Fivio Foreign’s big move | the new yorker
“This is what New York City is like,” exclaimed Funkmaster Flex, a recent night on Hot 97. For thirty years, Flex was New York’s hottest hip-hop radio DJ, charged to determine what might be popular. then tell people what should to be popular – turning audience research into a series of definitive statements, spoken so voluble and so frequently that it sometimes drowns out the music. That night, Flex drowned 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 another guy from Brooklyn attacking the camera in a bunch of YouTube videos. Now he’s emerging as the sort of reliable hip-hop star that New York City, not too long ago, seemed to have stopped producing.
“City of Gods” had a backing vocal from Alicia Keys, singing, “New York, please take it easy with my heart.” There was a noteworthy verse, in which Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, threatened “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson, who was dating his ex, Kim Kardashian: It’s Fivio Foreign, who staged a self-coronation in the opening lines of the track:
“Pop,” as almost any listener would have known, was Pop Smoke, an ally and friend of Fivio who was nearing mainstream stardom when he was assassinated, in February 2020; his debut album, released posthumously, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Pop Smoke was about ten years younger than Fivio Foreign, who had just turned thirty-two. But he first made himself known, and took a fraternal interest in Fivio’s career: he tried, without success, to have Fivio signed by the label that had signed him, and when he traveled to Hot 97 studios for an interview, in 2019 he included Fivio in his entourage.
Today it’s Fivio who has an entourage, and one spring evening he visited Funkmaster Flex with some friends. Flex was pre-recording segments in a nondescript office building in Chelsea; Fivio and his friends were ushered into a rather desolate reception room, which was full of Cîroc vodka decorations but surprisingly devoid of the product itself. Someone got hold of a bottle of champagne, but Fivio wasn’t particularly interested – he prides himself on his professionalism and, although he rapped enthusiastically about intoxicants ranging from Hennessy to Percocet, he says that he’s more focused on success these days.
[Support The New Yorker’s award-winning journalism. Subscribe today »]
The spelling of “Fivio” is slightly misleading: the name derives from an old nickname, Fabio, given by a friend who noticed that women found him charming, and so it is pronounced “Favio”, although people who know him tend to drop the last letter or two. He’s over six feet tall and lanky, and he was wearing a red nylon windbreaker from French fashion house Celine, with matching jeans and enough jewelry to make it clear which of the guys walking around was the star. Funkmaster Flex greeted him with a friendly scowl and then, before the interview began, gave a brief update on “City of Gods.”
“It’s picking up in the club,” Flex said conspiratorially, as if sharing classified information.
“That’s what we need,” Fivio replied. “We need this club.
Fivio’s music can sound like it’s purpose-built for club PA systems: it’s rhythmic, with tricky drum programming, bass lines that zoom unpredictably from note to note, and many shouted interjections. But Fivio’s form of hip-hop is less closely associated with clubs than it is with the streets of Brooklyn, where he shot a number of his early videos, and 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 to violence. Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign were on the same side in a sort of civil war that turned Brooklyn’s dizzying patchwork of street gangs into a simple, deadly rivalry between two confederations. Pop Smoke’s murder was apparently unrelated to this war; he was the victim of a failed robbery during a trip to Los Angeles. (It appears the invaders found Pop by zooming in on an address label in a video he posted, showing a delivery from Amiri, which sells expensive jeans that are popular among New York rappers.) But his career was closely linked to the war: Pop Smoke’s first mixtape was called “Meet the Woo”, a reference to one of the two confederations. Likewise, 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 dividing line; the track worked as an extended provocation.
