AWB | Artist Of The Week - Billion

When Billion’s album, SPF Dirty, hit my desk it instantly caught my eye. How could it not? The cover is a gorgeous bikini-clad woman at a beach. No head, though, just the body. Being a big fan of flat stomachs I popped the album in. Turns out, the listening experience is just as good as the visual one, as Billion is nice on the mic. That’s why this week I caught up with him to find out more about his work, the change he’d like to see in hip-hop, and why he’d consider interrupting one of Clint Eastwood’s award acceptance speeches.

Adam Bernard: Start me off with the Billion story. Where are you from and what’s your history in hip-hop?
Billion: The city of Miami made me the man I am today. Although I don’t subscribe to any set gender roles, they say your mother teaches you how to be a nurturing and caring person and your dad teaches you how to fight and take a punch graciously - in this equation, Miami was my dad. My beginnings with hip-hop go as far back as the mid-80’s when the older boys would teach us how to spin on the floor and up rock; listening to the Beastie Boys and Run DMC. But it wasn’t until the mid-90’s that I started rapping. Back then I was inspired by the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z and Wu-Tang. I’d say those three artists, mixed together, are where my sound comes from. That being said, I have to give props where props are due, I would not be here if it wasn’t for Miami rappers like JT Money and Trick Daddy.

Adam Bernard: What does the name Billion represent? Your number of rhymes? Dollars you hope to stack? Women you would like to be with? Hit everyone with some insight!
Billion: The name Billion was given to me, I didn’t pick it out. For me, it makes it a little more special, and personal, that one of my roll dogs from back home would name me. That’s how it was in the hood back in the day, you never picked your own nickname, and that left some people out there with some ridiculous ones like “dildo” and “tittie,” these two cats I knew back home. Hilarious. I was fortunate enough that one of my dogs believed in me enough to say that I’d be the first to come up, so he named me Billion as a motivator. Personally, though, the name is not about money at all, but more so the people of this planet.

Adam Bernard: Your album, SPF Dirty, has my favorite cover art of the year. Who is she and why isn’t she following me on Twitter?
Billion: I actually worked as a fashion photographer for a number of years when I first moved to NYC, so that’s just one of the many models I’ve photographed. I thought it was a great fit for the “beachy” tracks we wanted to put out, and the label, Kwality Records, agreed and backed me up on my image choice for the cover. As far as her following you on Twitter... I’ll see if I can hook you up and make that happen. {laughs}

Adam Bernard: If you could pick one set of bars from SPF Dirty that you feel are a perfect representation of what you’re all about, which would they be?
Billion: Don't try and cock back and shoot out my name
Wild west, you couldn't draw your way out of a tie game
I rise above, I be like David Blaine
I'm Mayan, predicting floods, fuck making it rain
I'm on my grind like I tre flipped this ledge
And you like a dull blade, you lost your edge
Billion, bully on beats I give you wedge
Shut it, take a seat and eat this meat and two veg
I pledge I dead any affront
We hit grand slams while your team just bunts
I'm so ill it's 3/4 my deal
I don't keep it real I just keep it Bill
(from the song “Temperature”)

Adam Bernard: I hear you attended the Parsons School of Design. How are the skills you learned there coming into play with your music career?
Billion: I think it’s been immensely beneficial, especially coming at the business from an independent standpoint. The skills I picked up at Parsons allowed me to shoot my own cover photos and videos as well as the graphic design that comes with laying out cover art. It’s allowed me to be involved in every step of the promotion and packaging thus making every project more and more “me.”

Adam Bernard: Clearly you had a great college experience. Do you think if Kanye wasn’t a College Dropout he wouldn’t be interrupting so many people’s award acceptance speeches?
Billion: I know people are going to jump down my throat after I say this, but I don’t really fault Kanye. Anyone who goes into any facet of the on-camera entertainment industry has to be a born attention seeker. I know I am. I know there are times I feel uncomfortable not being the center of attention and there are also other times I do very obnoxious things to ensure I’m the center of attention, and I’m not even famous yet. I suppose at his level you’re just drunk on the fame and want more of it.

Adam Bernard: If you could interrupt one person’s award acceptance speech who’s would it be and why?
Billion: Ah, man! I’m not sure I’d want to take someone’s moment from them like that, but if there was ever a moment when I saw someone get an undeserved award it would have to be when Clint Eastwood won best director for Million Dollar Baby. He went up against Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and took it. Scorsese, at that moment, had never won a best director award… Scorsese! He deserved that award for that movie. He was later vindicated the next year when he won best director for The Departed, but I don’t think it was as good of a movie as The Aviator, so yeah, I’d interrupt Clint Eastwood and call him out on breaking a huge rule of filmmaking - if you need to narrate it, your scene isn’t telling the story. Sorry, I’m still sore about that. {laughs}

Adam Bernard: When you’re not recording where are people most likely to find you?
Billion: Definitely at home. Working on any project is draining so it’s important for me to have moments when I disconnect and spend the day relaxing. At this point I’m my own assistant and handler, so I have to schedule myself some chill out time. I actually make it a point to not answer any phone calls or messages at least one day out of the week so that I can have some space to decompress and think, BUT I also live by the adage “I’m never not working,” so it doesn’t mean I’m completely inactive, I just shut the left-brain stuff out, the office stuff, and perhaps spend the day thinking about purely creative things. It helps me balance it all out.

Adam Bernard: Look into your crystal ball, what’s going to happen in hip-hop in 2010?
Billion: Hopefully a lot. I’d like to see more expansion of the craft. I’d like to see the music pushed and pulled in all different directions. I very much like that white college kid song and all the comedy hip-hop that’s going around. I think hip-hop needs to lighten up a bit and some of that Saturday Night Live stuff is doing exactly that. They’re reminding people that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. I think I write like that from time to time; playful, cheeky and punchline driven.

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