Life has its share of “what-if” moments, and in hindsight, if it weren’t for a seemingly inconsequential move to Lansing, Michigan to attend Michigan State, Red Pill may have quit rapping altogether.
Despite discovering Hip Hop at an early age while living in the Detroit suburb of Redford, he found few fans when he tried to Rap in Howell, Michigan, a rural town he moved to when he was a teen. The only rapper in a town full of Ska and Punk bands, his strange musical tastes made him a target for some at school, leading to trouble. He wrote through it all, unsure where he would rap but unwilling to give up on his dream.
Even though he didn’t seek it out, he found the scene that he always wanted when he arrived in Lansing. It was a city that celebrated Hip Hop instead of stifling it, and people there recognized his skills without tripping over him being a white kid, something he just couldn’t shake in Howell. With time, he linked up with the Blat! Pack, a collective of rappers, producers, artists and writers from the area, and a new-found focus led to 2010’s Please Tip Your Driver. A great snapshot of his voice, the album is an ode to the ordinary, an understanding that we toil through those ordinary, mundane moments and jobs in the hopes that we eclipse them in the future.
DXnext spoke with Red Pill by phone after a long day at the axle plant. He was more than willing to open up up about his past, present, and future, and we spoke about how difficult it was to keep rapping in a town that had no scene, the job that inspired Please Tip Your Driver, and what we can expect on his upcoming project The Kick.
On His Rap Name: “[The Matrix] was an important film to me. I don’t remember how old I was when it came out, but as I got into high school, for some reason it really stuck with me because of the political nature of the film as far as what the machines represent. I don’t want [people] to take it too seriously; I just like the name. My real name is Chris Orrick and I was thinking about going with that, but that’s not a very good Rap name. [Laughs] I was watching the movie and it had been something I was thinking about and talked to a couple friends about and they thought it was cool.”
“Keeping an open mind and not trying to be so ignorant to everything that’s going on, and trying to stay a little bit socially and politically aware, at least in some aspects of your life – I think that’s an important part of me, so I guess [that’s why I] took that name.”
On His Origins: “I never lived in Detroit, but I was born in Detroit and I lived in a bordering suburb called Redford. It’s on like the West side, and I lived there until I was like 13. We lived in a house that my grandfather owned. My dad was having money problems – that’s just something that we’ve always gone through. My dad wasn’t able to pay the rent to [my grandfather] and it had been going on for a while, so he ended up evicting us.”
“We moved out about 45 miles west of Detroit to a very small town called Howell, [which is] a pretty rural area. It’s interesting because if you’re from Michigan – and people outside Michigan probably don’t know it – but Howell is actually kind of known for having a history of the Ku Klux Klan there. It’s strange, especially out here, when I tell people that I went to high school in Howell. I get weird looks for being a rapper having gone to high school in Howell.”
On the Difficulties of Being a Rapper in Howell, Michigan: “Before I moved to Howell, I was always interested in Hip Hip, and I had started writing a little bit. When I got to Howell, I didn’t have a lot of friends. To me, Hip Hop is what I did. I wrote constantly. I got into trouble in high school and whatever, so Hip Hip was what I went to. It was almost like a friend. I wasn’t really doing much [with it] because it was Howell, Michigan – there wasn’t any real outlet for Hip Hop. There was actually a lot of music going on in Howell but it was mostly punk rock and ska and metal and stuff like that.”
“I was constantly trying to defend that I rapped, and coming from where I came from in Redford, it was a diverse city. I went to school with a really diverse group of people racially [and] religiously whereas in Howell, there was no diversity. It was White, Christian people. There was some socioeconomic diversity, but for the most part, it was well-off, rich White kids. It was hard for me to fit in there. It’s not like I was sad that people didn’t like me because I was a rapper. It was isolated because, really, there was no outlet for it. There were some people who were cool with it and there were some people who didn’t like me just because of that fact.”
On Acceptance in Howell vs. Lansing: “I felt like I was constantly on the defensive with [my music in Howell], whereas when I ended up going to Michigan State, being around all types of people, to me, it felt like I was ready for [conflict] and it never happened. People were just like ‘Okay, cool. You can rap,’ and they didn’t care. I know that’s cliché and that’s how it seems to happen every time with a white rapper. It wasn’t an issue [in Lansing], but in Howell, it was a big issue.”
