I am not a soothsayer, but if I were a betting man, I would put money on 909Memphis becoming culturally omnipresent. He makes ethereal, melodic crossover post-trap that is equally appealing to audiophiles, Soundcloud junkies, pop aficionados and normal, sane people who enjoy music as it comes to them on the radio or Spotify playlists. In February, he dropped his debut mixtape, Mixed Feelings, an ultra-coherent and thoughtfully constructed distillation of a specific palate of guitar samples and bubbly auto-tune vocal melodies that turned heads on streaming services and in the Soundcloud spring he’s about to pop out of.
Where Mixed Feelings was a complex, moody labyrinth of guitar samples and crooning about love lost, love found, and purposelessness in young adulthood, what he’s working on now is unrepentantly joyous. Working with Atlanta producer Daniel Hartzog and a crew of his internet friends, Memphy is creating light and endlessly repeatable pop trap that features his dynamic, wide-ranged singing voice front and center. The forthcoming Memph & OJ mixtape is aspirational and inspirational music created for and by the heat of the DMV summer.
This release intends to bring him to a wider audience, and it will, but talking to him I found his appeal to be stronger than a perfectionist approach to crafting music and a God-given talent as a singer. 909Memphis is a regular, broadly relatable kid who graduated college in the spring, recorded most of his first mixtape between soccer practice and class, and wants other people to know that it’s okay to be normal. The only difference being that he looks like a young Sean Penn and sings like a young T-Pain. I called him last week and we talked about his marathon recording sessions, our generational malaise, his approach to making hooks, the potent DMV rap scene he hails from, and his plans for a continued rise. — Lucas Foster
What inspired you to start making pop music? Have you always been into pop, like 80s shit, new shit?
909Memphis: I’ve never really been into 80s shit. I just listened to a lot of Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y when I was young, and a lot of Rocky when I was young. You know how Wiz and Curren$y used to use those old groovy-ass soul samples and literally rap over them?
909Memphis: They inspired me to do the same thing and make it a little more poppy. You know what I mean? The tape I’m about to drop is a little mixture of a lot of things. I’d say it’s pop and rap mixed together, but like, it’s blended really well together, the best I’ve ever done it in a really long time. Mixed Feelings was like trap and pop mixed together but this is a bit more turn-up music.
What was your favorite song on Live.Love.A$AP?
909Memphis: “Peso” was my favorite on the first tape. But all time, my favorite A$AP Rocky song is “Fashion Killa.” That’s my shit bro.
It totally makes sense, you blend those influences, but when did you start getting into underground shit?
909Memphis: Like Yung Lean and shit?
909Memphis: Like 2014, 2015 when I was graduating from high school. These two Asian twins I used to chill with turned me on to that scene. I was just really sad for some reason and then I kept on listening to Bones. Bones’ shit, Chris Travis’ shit, Xavier Wulf’s shit. I was hooked on those three from like 2014-2016 and then I kinda stopped listening to everybody and just started making my own shit.
Word. That makes sense.
909Memphis: I don’t really listen to a lot of artists now, even in the underground. I’ll check some other people’s things out, you know, like when I’m done making a song, just smoking, checking shit out, it’s very rare for me to go through an entire artist’s discography. I never be on some fan shit. I try to keep my inspiration, you know what I mean? But I know my roots, I always try to channel my roots back to what I listened to when I was younger, but I always try to change it to my own thing now. I don’t need sauce from nobody else.
Yeah that’s cool.
909Memphis: No it’s kinda fucked up! [laughs] But it keeps me original and keeps me on some exclusive type shit. Ya dig?
I totally understand that. I was just curious because back then, before the underground got appropriated into the mainstream really, like in 2014, there was Yung Lean, there was Raider Klan, Sesh, all the affiliates and it was still pretty rare, someone had to put you on.
You were in high school then?
909Memphis: Yeah I was in high school then. I was listening to Wiz too, Curren$y, honestly all my influence goes back to my high school days.
What were you like in high school?
909Memphis: Cocky as shit. I was an athlete. I was a nerd. Not a lot of people fucked with me.
909Memphis: I was on some cocky shit! I was a little dickhead. I’m an athlete dude, I’m very competitive. I keep my shit very exclusive, just solo, yo. I know what’s best best for me intuitively.
