The route on the road map to becoming a rap superstar has changed over the years. Once upon a time, a rapper just had to have the freshest lyrics at all the local parties. Generations ago, your favorite emcee likely was a park jam frequent turned park jam favorite who formed a partnership with a DJ and began making tapes. The early 90’s brought on the days of rappers working with multiple producers which brought an end to the once popular rapper & DJ duos and gave way for the emcee to create bigger personalities for themselves as the music became more personalized. The internet soon made it easy for rappers to start the process on their own from the comfort of their homes (and now even their phones). The internet makes it a lot easier for anyone to throw their hat into the ring of rappers and thus created an oversaturated market. It almost feels like there’s more rappers than there are listeners or producers. This surplus has even transformed rappers from sellers into consumers. They’re a market themselves as they all tirelessly compete to attain their dreams.
Brooklyn rapper, Monk is faced with this dilemma and may have a solution. As opposed to constantly releasing lack luster content, he chooses to release strong bodies of work with fully thought out visuals, artwork and marketing plans. A procedure that may take a little longer. This is a strategy that could be a scary one given the short span of attention in our generation but may also be refreshing in today’s climate. It’s also a Metro Boomin approved production plan.
I recently got a chance to speak with Monk about his upcoming project PINKMATTER, his latest music video for his single, MINDWALKER, his relationship with Capital Steez and his plans for the future. Read the full interview below.
TF: How did you first get into making music and how did you know you wanted to be an emcee?
Monk: Well, I started off in high school just having fun with my friends but after I went to college I had more time to myself and started experimenting with recording myself in my dorm room. It took me a while to gain my confidence and find myself as an artist but once I saw how my words affected people I was hooked. I think there’s a lack of strong voices guiding generations growing up now and I want to add something worthwhile to the culture.
TF: I think that’s a great way for artists to develop. Recording yourself really helps you hone your craft. Are you mixing your music as well?
Monk: I actually went to school for engineering so a lot of my music was originally recorded and mixed by me before I take it to a studio to get it mastered. I also worked in a studio as an assistant engineer for 3 years so for me the entire process is fun. Whether I’m in the booth, recording another artist or producing, I just love the process of creating quality music.
TF: Now that I know that you’re an audio engineer as well, it’s really apparent in your music. Were you one of those kids rapping in the lunchroom when you started rapping in high school?
Monk: [laughs] actually, no. In high school I was really into skateboarding. [Rapping] all kind of happened through a close friend of mine. I’m sure you heard of Capital Steez. I went to school with him, Joey [Bada$$), and a bunch of the Pro Era guys so I was always around them, supporting but I never saw myself doing it until Steez told me that I should actually pursue it.
TF: Actually, that was one of my next questions. I was wondering how your collaboration came about.
Monk: With Steez?
Monk: That was my little bro in high school. No rap shit. Way before the music. [I was] like giving him life advice about girls and shit [laughs]. He always kept me around when they first started getting attention and I was also good friends with their engineer. One day he told me to come to the studio and that’s pretty much it. [I] heard the beat, came up with the song on the spot. If it wasn’t for the love he showed me early on, I really don’t know if I’d have taken myself seriously as an artist.
Monk: A great energy. Everyone felt it. I know I can never be him. I’m me but I always try to embody his spirit when it comes to creating and encouraging other aspiring artists. Life’s too short not to put yourself out there in some way.
TF: Absolutely. Through artists like you, that positive energy gets to be carried forward. How far into finishing Pink Matter are you?
Monk: It’s actually completely finished. I’m big into planning and execution so I have like my next 3 projects already recorded and some videos done. Some of the songs on PINKMATTER have been recorded since I was in college. Some are ideas I had this summer. The videos are all one story line so MINDWALKER is just the first installment of a 3 part narrative I want to present to the world.
TF: The video for MINDWALKER is incredible. All of your videos are really creative. How do the ideas for your visuals come about?
