Did you have projects out when you were in school?
The first thing I put out while I was in school was called The Bagels and Beats EP. That was when I was doing albums as a group. If you’re in a group with someone, you better feel like that other person is bumping our music and loving it. I loved it, but it wasn’t really his style. Eventually he stopped producing, and I was like, “I want to take this, so is it cool if I just rebrand this and make it my own?” At the time, we had a little bit of love on MySpace, had like 4,000 fans on Facebook. We put out two projects together, Bagels and Beats and Making Waves. But, I went back and did it all myself. I started to reach out to my friends at school. That’s kind of how I met this kid, RJ Ferguson, who used to be my DJ. RJ’s my dude that I go to. We’re flying out, doing shows together, but I knew how difficult it was to be in a group. We were never going to be like a group, but he’s like the co-captain. The first song we made was a song called “You Are Not A Robot,” which was like the first time I had a song cross over into the Internet world, fucking every blog posting it, popping off on YouTube and getting like 1 million views.
What do you think, personally, makes your music stand out compared to other indie acts? What makes you think your music or formula makes it more reachable to a bigger audience?
At the core of it, I’m a songwriter. I put hooks, a real emphasis on that. I’m not just trying to write raps and sloppily put them together. I think that itself lends to an audience that is a casting a wider net. I put a lot of my own personality into the raps, and it might not be for everybody, but I found that there is a big segment of audience. I’m very intertwined with what’s current, what’s popular, trying to be funny, light, witty, wordplay. It was something really positive and upbeat but catchy, clever, slick. It had depth to it. If you listen and listen and listen, you’re like, “Oh, I didn’t catch that reference before and now I get it.” I always wanted to make things that are easy to listen to, but once you really sunk into it, there’s a lot there.
After you graduated, you started working for Google. How did that happen?
They came on campus. It was my senior year. I wasn’t going to skip an interview with Google. I was like, “This is a cool-ass company, and I would love to work here.” I was lucky, and I literally think I got the job because of the music stuff, which is the craziest thing. I place a real big emphasis on social media and outside of the music I kept the fans because I’ve talked to like one out of two fans on a personal level. Tweet, Facebook, in-person, you know I’m all over it. I let them know about that. I explained that this is what I do and this is how I think about it.
When you made that decision, did you think you were going to continue on with your music career?
Nah, I kind of knew I was a goner, man. I moved in August. The week that I got there, I got a call from Universal Republic and Sony ATV and they were like, “Yo, we love ‘Robot’ and we love what you’re putting out. Come see us.” I was on the next flight out to New York. I called my dad and told him these were record labels and they liked what I was doing, so it wasn’t just on the Internet, it was real. He was like, “Oh, shit.” It didn’t go anywhere, but at the time you’re like gassed up. The whole time I was at Google, all I needed was a record deal to leave.
Why did you think the deal didn’t come?
I’m lucky I didn’t get signed in 2011. I did couple showcases and I think I was just too nervous, man. Now, I play shows all across the country, and the rooms keep getting bigger and I know how to work an audience. At the time, there were people sitting around a desk and I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to be crazy and jump up on this desk, or am I supposed to just focus on the performance? I didn’t want to blow it, so, I blew it. Not everyone in the room was a believer, and still to this day, some people just aren’t going to get into certain types of rap music.
If anything, I think that it has the biggest mass appeal.
The fact that I’m able to do what I do and it’s really a career, I’m good. I don’t care right about signing a deal. That’s like the furthest thing from my mind. For me, it’s how do I get more fans? That’s really what keeps you going at the end of the day. That’s what keeps you allowed to do it as your life. I don’t need to be on the radio right now, it’s cool.
So, what made you decide to leave Google?
Well, I was passing up a lot of money and shows because I was in San Francisco. I was acting like it was okay to be late to work and shit, and the fact were, my head wasn’t in it. My head was on Twitter, and on the blogs, and growing and networking. I remember it was a December break and I played four sold-out shows in New York, Boston, Rochester, and Philly. So, I went to [Google] and I explained to them what’s going on. They were like, “Cool, take six months, and if it doesn’t work out, come back. If it does work out, see you when you play in San Francisco,” and that’s what we did. When I come to San Francisco, they’re there. There will be like 60 people deep from Google.