From mixtapes inspired by Dragon Ball Z to rhyming alongside some of the freshest up-and-coming artists, Young Tef has been slaying beats and paying dues. The Central Jersey rhymer and one half of Chozen Few checks in with HipHopGame to discuss his latest mixtape, Final Fantasy, the Jersey scene, and much more.
Congratulations on earning the February Demo of the Month on HipHopGame. You’ve been dropping dope tracks for years at this point. Is the hard work paying off?
Oh yeah. We ain’t spoke in awhile, but recently I did a track for Trayvon Martin, back when it happened, and I was promoting it heavy. Scarface hit me and told me he loved the joint and wanted me to be in a group that he was starting up. It was going to be some political shit and I can’t really give out all the details, but it was going to be some other shit. He put me onto his man EP out in Cali and we did a couple of tracks. It was crazy.
What does it mean to you to get that kind of feedback, especially because that’s not the reason you did the track?
Oh, man, I was listening to “My Block” when I was a kid. I had it on the VHS, on the VCR, recording it. I was playing it every day. It’s a whole different type of feeling, like you made it, but you ain’t made shit. I know you go through it all the time, talking to your favorite artists. It puts you in that zone and gives you that drive. It’s amazing.
You were just a toddler when a lot of the Geto Boys and older Scarface music dropped.
Yeah, it’s crazy. He inboxed me on Twitter and it’s a dream come true. You don’t know what to think. I was like, ‘Man, that’s crazy. I don’t know what’s about to happen!’ He’s just a regular person, but Scarface has that stamp.
You’ve recorded a lot as a part of Chozen Few and as a solo artist. How do you balance what you do?
It’s hard. You balance what you’re doing and you’re going job to job ‘cause you gotta fund this shit. A lot of the times, the money you’re making is going to go into rap. If you’re smart, you’re going to invest in yourself. If you don’t put money into yourself, nobody else will. You’re out here doubling your worth, basically to see nothing, to put it back into the music. It’s a hard balance though. I’m out here living day to day, but I’m always on this internet. I’m gonna make it one day. I’ve been grinding ever since we first talked. How long ago was that?
About seven years at least.
And we’ve always been cool, real talk.
No doubt. What kind of challenges do you face coming from Central Jersey?
Everybody raps. You gotta stand out in some way. At one point it was all punchlines. Everybody was just trying to have the best bars. Now my whole zone is different. I don’t even focus on punchlines. I’m trying to talk to people and have them be somewhere else. I don’t want them to just say that it’s nice. I’m getting older and the young bars is corny. The older you get, you gotta advance with it. That’s how I maintain.
That’s one of the first things I noticed on your new mixtape, Final Fantasy.
Oh yeah. I wanted to be able to give it to a female and have her be able to rock with it. I could easily have a lot of bars on it and just give it to a dude and he’ll think it’s cool. But the females will promote your shit more than a dude. A dude will have your shit on deck, but he’s a rapper. Everybody raps now. To a regular dude, he’s a rapper and he’s not going to push your shit like this. But that’s how I maintain. That’s how I really kept the tape. I wanted it to be like an album and have the labels hear it and know that I got the full package.
You haven’t leaked a lot of the tracks online at this point. Are you planning on dropping it online soon?
I was trying to hold it for a month. Honestly, the first week it dropped, I made $100. That’s the most money I’ve seen in awhile. I used to get paid $300 for a verse but people don’t really invest in their music anymore. All that’s going towards is more music and more collabs. I’m trying to make money that’s gonna make money and have something in rotation that’s gonna keep promoting myself.
How have you seen the game change since you started rhyming?
Back then, it was Paul Cain, A-Team, Budden…A-Team kept dropping shit and they were the only group out here that was popping. We had the mixtapes and a lot of outlets and now I don’t know what happened. The DJs are gone. Where are the DJs? All they wanted was money and they slacked, so people stopped checking for their mixtapes. Clue left, he was the first to leave, and then Mike left. How are we going to get heard now? And boom, fast forward. Then you got Chief Keef and he made it relevant for people to get a million views on YouTube. Once he got that, it was like you gotta put out a crazy video just to get on now. It’s crazy now.
Being a student of the game, how do you balance doing things your way versus being influenced by what others are doing?
It’s hard, man. We’re all trying to adapt to the game. Jay-Z adapted to the game a whole different way from us. He made his own lane. When he drops, everyone wants to hear his verse. A lot of people from back then, you’re not listening to them for that no more. On Final Fantasy, I tried to stay where I was at and I tried to get people to listen. Right now, it’s a longshot for anybody, to be honest. People just gotta fuck with you. Troy Ave came out of nowhere and now he’s trying to bring NY back. I rock with anybody that’s in their own lane. It’s hard. Nobody’s in their own lane right now. It’s crazy right now, bro.
A lot of drinking. I get the beat from somebody in my camp, most likely, and I’ll get a nice cup of something, and I’ll sit in front of the beat for a little while. I’ll know I can write to this. Then I turn the beat off. I write in my head and write it down, and then I’ll come back to a beat and try to work with that. If not, then I’ll just leave it alone. It’s gotta already be planned out.
How much are you recording as Chozen Few today versus your solo music?
Oh, man. I work with Snub all the time. We recently started someone who started Chozen Few. When we did our first interview, he was on the phone on mute. You ain’t even know. We was all so excited. He passed away a couple of months ago.
I’m sorry to hear that.
Yeah, bro. We’ve been kind of messed up. It hit him harder because he was with him when he was a baby. It hit him a little harder than it hit me but it hurt. Snub’s been in his little zone but I always get him to come out and bless me with a track. We gotta do this for bro. I’m gonna get him right. We just gotta build him back. We took a lot of losses. He’s been trying to bounce back but he’s gonna get it. Every time I make a major move, he comes through like, ‘Let’s get it.’
It sounds like it’s more family than just music.
Yeah. It’s like me and you. I’ll hit you just to check on you. If I ask you for anything, I know you’ll hold me down. We gotta look out for each other as people instead of just business because right now, the business is fucked up and you can’t ask for nothing but for people to keep it real with you. I don’t ask for anything else.
I was just talking to someone and telling them I was doing an interview and he said, “He’s the best interviewer in the game!” We’re waiting for you to come out live.
Let’s make it happen.
I got my own studio. You can come through. I’ll get you some drinks. Even if you don’t drink, I’ll make you! (laughs)
I know everything about Dragonball Z! I challenge anybody! I’d be sitting in front of the TV at my grandmother’s house and I’d see Piccolo beefing with Goku but they had to come together to save the world. (laughs) It’s funny that we’re talking about that. I was into that like crazy. That shit was crazy! I’m like, ‘Man, anybody could relate to that. That shit is relatable. When you’re young and then you start getting that strength and shit, man, I love shit like that. That’s like Karate Kid. Karate Kid was soft but then at the end he became the shit and everybody loved that story.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Karate Kid.
If you don’t like Karate Kid, you suck. You can’t be around me! Or Van Damme. I love Van Damme movies too, but you need eight interviews for that!
Has MTV’s Jersey Shore messed up people’s perception of Central Jersey?
I don’t know where those people were from or where they got those people. Don’t come out here if you think it’s like that. You’ll get killed out here. You still got people who think it’s fun. You cross those tracks and come to where I’m from, man, the Jersey Shore don’t have nothing to do with us. Where I’m from, stay on the other side of the tracks. They were dancing and drinking at night. It looked fun. I really wish it was like that. I would do that. But that’s not Jersey at all.
What’s coming up for Young Tef?
Oh, man, bro. I really got so much going on right now. I got my track “Single Mothers” and I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from that.