In its brief four-year history, Mass Appeal Records has signed a slew of artists noted for their sharp lyricism and adept storytelling abilities. Run the Jewels, Dave East, Ezri, and more have found success with the platform given to them by Mass Appeal and the newest signee, Cantrell, is next in line to follow the blueprint.
Hailing out of Albany, G.A., a city just south of Atlanta, Cantrell has a compelling story to tell. At an early age, the up-and-coming MC discovered jam skating, a form of competitive roller skating that incorporates gymnastics and dance, as seen in the films Roll Bounce and ATL. The sport became a creative outlet for Cantrell as he was surrounded by the music of the South’s famed skating rinks. By his teenage years, Cantrell studied many artists, like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Michael Jackson, to extend his ear for music past the confines of the skating rinks. While researching these artists, Cantrell drew inspiration and motivation from them as his appreciation for music was just beginning to grow. Despite turning pro as a teenager in jam skating, Cantrell knew his true calling was music.
Following his high school graduation, Cantrell accepted a scholarship to play college football, but it was short-lived, as he tells Billboard. “Everything else I was doing at that time besides music was getting in the way. That included school, sports, and jam skating,” he says. “When I figured all that was in the way I cut them out and it was on from there.”
After a few drawbacks trying to start his music career in Atlanta, Cantrell moved to Los Angeles, where he was discovered by producer MiSCHiEF BOY on SoundCloud. A collaboration would form between the two that eventually resulted in the EP Stardust 2 Angels.
Cantrell’s debut EP is the story of the physical and emotional journey from a small southern town to the City of Angels. As Cantrell puts it, “The physical journey I took from Albany to Los Angeles is a universal symbol of the risks we all must take to conquer fear in the pursuit of larger aspirations.”
As Stardust 2 Angels reaches streaming services today, Cantrell spoke with Billboard about the debut EP, the importance of the Stardust 2 Skate Center, his journey from Albany to Los Angeles, what a collab between him and Nas would sound like, and much more. You can also watch his new video for “Mo Time” below.
Who were some artists you listened to as you first started discovering hip-hop?
I would say Biggie, Goodie Mob, Field Mob, OutKast, Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nirvana. Those were the earliest ones I clung on to. Nirvana stands out the most in that group. Yeah, that was the first taste of anything I got outside of rap and soul. It was infectious. I had not heard anything like that before. It clung on to me early. That’s how I kind of started getting into rock when I tried dabbling in it for awhile and falling in love with certain rock bands.
Your sound has so many different angles — you don’t sound like the typical southern rapper. Did you adopt most of the artists you listened to into your sound?
Yeah. I developed my sound by studying the ones that came before me and wanting to be good. If it wasn’t for that soul sound that the south has, it was up north. Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Rakim, Eminem, Big Daddy Kane. That balance mixed with jam skating and being a b-boy showed me all the different ways you can attack music.
Given the high chances of you not making it in hip-hop, were there any doubts about you turning down the college football scholarship?
No, I was content with leaving because I had already done what I set out to do. There were a lot of naysayers telling me I wouldn’t be able to go D1 because of my size. Once I overcame that and showed them they were wrong, I was cool with it. I was okay with walking away because I was able to be a 5′ 5, 140-pound D1 football player that climbed up the depth chart. I was all the way cool with that. Of course, when you compare succeeding in music to succeeding in football, the better safety net was football. I didn’t care, though, I was ready to leave.
What football player would you compare yourself to?
Deion Sanders. I’m going to say it, he’s probably the best overall athlete we’ve ever seen. I know Bo Jackson is who he is but to me, Deion is still the best. Of course the generation is different now, but Deion was just as good in baseball as he was in football. If he was a 10 in football, I have to give him at least an 8.5 on the diamond. Being multi-talented myself, I really take on to that.
What other avenues are there other than hip-hop that you think you’ll succeed in?
Overall, everything. I believe I have the gift of mastering everything I touch. Like you know people who are just naturally good at something? I feel like I have that. My gift has always been able to lock in on something and get it like I’ve been doing it for so long. Specifically, I think I want to master creative direction.
How did jam skating influence your rap career?
Man, the first thing that comes to mind about jam skating is the soundscape and music I was exposed to. I was able to go from rap heavy to be able to dabble into pop and understand what those sounds are like even though I never got into it myself. I was able to appreciate different forms of music. We had to skate to a freestyle project by an electronic group. We had to skate to Egyptian Lover and Afrika Bambaataa. Then, you had the southern stuff like Kilo Ali, 69 Boyz.
