Dallas Destined: An Interview with VII
By Austin P.
I sat down with local artist VII a few days ago to talk with him about his upcoming album “September” that’s releasing on September 28. We talked about his name change, his absence from music, and some of the messages behind the album. It was a dope and interesting interview. I know VII personally, so speaking with him from an outsider’s perspective in regards to his feelings and thought process behind creating the music was surprisingly exciting and insightful.
The Drive: First thing’s first, are you still going by the name King VII, or is it just VII now?
VII: My name is VII [seven]. I dropped “King” off it cause it’s a new me. It’s the turning of a new leaf for me.
TD: The last project you dropped, Crown Royal, was about two years ago. You haven’t released any singles, or features during this time. Why?
VII: Life. I didn’t- It wasn’t like I was not working. I work constantly. I just got so far with one idea and then life smacked me in the face. It made me readjust and even change me into a whole different type of person, you know what I’m sayin’? That’s why, otherwise there would’ve been a mixtape out last year.
TD: So how excited are you to drop? Is this the most excited you’ve been to release a project?
VII: Yeah. By far! This is the proudest of a project that I’ve been. This is the most “ok. You did a good job.”
TD: How long did you work on it? Was it for the whole two years [you didn’t release music]?
VII: It depends on what variation of [the album] we’re talking about.
TD: That’s a perfect segue into my next question. The album was “Tearz at the Grammys”, then just “Tearz”, now it’s “September”. So, are those completely different albums, were they just name changes or…
VII: Those are like totally different albums.
TD: Completely different albums with completely different songs?
VII: Not completely different songs, but as far as like feel and collaboration. Like before people even knew I was working on anything, it was called “Moon”. It was a mixtape a long time ago. It transitioned to “Tearz at the Grammys”, to “Tearz” and to my final resting place of “September”.
TD: What’s the biggest difference between where the project started with “Tearz”, to what the listeners are going to hear on “September”?
VII: Tearz was barer. I felt like Tearz was- I felt like every variation of the name happened for a reason ‘cause I needed to tap into those types of energies. When it was “Moon” there were a lot of lyrics about the word “jettison”, being dropped from the air. That’s a feeling. That’s what “Moon” was about, the feeling of [your ego] being dropped. When I went to “Tearz” it was more of the reflective side of that so you get songs like “Diamond Demon”. It’s more ‘what have I done to provoke these energies inside my life?’. You also get songs like “Reach Back” where it’s more the fighting of the ego. When you reach a plateau of success that you pray to reach, those emotions are brought out of you at one moment. And that’s where “Tearz at the Grammys” comes from. Songs like “Lucky #VII” come from that. That’s mainly what it was, but adding producers changed it as well.
TD: Why is this album so important to you, or for you?
VII: [Pauses] It’s a recollection of the most important time of my life.
TD: Personally or professionally?
VII: Sh*t, hopefully both. [laughs]
TD: There are not a lot of features on September. It seems intentional. There’s only one rap feature, and they don’t even have a verse on the song. Were you strategically trying to go the J. Cole route?
VII: [Laughs] Initially, working on “Moon”, there were features. I did songs with other people.
TD: Who are some of those artists? You don’t have to say if you don’t want to though.
VII: Nah. I did a song with T. Jones [Thrill Jones]. Of course, Sense ’94. The main reason that there were no features is that I didn’t feel that anybody could tell the story.
TD: ‘Cause it was so personal?
VII: Yeah. But, I did want features. And I wanted them badly. I wanted Mel from The Outfit TX on a song called “Robin”. I also wanted Tye Harris on that song too. Street on “Label”…you know that. [smiles]
TD: Do you think you’ll end up putting out remixes with those features?
VII: Yeah, for sure. It’s all up to how people receive it. Certain people already want to start working on them, but I want them to hear the project in its entirety first. Tunk’s [Arradon] gonna get a verse.
TD: I meant to ask, are we going to hear any of those songs from “Moon” or “Tearz”? Are those songs ever going to be released, or are they permanently shelved?
