Head bopping, body swaying to the groove, Twista can’t resist chiming in with his recorded voice on a verse pumping out of a computer’s speakers. “They don’t want to recognize me as the mayor in the Midwest,” he proclaims in his trademark blazing fast delivery. “I’m like for real! Controversy in the middle, I guess I’m like Shaquille.” He’s holding forth in his studio, which is tucked away in the last place you’d imagine a rapper to be: an industrial park surrounded by farmland in south suburban Frankfort. Holed up with him is B-Hype, his onstage cheerleader, who’s tall and lean, with a shaved head. “We came here to get away from trouble,” says Twista, 32, who nonetheless keeps homes in Chicago.
“American Gangsta,” the song that features Twista’s good-natured boast, comes from his new record, Category F5. Due out in June, it’s the first full-fledged release on the multiplatinum-selling rapper’s own label, Get Money Gang Entertainment. With such colorful local names as Skooda Chose, Mello Da Guddaman, and Liffy Stokes, Get Money Gang follows in the tradition of successful rappers championing their hometown talent, but Twista has his sights set beyond the city limits. “I look at it as bridging the gap between the whole Midwest and the music industry,” says the rapper, a native of Chicago’s notoriously violent K-Town neighborhood. “Artists from the Midwest have to travel a long way to be part of [the New York–based hip-hop label] Def Jam.”
Twista collaborated with his fellow Chicagoans Kanye West and R. Kelly on F5. In addition, a large crew of producers and guest emcees including Akon and Busta Rhymes pitch in on various tracks. The elaborate effort reflects the high stakes for Twista and Get Money Gang after declining sales of his last album led to his departure from his previous label. (His current venture has the backing of a heavyweight music label, Capitol Records.) For Twista, though, the challenge is matched by his excitement in having full control over his music and career. “It’s a fresh start,” he says.
GO: Twista plays the HOUSE OF BLUES on June 15th. For more information, houseofblues.com.
Photograph: Armen Djerrahain