Ones to Watch: Caleb Giles
A couple of weeks before the release of his third record, Under the Shade, we witnessed Caleb Giles perform his first headlining show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. The 21-year-old rapper captivated the audience with poetic lyrics tackling the ups and downs of everyday life and the poverty that he’s faced. What stood out was the level of gratitude and love he had for everyone there (including his mother, who he called out on a few occasions.)
Right alongside fellow musicians Medhane, MIKE, and Slauson Malone, Giles is at the forefront of a new wave of East Coast Hip-Hop. Although his impact began in New York, Giles has no intention of stopping there. “I want to be revered very highly in Hip-Hop, period. Not just New York. My mission is to be up there with all of them, the great ones,” he explains. As a multi-instrumentalist, he’s also involved with Standing on the Corner, the Jazz/Hip-Hop group most recently known for contributing to Solange and Earl Sweatshirt’s latest records.
The weekend after Under the Shade dropped, we met up in Long Island City to talk about the six days in which he wrote this record, how he’s personally grown through different projects, and where he looks for new tunes.
You came into the music world learning violin – your dad is also a musician – and you’re currently a multi-instrumentalist with Standing on the Corner – what instruments do you currently play? What’s your favorite to experiment with and why?
I play saxophone, piano, and the bass the most. I’m learning the guitar right now.
Bass is the most recent, right?
Yeah, the bass is the newest one I’m playing. I like the bass a lot because you can do a lot with it; I think it’s the most important instrument; it has the most important spectrum. The bass guitar is an interesting instrument in itself, so I experiment with it a lot. I experiment a lot with my voice too.
What is your learning process like? Are you looking up videos on Youtube, taking lessons, learning from friends?
Yeah, all of that. I go on Youtube and look up chords, shapes. It’s mostly through my friends, my friend Jack Nolan is a great guitarist. He’s taught me a lot about the guitar. My friend Gio, he plays the bass, he’s taught me a lot about the shapes of the bass. My friends are my teachers; I get experience by playing with guys who are better than I am, with women who are better than I am.
You’ve lived in a few different spots across America – where do your musical roots lie?
They lie within me. I’m from a lot of places, but my roots are within me and my family.
Which music scenes outside of NY excite you?
In LA — Maxo, Pink Siifu, live.e — those cats out there, I love what they got going on out there. Chicago — Chief Keef, Herbo, [Lil] Durk — I love that shit. Also, there is the UK shit — I love Smoke Boys. Florida has some cool stuff. Atlanta, obviously — Thug. I love Young Thug. Drake. I love Toronto. All that shit.
How do you explore new music?
Well, I mean with contemporary music, people talk about it and whatnot. Spotify, Instagram, Twitter. I listen to a lot of records, so I gotta go to record stores, and I’ll find a whole a lot of shit that I didn’t know about.
What are your favorite record stores in NY?
Good Records, it’s the best.
Tell me about your poetry.
My poetry is a meditation.
So, Under the Shade is your third record. How have you seen yourself grow vocally and personally during this process?
I’ve grown the most in terms of cohesion, and making sure everything sounds like it’s in the same circle, in the same pool; even in the small things, enunciation, technical stuff. You know, when your taste expands, you kind of get more comfortable expressing different things; a more full terrain of emotion, which is what I think I’m trying to do right now.
You’ve been working on this record for the past two years, are you so happy it’s out?
Yeah, since November 2017. I’m really relieved. I feel good.
What was that process like? The whole thing is 24 minutes so, how much did you cut out?
A lot, bro. We have 11 songs on here, we must’ve done like 50 records or more. It was really slow in the beginning; I couldn’t really write, and I was moving and I was in a bunch of shit. I was on tour. It was tough.
And then me and Slauson [Malone] went to Canada on tour, and we made two of the records: Roundtable and Name. We had those two, but it was still kind of up in the air, kinda nebulous. A lot of friendships dissolved, and rekindled, and dissolved again. A lot of weird stuff was going on. I met Andrew, my manager, at the end of 2018 and we went to LA in February of this year. We went on a writing trip, and I made this whole album in like 6 days.
What do you think prompted that? Was it the new space, or the new people?
All of that. It was being pent up; not being able to write really good stuff for a little more than a year. And then around the right folks and around the right scenery, it just all came out in six or seven days.
What were those days like? Did you get one ounce of sleep?
We were up, bro. We did not sleep. We were up, up, up. We were in Silver Lake, we had some producers come to the Airbnb, we made beats, wrote, drank wine, tea. It just came out.
Well, congratulations on your first headlining show at Baby’s All Right. It was an amazing set, and I was just so impressed by your level of gratitude; you were so loving with the crowd — your mom was there! What have your parents taught you in that realm?
My father taught me recently that you shouldn’t let your pride get in the way of a good thing. My mom’s advice is more about just making your own decisions, that is her whole thing. I have to make my own choices, do what I want to do, and make sure that I can live with those decisions. No one else can live your life. She always says “You have one horse to ride.” It’s your horse, you got to ride it, you got to live with that horse. So make your own decisions, and be grateful for the day.
Collectively, how do you view the current Hip-Hop scene in New York? What kind of marks do you want to leave?
In New York Hip-Hop? I mean, I want to be revered very highly in Hip-Hop, period. Not just New York. My mission is to be up there with all of them, the great ones.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Madeleine Dalla
STYLIST: Brandon Tan
ASST STYLIST: Caroline Mack
HMU: Luca Ponce
Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch.