Introducing Atlas Greene, a 19-year-old-newcomer whose debut mixtape, Sweaters and Cigarettes, impressed us with its homemade beats and well-developed lyrical content. The project is a must-listen for anyone craving a unique style of “Indie-Trap-Wave” influenced by lyricists like Aesop Rock and Atmosphere. While this young blood says he’s still learning the game, Sweaters and Cigarettes proves that he’s already putting in the time to master his craft at an early age. Check out our exclusive interview where Atlas drops the details on the making of his first mixtape and his plans to put Hip Hop on his back.
RESPECT.: I see on your Soundcloud you’re from Orlando-Miami- Atlanta. What’s up with that?
Greene: My Soundcloud doesn’t just represent me; it represents all of Tape Deck Music. Tape Deck Era co-produced most of my album. He lives in Orlando, I’m in Atlanta, and a lot of our label mates are in Orlando.
How would you describe your sound in a couple of words?
Lately we’ve been calling it Indie-Trap-Wave, ’cause it’s got trap elements but we use indie samples and different sounds to try to differentiate ourselves from a lot of other artists.
How long have you been pursuing rap as your career?
I’ve really been rapping seriously for about two years. This album was my first serious project.
Still learning today. Like today we just studied a bunch of different techniques and stuff with my buddy Clint and my buddy John.
What kind of music production software do you use?
I use Mixcraft 5.2 – it’s a really old version of the software.
How long does it usually take you to make a beat?
It depends; sometimes we get things done in thirty minutes. Other times we need multiple days.
How do you know when a song or a beat is finally done?
Well it’s never actually done until we get the final mixes, because all through the process the beat can change constantly. Even after I rap on it we may add something in there, or take something out, or change a sample, or add in different parts to the song.
What other producers have you been working with lately?
Clint Ford and John Adams from The Hit Academy. Those are my main two collaborations that I’ve been working wit, as well as Tape Deck Era and Tape Deck Music. Clint and John go to school with me, so I met John through Clint and Clint was in my music class. We were in a classical music class together last semester.
Have you made beats for anyone else?
I’ve made beats for my label mate Goose, and I’ll be producing on his new project.
How did you first get into rapping specifically?
I always just freestyled. At lunch I would freestyle with my friends, just as a joke. Then it got more serious and my friend Vonte, whose actually on the album, we did a little mix tape. We just got some beats online, went to this producers house, and in one hour we made four songs. We released it to my school.
How was your school feeling it?
It was well received. We were selling them for a dollar and we got $33 (laughs).
This was in high school?
That was 9th grade.
What are you biggest inspirations as a rapper?
Aesop Rock, most people confuse him with A$AP Rocky, but whatever. I really like his music and his production. Other influences? I listen to a lot of Grizzly Bear and old rappers like Pete Rock, CL Smooth. Just a lot of Golden Era like Big Daddy Kane.
What are your inspirations as a beat maker?
Not a lot of Hip Hop these days. Again, a lot of Grizzly Bear, but also Prince and a lot of soul music.
What there ever a song or a project you heard where you were like, “Damn I want to make music like this”?
Labor Day by Aesop Rock.
What’s the first C.D or tape you ever bought?
It was this 90’s hip hop party mix I got from Boarders when Boarders was still open. It was the 100 greatest hip hop songs for house parties.
Did you burn through it?
Yea I listened to it a lot. It had LL Cool J, Heavy D, Big Daddy Kane, and all the greats.
What’s up with your name?
I was studying mythology and Atlas is the Titan that Zeus cursed to hold the planet on his back. I took that and ran with it. I want to put my family on my back, so I took Atlas and my family name, Greene, and put it together.
So is Atlas Greene really who you are, or is that more your alter ego?
Kind of because outside of hip hop I don’t really do much. I don’t have hip hop activities, so it’s kind of a persona.
Sweaters and Cigarettes is your first serious project, but what was your first tape before S&C?
The first solo tape I ever before Sweaters and Cigarettes was called The Greene Room. It didn’t do well numbers wise, but I thought of it as a personal success. It was an actually mixtape, another instance of where I got a bunch of beats that I was enjoying at the time and wrote raps, and rapped over it. Structurally it was just a bunch of songs and I would write two minute versus to them, and just rap those two minute versus. No chorus, straight boom-bap style rapping.
Can people still find it online?
Yeah it’s on Datpiff. That was the only place that would accept it at the time.
How does Sweaters and Cigarettes compare to The Greene Room?
Its just so much better production-wise. I’m just so much more proud of it. It’s more of a stand out project because we did everything that’s on there. We made the beats, recorded it in my dorm room, mixing out of pocket, and all of that. I’m just really proud of it as a project.
How did you get that title?
Well that was a process, too. We started out with a different name and it graduated to Sweaters and Cigarettes because the concept changed throughout the course. Initially, it was going to be called ARTIFICIAL, but it didn’t really fit anymore by the time we were done. Then we looked at it and we were like, “this is basically a coming of age story,” so we took the two things I really enjoy. I enjoy sweaters a lot. Like, I’m all about sweaters.
Yeah people are always like, “Aren’t you hot?!” I tell them that these sweaters are my life. But yeah, I’m all about sweaters, and I was chain smoking cigarettes throughout the course of my first semester, more than I had during the summer. So the album title is a metaphor for going from something comfortable to the real world where it’s cold and harsh. Like going form the comfort of sweaters and home and things that remind me of comfort, to going into the real world and experiencing life with cigarettes and drugs and whatever.
What kind of cigs do you smoke?
Paul Maul 100 menthols.
What do you think Sweaters and Cigarettes bring to the table?
