When I interview an artist, I don’t approach it like an interview. I don’t like interviews. I like conversations. I’m not going in with an agenda of things to pound out of the guy, I’m interested in having a fun, yet intellectual and thought provoking conversation. Of course, I want to ask some good, interesting questions that you guys want answers to as well but in the end, that’s what I do, I conversate. We had a nice talk and included is why he left Visionary Music Group, what he’s working on, his dream record label and more. Enjoy!
Me: Searching Sylvan has been extremely well received, how does that make you feel?
QuESt: It really means a lot to me man just from the standpoint of I’ve been working for two years on this album trying to be as honest as I could. Really keying on telling my story and also telling a story that I knew would help others going through the same situation I was going through. So to see that is humbling me even more. It’s definitely an amazing feeling.
Me: It was totally an album I could relate to. It helped me get through a similar rough time in my life.
QuESt: I feel like especially in hip hop, the relatability is so low and the people that we do relate to the most it’s becoming harder to relate to because of where they are in their careers and where they are in their lives. That’s not to say that won’t be me in some odd years. I just wanted to create something that anybody can really gravitate towards and anybody can say I’m going through that now.
Me: Don’t worry, if you want, you can aspire to be like Jay-Z 15 years from now, rapping about how you have everything, even though your fans have none of it. If you’re doing that, congratulations. I hope you are.
Me: So I know you like Visionary Music Group (VMG). Why?
QuESt: When I first joined Visionary Music Group with Logic and Jon Bellion, it came at a time where I knew them and I was at a really low point in my life, not to discredit them and say I was at a low point and that’s why I went with them, but they really came in at the right time and they were doing really great things with their fanbase and really gaging in at a high level. Logic was really red hot and Jon Bellion was coming up, it really seemed like the perfect fit. Ultimately, I ended up leaving because I felt what I wanted to be as an artist in the long run wasn’t aligning with what I was doing with VMG. Nothing against them, I have nothing but love and respect for Logic and everybody who works over there and I’ll never say a bad thing towards them. I’m not an artist to be a part of a fraction or an artist to be a part of something that is considered a collective of people who also do their own thing at the end of the day. If I’m going to be a part of a fraction, I’m going to be ahead of that fraction. So, I started Wise Up Music, which is really towards who I am as an artist and who I am as a brand. I want to stand on my own two, I want to be my own artist and it’s where I see myself in five years and where I want to be in the next 20 years and still be relevant to this culture. To do that, it’s gonna require me to really be a boss and be on my own and it’s ultimately why I left VMG.
Me: What did you learn being there?
QuESt: I learned the art of touring more than anything. It really keyed in on how to put on a live performance and how to do it consecutively. I think I also learned a lot about myself. I learned about the type of artist I am and the type of management I want to keep. But really what I want as an artist. I respect them for that and I really admire them. At the end of the day, I wanted to focus on myself, I wanted to focus on my brand and to be that dedicated to something, you have to make sacrifices.
Me: What was it like opening for a Logic show?
QuESt: It was fantastic. Coming from performing at shows where you get little to no interaction to performing in front of hundreds and thousands of kids who were also receptive to music, they weren’t just there to be there and they care what you have to say was fantastic and amazing. It was also a learning experience. I’m a strong believer that it gives you an insight on how to make music because now I have to think about how this is going to resonate with a crowd and also how this is going to resonate to an audience.
Me: Favorite city you’ve been to so far?
QuESt: For me personally, Montreal. It’s just a whole different atmosphere there, the people live a completely different aspect of life and they think from a different aspect of life. It’s a lot nicer and there’s no divided, concentrated areas. Everybody’s in the same area. From a crowd standpoint, I definitely have to say either, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles or New York.
Me: I’m actually planning on going up to Montreal this summer, which should be awesome.
QuESt: I’m infinitely jealous of you right now. You’re gonna have the time of your life. I mean it’s gonna be stupid cold but it’ll be dope.
Me: Like I was about to say, it’s about seven degrees right now in New York, and you’re in Miami… (JEALOUS)
QuESt: Well i’m in my Miami now but I came from New York last week and it was brick. It was 17 degrees with a sick windchill. I could not deal with it.
Me: That’s why i’m trying to go out to L.A. eventually. Every single winter makes me want to get out of here more and more.
QuESt: I feel you. L.A’s the move too man. There’s a real creative boom that’s happening over there. Like a lot of artists and producers are moving over there.
Me: Yeah, that’s what I was about to get to because a lot of people are going there. Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, you. Everybody who’s on the come up is going to Los Angeles.
How do you like it out there?
