I got the chance to speak with Russ, the rapper/producer who has proven himself to be a consistent hit-maker with plenty of air in his wheels. For this Russ interview, I wanted to speak to him about what fuels him to make great songs week after week, why he gives his music out so frequently as well as a few other questions that peaked my interest.
WHO YOU TALKIN’ TO? AN EPIC CONVERSATION WITH RUSS
PABLO (HIGHLARK): First of all let me introduce myself. I’m Pablo from Highlark, I was the one who wrote about your track “Moonlight In Atlanta.” I’m a fan of yours because I appreciate the music you create.
RUSS: Thank you bro.
PABLO: First and foremost how is your 2016 been?
RUSS: Oh man, 2016 has been crazy already bro, 2016 has been a whirlwind, complete whirlwind… a lot of traveling, a lot of meeting super epic people…
PABLO: Super epic people?
RUSS: Yea you know, the plays, everything is going up it’s all crazy.
PABLO: I know that you’ve moved around a lot. You said in one of your prior interviews that you didn’t have a permanent home…?
RUSS: Yea you know, I’ve moved around a lot, I’ve been in Atlanta for the past 10 years but I was born in Jersey, then moved to North Carolina, then Kentucky then to North Carolina then to Atlanta, so yea I moved around a lot.
PABLO: Do you think that had any influence on how you make music, because I know you speak about how a lot of [rappers] from Atlanta they seem to take another approach to their music.
RUSS: Yea, because of all the moving around, it never made me identify sonically with any one region so I was never trying to make “Atlanta sound” because I didn’t feel that defined who I was…
PABLO: Yea, because you seem a lot more complex than having a sound from just one place.
RUSS: Yea, yea.
PABLO: Also, how many instruments can you play?
RUSS: I can play, well here’s the thing, John Lennon said “I’m an artist and if you bring me a tuba, I’ll get you something out of it.” you know? I can play guitar, piano, a little bit of drums… I have songs on my SoundCloud of me playing the ukulele so I feel like if you give me an instrument, I’ll play it.
PABLO: That’s how I feel too… I feel that once you have that musical inclination, I think you can put energy into basically anything and make music.
RUSS: Right, I agree 100%
PABLO: Do you think that the music that you are making right now is an expression of your soul? Do you believe that more musicians should be making music of that caliber?
RUSS: Yea I do, I think music should be an expression of your soul and an expression of your life. It should be honest and true, and I think the world would be a better place if they were doing that.
PABLO: That’s what I get from you… you have a lot of diversity [in your music].
RUSS: Thank you.
PABLO: What do you get from making music? What does it do for you?
RUSS: It’s therapeutic you know what I mean? It’s almost like meditation, it’s like so necessary for me to be able to make music. If I go too long without making music, I feel like I’m suffocating and I get super on edge… It’s definitely like a drug, it’s super vital for my sanity to make music.
PABLO: Why do you feel it’s better to let your music branch out via download? Why do you put out fire music every week?
RUSS: The thing is, if you don’t have any wild backing or a publicist or some crazy shit you have to create the platform for yourself. A lot of these artists and the BS industry artists, they try to act like they’re independent yet they have a big team and big machine behind them… So they don’t have to be putting out a song every week because someone is handing them the platform, but for me it’s like “OK, I don’t know anyone in the music industry so I have to create the platform myself.” If I consistently drop good music, then I’m creating my own platform… That’s why that song “Do It Myself” is super real to me, even though it’s a turn up song the message is mad real, because I literally had to do this myself. No one is putting me on with this…. I got to where I am now which is where everyone from the labels is calling and being able to get Cara Lewis, the best booking agent in the world, you see all these pieces coming together. That’s because I created the platform and I went to get the attention of people you know what I mean?
PABLO: I know that you produce almost all of your music?
RUSS: Yea, I produce everything I do, and mix it and master it and engineer it and everything.
PABLO: Yea it reminds me of one of my favorite [artists] Big K.R.I.T, he does the same thing.
RUSS: That’s epic.
PABLO: I know you were a producer first, but which comes quicker or more natural?
