By Cameron Hernandez
At just 23-year-old, Minneapolis rapper Graceland is already reinventing himself.
Kicking off his creative overhaul, Graceland(real name Rodney Jones), recently deleted all of his past music to make way for his self-titled debut album “G.R.A.C.E” set to drop September 30th.
With this newest soundscape, the Minneapolis native is slated to revamp an already promising Hip-Hop career, 4 bars at a time.
When I first met Graceland, I sensed his hunger immediately. Even in his first real interview, his eyes met mine with the soulful gaze of a hard-wired opportunist.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to "Graceland"…
So what spurred you to start fresh with this newest album?
So this whole project actually started as one song, but after leveling up my game and absorbing so many crucial lessons along the way, there was no way I could pack that energy into just one track; it was time to assert my command of the craft with a fully-fleshed-out body of work.
How did your love of hip-hop manifest before making music?
Growing up, my whole family played Hip-Hop. And because I always looked up to my dad, seeing him bump Gucci Mane and bopping his head, I knew right then that I wanted to create an experience like that for others, but in a way that only I could.
The first song I ever made though started with a kid daring me to make a song; it was garbage, but that was the start of it all. After I dropped that first song though, my boys were all still making music, so it was really just me rising to my environment. It was their passion for music that gave me the drive to dive deeper into it.
How has your sound evolved since you first started making music?
I actually didn't start liking my own music until recently. Not gonna lie, I battled a lot of insecurity starting out; to the point where all it would take was one person to f**k with a song to give me the courage to drop it. I love what I create now though, especially with how much energy I've given to this next phase of my sound.
Growing up, I bumped a lot of Chief Keef although I was never trying to sound like him; I just loved his energy. I will say though that Schoolboy Q is definitely someone I was actively working to emulate.
Most obscure influence?
Back in their early Soundcloud days, Lil Yachty and Lil Pump were huge for me. Some people say that they're trash but at the same time, there was something about that sort of rebellious, off-the-hip vibe that I really f***ed with. Being that they blew up on Soundcloud, I think a lot of it had to do with the accessibility of the medium.
What's your process for coming up with flows?
As a student of rap, one thing I‘ve noticed about a lot of rappers is that their flows are unconventional; they don't necessarily take pen to paper as much as they just throw on the beat and scat it out, mumble, find the melody and syllables. Once that sonic skeleton is laid out, all that’s left is to fill it in with lyrics; it’s like starting a puzzle that’s already half way done.
Once I get that first flow down, I go 4-6 bars at a time. I just play the beat one time, cause if I play it too many times, it'll start to rot in my mind creatively. Compared to my old methods of recording, it's laughable not only how much faster I create, but the heightened quality of the music.
What's an overlooked detail that separates an amateur beat from a professional beat?
Because I mix and master all of my music, one huge thing I've learned is the impact of panning your instruments! It seems simple, but making your music feel like it’s surrounding you as opposed to staring right in front of you is how you immerse the listener. It’s the difference between listening to the song, and being in the song. People don't realize how crucial it is to nail the details of any track. It's those producers that take time to perfect the minute elements that separate themselves from the pack.
In terms of writing, how do you approach building the song from the ground up?
You always start with the catchiest part, so the hook almost always comes first. Finding that is very much the process I laid out to you earlier where you're just scatting to find those flows you really like; then from there, it's all about dropping your deeper messages in the verse; verses are where you elaborate on the premise of the hook.
How did your relationship with WaterWaveTV come to be?
I remember when WaterWave first started blowing up, I sent y’all a big appreciation message cause I just loved what you guys were doing. I didn‘t even care if I got a response, I just had to express my appreciation for the vision y’all have for Minneapolis hip-hop.
How would you describe your relationship with performing?
Not that I didn’t like performing, but when I was starting out, it was difficult to get in the groove because the audience didn't always reciprocate the energy you feed off of, especially when you're starting out. The show I did at First Ave though was definitely my favorite. The atmosphere was so electric because nobody there cared about status, clout, anything like that. In that environment, it was easy for me to believe in my sound, and back my music. That show built a lot of confidence for me, as not long after, I had my first paid show at the U of M. Getting paid to perform was huge because it showed me that even though I had a long way to go, I was doing something right.
Do you remember your first time on stage?
So my first real show was back in 2014 at The Depot. At the time, this guy named Max Taylor threw shows every weekend there. I was always tapped into local venues trying to get a spot. Low and behold, I got the opportunity to slide, and I was hype. What's funny is that my homies pulled up to show me some love which seems like great idea, right?
If you've been to rap shows though, you know that the crowd will sometimes throw water if the show's really banging. So my boys had the bright idea to get a ton of water bottles to toss when I performed. There was only one problem: The bottles were frozen solid. I remember I was up next and I was nervous as hell! Being it was my first perfornance, when they finally called my name to go on, I didn’t even think to introduce myself to warm up the crowd. Instead, I immediately told to the DJ to play my track, it comes on, and I just started going. As I'm performing for my very first time on stage, my homies start not throwing but chucking chunks of solid ice right in the crowd's face! It was sh**show: Girls’ makeup is running, dudes are jeering at me like I'm the one who did it! No joke, there was 30-40 people who walked out while I was still on stage. What's crazy is I didn't realize why until after when my boys came up to me like they did something, like yeah bro thanks for hail-storming the crowd(laughs). At the end of the day, it’s a great story and I was just thrilled to have gotten on stage for the first time.
When in high school, at what point did rap go from a hobby to a full-time career?
When I saw how Russ did it: The way he plotted out his releases and approached music with a true business mindset. Through Russ’ model, it fueled me to properly attack how I built my brand in a way that fosters value. connections. Shoutout to Youtube university! In terms of people, it's not about who you know, it's about who knows you!
What's your dream collaboration?
Lil Uzi, Future, Young Thug, and Ye; that's my Mount Rushmore. Also, Baby Keem too! Keem’s crazy because can be saying nothing, but he just knows how to make it hit; to know the game at such a young age, he’s actually a genius. I just f**k with his ‘student of the game’ mentality.
Is there a trend in today's Hip-Hop that frustrates you?
No disrespect, but trend-chasing is pretty pitiful in my opinion. Like no hate to the guys doing it, we all gotta eat some way. I'd just much rather fill up on steak than Cheetos.
Describe to me your ideal creative setup?
Comfortability is key. I'd prefer not to be in the studio just cause I'm so stringent on the vibe. The environment has to be both intimate yet open so I can create with full fluidity. Simply put, the vibe is everything.
Is there a certain quality that you look for in a collaborator?
First and foremost, you have to be taking your music as seriously as I do. If I don't think it'll be worth my time, you're paying me for it. I'll work without pay for hours with someone who's about it, cause the energy they're putting in is justifying my time; but only then. If you're serious about doing anything great, you’ve gotta master your time and energy. Everything in life is an exchange.
What's the most valuable 'L' you've taken in your career?
Throwing money at bullsh*t trends, trying to ‘get rich quick’ basically. A lot of that just comes from being young, naive, lacking experience, and just being raw in the game; you either win or you learn, and I learned a lot.
Two pieces of advice, one technical, one mindset:
The more time you spent working on something, the quicker you'll get there. Whatever you focus on expands! Just create. No preconceived notions, just make it, refine it, release it, and keep moving. If it hits, it hits; if it's garbage, on to the next.
Even the best artists will hit the studio for hours, make 10 songs, and you'll maybe ever hear only 2 of those tracks; they only remember the hits! The beauty of recording music is you get as many takes as you need to get it right.
Where do you see yourself fitting into the Minneapolis hip-hop scene?
All business, no handouts. Because my craft speaks for itself, I'm not thirsty for clout or status. I'm not trying to f**k anyone over, rather I simply reciprocate the energy I'm given.
Do you have a specific vision for the rest of 2021?
Album dropping on Sept. 30th, that's the first strike to put listeners on alert. After that, I've got multiple projects in the works with a variety of local hip-hop talent. Honestly, my music slate is backed up for months, I just can't wait.
What's your mission statement for your newest project?
Supreme quality and versatility. Like any great album, I'm taking you on a multi-faceted trip through my unique creative palette.
With a rock-solid foundation and an accelerated work rate, “Graceland” may well be the rare construction project that finishes ahead of schedule…
”G.R.A.C.E" drops today on all platforms.
For fresh content every day covering all your Minnesota Hip-Hop needs, be sure to follow WaterWaveTV on Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube!