CyHi's transparency regarding his humble upbringing, on spoken-word verses, resonates as a direct extension of the (biblical) word itself. Songs like "Nu Africa" and "Don't Know Why" place emphasis on the present day social climate, while "I'm Fine" and "Free" alleviate the frequent, but relatable stressors for all those determined to rise above and become their greatest self. No Dope on Sundays eloquently offers both the highs and lows of this experience for those who care to understand.
CyHi The Prynce's prolific debut was well worth the wait and will stand among lyrical giants who preceded his transition from behind the curtain. Claiming to only write when God is present, his studious epistle to the streets will galvanize hearts as well as viral streams. Get to know the hip-hop disciple in his intimate one-on-one with Billboard below.
You've been in the game a long time. How long have you been working on the songs for your debut album, No Dope on Sundays?
CyHi The Pyynce: Ah, a year and a half [ago]. That is when we first started with a few of the records. So, I kind of wanted the feel of this album to start over.
What compelled you to make "Movin' Around" featuring ScHoolBoy Q your lead single for No Dope on Sundays?
I didn’t want to rap about where I am now in life -- due to the fact that I never really had the chance to put out an album. So, I wanted to take fans to the beginning of who I am. So, that is why I like ScHoolboy Q. He is one of the first genuine people that I met in hip-hop, him and Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick and I did an (XXL 2011) freshman class cover together.
Also, I wanted somebody that resembled one of my homeboys. ScHoolboy Q felt like someone that I hung with [growing up]. He is someone I can have an intellectual conversation with. Then we can jump out the car and get to hookin’ with some n---s. [Laughs.] You know what I mean?
ScHoolboy Q is like the perfect roll dog. He can be your wingman. He can get to fighting with you. He can smoke weed with you. So, I think “Movin’ Around” was just something that I wanted to get back to the essence of. The song [highlights] my struggle and starting my new situation. So, I think all those things, in a nutshell, are kind of what made that records come together.
You grew up with strict Baptist parents who did not allow you to play hip-hop growing up. What was their reaction when you signed to G.O.O.D. Music in 2010?
Well, they were kind of excited then, because I used to be in a rap group. I used to be signed to some gangstas. They used to be nervous for me. The name of the group was Hoodlum, that was signed by Def Jam through Shakir Stewart. Rest in peace, Shakir. It went through Noon and Jazzy Pha's Sho'Nuff [imprint]. That was back when Jazzy Pha and [Henry] Noonie were together, but that was when I was super young.
Coming out, I started doing my thing, as a solo artist. Then, there were those like me from Atlanta, but [the industry] wasn’t taking to it. Kanye West found me through a couple artists I worked with. I felt like [Jazzy Pha] was the only one from my city that was doing hip-hop [in the mainstream at the time]. And somehow, the music got to Kanye West. And, I told my mom [when it did]! I was like, “Here”! The first thing I did was play her “Jesus Walks.” And she responded, "No," until then. [Laughs.]
I told her, “This is the guy -- this is the guy I’ve been looking for. This was the guy who understands my style. He understands where I am coming from. He knows what types of beats I need." My mom told me, “Oh! Okay, I like this guy.” Then when she looked him up she began liking him even more, because of all of the pro-Black stuff he was saying. All that in a nutshell, my parents were pretty happy.
Over the years you've been signed a few places, Konvict Muzik/ Def Jam, but you've remained G.O.O.D. Music. What's it like now that you've found your Sony team to drop your debut album?
It is like finding that girl that really likes you! It’s like finding that girl, you take her out, you pay for the meal, and the most you might get from her is some booty. [Laughs.] But now [Sony], this is a woman that’s going to cook for you. She will wash your clothes, buy you something nice. So, it is kind of flipped. It feels good when the energy is reciprocated. So, that is the first time I have ever had that. It is kind of foreign to me, but it is cool.
You've had quite a few honorable mentions and features on No Dope on Sundays, but arguably the most unexpected guests were on the song, "Don't Know Why." Why did you select Jagged Edge to sing about crooked feds?
Man, you know what is crazy? It is because I always used to tell my assistant and Rachel that, I don’t like when R&B artists only sing about love or a woman. When I came up, my dad was listening to Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield. They were socially in tune as well. So, when I sent it to them, I sent them a few records, and they picked that one. So, it was beautiful for me. I wanted an R&B artist to sing about social issues.
