Being from Virginia and getting a major look from Pusha-T sounds too good to be true. For up-and-coming rapper Cartel Count Up, that fantasy became reality when he was tapped by 1800 Tequila to be part of the 1800 Seconds album, curated by Pusha-T.
"I played it cool, but on the inside I was jumping around," Cartel tells me over the phone. "It’s a gift from God. It’s amazing. I can’t really explain the feeling, I was so excited."
Cartel has a steady and budding buzz, with his biggest song close to cracking 10,000 views on YouTube. Undeniably passionate, he makes for the perfect Pusha-T selection: an artist people need to hear, if only he had the resources. With the 1800 team behind him, Cartel is making his newfound moment in the spotlight count, much like the energy he's bringing to the 1800 Seconds album.
"My record is super energetic," he says. "It’s more like an anthem. I feel like my record can get you through the gym, through work. When you put my record on and you going to work, you gon’ get through the work day no problem."
"I just have to keep working harder," Cartel adds. "I have to put this on my resume and keep working harder and keep moving forward. You don’t get to appreciate things until you retire."
DJBooth's full interview with Cartel Count Up, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did 1800 reach out to you initially?
Cartel Count Up: Initially, 1800 reached out and honestly I played it cool, but on the inside I was jumping around. It’s a gift from God. It’s amazing. I can’t really explain the feeling, I was so excited.
What does it mean to have been handpicked for this record?
For me, I felt so… How can I put this in words? To find out Pusha-T did it, because I’m from Virginia, Pusha is a god to me. Someone putting their hand on you, saying, ‘I believe in you,’ it’s a different feeling from another artist telling you that you’re good.
Being from Virginia, was there any pressure to perform?
Yes, of course, I felt pressure! But I feel like pressure makes diamonds.
How would you define the energy you bring to the album?
My record is super energetic. It’s more like an anthem. I feel like my record can get you through the gym, through work. When you put my record on and you going to work, you gon’ get through the work day no problem.
Now, each song is around three minutes. So you have to make a big impact in a short time frame. How did that affect your creative process?
That’s more than enough time. Three minutes was more than enough time to make an impactful feeling. All you need to really impact people is eight words. They gave me more than enough time.
Is that how you usually create?
When I create, I usually talk about life. So, my song is called “Make It Count.” So when I went to LA with 1800, I felt like, this opportunity, I had to make it count.
What was the energy like in the studio?
It was crazy! To have so many different artists from different areas, and be so energetic, and nobody to have a big head, it was amazing. It’s something you can’t fake. The energy in there is something you can’t fake, it was so spontaneous. I loved it. I wanna go back.
Do you need a viral moment as an artist on the rise?
Not everybody. Some people are talented enough to do it without being viral, but being viral helps a lot.
How do you achieve that virality?
I feel like you have to let people in your life. I feel like everybody does stuff every day that can go viral, but it’s not on camera. So, the more you put yourself on camera and the more you be yourself, something’s gonna go viral.
With so much music dropping from so many artists, how valuable has the first impression become?
I feel like it has become the only impression. The first impression is everything, you can’t make up for that. If you mess up the first impression, a lot of times, there’s no making up for it. You have to make the first impression count.
On a scale of one to 10, how would you rank this record in terms of career milestones?
How do you plan on using this opportunity to your advantage?
I just have to keep working harder. I have to put this on my resume and keep working harder and keep moving forward. You don’t get to appreciate things until you retire, so I just wanna keep working and then when I’m old, I can look at it.