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Armani Caesar is on her way to become one of the greatest rappers to ever do it. Hailing from Buffalo, New York and growing up immersed in hip hop culture, the rising star arrives with hard-hitting rhymes, aggressive punchlines, gritty lyricism, undeniable beauty, and one of the kindest spirits. As the first lady of Griselda Records, she proves she can hang with the big dawgs: Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher, and Conway The Machine.
This year, Armani has unleashed her standout single “Simply Done” featuring Benny The Butcher, as she holds fans over until the release of her highly anticipated project titled The Liz. This follows her debut verse with Westside Gunn on “Lil Cease,” and she wants all the smoke!
REVOLT caught up with the MC to discuss her upbringing in Buffalo, being in Griselda Records, recording with Benny The Butcher, studio essentials, and more. Peep the convo below.
Being from Buffalo, New York, who were you listening to growing up?
Everybody. My mom was big on Kim, Eve, Biggie. She loved Biggie and Tupac. I got into middle school and Dipset was running s**t up there. It was the mixtape era with Wayne, Styles P, D-Block, all them. Jay had Mac (Beanie Siegel), Memphis Bleek. I loved music, I soaked up everything. I was a huge Spice Girls fan as a kid, I had an eclectic type. My mom would buy me CDs, she wasn’t afraid to buy the raunchy ones. Now that I think about it, I got Trina’s first CD for Christmas. I was super young because my uncle was pissed off like, “She doesn’t need this!” But, I love Trina.
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
I wrote my first rap to either the Dipset beat or The Clipse “Grindin’” beat. They used to do the infamous “Grindin’” beat on the lunch table. Nothing but dudes... At first, I’d watch all the time and be shook. “I could write better than that guy. That’s wack.” I’d go record back when my mom had the old computer with a voice recorder. I’d hook a mic up and rap over instrumentals, burn them out on a CD. I remember the first time I brought my CD to class, I was letting people listen to it. They’re like, “Oh s**t, this s**t is nice.” I thought, “I’ma hop in the cypher next time.” It was on from there.
Someone told me you’re Westside Gunn’s passion project. When did he discover you?
That’s nice. I met West and all of them 10 years ago at Buff City Records studio in Buffalo where everybody recorded at. Even people from Rochester and all the outskirts would come. They had a flyer out for discounted studio time, I went in there to go see. I was waiting for the owner Shay to come out the back. Benny was in the studio writing to this song.
Shay had me waiting for a little minute, I sat there and started writing to the song. Somebody heard me spitting over it, he said, “Let me hear it.” I spit it for him, he brought Benny over there like, “Yo, listen to her, she’s dope.” Spit it for him, Benny’s like, “No, that’s fire.” The owner already had Benny, Conway, and three other dudes in a group. They already had a first lady. They ended up doing away with her, I was the new first lady of Buff City. In two weeks, we ended up doing two mixtapes.
How long was this?
It had to be 2010. I dropped a mixtape called Bath and Body Work. Listen, it’s ratchet as could possibly be. I was spitting that s**t, but it was very much raunchy.
How did “Simply Done” with Benny The Butcher come about?
“Simply Done” came when I was at The Five in Atlanta, Westside’s studio. I did my verse, Benny happened to be in the studio. Everything’s real organic. At the time, I didn’t even know it was a DJ Premier beat. I rapped on it and once I was done, West said, “Oh yeah, I’ma send this back to Primo so he could do the scratches.” I’m thinking, “Oh my God, let me do my verse over!” He’s like, “Nah nah nah, it’s good.”
The energy in that studio is so… I can’t describe it. It’s a feeling of that real New York hip hop. It’s not a whole lot of in and outs, you’re not doing a whole bunch of punches. You’re laying your s**t like you’re in a cypher, just spitting. Even with some of the imperfections, it fit. He put Benny on it, Benny did his verse right after mine. It was cool. Me and Benny got a couple joints actually: “Drill-A-Rama,” “Simply Done,” and another one with me, him, and Conway going to be on the Shady album. It’s West’s last album, so it’s all of us.
Do you feel any pressure being the first lady of Griselda Records?
At first I did, but now it’s no pressure. I dropped my debut verse for Flygod Is An Awesome God... With “Simply Done,” Primo’s stamping it. There was a little bit of doubt coming from the music prior to the music I’m doing now because I was unknown. They didn’t know me, I look like I rap different. You think you’re going to get different content from me. Surprise surprise, she really spits like a n**ga. She spits like a dude.
I also can put on and be sexy, be fly, be all of the things girls want to emulate and look up to. Being able to diversify myself, I never wanted to be a cookie cutter female rapper. They’re doing their thing, but I didn’t want to get put in that pool of every girl sounding the same. I wanted to make sure I put my stamp down. Armani’s sound is Armani sound, period.
What can we expect from your forthcoming project The Liz?
The Liz is witty, it’s hard. Still got a little bounce on it, definitely diverse. If you were to mix hardcore with the Marshall Mathers EP, it’s gritty like that. I got songs where I’m talking about killing my boyfriend (laughs). I got smooth songs. You’re getting the scoop because nobody knows about this, but I got a really sexy video coming out with somebody in the industry. It’s called “Palm Angels.”
It’s really an introduction because I recorded so much music over quarantine. This is the first project almost to shut people up and let them know A) we rapping, B) the songs are fire, and C) it’s a vibe. Something you could ride to — no skips. It’s not one of those where the first three songs are fire, then it goes downhill. Nah, my favorite project to date for sure.
The Liz is based on the fashion designer Liz Claiborne, right?
Yes. Isaac Pelayo did the cover. It has Liz Claiborne with the third eye. Super crazy artist, you know West is huge and heavy into the art. We’re giving you art, we’re giving you classic Liz Claiborne. She played Cleopatra, which is a play off Armani Caesar. It’s deeper than rap.
I see your look today, it’s fire. What’s your love for fashion?
I love fashion, thank you. I come from Buffalo, you don’t really see a lot of people really dressing because it’s a poor city. When I got a chance to actually get out and buy my designer, I always said, “When I get my bag right, like Nicki Minaj said, ‘I’ma pick my fruit out’. I’m really going to go crazy.” Hip hop and fashion go hand-in-hand. I started my clothing line, Armani’s Closet, which is all it-girl, fly fashion. Really trendy, everything I’d wear. Making sure I’m a trendsetter. Even with my braids, I always try to throw in something nobody’s worn or doing yet.
Three things you need in the studio?
Water, candy, and good vibes. I love fruities, the old Tootsie Rolls. Anything sour like Sour Patch Kids. Red Bull too because my hours in the studio, I stay in there until the sun comes up.