DMV rapper LB199X chatted with Ahriel Nari for Real Mumbo about his upcoming EP Life Goes On. He talked about his recent radio success with his single “Something More”, interviewing with Rolling Stone, and navigating grief in the past year. Check out the full interview below:
By Ahriel Nari
Every now and then, an artist comes along that restores your faith in music. Chicago rapper/singer Ausar is the artist who did just that with his impressive EP Flight of the Honeybee. With cosigns from Lupe Fiasco, Smino, Rakim, and 9th Wonder, Ausar has captured the ears and hearts of many through his lyrical skill. I got a chance to chat with Ausar about developing the concept for the EP, the Chicago music scene, and gaining Wyclef Jean as a mentor. Check out our conversation below.
You fell in love with music at a very young age and you drew inspiration from gospel. Were you raised in the church?
I was SUPER raised in the church. I was that kid who was in service two to three times a week. My mom led the choir. I was in CHURCH!
How do you think that experience and gospel in general have shaped you as an artist?
When I set out to make music, the thing that I’m looking for the most is to leave people feeling something. Gospel has influenced me because if I don’t feel it in my soul when I’m writing or listening to music, it don’t really move me.
You went to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where you were a chemistry turned community health major. How did you end up studying that?
Coming into college, I wanted to do chemical engineering, but I didn’t get accepted into the program. The way University of Illinois works is they’ll place you into a chemistry program. Depending on how you do, they’ll place you into the chemical engineering program. I quickly realized how ill-equipped I was. I was struggling through it but was still having a good time! I was having fun up until I got to physics. Once I got to physics I was like, “Ok. Not fun anymore”! A lot of people in my family have delved into the vein of community health and health administration. So, that’s always been something I know a lot about. One thing that was big in me changing my major is I started taking my music more seriously. I wanted my degree but I needed to pick a major that allowed me to succeed, get my degree, and continue to do what I want to do in music. So, community health made sense for me.
What was the final straw where you were like, “Ok, I’m just going to switch over to music?”
After my freshman year, I did a performance with an organization on campus called W.O.R.D. (Writers Organizing Realistic Dialect). A lot of people in the organization were like “Yo, you should probably take music more seriously”. This is gonna sound really bad but it’s very seldom that I find something that intrinsically motivates me to do everything on my own. I knew it was time for me to switch when I put together my first EP and I literally had tunnel vision. I’m talking like friends ain’t hear from me because I was so focused. I organized my own show all by myself and got everything prepared without any help. That’s when I knew.
Who are your musical influences?Growing up when I just listened to gospel music, exclusively. I listened to a lot of Marvin Sapp, Mary Mary, Israel Houghton, The Clark Sisters, etc. My older brother, Nicholas, was the first person who kind of taught me hip-hop when I started delving into other forms of music. At that point, I was listening to a lot of Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, and Common, who’s my favorite rapper. Then, my Dad gave me my first mp3 player which had Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, and De La Soul and that opened up another lane for me. Those are my pockets.
You always say that you “just wanna change lives.” In what way do you want to change lives and how do you plan on going about achieving that?
I want to change lives in whatever ways I can. I just want to use whatever platform I have to make a difference and to make life easier for the people around us, whether that be through accessibility, resources or just letting people know that they’re not alone through my music. I would like to be an example. I don’t really think anyone can truly be a role model but everyone can be an example of what to do and what not to do. So, I just want to be as positive of an example as I can.
I saw that you did work with international students because Ausar loves the kids! What was that like?It’s been cool! What really stuck with me more than anything is how selfless you have to be in roles like this. I think in a lot of unintentional ways, I came into the experience being kind of selfish. Watching how other staff members worked with the students just made me realize how you have to put your ego aside. You have to realize that at the end of the day, the things you’re doing are not for you. These are some of the most important years of the kids’ lives. This is when they build their habits and start building the mindset that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. You get a paycheck but at the end of the day it’s about making this experience the best for the kids.
Let’s talk about your last EP Flight of the Honeybee! It was one of the best conceptual projects I’ve heard in a very long time. How did you come up with this concept of bees?
It started with the intro track “Flight of the Honeybee”. The instrumental reminded me of the classical piece “Flight of the Bumblebee”. So, I just decided to run with that concept. I was able to draw a lot of parallels right off the bat – something as simple as creating a buzz to what bees mean to society. Bees have a lot to offer but they’re often stigmatized and shown in a negative light. They’re undervalued. When I got done with the intro track, I just felt that there was so much more I could dive into with that concept and that turned into “Honey” and “Stinger”. At first, “Bee Sides Freestyle” and “Hive” weren’t even for the project. I had written “Bee Sides” to another beat. Then my homie Nico sent me another beat and I thought that the verses went better with it. What’s crazy about “Hive” is the first half of that song was written in 2017. It was a throwaway from my album. In late 2019, Ro Marsalis, my producer and a dope artist, was like, “What are you doing with this?” I was like “I don’t know”. So, he was like “Alright, I’m gonna flip it and put another beat at the end. Do what you do.” So, it was done and I put it in the vault. Fast forward, I needed an outro for Flight of the Honeybee. I listened to “Hive” and I felt like it tied everything together so unintentionally. It’s crazy how God’s timing works. We threw it on the EP and it worked. We picked out snippets and there’s a funny story about the talking points if you want to hear it….
