August 08 is by no means an industry plant or label manufactured star, but nevertheless, he experienced what seems like a fairly rapid transition—vis-a-vis a small collection of songs posted to Soundcloud—from total obscurity to pop industry prominence.
The L.A. native has penned hits for DJ Khaled, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne, among others. The latest evidence of his knack for writing hooks is a sadness-tinged summer single, "Simple Pleasures," put out by the label 88rising, where he is also a songwriter-in-residence. Additionally, a remix of the song will drop sometime in July.
He talked to Popdust about the very specific autobiographical provenance of both his latest single, and Father, the EP that preceded it.
How are you?
Just chillin' at my house. How's New York right now?
it's miserable - rainy and humid.
You're in LA?
Yeah, I'm from LA. I'm always here.
And you grew up in K-Town?
Nah. I don't know who said that shit. [laughs]
I think I read it in some DJ website.
Crazy. But I do live in K-Town now.
Ah, ok! Maybe I misread the article.
No, no, that's something people ask me all the time! But I'm from the east side of LA. Like Compton, Brentwood, Watts.
Sort of Southeast side.
Did that inform how your music evolved?
Absolutely. Actually, it's starting to have more and more affect on my music now. At first I thought it didn't but I really started listening to that stuff - and my culture and where I come from. And it caused me to examine my own style. There's three styles in LA: you can be super eclectic, you can be on some "Tyler" shit, or you can be on some dark shit. Tyler, the Creator is his own genre now. [laughs]
Interesting. Do you find yourself straddling those lines?
I find myself in that depressing, dark category. I'm always making depressing shit.
So why are you in K-Town. Is that where 88rising is based?
Nah. I moved there like four or five years when I first got my publishing deal. I've always loved it here.
Do you have any favorite Korean food spots?
I'm black, bro. I know nothing about Korean food at all. The thing about me is, I never lie and act like I know anything about Asian culture, even though I have a lot of Asian label mates.
Right! I've gotten the impression that 88rising is considered an "Asian" record label.
When I joined 88rising it wasn't pitched to me as an "Asian" label. As time went on, Asian culture was amplified more and more—which is great, because we all deserve a voice. The thing that has an effect is when people say, "88rising is an Asian label, why are they hiring a black guy?"
Prior to your involvement with 88rising, how did you get into music?
I was 21, working at the Post Office, making hella bank. But I hated it. I wanted to make beats, I wanted to be a producer, and I was always singing. One of my homies, Allen, he was like, "Yo, you know how to play the guitar, why don't we start writing songs?" So me and him and another friend decided we would start writing songs individually. So I was working at the Post Office and in love with this girl - and I made these three songs out of that. Then I hurt my ankle and I said, "Fuck this shit," and I quit the post office. And like a week later, I got hit up by Nils Atweh, a guy who was always looking for different sounds.
How did he find you?
Soundcloud. That's how he finds people. Anyway, me and my homie went down to North Hollywood to his studio. We made a song there called "Tears Falling Down" or some shit. And Nils' brother Nasri [half of production duo The Messengers with Adam Messinger] came in and was like, "Yo, I like what you guys are doing, keep it going." And they gave me the opportunity to go back to that studio to try and make songs. We were low on the totem pole at the time; the other guys had written songs for Pit Bull, Christina Aguilera, Justin Bieber.
So all it took was three songs on Soundcloud for Nils to say, "This guy has potential."
I'm one of the OG kids to be discovered on Soundcloud, back when 100,000 plays was like 10 million Spotify streams.
So what came next after your introduction to Nils and Nasri Atweh?
Nils introduced me to another guy, Jerry Edouard, a Haitian dude. Me and him got a publishing deal, I moved to K-Town, and I started writing songs for other people.
Ok. And then how did that dove-tail into 88rising.
So a few years ago, I wrote two songs for this guy Kris Wu, this Asian pop star. During those sessions I met a couple of guys who mentioned that this company called 88rising were about to come in and document some shit. So they came through, and then one of them, Ali, said that if I was down he would hit me up about some songwriting shit. And I said, "Yeah, of course." About a year goes by, and my manager calls me and says, "This guy Ali hit me up asking if you'd like to do some sessions with [88rising label mate] Rich Brian. But I wasn't into it at the time and I told my manager to blow it off. Then, just a couple of days before the session, Ali asks me again, and I'm like, 'F*ck it, I'll do it.' The incentive for me doing the session was that Pharrell Williams would be involved.
AUGUST 08 feat. Smino - Blood On My Hands (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
So you got to work with Pharrell?
Something like that. He dropped off some beats and split.
Going back to "Simple Pleasures": The ad copy described it as a "feel-good summer" track. But it seems a little more complex than that, namely with the inclusion of a "the perils of a friends-with-benefits" theme. In particular, there's the line, "You had to go and get some feelings." Was that directed externally or at yourself?
Both. Before my partner and I wrote it, I was in love with this girl. I'm still kind of in love with her, to be honest. It was supposed to be just sex. [laughs] All my hooks and titles are straight to the fucking point.
That seems to be the case with the Father EP that came out in 2018. Does the fact that you were able to make a successful artistic statement out of that pain make your feelings toward your dad somewhat ambivalent?
100 percent. It forced me into a creative space. When my father left, I formed this emotional block. I went numb towards other people. I built so many walls around myself and I still don't trust people or let people in. The only way I can let people know I care about them is through music.
So that experience with your dad shook your faith in people in general, which you've had to rebuild to a certain extent? Has your art helped in the healing process?
Absolutely. Any good songwriter has to go cry for a second.
Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you start with a beat, a melody? How do you get the ball rolling?
We start with synth loops, usually. And I typically don't like to add drums until the end.
Drums, for some reason, are in the way. They're supposed to be complementary. So we start with a loop, and then lay on melodies - me and my writing partner, Barney Bones. He also writes a lot of stuff for 88rising, for Joji, Rich Brian.
Speaking of Joji, I saw he was doing the whole spicy chicken wing thing on an episode of Hot Ones. Any plans to appear on that show?
I'm down. I know [Hot Ones host] Sean Evans really well.
Do you like spicy food?
I love spicy food. We actually do a BBQ with Hot Ones every year for the 88 festival, and it airs on TV. It should be available within the next month.
You've written for a few big artists: DJ Khaled, Bieber, to name a couple. What's been your experience writing for that level of celebrity?
I've just been enjoying it man. That shit pays the bills.
How much do you interact with them?
The process is really independent of the artist himself. The last time I saw Bieber was like two years ago. But we always send stuff their way.
But you're often in the studio with your label mates?
You're like an in-house songwriter, then?
I like to end most interviews with a few featherweight questions. Here's the first: if you weren't a musician, what would you be doing, realistically and/or ideally?
Ideally, I'd still be working at the Post Office, because that's good bread, and saving up to buy a house. Realistically, I'd be selling dope. [laughs]
Where would Postmaster August have bought a house?
If you could name any of our nine planets after yourself, which would it be?
That shit is bipolar, astrologically. It's always fucking shit up.