“In Howell, the friends that I did have were nice and they told me that they liked [my music]. I don’t know if they were lying to be cool or lying to be nice to me, but when I got to Lansing and I was in a Hip Hop scene and was getting respect and people were telling me ‘You’re dope’ and ‘You’re good at what you’re doing,’ there was some good validation in that. It gave me a lot of confidence and I think I got better from that.”
On Putting Music First: “I graduated from State in May, so I’ve got a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Honestly, I’ve heard that there aren’t jobs, but I’m not really trying to pursue that. I’m working and doing music. I gotta give that my all. I don’t want to be 40 years old and wonder what could’ve happened.”
On the Job that Was Inspiration for Please Tip Your Driver: “For the most part during school when I was up at Michigan State, I was working at a Quizno’s. Honestly, looking back on it, it wasn’t really even that bad of a job, but you know, you have those days when you get pissed off. I think that whole album was kind of a documentation of about a year of my life when I was trying to do school, trying to do work, trying to be a boyfriend, be a friend, be a son, be a rapper – all these things, and everything [was] pulling me in different directions. . . . Luckily, one of the good things about not having a lot of money is the government likes to give you a lot of financial aid. That helped with school, but I was supporting myself while going through school, living on my own and working almost 35, 40 hours a week, trying to do a couple shows a week while writing, while recording, while going to school. It was difficult. You get stressed out, and that’s what I use music for. When I’m stressed out, I usually write, so Please Tip Your Driver came out of it.”
On “I Understand” Being a Thank You to His Girlfriend: “At the time, if I’m right, we weren’t living together when I wrote that song. She’s an incredible girl. She puts up with a lot of shit with me going out to shows and coming home late and knowing that I have to go to the studio a couple times a week and I’ve gotta be writing. She’s been really sticking by me and supporting me and encouraging me, so I felt like I owed her a song. That was actually one of my favorite tracks on the album and I think it was one of the ones that people passed over.”
On “We Are Not Like Them” And Getting Involved With Occupy Detroit: “I had come up with the title ‘We Are Not Like Them’ actually a while back before that. When I was studying Political Science at Michigan State, I had a teaching assistant who was teaching a class one day and we were talking about wealth and equality throughout the world but specifically in the United States. He really said that this is going to be an important thing coming up. He had kind of foreshadowed that it was going to be a big issue, that wealth and equality, the growing wealth gap in the country, was something that was going to be a hot topic.”
“One of my goals with writing is to try to be fairly general. I like simplicity sometimes with my lyrics. I feel like you don’t have to be so overly complex sometimes to get a point across to people. I came up with the title ‘We Are Not Like Them’ and wrote the song probably in like July. As far as I know, it happened independently of the Occupy Wall Street movement. We really liked the song, but it became pretty relevant to what was happening.
“We knew Occupy Detroit was going on, and we went down there and ended up with some people. The Occupy Detroit people were very cool. They wanted to help us [and] we wanted to help them, so we gave them the track and they liked it. We worked out a plan to do a benefit show for the people at Occupy Detroit because they needed supplies like food and water and tents and basic things like that. We ended up raising 700 or 800 dollars for them, and they were using that for legal fees because they were having legal trouble with getting kicked out. There’s a park in Detroit called Grand Circus Park and that’s where they were all stationed. It was really cool though. I had a lot of fun with it. It was good to get out there and see what was going on. The track really, just kind of by chance, ended up becoming pretty relevant.”
On His Upcoming Release and Collaboration with Producer Hir-O, The Kick: “It is . . . I don’t know how to give a percentage. It’s very close [to be doing]. I literally have two hooks and like two and a half verses to write and it’ll be done. I have a deadline of the end of this weekend to be done with the writing, and then one more recording session, and then just mixing and mastering. We’ve been working on the album for close to a year [and] talking about it for a little longer than that, so it’s taken a long time. That’s part of the balancing act that we go through. Hir-O works at a non-profit in Detroit. I’m working at the axle plant, so you know, it’s hard to get everything going, but it’s very close and we’re really excited to put it out.”