OF COURSE, I WANNA HEAR IT!
Originally the only track that had a snippet was “Stinger”. After we were done with the project we were like “Ok, we should probably add more of these” to just continue to tell the story, you know? We searched high and low for snippets and nothing was quite right. Ro was like “Let’s see if dude where we got that original sample from has anymore videos.” Turns out he had like 20 videos. We went through one video that was like 20 minutes long and found all the rest of the snippets from the EP.
You collaborated with Ro Marsalis and Aaron Deux on Flight of the Honeybee. How did you decided you wanted to have them on the project?
Well, Ro is on everything. Ro is my producer, he’s my engineer – he’s been a mentor to me. He’s been around since I started music. Aaron – that’s actually a funny story. Aaron produced “Honey” and he didn’t want to send me that beat. He was like, “I want the beat. So, if you’re gonna use it, you have to let me get a verse off.” He came through and he delivered! That verse is probably my favorite verse on the project, honestly.
There’s a lot of talent in the Chicago music scene that the masses aren’t hip to. Who amongst the Chicago scene do you feel like we need to know?
Ro Marsalis, Aaron Deux, Isaiah G, Brittney Carter, Femdot, Josi Green, Nuworld Kayo….I don’t want to miss anyone but I’m just going to leave it at that.
So, what’s your favorite song from the EP?
It changes all the time. I don’t really have a concrete answer. You could probably go to four different interviews and I’ve given a different answer every time. Today, my favorite is “Bee Sides Freestyle”. That’s just the energy I’m feeling today. I got out of a writing slump yesterday. I’m feeling motivated.
What makes Flight of the Honeybee even doper is the live EP from Audiotree! The live performance was fire and the band snapped! How did you link up with the live band?
Those are my people. We all went to University of Illinois. They were in the music department and my homie Landon put me in contact with them. Without spoiling too much, my album that I plan on dropping by the end of this year will have their footprint all over it.
What has been the highlight of your music career so far?
Gaining Wyclef Jean as a mentor. If it had been just a one-off thing where we worked together on a track and to perform with him, that would have been cool. But having somebody who is as successful and highly regarded as he is to see value in what I’m doing and to take time out of his day to truly be a mentor, share knowledge, and give back – it’s really motivating.
How did you meet Wyclef Jean?
University of Illinois. It’s interesting because a lot of people think you shouldn’t go to school or college because you want to be a rapper but that’s where you connect. If I never went to University of Illinois, I would’ve never met Wyclef Jean. I would’ve never met Ro Marsalis. I never would have gone to SXSW. I probably never would’ve started rapping for real, I would have probably just stayed producing. I would’ve never met half the people I know in the Chicago music scene had it not been for University of Illinois. But I got lost from the original question. So, I got free tickets to go to a show. At the show, Wyclef Jean was like, “Who wants to freestyle”? I was hesitant to raise my hand but the homies pushed me to do it. It was like four or five people to get up on stage. So, I spit my verse. The crowd rocked with it. Wyclef rocked with it. So, he asked me to give my information to his person in the back because he liked what he heard and wanted to work on a project together.
You were also featured on the Netflix show Rhythm & Flow! Tell me about that.
When the show first announced it was happening like twenty people sent me the link like, “Yo, you need to audition for this.” So, I applied. The application process took about a month to get to the point where y’all saw me on the show. So, we get there and I was the first person to audition from Chicago. I was really nervous. What you all didn’t see was me getting up there and not giving them any background story as to who I was at all. It was cool though.
What did you learn from the experience?
Don’t ask permission, just ask forgiveness and leave it all on the table. A lot of times, you get in your own way by overthinking and being nervous. If you’re in a specific place, you’re there for a reason. So, be authentically you.
Flight of the Honeybee is available on all streaming platforms!
Follow Ausar on social media (@AusarMusic)
“I’m ready to get ‘Stoned!” someone shouted from the crowd. Fans eagerly awaited BlaqueStone’s to perform at Local 16 as a part of the fifth annual Funk Parade Music Fest.The first song the soulful music couple performed was their latest single “Sunny Days”. Donning gold-rimmed round glasses and an elegant green headwrap flawlessly coordinated with her Kente pants, Queen cooed, “There are sunny days ahead. Just keep going”. The gentleness in her voice enveloped you, reassuringly, almost as if she was singing a lullaby. The crowd was already sizable before the show began, but Queen drew dozens more into the intimate setting with her enchanting, jazzy voice. Nyne, the other half of BlaqueStone, blended his raps seamlessly with Queen’s singing. An unassuming guy, the flashiest thing about Nyne was his orange track pants.
