In the land of YMCMB, where Lil Wayne and Tyga’s albums are nowhere to be found, Nicki has managed to overcome internal label drama and drop her long-awaited third album, The Pinkprint. Her best and most personal solo project yet, The Pinkprint ably mixes the high and low, pop and street. To do so, Nicki reached out to a new set of producers. Alongside notable pop hitmakers like Dr. Luke are well-known rap staples Hit-Boy, Boi-1da, and Kane Beatz. But there's one name that stands out more than the rest: Yung Berg. The nearly forgotten Chicago rapper, who most recently popped up on VH1's Love & Hip Hop Hollywood, has three production credits on The Pinkprint.
Despite his renewed focus on producing and songwriting, Yung Berg and his work have been shadowed by a wave of controversy. He’s been called out for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend Masika Tucker, fired from Love & Hip Hop Hollywood, and accused of being inappropriate with a teenager by Ray J’s manager. “I just need to stay focused and not cut the music off for no type of bullshit that try to get in the way,” he says of all the allegations. “I look at all that shit as the devil.”
We spoke to Berg over the phone about meeting Nicki Minaj, working on The Pinkprint, and if this album is indeed the female Blueprint. We also talked about his experience on Love & Hip Hop Hollywood, his thoughts on getting fired, and why he feels he's the focus of so much hate.
Eric Diep is a writer living in New York. Follow him @E_Diep.
You started off as a rapper, but in 2009 switched the focus to producing and songwriting. Why did you make that transition?
I was already producing and writing my own songs that came out that were my rap songs for my album as well. I just really took a transition because it was the next step, the next level for me. I knew I had a lot of great music and that I wanted to work with a lot of different people. So while my career kind of shifted, the whole regime, the people that signed me at the label at Epic, they ended up being fired and moved to a different company. So at that point, I was like, “Man, it’s time for me to branch out on my own.” I was always good at finding talent and signing young producers and bringing kids to my stable because all my records were done in house. I just feel like this was the next step, especially with me writing and producing as well. I thought it’d be dope.
Do you ever think about going back to rapping?
I mean, I still rap. I write for several different people. Even on The Pinkprint, I produced three records, but I co-wrote the hooks on four as well. I still write raps. I still do that. I’m a songwriter first and a producer as well, but as far as me rocking a full-length project and something like that, I might do something in 2015.
Seems like you'd rather be behind the scenes.
It’s the vibe. I love being able to work with different artists and be able to get my ideas and visions out through another project.
What’s your relationship with Nicki like?
I was working at Atlantic, and I got this crazy beat one day. And I was like, “Man, I finna do something for Nicki Minaj. Watch.” I was telling my homies, and they was like,“Oh, word?” ’Cause I never met her or nothing like that on that level. I did a joint, and I named it “Nicki.” It was a crazy joint. It was a beat produced by Pop & Oak. I just did a crazy hook to it. Lo and behold, one day I was just hanging out and my guy Soundz, who is a producer as well. He did like “Foreign” for Trey Songz and a bunch of different records for Justin Bieber and stuff. And he was having a session with Jasmine V, and he was like, “Yeah, I’m up here. Why don’t you come up here and just vibe out with me? Smoke something. Let’s just create.”
So I came up to the studio, and then my publisher happened to be in the same studio with Nicki. He was saying, “Yeah, Yung Berg writes dope hooks and writes stuff. Maybe you guys should link up.” I’m sure she probably blew it off. “Yeah, whatever.” You know what I am saying?
I ended up sending my brother, who is one of my closest guys to me, his name is Doc. I sent him to her room. “Yo, go to tell her I got some heat for her.” We went over there and told her. Later that evening, while I was just waiting around, they was like, “Yeah, Nicki said come over.” So I went over there, and I played the exact joint that I named “Nicki” at Atlantic Records, and she went crazy for it. And that was the start of our whole relationship right there.
What songs did you do with her in the studio?
That night, we just hung out and I played a bunch of records. She just picked a bunch of ideas and beats that I had. She was like, “Yo, I’ma set it up for you to just come in and do some hooks for me.” I was like, “Alright, cool.” I came back and that’s when the relationship just started. And I just started working from there.
