Artwork by Angela Estelle

Image via PR

They say being a teenager is hard, but being in your early 20s isn’t a piece of cake either. One minute you’re not even legally allowed to drink, and the next you’re trying to pay back that mountain of student loan debt. Those dreams your younger self wrote about in a journal way back begin to seem more and more like, well, dreams once faced with reality.

Last year, Rhode Island rapper Khary started exploring these topics in his first project Swim Team EP. Today, he continues this journey on his new mixtape intern aquarium. The collection spans 11 tracks that capture the reality—in both a humorous and introspective way—of Khary’s life. The result is a project that’s equal parts relatable, enjoyable, and impressive.

Listen to it and read our Q+A with Khary below.

You were an intern for The FADER. How did that come about? What did you do for them? How did that affect you as an artist?
I started rapping in Providence, RI when I was 16. My brother would sneak me into clubs as his hype man. I moved to Boston a few years later for college where I continued rapping at local venues and on campus open mics. My school had a Co-op program in which you could intern for a semester and I got an internship in New York for 6 months. I felt like I was learning so much more about myself and about the music industry than I was in college so I decided to drop out in December of 2011. When I dropped out I returned back home to Rhode Island but promised myself I was gonna move back to New York the following year.

During the summer of 2012 I met someone who worked at The Fader. He told me that if I ever wanted to return to the New York he’d set up an internship for me. At the moment I was sleeping on my friend’s floor in Rhode Island so I quickly moved and took the opportunity. The week I started the guy who got me the internship actually left to work at a different company so I interned for his friend. I was a marketing intern and helped out with artist research, product gifting, and events. I eventually worked in at the front desk and mailroom. I never took real job offers there because I always wanted to be a rapper and they respected that. But at the same time they weren’t gonna just put me on. I had to find my own way.

Coming from Providence, RI where we didn’t have much of a music scene I was pretty ignorant to how the music industry worked. The experience opened my eyes to everything and gave me opportunities to network with some great people but at the same time I wasn’t making as much music as I wanted to and I hadn’t realized that through my position the industry had labeled me an “intern”. I saw bad sides of industry people that most artist will never have to see and haven’t even gotten 20% of the favors that I’ve done for other people returned to me. It made me jaded for a while to the point that I had to step away from it all and recalibrate myself solely as an artist. This hasn’t been an easy thing to do but I think I finally have.

You have a lot of songs that deal with that early 20-year-old lifestyle, in that they detail what it’s like to have dreams, face the harsh reality, and how that all helps in finding yourself. What were these songs more of: writing about something personal as a release for yourself, or writing about something you knew others could relate to?
When I speak on the early 20-year-old lifestyle I’m speaking about me but it’s a little bit of both. I’ve been trying to find that balance where personal meets public so that it doesn’t sound like me reading my diary from the corner of a dark room with some candles lit. I’ve done songs/projects like that in the past and have had friends honestly tell me that they liked it but it was too dark/personal for them. Now my release only comes when people can relate to my songs.

From what I can tell, it looks like you were working on this project right up until the last minute. What’s your recording process like? Is your mind constantly writing and rewriting songs or is it more last minute touches?
The process varies but I usually write all of my songs alone and take them to my engineer/partner’s Mike Irish’s studio where we put everything together. We have mutual respect and trust for each other’s opinion and I think he understands my vision (musically) more than anyone else on this planet. I’m pretty meticulous about how I say things and the overall feel of a song while Mike is meticulous about the technical details. It works out in our favor.

For this particular project, I was working up until the last minute on a song that I really wanted to add. The vibe was right but something just wasn’t clicking so I had to scrap the song for now. I’ll rewrite a verse a million times if I’m really in love with a song but I think as an artist it’s very important to know the limits of your abilities. If don’t currently possess the abilities to finish a song the way I think it should be done I’ve been learning to just step away from it and revisit it when I’m a better artist.

2016 so far has been huge for hip-hop. Who’s someone this year that’s really inspired you and made you re-think how you write/record?
It almost feels like there is way too much music coming out to keep up with it all so I find myself picking and choosing what I digest a lot more but Anderson .Paak’s Malibu hasn’t left rotation from my phone since the day it dropped. I just saw him live the other day and it was a incredible/refreshing experience. He has a distinct sound, perspective, and identity. That’s something I’ve been working on for the past year.

Are there any new artists (both hip-hop or not) that you’re particularly excited about?
Sometimes it starts to feel like everything is going in the same direction and then something new comes along like Anderson .Paak with a completely new take on things and changes that direction. I want to be that to someone else. So I’m really just excited to see what I can do with this as a new artist. But if you aren’t hip to Masego, Lege Kale, and Swell you are playing yourself.

What’s next for you? Are you going to keep working on mixtapes or start to focus your efforts on an official LP?
Right now I’m working on a few video treatments and I’m putting together my own tour that starts in LA on the 28th. Last year I put together two self funded outings called The Captain Yellow Coat Tour part I & II that included some spot date shows opening up for Tory Lanez and Kyle. This will be a continuation of the series.

As far as music goes, I usually start thinking about projects a year before I actually work on them. Like I came up with the idea for Intern Aquarium. 2 years ago and started working on it last May. So I have my next 2 solo projects planned out already. Also, I’m working on an EP with Lege Kale that will hopefully release this year