The Will Smith of Gangster Rap: An Interview with AD

Will Hagle sits down with the Compton MC to talk about his new record, gaming, and why he looks up to Will Smith.
By    August 21, 2018

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Will Hagle borrowed my scale to weigh his lettuce and he still hasn’t given it back.

AD wants to be Will Smith. Or, at least, he wants Will Smith to hear “Will Smith,” one of the best songs from his new album, Regional Departure. If memes and DMs can work their magic, the song may reach the Fresh Prince’s ears soon.

But the Will Smith and AD connection runs deeper than just one meme-able song title. Before Regional Departure, AD’d already released another loose single called “Will Smith Ignored Me.” Unlike many tracks named after celebrities, Regional Departure’s “Will Smith” doesn’t just namedrop for dumb hook’s sake. AD respects Will Smith as an artist and entertainer, a legend who started in music but has succeeded in every platform and built an empire in the process. AD aspires to do the same.

Lettuce By The Pound, who made the beat for “Will Smith Ignored Me” as well as the majority of the tracks on Regional Departure, served as what AD describes as the album’s “super architect.” His beats, and the obnoxious producer tag that accompanies them, are a large part of what makes the album so great. It’s also what differentiates the LP from AD’s previous work.

As AD says, Regional Departure showcases him as the person his is right now—which is still, but isn’t just, the Compton Crip gangsta rapper we expect him to be. On opener “Amazing,” he talks about getting egg whites at Starbucks and watching Game of Thrones, using the latter reference to connect his newer, more relaxed life to his rougher roots: “I be watching too much TV, Game of Thrones my show / I’m a wolf in the game, best friend got Snow.”

His previous album, 2017’s Last of the ‘80s, was a collaborative effort with producer Sorry Jaynari. Although that album had strong points, even its title made it sound like it was trying to sustain a traditionalist gangsta rap sound from a bygone era. It got lost amongst genre-pushing works like YG’s Still Brazy (which AD appears on) and the emergence of fresher sounding voices like Shoreline Mafia. On Regional Departure, AD has consciously pushed himself further in order to establish himself as part of the new LA scene, while also defining his own distinct voice within it.

Regional Departure shows that AD is a talented musician, a versatile rapper, and an entertaining personality. It’s the first step in his journey towards becoming Will Smith. Or, failing that, it’s at least a great album with a song called “Will Smith” on it.

Why’d you name the album Regional Departure?

AD: I know a lot of times artists get put in this box by the people they’re around and things of that nature. I know it’s damn near impossible to break out of that box. So Regional Departure, for me, is to show the people that I have more to give than just gangsta music or club music. I’m a real musician. I can really, really rap. And I can really do things that can take this all the way mainstream. I feel like this is my introduction to the world of my music, as far as sound-wise.

I asked because it sounds like a departure from your other albums, and you talk about personal day-to-day life stuff like Starbucks, Game of Thrones and stuff. Was that on purpose?

AD: Yeah, it’s on purpose. When I make music it’s a reflection of me, at the end of the day. I’ve been blessed to travel and see different things and move the way I’m moving, so that also reflects on my music. I guess the “Regional” thing comes from when you’re in one spot and you only have one outlook on the way that you view life and things. So to travel different places, hear new music, meet new people, eat new foods and things of that nature, it’s gonna give you a different experience. You can’t talk about the same things that you used to.

When I saw the title of the album I was expecting it to sound totally different, but I think it still sounds like it fits in with LA rap right now.

AD: A lot of people that know my music, they automatically expect “Okay, I’m gonna hear some West Coast club bangers from AD.” Or, “I’m gonna hear some gangsta stuff from AD.” I’m being more melodic on records. It’s nothing forced. It’s not like I just did it to try something new. It’s like nah, this is really me and I have a lot to show the world. I still have some things in the bag that I’ve yet to reveal as far as the recording process.

You didn’t go too far in a different direction, because you still have gangsta rap songs too, like “From The Blocc.”

Yeah. I mean, “From The Blocc” is not a traditional gangsta song. It has kind of like a West Coast but South upbeat – I can hear that going in the club in any region at the end of the day. I feel like there’s no limit to what I can do and what I would do. Even if it’s a pop feature I have to do, I want to be able to shine on everything I touch, and be respected for that too, without anybody thinking that I’m selling out or changing up the formula.

Is that why you got Maxo Kream on that song in particular? Because it sounds like kind of a Southern beat?

AD: A lot of features that I do are real personal friends. I don’t like to work with people I don’t really know as a person. Maxo, that’s like family to me. We have a lot of records coming and stuff like that too. I respect his grind. We vibe right. When he’s in LA we always go to the clubs, have fun, and turn up. So it’s more personal. I like getting my friends on my projects.

What was it like working with Lettuce By The Pound?

AD: Oh Lettuce By The Pound? Man, that’s a young star. He came to the studio one day and he was like, he makes beats. And I was just like man pull something up. And he blew me away with what he was working with. And his transformation as well, too. He’s doing a lot of lot of things to get himself going. Man, he’s a genius right there. I can give him a direction, and he’s gonna cook the shit up. Like, he chef’d this whole project. Almost singlehandedly.

Do you think his production kind of helped bring out that new sound and style for you?

AD: Oh, definitely. That’s the architect of it. Like, super-architect.

Did he produce every song?

AD: He produced, I want to say, 80 percent. There’s Pete Stylez, shout out to Pete Stylez. Shout out to Poly Boy and KT Kravitz. Those are the other producers I had on it.