Monk: Thanks! I really appreciate that. And I’m not sure, really. With this project, I really wanted to present people with something that was 100% me so once the music was done I probably spent an entire week just listening to it top to bottom and finding the storyline within it. The music speaks for itself but in [this] age, visuals are really what grab peoples attention. [I’m] tired of videos that are all performance scenes or just super basic. As an artist, I think my job is to give people more than that. I want to get paid to be creative, the least I could do is actually sit, use my brain and come up with something dope [laughs]
TF: That’s a great view to have. The video seems like an ode to The Warriors. Can we expect the same influence on PINKMATTER?
Monk: Thanks for spotting that! Def wanted to recreate that vibe and on certain songs you’ll definitely get that vibe [of] mobbing with your squad for the night. Those late night/early morning ride vibes. I really wanted to take my time catering to moments in life and recreate those vibes sonically.
TF: It’s very present day New York in a time when people don’t really have too many true representations of this generation of New Yorkers in hip hop. It makes New York rap not seem so 90’s. How do you think new New Yorkers can step out of that shadow?
Monk: Well, I think it’s really bigger than our city. Our generation grew up with the internet which greatly increased the variety of influences we were exposed to. The industry on the other had is still trying to market the 90’s because thats what works best for their business model. I think there’s a lot of dope artists in new New York right now that aren’t getting a chance because they’re not making the boom bap music people associate with our city. Personally, I want to progress; obviously taking inspiration from those that came before me but I’m me. I’m not going to make what people expect necessarily. Good music catches you off guard. I don’t want people across the globe to see that I’m from New York and automatically think they know what I should sound like.
TF: Is there a release date for PINKMATTER? If so, when?
Monk: I want it to come out this Fall. It’s finished and ready to go but I don’t want to rush anything. I want people to digest it and have it reach new demographics so bullshit aside, it’s coming soon [laughs]. Next is going to be the second single “Fibbin” which is the second installment in the storyline.
TF: When can we expect that?
Monk: End of November/Beginning of December. [I’m] just giving myself enough time to market the first single
TF: You put out your project, (euphonious) over a year ago. What’s changed for you in that time?
Monk: Everything. That was me at my youngest, still kind of boxed in by that “New York 90’s” vibe that people expected but with my twist on it. That project was actually recorded 3 to 4 years ago so over the course of that time I’ve grown up, taken music more seriously, lost friends, gone through heartbreak. Now that I’ve found myself more as a person and an artist I have more to offer.
TF: Empires was definitely a standout track on that project. feel as though your song it’s relateable to many youth growing up in urban environments, especially those of African decent, not having the legacy there in their lineage (at least not that they get to see every day) so trying to create one while also having to combat the everyday struggles of growing up in that environment. What inspired that song for you and how did it come about?
Monk: Everything you just said, honestly [laughs]. Almost everyone I grew up around was either first generation or second generation immigrants. A lot without fathers or from “broken homes”. I grew up like that and as fun as it is to ignore those feelings of displacement, and not having any real stake in this country, it’s a very real thing that people feel on a day to day and that’s what I want to focus on as an artist. Real emotions connect with people. We see the fancy life on TV and it seems so accessible but so far away for us at the same time. There’s a lot of “turn up music” and artists who distract you from those feelings but I actually think it’s something we should embrace.
TF: You’ve grown up a lot since (euphonious), but what will be different about PINKMATTER in comparison to (euphonious) from a sonic stand point?
Monk: Like I said, I’m big on planning things out. (euphonious) had a vibe that was more introspective and gave you food for thought. PINKMATTER is more of an experience. It stemmed from me performing more and more and wanting to make music that felt good to perform. Also, a lot of it is self-produced so the entire thing is more me presenting myself as an artist. (euphonious) was more me looking at the world around me and interpreting it. PINKMATTER is more experimental, you’ll find me singing on certain songs, or rhyming over beats with no drums. [I’m] just pushing the envelope of what I can make.
TF: Lastly, what are you using to produce?
Monk: I use Maschine right now for production then I mix in Protools. I was a huge fan of Kanye growing up, same as a lot of our generation. I just remember him working on the MPC when I was a kid so I really love the vibe of having a drum machine.
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