QuESt: It’s dope. When I first moved to the west coast I was in San Diego and then I found myself in L.A. a lot. It’s dope, I can understand why people would want to be there because it’s a creative hub. The weather is so consistent, it’s just an amazing area to be creative, I understand why people are there. It’s harder being creative in New York City. A lot of people, especially in the 90s or early 2000s were in New York creating music because of how the atmosphere was going. Just in terms of how rugged it was and how dominant the sound was, being in New York made sense. But this new wave of music that’s happening, people are becoming a lot more experimental and really focusing on making strong pieces of art and L.A.’s the perfect backdrop for it. That’s really what it is for artists. Artists feed off of energy is in the area is what they’re going to create. So it ‘s fantastic, it’s really a great situation.
Me: Right now, It’s either Atlanta, with the trap sound and a lot of the rest is being made in L.A.
QuESt: Just like you said, Atlanta’s poppin’, L.A.’s poppin’. The west coast in general is always poppin’, there’s always things just happening. The bay is just red hot right now it’s ridiculous. New York is kind of having their resurgence and Chicago had its resurgence in 2012 so yeah, it’s good to see what these fractions are doing and what they’re bringing out to revamp their sound.
Me: Overall, music’s in a decent place right now compared to where it was 5 years ago.
QuESt: Yeah, it’s really crazy to think of how things were 5 years ago. Just in terms of the progression of artistry. I think it’s fantastic in a way that anybody can be creative and there are no rules or guidelines to what’s going to be successful. It’s a fantastic, beautiful thing.
Me: Let’s bring it back, where were you at 5 years ago?
QuESt: In 2010 I was broke, I just got kicked out of my cousin’s crib and I was sleeping on park benches and I was rocking with a mixtape called How Thoughtful. It was the second time I had completely hit right back to rock bottom. It was probably the darkest time of my life. I was very egoic and young but I had to humble myself and understand the things I had done wrong. I was like 19 or 20 years old, just trying to figure out life. I’m still trying to figure out life but back then more so.
Me: I found your music fairly early, I think it was How Thoughtful or Broken Headphones. What was the reception like then?
QuESt: It was a different time. It’s not like now where everything’s ripe for the picking. Now, as long as you have a Soundcloud account you’re there. I can’t keep track of how many guys are doing shit. It was kind of like, you get in, blogs were hot at the time. Then, I had a particular fanbase I had was very fresh and I was young so I didn’t understand a lot of things. I was putting out a lot of content back then. Then it was kind of like the year of who can do the most shit. Back then, the reception from my fans was very fresh.
Me: One of my favorite things you’ve done so far has been your work with Thelonious Martin. How’d you get hooked up with him and older collaborators like him and TreaZon?
QuESt: We were all just grinding around the same time. I remember I was putting out music in 2009 and Thelonious was just sending me 48 beats in one folder like 3 times a month. He was just putting samples and drums together all the time and we always kind of linked up. I’m really proud of him and his progression and who he’s worked with. He never stops. That’s a testament to who he is as a producer and how fantastic he is. He really believes in his vision and his brand. He was just sending me records all the time since 2009. TreaZon I met through a mutual friend. We began making records together. He needed me to some records, I needed him to do some records and now he’s one of my closest friends, beyond rap shit. But yeah, it was just the Internet.
Me: Aside from Searching Sylvan, what is your favorite project of yours?
QuESt: Probably How Thoughtful. Just from a personal standpoint, not a musical standpoint. Just from the standpoint of this is where I’m at, I’m just gonna write. It wasn’t about me trying to impress anybody or showoff how much I could rap. It was just like, this is where I’m at, this is what’s going on and I’m gonna rap my way through it. It was really pure.
Me: On the same tip, if you had to pick a favorite song of yours, what would it be?
QuESt: I’m not sure if I know to be honest.
Me: It’s a tough question, especially with you, you’ve put out so much music, it’s tough to pick one.
QuESt: Yeah man, it’s a large collective. I don’t think I’m at that point where I can pic a favorite record. Like R. Kelly can because he has a catalog of 15 albums at his core and I feel I haven’t gotten there yet. I haven’t gotten to the core essence of who I am as an artist yet. I’m praying and striving for that with whatever I do next but I feel I haven’t gotten there yet. Searching Sylvan is my most complete piece of work and it’s closer to where I’m trying to get to but I don’t feel I’ve hit my stride yet. I don’t feel I’ve hit my So Far Gone [Drake] to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. I feel like even with Drake when he was putting out Comeback Season, Room For Improvement and putting out all these freestyles I don’t think he really had that answer until he hit So Far Gone because that project was definitive to who he was as an artist. That was when he established who he was as an artist. I don’t feel that I’m there yet. I feel I’m starting to get there but I’m not there yet.
Me: While we’re on Drake, how’d you like the new project?
