“I Was More Concerned With The Art Being Able To Speak For Itself:” An Interview With Cavalier

Will Schube speaks to the Brooklyn-born rapper about his recent debut on Backwoodz Studioz, how becoming a father changed his outlook on music, being fascinated by colloquial phrases and more.
By    May 22, 2024

Image via 35MMGOLD

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Will Schube still can’t believe Larry David got Salman Rushdie to say ‘fatwa sex’ on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

In 2014, Cavalier captivated the vinyl connoisseurs and backpack stalwarts of America. His breakthrough album, Chief, even featured a verse from none other than Raekwon the Chef, the type of co-sign most underground rappers dream about. Cav seemingly had it all, but just a year after that aforementioned breakthrough, he bolted from New York and settled in New Orleans to build his career at his own speed.

New Orleans was where Cavalier and frequent collaborators, Iman Omari and Quelle Chris created seminal albums in their discographies. Everyone else moved around, but Cavalier stayed, even if the Big Easy wasn’t quite the balm he thought it’d be.

Fast forward to 2018’s Private Stock, which many considered a beautiful step forward in his ever growing discography. Questions of ‘what next?’ seemed to drown him. The pandemic followed. He had a kid. Life started to become about more than rap. “It’s like, ‘Yo, the world is ending and I got a baby.’ With all due respect, fuck your beats,” he explains.

Cav still followed his creative impulses, but they emerged in strange ways. His neighbors knew him as the dude who rapped day and night, who spat while wheeling down the garbage cans and greeted the mailman with some bars. “I was still creating, but I would create and wake up and delete 30 takes,” he explains. “I had to figure out why that was happening.” Working out of this slump came from pure persistence. Cav just kept on making and making and making, and eventually, he convinced himself that his perfectionism — Q-Tip syndrome as he calls it — was doing more harm than good.

His new album, and first for backwoodz, is called Different Type Time, and it’s a direct reflection of the philosophy Cav developed to create this body of work. On the atmospheric title track, he asks: “​​What are we doing all of this for, y’know / Who’re we doing it for?” Cav’s answer? “Me.”

It’s been a while since you put out a solo record. How are you feeling?

Cavalier: I’m not quite sure yet. I’m still processing. A dear friend of mine sent me a message telling me that the images for Different Type Time are reminiscent of images that were associated with my first demo. I thought that was pretty interesting. There’s a full circle energy to a lot of this, there’s a homecoming energy, too, with Backwoodz. I’m still processing it.

Is there a throughline that connects all your work?

Cavalier: I’m sure there is. I don’t know if I’ve identified that quite yet. On that demo I was discussing, I’m seated outside, except I’m seated in a stroller. On “Different Type Time,” I’m sitting in a recliner, both seats that you wouldn’t think are in the environment they’re in.

Talk to me about your interpretation of the title.

Cavalier: Different Type Time came about in me processing that I wasn’t obligated to move at the speed of binge watch or streaming culture. I came to that conclusion after a long, arduous mental battle about feeling comfortable putting works out in the public domain again.

What was that struggle like for you? Was it simply a case of you not vibing with the way that music was being released and consumed?

Cavalier: All of that. Private Stock was my last full length release. I put that out in 2018. I tend to work my projects throughout the year, because I make projects that have layers to them. I was still working. That album did well, and then got a spike during the pandemic. When the vinyl came out and it did really well, there was this pressure to immediately back up Private Stock with something just as impactful right away. That didn’t give consideration to what it takes, what type of input it requires to get that output.

It was a combination of that and a lot of personal life changes happening at the same time. It made me question what was really behind all of this and why I was doing it and if I enjoyed it the same way as when I started.

What sort of life changes?

Cavalier: In 2019 I found out I was becoming a father and that happened in the fall before the pandemic. By the time quarantine hit, I was a new dad, navigating that. At the same time, though, my inbox flooded with like, ‘Yo, I got these beats,’ and I’m like, ‘Yo, the world is ending and I got a baby.’ With all due respect, fuck your beats, you know?

When’s the last time that you put rap on the back burner like that?

