Fe_lie the God is a difficult man to find. When this series of interviews began, my team reached out to every subject asking for their schedules so that we could arrange times to speak that would be convenient for all parties. Some were very responsive, others took a little bit, but I wasn’t able to finally get in touch with and interview Fe_lie until just five days ago. It was decided that a video interview would be best.
Born in Richmond, Fe_lie’s family made a move to D.C. for a few years when he was a child. He spent the rest of his childhood growing up in Louisa, Virginia. He began rapping at the age of 17, but didn’t get serious about the craft until the birth of his first child in 2015, around the time that he made the move to Richmond.
Claiming that he uses his music like a diary, Fe_lie’s music is intensely personal in content and subject matter. He lists among his influences Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Rage Against the Machine, and Musiq Soulchild. When you listen to Fe_lie the God’s music, you can hear the generational cry of anger and dissatisfaction with the status quo prevalent in hip-hop and rock music blending together into a unified sound. Covering topics like Black liberation, rejection of social norms, emotional detachment, and isolation, the low fidelity beats Fe_lie raps over are reminiscent of DAMN.-era Kendrick Lamar. However, they’re interspersed with the occasional classical guitar or piano as well, reminiscent of old school Gangster Rap that featured similar components as memorable intros or the basis of the beat.
Fe_lie the God teamed up with Hourglass Sessions to produce a one shot live music video of his song “Letter to You (Outro).” You can watch the video on RVA MAG TV starting at 1 PM on August 30th. Read further for our interview with Fe_lie, in which we talk about the creative process, the diversity of the Richmond music scene, and using social media to cultivate online audiences.
Do you have much control over your sound, or do you let the music carry you and take you where it will?
I think a little bit of both. It depends on where my head is. With the music itself… it’s always been kind of an outlet. So, if I’m feeling happy, then you’re gonna get something happy, and if I’m feeling down, then you’re gonna get something down. I try to plan it sometimes, but then there’s other times where the beat might come on, and I’ll just go wherever it takes me. When doing everything based on feeling and emotion, you just never really know what you’re gonna get until you get it.
And speaking of that, who do you work with to produce your beats, and how do you go about creating a song? Where does the process start, where does it take you, and how do you know when you’re done?
As far as beats, one of my best friends, his name is 1stPlace, he makes pretty much all of my beats at this point. We just dropped a project back in October called Forever Dangerous that did like 300,000 [streams], and we’re working on part two right now. Another friend of mine by the name of Kev, he’s got a couple of Billboard records, we’ve done a lot of work together.
As far as building the music itself… again, it kind of just depends on where my head is. A lot of the time I like to be prepared, so I can get the most out of my sessions. I’m not one of those guys who goes in and when I get there, I start writing, or start working on it. I like to be prepared, so when I get there, I can do five or six songs in two hours. That’s just how my vibe works. Usually I know that I’m done when I get to a point where I find myself re-rapping the song 10-15 times a day. I haven’t recorded it yet, but I’ll just go… I might sit in the car, I might put my airpods in, whatever. I’ll turn the beat on, and then I’ll just go over, and over, and over, and I’m thinking to myself, “This sounds great!” That’s when I know it’s time to go record it and put it down. I don’t have a great memory, honestly, and with the way I rap, I’ll change my flows a million times throughout a song sometimes. So, I may bend a word, and instead of it sounding how the word actually sounds, I may bend that word just to then change the rhyme scheme in the next bar. But if I write it today, and I try to record it next week, I may not remember exactly how I did it, and now I’m frustrated.
I absolutely hate beat-making sessions. Any producer that I work with will tell you. They try to get me to sit down and work on beats, and I’m just like, “Just play me some stuff, and if I like it I’ll pick it, and if not we’ll just go to the next one.” My attention span is all over the place. But you get the beats, and you take your time and write. A lot of the time I spend writing is late night; that’s kinda what my vibe is. Once we get to that place where I’m constantly re-rapping it, and when I know this is it, then it’s time to go record it.
When it comes to an instrumentalist, they can just pick up their instrument and practice their repertoire, or play their scales and arpeggios. But how does a rapper like yourself go about practicing their instrument? How do you hone your craft?
I would say at this point, since I’ve been doing it for so long, I think the best way for me to keep sharp is to keep my actual self sharp; mentally and physically. Whether it’s just to take some time for myself — I work out four times a week — or things like that, that keep my mind and body sharp. And then everything else follows. Outside of that, if I hear [a song] I don’t know on the radio, I’ll go pull that beat up, and I might write a quick verse to it, just to see where my head’s at. Or I might record over a bunch of random instrumentals that are industry instrumentals. Just to get out there, try new flows, try things that maybe I wouldn’t have done on something of my own. That is usually my process of keeping it going. Just taking care of myself, and freestyling over other people’s beats to try new sounds, try to cadences, try new flows.
