Having recently released his debut EP, Bellwood Product, Caleb Steph is the sharp, introspective and altruistic socio-political commentator signed to the 1975’s label, Dirty Hit. Born and based in Virginia we explore Caleb’s perspective of the world right now - from self-awareness to home comforts, he discusses his love of writing, working with Sha Money of G-Unit fame, his favourite chicken sandwich spot and the fact that we need to break the all-consuming cycle of social media addiction. Deep dive with us…
Ok so first off I want you to tell us a bit about yourself…
Ok well know what I’m saying, Caleb Steph from downtown Newport News Virginia. Caleb Steph no ego, just a voice of my people. I started making music when I was 12 years old and I’ve just been doing it ever since. I’d say around 16, I took it a little bit seriously, tried to pursue something, make something of it. I grew up pretty diverse in terms of music I grew up around a lot of music when I was younger it’s kind of shaped who I am overall as a person I guess unless I was just this person before I found out about all this music.
If you were listening to your own music with fresh ears how would you kind of describe your sound ?Definitely hip-hop but based off what I have out right now I could expect some hip-hop but just me knowing who I am, I’m doing a lot all the time so everything is doing to have remnants of hip-hop but I might take it over here and you’ll be like ‘oh my goodness he’s using these sounds’. I don’t like putting everything out too quick, I kind of want to spread it out a little bit, take people on a journey as far as who I am as a person because I didn’t just start out like I’m all these things, I kind of figured it out along the way. I can’t put myself in a box so I kind of do that within the music.
That’s quite interesting actually in terms of obviously not having discovered everything all at once so wanting to therefore lay your music out in that way and make it more of a discovery. I wanted to touch on the fact that you’re signed to Dirty Hit, the 1975’s imprint. And obviously because you are Hip-Hop-leaning and generally you would generally describe the band as being Pop-leaning – I thought that was quite an interesting connection, how did it come about and why you have trusted being in that environment say as opposed to a traditional Hip-Hop imprint or label?
With Dirty Hit, when they came to me it was really all about being creative, being creatively free, having creative freedom and creative control over what I was doing because I was just doing everything. I already had a vision for myself I knew who I was as an artist and when they came to me they were like ‘yo, you can be all of these things and we also we’re here if you need our help’ basically. I was like you know this is a great partnership, everybody on the label is so talented, so creative and they have a good imprint as to what would look good, they’re super tapped in creatively too so it made sense and I love the vibe - super supportive of anything and everything with everybody. I love Dirty Hit.
That’s sick. Especially on the creative freedom element because it’s very very easy to find yourself in a scenario really quickly where you don’t have that so I always love it when I speak to artists and that’s the most important thing as to why they signed. Do you think the band will or have already influenced you in any form as yet ? Or do you think it’s more a meeting of the minds so far ?
The band they’re so fire, like prior to me even getting up with Dirty Hit, like I knew of the 1975 but I didn’t really know too much about them but just now me being with Dirty Hit, the guys are great, they’re everything, they’re superstars, they’re legends to me and what they’re doing with pop they’re just super creative and they’re super musical. They are musical geniuses. The 1975 - you’ve got to give it up to them. They influence me to at least reach the super star level of myself in terms of music, working with them, them producing some stuff for me, all of that - I’m super open to everything.
Have they produced stuff for you already or is that in the works ?
That’s in the works now.
I love that. So I wanted to jump straight into what your creative process actually is. Obviously you have the EP out, Bellwood Product , I was wondering in terms of that particular project and just in general how you approach the music making process?
So Bellwood Product that was a totally different process in itself, that was just like my first project so I went into it, with the same mindset of ‘ok what am I doing what am I talking abut, how do I want it to sound?’. Then the creative process may be I take some time to myself to just write or I take some time to just call in a bunch of producers to the studio and we’re like let’s just bounce ideas, let’s just listen to things. I’m kind of taking a different approach going into the next phase of Caleb Steph [in] 2019 and the next half of dropping some more music by just working with a bunch of different artists, you know you may get a bunch of Caleb Steph features on some pretty big artists, randomly. I’m just working with a bunch of people right now, just getting in sessions, bouncing ideas and really collaborating.
