Era Hardaway is Undeniable

Era Hardaway is a twenty-seven year old rapper, producer, and entrepreneur continuing the honored lineage of innovative thinkers and musicians from Virginia. Following the release of the emcee’s latest EP, “Undeniable,” I had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Hardaway’s journey and vision.

Era and I met up at his studio in Norfolk, VA, where he develops the bulk of his material. As an artist who is always working, you always have something new and crazy sounding to play, and today I was the lucky guest. Displaying his range as a more than capable producer that’s laced countless other artists with beats, such as Young Crazy, he began to demonstrate a number of styles from trap and drill to cinematic soundscapes that belong in the next Final Fantasy.

How did you get into music, was there something else you wanted to do before that?

I learned the turntables early on, but it wasn’t something I really had my heart set on. Before the music shit, I really wanted to be a street ball player. My mom bought me a basketball, and I’d be in my room rolling the ball between my legs acting like I’m shaking defenders off. I had all the And1 mixtapes, even the joints where they went overseas. I used to always watch the marathons on ESPN. I started getting into other leagues that started up like YPA and a few others in the street ball community. So that’s what I wanted to be, then I decided I wanted to go to the NBA, but I was ass at basketball. I had handles but my shot was wack. I mean, now I’m alright but back then? Yeah, nah.

What got me into music at first was when I started DJing parties with my pops. This was probably like age 7 or 8; my pops would get a party and let me do half the set and keep half the bread. When I started doing that, I thought, ‘This might be it,’ because I started buying kicks and shit. But I still just wasn’t ready to step into rapping yet. One day when my dad was teaching me how to blend, I said, ‘Man, who is making these beats?’ When you listen to a beat without the lyrics, you just wonder how they put it together. So around the age of 13, I did my research and found out about Fruity Loops, and once I started making beats, I knew this is what I was going to do.

It kind of started from there. For Christmas, my dad bought me the little M Audio package with two small studio monitors and a dynamic mic with the desk stand. You could only do input or output on that M Audio interface; you couldn’t do both. It sucked, but I made it work. I stacked shoe boxes on top of each other in my closet, put my mic on top, and made a make-shift pop filter with a stocking cap—and that was my studio.

Would it be correct to say your parents were supportive of your creative exploration?

Yeah, they were. Both my dad and my mom, although [my] [mom] didn’t really understand it and still doesn’t to a degree. They were always supportive. My dad was one of those people who, no matter what I wanted to do, would support me even if he didn’t understand it. I know as I got older and more mature, they didn’t approve of some of what I was saying about gas, smoking weed, and pulling different girls. I know they don’t want to hear all of that, but this is what’s going on. I’m not capping on anything. 

At first, my mom didn’t even know I was rapping. She knew I was DJing, and she didn’t really like that because she was worried about me getting caught up in the party scene. I’m actually glad my dad introduced it to me early on because now when I’m in the club, I don’t even want to be there unless I’m celebrating or I’m paid to be there. It’s old to me now. 

I really started rapping in 2009, when I was 16. My mom didn’t know, even though her office was right next to my room. I’m cranking music, but she had her speakers as well, so don’t get me wrong…she was cranking in there too, but I know she can hear me through the walls because I can hear her. The funny thing is, she didn’t realize I rapped until I handed her my first mixtape, “Yeah I Rap.” I spent all my money making about 100 CDs to take to school to give out for free, and they were gone before the first period. People from the Burg hit me up to this day like, ‘Yo, I still got that CD.’ After that, I go home and hand the CD to my mom, and she says, ‘Oh, that’s what you’ve been doing locked inside your room all quiet for long periods of time.’ I was surprised when she said she couldn’t hear me there.

Courtesy of Malik Emmanuel

You’re self-taught as a musician, was your process always this DIY? If not, when did that change?

I’m an Internet baby. As computers were being developed, I was around it. I mean, we didn’t always have that, but since maybe around the time I was fourteen, [we] started having iPhones and computers. Even before that, I always asked questions when seeking the source was just asking somebody. When I found out that seeking the source could be a simple search online, I began to look it up first before asking somebody…especially with simple stuff like “how to tie a tie.”

