We'd like to believe Young Jeezy wasn't speaking only of himself last summer when he proclaimed that "trappin' ain't dead." We would like to think he was talking about the future generation of rappers who are going to build upon what he and other rappers like T.I. have built. We'd like to think that because one of our favorite new rappers comes from the trap: Tyrone "Pill" Rivers. You may know him as the guy who made the trap anthem of the year, "Trap Goin' Ham" and the accompanying video which had the viewer riding through his neighborhood, and taking a peek at all that really went down (the clip was also named Complex's #5 Internet Music Video of the Decade).
We know him as the dude who was co-signed by Andre 3000 and made one of the best mixtapes of the past year, 4180: The Prescription. But that was pretty much all we knew. To learn more, we invited Pill to the Complex offices while he was working on the follow up to 4180, 4075: The Refill (which dropped today, download link after the jump) to find out exactly who the man behind the music was. Read on to learn about how he came up, what he thinks of the rap game now and why he'd rap even if there was no money in it for him...
Interview by Damien Scott
Complex: Everyone knows you're from Atlanta, what part do you hail from?
Pill: I'm from the West Side of Atlanta. But Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 1, Thomasville—I still got my Thomasville I.D. if you wanna see it.
Complex: What's Thomasville like?
Pill: That's the projects. I done stayed in Thomasville, I done stayed in Edgewood. So when I say I'm from Atlanta, I'm from all the gutta parts of Atlanta. I done stayed in Kimberly Courts, I done stayed at Adamsville. I been here and there all my life, you feel me? It's great to receive the attention that I'm receiving and be able to show people the whole point of the visual, because of the simple fact that there's a lot of people talking but ain't really walking. For me to be able to give that visual meant a lot. To the people that were in it, it kind of uplifts them in a certain way because it's kind of like, "Damn, somebody that's really from here is doing something!"
Complex: As opposed to some people who just shout it out...
Pill: A lot of these guys say they're from them places but they really ain't from there. I ain't ever seen them [Laughs]. And I'm from everywhere. I ain't ever seen 'em, at all. A few of them, a few of them cats I could vouch for that's out the A, but a few of them I can't.
Complex: Why did you move around so much when you were younger?
Pill: Honestly speaking, my mother was addicted to drugs. I would say from the time I was seven years old until the time she passed. May she rest in peace. She passed two years ago, I found her in Thomasville Apartments. I mean, I was always at an auntie's house, I done stayed with a teacher, a brother, a cousin, a friend, a girl—I was always with someone. Then, you know, being in the trap and shit and traveling all your life, you really can't get your own spot down there, so it's like, it's just kinda what happened...
Complex: You were bouncing around Atlanta from such a young age. When do you start selling drugs?
Pill: I went back and forth with it in my teenage years and got a little more deep in it when I got to 18, 19. I started out selling green and what not. That was just to keep a little money in my pocket, keep some fresh shoes on my feet, get fresh for the girls—for the fly ladies and what not. I know by the time I was 10 or 11, I was already smoking, already rollin' blunts [laughs]. I was already rollin' up like I still remember me and Lil' Terry, Cut Throat, and I think Tre Bo'. That was the first I really hit some weed.
Pill: [Laughs] A little bit after that, I started doing this thing: we used to walk around with a little sheet of paper saying we were collecting the money for the football team for a trip to Disney World—but we were hustling though [Laughs]. Of course we were scheming, but we couldn't get no jobs at the age, so we had to put money in our pockets. That moved on to the green and the green kind of finagled into the—of course I graduated high school though, through out all of this. I was one of the first males in my family, well, actually the first male in my family to graduate high school.
After high school it got a little more heavy. I started to really see that I could make some money. My cousins were already serving yay then, but I just wanted to rap and do all that shit but they was like, "Shit, man, you need some money in your pocket." So I ain't have no choice. There was a time when I went straight from the studio, straight back to the trap. From the trap to the after party. I actually left from the trap to come up here, you feel me? Sometimes that's the only place I got to go, to be honest with you, and it's instilled in me. I gotta get away from it, of course, and I've been distancing myself from it because of the simple fact that I know it can be detrimental to my career. So I've been distancing myself from it, trying to become a better person and to teach other people not to do it, and telling them little young niggas in the hood not to do it. But, it is what it is.
