Interviews are a fun way to get to know artists, while also showing their character to our readers. There’s a lot of interviews out on the web that sometimes might hide an artist for their true selves, and they can seem like more of a business product. That’s why in our new interview series, One for One, we will ask the artist one question that is more structured to a traditional interview, followed by one more random (yet insightful) question. Here’s hoping my idea works out.
In our first One for One, I was given the opportunity to speak with Dylan Phillips, who you might know as Tennessee rapper nobigdyl. Dyl is fresh off his new album Canopy dropping this past February and was just a performer at SXSW this year. It’s clear after speaking with the man that what you get through his music, is who he is 100%. So thanks to Dyl for being the guinea pig to One for One.
Isaac: So your album Canopy seems to touch on a lot of personal things that happened in your life, and how that when things were tough you were still able to move on to the bright side of life. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired Canopy and those themes?
Dyl: Yeah, so I actually – before Canopy dropped, in 2015 I dropped three free projects and so I was like okay, I’ve kind of figured out my sound a bit and people are listening so it’s probably time to drop an album. I started working on the album and I pretty much, had what I was doing and then ended up scrapping that whole thing because the place where my mind and my heart was, it was just about making music and just about making much of myself, and trying to outdo my peers, and do what was expected of me. So God kind of like vetoed that completely. He kind of rocked my world around New Years spiritually, and just dealt with issues in my heart so the whole thing was out the window. Started over.
And then Canopy was just what God lead me through during that first part of 2016. That part of him rocking my world and just showing me all of the sin I had been harboring and keeping secret and walking in, he just kind of brought me to eternal ruin. That’s what you kind of hear in the song “Burn.” That’s what was happening, in real time, that song came about because that happened. Then the rest of the album is like how he rebuilt my life and what he walked me through and what I learned spiritually throughout the year.
Isaac: That’s awesome man. So growing up I know you spent a majority of your childhood in Tennessee, like in a smaller town area. Kind of by farms. I’m actually from a small town in Iowa so I can relate to that lifestyle and area. So I have to ask, if when you were a kid did you go and like jump on hay bales when you were playing outside? Or is that just an Iowa thing?
Dyl: So no it’s not just an Iowa thing, that happens in Tennessee too but I’m actually pretty allergic to hay.
Isaac: Oh damn.
Dyl: Yeah, but like in the Summers my friends would bale hay, or throw hay. That was a way to make money in the Summers, but I couldn’t really do it because I’m so allergic. I shoveled horse manure. But I couldn’t do the hay.
Isaac: Allergies keepin’ ya down. So on “Purple Dinosaur,” you show a lot of love to your mom on the track. Have you two always been that close and like what’s her relationship with you in regards to supporting your music career?
Dyl: Uh we have man. (Laughs.) We have really always been super super close. She’s a fantastic mother. We’re still really close. She was just out here – They live in Arizona now – but she was just out here helping her parents get ready to move out there with my parents. It’s a really tight-knit family. A very loving family. My mom has always been super supportive. If you come to a nobigdyl. show there’s probably a 50/50 chance she’s gonna be there, even though they’re [the shows] mainly in the Southeast she still ends up at about half of them.
Isaac: That’s awesome.
Dyl: Yeah she’s always been supportive. She’s definitely one of the reasons I do music. She’s the free spirit of the family. My dad is a very, uh he’s a businessman and he thinks like a businessman. Both of them are very supportive. But different parts of my artistry come from each parent. Even the sound of “Purple Dinosaur,” everything about “Purple Dinosaur,” just screams my mom. Like I knew she would like it if she heard it, and she does, she loves it. All the songs that kind of sound like that; “Purple Dinosaur,” “Siblings,” those type of things. That’s my mom. That’s because of how my mom raised me and the musical influences she introduced me to.
Isaac: What kind of artists did she introduce you to when you were growing up?
Dyl: Oh man she’s like Elton John, James Taylor, um she’s interesting. We lived in Kentucky when I was younger and she was a country music radio DJ. It’s really wild. Country music from the 90’s she’s really up on and she likes. That whole singer-songwriter, old school folk music. She loved all that. Carole King, Cat Stevens. Stuff like that.
Isaac: Was your dad pretty big into music too then?
Dyl: Yeah he’s who introduced me to hip-hop. He’s a big classic rock fan but also hip-hop, especially the 90’s and early 90’s is like his favorite for sure. I mean my mom likes hip-hop but that’s definitely from my dad.
Isaac: You have a line on “Tree Tops” where you make a reference to making Pokemon references in your raps. So who’s your favorite Pokemon and why?
