The crowd looks like what you would expect at any bar in Greenpoint, NY, but with a lot more Supreme and HUF instead of the typical flannel and beards uniform of north Brooklyn hipsters. Outside of Tender Trap, Greenpoint Ave shared the same silence of the bar. The only hint that it was a rapper’s album release party were the scantily clad dancers that were gyrating atop the bar with stomach punching Juicy J in the background.
Although the night is ostensibly about Hannibal King, he’s still waiting in line for the bathroom.
“Man, she knows it was me” The Queens-born producer and rapper laments after pounding on the bathroom door. A heavily tattooed woman angrily steps out and glares death at the entirety of the line as she waddles back into the sea of hoodies.
Lee Bannon walks in, congratulating the man of the moment on his album with two beers left from a Bud Light six pack.
King has been supporting himself doing music for years now since he graduated from SUNY-Purchase in 2013. He counts among his friends all of Pro Era and Most Dope, with production placements on projects like Mac Miller’s Macadelic, but his past year has been devoted to his own album, released on April 5th and titled Don’t Die.
“[The album is] about this quarter life crisis man,” says King three days later in his studio in Williamsburg. The inside of the studio is sparse; the only decorations besides sound proofing panels are two small cut out photos of Yanni, one taped to the monitor at the mixing board and the other on a nearby support pillar. “It’s about turning 25 and searching for home, for family, and doing all this cool shit and still being broke as shit and trying to figure out what to do next.”
As far as the immediate future for King, it’s all about giving back to his crew. The Queens rapper is a part of Villains United, composed mainly of rappers and producers like Bub Styles, ARXV, Buddha Gold, also including behind the scenes guys like the studio manager Sal and unofficial art director Adam Ross. Everything from producing the beat to shooting the video at Villains is kept in-house and listening to any of their projects, the influence they have on each other is obvious.
The growth between King’s previous release, Floral Print and Don’t Die is audible to even the most undiscerning ear. The rapping, the recording, even the mastering has all improved leaps and bounds with the passage of time. “Wedding Cake” loops a Yuji Ohno keys sample over subdued, jazzy drums to lament not being able to provide for a woman, while “iungiveafuck” is exactly the heavily distorted anthem you’d expect for a song that has lyrics like “I pay her in dick and the bitch knows what up.”
[Hannibal] is true to form man; you know, it’s hip-hop but lots of people are trying to sing or make it a fashion show.
The sounds on the tape are tough to categorize; on the one hand, Hannibal is obviously comfortable flipping soul samples with the best of Southern producers. The producer/rapper vibe combined with his bushy beard make the Big K.R.I.T. comparisons too obvious; the counter point is that it’s hard to imagine many rappers ever getting as personal with their struggles and dark places as Hannibal does on the eponymous single.
“To me at the end of the day, if it feels natural, do it” says King when asked about the varying styles on the project. Spending his summers and many winters in New Orleans taught him about the bounce and the 808’s that’s absent from most of New York Rap. Pointing to Curren$y as a major influence, it’s hard to miss the soul that’s so obviously the backbone of the whole tape.
“It actually is a process working with him,” says fellow Villains United member ARXV, as Hannibal fiddles with a choral loop across the room. “He’ll work at it and try to make it come together and sound like one piece of artwork.”
Beyond just Villains United, the Williamsburg studio is a place to come together for many New York artists; as Hannibal is playing with the sample Lee Bannon walks in, congratulating the man of the moment on his album with two beers left from a Bud Light six pack.
I like when people describe my music they can have trouble figuring out who to compare me to.
“[Hannibal] is true to form man; you know, it’s hip-hop but lots of people are trying to sing or make it a fashion show,” says Bannon when queried about his fellow producer. “Somebody’s got to keep it true to the genre instead of the mad other shit.”
Keeping with the idea of staying true to hip-hop, Hannibal has plans to release a crew tape this summer with each of the Villains tentatively dropping individual tapes later in the year. They’re also in the final stages of setting up a Don’t Die tour for the East Coast during the summer with additional plans to drop some of the songs that were left on the cutting room floor.
“I like when people describe my music they can have trouble figuring out who to compare me to” says King. “Everyday its someone different and that’s dope. Hopefully I can make my own lane and just be known as one of the dopest producer rappers to do it.” For now, Hannibal is just going to keep carving out his own niche until his dreams are more than just that.
You can follow Hannibal and Villains United here and be sure to listen to Don’t Die, streaming in full below: