HI$TO: On Breaking Out Of His Shell, Fighting Depression & Being Selected For Trillectro

Over the past two weeks, Baltimore-based DJ & producer HI$TO has been announced as an act on the region's go-to summer music festival Trillectro and released his first project of original music with Yung Spvce Cadet. In a Facebook post last month HISTO shared that he had a list of goals he wanted to accomplish over the next year and from what it looks like, his summer is starting off the right way. While he was getting ready for a new weekly party he and Abdu Ali started in Baltimore called Wet Wet Wednesdays, I linked up with him to talk about his newest accomplishments, the struggle to push through and how he broke out of his shell to pursue a career in music. 

Photo: Keem Griffey

Photo: Keem Griffey

You grew up between Houston and Baltimore. How was that?

HI$TO: I was born in Baltimore. When my parents split, I’d be back and forth between them while I was still here. Then I stayed in E. St Louis, Illinois for a little bit before I moved to Houston with my mother when I was eleven. As soon as I moved there I was turned onto Screw culture and southern music. It was that time when “Still Tippin’” was blowing up. I was like, “Damn. I moved to Houston at the right time!” It was fun being there while everything was hot. People were excited to be from Houston, you know? People were out there. I used to see a lot of rappers around town because I lived in Sugarland and Missouri City. A lot of my music got influenced by Screw. I used to get his tapes from the barbershop and listen to them at school. I was listening to Baltimore Club at the same time and people down there thought it was too crazy. They didn’t really understand. Now they’re bumping dubstep and Jersey Club after I was trying to let them know years ago. That’s really why I left. Nobody was feeling my shit.

Why do you think you gravitated more towards club music over screw music? Did you feel some kind of loyalty because you were born in Baltimore?

HI$TO: Yeah. When I moved to Houston I always loved Baltimore and I came every summer. I always felt like it was a big part of my heart. But I loved dubstep and EDM trap when they dropped too. I chopped and screwed some tracks too. I’m influenced by a lot.

When did you start making music?

HI$TO: When I was 12. I had this game called Magic Music Maker for Playstation 2 then I got my first laptop when I turned 14. I got Fruity Loops as soon as I got the laptop then I learned about Ableton from listening to Blaqstarr and Diplo. I eventually found a link to it and since then it’s been my program. Ableton has so many possibilities.

My pops was rapping and producing in the 90’s. He had a contract with Def Jam but didn’t go through with it because he felt like he’d be selling out.

What did you learn from his experiences?

HI$TO: I taught myself how to produce but my dad bought the Magic Music Maker game for himself and I would borrow it before I got it for myself. But my dad plays a big role in my music career right now. When I moved back here he taught me a lot about what to be prepared for on the business side. When I first moved here I was quiet and didn’t know how to talk to people to be honest. I’ve been living here for five years now and I’m much more outgoing. I didn’t like going anywhere at all. My pops saw that and just told me, “You’re talented but you need to work on the social side.”

A little while ago you got on Facebook and shared what a few of your goals were for the next year and playing a big festival was one of them. Now that you’re playing Trillectro next month, you knocked one of those out. How do you work towards goals? Do you give yourself a set schedule to go by?

HI$TO: I do what I feel. It’s not like, “It’s 1 o’clock, let me do this.” But when I was going for Trillectro I just started sending emails to a bunch of people that know about me. I found their emails and sent out some exclusive tracks. A little while later I got the offer. I have a lot more to do but I’m really proud of this. I’m planning out my set right now. I’ve been working on things for the past few days and I’m making new stuff for it. TT The Artist is gonna hype up my set. I’ve got a month so I’m being creative as possible.

Your debut EP, Yung Spvce Cadet just dropped. When you were putting it together, was there a defined sound you wanted to establish with it?

HI$TO: I knew I wanted to come out with an EP but didn’t know what the EP would be. I actually had a bunch of tracks ready to go but I had a falling out with some featured artists and a lot of them got scrapped. I’m on there rapping as Yung EBT. I really put my all into it. The only feature I have is TT. It’s funny because I’ve always written raps. In middle school I wanted to be a rapper honestly. But I wasn’t myself. I was rapping some gangsta shit because I was listening to a lot of Mobb Deep. The only reason I even put vocals on this project is because I had people around me telling me that they were feeling it.

What would you say is your biggest hurdle as an artist?

HI$TO: Really, staying up to date with what people like instead of playing what I like most of the time. I used to only DJ shit I like but then people started making requests for Gucci Mane, Future and other stuff. I would turn it down but then I got the idea to bring that music in with what I was already doing. People dance to it.

What have been your biggest hurdles as a person?

HI$TO: Aside from the music it’s just getting myself together personally. I’m trying to get my own spot and all that. I mean, I’m cool, but I’m not where I want to be right now. I don’t really talk to people about this but I went through a whole depression period this year. Just thinking stuff like “Damn, what am I really doing with myself right now?” and, “Is this music shit really for me?” It took some people to really lift me up and remind me of the things I have accomplished.

Do you think that depression was from what you expected of yourself or were you comparing yourself to others?

HI$TO: It wasn’t really comparing myself to other people, it was just like “I’m this age. I don’t have a house, a car.” I did have a car but it fucked up on me. It’s really from people placing standards on age and what you should be doing. But I had to remind myself that I’d rather get my shit together and do things right. I had to tell myself that I am cool. I’ve done things other people haven’t. I’m not in a bunch of school debt. I don’t have a house with nothing else to do.

Would you say that those feelings you had are common amongst artists you come across? How do you think artists can help each other not have to endure that pain alone?

HI$TO: Yeah, there are people who have no one to vent to. I didn’t know how to express the feelings I had inside but I found the right people who could motivate me. They understood what I was going through but it took me to understand what was in front of me and how I could go past that. If you feel it, you’re good. Even if you’re not eating right away. When I posted the Trillectro line-up, UNIIQU3 hit me up. Nadus hit me up. They told me to keep it going and that meant a lot to me because they’re traveling the world right now. It shows me that in a year from now I can be cool. It’s not impossible. The few times I’ve been around DJ Sliink and Dirty South Joe was really motivating to me too. I feel like it’s gonna all unfold soon.

What do you hope people get out of your work?

HI$TO: My remixes get thousands of plays over two weeks and my originals barely get plays over time. I didn’t understand. I just want people to understand the originals. All I’m doing is flipping other people’s shit but I’m putting real emotion into the original stuff. But at the end of the day, I just want people to go for what they want. People didn’t think I’d be outgoing at all. I was really in the house all the time, playing video games and just in my own little world. People would make fun of me. My senior year of high school in Houston, I went to see Madlib and was like damn. Then I went to Mad Decent Block Party in Philly the same summer and decided that I needed to be on the East Coast. My mom had plans for me to go to college in Houston but I just couldn’t. My family down there was mad at me for like a year. Once last summer hit and they saw that I had a plan and was getting featured on Complex and other sites, they got it. I want people to just go for what they want. Even if it’s not music. Break out of your shell. Do you.

That's Law: A Word on Shy Glizzy's Law 2 Mixtape

Last summer when I first stumbled across D.C’s Shy Glizzy, I wasn’t convinced. He’d just released his first tape with all original material in Law, was still deep into his beef with Fat Trel and his song construction left a lot to be desired. Still, there was some sort of cosmic connection I had to his music, or maybe just him as an individual. After all, if there’s nothing else you can give Glizzy credit for, it’s the conviction in his words. I know he’d did some time as a teenager for robbery, got stabbed in a club not too long after and seemed to have a legit reputation as a street dude in D.C. so he had every right to talk big boy shit as much as he wanted to in his music. In ways, he slipped into a personal void that I needed filled after Boosie Boo had been in prison: A small dude in size, with big personality and the yelpy street narration to top it off. I’d gotten through his diss songs (“3 Milli” for Chief Keef and “Disrespect The Tech” for Fat Trel) and while they were both entertaining, I wasn’t moved.

