LordGio Speaks on Artistry, Overcoming Depression, and Open Musical Horizons

by Dustin

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It’s not very often that a submission to our open inbox actually catches our ears here. Generally projects are half finished, poorly put together, and underdeveloped; yet, the inbox remains open as a means for artists to put themselves out there. It stays worthwhile as every once in a while something genuinely special blows away all expectations. That was the case when Mississippi’s LordGio submitted his Heatwave Vol. 1 tape several months back. Digging into his back catologue showed a true hidden gem of an artist, and a true creative. Simply reviewing his material would have been difficult. There is no material about his backstory to provide context. It would have done any of his works a severe injustice.

That’s where we come in. We decided to sit down with LordGio and really sink into what makes him an individual. It’s a bit of a longer read, but we promise it’s well worth it. Enjoy.


EN: For those who are unaware, could you give a little background on yourself as a musician?

LordGio: Alright well, I guess technically I started with music in middle school when I was learning to play the trumpet, which I practiced all the way up until college. When it comes to rapping though, I started writing raps in 5th grade and they were pretty trash…but I guess decent for my age looking back at them? Like, I had a knack for sticking to themes, subjects and storytelling even though the wording was pretty cringey. Sometime in the 9th grade, I started being active on the website RapGenius (now Genius). I saw so many musicians on the forums and that made me realize how un-impossible this whole thing was.

I had gotten the game Rock Band in middle school and I played it pretty much every day until around the 9th grade when I didn’t really have time and I could pretty much “100%” all the songs on hard mode. I got the idea to use the microphone from the game (because it was a working USB Microphone) and use that to actually record some rapping on my favorite beats. I believe the first one I did was Low Class Conspiracy by Quasimoto.

I wrote something on the way to school and it kind of had the same subject of police brutality and was a bit of a distortion of a real life story that happened to me and looking back it’s one of the few of my old things that I’m like “eh that’s not too shabby”. I post that to the forum, asking people what they think. There wasn’t much technique or wordplay, but people appreciated the flow and storytelling and said it was pretty good besides the fact that it sounded like ass because the cheap mic and lack of mixing and mastering. However, that was enough for me to be like, “huh maybe I /can/ do this”. I started doing it more often all the while trying to improve my lyrical ability; studying hip hop way more than I did before and studying from all sorts of artists that I never listened to before. I eventually hit a bump where I was tired of looking for beats and never really finding anything that really fit what I was looking for (not to mention being too broke to afford any legitimately).

I started fiddling with the idea of just making my own beats. I tried all sorts of useless free software and made a bunch of worthless material, but each time I got better than the last and that’s all that mattered to me. I eventually landed on ableton and started getting decent enough after a while to where people said it was alright, but not to the point where I wanted to rap over it (which was the initial goal of course). I kept trying and trying and shaping and molding and changing styles until I finally made one and decided to try rapping over it. It was decent, but it sounded terrible. That was around halfway through the 10th grade…

Now I’d suffered from depression since middle school, and around this same time is where I probably hit rock bottom. I got tired of the routine (wake up, go to school, go home, repeat…replace school with college and then with work and do this until you die). I felt like life was so pointless and i just wanted to skip to the dying part, but I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in Chemistry class and I was staring out of the window looking at birds fly and wishing I could just do the same. Just be able to fly and never have to stay in the same place, and deal with the same shit over and over again. I was addicted to watching Curren$y’s Jet Life vlogs and wished I could just be on the road like that and go all over the world. So I said fuck it, that’s what I’m gonna do. I didn’t know how I was gonna do it, but I knew I was gonna do it. And I just kept getting better everyday. I didn’t even care about school anymore, nothing else mattered and music was the only thing I thought about from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. This shit became the only thing I’m alive for, and so I refused to let anything get in the way of it.

EN: So you got really serious about it at that point.

LordGio: Yeah. I started figuring out the formulas from watching interviews, listening to people’s firsthand accounts, soaking up any kind of knowledge, advice, and good or bad examples that I could find. I didn’t have any connections so i made myself the connection. I learned how to make beats, I learned how to mix and master, I learned how to promote myself, and most importantly, I figured out how exactly to get on and do something with this.

Enter: JELLYFISH_.

I realized that if I was ever gonna do something with this, I have to be unique. I have to have my own sound and my own image and my own brand. People need to remember me apart from everybody else that makes music. So I started a project making beats from scratch, with no real stylistic blueprint. Whereas before, I though “I’m gonna make a beat like this guy or like that guy.” I instead started JELLYFISH_ with the mindset that “I’m gonna make this beat that’s not like anything I’ve ever heard before.” I finally got enough songs that I was proud of, cut out a bunch of them, and put it on Bandcamp. Since then it’s been pretty much business as usual

That album didn’t just grant me any wishes or anything, but I’d say that was the turning point where I started realizing how to get myself on, and actually started applying it.

