Some people are destined to leave behind a routine nine-to-five job at one point or another during their lifetimes, choosing bravely to step out into the unknown in order to take a chance on a dream. For many creative souls, it's part of the journey to endure what most everyone else has to, such as clocking in to earn an honest living for a company frustratingly unrelated to your true goals and working day and night to figure out your own unique path to happiness.
For 24-year-old recording and Red Bull Sound Select artist Pell, working at a hometown dollar store helped open his eyes to see the bigger picture he had been envisioning for his life all along. Fast-forward to 2017 and he's now experiencing the exact circumstances surrounding what he once used to daydream about while working his bland day job. While his newfound reality is one full of late night studio sessions, frequent travel opportunities and collaborating with the likes of G-Eazy, Pell's ability to embrace and accept his humble beginnings as part of his story adds to his inspiring charm as a musician.
With his ode to transitioning into being an independent artist, a single aptly titled "Dollar Store," now an integral part of his growing catalog, Pell has since gone on to overcome the growing pains that come during the beginning stages of a budding rap career and is eagerly anticipating the fact that doors he's knocked on for years are now finally beginning to open. Navigating somewhere between an independent artist established in the underground and an artist strategically close to breaking through to a mainstream audience is a process that he cherishes, as well as understands. Lightheartedly referring to his forthcoming album as a "pregnancy in the third trimester," Pell accepts the fact that greatness can’t be rushed and that his best work is created when he can give it his undivided attention, much like a proud parent gives a newborn.
His newest records, "Late at Night" (feat. MNEK) and "Patient" are a great place to first become acquainted with Pell's infectious and intriguing sound, further proving that he’s continuing to evolve the "dream rap" category music critics have long tied him to. When revisiting his 2014 debut album, Floating While Dreaming, many sounds may feel eerily familiar to what a handful of today’s top musicians are currently doing, creating a strong argument that the music Pell was creating was a couple years ahead of its time.
With artists such as Chance the Rapper, Anderson .Paak, GoldLink and more delicately layering electronic-infused melodies over airy beats and balancing rapping with occasional singing and overall curating a feel-good soundscape, the genre is finding continued success in the mainstream space. While Pell's humble, optimistic and insightful nature has him at peace with others being inspired directly by his distinctive sound, the shift stylistically poises a question for the NOLA recording artist regarding which direction he'll take his music next. Will he continue to develop his signature sound? Or will he take his talents in a completely different musical direction entirely?
Luckily for fans and for the musician himself, removing the art of experimenting organically in the studio was never and will never be an option for him. Call it whatever you'd like, Pell is in the business of making timeless music and is here to honor whatever creative path his artistry takes him down next, all while staying true to his authentic self.
BET.com caught up with Pell following a slew of performances curated by Red Bull Sound Select to chat about where he's been and where he's heading next.
What's your day to day like these days?
I try to go to the studio for at least four to six hours a day. If I'm not doing that, I'm usually traveling. Working with Red Bull has been pretty cool because, since I’m independent, we’re able to do one-off shows. Other than that, I’m left to my own devices. I’ll usually pack in studio sessions, photo shoots, touch base with my manager and assistant and discuss creative ideas with my team. I usually am a bit of a recluse but my New Year’s resolution has been to go to at least five to 10 shows a month. You have to break routine and be social in order to grow.
Do you feel you are built for the fast-paced life of a recording artist? Is there anything you’ve learned over the years that you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
I feel like I was definitely built for this because of the joy that it brings me. What I wish I knew back then is that, among your routine, you need to try and find as much balance as possible. I know that balance is something that's damn near impossible in this profession [laughs] but having some sort of duality in one’s life is really important. To be able to put in all this work and at the same time to be able to soak in all these new influences and see other people's processes and do all these other things outside of my career, it's difficult. It’s a demanding career. But at the same time, I try and tell myself to try and find as much balance as possible because you always want to have as many perspectives on what you're doing and where you're headed. You also want to make sure you avoid getting in your own head too much as much as possible.
What are you currently working on?
I'm working on my next album right now. I'm heavy into trying to work on my own production and trying to get better with that, too. A lot of that is going to be showcased in this new project and I’ve been working with somebody I'm really close to, Billy Delulles. I pretty much dove into working on production since my headlining tour last year.
I definitely treat my projects like babies in the sense that it takes nine months to complete type of thing. Using that metaphor, I’d say right now, I'm at the third trimester and it’s getting closer to being that time. I also have some, like, visual ideas and projects that I'm working on right now. I’m really trying to expand upon where I left off, kind of like going from a College Dropout to Late Registration. What I mean by that is you’ll hear a semblance of what was first there but now I've experienced so much in the past two years that it's just like I have to be able to reflect that in my music and especially speaking about that balance or having some type of dynamic. That's definitely what I'm trying to incorporate into my music and just into my lifestyle.
What’s it like when you return to New Orleans now at this stage in your career? Would you say you’re a hero in your hometown?
I'm connecting a lot more with New Orleans. The city's gone crazy with a lot of talented artists now and it's beautiful to see so many people working together. I'm trying to be a part of that culture and build up the home base, so to speak.
When I go home, it feels good. Surreal. But rarely do too many things change in New Orleans, in my opinion, and it’s the consistency that I love anyway. What I love about going back home is it feels like I've journeyed out and have come back accomplished. It’s a good feeling especially knowing that I know a lot of people who don’t necessarily get opportunities to leave the city as much as I have or do things in the light that I have and I don’t ever take that for granted. There are so many heroes in New Orleans everyday, though, that I couldn't just call myself that.
What do you hope people walk away with when they listen to your music? Do you feel like you’re representing NOLA well?
I would say, I’d like for people to walk away with a piece of positivity. There is a lot of like darkness going on in the world and I feel like there's definitely a need for positivity. If they take away the part that I'm from New Orleans, I hope it helps to paint a picture of who I am. It's also bigger than that. I feel like [representing NOLA] is more about the emotion behind it all and, you know, coming away inspired and coming away feeling better than you were when you first started listening to it, if that's possible. I just want to be able to connect with people emotionally.
How do you chose the direction a song takes, whether you’re rapping or singing?
I don't really try and have too much thought involved in the concept of “well I need to rap on this” or “I need to sing on this” unless there are certain times it calls for that specific focus. But for the most part, I just go off of inspiration. It's like this is what happened to me this week and this is what I feel inspired to talk about. So if I can creatively put it out somewhere and understand it, then I won. That's just how I view it. In terms of producers that I want to work with, I’ll listen to a Spotify playlist that I've made or I'll listen to what my friends are listening to and kind of pick and choose what my favorites are and then I’ll make a list off that and go in from there.
How do you feel about a genre tied so closely to you (dream rap) gaining more mainstream exposure? How does more artists adopting the style relate to or influence the music you’re creating now?
I feel like it's all going to a good place. Once you know you have the genesis of something, people can only go back to it and then apply it to their stuff and make it better. So, it's naturally going to get better. And I'm happy that it's getting the attention that it deserves because I feel like that type of music connects with people. That’s why you're hearing more of it and that's why it's becoming more popular.
In terms of my role in it, my role is always to be the experimenter and the originator and somebody who is pushing boundaries and making sure that I'm utilizing all of my influences through my self-expression. With dream rap being something that I was tagged to early and with whoever tagged my name to it early on didn’t know that I was going to continually be reinventing myself artistically, you know? My role is definitely to keep on the path of experimentation and on the path of just reinventing sounds and taking different stabs at the same old song, so to speak, and seeing where it all goes.
How did the song “Got It Like That” (Eleven:11 remix) with G-Eazy come about?
I wanted to work with him because he's a good dude. He's a real genuine person and he's believed in the movement since day one. His producer, Christoph Andersson, actually went to elementary school with me, so I had then heard about him when I was in high school, in college and so on. We never really linked up because I was in school during the time he was in New Orleans.
Around the anniversary of Floating While Dreaming, I hadn't really released much and it was a pertinent time for a new record, so we finally were able to connect on it. G-Eazy sent back his verse and it was so good to me that I was like, “OK I'm going to re-write my verse now." So I went in and did my thing. Christoph went in and tweaked the beat and that's how it blossomed into something really nice.
I was happy that we could connect on that specific song too because it's like, in terms of that realm of artists stylistically and sonically, I felt like the song was so different from what I normally do. We found we had a common ground and took the opportunity to explore it. It just clicked.
Do you think art is going to thrive over the next four years? Many say that it will given the political climate, but do you feel an obligation to incorporate politics in your music now more than ever or how does it influence you?
There is a huge amount of influence to draw from. You have all these artists that are now public figures and I feel like it is definitely our duty to be able to speak on certain things that are affecting the people that we're trying to represent. It's almost like we're the elected officials in that regard because we have these people that we're representing that we can speak for, especially if they can’t speak for themselves.
With lyrics connecting us, sometimes it’s important to express that during the bad times and when things are going awry, we have to really show others that we mean business and that we care about the people that care about us. That is definitely a beautiful thing. We’ll be seeing that become more and more relevant in today’s time and, in some ways, it’s almost as if you’re not relevant if you don’t speak on what’s happening. There’s too much going on for you to be a silent voice or not have one.
I feel like people are paying attention now more than ever and with that you have outreach of all these artists wanting to show their support for the people and working to change things for the better. I don’t see that changing anytime soon unless something drastically changes in how we all connect with one another.
(Photo: Josh Brasted/FilmMagic)