Filed under: Alan The Chemist,Features,Interviews,New Rap That Doesn't Suck,Video Clips
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Although he’s been dropping music since 2006, the last two years have really seen Willie The Kid solidify his spot as one of the nicest MC’s in the game, bringing his own unique spin to the free-form, stream-of-consciousness flow that many have tried but few have mastered. I caught up with him last week to discuss where he’s been and where he’s going. His latest EP, Masterpiece Theatre, with The Alchemist, dropped yesterday. Check for Nah Right’s detailed listener’s guide while you’re at it.
Robbie: Where did you grow up?
Willie The Kid: I grew-up in West Michigan, Grand Rapids. My older brother and my family are from New York, which is often attributed to me. I left Grand Rapids to go to college down in Atlanta, and that’s when things really started to pick up for me. As far as doing music? It started back in Michigan. My father collected records – vinyl – all different genres, so music was always a big part of my household, growing up. Then my older brother went on and eventually signed a record deal and worked closely with Wu-Tang Clan, which gave me a really close view into how the music business works and took all the aspirations I had to wanna be a rapper and made them a reality. Where I’m from is not really a hub for hip-hop music, so I had to leave. I had to go to New York, L.A. or Atlanta. New York sounded good, ‘cos my family’s from New York, L.A. sounded good but it’s kinda far away, but Atlanta gave me an opportunity to go where the music was thriving at the time, as well as attend college and pursue my degree.
That’s where I met Don Cannon, who at the time was just a DJ, trying to do parties and get a name for himself in the town, and he worked close with DJ Drama, who at the time was on the same thing. From there, we built a company, which was myself, Drama, Cannon, DJ Sense and my older brother LA The Darkman, and built a company called The Aphilliates. One of the biggest things we contributed was the Gangsta Grillz mixtape brand, and that was the platform that I signed my record deal with Asylum/Warner Brothers.
Were you in much contact with LA The Darkman when he was recording Heist Of The Century?
Of course. I was too young to be active, but I remember this one time I was at my grandmother’s house and he called and he was really excited. He said, “I think we got it, bro! I think it’s about to happen!” He happened to be in the studio with Raekwon at the time – this was ‘96, ‘97 – and Wu-Tang was larger than life. I was one of those kids that had Wu-Tang posters all over my wall, Wu-Tang everything! I had Clarke Wally’s painted all different colors, speaking like a Five Percenter, all the way Wu-Tang’d out, and he’s in the studio with Raekwon? I’m hearing people talking in the back – I’m stoked, man!
Then they shot the video for his first single, called “Springwater”, in LA with Raekwon. I begged him and begged him to let me go, I begged my mom, I begged my grandmother, but I was too young. My brother always said, “No child stars. Get a head start on your life, in regular terms, and once you get situated, then we can get started on the music thing”. He had a good point, I could stop rapping right now and do other things with my life right now if I wanted, because of the decisions I made.
Who did you have to look up to back in Michigan, outside of MC Breed?
For me, Nas, Jay-Z and Wu-Tang Clan can do no wrong. That’s who inspired me to build my musical style.
When was the point when you decided to put pen to paper and write your first proper rhyme?
I’ve been doing music for as long as I can remember – I’m talking a little kid, six, seven years old. I can still go to my mother’s house now and go to the basement and dig out my old rap notebooks. Songs, choruses, verses – real shit. Through junior high and high school I had a dresser drawer of loose-leaf paper, full of raps. I took my clothes out and stuffed them into the other drawers to make room for my rhymes. I didn’t play sports in school, music was always my thing, I was big on collecting CD’s and listening to music.
2011 was a big year for you, you seemed to really hit your stride in terms of your style.
Thank-you, 2011 was a good year. I’d just got out of my deal with Asylum/Warner, so I was free to do whatever the hell I want, so I just went in, with The Fly 2, The Crates and The Cure 2. It’ll be four projects this year, too – we dropped the Somewhere EP top of the year, me and Alchemist have the Masterpiece Theatre EP out now, then we have the Aquamarine LP out in August and we’re dropping The Fly 3 in the winter, and a project with Bronze Nazareth called The Living Daylights, which will be out January/December, when it’s cold and snowy outside. That’s a real snowy-ass project.
