INTERVIEW: Childish Major discusses his debut project as a vocalist, "Woo$ah," inspired by both the joys and stresses of the music industry.
Childish Major, like many producers today, is fighting for the credit he deserves. Raised in South Carolina before relocating to the rap hub of Atlanta to pursue a career in music, Childish quickly found a hit in Rocko, Future and Rick Ross' "UOENO," a hypnotic, soft-focus club record that more than likely had an impact on what the region's music sounds like today. He's since worked with the likes of J. Cole, Jeezy, A$AP Ferg, EarthGang, J.I.D., Two-9, and many others, but he's still experienced his share of frustrations working in the field, which has brought him to Woo$ah, his debut project as a vocalist, released today.
As Atlanta peer Sonny Digital has pointed out, producers continue to be undervalued in the industry, a view that Childish shares, and one that has partially inspired his new direction. "I have a lot of friends that are producers that are realizing that they have a voice," he says. "At this point, I feel like a lot of us are just fighting to be taken seriously. We do all this shit for artists, and we know music so well. Why wouldn't we be able to do it too?"
As someone who has always had a hand in all factions of the writing process, the step from producer to vocalist was an easy one for Childish. When developing his voice, he discovered that -- much like his production -- the presence of melody is a constant. As a result, Woo$ah, which features contributions from Cole, SZA, Isaiah Rashad, 6lack, and DRAM, often swings into R&B territory. "It's a balance of rapping and singing, but even when I rap, it's melodic rap," says Childish. "It just feels different. I didn't see it before but I really see it now as far as me listening to myself vs. other people's stuff. Even when I'm rapping and telling a story, it still has a melodic feel to it."
The EP also finds Childish outsourcing some of the production to a range of musicians including SykSense, Frank Dukes, Supah Mario, Lyle Leduff, and once again, J. Cole. It makes for some of his most diverse music to date. "I listen to so much music, and I know that's the typical thing to say, 'man I listen to EVERYTHING,'" he jokes. "But I literally listen to everything, so it's like whatever I'm feeling in that moment, I'll just kinda go with it and run with it. I've got Marvin Gaye-inspired songs, I've got Donnell Jones-inspired songs." The transition seems to be working, as the new music has already earned him an enviable placement in HBO's Insecure season 2 finale. But as Childish makes clear in our discussion, this is just the beginning of the progress he's looking to make.
We spoke to Childish about his very personal approach to collaboration, the loyalty artists must demonstrate to producers, and the importance of "taking a breather." Read the conversation below.
HNHH: The first time I heard your beats was probably on Rome Fortune's "Beautiful Pimp." Was that a big step for you?
Childish Major: Funny enough, I met Rome through working with Two-9. Two-9 was like the first group of people that I started working with before I moved to Atlanta from South Carolina. I was communicating with them through the internet. They were just spreading the word about me and my beats. Rome just ended up coming through one day. He kind of just took me in, kinda just gave me something to do. Before Beautiful Pimp, he was the first person I produced a project for. It was called Voyeur. I did that project and then from there I ended up signing with Hoodrich -- DJ Scream and DJ Spinz -- as a producer. They found interest in Rome through me, and Rome ended up dealing with Hoodrich as well. Me, C4, Dun Deal, and Spinz were all working on Beautiful Pimp together.
Would you say that’s around the time that you started to define your sound?
I would definitely say that. Everybody else was rapping “regular” and stuff like that, and they were looking for a certain type of track. Rome was someone who let me do whatever I wanted to do, like get as weird as I wanted to. I would say that was kind of like defining my sound and allowing me to do whatever. That was right before “UOENO.”
When "UOENO" came out, I feel like your sound took a lot of people by surprise, which is part of the reason why the song took off.
Yeah, but it fit in. If people go back and look at my catalogue from around that time, a lot of stuff I was doing was sounding like that. I may never get credit for it, but I feel like I ushered in a lot of what that music has evolved into right now.
When did you decide to start pursuing a career as a vocalist?
I always used to dabble in writing. It was fun for me. After "UOENO," and being in more sessions and how to engineer so that I could run sessions myself with other people, I just started writing for other people more and more. Then I took it upon myself to put my own story in the songs I as writing. I would play it for people, and they enjoyed it.