Complex: At one point did you make the decision to pursue rap full time?
Pill: Probably last year.
Complex: Last year?
Pill: Probably last year or the year before that because I was still making good money in like '06 or '07 and I wasn't spending that shit. But you know I started out rapping with Killer Mike in high school. I was on a few mixtapes with him and what not but like, say 2006, P. City was doing numbers! I'm talking about that thing was going ham sandwich—that shit was Trill! Like, bank rolls bustin' out your pockets, we call them thigh pads. You can't even keep it in your pocket it used to be so hard. That in itself was an addiction. Making fast money, you can go blow a thousand dollars, still make all of it back, still have money in your pockets, get fresh all week, and go make it rain. Pop bottles and all that, get in a fight and do it all again in that weekend. That used to be so fascinating to a lot of people, but to us that was just regular life. That's just what it is, it ain't like, "Yeah, that's what I want to do when I grow up!" [Laughs]. You know what I'm saying? That's what it was, nigga, that shit just was us.
Complex: Like, "I wanna grow up to be a drug dealer." [Laughs]
Pill: Exactly like, "I can't wait," or raise your hand in class and be like, "I wanna sell drugs when I grow up!" [Laughs] A nigga was a victim of circumstance, that's everybody. When you in that shit, family members done did it, everybody done did it. You know, it's in you. You've been around it since you were a child. You probably held peoples bombs when you was a child or were the look out man, or did this, that, and the third, but there was always a way to make some money on the streets. It might not have always been right but when you can't get no god damned job or when you dropped out of school...
Complex: It seems to be the only option.
Pill: A lot of people that decide they want to drop out of school probably don't want to do shit else with their life. And I felt myself going down that same path at one point so I was like, "Man, what the fuck I'm doing?" I gotta posses some sort of talent, I gotta believe in myself some kind of way. So I need to tighten my belt up and tie my shoes a little tight and go on and go for it. And it turned out pretty good for me, you know what I mean? It's overwhelming to me. I just want to thank everybody for fucking with me 'cause it's surreal to me right now, man. I try to remain calm although I'm very excited on the inside. People are always like "You ain't that excited! You ain't that excited! How you feel? You just made the New York Times! You just did this!" I be like, you know, it is what it is, man, I'm cool.
Complex: So you said you were rapping while trapping, when did you start jotting down rhymes?
Pill: I was writing raps when I was in Kindergarden, it was always in me. I remember my first rap, that shit was like "My name is Slick Tie, I like to rap. I rap on the microphone and talk my crap. I be on time, on the line. When I'm on the microphone I start smoking the dimes. 'Cause I'm the king of kings and I'm the cool of coolest. Step up to me? You must be foolish. Got a nine in the front and the gat in the back. Yeah, I'm a true mac." [Laughs] Shit that was when I was five years old! That shit sounds better than a lot of the bullshit that's out now! You can call my old elementary school teacher from when I was like in third grade because I always remember that. She used to make me recite that in front of the class, so I was always performing as a youngster. I was always on stage a youngster, like talent shows and shit like that. Playing an instrument or doing poetry. I wrote poetry, too. I played the trumpet, I wrote poetry, I played football, baseball, basketball, I drew. I did everything, nigga.
Complex: A true renaissance man.
Pill: You feel me? [Laughs] I did everything! Slung, hung, skateboarded! Nah, I ain't really skateboard, but I tried and I skimmed my fucking self in all types of ways. I just wanted to do everything because the lifestyle I was leading as a child, I was already... I shot a pistol when I was five.
Pill: 'Cause I was in the 'jects. I was staying in Kimberly Courts. They were robbing people on the bus, they were robbing the ice cream truck. You couldn't walk down the streets of Kimberly Court with out somebody taking something from you. They were finding bodies in the woods. I still remember jumping in the bushes from bullets—me and my momma. You had to learn how to pick up a pistol as a child, in case you had to use it. A lot of people is like, "I've been trapping and shooting pistols since I stood four feet." Well I've been trapping and shooting pistols since I stood like, three feet [Laughs]. I was just spitting Tip 'cause I know he dead ass and seen it too, 'cause he was in that same lifestyle. So as a youngster it's kind of how they do it overseas, you take the boy out to the woods and teach him how to shoot a rifle. But when it's with us, people say, "Oh, that's messed up!" But he needs to know, and I needed to know.
