‘Whatever your genre is or whatever you niche is, you have to listen to stuff outside of it because that’s how you evolve the sound’
Evan Dale // March 30, 2020
Aware of the range and influence in Detroit’s past, Langston Bristol exists today as both a student of that musical breadth, and a continuation in its evolution. His is a largely indefinable texture – one that during our hour-long chat, he casually referred to as a hip-hop, R&B-ish sound – that is much more nuanced and detailed than he makes it seem. An instrumentalist in the church growing up, and a talented vocalist along with the rest of his family, he eventually discovered hip-hop, started making beats, and writing rhymes by the time he was a teenager. And now, five projects and four years after his debut, Langston Bristol’s music shines with the veteran markings that come in tow with such a prolific rate of release; from a lifetime of exploring music in a multitude of directions.
Speaking on the depth of his love for production, the music that influenced and continues to influence his own rangy sounds, growth, social media, collaboration, and what’s still to come, it became brazenly clear that Langston Bristol will continue to evolve into an ever more present force on hip-hop’s experimental future.
RNGLDR: Five projects in four years – And So It Begins, YOOF, Colors, and M-Side Odysseys 1 & 2 – is no small feat for any artist, let alone an up-and-coming name like yourself. How have you gone about the creative process of crafting each project?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: My favorite artists – people like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Chance the Rapper – if you look at their albums, their firsts to what they’re doing now, it’s like a timeline of their lives. They talk about a lot, so you see their growth. And that’s what I always wanted to do. M-Side Odyssey 1 was kind of an intro to myself – talking about my childhood. Moving onto And So It Begins, that’s talking about me taking a step towards my goals, dreams, and aspirations – transitioning from a kid growing up to now pursuing my journey. With YOOF, I wanted to go into the perspective of talking about more than just myself. I wanted to try and make something that’s relatable to the youth. Colors – I just wanted to make a cool concept round the idea of colors. With every album, I’m just trying to tell a story of my life, up to now with M-Side Odyssey 2. I’m in a different place now, growing, so that’s my whole focus.
RNGLDR: And how has your creative process towards music at large evolved throughout your life?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: Sonically, I was always a producer and a musician – that’s how I started. I played jazz music as a kid. I always did choir growing up. I didn’t know I’d do hip-hop. I never knew I’d write lyrics. I was like 14 when I sat down in my room and tried it out, and I was hooked. I took everything I did, mashed it together, and it created my hip-hop, R&B-ish sound. Now I’m just trying to take all that and tell a story. However it is that I can tell my story – if it can relate to somebody, help somebody, make them feel better, help them get through their day or learn about themselves – I try to take that approach.
RNGLDR: What about each subsequent collection has exhibited your growth as an artist?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: All of my favorite artists are lyricists. So, overtime I’ve tried to work on the advanced things they do like double-entendres. But they make good songs, too. They make really good vibes. So, with the structures of songs, I wanna do things like mess them up – make the chords all weird at the end of a song or do a cool buildup like I did with PSA.
I listen to a whole lot of different artists, and it gives me inspiration to try new stuff, especially since I’ve been producing all on my own for a while. I started as a producer, but I didn’t have all the things I needed to do so, so I was working with a lot of other producers. When I started working fully on my own, that allowed me to go in my own lane and figure out – I’m still figuring out – how to make cooler chords, how to make my voice sound better. It’s a daily thing – everyday I’m trying to get better.
RNGLDR: Coming from the Detroit area, there is a long and storied lineage of music to geographically trace. Who are some of your influences from the city’s past and present that grant a glimpse into the wide-ranging sound you have now?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: Bro, The Temptations?! Oh my god. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin – all these old school cats would leave your ears sizzling. Moving forward, you had J Dilla – one of the greatest producers of all time. Everybody talks about Eminem – he’s obviously an incredible lyricist and whether or not you're from Detroit, you've gotta respect him. I listened to a lot of him, Big Sean, Royce da 5’9”, Slum Village. I mess with the modern-day Detroit sound, too, like Sada Baby and Tee Grizzley – they’re sweet, too.
RNGLDR: At large, what do you think it is about the Detroit area that has long been such a hotbed for creativity?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: I think it’s because there was a Renaissance in Detroit. It was more than music – vehicles, music, entertainment. In the 60’s and 70’s, there was a whole lot of great stuff going on, so I think, ever since then, that inspiration has to live on. We have to make sure that we stay on top of our game. We can’t forget just how dope this place is. And that inspiration stays here – it inspires me. All the things that have happened and continue to happen leave a lot of people rocking with the Detroit sound.
That type of energy has to live on. It’s almost like a weight on your shoulders, like if all of your brothers had played basketball, so you gotta play too. We keep that Motown name going.
RNGLDR: Moving outside of Detroit and Michigan altogether, who are some of your biggest influences as a rapper, as a vocalist, and as a producer?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: Kendrick Lamar is my number one. I first heard him at like 12 years old and I was mesmerized. That’s when I discovered Mac Miller, too, who is also one of my favorites. Smino, John Givez, everybody on TDE, everybody on Dreamville. As far as singers go, I listen to a lot of Daniel Caesar, Lucky Daye, SiR, Arin Ray, Ari Lennox, Hiatus Coyote, and SZA, and someone who I found out about recently – who does everything – is Jacob Collier. I hear his music or see a video of his, and it makes me put my phone down because I wanna do something. Those are my favorite kind of artists – the type that when I hear them, it makes me turn my phone off and go make music.
To go deeper: Robert Glasper, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Hank Mobley – all the old school jazz musicians. Even rock bands, too. Like, I mess with AC/DC – they hard, The Beatles, and I listened to Fall Out Boy a lot when I was younger. There are probably even a couple country songs I like. I listen to everything. And recently, I’ve really gotten into Bedroom Pop, too: Still Woozy and Rexx Orange County.
Whatever your genre is or whatever you niche is, you have to listen to stuff outside of it because that’s how you evolve the sound. That’s why Lil’ Nas discovered a whole new planet. When you’ve got that feeling, like ‘are people gonna like this, or not,’ that’s good – that means you’re doing something new. If you always feel comfortable, then you’ll start going backwards. You’ve gotta have a good balance between doing what you know how to do and trying something new.
RNGLDR: On the subject of influence, we run a series called Collab Elation exploring hypothetical collaborations that we want to see come to life. So, if you could collaborate with any artist – past or present – who would you work with, and why?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: Kendrick Lamar. The reason why is because To Pimp A Butterfly is my favorite album of all time. It’s Soul Food. I would love to make a collab album with him because I would love to be able to tell a story with him. I think the way that we think could connect in a lot of ways. He has a higher way of thinking. He goes against the grain. He’s the Good Kid in a m.A.A.d. City. And I think that would be awesome.
If not him, then make a dance R&B record with Michael Jackson.
RNGLDR: Removing yourself from the equation, who are two modern artists you’d like to see work together? Why?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: Before I answer, let’s just take time to appreciate and acknowledge that Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars are working together. What is going on in this world? If the pandemic wasn’t here, I don’t think they would’ve done that. As terrible as this time has been, it’s made people have time for stuff they don’t normally have time for. For those two to make an album – let alone a song – is crazy.
This is another one you’ve probably heard a lot, but Kendrick and Cole together would really be wild because I think both of them are kind of similar in the ways they came through this world. They’re both from their hoods but the both shine a light in a different way. They both could’ve ended up doing what a lot of other people are doing out here. But they pursued a goal and try to have a more positive way in life. They’re bot skillful, top-tier lyricists, top-tier writers and song makers. And I think they could tell a really awesome story together.
There are probably a lot of reasons why it hasn’t happened. Both of them might realize the amount of pressure that would come from that. A lot of people have too high of expectations for things. So, if Kendrick and Cole’s album wasn’t the healing antidote for the Earth – if their album didn’t sound like 24 carat gold in your ears – if it doesn’t cure a disease – then people would be disappointed.
RNGLDR: We also run a narrative series called Dream Venue taking a reader on a narrative journey culminating in the ultimate live performance from the perfect artist. So, if you could experience a Dream Venue as a fan, how would your day unfold, where would you end up, and who would be performing there?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: I wanna see Chance the Rapper – and that’s unpopular because a lot of people bailed out on him for his new album. But I love that dude. I really look up to him a lot. I was supposed to see him last year, but his whole tour got cancelled. And I would love to see him at Red Rocks.
RNGLDR: And how about as the artist performing: what would be your Dream Venue once the pandemic allows for live music to happen again?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: Red Rocks is the dream. As the sun sets, just rocking out.
