Bktherula Interview: On New Album's Duality, Freedom, Faith & Flowing With The Process

BYGabriel Bras Nevares1.5K Views
Link Copied to Clipboard!
2023 Rolling Loud Los Angeles
INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 03: Rapper Bktherula performs onstage during the first day of Rolling Loud Los Angeles 2023 at Hollywood Park Grounds on March 03, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

The 21-year-old boundless creative from Atlanta is finding it more difficult to stay at her peak powers and mindfulness, but it's why she works that much harder on her new album "LVL5 P2" to be free.

Brooklyn Candida Rodriguez is among the younger voices you'll hear in rap today, but her talent and perspective feel more akin to five lifetimes. As Bktherula, she mixes hard-hitting rap bangers with alternative psychedelic leanings, aggressive bravado with spiritual yearning, lifelong training as a singer with lifelong instinct as a lyricist and performer, and youthful vibrance with sobering meditation. On the 21-year-old's brand new album, LVL5 P2, these odds, ends, and extremes manifest into what might be the most versatile, compelling, cohesive, and well-rounded character portrait in her discography so far. With guest spots from JID and Cash Cobain, plus her most adventurous material so far, there's something here for anyone whose ear perked up while listening to the Atlanta native in the past. Most importantly, it solidifies her commitment to bettering herself, sticking to her code, and finding full artistic freedom.

During this interview, Bktherula takes us through some of her favorite moments on LVL5 P2, the people and ideas that inspire her, her newfound perspective on her maturity and approach, and how having a big music career has been both everything and nothing like she expected. These moments were broken up by bits of laughter, frantic searches for a phone charger, and sneak peeks of just how long she's kept things in the vault. But when the "IT WASN'T ME" mastermind decides to unlock the cage, it always results in blown minds and bleeding earphones. Her sound is powerful for many different reasons, in its heaviest and lightest spaces, and all her personalities and approaches shine through on P2. Whether it's Rue Santan, Black, Santana, Rula, Tanjenica, Tanya on the mic... expect greatness, expect idiosyncrasy, and strap in for Level Five.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

HNHH: Welcome Bk, thanks so much for being with us! Before getting into LVL5 P2 (Level Five, Player Two), I want to kick things off with your excellent brand new single and music video, "THE WAY," which just dropped today (Ed. Note: this interview was conducted on Friday, March 8). I know it's only been a couple of hours, but I wanted to ask you how you feel about the reception you've seen so far to the single and why you think this was one of the tasters you wanted to give fans for the project.

Bktherula: I actually really enjoy "THE WAY." I think it gives, like, a more vulnerable side to myself that I have not really given in the past. I mean, I have, but just not as much as "THE WAY," I think "THE WAY" gives a little bit more of it, like a nice little dash. Because I gave them "CRAYON," and I went hard with "CRAYON." So I was like, "Alright, let me slow y'all down real quick." Because the intro, as you know, to the album is, like, f***ing nuts. So, I just had to slow them down real quick, you know what I'm saying? So I could bring them back up.

Towards the end of "THE WAY," I heard some conga percussion or some bongos, but I thought it was a really nice touch. I see what you mean about taking it a step further from stuff that you've already been doing your whole career.

Yeah, man, right? It's going crazy. But I'm so glad that you liked it, though, because I was a little nervous.

For the years that I've been listening to you, your flow has always brought me to your music, which in my opinion is one of the most creative and unique parts of your work. On "CRAYON," you rap "Record it myself, I wrote it myself, I like it, so I'ma submit it." Can you give us a glimpse into that writing and recording process? Do you let it be as natural as possible, or do you try to make it more of this deliberate thing to hit certain pockets?

Weirdly enough... I guess it's boringly enough, I just was born like this. *laughs* Like, I go to the studio, and then I just do it. And it's very natural. I'm just in the studio, and my friends are just in the studio with me. I don't really have too many people in there. It's probably, like... I had three people in the studio with me yesterday. As long as it's the Sony C-800G, I'm recording some fire flame. I made a song yesterday, I don't remember how it sounds, I'm actually very excited to hear it. Yeah, it's very boring, but it's very easy for me.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Fontaine

I don't know if you have the same view on it, but there's also something that I find really meditative about your music, whether it's the lighter cuts on LVL5 P2 like "JUST MAKE SURE" or the hard hitters like "CODE." On P2 specifically, how did you want to balance those extremes to make the album cohesive and well-flowing?

