The DMV’s next great rapper has an ordinary bedroom. Crumpled posters line the pearl white walls, a vertical Jamaican flag wilts in the back of his white dresser. It’s hard to make out what sits on top of the dresser besides the clear small bottle of Fiji water. The most important detail in the background is an open closet on the right wall. It only comes into frame for a minute, but it signals redveil’s next move: it’s the last week of April, and redveil will soon leave the comfortable spring weather of Prince George’s County, Maryland and embark a world tour with Freddie Gibbs beginning in Salt Lake City, Utah. Sporting a light purple shirt from a church event with a white whale on it, the PG County-bred rapper begins to answer a question about when he decided not to run from his demons. “I was about 15,” he said. “I was just tired of living like… hold on, I’ll be right back.” He returns a minute later. “Aight, that was my mom.” It’s the only moment where there’s a reminder that despite the praise he’s received for his new album learn 2 swim, he’s still only 18.
The D.C. born rapper’s success comes from a seven-year grind featuring swift switch ups in sound, reflection on his style and a rebirth leading to becoming the artist he always envisioned. “I knew music or something creative was going to be my way of life,” he said.“ I’ve been grateful enough to have that clarity for so long because not everybody has that. There is no other way of life for me.”
But to understand the Largo, Maryland lyricist requires knowledge of his origins. redveil – Born Marcus Morton – grew up in the DMV, a place he calls the Black Melting Pot. “You get to grow up around a lot of different Black experiences, a lot of different Black cultures across the diaspora,” he said. ”It’s an uplifting environment for Black kids that have the wildest dreams in the world.” It’s a different tune from the same kid who, back in 2018, released a song called “I Need To Get Out Of Maryland.”
His brother helped manifest his destiny. Sitting in the passenger seat of his brother’s car, the young Morton was put onto The Internet’s “Palace/Curse.”
“I heard that song and it made me want to make beats,” he said. “It kickstarted my passion for music.” Morton immediately went home, downloaded Tyler, the Creator’s Wolf and began making beats on FL Studio while learning piano. His first beat, made when he was 11, went OK, a step-by-step copy of a tutorial sample beat that featured Whitney Houston and “really badly Auto-Tuned 808s and harsh drums.” Seven years later, he’s created one of the best produced rap albums of the year so far… as a college freshman.
His love of Tyler and Odd Future would come out in his early music, which is best described as Odd Future-type beat production with Doris-era Earl Sweatshirt style rapping. His early work featured childhood friend and fellow rising rapper Ka$hDami, giving him an early collaborator who matched his drive. But like Tyler and Earl, as he matured, his perspective on music would shift. He began gravitating more towards Earl Sweatshirt’s turn from smooth edge-lord lyricism, to poetic expression of the deterioration of mental health and the effects of familial Black trauma. It’s a wave that’s inspired a new crop of rappers from Mavi and Messiah! to MIKE and Maxo.
Morton’s skill found him associated with the class, leading to his breakout self-produced project Niagara, a mixtape that caught the attention of Hip Hop Twitter curators such as Shrek Knows Rap and HipHopNumbers. But the attention spanned past niche communities. Actor Jonah Hill told redveil on Instagram he was his favorite artist, J.I.D shouted him out on Instagram Live, Rich Brian, Saba and Mavi co-signed him, eyes were now on Morton, but what the kid – who once rapped he was the “fucking trap Tyler” – didn’t anticipate was a full circle moment, a co-sign from Tyler himself.
“It still just looks photoshopped,” he said laughing when talking about the moment he saw Tyler had posted his song “Drowned” on Twitter. “I had just woken up and was about to start my online school because of quarantine, so it caught me off guard. That’s the last thing you expect to see as an underground artist.”
Morton has received numerous (and just) comparisons to Earl Sweatshirt, but his next move would end up paralleling Tyler, a change of sound coming from now being able to create the visions in his head he once didn’t have the resources to pull off.
Which leads to learn 2 swim, a record that adds on to the dusty sampling of Niagara but incorporates lush instrumentals, crisp mixes and full big band jazz-influenced production that gives redveil a clean sound he’s never been able to reach before. The album, which was released last month, details redveil’s coming of age post-pandemic, as he struggles to paddle through a sea of regrets, alienation, anxiety and reflections on his upbringing, but finds a way to keep his head above water.
So what was the biggest jump from Niagara to learn 2 swim for you, like creatively or just in the process of making the record?
redveil: The biggest jump was definitely working with more instrumentalists. I had the homie Jermaine play bass on a lot of these songs, and it completed the music in a way that I just wasn’t doing before. It really added to the sound of the album, and it was really fun getting to work with more instrumentalists and just really taking my time and being as detailed as possible with the music.
That was the immediate thing that jumped out to me about the record as soon as I heard it. The production was crisp and clear and you’re using real instruments, live big band instrumentation. What made you want to go in that direction?
I always wanted to do that. I just didn’t really have the connections and resources before. Now that I have that, I can go back to what I wanted to do originally and work to find my own sound and try to build upon the sample sound that I was already messing with before.
What draws you to that type of instrumentation over some of the other production that you’ve used in the past?
It’s just a more complete version of my ideas. Because one thing about me is that even if I’m working with a producer that’s sending me a beat, I will rarely, rarely ever finish a song with that beat file being the same way that they sent it to me. I always change the speed, add effects, add little things and stuff, because I just like putting my spin on things and trying sounds that I hear in my head that I want to do with different instruments. It’s just really fun to do.
In a previous interview you mentioned you made this album for you and not for anyone else. What made you decide to take that approach, especially as someone who came up off comment sections and a Hip-Hop Twitter fan base?
The first thing that HHT received well from me was something that I was doing for myself. So I made a lot of different styles of music early on like (trap and lofi rap), and I was trying to think about what’s most popular and what would probably be the easiest to blow up off of. But once I said “screw that” and started just making music for myself, that’s when people started to receive it better. So it kind of just gave me full confidence to do what I think is great and it’s paying off, I think..
What mindset were you in when you wrote “mars?”
I was finishing up the album, and I was looking at the track list, and I was like: “A lot of these songs are different, but I felt like I was repeating myself a lot.” So I thought about what I hadn’t talked about yet that’s relevant to this concept. And I wanted to talk about different ways that I’ve felt alienated as a young person with various mental health challenges. I had the idea of being on Mars before the song was written, but as I was writing it, I was coming to the realization that as a result of this alienation I felt there was this unnecessary resentment of the people around me and people that love me. That was something that I really wanted to let go of and learn to work on.
It’s super interesting that the DMV has had so many young rappers blow up even before TikTok blew the door open that Instagram and YouTube had helped jar loose. Yung Manny, Xanman, MoneyMarr all blew up, and you also blew up at 16. Why do you think a place like the DMV can foster something like that?
I remember in school when all those guys blew up. They were all my age or a couple years older than me. It just set a different type of tone for other young rappers because it didn’t matter what age you were, anybody could see that success. So I think it put a battery in people’s backs. It’s kind of a domino effect. It definitely made me realize I could do it too.
Throughout the record, you mention facing your demons and not running from them. But there are those moments where you’re still trying to grapple with some of the issues in the past. At what point did you realize that fighting your demons head on was the best way to move rather than suppressing them or ignoring them?
When I was 15, I think I just kind of realized that I was in my own head a lot. Being in my own head really amplified a lot of the problems that I was having. Because I was not the type of person to vent about it to people. I’m not the type of person that makes it known to people that I’m going through something. I kind of just deal with it myself. But that wasn’t working. So I had a moment of realization that there is more that I could do. I had to be okay with sharing (my thoughts and feelings). I had to be OK with being more open with people.
Josh Svetz is the Reviews Editor at HipHopDX and has been featured in Pitchfork, Spin, Paste and Passion Of The Weiss. You can find him trying to revive the word “swag” and arguing about Roscoe Dash’s impact on modern music on Twitter and Instagram.
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