Interview by Rachel Blackman & Will Croghan • July 23th 2015
New Orleans rapper Pell kicked off the first show of his country-wide tour with Kehlani at Lincoln Hall in Chicago. A young, talented performer with a fresh point of view, Pell has all the ingredients to blow up in the very near future, and with new music and performances on the horizon, there's a lot to look forward to. See Beyond Genre got the chance to catch up with him before the concert.
Rachel Blackman (R): You’re about to kick off your first show of what’s shaping up to be a sold out tour with Kehlani, how does that feel?
Pell (P): It feels great because, for one, I love her music and what she’s doing as a person, and I love the whole movement. It’s really cool to be a part of it, and I feel like our music goes together in a lot of ways because she’s a singer and because she has elements of rap beats to accompany the pop. I feel like it helps that I do somewhat of the same thing. I feel like it’ll be a good thing for everybody to watch. On top of that, I’ve never done a sold out tour, so that’s just fucking crazy. This is like what dreams are made of type shit. Having hundreds of people screaming your songs... and what’s crazy about her fans is that they love her so much that they want to get to know me, so they’re gonna go listen to all my music, and they’re tweeting me, Instagram posting, it’s really crazy! It allows everyone involved to, like, pop off, which is a beautiful thing.
Will Croghan (W): She attracts a very different audience than you might, and they come together.
P: Exactly, exactly, and my fans vice versa. It works both ways.
R: Last time you were here, you were in the studio with Odd Couple and Cam O’bi. can you tell us a little bit about the track, “Danger” that just came out on Chatterbox?
P: "Danger" was fun! That was actually the first time I met all of them. I went to Closed Sessions on either the day before or the day after Alex Wiley’s birthday last year, and it just so happened to be around the same time as I was doing my own little short run and Chicago was one of the dates after I dropped Floating While Dreaming, and it was just funny because Chris, my manager, hit me up and he was like, “do you wanna go check out Closed Sessions? There’s a group out here.” I had heard their music, but I had never really met them anywhere out because it was probably my second time in Chicago. I linked up with them, and it was like as soon as we linked, we started making music. It just clicked. Odd Couple and Cam were working on the beat, and Hurt Everybody was all writing, and we were all writing. It was just magical. They’re really intellectual dudes too. Most of their songs are turn up, but they have a depth to their music as well as their personalities, which I really admire because I got to know them as people in that short amount of time just making a quick record.
R: Speaking of collaborations, you worked with G-Eazy and have a feature on ZZ Ward’s album. can you tell us a little bit about the collabs and if there are any more that we can look forward to that you can say?
P: I can’t say some of them, but I’m working really closely with my friends right now. That’s most important because what really moves my music is friendship as well as relationships in general because music is meant to be shared anyway. I got into a zone where I was making a lot of insular music because I was by myself in LA and Hollywood, and my friends weren’t really with me. I had to take a step back and appreciate the things that made me want to do music in the first place. I’ve kind of cut down on features for my own tracks, except for people that I’ve looked up to for years and years, like some of my inspirations. Right now, I mean this is one that I’ll tell y’all, Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio - we’ve been making a lot of stuff together. That’s one of my favorite bands ever. I can’t wait for y’all to hear that. If y’all don’t take anything else, that's it. Pushing the boundaries. That’s what it’s all about. See Beyond Genre, what’s up? Let’s get it premiered with y’all.
R & W: Yeah, absolutely!
P: Dave’s awesome. He’s got a cool little ranch and there are huge dogs that would just, like, kill me, but his studio’s amazing. You know how nowadays we all look at computer screens so we see music differently, you know, linearly? Now, after working with him, I see music being made off of anything. He has MPC’s, MPD’s, APC’s, keyboards, little loop machines, vocal loopers even that I use. It allows you to experiment and actually push your sound and push yourself. I think he’s really good at bringing the best out of people. It’s crazy. It’s good to work with him. You’ll see a lot of that, though. You’ll hear a lot of that.
R: Looking forward to it! Do you think you’ve had any sort of musical evolution since Floating While Dreaming?
P: Yeah! Completely. I think I’ve gotten more into songwriting because I realized that's what I liked about myself most was the fact that I could create a hook, and the fact that I could actually catch somebody on to what I was saying even though I would combat it with a sixteen that was all over the place. But now I’m tightening it in, and I’m honing it in to make sure that everything means something and everything is there for a purpose. That’s just a part of evolution; that’s just a part of growth as an individual. With friendships or with anything that you do in life, you start to hone in on who you are and what's most important to your life, and what's most important to my music is telling a story.
R: You’ve said before that you take influence from indie artists, bands (like TV on the Radio), as well as rap. Are there any newer artists or albums that you’re really into at the moment?
P: I like the new Carly Rae Jepsen - the one that Blood Orange wrote. Blood Orange I’m listening to a lot. He’s not new, but he’s the truth. Hiatus Kaiyote, I gotta say. They just are killing it. Also, we mentioned Hurt Everybody, and I love them. I’ve been listening to a lot of old stuff.
W: What album are you listening to right now?
P: College Dropout. That’s obvious, though. You have to. I had to bring myself back to that to see why I started doing this shit. That’s one of those albums -- Kanye taught us all, and he just put things in a perspective that I could agree to as an inner city youth that was coming from the middle class who wasn’t hood or gangbanging, but at the same time had friends that were doing that and I could have lived both of those lives, but chose music.
R: If we were to look at your top most played songs on your iphone, what would we find?
P: "Appetite" by Usher, "Kill Joy" by N.E.R.D., "Sooner or Later" by N.E.R.D., and "Young Bride" by Midlake. Those are some of my favorites.
R: Let’s talk a little about your hometown. How are things in New Orleans right now and what other artists should we keep an eye out for?
P: Things are really good right now, everything from r&b, rap to rock. New Orleans is killing it right now, there’s a lot of young talent. Ambre Perkins, he’s actually gonna be on a few of our tour dates with Kehlani. Mulherin were some of my friends, they went to Loyola (University New Orleans), same college as G-Eazy. Christoph Andersson, day one right there.
W: I feel like a lot of great shit is coming out of Loyola.
P: Yeah, they’re killing it. But yeah, New Orleans is budding with talent right now, everybody is expanding their sounds. I’m happy to be a part of it, I’m happy to actually be able to do my own thing and hopefully inspire kids who are younger than me to do the same. That’s the type of system we’ve created, where we can work with each other. I look at Chicago and Atlanta and I’m damn near jealous of how quickly ya’ll are to work with one another. It wasn’t like that in New Orleans all the time, but we’re slowly getting there.
R: So you’re going to be here [In Chicago] for Lollapalooza. How are you feeling about that?
P: I’m feeling great about that! I’ve been looking forward to that for the longest. I’ve been wanting to go for like 4 years straight now, but I’ve never had the opportunity and now that I’m gonna be there for the first time performing? It’s a fuckin dream come true, I’m so excited.
R: What are you looking forward to beyond the summer?
P: I’m looking forward to releasing some new music...a lot of new music! It’s been taking a long time to get it together, but I want to make sure this is the one.