Get familiar with Medhane, the rising New York City-based rapper turned producer who, after releasing last year’s stellar Own Pace teamed up with his alter ego AFB to deliver FULL CIRCLE back in February. His music is tinged with introspection, a growing confidence and the excitement of finding his groove through experimentation.
He sat down with HYPEBEAST at New York City’s The Good Company to talk about the depression during his stint in Pittsburgh while getting his engineering degree. It propelled him to focus on writing in his free time, searching for obscure samples on YouTube and to approach making his music as open and honest as possible. Medhane also detailed his collaborations and friendships with MIKE, Slauson Malone, Sage Elsesser and Earl Sweatshirt.
Watch HYPEBEAST’s latest Conversations With episode above and read more of Medhane’s interview below.
HYPEBEAST: With your album Own Pace, you dealt with anxiety, depression and isolation, especially while you were away at school in Pittsburgh. How did those negative emotions result in such a cohesive project?
Medhane: When I got out of school, I hadn’t put out music for six to seven months except for that “Sky” single with Kahlil [Blu]. When I got back, all my friends were working on tapes… I remember Caleb [Giles] had just finished ‘Under The Shade’ and I was just like, ‘damn, I gotta make some sh*t that I can stand behind 100 percent that really represents my mind state at the time. Most of the project [Own Pace] was written, recorded and finished between the time I got back from Kenya. I took a trip a trip with my family to Kenya, we went on safaris and sh*t as a graduation present from my grandma with her retirement bread. I had my laptop and a little bluetooth speaker and I was making beats off of YouTube samples.
I made the beat for “Stranger” at MIKE’s crib and we were sitting on the couch and I was like, ‘I don’t know how I’m gonna even come on this… or what I’m gonna talk about on this.’ The beat was mad cinematic. I was just like, ‘I don’t what I’m gonna say.’ And he told me, ‘you just gotta say that sh*t.’ Just tapping in with my friends, that really helped me.
How long were you in Kenya for?
And what does your family think about your music?
My mom supports my music. She likes my music. My family always asks me to come to shows and things like that. I definitely bonded with my family [in Kenya] but we’re all mad close in the first place. I talk to my mom like probably every day, multiple times a day. My cousins that I was in Kenya with came to the release party for Own Pace, and they were like, ‘yo it’s crazy. You definitely seem to have found some sh*t with this.’
Toward the end of the tape it seems like you’re balancing clarity and breaking through the haziness of depression. What about your time at school made you feel that way?
Not to sh*t on Pittsburgh or anything – I definitely made great friends in college and met some good people. But I just feel like where I was at and the program I was in – there’s an art school at [Carnegie Mellon University] and I made friends through that, but I went to college for civil engineering, mad science, calculus, all that. The people that I met there weren’t on the same mental timing I was on. Those people would always look at me like I was buggin’ all the time. Just little colloquial sh*t, there was a barrier between people there and it had me feeling crazy. When you feel like you can’t identify with anybody and the only time you can tap in is on these little month breaks you get from school that f*cks with you.
Last year, when we did the show in London, I literally took a three day weekend from school… then that Sunday I’m coming back to class on Monday. Performed a sold out show in London, oversees, first time. Doing that then coming back to school, that’s definitely gonna make you feel crazy.
What drove you to finish school?
Really just my mom, for real. The whole reason I never dropped out was because I felt my mom would be OD tight. I talk to people now and they’re like you could’ve dropped out and she would have accepted it. I feel like it puts credentials on your name, low key. What other rapper you know’s a civil engineer?
You rap a lot about leaning on your friends but also being able to make it on your own. How did bond you with MIKE, Slauson Malone and others at the beginning of your career?
First person I connected with like that was Jasper – Slauson Malone – in 2014, 2015. I met MIKE around the same time. MIKE used to live in the Bronx, then he moved to Bed-Stuy and lived 10 minutes from my mom’s crib. So I was at his crib everyday, summer 2017 during BY THE WATER. We just got close just every day smoking spliffs, eating food, cracking jokes, making beats, rapping. Spending time with Sage [Elsesser] and Thebe [Earl Sweatshirt] and Adé [Hakim].
On “Affirmation 1” you’re talking about writer’s block and rapped about how ‘peace ain’t free.’ It immediately brought back memories of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Work for Peace.” It’s such a wise bar, so how did you get to that place?
Listening to Gil-Scott, for real. I really grew up around that type of sh*it. It’s in me, ‘Knowledge of Self’ and all that. I look to the great people before me who were making these emotive statements, describing life in a way that no-one else could. Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka… Having that in your subconscious, when the beat play you immediately go back to that lunchbox that your parents gave you with all the f*ckin’ nutrients inside it and you’re just like, ‘which one am I gonna think about today.’
When you were making Own Pace you had another 50 tracks you were sitting on just to be comfortable with the project. Why’d it take that many to get to that place?
Well “DOLOMEALS” isn’t from that pack, though. All the sh*t that led up to Own Pace, I am not f*ckin’ with it. I mean, it’s cool, but all this new sh*t is definitely way better than that. But Full Circle is from a new pack of like 40 songs.
Are you concerned at all with the way people find music today, being so reliant on streaming platforms to introduce new music through their own generated playlists and the algorithms they provide?
People discover music now mad sporadically. When people tell me that they’ve heard my music, I’m always like, ‘how?’ How did you find this? Social media plays a big part in it now, more than anything else. People find out about new music through social media and playlists, like Spotify. I’m not from the era of record stores, that’s my pops. So I always found new music through YouTube and looking sh*t up. It definitely doesn’t make me feel nervous.
Your samples, are you digging in the crates like that or searching YouTube?
I’m a YouTube general. I be on deep cuts, deep corners of YouTube looking for that heat. I used to go to Good Records before they closed, big ups to Good Records. I’d listen to the records, write it down, go to Apple Music, take that sh*t and flip it. I don’t have a record player.
Were there any points in your travels that you didn’t feel steady and questioned why you were doing it?
Definitely my first months after I graduated high school. My first month in Senegal, I was like ‘what am I doing here?’ But recently, nah I don’t feel like that. The only time I felt like that was when I was in school, questioning my purpose.
You were away for so long and developed part of your voice through loneliness. What kind of inspiration do you get now that your home?
I feel like I did a lot of my growing up outside of New York. Personal development. I was in Senegal for seven months by myself with a host family. I just be taking pieces that I come across that I f*ck with and when I come back to New York I have a different perspective. In New York most people are fly, everybody got drip. Places I was at, it was not like that. When you come back and you meet up with people who have been here really doing their sh*t, it’s like ‘word, I see what you’re on, they see what I’m on,’ and recognize the different influences you have.
As a rapper you’ve reached a zone, but where are you as a producer right now?
It’s going pretty good. On Full Circle, it’s Medhane and AFB. AFB is my producer name, he’s like a really crazy guy and he produced the whole tape. It’s 15 minutes so, yeah I decided to take that first step of producing a whole project for myself.
MIKE build a lot of his original respect from doing little shows in New York that I couldn’t do because I was at school. So when I came back, I feel people were kinda looking at me funny. I feel like now I’ve really certified that I’m from Brooklyn and I really do this sh*t. Just had to take some time for myself.