Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
In the final part of our interview, Misterelle talks about ‘Yez Lawd’ (from the 2013 Friday FUNclub mixtape) and ‘Bad Hair Day’ from his most recent release, the Repast at 610 ep and how both tracks express something about how it feels to be Black in the US today.
HHF: I want to talk now about this track ‘Yez Lawd’ it’s got soul elements in it, but it’s more deconstructed, it’s lighter in a way. The lyrics are kind of funny.
M: That’s one of favorite songs too and it’s funny you included that song because that’s pretty much about, just saying when you’re Black in America, you’ve got enough religion as it is without people trying to convert you to something. I was speaking about r&b singers, working a job, being poor, I was talking about all this stuff that plague the Black community. Sometimes the last thing I want is for somebody to come up to me and say, hey do you know the Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.
But I took the humorous route because the content is so heavyweight, it would lose the average listener if it were too heavy, they’d say this shit is gonna make me cry. I don’t want to make people feel depressed. I like to be a little humorous and show people that we’re not sitting in a melancholic state all the time. We are just coping, it’s a coping mechanism. We’ve found a way to laugh at our problems. (…)
HHF: It’s a survival thing, isn’t it?
M: Right, right.
HHF: And I thought what was interesting about that track is the use of contrast; I mean the sample at the beginning sounds like a Spiritual ….
M: Mike McGraw made that beat, aka Krooked Smilez, he’s from Chester, Virginia. He made that and when I heard it I thought spirituality and religion and then it made me try and channel everything I understand about being Black. I said a line, this is the line that makes people go crazy at shows, when I say: Seems all we do is fantasize about the pretty singers / got black people hollering how we miss Aaliyah / got Spanish people hollering how they miss Selena / TLC is only TC, they’re missing Lisa /
When you’re Black and you’re in the neighborhoods, your concerns are on these things, while the whole world is designed to keep you down, you’re thinking, Damn Aaliyah has just died. And that sums up being Black in America. There’s another line where I say, celebrating Independence Day, who’s independence? / I swear that of this was the 1800s / and white boys saw them white girls with us they would’ve hung us /
HHF: I don’t want to sound too abstract, but it’s all about contrast. You’re doing this rap about acting like a tough guy and all this bravado and then you’ve got the other elements, the soul element which is quite mournful and then you’ve got the spiritual and then every now and then these barbed comments. It’s very layered. As a listener, you’re not laughing from beginning to end if you know what I mean.
M: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s funny you bring up the bravado because the bravado is a defence mechanism. If someone challenges your manhood, or getting approached or being approached and they’re trying to see where you at as a man, or whatever. You are going to respond with nothing but, I’m going to break you up proper. Then in these environments you are forced into these situations – this is how they get their point across. (…)
HHF: It’s a constant thing in hip-hop, this is a bit simplistic so forgive me for this as well, but you know hip-hop is a way out of that as well, it’s also a way of avoiding physical violence you know. It’s something you hear all the time, these guys doing the tough guy thing, but they’re just talking.
M: Right, cause nobody wants confrontation … I’m not a tough guy. I’m not a gangster or anything like that. The funny thing about it is that this is normal. This is typical. You don’t have to be a gangster to get shot. Where I’m from, you could have stayed away from gangs, drugs, stealing cars and still get killed for no reason.
HHF: Isn’t that in ‘Bad Hair Day’ you talk about this?
M: Right. ‘Bad Hair Day’ is pretty much this is a normal day. This is normal.
HHF: In ‘Bad Hair Day’ there are these lines ‘Richmond is a battlefield’ and then you’ve got something about ‘daffodils’ and a ‘Happy Meal’. I like the way you’ve contrasted ‘daffodils’ which are something sweet and a ‘Happy Meal’ which is something disposable, is this something you’re trying to do with your lyrics to offer these contrasts, to keep it fresh?
M: If you look at ‘Bad Hair Day’ that symbolizes Richmond in a nutshell. The first verse I’m talking about being a predator, I’m with the people preying on ‘the weak’… I’m with them, so I’m not going to say, ‘Let’s not prey on the weak, let’s not do that’ because they’re going to be like, ‘Mistuh, you acting like a pussy, and you can get fucked up too.’
You can’t deflect it when you live in it. If you don’t live in it, it’s easy to avoid. If somebody is trying to run down on you in your neighborhood where your mama live, and you live there, what are you going to do?
They are going to be like, ‘Hey cuz, where you from?’
‘Shit.’ The first thing you say to yourself is like, ‘Man, I’m just trying to go to the store, man.’
They like, ‘Fuck all that. You ain’t from round here, bruh.’ That’s the norm… That’s what’s happening right now, this is what’s been happening since I’ve been alive… That’s Richmond.
A lot of people compare this to Kendrick’s, MAAD city and you know what’s funny… what Kendrick showed me on MAAD city was that every neighborhood is the same, cause I was like, we’re going through that, minus the gangbanging. People gangbang in Richmond, but they migrate from other places.
In ‘Bad Hair Day’ I’m speaking mostly in the past tense of things that I’ve endured and narrate it in a way that people can relate, so I say things like I’m running cause I got jumped in the projects. And I’m running cause they’re chasing me home and I’m like jumping fences and heart racing and I’m just saying that’s how it is here, that’s how normal it is. I can speak about it and make sense to someone who never went through it. They’re like, that’s understandable if the whole projects were chasing me, I’d run too.
HHF: (laughs) Of course. In another context you talked about things that people are ‘subjected to’. I thought that was an interesting turn of phrase, I mean I haven’t lived it so don’t want to say anything patronising here, but it’s not about choices, it’s about being conditioned by the environment, would you say? You’re being shaped by the world you’re living in, is that correct?
M: Right. I mean I was. But as an adult it is your choice. When you’re a kid you have no choice in the matter. When you’re a child you can’t help where you born at, you can’t help who your family is, you can’t help that stuff. That ain’t under your control, you’re just here. You’re six years old and you in the neighborhood where people are getting shot every day. You can’t do nothing about it. You can’t get a job and move out.
But when you’re an adult, you have the choice and as an adult, I had the choice and I said, look, I ain’t with this no more. I’m going to make my move. So that’s where my new project that I’m working on now is like. It’s more about how I feel today.
When I made all that I was trying to show the youth, the generation after me that you can come from this and still do something. I come from the shit, all that Chief Keef stuff… that was like the after school special for me. He is not scary at all to me. I can’t wait to meet him (laughs). Because I get it, I get why he’s doing that.
What I’m saying is, look here young’n, you can come from this. I come from this, but you can do something productive in society. I’m doing it now… I’m making music, I’m making people want to interview me. I’m a regular person trying not to die (laughs). That’s all. I’m just going to keep making music and try not to get shot at; that’s all I’m going to do.