Get To Know 8rae [Interview]

Ben Higgins

Orange County based rapper and singer 8rae has been creating a lot of noise in the alt-hip-hop community as of late. Pronounced “Brae,” the young artist has been hailed for his ability to fuse elements of 2 step garage, hip hop, R&B, and pop to create a unique and entertaining sound. His powerful vocals and lyricism grabbed the attention of myself and the entire industry immediately, and with a rapidly growing audience, you don’t want to miss out on the chance to be an early listener. I had the opportunity to chat with the rising star about his breakout album, influences, aspirations and more.

8rae! Hows it going, so thrilled to have you here. This is your first written interview for the world, so tell us a little bit about your upbringing and the role music has played in your life thus far?

Yoo What’s going on man, thank you to you and Sheesh for having me for this! So yeah, I grew up all around music. My dad is a singer and plays bass; he doesn’t do artistry as seriously as I do but he still plays all the time. I grew up watching him and my mom is a dancer too. At an early age me and all my siblings were enrolled in a polynesian culture center so I grew up dancing and drumming. I did music all throughout elementary school too. Right when I graduated highschool, it just kind of clicked for me. I discovered making music and the whole process captivated me more than anything else. It’s really taken over my life from there.

Who have been some of your influences as you’ve navigated finding your sound?

Definitely people in the alt-hiphop/R&B scene. Of course artists like Frank, Tyler, and Steve Lacy, but also artists like Amine, Brockhampton and Smino. Smino is probably the top artist for if I could get a feature, or if I had someone that influenced me the most in my delivery it’d be him. I really love his perspective and the way he raps and his melodic style influenced me a lot. I have to include Saba for the same reasons. All those artists have been huge for me, and also Pharell in terms of production style.

I want to dive right into your second album “WHO TF IS 8RAE.” Congrats on the record, and I’m really impressed with your ability to tell a story throughout. Building a project that’s cohesive is one of the most difficult things to do as an artist. From a broader perspective, how would you describe the message of the album and tell me a bit about the process of creating it.

The whole process was me trying to figure out myself and my identity. I was making music before, but I was just going through life and I never really slowed down to pay attention to who I am, what I was doing, and what I’m about. This album was about me finding it a bit. It starts out with me not really knowing who I am, and throughout the project I go through certain events and shit that happened to me and at the very end it’s just me handling that and pushing forward with what I’m supposed to do and my destiny.

One of the core pieces of that story is the fall out you had with a past relationship and the emotional struggle that breakup brought upon you. People often stereotype that pain and mental health struggle creates better artists which bothers me, but that doesn’t diminish the way you channeled this hardship to make beautiful art. So how do you feel this emotional challenge impacted your music and why did you choose this particular relationship as the centerpiece of the project?

In terms of getting emotions out, I tend to just box everything in and write it down. So my songs are basically just my journal, and by putting it down and getting it out it allows me to release without trauma dumping on someone else which is huge. The album focused on a few relationships that I’ve had before, and I thought I’d put it in because it really impacted my life and was a huge teaching point. There’s a lot of emotion to write about in there; like there’s this one past relationship that I have SO MUCH good writing material for because of how bad it was, like it’s a good thing and bad thing. I’m trying to make the best out of my past by using it to create stuff that resonates with people and myself. Something that’s natural and something I’ve felt and I’m sure a lot of other people have felt too.

Throughout all of your music, your overall ability to be vulnerable and honest in your lyricism sticks out to me. How important is it for you to be fully open and authentic to your audience?

I think it’s the most important thing you can do if you want to have an audience. I don’t have a huge one right now but I want my first perspective from any listener to be someone who is real and someone who doesn’t sugarcoat things or say things without purpose. I want them to think this is me 100% genuinely. That’s what my favorite artists do; they’re vulnerable so you feel like you get them and understand them and that they’re like you. I want that to resonate with anybody listening to try to connect as much as possible.

You wrote all of the songs on the project and have production credit on most of it. What kind of role do you like to take on when creating with other producers and what is your general creative style when producing a track?

I like to be involved as much as possible. I feel like there’s so much more creative freedom once you’re involved with the production process. Like, if you get a bunch of Youtube beats you can’t put your input in, but when you work with producers you get to be a part of the arrangement and the overall structure of a song. So I do as much as I can, I’ll throw in loops here and there but it’s important to know when to step out and let them do their thing. But I like to be involved because I produced a lot for months before I decided I wanted to actually hop on the music itself. When I started this whole music thing I never thought that I would actually be the artist until I just tried it and kept working to get better.

I was moved by the way you ended the album, with a voicemail from your father providing you support and love. How important has your family been for you as you grow your career as an artist?

They’ve been so important to me. The support system is great. I dropped out of school about a year ago, so at first, most of them were very skeptical and rightfully so. I didn’t really have much of a plan, but as time has passed I’ve been figuring out where I want to go with this. As soon as they saw that and my drive they were supportive. For some it took longer than others, but my Dad I feel like from the first days was like “Ok!” So they’ve been really great and come to all my shows and everything.

This fall you got the opportunity to work with PARADISE RISING, a project highlighting Filipino artists from the iconic brand 88RISING. What was it like to work with them and how have you seen your career shift from the recognition?

I definitely have seen some changes. It was a pretty easy process. At first we were just sending demos for songwriting, and 88 told us to submit to Paradise because they were doing an EP. I had heard about it already so I decided to just submit for the hell of it. A week later they hit me and were like, “yeah, you’re on it now.” And I was just like “Ok! Cool!” It was awesome to work with them and it helped my outreach a bit, getting my name out there internationally.

Not the only collab you’ve done recently, as you performed your breakout hit “Lost cause” for Genius in the studio back in November. How did that performance come about?

I feel like Genius has been the biggest part of any success I’ve had recently. I signed a distribution deal with them. Basically Kayvan, who works in artist relations there – shoutout Kayvan – hit us up and asked if we wanted to work with them and we just ran with it. The open mic was so sick though. It was definitely one of my favorite experiences as an artist. The whole team there is so professional and they were really helpful, and it was just so cool being there in their studio and office. Super grateful for their whole organization.

I’ve noticed that you’ve gotten on stage in recent months, playing 3 shows around the west coast towards the end of 2022. How has the energy been and how excited are you to play more shows this year?

Dude I love shows so much, like I don’t care how many people are there as long as there’s someone that’s there for me and I’ll always go hard for them. The energy’s been really great. I’ve been doing more shows with people that I don’t know which I love. In the past when I did shows I’d be able to get a certain amount of people there that I know and they were there for me. Now I’m getting to perform for a lot of random people that didn’t know who I was before and getting to win them over is something that’s really cool. I’m so excited to perform more, and any show I can do I want to because I think it’s the most fun part about being an artist.

You’re nearing your first song to hit 200,000 streams, are there any big milestones you feel like you’re chasing, and where would you like to be 3 years from now?

Honestly, my number one goal is to be able to live off of my music career alone. In terms of an audience, I just want to have a fanbase that’s passionate. It doesn’t have to be huge, but just enough to help me pay the bills would be amazing. Stats wise, I guess seeing a milli streams would be really cool. I’d also really love to collaborate with more artists, I haven’t gotten to work with too many thus far and I’m planning to work with more a lot this year.

Do you have any parting message or announcement for Sheesh before you go?  

I’m gonna be here for a while so don’t forget about me.

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