First getting his start battle rapping for money in his hometown of Detroit, B. James caught the eye of late D12 member Proof, who shared a few tips on how James could battle more effectively. With Proof's guidance, B-Dot honed his craft and started building a buzz in the D, and after a few local mixtape releases built on his success, he got the potential opportunity of a lifetime: through friends and family, he had the chance to meet Houston legend Scarface.
He decided to roll the dice, and a successful meeting turned into several high-profile appearances on Scarface's first mixtape, the 2010 release Dopeman Music, and a permanent move to the Lone Star State. He's hoping the buzz from such a high-profile appearance will lead to a big splash when his upcoming release, Young Vet, drops early this year. A project that promises to deliver the same grittiness and honesty fans heard on Dopeman Music and last year's compilation solo release Almost There, Young Vet aims to bring Hip Hop back to its essence and away from the cars and jewelry.
DXnext spoke with B Dot this month week to discuss the Detroit emcee's past, present and future. During the conversation, DX learned about Proof's early pointers, what we can expect from Young Vet, and the advice and insight he's learned from working so intimately with a Hip Hop legend.
On Growing Up In A Musical Household And First Getting Involved With Hip Hop: “I fell in love with music when I was a kid. My mom and my dad were in music as well and it was kind of like they handed it down to me. My dad actually used to work for Motown [Records]. He was an apprentice. He used to print up the albums and also ghostwrite for the artists. It was kind of in my genes, and then my mom, she was also a vocalist in the choir and things like that, so I pretty much just was born around the music. My mom used to always play like Barry White, Marvin Gaye . . . I grew up in a soulful house, so I was always listening to old school jams from her. I didn't grow up with my dad in the home, so basically my mom, she played a lot of old school records for me.
Maybe when I was like in middle school, like between 10 and 12, that was the time that I really developed the talent to be able to play chess with words and express myself through Hip Hop.”
On First Meeting Scarface: “I had some family members that stayed in Houston. When I came to visit down here, I had a mutual friend who actually knew Scarface as well. They arranged for us to meet, and I was currently working on a mixtape I did like three mixtapes back at home [in Detroit]. The mixtape that I let Scarface hear was Mind On Money, which really was like my first distribution mixtape. I sold a couple thousand copies out of the trunk in Detroit.
When I first met him, he was like 'I meet a lot of rappers. I'm not trying to hear too many other rappers,' and I basically told him 'Well, if you don't like what you hear, you can throw it out the window, but I guarantee you're gonna like what you hear.' That persuaded him to give me a chance. With that done, he fell in love with everything that I had done on that project. He embraced my music and asked if I would be able to co-host a whole mixtape with him, and I agreed to do it.”
On The Collective Effort Involved With Dopeman Music: “Basically, we did everything together. We was in the studio together for every track. There's not one track that I did that he emailed me and he wasn't there when I laid my vocals, so it was more hands-on with the tracks. It was more family-oriented – we created and brainstormed all the tracks together from verse to chorus. There was a studio full of people there at the same time, so it was a great vibe.
When I went in the studio and laid my vocals, I had the attention of the whole studio, so it was like I had to come with my best. I had to bring perfection, because if not, then I was definitely gonna be coached on how to make my verse and things better. There was nothing that 'face did by himself or I did by myself. It was all a joint venture for Dopeman Music.”
On the Video for His New Single “Still Standing”: “With 'Still Standing,' I had laid the track probably a couple months after Dopeman Music, but I didn't have an actual visual for the track, so I got with my video people and we created a real realistic visual – me in the booth, me at the restaurant – you know, everyday life in Houston and just coming up from the underground in Houston. That's pretty much what the feel was for 'Still Standing.'”
On His Upcoming Release, Young Vet, and His Ghetto Alumni Movement: “There's nobody in my lane right now. The way the game is going now, it's all about money and cars and jewelry and broads and this, that and the third. Young Vet is one of them projects that's a cat that has pure talent and pure lyrics and is rapping about the every day struggles of the come up. It's a soulful record – it has a lot of soulful joints on there. Also, just be on the lookout for my Ghetto Alumni movement as well. We're putting together a lot of different artists, from Houston to Detroit. It's not just about me. It's bigger than me, but I'm just the first stepping stone to that project. Be looking out for my next two singles, which are 'Pain Stay Away' and 'Champion.' We gonna be shooting two videos in February.
We're gonna push for like February, a mid February [release]. Mid February it'll be for sure. We're in the process of mixing. I'm not recording any more for Young Vet. It's done. I have Killer Mike also featured on a track, “Real Life.” Man, it's a big record. It's really gonna bring back the raw essence of Hip Hop, street cats and street lyricists. This project is very personal. If you've never met me before, after listening to this CD you're gonna get some type of picture of me, what I've been through, where I'm going and the type of music that I'm trying to create.”
