes over time. That's totally different things.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: And I don't think that it's a "supposed to" with it. Like, you know, certain s*** — alright, high tops. Some '80s s***, doesn't make them any less cool today. And then some things are like timeless.

KELLEY: Yeah, yeah. I understand.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You see what I'm saying? You have to have some somebody that has to be of the time. And then you have somebody that defines the time. You need both.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Like, Kwamé is just of that '90s s***. That's the '90s. When you see that, that is absolutely, positively the '90s. Tupac transcends time. But that doesn't make one's contribution any less potent, you know? To me.

KELLEY: Yeah. I understand.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That's why I don't like, "Oh, he's wack! He's f****** — Rae Sremmurd!" Like, "Yo, let them rap." Let them rap. They gotta represent for now, what kids are about now. Kris Kross was what kids were then. And that's fine. You could look back it 40 years and say, "Oh, what was the kids like in '93? Oh, yeah, that's it." And then some people just the whole all-encompassing great artist.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: And that's cool. Both is needed.

KELLEY: I understand. I understand.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: To me. Some people mad at me right now for saying that.

KELLEY: No. It's just that there can be confusion, cause people think that they're talking about the same thing, and they're not.

And then also with the whole — with the short set thing, it's like, there's so many opportunities for people to show up and play three songs. And nobody's really understanding that that is a completely different way of performing. Different requirements, different songs need to be written. And yeah, you need stamina. You need to be healthy before you even go into that.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, you do.

KELLEY: So that's why I'm curious about your plans for performing.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: For me — i don't even know. I'm not gonna sit here and lie to you. I'm not going to make nothing up to sound cool. I don't know. I haven't really sat down — I want to do a couple rehearsals and just figure out — I want to take it up another notch, like with a projector, and really make it visual and interactive. So when people see what I'm saying they really see what I'm saying. Like, "OK. I really get eX now." You know what I mean?

KELLEY: Yeah. I feel like people would expect that from you.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. I gotta give them something to pay for, you know?


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: For real. You can't say, "Oh, I want to make this amount a show," but you come in just rapping drunk. F*** you. I'm not coming again.

KELLEY: The Wu-Tang model.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Oh, I don't know. I'm not throwing no shots. Never seen 'em live.

KELLEY: I will. I paid for that s*** several times.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You knew what you was getting!

KELLEY: That's true.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That's the experience.

KELLEY: That's very fair.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That was performance art.

KELLEY: Yeah. Yeah. That's true. Have you ever seen Wu-Tang?


KELLEY: You probably saw them a long time ago, though.

MUHAMMAD: That's what I was thinking. I remember we performed with them like --

KELLEY: Oh, I was there for that — one of those.

MUHAMMAD: Which one?

KELLEY: One of those Rock The Bells shows.

MUHAMMAD: The Rock The Bell — well, yeah.

KELLEY: I mean, that was recent.

MUHAMMAD: But nah, I was — my head was going way, way back. Like way back. I remember — well, were they performing at all? Cause I just — Ol' Dirty would show up some times and just take over s*** that he wasn't supposed to be — so that's — when you said that, I'm just thinking about him, specifically, not all of Wu. But, yeah, I've been to a couple of Wu shows. Yeah. You know what you getting when you --

KELLEY: It's common knowledge.

MUHAMMAD: You might — it's — at some point — it is now. But back then, I don't — cause I'm going back to the beginning, you know, and I'm like, "Nah, you really didn't know what you was going to get with Wu." But it was a different time back then, so it was — just their entrance into a building was just exciting.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. They were.

MUHAMMAD: It's just — the energy just shifted completely when Wu was in the building. So — and you accepted it. Now you accept it cause you know, but you still angry cause you just — I think there's a glimmer of hope. Like, "This time, it's gonna —"

KELLEY: One time —

MUHAMMAD: You think like, "OK. They grown men. They gon' come now — they all —" it especially depends on who shows up, too, right?

KELLEY: Well, of course. Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: You gotta factor that in. And so, I think you have this hope like, "OK. The Wu is here. They gon' set it straight now." And --


KELLEY: I feel like '05 or '06, Valentine's Day, I saw them, and the RZA, like, tried. He had this shirt that was mostly holes and then he ripped it off at one point. Like, he put in effort, and everybody really appreciated it. But, nah.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I never knew that. I thought they was — I never seen them though, so. They look good in the videos.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: They look good to me.

