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.
TSS: The bulk of your rhymes on the album consist of chicks, kicks and detention: which one did you get the most of back in high school?
Von Pea: [Laughs!!!] Kicks. [Laughs] Definitely kicks. That was one thing that I really wanted to be accurate with. That’s what you thought about back then, that’s what your life is, so I wanted to be accurate about those selfish things.
TSS: Well same here. I know it’s already come up a couple of times and you’re a certified sneakerhead, but what do you think about everything we had back in the day coming back out?
Von Pea: It helps me out because I can get what I couldn’t get back then. You know you’d get one pair in high school and you’d have to wear those and you might get some for Christmas, maybe some for Easter. Then something else would come out like a month later that you wish you had. So now as an adult you sit here and get some this week, then maybe something comes out you want next week and if you want it you can do it too. I’m cool with them coming out. I know they’re coming back out with the Jordan III’s, the white joints, I’m waiting on those. I couldn’t get them back in the day, so that works.
TSS: Me too, I’m waiting on them. So what was your favorite shoe from your childhood?
Von Pea: The Jordan XIII’s, the white joints. Those are my favorites and the thing about it is they’re hard to keep clean. There are a lot of bad things about them: the soles turn yellow, the toe box creases, the straps start hangin’ after awhile if you don’t strap them up and there were a lot of reasons not to like them. But just based on the design and the first week with them, they were my favorite joints. I still have the black pair that I wear once in a blue.
TSS: You had then on in the “Bang & Boogie” video right?
Von Pea: [Laughs] Oh yeah, I still got the white ones too. I can’t wear them, but I keep them ‘cause they’re my favorites just to have them.
TSS: What shoe that hasn’t come back out do you want them to pull out the vaults?
Von Pea: I gotta think about this one. There were these kicks that I don’t even know what they call them or how popular they were. They were Flights and Hurraches at the same time. It said Hurrache on the tongue, flight on the back and they were like a Scottie Pippen color. Some dude in Japan had them on in his blog like current day. And I was mad. I’m not sure if Air Flight Hurrache is the name or not, but I want them joints to come back out. And some Barcelona Flights, they might’ve been Barkley’s high top. They always bring back the Jordan’s, so I know whatever I want of those will be back eventually. I’m more into looking for the one’s that weren’t as popular. I’d love to find a store that was full of deadstock joints that nobody’s got. I know they got to be out there since they weren’t very popular, somewhere I’m gonna run into a mom and pop that’ll have them. I’m waiting on those III’s though, I might be done for the year on that note.
TSS: I keep going back & forth on the Cool Grey XI’s. The blue sole bothers me depending on the day.
Von Pea: What I don’t like is there will be a line to get them.
TSS: Alright, back to the music, again [Laughs]. On “The Yorker,” I know you mention that the king is S. Dot. Was that a past or present tense reference?
Von Pea: Yeah, everything I’m saying on the record is me as teen today. I felt that years ago, but it was just fresh on my mind, the whole argument of “I’m the new King of New York” or “I’m gonna bring New York back.” That talk seemed like it was up in the air out of the new New York artists and nobody should say that. You look at Jay-Z and the things that he’s done, you can’t take that away because you have this new buzz. You just got a deal, how could you really say you’re that guy? I’m not even talking about anyone specifically, that goes for everybody. I feel like it’s undeniable, no matter how you feel that he’s the King of New York. Its people that love to say that “Well, If Biggie was here…,” but you can’t do that. Unfortunately he’s not. So I feel the king is S. Dot.
TSS: So do you thing the King of New York title is even still relevant now?
Von Pea: It’s not really something that most people care about. It’s more of a local thing and I don’t even hear that kind of talk anymore. But when I did the song back like two, three years ago it was something that was still around. I probably wrote that joint around the time Kingdom Come came out, so I’m not sure if people felt like it was up in the air or up for grabs.
TSS: There was definitely an air of vulnerability at that time.
Von Pea: It just shows to show you that loyalties are weird. Someone’s been doing it for so long, so hard and as soon as they slip up it’s like “Aight, get outta here , we don’t like you anymore bye.” He always said “I held you down six summers, seven summers or whatever” and one album made people start to forget. It was just a quick declaration I had to make part of the song. So until you’ve done this, you don’t compare. Even if I wasn’t a fan of dude, I felt it would be based on facts and stats.
TSS: Aight, so your song “Good Life,” I know that it was your perception back when you were 16 as to how your Rap career now. How close did you come to achieving that? You got those security guards flanking you now?
Von Pea: Yeah, yeah, yeah…[Laughs]. That’s what started this whole thing. I read that I said “This is funny, I need to do something with this.” I was so serious about that, like I really thought that I was gonna do it. I’m pretty much the same artist the whole time and the people I looked up too weren’t as successful as I figured them out to be, so why did I think that I would be? Why did I think I’m gonna make up a beat with a chopped up sample, talking about Hip-Hop and I’m gonna break out? But when you’re young, and I’m not old now, you really don’t know. You think you’re invincible and can do anything mind state. My music is gonna be like Tribe and Wu-Tang, but I’m gonna be on tour with Ma$e. You know at the time I thought that.
TSS: Couple more questions here. I know Donwill has Don Cusack In High Fidelity and you did Pea’s Gotta Have it, so should we be expecting a movie title play on words solo joint from Illyas before a new Tanya Morgan comes out?
Von Pea: Um…me & Ill, are working on a project for him and actually he’s doing a group with another emcee named Juice Lee outta Cincinnati.
TSS: Well, that pretty much wraps it up for me. Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we sign off?
Von Pea: Yeah, the album is out. If you get it on iTunes don’t get thrown off because it says clean. It’s supposed to be edited. People been having issues with that, like they were getting the Walmart version.
TSS: Now can we get a physical copy of it if anywhere or is it strictly digital?
Von Pea: Yeah, it should be in Best Buy. I don’t know where in NYC because all the music stores are closing. They just closed Fat Beats. I know there’s Best Buy, Amazon is selling physical copies & tanyamorgan.net has it. But if you want to get a physical copy from online, I’m gonna say you go with Amazon.
TSS: So they didn’t ban you or anything like that?
Von Pea: Oh, nah, no Kanye. [Laughs]
Von Pea’s lastest album Pea’s Gotta Have It is available NOW on iTunes and obviously Amazon. For more information, hit him on the Black hand side on Twitter @VonPea and visit his page at Audible Treats.