Niagara: Talking Liberation with Redveil

More than likely, you’ve probably heard something of artist redveil by now. The 16-year-old artist made a big buzz on social media when popular YouTube reviewer Anthony Fantano scathingly dismissed his music on livestream — immediately followed by a bizarre twitter meltdown which seemed to be directed towards redveil. But the negative review proved to in fact be a boon to redveil, giving him a burst of attention from fans curious to hear what all the commotion was about. Now, redveil finds himself with a dedicated following, and a monthly listener count on Spotify which has shot up to over 200,000 a month (numbers which eclipse scene cohorts like MIKE, Mavi, and others, and continue to grow further with each passing day). “I came up off it,” redveil tells me, laughing light-heartedly. Turns out, there really is no such thing as bad press.

This idea of taking the negative and coming out with something positive is not something the young Prince George county rapper is unfamiliar with. In fact, the music for his new album Niagara, in and of itself, seems to be an exponent of this theme. The album is marked by fresh, summer-y beats and a soundscape which, as redveil himself puts it, “represents optimism and liberation.” As one listens to the album’s upbeat message of liberation, it can be hard to acquiesce that to a reality where the entire West coast is on fire, coronavirus continues to rage on, and a hard fought battle for racial justice continues to get uglier and uglier. But perhaps this is precisely the point. As one listens to the album, one can’t help but feel that redveil’s music is, in a sense, willing this attitude of optimism into existence — both in regards to his own personal feeling of liberation, and in regards to a more politically-oriented variety of liberation. As he puts it succinctly on the track ‘Revolutions’: “I manifest this shit … then watch it bloom like on my top.”

On Niagara, redveil does an adept job at flexing both his adaptability and potential. From the punchy, yet simultaneously lo-fi, drums of ‘Clench’, to the dreamy, trancelike acoustics of the Cameron Bolden-assisted ‘Grass’, redveil showcases not only a versatility in his ability to export his commanding presence on a variety of different sounds, but also in his production capabilities, as much of the album is self-produced. This album is certainly something of a change of sound from Bittersweet Cry, but with that there is also comes an added level of depth in this work which perhaps before felt missing a touch; and with as much as redveil brings up how eager he is to continue to switch his sound up, it becomes easy to foresee the young rapper’s continued improvement and development as an artist. In any case, one thing’s for sure; redveil does not want to be put into a box. And to this end, his music speaks for itself.

I recently caught up with the young artist over the phone to discuss his new album, the themes of liberation which are present in his work, and his political outlook. The contents of our conversation have been lightly edited for clarity.

Tell me a bit about your musical upbringing. I know you’ve said in the past you made your first beat with your brother when you were 11. Is your brother also a musician?

My brother has been making beats for a while. I remember watching him make beats when I was younger and so it kind of inspired me to try it on my own. So then I tried it, and it was pretty straight-forward. I would just watch YouTube tutorials, and just learn off the internet through trial and error by trying different stuff out.

Does your brother still make music?

Nah, not really.

And that first beatwhat did that sound like?

My first beat was from this tutorial on how to make a beat and how to sample in a beat. I basically just copied it step for step exactly, meaning that anyone who watched that video made the same beat as me. It was with this Whitney Houston sample which had these really badly auto tuned 808s and these really harsh drums. But it was the foundation, you know what I mean? The idea was there, but the execution was kind of awful.

For sure. Could you tell me a bit about your recording and creative process? More specifically, could you tell me a bit about how Niagara was made? As I understand it, you recorded and self-produced a lot of it from your room, correct?

Yeah, I recorded all of it from my room. I don’t even have a stand or nothing like that, the microphone is just on my desk. I’ll just be in between takes moving stuff, panning stuff, and just recording until all the kinks of the song have been worked through, or until everything I want to do with the song is right there where I want it. I feel like it’s a pretty good way to make music — there’s no extra anything, it’s just me and the software. For real.

Right, because I remember I saw the music video for Soulfood, and it’s just you around your neighborhood with your friends, and I felt like it really gave me these subtle 2010 Odd Future vibes. There’s definitely this DIY, homebrewed feel — which I feel like is a big part of what made early Odd Future so good — that comes through on your music really strongly.

Right, and that’s really what I was trying to convey. I wanted my music to just be my art from me as a person to you as a person. Like just pure art. That’s why I approached that video in the direction of just wanting to make something that was as lofi, lowkey, and down to earth as possible.

Okay so let’s talk a bit about the content of the album itself. The production on this album is, in a lot of places, really bright, sort of upbeat. I know that you’ve said that to you the sound of this album was supposed to be liberation and optimism, can you speak to that a bit?

I mean I just wanted the production to match the tone of the raps and sort of where I’m at in life in generaland not to be cliche, but I wanted to capture the brighter side of things. I feel like that’s one thing I was trying to do on the producer side that comes through. Like on the song Campbell, in the intro where the trumpets come in, it’s just like this very triumphant sort of sound. You know what I mean?