Honestly, I wanted to just give a little bit more than what I did the last time. And that's why I was a little bit more vulnerable on this one, you know? Because P1 was really just, like, "F**k it, I don't give a f**k about anything, about rules, about anything." And then P2 is a little bit more structured and more mature, more reserved, but less fearful of showing emotion. It's crazy.

Is that something that surprised you, or was it something that you wanted to achieve?

Surprised the frick out of me. I didn't think that I would even be okay with it. Like, usually people are, like, "Oh, my God, I like when you sing!" And I just get f***ing, like, mad as f**k because I want to f***ing rap. I like rapping and I like singing, but I love rapping. So whenever people tell me that, sometimes I get offended. Well, at least P1 did. But I get it now. That's why I say more mature for P2. She's more mature, she gets it.

I wanted to ask about Love Santana as a bit of a retrospective because I read that you narrowed it down to 11 tracks from about 200 that you had in the vault. Was LVL5 P2 a similar experience for you?

Absolutely. Yes, I actually have songs on there, like "INSANE," I made that when I was, like... I don't even know, maybe 18? I'm 21. So I made "WOMAN"... I'd say "WOMAN" was the first song that I recorded when I learned how to record myself. And that was, like... three years ago? What else... "NUN"? 18. Like, a lot of those songs. N***as don't even know what's coming up, for real.

Being able to get JID on a song like "WOMAN" for example, which has been with you for so long, how does it feel for you to see these ideas finally come to life?

Oh, man, oh, man. It feels like a flower is finally at its form. Like, it totally just blossomed. It's just this fire-a** flower, it just feels good. Looking at it, I'm very excited for it to drop. I'm actually very f***ing excited. I'm not even gonna lie, kind of freaking out on the inside, like, screaming, you know? Nah, JID's insane. Absolutely. Like, his brain is right where mine is.

Considering your roots as a singer, like you mentioned, there are songs like "Detox," "GANGO," the Love Nirvana EP, and "SUMMER" that paved the way for your progression in terms of mixing genres together. It's always been a big part of your artistry, and since you've had so much practice with it, is there a favorite or specific song of yours pre-P2 that you think defines that specific aspect of your career, or is it more spread across the whole catalog?

I think something that really explains it is maybe, like, "PSSYONFT." That definitely explains it, and that was on P1. It's just, like, you never know what you're gonna get with me. I don't give out what anyone wants, that's another thing. Like, you can't expect it. Being a fan of me is kind of hard, but surprisingly I have a lot of them. Just doing whatever the f**k I want to do, and just dropping whatever I want to drop all across the board. But "PSSYONFT," I would say, is a great song to start off with. And I like "CODE," of course. "CODE" is, like, insane.

Something else I noticed doing research for this is that a lot of people on your social media are very appreciative of how engaged you are. You're very communicative, and usually fanbases either want less or they want more. But with you, they just really appreciate the honesty in all of that. As your fanbase has grown and everything, has it given you a different perspective on your work and what you feel like you can and can't do?

Yes. I think I really want to be the definition of "You can do whatever." As long as you pray to God, like... sometimes, especially being an artist, you get pressured to do a lot of different things. But I promise, I just know that I'm going to be able to do what I need to do by just praying and just doing what I need to do sometimes. Sometimes I get yelled at and do things, you know. But what's making this happen is because I believe in God. And that's it. Also, the way that I interact with my fans, I'm very genuine. I don't lie. I don't lie, I'm not gonna lie, and I'm also not going to make music that sounds like "Tweakin' Together" for you, either.

