Twista’s seated at the head of the table while the rest of his team and I sardine ourselves into the remaining sections of a trendy restaurant’s booth in the heart of geo-gentrified Brooklyn. Headphones in, the man of the hour is oblivious to the buzz, and his Chicago Cubs hat bobs back and forth as he casually sips his mixed drink and scans the menu for a well-deserved meal. Freshly removed from a long day of media obligations and the release of his ninth studio album, Crook County, the tenured Windy City rapper has found a moment to relax. Whereas his team is also feeling the need to kick back.
“Y’all don’t have honey mustard?” his producer and confidant Sunny Woodz asks our waitress.
“No, sir, I’m sorry. We do have a house-made ketchup if you’d like that.”
“Yeah, can I get that on the side?” he asks in a tone of bewildered acceptance.
The waitress finishes taking our orders, and she shuffles away past the hip hoards of twenty-something’s that populate the rest of the bar. The place looks like it was furnished entirely by Urban Outfitters — come to think of it, the rest of the people in the bar look like they were furnished by Urban Outfitters too.
“Damn, this place is boujee,” the rapper’s photographer says, and the comment gets immediate approval from the rest of the table.
Harsh? Possibly, but an astute observation nonetheless. We’re witnessing the tail end of a Williamsburg happy hour, and the seven of us stick out like a sore thumb. Occasionally, people pass by and their stares linger a little longer than need be, but at least no one stops and tries to slide us their mixtape.
Twista’s manager, Rawle Stewart, makes mention of a Vic Mensa listening party they’re headed to later, but he’s interrupted once the food comes. Plates of cheeseburgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and french fries scatter the already crowded table, and what was already minimal conversation comes to a screeching halt, a sign that while this place may be a tad trendy, at least the food passes inspection.
We eat hurriedly. I can’t tell if it’s to keep the process moving towards the next destination, or if it’s to escape the undying buzz of shitty pop music that’s now drowning out the mumbles of those around us.
After eating, we head out to the group’s SUV. We pile in, and Twist peels a Backwood as I begin firing off questions, the vibe thankfully transitioning back to the realm of Hip Hop.
“Nine albums in, man,” I say. “I’m sure it feels amazing to get another project off your chest and out to the fans. Was this something you’ve been planning for a while, or did you just receive a burst of inspiration recently?”
It was a question I pondered heavily considering the three-year hiatus the rapper has taken since his last major label release, The Dark Horse in 2014. Even then as a veteran MC, he was entering an era of hyper drive Hip Hop fresh on the scene of the social media takeoff. But his latest project acknowledges the irrefutable truth of the youth. Listen to the kids, bro…
Twista f. Cap1 – “Baddest” Official Video
Released through Empire Records, the thirteen-track compilation features the likes of Jeremih, Blac Youngsta, and a slew of young Chicago cats looking to make their mark with one of the city’s still-standing rap staples.
“It feels great to continue on, man,” he says, taking a drag. “I’m always thinking about what I’m going put out next, but this particular time I was paying attention to a lot of the Chicago artists around me, and that helped us as far as the inspiration was concerned.”
Judging solely based off the album’s title alone, it’s in familiar territory the rapper sets the stage of his latest project. However, in multiple areas across the album the rapper finds himself in sonic territories he’s yet to even have the opportunity to explore.
“I started to link with different people and get different opinions on music. This guy I work with here, man,” he says, drawing off and pointing to Woodz in the driver’s seat. “We’re putting our heads together… All of us.”
After paddling out with No ID and Ye into the early 2000 waves of Hip Hop’s soul samples, Twist appears cognizant of a much more youthful sound on his latest. Producers like Zaytoven, ZenZan, YF, and the aforementioned Woodz all come with a steady diet of synths and 808 drum kits that both satisfy and accentuate the album’s budding crop of collaborations.
Photo: Annie Kane
Stream Crook County right here.
A host of Windy City offspring put the battery in Twist’s back on Crook County, as seen on tracks like the explosive Supa Bwe feature, “Happy Days,” or his collab with Vic Spencer titled “Mortuary,” the latter of which sounds like Chiraq’s best Jet Life impersonation, and I mean that in the dopest way possible. The most experimental pairing on the album comes in the form of “New Flow” featuring Bandman Kevo, where Twist’s concise chorus and parallel bars flatter the slurred and simplified approach of Kevo. We discussed what it was like to link and create alongside a much younger age group (and consequently a much younger sound) — one that hails from the fruitful, limitless landscape of the “SoundCloud Era.”
“It’s a tricky mix sometimes, but it’s always fun,” he said. “Every once in awhile I might catch myself in the moment being like ‘Damn, how does the OG mesh what I do with this young shit and make it fit?’ I have a great ear when it comes to knowing if something fits, and I won’t even do it sometimes if I know it doesn’t sound right.”
By keeping a close ear, Twist has been able to extend his stay within the streams of listeners. But his residency within the game can also be attributed to a long legacy of rhyme patterns and delivery styles that have shifted their way through an entire decade, some of which are even being tinkered and improved upon by the streaming era crop. Mentioning artists like fellow Westside Chicagoan Saba, St. Louis’ Smino, and Florida’s Denzel Curry as some of his favorite current rappers, he talked about what it meant to hear them carrying the torch in the booth.