And where do you keep any lyrical ideas that you like and want to hold on to?
It’s funny, because I’m not super young, but I’m also not super old. When I first got started in music, I got the first iPhone to ever come out. This was back when they had a round back, and you couldn’t send picture messages. That was the first iPhone I ever had. So I got on YouTube, and I was looking up beats, and it kind of shaped me. I used to record on the voice memos, you know? So now that it’s years and years later, everything is in my notes app, because it’s right there at the touch of a finger. I can pull it up at any time, I can go over my flow or whatever it is that I wrote down, and it gives me the opportunity to keep doing things on the fly. Other times I have things actually written, when it’s more of that heartfelt type of music, because it just seems to put me in that mindset. But for the most part it’s gonna be on my phone.
What do you think of the Richmond music scene; the people here, and the music that comes out of this city?
That’s an interesting question. I think overall we have one of the most diverse and interesting scenes around. You can hear anything. You can walk into one bar and you might hear a rock show, but then you walk into another one and there’s a rap event. There’s just so much of a melting pot, where you can take in so much. I’ve met a lot of great people in this scene, and I’ve learned a lot about different kinds of music. One of the only things that I would say is a bad thing about this scene is that sometimes a lot of people don’t think outside of it. When I got here, one of the original goals was to become a huge name here. We did that. And then it was like, “We did that, let’s try to take this shit global.” Maybe for some people this [success within Richmond] is the main goal. So I guess it’s not really a bad thing; it all just depends on what your perception is of what you’re trying to get to.
I think, overall, Richmond as a city, and Richmond as a whole, the culture here is unmatched. I’ve been all over; Cali, New York, Atlanta, Tennessee. I’ve been everywhere, and I can tell you that this place is unmatched. It’s like the hub of underground music. I would like to think that we’re like Atlanta, except the difference is, for the most part, Atlanta has really only offered up rap, whereas here we offer up a little bit of everything. Even when it comes to rap, there’s other artists that I’ve met that sound nothing like what I do, but it’s still rapping. It’s just really great to be a part of. I think that me and some of the people that I’m around have become pretty well known names in this scene, and it’s great to say that I’m one of the faces, or one of the driving forces. It’s great to be a part of the scene in that way.
It’s odd how big the scene is considering how small the city is, and the amount of diversity here in terms of genre and style is eye-opening.
It definitely gives you the opportunity as an artist to consider more things. It’s like everyday life. If you get the same thing every day, you’re gonna get the same result. If you’re taking in different things, then you’re going to create different content. I’ve been able to expand my content because I’ve been able to see other people and other things that make me think, “That’s interesting. How can I incorporate that? How can I change my sound up a little bit?” It’s a great place to be.
What do you think of the role that social media plays in developing a musical following? Because your online presence is not very high. You don’t have a website, and you don’t post a lot on your socials. Yet you have over 100,000 followers on Instagram. How did you do it, and what role does it play in your musical following?
So for years I did the whole post regularly, post with a plan… I mean, I couldn’t afford to pay anybody to do anything in the beginning, so I had to learn social media. I had to learn algorithms. I had to learn all of it. So I did spend a whole lot of time learning visuals, and making sure my face was seen a lot. It can become taxing, and especially when you’ve got real life going on. In the last six or seven months, I did take a step back from the social media side, and just re-found what made me happy. On the bright side, in doing so, it showed the people who were there, and were authentically there, still are.
And just because you’re not using one platform doesn’t mean that the others can’t feed it. For instance: I post on TikTok a lot. I have a huge following there also. And what that’s been able to do is allow me to convey the personality before I convey the music. So when people travel from there to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and they’re like, “Oh okay, you also make music. Wait, I didn’t know that.”
Social media is one of the reasons that I’ve been able to do everything that I’ve been able to do. But at the same time, when you put so much stock in something, because it is such a big tool, it can become something that sort of runs your day to day. It runs your life. And I got to a point where that was me. I used social media, and it took control of my day to day. And taking that step back, and taking control back, has put me in a better position now, where I’m not going, “Oh my god I didn’t post today. I’m gonna lose followers.” Now it’s more quality over quantity.
