King Mez is 24 year old emcee/producer who has the vision, endurance and the heart of a champion in the rap game. His music is appealing because he’s not afraid to say what’s real, he openly speaks out on what he’s going through in his life as if you were a close family member. It’s as if you’ve met him years before you even got to listen to him. Growing up in the South Side of Raleigh, North Carolina, the young artist has proven himself worthy of overcoming any situation that falls before him.
After having a rough year in 2013 with his equipment failing on him, relocating and losing close ones. In April of 2014 King Mez released his highly anticipated album Long Live the King which was a landmark album that sonically was complete with almost no flaws. It was one of those albums where people in the struggle can relate because he knows how people feel and the people who just want to listen to good music can vibe out. Mechanical Dummy had the chance to speak to him in his downtown studio in Raleigh, and here’s what the up and coming emcee had to say.
Words by: Roger Kimbeni
Mechanical Dummy: Mez whats going on bro?
King Mez: What’s happening?
MD: I’m alright, how are you doing?
King Mez: I’m good man, just been putting in work all night. I’m happy to be here.
MD: Its crazy that you spent an all nighter at the studio like that, you just came out with the album a few months ago and now you’re back in the studio.
King Mez: I never stop man, I never left.
MD: No doubt, so with the album “Long Live the King” it was real personal and you really went into your life. You can even see that with your video “Can’t Let Go”, what did that video represent?
King Mez: It’s funny because I always feel like a video can give a song a new light you know what I’m saying? In a way where you don’t have to follow the song exactly but you can challenge new perspectives and new ideas with a video. Can’t Let Go the song was really about friends and people that I know and have love for kind of being lost in the struggle and they have some things that they can’t let go of. But the video really had a lot more to do with saving the youth though. If you watch the video, you see me walking around my neighborhood at this cookout, I hop in a car, go to this house and there’s a lot going on in the house. You see the drugs in the house, you see the girls watching World Star, you see a bunch of people getting drunk in the kitchen and there’s a little boy about to walk into the house at the end of the video but I stop him from going in there. That’s really the whole point of the video right there, the ending part when I stop him from going in. Just letting him know that there’s so much more than this whole thing, to everything out there.
MD: 100% man, you had a lyric in the song too that goes something like “I tell my boys to focus on the future but the past keeps calling them”. So what made you focus on your future while everyone else around you is caught up. I mean we’re social beings and it’s hard to stay away from that.
King Mez: Man I think it’s more so like you can just see the path, you can see the way things are changing. When I was growing up I would see people dying that I was cool with get shot and killed know what I’m saying? My mother’s side, they’re from Baltimore and Baltimore is crazy. That’s the first place I lived, my mom had me and she was in the military, she went to Desert Storm and I lived in Baltimore first. Then my parents split up for a little while when I was in middle school and I moved back to Baltimore. They split up for good when I was in high school and then I went to college in Baltimore so it’s like my second home for real. So even living in Baltimore I saw a lot. My uncle got murdered, my mom’s youngest brother got murdered after she passed away. It’s crazy because he was autistic and he didn’t have any beef with anybody and it was a gang initiation because niggas is just crazy. Just to see the effect that; that lifestyle has on you, other people and the way it changes the world I feel like I caught the notion early on when I was like 14 – 15 years old. I would really visualize how detrimental everything was, like “Damn, this is terrible idea” just being invested, being involved. Honestly man, Lupe Fiasco’s “Food & Liquor” changed my life. It had a lot to do with me changing as a person you know. When I heard Food & Liquor I stopped a bunch of stuff I was doing man. It’s funny because I never smoked my whole life, I don’t know what it’s like I never tried it.
King Mez: All my friends did and I grew up around it but hearing Lupe, he was one of the first people I can hear and relate to. It’s easy to hear a nigga rapping about being positive and stuff but it’s rare you’ll hear someone that came from the struggle and came from the same shit but yet he’s rapping about being positive. That really meant a lot to me and it changed my life in a lot of ways. I’ve dedicated my life to changing the world, changing people, changing my neighborhood that I grew up in you know? That’s the whole point and the whole reason of why I do it honestly.
MD: That’s a great mentality to have with you having a little brother and everything too.
King Mez: He’s really a big reason of why I do it because my mom passed and my dad isn’t really around as much; so I dropped out of college to look after him in 2010 when I was a sophomore in college. I dropped out to come home and help him finish out high school. Even before then when my mom was alive I was like the figure, I was the person he had to look up to so that’s probably the reason why I never tried smoking because I never wanted him to do it. I feel like when you have a lot of responsibility it makes you stronger in life depending on what kind of person you are. If it wasn’t for me having to look out for my little brother I probably would have tried smoking, I probably would have did a bunch of stuff but I knew somebody else was watching and that really kept me from doing it.
