“At first I looked at it [making music] as something I did for fun, but now I’m trying to get serious,” musician Roe explained. “I had to look at it how I looked at everything else: I have to invest in it, I have to work hard at it. If I don’t, I won’t get anything out of it.” On September 2, the 23 year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan native will be releasing his first official mixtape titled Fighting Demons and is holding the listening party on September 9. Roe spoke on the importance of building a following within your own hometown, the relationship between he and his producer and the type of commitment toward his craft necessary to make quality music.
You said you’ve been rapping since you were five years-old, but what took you so long to truly become invested in it?
Life. It’s hard to do this music stuff— it takes a lot. You have to have an image, you have to have the money to rack up an image, your music has to be about what you’re living and what you’re doing. I feel like I got to the point where I was doing and living the things that I wanted to rap about—well, not that I wanted to rap about, but things that fit into my life perfectly at the time— and I had the money to back it up at the time.
What have been some of the biggest challenges, but also some of the best things you’ve taken away from making the project?
It’s hard for me to make party music because it’s easier for me to rap about the things I do more often. I really don’t party. I might go out and have fun or something every now and then, but it’s hard to rap about that because I probably go out once a month. You don’t wanna get dressed and pop bottles and there’s no VIP, you know? You really can’t do none of that here so I really don’t rap about that. I’m not saying I rap to my city, but I want them to relate to me, because they’re going through the same thing. That’s one of my challenges, is making more music for more people because I feel like with the type of music I make, only one crowd of people are going to listen to it.
How has Grand Rapids shaped your vision as a musician?
It makes me want to go harder because there’s nothing here, and the people who are here aren’t doing anything with their talents. I want to open up a way to take off and put Grand Rapids on the map— not just for my type of music, but for music, period, and make other people able to come through. I want to give Grand Rapids a vision, like, ‘Oh, you’re from Grand Rapids? Let’s see who else over there.’ You know?
Do you feel like Grand Rapids has been a valuable place for you to make music?
There’s nothing like home. I mean, I go a lot of places like California, I be in Texas, I be in Atlanta, and I’m pushing my music out there also. But if you can’t take over your own city with your music, if your hometown not gone support you, nine out of ten times, nobody else will. You have to have a following here first, so that’s my main goal.
Was your producer making the beats alongside of you making your raps or were the beats already made?
This is how our studio sessions start off: I go in, smoke for a minute, we [my producer and I] talk, then he starts [a beat] from scratch. We’ll be in the studio all day from ten in the morning until eight at night just to do one song and if I don’t like the beat, we just make another one. But if I find something that catches my attention, I’ll rap, figure out the chorus, freestyle. Then before the night is over, sometimes we’ll make another beat so that when I leave, I can think of a chorus and I’ll have something to start with when I come back.
For the month that it took you to make the mixtape, how long would you say you were in the studio for?
Over eight hours for every day that I was in the studio. All day, from the time he wakes up, to the time I’m finished or that I’m tired and we have to come back the next day. Some days I’m there from the morning to night and we don’t even finish a song. Like yesterday, I was there from ten in the morning ‘till ten at night and didn’t even finish the song, and I probably made eight bars. I’m like bro, just let me go home, sleep on it, then come back tomorrow and get to it. But just as long as I get in there and start something, I can come back and finish it.
But I realized that when I write my music, it takes away [from the creativity]. I can rap something I have written and to me, it sounds written, but when I freestyle I never know what I might say or how I might switch it up. I feel like it’s better when I freestyle because it feels more natural.
What’s the relationship between you and your producer? How do you two work together? Because you two are together all day is there any conflict? How does your chemistry come into play?
Nah. Once he gets his money, he’s straight. He has other artists calling him all day and he just sends them to voicemail. He does that because I pay him for the whole mixtape, whereas other artists will pay him track, by track, by track. He just wants to get me out of the way.
At first he wasn’t like that. He didn’t think I was taking him serious so he was treating me like [other artists he has worked with]. I did a previous mixtape with my brother and I wasn’t taking it serious then. But when I came to bro and was like, ‘I’m gonna pay you and go to work,’ then he started taking me serious.
But you right though, you have to have a connection [with your producer]. I try to keep him happy. If he need some cigarettes or something, I’m like, ‘Bro I got you.’ He don’t smoke as much as me— I be smoking back to back and he don’t smoke or drink. He just want his cigarettes. I get him his cigarettes and we good. And then we’re the same age. He’s young so that’s me helping him produce [more]. I did a song with the Detroit artist Lonnie Bands from BandGang and I brought him to the studio I go to with my producer. He introduced my producer to RJ Lamont to make beats for him, so now he go up there to make beats for him all the time. That’s another connection. So we’re helping each other and as long as we keep working, it’ll keep getting better.
When you started making music seriously, what did you find was the type of mentality and discipline you needed to really make good music and push your music?
I need to focus. I need to be in the studio at all times because if I’m not, I get distracted and I’ll just skip going to the studio. And another thing is that when I was in the studio, my producer always had a lot of people around. It’s been better lately, but at first it was hard knowing that I freestyle a lot in my raps. I don’t know who’s with who and I don’t wanna rap about money and jewelry and stuff, and I’m in the studio with $3,000 in my pocket, you know? It makes me hesitant on what I want to rap about and that throws me off a lot, so I had to get that out of the way: no more. I don’t even like my homeboys there sometimes because they’re so judgmental. My producer will be making me a beat and they’ll be like, ‘That beat whack, turn that off,’ and it’s something that I like. That’s something I had to learn: when we’re there, it just needs to be me and my producer, or people who’re just gonna shut up and sit down. So now I have to really isolate myself from people when I’m trying to work. At first I looked at it [making music] as something I did for fun, but now I’m trying to get serious. I had to look at it how I looked at everything else: I have to invest in it, I have to work hard at it. If I don’t, I won’t get anything out of it.
On September 2, Roe's project Fighting Demons will be available on music streaming platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify.