Boslen on Pushing Boundaries, Getting Criticized by Kanye's Engineer, and New EP 'GONZO'

Complex Canada sits down with the 23-year-old rapper to discuss his new EP, the importance of artistic integrity, pushing past industry boundaries and more.

Boslen poses in front of red car

Image via Amrin Prasad

Boslen poses in front of red car

Backstage before a recent concert, as Boslen practiced his breathing techniques, someone startled him out of that pre-performance trance. But in the end he didn’t mind, because it quickly became one of the most meaningful moments in the rising Vancouver rapper’s career. 

“Bos!” the young woman exclaimed, tapping him on the shoulder as he deeply inhaled and exhaled while listening to soothing music through earbuds. He wondered how she did it, “because you had to take an elevator to get up there,” he tells Complex Canada, before recalling how the moment took a turn. The young fan told him her friend died the week prior, and she considered suicide, but “your music saved my life.” 

That interaction felt like “getting water splashed on your face. You don’t understand how powerful that is,” he says.

This was not only an affirmation of the open-hearted, Kid Cudi-inspired lyricism on his 2021 debut LP DUSK to DAWN. Moments like that also embolden him to go even further on his follow up release, an EP called GONZO (out today). In the music video for the lead single “GONE” he wanders a literal maze. On other GONZO songs Boslen recalls watching his mother overcome turmoil, or delves into relatable growing pains and the resulting strain on relationships. Aside from lyrical honesty, Boslen remains truer than ever to his sonic instincts, pushing his producers and engineers to help him create songs that will break new ground in rap.

Below, Boslen reveals how some of those ambitions are surprisingly inspired by an artist well outside of hip-hop; explains why it was helpful to be criticized by one of rap’s most famous studio engineers; and describes how his darkest days inform his ongoing gratitude. 

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Tell us about the video for “GONE.”
Its concept is this massive green maze. An Alice in Wonderland metaphor—me stuck in my past, and having to let it go. When I was making the song, I was in a place where everyone was starting to do their own thing. My parents were divorcing. My sister was moving away to Kelowna. Some of the closest members of my team were taking other offers, which is normal to see in the industry. 

But it’s not like when you’re a kid, growing up in the sandbox and you feel the whole world revolves around you. I let it out on this song, like: “Everybody’s leaving, everyone’s gone.”  

Can that honesty be hard?
As an artist, it’s my responsibility to be that honest. I remember when Kid Cudi was the first in rap to talk about mental health issues. As an eleven-year-old, when you don’t have a dad around, and your mom’s crying and shit, hearing him rap: “I punched the wall and broke my hand because my dad left my mom,” made me think: “Wow, I can get through this. Because somebody else did it.” 

Boslen photographed by cameron corrode for GONZO EP

How does it feel to know you can help people like that?
It really hit me when I was making “SCARS,” the last song on the project. My producer and engineer and I recorded it in this strange studio. It was like a fucking office space, I made it in a cubicle. And it’s not possible to be creative in a cubicle. But I went to the mic at one point and recorded for 20 minutes straight. I was at a place where I wanted to get things off my chest. And I ended up talking about a lot of things. Have you had a chance to hear the song?

I have! I was going to ask about rhyming “somedays it might be hard” with “scars” on that song—a rhyme that seems so simple, yet one I haven’t heard before and that is quite effective. 
Yeah, it’s the most important song on the project. Because there is a time and a place where you can make a trap song, or something for the club. Or something digestible that the label loves and can market. 

But then you can also make a song that is truly gut wrenching, and breaks the fourth wall, because it’s talking about something true. I’m talking on that song about my mom walking in and I’m literally on the floor crying, and she told me to chase my dreams. I tried to open up as much as I could on that song.

What does your family think of your music? 
The first time I played “SCARS” for my mom, she was going through her divorce. You can imagine a woman trying to keep her cool in front of her son. But she just completely broke down, and it was tough to see. She tried to be a superhero her whole life. And then when her son begins to know what she is going through, and tries to reflect some of it in his music, it makes her proud. 

“SCARS” is me trying to be introspective. But “FALLEN STAR” is about my surroundings, the industry and me trying to avoid making cardboard cutouts. Like why can’t we have a minute of distortion on the intro? Why can’t I push those boundaries?

“Because Toronto will forever push the arc, but why isn’t there more shine in Vancouver? So I have to push sonics and test people’s minds, and teach them what true artistic integrity is. Because everyone is OK with mediocrity, with hearing a trap beat and thinking ‘Let’s do another.’ Not with pushing the edge.”

Have you met any mentors that can help in that regard?
Yeah Jazz Cartier. He gave me great knowledge when I was in L.A. I also met Halsey, and she told me one of the realest things I’ve ever heard: to trust yourself, even if a lot of people around you think something isn’t a good idea. Because you’re the one that has to live and die by the music. WondaGurl has also been a crucial ally, who I can go to anytime I need to ask about artistic integrity, and remind myself what timeless music is. I mean, she helped build Travis[Scott’s] catalogue. Those types of people. 

Very early on, I sent my project to Anthony Kilhoffer. And he ripped it apart, which I loved. 

You loved that? Why? 
Because everyone’s a yes man. He did that in the most respectful way, sending me this huge paragraph in an email. He’s Kanye’s main engineer, other than Noah Goldstein. So he shed light on how they recorded Kids See Ghosts. And he saw Cudi’s process, and Cudi’s obviously my biggest inspiration. He made me more comfortable with opening up. I wanted to hear more about all that, because I want to break big in the States and bring the light back.

Because Toronto will forever push the arc, but why isn’t there more shine in Vancouver? So I have to push sonics and test people’s minds, and teach them what true artistic integrity is. Because everyone is OK with mediocrity, with hearing a trap beat and thinking ‘Let’s do another.’ Not with pushing the edge. 

Did Kilhoffer’s criticism hurt at all? 
Oh absolutely. Because he’s a genius. He phrased it to me respectfully, essentially telling me “None of these songs have a theme.” He referenced “The Pursuit of Happiness,” and how the chorus goes “everything that shines won’t always be gold.” So simple, but so effective. And he explained when Travis made Rodeo, when Kanye made My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, they started with a name and made the songs circle back to that. Then you have a cohesive project. 

No disrespect, because making music that’s digestible is a challenge too. I’m in the studio now working on my next project, and trying to make inarguable hits, and get artistic integrity on the Billboard charts, introduce audiences to it and push it forward. You can see where there’s mainstream songs on my last project, and others where I’m trying to experiment. On this project, “MANIC” is especially experimental. Then you get to “ “FIESTA,” and with that song I want 14-year-old kids at the skate park to love it. 

I was just about to ask about pushing your singing voice on “FIESTA.” 
I was in the best mood of my life while making that song. I’d just gotten booked for a major festival. It was the first time I drank in the studio, and I had one shot and said “Ok, fiesta!” Sometimes people think I’m trying weird shit, but on “FIESTA” I’m just trying to have fun!

The next album will be DALI. I was researching Picasso and Dali and was fascinated with their artistry. Dali used to sit for hours holding a metal fork, and when he’d drop it after almost falling asleep and the noise woke him, he’d instantly paint something. Because he thought that split second between being asleep and waking up was a look into a new world. 

I chose GONZO for the title of this album because you’d have to be delusional to chase artistic integrity. Now I’m going into DALI and really want to make hits. I want to bring light on my city. I did a festival recently where Foot Locker gave a bunch of merch to kids coming through. Giving back to the community and to my city is the main thing. 

Boslen photographed by Amrin Prasad for GONZO EP

Tell us more about why that kind of outreach is so important to you.
Because we live in such an online world. You might get a 1000 likes on a picture, and that can give you some dopamine, but whatever. One of the main reasons I got into music was to truly connect with people. And I also got into it because I have something to say. I was talking to WondaGurl once and she said the same thing, that “When you’re listening to music, and you don’t get that satisfaction out of listening to something, you can just do it yourself.” That’s what I felt. 

How does it feel to casually bring up in conversation “Oh, I was talking to WondaGurl this one time…” 
[Laughs.] Bro, it’s crazy because it still hits me right now. I will never get tired of talking to WondaGurl. She’s a god! I will never get over talking to Anthony Kilhoffer. I will forever give them their flowers. I truthfully aspire to be like one of the greats one day. And I’m truthfully just grateful. 

But just as I sit here and talk about how these things are so amazing, I can’t begin to explain how many negative things are happening in my life as well. But we don’t talk about those things, as a society. So there should be a balance in life. With all these amazing things I’m grateful for, it’s not like I’m shocked by them. Because I had so many dark days prior, crying in my room, praying for things to get better. So I just need to take the opportunity to have more amazing days like these, and not go back to those dark days. 

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