MUHAMMAD: I mean, at this point, I don't know. Let me not say that. Cause I was about to say, well, they just, you know — I'll use the word "elder statesman."


MUHAMMAD: And so, at that point, you can do whatever you want to do.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You legends, man.

KELLEY: Well, it's a nostalgia tour, too.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Bulletproof.

KELLEY: You know, like you go see New Edition. It's — they, like, kind of try.

MUHAMMAD: Hey. Different strokes for different folks.


MUHAMMAD: But you know we bring a show.

KELLEY: I know. I've seen it.

MUHAMMAD: We bring it. Period. Point blank.

KELLEY: You know that dance that you guys do where you turn --

MUHAMMAD: Oh, we probably won't be doing that anymore.

KELLEY: That's my favorite part.

MUHAMMAD: I don't know if I like that.

KELLEY: Why not?

MUHAMMAD: I only liked it for a moment when Tip was doing it. But it's like —


MUHAMMAD: Cause I understand — I understood for a moment that was just something he was trying to get Phife into, so it worked. But that was just that one time. I know. I'm the too serious person of the crew. Tip may override it.

KELLEY: What's the best — who's the best rap performer?


KELLEY: Like right now and then of all time?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: The best one I ever saw in my life: Big Daddy Kane.

KELLEY: Yeah, man. Cause he always still brings Scoob and Scrap out.



MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Big Daddy Kane. Honorable mention, the person that impacted me most by seeing them perform live was Sean Price. Hands down.

KELLEY: Oh my god.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. First time I seen Sean Price was at Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. This was before I ever did a show. And I remember seeing him, and he was just like a giant. You know? Just like his neck moving: "Afrika Bambaataa, whip bap woo." Like, yo. I'm like, "Yo!" And I'd never heard his — I'd never really heard his solo stuff at that time. And I was like, "Yo! He's amazing!" That's when he did "Monkey Barz." "Sean P!" That one. Yo! I just — I remember. I'll never forget. It was raining that day, and I was just like — I was just amazed. That's the most amazing show I ever — to this day — I ever seen in my life.

But as far as like, who's the best to me? Kane. Kane. Kane is the best on stage. By his self. His wind is mad crazy. He's like 100 years old.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Nah. He's like one year older than Jay Z really.

KELLEY: Really?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, he's not that much older than Jay Z. It's just Jay Z came out later, but they like the same age, around my mother's age.

KELLEY: Wow. Remember when he opened for Jay at the — when they opened Barclays?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah yeah yeah.

KELLEY: That was really cool.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: And he still could do the spin kick.

KELLEY: Yeah! I know.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I'm young, and I can't do that spin kick. I can't do that s***.

KELLEY: I'm just a big proponent for synchronized dancing in rap performances.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I'm noticing that.

KELLEY: I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

MUHAMMAD: No. It's not.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Of today, who's the best? Travis Scott is the best to me.

KELLEY: You know what? I saw him recently, and I cannot argue with that.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I think he's the best right now.

KELLEY: I don't like — I'm not a huge fan, but those songs live — well, he had Mike Dean with him.


KELLEY: When I saw him. And so the songs were different, and that s*** was crazy.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. He's crazy.

KELLEY: Mike Dean is — I'll go to anything he plays. Always.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I think Travis got it right now. As far as the live stage show? That boy's crazy. He's a pastor.

KELLEY: People go crazy.


KELLEY: They really lose it for him.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, he's like a — he's a pastor. He got the church. Like, holy ghost, all day. Everybody.

KELLEY: And his projections are really graphic, like blocked out and the high contrast. It was really smart. Yeah.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: He figured it out. He figured it out big time. I like him a lot. I respect him.

KELLEY: Yeah. I was thinking about people — when you said that you were a thief earlier and how --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: When you said that first, I was like, "I said I stole it?" Then I realized you're just talking about it.

KELLEY: I know, right? But that's what I'm saying. I feel like that word is a little bit unfair. And I've heard that applied to Travis also, which is totally unfair because if you look at the timeline, who's stealing from who? And also there's Mike. But what could be a different way to kind of describe looking at the world and ingesting it?



MR. MFN EXQUIRE: My man Hillie Hill. Shout out Hillie if he hearing this. But my man Hillie — from Queens, actually — my man Hillie, he always say that. "Yo," you know, "Sponge. Sponge." Sponging is fine. Stealing is wrong. Sponging is fine.

KELLEY: Yeah. Like, why do people put it out there if they don't want people to take it in?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You got to. You're supposed to. You hope that your work will live long enough for people to steal.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Cause people don't steal from corny people.

KELLEY: Or like go far enough out so that people you've never even heard of before — yeah.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Mm-hmm. I would hope so. If nobody stealing from you, then that might say something about --


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. What you producing.

KELLEY: Yeah. Cedric, who does our social media is like, "If your record doesn't leak, people don't want it."

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Mm-hmm. That's true.

KELLEY: That's how you know.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I could see that.

KELLEY: Yeah. I would also like to know a little bit more about your writing process. You've said — I mean, has that changed as you have matured?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: No. I write really weird. I still write on paper.

KELLEY: You like Pusha.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. I need that paper. I need that feeling. I just need to feel that pen and see it. I might have — and it helps me with how I say it too. Because I might write a word really big, cause I'ma yell that word.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Or I might write it really small, cause I'ma whisper it.

KELLEY: That's cool.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I do it based off — I might really make the letters dark, cause I know want to put "Ah!" in that one. Or — and I write all over the page. I write upside down and everywhere.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Cause I had a — my best friend when I was growing up — I used to be really embarrassed about rapping. I never used to tell people I could rap. And my best friend used to always come to my house, "What the f*** is this? F*** is this? You rapping?" "Nah, nah. I ain't rapping." So he would just start spitting. "This is a rap!" He'd start spitting my rap.

So then I saw that. I got a trick for his ass. So he'd come to my house, and I would start writing it upside down and left and right and everywhere. So he'd open my book up to f*** with me, and he couldn't figure out where it ended or where it began. So he stopped f****** with it. And that's how I ended up — when you look at my notebook it just looks like, "Ahhh!" Just everywhere. It just became a habit.

KELLEY: That's nuts.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Cause I just be so insecure about people looking at it, like reading my thoughts. Like, "Oh, I didn't know he f***** her." So I just be like, "Yo, decode it if you can."


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That's pretty much my process though.

KELLEY: So do you then — like when you're re-writing, do you write again on the same page? Or do you have to start all over?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, it depends on how I feel. Sometimes I feel like pages have bad energy, when I'm writing.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So I'm like, "This page has bad energy." So I just tear it out the book, cause I'm like, "This page, this specific sheet of paper, is gonna give me a wack rhyme. So I'm getting rid of you. It's something — the devil's in this page." So I just tear it out. Psh. Like, I have books that are like six pages big. You know what I'm saying? I don't f*** with bad energy pages. I might skip four pages like, "This page feels good." It's like superstition. Yeah. I don't touch it.

KELLEY: I'm that way with documents on my computer. I'm just like, "That one's not OK."

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. "Get out of here."

KELLEY: "I need a new one."

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Fresh energy, right?

KELLEY: Just delete it. Yeah. There's a lot of superstition in writing, I think.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. I think so. I don't know. I only know my crazy s***, so.

KELLEY: Yeah, I mean, same. But I see things people think they're hiding. And it's like, "Oh, no. You scared."

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So yeah, that's the vibe.

MUHAMMAD: I got a question about a line.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: What's up?

MUHAMMAD: I have to ask cause I'm Muslim. So when you say, "As-salaam-alaikum" — when you say —

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Trying to remember the line.

MUHAMMAD: "Pray" — you said something. What you say? Something about salad with the favorite bacon.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Salad with bacon bits.

MUHAMMAD: Bacon bits. You say --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: "As-salaam-alaikum, y'all be faking with that praying s***."

MUHAMMAD: Why you say that? Who are you talking to?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Alright. So — OK. The line is, "And my favorite salad caesar with a little bit of bacon bits. Don't tell my OGs but I be eating bacon bits. As-salaam-alaikum, y'all be faking with that praying s***." Yeah, just bacon and alaikum, it just sound good together. But then the line after that, "Y'all be faking with the praying —" I seen everybody like — at the time, everybody was doing all this — in the picture, everybody's doing prayer beads --

KELLEY: Oh, when you like squat down.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: — and like kufis was like in style. Dudes was wearing religious garb for like fashion. And I just thought that s*** was corny, so I just threw a shot at that.

