'I Lost a Lot of People to the Streets': Pilla B Is Taking Nothing for Granted

A near-death experience has motivated Rexdale's Pilla B to reassess and re-evaluate life. We caught up with him to talk about his new EP 'Taijitu'.

Rexdale rapper Pilla B

Image via Patrick Duong

Rexdale rapper Pilla B

Pilla B is a survivor. 

After the death of his close friend, Yung Dubz, he’s decided to make better choices and leave the streets behind him. 

It wasn’t too long ago when he was the victim of a bullet that ended up hitting his right side. The road to recovery was hard. Pilla had to learn to be by himself. Alone time wasn’t something he was used to. 

But the near-death experience has motivated him to reassess and re-evaluate life. With a new lease on life, he’s back to making music to put it all in perspective. Growing up in Rexdale, violence was all around Pilla. His last project, 1YTD, had him reflecting on one of the worst years of his life. 

“I feel like I’m kind of living my life in reverse. I’ve seen where it can go. I went all the way there, touched the door, and said, ‘It’s not for me. Let’s try something else.’ I don’t think I should go out the game like that,” Pilla B tells Complex Canada.

Since then, Pilla’s been focused on the music grind. The new single “Scholarships” is a defiant take on what it means to be successful. The song has Pilla determined to take the hard-fought lessons learned in the streets and apply them to the rap game. 

With the wavy trap sounds of the 808s on Taijitu, Pilla is looking back in the rear-view mirror before he puts his foot on the gas. Our chat with him, edited for conciseness and clarity, is below.

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Tell me a bit about the title of the new project, Taijitu. It has connotations of balance, Yin and Yang. Why did you choose that title?
I chose that title because it emphasized who I am: a Gemini. 

The new album reminds me a lot of Future’s HNDRXX, where he balances rapping with R&B. How much of an influence did that project have on you?
That’s crazy. Future is one of my favourite artists. He doesn’t really conform. He makes tracks for the streets and tracks for women. He doesn’t care what people think of him. 

The story behind “Scholarships” was influenced by your cousin, who is on a scholarship to GCU. How did that story resonate with you?
Me and my cousin come from the exact same environment. We’re [from] two different walks of life. I dabbled in the streets for a little bit. Then I decided to move forward with my music. He’s been playing basketball since forever. He knew that was what he wanted to do, but we still go through the same things. One of his friends recently died in a car crash.

It doesn’t matter if you have a scholarship or if you’re on the streets. If you’re from a certain walk of life, these things don’t defer. We go through some of the same things. I’m grateful that people can get scholarships in a time where people are dying left, right and centre. It’s just a harsh time for the world. Not just our city. Scholarships made me feel like there’s a different aspect to life. You can get a scholarship or [get to] the league and still have to deal with death. You still have to deal with problems and still have to deal with life. 

“Music has always just been like the little bug at the back of my mind. It’s always been a constant in my life. Me, losing my best friend, kind of amplified that. I used that to motivate me because life is so short.”

Can you tell me a bit about the Forever Yung movement? Why did it start?
The reason why I make music in a public setting is Yung Dubz. He’s my big brother and best friend, and he happened to lose his life on May 11, 2017. I just wanted to find a way to represent him moving forward. I felt like I lost a big piece of my whole business, my music career moving forward. I try to represent him every step of the way. As much as I can. Whenever I get an opportunity. I never forgot him. 

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In the past, you’ve worked with Noah “40” Shebib. Can you tell me a bit about that?
40’s a great guy. I call him sensei. He taught me a lot. He taught me a lot of tricks behind closed doors. He taught me a lot of tricks about the game; about building exclusivity, about establishing your team, and what sounds good, of course. 

There’s quite a bit of animation in the promotion leading up to this project. What was behind the stylistic choice?
I had some legal issues. Then Corona hit, so we were shit out of luck, in terms of shooting videos, for nine months. I needed to stay relevant and in the public eye. So I said, “Let’s try a cartoon.” We linked up with Andre Barnwell. He just took the ideas and made it his own. Really brought my idea to life. 

We just kept going. I don’t even want to let him out of my sight right now. [Laughs.] It turned out to be something so beautiful. We ended up making merch off of the ideas he drew up. A whole other movement was created. It turned out to be something way bigger than even we intended it to be. 

When did you know music was something you wanted to pursue?
It was definitely something that I always wanted to do. I remember I was on my mom’s answering machine talking shit. 

Music has always just been like the little bug at the back of my mind. It’s always been a constant in my life. Me, losing my best friend, kind of amplified that. I used that to motivate me because life is so short. We’re all chasing our dreams, and then we can just die like that. It motivated me to be better and not stay with the status quo. I lost a lot of people to the streets. It definitely just keeps me motivated to do something better. 

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