'Nina said an artist's duty is to reflect the times. My job is just to keep it authentic when they change the TV to my channel.'
The BlackSon x Evan Dale // March 15, 2020
His name is Sean, but the lens through which he sees, and the kaleidoscope of artistic range with which he creates is that of The BlackSon. His sound breathes of the many ‘somethings’ he and his his fellow Nashville artists have to speak on. Lyrically embedded through a past of spoken word poetry, his is a lyrically dominant brand of emceeing that carries on a distinct lineage of rappers really rapping. And through a barrage of recent singles, a promise for more in the clutch, and a firm refusal to hint at a prospective project, a telling yet mysterious identity hangs in the balance of the conversation, traced to hip-hop’s lyrical past, and painting Nashville’s influential future, all the while creating a safe space for other black sons to listen, to learn, and to grow.
RNGLDR: Let’s start with the name. What’s the significance and the background of ‘The BlackSon’?
THE BLACKSON: I started out as Sean Pen. But it was already taken, haha. So, me and my big brother started brainstorming and came up with The BlackSon as a reflection of what experience I was speaking from based on the “light I wanted to shed.” My name is Sean; the lens I’m looking through is The BlackSon’s.
RNGLDR: And let’s talk about the place. Are you from Nashville originally?
THE BLACKSON: Definitely born and raised right out South. A street over from the BP. Right behind the Mrs. Winners.
RNGLDR: What about being rooted in Nashville has differentiated not only your sound, but the overall sound of Nashville hip-hop from music being made elsewhere?
THE BLACKSON: Nashville music is always nuanced and undertoned by real life. It’s a wild intersection of talent and relatability.
RNGLDR: Obviously, there’s a lot going on in the city these days. What do you think it is about the current state of Nashville’s creative culture that has allowed its emerging hip-hop scene to be so prolific and so wide-ranging?
THE BLACKSON: Nashville, on every single creative front and across all mediums, got something profound to say. “It’s something in the Cumberland” as we say.
RNGLDR: And where do you and your sound fit in within that scene as a whole? What do you think your role is when it comes to your sound and the music you make within the greater, emerging Nashville scene?
THE BLACKSON: Nina said an artist's duty is to reflect the times. My job is just to keep it authentic when they change the TV to my channel.
RNGLDR: Though the Nashville scene has experienced a couple years of finally receiving some of the recognition it has long deserved, you’ve been around for a while. Your earliest SoundCloud tracks date back seven years. So, can you tell us a bit of what Nashville looked like when you first started releasing music, and how it has changed in the years since?
THE BLACKSON: Man, it really was lifetimes ago, but it took courage just to release. It was hard for people to find their audience, ya know? All the necessary shit it takes to develop as an artist. Haha, no but really, we didn’t have anything handed to us, but it made us forever ready.
RNGLDR: What do you think amounts for all of that change within the scene itself, and the recent robust uptick in coverage and listenership?
THE BLACKSON: “If ya build it, they will come.” For a long time as a culture we experienced a lil’ hamster wheel effect to no real fault of our own, but I notice us taking power back.
RNGLDR: Looking into your own work, we’ve always been so impressed by your lyricism, which also seems to be a natural focus for many rappers from Nashville. Is it a trait of the city itself that makes for lyrically driven hip-hop, or is it more of a case-by-case basis for artists?
THE BLACKSON: A city like Nashville definitely breeds a naturally aware and observant person. Especially coming from our culture. We’re fighting a generational stigma and just recently overcoming being silenced in a real way. I’d like to think we’ve all been thinking of what we would say if people were listening... and they are now. Also, it’s a whole side of the city that might not classify as traditional “lyricism” but they goin crazy! I wanna link y’all to them. They got some sharp perspective.
RNGLDR: As for your own lyricism, when did you start writing raps? And what is your writing process now?
THE BLACKSON: I started as a spoken word artist. I used to be mentored by a nonprofit called Southern Word. That’s really where I picked up such a keen attention to literary detail. I re-applied that when it came to putting it over a beat at like 16. Now at 25 I’m finding confidence in the full scope of songwriting.
RNGLDR: When it comes to recent work, you’ve gone a run of singles dating back to the end of last year. Are you working towards a project? And if so, are there any details you can give us?
THE BLACKSON: Project? What in the world is that?
RNGLDR: Defined by constant attention to wordplay, a detailed adherence to thought-provoking ideals, and your naturally deep tone, the recent singles have definitely allowed you to stand out not only in Nashville, but in the greater underground hip-hop spectrum. So, what is it that has allowed you to focus so much on refining your aesthetic and being a much more prolific force in recent months than you have been in years prior?
THE BLACKSON: I was planning and God was laughing. In 2020 I found a way to share a laugh with God. Been reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, too.
RNGLDR: Along with the singles, you’ve also featured on a few of your fellow Nashvillian projects. What is the favorite featuring verse you’ve been a part of, and why?
THE BLACKSON: I’ll never say which child is my favorite. Features are fun though. It always feels like I’m some cross over guest star on a sitcom or some shit.
RNGLDR: Our personal pick is your spot on Reaux Marquez’s BIG FISH. What is it like working with Reaux, and how does your relationship with him – personal and creative – allow your collaborative creativity to flourish?
THE BLACKSON: Me and Reaux are the iron and iron cliché. We expect and get the best out of each other in an intentional way. I’m from The City but The Garden embraces me like one of their own for sure!
RNGLDR: And if there is one collaboration in Nashville that you’d like to do, but haven’t yet, who do you want to work with? Why?
THE BLACKSON: I have a loooot of unreleased music. Haaa
RNGLDR: What about outside of Nashville, and outside of time constraints. Who is one artist – past or present – that you would love the chance to collaborate with? Why?
THE BLACKSON: Gil Scott-Heron is one of one for me. Him and Jay Z on a feature would be like... brah, what?
RNGLDR: The pandemic and its accompanying shutdowns have had a diverse impact on artists. In one way, the times have allowed more time for artists to focus on their creative craft and create as individuals. In another, the lack of live music has been painful for both artists and fans alike. As an artist, what have been the positives of relative isolation and a lot of creative time? And what has been hardest about not being able to put on a show – or at least not in the way that we’re all used to?
THE BLACKSON: I found myself in the pandemic. I took time to digest some super hard truths about what was holding me back as a human and as a creator and came out stronger. I’m TOO thankful for God’s timing.
RNGLDR: Are you a rapper that prefers the studio and the camera lens, or do you prefer the concert setting?
THE BLACKSON: I love everything that comes with making something from nothing. MC's are alchemists. And the title in itself is an honor, so wherever I am... studio, stage, lunch table, I’m tryna move the crowd.
'wherever I am... studio, stage, lunch table, I’m tryna move the crowd'
RNGLDR: We run a narrative series called Dream Venue taking the reader on a journey culminating in the perfect live event. So, once the pandemic is over and live music returns, what would be your Dream Venue experience as the artist performing? Where would you perform and what would be the energy of the setting?
THE BLACKSON: Man, as the city is growing I’ve really had a fascination with Ascend amphitheater. It would be a dream to perform some of these hits we’ve been making through the pandemic right here at home in from of some of our closest. After traveling and spreading the message’s course!
RNGLDR: And what about as a fan? How would your perfect day unfold, where would you end up, and who would be performing once you got there?
THE BLACKSON: Honestly, I’m a true fan of the squad so the perfect day in this aspect would probably just be rolling with Brown or Reaux on a show day and getting to experience it from a more relaxed perspective.
RNGLDR: Along with the collection of singles you’ve released accompanying visuals for each track. What is the larger story you’re trying to tell? And how do your music videos allow you to explore that story in a different way than just a song can do?
THE BLACKSON: When we were initially preparing this series, I wanted to call them theories instead of singles mainly because these recent efforts are simply snapshots into my world like with the walk in the park in Uncle Fester or Lunch at Waldos in Thanking God In Advance. Now of course, there are a couple more layers to be peeled back as far as why these scenes and moments are significant but it wouldn’t be appropriate as a writer to give away so much of the play in Act 1.
RNGLDR: Why always Black & White?
THE BLACKSON: Growing up me and my big brother always thought real hip hop looked and felt the best in black and white. It feels more authentic. Colors are really important so if the scheme isn’t intentional, the emotions sometimes gets lost that way.
RNGLDR: Aside from the singles, the videos, the collaborations, and a prospective project in the works, what is next for The BlackSon personally and creatively?
THE BLACKSON: Personally, the mission is always the same: ‘Create a safe space for black sons’ As an artist I’ve spent quite a bit of time becoming completely self-sustained which might be a lil’ evident in me directing and editing my own videos now. Ultimately, I’m just excited to see where my new sense of creative drive will take our ideas as a squad.... what’s this project you keep hinting at?