Like, [Marvin Gaye’s] “What’s Going On,” or [Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes'] “Wake Up Everybody”. So, I felt that was not prevalent in the music today. When I got them, and they did that, I thought that was a special bond.
How emotional was it in the studio given the ceaseless reports of police brutality?
There's definitely a conversation in the studio about these different situations. We have in-depth dialogue. No Dope on Sundays will groom the young men on how to carry themselves, and how to be different. Also, [it explains] not to be so flamboyant, when doing things that you are probably not supposed to be doing. Still, it is helping you get to where you need to get to.
So, it is just me refining our young brothers and teaching them [how to move]. A lot of times, these boys may panic around police, because they never even really talked to a man before. Like, when you look at a lot of young boys that are growing up, they do not have fathers. So, you only know how to talk to a woman.
A woman might let you get a little further than a man [empathetically]. You might be able to talk with a woman, but a man is not going to allow you to argue the same way. A lot of guys just haven’t had that type of dialogue with men, let alone… law enforcement.
So, I think that is what I am doing. I am getting guys to understand spirituality and themselves, to speak up, and also to handle yourself with a tad bit more integrity. It will change the outlook on all the inner city, and all the young guys coming up. It will give us a better chance of making it out.
How was the chemistry of G.O.O.D. Music in 2010 versus now?
I would say about 30 or 40 million dollars different. [Laughs] Back in 2010, everybody wasn’t as popular. They weren’t household names yet. You had guys like Big Sean, Pusha, well, Pusha T was, but he was just getting back over there. 2 Chainz was just coming out then [he was on features], and I was arriving as well.
Now everybody has their own thing going on. So, it is more of a telephone relationship. Back then, it used to be, “Oh! What up, bruh,” in person. You know what I’m saying? What I know is, once my album does amazing, we will all get back in. [We are going to get] all our powers combined and make the G.O.O.D. Music Captain Planet. It just takes this last album to come out, and then it is time for Cruel Winter.
You previously said fans need to push No Dope on Sundays in order to receive the long-awaited Cruel Winter. What is Pusha T saying about this project now, given that he is the president?
Pusha T is on the album as well, but this project is something where a lot of people don’t realize... that I do a lot of the creative writing. I come up with a lot of the ideas for it.
Well, you’re the lead writer coming out of G.O.O.D. Music.
Yeah, yeah! I am! But Travis Scott is like, the lead producer. He knows all the producers that bring in the different vibes. You know, it is going to take enough time for Travis and me to really get together, and we just talked the other day. We have a few things we are doing, and we are going to try and close that out for you guys.
There is a heavy emphasis on scripture verses from beginning to end on this album. How has your faith played a role throughout the process of recording this debut?
Well, it has always been a part of me. Something I wanted to do was add my spirituality to the streets because that is what saved me. How can I say this? My friends would get in more trouble than I would get in, just because they were not as spiritually in tuned as I was. I’ve been through shoot outs, and I did not get hit by a bullet. This was because I was a little more spiritually in tune than my other friends. Some of them got hit. Not to say I am something special, but I feel God has a forcefield around me.
It lets me know, “I need y’all to do something bigger than what y’all are doing out here. So, I am going to save you from this one.” I think my spirituality and how it influenced the music and process was because we always just keep Jesus in the room. A lot of dudes rap just to rap. They got their homeboys in there with them. I write my raps with Jesus sitting next to me. So, I can’t tell a lie. I can’t tell a fib. I can’t over exaggerate. I can’t use this large portion of the dictionary, I can only use this much... because I can’t front.
Most rappers can say whatever they want to say. I don’t expand outside too much of life experience. For example, I might say I have a BMW when I have a Benz, but it has to be of the same caliber. You understand? If I drive a BMW, I am not claiming to drive a Bentley. That is not what type of guy I am. I can’t just muster up something random. And then, I [aspire to] talk about those things on my fifth album. When I am really enjoying these things.
What do your parents say now that you've found a way to incorporate the Bible alongside secular music?
Now they understand that it is my plan. I have to tell my mom and dad, “Don’t blow my cover. I am undercover for the Lord.” I want n---as to think I am just as thorough as them, which I am. If you want to bring down an organization, and you are undercover, you might have to go in and play your role. You might have to snort a line. You might have to fake want to shoot a n---a in the leg. [The scenario] may be I have to show these biker guys or gang members that I am about this life, too. This is all while I am still investigating, and, that [metaphorically] is how I feel I am for my spiritual leaders.
