Words: Miljan Milekić
A couple of months ago, I received an email about this Staten Island rapper called Prema777, and her new single ‘Workin’.’ And I’d lie if I’d say I wasn’t skeptical at first. I hated the artwork for it, and I still do now. However, being a nerd I am and listening to everything, I clicked on the song… And here we are – a couple of months, many spins, and one phone call later, we’re bringing you Prema’s story. We talked about her music, the way she writes it, her many other endeavors, building a career while raising children, and well, sleeping patterns.
So, how are you? How are you spending these crazy quarantine months? I know you and iNTeLL have some amazing news on the personal plan.
Prema777: It’s different. It’s all surreal. I mean, I still haven’t even really gotten used to it because my body is so routined, I guess. But now, of course, we have, you know, we have something to keep our mind on, and all of our focus on. We had our baby girl in October, so she’s now going to be five months old, and we also have a two-year-old at home. So, they definitely keep us busy – it’s a job in itself. So, I would say most of my time is directed to them.
So, tell me about ‘Take Flight.’ I know you started working on this record ages ago.
Prema777: ‘Take Flight’ was basically my introductory – I would call it my freshmen album to becoming more of a musician and a songwriter, rather than just a hip hop artist and a lyricist. It was the first time I took a chance with experimenting. I would always navigate what I wanted with my music, and in this sense – I had been working with my producer, J Glaze, for a very long time – so I gave him a chance to step in and give me some suggestions, hi thoughts, and stuff like that. And through that, with both of our backgrounds and us working together, we built sounds. We’ve basically built the record from the ground up, which is why it took so long. Especially because I didn’t know what direction I was going in, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted.
I really wanted something that defined that boom-bap sound, but I also wanted to step outside my comfort zone. So, we played around with different melodies and different kinds of beats – more poppy, and more soulful and R’n’B-ish. And the whole essence of the album, the reason why I call it ‘Take Flight,’ is because it’s me coming out of myself. Shedding a layer of myself, and entering more into a creative zone, rather than just keeping myself as a lyricist, a hip hop rapper, and a boom-bap rapper. That was a few years back, and that whole process took quite some time.
Once we finished it, right around the time we were wrapping it up, I had gotten pregnant with my first son Lauren. As it turned out, my due date of having him was exactly around the time that I was planning to drop the album. So what I did was, I dropped the album the same day because metaphorically, it was a baby of mine. So, I put it out and it was great. You know, I put all this work into it, and it got a great buzz locally. I even performed it overseas, because, within that timeframe, iNTeLL and I got invited on tour in Europe.
However, because I put so much into it, and it was my first process of really building everything authentically from the ground up – from beats and instrumentation and my lyrics – everything was inspired around what I was feeling when I went into the studio – I kind of lost myself in the album, and I didn’t think about marketing and promotion too much. So when it came time for marketing and promo, I put everything I had into it, but I also had just had my son. It was hard to give it a proper shine.
So, I did my best with it. I performed many times around Staten Island and around the tri-state area. I definitely got the music out there and got it heard. But the end of the year came, and what I decided to do was take it off the internet, off the streaming platforms, and rebrand the album so that I can put it out again and give it its proper shine. To pre-plan everything accordingly. Just the same way I did with the album, now to give that same love to marketing and promo, and getting it heard. To send it out to different countries, different blog sites, and all of that.
I did that, but I just didn’t feel like it was enough. I just felt that I put so much into the album. It took such a long time, there was so much dedication involved with myself and many other people who were involved in the process, that it wasn’t fair to put it up, and just have it there. So instead of going in and starting a new project, and I figure a lot of people don’t really look into this direction of things, like, let me do the best that I can with what I have here, because it deserves it. Hence the name ‘Take Flight.’ It’s taking off and it’s all a learning process for me. Gliding through my creative process.
Yes, and I’m one of those people that didn’t catch it the first time. I only know the new singles, so I think this move can lead to quite a few new fans like myself.
Prema777: Thank you. That makes me feel good because I know that my process is working. Like I’m on the right task. Things take time and I’d rather put out quality over quantity. I have a lot of work, I’ve recorded a ton of songs, but I don’t release much through mainstream media because I really like to focus and put the love into everything I do. I like to give it a proper shine. I’m also a mother of two, and we have a family and we run the business Intellectual Entertainment. I have a lot on my plate, so I’m learning – in my life, as a musician and as a creative – just how to prioritize just one thing at a time.
It’s okay to just do one thing at a time, you know? It’s hard because I see all these other artists fast track album after album, and this and that. Just bang stuff out. And sometimes I feel like – “Oh my God, I’m moving too slow. I should be doing this and I should be doing that.” But I can’t compare myself to anybody else. Also, that’s how your music gets overlooked sometimes. A lot of times, the mentality as an artist is like – “I’ll just keep making music. I’ll just keep putting out.” And that’s a great mentality to have because the work ethic is there, but eventually, you’re going to drain your energy. My thing is that I’m learning how to utilize my energy properly.