QuESt: I thought it was fantastic. He’s at a really special time because I don’t think he really has any competition. This is the first time where an artist is really ruling the airwaves. Nobody’s doing what he’s doing. Right now he has 6 top spots on the charts. He’s controlling damn near half of the charts. It’s interesting to kind of see where he’s at and I think it’s kind of resonating in his music where he’s just like there really is no competition.
Me: Do you feel like you can get to Drake’s level and have the kind of audience he has?
QuESt: I think that’s the next plane. I feel like that’s where I’m heading for. I feel like there’s a void there to operate on the same level but not necessarily have his same audience. I’m at that point of my career where I’m one away. Searching Sylvan came after nothing for two years. It got me back on my feet. It’s like Chance before he got the Gambino cosign, like Drake after Comeback before he got the Wayne cosign and Kendrick after Overly Dedicated. I feel like I’m right there, everything needs to be just next level, without losing my core and losing who I am and what I stand for.
Me: Who’s your favorite rapper right now?
QuESt: Probably right now it’s Drake but of all time it’s Jay-Z.
Me: What’s your favorite Jay-Z album?
QuESt: Reasonable Doubt. I know that sounds corny as shit.
Me: Don’t worry, that’s mine too. That’s the right answer.
QuESt: (Laughs). Well my favorite track off the album is Bring It On and it’s not because it’s a great record, it’s just because in Jay-Z’s verse, he flipped his flow so many times in 24 bars and in 1996 that was unheard of.
Me: That’s totally some rapper shit to like that song for that reason.
QuESt: Yeahh, that’s totally rapper shit but yeah, that’s my favorite Jay-Z album.
Me: So you’re next album going to be completely different from Searching Sylvan?
QuESt: I wouldn’t say completely different. I think I learned my lesson. It’s just going to be better.
Me: On Searching Sylvan, you told your story. Are you done telling your story or is there more to tell?
QuESt: I think we always have more to tell but the way it’s going to be different is, I’m just telling a different story. I’m that point when I make another project, it’s going to describe where i’m at. Searching Sylvan is a part of my life that’s not longer a part of me, it’s really foreign. Now I’m experiencing new things and situations. Whatever I do next has to be really current.
Me: Who are you working with right now?
QuESt: Right now, I’ve been having talks with STREETRUNNER, he’s really really fantastic and he’s out here in Miami so I think we might cook up a few. Other than that I have my producer team The Marvels, I work with them a lot, they’re on Searching Sylvan. Will Notes who’s in-house Wise Up and produced “Automatic” and a few other records for me. I really want to keep working with Sky Hutch. I’m looking to expand and get into a few more producers who can bring more of a polished sound. Not to the point where it’s completely deviating from my sound. It’s taking what I do and making it more successful to the general audience.
Me: So who are a couple of dream producers you want to work with who you feel would fit your style?
QuESt: I’d really love to work with Hit Boy. I think he’s really fantastic and he’s a great producer. I’d really like to work with Cardiak and Boy Wonder. That’s really about it. I really like my team but new producers would just help bring more quality.
Me: Do you have any ambition to go to a major label or do you want to go the Macklemore route where he got all over the radio as an Indie artist.
QuESt: There’s only one major label that I would sign to and it’s Roc Nation. If anything else, it would be for distribution. I have nothing against any other label, it’s just that I know what I want. That’s the only label I would consider signing with. Actually it’s the only label I’m going after.
Me: Have other labels gone after you?
QuESt: I’ve taken meetings with a couple labels but you know, labels are dying to sign you. It’s no longer the stigma of if you get a label you will flourish. The real power in the industry isn’t the labels it’s the artists. The artists control everything, we control what’s hot. Labels can only give me a lump sum of money they can’t influence me. The only label that can positively influence my situation and allow me to be my own artist and own brand is Roc Nation.
Me: Yeah, labels used to be just to make as much money as possible but now there’s more indie labels that actually care about the few artists that they have and their friends with that artist.
QuESt: Yeah and even the stigma of the music business like it was never the music business, labels just found a way to put $17.99 on a CD. But then music become free to get so you could get the album for free and go to the show? Dope. The reason people pay for music isn’t because they love the music. I mean yeah, they love the music but if that was the case then everyone would pay for music. The reason people pay for music is because they care about the artist. Like I sold 500 copies of my Searching Sylvan mixtape in 5 days. People didn’t need to buy that album, it was a free mixtape. They bought it because they care about me, they care about my story and they care about where I was coming from. Labels don’t get that. There’s no formula to this shit, the rules are broken. It’s about the fractions. It’s about the people you care about rocking with the people that support you and shaking hands and kissing babies really.
Me: (Laughs). At the end of the day, even the biggest artists like the Drakes have their true, dedicated fans. Drake will have people that only know his radio hits but then there’s his dedicated fans that will buy the album, go to the shows, buy the merch and so on.
