Red Pill is not your average rapper. He’s more Louis C.K. than Drake and more Charles Bukowski than J. Cole.
On “Look What This World Did To Us,” his first solo record on Mello Music Group, he further displays that he has no interest in fitting in with typical rappers. While many rappers would try and glamorize their Friday nights drinking in songs and music videos, Red Pill raps about how he just wants to drink his Bud Light by himself, while waiting for the pizza man.
The Detroit rapper has released a solo record (2010’s “Please Tip Your Driver”) and a couple of group projects (“The Kick” with Detroit producer Hir-O and “Ugly Heroes” with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent), but his latest work gives the best reflection of who he is as an artist and more importantly a person. He is extremely candid on “Look What This World Did To Us,” as he reflects on life as a struggling rapper juggling problems with alcohol, family, health and relationships.
Mello Music Group’s rookie of the year was generous enough to answer a few questions about his career since linking up with the real MMG, Charles Bukowski and his go-to cheap beer.
RapReviews: So last time we spoke (around the time Ugly Heroes dropped), you were still working at a plant in addition to your rap career. How long after Ugly Heroes was released did you leave the plant?
Red Pill: Ugly Heroes came out in May 2013 and I left the plant in February 2014. It took awhile, but we eventually got a tour lined up overseas in Europe and I decided that when I left, I wasn’t coming back to work when I got home. That kind of work was making me insane and I figured it was as good a time as any to leave it behind. I’ve since started working a part time job as a supplement, but haven’t returned to full time work in over a year.
RR: How has working with Mello Music helped you improve as a rapper?
RP: On the business end, it’s day and night. I always had what I thought was decent work ethic before I signed with Mello Music, but it’s at entirely new level now. As much as I hate the structure of a 9-5 job, I’ve found that structure in doing what I love has been really beneficial to me. Having deadlines, needing to get things done in a timely fashion, really is important to me I’ve learned. I don’t want to let people down, like the label, so I’m always keeping things consistently moving so that I can meet the needs of Mello. And creatively, I think I’ve grown a lot while working with Mello. Whether that’s a symptom of just getting older, getting better at what I do, or being involved with the label, or both, I think I’m a stronger artist than I was. I really wanted to step everything up. I want a place in this industry and you don’t get one if you don’t work hard.
RR: How much freedom did they give you when making this album? What type of involvement did they have when you were making this record?
RP: Mello is all about artistic freedom that makes sense. Basically when we started talking about this album, we brainstormed together who we might want to get on the record. I was told to kind of reach for the stars as far as who I might want to produce on it and then we’d talk over the realistic options of who can actually get. Mello supplies the framework, the tools, the resources but I have to build the album. I never felt any unwanted pressure on my artistic choices when working with Mello. He was straightforward if he didn’t like an idea, and explained why he didn’t like the idea. But it was never tense. If it vision made sense, he was happy to try to make it happen. But Mello is heavily involved with the process of the album. And I appreciate that. They have a proven track record and I trust their judgment to follow the plan. At the end of the day, it’s my decision, but I take Mello’s advice very seriously.
RR: You have a lot of talented producers on this album, but you also produced a few tracks yourself. What made you want to produce on this record?
RP: Necessity (laughs). I’ve been making beats for about seven or eight years I guess, off and on. I don’t consider myself a producer or a beat maker, I just like to experiment, especially when I’m feeling uncreative in terms of writing. Occasionally those experiments end up decent. Most of them sit in folders and will never be heard, but a few of the best leak out and end up on albums.
It really becomes an issue where I’m looking for something very specific, like almost unexplainable to someone else who isn’t hearing exactly what I’m hearing in my head. I’ve tried having producers recreate ideas I’ve had in my head and it never works out. So I try to make it on my own. Generally I fail too, but in the case of “Rum & Coke” and “Look What This World Did to Us”, I wanted very specific emotions and feelings and sounds. “Smoke Rings” and “Ten Year Party” were just random beats I made that I liked.
RR: There are no Apollo Brown tracks on the new album, what made you decide not to work with him on this project?
RP: Initially it was just bad timing, I had asked him to contribute and he was busy working on his albums with Ras Kass and Rapper Big Pooh. But eventually I was actually pretty happy with how it turned out. Apollo is a big brother to me, he’s the one that put me in the position to get where I’m at now with Mello Music Group. But I sort of didn’t want to be in his shadow for my whole career. Ugly Heroes is one piece of what I do and will always be, but I’m Red Pill. I’m a solo emcee at heart, because that’s basically what I’ve always been. So I wanted to show people I could stand on my own two feet.
RR: Last year, your Ugly Heroes group member Verbal Kent released a solo album on Mello Music. Did you know you were also going to have a solo album with the label too?
RP: I knew before Ugly Heroes came out that I’d have at least one solo on Mello Music Group. Before the record came out, I was quietly offered a deal to do a one off. To make a long story short, we went back and forth throughout most of 2013 bouncing around ideas until we finally settled on something we could both agree upon and I started working on “Look What This World Did to Us” at the end of 2013. I finished the record in the Summer of 2014 and that’s when Mello decided he wanted more than just a single project and extended it into a multi-album deal.
RR: Your work with Ugly Heroes and again on this album is very blue-collar, working man rap. Are you worried about digging yourself too far into a specific lane or being looked at as one-dimensional?
RP: I used to be. I am what I am though. I make a style of bluesy rap that I’m getting very comfortable with. There’s all sorts of ways to reinvent yourself by writing about your experiences and your feelings, because life is so dynamic. Things will happen to me over the next year or two that I will never be able to predict. And I’ll keep writing about what’s happening to me.
I look back on earlier work, “The Kick” and “Ugly Heroes,” and compare it to this album and I know some of the content is similar, but this album is refined to me. It’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last four or five years. And I’m old in young rapper terms and young in old rapper terms, meaning I’m just about to hit my stride as an artist I think. The next few records I do should define me. And I know the kind of growth spurts I can have creatively. To me, this is just the beginning of my career.
RR: You were able to tour Europe with Ugly Heroes over the past couple of years. What was that experience like?
RP: Europe was incredible. There’s a difference between American music fans and European music fans and it seems to be that while everyone has a tendency to trend hop (including myself), there’s a heavy core of Euro music fans that just fucking love music. And that’s it. And they love experiencing it live in all forms. I’m still trying to understand how we can go to Berlin, go to Paris, go to London and sell out clubs and come back home and not be able to find a booking agency to work with us. It’s dumbfounding. We are more than capable as artists, as performers. Most of our sales are in the US, yet we pack clubs in Europe and don’t do as well here. I know we have American fans. It’s a strange phenomenon. But I loved my time in Europe. Growing up, going to shows, I always was one of the first fans to get there, line up, get in the venue, wait for a couple hours to see an artist I loved. And there was a cool mystique of knowing they were in the building, in a green room or whatever, and to be on the other side of that was pretty crazy.
RR: Is there going to be a US Tour for this album or will you be heading overseas again?
RP: Well, sort of answered that in the last question (laughs). I am working hard to find something in the US right now and there are plans for Europe in the works as well. Hopefully both can happen, but I think people are waiting to see what kind of success “Look What This World Did To Us” has.
RR: You start and end the album with a clip of Charles Bukowski. What made you think to use him to kick off and wrap up your album?
RP: For whatever reason, I guess randomly, I went through my Bukowski phase of reading later in life. And I’m glad I did. I was able to digest it and relate to it a lot more than I think I would have as a teenager, though I think I still would have liked him. Something just clicked reading his books. He had a way of making the simple profound, that I think is a rare quality in writers that makes for genius work.
I was just watching old interviews and clips of him on YouTube and found these two pieces from what I actually think were two separate interviews, if I remember correctly. The first one, which I took out of context, he’s actually talking about the psyche of a murderer. He says “We admire that creature, because it’s a mind to do exactly what it wants to do.” Out of context, it is a perfect representation of one of the themes of the album — living life in whatever capacity makes you the happiest, even if it’s to your own detriment, because you only live once and you might as well enjoy it while you have it. And then the final clip at the end of the album, I thought on the one hand kind of ended a gloomy ass record on an even gloomier note (“It’s awful”), but also, he was drunk as hell and just rambling (laughs). So it was sort of an end to the album, an end to drunken night that turns into drunken rambling.
RR: What’s your favorite Bukowski work?
RP: Either “Ham On Rye” or “Post Office.” “Ham On Rye” is an incredible look into his childhood. “Post Office” really got me though. I related to that book in more ways than I want to admit.
RR: You rap about drinking Miller High Life, you drink Bud Light in your videos, what’s your go-to cheap beer?
RP: Bud Light. Shut up snobs. I love a good beer too. But I drink a lot. And I’m not about to drink 10 Founder’s or 10 Two Hearted’s. If I’m having a nice dinner, or I only want a couple beers (which is never), I’ll get something nice. But if I’m just drinking for the sake of drinking, piss water with alcohol in it will do the trick for me.
RR: I think my favorite verse on the album is the 2ndÊverse of “Windows” when you ask your little brother if you can borrow money. Is that a true story? If so, what did he think of the song/verse?
RP: Definitely a true story on a number of occasions. I have a great family that’s been supportive of me. My little brothers were smarter than me and went on to get good degrees and good jobs. I basically live one catastrophe from poverty. And occasionally catastrophes happen and I make a phone call. But very rarely. Things have been better. And I’m pretty sure I’m a bad brother that hasn’t sent them the album yet, so I don’t think they’ve heard it yet (laughs).
RR: Earlier this year you released the very political track “All of Us.” What kind of reception did you get from that track?
RP: The reception for that track was great. I got a lot of positive feedback from it. I think it made the front page of Reddit and Reddit showed it’s ugly side though. It amazes me that people that can be so rational and smart can be so fucking stupid when it comes to things like race, gender, sexual orientation. But outside of that the reception was really positive and supportive and I was really surprised and happy about it. Gave me a little more faith in humanity.
RR: As a white rapper, was it difficult to write a song like that? Were you worried about any type of backlash from the song?
RP: It wasn’t necessarily difficult. To me I was telling a truth and a truth that I believe in wholeheartedly. I felt a responsibility to speak out on it. I think things were at a fever pitch in the country at the time and it was impossible to escape. And yeah I was worried about backlash to some extent. But like I said, there wasn’t much to speak of.
RR: You have a political sciences degree from Michigan State right? Did you ever consider a career in politics?
RP: I do have a BA in Political Science. I never considered a career in politics, I always wanted to be on the outside of politics, to study it and understand it. My goal was actually to become a professor. But by the end of school, I realized I didn’t have the passion for it that I think would have made me successful. I had a professor my first year of college that inspired me to study political science, because his passion for it was tangible. And I need to be that passionate about what I do with my life. I just don’t think I have it.
RR: On the back of the album, you wrote that you dedicate LWTWDTU to the summer of 2013. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
RP: That was the summer that the album is about. I was drinking the heaviest I ever had, I was lost. I hadn’t experienced depression like I did that summer. Musically things were very up in the air, the plant job I was doing was driving me insane. Towards the end of the summer, my car completely broke down and I had no savings, then two days later I was in the hospital for what my doctor thought was a possible brain tumor that turned out to be viral meningitis. About two months after that was when my relationship with my girlfriend started to get shaky (entirely my fault). It was a pretty shitty few months. But in the end it turned into this record.