The Uptown Interview

The Uptown Interview (Part 2) Featuring Wifigawd, The Uptown Souljah by Maxwell Young

To interpret and preserve the artistic heritage of Washington, D.C., the ‘Uptown Interview’ transcribes candid conversations with the artists, curators, personalities and amplifiers of the District’s creative ecosystem.

Wifigawd released his latest album   Stuck in 95   executive produced by Dretti Franks on Wednesday. Polaroid by Maxwell Young

Wifigawd released his latest album Stuck in 95 executive produced by Dretti Franks on Wednesday. Polaroid by Maxwell Young

At 23 years old, Wifigawd has amassed streams and credits that would alert any listener in tune with the rappers and internet culture fueling the current generation of hip-hop.  He’s shared the stage with Smokepurpp, $uicideboy$, CHXPO, and Thouxanbandfauni, while pulling in features from others like an InTheRough favorite, Warhol.SS. No Jumper, the YouTube channel becoming less underground everyday, also debuted Wifigawd’s video to “Sippin’ on Drank” several weeks ago.  The internet enables this kind of reach, and thus the opportunity to travel and grow a fan-base on an inter-state level.  As far as home-base is concerned, though—the District of Columbia—Wifigawd’s music wasn’t always in the frame of mind.  “Niggas out here weren’t even fucking with me,” he said of his hometown.  He still resides in Northwest, D.C.

Times have changed, however, and a recent show at Songbyrd Music Cafe in Adams Morgan with ascending Houston rapper Maxo Kream is a prime indicator.  “I tore the roof off that bitch,” he said acknowledging the home field advantage.  “This is my fuckin’ city!”

Regardless of the eyes watching and ears listening to the image and sound of the Uptown Souljah, the context that has informed Wifigawd’s music is rooted in his Northwest, Washington heritage and collaborations with other like-minded DMV artists.

It started at home. The emcee’s parents instilled a deep fervor for hip-hop growing up.  “They wanted me to know who A Tribe Called Quest was before I knew who Lil’ Wayne was…who KRS-One was, De La Soul, all the greats, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim—real hip-hop,” he told me over pizza and football, the latter I found out he no longer supports.

Citing a household vinyl collection of over 2,000 records, there was no need to listen to radio, even though his folks forbade it.  Instead, they took him to see legendary wordsmiths live and direct at the notorious 9:30 Club.  “I’ve been going to shows since I was five years old,” he said.  “I just know they were letting a little-ass nigga in the club with his parents.”

Perhaps it is these experiences and influences that explain Wifigawd’s pre-millennium/early 2000s aesthetic he reinforces with his FUBU-dripped music videos, ‘FUBU 05’ project (which he regards as a third of his “Holy Trinity”), and ‘Stuck in 95’ album he released this past Wednesday.  “I know everything that’s going on, but I’m still stuck in the past.  I’m stuck in a time warp in my mind,” he said.

Aside from the music, an artist can choose to share or not share whatever storyline he/she/they want.  They can be as open as Wiz Khalifa’s DayToday vlogs or as cryptic and secretive as Beyoncé and H.E.R.  Certainly though, knowing more and having a greater understanding of the backgrounds and creative processes of your favorite artists can change the perspective of your listening.

I first saw Wifigawd last June at Uptown Art House.  The whole place went berserk that evening and I experienced a classic DIY rage that left me dripping in sweat from head to toe.  At that point, Wifigawd filled the placeholder for turnt rapper.  Then, I took to Apple Music to find his six full-length projects dropped in 2018 alone.  This hardened, turned-up persona also flexed melodic cadences and catchy hooks.  And now after talking to him, I know how big of a role writing is to the execution of his verses.  We have to be mindful that the self-made, anyone-can-do-it mentality of the internet can also obscure the real time and mastery people put into their craft.

“I do it all.  That’s just the swag…That’s the most important thing: you’ve got to have the swag,” he said.

Listen to ‘Stuck in 95’ by Wifigawd at the end of the transcript.

2006_001 3.jpg

[Plays “Full Quart” by Nate G]

Maxwell Young: Do you keep up with D.C. music?

Wifigawd: Not many people.  Who is this?

MY: Nate G.

Wifigawd: I fuck with Nate G.

MY: When you started to realize what the D.C. music community was, who was responsible for introducing you to it?

Wifigawd: MartyHeemCherry was one of the main niggas who got me hip.  I’ve known bro forever, since high school...I just check out my friends new music.

MY: Who is that?

Wifigawd: The Khan, Chachi--the gang.  Everyone I’m with, and if not, I’m looking for new Black Kray shit.  Anytime niggas play some new crank around me, or some random artist, I fuck with the joints.  I just don’t go looking for it unless I hear one of my friends play it.

[Plays “Duck Sauce”]

Wifigawd: What the fuck is this?

MY: This is NeckMusic.

Wifigawd: NeckMusic, oh, Ceez?

MY: Yeah.  Iodine, Downtown Dawson, and Ceez.

Wifigawd: I fuck with Ceez’s beats.  I don’t know who this is rapping.

MY: Where does the name “Uptown Souljah” come from?

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: It’s complicated.  It’s a breed of Uptown niggas--fly niggas.  Being from Uptown, niggas are fly. They get to the bag...They have good weed...It ain’t like that no more.  So, if few niggas are out there like that, they are some soldiers. Real Uptown shit--U.P.T Souljah.

MY: What’s the “Souljah” aspect to your name?

Wifigawd: I used to fight everybody.  I used to be a Bama.

MY: Talk about some early fights.

Wifigawd: Shit, that’s why I got kicked out of my school, for fighting.  I don’t like talking about fighting because I used to fight a nigga for no reason.  I guess not for no reason, but out of disrespect or some shit. That shit goes all the way back to fourth grade.  I remember I was at lunch and I had on a white polo, fresh as shit, and this nigga threw some mashed potatoes on me. I hit his ass across the table.  His ass was just sitting right there, huffing. I just cool it now, I’m not with the fighting shit anymore. I’ll still throw some hands, though.

MY: Take me through some of these legendary shows, the ones you can remember.

Wifigawd: I remember 2016--New Year’s.  It was me, Black Kray, and Lil’ Tracy in Richmond, Va.  That’s Kray’s hometown, you know, so that shit was lit. I remember another joint in Richmond at the same spot with me, CHXPO, and Kray.  That was 2016. Another legendary show I did was this joint with Smokepurpp, Thouxanbandfauni, CHXPO, and me. I could probably find the flyer, it was called Kings of the Underground in LA.  That shit had endless people in it. I had another show in LA. It was with DJ Smokey, Lofty, Slug Christ, and The Khan. That was pretty sick. Then I did this joint in New York with Dash, Madeintyo, Ugly God, Sporting Life, and we opened the joint.  We made that show lit. The show with Maxo was pretty hard. My first show out of town was when I was 18. I had that jont in Dallas, Texas--$uicideboy$.

MY: Are you out in LA a lot?

Wifigawd: Not really.  I go out there if I have a show.

MY: How did the No Jumper connect happen?

Wifigawd: [Adam22] has been following me on Twitter.  I just hit him up and told him I had a video for him, he said bet.

MY: That video goes.  The song goes more importantly (“Sippin on Drank”), but the visual is nice.  I just got hip to Moshpit DMV. I always see him around, what’s his name?

Wifigawd: JJ.

MY: Yeah, I’ve seen him everywhere.  Do you collaborate a lot on music videos?

Wifigawd: Yeah, that’s my boy.

MY: Can you take us to a low point in your rap career?  A specific time where you felt discouraged.

