On the first Friday of every month, we put the spotlight on one up-and-coming artist doing great things; for November’s First Look Friday, we take a look at the El Paso-based rapper The Fifth Estate.
Myke Joyner, better known as rapper The Fifth Estate, speaks eagerly about his recent appearance at this year’s A3C Festival & Conference in Atlanta. He performed alongside a handful of up-and-coming rappers from across the country while getting the opportunity to attend panels featuring J. Prince and other veterans of the music industry. The opportunity is indicative of Joyner’s rising status as an artist — a former military captain who is now a budding rapper coming out of El Paso, Texas.
Born in California but primarily raised in Killeen, Texas, Joyner was always in proximity to rap music. Influenced by Soulja Boy and rap music coming out of Houston from the early to late 2000s, he and a friend started rapping together in high school. But Joyner didn’t care much for the type of rap he was making let alone being exposed to.
Outkast‘s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below changed that — he loved the way Big Boi and Andre 3000 crafted their own stories and particularly admired the versatility of the latter’s album. Upon moving to New York to attend West Point, he became obsessed with East Coast rap, especially boom bap rap.
While at West Point he also had a revelation — he wanted to make music and create a type of rap music reminiscent of the golden age rap he had become obsessed with. Joyner started making music while he was still in the military, studying from those that influenced him — A Tribe Called Quest, Souls of Mischief, Eminem — while trying to find his own sound.
So far, he’s had two proper releases: an EP titled Clandestine and a mixtape titled Stuck in the ’90s. By the time Joyner released the latter he was living in El Paso and essentially done serving in the military. The project was a proper intro, Joyner paying homage to the golden age of rap while making a name for himself in El Paso’s local music scene.
But Joyner wants to be more than “the ’90s guy.” Although that will always be his foundation he wants to blend his love of ’90s rap with what’s happening in contemporary rap, and his new EP, Once Upon a Sign, is a reflection of that.
On Once Upon a Sign, his new two-track release premiering on Okayplayer, Joyner is crafting both good raps and songs. The standout of the two is surely “Getaway Drug” featuring fellow El Paso rapper and singer A Billi Free. The track feels like a summer day spent at a roller skating rink, Joyner and Billi trading raps back and forth over upbeat production by Zou High Beats.
The EP serves as a precursor to his upcoming album, S.I.G.N.S., which is slated to drop in February 2019. As a part of our First Look Friday series, Joyner spoke with us about getting into rap, performing at A3C and why 93 ’til Infinity and Midnight Marauders — which both turn 25 this year — mean so much to him.
How did you get into rapping and when would you say you started taking it seriously?
I got into rap in high school. One of my childhood best friends had moved away and lived in Mississippi for a while and when he came back he was like “Yo, we gotta do this rap thing.” This was around the time when Soulja Boy popped off and so that’s the type of energy that we were on when we first started rapping and everything. But I didn’t really start doing serious things until about 2013.
You were a part of the military for some time. How did that shape your work ethic and approach around making music?
It definitely had an effect. In 2015, I was working on a project, military sucked up a lot of my time, and I got put in a place where it was like put up or shut up. My best friend and now manager sent a video of Eric Thomas, the motivational speaker. It kind of just put my feet to the fire. Like “Yo, if you want this then set yourself up for success,” you know? Do everything possible while you still have this 9-5 paycheck and then you actually have a foundation to go from.
I didn’t tell a lot of people that I made music up until my last year and a half in service because I’ve seen people in the military do those things and a lot of them end up getting looked at as like some sort of gimmick. Like “Oh you’re a rapper?” and the whole stigma around that, especially as a black man.
I was working around a bunch of white people, and I was an officer, so I silenced myself a lot. I didn’t speak about certain things in my raps because I couldn’t get too political with certain things because it was technically against the law for my job.
You were originally born in California but raised in Central Texas. Was that around the time when Texas rap was bubbling and were you aware of that culture while you were living there?