But that's just because I've grown, and I can't lie. I can't wear the same fit that I was wearing in middle school. Because if I put it on, I won't even fit, for real. So I give my fans that mindset of evolution. It's perfectly fine. If you want to go bald next year, then go f***ing bald. The people who stay are the people that need to be there, and the people who don't stay need to f**k off. *laughs* That's why my fanbase is cultish. They all really like me and they all stay because the ones that have remained are the ones that understand, and the ones that leave are the ones that were gonna leave in the first place.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Fontaine

With the "Level Five" mindset, you're very appreciative of the people that are still in Three and Four, having empathy for them and everything. But do you feel like you're at that point as an artist where you feel a certain type of resentment towards that past work before this evolution? Or do you still have that appreciation, even if you won't make "Tweakin' Together" five more times?

I love "Tweakin' Together," if we're being completely really honest. I love all my old songs. Well, I'm lying, I actually don't like some of my old songs. But I love a majority of them, and "Tweakin' Together" is one of them. I really, really love "Tweakin' Together," actually. It just hit ten mil, you know that? Yes, crazy. And I'm very appreciative of it. It was a great f***ing time in my life, and that song actually defines why I do what I do. Because I liked that song, I recorded the song, I liked the song, and I submitted the song the same day I recorded it. And it's my biggest song, and I didn't let anyone give their opinion, until... I actually just didn't let it happen.

No one had their thoughts on it. Only me, and I dropped it. And it's my biggest song. That's the recipe. That is the recipe: no thoughts. Go. Just faith. Go. I believed in it so much, I just dropped it, and it f***ing went up. I don't have no resentment towards any of my songs because, at the end of the day, I'm gonna look back at that s**t and be, like, "Aw, I was such a baby." It's like a book, almost.

I have a bit of a weird question, but while doing research, I found two curious interests of yours that I really resonated with personally. Do the tracks on LVL5 P2 feel more like members of your horror toy collection, or are they more like the quantum physics classes that you took with the University of Tokyo?

Definitely quantum physics, definitely quantum physics. Because, it's just... some of them are in the (Level) Three. "INSANE" is super Three. Fun fact, I don't really like that song. It was a compromise with me and my boys. Because my boys... Mali (Maliputyouon) and Josh (Creezed) and Benji (BenjiDidIt), Josh is my engineer. I've known them since I was 15. They, like, actually put me in a studio. They're the reason why I make music. They're the reason why Love Santana is out.

They had a studio and they let me record. But they love that song for some strange reason, and I just have a feeling that that song is gonna go so up. It happens like that all the time. Like, I know it's gonna go up, but I f**k with them and they mix my whole f***ing album and did all my videos. "THE WAY"? That's Benji and Mali. "CRAYON"? That's Benji and Mali. "Tweakin' Together"? That's Benji and Mali. So I was like, "You know what? You guys like the song, I'll put the song on there. because I love you guys."

Speaking of which, I did want to touch on your great collaborations. We mentioned JID, Cash Cobain is on P2 as well, the YoungBoy single is great, multiple with Rico Nasty, Destroy Lonely... You bring people into your world in a really great way. But what are the people outside of music that inspire you to go through that process, to make your art, and to express yourself in that way?

Oh, man... Well it's a long list. Everyone around me, especially my friends. My friends inspire me in ways that I... Lord, I just thank God every day. We have moments that just inspire me like us just laughing. We laugh all the time, I've never laughed as much in my life as when I'm around them. I laugh so much, and they inspire me, especially my mommy. Like, my mom and my dad, they all just inspire me bad. Everything that I do. That's such a great question, because everyone always asks me what artists I am inspired by. And I never know what to say. Sometimes I lie, because I just want to have something to say. But in reality, I always tell them I'm inspired by life. I'm inspired by sounds.

Like, I could go into the car and hear, like, any sound and I'm like, "Oh, my God, we gotta make this a song." We've been saying this inside joke, and I'm like, "Oh, my God, I gotta say that inside joke in the song." Like, life inspires me, anything inspires me. I don't have a specific... Like, an artist didn't want me to make music or didn't make me want to make music. I didn't listen to artists and was like, "I'm gonna make music." I just started making music. Because I wanted to. But if anything, it's my dad. My dad used to rap, and he was in a group called Planet X. And my mom sings, so that's probably why. But I used to listen to Skrillex, though, I will say that. I love Skrillex.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Fontaine

Before LVL5 P1 even dropped, you talked to multiple publications about what "Level Five" means to you as a mindset. I know P1 was built up over three years, but now that P2 is in the rearview, what are some new things or surprises or things that you've doubled down on about Level Five as a mindset that have changed since you released it?