Wifigawd: When I first started was the lowest point because niggas don’t fuck with you.  They don’t send you any beats or anything like that. That’s the lowest point: dealing with bitchass producers.

MY: Where was your first show?

Wifigawd: I don’t know, bro, I’m trying to think about it.

MY: Or a moment where you felt like, ‘Okay, I can move forward from here.’

Wifigawd: Niggas weren’t even fucking with me out here, bro.  This is 2014. They were not fucking with me. I was like whatever, ‘Fuck you stupid-ass niggas.’  I had a friend who went to VCU and I said, ‘Boom. This is what we’re about to do. Listen, I see you setting up these little house parties.  I have rap songs. I’m going to come rap.’ I probably still have the footage of that shit--turnt the fuck up. Those were my first shows. Niggas were turning up at my shit, so I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this the wave out here.’  We did three or four of them jonts. I had a little group back in the day called Portal Boyz.

MY: Like how you were describing your music as “void.”

Wifigawd: Yeah, like some void shit.

MY: You said D.C. wasn’t fucking with you.  Has that influenced where you play in the city?

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: I’ve always been the type of nigga to do me.  I know niggas be dick-riding because I see that shit from the outside.  Y’all niggas just dick-ride whatever is hot. I’m not mad, that’s what you do.  That’s definitely by default because everybody else is doing it. So when it’s time for everybody to do what I’m doing, I won’t be fucking with everybody.

MY: You say that Stuck in 95 is unlike anything made in the last 15 years.  What does it mean to you as far as where you are in your development?

Wifigawd: It’s showing everybody that I can do rap.  Sometimes I hate whenever you try to classify me. I can rap.

MY: You’ve been talking about weed a lot, as far as needing to be high.

Wifigawd: Yeah, I fuck with weed.

MY: Why is that? Where does it put you?

Wifigawd: I’m hyper as shit.  If I don’t smoke I’ll start tweaking and get sporadic as if I was high on some other shit.  But when I smoke weed, I just feel normal. I smoke in my music videos, yeah. I fuck with weed.  I’d rather promote weed than violence...on some Curren$y shit. He’s a good example of how to be a G-ass nigga with good content.  Niggas know he’s not a bitch. Niggas know he’s about that shit, but his content is on some fly shit.

MY: Who are some of your favorite Instagram follows?

Wifigawd: I like following all the OG rappers just to see what the fuck they’re doing.

MY: Which OG rapper is a good follow besides Snoop Dogg?

Wifigawd: Tommy Wright III.  Follow that man. His shit is turnt.  He still does shows.

[Laughs]

[Plays “Diamonds” by Rob Stokes]

Wifigawd: Who’s this, King Krule?

MY: Rob Stokes.

Wifigawd: Oh, I fuck with Rob.  I was in the studio with him one day.  I jih like passed-out, but I heard it the whole time.  It was him and Trip Dixon collaborating on jazz shit. It was fire.  He’s tight.







The Uptown Interview (Part 1) Featuring Wifigawd, The Uptown Souljah by Maxwell Young

To interpret and preserve the artistic heritage of Washington, D.C., the ‘Uptown Interview’ transcribes candid conversations with the artists, curators, personalities and amplifiers of the District’s creative ecosystem.

At 23 years old, Wifigawd has amassed streams and credits that would alert any listener in tune with the rappers and internet culture fueling the current generation of hip-hop. He’s shared the stage with Smokepurpp, $uicideboy$, CHXPO, and Thouxanbandfauni, while pulling in features from others like an InTheRough favorite, Warhol.SS. No Jumper, the YouTube channel becoming less underground everyday, also debuted Wifigawd’s video to “Sippin’ on Drank” several weeks ago. The internet enables this kind of reach, and thus the opportunity to travel and grow a fan-base on an inter-state level. As far as home-base is concerned, though—the District of Columbia—Wifigawd’s music wasn’t always in the frame of mind. “D.C. wasn’t fuckin’ with me,” he says in part two of the interview.

Times have changed, however, and a recent show at Songbyrd Music Cafe in Adams Morgan with ascending Houston rapper Maxo Kream is a prime indicator. “I tore the roof off that bitch,” he said acknowledging the home field advantage. “This is my fuckin’ city!”

Regardless of the eyes watching and ears listening to the image and sound of the Uptown Souljah, the context that has informed Wifigawd’s music is rooted in his Northwest, Washington heritage and collaborations with other like-minded DMV artists.

It started at home. The emcee’s parents instilled a deep fervor for hip-hop growing up. “They wanted me to know who A Tribe Called Quest was before I knew who Lil’ Wayne was…who KRS-One was, De La Soul, all the greats, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim—real hip-hop,” he told me over pizza and football, the latter I found out he no longer supports.

Citing a household vinyl collection of over 2,000 records, there was no need to listen to radio, even though his folks forbade it. Instead, they took him to see legendary wordsmiths live and direct at the notorious 9:30 Club. “I’ve been going to shows since I was five years old,” he said. “I just know they were letting a little-ass nigga in the club with his parents.”

Perhaps it is these experiences and influences that explain Wifigawd’s pre-millennium/early 2000s aesthetic he reinforces with his FUBU-dripped music videos, ‘FUBU 05’ project (which he regards as a third of his “Holy Trinity”), and upcoming ‘Stuck in 95’ album releasing this Wednesday. “I know everything that’s going on, but I’m still stuck in the past. I’m stuck in a time warp in my mind,” he said.

Aside from the music, an artist can choose to share or not share whatever storyline he/she/they want. They can be as open as Wiz Khalifa’s DayToday vlogs or as cryptic and secretive as Beyoncé and H.E.R. Certainly though, knowing more and having a greater understanding of the backgrounds and creative processes of your favorite artists can change the perspective of your listening.

I first saw Wifigawd last June at Uptown Art House. The whole place went berserk that evening and I experienced a classic DIY rage that left me dripping in sweat from head to toe. At that point, Wifigawd filled the placeholder for turnt rapper. Then, I took to Apple Music to find his six full-length projects dropped in 2018 alone. This hardened, turned-up persona also flexed melodic cadences and catchy hooks. And now after talking to him, I know how big of a role writing is to the execution of his verses. We have to be mindful that the self-made, anyone-can-do-it mentality of the internet can also obscure the real time and mastery people put into their craft.

“I do it all. That’s just the swag…That’s the most important thing: you’ve got to have the swag,” he said.

Wifigawd: Oh, that’s why you were like, “I gotta see my Steelers play.”

[Laughs]

MY: Yeah. I graduated two years ago--2017.

Wifigawd: Oh, you went to GW?  You’re smart as shit. No funny shit, my father went there.  He’s smart as shit.

MY: He graduated in the 70s, 80s?

Wifigawd: I think he graduated probably in the 90s.

***

Wifigawd: I told you DJ Carnage hit me back!

Chachi: He hit you back after the joint?!

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: I’m about to show you this funny-ass shit.

[Shows correspondence with DJ Carnage.]

Chachi: He had to after that, bro.  He had to.

Wifigawd: Look.

[Laughs]

MY: This is to your “Made Man” video?

Wifigawd: No.  What, you saw me post that?  He did that a brick ago.  He’s trolled me four or five times.  So I was like, ‘I’m done with you trolling me.  I’m gonna show everyone you’re trolling me.’ So I just posted this, where he’s like, ‘whoopty-woo, you’re hard.’  That “Made Man” shit was a brick ago when it came out, that was back then. That nigga was like, ‘Oh yeah, your new video is hard, but you wanna tell Adam22…’  I’m like, ‘Naw, fuck this. I’m about to post this nigga,’ real-live. The comments were funny as shit. I think somebody else was like, ‘Naw, don’t say that. Wifi tryna get up,’ somebody else said, ‘Fuck that weird-ass nigga,’ or some shit.  They were funny. He a Bama for that, fool. I had to press him. The next nigga that’s getting blitzed is Pusha T.

