A Talk with Xhef
Xhef is a rapper from New Jersey who has been involved in a handful of hip hop projects this decade thanks to his involvement in the collective Feel Lo, as well as being part of the duo Tomorrow People with fellow rapper Brent Bronze. More recently, Tomorrow People have released the BLUECOLLAR EP, and Xhef has released his own album, EXTENSION OF THE HAND.
Discussing the sound of his music, Xhef said: "I’d describe my sound as abstract or experimental hip hop that’s designed to be emotionally evocative. Honestly, I can’t compare it to anything else out now and nobody I know has been able to either, which makes it a bit harder to pitch to new people. But they get it when they hear it, you know?"
Earlier this year, Xhef and Brent released their debut album under the name Tomorrow People, titled tmrw.ppl. Xhef said: "Tmrw.ppl is a somewhat abrasive album which is difficult to adjust to because of its highly conceptual nature and loud sonic palate."
With their new EP, BLUECOLLAR, the duo wanted to take a different approach. "The idea was to make something a bit more accessible. We wanted to make something that was still very ‘us’ in DNA, but something people could play in the car and appreciate more without having to be so invested in the overall concept."
Xhef added: "Working with Brent is such an enlightening and cathartic experience. Our visions usually align out of the gate, and when they don’t, we always have a way of understanding one another and compromising in a meaningful way. I can say with full confidence that Brent Bronze is a creative genius (like everyone else in Feel Lo) and working with him makes me feel like we can make the best music of all time. Without spoiling much of our roadmap, tmrw.ppl will be getting a sequel album this year, and BLUECOLLAR will have a spiritual successor sometime next year."
On top of his work as part of Tomorrow People, Xhef has also recently released EXTENSION OF THE HAND, his solo album produced by Teekoh from Feel Lo. Xhef said:
"It’s only thirty minutes between Side A and Side B, but the album is probably the most meticulously detailed ad purposefully designed body of work I’ve ever made. I had all these themes and emotions and the overall concept, but finding my exact words took longer than expected. Teekoh and I worked very closely on every instrumental to make sure it was perfect for what I needed it to be for the album’s story."
He went on to describe the meaning of the album’s title: "The title ties closely into the artwork for the project. Without spoiling too much conceptually, I wanted to liken my personal experiences to being the hand making the half-heart as seen on the cover. I built the entire project around the extended metaphor of being an unmet hand in a blank void and having to derive meaning from events in my life that left me lost and confused on how to live."
As well as his solo work and his role in Tomorrow People, Xhef is also part of the collective Feel Lo, which formed in March 2021. The collective consists of rappers Xhef and Maki, rapper/producer Brent Bronze, and producers Teekoh and 02Lean. Xhef said:
"Everything I do is with Feel Lo in some way. I’m always collaborating with at least one of the producers in Feel Lo on any given project, and my hands are in the pot for almost anything related to the collective. All my solo work is produced by either Teekoh or Brent Bronze, until somewhat recently when I’ve reached out to others in the community. Working with Teekoh and Brent Bronze is as natural as working alone at this point. My communication with them and their understanding of my style of production and features has reached a very implicit level; it’s a very beautiful relationship in a lot of ways."
Xhef described how the collective came to be: "During the pandemic, when everybody was stuck online, we met one another. Teekoh was the one who decided to form the collective. I figured that being in a collective would only help my motivation because I knew everybody in there was very talented and I wanted to keep up with them. It forced me to improve at their rate, as we all uplift one another."
Xhef has full projects with Teekoh and Brent Bronze, but he is yet to work so closely with Maki and 02Lean. "I’d love to make collab projects with them when the time is right. Artists all develop at their own pace, and everyone works at different times in a sense, so while I’m not rushing Maki or 02Lean, they both know I am very eager to work with them."
He has also started collaborating with artists outside the collective. He said: "I want there to be a network of affiliates that each member of Feel Lo builds up over time that we can all share. I guess now is a good time to unveil my new single which has production from Klwncat and features KnowItAll – two artists I think are at the top of their crafts. I have a lot of features coming out for the rest of the year with countless rappers and producers. Some include Midnight Samurai, Blank Thought, Rome Mallory, Alma 16, and Filip Neuf."
Xhef went on: "Some collaborations I want to make happen in the near future from people in the underground would be Patty Honcho, Harvey Gold, BlaQ Chidori, Unruly, Furious Styles, Greenery, and a few others."
Regarding his future, Xhef said: "I want to start developing a name for myself in the underground scene. My goals as an individual are just to be understood and respected for what I’m doing, and to eventually work with my dream collaboration artists like Navy Blue, billy woods, E L U C I D, The Alchemist, and Ghostface Killah. The goals of the collective are definitely in line with mine; every artist in Feel Lo has their own path to success that I fully support, and I’ll contribute to the success of the group as a whole. The Feel Lo plan is very encompassing and works in a lot of different ways."