So how’ve you changed for this project, other than your production? How are you trying to improve?
I’m forcing myself to write more songs, and be careful with my construction. I need songs to really make sense inside of themselves, feelme? I opened my eyes to be more open as a creator. Like I’ve always taken the whole process, but just gettin the complete package with my professionalism and the relationships I develop for music. A lot of times, these so-called tastemakers will try to get your music up in specific places. Like I used to care a lot about what blogs were sayin’ about me. But that doesn’t help me musically, so I can really focus on developing my skill in my own way. I wanna keep people interested from every single aspect of the creative process.
We’ve also talked about how you feel a split between the (general) regional sounds from Atlanta and 90s-era rap (generically). Is that still true, and if so, how does that play out in your sounds?
With the way music is going right now, you’ve always got that standard Atlanta sound. I feel like a lot of artists have been trying to dip into that sound. But specifically for me, “98 Rockafella” totally has the New York nostalgia, Just Blaze typa sound. But what I’m talkin’ about is relatable to a lot of people, and for me, that’s the connection right there. The sound isn’t the only thing that needs to carry both areas [New York and Atlanta]. The content needs to count too. People have it all misconstrued… like at the end of the day, Atanta is on the top right now. But that doesn’t mean that a sound can’t survive in a town where that type of music isn’t poppin. And right now, to be honest, the whole Atlanta sound is some hyphy soundin shit. A lot of Southern shit is getting played, but it’s because people are fuckin with it, they’re adapting it. If it ain’t some turn up, it’s some hyphy shit. The industry standard is hyphy turnup. “98 Rockafella” is something you gotta feel off top, even if you only listen to the radio down here.
On Kidnapped, are you gonna mix live instruments in like you did on the last tape?
I’ll give you a little hint. My debut album, the only thing I’ll say, is that it’s gonna be completely live. I figure that by that time I might have the money to get live instruments. Kidnapped is gonna be my In Search Of album [by the Neptunes]. They dropped the acoustic album and the acoustic version, they had to reformat their whole album for the radio. Like you might have to go over and redo your drums, for example, like maybe the hi-hats are too loud or something like that. Really, one of the main reasons I used live instruments before is because I wanted to use the instruments to tie everything together, since I had so many different kinds of beats on Ill Street Blues. I wanted people to see where I was going. That was part of my learning process. The lead instrument for this album, Kidnapped, is probably guitars. You can get so much out of guitars. Right now I can’t make a complete album with only live instruments, though. I just don’t have the funds. If I did, I’d have fuckin violin players and shit behind me. I’d have someone help to compose the music, but I can’t be reaching out like that, slowin me down, while I also try to tighten my production. I’m focusing on my sounds right now. I will say that eventually, I’ll be making exclusively live music.
So let’s talk about Playin Four Keeps, your label. Tell me about how the team has evolved since the first version of Ill Street Blues.
Originally, it was me, Larry Marcel, (Baby) Nate, Stan, Rashad, but honestly, me and Rashad had our differences. He went his way, we went our’s. I don’t really know what’s up right now. He’s doin his own thing. The whole situation was that we just didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. We didn’t agree on a lot, so we agreed to split, but we’re still cool. That’s still my family. We can’t hold onto no load that isn’t gonna help us keep on movin. But now it’s me, LeftHandMitch, Nate, Larry, and we also got a new producer named Cornerstore Terrance. He’s on the album. Also Wes, he’s our videographer.
So it’s all been pretty smooth.
Yeah. Playin Four Keeps is officially a label now. We got everything, we got our LLC, so it’s all official. Once money comes through, we’ll have work out our ventures to grow. It’s officially a label, but we want it to grow, so we’ll see. But we’ve been goin off since we established our shit. We haven’t turned down one bit. It looks like we fall off the radar, but we always get back right on up.
And what’s it like also having the responsibilities of a father at the same time of all that?
Man, honestly, It’s been hard. He never gives me a hard time, he’s in the studio with me a lot… But just the fact that I haven’t had a real job in two years keeps us unstable. Like if I don’t have the money to get through the day, I don’t wanna bring my son into that, and so I’ll just stay in and work on things at my house, even though I know I need to be in the studio. It’s really about staying positive and finding that balance. It’s hard. It’s a full time job bruh.
Is he still totin hammers like on the cover?
Oh nah… (laughs) he got toys guns now, but he’s not out here murderin’ nobody.
Good, glad he’s keepin’ it positive. What’s a positive connection you’ve made this year, outside of Playin Four Keeps?
Um, I’d have to say… it’s hard to say… I mean, Playin Four Keeps really is like a brother hood, so it’s difficult to see outside right now. You know, seeing all the hard times together, that we’ve been fightin this together, I don’t even know who. I’m just glad that I’ve got a strong connection with my family. Having them help me stay motivated is really powerful.
And have you surprised yourself as an artist recently?
Yeah. I surprised myself just comin’ out the gate with my production. Getting approval from my peers has been important. My growth in content, double entendres, and getting my point across without, um… What’s that thing in basketball again?
Full court press?
Nah nah, when you show somebody the way the pass is gonna go…
Oh, when you telegraph it.
Exactly! Like now I’m able to get shit across without telegraphing my lines. Sometimes it’ll just hit you a while later, after you heard my song. There’s times where I listen to Jay Z and Andre 3000 that I used to listen to when I was younger, and I only understand some of what they were saying now. Like that. That’s what I want people to get out of my music. And I’m workin on that, and I’m glad with where I’m at.
So let’s talk some specifics about “98 Rockafella”, as an example. The video is really playful, but the lyrics aren’t at all. Why’d you decide to do that split between the concepts?
Because I feel like, straight out the gate, having named it that way, I felt like I needed to come correct with that name. I had to come with it if I was gonna use the word “Rockafella” at all. I wanted that “knock a nigga out” music. And growin up, I was always into karate movies, and I always wanted to do a karate video myself. And to be honest, the video wasn’t as perfected as much as I felt it could’ve been, but we only had 3 and a half hours to shoot that video. It wasn’t rushed, but the timeframe we had was too tight.
My ideas are always so far-fetched, but me and Wes were sitting around, and I wanted to do a video in a dojo, and Wes saw what I was talkin about, and we had to make it happen. The lyrics are so kick-ass and heavy, that it just felt right for this song. The dojo only had us pay for the outfits, but they gave us the time in the dojo. I never want my videos to be what’s expected. The song alone gives you a champagne, ride around type of visuals. But I knew that. Like people pitched ideas like that to me, but I knew that if I went left with it, then that would make the video much better. Pop bottles in videos and fancy cars, that just ain’t me, even though that’s what I saw in videos as a kid. That’s not me. that’s not how I’m livin.
Well that split, that divergence, makes me think that you aren’t too stuck on listening to rap alone these days. So what are you listening to that isn’t rap?
My favorite artist right now is King Krule. I listen to Tolo, Little Dragon. My homie put me up on Jai Paul. I just started listening to him. And listening to all that helps me make different types of sounds, or look for different sounds. To be honest, I don’t really listen to rap that much. When I do, I catch myself saying something somebody else said. I can’t help it. My brain kind of just takes in anything. I usually only listen to older rap when I listen.
I want to end on this question. What’ve been some of the disappointments that you’ve faced?
The fact that Ill Street Blues didn’t get a look from a top list. I knew everything that came with that cover. I just know that was the best cover this year. I just feel disappointed in myself that I didn’t get to that real platform to see what it really was. I think people are gonna look at that record as something important. I wanted some recognition. I mean, YEEZUS was one of the top albums, and that shit didn’t even have a cover. Another thing is that ll Street Blues didn’t reach farther musically. Even though I know that once you put something out it isn’t yours anymore… I wish I could’ve done more behind it. It’s like graphitti writers. Once that train leaves with their piece, it belongs to the city. lll Street Blues served its purpose, but it was such a good tape that I know it could’ve been bigger. We were really just tryna figure it out for ourselves. When it was the small little team, we weren’t able to push it. I’m not sayin that I never wanna be bigger than the music, but if I put that out now, then my name could’ve pushed it past where it went. .
What about lists for last year. I see you up in the FADER a lot. You make any of their lists?
When they released their “artists to watch for”, they only looked at Chicago and Atlanta, and so not makin that list was a smack in the face. I mean, I just played the fort. And on top of that, I was the only artist from my city to play the fort. How much more could I have put on for my city? I definitely earned my spot. Back in March, me and a whole bunch of artists made the “Atlanta Artists To Watch Now”, on XXL. So for me not to make it at the end, made me feel like I gotta step it up more. Like honestly, 2014 is anyone’s year in Atlanta. Niggas claim the New Year like it’s high school though bruh. Like the new girls just showed up and everyone claimin em. But if I was gonna make any list, it should’ve been the FADER’s.
Anything to add?
Yeah. I GUARANTEE KIDNAPPED WILL BE BE ONE OF THE BEST BODIES OF WORK THIS YEAR IF NOT THE BEST AND I CAN MOST DEFINITELY GUARANTEE AIN’T NO ALBUM COVER GONE TOP THIS ONE. DEEZ NIGGAS CRAZY MANE.
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