Behind These Scars is Casanova’s first full-length project under Roc Nation. It’s as real as any hip-hop artist can get in this day and age and there’s zero doubt that the Brooklyn-bred rhymer means every single word he spits. The pain is heard in his voice and his storytelling is too detailed to be deemed “cap.”
Behind These Scars‘ opening cut “Jail Call” is the song that means the most to the 32-year-old rapper. On the track, he ruminates on past suicidal thoughts and recalls that when he went to prison, no one was there for him. As he began to create music once out of prison, he further recalls the city turning his back on him the name of controversial rapper Tekashi 69 — whom he eventually made up with. Now, things have changed.
When speaking to Casanova over the phone about Behind These Scars ahead of its release, he opened up to me about the inspiration behind the creation of his reflective 10-song LP, which features guest appearances from Young Thug, Gunna and Giggs, among others, his viral “So Brooklyn” challenge, and the heat Cas seems to still feel from his hometown.
Before we get into your new album Behind The Scars, I want to talk about your mega-viral “So Brooklyn” Challenge for a second. How did you come up with that concept?
Truthfully, it was just random. At first, I was just like, you know what? Let me do stuff for Brooklyn and then after a while, I saw a lot of Brooklyn rappers rapping, I’m like, you know what? It don’t matter where you from, if you’re so big, if you’re so that, rep your hood, then it just took off.
It really took over! Out of all the people that participated in the challenge, which ones are your favorite?
Papoose is definitely one of my favorites.
— Papoose (@Papooseonline) September 2, 2019
People even say he won the challenge.
Yeah. He won it for Brooklyn. A lot of people killed it. But the challenge was dope because I felt like it got a lot of people to rap, and it went viral real quick.
Speaking of Memphis Bleek, I know he discovered you and brought you into Roc Nation. How did that all work out?
I had one song which was “Don’t Run,” and then I went to the studio with Taxstone, then when I was with him Memphis Bleek was like, “Yo, I’m going to sign you.” I’m like, “Alright, cool.” So he saw me with one song, and then, months later, I just started working and doing so much. One day he came to me and said, “Listen, I can’t handle you, man, I’m going to put you over there with big bro.” That’s when I said, “Alright, cool, f*ck it.” And then I been with the Roc ever since.
How does it feel to have your city embrace you a little bit more than they were before? For a minute, it seemed the city had turned on you, but since the #SoBrooklynChallenge, do you feel the love a little bit more?
I think New York is just a bougie state, man. It’s like a kill-or-be-killed state. So don’t matter how lit you are, you can have half your city hating on you. That’s how it go. But to answer your question, I still feel like I get hate in my city. Who doesn’t?
Yeah, it’s something that a lot of artists have to deal with, especially in hip-hop, and it’s great you are sharing your story with the world. Now, I want to talk about New York’s emerging sound because it appears there’s a huge UK grime influence going on right now. That griminess really wasn’t there at one point and it feels like it’s a new wave. Right now, Pop Smoke is lit, we got SimxSantana — who’s from Philly, but has a presence in New York. What do you think is the appeal of UK grime and its connection to New York City?
I ain’t going to lie, the UK, they dope. Their music is dope. If you sit down and just listen to them for a second, it’s even doper. When I went out there, I fell in love with it, and I thought I knew the beat Pop Smoke had was from the UK. I’m like — they’ve been doing this and we just found out about it yesterday. I think in two more years, they’ll be more global than ever.
Do you have any favorite grime artists out there or any others that you have worked with?
Definitely. I like Giggs. I like Stormzy. Those are the regular artists that I know. I’m familiar with their music.
I’ve talked to people from the UK and they don’t think that grime is hip-hop. Would you consider it hip-hop?
I think that’s hip-hop, definitely.
Yeah, because some people I’ve spoken with say that the UK doesn’t really have a hip-hop culture like here in the states and I’m like, “Wait, grime,” and they’re like, “no.” Did any of that influence Behind the Scars at all?
I don’t think it influenced it that much, but once I was out there — because even Giggs on “Live” — it’s just different. “Live” is not a UK beat, but I’m just trying to touch base with the UK. I did something that a lot of people wouldn’t do and I put a UK artist on a New York beat.
Your album title Behind The Scars is very interesting. Why did you choose to title your album Behind The Scars?
I felt like everybody wanted to know my story and I never said it. They want to know why I move the way I move, why I’m so happy, why I’m so hurt. It’s like seeing my scars. You just be like, how did he get that? I’m just telling my story. I feel like my stories come from my scars.
For sure, and what do you hope listeners get out of the album? Obviously getting to know who you are, but what else are you hoping that they may get?
I want them to be able to feel my pain and where I’m coming from, that’s all.
What song on this album means the most to you and why?
I think “Jail Call” would mean the most to me because I think I just let everything out, what I was going through in my life at the time, and what I’ve been through, and what made me stronger. I definitely would say “Jail Call.” That’s my favorite.
When did you record that song?
Probably like two years ago or a year and a half ago.
In your song “In My Hood,” which is really introspective, you discuss a lot of situations in your life that shaped you, like hood rules and your experiences. What is one thing that you went through that you’re super proud of overcoming?
I think being left for dead, and being able to do without anybody, without basically help from people that left me there, like family and friends. I think overcoming my bad situation, being incarcerated and just doing it by myself. It’s hard for people to do stuff by themselves, that all their lives they relied on people for help.
When you say ‘left for dead,’ do you mean literally or you just mean when you were in jail, people turned their backs on you?
For you it might not mean literally, but to me it’s literally, because if you leave somebody in jail, that think they got a friend or family member and you just don’t pick up and go see them and don’t reach out to them, it’s kind of like, they say, ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and I think that’s true. It might not be, your [idea of] left for dead, but to me, I could’ve died in jail. Just coming home and being okay and finding a way is dope to me.
Behind These Scars is out now via Roc Nation Records. Get it here.