Based on what we heard on The Pinkprint, why does your sound fit with Nicki’s? Why do you two work so well together?
I think me just being around, I was actually around. We just kinda got close during the process of recording [The Pinkprint]. She kinda just brought me in and allowed me to [work]. Once I did the first one, I think it was Memorial Day weekend; she went to hold some parties in Vegas. She was like, “Yo, do what you gotta do. You can go into the studio. I’ma set it up for you to go in and work for me.”
So I went in, and we did a bunch of records. I called Jeremih to the studio, and me and Jeremih did a bunch of records during the course of that day. And “Want Some More” ended up being one of the records that we did. I knew it was crazy. I was like, “Yo, this is nuts. I know she’s gonna like this.” When she ended up getting back in town, while I’m there in the studio, I am texting her and telling her I made something hot. She heard it, and she flipped out over it. That was actually the first song I heard her vocals over anything I did.
It’s crazy how that came together because Metro Boomin is one of my guys. Like, I met Metro in Atlanta and I was really starting to get my songwriting and producing on or whatever. He was just like, “Yo, I rock with you. I fuck with you. Let’s do stuff.” So Metro sent me a pack of beats. That was in the beats or whatever. I went in, and I switched some things around, and I formatted the stuff. I knew she was gonna like it. So she came back in town, and she heard it. And that was the first one that she cut of anything that I did. At that point, I’m building a real rapport with this woman. In my mind, once she liked the first one, I was like, “Yo, I’m finna try—like I got an opportunity right here. So I really just want to go in and make the best.”
When did the final product come?
Metro and Zay were cooking up together I think in Atlanta. They ended up sending me a rough idea. I came back and went in, and I crafted the top line. When I really do records, I go in and my tag is the “OOHH!” that’s on the song. Like, all my songs have whether it’s Tamar Braxton, whether it’s all my releases. “Double Cup.” All the stuff. I went in, and I wrote the top line with Jeremih, and I dropped out certain points of the beat. I restructured the beat, and I reached out to Metro like, “Yo, this is crazy. Send me the files.” And I went in with me and Juice, who is Nicki’s engineer, and I just restructured a bunch of different things. By the time she got back to the studio, pretty much the final product of the beat was there. She took the record and wrote it on her own time. And I came back to the studio, and she played it for me, and I was blown away. The verses on that shit are incredible.
You did “Buy a Heart” too, which sounds like it’s made for the clubs. Was it your idea to get Meek on a track like that?
“Buy a Heart” is kind of a different situation because I gave that idea to Meek. I sent Meek the track. He ended up buying the record. This was before he got to sit down or whatever. He ended up doing the record. So I don’t really have too much involvement with “Buy a Heart” at all. It was just a beat that I came up with with my partner Arch tha Boss. Me and Arch have had a lot of success. We did a lot of things together. We did “Snapbacks & Tattoos.” He’s like one of my closest guys I work with. I just sent the beat to Meek, and it just transitioned. That one was kind of like, man, a lucky one. I would hate to say that, but I didn’t even know. I didn’t even work on it. It just happened. I was just excited to be a part of that. And I hear it now; I’m just like it is definitely a big record. I feel like it’s a big single, like it should be crazy.
Originally, “Shanghai” was a song that had you as the producer, but now it says Chinza/Fly. Did you get miscredited?
Nah, I didn’t produce “Shanghai.” I co-wrote the hook with Nicki on “Shanghai.” When you hear [sings], “Roll up on ya,” that’s actually me saying it. But I just co-wrote the hook with Nicki. That was a track that she had, that she thought was really dope. She was like, “Yo, Berg. See if you rock with this.” This was one of the beats up on the list that she left with me that evening. I just went in on it. And that one was pretty quick too. I’m from Chicago, and it felt kind of drill-ish. It had this Chicago kind of feel to it, so I just approached it as if I was doing the record on some straight Chicago. Like, what would I do? What would I sound like if I was going to do this record from the Chicago standpoint? And that’s really where I came from with it. And she took it and she loved it. She did everything else.
Her flow was almost the same as what she did on “Chi-Raq.”
It’s real hard. She was like, “Yo, this is one of the hardest records on my joint.” I was like, “Yeah, I feel it,” because the beat, you know what I am saying? How she talkin’, it’s just crazy. I haven’t heard her anything like that since “Chi-Raq.”
