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Gizzle: 'I Mean For It To Matter'

Gizzle at her home in Los Angeles in April.
Graham Walzer for NPR
Gizzle at her home in Los Angeles in April.

Gizzle is the one behind the curtain. Quiet as it's kept, she's written many of the biggest and best-loved rap and R&B songs of the recent past, in the course of working with everybody from Puffy to Nicki to Teddy Riley to Pharrell, Snoop, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, B2K and, most often, Ty$.

"Music is a collaborative thing," she says. "Life is a collaborative thing. No one can do anything on the levels of greatness — and that's what we going for — by themselves. It just doesn't work that way."


GIZZLE: What up, man?

FRANNIE KELLEY: This has been a long time coming.

GIZZLE: I know, right? I was like — on the way here when I couldn't find it and I was late, I'm like, "F***. You're like a year and 15 minutes late."

MUHAMMAD: Better late than never though. For sure.

KELLEY: Yeah, well, thanks. I mean, you're the perfect person for us to talk to right now, because we've been talking a lot about writing and music and collaboration, and we've also been talking to a lot of people behind the scenes. And that's interesting to me. Because you started out in front and then you decided that you wanted to be a songwriter, more so.


KELLEY: What made you go that way?

GIZZLE: Well, at the time, I was super young, and the industry was changing. It was like post-Napster mayhem, and when everything was going digital. The labels were trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding. And so, you know, growing up, and because I had some family members in the industry — like my aunt was in the industry at the time when I first decided I wanted to do music.

When you thought, oh, you gonna be a rapper or an artist or whatever and want to be successful, a record deal used to kind of change your life. And it was just — when I was rapping and I had that momentum, I was a kid. 17, about to be 18. All of that had just changed suddenly. So when it went from, "Ah, we're going to do the deal and it's going to be this and x, y and z." By the time it was time, it was like, "Hell no." You know?

KELLEY: It was like "z."

GIZZLE: Yeah. Or zero actually, like. Yeah, so I think — thinking about it now, I guess I was probably just a little discouraged and disappointed. But in that time while I was waiting — because we were actually waiting until I turned 18 because legally it would be easier to do a deal —


GIZZLE: — that is when I discovered that I could write songs for other people.

KELLEY: Right.

GIZZLE: And that would be a source of revenue. I knew I was writing my own things, and I would have had my publishing and everything. But I hadn't thought and factored in other people into the equation. So while I was waiting, taking that time, I was like, "Well, s***. It's not enough money now for me to want to sign and to feel like I should be committed to a label or a company or a situation that I don't feel is worthy of me. But in the meantime, I could kind of just continue to hone my craft and build some stock."

MUHAMMAD: Now, was that awareness because you have family that was in the music industry, that you understood clearly the difference in the shrinking of the industry? Or was it just you innately — and the reason I ask is because I would think that someone else in your shoes, maybe at 17, would just be like, "I don't care. I'm ambitious to want to sign a major deal and see what happens." Versus saying, "Nah, hold up. Let me see some other alternative options."

GIZZLE: I think it was a combination of both. When I first decided that I wanted to do music or go into the industry, I was in a group with my uncle, with my dad's youngest brother who — the one was in Tha Boogie. And we started in a group, and we went to my grandfather, told him, "Yeah, we want to do music too." And like I told you, my aunt was already in a deal. She was signed to Snoop. And, you know, things were going relatively fast for them at the time, and they were doing well.

And so he made us read everything, like all these books on what you need to know about the industry. And not just the Donald Passman All You Need To Know About The Music Business. It was like every book, books on publishing, books on management, books on production. It was so funny. I seen one of these books in a friend of mine's house, and I was like, "Man, you have no idea what you just did to me right now."

So it was a combination of just that, and always I just — I know I would feel it. I would feel the right situation in terms of where I was supposed to be. And at the end of the day, I think even at 17 I just kind of had a value on myself. I never saw anything that I did or want to do — I never thought about it on a minimum scale. It's never been minimal for me. I felt like anything that I do is gonna have to be huge.

And it should be a big deal, because that's what I'ma bring to it. It's the effort that I'ma bring to it. Even back then, I was 15, 16, going around the city battling everybody, getting my name out. It was still just a lot of passion. I think your passion and your effort should be matched.

You know, I guess — and it's not always about money. I think it's just about the support, and having control, you know what I mean? And now that I'm older, these things mean more. But I think back then, it just didn't feel right. And it wasn't what everyone involved said it was going to be, and so just off of that, I think if we starting that early, not keeping our word, then that can't be a situation I should be in. So.

MUHAMMAD: That's mighty.

GIZZLE: I love school, too, so I was just like, "F*** it. I'll just go to college." You know what I'm saying? And get a degree. You know, whatever.

KELLEY: Where'd you go?

GIZZLE: I dropped out my junior year out of Cal State Northridge. I didn't really — cause I always had my career. Like, I always knew what I wanted to do. So when I did go to college, it was more just because I liked to learn. And being from the inner city, it doesn't make sense for you not to go do something else or you'll end up doing something else, you know? So, yeah, if I didn't actually have a career, I'd be a career student. I just — I like school. Later on, I want to teach. But my official major was business, marketing. I figured that would help me —


GIZZLE: — along and —

MUHAMMAD: I was a marketing major too.



KELLEY: I was a music criticism major, so.

MUHAMMAD: You stayed on target.

GIZZLE: Yeah. But I ended up taking hella Pan-African Studies.

MUHAMMAD: That's dope.

GIZZLE: And being real active in the campus community activism. So I was just kind of trying to find what spoke to me too.

KELLEY: You should make a list of all those books that you read and teach a seminar.

GIZZLE: Oh yeah. I got tons of books. Yeah. I'm an avid reader, so, yeah, I could definitely teach a few seminars. But on the music specifically, I think you just go type — they got plenty now, I'm sure.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Well, it's good that you had that sort of surrounding. Because you'll hear certain things growing up just about anything, and you'll get advice from someone who's been there, done that. And sometimes when you're young, you tend to listen. Sometimes you feel like you gonna figure it out on your own.

