You’ve probably read Caleb Catlin if you follow this site. Here’s his No Bells debut: a conversation about the South with Louisiana rapper Quadry.
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There are plenty of common misconceptions about southerners. To many, being country is something to be looked down upon. We’re dumb, slow, and ignorant. We’ll never amount to anything. It’s a broad, classist generalization that should really only be dished out to the vile racists down here.
There’s even more added scrutiny being Black down south. Inside these imaginary rural barriers is rampant discrimination. Take a wrong turn and it’s a town still embracing the arms of Jim Crow. Louisiana rapper Quadry recognizes these biases about where he’s from and seeks to undo them; rather than become a chameleon, he embraces his hometown of Baker–a small town in Greater Baton Rouge–and the South at large by celebrating its complexities.
When you think about rappers from Louisiana, your mind immediately jumps to New Orleans. The dual reigns of No Limit and Cash Money took up a lot of the musical real estate in the ’90s, and Wayne continued to run the 2000s. At first, that’s where Quadry’s mind was, too. Wayne was formative for him, and in his voice, you can almost hear B.G.’s loose, off the cuff delivery that the Hot Boy perfected on Chopper City in the Ghetto. Still, Quadry is never defined by his influences. He’s distinctly himself, zeroing in on experiences living in Baker and how it influences the reality of his home.
His biggest success lies in world-building. Quadry raps with the detail of a storyteller where perspective is entirely dependent on the listener’s upbringing. If you know the Southern environment Quadry comes from, the swampy air and porch setting of the Steve Lacy-produced “1:04 PM” will feel familiar. “Its Ok to Do So” with underground Atlanta producer Tuamie radiates the homeliness of family reunions and road trips, thousands of trees passing as you drive by. For the outsider, the appeal is listening to Quadry vividly depict different walks of life. On “Bluegrass,” a highlight on his 2018 breakout Malik Ruff, he says, “I’m from where the air gets stale, just pick a weekday. Gunpowder, power that fails, go off the deep end. You can see the devil right there, he in the details… You ain’t been through the wild, that don’t mean it ain’t real.”
On his latest LP They Think We Ghetto, Quadry serves as an oracle for those criminally underrepresented and misunderstood. The dark atmosphere of “Once Upon a Time in the Parking Lot” seamlessly blends with the sun beams in “Where’s The Indica?” and “I Can’t Throw No Stones.” Talking to Brandon ‘Jinx’ Jenkins for Rap Portraits, Quadry said They Think We Ghetto spoke directly to the people who are from Baker:
“I played Malik Ruff in a barbershop. They liked what I was doing… but they couldn’t necessarily accept it all the way because I wasn’t speaking their language. That album speaks to the outsiders. On They Think We Ghetto, I feel I’m speaking more to my friends and the listener is just observing.”
The best way to sum up the thesis of They Think We Ghetto is in a video Quadry shared on Instagram during the making of the album: a 25-minute documentary about the streets of Baton Rouge called Thuggin It & Lovin It. It begins in Sherwood, with a man dressed in a baggy white jacket, flaunting his money and flexing in front of the camera. It pans over to another man, standing on his car, repping his city, and proudly chanting how he got it out the mud as his friends slowly saunter in front. “If y’all don’t like it, y’all can suck my dick mane!”
Over the next few minutes, the first man takes over, flexing his large wad of 20s and throwing them on the sidewalk when he’s counting. Midway, he yells in a thick accent, “My Coogi gettin tired!” He takes off his jacket, his $200 shoes, his shirt, and his pants, and sits on the sidewalk next to his money in his boxers and wife beater, posing tough for the camera.
On YouTube, the video’s comment section is brimming with condescending viewers. One commenter jokes that Martin Luther King is shaking his head. Another believes everyone in the video is dead or locked up. One says, “I apologize for my people being this ignorant.” Another: “This should be an embarrassment to all of the black race… thugs that don’t have no jobs just thugging, doing nothing to better themselves.” In our interview, Quadry offers a different perspective on it:
“The one thing that they didn’t understand was that this was a celebration of life. They beat the odds. They survived. So if I wanna take my shirt off and show money and have a big gun and show you where I’m from and what I did, you should have the right to.”
It’s this sort of empathy that paints so much of They Think We Ghetto.
Caleb Catlin: Was Wayne or André your favorite rapper?
Quadry: Lil Wayne, ‘cause you gotta understand the era I grew up in. I was born in 1995, so consciously, my first memories of music would be the early 2000s. So let’s think about what Outkast was doing around that time…things like “Hey Ya.” I mean, I probably caught glimpses of “B.O.B.” but I was 6 years old. I caught The Love Below, “International Players Anthem,” shit like that. That was the stage of their career that I knew, [so] growing up, that’s what Outkast was to me. At that time, Lil Wayne was the best rapper alive. He had just dropped Tha Carter 2, dropping mixtapes everywhere, so growing up, Lil Wayne was my favorite rapper.