Yeah, for sure. I did the vast majority of my schooling out in Texas in the Fort Hood area in Killeen. I graduated from high school in ’09, so from about ’03 until about that time that’s when everything popped off. That’s when Mike Jones became a national thing — Paul Wall, UGK, Swishahouse. All that stuff definitely influenced how I did things because that’s how everybody was doing it.
But I didn’t start listening to rap consistently until high school, like ’04-’05. Rap kind of came along late because it never really appealed to me. I was listening to a lot of old-school R&B and Motown, as well as indie rock and pop music. When I did start getting into rap Outkast was probably the most I listened to.
It was when I went to West Point for college that’s when I found my real core in music and that time frame is when I started really diving into and researching, you know, the foundations of hip-hop and everything. I was heavy on MF Doom, J Dilla and Madlib, as well as Wale, J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T and all those kinds of cats when they started truly to become popular.
So you’re in West Point and that’s when you got your proper introduction into boom bap rap. What was it for you that clicked about that style of rap, and can you remember the moment that occurred?
I would say it actually clicked for me in terms of like what style I liked around my junior or senior year in high school. I’ll probably say Speakerboxx/The Love Below but more specifically The Love Below was the first one that really snatched me up. I remember my first day in my basic training at West Point, and I’m standing in this formation and the sun is setting and my head is shaved and I got these thick ass glasses on and I look like a weirdo. And as I’m standing there it hits me — you should definitely be making music because that’s exactly what you want to do.
A lot of stuff I wanted to do at first was storytelling but I was in a weird place where it was like what do I have to talk about in my personal life? I’m a straight-laced kid from the fucking suburbs, you know? So like a lot of what I did was tell stories about shit that I had seen or stuff that like my homies had gone through or my parents had gone through and just worked on taking an entire experience and making it something that’s entertaining to listen to.
In 2016 did I start actually writing really personal records. I finally had broken out of that shell and realized like “Dude you actually got shit to talk about and that’s what’s going to make people want to listen to you — talking about relatable shit.”
I think that you mention that part specifically about how because of how you grew up you felt that there, it was hard to contribute because rap music was limited in its representation back then. Now we’ve gotten to an era of middle-class rap where we have artists like Donald Glover or J. Cole who’ve carved out a fanbase for themselves.
Exactly and I feel like that’s why artists like Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Kid Cudi appeal to me. I remember the first time I heard “Touch the Sky” and that was the first time I had ever heard Lupe. I remember him rapping “Guess who’s on third, Lupe’s steal like Lupin the Third” and I was like “Whoa. Who is this rapping about anime?” Even though Lupe still comes from rough parts of Chicago, the fact that he introduced things that are “not for black kids” helped me come to terms with who I am, what I like, and that not invalidating the fact that I’m still black. Because I could be from the suburbs talking proper and all that shit and have a 3.5 GPA in school and still get fucked up by the cops.
Last year you released your mixtape Stuck in the ’90s and I was wondering do you consider that your first proper project as The Fifth Estate?
So for me personally, ’90s tends to be my second project as Fifth because at the beginning of 2016, I released a seven-track EP called Clandestine. The issue with that was: the project was great, it was wonderful. I wasn’t able to push and market that project the same way I was able to do so for Stuck in the ’90s because I was deployed and in Guam.
I left the country just after the new year and released it on January 8. I was 17 hours ahead of most people in the states, you know? So I pressed up copies and stuff, and I handed them out and mailed people stuff. I pressed up 105 copies and gave them all away for free. Just to establish myself and build connections and relationships and everything like that.
What led to you kind of going backwards and being nostalgic instead of going for a more modern sound?
So the original idea was to write records to some of the greatest instrumentals that came out during the golden era and package it as a classic mixtape. As time evolved and I was getting beats and everything, my right-hand man Moon was like “We can do a lot of these as original records and everything.” And I just wanted to pay my respect, because I felt like, at the time, there was not a lot of respect being given to essentially everything that made hip-hop what it is today.
How did the songs on Once Upon a Sign end up coming about and what was it like working with A Billi Free?
Both of the records were made by my friend, producer Zou High Beats. Zou and I are the product of SoundCloud, because he is a Serbian dude from the Netherlands. He actually produced one of the songs off Stuck in the ’90s. So both of those beats he sent me actually a little bit ago. Probably about eight months ago.
“Break the Seal” is essentially me coming out of my shell. I just turned 27 this summer. I thought I had my life pretty much figured out and then I stepped out and I was like “Fuck, there’s way more to go.” I’ve been peeling back the layers and learning that I don’t have to fight my demons. All I have to do is learn to live with them, you know? And channeling that energy towards something specific.
“Get Away Drug” was different because from the moment I heard it I knew I wanted to work with somebody on it. And I don’t work with people often. So Billi and I — I heard about her all last year, but we didn’t meet until about February of this year. We were both involved in a project that some local photographers had started. So we got to meet and get to understand each other as artists and I’ve been a massive fan of hers ever since.
I hit her up and was like “Billi can I sent you something?” and she said “Yeah, no problem.” So I send it to her, I give her kind of a basic synopsis of what I’m thinking. She hits me back that night and she’s like “You’re going to have a verse by tomorrow.” And I was like “Oh fuck.” The next evening she sends me a sample of her verse and I was like “What the fuck? Damn! Not only did you capture this perfectly, you went in!” I started writing to it immediately. That’s the fastest I’ve ever started and completed a record. That entire song was done within 48 hours.
It’s extremely groovy and I actually got inspired to do the record the way I did it after listening to “Ace” off Noname‘s Room 25. It’s Noname, Smino, and Saba singing the hook. Noname comes in and then Saba — it’s like a bounce pass. A tag team. That’s the feel I wanted to go for because Billi is an MC. I’ve heard a lot of people refer to her as a singer and vocalist which is not false. But it’s not the full picture. Y’all don’t really know, she can spit.
Speaking of the new album, what can you tell me about it? And how else would you say it differs than Stuck in the 90s?
It’s gonna be more modern. There are records that I have already completed that are going to throw people for a loop with me. They’ve never heard me do those sorts of things. It’s going to be between 10 and 12 tracks. It’s gonna have enough length and maturity it in.
You recently performed at A3C. What was that like and was there any really memorable moments that you had?
The biggest part of the entire experience for me was the conference because they set up A3C in a similar way like SXSW does in terms of all the interactive stuff. YouTube was there, Acai was there, TuneCore was there. It was really an artist’s festival. A festival by artists, for artists, and I really felt that.
That was my first time to Atlanta. I’ve never been there. Never played a show. The amount of love that that city gives, it was wild. To go all the way the fuck across the country to people who don’t know me, have no reason to care about who I am other than I’m associated with A3C, and then figuring out like “Yo, they fuck with you. They really feeling what you putting down in a major way.” I left empowered and excited. I’ve never been more excited about music ever.
Lastly, two albums I know influenced you significantly, Souls of Mischief’s 93 ’til Infinity and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, both turn 25 this year. What is it about these albums make them timeless?
I can definitely say when I was younger it was a lot of, “Hey, you rap. You should know this. You should be familiar with this.” The older I get, those albums encapsulate exactly how I feel about my music, because I can pick up 93 ’til Infinity, press play, listen to it front to back, and still get the same value out of it I did when I first heard it. 93 ’til Infinity is my favorite rap song of all fucking time. Every time I hear it I get something different.
I feel like that’s what makes shit timeless. There’s so many different facets to learn from and it’s because of artists like that that’s why I take certain aspects of my craft very seriously. I’m very anal retentive about my artwork and everything. I want it to look a certain way. I want it to convey a certain message on its own outside of music, whether it’s super complex or not.
If I can pick up Midnight Mauraders right now and learn anything, even writing, production, presentation, artwork, videos, everything — the more things I can derive from it the more it stays with me.