And with regards to the music industry, I often have told people just read certain books, cause it makes a difference. And I've lived through it. I didn't know anything. I had no idea what I was doing. There was no direction. We just signed and then later on was like, "Oh my god." You know, you learn. So that's great that you had that kind of environment.

Can we go a little bit back to just your — you finding your voice as a writer? I read something on your website that you said it was kind of like — or it said that it was an escape. Music was an escape for you. Something like that?

GIZZLE: Yeah. I really — I started writing poetry, as a child, very very young, like third or fourth grade. And at first, it was because I didn't like to do the homework at home. Because it would take too long, and I wanted to go play or whatever. But I always did really well in school, so the teachers would kind of try to find a way for me to make up my lackluster performance in the homework department.

So my fourth grade English teacher — her name was Mrs. Heath. Shout out to her. She would do these, like, journal prompts. And I would never write on subject, or I just wouldn't do it when she'd make up the prompt. But whenever she would say, "Alright. You could write about whatever you want. Or you could write poetry." Then I'd — you know, I'd write. So she just started giving me the option to start — to develop that. And I was — I just kept on writing that.

And then in the sixth grade I was in the creative writing class, same thing with the homework. Doing great in class but not gonna get a A or a B because of homework. So she tells me, "Well, if you perform some of your poetry, then I'll give you an A in the class, if you do it at this poetry reading." And, you know, sixth grade, poetry's not really cool like that. Not to me anyway. I'm like, "I don't know about this. But I need to get this A."

And this is before — I was like, "I don't know if I'ma rap." I didn't think I was into rapping, but I was like, "Doing a rap is cooler than doing a poem." So I was like, "OK. I'll do it. Just let me make a rap song." So I wrote my first rap song. And then I performed that. And it was pretty bad.

MUHAMMAD: Do you remember the topics today?

GIZZLE: Yeah. Oh, yeah. The rap was called "God's Got A Plan." And it was like, something like, "Something something something, god's got a plan. Going to take you from New York all across the land. All the way back to Japan." I don't know. "I ain't worried about nothing cause god got a plan." So I mean, it was just bad.

But everybody stood up and they clapped. And they were like, "Do it again." And I was like, "Oh, s***. This is a feeling I never felt before, and I think I might have something." And so I just began to write raps about everything that I saw or that I could think of or everything around me.

So like, when I say writing was an escape, I didn't get into too much trouble. I had my moments, but I didn't get into too much trouble, because once I did have that moment, which was a defining moment for me, that's all I focused on. Like, from that moment on, I just wanted to be the best rapper I could be, the best writer.

So I filled my times — everything else that was going on around me was just non-existent. Like, the violence or the kids gang-banging, ditching, or doing whatever they were doing at that time, I'm in my room writing raps. You know what I'm saying? I'm like — I'm trying to get beats. I'm on the Internet all night trying to download beats, on the dial-up, on the DSL where your beats is taking two hours to get one little beat. I mean, that's what I meant by that; it was an escape for me.

There was a lot going on where I grew up.


GIZZLE: You know?Definitely I could've went many different ways, but I didn't because I had that direction very young. I've always been grateful for that.

KELLEY: What was the moment you said earlier where you realized you could write for other people?

GIZZLE: Well, I was waiting to turn 18 so I could do my record deal. So I could get on. But it was actually Cudda Love who asked me if I thought I could write for other people, and I was just like, "Eh, I'll try it." So at the time, Lil Fizz had just recently went solo from B2K. It was like maybe a few months after — that thing was a whole thing, but — and then he was working with Cudda Love, and actually Ma$e was getting ready to come back. So right around that time.

And then he was like why don't you try writing on this project? And so it was me and a couple other writers, but we pretty much wrote the entire project. And I did that at 17, my last semester in high school and my first semester in college. And that was where I kind of got to test out my skills.

And then from there, it was like, "Alright. Well, you can, I guess." So I'm very grateful to Cudda for that. Cause before then it wasn't even, like, in my mind. I was just one track — I was just going to be a rapper. I love writing for other people so much. I feel like it's just an excellent way to just get out everything that I feel. Cause I don't feel like everything I think of is for me to say, or is gonna be received in the way that I want it to if I said it. You know what I mean?

MUHAMMAD: So with that, saying that though, does that mean that you really want a more real closeness with your words that come through your mouth versus like — I mean, it's still you.

GIZZLE: Uh- huh.

MUHAMMAD: But in terms of, "OK. Maybe I'm not supposed to say this, so I'ma pass this on to someone else." The question is — I think some people are not really aligned with their words. And so they're OK with whatever it says, wherever it leads. And it just sounds like — and with that statement, it almost sounds like you're very cognizant.

GIZZLE: Oh yeah. I'm very conscious of what I say, how I say it. I feel like when you — as both an artist and a writer, I have a responsibility — as one person being just one person, Gizzle, just one person, my responsibility is always gonna be to maintain the integrity of everything that I do, and that I'm doing the best no matter who it's for, it's for me or it's for someone else.

But when I think of, you know, what my message is personally, and how I want to come across, or the things that I want to say, of course they'll be different for something I might do for, like, anybody. I'm sure there's a lot of songs people know I've written but I'm sure there's tons they don't. And not because I don't want 'em to, but because when I'm working with an artist — and I've had the luxury of being in with the artist — most writers don't get that. They have to work through the A&R, or they have to kind of do some guesswork or research on what the artist might be thinking or what they're into.

But I actually get to meet these people and I tap in. So in that sense, I'm not even telling my story. I don't want to. I want it to be unique to who you are, whoever it is, and really expressing how they feel or where they are. And not too much of what I think they think. You know what I mean? Or what I think they should say, from me. Like, if I was them, what I would say. But, yeah, nah — and I know the difference. When I do stuff for me, it's for me. And then when I do stuff for other people, it's for other people.

