“I’m not gonna lie, this is the one that I’m most proud of,” said Chris Rivers, timidly. “I really feel like I finally came into my own.”
Usually, the New York emcee wields his voice like a master carpenter swinging a hammer, but during our most recent conversation, Chris’ voice built up to a crescendo.
“My own lane, my own self, my own sound,” added Rivers.
On the same day as his NYC album release show for Delorean, his newly-released debut LP, I had the pleasure of speaking to Chris. The son of deceased rap star Big Punisher, the 22-year-old is ridiculously good at rapping and given the hip-hop royalty in his DNA, that should come as no surprise. (Though, I personally couldn’t be happier Chris has left behind the “Baby Pun” alias that followed him around at the beginning of his career.)
Across his four major mixtapes and one EP, Chris has, for the most part, been a rapper’s rapper. With some notable exceptions, his music has been bar-heavy, dense and, well, rappy.
Delorean is different, though.
From the first and titular track, featuring frequent collaborator Whispers, Rivers absolutely snaps:
Pitting you fools against Chris is just pitiful. Wait, / Fuck am I sayin'? I just must be hatin' / 'Cause clearly they better, 'cause they way more famous / They got more money, more bitches, more cars / Only thing I got more than them is just bars / And heart, and art, and strength, and faith, and pain / And skill, and will, and flows, and goals / and concepts, and content, and competence / Common sense, dominance, providence, promises, that’s all.
On paper—or your iPhone screen—Rivers’ verse could easily be mistaken for an EPMD deep cut or an early Wu-Tang Clan gem; we’re talking golden era pen game. Press play on Delorean, though, and Chris’ absolutely bonkers flows, along with a futuristic trap beat and a healthy dose of tasteful vocal modulation, will jump out at you faster than a Desiigner ad lib.
Front to back, Delorean finds Rivers rapping at his most modern, marketable, and musical. There’s no shortage of bars on standout rap-fests like Lil' Fame and The LOX-assisted “Fair One.” But it’s the wavy vibe of a song like “Bag,” or the authentic soulful heart of each of the three “Time Zone” tracks, that together make Chris’ debut feel like a huge step forward, both as an artist and as a man.
If Rivers’ new sound or some iteration of it sticks, the Bronx-bred rapper could see much more widespread fame, success, and recognition in the very near future.
For now, though, the music is fantastic. I found myself nodding my head throughout Delorean, and good god, the rap geek inside had plenty to feast on.
During my conversation with Chris, we discussed his aforementioned debut, career aspirations, dream collaborations, and a whole lot more.
Chris, congrats on releasing your debut, that’s a big milestone. How has the reception been?
I finally came into my own sound, you know? I was weary about how the fans would be, reception-wise towards all that, considering in the past I was more all bars. And this one, you know I still got mad bars and substance, but it’s packaged in a way where a lot of the songs are more fun, they’re more musical. I know some fans are resistant to these artists they love, to really see them growing and evolving and developing their music in a different way while they’re doing it. But my people have been really receptive to it. I think people love the balance, so far I’ve been getting nothing but love for it and that whole process has gone a lot better than I ever could have hoped.
That resistance from your fans must be frustrating.
I just think that if you keep an open mind and really listen to this music, yeah, some of the flows might be different and some of the hooks might be a little more catchy, but if you really listen to the lines, there’s still all that substance, there’s still metaphors, compound syllables, all that. But some people don’t wanna actually listen, as soon as they hear you doing something like this, those religious “I need only boom bap” fans are gonna walk away. I always just wanna ask those fans like, 'Yo, do you want me to be successful? Like do you only want me to make music for you and my own ass, or do you actually want me to win, to succeed, and to grow?' But that’s been like one comment in a hundred, and it is what it is [laughs].
The album definitely sounds different. How did your approach change this time around?
Before, it was always kind of pieced together. We’d just go to the studio and make music, when it felt like it was time to get a project together, we would literally just go through, pick stuff that kinda felt like it fit in the same world together, fill in a few pieces of the puzzle with new songs maybe, but it’d always be very pieced together. But this one, I knew where I wanted to go with it, I had this game plan beforehand about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it on each song. On [this album], I had the most creative control, you know, just shutting out some of those influences and people around you. This one has more songs with just me on it. And more than just the writing part, I was involved in this one a lot more on the production end, of finding exactly the beats I wanted and even getting involved in making some of the beats. Sitting down with engineers, even in the first mixing phases, and feeling like I was getting the exact tailor-made sound I wanted. And I didn’t compromise, I really entered this project with the mindset that it had to be something that I was happy with. These were just songs that I wanted to hear and it wasn’t influenced by any thoughts of “the masses.” This is the truest project I’ve ever made, and definitely also the one that we put the most work into.
What obstacles, if any, did you encounter as an independent artist that changed the way you crafted your debut, as compared to previous mixtapes?
I’ve really started realizing it’s incredibly important to target a specific demographic. When you’re just making music and throwing stuff out there, people might come to you, and as you grow as an artist you start to realize that the people that initially were drawn to your music aren’t always gonna be around as that music evolves. There’s a difference between being respected and being effective, and I would like to do both. The people who do both are really the ones who have longevity, I think. So you gotta be smart about it, you gotta know who’s your target audience, who are you making music for? And how can you be true to yourself while appealing to them?
Have you been able to find the answers to those questions?
I do wanna access the youth, I mean they’re the ones who really spread things like wildfire. And music today, it’s really changed up, it’s more about the vibe and the feeling than it is about the substance. Me personally, I’m always gonna wanna put a lot of substance into it, but I started creating things while prioritizing a certain feeling. Most people, “the masses,” they’re gonna be able to identify with that feeling if you make a successful track. You can’t be a one-trick pony, you’ve gotta evolve with the times. That’s what I’ve learned, and I’m just trying to get people to feel and think at the same time.
Who or what influenced you during the making of Delorean?
Some of the people who influence and inspire me the most are just the people around me. Shout out Whispers, he’s really involved, shout out Oswin Benjamin and Denzil Porter, they’re always around. When Kendrick dropped DAMN. that really inspired me, too. I heard that he had whole other copies of the album. But he’d listen to the whole thing—the whole album—and if the whole thing didn’t give him goosebumps, he’d go back to the drawing board. And that really inspired me not to compromise. You gotta be fully in it, you can’t compromise, you’ve gotta love it.
I know you just released an album, but what's next?
I’m workin on a project with Statik Selektah, I’m workin on one with Buckwild, one with OCD (Oswin Benjamin, Chris Rivers, Denzil Porter), one with Jarren Benton, and I’m starting to work on my next solo project, too. It’s like five, six things in the works right now.
If you could jump in the studio with someone tomorrow, who would it be?
Dave East [and] Jarren Benton are a couple. Eventually, I want to get together with the Pro Era guys, The Underachievers, these artists that are in my age bracket or maybe a little older, but who are just moving with this particular vibe.
And what vibe is that, exactly?
Really a versatile feel, a more chill vibe, I want people to be able to smoke to this, to ride around to it, and I wanted to create situation music that would really work in the background or the foreground, that was really just fun to listen to. In the future, I really wanna pull on those emotional strings, not just the sad ones, but I want every song to feel like something, to pull at something and make you feel something. And pull at something that’s real.