Written by David Haynes
To say The Royal Chief has been through it would be an understatement. From living in his car in Atlanta to losing everything in a house fire, The Royal Chief has certainly seen his fair share of struggles. But, these tribulations have not slowed down the Chief’s production. Back with his fourth project, an EP called Ground Work, TheRoyal Chief has managed to create a collection of songs that feels honest and modern while remaining rooted in hip hop’s storied past.
“I can’t seem to shake the feeling I’m chasing destiny”
In 2017, The Royal Chief moved back to his childhood home of Kansas City. His previous album, Homecoming, seemed to deal heavily with that return and its implications. But, Ground Work feels like a continuation of those themes. Opening with the song “Fawkes Freestyle,” Chief gives us something that feels like a combination of Nas-style grooves with modern trap. From the synth strings in the introduction to the choir singing in the bridge, this first song is a master-class in blending influences and moods. Fresh out the gate, Chief reveals his ability to write anthemic R&B along with hypnotic grooves.
“Sit back and watch as the legacy grow“
“100 Miles” is a song about appreciating the journey. It’s fair to say that Chief has had his fair share of tribulations, but is relentlessly pushing forward. There’s just something about this song that makes you want to move. It’s danceable flow is rivaled only by its positive and powerful lyrics. Chief says, “Y’all don’t know what’s coming / I’ve been up to something.” Once again taking influences from trap and old school R&B, Chief creates a fresh and positive anthem with help from Kansas City neo-soul artist Jaysol.
“Let’s take it back to what we used to have”
“Remind Me” is reminiscent of modern artists like Frank Ocean or Chance the Rapper, but it’s got it’s own unique swagger. The groove, accented by woodblock sounds and record scratches, feels very 90s without being simply a regurgitation. Chief raps about a past romantic relationship, with the refrain of “damn, time is moving fast.” But, ever the optimist, Chief also sings about how he’s going to behave in his new love affairs. He says, “Them mistakes I made in the past are making me love better.” If there’s one thing that’s needed in 2020, it’s small rays of hope. The Royal Chief is providing that on this EP, especially on “Remind Me.”
“Y’all don’t have a clue”
Starting out with a little piano riff that sounds like a 60s soul song, “Keep That” quickly turns into a heavy, trap song. Fellow Kansas City rapper, Jooby Truth, helps to provide some of the amazing rhymes in this song. While some of the mixes on this EP have been complex, Chief keeps it simple on this song. The drum machine is the key feature, with a minor-keyboard line buried beneath the beat and vocals. On this song, The Royal Chief shows his skills as a rapper. Lightning fast rhymes delivered with a masterful flow make this one of the most memorable songs on the EP.
“Sometimes you gotta open up to pain so you can open up your wings”
One of the greatest things about music is that artists get to share their stories. We all get to participate in this amazing oral tradition of an artist sharing what they’ve learned about life and love. “Wings,” the final song on the EP, sees The Royal Chief opening up. While the whole EP is honest, there’s something especially beautiful about this song. With help from Love, Mae C and J. Goodman, the song is a celebration of loves lost and lessons learned. Chief is brutally honest about having to left his girl in KC to move to Atlanta, and the pain and growth that came from that experience. Chief is able to tell this story with specificity, mentioning street names and other details. Chief is a master lyricist, and this song once again proves his preternatural ability.
There seems to be a recent burst of amazing hip-hop artists reinventing the wheel while remaining true to their roots. There’s no better time to be a fan of hip-hop than right now. With Ground Work, The Royal Chief has created a small collection of songs that is overwhelmingly positive, hypnotic, and fresh. 2020 has been a rough year- likely some of the toughest times many of us have seen. But, The Royal Chief has risen to the challenge and created some positive art during this dumpster fire of a year. If you’re looking for a reprieve from the ceaseless negativity, give Ground Work a spin.
As they puts it “I call it “Groundwork” and as its name implies, for me it was laying the foundation that makes later work or progress possible. After living in Atlanta for 5 years, I moved back to my hometown of KC in 2017. While in Atlanta I gained a wealth of knowledge about the music industry and felt that I needed to bring everything that I had learned from my experiences there back home and apply it here. I have spent the last three years building my brand, by writing music building a backing band, doing live shows, networking, as well as meeting and collaborating with fellow artist and building relationships with producers and engineers. It also commemorates the rebuilding effort i put in after losing my home and in home studio to a house fire in 2017. I feel that this project has been the culmination of my efforts to put my city on the map by introducing myself and my music to the masses.”
We get to talk more about the album, the music and much more in an exclusive interview below!
Hi Jamel, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
RC – I’m doing good, corona free so I can’t really complain. Honored to be here thanks so much for having me (laughs).
Can you talk to us about the opening track to your album “Fawkes Freestyle”?
RC – Fawkes is one of my favorites. I actually started making this record in the summer of 2017. I had the original sample but I felt that sampling a live rendition of the song would be better. I spent one night chopping it and fooling around with a few lyric ideas. Got tired and figured I’d come back to it the next day. I fell asleep and a few hours later I woke up to my whole house on fire. I lost everything, family keepsakes, personal items, electronics, and more importantly my entire in home studio. I was so distraught. All I had left of the beat was a clip. I uploaded it to snapchat, and then I sent that clip to my boy Prentis, who went in and reconstructed it for me. Then from there I had my dude Dominique Sanders add the drums and bass you hear on it today. Whole I was recording the verses I brought in some vocalists to sing the chorus with me and it turned out immaculate! I felt like after all the modifications, the song was given a new life. It was a “Phoenix rising from the ashes”. I named it “Fawkes” after the fictional Phoenix from the Harry Potter universe.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
RC – Yes – definitely losing my crib (laughs). That and the thought of time and destiny is what inspired the record.
What’s the story behind the title to your new album “Groundwork”?
RC – I call it “Groundwork” and as its name implies, for me it was about laying the foundation. After living in Atlanta for 5 years, I moved back to my hometown of KC in 2017. While in Atlanta I gained a wealth of knowledge about the music industry and felt that I needed to bring everything that I had learned from my experiences there back home and apply it here. I have spent the last three years building my brand, by writing music building a backing band, doing live shows/open mic’s, networking, as well as meeting and collaborating with fellow artist and building relationships with producers and engineers. I feel that this project has been the culmination of my efforts to put my city on the map by introducing myself and my music to the masses.
How was the recording and writing process?
RC – The process was dope! Generally, I like to be alone in my creative process so I can just zone out. I’ll lay references at the crib and build up the records then when I have it down pat, I’ll take it to the studio and record the final versions. All the producers, instrumentalist, and vocalist on the record were great to work with.
I had my DJ (A- Will) record the chops on “Remind Me” one night at the crib and my guitarist Tim Ogutu record the guitar solo on “Wings” at my crib as well after one of our rehearsals. Everything else was recorded at 64111 with my guy Jaz.
How did the whole COVID situation influence this record and the writing of it?
RC – In terms of the record, it was all actually recorded before the shutdown. If anything, it affected my post release promo because I had several live shows lined up in Chicago, Dallas, and KC and all that stuff got deaded instantly. So I’ve really just been focused on promoting it all digitally now.
What role does Kansas City play in your music?
RC – Kansas City is everything to me its the city that made me. I named myself “ The Royal Chief” after the Royals and Chiefs my hometown teams. That way I’ll always carry my city with me wherever I go. When you hear the name you know where I’m from off rip.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
RC – Life is the ultimate inspiration. I just look around at my world and the people that I’m around and put that spirit into the music. Whether it’s my story or someone else’s, it’s coming directly from real life experiences. At the end of the day, stories convey the culture and that’s what unite people. I just look to express that through my music.
What else is happening next in The Royal Chief’s world?
RC – More of this! I have some videos lined up for all the records off the project. I also plan to do a concert broadcast and a live in studio EP with my backing band. I’m also viewing the world around me and developing the next chapters in life’s story. This is all I know till the lights go low.