With no label and no overground radio backing him, Miami's Ice Billion Berg has rallied the support of close to 100,000 dedicated fans, mostly in the Gunshine State alone.
Thanks to high-caliber wordplay, slamming Magic City beats, a new studio, and a dedication to the grind, his latest mixtape, Damage Is Done, is smashing speakers from Florida City to Tallahassee.
Here's what Billion had to say about his Live House Life, smokin' loud, and putting his baby's mother on a track.
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Crossfade: How long were you working on this new mixtape, Damage Is Done?
Ice Billion Berg: Shiiit, I dropped my Rise to Power mixtape last May, and I been working on it since then. When I put that out, I kept going, kept recording material. It took me like a year and a half. I recorded like 150 songs and picked the best 20.
Where did you record it?
Keyholder Studios, my personal studio. Matter of fact, after Rise to Power, I bought me a studio. It's like 1600 square feet, and it's a big step up from the second room in my condo that I was recording everything else in all that time before that. Keyholder is up in North Miami Beach, by the Hit Factory and every other studio.
Who is Ronnie on the intro? Who is DJ on the Beat?
Ronnie, the singer, is actually Briscoe's little cousin. He's a young kid comin' up, an aspiring R&B artist. Real dope. DJ on the Beat is my new in-house producer for Live House. We're gonna be working a whole lot together. He's working on the album right now.
How do you choose producers and features for your music?
Actually, with this project, this is the first one where I've really been hands on with every artist and every producer that's on it. Before, I was dealing with everybody over the Internet, because I was doing it in the second room of my condo. This is the first one in the new studio, so I was hands on with everything with the production. Only one or two beats were sent through email. Everything else was created from scratch at Keyholder.
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I had a lot of people coming through and that played a big part in my music. It's one of the first projects I was able to invite so many people to the studio. I had some of the nicest, some of the meanest, some of the brokest, and some of the wealthiest people coming through. I had old friends from high school, people I lost touch with, all come through and give their opinions and reflect on the things I said and help add things I forgot. It was very personal.
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Damn, so you're taking control of every aspect of manufacturing now.
Every aspect. From the production to the artwork. I got video on the dude when he's painting the mixtape cover in the studio. It's an actual painting by Junkyard, this kid from Miramar. It's on a 24-inch-by-36-inch canvas.
There's a line on "Real Niggas Only," that goes something like "These niggas frauds/All they wanna do is send tweets/All they wanna do is IG/But me, when I got that bag from Cash Money, I bought a dunk and put that dough back in the streets."
Yeah, back in 2009, we signed a deal with Cash Money for the Dunk Ryders group off of "Fuck the Other Side." That Dunk I bought is my pearl Dunk that they got my picture published with.
You have a line about that "West Palm Dro is something serious"?
They don't know. The line is actually that West Pembroke is somethin' serious, but that could easily apply to West Palm too. There's a lot of good shit in South Florida, and getting better and better over the years. We started off smoking Kryp, the good shit was called Kryp. But then a lot of grow houses popped up and elevated our botany. We not Cali yet, but we got some good shit. Better than a lot of places in the South.
There are shoutouts to your friend Shod, about if he was still living. Who was he?
Shod. That's a reference to Rashod, a high-school friend of mine who passed in 2010. I knew him ever since the 9th grade. When I first started recording, he was one of the first dude's ever to recite my lyrics, to be bumpin' my shit, and really be ridin' round listenin' to my music. I dedicated the whole project to him. He's one of my first fans, so I always scream his name. He really took my music to other high schools and everything. Imma always ride for my boy as I go on with my career.
There's a line where you say, "Trick told me bring this here back."
Yeah, that whole flow is an ode to Trick. The whole song is actually like a salute. If you listen to a lot of old Trick, really listen to his music thoroughly, you'll pick up that it's the same flow, just to show respect to that old Dade County flow, that mind state of a 1999 or 2000 Trick Daddy song.
There's a couple of references on Damage Is Done to the radio. What do you have to say about that?
Yeah, "Tell 99 Jamz I won't attempt to pay 'em/My fans carrying this shit, who really gives a damn." That's from the track "Never Stopping." That song, I was in a real angry mindstate. I was fed up. It was like I made up my mind that nobody gonna give me shit. I have to get it all from the muscle, from the grind, every dime, from my supporters and the fans. Jamz, I got no budget for them. I'm not paying one fuckin' penny, and if they don't like it, and if it's up to me to pay them and spend money on my own hometown station, then I guess I'll never hear it on the radio. I feel like they'd be doin' themselves a favor to play my music. Then people would turn up instead of turning over to 103.5 The Beat.
And that's why I say I won't pay 'em. I wouldn't mind if they broke at least one of my songs. I wouldn't mind doing business with them. But they don't support local music at all. Any local from Miami that pays them is a fool.
