Making West Coast Waves: An Interview with Rapper Ta'East

Music — 22.05.17

Words: Emilia Slupecka
Photographer: Angella Choe
Stylist: Steven Crispin

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“It’s like I’m falling out the sky in the booth, and never touched the floor,” Ta’East raps with a massive hunger and purpose that you can hear through his very personal lyrics in “Banksy Flow”.

Ta’East was born in the South, in a small town in Kentucky, but raised in Oceanside, California. Oceanside is a typical surf town with no real hip-hop scene to speak of. However, Ta’ East isn’t just an ordinary California boy, he’s now one of hip-hop’s freshest new voices and has been making a name for himself in the underground scene for quite some time.

It took him a while to make sure that his debut EP Okay, I’m Ready was an accurate reflection of his ambition. With over six tracks on the record, he demonstrates an incredible ability to manipulate his flow around a variety of beats from cinematic soundscapes to traditional sample-based hip-hop without ever losing the clarity of his lyrics.

In this exclusive interview for Teeth Magazine Online, we uncover hip-hop’s new direction, spirit animals, and upcoming projects.

Who is Ta’East? How did you begin your journey towards becoming a musician?

I was born and raised in Kentucky, and I moved to Oceanside which is about 30 minutes north of San Diego. Once I got to high school, I started getting into rap, and I went back home to Kentucky to produce with my uncle who’s a producer. One day he told me that I had a cool voice and asked me if I can rap. I was like, “I do know how to rap, but I have never written anything”, and he was like “You gonna rap today!”. He just put a beat on for me, and I started rapping and recorded it. I then came back to the Oceanside, and I started rapping on like industry beats, instrumentals, old Jay-z beats and things like that. When I found this other producer, we just started recording.

I met Cairo after high school, who is my producer now, and we just created this whole sound together. We just ran with it and started doing projects. It’s my 5th project, but I know it’s the first to everyone else. I’ve been out there for a while, even put things online. That was pretty much the start of everything; it happened organically. I’ve never thought I would ever get into music because I was mainly into acting. I was doing background work as a kid.

Yeah, LA is a breeding ground for actors. Would you ever consider moving to New York? 

I thought about it. Early last year when I started to get a little bit more money I thought “Man, I kinda wanna move to New York”. I know it’s just a different vibe. It’s more like music/fashion-based. I thought about it, but I started so many things here on the West Coast and have so many relationships here so at this point in my career I guess it’s just smarter to stay here for now. But I love New York.

Do you think that being a musician in this day and age is highly competitive? Would you say that artists need to work harder to become successful than the others that started earlier? 

I would say yes for two reasons. One, the industry has changed so much as far as record labels and things like that. There’s no budget, and the game has changed. Two, I would say because of the internet. Everything is microwaveable at this point because anyone can just upload a video or a song. It’s kind of hard to weed out, the artist that aren’t very into it and the artists that are or have something special about them. So it does make it harder for someone like me who focuses on lyricism, quality of the music, instrumentation, and even just creating a new sound. It’s tough when you have a thousand other people making the same type of music as you.

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How would you define “real” hip-hop at this point?

It’s tough because, if you think about it, the art of rapping in hip-hop is relatively young. It’s about 35-40 years old, and as far as the industry goes, the industry never took off until the late ’80s. It’s a matter of waves, and I think that the Golden Era of hip-hop is probably the most real to me. We came from Jay-Z and those types of guys with lyricism, beats, melody, and with a message. There are also some sub-genres which are more attractive than the Golden Era. I think hip-hop is broader now. There’s a bit more to it than rapping on the beat; there’s so many different styles, regions…

What was your first memory of music?

Probably in the church. I grew up in a church my whole life, and I used to get super excited when the choir came on – that was my favourite part. Gospel music was probably my first introduction to music. Then I started listening to rap, but that was during the MTV era.

One of my favourite songs of yours is “Go Off”. How did this track come about?

It was interesting because Cairo made that beat and I remember we were in the studio with Hit-Boy. I never heard it before; I think it was just a new beat that he made the night before or something. Hit-Boy was feeling it, and he was like, “Let’s write some shit for somebody”. When I came up with the part “Everything I’m doing…” we started going back and forth by versus. Months later, we began working on “Okay, I’m ready”, and I was like “Yo, do you remember that one ‘Go off’ with Hit-Boy?”. He hit him up, and he wasn’t using it, so we took it back, and I just rewrote versus to it and personalised it more. I knew I loved the song as soon as I heard it. It’s just cool how that organically happened. It was supposed to be somewhere else and ended up being my intro.

Your lyrics are pretty raw and seem to be getting darker and darker. Is there any particular reason for this that you can share?

Well, at the time I was going through a lot. I had a lot of ups and downs for a couple of years. I was also working a job I didn’t want to work. I moved here in 2014 and just some unfortunate events happened: I was working 45 minutes away from LA and got in a car accident, I was going broke… All sorts of stuff would happen, but at the same time, I would come home. I just really tried to dig myself out of that hole.

You played some shows at SXSW this year. How was it?

Yeah, it was dope! I had three shows. They each had such a unique vibe like acrobats performing and stuff. It was all about being artistic and expressing yourself.

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How would you describe Ta’East to someone who has never heard your music before?

A real artist that focuses on the art and lyrics and just really cares about contributing to the culture. Someone who cares about music and inspiring others.

Are you planning on going on tour anytime soon? What’s next for you?

Well, I’m working on another project, and hopefully, after this project, I will go on tour. Probably as a support to start since it’s early, but I think I need some more music out there right now.

Anything you can share about the new project?

This one is going to be more of a bounce, more of a sudden feeling. It’s going to be more performance-based songs, a bit different mood. It’s going to come out by this summer.

If you could work with anyone either alive or dead, who would it be and what would you do?

I would want to work with The Notorious B.I.G., and I would like to spar with him on the track, just go back and forth. Like him kick down four bars and see what I can come up with, just like inspire each other.

What’s the song you’re playing on the repeat right now?

I’ve been listening to Leon Bridges “River”. It’s a moody, slow song and it has a great vibe!

What’s your spirit animal?

I would say an eagle. I’m taking it easy, go with a flow and go with the vibe.