[My manager,] DaShawn would come in the studio and I would try out records on him a lot. He would give me his honest opinion: some stuff was dope, some stuff wasn't dope. I just kinda learned myself, what my sound is and what are the things that I'm gonna talk about. I would just play it for more and more people until it stopped being pressing play like -- what do you think of this? Instead of asking that question, it’s now like “Ay check this out! I don't care if you don't like it. This is what I'm on right now” [laughs]. It's just building the confidence and then playing it for my peers: Isaiah Rashad, SZA, J. Cole, J.I.D, Earth Gang. These are the people who helped me build that confidence, like, “okay, yeah, you really got something special here.”
How did the collaboration with SZA and Isaiah Rashad come together?
Me and Isaiah, we're friends before anything. I met him I think late 2013. It was around the time "UOENO" was going for me, he had just announced his signing to TDE. We kinda just connected through that, like, “you're on the come-up, I'm on the come-up too.” We built a brotherhood slash friendship. I was sending him ideas I was working on just to pick his brain. He was somebody who really believed in me. I ended up sending him the "Happy Birthday" record, and he was gonna use it for The Sun's Tirade, but my birthday came around the year before last, and I was like “ay man, I kinda wanna drop it.”
A little bit before that, he ended up having SZA do a bridge. She did it thinking it was gonna be for his project, but I also have a relationship with her too. I did "Green Mile" on her Z EP. There's actually a lot of music that we have that hasn't surfaced. I hit her up and got the okay from her. I didn't hit [TDE's] Top [Dawg] or Punch though [laughs]. I ended up getting a couple calls, some folks were a little upset. Me and Punch have a relationship, so he just said "You just gotta let me know next time, but you're good, you don't have to take it down." They let me rock, and that's a lot of people's introduction to me as an artist, which is really dope to be standing next to Isaiah and SZA who are incredible artists.
“I Like You” is the deepest dive into R&B on the project. DRAM has a very subtle, almost atmospheric presence on it. How did you work him into it?
I had the song done already, and this was my first time meeting DRAM. He came through the studio. This is off of "Cha Cha." We're having a conversation, and then he just raps. He's RAPPING, you know what I'm saying? And I'm not expecting that, cause I'm like ”bro, ‘Cha Cha’ is crazy and you got a crazy-ass singing voice.” But he's in that bitch freestyling over shit I'm playing. Not even recording, just freestyling, having fun.
Yeah, he's a great freestyler from what I’ve seen.
That shit is crazy to me. So yeah, we're in the studio and I play him the song like, you wanna jump on this? I shit you not, he fuckin' freestyles over the WHOLE beat. Maybe one day I'll just drop that shit. So this is where the producer in me comes in handy I guess. There were certain parts of his freestyle that I fucked with the most and I wanted to make them special. You can hear him in the background in the elements, it's not like he had a verse or a chorus or bridge, but you can hear him in there.
What’s your process for writing with another artist?
I have to talk to people to write for them. We have to have real conversations. We have to drive and go get some coffee or some shit. Or go get some food and just talk about real life. Then I can take that and kind of put it into the way I would word it I guess. It's kind of hard to make records for people, if you don't know what they're going through. Especially when it's those type of artists. You have artists who will take the hot record that has nothing to do with their life, but a lot of people want stuff that pertains to have their feeling.
Is there a particular conversation that you've had with a collaborator that inspired you?
When I was working with Kelly Rowland, she was just telling me all the stuntin'-ass-shit she does for this song we were writing. She was telling me about this diamond face cream. There was this bag she was telling me about. It looks like a regular worn-down leather bag but it's like some fly-ass shit on the low. I can't even remember what it's called. Oh fuck, she's gonna be mad at me [laughs]. That was a cool moment for me. But just talking to her in general, and us talking about relationships. Her being married and having kids, and growing up. That's the dope aspect about it. Especially with somebody like her.
Atlanta-based producers like Southside and Sonny Digital that are getting into becoming vocalists. Is there something about Atlanta that pushes producers to take that step?