Oh, man. It's getting harder, it's getting harder. It's getting more tough to be here in the Five. Um... It really is. It's like, I need to have patience and s**t. I need to learn how to be patient, and I need to control my anger. Seriously, but sometimes you get upset at things of the dimension. I don't know, someone could say something and it would piss me off because I get it and they don't. But that's ego, and I have to humble myself because I bleed just like everybody else, and I don't know everything. I know I don't, but sometimes I get in my head. It's getting harder to control it.

People think Albert Einstein was probably having the time of his life because he was smart as hell, but he was probably going through it because he knew too f***ing much. Like, seriously, it's not what everyone else thinks. It is La La Land until it's not. Temptation is another thing. You're gonna get tempted by the devil every f***ing day. Every f***ing day the devil is gonna try to throw what you want in your eyes, and you have to know that that's not what you need. So you have to get ready, you know what I'm saying? You have to be here, you have to be president, you have to be in the right mindset to be in the Five and to f***ing not crash out. There's so many people in the Five that probably crashed the f**k out in the Five, you know what I mean?

It's getting hard. I'm in that stage right now. Because the more fame I get, the more I have to be on my toes because I'm gonna get thrown anything. Anything, bro. People are gonna come at me, "You want money for this? I'll give you 2 million if you sign to me." And then I gotta remember that I can get the two mil, but then I'm going to be unhappy. I have to sit here and be like, "I can't take that two mil." I'm getting a feeling that I can't take that two mils. And I have to say no. And it f***ing pains me, but it's just my flesh. It's not even really me for real. I gotta listen to the higher, I can't listen to myself. Can't even trust me.

I wanted to bring up a couple of lyrics that I really loved on the album that I think relate to what you're saying here. One of the ones that really resonated with me off of my first few listens was along the lines of, "Flying to the Sun, been losing my feathers on the way." Level Five might not be everything that you expected it to be, but it's because it's that much harder to stay in it and commit yourself to that.

Yeah, I love that lyric. I love that song, I was just listening to it this morning. Yeah, flying to the top and you losing your feathers on the way, so real. But you got to get the f**k up, you got to get off your a**. And you have to remain happy, that's one thing. If you're not happy with something but you're still doing it, your life will be miserable. I tried to live like that, and it doesn't work. I'm miserable when I do that, so that's why I just do what I want.

Like, everyone thought "CRAYON" was going to be a B-sides song. Everyone thought it, and no one really liked it. I mean, they liked it, but they wanted "THE WAY" to drop first. And I said no. I said no because I had that feeling in my stomach, like I had when I dropped "Tweakin' Together," and "CRAYON" ended up going crazier than the song that I have with NBA YoungBoy. I just thought that was so funny. Because I knew it. I don't know, I mean, it happened for a reason, obviously. Now I will be listened to more, so that's great.

You were easily one of, if not the most underrated set at Rolling Loud Miami 2022 that I saw. If somebody is going to go to one of your shows, what's the checklist that they need to complete before attending? What do you need at a Bktherula show?

Water. You need water, you need... you need to check your ego at the door. That's what you need to do. That ego needs to go down. Because you gotta be prepared for anything, for real. Maybe some anointing oil. You definitely got to check that ego at the door. That's all you need to do is drop the ego. If you could just give up something instead of even carrying stuff to my show, that'd be fine.

Water and drop the ego: you'll have a great time. If you're standing in the crowd, and you're trying to act like you know my lyrics thinking you're gonna get backstage, you're not getting backstage. If you're not ready for the mosh pit, you will end up in the mosh pit. So you got to drop everything off at the door, at the gate, before you get into my s**t, for real. And also be prepared to maybe even get on stage.

I wanted to wrap things up with one more question. I've ended other interviews before by asking about hip-hop, but from what we've talked about today about LVL5 P2 and more, it's clear that you have so many other influences. What's one song, album, artist, or thing that changed the way that you look at the genre, and what's one thing that you would recommend to a newcomer apart from your own music that you think could replicate that feeling?

