Ever since E-40 passed the torch to Iamsu! on last year’s slap-of-the-century, “Function,” his music has been inescapable on the West Coast. As it was premiered, “UP!” the song Iamsu! produced and helped write for fellow Californian Loverance, was climbing the Billboard charts thanks to a guest-verse from 50 Cent, pricking up ears across the United States. Or maybe you know the rapper born Sudan Ahmeer Williams as the smoked-out spitter slaying guest verses on tracks by John Hart and Wiz Khalifa, or as part of HBK Gang, an artistic collective of sorts made up of his childhood friends.
However you found out about him, though, the 22-year-old Richmond rapper is most likely on your radar if you pay attention to West Coast hip-hop with even a passing interest. After a bevy of solid mixtapes including his solo projects Kilt and Kilt 2, as well as a collaborative tape with Problem, Million Dollar Afro, Su has made his talents known, with a penchant for catchy hooks, minimalist beats, and absurd imagery (“I’m so deep off in your girl, might lose my phone off in that bitch”). We spoke to Su the other day about his music, his movement, and what he thinks of Kanye’s new album.
Interview by Nathan Susman (@brownnoiseblog)
You just released your mixtape Kilt 2. How would you say it’s different from your other projects?
There's a lot of more live instrumentation. I wanted to showcase myself as a producer and as a songwriter on this one. I produced half of it.
The first thing you say on your tape is, “I’m not a king, but I’m a pharaoh.” What’s the difference to you?
That was a black power kinda thing. I’m big into that, the whole Egyptian culture. That was when I got a gold chain with a sphinx on it.
On “Rep That Gang,” you use a pretty psychedelic vocal effect on the chorus. How was that song conceived?
Yeah, I used that vocoder on a couple of songs. I was really experimenting with a couple of different sounds, pushing the boundaries of what I do. That song came about from P-Lo making the beat, and us playing around with different vocal effects.
Last year was a big year for the West Coast “ratchet” sound you’ve been working with, as Tyga’s "Rack City” went No. 1 and Drake’s “The Motto” shouted out Mac Dre and the Bay Area. How did you feel about the success of those songs?
I think it’s dope that people are interested in this area again.
You also produced and had a guest verse on Loverance’s “UP!” last year, which got you heard by a lot of people outside of California. But on your mixtape Kilt, you seem to regard fame with suspicion saying, "All I know is real, hundred dollar bills/Every show I kill, fuck a record deal."
Yeah, that was on the first Kilt, when I was skeptical of everything and everyone coming around. I was in a lot of places where I didn’t know what a lot of people’s motives were, what they intended to do to my life. I was really scared. That’s what I was speaking out of fear. A year later, I’m not hesitant about all of that. I understand it’s a business.
I was skeptical of everything and everyone coming around. I was in a lot of places where I didn’t know what a lot of people’s motives were, what they intended to do to my life. I was really scared.
You played your first show in New York last month at Santo’s Party House. How are the audiences in New York different from those in the Bay or L.A.?
The Bay is just a great place to perform because they’re so expressive. If they’re feeling your music, they’re gonna dance, go crazy. L.A. is a little bit cooler. New York, it was hard to tell where people stood on songs because they were just seeing what I was doing. New York, they’re more like spectators, they’re not active participants. I’d say it was a lot of writers, a lot of just label people. It was a bunch of fans, but it was more just like, in New York it's a lot of media.
How long have you been making music?
Since I was like 14 or 15. I come from a musical family. I was always playing with instruments and messing around with music. Around when I got into high school, I started looking into ways to make beats on the computer, so there you go.
You had to start taking online classes when your college classmates started recognizing you in class. What are you studying?
Yeah, I’m about to go back. I’m a senior. I’m taking the summer off just so I can focus on my music, but I’m studying Communications.
I just felt like it was necessary for the field I was going into. It seemed like an interesting major. I figured I’m already good at speaking in front of groups of people, so it should be dope.
You were featured on E-40’s “Function” last year. What’s your relationship like with 40?
I talk to 40 a lot. He gives me a lot of good advice, on music, on beats, and stuff. It was crazy when he reached out to me, because at the time, it was weird that he even knew I existed. It’s E-40, he’s calling my phone. Shouts out to him.
The Bay is a great place to perform because they’re so expressive. If they’re feeling your music, they’re gonna dance. New York, it was hard to tell where people stood on certain songs because they were just seeing what I was doing. New York, they’re more like spectators, they’re not active participants.
Your song “Don’t Stop,” utilizes a flow that seems indebted to, or at least influenced by, the sound of mid-00s New Orleans. Conversely, the sound of the old South, especially in the mi to late '90s, was deeply influenced by the sound coming out of the West Coast at the time. Why do you think these regions influence each other so heavily?
I think the South and the West Coast have a huge connection because a lot of our family comes from the South. I’ve got a lot of family in Austin and Houston. I used to live in Louisiana, I grew up there when I was really little, and that’s where my dad’s family is from. It’s just a huge connection based on where a lot of our family is from, because they came to the Bay Area for work.
Who did you listen to growing up back then?
Ah, man, I was just listening to whatever my mom was listening to. A lot of old school music: R. Kelly, Aaliyah, the Marching Band, The Grammar Band. A lot of reggae music. I was like four, so I didn’t have any iTunes, you feel me? [Laughs.]
What else do you listen to in your free time?
I listen to Odd Future. Just random, random music. I like Kanye’s new CD. I thought he was taking a lot of risks on it, I like what he was rapping about. I expected it to sound a little different, but I like how it sounds. It surprised me based upon hearing “New Slaves,” and me thinking that was the most left-field it was going to get, but it went really, really far to the left. I thought that was tight.
What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
Perfection and being a man of your word, getting behind the shit that you believe in. I think people gotta stick with their convictions, that affects a lot of the music. People don’t stand behind what they intend for themselves as an artist and they wind up getting manipulated.