EN: I notice you mentioned Quasimoto. I’m assuming Madlib is one of your influences, but who else influenced and shaped your drive to produce?

LordGio: Madlib is definitely one of my primary influences. I’d say Curren$y was the one who inspired me to rap, but I remember very clearly that I wanted to start producing after I listened to Purple Naked Ladies by The Internet. Noisey had a behind the scenes interview with them at Syd and Matt’s apartment. They had simple, barebones furnishing, with eccentric lighting everywhere and a simple studio room and I was just like “this is it.” That was what I dreamed of. I imagined having a space like that and I was able (and still to this day able) to say that, if I could just wake up in a place like that everyday and just be able to and make some shit and do whatever…that was my dream.

At that time I was really into Odd Future stylistically. It was through them that I discovered guys like MF DOOM. I guess they kind of opened my ears to so many different genres and sounds. They probably inspired me to be confident enough make something as left-field and all over the place as JELLYFISH_.

Other influences though would be A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, the OVO collective. Artists like Three 6 Mafia, UGK and No Limit were influences from before I even started making music. Being from Mississippi that’s pretty much what I was raised on. I think those influences are starting to show a little bit more than they may have on JELLYFISH_ with this new sequel project I’m working, ANEMONE_. I should also list Flying Lotus, Hiatus Kaiyote and even Led Zeppelin to an extent. I’m influenced by a lot of stuff really [laughs], I don’t think I could make a full list.

EN: Do you believe that having a wide range of influences helped you to become more versatile as a producer going forward?

LordGio: Yeah definitely. I think having an ear for so many different genres has not only opened me up to different rhythms, chords, tones/tambres, but also different subjects or concepts that people who only listen to one style of music may not be familiar with but perhaps that they identify with personally or culturally. I think having those things that people can relate to gives them a further appreciation for my work because I show awareness of things they aren’t used to being addressed in “hip-hop.”

Speaking of that, I think having these different influences has also helped me to craft a sound that doesn’t strictly fit one genre. This allows my music to be picked up in different crowds. I’ve had people tell me that they’d never thought they would like 4/4 style dance music until they heard the second half of drip, at which point they started seeking out more. They saw that there could be stuff for them in the dance music world.

EN: Do you think it’s too limiting when artists allow themselves to be defined by a single genre right out of the gate?

LordGio: Yeah, I think it can cause problems in the long run. I don’t think Kanye ever really wanted to just be a rapper for example. I think he always intended on making projects like 808s & Heartbreak or Yeezus, but maybe we just caught him early in his creativity. I’ve noticed that there are artists who “blew up too early.” What often happens in the entertainment industry is that artists tend to be forced into the style fans discovered them with. If you look at a Kanye or an Earl Sweatshirt, you see people who suffered because they got famous for one thing, when in reality they have a lot more to offer.

I think a Tyler, the Creator is an example of when it goes right. He came in the game kind of unusual, so he had room throughout his career to completely re-invent his style because nobody knew what to expect since the beginning. I think that’s what I aim for and why I’ve grown much more patient with my career bubbling slowly. I want to build a diverse catalog before people really start looking at me, so no one has to look at future releases and feel blindsided by a change of pace.

EN: Touching on something you mentioned earlier because I’ve gone through similar things mentally. I was wondering if you could expand on the importance of music for you when dealing with depression?

LordGio: It was a lifesaver man. I grew up in a household that stood on the concept of “you’re a child, you don’t open your mouth unless spoken to. You don’t have an opinion, privacy, or a right to your own thoughts.” Looking back, that’s an unhealthy way to raise a child because it’s important for people to get these thoughts out freely and have them heard and digested rather than instantly rejected. I grew up feeling like I was alone. Like I’m the only one who thought the things that I thought and saw the things that I saw and there was something wrong with me. At some point early in childhood this, coupled with bullying at school and other things essentially made me give up on society. I still to this day (while I’m trying to work on it) feel like I can speak something clearly in English and other people react like I’m speaking another language. I just stopped saying anything.

I was left alone with these thoughts, like an open wound left to fester. Lack of self esteem turned into self hatred when I was the only one who seeing my side of things. Parents reinforced those negative thoughts that I already had. Life is only a predictable cycle of misery when shown no other path but the standard, and it fueled the inadequacy and self hatred because I don’t fall into that norm.

