“I’m about to drop an album in the middle of quarantine.”
There’s no way around that reality on this Monday afternoon in May, as Medhane talks about his upcoming release from his apartment in Brooklyn. A recent college graduate, Med is 23 years old and driven. The way he speaks suggests headstrong force and purpose. His language piles up quickly, sometimes in threes. Like, Med, how are you doing? “I’m good, I’m chilling, in quarantine.” Words and phrases stacked rapidly like Tetris blocks to complete a thought. Med, what’s the album title mean? “I have an unreleased song where I say something about cold water, and I was listening to it like: ‘Damn, cold water, facts.’”
Cold Water, out May 26, is his longest—and most accomplished—project to date. Arriving some five years after his debut on Greys in Yellow, with producer Slauson Malone, and almost three years after his first solo project, Do For Self, this project is cause for celebration. If past releases, like the mellow Ba Suba, Ak Jamm in 2018 or the ruminative Own Pace in 2019, felt like the rapper exploring his abilities, Cold Water is as bracing and clarifying about Med’s talent as the title implies. It features work from producers he hasn’t connected with before, like Virginia’s Ohbliv, along with beats produced by Med himself, under his moniker AFB.
The name AFB was given to him by his friend and peer, the Bronx rapper MIKE, while the two were visiting L.A. It’s but one example of the support and generosity that characterizes their musical community. Along with artists like Navy Blue, Caleb Giles, Adé Hakim, Standing on the Corner, and KeiyaA, Med is part of a rich scene of young talent. Many of these artists are from, or currently based, in New York, but the movement is bigger, and growing.
Medhane raps about vulnerability and resilience in a deep, unhurried voice. He’s often measuring the distance between him and his friends, clocking how alone he feels even as someone close to him calls to check in. “I’m a trying machine,” he raps on the Jay Versace-produced loosie “How U Know.” Almost midway through Cold Water, he takes a pause that encapsulates much of what’s special about this music. “Love my brothers but I seen ‘em change,” he raps on “Live,” before taking a beat, and in that moment you can imagine a different artist talking about growing apart, how friends can turn on you. Instead, Med completes the thought: “For the better.” It’s as quietly humorous as it is revitalizing. A little shock to the system, like a glass of ice water on a hot day.
When did you decide that music would be your focus, that this was it for you?
I’ve always known I wanted to do music, but I was in college before, so I was doing the shit half-way for mad long. Now I’ve graduated and a hundred percent of my attention is on music.
How did you end up at Carnegie Mellon?
Uh, I applied and I got in. [Laughs.] It was the best school I got into and I was on my prestige shit, you know what I’m saying? Pittsburgh was cool; it was kinda like purgatory, people call it Pittsburgatory. It was fun though. It’s relaxed, like a suburb, even though it’s a city. There weren’t too many artists I was linking up with to build my musical confidence. And shit was jumping in New York when I was in Pittsburgh! And so I just didn’t want to be there.
Did that experience make you focus on producing, in order to be more self sufficient?
Yeah, definitely. But I always knew I wanted to produce too, because most of my favorite rappers produce their own shit. Like Roc Marciano and Ka. MIKE. Earl. MF Doom—he’s not one of my favorite rappers now, but he was influential in my early stages.
You studied civil engineering—do you ever imagine a life where that takes the focus and music becomes more of a hobby?
Honestly, no. And that’s only because I haven’t taken the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. I know I could use my degree. Lowkey, if I wanted to stop making music tomorrow and go apply for a job working with a firm, I could do that. But it’s not what I want to do. I’m lucky enough to have that privilege, but I’m also not that knowledgeable, and I didn’t do that well near the end of school.
What’s your release strategy? You drop a lot of videos and loosies, but they’re not necessarily singles in advance of a project.
One of my favorite artists ever is Future, because his work ethic is crazy. I took a break and didn’t drop music for like six months after I did Ba Suba, Ak Jamm. I felt bad, so I came back and wanted to turn it up. I remember when Future dropped Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights—he shook the world with that shit. Or even going back to mixtape Wayne, when he was dropping tape after tape, and it was like, “Yo, he’s really the best.” I’m trying to portray that, too—not even on some egotistical shit, but I’m trying to solidify myself as legit. That I’m nice. And I feel like to do that you have to show versatility and consistency at a steady pace. So I’ve dropped at least two videos a month for the last couple months. I also make tracks that don’t have a place on any of the projects I’m working on, and I’ll still put them out.