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: He is getting blitzed.  He lives in Bethesda. Why are you not linking? Why?

MY: Have you had contact with him?

Wifigawd: No, but I should.  He’s from the DMV [Virginia Beach by way of the Bronx]. If we wanna consider that the DMV,  he’s honorary “V.” Pharrell? Honorary V. Timbaland? Honorary V.  Chris Brown? Honorary V.

[Laughs]

Chachi: I was just about to say Breezy!

Wifigawd: Black Kray--honorary V.  Y’all niggas can get the ‘V-card,’ fuck it.  I accept them niggas. VA got some shit.

MY: Have you thought about if you were in Pusha T’s shoes fifteen years from now and you’re in the position to put other people on, but you don’t know what’s here in the DMV…

Wifigawd: I will always know…

MY: Why do you say that?

Wifigawd: Because I’m from D.C.  I was born and raised here. I will always play a role here.  I may be in the shadows, but I’ll always play a role or something.  Plus if I’m an OG? If I’m a legend, I’m putting the young niggas on.

Chachi: Like he just said, there’s no reason for you to be in Bethesda and no one knows…

Wifigawd: And not linking.  He’s supposed to link niggas every day.  He wants to sign niggas from Chicago. I fuck with LA, but he’s funny.  You’re supposed to bring that back home.

[Picks up Game blunt]

MY: What kind of blunts do you smoke?

Wifigawd: I don’t smoke blunts.

MY: Do you smoke Backwoods?

Wifigawd: I don’t smoke Backwoods.

MY: What do you smoke?

Wifigawd: Sheets and funnel.

MY: Okay, so I have these hemp wraps.  I’m trying not to smoke tobacco, but I thought you smoked tobacco, so here we are.

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: I brought sheets and funnel.

[Laughs, proceeds to roll.]

Wifigawd: So you said you were at our show at Uptown?

MY: Yeah, you came in June for the Khan show.

Wifigawd: Mhm.

MY: That’s the only time I’ve seen you perform.  That shit was crazy. I had heard your name a lot, just around town, and I didn’t know what the hub-ub was about until that night.

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: He said until that night!

MY: Yeah, bro.  That was the best show that the Art House had had.

Wifigawd: Ever!  Nigga, what, we do that.  That’s literally what we do, ‘Oh, alright, then we’re gonna sell it out.’  That jont was big as shit. We had that bitch sold out.

MY: Y’all turned it into a concert hall for real.

Wifigawd: We had that bitch hot.  We made that big ass room hot.  And it was cold outside.

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: That means there were endless niggas in there breathing; hot breath-ass, body-ass niggas.

MY: And the thing was there were no lights.  It was just the phone flashlights.

Wifigawd performing at Uptown Art House June 2nd, 2018. Polaroids (b&w and color) by Maxwell Young

Wifigawd performing at Uptown Art House June 2nd, 2018. Polaroids (b&w and color) by Maxwell Young

Wifigawd: No lights, just gutter.  I was fucking with that shit.

Chachi: I was gonna go crazy in there.  After a while, I was like, ‘Alright, I gotta step outside before I go back in this joint.’  Just hearing music and bodies all around, I didn’t know who anyone was. It was too dark.

Wifigawd: No bullshit.  That was one of the best shows in D.C., period.

MY: Where else have you performed in D.C. that you like?

Wifigawd: Songbyrd is alright if it’s packed.  When I did that joint with Maxo [Kream]...

MY: Fuck, I missed that.

Wifigawd: That shit was lit, nigga.  I crushed that shit. I tore the roof off that bitch.  They said, “Who the fuck is this nigga?” I was like, “Yeah!” I perp out sometimes, like ‘Nigga, this is my fuckin’ city!’

MY: Exactly, so you go up with Maxo Kream, someone who’s now in the mainstream.  Someone who is hype. How do you approach that show, as a competition?

Wifigawd: I mean I just see it as an opportunity to get fans.  That’s it.

MY: Do you consider if people went to that show for just you, though, or both?

Wifigawd: Definitely both.  If I posted a flyer that means some of my fans are going to come regardless. Niggas definitely know my songs, too. And I’m one of the only underground niggas for real for real, from D.C.

MY: Can you walk me through what that means to be an underground artist?  When you say you’re underground, you know being involved with the Art House, I feel like I see other underground artists, too, or at least artists who are working to be on a mainstream level.  So, what do you mean by that?

Wifigawd: When I’m talking about the underground, I’m talking about the real underground.  If we wanna be technical: Odd Future, Raider Klan, Metro Zoo--them niggas--Lil’ B, Souljah Boy.  Those niggas are the godfathers of the underground that we have today. It’s hard to explain. When Raider Klan broke up, the niggas who were in it are the niggas who are hot in the game right now: Denzel Curry, Xavier Wolfe, Chris Travis, Bones--even affiliates--Pouya.  And from there it triggers down everything. Anybody in that type of lane...and I’m not even saying I’m in that same lane. I’m just an underground nigga. I make underground shit. There isn’t an underground anymore, though. The sound became the mainstream sound. Now you got niggas like Juice WRLD--never underground, never heard of him--but he got the fake Lil’ Tracy sound.  I ain’t calling him out. He’s a good artist, I’m just saying that’s what this evolves into. Niggas like Syringe...I don’t wanna get that deep, bro, but it gets deep.

MY: Do you think SoundCloud has made it easier to fake the underground sound, while making it easier for people like you to pop?

Wifigawd: Yeah, definitely.  

MY: So, tell me about this album.  Tell me about how you’re feeling because first of all, you’ve dropped six projects in a year.

Wifigawd: I did?

MY: 2018 on Apple Music has six projects.

Wifigawd: Damn.

MY: Did you not realize that?

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: It wasn’t even like that.  It was more so like, ‘Imma drop some slight shit.’  All that...I don’t even know what I dropped this year.  I’m not even going to hold you, bro. I’m high as shit every day.  I don’t even know...I mean, of course, I know what I dropped, but I can’t pinpoint every single one.  I didn’t t drop a Trenches to Riches or a WiFi Season or a Fubu 05 this year.  Niggas know when I drop-drop for real, like, ‘Oh, he dropped.’

MY: So are those the projects that are significant to you?

Wifigawd: That’s the Holy Trinity right there.

MY: In that respect, it’s been about a year and a half since you’ve had a major drop.

Wifigawd: Type-shit…

MY: How is this project different from those three?

Wifigawd: It sounds like nothing dropped in the last fifteen years.

MY: That would take us back to the early 2000s.

Wifigawd: Type-shit…

MY: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you was because of the aesthetic of your covers and sound.  They remind me of the snap-rap era, this early 2000s era. I’d love for you to walk me through your style--your sense of fashion style, sonic style, and images you choose.

Wifigawd: It’s all hip-hop inspired.  My new album is called Stuck in 95 because I dead-ass think that’s what’s going on in my mind.  It’s just not correlating with what the world is doing, but I’m still updated, type-shit…

[Laughs]

MY: You say you’re still updated?

Wifigawd: Yeah, I know everything that’s going on, but I’m still stuck in the past.  I’m stuck in a time warp in my mind. I have an old soul.

MY: What influences make that so?

Wifigawd: My parents and the type of music they played around me.

MY: What kind is that?

Wifigawd: All hip-hop.  Not all hip-hop because there was endless reggae and go-go music.  I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio.

MY:  When did you first start to listen?

