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Now Boarding Local Talent: How Populaire Booked a First-Class Flight to 612 Stardom

The question ‘What does MN Hip-Hop sound like?’ has been debated for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. So, what’s the answer?

The hell if I know...

However, if anyone can spot a regional sound, it’s globe-trotting MC Populaire, as he sets off on his trek to tackle the Twin Cities rap map.

Cutting through his terrain with heavy-trap beats, a silky-smooth cadence, and a thumping Houston draw, the 31-year-old delivers a unique Southwest flair to MN’s fast-rising Hip-Hop scene.

With his hidden gem EP, ‘Cheap Flights‘ dropping earlier this year, the St. Paul native looks to build off his swirling influence in the Minneapolis music scene, one discount plane ticket at a time…

How did your love of hip-hop manifest before you ever decide you want to make music?

Honestly, it was my Pops. He was a singer in a local band, so music was always a part of my life growing up. Between going to his studio sessions, rehearsals, and being put into a variety of different artists, music was always a huge part of my creative diet. I started inking lyrics when I was 10 years old; and as I got older, music became my most natural form of expression.

What role did music play in your upbringing?

I grew up in St. Paul on the fairgrounds near Como Avenue. I didn't travel much until I was a teenager. Though my dad put me into a lot of great music, one of my biggest hobbies was film. I just love movies altogether. I always loved old-school 80s action so Arnold Schwarzenegger is my guy. Growing up, I always wanted to explore the environments I saw in those films like California, Miami, New York, etc. Wherever I saw in a movie that wasn't my house, I had to fucking go there.

A lot of rappers have gone into acting and filmmaking. Is that something you would explore at any point?

Oh, for sure. My newest project, ‘Cheap Flights’ was actually inspired by the settings of my favorite flicks like Hawaii, California, Vegas, Miami, you name it. Exotic type shit, you know? That way you can attach a visual to my music. Every track has a certain vibe, and I was very intentional in curating a sound that put the listener on the west coast or really just anywhere luxurious or lavish. I definitely feel the director in me come out during my music videos. I really value creative direction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some professional videographer, but I've probably watched over 2000 movies, so I know a camera trick or two.

At what point would you say that you started to take music seriously?

When I was in high school, I got my first laptop and my little in-home studio. When I was 15, I swiped a little USB microphone from Radioshack. I downloaded a free recording program off YouTube, taped my microphone to this janky aluminum pole, and just started recording like crazy. It was great too because all my homies were following suit, so it pushed me to dive deeper into it myself. But I started taking him more so serious probably like six or seven years later like my mid-20s doing my first few shows and then on and off with this shit man but I had told myself at the age of 25 that I'm giving myself to the age of 30 to get somewhere with music or I'm gonna quit. I'm 31 now, and the energy I've felt over the past two years is unlike any I've felt before. It's more than a feeling.

What's your most obscure influence as an artist?

I get mad inspiration from anyone that lives their life in a way that's true to them no matter what society preaches. Throughout the time, I’ve drawn influence from figures from all walks of life. For example, Malcolm X: He was telling African-Americans essentially, “Don't let anybody punk you” pretty much you know, I'm saying like, Hey, we're gonna do what we need to do. We’re our own people!’. There are just certain people who have that mindset of doing what they want to do. I picked up on that hard. Fast forward to Nipsey Hussle: He jumped from hardcore street hustling into Hip-Hop. He just lived his fucking life. People like that who just do their thing no matter what, those are the influences that energize me the most.

What's one piece of technical advice that you would give your 15-year-old self to level up the quickest?

It's very simple: Do what feels natural. If it doesn't feel like you, scrap it. Music is a vibe, so if you're not feeling it, you can guarantee your listeners won't either. Make what you want to hear!

How do you go from when you first hear the right beat to the finished product?

My favorite thing to do with a hot beat or a track I’m playing with is to hop in my car, drive around, and just start finding the flows as I’m driving. There’s something about being on the road; it's almost like I'm on autopilot. Like I'm not even driving. I just hear the music and I just see the car moving, I hear the hook and I just might start off by humming or just thinking of something to say. Then I'll go word for word after that until I create just the hook and then once I've got the hook then I'm in there now it's just what I'm gonna rap about pertaining to the hook and that's how I write it. I'll brainstorm a whole track riding around all day while I'm at work put the headphones, write bars and try to remember them so later when it's time to hit the studio, I just lay it out like it’s nothing. From there, the song takes on a whole new life because once I hear my voice on that track, now I can add more layers and refine it even more. It's a hella fluid process and I love it.

What’s your ideal creative setup?

I try not to stockpile music, so whenever I’m feeling a beat, I try to get the song out as quickly as possible. There’s nothing more frustrating than forgetting a melody or flow because I didn’t take time to write it down in my notes or get it off in the studio. So when I find a beat that I instantly f**k with and just go to the studio while it's fresh on my mind. I feel like in the studio, some people are just in there all day without much of anything to show for it. I don't know if it’s because they can just sit and smoke weed and drink all day like it's like a party, who knows? But for me, I view it as going to work like I’m clocking in once the headphones are on. I don't even smoke like I'll be kicking people out of the studio for smoking. Plus it fucks with my voice. When it comes to finding that perfect creative setup, it’s all about experimenting to find what environment works best for you.

Do you remember your first time performing?

The first time I performed, I think that was cool because I went through this program called Afton where they set you up with a venue and they make it seem like you're the headliner of the show. They give you all the promo gear you know, like flyers, and tickets. It's great branding practice too because you have to sell tickets for your slot and you can sell them at whatever price point you want after you make the money for your slot. I just thought that was dope. I felt like a real artist at that point, selling myself, performing, etc. Plus the company cuts you like a little check afterward. I never actually cashed it though, I kept it as a little milestone for my musical journey.

What was your mindset right before you went onstage?

I was excited for sure. I was too excited because as soon as I started rapping my voice cracked! I had to take myself back like at that moment I was shaking my voice cracking and after that, I was kind of a roller coaster. I was no expert at first, so my stage performance was definitely amateur. I don't even think I looked at anybody, I just looked straight ahead at the back wall. That shit was definitely a confidence builder though. At the time, my confidence probably wasn't so high in terms of performance just cause it was so brand new to me at the time. After that first show though I grew way more comfortable and I've grown addicted to that rush. Performing goes crazy.

How would you describe your aesthetic as an artist?

I feel like I'm a perfect mix of everything that inspires me personally. Lifestyle rappers, storyteller rappers, and I kind of fit in right in between. I just make the shit I like to hear. Sometimes I'll go heavy into flexing and punchlines, while other times I lean more on the conscious side. What's interesting too is that two fans may fuck with the same exact track for completely different reasons. One may like the vibe while the other really resonates with your wordplay. That's the beauty of creating art. You pour your whole vibe into it and people create their own meaning from it.