Joseph Calabrese, otherwise known as Pinot, is a newcomer on the Richmond rap scene, and he’s ready to make his mark. Born in Washington to a military family, he has lived across the globe in countries like Italy and Germany. Eventually, he settled down here in Richmond, where he has spent the past three years perfecting his craft.
I first discovered Pinot in 2019, when I saw him freestyling with a group of his friends. His effortless wordplay and flow make him difficult to look away from. He released his first single, “Fine Wine,” in 2021, but by that time, he’d already started his journey on Soundcloud. After tens of thousands of streams, he decided he wanted to launch his love for music into something larger.
What makes Pinot’s style so notable is his ability to weave hooks, melodies, and energy into his music. This is most strikingly seen in his songs “Astrogirl,” “Contraband,” and my personal favorite, “Hell is on Earth.” His music is unforgettable — seriously, it will be stuck in your head for days. His punchy, compressed vocals stand out, and his overall sound is one you can’t find anywhere else.
Since his first single, Pinot has released several other projects, including his most recent EP, Sincerely, PINOT. His newest single “Overseas,” is a collaboration with Crash, and is available for streaming now. I took the opportunity to sit down with Pinot myself, and discover, on a deeper level, just what makes him tick.
Marilyn Pham: Tell me, who is Pinot, and where did the name originate from?
Pinot: Originally my name is Joseph, but I go by Pinot because I drink a lot of wine and I’m Italian. My mom’s last name is Martini. I was originally going to use the name Martini, but then I figured that was a little too close to my government. So I just wanted to switch it up. And eventually, Pinot stuck.
Marilyn: What inspired you to start creating?
Pinot: So one night I was drinking wine with my homie, Nate. He goes by RXYNE. He’s a producer and an engineer. He asked me to hop on something, and I had just gotten off work. I was working at 7-11 at the time, and I said “Screw it” and just started recording with them. And then eventually, I made my first song with Nick, who goes by Ntstar. We made “Take Take,” which is a song by Doped Losers, only on SoundCloud. And then from there, I kind of went in, and did “Clarity” with Marilyn, and that kind of took off.
Marilyn: What was the driving force for you to take the next step into the industry?
Pinot: So I originally was just making music to have fun and stuff. Then after “Clarity” and the music video, I met Eddie, who’s from Kidz at Play. I saw him at a party one night, and he was like, “Yo, one of my friends is trying to get into throwing shows and whatnot.” So I hit up his boy, and he got me on my first show. After that, I kind of fell in love with performing, and really wanted to keep doing it. I can’t stop.
Marilyn: Can you describe the experience of that first show?
Pinot: It was interesting, it was running late for sure. Like most shows. You know, it’s showbiz. But I got on stage at The Camel, and performed with a bunch of people like Dre Person, and Little Sticks was there, as well as Jay Duhh and a couple other people who are pretty notable in the Richmond scene. We threw a pretty good show. There were about 200 people in attendance at my first show, so that was really cool. And it really set a nice landmark for me to continue performing, and continue getting booked.
Marilyn: And how has your music style changed these past few years? We’ve seen your music vary. Whereas when your career first took off, we were hearing more rap/pop, but now, it’s become more rap. Do you plan on staying in that genre? How would you describe the direction your music is taking?
Pinot: So right now I’m definitely working on a self-produced project. I don’t have a name for it yet, but it’s definitely more in the rap [genre]… I would say it has a little bit of gospel undertone, but I’m not a religious person. I would call it more of an anti-gospel, I guess. In this upcoming project, I’m going to talk a lot about my personal life, and my personal issues and thoughts, and all my mental health and whatever trauma stuff that I want to talk about. So definitely, I want to move more towards rap, but also, I don’t know, I’m aiming to just become more artistic with my craft, vs. before, I feel like I was just creating to have fun, and I wanted to make stuff that people could just throw on at a party or something.
Marilyn: Was there a certain project that influenced that sound?
Pinot: Definitely! The first time I experimented with that type of sound would definitely be on my one song “Sunbeams,” which I get a lot of compliments about. But it’s a song where I talked about my family my grind as an artist, and trying to make it, and the journey that comes with that. That song was definitely influenced a lot by my EP, An Eighth and a Half Ounce. That was my first project that I kind of created seriously. I had a project before that, but it was really just one of those things that I threw together and was just trying to do to have fun, versus this project, [which] I kind of took my time with and really tried to hone in on my craft. So definitely those two projects were the major influences for that.
Marilyn: What is it like reflecting on your music from 2019 to now?
Pinot: Looking back at my old stuff, I cringe a lot. My first song I ever put on all platforms. “Fine Wine,” is still one of my top songs. It’s a song that I always get asked to perform. But honestly, I don’t really love that song that much, and I’m trying to move past it, and move past that sound a lot. I’m trying to move away from the poppy stuff sometimes, and more into conscious, more thoughtful music.
Marilyn: Since “Fine Wine” was your first song, what was the story behind it?
Pinot: I actually freestyled that after the January 6th protest. I actually have another rhyme in that song that’s like, “Your baby girl fucking with the alt-right.” [Meaning] the major conservatives in our country who are trying to ruin shit and do a lot of fucked up shit to our people. Pretty much what I’m saying in that song is that, like, yeah, your girl is fucked up, but she’s still sucking my dick all night, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And I pretty much repeat that for about two and a half minutes.
Marilyn: What is the biggest obstacle, if any, that you felt you’ve had to overcome when it comes to making music?
Pinot: A lot of people look for free work, free handouts, or just free performing. They think because you love it, you want to do it all the time, and that’s not always false, but I think a lot of the time you as an artist have to tell yourself that it’s not always gonna be like that. You have to say “no” a lot of times, even though you don’t really want to, because even though a project seems really cool, you don’t want to open the door for someone to just come in and take advantage of you.
Marilyn: Crowds are passionate for you, Pinot. We’ve seen them rage, dance, and overall be drawn to what you deliver from the stage. How do you describe this energy, and what you contribute to it?
Pinot: I think when I’m on stage I try my best to include the audience. I’ll jump in the crowd, I’ll go down and rap in someone’s face. I don’t care if someone’s not vibing with me, I’ll do my best to try and get them to vibe with me. And after about 20 seconds, if you’re not gonna vibe with me, you’re not gonna vibe with me. So I just focus on the people who are vibing with me, and try to hype them up. Honestly, I love it. I’m so thankful for all the people who come to my shows and go crazy with me. It’s one of my favorite things about performing, just the live reaction that you get to have.
Marilyn: Would you say you grew your sound organically, or did you have outside influence? What do you think it is about your voice and style that makes you so unique?
Pinot: I think I have a few key things that make me unique. Although Autotune is a very used thing in the industry right now, I think the way in which I mix my music and master is different from a lot of people. I tend to put my vocals more in the forefront, more at the focus, and make the beat a little bit quieter, as well as over-compress my vocals a lot of times. I try to just make my stuff sound really, really punchy, even when it’s not.
That as well as my production choices. I work with a producer who’s from the Netherlands, his name is Sapjer. I discovered him right before I created my An Eighth and a Half Ounce EP, and once I discovered him I think that really allowed me to flex the part of my voice and my music that I was trying to do before. But really, it wasn’t fitting before I found them. I think it’s the production choice, the way I mix my music, and I just try to always come with a different flow. My influences are definitely more poppy from the early 2000s. I have a lot of influences from, like, T-Pain, Sean Kingston, and a lot of [other] pop influences. I also try to bring in some R&B elements like Kehlani, and other things that you might not always hear. But they’re there somewhere, whether it’s in the flow or just some underlying tune, or a melody that I have in the background. It’s there.
Marilyn: So I see you do a lot of self-producing. Would you say that takes a large part in your art? Describe that experience of producing your own work when you could easily go to another mixer or another producer to do that for you.
Pinot: Recently I started producing my own stuff because I just wanted to take charge of the entirety of my music. Like I said before, I worked with Sapjer, and I used to work with RXYNE on some stuff. He used to produce for me, as well as mix for me. I just felt like I could achieve a sound that a lot of other engineers either don’t know how, or aren’t used to trying, to get. I’m a self-taught engineer, and because of the way that I learned, I feel like, at first, my stuff sounded really bad. Then, once I found the sound that I liked, I can recreate it and replicate it so easily that it’s just so much easier for me to do it myself, rather than trying to go to someone else and explain to them what I want.
Marilyn: How’d you start getting into that?
Pinot: I had Band Lab and this other site called Soundtrap, which is a free DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] that you can use, and I had a little blue Yeti microphone that I used to use for voiceovers for advertising. I pretty much started recording my demos there. Once I got a little more serious, I downloaded Splice, which is a loop thing. You can get free loops and stuff every month from it. They were offering Ableton Live for free back in December of 2020, I think, and I downloaded it. It was definitely a huge learning curve, but I slowly invested in waves, plugins, and other plugins, just tried out different stuff, and eventually found myself in that way.
Marilyn: What about Richmond ties you to this city? Do you think it’s having an effect on your music?
Pinot: Definitely. So I started creating here. I lived in Buffalo for about four years when I was in high school, and then I moved down to Fredericksburg with my parents. There I did a lot of filming stuff, I got into filmmaking. And after I graduated from community college, I transferred to VCU. I would say that when the pandemic hit, that was when I really found my roots in Richmond. I started working here; I stayed here throughout the whole pandemic. I know a lot of people who’ve left Richmond during the pandemic; I wasn’t one of those people. I stayed here. I was longboarding through the city. I don’t longboard as much anymore. But, literally, I would explore the entire city. Find new places to smoke, find different drinking spots, that type of thing. I just discovered the city, and found a huge love for it. I would say that creating music has only amplified that, and made me want to stay here more. It’s become a place I really can call home.
Marilyn: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Pinot: I know I just said I call Richmond home, but I see myself not living in Richmond. I see myself branching off and trying to move to a bigger city, or just a new city. Since I grew up an army brat, I moved around a lot when I was younger. I lived in Italy, and then I moved to Buffalo, and then Virginia. I lived in Germany at one point. I think [I might] even possibly move internationally. In the next five years, I see myself still very much creating. I hope to be able to go on tour by then. I hope to be able to be producing for some bigger artists, and have a bigger network of people. But besides that, I really hope that I’m able to progress my career and just continue to grow as an artist and as a person.
Marilyn: For people who are just now hearing about you, what do you want them to recognize about Pinot?
Pinot: If you’re just now hearing about Pinot, honestly, the first thing I would say is please check out my SoundCloud. You could go to my Spotify, you can go to my Apple Music, there’s hits on there, there’s stuff; but if you really want to get to know what Pinot is all about, check out my SoundCloud. There’s a lot of exclusive projects on there, a lot of exclusive stuff. And honestly, I’m more than just an artist, you know? I’m a writer at heart, I have a lot of hobbies that I’m into. I play volleyball. I’m into collecting things like Pokemon cards. I play the switch. I play Smash. I play Halo. I love Halo, I grew up on that shit. I’m a smoker, and I love to chill.
You know, there’s a lot of things that I am outside of an artist, and I would encourage you to hopefully check out my Instagram and just follow up with me. I’m someone that, I feel like, you can always hit me up. I’ll talk to you. You know? I love engaging with people, whether you’re a fan or friend. I try not to think about my fans as fans, I try to think of them as like my friends, just people that I’m trying to get to know. I think that would be a big takeaway that I would want someone to know. If they’re just now getting into Pinot, you’re not just a fan in my book. You’re not just a head or a number. You’re someone that I care about. Even if we don’t hang out, or even if I don’t know you on that deep of a level, just know that you could ask me to hang out, and I would probably slide. I’m a chill dude and I’m always looking to connect with new people.
Marilyn: You did mention there’s new content that you talked about in your lyrics, talking about your trauma, stuff you’ve been through. How have your experiences shaped your music? How do you hope your music will impact people?
Pinot: My new project that I’m working on, I’m trying to talk a lot about my experiences that I’ve gone through. When I was younger, I was bullied a lot. And when I was even younger than that, I was sexually assaulted, sexually abused. So that’s something that I want to talk about on my next project in some way. I think that talking about those things is important. Especially as a man, it’s not talked about a lot when you are a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse. I think it’s just important to talk about that kind of thing. I think it could help a lot of people who feel silenced, or feel like no one would listen to them. Even if no one does listen to it, I’m not really making it for people to listen and feel some type of way about it. I guess it’s more of just a healthy release, and a healthy way to cope with that trauma and stuff. There’s just so many people who do go through those things and never get to tell their story, never get to talk about it. So, I want to end that cycle, in a way, and just talk about whatever I want to talk about.
Marilyn: That’s truly inspiring. Can you tell me a little more about your project coming up?
Pinot: Yeah. Currently, I have one song finished for my upcoming project. I would say [I’m] about 90% done with that one song. Like I said before, it’s all self-produced so, I don’t know, it could be done right now. But the more I listen to it, the more I want to add this one thing. I want to add this one harmony, or this one melody in the back, or this one ad-lib, or I want to change up this lyric a little bit so it sends a slightly different message, or has a slightly different tone. I’m really trying to take my time with this and perfect it and really send the right message. I don’t want to rush it and just put it out, this one I really want to take my time with.
I promised myself with this project that it’s going to be done when it’s done. Whenever I feel like it’s done is when I’ll put it out. I’m not going to give any set release date or anything like that. It’s just, it’s going to be truly my freshman project, I guess. My debut album. I’m aiming for roughly 12 songs. Maybe eight. Who knows? It might get cut down, or it might have more than that. When it’s done, it’s done for real.
Photo by Kaitlyn Burdette