After hearing some of the beats you have, I’m compelled to ask, have you ever thought of composing for video games?

Hell yeah. I’ve also thought about scoring for movies. That’s really the main goal aside from rap. I want to be able to build suspense in a situation with music…really learn the process of that, even the mixing and mastering style of it. 

Who were some of your early influences?

Dilla. Definitely Dilla. He was a heavy influence towards my junior & senior year (of highschool). Madlib, of course. And other people I used to watch on YouTube growing up, like Lex Luger and Southside.

I used to always watch everyone’s come up stories because you feel like you’re right there with them. I remember watching Lex Luger talk about how he used to have the computer with the full CPU, monitor, and a keyboard in a bag, and he’d just pull up. The side plate was gone, so you could see all of the computer chips and everything on the inside, and the power button was gone, so he had to hit it a certain way to make it power on. Lex Luger was making beats on that, and that’s when I knew I could be successful wherever I was at as long as I had the tools to make music. As long as I got a computer, I’m good. 

“Hardaway” – “Slightly Hyped”

When I recall some of your earlier work, like “Slightly Hyped,” many of those earlier influences like Dilla and Madlib shine through. But, there seem to be followers that saw your progression into The Juug Tape as an abandonment of the earlier, more “boom-bappy” sound. To what do you attribute the change in your music?

On “Undeniable,” I rap, ‘The whole juug won’t to dumb it down, just give y’all another sound to show you that across the board I don’t fuck around.’ That was the juug, and that’s why I was making the The Juug Tape. I was giving people bars, and it was cool but I was also like, ‘Let me have fun.’ There are still bars, you know what I’m saying? If you listen, there are still bars in there. A lot of people were telling me, ‘Aww you’re doing the trap sound now?’ and really there’s just a difference between what you make and what you put out because I’ve been making beats like that, and I’ve been making songs like that, but they never heard it until I put out a concentrated version.

Plus, it was just my environment at the time. I always tell people Fredericksburg was cool; that’s where I learned. But being down here in Norfolk really made me a man. I really saw things that I was taught about back home but never got to embrace. So going through all of that, seeing all of that, and growing as a man was what made that music as well. 

So now, when I give people the bars, they’re like, ‘Oh shit, he can spit!” Yeah…I’ve been doing that. It’s about having fun. The only thing you can do in this life is take a craft and have fun. The world will try to rob you of all of that, your peace, love, and happiness. So you got to keep yourself excited, do it for yourself first at all times.

You mentioned the difference in experiences you had growing up in Fredericksburg as opposed to Norfolk. Tell me about your upbringing in your hometown compared to what you came to find in your second home?

Fredericksburg is a bit country, my mom is from there, and my dad is from Jersey. My cultural retrospect was very universal. I’d always be out there at my grandparents’ house riding four-wheelers, playing in the dirt, and things of that nature. We’d try to help my uncle work on cars and clean up the shop, my cousin Nick and I. If we weren’t there, we’d be at his house playing ball. It was very wholesome. Fredericksburg is like a commuter town, so there’s not much for the youth to do, but it can get wild out there. There are still hoods out there, and everybody from the Burg knew about the VFW before it got shut down. There used to be parties, but it’d always get shut down when people got to wrecking and shooting. That was the only thing out there until we got Jay’s, and that got shut down too, but by that time, I was in Norfolk. There wasn’t much for the youth, so we’d just hang out at the mall or go to the movies, typical middle-class childhood shit.

When I came down to Norfolk, that’s when I started to see things. Like I was saying, my dad is from Jersey, so he and my uncle used to tell me about certain street shit. They would always be like, ‘Watch out for that,” or ‘Look out for this.’ Before I was ever smoking, my uncle told me the difference between “mid” and “loud,” just so I would know. When they taught me things up there in Fredericksburg, it was never really applied until I came down here to Norfolk. I came down here to go to college, but the environment surrounding it is really gritty, and you have to know how to navigate. With certain people I came to be around, even with some of the things that I got into…I had to dabble in those environments and know how to move. That’s when all that I’d learned in Fredericksburg became applied and I could see, ‘Oh, this is what pops or unc was talking about.’ I’ve seen some wild shit being down here, and that’s why I say it made me a man, the experience. Experience is the best teacher.