I go in with guys that are like, “Ah, man! You want to hang?” or [something along those lines]. This occurs with them not knowing that I’m going to ask, “Hey! What’s up with you? What y’all doing today?” They’ll reply the same thing and I’ll tell them, “You know that shit is kind of getting old.” Their feedback is usually, “Yeah, I know, CyHi.” Then we talk about new suggestions for a better way of life. Like, “Y’all should try to get into this,” or “I want thinking about doing this.” This happens with them not knowing that in the midst of us smoking a blunt, I am converting them, mentally.
You know what I am doing? They don’t realize it because I am sitting with the pistols everywhere, I am in there in the trap house with them. But, it’s like they have a different type of conversation with me, though. So, I believe the moral of the story is, [adaptation]. For example, I would have to speak Spanish to someone Latino in order to [teach] them English. You need to first speak Spanish in order to tell them, “This is how you say this in English.”
So, that is what I am doing. I am first speaking their language, that way I can guide them and bring them to my world. That is the ultimate goal.
JAY-Z has been credited as your mentor. What is the dynamic of he and your relationship now?
Man, you know what is crazy? That is a scary situation, to me. It’s like, you grew up idolizing this man. I shouldn’t have idolized him, but it is like, JAY-Z felt like my second father. The thing that JAY-Z did for me was the ability to listen to him on songs, and he then he would solidify the things my OGs would tell me. I’d have these old dudes tell me, “Maybe you should do this,” then I’d go and listen to a JAY-Z song, and he’d say the exact same thing. Those are the moments that felt like, “Yeah! Okay, these are cardinal rules. I [can’t break them]. I am not going to do this.”
Then, when I met him, he was kicking it with me like I already knew him. He’d be friendly and slap boxing. [Laughs] He’d hit me in the chest or stomach when I saw him. I’d have to put my arms up, in shock-- like, "You’re JAY-Z, you’re JAY-Z"! I’d have to snap out of it. So, it was things like that.
I remember getting invited to Easter Sunday dinner or coming to his house. You’d see Blue running around, Beyonce comes into the house and it’s just like, “Wow! Where am I at?" It is surreal. You would think I’d need a million dollars, and I would have to be a super-duper successful artist in order to be able to have this kind of conversation or to share dialogue with somebody of this magnitude, and he treats me like I am family. JAY will tell me, “Bruh, come on over.”
We can go to the basement and kick it, share a cigar, and I feel like, “Man! I am at JAY-Z’s house.” [Laughs.] It still feels crazy. He’s still the god of Black people, to me. It is just like, JAY-Z is what Martin Luther King Jr. would have been if they did not take his life. You know MLK didn’t get to reap all the benefits he should.
Back in the day, different kings from different countries used to try and send Martin Luther King Jr. crowns. There were these all gold crowns with rubies, and diamonds in them, but they could not find someone to insure them back then. So, if these kings did not send someone personally to take the crown to Martin Luther King, these kings have crowns that they made for Martin Luther King that is worth 5 or 6 million dollars, that he never had to the opportunity to receive.
So, I believe JAY-Z is the poster child for what every young Black man who came from the struggle went through. I think that is who JAY-Z is. So, that is why he is a big mentor to me.
One myth is that you've had a hand in a few of Kanye's verses. Is that true?
Yeah, definitely. You know what’s the crazy thing? I think every crew has that. I don’t [think] 21 Savage’s crew is in the studio not saying anything to him. [Laughs.] I don’t think they all sit there, and no one chimes in like, “Aye, bruh! You should say, ‘We were down on the boulevard.’” Everybody at some point chimes in.
But I think, the process is different with ‘Ye and I. Why he keeps me so close is because of the brainstorming of our projects... We don’t really freestyle them. You know, most guys come in there and freestyle them when the beat comes on, and that is not what we do. Kanye West and I hear something we like, and we sit down and have a three-hour meeting about it. Then, this 3-hour meeting might happen for the next 4 weeks before we even touch the record.
How mighty is Kanye West's pen?
Oh, he is the greatest! I heard Vic Mensa say one time, “There is no song that anybody ever wrote that would be as prolific if it was without Kanye West.” Like, you can take me out of the song, or you can take No I.D., or you could take Migos, you can take Malik Yusef, you can take one of us out of anything and a Kanye song will still come out perfect. If you take ‘Ye off the song, it will not sound the same.
So, who do you feel had the best verse on Kanye's “So Appalled?"
Oh! Unfortunately, me!