Being real as fuck is something that is harder to come by than some may expect, and is a quality I totally appreciate in a person. Luckily, I had the chance to interview L.A. rapper Speak! who has no problem being honest whether be through his music, Twitter, or just in regular conversation. I was thoroughly impressed by this guy’s intellect, honesty, and overall swag. Ultimately, Speak! is a really insightful dude and his rap skills are crazy! Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.
- Mary Rachel Kostreva
For those who don’t already know – can you tell us a little about yourself? Who is Speak! and what are you all about?
My name is Speak! I’m a rapper and an artist. I’m just a busybody, I guess, who happens to rap and make music. I’m a Pisces, I enjoy long walks on the beach. I like iced coffee, cigarettes, copious amounts of weed, being creative, and working. [laughs] This is starting to sound like a date thing… I’m from southern California. My mom is from the Middle East, my dad is from Mexico. I’m just an artist – and my goal has kind of been to create without having to get a real job, you know?
You’ve described before that your creative endeavors extend beyond what you do as a rapper – besides getting your music out there what else have you been working on lately?
Well besides working on projects, I ghostwrite for major artists, I paint, and I started working on a pilot for a television show I’m trying to develop. I just try and stay busy. I’ve written guest columns for numerous publications. I actually did freelance boxing writing for a minute because I’m an avid boxing fan. [laughs] No one knows that but yeah, I consider myself more than a rapper, I write too. I’ve always had a way with words since I was a little kid. Recently I’ve been kind of getting into designing stuff with my friend from the East coast who did my album artwork. We’re kind of plotting to make really weird designs for t-shirts and stuff like that, not typical merchandise.
What was your process like in creating your last mixtape Inside Out Boy? (Download)
Well, I had reached out to Syd from Odd Future who does all the mixing and mastering for all their projects. I had always liked the lo-fi, gritty, echoey, and hollow sound of their music so I started writing these songs. It was such a fucking depressing time. I wasn’t working, I was doing a bunch of drugs, and staying on my friend’s couch and stuff but Syd kind of took a chance on me. Odd Future was getting attention at this time but it was before everything got super crazy, so she fit me into her schedule and I would go over to her spot on Mondays, usually, and I would record and work on the album. It was good, it was kind of like a venting process. I don’t think it’s a depressing album but I think it’s like a Polaroid I guess. It kind of reflected that moment in time – so there’s a lot of satire, a lot of loathing, and bitching and complaining, but there’s a lot of humor involved in it as well because everything is funny to me. Even when I’m at my lowest I find something to laugh about or find a way to mock it. I’m constantly mocking not only everything I see around me, but myself as well. So recording the mixtape was more like therapy because I was like fuck… I’m in my 20s, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a back up plan, I can’t go home, I’m not in school, I don’t want to work a job, and no one is paying attention to my music. I don’t want to say it was a back against the wall kind of thing, but I just closed my eyes and made the most honest music I could and people responded well to it. I found that a lot of people related to it, which is weird. I mean it’s not weird, but it was weird that people related to my story in particular.
Yeah, it’s more rewarding than anything else you can get as a creative person, just to have people respond to your work like that.
Yeah absolutely, more so than any trophy, paychecks, or anything, to have people respond and be like “yo, I relate” and it means something to me too is kind of like wow, really? So yeah while I was recording there I met like Mike G, Matt Martians, Odd Future and stuff and just started working more with them too on a creative level. For the first time in my life I felt like alright, I’m not this kid who’s on like fucking on drugs, depressed, and alone. I didn’t feel alone, you know? I really clicked with Syd and Matt and I figured out we’re a lot alike in that regard so creating an album, even though some of those songs are whiney, complainy, and kind of sad – that was the most fun I had recording because there were no restrictions. I had never been in a creative atmosphere like that where there’s no wrong answer. Just go in the booth and see what you do – and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t but that creative fearlessness made me feel like I can do anything.
You shout out things like art goon, trill wave, and pizza wave a lot in your music. For those who don’t already know – can you explain what all these terms mean?
Well art goon was just a term that me and my homeboys from back home came up with because, without being too incriminating, it just means being a goon – handling your shit but still being creative. Like, my roommate – my best friends back home were like you’re a fucking street dude – you know what I mean? They were like doing shit. We were just young knuckleheads running around the city doing things that a lot of people consider unacceptable but at the same time, through it all, where we were living in Moreno Valley – our house was like a gallery. My friends would design clothing, they were painting people’s walls, we were painting murals. So we were like OK, we’re thugged out, but at the end of the day you come home, you smoke your weed, and you fucking create something. So it was kind of the term that me and my friends came up with to describe our very creative tendencies.
And trill wave actually came mocking the genre chill wave, you know all that really weird lo-fi sounding music [laughs]. I mean like that shit is really cool. We would smoke out and listen to that shit and we’d be like fuck that, we do TRILL wave because we make fucking rap music. Trill wave – true and real music. The thing is that’s been the name of my publishing company for a minute and all my royalties go to Trill Wave Music. So the funny thing is that now all of a sudden people like ASAP Rocky and Spaceghost Purrrp started exploding on the national scene and their music is more Southern oriented, you know like Texas trill or Florida type music, so everyone started calling their shit trill wave. So like if you’re making throw back southern music you’re making trill wave but to us that’s never really what it meant. It meant you’re making music and art that’s true and real to yourself.
And the pizza wave shit just basically came from me, Matt Martians, Syd, and our song writing, because you know we were working on music together and writing songs for people and we just referred to ourselves as pizza wave because everyone likes pizza, you feel me? And everyone’s gonna like our shit, but it’s kind of taken on a new meaning now. I can’t talk about too much but it’s going to be something.
Recently you recorded and shot a video for “Deez Bitchez Rollin” with Juicy J and Spaceghost Purrp. Was it a surreal experience to work with a hip hop legend like Juicy J?
That shit tight! It was tight because I was in Miami working on some stuff with Timbaland, and that really wasn’t the best experience, you know? So in between sessions, Spaceghost Purrrp lives in Miami and he hit me up and was like “Hey, Juicy J is in town. Lets go hang out and like smoke weed and talk and just chill with a legend.” So we go there and we hang out and we’re just smoking weed, drinkin’, eaten wings and shit and he’s like oh you want to go in the studio? And we’re like yeah – it was just so random. So we ended up going to a studio in South Beach which is owned by Pharrell and it’s in the bottom of this old hotel and that’s where we recorded. We just did it within a couple of hours and he had a guy always shooting with him so he was like “Yo lets just shoot something” and Juicy J don’t care so he was like “Yo let’s be in the hallway, go dumb in the hallway – break into these stairs and just rap.”
His longevity is like super tight – he gave me and Purrrp a lot of advice. Just looking at how he’s stayed relevant through all of these years, he’s a smart dude. Him and Paul and a lot of these southern guys like Birdman and J Prince, these guys are smart fuckin’ businessmen, and the reason why they’ve been around for almost 20 years is because they know what they’re doing. Juicy J was telling me, he was like “Yo I was just sittin’ at my mansion and I wasn’t doing anything. I was just posted. I wasn’t really working on anything and Project Pat was like yo you need to get on twitter you need to reach out to these young guys and you need to start making music, just free music with all these young guys and keep your hand in the pot.” So he did and he’s showing us how to maintain longevity and stay relevant, because you know when I was 14 or 15 we were bumpin’ Three 6 Mafia. Any show or party you go to in L.A. they’re playing Juicy J music so yeah it was incredibly surreal. He’s one of the fuckin’ funniest guys I’ve ever met. That guy is hilarious.
If you could collaborate with anyone dead or alive – who would it be and why?
First, I think if I could collaborate with any rapper dead or alive I would want to make a song with Cam’ron. I definitely want to do a song with Cam. I mean, there’s not too many other rappers that I consider like, “Aw man, I really want to work with them,” you know? But Cam is like – he’s the man [laughs] to me anyways… just like his flare, his style, the humor, just everything. The dude is a fucking genius, an eccentric genius. When I was younger we’d see him and the Diplomats on TV in the pink and the throwback jerseys and we’d just be like Damn! Shit didn’t look like that in southern California, you know what I mean? People didn’t look like that or act like that in southern California so it was just like “Wow, what the fuck dude – awesome.”
Who are your biggest musical influences?
