Liberian-born, Minneapolis-based rapper/producer Rich Garvey laughs when talking about the way “older people” in Africa perceive some American rappers, viewing people like Garvey as hobbyists.
In reality, Garvey is ascending to a new level in the local hip-hop scene, and it’s the result of the 29-year-old taking his craft seriously. Between live performances and new music, Garvey is becoming more and more visible as a presence in the Twin Cities, yet it’s not just local listeners that are catching on. For instance, the influential rap site HipHopDX posted and praised Garvey’s newest drop, “Better This Way,” featuring Minneapolis rapper and FreeMinds Entertainment artist GainesFM.
That song is the latest preview of Garvey’s new EP, Man of the People. The forecast for the record has been good ever since last December, when he dropped what’s arguably become his signature track, “I’m Taking All That.”
But while other moments on the EP are braggadocious and confident like that song, Garvey also tackles bigger topics elsewhere on the EP. Highlight “Then They Gotchu” is an examination of racial profiling by police, with Garvey detailing one of his own experiences: “Mr. Officer, tell me where’s your values / Handcuffing us, steady lurking up the avenue,” goes the chorus.
City Pages caught up with Garvey ahead of his record-release show Wednesday at 7th St. Entry to talk about his African heritage, working on Man of the People with producer Travis Gorman and other collaborators, and how he approaches live performances.
City Pages: How long did you live in Liberia and what does your heritage mean to you today?
Rich Garvey: I lived there until I was six, and then I lived in another country called Ivory Coast. I lived there for about a year and a half, and then I came to the States. What makes me different is I’m constantly in between two worlds [laughs], doing hip-hop and having African roots and what that entails.
If you’re not really big, a lot of people in the African community don’t support you [laughs]. I do have a lot of loyal people in my community, too, but for the most part, the older people look at it like, if you’re just rapping and you’re not really famous, it’s just a hobby.
But I really love my culture. It lets me have a different identity. It really affects how I approach making music, too, because a lot of the rhythms I used to listen to when I was growing up were like soca and calypso and different, faster rhythms that affect how I flow and how I make music. I have a different palate than a lot of other people who make music around here.
CP: I’ve seen you wear a Rhymesayers hoodie during a live performance, and you’ve collaborated with Rhymesayers artists, most recently Dem Atlas. How has Rhymesayers inspired you?
RG: In a lot of different ways, honestly. The first conversation I had with a Rhymesayers artist was with Brother Ali. I had a really good conversation with him about why he called one of his songs “Forest Whitaker.” He was pretty much telling me, like, “Forest Whitaker may not look the part, but he’s real good at what he does.”
Me and Slug have a good relationship. Those dudes are really humble even though they’re very successful, as opposed to a lot of cats out here who are just local artists, who are super big-headed, who haven’t accomplished as much as those people. [Rhymesayers’] idea of being independent and doing it your way [is also inspiring].
I’ve seen Soundset get bigger every single year, from my high school days up until now, just seeing what somebody can do if you do it on your own and you do it the right way. If you do it the right way and do it on your own, you can be very successful. That’s the most important thing I’ve learned from watching how their label has progressed.
CP: What does this project, Man of the People, mean to you?
RG: Honestly, it means a lot to me. The way I was making music before was good, but I realized I have to be in control of everything, and I have to be DIY about everything. There’s a lot of talent out here, and if I wanna be known, I gotta do it my way. That way, I have no regrets.
Me and [producer Travis] Gorman went to school together for engineering. He’s progressed a long way. It’s just the evolution of our relationship as friends, and the evolution of us as artists and musicians, getting to this point. This record allowed me to be very comfortable with going double time and doing tracks that I ordinarily wouldn’t do. Mostly, people would think I just do boom-bap tracks and put me in a “backpack rapper” category. I’m not one way all the time, and no human being is one way all the time.
This record is going to come out of left field to a lot of people. They’re gonna be like, “Why the hell is he rapping on shit like this?” [laughs]. Or maybe they’ll be like, “OK, this is really tight.” One or the other. I think I’ve evolved as an artist and I’ve learned how to have more fun with my music. That’s what this album has taught me.
CP: How did most of these songs and collaborations come together?
RG: [Gorman] produced the whole thing. The bonus track is the only one that I helped produce. I wanted to step away and just focus on writing. Some of the songs were recorded on the fly, some I marinated over. I marinated over “Then They Gotchu” for a while. “Pearlin” was the first time I recorded a song with Novy [Minneapolis rapper Finding Novyon], and we knocked it out in like 30 minutes [laughs].
Most of the time, it’s been me in the studio with those people and vibing off the energy. The only song that wasn’t like that was the interlude with K.Raydio; she recorded that at a separate time. Every other song had other people’s feedback, and they would vibe off the energy to make it cohesive.
CP: Talk about “Then They Gotchu,” the song about racial profiling by police. When did you write it and what made you decide to write a song like that?
RG: I wrote that song like two years ago, to be honest. What made it crazy was I’ve had other crazy situations with cops, but that particular situation I remember because this cop was completely going out of his way to harass me. It was just too blatant. I look in my rearview mirror and this dude makes a U-turn. I’m like, “Oh, shit.”
So then I’m like, I gotta write about this situation [laughs]. What’s crazy is I didn’t anticipate things being the way they are now, to this level, with [incidents] being on camera. It’s kinda crazy that things are getting even worse in that direction.
CP: To coincide with the EP’s release, you’ll be performing at the release party at 7th St. Entry. How do you think you’ve grown as a performer over the years?
RG: There’s a few things I’ve done to become a better live performer. One is being able to feed off the energy of the crowd, meaning: “Let me check the temperament of this crowd and how they’re reacting.” Based on how I feel the crowd is reacting, I might have a particular set, but I might scrap it midway through and say, “Nah, let’s do this song instead.”
If you’re a performer and you’re just rapping at somebody, as opposed to it feeling like people are part of the experience, it’s a whole ‘nother thing. You also have to know where you’re performing at. If I’m performing at the U of M with a bunch of college kids, I know I’m gonna need more high-energy songs.
Dem Atlas is one performer I’ve taken a lot of pointers from. He’s very unfiltered; he just lets it all go, he doesn’t hesitate at all. I would say that about Prince, too. He doesn’t really care where he is; he’s just in his own world [laughs]. I really admire people that are so into their music it doesn’t matter what the hell is going on.
With: P.O.S, Free Lunch Crew, Unknown Creatures, Destiny Roberts, others
When: 8 p.m. Wed., August 24
Where: 7th St. Entry
Tickets: $15-$18; more info here