Suicideyear is the Daniel Johnston of southern rap

Sandra Song

I can’t see James Prudhomme’s face, but I can tell he’s scowling.

Anyone would though while recounting the story of that fateful night his house burned down. Fresh from what was supposed to be a relaxing trip to Florida, it ended up being one of the longest, most emotionally trying nights of his life. Little did he know though that this was just the beginning. Forced to rebuild from the literal ashes of his former life, Prudhomme was relegated to couches and a minimum wage job at the local Little Caesar’s franchise for a good period of time. Whether he views it from the optimist’s perspective has yet to be determined.

One could argue that he has time on his side though, as the Tumblr-famous production wiz-kid Suicideyear has already accomplished an astounding amount as a mere 19-year-old.

And his youth shows, as he’s obviously a little nervous, careful to speak and hanging out with a friend for moral support. Still profoundly self-conscious about the way our conversation will be interpreted, Prudhomme stalls with continual side questions and requests for factual assistance (“Hey, what was the first track off of the new My Bloody Valentine called?”), as I ask about his upcoming Software release Remembrance, his Internet presence, and what it’s like being so famous so young. But throughout our entire chat he shows off an endearing, precocious manner as well. An air of unsure braggadocio permeating the way he attempts to be lackadaisical in his answers. He reminds me a bit of my younger brother, a detail reinforced by the way he shrugs “I don’t know” between most of his sentences and his loud guffaws during less guarded moments.

“I want to be the Daniel Johnston of southern rap,” he giggles when I ask him to describe his aural aesthetic. “Outsider southern rap!”

You can practically hear his wide-eyed amicability through the phone, because even though it takes him a few questions to warm up, it’s evident that the appropriately baby-faced producer is a sweetheart. A person who values generosity and honesty. A mama’s boy raised right.

For example, almost immediately after asking him what his goals are, he steers the conversation toward helping others, citing mentor-like figures as one of the best things about his industry.

“Like Drake’s always helping out people, it’s really cool,” he enthuses. “Giving out those really big ‘stimulus packages.’ And he like doesn’t stop.”

He pauses when I ask what would the first thing he’d do if he had that kind of influence. “Oh, I definitely want to buy my mom a house. That’d be raw.”

It’s an especially poignant gesture as Prudhomme had a difficult time during the making of Remembrance. He didn’t begin recording until short time before the fire.

“I mean everything was fine, nobody got hurt.” He pauses for a second. “But it really propelled me to do a lot of shit that I wasn’t ready to do, like I had to look for a place to live real quick. I had to get a job immediately. Like I had to do a bunch of shit.”

I murmur a quiet, “I’m sorry,” as the conversation lulls. There’s a slight hard edge to his voice as he tries to decide what to say next.

“Yeah, I mean I went from living with my parents and going to school to not having a place and not going to school anymore,” Another pause. “It was shitty.”

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He’s grateful though to all the people who have helped him along the way. Preferring to view his management team as a family rather than a band of faceless business reps, especially since he sees this tumultuous period as the catalyst, which helped him meet his current manager. A pretty significant silver lining if there ever was one.

“We hit it off when we met each other and like we realized that we’d make way better friends than business partners,” he lets out a small snicker. “And I started living with him. He offered to let me stay in his house and it was just a really gracious offer. I was just very appreciative of it. He gave me shelter.”

I try to gently prod him about what he did in the meantime.

“I just dropped out of school, because I couldn’t like work and go to school,” he sighs. “I couldn’t work enough to pay for everything and go to school for eight hours. And when I tried enrolling back it didn’t work.”

And that’s when it became apparent to him that he’d have to try something else. So he did what any desperate kid would dohe worked for minimum wage at a fast-food franchise. Not an ideal situation, but a decision he had little choice in.

“I ended up working at Little Caesars. The absolute worst,” There’s an acrid edge to his voice as I attempt a weak joke about unlimited Crazy Bread. “No, it’s horrible. It’s disgusting, I hate that place.”

You can’t blame him though. And it’s only natural that there would also be a thread of resentment running directly beneath the surface of Remembrance. A sort of frenzied, residual anger that expresses itself in the form of the razor-sharp staccato beats and rapidfire click tracks that tie the entire album together.

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As Software’s Phil Tortoroli said, Prudhomme is a master at producing strong, emotive tracks from very stark electronic elements. Which means that his latest endeavor is probably one of his most powerful.

