When Palermo Stone set out to write a true Pittsburgh record, he didn’t count on facing his own (often literal) demons. Yet The Second Coming became a portrait of the artist as a young man, complete with the hangups of a tough upbringing and the new pressures of raising two sons. All that, plus articulating the world of Pittsburgh hip-hop made Stone’s latest record a huge responsibility, one that changed his perspective and even his writing style. The Second Coming, Stone explains, is all about duality. “Run the Streets” brings us Palermo the rapper, negotiating the attention he gets with the relationships in his private llife. On “Milk & Honey” we get Palermo the man, and in some respects, the father he wants to be. So, where do the two intersect? Like a microcosm of the city, Stone is trying to figure it out, and digging deep to get there. Here’s what he had to say.
On this album, you wanted to encapsulate the real Pittsburgh sound. How did you do that without focusing on just one area of the city?
Just ‘cause of where we are on the map, I didn’t want to do the East Coast thing with the beat breaks and the boom bats. We’re not East Coast– they call us East Coast but we’re actually closer to the Midwest. So I didn’t want to do down South– they grew up with candy paint, and we don’t do that kind of stuff in Pittsburgh. We’re not West Coast, so it doesn’t have to be heavy synth oriented. And then, it’s not like Midwest as far as rhymescapes go. In Pittsburgh, we’ve gotta take hints from everywhere. It’s [also] my tip-my-hat to Tupac, for the ‘Run the Streets’ idea, but instead I just flipped it again. His is more so about the girls not being around, and mine is about the girls holding you down. That’s just more relatable from my current situation. And my friends’ current situation.
“Run The Streets” sounds very conflicted, in terms of being a rapper, but also wanting to have meaningful connections with people. But also dealing with people that are stalking you on Twitter.
[laughs] I gotta watch what I say, and that’s just how it is. Someone says something on Twitter, and you have to interact. Just being in the public eye in general, you have to interact. You have to be polite, and sometimes politeness comes off as flirtatious. If you have somebody that’s with you, they understand that you are two different people. You have your rapper world, you have your everyday life. I got two kids now, and my music is prettymuch a reflection of that. But things that come with it are totally different than even what I rap about. You could have girls all over me, but you could have a song about being faithful.
Some people might find that more attractive.
Sometimes that’s how girls are [laughs].
How does having two kids affect your communication?
It gives me structure. Now that I have time to do this it’s fulfilling a part of me, having kids. Now, I have even more to write about. Now I’m home more, I can actually reflect. I did so much living for so long, I never really got to reflect. Now that I’m home, with the kids, I can just reflect during the day, and then once I’m ready to hit the studio at night, I just go, just write about what I’ve been thinking about all day. And it’s made it easier.
How are you going to negotiate the duality on “Milk and Honey” with raising two boys, especially the things you talk about with your dad?
That’s one of the reasons I decided to write the tape, as a whole. With me, I even say in that, ‘my mom was a very good girl and my dad was a very bad boy.’ How they came together and made me, is a whole different thing, [laughs] I have no idea. Everything’s not butterflies and rainbows. Especially now, when I had my new son, four days ago. They give you a newspaper, for the day, and on the front page, it’s like Mike Brown, the ISIS situation, beheading the media people. The way I explain it on this tape, is the way I’d explain it to my kid, there’s good and evil, you just have to be yourself. You’re the one that’s going to determine which way to go. ‘Cause I grew up in a very bad situation. A lot of my friends I grew up with are either dead, or in jail. And me, I’m just kind of out there, just trying to do my best to not be either of those. I say on the disk, If I were to be gone, tomorrow, and my kids were to go look at that, they’d get a piece of me. That’s why I wanted to write it, it is a documentation of my thoughts, my mind, my spirit, my soul. Even though everything’s not appropriate for children, once they get older they might be able to understand it a little better.
What kind of feedback have you been getting, from outside the city? It’s a Pittsburgh-oriented record, but it’s also a very personal record.
Relatable. With my other projects, I wrote just to write music. I was always kind of afraid to step into myself, and get that out. What do I have left, if I give everything away?
You have the Twitter followers.
