North Carolina’s Yahweh has released his EP “Arcadia” that goes both ways. In one hand “Arcadia” is a dark exploration into Yahweh’s mind and the struggles he’s dealt with. However what separates “Arcadia” from most projects like it is Yahweh gives multiple solutions, a light, a way out of the darkness. I had a chance to sit down with the NC standout to talk about his journey.
Dead End Hip Hop: Who’s Yahweh, where’d the name come from?
Yahweh: Yahweh is a 20 year old kid who grew up in a small town just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. My real name is Alex, but I chose to go by Yahweh for a few different reasons. First and foremost, I’m not saying that I’m God, which is how some people interpret it unfortunately. I didn’t pick that alias with any bad intentions in mind. Growing up, Yahweh was one word in the bible that always stuck out to me and I just loved the way it rolled off the tongue. ‘Yahweh’ is built off the Hebrew word for ‘I Am’, and I love that translation because of all the translations it entails. It’s relatable. No past, no future, just simply being. I am what I am, and will be until I meet my end.
DEHH: Talk to me about growing up in North Carolina and how you get into hip-hop?
Yahweh: I didn’t grow up with family issues, I didn’t have to worry about where my next meal was coming from, and I was blessed with a solid group of guys that I grew up with (3 of which are now my roommates in Boone, NC where I attend App State). Honestly, I wouldn’t say I had any issues throughout my childhood until high school came around, and junior year is when I’d say shit hit the fan. I was in a toxic relationship and was being mentally and emotionally abused, I was bullied worse than anything I’d experienced before (I’m talking getting chased down the highway by a group of guys, getting pictures sent to me of other guys messing with my girlfriend at parties, and getting calls from random people late at night just to let me know that I was the equivalent of dirt), and I could feel my mind degrading quickly. I started getting more into drugs shortly after the relationship ended, hoping that it would ease my anxiety, but of course it was only a temporary bandage. That bad decision followed me out of high school and led to my arrest in July of 2016. With my college acceptance rescinded, my car impounded, 2 felonies staring me in the face, and my family and peers looking down on me, the depression and anxiety attacks kicked in quickly, and much worse than before. I felt so alone and helpless that suicide crossed my mind several times a day. I’d never been the type to open up about how I was feeling, so I suppressed everything as best as I could. One day I was with my friend Levi (who’s a damn good musician) and we were messing around with some instrumentals. He told me to put some lyrics over the beat he had created, so I searched lyrics online. He realized what I was doing and basically told me to cut that out and write something myself. This was the first time I’d ever written my own lyrics. From then on, I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I would go on YouTube and find cool beats to try to fit my poems/lyrics. But for the first time, I felt that I could let it all out.
DEHH: One thing I always like to ask artists is what made you make the transition from a fan of the genre to making music?
Yahweh: I’d been into hip-hop and rap since middle school, but never in a deep way. I enjoyed listening to the music, but I wouldn’t say that I developed a deep respect for the music until I realized what an effective outlet it was for me to express my feelings that I had suppressed for so long. I dove deep into the genre, extended my reach, and really tried to get an understanding of the music I’d been listening to for years. If I was going to get into rapping seriously, I needed to know how important it was for the artists that made the genre what it is today. I started listening to lyrics more carefully, and for the first time I understood the stories, the emotions, and the journeys.
Early on in my musical career, a few months after my arrest, an old middle school friend named Key reached out to me. She saw via Instagram that I was a decent photographer and she was hoping I could do a photo shoot for her to promote some new music. We got together and I was surprised at how well she rapped and how clean her music sounded. Truthfully, I was surprised she hadn’t blown up locally yet. Driving around one night, I told Key and her cousin Noah that I had been writing some raps. They smiled, and I could tell they didn’t take it too seriously, but they wanted to hear what I had in store. When I rapped for them over I beat I had found on SoundCloud, they both looked shocked, laughed, and Key said, “Yeah we need to get you in the booth”. That was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. She helped me make my first connections to other artists and engineers. To this day, I’m thankful for Levi, Key, and Noah for getting me started in Hip-Hop and taking it seriously.