“It was just like, I felt a lot of feelings last summer and Remembrance was a big piece of it,” Prudhomme sighs heavily, his voice petering out slowly. “I just wanted to go back to Florida so bad. Like Florida is a really beautiful place and that’s where I started recording.”

After all, who could pass up a metaphorical paradise along an idyllic coastline, far removed from the shittiest welcome party to adulthood one could imagine? He knows this is where his youth and the optimism that comes with it becomes useful though.

“I still have a lot of years to be resilient and jump right back,” he explains. “I have a lot of time to dedicate to the craft. To learn more.”

It’s this humble attitude that feeds directly into the innocent disbelief he possesses, still half in disbelief at all the hype surrounding him. It also means that he still projects a profound sense of indebted appreciation. Beholden to the thousands of faceless Internet friends who follow him on Soundcloud and every other conceivable form of social. It’s an impermeable sense of optimism and infinite possibility that envelops everything he does, explaining why the overarching theme of Remembrance is serenity. Peaceful and patient, aware that he has time to rebuild and start over. Whether this comes from his wide-eyed youth or predisposed attitude is hard to tell exactly.

“It’s just totally reflective of what I’m going toward and I don’t know,” I can almost hear him shaking his head, formulating what to say. “It’s a really intimate, personal project and I don’t really want people to expect a lot. The serene aspect was definitely intentional.”
After all, this is all coming from a guy who knows how lucky he is. How extraordinary the world wide web has made him.

He talks about it with such an awe that it’s obvious it still hasn’t completely registered. Take the New York show he couldn’t play because he wasn’t 21.

“I literally just sat outside and told people sorry,” he sighs guiltily. “My phone was dead so I couldn’t tweet at people… but I just wanted to tell them…”

His voice slinks away for a second, a sense of guilt permeating into, “I don’t know, I had to steal someone’s phone and use it really quick and tweet that I couldn’t play tonight. I just felt so bad.”

You’d be mistaken if you confused his apologetic demeanor for your typical brand of teenage angst though. Because while most of the Internet will lead you to believe that he’s actually an Arizona Ice Tea-sipping sad boy, it’s a label Prudhomme vehemently eschews.

“I don’t even know what that means,” he protests when I ask him about being closely affiliated with Yung Lean and company. “I know people consider me that, but I wouldn’t say I’m a sad boy.”

He pauses to think before tossing in another quiet, “I don’t know,” almost as an afterthought. A little unsure.

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But he audibly brightens as we steer the conversation toward the more lighthearted topic of Southern music and Louisiana in general, a passionate waver picking up in his voice as he fills me in about what the bayou has to offer. And it was this passion that impressed Software head Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never fame after the release of 2013’s Japan, as the duo initially bonded over their mutual appreciation of southern hip-hop.

“The coolest thing about Southern music is like you can listen to it and you can tell what state they’re from. You can’t do that with certain stuff,” he cites artists like local rapper Lil Boosie as major players in a scene that’s just starting to take hold in nationwide consciousness.

After all, it’s evident that there’s a profuse pride in his hometown heroes, the Lil Boosies of his generation, cultivating a deep admiration for a hardworking scrap. Because while Louisiana may be lackadaisical in one sense, Prudhomme still feels a strong affinity to those who are determined to be bigger than Baton Rogue.

“The thing here isn’t about being like technologically advanced,” Prudhomme says, then pauses briefly to think. “It’s mostly like just people blasting music out of their trunks and shit. But it’s really cool. People don’t realize.”

He jokes that he wants to be Rivers Cuomo when he grows up. But there’s something inherently sweet and brutally honest about his aspirations, which aren’t all that lofty when one looks at the trajectory he’s already taken. He’s destined to go far. A college-aged kid who’s already created a career from the corner of his boyhood bedroom.

I ask about staying in Louisiana, which he audibly bristles at.

“No, no, no,” he insists. Because for all its sentimental value, there’s something still stifling about Baton Rogue. “It goes so slow.”

“I want to move to New York,” he insists, his whip-fast response making it obvious that he already has a pre-emptive timeline in mind. A whirlwind of a plan to go somewhere almost as intense and ambitious as himself.

“New York, for sure.”

Suicideyear’s Remembrance EP is out September 23 on Software.

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