The first image that will forever pop into my head when someone mentions the name Well$ will be this one. His “Savoir-Faire” video premiered on Noisey in late February, and though I would later find out he’s been making noise since the release of his first project in 2012, this was my introduction to Well$.
That image I linked to above – if you haven’t already checked it out – is a screenshot from the video that Noisey used as promo on Twitter. It shows Well$ with one arm around his much shorter grandmother, the right half of the screen revealing their upper bodies and the left half revealing their matching Jordan 3s. In an era where social media is overflowing with links, often times the greatest challenge for up-and-coming artists isn’t making the music, but actually getting people to care. To click their links. To give them a shot. Long story short, the “Savoir-Faire” screenshot worked, and so did the video.
What I saw onscreen was an energetic, 19-year-old North Carolina native that could rap his ass off – sure – but more importantly, he had character. There was something beyond the bars that drew me in and made me want to hear and see more. The music was impressive, but it was the delivery and presentation of it that made it stand out. It was authentic and fun; it reeked of personality. I hadn’t known Well$ for more than 2 minutes and 47 seconds, but that was long enough for me to know there was a story behind the up-and-coming emcee that needed to be told.
With his highly anticipated mixtape, MTSYD: The Revenge of the African Booty Scratcher, on the way (May 19th), Well$ spent a few days in NYC last month doing a little promo run. I happened to be in the city that same week, so late one night, I met up with the rising star and his squad at a bar in Brooklyn called Project Parlor, right around the corner from the Marcy Projects where Jay Z grew up. A minute into our convo, I knew everything I had suspected about Well$ was true. He had the same energy and presence I saw in “Savoir-Faire,” and he seemed genuinely excited to be doing what he was doing. I always say it isn’t just about talent; artists need to have that inherent X-Factor to get to the next level, and whatever “it” is, Well$ has it.
He had released another single off the project called “Dreams of an Insomniac” that same week, and it was a track that caught my attention for entirely different reasons. It was deep and introspective, and it became clear to me that Well$ may very well be as versatile as he is purely talented. He flexes his penchant for storytelling, but in a very different way than with “Savoir-Faire” or “Lil Tommy.” The music is reminiscent of his earlier work, but it’s polished and a certain sign of maturity. If the rest of MTSYD – which includes appearances from DJ Dahi and Mibbs of Pac Div – is anything like what we’ve heard of the tape so far, we could be looking at one of the strongest releases of 2014.
I spoke to the Congolese-American rapper about his heritage, what it’s like coming out of Charlotte, his outstanding “DJANGO” video (which just premiered on FADER), what listeners can expect from MTSYD and much more. Hit the jump for the full interview, and stay tuned for much more. If this is your first time hearing about Well$, is certainly won’t be your last. MTSYD: The Revenge of the African Booty Scratcher drops May 19th.
TFH: The first thing I wanted to talk about was the past couple months since “Savoir-Faire” premiered on Noisey. That’s when I first heard about you, and people are definitely starting to talk. What have the past couple months been like?
Well$: It’s been crazy dog. Every day I wake up to a new Twitter notification, like a big Twitter notification. So I mean I’m just like… man, my name is getting out there. More people are recognizing the name. People are saying they like the music. And this is the first time I’m actually hearing it on a scale like this. So it’s just like, surreal bruh. The past couple months have been surreal.
TFH: Talk a little bit about how you got into rap.
Well$: Rapping for me, man… I don’t wanna say it came easy or I fell into it or it was destined to be. It was something I chased, you know what I mean? I did it when I was young. I freestyled and joked around with it. I never really took it seriously. But when it was my senior year in high school and I knew I wasn’t gonna play ball no more, I had to choose what was next. So I was like fuck, I don’t wanna go to school no more and I have a talent at rapping, so let me take that seriously. Let me actually devote time to it and perfect the craft.
TFH: You talk about Immaculate Taste quite a bit. What is that?
Well$: Immaculate taste is my set. Those are my brothers. Like, all my niggas that I fuck with are in Immaculate Taste. We pretty much started from the mud – me, Mike [Zayiir – Well$’s manager] and Alec Lomani. We founded it, and I mean we just been going ever since. Our name is what we are. Immaculate Taste. Our taste is immaculate. Everything that comes out of our camp is gonna be quality. That’s just the goal that we strive for. Quality. Good shit. Quality before quantity.
TFH: A lot of your music hinges heavily on storytelling. So where do you get your passion for storytelling?
Well$: Storytelling, man, I’ve always been a talker. I’ve always been a real good talker. Storytelling just comes from hearing other peoples’ stories and always wanting to relay them. I connect to a lot of people on different levels so it’s like I hear someone’s story and feel like America should know about it. Not saying that I’m big enough to reach America yet, but when I put it in the song it’s meaningful and touching, and it touches me. That’s where my storytelling comes from. It’s not like from a background of me listening to Slick Rick or something like that. It’s just something I have a passion for and am able to do.
TFH: So you dropped your first project a couple years ago, right?
Well$: Yeah, when I was 17. Like two years ago.
