Raised in Memphis, Tennessee, rapper J. Ferb is rarely seen without a smile. It isn’t that he doesn’t take his craft seriously – quite the contrary. Ferb, who went to the University of Maryland to break into the east coast music scene, doesn’t half-ass when it comes to music. It’s why his show at UMD’s WMUC 88.1FM radio station quickly became the university’s most popular, and it’s why this 21-year-old has already opened up for the likes of J. Cole, Curren$y and Dom Kennedy, and has toured across the nation.

Taking cues from his experiences with the radio station, as well as going on tour with his cousin, Yo Gotti, J. Ferb recently dropped his first full-length project, Chase the Dreams, Not the Competition, a 20-track whirlwind of deeply personal compositions. And judging from the critical reception, there’s little doubt that this emcee’s music will find itself at an MP3 player near you.

Say Hello: “[Before Chase the Dreams, Not the Competition,] I had a project called Run to the Sun. I put it out – it’s like a prelude. I always compare it as saying that’s a Spike Lee movie, and Chase the Dreams, Not the Competition is like a Quincy Jones composition. What I mean by that is Chase the Dreams, Not the Competition…every artist has the first project that they have to put out. To me, I had people I came up under that had me listen to Reasonable Doubt [by Jay-Z], Illmatic [by Nas]…so that first project has to be striking. You have to introduce yourself. I understand that there are some gatekeepers in Hip Hop. I want to let them know, ‘I see you, you set the standard – and this is me. This is my story, adhering to your gatekeeping rules, and I learn the rules, master the rules, and break them.’ So that’s what this album is. It’s my story – 21 years in the making.

The Journey: “I initially came to the University of Maryland, told my mama I wanted to be an investment banker. That was a lie, I just wanted to get to the east coast, get away from home. I always loved music, and here they love music. It’s their culture – it’s their way of life. So I was like, ‘find a way to get to that.’ I learned about the college radio station, tried out for it, got a show…and called it ‘Southern Hospitality with J. Ferb.’ I started promoting it through Facebook, through fans, friends at other schools, tellin’ them to listen in. Started promoting it, interviewing artists, and next thing you know – bam! I was getting 2000 listens a week, 2000 podcast downloads in addition to the on-air. The manager was like, ‘You know you have the most listened-to show, right?’ It struck me. It showed me that the music industry is where I wanted to be. When I got to that radio station, and for those two hours did that show, that was the highlight of my week.

From Radio To Rap: “It’s easy, because to me, you’re already the personality. I had always done spoken-word and poetry to myself. So when I finally learned rhyme schemes and sat down…I listened to music so much, it finally clicked, and I was like ‘wow!’ The flows, listening to Nas – it’s just words being put together very well, and I felt that that’s what I was already doing being an on-air personality. Putting it on a beat, it came more naturally than some people [would have thought].

DC/Maryland/Virginia Influence: “I was one of the biggest Wale fans you could’ve met about two years ago. I tell people [in the DMV area,] in Memphis, music is a way out of life. Up here, in the DMV and east coast, music is a way of life. And that’s a big difference. In Memphis, you got rappers just rapping to get out of the hood. Up here, it’s just rapping about the culture they live. So when I first heard Wale, I was like, ‘Wow, okay.’ I had never heard anything like that coming out of Memphis. You talking about kicks, you talking about other shit – it’s interesting. It was flows, it was witty. I met my boy Toby ‘TASK’ Productions] up here, and he’s serious about his Hip Hop. Serious Hip Hop. ‘Don’t-play-with-my-culture’ Hip Hop. The DMV area as a whole, they take the culture seriously up here. To take culture lightly here is almost like blasphemy. So it affected me [in that it] taught me the seriousness of what you’re doing.

First Rapper To Reference Titanic?: [Laughing] “I’m the first artist to ever reference it? In ‘Peninsula,’ [the song that references the movie,] it’s from a girl’s perspective. It’s from a girl’s perspective! I’ve sat down with a few beers and watched Titanic before…but a girl had to get me to watch it! Or my grandma or my mother – I don’t think I’d watch it by myself [laughing]. Deep movie.

If You Could Remake A Classic Album…: “That’s a good question! Hm. I wouldn’t touch Illmatic. I’d probably…you know what? I’d redo The Score by the Fugees. I’d have Lauryn Hill rap more. I feel like Lauryn Hill didn’t have the lead on enough songs. I’d take The Score and fuse it with a lot more of Lauryn Hill rapping. I’d have Lauryn Hill going in on some fuckin’ [DJ Premier]! Lauryn Hill going in on some Q-Tip, some [A Tribe Called Quest]-type music! Killin’ it! ‘Add a ‘motherfucker’ so them ignant niggas hear it!’ I need more Lauryn. I need more female emcee to enlighten me.
Why It’s Hard To Break Through: I feel like a lot of independent rappers really don’t know the business side. We aren’t as educated about the business side as we should be. Artists, we should have our team and build up. I used to try and do it by myself – but the team is important to build together and branch out.