"If you don't drop the song nobody hears it."
ID Labs, Pittsburgh, Pa.--Linwood Randolph stamped the beginning of his music career with an aspirational note. "And I been working all day, all night, baby, I deserve a Grammy," he sings on a 2014 track, "Grammy"--his first official one--featuring frequent collaborator Mikey P and Deja. There's truth to this hook as Randolph's beat-making and writing were spurred by Carnegie Mellon's Arts Greenhouse weekend program where he coincidentally regrouped with fellow Wooster, Ma.-born artist and Pittsburgh transplant, Tairey.
"I used to think Tairey was weak--he was butt [laughs]. Then there was this one verse I heard Tairey spit and I was like, 'Oh, he's actually hard!'" To start, the duo formed a rap group, Black Rebel, with fellow classmate Curt (aka Pittsburgh Pyramid). Presently, Tairey and Linwood have two collaborative tracks on finely curated SoundCloud accounts. However, "Grammy" also foreshadowed the quiet dedication and relevance Linwood has maintained in his approach to music.
"He tried hiding it," ribbed Tairey who was entrenched in a game of Fortnite in the back of the cozy studio.
Published on a dormant YouTube channel, the song is an early sketch of the Linwood sound.
"I need to delete it now that you reminded me," Linwood said in response, although they both acknowledged the track still delivers a certain sentiment. "I'll fuck with ["Grammy"] forever."
Linwood--seasoned and evolved--reached the sonic orbit of InTheRough during a smashing performance of "Elixir," the last record off his 2017 EP, Let's Not Wait Till Summer... at the inaugural Jailbreak Festival last July. The raging synths paired with bass kicks and repetitive hits on the high-hat by his drummer Joe sent the crowd into an immediate frenzy.
"I had so many people tell me my set was the most popping," he reminisced. "Honestly, that show was the show that my managers and I sat back and were like, 'Yo, we gotta charge a certain amount per show now. We gotta really be selective with what shows we do because we can really put on a good show.'"
Randolph capitalized on this acclaim as he dropped the five-track EP a week later. The track-list organization alludes to a fast-burning relationship loaded with lust and frustration. "It's a quick flurry of a bunch of things," he said. On middle tracks "Inn" and "Never Call Back," Linwood mulls over aggravating habits of dating culture, whether that be someone preoccupied by the trance of their mobile phone or another's indifference to return a phone call.
Linwood's brooding production and droning, auto-tuned vocals remind listeners of the influence modern icons Travis Scott and Kid Cudi have on upcoming musicians. He cites fandom for the new baby-daddy's Days Before Rodeo and Rodeo projects, so he's a day-one rager. Randolph also thinks his sound follows a similar motif as Scott's, as they both extrapolate on tangents initiated by Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak.
"I wanted a modern 808s. Just more flexible, being able to be on more production...I started getting into auto-tune and stuff," he said. Linwood's gone down the rabbit hole of Omnisphere, a program of many preset sounds and effects that delineate a cohesive vibe of synths and reverb in his music. As for Kid Cudi, however, he seldom listens, "I actually sat back and listened to Kid Cudi one day and I was like, 'Damn, I can see why people say this.' The person who influenced you might've been influenced by someone else and you can sort of trace backward."
Mainstream artists like Scott and Cudi do not reign supreme in Linwood's iTunes library, admitting that his own music receives the most plays. He has patiently built up an archive of over 50 songs in five years. Linwood's SoundCloud account only boasts seven of these individual cuts, which means roughly 85% of his discography is unheard. The rapper and his management team, Jake Short and Myleek Rayzer, take a methodical approach to what we see and hear as finished products. Since the drop of the EP, Linwood has enjoyed a headlining show at Clemson University as well as another trip down South with Tairey to open for the Migos in Georgia. And if not for the miscoordination of studio schedules postponing the tour of ascending artists Sheck Wes and Valee, Linwood & Tairey would have also opened at Diesel this weekend, representing for Pittsburgh's music scene.
