Pittsburgh MC Boaz signed to Rostrum Records back in June and dropped his project, Bases Loaded, on the indie label last month. It's been a long time coming; he's been in the game since 2003, and worked independently for years, but now he's looking to branch out.
Boaz links up with Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and Schoolboy Q on his debut, and when he sat down with Complex we talked about those collabs, along with his city's music scene and what it took to get past his days of rapping in a funeral parlor.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
What has the feedback been like since dropping Bases Loaded in September?
The feedback has been very good. Very rampant—more rampant than any other project I came out with. I’m at a point in my career where it just means growth. The industry’s moving so fast.
I know you’ve been on the scene since 2003, so that’s more than 10 years. How did you get into rapping in the first place?
I think just rap having such an impact on the culture, growing up in an impoverished area on the east end of Pittsburgh, in a community called Larimer.”
What was your childhood like?
Childhood was great. It was a big learning experience, just coming up with your back to the wall. You have to work hard straight out of the gate. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t expect it to be, but it was a beautiful thing. Pittsburgh is a beautiful place to grow up.
You have to work hard straight out of the gate. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t expect it to be, but it was a beautiful thing. Pittsburgh is a beautiful place to grow up.
Were you into music as a child? You played clarinet, didn't you?
I did. I could [play that on a track], but I’m so busy with what I’m doing now.
I know, but a lot of your beats have orchestral background and that has to influence your music.
Certainly. It’s just my taste in music is more gravitated to the soulfulness. I just love instruments.
When you were starting to rap, who influenced you?
The great artists that still working today. The likes of Jay-Z, Nas, just pretty much everybody who’s made a footprint and who’s left a strand of inspiration along the way. To see those guys keep doing it at such a high level for such a long time—that’s been my inspiration.
I [find inspiration] pretty much everywhere else. I come outside, and I see the people. It’s kind of funny. I was getting dressed this morning, trying to figure it out, and I just looked out the window. And you see, everything’s just moving so fast. You just find inspiration from everywhere.
Tell me about this funeral home that you recorded in for the very first time.
My good partner’s grandfather owns a funeral home, Coston Funeral Home. It’s a real popular funeral home on the east side. When I first met him, he would try to take us there to scare us up a bit.
That sounds creepy.
We got used to it. His grandfather had an old karaoke set where they held the funerals at for if people wanted to sing. One day we had just found some instrumental tapes and realized the microphone worked, and I’ve been inspired to be a rapper ever since. [Laughs]
What was the first thing that you rapped? Do you remember it back then?
Goodness. I couldn’t remember. I remember coming into the house, and seeing my older brother and his friend. They had been listening to a CD, and back in the day they used to put on this single with the instrumental. The instrumental came on and I heard them in there fucking around, just saying shit, and I went in the room and said a few things. I saw how it interested them, and how I kind of captivated them. For me, I’ve just been inspired, whenever I saw a microphone or instrument, I couldn’t keep my hands off it.
I saw how it interested them, and how I kind of captivated them. For me, I’ve just been inspired, whenever I saw a microphone or instrument, I couldn’t keep my hands off it.
When you started rapping in 2003, you were doing things independently.
It was fun. It was a learning experience. It got me to where I’m at right now. It was something I wanted to do. I was just inspired by all the other musicians who were becoming businessmen and starting labels for themselves. It was a great learning experience, I still got my company, Point Blank Productions, and we still intend on doing certain things.”
Right, you own Point Blank Productions, and you’re still working with that label now?
Yes, but I am signed to Rostrum Records.
That was one of the first wholesome songs I ever recorded as far as it not being any else’s track. It was something I bought and actually went into the studio and recorded. I did that in 11th and 12th grade in high school. At the time, the local radio station was holding this rap contest every Friday to see who had the best song. I had released this song over this Luther Vandross sample [by Saigon] called ‘It’s Alright.’ It just blew them out the water. They just kept giving it wind week after week until they had to retire it.
I would say that the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene has struggled finding its identity in music for some time finding. It’s like a collage of music that comes to Pittsburgh.
Damn, eight weeks was the retiring point?
I guess so.
Maybe you could’ve been on it for a couple months without that retiring point.
Yeah they should’ve just put it in the rotation. It was a real cool point in starting up my career.
