Young Chicago-raised rapper, Early, harnesses a fluid talent. He merges his soulful vocal gift, with a phenomenal flow and 13 years of classically trained piano to create something beyond the bounds of expectation. Having struggled with depression and self-confidence issues, Early rises above that, expressing himself deeply on his debut record In The Mourning Of… . Currently based in Memphis, he surrounds himself with a supportive family at Highlander Media Group that is consistently inspiring him to expand his talents.
We chat to Early about his debut record, the transition from classically trained piano into hip hop, and the influences that come from that. Ayla Dhyani writes.
You just released your debut record In The Mourning Of..., tell us about the concept behind the album.
It's my first full project. I had a smaller EP before that, but this one is a full 9 song project. It’s really the biggest step I’ve taken in putting my foot out there as an artist so far.
How has the response been so far?
So far everybody loves it to be honest. I've had a lot of positive feedback. I had the chance to do an album release party at a local hookah lounge and about 65 people come out just to be there and listen to the album. It was so cool just seeing all these people who wanted to listen to it and then on top of that actually liking it. It was really heart-warming.
You're classically trained in piano, how did you get into hip hop from there?
I was influenced by jazz when I was really young. My grandfather would only put on jazz every time he took me to school, and then from jazz, my dad slowly introduced me to hip hop. My first influence of hip hop was probably Common. His album Be was one of the first hip hop albums that I got to sit down and properly listen to. My parents wouldn't let me listen to anything that had explicit content until I got a little older and could understand it and that album was the first hip hop album I got to listen to that was unedited.
That's such a great album. The double-bass on the intro is spectacular. Beyond that, who would your biggest musical influences be?
Wow, so of course Common as far as hip hop goes. Childish Gambino as well. But I also grew up on influences like Earth, Wind and Fire and Anita Baker. When it comes to jazz, my favourite jazz pianist is McCoy Tyner, then of course John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. And A Tribe Called Quest of course! How could I forget about them? They're like my favourite group of all time. When Phife passed, I was so devastated. So I just try to put all of that in my music.
And you're based in Chicago?
Yeah I was raised in a town outside Chicago called Joliet, Illinois. Then I went to University in Memphis. I've been in Memphis for about four years now, so it's been pretty cool just seeing the different vibes between the cities and that's really helped me develop my music stand-point as well.
Do you feel that there's a strong community to fall back on in the music scene around there?
Yeah, for sure. Memphis is so loving. It's kind of crazy I've been here for only a small amount of time, but I get more love from people in Memphis than I do in my home town. It's such a family. In The Mourning Of… would've never happened without that.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
That's a crazy question. Probably my huge goal would be Childish Gambino. I feel like I really relate to him as a person. I grew up in a similar way to him. Probably him or Toro Y Moi, because I love his music as well.
Any other projects you're working on?
Well I'm with my team right now, Highlanders Media Group. It's run by two of my big brothers James Greene and Adrian Ford. Both of them have produced on the last album. The main producer, Ford, and I are eventually going to come out with a dual mixtape in September, which will have about 5 or 6 songs on it. It's going to be called Free Time and the basis of it is essentially just what we do in our free time. So we'd set out an hour or two, pick a sample, make a beat and write some lyrics. We're already about three songs in and we're just wrapping it up now, so you'll definitely get a chance to hear that in September.
What moves you?
What moves me? That's crazy. I guess just everyone around me. Family and friends - they're the people that move me. The whole album was based on me trying to get through depression. I struggled with depression and self-confidence a lot and my family helped me through that. My Mum and Dad are the biggest cheerleaders I have. They've sacrificed so much for me and pushed me every time I was down. All my friends doing they're own thing move me. Like I said, my big brothers are producing, getting out there, and putting they're brand out. All the people who I surround myself with are success driven. Those are the people that move me to keep me doing what I'm doing.
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