First and foremost, would you mind sharing the inspiration behind The Will to Win?
We began working on this project in the fall of 2012--a time when two of us were dealing with major health issues. Shortly after hearing A-Live was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure and was in desperate need of a transplant, I was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in my right lung, which I had an operation to remove just a month later. We came out of our respective operations unsure what the future held for us and if we would ever release music again.
After our surgeries, we worked harder and put more pressure on ourselves than we ever had before. Instead of worrying about survival, we were way on the other end of things—focusing on winning. It seemed insane to the people around us, but we somehow knew that that would carry us through our recovery.
The experience gave us the conviction we are destined to help keep real music alive. Releasing our biggest project to date just a year after staring death down made us realize that we had it in us to meet all of the smaller challenges that come with succeeding in music—as long as we had the will to win. We hope to inspire other people to find the Will within themselves, as well.
The Will to Win boasts some notable featured guests (Mickey Facts, ScienZe, Charmingly Ghetto, Geechi Suede and others). What made you reach out to these artists?
Our whole movement is based on keeping the soul from the golden era of hip hop alive and adapt it for today's culture. We wanted to collaborate with artists who are part of the tradition of real east coast hip hop--both the past and the present to show that that thread of music is still going and can still be built on. It was definitely a real honor to have artists I grew up listening to like Raekwon and Geechi Suede contribute to the project.
How did cancer change your perspective on life and music?
My surprise battle with cancer made me realize how much of life is about perspective. Two different people could have the same exact illness, but experience the process differently based on how they look at the world. I went through the entire process--discovering my illness, the operation, and recovery—supporting A-Live (Green Street co-founder and my best friend since high school) as he was fighting for his life himself, knowing that he was going through a situation that was potentially much worse than my own.
People would tell me that I was a hero going through a dire situation, but I had a tough time seeing it that way because my close friend was dealing with an even tougher challenge. It’s all about perspective. The biggest perspective shift for me was that it reaffirmed my existence as a musician and someone with a story to tell/a mission to fulfill.
"Music is what feelings sound like". Can you identify with this statement?
Beats are the best way I know how to express myself. I'm not always fully conscious of the larger picture when I'm creating, but when I look back at what I create, it invariably matches up with what I'm feeling at a given time period--often in a way that is almost eerie. It's awesome when I see the larger picture in the moment, but that's not always possible. I’ve just learned to trust my intuition and the way I feel in the moment while I'm creating, because that’s where the magic is.
I really love the marketing strategy for The Will to Win. 3 official videos and then the album release in April. Would you mind sharing 5 tips for marketing The Will to Win?
Believe it or not, we do all the marketing and branding for our projects in-house. A-live is a genius with that stuff, and really looks to push the envelope with what an independent artist is expected to be able to do. Our 5 tips for marketing TWTW would be:
1. Create content at all times: Content is the best way to tell your story, but you have to constantly be aware of creating it, even while being in the moment.
2. Invest in quality: When creating videos, photos, etc, you have to be willing to get the best quality product, even if that means squeezing the budget. This album was entirely self-funded, but we knew the value of having good quality assets to promote
3. Be prepared to be uncomfortable: A lot of the stories we shared during this process weren't easy for us, but we knew they had the chance to inspire, so we had to dig deep and tell them.
4. Observe and adapt: Not everything you roll out is going to perform like you expect it to. We had one video along this process that didn't do as well as we wanted, but instead of forcing it, we re-strategized and found a different way to connect with people.
5. Go the extra mile: that IG comment you didn't respond to, the hand you could've shook, the random person you could've made a fan, make sure you're on top of it all. Even if that means you never sleep!