Nine years ago, Roc-A-Fella Records co-founders Jay-Z and Damon Dash ventured to the North Philly neighborhood of Nicetown in the hopes of signing the teenage rap duo Young Gunz. By 2003, group members Young Chris and Young Neef had a Billboard Top 20 hit “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” off their debut album, Tough Luv. In 2005 the pair dropped another studio album, Brothers From Another, but as Jay-Z took the title of president at Def Jam, his focus on Roc-A-Fella began to fade.
Now, Young Chris has made the bold move of announcing his debut solo album, Now or Never, which will be released under the Roc-A-Fella name. In this interview with elitaste, he reveals details about the new album, updates the fans on the status of the Young Gunz as a group, and insists his relationship with Jay-Z remains steadfast and strong.
Interview by Jamie Benson
It’s been a minute since Brothers From Another was out when you and Neef were riding high with the Swizz Beats production and the Kanye feature. Before we get into the solo album, what’s the status of Chris and Neef as the Young Gunz?
Neef is my brother, my brother from another. The first album was titled “Tough Luv” and that’s the motto we go by. It’s a family; we came into this thing together since middle school. He moved out to North Philly, where I’ve always been, but he was originally from West Philly. We started going to the same middle school, Gillespie, and we just tightened up. One day I went to his house after school and he was writing [rhymes] and I hadn’t even thought about rapping because I was playing football. He gave me a pen and paper and he put a beat on and we started off with those first four bars as I kept the rap going. I thought Neef was hyping me up at first but he kept telling me to “spit it for him, spit it for them.” One thing led to another and we met this cat named Stevie G. Neef and I were together so much that we was already like a group even before we called ourselves a group. Stevie G. started shopping us around; he took us to L.A., took us to New York, and all the big time labels. Chris Lighty came down to the block one day and took our moms out to eat. There was a bidding war going on. We went to Puff back in the day, and then we met Jay-Z and Dame Dash. We met Jay and Dame before we met anyone in State Property, and people don’t know that. We were ready to shine but it didn’t go through immediately. We were like 14 or 15 and had a manager talking for us; we were so young we didn’t know what was going on. In due time it worked out and Jay reached out again and we signed the paperwork, it was on, it was history. And to answer your question, after I drop the solo album, you’ll get to see another Young Gunz record.
What’s the Philly hip-hop scene look like these days? Have you discussed local collabrations with The Roots or Diplo?
The Roots have always been good friends. Shout out to Black Thought, me and him got a record together called “My Part of Town” talking about the city or whatever and I think it’s featured on my mixtape that Mick Boogie did, Politically Incorrect. Shout out to Meek Mill, he’s an up-and-coming artist from Philadelphia; I just did a record with him. I’ve just been working on this album for so long and I’ve just been digging in, I haven’t really had any time for anybody else and what’s going on the city.
Let’s briefly discuss the old Roc-A-Fella days. A few months ago, I was told a hilarious story regarding Beanie Sigel and how he used to surprise others in the Roc-A-Fella office by punching them in the chest as they rounded the corner. Can you elaborate on that at all?
Of course, see sometimes you were getting punched in your mouth or in your chest because people play with you, so you’ve got to show them that you’re still from the streets. They don’t know we’re starving out here; it’s real out here. I’m always going to stay in touch with the hood, but I don’t know if some people forget where they come from when they get to a certain status or what. Everybody talks like it’s family but they don’t really reach back. A dude’s adrenaline will be pumping and you get to the point where you just want to do something to one another just to show them it ain’t a game, it’s real out here. I get locked up for a little 24 hours and come home to punch you in your mouth. You’ve got to let people know it’s real because they play with your money, play with your records; [the label] is holding my record back right now!
Can we expect a full Roc-A-Fella reunion anytime soon?
Hopefully, because everybody is still doing their thing. Jay is always going to do what he’s going to do. Shout out to my man Memphis Bleek, he’s always going to do what he do. Me, Freeway, and Beanie Sigel have been tight and we’ve got a new record called “Ready For War” we just released to the streets. I’m neutral to everybody in State Property from Peedi Crakk to O and Sparks. It’s all love, man; everybody is good.
