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New Orleans rapper Pell: "I'm trying to be the Rosetta Stone" 

Pell performs at Voodoo Oct. 28

click to enlarge pell.jpg

Photo by Patrick Melon

Jared Pellerin made a seemingly out-of-nowhere splash in 2014 with Floating While Dreaming, a fully realized full-length vision from the New Orleans-born rapper. In 2015, he told Gambit he had "a lot more stories to tell" — he released LIMBO later that year, exploring isolation, fame, relationships and identity, all wrapped and warped in brooding electronic scores.

  In 2017, he's trickling out singles and videos preparing for an EP release later this year.

  "I'm back to music every day," he says from Los Angeles. "I wake up, I just bought myself a guitar — I want to learn musical instruments over again. There was a period where I was really experimenting, but as the industry goes you don't have a lot of time, you have so many hats, you don't give it the attention it needs, other than, 'I'm gonna write these fire 16. I'm gonna write these fire bars. They're gonna catch these bars.' That's easy for me at this point. I just want to make sure I'm giving it all I can and also challenging myself."

  On Floating While Dreaming, the rapper weaves his stream-of-consciousness self-examinations through dreamy textures and psychedelic soul.

  "A lot of those songs are from the heart, but because of that they weren't really channeling any specific emotions or anything," he says. "I love that. It fits in with the name. It's in the title. But at the same time I had to graduate and deeply examine what I wanted to talk about and make it a bit more timeless."

  LIMBO plants Pell's feet on the ground with a return to storytelling while his head stays in the clouds, with dense production (from TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek) propelling his inner monologues. Pell still begins his writing sessions with in-studio freestyle, finding the mantra he'll repeat to inspire the song. On LIMBO's "Queso," he found his way from a call-and-response chorus about "money and cheese" to reveal a story about a relationship's collapse around material obsessions.

  "Sometimes the first take is the first verse. We'll arrange that, but it's Russian roulette," he says. "You get that raw energy from your first inspiration on the track."

  Pell's ascent over the last few years also has reconnected him to his hometown and its growing scene of genre-crossing artists. Pell evacuated to Mississippi with his mother following Hurricane Katrina and shared a two-bedroom house with 10 people.

  "A lot of times there's a need for artists to have a clique, a unit, a city, a label to vouch for them, to represent wherever they go," he says. "A community is starting to build around these separated movements, that create and consolidate around something someone can tangibly see as 'New Orleans.' ... There's no musician or group of musicians who can do it without a village. New Orleans is our village. We need to take care of it and nurture one another when it counts. We're starting to do that because we're starting to see how alike we are even though we may see so different in the city."

  A recent music video for 2017 single "Patience" stars the rapper dancing among pastel parasols and brass brands under the I-10 overpass, dodging winds from Tropical Storm Cindy and second-lining into neighboring streets. It's that image and his effervescent raps and production that often put him in the same breath as Chance the Rapper and D.R.A.M., whose buoyancy has galvanized a gospel-like quality in hip-hop while reflecting difficult truths. Pell says that's always been the case for New Orleans.

  "We've always had a chip on our shoulder," he says. "There's always been certain divisions and adversities we always talk about in our music, and we're always trying to lift people up in our music. ... There's a lot of little struggles along the way [that] we constantly talk about in our music because we confront them on a daily basis. As an artist it's always your job to reflect and represent what's going on in your community, whether it's good or bad, to shed some light on it and potentially get a positive outcome. ... There hasn't been a new resurgence of it — it's always been this undercurrent, but now that it's 'in,' there could actually be a movement to come from it, where people are paying attention to the lyricism a bit more."

  Pell's live band features two musical directors — New Orleans jazz guitarist Dominic Minix and versatile percussionist Billy Delulles (Shlohmo, Chrome Sparks) — with Pell in the driver's seat.

  "I want to tell you where I'm from, why I'm here and where I'm headed," he says. "You have these different genres on stage — jazz, hip-hop, electronic influence, R&B at times. ... I want to be able to speak to anybody. ... I want to make sure I can do that in real time as quickly as possible. I'm trying to speak in as many languages as possible. I'm trying to be the Rosetta Stone."

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