You’ve got a great chemistry with Alchemist. What can you tell me about working with him?
Alchemist is like a chairman for hip-hop, he’s like an ambassador. He has this thing at his crib called Rap Camp, so at the studio he always a tonne of fantastic rappers under his roof. We smoke, drink, cook some food. In the studio the beats is banging, we recording – there’s probably three projects going on at once. When I came to Rap Camp there was myself, my homeboy Roc Marciano and Action Bronson, all under the same roof for days. We were doing the Masterpiece Theatre project, Alchemist was putting up the beats and I was just knocking them out. At the same time they’re working on Rare Chandeliers too, for Action Bronson, so there was a lotta good energy.
Being nice on the mic was more important than having hits once. I feel like we’re starting to get back to that in certain circles.
If we pull it back to LL Cool J, he made everybody understand “I’m Bad” first, then the second song he could say, “I Need Love”. I always admired situations like that. Like Raekwon had “Criminology” and “Glaciers of Ice” dropping first – then “Ice Cream” after that. The first thing we establish is “I can rap, I’m nice” before we get to that radio appeal and the fun feel of it.
Or Method Man’s “Bring The Pain” before “You’re All That I Need”.
Exactly, bro! I think somewhere along the line, we did the Mary J. first, and that took us so far that we didn’t even need to go back to “Bring The Pain”. The way it’s going now, brothers is understanding you’ve gotta do “Bring The Pain” first.
How have you diversified to the changes in the music industry and adapted as an independent artist?
Just like you said, I’ve had to adapt! [laughs] You can basically go to the studio and create what the fuck you want to create, and galvanize the people who want to hear it and make a living simply being who you are. When you’re on a major label, they’re telling you to do this or to that or you’ll get pressure from this crowd. Now, the fans are becoming like sects. You have people that are die-hard Wiz Khalifa fans but they might not like Tech N9ne, but he has his own group of fans. Rappers can become their own store, their own brand. They use that word so loosely, it’s lost its luster, but that’s what it is. Some people may have 10 million fans, others may have 10,000 fans, but as long as you can go on stage and perform for those 10,000 people frequently, that’s a living!
Do you feel like the fans have become more loyal to an artist?
With social networking you can go to Twitter or Facebook or Instagram and interact with your favorite artist. I was cracking a joke the other day, that now that Instagram has video, it’s really giving the fans a cheap thrill. There was a time that the only time you could see your favorite rapper was when you bought a ticket to his concert or if his video came on TV. But now you can see a rapper in the studio, you can see a rapper in the mall, you can see a rapper on an airplane, you can see a rapper eating dinner, all because of Vine and Instagram, the fans are really linked to the artist forever. Now you know the inside of my car, the inside of my house, what it looks like. You know what my kitchen looks like. You know what my bathroom looks like!
But isn’t that too much exposure to somebody? Doesn’t that take the mystery away?
Hell yeah it is! [laughs] That’s why if you go on my Instagram, you don’t see none of that shit. It’s a fine line for those who choose to put it out there like that. There’s benefits for that, but at the same time I think you can let people in a little too deep sometimes. It depends on the artist. I’ll pull a Vine out in the studio or an Instagram backstage at a show, but while I’m on the toilet? Nah. [laughs]
You seem to exercise a lot of quality control in the projects you release. How do you maintain that discipline?
I might go to the lab tonight and make five songs, then go back to the lab tomorrow and make one, and then the next day I don’t go to the studio at all. Out of those six songs, I might drop only two of them. The other four, you might never, ever hear. Two that I made might feel like they’ll connect with the people the way that I want them too. The other four are just me exercising – working out. Like a basketball player’s in the gym, practicing three pointers all day – none of those count. The only one’s that count are the one’s he shoots in the game.
“Waste Not, Want Not”
“Life On Another Planet (The Kosmos pt.6)”
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