TFH: Every artist goes through this, like, even superstars dropped a project early in their careers that didn’t really go anywhere at first, but everyone starts somewhere. So for you, what was the difference between that project and this one? What are you doing differently?
Well$: The last project was totally unorganized, man, we released it on a whim. It was like, ok cool we gonna release it today. This one took a lot of time and planning. We actually sculpted it. Ever since I dropped the last project I’ve been working on this one.
TFH: That was Say La V?
Well$: Yeah. I dropped Say La V and probably the week after I started working on MTSYD. I’ve been working on it for two years. I mean we just tried to make it perfect. That’s all it is. We really took our time on it.
TFH: So talk about the project a little bit. It’s called MTSYD…
Well$: MTSYD: The Revenge of the African Booty Scratcher. I wanted to make something so undeniable that the people who might have overlooked me in the past can’t front on me. They gotta give me my respect, like this kid is nice. I deserve to be in the same conversation as anyone my age with all these rappers that are out right now.
TFH: What can people expect from the tape? Anything specific? What should people be excited for?
Well$: People should be excited for the “DJANGO” video. That video’s gonna be crazy. Crazy. (Laughs). Like, craaaazy. Crazy.
TFH: That’s the one you’re shooting out here?
Well$: Nah, that’s what I shot when I was in South Africa. Man, you got your laptop with you? Bruh… if you come by the hotel I’ll give you a preview.
TFH: I read that you had recently visited South Africa. Talk about that trip and why you were there.
Well$: I went there to shoot videos, but also my executive producer Alec Lomami is there. It was around the ending of the tape and we wanted to finish strong so we were like, let’s go out here, shoot videos and knock out two birds with one stone. Business and pleasure I guess.
TFH: What was that experience like?
Well$: It was crazy. First of all, the dollar exchange is tenfold in our favor so I was out there looking like a fucking star (laughs). But I was a star without being a star. They’re 19 years out of segregation though, it’s crazy. Like 19 years out. So I was over there and there were some restaurants I couldn’t go into, like they wouldn’t serve me. So that’s kinda like a rude awakening, but other than that, that place is beautiful. Mad people sleep on it. Africa’s a beautiful place. That shit was mind-blowing, you know what I’m saying? The motherland.
TFH: I wanted to talk about where you’re from. What’s the scene like in Charlotte and what’s it like coming out of a city that’s not particularly well known for hip-hop even though you got guys like J. Cole from NC.
Well$: The scene there is like – in Charlotte there isn’t really a defined scene or a particular sound. You’ll find a lot of different sounds cause we’re just a huge hub. Mad people come to Charlotte from Atlanta, NY, LA, everywhere. But as far as the scene, I mean it’s hard. Nobody really has an eye on NC or Charlotte cause we’re not making no noise, so it makes it a little harder than places like Chicago, for example. But I like the direction that we’re going in. I feel like in the next 7 or 8 months people will look at Charlotte as having an actual legitimate rap scene because of people like King Mez, Deniro Farrar and myself. There’s a lot of ppl coming out of Charlotte and NC that are actually dope. In due time I feel like we’ll all shine.
TFH: What’s the biggest thing that’s allowed you to break through and get out of your city, even if it’s just coming to New York to network and share your music with some tastemakers? Like how does someone from Charlotte that’s not a hip-hop hub get New York media attention? Is there a certain strategy or is it more just making quality music?
Well$: I don’t know. It’s a surprise to me, I don’t really have an answer but I will say this. You’re not gonna get anywhere without quality music and a quality team. And your business has to be at least twice as good as whatever craft you’re putting out, in my opinion. So without those two things you’re not gonna make it in anything… out of anywhere.
TFH: And talk about what it’s like for you here in NY. You said earlier you hate certain things about it, but talk about the opportunities here.
Well$: Opportunities are endless. Bruh, everything is up here dog. Coming from NC shit is spread out, like there’s no subways, I don’t walk. Bruh, I don’t even walk to go get the mail my nigga. I don’t walk, that’s not me. Ask anybody who know me I’m lazy. So if it requires me walking, Leroy’s not going, Well$ not going. But here, everything’s so fast-paced, everybody’s rude, it’s cold, motherfuckers don’t know how to drive – it’s just a lot out here. But the opportunities are endless, like everyone’s out here. All the major publications’ offices are here. New York man, it really is a place of opportunity. You don’t know who you’ll run into. Everyone knows someone. So it’s just like, keep your ear to the streets and always be a friendly guy, you never know who you’ll run into that can make or break your life.
TFH: What are your goals for the rest of this year. What’s the ideal outcome riding off this tape?
Well$: I really just wanna start touring man and bringing light to the city. It’s been hella long since anything really good has came out of NC since J. Cole. I just want to bring light to the city and my team and show motherfuckers that we real. It’s not just the south, we not just a bunch of boom-bap artists that just rap about old school shit. We actually make music that can stand toe-to-toe with anybody in the world. You know what I’m saying? I wanna get on tour and showcase my ability with the hope that it shows where the city’s at.
And one more thing. The Black Hearts Club is the next Black Eyed Peas, Immaculate Taste is the set, and I’ma be the next nigga with a Segway. I’m out.