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theMIND Breaks Down Deluxe Album On Vocalo

Written by on November 29, 2022

theMIND has been playing shows and making a name for himself as a Chicago artist since 2014, but he’s never headlined a show – until now.

Zarif Wilder, also known by his stage name theMIND, instantly made a home for himself in the Chicago music community. The Philadelphia-born hip-hop and R&B artist originally moved to the city to attend Columbia College Chicago for music business. 

Within the first few years of college, theMIND connected with fellow artists and classmates Michael Anthony, LBoogie and Sean Deaux to form production group THEMpeople, which has notably collaborated with Chance the Rapper, Mick Jenkins and Noname. As a collective of all transplants, theMIND noted, THEMpeople started out with the goal of supporting the music community which already existed in Chicago.

“I always looked at me doing a headlining show like I was impeding on another Chicago native being able to do what they do,” theMIND explained.

As an artist working to uplift other local artists, theMIND notes he would often “get caught up in the whirlwind” of focusing on others’ projects and leave his solo work less of a priority — but all the while, he was making a name for himself within the city’s music scene. Now, after having lived in Chicago for 13 years, theMIND is ready to take the stage as a headliner… and as an established Chicago artist in his own right.

On Nov. 22 theMIND released the deluxe version of his 2020 album Don’t Let It Go to Your Head, adding five new tracks featuring Da-P, femdot. and FRANK LEONE. theMIND noted the process was much more focused on the added tracks, and credits SZA’s five-year-removed release of Ctrl (Deluxe) for inspiration to drop his own deluxe nearly two years to the date after its original release.

“I don’t think there’s any timetable,” he explained. “I more so looked at it… like, ‘Well, I didn’t complete the thought, when we first sat down with this. So if I didn’t complete the thought, no pun intended here… I want to go back and finish it.’”

Bekoe and theMIND outside the Vocalo studios the morning of Nov. 23.
Photo by Jayvon Ambrose for Vocalo.

theMIND certainly works to no one’s timeline but his own, and even recognizes he’s a fairly new artist — despite making music for more than a decade. But having made such a name for himself between producing and his solo work, his managers were shocked to hear he had never headlined his own show.

“I never looked at it like ‘You need to do your own thing…’ I always looked at it like a community effort,” theMIND said. “But this is my thing now, and I like that.”

Before performing his first headliner show on Nov. 25 at Schubas Tavern — where his friend and collaborator Smino performed years prior — theMIND stopped by the Vocalo studios to talk with Bekoe about creating a unisex perfume, how his Philly roots manifest in his work and why he (apparently) hates his own singing voice.

Bekoe: That was music from theMIND, featuring Saba. It was called “Black Aura” off his new album, Don’t Let It Go to Your Head. And Chicago, you know I said I had a special guest in the building. And theMIND, well, he’s here. 

theMIND: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! What’s up? What’s up?

Bekoe: How are you doing my brother?

theMIND: I’m good, I’m good. I can’t complain. Holiday’s coming up.

Bekoe: Holiday is here.

theMIND: Exactly. That’s also real.

Bekoe: And you’re up early.

theMIND: Yes, I normally get up early. So I ain’t really tripping over this.

Bekoe: How’s the preparation been lately, for preparing… This is your first headliner.

theMIND: Man, I’ve done a lot of shows in Chicago. I’ve opened up for a lot of people, or whatever. And I think I was talking to my management, and we were having this conversation and they were like, “You should do a show.” And I was like, “Well, damn, I’ve never headlined anything before, we should probably do that.” And they was like, “You’ve never headlined anything?” I was like, “Nah.” I’ve been doing shows in Chicago, for instance, like 20… professionally, probably since 2015 and like, 2014, something like that. Not having done one headline show. So yeah, this is exciting. 

Bekoe: How does that happen?

theMIND: I have no idea. All of my friends… the cast of characters, they’ve done amazing things. So every single time that there was a chance to do a show, they were like, “Yo, you should open up.” And I was like, “Alright, cool.” I never looked at it like, “You need to do your own thing.” I always looked at it, like it’s a community effort, so me doing the show with you is just as good, but… it’s not mine. This is my thing, and I like that.

Bekoe: What made this time, now, like what made it, “Okay, let me put this together now.”

theMIND: We finally started doing the things that we’d always wanted to do, like dropped a perfume. The release started looking the way that we wanted it to look. Versus, I think in the past, everything always was like the preparation just wasn’t the way that we wanted it to be. And then, I would just get caught up in the whirlwind of someone else’s situation, whether it’d be helping out and helping them build out their vision, but never really building out my own. And that’s kind of where I started at in Chicago. I started in a production group called THEMpeople and the first thing that we said, we were all transplants, the first thing we said is we wanted to help build out the community here and not take anything away from it. I always looked at me doing a headlining show like I was impeding on another Chicago native being able to do what they do. But I’ve been there for 13 years… I love Chicago, this is my second home. 

