Some of my earliest memories start about four years into my life. While I wasn’t quick to grasp every concept, I knew that crying was a sign of infirmity, my mother couldn’t do wrong, and my father was the strongest man in the world. As a child, I spent a lot of my time running: to the store, from my older brothers, up the stairs. Something about running always makes you feel better. I pit-stopped on one run to my room and found my dad crying on my bed. It didn’t make sense.
Here’s the strongest man in the world, doing what I imagined, at the time, was the weakest thing possible. He gestured me closer to him and gave me a tight hug. As his grip loosened, he looked at me and murmured, “Never be a man with good intentions, but bad execution.”
I carried those words into my newest album, Keep in Touch. The album was a Venn-diagram, an amalgamation of events that happened in my father’s life, threading the DNA of my upbringing. Being that this was a memorial piece, I kept emphasizing to myself how much I wanted it to be “carefully crafted.”
The more I succumbed to that idea, the less I looked at the project as a musical composition. It was more of a solid piece of clay, meant to be molded however I saw fit. I would give this sculpture fearlessness and bravery, then find a place for insecurity and doubt. I kept adding and adding until the end, my solid block of clay was a man, perfectly imperfect… My father.
Writing this album was my grief-counseling and therapy. A way to dig into the deepest parts of myself I’d been hiding so long, I forgot they were there. Something about running always makes you feel better—until you slow down. I ran away from home when I was living by myself, or at least I thought I did. When my feet finally caught up with my mind, I was at my old middle school, watching an 11-year-old version of myself yell raps he wrote in the back of a math notebook to his friends. I felt both proud and happy to see him until he saw me. I ducked and hid behind a car instinctually. I couldn’t bear telling him this is what he looked like ten years later; this is what those crumpled paper raps materialized into.
And then it hit me. I wasn’t running away from home; I was running from myself with no final destination. I had to face it. These eight tracks are a testimony. After bailing on my entire life, the only ounce of ambition left was a carefully worded email to everyone who had ever supported me and an aged paper mail sent from my father; both ending with the same hopeless sentiment, Keep in Touch.
“Onederful” is as rich in texture as the entire project and, purposefully, reflects exactly how the project ends. As I drew out each track, I remembered riding in a Jeep as a five-year-old and my dad letting me sit in the front seat. I remembered how different music sounded from upfront.
To make sure each track produced that same feeling, I’d take my five-year-old niece on car rides and watch her react to the music and see what she picked up on and what she didn’t take to. “Onederful” was special because not only did she get it, she wrote the hook. The cadence was entirely her idea.
The line “Even I’m still trying to be like me” off “2maro” is the foundation for this entire song. I was lost in translation, trying my hardest to sound like “myself” again. I hadn’t written music in so long. I played my songs “Young Adults” and “Secret Handshake” over and over, trying to mimic the feeling and energy they gave me. Ultimately, I ended up with something different, but it took that inspiration and hours of vinyl crate-digging to make this song come to life.
In the ‘90s, my dad, along with all of my friends’ fathers, had these voicemails that were set up as “on-hold music.” They would have a neo-soul song playing, and eventually, they’d come on the phone with a smooth, deep voice saying, “You’ve reached _____, we aren’t available but if you leave your name and a brief message...” and let the music ride out. I wanted to revive that voicemail for “Miss3d Calls.” Throughout the album, it was important only to feature people who were part of my father’s life: My mother and uncle.
My dad used to have this black Jeep that was like his trophy. He was rarely ever seen without this car until one night, a rival gang stole it. My uncle called him saying they found the Jeep, and they went to get it. The two get into an argument with the person they accused of stealing the Jeep, and it turned into a fight. My dad throws a brick at the guy, knocking him out, and they jump into the car, driving back to the other side of Philly on flat tires.
I tried to tell that story as vividly as possible.
“Public School” is ironic because not only was this the comeback song, but I lost one of my closest friends over it. We were trying our hardest to make this song not sound like a freestyle. After four different versions, we went with the first one we made in the basement; the rough vocal take, too.
“Black Oak Park”
There was a patch of forest in between where my mother and father lived called “Black Oak Park.” Back then, it was notoriously known for separating the safe and dangerous sides of West Philly. I always thought of it as purgatory, and if purgatory was a place where angels and humans met, I imagine this is what it would sound like. I loosely based the lyrics around the “Did it hurt when you fell from heaven” pickup line.
“Saywhaat // Long Ass Car Ride”
For “Saywhaat,” my mom told me about a time she met my dad and tuned him out at a store, then another time at a park. Then another time with her brother, and the final time she fast-talked her number to him and hoped he wouldn’t remember. Later that evening, he called.
My father broke up with a woman named Donna to date my mother, who, ironically, was also named Donna. This song was the chase of my father pursuing my mother and her not giving her number away after countless attempts. The B-side of this was him having to let go of prior engagements and crippling stressors to move on.
“Fortnights” is my favorite song on the entire project because of how raw it is. At the time, my lease was up, and I was moving back with my mom. The day I got back, the house flooded, and we stayed at a hotel for two weeks. At the end of every stay, they kept extending the duration for another two weeks. I spent a lot of late nights reflecting on life and the steps I’ve taken, knocking me into this parallel universe of depression, wondering “What would’ve been?” if I made different decisions. It felt a lot like the position my father was in when I saw him crying in that room as a kid. This was the end of my run.
“Thanksgiving” was the only record I played for my father before he passed, and the first record that could calm my nerves when I was at the world’s end with making music. There was a time in my life where I couldn’t go home.
After my father’s passing, Philadelphia haunted me. Certain blocks I remembered too vividly with him, certain hospitals I couldn’t drive past anymore. This was the only composition that could get my mind out of that world. It was funny. I kept thinking of Kanye West’s College Dropout and Late Registration when we made this because this session was my first day out of the hospital from a bad car accident. I think that’s what motivated me to speak on the things I overcame.
There are a lot of things I never brought up in interviews that I highlighted in “Thanksgiving.” I lost four of my closest relatives in a house fire, and that’s never made its way to the public until this song. I never knew how to phrase it without getting choked up on the topic. I was reading The Alchemist at the time and just learning about what an alchemist does and how they could turn any element into a gold mine. That sparked the “They sold pyrite to an alchemist, now look at mines” line. Setbacks built me into something bigger.