Speaking of State Property, is there a certain level of competition or rivalry that existed or still exists among members of the crew?
There’s always lyrical competition with us. It started off when we all got signed to the Roc and we had to battle each other – I had to battle Oschino and Sparks at one time. We call that “steel sharpen steel,” we just make everybody better. When we’re all in the same room together and it’s time to dig in, the pressure’s on so you’ve got to go hard.
Jay-Z is probably the most complete mentor a young rapper could ask for. What do you think of the nickname Shawn Carter Jr. and what’s your relationship like with Jay in 2008, and will he be overseeing Now or Never whatsoever?
As far as the nickname goes, I feel blessed to be mentioned in the same breath as that man. He’ll most definitely be overseeing Now or Never. Me and Jay have been the same since day one, ain’t nothing changed. He’s doing his thing and just came fresh from overseas.
Other than State Property, are there any artists out there right now that you’d considering aligning with? I ask this following the internet leak of two new songs from yourself and elitaste’s own, Wale.
I’ve got a long list of artists and I’m an artist that loves artists. As long as they make good music, I ain’t got a problem working with them. There isn’t anyone specific right now [that I want to work with.] With Wale, it was one of my boys who called me saying “the boy Wale is trying to get with you” and I took a listen to his music on MySpace, because I hadn’t heard of him at first. I liked what I heard because he was in his own lane, he had created his own fan base and I took a liking to it so I reached out and called him. We chopped it up and had a nice little talk. First he sent me the “Whole Time” record and he called me while he was in London asking me how I liked it, but I had already sent back the record because I’m the type to shoot it right back. Then I sent him a record called “Large,” and he did his thing as well. We’re ready to do a mixtape together; we ain’t got the name nor the DJ yet, but we’ve had some good talks and we’ll get that mixtape out.
The album, Now or Never seems to carry a self-explanatory title. If you are actually implying that it’s time for Young Chris to cement his place in the game, then the album must include some pretty heavy material. What can we expect?
I’ve been giving y’all previews on the internet but I can tell you that it’s me; you get to see who Christopher Ries is so you get to see behind Young Chris. With Brothers From Another and Tough Luv I was always in the group so they never really got to pay a whole lot of attention to me. Now they can pay all their attention to me and really get to know me behind the scenes. I’m a father and I provide for my family and my friends, I’m just a good dude all around. I want the people to see this along with my music. The music is real good – I’ve got some producers like Harry & Alex, they’re up-and-coming, I work at Dre & Vidal’s studio 24/7, and I’ve been working with Track Masters for a little while now. I’ve got some good producers behind me and the future should be great as well. It ain’t going to be feature-heavy on this album, there might be three guests at the most.
Can we expect a Just Blaze song on the album?
Yeah, why not! Shout out to Just Blaze, I haven’t seen him in a minute but when it comes time for an album he always comes back to his roots.
Who came up with the concept for the Never Die video?
Shout out to Factory Media, (http://www.myspace.com/factorymedia) they’re from New York. They reached out to me on my MySpace and they actually asked me if they could tighten my page up, so I let them do my page over. I liked what they did and the response was crazy. One thing led to another and they came down to Philly and were talking about shooting a video. I picked that record because it meant a lot to me; shout to Rick Ross and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League but I had that record first. [The label] was playing with my album so I couldn’t use it but I don’t knock Ross for using it with Jay on “Maybach Music.” “Never Die” meant so much to me so I still wanted to put it out and let people hear it. I’m talking about a lot of people who’ve been hit up – and I mean shot – in my hood and pulled through. We shot the video in my house at first but the lighting wasn’t coming out right. We wound up shooting it again the next week right there on the block where you see it at, the block where I’m from. The hood came out and we did what we did; it was a good turnout. We shot about three hours just going hard.
Can we catch you touring the US anytime soon?
Hopefully, we’re working on that right now. Possibly a State Property or Roc-A-Fella tour, but the music has to be together before we start the tour so that’s why we’re trying to get everybody back in the studio and we can have something to perform opposed to just old material. We’ll be back.