Like, don't disrespect people's religion. Don't do it. It's people who make it look fly cause they Muslim and they just could dress, but don't you be like — just dudes were just throwing crosses with kufis with all types of — I'm like, "Yo! What's wrong with these dudes?" You gotta have a certain — you see certain stuff I wear, like, but I be knowing what it is. My father's a Rasta, so I wear — I have Selassie on my jacket for my dad and s*** like that.

So like, I respect it. That's all I'm saying with the line. Like, y'all be faking with that praying s***. You can't wear a kufi and be doing one thing, and you don't even know what you representing.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That's spirituality. That's energy. You cultivating energy anytime you do that. So you can't just — it's not just some s*** to do in the club pouring Henny on the kufi, and — you know what I mean? Nah. Respect it. So that's really what that line meant. Y'all n***** is fake with that s***, man. F*** out of here.

MUHAMMAD: And I figured that. I just wanted to hear from you.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, you already caught it. Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I mean, because you did mention the kufis, I think, in the line before or the right after.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: The line after I say that. Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: But I just wasn't sure if it was in the abstract or it was to some — a group of people that you hang out with specifically or --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, I'm just like, "What's wrong with y'all dudes, man?"


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You look stupid. So that was it.

MUHAMMAD: The only other question I have is just in terms of the landscape of where you are as an artist versus other people — and I don't think you to be a person to compare yourself at all, but just in terms of drawing from life and where life is for a young black male in America right now, how does that affect you? Or does it affect you? Does it come out? Will it come out in your art?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That's actually what my next record is about.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. I felt like I was too smart to do a record and not talk about s*** that's happening now. Like, cause I could really say something that I felt like — and I could break it down in a way that people who may not be able to articulate themselves as well as I can, they can get something from it. So that's really a big part of what my next record is about, actually. It's funny you said that.

So that's kind of where I am with it anyway, naturally. Because you can't avoid it. You seeing — every day it's like — and it's kind of f****** infuriating, you know? And where do you channel that anger? Or where does anybody channel that anger? Eventually, it gets to the point where I think even the most deaf, dumb and blind m*********** is gonna be mad soon. Cause it just getting so blatant. It's only so many times you can say, "Oh, well, maybe, you know ..." It gets to a point like, "No, f*** that, man." And I think that's where I am.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You know what I'm saying? So, yeah. Definitely I think — my next record is about that, big time. But it's not about that. Like, it's not very preachy. But it's very — it's coded. It's there. I definitely put it there in a way — just to make people think. Just to give people —

Because before you could take action or any stance in life, you have to have perspective. Perspective, then action. You can't just go out swinging and, "Ah!" You're gonna get f****** killed. You're going to get your head bust. This next album is just about my perspective as a black male in 20 — well, it'll be '16 when it comes out. So that's what it's really about. It's really about my blackness, and really about who I am.

And I think I have a tale to tell, because of my age and because of the timeframe I came up in. I'm of now, but I'm still kind of — I grew up then, too. So like, I'm right in the middle. I'm right in the middle. So I think I have something that a lot of people younger than me can't really say, cause they missed a lot of that s***. And then older people than me, they're not really in the grass anymore to really be able to come and speak. So I think it's a good spot for me to be at right now. Cause I'm — I'm actually very happy about it.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. So that's what I'ma do.

KELLEY: What do you want people to think about? Can you give us a preview?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I just want you — I want people to think about practicality. Just like — y'all ever heard of the sankofa bird?

KELLEY: Mm-mm.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You heard of sankofa bird?


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: It's like this African proverb about sankofa, the sankofa bird. Like, you can't go forward until you look backwards.