I’d rather do it in one thing, and that’s why ‘Take Flight’ is so important to me. It was a masterpiece and I’m over here, thinking about other projects and stuff. And I’m like – “No. You know what, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do this properly.” I didn’t release any singles off the album or anything. I just straight released the album. I was just so excited to have it finished, that I just wanted to get it out. It was a really intricate process and it was a lot of me going – “I don’t know if it’s finished, and I don’t know if it’s finished, and I dunno if it’s finished.” So this is all part of the process. If I didn’t do that, I might still be sitting here, saying that I don’t know if it’s finished. (laughs)
So, since you already mentioned Intellectual Entertainment, I’ll skip right to it. How amazing is to have so many different things going on, working with people you’re close with, such as your husband, but on the other hand, how challenging is it to juggle all that and not lose your focus?
Prema777: It’s been an absolute blessing. And it’s all a learning process for me. I’m a firm believer in spirituality and manifestation – what you believe inside and what you put out, you’ll receive. And I couldn’t ask for more in my life. To have a partner who is on the same page, who understands, who gets that as a creative. It does get a little complicated because I feel overwhelmed sometimes, having Intellectual Entertainment and then having me as an independent artist. And then we do a lot of collaboration work. I also run a juicing company on the side, I make fresh juices, and I deliver them on the Island. So I do a lot.
However, I feel like I’m the type of person, the more I do, the better I get at it. The better I prioritize, the less I have to do. I hate to say it, but sometimes, I almost get lazy. (laughs) But when I have things to prioritize, it makes it much easier. And having somebody who understands that, we’re like yin and yang. There’s a reason why God puts people in your path, you know? He’s really creative, good at multitasking projects and getting things done. He went to school for film and I’m great with numbers and business.
So, at the end of the day, if I’m like – “Oh, I need help. Can you pick up some slack with this end? I need to finish these three projects. You think we can go to the studio together and you can help me navigate them?” He’s like – “Cool.” And then he’ll come to me for things like – “Oh, I need some extra hands marketing or promoting. Or, can you send invoices out and stuff like that?” That stuff to me is easy and that stuff to him is easy. So it really works out really well.
I actually had a chance to have him for an interview, as well a couple of months ago. And I love your work ethic. Do you even sleep? Like, ever?
Prema777: Now that we have two kids? No. (laughs) The proper answer to your question is prioritizing. And that’s the best thing – to have a partner who understands that. First of all, creativity is a crazy schedule and then we always have to have a hustle, we’re always hustling, and then we have the kids. So sleep is actually crucial for us, and I’m not going to say we get a lot of it. We definitely don’t.
But the good thing about having each other is like – “You sleep and I’ll do X, Y, and Z, and I’ll watch the kids.” And vice versa. So we always have each other’s back. So I’m so grateful for that. We work it out, we really do. It could be some of the most awkward times ever, but we really try to make sure we get our sleep. To be able to do what we want to do, and to be able to have the brainpower and to focus, you have to figure it out in some way, shape o form.
So I would like to go back to ‘Workin’,’ which was the first song I’ve heard from you. I believe I’ve heard or read somewhere that this was the last song you finished for the album. And it makes sense as, especially after what you said earlier, it sounds like this song is actually about the record itself, and the writing process. Am I on the right track there? Or does it have some universal meaning?
Prema777: You’re the first person to hit the nail on the head. I mean, it does have a general meaning. I do work hard. I hustle hard, and that’s the overall meaning that I think everybody can relate to. But the space that I was in at the time was exactly that. First of all, I didn’t want to be redundant on the album and have the same sound all the way through. So that was my one main request. I wanted continuity with the inspiration of boom-bap, but I didn’t want everything to sound the same.
So ‘Workin” was one of those tracks that we were like – “Okay, let’s change it up. Let’s change the pace up and let’s try something different.” I mean, my first bar is – “I’ve been searching for that cadence.” And the reason why I say that is because this was my first time rapping over melodic stuff. I was really opening myself up as an artist through different cadences, different tones, and sounds. Really learning to use my voice as an instrument.
And then, reaching out to Nitty only seems right, because I highly respect her as an MC, and she’s a fellow New Yorker. It sounds like it would be her vibe and I really wanted to get another dope lyrical female on the album. I’d hit her up, she responded, and we’re actually working on a music video. Covid-19 kind of hindered that, we’ve had some issues trying to get together and stuff, but it is in the making and there will be visuals coming out at some point. Alex Antigua is the filmer, but it’s going to be co-produced by Intellectual Entertainment. So iNTeLL and I will be doing a lot of the directing.
So you already mentioned Nitty, but how do you choose people you want to work with? On your music, but also for the other stuff that you’re involved with, as well?
Prema777: We have a squad, like an Intellectual Entertainment tribe, so to speak. And a lot of times it’s us working together. If I feel someone on a record, or if I hear a sound that I feel might elevate the records somehow – and that’s what I think about – elevation. I love collaboration because it helps me get outside my zone.
We always think about things in terms of our patterns and our cadences and stuff like that. When you work with someone else, you hear a whole new cadence or a whole new sound, and it can completely change the direction of the record, which I really like. I appreciate that because it opened me up as an artist. But I’m pretty much all about the work ethic, I guess. The short answer – if I see somebody who’s passionate and loves what they do and you can feel it, chances are that I would want to work with them.
And working with all these different people who all bring something different to the table, how hard is it to strike the balance between staying true to yourself, and give enough freedom to the other person?
Prema777: It depends ’cause it’s a different process for different situations. If I choose the collab, I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but you’re working with that artist, that person you know, you can go back and forth if you hear something, or so on and so forth. But sometimes, we work with strangers. Sometimes people hit me up on Instagram, I sell verses so sometimes people buy a verse. And that’s a situation where it could be a little challenging because sometimes, they’ll just send me a blank beat. I have no idea what the song is about, you know? Then other times, maybe it’s not an artist that I would rock with, I’ll give it a shot.
But my thing is that I always just give it 110%. I don’t really think too much about who else is on the record unless they’re already on it. If they’re already on it, then I just draw inspiration from them. I usually go pretty hard and my voice projects, but say I’m with a more soft or dainty female, I might lower the tone so that we can match a little bit. But I’ll still keep my cadence. I’ll still keep my rhymes. I’m still me, but I just might do one small thing so that we can meet each other and it doesn’t sound outrageous. But then again, there’s that factor where sometimes that sounds really cool. When you have two complete opposites on a record, sometimes you can make it work, if you have the right producer and everything. It all depends, it’s all a matter of inspiration.
I love this answer, I think it’s a really great insight. But, I was more interested in your own music, your own projects. How do you know where’s the line, and how to keep it your body of work, and now a collaborative compilation?
Prema777: Um, pretty much I just do the work. I just really like to create. So, the main point of everything is creating and living in a feeling. I feel good, I go off the vibe and I keep the momentum going. Whether that’s like two or three songs in one session, or sometimes the whole album creates that feeling. And which is what ‘Take Flight’ was for me, I didn’t know when to end it. I just made a bunch of songs, and then it was kind of spontaneity. Nothing was planned. Powers and auras put things in your path.
Like, there were people present in the studio at the time, and I was like – “Wow, this would be great if you could do such and such on this record, and they just happened to be there.” And then there was a couple of collaborations, like my girl Raina Bee who has an amazing voice. She’s on ‘All I Got.’ I really wanted to work with her. So I was patient, I, kind of, worked around her schedule, and then brought her in, and we built stuff based on the both of us being in the studio together. So, I would just create, create, create, create, create, and then, narrow it down if I feel like it’s too much at the end. If I feel like I’m over-creating, I already have enough material. Then I can just pick the best of what I feel from there.
So, I only have one more for you. Like I said, I interviewed iNTeLL last year, and it was around George Floyd’s murder. I can’t remember if it the day before, or the day after, or even that day, but it was just before massive BLM protests and everything that came after. So how does it feel to live, to start businesses, to have kids, and start a family in a deeply divided country, that until recently had a president that not only did not help minorities, people of color, and many other social groups but made the climate for them even more unfriendly?
Prema777: It is crazy. But the one thing I can say is that I’m grateful to have the surroundings that I have, and have the awareness that I have. Especially being a creative and having a voice. I feel like this present moment has given us a chance to change the narrative. And that’s pretty much what I focus on and how I look at it. Because it is difficult. I don’t want to get into detail too much, with everything going on, it’s madness right now.
But it’s nothing new. This has been happening for eons, and it’s just a matter of that now it’s being publicized and people are starting to wake up. Being in a relationship and having biracial children, it’s a blessing for me. I love my family, number one first and foremost. And secondly, we have a chance to change the narrative, to change the way people think, and to change the way people look at things.
You said it’s been happening for centuries, but do you feel like this time it could be different? This time, the whole world talks about it, and there are so many people involved. And so many different voices – musicians, artists, journalists, athletes. Is it finally time for a change?
Prema777: Absolutely. People are ready. Some people aren’t, but eventually, those people will fall out of the picture. It’s the way the masses feel. All we can do is hope for the best, and so far, I’ve seen more change than I’ve ever seen. And even though it’s not necessarily super-positive, the fact is that people are standing up. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen so many people being so proactive and so involved in a fight against systemic racism, for justice and freedom for everybody. To be able to just live, and enjoy your life the way it should be.