Hail Armani Caesar
When you think of Griselda Records, you think of the gritty Daringer production and concrete bars of Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher, and Westside Gunn. Now there’s Armani Caesar to bring the life of luxury, love, and entrepreneurship through the eyes of a Queen.
The First Lady Of Griselda dropped her debut album on September 18th, 2020 “The Liz” and has received overwhelming support and praise. We caught up recently to discuss the album, her writing process, giving back to the community, and more in this exclusive sit down with Def Pen.
Mariano: What I want to get to first is the process and creation of the album. The songs that made the cut. How many songs did you record leading up to the project?
Armani Caesar: It depends on where you want to start. I had songs that I had already recorded before I got signed. After the quarantine lifted, I went to Atlanta and probably did 20 songs. Between that time and the time my project got put out. In a week, I probably did 20 songs.
Usually, throughout history, you hear about artists and the executives around them and the other artists around them and the co-sign. What does the Griselda co-sign sound and look like? For example, when you know you got one. Whether it’s a bar, a song, what is the Westside, Conway or Benny cosign look or sound like?
It depends. For the most part, they’ll just be like “Nah you smoked that”. I think in the thick of recording, we were knocking them out left and right. Westside was just pleased. He just had a smile on his face. He already knew what was up. It wasn’t too surprising
I like that a lot. That energy is a New York type of energy where it’s regular. Let’s fast forward a little bit to the now. You have a fashion brand, Armani’s Closet. What inspired you to start it and what did you think about Megan Thee Stallion rocking it?
Armani’s Closet literally started in my closet. It was me selling clothes that I may have only worn once or never worn before as another source of income. It turned to girls asking me if I were going to restock those clothes or asking for them in different sizes. I just move forward with it and made it a real business and turned it into a mini-empire that has just taken on a whole world of its own, outside of me doing my music.
As far as Meg Thee Stallion, that was a complete surprise. I have so many orders daily. I’m just focused on me and my team getting them out to the people so I don’t pay attention to who it’s shipping to specifically. It’s too many orders to do that. I got the first notification from FashionBombDaily who features celebrities in the clothes they are wearing. They tagged me and it was a side by side of me and Meg. I thought that was bomb.
The next morning, I woke up to an article with BET. They did an article on fashion designers to look out for in 2020 and we were #1 with Meg rocking one of our dresses.
The universe is crazy in a way you would have such an impact fashion wise and then for you to link up with Griselda who I think does the absolute best with merch, branding, and direct to consumer sales. I feel like that’s a seamless thing. Have you picked up any tips on how to push it or it’s, this is just what we do?
I think my branding strategy has remained the same. We all kind of have our own unique way of selling our merch because of course there are two different demographics. My audience is more so for the it girls, the fly girls, and things that are trendy. Theirs are based on a different demographic more so male consumers. But it’s still supply and demand. I think the clothes sell themselves. That has to do with being able to recognize drip when you see it and setting yourself apart. And with them, they just stand out because nobody is doing the merch like that. And with art, you have to have a special eye for that as well.
For sure. I definitely agree. We have a lot of stuff to touch on, but this is probably going to be my favorite part. The album itself, The Liz. I sat with this album a good amount of time. Benny The Butcher is my favorite rapper, I love everything Griselda got going on. This album right here is crazy. How satisfied were you when the album finally got a date and then it finally came out?
It happened really fast. As I said, it only took me a couple of days to record the album. And that was in the midst of me recording all the stuff, you know I had features that were backed up just because of the whole quarantine. Once it was put together, my main focus was that the rollout was right and the visuals to go along with it were perfect. Initially, my album was supposed to drop in August and DJ Shay ended up passing away. R.I.P. DJ Shay. That was the week my album was supposed to drop. We really didn’t want to do anything but being that we pulled it so late, the album leaked. There were certain people who had it, like in other countries. Once it’s on the internet, it just goes everywhere.
It goes where it wants.
Yeah. We did our best to scrub everything, but we couldn’t stop everyone from hearing it. So I knew that moving forward when we did get another date, I wanted to make sure that we had visuals to match. Curate a visual album along with the music. I feel like that’s very important, especially with being a female artist. With my music being so unorthodox I need people to know I look like me. Because listening to me you would think I look completely different. And vice versa, looking at me you would think my music is completely different.
That’s a very interesting point you brought up. I’ve sat with the album at home, in the car. Like you said, if you were to just to hear the music itself, seeing you would be like “that’s her?” It’s not a bad thing at all. Before I get into my favorite song from the album, how do you feel about, if you want to call it separatism as far as a female MCs vs rapper? When you hear people talk about female rappers, they separate them. Do you feel like separatism is important to empower women or you just want to be seen as a rapper period?
