Fivio Foreign Knew He Had to Get Better, So He Did While Elevating Brooklyn Drill and Developing a Kanye West Friendship Along the Way
Can't Tell Me Nothing
Fivio Foreign hit a few bumps on the road to riches and diamond rings, but he’s learned some valuable life lessons along the way. Now, he’s the face of New York City drill music and he’s more focused than ever.
Interview: Bianca Torres
Images: Shareif Ziyadat
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Brooklyn-bred rapper Fivio Foreign is currently holding the torch for drill rap in the Big Apple. In 2019, his hit single, “Big Drip,” and his first EP, Pain and Love, put him on rap’s radar. His catchphrases “Bow!,” “Movie,” “Aye, aye” and “Viral” only added to his popularity on social media. In 2020, Fivi dropped his mixtape, 800 B.C. He also earned a spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for features on Drake’s “Demons” and Lil Tjay’s “Zoo York.”
Since then, Fivi, born Maxie Lee Ryles III, continued to shine, but it’s been quite a bumpy road along the way. In 2020, he was arrested on a simple assault charge after allegedly arguing with his girlfriend in his New Jersey home, which led to four days in jail. They both denied any assault occurred and the case is ongoing. Then, in April of 2021, Fivio was hit with charges of possession of weapons for unlawful purposes, resisting arrest-eluding officer, possession of a defaced firearm, unlawful possession of weapons without a permit and fugitive from justice after being caught with a loaded gun and running from police in Fort Lee, N.J. He spent nearly three months in jail and that case is also ongoing.
The legal woes gave Fivio some setbacks, but the New York rhymer was still focused on pushing forward. Around that time, a friendship with Kanye West began to blossom, which resulted in Fivio’s verse on Ye’s “Off the Grid.” The song, which appeared on Kanye’s Donda album, debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the next few months, Fivi continued dropping his own group of loosies and jumped on a bunch of features for other artists such as Nas, French Montana and, most recently, Nicki Minaj. Fivi started 2022 as a Grammy-nominated artist for his work on Kanye’s Donda album.
The bond with Ye also resulted in Fivio’s well-received single “City of Gods” with the controversial superstar and Alicia Keys, which arrived this past February. The track was a preview of what was to come on Fivi’s debut album, B.I.B.L.E., out now. While he was working on the LP, the rhymer also mourned the loss of his best friend, fellow rapper Tdott Woo, who was shot and killed in Brooklyn this past February. That same month, New York City’s Mayor Adams threatened to ban drill music videos for their connection to violence. Several other upcoming drill artists were killed in New York right before Mayor Adams’ statements. Trying to find a solution, the mayor met with a few drill rappers, including Fivio and rising artist B-Lovee, to create an open dialogue.
Fivio’s growth is evident. On a sunny, breezy February afternoon in New York City, he sits back at the Columbia Records office, his label home, donning all-black Yves Saint Laurent sunglasses, Rick Owens kicks, an Amiri skully and a black, oversized Balenciaga bubble coat, T-shirt and belt. His drip is “really, really influenced by Ye.”
XXL chops it up with Fivi about his evolution, the loss of his best friend, meeting with Mayor Adams, his friendship with Ye and the new album.
XXL: Your album, B.I.B.L.E., took you two years to drop. Why release it now?
Fivio Foreign: I seen a lot of people complain about they label situations. I never complained about my label situation. I didn’t drop my album in two-and-a-half years, right? I just made myself the best. I thought to myself, So, if they not letting me drop, maybe I need to get better. Maybe I should turn up more. Maybe I should force the hand. So, I started going harder. I didn’t go to sleep. I worked. I can’t drop an album? Then I need a studio. I need to make more songs. I need to do this feature. I need to look good. I need to take this picture. I need to do freestyles. I need to do whatever to get that attention. And, I grabbed that attention.
"I thought to myself, So, if they not letting me drop, maybe I need to get better. Maybe I should turn up more. Maybe I should force the hand. So, I started going harder."
What do you hope to achieve after dropping B.I.B.L.E.?
I wanna show them that the drill is not just that one sound. It’s all type of drill. It’s reggae drill. It’s pop drill. I got songs with 24kGldn. I got songs with [The] Kid Laroi. It’s a big genre and it’s bigger than people think.
How did the decision for Kanye to executive produce the album come about?
Oh, Kanye decided that. With Kanye, you don’t pay Kanye for a verse. We have a good relationship, so the things that he does, nobody can make him do it. Nobody can pay him to do it. This is not a business. This is more of a friendship. Even when I first spoke to him on the phone, he was like, “I want you to do this song, but I don’t like to just do features. I like to gain a relationship.” So, me and him grew this dope relationship where he understand my vision and I understand his vision.
You’ve been hanging out a lot with Kanye. How did you two first make a connection?
I feel like he’s the biggest person I’ve met so far. He’s one of the most thoughtful, down-to-earth, normal people that I met so far.
Kanye and normal don’t seem like they go in the same sentence.
The perspective that people got on him, it’s not correct. Being around him as a person is more like, he like to laugh at jokes. He like to go out to eat. He get mad at shit a normal person get mad at. I just feel like ’cause he’s such a big person it be outta context. I just feel like he super dope. One of the best people I’ve met.
He put me onto game. Like, me and The Game was having a conversation. He was like, “Yo, people don’t do shit like this for niggas like us.” They don’t have no reason to. Unless they really trying to get back in the game or come up. I just don’t feel like [Kanye] came up off me. I gained the most outta being around him. And, he didn’t even look at it like that. He just a down-to-earth person and I really appreciate him a lot.