BlaqueStone’s set felt like a jam session that the audience just so happened to be invited to. I was impressed that they spotlighted each musician in their live band, which consisted of a bassist, a keyboardist, and a percussionist. Each instrumentalist was allowed the space and time to flex their musical skills. The set also included BlaqueStone’s renditions of “Bag Lady” by Erykah Badu, “Lady” by D’Angelo, “Unpretty” by TLC, and “Fortunate” by Maxwell. As Nyne and Queen performed, you could see a genuine connection between them when they looked at each other – Black love personified. To conclude the set, Nyne pulled out the talk box for an electrifying performance of “The Right”, a track from BlaqueStone’s 2016 album AfroNoon.
After a brief intermission, FootsXColes took the stage. “Ok, I want everyone to take a few steps forward. I need to feel your energy,” Foots asserted. As the crowd stepped closer, I overheard someone say to their friend, “These guys are good! They just performed at the Kennedy Center,” in reference to FootsXColes’s performance with the ever so talented Alex Vaughn last week.
As a strobe light cast red, green, and blue tints over the room, FootsXColes set the mood with “Sin”, a mellow record with punchy percussion from their debut album A Beautiful Mistake. Tonight’s performance was unique because it was the first time a trumpet player was added to the live band. FootsXColes got the people going with their versions of “Love Come Down” by Evelyn “Champagne” King and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. The crowd was still high on energy from those songs when Foots asked, “Are y’all ready to two-step?” Then, they went right into “Possibilities”, a fan-favorite from their latest album Sitting in Outer Space. The crowd was grooving as FootsXColes played a few other tunes on the album. After a stirring rendition of “Moonlight”, Foots and Coles invited everyone to come dance with them at another venue they were DJing at following the show. If you ever get a chance, I highly recommend that you check out a BlaqueStone or FootsXColes show. The good vibes they give out will leave you feeling euphoric.
By Ahriel Nari
The stars aligned on the night of Friday, September 21st when April + VISTA took over Union Stage along with their friends Ciscero and Sugg Savage. Very rarely do fans get to witness three acts, each dubbed “DMV’s Next Up”, performing at one time. Music lovers must have recognized this once in a lifetime event because the show sold out.
Up first was Sugg Savage. Her aesthetic is attention-grabbing. Sugg sports special effect contact lenses that make her look like she has super powers. While her eyes can be intimidating, yet intriguing, her bubbly personality automatically draws you in. In between electrifying performances of her tracks including “Let’z” and “Fill in the Blank”, she sprinkled in fun facts about herself. “[Do] y’all remember when I used to really love dogs? Well, my dog has been replaced,” Sugg said alluding to her son. This show was significant in that it was her first performance since she gave birth. As she danced around while rapping, you couldn’t help but to be in awe. Here Sugg Savage was, in peak womanhood, dominating her return to the stage.
People were still high off the vibes that Sugg Savage gave out when Ciscero came out. Ciscero has undeniable stage presence. The energy he brings is contagious. Rocking his signature beanie, he immediately got the crowd hype with an epic rendition of his latest single “Function”. Attendees were treated to unreleased music from his upcoming project Devil’s Pie. Ciscero left the audience wanting for nothing, except the release of the new EP.
Then, it was finally time for April + VISTA to perform. The crowd roared as April and Matt walked on stage. When they were setting up their equipment, the intensity in each of their eyes reflected the sharp focus they both had. Obviously, they take their art seriously. With Foots of FootsXColes supporting them on drums, April + VISTA began their set with “Little Things”, the first song on their latest album You Are Here. As the song crescendoed, it felt as if you were about to go on a whimsical adventure. April + VISTA were perfectly in tune with the vibe of the audience as they performed several tracks from the album, including “How To Get By”, “Resilience”, and “Hot Coffee Freestyle”. The intimacy of the venue added an extra layer of emotion to the musical experience and really gave life to You Are Here. The highlight of the show was April + VISTA’s performance of “Own2”, a fan-favorite. The audience emphatically sang along with April, word for word. They concluded their set with a jam session, allowing room to flex their musical chops. Foots led the crank on drums. Matt showcased his astounding ability to effortlessly funk bass guitar riffs while April created beautifully haunting melodies on her violin. It was in this moment, as I was standing in their intersection of genres, that I realized that April + VISTA are the real deal.
“This album is for anyone who is on a journey – whether it’s spiritually, career-wise, or anything. This one’s for you,” Matt declared at the end of the show. The house lights came on and every single person present had a smile on their face.
By Ahriel Nari
Sometimes, you have to go out of your way to find good music. Other times, good music finds you. One day on Twitter, I asked my followers to put me on to some local artists. One of the names that kept coming up was Not.Alone, a group from the DMV that effortlessly blends hip-hop, jazz, and soul. The collective consists of multi-instrumentalist producer DÆTÄ, singer/songwriter Marc Amour, and rapper/producer Nomad the Native.
I had the privilege of interviewing the trio inside of their creative space, which is located inside of a picturesque Prince George’s County home. Marc greeted me at the door. As soon as I stepped foot inside, I heard melodic sounds echoing from the basement. With Washington Redskins paraphernalia and Afrocentric art plastered on the wall, the basement creates a cozy atmosphere for them to create music. When I arrived, Nomad and DÆTÄ were in the middle of choosing a bassline for a track. The intensity with which they were listening to the song was one that can only be emitted from artists who are dedicated to their craft. After meticulously going over different ideas, they finally settled on a bassline, but they were seemingly unsatisfied. “Let’s come back to this later. We don’t want to keep Ahriel waiting,” Nomad said – and so we began.
Ahriel Nari: Where did you guys get the name Not.Alone from?
Nomad the Native: Not.Alone came from, ideologically, we believe that art and music can be a unifying experience. I remember Jay-Z said in an interview that when he’s at his concerts the Black kids and the white kids are all singing Jay-Z lyrics. At least for that concert, that moment, those couple of songs, there’s no division between people. It’s just everybody enjoying themselves and everybody is together. So that’s the idea behind Not.Alone: when we’re doing music, or any art for real, we want to be able to highlight the shared experience of living.
AN: Wow, that’s beautiful. So, how did you guys first meet and start making music together?
Marc Amour: Me and Nomad met because I went to University of Maryland Eastern Shore. His cousin Desmond and [I] became real tight – that’s like my best friend. One random weekend, I rode back to this area with [Desmond] and that’s how me and [Nomad] met.
Nomad the Native: I met DÆTÄ in college. We went to Frostburg State University together. My fraternity, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., was hosting a talent showcase. [DÆTÄ] was the house keyboardist. There was a portion of the event where a bunch of people were gathered around the piano and he was playing different riffs and loops or whatever, and people were just freestyling. That’s how we met – I was freestyling around the piano while he was playing at an event for my fraternity. We just stayed cool around campus. We all eventually got into working on music together in 2015. There were songs here and there that I was working on that I tapped [Marc] Amour for in 2015. A couple months after my solo project dropped [in early 2016], I was unsatisfied with it, sonically. So, I tapped DÆTÄ like, “Yo…what if we worked together? I have a bunch of production ideas and structural ideas. [DÆTÄ] has a bunch of knowledge as far as music theory. So, let’s start a music collective and see what happens”. While we were bouncing around ideas, we just had random voice notes of chord progressions and [were] thinking about what our purpose was. We were still figuring out our direction. I was like, “Yo. What if we added another person”? So that’s when I reached out to [Marc] Amour.
Marc Amour: The first time I actually met [DÆTÄ], [Nomad] had me pick [DÆTÄ] up. I was like, “Why am I picking up somebody? I don’t know this person.” It was funny because I pulled in the driveway and [DÆTÄ’s] Dad came out. He was like “Hey!” I was like, “Hey!”. He’s like, “You waiting for Marc (DÆTÄ’s government name)?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m waiting for Marc.” He’s like, “Who are you?” I was like, “I’m Marc!”
AN: Were y’all music majors [in college]?
[DÆTÄ raises his hand]
Marc Amour: I didn’t get into singing until [Nomad] brought me [into the group] in 2015.
DÆTÄ: HE’S JUST NATURALLY THE SHIT!
AN: I see! Name all of your instruments, [DÆTÄ].
DÆTÄ: Here’s the instruments I’ve gotten paid to play: trombone, bass, and piano. Instruments that I’ve fooled around on [are] drums – I’ve been picking apart guitar. I know how to play all of the brass instruments. I was a brass major [in college] so I can play tuba, French horn, euphonium, and baritone. My main three [instruments], though, are piano, trombone, and bass.
AN: Damn, you’re talented….
Marc Amour: We jih like can’t afford him.
AN: [laughs] I saw on Instagram that you guys do these poetry slams and that’s dope! Tell me about that. How did you guys get started with that?
Nomad the Native: Not A Poetry Slam is my lil’ baby! Not A Poetry Slam is a combination of an open mic and an open forum. We just kinda wanna foster a sense of community where people can talk about topics that are already on our minds, anyways. We had one last year, the very first one, where we talked about love. The last one we talked about feminism and women’s rights issues. The next one is gonna be another topic, you know what I mean? We want to [create a space] where people can share. A lot of the poetry is a catalyst for those types of conversations.
AN: What are your top 5 albums of all time? Take your time.
Marc Amour: For me, definitely Voodoo by D’Angelo. I really love DAMN. by Kendrick [Lamar] – between [DAMN.] and To Pimp a Butterfly [by Kendrick Lamar]. Somebody else jump in while I think…
DÆTÄ: I would say Jazz Loves Paris by Buddy Collette and Harlem River Drive by Bobbi Humphrey. For all you jazzheads, listen to those albums.
Nomad the Native: The first two albums I was ever given were Jill Scott’s first album, Who is Jill Scott? and Outkast’s Stankonia. The albums that made me want to rap were Kanye West’s Late Registration and Common’s Be. Then, to bring it back out of hip-hop, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. I listen to that joint often as hell. So, yeah, I think that’s my top 5. I got a bunch of other joints that I like but I wanted to keep it simple.
Marc Amour: For me, I really enjoyed John Legend’s second album, Once Again. Then I’m going to say Late Registration [by Kanye West], also. Indicud, [by Kid Cudi] for me, was really, really, really fire. D’Angelo is my favorite singer. I really loved his first album. I love the contrast between his first two albums because the first album was so structured, and Voodoo was so loose and drunken. You wouldn’t really think the same artist made them.