Plus, you were in high school. What was the feedback like with your friends? Was it weird?
It was funny because I never really got too personal at school with anybody like letting them know my hobbies and things like that. Nobody ever knew I did music, so it was kind of surprising when I went to school the next week like, ‘Wow we never even knew you rap!’ From there, I’ve been a pretty popular kid.
Let’s talk about linking up with Rostrum. How did that come together?
We’re all hometown based from Pittsburgh, so we’ve been seeing and have known each other for some time. Benjy Grinberg and I had met years ago. At the same time he had started his company, I started mine. We talked back then and he had told me how good of an artist he thought I was, and how inspired he wanted me to stay and keep grinding, and if I was ever interested to work, just to reach out. He had been busy with Wiz Khalifa and building their brand, so over the course we continued to grow. Wiz shot through the roof and brought Rostrum a bit more grand success.
We were all pretty close knit. We all recorded at the same studios in Pittsburgh and we all knew each other. It just got to a point where I was growing, they were growing, and the only thing that make sense was to collaborate and help both of our success reach a whole new level.
How exactly did you and Benjy meet? Just on the scene?
Just on the music scene. These guys were just people I recognized in those stages—in those Battle the Beat days. We were all pretty close knit. We all recorded at the same studios in Pittsburgh and we all knew each other. It just got to a point where I was growing, they were growing, and the only thing that make sense was to collaborate and help both of our success reach a whole new level. It was just something I could say was meant to happen. It was really just an effortless thing. It was meant to happen.
It’s crazy how the Pittsburgh music scene blew up, and in such a short matter of time. For you, has the music scene always been like that and then it blew up, or was it something that came out of nowhere?
I would say that it’s a scene that struggled finding its identity in music for some time. It’s like a collage of music that comes to Pittsburgh. It’s not one direction—some people like music from the Southern coast, some people like music from the West Coast. It’s not one distinct genre of music. You’ve got such great artists and at the time, there were no powerhouses in the city, very little radio support. The artists were having a hard time getting heard. I think with the success of Wiz, it was just reversed. That energy shined a light.
It saved that entire scene.
Yeah, it was a resuscitation and everybody was like, ‘Wow, maybe we should look to Pittsburgh for this music.’ And then comes Mac Miller, which is a change for the game. Now it’s like hip-hop coming back full circle with the style I represent. It’s this gritty street, organic hip-hop. With Rostrum supporting that, people seem to give a bigger light on the city now.”
Definitely. So you signed to Rostrum, you’re working with Wiz and Mac. You just dropped two singles with them, and now you released Bases Loaded.
I think it was grand, especially at this point in both of their careers. It’s not even so much being a fellow Rostrum artist. The tracks were things we had to obtain personally. Even talking with Artie and Benjy like, ‘Yo it’s something I can do, but Boaz I’d rather you establish that relationship and make sure you guys are on your own, and you’re all still wavy.’ So when we seen each other, we brought it up, and it was no question. Everything was so well arranged and well articulated. I think we were prepared in putting Bases Loaded out.
Now it’s like hip-hop coming back full circle with the style I represent. It’s this gritty street, organic hip-hop. With Rostrum supporting that, people seem to give a bigger light on the city now.
With putting out Bases Loaded, what were some of the things that you learned now being on Rostrum?
It’s just a different degree of the music industry as I’m learning. I’m on probably my fifth or sixth solo project, that’s even with me naming it Bases Loaded. At this point in my career, it’s like everything is set in place, so you’ve got to do what you’re going to make of it at this point. Everything has been a smooth transition, from running my own company to partnering with a bigger independent company to take us to the next level.”
Was there was no struggle with that for you? You’re making it seem like it was a really clear path just to join Rostrum even after years of being independent. Do you feel like you’ve progressed as an artist since signing?
I don’t think it was necessarily the signing, it was just me growing. That’s what brought me to the signing. It wasn’t like they just signed me because we were good buddies but the talent that they recognize and the goals we set for each other. It’s just about being a precise artist and knowing what you’re doing. There’s so much talent on the playing field that you have to be the best and the most accurate at what you do, and try to keep it as original as possible.
That’s a perfect way to put it. You just got off tour with everyone, too, how was that?
Any crazy tour stories?
One day we were in the back of the tour bus, and we were taking bong rips. That was the first time I ever did that in my life.
