Detroit hip-hop artist Red Pill has garnered underground buzz in recent years as a member of the group Ugly Heroes with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent, along with other collaborative projects, but now he's ready to take his own leap as a solo artist. Just signing a multi-project deal with Mello Music Group, Red Pill is making that first step with a new 3-song EP titled Learning To Punch, featuring production from Oddiee, Apollo Brown, and Duke Westlake.
This project is just a taste of what's to come from the emcee whose music engages in community and societal issues present today. With the release of Learning To Punch, I was able to get some words from Red Pill about the meaning behind the EP and how he undertakes such emotional social issues in his music
What's the theme of this new EP?
We decided to call the EP Learning to Punch, which is a line from the song "Smile" produced by Oddisee on the EP. For a lot of people, I'm a pretty new face on the national music scene, even though I've been performing locally in Michigan for over ten years. And as a musician or any artist for that matter, when you start to break into the national scene it becomes an entirely different process. You learn a lot on the small scale of creating, recording, promoting, selling and performing your music locally, but entering into the national and international music world is a different animal. It's like starting over. You've crawled and fought your way through the local scene in a lot of cases on raw talent, local connections, etc... But breaking into the national scene is when you really have to refine your talents. I had a lot of success with Ugly Heroes, my group with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent, but I'm ready to break out on my own. The line is "I was on the playground learning how to punch", which refers to a much younger version of myself learning the "ropes" of young kids on the playground getting into fights or whatever. And when you're younger, being naturally bigger or faster or stronger than other kids gives you an obvious physical advantage. That raw ability makes it easy to fight your way through things. But as you get older you have to refine that raw talent and turn it into something smarter, something wiser and more technical. You can win a lot of fights early on based on natural or raw physical abilities, just throwing punches because you're stronger or faster than everyone else. But eventually someone who knows what they're doing will come around and knock you out regardless of those talents. So for this EP, it's really about a couple years of refining raw talent that helped me get to where I am and learning how to use that talent to become a mainstay in the national and international music scene. And since I'm a very out of shape man, I'm using the metaphor of physical ability to apply that my music, which requires very little physical ability haha.
How do you go about tackling the current social issues that you talk about in your music?
In general I'm a really personal writer. Early on I learned not to be afraid of writing about my life and my experiences. Writing about very personal things can be difficult. Sometimes you're embarrassed about something that you did or something that happened to you in your life. Sometimes it's hard to put into words how you're feeling about something without coming off as trite. But I've always pushed myself to be totally honest about who I am and put that into my music. Everyone exaggerates or under-exaggerates certain aspects of their lives' as artists, that's part of art, but being true to myself and letting my music be an expression of that is important to me. So when I'm thinking about a social or political issue in my personal life, it's only a matter of time before it comes out in my music. I've always felt like great music is a reflection of the era that it's created in. Great art can be a relic that is a documentation of the world at the time it was released. So I make an effort to include what's happening right now. Again, my music is personal, so I always mention my age at some point on an album as a marker for when I wrote it. I write about what's happening to me at that moment and we're all affected by what's happening in the world. So sometimes it's more subtle than others. And sometimes it's very explicit, as in the case of the song "All Of Us" produced by Apollo Brown which deals with Ferguson, the Eric Garner case and the Black Lives Matter movement that's happening in America right now.
Race relations can be a tough subject coming from a white artist. How do you feel you go about talking about issues from that perspective?
Most of my heroes are black. A lot of my friends are black. A lot of my collaborators musically are black. The art form that I work within is a black art form. I personally feel like I have a responsibility to have an awareness of that when I'm making music as a white musician in a black art form. I don't have to change who I am as a person, or as a writer, but I need to make sure that what I'm creating isn't only self-serving. There's been a trend over the last few years of what people call frat-rap, which is pretty self-explanatory: A bunch of frat-boy like white dudes who totally love listening to rap with their bros at frat parties have started making rap music. They are so far removed from the reality that is black and brown life in America that the music they're making has no connection anymore to the communities that started the art form that they are working inside of. We've seen time and time again that black culture becomes celebrated by white mainstream America and then whitewashed, copied and reduced to something totally different that has no resemblance to the original culture. That's dangerous. So as a white artist I try my best to not be part of that. And more importantly than everything I just said, is that as human being on Earth, I have a responsibility and a sympathy towards underprivileged people. Whether it's race, gender, socioeconomics, sexual orientation, whatever. The person I am won't allow me to not care about other people. And that will always show through in my music.
What does this EP mean to you in the big picture of your music career?
I've already had the opportunity to release two projects on Mello Music Group that I love with Ugly Heroes. Getting to work with Verbal Kent and Apollo Brown has been incredible. Those guys are brothers to me. Apollo opened a door for me that very, very few people in this world get to walk through. And I hope that we work together in the future. But I've wanted to be a musician since I was 8. I've wanted to be a rapper since I was 12. I've been thinking about being a professional musician for basically my entire life. I grew up listening to Rawkus, Rhymesayers, Def Jux, Stonesthrow. I see Mello Music Group as the next legacy forming indie hip hop label. This EP is my first solo project with them. It's something that I've thought about for nearly 20 years. So in the big picture, will this EP mean a whole lot to other people? Probably not. It's three great songs that I'm really proud of and I think people will like and be surprised by. People will be waiting on the full length albums. But for me personally in the big picture, it's something I've been waiting for forever. It's my official first introduction to the national scene. I have no idea what the next phase of my career will be like, but for now I've accomplished something I've been working on for a long time and I'm excited to see where everything goes.
(Image Artwork by Trappist Monk)