(album art by Wendy Ku)
In some sense, spirituality and religion seek to answer the impossible questions of life. Morality is an attempt to provide a framework for what it means to be a “good person,” but as any philosopher will tell you, every argument has a counterpoint; every rule, an exception; every truth, a caveat. G. King’s latest project, Art Thou Holy?, faces these complications head on, presenting stories and experiences from King’s own life and framing them in relation to this eternal struggle. In an insightful and honest conversation, I spoke with King about his origins in music, his creative process, and what he hopes listeners will take away from the project. His words provide context to a collection of songs that is meant to be open to interpretation, clarifying certain elements while leaving others deliberately ambiguous.
R: So first of all, tell me about yourself. How long you been making music? What inspired you to get started as an artist?
G: I did a little bit in middle school like 7th or 8th grade, but I really started to get a hold of it in high school. My friends and I would freestyle on the phone a lot; I had 2 friends that would always call me, or I would call them, we’d just get beats off youtube and play them for each other. We had everyone on speaker phone, and we’d play the beat and everybody would rap, just merged the calls. That’s really how I started freestyling, and then eventually writing around sophomore year. That was my first experience with writing, but then I would go to camps in 8th and 9th grade, like engineering camps, and they had talent shows, so I said “okay, lemme see if I can really try to rap somethin.” That was really my first time performing. I did that, and I actually messed up, I only had like 5 lines that I wrote, but I messed up on the last line (laughs). It was funny going through that, at a time where I wanted to try out performing more. Even after that, people were saying, “oh that was so cool!” and everything, and I was like ok, if they think it’s cool, maybe I should try doing some more stuff.
Another thing: so I’m from Detroit, but I go to a mega church that’s technically in Southfield, just right across 8 mile. That’s like the separation between Detroit and Southfield, it’s right on that border. So it’s maybe like 2-3 thousand people or something like that, and they also have a youth service or whatever, which has all the grades 6-12. But they have a talent show every year called the Harvest Fest. They had like this little talent show competition, where whoever won would get a spot at the Harvest Fest, performing in front of like 3000 people. So me and my friend said ok let’s do that, we’ve been rapping good, we were still doing it on the phone, we should be good! So we came up with this whole rap, and we went to the talent show. We got up there, and I completely forgot all my lines! Like I’m up there, everybody’s waiting and stuff…we even started over a couple times, you know they’re all cheering us on like, “You got it! You got it!” And I kept trying to think but I couldn’t do it, me and my friend kinda did the same thing, so we got off stage. They tried to give us another chance, and I wasn’t about it, but my friend got up there and he just starts freestyling! Nothing that we prepared, and everybody went crazy. They ended up giving him the spot, and I was like dang I should’ve went up there, like I was literally freestyling off-stage in my head when he was up there. So then next Sunday comes around, at the youth service, and they give me one more chance, but it’s in front of even more people this time. I’m like alright I gotta do it, just face my fears, face my nervousness, so long story short I did it, and got the spot, so we got to perform at the talent show together at the fest. That really then started the recording, cuz after that people saw what we could do, even being young. Then past highschool I started tryna actually put out music when I got to college.
R: I really like the phone thing, I’ve actually never heard of that. So then, how did the project come to be? Like what were some of the inspirations, and what was the creative process?
G: When I first started making music in college, I was always just about progression. I came out with my first project, might’ve been like 2013, like my second year of college. I came out with that, and I’m really keen on like finding instrumentals online, like rare beats nobody knows about, to the point where they wouldn’t know whose beat it was, finding unique sounds is something I’ve always prided myself in. I came out with that, and it was good, and I was thankful that U of M had those resources, I did both that project and my latest project at the studios there, in the Duderstadt. Anyway, after that project I’m like, I want to make sure that this next one is all me, like not using other people’s beats because it doesn’t feel like it’s my actual project. It’s good that I can paint a story with those sounds, but I wanted to construct it from the ground up. So that was my whole idea, and I kinda knew that I wanted to show a lot of evolution from the past project.
I originally had different plans for it, different names and maybe something shorter, 4 or 5 track thing that could lead into another project after that. I had a whole concept behind it, like the beats were going to be more hype and energetic, something to get people more accustomed to my sound. But as I started making songs, it didn’t feel like it was going to take that direction. As i kept making music it kinda felt like something different, like a theme was going along with it, which is usually how my projects end up turning out. Ideas in my head floating around in my head, but until I start really crafting out songs is when it becomes more clear. That’s basically what happened, and then things were happening in my life that kinda slowed things down, I was getting busy with school and personal life and everything so it was harder to record. I had performed a lot after my first project, around Michigan like the Crofoot in Pontiac, and a few at the Blind Pig for some dope people, so I got a lot of experience, even got paid for some of them, and it kinda just opened my eyes up to different things. So I started writing a lot more after that, and I took a lot more time with this project. I wanted to make that next performance worth it.
