Ahead of festival, Icewear Vezzo trailblazes Detroit rap's movement

After a decade of success, Detroit rap legend Icewear Vezzo is gaining recognition nationwide as he prepares for his first performance at Movement.

Hernz Laguerre, Jr.
The Detroit News

This weekend marks Icewear Vezzo's first time performing at Movement, but the Detroit rapper is no newcomer to local audiences. The seasoned veteran of the city's hip-hop scene has been building his career for over a decade.

"It's still the same sound, what evolved was the understanding of the listeners outside of Detroit," says Vezzo. "The music is still the same, the sound is way bigger."

Icewear Vezzo gives his remarks on black empowerment, peaceful protesting and protecting the city during the rally, Monday, June 1, 2020.

That sound — raw, unapologetic Detroit street rap — will emanate from the festival's Waterfront stage at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, showing the growing prominence of Detroit hip-hop and the stake it has placed in the ground both locally and nationally.

Vezzo's Movement performance — part of the electronic music festival's return after being sidelined for two years by the COVID-19 pandemic — leads into Saturday's Waterfront stage main event, a headlining set by Atlanta rap heavyweight 2 Chainz. The festival, Saturday-Monday at Hart Plaza, will feature more than 100 performers, including James Murphy, Duck Sauce, Dom Dolla and more, and is expecting a crowd up to 25,000 people.  

"Vezzo is a great representation of Detroit's hip-hop community," says Chuck Flask, talent buyer for the Movement Festival. "The festival was created to celebrate Detroit's musical legacy and provide the very best talent that hails from or has influences from the city." 

Vezzo is part of a bigger conversation and growing respect and recognition of Detroit's hip-hop community. One of Detroit's most recognized rappers, Big Sean, had a mention on his latest album "Detroit 2" from the late Nipsey Hussle where, on the song "Deep Reversence," the latter stated, "I'ma tap in with all of Detroit." 

Hailing from Six Mile in Detroit, Vezzo, born Chivez Smith, saw his rap career begin to take off with the release of his debut album, "The Clarity," one of four projects he released in 2013 alone. Even though the east sider's notoriety was growing throughout Detroit, it wasn't until recently that he started achieving nationwide recognition. 

Last year, he was featured on an interview with "The Breakfast Club," the nationally syndicated radio show that features a variety of guests from across the pop culture landscape, where co-host Angela Yee admitted it was shocking that Vezzo hadn't been on the the show previously. "You've been a Detroit legend for a long time," the show's DJ Envy told him.  

Despite his steady rise to fame, Vezzo doesn't measure his success by the amount of people he reaches.

"I measure success by happiness. If you're happy, you're successful," says Vezzo, speaking backstage at the Fox Theatre in March after opening for Lil Durk. It's a mindset he acquired over the years after realizing he was chasing the wrong things, such as money and material possessions, when he first started his rap career.  

According to Vezzo, this new mindset began after he went to prison. "When I got out of prison it went way up for me," says Vezzo, who was released in 2018 after serving 18 months on a weapons charge. "It wasn't necessarily music. It was what I was becoming and what I was representing. I learned to be a father, a man, a husband, and became me." 

This new outlook is one of the themes on his most recent album, September's "Rich Off Pints 2." On his song called "Hustle Hard," he speaks about the influence of his wife's grandfather, who helped align his focus on things that are important to him, such as his faith and family.

On the same song, which features Minnesota–born artist RMR, Vezzo experiments by infusing country influences in the song's production. This departure from his street rap sound is normal for Vezzo as he listens to many different genres, most notably rock 'n' roll.

"I listen to a lot of rock, and my favorite band is Queen," Vezzo says. "Freddie Mercury, just his whole uniqueness, the way he hears music, what we think we're hearing, he's hearing something totally different. That brotha right there is big motivation for me."

Vezzo also mentioned he draws inspiration from hip-hop mogul Master P, as well as Future, with whom Vezzo has recorded multiple collaborations, including "Tear the Club Up" and "Everyday," both off of "Rich Off Pints 2."

As Vezzo prepares for his Movement debut, he is focused on diversifying the projects that he's a part of by venturing into different businesses such as his snack brand, We Eatin!, with his own flavor called Vezzo Hotz, his vape brand, Vezzo Vapes, and even his own metaverse called Vezzoverse. Along with these projects he completes his album trilogy with the release of "Rich Off Pints 3" on June 16.

With his career and personal life hitting new strides, Vezzo is seizing his window of opportunity to reach further distances leading to Movement and beyond. 

"I'm just trying to do whatever I can. We ain't getting no younger," he says. "This is the year I kick the door in."

Movement Festival 

Saturday-Monday

Hart Plaza

Tickets $249 for 3-day pass, $119 daily

More information: www.movementfestival.com

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