Basel was an incredible time for our crew. So many stories, people we met, artists we chilled with and so on. During that time we managed to chat with dope Bay-area “Traditional” hip-hop artist, Genra. Lots of interesting commentary and chill vibes. Check out our interview with him and peep his tunes! One of his songs is even featured on Spotify’s Jazz Rap playlist!
S/M: What’s the story behind the name? (We were mispronouncing it as “Gen-Rah” until someone pointed out you referred to yourself as “Genre” in “These Days”)
Growing up in Oakland, especially in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the Bay Area was producing a very distinctive sound. Bay legends like E-40, Keak Da Sneak and Mistah F.A.B. helped pave the way and a sound that I loved but couldn’t create myself. So, when I was starting to make music and perform for my friends and family, no one really knew how to describe my music. So, I started describing my music as its own Genre which eventually led to the adoption of the name, Genra.
S/M: Rap/Hip Hop is in a unique state at the moment. Some people get offended when other people use the term “Old-School” to describe their music, which is why we thought it was really interesting that you presented yourself as a “traditional” hip hop artist. We agree it was more fitting to your style, but we thought it was a cool move. Can you shed some light on the thought process behind that differentiation?
Most people stray away from labels because they don’t want to be defined by them. In my experience, sometimes labels aren’t a bad thing. This question makes me think of a funny memory. Years ago, I was with a homie I grew up with named Sugga Butta who was in a popular group called GODAV. They had a song called Ride or Die Chick which had millions of streams on MySpace (throwback!) haha. Bobby Brackins was part of that group too. We were in Pittsburg CA, recording at a rapper’s house who will remain nameless. This rapper had a lot of credibility at the time and for whatever reason started listening to the song we were working on. I was singing and rapping on the song. The chorus was really catchy but the lyrics were straight hip-hop, not rap. The rapper liked the chorus so much he asked me to basically sing the chorus on a song for him, and in the nicest way possible, asked me to ditch the verses I’d worked on. Haha. I wasn’t offended I just knew the music I was working on wasn’t right for the climate I was a part of at the time. After many instances like this, I started leading with the label ‘traditional hip-hop’ to do everyone a favor.
S/M: Zoe was the song featured on the Spotify Jazz Rap playlist. It seems to be a bit of a love letter. What was it like making that song and then seeing it included on a playlist next to artists like Blu & Nujabes among others?
Before I proposed to my now wife, I recorded a song with my brother for life Classy Touch (Chinedu) with the purpose of playing it for her on our big day. Chinedu produced the beat from scratch and played all the instruments himself (bass, keys, guitar, drum patterns etc) because he knew the song would be important to me. As for the lyrics, I knew I wanted to tell a story about how my relationship with Zoe started and the hope she brought me during some tough times. With that focus, it was one of the easiest songs for me to write because I knew what I wanted to say. After I recorded my verses I called on fellow artist Noah Frank to add some trumpet horn lines into the mix. Those horns gave the track new life.
As for being in an Spotify curated playlist with folks like Blu & Nujabes, Kendrick, Talib, Common etc, it’s an incredible feeling. I remember when Blu dropped Below the Heavens. I couldn’t believe someone my age at that time could make something so soulful. The samples were flipped perfectly. He was buzzing for a while and then I remember The Roots put him on their album, matter of fact it was a song with Phonte as well.
It’s funny, Nujabes is a beast! He actually gave props to another Japanese producer I’ve worked with named DJ Mistu The Beats. If you haven’t heard of him, you might want to check him out also. I have a song called Rain or Shine with him on Spotify. I listened to DJ Mitsu for years and eventually recorded a song over one of his beats. I reached out to him for about a year straight on every channel, FB, IG and BandCamp, all that. For whatever reason, he eventually got back to me and was down to work together. Rain or Shine is the first song we’ve made together, hopefully the first of many.
I feel blessed to be in that Jazz Rap playlist, I’m still in the playlist to this day and cherish every minute.
S/M: We all had different favorites, but as a collective, we liked 24 Hours the most. Do you have a favorite song so far? Why or why not?
My favorite song lyrically is probably Sayonara. I tried to channel my inner Black Thought on that song. But, it’s really a song about fighting through adversity and being a man worthy or respect. In that song, I wanted every single line to pack a punch. I was technically sound on that track fasho. As for 24 Hours, yeah that song means a lot to me. I had a week off before starting my new gig (I work in Advertising). I had 7 days to ask myself why I was jumping from one 9-6 to another 9-6 when I know music is what I live for and keeps me going. Each song has its own story which is why I like them all for separate reasons.
S/M: What is the local scene looking like for you in Oakland?
The local scene in the Bay Area is dope. I saw a kid no older than 19 playing saxophone on the street years ago. I got his number and he is now the dude you hear playing on 24 hours. That kid also performed with Solange Knowles recently, he goes by KJ Focus on IG. It’s hard to describe our artist community. The simplest way to put it is we’re close nit. If you’re in the community you end up knowing everyone. Everybody supports each other and pushes each other. If you’re new to the Bay Area and want to get tied into the music community, reach out to Anthony Ant and Jonah Melvon. Between the two of them, I think they know every musician that has stepped foot on the soil in the last 20 years. As for me I perform quite a bit with Sofar Sounds and local spots that all of us artists frequent. I’ve performed at Outside Lands, which is a huge festival in SF. That story is crazy. I performed at work one day at the Ad Agency I was working at and the owner came up to me and asked if I wanted to perform at Outside Lands. At the time he had his own stage. He had it for 5 years straight. Of course, I said yes. Me and the homies performed all three days with the full band and background singers. The whole nine. There are a lot of talented artists in Oakland that should be on main stages. GQ, who somewhat recently released a new album with Jamla Records (9th Wonder’s label) has been creating a buzz with some real soulful music. It’s crazy, I was fan of GQ’s first as a basketball player not an MC. He went to Oakland Tech (a high school in Oakland) and had a reputation on the court. Now he has a reputation in the mic as well.
There is great music and great people in Oakland and in the Bay Area in general. Shoutout Jonah Melvon, shoutout Dred Scott, shoutout Mani Draper, shoutout Cise and Classy Touch, shoutout Aaron Miller, shoutout Tommy McElroy, shoutout Sep V, shoutout Ed Wright, shoutout Elisa Morris, shoutout Brandon Farmer, shoutout Anthony Ant, shoutout Noah Frank, shoutout Rod King, shoutout KJ Focus, shoutout Strange Media Productions and shoutout anyone I missed. Lol. I had to do the rapper shoutout thing one time.
S/M: What’s next for Genra?
I’m one the few artists in that playlist without a label affiliate attached to my name (major or independent). Next for me is building my team. So far, everything has been solo. It’s a dope feeling to start reaching some success but my next step is building a team so that I can take the music even further. I would love to start touring and pushing my art to the next level.