Interview: QuESt is Plotting His Hip-Hop Takeover
Since stepping up to the mic in 2008, it’s been a steady come-up for the Miami rapper QuESt. His September release, Searching Sylvan, meanders through multifarious lenses of self-awareness as it follows the story of Sylvan, a fictional, yet semi-autobiographical character who was born from QuESt’s imagination. While at times Sylvan questions himself, feeling boxed in and disoriented, he also digs up moments of inspiring focus and determination, hungry to pave the path ahead of him in gold.
QuESt’s journey has been far from smooth, however, with a six-month hiatus forcing him to reevaluate his position in the rap game. When he geared up to return full-force in mid-2013, he approached his career with a reshaped ideology as knuckled-down move-maker.
He studied the music he loved, rebuilt a buzz on blogs like HotNewHipHop and This Song is Sick, and established some valuable connections. One of his most notable links was with Chris Zarou, president of Visionary Music Group, home to growing names like Logic and Jon Bellion. He hopped on board with the VMG team in August 2013 and put forth some notable releases, like his high-energy single "Hunger" and a sinister video for "NEATO Season." That relationship ended in December, explaining only a desire to continue his artistic journey "independently."
Now, he holds a watchful eye on the current industry, aware of its trends and conscious of its potential shifts. He knows that the possibilities for his art are endless, and it’s only a matter of time before he unlocks his boundless potential.
On the genesis of his music career:
I had just moved from one area of Miami to another area of Miami, and since I didn’t have cable, I only had one channel that I could use to watch music videos. They used to play “Baby You Got Me” by the Roots constantly. It really got to me, and I started dabbling in writing verses and full-out songs. I started recording myself when I was 15, pressing up mix tapes and learning my craft. I won this competition, the Survival of the MCs Contest, in 2008, and since then it’s just been a grind.
I quit for a good six months. I got tired. I was at a place in my life where everything had fallen apart and I needed to think about things that weren't rap-related. I was 22- or 23-years-old, still at my mom’s crib, and I needed to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I was around so many friends who were graduating and going into different aspects of their life, and I had come up with so many artists who started with me or below me and got it. I started to really question myself, and had to say, “I can’t do this anymore.”
On his changing sound:
I was working with some people that were involved in legal situations, and that was the first time where it was like, “Yo, dubstep’s poppin', maybe if you did this, then this could happen.” That was a big lesson for me in just staying true to myself and learning by experimenting. I look at it now as a time in my life where I was inspired by the music, but it wasn't true to me. I was glad that I was able to do that tape and not have it get the recognition that say like a Searching Sylvan would get, because it wasn't true to me. Had that been a big record that everyone gravitated toward that would bring me to the forefront as the next artist to blow up, I would have had to go with that sound, and I wouldn't be able to go back to doing what I love as an artist. I look at it more as a blessing. I was able to do something that I wanted at that time and not be antagonized for it.
The come-up for artistry is so on blast now. When I first heard Nelly, I was sitting on the couch and “Country Grammar” came on and I was like, “Who the hell is Nelly?” and then you know, his album was out like three months later. Nowadays you put out a mixtape and your whole come-up is on display. If your next project isn’t So Far Gone, people will start looking at you funny. I was glad I was able to do that whole thing quietly.
Sylvan is, at his core, a humble, over-analytical dreamer who has ambitions and aspirations to become a rap star.
On leaving Visionary Music Group:
I have nothing but love and respect for Visionary. I think they're fantastic people. When I first went with them, it came at the right time. I was always in contact with their people—I did their first tour, and they were just kind of always around. After I quit rapping, Chris hit me up and was like, “Yo, I’d like for you to be a part of Visionary Music Group,” and it seemed like a really good time. Not to say Visionary isn't amazing and they haven't done fantastic things for my career, but at the time it was like, “Why not? Let’s try it out.” I learned a lot, but I just think I started to grow and to want more. Being with a label, it’s kind of like being in a relationship. As you grow, you start wanting different things. So I decided to do my own thing, because at the end of the day, I want to focus on myself as a brand and make myself the best artists I can possibly be.
At this point, the only outlet I would consider signing with is Roc Nation.
On the current state of the music industry:
It’s different these days. I feel like the “Drake effect” is fading out now, as in, you put out a good tape and you become a tape star. The last big tape that really put an artist on was Acid Rap in 2013, and 2014 was the year of single. It’s weird now. We’re in this shift, and I feel like something’s gonna change soon. I feel like the Internet has bloomed its flower and now we’re waiting for the next rotation. I feel like I’m one away but I want to do something different. Not too different from what I do musically, because I know where I’m at with that, but in terms of delivering. I don’t want to just drop a tape. I know that I’m right there, and it’s coming.
On the most important things in his life:
My relationship with God. Music. My peace of mind. Coffee. My freedom (especially with the way things have been happening). My ability to create.
On what’s next:
I’ve been focused on videos from Searching Sylvan to give that its last hurrah, but I also have stuff I want to release this year. I just feel really tired with how things are happening, like something needs to change. Of course I could just drop a tape, but I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to follow the norm. That’s the space I’m in.
I started this label Wise Up to use it as a platform for myself and for other artists who I believe in when the time is right. I just want to establish myself with the right energy and become something that people will gravitate toward.
I’ve broken through one ceiling and now I’m at that point where I’m ready to break through another one. I’m in this position where people are like, “Whatever he does next is going to decide if he gets to that next place or if he stays in that same realm.” For the longest time I was known as a "blog rapper," and all of my work got looked at within that realm. With Searching Sylvan I was able to get out of that. It was like my comeback season—my record before the record. I feel like I’m one away. It’s my turn now.