RUSS: I don’t know, they both come pretty natural. Making beats always comes faster for me because making beats in general isn’t that hard to do. I’ve been making beats for 10 years and recording songs isn’t that hard for me either. In general it’s a longer process because of how I like to record, I’m a complete perfectionist, make sure I hit the right note with everything. They are both pretty natural, I know my voice, I know my pocket, I know my range, making songs is super natural for me because I’m not out there doing something that isn’t for me.
PABLO: One question, you seem to like Latin women a lot, what about Latinas do you like?
RUSS: (laughs) Yea I love Latin women. I think them, and Middle Eastern women are perfect for me, they are nicely tanned. I love brunette hair, I love curly thick brunette hair, I love full curvy women with big lips and big eyes and then the accent and all the craziness I’m with all that (laughs).
PABLO: (laughing) I know all of that. You’re preaching to the choir man. I’m both, I’m Dominican and Lebanese and I didn’t know much about Lebanese [culture] but Lebanese women are beautiful.
RUSS: Bro Lebanese women…
PABLO: One thing, this word ‘Authentic’ is the word I use for you because there is not that much authenticity in music. Who are your musical role models that drives you to be less of what people want to hear and more of what you want to make?
RUSS: Kanye and Drake for sure, a lot of people have a lot of ish to say about Drake but… Drake is so authentic. When he first came onto the scene, that whole sound, everyone does that now, he literally came through and made his sound go mainstream and that’s epic so Drake and Kanye are the only two artists in hip-hop that make me want to get better because they are the only two in hip-hop to me that are sonically pushing the envelope, vocally and musically… Everybody in rap can spit a 16 but the ones that are #1 are the ones that are doing more than rap… Drake and Kanye are the best at that, not even an opinion. Those are my biggest sparring partners.
PABLO: I was listening to a song that I really liked when I was younger called “When You’re Strange” and Jim Morrison says “No one remembers your name, when you’re strange…”
RUSS: You talkin’ bout “People Are Strange” by the Doors?
RUSS: Yea the Doors are amazing I love Jim Morrison. He was a big influence. I went through a massive Morrison phase, he’s amazing, he’s one of the best writers ever.
PABLO: I definitely see that influence. He said “No one remembers your name when you’re strange” but I see a lot of strange [artists] adopting the strange to get noticed but you [Russ] are more low-key and authentic, what is the benefit of being true to yourself in music?
RUSS: The benefit is that you’re timeless. When you’re being yourself, you are timeless because the world has never seen YOU before so you’ll always be cool and you’ll always be wanted. When you’re not being yourself, that will eat you alive, it’ll be too much at some point. Whatever you’re being that isn’t yourself, you’ll eventually get tired of being that and you’ll say “Fuck, that’s what the world knows me as but I really want to be myself.” you know what I mean? It’s healthier to be yourself.
PABLO: I was equating it to WWE, there are artists that have gimmicks and they burn out a lot faster, they are forgettable. You said it in “Understand That,” these artists are the clones of other artists, I thank you because you do inspire people, I definitely felt inspired.
PABLO: Favorite genre outside of rap?
RUSS: (long pause to think) Singer songwriter [acoustic] with a piano or guitar.
PABLO: Video Game?
RUSS: It’s a tie between 2K, FIFA and Madden.
PABLO: Yea I hear that, that Myplayer mode I’d be on that for days.
RUSS: (laughs) Yea.
PABLO: TV shows, Anime, or No TV?
RUSS: I watch TV shows, not anime.
PABLO: Favorite city?
RUSS: New York City.
PABLO: Ayeeeee. What part of the city?
PABLO: Brooklyn is nice they’d rock your music there.
RUSS: I fuck with Brooklyn heavy.
PABLO: A word to describe yourself, if you can describe yourself within the parameters of one word?
RUSS: (pondering) Energy.
PABLO: Good energy?
RUSS: Just energy, theres no difference, people make it negative.
PABLO: Song that means the most to you that you’ve made.
RUSS: That’s out right now? “Dr. Seuss” or “Titanic.”
PABLO: That kind of music you can see how music can heal.
RUSS: Yea for sure.
PABLO: Honestly, I got everything I need.
RUSS: Cool, cool, cool, I was fucking with that!
PABLO: We’ll set [the article] up real nice!
PABLO: Epic, that’s the word of the day.
RUSS: That’s the word of my life! Epic, that’s what everything needs to be.