There are six songs on “Undeniable,” but as we know, you have plenty more in the tuck. Tell me about the selection and arrangement process for the songs that made the cut.

Initially, I wanted there to be more, but I decided to give a more concentrated body of work. With the arrangement of the tape, I was talking with my manager, and he was like, ‘Bro, I rock with it, and I see what you’re doing, but I think you should take “Step” off or rearrange it.’ 

I believe sometimes you’ve got to humble yourself with your art, and if it’s someone that you consider very close to you and have respect for their musical ear, you’re going to take that into consideration. That night I rearranged it, and as I was sitting there with my shorty listening to it, I was like, ‘Yeah, he was right.’ Once I made that change, the whole tape flowed differently.

What was your mindset going into the new project, and why the title “Undeniable”?

At this point in my rap career, that’s just how I feel. I can do anything, and you could put me in the studio with damn near anybody, and I’ll make it happen. There’s a high percentage I might body you on your own track.

Image courtesy of Rare Cinematic; Cover Art designed by Ali Dope/OnlyDopeMedia

Featured Image Courtesy of Malik Emmanuel (@Foreva.suave).

Thank you to Era Hardaway for the interview. Listen to “Undeniable” here!

Monthly Mix: Dj Gee

AT THE START OF EVERY MONTH, WE’LL BE FEATURING A MIX OF SONGS FROM DJS, WHIPPED UP ESPECIALLY FOR POPSCURE

DJ Gee gave us a taste of her project the Energy Lab, experimental mixes full of diverse tunes. This is her 6th one, blending hip hop, house, and much more. This is just a taste of what she spun for an hour and a half, filling in gaps during Soulflower so well it got everyone moving.

Finding Sweet Peace with Sunny and Gabe

 All photos via Anjelica Jardiel
All photos via Anjelica Jardiel

Sunny and Gabe haven’t released a full length in five years, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. Gabe Niles has been working with legendary producer Rick Rubin off-and-on in LA on secret project with big names. Sunny’s been jamming on side projects such as the jazzy dapzam and collaborations with Opal (which has been featured on a couple TV shows now), and solo stuff kept under wraps for now.

They blessed us with a few bites recently, with Vacay and Hadouken, the single off their new record. Now they’re serving up several slices with “Peace of Cake,” released this week. The first Time Traveler’s Ball last fall spun a few tracks in the DJ setlist, but now they’re performing entirely pre-enjoyed jams live at Origami this Saturday for round 2. Popscure caught up with them before the show to talk about where they started, their travels, and what inspired the long-awaited album.

 

Tell us a little bit about your origins – how did y’all get together to start making tunes?

Sunny – He ripped my song off of SoundCloud and remixed it. Soon thereafter, I recorded on the coolest beat I’d ever heard. We started e-mailing back and forth and had an album’s worth of music within a couple of months.

What music, art, or otherwise do you pull inspiration from generally?

Sunny – I just let it come through me. I’ve always played with word association and letting my mind go wherever it wants. Kind of like stream of consciousness. Whatever feels right is right. I’m mostly inspired by this and how it mixes with my own state and emotions, and how it can fit into whatever instrument or instrumental I’m faced with at the moment. I love so much music that I have no idea what is influencing me. Love weird shit and honest shit.

Gabe – Colorful things. Chaotic themes. Sci fi. High energy, jazzy moments.

What did you want to do differently with this record?

Sunny – Make it sound a little less dusty. I love Free Candy and the way it sounds but we wanted to clean this stuff up enough to be presentable and ingestible to a wider audience.

Gabe – This record we actually took our time lol. Not really, but the sense of it. Actually just made more songs and chose from a bigger pool of records…so we could be patient and hold on to some classic songs for the next rather than overload.