RNGLDR: Let’s dive into your most recent project. M-Side Odyssey 2 came out last month and above all else, puts on display just how broad your sound is. When it came to crafting the project, what kind of sound did you envision for it, and how did it evolve during the creative process?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: I wanted to make it more trappy. One of my other favorite artists is Logic – and that’s controversial to a lot of people also. But his production is always fire. On his album, Young Sinatra 4, he has a lot of boom-bap trap songs, and a lot of that production inspires me. I wanted to make a lot of cool, unique blends between trappy 808’s and instrumentation. I’ve always loved jazz, and people tell me my production is smooth, so I wanted to take an elegant, glossy approach to a more trappy sound, and still with boom-bap stuff too. I wander around, play with sounds, and drag it all bag into my album. But I still want to do more trap stuff because I haven’t done much of it.
RNGLDR: The last single towards the project’s release was PSA with redveil. How did you two get connected, and what was it like working with the young wordsmith?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: As I’ve been growing a lot lately, a lot of that has been because of TikTok. My biggest video was WooHah, and after I released that, I saw that redveil followed me. I saw he was an artist, I went on YouTube and did my research, followed him on Instagram, and DM’d him. We just chopped it up, exchanged numbers, and one thing led to another. I made that song specifically for his sound, sent it to him, he did his thig, and that was that.
RNGLDR: How old is he?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: He’s 17. It’s crazy.
RNGLDR: Speaking beyond words and vocals, you’re also a producer and an instrumentalist. Can you speak a little bit on how you got started playing music?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: My mom tells me I was five when I started playing drums at church. My brother played the guitar and he and my mother sang. My brother is my biggest influence, and when I was younger, I’d listen to he and his best friend talk about music. They’d be pointing out detail in songs and I had never heard people talking about music like that. It changed my life and changed how I listen to music.
RNGLDR: And how did that ability to play instruments eventually transition into producing your own work?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: I think I made my first beat at 11, and I actually think it was pretty natural. I grew up on hip-hop and rap music. I love production, and having played instruments, I just wanted to try to make beats. I just kept working at it and overtime, just got better.
RNGLDR: What do you think playing instruments and producing your own work offers you and other wide-ranging artists that do the same, that artists who collaborate with other producers don’t have the luxury of exploring with their sound?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: It’s easier for me to communicate what I want. But I also know the other route works for artists. It’s a case-by-case thing. For me, working alone gives me the ability to dump everything out without any filters and without anyone else’s opinions.
RNGLDR: And what do you think are some of the advantages of working with other artists when it comes to perspective and range?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: Just being comfortable with other artists and producers. Some artists can get awkward and uncomfortable when working with others. And it’s a fine balance I’ve learned to have. I’m blessed to be able to have it both ways. It’s the best of both worlds.
RNGLDR: Going back another project to 2019’s YOOF, a favorite of ours has become Real Friends. Above all else, it really puts on display just how lyrically engrained your music is capable of being. What inspired the song?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: I just wanted to elaborate on how important it is to really know who your friends are. There are a lot of things in life that people think are cliché, but usually those things are true. Like when people say, ‘watch who you hang out with’ or ‘watch who your friends are,’ a lot of people don’t do that. They just let anybody in. It’s kind of like ‘love yourself’ or ‘follow your dreams.’ Those things may be cliché, but more than half of all people don’t follow their dreams. Everybody struggles with self-doubt and self-worth, and talking about that stuff may sometimes sound cheesy, but it’s real. Real Friends is real. Everybody that listens to that does a 360 in their life, and pays attention – does a roll call of the people around them – and you’ve got to do that periodically in your life.
RNGLDR: On the other end of the spectrum, back to M-Side Odyssey 2, is See You On The Other Side. How does a slow-progression, vocal-driven track like that come to fruition for you?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: It goes back to the storytelling aspect of it. I think of making an album like making a movie. Depending on the tone of the album, I decide to close it in a specific way. With See You On The Other Side, I wanted all the listeners to be in it together, and for it to be a nice, peaceful transition out of the project altogether.
RNGLDR: What’s next for Langston Bristol?
LANGSTON BRISTOL: redveil and I are working more. Working with Lou Phelps, too. And I’ve got something coming with Laeland. Also, more videos, and trying to be more consistent with TikTok and Instagram – miniature content. And eventually, maybe this year or sometime randomly next year – I’m impulsive – another album.