Erthling. is a producer/emcee from Birmingham that has been part of groups like 729, Pen Pals, and New Ancients and produced for artists such as Mel.Crozby, Richard Daniel, Kennie Blk, just to name a few. As an artist, he’s been as creative as he’s been prolific, which is part of how he’s been able to make such a big mark on the Birmingham hip hop scene in only about the last five years or so. For all the work that he’s done, he only released his debut solo album, Infloresco, this past November. He recently sat down with us to talk about the album, the scene in Birmingham, and his love of collaboration.
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with the basics. How did you first get into hip hop, and which came first, the producing or the rhyming?
Erthling.: Well, it’s kind of weird, because…well, I guess the writing, for sure. I’ve been rapping off and on since I was about seven years old. Maybe younger than that. My aunt, she had a rap career. As little as five years old, I was in talent shows, maybe just dancing in the background and being goofy, but my dad, he worked at Def Jam. I moved to New York with him, he had a studio, and he would let me mess around on his MPCs, stuff like that. Even before that, though, literally drumming on a planter. Flipping it over while I’m rapping. It’s all kind of been there in some shape.
SV: So you really grew up with it.
Erthling.: Yeah, really raised with it.
SV: What brought you to Birmingham?
Erthling.: Well, I was in Tuscaloosa for a while, that’s where I really started to take music seriously. And then after being in a group there, the whole music scene kind of shifted to Birmingham. And I lived in Hueytown for a while, just kind of inching my way here. I mean, it’s just the place to be if I’m going to be doing music around here.
SV: So you got here, and you’ve done some solo stuff, but you’ve also been part of a lot of different groups. How do you navigate when it’s time to do solo material and who you want to work with, groupwise?
Erthling.: You kind of just build repour with a person. You have your own energy with a person, so you just kind of fall into something with them. Or it could just be as simple as, “Oh, you’re at my house right now? Let’s write a song together.” It could anything, really. A lot of it was just me writing feverishly for a while, and like having a lot of different ideas and wanting to put them in a lot of different places at once. One will work for this group, then one for solo. It all just kind of fit into a spot for me, really.
SV: That brings us to Infloresco, which you released back in November of last year. Where does that title come from?
Erthling.: So, there’s a lot of – I’m obsessed with flowers, and just themes of growth. Not necessarily transcendence in terms of like transcendental meditation and all that stuff, but just trying to rise above yourself and overcome your own ego, and stuff like that. A lot of it was me looking at the way I had evolved over the last few years of my life, and just kind of…it just made sense. Because I was thinking “in bloom,” but Nirvana has [a song] called that, so…and that’s just the easy way to go. So “infloresco” is Latin for all of those things. Just try to be cool with it, I guess.
SV: How did you develop your style going into this album? Did you have a certain approach in mind going into it?
Erthling.: Not really. Maybe, but I wasn’t really thinking about it. It was like, at certain points art is just like what you demand of yourself to survive, to a certain degree. Some of it is I just want to experiment with things, sound I wouldn’t use, and song formats and things like that. But also just wanting to empower my own self through making my music or whatever. Empower other people in that way. So I mean, just thinking about all these things, thinking about the title and what that means…it really felt like the album I had been wanting to make since I first started rapping, for real.
SV: One of the themes that come through on the album – acknowledgement of failure. You’ve got a song like “Hello, I’m a Mess.” How did you get to a place in your writing that you were comfortable being vulnerable in that way? Especially since in hip hop there’s a long tradition of bravado and trash talking, but not as much of a tradition of this vulnerability.
Erthling.: Yeah, in that sense, not to be super poetic about it, but there’s a bravery to being vulnerable. It’s like, how do you be real with yourself? Because it doesn’t feel good to be lying to yourself. It doesn’t even feel right. So I wouldn’t even say it was a conscious decision to go that route. Again, what I demanded of myself to feel good, and stuff like that.
SV: When you’re producing and writing for this album, since you also work with so many other people, when you’re making beats, do you have a sense of “This one is for the album, this one can go to someone else?”
Erthling.: A lot of the time, as a beatmaker, you’re just making beats, and then maybe you play it for the right person, and they’re like, “Hey, I want that!” or “Can we do this with that?” or whatever. As far as making beats for my own project, I don’t even know, man. It’s just all intuition. Whatever feels good. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a song, and I’ll be like, “I kind of want it to sound like this.” Not even sound, but I’d like it to feel this way…so if I make something that feels like that, I’m going to keep digging into that and going for that vibe. That’s it, really.
SV: Do you find yourself writing to the beats, or does it go both ways?
Erthling.: It’s both at the same time, really. Sometimes you’ll write like a full verse, and maybe I’ll have this running metronome in my head. When I’m writing I can feel a cadence coming out of the words, so now I gotta stay on this beat. Then I go to make a beat, and I got that BPM in my head, so I can start from there. But sometimes, you’ll hear a beat and you’re like, “this is what I need to say to this.” Both things.