MD: That’s a lot of pressure to have. I mean the music industry is already enough pressure and then dealing with life. A few months before you dropped “Long Live the King” you signed a publishing deal.
King Mez: Yeah, with Warner Bros.
MD: Do you see things adding up? Because I can see that this is like a 4th quarter for you. This is your 4th tape and you signed a publishing deal, where do you see everything going with this music. Are you going for a record deal?
King Mez: Yeah for sure, I mean a deal might be the answer and it could not be. I know a lot of people feel like a record deal is the savior for an artist but people get signed and shelved everyday. So for me it’s all about success, a deal isn’t the main focus but if it is and it could take my career to the next level then I’m definitely with that. Under no circumstance am I phased, I feel like life alone has been so real, even when my mom was alive life was so real. The neighborhood, my parents splitting and the way everything was going. So I mean music is stressful but I mean not really, not compared to my life. It’s funny because people say “Are you worried about the music?” and I’m just like “I’m here man” I could have got shot. Am I worried about music? No, I work hard and I’m driven, I’m in here (the studio) everyday, every night, I’m talented and I know down to the core of my soul that this is what I’m here to do. Like, I’m not worried about music man and I can tell that to anybody in they face. I know it’s going to work. That’s the beautiful thing about tragedy, when tragedy happens you can actually use it positively. You can use it to make you mentally stronger. With a lot of people bad things happen and then they turn to something, alcohol or whatever the case may be just makes you a weaker person. But if tragedy happens and you can persevere through it when other bad things happen it’s not really as bad. Things don’t really get to me that much, people can’t really get to me. What detriment does it really cost to me? I take myself out of situations a lot. I’m 24 years old, Kanye West dropped his first album when he was 26, Jay-Z was 26, Eminem was 27 so I’m at that age, in the grand scheme of things it might seem like “damn, it’s taking a while” but when I remove myself from the situation and look at the greats who stood the test of time it lets me know that I’m on track and I’m on schedule.
MD: In regards to the test of time you’ve grown so much as an artist and as a man. Do you have some mentors that are teaching and shaping you to go to the next level.
King Mez: Yeah definitely, I got a friend named MK he’s like my big brother and he’s an author and a film director. He’s a super talented guy, I met him at a time where I needed him. I was living in Baltimore after I dropped “My Ever Lasting Zeal” and a lot of people don’t know that after that project came out around the end of 2012 a lot of my equipment broke, I ended up moving, like a bunch of bad stuff ended up happening and I couldn’t record like the whole year. I was frustrated trying to figure everything out and then I got the publishing deal and got all my equipment this year and started recording again and put a project out (Long Live the King). I’m going to put another one out because I feel like I’m supposed to put more out because I missed the previous year you know what I’m saying? So there’s a lot of work invested and a lot of trial, tribulation and turmoil but my whole thing is one way or another I’m going to figure it out. But MK is a great mentor, J.Cole is another one, I met him in like 2011. We’ve been super cool ever since I met him, he’s a real good dude and just honest and accessible for a dude to be so famous. I’ll text him and it’ll be love so between MK, Cole and my man Victor who owns Raleigh Denim. He’s not invested in music or the culture as much but he’s a very intelligent and artistic guy who’s been where I’m at trying to convert on 4th down and was successful, it’s a different medium but it takes the same amount of heart. He sells his jeans in Barneys and Saks and Fifth and everywhere else.
MD: I heard somewhere that you had a clothing deal yourself?
King Mez: Naw man, I’m really invested in fashion, I like a lot of clothes and a lot of different brands. I’ve done things with different brands too. Like I was in 10 DEEP’s fall look book in 2011, I’ve done work with Stussy, I feel like I’m going to do a project, like a small project with 10 DEEP soon. I haven’t really said that to anybody, I think it’s going to be more beat oriented with instrumentals and stuff because I produce. That’s really it, I’ve worked with clothing brands but I don’t have a situation with any. Nike sends sneakers, Jordan sends sneakers every now and then.
King Mez: I mean I’m not huge yet where it’s like definite, I’m still coming home and when they’re there I’m excited haha but it’s a blessing.
MD: Speaking of instrumentals, with “Long Live the King” you actually had a variety of producers on that. You had like 6 or 7 producers. So how is it like working with different producers compared to producing something for yourself? Because I know when artists know how to produce they really like just working with their own sound but with LLTK it sounded like a complete project. How was the whole process of working with all these producers and making all this happen?
King Mez: Well in a lot of cases with songs that have other producers name on it I co-produce it. So I was still invested even though I didn’t make the beat myself I still made drums or bass line or whatever. If I have a sonic vision for something a lot of times I do a collaboration but the producer still has to get credit. Very rarely has someone sent me something for a project and I just liked it as is, I had 3 songs on my project that I didn’t touch on there out of 12. So because I can produce, play keys and I’m learning how to play the bass now, it’s hard for me not to put my hands on it. But sometimes I’ll hear something and know that it’s a complete idea and I should leave it alone. It wasn’t real hard because I knew what I wanted and when you’re an artist and you know exactly what you want that makes all the difference.
MD: With hearing exactly what you want to hear, I was wondering why you dropped “Can’t Let Go” as your first single. Because you’re from Raleigh, North Carolina. People down here really like mainstream music like your 2chainz, Guccis and all of that and I was thinking about why you didn’t pick your tracks “Flight” or “Reggie Miller” as singles.
King Mez: Reggie Miller is going to have a video coming out for it soon and my song “Morris” was originally supposed to be my first single. So “Morris” and “Reggie Miller” are going to have videos for them. But that’s the great thing about visuals, they’re not really dated. That video (Can’t Let Go) came out in April, I didn’t even mean for it to come out as a single, the opportunity just presented itself. There’s an annual cookout that they throw every year in the neighborhood that I grew up in and I always wanted to shoot a video for that and it just happened to have went down around the time I dropped. It’s not something that I can recreate so I thought I should just take advantage of the situation and shoot the video. That being said I’m glad we ended up shooting it when we did because none of the other songs made sense for me to shoot at the time. But I do understand like “Reggie Miller” coming out first because that’s more commercial. But my perspective on that is this, “Can’t Let Go” came out and people enjoyed it, it’s playing on MTV we’re working something out with BET, that’s its own entity but when “Reggie Miller” comes out it’s more commercial oriented. When that comes out that’ll be like brand new life for the project. People will see it for the first time and they won’t know who I am and go like “What is this?.” When you drop a visual it’s like another wave of attention you know? Like another way of expressing yourself. I guess what I’m trying to say is I didn’t want to pull out my best card first, not my most attractive card first. It doesn’t really matter when you do something it’s how. If you do something on a high level and its really dope, people are going to pay attention. Nas just came out with a video from a song he did 20 years ago “Represent”
MD: Yeah that’s crazy
King Mez: Yeah so it’s like if it’s good music and has a good video with it, it’s all about how you do it not when you do it, that makes the difference, its funny how that happens but that’s how it goes.
MD: So I mean, when I listen to your music, J.Cole’s music and Rapsody’s music you guys have a big buzz and it’s nationwide. But in my mind I’m thinking like you can’t fully understand what you guys are saying unless you lived in North Carolina.
King Mez: It is more meaningful.
MD: That’s what I mean, so how do you see North Carolina as a place? Because you go to New York and Los Angeles back and forth. What stands out about North Carolina that you don’t see anywhere else like economically, musically, how people live and what not?
King Mez: Truthfully one thing I love about North Carolina more than any other place is, for the most part there’s not really a shield. People put a guard up in front of themselves, in New York and Los Angeles and all these other big cities. You don’t really meet the real person when you meet them, you meet their persona, you meet who they want to be. You meet this cool person who will never tell you their flaws and their fallacies or laugh and joke with you. They’re people but it’s not really them, I can’t say that about everybody in those places but for the most part when you go to a major city it’s more like that. It’s like people are scared to be themselves in a lot of ways, people are scared to be vulnerable, to be truthful and to be honest you know what I’m saying? That’s one thing that I love about North Carolina and that’s one thing that I see in the artist in North Carolina more so than anybody else. Cole is a great example of that, he’s down to earth like he’ll tell you whatever. One time I was at a party with him and we walked into this party and it was a bunch of people at like a hotel or something like that and we walk in the party and like everybody is thirsting crazy to see him. Chicks wildin’ everybody wildin’, he could’ve walked in with the crazy persona but we get to the table and we’re sitting down, mind you there’s girls just going crazy just to get close; and me and him and Ibrahim are talking and joking and he (J.Cole) points at his unibrow and said something about his unibrow and I’m dying laughing. But it’s so funny for him to be like that, he’s just a normal guy and he’s vulnerable at a time where there’s all these people that want to be around him and talk to him. But he’s talking about normal guy stuff, he’s not like look at all these people around me, its not like that. That’s a random story but that’s something that I remember the most about being around him. I cant say that about North Carolina as a whole because everybody isn’t that way but this is one of those places where you’ll see that in numbers, a group of people are like that most of the time, a lot of the people I hang out with and grew up with are that way. It’s just really cool how you can just be yourself, I feel like that’s hard to do, a lot of people can’t do that. I think that’s true strength, true strength is when you put yourself out there because it’s easy to come up with a character and talk about everything you got, talk about everything that everyone else doesn’t got, its easy to do that.
