From the great city of New York comes rap-mogul-in-training Johnny Pineda, working both the city and college scenes to prove he can make it in the rap game. With one mixtape out and another to come this summer, Mr. Pineda is trying to make it on his own, managing himself and others on his label, York Circus. I sat down with the kid and got to pick his brain about his experiences, influences and hopes for the future.
Daily Sun: Okay, so you’re the manager of your record company, right?
Johnny Pineda: Yeah, I started it with my two homeboys from back home. It’s called the York Circus. It started out as a joke, and then, by the end of the summer, we were booking our own gigs and recording in legit studios. We’re into it at this point, trying to have fun with it.
Sun: The self-starting, label-running rapper is something you see around a lot these days. Guys like Diddy, Jay-Z and even, to a more bizarre extent, the Wu-Tang Clan are now more models of success rather than exceptions. Did you get into self-management as a necessity or desire? Was there a goal of independence or did it just spring up organically?
J.P.: I mean, I wouldn’t call it necessity or desire. I’d say it came out of passion. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a perfectionist. I drive my engineer crazy sometimes because I always ask him to try different EQs, or to mix things a hundred times just to make sure it sounds exactly how I want it to sound. Throughout the entire process I definitely dig the independence that comes with making the final decision on what music I put out, what venues I try to book, who I collab with. I started the label because I believed in the music my label mates were making, and they believed in mine. When you take away independence and the free flow of creativity, you end up with a Lupe Fiasco type situation; I can definitely understand where he’s coming from.
Sun: Yeah; Lupe’s latest was a definite step backward for him, and he’s done little to cover up the fact that he basically obliged to the demands of the label. With your label, do you go for a cohesive label aesthetic? Do you guys share a sound?
J.P.: (Laughs) Definitely not. I think they compliment each other, but each artist has his own sound, his own voice, his own following and buzz. Music labels used to try to get artists that sounded pretty similar, or that would attract a certain type of listener, but you’re seeing a deviation from that nowadays. Just look at Wale going to Maybach music, or Big Sean going to G.O.O.D. music. It’s when artists try to conform and try to follow a certain type of image that they run into trouble. I’ve never been a huge Wale fan, but the moment he starts grunting like Rick Ross or putting on a tough guy image is when I feel he’ll lose some fans. Real listeners can see past the lies, real fans breath and take apart the lyrics.
Sun: What about your sound? Who are your biggest influences? What vibes are you trying to convey, and what are you trying to tell your audience?
J.P.: I mean I think I can hold a convo with anyone I meet. I’m from a tough neighborhood in NYC, raised in the projects, but I went to private school in Brooklyn on a full scholarship. All my life I’ve been exposed to different crowds, and that’s what I try to convey in my music. I’m a typical city kid, I’ve seen a lot, been through a lot. I def have a lot of stories to tell. I can’t say what vibe I have, because then I’m defining myself, and I always try to stay away from that. If you listen to music, you can feel the passion. Every rhyme I spit I do so having thought it through. Any song I put out I’d like to think has a lot of introspective thoughts, both on what I think about the world around me, and what I think about myself as a human being.
Sun: Ever consider giving your voice a different guise? Maybe trying a little bit of singing?
J.P.: (Laughing) Believe me, if I could sing, I would. Girls love that. They love Trey, Chris Brown.
Sun: As far as production though, you seem (as far as I can tell) to have some pretty varied influences. “New York’s” got the soulful sampling, “Weekend Bullshit”‘ falls somewhere between stoned Cudi and the guitar-tinged stuff Lupe does sometimes. What sells you on a beat to rap over, whether you authored it or someone else does?
J.P.: I’ve had those tracks for a while, I think they’re a product of me trying to find my own voice as a person. My favorite rapper of all time is Big Pun. Shout outs to the boogie. At the beginning of his song “Leatherface,” he says “Whatchu wanna do? You wanna wile up, you wanna dance? Don’t matter to me, I got it all locked down baby.” That’s how I feel you gotta be, able to do anything. Biggie is the greatest because he could go on anyone’s track and mimic their style, like what he did during Bone Thugz and Harmony’s “Notorious Thugz.” At this point, I’ll make any song I want, as long as I say what I want to say, and produce the message I want to portray. Give me any beat, I’ll tear it down.
Sun: What about live performances? What’s the difference between delivering a verse in studio and on stage? What do you emphasize and what do you think might get lost in translation?
J.P.: I think content dies a little bit during performances, especially when those at the concert don’t know the lyrics or don’t know what they mean. I definitely felt that at the Lupe concert. I knew all the words to his new stuff. I know people say his new album is commercial, but the content is still so raw and so powerful. I try to aim for clarity and message during recording. I am for passion, delivery and crowd interaction during performances. There’s nothing like performing a song, and by the third time the hook comes around, just dropping out and letting the crowd sing it for you. That’s magic. That’s music.
Sun: On your page, you describe your sound as Mos Def meets DMX. What aspects of each do you think you share? You can’t get much more different than those two.
J.P.: Haha, word. I mean I think you mentioned it before, that I have a wide variety of sounds. I don’t want to say my older stuff is more arrogant, but my energy on some past tracks definitely carries more intensity than some of my new stuff. I have tracks like “Alone for Me” and “I’m a Problem” where I’m yelling and basically calling people out and swaggin’ on the competition. But then I have songs where I chill out and come back to earth, and just speak from the heart, like “The Thrill is Gone.” You don’t live your life with the same expression on your face everyday. Likewise, there are times when I record when I’m angry or cocky, there’s times when I’m humble, reminiscent and introspective. It’s all about being human, and just putting yourself out there, and saying what’s on your mind. I think now I’ve found my voice, I can’t wait to release my new stuff when I get in the studio again back in Brooklyn. There’s definitely a more raw hip hop feel to my new joints.
Sun: Looking forward to it. Any last words or plugs for the folks at home?
J.P.: Shout outs to all my friends, supporters. Everyone come see me open up for Mac Miller at the State Theater this Sunday, May 1st. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, hit up the Facebook event page. Show is gonna be ill.
Original Author: James Rainis