Von Pea Jumps “In the Mix” [DJBooth Interview Exclusive]
Every successful artist was once an ambitious youngster sitting behind a desk in a high-school classroom, tuning out teachers' words with daydreams of future fame and fortune. Von Pea is no exception; what is exceptional about the B.K. emcee-producer, though, is how faithful he's remained to his younger self's artistic vision. After establishing himself as one-third of Tanya Morgan, the buzzmaking crew whose Brooklynati LP was widely hailed as one of '09's best releases, he set out to craft the solo album he's been planning since the age of 17. Heralded by reader-acclaimed single “The Yorker” and scheduled to drop today (October 12), Pea's Gotta Have It finds the 28-year-old emcee harking back to his high-school days to craft a fresh, funny musical nostalgia trip that hip-hop heads won't want to miss.
In this Booth-exclusive, five-question interview, Von Pea discusses the project's Spike Lee-referencing title, the challenge of channeling his youthful persona into rhyme without sounding immature, and his picks for funniest rapper dead or alive.
What about your forthcoming solo set will surprise listeners who, until now, have known you solely through your work with Tanya Morgan?
You know, I don’t know how people view us. I wonder where we stand when it comes to peoples relationship with current hip-hop. I'm the album producer for Tanya Morgan as well so my album is produced like a TM album would be… meaning, how it's put together. Other than that I'm interested in finding out what people will feel is different. Of course it’s a lot more NY-centric. I wish I could answer that one better but I really don’t know.
The title of your project is, of course, a play on Spike Lee's 1986 classic, She's Gotta Have It. Was “Pea's Gotta Have It” chosen simply as a catchy pun alluding to your own high-school days in B.K., or do the film's plot and characters resonate with you on a deeper personal/artistic level?
Nothing to do with the movie at all! Lol! Donwill's solo album was based on a movie but my title is only a nod to Spike Lee for his ongoing Brooklyn love. I always say, he's the only person I can think of that has shown so many different parts of Brooklyn and different neighborhoods in his movies. In BK we stay in our own neighborhoods a lot, whether it's Bed Stuy or CI or Flatbush or Bay Ridge, and THAT’S our Brooklyn. Spike showed all sides. The title doesn’t play into the album otherwise.
Many people, if they came across a notebook filled with lyrics and journal entries from their high-school years, would find them far too personal (or even embarrassing) to share with the world – you, on the other hand, used yours as the inspiration for an album. What was your initial reaction to these writings, and how much of teenage-Von Pea's material made the final cut?
There's a song where I talk about being embarrassed a girl was picking me up from school because my boys were clowning. As an adult I could never do a song like that with a straight face. Why would that be a bad thing? I had a song about trying to get at the school jump off that was having sex with everybody but that was a little too much, haha. I like to be more responsible in my rhymes usually but there's a decent amount of immature shit on this album. I was going further but didn’t want people to think I was simply dumbing down. In the end I pulled back so people wouldn’t miss the point of me playing a younger person in some songs on the album.
In your bio, you state that one of the foremost goals you seek to accomplish with your rhymes is to make listeners laugh – with you, not at you. Who would get your vote for “Funniest Emcee Dead or Alive,” and why?
Redman is a funny cat. LL is actually funny, too, depending on what songs you’re listening to. I love Pac Div because they say a lot of humorous shit. Phonte is funny; Cam'ron is hilarious. Kurupt! Suga motherfucking Free. DJ Quik has his moments of hilarity. Kanye and 50 are the funniest rappers on Twitter. The thing is to not be a clown, but to be funny in a charming way so listeners feel like they’re hanging out with you when they listen. Willie D is probably the funniest ever, though. I'm not up on his catalog like that, but Donwill and Ilyas would always play his music on the road.
If you could travel back in time and give your teenage self two pieces of advice – one regarding your musical career, the other relating to your personal life – what would they be?
Hahaha. I'm supposed to be 17 on the album, so I would tell myself to do things TODAY and not be one of the “one day I'm gonna…” people. I'm here by the grace of god because I was the biggest “one day I'm gonna…” person alive back then. Life is about what you’re going to do today, not one of these days. That applies to music, too. Personally, I would probably tell me at 17 to stop worrying about these popular girls that think they’re the shit and watch these cute nerd girls because you’ll be in love with them when you’re an adult.
Final thoughts? Confessions? Shout outs?
I remember sitting in a hotel in Vegas in 2007 playing the first demos of my album for Ilyas and Donwill and saying I just wanted people to give it a fair shot. Now it's 2010 and it's done. To everyone reading this, give it a listen!