King Mez’s Honest Interview About His Music, Dr. Dre and Life’s Shift for #NextUp [EXCLUSIVE]
King Mez is a problem solver. When the rapper needed money to book studio time as a teenager, he’d buy fake Jordans from a local flea market and sell them to unsuspecting kids in high school for the low. At 20, when his single mother unexpectedly passed away, he dropped out of North Carolina University, where he was studying engineering, to help raise his younger brother, Mike. Parent-teacher conferences were the norm for Mez, who grew up on a solid lyrical diet of Nas and Lupe Fiasco -- Food & Liquor helped him grow out of the "wild s---" he was once involved in.
“My passion in life is definitely more oriented around changing things for the better,” the 25-year-old Raleigh, N.C. native tells The Boombox while sitting inside Slake in New York City. Interestingly, for a guy who wrote on 13 out of 16 songs on Dr. Dre’s Compton album and appeared in the 2015 BET Hip Hop Awards cypher alongside Vince Staples, Raury, Casey Veggies, Joyner Lucas and J-Doe, creating music isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when he thinks of what he’s compelled to do with his life.
“I don't even think music is my god-given talent; I think it's more like problem solving. I went to college to be an engineer, I'm really good at math and science and I always was like, man, if I want to know something I'll figure it out. But, I just happened to love music and I think that's what it ended up becoming. I don't think it's particular to one thing -- it's about making everything better," states Mez, whose been finessing on the mic since he was 9.
After listening to Compton -- a project that blindsided hip-hop fans who weren’t expecting a new Dre album -- his talents were justly used to help add to the West Coast rap veteran’s vision. Mez, who names Stevie Wonder as his favorite artist, worked on Compton for 11 months in Los Angeles. The process seemingly started out as a writing camp in 2014, and ended with him having the “honor” to add his lyrical style to the mix. “Talk About It,” "Satisfiction" and “Darkside/Gone” feature Mez's sharp delivery, a hint of the country vocals that only a dude raised in the South would possess and lyrics that resonate. When other rappers boast about selling drugs and pulling out guns, you won't find him doing any of that as he reveals on "Darkside/Gone." He prides himself on his honesty (and neither drinking nor smoking).
"I try to be as honest as possible. I feel that in my previous music, I think I was trying to be honest, but like only from the perspective of like positive things because I just wanted to help so bad. I just want to be positive so bad and just help the world so bad," he says. "What I realized is, you have to be honest from the whole spectrum. I have to talk about the negative, I have to talk about the things I've done wrong and then things that I'm doing wrong right now. You have to. I feel like if you don't, you're not relatable -- you can't really help or change anything. You can't change anything if you don't show the full spectrum of who you are. To change the bad you have to show the bad."
Collaborating with Dr. Dre has proved to come full-circle for King Mez, who less than a year ago was back in Raleigh working on his own music and figuring out what was next with his publishing deal through Warner/Chappell Music. “It really changed my perspective on music, it changed my perspective on myself and of my talent, you know what I'm saying. Like to be accepted by somebody of that caliber who thinks I'm extraordinarily talented. That's crazy," explains Mez, born Morris W. Ricks II. "My first CD I ever bought myself was Chronic 2001, it was Dre's album I bought when I was 9. Next thing you know, I'm working on his next album, which was his last album." He even heard Eminem and Kanye West were feeling the vibe when it came to his additions to the Compton LP.
While the internet streets are buzzing about his Dre connection, which was made possible by Big Pooh from Little Brother, who told an Aftermath A&R about him, Mez has been cultivating his sound for years. In 2012, he dropped the mixtape, My Everlasting Zeal, which earned him a look on 106 & Park for his Commissioner Gordon-produced track "Monte Carlo." Then last year, he debuted Long Live the King, a 12-track project featuring songs like "Morris" and "Heart Drive," both of which he performs for our #NextUp series.
"Not too many know Morris," he delivers on the very personal ode dedicated to his government name. The song, which he produced (yes, he's mastered that skill as well), finds him spitting quick, introspective rhymes over a hypnotic beat. These are the inner workings of his mind, from god to the game. On the Tim Suby-produced "Heart Drive," a metaphor for the body's most powerful organ being a hard drive, Mez has no space for anyone not invested in helping him. "You gotta learn to feed yourself, I can't survive for you," the rapper serves over cinematic production.
Watch King Mez Perform "Morris" for #NextUp
According to Mez, he cringes a little bit when hearing those songs. He's evolved and looking ahead, but satisfied that he's mastered a quality that many artists can't get a firm grasp on -- making timeless music. "Performing these songs right now, I made them at a previous time, but as I go back and perform them again I realize, oh, there's good information in here; it still feels good. So, that's a testament to the type of music that I make, I'm happy about that," he admits. "I enjoy Long Live the King. It's a really good project and I think people enjoy it. But I have this new music I'm really excited about... and I've been working on some other projects I can't reference right now. I've been working on a lot of stuff."
Since he's living and creating on the West Coast these days, his perspective has broadened but King Mez hasn't changed much. Sitting in a room with the likes of Dr. Dre 2,500 miles away from home will certainly humble you, but his spirit has never wavered. Mez has taken valuable lessons from the Aftermath founder, combined those with his existing knowledge and applied it to the next sonic chapter in his career. He understands music on another level, even music theory to a certain degree. The bottom is present and the drums are there when you listen to his forthcoming work -- you won't feel a sense of emptiness when it comes to the production.
The wordsmith also plays the piano more skillfully and he can sing better than the days he once resided in Baltimore. Most importantly, he's keeping his lyrical scale balanced. "What I feel like I've been learning with Dre is a balance between entertainment and [creating] something challenging and innovative and something that will change things."
"The Shift" is a culmination of his experimentation and improved catalog. Mez believes it's the perfect song to exemplify where he's at in life. "It's called 'The Shift' because of the shift in my life and the shift in time and the shift in the way the world is changing, a lot of different things. It's my favorite song of mine right now, probably." He even sees the song in colors. "It's like purple, that's the best way to explain it. It feels like purple. It's kind of dark and has this feeling to it, but then it's royal at the same time."
Fitting for an artist with the word "king" attached to his moniker. But King Mez isn't sitting on a throne waiting for a handout from Dre, The Game (he appears on "Moment of Violence" off The Documentary 2.5) or any other notable artists he's collaborated with as of late. He's in the studio keeping his head down, working on his debut album -- and learning Japanese all while doing it.
Mez has "made it" by certain standards after landing on a Dr. Dre album that went to No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in August and spitting in the BET Hip Hop Awards cypher earlier this month. But Mez hasn't done anything yet if you ask him. "It's like, 'OK, we'll pay attention to you, but what now?' I want to continue to curate a core following before an album. I think that's really important," he continues. "I'm really inspired to make a classic project of my own. I still have a lot of work to do. Now it's my turn."
Watch King Mez Perform "Heart Drive" for #NextUp