Fivio Foreign’s Big Move | The New Yorker | #socialmedia


“This is what New York City feel like and sound like,” Funkmaster Flex exclaimed, one recent night on Hot 97. For thirty years, Flex has been New York’s most prominent hip-hop radio d.j., tasked with figuring out what might be popular and then telling people what should be popular—turning audience research into a series of definitive statements, delivered so volubly and so frequently that he sometimes drowns out the music. On this night, Flex was drowning out a new track, “City of Gods,” which seemed sure to become a local favorite. “Fivio, I see you,” Flex said, calling out the rapper behind the track. A few years ago, Fivio Foreign was just one more guy from Brooklyn mean-mugging into the camera in a bunch of YouTube videos. Now he is emerging as the kind of reliable hip-hop star that New York, not too long ago, seemed to have stopped producing.

“City of Gods” had a chorus by Alicia Keys, singing, “New York City, please go easy on this heart of mine.” It had a newsworthy verse, in which Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, threatened the “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson, who was dating his ex, Kim Kardashian: “This afternoon / A hundred goons / Pulling up to ‘S.N.L.’ ” Most important, it had Fivio Foreign, who staged a self-coronation in the track’s opening lines:

Nigga, this my shit
Welcome to the city of gods
Pop was the king of New York
Now I’m the nigga in charge.

“Pop,” as just about every listener would have known, was Pop Smoke, an ally and friend of Fivio who was approaching mainstream stardom when he was murdered, in February, 2020; his first album, released posthumously, made its début at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Pop Smoke was about a decade younger than Fivio Foreign, who just turned thirty-two. But he got famous first, and took a fraternal interest in Fivio’s career: he tried, unsuccessfully, to get the label that signed him to sign Fivio, too, and when he travelled to the Hot 97 studios for an interview, in 2019, he included Fivio in his entourage.

Nowadays, it is Fivio who has an entourage, and one evening this spring he paid a visit to Funkmaster Flex with a few friends in tow. Flex was prerecording segments in a nondescript Chelsea office building; Fivio and friends were shown to a rather desolate hospitality room, which was full of Cîroc vodka decorations yet surprisingly bereft of the product itself. Someone procured a bottle of champagne, but Fivio was not particularly interested—he prides himself on professionalism, and, although he has rapped enthusiastically about intoxicants ranging from Hennessy to Percocet, he says that he is more focussed on success these days.

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The spelling of “Fivio” is slightly misleading: the name derives from an old nickname, Fabio, bestowed by a friend who noticed that women found him charming, and so it is pronounced “Favio,” though people who know him tend to drop the last letter or two. He is more than six feet tall and lanky, and he was wearing a red nylon windbreaker by the French fashion house Celine, with matching jeans, and enough jewelry to make it clear which of the guys milling around was the star. Funkmaster Flex greeted him with a friendly scowl and then, before the interview began, delivered a brief update on “City of Gods.”

“It’s picking up in the club,” Flex said, conspiratorially, as if he were sharing classified information.

“That’s what we need,” Fivio replied. “We need that club.”

Fivio’s music can sound as if it were purpose-built for club sound systems: it is up-tempo, with tricky drum programming, bass lines that zoom unpredictably from note to note, and plenty of shouted interjections. But Fivio’s form of hip-hop is less closely associated with clubs than with the streets of Brooklyn, where he shot a number of his early videos, and with YouTube, where those videos often went viral. (“Viral” is one of his favorite words.) The style that made Fivio a star is known as drill music, which even more than other forms of hip-hop has been linked to gangs and violence. Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign were on the same side in a kind of civil war that turned the dizzying patchwork of Brooklyn street gangs into a murderously simple rivalry between two confederations. Pop Smoke’s killing was apparently unrelated to this war; he was the victim of a botched robbery during a trip to Los Angeles. (It seems that the invaders found Pop by zooming in on an address label in a video that he posted, showing off a delivery from Amiri, which sells expensive jeans that are popular among New York rappers.) But his career was tightly connected to the war: the first Pop Smoke mixtape was called “Meet the Woo”—a reference to one of the two confederations. Similarly, Fivio’s breakthrough track was “Blixky Inna Box.” A “blicky” is a gun, but “Blixky”—the “x” is silent—is the name of a crew that was on the other side of the divide; the track functioned as an extended provocation.

