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By Ruben Gzirian

Labels—whether stylistic, lyrical, or geographical—are a two-sided sword in hip-hop; recognition and associations with something popular (think Philadelphia native Lil Uzi Vert’s relationship with Atlanta’s Trap scene) can boost a young artist’s career, but also pigeonhole creative development.

Now in his mid-20s, New Orleans-born rapper Jared Pellerin (stage name Pell) is relishing in newfound artistic freedom as he breaks “dream rapper” labels and lazy associations with contemporaries Chance the Rapper and Donald Glover. With his third album Girasoul coming at the end of 2017, Pellerin’s career continues on a trajectory of self-discovery, reinvention, and overarching context of the moment. His 2014 debut Floating While Dreaming was a bare all self-examination chronicling Pellerin’s tribulations as he dove head first into a musical career. The follow-up, 2015’s Limbo, further solidified Pellerin’s ability to mix dance floor production with refined introspection. Pellerin’s traversal of hip-hop spectrums began in 2008 when his brother left for college, and music production became a passion.

“Before that, the only time I made music was through a trombone, which I was really just fooling around with and not really honing my skill. Once I actually started to produce [in 2008], I started to see music in a different way, and see what I wanted to do different. I knew I had some skills that I hadn’t tapped into yet.”

As he enters a new chapter of his career, Pellerin’s foray into more contextual and metaphysical music ques wrapped in an exploration of hip-hop lyricism and production continues to build off past influences. His early work with ethereal producers like Ludwig Göransson and TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek allowed him to grasp “the musicality and dynamics associated with lyrics” to deliver artistic expression where story and production went hand-in-hand. The result is a growing catalogue without a clearly definable hip-hop label; one that’s as evident on early “low key underground as f**k” tracks like “Coming Home (iPhone Version)” to the more recent “Jam.”

Pell performs at New York’s Rough Trade on October 31 and Washington, D.C.’s Songbyrd on November 1. Pell’s third album Girasoul is slated for release in December 2017.

Brightest Young Things: So I am really interested in talking about where you started and your influences. Also, don’t worry; I’m not going to ask you about “dream rap.”

Jared Pellerin: [Laughs] Thank you so much! That’s like for real, you’re great man.

BYT: You’ve worked with a lot of producers who aren’t generally considered hip-hop producers, like Ludwig Göransson. In working with people like that, how have those experiences shaped your own production?

J.P.: I think I feel the shape of the songs better. I have this thing where when I was originally starting to make music I listened to pop structures and made music based off that. It wasn’t until later that I realized that the musicality and dynamics associated with the lyrics could change so much as well. I realized how to apply the same techniques I apply to lyricism and telling a story to the musical composition.

BYT: What are some of the more challenging musical influences you’ve tried to integrate into your production?

J.P.: I feel like knowing when to let others in to create on top of what I have is definitely something I found difficult to integrate. The older you get and [the more] you get into the rhythm of how to do things it becomes harder to expand because you become myopic. I’ve always strived to soak up all the energy in the room; I want to make sure that the reason I have people in the room is that they’re better than me.

BYT: Yea, even earlier tracks like “Coming Home” or “Ocean View” are full of contrast and atmospheric elements. It already showed you had a keen sense of production early on.

J.P.: [Laughs] It’s actually crazy that you’ve heard “Coming Home,” that’s low key underground as fuck. I really appreciate it.

BYT: Your music is very message-focused, and you’ve said in previous interviews that you want to speak to your audience. Now that you’re in your mid-20s, and coupled with everything going in the country, how do you think your message has evolved to meet a changing audience?

J.P.: I think it’s changed in a way that the subject’s content has evolved from perspectives I didn’t have three years ago. Now I think that a really interesting thing is that my fans are growing up as well and we’re growing up together. I really sometimes have to separate myself from the music to reevaluate where I am in life in order to allow myself to think of how to speak on certain topics. Right now there are so many evils in the world and causes that it’s hard to encompass everything in a song. But I do think my job will always be to reflect on the times and to stay relevant by acknowledging on what’s going around me. I’m just trying to broaden my stroke to music and try to be a little more inclusive than I was the day before.

BYT: As you’ve grown, do you think more about how you perform? In terms of your live show, do you think about set design or different song placements to establish a non-verbal communication with your audience?

J.P.: Definitely! In my earlier shows, I used to take a lot more time to talk to the audience. Now, I’m definitely in a situation where I am obsessed with the idea of the energy being there at all times. I look for things I want to see from a performer, and with larger audiences, I think having an actual conversation may be less impactful than making sure everyone feels the same way about the music. If you have the right message in the music, sometimes you don’t have that conversation because the bond is already created; you just want to make sure that they’re still engaged. That’s something I’ve noticed about myself. I want to make sure we’re all in the same vibe for as long as I can keep it there.

BYT: Moving beyond the music, a lot of hip-hop right now is tied to fashion expression. How would you describe your fashion aesthetic, and how has it evolved throughout your career?

J.P.: Relatable. It’s not so high-fashion that someone listening to my music is confused as to what I’m wearing and how I present myself. But at the same time it has an element of swagger and appeal to the point where you can see me, and never have heard my music, but will want it check it out based on how cool the style is. As a fan of hip-hop, I look to people who are relatable and the way I look at that is staying true to myself and elevating it in my own way. [Laughs] It’s actually funny because I was going to go in a different route at one point and just wear “painter’s swag” where I just wear white every day and let it get dingy. I figured it would be like a uniform but I tried it for like two weeks and got tired of it [Laughs]. My mood just isn’t consistent enough to wear the same thing every day.

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