I opened last week’s column by announcing that “the Internet is filled will amazing music that no one listens to.” This week I spoke to 22-year-old Detroit rapper Dante Trice, who belongs to a collective they call “Unknown Records,” he explains, “because no one knows who we are.” Is obscurity the new celebrity? Definitely not, but I still enjoyed our conversation, almost as much as I liked Dante’s recent $tay Hydrated EP.
When he isn’t busy getting his college degree in Business Entrepreneurship or working full-time as a security guard, Dante Trice is making rap music under the name Yung Pizza Boy, a moniker he explains was originally a joke…oh and he likes pizza. As is the case with so many rap acts these days – my own college experiment included – Pizza Boy started rapping mainly for fun, recording with a friend in his college dorm room. This December, however, he decided to break off and take it more seriously. In just four months, the wheels of the hype machine started turning, with his track “Lemonade” garnering almost 2,000 plays.
While their sounds are admittedly different, talking to Dante in some way reminds me of talking mash-up artist Chaz Allen, as both young artists are deeply embedded in their respective niche Internet communities. While Chaz hosts an online music festival called SPF420, Dante works with a “small circle” of producers he met almost entirely through Soundcloud’s message function. “We’re all over the world,” he tells me, explaining that the Unknown Records crew typically communicates over phone or video chat. With their help, Pizza Boy tries to release a single once every two weeks, and he’s working on an EP called Before the Party. He tells me wants to build up his discography before he takes a stab at performing, which is how he’d eventually like to start making money. That, and selling Unknown Records merchandise, which he hopes to do via the Internet in upcoming months.
Both Chaz and Dante are also linked to their own distinct Internet sounds. “I have to keep up with the wave,” Dante says to me at one point, prompting me to blankly ask him what he means. He responds with the impatience Chazzzy displays when I ask him to define vaporwave. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard of wavy,” he says to me, “you know, as a journalist.” He proceeds to grasp for the right words to describe the genre with which his songs are most frequently tagged. “It started with Max B,” he says. “But don’t quote me on that.” (Although Urban Dictionary seems to agree: “It’s the new futuristic way of describing something in a positive connotation, popularized by the rapper Max B.”)
Dante describes his sound as “electronic indie trap rap,” a sound he says originally started with Jimi Hendrix, who used his guitar to replace vocals, and Zapp & Roger, who used synthesizers to invent that “futuristic vocal sound.” But Pizza Boy more readily evokes artists like Yung Lean (whose studio album is called Unknown Memory, a la Unknown Records, and who also has a single called “Lemonade”) and Bones, rappers known for their rapping softly over ethereal beats, rejecting hip-hop’s historical tendency towards machismo. Pizza Boy plans to wait until winter to film his first video, as he believes the snow will work better with his sound. This of course recalls Spooky Black’s “Without You,” the video that put fellow Midwestern hip-hop crooner on the map for mourning lost love in a desolate snowy forest, a video Pizza Boy references as an inspiration.
I’m always surprised to talk to artists with no intention of selling out, as that was always my primary aspiration in my brief foray as a rapper, which perhaps is among the many reasons I’m currently retired. In addition to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Sad Boys crew, Pizza Boy’s sound is also influenced by the fact that he records in his apartment: “I don’t want to be loud and disrupt people in the building,” he says of his whispering vocals. But Pizza Boy doesn’t mind that he isn’t recording in a big fancy studio. “I like being indie, being underground,” he tells me. “I would never want to be mainstream. I like to live a normal life.”