There are two lines of thought when it comes to dealing with the past. You can either do your best to forget it and put the best foot forward or you draw from those experiences to better handle the future. Von Pea, of Tanya Morgan, wisely chose the latter when the time came to begin work on his debut album Pea’s Gotta Have It. Taking the “Nati” off of Brooklyn, Von takes listeners back to the simpler days of of his time in high school.
Taking time to talk with TSS, Von breaks down what inspired this project, his progression as an artist and the high school holy trinity of chicks, kicks and detention.
Pea’s out to get it all.
TSS: I understand you were inspired to do this project after digging up an old notebook from high school. What exactly did you find in that notebook?
Von Pea: It was pretty much stuff, like all throughout my senior year. It mighta been through all my high school years. It was just all kinds of stories and all of that, you know? [Laughs] Stuff from in and out of school, things that happened during and after school. Just kind of highlighting how it was at the time. It was a lot of funny stuff that I felt was worth doing something with. In terms of being an artist, it just seemed like the best thing to do. So, it just started with one song and it became an album.
Everything isn’t a story based on high school but it’s just me being in that mind state. Therefore, a majority of the album is. Every song isn’t me speaking as a teenager but, in some way I talk as an adult, but it’s still supposed to be a song written by the kid on the album.
TSS: It was kind of like a time machine then, it just took you back to that place right?
Von Pea: Exactly.
TSS: Did any of those rhymes from the notebook make it to the final project à la Nas’ “Book Of Rymes,” or did they serve strictly as inspiration?
Von Pea: Well, it was more like a journal. This day I did this, I didn’t use any high school rhymes [Laughs].
TSS: Aight, so how far do you think you’ve progressed as a writer and as an emcee since high school then? Or would you say you’ve stayed the same.
Von Pea: I wouldn’t say I’ve changed. I guess in sensibility, if anything. I’m still about the same things; it just comes from the inside. Now that I’ve “made it.” [Laughs] I’m doing what I wanted to do back then and now I’m doing it. I’m not speaking about the future anymore; I’m speaking on the present.
TSS: I know just by listening to the album, it seems like you had fond memories of your time in high school. Why do you think that is?
Von Pea: Just looking back at the journal, most of the things I would write about were just silly things that would happen. For example, I got a song on the album (“There You Were”) about a girl I was dating.
TSS: Your portly queen from Queens?
Von Pea: [Laughs] Yeah, she would pick me up from school and after awhile my boys would clown me for that. Silly stories like that, simple stories from a simpler time, versus the last song where I speak from more of an adult point of view. People having to figure where they need to go and they start by going back to what got them there. That story also comes from my childhood. I just felt that the fun, shallow stuff (going to detention, falling asleep in class, etc…) would be more entertaining overall.
TSS: How’d you settle on the title Pea’s Gotta Have It?
Von Pea: Just being from Brooklyn and Spike Lee’s first movie people knew him from was She’s Gotta Have It, and then he went on to blow up. But he’s always remembered Brooklyn and always represented Brooklyn. He’s a positive artist and he always portrayed Brooklyn from the entire viewpoint. He showed every side of it in his movies. I look as it that even though it isn’t my first project, it’s my first official solo and I just wanted to come out and be a positive addition to my borough the way he is. It really just a play on the title, my album isn’t connected to the movie in any way.
TSS: Cool, so most people in high school were either associated by what they did or who they hung out with. Were you known as a rapper back then or was it something else like maybe an artist or athlete?
Von Pea: Truthfully, I wasn’t known as an artist at all back then. Some people knew that I could rap, but even now it’s something that if you don’t know I’m not gonna be the one to bring it up to you. I prefer to not even talk about it, because rapping is one of those things were people want you to start tap dancing for them right then and there [Laughs]. “Oh you rap?” “Well spit something then.” Or “I rap too, here’s my demo.” For those reasons, it’s just something I just kept to myself as a personal thing in a way.
I was just more that kid in classroom, I wasn’t a nerd or a cool kid or anything like that, I was just a dude that sat in a math class with you. I didn’t really have a circle that I fit into; I mean I had my homeboys and homegirls. I just went to class and watched the clock, waiting for it to be over.
TSS: Sounds like most people.
Von Pea: Same way people do at work. Punch the clock and make a bunch of jokes.
TSS: What piece of advice would you 28-year-old Von Pea give to 16-year-old Devon Callender?