Like, two days ago I put out a random trailer video with a song I recorded, and it did really well. And it was out of nowhere. And then a couple days later, it might be a week, or whatever, it continues to grow and do well. It’s just all in how you use it. Social media is a great tool, and it will always be a great tool, but it’s also great in moderation, because it can really become an addiction if you let it.
What role does TikTok play in getting your music to more people then?
It’s helpful to an extent. One of my songs has like 3,000 videos on there, or something like that. But, at the same time, just by seeing some of my peers do that, it’s really easy to fall into the mindset of, “Okay, I’m gonna go into the studio with the idea of making a song that’s gonna do well on TikTok.” And then you fall into this trap of not even focusing on making the music, you’re focusing on overthinking making something catchy that somebody else can use. So, [as] with anything else, it’s better if it’s organic. If your music was meant to do well on TikTok, or whatever platforms, then it’s gonna do that. You just have to let it be.
For me, on TikTok and things like that, I just use my personality to convey who I am, and then that in turn feeds the music. I think a lot of times it’s backwards, where people ingest the music first, and then people try to figure out who the person is. A lot of time you get people who go, “Oh, they’re not who I thought.” When people see me first, it’s always the jokes, it’s always the laughter, it’s always actually just who I am. I’ve been able to develop a big following doing it like that — almost 10,000,000 views on TikTok — so I’ve been able to transform that into a lot of people reaching out to me on other platforms. Just like any other tool, it depends on how you use it. You can’t let it become such a focus that it’s all you think about doing.
One thing that always interests me is hearing when people feel like they have succeeded in their music, and I want to know what milestones you need to hit to feel that you will have had the success you want in music.
Success is hard to quantify. I’ve had different levels of success. My social media obviously still does well, but there was a time where I would post and get 5,000 to 6,000 likes. I might have hundreds of people on a live stream. Then there’s other times where I might post songs and get like 100,000, or 500,000, or one million [streams]; and there are times where I would make thousands of dollars in a month on features or running people’s social media. The thing that I learned, though, is that in those times, I let the character take away from the person. Now I’m at a point where the person, the music, the musician… it’s all one now. There’s no separation. I think for me, that is my biggest success, because I don’t have to wake up and put a face on. I don’t have to wake up and turn into somebody, and then when I come home take off the work shirt and go back to being me. I’m the same person day in and day out now. And that also reflects in the music, it also reflects in the social media, and I think that’s the true level of where I’m at, as far as music and all that.
When I first started music, the goal was to blow up and all of that, and you don’t realize how many layers there are to that until you’re doing it. I used to think that if you get 10,000 views on a video, you’re famous and your life’s gonna change. Meanwhile, I just dropped a video in February that has over 200,000 views. It’s years later, but you learn that success is in the eye of the beholder. Whereas I thought I was successful before because of money or clout, I look at where I’m at now as even more successful, because it’s peaceful. I’m not clinging onto music as, “If this doesn’t work out, I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life.” I’m looking at music now as a complimentary piece. I’ve really built this up, I’ve put in the time, effort, and the work, and I get to enjoy it. And as it’s beginning to take me places, I’m just solely focused on enjoying the journey, and enjoying where it goes now.
One last thing: I want to hear you talk about making your Hourglass Session, what went into it, and the music behind it.
Well, first off, shout-out to Matt Sease. It was great working with him and the whole Hourglass team; they’re really cool people with a really dope vision. At the time, I was into the whole emotional music, and one thing about that: it’s great, because you’re healing and working things out. But sometimes it can be a little rough, because you have to put yourself in that mindset in order to make the music and have it be authentic. A lot of times, when I get like that, it can kinda feed into my depression. And I’m bipolar, so my mental state is sometimes all over the place, but at the time I was really diving into that, to make that music. And when we shot the Hourglass Session, the place we shot it at, a friend of mine — or an ex-friend of mine — we had just had a lot of bad things happen at that place. And while there was a lot bad, we also had a lot of great memories there. So it was a place that was really important to my story at the time.
As far as the guitar; I know that I have a very unique voice, and I know that by the fact that people have always looked at my voice as super weird. Until Pop Smoke. When he came out, people went, “Oh, other people can have deep voices.” So for me, having the voice I have, I used to hate it, and I grew to embrace it and use it as an instrument. So having that guitar, it’s kind of like an angel and demon kind of thing. The guitar is so peaceful, and then having my voice, you would think it would clash with that, but it’s cohesive.
You can watch Fe_lie the God’s song “Letter to You (Outro)” on RVA MAG TV at 1 PM on August 30th, and you can find his music anywhere you usually get it.
Top Photo by Absolute Photographs