G.O.O.D Music signing speaks on ‘No Dope On Sundays’, songwriting and longevity…

For most of us, Stone Mountain rapper Cyhi The Prynce made his introduction with the declaration, “If God had an iPod, I’d be on his playlist,” on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Fridays posse cut ‘So Appalled’.

It was 2010, and somehow this unknown 24-year-old was holding his own in a sparring match with Jay-Z and Pusha T. While Cyhi, born Cydel Young, - and specifically his pen - would become an integral part of the G.O.O.D Music camp, he’d wait another seven years before finally serving up his anticipated debut album, ‘No Dope On Sundays’, at the end of last year.

Continuing to meditate on the intersection of street life, pro-blackness and religion that he’s been examining since the beginning, the 15 track collection - including features from crew mates Kanye West, Pusha T and Travis Scott - sees Cyhi perfecting his formula. An elder statesman in rap, despite being his first official album, he opens with ‘Amen (Intro)’, a set of contemporary commandments meticulously crafted and delivered: a rap sermon over a boom bap drum break. “That was something I wanted to do creatively: I went into the twelve commandments of the streets and how to keep young guys out of trouble,” he says, happy to be spending this Winter morning engaged in conversation about a celebrated first album. “I think I just wanted to make sure the young guys were tightened up and understand what it is to be a man, in so many words.”

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The album began life eighteen months ago with the tracks ‘Trick Me’ and ‘Get Yo Money’. Both songs are about drug dealing, but rather than fantasising about a life of excess, Cyhi’s tales warn about keeping operations low key and under the radar as possible. “Get yo’ money, then get out the game,” says the hook of the latter song, warning those that see success in the streets not to get caught up and stay there. He’s not judging those who are forced into the lifestyle, but giving them the keys to finding their way towards a legitimate, sustainable income where they’ll no longer be looking over their shoulders.

“I want [listeners] to take away the storytelling, the honesty of it, but also the underlying tone of spirituality,” he says of his intentions. “I’m trying to reach these young inner city boys, to give them a sense of consciousness while they’re out here moving. Then they’ll think about consequences before they do something, instead of after they do it.” Midway through the process of piecing the album together, he settled on the title ‘No Dope On Sundays’, which had formerly been a mantra when stepping into the booth. “I just gave them a lot of stories that I went through so that hopefully [they can] understand there are ways out,” he continues. “[It’s] different things I want to give the youth, a different way of looking at the streets or the trap, or just being cool in general.”

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A different way of looking at the streets or the trap...

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Although he’s never previously been rushed to get his debut out there, Cyhi felt an urgency to complete the album so that he could share his words while he believed they’d be particularly poignant. “We was like ‘Man, this album is right now,’” he reflects. “We was working hard and diligently to make sure we got it out in the time that’s happening in the world. I feel like it fits the climate.”

The obstacles that did cause delays for the release are a lot more banal than any delusions that one might consider when thinking about a rapper at the height of his game: “It’s so much paper work that goes into putting an album together, you’d never imagine,” he laughs. “I think that is probably the most difficult part!”

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Cyhi has proven time and again his ability to bar out - watch any of the radio freestyles he did while promoting the album - but he’s also long had a passion for song craft, a seed he says was first planted during his time spent in the chorus growing up. “I think once I got around Kanye I developed a better sense of songwriting,” he continues, “how to make the lyrics match the beat. I want this to match emotionally, I want it to match in energy, I want it to match in so many ways. I think being around Kanye really helped me, because the way he puts songs together, he makes sure they’re so cohesive. I wanted to do the same but also add a little storytelling to it.” During long hours spent in the studio working on albums like ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘Yeezus’, he’s also picked up what he calls “the language of music.”

“I never knew what a 909 was or an 808, delays, filters, compressors,” he lists. “Now when I speak to the producer or engineer we can speak in that universal language.”

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I think once I got around Kanye I developed a better sense of songwriting...

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While effortlessness is valued above content for many younger rappers, who are quick to boast about how rapidly a viral hit came together, Cyhi, now 32 years old, is proud of the hard work that he puts into crafting each record. “I always tell people, ‘This is premeditated,’” he says. “This [album] is something I always wanted to write. I definitely wanted to put [my lyrics] in a certain order, so they’re articulated well and everybody understands the message that I’m trying to convey. It really did that to the people because they see the time and tediousness that I actually put into this album.”

Music isn’t just a product to be bagged and sold for Cyhi; it’s something that he’d be doing for art’s sake, whether it was generating income or not. “I don’t do it for money, I do it because I enjoy it, it’s therapy,” he confesses. “I just make sure I give a certain amount of my life to my craft. I want to write these scriptures and make sure they get to the people; make sure people are getting these records and are living by them. Sometimes I have to take away from going to the club, seeing my family or enjoying my life, because I’m somewhere writing the gospel.”

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It can hold you back, but it gives you longevity.

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Never one to blindly follow the procession, Cyhi’s sonic fusion of classic drum breaks, trunk-rattling basslines and soulful melodies sit outside of the sound dominating the clubs in his hometown. Although this could sometimes feel like an uphill battle in the beginning, Cyhi is thankful that he retained his integrity. “It can hold you back, but it gives you longevity. You may not get to the money as fast as most artists would from Atlanta, but you have more opportunities and definitely a longer run,” he explains. “I think sometimes people want their money or instant gratification, so they’ll get on and be here for two years and be gone. People first heard of me with ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ in 2010, and I’m still being afforded the opportunity to put music out seven years later because I have a craft that people cherish.”

The space that Cyhi The Prynce currently inhabits, where he can confidently work on his art free from deadlines and without regard for current trends, can only come with years of investing in ones craft. “There’s no rush if you really have the talent, and the music to back it up. I always stay focussed on that.”

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Words: Grant Brydon
Photo Credit: Cam Kirk

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