One could say that Hezekiah is a bit of an overachiever. The Chester-born, New Castle-raised, Philly-based artist is a producer, rapper, singer, songwriter, music video director and also founder of the producer showcase Beat Society.
He has released five solo studio albums in the last ten years and has collaborated with artists such as Santigold, Eric Roberson and Bilal. His latest release Dreams Don’t Chase Themselves dropped earlier this year and is a perfect representation of his skills as artist/producer. The record is all him – no features – and includes a short film and bonus Jazz Deluxe Instrumentals. Cop the album on Bandcamp here or on iTunes here.
Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble found time in Hez’s busy schedule to get the lowdown on how he came up in the industry and found out about the release of a new Johnny Popcorn album due for release this summer! (Yo, Philly cats! Make sure to catch him at Johnny Brenda’s tomorrow night to celebrate the release of Oddisee’s new album The Good Fight.)
What is your earliest memory of hip-hop?
My two older brothers, I think it was just them playing records. I don’t remember what records they were playing at the time. The one that really impacted me was my brother in the driveway playing KRS-One’s “Criminal Minded” while washing his car. And that’s when I was like, “Whoa. What’s this?” That was the first thing that really attacked me as far as listening to hip-hop as an emcee.
How old were you?
Good lord. Showing my age. I had to be around fourteen or fifteen. Something like that.
At what point did you realize you wanted to make music your career?
I knew before then when I was twelve. My uncle had a band, my grandpa had a band. My dad and my mom had a singing group. They even opened for The Supremes a few times. So, real young when my uncle was giving me guitar lessons, I knew I wanted to do music, but it didn’t translate to me wanting to do it for a career until I was around sixteen. And my brother said to me, “Dude, you act like this is what you want to do.” And I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Yeah, this is what I want to do.” I never was asked that question. And then I said it out loud like, “Damn, this is what I want to do.” So, yeah. I just owned it.
Which artists would you name as early influences?
Melly Mel’s “The Message.” Melly Mel period. What he did in Beat Street and what he did for the Beat Street song. Just how he painted pictures with his words. You know, “Broken glass everywhere / People pissing on the stairs.” You can smell the piss. You can see the broken glass. You know what I’m saying? How he painted pictures with words. Slick Rick. I like storytellers. So, that intrigued me first.
But then, as far as me being a black kid growing up in the projects of Chester, Pennsylvania and then moving to the suburbs in New Castle, Delaware in my teenage years. So, I had a different realization of life than normal hood kids. So then, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, I related to them more because it was more of a wider mindstate for me. I was raised by a cultural black family. It wasn’t just street life. So, I related to that. Like A Tribe Called Quest and The Cosby Show, I related to all of that. Like, the two-parent household and yadda yadda.
Do you feel living in a culture-rich city like Philadelphia has any effect on your sound?
Hell yeah. See, this is why I gravitated towards Philly. Not only because it was only a half hour away from Delaware and Chester. It was because of The Roots, you know. Same thing. The Roots were like A Tribe Called Quest and whatever out of Philly. They were like the Native Tongues of Philly. So, of course, I gravitated towards that whole community of Philly. I was a part of that whole community, that whole circle that I felt like I belonged, so I always try to get in where I fit in, and I felt like I really fit in with that clique. And a clique that encouraged you to be yourself.So, that whole Philly sound.
Then, I already had a background of live musicianship in hip-hop, which is like sampling and all that. I already did that before I moved to Philly, so The Roots doing it just confirmed that I was doing something right. So, they just inspire my sound even more and encourage my style and then enhance my style at the same time. So, yeah, just that whole movement.
How do you feel your style and your approach to making music has changed since the release of your debut Hurry Up and Wait in 2005?
It’s progressed as a far as me sound-wise and production-wise. Technology helped. (Laughs.) Technology changed because now I can find out if I don’t like a certain sound faster because of technology. I don’t have to plug in all these outboard gears. I can just go into the computer and twiddle around with some inboard inside the computer and figure out I don’t like it faster. You get more flexibility with a computer than you do analog, which just opens your mind to possibility.
As far as rapping and stuff, my style has changed because I learned more about myself as far as a vocalist, like how I deliver words and how I tell my story.
Do you feel like you’re more inclined to share more?
I never held anything back. That was one of the reasons why I kind of had a problem. I remember Rawkus telling me that I shouldn’t say certain things. I should spoon feed people. Yadda, yadda, yadda. They told me that I gave people too much credit. They were like, “People are stupid” and that I should spoon feed them certain things. And was like, “Nah. Nah. They’ll get it.” And I’m just getting that people are kind of stupid, and they don’t get it.
There’s nothing wrong with being nice. I get more out of people when I’m extra nice.
Yeah, I was going to say you get more bees with honey. But then your motive in what you do may not be malice, but because you share a different opinion to someone, and you say it in a song out in public, they’ll misinterpret it or take it personal. So, they were like, “You need to be more vague.” And I hate vague artists. I hate being vague.
So, your latest record, Dreams Don’t Chase Themselves dropped back in February. How do you feel it’s been received?
It’s been received pretty good. It’s just with no proper PR, I released everything myself basically. It’s doing pretty good. I’ve not got a negative review at all. It’s doing pretty good, and people are really liking the jazz instrumentals.
Yeah, I thought that was a cool touch. Why did you decide to include the short film with it?
I just wanted a reason to do this project. I can never do a project unless I’m inspired. I need to be inspired. I usually want to do videos. I wanted to basically mature in the craft, so that’s the reason for the short film.
Did you make the cover art too?
Nah, that’s my boy Mars Five. He did the Conscious cover art too.
You’ve worked artists such as Eric Roberson and Bilal. Are there any artists you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Speech from Arrested Development. I want to work with Kendrick Lamar. I want to work with – I like his voice – Big Sean. I love Big Sean’s voice, man. I have some ideas for his voice just to experiment. I got some ideas that I don’t think he’s doing with his voice that would add to his catalog. I always wanted to work with Nas and Tyler the Creator. I want to work with him. I got some ideas for him. I don’t know. Janelle Monae is another one. Yeah, but right now, that’s it off the top.
Why did you thank Russell Simmons on Twitter when mentioning the new album?
Because they put the first video out. Russell Simmons and All Def Digital put our first video out for “Hologram Dreams.” They put it out like a year ago. I had a friend that knew them, and they saw the video, and they pitched and bought it from us. That video wasn’t supposed to come out until the album was done, but it was good though. It was good promotion. It was good to just have that confirmation that we were doing something right once again.
What can you tell readers about Johnny Popcorn?
Ahhhh! Johnny Popcorn! We just finished our EP, and it’s due to be released in August this summer. It’s crazy, man. It comes as an album and a comic book, and that’s me as a singer, not a rapper. And it’s where I get stupid. It’s me and my friend Marjani. We’re the two lead singers.
Do you have any other plans for 2015?
Tour. I’m doing a European tour. Me and a rapper from Philly, I don’t know if you know him, Chill Moody. Me, Chill Moody and Nottz. He produced a lot of big songs you might know of.
Sounds familiar. Will you come back to New York, so I can see your show?
Yeah, I’m actually looking for New York shows now. Me, what I do every time…I need to stop doing it, man. I need to stop being a hermit. I said I wasn’t going to do it this time. I need to really stop. That’s why my career is where it is now. I need to get rid of that habit.
Is there anything else you want to add or promote?
Let’s see. I think that’s pretty much it. Johnny Popcorn and the Dreams Don’t Chase Themselves album. I’ll be promoting that for a while. Johnnypopcorn.com and 3crates.bandcamp.com. I think that’s it.