I know you’ve talked in your songs about writing versus freestyling. Are you always writing?

AD: This is the first album where I actually freestyled most of the songs. I didn’t used to have my own studio, so I would have to schedule time. When you’re on a scheduled time, you don’t want to just lollygag with your music. You’ve got four hours, you want to get the best possible product you can get in four hours. Versus when you have your own lab, you can do what you want. There’s no timetable, you can freelance it. If you’re not feeling it the next day you can go home.

So with that type of freedom, I was just fucking around in the lab and going through it. I’d start freestyling damn near every song. I love the process way more now. It’s easier for me too. It’s just the first thing that comes to mind. I don’t have to over think what I’m saying. It’s just a perfect combination.

Then you have the producer there too who can chop it up so you can keep going.

AD: Oh, yeah. I like doing everything personal, man. Sending beats through email is cool, but there’s no real magic in that. [It’s not] like somebody crafting and creating something for you. Because it can be a sound or an instrument in a beat that I don’t like, and I can say, “Hey, take this instrument out,” or, “Make this one louder,” or “This needs to be more prominent.” That’s what makes a collaboration better in my opinion.

The other song I was going to ask about was “Will Smith.”

AD: Love that song.

Yeah, and you have that other song about Will Smith. What’s going on with the Will Smith theme?

AD: I had two. I had “Will Smith,” and I had “Will Smith Ignored Me.” I’ll give you a little back story on Will Smith.

Of course, I’m a major super-fan of Will Smith. Who isn’t a fan of Will Smith? He’s like one of the greatest guys of all time. I came up with that song on some freestyle stuff, came up with the hook. I didn’t really think too much of it, and I talked to my team. Originally my team told me they didn’t like the song. So I kind of threw it in the back of the crate.

My team was like “Hey, we need something do drop. What do we have that’s full?” And that Will Smith song was full. And I said, “Look. Let’s just throw this shit out there, whatever it do, it is what it is.” And they were like “Alright.” And we put it out, and the response was just so crazy with it. The memes start popping up and there were all types of things happening with the record. And it was like, “Man, this is powerful.” We had people 24/7 hitting up Will’s DMs and blowing him up.

Has he talked about it yet or seen it?

AD: No. But we ain’t done. We’re coming out with the video. Hopefully this video will shed some light on him and he’ll give a response to it. If he doesn’t, oh well. Still love him. Still love the song. Either way it goes.

What do you think about the state of LA rap right now?

AD: The new LA rap scene is super dope. I love how it’s emerging. It’s a lot of new talent coming out the city left and right. It’s just dope, man. We have something new. Not traditional. I’d say RonRon is one of the biggest architects of it. Him and his whole squad, they’re doing their thing. Shout out to Shoreline Mafia. Shout out to AZSwaye. Shout out to Drakeo. Of course Free Greedo. That’s my family.

The other thing I have to ask about is your Twitch streams playing Fortnite. How’s that going?

I just started, man. I’ve been damn near a week in, and this is dope, man. I’ve been connecting with the fans and playing with them. Because me at heart, I love video games. I kind of lost my love for it, and I stopped playing video games for like two, three years. I got a Nintendo Switch for my daughter, and she really didn’t fuck with it. She wanted it, and then after a week she was back to her iPad. So I started playing the Nintendo Switch. I was taking it with me out of town everywhere. It kind of brought my love back for video games and shit.

Everybody’s been talking about Fortnite and shit and I’ve been seeing all the memes and all this shit. I was just like, man, let me try this game out. So I tried it out on Nintendo Switch. I was like yeah, this is cool. Then my boy was like, “Play it on the Playstation. It looks better. It’s better. It is what it is.” And I was like damn, I’m on that shit. I got right back into my love of video games again. And I know Twitch is a huge community that’s like untapped. Artists don’t really take advantage of that. I was like, yeah, damn, there’s like 10, 15 million people on Twitch!


I had a similar experience of not playing video games for a while and then picking up Fortnite, and I’ve checked out some other Twitch streams and the players are good but they’re not entertaining. But yours was actually entertaining to watch.

AD: Man! Did you follow me, man?

I don’t have a Twitch account, but I will if I make one.

AD: Make one, man!

I know you’ve talked to Jeff Weiss about wanting to be more of an all-around entertainer and not just a rapper. Does Twitch streaming kind of play into that?

AD: Man, listen. I made a song called “Will Smith,” man. You know he did rapping, acting, he’s into every single thing. I feel like my personality alone could fit anywhere. I want to be known all over the place, and known for everything. Not just music. Music is what my passion is, and what opens the doors, but I feel like there’s no limit to what I can do. I want to venture into film. I want to venture into television. I love video games, so I was like, man, this Twitch is perfect.

You’d be surprised how many listeners are on there, you know what I mean? They get shocked. Like, “Damn, am I really playing with you?” I’m like “Yeah.” You know, connecting to the people in a way that just dropping records will never really do.

I saw you’ve got the CBD water with King Moses too. I heard on one of the album’s songs too that you’ve taken beta blockers for anxiety. Do you think CBD’s good for anxiety?

AD: I think CBD is good for anything when it comes to healing. Even with beta blockers, I wasn’t having a good experience. My mind felt fuzzy and that’s not a good feeling. I know CBD, when people do the research, they can see people have been getting cured of cancer. They’ve been feeling better and they’ve been getting healed. Shit’s ridiculous. I mean, that’s a product that King Moses brought to me and he stands by and I stand by 150 percent. And you know you’re doing good into the world, too. So if we can help heal people, we can do anything.

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