Von Pea: Don’t be afraid. The world is bigger than you think it is and be about it, don’t just say it. It’s been some opportunities that I’ve missed because I didn’t think it was possible. Like if somebody said to me now, for example, if Dr. Dre was like “Yo, come out to California & be on Detox” I would do it now. But back then, I know myself, I would’ve been like “Aw man, California, they got gangs out there” or “I’m afraid to fly.” I was thinking of all these excuses based off of fear, just from not knowing anything other than Brooklyn. I’d always say I’m gonna do this one day, until that day was just thrown at me. So I’d tell myself to just not miss out on those opportunities.
There’s a lotta times where I’ve been invited to go do something and I didn’t do it. Little things like that I regret. People know me from working with Phonte, but there were times when they were recording The Listening and he’d be like “Yo man, just come down here kick it with us and hop on a bunch of songs.” If I had of worked with them, who knows what I could have been on? And I wouldn’t even have to tell 17-year-old me, this is me five or six years ago just not knowing what I wanted to do and being afraid to do things. This is something that I’ve just gotten over. I’d say just go for it, no matter what it is. Just do it today.
TSS: Who, if anyone, did 17-year-old Devon Callender sound like on the mic?
Von Pea: Honestly, you ask how much I’ve changed and matured, I was the same cat back then that I am now. I graduated in ’99 so at the time I was heavily into Roc-A-Fella, Ruff Ryders and Bad Boy but I wouldn’t really indulge in that. At the most I’d mention myself in a Benz or something like that. Which I wasn’t [Laughs] and that didn’t even feel right, what I found was I didn’t have a chain and I wasn’t shooting anybody.
All I had was representing Hip-Hop and telling every day John stories. The same thing you might get from a Tribe or De La [Soul] or Common. That just ended up being it, because that’s what I had going on more than anything. I could tell a story about getting dissed by a girl because it might’ve really happened. It’s funny because back then, I was talking about what was going on and now that I’m the rap game, I’m talking about what was going on back in high school.
TSS: It’s funny because my friends and I talk about it all the time. It’s like it’s so vivid in our minds still. I graduated in ’00 so I don’t know whether because it’s reunion time or what. It just comes up in conversation when you’re with people.
Von Pea: Yeah, and that’s me. Like you said it’s us and being an everyday person. Even when I was saying regular stuff back then, people would say I was kickin’ those smart raps [Laughs]. But then I’d freestyle about some kicks or gear that I had on & they’d say “Aw, you killed it. That’s that real right there.” That’s what they wanted to hear, so I would do that to please the people that knew I rapped.
TSS: They get plenty of that now don’t they?
Von Pea: Yeah [Laughs].
TSS: Aight, I guess we’ll get back to the album. I know with Tanya Morgan you handled a lot of the production duties, but here you only produced three songs. Was that intentional or did it just end up being like that?
Von Pea: We were working on Brooklynati when I was doing my album and all the chips were on Tanya Morgan. All the eggs were in that basket, so I knew that I couldn’t come up and hold beats for myself. I knew that if I didn’t put my best foot forward with this, that I wouldn’t even make it to my solo album. All the focus was going to that, so I was able to have Aeon to have him focusing on my album and get him working on the production for that. The people who were doing stuff on mine, it was easy for them to get beats together. So as far as the three that I did, honestly at one point I only had one track. The first one that I did was with Danny!, “Open School,” and it was just a track I had and I wanted to do a song with him. So we did that and I was like this should be on the album because it just makes sense from the theme of it.
That was the only one I had for awhile and then we came up with the concept of “New Pair.” It was just an idea I had because there have been a lot of songs by emcees made about sneakers, but there was never one from a female standpoint. They’ll tell you about their heels, but not sneakers so I wanted to do that. From there I came up with the idea of the “Get Violated” with Outkast in it. Because I was like I have these shoes and that was another story from my childhood. Although he was pretty much unsuccessful, but somebody tried to steal my shoes back in the day. And that was another good point, to show the down point of being a sneakerhead.
Being young, that’s something that you have to look out for. So it wasn’t about me having to have beats by me, I didn’t have beats I made necessarily for the record and it would just make sense for that song. I do wanna do the next one though, because I do want more people to know that I am a producer as well. I feel like there are fans out there that want me to do that me to produce a Pea album, so I wanna give them that for the next album.
TSS: Now were you already producing in high school as well or were you strictly a rapper?
Von Pea: I wasn’t even thinking about it ‘til like ’96 at the end of my freshmen year. But I didn’t have the equipment and I didn’t know anybody with equipment. So I felt it was a rite of passage, I still do, for a producer to have some knowledge of the DJ craft as well because it plays in the production process too. I didn’t have the money for an MPC, but I did save up to get turntables and a mixer. Then in ’99 I got a computer and incorporated that along with the DJing and started producing. The actual beats didn’t start ‘til then, but I was working towards it.