VII: I don’t know. There is one song from “Moon” that’s on the album. It’s the oldest song I worked on, probably from the beginning of 2016, that just aged well.
TD: Which song is that?
VII: Lucky #VII.
TD: I’ve heard the album; I know what songs I like. But I want to know what your favorite track is. Was there one song that you felt absolutely had to make the album no matter what your Executive Producer or anybody said?
VII: There are a couple of those. “Robin” I fought for, hard. I reworked that sh*t to the death of me [laughs] until it got right. “Lucky #VII” at a point, until everybody just realized what it was. There was a song called “Up” that was going to be my only feature. It was going to feature Sense ’94, but it ended up being reworked and became the intro. I think collectively we fought. There wasn’t too much back-and-forth about what songs should or shouldn’t be on it. I know “Tight” got kicked off the album. That was probably the first song that got tossed.
TD: Yeah I remember telling you that.
VII: I think from there it sparked like a general consensus of what we wanted to hear on the album.
That’s all credit to Donny [Domino of DOJO45] bro. Donny’s a [explicative] genius bro. We’ll probably have to do a second interview because there’s certain songs on the album that I want to share with people how much he really did. He was Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, you know what I mean? You can have all the lyrics and everything, but you need somebody that can hear one thing and say to change it this much. He’s a genius.
TD: I agree. Prior to talking about how great of an engineer and producer Donny is, we were talking about your favorite tracks. My favorite song on the album is “VII.Jettison”. It may not be the best on the album, but there’s something about it. “Reach Back” is my joint though. Like I love “Reach Back” but there’s a lightness to Jettison that kind of contrasts the other parts of the album that just feels good.
VII: Vadr [the producer], he does that. He’s such a mastermind.
TD: Yeah I agree. He’s honestly one of my favorite producers. I don’t say it enough, but Vadr is really one of the best I’ve heard. The same way Timbaland and Pharrell have “a sound” but each beat is completely different, that’s how I hear Vadr’s. He’s developing a sound and its super dope because he’s better than most of the big name producers in the game.
VII: And it’s crazy when you work with him because you never know what you’re going to get. But I really think that “VII.Jettison” feels that way is cause of how honest and real it is.
TD: It has the opposite of what J. Cole does for me in the fact that the song is a heavier topic, but the beat is more inviting. I can really say that about the album as a whole. The album itself is extremely personal and could’ve been depressing at some points, but the production keeps the mood high without taking away from the feeling. I think changing the beat for “Robin” was the best thing ‘cause that was easily the hardest song to listen to prior to the new production.
VII: I had that same feeling for that song. I actually hated listening to it. I recorded “Robin” close to the time I was going through [pauses] a lot of my problems. It was really personal, and I feel like you could hear it. And the beat was…it felt too real. So I hated listening and hearing the realness of that song.
Bringing it back to what you said about making it feel light, I think that became a real focal point for us. Creating songs that will touch people rather than people saying “Yeah he can rap.” Making people want to listen to the message. Maybe my execution of that wasn’t there enough in the past, but this one…I think I got it.
TD: Let’s talk about “11”. A lot of people know you for your lyricism. “11” is not that. What was the reasoning or the goal behind straying from lyrics and making a run-of-the-mill mumble rap record?
VII: The idea of the song was kind of birthed from a Twilight Zone episode called “Walking Distance”. One of the lines in the show was “I’ve seen worse things in a man compromised for fame.” So when you hear the album, you’ll hear compromise. It’s a cry for help, because I felt like I was [compromising] in the past. This is a stand out track for me because it’s the embodiment of that for me. It’s more about what the song means, and not the lyrics or bars being said. Like even when you’re down and lost, you still feel like you gotta go get it. It may be a cliché line, but it’s the most relevant statement for black men right now. Anything we do, we gotta go get it. And embodying that feeling is what’s most important to me about that record.
TD: For the people who don’t know you and the people who will be introduced to you via “September”, what do you want people to get from this album? What do you want them to take from it?