Earlier this year, a pair of high-profile shootings focussed political attention on this world. In January, a rapper named Nas Blixky survived being shot in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. The next week, TDott Woo, who was known for his dance moves in videos by Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign, was killed in Canarsie. Soon afterward, Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference in which he called drill music “alarming,” and suggested that certain violent music videos be removed from social media in the name of public safety, much as President Donald Trump had been removed from Twitter. Adams convened a summit with a number of the city’s leading rappers, including Fivio, who sat at the Mayor’s right elbow, and who apparently made no promises—he is obligated, he says, to do no more and no less than talk about his life. “Niggas always talking about what’s going on in the hood, or what they’re going through in their life,” Fivio told Flex, when asked about the summit. “That’s what’s gon’ happen, regardless.”

In recent years, many hip-hop hits have been druggy and escapist. (In the chorus of “Lemonade,” one of the most popular tracks of 2020, the rapper and singer Don Toliver howled about getting high and buying a convertible: “Off the juice, codeine got me trippin’ / Copped the coupe—woke up, roof is missin’.”) Fivio belongs to a less fanciful tradition, and his success may mean that the hip-hop pendulum is swinging back, as it periodically does, toward tougher, scrappier characters. In hip-hop, street credibility can be an important narrative asset—a way of convincing listeners that the stories they’re hearing aren’t just stories.

Like any successful rapper, though, Fivio is using hip-hop not just to chronicle his surroundings but also to change them. He has moved, with his three children, to an undisclosed location on the far side of the Hudson River, and his rhymes have grown a bit less bloodthirsty and a lot more ruminative. Earlier this month, he released his first proper album, “B.I.B.L.E.,” for which Ye served as the executive producer, and which aims to convert listeners who do not spend their free time trying to decode the intricacies of New York gang alliances. Pop Smoke was a gnomic figure with a rich, booming voice; Fivio is less enigmatic but more entertaining, a charismatic and sometimes witty host who wants to keep everyone happy. “This shit sound like growth,” he exclaims, near the beginning of the album, which strikes an effective balance between thoughtfulness and recklessness. “Don’t mistake me for a different nigga,” he raps. “If I tell ’em to work, they’ll clip a nigga / If I take me a Perc, I’ll forget the nigga.”

Twice in the past two years, Fivio’s rise has been interrupted by allegations of criminal behavior. In 2020, he was arrested for assault, after an altercation with a woman he was dating, who was pregnant with his third child. She later announced that she didn’t want Fivio to be prosecuted, and he claimed that the encounter was merely a loud argument. He still faces charges for an incident last year in New Jersey, when he was approached by police and fled. He was caught and, after a scuffle, arrested; police found a loaded gun with a defaced serial number. But he says that he has learned the importance of staying out of trouble: for someone like him, that means hiring professional security guards and steering clear of Brooklyn. “I don’t miss nothing from my old life,” he told me. But he can’t afford to stop rapping about it—not yet.

“I was raised the right way,” Fivio says. He grew up, as Maxie Ryles III, in a neighborhood known as the Nine: a slanted rectangle of blocks (including Ninety-first through Ninety-sixth Streets) affixed to the northeast corner of East Flatbush, dotted with Caribbean storefronts and neat little apartment buildings that are worth significantly more now than they were when Fivio was a boy. His father was a military veteran who remained married to his mother, a special-education aide, until her death, from a stroke, in 2016, which Fivio describes as the defining tragedy of his life. Despite his stable upbringing, he was intrigued by high-school classmates who disappeared for long stretches and then reappeared with better clothes than he could afford. And so he disappeared, too. (He eventually earned his diploma through a summer program.) “I was outside,” he says. “Making some money here and there.” As he remembers it, gang membership literally came with the territory. “It was no question of affiliation,” he says. “You’re from here? This is what it is.”

When Fivio says that he avoids Brooklyn, he means the Brooklyn where he grew up; he had no problem travelling, with his security detail, to an Episcopal church in Park Slope, six consequential stops on the 3 train from his old neighborhood. His record label, Columbia, had rented the church to shoot a promotional video for “B.I.B.L.E.” (Fivio’s family was Pentecostal, but he says that his album is Biblical only insofar as it offers stories—ostensibly true ones—that listeners can learn from.) At a long table in the sacristy, he posed with a chalice of cranberry juice, and then, after changing into Gucci track pants and a matching shirt, he found a place in the dusty church kitchen, where he was supplied with a legal pad and a pencil. Fivio adopted a thoughtful expression and, for the benefit of the cameras, did something he almost never does: he wrote down some of his lyrics. “I ain’t even realize I was in Brooklyn,” he said later.

When the shoot was over, Fivio’s ride—an S.U.V. with L.E.D. lights in the ceiling, which fans may recognize from his Instagram videos—was waiting outside, and he moved quickly to get in. Not quickly enough, though, to escape the attention of a woman in the next car, with multicolored fingernails and an embarrassed smile. “I love you, Fivio,” she told him.



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