Bekoe: So what’s your first home? 

theMIND: Philly… born and raised there. But I came here when I was 19, and… this is *home* home. Even when I go back to Philly, I’ll always be like, “Damn, I can’t wait to get back to Chicago.”

Bekoe: Learning that, what made you transition from Philly to Chicago in the first place? 

theMIND: Columbia [College]. 

Bekoe: Shoutout to Columbia, because so many of us…

theMIND: They got all of us! [Laughs] It’s everything from… no, yeah, Columbia. I came out here, this is where I met a lot of my friends: Chris Classick, Smino. Sab[a] went there for a second. Everybody that I met — I think I met Chance as he was selling CDs outside in front of Columbia, because Jones [College Preparatory] is directly across the street from my dorm. So it was just always seeing these individuals and stuff. But I felt like I had kind of grew roots here easier than I did even back at home. I was doing my thing in Philly, too, but when I got here, I just felt like… I grew up here. I was a kid in Philly, and I grew up here, I became an adult here. And that’s completely different… completely different. And I just felt like Chicago just adopted me. I felt like it just took me in underneath its wing. And I don’t think I’m going nowhere anytime soon.

theMIND by Jayvon Ambrose for Vocalo.

Bekoe: What’s something from Philly, as far as like, I would say energy or maybe personality-wise you bring from there to here? What’s a part of the culture you feel that you bring to Chicago?

theMIND: Soul. Philly has a huge neo-soul scene, like Bilal, Jill Scott. poetry when they first came over, they went there first. Some of my friends was writing for Melanie Fiona… We always — I think the aspect of “Brotherly Love” doesn’t come in until we get a little bit older. And I think that Chicago has that love, too. And I think we, when I came here, the first thing that I felt was, this felt like Philly, just on a larger scale. It didn’t feel like… y’all have a very East Coast vibe to y’all, with the trains and everything else or whatever like that, but Chicago is like a bunch of cities mixed in one. You got Miami, if you think about the pier and the water and everything else, you got the LA vibe as far as just the Hollywood aspect, of sometimes where Chicago just feels like there’s a bunch of stars here all the time and it’s just like star-studded. You got the basketball team, the Chicago Bulls, this legendary team that exists here the same way that LA or Philly or any place, so I just feel like y’all had so many different places. And I was like, “Oh! Why would I go anywhere else when this feels like all of those places in one?”

Bekoe: I mean, I feel like, for us being Chicagoans, we sometimes take that for granted because we’re here. And then when you start to travel, like yourself — you even did a European tour! You’ve seen some things! You really get to see what’s where and really get to evaluate the culture.

theMIND: And it makes sense now, Chicago has been voted most beautiful city in the world, what, three times in a row? Three years in a row? It’s not a joke, it’s a beautiful city. And every single time I land back here and you see that skyline? I’m supposed to be here.

Bekoe: I mean, Chicago has also been ranked as the rattiest city as well, but that’s another story!

Bekoe: Brand spanking new music from theMIND, featuring femdot., with “LOVE(US)” off of his album, Don’t Let It Go to Your Head. Oh, man who produced that record right there?

theMIND: FRANK LEONE. Yeah, he’s a beast out here. That record is heavy. I love it.

Bekoe: The way you could just alter styles and alter your sound, you could hit some bars. You can hit some soul. 

theMIND: Trying to! 

Bekoe: And you can sing. Where does that come from, and how are you able to pull that out?

theMIND: Man, I honestly don’t know. I think it comes from this aspect of never wanting to be put in a box. Just feeling like, yo, music is self-expression. So any way that I can express myself, whatever the medium is, I want to do that. I never really wanted to kind of get… I didn’t start singing until later on. I hate my voice. Yeah, it’s crazy. Even now, when I listen to me singing…

Bekoe: Oh, no, you was just rocking over there!

theMIND: But there’s the thing, it’s this weird place of like… what’s the saying? All of the best things are on the other side of fear? So I think I’m in this place where, if it scares me, then I know that I’m doing the right thing. And so, when I first even started up the moniker theMIND, I was covering my face because I wanted to sing but I didn’t want nobody to judge me and be like, “Oh, they suck!” So I was like, “Oh no, I’m just gonna cover my face.” And I started doing that, and then the singing stuff popped off before anything else did. It was crazy.

Bekoe: Initially, what came first for you? 

theMIND: Rapping. I was rapping first. I was rapping in Philly, we was battle rapping and doing all this other stuff.

Bekoe: Did you have the braids?

theMIND: I never could do the braids! All my homies had it. My hair just didn’t grow long enough, I just didn’t have it. 

