The Medicine Man
Everyone's had that one friend that's always been cool, confident and unaffected by limitations. Upon meeting 23-year-old Pill, you realize that he's that guy. The Atlanta emcee is wise cracking and quick-witted, both in the booth and in regular conversation. Pill, born Tyrone Rivers, wrote his first rap in kindergarten and he can still recite the bulk of the song. He left rap alone for a while after that; it wasn't until high school, at the urging of his four older siblings where he picked it up again and committed to it. After learning under the tutelage of Grind Time Rap Gang leader Mike Bigga (formerly Killer Mike) he decided to go it alone and spread his wings as a solo artist.
03:00PM ET November 20, 2009
Contributor: Nadine Graham
A Rocky Williform Company
In early 2009, Pill released 4180: The Prescription. It's currently one of the years most applauded mixtapes. The CD was quite a bold statement from an artist who, less than a year ago, was completely under the radar. He recently released the follow up 4075 The Refill amid monstrous buzz. Tyrone "Pill" Rivers offers no gimmicky ad libs and no sense of entitlement- but wearing his heart on his sleeve, he gives us a gruff delivery, a multi-faceted flow and a substantial sense of self. Just what the doctor ordered.
How long have you been rhyming?
Since kindergarten. I wrote my rap then, but I didn't start taking it seriously until I was in high school. I was recording in the studio in the 3rd grade. My homeboy Big Fred had an uncle who had a studio named Alphabet when I was staying in Adamsville. I used to go in there and spit. They'd record me and put me on tapes and all types of shit around the neighborhood. All my life, I was always rapping but I never embraced it on my own.
When did you embrace it?
When people started to say, 'Man, you need to do this shit for real. You need to take it serious,' I always felt like I was nice but I just didn't think I could actually go somewhere with it. I always wrote and a lot of times I'd freestyle around the cafeteria and riding to football games, when I played football. I'd played sports my whole life. That was my love: sports and music and I ain't that big as you can see, so I was like, "Well, uh... I might as well pick this pen back up. It don't look like I'll be getting no D-1 offer."
What was the turning point?
I was in this group in high school called Low Key. Then I started fucking with Killer [Mike], from my teenage years up until a year or two ago. I was feeling like I should do it on my own because I wasn't really seeing the type of recognition that I would've liked. I felt like I had something to bring to the game as a solo artist. I was always "featured on" and "seen on". It was a blessing for him to fuck with me in itself, it was my introduction to the industry. But when I dropped The Prescription at the top of this year, I was like Damn! I was just doing this for niggas in the hood where I was trappin'. Like, when I did "Trap Goin' Ham" and took it back to the hood. They were like, "Yeah, Psych [neighborhood nickname] you reppin'! When your tape coming out?" We'd see people on TV and they'd say, 'How you gon' let these niggas make it before you? When you gon' get on?' That was like fuel to the fire. Then I had my brothers and my sister in my ear telling me that I need to do my own shit man, telling me I got a testimony. That's when I made The Prescription- my first solo effort.
Now you've got people from all over saying "ham".
We been saying 'ham'. I ain't make that shit up, I just brought it to the forefront [laughs]. I had no idea that track was gonna be that big. I just made it for my partners in the neighborhood. The first time I did "Trap Goin' Ham", I went straight from the studio to a club called The Ham, in the Fourth Ward. I got the DJ to spin it and folks liked it, they played it in the hood, played it in the trap... Folks were like, "This shit is jammin'," then came the mixtape. I had "Trap Goin' Ham" before I even had the mixtape. That's when I said, "Okay, maybe I need to go and finish up this mixtape." I'd been telling everybody that I had a mixtape coming, and they said, 'Man, you bullshitting.' So I was like, ""Let me go on and get it together. So I went and did and people wanted the video. I went and did the visual and people responded well to it. I didn't have any idea that it would be what it's become and it's still growing. I said, "Oh shit, I just did this to kick it to the hood." It grew legs, totally unexpected. I can't lie and be like, "Yeah, I made it. I'm finna do my thing with this one. I'm finna kill these folk with this one." Nah it wasn't like that. I just did it and that was the result of it. It was a blessing but I had no idea it was gonna be that way.
Where are you from exactly? And do you feel that your hometown comes out in your music?
I'm from the Fourth Ward, Adamsville, all over the West Side. I went to two different elementary school, two different middle schools and I graduated from Doug [Fredrick Douglas] High School. I've moved around a lot since I was a child.
My [upbringing] just comes out, I can't not speak on it. It ain't like I go in there, "Let me make sure I represent this or that," I'm one of the few cats that is from the area that I say I'm from. There's no question about credibility.
Heard anything back from Gucci or Jeezy about joining you on the "Trap Goin' Ham" remix?
Nah, I wish it did happen because those are the two niggas that could speak on that shit perfectly and on that tempo. Although I know they don't fuck with each other like that... I would love to get either one of them really, but both would be perfect. Y'all know that shit ain't gon' happen. [laughs] That would be a dream for that to happen. I fuck with both of them. Both of their music is dope. I can't side with nobody cause they both have something different to bring to the game, when it comes to the trap shit because they're visionaries, they've lived it. So what's better than someone else to be on there that lived it and could actually be speaking the truth on it. I can't think of two other artists right now that can do it like they can- from the city.
Let's talk about the Nah Right show that happened in NYC recently. A lot of Southern Hip Hop heads felt that New Yorkers were out of line for booing OJ Da Juiceman, and that reaction stemmed from some sort of regional resentment. You were on stage before OJ though, and your set was praised. Were you surprised by how you'd been received?
I was very surprised. I didn't know how they were going to receive me. Every time I do a show, I don't ever know. I just try to make sure I go 100% with all my passion and all my energy and whatever else I have to bring to the table when I get to that stage, I let it all out. I mean, the game is hoping and wishing. You make the music and you hope people like it and when you perform, you hope people like it and you wish to make some money off it [laughs]. That's all it is and to see him go through that, it was like "Damn".
What was your first thought when you heard about it?
I had another show, so I wasn't there. After my set, I stayed for a few minutes, then I left for the Fool's Gold show, because they wanted me to perform. So I went to that, jumped on stage, then I got the call like, "OJ got booed." I was like, "Quit bullshitting." I thought they was joking. I was like, "Quit playing man; that man ain't get booed." It was kinda crazy though, because the reception I got... I was at a loss for words, I didn't know what to think. I feel bad for OJ in a sense when it comes to that because you know, he probably thought he was doing his thing and to get that kind of reception, it fucks up your confidence a little bit. Of course, he's home team and you don't wanna see anyone from the home team get booed or nothing like that. But I think that it was a different crowd. I think they wanted to just hear more lyrics... Not to step on anyone's toes or nothing because OJ has a great fanbase, once again and he's doing his thing but when you've got Raekwon, Jadakiss [on the bill]- you got all these muhfuckers spittin' and they gon' be hyped up to hear that, somebody that's more lyrical.
Andre 3000 thinks you're pretty lyrical, right?
Man! Just for him to like my shit, compliment it, recite my lines from the tape... It was surreal. He's like one of my favorite emcees of all time and for him to even give a damn that meant a lot. When I heard, I was like "Hold on now- what'd you say?" [laughs] I didn't think he'd ever even listen to the tape, I didn't think he'd hit me up or nothing. We randomly bumped into each other, I gave him the tape and my number and asked him to let me know if he liked it or not. Next thing you know he hit me up, I was like , "Who is this?" He was like, "3000", I said, "Who is this playing on my phone?" [laughs] He told me, "That mixtape is jammin'" I was like "What? I can't believe that. Okay, maybe I do know how to rap a lil' bit..."