Cavalier: That’s the thing. I don’t know if I put it on the back burner. I just felt conflicted in its role in my life. It was painful, man. I shared some of this on Twitter jokingly.

Sometimes people are nervous, understandably, to express their more vulnerable states, right? But I’m a person who raps every day in his crib. I rap in the shower. I live alone. I rap. You know what I’m saying? People who are neighbors of mine, they’ll tell you, Cav is comfortable in his own space doing his thing.

I wasn’t even doing that. Later on, I had a moment where — it’s gonna sound kind of wild — but during quarantine I’m in the crib, and I was rapping Freeway’s verse on “What We Do.” I was like, ‘Am I having a nervous breakdown, yo?’ I realized something was deeply wrong because I was going so hard to get that feeling again that was once so natural to me. It felt like everything was changing.

I started to feel like there was no delineation between what was being asked of me from Spotify and what we were asking creators on OnlyFans to do. I didn’t know I had to wrap my head around all of that. At the same time, I was still creating, but I would create and wake up and delete 30 takes. I had to figure out why that was happening.

Have you always been a perfectionist? Or was that a symptom of where you were at?

Cavalier: I don’t know if I’m ready to admit to being a perfectionist. I’ve recorded with some people where I have Q-Tip syndrome, where you’re working on it, trying to perfect it for so long that it might never come out. There is a bit of that that I grapple with, but also, I don’t know if it’s mania, but I would go through these spells where I would rap a take and there’s nothing technically wrong with it. But that don’t mean it’s the take. Now, I’m in this rabbit hole where I do 30 takes in a row.

It would take real nuanced ears to hear what was different between them, but I know what’s different between them, right? Then I wake up in the morning and delete them all, they all suck. Let me start over. After a while I realized it was not healthy.

Were you working on rap full time? Did you have another job in this five year period?

Cavalier: No, I was working on rap. I was working on rap and I was putting out films that were still connected to Private Stock. During quarantine I started to release visuals that didn’t come out.

You were operating on the timeline that you wanted to.

Cavalier: Correct. That was the realization I came to: that I was entitled to do that.

Did you have a relationship with billy woods and Backwoodz when you first moved to New York?

Cavalier: In New York, I was coming up in the scene where there was a lot of talent that was working to find its place in the era of blog dominance. In some ways that made us really insular.

The New York scene at that time wasn’t as savvy in formally publishing music and pressing records. But then you had people like Woods who seemed like the last bastions of the Def Jux era. Fat beats before Fat Beats closed. Those types of cats of cats. If you were testing your mettle out here, you were aware of woods and other affiliated acts, but that’s also an era where we delineated a lot of quote unquote alternative acts as quote unquote underground.

There was a lot of stratification and I was still finding my way at that time, trying to figure out where I would exist. I spent my time just honing my craft. woods was somebody I was aware of. I was aware of his music. I was aware of underground projects like The Reavers, shit like that.

That was creeping through these dustier corners if you were in New York listening. We crossed paths at shows and through mutual homies. A lot of us used to record at Willie Green’s spot. His place became an epicenter of a lot of cross-pollinating energies.

It still is!

Cavalier: Shout out to Steel Tipped Dove, too.

When did you move to New Orleans?

Cavalier: I moved there at the top of 2015.

What was the impetus behind that move?

Cavalier: It wasn’t super planned. I had never come to New Orleans before. I had no aspirations of coming here, never thought about it. It wasn’t even on my radar. At the time, Quelle Chris, myself, Iman Omari, and other artists were really moving in unison. Particularly with us three, we were doing a lot of bi coastal stuff. I had a place in Brooklyn that a lot of artists passed through and Quelle and Iman were intermittently on the West Coast.

We wanted to maintain our connection and be around each other. Iman ended up moving to New Orleans and that was a kind of entry point for us to come and visit. I visited for a couple of months. We worked on a lot of music and then at the top of the year, I ended up moving. But I ended up staying after everyone left.

What made you want to stay?

Cavalier: We recorded tracks that ended up on Lemonade, that ended up on Private Stock. We did Higher Loops. We recorded the IHY album for Iman Omari, tracks that ended up on Quelle Chris’ Being You Is Great… A lot of stuff happened in that window. I started to get settled into my life here in New Orleans and I was embracing it. It seemed to bring a lot of fresh energy.