I think it makes it unfair to some of these male artists because you have to realize and come to terms with the fact that you have females that are nicer than you. It can be a blow to their ego. I don’t think it has anything to do with women empowerment because we know who we are, we know that we nice, we been nice, for a long time. I think, really and truly that was never the goal. I never began my career or project thinking I’m going to be the baddest bitch in the game or I’m going to kill the females with this one. Because I grew up rapping around Conway and Benny and my verses happen to come before or after theirs when I first started rapping. So I had to have the hottest sh*t on the track, period. Male, female, dog, cat, whatever.
My favorite song on the project is Palm Angels. Palm Angels is really different. If you can, can you take me to that mindset sitting down and writing that song because your perspective –I feel like I can see it.
That just comes from it being a real experience. You can tell when an artist really went through what they’re talking about because it hit different every single time. Like back in the day you know Mary was going through it when she was singing My Life. With Palm Angels that was one of many songs during the era when I was in a relationship, writing about being in a relationship and meeting somebody special, going through the motions. Giving you an experience about how it feels to be in a relationship or come into a relationship on my behalf you have guys out here flexing, already have an assumption about how I may be as a woman, may I be a golddigger because of what I look like and what I rap like. And just having those real conversations and being to articulate that over songs that are so smooth and production that’s so — it just mash, it’s a vibe. It was a moment in my life so when people play that song it’s a moment where you still in the honeymoon phase of your shit before you start knowing the motherfucking full of shit. (Laughs)
We have all been there. That song stood out a lot. When I got to that song I found myself just rewinding and rewinding and to the point where I was like “let me just bring this song back”. I was bringing certain lines back like “what did she just say?” And that’s rare amongst any rapper today, male, female, regardless. Any rapper who has that “rewind that factor” is a great rapper in my book and you have a lot of that. And the very next song, Ginger Rothstein. I have an unpopular opinion. I don’t think Ginger Rothstein was a bad person.
(Laughs) She was f*cked up.
People kill me…
(Laughs) Ginger Rothstein was a f*cked up person. But I feel like there are traits of Ginger Rothstein that I think every man loves and that was why she was captivating on film.
I’m going to tell you my view on her. She was who she was, unapologetic. Maybe she was a fucked up person, but it wasn’t her fault. Sam even said it, “I know how she is, I know she don’t love me, but I love her and I’m trying to do this”. And she was like, “look bro, don’t do this”. What did you see in her to where you said you’re getting in this mode?
To be honest, Ginger Rothstein was a name I heard Benny one time rap. This was when I was a teenager. He said something like “I’m Sam and she Ginger”. This was when we would go back and forth on songs when I first started rapping. So it made me go and actually watch the movie. I had actually wrote a song (begins rapping lyrics). I didn’t even know who Ginger Rothstein was at the time. Essentially, I looked up the movie as a teenager and I fell in love with the movie Casino. In doing the scouting for how I wanted to set the tone for this album, as far as the skits and for what I wanted this album to be, I researched a lot of powerful women. Everybody from Foxy Brown, which is how I got the Mani Moves Freestyle beat from watching blaxploitation films from Truck Turner to Jackie Brown. A bunch of different strong females. Ginger Rothstein was interesting because many men in our generation like the idea of a siren. I don’t know if you read books like 48 Laws Of Power or The Art of Seduction.
In The Art Of Seduction, they have what you call a siren which is like a Marilyn Monroe or someone that is just captivating, mysterious. Really and truly, they (men) can’t handle those kinds of females because it’s really a fantasy. Of course, every woman has that side but no woman is really like that. As far as the idea of a man falling in love with a woman just based on the feeling she gives him just like how Ginger Rothstein gave Sam is how I feel now. Even though I’m not as a savage. But I can relate to that style. That’s why I say “a riot see it buy it, call me Ginger Rothstein”. She was a riot, she was wild, she was crazy. She was tearing money up and loving every minute of it.
She was doing her thing.
Doing her thing. That’s where that line came from. Outside of that, I think you can catch a certain tone from all of the women I channeled into this project. You have Elizabeth (Miss Elizabeth) from wrestling at the end of Gucci Caskets. A lot of people didn’t catch when he says ”are you gonna come on this side?” And she says no”. And then the tone of the album completely changes. It goes from boom bap beats to what people were scared of, what those Griselada fans were scared of when they first knew that I signed. They were scared of me not being able to give them that boom bap sound because my music sounded like Drill a RaMA or Yum Yum, at the time. It’s an art piece and everything is up for interpretation. It’s deeper than rap.
You sounded very comfortable on these beats. A lot of these beats to me are pure Griselda at its core. You listen to these beats, you can hear Westside on this, you can hear Benny, you can hear Conway, who are all featured on the album. It doesn’t sound like a chore to you. As far as your creative process, obviously, you just went over the movies you researched, the women you look up to and drew inspiration from. What is your writing process like? Do you do the traditional notepad? Is it more typing in the phone? Is it more thinking on the spot? What’s your actual creating process looking like?
All of the above. It really depends on the song. Liz Loves Luger, I freestyled that. I had the hook already but the verse I freestyled. With the songs on the album, Countdown was sort of like a freestyle. You know what was crazy is seeing the reaction to it. Because it was just me, West and the engineer in the studio. I was scared to say that out loud. Especially talking about cutting a nigga balls off in a room full of niggas.
“There’s nothing new under the sun but at the same time, the feeling you get when you hear me rapping over those beats like I am is something that people haven’t felt before or haven’t in a long time. It’s just nostalgic, but it doesn’t sound like I’m trying to do a Lil Kim or Foxy Brown karaoke. So I take it as a compliment.”
That was crazy, I cringed when I heard that. It was good but I was like hold on now. (Laughs)
No, but you gotta say sh*t that girls be afraid to say. That was kind of like my experience feeling like “what the fuck did he just say” and that was with Eminem on Marshal Mathers with “Kill You”. I said fuck it and just did it.
I write in my phone a lot of times. When I was younger I wrote in my notebook. I still keep those notebooks because I always like to venture back to old bars that I can — not so much recycle but say differently. I feel like I still got hella bars where I’m like “I said that”. I always hold on to those because you could never get that young mind back.
I’m glad you brought up Foxy earlier. The one thing I hate doing when I’m listening to music is making comparisons. I feel like it robs the artist of their independence and their creativity. But I will say when I was younger, Foxy was one of the only female rappers that I would hear dudes listening and being like damn she said? She would rap about designer this, designer that. You give me some of those same vibes. Not to put y’all in the same category. Was she instrumental in carving out that lane or giving you some type of inspiration as far as wanting to rap? Did she play any part in that?
Of course. Foxy, Kim, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliot, Eve, Remy Ma. All of them played a huge role in me loving the art of loving rap, seeing women dominate in the rap game. It really doesn’t bother me when their name is brought up, only because I don’t read into it as a comparison, I just think that it’s the feeling. And the feeling that you felt when you first heard of Foxy or Kim or whoever you want to compare me to, this is not a feeling you felt in the last decade or two. It was new it was fresh then, and being as though you can only compare me to people who were popping 20 years ago, is a compliment. If I was being compared to somebody that’s popping now then I’m not doing what I need to be doing and I need to go back to the drawing board. And that’s no shade to nobody. That’s just to say I’m not doing a good job of setting myself apart. There’s nothing new under the sun but at the same time, the feeling you get when you hear me rapping over those beats like I am is something that people haven’t felt before or haven’t in a long time. It’s just nostalgic but it doesn’t sound like I’m trying to do a Lil Kim or Foxy Brown karaoke. So I take it as a compliment.
I’m glad that you have that perspective. That’s what I was getting at. It doesn’t sound like you are trying to be them. It’s the same thing with Benny, he gives me Jadakiss vibes. How instrumental was someone like Benny just in your writing process, your career, just inspiration, and just Griselda as a whole? Just having these guys around you.
They like my brothers and they keep me in my bag. I can listen to a Conway song or a Benny song or a Westside song. It just gives me so much motivation. Like ooooh, I’ll hear something and be like he smoked that sh*t I gotta go to the studio. I’m inspired. That’s how I feel with them. It makes it fun. It’s easy not to be inspired with so much other bullsh*t in the mix. It doesn’t take a genius to do what the industry is pushing and what we doing requires talent, intelligence and a whole bunch of other sh*t. I think that’s what makes it fun. Now it really matters. Who can be the wittiest, who can come up with the illest bars, the craziest metaphors, riding the beat. It’s not just a fire ass beat, we not relying on producers to make the song hot.
I get that 100%. Even when you look at media, it has been a lot of critically acclaimed whether we talking about The Fader listing The Liz’s Top 8 Albums To Stream. Your verse on Lil Cease was named on Complex one of the best rap verses of the year. To be the first lady of Griselda. Does it feel like validation for you or its kind of like a “we knew what we came to do?”