Yeah. Before I dropped R.A.R.E, people didn’t really know me. Because I never really gave them much of myself. What am I feeling, what are my philosophies. Whether it’s celebratory music, or it’s introspective, or kind of sad, it’s all me. I think that’s what the reception has been, so far: people are really relating to it, more so than anything I’ve done. They feel the emotion. Even in my voice, on “Milk and Honey,” I’m like, screaming it. I really felt that. I play that in my car, when I’m riding around, man. I’m in that zone, I feel that way. To me, that makes it all worth it. To get people into that zone, where they can’t really get out, when they listen to that music. Whether it’s three minutes long, five minutes long, you listen to that whole cd, you’re stuck for that amount of time. And I think that’s how you make a classic, timeless album. So far, everyone’s been like, ‘yeah, this took me to that place.’ I’m excited for people to listen to the album, the whole way through, and fall in love with it.
What’s an example of a record that’s taken you to that place?
The Chronic, from Dre. That was one of the first hip-hop albums that had stories built into it. Not just the rap stories, skits were built into it. You see it a lot on the West Coast. Then you see that moving to the East Coast, too, when Biggie started doing it a lot. The people that don’t do that, are the people that never last 10, 15 years. The people that do do that, are still making money today. So records like The Chronic, Good Kid m.A.A.d City, YG’s new album, Ready to Die from Biggie, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Nas’ Illmatic.
He just celebrated the 20th anniversary.
And I’m only 25, so I had to go back. The music we were listening to was like, Nelly. It was mid-2000’s.
City High, and all that terrible shit.
[laughs] Back then, I was like ‘man, this is the best song in the world!’ My older cousins were like, ‘man, this stuff is trash.’ I knew about Jay-Z in ‘95, ‘cause my uncle was in New York in the television industry, he came back with Reasonable Doubt before it was even a cd. It wasn’t even a master, wasn’t clean. I heard it and was like ‘oh, that’s cool,’ but at 7 years old…
It’s not what everyone else is listening to.
I didn’t even know regular people could make cds! Then later found out, in the 2000’s, oh, this was who my uncle was talking about. He’s huge now! Those are the albums that– they take you somewhere. There are skits and things on The Second Coming that have cultural meaning. It’s really snippets from the media. Different clips from different things that play on that duality. It’s all in there. It flows, it’s a nice story, from beginning till end. I think it’s my best project. I just want people to listen, to really listen, and take away the story. The way I wrote it in “Run the Streets,” it’s subtle stuff. Got a gun in the clutch and a Bible on the dashboard. I know people that have crosses hanging from their rearview mirror, but have guns in their car. I want people to think, really think. That’s what hip-hop is supposed to do, be a conversation starter. Ten years later, when they break down my lines, I want them to be able to [ask] what was this point in life really like? In 2014, what made him say that? I want people to have dinner conversations about the album.
Like a time capsule.
Exactly. That’s what hip-hop really is. You can really tell what the times were, when you listen to some things. You can go back, revisit those memories when you listen to them. Even some of those things, my first dances, my first kisses, [were] to all those horrible songs. Those songs will always have a special place, like my first girlfriend, my first car, my first song on the radio. That’s the important things. I might be the only person who thinks about music like that.
I feel like, if you’re trying to define a sound, you have to know your heritage.
As far as the Pittsburgh sound, too, I feel like a lot of the people here– not to throw any shade on anybody– they just don’t think about it. If you do that, you’re just imitating. Pittsburgh, we’re like the little people, in such a big world. We have a great city, beautiful city, most livable city, but we’re still the little people. In the great scheme of the world, people talk about New York, people talk about Cali–
People talk about Nashville before they talk about Pittsburgh.
[laughs] Right. We’re still the little people, that will to succeed, that comes from here is it, but nobody embodies that. That’s why I see people who are trying to be thug, trying to be cool, trying to be this, trying to be that, it never comes off to be regular music. I feel like that’s why a lot of people haven’t made it, since Mac and Wiz. They did them. There will never be another Mac Miller. That crazy, cool white kid. And Wiz became an icon. You just gotta do you. Do something that’s boutique. A department store flow, you can do that anywhere, you do something boutique, people are gonna come for that, people are gonna pay any price for that. They’re going to come for that because they can only get it with you.