With Let's Not Wait Till Summer... nearing its one year anniversary, Linwood's latest offering, "Hate Breaking Hearts," is another light serving to his fan base. Rationing his sound through singles, videos, and features spread out over several months, focuses Randolph's music to commoditized spaces, such as Apple Music and Spotify.
"I think what's cool is people don't know exactly what to expect from me music-wise," he said. The strategy of hyper-selectivity works for some. "We grew to realize how much value our music has. Whether it's dropped or not, it sits. To a lot of people, it's still valid in the years to come where we can...create opportunities. Finding other places where you can add value to your work is important."
A beat intended for Wiz Khalifa has equally become this spacey, crank of a track he uses to ponder the reaction of his career accomplishments, "Funny how they all fucking with me now. I remember nights when they wasn't down," [undisclosed song title].
Long assimilated into Pittsburgh culture, Linwood spends some of his time fixing the giant ketchup bottles at Heinz Field. There's no doubting his allegiance over here.
"We're trying to shake the city image. It's like everyone is striving to pop in the city. Of course, I want to get love from the city, but I almost don't care if I pop here first or not. I'm worried about the rest of the world. The opportunities we get presented are that big, so why not work towards being presented on that scale," he said.
ITR: I think that's admirable considering where we are right now, which is the ID Labs space--thinking about the early work of Wiz and Mac Miller. While of course, they wanted love from the city, they represented the city, they were also able to accomplish fame worldwide. Thinking about that legacy, what does working here mean to you and how does that shape your music?
LR: ID Labs means a lot, but I also have to remain humble because sometimes I don't take advantage of the space the way I should. It's really important. It's like we're held to a standard almost. The dude who owns the place obviously fucks with us pretty heavy to the point where he wants us to boom it out of the city the same way Wiz and Mac did. Living up to those expectations is motivation on its own. We know where we gotta get and even surpass, lowkey.
Linwood's first full-length project has been in development for some time, although he is unwilling to provide a release date or declassify the title. "We're at the point now where we have a full track-list, but we're still subbing shit in-and-out," he said.
During this Monday evening in May, the soon-to-be-crowned Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals had just taken a series lead over the Penguins two-to-one. Randolph received the update over a phone call with a lady friend inviting him to the South Side.
"I'm at the studio with InTheRough," he responded.
Throughout a couple hours, Linwood bounced around his iTunes library revealing 11 unreleased songs that fans may be privy to one day. Ideas for lyrics and beats came to mind at any time as he constantly tapped out new rhythm patterns on the computer desk while we listened. Linwood's sound is reminiscent of my Night Owl playlist on Apple Music that features a lot of Drake, Lil Uzi, and Travis Scott. Songs like "Madonna," "Nuyork Nights @ 21," and "Impossible" are examples of these "smooth," "vibey," and melodic trap beats the Pittsburgh rapper makes as well. His formula of hook verse hook is tried and true repeating, "I'm racing home down West Taylor Road, took a bar on the bus ain't no bars on my phone, let's pick up where we left off. Don't leave me alone...leave me alone," on one song that sounds like a derivative of "Drugs You Should Try It" by Scott and Future's "My Collection."
"It's kind of just like a sweet way to go out. Short and sweet--to the point," he said.
The titular track from the looming LP, and one of my favorites from the night, puts the listener in this ominous space. It evoked images of a freshly cut, chic Abel Makkonen Tesfaye suffocating the mopped-headed, outdated Abel in the dimly lit "Starboy" music video.
Other songs ventured in experimental directions, and they were just as groovy. At times Linwood's voice added baritone that alluded to country licks, while other drafts were more intentional playing with famous melodies by Elton John and Outkast.
"I've never made songs like these," Randolph said excitingly. "It's a wide variety of sound. I trust my own judgment--I trust my ear enough."
Article by Maxwell Young | Photographs by Alex Young