So we started crafting songs, and a theme just started to come together: Just living life, kinda what I was going through at the time, got a lot of great people through the grapevine to get that sound together. It took me almost 2 years to make that project, because I had a certain sonic idea I wanted to go with, and I wasn’t going to compromise the sound just to complete the project. Me and the people I work with would just throw ideas around, beats and samples or whatever and talk about them. And the whole time people kept asking me, “when’s the next project coming?” for two years (laughs) and I’m just like, “it’s coming, it’s coming.” I was just really patient with how I wanted it to sound, and I just thought that it would be the right idea, as far as the theme, with how long it was taking, to kind of showcase myself, and what I’ve been going through. People always asking me how I’m so optimistic, and positive, and I wanna tell people, and also that people go through stuff, I grew up with a mom who was super spiritual, she was a real to the book type of woman. My dad wasn’t like the opposite, but he was a lot chiller, so it’s just like, people all go through things, they’re not all going to be a certain way, there’s not always a happy ending for everything. I wanted to show that, and the questions of what do you think is good, and what do you think is bad; everybody has their own perspective one what’s good and what’s wrong, we might think differently but we could both be right in our thinking, you feel me? So that’s kinda what I saw through those 2 years, and I wanted to paint that picture.
R: Yeah, so that’s interesting because I was about to ask what the title meant, and obviously it’s relatively clear from one angle, but also it sounds like it might be a more ambiguous question than just a yes or no. A lot of it is also deciding for yourself what’s right and wrong. At first I took it as a very blunt question, like look at yourself in the mirror and decide, but maybe it’s more like ask yourself these questions, and see what you think it means to be that.
G: Right, right. And that’s kind of how I took it, like ask yourself that question. Because I was painting that picture, but you can also see a lot of uncertainty in my message, like in myself in a certain way, so I wanted to show that too. I’m trying to find myself through all of this at the same, so I’m giving my perspective of what I see, what I’ve gone through, but at the same time I’m like, is this right, is this wrong? Why are people doing this, why is this happening? So, it’s just a journey for self and also like, this is what I’ve seen, and as a result of this I think this. I still don’t know if that’s the right thing, you know?
R: Totally. So I hate to ask like what’s your favorite track, it doesn’t necessarily need to be your favorite, but maybe one that stands out to you, and if so, why?
G: I always say the 4th track, “Greed,” that one stands out to me just because of how it all came together. That was a beat that I helped create, me and my friend, it was a very organic situation because like we were both in the Duderstadt making that beat. I’ve had a little experience with beat making, and I’m still getting into music production, I’m slowly building up my studio in New York too, because I obviously want to continue. It also took so long to write that song, like I usually don’t try to force writing, so that one took a long time because I’d been listening to the beat for so long, after we took a couple weeks making it, Kevin and I. I listened to it for so long, but it never struck me to write anything until a few months later. I think that was the last song I wrote on the project, so, I was listening to the beat and I’d been thinking up rhyme schemes for months, and wrote a couple different versions of the beginning. It’s not like I was in writer’s block or anything, it just never struck me to write to it until a certain period of time. As soon as I started really putting time into it, all those rhyme schemes had been baking in my head for a minute, so the lyrics came real easy. And then when I recorded it, it was just probably one of the longest songs to make for some reason. My friend, who’s like my unofficial manager, he hated the song at first. So like imagine putting all of that into a song, you’re really feeling it, and your friend’s like I’m not really feeling it. He’d always tell me, “I don’t know about this one.” But I still really liked it, just thought it might be missing something, and we made some changes, and then when we sent it to mixing my friend sent it back with this girl humming on it, and I was like that what it was missing! And I didn’t even ask him to do it, I just told him to see what he could do with it, and that just made it. The whole thing came together, it was very genuine. We all kinda said it was like the sleeper track, like it might take some time to grow on some people, but when it does it’s gonna be there.
R: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I guess sometimes it’s just gotta happen the way it will. It took longer, but maybe unintentionally that gave you the chance to see the rest of the album and how it was coming together, and maybe add something in that song that you thought it needed, trying to round out the project in a way.
G: Exactly, cuz I had to think about placement too, and a big thing was like, “where is this gonna go,” so that’s another thing. But that’s a story in itself (laughs). Just figuring out where tracks belong, continuing the wave and direction of that project, or highs and lows, some people like different sides.
R: If you had to tell people one thing about the album, what would it be?
G: All aspects of life involve choices and consequences. I feel like the whole direction of the project is based off what actions people do, and the consequences that come from that. That’s what I’d like them to think about.
Artist Statement from G.King
Art Thou Holy details the ideology of “Right vs. Wrong,” and how those concepts differ depending on what an individual values. The ways people cope with situations vary and can all be considered good or bad in some respect. The acceptance of things like smoking, drinking, drugs, and violence depend on a person’s views, and ultimately the morals/ethics they’ve developed. However, no matter the circumstance, no one man should be more “Holy” than the next, and therefore should not be judged. This project navigates my personal relationship with this ideology, how I have coped in relation to my upbringing, and how this topic has affected the people around me, thus raising the question: “Art Thou Holy?”