Wifigawd: The first song I ever heard on the radio was “Go DJ.”  When I heard it, I turned it up loud as shit. And then my mother came in the room and she said, “Turn that shit off!”  My folks had me listening to people like Gang Starr, Dead Prez, Mos Def, Jeru the Damaja.

MY: Was it that they weren’t interested or that they didn’t think that the current hip-hop was good?

Wifigawd: Yeah, they’re cultured.  They grew up in real hip-hop. They wanted me to know who A Tribe Called Quest was before I knew who Lil’ Wayne was...Who KRS-One was, De-La Soul, all the greats, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim--real hip-hop.  That’s what my folks wanted me to understand. For some reason they really wanted me to understand hip-hop. I’ve been going to shows since I was five years old.

MY: First show?

Wifigawd: Might’ve been Mos Def or KRS-One.  I could call my mother and ask her, but it was probably Mos Def or KRS-One.  I know I saw Wu Tang with my dad. I was probably seven years old at 9:30 Club.  Any show I went to was at 9:30 Club.

MY: How has 9:30 Club changed from those days to now?

Wifigawd: Honestly, I don’t know because it was in ninth grade the last time I was there.  I saw Kendrick Lamar at that jont. I just know they were letting a little-ass nigga in the club with his parents.

MY: That’s wild.

[Laughs]

MY: On that Instagram Live you had a couple days ago you said you were uploading the album to SoundCloud?

Wifigawd: Yeah, it’s there.

[Laughs]

MY: You have a scheduled drop on it?

Wifigawd: Type-shit.

MY: At what point did you decide to start pushing tracks on streaming services?

Wifigawd: Shit, 2016, I was trying to get some money.

MY: And you can monetize on SoundCloud now, right?

Wifigawd: I haven’t done it yet, but I’m going to.  I’m getting the right content together. I’m never going to rush content because I don’t give a fuck.

MY: What do you mean? What people think about it?

Wifigawd: Niggas can tighten up and wait because there’s some fire already there for their ass.

MY: That’s true.

Wifigawd: Don’t be greedy.

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: Like you said.  You said I dropped six projects this year.  Nigga, that’s to keep them consumed.

MY: Still consuming because I’m not done with them.

Wifigawd: That’s for consumers only.  That wasn’t for me.

MY: You don’t listen to your own music?

Wifigawd: If I’m high as shit, you feel me?

[Laughs]

MY: What does that mean?

Wifigawd: If I’m in the zone, turnt up, like, ‘Oh, I’m fried, I’m finna go and listen to some of my shit real quick…’  Because I do make songs for myself sometimes, but it’s for the people.

MY: When you’re in that frame of mind to listen to your own music, is that to listen to it as feedback or is it because you are enjoying the song at that moment?

Wifigawd: To enjoy the song.  To understand. If I’m listening to my music, I’m listening to where it could be better every time.  I fuck with it, always, but I listen as a critic sometimes. Just hearing certain places in the song where my voice could do something, and then I might say it while I’m listening to it.  I don’t know, just weird shit. Just hearing it for real for real.

MY: Do you have favorite tracks that you go back to?

Wifigawd: Kind of...recently I’ve been fucking with the “Out the Bag” jont that I did on the Pharrell beat.  That’s what I really want to make. I wish I could fuck with Pharrell.  He’s one of the greatest producers. I wish I could cool it with him all day.

Wifigawd: This is me on 100%.  I’m turnt on this jont.

MY:  Are you freestyling?

Wifigawd: I don’t remember.  I was off the Molly, though. I was happy as shit.

[Laughs]

MY: I look at the persona you have on social media, and even in person like I’ve dapped you up and you’re a rapper, so you have a hard personality, you know?  But you’re not a hard person.

Wifigawd: Yeah.

[Laughs]

MY: I can hear that in your music.  You break out in song a lot. I’ll just be frank because that is such a contrast from the person we see.  

Wifigawd: I do it all.  That’s just the swag. Gotta have the swag. That’s the most important thing: you’ve got to have the swag.

MY: Where’d you learn that swag?

Wifigawd: Growing up in D.C., my environment. I’m a product of my environment as corny as that sounds.  Everything around me—to my best friend being white.

MY: What’s his name?

Wifigawd: His name was Max.  He was a white boy--captain of the soccer team.

MY: This is high school days?

Wifigawd: Growing up, like sandbox days.  Putting me on shit like Phoenix and MGMT. I’m like ‘What the fuck is this weird-ass shit.  Let me show you Kid Cudi.’ He’s like, ‘Kid Cudi? This shit is awesome, bro!’ We used to be in the attic showing each other culture.  He showed me white culture and I showed him black culture. I fuck with all types of music.

MY: I just thought about the kids at your show at the Art House and who came to that.

Wifigawd: Diversity.

MY: There were black people, there were white people.  And those white kids, and I say kids because they were teenagers.

Wifigawd: Some of those kids, I probably used to be their basketball coach.

MY: Where’d you coach?

Wifigawd: They had this little program called Hoop Ed in D.C and I was coaching and playing basketball.  My father is a teacher, too, so he knows all the kids, and I just got to know all the young’ns. They fuck with me because I’m the cool coach, you know, so I knew all the kids.  And then going to Wilson, all the little kids that go to [Alice] Deal they are always gonna see you...I used to see Gleesh when I went to Deal at Wilson--standing outside and shit.  I want to play a role with the youth.

MY: You’ve been doing that.

Wifigawd: Yeah, but 2019 you’re going to see me reaching out to the youth.  There’s hot new niggas from D.C. that are young.

MY: At what point did you realize you wanted to be a rapper?  

Wifigawd: My man, he was certified.  Marquise Heem--another alias nigga that has bars.

MY: Who is that?

Wifigawd: See, if we are going to get into that we are going to get into the Heem Team.  The Heem Team was a whole group of niggas on some fly shit. They went to Duke. I went to Wilson.  I say Marquise Heem because we went to elementary school together. This nigga was in my fourth grade class.  My fourth-grade teacher was very close with my family. I went to a cultured school, an African school. My folks worked at the school.

MY: What was it called?

Wifigawd: It was called Tree of Life.  My fourth grade teacher was Grap Luva. You know who that is?

MY: No, who’s that.

Wifigawd: You know who Pete Rock is?

MY: The name sounds familiar.

Wifigawd: Alright, Pete Rock is a legendary hip-hop producer.  Worked with Kanye. Worked with Ninth Wonder. He’s worked with everybody.  Grap Luva is his brother--blood brother. He was my teacher. This nigga was going to Japan on tour during the school year, coming back with crazy-ass shit.  Little martial arts figurines from Japan telling me, “They love black people in Japan. Music is the shit.” And I was like, ‘Yea I want to be a rapper, too.’ We had that joint in class where everybody had to write down what they wanted to be.  Everybody had NBA, NFL, NFL, NBA, NBA, and I was the nigga who wanted to be a rapper. Very cliche, very typical, very real. I always wanted to rap. Ever since I figured out that you could fuck with words like that I fucked with it. I feel like every black kid growing up in tune with music rapped or has written a sixteen before.  Everybody. Listen, I wasn’t always fire. I just did that shit every day and learned myself and learned what I wanted to do.

MY: Yeah, you’re growing up with it.

Wifigawd: As black people, we’re in tune with art.  That’s a part of us for any black person. Go outside and find a crackhead, that nigga would probably be painting and probably has something to tell you, too.  We’re just in tune. That doesn’t mean perfect. Practice makes perfect. Look at the world. Look at the game.

MY: We are the game.

***

Wifigawd: The best quarterbacks of all time have been black.