MUHAMMAD: Who's the artist that you've written for or worked with maybe that your words were kind of like a real deep a-ha moment for them internally?

GIZZLE: I think probably — wait. Hold on. How do I answer that? Well — like if I wrote something and it kind of moved them in a way?

MUHAMMAD: Yeah. What I mean — a-ha — cause, you know, sometimes you'll read something — it's someone else's words but it's so — you feel like that is you. And so you're supposed to sit with someone to kind of like find that moment, but sometimes — I don't know if it often happens. And I'm just wondering who's that person that was just like, "Wow. You really understand."

GIZZLE: I think maybe Puff.


GIZZLE: Like, when we worked on MMM — at first we were working on No Way Outand then we were working on MMM and now we're working on No Way Outagain. But we kind of didn't know what it was gonna be. And it took a lot of getting to know each other. Like, we did actual interviews, you know what I'm saying? Like this.

KELLEY: Really?

GIZZLE: Just me and him.

KELLEY: Did you record it?

GIZZLE: Yeah, I think they're on tape somewhere.

KELLEY: Great news.

GIZZLE: Yeah, but that was just a part of us getting to know each other, and me getting to know the thought process. When you have somebody so talented and someone who's done it for so long and still so passionate about it — you know, when you talk about integrity levels, like his is uncompromising.

KELLEY: Do you remember any of the questions that you asked him?

GIZZLE: Dang. Nah, I don't remember. Not off top. I'm trying to think.

I think I asked him — I think — we talked about like how he got his name, and he was telling me that it had to do with the way he breathes. And like how he kind of holds his breath sometimes. Yeah, it was crazy. But I don't know like — that was only one thing I think I asked him, and then that's how he answered. But someone else heard those interviews, like another writer or whatever, and they actually put it in the song. So that's — I guess that's kind of like an a-ha moment.

But I mean, we've done a lot of songs together, and there have — I think for every artist that I write for I get like that one real personal record. I think there's always one. I can't say — I say with Puff cause there's this one record, and I can't say it because I — I'm just — I just want him to put it out cause I know how — you know what I'm saying? But there's — we got one. We got one we did, and it's the one.

But I feel like most of the placements that I get — well, the ones that matter for me, they're always the personal ones. Trey Songz' "Fumble," I feel like on that album that was one of the more personal records. And I don't know how personal it was for him, but when he did it, what he did and added his things to it, it seemed like he identified with it a lot. And that was something me and Ty did independent of him, and then he came in and did his thing to it.

That's my goal though, every time I do it. To like — I want to do some s*** that no one else could do with you. And if someone comes and say, "Oh, we want a record like whoever." I'm like, "Are they alive?" And if they say yeah, I be like, "Go get them then. Cause all I could do is give you the Gizzle." And I definitely mean — I mean for it to be personal. I mean for it to matter.

MUHAMMAD: That's big. It's not easy to achieve that and to be able to pull that out of another artist, to the core. And I understand that because I've worked with certain people, and they wind up naming their albums after just a song that I've done. And so I'm like — it bugs me out. I'm like, "Out of everything you've done, this is —" you know, but it means a lot, that that artist really connects with that moment, that vibe, whatever you're creating. So to be able to pull out that personal record. That's hard to do. And it says a lot about your level of awareness and skill set, you know.

GIZZLE: Thank you.

MUHAMMAD: No. It's dope.

KELLEY: That's the thing that — it kind of relates to something we were talking about in a previous interview, how I'm just jealous of studio time and the way that people, when they're collaborating, really get to know themselves and their people better. That's very rare that — anybody who isn't in this industry or isn't able to make art, to have somebody see them and have that person tell them what they really think.

GIZZLE: Yeah. Nah, man, the studio is a magical place. It's my favorite place in the world. Cause any day, any session, always, I tell people like, "Yeah. No matter what. I'll always have church." Like, every day. If I get around a few people, we gon' get to talking about something that really helps in terms of healing or opening up your way of thinking, and that's church. And it's easy to have that in the studio while people are creating and their minds are open and everything.

And then you just trying to get out what you been feeling. Cause everybody's process is different. Everybody — some people like to just talk about everything they went through in a week. I'm not — I'm trying to get back to telling my story. Cause I feel like I done been through enough s*** now, or, you know, just more things to talk about. But I've been writing for so long. The first things all I did was write was my story. Everything was my story. Then when you learn to tell other people's stories —

But I like to approach things from a more creative kind of off-the-wall approach, more like what they not gon' say but what can they relate to. And then some people come in straight with just how they feeling and get it all out, so it makes that environment for people that want to be — to share and to be open and be vulnerable, and really form those connections.

MUHAMMAD: Let me just act like we in a writing session for a moment.

GIZZLE: Alright.

MUHAMMAD: So what —

KELLEY: I don't think we can afford this.

MUHAMMAD: So what they not going to say, Gizzle, is how this next election is really gonna change the world. So what we going to talk about that's going to make it impactful for the people who are about to change the world?

GIZZLE: I would say, "What's a word?" first. Or what's the — for me, it's just the concept. Now, we know what we talking about. But what's the concept of what we're gonna say? Like, what are we going to call it so people could grasp it, you know. Whether — depending on what you're talking about. Is it that people need to be more conscious of what's going on politically? Or they need to care more just about their fellow man? So it's like, what? Are you doing a song called like "Wake Up?" But everybody's talking about being woke and woke up right now. I would just get to what the word is. I would probably do some s*** like alarm. The alarm's ringing. You gon' keep on tapping snooze or nah? You know what I'm saying?

MUHAMMAD: Yup. Love it.

GIZZLE: Oh, man.

KELLEY: So some of that — when we met, you were in the studio with Ty, and you guys were working on something. And Ty was not comfortable with us being around — there were cameras and everything — being around while you guys were actually doing that process of just like — I mean, and I can imagine if you pull a little clip out of something like that, you could make somebody look foolish or whatever, right?


KELLEY: But do you find that — do you feel the need for that privacy?

GIZZLE: Nah. With Ty, he's just a naturally kind of shy person. It's so funny cause he's like one of the biggest stars in the world right now, but he always has been like that. Like, I've always been like — well, it depend. Now, I've changed just a little bit, because some people just want to be there to be there. So I feel like if you're not really contributing to the vibe or offering any energy then you definitely need to get out.

I've always been someone who performed better in front of an audience or when there's pressure. And I — I don't mind different — I don't mind just having the energy of people being around, as long as it's right. Because that kind of helps me. I like to overhear the conversations and — cause that — those are triggers for me when I write.

But when me and Ty first started working, it would just be me and him for hours. And that's just what he does. He'll sit and work for hours by himself. He doesn't need anybody to do anything. He writes, sings, produces. So I think he's just used to that, and a lot of people are that way, and it's a more personal thing. I know there's a lot of people that just work with just them and the engineer.

Me, I like to have the homies there sometimes, and girls and all type of stuff. But it depends on what the day calls for as well. So, I'll also have those times where I don't want to see anybody. Like, if you're not — if I'm not there to work for you, or work with you, if you're not gonna be creative then I don't want you here. But I think it just depends. For me, my process is different, but I know there's, like, tons of people like that, who just rather create and then share.

And then it's also — it is, it's a real personal thing. No one wants to — I hate when I'm maybe working on a project and everybody wants to know your progress. You know, "Alright. How far along did you get?" But I hate playing unfinished things. It's the absolute worst. Don't play anything that I didn't finish. And sometimes the engineer make that mistake, because they feel the pressure. Everybody has a boss or a higher-up. So they feel the pressure like, "Oh, well, I had to show them something." I'm like, "Well, don't show them my s*** till I tell you."

Cause if I just did some melodies or I'm just trying to get to it, I don't want you taking that as that's what I do, cause it's how you represent yourself. So I feel that. But I'm — I don't really give a f*** at the end of the day. Like, for me, I'm like, everybody could be there, honestly.

MUHAMMAD: I'm not of that caliber. I'm like, "Close the door. Nobody — no. Everybody out."

GIZZLE: For real?

MUHAMMAD: I mean —

GIZZLE: Yeah. So, I mean —

MUHAMMAD: Not all the time. There's a point where I'm like, "Everybody come in." But there's a real concentration point for me, and I'm just like — I need that space to figure things out, to mess up, to figure out my mess-ups, and to elevate it. And so I can only really do that in solitude.


MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Do you have — it's funny we're talking about this. One of my production partners were asking because of Prince's passing and the amount of music that he has. And I have a friend who has a lot of music and we were just talking. I said, "Would you want all your stuff to be out if you passed?" And he was like, "I don't care." And he asked me and I said, "Yeah, I care." Because I got a lot of stuff that, in that silent time, it's just me trying to get to that higher place, and I wouldn't want all those other beats to just — music to pop up, when it's me scratching my head, trying to figure some stuff out. Cause I don't think — it's like, like you saying, "Don't play it till it's finished."


MUHAMMAD: And that's how I feel about some of the stuff. Do you have a great body of work that is just catalogued up? Or do you —

GIZZLE: You don't even understand. Oh, man. I got so much music!


GIZZLE: Tons of it. And I think specifically for that, for like when I do pass, then it's cool to have all of those things. I think your fans and your family and your friends, once you're gone, then they can — they'll be able to appreciate that.

I mean, I think a lot of times when we make these things — when you're constantly creating — I think we grow faster than the music sometimes? Sometimes we grow as a person faster than our talents and then they have to come to meet and then that's where you get — you have that moment of synergy. And that's when you find all your success and you go on your runs and everything, cause everything about you is in synchronicity. You know what I'm saying?

When I first started doing music and recording, I've been in this studio every day since I was — when I was in high school, it'd be on the weekends — but since I was 15 years old. When I was grown — soon as I found out that 2pac recorded three songs a day, that's what I did. So —

MUHAMMAD: Speaking of 2pac, there's a picture of him in one of your videos. Did you put that in there? Or was it in the studio in the vocal booth?

GIZZLE: Where? Oh, it was inside the — yeah, I put him in there for when I rap. Yeah.

MUHAMMAD: That was intentional.

GIZZLE: Yeah. Three songs a day. Not for the video. He's just there. That's where I recorded. He was just there, cause that's what we doing, you know?

But, yeah, I think once I'm gone, I'm not sure it'll be up to me. I will make provisions for who it's up to. But I think I'd be OK with that. I don't know if Prince would.

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, nah, I don't know if Prince — what his deal is, what his plans were with his music. But alright, so you got a whole bunch of music. You got a body of —

GIZZLE: Thousands.

MUHAMMAD: What are you waiting for? What's the plan? What are you doing?

GIZZLE: I mean, it's the same thing. We talk about growing and all that. Like you say, you want share it when it's finished. It's like, some of those things that I have, it's not that they're not good; they're just not me, not anymore. It's not stuff that I'm comfortable saying now because, like I said, there is a responsibility.

Like you said, the world is about to change, so the things that I'm doing and working on now — I am working on a project now. I want to make sure that I'm representative of what it means to be a black woman in America to also be a black, you know, gay woman or someone who pushes the gender roles. And make sure that I'm speaking to not only the experience — and still having fun, you know what I mean? — but that I'm representing myself and my culture in a way that's forward moving and forward thinking, not something that's going to set us back or set me back.

So that's the only thing, but I am also working on something, because I know for a majority of the people this is the first time they getting to meet me or hear about me or they have a reason to really care. So for the people who do care to know where I come from and want a little more background and content, I am developing something that will kind of give them a crash course, and they'll be able to follow the evolution of, you know, Lady G The Gizzle.