QuESt: Yeah Man, people just have to care about what you do. The music is what you represent. The music is a soundtrack for people. It used to be that it was about the music but it’s not that way anymore. That’s why there’s not a lot of longevity anymore. That’s why a lot of artists are coming and they’re around for six months and then they disappear. Yes, your music and your content matters for how long you last in this industry but people care more about what you represent. Your music and your videos are the soundtrack to your brand. Brand equity and the music and everything that goes before it is kind of how the model goes. The Internet kind of allowed you to see through bullshit and not really deal with what ever’s thrown our way. It’s not like Atlantic is just gonna throw us some shit and you have to fuck with this because we fuck with it. Now it’s like, no, I don’t want to listen to it, I’m going to listen to Searching Sylvan, I’m gonna listen to (Mick Jenkins) The Water[s], I’m gonna listen to (Isaiah Rashad) Cilvia Demo, Father, Migos. I’ll listen to people I fuck with.
Me: Labels still try to control you to this day. Not as much anymore but they always have artists that they keep pushing to radio and using payola to get radios to play. If the song’s not that bad, it’s gonna catch on. They still kind of have that power.
QuESt: It still happens but what’s happening now is that they’re dinosaurs and they don’t understand that shit doesn’t do anything for you. I know this is the perfect example but looking at Iggy Azalea, I love Iggy, I think Iggy’s dope for what she does. The “Fancy” record caught fire and I think that record’s absolutely amazing. Then you have a guy like J. Cole that’s just like I’m dropping my album in three weeks and now he’s about to go platinum in less than two months. It took him half the time to get where Iggy’s at because labels just don’t get it. It’s just new rules in the industry. It’s new ways of going about things now. You don’t have to do things in a standardized way, they can be done differently, but labels are holding onto their ways.
Me: Your Searching Sylvan record is a perfect example because it’s an album that you put out for free. It went on to get critical acclaim. Because it’s free, people don’t have to pirate it, it’s easy to download. It’s a new method now. The spontaneous download is hot, just like how Drake did it. Drake sold 500K copies of that mixtape that he dropped out of nowhere.
QuESt: It’s new rules man and things are constantly evolving. Release dates are played out, it’s the truth. Things are moving quickly so people want to be captured in the moment. We don’t have the time to worry about an album dropping in February when it’s November. We don’t give a fuck, like some people don’t even know where they’re going to be three months from now, never mind caring about when your mixtape or when your album is gonna drop. It’s just a testament to how things are changing so rapidly and labels don’t really understand that.
Me: Labels are trying to adapt to it but in a way, I don’t think they can. I think majors are slowly going by be phased out.
QuESt: Yeah, It’s evolution. If they want to exist, in my opinion, the best way for them to exist is to adapt and that’s why I think Roc Nation is so dope because they’re adapting. They’re not really focused on putting out artists. A lot of artists are there under management deals. Distribution is where it’s at. Distribution will always be relevant because people will always want to buy something physical. Oh I know people are saying physical copies are dead, blah, blah, blah but they’ll never die out because physical copies serve as collectors items. That’s why Taylor Swift can still sell 2.5 Million.
Me: Oh yeah, people always want to buy shit. Like I collect vinyl. I don’t buy much but occasionally I buy an album mainly because it looks good. It’s cool to have a nice big album cover and it also supports the artist.
QuESt: Exactly like you couldn’t have been more correct
Me: Let’s end on a Kanye note. First, what’s your favorite Kanye album?
QuESt: Definitely Late Registration.
Me: You’re my man, because that’s definitely the best album. People that say any other album are crazy.
QuESt: I mean, College Dropout is dope but it’s probably my 3rd favorite. My favorite is Late Registration and then probably Graduation. But all of Kanye’s albums have a special place in my heart. When Late Registration dropped, I feel like the way rap music was made completely changed. Like people were now into compositions and remaking samples and actually adding to the texture of their shit instead of it being, okay, we’re going to play a couple synth chords, a bass line, just chop up samples and then rap. Kanye made it to the point where we’re going to focus on how great the music is. That’s what I felt like his objective was.
Me: Kanye’s cyclic with his albums. He went from Graduation, to 808s which was a depressing album that a lot of people didn’t like, which then transitioned to the highly popular My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and then to the once again, emotional and dark Yeezus. Now it seems like he’s coming back with a happier album. Just by watching 20 minutes of his new interview with the Breakfast Club, I can tell he’s in a different place. He’s like most artists, as you said how they’re feeling in life is what’s going to come over in the music.
QuESt: You can tell he’s in a completely different atmosphere right now. You could tell with Yeezus he was frustrated and it showed in the music. The beautiful thing about it is, as long as you stay true to yourself and who you are, good things will happen.
Me: And that’s all folks. PEACE!