The Big Easy: An Interview with Rapper Pell
Music — 14.10.15
Growing up in New Orleans and facing the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, Pell’s struggles taught him the importance of resilience, ultimately shaping him into a singer/rapper that is straightforward, mesmerising, and lyrically impactful. His music uncovers his truths and takes the shape of something that many people can identify with on a personal level. Whether that be the bitter realities of life, unconquered aspirations, struggles with adversity or daily hustles, this 22-year-old has a message that is inspirational, transcendent and takes us on an emotional excursion with a compelling approach.
We caught up with Pell right before the release of his sophomore album, Limbo, to discuss the influence of his hometown, the futuristic soul genre and his journey of emotion and self-discovery through music.
I read that you grew up in New Orleans and relocated to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. How has that experience and living in both cities shaped you into the artist you are today?
It’s been amazing because it’s helped me cultivate inspiration from two places at once. I’ve always been in contact with my friends from New Orleans, so even when I moved I was still influenced by what was going on down there. Mississippi taught me how to find balance in any lifestyle that I choose. This lesson was very timely to me – it pertained to me not only being an artist but also being someone having goals outside of my profession. So, to answer directly, they shaped me to be resilient and well-rounded as an individual, which naturally bleeds into my art.
What’s your reaction to NOLA’s current music scene?
It’s beautiful. There is so much happening down there and so many people working on the common goal of redefining the sound of New Orleans. You have people like Ambré Perkins and Mulherin taking risks with what they do and being vulnerable human beings. It’s crazy to watch the youth influence an entire scene. The youth is meant to move the needle just far enough for us to rethink our place in society – the scene in New Orleans is doing just that. MaryGold is another example of an artist who doesn’t settle for outward critique to define who she is and how others like her feel in the city. She creates to express herself at every turn and it’s wonderful. The music scene in New Orleans is very much alive and well.
Your distinct sound blurs the lines between hip-hop, electronica, soul and deep bass. How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
Futuristic Soul. It’s futuristic because it sounds new to the ear and will make some people uncomfortable. It may be hard to understand where it comes from since it borrows from many genres. It’s soulful in the fact that it has remnants of feel good music from the past woven within almost every song.
Who or what are your major influences when creating music?
Some of my major influences have been relationships, nature, the concept of school, my family, Scorsese films, Barack Obama and Kanye West.
What has been your coolest gig to date?
My coolest gig was probably my performance at Lollapalooza this year. It was one of the most heart-warming experiences to have my family with me at my biggest music festival performance. When my set first started, there were about 40-80 people in attendance. Within about 20 minutes, that 40 turned into 4,000. It was a very telling moment that my message was being picked up and heard. Also, G-Eazy came out and performed a song of ours and we shut it down!
Your new album Limbo is about to drop. How does this album differentiate itself from Floating While Dreaming?
It differentiates itself because it’s something that stands against the current. It is structured as a journey of emotion and self discovery, which is something that Floating While Dreaming only skimmed over. I took a step back from the story of my dreams to explore what has been going on in my daily life with my family, friends, and serious relationships. To me, being in ‘limbo’ just means that I’m somewhere between here and there. I have come a long way since last year, but there is still a lot of development left for me as a human being and as an artist. That’s the exciting part of constantly being in transition and constantly progressing.
What’s your favourite track off Limbo and why?
“Incomplete”. I pushed my voice and it worked. It’s also me at my most vulnerable which is humbling.
What is the last played song on your phone or iPod?
“Shadows” by Michael Christmas.
What gives you the most pleasure, both musically and otherwise?
My alone time. Being caught up in other people’s space for too long makes me anxious. Sometimes you have to take the time to reflect and get to know yourself during different stages of growth.
What’s the most meaningful lyric from Limbo that resonates with you considerably?
“Hard hit for a home run? Make sure that you tie your cleats first.”
If you could collaborate with anyone on your next album – alive or dead – who would it be and why?
John Legend. I think he has the best voice in music. I’ve always been inspired by his lyrics and his tone. His music is what first inspired me to sing on my own records, honestly. I could always play him in the car with my mom when I was younger, so he was in constant rotation by default.
List four life-changing albums that have inspired and defined you as a human being and an artist.
John Legend – Once Again
N.E.R.D – In Search Of
Kanye West – Late Registration
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend