F.Virtue: Challenging the Status Quo
With so many cultural shifts that we are currently experiencing in our current hemisphere. It is almost irresistible not to ignore or even question what is going on in our current world. Whether it may be political propaganda, race relations, gender identity, income inequality, Middle East Policy, etc, etc. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the world is not only undergoing a dramatic change in the social – economic – political sphere. Every industry is changing and evolving in a very dramatic rate, but the one industry that continues to keeps us all hypnotized is the music, fashion, art and well the whole entertainment world because it is literally the only thing that can possibly distract us from all the havoc that is occurring.
In 2016 we have seen the rise of many new artists, all who can say have acquired some type of capital or fame from their internet stardom. We’ve seen it happen through powerful fashion house sponsorship or effortless magazine features. Everything they are and have in IRL, is all due in part to that online URL.
Many musical genres have evolved in recent years in every aspect. Whether it is through sound,mechanics, software and image alike some genres fall off the face of the earth and never make round again. With Rap and Hip – Hop music having only been around for at least 40 years, the evolution of Hip Hop should be deemed as reassuring, but with the amount of mainstream praise and adoration that is given to some new music artists, it is something I sometimes question. It does not take a ethnomusicologist to see the massive decrease in lyrical intelligence.
Fortunately enough we live in the internet age, and if we dig deep enough in the midst of all of our data mining we can find a gem of musical quality, F.Virtue is a perfect example for this method. F.Virtue (real name William Kowall) is definitely no stranger to these changes, this MC is making waves on his own challenging the status quo, he calls its emo rap.
As I stepped out the elevator looking for his apartment number, my eyes quickly traced back to the door with the sticker on it. It was labeled “F.Virtue“. I knocked on the door and was greeted by what seemed to be an early morning Will wearing a one piece gray hoodie from the ridiculously expensive (yet desirable) Vetements collection. Lounging inside, Tulio, Will’s husband was fast to ask if I was parched and wanted anything to drink. Stepping into Kowall’s apartment felt like I was in a 90’s kid bedroom full of small figures ranging from a Bart Simpson head to an artistically disturbed Barbie dressed in Louis Vuitton print that was cut out from faux LV bags his close friend and downtown fixture Dick Van Dick once made for him. While looking where to charge my iPhone I saw so many classic vinyl records from J57, Atmosphere, Quasimoto, Dj JS-1, Greenhouse Effect and books, mostly poetry books like his favorite “The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai“.
Music is a lot like literature often fueling the mind with enlightenment and and a vast opportunity to find peace, it was no surprise to find so many books.
Being part of the generation with the most highly sophisticated technological advancements in audio engineering, F.Virtue has the ability to experiment with different sounds, genres and musical elements to transform “traditional” Hip-Hop into something much more enticing and richer using his lyrics as a form of storytelling, a key component to his art. This young artist commandeers the English language, using it as an advantage to his own expressive purposes.
He is paving way for the new age of music. Constantly giving us something to think about and question in the world with his vast vocabulary and poetic style. Just like he did in the classic “Anita Bryant“ where he describes being gay and trying to hustle in the homophobic Hip-Hop industry.
While trying eliminate this never ending social construct of what should be deemed as Hip – Hop or what is “straight“ or “gay“, F.Virtue is showing the world that music and talent is oblivious to age, gender, class, race, religion, and sexual orientation. I personally challenge a great group of people to invest in music or anything in general that does not reflect, respond to or engage by any means necessary to your own personal cultural identities. The psychological effects of this monocultural perspective is damaging for people (mostly the youth) both intelligently and emotionally.
I sat down with F.Virtue and here is what I discovered.
How was the Canadian music scene? What is your best artistic memory there?
Canada’s music scene is (and was) incredible – Canadian artists really have a penchant for creating their own sounds and sub-genres. On a mainstream scale there’s acts like Grimes, Drake, Crystal Castles, Arcade Fire, The Weeknd, Classified, and Broken Social Scene, but I was raised by a world of underground Canadian rappers (most notably the “Prairie Rap” vibe of the early millennium) who deeply influenced my sound and approach, but also my life in general: labels like Peanuts and Corn, Side Road Records, and Camobear, which to this day, remains to be some of my favorite music… ever.
When I was 16 I was booked to open for Masta Ace (a hip hop pioneer from NY) at a venue called The Odeon in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I was so underdeveloped and it was so major to me – definitely something I will never forget. Most of my best artistic memories are from shows, because I was underage and had a special license from the government that let me play bars and clubs, so being 16 in the club was epic.
What was your transition to NYC like? How was it discovering the downtown scene for the first time?
The transition to NYC was seamless; prior I had been in college in Boston for 4 years, and spent one of those summers in NY working at the Fat Beats (record label and store) offices in DUMBO. After college, I moved to Sunset Park, Brooklyn with a group of my best friends, most of which are from New York. But all my friends were straight, so I would venture into Manhattan alone to go to gay clubs. It was like another world opened up, and I finally found my place.
What was your first involvement in NYC when you realized that was where you were meant to be?
The thing that made me fall in love with New York wasn’t a thing – it was everything. The energy and tempo took me, and now it’s the only pulse I can beat with. Everywhere else feels too slow, too empty. My hyper head can only find peace here.
When was the groundbreaking point where you really discovered your own sound? What helped manifest that?
I’ve been lucky enough to have my own sound and aesthetic since I started at the age of 12. Growing up listening to independent MCs like Atmosphere and Aesop Rock showed me that rap didn’t have to sound like any one thing. I just speak my experiences, thoughts, and truths in the only ways I know how, and that manifests something totally unique, for better or for worse, that can’t be duplicated.
How do you manage to manipulate different sounds and genres that translate into a hip hop track?