So we briefly touched on the fact that you’re from Virginia and some of the great musicians such as Pharrell, Clipse, Timbaland etc from your state, I want you to name three places in Virginia that are must-visits for first-timers…
Ok my favourite, I’m going to give you the staples that you have to go to. You have to go to Chick-A-Sea. It’s a chicken sandwich spot that you have to go to, its like the chicken staple, the chicken sandwich from the hood. You can never go wrong with that. You’ve got to see the Hampton Coliseum. My favourite place to go to is home and I love to go to the parks and go kick it with my boys and go to their cribs, Virginia is just so homey man, I’m just home all the time everything is home wherever I go.
Cool, so we’ve touched on your creative process, G-Unit affiliate Sha Money XL produces on the EP, how did you two connect?
Sha is the man, he is a legend. I love working with him even if it’s not specifically on production. I love to have him around and I love to get his take on things, he has a great ear for music. We linked up through my manager. I was just super new and what I was doing, the sound I was trying to go for, I was working on a bunch of random beats but that was the first [time] I really worked with a producer and we built something together. I knew the sound I wanted to go for and when I heard his beats it was really like oh man this is something, it struck a chord and I was like we have to keep building and so we connected and we made it happen. We just got in the studio, we did it and we knocked those joints out and that was what we got, Bellwood Product.
It’s always great when the old and new school connect.
It’s needed, you’re right.
And whilst we’re on the subject of collabs, your bro is Marco Mckinnis, do you find that you collaborate with him often?
We haven’t collaborated and put anything out yet, nothing super new but we’re always working together even if it’s just him being in the studio and it’s my session and I’m working on a song, he’ll be like ‘this is fire, do it like this’. We’re always bouncing ideas with each other - super collaborative but definitely be on the look out for songs coming, ‘cause they’re coming.
I’m sure your fans want it! So I’ve read in terms of your journey it’s not been an easy ride for you, how do you stay motivated to keep expressing yourself ?
I stay motivated by remembering who I am and what are my intentions for what I’m doing at all times. I always have to keep reminding myself why am I’m doing something and what I’m doing it for. That motivates me in itself, it’s like a fire inside of me it drives me to do everything I’m always doing, if it comes to the music or if it comes to community work I always remind myself why am I doing it and what am I doing it for and it brings me right back whenever I’m feeling down.
So one thing I would tell people is always remember why you’re doing something, always remember who you’re doing it for, what you’re doing it for and that will make answers a lot clearer. I see a lot of people are confused in a sense of ‘what am I doing?’, or being hard on themselves and trying to figure out, ‘what am I going to do next in life? Is this it for me? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?’ - just don’t shy away from those feelings of what you feel like you need to, what you feel like should do. Always put yourself before a lot of people and you should be good to go. The world is crazy so you definitely have to be personally equipped to take on the world. People go at themselves all day before they even enter the world, just in their own minds. They use their own minds as a prison sometimes and they just get trapped in there, and I know that very well so…
Aww, very wise words. You touched on community work. What sort of community work do you do ?
Man I’m out there. Back home or if I’m somewhere else and I know of someone who does a lot of community work I get with them, let’s do something, take me into your world. [Be]cause community work is very locational so that’s definitely a tool for me to get to know the area very well, to know the roots of the area very well and just get to know the people very well like who I’m talking to. I’ll do anything, I never section it or do specific community work, I do anything within the community whether it’s giving back to the less fortunate or if it’s just going to speak at a school speak to kids about creativity or graduating, getting out of school. Or just going back to the neighbourhoods and talking to the kids, or bringing popsicles in the summertime. Just whatever my heart guides me to do. I love helping people.
We need more people doing this, so that’s lovely to hear. And I think it flows naturally into my next question. You believe in standing for something - what’s an issue right now that’s really important to you and why?
