What struck me about Arkansas rapper Pepper Boy’s right away was his ability to tell a story, his honesty and his humility on his songs and I’m steadily impressed more and more by the music he puts out. He’s super experienced (having made music for almost 10 years) but it’s clear he hasn’t “gotten comfortable” or let his music get lazy or formulaic. Each new song he puts out is just that: new.
I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to interview Pepper Boy, not only because it was great talking with him, but also because this was his first interview ever. That’s really cool. He’s worked very hard for years now and is just finally started to get the recognition he deserves. We talked over the phone about his struggles, his music, his role models, his ideas on how to help those in poverty and more…
Nick Vogt: How did you get started rapping?
Pepper Boy: I always liked hip hop, but I never thought I’d be a rapper. I got in trouble I was doing a bid. While I was in jail I was just reading and writing. I started writing rhymes. I wrote my first record while I was in jail. My name comes from when I was on the street. “Pepper Boy” for “Hot boy” you feel me?
Yeah. I can tell you’ve read a lot. I can tell from your lyrics. You’re a really good storyteller. Especially on a song like “Phone Call.” That’s a really clear story.
Pepper Boy: I was a smart kid in school, too. I always loved to write. English was my favorite subject. All the stuff I write about is stuff I’ve been through.
Right. You’re very honest in your music. I can tell everything is really personal for you. It seems like a lot of rappers have tried to fake that. I feel like many rappers think they need to have a criminal background to be taken seriously so they lie and say they’ve sold drugs or been in a gang when they haven’t. I mean, Rick Ross is the easiest dude to point the finger at about this, but a lot of rappers have done it. You’re someone who (like you said) talks about actual experiences you’ve had. What do you think of rappers like Rick Ross who lie to seem more “hood” or “hard”?
Pepper Boy: I feel like you just need to be 100 with yourself. That’s all I can say. Be true to yourself in your rhymes. You ain’t gotta rap about the streets. I’ve lived what street rap is about so I can relate. Just be yourself.
I can tell honesty is really important to you because you’re not afraid to be vulnerable and admit your mistakes or talk about when you’ve gone through something hard. On “LOST” you say “18 I had to learn how to walk.” At first I thought that was a metaphor, but as I listened to some of your other music I realized you might’ve meant that literally. Did you actually get seriously injured and have to go through a major recovery from that?
Pepper Boy: Yeah. That was in 1996, man. One of the worst years of my life.
Are you comfortable telling that story? I’m honestly really curious about what happened and how you got through it. But, if it’s too painful to talk about it I understand.
Pepper Boy: Well, it was a home invasion, an attempt on my life. I was thrown off a balcony. I fell three stories.
Shit. Wow. You’re lucky you survived that. A lot of your music is about making it through rough situations. Not only when you were really hurt, but your time in jail, too. You have a whole album about when you were in jail, the One More Night album.
Pepper Boy: The One More Night album…yeah. I really wanted to tell that story. Things are tough down South, you know what I’m saying? I’m not glorifying my time in jail, but I just wanted to show what it’s like. It’s a big record, man. Classic. One of my favorites.
Yeah. Of your records I’ve heard that’s my favorite, man. We’ve talked a lot about writing and lyrics and storytelling, but I want to talk about beats for a bit. Who’s been producing your songs? Do you make your own beats?
Pepper Boy: I get most my beats from my friend in Pittsburg named Black Tim. I have a personal producer, too named Folly “LP”. The majority of my beats come from the East Coast.
Has the internet helped you out with promoting your music?
Pepper Boy: The internet has been wonderful for me. I put my first five albums out offline. I didn’t have computer access. But, the internet has been a REAL help. I’ve been on the internet for probably about three years now.
My friend Jackson (he runs the Ending Sight blog) told me you have a connection or a working relationship with Lil B. I know you rapped on a couple beats Lil B used originally.
Pepper Boy: Oh yeah. The Lil B situation is wonderful. Actually Lil B reached out to me, man. Lil B had a mixtape out called “Bitch Mob.” There’s a record on their called “My Life” and Lil B rapped over a beat I used originally. We were in contact online originally, but then we exchanged numbers. We talk like once every two weeks or so. We’re gonna do a project together, too. Look out for that.
Awesome. That’s exciting. You and Based God have a similar style actually. I can see you guys working together really well. You’re both honest and focus on storytelling. Lil B doesn’t always make songs like yours, but he definitely can. I’m looking forward to hearing your collab, man.
Pepper Boy: Yeah. He’s helped me out a lot. I’m really glad he rapped over my beat, you know what I’m saying? Lil B, he’s a real cool dude.