I really like Mexican Slum Rats. They're a band from the Valley, and they're f***ing flame as f**k. I be hitting them up, and we're hopefully going to make music together when they get off tour. I don't know, they do anything. They're like... I don't even know what to call it, but it's just f***ing fire. Just hella instruments, and the drums are bleeding through the headphones. I really want to do that, and I think they're inspiring me to be more, like, "F**k it." Just when you thought I was enough, I wasn't. *laughs* But I want to be more "F**k it" like them, because they just do whatever the f**k they want.

There's just one song, it's called "Mal de Ojo," and it's just f***ing fire. They're just f***ing screaming on that s**t, but I can tell that what they're saying, they feel it. I think it's inspired me to just say what I feel in any way and just go with it more than I do now. Also, I want to add drums in my s**t, and my best friend's drummer, so that'll work.

Yeah, more live drums would be awesome. I don't know if this was live, but I really liked the outro of "JUST MAKE SURE". That gives that sort of energy that I really, really enjoyed. One of my favorite moments on P2.

Oh, my God, yes! That's literally, like... yes, absolutely. Yeah, that's from Sonic Major, azure, Carlton McDowell. Man, they're great producers. They did that in the studio and I watched it. I was inspired like never before. And for "THE WAY," too, they also did that outro. The song did not sound like that at first. None of the songs sound like they did at first, they were just basic beats. They were just like a simple, you know, layout beat, but they took that s**t and they f***ing went nuts.

Man, producers are underrated. Like, very underrated. Producers are artists, producers are the artists, damn near. Producers are the artists, like, they... Whoa, because I wouldn't even be able to do what I do without my n***as on the side of me really making my s**t. For real, I can rap to nothing. I can... I can do this! *starts banging arm on table* I can't do s**t else, for real! *laughs* They're so underrated.

Is there one producer right now that you're dying to work with?

Uh... is there a producer that I really want to work with? Oh, WondaGurl, I want to work with her. She's so cool! She's cool as f**k, bro. I really want to work with Wonder Girl. She's actually in L.A., I'm gonna text her and say, "Hey, can we work?" Hopefully, she says yes. Bro, underrated as f**k. Like, WondaGurl is fire as f**k. I don't like how they be cheating women, for real, 'cause she really flame, though. She flame as f**k. Like, I need to work for her ASAP actually, like, today. I'ma have to hit her. I need to work with her, and I need to feel her energy and really understand it. Dead-a**, I just know we'll make some flame, Like, two girls on a track? Like, what? Whoa, that would be crazy, bro. Me and WondaGurl come out with a single? Come on, bro.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Fontaine

Well, good luck with that! Bktherula, thank you so much for this interview and for your insight. Is there anything else that you want to add or shout out or say?

Um, I want to say thank you for interviewing me. That's what I want to say. And thank you for giving me the time of the day, because you know I'm crazy.

About The Author
Gabriel Bras Nevares is a music and pop culture news writer for HotNewHipHop. He started in 2022 as a weekend writer and, since joining the team full-time, has developed a strong knowledge in hip-hop news and releases. Whether it’s regular coverage or occasional interviews and album reviews, he continues to search for the most relevant news for his audience and find the best new releases in the genre. What excites him the most is finding pop culture stories of interest, as well as a deeper passion for the art form of hip-hop and its contemporary output. Specifically, Gabriel enjoys the fringes of rap music: the experimental, boundary-pushing, and raw alternatives to the mainstream sound. As a proud native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, he also stays up-to-date with the archipelago’s local scene and its biggest musical exponents in reggaetón, salsa, indie, and beyond. Before working at HotNewHipHop, Gabriel produced multiple short documentaries, artist interviews, venue spotlights, and audio podcasts on a variety of genres and musical figures. Hardcore punk and Go-go music defined much of his coverage during his time at the George Washington University in D.C. His favorite hip-hop artists working today are Tyler, The Creator, Boldy James, JPEGMAFIA, and Earl Sweatshirt.