Earlier this year, two high-profile shootings brought political attention to this world. In January, a rapper named Nas Blixky survived a gunshot wound in Brooklyn’s Prospect-Lefferts Gardens neighborhood. The following week, TDott Woo, who was known for his dance moves in Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign videos, was killed in Canarsie. Shortly after, Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference during which he called the drill music “alarming” and suggested that some violent music videos be removed from social media in the name of public safety. , just like President Donald Trump had been removed from Twitter. Adams called a summit with a number of the city’s leading rappers, including Fivio, who sat at the mayor’s right elbow and apparently made no promises – he’s obligated, he says, not to do anything. more or less than talking about his life. . “Negroes still talk about what’s going on in the neighborhood or what they’re going through in their life,” Fivio told Flex when asked about the summit. “That’s what will happen, regardless.”
In recent years, many hip-hop hits have been drugged and escaped. (In the chorus of “Lemonade,” one of 2020’s hottest tracks, rapper and singer Don Toliver yelled to get high and buy a convertible: , the roof is missing.”) Fivio is owned by a less whimsical tradition, and its success may mean that the hip-hop pendulum swings, as it periodically does, toward tougher, more rambling personas. In hip-hop, street credibility can be an important storytelling asset – a way to convince listeners that the stories they hear aren’t just stories.
Like any successful rapper, however, Fivio uses hip-hop to not only chronicle his environment, but to change it. He moved, with his three children, to an undisclosed location across the Hudson River, and his rhymes became a little less bloodthirsty and a lot more thoughtful. Earlier this month, he released his first real album, “BIBLE”, for which Ye served as the executive producer, and which aims to convert listeners who don’t spend their free time trying to decode the intricacies of wedding rings. New York gangs. 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 looks like growthhe exclaims, towards the beginning of the album, which finds an effective balance between reflection and carelessness. “Don’t confuse me with another guy,” he raps. “If I tell ’em work they gon’ cut a nigga / If I get me a Perc, I’ll forget the nigga.”
Twice in the past two years, Fivio’s rise has been cut short 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 did not want Fivio to be prosecuted, and he claimed the encounter was just a rowdy argument. He still faces charges for an incident in New Jersey last year when he was approached by police and fled. He was caught and, after a fight, arrested; police found a loaded gun with a defaced serial number. But he says he learned the importance of staying out of trouble: for someone like him, that means hiring professional security guards and avoiding Brooklyn. “I don’t miss nothing of my old life,” he told me. But he can’t afford to stop rapping about it, not yet.
“I was brought up the right way,” says Fivio. He grew up, as Maxie Ryles III, in a neighborhood known as Nine: a sloping rectangle of blocks (comprising Ninety-first through Ninety-sixth streets) affixed to the northeast corner of ‘East Flatbush, dotted with Caribbean storefronts and a neat little apartment. buildings that are worth far more today than they were when Fivio was a boy. Her father was a military veteran who remained married to her mother, a special education aide, until her death from a stroke in 2016, which Fivio describes as the defining tragedy of her life. Despite his stable upbringing, he was intrigued by high school classmates who disappeared for long periods of time and then reappeared with better clothes than he could afford. And so he disappeared too. (He eventually graduated in a summer program.) “I was outside,” he says. “Making money here and there.” As he recalls, gang membership literally came with the territory. “It wasn’t about affiliation,” he says. “Are you from here?” This it is what it is.
When Fivio says he avoids Brooklyn, he means the Brooklyn where he grew up; he had no problem getting, with his security detail, to an Episcopal Church in Park Slope six consecutive stops on the 3 train from his old neighborhood. His record label, Columbia, had rented the church to shoot a promotional video for “BIBLE” (Fivio’s family was Pentecostal, but he says his album is only biblical insofar as it features — apparently true — stories. which listeners can learn.) At a long table in the sacristy, he posed with a chalice of cranberry juice, then, after donning Gucci sweatpants and a matching shirt, he found a seat in the dusty kitchen from the church, where he received a legal pad and 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 didn’t even realize I was in Brooklyn,” he later said.
When filming wrapped, Fivio’s car — an SUV with LED overhead lights, which fans can recognize from his Instagram videos — was waiting outside, and he moved quickly to get inside. Not quickly enough, however, 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.