As far as my influences, I like MF Doom a lot. He doesn’t give a fuck, he does what he wants. I like people who are fearless and who are not afraid to challenge the norms. Cam was of course another influence. I really respect the fuck out of the Roots. I like a lot of Southern hip hop. I like when artists are sincere. I like guys like Mos Def, who don’t have to try hard, who can just be themselves and still make great music and drum up interest.
You have commented before on the growing resemblance between you and Mick Foley. Is Mick Foley your favorite professional wrestler, if not who?
Aw no, Foley is straight but I’m starting to look like a chubby hobo and I fucking hate it. I need to hit the gym because I’m trying to be out there buff for my shows and shit with my shirt off, you feel me? My favorite wrestler of all time is probably the Nature Boy Ric Flair. He had too much swag man, like I seen this documentary on him. He was really out there like in $15,000 suits and gator boots and Rolexes. It’s just this over the top extravagance, like these big decadent ass robes. It’s just so over the top, you know like fake tan, peroxide bleached hair, wearing a sparkly ass sequined robe and telling the girls in the audience that they want to ride to space mountain, that shit’s great. Nature boy Ric Flair – he invented swag.
In your song “Run Lola Run” you shouted out Wale’s dreads, DJ Khaled’s double chin, Mac Miller’s unibrow, and Big Sean’s mustache — which one is your fave and least fave and why?
My least favorite are all the aforementioned, I hate them all equally [laughs]. I don’t know like, that shit is making me laugh. It’s just funny because I’m always questioning things and people will say to me well you don’t look like a rapper, look how you look. People always talk about my appearance and this and that but I’m like dude look at these people who are in the limelight, they look fucking ridiculous. What the fuck? You think I look fucking crazy? Come on man, what fucking world are we living in? In ultimate reality, these guys look so fucking ridiculous and that doesn’t come from me misunderstanding urban culture because I live in the hood, you know what I mean? So I’m just like yo that shit looks crazy. That’s why even on twitter I’ll have funny avi or whatever. Whether it’s Flo-rida or Nelly with the band-aid, because it’s me kind of like poking fun – like alright you guys think I look crazy? You ever realize how crazy you guys look? It’s almost ridiculous and all that shit is cool because its rap but naw that doesn’t make it all hype. I don’t just poke fun at that, I poke fun at everything. Everything is up for ridicule. If you can’t laugh at yourself you need to go fucking do something else. Like all the rappers today like “Ohhh some random kind on the Internet said that I suck.” People tell me I suck all the god damn time and I just laugh because it’s funny.
You recently spoke out about the tragic passing of Jan Berenstein, co-author of the Berenstein Bears childen’s book series. Would you ever considered yourself the rap game Too-Tall?
That’s a good question, but naw I consider myself more like maybe brother bear because he got like bad grades, a report card with all F’s. He had the messy room and shit like that, too much junk food, but yeah that shit is sad. I remember I would read them because my mom used to work at a school, she was a bilingual instructor and she spoke a bunch of different languages and when she would get off she would take me and my brothers to the library and we’d just read books. So those (the Berenstein bears) were essential. That and Shel Silverstein, or Judy Bloom. She (mother) instilled reading and the love for words in me from a very young age, so I think it was the mixture between that and my two older brothers listening to The Chronic [laughs] that forever made an impression on me. When I think back to my childhood influences I think about the rap music my older brothers listened to, the books that I read, and wrestling [laughs].
If you were on death row, what would you eat for you last meal? No restrictions whatsoever.
An all you can eat buffet from the Sizzler and I wouldn’t stop eating and I would just prolong it. I love the Sizzler.
You and Vince Staples have an all ages show coming up on March 23rd in L.A., what can fans expect from your performance?
Well my performance is kind of like going to a retarded kid’s birthday. A lot of confetti, some balloons, some trippy visuals, maybe I’ll flail around on stage and shake my hair because I’m not afraid to do that shit. You know rappers like to stand there holding their cock, like wave your hands in the air but that’s not fun to me. So yeah, a lot of punk energy, a lot of surreal visuals and a lot of cool rapping. We’re going to try not to get into a fight this time, because at every show there’s always something going on, like I had to beat up some kid at a Yelawolf concert so you know. It’s like every time I play people see me on the Internet and they want to say like “Oh that guys talking shit, he looks like a bum.” They always want to come test the waters and see how I’ll react. I usually lash out in violence [laughs]. I like to fight anyway, I don’t give a fuck.