Mineo took an approach true to the LP's title, as Uncomfortable offers cerebral musings with candid confessions and sonic flavors that range from salsa to jazz. Landing in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart, the album reaped the benefits of Mineo's leap of faith. In a recent conversation with Billboard, the down-to-earth rapper shared the album's inspiration, his thoughts on the "rat race" of hip-hop music, and the important role faith plays in his life.
What inspired you to get uncomfortable?
Uncomfortable is a word that best describes where I'm at in my life this past year. Just feeling like my life doesn't make sense. I don't fit in in a lot of ways. I think part of growing and maturing as a person in so many different ways, embracing this discomfort and knowing it produces something good in me instead of shying away from it… Oftentimes, I have to shake up my own reality as success is coming my way and want to be sure that I don't get caught in the trap of comfort… There's also a quote that was really impactful for me on this album was "Good art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." In hip-hop music, that's something I want to offer. I want to bring meaningful conversations to the table and I want to shake some things up.
Why did you decide to incorporate so many different genres into your music and not to abide by song structure?
Going along with the theme of being uncomfortable, that title lent itself to give me space to create in unconventional ways. Also, I was really inspired by psychedelic rock, listening back to some of those records. Those songs didn't have the song structure that we hear on the radio, and "Stairway to Heaven" is an eight-minute song, but because radio stations wanted to put it in their rotation, they shrunk those songs down to two minutes and changed the structure of them so they could get more advertising money and keep flipping through songs. A lot of times, artists have adopted the radio structure because that's what we listened to the most, but I think that's burned into their creative conscience… I'm so eclectic and enjoy so many different things that it's hard for me to say no to lots of different things. So, bringing Illmind, who executive-produced the project with me, bringing him onboard, he really helped me say no to some things and say yes to certain things for the sake of the body of work, and Illmind is a Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum producer for J. Cole and Drake and Kanye West and all these guys, so he was a big piece of helping bring the project together too.
New York City is such a big part of your work. Tell me what you love so much about it.
New York City is the greatest city on the planet. It's the capital of the world. There are so many enchanting things about [it]… so many different cultures, so many different people, so many different walks of life all crammed together on a 12-mile-long island. It just creates its own culture and subcultures within it... You can explore it and it's never-ending. We have Chinatown, we have Little Italy. We have uptown, Washington Heights with Latinos all over the place. We've got Tribeca… you know, all in the same 12-mile-long island of Manhattan. And that's just one part of New York.
Would you consider your music Christian rap or not?
It's kind of a sticky question... and it's hard to answer briefly because there's a lot of philosophical ideas in there too about people even wanting the idea of people selling Christianity to occur, which is some of the tension of the Christian music industry. So yeah, I don't call myself a Christian rapper, but at the end of the day, I can't control what anyone else calls me. So there's nothing you can do about it. People can call you whatever they want. I really think there are two genres of music: good music and bad music. And I'm just trying to be on the side of making good music. I don't necessarily give myself that title, but I can't control if anyone else does
Were you ever apprehensive about incorporating your faith into your music?
I think people see faith as a section of their life, like I go to church on Sunday… but for me, my faith runs through the entirety of my life. My faith informs everything about my life: the way I handle money, the way I handle relationships, marriage, friendship… my music. So I guess it's just me being authentically me when my faith came out in my music… I guess there was a hesitation in communicating my faith in my music because I'd never heard or seen it before, but I think I was just free to incorporate what I believe in my music because hip-hop values authenticity so much. I felt like I didn't want to come out and start lying about what I think or what I believe.
"Rat Race" digs into your perspective on hip-hop today. Can you tell me a little bit about that song?
When I think about the lyrics to that record, the "Rat Race" for me is the never-ending and unsatisfying pursuit of money, success, power, sex that our culture promotes as the pinnacle of success. Honestly, I feel like I'm free from those things because I know how empty they are, and I also just have a different definition of success… Success for me is faithfulness to what I set out to do, which was to help people have meaningful relationships with themselves, with other people and with God. But what's very interesting too is that I'm a very "successful rapper." And I've never had to call a woman out of her name, I've never had to use foul language in my records or lie about who I am or pretend to be somebody else, and I haven't had to hide talking about what I care about most and for me … I guess it just empowers me to feel like I don't have to run the rat race, I don't have to play the games that hip-hop has to play in order for them to achieve this thing that I've already seen as empty anyways.