EXCLUSIVE: Mez is the man you want in your studio session.
The true power players thrive behind the scenes. For Mez, who recently dropped the lofty King title from his moniker, the studio is where the depth of his talent reveals itself. A dominant lyricist, whom you may very well have met on Dr. Dre's Compton album, Mez has proven himself a valuable asset in any given studio session. His resume speaks for itself, having contributed to the aforementioned Dre album, Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo, and most recently the J. Cole quarterbacked Revenge Of The Dreamers 3 sessions.
I first met Mez when I was writing a cover story on J.I.D and EarthGang, which happened to taking place during the Dreamers 3 session. Mez was, as you might expect him to be, in the booth. It's no wonder he ultimately found himself on two of the project's standout tracks, including the raucous posse cut "Costa Rica." A calm, confident, and kind conversationalist, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mez on the phone after the release of the Dreamville compilation. A lyricist with an impressive hip-hop pedigree, Mez opened up about his history working with legends, his own upcoming work, and following his creative impulses no matter the end.
HNHH: Hey, how you doing Mez?
Mez: What’s up G. How you doing?
Not too bad. It’s good to talk to you. Thanks for doing this.
It’s all love, I'm not trippin'. Thank you for having me, man.
Congratulations on the Dreamville’s album. That must’ve been a great moment.
Oh man, huge. I’m always thankful to be a part of anything they got going on. It's funny cause the art is one thing but the experience, the type of people they are and the way they make you feel when you're around them is another thing. For both of those parts of the experience to be high level is something you really want to be apart of.
I can imagine. I was only there for two days as an observer and it was still such an experience. It was something to behold. So many artists. So much collaboration. So much creativity.
I feel like you saw me record one of my verses!
I did actually! When I first walked into the studio you were laying down vocals for a track with Ari. I don’t think the track ultimately made the final cut but it was a dope experience to witness. That studio seemed to constantly be a source of so much good music.
It’s so crazy. Even the songs that didn’t make it. There are songs that didn’t make it that dudes will probably end up using on their own projects that are great songs. And shit, the inspiration. If you didn’t get any songs out of it, you got inspired for the rest of the year. I know that I’m definitely different after that.
It seems like you’re always in the studio, working nonstop. What have you been working on this past while?
From when to when?
Most recently. When you were last in the studio, what were you putting in work on?
I've been working on my EP. The EP is pretty much wrapped and my album is very close as well. I’m putting finishing touches on those right now. When I’m in the studio on my own that’s what I’ve been on lately. Every now and then, I get in with some other people from Revenge. I made some relationships. Certain people I’ve known. Buddy, I’ve known since I moved to L.A. I’ve known him for like five years. I got a song on my album with T.I. and Buddy on it from like three years ago that’s not out yet. I’m always working with different people but as of late I find myself collaborating with the people that were at camp.
Is there anybody in particular who you clicked with creatively? I’m sure there were a lot of musical partnerships that formed at those sessions. Did you connect with anyone you didn’t expect?
Yeah. Kyle Banks, the producer. Me and him have a real musical relationship now. There’s not a lot of people I can say that about since I’m such a picky dude. A lot of the dudes from Dreamville I’ve known for years so that’s not new but I met Kyle there. Me and him have been working and he’s got beats on both my projects now and I met him at Revenge. It’s interesting how it works.
You said you’re a picky dude with beat selection, how did that work when you were going into a session like Dreamers? Did you have to reinvent the way you were approaching things?
Nah. A lot of that shit was just tight! The beats were fire. I heard “Costa Rica” and I was like “Damn. This shit is crazy.” You’re in an environment where people bring in the best of what they have to offer every single night nonstop. That’s a rare occasion. When we’re in the studio doing regular sessions, people aren’t doing that all the time. Being in a place where everyone was bringing their best twenty-four-seven every room you walk in is inspiring.,
I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t think I heard a bad song the whole time. I didn’t hear anything where I was like “I don’t like this,” or “I want to leave.” Maybe I had been in sessions where I felt enough had already been contributed and it didn’t make sense for me to put my energy on it but I never felt like “This isn’t good.”
When you first heard “Costa Rica" were you in the studio with everyone? What was the studio session like when that song came about? I remember first seeing the snippets leak for that track...
For “Costa Rica,” the session was like a movie. That’s the most high energy session I’ve every been in, in my life. I’ve been in a lot of sessions with a lot of different artists and people and I have never seen no shit like that. It felt like we were partying to a song as it was being made. We were having a party to the song! We were singing along the hook as it was being made because it was so catchy and each verse had moments. “Costa Rica” is like a great example of when people talk about the energy in a room. Sometimes the energy makes the song and the energy in that room really made that song.
Do you feel there was any particular song that got away? One you had wished had made the cut?