MUHAMMAD: OK. I love that.

KELLEY: Would you ever perform a song somebody else wrote for you?

GIZZLE: Of course. I mean, I can't do that and not like pay it forward. I definitely would. It would have to be the right song. But yeah, I think if it — and then especially if it speaks to me and I feel like it's something that the world needs to hear and I could be a vessel for that, for sure. For sure. It'd be good to have a break, too.

KELLEY: Yeah. Do you have any sort of prepared response when people try to talk to you about ghostwriting in rap? When purists, quote unquote —

GIZZLE: Oh, like for the people that say, "Oh, I write everything?"

KELLEY: Right. Or for people who say, "If you don't write your own s***, then you don't count." That kind of thing.

GIZZLE: Well, I agree with that. It depends on what we're talking about though. Like, I don't think that a rapper who doesn't write their own raps could be the greatest rapper alive.

KELLEY: Agreed.

GIZZLE: Yeah. But other than that, my response is that music is a collaborative thing. No one — and life is a collaborative thing. No one can do anything on the levels of greatness — and that's what we going for — by themselves. It just doesn't work that way.

MUHAMMAD: I love that. Cause a lot of people think it does. And they forget how many shoulders they stood on.

GIZZLE: Yeah. And I mean — I write a lot. I've written full songs for people, but even if I wrote every single word, I didn't do it by myself because it wasn't something that I would've made without the input or without thinking of them, without just them being in my life and in my realm. So yeah, nah, I don't — I don't think it matters. If it's good, it's good. Cause it's a lot of people writing all they s*** and it's terrible. You know what I mean?

KELLEY: Look at his face!

GIZZLE: They wrote everything themselves and it's horrible. So it would behoove you to enlist some help, for all the people out there who think they got it and they don't.

MUHAMMAD: You know why I don't have to say anything, cause you have a very eloquent, talented artist speaking for me. I don't have to say it. Like, it's cool. We could talk off the microphone about — no, but no. I mirror what you're saying. I just haven't found a nice, eloquent way to say it the way you did. Because — and plus, people may think that I'm being old and judgmental. And I'm like, "No, really. I'm not. I could show you how your writing is just — go back. Think about it. Just live life a little bit. Live the life. Then write."

GIZZLE: Oh, you have to live life, man. I think I will probably get an award one day just for living life. I think I'm pretty, pretty good at it.

KELLEY: It's a new category at the Grammys.

GIZZLE: Almost too good. But, man, it's so important. It's so important to my process. Traveling, relationships, difficulties, or what we view as difficulties until we come out of 'em, and just building your ability to problem solve and confidence at the same time. So important.

Gizzle, again.
/ Graham Walzer for NPR
Graham Walzer for NPR
Gizzle, again.

I have like — all the time I'm still — I'm having conversations I had when I was 15 years old, talk about a-ha moments. I'm like, "Damn. That was crazy." Just come and — being a viable piece of information I could use, so that's why it's important to really live life and then be able to put it into your music, cause that's where the substance comes from.

It has to be more to it than just the party or what we wearing or what we drinking or the s*** that makes s*** look cool all the time when it's not. And we all know it's not. So it's important to get that experience and just go through s***. Cause everybody's going through the same thing, all the time, is what I've learned.

MUHAMMAD: Absolutely. Yup.

GIZZLE: You usually find yourself around like-minded or like-situation — situational — y'all share the same situation — on accident. Cause you attract what you are. You know what I mean?

KELLEY: That's the biggest thing I think you learn from traveling, is that it's not that different out there.

GIZZLE: Yeah, but you gotta see it, man.


GIZZLE: Traveling just gives you extra swag. At the end of the day, it's just extra swag. It's new words.


GIZZLE: New way to rock your shirt.


GIZZLE: You know what I'm saying?


GIZZLE: I been doing this thing — I'ma put myself on blast, cause I'ma just do it different anyway. But I been like stealing people outfits. So I be like, "Hey, can I take a picture of you?" And they be like, "Yeah!" You know they hype. I be like, "Damn. I'm about to get them overalls." But like all over the world, I been doing it. Just taking little flicks.

Cause, man, you gotta think of like — think of just — there's so many kinds of cool.


GIZZLE: And there's cool everywhere. So it's just — we're all inspired by something, but I love to just see the neighborhood cool person in a whole 'nother neighborhood on the other side of the world.

MUHAMMAD: Respect.

GIZZLE: Cause we all got one. You know what I mean?

KELLEY: Where have you been recently?

GIZZLE: Well, I was in Romania a month ago.


GIZZLE: I was in Bucharest, Romania. And, yeah, it was crazy. It was dope.

MUHAMMAD: What's happening over there?

GIZZLE: Man, I was writing songs. Who would've thought? It was amazing to me. Like, think back to my little rap. Even though it sucked, it was kind of true, you know?

MUHAMMAD: It was telling what it was going to be. Yeah.

GIZZLE: Yeah. I was working with this record label called Global Records. They're very big out there. One of their artists, she's been compared to like what would be their Rihanna. And one of my focuses this year is to kind of break into the pop world a little more and just expand my catalogue, and just kind of work on my writing ability and change it. I think I'm very very proficient in urban music. I think some would say more than, you know, so I just — I want to constantly challenge myself and make myself uncomfortable.

So I went to Romania. And yeah, it was my first time traveling by myself across the country. I've traveled — I've been abroad in groups or whatever, doing different things. But that was my first time going by myself and that was — that was a thing I needed to do, too, to know that should the opportunity present itself at a chance for me to grow, I wouldn't be scared because I had to go alone. So what better way than to f****** travel damn near 20 hours. It was like 20 hours on the way there.

MUHAMMAD: That's a big trip.

GIZZLE: By yourself. Yeah, but to do what I love. And I had a great time. They showed me a great time. Shout out to everybody at Global. I was able to see the city and just gain a new respect. That city is very historic. It has a lot of history. And they call it — it's like the Paris of Eastern Europe, so they call it baby Paris. It was very beautiful.

