Detroit Rapper Curtis Roach Tells Us How He Grew Up By Looking Back

Xavier Cuevas

It’s been a little over a year since 20-year-old Detroit rapper Curtis Roach self-released his debut album Highly Caffeinated and introduced the world to his quirky, old-school-influenced sound. That album was well-reviewed, but one of the biggest complaints about it was that it was too firmly rooted in the styles of the past. With influences ranging from The Pharcyde to his own home city’s Slum Village, it was clear he wore his inspirations on his sleeve — for better or worse.

This past Friday, Roach again self-released a new EP, Lellow, in hopes of addressing those nitpicks and introducing the next phase of his funky, fueled-by-java sound. Charged with all the youthful energy of his debut, but unshackled from the conventions of the past, Lellow depicts an artist who has grown in self-confidence and found a way to transform his nostalgia into fertile soil for even quirkier, more experimental songs, like boisterously upbeat “WJIT” and the hypnotically soulful “I’m Good.”

Uproxx caught up with Curtis to delve into the inspirations, influences, and new direction for the EP, as well as his hopes for the future and why he chooses to remain steadfastly independent on the lighthearted follow-up project. Check out an edited and condensed version of our conversation below.

What is the overall concept of this EP?

There isn’t a specific concept, really. When I was a kid, I used to pronounce “yellow” like “Lellow”. It’s care-free and playful. I’m more loose and energetic this time around.

What is something that you hope people take away from listening?

I hope people can just enjoy themselves and have a fun experience with this project. I had a great time putting this together. I also want people to notice my versatility and growth on this project.

What’s your favorite song on the EP and what is it about?

That’s a hard question. All of them are my favorite, really. I guess I would say “I’m Good”; it really captures the mood of this whole EP. That song is really me being thankful of life and looking at the bright side of things. At the end of the day, I know I’m good.

Were there any songs that were particularly difficult to write and why?

A lot of the songs actually came naturally to me. “Ice Cold” might’ve been the one beat I was sitting on the longest before I started writing. I really love that song because I switched my flows a few times on that joint and challenged myself. Dot did a really good job on that beat.

What sets you apart from other artists coming out of Detroit right now?

There’s a lot of great artists coming out of Detroit right now but I’d say I’m super abstract with my music. The flows and pockets are something I feel not many are doing in this area right now. I’m hilarious too.

Why do you prefer to pursue your rap career independently at this point?

I know my worth and I feel like I’ve done a lot independently. I really haven’t seen anyone come to the table with any deal that has grabbed my attention just yet. My art is important to me and I need to feel comfortable in those situations.

How do you feel about where music is at this point? It seems both easier to start and harder to get noticed. How do you approach building a following and how does this EP fit into that plan?

Music today is dope. Sometimes, it’s hard to navigate, but there’s good stuff out there. I know I will get the recognition I deserve one day. I try not to stress about that extra stuff too much.

Who are the artists out right now that you would consider your contemporaries?

I wouldn’t know — that’s up to the audience to make those comparisons. I don’t really like comparisons that much.

Who are some artists that you look forward to working with?

I would love to do something with Matt Martians, Anderson Paak, Tierra Whack, Kaiit, and Smino. Tyler The Creator is an ultimate dream collab for sure.

What is the ideal outcome for you with this project? Where would you like to be this time next year?

I hope to build and expand my audience. I really want people of all ages to vibe with this. People who may have been sleeping on me before can finally open their eyes. This time next year, I want to be brushing shoulders with some of the artists I have in my playlist. I want to be touring the country and inspiring people around the globe.

Lellow is out now. Get it here.