MD: No doubt, for me it’s like in the music game, when they say the rap game is like the trap game it’s really like that. People are really intimidating and everyone has a hardcore shell. So with you being in the industry do you have to put your business face on?
King Mez: Oh yeah that’s the thing, when I go to New York it’s funny you say that, for the most part when I get the opportunity to be me I love to just be me as much as possible. With a good majority of people (in the business) when they see me they see me, if they do want to invest in me they just see opportunity in me and with that being said if you only see opportunity in me I only see what I want from you. Here at home or with the people I love I’m never that way dog. I’m smiling, I laugh, I’m a funny dude, I joke a lot but when I first meet people on a business level I’m quiet and very attentive, I listen because I really don’t have much to say. I just want to hear what you have to say. There’s definitely a difference when I’m in New York or LA. My girl talks about going up to New York with me and I tell her “you don’t want to be in New York with me” I’m not me, you don’t want to be there because I don’t have much to smile about. When I’m there we’re talking numbers because that’s how they are and that’s how I am when I need to be. I guess you can say it’s intimidating but I ask “what is this music game compared to my life and what I’ve been through?” like I laugh at it, it’s funny to me you know what I mean? So that’s always been my perspective on it.
MD: Its brought you so far man, I mean what’s the future looking like for King Mez?
King Mez: It’s everything, everything I’ve ever dreamed of is coming. I can sense it in what I do, I can sense it in the way people talk to me, I can sense it in the things they say and how people are affected by my music. People are like “I can’t believe you’re not this that and the third, I cant believe you haven’t done this etc.” But I know it’s coming. Its not going to come in a normal way I think it’s going to come in a special way. My come up will definitely be very different from anybody who’s ever done it. It’s going to be different but it’s going to be exactly the way I wanted it to be. Shout out to everybody that shows love, anybody who shows love and anyone who gives me the opportunity to even take that first listen on me. Because like you said earlier I’m not a overly confident dude but for the most part I feel like if you give me your ear I don’t think there’s nothing else more to it that’s how I see it. Thank you to everybody who gives me that first listen because you don’t even have to do that. At this day and age fans are very spoiled, people don’t realize that Nas was 19 when he dropped Illmatic. Back in those days peoples’ mixtapes were their first albums back then and the only way you got it was buying it. Like buying it was like downloading an album in today’s age, it was like “Hmmm let me see what this is about” because there’s no other way you’re going to hear it unless you buy it or your mans plays it for you in the car. Now it’s like try it before you buy it, now it’s like put out free albums just to get people’s respect and then they buy something maybe, and they’ll probably still download it. Your money comes from the shows really, funny how things change.
MD: It’s going to be a come up man.
King Mez: I love it man, My whole life been on that kind of vibe, sometimes when things take time you appreciate it more than the average person. Some people can get it like that and lose it like that so I love the opportunity to really appreciate everything. So when I make that move it’ll be me owning restaurants and businesses and all this other kind of stuff on top of what I already love to do. And I’ll have something to leave behind for my family and that’s really my whole thing is taking care of everybody.
MD: I’m just happy that you’re looking at different avenues outside of music.
King Mez: That’s the thing people don’t realize, you have to know how to handle money before it gets to your hands. People are scared to talk to people with money if they don’t have it yet, they’re like “Oh I don’t know, I’m not in that position yet” but that means you really don’t trust in the fact that you will eventually have money. Because I know I will be successful and will have this opportunity, I know now that this is the time for me to learn, be invested and get this information from these people because as soon as it touches your hands and you don’t have a plan it’s over you know what I’m saying? If you don’t have a plan it’s over, so that’s my whole M.O.
MD:I’ll be the first dude to eat at your restaurant haha
King Mez: That’s whats up man I appreciate it.