Al Rogers: On Being Swoozy, His Upcoming Project & Baltimore’s Rap Scene
Al Rogers is one of the more unique artists you’ll find within Baltimore’s hip-hop scene. Before hearing any of his material, his passion and intense energy just in conversation stood out to me; I believe what he’s talking about. So naturally, his music matches his conversational convictions. If you’re not into rangy vocal pitches in your rap music then Al may not be the guy for you. When his passion seeps out (and it will seep out), he tends to let out screeches of excitement, making it a bit hard to understand him. But as of late, he’s been getting his Danny Brown on by sporting a plethora of different voices that help to better get his poetic street tales across about his childhood, the impact of his older brothers being incarcerated and rejecting church at an early age.
Last week we met at a skate shop near his crib, a place he calls a second home. Considering that the dude who worked there turned the lights on in the basement to let us use it for conducting an interview and to hang out with the store cat, I figured it was something like a home. Al and I chilled, talked about him skating since he was sixteen to stay out of trouble, before soon dropping out of high school to get his G.E.D., and a good deal of rap-related stuff. Here’s some of our convo:
Speak on what Baltimore’s rap scene was like when you first got started and where it is now.
Al Rogers:I started out in 2007 with Dre (713) and G Money. We were called Peaceful Money. As a whole, I feel like the scene wasn’t utilizing the internet like we should have, on top of not being unified. Most of the shows I was a part of had 20 people in the crowd, tops. Now there’s definitely some unity in the scene and Baltimore artists have started to understand that working together is much easier than throwing shade and hating. For instance, Soduh of CCL$ is like a younger brother to me and he’s been around since I was doing the Peaceful Money thing. I have mutual family with Butch Dawson of 7th Floor Villains so it’s all love. But everyone’s family now; since we did the “3 Seasons” track we’ve all gotten pretty tight.
You’ve been talking about your debut tape, Almost, a lot lately. What has your process been like in prepping for its release? Are these loose tracks serving as previews of what can be expected?AR: “Fin” is the outro and the video got people really excited. I’ve been working on this since 2011, man. But the sound is experimental because instead of going into it technically, I was really driven by passion. It’s a bit left field but I think by now people expect that from me, vocally. Almost represents me building my craft thus far and with all the time and sacrifices I’ve put into my music, it’ll all be in vain if I never break through. So in a capsule, Almost is the build up until I get there.
It sometimes seems that people may believe that being a rapper is an easy thing to do. So to expound on those sacrifices you’ve made, talk a little bit about your journey as an artist.
AR: Well I’ll start with a story: I was performing at Morgan (State University) in 2009 as Peaceful Money with G (Money) at some sort of fashion event for female students (laughs). We went on during the intermission on a runway stage and I bombed it! Like, in a bad way. I was really embarassed. But back to the general point, that made me feel like people don’t really respect rap as an art. Even other musicians; it’s like they don’t think that this is difficult. This shit is a struggle and for those reasons, I’m gonna stand behind my art with passion.
Millions of people are putting rap music out into the cyber world daily. So with that, does the internet make it harder to fish out what artists are truly talented?
AR: Some rappers KNOW that they are ass and they continue to put stuff out! But who am I to tell them to stop? I’ve come across friends who’ve never rapped a day in their lives and have approached me like, “Yo I need you to hop on something for me. Tell Dre to make a beat.” Like when did you start rapping?! I feel like rap is the alternative thing to do for people in their mid-to-late twenties who have nothing going for them.
Who are the Sap13ns and what does “swoozy” mean?
AR: Swoozy is just a good feeling. Dre made that up a while ago and since then we’ve flipped it with some different variations like “swoozin” and “the swooze”. Sap13ns is a collective and basically, it was started with a mission to make music for real people. It’s not conscious rap, ‘cause that shit is corny. It’s just for real people with real emotions that aren’t too wrapped up in the superficial. Stylistically, we dropped the “I” and “E” for 13 because it’s a power number. The members are me, my cousin Mike C, 713, G Money, and the youngest dude is Tay Jones.
713 is an incredibly underrated producer. What do you like most about working with him?
AR: Dre is super, super nice. He’s been producing since his early teens and has his own sound, for sure. This is a shameless plug: The beat to “FIN” is ridiculous! (laughs). He produced that in the studio in an hour after I gave him a small idea of how the melody was playing in my mind and he unlocked the rest of my brain during our session.
As an artist, do you have any advantages of being from Baltimore?
AR: Being from here, I have an innate ability to hustle. Everyone here is hungry, in some way. You go outside and see the dude selling waters on the corner or you’ll see a fiend trying to sell you dvds. But also, because it’s a small city, a lot of people have that “crab in a bucket mentality” where they don’t wanna see an individual succeed just because they won’t. If I were to move to Brooklyn or some other major city, I don’t think anyone would outwork me because that Baltimore hunger in me would bleed through.