SV: You also have several guests on the album. One of the things that hit me in listening to the album was how perfectly each guest was placed on the album. Was that something that you had a sense for, in working with so many people over the years in Birmingham?
Erthling.: Like I said before, you kind of build that energy with somebody, and you know what you’re going to come together and do. Me writing and then just thinking, “Oh, you know who would sound good on this? This person.” It just kind of worked out naturally, really.
SV: One in particular that hit me was “Indigo & Gold.”
Erthling.: Yeah, that’s a song.
SV: How did that come together?
Erthling.: Actually, I have to tell this story. So Infloresco, some of those songs were going to be part of Magical Realizm, which was released in 2017. But then there was kind of this cut-off point where I was like, “These songs feel like this,” and they were like a gateway into what I wanted Infloresco to be. At the time, I didn’t know the title of the album, but…I noticed that there was a line here. This stuff was more imagery and crazy rhyming, and this stuff was more me just kind of baring myself, to a certain degree. “Indigo & Gold” was something that I wanted someone to sing on for a long time, ‘cause it took shape in a whole different way before the one that’s on the album. It just came out of, “Yo! Richard Daniel can sing, why am I not talking to him about this? He turned out perfectly for it.”
SV: One the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a song like “Ten Wings.” Did you always have a posse cut in mind for the album?
Erthling.: Not at all. What happened was…I tend to stretch myself too thin. I had this idea, I was going to do an EP with this guy from Grammar Tree, adj., who’s the second person on the song. But then I got busy, he got busy, just life stuff got in the way. But you’re like, “I don’t want this to go to waste,” ‘cause we had this foundation. So I was like, let me just reach out to a bunch of people, and see if they want to rap on this as well. That’s how it came together.
SV: And where did the title come from?
Erthling.: OK, so “Ten Wings” is a reference to the I Ching. Which is like…it’s almost like horoscope/fortune telling…I’ve forgotten what it is at this point, honestly. I need to go back and look into it. It was something I had heard about and I just thought it sounded cool, but I didn’t want it to be so appropriative of I Ching, I just wanted to loosely reference it. ‘Cause just things like that, psychedelic stuff – which it feels pretty psychedelic to me to predict your day or your future, or whatever it is, to just have that kind of deep foresight. Then, let a book tell you what’s going to happen or just because of random chance…I just thought it was cool. That’s all there is.
SV: So you’ve got this posse cut and other guests from Birmingham, and you mentioned earlier that the scene has been growing over the past few years. In a lot of ways, it’s still slept on outside of the region.
Erthilng.: Oh yeah.
SV: What do you want people to take away from this that aren’t familiar with the city, that don’t know what’s going down in Birmingham?
Erthling.: Man, I mean…I feel like there’s a local artist here who can go toe-to-toe with like a regional act in their field or genre. I just feel like it’s on us to make our chance, our opportunities, but if any of us had a chance, we could…not that there’s a Travis Scott here, but the Travis Scott of Birmingham could be as big as the Travis Scott of National, Texas, whatever you want to call it. There are artists here who could take that spot. I’ll stand on that. They can take that spot.
SV: The albums out, you played the release show and you played tonight. Are there any other shows or projects that people should be looking out for?
Erthling.: Well, at the moment I’m working on two EPs with two different artists. One of those EPs is like a rebirth, or a shifting of when I used to be in Pen Pals with Fathom, because our whole thing was, we’re going to hiatus Pen Pals, and then both do solo stuff until we converge and it feels like that’s what we should be doing at that point in time. And then the other one, not many people know this, but I’m working with Mel.Crozby, we’re going to do an EP together as well. I think that’s going to be interesting.
SV: Finally, if you could work with three people that you haven’t worked with before, who would that be?
Erthling.: So I actually answered this in the 729 interview, but…I actually thought about it a few times after that. It changes all the time, though. It’s crazy. ‘Cause there’s people I want to produce for, there’s people I want to rap with…honestly at this point, I’m just looking at local people. There’s just so much around me that I could be tapping into. Even tonight, Alex Wilkerson, who was just singing and playing guitar, it would be cool to work with him and see how our styles mix.
SV: The way he was playing the kick drum…
Erthling.: Or even the pedals, manipulating the sounds, that was really dope to me. Borderline psychedelic, but still not. I love that stuff. Honestly, I couldn’t give you a straightforward answer right now. There’s just a lot of people. Maybe I’ll say Madlib. I don’t know if I said that last time.
SV: You might have, but we can just put it out there again.
Erthling.: Put it into the universe.
To listen to/purchase Infloresco, visit: https://rapishard.bandcamp.com/