“I want to be a good influence and change lives through music; that’s really the most important thing,” says Mez. “It’s about making a difference in somebody’s life.”
Safe to say, Mez is on a path to do that. On his recently released project, Long Live The King, the native of Raleigh, N.C., shows off a hoarse voice, catchy cadence and polished lyrics, all of which makes LLTK easy to listen to and important to hear. Not that any of that surprises. Mez’s 2012 project, My Everlasting Zeal, with the standout single “Monte Carlo,” garnered acclaim and earned him radio time with Sway Calloway and TV time with BET.
More recently, Mez, who produces many of his own beats, opened up for fellow NC native J. Cole, aligned with Pusha T’s manager, and signed a publishing deal with Warner Bros.
With all that in mind, now’s a good time to get to down with the King who doesn’t need a crown.—Tzvi Twersky
XXL: When did you start taking rap seriously?
King Mez: I’d definitely say it was when I left college. I left college when my mom passed; that’s probably when it got real. That made it reality, and not because I didn’t already see it as a reality, but just because I knew I wasn’t trying to work for anybody anymore. I really wanted to make that happen. Thanks to God, I’m comfortable and I haven’t had a job since I was 18.
I was 20 when my mom passed. I had to leave North Carolina A&T, where I was in college, to move back home to Raleigh to look after my younger brother. That was when it got serious.
I know you’ve also bounced back and forth between living in Maryland a little bit, right?
I lived in Maryland for a year, like a year ago. Honestly, it was cool to be around family but it was like the toughest year of my career. A whole lot of me moving to Baltimore had to do with my brother. I wanted to make sure he was around family while I was traveling; I didn’t want him all the way in North Carolina with nobody else there; so I moved up Baltimore for a year. It was cool, but it was tough, because I wasn’t around my music family and didn’t have no equipment. I did a lot behind the scenes, but I didn’t really get a chance to work as I would have liked to. I kind of skipped a year as far as projects go. That’s probably why I feel so adamant about putting out two projects this year.
You feel like you’re playing catch up because of that?
Definitely. But in the midst of being in Baltimore, good things were still happening. I signed a publishing deal with Warner Bros. Steven Victor, saw the “Monte Carlo” video, and hit me early 2013 to be my manager. He’s well-connected, from G.O.O.D. Music to everybody, so I feel like now would be the time. He got me the publishing deal with Warner/Chappell, and that was a real good look, too. I need to prove myself, I feel, a lot more before I want a record deal, but now was a good time for a publishing deal. We went back and forth five or six times to get it the way I wanted the deal, and it worked out.
You have a very distinct sound. Do you feel that way, and what are you going for?
I’m thankful I hear that a lot. It has a lot to do with my voice, and the way I’ve curated my voice. Now I’m really going for it completely, because I’m producing a lot too. I’m trying to lean on the lines of beats that no one has ever heard in rap; that’s really my whole thing. My voice and the way I rap have always been kind of distinct, but now I want my production to match that. As part of that, I produced a good majority of this project. That’s why Kanye was so ill: he introduced us to new sounds over and over again every time he came out with a project. You could really hear the difference and growth, and that’s one of my aims. Even if I’m putting out another project this year, which I think I am, I want the growth from this one to that one be evident. I want people to feel that my sound grew, lyrically and as a producer. I want people to feel that way every time I come out with something. Forever.
The first thing everyone wants to do is figure you out. That’s the way the human mind works, that you just want to figure everything out. I don’t want to ever be able to be figured out. I want you to have to listen, because you never know what I’m going to come out with. That way, you have to at least listen to it.
Along the same lines, who influenced you musically?
Nas is my No. 1. Funny thing that a lot of people don’t know: I was born on Apr. 19, and Illmatic came out on the 19th, too. For whatever reason, I’m excited every year for Illmatic’s anniversary. One day when I meet Nas, I’m gonna tell him. I mean, I saw him at 106 & Park when I performed, but I didn’t want to reach out to him just yet. When I meet him, I want to meet him in the right way—like being introduced by No I.D. or something like that. I probably should’ve said something, though, but I think the way you meet people is the most important thing.
If you could collabo with anyone, who would it be?
Definitely Doom. I think it would be so ill to work with Doom. I feel like the way I’m quote-unquote branded, I don’t think a lot of people would expect me to be work with Doom. I think he’s one of the best, most creative rapper and producers. I’d love to work with Andre, too, and as far as new artists I really love James Blake’s music. A few different people.
Being from North Carolina, rapping and producing, J. Cole comparisons are probably inevitable. Do you get those sometimes?
I do a little bit, but thank God we sound so different. I know we have some things in common, so I make it a point to always have my own style. I know the comparisons are gonna come, but I’m going my own route.
He’s somebody I studied under in real life. I was in the studio with him, and he’s like a big brother to me for real anyways. But I really just want to sound like myself, and continue to create. I don’t want to take from hip-hop, I want to contribute and change it. I don’t just want to get the money and residuals, I want to give something to the art form.
Cool. So you plan on dropping any videos from this latest project?
Man, maybe like four or five or six. I’ve been shooting videos all week; I’m tired for real. And they’re really good, clever, different videos. Things that will strike people in a different way. I’m excited.
So what’s the 2014 goal for you and what’s the long-term goal?
I just want to be solidified. I don’t really have a short-term goal, because I see things from such a broad perspective. Like, I heard a lot of congratulations when the project came out, but I can’t even except them because I’m in this for the whole thing. I’m in this to be one of the greats, or even if not to be a great than to change millions of lives at a time. I want to be a good influence and change lives through music; that’s really the most important thing. That’s first and foremost, but I know I won’t be able to do that unless I get myself on a high enough platform. My goal is, truthfully, to broaden my perspective and never be complacent. I can’t say, ‘I would love to be on this,’ or ‘I would to do this.’ It’s not about one particular endeavor; it’s about making a difference in somebody’s life.
I’ve had songs do that for me. Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor changed my life. I was always cool and pretty level-headed, but I did some stupid stuff. I had friends go to jail forever. A good friend of mine, you know, killed somebody and I can’t see him anymore. That’s forever, so I’ll always be thankful for Food & Liquor cause it changed my life. So I would love to make an album that makes someone feel that way.