Yeah. It’s funny because there’s a song that didn’t make the album and I thought "Damn, this song is fire. Maybe I should ask Ib or Cole if I could use it for my shit.” You never know what’s gonna happen with songs or what plans they might have. There’s some records that I think were good enough to make it, but I can't say they would have outshined what was already there cause the album is great. That shit is amazing.
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Going back to your own album, a lot of people talk about the difference between making bangers and making more reflective tracks. How do you go about finding a balance and do you have a preference when it comes to writing those different types of tracks?
I learned how to rap on shit like “Sleep Deprived.” I can literally breathe those records. It’s funny because K Quick was one of the producers on “Sleep Deprived,” and when Complex put out an article saying that was one of the best verses on the album, K Quick was like “Y’all don’t even know the story of the way he recorded it!” I didn’t write any of it down. I was just coming up with it word for word. Everybody was tripping. The truth is that came from me being very comfortable on introspective records because that’s how I learned how to make music. But also, it came from working with Dr. Dre for so many years and having to come up with shit so fast. At some point I learned that I don’t really have to write music to create it. As long as I’m in the right space, I could just sit there and come up with it.
The introspective type of records, that’s how I learned how to rap. It wasn’t until I got older that I wanted to venture into shit like “Costa Rica.” At first, I didn’t even want to do shit like that. I remember when I was in high school and Soulja Boy was out and I was listening to Illmatic. Years and years removed, listening to Illmatic in the two-thousands. Girls were getting in my car like “What is this? Why are we listening to this? Turn on Soulja." I wasn’t fucking with none of that shit at the time. I didn’t really like music that was super fun. Maybe it was because I had went through a lot of shit in my life and I needed music that was going to heal my soul. I liked shit that made me feel something. As I got older, I realized “Damn. The fun shit makes you feel something too. You just in the space to receive it.” At some point, I wanted to venture into records like that and now, my album is definitely a balance. I got “Costa Ricas" on my album and I got “Sleep Depriveds” on my album. It’s tight to be on both of those records because they’re the dichotomy of me or at least a part of it.
I like what you said about Illmatic, that being the type of record you gravitated toward. To me, when I saw you on The L.A. Leakers...Most people who go up their hold their own, but you killed it. You were going in, and it got me thinking that you must have a lot of admiration for lyricists. Who are your biggest influences when it comes to lyrics?
I got to say Nas. I got to say Biggie, Andre 3000, MF Doom, Mos Def, Jadakiss when I was growing up. There’s so many people bro. As I got older, I started listening to Jay-Z. When I was younger, I thought Nas was better but as I got older, I started to like Jay-Z a little bit more. I like Jay-Z for the plethora of different music he has but Nas is still my favorite as far as storytelling goes.
And of course in the latter generations, you’ve got Cole and Kendrick and Drake. Even Drake. At first, it was only Cole and Kendrick, but like I said, I started opening my mind more and now I admire Drake for the melodies, for the hooks, the song structure. First, I wanted to only be like the best rapper and now I want to be the best artist. That changed after a while.
Did you remember living through the Nas, Jay-Z beef at the time?
Oh yeah. I was a kid but that was amazing!
At the time, I thought “Ether” was the craziest diss track I had ever heard, but looking back, I’ve come to appreciate “Takeover” a little bit more in the end. It was a good feud, that’s for sure.
That was the best. I love “Takeover.” I love the beat but I still do feel like “Ether” is the one. ”Ether” is so crazy to me. It’s so personal! I heard an interview with Memphis Bleek and he was talking about how Jay-Z sat in his car and listened to “Ether” for the first time by himself. He was probably scrunched up. I don't know what he looked like! “Ether” is crazy. I know I would’ve been feeling a type of way.
As someone who loved rap beef, is there a sick part of you that wishes you were involved in one so you could let off a diss track?
Nah man. I’m a defensive person. My personality has never been like “I’m pulling up on you,” or being excited to create a problem with somebody. Especially with rap, that shit can turn into something else sometimes. People end up dying over that shit. I’m not excited about rap beef. I’m just protective. If you try me, I’m gonna have to show up. And I mean verbally. I’m not talking about street shit. I mean artistically, creatively.
If you try me, I’m gonna have to show up but I don’t plan on being in rap beef. I feel more like a Kanye or Pharrell of an artist. Hopefully, in the end, people see me as an open-minded dude. Especially with venturing into other parts of art like film. I’m really excited about that and I got other endeavors coming soon that I’ve directed or I’ve written. I’d rather be looked at more like some type of savant rather than a battle-rapper.
Like an auteur in the film world?
Yeah bro for sure. I always say I feel like Dexter's Laboratory meets The Boondocks. I’m going to design all types of shit, clothes, film stuff. In my forties and fifties bro, I would love to design automobiles. I went to college to be a mechanical engineer. I love math and science. A lot of that shit is so far away from rap beef that is doesn’t make sense to even be thinking about that.
