St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn was full of good vibes and a spirit of musical collaboration on Nov. 10, as two pairs of unique talents — Lil Yachty and Tierra Whack, and Jon Batiste and Gucci Mane — took the stage for Rolling Stone’s first-ever Musicians on Musicians live event. There was laughter, honesty, and even a couple surprise performances, including a haunting solo-piano version of a Gucci Mane hit.
St Ann’s was decked out with understated elegance — multiple bars, DJ Ro Wyldeflower spinning in the lobby, and blown-up photos of the artists in the 2023 print edition of Musicians on Musicians: Cover stars Snoop Dogg with Latto, plus Victoria Monét with Kelly Rowland, Grimes with Aespa, Becky G with Thalía, Lindsey Buckingham with Omar Apollo, and Big Boi with J.I.D. (The issue is on newsstands now.) Stars like Cash Cobain, Blu DeTiger, and Pharoahe Monch mingled backstage.
After an introduction by spoken-word artist J Ivy, who received a Grammy nomination earlier in the day and delivered some inspirational words that nodded to his performance on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s 2004 classic “Never Let Me Down,” and remarks from Rolling Stone CEO Gus Wenner, the first conversation began around 9 p.m. Tierra Whack and Lil Yachty are close friends and collaborators, and their good-humored bond was evident as soon as they took their seats beside Rolling Stone Supervising Producer Delisa Shannon — each of the rappers looking stylish in a jewelry store’s worth of sparkling accessories for Yachty and bright red hair for Tierra. They’re two artists who do things their own way, making unorthodox creative decisions that reflect their inner compass, and they’ve won each other’s respect along with much of the world’s.
“I’ve always been one of her biggest fans,” Yachty said when DJ Jahi Sundance cued up his and Tierra’s 2020 collab “T.D.” “She bodied this beat.”
Tierra seconded that feeling. “I have a lot of rapper friends, but he’s been there since day one,” she said, nodding to Yachty. “He’s the most genuine artist I know.”
Asked for a piece of music or culture that blew each of their minds, the two artists made revealing choices. Yachty, who swerved toward psychedelic rock on this year’s Let’s Start Here, chose Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. “The first time I heard that album, it altered my perspective on music in its entirety,” he said. “It came out when there was no Auto-Tune, no FruityLoops… Back then, all you had was your brain and your skills.”
Tierra had an old-school pick of her own: Busta Rhymes’ 1998 hit “Gimme Some More,” whose nimble lyrics and wacky visuals both inspired her. “That’s the reason I get so animated,” she said. “Because people feel that. You’ve got to be over the top. I give a lot of credit for how I perform to Busta Rhymes.”
Sparks began to fly when the two artists were asked for their thoughts on the current state of hip-hop. Tierra was feeling positive: “You can do whatever you want.” Yachty had a more skeptical take. “The place that hip-hop is right now is a terrible place,” he said flatly. “It’s a lot of imitation. It’s a lot of quick, low-risk music. People too safe now. I’d rather take the risk and take the L.”
That said, he and Tierra agreed on some of the present-day artists who they do admire, like Tyler, the Creator and J.I.D. (who also participated in this year’s Musicians on Musicians package). “I’ve never heard a bad verse from J.I.D, ever,” Yachty said. “I got a verse from J.I.D in my phone…” As he reached to pull one of several phones from his pocket, Tierra joked that she has all of Yachty’s numbers on a group text together for when she needs to get in touch with him.
Yachty had some more thoughts to get off his chest as the night went on. “By the way, I was snubbed on a Grammy nomination today,” he said. (The excelent Let’s Start Here received zero nominations, despite winning very positive reviews.) When the audience cheered, he frowned. “Why the fuck are you clapping? You’re supposed to boo.” He was half-joking, but he’s serious about wanting people to take his music seriously.
“I just don’t feel like anyone put a better album out,” he added later. “Like, sonically. Lyrically, maybe. But sonically?”
The mood lightened when Tierra Whack shared the music video for her new single “Chanel Pit,” in which she raps while going through a full car wash (minus the car). “I actually went through a car wash,” she noted. “I was so afraid. I had anxiety… and I did it! It’s not CGI, I’m telling you!”
It’s been a while since she’s released new music, which she explained by saying that innovative music videos like hers take time. But also: “I’m not just going to put out bullshit,” Tierra said. “It’s going to be stuff I’m really proud of.”
Yachty, who has a more free-flowing approach to releasing new music, recently set the internet on fire with “The Secret Recipe,” his awesome lyrical clinic of a single with J. Cole. There’s lots more where that came from, as he revealed by cuing up on his phone another new song featuring a horn sample and a Cole verse. “Me and Cole connected on a different level,” he said — namely, that people might not expect them to make music together. They’re “Boat and Cole, the odd couple,” as Cole put it on the verse Yachty played. It sounded great, and we can’t wait to hear what else they have in store.
