Shaughn Crawford and John Dubois
Hero vs. Human
Hero is an album for the people. And not just hypothetically saying that, it really is because there isn’t a lot of artists in my position who are independent and don’t really have a lot of push and pull and yet they’re still making waves. So in my opinion, I view this album as a stepping stone to really building people’s confidence up, to get people’s creative juices flowing, to show anyone that you can shake off some rust and you can make an album that resonates with people. And the feeling of it, you may not agree with the word selection I use in this project, but the feeling is what captures people’s attention. I think honestly it’s some of my best work.
After finishing my album We Must Do Better back in January 2017, Che Pope introduced me to Pusha T at G.O.O.D Music’s studio after my headlining show at the Union venue. Three months later, I was called to intern there. Originally most people would encourage you not to do such a thing, since artists don’t typically take that route. I saw the internship as an opportunity to elevate beyond my artist knowledge and excel to new heights on my Jimmy Iovine swag. I worked at G.O.O.D for an entire year assisting as much as possible because my love for the work overpowered every night I stayed up not getting sleep. They let me record in the studio rooms since the music was bubbling on the outside, I had the opportunity to study as if I was an engineer and had the chance to play early variants of the album for some pretty special people. “Blue Eyes White Dragon Flow” was the first single recorded at G.O.O.D that I knew represented the Hero energy I was going for. 85% of Hero was recorded, mixed/mastered in my apartment and Josh Simons’ crib.
PRODUCERS: MICHAEL SEVEN & JOSH SIMONS | TRACKED: PERCY ALANIA | MIX/MASTER: JOSH SIMONS | ARTWORK/PHOTOGRAPHY: CLAYBORNE B. BUJORIAN | DIRECTOR: ARMEN KARAOGHLANIAN | EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: JOE PEREZ | DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: FRANCK TABOURING | GRAPHIC DESIGNER: VARTAN PETROSYAN
Hero was slated to drop on June 8th, that was my birthday. Kanye West and I have the same birthday. I knew he was dropping the Kids See Ghosts project with Kid Cudi as well. I wanted to put this album out on that day for others who don’t think their content or their art can stand on that level without a major label backing or anything like that. People have been following me for years. I’m only 23, but a lot of my early material, people really resonated with it and they felt that it made an impact, whether that be the WondaGurl x Eestbound EPs or my first independent albums, it was just a lot to work with. I ended up having to push Hero back because the listening session conflicted with artists booking times at the studio. It was the first time in six years I’ve ever had to push back any release of mine. I teamed up with Stem for this project, so we didn’t want to release it without originally committing to the idea of doing a listening session because the album is worth more than just dropping audio and saying that we’re finished. Hero dropped June 28th 9 PM PST/ 12 AM EST.
The listening session was exactly how I wanted it, my close friends who have become my family as we’ve worked on this project together. I was honored to have Anthony Kilhoffer there because he embodies what Hero is all about. Three years ago, I used to email Kilhoffer religiously hoping he would respond. Now he’s on my album and one of the greatest mentors I’ve ever had in my career. To have once listened to his work to now creating new ideas for future content is the true meaning of manifestation. To have his first ever verse on my album is something I can’t believe to this day. He mixed, mastered and produced damn near on every Kanye album, worked on Watch the Throne and many other projects. Very huge milestone for me. I think at the listening session, it was evident, the album is very special especially since the range of emotions are everywhere, so it’s like one moment, someone’s really happy. Another song, they’re thinking really hard. Every song makes you think about something that you probably overlook on a daily basis. So to me, this is very full circle. It allows you to get every bit of expression and everything that I was trying to say, but it’s not too rushed, it’s not too compact, it’s the perfect amount.
I open the album with “West Coast Savior” because we don’t have anybody trying to push teamwork on the West Coast and there’s a lot of youthful artists, but the OGs have been disconnected from the youth. There’s just this elephant in the room of how there’s no real camaraderie involved unless it’s personal opinion. I fuck with this person, but not everybody is getting that look. Instead of chasing that, and I wouldn’t even refer it relatively to co-signs, I would just say that the game needed this album because we need more younger cats uplifting younger cats as compared to just waiting on someone higher up to do it. So everybody on this album isn’t just a collaborator that I’ve worked with, these are my friends. I’ve been friends with them for years. I incorporated learning from OGs as well. I was truly blessed to work with Joe Perez, S1 and Anthony Kilhoffer. I wanted to bring that level of artistry to everyone’s eye level, people who think that their product can’t get to that point.