“That’s the part that’s dope. It’s crazy when I actually meet some of these guys, I talk to them, and I get their vibe. The way these guys are paying homage, it feels like a tribute. It feels like the hard work paid off. All the work I put into those metaphors and patterns and all that stuff, it all paid off, and the little ones is lettin’ me know.”
When I spoke to Saba this past November, he admitted to me that when working on his song “GPS” with Twista, the young MC rewrote his verses multiple times to ensure he brought his A-game. Coincidentally, the OG in the room assured me he himself sometimes feels the adverse affects of posting up in the studio with a younger sound. When asked if he ever felt himself in areas of discomfort when recording around the game’s newcomers, he conceded slightly, but still made certain I knew what time it was.
“If I hear something and you give me a little bit, then I can kind of draw off that and go where I want to go, even if it’s not something that I do exactly,” he said. “When I work with the younger cats, I’m constantly asking myself ‘What can I put to this beat?’ or ‘Damn, I wonder where the other person is gonna go.’ Then once I hear it I’m just sent into a zone where I just grab it and go. I take pride in being able to lock in with whatever I’m hearing. I take pride in being a fucking lyrical chameleon, know what I’m saying?”
And even yet, the Chi-Town vet made note that it ain’t all roses within the industry these days. When I mentioned the middleman had gone missing, and the heightened accessibility of the modern day artist, he cut me off, saying, “Everybody has a shot now because technology made it that way.” He nodded slowly as if he were still comprehending it himself. It wasn’t bitterness by any means, but rather a statement coming from a man whose bid his time and seen Hip Hop through its various lenses and stages.
“So considering how the game has changed, how has fame changed?”
“Fame back then used to come from some form of talent. You had to be a great comedian, a great dancer, rapping, singing, shit — the spelling bee. Now, people that are less talented can upload their shit right on the computer and get fame. Fame used to be at the hands of people who are talented, and through technology fame came to people that didn’t necessarily have that. Shit, people who are talented can’t even handle fame, so imagine someone who don’t got the talent!”
“You’re right. A whole bunch of kids are out here getting money for the first time, who is to say they’re going to know how to act?”
“Nah, but see, you just said money. I’m speakin’ strictly fame. People all in your fuckin’ face, knowing exactly who you are. Watching what you do and who you’re with. Fame is that little ring that boy had on in Lord of the Rings. That’s fame. Everybody wants it, and it takes a special person to possess that motherfucker.”
Photo: Annie Kane
“Fame is that little ring that boy had on in Lord of the Rings. That’s fame. Everybody wants it, but it take a special person to possess that motherfucker.” — Twista
Hip Hop may be one thing, but it’s the city of Chicago that the rapper is more concerned with. Crook County’s album cover depicts Twista hovering above a vicious police riot, a gun placed on either temple. A red Glock presses into his right temple emblazoned with the word “Violence,” while a blue Glock scribed with the word “Greed” presses into his left. Before we finished, I made it a point to ask him not only what the cover symbolized, but what his impression on the city was, in general, these days.
“There’s a bunch of subliminal meanings in the cover,” he said. “I’m showing that conflict between good and evil, really. The red represents the blood, not just the gang, but also the violence that exists in the city in general. The blue represents the authority, the police of authority. It was a depiction that I felt was necessary to show in order to show our truth. I wanted to revisit our city’s nickname, let people hear it from a different perspective, and really show everybody what’s going on.”
“Well, in your opinion, what’s really going on?” I asked.
“It really is a city of fuckin’ crooks, man.”
After a 2016 that saw the city’s highest homicide rate in nineteen years, he spoke bluntly when I mentioned the 100 wounded and fourteen killed over this past 4th of July weekend.
“What trips me up the most is the senseless killing, man. People be wilin’ these days. I just think people have a lesser sense of morality about things, and we have to be better and think more clearly. Thankfully, we’ve evolved for the better on the musical side of things.”
When we shifted our talk to education, he quickly praised Chance The Rapper for the artist’s efforts to lead independent creatives, but also said that Chance “understands what it means to be a role model, and have people in the city that look up to you.” Most notably, the Coloring Book artist led a group along with the Chicago Bulls that donated $1 million dollars to Chicago Public Schools this past spring, something Twista said he hopes will “help the kids realize once again that it’s the shit to be smart.”
In taking the good with the bad, the artist that once teamed up with Ye on “Slow Jamz” is still standing proudly on his latest. And with each day and each new release, Twist is realizing the positive results that come with dipping his pen into new hues of creativity. I looked around and saw him surrounded by a squad dedicated to not only what he’s done, but what he has still yet to do, and I asked for his parting words about what Crook County meant for the city also his own personal legend.
“This album solidifies my longevity,” he said. “This is me still having it, still being relevant, and not losing a step. I want people to be like ‘Damn, he’s still goin’ in, he still sounds good, and he’s making it a point to lead and do it with the shorties.”