Do you think fatherhood has any role in the way your new record sounds or your approach to it?

Cavalier: Well, on one hand, it literally does because my son’s voice is on the album. But I guess that would be for listeners that are familiar with me to decide. I do reference my son since I reference my life a lot in music, or life that I’m observing. I’m sure it’s had some impact.

It feels like you’re just more comfortable with who you are at this point than you were back when Private Stock came out. Do you think that’s fair to say?

Cavalier: I would imagine so. I like to think I’m growing with each offering.

On Private Stock, I didn’t plan to, but I ended up grappling with a lot of past trauma or trauma I observed. I thought about what my existence meant in this kind of society. Different Type Time, feels more about me returning to the general inspirational engines in our culture, or what moved me as an artist and the things that I can identify. Those don’t have to be assigned specific time values, monetary values. Time itself is a spiral and these experiences can resonate across timelines. Our culture has grown. We just had the 50th anniversary of hip hop, yet we’re just now getting comfortable with seeing our icons and pioneers in these chapters of art and artistry.

We’re seeing golden era artists hit new space as they grow and we grow as fans. There’s just a lot to take in. I would imagine that those perspectives broaden with each project.

Lyrically, even with the album title — the way that words sound — seems really appealing to you.

Cavalier: I’m definitely fascinated by colloquial phrases, how we use language colorfully to express different things, especially in English.

I think English is really unique in how we can bend and manipulate the language in this art form. Different Type Time’s title came to me naturally though. It was a Eureka moment. There’s a visual for pretty much every track on the album.

In it, I was also exploring another process of creating, creating through photography and time lapse. That process allowed me to get in touch with patience and taking my time and trusting the process because you don’t always have control of what the result is going to be.

The album seems to be inspired by you taking initiative of your value as an artist and how you want to operate. When did that album process begin for you?

Cavalier: Songs for the album initially started getting recorded in 2021, but I didn’t know I was working on this album. I set out to work on a completely different project that ended up getting put on ice. Through recording the time lapses and the videos, songs started to happen. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I recorded a song, let me record a video for it.’

Then I started opening myself up more to reaching out to producers that I’ve collaborated with in the past or that I admired. It felt very similar to when I was starting out in the way creating was pleasurable. In the past I would do projects with one producer and we could curate a sound, but it’s a bit of a different process to make a pastiche of different elements and see how they fit together.

It started that way. I completed the album in 2022, but wasn’t sure where it was going to live. That’s when the dialogue with Backwoodz came about. We were gonna drop it in 2023, but their calendar was already full.

What was that initial conversation like with woods? Had you guys stayed in touch over the years?

Cavalier: It’s not that we didn’t stay in touch. I’ve been working on my reclusive ways, stepping out a bit more. It was actually someone on Twitter who suggested that the project be with Backwoodz. Quelle and I we’re like, ‘Oh, why didn’t we think of that?’ There was already a coalescing happening, especially with Quelle doing collaborations on projects with Armand Hammer and with woods directly. I’ve known ELUCID for a long time. I hadn’t seen him in years, but a lot of us just from that New York scene have had run ins with each other.

Do you hope your fans take something new away about you and your music after listening to Different Type Time?

Cavalier: I hope they understand that I want to put out bodies of work that are meaningful, that are timeless, and that have layers that they can find things in at any given time if they choose to dive into it. My aim is to create things that long outlive me.

I didn’t always realize it, but I’ve been putting so much into this. I hope that that translates. I want people to let this project be its own thing. It’s not Private Stock part two, it’s not Lemonade part two It’s Different Type Time. It is what it is. I like to create worlds. Hopefully people explore and enjoy this one.

woods has said that “You were the one that got away.” What do you think he means by that?

Cavalier: I realized that part of what’s great about this pairing with Backwoodz is that they have observed me as an artist for a long time. They’ve observed me long before I was on their roster. That’s something you can’t buy. I could have been on the biggest rap label and they may not have had that connection to who I am as an artist. I’m a little younger than some of the other artists on the label.