Neither can Tierra. “I don’t ask for shit, but I want a piece of that,” she said. “Talk to Jermaine for me!”
Yachty made no promises there, but he did play one more new song where he and Tierra trade verses, with his low-key vibe and her energetic one making perfect sense. “You got balls,” Tierra told him before sharing a trailer for her new Hulu documentary Cypher to close out their half of the night. “So many men are afraid to get on a track with me.”
After a brief interlude, Rolling Stone Senior Writer Brian Hiatt took the stage to moderate the night’s next matchup of stars. Hiatt cited Batiste’s seven years on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, armload of Grammy nominations, and upcoming Netflix documentary, American Symphony. Gucci, who just released a new album, Breath of Fresh Air — his 16th, to go with 71 mixtapes — is, Hiatt said, “the trap god, one of the most influential and long-running rappers of this entire century, a key force in the creation of trap as we know it and in the establishment of Atlanta as the heart of hip-hop.”
Batiste and Gucci might seem an odd pairing at first, but common ground wasn’t hard to find, starting with their unique creative processes. Gucci expounded on his tendency to write rhymes without a finished beat: “I just think about it as doing me, and expressing what I really believe in. And if I really believe in it, then I’ll feel it. And then if I feel it, I feel like other people feel it.”
Batiste, who earlier in the day learned he’d been nominated for six Grammys, went in depth on the making of “Worship,” the track nominated for Record of the Year on his new album, World Music Radio. The intro, he said, involved figuring out “how to make something that felt like a spaceship landed. And then a robot growing a heart [to] become a human”; later parts of the song, he said, were meant to evoke a rainforest.
Gucci had some stories of his own to tell, including one about the making of his 2009 classic “Lemonade” — short version: he happened to be in Vegas at the same time as the producer Bangladesh, who was there to see an MMA fight; Bangladesh didn’t like the song at first — and how he came to fall asleep while shooting a scene for the film Spring Breakers: “I was full of that lean.” (Gucci later got sober.)
The pair mused on their Southern roots. Gucci grew up in Bessemer, Alabama, before moving to Atlanta at age nine, and summed up the musical influence of the region like this: “To me it’s the parents, it’s your grandparents, it’s your aunts and uncles. And it’s just passed down — like what they listen to. It’s all the musicians. It’s the church. You know what I’m saying?” Batiste, a Juilliard graduate who grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, said of his upbringing, “You don’t gotta go to music school to get that; you just live that. You got something to sing about.”
Another common point: Both artists believe you can make great music while happy. “Some of my best music, some of my most acclaimed albums, came out when I was going through real challenging parts of my life,” Gucci said. “Some of that music was expressin’ what I was going through. But do I want to go through those times again to please my fans? Hell no.”
Batiste wholeheartedly agreed: “I think you could make some great stuff and be super happy in your life. We got to stop that myth of the tortured artist.”
Both artists are Grammy nominees; Batiste won for Album of the Year in 2022, and got nominated in the same category Friday. “I think it’s the biggest blessing of recognition is when your peers respect what you do,” he said. “…But making music for awards is not something that I ever did, I wouldn’t recommend doing that.”
One secret to their success: Both are adventurous listeners, something that started in their childhoods. “I always wanted to be that kid in school who knew about stuff before the other kids did,” Gucci said. “So it was like, ‘Y’all listen to MC Hammer. I’m listening to Scarface.’” Batiste’s influences were all-over-the-map: A combination of video games, Avant-garde jazz musicians and New Orleans funk musicians and the Hot Boys and Master P and Mystikal.” (Batiste went on to express his admiration for the video game composers Yoko Shimomura and Nobuo Uematsu.)
Throughout, the pair fed off each other’s energy and ideas: “I feel like since we’ve been talking, I got beaucoup ideas already,” Batiste said.
After the conversation wrapped, Batiste took a seat at the grand piano on stage and played a six-minute solo version of “Lemonade,” a winding odyssey through the song’s signature melody that ended up somewhere cinematic and haunting.
The event was sponsored by iHeart Radio; Ray Ban invited influencers and musicians like Blu DeTiger, Aurora Anthony, and Dylan Aly while giving hand-picked gift bags to talent; and Tres Generaciones supplied tequila and speciality cocktails.
To cap off the night, Brooklyn rapper Lola Brooke took the stage to perform “You,” and “I AM LOLA,” a track from her latest album Dennis Daughter, which came out earlier in the day. Spitting for her home borough, Brooke closed out the night with fire.