It's a movie about it. This chick, she's like a Nicki Minaj-type chick. She's famous. And like, she wear a blond wig and s***, and people are like, "Oh, what's up?" And she like, "I'm not black. I'm not —" but she's like light-skinned. And then like she's doing a shoot in Africa on the beach, and then she goes in a cave, and then she meets a witch doctor, and he makes her a slave. That's what the movie's about. You should check it out, if y'all ever get a chance. It's a real good movie.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: But I say that to say, my album isn't about like, "Oh, f*** the n***** and kill the cops," and dumb s***. Nah. It ain't about that. It's just about — I don't want to go too in depth because I'm still creating it. But it's about gaining perspective to not be so — alright. For instance, I have song called "A Pigeon Ain't S*** But A Ghetto Dove." It's a record I wrote. I played it for him in the car on the way here. And it's about — I talk about the word "b****." The whole verse, every line I say is "b****."

MUHAMMAD: Which you say a lot by the way, but.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, I do. I do curse a lot. My father says it. "I love your music; you curse too much. Can't listen to it."

KELLEY: That's like my mom.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: So yeah, I say b****. Every line in the song is b****. It's a different variation of what a b**** is, what I think a b**** is. Then the second verse is about "n****." And I say n**** like every bar. I might say it two times a bar. But it's just really kind of breaking it down where you kind of start seeing how we see n**** but then what n**** really is. And I just — that's what I'm saying. Just giving a perspective, a set on it.

Like, alright, what are we really b******* about? Or what's really important? You know, like, perspective. People talk about some dumb s***, like, "Oh. They got this TV show where he's married to a white girl." It's like, yo, it's mad crazy s*** going on. And all the social media outrage and everything.

It's like, start thinking about — let's get to a baseline normal where we all can kind of have a forward-thinking — everybody's like, "Alright. Well, this is what we need to be doing." And then we can start doing it. But the way s*** is now it's too mefuddled. It's all convoluted with the Internet.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Nobody knows where to even start.

So that's the kind of where I look at this record. Just if you listen to it, you could understand my doctrine and what I feel like. Not saying I'm Chuck D or no s*** like that, but just like, yo, this is how I see what I am and where I'm from and what it means today. And maybe you could take some of it and you could see, "Alright. This some b******* going on."

And you could be part of the b******* a little bit. Like, I go to strip clubs and s***. I like ass. You could like whatever you like, but just have a mind, too. That's kind of the perspective I want you to have: do what you do, but think. And that's kind of what the record's about.

KELLEY: So how do you — when you're going to write — when you're going to go in on "b****" for a half a song and your album is about being a black man, how do you educate yourself on the perspective of a black woman? Or a woman --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I talk to my moms.

KELLEY: — of anything. OK. What does she say?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: My mom about b****?

KELLEY: Yeah. I mean, about being a black woman right now.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Oh, my mom is always angry. My moms — she called me; she said, "If I was in good shape, I'd go tear something up." That's my mother.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. That's how she is. But we just have — me and my mother are very close. Cause I'm a only child, so we just have a natural relationship. We have these conversations all the time. Anytime I talk to her, she's like, "Oh, did you see this? Let me send you this link, cause I didn't like the way he said this." We always having a conversation. So I'm always kicking it with her. Or when I had a girlfriend, I'd be kicking it with my girl all the time.

Just getting different — cause I'm, like I said, sponging. And just getting the vibe and kind of knowing, alright, how do we place this and how do we just — I can't give away too much. I'm trying to talk around. I don't want to say too much right now about this record.

MUHAMMAD: Nah. Don't share it too soon.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. I don't want to bust it out on y'all yet.

KELLEY: I want to know. This is our internal conflict. He gives people space; I don't really want to. Are we going to hear your mom on the record?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I might just throw her on a song. My father's on my last record. That was a big, big, big, important thing. Cause I hadn't spoken to him for damn near 10 years before he got on my record.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That was like our reconciliation. That was like my first time seeing my dad, was him being on my record.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Since I'd seen him since I was like 19 or some s***. That was powerful for me.


KELLEY: Did it continue your relationship? Did you guys --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yo, me and my dad are like best friends now.

KELLEY: Wow. That's amazing.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Crazy, yo. Crazy. It's almost surreal to me sometimes.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Because I didn't ever think — I just kind of already put it in my mind, which is bad to do. Like, "Oh, we not going to kick it like that. We not gonna have that relationship." But now, he's like my best friend. I talk to my dad every morning. This morning he text me, "Oh, you got there safe, right? What's up?" It's like the best s***. Cause it just gives you — being around my dad, just sitting in the kitchen with my dad watching him cook, I get a whole perspective on myself.