I didn’t know how it was coming off. I didn’t realize the impact I was making, I was just going for it, and hoping it’s what stuck. I was catching up in a lot of ways experience-wise. I didn’t put out as many records as some of my peers, because I really wanted them to matter. I was less concerned about some of the surface things that I think people may have assumed I would have been connected to.

I was more concerned with the music and the art being able to speak for itself. Perhaps because of that, my journey may have taken a little longer. I wasn’t as concerned with some of the things that people were rushing to at certain times, like you got to get on the blogs, you know. I don’t know if it was a chip on my shoulder, but I was like, fuck the blogs.

Nobody, none of y’all making no money. That’s where I was at with it at the time. I had to warm up to be like, ‘Okay, well, you can broaden your reach by engaging the internet audience.‘ You know what I’m saying?

I guess that’s what they’re tapping into. A lot of people saw me as someone who could be a front man, or someone who could pop off. When I did read that, though, my impression was these are eyes that have genuinely spotted me for a while.

I think even back then you were operating on a different type of time.

Cavalier: Woods tells this story about being in the studio with Willie Green, someone he’d already had a long working relationship with when this story takes place.

While he’s in the studio, Willie Green was like, ‘Man, you know, the best rapper right now in Brooklyn is Cavalier.’ Woods was like, ‘Well, what the fuck am I, chopped liver?’ I didn’t know that. I didn’t really know that was the impression I was leaving from studio to studio. If shit could fly, we’d have bigger umbrellas, you know what I mean? I could shoulda, coulda, woulda all day, but I did my best to just lean into what felt correct to me at the time.

Are you content with the choices you made?

Cavalier: For the most part, yeah, especially now that I see that a lot of things that I thought were real back then simply aren’t. You know, all the quote unquote gatekeepers and all of that shit. Where they at now? My music didn’t have this ubiquitous grand splash when it dropped, but it lasts. I still have people asking me about Chief, which is about to turn 10. My first formal release had a Wu Tang member on it and it had producers who are, you know, quite acclaimed now. At the time, a lot of my peers were expecting it to be this immediate success that escalated to the top. Because it didn’t happen that way doesn’t mean that it wasn’t successful, and I appreciate that. It’s like a fountain. It’s continually providing things for me. It’s a private stock.

How did you get that Raekwon feature?

Cavalier: It was really kismet, man. I didn’t have any special connections. I guess I had a special connection in the fact that there were people in the studio with Raekwon that night that reached out to me, like, ‘We got Raekwon in the studio and you need to have a record with him.’ I try to be a stay ready type of individual. I was working on the Chief album at the time. My response simply was ‘I already know the song. I got the song.’ I sent them a draft of the song I was working on and they heard that. I got Raekwon’s verse that night. It wasn’t no slouch shit. So it’s forever respect. They’re people that I already looked up to, but after that, it’s solidified.

Did you grow up on Wu Tang?

Cavalier: Of course, of course, of course, I remember as a kid where I was when I first seen anything Wu Tang related. I was at the crib with my babysitter, and on Video Music Box, the “Method Man” video came on, and I didn’t even know what he was saying at first, you know, “M-E-T-H-O-D, man,” but it was so infectious. I was just like, ‘What is happening?’ That moment’s solidified in my brain.

Who is your rap North star?

Cavalier: I don’t got one, man. It’s so many. I’ve been listening to more contemporary rappers when I can. You hit your thirties, you start to become part of the age group of people who only listen to what they grew up listening to. I don’t necessarily want to be that, so I’m continually looking for new stuff, plus I’m still locked in on my own career.

While you’re still working on your own North Star, you’re never gonna prioritize someone else.

Cavalier: And you never know what could happen. Like, could you have predicted 10 years ago that Nas was gonna have a late career run like he’s had? Or could we have predicted that now we’re angry at Jay Z for achieving exactly what he told us he was achieving when we were fans? Now we’re mad at him. He told us he was going to do all of that and we cheered him on and now we’re older and he’s done it and we’re like, ‘Hey, he’s a capitalist.’ I’m like, he told us this on Reasonable Doubt.

There’s no predicting this shit. I want to continue to be inspired. And participate.

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