Just ask Mano: before there was Action Bronson, there was Whatzisface, at least outside of Queens. “Me and Nigel Holt always said how nice he was as a rapper but his culinary skills took him to the next level,” the former Kanye tour DJ Instagrammed the other day.
Yes, the rapper-chef now going by his government, Brian Halladay, was once the best emcee I’d ever heard, but today he represents even more: what it really means to be a man. #WeHateYouFace!
In this exclusive interview, I talk to the Professional Dirtbag-turned-number-one dad about choosing the knife over the mic; why we have yet to see his masterful plates on Top Chef or Chopped; touring with The Cool Kids, recording with Harry Fraud, and causing ‘a riot’ with Lil B; what he misses most about music, and much more.
For the Face fans who’ve been feigning, HipHopGame has premiered the Best of Whatzisface mixtape — a 25-track collection I curated featuring favorite, new, and unreleased records, which immediately soared to number-six on Audiomack’s trending Hip Hop list. And for those who aren’t in on the food porn phenomenon, I’ve got your introduction and the only source you’ll ever need. Brian plates his dishes like he delivered his punchlines: with impeccable technique and colorful creativity. Plate Game Proper.
1. Was there one specific moment you can look back on at which point you decided you were done with rap music forever?
It was less wanting to be done and more my culinary career taking off a lot quicker than expected. Once that happened, I was spending 80 to 100 hours a week in the kitchen and just didn’t have any time.
2. Prior to that, how long had you maintained two careers, so to speak, as a chef and rapper/producer?
Roughly eight years on a professional level.
3. Was there a period during which you planned, or expected, to do music full time? How close did you come? And what were the main reasons you started to reconsider?
2006–2008 was the beginning, when I left Chicago and moved in with you and the homie Dave (congrats to him on just having his baby girl, Raven). We all tried to take it as serious as possible, putting together the Sub-Way mixtape. I think we had just started to figure some things out and were working day and night to try and make shit pop.
When Dave moved in with his girl, and then the crib got bed bugs, we all had to move out. That’s when I moved in with GuessWho? in Chinatown. At that point my old college roommate Chuck Inglish and his group The Cool Kids had just popped, my close friends and mentors (still my two favorite rappers and producer, to this day) BLESTeNATION were on the brink, and a ton of opportunities were presented to me.
My rhyme partner and best Friend GuessWho?, my longtime friend Harry Fraud and I decided to take all our money and build our own studio, The Sweat Shop, in Chinatown. It was an incredible moment in time. I met and recorded with a ton of great people, made a ton of money and was wilding on a whole other level. We had all the connects and a great location.
We started traveling and performing but found how short rap money is, especially when you have multiple people involved, as it gets chopped up quick. Plus, we were fucking maniacs. We would go to SXSW and go fucking nuts. During CMJ, one year, we started a fucking riot with Lil B and The Pack, just having ultra fun, blowing more money than a bunch of kids should have.
At the time, I had a management deal, was working on a publishing deal, and was traveling and performing, but I still had a job back in New York City and they were fed up with me calling out and taking off for weeks at a time, so they let me go. It was then that I decided, all right, I have no other choice.
I spent about six months jobless and going 24 hrs a day with music but it was extremely difficult to make enough money just to keep up the studio and the lifestyle. GuessWho? was taking on the brunt of the financial responsibility and it was a ton of pressure on him. He, Fraud and I were making great music and putting so much groundwork in but we weren’t humble enough and just blew through our reserves — and all of us were resorting to hustling heavy in so many directions that there was friction financially. Then the bomb went off.
One night at like 11, our building — where we lived and had our studio — was raided by the Feds. It turned out they had the largest bootlegging ring in New York City in the basement, and everyone in the building was kicked out on the spot.
Literally the next day we moved The Sweat Shop to DUMBO, and we moved to Bed Stuy. I was making $3000 a month off music but owed about $6000 a month in bills, and Guess’s pops (God rest his soul) had gotten sick, forcing Guess to take over his pops’s business. It was then that I decided to get back in the kitchen.