I’ve been reading about jazz in the ‘60s and ‘70s, specifically this book As Serious As Your Life by Val Wilmer, and I think it could be a good point of comparison for the musical community you’re part of. None of you are in a group together, but you produce and rap on each other’s projects, show up in each other’s videos—you all prop each other up. How do you think about this community?
It’s a beautiful thing, to see everyone flourish in their own respect. None of us are in a group, and it’s fire to see everyone manifest what they want to do while providing their perspective on life or dealing with emotions and mental health. Different perspectives are valuable, because they create a bigger picture. We all experience similar things in our lives and we also have our unique experiences, and the way we portray that in our art speaks to a greater truth.
The black experience is not monolithic. Being a young black man in America, you’re definitely experiencing prejudice, racism, gentrification, economic disparity—but none of that makes blackness a monolith. The fact that we’re all in the same circle, but with our own viewpoints, is what makes it special. Poorboy [the 2017 collaboration between Medhane and Slauson Malone] doesn’t sound the same as May God Bless Your Hustle [by MIKE], but they’re both expressions of how we understand the world.
Being a young black man in America, you’re definitely experiencing prejudice, racism, gentrification, economic disparity—but none of that makes blackness a monolith. The fact that we’re all in the same circle, but with our own viewpoints, is what makes it special.
What made you realize that mental health is a viable topic for a rap song?
Lowkey, Ready to Die. “Suicidal Thoughts” is crazy. Or Mobb Deep! Mobb Deep be talking about mental health. “Drink Away the Pain”? That shit is about alcoholism! “PTSD” by Pop Smoke. “Solace” by Earl. Or Bastard by Tyler. I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that a rapper like Polo G or G Herbo or even Juice WRLD is doing this. Future too! That’s pain music.
Especially Future. At the root of his music is a real seriousness about feelings.
Facts! That’s what makes a song good, when it’s real.
In a community like the one you described, what’s competition feel like? Rap is so competitive.
I’m not in competition with none of my friends. Jadasea has a bar, “Can’t compete with my brothers” and that’s facts. It’s rap, so it’s like a sport and everybody wants to be the best. But as far as competition, I let the music speak for itself. I am not worried about no one’s opinion. I spent a long time struggling with what other people think of my music, but at this point in my life I’m letting it speak for itself.
What does success look like to you?
On a completely superficial level, I want to say flood the rollie, flood the AP. [Laughs] Nah, success looks like being able to make a living off music. I want to provide opportunities for young people who want to pursue music as a career, too. I know a lot of my music is very personal and focuses on self, but in the long run I want to mean something to my city. Like how Pop Smoke had the Shoot for the Stars foundation. Or how you walk through Crown Heights and see a mural of Sean Price. Meaning something to the city is crazy, and it’s something I want to accomplish. I’m from Brooklyn, born and raised. I grew up here. Artists from here made me feel like I could do what I do, and I want to be that for someone else.
How does this pocket of Brooklyn you occupy intersect or interact with the drill scene?
Shit, it doesn’t—but it does. Brooklyn is smaller than you think. One of my friends, someone I went to elementary school with, lives on Lenox, where Casanova shot a recent video, and he was cool with Nick Blixky, who just died. I wouldn’t say we interact musically but, yo, we all listen to that shit. We all listen to Bobby and GS9. That means something in New York. You can’t avoid it.
I’m from Brooklyn, born and raised. I grew up here. Artists from here made me feel like I could do what I do, and I want to be that for someone else.
I loved your tweet about Sosa Geek on the Drake album.
Exactly. That bussed my head.
Are those guys listening to y’all?
I definitely don’t think so. [Laughs] But it would be hard if they were!
What do you want to get better at as an artist?
I always want to make better songs. As an artist, I’m trying to create my own world. Like how Solange has her own world. Or Lil B. Pulling up to a Solange show is like an aesthetic. I want to bring my vision to life outside of a music video or a rap bar.