Definitely. In fact I was going to say how I feel like that’s something that’s really embodied in the song Campbell — you know, it’s this very evocative and sort of victorious sounding song. I love that soul sample running through the back.

Yeah, definitely. I wanted that song as a tone setter.

Has it been hard for you to maintain this optimism and feeling of victoriousness in your music with all the negative stuff going on in the world right now?

For me, not really, just because Niagara was more about my perspective on my life, and how I see things, and what I was experiencing. But I think the next go around, when I get to talking about stuff that’s bigger than me, it’s going to be much less bright and optimistic.

I think it’s really interesting that you say that it’s particularly about you personally. Because you know you talk about this sound of liberation, but I feel like it’s almost dual in nature — because as much as you talk about personal liberation, there’s also running concurrently with this theme of political liberation on tracks like Revolutions and Badnews. There’s like a personal-political split.

Right, exactly. Hundred percent.

Do they exist in tension to one another? Or does the optimism of one feed into the other?

I feel like they go together, like hand in hand. Because the political stuff kind of impacts everything, and so it impacts my personal opinion and perspective on how things can be improved. And that in turn affects me.

That brings me to my next question. On your single Traffic, you say that you feel that you’re “turning 16 to the tune of liberation”, which again touches on this more political theme of liberation. Do you still feel that way? That political liberation is at hand?

I think people are more aware of the fact that [liberation] is the end goal, for sure. In the past, I think people got caught up in the small rules and the small changes — but the problem with that is that at the end of the day if those small changes still keep people in the same system then the problem isn’t going to get any better. And when I made that track it was pretty close after the George Floyd stuff happened, and since that’s happened I feel like there’s an increased awareness that the end goal of this is to actually dismantle the entire way the system operates and rebuild it from the ground up. Like before now kids my age weren’t saying ACAB — it just wasn’t a thing.

Now I know you did debate in high school, but tell me a bit more about your political education. Are there any thinkers you particularly like, or any ideologies you subscribe to?

The thing is, I’m still at the very beginning of that political education, so for right now I’m still just tryna learn about how all these systems work, what’s connected to what, and what needs to go away or be fixed. But right now, my biggest gripe is with how capitalism is working, or at least how it’s working in America. Because right now there’s so much unnecessary pain and oppression that’s connected to the profit-motive. When you look at the history of how everything was set up in this country, you realize that it’s all done that way for profit. From slavery, to institutional racism, to redlining — you know, which was about keeping property values up — it’s all centered around money. And it’s like, when you put these people at a lower standing in society based on their economic status, poverty becomes a cycle that keeps you stuck there, and it’s hard for anything to change like that.

I’m actually glad you specifically brought up capitalism because there was this other line on Traffic which really stuck out to me where you say, “Burn it to the ground and build it back without the tolerance for anti-blackness or the capitalistic greed pushing my kin folk to the pen.” To me it seems like you’re drawing this really important connection between the system of capitalism and this inherent anti-blackness that sustains it.

Yeah, right! Like for instance, the prison industrial complex. They have arrest quotas and stuff like that in private prisons where they make money based on how full the prison is. Stuff like that.

Right. Now, you also say in that line “build it back”, so that then raises the question, what does that future look like to you?

Yeah, that’s the part that I’m still trying to figure out.

Are you optimistic that, whatever that future may be, it will come about?

I think if everybody on the planet isn’t dead in 200 years because of climate change then we’ll be in a way better situation.

Sage words. Okay, to pivot here, I saw you had a song with Donte Thomas on the album, who is also doing some really cool stuff in the underground scene. How did you two end up linking up?

That one was through social media. That’s how I link up with a lot of these artists who I feature with — through social media.

Are there any other artists who you’d want to collaborate with? Maybe some dream collaborations?

Yeah, right now for me it’s more so producers than artists that I wanna try and get collabs with. Like, hundred percent, I want to make a song with Knxwledge. Also, I’d want to make a song with 9th Wonder. Alchemist too.

Okay, so to bring it full circle here, what are your goals with music? What do you hope to get out of it?

That’s one thing I was also saying with the political stuff — I’m still very young trying to figure everything out. So until I know how everything works and find out, then I can’t really know what I really, truly want to get out of this music stuff. You know what I mean?

Definitely, that makes total sense. In the nearer term, what’s in the future for Redveil? I know on Twitter you said you’re looking forward to switching it up a bit, so what exactly do you envision your next project looking like?

Just to keep experimenting. Niagara was me exploring a sound that I enjoyed which I hadn’t really explored before, but there’s still other sounds that I want to explore. And that could be just whatever comes to mind. Maybe some hyperpop. I want to bring jazz to hyperpop, I think that’d be really cool.

Redveil’s Niagara is out now, available on all streaming platforms. Apple | Spotify | Youtube

Hip Hop / Politics Writer