Something is brewing in Baltimore. I know I'm probably the millionth person to say that and I'm not even sure what is actually brewing but, there is something. I can feel it...? Before the past few years, there were two things you were getting from black artists in the city: club music and street rap. That's not a complaint, though; both are still my favorite kinds of music but now there is some form of variety. We badly needed that. Artists like Lor Scoota, Young Moose and Greedy are holding the streets down with their music. TT The Artist, Matic808, DJ Dizzy, Mighty Mark and Angel Baby are doing right by club music. Abdu Ali is doing his best to fuse all of those energies. And with Llamadon and 7th Floor Villains—interchangeable collectives forging a scene with experimental shoot-offs of rap—Butch Dawson, Dylijens, Buffa7o and Black Zheep DZ have a concrete following.
Zheep has proven to be the most ambitious of Llamadon's camp. He's dropped four projects in the past three years and while his artistic progression didn't seem so evident to me most of those times, his latest effort, 8th World, shows him in a more authoritative role when it comes to developing a sound and stringing together tangible narratives. Recently, I had the chance to chat with him about the making of 8th World, where he sees himself as an artist and if he's sharing enough of himself with his audience. Read up!
Right off, I noticed that 8th World is much more melodic in its production than any of your previous work. Is that indicative of the style you wanna go forward with or was it specific to this project?
That’s kind of what I’m going for with my sound overall and for the project. I have more shit that sounds soulful now.
What was the concept behind 8th World when you named the project?
It’s a buildup from the seven wonders of the world. There’s always been a question about what the eighth wonder is and as somebody from Baltimore, I feel like it’s a standout city and it’s a place that people don’t really get to see. So instead of calling it the eighth wonder, I went with 8th World.
How do you know when you've heard the right beat to rap over? Are you in the studio with producers or are you less hands-on with it?
A couple people sent me their beats but 80% of the project was me sitting down with producers and creating with them. I was telling the producers what I was looking for so they could sync their signature sounds with mine.
On "Mine" with D.R.A.M., you go over your hustle and desire to keep pushing through. Being on the local scene for the past few years, how do you feel about your own progression and the scene's?
For me, I think it’s been moving. Just like the song says, “Ain’t nothing stopping me.” A lot of people on the local scene might not know about me but you got people that do and things are coming full circle because it’s people from other places fucking with me. People at home respond to that. With the scene, it’s good that we have people doing shit in different lanes and you can learn from that. Everybody’s not going for the same thing and because of that, the scene is real diverse. I'm glad to be a part of the progression.
A lot of people don't know that Tim Trees--one of the few locally big rappers we had in Baltimore growing up--is your brother-in-law. Has he given you any useful advice that you've been able to apply to how you're moving?
He gives me a lot of advice and I still talk to him all the time now. He just tries to help me keep my head on straight and always reminds me that it’s a lot of fuck shit out here so watch out for it. But yeah when it comes to distribution of the music or anything really--even personal shit--he tells me to keep doing me and not to let anybody stop me.
On "6th Sense" you mentioned that waiting too late to realize that you're not seeing life clear is a fear of yours. Can you elaborate on that. What's cloudy for you right now?
I feel like I’m seeing clear but sometimes when you’re so focused on something, people from the outside still have their own take. Like I’ve had my mother and father look at me like, “This nigga crazy” when I said that I was gonna rap. They viewed it as me not seeing life clearly but I feel like I’m gonna accomplish what I set out to do. There’s just always that “what if” and that’s what I was talking about.
If you had to pinpoint one thing you need improvement on, what would that be?
I’m not at my best but I feel like I’m good when it comes to lyrics. I’m just trying to get better when it comes to developing a sound.
As a listener, I always long for more transparency from rappers. Do you feel like you're as revealing as you could be about who you are?
Yeah. I feel like I’m revealing enough and I say that because you gotta keep some kind of mystery going. But I do that on purpose because I don’t want to put everything out on the table all at once. It’s definitely more shit to be heard, though, and I’m working on more everyday. I’m far from where I want to be. It’s like I’m in the process of writing my story.
One of 8th World's bonuses, "Mr. Slick", is a collaboration between you and Matic808. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Tim Trees had a whole album produced by Rod Lee. Why do you think there isn't more exchanging between club artists and rappers in Baltimore?
It’s crazy. I think it’s hard because we grew up on it and we’re so used to it that sometimes people find it hard to embrace. I want to embrace it, though. Even though we look at it as old, I feel like mixing what’s going on now with it would be a good look.
Do you think if more club producers and rappers worked together more, it would help develop a more-defined sound for Baltimore rap? Because there still isn’t one.
Hell yeah. It woiuld help a lot because a lot of people love club music, hands down. And another thing people don’t realize is that these club producers know how to make hip-hop shit too. I think it would help the sound out a lot and help somebody local blow up.
What do you want people to get out of your music?
I wanna make people feel good. That soulful shit that you can take in. I don’t want it to be just one message. I want something you can just listen to and it’ll help you get through something.
You’re one of the best local artists when it comes to branching out and working with people outside of the city. Do you think that’s something that Baltimore artists are hesitant to do and what do you take away from branching out?
I think a lot of artists lack the reaching out thing because of where we’re from; that’s kind of how it is. Niggas don’t like to talk and a lot of people in Baltimore are anti-social. But I learned how to be a people-person from my family so it’s natural. It’s nothing wrong with connecting with people or even just talking to other people. So, yeah that’s helped me a lot. Anywhere I go I’m gonna try connecting with people.
How is being a part of Llamadon and 7th Floor Villains helping you as an artist at this point?
As an artist, it’s helping me stay grounded. Right now, we’re trying to run things more like a label than a collective. We got these individual artists who have a lot of plans and we try helping each other execute. So aside from being in a collective with these people, it feels good because they’re my actual homeboys who wanna see me progress and I want the same.
Hear 8th World on Black Zheep DZ's Sound Cloud.