So in high school were you like a girlfriend guy? Were you the guy who like went to soccer practice and hung out with your girlfriend?
909Memphis: Yeah, I had a girlfriend all four years. All four years bro! And then after that breakup I just went through a pattern of girls who played me bro. I cheated on my first girlfriend, right before I went to college I was just like “fuck it,” and then it was honestly like God was punishing me, for three years. I just got finessed! Every time! Every time bro! But now I’m in a really good relationship. She helps me man. You know how a lot of my music can be, like, sad and shit?
909Memphis: Having a good person like that in my life, makes me so energetic that I can make real turn up music. It’s a big part of the new sound I’m able to tap into for this tape.
So you met her in college, right? What college did you go to?
909Memphis: I went to a small DIII school called Christopher Newport University. It’s in Newport News, it’s by Virginia Beach and shit. It’s where Treez Lowkey’s from, Chris Brown.
Isn’t that where Allen Iverson’s from?
909Memphis: Yeah! Actually my pod was right next to the high school he went to. And Black Kray’s from Richmond, not too far. VA’s got a lot of good artists bro.
While you were there did you start getting into the music scene locally and in the DMV?
909Memphis: I didn’t honestly. I was always aware of it but like, I mean I started trying to fuck with, you know who Treez Lowkey is?
Yeah his new tape is amazing.
909Memphis: Me and him were in contact. He never wanted to link up with me but he’d always hit my phone like “Yo, studio?” and I’d be like “yeah, let’s get it,” and then he’d never respond. That happened like ten times bro. But the DMV, where I live with my mom, that shit is blowing up right now. You got me, WifiGawd, Khan, Xelly, Xanman, that whole shit is incredible right now. But I still feel like I’m one of the only artists from the DMV that really be doin’ what I do, type shit. You know?
909Memphis: So it’s hard to work with other artists in a way. Like sometimes I want to hook up with Wifi and Khan, cause I’m friends with them and their incredible artists, but I feel like the vibes we have are so much different for a song. Not because they suck, Khan just be screamin’ about choppas and DC and shit. You know how it is it’s just different.
Yeah totally. So you hang out with Khan and shit right?
909Memphis: Yeah, he’s one of my good friends, I hang out with him, Moshpit, sometimes we pull up on Wifi, I be hanging out with Kray and shit sometimes too. I met Diamondsonmydick in New York a few weeks ago, I fuck with all of them, they’re making dope music.
What you do is definitely different though, I understand that. The tape you released earlier this year, Mixed Feelings was genuinely special, and that was really your first release right?
909Memphis: That was like my first official release yeah, I’d consider it my debut project. I’d dropped two tapes in the past, on some Soundcloud rapper shit, but I think Mixed Feelings was my first time really sitting down with it, taking a long time to put together.
What was your headspace when you were making that?
909Memphis: It’s really, just early 20s bro. I was 21 when I made the majority of it, so like you understand your 20s bro: everybody’s lost, nobody understands what they wanna do yet. I try to tell everybody, the cover of the tape, you know how there’s a million faces on it? The figure at the middle, staring at you, that’s the face I present to the world, but the heads at each side of the body, that’s how I really feel inside of me, but I guess I don’t quite show it. I was fearful, I was worried, scared, happy; I was content, but not satisfied; I was happy, but also depressed. I generally had mixed feelings. I didn’t know if I wanted to get a real job. I didn’t know if I wanted to make music my life. It was just hard bro, so I titled it Mixed Feelings cause that was my reality, I was just – I was confused as fuck man, but I have a clear vision of what I want now.
So when you were making that, there’s a lot of really brilliant moments there, but what really popped out for me is on “Blue Faces,” where you were hitting these insane high notes. Did you always know you were that good of a singer or had that range?
909Memphis: Uh, I’m not gonna lie to you, I use a good amount of auto-tune, but lately I’ve been toning it down just a little bit. I didn’t really realize I was a good singer, sometimes of course the auto-tune helps me out, but just in general, in spite of actually hitting those notes, I didn’t ever think I could do that. My mom always told me I had a good voice as a kid, but I just never believed her. I record with my presents on, so I know what I’m gonna sound like as soon as it leaves my mouth. That gives me a lot of room to experiment, cut my vocals, that’s why I hate going to studios. I need to be in control of so much of what’s going on with the creative process, if someone else is engineering me, or pressing the record button to stop it, I get really irritated and pissed.
