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redveil Sets the Rap Scene Ablaze

The hip-hop underground's newest risk-taker shares some of his most flammable philosophies.

by Ben Boddez

Photos by Ethan Kwon

Jay-Z once famously said that hip-hop is “a young man’s game,” and recent trends have certainly been proving him right. Outside of the proven megastars, it seems like the vast majority of rappers hitting the charts lately are in their teens or early twenties. But if you’re looking for that infectiously youthful spirit combined with something a little more left-field, 19-year-old redveil might be the underground’s answer to the trend.

Raising his profile after recently turning heads with show-stealing verses alongside acts like Denzel Curry and JPEGMAFIA, redveil’s music can bring the same raucous energy and hyper-energetic flows, but his experimental spirit is in how he often combines that energy with a bright, soulful backdrop and personal lyricism that dives into subjects of mental health and the political landscape in America.

He names Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt as some of his biggest inspirations, and shares their ethos of being able to flow smoothly and sound completely at home no matter how dizzying and complex the beat – beats that are always entirely self-produced, something that he picked up when playing around on FL Studio with his brother to accompany practice of the drums and piano. And this is all before even hitting his teen years. Dropping his first tracks on SoundCloud at age 15, redveil hasn’t looked back – as he says, “nothing else has ever felt more right.”

“The youth have always had the insight.”

“The youth have always had the insight,” he adds, connecting with RANGE a day after his 19th birthday while on the road to Nebraska during his latest tour. “I think that’s because a young mind craves new information and modes of expression more than the minds of older people. A young mind is curious, and hungry. It has dreams that haven’t been shot down or watered down by the weight of the world. As long as that’s the case, young people will continue to lead cultural movements.”

redveil credits his environment and upbringing with instilling a lot of the characteristics that make up who he is today – he grew up in the DMV, an area that he says inspired him to pursue art due to the diversity of Black cultures from all across the globe and being able to see their successes around town, and aspects of his family’s various music fandoms have all found their way into his work.

His mom often brought him to church and spun gospel records at home, which saw redveil latching onto the powerful emotions and sheer conviction of the genre, while his father’s love of old-school hip-hop and his brother’s love of the underground scene now finds redveil’s work in a happy medium between all three fandoms.

“I literally just do what I want, and that usually ends up being a middle ground between some pretty experimental stuff and more mainstream sounding stuff,” he says. As far as the lyrical content on display, redveil’s projects coming out around his birthdays isn’t a coincidence – each are meant to represent a diary entry of sorts of his current mindstate.

“Last time around, it came out exactly on my 18th birthday. It was super fitting given how I was talking about growing up and the new challenges I was facing when it came to navigating adulthood and newfound success,” he says. “Although I’m not talking about the same challenges that I was on the last record, this one still represents where I am now in its own unique way. I’m embracing being more carefree and explosive.”

“I’m embracing being more carefree and explosive.”

redveil’s latest EP, playing w/ fire, follows up last year’s critically lauded learn 2 swim album and adds a little bit more of an incendiary, party-starting spirit to his typical sound, moving away slightly from his usual deeper topics to indulge in a little bit of braggadocio – something that redveil says he did with live shows in mind. He says that the response to new track “f2g,” which has a bit of a house music kick, has been his favourite thing to witness so far out on the road.

This shift is even reflected in the project’s titling. Dating back to 2019, all of redveil’s works have had something to do with water, a metaphor that he has often used to represent the challenges he faces and fighting to stay afloat. Now, he’s learning to master a different element – and of course, he had the wordplay about fire beats in the back of his mind when settling on the title. Still, themes of translating self-doubt into unapologetic Black pride still appear on the track “black enuff,” which features JPEGMAFIA.

“It was one of those joints that started on a whim,” he says. “I got the hook idea maybe five minutes after starting the beat, and I immediately realized I wanted to develop it as this record that represents how rageful anti-Blackness can make me. The more I developed the song, the more I heard JPEG’s voice on it. No one else’s. When I got his verse back, I was jumping around for 30 minutes straight listening to it because I was so hyped up.”

BFFs — redveil and JPGMAFIA (Photo: Ivan Collaco)

Even with his current goals to elicit the same reactions from crowds at his live shows, redveil still believes it’s extremely important for rappers to show vulnerability in their work, something that he says he needed to hear himself when he was younger and grappling with his mental health. In the same way, he hopes that he can be a friendly voice validating the struggles of his listeners.

“We all know that Black people, especially Black men, don’t have many pure outlets for the expression of their feelings. As a result, there’s so much pent up emotion that ends up being released in less pure ways. Hip-hop has saved countless Black lives by simply being a listening ear to issues that nobody else felt like being a listening ear to,” he says.

“We all know that Black people, especially Black men, don’t have many pure outlets for the expression of their feelings.”

“Everybody has realized over the years how valuable hip-hop is as an outlet to share those feelings. For me personally, I remember being in middle school getting into $UICIDEBOY$ super heavy because they were the only people I had heard detailing their struggles with mental health without sanitizing it at all. That really resonated with me, and inspired me to talk about the same things.”

Despite the high-profile collabs that redveil is racking up, the most interesting might be from his uncle, who has been appearing in social media posts promoting the EP and hosts the tape – well, kind of. The voice you hear giving redveil advice through eccentric and excitable voicemail messages is Iraqi rapper Narcy, who isn’t biologically related to redveil but has collaborated with him in the past and has built up a strong, nearly familial bond with him over the years. redveil credits him for opening up a lot of doors for Arab rap, continuing to display his love for a nascent movement.

Stylistic moments and extra touches like the doting “uncle” are something that redveil pays a lot of attention to. He’s huge into the fashion scene, and believes that having eye-catching cover art is almost more important than the music itself. But while he does prioritize his image, he’s not changing anything about himself to look more appealing.

playing w/ fire EP

“Music is so oversaturated, so when it comes to finding new stuff, that cover art is going to be the reason a lot of people even click on a song.” 

“Music is so oversaturated, so when it comes to finding new stuff, that cover art is going to be the reason a lot of people even click on a song,” he says. “If anything, people have more room to play around with their image because there are so many different niches and communities in music. I try to bring people into my stuff on the image side by just being myself – a kid that’s in love with this culture of hip-hop, and making it work with what I have is something that resonates with a lot of other kids, I think.”

redveil’s Twitter bio reads “every second accounted for,” and as he continues to develop the loyal fanbase that he’s been building steadily since the age of 15, it feels like an appropriate sentiment to match the careful curation and forward-thinking career moves of someone well beyond his years. When asked about what that mantra means to him, redveil responded in a way that continued to show his focus.

“I want everything that I do as an artist to be calculated and precise,” he says. “Whether that’s a song or a show, I try to get it exactly the way I want it because I’m a perfectionist. So every second of a song, or a show, or a film, or anything I choose to pursue should be accounted for. That’s how I create.”

redveil performs at Fortune Sound Club (Vancouver) on Sunday, April 30 | TICKETS