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: I don’t give a fuck what you say.  Put Mike Vick in his prime with that Belichick...stop it.  Who was that out there, Randy Moss? Stop it. Wes Welker? They would’ve been blowing niggas out by 40.  That’s why Tom Brady is where his draft number was picked, whatever, 12th round or some dumb-ass round. He is that type of player.  He got a stinger, but he’s been on good teams the whole time.

Chachi: But Brady is like that, his IQ…

Wifigawd: Fool, he’s a Caron Butler-type.

[Laughs]

MY: Chill, chill, chill...Caron Butler beat Pitt’s ass repeatedly.

Wifigawd: Oh, he said Pitt’s ass!

Friend: You chill out, bro.  Don’t play with my boy Caron.

MY: He’s a G for sure.

Wifigawd: What happened to Tim Tebow?

Chachi: I don’t know.  They jih played with Tim Tebow.

[Laughs]

Chachi: He was supposed to be like-dat.  He beat Pittsburgh.

MY: That’s true he did.  I think Tim Tebow got robbed. The fact that he beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and the next year the Broncos moved on?  That’s not fair. The man’s a proven winner in college, that’s not fair. If you’re any franchise, you see what he did in college and you see what he did in the playoff game…

***

Wifigawd: It’s all about being high as a bitch.  I can tell you that. All the songs you heard are all about being high as a bitch.

MY: When did you first start smoking weed?

Wifigawd: When I was 13.

MY: Were you making music before that?

Wifigawd: Yeah, I used to be DJ Melly Mel.  My parents had 2,000 records. My nigga KO and I would be in the house just making rap songs.  KO is the main nigga who inspired me to rap. We were eight years old, bro, this nigga had full songs--on rat-a-tat beats--and that’s difficult to do.  A lot of niggas today, if you put on a rat-a-tat beat right now, niggas can’t touch that jont. My man was touching that jont the whole way through, with the hook, bridge, verse--eight years old.  I put that on my life. You can ask my parents. This nigga used to come through because our folks always knew we were into music, and this man, no fear, played a beat in front of my whole family and spit the whole shit.

MY: Going back to DJ Melly Mel, you produce beats, too.

Wifigawd: I just recently started to get into it, but I always heard the shit in my mind.  I rap so much I just know what the beat should sound like. I’m going to produce a whole tape for myself, some fire shit.

MY: As something personal or for the fans?

Wifigawd: I’m just going to make all the music and rap on them. Like “In My Mind” by Pharrell.  I’m gonna do “In My Mind” by Wifigawd because I fuck with that nigga for real.

MY: Was it N.E.R.D to begin with or Clipse?

Wifigawd: It was that Neptunes tape where they had all the features on it.  It’s him and Chad Hugo on the front, the black jont. This tape, no funny shit, I used to be in the house--my father had this jont on a sleeve--I’d be listening to it all the time.  Pharrell’s writing influenced me. Cudi is the biggest influence on my style, from the way I look at writing songs. I’d be like, ‘Would Cudi fuck with this jont? I feel like he would fuck with this jont.’  I ain’t gonna lie, I fuck with Ye.

MY: How do you feel about current Ye?

Wifigawd: I don’t give a fuck, man.  What am I supposed to feel?

MY: Does that impact your music listening?

Wifigawd: He did what he was supposed to do for me.  If we link up--real niggas link up--he’s gonna know what time it is when I’m in the studio with him.  He’s gonna hear everything that I’m saying. He knows what he does and everything he’s doing. Lupe got a song called “Dumb it Down.” You don’t have to be God level all the time.  For these new niggas, he’s dumbed it down, “You’re such a fucking hoe,” these niggas ate that shit up. He’s like, ‘All these fucking dumbass niggas.’ That’s what I think. He’s in the crib, he’s got kids, he doesn’t give a fuck.  He wants niggas to react that way.

MY: I want to go back to your writing.  It sounds like that is an important part of your process.  What does that look like? Is it in the studio? Is that at home?

Wifigawd: Yeah, it’s very fast.  It’s damn near...my writing style is wild as shit.  Even if I have the beats, I can’t just pull them up and write to them.  I have to be in front of a mic because the shit I think I have to do, I’m not going to think of it again--this is how it should sound.  I have to do it right there. It’s serious for me when I’m writing. I can freestyle like it ain’t nothing, but writing, I fuck with it because it’s structure.  That’s how I understand my shit, the structure. Once I have the hook, the song is done. That’s the biggest thing for me is my hooks.

MY: I’ve been playing a lot of your music recently and I’ve been playing it at times to set a certain vibe.  It really represents that for me. I first heard “Told You” at the Art House, that set the tone for me as far as how turnt you could be.  But then when I was on Apple Music listening to these six projects, it’s a lot, but I’m trying to describe the vibe. Where it’s night time and I’ve just come back from being out and I’m going to smoke again and then I’m going to sleep, but I still want to feel and decompress from the night.  I put your music on and I’m gone.

Wifigawd: Yeah, my shit is definitely some void.

MY: Even walking down the street in the day time…

Wifigawd: Void.

[Laughs]

MY: The world is not there, yo.

Wifigawd: Definitely euphoric.

MY: Yeah, “How I Feel,” bro, euphoric.

Wifigawd: That’s what I like to call arena music, stadium music.  When I’m making songs like that I’m thinking about ten thousand people knowing the words to that jont in the stadium and me not having to say nothing, just standing right there like, ‘Damn.’  Some big epic-ass shit.

MY: What do those sets look like if that’s a Wifigawd tour? Is that a stage and a mic?

Wifigawd: Honestly, I would always want the crowd in front of me, so I could interact.  I just need a gate so niggas can’t rush me, I won’t have on any jewelry, I don’t know, just flexed out.  I want to be close and intimate and have a split stage through the crowd so I can get every part of the jont turnt.

MY: Have you seen Astroworld footage?

Wifigawd: Yeah, that shit is wack to me.

MY: How so?

Wifigawd: It’s just too much.  It takes away from the music--nigga’s on some circus shit.  If the music is hard you don’t need anything.

MY: I can appreciate the initial Travis Scott concerts.  Do you like Travis, though?

Wifigawd: Mmm, naw.

MY: Who do you listen to mainstream-wise?

Wifigawd: Nobody.  I don’t listen to anyone mainstream.  I listen to old music.

MY: That’s interesting because your music, yes you’re a contemporary and you understand that.

Wifigawd: Yeah…

MY: I call it bop music, like a Pierre Bourne.  Do you know him?

Wifigawd: Of course, he is insane.

MY: And your music sounds like that kind of style, so I can appreciate the modernity.

Wifigawd: I don’t listen to Travis Scott or Pierre Bourne, but I know he’s hard as fuck.  His production is insane.  He’s the top producer, mainstream producer, he’s the best.

MY: Agreed.

Wifigawd: He doesn’t miss.

MY: You carry those bops, though, too.  Who do you lean on for production?

Wifigawd: Shit, it’s a secret formula.  Dretti Franks, Trip Dixon, Cryjng, Hi-C, I don’t know, there are not that many producers that are going crazy like that anymore, so I just keep a core group.

MY: You said anymore.  What do you mean?

Wifigawd: I just feel like everybody tries to make the same sounding beats.  And the beats that I like, I don’t want them to sound like beats that other niggas have.  I don’t want it to sound like anything.

MY: That’s fair to be selective and also prolific.  How many songs do you have in the bank right now?

Wifigawd: I don’t know, bro, a lot.  I make a lot of music.

MY: Over 2018, are those songs made this year? How old do some of those songs get?

Wifigawd: I don’t know, but they are not that old.  I have some super tight shit on the way. I know motherfuckers love my turnt up shit, so I have a whole tape of turnt shit.

