The City of Dallas has birthed some amazing musical acts: Erykah Badu, The Rocket Summer, Old 97’s. But in the midst of all things Texan, hidden in plain view is 27-year-old indie rapper Moses Uvere. He’s one of a number of up-and-coming area emcees, and he’s just released his third full-length album, Never Been Better. We caught up with Uvere to talk about the new tracks, the rap game, basketball and the best places to eat in Texas.
You’ve been a busy man, getting ready to drop the new album and preparing for the release show. What have the past few days been like for you?
I have some of the babies here with me today, so I’m hanging out with some babies. Trying to promote my album release party, trying to let people know that I have an album coming out. That’s pretty much it, you know. I just got booked two shows so I’m putting that in my calendar right now. The usual, you know, everyday grindin’, hustlin’, that type of deal.
There have been a few years between 2011’s Mind the Gap and this LP. Why is that? And how does your new record differ from all your past albums?
The reason why there’s a gap between my second album and this album is because I was in a place where I was trying to figure out what I wanted to write about; what kind of artist am I? You know, I was just in an interesting season when I made this album. I made the Mind the Gap album — it was a very commercial album that I was hoping to launch me to a new plateau. It got me in front of a lot of new people, but it didn’t do what I wanted it to do. Like, I mean, it was good, but I wanted better for myself. So after the release of that album, I was in a place where I was like, “Well, I just don’t know where to go with it.” So I just continued touring and writing songs. I took my time to find the direction. That’s why it took a lot longer than I expected, than most people expected. What was the second part of the question? I’m sorry.
I don’t even like to use the term Christian because the term has become so watered down. I feel like people have labeled it as already something. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad.
The other question was how does it differ from all your past albums?
How it differs is because this album is the most personal album that I’ve ever put out to the public. I’m usually a pretty private person. I mean, I don’t try to put too much of my business out there. But on this album, I put out a lot. I talked about relationships I was in; I talked about some disgruntled family members. I expressed myself in a lot of different types of ways. There’s anger, there’s joy, there’s laughter, there’s a lot of emotion and it’s a very human album. That’s the best way to describe it. It’s very human.
Your first album was titled From Worse To Better, your sophomore effort was Mind the Gap and the new record is named Never Been Better. Is there any correlation, title-wise, between the three?
There’s definitely a correlation between From Worse To Better and Never Been Better. When I got in the studio and started figuring out what I wanted to write about, I wanted to go back to the first feelings I got when I first started rapping. So From Worse To Better has this nostalgic feel I can’t really describe. It’s something I feel and I wanted to capture that on this new album. So I borrowed lyrics, I borrowed samples from the first album and implemented it into this new one.
But I like to keep a loose thread between all of my albums so when you hear my new album you’re gonna see that I borrowed some elements from my second album as well. I like to keep all of the projects together. But a big portion of this album borrows a lot from my first album as far as the feelings, but I pushed myself creatively to write better and I pushed myself to really tell (talk about) more areas of my life and really tell a cool story.
Describe the process of recording Never Been Better. Did you write first then go into the studio, or did you write while already there?
Man the process was so crazy! I mean, I definitely wrote a lot of my songs first and then went into the studio. But this album is just way different. The process we did, I wrote a ton of songs, maybe like, I wrote maybe like 80 songs.
Wow! That’s a lot.
Yeah. I mean, while I was recording Mind the Gap I was already writing for this new album. So when I finished Mind the Gap, I already had, like, 30 songs. But then I just trashed all those and started all over. And in between that time there’s just so much that happened. I went on tour. I went to Nigeria for 60 days and did a tour out there. I did so much writing in between that time that a lot of the stuff didn’t end up lasting with me. … I had all these seasons where I was writing a lot but nothing was sticking until I got in the studio with one of my friends and we started making music that really stuck with me. I was like “Yes! This is it! This is the direction.”
What’s your favorite track off the album?
It changes a lot for me. You know, one day I like “Peace and Patience,” which is a song I did with Devin Dildine. It’s a super personal song. It’s like one of the hardest songs I’ve ever written for sure. So it always makes me feel good to be like “Wow, I was able to write that and capture the real emotion,” so that’s one record. The other record that I really like is the Intro. The Intro! I can’t get over the Intro! Like, I really love the way it sounds. It’s very iconic. The content is very iconic. It’s uncomfortable. You know what I mean? I really like it. So I would probably say between those two. But, I mean, I love “Let The Beat Knock,” too. It’s just so hard to choose!
With so many rappers out right now doing their thing, what makes Moses Uvere stand out?
I think I have one of the most unique stories the world has to offer. I come from extreme backgrounds. Born in Dallas, TX so I’m super southern, but at the same time I am Nigerian. At the same time I was the oldest of four siblings and I had to help raise my siblings ’cause my mother left my family. I come from a family that’s musically inclined. Like, all of these crazy things, you know what I’m sayin’, that has happened in my life I think is what makes me stand out. There’s not a lot of people that have experienced what I’ve experienced before, so I feel like the story in and of itself really makes the music stand out in the marketplace.
What is the message you are trying to convey with Never Been Better? Describe how your faith plays into this new album.
Yeah. Man that’s an incredible question! The message with the album is, “We all, as people, need how to learn to express ourselves to the fullest capacity.” I’ve been writing music since I was, like, 16-years-old, and I feel like this album’s the first time that I was able to express myself in the fullest capacity. There are a lot of ups and downs, there are a lot of sad moments, there are a lot of happy moments, but I really feel proud in the fact that God was able to help me express myself. So that’s why I named the album Never Been Better. I felt like I’ve finally reached the level where I can say, “At this point in my life, with this album in this situation I’m in… it’s never been this good.”
And I want to encourage people. … Most people don’t see that their life has led them to this point – and it’s an interesting point because you can go up down. I want to encourage people that there is a way to go up. There is a way to be at your absolute best.
So, I guess how faith plays into that is what God wants for us all, in general. God wants us all to be operating at our best, and the album captures that. The album captures the cycle to get to your very best. You know what I mean? The ups and the downs, (the things) that’ll eventually get you to the point where you’re like, “Never been better.” I’ve never been this good and looking back on the album, looking back on my life, looking back on all the situations that led me to this point, I can say, “Wow. I’ve never been better!”
Most rappers today are cliché lyricists rhyming about a lot of negativity, like drug use, female degradation and having beef with rival rappers. However, your songs seem to be the opposite of that. While still staying real, you manage to do it without using derogatory lyrics or explicit imagery. What made you decide to take this direction with your music?
I had a change in my life. I had a true encounter with the true living God, and that’s just really molded me to make better decisions. So all my music is an expression of what my life has become. You know, I don’t consider myself to be a Christian rapper because the music is not Christian. The music is just a pure expression of a change that has occurred in my life. So people ask, “OK, what is this change?” The change is that I’ve accepted Jesus into my heart and I’ve called him My Lord.
So you’re a rapper who just happens to be Christian.
Yeah. For sure. I don’t even like to use the term Christian because I feel like that term has become so watered down. I feel like people have labeled it as already something. Like, when you’re a Christian, this is the type of person you are. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s bad. I just tell people I’m an artist that conveys his faith through the music, and that I do believe Jesus is the living God.
Sometimes the word “Christian” messes it up for people. People hear the word Christian and they’re like, “I don’t wanna listen to it because it’s a Christian thing.” Or they say, “Oh, OK, it’s good because it’s Christian.” I want you to listen to the art for the integrity of the art because I try to maintain the integrity of the art throughout the entire album. It makes me feel (I have to carry) some type of weight, sometimes. And some people say that I’m wrong for that and that I should be different but…
You want people to listen to Moses Uvere for Moses Uvere.
Yes! That’s exactly what it is.
How do you feel when people call you a conservative rapper?
I feel salty about it. I feel super salty about it! Why? Because I feel like they heard somebody say one or two things without giving the art the opportunity to be measured for just art. There’s nothing wrong with me. I can be an artist and talk about whatever and I don’t have to be Christian about it. So many people work on my car or bag my groceries, they’re not Christian baggers. They’re not Christian mechanics or whatever. At the end of the day, I’m an artist and what I convey is everything in my heart – faith, love, pain, all of that is in there. So when I hear people say, “Oh, he’s a conservative rapper,” it makes me feel like they heard something in the news or read something in the paper and they just automatically assumed that’s who I am. I don’t like it.
They pigeonhole you without even listening to your music.
Yes! And it happens all the time. It sucks because I’m not going to hide the fact that I believe Jesus is the living God. I’m not going to hide that fact, but I don’t need to be categorized as a Christian rapper because I believe in Jesus. There isn’t a category for Muslim rappers. There isn’t a category for Buddhist rappers. There isn’t a category for Hindu rappers. Why is there a category for Christian rappers?
I want my music to be put up there against Jay-Z’s music, against Beyonce’s music, against every major artist. I want my music to be on the same plateau and not be judged just because I talk about my faith when there are plenty of artists who talk about their faith in their music just not getting typecast because they may say Jesus or they may say Christian. Its just whack!
Where do you feel the state of rap is in right now and where do you see it going in the future?
As far as the artistic value of the music, I feel like it’s in the best place it’s ever been. Where do I see it going? I see it really taking an interesting turn. I see rap artists becoming a lot more musically inclined. What’s really interesting is, I seen a rapper recently, he plays the guitar, he sings and he raps. … You wouldn’t have seen that before in the late-to-early ’90s. I feel like the artists are taking the craft a lot more seriously and becoming better at the craft. But the only unfortunate thing is I feel like they are not being conscious of the audience they’re speaking to. They don’t care. They don’t care what they’re going through, they don’t care if their music has an impact; they just want to tell their story. Which is fine, and I respect that, but I feel like at times it is important to still remember who you’re talking to and make sure you’re not just saying any type of thing, just because you want to tell your story or whatever.
Do you play any instruments?
I’m currently learning piano.
Nice. So can we expect that on future albums?
Oh yeah, for sure! I told myself after this album I am not putting out another album until I learn how to play all my songs on piano. So that may be another two or three years before I put out another album! But it’s just gonna be His lead because I want to be able to write songs on the piano before I put out another album.
You are of Nigerian descent, you recently went to Nigeria to perform and you have a song on the album titled, “Welcome To Nigeria.” How has your ethnic background influenced your music?
It’s definitely created interesting song concepts. I would say, instrumental-wise, I haven’t really sampled from any Nigerian artists. I haven’t really collaborated with any Nigerian artists. But growing up the way I grew up has created several song topics, because, yes, I live in Dallas, TX. Yes, I live in the South, but in my house, it was very Nigerian. We ate nothing but African food, we wore African attire to churches, we did a lot of African-like things, so a lot of my songs stem from my upbringing and how I was raised. It’s created tons of song concepts.
When you went over to Nigeria to perform how was that?
I mean it was a freakin’ life-changing experience. It was a rollercoaster of emotions because I got to see aunties, uncles and cousins I didn’t even know existed. That was phenomenal, a life-changing opportunity. I got to see where my parents were born. I got to see where my parents met – it was incredible. It gave me so much more perspective on my life, in general, because I’ve only lived in Dallas, TX. It widened my perspective in my own personal life. It was so dope.
How was their reception towards you as an artist?
It was phenomenal. Like, I couldn’t walk through the airport, I had people trying to snatch my bag. Like, it was phenomenal.
So you were a celebrity?
I don’t like to use that term, really, but it was definitely interesting. It was definitely something I’ve never experienced before. People knew me by name, people would flag me down when I was in the taxi. It was definitely a different experience. And I have to say this, I have to go on record and say the only reason why the opportunity happened was because a friend of mine named Drew Mitchell – who’s out in California, now –works for JCTV. He got me an opportunity to host a music television program, like a Top 10 music countdown thing. I hosted one and it popped off from there. So many people were trying to contact me from Africa because they saw my last name, they saw some of my facial features that indicated where I’m from and people went ham about it. So I want to just shout out to Drew Mitchell and Rachel for giving me an opportunity to be on JCTV and TBN.
There were some guest appearances on this album, most noticeably on the track “Silly.” Who were some of the emcees that contributed to Never Been Better, and what was it like working with them?
As far as emcees, I had a friend of mine named Taylor Thrash and another friend of mine named TJ’d UP. Now, TJ’d UP, he’s the guy that produced maybe 80 or 90 percent of the album, so he raps and he also was part of building the instrumental stuff. So if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have an album. He’s extremely important to the album, and he’s a great rapper, too. So when I initially wrote the song “Silly,” I was trying to get this really well-known artist on it, but he was trying to charge me, like, boohoo money! I was like, “Man, you know, I’m just gonna get my friends on here.” And it felt so much better having my friends on it versus some well-known artist I didn’t really have a great relationship with. Taylor Thrash is a guy that I’ve been a friend with since my second album. He did a song on my second album that was super huge for me called “My Last Stride.” And he’s a phenomenal singer; he’s very notable for that, but he’s also one of the best rappers I’ve ever heard and gave me probably one of the best verses on the album.
You recently had one of your songs played during the last NBA All-Star game. What was that like for you?
It was super crazy! I had phone calls, emails, texts, ex-girlfriends, haters, every single person you can possibly imagine contacting me and was like, “Yo, what is going on with your life?” and I was like “I don’t know, dude!” It was literally the craziest thing. It was cool ’cause it was the first song I released from this new album, so it really gave me like a lot of hope and excitement that people are gonna really embrace this new music that I’m about to release.
Are you a big basketball fan? Who’s your favorite team?
I’m a super basketball fan. I love the Mavs. The Mavericks are definitely my favorite team.
You just shot a music video for “Let The Beat Knock.” Talk a little about that experience and the concept of the video.
I shot the video with a guy named Prophecy out here in Dallas. He’s doing a lot of great work for a lot of great people. He’s kind of new to the video game, but he’s just got a great eye for it and he’s killing it. We had such a big concept for it, we wanted to capture the come-up from a guy who started from the bottom but then got an opportunity to like become somebody. So it’s loosely based on that, and I had phenomenal actors in there, such as my friend Krystal Penick who’s in the first scene. She did a great job capturing what it’s like to come up from the bottom.