Law started to sway me a bit. Glizzy was still spitting like he was in his diss tracks but the recklessness was a bit more concentrated. His message was clear, though: he was a young street dude translating his reputation through music. Most of the tracks are about the money he’d made, being D.C. through and through, and having no reservations about turning to the gun. “Law” was the tape’s standout with his hilarious, yet effective ad libs like gun-sound “Bloom Bloom” and “OH”. Overall, the tape was subpar though and like most internet rap, I processed it as such: Enjoy it for the moment and for the experience, no matter how small it may be. What I hadn’t taken into consideration is that Shy Glizzy isn’t much of an internet rapper. Even with a rap star like Wale featured on both Law and his Fxck Rap project, he’s just getting to people outside of the DMV area with help from Fader’s Gen F column and last year’s short-lived beef with Chief Keef. But mostly Glizzy is somewhat of a hometown hero for D.C.’s youth. Most of the YouTube comments on his videos are praise from kids in the District and in the aforementioned Fader feature he confessed: “Even if I don’t ever blow, Imma always be remembered here.”

That was a perfect precursor to “I Am DC”, the lead-off from his latest project Law 2. The airy chant of “I run my city, I run my city” throughout the song translates an emotion that can’t be fabricated for youtube views and download stats; it’s authentic. The most impressive thing about Law 2 is that, in content, Shy Glizzy has shown no growth yet he’s still made leaps and bounds as an artist. Just like everything else he’s done, you're gonna get guns here, you’re gonna get drugs and you’re gonna get money. But he’s never made those things sound so amazing. He’s finally come around to using that Cow from "Cow & Chicken" voice to his advantage. Take “Free The Gang” for example, a song about friends being locked up (The millionth rap song of the same topic), where his sing-song method does wonders with the hook “You threw your life away, threw your life away/ Man I hope and pray the streets don’t take my life away.” “Guns & Roses” does the same as he goes through a guide of street rules: “Police took away my friends, or they life came to an end/ These niggas ain’t my friends, they just want some of my ends.” His curatorial prowess sticks out on this tape too. He grabs a couple beats from rising trap producer Metro Boomin, recruits Kevin Gates (another sing-song street rapper) for “Gudda” and on the tape’s most entertaining and club-ready track “Wassaname” (fucking banger!!! OMG) he brings Migos along.

Law 2 also finds Shy in a more introspective, matured state. Where he was quick to draw on the tape’s prequel, here he’s cognizant of his position and is at least a little smarter with pulling the gun as he says in “Free The Gang”: “Man we this damn close, you wait ‘til now to start killing?/ Why the fuck you stealing cars when we riding ‘round in foreigns?/ Music shoulda been your job, boy I’m ‘bout to start touring/ Every club we scorin’, kept the Rose´ pourin’/Yeah I shoot shit up too, but I’m smart when I’m doing it.” Moments like this where he’s sitting his friends down and giving them a heart-to-heart is how he maintains the “I’m not really a rapper” thing that Jeezy held onto so dearly when he was a new artist. He actually dedicates the hook for “The N Word” to that stance too: “Rap niggas is rap niggas and trap niggas is trap niggas/ I’m still in the trap nigga.”  “I’m not your favorite rapper, I just wanna motivate you” is what he says in “I Am DC” and in the Yo Gotti-assisted “Money Problems” he talks about his absence of funds causing him to get into arguments with his right hand man, who’s in a better financial position. Really, Law 2 is the stories that old head on your block tells you while you chill on the stoop about the people he’s shot up, the crazy club nights, women he’s had sex with and how he could’ve made it big. Glizzy’s that dude and seems to welcome that role.

From me first discovering him, like Migos, Glizzy has had an element to his music that’s inexplicably enjoyable; Neither are offering foreign subject matter and most of their hooks are painfully repetitive but they’ve both developed an audible aesthetic that can’t be duplicated.The craziest part about this is how much better he’s gotten since the first Law tape—It’s a bit scary And for that reason, Law 2 hasn’t gone a day without play on my iTunes or in my car since it dropped. Whether Shy Glizzy is really a rapper, or a trapper who’s just trying to drop gems for people from a similar background, his incantatory street tales are great in this tape.