MUHAMMAD: You selling it nice. I might book a trip.

KELLEY: Yeah, right?

GIZZLE: Hey, man. Pull up. They say it's real nice during the summer. They invited me back. I'll hold them to it.

KELLEY: Do you think there's any part of traveling alone as a woman that makes it extra, like, you should do it?

GIZZLE: I mean, I think if what's stopping you from doing anything is that you have to do it alone, I think you want to get over that fast.


GIZZLE: Cause a lot of things in life — a lot of times you gotta go to the next level alone, and then sometimes you'll be able to bring a few people with you. But you gon' have to go back for that and make sure you could get back up. So you have to make sure they're ready. So I think for me it was just symbolic. I think as a woman, you do have to be careful, but not anymore careful than you would have to be walking the streets at night alone, you know what I mean?


GIZZLE: I didn't feel endangered. And I was alone, but the people sitting next to me, they were like my homies the whole time. They woke me up. Made sure I ate every time. And you know, you worry about it, and then you just end up being exactly where you need to be. And so just even from that, the moment I got on the plane, like when they start trying to comfort me, not even knowing, then I was cool. And the older guy next to me, he, liked, prayed the whole time. I said, "So s***, we can't be going down or nothing like that. You got it. We all prayed up."

KELLEY: My mom always said that to me, that it was important for a woman. She said, "Before you get married, you have to live alone, and you have to travel alone." Yeah, it's mostly just so you know you can.

GIZZLE: Yeah. I think that's it. I think moms just knew that. You have to know. Yeah, I think in life, like most — we're all scared to be alone. People end up in relationships that they don't want to be in, cause they don't want to be alone, and they don't go places cause they don't want to go alone. And if you just learn to just go, it always works out.

KELLEY: Like, it'll be OK.

GIZZLE: Yeah, it works out. So yeah, nah, definitely I agree with your mom on that.

And I had to learn that. That was like one of the things, too. I used to not want to go to places alone. I used to not go to the studio at night. I used to not do a lot of things. And then I was just like, "We gotta get this together." And then the minute that I started to do all those things that I was scared to do, that's when things started to happen for me. I started to grow. When you start to remove those limiting beliefs from your system and develop more open and encompassing ones, I think life opens up in different ways.

KELLEY: I don't know if your full credits are public, but I know a number of the songs you've worked on and I can guess maybe at a couple other ones, and a lot of them are pretty sexual.


KELLEY: Is that —

GIZZLE: Wait. Oh. OK.

KELLEY: Go ahead.

GIZZLE: No. Finish. I'm just trying to think. I'm like, "Maybe you're right."

KELLEY: Maybe — OK, I don't know the percentage, and I don't want to guess. But — how do I want to ask this?

GIZZLE: Are you thinking about sex 24/7? What's wrong with you?

KELLEY: I feel — yeah. This is getting very deep into my personal life.

GIZZLE: I don't know. I think I attribute that mainly to Ty being one of my main writing partners.


GIZZLE: So I think he helps my percentage with sex songs a whole lot.


GIZZLE: And, yeah, I don't know. I don't know. I never actually even thought about that, honestly. I was like, "Damn. You right. Maybe." And then now I'm like trying to — is there a song in specific?

KELLEY: Two things: well, one, I think the funniest song on Free TCis "Horses In The Stable."

GIZZLE: OK, I didn't write that.


GIZZLE: Alright, so, yes. I'm out of that one. Perfect. Shout out to Tish Hyman. That was her. I'll make sure I get her by here talk to y'all, so you could talk to her.

KELLEY: Yes, please. But I was actually thinking — because Teddy Riley, you were involved with him really early, and I was just thinking Teddy Riley played into that, and then Ty and that's what upped your percentage.

GIZZLE: Yeah, I think because, you know what, I — like you say, Teddy, he's like a godfather to me, and he actually helped put my first demo together, which helped me get some attention from the labels back then. But yeah, I did come up on '90s R&B.

KELLEY: Right.

GIZZLE: So, yeah, I guess '90s R&B is a more kind of sexually, sensual-driven type thing. I do like that — I do love love songs and ballads. And I do think music should be sexy. Sexy has changed now, with the times. And everything is a little more in your face and kind of raunchy — it's raunchy. So I think that's what it is.

I think when you creating anything you have to evolve with the times. So I think it is just — there's a little less censorship, and people want the shock value. And I actually kind of just think like that, so it's cool. But I do — we got to that. See, now I get it. Yeah. So you're right. I'll take that. I will.

MUHAMMAD: I was waiting for you to flip it on her and be like, "Well, so —"

KELLEY: I know. Me too.

MUHAMMAD: "So what you saying is sex is constantly on your mind? Those are the songs that you gravitate towards, Frannie."

GIZZLE: Yeah, she's like, "I love 'Horses In The Stable.'" I'm like, "Uh uh. Don't put that on my jacket." That is a good song.

KELLEY: Oh my god.

GIZZLE: It's a perfect song too. That was a —

KELLEY: Well, it's also a really funny song.

GIZZLE: Yeah. It's super good.

KELLEY: And that's I've always liked Ty. Cause I like Ty from that Whoop tape. And that was very raunchy, but in this ridiculously but still witty way. I don't know. I mean, it makes me laugh. It makes me happy.

GIZZLE: Yeah, nah. Tish and Ty nailed "Horses In The Stable." They nailed it for sure. They nailed it.

KELLEY: Is there any type of song that you are really trying to write, you feel like you have to work up to it? Eventually, you'll —

GIZZLE: Yeah. There is. I am trying to write "Change Is Gonna Come." Yeah.

