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 was going for with progressing my sound and the sound for the project. I have more shit that sounds soulful now but that was my aim.
What was the concept behind 8th World when you named the project?
It was kind of an idea behind the seven wonders of the world. It was always a question about what the eighth wonder is and as a standout figure from Baltimore, which is a standout city, I felt like making that my eighth wonder. It's a place that a lot of people don’t get to see. They're on the outside looking in. I just wanted to show people a different perspective of it--even people who're from here. I know it's a different sound than what other people make. That's why it's called 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 a lot of producers what I wanted. Like Radical the Kid was hands-on, Teklun was hands-on, Eu-IV hands-on. They knew how to 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?
I feel like 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 and some people do but it's coming back around because other cities starting to show more love now so they're starting to see what it is.
With the scene, you got people that are in different lanes. That's hard. Everybody gets to focus on a different sound and they're not going for the same thing. It's definitely diverse and I'm happy for this shit. Everybody has their own keys to open the door, you know?
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?
Yeah he gives me a lot of advice and helps me a lot. Like every time I talk to him he'll help out. He just keeps my head on straight and lets me know that it’s a lot of fuck shit out here so just watch out for it. He helps me with distribution. But it's a lot of personal advice and music advice. Basically just "stay doing you" and don't let nobody stop that.
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, it's still people looking from the outside. I've had this happen to me before. Like I’ve had my mother and father look at me when I first started rapping like, “This nigga crazy. Everybody raps." They looked at me like I wasn't seeing life clearly and in the song I was saying, "what if I wait too late to realize that?" But I feel like I’m not though. I feel like I'm gonna accomplish what I'm going for. I was just saying “what if” because that's how it's always been with that.
If you had to pinpoint one thing you need improvement on, what would that be?
I don't think it's lyrics. I definitely need to keep progressing on my sound. It's no so much about lyrics now because I think I'm a good lyricist. I'm not at my best--nobody is. It's always room for improvement.
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 for the time. I do that on purpose because you gotta leave some mystery behind it. We progressing everyday so I don't wanna lay everything on the table. It's definitely more shit to be heard, trust me. I'm far from where I wanna be and I'm revealing just enough so as the time goes, my story gonna unravel. I'm writing my book, you know?
One of 8th World's bonuses, "Mr. Slick", is a collaboration between you and Matic808. It seems like a no-brainer to me. Even 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 so hard for Baltimore rappers to work with club producers because we so used to the sound. We always heard it at parties so it's hard to embrace it. We really grew up on it and I fuck with club music so I like to embrace it. I'm not one of the people running away from it just because it's from my city or it's old. You can always mix old with the new.
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. I think that shit would definitely help a lot because a lot of people love club music, hands down. And some club producers know how to make hip-hop shit too. If they work together it would definitely help blow the spot up.
What do you want people to get out of your music?
I wanna make people feel good, for real. That soulful shit that you can just take in. I don’t want it to be just one message. I wanna be the messenger and tell people shit that they can listen to when they need to 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 people be anti-social. I learned skills like that from traveling and from my peoples. It’s nothing wrong with connecting; shit happens like that. You can't walk around being anti-social all day. Being social helped me a lot. It helped me make connections I never that I would make. All I can say is that I'll keep on doing that. It's not like I try; it's just instilled in me. Everywhere I go I'm gonna be a people-person.
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. We talk about shit and plan shit. We're pretty much running it more like a label than a collective. We got these individual artists and we all have plans so we try helping each other execute. So it's definitely helping me as an artist and helping us build a brand--as a whole and separately. So aside from 7th Floor Villains the brand name, niggas are actually my homeboys. It's just a genuine feeling and we get to build with each other, progress and make each other better everyday.
Hear 8th World on Black Zheep DZ's Sound Cloud.