Goodfellas, Beatboxing, and Bacon Cheese Grits: My Interview With Pell

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By: Harrison Giza

Pell has it right. His flow is so palpable that each word he spits flies from the mic with Clark Kent-appeal. This is something unusual, seeing as most rappers worry about triplet-verses and hazy beats to slide by and stack racks.  Pell stands out. He tries to introduce parts of his identity and reveal what exactly goes on inside his mind to his listeners.

His latest effort, Floating While Dreaming, is as hypnotically-scalding as it’s beats make you feel. The guy can rhyme as well as the cover leads you to believe, and, if you’re a lyric lover like I am, you’ll be happy with Pell’s dynamic wordplay way into next year. The album is a menagerie of sound, ranging from soulful hooks to saxophone puffs of sweet delight. He can talk gang bangers, Swedish House Mafia, and Orleans bourbon while balancing women, his future, and first friendships at the same time.
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The quality of the record matches the promise of the cover. Pell goes through collaborations quicker than chicken heads, and each guest verse fits. On “SC2014,” Boldy James’ slow droll makes him sound like a drunk relative of Big Boi’s, contrasting Pell’s Chance-pepped pop perfectly. “Wait On Me” BANGS, and by the time you hit “The Never,” Floating While Dreaming has become a party album for the literate listener. Sure, it sounds like something all those twerked-up TURNTs could enjoy, but it’s made by a guy with a childhood aspiration to make it in hip-hop. Pell loves everything from Kanye to Fleet Foxes, and though the latter influence isn’t as present as the first, Pell is all about new sounds and ideas coming through headphones instead of money, hoes, and clothes.

After I listened to the album, I was hyped with expectation for what was next. A lot of new rappers don’t do that for me, not because I’m a hopeless critic who praises Eminem like he’s Jesus, but because hip-hop has become as predictable as religion has. Even with the new wave of experimentation the genre has been going through, half of the rappers trying to make it are cheap imitations of stale, unoriginal rhymesayers with no mind in their music.
I chatted with Pell about his life, the craziness of touring, and blogger D. Respect’s appreciation for him. No matter what question, his answers didn’t disappoint.
HG: Why does Floating While Dreaming start with Dollar Store?
P: Because that’s when my journey began as a full time artist. It was only fitting to show people a little bit about myself so they could become familiar with who “Pell” is.
HG: Tell me how you got into hip-hop. I know Late Registration made you want to pick up the mic, but what came before Kanye?
P: What came before Kanye.. I would say beatboxing. I used to beatbox at all the schools I attended as an adolescent and eventually started to think I could rhyme better than most of the people I made those beats for.
HG: Describe your perfect breakfast.
P: Green eggs and ham. But seriously, some bacon and cheese grits.
HG: How do you know when you’ve got a good line? How do you write?
P: I know I have a good line when I haven’t heard it before and it speaks to me as a person. I write differently depending on the environment and how much inspiration is flowing through me at the time. On a good day, I’ll call up my friend Staccs, go into the studio with him, and turn on Goodfellas or something intense and/or throwback. I’ll write about what I’m thinking right then and there.
HG: What is more important to you – the beat or the rhymes?
P: They are both equally important to me, but honestly, you can have an amazing beat with terrible lyrics. The production has always got to be on point. Its 9/10 always going to be the first thing you hear and gravitate to.
HG: Who are your favorite artists? Which ones have influenced you the most?
P: Vampire Weekend, Stevie Wonder, Lupe Fiasco, Gym Class Heroes, Kanye West, Crystal Skulls, N.E.R.D., Erykah Badu, Fleet Foxes, and Kid Cudi. I think that most of my style and influence lyrically comes from N.E.R.D. – and Erykah Badu at times. As far as sonically, I would say Kanye West meets Stevie Wonder.
HG: The cover for “Floating” is certainly eye-capturing. Whose idea was it? Where did the imagery come from?
P: The idea for floating while dreaming was an Idea sparked from visual artist Avery Nejam, who introduced me to the work of Natsumi Hayashi. Natsumi is known for her amazing levitation photos and we really thought that it was necessary for us to incorporate floating into the cover art. Avery and I had a photo shoot and captured the photo of me floating. She cropped it through a series of backgrounds and we arrived at the cover you see today.
HG: Where do you see yourself down the road? What does the future hold for Pell?
P: I see myself making a song for every moment, for everybody, and especially for myself. I see myself going into writing books, as well as screen plays. I’m going to extend myself to the culture as much as possible. Most importantly you’ll see the biggest dreams I’ve hidden from the world manifest in time.
HG: You have a better voice than most rappers usually do. Have you taken singing lessons? What is your musical background?
P: Thank you, thank you. I have actually never taken singing lessons up to this point. I played in different school bands from elementary all the way through high school. Special thanks to Mr. Russell! My mom used to write songs for Kwanza celebrations that we held when I was a child and she sung opera while in college.
HG: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on tour so far?
P: Ahh man! The story is really too long to explain in the depth that it deserves, but we got stranded in the desert one day for a couple of hours. The same day, after getting out of the desert, I was bestowed a huge amount of “baked goods” from a stripper for free. The combination made for a special day/night on tour and probably one of my highlights thus far. Go to my tumblr for the details (laughs).

HG: D Respect likes you. Does critical opinion matter to you?

P: I like Respect amongst other blogs that have shown love (OkayPlayer, Pigeons and Planes – to name a few) .Critical feedback is very important to me because it is usually used as extra fuel to ignite the fire that is sparking. I love it.
HG: To you, what makes a classic hip hop album? I bet you’re a Low End Theory kind of guy.
P: A classic hip hop album has to have honesty, catchy hooks, stories; a tad bit of fun and adventure, controversy, words to live by; and a couple of skits or breaks to let the listener know who the artist is within and without the booth.
HG:Where do you see hip-hop going? Five years from now, what does it look like?
P: I see it being very diverse and full of accessibility. It looks like me.
For more on Pell, CLICK HERE: http://pellyeah.com/
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