DEHH: “Arcadia”…what’s it mean? What gave you the idea for it?
Yahweh: Originally, I wanted to make an E.P. that was more uplifting and positive than the music I had released in the previous few months. I was in a better place in life, or so I thought, so why not try to express that through some new music? With just a concept in mind, I went to Malcolm (theDeeepEnd) and asked him to produce the whole project. One of the first beats he created was for the song ‘Welcome to Arcadia’, and to me it just had this retro arcade game vibe that I really liked. The word Arcadia just popped into my head. When I looked up the word, I learned that it’s a Greek term that describes “a poetic shaped space associated with bountiful natural splendor and harmony.” However, Arcadia was often regarded as unattainable.
This was the name for the project. I knew it as soon as I saw that description. It captured my emotions to a tee. Through my trials and errors, I thought that I had reached a safe, harmonious place. My anxiety led me to believe that it could’ve been a farce, but I tried to reassure myself that I was indeed in a better place. In reality, I bounced between a happy, strong state of mind (Arcadia), and feelings of doubt and dread that aimed to make me believe that this sense of peace could never be attained.
It was perfect.
DEHH: I’m a sucker for a emotionally honest music, what made you open up like this in a hip-hop climate that doesn’t always reward emotional vulnerability?
Yahweh: Whether my openness would be rewarded or not, hip-hop gave me an outlet to unload. The only outlet that I’d been given before. Hip-Hop literally saved my life. If I hadn’t found a way to express myself and let my feelings out, they would’ve killed me one way or another. I didn’t start rapping to impress people by talking about drugs, money, and girls, I started rapping to let others know that I’m f*cked in the head too. My goal with making music is to relate to my listeners and induce a feeling of relief that they aren’t alone, a feeling I’ve been enduring for far too long. I opened up to be real and keep true to myself. Sure, it’s fun to bump some hard ass hip-hop, but I find gratification in meaningful lyrics. I hope that one day my music will be appreciated by those who understand what I’ve gone through and they’re able to relate.
DEHH: You worked with North Carolina’s theDeeepEnd. Tell me what that was like and what he added to your creative experience.
Yahweh: Ahhh Malcolm. I met theDeeepEnd on September 8th, 2017 at North Carolina’s Hopscotch Festival. I saw that there was a day party and thought this might be a good opportunity to get some cool pictures. I got to the show way too early so I was hanging around outside the venue when this tall dude wearing khaki cut off jeans walks out and asks if I’m here for the day party. I say, ”yeah I am, you too?” He told me he was performing and his name was theDeeepEnd. He brought me inside the venue where he introduced me to a few locals like Ace Henderson, his manager Elliot, and Marc Figueras. I felt a bit out of place being the only one who wasn’t in this group of people who had known each other well, so I ended up drifting away while more artists joined their circle. Malcolm saw me on the sidelines and pulled me back in to introduce me to the others that had arrived – Nance, G. Yamazawa, M8ALLA, and others.
This may seem like a small gesture, but it made me feel like I belonged somewhere. Here I am, some random white kid no one knew in a room of people I didn’t know, and Malcolm took a few seconds out of his day to make me feel included although he had only known me for less than an hour. I knew this dude was special and I was eager to try to work with him.
When I was planning the project out, I knew I wanted to have a sole producer create all the beats to have a similar sound throughout the entirety of the E.P. To my relief, he was down to work. Through the whole process, he helped me develop my voice and find myself within my own lyrics. He gave me tips to further advance my delivery, he offered to throw down adlibs and vocal doubles, and even a back and forth verse on the song ‘Masks’. theDeeepEnd influenced me to think outside of my organized little box I had been using to make songs prior to our sessions, and overall this project wouldn’t have been nearly as much of a success as it was with out him. I feel that I’ve improved so much as an artist just because of him, and I can’t express my gratitude enough for that.