The streets respect me. The people respect me. I'm not talking about one spin every other month on a mix show. People wanna hear my hits. I'm not asking no favor for myself. I'm asking do hometeam a favor by telling them motherfuckers to really play some of my stuff that the Miami natives want to hear.
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Where'd that quotable come from that says, "Billion Berg on the track rock rockin' it"?
That's some old-school Uncle Al shit, it probably even came before him. It's defintely some Uncle Al shit, but it's really some old Miami shit. The DJ used to say somethin' like, "Brown Sub rock rockin' it, Carol City rock rockin' it, Little Haiti rock rock rock rockin' it." So I said it like that.
What's the story on that "Live House Party"? What was going on when you recorded it?
That was really just vibin' in the studio. Juicy, my baby mama was there with us in the shit, drunk, smokin' and vibin' with about nine or ten people. I look over and she bobbin' her head, so I bet her to write a verse and she did it just like that so I left it on there. That's the freedom I got being an independent artist. If I wanna put her on the verse, I can do that. If I wanna make a verse 64 bars, I can do that. If I wanna let the beat play two or three minutes, or go with that old 2008 unstructured ugly flow, I can do that. I'm a self-made boss. And that was a real Live House party.
You got a line talking about the "Natives on the res blow an ounze."
Everybody know that's what they do out there. They chief. I'm cool with a couple Miccosukee people. I'm really cool with a couple Seminoles. I got homies out there. They part of this too. They really was here before everybody.
You got a reference about "graduating from the parking-lot car sex, and people you shot at."
Yeah, when you lookin' over your shoulder knowin' that people wouldn't mind having you as a trophy on they shelf. You gotta move up. You gotta find a room for that now. Can't be gettin' caught with your pants down.
There's a line in one of the songs about being down $60,000.
If you go back through my blogs, everything that I quote in my raps could be researched and looked up. No contradictions. Read between the lines of my music. The losses I elaborated on over the last four or five years are the pieces to the puzzle. It's just like every hustler taking losses. I was takin' losses on business. I wasn't educated. I was overpaying for a lot of stuff. I put together a couple of shows that didn't turn out too good. But I heard Jay Z talk about that too. And if Jay Z took a couple losses, who is Iceberg not to.
There's a mention of people biting your style or stealing your swag, how do you overcome that?
By the time they ride this wave, I'm on a different one. I'm definitely evolving. I have so much music recorded, by the time a nigga really sit down and dissect it, it's a year old. I'm already working on what I'm going to put out next year. So by the time they copy me, they're two years behind. I'm already on a bigger, higher, farther wave. You copying old Billion. And that's the luxury of being able to work so much and have so much stored away. I'm already working on my album.
What can you say about working with Ballgreezy?
Me and my nigga Greezy had like five songs we recorded. He came to the studio, we got drunk and made music. Whenever we see each other it usually be at Take One. He a Take One frequent. I'm a Take One frequent. So that's our vibe, and it always been our vibe. He do his harmonizing. I do my lil' shit. And we always make that Miami classic shit. That record really sound like Miami. The drums is Miami. That's the Miami sound right there.
And with the song "Zombie," same shit. My boy Chad came through. Lil Dred came through. Sam Sneak came through. And we recorded like three or four songs. But that "Zombie," I had to put in a headlock and confiscate it for my mixtape 'cause it's so flame. I'm trying to expand to New York and L.A. and Texas and Atlanta, but I always gotta have that Dade County sound in my music.
If Mustard and YG can bring their culture worldwide, if Chief Keef can do it, why not Miami? I just wanna capture that Miami sound for everybody.
When you going on tour?
I want it to be after the album come out. I want to wait till the perfect time. I want my first impression on the outside world to be the best. I got a lot of ways to go. I still gotta capture more fans and more notoriety. It's more groundwork. As an independent, it's a long and rough journey, and I know that, but I'm ready for it.
What did you think of the documentary The Field and it not going down south?
I don't know, when I talked to the editors, I said they supposed to incorporate the Hispanic and the down-south community from Florida City to Goulds and Perrine. But they said they were trying to portray a certain storyline that didn't allow it touch on every part. It was cool for the most part. They did attempt to show the city in a good light. They shed light on Miami and the main players in the music scene that people not so used to seeing. A lot of people on Worldstar really thought that South Beach is Miami. And it didn't help when Lebron said he was gonna bring his talents there.
Wasup with Live House?
Oh, man, we got a whole lot of merch coming. A heapload. And right now we aligning our music and visuals so that everything make sense. Every move is a chess move, well planned and thought out. Shoutout Kameo Films workin' with us. The videos gonna be more in depth. Matthew Hoyos workin' with us too. We finna make everything count. Everything that came before this was just practice. Not to discredit it, but it was just practice. It's gonna be times ten, and you can hear that in the music.
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Billionberg.com and LiveHouseLife.com. Definitely support that. It's a good motivation for me to keep the music coming. The more shirts we move, the more my mind stays clear to focus on the music. We need the people's support in coppin' the shirts to keep it all moving.
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