On Scarface's Involvement: “With Scarface, it was more of a coaching thing, and I just went in the studio myself and did the project. I would call him and let him know about the tracks and different things like that and he would give me his opinion, tell me if the shit was hot or what I needed to work on. He was from afar but still coaching the whole project of Young Vet.
He let me know that, coming off of Dopeman Music, there was a standard that I had to uphold and he wanted me to make sure that I was very selective of the beats that I chose for this project because the standard of Dopeman Music was so high. The fans wanted to hear B-Dot next and he wanted to make sure that I took them to another level after coming off Dopeman Music. That's basically what he always extended out to me, like 'Man, you know you gotta make this hot. Remember Dopeman Music – people expecting you to be better. People expecting you to do this.'”
On The Move To Houston And Settling In: “I decided to move down here because it was a better business decision for me, a better outlet dealing with 'Face, being able to be hands-on with [him]. We was in the studio a lot – we spent like maybe 30 days straight in the studio for Dopeman Music. After that, I was continuously recording and just living down here. I could call him any time or go over to his house or we could hook up and go in the studio, so it was more convenient for me to be able to live down here and it was a better outlet with the underground scene of Houston.
I also run a Hip Hop open-mic, so when I got embraced with hosting that, I fell in love with the underground of Houston and the people around locally. I just decided to stay and build my brand. I still go home too – I just left. The last time I've been back was like September. I'm back and forth, but my living situation is in Houston.”
On What He's Picked Up from Scarface: “Recording [Dopeman Music] was a very great experience. As an artist, I learned a lot. I learned the art of perfecting your craft, such as the different angles on how to approach different subjects. There's a million ways to say one thing, and I think that's what 'face and his team educated me on, just looking at the music with different angles and being able to express it in different ways and not just coming with one way to express a song.
[I also learned about] the importance of track picking, because 'face used to tell me 'You've mastered the flow. You've mastered the subject matter, but what you need to master now is your track picking.' A raw emcee will just rap on anything, but 'face opened my eyes on being selective [about] the actual beats that I picked [instead of] just rapping on anything, because when you have talent as an emcee, [you] accept the challenge of making a track better. [Scarface] opened my eyes to seeing that it's not about making a track better – it's picking a track that complements the level of ability of lyricism that you have.”
On Always Keeping Detroit in Mind: “Basically, I haven't left Detroit musically because I've put in a lot of work in locally already in my city and I'll always have the ability to work with up-and-coming artists. I also have my Ghetto Alumni movement up there as well – we have a couple artists up there. The job is not done but it's already been in motion, so I'm pursuing bigger outlets and making my brand international instead of just at one place where I grew up at.”
On Proof's Early Involvement in His Career: “Proof actually was like a friend to me. I had his phone number. We talked all the time. He actually coached me because I used to battle rap as well and Proof used to host the battle-rap [showcases] around the city. I met Proof through Obie Trice even though me and Proof are from the same neighborhood, and Proof took me under his wing. I used to go around to the different clubs and battle for money and different things like that. He was more hands-on with different artists that he had seen potential in. It doesn't matter to me what goes on. I'm always gonna shout out Proof because he was one of the empires of the Detroit Hip Hop scene and he also played a very valuable part in my career because he helped me grow as an emcee and be able to look at the game from a different aspect, not just as an artist but as a business man as well.
I'll never forget what Proof used to always tell me because I was the type of emcee that, when I'd come in the club, I was ready to battle anybody. I possessed the ability to be able to battle whoever, and Proof used to always get on me like 'Man, Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!' – he always used to tell me to wait and let everybody else do their thing. He'd say 'Save the best for last,' you know? Don't be in a rush to display all your abilities and your talents; see what everybody else is working with first. Play the field first and then you'll be the surprise, then you'll be the secret weapon. You'll be the one that'll shine out of everybody, but if you go first and you rush everything, you don't know what you up against. That was one technique that Proof used on the battleground that I always took and used with myself, just to always chill and fall back, to see the field first and then go for the kill.”
On Future Collaborations: “I got a lot of features coming up. I've done tracks with Devin The Dude, Mistah F.A.B., I-20, Rain from North Carolina. I was finnin' to do something with Knoc-turn'al. We also working on something with Big K.R.I.T. I just did a song I'm thinking that I want him to be on. It's called 'Weather The Storm.' Just be looking out for me, and anybody that want to do any type of music, they can holler at me.”
On B. James in 2012: “It's straight work from here. 2012 we going in. This just the first stepping stone, so be looking forward to some great music and some great visuals, man, and a new breath of fresh air that hasn't been there in Hip Hop. There's a void in Hip Hop right now. I'm not knocking the cats that's making money and doing their thing, but there needs to be some type of balance. Right now, I'm here to provide that type of balance. I'm one of the emcees that's gonna try and provide that balance and set that standard for great music.”
Follow B. James on Twitter (@bjames3one3) or visit him online at www.bdotjames.com