Chicago up-and-comer Ruby Watson sits down with Aviv Hart to discuss his sophomore effort, Carry Me, available wherever music is streamed March 6th.
Ruby Watson burst onto the Chicago music scene as one half of the boisterous Free Snacks alongside the prodigious Joshua Virtue and one fourth of the Illustrious Why? Footclan. Watson’s smooth and infectious flows contrasted perfectly with Virtue’s choppier, more aggressive cadence creating one of the most dynamic duos in the contemporary Chicago hip-hop landscape. After the success of the first Free Snacks tape Eat Good, Ruby released his debut solo effort Balance, which saw the sweet-talking lyricist show off a darker and more vulnerable side of his artistry, a side of him that he further taps into on his magnificent sophomore project Carry Me.
Carry Me is a loose narrative separated into three acts. The album finds Ruby both at his most energized and isolated, telling a lucid story about love, loss, and purpose. To say there is something for everybody on this album is an understatement, as ruby produces both smooth, soulful, sample-based cuts and bass-rattling bangers. Watson even experiments with some pitched-up auto-crooning on boycott amazon and a tender, R&B influenced flow on show it. The result of Ruby flexing so many new musical muscles is a rounded, whole, and diverse auditory experience that keeps the listener on their toes and in their heads for the duration of the 19 track project.
While Ruby’s prowess as both a rapper and producer are on full display, the heart and soul of this project is the emotion bursting at the seams of every song. Watson provides a candid and honest perspective on the processing of grief and the struggles of depression, addiction, and hopelessness, unpacking his own coping mechanisms and perceived shortcomings in the process. Despite this darkness that quite often permeates the record, Watson, like all of us, clings desperately to hope, love, and goodness; and the result is one of the most transparent and humanizing albums of the year so far. The Why? Footclan’s baby is all grown up, and that coming of age is on beautiful display on Carry Me.
So you’re in Chicago by way of Kansas City, how did you manage to establish yourself so quickly in a city and musical scene/culture that is traditionally not particularly kind to transplants?
Well I don’t think I was ever really like, super deep into Kansas city you know? Like I was never into their music scene. I never found a place there. Like I played in bands and shit but it never really amounted to much passion other than just knowing that I wanted to keep playing music. But I think when I came here a lot of that was maybe similarities between KC and Chicago in some ways, I know a lot of people from KC end up moving to Chicago when they seek a bigger city environment, I kinda like to think of KC as a more southern Chicago but people don’t always agree with that. But a lot of my success comes down to the people I found when I came out here cause a lot of the people that helped me get into the scene are Chicago lifers who grew up here. And like, being with them you just get roped in to everything. Like meeting you, meeting Frances (Why? Records manager), meeting Davis (Why? Records rapper), meeting these people who have been here their whole lives really helped. I like to rep Chicago cause I’m here now and it’s been good to me, but I don’t think I really sound like Chicago. For what it’s worth all of us (Why? Records) have done our own thing and if it sounds like Chicago it’s just cause we’re here now. I don’t think Free Snacks sounds like Chicago either, but that’s what people talk about the most.
In terms of sonic sensibilities on the album you’ve sort of embraced modernity and the south in your production, specifically in the second act of the project. How did you find your own voice within that style with it being so far from what you were doing on your previous solo record?
Just influence. Everybody likes to turn up. I feel like in the progression of the album that’s like the first third of the second act, and I feel like at that point in the album we’ve progressed through the first act which is sort of like a despair, depression, loss of love, and the second act is coming back out of that and you’re just drunk and turning up. And you’re like, neglecting the feelings instead of processing them so it turns into this “turn up, get lit cause this shit is hard.” But then like, by the time that ends we’re back to processing those feelings and I feel like that comes around at the end of the album. In terms of style though I take a lot of influence from people like JPEGMAFIA and shit where the production is really aggressive and weird.
So this album is split into three acts, what was the process behind your decision to structure it that way?
This album started out as a five song single playthrough where it would’ve been five songs pushed into one track. And then I just had all these songs and I was like “Maybe I could just make three EPs,” cause I think you can kinda pull apart the album and each act could kinda be it’s own project. But I was like “nah let’s see if we can work this into one fluid piece,” cause there’s so many different styles on it and I wanted it all to work together. So I opted to take that route of making it like a short story or a book that’s got a long playthrough with peaks and valleys.
Obviously everyone will have their own interpretation of the three-act structure, but one of the most consistent themes I found was coming of age. It almost seems like a childhood-adolescence-adulthood progression. The muffled eavesdropping of the first track almost seems like it was recorded from within the womb.
yeah[laughs], I like that that’s cool, no one’s said that before. The idea for it was actually like, running into your ex at a party. Like “oh shit how you been?” It’s uncomfortable. That’s kinda like the jumping off point, you literally start off the album with “how you been? Where you at?” That’s the jumping off question and then you get to the first act and it’s like “terrible, I been terrible”[laughs].
On this project you find yourself asking a lot of questions, both directly and indirectly, about not only the world but yourself. What were some of the questions that were going through your head while you were making this album?
I feel like the biggest one was how to love again, because a big theme of the album initially was the idea of not feeling like you can love but still wanting to see love win. And that’s like, this attitude of “I’m not in a place to be able to love right now,” but that’s denying yourself something you should be able to have, so it’s about processing whatever’s blocking that. Some other big questions are like, “how much is enough? How much is too much?” Especially in regards to like, substances and addiction.
That motif of addiction brings up another major theme I found in the album which is fighting against the immovable, specifically time. What is your relationship with the idea of time in the context of this album? Because I hear a lot of almost unhealthy work ethic but I also hear a lot of “what is it all for?”
I feel like time in the context of this album is coming from a place of isolation. When you self-isolate time gets skewed, and you have intense highs and intense lows of time moving very fast and very slow. I don’t know, time is crazy [laughs].
Getting into some individual bars, one that really caught my ear was “I don’t aspire for greatness,” what is the form or definition of “greatness” that you don’t aspire towards?
I’d say just in the sense of music in popular culture. I’m not trying to be the best rapper, I don’t think I’m the best rapper, and I don’t really have any desire to be the best rapper, I’m really just processing and making art for art’s sake. I guess its more talking about being great as in functioning in the system rather than the subjective “great” or personal “great.” I don’t aspire for like, the utilitarian “great,” to be able to fulfill your task in the most efficient and best way possible, to help the machine make money, fuck that. Like a “great rapper” makes their label a lot of money and sells products and sells out arenas.
Going back to the theme of lost love, it seems like at least a piece of the creative process behind this album was in response to a breakup, did you go through something like that recently?
In a way, yes. It’s about multiple losses, it’s not just one per se. It kind of encompasses the past year and a half where I’ve had a couple of people I was really close to end whatever type of relationship we had. It goes through the motions of a lot of those cause a lot of those feelings still come and go, so I’m still figuring those out. But yeah a lot of it is definitely about love and the lack thereof at times.
You obviously have a lot to be proud of with what you’ve been able to accomplish in the past handful of years, and yet on this project I hear a lot of ideas of futility. One bar in this vein that I noticed was “Copernicus, we all just fly around in circles” on Flowers with Musa Reems. Do you think that this constant work ethic you dedicate yourself to leads to that mentality of futility?
Yeah totally, 100%. With that bar it’s obviously a poke at how Copernicus thought everything revolved around the earth or whatever. And like, we’re all flying around in circles in a literal orbit, but also in our society and in our life. I mean, the world is literally ending so we’re really all just flying around in circles at this point.
Even though grief is very much at the forefront of this album, you still manage to find pockets of happiness and optimism on the project. The production is very sunny and summery at times and the lyrics are full of small positive affirmations. How did you find that balance between accentuating those pockets of happiness while still giving the grief on the album its time to breathe?
I think a big part of that was possible just through time. This is the longest I’ve ever spent working on something, I’ve been working on it since like last May, so it did get to sit through a whole summer and a whole winter. I think that’s why, to me, the album feels like spring, cause it’s got those pockets of summer but it also feels, like, withered. I like that tone though, I feel like even on the saddest songs there’s some nod to the fact that it’s okay. I have to remind myself of that every day.