XV

Congratulations on signing with Warner Brothers. Was it a relief to finally sign?

Definitely. Definitely. It’s amazing because I’m achieving something that not only people in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas haven’t achieved but something that people all over the world have worked to get.

Just that I’ve achieved something that so many people wished they could do, to sign a record deal is amazing. I didn’t get there as fast as it could go away. It’s scary at the same time. It pushes me because now I just have to go hard. Now I have to really, really put in work because the last thing I want to do is work this hard to get here and not be able to stay here.

Do you have to work harder now than you did when you were unsigned?

Definitely. Because now I’m not competing with unknown rappers to try and get a record deal. When you’re competing with other artists, you’re trying to get the same deal that they’re getting. They’re trying to get with Warner and Def Jam. Now I have to make records that have to compete with B.o.B and Kid Cudi and T.I. and Kanye West. I have to make those records. It’s harder work because now it’s a whole different ballgame and I’m a rookie when it comes to that. I’ve worked this hard to get here but now that I’m in the league, I’m a rookie. The work is just more recording, better beats, better writing, better marketing, better ideas, better concepts. Everything has to go times 100 of what I was doing before I got a record deal and the fact that I look at it that way is what’s gonna make me able to stay here.

How do you see your music changing now that you see yourself competing with the bigger names?

More than anything, I see myself becoming a voice for people rather than a voice for myself. I have a large fanbase and I understand what they want and I understand what I need to do to stay relevant but at the same time stay myself without turning into what the industry turns artists into because the industry will change artists. As soon as it does, it’s all good for the industry but when you turn on your fans, it’s hard to get them back. Once the industry is done with you, they’re done, but the fans that you turned your back on to get into the mainstream world, those fans are not going to be there anymore and you’re going to be wondering what do you do next.

When I say I’m speaking for the people, I see my music being more of theme music for what my generation and the generation behind me wants to have as far as people achieving their dreams and people reaching for their goals and people who want to basically not do the regular moves of going to high school, college, getting a job in a cubicle, hating their life and wanting to kill themselves. I go against the grain and when I say I’m the voice of the people, I’m not just talking about myself. It’s more about what we want to do. Once I achieve that, I feel like that’s what mainstream is. Mainstream isn’t just pop music and what the radio wants. Mainstream is what a group of people can tune into and identify with. The music that I’m planning on making on my album is that music. It’s globally identifiable, if that’s a word. That’s going to be the word for the day.

Your music hasn’t always sounded like it does today. How did you grow as an artist and make the transition to a more polished MC?

Basically the transition comes from me realizing that being myself was what was going to gain me credibility and notoriety in the game because so many artists that want to do music are afraid of being what they truly are because that’s not what’s hot. When 50 Cent came out, everybody was shooting guns and was a thug and wearing bulletproof vests and riding in the ‘hood. It became that and every artist that was trying to come up became that. It became that and then it came to the snap music era where everybody was trying to make a dance song. You’re trying to capitalize on a movement that isn’t necessarily you. I was annoyed by it and I stopped doing it. When I was disgusted with the idea of me making dance songs, I was like, ‘Fuck this. I hate the music industry!’ When I felt like that, I went against the grain and made Square in a Circle, which was about me not fitting into what everybody else was doing. I said on one of the records, “It’s like my mama always said, if Soulja Boy jumped off a bridge, then we all would be dead.” That’s because everybody was following suit. When I went against the grain, that’s when everybody came towards me and when I realized that they navigated towards me was because I was being myself.

There’s a lot of people out there like that. They were just afraid to say it. Then I realized I could just be myself and I could talk about the video games I love and ‘90s sitcoms I grew up watching and reading comic books and being a homebody and people would identify with it. When I realized I could do that, I realized how easy it was. Rapping about my life is easy because I’ve lived it. This is my real personality. When you talk to me, it’s the same person you talk to. Before, when you heard my music, I wasn’t what you thought I would be. I realized that was the music I wanted to make and I was going to be myself and I was going to inspire other kids and other artists and other rappers to be themselves.

Is Warner giving you the lane to do that?

