You speak about your Brazilian heritage a lot in your music as well as how people shouldn’t care where you’re from. It seems like that’s a theme interwoven into a lot of your songs.
Yeah. That probably has to do with my years and years of identity crisis from moving to different neighborhoods. I’ve lived in lots of places. Maybe there’s a need for a connection, somewhat. I just want to let people know where I’m coming from. I don’t have the desire to tell people that I am the Brazilian MC. I just put the facts out there and I think the work stands out because no other rapper is attached to that from the States, so it’s a glaring thing.
Do you feel fans attach certain expectations to you before they hear your music?
Of course they do because people are fickle and shallow and the entertainment industry is that times a hundred. People always base everything on appearances. On the first tape we did, we put my face on the front of it and good or bad, it ingrained that in people’s brains and I walk around and people recognize me as “The Blue Face Guy.” (laughs) Yeah, it’s interesting, man. People are going to put labels on you no matter what you’ve done. I just throw it all out there and let them make their own decision. I try not to care about what people are saying. If I looked at every blog comment and was wrenching my hands together and worrying about what people were thinking, I would never get anything done because I would be too worried about people’s expectations. I try not to let people’s opinions enter into my mind when I’m creating.
On “Audio Savior” you talk about how people were trying to hold you back from making bigger moves and how you would be perceived as a sellout. How do you manage to maintain local support without having people think you’re trying to move on to bigger and better things?
Oh, man, there’s no happy medium. I got people that I’ve known for years that I came up with in the music and no matter how strong I keep the connection between them, you know how it is. When you’re out of town and you don’t pick up the phone, people feel a certain way. This has let me know who really has my back because those are the ones you don’t have to be attached to. This is letting me know who’s in my corner from the jump. When I’m out here doing my thing, I’m not really worrying about what people back home are thinking.
You also talk about being compared to people on “Overtime.” How do you feel about fans comparing you to other rappers?
You know, anytime you get something new, people by nature are very simple-minded and when something makes them uncomfortable and they can’t label it, they have to find something simpler to make it easier to digest. With my vocal tones, I’ve gotten comparisons to Mos Def, Q-Tip, Lupe Fiasco, Eminem…I even have Pharoahe Monch from back in the day. Because I’m light-skinned with dark hair, I’ve gotten Drake lately but I’ve been singing in my rhymes for the last five years. I’m not mad at any of them. If they’re comparing me to garbage-ass people, I would be concerned, but for the most part I’m getting comparisons to very talented guys so I’m not mad at it.
You also said on “Audio Savior” to “Check your parents’ vinyl, see what I’m into.” What records were instrumental in your youth?
Probably “Beggars Banquet” by the Rolling Stones. The first vinyl I ever owned that my dad really forced on me was “L.A. Woman” by The Doors. I was digging some Morris Day and Jerome when I was a kid. I was into the Barry White White Gold album. My mom was into that. I had a very rich musical upbringing as a child.
Can you hear those records’ influence in your music today?
Not as much as I want to. I gotta become a little plastic and ready for commercial consumption. There’s this Paul McCartney side project that’s really letting me breathe a little bit but yeah, I think as my career moves forward and wherever it goes, I will definitely be more involved in my earlier influences.
How have you had to change to become more “plastic” since signing with Warner/Asylum?
I was a battle MC, man. I was a battle MC and a rapper in group of a bunch of criminals and I was the legit guy who rapped. We were usually in very bad neighborhoods and very bad clubs and were battling and that was the kind of hip-hop that I was into for many, many years and that’s what bred me. When I started to sit with the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and go through my music, I realized that not everyone was going to keep up with me. I had to find simpler ways to say things. I want everyone to enjoy my music and that doesn’t mean I’m dumbing it down. I’m just trying to find more clever ways to appeal to my audience. When I say “plastic,” there has to be an everyman sound to the music because then it will just be music for me and no one else will enjoy it.
What have you learned working with the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League?
I’ve learned everything, man. I was a different rapper before I met them. What I give them credit for is that they really take a sound that’s not mainstream and they make it mainstream, which is awesome and what I try to do. They dropped a lot of gems on me, rap-wise, for how I can appeal to more people and it works. I’ve improved ten-fold over the years. There’s some gems that I can’t even drop because people might not understand them, but it’s about reaching the peak of your skill-set and then trying to expand on that as much as possible. That’s the best I could say about it.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve released so far?
Now that it's complete, even though no one’s heard it, I would say it’s the Paul McCartney project that I’ve done. Sound-wise, I’ve matured beyond that now. I don’t know, man. I don’t think my favorite one has come out yet. I listen to 4:57 and I know that I’m already better than that. I don’t know, man. I’m still growing as a rapper and I think I have years left before I reach my full potential. I don’t think I have it yet.
You titled your 4:57 mixtape after the time you would get ready to leave work. At what point did you feel you could quit the regular job to do music full-time?
It was such a stressful place to work, man. Not because of the people but because of the environment. I worked in a hospital and the minute there were talks of a record deal being on the table, I knew I had to quit because it was too much of a routine. I would really encourage any other rapper to really know what they’re doing because I know I was too eager to jump out of the situation and there’s things you have to learn before you jump headfirst into the pool. I know that now and I’m straight now, but then I was so damn eager to start this rap shit and now that I’m looking back on it, I know I should have taken my time. Really just evaluate your situation from A to Z and make sure that you’re really not going to have any pitfalls.
Is there any added stress and pressure added to the mix when you’re relying on the music for your full-time income?
Yeah, of course it adds some stress because now you don’t have an excuse anymore. When you go to college and no one listens to your CD, you can say it’s just your hobby. But when that’s your shit…It’s always good to have a plan B, even if you have $10 million in the bank. You should always have four or five plans in the bank. That’s just a life lesson. Anyone who puts all their chips into one thing is going to come out busted. I can honestly just say to make sure you always have different plans because this is, without a doubt, one of the most cutthroat, shadiest business in the entire universe, especially for a rapper with all this downloading. If you don’t have all the elements of the equation, you’re definitely going to run into a lot of the hurdles and I see a lot of the kids that are going to have those problems because they’re putting their all into it and they’re not even the best in their community. You gotta go through levels of improvement before you can be the best rapper.
What’s been the biggest eye-opener in the industry that you’ve seen so far?
I mean, I tend not to be surprised by anything I see. I’m a realist. I knew what it would be coming into it. I’ve been around enough music business type stuff my whole life that I knew what it was the whole time. I’ve had some pleasant surprises. I met some legends who were some very down to earth dudes including the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Primo, Pete Rock and Organized Noize. They’re great individuals and stand-up guys. Those have been some pleasant surprises.
How did the Paul McCartney tribute CD come about?
It’s pretty much just a reimagining of Paul McCartney’s music. I took a lot of beats and I had fun with them and I reimagined them. It’s just a cool little piece, man. It’s a nice bridge between rapping and classic rock. It’s just really different, man. It’s a real dinnertime CD. You can just kind of sit back and enjoy it.
Where are you with your debut album?
I'm in the studio trying to finish it. People are asking where it is but I’ve been doing so much side shit. I’m in the studio now working on it. It’s coming along good, man. It’s going to be different from the McCartney shit, of course. It’s going to be full, structured songs. I’m a pretty damn good songwriter. I’m pretty excited about it.
Why the title Tomorrow’s World?
There’s a track titled that too. That’s a track of me talking to my girl and explaining to her that I’m going to go very far. And tomorrow is the world and she lives in today and I’m tomorrow. It’s just a whole other continuation of the 4:57 and it’s about me taking off into the stratosphere of showbiz and leaving people stuck in today while I’m in tomorrow. The whole theme is about me dealing with that. It’s kind of separationist and isolationist but it’s cool, man. I think it’s something that people can relate to. I have a lot to say and my stage show is getting to the point where other people are starting to talk about it. I want to make this official and make a living out of it.