There is a common belief that change is necessary for growth. Hip-hop is all too familiar with the idea, as countless rappers have undergone name changes and shifted their sound to take their music to the next level. Adé — formerly known as Phil Adé — is the latest rapper to make the switch, as he embarks on a new era in his career.
Since his 2009 debut mixtape, Starting on JV, Adé has been a force within the independent circuit, collaborating with Raekwon, Logic, Wale, and the late Mac Miller. The buzz that he generated throughout the years pushed his name into the conversation of hottest DMV-area rappers, but after unleashing the Tate Kobang and Saba Abraha-assisted “No Fear” in 2017, he went back into the lab to experiment. “I kind of took a step back and did more behind-the-scenes work like writing,” Adé tells Billboard. “I was still working on my own songs, but I worked with other artists.”
The “SOMETHING NEW” rapper recorded a cluster of songs during his two-year break, and created a new sound that reinvigorated his creative process: “I felt like I was in a new chapter in my career. This sound I was making was new, so I needed to repackage and rebrand.” With a different sound under his belt, Adé dropped his forename and found a new home at Epic Records.
To celebrate his evolution, Adé released his major label debut EP Always Something last February. The six-track EP is a reintroduction to the hip-hop stalwart’s talents on the mic, backed by his refurbished sound. Adé exhibits his tight wordplay on tracks like “SOMETHING NEW” featuring Lil’ Baby and “SOMETHING FOR NOTHIN” with Rich The Kid. He also taps into his church choir background dropping catchy melodies on songs like “SOMETHING’S UP” and “SOMETHING SWEET.”
Billboard spoke to Adé about Always Something, signing with Epic, finding positives within the negatives and linking up with his DMV brethren Goldlink and Wale. Check out our conversation below.
What are the biggest differences between Phil Adé and Adé?
Adé is like me coming into my own, as far as comfort level. I feel like I have a focused sound now — I know where my comfort zone is. Phil Adé was still good music, but I feel like I was still trying to find myself as an artist sonically. I’m at the point in my life where I got that now.
How did the music you made in the past lack its focus?
I’ve always been an artist that can do a lot of stuff because I’m able to use melodies and rap. I’m able to play with different sounds and I have an appreciation for a lot of different music. Sound has always been all over the place for me. I feel like now I’m in a place where I know exactly what I want to do as far as sound, and I’m staying right there. This is Adé’s sound and that’s the main difference.
After so many years on the independent circuit, what fueled you signing with Epic?
Infrastructure. There is nothing like having that team. Of course, the ideal situation is independence, but I feel like to get to a certain level, if you’re independent, you have to have that structure. Doing a partnership with Epic gives me that. Over at Epic, I get a real family vibe. There are a couple of homies I know from back in Maryland that work up there, and I’m just comfortable. I know a lot of people try to make it seem like signing with a major is the devil, but it’s not always the case. It’s about finding the right situation for you, and Epic was the right one for me.
At times do you think signing with a major was the right thing to do with the stigmas that surround major labels?
Yeah, I think it was the right move. Like I said, it’s about finding the situation that’s right for you and what you want out of it. What I wanted was structure, and people that I feel like I can talk to and that would get things done. That’s what I have and it’s hard to do that on your own. If you can do it on your own then do it. But if you find a situation that’s right, go ahead and do that.
How did you want to approach your first major label release?
I kind of wanted the EP to be a sampler of the new sound. Every song is a different vibe, I feel like, but all the same sound. I wanted everything to sound bright and positive — with the exception of “SOMETHING NEW,” which is more of a lower-toned track, but still drives. I wanted people to hear what this Adé sound is about, and I feel like I accomplished that.
What were some of the stuff you were listening to that inspired this new Adé sound?
Man, everything. Bro, I listen to everything from the Futures, the Drakes, the Chances. On the ride up here I was listening to Tevin Campbell. There’s a rock band called The Driver Era that I also listen to. I bounce around a lot, so my music has always reflected that. I know where I want my sound to go and I’m staying there.
There’s an ongoing message about embracing positivity on the EP that listeners may not catch. Can you talk about that message?
