For any Hip-Hop fan yet to hear Black Cobain you are in luck, this talented up and coming rapper from Virginia has just released his new mixtape Cheers and comes highly recommended. Clearly considered and articulate, Black Cobain discusses his love for Europe, the importance of touring and his dislike of being tagged as a 'conscious rapper' during this exclusive interview.
Black Cobain was the first artist signed to Wale and Le'Greg O. Harrisons' The Board Administration and has since created a buzz around the rap world with his meaningful lyrics and infectious flow. He has already reached Europe in the Mark Ronson production Carbon Life at London's Royal Opera House and is evidently building a profound fan base both sides of the Atlantic. Wale's protege seems to have the talent and indeed the determination to ensure a long and successful career in the music industry.
You go by the name Black Cobain, how did you adopt this name and is it inspired by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain?
My uncle and I were very close when I was a child. He called me Black as a nickname and introduced me to all genres of music even alternative and rock music. This is how I became familiar with the likes of Nirvana, Green Day, No Doubt etc.
I became the ultimate fan of Kurt Cobain when I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit. He was a passionate artist with an emotionally engaging performance. His performance was very natural, organic. He had a lot of depth in that era of music and coming up in a rough situation made me genuinely connect. I could relate to his pain.
I altered my childhood nickname by adding Cobain at the end to come up with my emcee moniker. The name choice was an ode to both my uncle and Kurt. I want to be the type of Artist that Cobain was: real, raw, and believable.
You attended University, right? So at which point did you realize that rap was a realistic career path for you?
I attended VSU, Virginia State University, home of the Mighty Trojans. I always believed in my artistry, just wasn't sure when I would fully commit to just doing music versus working a 9-5.
After graduating college, I worked with at-risk youth back home at The Boys & Girls Club and really liked the environment because I was able to be a source of positivity and mentor young men who really didn’t have many positive people, especially Black men in their lives. It was actually rewarding work in that sense, although it didn’t pay much. I maintained it though because it allowed me the freedom to be an artist and still work at growing my brand.
I knew I had to commit to being a full time artist when it was the only thing that consumed and engaged me. My mind, body, and all my faculties ached when music was not involved. Any break, like going to work with the kids, made me crazy because I was distracted from what I really wanted to do. It was like nothing outside of music was a good fit any more. And the ironic part is that the youth encouraged me to follow my dream. They wanted to see me succeed just as much as I wanted to see them succeed. Leaving work was bitter-sweet for that very reason. I miss the youngins' but the universe was calling me to spread my wings and fly.
Your debut mixtape, Now or Never, dropped in 2009 and that was followed by Now, and most recently Young, Gifted and Black. Do you feel your music has developed or matured during the last three years?
I've matured significantly in the last three years. Hell, I've grown since yesterday. True story. Each day is a new opportunity for me to become a better more evolved me. Now that I'm fully focused and in a zone I'm conscious of many things that were unknown to me in years prior. I spent the last three years being a student of the game, observing, learning, and working. All of these things are translated into my music.
How I live from day to day and the things that are in my immediate reach are truly the things I rap about. It’s all fact, not fiction. If I say it, it really happened. I came from a not so grand situation coming up and I'm out here hustling this rap thing to turn all the bitter I've seen into sweet. I’ve lost friends and family to the streets, drugs, prison, and the lure of having more: that something we all want coming up in the hood. My music is a culmination of everything I've lived from past to present. God willing each day will be better than the last. Being a constant student and learner is the path to mastery. I hope my music shows a more evolved me each time someone hears a new offering.
You are signed to Wale's The Board Administration. How did you meet Wale and when did you hear he wanted to sign you?
We were long-time friends, frat brothers, and he acted as a mentor to me. In a nutshell, he took a chance on me while many people doubted me. Greg took me under his wings, told me he believed in me and assured me we would go the distance. I had full confidence in his ability because of his professional success in brand management, development, and marketing at Apple Bottoms, Live Mechanics, Nuvo, and with Ralph [Wale].
Him and Ralph put their brains together, started BOA, The Board Administration, and from there I signed as there first official act. But let me be clear in saying I worked my ass off for years, literal years, before Ralph even considered collaborating with me. Both of them are huge on artist development and have the-work-before-you-receive-decree down to an absolute science. I came into the situation knowing from day one that Ralph might not ever do a song with me and it served as a great source of inspiration for me to work at becoming better.
You toured with Wale last year on his More About Nothing Tour, did you learn a lot whilst touring with him? How was the experience?
I did some spot dates on the More About Nothing Tour but the bulk of my touring experience came from his Ambition Tour where I was officially included on the roster as his opening act. Thankfully, Greg, had been prepping me for tour for a while, so I could jump right into the swing of things without a hitch. Once on tour I jumped immediately into No Days Off at full speed. I thought things moved fast before then, but now know otherwise.
Ralph has an incredible work ethic. We have a No Days Off Philosophy at BOA which means we basically work all day every day because that type of dedication is destined to win.
Touring showed me the type of impact an artist can have on people, a very humbling aspect of being a performer. It also showed me the huge sacrifices necessary to reach a certain level of success. The bigger you become as an artist, the less time you have for yourself. All things being placed under consideration, I am very thankful and grateful to Ralph, Greg, Rich, and everyone that made me one step closer to my dream. Touring was and is a priceless experience.
Were there any stand out moments whilst you were touring that made you think, “Wow! This is really what you want to be doing”?
