In spite of the appealing name, the Nicetown area of Philadelphia is not a pleasant place to grow up. It’s a dangerous neighborhood full of drugs, gangs and poverty that drains the spirit out of nearly everyone who lives there. Which makes the story behind the Young Gunz moniker all the more astonishing. Despite the obvious violent allusions, according to Hanif ‘Neef’ Muhammad–who, along with partner Christopher Ries, comprise this up-and-coming rap duo–the term has more to do with basketball than the violence these childhood friends lived through as youngsters.
We talk with Neef.
I heard you were shooing a film.
We doing a film called “Philly Streets AKA Street Property.” We were up to like 5:30 in the morning.
Is film something you want to get into?
Yeah, we want to get into it all. We’ve got clothing in the making. We got liquor for the grown and sexy ladies. We started our own label; the first artist is my brother. You can’t just be a rapper and think you are going to make money. You make money from publishing and performing, but hip-hop has opened the door for us to make more money. Look at Rocawear, its made more money than Roc-A-Fella ever did.
Do you ever talk to Jay-Z or Damon Dash and ask for advice?
I tell them what I want to do. I come up with most of the ideas. I just watch the mistakes they made and move through it.
When the album hit #3 on the charts…
…I was happy. I love all the fans and the love we get—but I think we deserve it because we put in a lot of work on the record. Right now you have these ABC rappers out there selling a bunch of records and we are trying to bring real rap back to the game.
How do you approach writing?
We get the beats and go. We talk about whatever we are feeling. Whatever is going on that day. Like “Better Love” has that Luther Vandross sample—you ain’t going to talk about killing on that. You talk about the ladies and about what we are going through with them.
Does it bother you that some fans think you guys just came from no where?
When they get the album they should know we aren’t overnight success. If they are Roc-A-Fella fans then they know about us–some people are just finding out that we met Jay and Zane a year before we met Bennie Sigel.
What artists would you tell kids they need to check in order to get some hip-hop education?
Jay-Z of course, but Tupac, Biggie, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Kool G. Rap. I’m originally from Philly and I grew up on Schoolly D. He shot that “Parkside 5-2” video on my block. I grew up listening and watching him. He was the first gangster rapper; before N.W.A.
Have you always dreamed of this?
Yeah, I’ve been rapping since I was nine. I grew up in West Philly so we had the rappers. When I moved up to North Philly and met Chris they were surprised about how good I could rap. I grew up around Schoolly D., the Youngsters, Will Smith—I could walk to his crib from my house. Same high schools. Cool C., remember him?
Remember Glamorous Life? He’s doing time. My old-heads, that I grew up with, used to fight him. We’d go to the park and we’d see him. It’s like how the kids see me now, that’s how I’d see all of them.
It’s a lot different today?
I definitely see a difference now that I’m in the game. It’s much more business now. It probably was different back then. If it was hot it was hot. We had to put our career in our own hands and put out a mix-tape.
+ Charlie Craine