by Paul Meara
Innanet James is very D.C., which makes him quite different from other artists from around the States. A child of hip-hop, funk, and traditional DMV go-go, the Silver Springs native let his birth-area culture bleed into his understanding of art growing up. It’s what’s given his musical output such a unique twang even though the 21-year-old rapper’s career is still rather young.
Inspired by everyone from early Wu-Tang Clan to more modern Lil Wayne, James’ rapping style and one-of-a-kind voice assumes different characteristics of dope. He released his debut project Quebec Place earlier this year to a positive reception. It’s something he’s proud of but quickly ready to replace with something even more “meaningful” and introspective.
REVOLT recently spoke with Innanet James about life and what he’s planning on creating next. If 2016 is any inclination of what we may get from the DMV spitter next year, get ready — especially if it’s more evolved.
You grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. How did that shape you personally before music?
Growing up between D.C., Maryland, and Virginia you get so many different perspectives. I’m from Montgomery County/Silver Springs and there it’s real diverse. The whole area isn’t diverse, but it was before it got gentrified. You get a whole different experience out here. I lived in D.C. for a while and when I was living in D.C. it wasn’t as gentrified as it is now. It felt more like home. Maybe that was just ‘cause I was growing up there. You could go to go-gos on the weekend and you was on your block. You had block parties during the summer. Here we don’t have gangs and sh-t. We have hoods, so hoods used to have whole days — a day for your hood. It’s just not like that no more. It’s just a blessing growing up here because I got to have so many different perspectives.
Do you feel the gentrification killed some of the culture or did the younger generation just decide to not carry the torch?
IJ: Um, it’s a little bit of both honestly. I would say it’s more leaning towards gentrification ‘cause you’ve got these people who would’ve carried these traditions on that ain’t in the same places anymore. They moved. You’ve got people living on the south side where they parents lived they whole life. Now they out in Woodbridge, Virginia. I think they both played a factor in it.
IJ: Wale is one of the biggest inspirations for me for music because if it wasn’t for Wale I would’ve never thought that this was possible ‘cause we didn’t have no rapper from here before Wale. We had them and we knew about them but they weren’t on the national scale. Wale gave me that motivation to be like, “Oh sh-t, we from the same place. He made it out, so I can also make it out.” His music is also what I think is incredible. Having both of those things and him being from my city. Everyone helped pave the way. Fat Trel, Shy Glizzy, it all just gave me more confidence in myself and being like, “I can do this too.”
Wu-Tang Clan was big for you early on. How did that play a role in you wanting to rap later in life?
IJ: Yeah, Wu-Tang was a big part of my life. I knew them “C.R.E.A.M.” [lyrics] before I could speak. It’s crazy. I think I might’ve rapped that early. I got my start in rap like how a lot of people did these days. I wrote my first rap in a classroom and my teacher made me read it out loud. It wasn’t good and they kind of clowned me on it, so then I stopped rapping but I always loved rap. When I listened to it I would kind of freestyle here and there. I would change words to songs and sh-t like that, so I kept my interest in it. I didn’t pick it back up until I got into high school. When I got into high school I had been recording at a couple friends' house and then I got into a real studio. It was a progression sort of thing, like I could make something out of this.
Lil Wayne's Da Drought 3 also played a big role too. That’s kind of an original choice for what got you back into hip-hop, right?
IJ: That’s what made me want to rap. That whole project, I think that’s one of the best — bar for bar — that sh-t is incredible. His metaphors are incredible in that joint. In my house, I was playing Xbox or whatever and I used to listen to a whole bunch of different types of music, but I was listening to Wayne heavy back then. My cousin put it on. I still know the verses to them now — “Black Republicans,” all of that sh-t man. It was just like bars that made me feel like, “Oh, sh-t, this is some out-the-box thinking.” You could just be as creative as you want to be.
“Summer” is a really incredible record, but Quebec Place as a whole project is really solid. Explain each of those because, so far, that’s how a lot of people identify with you.
IJ: “Summer” came together — I was working at a tennis court, and I heard the beat at work. I was like, “Damn, that beat is crazy.” I wrote some of [the lyrics] for it at work and then the rest when I got back home. I just felt the energy from that song. I sent it to the producer, he loved it as well, and we got to put it out. We didn’t even think it was going to be that big. I had had “Black” out and it had got some people hip to me but [“Summer”] really changed sh-t. I performed in California because of that joint and everything I have now is because of that record.
Quebec Place happened after “Summer”. I hadn’t even thought to do the project. It was a summer project just because of the timing and season. We put it together after summer and it was kind of like learning how to ride a bike. [This] was the first project I ever learned how to put together. I wanted it to be a strong debut, real cohesive, and make sense as a whole. Quebec Place is a street in uptown D.C. and a place I would move to in the summer, it was real welcoming, and we would play basketball on the block. They had block parties, I knew my neighbors, we would hang out and all that sh-t. I just miss that part of summer so I had to make a summer project and name it after what were some of the most important summers to me.
How have you grown as an artist from when you were in high school to now?
IJ: I understand how to make full songs now. There’s a lot of music that you don’t know if you from the outside looking in. It’s a slow grind and you gotta keep working. I used to make hella one-verse freestyles, but now I’m making full songs and I’m in the studio with producers and we crafting stuff from nothing. It’s just real art now versus me just rapping on a beat that I found. I wish you heard some of the sh-t I recorded post-Quebec. It’s getting more meaningful and I’m just talking about my life more as a whole.
Who is an artist you really want to work with that you haven’t so far?
IJ: There’s a lot of people. Right now I’ve been listening to Little Simz, Chance The Rapper — that’s one of the biggest people I wanna work with. There’s a lot of people I’m listening to now that I wanna work with.
What’s next for Innanet James as far as projects go?
IJ: Right now I’m working on a couple different things. I’m just recording ‘cause it’s post-Quebec and it’s the end of the year so it’s like I’m working on sh-t for next year. I’m working on two projects right now. One is a side project, me and The Kount are going to do a little side project, and then I’m working on a real proper, proper album. I feel like Quebec Place is like an introductory album like, “Oh hey, I can show people that I can rap and have a great beat selection and know what I’m doing.” Now I’m about to dive deep and start telling you stories and real meaningful music.
Watch Innanet James’ video for “Summer” below: