Words and images by Ben Niespodziany

When I met Appleby in December of 2014, he had four songs available to the public. Despite the small amount of music and only having songs online since September, he has received an impressive amount of buzz and recognition, catching the eye of Amir Abbassy (aka BlameTheLabel), which then allowed him to connect with All Def Digital and meet Russell Simmons.

Throughout all of this, the four months and the steady increase in attention, Appleby’s face has been hidden from the public eye, either covering it with a vinyl next to Abbassy, or a hat next to The Stand4rd. When I take photos of him, he remains faceless by using his stocking cap or his yellow scarf. Part mystery and part experimentation, Appleby is letting his music speak for itself. Without a face attached to it, the strong singles that uniquely blend genres and form a pulse remain the focus.

I spoke with the singer/rapper/vocalist at midnight in his comfort zone of Chicago’s Classick Studios, where he does all of his recordings alongside his engineer Kawaakari (of production duo Meniskos). We talk about his history with music, the reason for hiding his face, and how he wants his mom to sing a song with him.

We are also premiering two new Appleby songs today, “Scars In Waiting,” here, and “Drinkin’,” which you will find embedded below.

“I started back in December of 2013,” he begins. “I was recording on my laptop with the internal mic.” He tells me that he began during the holiday season and asked his mom for a microphone for Christmas, one that he could just plug it into his computer. He points over to it, sitting next to his backpack. “That’s the microphone that I take with me everywhere.”

I ask what inspired him to plug in the mic and make that first recording.

“Spooky Black, well, now Corbin. “Without U” was literally one of my favorite songs in the world. It was the first time I was actually inspired to create. It became an addiction.”

Despite the addiction, his family and friends don’t know that Appleby is Appleby. To those that know his government name, he is a former tennis academy student athlete and a well-mannered twenty-something working a day job.

“Mystery is an odd concept since the blossoming of the internet,” he tells me. “For me, it’s more or less just enjoyable that I can control how I’m perceived when I keep something as simple as my face from the public’s view.”

He tells me that when Abbassy wanted to make the signing official and take a picture to announce it, Appleby grabbed Jay Z’s vinyl and put it over his face. “It was just a fun thing to do. Some people understand it and some people don’t, but it doesn’t matter to me. A lot of people are buying into the music which is what I want.”

“It’s almost like taking yourself out of the picture,” I tell him.

“Absolutely. I’d rather have someone judge my music, because once it’s done, it’ll never change. But me as a person? We’re all flawed and we all make mistakes trying to figure out who we are. I don’t want anybody to be like, ‘He made a mistake, let me take him off this pedestal, let me crucify him, because I believed he was perfect.’ If they wanna think that about my music and think it’s perfect, I’m perfectly fine with that, but me, I’m certainly far from it.”

I’d rather have someone judge my music, because once it’s done, it’ll never change. But me as a person? We’re all flawed and we all make mistakes trying to figure out who we are.

“I don’t want anyone [in my family] to know,” he continues. “It’s not that I don’t respect them or that I don’t want them involved, it’s just that this is my thing. I prefer it to be that way.”

Appleby says that if he decides to reveal his face this year, he wants the music to be able to speak for itself and he wants it already be on a much higher plateau than it is now. “Everything is about growth,” he says.

He tells me that he’s been selective with the tracks he’s released thus far and while some have been abstract, they still contain plenty of truths. His proper project, he tells me, which will be called Lucy, will include autobiographical stories. “Everything I say is in some part associated with me. I’d love to be able to get to that point and sit down and tell snippets and stories and bring it into one song. Those are the moving songs of the world, the ones that people hold on to and cherish.”

If you listen to “Find,” a track that P&P premiered last month, Appleby speaks on his father leaving him, “on the curb, he never bothered to say peace.” While the two of us speak, his father is never mentioned, but his mother is mentioned constantly. After all, Appleby is his mother’s maiden name.

“Before music, I wasn’t being honest with myself,” he says. “When I dropped off the map when I was seventeen, I certainly stopped being honest, I certainly stopped caring, so it’s cool to have music now. It’s that outlet where I can be super honest. It’s still selfishly my own therapy, but it’s kind of cool to be out there because I don’t care about being judged based on my own therapy.”

Recently, when his mother asked him what the future was looking like for him, he had to tell her about his best kept secret. He mentions how meeting Russell Simmons and having that picture to show his mother helped his case.

“In the small amount of time, these wonderful things have happened. At that point, it’s really hard to deny because even someone who doesn’t know music, knows who Russell Simmons is, so it carries a lot of weight. And my mom being a numbers woman, it kind of surpassed that idea of the astronomical numbers. At that point, she just became super excited for me. Halfway through the conversation, when I kind of thought it was gonna go bad, she was just smiling. She didn’t need to hear my music or know my name, she was just instantly supportive.”

