In a musical landscape best characterized as ‘here today, gone tomorrow,’ CyHi the Prynce is a true anomaly. Nearly eight years after signing with Kanye West’s championed G.O.O.D. Music label imprint, the Atlanta rapper’s lone moment in the spotlight has finally come.
But while sharpening his rhyming and stockpiling Grammy nominations as a songwriter (he’s racked up credits from a handful of Kanye songs like “New Slaves,” “All Day,” “Famous,” and “Ultralight Beam”), CyHi’s career hasn’t come without skepticism – most pondering the whereabouts of his debut album. “I always knew what I was but I think the public was lost on who I was,” he explains of the time he took to fully understand and accept his purpose in the rap game.
With ample time to grow personally and professionally, CyHi’s first full-length, No Dope on Sundays, has arrived, and for him, it’s both right on time and a reflective sign of the times. After having received much praise for his recent effort, we spoke with CyHi how confidence and humbleness has been a major key to his success, spirituality, and the meaning behind No Dope on Sundays.
When was the moment you realized No Dope on Sundays would be your debut album? Like ‘this is what it’s going to be about.’
Well, I always had a concept like this, but I didn’t know what I was going to call it. I always knew that, being held back in the music industry, I wanted to start my story from the beginning. I didn’t want people to hear me rapping about what I’m going through now and current shit. I wanted to impart lessons and values and integrity. That’s what I grew up on so I wanted to make sure that resonated through the music. This album was something I always wanted to do though – there were others albums I planned on doing first, but for the time, this album was a lot more needed than the other concept albums that I had in my backpack.
Will any of those albums ever come out?
They’ll definitely come out. I just switched the order because I felt like where we were in the community and the world, this was more needed than the other albums.
With this being your debut album, I’m curious as to what your recording process was like this time around. Was it different from your mixtapes? Was your mentality going into it different?
The difference was really the signatures and the clearances. With mixtapes, you can just put it out because most of the time you’re not getting paid for it because it’s free. So people really don’t care. But I think on an album level, people want their money, and they see a major label attached they want to make sure they get paid or they’re suing. That was the hardest part of this process; finding people in the middle of Mexico and Brazil because we sampled music from everywhere. So you’ve got to fly a representative to their house; people don’t have internet; all that. It’s crazy when you’re using vintage music and those individuals are used to doing things a certain way -they don’t have to conform for you, you basically have to conform for them.
So, that was definitely the most difficult, or well, challenging, part. The music, all my guys I write with and do music and production with; we’ve all worked with Kanye and have always been in this writer system so it wasn’t a big change. The only difference was that we were working solely for me and not anyone else.
What’s your favorite song off the album?
My favorite song is “Closer.” I feel like it’s a timeline of who I am and the troubles I took my parents through. And being written off because I was super talented growing up – but not liking the way school was structured and how they taught us. I spoke out a lot and got into a lot of trouble. And I was a great athlete growing up, too, so I blew scholarships and different opportunities. I think I just channelled all that anger and let down into the music and let that mold me into who I am, what I like to do, and what I like to rap about.
A lot of my stories are real and that’s why I think it’s touching people the way it is. I’m one of those lyricists of this generation that actually had to go outside. Like, our lyricists these days are good, smart kids. They probably went to college and stuff, versus me. I actually had to take some ass whoopings; got shot at few times and saw my partner bleeding right next to me; or about to do a drive-by but telling your friend to pull over because you don’t feel good about it, and they’re mad at you, and you go home and fight them to show them you ain’t a pussy… All those type of things, the lyricists these days never went through. But those like Nas and DMX, those guys were going through it and sharing it with us.
There was a two year break between your last mixtape and this album. Was there anything you learned about yourself that helped you complete this body of work?
I always knew what I was but I think the public was lost on who I was. Being a dope lyricist and people asking why Kanye liked me after just seeing me on the internet or people wondering what was so important about me. Then you heard a few verses from me but that was like me teaching myself. I was always signed to myself but they never really invested or gave me their time or put me in the studio so I could work on my craft. It was always me by myself, because I’m from Atlanta and very talented but I don’t do trap music. So it was like if I wasn’t doing trap music then there’s not really any money. You know what I’m saying? So a lot of people didn’t really give me the resources that I needed to improve myself and show what I could do.
So now that you hear me, it’s years of studying, years of tutelage, and me being able to have the resources. I didn’t even have a lot of resources. They were very, very limited with putting this album together. So now that it’s out and it’s critically acclaimed and it’s like everyone’s talking, now my label’s like, ‘What’s up? What do you need?’ And I’m like, ‘Nothing, it’s over with’ [laughs]. But I mean the whole process has been an eye opener for everyone. I’ve gained new fans and I think the album over-exceeded the expectations of my older fans. And the people that I’m working with kind of see what I am now, so it was never really me because I always knew in the back of my head that I was that guy. It just took me time to convince others.
During that time of trying to convince others, were you always confident?
Yeah, I was that confident because what reassured me was the fact that I get to work with Kanye. I didn’t have to sell my soul for money. I didn’t have to go through trap music; I could just help Ye write songs and get money from it. So I knew when I put my album out I could just be myself. Not saying I won’t do a trap beat or rap over one, but that’s just not what makes me. That’s not all of CyHi. You know, I’m a very spiritual guy, very funny, emotional, I love women, I’m a playful guy. Sometimes I may get a little angry. So there’s so many sides of me I want to be able to display and not be boxed in as just a trap rapper or a dope boy that wants to flex on everybody. I’m not into all of that.
