“The Bad Ends up Being Regular”: An Interview with Heembeezy

Steven Louis checks in with the rising West Coast star to discuss self-trained musicianship, the science of popularity and the lonely glow of that computer screen.
By    April 10, 2024

Image via Alamo

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Steven Louis doesn’t care what the MRI shows — he wants to get Tommy John surgery, just to know what it feels like.

Heembeezy thinks about retirement sometimes. It’s not for a lack of momentum. The Hawthorne and Inland Empire artist has a joint venture deal with Alamo and just performed at Rolling Loud for the first time. It’s also not an age thing. The rapper born Jekobe Holloway just turned 20, and his spacey, croaked, off-center quotables have made him a rising West Coast star. As he tells it, this loose idea of leaving rap comes from contempt for the fakery. His talent for knowing what will pop might be preternatural, but that doesn’t mean that he enjoys what comes with success.

The music is straightforward and slight, effortlessly quotable and full of an improvised energy that belies his technical prowess. By 6-years-old, he was recording his father’s raps from behind the family computer. By age 10, he’d already gone from Pro Tools to Logic. While his peers were mostly in class or partying, Heembeezy was in “Spaceship” mode, cranking out instrumentals for other artists while recreating the beats he heard on the radio. And when the 2020 pandemic shut down life as we knew it, the teenager recorded volumes of his own raps – reaching fans desperate for the exciting next step of an ongoing California Renaissance.

With the murders of Drakeo the Ruler, Bris, and Young Slo-Be, Heembeezy found himself anointed as one of the potential heirs to the throne of the West. He capitalized with a relentless output of viral hits: “Face No Book” is smurkish and fuses exotic strains of street-level shit-talk; “Floccer” lights and refracts the proven Stockton recipe; “When You Call” pitches up Ashanti and sounds club-ready without sacrificing griminess.

His latest single, “Michael Phelps,” begins the rollout for this month’s forthcoming Beezy Baby mixtape in April. It marks a period of transition for the young artist – Heembeezy is debating a move out of LA, determined to expand his sonic palette to R&B and blues rap, and is dealing with familial difficulties. I caught up with him to discuss life changes, lessons learned and why he hates thinking about his teenage past.

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

What do you remember about your early years living in Hawthorne?

Heembeezy: That’s a good question. I like that, I wouldn’t think you knew that. I stayed on 139th, around Gardena, for like five or six years. It was cool. It was real ghetto, though. There were a lot of shootings in the area, like weekly, even though I had elementary school and middle school right there. It was bad, but the bad ends up being regular, and you get used to that.

Do you remember the first time it felt “regular?”

Heembeezy: Honestly, I always knew it was like that, just growing up around the street shit. Being around my family, everybody was involved in that space. It felt like growing up into a program.

Tell us a bit about your family.

Heembeezy: I don’t really have too much of a good relationship with my family, at all, at the moment. Right now, the only person I’m still focused on is my uncle, because he’s the one that was always involved in my life and shit. But as far as my moms and my pops, I don’t really got a relationship with them, they don’t really speak for me.

I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve read in other interviews that your dad was who got you in the studio as a young kid.

Heembeezy: Yeah, for sure. My father had me in the studio since I was a baby. At like five or six years old, he had me behind the computer, recording him on Pro Tools. I learned everything on my own. Self-taught like a video game, basically. Then I was into the producing heavy, and switched to Logic Pro. I was behind a computer screen all day. I had a lil studio space in the living room, and used my closet to record.

Did you see yourself as a beatmaker first, then?

Heembeezy: I was all on that until I got bored of it around 15 or 16. That’s around when I was moving to Inland Empire, and that’s where my rapping got its first buzz. But for years and years, I was just learning how to play a lot of songs I heard off the radio, recreating the beat with the keyboard, working on my craft and learning how to sample. I could make a thousand beats in a day if I wanted to. I still basically record all my shit by myself, because I’ve been doing this for so long, bro.

Folks see you as a rookie breaking out, but you’re saying you feel like a veteran already?

Heembeezy: I’ve really been doing this for so damn long. Sometimes it feels like my days are done, like it’s time to retire. It’s crazy, but that’s how it be sometimes. I just realized, like Babyface Ray and them, they’re 30 years old. I’m just turning 20! I’ve got time still. I’ve got a chance. A lot of these n***** have just started rapping, talking about like, “I’ve only been rapping for six months.” So I’ve seen other people take three or four days to finish a song, but I can punch in like clockwork and get it done in 20 minutes.

Your first traction really began in 2020 — that must have been a super weird year to start popping off.

Heembeezy: I ain’t gonna lie, even then, my people didn’t know I was rapping and shit like that for real. They only thought I was doing beats. But when you can’t do nothing and you’re stuck in the house, you start posting on SoundCloud and dropping songs on IG. When we were all locked down, I was like, shit, more studio time for me. I made the most of my time, headphones on, same old mic, recording hits in my closet. I can’t even remember too much else from then. 2020 was just making music in the house.

