Jared Pellerin packed only a backpack and a Korg beat machine in the backseat. Pellerin — aka Pell, the 22-year-old unsigned rapper whose 2014 debut Floating While Dreaming signaled a new sound from the Deep South — moved from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi with his mother after Hurricane Katrina and shared his grandmother's two-bedroom house with 10 people. Out of school and surrounded by family, Pell says his beat machine was more of an icebreaker than an instrument.
"It was more of a hobby at the time, a social thing," he says from Los Angeles, where he's working with several producers on new material. "It was how I got friends and got through the day. I didn't have a laptop or a phone."
Ten years later, Pell made his full-length debut, a moody meditation on dreams and bitter realities backed by ambient production full of syrupy, dreamy synthesizers and minimal textures. Floating While Dreaming's producers include Ludwig Goransson (who produced Haim's perfect-pop debut as well as works by Childish Gambino and Chance The Rapper) and electronics whiz Tomas Barfod. Pell's raps bridge Childish Gambino's anxious self-scrutiny with Chance The Rapper's head in the clouds and Curren$y's laid-back, day-in-the-life chronicles.
"What I got from New Orleans was Cash Money, No Limit, a little bit of jazz, whatever my dad played around the house," he says, adding Vampire Weekend, Crystal Skulls and Haim to his current favorites. "I played trombone. I'm actually really good at it. My plan is to get a new one next month and start recording again. I don't just want to incorporate it into my live setup, I just want it to be something I do in my free time, it's fun to play. I'm coming for Trombone Shorty."
Pell (sans trombone) returns to New Orleans to perform at the 2015 Buku Music + Art Project, the annual festival from Winter Circle Productions and Huka Entertainment featuring hip-hop, indie pop, EDM and electronic acts and DJs. Pell performs from 4:15 p.m.-5 p.m. Friday, March 13 on the Ballroom stage.
As a soft electronic buzz blurs into sweeping, orchestral strings on "Dollar Store," Pell tries to balance mindless work at Dollar General while his brain is dialed into making music. By the next track, "Eleven:11," Pell says he's "New Orleans dreaming" and "wish I could go back but the future looks perfect." Pell says Floating While Dreaming uses the dream world as a metaphor for life itself, inspired by Richard Linklater's 2001 film Waking Life, which asks whether the dream world has any real significance.
"I feel like my subconscious gives me affirmation for how I feel about certain things," Pell says. "That's how I discover things about myself and people I surround myself with. I also wanted to apply Floating While Dreaming to everyone who's a dream chaser. ... The time it takes to get from point A to point Z can feel like you're going through the motions, basically just floating. I know a lot of friends who just graduated college, and they're essentially floating. They're living with their parents, not necessarily getting a job or getting the jobs they went to school to have. It can feel at times hopeless, and you can work on that end goal so much you forget to enjoy the time it takes to get there."
In Waking Life, a man tells Wiley Wiggins' "Main Character," "The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well, I'm trying to change all that." That's Pell's M.O. on Floating.
"I wanted to bring something different to the table and something creative to the game," he says. "I'm not going to wear pink hair or anything like that, or give you a gimmick. But I want to show people you can be as creative as possible and still be respected."
Taking his inspiration from film, Pell wants to pursue "visual music" in his follow-up efforts.
"I think a lot of times when you're approaching music, it can be a little mundane. You're staring at a screen, or watching somebody else make it, or making it yourself with all the technology now, it can feel kind of dull," he says. "You're going to have that moment of inspiration, which is you capturing how you feel in that time, but transcending that, translating that into something you can see, that's something I try to do with everything I make.
"I'm going to get into a lot more storytelling, now that I have a lot more stories to tell," he adds. "I'm going to have stories to share with people that will relate to people a little bit more than Floating While Dreaming, and hope to get people to understand who I am."
Gambit Staff Picks
Herb Christopher B2B Ryan Deffes
4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday
The New Orleans producers behind the popular Kompression music series hold down this back-to-back block.
Run the Jewels
7 p.m.-8 p.m. Friday
El-P and Killer Mike released their first self-titled effort as Run the Jewels in 2013, but their massive 2014 follow-up Run the Jewels 2 is an atomic bomb to hip-hop, a rabid, teeth-baring rap record shredding millions of words a minute, every one of them served with a radioactive middle finger. The album earned universal critical acclaim, topped dozens of year-end lists, and the duo has plans for a Run the Jewels 3 to be released within the next year. Run for the hills.
8 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday
Harlem rapper and retired drug dealer A$AP Rocky followed his mixtape debut, 2011's LIVE.LOVE.A$AP, with his 2013 full-length studio debut LONG.LIVE.A$AP, a radio staple with hits like the drowsy earworm "Goldie" and star-studded banger "F—n' Problems," on which Rocky joins Drake, Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz (whose existential crisis is a Catch-22 of sex addiction, which he also enjoys). Buku demi-god Skrillex backed the blown-out anthem "Wild for the Night," which appropriately scored Harmony Korine's debauched Spring Breakers.
10:30 p.m.-11:45 p.m. Friday
Chicago producers Josh Young and Curt Cameruci, aka J2K and Autobot, respectively, make up the bass-heavy trap and hip-hop-influenced club heavyweight Flosstradamus. The duo coined "plurnt" (an amalgamation of peace, love, unity and respect, and turnt), which graces the title of its latest, Plurnt: The Remixes, on which the duo's intensely layered production and lightheaded drops meet Waka Flocka Flame for "TTU (Too Turnt Up)."
TV on the Radio
6 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday
Emerging as mid-2000s Brooklyn hipster archetypes and later evolving into kingmaker producers, TV on the Radio released its fifth studio album, Seeds, in late 2014, its first album since 2011 and after the death of bassist Gerard Smith. While Seeds didn't achieve the kind of groundbreaking highs of the band's 2006 breakthrough Return to Cookie Mountain, it channels mourning into bright, deeply resonant art pop.
BadBadNotGood feat. Ghostface Killah
6:15 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday
Wu-Tang Clan founder Ghostface Killah hasn't had any difficulty as a solo artist, with his obtuse references and from-the-rafters flow finding inspired footholds on releases from 2000's excellent Supreme Clientele to 2014's conceptual 36 Reasons. The rapper joined hip-hop and jazz-influenced trio BadBadNotGood for 2015's Sour Soul, breathing '70s soul and orchestral film scores into Tony Starks' sharp-as-ever raps.
9:45 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday
Longhaired DJ and producer Lorin Ashton reigns over arena-sized crowds on his constant tour schedule, catering exclusively to crowds anticipating their chests carved out by his extreme bass and hyper electronics. Bassnectar's Noise vs. Beauty topped Billboard's dance charts last year.
11 p.m.-11:45 p.m. Saturday
Makonnen Sheran's massive hit "Tuesday," thanks to Drake, was named one of 2014's songs of the year by dozens of critics. Drake's remix (on which he simply added his own verse borrowing Makonnen's half-awake, slightly flat cadence) of the underground smash continues to receive ubiquitous radio play. "Tuesday" — essentially Makonnen's hard-working drug dealer response to "Everybody's Working for the Weekend" — was the first single on his debut self-titled EP, released on Drake's OVO Sound.