I think it’s a good spin on several popular genres of music. The different types of sample we used and the way that we sample definitely stands out.
How long did the project take you to make?
That’s an interesting question. We started making it in September. But we didn’t really have full album until late January early February. We did most of the album from January 1st to February, yeah that’s when most of the album got done.
Its clear on the tape that you’re a heavy lyricist, a “conscious rapper” so to speak. Do you feel any type of way about being called a “conscious rapper”?
When I say that I’m conscious, I mean that I’m more in tune with my spiritual side. Before I came to college I used to meditate frequently, read books about my culture, and when I cam here that kind f fell by the waist side in exchange for going to kickbacks and smoking and partying.
My two favorite songs on the album are “Anti-Calm” and “Rellos.” I particularly like the beats on both of those songs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but on “Anti-Calm” you’re just talking to yourself right?
That was one of the songs that I did first in January. I had received a phone call and the label was basically saying they didn’t like the direction the project was going in. So that songs was kind of a soliloquy. I was talking to myself like, “What happened? You used to be all about rap music and you swore you were going places, and that you were going to be the greatest ever and now you’ve fallen off.” It was almost like a reminder to myself, me attacking myself to kick it into gear and get ready.
What’s the sample on Rellos?
Saltkin by Purity Ring. Tape Deck Era made that beat.
Describe what kind of mindset you were in while making that song.
My mindset was exactly how the song sounds. It kind of describes my day, what we used t do here. I’d wake up after having fallen on my friends couch in her dorm room in the morning, and then we’d just go through the day. Go to class and whatever, and in the evenings we didn’t have any money to do anything, so my friend at the time had a car, and we’d just sit in it, go to the gas station, and just smoke black and milds and listen to Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Ferg. We’d just turn up, but we weren’t really celebrating anything, it was just that this is what we expected from college, so even if we don’t have any money to do anything exciting, we’re just gonna chill anyway and kick it.
What college are you at?
I’m at Gwinnet College. I’m doing good so far. Right now my major is biology, but I’m not sure if I want to keep it there.
Are you pre-med?
I was. Well, currently I am.
What kind of doctor do you want to be?
I was looking to be a psychiatrist honestly. So I was going to have to do more work after medical school. I’m thinking about changing it.
So Ian Greene is your real name. Who is Ian Joseph?
Joseph is my middle name, and so whenever my family calls me, I’ll answer, and they’ll be like, “Hey Ian Joseph.” They call me by my first and my middle name.
How is your family reacting to your music career?
They’re proud tat I’m doing it, and that I’m following my dream. My mom just listens to the album. She said she laughed, she got excited, and her eyes watered when I talked about not having money and stuff. She said she rode the emotional roller coaster with me the whole time.
How did the breakdown in that song end up working out?
It went over well. I got over it. It’s the same thing as Bum Loosey, an in-the-moment thing. When I wrote it I felt like I was struggling, but when I step back I realize I’m not doing so bad.
What’s the sample at the end of “Grambling”?
That’s Cornell West talking. He’s giving a lecture about life and virtue and who you’re going to be as a person. Then we end it with, “The rule of big money” which is that everything is for sale – everybody is for sale, ’cause that’s how life kind of works. I hope that doesn’t become me though.
According to Bum Loosey, you were religious for at least one part of your life, right?
Yeah that goes back to the whole conscious thing I was telling you about earlier. Also, I was raised Christian, but I kind of strayed from that. You know sometimes you just think about it like, “Damn I should have gone to church today,” or “this isn’t right, I shouldn’t be smoking this and drinking this.” But that’s all a part of life.
Are you going to be gong to church on Easter/420 weekend?
I don’t know. I’m not gonna be home, so I don’t think I’ll be going to church since I don’t have a church out here.
Is your school really rural?
It’s kind of a ways from a metropolitan area. We’re like 40 minutes out from Atlanta.
Was that school your first choice? Did you always know you wanted to go to college?
It was one of those things where you just get in where you fit it, or where the most money is coming in from. I didn’t have any student loans at the time. My first semester here I was full ride, so it was free completely.
The Higher Learning sample on “Paradox” is great. How did you go about getting that on track?
It was relatable at the time. It was one of those things, like “I can relate to this,” so it just fit in with the vibe of the song.
What’s your favorite movie in general?
Akita, its an anime movie. The animation style, it was made a while back, but the animation still holds up today. And I like he whole concept behind it.
Are you really into anime?
I’m not quite fanboy status, but yeah I am into anime.
What’s your favorite anime?
This year I got really into Welcome to the NHK.
What’s your favorite piece on the tape?
Paradox. Everything came together in a way that just resonated with me. We were going to kick backs and things like that, and i would get really uncomfortable and start getting paranoid. My girlfriend would just be like “calm down just chill out,” so it was the most relatable at the time. I recorded it on a night when I was really feeling like that, so its just my favorite song.
So you seem to be a really in-the-moment kind of recording artist. Is that pretty much how your creative process goes?
It pretty much all about the feeling.
What’s your studio situation like?
I have a microphone and an inbox in my room. That’s it. Its just out in the open, so if you listen to the audio on the tape by itself you can hear my fan in the background and people coughing and stuff. That’s the beauty of mastering.
Are you thinking about touring?
I might do some touring this summer on a small scale.
Are you thinking about doing any videos?
Yeah, we’re thinking about doing a video for Rellos and maybe something for Grambling.
What’s your favorite project so far in 2014?
It doesn’t count because it wasn’t in 2014, but my favorite project of the last year was the Childish Gambino album, Because the Internet.
So according to twitter your porn star name would be Flash Flood. How’s that career coming?
(Laughs) Definitely no time soon!
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