I don't know if it's specifically Atlanta. I have a lot of friends that are producers that are realizing that they have a voice. At this point, I feel like a lot of us are just fighting to be taken seriously. We do all this shit for artists, and we know music so well. Why wouldn't we be able to do it too?
Sonny Digital recently talked about creating a union for producers. Do you think producers deserve a lot more credit and compensation than they get?
Definitely. I understand being an up-and-coming artist and not having the funds to flat-out pay a producer. But even with situations like that, there needs to be some kind of understanding. Once this shit takes off for you, take care of me. Make sure that I'm straight. Make sure that as much as they're saying your name and screaming your name, that you're saying my name and screaming my name too. At the end of the day, it starts with us. Nobody's paying to turn up to your fuckin' acapellas.
So you think the first step is for artists to stand up and make sure producers get their shine?
Yeah, especially when these artists are putting their arms around producers like, “this my brother” and this and that. Then when it's time to take off, they forget real quick. I think it's super important to just maintain that loyalty.
"Woosah" is a mantra Martin Lawrence's character in Bad Boys II uses to relieve anger and stress. Why did you decide to make it the title of your project?
'Cause I'm stressed the fuck out [laughs]. Nah, I guess Woo$ah comes from where I was at in life. I don't know if you've heard “Mad Hatter” or “Window Seat,” but on a lot of my early shit I was talking about getting paid from artists and the stresses of trying to be the greatest, trying to chase the dream out here. There's a lot of things that stress you out. A lot of them are money-related, so it's "Woosah" with a dollar sign. That's pretty much the catch. It's really just taking a breather. Whether it be relationship stuff, stuff you put yourself through, might be money stuff, might be Rick Ross constantly telling you need to boss the fuck up and you're like "I don't know how!" [laughs]. Just calm down, take a breather, and understand that everything is gonna happen the way that it needs to.
Is that what you want people to take away from listening to the EP?
That's exactly what I want you to take from it. That it's all on God's time and it's gonna happen. I feel like once this project drops, and where they see me take it from here. I think they'll have a greater understanding of the project as time goes on.
It's pretty rare for J. Cole to produce for anyone other than himself these days. What's the story behind his credit on your track "Supply Luh?"
My first trip to [Cole's North Carolina home studio] The Sheltuh, I already had a project done -- I have another project, but that's neither here nor there -- so after me playing him beats and him playing me his songs I was like "you mind checking out some of my stuff?" He sat and listened and gave me feedback. Just giving me advice and stuff. He started going through beats and he let me pick some. He let me take like three or four beats and I started writing to them at The Sheltuh and when I got back to Atlanta I just recorded to them, just kind of sitting on them, not knowing what was gonna happen as far as him clearing me to release these songs. They were super cool about it. He was like, “do your thing.” I sent him the cover and he signed off on everything. And then the Insecure play came through. It was just perfect timing. I don't know, I just wasn't expecting them to be that cool about allowing us to use it.
Is he as someone you look up to as a fellow vocalist-producer?
He's definitely someone I look up to. Even more than that, him being from the Carolinas. He's from North and I'm from South. Even though I think where I'm from is probably smaller than where he's from. He's always been a motivation for me, even being in college and listening to his music, following his story, relating it to myself. He inspired me before I met him.
What was it like to hear yourself on Insecure?
Man that shit was crazy! A lot of songs on there, they're during scenes and they're really brief, but they let my shit rock with no dialogue for like a minute! It's like a moment in that episode, so I was geeked. Everybody was calling me, people were sending me videos. We were celebrating for real.
That's a historic moment. People are going to watch that back years from now.
That's what I'm saying. That show is so important for today, for us. It's so important and we got to be a part of it in a big way.
You mentioned another project.
There's another project, I'm not gonna give you the name. It's that project and then I have videos coming up. We'll be doing more shows and jumping on tours. I might come out on J.I.D.'s tour. Just being out here and touching the people, that's what I'm most excited about to be honest. I've got a lot of features I've been doing for other artists and a lot of production. I'm excited for all this stuff to come out and people to just see where we're taking it.