Local rapper PreauXX (whose real name is Chris Dansby) has been performing in Memphis long enough to see the fruits of his labor pay off. Since arriving on the hip-hop scene in 2010, PreauXX has aligned himself with the local hip-hop collective TRDON and joined the likes of Tori WhoDat and Royal'T as one of the city's hottest hip-hop acts. We caught up with PreauXX to talk about his new album, Forever. I Will, what he thinks about the rise of local hip-hop, and how the "Black Lives Matter" movement has affected his songwriting. — Chris Shaw
Flyer: The new album features almost exclusive production from Alexander Odell and IMAKEMADBEATS. What's your history with them?
PreauXX: We've been working together since 2012, but I met Alexander when I was enrolled at the University of Memphis in 2009. I met IMAKEMADBEATS a year after when he moved down from New York. He was spinning records at a show that featured me and Cities Aviv, and I remember thinking that he was just killing it. I brought them together, and it just immediately clicked.
Was there a collaborative atmosphere in the studio between the two producers, or did they bring pre-made beats in separately?
Everything was collaborative in the studio. The session was very organic, and we came up with every track from scratch. I worked with the producers separately on a couple of the songs, but there are some where all three of us are working together based on conversations or ideas that we had at the time.
What studio were you guys working in?
IMAKEMADBEATS has a place, Dirty Socks Studio out in Bartlett. That place is going to be the new Motown in the next 10 years. If you can imagine a Shaolin temple mixed with a church, that would be Dirty Socks studios. IMAKEMADBEATS created an environment that immediately makes you feel comfortable. Sometimes I can get really anxious and want to immediately start recording, and it's cool to go into a place where you just sit down and talk everything out first.
How would you describe the current state of Memphis hip-hop?
I like where it's going. I've been on this scene since 2010, and I remember when it was just me, Cities Aviv, and Knowledge Nick. There wasn't any media coverage back then. But now in 2015, I'm loving where it's going. The scene is changing, but people are still fighting through the Memphis politics to get the coverage they deserve. That being said, I love where it's at, because I've seen where it was a few years ago, and I'm excited to see where it goes in the future.
Where did the title Forever. I Will come from?
It derived from trying to kill that underdog mantra that I've had. I've always had this underdog look to my career, and I hate the underdog look, because once the underdog accomplishes something, his story is over. Forever. I Will means that I will forever have dreams, but don't look down on me because I'm a titan. I'm going to make you notice everything I'm doing. The album covers everything that I went through in life from 2012 to 2015 — from love to social injustice — just everything that I went through that made me who I am today.
We touched on it a bit earlier, but where does your connection with Cities Aviv come into play with your career? He's on two of the tracks on Forever. I Will, but I feel like it goes deeper than that.
Yeah, man, I really feel like he's my brother. We came up together, and people used to call us the "Memphis Rap Gods." He's just someone I can trust in the music world.
How did the "Black Lives Matter" campaign have an affect on your new album?
I come from a strong black household. I know a lot about where I come from and my heritage, and I'm proud of that. I grew up in an area where there was a lot of segregation, and it's something that sits heavy on my heart. I care about people in general. Everyone deserves a fair chance, and we are too far as a society to be going through the bullshit that went down in the '60s and '70s. Society is changing, and people need to let it go. As a leader in the Memphis music scene, it's my job to talk about things like that.
Can you talk about the politically charged song "Benjamin" that appears on your new album?
I named it "Benjamin" because that's Trayvon Martin's middle name, and I wrote it from his perspective, as if he were speaking from the grave. I've never written a song like that before, and my vocal tone was all over the place because I wanted you to feel the panic and the emotion of not being able to speak for yourself when someone is having a trial about your life.
Do you think your music is becoming more political as a result of the cases of Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray and the incidents in Ferguson?
My music will always have a political context to it, but I don't want to just be boxed in as a political rapper. I'm always going to be active in letting people know where I stand, but I can't really help if someone is going to label me something.
What's next for you? How quickly are you going to get back into the studio?
Man, I'm in the studio every day. I'm always writing, always cultivating, always crafting. Right now, my mind is focusing on getting Forever. I Will out there and playing some shows to promote it, but I'll always make time for the studio. For me, the studio is like a basketball player going to practice. It's my job to be in the studio.