INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK
PHOTOS PROVIDED BY HOUSTON HEARD
That’s the puzzle!
Though his latest work isn’t themed around Barney Stinson and Ted Mosby, he does reflect on how he is piecing the puzzles of his life together to discover his signature sound and make sense of his life.
Have you ever seen that episode of “How I Met Your Mother” during which Ted and Barney decide to open a bar in Ted’s apartment called Puzzles?
I’m actually not much of a HIMYM guy to tell ya the truth. The only reason I get the reference is that almost every time I tell someone that the album is called Puzzles, they bring up that episode (laughs). At first, it kind of bothered me, but I’ve come to embrace it. I’ve even occasionally started replying with “That’s the puzzle!” when people ask me about my reasoning behind the title.
If that’s not how your album title was influenced, why Puzzles?
I named the album before I even started recording it.
I came up with the name in, like, November 2014, which was before my first LP, Above Below Average, came out. I was at my friend’s house one night, and we got the bright idea to do a 1,000 piece puzzle at 2:00 in the morning. We ended up finishing around 6:00 am, and the day following was miserable to say the least.
I remember looking back on that night a couple weeks after and thinking about how much fun we had putting the puzzle together (laughs), and the title just felt right. I took both the reasoning behind the title and the whole concept of putting puzzles together and wrote the album. The two main themes on the record are looking back on my time in Williamsburg and putting together the irregularities in my life.
Everything came together nicely (no pun intended).
Your new songs tackle some serious issues, including depression, anxiety, and leaving home. How did these stories play into the concept of the album?
I’ve had major anxiety issues my whole life — these last couple of years especially. My brain just doesn’t like to work properly sometimes, and my way of fighting breakdowns has always been music. When I shut down, I can’t really communicate with anyone, so I take all my thoughts and turn them into songs. Some prime example of this on the album are songs like “Set Free,” Tell Me Why,” and “January 28th, 2015.”
“In most cases, my anxieties write the songs, not me.”
What’s the story behind your single “Nothing Special,” which you released on April 13?
When people first hear “Nothing Special,” their first reaction is typically something along the lines of “Dang, I feel sorry for whoever that’s about.” In reality, however, the song is about myself. After I had gotten into college and could take it easy, I started acting stuck up and entitled all the time.
It got to the point where some of my best friends were turning their backs and walking out on me because they couldn’t stand how I was acting. After a while, I looked at how I had been acting and realized how ridiculous I was.
“Nothing Special” is essentially me calling myself out.
The digital production on this album was mostly done by you. How important is the DIY ethic to you as a hip-hop artist?
I think doing everything myself allows me to project the best image of the album that I can. My vision for Puzzles has been pretty clear since the process began, and I’ve taken that vision through the music, artwork, and videos so far.
I just feel like I should handle everything I can to get my point across.
As far as the production goes, there is a lot less digital production than my first LP. On Above Below Average, everything was digital except the interlude with a little piano, but Puzzles incorporates guitar, ukulele, drums, and more! I wanted to put more songwriting on this record than rap, and it came out to be about 60/40 singing to rap and poetry.
I just feel like I can communicate my thoughts better through singing than I can through rap.
Is this a new direction you plan to continue to follow?
I knew from the start that I wanted to have a lot more live instrumentation on Puzzles. At first, I wanted the whole thing to be an alternative album with no rap or digital production, but as the process went on I started mixing the two.
An underlying theme on Puzzles is actually me finding my sound, which I do throughout the record. At the tail end of the track list, there are a few songs that mix my songwriting and hip hop production to create my first “signature” sound you could say.
Where can people listen to Puzzles?
Puzzles will be available on for purchase on iTunes, as well as all major streaming services, I believe. I will also have some physical copies.