When you introduce the idea of writing lyrics however, this changes things a little. It introduced a space where I could write these ideas down. There is no criteria for being right or wrong; there is no “MLA format.”; there are no weird looks or uncomfortable moments; there is no misunderstanding because I know exactly what I mean by these words. When I share these ideas with strangers and they like them, they try to figure them out. Even if they’re getting it wrong, it feels like I’m not alone.

I mentioned that i first started recording music after being active on Genius. This also introduced me to many of my best friends of all time. People who were intrigued by the same art as me, even if it was for different reasons. This shows that I am truly not alone because if they completely shared my points of view, that would still feel like being alone. For their thoughts to be different takes on my own, it shows they aren’t patronizing my thoughts by pretending to share them.

Producing tacked on a whole new level to this. There’s kind of an understanding of how inefficient and ineffective spoken language can be. There are feelings and ideas that neither I, nor anyone can find the words for, but that I know other people experience. I think art is such a powerful tool because it allows us to communicate those feelings and thoughts to each other without the limitations of semantics, grammar, logic, and tone. A person can look at a painting of some splotches of color, and feel something from looking at it that they just can’t express in words; however, they know what they’re feeling, and it’s so strange because that feeling can be so much different than what the artist felt or even what the next viewer will feel.

Producing music is my painting. I have this freedom to put sounds here and there, like colors from my palette. Sounds that I create, sounds that I cut out and re-use because they’re familiar to me.

This limitless nature of sounds shows me that maybe life isn’t a predictable cycle. If nothing else, I can at least count on the idea that there are no railroad tracks constraining me musically. I applied this to life and realized that the railroad is only there if I want it to be. We’re told to drive on the road and that works for many people, but the truth is that we’re perfectly free to pull over and walk into the woods. If I wander around the woods long enough I may find other campers like me who have the techniques and supplies to help me survive. Alternatively, I could kick the bucket before I find these people, but that’s okay with me as long as I’m able to roam freely with the imagination of something being out there. It gives life meaning and a reason for me to press on and keep waking up for the next chapter.

EN: Do you think that, in general, we (be that author, musician, average person, whoever) need to be more open about mental illness? I know for many, particularly for individuals in poorer communities, there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset around it. I know you mentioned experiencing something like that with your family, so I’m very interested in your thoughts about how the discourse needs to change.

LordGio: That’s it exactly! There’s a cycle in poorer communities that “we have bigger things to worry about than mental health,” but that only creates further problems. We tell our kids that they don’t have anything to be upset about, which teaches them to disregard their emotions in unhealthy ways. It ends up warping their view of the world and causing them to develop more bad habits or commit harmful acts to themselves or others as an outlet.

Then as adults we reject the idea of seeking therapy, even amongst ourselves via honest dialogue because “these bills are more important” or “there’s nothing wrong with me.” Our kids see this, and it adds to the stigma around mental illness.

Unfortunately, the famous people who are more honest with their personal issues and struggles are seen as alternative, strange, or downright taboo to individuals in these communities too.

EN: I appreciate your openness on these subjects, thank you. Moving back into your music a little bit, your last project had some work with other vocalists if I remember correctly. What’s it like to work with the idea of having someone else perform on your track?

LordGio: It’s really exciting because when I’m making a song – whether it has lyrics or not – I kind of have this whole central idea of the song when listening. But then when I’m collaborating with people it’s interesting to see that the song could evoke a totally different or eerily similar feeling in them. It’s also exciting when I’m mixing or editing their vocals and they get that same sort of feeling.

EN: Would you like to expand further into working with other artists on their own material, or do you prefer to work mostly on your solo releases?

LordGio: I do prefer to work mostly on my solo releases, but I also want to have collaborative projects with people. My JELLYFISH_ album is part of a three part series and they’re all going to be self produced and have no features, but I’m always excited to have collaborations on other projects.

I also want to collaborate with artists of different mediums. I have this video out right now called “eyes(n)ears” that depicts me playing a set while a line artist I met does a live-draw outside a local art museum. We’re gonna be looking to do it again in different places.

But expanding on that, I’m interested in doing work on video games, anime, and independent film. I have fragments of ideas for short films, but I want to focus on my music first before I take on another medium.

EN: That seems like a very unexplored territory for younger producers. The only producer that immediately jumps to mind for soundtracking video games is Doseone. Do you think producing for other artists is a skill that’s highly transferable to scoring for a game or movie? I mean that in the sense that you’re basically having to bring someone else’s ideas to life rather than your own.