Over the past few years, I had some hard times, and even some situations where I was fucked up and dealing with some shit that my mom wouldn’t be proud of just to get by. But I was always able to keep my head high. I always had my recording equipment and that kept me through it. I was always staying positive, and I know with anything in life nothing is forever. If you go through some hard times or hit some ceilings or roadblocks, it doesn’t last forever. It’s always something positive to hold on to or something that you can always look forward to, even if it’s just looking forward to the next day. The songs don’t really cover that, but I wanted the sound to be fun and I wanted it to be something you cut on when you want to feel positive or feel things are good.
You mentioned in your press release for the EP that you have more peace and progression when you’re focused on whatever good is going on around you. What does it take to focus on the positives when people are in severely negative situations?
I know there are situations that are crazy, but you just have to keep your head down and find what it is you have to focus on to keep you from going crazy and focus on that. There was a point where I was living in Capitol Heights, which is not the greatest of places in America, and I was renting a room out from a friend over there. That was hard because I had a bed frame and had to put an air mattress in the bed frame. [Laughs.] It was crazy. But I had a desk, a computer, and my recording equipment.
I just focused on my craft and those songs I made got me through it all. One song I came up with, Wale took it, put it on his album, and Chris Brown sang my part over. Workin, and still working with my management and sending songs out, I was able to get to another level and get through that time. Those hard times didn’t last forever for me.
In the opener “PLAY SOMETHING,” it sounds like you were introducing yourself again to your listeners, but there are also some bars where you’re talking your talk. Did you feel with this change you had something to prove on this EP?
Not really something to prove, just reminding people that I still do this. I mean, I did that on purpose. I wanted to basically say where I’m at and also still keep it clever. I still throw shit in my rhymes here and there, so people who appreciate what I was doing before can still appreciate this. I really just wanted to keep it clever.
What made Lil Baby and Rich the Kid the ideal features for “SOMETHING NEW” and “SOMETHING FROM NOTHIN’?”
Well, they’re some of the hottest in the game right now that’s out. I felt like those songs would fit them perfectly, so I hit our mutual friend and she reached out to them. Lil Baby came to D.C. and laid his verse in the studio. Rich, I believe, laid his verse on his tour bus. I didn’t really have to do anything — I brought them into my world, and what I did on those songs, I felt like their sound could fit perfectly on it. I’m forever grateful for my friend making that connect for me. I wouldn’t have been able to get that without her.
You also collaborated with your fellow DMV natives Wale and Goldlink on “SOMETHING REAL.” Talk about the creation of that record.
We did that at Wale’s studio back in D.C. Wale called Goldlink to come by the studio and we were all there and just started recording. Goldlink brought some of his folk’s beats and we laid verses and hooks down. It happened in one day and that was really it. It was cool, and felt like I was just making songs with my homies — because they’re all from the crib, so it was natural.
What does it mean for you three to emerge out of the DMV, with how everyone thinks about your region’s style of hip-hop?
I think that was just great for the town. I know a big thing that people say when they talk about hip-hop music from the DMV is how we don’t work together, and how we have to be like Atlanta where all the artists support each other. I feel like artists have to be a certain caliber to get together, and that’s what I wanted to do. I feel like each of us is of the same caliber, artistically. I wanted to do a record like that with some cats from home because I know the town would appreciate it and they need to see it too. Shit like that is inspirational.
With the relationship you have with Wale and seeing his history with major labels, was there anything you took away from him or gems he’s given you as you move into this new area?
I think just watching Wale and being around him and seeing his movements. Seeing the do’s and don’ts has really helped me to get to this point in moving around and dealing with people at the label. I was just on the phone with him earlier today, and he was just like, “Man, don’t let people take over creatively or tell you where to go” — because he feels like he’s having that problem now. He’s making a lot of great music though. They’re having a lot of disagreements over there but I always tell him too, “This is your shit at the end of the day. You have to go out there and get in front of the camera and promote the shit and stand behind it.” We collectively tell each other that.
Where do you feel you fit amongst the new generation of artists repping the DMV? Because you’ve been around for a while, but now with a major label, more eyes are on you.
I feel like I’m the good median of everything going on. I feel like music back home is either crazy street, where we shooting your mother up, or like, very out there. Me, it’s like — I have an appreciation for both sides, from living in Maryland and being right around the corner from the hood. A lot of my friends were in the street. So I have an appreciation for music, but at the same time, people that I hang with always played Jeezy and drug-dealer music. I know that side too, and I feel like my music is needed where it can mesh things and bridge the gap.