MY: I think it’s “Gen” or “Big Flex” where you rap off a series of fashion labels and designers you like.  I have a question regarding your top five in fashion. Just the labels you list: Off White, Yamamoto, Solbiato…

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: I said all that shit in one song.  I was crazy for that. I don’t know, it’s a whole bunch.

MY: Both times I’ve seen you you’ve been wearing Solbiato decked out.

[Laughs]

Wifigawd: This is just some chill shit, some lounge shit, but still fly.  D.C. shit. But top five designers, that would be...I fuck with vintage shit.  I do fuck with designers, but only pieces... YSL, Gucci, Margiela, Rick Owens, and RAF that’s five.  That’s all demonic and intense.

'The Uptown Interview' Featuring Jenna Camille by Maxwell Young

Jenna Camille tinkers with presets before she plays the keys. Photograph by Maxwell Young

Jenna Camille tinkers with presets before she plays the keys. Photograph by Maxwell Young

In an attempt to interpret and preserve the artistic heritage of Washington, D.C., ‘The Uptown Interview’ transcribes candid conversations with the artists, curators, personalities and amplifiers of the District’s creative ecosystem.

Jenna Camille has identified as a working musician since her foundational education at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a renowned high school that has produced all-around creators like Dave Chappelle and a host of artists defining the culture in the city today. Originally too shy to sing and too embarrassed to play the clarinet, Camille has evolved into an adept pianist and R&B singer. She has navigated iconic music venues like 9:30 Club and is preparing for an upcoming performance Thursday, November 1st at the Smithsonian American Art Gallery hosted by Luce Unplugged. While she remains a constant presence in the live, sonic landscape and has landed notable collaborations in recent months, Camille has been quietly chipping away at her next body of work, ‘Free,’ for several years. Drawing from inspirations like Janet Jackson’s ‘The Velvet Rope,’ Kelela, and Mndsgn, the Maryland-born/Northwest, D.C.-resident executes a neo-funk-soul sound that is amplified by improvisational notes during performances with her band, The Free Radicals. This interview took place at her home, “The Castle,” in December 2017.

Maxwell Young: I’d like for you to tell me about yourself.  Where’d you go to school?

Jenna Camille: I went to Duke Ellington School of the Arts. I went there as an instrumental piano major.  I played in the jazz orchestra there and the small ensemble. I started playing piano at the Sewell Music Conservatory, which is Nag Champa’s Allen Jones’ father’s school.  So, I started learning under his dad Harlan [Jones], and I started playing there when I was six. When I graduated from Duke, I went to Michigan St. for their jazz studies program.  I left Michigan in 2010 and I came back to D.C. to go to University of District of Columbia’s jazz studies program. That’s my music history.

MY: Talk about being a Duke kid.  Before you made the choice to go to Duke Ellington, where did you go to school?

JC: I actually didn’t go to school in D.C.  I’m from Accokeek, Maryland, so I went to school in PG County.  I’m largely montessori educated up to middle school--I went to John Hanson Montessori School in Oxon Hill, Maryland.  My mom was telling me that one of my cousins--you know how black people have play cousins--she said one of my play cousins graduated from Duke Ellington.  So, she was telling me about this school, wanted me to audition there. I auditioned there and I auditioned at Suitlands Art School. I got into both of them.  Initially, I wanted to audition for clarinet and vocals, but I was too shy to do vocals and too embarrassed to play clarinet.

[Laughs]

JC: I ended up auditioning for piano and got in.  It was interesting because I had seen in TV shows where they have the art kids running around and they’re doing song and dance, whatever, like ‘that’s cool, but that’s not how it is in real life.’  But no, when I got there that’s how it was. There was a lot of running around singing and dancing in the hallways and playing instrumentals. It was an extraordinary experience. It was so much different from being in Montessori school where there are few talented kids, they get all the attention, and then all of a sudden you’re mixed with all these amazingly talented kids and it’s just like you’re just one of many.  It’s kind of like being in X-Men--all these people have amazing gifts and abilities. It was incredible. We got to see a lot of famous people come in and talk to us, it just made us feel really special: Russell Simmons, P-Diddy, Debbie Allen--there was a whole bunch of people that came through. It was really exciting. But, for me as a woman and at the time a teenage girl and being in the instrumental department, there’s a lot to prove.  I wouldn’t say it’s mostly boys, but the girls have expected to play the soft instruments like the violins, the pianos, the flutes and stuff like that, so being one of the few girls in the jazz band and the jazz ensemble was a lot to prove. And in the piano department, there were few girls there, too, and a lot of the guys got all the attention and opportunity, so it was definitely a fight. It wasn’t without its struggles which I think are typical when you’re dealing with the art industry in general.  That’s just our society, unfortunately. But overall, it was an incredible experience, and I give it 80%-90% of the responsibility of molding me as an artist.

MY: Were you creating your own sounds and music at that point?

JC: Yeah I had actually started creating music when I first started playing piano.  That’s when I first started taking an interest in making music. And that’s when my mom got interested in putting me in piano lessons.  I first started learning by ear. Anything that I had taken an interest in listening to I would try learning on the piano, then I got to trying to compose my own stuff and then I started writing lyrics--maybe around eight or nine.  I’ve just been inspired by listening to Janet Jackson.

MY: Okay!

JC: I would say the one album that inspired me to write was The Velvet Rope.  After that it was on from there.

MY: I want to know what your sound sounded like during those moments of feeling frustrated or feeling like you had something to prove in school.  What did those original songs sound like?

JC: I don’t know how to describe it.  I think my style back then was a lot more folksy.  I wrote a lot of like, ‘I’m running away from home or traveling, trying to escape’--type things.

[Laughs]

JC: At the time, I was listening to people like Sara Bareilles and The Fray--Fiona Apple.  And so I was just trying to find some way to escape. My parents at the time were going through a divorce, and it was just a really--you know--it’s complicated for any teenage kid.  Just a lot of, ‘I’m gonna get out of here and make my way in the world’ type of stuff. I never really dealt with my frustrations and trying to prove myself in my music. It was more my frustrations with life and being at home and being a person who was shy and feeling like everybody around me was ignoring me or not paying attention to what was going on inside me.  It was a lot of that at the time.

MY: You have a song called “My Way,” speaking of trying to find your way, produced by SUPR.  How did that relationship come about?

JC: It was very interesting how that came about.  It was kind of a whirlwind. That whole experience happened and then it was over.  So, basically what happened was, I met Suleman, a guitar player and the other half of SUPR kids because its two guys: Tehron Porter and Suleman Azimi.  I met Suleman at another show that my homie Trae was playing at and we had exchanged contact. One day, he hit me up and was like, “Yo, I’m trying to work with you, I’m trying to get you to come out to the studio--blah, blah, blah.”  And so I was like , ‘Alright, okay, cool.’ He was interested in re-doing one of my songs, and for me, I was like, ‘I’m not interested in people taking my songs and re-doing them.’

MY: Which song was this?

JC: This was “My Boo.”  He wanted to re-do it, so he invited me out to the studio to talk about it and I said okay.  I came out and we were talking and he was telling me his plans of what the production company--because SUPR was supposed to be more than just them producing--it was supposed to be like a whole production company along with some other things.  He was talking about his plan and wanting to get me involved, and so we were listening to some of their beats that they made, and I was just flowing. He was like, “Oh, I like what you did! Can you do it again and record it?” And I was like, ‘Fuck, I don’t even remember what I did,’ but I remembered the hook, which was “my way.”  So, that was basically a freestyle off the theme of “don’t come around my way.” We thought it was dope and so we released it as a single.

