God Flow: An Interview With Philly Rapper Asaad
The night before "Flowers II" dropped, we sat down with him after a show in Philly.
The career of North Philly rapper Asaad is one of the most intriguing stories of any under-the-radar artist. Without ever coming close to the ubiquity of someone like Lil B or gaining immediate worshippers like Odd Future, Asaad aka Saudi Money has still established a devoted following, tirelessly churning out material that positions him as the Rap Internet's bastard child of DOOM, Kanye, and Mixtape Weezy. He's released seven official projects since 2009, and went on a hiatus last summer, when he says he went through a moment of explosive self-destruction. In his absence, people were still talking about him. People asked if he quit rap, where he went, and someone once commented on my Instagram after posting a screenshot of one of his songs that they heard he’d passed away.
Before giving up Twitter, his daily rants had become a welcome spectacle. His defunct deal with Atlantic, his ongoing issues with Pusha T, and feeling like he didn't get credit for his influence in rap (especially G.O.O.D. Music) were some of his main points of emphasis. Those issues with Pusha and G.O.O.D., in particular, can be traced back to Asaad’s 2012-release White. That album’s lead-off track is titled “God Flow”—a song he’s accused Pusha T of jacking to use for he and Kanye’s “New God Flow,” which was released three month’s after Asaad’s project. Another song from White, “Holy Mountain”, is named after a film released in 1973 by Chilean-filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. Kanye West has cited that film as being one of the Yeezus Tour’s main influences. White’s minimal artwork can also be compared to the G.O.O.D. Music aesthetic. Also notorious is a single from the album called “Boss Status”, where an illustration depicting 2pac and Biggie having sex was associated with the song. An album that hasn’t been heard by the masses being the root of so much passion and controversy almost directly mirrors the trajectory of Asaad’s career.
He says that going away, reevaluating his personal relationships, and getting off the internet has helped him get through that dark period in his life. Flowers II revisits his debut release, 2009’s Flowers and is his attempt at getting back to being recognized for just his music. And through vibrant, transparent tracks that go from cinematically soulful cuts to drill-inspired tracks, he touches on the aforementioned self-destruction. After his performance at historic Philadelphia nightclub, Silk City, the night before Flowers II dropped, I sat down with him in the venue’s dining area to talk about the making of the album, what distancing himself from the internet has done for him, and what he’s trying to accomplish in this new chapter of his career.
Noisey: It's only been a couple days since you've been back and people are already referring to you as just the guy who had the Biggie and Pac artwork or the guy who has beef with Pusha T. Is that something you'll try to ignore?
Asaad: I won’t say that I’ll ignore it but I’m gonna have to deal with it in the best way possible. It’s like, I don’t want to keep speaking on the past and things that are negative. I’m trying to introduce new music and take a smarter approach to things. For me, it’s not about looking behind. I’m trying to become a smarter person and create better music.
You dropped the first Flowers almost five years ago. Why revisit?
When I made the first Flowers, the situation that I’m in now is similar to back then. I’d walk to the studio everyday, record and come back to tell my brother about all the music I’d made. He suggested I name it Flowers because it was symbolic of us—we were growing from the ground-up in our neighborhood. This time around, he hasn’t been there to talk to me about the music because he’s incarcerated so it’s really just a cry back to him; everything is full circle now. He’s not next to me physically so this is how I’m talking to him. That’s also why I rap about my nephew, Quil, a lot because he’s symbolic of that cycle too; he’s 5 years old now and he wasn’t here when I was making Flowers.
Compared to your most recent work, Flowers II is a lot more polished and vibrant. Did you focus on sharpening small details during your time off?
The approach was a lot different because on the first Flowers I wasn’t writing anything down. This time I literally wrote everything down on paper and tried pushing myself to create new rhyme schemes. Sharpening it was definitely a goal of mine. Before I would just write and do it without thinking. When you read The Source’s “hip-hop quotables,” it would make you appreciate shit. It meant more. I was taking that into consideration this time around, like “This could be somebody’s quotable”.
The album often touches on sour relationships with friends. Did recording this project serve as some type of release to help you get over them?
I never looked at it like that but I will say that I’ve learned some lessons and I treated the music as a way to share insight on the lessons I learned. So, in that way, I guess it was a kind of release. I wanted to try helping other people with it who may relate.
When you were away, people constantly asked where you were. Someone even randomly asked me on Instagram if you died. What kind of personal reception were you getting from fans during that time?
I’m not dead, I’m right here (Laughs). I haven’t really been paying attention to the internet like that lately but I definitely get a physical response almost everywhere I go—especially in Philly. It feels good. Everybody I meet got a different song they like. Like, I was walking around Times Square recently and one of the dudes that passes out fliers looked at me and said, “I know who you are.” I’m like, oh shit. But I think that’s like a new-age thing—if you’re not all the way digital people may actually think you’re dead.
On “Cooking Dinners” you say: “I’m the reason that you know what self-destruction is”. What do you mean by that?
In the hood when you get popular, people say you sold your soul. That’s why I said before that, “I ain’t sell my soul, I self-destructed bitch”. When I say self-destruction, I mean, when you’re in artist, you can sometimes get too absorbed in yourself. Sometimes that could make you spiral downwards, or you never know how it’ll turn out. For me, I took the negatives (even though my method may have been explosive) and tried to reincarnate myself. Self-destructing made me stronger. Like a Phoenix.
The track with Ab-Soul felt as if you guys work together frequently. How did you link up with him?
My homie Slick Jackson, who was on tour with him shooting video, called me one day and said they were all listening to me, they really liked the music and Ab-Soul wanted to talk to me. So when Ab came to Philly for a show, I met him and he taught me a lot with his insight. On a musical level I definitely respect his bars so I feed off of him.
Songs like "Angels" and "SNE" visit your concept of destiny. Do you feel like destiny has played a role in your rap career?
First and foremost, it’s God because you never know how your life is gonna go. Of course I wanna give insight in the raps but also give influence. For me, coming from North Philly, it’s pretty bad, so stepping up and being an example is a good thing because I’m really from that. As far as destiny, I feel like hard work pays off. I’ve worked for this too.
"Holy Matri" from COLD BLUE is such an insane song. The floor was shaking when you performed it. How'd you come up with it?
“Holy Matri” is one of those songs that didn’t take long to write. It was the second song of the session that I’d recorded it and it just came to me. I made the hook in like ten seconds and it was fun because I love being in the studio.
How much time do you spend in the studio when you go?
Like five hours each time. These past nine months while we were recording Flowers II, I’d be in there every other day. I wanted to make sure everything I said on this project had meaning so I took my time with it.
How'd it feel to be out on stage and have the entire crowd recite all your lyrics?
It’s been like an exact year since I performed last and midway through my set, I told myself “Damn. I really like performing.” I felt something grab me. But yeah, I love this shit, man. This is what I live for and what I prayed for. I’m not gonna lie, having people know all my lyrics definitely makes the songs a whole lot easier to perform (Laughs).
Now that you're in a position to keep things going, what level are you trying to reach? What is your definition of success?
Right now, a great deal of success would be putting out great music, getting a great response and garnering more fans. Also to be a great example for where I come from. I’d love to be that.
Lawrence Burney makes bi-monthly zines that you need to pick up ASAP. He's on Twitter - @TrueLaurels