Nicki stated earlier this year that her album is “the female Blueprint.” When you spoke to Rap-Up, you said the same thing. Do you agree with her?
This is what I think about it. The Blueprint, I’m not saying like the sound because The Blueprint had a lot of soul samples and it just did that. I was saying the impact The Blueprint had. You know what I am saying? The Blueprint was a super, classic, go-down-in-history album. I can’t speak for her, but that was just my opinion on the situation because I thought The Blueprint changed my life. When I heard it, it was like, “This changed my life.” And The Pinkprint has now changed my life, so that’s just what it is.
I don’t have no skeletons in the closet because you can Google Yung Berg. Everything is on the Internet.
The Love & Hip Hop Hollywood reunion happened recently. How did you feel about your experience on the show?
It was turned up. It was crazy. I’d figured that people don’t understand that we were taping the show like all year. When the first scene came on and it’s like the first episode and you see me working with this person and that person. People were like, “Yo, you’re bullshitting.” My Twitter, they are all on there like, “You’re lying.” I was actually in the studio with those people while it was going. I’m just recording, and this was a long, built-up process. People just express themselves the way they wanted to. I went in with intentions to really be on some calm and cool shit, but then everybody else came out guns blazing, so I felt it was good TV. [Laughs.]
Do you think the show portrays black men and women in a negative light?
Not really. Yo, I’ma keep it 100 with you. It’s like reality shows are like Instagram but in a wrong way. You know how on Instagram you see how the video and it’s like 15 seconds or whatever? You don’t show the guy waiting in the club for two hours, and you don’t show him at his table waiting for the waitress. And going through credit cards and peacin’ up on bills or whatever. The only moment you get is when the bottles come out for that 15 seconds and he look like the man. You know what I am saying? You able to edit that up.
With this reality show, they doing the editing. You give them something they like then, hey, it is what it is. I’m just me. I went into it with all intentions because I’ve been through so many things and trials and tribulations and slander. I built up so much tough skin. I’m so resilient to everything that’s going on. My story is to show people that no matter what people say about you or what is going on, as long as you work hard and make good records, you are gonna cut through. I don’t care what nobody think about me because I’m already on another level. I’ve already built for this. I don’t have no skeletons in the closet because you can Google Yung Berg. Everything is on the Internet. It’s like, “Whatever.”
So I did it, and my main goal was to make a record with somebody on the show. No disrespect to the other shows or whatever, but I just felt that nobody really made a hit record that popped off of that. So my goal was to make a record, and I made the record with Teairra [Mari] and shit. The shit [is] top five on iTunes. Independent. [The song] is getting a lot of different interests on it. My mission is to accomplish on that level. I just wanted to show people that I could do shit for real.
Why do you think you got fired?
I can’t really talk about that too in-depth, you know what I am saying? It’s really a whole deeper situation. At the end of the day, as far as that whole thing, I don’t have any hard feelings towards VH1 or Mona and me. Or Mona and them and the staff. I love Susan. I love Stephanie. I love all of them. If it’s meant for me to be back on the show and that’s what is in my cards, and that’s what is gonna happen. And if not, I am just gonna continue to keep doing what my real job is and that’s make hit records for the people, which I’ve done.
What really happened with you and your girl?
I’m gonna address those rumors and all that other stuff at an appropriate time. Right now, I just want to keep it on that. I can’t really talk about that at all.
You've dealt with another controversy lately with the accusations from Ray J's manager [of sexually inappropriate conduct with a teenage boy]. You responded to it on Twitter with “the best thing ya'll could come up with is that I'm gay miss me wit that bullshit!!! I almost cut the music off for this shit!” Why do you think you were targeted like that?
I can’t control people for being like that. I just think that people see something different in me. They don’t understand how I keep being so blessed. It’s really just God and hard work and dedication. People see it and they wonder why I’m getting these opportunities. Or why I’m working with this person. Or why I’m doing that. You know, I can’t control nobody else’s actions but myself at the end of the day. I just need to stay focused and not cut the music off for no type of bullshit that try to get in the way. I look at all that shit as the devil. I’m really on a focused path.