Whatever that is for now, for my people in this time of what's going on, and I just — I don't think there's much of that. When you listen — and we going back to — and that's back back. But there's not that emotion where, you know, in the music so much. I mean, people get close. They get close. But there's just not that raw — that pain, but still with the lyrical content that is just touching your soul and making you feel like you're gonna be OK.

So that's — that's what I want. I want to do one of those, a series of those. I want to make the songs that people are going to listen to and it really gets them through something. Or, you know, "I Believe I Could Fly." But yeah, for sure, "Change Is Gonna Come." Something that feels like that. You know when you hear that, you just gon' cry almost damn near automatically. And I think you gotta work — I think I have to work my way up to that and just really get more involved musically and just spend the time on really doing it.

Cause it's so easy to do other things in the meantime and to constantly do the things that I'm good at.

KELLEY: For sure. Do you play an instrument?

GIZZLE: Nah. I don't play anything. I started on the guitar for a while, but, yeah, I don't feel bad about not being able to play anything. But I have started taking up production. One day though, I do — that is — definitely it's on my bucket list. I definitely want to learn to play an instrument, just to know. I don't think it's gonna make me better or worse if I know.

KELLEY: I wasn't sure if that's what you meant by knowing more musically or —

GIZZLE: Ah, yeah. Nah, I mean just being more involved, even in the production process.

KELLEY: OK. Got it.

GIZZLE: Like I said, I'm starting to produce, and I have producers, but it's just still just being more active in that process instead of, "Ah, well what did you come up with and let's hear it." And actually, "Alright, let's make this and really try to create this vibe."

KELLEY: Being able to say what you want.

GIZZLE: Yeah. Exactly.

KELLEY: Yeah, yeah.

GIZZLE: But I think I'll play the guitar — but I think I have piano fingers, but I don't know.

KELLEY: You mean like extension?

GIZZLE: I think they're kind of — are they —

KELLEY: Do an octave?

MUHAMMAD: Nah, you good with guitar with those.

GIZZLE: But I just — I like to keep my hands soft, like a lady. You know what I'm saying? I used to do gymnastics. I stopped. I started getting callouses right here. I said, "Oh, no. This not gon' cut it." That ain't gon' — you know?

MUHAMMAD: Through this interview, I was just sitting here thinking I often get asked, "Who's your favorite rapper?" And I'm sitting here just listening to you and I'm like, "Gizzle." And I sincerely mean that.

GIZZLE: Thank you.

MUHAMMAD: And it's because — and I think this is what we try to do with Microphone Check, is to really expose people to the other side, the inside, the person inside of the artist. And sometimes you get to do that, and sometimes you don't as much as you would like to. And it's really important for me, especially as hip-hop takes on new meaning as it evolves, and what it meant to those artists of the '70s is different than what it meant to those of the '80s and so on.

But what doesn't change is the sincerity of a person, and the place of intellectual evolution. It's important. Some people become artists for whatever reasons. Some of it's frivolous. And I don't think there should be any shame on that, but I think there comes a point in life where you want to offer more. And so listening to you, it makes me feel great about the future, whatever it's going to be.

And so asking, "Who's your favorite rapper," I had to now — and listening to you in this conversation, it's like, "Well, what's the criteria?" And for me, what the criteria is now, after this interview is, "Who is that person?"

GIZZLE: Thank you.

MUHAMMAD: Factor in the skill, the rhymes, how they put it together, all that. Cadences, flow. All that. Lyrics. All that. But then, who is that person? Cause that matters. At least for me, it matters in the scheme of what hip-hop culturally — the origin of this and how it brought people together. It was to take people out of conflict, out of stressful, oppressive situations, and bring us together. So just listening to you, I'm like, "Yeah, Gizzle's my favorite rapper."

GIZZLE: Ah, man, well, thank you. That's one of the best compliments, because it was — it wasn't really on my ability. Nah. No. And it's cool. Because I think we all know I'm able.

KELLEY: Yes ma'am.

GIZZLE: But that's really — that's a goal of mine. That's what I work on every day. I know that I could be successful with music, and if I choose to do anything else that I can be successful at that. But what's important is to be successful as a human being. And that's what I want to do every day. I work on just trying to be the best version of myself and to be used in the ways that I can, positively, hopefully, for the most part. So it's like, I really — I don't take that lightly, and it means — if you could recognize that, then I should stay on the path and keep on doing what I'm doing.

MUHAMMAD: Stay on the path.

GIZZLE: And that's important for me. And it's cool, cause a lot of people gon' say, "Ah, I like your song. I like your outfit. Ah, yeah, yeah. I'm proud of you. You was on the billboard. You did the —" And it's just like, "You don't know. I could be at home doing all type of s***." Like, I could just be a f***** up person, and you don't know that, cause you're caught in the trappings. So I appreciate that.

KELLEY: I mean, that would be really interesting if we started doing Top 5 dead or alive based on quality of —

GIZZLE: — character.

KELLEY: Yes! Yes.

GIZZLE: Everybody'd be like, "Oh s***. I think — hmm. Who's your favorite?" "I'ma have to go with — give me Chamillionaire for the Number 1."

MUHAMMAD: Right? Right?

GIZZLE: He's a good dude!

MUHAMMAD: Right, exactly. You said that; I was like, "Whoa. Word." Word. Yeah.

GIZZLE: Yeah, you know?


GIZZLE: It changes the whole game.

MUHAMMAD: Hell, yeah.

GIZZLE: Yeah. Nah.

KELLEY: It'd be funny to see that Venn diagram of people who are good people and people who are, at this moment in time, cashing in.

GIZZLE: And how many of them are good people and good rappers.

KELLEY: Yeah. That too.

GIZZLE: Cause if you did that 2pac would be the greatest period. Still. He got a little bit off the rails closer to when it was time for his demise.


GIZZLE: But he's always had the purest intentions.

MUHAMMAD: True that.


GIZZLE: I don't think there's been one artist who's intentions have been purer, more pure, which is interesting. Cause I sit and I watch his interviews, and they like — the old ones or the unseen ones. And I'm like, "Man. Who was this guy? This kid?"