DEHH: “Arcadia” is a bit different in that you don’t just talk about the problems you’ve faced, but you’ve talked about the solutions and how they’ve helped you. Can you go in depth on the strategies you used and the importance of including it in the music?
Yahweh: I’ve tried a lot of things to get my head space back in a positive place. Stuff like eating better, drinking a gallon of water a day, washing my face twice a day, and working out. My hope was that a better physical health could in turn boost my mental health, and I have seen some positive results with this. I’ve cut out negative people from my life including people who I haven’t talked to in years. I’ve tried opening up to people more about what I go through, which hasn’t been easy, but it’s a step. A big thing I’ve been doing is just letting go of the past, which I think is where a lot of my stress comes from.
I thought it could be important to include stuff like that in the songs because just in case I catch someone’s ear who has similar troubles, they may be able to use these strategies to overcome their demons just like myself.
In all honestly, I’ve still got a long road ahead of me before I can say I’m in a good place. I’m still looking for more positive influences and outlets, but I’m confident that things will improve in the future.
DEHH: When people are done listening to “Arcadia” what do you want them to walk away with?
Yahweh: I want them to know that it’ll be okay. We all have our demons. I don’t care how old you are, what you do for a living, how much money you have, or how big of a smile you have on your face. We’re all going through some shit, and I’m no different. I know what the bottomless pit feels like, and you aren’t alone. I’d hope that listeners can leave this project with a sense of relief and like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Of course, I hope they enjoyed bumping the project in general too.
DEHH: North Carolina, despite having legends like Phonte, 9th Wonder, Rapsody is still underrated. What do you bring to the hip-hop climate and who are some other artists that inspire your movement?
Yahweh: I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in the NC Hip-Hop scene, but from my short time in the game I believe that I bring a different state of mind than other locals. I’ve been at rock bottom and I’m still down, and I think I can help others out of the pit even if I can’t get myself out. Not that other local artists haven’t been at the bottom and aren’t down, because I know a few who currently are, but I have a strong will to fight for people. I want to uplift others, help others, and push others to be great. I feel like there are plenty of people in the local music scene who won’t uplift other artists mainly because they don’t want anyone else to take their spotlight. Of course, this is just a minority in a sea of amazing local artists who are here to push NC to the top. I would love to be a person that artists and others in general can come to with their problems and seek help that I’d be more than willing to give.
One of my absolute favorite things to do is connect with people, especially artists I look up to. Some of my biggest influences are artists like Nas, Isaiah Rashad, Joey Badass, Anderson .Paak, Gambino, Tyler, Earl, Frank Ocean, Saba, Noname, and of course the late Mac Miller (whose passing pained me more than I could’ve imagined). These artists make music that induce a strong emotional pull in me that leaves me wanting more. It’s relatable and that’s why I keep going back to listen to them, something I hope to be able to do through my music one day.
Rapsody is one NC artist that I would love to work with above almost all others one day. Her energy is infatuating, and she truly seems like an amazing person. Definitely someone I can look at and think, “I’ll be there one day.”
DEHH: 2018 is wrapping up but it isn’t over yet, what can we expect from you as the year comes to a close?
Yahweh: As we start wrapping up the year, I’ve got some plans. I’ve already begun to work on some new music with Levi (the same friend that encouraged me to write my first lyrics), but I’m taking a different approach. Being a relatively new artist, I don’t know where I fit. I don’t know what type of hip-hop I’m best at making. So for the next few months I’m going to be working outside of my comfort zone with new kinds of beats, new flows, and mainly just experimenting with different things.
I’d also love to perform in some more shows, so hopefully I can make that happen as well. Getting my name out there is a top priority, but I try to remind myself that I’m still a baby in the genre.
I’m not even close to reaching my full potential, and I think that’s what I’m most excited about.