An Interview with rhêtorík: “People Love to be Surprised" - DJBooth

“People Love to be Surprised”: An Interview with rhêtorík

“I want people to listen to this and go, ‘Okay, he’s an artist.’”
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rhêtorík makes himself known—as an artist, a DJ, a vlogger, and most importantly, as a man seeking balance and his true self.

In 2012, as he tells me over the phone, rhêtorík “quit an internship and just moved to New York on a whim to do a free internship with The FADER.” By the end of that summer, with only a suitcase and a backpack to his name, he was splitting his time sleeping on the J train and at the local McDonald’s. In the year since then, he has never spent more than 10 days in a single city, all in the name of breaking into music and pursuing his passions.

Needless to say, the Portsmouth, Virginia-born, New York-based artist has lived a winding and knotty life, enough lives for 27 men packed into his 27 years. “Some days I wake up and I feel 16, other days I wake up and I feel 68,” he says in jest. His foray into music began more innocently, after a “mafia-level scheme” to erase his MySpace account led to a summer-long grounding with only a guitar to pass the time.

Guitar carried rhêtorík through high school when, during his senior year, he discovered the scope and creativity behind DJing. “I remember watching a video on YouTube with my now-homie Skratch Bastid and he turned this instrumental into the 'Imperial Death March' from Star Wars,” he recalls. The next logical move was to pool all of his money, buy all the DJ gear he could afford at the time, and throw himself into the learning process.

“In college, I became the DJ kid,” rhêtorík explains. “I always wanted to come back to making music [and] DJing was a means to an end.” The end, of course, being songwriting. While rhêtorík admires the craft of DJing, his true passion is writing and storytelling, isolating himself and confronting the depth of his emotions, then laying it all out on wax with his own voice as the lead.

As for being referred to as Logic’s DJ and not by his name, rhêtorík takes the label in stride. “It’s an opportunity to prove something,” he tells me. “My gut reaction is, if that’s all they know me as then I have work to do.” With the recent release of two evocative solo singles, “Shelter” and “Caged Up,” rhêtorík is well on his way to proving himself as a true artist.

DJBooth’s full interview with rhêtorík, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: When did you first fall in love with making music?

rhêtorík: Probably around 12 years old. We had this painter come over, and I had gotten a guitar for Christmas, but it wasn’t until he came over and picked it up and played “Over the Hills and Far Away” from Led Zeppelin that I was like, “Wait, people actually play this? And play this well? I wanna do this.” That’s when I went after it. 

After eighth grade, I got grounded the whole summer for having a MySpace. Well, not just for having the Myspace. I also had a mafia-level scheme of calling my friends like, “Delete all my stuff, here’s my email, delete all my history.” My parents found out and grounded me. The only thing I had was my guitar.

At what point did you turn to DJing?

That was actually my senior year of high school. I was on the play-baseball-and-go-to-college trajectory, and then I pulled a U-turn on everybody and quit. I remember watching a video on YouTube with my now-homie Skratch Bastid and he turned this instrumental into the "Imperial Death March" from Star Wars.

Number one: I had no clue what DJs even did and that it went to that extent. I was like, “I want stuff right now!” So I asked my parents for DJ equipment for Christmas, they said, “No,” so I spent all my money on it. That was the first time where I was like, “Okay, this was either a very good lesson in financial responsibility, or it’s gonna turn out well.” At college, I became the DJ kid. I always wanted to come back to making music, [and] DJing was a means to an end.

What were you initially hoping to get out of being a DJ?

I wanted DJing to be my step into the music industry. Don’t get me wrong, I love the art of DJing, but it wasn’t my number one passion. My passion is writing songs. I like going away for months, creating something. DJing, I knew, was like the networking side of things. And it worked, but I also didn’t know that DJing was going to be as big a thing in my life as it was.

What’s your gut reaction to be described as Logic’s DJ?

Gut reaction is they just don’t know me yet. It’s an opportunity to prove something. The opportunity to prove, luckily for me, is a big motivator. When I was coming out with my first song, being known as just the DJ was an opportunity for me to work on these songs, knowing that people were expecting whateverness. It was a big motivator for me to come out the gates with top-level production, top-level writing, and it’ll only get better. My gut reaction is if that’s all they know me as then I have work to do.

Where does the ability to turn something that is frustrating into fuel come from?

I took a year from 24 to 25, where I went completely stone-cold sober, really got into the vlogging, and just took a year of internal reflection. Who am I exactly? What was I trying to be that got me to this point? And what is it that I need to do to be my authentic self from this point forward? Gaining perspective on myself allowed me to gain perspective on what other people think. Like, I can’t be mad at somebody for going, “Oh, that’s Logic’s DJ.” I mean, this is one of the biggest rap artists in the world, obviously, that’s what a majority of people are going to see at this moment.

Instead of getting mad and saying, “I’m not just that! Love me for what I am! I have all this talent!” Why not just prove it? People love to be surprised. You gotta see it as that opportunity, or else you’ll keep putting yourself down.

Does isolation ever drive you crazy?

It tests me. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever purely isolated myself. I haven’t white-roomed myself or anything. In terms of my isolation, I’m not going out to do social events and my concentration is fully on doing music. I’ll get all that energy out during the day, and then in the night time, I’ll talk to family or I’ll go over to [my fellow artist buddy] TGUT’s place. There’s also two or three weeks on end where I just stay at my place and don’t really talk.

I never let it get to the point where it’ll drive me completely crazy, but I will let it get to the point where it’s emotionally jarring. It’s when you get to that point when you start to feel the things that start to bubble up from the depths. That’s what I write about. That’s how “Shelter” came out. That’s was how the intro song on the project came out. It was this dark depth in me that needed to come out.

Did those feelings initially scare you?

Previous to my year of reflection, they scared the shit out of me. That was also because I was too scared to write music. But once I came back and I got that one sublet just to write music, I was like, “Alright, this is my time to deal with all these things.” It’s a battle. Before, I was getting jumped by emotions. Now, I know that I’ve scheduled my fight, so I’m ready. I’m trained.

You're currently living in New York City. When did you officially call the city home?

Like actually lease an apartment? December 17th of this past year [laughs].

You were homeless intermittently prior to that, correct?

Yeah, so, in 2012, I quit an internship and just moved to New York on a whim to do a free internship with FADER. I didn’t know anybody in New York, but by the end of the summer I felt like there were more opportunities for me to stay for a couple more weeks, so I just dragged my laundry bag, my suitcase, and my backpack to the McDonald’s and just stayed. Or, I’d go on the J train and just stay there. It really showed me that I’m making the right decisions if I’m willing to do this and things are still going right and you feel that this is the right decision.

I met Logic that summer, stayed in touch, and went on tour with him the next summer. Was at their house in LA, moved back to New York, and that’s the stuck-in-my-room-and-don’t-want-to-go-outside-apartment. I just stayed on the trains overnight because I didn’t want to be in that apartment. There was such a dark energy about it. I’ve been on 15 tours since then. In between, I’d stay at TGUT’s place, or at friends’ in DC. Up until this year, I haven’t been in a single city for more than 10 days. I just jump around, making sure not to wear out my welcome.

How has this nomadic approach impacted your creative process?

Getting in my apartment, I thought that I was gonna sit down and write all this stuff, but I really just sat down and decompressed. There was so much buildup to getting this apartment, it was nice to just relax and be somewhere for more than 10 days and be in my own bed with my own stuff. It allows me to really make anywhere home.

You can put me up in the smallest hotel room, but if I’m there for three days, I can make it a home. It’s given me the opportunity to create a home out of anything and realize that home isn’t a place, home is a feeling. That level of comfort is something that’s really nice. It’s weird, this is the first time that I’ve missed home because it’s the first time I’ve had a home. At the same time, I’ve been in this hotel room for two days, and I feel like it’s mine.

Is that feeling of home the reason why you chose now to start releasing your own solo material?

Yeah! I felt like if I was gonna start a new chapter in my life, it had to be a new chapter. And now I’m investing in myself, and my mind, and my comfort. It’s allowing me to release this vulnerability now that I have a constant. I needed a constant in order to put something out. It’s crazy, I told myself: “I’m not going to really put out this music until I have a home.”

Your vlogs and your forthcoming EP are both very personal. Do you ever parse those identities?

It’s just one, but the thing with the vlog is, you don’t want to be like, “So, storytime! I haven’t had a home for this long… ” Nobody wants to watch your face do that, but if you make an upbeat song about it, somebody can be like, “Oh, I can relate to this.” There’s so many stories I haven’t told in my vlogs yet. My vlogs are all this perspective stuff that I’ve told you about, whereas my music is the stories that force me to look at myself and figure out this perspective and these other ways of approaching life. It’s still me, and everything is authentically me.

As fans from every different walk of life dive into your solo work, what do you hope for them to walk away with?

Just a sense of never knowing what to expect from me. One of the most motivating people I’ve ever done anything with was Donald Glover. The way he went from the dude from Community to skits on YouTube, to rapping, to the dude that did this, that, and now from continually showing people his talent, people are like, “He does everything! He could write recipes and they’d be the best recipes of all time! Who knows what he’ll do next!” That’s what I want. Who knows what I’m gonna create next? I call art the cheesiest acronym ever: alternate reality treatment. That’s what I want people to see it as. I want people to listen to this and go, “Okay, he’s an artist.”

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