VII: The main thing that I want people to understand when they listen to the album is that you survived. Through the highs, the “Lucky #VII”s all the way to the “Robin”s, you survived. We’re survivors. This is for everybody. It was a big thing for me that this album be as natural as possible. Surviving can’t be forced upon you. You can be forced into a place where you have to survive, but you can’t be forced to survive. So for anybody that ever doubted their survival, this is for you.
TD: This last question is something I want to ask anybody I ever interview. Give me either your Top 5 Favorite rappers, who you feel are the Top 5 best rappers of all-time, or your Top 5 most influential artists.
VII: I’ll do Top 5 influential. I’d have to say Bow Wow is number 5. [Laughs] Like if you’re a big Bow Wow fan and listen to me, you’ll hear it in my music. What he did for music is very underrated.
TD: You know, I do agree with that. His career is definitely underappreciated.
VII: Next…people are going to look at me like “how do these people inspire this guy?” But number 4, is Will Smith. I think I have more of my story telling from him. I got how to construct storytelling within a hit record. I think his song structure is very underrated. So we’ll move to top 3 and this is where it gets tricky. Number 3, I’ll go with Nat King Cole. What I got from him…the love of it. You can just tell that he loves the songs that he sings and writes. He really taught me how to make albums full of songs about women. And honestly, I would have to put Barry White with Nat King Cole as well because he inspired a lot of the songs on this album. Number 2 is Jay-Z. Just…the [explicative] GOAT.
He’s taught me so much I can’t even list it. Vol. 2 being my favorite rap album of all-time, it’s like…how do you get better than him?
TD: That’s an excellent question. The person that figures out the answer…will probably be the GOAT forever.
VII: [Under his breath] I’ll figure it out.
VII: But yeah he’s taught me stuff about life, and more storytelling. Not being afraid to go away from “marketable” bars and actually talk about what you want to talk about. How to stay in pocket, word-stretches and things like that. I think most people look to Eminem for that type of thing, but I think Jay & Big are better “word-benders” than Em. Like Em is so technical and surgical with bars…
TD: Em is Tim Duncan lyrically, while Hov is Jordan.
VII: Yeah. It’s more natural for Jay & Big. They’re not trying to make it technical or perfect, they just make it fit naturally. That could be the same for Eminem. I’m not there when he’s writing so I don’t know. Just personally, that’s how I feel and why I put Hov number 2.
TD: Who is number 1?
VII: Sade Adu. [Shaking head in silence] I don’t know how to put into words what she has done for me, personally. I don’t cry when celebrities die, but everyone around me knows…if Sade was to ever, I would be gone. She taught me so much about how to be an artist; how to be a good person. Like my biggest inspiration for this album was her “Stronger than Pride” album. That’s a twin to this album as far as the vibe.
It’s…it’s so hard to put into words what she’s done for me. Countless hours of watching and studying her studio sessions; seeing how she writes, what she writes, the ambiance and atmosphere she creates in the studio. All of those things influenced me. It’s amazing bro because she lives her life to live her life, and the music is from her life. She once said in an interview that she’d never write a song if she doesn’t have a song in her. And from an artist’s perspective, that sh*t should hit your heart every time. With how many times we’re forced to do a song just because someone says “here’s this beat, so do this record”, most of the times people don’t have that in them and that’s where mediocrity comes from. I’d rather you go watch her record before listening to my album. Just watch Sade write. I tried to put myself in similar situations, and the moment I did, I came up with “September”. Like yeah I could make “Moon” and all these raps and it will reach people’s ears, but whose heart is it going to reach? Like the goal is Grammys, but even beyond that, the goal is healing. And that’s what I feel Sade’s music is about. Most artists forget to do that, but Dallas’ artists don’t. Dallas has the best artists in the world.
TD: Yeah we do! And I think that’s a perfect place to end. VII, new album “September” out on September 28th right?
VII: Yes sir!
TD: Looking forward to it my brother.