The whole album captures that because that’s been my story. I come from the bottom and people never gave me a chance. I was always labeled that I wasn’t going to become somebody. I had every excuse in the world not to do anything with my life, but God was faithful to open up a door for me to be able to do things I love and do it for a living. The music video captures that as well, that concept.
Will you be touring in support of the new album? Where are some of the places we can expect to see you in the upcoming months?
I’m definitely planning for a tour. We’re going to try to do something on every coast. My goal is to try to be in five cities on every coast, so five cities on the east, five cities in the south, five cities on the west, five cities in the north. We’re planning on doing that April or early summer. I did a headlining tour, like, in August of last year. I did, like, 10 dates, just to let the people know the album’s coming. My goal, again, is to keep touring. I want to tour this album for like two-to-three years and really work the music.
It’s very apparent you have pride for your hometown of Dallas, with the numerous shout outs and mentions throughout the tracks. So I have to ask, where are some of the best places to grab some good Texan food?
I definitely would encourage people to go to Bubba’s. It’s this awesome chicken spot. There’s another spot called Rudy’s, awesome chicken spot as well, that’s in the south part of Dallas. Bubba’s is in the north side of Dallas. You also got Odom’s, that’s in the west part of Dallas. Then Dallas has some of the best taquerias all throughout the city, but everyone will tell you that if you go to the south part of Dallas you’re going to get the best tacos, but I think you get the best tacos on the east side of Dallas. So definitely come to Dallas, you need to go to Odom’s, Bubba’s and Rudy’s
Who are some of your influences and what are you listening to right now?
My biggest influence (right now), I would say is this artist named DJ Promote. He contributed to one of the songs on my album, he did some writing on it (“Let The Beat Knock.”) He’s probably the most genius artist I’ve ever met. He’s a genius. So he’s definitely one of my biggest influences.
I listen to a lot of this guy named Dustin Cavazos; he’s also one of my very good friends and an incredible artist. I would say I listen to this artist named Japhia Life, not a lot of people know him but he’s pretty popular on the Christian rap circuit. I mean, he was one of the first rappers I ever heard that rapped about faith, but rapped about life and kept it super real and super honest. And I needed to hear that because all I kept hearing throughout the genre was people talking about scripture and talking about how Jesus is cool, but I didn’t know how real it was. He was the first person to keep it 1,000 in the music I heard, so I always give him accolades because he’s a phenomenal writer.
There is this other artist out of Nashville named B. Reith, he was signed to Gotee Records with TobyMac. He’s one of my really good friends and he’s also an incredible artist. He can sing, he can rap, he can play the piano, he can play the drums and he knows how to mix his songs. He’s like a genius; he’s just a genius. But that’s just a handful of guys that I like and appreciate.
What’s the one album that changed your life?
Dang. Well, there are two albums because there’s the first time I experienced hip-hop when I heard the Master P album Da Last Don. That was the first rap album I ever heard that made me be like, “Whoa, you’re telling my life story in music.” But the first album I heard that was Christian that was phenomenal was Pigeon John’s album Summertime Pool Party. Man that album was, like, crazy! I mean, he kept it way too real on that album and still talked about how good God was, so that was tight.
In the past, you’ve opened for 2Chainz and have worked with Austin Bello from Forever The Sickest Kids. Both acts are kind of opposite ends of the spectrum, musically. What would be your dream tour and list of dream collaborations?
Dream tour would most definitely be myself, DJ Promote, B. Reith and Japhia Life. That would be my dream tour with all those guys on there, all my favorite artists. And Dustin Cavazos, him on there, too. All of them.
Now, you mentioned collaborations. I would love to collaborate with this artist named Wale. He’s from D.C. He’s not a Christian rapper, but he’s a great artist and I really enjoy what he’s doing with his music. I’d love to collaborate with B. Reith and Japhia Life, those would definitely be my dreams to work with those guys.
I would also love to get a song from John Mayer, man! I really love John Mayer, I’d love to do a collaboration with him. I think that’s about it. I think I would add John Mayer to my dream tour, too. He’d probably be the headliner.
Besides touring and promoting the album, what else can we expect from Moses Uvere in 2014?
A lot of music videos. My goal is to shoot a music video for every single song on the album over the two-year span. So be looking out for a lot of music videos. I am working on writing a book. I wrote the book; the book’s completely finished. I wrote it while I was in Nigeria and it’s going to be a memoir of my time there. The name of the book is called “Bloody Society,” and it’s just poems, journal entries and pictures and thoughts and emotions of my whole time there. I’ll be working on that this year.
Moses Uvere was posted on February 3, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by Melissa Sanchez.