Dyl: I’m partial to the first 150. My favorite would be Haunter. It’s because, I mean I was very into the games and also the show, and so the episode with Haunter, that’s what made him my favorite. I haven’t seen it since the actual time but whenever they encounter him he’s really goofy, he’s funny, and playing tricks on people. He’s like paralyzing people by licking them. That doesn’t even make sense like I don’t know why that’s logical but I just liked how he’s a ghost. He’s supposed to be scary but he was really funny and playing tricks on people. And he was actually doing it because he liked them, but people would stay away from him thinking he was like evil but he was really just trying to play jokes on people. Also my favorite color is purple so it fit.
Isaac: Canopy is an album that’s deeply rooted in your faith. Do you ever find it hard to embrace that type of subject matter in a business where, there’s certain listeners who might have a misconstrued idea about Christian hip-hop. Like I don’t think a lot of people necessarily understand what it is. Like you’re not pushing an agenda onto someone. How do you stay true to that part of yourself?
Dyl: Yeah man for me it’s pretty simple. that’s just my life. I don’t sit down and be like “Alright, I’m gonna write a song out of Matthew Chapter 8 or anything.” (Laughter) If you listen to my music, that’s what my mind and my heart is preoccupied with day by day. That’s how I approach the world. That’s how I view the world. Those are my perspectives. Everybody, the way that everybody lives is completely effected by their core beliefs. Even if they think they have no core beliefs, that is a core belief. You know what I mean? Your actions are decided by what’s in your mind and what’s in your heart. Your words are too. Whether you acknowledge that or not. That’s just what’s in me.
I don’t put it through any type of process. Other than making sure that it is good art. Like to do it as excellently as I can. But as far as the business side of it. I mean, I guess the business side of it is just making it good. Making it sound like what I like to listen to. What people like to listen to. As far as the content though, I don’t really come into the content too much. Just write what’s in my heart you know what I mean? I think most people’s problem with what they think Christian hip-hop is, is that, the Christian hip-hop people don’t like is the Christian hip-hop that is approached like a business or a gimmick. So people are like “okay, if I say this right thing, if I make this reference, then this group of people will like me or will book me.” I think that’s what comes off cheesy. That’s what comes off kinda lame. Most people, especially in hip-hop, they just want you to be real. That’s kind of all I’m really focused on doing. I do have a business perspective as far as marketing and all that, but if we’re just talking content, then yeah man. The content is what’s in my heart.
Isaac: Do you have any Christian hip-hop artists you’re a fan of or you listen to on the daily?
Dyl: Yeah man! When I was younger I used to listen to like everybody in Christian hip-hop. Nowadays I don’t listen as much but, the ones I do listen to, that means I really really like their music. That would be like Ty Brasel, Ki’Shon Furlow, WHATUPRG, which he’s newer but that’s a name to look out for, Lawren, which is somebody I’ve worked with recently. If you’re talkin’ daily, like I can just ride to, I mean I listen to everybody’s stuff and I respect everybody’s stuff but those guys I actually just enjoy listening to.
Isaac: Right on. From listening to your music it’s no secret you’re pretty big into pop culture, like TV, music, and movies. So have you gone and seen Jordan Peele’s Get Out? And if you have what were your thoughts?
Dyl: I have seen that movie! I think that movie is genius. I didn’t like any of Key and Peele’s comedy
(laughs) prior to seeing this. I thought they were so whack, but now I’m like dang, maybe I need to go back and look at it through the lens of – cause now I think Jordan Peele is a genius. So I’m like alright, maybe I need to go back and watch the stuff again knowing that his mind is capable of Get Out to see what I was missing.
I love the movie, I know it’s kind of a polarizing movie. And some people may not understand why people like it or they may think that it’s just divisive or something like that. I think that he’s masterful at depicting through metaphor and hyperbole the lives of black men in America, and some of the overt racism and some of the implicit racism. A lot of what we’re facing now is not what we were facing pre civil rights movement. That’s why people get confused and frustrated, because we learn in school, like when we’re young what they teach us what racism is, is what was happening in the civil rights movement and before that. So we associate violence and hoses, and dogs, Jim Crowe and all that with racism. We think it’s only that and if we’re not doing that then it’s all good. But this sneaky, insidious, heart level and mind level, bias and prejudice in racism is what we’re dealing with right now. Even though it’s not overt, and you may not call anyone a racial slur, you may not assault anybody physically, but those thoughts and motives come out in legislation, in how you interact with people, how you refrain from interacting with people. It affects how you see the gospel, how you read the Bible. It affects your mind and your heart.
So those are the things we’re battling with now and I think that comedy, and levity, and hyperbole and sarcasm and irony have a very effective way of showing the problems that we deal with as a society in a way that can reach much more people than just written matter-of-fact in a book or in a newspaper. Because most of the population doesn’t really respond to that well. A lot of us like humor, and horror, and satire. And I think emerging those together so that it’s something that can be digested by the masses was genius.
That was a super long answer! I’m sorry.