Bekoe: But you wanted braids!

theMIND: I wanted the braids, I never had ’em. I was definitely… I was Jersey-d out, but I never really got the braids. I’m still trying to get braids, I ain’t gonna hold you. I’m gonna settle for some locks.

Bekoe: The locks is different.. The way it grows and, man, the patience. I had three sets.

theMIND: For real?

Bekoe: Not going back. Yeah, I’m not going back. I enjoyed it while I had it, but go ahead, give it a try. You never know! And you know, the title, Don’t Let It Go to Your Head. Where did that come from?

theMIND: My old manager, we were… I forgot, we were in a bar somewhere, I think in LA. It was more so of a note-to-self to never get too high, never let any of these things kind of move me more than… or take me away from my base, of the person that I know that I am. And I think a lot of times I’ve seen individuals kind of get caught up in whatever their notoriety was and not really accepting or understanding we are all the same people that we were prior to this. And fame or anything like that just magnifies the type of person that you are. So I never wanted to lose my purpose or the reason why I started doing this, which was to help my family out, to try to break generational curses. That was more… meant more to me than anything. If this was gonna be a project that kind of broke through, I wanted that to be something that I remember, just kind of a note-to-self.

Bekoe: That’s a solid… I feel like that title fits you well. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, you talking about, or us talking about your performances and how… you really wasn’t even looking to headline, just wanted to help. That lets you know, right there, you’re very humble, your head is on straight, my brother. 

theMIND: Trying to be, trying to be.

Bekoe: Not trying, you’re doing. You’re doing. And with Don’t Let It Go to Your Head being out, you put together the deluxe. What encouraged you to put out the deluxe version?

theMIND: SZA. 

Bekoe: SZA?

theMIND: But like, no joke. I watched SZA and her drop the deluxe to Ctrl five years later. I think she kind of changed the aspect of how we look at and release music. I don’t think that there’s any timetable or way that we should be like, “Oh, I gotta release this now… my deluxe has to come out two weeks after this.” I more so looked at it from the standpoint of like, “Well, I didn’t complete the thought, when we first sat down with this.” So if I didn’t complete the thought, no pun intended here… I want to go back and finish it. And we had some songs that we didn’t drop on there, we had some songs that we wanted to get on there that didn’t make the cut. Because, just the timing of trying to drop it. 

And I was like — we dropped this in 2020. I was like, “Let’s run it back.” It wasn’t even that many years on it, at that time, because of the state that the world was in. So I was like, I dropped it now. And everybody’s like, “Yo, I haven’t heard any of this.” And I’m like, “That’s cool.” That was kind of the point. So if you haven’t heard it now, it’s brand new to you. If you have heard it, it’s five extra songs on there that make it feel like a brand new project. We redid the sequencing, so I love it.

Bekoe: I feel like — I said this with Johari Noelle when she came through — music doesn’t get old at all. I know, as an artist, you sometimes may feel that way because you may have heard your song several times, it may have been sitting on the shelf for several years. But music never gets old, there’s so many people out there. So did you also have that aspect in mind, too?

theMIND: Guaranteed! Guaranteed. I’m still a fairly new artist… so every single time that we drop something or something comes out to the world, say 100,000 people hear it the first time, whatever. That’s 100,000 people out of, what, how many billion people that’s on this planet? You can re-rock that a million times if you want to. I remember Bryson Tiller, he dropped “Don’t” and then three years later, “Don’t” actually popped. So it’s like, that timetable that we’ve decided to exist in is not real. It’s only real to us, like you said. I’ve heard a song a million times before the rest of the world hears it, but that doesn’t make me anything. That doesn’t mean that that song isn’t hot, or that it’s not gonna be brand new to somebody else who hears it.

Bekoe: I rock with that, man. The project is bananas, and I want to know, too, what was your favorite thing about putting the deluxe together?

theMIND: I think working with newer artists. There’s a producer named Vooo, who I think is insane, and there’s also my friend Moyana Olivia, and DaVionne, it’s just so many people that I wanted to work with and wanted the rest of the world to kind of hear their voices, and then I had the ability to make that happen through this. And… even if, I feel like, these artists will, in their own right, forever go on and do crazy stuff, to say we got something done, and we were able to put it together on a project that means so much to me, that means the world.

Bekoe: Love to hear it, my brother. Look here, I’m gonna jump into a quick music break. I believe you’re on this record, with femdot., “Back on Road”? 

theMIND: Yep, yep!

Bekoe: One of my favorite joints off of Not For Sale. You killed the in-vocals like, man! Let’s get into it. We’re coming right back after this music break, it’s 91.1 FM.

Bekoe: [Singing] I’m back on road. [Laughs] Love that song right there, man! And then the way you just… ah, Chicago it’s Vocalo Radio, 91.1 FM. I’m your host, Bekoe, and with me, I got theMIND still in the building. He has a show going down at Schubas. For you to make that a place to go for your headliner, man, I already know it’s gonna be special. Historical headliners have took place there. I mean, what made you specifically choose Schubas?

theMIND: It was a situation that kind of happened with Audiotree. They are hand-in-hand, and my manager, we had a conversation about, like, “Hey, we should do this Audiotree thing and then it can bleed right into a headlining show.” And that’s where the whole conversation, about like, “You never did a headlining show,” came from. It was something that just kind of happened, but it was perfect because all of my favorites that I’ve seen for the first time, I saw them there. All my friends, too, whether it be — Smino, I saw over there.

Bekoe: I was gonna say that. My first time being at Schubas, I saw Smino. 

theMIND: Yeah, yeah. 

Bekoe: His first headliner. 

theMIND: We was probably there at the same time. 

Bekoe: I think you was on stage!

theMIND: I came up real quickly. Yeah, it was a good show!

Bekoe: It was! It had the props on the stage… That’s why I’m like, that’s a solid place to go. 

And most men would put together a cologne, but no, sir. You switched it up, and you said, “You know what? I’m finna do something for the ladies, hook ’em up with some perfume.” What encouraged you to switch it up?

theMIND: Well, upon working with perfumers, I started to realize that they was one in the same, almost. “Cologne” was a word that was created to kind of diversify, or make something seem more masculine, when in actuality, we all wear eau de parfums… I just kind of wanted to make something unisex, I wanted to make something that felt inclusive for everybody. It’s wearable for anybody.

I would say Pollux is more of a masculine scent and I would say that Castor is more of a feminine scent, but at the same time it can be intertwined and interchanged, because it’s a dual perfume, it’s two separate fragrances that can be worn separately or worn together to make a third fragrance. I just wanted to make something that, like… I got nine sisters, man. I wanted to make something that everybody could wear.

Bekoe: Are you the only boy? 

theMIND: No, no, no, I got a little brother.

Bekoe: It’s a big family! Y’all got a football team.

theMIND: Literally. Literally, and then some.

Bekoe: Something else I wanted to touch on, before we wrap things up is — you like to collect things.

theMIND: Yes.

Bekoe: What are those certain things you like to collect?

theMIND: I’m weird with it. I like toys, I like games, all types of weird little comic books. I deep dive into a lot of… I felt like I was robbed of my childhood. So I feel like, as an adult, I kind of wanted to have that same exact feeling. But I don’t even open them, I just… 

Bekoe: Collect ’em.

theMIND: Exactly! And I just leave them up there. I got a bunch of Iron Man toys and stuff like that, some vintage stuff, but the reason why I wanted them is because this is stuff that I wanted as a kid. I got  two mopeds that I don’t even ride, but the reason why I got them is because I wanted a moped, so on and so forth. So I want to do that, I want to go into arcade games and stuff like that, the big units, I want Time Crisis. I want to get a crib and just have Time Crisis in there, when I want to play that, I ain’t gonna hold you.

Bekoe: You sitting on gold, that’s what that sounds like!

theMIND: I’m trying to.

Bekoe: Imagine if you took your collectibles, and put it to get some cash. Buy a mansion off that!

theMIND: And I think the beauty of it is, I actually like this stuff. I think like, I don’t want to… I don’t think I’ll ever sell it. Even if it was an exorbitant price that went up for it, I like the stuff that I have. It’s because it means something to me, and means something to a point in my life, and from that I just… keep on grabbing stuff.

theMIND in front of the Vocalo studios’ mural, painted by Sentrock. Photo by Jayvon Ambrose for Vocalo.

Bekoe: Wow, I gotta start getting my collecting game up. 

theMIND: Go crazy!

Bekoe: Take some notes. 

theMIND: We can compare! 

Bekoe: I don’t know if I can do that just yet, give me some time! But let people know again how they can follow you and stay in tune with more music.

theMIND: For sure, for sure. Follow me on Twitter @theMIND or Instagram @theMIND, and yeah, go mess with your boy!

Bekoe: Hit him up! Look here, Don’t Let It Go to Your Head is out right now, and I got your single loaded up, too, “God Don’t Like Ugly.” 

theMIND: Let’s go!

Bekoe: Break down “God Don’t Like Ugly” before we jump into it.

theMIND: Man, it’s this great song that’s produced by this Montreal producer Da-P, it’s featuring DaVionne and Moyana Olivia, and, I don’t know, I just love it. It’s a beautiful track about not really seeing the beauty in yourself, but being able to see that same beauty in other people.

Follow theMIND on Twitter and Instagram, and stream Don’t Let It Go to Your Head (Deluxe Edition) on Spotify below.

Interview, audio production and video editing by Bekoe

Photos and video shot by Jayvon Ambrose

Introduction written by Makenzie Creden

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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