Exclusive: The Dream Rap of Pell

Trip hop has been an emerging aesthetic in rap for several years now, but it is not often that you come across a hip hop song that is described as ‘ethereally spooky’ and ‘dream-like’ in the same breath as ‘dope-ass flow.’ All of these descriptions apply to the music of Pell, an up and coming rapper breathing new life into the hip hop scene of his hometown, New Orleans, while blurring the lines between rap and ambient electronic music further than ever before. After a non-stop year of touring in support of his debut album, Floating While Dreaming, Milk Made’s Jake Boyer managed to pin the artist down to chat about his singularly fresh sound and the unexpected influence of Richard Linklater‘s films.

So this year has been your first year of touring right? How has it been?

Yes it has! I tried touring last year by myself but that wasn’t nearly as intense. I called it the Fresh Produce Tour. I was just headlining small venues up and down the East Coast and nobody was really coming but I made so many genuine fans and believers, so it was definitely worth it. This year has been crazy man. This is hands down the best year I’ve ever had in my life in general. It’s been so fun and I’ve learned so much. It’s also been the biggest year so far career wise and I kept surprising myself. And it’s just the beginning.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in the past year?

To make sure you network. People like to be isolated, and I’m one of them. I’m a hustler in certain respects but I don’t always want to deal with people, I prefer to let the music speak for itself. But I’ve learned that you just have to go outside yourself and go and self promote when necessary. You never know what doors can open, so you can’t always be quiet because a lot of times that’s all you want to do.

You initially began making music as a producer, which is evident because the production on your songs is top notch.

Yessir. Thank you!

Are you still involved in the production aspect or do you focus on the rapping?

At this point…actually no, check this out. Fun fact: I broke my laptop, so I haven’t been able to produce like I once was, I haven’t had any of the equipment that I got used to. But at the beginning of next year I’m going back to working on my own production. So to answer your question, yes, I’ve been focusing on the words 100% more. But it’s been great because I’ve been able to work with so many producers and have their styles influence my own work. It’s interesting to learn from them and see how they produce and how their operation works.

Your music has been frequently described as ‘dream rap’? Is that an accurate descriptor?

I think that that’s something that’s very accurate, but I don’t what it to define things thus forward. I still feel like I’m growing, and I don’t want to label myself too early, you know, pigeonhole myself into having a persona that I end up carrying for the rest of my career.

But that descriptor seems geared towards ‘Floating While Dreaming.’ It’s a very haunting piece of music, listening to the song ‘Eleven:11’ gives me chills, in a good way! What inspired the album’s sound and/or concept?

I feel like I initially got inspired when I watched a movie called Waking Life by Richard Linklater. It made me want to experiment with lucid dreaming, so I started to write down my dreams and apply it to my songs. But I also wanted to make it a little more relatable to those who listen to my music. In our generation and in our society we have goal chasers-but those goals are essentially just dreams. Getting your dreams to come into fruition feels a little like floating, so I tried to make music that expressed those ideas, and how it relates to my own goals, my own dreams.

Your music videos are just as atmospheric as the songs they accompany…do you personally spend a lot of time spent crafting those shorts?

For sure. Every single one. And I’m glad you picked up on that. I feel like I’m most inspired to write the treatments when I’m actually in the studio. I’ll brainstorm in congruence with whatever’s being recorded. Then I’ll revisit the ideas once its been mixed and mastered and then I’ll think of the full idea once it’s done. Usually I just give the ideas to the director and we all work together and pitch in. So the video has not only my spin on it and my influence but of course the aesthetic of the director and the film crew when it comes down to the editing and the shot selection. I try to find an equilibrium with that.

So much has been made about how you’re a rapper from New Orleans who doesn’t quite sound like the NOLA hip hop scene…what are your thoughts on this? Are you at all influenced by your hometown scene?

I feel like I am. I don’t know how it shows up though. I never paid attention enough to point out specifics. But being here (New Orleans) is one of the things that inspires me. I don’t think my sound is NOLA because it’s not a sound that I’m pushing forward or being pushed forward in general. There was a NOLA style in hip hop, but there really isn’t right now. I’m here to redefine it. It’s up to youth like me to push that sound and define what our sound can be.

If you could only listen to 5 musicians for the rest of your life, who would it be?

Oh Lord. And by Lord I don’t mean Lorde! Let me clarify that. I’d have to say Lana del Rey. Kanye West. John Legend. Vampire Weekend, and then oooh damn. Gosh that’s hard. Kid Cudi I guess. No, no disrespect to Cud but I’m going with Erykah Badu. Oh hell yeah. I’m totally straight with that group.

What made you want to start rapping?

The fact that I always wrote when I was a kid. I tried to write a shorty story about football in like middle school but I never did anything with it. Maybe because I was a little too shy. But since then words have always been very important to me. I would rap a little bit with my friends; after a while the main way that I made friends was through making music. I would slip in and say yo you should add these words, and they would dig it and I realized oh, I actually can fit in. I feel like I have an interesting perspective so I realized that I want to express that.

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