Yeah. That’s the reason I went with Warner. Warner has recently signed more grimy artists. They have Gucci Mane and Scarface and Mike Jones and the whole Texas and Swishahouse movement. They have Lil’ Boosie. It’s more grimy and street. The reason I wanted to go over there was because they don’t have my lane yet. They don’t have the artist that is a square and has a bunch of white dudes who play Xbox Live all day at his shows rapping his words. They don’t have that lane and I felt if I went over there, I could be a general and not be a soldier. I could be the Kobe of the team. I could be the Jordan of the team rather than being in the mix of a Lebron and a Bosh and a Wade. Rather than being with all these all-stars that are in the same lane as me, I’ll stand out and that’s where I got my notoriety from, from standing out. My first meeting was with Todd Moskowitz. That’s one of the presidents of Warner and he said he didn’t want me to change anything. He just wanted me to be XV and make some hits. That was my lane. I had offers from other labels like Atlantic and I didn’t want to go with the label that I felt like already had artists that covered my lane like Lupe Fiasco or B.o.B. Atlantic has signed a lot of new artists and I didn’t want to just be another new artist on the roster and Warner has given me the go. The fact that they see that lane is why I’m working with them. It’s the same reason I’m working with Just Blaze. He listened to my music, heard my lane and told me he fucked with that lane. He played me his favorite songs of mine and they were my favorite songs and I felt like they were also my most notable songs and when you realize that, you know how to make yourself into a star.

When did you get comfortable just being yourself?

Really, just after I started doing shows and I started seeing my fanbase and these aren’t people that I handed a CD to in a mall. These are people who haven’t known me at all who are at my shows and wearing my t-shirts and wearing my merch and singing my songs and I see what they look like and then they ask me for my Xbox gamer tag and they ask me what my favorite game is or my favorite superhero. This is so dope because these are people who identify with my music and if I wasn’t a rapper they would probably be a friend of mine. I realized that these people really don’t have a mainstream artist to identify with, I said I was going to take that market over.

There’s so many different things I can do with this market, like movies and cartoons because I’m a huge movie buff and I have a passion in screenwriting as well. The thought that I can achieve multiple dreams with just doing this type of music and being myself, I realized I was going to conquer this lane and milk it. I’m going to be the voice of this generation. My generation, the artists that you see and hear now, like J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa, we are all part of the Jay-Z and Kanye generation. That’s why you hear us rapping over the beats that we do. And I feel like the people behind this generation of rappers, they don’t have that artist yet. We’re all part of the Kanye generation. I don’t feel like this generation has a Kanye yet. We all identified with the album The College Dropout. All of us did, no matter what. It was such a classic album and we all identified with it. When I think about being able to be that voice, I know that it’s needed. For some reason, it’s needed right now and it’s just really being myself and that’s the dopest part about it because it’s not hard to rap about my real life.

Taking it back to The Answer, which you dropped in 2003…Come to think of it, that was probably your first review.

It was. It was. It was my first online review. I remember multiple times doing press kits and putting quotes from the HipHopGame review. There’s so many press kits with quotes from that HipHopGame review. It’s crazy. It shows that my name XV is really true to its nature. I’ve really been making albums since I was 15 and it wasn’t just making albums at home in my basement. I got an album review at 18 on a major website and it was really a big deal for HipHopGame to publish that and to be on the same page with a Mike Jones and a 50 Cent.

You’ve stayed with it for a long time.

Yeah. Most people quit. They don’t see the dream coming to them fast enough and they just say fuck it and I’m not going to do it anymore because it’s obviously not going to happen for me so the fact that I stayed with it should give a lot of people hope. That’s what I’ve been trying to achieve in my music and trying to achieve in my movement. I want people to say that this dude really grinded. There was no overnight success with me when all the stars aligned at a certain moment. When people see that, they’re going to emulate it and I don’t mind anybody emulating hustling, because that’s all I did.

Do you really feel like you can’t point to one song or one instance that pushed you over the top?

Right. Everything kind of played its part into me becoming where I’m at now. I can say my mixtape Everybody’s Nobody, that’s what landed me in the right circles. It just so happened to have some really good music on it or else DJ Benzi and DJ Enuff wouldn’t have cosigned it and then the music came out and everybody fucked with it. But my biggest problem was that after it came out, I didn’t go out. I didn’t show my face and I didn’t connect with the people who were listening to it. It got over 100,000 downloads and over 20,000 downloads the weekend it came out. I didn’t go out and connect with those people automatically and then 2010 came around and I said I wasn’t going to worry about the mixtapes and I was going to worry about doing live shows.

