His Growth Leads Him to Release His Debut Project “Petals”
In McKeesport, Pa., rapper Woolane hung out with fellow hip-hop artists Chino Bandz and YungDrip, along with their friends Tre87 and Haze. The PlayStation 4 ran. I brought up the new fad taking over Fortnite, the teamwork-focused Apex game. PSN usernames exchanged. Backwood cigars rolled to blunts, and the group continued their hangout laughing, reminiscing about their friendship.
“I went to your [Woolane’s] house that day and y’all were having that rap session for like two hours in the attic,” Haze recalled.
Freestyle rapping with friends came from hotbox sessions in Woolane’s attic closet. But, Woolane got the itch to rap from his brother and cousin. “My older brother, his rap name was Tre80. My older cousin, his name was Nation. He was in this rap group, and I looked up to him,” Woolane said admiring his family. “They were my idols when I was young. I just thought it was so cool. They had the music videos, chains, nice shoes and stuff.”
Admittedly, Woolane’s style now is different from his brother and cousin’s. “My cousins and them were drug dealers. There’s a little bit of influence from the bad side and the good side. I was able to see that and steer my own way,” he said. Melodies separate his sound from the trap tones that occupy Pittsburgh’s current rap scene. “You can’t have that G Herbo going all the time,” Haze said talking about the contrast in music. “The melody type of my pop star shit strikes me. I can feel it. I want to perform that,” he said. “Make a nigga move a little bit,” Tre87 replied.
The self-described pop star Howard “Duck” Clayton, otherwise known as Woolane, readies his first major project, the “Petals” EP releasing on April 10.
Each song from “Petals” names after a flower or symbolizes a flower. Early in his childhood, life was dark for Woolane, literally and figuratively. Sometimes he didn’t have electricity. When he was nine, he witnessed somebody get shot. In 2009, when Woolane was in seventh grade, his rapper and star high school Quarter Back cousin, Stephen Grandison, was murdered when somebody he trusted set him up. “It was a traumatic experience. Just the memory of people crying and screaming never leaves you,” Woolane remembered.
Despite coming from the dirt, Woolane sprouted and will grow until he’s gone. “I learned how to get it going so I could see brighter days."
In a detailed conversation, Woolane talks more to InTheRough about his background, the “Petals” EP, what Jimmy Wopo meant to the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene, football, and more. Read more below.
InTheRough: The first bar of yours I caught was “I’m a Steeler, nigga. Fuck a Raven and a Bengal too.” I see you in the white Troy Polamalu jersey too. What do The Steelers mean to you?
Woolane: Pittsburgh is where I grew up. This is like where I went through everything. I’ve never been anywhere else. I only traveled one time in my life. This is everything I know. I take pride and joy in it. Even the littlest thing like repping my team I’m going to do to the fullest.
ITR: You said only traveled one time Where did you go?
Woolane: North Carolina— family visit.
ITR: Do you have family anywhere else?
Woolane: I got a cousin in Florida. He actually does pretty good for himself. He has a RV business. He still comes around every once and a while. He’ll take everybody ice skating or something fun.
ITR: Are you from here [McKeesport]?
Woolane: I’m from Duquesne. I was born in West Mifflin, Mon View Heights. I moved to McKeesport for a couple years when I was young, but I lived in Duquesne my whole life.
ITR: When did you start rapping?
Woolane: I started rapping when I was a young kid. My older brother, his rap name was Tre80. My older cousin, his name was Nation. He was in this rap group, and I looked up to him. They were my idols when I was young. I just thought it was so cool. They had the music videos, chains, nice shoes and stuff. I’m like a little kid seeing that. My cousins and them were drug dealers. There’s a little bit of influence from the bad side and the good side. I was able to see that and steer my own way. I obviously stayed out of the jail system having never been arrested. I just used what they were doing, but I actually tried to do it instead of being stuck. You ain’t getting nowhere doing that.
ITR: How would you describe that trap music compared to what you describe as your pop star music?
Woolane: As far as the topics, I address some of the same topics. You might hear a Woolane song that you might find kind of “trappy.” But usually you’ll definitely hear the pop star side of Woolane. Even if I’m taking a trap topic or trap words I’m bending it and twisting it into a pop fashion, pop style way on the beat. That’s just my way. I can’t be different than that. Those type of songs don’t attract me. The melody type of my pop star shit strikes me. I can feel it. I want to perform that.
Tre87: Make a nigga move a little bit.
Woolane: Yeah, I want to make the party jump.
Haze: You can’t have that G Herbo going all the time.
YungDrip on the phone Woolane telling him to drop music: “It’s a good day hope it never ends and I bet she let me hit it on the first night. Roll a Backwood with all my friends.”
ITR: How long have you all been friends?
Woolane: I met Drip when I was 11-years-old. He moved on High Street. It was weird because there were no other guys that lived on my street. There were dudes up the street in Burns Heights, which was a real bad area. My mom didn’t like me being up there ‘cause of people getting shot. That’s the first time I saw somebody get shot.
Haze: My cousin got shot up there real life.
Woolane: In front of me like nine years old. I was like, “Oh shit.” That’s the craziest shit I ever saw. That’s some wild shit. So, Drip moved on my street and I’m like, “Oh, there’s another dude on my street.” I walk up to him and I’m like, “What’s your name?” He’s like, “Tyree.” “My names Howard. We should chill some time.” Then we just parted our ways. Then I saw him the next day and we played together. Tyree moved to McKeesport in high school and that’s how he met these guys.
Haze: I met y’all through Tyree too. I went to your house that day and y’all were having that rap session for like two hours in the attic. Bro, we sat in the little closet space and smoked ganja.
Woolane: My room was the attic in my mom’s house and I had this huge walk-in closet, but it was small for a room to chill in. We used to hot box the shit out of it and freestyle.
Haze: Y’all would freestyle for hours.
ITR: So in essence, you’ve been practicing for a minute, or just like how you talk over a beat.
Woolane: The craft is still in the making if I’m talking about making it on a professional level. It’s been brewing for so long, like since I was a little kid. Writing love songs is nothing new. The first song I ever wrote when I was young, my brother and my cousin were writing songs in the living room ‘cause they were doing a feature, and I was like I’m going to write a song too trying to be like them. I wrote a little love song for girls. That’s where I get my R&B type feel like “Comfortable.” That’s deep in me. That’s why when I make those type of songs you feel it. It’s like, “Mmmm, he meant that.” I feel like adding that with the hip-hop I can make anything. I got this new jam I made called “Baby’s Breath.” It’s on “Petals.” It’s actually named after a flower. Baby’s Breath is a deadly poisonous flower. It’s the last song on the tape. It goes crazy, bro. It doesn’t sound like nothing I’ve made before. It might throw you off when it drops because it’s like some electric shit.
ITR: Why flowers?
Woolane: I like what a flower symbolizes. My girlfriend loves sunflowers. That’s like a bonus. The real reason why I like flowers is ‘cause I came up kind of hard. Life was always dark in the beginning. There were times I didn’t have lights. There was literally a summer when my mom didn’t have anything on in the crib. Lights. Air. I couldn’t live there. I had to go live with my brother so nobody called C.Y.F. There were hard days. I learned how to get it going so I could see brighter days. It’s like you came from the dirt and you sprouted. I see the flower symbol right there and I feel like I sprouted. I feel like I’m going to continue to grow until I’m gone.
Haze: That’s true though. When you first started rapping, I can see the evolution.
ITR: How did you link up with Serene Team?
Woolane: I moved in with my girl and I told her I was tired of sitting in the crib everyday. I was like, “I want a job, yo.” She was like, “Well, you can go work with my aunt over at Giant Eagle in Edgewood.” So, I’m working with her aunt and her aunt is the manager of the deli. So, I’m working in the deli and Jet works in the deli. Jet, this dude named Jeremiah and I become so cool. Then, Jet shows me the song he had out at the time, “Super Saiyan Jet,” that goes stupid. I’m like, “Oh, you make music? Say no more!” Ever since then, I’ve been linking with Jet. We’ve been doing shows and Serene they’ve been the brothers ever since then from Giant Eagle. Jet’s cool as fuck. We made this one song and it was hard and everyone was loving it. It’s called “Lames.” He was like, “Bro, we met at Giant Eagle and now we’re making bangers.” That shit’s wild how you link with certain people.
ITR: Do you care to link with other rappers in the scene or keep your circle tight?
Woolane: I definitely want to work with other rappers ‘cause it’s networking. Some rappers are just hard to get in contact with.
ITR: That’s because they’re on that rap shit.
Woolane: I got a lot of people who do want to link up and it’s mutual. There’s this rapper named Da Creez.
Haze: Have you heard of RamıÅgu?
Haze: He’s decent. He’s real decent.
Tre87: There’s a lot of different arts out here. I don’t understand why they’re not exposed.
Woolane: When I’m on SoundCloud and the other local music starts playing I listen to it. That’s how I discover people.
Haze: Ever since Wop died it’s harder to find.
ITR: Why do you say that?
Haze: The inspiration is not there anymore. Muhfuckas ain’t got that idol. He was doing something for The ‘Burgh more than what Hardo was doing or Wiz was saying he was doing. He was doing something from in the hood. Niggas saw that as, “Maybe it’s my time to shine.” He was doing features with a bunch of random muhfuckas that I’ve never heard of personally. He put people on. He was showing love like that.
Woolane: I’m not saying Wopo’s better than everybody in the city like talent or anything like that, but as far as Pittsburgh, Wopo was it. He was the light of this city regardless. I don’t put myself or anybody higher than what he was doing. He was taking this shit to a mainstream level regardless of the style of his music. He was getting to that level because he had that drip. He was going to make Pittsburgh pop real quick. The city is so selfish, bro. Y’all wanted him dead. Why? It was benefiting all of us. We gotta stop the hate in the city. There’s a curse in the city. Not just in my city [Duquesne] because people there be killing their best friends, but in this whole city it’s the same thing. People really just be running around killing each other. What’s the point, bro? What do we get out of it? At the end of the day, you go to sleep at night and you’re seeing faces in your dreams, bro. You are crazy. Stop that killing. Pull up and fight it out. We could rap. We could do whatever. Keep it in the music. Keep it on wax. I addressed that in that song, “He should’ve lived passed 21, but he wanted revenge.”
ITR: What song is that?
Woolane: It’s “Baby’s Breath.” I know young kids in Duquesne. Back in the day, there was this young nigga who got killed. He was like 15 years old. I used to see him in the hallway like, “Bro, come to football practice, bro. Join the football team. What’re you out here doing, bro. You’re hard. You’re a running back.” Bro’s out here running the streets and shit. Then some wild situation ended up happening, and he got killed. It was senseless. He was only 15. Situations like that just make you want to do better for yourself. If you think about all the murders, none of them make sense. They’re all over something stupid. The reason I go with the pop star thing is because I want to let people know you can have your pride and not be a thug and a gangster. You don’t have to be too crazy out here.
Tre87: At the end of the day, we’re trying to turn the city up in a different way. We’re trying to get flashy.
Woolane: I want to take people with me because Pittsburgh is a lit city. Look at where we live, bro. Pittsburgh is so diverse and people don’t know about it. It does not get what it deserves. The Point if you go down there and look around it’s not even the clearest water, but it’s Pittsburgh root. The mist of the fountain.
ITR: What position did you play in football?
Woolane: Wide Receiver. I started playing football in seventh grade. But, I didn’t play on the middle school team. I played in the little leagues. My mom would never pay the little $70, so I never could play. I would only be able to practice and never get my practice so I could never do anything else. I played in seventh grade and then my cousin died in 2009. He got murdered. He got stabbed. The next day after that, that was close to home. It was a traumatic experience. Just the memory of people crying and screaming never leaves you. We found out late as fuck at night too so it woke us up out of our sleep. Drip lived two doors down from me so when we found out I had to go over there and I was on his couch sobbing. He [my cousin] was 21 at the time in 2009. He used to always come over and be cool. He played football so he was an influence in my life. He was a bad kid though. He played at Summit Academy. He played quarterback. His name was Stephen Grandison. He was a nice quarterback. He had a scholarship. He was supposed to go to college and he didn’t go. He ended up getting setup by somebody he trusted basically, and the dude cut him up pretty bad. It was a bad experience, especially for my older sister because she didn’t have a date to prom that year. He took her to prom. He died three days before my birthday.
ITR: It sounds in that case that music, football and your friends are your outlet or your safe space
Woolane: Yeah, I played football all the way through high school. I went to West Mifflin. I was actually in the newspaper one time my senior year ‘cause I got the first touchdown of the year.
ITR: Okay! I never played football, but if I did, bro, I would lock you up.
Woolane: You probably got me right now. I’ve been smoking and shit. I was pretty nice though back in my day. (Check Woolane’s highlight tape below)
ITR: My parents never let me play football because it’s too dangerous.
Haze: I was the same way. My first game, I was in fifth grade. I got smacked. I didn’t get up immediately. My dad rushed on the field and he was like, “I gotta get my baby off this.”
Tre87: I played football and never once got smacked to the point where I wasn’t playing.
Woolane: I remember in middle school I didn’t understand why I had to back peddle on defense. In eighth grade, they kept saying, “Duck, back peddle!” My nickname was Duck ‘cause my name is Howard, so my coach called me Howard The Duck. I’m like, “What do you mean. Why do I have to go back there? Doesn’t somebody else have to watch that nigga? I can sit right here and make sure he doesn’t QB sneak!” But, niggas got touchdown passes and I’m playing Safety. [Woolane starts crying of laughter] I was just sitting in the same spot. They were like, “Duck! You gotta back peddle!”
ITR: Yeah, I thought you played defense because in “Fingers Blue” you talk about having D.
[YungDrip and Chino Bandz walk in the room. Drip begins to tell the story of his face tattoo.]
Drip: It’s my grandma’s name, Irene. She passed. If you really want to try some shit in the music game, you gotta push yourself. This right here [points to his Grandmother’s name on his face] is like I’m in this shit now. Do or die.
Woolane: I want to explain to you the layout of my tape. The first song is called “Dahlia.” It’s a dirty song. It’s about some pussy. It starts off when the seed is in the dirt. “Pop Star” is next. Then there’s a song I chose to call “Poppy.” Those songs bring a brighter mood. Each song that comes on is lighter when the flower is grown. The sunlight is hitting it. It’s living the good life. It’s flourishing. Then there’s a song called “Buttercup.” You know how flowers mate and the pollen. It’s a bit more sensual. I mention my girlfriend’s name. Then there’s “Black-eyed Susan.” It’s the cousin of a Sunflower. It just looks like a Sunflower. There’s one that’s not literally a flower, but it’s the flower concept, “Love Me, Love Me Not.” That’s a little bit darker. “Black-eyed Susan” and “Love Me, Love Me Not” gets a little bit darker. Leaves start to get crusty. “Baby’s Breath” shit starts falling off. I wanted the whole concept of the tape to be the life cycle of the flower. I plan on making “Petals 2” and “Petals 3.”
ITR: There’s so many plants out there.