While he told his mother, he told her to keep it a secret with the family.

“We haven’t even had any more talks about it. She literally doesn’t know anything other than, ‘My son’s out there making some kind of music that is doing pretty well.’ I think once she finally finds out, she’ll be super excited because it started with me thinking about my family even though they don’t know it.”

“By the summertime,” he continues, “I will have my mom in the studio singing some kind of hook or doing some kind of background vocals just because she’s got those church vocals that you can’t deny.”

Speaking about his new music, he tells me how one of the two singles premiering today, “Drinkin’,” is a “lose yourself” type song.

“When I grew up, I was against drinking. There was a time where I would just chill and be everyone’s designated driver. I’m 23 now and I didn’t start drinking until this year and it ended up being because of a girl. That’s what she did and that’s what I ended up doing. I’ll get to that through songs, but it was just the idea of ‘I’ve been drinking now,’ and reflecting on that.”

While in the studio talking about his music taking off and his vision, producer Monte Booker (who works with Chris Smith Jr.) polishes some instrumentals for a final bounce. He tinkers away on his mini keyboard and gazes at his laptop. As music plays, I ask Appleby if he has a large amount of scrapped tracks on his computer.

“Yeah,” he laughs. “Garageband says I have over seven hours’ worth of music. Between December 2013 and now, that’s pretty solid, but it’s really difficult to speak about it because nobody will ever hear it. It’s all trial and error stuff. I have that much, but at the same time, to speak about it and know that no one will ever hear it, kind of makes it irrelevant.”

I ask him what he’s learned since starting a little over a year ago.

“It’s still a learning process, I don’t think I’ve learned anything that anyone else hasn’t. Just finding myself in it. Less writing and more coming up with melodies—that’s something I’ve learned in the last month or so.”

During the interview, Elton Chueng aka L10, an engineer best known for mixing and mastering Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap, enters the studio. When he comes into the room, the conversation digresses and it’s discovered that Appleby has been surfing for almost eight years. They move on to basketball and Appleby tells L10 to play Sunday basketball, referring to it as church, noting that a dream team of artists that frequent Classick Studios take over the gym for an afternoon.

“It’s super camaraderie too. Everybody’s out of their element of music, so it’s less music talk and more trash talk.” Names that they mention include Rocket (a producer for TDE), The Gift (a producer for Rockie Fresh), and HeadAche (who has done mixing for Katie Got Bandz and Romiti).

We return to the interview and I ask Appleby how he approaches making a song. “I listen to so much music that many ideas come at me at once. In one sitting, I might hear singing and rapping. When I first started, I wanted to be a rapper, but I just don’t have the rap persona, so I never really figured out how to approach it with that sort of bravado that most rappers exude. I’ve slowly been pushing in the direction of more singing and less rap, which is cool for me. It’s an unexplored idea and concept.”

The first time I met Appleby he mentioned how he was really into reading audio books. I ask him to touch on that a little bit and he pulls out his iPhone to look at his audio book stats. “My badge collection!” he exclaims, “I’ve got all of ’em except for three.”

He tells me that he gets two books a month and once they’re finished, he gets another two. “It’s the best way for me to read because I can actually learn and digest the information, but I can do it on the go. I’m not one of those people that can actually steady read a book because I get lost in my own thoughts. If it’s audio, I’m in it.”

“I would love to be able to do all things audio,” he continues. “I would love to be an animated character. It makes sense: you’re comfortable in the booth, you’re aware of your vocal inflections and you can actually build a character off of that because you know what sounds cool, so you’re familiar with that art.”

Although he hasn’t been in the booth for very long, he is certainly comfortable in front of a microphone. He plays around between songs, singing falsetto about wanting to meet J. Cole, and jokingly shouting, “Ghost up!” He drops his voice as low as possible and an engineer sitting in on the session says his voice is “like a -12.” While doing his best Barry White impression, he says, “Just call me Skittles, droppin’ them rainbows.”

As the conversation draws to a close, I ask him if he has any advice for artists working on their craft.

“Advice? Shit, I’m still workin’ on my own stuff. I need advice, too. There’s no rule book. You don’t need advice from someone else. What you think will work, might work. Don’t allow anyone else to tell you what will and what won’t. Go out there and believe in yourself and make it happen.”

“Do you have any final thoughts or last words?” I ask.

“I always look at those and I question how to properly end something, but I don’t want an ending. To be continued. More to come.” I leave the studio at 2:07 a.m. and Appleby is still recording.