How Pell Found Himself While Recording His ‘Girasoul’ EP
Pell has been virtually ghost since he dropped 2015's explosive Limbo EP. In that time, the New Orleans native relocated to Los Angeles, releasing a handful of tracks but mostly isolating himself on the opposite side of the country, away from his frequent collaborators. "This past year I’ve taken time for myself," he explains to XXL. "That’s why the project took so long."
The hiatus was time well spent. The 25-year-old rapper was able to lock in on girasoul, an EP reminiscent of hip-hop's Native Tongues era that serves as a rejuvenating listen to end a dumpster fire of a year in news and politics. He reconnected with his music friends for the project and made some new ones, too, continuing to grow and evolve his sound. “It’s definitely one of the most soulful bodies of work from me," he says of the project, which dropped earlier this month. "That’s why the 'soul' is in the girasoul—it’s usually spelled without the 'u' in Spanish."
The project has been well-received by Pell's fans, thanks in part to the standout records "chirpin'" and "golden" featuring Vérité, which have amassed more than 59,000 combined streams via his SoundCloud page. Alongside collaborator Billy DeLelles, Pell handles the majority of the production on the six-track EP. And now that his latest work is out into the world, he's ready to wind down. "I wanna go to Hawaii and chill for like, four days," Pell spills. But he won't go it alone. "I’ll probably go out there for a quick second with my shorty and recalibrate."
Pell stopped by XXL just before the holiday break to speak about creating girasoul, his colorful video for "chirpin'," partnering with Payday Records and 2017's highs and lows.
XXL: The concept for your “chirpin'” video was great. How did you come up with that?
Pell: The concept that I had for it before I knew I'd be working with directors Miles & AJ was a little bit darker. It was kind of centered around being bogged down, but I wanted to be in a bird’s nest because I’m like “I’m chirpin, I’m chirpin, I’m chirpin.” And I kinda wanted it to be isolated, like I was just stuck in this one place. But they added these ideas of it being more urban, and I feel [like it's] resonating and relating with people a little bit more. I thought it would be corny if I did anything with a bird suit or actually being a bird. They knew bird handlers, so basically we got the parallel between me and the birds to show, so it’s like, I’m chirpin in a physical sense as well as in a metaphorical sense. I thought that was pretty cool. We did that and also told a story with color, and that’s why at the beginning of the scene, everything’s vibrant, and at the end it’s gray, matching those pigeons. It’s like, finally I decompressed, and woo, I’m exhausted.
You could still come out with another version of that video.
Oh yeah, definitely [laughs]. I also like collaborating, so I think that the idea got bigger than what I just seen in my head. ’Cause I usually write treatments for every song. But it’s good to balance with people who have added ideas.
Do you have any ideas for your "golden" visual?
Yeah, but I don’t want to spoil it. I think that I’d rather show than talk about it.
What is your favorite track on girasoul?
“Lately.” That’s one that was made during a rehearsal for this Skullcandy event that I was doing with Billy. I remember he was playing something on guitar, and I have this vocal effects looper, so I was running vocal effects loops—it’s the same way that “golden” was actually created—and then put in just one drum track. I sat a couple days after and just free wrote—I think I was on a plane. I didn’t even write it to the beat. I had so much I wanted to say, because I had took a break from writing for a quick second. But as soon as I put it on top of the track it just made sense, and it was one of the first times I didn’t have a chorus. I just free spat; I was spitting for like three minutes.
Can you explain your partnership with Payday Records?
It was 2016 the first time I had serious conversations with them. And at first it was one of those things—I’m just skeptical as fuck of any label or entity trying to take from what I’ve been doing with my own team. But I look at Payday as a boutique situation and a partnership for real. Because one, I have real good music relationships with people that work there, most specifically Adrian [Nunez]—that's one of the best conversations that I've had with anybody who would be considered on "the other side." I considered it to [have] been a conversation that was like me talking to another artist.
Also the history behind Payday played a lot in my initial first response to them. It’s all about the future and the fact that they’re rebranding. They're willing to put all this push behind me and they actually believe in the music that I’m making—'cause a lot of this isn’t for the radio [or] SoundCloud. A lot of this exists in this weird realm that we’re all trying to figure out, but at the same time we’re not giving a fuck about units. We’re giving a fuck about feeding the people.
And the quality.
And the quality. But the quality’s already gonna be there [laughs]. We’re giving a fuck about the message, and I’m glad that they’re behind that.
Four years ago XXL featured you on The Break. How do you feel your life has changed since then?
Wow, it’s changed a lot. I definitely have lost my jumper. I haven’t been playing basketball like I wanted to [laughs]. I was between Mississippi and New Orleans during that time, working at Subway—I kept that on the low. So I moved to L.A., made new relationships and lost some because, you grow up and grow out of people, that happens with everybody. The hardest part was that a lot of my musical collaborators weren’t out there with me. Now I’m friends with them again, and a lot of them live in Atlanta. So I think I grew up and founded an artist community that I can work with. I’m still building that, but I found people that I definitely can work with that are from there; also some from New Orleans that are out in L.A. I’m really just building.
Who are some of these collaborators?
Billy, Malik, Ambré [Perkins] and Thomas Fitzner. Especially Malik and Ambré, I really like them. They’re from New Orleans. I also feel a little more comfortable in what I'm doing. It may be because of my background, the fact that my parents are both educators. It’s always been a situation where I’ve downplayed who I am in music format; not just to them, but to myself. I love this and I love that this is something that I'm able to do every day, but I treated it a different way—[like] something I was still figuring out. Now it's like “Oh, I figured this out. This is completely who I am in sonic form.” So it’s easy now.
And how’s your personal life been as of late?
My personal life has been better. From the time that I wrote “golden” to now? Miles. And that's only a year and a half, not the whole four, but I definitely have better relationships because I started removing myself from the equation.
And I always felt a lot of times I'd take on the burden of trying to make myself happy and not really caring about other people as much as I should. I don't blame anybody but myself, but I feel like in what I do, it’s a selfish business, so it always feels like I’m being catered to. And it was hard for me to not feel like that in my everyday relationships. It felt at a certain point like, "You should be doing this for me," not even thinking about what I could be doing for other people. And now I'm flipping that on its head, and I'm trying to do as much as I can for anybody. That goes for the city especially, New Orleans, definitely. But anybody that I can connect with that is genuinely fucking with me and is genuinely rocking with me, I'm trying to look out for.
What stood out to you the most about 2017?
I feel like there’s the obvious: President 45. I don’t even say his name. That is definitely taking up a lot of space mentally. Outside of that, the hurricanes that hit Houston, and the fires in L.A. There’s been a lot of disaster this year, but there’s also been a strong sense of activism amongst younger people to actually make a change, and to actually control their own destinies that I’m really, really loving. Like the Women's March, the removal of a lot of these Confederate monuments—this is showing us that if we really want something to change, we can inspire it, and we can actually make it happen. And I think that’s one of the most inspiring things about 2017. But there’s a lot of bs that has gone on this year.
Yes, very much so. Especially right now with all of these allegations coming out.
Oh God, yeah, that as well. The sexual assault shit, I’m glad that [the allegations are] happening. It’s crazy ’cause a lot of people that I was like “Oh, I was a fan…." now I can’t. It just shows you how dirty this world is, as well as the progress that we need to make as a community. I think we’re making the right steps towards progression. ’Cause everybody wants progress until you’re confronted with the ugliness, and you look at somebody that you once idolized and you're like "Oh, so for me to stand for this that means that I can't like them anymore?" And that’s hard for some people, 'cause some people want to separate the work from the person. And I respect that viewpoint, because it’s hard; everybody creates associations with people based on what they did for them. But at the same time, there’s this need for us to get over that. You can’t heal it until you reveal it, and that's true with this.
That is very true.
I just saw that in a JAY-Z interview [laughs]. Happy belated, Hov. For real, I think that’s one of the truest statements I’ve ever heard. You have to look at self.
What is 2018 looking like for you?
It’s looking like an album. And it’s definitely looking like more visuals. It’s looking like a tour is gonna happen. I’m switching up on things in terms of how I’m just coming—I'm gonna be using the internet more, hopefully—even though I don’t think I should, personally [laughs]. But we'll see how it works, and I think that I just have a lot of creative content that I want to come out with next year.
Dope. Anything else you'd like to add?
Make sure you check out “throwback,” which is the one with Saba, produced my Imad [Royal]. Other than that, shoutout to my brother Micah killin it in business school.
See New Music Releases for December 2017