Troop Brand's debut, Carpe Diem, has arrived, perfectly set to close out the summer.
The rapper-singer's debut album is, in his own words, "organized chaos." Pulling sounds and concepts from all over pop music, Brand's eclectic and elastic hip-hop/R&B hybrid doesn't try to nail down one sound during its runtime. Instead, the sense of experimentation is what makes Carpe Diem the album that it is: an up-and-coming artist's flex, an attempt to cover as much ground as possible while keeping his soul intact. The result is dizzying fun. Bangers like "Wave" and "Lituation" keep the album's heartbeat up and pumping, smooth heartbreakers "Melting" and "Poison" showcase a confident handle on throwback-R&B, and more contemplative tracks like "Cherry Trees" and "Workin" draw a path from Mississippi to the chaotic present of an artist on the rise. At the center of the project's impressive sonic reach is Troop Brand himself, the charming polymath bringing an old-style musicality to modern hip-hop.
Brand sat down with Popdust to discuss the production of Carpe Diem, his artistic philosophy, his fascinating childhood, and what's carried him all the way to the release of his debut album.
So the album was a big collaborative process?
Yeah, it was a collaborative process, and it wasn't all just for me. Some of the songs that were done—other artists took them for their projects. And the stuff that I felt like, "Oh, this is coming from my heart, from my experiences," those are the ones I wanted to keep for my own project.
You were born in Mississippi, your career's taken off in Atlanta. When you were growing up, who were you listening to that shaped your tastes? Who do you want your listeners to identify you with?
When I was growing up, I was in a family that was split between two extremes. My mom's side of the family [were] heavily religious, always in church, always wanted me in the choir. My dad's side of the family owned clubs and party spots in the city. So from my dad's side, I was listening to all the current hip-hop and the old school juke-joint songs, and my mom's side is listening to all gospel. So I got a good blend, and just from my vocal training and the style I bring, a lot of people say I remind them of a new-school Marvin Gaye. They say "new school" because Marvin Gaye didn't rap, but if Marvin Gaye were still with us right now, and he was in his twenties, and he was listening to rap: That's how I sound.
You pull from so many genres on Carpe Diem: There's rap and R&B and soul, elements of rock and pop, even notes of jazz and disco. What are you trying to achieve when you blend together these different genres?
Most of the time, the hardest part with doing this album was making it sound like an album. I go off of emotions, off of feels. On one record, I may be feeling cocky, like on "Wave." Like that's a record where I'm the sh*t, I feel good, and it's a f*cking great day, I'm feeling amazing right now. Then there are more intimate ones, like "Poison," where I'm feeling like, "This girl is bad for me." They're two totally different tones, and if you played both of those songs back to back, there's probably no way anyone would assume they're from the same artist. So the tricky part was having two songs like that: how to put them on the same album and have the album flow in a specific way. It's organized chaos. I am all over the place as far as the different styles and the different things that I pull from, but I think I bring them home in a good way.
There is a sense of narrative progression going on in Carpe Diem. That's something that's really important to you?
Oh yeah, definitely. I had all the songs; the part that took the longest was actually putting them in a specific order, or putting them in a place where you can digest the entire album and feel like it's a project. One of the things that really helped it out—a lot of people don't know this, but I went to school for theater and set design and writing—so a group of my film buddies and I got together and wrote a screenplay to the entire album. So the album is kind of a soundtrack to this film that I wanna do. I wanna shoot the whole film and maybe do the release in Atlanta, but that's gonna take place after the music. But yeah, [the album's] gonna be set to a film.
So you grew up in the choir, and you're a classically-trained opera singer. Those are two really specific styles of music with their own histories. For a young musician coming up, those must have had a big influence on you.
Yeah, man. My mom was a musician, and twenty to thirty years ago, she was going down a similar path. The only difference was her family didn't support her; they didn't have faith in a music career. My mom had me when she was on tour. I was a little baby going with her. When I got a little older, she would always push me to do music, push me to pursue the talent that I had.
Singing in the church was definitely the start of the path that I'm on right now. As I got older, I didn't like doing it—you know when you're young, if your parents ever make you do something, the older you get, you're like, "I don't wanna do it, I don't wanna do it?" So she had me singing in the choir, and when I got a little older she put me in the opera choir, the Mississippi Boy's Choir. And I did not like it. [Laughs] The older I got, the more I wanted to be cool, wanted to get girls, and be looked at as, "Oh, he's a cool guy." And unfortunately, singing in an all-guy opera choir wasn't cool at the time. I stayed there for four years, and I felt like I got the training I needed. Once every three months, I would drive five to six hours in the mountains in Mississippi, and we'd be up in a little camp area, and we'd be running up and down the mountain singing f*cking opera music. It was crazy. It was all about vocal training and breath training, but it's crazy. It definitely helped me get to where I am now. Now I'm glad.
What's the story behind the name? Did you come up with "Carpe Diem" later in the process, or was that something you had in mind when you went into the studio?
"Carpe diem" was something that always stuck out to me. I don't remember the first time I heard it, but I remember the effect it had on me: "Seize the day." To me, that's one of the most important things, especially as an entrepreneur and independent musician. You have to make the most out of every day. My alarm on my phone says, "Carpe diem," and I have it printed on my mirror: "Carpe diem." It's just a reminder for me to get off my ass and get what I want, because it's not gonna come to me. It's all about making the most of what you have.
Troop Brand - Knocking On Doors [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com
So, on that idea of seizing the day, seizing your moment: Carpe Diem is the story of your come-up. How important was it for you to document that story—what you've been working for, how you got here, what you might have sacrificed along the way?
I feel like everything is a process. A lot of times, you hear about an overnight success story, and most of the time it takes three or four years to make an overnight success. I think the struggles are definitely part of it. You have to have these struggles to help you get where you're going, and they help you become who you are. If you got stuff without struggles, then you really wouldn't value it. It wouldn't mean that much to you. Just having the courage to step into the music industry—it takes a lot, because it's not guaranteed...It's not the easiest field to pursue. And most of the time you won't get support from your family, because they don't understand. Like, "Oh, you're trying to be a singer? You gotta go get you a 9-to-5, so you make some money." It's hard. Investing the time and money into doing this, it definitely makes you appreciate it, makes you value it, [and] it makes you work harder. It's real.
You have this new project coming out, and you're going on tour in support of it soon: It's all happening. What do you want your new fans to know about you and what you're trying to do?
I just want them to hear the music—it's the whole reason I made Carpe Diem. I want people to realize they're not alone in their struggles. Everybody out here, we're all human, [and] we all make mistakes. Enjoy life. And if you see me on the road, let's turn up.