KELLEY: Oh, yeah.

GIZZLE: That trips me out too. I think about back then in the '90s everybody was so young, but it was like, they were mature. It was —

KELLEY: Yeah. How like André and Big Boi were like 19.

GIZZLE: 20. Like, it was — there was a maturity. And now, you know what I mean?

MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I've noticed.

GIZZLE: I mean, I trip out. I'm like, "Damn. Bro was like 21. That's crazy." You know, and you see it. You have people who are successful and doing their thing, and they're still young. But it's — the thinking is different.

MUHAMMAD: It's a different world.

GIZZLE: You know?

MUHAMMAD: It's a different world.


KELLEY: I mean, we have this debate all the time, because I sort of resist putting that pressure on hip-hop musicians, cause I don't think people put it on rock musicians or — you know, the burden of the community — and Tribe was incredibly advanced when you guys were still in high school. And so the argument is like, "If we could do it, then you guys could" — see? That's the face he makes every time. "If we could do it, then y'all can do it." However — I mean, you have to be a special person.

GIZZLE: Well, so in our defense, cause I'm a part of this generation — but I do feel like because I've been in it since I was so young, you do feel kind of like a young OG, like Fabolous. But there are a 100 times more distractions on the youth today, purposely. Like, you — when — back then, '80s/'90s hip-hop — early '90s, late '80s — there was no Internet. There was no — you were left to your devices. That's why people were so good. They were so good and they were — in thinking. There was books. It was no — if you were poor in the inner city, you didn't have cable.


GIZZLE: So you gotta think — now the kids are being distracted from the moment that they're even born.


GIZZLE: I have a godson. He's 1 years old. And to calm him down, he needs the iPad watching Yo Gabba Gabba! the whole time, you know what I mean? So it's like, you start at that age and it's only increased.

And then when you have a lot of the music kind of — well not kind of, definitely influencing the kids to be a certain way, the popular music, but the popular music is being fueled by the big corporations, so you — in our defense, I have to say that it is a different world.

And so you see some people trying to come away from that, but you can't escape really what the reality of today is and what the times are. You can't not get on the Internet. You can't — I mean, you could say you don't watch TV. I got rid of my cable, but I still watch some of the b*******. So it's — and there's so much of it, and then it's so — you gon' end up isolated or with no friends if you don't partake, you know, even a little bit. You know what I mean? So I think that's the big difference.

I know even from when I was in high school to now — my little sister's in college. So it's like, even that gap is like, "Oh s***. This what y'all on? This is what y'all do? This how y'all feel? Alright." The kids are a little lazier. They a little — but that's the world. The world is designed like that. And this is — when you're older and you see a kid do something, you be like, "Ah, I did that before." But these kids, this is it for the first time. Look at how much s*** they get for the first time. Like, they don't — they can't go back.


GIZZLE: Try giving a cassette player. Taking an iPod, giving a cassette player, they'll be like, "What are you talking about?" So it's easy for you to prefer — if you know some old s***, you could be like, "Ah, man. I know that. I prefer to hear it on vinyl. I prefer to hear it —" but if the first thing you got was an mp3 player or iPod.

MUHAMMAD: Oh yeah.

GIZZLE: iPad. You ain't trying to hear s*** about the Lisa or the — you know what I'm saying? Or the Walkman. You want the — the next thing you want it to do is serve you some food out of it.



GIZZLE: How do you get this to the next level? So I think that's the difference too. It's that they've diverted the attention and the emphasis on things that don't matter. And you can't blame the kids for that.

MUHAMMAD: Nah. Nah. Absolutely not. If anything, it's not even blaming. It's just like, if someone doesn't know something, they don't know it. You can't fault anyone for that. It's just, you gotta help them, expose them to some other things so that they could see and then discern it from a different set of eyes. It's like, "Oh, I didn't know that." And now that there's an awareness, then it could be nurtured in a different kind of a way.

GIZZLE: That's the best part. That's what I like now, though. I see the younger kids, sometimes teenagers. I know a lot of them that ain't — they're not even here. I don't even know where they are. But there are some kids, some jewels. I got some in my family. I have like both ends of the spectrum. Some of them very aware, very conscious of what they're doing, what they're eating, what they're listening to.

And then the other ones who could give a f***, and they just want to — still want to see and be a part of the family and know what you on — cause it seems like what you doing is working for you — but at the end of the day, they gotta go back to they environment, where they are every day. And that's how they're living.

So I am excited, though, about that, that there is youth asking questions and aware of what's going on and wanting to be better. Cause we're in the age of the savants and all — these kids are next level genius. The conversation is up, even though it's a different way of going about it. You know they're there. You see the memes.

MUHAMMAD: Absolutely.

GIZZLE: You see the memes.

MUHAMMAD: Brilliant.

GIZZLE: You know they up.

MUHAMMAD: Brilliant.

GIZZLE: They up but they just — it's misdirected.


KELLEY: Right.

GIZZLE: You know what I'm saying?


GIZZLE: So how do you take it from the next level — from the meme to the memoir or — you know what I'm saying. The meme to the blog to the movement. But they're up, some of them.

MUHAMMAD: No doubt. You're up, so —


MUHAMMAD: I got hope. I'm feeling real good. I'm feeling real good. I know you about to take it somewhere, where it's supposed to be.

GIZZLE: Man, I appreciate that.

KELLEY: Yeah, man, thank you so much for doing this.


KELLEY: And rescheduling.

GIZZLE: Ah, man, it took a long time, but I'm so happy.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Ali Shaheed Muhammad is a world-renowned producer, songwriter and musician, and a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest, Lucy Pearl and production group The Ummah. He cowrote D'Angelo's "Brown Sugar" and has worked with John Legend, Maxwell, Mint Condition, Angie Stone, Mos Def and Gil Scott-Heron among many others.
Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
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