“We’re [also] trying to release a mixtape with DJ Soko, who’s from The Left with Apollo Brown and Journalist 103. He’s gonna be putting together a mixtape that features some of me and Hir-O’s old stuff, and then some new stuff from the album to hopefully build some buzz for The Kick, which we’re really excited about.”
On The Success of Projects like Danny Brown’s XXX and Michigan Regaining Mainstream Recognition: “It’s great, man. Not everybody here knows everybody, but it is a tight-knit community enough that if you’re in the Michigan Hip Hop scene, you know someone that knows everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Detroit or Grand Rapids or Lansing or wherever, everybody here knows somebody.”
“Anytime anybody is from Michigan is getting some kind of shine, it’s good for the city. It’s good for everybody. It opens up doors where, if Danny Brown and Black Milk and Royce [Da 5’9] and these guys are getting out, people are gonna start paying more attention. Detroit’s putting out some real quality material, and Michigan in general is putting out some real quality material as far as Hip Hop goes. I think then [people from outside the scene] start to bring out the fine comb and really start to look deeper and see what else is around here.”
On the Progression of Detriot’s Sound: “What I think is really special about Detroit music right now is that [it’s] building and progressing [from] what those people laid the foundation for, [people like J] Dilla and Slum Village and Elzhi. There are some really talented people. I guess I’m giving a plug, but Hir-O, who’s producing my next album, is one of the biggest Dilla fans around, and you [can] hear that influence, but personally, I feel like he’s taking it to a different level. Not necessarily that it’s better or worse – there’s no value judgment there – but he’s keeping Detroit roots and doing something different with it. I think that’s what’s really cool with what’s happening. Black Milk does that – you can hear Dilla. You hear Detroit in Black Milk’s music. You hear Detroit in Danny Brown, and it all has a certain sound, but I think it’s newer. I think it’s fresher, and I’m really excited to see what happens, because I only think it’s gonna get better.”
On Being a Voice For Blue Collar Society: “I do it explicitly because I do believe in it and it is where I’m from. My dad has worked his whole life. My grandfather worked for Ford his whole life. My other grandparents own like a mom-and-pop pharmacy in Michigan – that’s what they did for their [whole] life. I just don’t want it to be a gimmick. That’s my only thing. I don’t want it to be this ‘blue collar, white guy rapper’ [thing], you know what I mean? In a way, it’s who I am, and I relate with people who come from that class level more than I relate to people from other classes.”
“I do try and make sure that I keep it in my music because I think it’s an important part [of it], and I do think that, especially in Hip Hop, it has to have its place. I think you have people like Atmosphere, out of Minneapolis, who, especially over the last couple albums, has really started to move into that kind of writing. It’s almost like Folk-Rap in a way. It’s got folksy lyrics involved, and I think that’s cool.”
“Again, I don’t want it to be a gimmick, but it is something I try to make people know, [that] this is where I’m from and this is likely what I’ll be. It’s my life. I mean, right now I’m like the most stereotypical blue collar White guy from Michigan ever – I drive beat-up cars and work at an axle plan in Detroit. [laughs] But at the same time, I want to get out of it in a way. I don’t want to leave it behind, but I would like to make some money and be able to help my family out and do what I can with music.”
On What 2012 holds for Red Pill: “I really hope to accomplish at least being someone that people are really starting to pay attention to. That’s really what the point of The Kick is. [I don’t want] to sound cocky, [but] I want people to know who I am. I want people to be like ‘Alright, this dude is legitimate and he’s doing something worth listening to.’ Of course I hope the get the album out on a label and I hope I might be able to get signed and start touring. All that shit would be good, but if I can just get people paying attention – if me and Hir-O with this project can just get people paying attention to what we’re doing – then it’s mission accomplished, and the next album hopefully builds on that.”
“I will continue to do music as long as I’m progressing, as long as I do things better [than I did] the year before. I had some good things happen last year. Now I get this feature on HipHopDX and to me, that’s a big win. It might not be a big deal to somebody else, but it’s enough for me to say ‘Next week, I’m gonna work a little bit harder and try to make sure that this is all worthwhile,’ that I’m doing this shit for a reason. Hopefully at the end of the year, I can look back again and say things were good and hopefully 2013 is even better.”