Latrell James takes his time. While artists feel the pressure to drop music at unrelenting speeds, James understands that real art must percolate in the soul before it can go out into the world. The 29-year-old, Boston-born-and-based rapper spent years crafting an album that never saw the light of day. The follow-up to his 2015 debut album, Twelve, was no longer a part of him. Rather than feel defeated, James took his life and career into his own hands and delivered his recently released EP, Still, a living representation of his growth as an artist and as a man.
“I was working on this project called The Sky Might Fall, and it was a story about why I was missing from music,” James explains over the phone. “That record was not a part of me anymore. I felt like I outgrew stylistically, lyrically, personally. I didn’t wanna revisit that hurt again… These [new] records are less than a year old. You get exactly what I’m thinking in the last nine months with this new project.”
With that, Still is an ode to presentness. From “Tracphone” to “Grateful,” the album is an embrace of the current moment, a slick tirade against the perils of social media, and a reminder that life is happening all around us. It’s a note to look up and enjoy what is going on in front of you, without coming across as pedantic and condescending. James speaks the truth, but he does not do so from an ivory tower. He is right there with us, wrestling with himself and learning to enjoy life as it unfolds.
In that breath, James moves without fear. In the years between Twelve and Still, James did not feel a lick of pressure to drop off a project. “I know at the end of the day; I can’t let outside things expedite what I’m trying to create,” he says. “What’s the rush? You could put out a song a week, or an EP a year. It’s about the music. You have to be personally satisfied with the art that you’re creating before you put it out into the world. Nobody else is gonna make me speed up my release date for anything.”
Taking his time has proven wise because Latrell James had to change his entire lifestyle to deliver this energized and punchy new project. He began exercising daily and going to therapy and being mindful of his intentions. James took a step back and became a healthier, more mindful man. Pressing play, we quickly realize that the music is all the better for it.
Our full conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: In talking to Yoh about your latest EP, he told me that you did this project after working on an album for a few years. Can you speak to that?
Latrell James: I was working on this project called The Sky Might Fall, and it was a story about why I was missing from music. I put out my first project [Twelve] in 2015, and then both of my parents got ill. For me, I’m a family person. I wanted to make sure my parents were good. I ended up writing this whole album about why I’m missing, but when it was time to release it, that record was not a part of me anymore. I felt like I outgrew [the material] stylistically, lyrically, personally. I didn’t wanna revisit that hurt again. Let’s move forward and give people some newer music. These [new] records are less than a year old. You get exactly what I’m thinking in the last nine months with this new project.
How did you recognize that the album you were crafting did not represent you any longer?
Performing. I perform a lot, a lot, and I believe that’s super important for all artists to do because you learn your records. And I realized these records are not doing the same thing for me as when I created them. I created them out of a place of pain, and I don’t feel that hurt or pain anymore. I’m way happier; I’m way more thoughtful. I’m way more conscious of the things I do. I changed my whole lifestyle. I started working out every day; I started doing things to change me. I wanted to be the best Latrell possible. I went to therapy!
Interestingly, you mentioned taking care of yourself because you sound energized on the EP.
You gotta paint with more than one color. That’s what I wanted to start doing with my voice, so the time between my last project and now was me studying my voice—studying people’s voice inflections. André 3000 is one of the best rappers to me because he controls his voice. I wanted to find a way to implement that into my record. I have my own voice now. Before it was “Latrell sounds like this person, Latrell sounds like that person,” and I was cool with that. But now, this stylistically sounds like me.
Did you feel a sense of defeat, or a sense of rebirth, when you scrapped the album and started this EP?
It was a sense of rebirth, honestly. I record a lot; I’m a recorder; it’s an addiction. There’s not a day that I don’t make a beat, or record an idea down. While I was recording that project that I didn’t put out, I started finding myself. I changed my whole process of writing, too. The project I didn’t put out, I wrote everything down. My process now, I sit in front of a mic, and I emote. I’m over here writing the lyrics down so I could put them on Genius because I never wrote any of them. My whole process for creating changed because I feel like when you put something down on paper, it loses its soul as opposed to you putting something directly into the mic. I’m going off of impulse. I think that’s why you get that energy.
Taking so much time between releases, was there any fear fans would forget about you?
Yes and no. For me, everything takes time. Kendrick takes his time with his projects, and people wait for it at the end of the day. For me being independent, I was slightly concerned about it, because if you’re not putting out stuff, people assume that you’re doing nothing. That’s the sucky thing about social media. We’re so tapped into people’s lives every day; if we’re not showing that we’re doing something, people assume that we’re doing nothing. I just wanted to focus on my art, and if people like it, they like it. I never think that someone’s gonna forget me. I put out three records last year, too, and they did pretty solid. I was very strategic about not putting out the album, but putting out enough music to sustain myself. I have so much more music after this. I can’t wait to keep the ball rolling.
Which song on Still did you make first, and how did it help you understand your new direction as an artist?
“Tracphone,” the first song on the project, that’s the first song I recorded for it. I recorded all these songs in one month: November. I made the beats the prior month, and I didn’t like any of the beats. I shipped them out to a bunch of artists that I know, and the next thing you know, I like the “Tracphone” beat, and I did “The Samo” the same day. I was like, “These two songs sound like they belong together.” They have this dreamy feel to them. I started to feel like I wanted to mold this sound into a project. The whole project is about embracing stillness, and what’s in front of you. We’re on social media and everything so much; we forget to appreciate what’s right in front of us. All the songs hit on that same topic.
Talk to me about the importance of self-awareness as an artist.
That comes from social media. Everything on social media is not what it is. We tend to get caught up comparing our lives to others, but at the end of the day, people post their highest moments for social media. My mindstate is: let me focus on what I’m gonna do and how I’m gonna present myself to the world. I know at the end of the day, I can’t let outside things expedite what I’m trying to create. What’s the rush? You could put out a song a week, or an EP a year. It’s about the music. You have to be personally satisfied with the art that you’re creating before you put it out into the world. Nobody else is gonna make me speed up my release date for anything. I’m not pressured to do anything else. I don’t understand the rush anymore. I prefer everyone to go back to taking two years to put out an album. We would get a much higher quality of music.
Now that you’ve got this new direction, who is Latrell James as a man?
Latrell James, as a man, is way more patient, way more caring, way more aware of the things that he puts out into the world, and the things he consumes. That’s the most important thing I learned over the year, is be aware of what you consume and what you put out.
What advice do you have for artists who might be realizing their current work is no longer a part of who they are?
There are no rules anymore! I did a release party for a project that didn’t come out, and people came [laughs]. There’s no rules. If you wanna put out a song a week, do it. Just make sure your rollout’s tight, and trust your instincts. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to go against the grain.
Stream Latrell James’ new EP, Still, on Audiomack.