Oh yeah definitely. How did Lil B find out about you? Was it kind of just him randomly finding you online?
Pepper Boy: Well, I think he saw my video on YouTube. There’s a video for that song. I guess he just took a liking to it. There ain’t too many rappers out there that reach out to the underground, you know what I’m saying? I really did Lil B.
Definitely. I wanted to ask you about where you’re from. Little Rock isn’t the best known area for hip hop. Honestly, when I think of the South I think of Atlanta or Memphis or Miami or New Orleans or Houston. What is the hip hop scene like in Little Rock?
Pepper Boy: The rap scene is growing big, man. See, that’s the problem. People know Memphis, Mississippi, Atlanta…they skip Arkansas. We’re working hard here. There’s a lot of good music coming out of Arkansas. We’re working hard trying to put Arkansas on the map.
You have an album called Veteran and an album called Str8 Off Tha Block 4 “VIETNAM” which is kind of a concept album about Vietnam Is war a big thing for you? Is that something that’s really meaningful to you?
Pepper Boy: It’s funny about that, man. Every since I’ve been a little kid I’ve been interested in war. I wanted to go into the army. I never went. I always loved camouflage. I love the whole army thing. The generals, the green berets, everything. I just thought I should make an album about it. The Vietnam album is a theme album. I just wanted to do that, man.
Right. Yeah that’s cool. Since you haven’t been in war yourself, how did you do research for that album? Do you know veterans?
Pepper Boy: To be honest with you, on that Vietnam album, my girlfriend bought me a DVD about Vietnam and I studied it. And I made records out of it. And that’s the honest truth, man.
Yeah it’s cool to be inspired by something you’ve watched and want to write about it, make songs about it. I can totally relate to that. And I think that’s interesting because so much of your other songs are about your actual life experiences. What I like about the Veteran album is that you’re very humble on it even though it’s called “Veteran.” A lot of people calling themselves a rap “veteran” might come off as pretentious or full of themselves, but you are very humble on there and I think that’s great.
Pepper Boy: Right right. I called it “Veteran” because it marks my 10th year in the rap game. My first album came out in June 2002. It marks my 10 years in the game on an underground level.
Hit the jump for the rest!
You’ve been rapping for so long, man. And you’re just starting to get recognition now. It must feel great to finally have that, though. Do you feel like you’ve made it?
Pepper Boy: I feel good, man. This is my first interview.
I hope you get a ton more interviews after this man…I’m gonna get a little political here. You’ve seen serious poverty, violence and just plain bad shit. Do you see that as a problem with the system in America? If so, do have any ideas of how we could fix things?
Pepper Boy: That’s a really good question, man. Right now we need a lot of help, man. For the streets and shit. We need more jobs. There’s a whole lot of evil out there on the streets. A whole lot of poverty. You know, money is the route of all evil.
Pepper Boy: I’m from the ghetto, you know what I’m saying? Here’s what I wanna do: I wanna be real successful and be a positive role model. I wanna try to uplift spirits, you know? I want people to think “I see Pepper Boy doing good I wanna do good too.” Man, I come from the bottom. I’m not gonna lie to you.
Right. And I think you’re an inspiration to a lot of people. Not just people with your same background, not just people from the ghetto, but all people. I think your struggles and how you got over shit is really inspirational, man. When you were growing up did you have positive role models? You said you want to be a role model for others. Did you have one growing up?
Pepper Boy: I always looked up to my dad, you know? He’s a successful businessman. I always looked up to my father.
That’s good. Not everybody has a role model or a mentor and I think that can make a big difference. I really look up to my dad, too and I appreciate everything he’s done to help me out.
Pepper Boy: Right. Right. And I wanna say this, too: Master P is my favorite artist.
I honestly don’t know a whole lot about Master P. But, I do know he was very “Do It Yourself” and he was very successful at that. He created a label and a brand. And he worked hard.
Pepper Boy: Right right. I’ve been running my record label for 10 years by myself. Off Tha Block Records. It’s been hard, but I’ve been learning all I can, man.
Do you feel like kind of an expert on the music world right now? You’ve been running the label for a decade now. Do you feel like you’ve learned a ton through that process?
Pepper Boy: Yeah. I learned a lot from reading Source magazines and XXL magazines. The rap magazines, man. It just came from being into hip hop when I was young. Like I said, I didn’t think I was gonna be no rapper, but I was always into hip hop.
Awesome. Well, that’s about all the questions I have for you. Is there anything you’d like to say?
Pepper Boy: Yeah. I just want to give some shout outs. Shout out to Feezio for Git Bread Ent. And Temolja For Mitape Collab…..and tha whole Arkansas Movement.- Nick Vogt