“I Ain’t At Where I Wanna Be At”: An Interview with Quando Rondo

Jack Riedy chats with one of the South's best new rappers about his new mixtape, 'Life B4 Fame,' growing up in Savannah, and his time in prison.
By    June 12, 2018

The title of Quando Rondo’s first mixtape tells you everything you need to know. His mission is to get famous and move his family out of the Savannah projects. Fame is a foregone conclusion and music is a means to an end. See the chorus of “Paradise:” “They choose the life of fame, I’m feeling already lived that life.” The stresses of fame can’t compare to what he’s already survived.

Quando’s past, present, and desired future meld together in each lyric. On “They Say,” he remembers being locked up, speaking to his friend in the cell next door. With the wall between them, he had no choice but to press his face up against a metal grate to whisper through the vent. Throughout, Quando keeps his mind fixed on the Benz he’ll buy his mom once he makes it big.

Quando’s greatest assets are his vocal melodies, layered like memories bubbling from the subconscious. On the aptly titled “I Remember,” rhymes, harmonies, and ad-libs jostle for space. Quando’s voice carries the song on its own on the rare bars where the beat drops out, like when he raps, “I remember hitting licks in the project housing,” over nothing but snaps. While he never sounds as unhinged as Young Thug, Quando’s tunes fit over bright synths and high-hat rolls as comfortably as the best of Rich Gang.

Life B4 Fame begins with Quando’s ad-libs over four bars of an eerie yet enticing flute sample. He sings about jack boy scenarios and codeine dreaming, stomping on the first syllable of each, comparing killing rivals’ dreams to the assassination of Dr. King and popping X, “no Malcolm.” It’s jarring to hear martyred civil rights philosophers deployed as punchlines, but the sheer cockiness makes it the most memorable verse on the entire album.

Quando isn’t generally a flashy writer. Through a syrup-heavy fog, he describes life at street level. When he uses slang, he prefers well-known terms like “trap” and “double cup” over Savannah-specific terms. Even his fantasy of wealth, the Benz, is a symbol so simple that Janis Joplin was singing about it a half century ago. Like the vernacular, it’s been codified through years and years of striving rap songs. The real thrill of Life B4 Fame is hearing his story, told through instantly memorable melodies.

The first time I spoke to Quando, he called from Savannah. His family members were audible in the background, a pleasant hum on a weekday evening. When we spoke again about a month later, he called from a Los Angeles studio, working on a follow-up titled Life After Fame. From Southern roots to West Coast industry. I’d hoped the candor of his verses would carry over to conversation as I asked about his background and his process, but Quando was less than enthused, at one point asking directly how many questions I had left. Nonetheless, the extremes of his life, from his history to his goals, are laid out plainly on the record.

With Life B4 Fame, Quando is ready to claim the promise of hip-hop’s self-fulfilling prophecy, where if you rap about being rich and famous with enough skill, you can force the universe into making you rich and famous. —Jack Riedy

What’s the first song you remember rapping along to and knowing the words?

Quando Rondo: Shit, Chief Keef songs.

Which Keef is your favorite?

Quando Rondo: Finally Rich.

How did you first learn to sing?

Quando Rondo: I just knew how to sing, I don’t know. I was born like this.

Do you have a first memory of singing? Like, ‘I can do this in a way other people can’t.’

Quando Rondo: Not really, I just used to do that shit and people used to like that shit.

Would you perform for people or just sing around the neighborhood?

Quando Rondo: I used to sing around when I was in jail.

Were you singing your own music?

Quando Rondo: I used to just freestyle.

Did you have any access to music while you were in there?

Quando Rondo: Hell nah.

What was the worst part of being in jail?

Quando Rondo: Being in jail.

What did you get sent for?

Quando Rondo: Burglary.

You rap about being locked up next to your friend Leaky. How did you two meet?

Quando Rondo: From the same hood.

How long were you locked up together?

Quando Rondo: About five, six months.

How long have you known each other?

Quando Rondo: Shit, forever.

Is he out now too? What does he think of your music?

Quando Rondo: Hell yeah. Man, we don’t talk about no motherfuckin’ music [laughs]. We just talk.

You shout out your friend Quaffy a lot on the tape. What are you trying to accomplish in order to honor him?

Quando Rondo: Nothing really, that’s just my dead homeboy.

You’re just paying respect?

Quando Rondo: Yeah, in other words.

Can you tell me more about Quaffy? How did you meet him?

Quando Rondo: That was my partner, big bruh. I don’t wanna talk about no shit like that.

Do the melodies come to you first when you hear a beat or do you write the lyrics first?

Quando Rondo: The melody comes to me first.

So do you freestyle a melody then write words to it later?

Quando Rondo: Yeah, sometimes. I really don’t write though. I get a beat, and I just freestyle. I freestyle, write a little bit, freestyle, think about it, write a little bit.

What are you looking for when you’re choosing your beats?

Quando Rondo: I really can’t explain it. It’s a certain sound.

What kind of sound?

Quando Rondo: It’s based on keys. Those fruity sounds. I don’t really know about the beats, but it be the sounds I been looking for.

On “Dreamin’” you rap that, “They say I sound like Rich Homie Quan.” Who would you say are your biggest influences?

Quando Rondo: Kodak, NBA Youngboy, niggas like that. I like their delivery.

How did you choose your features? What is it about their verses that appealed to you?

Quando Rondo: They young hard artists, man. They really know how to rap. And they wasn’t on no Hollywood. They wanted to fuck with me.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would you most want to get on a song with?

Quando Rondo: Young Thug. I just like the sounds he’s doing.

What did you think of the Future/Thug tape?

Quando Rondo: That shit’s 100 percent hard.

“Letter To You” is all about someone taking credit for your success. Do you know if that person has heard the song?

Quando Rondo: Yeah, we ain’t gon’ get into that though.

I wanted to ask about David G, the director of your “I Remember” video. How did you first link up with him?

Quando Rondo: I met him from Atlantic.

What was it like working with him?

Quando Rondo: Good, bruh. He hard. He’s a good cameraman.

What was that shoot like?

Quando Rondo: Just him with a camera.

In that video, there’s a part where you get a tattoo. What was that?

Quando Rondo: A broken heart. A nigga heartbroken, shit.

What was your first tattoo?

Quando Rondo: A money bag…No, a “C” on my neck.

What was that for?

Quando Rondo: It’s my favorite alphabet.

Does it feel like a distinct scene in Savannah compared to Atlanta?

Quando Rondo: Yeah, we got a lot of talent down here that nobody really notices.

Anyone in particular you wanna shout out?

Quando Rondo: Yeah, my homeboys can rap. Like Flash, Pabb and them. Other than that I don’t know nobody.

What’s up next for you?

Quando Rondo: I’m planning on doing shows, and another mixtape on the way. Probably won’t drop for another six months.

Are you doing shows in Savannah or are you hitting the road?

Quando Rondo: I’m trying to do shows wherever I can.

You talk about moving to the suburbs, buying a car for your mom, and taking care of your family and all that. Has a lot changed for you since dropping this tape?

Quando Rondo: A little bit, but I ain’t at where I wanna be at. I’m tryna be rich! Really take care of my family, man. I ain’t feel like I’m at the point where I made it ‘til I’m at fifty bands a show.

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