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To survive in today’s era of hip-hop would seemingly require a specific formula: a catchy hook, a speaker-knocking beat and…not much else in between. The shelf life of emerging musicians in rap – largely due to the saturation of music readily available for consumption on the Internet – often doesn’t extend past the release of the artist’s debut album or EP. One of our most highly respected new favorite artists, Shirt Off Fe, comes to disrupt what the predominant sound of today’s rap is and ultimately, what its new perspective can be.

Growing up in the midst of Hurricane Katrina, Shirt Off Fe has proven himself to be incredibly dynamic both as a rapper and leader, founding his collective Mona Lisa Music Group, a.k.a. MFL (Music Fertilizing Life). Shirt Off Fe released his project Fat Boy Season earlier this year to acclaimed reception earning him performance slots during SXSW, as well as a slew of music videos that showcase the talents of his crew members Robot and brother Lazy G. We found Fat Boy Season to be the current best representative of Fe’s range of artistry, taking on traditional rap styles with a fun mix of trap instrumentals and eclectic original beats.

Coining his own style of rap he calls “conscious turn-up,” Shirt Off Fe takes an innovative, playful, and outrageous approach to his music that makes you want to dance, get money, and take notes on survival at the same time. In between the hi-hats and pounding basslines, Fe weaves his story that talks about his path turning for the worst in relation to drug-related legal troubles and family relations, and uses his platform to tell listeners that there’s more than one way to make it out of a hard situation. Shirt Off Fe makes us really think about what we’re doing as young people in today’s social and political climate, forcing us to go within to find out the reason why we want to create anything by anyone else’s standards other than our own. With interests in dance, poetry, and stellar visual material to accompany his music, Fe shakes up the status quo of what it means to be “creative” while still spreading your message of truth in a palatable way.

We were able to chat with Shirt Off Fe (pronounced “Fee”) about who he is, his songwriting process, and where he plans to take us in the future with the upcoming collective project from MFL. His solo full project N.O.A.H. is expected to release this year, as well as the official music video for “Hayu.”

Listen below via SoundCloud and click through the media to hear more from Shirt Off Fe.

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On Experiencing Hurricane Katrina:
“For me, it was a major, major culture shock – besides the culture shock of just moving to somewhere else – leaving everything you knew behind, and like, [getting] a whole new future. It wound up being a good thing, but for me, I didn’t see anything past Louisiana. It was always a dream, like ‘Maybe I’ll go to [University of Texas] or Georgia [State University].’ For me, [leaving New Orleans] was all for football that I saw on TV. Before Katrina, I had never – I’ve been maybe to Baton Rogue, which is like 45 minutes away. I was really stuck…Fortunately for me, I didn’t lose any family members because of the storm, but my family was moved all over…I was 14 when it happened; I’m currently 26 now. It was a lot for me.”

On rap’s current dichotomy:
“I feel like that’s the new wave of what I call “hybrid music,” because both sides are missing things. Like 60% of the oldheads I agree with. There has to be substance [in music]. I feel like hip-hop is – you are your music. It’s just that the young crowd, they feel like they’re fighting for something, but they don’t know what they’re fighting for, and the oldheads are so stuck in their ways, they forget to teach some of these young ones. There’s no bridging the gap. You have lieutenants who know what you’re supposed to do, but they don’t know how to talk to their soldiers. On the other side, you have soldiers who have no repentance, but they know they’re meant to fight, but they don’t know how to fight. They don’t know who to fight or even what to do, but they just know they can fight…It’s half-and-half. The oldheads have the substance, but they forget how to have fun. Hip-hop is part of war. You have to keep your soldiers’ minds in tact. You can’t be on go all the time…I have to tell myself that, and I think some of the oldheads forget [that] we need to dance, we need to have community and have a good time.”

On the importance of team building:
“When it comes to me building a team, I’m not [always] looking for your skill set, I’m looking for the will and the want to do it. Everything that I’m doing today, I didn’t know how to do half of this 2-5 years ago. I’ve been adding more and more skill sets and everyone around me [has been] just wanting to do it…it’s really just getting out of your comfort zone to really achieve the goals and doing everything that you need to do. Even if you don’t know what to do, [that means] figuring it out to accomplish what you want…Ask yourself the 5 questions: Who? What? When? Where? How?”

Shirt Off Fe – Pressure from DTS Media on Vimeo.