Lou The Human might be 40—or he might be 23. He’s a bit of a troll, but the Brooklyn-born and Staten Island-based MC is ready to step out from under the bridge and tell the real story of Staten Island on his upcoming album, Painkiller Paradise.
“I got the title from something I saw on the news,” Lou tells me over the phone. His voice is a touch groggy, but there’s a serious note to his projected demeanor. “They called Staten Island ‘Painkiller Paradise.’ That really stuck out to me, and I always thought no one really knew the Staten Island story completely. Yes, we have Wu-Tang and they’re legends, but that was like 30 years ago. No one knows the current Staten Island story. And I grew up watching my friends turn into drug dealers and then turn into addicts. I always felt like I was trying to escape this shit. This is my life’s work, and it’s real to me.”
The real story of Staten Island comes two years after his last project, Humaniac, a concept album where Lou played a character who spit shock value raps for fun. It was horrorcore at its best and garnered him praise in the vein of early Eminem, but Lou wants to move beyond that. The way he sees it, there’s more to his artistry than a single character, and if there’s a gun to his head, he wants to go out saying something that’s going to change lives and move minds.
“Painkiller Paradise is a lot more autobiographical, real, and honest,” he says. “I don’t want the only thing I said to be some ‘Yeah, I killed some old grandma.’ I don’t want it to be some horrorcore for the sake of saying shock value things. My attitude going into the project was I’d really like to tell my story. If this is the last thing I say, I want to make sure I said something that counted.”
Chipper and thoughtful, Lou has an amazing head on his shoulders. He sees Painkiller Paradise and his personal story as a mission to complete. With its grunge notes, endless flows, bars about addiction and the perils of the drug game, and nods to R&B, the album is multiple and purposeful.
Lou set out to make a project that tells the world who he is, and where he’s from. And now that he finally has our attention, he’s crafted a story worth listening to.
My full conversation with Lou The Human, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: In an era where everyone wants to be a rapper, what does hip-hop mean to you?
Lou The Human: I saw an A$AP Yams interview before where he said he measures a good rap by how much game it gives you. The amount you can learn from it. It’s music to get game. I definitely feel like, in my younger years, hip-hop shaped the way I think just off of… I didn’t have a father figure. I learned so much from guys like JAY-Z and people I looked up to. I learned from hip-hop. It’s a very important thing in my life, it’s not just a hobby. It’s been a big source of learning how to become a man.
You love to joke around in your interviews. Where does your good humor come from?
I just like making myself smile, honestly. A lot of my earlier interviews, it was during my first project [Humaniac], and my first phase. I kinda like to try to play characters every project, so my first project was the mad man. I like to method act, so I approached my interviews as if I was that guy, in the beginning. But I’m really trying to shed that and my upcoming project, Painkiller Paradise, is a lot more autobiographical, real, and honest. It’s gonna be a less jokes.
You love saying you’re 40 years old (“Blur”). I feel the same way about myself. What does that mean to you?
I’ve always felt like an old soul. I’m washed now, actually. Life makes you grow up fast. I definitely had to do a lot of growing up early—and quick. I do feel 40, but also, that’s kinda just me trolling. It’s crazy, but I think Wikipedia said I was 40, and I didn’t put that there.
In 2017, you said, “My attitude is super punk and I just want to have fun with this shit.” What was your attitude going into Painkiller Paradise?
My attitude? I’ve always been concocting Painkiller Paradise, even before my first video came out. It switched a little once I got all this attention and my attitude going towards it was: If I have an opportunity to say something and I have all these people looking and listening, I don’t want the only thing I said to be some “Yeah, I killed some old grandma.” I don’t want it to be some horrorcore for the sake of saying shock value things. My attitude going into the project was, I’d really like to tell my story. If this is the last thing I say, I want to make sure I said something that counted.
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How tired are you of being compared to “early Eminem?”
I’m over it. I’m definitely over it. I’ve always lived my life a couple of years in the future, anyway, in my head. I know that they’re not gonna say that once they hear Painkiller Paradise. There is no early Eminem. That guy is gone. I don’t trip off it too much. It’s funny to me.
From Humaniac to Painkiller Paradise, the humor and twist of your music are mostly gone. You’re a lot more wounded and blunt on this new project. Why is that?
I was kinda like, “Okay, world, [Humaniac] is what you want from me? I will not do it then.” I’ve grown to resent Humaniac. Only because it hurts to realize I spent my whole life trying to do something and trying to say something and I only got the world’s attention when I started saying crazy, fucked up shit. I don’t want that to be what defines me. It was a conceptual project. It was a one-time thing. I knew going into it I never planned on making another Humaniac.
You’ve got a lot more of your “sad rock” influence on this album. What made you wanna lean into that?
I really like Kurt Cobain and I really like Aaliyah. I wanted to find a place where I could make R&B-meets-grunge, and then spit a verse in the middle of it. To me, Humaniac was always supposed to be a magic trick. I’m gonna put myself in this box to break out of this box. I wanted to fuck up the listener’s perception of me.
Painkiller Paradise is important because it doesn’t glorify drugs; it’s really mired in the struggle. But it’s no PSA, either. How did you strike that balance?
I got the title from something I saw on the news. They called Staten Island “Painkiller Paradise.” That really stuck out to me, and I always thought no one really knew the Staten Island story completely. Yes, we have Wu-Tang and they’re legends, but that was like 30 years ago. No one knows the current Staten Island story. And I grew up watching my friends turn into drug dealers and then turn into addicts. I always felt like I was trying to escape this shit. This is my life’s work and it’s really real to me. Like you said, it’s not a PSA. I’m just in the middle of everything, looking around. Like, damn, you know? Another one of my friends is addicted to drugs. Another one of my friends OD’d. Another one of my friends got arrested. You know? It’s just very real to me, and it’s something that… It’s my mission, honestly.
It’s something I put my whole being into, making sure I got this story out. Or making sure I got this project to be heard. I’m speaking for a lot of kids that are just taking the bus, trying to avoid whatever bad neighborhood they live in or selling Xanax to have food. I know a lot of people like that. I wanted to shed light. If the world was looking, I didn’t want all I said to be some crazy, shock value bar. I wanted to be able to speak up for myself and the place I grew up in, which is Painkiller Paradise.
“I went to war for this moment,” you spit on the album’s open. What’s been the hardest thing to overcome to make this record?
Sleeping outta cars, sleeping outta motels. Going broke over, and over again. Putting my own money into my videos. Recording at AirBnBs, getting kicked out of AirBnBs. Losing all my friends. Losing relationships. It’s definitely been a lot. It’s been an uphill battle, and it’s still an uphill battle, to be honest. It definitely has been war.
Was it worth it?
I don’t know. These kids hit me up and tell me I saved their life, and that makes me feel like I’m supposed to be doing this. So, I guess it is worth it.
Finally, you’ve said you’re just rapping to date Selena Gomez. Any progress?
I love her, still. I just think her soul is beautiful. I'm [a] fanboy. She’s awesome. Shout out to Selena Gomez. She’s a light in my life.