In 2013, I definitely disregard the majority of mainstream Hip-Hop and I’m not too keen on much hyper-underground (described with the pejorative “backpacker”) music either. While I still consider Jay-Z probably the best to ever do it, I’m realizing it was his talent that impressed me and he was never any sort of relatable (I’m in the small percentage of black men of my peer group who haven’t chosen Shawn Carter as my spirit animal. I want to be comfortable, but I dont need wealth). What I’m most drawn to at this stage of my life is accessible art, emcees that can be dope without trying to go over your head, substance is welcome so long as I’m not beat down with it, in the words of Raekwon, witty unpredictable live shit. Enter 8thW1.
Originating from the suburbs of New Jersey, 8thW1 isn’t as rugged like some of the Garden State’s legends. Coming up in a crew that included Fresh Daily & Homeboy Sandman, 8th arguably had the most appeal from that camp (no offense to the aforementioned, Im fans of them as well) but he never broke out in a big way. The Crazy 8’s tape was a breath of fresh air as was his debut album Love Money & Music (a collector’s item at this point), where he combined proper amounts of modesty and vanity along with fun, great insightful emceeing as a complete package.
After the release of the No Room For Dessert LP he took a hiatus that caused worry from fans and similar creatives inspired by his art, and he’s now reinvigorated with producer PVD for the jazzy Lux Deville. 8th recently took time to wax philosophical with me about his career’s new direction and his place trying to make sense of it all, assuring that he’s here to stay.
I first became familiar with you at the S.O.B.’s show where AOK (Homeboy Sandman, Fresh Daily, 8thW1, etc.) opened for Blu & Wale in 2008. What was it like coming up with that collective?
It was fun, we rocked together and you’re having a good time with your friends doing shows together. But that’s such a long time ago [laughs].
A lot of your lyrics are analytical with you trying to teach lessons. Who would you say inspired you to start rapping?
I started rapping back when I was like 11, around the time Wu-Tang came out. I guess you could say it was listening to them and a lot of golden era Hip-Hop, there were a lot of different styles coming from a region that was home. I felt inspired by all of that and I used to write poetry. Nas, Redman, you name it, all the good stuff.
With New Jersey being on the map for acts like Redman, Naughty Nature and Queen Latifah, what was it like to come from Browns Mills?
Browns Mills is very quiet, there’s really nothing to do out here except work on whatever you want to work on, which is how I got to where I am as an artist. I was able to just focus on developing my skills and abilities, I’m back out here now and it’s the same thing, I feel like a new artist just because there’s nothing out here.
After the album No Room For Dessert you took a bit of a hiatus. How were you feeling at that time and what inspired you to come back?
I was feeling a little frustrated. Things weren’t going exactly in the direction I would have liked, not necessarily from a financial standpoint or anything like that, but just doing things that you really feel deep down, making music that you’re really proud of. Even though the music I was making at the time was good, I didn’t feel as connected to it as I would have liked to. Every artist has to stop for a little bit and reassess things because we grow as people, which is why a lot of artists reinvent themselves and come back at it with a different approach.
In a sense I never really left, I just stopped putting music out because I was still writing and trying new things, but what got me back into it was when I started writing with PVD. We always made good music together, being that it was live music there’s more space for me to go in there and do what I feel and say what I want to say in a conversation form as opposed to someone saying “Alright here’s this beat, rap to it”. When you rock with something that’s more music based with instrumentation, you’re a part of a whole piece, the pieces are moving and you can adjust things the way you want. At a live show all of your instruments are there, there’s no beat machine or track to play. So what brought me back was going back to where it felt good, I started from there, kept going and didn’t let anything get in the way.
How did you originally link up with PVD to wind up doing this album?
I met PVD about eight years ago in New York down on the Lower East Side through a mutual friend. He was like “I got these beats and I do these shows” , he was playing live jazz. There’s a really specific audience for that type of show and he said he wanted to start doing more work with emcees. He would send me his compositions, I would write to them and we would perform. I would just be the guest MC on his set and then eventually we just started doing shows together as Lux Deville. Six or seven years later I hit him up about doing a record together, because we had tons of songs by then. Making an album hadn’t happened yet and finally I figured it was time. Whatever we do together is gonna be called Lux Deville.
Would you say you have a greater chemistry with him than other producers you’ve worked with extensively?