There’s a YouTube video where we rocked a crowd in the Midwest, I believe somewhere in Michigan. It was a defining moment for me. The crowd knew my full lyrics, my name, and cheered for me like they were happy to be there and happy to see me perform. It brought a euphoric feeling to me had me almost in the state of tears while performing.
What projects do you have coming up in the near future?
I just released Cheers so I want to focus on reaching more people with this mixtape before I start the next project. In the meantime, I will be collaborating with other artist and touring. I’m told an audio version of the Carbon Life Royal Ballet Production is in the works so that will be dope. Also there are a few situations in talks right now, that I can't really touch on, but if folks follow me they will be able to see what's going on.
You've gained a reputation as a conscious rapper. What inspires you to take this direction when writing music?
I honestly don’t like labels! It’s just because at any given moment in my life I may be feeling different and it may potentially be brought to life through my music. I don’t want to be placed in any specific box, yes I have lyrics that motivate, but then there are others that are not so motivational.
The things I rap about are what I see, what I know, what I've lived and what I hope for. My delivery approach is trying to reach people in the best way I know how and on the level that’s comfortable for Black.
Music is an art form that will evolve if an individual is receptive to it. I look at people like Cee-Lo Green and remember his days with Goodie Mob and see how he’s manifested. I just want to be great. That’s the type of growth and the only label I'm seeking.
I first heard your music in the UK on that Low End (Freestyle). Your energy and flow stood out straight away, it was dope! Who are your musical influences and why?
Thank you for those incredibly kind words! Bob Marley was the epitome of dope. He gave reggae universal appeal. A few of my favourite Marley tracks are Exodus and Jammin. The Marley lesson is that it’s OK to be different and in due time people will see beyond those differences. Michael Jackson was legendary. He was the pop culture superstar of my childhood. I wanted to be him. We all had the red leather jackets and the glove joint to perfect moonwalking. MJ had the full package. He could sing and dance and made the most epic music videos to date. He was a trendsetter and innovator. The MJ lesson is that some people are naturally gifted and still work hard to become better. He gave his all to the very end.
Tupac was the renaissance man of my era. He was articulate and an intellectual far beyond conventional terms and simply misunderstood. His writing mechanics, poetry, prose, lyricism, and all things Tupac were infectious. The Tupac lesson is to be comfortable in your own skin no matter what. To me that's a priceless lesson given all the bs society has to offer.
Kanye West is the perfect illustration of talent and hard work paying off and is in many regards a musical genius within his own rights. The thing I love about Kanye as a person is that he’s beautifully human and real. Real people say real things and sometimes they aren't rosy things. On a musical level he’s musical androgyny, the best of both worlds: a producer, an artist, a cinematographer, just an overall well rounded n*gga. Sorry to take the interview to that level! The West lesson is that hard work and perseverance are the building blocks of success and that people with money are still people with feelings nonetheless.
If you could collab with three musicians from any genre dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Kurt Cobain, need I say more? Erykah Badu, she’s on that next level Optimus Prime shit. She’s a dope collabo every time she laces a track with someone. I need that Badu in my life real soon [laughs].
Biggie was a breath of fresh air for Hip-Hop, an innovator, and certified real n*gga. But seriously, he was the ultimate storyteller of my generation and had a realness and sincerity like no other. Me being from the East Coast, I really related to Biggie and the things he saw coming up were not very different from those I saw right in my very own hood.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment in the music industry thus far?
My biggest accomplishment, up until a month ago, was that my reputation was established as one of the “most toured” emerging acts. No other up and coming acts have toured domestically as much as me. But my most recent accomplishment is the work I was able to do in the United Kingdom, your home turf. It was the most exhilarating experience, that’s a coming to America movie quote! Anyway, sorry to digress. I was privileged to participate in the Mark Ronson Royal Ballet Production, Carbon Life as the lone rapper alongside singers Boy George, Hero Fisher, Alison Mosshart, Jonathan Pierce and Mr. Wyatt. The experience cannot be summed in words, it leaves me with a chill every time I think about it. It was the dopest shit of my life to date and a whole new source of inspiration for me. London and Europe in its entirety are fly. The culture, the people, the experience, and overall welcoming of Black Cobain was an experience of epic proportions.
Are there any plans to return to Europe soon?
Yes, as soon as you will have me!
We will certainly look forward to that! Finally, is there anything you would like to say to our readers?
I’m humbled by all the love I received during my time in Europe and plan to return very soon. In the meantime, I will continue to make music and hope they continue to listen or start if this is their first introduction to Black Cobain.
I named my latest mixtape, Cheers, before I even knew I’d be in Europe and while there learned the significance of Cheerio/Cheers. It is a way to say thank you, a gesture of gratitude and thankfulness, a way to say hello or goodbye, and a gesture of overall good vibrations. This made me feel like I made a great decision in naming the effort Cheers, but most importantly convinced me that everything truly happens for a reason and I was supposed to be there. I hope everyone reading will download Cheers and will continue to look for new music from me. I also want to encourage them to follow me on Twitter because I shout out my overseas friends all the time and it motivates me to know they’re there for me. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me and for even giving me consideration.
Check out Black Cobain using the details below and be sure to go get Cheers.
Visit me on Twitter @BlackCobain, Facebook at www.facebook.com/blackcobain,
YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/blackcobainofficial and www.blackcobain.com or www.theboardadministration.com.
- By J David