They say that the person you become is a combination of everything you’ve experienced and been exposed to. It’s the whole notion of being a “product of your environment” and in a lot of ways it’s very accurate. But what happens when you start to grow beyond what your environment dictates? What happens when you seek experiences outside of your comfort zone? What becomes of a boy from the Low End of Chicago’s South Side when you expose him to art, classic literature, and hip hop? That young boy grows up to be super emcee, PREZ.
This Ain’t That had the opportunity to catch up PREZ and discuss everything from his love of Chicago, his addiction to Nikes, and his Wu-Tang name.
ThisAintThat: How has being from Chicago, a city known for sports, cold weather, violence, and architectural landmarks, shaped your art?
PREZ: Its funny you’d mention that because I think that is what defines us as Chicago artists. We as Chicagoans and as artists are influenced by so many different things and that is reflected in our music and our persona. We cover so much ground…when you have artists like Common, Ye, Lupe and young guys like Chance on one end and Twista, Keef and Lou on the other, all from the same city, it shows the versatility and the impact that being exposed to all those different things had on all of us. Yet and still one thing that is consistent is every last one of those artists has an edge and that’s that Chicago “I don’t give a fuck” move that most of us have. Me personally, I’d like to think of myself as a proper mixture of all of those things because that’s what I saw…I mean my moms is an artist, I played sports, I had heavy exposure and was influenced by several different things. Although I’m not a violent dude, I was raised in two of the most dangerous areas in Chicago (Roseland & the low end off 47th street) but I was raised in a two parent household with parents that had enough sense to show me different things and travel and show me that although I may see violence everyday, there was more out there. That has made me a better artist and more importantly a better person overall.
T.A.T.: Chicago is a city rich in history in all genres and categories of art and entertainment. There’s no doubt that the city has had an impact on the country. But we’re also a city that adopts trends and sort of make them our own. How do you balance the authentic Chicago energy with the adoption of pop culture?
PREZ: We’re in the middle of the map, so I think it’s natural for us to be influenced by things around us…I was a west coast music fan heavy when I was young and that was just what I was into. I heard it and dug it. At the same time, we very much so have our own identity and we are trend setters as well. The balance is natural because we aren’t influenced by any outsiders more than we are by our own. Like, growing up you had dudes that were into east coast music that would try to do that east coast accent thing but when you’re into something heavy like that than you sort of adopt that steez. I’m sure it’s like that in a lot of places. Also, remember we weren’t exactly poppin in the music scene in the 90’s/early 2000’s…now that we have a strong presence, you hear “Thot, this and hitta that” which is dope and I honor those who use it that aren’t from here just of GP…But we been doing that, it just wasn’t recognized on a national scale before.
T.A.T.:What’s your favorite Chicago neighborhood? Why?
PREZ: My hood, what is now called “Bronzeville” that’s home, I have tremendous memories of my home and that place in general. It’s come a long way and I’m proud to say I resided there and witnessed the growth.
T.A.T.:You are a pretty active shoe collector. What shoe would you say best represents you as an artist?
PREZ: OG 7 “Hare” because it’s an original “Mike” it’s super rare and it’s an instant classic. I’m all of those things…original, rare and classic!
T.A.T.:What pair of shoes would you trade one of your rap notebooks for?
PREZ: Those…I need my points if you put it on wax though
T.A.T.:In the last few years, we’ve seen quite a few “supergroups” forming in music – whether they’re putting out one-off projects or multiple albums. We’ve seen Phonte and Nicolay as The Foreign Exchange, Guilty Simpson/Apollo Brown, Evidence/The Alchemist, Nas/Damien Marley, and of course Kweli and Mos Def as Black Star. If you could put together your own supergroup (with another emcee, producer, singer…anything), what would that look like?
PREZ: Me…DJ Premier, Pharrel, Bangladesh and Badu. All I need is beats and a songstress…no rappers, I need all that. Premo for that rugged yet classic feel, Skateboard for that bounce and that super creative look, Bang for his uniqueness and heavy sound and EB for that soul and her 1 of a kind voice.
T.A.T.:What would you say your was your favorite era of music?
PREZ: Late 90’s, early 2000’s. Even though I was still pretty young, I can recall witnessing Pac and BIG and actually seeing Pac’s evolution as an artist…different phases and witnessing his influence reach incredible heights. I feel that without a doubt Pac was one of the most influential artists of all time and that go’s for any genre, definitely not just hip -hop. Then I feel like Biggie kind of took lyricism to a different level, he was so mean with the bars and creatively untouched in my opinion.Then in the midst of that you had; Nas, Jay, Wu Tang, Snoop, Dogg Pound, Outkast, Mobb Deep, Big L, Busta, Big Pun 8 Ball & MJG and the list just fuckin go’s on…then late 90’s/early 2000’s you had Cash Money, No Limit, Dip Set, Kanye, 50 and mind you artists like Jay and Nas had become like rap titans by that time. I think once a lot of artists started to go for that “hit” or that “radio sound” and things began getting stale, recycled and watered down is when hip-hop lost some of its magic. I think now you are seeing more artists today being comfortable with just being themselves and not necessarily following a cookie cutter “rapper guy” image and that can only help the culture as a whole.
T.A.T.:What would your Wu-Tang Clan name be?
PREZ: Lol…damn, you know them boys had about 10 names a piece but one of my Wu names would be Izm. I just always liked that…we all have our “isms” and what not. I guess.
T.A.T.:Are you more motivated when you hear a terrible rap song or something that’s really dope?
PREZ: Definitely something really dope. There are certain artists that you hear material from and it motivates you to write…like, wait “I do this to” as an artist I would love to be that guy. The guy that motivates people in that regard and challenges them to do better. There were and are artists that have done that for me. As far as “terrible” I try to not be as judgmental as when I was younger…not saying my taste level has changed, I just think I’m more accepting of certain things now.
T.A.T.:What projects are you working on now?
PREZ: [I'm working on] PREZidential: 2nd Term. I’m super excited about it. It shows growth, versatility and I think people will enjoy it. Should definitely make some noise out here. I just feel like it represents me well as an artist, I don’t think there is necessarily a box you can put me in…I mean I have deep hip hop roots and it shows but I also like to have fun with the bars and just talk shit. I don’t think I use the same rhyme pattern on two different songs on the entire joint, I pride myself on my flow more than my words in some cases because delivery is very key to me. Like, you can have two rappers say the same thing and the impact on a listener be totally different based on how they deliver it…I want to touch people’s soul…give them chills when they they tune in. I can’t wait to hear the response!
Prez – Memoirs II (Walk With Me)
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