French-Algerian rapper Rilès talks following his dreams, reframing his artistry, and of course, 50 Cent.
Over lockdown, we’ve all undergone some sort of change, whether it be trying to fashion clothes for your newly present corona-curves, or maybe becoming an overnight yoga obsessive. For French-helmed rapper Rilès, his metamorphosis, or should I say reckoning, comes as he graduates to a player on the global music stage.
Dominating the airwaves of France, and eventually the world, is no easy task, but Rilès approaches all these battles with a witty tongue and a good ear for exactly what the crowd is feeling. Just last month, the multifaceted musician released his highly-anticipated LVL 36 EP, feeding fans with four balladic and distorted tunes like “KEEP IT SEXY”, or slow-burning ass shakers made in collaboration with none other than Canadian rap icon Tommy Genesis.
“I think I’m free after I’ve left the booth, but the problems still follow,” explains Rilès of tracks like “GOA”, a Migos-influenced trap wonder. “I have to overcome them. It’s the first track where I tossed in some French expressions with the English. I took myself way too seriously before, but I’m seizing the moment now.”
Aside from reframing approaches to his artistry, the French-Algerian musician also talks starting out in the industry, and even treats us to his favourite 50 Cent quote.
Hi Rilès! So tell us how you got started, you’re a self-taught Musician, right?
Hi, yes. I learned everything from beat-making to recording, mixing and video editing on the internet.
How did you decide to fully compose, sing, record, mix and master 1 entirely original song per week for a year for “RILÈSUNDAYZ”, did that change how you approach your career at all?
It wasn’t an easy task, and that’s what I love about this challenge. “RILESUNDAYZ” (Season 1) pushed me to my limits and it was for the good, because when you make 1 song every week for 52 weeks straight, you will obviously see/hear a progression at some point but you won’t notice it directly, and that what I was aiming for, getting better at my craft. This challenge changed my way of perceiving music consumption and made me realize that I’m more at ease than I thought being versatile.
How did you learn to make your own music and what advice do you have for people who want to follow in your path?
My father gave me a guitar when I was a kid, but I learned to play it by looking tutorials on Youtube carefully watching how people would lay their fingers on the frets of the guitar. I don’t know how to read notes, so I would say that yes, 90% of the time I learned music through trial and error. The best advice I could give to somebody who would want to follow in my path would be to be OK with discomfort. It’s through discomfort that we learn to adapt and create our own ways of learning things and it’s through discomfort that we face our flaws, and once we overcome them, everything seems to work properly.
After receiving your degree in English literature at the University of Rouen you went into music full-time, taking jobs to save money to build your own studio – what inspired this? Which artists impacted your career the most?
After quitting university, I was working on Wednesdays as a monitor in a high school, and the rest of the time, I was selling paintings to make money for studio gear.
Which artists impacted your career the most?
There were a lot of artists who inspired me overall, first for the paintings I was really into Ken Price, Rothko, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Chico Jefferson at that time (and I still am). Then on the musical side there’s obviously Kanye West, but also Timbaland, Pharell, Dre, Scott Storch, for the production side. Kendrick Lamar and the whole OFWGKTA crew also impacted me a lot back when I started getting really into music in 2013.
You also sell your own artwork to make extra money, what kind of art do you create and how is this process different than for your music?
It was mainly portraits because they are the easier ones to sell when you start selling paintings. Most of my portraits are in the black and white chroma, I used to paint with acrylic paint on canvases made out of cardboard (not amazon types of cardboards, but clean cardboard) because it was cheaper. But now I’m thinking of improving my technique and going deeper into the meaning of what I’m painting, it takes time to learn new things but I might show my new stuff next year. I think all art processes have a common mechanism but a different finality, so it’s not that different in the making. Sometimes I find myself making the same types of mistakes whether it would be in a beat-making session or in a painting session. The only difference is that painting might require a little more patience.
Writing, producing, and mastering your own songs, as well as recording, directing, and editing your music videos is a lot for one person to manage; what drove you to do everything yourself?
I did it as a matter of survival, because I didn’t have the contacts for what I needed (remember, I live in a small city in Normandy called “Déville-les-Rouen”, there are no studios around, no video production companies or whatsoever) so I had to adapt to my environment. 50 cent said, “If I can’t do it, can’t be done” and that’s what I kept on repeating to myself every single day.
What do you want fans to experience from your new music? And what can you tell us about forming LVL 36?
I want my supporters to feel pleasure I get when I make music. I was really into a sad and introspective vibe few months before, but now it has changed, I’m better and I want them to feel it through the music. “GOA” is literally just me hyping myself up, you can relate the way you want to, [there’s] no strict code for this song. I teamed up with Tommy Genesis for the song “Let It Go”. It was a really cool experience and I’m glad my first featuring didn’t happen via email! We were working at the Airbnb, she was really cool and listening to the directions I wanted the song to go to. Couldn’t have expected better!
You’re currently living in Los Angeles now, how is this different from Northern France where you grew up? What has been your favourite thing about LA so far? Do you find it easier or harder to create here?
I feel like you can feel alone quickly in LA. It’s such a big city that you can get lost at some point if you’re not used to it.. but it’s also a city that sparks creativity, you can feel that everybody wants to play a part in the culture and I feel like that’s why LA is such a big city influentially speaking. It’s not easier or harder to create here, it’s just different.
Releasing your music during these strange times has to be challenging; without being able to tour and perform, what have you found to be the best way to get your music out and are you doing any live virtual shows?
It’s a constant moving process, I don’t think I’ve found THE best way to get my music out, but I know what I want to release and how I want it to for at least 2022. Still secret for now (haha!), but overall it’s a matter of adaptation. There maybe a few virtual shows soon too!