For Cassius Tae, Emotional Honesty Is The Best Policy
Written by Vocalo Radio on May 7, 2021
Cassius Tae makes music that stands out from the typical Chicago hip-hop sound.
He’s as emotionally transparent as his music is captivating. And he consistently lays bare his feelings with expressive lyrics layered atop of crisp beats: music that appeal to a diverse pool of listeners in Chicago and beyond.
Although continually drawing inspiration from his life and experiences in Chicago, Cassius Tae’s style strays from well-worn blueprints of the city’s hip-hop scene, giving his music a unique flare. His February 2021 single “Scared Love” was featured on our In Rotation playlist for April, one of four singles he has released this year in preparation for the release of his upcoming EP Alone In Blue Hour and album Moments In Desire.
We spoke with Cassius Tae about his experiences as a stylistic outlier on the Chicago hip-hop scene, where he gets inspiration, getting his hopes up for post-pandemic live shows and more.
I’m not the type to tell someone how I feel unless it really gets to me. I feel like if I do right by you, and you do wrong by me, my actions will tell you how you made me feel.Cassius Tae
When and why did you decide to start pursuing music professionally? Had you ever thought about it before?
After I graduated college (December 2017). I fully pursued music professionally February 2018. I’ve wanted to be a rapper since eight years old and I’ve been releasing since 2014 — so I’ve always thought about it, but being in the real world had me like it’s go time.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
When I started in ’07 it was Pac, Jay, Wayne and Kanye, but [by] about 2010 Drake, Kendrick [Lamar] and [J] Cole became the core influences of my sound and approach to music. But all of those artists are responsible for Cassius Tae.
Chicago has a very vibrant hip-hop scene. Could you tell us a little bit about your experience within it?
My experience has been great, but challenging, because I never felt like I made “Chicago” music. I’ve always told my Chicago experiences, but I don’t think it was [produced] in a way if someone in Texas heard my music they’d know I was from Chicago the same way they’d know an artist was from Atlanta. I think not making music with the typical Chicago sound makes me interesting to some but an overlook to others, because my lack of the niche sound doesn’t fit into their rotation.
Creating FOMO from people who don’t know who I am has been my strong suit.
What’s the best thing about being a musician in Chicago? And on the other hand, what’s the most difficult part?
The best thing is Chicago has one of the toughest crowds. If you can perform here, you can do it anywhere. I think the diversity is great as well. One night I’m performing in the trenches on 79th, the next I’m up North, the following night I’m Downtown with a mixed crowd. In mixed settings I always think, “This is what tours and festivals are going to be like.” I’m comfortable showing my music in front of anyone, but that’s the hard part — getting people to see, because everyone wants to be seen.
How do you feel about live music looking like it’s slowly starting to return? Do you hope to play any live shows this year?
I miss performing live so much! I feel myself most on stage. I’m very calm even though I have a lot of interactive energy when I perform. I can see me doing a show really, really soon and the thought of it excites me. My only thing is I need to level up from the shows I was doing before the pandemic. For sure not interested in doing the same type of shows. I’m ready for more.
What’s your favorite song to perform, and what about it do you like the most?
My favorite song to perform isn’t out yet. I used to perform it before COVID back when I planned on releasing an album in 2020. It’s called “Late Night Phone Calls.” That song at any show is an automatic win. It has like an early-2000’s meets modern music rap love song-type feel. The bounce is super crazy, just makes you want to smile and move around. I think women just love it, too, who are my biggest supporters, so that’s always a plus.
What was the first concert you ever went to? What do you remember about it most distinctly?
The first concert I went to was a Lil Wayne Concert in ’08, and what I remember most is a few things: 1. Being super close; 2. His energy, he literally had no fear [of] jumping on anything; 3. He fell on stage and kept going and made it so smooth. That moment taught me the crowd doesn’t know you messed up unless you let them know you messed up.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why?
I would for sure make a song with Brent Faiyaz. That’s just the space I’ve been in the past few years. Like, I really love how he can make music with no drums and let his voice be the foundation of music with layered melodies. I’ve always been like, “Man, imagine if I rapped to that!” I feel like listening to my lyrics over that would be crazy. Like, the words would just stick harder without the distraction of hi-hats and 808s that are needed in rap today.
You’ve been releasing a lot of new singles this year, including “Scared Love,” which was featured on our In Rotation playlist for April. Could you walk us through your creative process when writing it? Where did you draw inspiration from? What do you hope listeners take away from it?
“Scared Love” is about an ex who was stringing you on for a long, long time. Once you find out they don’t want you after giving you the impression they did, you’re now scared of losing them just as much as you’re scared to love and trust again.
The creative process was probably the most hurt and down I’ve been when writing a song. I was in the thick of what the song was about, and rewrote it so many times because I couldn’t decide which part of my pain to express. I sang it was because I wanted to do something I was afraid to do — kinda like how I became scared to love again. I wanted my artistic approach to be as unexpected as the pain. Songs I listened to daily were “Wasted Times” by The Weeknd, “The News” by Partynextdoor, “Jaded” by Drake and “Bluffin’” by Brent Faiyaz. But the line that inspired me the most was from the Bryson Tiller song “Exchange.” The lyric
“Everywhere she go, they playin’ my song / That’s why I say the things that I say / That way I know you can’t ignore me”
replayed in my head over and over randomly when writing the song. I say randomly because I hadn’t heard it in so long, but it truly inspired me more than anything to be so vulnerable.
I’m not the type to tell someone how I feel unless it really gets to me. I feel like if I do right by you, and you do wrong by me, my actions will tell you how you made me feel. So, I guess what I want listeners to get from this is you gotta tell people when they got you messed up, just as much as you wanna give them the cold shoulder.
Where do you usually draw inspiration from when writing music?
Watching concerts, driving in the car and chilling by myself at night. Hearing songs in those spaces makes me want to write. If my songs can’t live in those three spaces then I can’t put it out. It has to pass that test. Most times before I write to a beat I have to drive to it or play it in the room at night. And before I put it out most times I’ll perform it to test it out. I also write when I see one of my favorite artists do something. Like Kanye will always get me to create and try something new.
If you could describe your music in one word, what would it be?
Do you have anything coming up you think listeners should know about?
I’m putting out a six-track EP, titled Alone In Blue Hour, at the end of May, most likely May 27, and then a full-length album in September called Moments In Desire. I’m really excited for the album. Most of my favorite songs I’ve ever made are on that album. More merch is on the way, too. I always have fun designing clothes, but the merch for my album will be the best. My first piece will be dropping this summer to go with my lead single from my album.
Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca.
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