DÆTÄ: Not to be cliché, but I love all of Herbie Hancock’s music. Any one of his albums you could name and I’d be like, “Yeah, I listen to the whole thing”. There’s just a lot of good music around so I can’t really [name my top 5 albums of all time]. Frank Rosolino had good albums – he got me through college.
AN: Alright, so shifting gears, how did you guys come up with the concept for your Black DeLorean EP?
Nomad the Native: Every once in a while, [Marc Amour and I] challenge each other by [sending] each other a beat or a song and be like, “Write to this,” just to see if the other person can do it, [in order to] stay sharp. I challenged him to write his verse on “Time Spent” to a different beat. He [wrote] what ended up being his verse on “Time Spent”. I was listening to “Kutless” by NxWorries when I wrote the first verse of “Waay Back” and part of that stuck in my mind – driving around in a car feeling fucking timeless and thinking about what it was like to be back in time. [Marc Amour] had written his verse for “Time Spent” and I was like, “Yo, these two free-floating verses are about time.”
Marc Amour: Which was not on purpose at all.
Nomad the Native: So, I was like, “Yo, what if we made an EP about time travel or some shit and call it Black DeLorean?”. I was thinking about driving around in a car, so the car time machine was the DeLorean and I love Back to the Future I and II. So, when we decided we were gonna make a lil’ EP out of these joints, we took references and our own ideas and threw them together.
AN: Did you all collaborate with anybody else on Black DeLoreanBlack or is it just y’all three?
Marc Amour: It’s purely just us – the production, the lyrics, everything. We recorded it ourselves. The only thing we did outside [of us] was get it mixed and mastered.
AN: What is each of you all’s favorite song from the EP?
Not.Alone: [in unison] “Time Spent”
Marc Amour: My favorite [song] to perform is “Waay Back” just because of the way we end it. We don’t perform it the way that it’s recorded, for real. My favorite [song] to listen to is “Time Spent”.
Nomad the Native: I think of all three songs, it’s the full package of us.
Marc Amour: It’s literally the full package of us – the beat, the flow that I have, and the contrasting flow that Nomad comes in with.
AN: What’s been the highest point of your musical career so far?
Marc Amour: I really enjoyed performing at Adams Morgan Porch Fest because we really took a situation that was going to be shitty and flipped it. One of the things we learned very early on was to not depend on anything else and to always bring as much equipment that you think you might need. So, we had a homie of Nomad’s that was going to supply us with sound – just speakers. When we got there, homie’s speakers blew out. We were closing out that space. There was a whole crowd of at least 70 people by the end of the event. So, we’re out there and we’re just like, “Damn, these speakers don’t work”. So, we had this little PA joint that held us down.
Nomad the Native: We cranked that joint ALL the way up!
Marc Amour: It was one of those things that turned out to be great. I think one of the things that we didn’t consider was the first song that we performed and who the crowd was We were just like, “We’re great. We gon’ bang out these songs that we practiced”. The first song was “Black Don’t Crack”. When we got out there and realized who the crowd was, we just looked at each other and snickered. . It was a crowd filled with white folk, which is fine. It was funny seeing their reactions, but they were very receptive. It was great.
Nomad the Native: My favorite moment is January of  we performed at the MLK Day Parade in Southeast [Washington, D.C]. We played “Unapologetic” and it’s really gogo. It’s jih like old school-sounding gogo, not like bounce beat or slow bounce. The crowd was rockin’. I remember there was some old lady that was out in the street. She was with the shits! Then, you know that eccentric aunt that you can talk to about anything that’s super open-minded? That aunt, one of my closest aunts, came to see me. It was tight that she was there for that. That sticks in my mind. What about you, DÆTÄ?
DÆTÄ: I liked playing at Black Cat with y’all. It was the first time I really saw people responding to something that I’ve done, personally. Another one of my favorite things that happens when I’m with y’all is the moment before people know you’re good.
Nomad the Native: YOOOOOOO, yeah son. That shit is amazing!
DÆTÄ: We were about to go on [at some bar] and [people] heard us do our soundcheck. There was this one dude in the crowd. He saw me practicing bass. So, I introduced myself like, “What’s up, bro? You here to see the music? Yadda, yadda”—just chewing the fat with him. He said, “Yeah, man. I can’t wait to hear what you guys really do”. He heard [the bands] the went before us perform and he pretty much did not vibe the whole night. Not being malicious, he was just being cool. We go on stage and he has the same [cool demeanor]. The beat dropped and yo, this man went [stank face]. I was like, “GOT ‘EM”. Then, he started vibing and milly rocking for like two seconds. I was like, “Yo, we just shook the ice off of this man!” Ever since that night, I’ve been really paying attention to when people really catch the vibe.
AN: So, what’s next for Not.Alone?
Nomad the Native: More music. We spent the last couple of years relatively quiet until March. So, this year we got more music. We’re trying to drop random joints – songs that are just on our minds. We want to be able to drop a project. We want more visuals because “Time Spent” was jih like a tester, it wasn’t even the whole song. We want to get into merch – shirts, some shit that we sell exclusively at shows or you have to fuck with us to catch. Is there anything else next for us, brothers?
