ABOVE: PELL IN MIAMI. PHOTO COURTESY OF IAN WITLEN/RED BULL CONTENT POOL.
Pell brings joy wherever he goes, though unlike the many party-starters who lead by example, the New Orleans rapper is focused on coaxing it out of people. When we meet in Miami, the first thing he does is glance over at a nearby pool and convince us to do our interview from the water. At his Red Bull Sound Selects show later that night, he coaxes the crowd to join him for his chorus to “Eleven:11,” and gets them to sound pretty good doing it.
At 24, Pell is still forming his sound, and a happy bounce and ethereal wordplay are becoming his style signatures. He started in 2017 with the release of the hyper-playful “Patience” and, as of Sunday night, he’s also part of an Academy Award winning team for his contribution to La La Land‘s soundtrack. Today, we are premiering his new song “Late at Night.”
MAGGIE LANGE: It’s your first time in Miami! Are you into the going out scene?
PELL: I love dancing. Hell yeah. One of the most important things to me when I go out is not just dancing, not just turn up, turn up, turn up. We know all the same songs, we can share that. But I want to share a more intimate moment, so I feel like I got something else out of the night. After one or two bars, if I ‘m feeling it, I go to the club, and then go home and read, and then K.O.
LANGE: I also read after going out. My friends make fun of me.
PELL: I think it’s the most refreshing thing you can do! Your mind is so at ease and relaxed because you’ve exerted all this energy and then you’re using a completely different part of your brain. It’s like when you wake up and go for a run, but the opposite.
LANGE: What are you reading?
PELL: I was reading a little bit of Americanah and now The Color of Water.
LANGE: What’s your favorite book?
PELL: The Portrait of Dorian Grey. Being someone in an industry where it’s all about yourself, it can be very vain at times. I’m building a brand, and like: all eyes on you. What I like about the book is that it examines the idea of vanity from a metaphorical standpoint, where you can really become ugly internally. That’s something I don’t want to do. It’s a warning.
LANGE: From your music, it’s evident you really like wordplay.
PELL: Oh, I love wordplay. I love Wayne! In my opinion that’s what makes a good rapper, you have to have a good sense of humor. Technical skill is very important, but it can also be overrated. There are times when I can’t listen to certain rappers because they’re too serious and all I’m getting out of it is heartbreak. I like to have a bit of comedic relief.
LANGE: Where does your music come from? Do you take notes or is it more spontaneous?
PELL: I like to say my songwriting process is the lack of having one. When things become too formulaic they become boring. I always want to make sure I’m true to the song, not just meticulously over thorough or calculated. Whatever lyrics come to my mind initially, that’s what we run with. Never overthink it, never overthink it.
LANGE: How do you know if you have something?
PELL: You need allow things to breathe. When you have a moment of inspiration, the beauty of that is that you can ride that wave until it crashes. Then leave it alone. That’s the key. Sometimes people will kill an idea by overthinking it, playing it again and again. The beauty, the essence, is in the moment of inspiration. Don’t kill it. In terms of the core, what you reveal when you made it, you’ve got to let that stay.
LANGE: Do you need to wait until you’re in a mood to write?
PELL: I don’t write unless I’m inspired. That comes in many different forms. It’s day-to-day human interactions, people that I meet like yourself, girlfriends, my friends, my family. I’m just trying to connect. When I was a kid, I was very isolated. I was asthmatic. I was allergic to shellfish—growing up in New Orleans allergic to shellfish—allergic to fresh cut grass, peanuts. I was cut off from a lot of things to the point where I think it made me introverted. That’s how I really found music. When I started making music, I wanted to bridge the gap. As an introvert, I wanted to see if other people are feeling things I do. The internet only affirms those beliefs. With my music I want to be able to connect, that’s why I draw all my inspiration from relationships.
LANGE: Your stuff is often praised for being happy, bright, joyful. How do you keep that celebration in a climate that’s categorized by a lot of bad, weird stuff?
PELL: It also serves as therapy, as a release. It’s something that’s going to help you through dark times. We, as rappers, are looked at as hard, tough people who are really critical. There are certain rooms that I enter, where I am perceived as someone that needs to be colder than I am or less positive, because it somehow conflicts with reality. But that’s why you make music. You want to reflect the culture but you also want to inspire the culture and I want people to be happy. I want positivity to not be a lame thing. There is already enough darkness in the world. I think there’s a movement in the hip-hop community of more positivity. You’ve got D.R.A.M., Kyle, Gotti, Chance, all these people that are showing black boy joy and I love it. I really do.
FOR MORE ON PELL, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.