I’m still at a very early stage in my career as well. Bringing the magic that people may never get a sense of experiencing, people will abuse you over that. They’ll make you jump through hoops and circles and favors and shit trying to get to that point. I’m very thankful that I’m not forced to overcommit or be in a position where I can’t provide or create the music I want to create freely. It just gets very tricky down the road if you don’t pay attention. I think that’s why I’m very blessed to even have made an album like this and to be from California, representing the West Coast with this project I feel everyone will listen.
Believe it or not, that clip at the very, very start of the album is a Kendrick Lamar clip where he was talking to MTV about To Pimp a Butterfly. I just resonated with that clip heavily when I was working on the album because I felt ultimately the level that I was trying to inspire was exactly what he had expressed. He said we’re not talking about the artists that have already paved the way, solidified their careers and already achieved the level they’ve achieved. He’s talking about the new artists. He’s like respect these writers, but also when you’re a new artist, you’ve gotta stand on your two feet. You’ve got to believe in your product and you gotta believe in the shit that you’re doing and to me, that’s all I’ve ever done in my career. I feel like with the track record that I’ve created so far, I don’t believe it’s been done on this side yet. So I want to continue to trailblaze. I want to continue pushing that because I think that’s what we need on the coast. That’s what we need in hip-hop. That’s what we need to push the genre forward entirely.
Kendrick was also very influential on “From Within,” which isn’t just a song, but is the core of my lifestyle. The moment I realized the importance of living from within was ironically when I first met Kendrick. I had just started working with Eestbound and WondaGurl. I was in the studio at Interscope having a session with Boi-1da, Nikhil and Sevn Thomas. I began playing them “Prestige,” the first song that ever got me really noticed and put on the map. Kendrick was working across the hall. He was passing by and heard music and just came in and checked us out and that was my first time meeting him. This was like early 2014 and I think I had to take myself more seriously when I started getting closer to those moments of being around people I look up to then seeing it come in your face like that. Like head on, you have somebody that you grew up listening to, even moderately having the chance to meet them or checking in on the music, it put a different battery in my back. That’s also why I pay homage in the first song because I remember when music was at a standstill and I had first heard of Kendrick and my dad and I talk about this all the time, there’s always a handful, selected, cultivated amount of artists that come in when the game is just saturated, dry and then there’s just somebody who comes in and just shakes the shit up. To me, I always have that image. I learned from my dad when he was growing up and I looked at his career, I looked and Kanye’s career and Jay Z’s career, people who are my heroes and I just took it to that level. I said, you know what, if I always believe from within, they always did too, even from their earlier shit, even when they didn’t know they had it all figured out or they didn’t know how it was gonna work out at all. I feel like that’s that one ingredient that they always took themselves seriously on that level. Even if they were in the beginning stages, you could always hear it. Even though others didn’t know what they were talking about, they still had a good feeling about the product they made and the confidence, it just resonated. You could feel it.
When I was making “From Within,” originally the record to me was this is not my breakout album, but I know when this album comes out, it’s going to impact people differently. We have a discography. We actually have an expectation that people are looking for. So what is the one factor that I come back to every time I make these projects? Where do I start? The answer is from within. It’s one of my favorite songs on the project because that’s where I go every time. Sometimes, I’ll go take drives or I’ll live with the music, I’ll be with my friends, I’ll be by myself, I’ll be in the studio, I play a lot of my content in every scenario I can, just so I can experience it fully. But I notice when I really make my best material, it doesn’t start with doubt, it doesn’t start with fear, it’s from within. That’s where my ideas start, that’s where my confidence is, that’s where my negativity is. That’s where the good and the bad is. That’s just where everything starts. It’s not even me manifesting it, but it speaks volumes that in order for me to work with my heroes, the trust in your music has to be authentic.
“Love” is one of my favorite songs on the album and that one also came from an internal place. A lot of my fans and a lot of music critics would always comment that I’m not lyrical enough, I don’t tell enough stories. None of that matters, but at the end of the day, I do look at my projects and I also reflect, I always give people a piece of me every album, every mixtape, every EP, I always give them something of me. I always feel that when people wanna know my story, I feel like they’re listening, but they’re not really listening to me enough. That could possibly be due to the fact that people have selective hearing and not everyone wants to take the time to really listen to your shit.
There’s certain beats that I hear that just allow me to vent on a level that I don’t need to write it, it just pours out of me completely. People know my very first mixtape, Heaven Isn’t Far From Here, was dedicated to my brother that passed away, but I don’t think people really caught that even though I put it on the cover, his initials are on me dedicated to him. But I still feel like people will have selective listening in what they really want to experience. So for me, I took this album as an opportunity to summarize every song on here to be an emotion that I feel. Going through life, you get to love, and I’m like man, what does love really mean to me? And the first thing that came to my mind was discussing the death of my brother Xavier. He was a newborn and how do you cope with a newborn family member dying and you’re not there? The guilt of you not being there and your father torn?
My mother and my father were always into religion but their relationship with it changed as they matured. They believe in God, but they also have their beliefs. I personally feel that the closer that I got toward dealing with religion, it was a hard thing. On “Love,” how am I supposed to take this entity seriously when he took away a newborn child that was less than two weeks old? I used to have a personal struggle with believing in a higher power because how can a higher power allow something this horrible to happen? It devastated my family. It felt like it killed my innocence. And now that I’m older, I’ve just learned to replace any negative situation that may haunt me or may cause me trauma, that you gotta just put love there. That’s what I mean when I say "child of God" on the album because I feel that if you can take the most negative situation and just put love into it, then that to me is kind of what the image of God and the image of Jesus would move in. You can be conflicted all you want, but if you remain conflicted, you’ll just forever remain mentally there. You’ll never get over it. To me, it was just kind of an epiphany. I was rapping about this very painful thing, but then at the end of the day, if I don’t find the necessary love to heal from this, then I’m never gonna bounce back from this shit. Now, I feel like I have a stronger outlook being Christian and me never taking the message seriously. I don’t believe in organized religion, but I do believe that there is a higher power and it’s just allowed me to get closer to that. No matter what you had gone through, I think it’s the principle that if you experience love, you’ll be straight.
My brother’s death gave me the mindset of wanting to actually fix relationships and wanting to not conform to evil. In a weird way, I feel like Xavier motivated, not only me, but there’s a lot of times in my life where I just wanted to give up on myself and I wanted to stay broken and I wanted to just leave things unmended. That’s not how you go through your life. So with that being the inspiration of rap, that gave me the motivation when my music wasn’t at its best points, to not just say ok, I’m content with just sitting on the back burner. Or, when things wouldn’t be good between my mother and my father, we would have difficulties together. We wouldn’t just resolve it sometimes. We would just leave things fucked up like any other family would.
In my experiences, having the music to vent about, gave me the time that I would need. I have the most incredible relationship with my father now. I feel like I can connect with my mother more because I’m the oldest now. My real mom has a daughter and my real dad has a son. So I have to play an even bigger role now than I did. It’s ironic. It’s like my first project, I was rapping about how I was torn that my brother died. Now here I am, eight projects later talking about how I’m the oldest and I can’t be a fuck-up and all of these things now. It’s an impeccable come-around story. You went through the challenge of it. You literally went through the entire 360 circle of the tragedy, the triumph and the conquering.
Shaughn Crawford and John Dubois
On Hero, I start by saying “I am a hero” within track one, but as I tell the story getting more toward the end, I realize that the world doesn’t need heroes, we just need each other. If we idolize and always put that fate into one individual, it never balances out to the people who really need it. So in a way, on “Love,” it was me how I said I wanna be a legend, but better yet, I just wanna be human. I used to want to be a hero and I wanted to be the number one person and I wanted to be the number one guy. Then I realized I just need to be a role model. I just need to be the best human being I could possibly be. Because I’m not perfect, I’ll never be perfect. Even if I like get on top of the rap game of entertainment and I’m like, “I’m the best,” that doesn’t do shit anymore. So when I look at being a selfless individual, to me, being a Hero is just being the best human you can be on all levels. That means you have compassion for others, that means you have nobility. You’re not a know-it-all. You’re someone that really understands that all of this shit doesn’t have an instruction manual. Nobody has the perfect way of doing this. So everybody needs to pitch in their ideas, their best content, their best music, their best morals. Everything needs to just be, in my honest opinion, not for the interest of personal gain, but for the interest of doing what’s right. That’s difficult for people when you’re trying to be successful, when you’re trying to be someone that is appreciative and pushing shit even more. But at the end of the day, we need more people to be looking out for each other.
Stream Hero in its entirety below.