MY: Is that how a lot of your songs are formed? What is your songwriting process like?

JC: Most of the time I’ll start with the beat and then I’ll flow with a melody.  There might be certain words that come out as I’m doing that and certain vowel sounds and syllables. I’ll try to--what’s that game called? Mad Libs! I’ll try to Mad-Lib it, you know.  I’ll try to put shit in between what I think I was trying to say or what I think the vowel sounds like and then I’m like, ‘Okay, well now I have an idea, so I’m going to just build off of that and construct whatever the theme is from there.’  That’s mostly how it happens, me trying to figure out what I think was trying to come out and constructing what I think it was from there.

MY: You have the song “The Stuff,” that’s my favorite song.  It sounds a little bit like Janet, in my opinion.

JC: Yeah.

MY: Its got that 90s type vibe, and I think “My Way” and “Birdie,” too, are similarly in that pocket.  Where do you think your sound is going next?

JC: I don’t know.  It’s hard to say because my interests are all over the place.  I’ve just been listening to a lot of the new funk stuff, just that whole re-creation of the eighties synth vibes--I’ve been really getting into that a lot.

MY: Who are you listening to?

JC: Mndsgn, Benny Sings, Joyce Rice, Tomesh, this cat Moods--I’ve been going back to SWV a lot.

[Laughs]

MY: Word.

JC: Who else...oh, Kelela, Ne-Yo, basically anyone that pops up in my discover weekly playlist on Spotify.  So, it’s a whole lot of people I can’t even think of right now.

MY: Do you find yourself trying to, you know, you’re listening to these artists and you’re a fan, but how does that influence your own music?

JC: I guess the only thing that I would say that it does is makes me want to step my game up.  I wouldn’t say that I find myself trying to recreate what they’re doing, but I do find myself going, ‘Okay, I like this idea.  I need to figure out what that is...I like this transition, this drum pattern--drum break--I like this thing they did from the engineering perspective.  I wanna try to see if I can make that in my own music.’ Not necessarily recreate their sound but recreate their technique. I’ve been doing that a lot, especially with Kelela because I think engineering wise I was really impressed with the last album she put out.  The array of sonic construction was something I have not heard. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like that, so it inspired me to put some more work in and master my shit.

MY: What artists in the D.C. area do you appreciate?

JC: In the D.C. area, Meche Korrect, Sir E.U, my man Cef, Lord Java, Dreamcast, Seven Jackson, Nico, Odd Mojo, Deacon Izzy, Nag Champa...I know some people who secretly have the dopest shit ever, but they just haven’t been putting out music here.  I have to name this person: Yellowkake. She’s the best out of Michigan and she’s based out of this group called The Black Pack, and The Black Pack has this rapper, Red Pill, on Mellow Music. They’re associated with Tunde Olaniran who is blowing up.  They have writers for Complex. They’re dope. They’re based out of Lansing and Flint and Detroit. [Yellowkake] is incredible. She was in the jazz vocal department at Michigan St. and she’s crazy, I would check out her music for sure.

MY: Is she on SoundCloud?

JC: Yeah, she is on SoundCloud.

MY: I saw you at Velvet Lounge for Jamal, Rob, and Dreamcast’s show?

JC: Yeah.

MY: Is that important to you? Going to other people’s shows, do you find that you’re able to collaborate with other artists as a result of going to these shows?

Jenna Camille on Late Bloom Radio  episode 14 . Photograph by  Indie Love Enterprises

Jenna Camille on Late Bloom Radio episode 14. Photograph by Indie Love Enterprises

JC: I think it’s important to support other musicians, especially ones you appreciate.  I also feel like it’s important as performers that we give something worth supporting because a lot of times I think we take support for granted and we think that it’s owed to us and we expect people to come to our shows just because we’re performing, and we feel like we don’t really need to consider what it means for somebody to come out and spend $10 to see you perform. It takes a lot, especially for some of us who have children or financial responsibilities, you know. Some of us just can’t afford to take an Uber to go see you perform and take an Uber back, so it’s a lot. I feel like if I come out to see you perform it’s because I believe in your work and think that you’re dope and I think that you put on a great show and I want to experience it.  I’m not coming to your show if I don’t feel like you care enough to put on a decent show for people who support you because it’s cool to make music for yourself, but if you want to make music for other people, it has to be evident in the way you put your shit together--that goes for your recording and that goes for your performances.

MY: I think a lot of times, especially in this age where there’s so much music on SoundCloud, there’s so much music on Bandcamp--these places where you can find free music or not pay a lot for it--that it’s hard to discern what’s entertaining and what’s actually quality.  What gets lost sometimes is the live aspect of the show. I think you have both elements that you’re able to balance very well. You have songs that sound good coming out of the speaker, and when it’s live you’re doing things that are dynamic, that are improvisational, and change the elements to the song, which is entertaining.  You perform with a lot of different artists. You have The Free Radicals, you performed with Trae the Drummer last weekend, which was dope. First of all, the Christmas songs were awesome. I understand Christmas isn’t something you’re about, but at the same time that was really cool.

[Laughs]

JC: Thank you.

MY: Thank you! But, talk a little bit about who you perform with and why.

JC: Well, The Free Radicals started with me, Trae, and Deante Haggerty-Willis, which is funny because Deante is a guitar player, but the first gig that we did with him we needed a bass player.  So, I was like, “Can you play bass?” and he was like, “Alright, cool,” and he was killin’ it--it was just the three of us for a few years. And then I met Teddy, who is the guitar player now, at Howard.  He was sitting in on the jazz band at University of the District of Columbia, and I met him and got his contact information because we have a mutual friend who went to UDC as well. He used to hang out at Mousai House, which is no longer at Union Arts where it used to be, but we were hanging out there and I was like, “Yo, do you wanna play with us?” And he played a show with us, I think it was for a Prince tribute and he killed it!  It was like, ‘Oh, we gotta keep him around.  So, we had him and then my girl Kalassa, who is a fellow Duke alum, she was a year under me, and she...I think maybe we asked her to do backgrounds for a show and we just kept bringing her back, you know, and she became a part of the show.  I work with all these guys because they’re professional. They’re super professional. They take their music seriously and they are just really dope at coming up with ideas, especially Trae.

[Laughs]

JC: Trae is a wild man.  I don’t even know where his mind be at because the things he comes up with, it’s just like damn.  With all of them, though, like Kalassa has this really unique thing that she does when we’re performing.  It’s kind of like this operatic dissonance that she does. It reminds me of the Fifth Element. It’s like everybody just brings this unique thing and it really works because it fits with the name. We do feel like a radical thing on stage.  I also work with Meche Korrect a lot. And Meche Korrect and I were also in school together--high school together--and Meche is interesting because I feel like she doesn’t get enough credit and she has this firey like, ‘Yo, y’all gonna fuck with me.  I’m gonna make you fuck with me’--and that’s not an energy that I see a lot. A lot of performers I feel like are like, ‘Please fuck with me, please like my music.’ [Meche] is like, ‘Naw, you better like my shit. I’m not about to be on the stage fucking around if you don’t like my shit.  You’re gonna like my shit.’

MY: Right.

JC: So, I just feel that type of energy doesn’t get enough credit here.  It’s a lot of, ‘Yo, come fuck with us,’ like, ‘Naw, you are going to fuck with us.’  That’s the type of people I like to surround myself with: people who no matter where they are, it doesn’t matter whether have Billboard Top 20’s or not, we carry ourselves like we have Billboard Top 20’s.  We carry ourselves like we made it because if we don’t believe in ourselves like that, how do we expect to make it? We have to hold ourselves with the level of respect that we expect from people, like, ‘You’re gonna acknowledge me as a force because that’s how I carry myself.  And whether I’m at the Grammy’s or not, you’re still going to acknowledge that.’