LordGio: Yeah, the only one I can think of in video games is C418 who made the Minecraft soundtrack. But yeah, it’s the same as that whole collaboration aspect where I think it would be cool to create my own interpretation of that artist’s vision. There’s usually more functional soundtracks, but then there’s those like Minecraft, or anime like Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, and Samurai Champloo, where the soundtrack composer approached it with the functionality taking a backseat but while still fitting within the aesthetic of the whole production. That’s where you have projects whose soundtracks can arguably stand alone as their own pieces. This often times enhances the project as a whole, because it can reinforce the emotions evoked from the writing or the visuals.

That’s the kind of thing I would want to work on, as I tend to find myself struggling when I try to do more strict and conventional work.

EN: To close, I’d like to ask a question that often gets asked to people who’ve made it to huge levels of fame; however, I always think the answer is more interesting when discussing it with smaller independant artists. If you were to sit down and talk with someone who was just learning to produce – as in they’re completely new to music as a whole – what would be the advice you’d give?
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LordGio: It would probably be that there’s no right way to do this. Lots of people are gonna feel like you’re doing it wrong, because either you’re not using the traditional techniques or because you’re not doing the state-of-the-art new techniques. The truth is, art has no blueprint. There’s no tried and true route to creating art, otherwise it wouldn’t be art. I look on the internet from time to time and see a lot of people asking what tools they should use, whether hardware is better than software, and whether sampling, sound design, or the use of live instrumentation is better. The truth is it could be any combination of those things that makes a great project, or it could just be one. Either way, use what you can get your hands on because it makes for a more interesting story when you came across a tool or material by chance and figured out how to make sounds with it especially if it’s something nobody ever considers using.

So yeah, there’s no right or wrong way. Don’t listen to the old people or the hipsters. Don’t listen to the little kids or the hypebeasts. Just make what feels right.

Album Review: Nocando – Severed

by Dustin

Severed

3.5/10

Those who have followed Los Angeles’ amazing alternative hip-hop scene will recognize the name of Hellfyre Club. Through the early 2010s, Hellfyre Club was an independent powerhouse that played home to a mass of independent mainstays. Busdriver, Open Mike Eagle, milo, VerBS and Anderson .Paak are just a few of the names to have been associated with the label’s roster alongside rapper and founder, Nocando; however, things started to go awry for the label in 2014. Dozens of fans didn’t physical copies of releases ordered through Hellfyre’s Bandcamp and took to review boards to voice their concerns. Additionally, tensions between milo and Nocando allegedly began to boil over when the label failed to compensate the young artist for his album A Toothpaste Suburb. This lead to the departure of most of the outfit’s main acts, such as Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, and milo himself. The trio would release a free “farewell” EP, The Catcher of the Fade, with a handful of ex-Hellfyre Club musicians (with no involvement from Nocando) before moving onto greener pastures to continue crafting their art.

While the majority of the former members never spoke out against Hellfyre Club personally, there was a clear distancing from Nocando and the label. Busdriver once mentioned over Twitter that the vision of the label had died and that it was time to move on. The label sat in static, halted to indefinite hiatus after the release of Nocando’s 2014 album Jimmy the Burnout. Like most things however, Hellfyre Club was not allowed to stay as a memory. In early May of 2017 the label would see its first release in over three years with the very quiet release of The Life I Live EP by Cadalack Ron.

Flash forward less than a month, and Nocando has decided to release his first album in three years, Severed, under the Hellfyre Club moniker as well.

As an emcee, Nocando really doesn’t offer up a lot of versatility or creativity behind the mic. He’s pretty decent at what he does – which is a very punchy, sometimes crude, and simplistic throwback approach to rap – but seems to confine himself to his comfort zone. This really does not change on Severed either. Nocando does what he’s always done, and after a while the verses begin to feel like a bit of a homogeneous blob. He’s got an incredibly grating, gruff delivery on this release that feels incredibly out of place on some of the production. It’s as if Nocando is angry for the entire duration of the album, even when the overall tone of a song is nowhere near that emotion. He attempted to make up for a lack of personality by sounding aggressive, and to be honest itt did not work at all.

To make matters worse, nearly every feature outshone Nocando on this record and most of them weren’t even that interesting. Slug dropped a really nice verse on the song “Useless” (which also had one of the best instrumentals on Severed), which is well worth hearing. Aside from that though, no one really stood out. They just happened to be better than a very underwhelming lead emcee.

On a more positive note, the album art is really cool. But also, Severed feels much more focused than Nocando’s previous work. For example, Jimmy the Burnout felt like an incredibly scattered release. It listened more like a up-and-coming rapper’s debut mixtape than a studio album by a veteran underground emcee. Severed on the other hand, while boring at times, is quite cohesive. There seems to be an attempt at establishing an overarching sound for the album, which is something Nocando has struggled with in the past. It was a a bit of a surprise, but most certainly a pleasant one.