On that tape, I was impressed with how there was a variety of producers, but a really specific sound, who was all the people you worked with on production?
909Memphis: It was a good mixture of people, actually. Cash Bentley did two beats. There was a lot of False Cut, ryder johnson, OG Abi, KBeazy, Boy Floss, Zjakkies, there was a lot of people. But it was mainly Cash Bentley and False Cut, yeah.
Did you get those beat custom made or did you just know what you were looking for when people sent them in?
909Memphis: I’m pretty sure False Cut, “Best Man” beat he actually sent to hella people. Ryder Johnson though, I actually found that sample and sent it to him to make a beat out of it. But in regard to Cash Bentley and OG Abi, all their shits custom for me, they just know what I sound like so they send me beats and shit.
It was such a coherent vision for that tape, which is kind of a contrast from most independent rappers working with a manager, all that huge team behind them.
909Memphis: Yeah, it’s just kind of weird bro because, I guess, for that tape I was really into guitars. And it was like a whole wave of Soundcloud, where people were really into guitar samples. I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty addicted to it too. There’s a certain vibe it gives you, it wasn’t just any guitar sample songs on that tape, it was a real poppy sound to it. For me, when I pick a beat, sometimes it takes weeks for me figure out how to go on a song, just listening to other beats and shit, but I hear a bunch of different possibilities from the second I hear a beat. But I am very selective.
On your new tape, listening to some of the loosies, and some of the unreleased stuff you sent me, there’s a lot of soft, floaty, melodic, landscape-type sounds I’m hearing, you know what I mean? Is that the sound you’re going for on Memph & OJ?
909Memphis: Yeah … I’m going for whatever makes me feel light. Like, it’s definitely very airy, but I think it’s the perfect summer vibe for this summer. It’s definitely just, whatever I hear just flows, it is airy and shit. But it depends too because I switched producers that I’m working with, and that’s their sound. I guess for now, that style of beat is what I’m working with. And I wanted to switch it up, everyone is still going on fuckin’ guitar beats. I’m done with that wave. I’m trying to do shit that no one’s done before.
Who are you working it with for this one?
909Memphis: Production wise, I’m working with Daniel Hartzog and David Morris. They’re from Atlanta and their pretty talented artists. Daniel produced “Forreal” and after that song popped I was like “Yo, you gotta produce the whole album.”
So for this album, you’re trying to capture a way different mood it sounds like.
909Memphis: Yeah, bro, it’s a different vibe, it’s a different positivity. I’m in a more positive headspace. When I was in school I was anxious, I had so much shit going on around me. But even now, I’m happy but I’m still sad. The difference between this tape and the last tape is that I know how close I am to really popping, and so I’m putting my 100%, my chest, my energy into every song. I’m not just whispering into the mic, I’m fucking, top of my lungs, fucking singing shit! The one thing I learned as an artist, it’s all about the energy you put into the music. If you bring the right energy, a lot of people are gonna fuck with it.
Do you think, maybe, that positivity, that’s what people need right now?
909Memphis: Yeah. I think it’s, our generation, as it is, is fucked up, because of how anxious everybody is. Social media is a huge reason for why everyone is so anxious all the time, because everyone is always comparing their life to everybody else. People don’t realize our lives aren’t as good the highlights that everyone is just posting all the time; it’s a constant race. I feel like a lot of kids my age, like 21 to 30-year-olds, there’s too much pressure on us, there’s way too much pressure to live up to someone.
I was actually just thinking about exactly that, with the shootings going on, all the terrible shit that’s happening, obviously there’s a lot of factors, there’s a lot of terrible shit, white supremacy, guns, mental illness, but to a certain point, it feels like were encouraged to live our lives as performance art pieces on social media, and when you can’t measure up, it can lead to a breaking point.
909Memphis: Yeah dude. And that’s the biggest thing about our generation today. There aren’t enough kids that know that it will be okay bro. There’s not enough people that feel okay. And that’s the thing, I relate to everybody bro, I just graduated from college. A lot of these artists, they make their life seem so unrealistic bro, they be fooling a lot of people, and that’s not my goal as an artist. My goal as an artist is to make people feel good, but also make people feel like it’s okay to be normal. A lot of these artists are going crazy, tattoos, tatting their face, doing drugs everywhere, and don’t get me wrong, I do drugs, I smoke a lot of weed really, but you get what I’m saying?
