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  • Writer's pictureEvan

Another Talk with Xhef: Discussing the rapper's latest album, upcoming EP, and plans for 2023


Representing New Jersey, Xhef is an underground rapper who specialises in ambitious concept records and deeply personal hip hop. His latest album, TERMINAL : TERMINAL, released this July, in collaboration with Swedish producer Filip Neuf. The MC is already following up his album with a new EP, Bury the Lede, set for release 21st August. On top of that, he has more music scheduled to drop later this year as part of the duo, Tomorrow People.


Starting off, Xhef described the origins of TERMINAL : TERMINAL, his latest album revolving around themes of death and the afterlife. He said: “The idea for it came about when I had my first panic attack … A panic attack – I didn’t really know what it was – it basically just makes you feel like you’re going to die. For whatever reason, you just get this anxiety, and you feel like you are not going to wake up when you go to bed. It was the worst feeling ever, but it incited a lot of inspiration after I wound up getting through it. I had to come to terms with the concept of death in the moment of having a panic attack and trying to go to sleep that night, convinced that I would not wake up the next morning. I knew that I wanted to make a statement about how that felt as an artist, because ultimately, a big thing that gave me solace and helped me go to sleep that night was knowing that I had art to leave behind … By that time, I had already dropped Extension of the Hand, I made Bluecollar, I had made tmrw.ppl – I had all this stuff I knew I would leave behind if I were to die. I was like, ‘You know what, that’s a really good conclusion for that train of thought.’ So that’s what manifested that idea.”


The album is a full collaboration with producer Filip Neuf, a notable force in the underground who has shared his abstract style on projects like Pearls Before Swine and Riviera Arkestra. Xhef touched on how the two artists came together:


“I heard Pearls Before Swine with Mourning Run and Filip Neuf. Then I wound up hearing ‘Paradox of Hedonism’ with Patty Honcho and Filip Neuf, and when I heard those, I was like ‘Oh, this Filip Neuf guy is pretty serious.’ So I went looking, I found his Twitter … I DM’d him and I was like, ‘I think your work is really good – I know you’re working on an album, so here’s some of my work if you’d ever be interested in working on anything.’ After that, he really liked the stuff that I sent him, and then he offered me a spot on Riviera Arkestra … After he sent me a little folder, I picked out my beat for that album, and then I sent the verse back. He really liked it, and then he was like ‘We could work on an album at some point, I’d be down for that.’ … So that was, I would say, around last September … The first beats for TERMINAL were sent around October/November, so that’s when we really started officially going forward with that.”


Although TERMINAL is a collaboration, the concept can chiefly be credited to Xhef. “I want to say that I came up with the whole concept of what happens, but I don’t want to take anything away from Filip, in that sense … It was such a personal journey that I felt that I had to express.”


Xhef spoke more on the creative process behind the album. “Right when we started working on the thing, I didn’t fully know what it would be about – I didn’t have the concept or anything like that. Filip just sent me a folder, I listened to all the beats, and I was trying to see what grabbed my ear, what I could use for what – what was the first puzzle piece … For an album, I don’t pick my beats out of pre-made beats; I have to make everything with the person in real time. I’ll pick one or two to start, just to get the ball rolling, but after that, I have to lock in. Me and the producer really have to both be going for the same thing to keep it as cohesive as possible.”


Despite collaborating smoothly with Filip, Xhef’s writing process was not quite as simple. “It was actually very difficult to lock in on starting the official writing process. Once I got the full concept that I wanted it to be about – this incident, and building around the feeling that I was going to die for most of the album, I just sat with these beats for a very, very long time … It was a very heavy writing process; I wanted to make sure I hit everything emotionally, as succinctly as I could. I didn’t want to drag on certain elements – I wanted to keep it a very tight story, but I wanted to make sure I got the perfect words for every single feeling that I felt. And then the same thing with the recording process: that also took a while, just because I felt like I really needed to nail every single emotional beat and cadence and flow, as perfectly as I could. Not even in terms of technicality – I didn’t even focus on that, for the most part. I wasn’t concerned with whether or not some of the verses would sound a little rougher, in terms of technicality. I was really focussed on the emotion because I knew that would be the draw of it.”


Regarding guests, TERMINAL : TERMINAL features only three other MCs, who all appear on the track ‘FOR TODAY PEOPLE’. Breaking down the song, Xhef said: “I think that ‘FOR TODAY PEOPLE’, and the reason why I had features on that, made a lot of sense in terms of the story. Without getting too into it, after the first track, I wanted to establish that I had this hunger to keep living, and I wanted to keep doing the thing that I love, which is making music. ‘FOR TODAY PEOPLE’ is me doing that. I basically said, ‘If I were to die, who would I want on the track before I die, for my last album?’ And the three artists I was listening to most at the time were Brent Bronze, Knowitall, and Mourning Run … That’s the only reason why I had features, because it served such a personal purpose for me.”


As well as ‘FOR TODAY PEOPLE’, a number of guests appear on the closing track, ‘The Flip Side’. The song features ten producers who all provide their own beats. Touching on the outro, he said:


“I had the idea, ‘What if I do a posse track but with all producers?’ I don’t even think anyone has done that before, for some reason. I started piecing it together, and I was like, ‘That would fit really well because the entire theme I’m setting up is that when you die, you don’t actually die; your art lives on.’ The way that art can live on through hip hop is through remixes, and sampling, and flipping. That’s such a huge part of the legacy of some artists … That’s how a lot of producers express their love; they will flip your verse … So I pitched the idea and put it all together. At the end, I got all these flips from all these different producers, then I could find a narrative throughline to connect them all. That would be the statement: that I didn’t actually die, that I could live on through my peers, who will keep me alive.”


Following up TERMINAL, Xhef is getting ready to release his next EP, Bury the Lede. Along with the title, the promotional art for the project relates to imagery of newspapers and journalism. Xhef touched on how the imagery ties into the EP itself:


“The objectivity of journalism definitely plays into the themes of the writing. It’s a very objective reflection of me right now … It’s an almost one-to-one translation of a lot of very current feelings, which is why it’s a shorter EP. It’s not this huge journey or concept, but it’s a very concentrated observation of how I’m feeling right now. I felt as though the newspaper aesthetic just works – it works very well with the writing I style I wound up going for.”


Xhef said the writing process for Bury the Lede “definitely wasn’t as long because this EP was developed over the course of a few weeks, honestly. But it was long for me – I definitely took my time with it. I really had to extract a lot of heavy, current emotions. There’s a lot of themes of feeling the effects of burnout, anxiety around my career.”


The new EP features a handful of guests, including rappers Nonazz and Brent Bronze. He explained the process choosing features for the project: “For Nonazz, when I heard the beat, he was the first artist who came to mind. I was listening to Greymatter – the Klwn Cat and Nonazz album – and I was listening to that pretty heavily. After it dropped, for a few weeks, I was bumping that almost once a day … I really like that album because I feel it really understands Nonazz’s strengths as an MC … So then I got the beat, and I was like, ‘Oh, I could see Nonazz over this beat.’ Immediately, he was the first artist who came to mind, so immediately I contacted Nonazz.


“With Brent, I was like, ‘Well, I have four beats, and I want to have Brent on one of them.’ I know Brent – one of the most talented rappers I know – he can do basically any style … The beat I wound up putting Brent on, I think fits him very well.”


He touched more on his rhyming partner, Brent Bronze. “Brent and I were friends before we started making music. But aside from that, he’s so technically talented, and very knowledgeable about all the aspects of music making. Beat-making, rapping especially. His rapping is very technical, and I think that bounces off of me, because I’m just very emotionally driven. A lot of times before I’m locked down on an idea, I’ll wind up saying a bunch of sentences, trying to evoke a certain feeling in the person I’m working with. Brent has a really good emotional intelligence to decode whatever I’m saying, and then translate it into music super well … Brent is just a very creative person. He matches my energy and my pace.”


The two MCs often join together as the duo Tomorrow People, having dropped projects such as MORE MUSIC PLEASE and tmrw.ppl through 2022. He spoke on the future of the duo: “Tmrw.ppl 2 is hopefully coming in the next month or two. We’ve been making the beats for tmrw.ppl 2 for months, and we’ve been spit-balling concepts and the storyline for months … It’s definitely the main thing on both of our plates right now, so we’re going to finish it pretty quick … We’re definitely going to do another one with Teekoh, a MORE MUSIC PLEASE type of deal … I can consider my career, honestly – the main part of it is going to be Tomorrow People … That’s what I think is going to resonate with the most people. I think that my albums are always going to be more niche because they’re so personal and so raw, but the stuff that I do with Brent, I think that’s the stuff that is going to hit hit.”


On top of his solo material and work with Tomorrow People, Xhef has a number of collaborations on the way. Although there are no set release dates, he has already confirmed projects with producers Teekoh, Owlkast, and Noqh, as well as work with rapper Drums. Maintaining his status as a prolific force in the underground, the future is looking promising for the Tomorrow People MC.

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