I didn’t even start listening to André 3000 until people started saying I rap like him, to be honest. Because they talkin’ about early, ATLiens, [Aquemini], that’s what they talkin’ about. And I never heard that specific era until people said [I rapped like him]. Now I understand where that comes from. When I pitched to Pigeons and Planes in 2015, the song I sent them was inspired by “A Life In the Day of Benjamin André” because he was talking about this girl he knew and reminiscing about different points of Outkast’s career and relating them to what she was doing. That’s what I meant when I said I was influenced by André 3000. Now the rap style, people ran with that. And with people saying that, I started listening to them more and digging deeper into their catalog. But that was around 18-19, going into 20. I’m 25 now. So it’s not like I was listening to Outkast when I was 14 years old, you know what I mean?
I wanna take it back to the beginning, America Me. I think about that album a lot because of how socially and politically potent it is, on top of just being good raps. And if I recall correctly, it was released a week before Alton Sterling’s death. How do you feel about a piece of art still being that strong and relevant years later?
It’s a blessing for sure. It’s one of the things that I’ve always wanted, to have pieces be strong years after [the fact]. To still be relevant and hold some type of weight in the world during different moments. Some albums from the past and some songs you can put on from the 1950s, it’s not going to hit or hold the same cultural value as if you play the fourth song on The Chronic. Those two songs that are from the past, they’re both specific to that time, but one of them’s still relevant because he was talking about something that is universal.
It lasts longer than just a specific time period.
Frank Sinatra and Dre. Frank Sinatra is the shit from the ’50s. The stuff Frank Sinatra was singing about is very specific, you know, the lifestyle that he was singing about the person that you had to be to gravitate to their lifestyle. But you kind of had to be a cool guy for that time. Not everybody was that.
And it’s different meanings of cool too. What was cool in the ’50s ain’t cool in the ’90s.
Right, but it was more like country club type music. Only certain types of people do it, only certain types of people can even appreciate it. Like, you needed a record player to play Frank Sinatra back then. Dr Dre’s The Chronic, it speaks to the working class. Throughout time… go all the way back to like Karl Marx and Marxism. That’s what he was doing, He was speaking to the worker. He was speaking to the underclass and telling them to rise up. That’s all hip hop is. Good music is gonna stand the test of time. I feel blessed that I was even given the chance to be true to myself and have the time and the space to do it. Shoutout Brock [Korsan] man, he gave me space and time to do America Me. So you know, I really had time to sit down and do it…I didn’t when I had to go back and forth and punch a clock. I’m blessed to be able to even have something that people feel is like that, even if it’s one person.
We’ll take another step and go to Malik Ruff, which is how I came on to you. I looked at the cover art and the video for “1:04 PM” and was like, “Oh this is very southern.” For the longest time, I didn’t know it was Steve Lacy who did that beat. How did y’all meet?
We actually met while Dahi was doing a session. DJ Dahi was doing sessions for his album that he’s working on. The concept at the time was that he was tryna find his Snoop Dogg…like, if you think of his album like a movie, I was the main character, the main vocals. That was the idea then. So I’m cutting like 3 verses for him everyday with that idea, tryna be the guy. So he called Steve in one day, Steve sang the hook, Dahi on the beat, me on the verses. I don’t know if he still got that but that’s legendary in itself. The one thing I remember about that song and that session: I used a bar from an Outkast song. I think it was an ATLiens song. That’s when I was deep into figuring out why people say I rap like André and stuff like that. That was the first time I met Steve Lacy. We made “1:04 Pm” sometime in June. And it’s crazy because you’re not the first person to say that you didn’t know it was Steve Lacy at first, but I tried my best to make that shit known [laughs]. Shout out to Steve man. Hopefully that album lives on to be a classic.
What’s so cool about that song is that you think about what Steve did with The Internet. The Internet production is dreamier, more R&B focused. “1:04 PM” is rootsy. It reminds me of summer down south. How did you communicate the idea you had for that song?
To be honest, he had the beats already. I picked out four beats from that session and “1:04” was one of those beats. I think I held it for a little bit. I think I wrote it in the session, I don’t know. The lyrics just came like, “What’s the difference between a n***a and a man? I’ll wait.” There wasn’t really no idea behind it, was kind of just letting stuff flow, follow in my spirit. And I think “1:04” was one of the songs I made later. Like it was one of the later additions to the album. This next album [They Think We Ghetto] is way more intentional than Malik Ruff. I was being introduced to psychedelics when I was making Malik Ruff, you know, just experimenting with new sounds and textures, listening to different types of music.
What was it like when you first heard about “1:04 PM” being played on Blonded Radio?
You know what’s crazy? You ever seen Entourage? So it was a real Entourage moment. I was walking to get some shoes from Flight Club, walking past Melrose High School – a real Cali moment – and somebody called me. They said “Frank played you on the radio” and I’m like “Frank who??” and was like “OH FRANK OCEAN!” But it wasn’t him personally, it was the people hosting the show that day, Roof Access and Vegyn. But I’ve actually met Frank so he knows my music. He heard America Me. He been hip to me since then. Shout out Tremaine Emory. That’s one of the people that I built a bond with by staying out in Cali with Brock. A lot of the friends I made, credit to Brock, a good 60-70 percent were his friends and they thought I was cool. So you know, it’s like a mafia.
What’s one thing you learned about yourself between Malik Ruff and right now?
That I’m a true artist. I’m not just some kid who could rap who finagled his way into the record business. I didn’t pull no great heist or pull no wool over anybody eyes.
“Once Upon a Time in the Parking Lot”: explain that idea, what it came from, those experiences.
So if you watch Boosie’s Bad Azz DVD, it’s this little kid rapping at the camera: “Once upon a time in the parking lot, a n***a had the 40 glock.” The energy of it…that’s when shit goes left. So my first bars–“We four deep in here loud as fuck, two of my dogs got warrants”–like, shit’s about to go horribly wrong. The paranoia, the quick thinking, the adrenaline that’s pumping. I just used the little kid’s freestyle…it was just so Baton Rouge. Just those words “once upon a time,” that sets a scene. And I’m a natural storyteller as an artist. What would be my world I’m tryna bring somebody to? The parking lot. Everybody out, the cars out, girls out, it’s 2 in the morning, everybody coming from a party or a football game. Glocks are everywhere. Don’t step on nobody’s feet type energy, but it’s still a good time. That’s kind of the essence I wanted to bring forth. I’ve spent my whole life in Louisiana, so that’s the only point of view I can pull from. Every time I write a song, I try to make people understand me. So I tell them what’s going on in my community, what’s going on in my country, what’s going on in my specific neighborhood in Baton Rouge.
I did want to talk about Baton Rouge and how the documentary about it on Worldstar looks at that culture. I wanted to ask how you wanted to look at that whole culture within your community and how it connects to the album concept “They Think We Ghetto”?
That documentary is something I was watching the whole time I was making the album. I read the comments and all that. The one thing that did stand out to me, even the people that claimed they were Black, the one thing that they didn’t understand was that this was a celebration of life. They beat the odds. They survived. So if I wanna take my shirt off and show money and have a big gun and show you where I’m from and what I did, you should have the right to. Because you feel like you’ve overcome something that you’ve seen…over 60% of people be in jail or dead. So it’s like, for the people in the comments to be like “aw man this is too ignorant,” my thing is: ignorant of what? What are they ignorant of? ‘Cause the definition of ignorance is to not know. What do they not know? They know they live in Baton Rouge…to me they’re painfully aware. It’s a lack of empathy, a lack of tryna put yourself into another person’s shoes. I’m totally not the guys in the video. I like to write raps and stay in my room, I like to smoke weed with my friends, I’m not running around the city with a big gun. But I know people like that, I have family like that. That allows me to be a little bit more empathetic so I can understand why I can see them in a different lens. That was just something that stood out to me painfully. If people only knew that was a life celebration, wasn’t anything but.
There’s misconceptions about the south and Black southerners specifically. Talk about that easy dismissal of what the country is.
The American concept of “The Hillbilly,” let’s start there. The historical image of the South, it was always people who were “less educated or more agricultural as opposed to industrial.” That’s an average southern stereotype. Compound that with the Black stereotype of already being slow thinking and [uneducated], it’s almost like a double whammy. Even in hip hop, to be the region that…it’s the closest thing Black people have to an Africa in America. If you’re not from the Caribbean or an immigrant, if you were born in America as a black person, you can trace your roots to the south. After that, you jumping off a fuckin’ cliff. So to be that region that made Jazz, Rock and Roll, every important American music since 1940? It traces it’s roots back to the south.
The one thing I want people to understand about us, and I think Outkast’s early work did most of the heavy lifting, but I want people to understand that people are very complex, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It just so happens I was born as a Black person from the South. Even if I was born anything else, I think I would’ve been an artist and I’d wanna show the complexities of that point of view. I make [allusions] to the history of where we at. It’s a very real place, very influenced by its past. It can either go two ways in the South. It’s people who know the past and wanna get past it and build something new, and it’s people who see that past as something to hold on to. Hip Hop, that’s a certain history that needs to be held on to and preserved, and told. Not a human trafficking regime, because that’s basically what the Confederate United States was. It was a big human trafficking ring. Nation states colluding together to traffic humans. So that’s not something that should be applauded. It’s something that should be recognized and taught in museums and schools. I’m not against keeping a couple slave plantations up just so we never forget. I don’t like to draw comparisons but people go to Auschwitz every year just to remember that this shit happened – never again, this shit can’t again. I’m not for destroying everything about the antebellum period. It should be placed in it’s [proper historical context]. If you just put a statue of Andrew Johnson and say “he was the 19th President,” you’re taking the man totally out of context. Put him in a museum, talk about the Trail of Tears, put him in context. Don’t just put him up as a statue to be erected.