Why did you end your career in jam skating if you were a professional making money?
It was my calling. My main vehicle for what I feel like I’m here to do, on this earth, is through music. I would call jam skating and b-boying just other parts of the vehicle like the steering wheel or gear shift. I was able to travel to some states that I’ve never been to and perform and make money. I was able to become a professional jam skater, a sponsored one at that so I’ve gotten a taste of what it has to offer. I’ve been well decorated in jam skating but I just knew hip-hop was it.
My debut project available now! Link in bio. Thank Yous: @themischiefboy @mikeylev @dude_br0 @massappealrecs -label @massappeal @nas @bittenbender @gottkgo @shenannieganns @aushim @brooklynmartino @askiaf @jungleqb @jeffclyburn @rellish2345 @dillon_edlin -mixed by @jeffjacksonmix -mastered by @masteredbymike -additional production @flawlesstrackz + @imnikoblank + Kelly Portis -cover @shoguncarter
Let’s get into the concept for Stardust 2 Angels.
Of course. Stardust, my hometown skating rink, represents a home and comfort zone where artists are formed, and where they dream of what they can become. Angels, being the city of Los Angeles where I started my rap career, represents the destination, vision, and realization of those dreams. The journey is everything in between. That’s the ups and the downs, the good and the bad that happens on this journey to break your mold and comfort zone.
What influence did the Stardust skating rink have on you?
That’s where I found my first love, found the first scuffles I had no business being apart of, found my best friend, found the first real disagreements with friends. That’s where I learned a lot, gained a lot, and lost a lot. It was a safe haven for me, you know? I was a good kid and being as impressionable as I was at that age, there’s no telling what I could’ve gotten myself into if my safe haven was somewhere else. But since I had the rink to cling on to most of the time, it kept me out of trouble.
Are you going to be following other artists who’ve repped places that were special to them, like Jay-Z with Marcy Projects, Eminem with 8 Mile and even recently with Travis Scott and Astroworld?
Oh, wow. In a different way, shape, and form for sure. We definitely want to dive into more of what Stardust is and what it means to me, being that it represents home and a comfort zone. There’s so many ways we can play with it because it means so much. We definitely want to attack it from different angles moving forward.
Was it difficult adjusting to a big city like Los Angeles?
At first, it was a little overwhelming just trying to figure out how I would fit in and move around. Eventually, I found my footing and accepted it as home for that time being. I felt like I was a part of the neighborhood after awhile. My boy MiSCHiEF BOY, who executive produced the whole project, did a good job of helping me out with the process.
How did the deal with Mass Appeal happen?
Shoutout Anthony Saleh, Nas’ manager. He’s the lifesaver, Mr. Walk-Off Home Run. My guy Mikey was relentless with getting the project out and seeing who wanted to take it. At first, they liked me but you know where Mass Appeal is with it, so I don’t know what happened if Mikey went harder or what, but it turned out better. Mikey connected us with the CEO at Mass Appeal and it just felt right from there. We were getting other offers, but Mass Appeal was right. It seems like they care about each other — I felt that from day one.
Have you gotten the chance to meet Nas?
I haven’t. But if I do, I’ll have to tell myself two things: one, not to embarrass myself by being awkward, I just have to tell myself to chill. Two, just being one hundred. I’m a little on the apprehensive side too. I want to be a legend someday so at the same time I’m going to be learning. It crosses my mind every time that, at some point, I have to meet this living legend. He’s one of the greatest storytellers ever. You have to put him up there with Bob Dylan. It’s nerve-racking but inspiring because I want to be there someday on his side.
What do you think the perfect song between you and Nas would be like?
I want to push him on that song. I want to push him to create not just any record, but for us to cut that classic. We can cut whatever, obviously. But if the opportunity comes, I’m going to push him and sharpen that sword because I feel like I can. I want to be top 10 dead or alive one day. I know he’s going to push me and that’s only going to push me to push him back.
What does it mean, in your opinion, to be one of the top 10 all time with everything going on with album sales and popularity?
It’s all about impact. Impact is going to come in multiple ways like record sales and streams but the real impact matters in the game, the people, the culture. Besides the album sales and streams, how are you changing the game, people, and culture through your impact? You have to impact time as well. Jay-Z and Nas were all we could talk about for 15 years. They stop rapping and we’re still going to talk about them.