Unfortunately this has more to do with the production than his rapping. The instrumentals on Severed are actually pretty cool for the fast majority of the album. There’s a lot of trap flavor to the production, and tracks such as “Villain” certainly have a unique sound. What really is a bother however, is the absolutely dreadful mixing on this tape. The vocal volumes are all over the place from track to track. For example, “Useless” is significantly louder than its follow up song “Villain”. Add in frequently cracking “s” sounds and instrumentals that are way too quiet, and you’ve got a release with technical issues so severe that it detracts from the listening experience. Not good. The departure from Daddy Kev as an engineer was a very poor decision.

Overall this is a pretty weak release that ultimately feels unnecessary. Outside of the context of his once amazing underground collective, Nocando is just another rapper. He’s at his best when surrounded by talent with more charisma than himself, such as his group work with Busdriver as Flash Bang Grenada. On his own, he lacks the ability to create a great album. This was much of the issue with Severed. It was just so overwhelmingly generic and poorly handled. It’s a shame too, because there did genuinely seem to be some good ideas behind the album, Nocando just dropped the ball when it came to executing them in a way that makes for an enjoyable listen. He’s failed to address his shortcomings as a rapper, and they’ve only began to compound and worsen.

It’s hard to see the appeal in Severed unless you’re a big Nocando fan or desperately clinging onto the nostalgia of Hellfyre Club. A label that should’ve been allowed to rest permanently after the mistreatment of fans and artists around the time of its initial demise.

Collectors Corner: Sean Price, Raekwon, and Joey Bada$$.

by Rajin

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Not long ago, I was marveling at my hilariously shrimpy CD collection and decided to take it upon myself to revive this very dead section of the site. I’ve got a few items that I thought would be cool to share, both today and in the future. I figured this was also as good a way as any to give my thoughts on newer albums that I liked but didn’t review for one reason or another. Hopefully we can start this section back up with more regular drops, but without further ado, here are the items I felt like sharing.

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First up is the Gorilla Box Set, by the late, great Sean Price. After the unfortunate and untimely passing of Sean Price, Duck Down reissued all three of his studio albums (Monkey Barz, Jesus Price Supastar, and Mic Tyson), packaging them together to make this box set. It was released in for both CD and vinyl. As you can see, this is the CD version. It’s got a lenticular cover depicting what seems to be the scene immediately preceding the image you see on the Mic Tyson cover.

Artwork from each album is shown on each of the three side panels of the box, and the back cover shows an illustration of Sean sitting at a campfire. The CDs come in jewel cases, which is something I’m actually sort of relieved about, because from what I’ve seen before CD box sets often use cheap slimline digipacks/cardboard sleeves.

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Next up is the CD for Raekwon’s latest album, The Wild. Both Dustin and I were in agreement when we listened to this album on Spotify about how silly the album cover looked. It was like a less kickass rendition of the Mic Tyson cover. However, seeing it in the physical changes things entirely. The illustration seems far clearer and less cluttered in print than it is on a computer screen. Overall the packaging is kept simple. There isn’t even a booklet. It’s just a front flap that opens to the CD. That’s fine for me though, for the most part. I’m a sucker for digipak.

This is probably the best non-Cuban Linx album that Rae has released. Rae managed to create an album where he made boom bap sound radio-ready in the current state of hip hop, which is quite impressive. While most of the songs are nothing out of the ordinary for Raekwon at this point in his career, it’s a very enjoyable album that I think will serve as an easily accessible entry point for newer hip hop fans to use in order to get into his style and catalog.

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And lastly, we have the CD for Joey Bada$$’s new album, All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$. On his last album and mixtapes prior to that, Joey established himself as a new school artist who was making gritty boom bap music reminiscent of early Nas, Black Moon, and Smif-N-Wessun. Here, however, he steps out of his comfort zone, using production that is generally jazzier and lighter. He uses this album to express his confusion and, at times, anger, about having to grow up as a young black man in the current climate of America. He seems to come into his own on this album – it is his best release to date, to me.

The CD comes in a sleeve that depicts the American flag made of bandanas. This was the image that he had originally led people to believe was the cover art. It was a cute fakeout, I like the design so I wouldn’t have been mad if it happened. The actual cover is (to my knowledge) an impromptu pose that Joey made on the set of his “Devastated” video. It gives off a sense of carefree recklessness that I think actually betrays the most of the music on the album. I don’t think it fits the overall mood of the album, but the scenery of dirt roads in the middle of nowhere does a good job at portraying Joey as an outlaw, which I assume was the point.