DÆTÄ: The world.
AN: Anything else you want to say to the people?
DÆTÄ: All love. God bless.
Marc Amour: [plays guitar]
Nomad the Native: Dawg, be open to new experiences and new people. I’m trying [to] and I encourage you to do the same. Act like you’re not the only one here, my nigga. Act like you’re sharing this shit with somebody. Boom.
Black DeLorean is available on all streaming platforms.
Connect with Not.Alone!
Instagram : @notalonellc
Twitter : @notalonellc
Skuzii – the name alone is eye-catching and has an interesting arrangement of letters. His music is just as captivating. The cadence of his raps chops up the rhythm over smooth, lush arrangements. Skuzii’s latest album, Veronica’s Apartment, is instantly infectious and each track gets better with each replay. I had the pleasure of sitting down with 25-year-old rapper on a breezy afternoon.
Ahriel Nari : Where are you from originally?
Skuzii : I was born in [Washington,] D.C., but I was only there for three months. Then, I lived in Germany for three years. Then, I moved to Newport News, [Virginia]. I was raised mostly in Newport News. My father is from St. Thomas and I spent a lot of time there growing up. My mother is from North Carolina – Oxford. It’s a really small town. I spent a lot of time there, too. So, I would say in between mostly Newport News and a lot of St. Thomas and a lot of North Carolina.
AN : How would you describe your music?
Skuzii : I would say aesthetically pleasing. You definitely get a sense of a Gemini’s personality in my music. [You get] a lot of emotion. You get a lot of my thought process, a lot of the shit I believe in. Then, of course, you’re gonna get a large focus on the quality of the actual sound. On a musical level, actual musicality is going to present but at the same time you’re getting raps that are very “rappy”, so to speak. You’re going to always get a lot of lyricism. For me, a musician, I also have a large focus on the musical aspect – on the transformation of styles, the creation of new styles. Working on new things to give people – not to be corny – give people some shit you’re not going to get anywhere else because it hasn’t been done yet.
AN : Cool! So how did you get into music?
Skuzii : Funny story, actually. My whole family is athletes. I’m one of the first musicians. My grandfather bought a saxophone when I was about nine or ten [years old] – not for me, he just bought one. He was like, “I can’t do nothin’ with this” and so he gave it to me. Then, I just went through public school – you know you gotta be in band, orchestra, or chorus. I just figured I was really good at [saxophone] and it just stuck. Everything else went after that. I got into playing piano [and] learned how to play guitar. I started making beats on Fruity Loops, of course, when I was like 13 [years old] in like 2005. I just kept growing with it. I went to HU for saxophone – I was on scholarship. That’s Hampton University to be specific. I started writing when I was like eight [years old] but I started taking it more seriously in high school.
AN : Do you feel like playing instruments helped with your rapping or lyricism?
Skuzii : I wouldn’t necessarily say the lyricism, but definitely the rhythmic aspect of [rapping]. When you play instruments, you have to have a very good understanding of rhythm, time signature, and things of that nature. The way that I approach rap… I approach it from more of a musical level, as opposed to a lot of my peers. There are things that I can add from playing instruments that I wouldn’t know if I just rapped. For example, when I rap and perform, I know how to use my diaphragm or even just the concept of the diaphragm and breathing. That’s all from saxophone stuff. Also, using vibrato or knowing how to do certain things vocally for myself.
AN : So, who would you say your musical influences are? I know that Slick Rick has to be one judging from your album [Veronica’s Apartment].
Skuzii : I would say it’s a combination of things, man. I have a really good musical memory. Once I hear [a song] one time, it’s just kind of stuck [in my head]. So, it’s real easy for me to memorize things. The inspiration I get comes from all over. I hear certain things and be like, “Ok, this will sound good right here,” especially with the Slick Rick thing from “Shrimp Quesadillas”. In general, J. Cole is a big influence on me. He kinda gave me the confidence to start rapping. Kendrick Lamar [is definitely an influence] because he’s always pushing musical boundaries. Terrace Martin, who works with [Kendrick Lamar] – amazing saxophone player, a really good key player, really good producer… just a very well-rounded musician. Thelonious Monk is one of my favorite Jazz musicians, piano player. [Pyotr Ilyich] Tchaikovsky, the classical composer. Not even because of his music, I just think his name is funny as hell. I like dark shit too. Any type of sounds can inspire me.
AN : The title of your album is Veronica’s Apartment. You know what I’m gonna ask! Who’s Veronica and what’s the significance of her apartment?
Skuzii : Essentially, Veronica is one of my best friends. She’s like my sister. We went to Hampton [University] together and we just ended up getting real close over the years. The whole album – the concept is really about what I consider my “ain’t shit” period. I couldn’t be in school no more. I didn’t really have any good job situation worked out. I really didn’t have any inspiration or inclination to do more. Veronica was always nice enough to stick with me through that time. Anytime I needed a place to stay, I stayed at her crib. There was always something going on at her crib that just led to inspiration. Veronica is literally a Day One for me. I’ve always been there making albums at her crib, too, working on music. So, it was just a story that really needed to be told. Shout out to Veronica!
