How Tek wrote over 70 songs in prison
St. Paul rapper and producer Tek was released from prison in June, and dropped a brand new solo album just a month later, handling production and recording duties himself. ...Like I Never Left is Tek's first fully individual musical statement since his collaborative effort with JessListen.
Gimme Noise caught up with Tek to ask about jumping back into music, and how he created so much material without any beats to listen to.
Gimme Noise: Very quickly after your release you dropped the full-length album ...Like I Never Left. Seems like since you got out you've just been jumping back into it.
Tek: That was the plan, man. I feel like I was missing out on everything; I wanted to make sure that when I finally got out I was gonna just be working harder than I've ever worked before. I'm just trying to keep my days filled with stuff, trying to further what I'm trying to do, whether it's being in the studio making beats or putting shows together or something, collaborating with other artists.... I've just been trying to be as busy as possible. I just felt like when I have this momentum of being out and people generally being happy that I'm here and that I'm back, I could just drop a project and have people listening to some new stuff that they ain't heard yet.
There was a lot of build even while you were gone, with the #FreeTek hashtag and things like that.
Lotta love, man. When you're in an unfortunate situation like that, it just feels humbling to know you got love out here like that. I can't even explain how I felt knowing that people were doing that for me. I built these relationships with these artists right before I got locked up, I had a lot of momentum going and I had the feeling something was about to happen, and then the situation happened where I got locked up, but people kept my name out here. That's love, man. I really appreciate some of these artists out here. A lot of cats out here show so much love, that's why I'm so willing to work with everybody and do things like that.
What were the charges exactly?
In 2009, I got an aggravated robbery charge. I got a downward departure, which means I got a whole bunch of probation and time over my head, [and] if I violated my probation I'd have to serve my prison time. I ended up violating my probation for missing a court date for something that had nothing to do with my charge, so the judge was like, "You missed court, and we gave you this break when we should've sent you to prison in the first place and didn't." It's kind of like a zero tolerance thing where the first mess-up you get you have to go do your time. I had to go sit out 24 months. With the little bit of time I already served in the workhouse, it came up to 21, so I had to do damn near two years for missing court, basically.
The aggravated robbery charge was basically a fight that turned into "Gimme your phone," that type of situation. Just being with a whole bunch of knuckleheads that I had no business being with, and it just bit me in the ass. It really showed me that you gotta watch who you hang around with and you gotta put things in perspective. Is it worth everything that you're working on to be doing some little stupid bullshit that you had no business doing? It's nothing I'm proud of but it's definitely an experience that I learned from. It's taught me a lot. Who's your friend, who's the type of people you're supposed to be around. Just showed me that I've got a lot more to lose and a lot of people I hang around with, those aren't the type of people I need to be around. It was nothing I'm proud of but it's also nothing I'm ashamed to tell anybody about. It was raw, that's life. Life will kick you in the ass sometimes. All I got is another year on parole and then everything is behind me.
Were you able to get writing done while you were away?
Oh yeah, which is crazy because I was gone for two years. I went away in 2012, and the first rap that I wrote when I was in there was last December of 2013. I went almost a year and a couple months without writing anything. I just wasn't inspired. I wasn't even telling the cats who didn't know who I was that I rap or anything like that, because I just didn't have the mind for it. Out of the blue, I just started writing, and it came so naturally and it felt like I was in a whole different place that I've never wrote from before. I started getting a lot of stuff off my chest that I've never found myself rapping about. Real life, my childhood, past relationships, a whole bunch of stuff that was just super real. A place I hardly ever tap into.
I'm always on party records and vibing type of stuff, I hardly ever write some real, true-life story type of shit, so that's what I found myself writing a lot of when I was in there. Then when I had so much of that, I was trying this type of record and this type of record, and before you knew it I had 70 to 75 whole songs written. I still am sitting on them right now. Out of all those songs I wrote I probably recorded eight or nine of them. So I still have so much material that I'm looking forward to recording this fall, probably this winter.
What's your writing process like?
I've never had a rhyme book. I was a producer; I was always making beats. Anytime I make a song it would be because one of my homies that rapped would be like, "Let's write something!" I never had it in my mind to be like, "I'm just gonna write." Everything I wrote [in that book] is just me, and I don't do a lot of records like that. A lot of my projects are feature-driven projects, [but now] I got a lot of raw material that I'm waiting to perform. When I was writing in [prison], it was different for me because, being a producer, I always had a beat to write to. I like to write my cadences to how a beat is built, the drums of the beat might [lead to] a different way I say my raps. So it was hard just writing stuff without nothing to listen to, so what I would do is I would think of an industry beat that I could listen to or something that could be on TV, and I'd have that in my head as I was writing. I'd have that song on the top of the paper like, this is what I'm writing to, so that now that I'm out if I wanted to make a beat for that song, I can go back and reference what I wrote to, like, oh I can make something with this same vibe.
I'm not used to writing without a beat. I'm used to instantly writing then going in the booth and recording it. Since I started rapping that's been the way I've done it: write it, record it, that's a song. I've always done that on-the-spot type of writing. [But in prison] some songs would take me two or three days, and I feel like being able to come back to stuff like that and having time to do something like that kind of took it to a whole new level, so some of this new stuff that I'm gonna drop, you can kind of tell that it's not like the stuff that I used to come out with. I put a song called "St. Paul Sinner" out on my Soundcloud and it's something I wrote when I was locked up, and people have been listening to it like, man, wow, you've stepped up a little bit. That's just where I was at when I was writing. I've never been in that place before. Having time to really sit. I wasn't really a heavy writer, but having time to sit down and write for real, I think it's made me a way better writer.
"Imagine" in particular had a strong concept, with some hyper-local references to St. Paul Central.
[Metasota, BDF, Sin Falone and I] all went to the same high school. That song was really personal for a lot of us too. I feel like it's a good song for anybody to listen to, but I feel like it's also a song that kind of caters to people that knew us in high school and knew some of the people we were talking about. It's one of those songs you write for your close friends, but you know everybody can enjoy it. People like that kind of stuff where you get personal with them and they feel like they get to know you. You feel like you're giving them that piece of yourself. That's definitely one of those songs where I feel like I opened up a little bit and get a little bit off my chest.
The other song who's concept really struck me was the "Negro League" song with Muja Messiah, Metasota, Freez, and Greg Grease.
That was going to be a Flood Watch joint, when we were working on that project, which we're probably still going to finish. That song spearheaded a whole project, we're gonna do a whole project with me, Greg Grease, Muja Messiah, Freez from Ill 3, and Meta. We're gonna do a whole project and it's just gonna be so monster. It's gonna shut a lot of shit down. I really enjoyed making that song. We were all in the studio at the same time just vibing. We fed off each other's energy, and me and Greg got a chance to go back through the track and do certain cuts and breakdowns on the beat that catered to how we were rapping. It was a beat that didn't really even want to use at first, but sometimes those type of beats sound better once you have a concept and some lyrics over it. That was one of those beats where if I was just to hear it playing I'd be like, "Ok, go to the next one," but for some reason we just made everything come together.
So you're working full-time on music now?
Yep, definitely. Running studio sessions, selling music... music's treating me well, I can't complain. I could always do better, but it's cool to do what you love and be able to see something come back for it. I can't see myself doing anything else. I love to perform, I would love to tour, I love being in the studio; I love it, man. There's nothing else I see myself doing.
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