The name Speak rang out in Los Angeles after it was revealed he was the scribe behind Kreyshawn's "Gucci Gucci". It was a huge break for the young rapper, one which led to studio time with Juicy J and Timbaland and meetings with record labels to discuss contracts. But it all rushed upon Speak before he could properly internalize it and instead of tours opening for Drake, he put out his debut Inside Out Boy and slunked from the spotlight, though not before bridges burned, and fridge defenestrated after a hotel panic attack.
Not willing to let the industry keep him down, Speak is returning with Gnarly Davidson vs The Marlboro Men, a record he's self-releasing on his Applebird imprint with distribution from LA staple Alpha Pup. While out in London, he filmed the video for "Mazda Blues", which addresses the demons that drag him down with the chorus, "hail mary full of grace / protect me from these devils while I'm on my paper chase." He's still the smart-mouthed longhair on "Mazda Blues", still has a flow, and gift-of-gab, that make him a highly sought ghostwriter, but on his latest track he's less concerned with braggadocio and more about sharing his personal narrative. Produced by MMAC, "Mazda Blues" has Speak admitting "I'm getting so detached / trying to make these minutes last" in regards to the fleeting nature of fame, but by name checking Murda Mase—the original moniker of the Bad Boy recording artist turned preacher—Speak assures us he's not about selling out, but remaining true to himself.
With Speak's new record dropping next month, we caught up with him to get the latest on Gnarly Davidson vs The Marlboro Men.
You've got your new record Gnarly Davidson vs The Marlboro Men dropping soon. In comparison to Inside Out Boy, how did you approach this album?
Inside Out Boy was the last hurray of naivety. It was the last body of work I made before labels, lawyers, money or any sort of notoriety was involved. Looking back on it, I can honestly say Inside Out Boy was the most fun I have ever had recording music. Gnarly Davidson was more of a challenge to make because I wasn't in a good place mentally. I wasn't happy with my music or the direction my life was headed. I felt trapped by other people's expectations and I was unfairly held to the same standard as my friends who were reaching a higher level of success. It fucks you up. So for this project I wanted to create a sonic narrative that reflected that. I wanted the vocals to sound hallow and cold. I wanted the hooks to be big and rich in texture. It was important for me to apply everything I learned in my last two years of being a songwriter to my own art. Big ideas and layers upon layers. I wanted to tell my story in the most grandiose way possible. Gnarly Davidson doesn't come from the same place Inside Out Boy did.
Who did you work with on Gnarly Davidson?
I kept the circle pretty small for this one. I could have went through my contacts and pulled rappers and singers with big name value and crazy buzz for the production but it wouldn't have been real. Production wise I went with my friends The Internet, Caleb Stone, MMac from Toronto, Stoned Zoo, Just Write, Bill Ding and Hippie Sabatoge. I didn't need any other rappers on my song because this is my life and my story we are talking about here. I got one guest rap verse from my long time friend and favorite rapper Pheo. I used Ms Jack Davey from J*Davey for a killer verse and backing vocals from Nikko Gray, Tay Walker and Syd. I can do a lot of things well, singing is not one of them. I wrote the hooks and melodies especially for all the guest vocalist to add a new dimension to the songs.
Gnarly Davidson was originally slated for a summer 2012 release… what delayed the record for two years and how has it changed in that time?
Life delayed the album. Depression mainly. There was a time when I shared an apartment with Vince Staples and I didn't leave my room for months at a time. It was bad. I'm not even some emo little bitch like that. Far from it. I just didn't want to be involved with the business side of making music. I was packing out my shows and selling out all my merch killing it in L.A, but I was moonlighting writing songs for shitty artist. I wasn't happy. Knowing you're on to something special and having no-nothing label people tell you to keep your mouth shut and stick to writing is a fucking drag. I wasn't happy with life. The pain wasn't self inflicted or made up. It came from me not wanting to be alive much less make music. That's where the idea of The Marlboro Men comes from. Anything cancerous that can eat away at you and kill you. Work, addiction, toxic friendships, bad relationships. The world really. All of it made me stronger and sculpted the songs. I wasn't just rapping clever bars anymore. I put my balls on table and started writing from a personal place. I didn't want to make Inside Out Boy again. That Speak doesn't exist anymore.
There was a time I was pretty aware of your ghost-writing endeavors and travels that involved studio time with Juicy J, Timbaland, and Uncle Luke (if I recall correctly), are you still offering your penmanship services? And did anything come of being in the studio with those artists?
You god damn right I got those fucking song placements. That's what has funded my wild merch and artistic endeavors. I used the money I made writing and invested it in to my personal art. I spent a lot of that cash on bitches, blow and blackjack…but mostly i re-invested into my own career. I'll still fuck around and write a song. I love making music. I just hate the idea of throwing two strangers in a room together and telling them to make a hit. That is pure ass. It's that kind of short sighted thinking that has the big labels fucked up. Don't get me wrong hits are cool and so are the checks that come with them, but making great records and music should be the aim, not lining some desk jockey's pockets.
Speak's Gnarly Davidson vs The Malboro Men is out May 6 on Applebird/Alpha Pup.