You wouldn’t guess it from the creeping strings and seething lyrics of his breakthrough track “WithTheShit”, but LA-based rapper Ta’East is feeling positive: or, at least, a little less frustrated. After all, though the 29-year-old is currently enjoying unprecedented levels of industry hype and top tier co-signs, this well-deserved recognition has been a long time in the making.
It’s a story that begins with a childhood spent worshipping Jay-Z. Ta’East states with the utmost sincerity: “Jay-Z raised me. I truly feel that way. I grew up without a father figure, a male figure, anything. And that was the first person I actually looked up to. Everything in his lyrics… you had to decipher stuff. I listen to stuff still to this day and I find things. He’s just so dope for me… I feel like he’s the standard as far as who to be as good as.”
Later, during teenage summer vacations spent with his extended family in Kentucky, his birthplace, Ta turned to making his own music. Originally sent south by his mother to escape the artistic drought of his hometown, Oceanside (a “skater town” just outside San Diego with no hip-hop scene to speak of ) and learn production skills from his musician uncle, Ta jumped at the chance to get in front of the mic over one of his uncle’s beats. “Me and one of his friends actually sat down, wrote a verse, and then I put it down,” he tells me. When Ta returned to Oceanside, it became clear that moment was a turning point in his life: “Ever since then I just started writing and writing… I kept going from there and I actually ended up working with a local producer and started making full projects by myself.”
A few years later, Ta met his long-time collaborator and friend Cairo Mayeson — the man responsible for the murky soundscapes underpinning Ta’s work – through a mutual acquaintance, and they’ve been tirelessly working together ever since. In fact, during the course of our conversation, Ta seems keen to stress just how much the two of them have had to graft during the five years since they met. Sure, mixtapes like 2012’s The Popular Stranger and 2013’s Sonata established them as an underground force making waves on the blogosphere, but by no means did that immediately translate into deals or financial capital.
It was a deeply exasperating time for Ta, who was attempting to balance the pressures of the everyday grind with making music.“I’ve always been in that working class. I’ve always had that nine to five office job,” he explains. “Y’know, 70 percent of my life was at work, and then I would try and come home, sit in front of the computer and work on music. So that was already frustrating. And then being aware of the quality of music that we were making and not getting the response we wanted — that was frustrating as well.”
Those feelings gradually began to percolate through Ta’s music, which became rawer and steadily darker, both lyrically and sonically. “You can hear the aggression on ‘WithTheShit”’, he confesses. “You can hear the frustration in my voice, you can hear it in the beat and in the samples that we used. The eerie feel to it. I pretty much started speaking from the heart and it worked and it connected with people more because it was so organic and authentic: that was literally where I was.”
Around that time, a serendipitous meeting in LA — where Mayeson and Ta had purchased a duplex — at mega-producer Hit-Boy’s house led to a six-degrees-of- separation style chain that ended with Radio 1’s Benji B getting hold of “72-10” and playing it on his show. Six months later, Benji reached out to Ta with the offer of a deal on his newly founded label, Deviation. Since then, after years of career inertia, things have been moving rapidly onwards and upwards.
Case in point: a Twitter follow from Virgil Abloh and a DM conversation in which the designer told Ta: “I’m a 1000% fan of everything you’ve done so far. I fuck with it.” High praise indeed from Kanye West’s right hand man. Publicly expressing his praise, Abloh proceeded to break “WithTheShit” on No Wave radio, exposing Ta to his massive following, before coming on board as the rapper’s Creative Director.
Teetering on the cusp of mainstream success with his new statement of intent — the tellingly named EP “Okay, I’m Ready”, out this summer — Ta is now well positioned to speak on what he wants to achieve with his music and the kind of artist he wants to be. It’s a question he’s clearly given thought to, barely hesitating before musing: “I just want to provide a voice… I know it’s important to use this platform wisely. We have a voice and I know we should be doing something with it. I want to be the person that is a reflection in the mirror. I want to say the things that you want to say but don’t. Or the things that just straight up need to be said. I want to be that person.”
But what is it exactly that needs to be said in an America, where racially divisive political rhetoric is reaching a disturbing fever pitch? In a word, love. “It may sound cheesy, but just spread love and do everything with love. I feel like if everyone did everything with a good intention and did it from a place of love at the root, everything would be okay. Everything else would work out. We don’t see stereotypes and stigmas and race and colour and things like that. Just carry on and spread love.” He closes our interview with a phrase familiar in rap-speak right now: he wants to “contribute to the culture”. It’s a goal shared by many, sure, but with Ta’s uniquely unselfish belief in the power of love, let’s hope he can do just that – we need it now more than ever.