I would say so because we’re both very good at letting the other person do their thing, especially him. In his situation it’s the first time where I’m not in the driver’s seat so much, all I have to do is rhyme, write the songs and deliver it well and leave the rest up to him. From there we’ll come back and make adjustments, but this time is better because I can be an emcee period, I don’t have to tell the person how I want the arrangements done. I trust his level of quality, we give our individual say but we’re careful not to critique anybody to where it’s crossing a line.
How would you say you’ve grown since returning to do Lux Deville?
Im 31 right now, as a person I’m going to mature and change. Growing as a person you have different wants, needs and concerns. There’s a lot of shit that I dont even fucking care about anymore as opposed to when I was younger, like trying to please everybody and doing what everybody else is doing as opposed to what I want to do. Getting older is enough to change you in anything that you do.
A big theme in a lot of your music for years now has been balancing the daily grind with your passion. Where do you stand with that now?
At some point it’s about embracing your life, the reason why it was such a struggle was because I wanted the music to be my work. In order for the music to be your work, there has to be a system in place where there’s the connection to the money. When you just rap and everything you’re doing is not generating any money, it’s hard to make music your work so you gotta get a job so you always have that connection to money so you can live or eat. But now I’ve come to understand that any art is just you writing, painting, singing or rapping about your life and your job is a part of your life. Imagine two circles, art is the biggest circle and then there’s the smaller circle inside which is your life and as an artist you’re writing about that circle that’s inside using all of the experiences and things you get from life that radiate out of that.
I understand that to be an artist is greater, whether I go to work eight hours a day or I got the day off, as long as I take a little bit of time to write about what happened today there’s a lot less strife. I always maintain my identity as an artist even if I cant necessarily make a living off of it, and that’s fine. The more you do it, the more opportunities will appear for you to make that connection between the art and the money, so I don’t really stress out about it as much as I used to. I’ve just learned to be at peace and be grateful for what I have, I got a decent job now and I cant complain about that job. Life is good and I might as well just enjoy it and write about it as I go along, everybody has bills and responsibilities they have to take care of and if you can make that interesting through your delivery as an artist, that’s way more powerful than anything else.
Lux Deville has no rap guest appearances. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah I’m kind of a selfish rapper to be honest because when I make music I’m usually coming up with stuff by myself. By the time I finish writing a song there are verses and a hook and everything’s done because I already planned it. Maybe you bring up something I should think about, what if I used other people more? [laughs]
You take great pride in your emceeing and Hip-Hop centers around competition. Who would you say keeps you sharp nowadays?
I got a lot of respect for Homeboy Sandman, I like his work ethic and his approach to things. I like Kendrick Lamar from time to time, he’s dope. I don’t ever think of myself as competing with these guys, but I do appreciate what they do and their ability to be individuals and different in how they say things.
When I say competition, I don’t mean popularity. Someone might hear an 8thW1 song and say you’re killing it more than the next dude.
I feel you. My thing right now is that I just want to represent me harder than anyone else is representing them. It’s all about the emotion I can bring out, even if you don’t like me, how hard can I make you feel “I don’t like him”, because that emotion means I’m gonna stay on your mind and you gotta at least make a decision on where you stand. You cant just wish-wash with the tide, you gotta say “I don’t like this cat” or “I love this cat”, whatever it is. I like emcees and artists who do what they want to do, I mention Sandman a lot because he just does whatever he wants to do. Regardless of whether you like it or not, at the end of the day you gotta respect him. I take my cues from artists like that who feel like “Screw it man, I’m gonna say it and do it and whether you like it or not, I could really care less”. I just want to know I made you feel something harder than anyone else has made you feel something.
What was the artistic statement you sought to make with this album?
I just wanted to put out another record that I was happy with and super proud of, and I can truly say this record is that. The statement is to those who are still looking out, Im still rapping and doing my thing, and Im always gonna be doing that regardless of whether I’ve “made it” or Im still just a regular dude with a job.
So it’s safe to say you’re here to stay and there wont be any more breaks any time soon?
Probably not, I’m back. You can’t really take a break when it’s what you do. Fish don’t stop swimming, birds don’t stop flying, it’s what I do. As long as I got something to share, I’m gonna share it because that’s my job as an artist, the first half is creating it and the second half is sharing it, so Im here bro.