That was the first time you ever smoked a bong?
No–beer bong rips, excuse me. First beer bong, and they were using these eight ounce beers, Red Stripe.
The tour was great though. Every day we just had a good time—it didn’t even feel like it was work. To have the same energy in front of all those people different nights. It’s euphoric.
Fancy for a beer bong.
It’s a tour. You’re talking about rap guys. So we’re taking down these Red Stripes, and the CEO of Rostrum comes and does a beer rip. They play the trick on him and swipe out an eight ounce Red Stripe for a twelve ounce Heineken. Rushed it down, boom! The beer bong exploded in his face. Nobody expected to see that with the CEO. It was just real funny. It was just a wild moment.
The tour was great though. Every day we just had a good time—it didn’t even feel like it was work. To have the same energy in front of all those people different nights. It’s euphoric. It’s just a feeling that you can’t even explain to people. And it was a huge learning experience—some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever performed for.
Did you have a point where you were like, ‘Holy shit, this audience is huge’?
Yeah, but I wasn’t intimidated. I don’t think that’s ever a good way to be as a musician. If people recognized your intimidation, they’ll think you’re not free-spirited enough to be an entertainer. You really have to be a free-spirited person and just go out and do your thing. It’s almost as if everybody’s one. You’ve just got to see all those faces as your fans. You’ve got to take it to a whole other level.
Even with Mac and Wiz being record label partners and being two of the most influential artists in the game, it was major having them on my tape.
You had a lot of great people on that record, too. I’m sure you’re sick of talking about all these other artists and all, but were some of your favorite tracks on the album? What did you take inspiration from for this album?
This tape that I just released is just that definitive moment. Even with Mac and Wiz being record label partners and being two of the most influential artists in the game, it was major having them on my tape. I reached out to Schoolboy Q, because he’s just a raw dude, and I got him on this song called “America.” It’s one of my favorite songs. It’s very different and straight to the point. It speaks about us just being free and liberal, and doing the things we want to do, as opposed to the things you’re supposed to do. It’s a cool ass song.
You sing a little bit too.
I sung a lot on the tape. It’s kind of fun.
You especially sing on that “Everything” track.
It’s funny, because a lot of people never know it’s me. Just from being in the studio a lot by myself, I learned from Ray Charles that with having so many tracks in the studio, you can make your voice sound like whatever you want.
But I think that you naturally have a really nice singing voice.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can put it on another track and hit a higher note, or a lower note, and just make it sound that much better. But yeah it’s kind of funny because people never know.
Would you ever just sing on a track?
It’s been in the works. I think it’s something I’ll come out with just to let the tunes be heard.
If you could do a duet with someone, who would it be with—dead or alive?
One of my favorite duets is Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "You're All I Need To Get By." If I was going to do a duet, it’d be with her.
I think Nas is one of the greatest artists to ever do it. It’s not so much that we even sound alike—it’s the dialect we use, the things we talk about. It’s a good thing. He’s one of the people I aspire to work with.
What is inspiring your music today?
I would work with a lot of people in the industry right now. I can’t even certainly pinpoint a name, it’s just that I’ve become more familiar with my constituents, and am building more relationships for future things I want to work on. Just trying to establish myself.
I read an article from a local paper in Pittsburgh where someone compared you to Nas, but more street. What do you think of that?
It’s a comparison that I’ve been hearing since I’ve been rapping. People always say that, which I take as an extreme compliment. I think Nas is one of the greatest artists to ever do it. It’s not so much that we even sound alike—it’s the dialect we use, the things we talk about. It’s a good thing. He’s one of the people I aspire to work with.
When are you hoping to drop your official album?
Next year sometime. No rush. There’s just things that we got to work on. The goal now is to get Bases Loaded out there, to keeping grinding. I’ll continue to pump out fresh music until the album comes. Hopefully there’s another mixtape or something in the meantime. The main objective is just to brand us a little heavier, and take it to the next level.
I know Wiz has blown up and so has Mac. Bases Loaded, you’re up to the plate. What makes this your time?
It’s always been my time, it’s just now we’re getting that light shined on us. It’s a beautiful thing. It was certainly inspirational seeing them get to that next level. It just makes me so happy. It makes it seem like it’s that much more possible. Shout out to them.
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