When people see that the artists they are messing with are real, they become more than a listener. They become a fan. People can say whatever they want about my flow. In my opinion I’m pretty fucking dope. People can say things about my beats, which in my opinion are pretty fucking fresh. But one thing people can never knock is my stage show. I’ve been performing even before I could rap and I’ve always brought an amazing lineup of songs, whether I was rocking at my high school or the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors, I always knew if I brought what I could do onstage, that’s when the listeners would become fans and believer’s which is what I believe a fan is. That’s what I need – people spreading the word. Everybody helped and I toured with Kid Cudi and the Clipse and Pac Div and Curren$y and Chiddy Bang. This was all in six months and that’s when my name started buzzing in the right circles and landed me on Warner Brothers.

How do you feel hearing The Answer and your older music today?

It’s crazy because I’ll listen to it and I’ll be like, ‘Wow, I’m so wack!’ (laughs) It’s just crazy because it shows so much growth but it also shows so much hustle. I’ll listen to it and I’ll hear me say things and in that music, I thought I deserved a record deal right then. More than anything, it shows me that I’ve always believed in myself and that’s what it comes down to. Making it, it always comes down to your belief in yourself. I’ll hear some lines and hear that it was kind of dope for an 18 year-old. More than anything, I can say that it’s crazy that I was recording that and that I designed that cover and did it in my mom’s basement.

I did that based on my passion for music. There was no money in it. If there was, I would have quit in 2004 when I didn’t get that deal. It was great to see that I had that passion for so long. It’s amazing to me. Now I’m 25 years-old and it’s coming true. Back then I was Just Blaze’s biggest fucking stan ever. If you listen to The Answer, I sampled three records Just Blaze used but I chopped it up differently. You even mentioned the “1-900 Hustler” sample in the review. Now if you think that in 2010 I’m working with the person who produced that record, that’s crazy.

You probably didn’t see that coming.

No. Never. It’s crazy. When I sat down with Just Blaze in the studio, I couldn’t believe I was sitting with the person who was part of two of my top five albums. That’s crazy to me. It’s like your favorite movie being The Dark Knight and getting to meet Chris Nolan and getting to sit down and pick his brain and tell him how many times you’ve watched that movie. It’s that same feeling. And nobody expects that, no matter how bad you want it.

What were you and Just Blaze able to do?

Right now it’s in its early stages. We’re talking about working on a record. He actually found out about me in the blog world. He asked what artists were buzzing without record deals and he called me to meet up with me in the studio and it just so happened that he was a good friend of one of my producers, Omen. He produced “Rabbit Hole” and he produced “Shut It Down” on Thank Me Later. That’s a good friend of mine also and everything just came together. My name was just buzzing in the right circles. We have yet to work on anything for the album yet but it’s in the making.

Who else do you want to work with on your debut major label album?

As far as production, you’ll hear a lot from my in-house producer Seven. He’ll be doing a lot of the production on that but I’ll also be working with Scoop Deville. I’d like to get in the studio with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Jim Jonsin. Artist-wise, you’ll just hear artists that have been a part of my come up, such as Bun-B, me and J. Cole are probably going to work on some stuff, of course my people Freddie High, who I’ve been doing music with ever since The Answer. Basically I want my album to be my story coming up. I’m just reaching back out to those people who are a part of my story up to this point. And me and Talib Kweli are working on a record now that’s going to be insanity. It’s going to be interesting to see how that comes together.

Did people in Wichita tell you that you were crazy for chasing this dream?

Yeah, definitely. It’s crazy because I’m from a city where nobody has really broken that barrier yet and I’m very to myself. I’m not a quiet person but I’m a homebody. I’m not out in the streets and I’m not out in the club all of the time. People never saw me being that dude even though they know my hustle and they now my grind and they know what I’ve sacrificed to achieve it. Even knowing all of that, they didn’t imagine that it would be me. But now that it’s happened, they know that I’ve been doing it for so long that they say I deserve it. They know I grinded for that and that I worked for that. It’s really made a lot of people in my hometown, as far as artist-wise, get on their shit because X did it, who’s going to do it next? That’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to open up that gate and see who was going to come through it after me because I’m just the beginning.

When are you looking to drop this album?

I’m looking for March. Todd told me if I brought him an album that was finished and was hot and it had those records on it, it would be out. He gave me that. I’m working. Every single night after a show, I’m in the studio. I’m writing. I’m recording. I’m trying to make sure I try to turn something in around the fourth quarter because I would really like to release first quarter. I have to deal with the same shit every other artist has to deal with, the questions of if I’m going to drop something and if I have a hit. When I hear those whispers, I go harder and people have no idea what I have up my sleeve right now. I have some smashes and I haven’t even went in with all the artists and producers that I wanted to go in with and I’m at least nine tracks deep with hits. Hopefully I would love to drop around March. We’ll see.

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