How do you think your perception of home has changed over the years?
Before, it was some place I wanted to get out of because I hadn’t seen much at that point. Now it’s a place I know is a sanctuary and a refuge, with all of its pros and cons. It’s still home.
Did the pandemic change that at all or was it something you were already coming to terms with?
Yeah, that was something I was already coming to terms with. Waaay before coronavirus.
I wanted to ask about those times in Los Angeles and if that separation from home was hard.
Not necessarily. I went there to make an album, and that’s what I did. I came out there with a plan. So it wasn’t like I came out to Cali and had to figure it out. Brock flew me out there to make music, that’s what I did, kinda tunnel-visioned it out. Making this music the best I can until it’s complete. I had my head down for like four years and that’s how we got albums like America Me and Malik Ruff. I feel this new one is way better because I did everything I wanted to do. I’m exploring everything in my mind that I think would be tight and just seeing how it sounds.
Did you record [They Think We Ghetto] in Baton Rouge or were you in LA for a lot of it?
“Once Upon a Time in the Parking Lot” I did in Baton Rouge. But I did like 80% of it in LA. But that was the only song I did in Baton Rouge. You can feel the [southern] energy. [The studio we recorded at] you have to turn the AC off to record, and I did that in the summer. So it’s catching all that good southern energy. Shirt off, n****s sweating in this shit. So that’s why it feels like that, that’s why it sounds like that.
That’s the big thing. You can hear all of that sentiment of home in your music. So it’s interesting that a lot of it was in LA.
To be honest, the bulk of it was done in a three week span with Tev’n when he came to LA in January. He had came once in September and we had kinda made some songs that we liked but it wasn’t what we were both accustomed to doing when we meet. Every time that we link up, we meet each other personally and make records, like it’s some classic records that come out of that. So when he came in September, it was just cool, we was making cool records. So we both kinda stewed on that for a good couple months. People in my own camp telling me “Yo Quad, it’s not hitting the same as Malik Ruff.” I’m like, “Maaaan how can you doubt the god so easily?” I had a chip on my shoulder like, “damn that’s all it takes?” Like I just dropped a masterpiece a year ago– this is in 2019 before the pandemic– I just dropped a masterpiece and that’s how y’all doing the kid? So when he came back in January, it’s 2020 a new decade, so it’s like, “yo, it’s time.” We made like six songs that’s on the project. “Once Upon a Time in the Parking Lot” is the oldest song on the current version of the project. Oh, no, I did the Grip joint in Baton Rouge, “I Can’t Throw No Stones.” So those two are the only songs I did back home.
Since you don’t actually live in Cali, what’s the difference in culture out there compared to Baton Rouge?
Are we talking above the 110 or below the 110? Because I went to Slauson Super Mall and that shit felt like Baton Rouge to me. It’s different…see I’m a person that didn’t go down there often, I’m not the person to be going on hood expeditions. I know how I would feel if someone would just come into my shit, you know? That’s why I never went to most places in LA, that would be the equivalent to where I’m from in Baton Rouge. I think the equivalent to where I’m from would be Inglewood. Not in the mix, but still kinda in the mix, like the outskirts of the mix. So nah I didn’t even go down there to where black people stay in LA, cause that was the main thing, like, “Ain’t no n****s in LA???” [laughs]. I was dumbfounded.
I guess that’s what I was tryna ask, if you felt homesick when you stayed out in LA to do recording.
Nah, I didn’t. Again, I knew what I was going out there to do. Basically I was going out there to complete the mission. I can’t come home until I complete the mission, so there’s no use in feeling homesick. When I got home sick was when I felt like, mission accomplished. ‘Cause the mission was to come out to California to get some money, I accomplished that mission. And the crazy thing is that was when I could do California how it should be done. I was couch surfing the whole time I was working on those albums. When I got a little bit of money I was able to get into a house and have my own bed and multiple rooms and a backyard and shit. That was the only time I felt homesick, when I really had a chance to live it. But with California, you gotta know what you getting into with California. ‘Cause I tell anybody, if you never been please go. Just to get the taste out ya mouth. It can be not what you thought it was or it can be everything you hoped it was…but it’s not home.