"anxietea" takes a special shape in Detroit rapper Curtis Roach's video released earlier this month. He twitches, shudders, and spasms his way through the video, shot in one of Detroit's many Coney Island restaurants. The result is a stirring journey inward, much like Roach's Highly Caffeinated mixtape released in December. The tape boasts a mix of jazz, lofi, Bossa Nova, and rap to create a highly textured, nostalgic trip trough Roach's inner thoughts—it's his third project, a considerable achievement within itself, considering he's still shy of 20.
"anxietea" almost didn't make the cut. "When I first wrote it, I felt like I was getting something off my chest," Roach told us. "But when I went to record it and I was just listening to the mixes, I kept on just not liking it." It wasn't until a cousin followed up about the song that Roach reconsidered, and now it's one of the tape's most popular tracks. "Every artist has that anxiety in their chest," Roach continues. "'What if I don’t make it? What if I’m just gonna be stuck forever?' It’s all in your head but it’s there. You feel like that to push yourself sometimes."
Watch the "anxietea" video above, and read on to get familiar with Curtis Roach.
Could you tell us a little about the making of the video?
It was shot in southwest Detroit, at a Coney Island joint. Everybody goes to a Coney Island when they go to Detroit. I wanted it to be a café more than anything, but you get the café feel when you’re in a Coney Island—just to make it Detroit I chose it over a café. That’s the location part of it, I think the inspiration behind it was just feeling alone in a café, and you’re kind of in your own thoughts. I took some of my inspiration from Childish Gambino, that "Sweatpants" video where he’s just by himself but there’s a lot of hims around. A lot of Childish Gambino’s visuals were the inspiration. I wanted to make it feel like this guy was feeling alone even though you see there’s a bunch of people in the restaurant.
Can you tell me about the song itself?
I was sitting on it for a year, a year and a half or so. I felt good about it when I first wrote it, because I felt like I was getting something off my chest. But when I went to record it and I was listening to the mixes, I kept on not liking it... I just felt some type of discomfort. I just didn’t feel like I needed to release it at that time. So I left it, and my cousin was like, "Yo whatever happened to that one song? I felt like that was a super dope song it was very important people needed to hear it."
I felt like it was corny and I didn’t want to talk about that right now. I felt like I was going be somebody making a song, and nobody was going to hear it. Around the time I was about to drop the tape my cousin brought it up again, and he’s like, "This song sounds like a café, and your whole tape kinda revolves around being in a café." I released it and I got a lot of responses from a lot of people like,"That song actually came at the right time for me. You really spoke some truth behind it, and it was the truth." At the time when I wrote it I felt like I was being very slept on just in rap. Every artist has that anxiety in their chest, "What if I don’t make it? What if I’m just gonna be stuck forever?" It’s all in your head but it’s there. You feel like that to push yourself sometimes.
With the actual anxiety and that emotion, there have been moments when I was in college that I really felt it. I would wake up and not be able to do anything because of what was going on in my head.
Now that Highly Caffeinated is out what are your feelings on the project? Is the pressure off?
It’s been very good. Very good. I definitely got something off my chest with this last project. I wanted to make people feel more personal, let people in with stories, like my mom struggling with cigarette addiction and stuff like that. When I released the project people actually liked it, and the honesty and vulnerable state I was at in some of the songs, it just made me feel good about myself that I got to use this as some type of outlet and people can use my music as some type of outlet whenever they feel something.
A lot of people don’t feel comfortable sharing that much of themselves. Writing from a place of nonfiction, that’s a whole other level of connection you can have with your fans and yourself.
I always try and feel like the audience is coming with me on some type of journey. Even if it isn’t all the way true—there are some songs where I’m just rapping and having fun—and even with those raps I still wanna feel like the audience can have some type of moment with the song instead of forgetting about it in the next thirty minutes. I try and do that with a lot of my writing.
How did Detroit factor into the tape's production? Has the city shaped your music?
The city is in a crazy state of resurgence. It’s just evolving with art, a lot of different underground stuff going on. Ever since I started rapping when I was fifteen I started going to the underground shows and seeing all the dope talent that was in the city. I think that inspired me most, just because everybody has their own style and everyone has some type of grittiness in the city.
It’s like aggression that you can feel, whether it be a painting, or a song, or just somebody's beat selection on a beat tape. Detroit is full of people who are really out to get it. There’s no telling them no. Most people in the city—if you try and slow them down, they’re gonna come back harder. So I definitely give respect to the city I was raised in.