AN : We love Veronica! I know it’s hard to pick, but what are your favorite tracks from the album?
Skuzii : I would say “Veronica’s Couch” is probably my favorite. I knew it would probably be the most overlooked – which it is. If you really listen to the whole album, front to back, it tells you the whole story of that time period. I feel like the last song not only wraps up the whole project, but it also really captures that state of mind that’s being challenged in the whole project. The instrumentation – [there] was a really good string section on there. I really like the string section. Of course, “Conversation’s [in a Parking Lot]” is a song about my father. A lot of people think that my Dad’s just like an asshole. Nah, it’s kinda just supposed to show you that a lot times we see our parents as they can’t do nothin’ wrong. Sometimes, your parents are fucked up. My Dad has done some dumb shit, but that’s still my Dad, you know? That’s my nigga, I fuck with him heavy. Yeah, so that song – really the last half end of the project. [“Conversation’s in a Parking Lot”], “Missed Prescriptions” – all those songs tell very personal stories. The other ones were fun. I love the records. I love “Shrimp Quesadillas”. I love “Dasani” and stuff like that. That’s fun for me to do, that wasn’t very hard for me to do that. Also, rest in peace, too, because the gentleman who made the beat, EOM (??), passed away recently. He was very sick. So, definitely shout out to him.
AN : What’s your process for writing your songs?
Skuzii : It just depends. Again, I see it from two aspects when it comes to writing. There’s the more musical, technical aspect. Then, there’s the spiritual type shit. Pharrell [Williams] uses a phrase sometimes. He says, “When you go to the studio, you have to leave room for God to come in for the music.” Sometimes, you can really feel that shit. My more popular songs are the ones that took the least amount of time. I’m not no rushy person, either. I take my time with shit. “Shrimp Quesadillas” took a long time – not because it was difficult. It was just because we wanted to make sure it was the best song possible. Lyrics were easy, cool. The groove of it was real easy. Then adding the string parts, the piano part, all the backgrounds and stuff, the little things [are] what can take time. As far as the actual writing process, I would say sometimes it’s a technical thing. I really do like rap-rap so I take the time to think about things. I make sure I don’t force anything. Nothing in music should be forced. Nothing in life should be forced, really. So, I just want to make sure I’m groovin’ and not forcing it out. Then, there are other times where it just happens like on one of my songs on my last project called “Far from Perfect”. I was practicing keyboard one day, doing scales. The chords just kinda happened when I was noodling around. I thought of the concept earlier. I was like, “Man, I haven’t really written about myself honestly and being realistic about my character flaws, how I need to grow as a man and a person.” Once I had that concept, I just started playing the chords and it just happened. It happened in 15 minutes. Sometimes, it’s just about letting the universe work, you know?
AN : Right. So, tell me about who you collaborated with on [Veronica’s Apartment].
Skuzii : A lot of people. I think like twenty-something people – not even just features, additional musicians, [too]. What I liked about this project, in comparison to my last [project, Infinite Vibes from the Lands of Finesse], my last one I produced 100% by myself, which is cool. It’s nice to say that you did that but artistically, working with people is healthy. It’s healthy for you and it’s healthy for the music, too. You never know what somebody else can add to something. It’s like cooking – same thing. So, on [Veronica’s Apartment] I worked heavy with Jack Union – he’s a very good friend of mine. He was the executive producer. I had a lot of local talent that I fuck with heavy. Bobby Blaze – very positive dude, my brother Nice. My mans Conscious Kane – he’s a really good rapper from Hampton. He does all my flyers, too – very good visual artist. Lavahi – definitely wanna shout her out! She’s my frat sister. [She’s] an amazing singer. She did “Shrimp Quesadillas”, she was the feature, but she did a lot of backgrounds for it. She did the backgrounds for “Sober”, too. Jam Sesh Jess – I just did a show with her last night. She did a lot of backgrounds, too – very good singer. Molly did a lot of strings. Another young lady….[sighs] I can’t remember her name. Hopefully, she doesn’t see this. She did the strings for “Shrimp Quesadillas”. My brother Larry the Bassist did all the bass tracks – very, very dope. He’s the bass player for the Finesse Band. MyNameBryan did keys and did some singing. I’m leaving a lot of people out. We could be here all day. [The] point being there was a very big community effort when it came to the project.
AN: How did you decide on your album art?
Skuzii : I’m a big fan of art but I kind of bask in my ignorance when it comes to art, because with music, I feel like when you go through formal education, it kinda ruins a lot of the aesthetic responses you get from it. I can never really just listen to a song and just be like, “Oh, this shit sounds cool!” I’ll be like, “Man, that modulation was wild” or “Damn, they put that shit in E-flat?” It’s always a more technical aspect, so you don’t just get to really enjoy it for what it is. With art, I really don’t know shit about art. I know little things, but I don’t break it down. I literally look at shit and be like “Oh, that looks pretty cool. I like that.” So, one of my favorite artists is Ash Schmitt – he’s out in Australia. I was a fan of his before he started working with me. He has like 10,000 or 11,000 followers. I didn’t even think he was gonna respond to me, but I hit him up one day a long time ago when I was really trying to focus on my image. I was like, “Hey, would you ever do an album cover?” He’s like, “yeah” – alright bet! So, he did my first cover and I just liked that he let me be as eccentric as possible. He does really minimal shit and I love it. For [Veronica’s Apartment], I sent him a photo that my friend, Wes Banks, took in Veronica’s apartment during that time period. It’s one of the only photos we have from that time. So, I sent him the photo and he painted it based off that. The back [cover] is really important, too. The back [cover] is me laying down in a certain position with all the credits and stuff going down. I just always wanted the cover that people say, you know?
AN : The fire joint! The classic! [Laughs]
Skuzii : Facts. Whenever you see somebody laying like this, you know it’s gonna be a fire album. So, I sent [Schmitt] a picture like that too and that’s how that came to be. It’s definitely one of my favorite covers. I like the color combination, too – a lot of pastel.
AN : So, what’s with you and octopuses?
Skuzii : When I was working on that last project [Infinite Vibes from the Lands of Finesse], I think I just kind of found myself a lot more. For some reason when I texted people, I sent them octopus emojis. I really didn’t know why I was doing it. Then after awhile it started making sense. I kinda see myself as an octopus, in a sense. One, they’re very adaptable – they can adapt to any situation. They have one of the most complex body designs and have been consistent for millions of years. The reason that there’s not a lot of [octopuses] is because they’re so faithful to their offspring when they’re born. They literally wait ‘til they hatch. When I say wait, I don’t mean they just be chillin’. They don’t eat anything, they literally wait right there. A lot of times, they starve to death waiting on their kids to hatch. So, they’re pretty cool. I like them. Then, [there’s] the aspect of being able to do a lot of things at once. If you ever see one of the shows where I’m by myself, you’ll see me play everything on the stage. If the band’s not there, I’ll play keys, I’ll play the sax. I be rappin’, I be singin’.
AN : That’s tight! What would you say has been the highest point of your musical career so far?
Skuzii : We did a show for Hampton [University]. Hampton is really hard to do stuff at because they’re so strict over there. Then, there’s not really a strong artist community there. Not because they’re not good – there’s a lot of dope artists. They just don’t have that solid foundation of a community. At [Hampton], you never really see artists putting on events. Again, not because they don’t want to, but because there’s no format for it and you don’t get that much help. So, I definitely wanted to establish our own format as far as doing things. So, me and my people went back and put on our show. It wasn’t nobody else’s, it wasn’t the school’s. We teamed up with one of the dorm directors there that Jack Union is real cool with. The [dorm’s] whole 8th floor is like a balcony, kind of – not a balcony but just like a whole [space] to itself. We went up there. Perla Woods, who directed the “Veronica’s Apartment” video, did the set design. Ms. G., the dorm director, made sure we had drinks and stuff. We had our own sound people come in. So, it was our event that we took control of and the students really enjoyed it. My whole thing for doing it, again, was to just show them that you can do your own shit. You don’t have to wait on anybody. Everybody from the 7-5 [7 area code], they didn’t have anywhere to put me. They were just like “Oh, this nigga’s a rapper, saxophone, R&B dude.” Because of that, it was hard for us to get shows because nobody could categorize us. After we started doing our own shit, it got a lot easier and now we’re getting booked. So, just to show people you don’t have to wait for anybody. You can do your own shit.
AN : So, what’s next for Skuzii?
Skuzii : We’re just gonna keep building, man. I haven’t really told nobody this yet but me, Ash Schmitt, and Jack Union are pretty much doing something on a monthly-basis. We’re just going to be dropping a song every month. We’re not gonna really announce it – I think that’s kind of corny like, [nerdy voice] “We’re having a song every month.” Nah, we’re just going to drop a song. [Ash Schmitt] will be doing the artwork, I’ll, of course, be doing the songs with Union. We just did one [song] called “Miles Morales”. I had a different gentleman do that art for that one but that was the first song we dropped. We have another one coming May 1st and it’s gonna be very funky. I’m very excited for it. Besides that, we’re doing an AirBnB tour this summer, too. I’m still looking for cities to stop at. I think that’s really it, right now. Just always working.
AN : Cool! You have anything else you wanna include?
Skuzii : Yeah, fuck R. Kelly. Always support the art, man. S-k-u-z with two I’s. You can search that anywhere. Eat clean – don’t go to Wendy’s and get the 2-for-$6 no matter how good it looks. Drink lots of water and use condoms.
Veronica’s Apartment is available for purchase on iTunes and is available for streaming on Apple Music, Tidal, and Spotify.
GRXZZLY has finally released the official music video for “inSight” featuring Olumide. This track is a relaxing cut from GRXZZLY’s EP #inGHEEnious. Matching the down-to-earth vibe of the song, the visuals show GRXZZLY and Olumide posted up in everyday life. Directed by GRXZZLY and edited by Olumide, the video showcases their versatility. Watch the video for “inSight” below: