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Interview: Waasi

I started out at 15, just rapping here and there, but didn’t start releasing music until after I graduated High School. I got a little buzz and was like ‘I can get used to this'. I got comfortable. Until I started going out...”

We sit at a table in his living room discussing complacency. Weaving in and out of the various trial and error decisions one embarks as an artist; Waasi was on the brink of an epiphany.

Hailing from Charlottesville, Virginia, he’s been featured on Heir Wave Music’s Apple Radio playlist, performed various live shows bringing down the house, and released two notable projects: From Virginia With Love(2019) and No Love Lost(2021). The music is a plethora of showmanship - he displays versatility, originality, and homage to his many influences. But even with all the momentum, he’s still human. What’s captivating in our conversation is Waasi’s ability to circumvent his stagnation. In traveling to different settings and opening up his eyes to new contemplations, he’s ready to attack with his consistent energy. His anecdotes emit wisdom, auguring for his status to become even more prominent than it already is. Discussing everything from failure to long-awaited content, here is a sit down with Waasi.

B: Have you ever had a moment throughout your career where you contemplated quitting?

W: Probably when the pandemic first hit. When we went through that period when we weren’t able to do live shows - when I wasn’t able to get that reception, it made me really contemplate if I want to continue doing this. Everybody starts making music for themselves, but eventually, you put it out there and it gets received differently in different areas. Being able to get that energy and positive reception, turns it into something else.

Obviously, when the numbers get involved and when the people get involved, that’s when you start to question what’s the strategy going to be moving forward, but, I generally just love making music.

B: You love making music, but you do speak on the reception and it turns into something else, do you ever find yourself catering to what the audience wants? What’s best from a business standpoint?

W: When I’m going off Live sets, the songs people gravitate to I’m like, “Alright, that’s gonna be on the list for the next show”. When the homies say they want to hear me on something hard or sing, I’ll try that out. I haven’t really made a song with a TikTok in mind or anything like that, I generally just make music that I think is a good sound and would want to listen to.

B: What exactly is Waasi’s sound?

W: Can’t really put my finger on it. When you listen to my albums, every song sounds different. I’m always looking to be diverse. It can be frustrating because I always want my own sound - a signature sound. But I’m always pushing to make something new, something I haven’t made before.

B: How does that play into sequencing?

W: When I dropped From Virginia With Love, I wanted to start off rapping, straight bars, then transition into like, I’m singing - groovy funky stuff. After the interlude is where it slows down, there are some slow tracks, then it ends off on a high note - a really loud, singing joint. After every project, I record I have to listen to it in a certain way. Even after that, I’ll still run back to it later and listen to it in a different order. The transition after every song has to hit. The transition has to feel right.

B: Could you see yourself making a concept project?

W: I’m working on one right now. It’s one thing I haven’t done. If you know me, the type of person I am, when you hear my music you can get a feel for who I am; but, I haven’t put anything out letting people in one hundred percent.

B: Has there always been hesitancy?

W: For me, just dealing with life in general and the different sides of it, I’m looking at: this is what I could be doing, this is what I should be doing, and this is what I am doing. Figuring out how to line those things up so that I can get to what I want to be doing, ultimately. I was never at a point starting off where I was ready to let people in.

I started off young at either 15 or 16. I didn’t know who I was. I just wanted to make music that made people feel good. I got a little buzz. Honestly, I started to get comfortable. Then I started going out of my state to different cities and different shows. It got to the point where I wanted to go up and introduce myself to people, versus just hearing, “He’s dope”. I really want someone to walk away from my set knowing who I am. I’m 25 now, it feels like now it’s time. No more games. I’ve shown myself what I’m capable of in life and in music, so now it’s time to apply it to the game.

B: You mention getting comfortable, is complacency something you think about often? Is it a driving force?

W: I definitely run away from it now. During the pandemic, there was definitely that feeling of like, “Oh yeah, I can put out music, people will listen. I can put out content, people will engage.” But, I knew in the grand scheme of things, what I wanted was much bigger. That’s what made makes me feel so uncomfortable.

B: Was there a sobering moment?

W: Most definitely. It was when I went to this festival in North Carolina called Winter in the Carolinas. Everyone was doing their thing, NC has some heavy hitters. Being down there, out of everyone who performed, only one or two people knew who I was prior to my performance. It was a really humbling experience, but it was just a reminder that there was so much more work to be done.

B: Do you feel like the energy was different down there?

W: North Carolina’s pretty spread apart, but, when I went to the festival. You see Willmington out there. You see Durham is out there. You see Raliegh. Mad people came together, rocking with each other, there was no beef or competition. I know here in Virginia, we’ve gotten a lot better with it, but in history, we don’t really have that. We’re bridging those gaps though.

B: What are some collaborations you’ve seen that are an example of that?

W: That Pusha T and Al-Doms track. Virginia needed that, an up-and-comer with a cemented VA legend. Another example is the Richmond, VA battle rap league Southpaw battle Coalition and everything they're doing with having 757 artists come in. Back when you and I were coming up the 9 Pillars organization introduced us to Richmond artists like Sneeze, etc.

B: Do you ever feel that healthy competition?

W: Yeah, I think it’s cool. When you go to the NBA, most of the players are all homies. When their on the court, there’s that realization where it’s like, “Okay, this guy can take money out of my pocket”. But, when we are off the court it’s all love. I know when I look at somebody, they’re not necessarily in my way, but they want their platform and I want mine. I think the sport of hip-hop is necessary. It is a sport. You don’t have to compete, but you have to respect that.

B: So, how do you view the current climate in the rap game? In Virginia and in general.

W: I don’t think we’ll get back to a point where you see a bunch of Joeys, Earls, and Action Bronsons. People that were fans of like super competitive rap, I don’t think there are many of them left. Especially with COVID taking away concerts, and parties, we’re in a time where people just want to hear music that makes them feel good.

B: How do you currently navigate through this current climate?

W: I’m not a huge social media person. I post and make sure it’s of good quality because that’s what attracts fans, especially random ones. But I mean, I’m kinda old when it comes to still learn how to navigate that stuff. I’m more old-fashioned in the sense that I know performances are beneficial. You walk into a room of 20 people and that’s 20 new fans. I know you can get on TikTok and make a smash, but for longevity, you have to lay the groundwork with the people. I genuinely believe if people like you, just think you’re a good person, they’ll give in to your content. The current climate is weird now though. Like when were coming up, it was just Vine? Youtube?

B: Yeah, I feel like it was more of normality for people to listen to albums in chronological order back then.

W: Yeah, I know a lot of people who go into albums and press shuffle.

B: So, knowing a bit about how you sequence your streaming projects, how do you attack sequencing for Live sets?

W: It all depends on what the shows look like - the size, the crowd. I generally keep it similar to albums though - I like to start off heavy, get chill, then heaviness the rest of the set.

B: What are your most memorable sets?

W: I can give you the top three: From Virginia With Love, the album release party. The energy for that was just insane. Then a show in D.C., at this spot called Euphoria Healing and Wellness. I had no idea prior that people were there already rocking with my music. Then, the most recent show I did here at The Southern. The energy was on point

B: Worst?

W: I’m gonna take it way back to 2017, there was this basement show in Harrisonburg. For my set, there were like five people in the crowd and it was just the homies. It felt really awkward and weird, but, I realized I could just treat it like a dress rehearsal. Whether it be five people or a hundred people I have to give that energy.

B: What content can we look forward to?

W: (Jokingly) Well, I wasn’t supposed to say this because of the label but. Nah, I’m working on an album entitled, “MALC”. It’s an acronym for, "More Action, Less Complaints". Like I was saying earlier, I never really knew who I was, but, now my visions are clearer than ever. I’m gonna put some singles out here and there too. I have a single titled "Water that has a video attached to it. But I really just want that album to sound crazy, like every beat.

B: How does that go, when you’re working with producers? Do you already have a song in mind? Are you picky?

W: I’m like super picky. I even tried producing on my own, the hardest thing I ever picked up. I go to different producers for different sounds. My main producer is my homie Joseph Noah, he’s an artist as well. Our process is really different. He’ll hear something and be like, “I want you on this” and I’m like “Dog, I’m not there yet”. He pushes me to be as experimental as possible and try new things. He was the first person to teach me that I'm not always going to record something that I like. I used to look at being in the studio differently. I used to really try to get in there and knock the songs out because I'm spending money. Being older and having access to my own studio, I definitely don't feel that time constraint. I can be freer.

B: Lastly, what are the three most essential relationships you’ve had throughout this journey?

W: My relationship with myself. My relationship with my family. My relationship with my fans. Myself, keeping myself grounded, keeping myself hungry. During the pandemic years, I wasn’t hungry at all, but right now, I’m starving. My family, when I first started, not everyone was on board. My brother was always on board, he knew I’d be great. But my Moms, My Pops, I grew up in a really Christian home. Church every Sunday. So when I said I was gonna be a rapper it was kinda weird. You always start off not caring what everyone thinks, but, you have to care about certain people - family is that group of people. It definitely affected how I made my music, had to tone down some of the words. I still throw things in there here and there because it's Hip-Hop, but I had to take care of that. It’s easy to get so tunnel vision with music that I didn’t know Malcolm had to be a better son, better brother, and better uncle. I finally got things on track, and super healthy. But, that’s probably the most important relationship, family - friends, people I work with musically, they all fall into that category. Then, the fans. I have fans that consistently show up to my sets whom I never want to let down. People that want to see me excel, that help me excel. They play my music for their friends and pay money to come to see me. So I always want to make sure I’m showing them, love.

You can find Waasi on:

Written by: Bakari Kennedy

Instagram: @Therealbakari_

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