I’m a massive Dr. Dre fan, so I was really following everything surrounding Detox. All of a sudden, he came out of the blue and dropped Compton. One of the first surprise albums! You were one of the first people on it so that was my introduction to you. Can you tell me about your experience looking back on Compton? We’ve got the three year anniversary this year. What are some of the things you took away from working with Dr. Dre?
One of my favorite things about working with Dre is that he challenged me. Like someone who learns martial arts, you have different senseis throughout the course of your trajectory. He’s one of the senseis that I’ve had. He probably challenged me the most out of anybody that I ever worked with. He challenged me to try this and try that and use my voice in ways you never hear. I’m the first person you hear when you press play on Compton. I’m screaming but most people don’t know that’s me because that’s not something that I’m privy to doing. It’s tight that he pulled me out of my element and made me try some other shit. He’s got real competitive nature but so do I. So, in the studio, it turned into “Let’s see if you can do it,” and I would be like “What? I can do it.” He’s smart and he knows how to pull the best out of people and that’s what he did with me a lot.
There must have been a revolving door or hip-hop legends coming in and out of those sessions. Do you have any memorable stories that us hip-hop nerds out there might want to know?
Yeah! For me, all that was brand new. I was living in L.A. for like a week when I started working on Compton. I’m living there for a week and the next thing I know, everybody is pulling up. Pete Rock, DJ Premier, LL Cool J. I met T.I. with Dre. A bunch of different people ended up pulling up that I heard about or listened to as a kid. Seeing them in person was crazy. The other crazy part is that, at some point, Dre liked what I was doing and was banking on what I was capable of. I remember a very specific night when Pete Rock and someone else was in the studio, and Pete Rock played a beat and I had to write a verse for it. Dre was like “Watch this. Watch what he does,” and they’re just looking at me while I’m sitting at the microphone.
This is the type of shit where I was like “Man, this is so stressful.” I couldn’t think too hard, I just had to do what I do. I didn’t have time to write anything down, I had to come up with stuff until I got what I wanted and then I turned around to look and everybody’s smiling in awe like “This shit is fire!” Those are the moments that prepared me to go on Revenge where it’s all these people. Some people aren’t used to recording in front of people. But I had to impress my idols time and time again on the spot. When it was time to go to Revenge and do that with my peers, I was like “Man, I’m excited. I’m prepared for this.” I didn’t even realize how prepared for it I was until I got there. When everybody else started noticing I was different, that’s when I realized “Damn, I did a lot of preparation for this and didn’t even realize it.”
Having experienced both Compton sessions and Revenge sessions, when you’re working on your own stuff, is there any attempt to recreate certain environments that you experienced there?
Oh yeah bro, absolutely. You got to learn and take away from all of it. I worked on Pablo with Kanye for two weeks. That shit changed me too! Learning the way everybody works and the way everybody puts albums and projects together. I’ve been very blessed to be apart of some very special experiences. I’m definitely taking all of the things I’ve learned and incorporating them in my sessions. Of course, I’ve still got my own way of doing things as well. I think I’m a better artist because of all of it.
A couple of months back, I saw a picture of you, Anderson .Paak, 2 Chainz, Dr Dre. and Dem Jointz in the studio. It reminded me of a Compton reunion. What was going on on that day? What were you guys working on?
We were at Dre’s crib, bro. There were a bunch of people there. Sometimes we go to his house to make music. We were at his crib working on music. With Dre, you don’t know what music is gonna end up where or on whose project. He really loves to be creative so he was creating and we just happened to be there. You’ll get a phone call or a text from somebody saying, “Yo, Dre is at his crib working,” or Dre will hit you like “Yo, I’m at the crib working. What you up to?” I don’t know how I ended up there that night but it was one of the two.
Did you guys work together for your upcoming album at all?
We’ve definitely done some work but whether some of it will end up on it, I’m not sure just yet. That would be a crazy surprise if we did have something on there.
It would. But I trust your vision, man. I think you’re gonna drop something very strong. I’m looking forward to it.
Thank you man, I really appreciate that.
Based on everything you’ve been doing, I think it’s going to make a lot of waves.
I’m hoping so.
So what’s the next step for Mez?
It’s to do things that keep people guessing. To pop up in situations that you don’t expect me in. I’m having a really good time. Especially “Middle Child,” that was refreshing. This is something that I knew I could do and a part of me that I knew existed that other people didn’t know existed. You almost feel crazy when people don’t see you the way you see yourself but after “Middle Child,” people started realizing that I was multifaceted. I felt like I could breathe. The more and more I prove myself in the music business and film and anything I feel like I can do. The more I feel like I can exhale, being the person I know I’m supposed to be. The next thing for me is to continue on that path. Continue surprising everybody.