This February saw the release of an almost slept-on masterpiece of Southern rap music: Renaissance Gangster.
A street album that clocks in at eleven tracks in 42 minutes is a stroke against the current grain of contemporary rap’s obsession with excess. The sort work of cohesion that’s almost extinct these days, Renaissance Gangster is the product of two individuals, one handling beats the other handling vocals. The result is testament to the original simplicity, and transparency of rap music. Sleeping on Renaissance Gangster would be criminal.
FACT was lucky to catch up with these two talented and busy individuals to talk about the project and about how it came to fruition.
How did you two get together for Renaissance Gangster?
Starlito: “We were introduced professionally by a common acquaintance and Burn One then started shooting me some beats for Starlito’s Way 3, my street album. And…truth is Renaissance Gangster happened over about three studio sessions with Burn’s beats, when I realized I can’ necessarily make Starilto’s Way 3 sound like this…just cause, you know, Burn One’s just got his own sound and eventually that moulded its own project. I looked at it and I had gathered an album’s worth of material to tell my story with, and I think musically it told Burn One’s story as well. In the end we had carved our own niche, doing what we do and a great project was born.”
The record has a live feeling to it much like a Outkast or Goodie Mob album, could that be because you two were working together in the studio on this LP?
Burn One: “We didn’t actually get a chance to work together in person but hopefully we will in the future. What lead me into this musical direction was hearing him [Starlito] rap over a sample-based track. I liked how his voice sounded over that type of material, over those types of instruments. So, everything I worked on I did with him in mind. Everything I sent him was made just for him.”
Star, you talk about making “real gangster music” on this album. But this album sounds nothing like the type of music that most people would associate with “gangster”. To me this album is some straight chill weed smoking shit. How did you come to think of this sound as being “real gangster music”?
S: “I think the notion of being gangster, all the time, has been overdone. You associate it with being boisterous, loud or being a bully. And…to me…where I’m from, playing tough, or trying to be over the top doesn’t amount to anything. It’s about valuing, finding a value in what you stand for. It’s in the actual morals you stand for. Sometimes you gotta find your own space, your own zone and that’s the whole idea behind Renaissance Gangster.
“I mean dealing with all the obstacles and problems you encounter, coming from where I come from, it takes a lot just to have the resolve to take a step back and think for a moment. So thinking is the new gangster, that’s the undertone of the album. Being in your own space and doing you is more gangster than being in the game. That’s not more gangster than thinking about where you work, where you are, and thinking about where you want to be. I think a lot of people in my generation are walking around lost and it’s probably because they trying to follow some kind of trend or doing what they think they’re supposed to be doing. “
“I know what I was thinking/At least I was thinking.” [from ‘What Was I Thinking’]
S: “Yeah, okay. Well when I got those beats from Burn One he would tell me that there was something different in this batch [of instrumentals] and immediately the challenge for me was not to box myself around the music. In that case, that track gave me a lot more room to think about things.”
Yeah those beats make me think too. Burn is there anyone you think about a lot while making beats? How do you navigate making tracks that sound so classic but at the same time real fresh?
B: “I try to bring out the best in the artist [that I’m making tracks for]. I just try to find what their vibe is and focus on that. I’m really getting out on just sitting down to do beats, just to do beats, it doesn’t really work for me. I mean if I just sit down and don’t have an artist in mind it’s hard to think of a concept or get inspired. When I heard ‘International’ [a past Starlito track] I was like ‘okay, his flow is perfect for these records in my head’. So I just created something to take his style and enhance it, take him somewhere he might not have been yet.”
Burn One & Starlito: ‘Alright’
“With ‘Alright’ I didn’t even write one word down. I just listened to that track and it kind of told its own story for me.”
Lito, on this record you sound like you wrote and rapped everything in your robe and slippers in your living room or something. How can you afford to sound so relaxed? Did you always sound like that?
S: “Yeah. I’d say it has to be evolution. Listening to some of my older material, I could tell I hadn’t been too inspired at times. I mean the good material is a lot of the times just a result of me pouring into the music what’s already been sowed into my life.
“Also, there was very little editing done in that recording process [for Renaissance Gangster]. I mean I actually recorded myself on 10 of 11 of those songs and mixed myself on 10 of 11 of those songs. I might just ride around with one of those beats and by the time I pull up to the spot I would be ready to just pull up the Pro Tools session and go.
“I mean with ‘Alright’ I didn’t even write one word down. I just listened to that track and it kind of told its own story for me. So I guess it was easier to relax and some of the music actually pushed me into that direction. That’s how I prefer to be making my music. Its because of Burn One being so ready to understand the style of an artist. I think this project, as far as it captures me in my element, as a picture if you will, is more successful than anything I’ve done so far. And I’ve been releasing mixtapes till I’m blue in the face you know?”
As a quick sidetrack question, whats up with Starlito’s Way 3? You got that track on Renaissance Gangster called ‘March 13th’…
S: “Yeah, I pushed Starlito’s Way 3 back because of Renaissance Gangster. Because of the depth of the project, because I didn’t want that record to be overlooked.”
B: “I mean we’re still in the beginning stages of promoting the record. There’s still a lot of visual work that needs to be done. I mean it’s like there are still a lot of people that haven’t been exposed to us yet so that needs to get done. So we’re just trying to reach those people before we move on to the next project.”
Oh so you are both working on Starlito’s Way 3 as well? Are there more Burn One beats on there also?
B: “Uhh…yeah I think I got like three records on it. How many tracks do have on there Star?”
S: “Yeah I think three. ‘Alright’ is supposed to kind of be the first look for that album.”