MY: I think that harkens back to Duke and having all of these people [stars] roll through where they’re there because they’re trying to teach you something.  It’s not like you’re there to see them as fans, they’re like, ‘Nah, you’re at this school because you have talent, and we’re here because we’re trying to teach you something so that one day you can be in our shoes.’  So, that’s that confidence I think a lot of Duke kids have.

JC: Oh yea, definitely.  That’s one thing we got early on--we’re professionals.  They taught us to be professionals. We were working. We were actually working.  We didn’t get any of the money, the school got the money, but we were working musicians since we were 14, 15 years old.  So, for us coming out of Duke, we had these years behind us. We really were out here playing gigs, playing with celebrities, and we were playing for the rich white people.  15-year old kids out doing these gigs that professional musicians now are out here getting paid money for, but we were doing it too, and we were kids, but we didn’t get none of the money though, you know what I’m saying.  But we still had the experience, so it definitely gave us an attitude like, ‘We are professionals,’ so whether you’re out here mingling with the top people or not, you’re still a professional--no matter where you are. So for us, nothing is too small.  Whether you’re playing a at a wedding or the Essence Awards, it’s all something that you need to take seriously, and that’s how I carry myself. Everything that I do, I take seriously. Every venue I go to whether it’s big or not, I take seriously because it’s about being professional at the end of the day.  It’s about caring about, like I said earlier, it’s about caring about the experience for other people, not just yourself.

MY: You’ve played a lot of venues in D.C., what are some of your favorites?

[Sighs]

JC: Not to sound biased because I work there now, but 9:30 Club.  Yeah, it’s definitely my favorite--the sound is incredible. Just to hear my music come out of that sound system is like, ‘Oh my God!’  It’s like a dream. I can only imagine what it would sound like if it came out of the fucking Anthem sound system. That definitely was my favorite show of all time.  There have been some good ones, but that was definitely incredible.

MY: What do you think is left to accomplish here in the city as far as playing, as far as exposure?

JC: Honestly, I kind of feel like I’ve max-ed out.  I feel like I’ve accomplished as much as I’ve wanted, like I’ve wanted to play at 9:30 and I played it.  I mean, I guess the only dream I have now is playing at Anthem, which would be dope. But other than that, I feel like I’ve pretty much max-ed out everything that I’ve wanted to do here and I’m ready to move on, ready to start something else.

MY: That’s a narrative I’m hearing among a lot of artists, like Jamal was just saying that about Nag Champa, too.  How do you get to that next place of playing outside of D.C.?

JC: I guess that is what everyone’s trying to figure out.

MY: Why do you think that’s a problem, though?  Why don’t you think more artists don’t have that ability?  Because there are artists who are playing outside of D.C.--April + Vista--people who are becoming nationally known.  There’s a lot of talent here that deserves to be exposed.

JC: Well, I think it boils down to very simple things: one of them is money and the other thing is support.  I can’t speak on the support that April + Vista have, but they obviously have some sort of backing that allows them to leave and travel.  Some of us don’t have that--I think that’s the biggest struggle for a lot of us--it costs money. Even people that I know who have done nationwide tours, they come back and they’re broke because everything that they made touring goes to traveling.  It’s like they can do a show where ever, but they have to take that money and use it to pay for gas, use it to pay for places to stay unless you know somebody that is in every state! You have to spend some money. Unfortunately, a lot of us are living the narrative of starving artists.  We’re very good but we’re very broke.

[Laughs]

JC: It’s like if you don’t have a team behind you that can support you traveling it doesn’t matter.

MY: I’m sorry that has to be the narrative right now because there’s too much money in the city, especially politically, for the artists to be burdened.  But this house--it’s got a very creative vibe to it, tell me about it.

JC: We have shows here every month.  We started having shows here in June [2017]--I can’t remember when we started, but it was this year.  We’ve had shows here before, but on a consistent, monthly basis we started this year.

MY: What’s the series called?

JC: I don’t really know if we have a name for it, it’s just ‘The Castle’ because that’s the name of the house.  It’s consistently been successful, we’ve had our house filled up a lot. There was one time where it was out of control.  It was super packed, it was actually for a Howard party. We ventured into doing parties, and that ended very quickly--like 20-year olds, outta control.  But, yeah, we’ve had some pretty dope things happen here.

MY: So what’s going on with your album Free?

JC: Well, Free is delayed for numerous interesting reasons.  One, I originally...my first album I recorded myself.  I recorded it on this computer and a few years ago all my USB ports and my CD drive just busted, so I haven’t been able to plug a mic up into it and do anything with it.  I also haven’t been able to edit the production I’ve done because I also wanted to fix, but I can’t plug in my MIDI controller. It’s been a lot of technical shit that seems like, ‘Oh, it would be so simple to fix,’ but because it costs money to fix it, I haven’t been able to do it, and I’ve taken up collections, but then I’d get some money and be like $200 short.  It’s hard to save to really invest because every time I try to save I end up short on some other shit and it’s been a lot of chasing my tail. Also over the years, you know how you make something you think is dope, then you go back and you listen to it and it’s like, ‘Ugh, I need to go back, I need to do that over, I need to do that over, I need to bring out that [sound].’  So, it’s been a lot of changes on the way that I view the project, which is making it difficult. We are going to doing more work on it this coming week. It’s starting to move now and I thank my manager for that because he’s been pushing me to get it done. I’m at a point now where I want to get it done. I care how it’s received, but at this point I really don’t. My main goal is to get it done and have it out because I’ve worked so hard on it.  I’ve put a lot of emotion...you know, the project itself started as an affirmation for myself--an affirmation of wanting to be free from concern. The first project was really emotional because I was going through a hard time with a breakup.

MY: What was the first album called?

JC: Red. It’s on Bandcamp.  Yeah, so I’d gone through a really bad breakup and I was just really angry and there was a lot of trying to deal with stuff.  And then Free for me is, ‘Okay, I’m done with this.  I’m cool. I’m happy.’ It’s kind of ironic because it was an affirmation that wasn’t quite true, but as time has gone on its become more and more true.  I feel like [Free] hasn’t been finished because I needed to actually make it true.  I needed to confirm what I’m saying on the record. And I’m happy with the process.  I want it to be finished, but I’m happy with the process because it has become more and more true for me, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable.

MY: It sounds like there’s still some more songs to write or do you feel like the voice is there?

JC: The voice is there, now we just need to get it on wax.

MY: What is your role as an artist in the DIY scene?

JC: I don’t know, I think it’s gonna be up to us to have the awareness to take care of each other because I feel like with Union Arts, that community we had, is kind of not there anymore.  I do remember a time when everybody was collaborating, everybody had this mindset of, ‘We gotta work together,’ around the time of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson. We were really like, ‘Okay guys, we have to do something.’  We were really invigorated by that and there was a lot of things that were being done and coming together, but after that shit died down that spirit died down, too, and now it’s everybody for themselves again. Not to say there aren’t people trying to preserve that, but it’s also like, ‘Let’s make the music and get out,’ which is sad.  At the same time, getting out of D.C. is kind of necessary. We need that experience to open our minds and realize there’s more than this. There’s a lot more to accomplish. And that’s not to degrade this. What we have here is very important, it’s gonna be important forever, but as artists and as people, we need more experiences to develop ourselves creatively and to help bring more eyes to what’s going on here in D.C.

Luce Unplugged at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Thursday, November 1 @ 5:30pm

F St NW & 8th St NW

Washington, D.C. 20004