Speed on the Beat Interviews @Tate_Kobang

I'm Baltimore-born and raised. So, any time I see an artist doing big things from my city, I cheer them on. I may not always completely agree with their stances, but I rock with them because of the sheer fact that they're from my hometown. If they succeed, we all succeed in some way. Baltimore-raised rapper, and topic of today's piece, Tate Kobang is no different.


The 24-year-old rapper first grabbed media attention with his 2015 single "Bank Rolls," a reimaging of the classic Tim Trees song "Bank Roll." It was an instant smash, and set up, as noted in his interview with Noisey, a bit of happiness in the shadow of darkness and controversy surrounding the death of Freddie Gray. That's a lot to accomplish from a song that's an homage to Baltimore's diverse sounds.


For me, personally, the song was a throwback to happier times. I really needed it, considering the bouncy tribute to his mother was released a few weeks after I'd lost my own. Because of this, I felt a bit of a kindred feeling with regards to Kobang and his tracks. So, I decided to check out his discography and was blown away by his command on tracks and his range. For every bouncy track, there was grit, such as the intro to his 2014 mixtape Crown of Thorns.


When the opportunity arose to interview Tate, I said "hell yeah."


When asked about his origins, Tate explained to me that by being homeless and parentless (both of his parents died when Tate was younger), he wanted to be a voice for people who've been going through similar situations. The former saxophonist, pianist and tap dancer, while couch surfing and struggling to maintain, started to write lyrics. From there, one thing lead to another and we eventually got songs such as Tate's 2014 Crown of Thorns mixtape and the aforementioned "Bank Rolls."

In addition to providing some happiness in dark times, Tate feels that the latter also helped him become more of a voice for those who've been dealt crap cards. As he puts it, "if we had a choice, none of us would be fucked up." So he, through his music, tries to "take the cards [he and others've] been dealt and build card houses" out of them, turning coal into diamonds.

Songs like "Bank Rolls," "Crown of Thorns," and the recently-released "Chirp Chirp" showcase the mix of styles and sounds Tate--and the Baltimore scene as a whole--possesses. From backpack rappers to bottle-poppers to the club scene that'll "never fade away [because of artists like] Mighty Mark, TT The Artist, [and] Blaqstarr," Baltimore has it all, we discussed. It can grow and can be the next Chicago or L.A., as Tate mentioned, but there's got to be a change.


Even though Baltimore (and the DMV) itself has a plethora of sounds and artists (something exhibited a bit through Kobang's Since We're Here mixtape), something holds it back. The region's hip-hop scene, in general, is less steady, he feels. It's more about facades and money and less about the "heart" of the culture. Add that to some having constant desires or pressures to eliminate those who've elevated themselves, by violent means, and we've got a culture that may see some dark days unless people change their ways.

When discussing the late Lor Scoota, Tate and I began to speak about the idea of "spots" and the idea that artists don't have to kill to gain it. "[Rappers these days aren't about saying] 'I'm gonna outrun you, outsell you, or outrap you. [They're about saying] 'I'm gonna kill you,'" Tate and I discussed. This dog-eat-dog attitude is prevalent, but is it correct?

Tate insisted that "multiple people can be at the top. [That's since, for instance], Eminem is at the top, Jay Z is at the top, Wayne will forever be at the top. It's not just one spot." While some feel that there's only room for one person--usually themselves--at the top, Tate feels differently and hopes to spread that mentality.

As we discussed more about Scoota's tragic death and the circumstances surrounding it (Scoota was coming from a Stop the Violence rally he helped organize), one thing became clear. These mindsets, Tate continued, are slowly killing the culture, Baltimore and otherwise. This is something we both agreed on, as I don't want to see our young people killing each other to reach fame--or infamy. Additionally, these viewpoints are killing the sense of inclusion and unity that hip-hop and rap in general was founded on. The Baltimore scene in particular "needs that push out of the trenches," and he feels that he's one person who can help aid that push.

Tate, through his lyrics, distancing himself from negative energy, and his ideas on inclusiveness and family, hopes to be one of the leading voices for the future of the genre. He let me know that he's placed family, including his cousins, outside of the "trenches" of Baltimore and the game in general to show that there's a better way and more to life than those trenches. In addition to being a father, Tate's brought his team along for the journey. He feels that it's helped, as some of his cousins who've performed with him, have "opened their eyes" to see the alternatives. Getting out of the trenches, Tate explained, is one of the reasons why he himself has been able to prosper over the last few years.

He's less about that state of mind or "just music shit 24/7" and more about the whole picture, since it can't just be grimy work. On top of that, it definitely can't just always be about the music. That sort of thing is self-destructive in some ways, we discussed. People are more than that, he argued, something he's learned from life experiences and from mentors such as Swizz Beatz and Nelly.


Because of this point-of-view, Tate, and artists like Tate, are here to change the way we think and feel about the game. That even boils down to the way he's promoting his music. While his debut album will be "raw, [just like] how Baltimore is," he's more focused on pushing his entire discography versus just one or two tracks. This approach has led to, among other things, potential video game placements and cosigns from some big names. Additionally, it's that sense of inclusiveness that can take him as far as he wants to go.

All it takes--and all it will take--is a push. And that's something that Kobang, because of his philosophies and the strength of songs like "Oh My," "Chirp Chirp," and, of course, "Bank Rolls," may always have going for him.

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