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: It's so simple like, "Oh s***, I do that too. Oh, when I sit down, I hold my feet that way." Cause it's so many things that he has of me that I didn't even know of me, till I see that I got it from him. Or he'll make a joke like, "That's some s*** I would say." Or he'll see a chick in the street like, "That's a chick I would like."

It's just like, "Damn." It gives you just such a reinforcement of your manhood, having your dad around. And it's never too late for that. Give a f*** if you 100 all in the old folk's home together. You gon' get something from that s***. But yeah yeah yeah. Long story short. I don't even know what the question was anymore, but --

KELLEY: You nailed it. We're good.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Alright. Cool.

KELLEY: That's the coolest part about getting older is that you really realize you don't know what's going to happen. Like, no idea.


KELLEY: Man, thank you so much for speaking with us and coming out here.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Ah, man. I jumped at the opportunity to do this, cause I know it would be like a real conversation. It wouldn't be like generic rap questions. "So what you been up to, man? You been getting money?" "Yeah, I'm getting money, my n****. S******* on these haters." So, you know, I don't like that type of s***.

MUHAMMAD: I'm just wondering when you gon' take up professorhood. Professor — is it professorship? I don't know.

KELLEY: I think so. I think you're right.

MUHAMMAD: I don't know what the proper word is. But I totally see you in a university, just schooling kids, man.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Ah, man. Have to get past the ninth grade first.

MUHAMMAD: I mean --

KELLEY: That doesn't matter.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I didn't make it past ninth grade.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. That doesn't matter.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I could do that? You could still do that?


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I didn't know that.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Just network.


MUHAMMAD: There's a couple things you probably have to do, some qualifiers.

KELLEY: First, a manager, then a --

MUHAMMAD: But yeah.


MUHAMMAD: I just say that, because you're — the things you speak about, it's just like depth, you know. And it's knowledge, and obviously it comes from somewhere. So, obviously, perspective is important like you were speaking about before, but also knowing where you come from.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. It's important. So I gotta start networking with professors?

KELLEY: Yeah. Free wine, I'll tell you what.

MUHAMMAD: Just talk to 9th Wonder. Cause then it's a context. 9th, he does that from a music perspective, but then --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: He's doing that now, right?

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, but then it can open up to — you never know what it can open up to if that's something you interested in. But I just say that just — I mean, your music is enough of a starting point for some kid who's also trying to be a sponge. And from other stuff that they hear on Top 40 radio that's — it's just not really being absorbed deeply into their soul that they could benefit from. But I think some of your songs, there's a lot. It's so much feeling in it. I don't know. That's just me.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Nah, nah. I'd love to do that. I would love to speak, and — Killer Mike does that too.



MR. MFN EXQUIRE: That's my big bro right here. He's an inspiration.

KELLEY: You guys talk?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah, we talk. That's my boy. He — that's my man. He's not a boy. But like, yeah. That's my man. He's --

KELLEY: Have you ever been on the road with them together, as Run The Jewels?

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: No. When I went, they weren't Run The Jewels yet.

KELLEY: Right. Yeah.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Yeah. They weren't even — they were thinking about it.

KELLEY: I remember --

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: I watched them talk — I watched it come — I watched the brainstorming of that. I watched that album.

KELLEY: Man, that's amazing.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Nah, they killing it. I'm so proud of them. I saw El in a bar like two weeks ago, two or three weeks ago. He's like — I had one red shoe on and one green shoe. He was like, "Yo, your shoes are mismatched."

KELLEY: And you're like, "It's Christmas."

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Nah, he loved it. He's like — it was Christmas. Yup. Green and red. I had a green and red sweater on too. He said, "Holy s***. I like that s***." Yeah, I seen him the other day. I love them. I love El. I'm so happy for him. He deserves this s*** so much. Him and Mike. I love it. I love it. I love it. I'm just like — like it's me. You know what I mean?


MR. MFN EXQUIRE: You know when you happy for somebody like it's you?

KELLEY: Yup. For sure.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Oh, yeah. Like, "Get it!"


KELLEY: Yeah. Thanks again.

MUHAMMAD: Alright. Cool.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Alright, that's it?

KELLEY: Yeah, we're done.

MR. MFN EXQUIRE: Alright. Bye.