Isaac: (Laughter) Nah it’s cool, I thought the movie was awesome so.
But congrats you got selected as a performer for SXSW this year, that was cool. How’d that go? Did you get to connect or become fans of any other artists?
Dyl: Oh yeah, the week was cool. I only had one performance at the end of the week, but the week was full of making connections. Had some meetings with Tunecore, which is my distributor, and I became a super fan of Jidenna. Saw him live. I knew he did the “Classic Man” song and I think I had seen something else, but man, his performance was unbelievable. It was one of the best performances I have seen. Like every part of his set was a memorable moment. So that’s something that I want to incorporate into my music. And then I also have some writing and video sessions with artists that I’ve connected with online but never in person, so that was dope. The performance was amazing. There was a lot of people there and for the first time hearing me, so it was cool to see them come up to the table afterwards and saying, you know, “That was really dope, first time I heard you” and you know, kind of become fans on the spot like that. South By was awesome. Austin is an amazing city anyway, it’s really cool. A lot of people who are from Nashville like Austin and vice-versa so it’s pretty cool.
Isaac: That sounds sick. Only a couple of questions left. I’ve seen you tweeting about Soulja Boy a lot lately –
Isaac: How important is he to rap’s landscape for you?
Dyl: How important is he to rap’s landscape??
Isaac: (Laughter) Yeah man I can’t tell if you’re serious on twitter or not
— nobigdyl. (@nobigdyl) March 10, 2017
Dyl: Look man, look. That’s a whole different – like we would need hours to talk about that, but I’m gonna try to convince you. I’m standing up for this. I have been sitting this whole time but I’m gonna stand up for this.
Alright. People don’t understand about Soulja Boy. They just remember “Crank Dat” or any of his recent music and they’re like “I don’t get it, what’s going on with Soulja Boy?” Soulja Boy revolutionized the way we consume hip-hop music. Like you said, the entire landscape, not just of hip-hop but of music in general is completely different because of Soulja Boy. Soulja Boy was 16 years old, living in Mississippi and he took – it had to be a trash mic, like a WalMart mic, cause I heard the version before it was remastered and they were unbelievable. But he took whatever mic he had, probably a demo version of Fruity Loops – I can say that cause I had that same setup at the time – made his own beats, rapped his little song over it, had a dance to it, and put it on YouTube before anybody even knew like that was the way to go or knew anything about it. He just wanted to get his music out to the kids and completely on his own, blew himself up off of YouTube.
Then Collipark in Atlanta signed him to a good deal, because he had leverage because of his following on YouTube. And before he even got signed, out here in Tennessee, in rural Tennessee, we had already downloaded his song because he was that wide reaching. We were like dancing to it in high school. The terrible recording – the quality was horrible. Then he got signed, they remastered it and put it out and everybody knew the song and the dance craze went crazy. And he continued to use YouTube and video to fuel his career. His fashion choices, even though they were ridiculous, were everywhere! I have pictures of me with sunglasses with writing on the sunglasses. Like people were already wearing extra long t-shirts but he was like so hyperbolic – his tees were like down to his shins. The airbrush on the long tees. When he made the song “Bape,” everyone wanted Bape like, dude was revolutionary for the whole thing. Before Bieber was on YouTube. Like before everybody. Now that’s like, ten years after that, that’s like the ticket. Just hop on YouTube. That’s how Justin got discovered, so many others. He was the first one to do it. Would somebody else have done it? Maybe, but would they also been solely responsible for the music, for the dance, the production, the recording, the fashion, all that? I don’t think so. So I’m serious in that way. I don’t really have a defense for the quality of his music, but I think that’s why people like argue with me about it. But as far as branding, marketing, like being a self-starter, and that spark of ingenuity – Like Soulja Boy is the GOAT on those levels. I got nothing to say about his music.
Isaac: Yeah man I agree with that. He was kind of like, like he set the stage for like how Tyler, the Creator came up and other guys like that.
Dyl: Right! Exactly. He is an indie artist legend. That’s my final statement.
Isaac: Alright, last question. I know you just dropped an album this year, but can we expect anything more from you the rest of the way? Either new music or videos, or anything from the indietribe.?
Dyl: Yeah man we’re here now. I mean I was in the studio today, I’m gonna go in the studio later today too, so yeah there will be a lot more music from me, you’ll get more music from me this year, and Mowgli‘s got something in the chamber, actually Jarry‘s got something in the chamber too, and this is all probably gonna be this year man. And then we got something “special” slated for the Fall. I know I’m being cryptic, but like everybody’s dropping. Just expect music and touring, and everything. We’re not gonna slow down now. We’re actually picking up the speed.
Isaac: The tribe’s on the move man.
Dyl: Tribe’s on the move. You already know.
🐎 🐎 🐎