Catching up with Rico James: "The Ant Sir" & Beyond

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Earlier this week, Rico James dropped a new instrumental LP, The Ant Sir, on the Equal Eyes Records imprint he co-founded. (Co-founded around this time last year, as a matter of fact.) It’s another slab of boom bap purism, but it sees the producer playing with a lot more rhythmic and melodic ideas than his previous solo outing, Saturday Morning Car Tunes.

Rico James has had a furiously busy 2018 and grown a lot in the process. We met up at Al’s Frieswhere else, right? — for a conversation about healthy scenes, lessons learned, and the shape of things to come.

VTHH: "The Ant Sir" is world away from the sound you had circa 2016. What do you think has been the biggest factor in your growth as a producer since then?

Rico James: Persistence.  You learn by doing.  I've continued to just keep making beats, keep gaining experience.  My ears are more experienced, my gear & workflow is more dialed in.  I just like to stay at it, and it feels really good to see progress start happening over time.  You work with what is around you, and how it works with your daily life.  Once you find a workflow that works for you, you can run with it.  I still get excited with each beat I make, so I figure I must be headed in the right direction.  

VTHH: Who are the artists who keep you excited about music these days? What do you keep in rotation lately?

Rico James: I follow a few labels pretty closely.  My comfort zone consists of the following : Mello Music Group, Stones Throw, QN5 Music, Daptone, and Rhymesayers.  Anything coming out of those camps, I'm going to check it out.  I get excited about a lot of music, and get super inspired by a lot of beatmakers.  Biggest ones for me, for the past few years, would be Kno (of Cunninlynguists), Madlib, Apollo Brown, Marco Polo, L'Orange to name a few.  Those are the beatmakers that get me super amped up, constantly. 

VTHH: Do you feel like you're in a very different local hip hop scene today than you were in 2014, when Self Portrait was first getting going?

Rico James: For me personally, it has been a very welcoming scene from the start, and that has not changed.  I've seen a lot of growth, and I've seen a lot of maturity, at least with the people I surround myself with.  It's an amazing feeling watching creative people around you get inspired and push each other to keep creating and advancing. 

I feel like the scene is at a great point right now.  Very little conflict happening, and people are just making music and having fun with it.  For me, there doesn't seem to be this 'competition' of sorts with crews or artists.  Everybody has their lane and they ride in it and make what they want to make.  That kind of environment can be very rewarding because there is room for everybody.  There is a time and a place for every type of music.  If we keep inspiring each other on the daily, the scene will just keep progressing.  

VTHH: You and ILLu are about to be one whole year into running the show at Equal Eyes Records. What are the biggest lessons you've learned since the launch?

Rico James: We have learned a lot since launching Equal Eyes last year.  Luckily, we both view this as an ongoing learning experience, and an ever evolving thing.  We've learned and practiced to just stay flexible.  We don't overthink the process and have specific things we want to achieve.  We just want to create, help others around us create, and do it in an organized/cohesive manner.  We run on passion and if it feels right, we ride with it.  It's been a great time so far, and we are picking up all kinds of knowledge along the way. 

The other thing that is important is communication, and being as transparent as possible with the people you work with.  Also, PATIENCE!  That's a big one.  It is very hard to have insight on a really exciting project that might be in the works, but you are not at liberty to talk about it.  All in all, the biggest lesson I've learned since the creation of Equal Eyes, is to surround yourself with people that inspire you.  Do that, good things will happen.

VTHH: What else do you have coming in 2019 that you can talk about?

Rico James: Alright, let's see....I have some new PR DepARTment material in the works (PreciseMC & myself),  I have an LP with Humble in the works, I have new music with Omega Jade in the works, and I'm about halfway done with my next beat tape.  Those are the things I can tell you about right now.  The things I cannot reveal quite yet will be worth the wait, trust me.  Lots of stuff on the horizon for team Equal Eyes. 

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Justin Boland