Phalair Carter is making moves. The eighteen-year-old rapper, who graduated from Kenwood Academy in 2020, is heading to Florida in a few weeks to study music business at Full Sail University and plans to release one or two new songs every month. In November, Carter, who performs under his first name only, dropped Blssd, his first full-length mixtape, on Spotify and Soundcloud. Comprising eight tracks and clocking in at about twenty-seven minutes, “Blssd” is markedly different in tone from Carter’s 2018, four-track EP Respected, and features beats reminiscent of the ethereal sound of Be, Common’s 2005 album. But Blssd presents the same thoughtful, intricate wordplay that places Carter firmly within Chicago’s tradition of gifted lyricists.
In June, Carter performed “Sleep,” the fourth track on Blssd, for Chicago’s online citywide high-school graduation celebration, #Grad2020, which also featured Common, Oprah Winfrey, and Hamilton star Miguel Cervantes. “Sleep” features an almost drowsy beat that recalls a nursery music box, which Carter raps over with wide-awake lyrics. “I ain’t got no, got no time to sleep,” Carter raps in the chorus. “I may be stupid for the lucid/ but I’m too lazy to dream/ you talk about goin’ beyond/ I am yawnin’ at the thought/ I may be drowsy/ don’t crowd me, cause my mind is far from gone.”
The Weekly recently reached Carter by phone to discuss hip-hop, his musical influences, and his plans for the future. An edited transcript follows.
What are some of your musical influences?
I grew up in the neo-soul era, so a lot of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, and in Chicago, Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Twista. When I was like five years old, “Gold Digger” by Kanye West was my favorite song. It was the first song I ever memorized. And a lot of my dad’s music as well.
How did you start rapping?
My father was an emcee named No Try Do Sincere from when he was my age until his mid-thirties, so I’ve always been around the culture of hip-hop. When I got to high school, my friend Miles Gillespie—who was the main producer on Blssd—his father had a studio in his basement. We ended up making a rap collective, Clear Conscious. We’ve been working on each other’s music for about four years now.
Can you explain the production decisions you made for Blssd?
Every song on the album is pitched in a 432-wave frequency. That way when people hear it, it actually heals them when they listen to the song. When you listen to something on the radio, it has a lower frequency, because they want to project a certain message. A lot of times in [music played for] Black communities, they say the worst possible things and play the music at the lowest possible frequency. I wanted to put it in a good frequency with hooks and melodies that make people inspired. I wanted people to feel good, feel positive things.
The title track, “Blssd,” which discusses eviction and other struggles you’ve been through, includes the line “Mother told me not to drop this verse/ she heard the first three lines and clutched her purse.” Is that based on real life?
We lived in an apartment complex on 72nd and South Shore Drive, right over the lake. And gentrification happened, so the rent is climbing, and the apartment was getting worse and worse, like they didn’t want us in there anymore. The landlord wasn’t investing in things to keep us there, like extermination; they weren’t doing what they were supposed to do, because they didn’t want us to be there. We ended up getting evicted, and we had another place we were going to move to, but that person pulled out of the deal and we didn’t have anywhere to stay. It was a very humbling moment for my family, and it was something I never forgot. I played my mom that verse, and she said no, you cannot tell people that. I was like, Ma, I have to, because this is the truth; it’s something we’ve been through. People are going to relate to this, they’re going to love this. But it’s one of those verses that I hear played back, and I still get nervous.
How have the challenges you’ve overcome informed your hip-hop?
They give me lessons that I need to learn and need to evolve. I’m really big on evolving and growing, it’s something I really take pride in. I don’t care if I’m top fifty or whatever, as long as my album is better than my last album, and then I’m progressing. So when it comes to the things that I’ve been through, all they do is allow me to progress. Like when we got evicted, I had to move in with my dad. And the lessons I learned from my dad allowed me to become a better artist and a better man. So if that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t even have gotten a mixtape like “Blssd,” or “Respected.” Everything happens for a reason, and I just let my pain help me evolve.
What’s it like to drop an album in the middle of a pandemic?
On the one hand, the pandemic leveled the playing field for everyone. Everyone has an equal opportunity to get it done, because if you can make the investment in your product, in your music and your merch, you can really push it. Artists like Drake or DaBaby can’t dominate like they used to. You have to really be a DaBaby fan to get access to his music now. You have to really search for it. For an artist like me, [the pandemic] allowed me to get a fresh slate and restart my plan, and really think about what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it. On the other hand, I wasn’t able to record at studios, which was very difficult. I recorded “Satisfied” on my iPhone, which was not ideal. And it pushed my release date back; Blssd was supposed to be released in April. So it depends on how you look at it.
What role do you think hip-hop can play in the current moment?
I think hip-hop is the voice of the future. And the youth are the best at it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some OGs that are great at the craft and great at putting raps together, but the youth are what make it hip. It went from rapping on the street corner with friends to rapping on the Xbox. Everything evolves. And I feel that hip-hop plays a powerful role in motivating us to want to change and make the world how we want to see it. I think it’s the most influential genre, period, to me.
Jim Daley is the Weekly’s politics editor. He last wrote about the State’s Attorney’s approach to prosecuting protesters.