That’s a great question. One of the biggest issues, I don’t know if I want to use that as my choice of word but it’s definitely an issue - people getting social media personas and the life that people live for social media confused with actual real life. That’s one of the biggest issues because that’s deeply rooted in everyone. Everyone has a phone, everybody has social media so nobody is exempt - unless you’re really well at not dealing with social media - but nobody is exempt from falling into that circus of life of like, ‘ok people are doing this on instagram and their lives look so good and everything is so this and that and my life is not like that. We’re the same age like what am I doing?’.
People are always comparing themselves to each other without actually working on themselves and making sure they’re fully equipped again for the world to take on the world and to just be themselves at the greatest level of themselves. They’re just living to make it look like they’re the greatest level of themselves without actually being that. So I see a lot of people shortchanging themselves and not being their greatest because they’re trying to live up to something that they feel like they should look like for people, when a lot of these people on social media don’t know themselves to begin with, so it’s just a cycle that everybody’s living in and it’s important to break that cycle. The only way you can break the cycle is if you break it with yourself. Be that change that you would like to see I always tell people. So start with yourself, just do that. Life will be way better for you, I won’t say easier, it’ll be better just because actually living real life - life can get tough - but that’s life, that’s real life. You’ve got to deal with that, you can’t run away from that.
Very very true. And it’s quite interesting that you say that because you’re part of Gen Z and so I feel like there’s definitely people in your generation who are massively consumed by social media and then you have the opposite of people your age who are wisening up to the fact it is making mental health issues so much worse and people are dealing with so many of these issues that have been triggered by social media. It is a phenomenon that wasn’t around say 25 years ago to the degree that it is now so-
Definitely and I can only see it as it’s only going to get better or worse. My generation of people we’re like we have social media and everything and we’re into it and we’re constantly on our phones and we’re trying to stay off of it. It’s like ‘oh I’m always on it, but I want to stay off it’. But then if you think about everybody younger than us they’re just on it. They get it at a young [age]. We have five-year-olds, little brothers, cousins and they’ve got tablets walking around barely knowing how to speak with their tablets in their hands watching YouTube videos so they’re already in it. So if you’re addicted to it then the cycle is going to keep going over and over again. So we definitely just got to look out for the generations coming up after us, they’re the most important, they’ve got to keep it going and we’ve got to pass the baton down.
Yes that’s true. So do you have an all encompassing message ? If so, how would you sum it up ?
There is definitely an overall message and that overall message is: know who you are and know who you come from. To know your roots is to know yourself. If you don’t know where you come from that cancels out what you stand for, because if you don’t even know who you are or where you come, from it’s kind of hard to build a substantial foundation on what you stand for. That’s the message know yourself and where you come and know where you’re going, at least know where you want to go.
Who was the last rapper you listened to?
Hmm definitely play Jay Z all the time, so Jay Z is going to stay there. Kendrick is always going to stay there. I’ve been playing Gunna a lot.
Yeah I have, I really have. Gunna is fire, Gunna is so talented. Man who else, who’s another rapper I listen to, and then mostly just my own stuff. I’ve been bouncing around, I’m always bounding around. Of course Nipsey Hussle. It’s actually funny I haven’t really been playing a lot of rap music lately, now that I look at most recently listened. I’m listening to old pop hits, a lot of Coldplay and shit.
To wrap it up, what can we expect from you in the next 12 months ?
Expect more music, more content and more community work.
Can we expect to see you in London anytime soon?
Definitely. I’ll definitely be there. In terms of shows and stuff like that, all the shows and stuff like that for Caleb Steph is in the works. We’re going to give people an experience with those. But definitely be on the look out, Caleb Steph [is] definitely going to be in London, just working, being in the ends-
In the ends haha !
That’s like my third home, I love London so much.
I love that you’ve got the slang down…
I’ll be out there soon. I might do a meet and greet or something out there, connect with the fans.
courtesy CALEB STEPH
interview LAURA AROWOLO
More to read