It was moreso of an I told you so moment. I had so many people doubting Westside signing me. They thought I just got signed because I was pretty and would be a good background. It’s good to know we were right and they were wrong. (Laughs). I’m only getting started. We ain’t even start to do the sh*t we want to do yet. I’m just excited for everyone else. It’s like when an album drop, now they know how we coming, now its time to switch it up and come different. We never like to be too predictable. I think that the element of surprise is the best. I wasn’t mad when they counted me out. Now the bar is set so now I gotta come super hard.
What aspirations do you have moving forward? Is there a different part of the game you want to tap into? Not just rap.
I just love the arts period. I love creating, whether it be singing, rapping, acting, film, producing. I’m open to all of that. I went to performing arts school from 5th to 12th grade. It’s all already in me. The whole entertainment and arts are in me. I’m just letting things flow naturally. Staying fluid with it. I’m just doing what’s natural to me.
You actually created a manual for entrepreneurs. A seven-day manual book. I would like for you to touch on that. What inspired you to do that and what’s been the feedback since you first dropped it?
I started my first business in 2016, in December. I did it in seven days. This was when I was heavy on Snapchat. I have so many girls flooding my email and DMs, asking me how to start a business, advice, or vendor information. That was a way of me answering all those questions and putting it as simply as I possibly could in a manual. It’s a PDF downloadable file, you can download it on your computer, print it out, and make it a real booklet or if you want to go digital you can click directly on the link and it’ll take you to the websites. I have everything from my plugs, the wholesale places I shop at for my own boutique. I have vendor plugs for poly mailers, business cards, website designers, app designers/developers. Everything is in there. I just brought it back out because if 2020 ain’t taught you nothing, it taught you that you just can’t have one stream of income. If you don’t want to be a full-time entrepreneur, it’s always good to have you a little retail business on the side or a side hustle that can help bring in the extra coin.
That’s amazing. A lot of people obtain knowledge and they have it and they are apprehensive about spreading it back out. It’s beautiful to see you’re looking to help. In that same vein, let’s talk about giving back. You’ve been supporting Black businesses and supporting people in need during the pandemic. What type of ways have you been giving?
I’ve been doing giveaways and charity work before it’s been trendy to do. I use to something every month with my own foundation, the Black Girl Foundation. Once the pandemic hit I just knew it was people struggling. This was before the stimulus checks had dropped. A lot of people didn’t really know what was going on and were just struggling. So I did a giveaway for that. I would have random people direct message me and I would send them whatever they needed. Whether it be pampers, food, or just money to pay a bill. I did, shoutouts for all Black businesses. I just gave them a platform to shout their businesses out to get their name out there on my platform. I then went ahead and supported twenty of those businesses. I brought stuff with my own money and them a free promo. That was dope because a lot of businesses said after that, they thrived and were able to stay in businesses. We do this every month, we not doing this because it’s trendy. People needed help before Instagram and Twitter. Once all of this is over (pandemic), still give back to your communities. If you can’t do it financially, do it with the knowledge. Everybody got something that they could teach someone else, especially if you’ve been through something. I’ve been through a lot. Whether it be with my businesses, with this music, I’m always trying to pour knowledge into other people to be able to help them not make the same mistakes I’ve made.
That’s very important. Going off that what’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned in business? Whether it was from a bad business deal, or someone not following up on their word. What is the most important or hardest lesson or both that you’ve learned?
Always be abreast of whatever you getting yourself into, always have a backup plan, and make sure you not depending on nobody to do nothing. And to always know how to do the job you’re hiring someone else to do, or at least the basics. In a sense, you might not have that person all the time and you don’t want your business to crumble off the strength of someone else. That’s why I learned how to do my hair, my makeup, and style myself because back in the day I didn’t have it. But if I was to get on the red carpet and my makeup artist can’t make, what I’m going to do look crazy? No, I’m going to make sure I can handle that. Do your research. Read those contracts. Always have a contract when dealing with business. I don’t do any business without a contract.
That’s very important. A lot of people do verbal agreements and head nods and handshakes and everybody just gets to do what they want later on. Just to double back, as I said, I love the album. Nothing on this album sounds like it was just thrown on there. Everything sounds surgically done. Do you have a favorite song and if so why?
They’re all my favorites for all different reasons. Each song represents something different in me and its own standalone project to me. We just happen to curate it into one project. But all of them are favorites. I have different favorites every day depending on my mood, what I’m going through, but all of them are my favorites for real.