Yeah, I like that a lot actually.
909Memphis: There’s just like a stigma that people have. Even in the underground, people don’t know how to take me because I’m just so real about who I am bro. I’m not gonna like develop some super unnatural look, I’m not gonna go out and buy all these designer clothes ‘cause it’s gonna enhance my instagram, enhance who I am as a person, or as an artist, just for a look. At the end of the day, as an artist, the people who are gonna fuck with your music are people just like you. That’s why I think I’m gonna pop soon: almost anybody that can listen to my music can relate to the music.
909Memphis: I’m really just a normal-ass kid. I’m really just a normal-ass kid who went to college, who got a job, that shit’s necessary bro! That’s that shit that everyone has to go through in life, whether you like it or believe it or not: you have to do other things while you’re trying to achieve what you wanna do. Everybody says “fuck school,” but that can be an answer, school can be good for you. School will boost your confidence, it will definitely boost your intelligence, it will put you in a position to be wealthier as a normal person. I’m not saying I made it anywhere, but bro, I think I got a pretty solid fanbase that’s pushing me to the point where I can almost blow up. And dude: I’ve been doing this shit from my fucking dorm room. I’ve been doing this shit while going to practice at 3pm, then going back to get my work done, then staying up ‘til 4 am rapping. People need to see how I’m living, because I hope it inspires them that you can be a normal ass person, you can be a regular dude, work, make good music, walk the part.
That’s rad, more people actually do have to hear that, that it’s okay to be a fuckin’ normal person.
909Memphis: You don’t have to go out your way, you don’t have to go out your way bro! And the thing is, the biggest stars are normal fuckin’ people. Look at Jay-Z, he’s not fuckin’ tweaked!
Me and my buddy were talking about this the other day, even someone like Lil B, he has to go grocery shopping. Lil B has to pick out an Airbnb, he has to answer emails.
909Memphis: That’s what I’m saying.
I like that about your music too, it’s authentically honest, radically honest.
909Memphis: You need to be honest, you need to be able to be you bro. That’s why I hate a lot of these artists, there’s a lot of artists who say they jugg and finesse, and they don’t bro, I know them, I went to high school with them. The moral of the story is that being an honest person will get you further than trying to be someone your not.
I think that can apply to anywhere in life, outside or inside of the music industry, but it’s like you said, everyone is trying to put on a front now, cause of clout, social media, whatever.
If we’re going to get radically honest, what’s your typical day like now?
909Memphis: I wake up, I work Monday, Wednesday, Friday, on Tuesday and Thursday I’m always making music all day. I live with my mom still, if I didn’t go to college, I’d have my own place by now ‘cause I would have been working those four years. But yeah bro, it’s basically wake up, if I don’t have work go to the studio, if I don’t do that, try to find another way to make some bread. It sucks bro, honestly, ‘cause I feel like I’m in a fork in the road, at least as far as responsibilities. Like I have a girlfriend and I love her family, but they’re not really hip to the fact that I’m on the verge of popping yet. Their hip to the fact that I make music, but sometimes things are better left unsaid ‘til the moment’s right, you know?
909Memphis: It sucks for me because most days I spend fighting myself about what I really want to do. Even with all the things I have in my life, I have a degree, I have a job, I have a really good following on Soundcloud. That’s why I said I’m in a fork in the road, ’cause I know what I really want to do, but I also what I have to do.
What did you study in school and what do you do for your day job?
909Memphis: Marketing. You can’t avoid it nowadays.
What do you think pop music is going to sound like in the next decade?
909Memphis: I think my music’s gonna be at the head of it, nah I’m just playing. I think more trap’s gonna get into it, it’s gonna be sounding super trappy. There’s this girl Belis, she’s blowing up right now, I think a lot of people are gonna take cues from her. And then, of course, I want to be part of pop music, but what I make, it’s not, I call it pop but it’s, when you listen to it, it’s really not. There’s a lot of trap music in what I make.
On that note, when’s Memph & OJ dropping?
909Memphis: August 22nd.
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