Complex: What happened the first time you shot a gun?
Pill: I shot a .40 when I was five years old. I asked my brother if I could see and he let me see it. He probably didn't think I knew what to do with it like, "This little nigga don't know what he doing. He probably ain't even strong enough to pull the trigger." I leaned up against the wall and BAH-POW! Of course it threw me back against the wall and the adrenaline rushed and I was like, "Oh, I wanna shoot it again! C'mon!" He was like, "Boy, get your ass in there, you not supposed to do that shit!" [Laughs].
Complex: How did your friends and family react when you told them you wanted to focus on rapping?
Pill: They gave me a little flack at first but then they started to embrace me a little bit more because they started seeing the older cats were like, "Stay on what you're doing, that shit's good." 'Cause I started performing right in the trap, at this place called The Ham. You know, "Trap Goin' Ham," all that shit. So that was the first time I did that and I brought back to the hood and they were like "Yeah!" I incorporated a few of my peoples names into my raps 'cause of my problems and niggas started to get behind me. They started to come to my shows and it made me feel good because at first they were like, "Aw, this nigga ain't trap no more, that nigga want to rap! He don't want to get money no more!" I was still around though 'cause that was the only place I had to go at the time, so of course I would still pick some up or chop something up or drop something off, just to keep some money in my pocket. But I had to make sure that my goal was in sight. I had to make sure there was a bigger picture and that I could be a better man than I was being. Once I brought the CD to the 'hood, they were like, "Oh shit, that boy Psych! That boy Psych finna' blow up!"
Pill: They call me Psych in the hood. It's short for Psycho.
Complex: Where'd the name Pill come from?
Pill: Pill came from football. And I just finagled it into the medicine because as I started to get more serious with the rapping, I was like "Okay, Pill the medicine. I'm the cure for rap cancer." I was saying that years ago. First it came from football. Julian DeMario Johnson gave me that name. Him and Jamal Johnson. Lil' Mario, we used to call him, he died in an accident, years ago. I scored a few touchdowns and Jamal would be like, "Oh, here's the Pill!" 'Cause that was his name for the football. Like throw me the pill, pass the pill.
Complex: Your first mixtape, 4180: The Prescription, is what got everyone interested in you. How did that tape come about?
Pill: I just basically made sure I had a bunch of tight ass beats. I knew I had to get some classic shit that people ain't heard in a minute, I had to get some shit that everybody ain't rapping on, and I probably had to get one or two of the hottest songs on the radio. I wanted to make sure I did me. I didn't want to compromise my creativity by just trying to put out a bunch of shit that's on the radio or a bunch of shit that I think people might like. I did what I think I might like. I ain't record in no big time studio or no shit like that. I recorded that shit in a basement. I just had a tight ass engineer with some expensive equipment and we set up the studio in the basement. He had a nice studio in his spot but his spot got broken into. So I was like, "Damn that just fucked up my studio!" So we had to bring him from Alabama, a guy by the name of Scrag Lee with grade A music. He actually produced "Trap goin' Ham", thats why you hear "Grade A on the beat". We brought him from Alabama, set up shop, went in, non-stop.
Complex: One thing I liked about the mixtape was your sense of remorse about the trap life. It's not glamorized or glorified...
Pill: That's something I do anyway because I don't want the other kids to follow in my footsteps. There's a lot of young kids that look up to rappers and I'm starting to realize that kids are going to be listening to me. Of course I'm going to talk about what I talk about but I'm going to find a way to stick a message in there. I am going to talk about the trap and I am going to talk about the struggle and I'm also going to talk about how we need help and I'm also going to let people know that it's fucked up out here. It's ugly. Ain't really much money for not many people, in whatever profession they have. I just want to uplift the people, man, I wanna be the sound track to their lives. I want to be able to make the people feel like they were right there with me when I was going through it and so they can have better judgment on the decisions they make coming up, whether it be adults or kids, young and old, whoever the listener is, I want to make sure that they can take something from my music and apply it their everyday life.
That's why I made sure in that mixtape I incorporated all types of beats to show people my versatility on each type of beat so they won't try to put me in this box of "just some nigga that sold dope and rapping about it." I'm trying to enlighten some people about the shit that's going on and that we need help out here and it's fucked up cause they tearin' the projects down. I got some new shit I just did with ILLFONICS about my mama. She passed away and it took a lot for me to write that song. I want people to get in my mind. Walk down those same streets I walked down or stand in front of the same stores I stood in front of or running from the police—I want them to feel like they're running, so it can be exciting. It can make you laugh and it can make you cry. I want it to be timeless music. When I do it, that's not even something I think about. It's something takes a hold of me and it just comes out. If that's what comes out then I'm glad.
Complex: You have a very intricate rhyme style, who were your rap influences?
Pill: Of course Tupac. Of course Biggie. Jay-Z, he was always real fly with it, a fresh kind of dude. Then you got Raekwon, Redman, Method Man.
Complex: A lot of New York dudes...
Pill: A lot of New York rappers and what not but then again you have OutKast, who were god damn huge to me. To hear OutKast, to hear Cee-Lo, to hear MJG, to hear Devin the Dude, Too Short, to hear Scarface. I listen to everything. I had the Fat Joe tape when he was still with Tommy Boy and they had the little characters on the back. Whatever was poppin' at the time, whatever was good. I can't even front like I was always listening to gangsta' shit. I mean I took a liking to Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek. I remember when Talib and Hi-Tek had that video in the rain and shit, you remember that shit? Of course Common was the shit, I still remember his beef with Ice Cube. I listened to Cube, N.W.A. was always the greatest. I remember I thought Eazy-E was the coolest motherfucker walking the earth and I wanted them shades! I really got a Jheri curl when I was a child. Seeing that and being able to remember that music is good because that's when real rap was real rap. Now you got a lot of bright colors.
Complex: What's real rap to you?
Pill: Real rap is talking about what you've been through. Real rap is personifying your experiences as a person and throughout life. If you can't personify the truth, you're not making real rap. That's just shit that entertains the people, that's just entertainment. Real rap is when you can really talk about some shit that really went down.
Complex: Do you feel like rap is full of entertainers now?
Pill: Yeah a lot of them are just entertainers basically. I mean no disrespect to nobody. Get your money and it is entertainment at the end of the day but damn what happened to it being art in its truest form? That's what hip-hop used to be. You rapped about what you just did down the street. I remember seeing old tapes of shit where they were just beat boxing and shit and I was like, "That's what I want to do!" So I automatically started rhyming. I automatically started battling when I was a child. I remember I was in a little group back when I was in first, and second grade and it was like you had to have the the tighter group.
Complex: Talk to me about your creative process. When you write a song do you actually write it out or do you keep it all in your head?
Pill: No, I write. I'm not one of them guys that be like, "Oh, I ain't write this by the way" or "Yeah, I come off the top!" I freestyle too but I respect the art form, you feel me? I'm a writer. I could be on the train, I got to pull my note pad out. If I hear some shit in my head, I got to write it down.
Complex: What can people expect from the new mixtape?
Pill: I'm going to show that I'm growing at least a little but I don't want to stray from the formula at all. That's what people like, so that's what I want to give the people. I just want to keep people jamming. I'm not going to be one of these guys who is like, "Fuck this shit! I ain't got no Rolls Royce!" or "I ain't got no Lamborghini! I'm mad as hell!" That's not why I do it, I do it for the love. I'd be doing this shit if I ain't have a dollar or if it weren't profitable to me. A lot of niggas are claiming they're making a bunch of money, but they ain't off of that music shit right now because it's ugly. Tapes ain't selling like that. Imagine what type of loss I'm taking and I'm giving away these CDs for free! 'Cause it's all about the music. If people can't hear it then what the fuck are you doing it for? If you're just doing it for the money, then what the fuck are you doing it for? Straight up, of course I want a lot of money, to live comfortably but that's not why I'm doing it. I got people that's on my back right now. Family members that need me right now, homeboys that need me right now. It's a lot of people that depend on me right now. That's probably the only reason why I feel like I need money right now, but other then that, if I was just already straight or already rich, I wouldn't give a damn. I'd do all free shows. But a lot of people just do it for the money and that ain't good, man. That's why I think the music went down with in the past couple of years. I don't want to be solely responsible for it but I want to be credited with bringing this shit back to what it was, real music, real hip-hop.