"The perspective that people got on Kanye West, it’s not correct. Being around him as a person is more like, he like to laugh at jokes. He like to go out to eat. He get mad at shit a normal person get mad at. I just feel like ’cause he’s such a big person it be outta context. I just feel like he super dope. One of the best people I’ve met."
What was it like the first time you met him?
First time I met him, we met over the phone. He saw one of my freestyles. He saw the Funk Flex freestyle. He was like, “Yo, that’s crazy. That shit is dope. What you talking about in that freestyle is dope.” ’Cause, that’s what Donda, the first one, was based off like, God, church. I said a line that goes, “I got a question for the reverend/If you kill a killa do you go to heaven?” He was like, “Yo, that’s the type of questions we gotta...” He like, “Yo, come.” Flew me out, private jet to Atlanta. I did the whole stadium thing. Was with him the whole time and worked on it. It was crazy.
You’ve been grinding a lot, but you have also been dealing with two legal situations and got arrested. When you were sitting in a jail cell last year, did you think you’d one day be on a Kanye album?
No, I didn’t think I was gonna be on his album. But, I did give myself every energy and drive to say, “I’m different now.” I grew up. My situation happened so fast. I went viral, you could say, overnight. So, to make the transition from this type of person to now, I’m forced to be this type of person now. There’s no more who I was. It just made me realize, Yeah, I’m buggin’. Let’s boss up. Let’s grow up now. Let’s focus. It made me get 100 percent focused.
Unfortunately, you lost a best friend recently, Tdott Woo. When fans see you mourn, it’s celebratory, in a positive way and you always have a smile on your face.
So, we don’t like to show pain. We don’t like to show weakness. We gon’ use this as a drive. We gon’ use this as a thing to push us further and farther just like when my moms died, you know what I’m saying? We use that, too, Aight, she would want us to win.
That’s my brother, my best friend, to the point where he wanted the best for me. I can honestly say that he was one of the people in my life that really, genuinely, fuck the fame, he wanted me to... I feel like I lost one valuable person that really, genuinely cared about me. And it just make you a little stronger.
Did that influence your reason for talking with New York City’s new mayor?
It was a part of it. It was just like, the whole [drill] music and the danger behind the music and I feel like the actual point of it is, it’s targeting. ’Cause they say, “The music is adding to the violence. The music is the reason why this is happening.” I try to explain to them, “No. The people that’s doing music are the ones that’s targeted by your enemies. The police target those people.” I feel like instead of saying those people are the problem, let’s go deeper into this situation. What’s really the problem? Why are they getting killed?
"’Cause they say, 'The music is adding to the violence. The music is the reason why this is happening.' I try to explain to them, 'No. The people that’s doing music are the ones that’s targeted by your enemies. The police target those people.'"
What did you think when Mayor Adams first reached out to you?
Well, I knew him when he was the Brooklyn borough president before he was the mayor. I was just more like, I feel like you suppose to speak. If you feel like drill rappers is the problem and you know me, which is the top drill rapper in New York, we have to speak. I’m here for the city. I’m a big influence to the city. You’re in charge of the city, you basically the president of New York, right? So, I feel like we should come together. ’Cause they like, “Yo, how can you stop the violence?” I said, “Listen if I knew how to stop the violence, my best friend wouldn’t be dead right now. I wouldn’t be burying my best friend.” So, it’s like, I’m here to work together. Let’s figure something out together.
So, you feel like drill rap was targeted?
I do. I feel like people target rappers, period. And people in those high positions. ’Cause, this is an image we sell. I go home to my house. When I take off my clothes, I got my daughter, my kids, girlfriend running around. I went to the aquarium yesterday. So, it’s like, you can’t tell me somebody in my position feel like violence is the way. It’s more so we on defense.
Like my friend Tdott. He got locked up a couple of months before he got shot. He got locked up for a gun. Got caught with a gun, went to jail. Got caught without a gun, died. So, I tell them, “What’s really the problem?”
What are some of the new rappers you are listening to right now?
I’m getting in tune with Juice Wrld’s album. I watched the documentary, I fuck with him. XXXTentacion. A lot of rappers that passed away, I’m starting to get interested in.
Because I feel like you don’t really know somebody until they finish they journey. You could like somebody, but people change every day. People that died, they finished they journey. Towards the end of their journey, you might see who they really are. You become who you really are. Who you are is gonna be looked at forever. And, I look at they stories, especially XXX.
He has a documentary coming out on Hulu. I watched it. I’m real close with Cleo, his mother. So, we was all at the crib and she has a movie theater in the crib. She put on the documentary. And it’s a lot of substance, nah mean? They painting this image. It shows everything. You get to see towards the end of his life, how much he changed. How sorry he felt. You could never take back the things you did, but I feel like a person who changed who they was is better than a person who is already like that.
It’s growth, right?
It’s growth. It’s harder to become something better. I just respect it a lot.
Read the cover story with Playboi Carti and check out the other interviews in the magazine with Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J, Latto, DaBaby, Hit-Boy, Denzel Curry, Joey Bada$$, RZA, Big K.R.I.T., Saba, Morray, Nardo Wick, Kali, Sleepy Hallow, SSGKobe, ATL Jacob, Pink Sweat$, Saucy Santana, Jason Lee, Angie Randisi and Colby Turner in the new issue of XXL magazine, which is on newsstands now and in XXL's online shop.