Drelli wants listeners to know that he can’t be tamed. It’s a notion that’s stressed throughout the Ghana-via-Minneapolis rapper's newly-released debut EP, Hey Drelli, and especially on the jungle-frenzied opening track, “Drelli Elliot”: “I’ma do it my way with no manager,” he raps.
Despite operating without the assistance of a full-time manager, Drelli, 20, is steadily on the incline, balancing enjoyment of his craft with professionalism.
"I always have to think of a way to make it fun as it keeps going on, not making it seem like it’s a chore because that sucks the fun out of it,” Drelli says, speaking about his persistence to turn rap into a career since his humble high school beginnings. “You’re your own biggest critic.”
Despite relocating to Los Angeles, Drelli has been likened to fellow Minneapolis cohort Allan Kingdom through their collaborative work and the comedic ELEVATOR mini-series #COMING2LA. His approach, however, is completely his own as evidenced by the labeling of his sound: “swagbop.”
Without trying to mold his material into any set genre, Drelli created the lush, four-track Hey Drelli EP—premiering today exclusively on DJBooth—sprinkled with humor and framed after his already-established SoundCloud page.
“All of the songs have their own genre in their own way,” he says. “I don’t hear anyone that’s like me, either. My whole approach is different and stands out in a way that no one can look me in the eye and say, ‘Oh, this sounds like another person.’”
The lead single, “Internet,” is a colorful look into the rapper’s carefree world as he models himself after high-topped Gerald Martin Johanssen from the hit '90s cartoon Hey Arnold!
“I’m hard on myself to make [my music] sound so different from others that I almost end up scratching the idea,” Drelli says about his song formulation. “There’s a lot of people that want you to do things a certain way. What I’m doing with Hey Drelli is not listening to anyone’s opinion, because we all have one. When you listen to your gut feeling, you’re making the right choice. It’s about listening to yourself and not letting anything get in your way."
Several weeks before the EP’s release, I caught up with Drelli while he was back home in Minneapolis for his younger brother’s high school graduation. Our full interview, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: I first heard your record "White T" a little over a year ago. Your sound is very unique. Does being unique make you nervous?
Drelli: Not even necessarily saying that [my sound] is weird, but as far as what’s coming up now, most people only want to listen to the stuff that’s now. When you try to do something a little different, it kinda gets overlooked. As much as I can, I try to dumb it down so both of the circles can listen to what I make.
Do you feel like you know your audience?
That’s what I’m trying to accomplish. I don’t as of now. Hopefully, after dropping [Hey Drelli], I can get more of an understanding of what type of people are listening to my music and be able to grow from there.
The EP is only four tracks long. Did you go into crafting the project with the intention of only delivering a small sample of your work?
I want to do a series that I haven’t said much about. I really try to pay attention to marketing because people’s attention spans are really short. I don’t really listen to whole albums or whole mixtapes unless the artist is already big. If I can give people four solid songs, even if you at least like one of them, then I did my job. I just wanted to know that those four songs complement each other really well.
I remember seeing you and Allan Kingdom at last year's Camp Flog Gnaw. Did you get to run into any artists that you wanna work with or admire?
Yeah, like Denzel Curry, Zack Villere, and a producer—he’s from the UK, I wanna say. As far as any other artists, that was really it. I saw other artists too, but I’m not really trying to work with that many people. If it were to happen, it would probably just be more producers [rather] than other artists.
You're from Minneapolis. What’s the music scene like there and at what point did you meet Allan Kingdom?
It’s growing now and people are doing their thing. I met up with Allan a couple years ago after he liked all my songs on SoundCloud. I instantly DM’d him on Instagram and didn’t think he would respond, but he responded. We became good friends and we’ve been hanging out to this day.
You never saw him in or around Minneapolis?
Nope. I’ve seen him on the internet, and when he did the song with Kanye ("All Day"). Even when I did see him for the first time, I didn’t listen to his music, and then afterward I was like, “I definitely remember this guy,” and started going deeper into listening to his stuff.
Rather than stay put in Minneapolis, you made the decision to move to Los Angeles. Why?
I’ve only been out there for a year so far. Even in those first six months, I was making stuff, but I was getting with the transition of moving so I wasn’t making enough [material] that I was willing to put out. Until this year, I was like, “Alright, maybe I should drop more music.” As far as opportunities, once you meet people that are at the top of the ceiling, it’s like, “Alright, what’s next?” You can only do so much over the internet, so going to LA was beneficial, I would say.
Do you have any plans to tour this year?
I want to, but I’m not trying to rush too much. I just wanna get everything lined up that’s in my control. When you try to do too much, only some things work and some things don’t. I would like to tour, but I just want to get the music out in the right way.