Did you notice any changes in yourself when you moved out to IE?

Heembeezy: I was probably in eighth grade when we moved. Shit, it was good for me to get out. I was acting wild then. Stupid shit, in and out of school, getting punished and pulled out. At first, I was mad that I had to come out here, and I didn’t even know nobody like that in IE. But to be real with you, my whole lil teenage life was f*cked up, bro. Either getting in trouble or stuck inside. It got to a point where I was staying in the garage at our house. Once I really got outside and into the community here, at 17, that’s when I started going crazy. I had labels flying me out all of a sudden. But yeah, my childhood is like one big blur. I hate talking about that shit, for real.

Flying out to meet with execs about your music must have felt so empowering, then.

Heembeezy: Exactly. They was going crazy. I probably talked to like 20, 30 labels. I went to Miami for the first time. Universal brought me to New York. Back-to-back meetings and studio time. I had just turned 18, and I was in these cities. Bro, I was in Seattle and Eugene, Oregon.

That adjustment must have been trippy.

Heembeezy: It still is. I think it’s hard to talk about anything in the past, like one big weird part of my life, because I went from sitting inside all day to really being out here. It’s weird, I was so used to just four walls. Four walls and my computer, stuck. And because I wasn’t really in school ever, I didn’t have much experience being around people my age. Now, these shows, and being on the road, that shit is really cool. I hate being on planes, though.

How did you sort through all the meetings? Why did you end up at Alamo?

Heembeezy: They gave me a joint venture deal, that’s what I really wanted. Because anything else is really just a loan at the end of the day. Too much weird shit going on. It gets confusing, bro. So confusing I couldn’t really tell you. The thing is, I was never the type to get my hopes up on something. I just put my head down and go back to work.

Then “Face No Book” drops and changes everything for you. Did you know that song would be special when you were making it?

Heembeezy: I honestly did know it would go viral. I made that in the homie’s house in like 20 minutes. I was just on my phone, playing around, loaded some shit up and said what I knew people wanted to hear. This was when TikTok really started going crazy. I was really just saying anything.

It may have been casual and off the top when you said it, but we saw fans at this Rolling Loud set rapping along to every word.

Heembeezy: That shit be crazy. I love them for that. But I’m saying, I be knowing what people wanna hear. I be making all different other kinds of music on my own time. All that stuff is face-level, rookie work. But I really make music, bro.

Do you read the comments online? Like, are you studying how people receive things?

Heembeezy: Nah, I don’t read comments no more. I think 90-95 percent of everything online is straight negative for no reason.

What have the shows been like? How do you plan to improve them?

Heembeezy: I’ve been performing since I was little, too. I’m used to this. I love performing, and I’mma rock out with it every time. I open with “Floccer” and they go crazy. We do this thing on “When You Call,” it starts off coming in ringing off my phone, like Bluetooth, and then the sound drops and they go crazy. “Face No Book” is always last, of course.

What do you like in LA right now? Dodgers and the basketball teams landing all the big stars, and there’s a lot of new rap talent rising here…

Heembeezy: I ain’t gonna lie, bro, I think LA been dead. I’ve been ready to move, maybe Atlanta. Ever since Drakeo died, for real, everything been dead, everyone doing the same shit, nobody wanna try nothing different. It’s real weird out here right now, hella weird.

Long Live the Ruler. Who’s your big three for ATL? And what about for over here?

Heembeezy: Gucci is my first thought. Definitely Gucci Mane. And I’ll say Young Jeezy, and Young Thug for sure. For the West, man, Drakeo comes first. I guess you gotta say Snoop, and I’ll take Nipsey as my third.

Do you think it’s your duty, alongside guys you’ve worked with like Greedo and 1takejay, to reclaim that position in LA?

Heembeezy: That’s what I’m hoping for. But when you come out with some different shit here, all they do is hate. I swear, that’s how everyone might end up competing in the same lil bubble without even knowing it.

What should we be expecting next?

Heembeezy: I’ve got so much music, bro. I try to tease stuff, to see where their heads at, but like I was saying, you gotta be built for so much hate. I had been contemplating, but ultimately I’m just gonna go back to the stupid shit they wanna hear. There’s some different shit on the newest drop, but the really different shit, that’s probably gonna stay in the vault. I’m back to dropping the stupid shit, they don’t wanna comprehend nothing else.

What does the vault stuff sound like?

Heembeezy: I’ve got some stuff that sound like Lil Durk or NBA Youngboy. I’ve got some R&B — real R&B like Bryson Tiller or Summer Walker. I do everything.

When will you know it’s the right time to empty that vault out?

Heembeezy: Shit, I don’t know. I have a real solid fan base, but I think I have to build it up stronger before they accept anything I put out. But a lot of people out here don’t wanna hear that. Most people don’t give a f*ck about real music.

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