I love listening to every kind of music with no exceptions, and am prone to feel heavy waves of inspiration from them all. So when I hear something that gives me feelings, those feelings bring words, and those words bring songs – so when non hip hop tracks fuel me to make a song, I just roll with it, and it ends up being hip hop because that’s who I am and what I make. Those are my roots, causing whatever I make to naturally end up grounded in hip hop.
What is your biggest challenge in doing that?
The challenge is my limitations as a producer – like many of the great hip hop producers who came before me, my production is sample based. So while it’s really cool that I can sample across genres and create my distinct sound, I can only bring my beats to a certain level without having additional musicians (such as keyboardists, singers, and guitar players) stepping in. But then again, that’s not a bad thing. It opens me up to collaborations with heroes and friends.
Define emo rap?
Emotional rap. The emotions don’t have to be sad, there can be happy emo rap, but every song I make is based in emotion. Emo rap is anchored in the human experience.
What is distinctive about an F. Virtue production?
There’s no bullshit or filler, it’s raw. It’s real. I’m not trying to please labels or the mainstream market. There’s no backing or investors or other voices or hands in the pot. I’m making music with moods, music with a point for people to relate to – to let people who feel alone or isolated know that they’re not. I’m here. My songs have a lot of love, and I’d rather make you smile or cry than party.
You’re way with words and form of expression is what makes your lyrics so bold and rich, how important is it for you personally to continue to exude quality lyric?
With that being said, my biggest focal point and tool as an artist is my lyrics. For them to be great, they can’t be forced. So I can only write when I’m honestly inspired. If my output is slow or scarce, it’s just because the process is organic. To quote one of my favorite MCs, Blueprint, “Cats don’t fall off, they just get uninspired.”
The Hip – Hop community hasn’t really been pleased with the new wave of rappers and feel like they should not be defined as “ Hip Hop “ but instead have their own name, what are your thoughts?
Being into so many strange and obscure sub-genres of rap, as much as I’m into the “straight-forward” ones, I totally disagree. To me hip hop is hip hop, and I hear it in all of its fruitions and off-springs, and at the core of it it’s an artform about unity and togetherness, especially for minorities. So to put any one down or to separate the artform, even if they think it’s for the sake of the artform, is counterproductive to what it actually stands for. Why it exists. So instead of trying to say someone is or isn’t hip hop we should be appreciating the differentness for expanding the culture, and coming together over it instead of being ripped apart. To quote Common, “If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. Doesn’t mean that I’m hating.” – if people don’t feel modern rap, that’s fine. They don’t feel it! I usually don’t either lol. But that’s no reason to tear it down or put negative energy into it.
The overwhelming music streaming services online make it really hard to discover indie artists who are not over saturated. How do you feel about this new age online-musical saturation?
Digital saturation is hard – because the big blogs, magazines, sites, etc., recycle the same artists and new stories, and to break into that cycle you have to either have low-key major backing or a viral hit. If you’re unheard of, one will pick you up otherwise. Even when it appears like it, it very rarely actually happens out of thin air. The first time you heard FKA Twigs or Death Grips? Yeah, that was planned and set-up far in advance. So in that respect, the online saturation is hard, yet it’s basically the sole way to do things these days. BUT, I don’t hate it. Because the creates accessibility for everyone to be heard, and I believe if you have it you have it, and if you make a song that people really like, it will spread. And no media giant can stop that. With that said, it’s a small, small chance, and it’s an extremely difficult grind that’s not in our favor. But what is? Set your dreams, believe, and WERK. Anything is possible.
You released “Christopher St. Cypher“ as a celebration for pride but as well as a memoir for all Orlando’s Pulse shooting victims and for the LGBT and POC communities all over the world who faced with inequality, persecution, and death. You also donated all sales to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: ilga.org. How was that personal mental process like for you?
Global equality is the most important fight to me, because everyone should be able to live freely in pursuit of their happiness despite sexuality, race, religion, etc. The most power I have to affect change is through music, so I really wanted to use my own thoughts and experiences as a gay man who spent most of his life closeted, but is now happily married, to contribute towards the path to equality. After the shooting I was heartbroken, and it was all / the most I could do.
You are currently in collaboration with PAPER Magazine for your monthly releases for, “The Things I’d Talk to Harry About “. So exactly who is Harry?
Harry is my best friend. We grew up together and shared everything with each other. But life put us in different places, he’s working and living in Canada where we were raised, and he’s about to have his first child, while I’m rapping in NYC. Throughout life he was the person I told everything to, and sorted my self out with. These songs are all things happening to me in my life now that I would be talking to him about, but haven’t been able to because of distance. Harry and I made each other who we are, and I find deep inspiration and insight in our beautiful friendship.
Would you say that during the creative progression of, “The Things I’d Talk to Harry About “ever made you feel like it was some sort of rediscovery of the past?
Definitely. I am a very nostalgic person. Most of my writing is dealing with the past – even when it’s present, even when it’s now, it’s connected to my past. I think of my history, the places, and people I knew, met, and saw all the time… yeah, always rediscovering the past… while trying not to regret anything or miss it too much. Like I said on July’s monthly, “The Hawk and The Leopard,” “We keep going forward, keep going forward, we keep going forward, but I don’t really want to, I don’t really want to, I was fine there. I was fine there. I was fine…”
Do you have a favorite musical project that you’ve worked on?
My favorite project is the monthly series I am doing with PAPER, and working on the album it’ll eventually be a part of. I am really proud of this collection of songs and excited to share them with the world.
What can we expect from F.Virtue in the rest of 2016 and 2017?
Keep looking out for the monthlies and new videos leading up to New Years, and then the official release of “The Things I’d Talk to Harry About” in 2017.
Photography : Kimberly Pertuz
Styling : Mateo Palacio
Clothing : HBA, Whatever 21, Astrid Anderson, Moschino,