Even before Kanye?
Yeah. If you listen to my old material, it was never any current beats. They were always vintage hip-hop or alternative hip-hop or something people weren’t doing. I grew up on gospel and jazz, but I’m from Atlanta so I like Triple 6 and Pastor Troy. So it was just like ‘how do I show people all these parts of me that aren’t known?’ Like I got kicked out of the house early so I was forced to learn and live in a lot of different places and learn from a lot of older individuals that may have not been from Atlanta. Even the different jobs I had – I was a landscaper, I worked with an architect as an intern. I knew nothing about architecture but he was just trying to keep me out of trouble. So little things I picked up along the way – I’ve had a chance to experience a lot of different things in life. I didn’t just stay in the ghetto. I’m not just a hood n*gga. So, I think all that in a nutshell, it shows people how many ways I can go and just how diverse I am. It’s all about the understanding of life and meeting those from all types of walks of life. I think that’s what makes me special.
Aside from Kanye, who is someone that took you under their wing in this industry?
The person I would say put me under their wing and really made sure I was good was Greg Street. To me, he’s the most important. He might have not done the most, but he’s certainly the most important person in my career. When I was homeless, he made sure I had somewhere to stay. When I needed an outlet or advice or counseling or was going to go off and do something that would’ve got me jail time, he’d call me and say, ‘Nah, we ain’t doing that. Come meet me at the club and let’s get you a gig and a little money.’
He was the first one who showed me the ropes. He even gave me his rolodex. Now you know, Gregg Street got numbers from the ’80s that’s just legendary people. Like I’ve got legendary phone numbers in my phone; I still have the phone to this day. So it’s stuff like that where I have access to everybody in the world and just through him. He actually shot the video that Kanye saw of me – when I was begging my label to shoot it. I was just like, ‘OK, I’m going to shoot it so just give me a couple of weeks to hustle it up.’ Street was like, ‘Hustle it up? Nah, nah. I got you.’ And that’s because he didn’t want me to go out there and get it, so he got it, and Kanye ended up seeing it and posting it on his Tumblr at the time. It’s just different things like that. People don’t even know that story; a lot of people wrote me off and he was one of the guys that stood by me.
You grew up in a strict Christian home and have spoken about the push back you received initially from your Mom. What do your parents think of your success now?
They are extremely excited, because at first they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the language I was talking. I was trying to let people know… I used to tell my Mom I was undercover for the lord, like ‘don’t blow my cover.’ You know what I’m saying? I wanted those people I was around to think I was one of them. It was like, don’t let them know I ain’t one of them. That’s how I always thought about it. Like ‘Mom, you just gotta know I’m in their world, they finally let a good guy in.’ When my parents looked at it like that, and now that they see the different things I’m doing and I’m with a guy like Kanye West, whose first big song was “Jesus Walks” – she gets it now.
How do you stay so humble?
You know what it is… I was saying that I knew I was a prodigy or a touched individual since I was like six. My parents preached so much about Christianity and my mother thinks Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to the world – which he is – and God found a way of making examples for me. Like, just growing up, bullets would hit my partner but not me and I’d be right there. Or my Dad had a thing where he would make me play for the sorry team during football and make me go up against all my friends. It built a certain kind of character and a humble factor into me because I knew I had to work for it. And then to be able to beat them or be just as successful at so many things…
I know the devil is working against me. I already know my mission and what I’m really here to do. People may not see it but he’s been working overtime. He’s not even able to mess with other artists because he’s got so many demons around me. I think No Dope on Sundays is just a small testament of me and my team can do if we had support and the opportunity, so that’s what keeps me humble. And I’m close to Kanye so I’m not like an attention whore. I’m not eager to be famous; I’m eager to be able to take care of my family.
I think that also threw off a lot of people too because they were probably wondering about the dynamics of your relationship with G.O.O.D. Music. A lot of people think you get signed and then it’s off to the races. But you were comfortable working behind the scenes and playing your part.
That’s why people don’t understand when you see all those artists on my album, I didn’t have to pay any of them. It’s just the time, the relationship, and the humble approach that I’ve always had. I could’ve been asked them for favors. They were like, ‘Damn bruh, you wait eight years to ask me something.’ But I think keeping that kind of dialogue between myself and others is just being helpful. I’ve helped so much and not even gotten paid. That right there has put me in good graces.
If there’s one thing you want people to take away from No Dope on Sundays, what is it?
Honesty. I want this album to touch young men and also young women. For young men, I want it to be able to help them open up about who they are. I’d say about 75 percent of our black men are in jail just off peer pressure; from not being able to say ‘Nah bruh, that ain’t for me, I’ll let you do that.’ And being able to tell your brother you love him before he’s in a casket. That’s what I want to bring to the black community. To have guys having that dialogue. And for women, I want it to be like ‘this is the kind of guy you should look for’ or ‘these are the characteristics he should possess or conversations he should be having.’ I think those two things are the biggest part: just the honesty between males and females in the inner city. This will help keep many of us on the straight and narrow path.
For more like this, read what 9th Wonder had to say about Kanye West’s uncertain start in music here.
- Words: Ashley Monaé
- Cover Image: Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for SXSW