What scene do you hope to set with this album?

Sunny – Oh man, just a big run through time and space.

Gabe – Space casino latin bar called LNS-19 is pretty much the vibe. LNS-19 stands for Latin Nights Sector-19. Def kinda futuristic. 5th element/Cowboy bebop vibes

I know long-term partner D.r.a.m. is on this record. What are some Other exciting collaborations you worked in?

Sunny – I’ve mostly collabed with my own dark emotions.

Gabe – Oh ye, gotta dream team. Gary Donna from our band touches a lot, he is one of my main collaborators. Dude is crazy. Roget Chahayed on the keys for a couple records. He is a walking platinum plaque. Despo aka Los Hendrix, craaazy guitar player from Yonkers based in LA. He produces for Brent Fiyahz, one of the first musicians I met in LA. Pip, amazing composer. He arranged and played a lot of the strings you hear throughout the record. He produces as well, very well rounded. PaperDiamond mastered it, dude is a genius. Justin Battle and Mike Mizzle came in on “Sistermoon.”

You all are time travelers, what time periods influenced the music on the new record (past or future since you have seen it all)?

Sunny – A mix of everything at once. A lot of 70s I think. A lot of smoky jazz clubs as well. LNS-19 is a smoky jazz club in the future. It’s just whatever you feel; it’s right.

Gabe – Mesoteric Era meets Jetsons meets 2003

As for the present day, how do you feel about tunes coming out lately, for better or worse? What’s exciting you and what’s disappointing (if anything)?

Sunny – There’s a lot of the same shit that’s getting a whole lot of attention right now. There’s also a lot of GREAT shit going on. I’m a little disconnected and only occasionally find/am introduced to something I’m reallllly feeling. When I saw King Krule come out with a big ass buzz it was probably the most motivating thing I’ve ever seen.

Gabe – It’s a lot of good shit that comes out that just gets kinda pushed to the side occasionally. It’s kinda mundane when you hear a lot of the songs that sound exactly the same, but you also gotta understand the culture. It’s a great canvas tho, since it’s kinda flat lines. So it’s still as exciting as it is boring.

From when Sunny and Gabe began roughly 5 years ago to now, how has the industry changed?

Sunny – I have no idea what the industry even is because I’m afraid of it, but it seems like everything is about some playlist or something. I miss albums. I really miss like, guitar music. I don’t really use weird genre names to describe what I like but I miss GUITAR MUSIC. Some hard ass shit. There’s so much smooth shit. I get really tired of stuff that just sounds really good, smooth singers, smooth beats, just FUCK I wanna feel something. My bad, I’m like an old school person who likes shit nobody has ever heard of. But there’s a lot of good shit, again, don’t get me wrong.

Gabe – *Clears throat* it hasn’t. The only things that changed forreal are the gates and the gatekeepers. Play ball.

What does the future hold for music, and what are your efforts to push it in that direction?

Sunny – I want to help inspire others to be different. Straight up. I’ll fight until I’m dead if it’s going to help someone else do what they want instead of try to follow a trend.

Gabe – See above.

Seems like you all have been holding onto these tracks for quite some time… why is now the right time for release?

Sunny – We are SLOW AS FUCK. The tracks got too clean and had to get dirty again. We made SisterMoon last month. There’s so many reasons. We have no boss so for two creatives it’s a nightmare trying to get to a point where we call something “finished” Now is the right time because it just happened to happen. No idea.

Gabe – They forced their way out after holding us at gun point.

 

Peep “Peace of Cake” in it’s entirety below

Feel the Funk: Catching Up With Stimulator Jones

by Shannon Jay

Fresh off his first Stones Throw release, Samuel Jones Lunsford (his middle the root of all his personas) is flying high. He’s on tour promoting the record full of funky slow jams, and told Popscure all about his road to his new sound.  He’ll be playing at Charlie’s on Saturday alongside Hampton Road’s best R&B and rock & roll, the perfect median for Lunsford’s sound.

 

How’d you first become interested in playing music?

I was raised in a musical family with an older brother, parents, uncles, and grandparents who all played and sang.  There were instruments all around my house growing up and music was constantly being played or listened to on the family stereo.  It has always been a huge part of my life since I was born.

Since you started out as a DJ, what were some of your favorite songs that made it into most of your sets?

I first started DJ’ing at friend’s birthday parties around 1996 when I was in 6th grade using a primitive setup consisting of a boombox and/or CD Walkman plugged into a guitar amp.  I had the DJ Kool “Let Me Clear My Throat” CD Maxi-Single and definitely played that every single time.

How did funky beats break out of the bluegrass-heavy music scene of your hometown of Roanoke? Is there a solid soul scene or something that needs to be brought to the forefront, you think?

I was always in my own world quite separate from my surroundings – when I was growing up I paid much more attention to what was on TV or radio than what was happening around me locally – I also devoted a lot of time to discovering and devouring tons of different albums.  So I was way more influenced by things outside of my hometown.  There are certainly a lot of talented musicians and singers of all sorts of genres in the Roanoke area though.  

Stimulator Jones by Joneski

Stimulator Jones is much softer than the raps of Joneski, what different sides of yourself are you trying to work out through each persona? 

I had spent so much of my life focusing on creating within the framework of straight-forward traditional hip hop, the Stimulator Jones project was intended to be a vehicle to challenge myself to branch off and expand upon the sounds I was crafting as Joneski and stretch out beyond the basic format of sampled beats, 16 bar rhymes, and scratches and to incorporate more melodic elements, singing, live instrumentation and radio-ready song structure into the material – yet still having it all be filtered through my knowledge of and experience with loop-based programming, DJ’ing, crate-digging, and hip hop culture.

Said you studied a lot of producers and artists in lieu of your debut, “Exotic Worlds and Masterful Treasures.” Which eras and artists were the most influential?

As far as this album goes – I was influenced by a lot of heavy hitters from various eras like Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, DeVante Swing, Prince, Jesse Johnson, Ernie Isley, Chris Jasper, Barry White, Kool & The Gang, Dam Funk, Daz Dillinger, DJ Quik, Roger Troutman, Keith Sweat, Mary J. Blige, Yvette Michele, Teddy Riley, Aaron Hall, Jamiroquai, Michael Jackson, D’angelo, Beatminerz, Ohbliv, DJ Harrison, Tuamie, and many others…

What’s the ideal setting or scenario you imagine the record being the soundtrack to?

Dreaming, wishing, longing, fantasizing, dancing, loving, cruising, vacationing, chilling, smoking, sipping, tripping, exploring, adventuring, celebrating, barbecuing, hooping, crying, laughing, moving, grooving, balling, bouncing, rocking, skating, rolling…

Exotic Worlds and Masterful Treasures by Stimulator Jones

How’d you get picked up for Stones Throw and first link up with Peanut Butter Wolf?

In late 2015, Sofie Fatouretchi, a wonderful DJ/producer/musician and former employee of both Stones Throw and Boiler Room found my music online and contacted me out of nowhere to ask if I’d be interested in contributing some material to a compilation album she was curating for Stones Throw (‘Sofie’s SOS Tape’).  I sent her a folder full of tracks including “Soon Never Comes” which she ended up selecting for inclusion. Apparently Peanut Butter Wolf really liked the song and she put me in touch with him.  We had a phone conversation and I ended up coming to LA to meet him and the Stones Throw fam.  We hit it off and by the time I flew home we had agreed to work together on releasing some more of my music.

From picking up “My Vinyl Weighs A Ton” back in 8th grade to having PBW help you record, how does it feel and is it how you might’ve expected?

It still feels kind of like a dream, it’s wild to think of the trajectory from listening to that album on my boombox up in my bedroom to now being a part of the Stones Throw roster and a friend of people that I’ve admired and wished I could collaborate with for years.  I’m incredibly proud of this accomplishment, but I still have a lot of work to do and I’ve got to keep growing and pushing myself forward.

What’s next for the newly signed Stimulator Jones?

A US tour in October, an EP of some tracks from the ‘Exotic Worlds’ sessions that couldn’t fit on the record, a new album from my rock & roll band The Young Sinclairs, and a self-published book of some utterly insane and hilarious stories and twisted humor I wrote when I was a kid.

Monthly Mix: Wivve

AT THE START OF EVERY MONTH, WE’LL BE FEATURING A MIX OF SONGS FROM DJS, WHIPPED UP ESPECIALLY FOR POPSCURE

The secret’s out – Wivve put out the call for this special mix on Instagram last month, and we took the bait. Hip hop heavy with house elements, it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser to thrown on at any function.

The Virginia-based DJ spins all over the 757 and helps put on poppin’ events through Extra Company. In the past, he’s teamed up with Shake, and working with No Preserves this weekend for a stacked lineup, featuring session scarlet Opal and Stones Throw Record’s Simulator Jones.

 Don't miss this one, secure your tickets now at  nopreserves.org
Don’t miss this one, secure your tickets now at nopreserves.org

tracklist

Breathe (Bass Mix) – Hollaphonic
Blazin feat. Sophiegrophy – Airwolf
Ultimate (Yung Noize Remix) – Denzel Curry
I Want (Braveaux Mod) – MADEINTYO
Na Hora (Ft Faktiss & Chris McClenney) – Sángo
Russian Cream – Key Glock
Move – Key! & Kenny Beats
Love Hurts (feat. Travis Scott) – Playboi Carti
Live SheckWes Die SheckWes – Sheck Wes
Hater – Key! & Kenny Beats
PHARMACIST – NOLANBEROLLIN
PHARMACIST [UZUMI EDIT] – NOLANBEROLLIN
DOESKIFROMDAPACK – DOE$KI
New Slaves – Kanye West
Nonstop – Drake
Skateboard P – elijah who
Get It (4801 FREESTYLE) – Kyere

Monthly Mix: Ella Hu$$le

EVERY MONTH, WE’LL BE FEATURING A MIX OF SONGS FROM DJS, WHIPPED UP ESPECIALLY FOR POPSCURE

Her name is Dionna Edmondson, but you can call her Ella. Clubgoers in NYC know her as Ella Hu$$le, where she serves looks and spins jams any given weekend intertwining classic hip-hop hits seamlessly. If you can’t make it to the big apple for her set, catch her show “Hu$$le in the House” every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month on waxx.fm.

For this mix, she toughened up her love for R&B with rap tracks, creating a perfect blend of hard and soft. Throw this collection of remixes on at your next party for guaranteed grooves. 

Tracklist

Walk It Like I Like (Talk It Edit) – Radical One
Oops – Mitchell Yard x Pasquinel
New Freezer (Dembow Remix) – Rich da Kid
Paper Planes (Remix) – Uki
Dude (Remix) – Beanie Man
Murder She Wrote – Chaka Demus
Bizzey (Kazkid remix) – Traag
Taste Riddim – Jamesy
Only You (Edit) – Ashanti
Ton – NA Horeyezon
Ride or Die – Joslyvio (Masquraid x Ravish edit)
Phone Down – Eryka Badu (Kingdom Edit) 
Frontin (Edit) – Pasquinel
Shake (Remix) – Rilla Force
Interlude (Remix) – SDP
WYWD (Remix) – Girl Unit ft Kelela
Fin de Demand – Radical One

Boom Bappin’ with a Broken Heart: A Chat With Ardamus

 Photo courtesy of Darrow Montgomery
Photo courtesy of Darrow Montgomery

by jerome spencer

On a summer day in 2000, I went to my local Tower Records in Nashville to snag then new(ish) Dilated Peoples and Dido albums. Ardamus was just chilling there looking for someone to talk to. Apparently, he worked there, but it seemed like his purpose was just talking to customers about music for hours — in great, obsessive detail. And then, I taught him how to rap.

Ok, so I didn’t teach the kid to rap, but the rest is true. In fact, when I met Ardamus way back then, he was already establishing himself as one of the hardest working emcees in the biz. While I was just some snot-nosed punk bouncing around freestyle ciphers battling other snot-nosed punks, Ardamus was in the process of making an actual album. While I was writing “songs” over Mobb Deep instrumentals, Ardamus had a producer and recorded in a studio. This guy was even given a grant from DC Arts & Humanities to make an album.  He was determined to make it as an emcee and I admired that fortitude and perseverance so much back then. And I admire it even more now, 17 years later.

Ardamus (whose name is a spelling variant of his government name, Artemis Thompson) isn’t exactly sure how much music he’s released in nearly two decades — there are too many features and side-projects to be exact, but he places it somewhere around 30 albums and EPs. And he’s kinda been signed (his stellar Thx4UrHonesty.(liar) was issued under Fake Four Inc).

However, he’s kept his work ethos as DIY and uncontaminated as one can in such a bright and grimy industry. He’s never hopped on a trend to sell a record (a true feat when you’re raised in the gangsta-centric environment of the Dirty South) and he’s never compromised his values to broaden his fan base. Ardamus makes boom bap, an emcee in the most classic and compulsive way.

His career is long and storied; his background is rich in hip hop lore compounded with a whole lot of hustle. Inspired by an “old school rap tape” that his older sister had, his rap career started when he was 6 at a church talent show.

“I wrote the bars for myself and the bars for the other kids,” he explains, “and it was just about being a good kid in Sunday school and it was so stupid, but I had the best bars, of course, and it went over really well so…”

“it’s about ownership for your bullshit, you know? It’s the only way you’re able to move on.”

Ardamus got serious about rapping when he was 13. Not serious the way every other 13-year-old boy gets about being a rapper, but laser-focused and resolute. A self-proclaimed “studio orphan,” he just watched others work and waited for his chance to get on. He studied and honed his craft and, eventually, left Nashville for DC to attend Howard University. His relocation to a more cultured hip hop community didn’t launch his career right away, though. He tells a tale of the first time he stepped into a cipher on campus and everyone just walked away.

“Man, I was heartbroken,” he laughs, “And I’ll never forget that, but at the same time I was like, nah, they’re gonna listen to me rap.”

And they did. An avid follower and participant of underground hip hop myself at the time, I watched Ardamus’ name pop up everywhere. His early work with the Ladder Day Saints crew was chat room fodder in every crucial message board, and he was popping up on some of the most influential albums and shows of the era. He was battling every chance he could (the infamous Verbal Armageddon was huge for him) and recording furiously. He just kept grinding and pushing and creating until he became a DC hip hop legend.

Basically, he put in work. And now that we’ve lost track of how much work he’s put in, he’s still standing. His newest release, A Broken Hearted 90s Season, drops tomorrow. It’s a culmination of all of his influence, hard-work and commitment.

As the title suggests, it’s bit of a relationship record. Always a “conscious emcee”, Broken Hearted finds a more introspective and “woke” Ardamus lamenting what he could have done differently.

“Part of me just wanted to talk about some of the things about relationships that I learned over time,” he says, “Some of it attacks masculinity, the toxic side of it, which I definitely exhibited at one point…”

Hold up, did the emcee who made the smash-hit “At Least I Got Laid” just tell me that he made a record that explores toxic masculinity?

“…it’s about ownership for your bullshit, you know? It’s the only way you’re able to move on.”

He cites a defining moment while doing “the quiet song” for the album with his fellow emcee Prowess as his favorite track.

“She actually disses me in the song. I like it because she breaks down a lot my song titles. And with this record; I had to really explore that about myself. Do I really need this said about myself? Yes. And I’m okay with that, because I’m growing as a person.”

It’s still boom bap and Ardamus is still a quintessential emcee, but Broken Hearted is a coming-of-age record from a seasoned rapper that’s not afraid to wear his heart (and mistakes) on his sleeve. And just further proof that he’s not slowing down anytime soon.

Listen to an exclusive single from the album below: