Interview with Van Buren: the chaotic rap collective of Massachusetts
This article has already been published on Audiomack World.
Van Buren is more than just a rap collective. The band’s 11 active members — Luke Bar $, Meech, Jiles, SAINT LYOR, Lord Felix, Ricky Felix, Andrew Regis, Kiron, RLouie, Mo and Shelby — all slide effortlessly between roles of rapper, producer, PR and fashion. designate. The personalities of the seven members that I was able to bring together during a Zoom call are distinct but in rhythm with each other. It’s the best kind of brotherly chaos.
Most of them met in their hometown of Brockton, Massachusetts when they were children. Some have grown up together. Some met in college. Some didn’t meet until they started frequenting local studio SoundLab and artist MA Latrell James’ personal studio, both of which served as community spaces. A friend and former member Rui came up with the idea for Van Buren in 2014 after seeing an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld which featured a gang called the Van Buren Boys. The idea stuck, and two years later they slowly began to forge their musical identity.
The collective worked on solo and small group projects over the next five years, most of which came together just as spontaneously as the infamous Dreamville sessions for Revenge of the Dreamers III (Regis did attend the sessions in 2019). Bad for the press, their first statement as a full band is breathtakingly paced and full of personal stories. It’s a reflection of the band itself, a group of black boys from Brockton who are ready to make a lasting first impression.
Tell me about the earliest memories you all have of your connections to music.
Luc Bar $: It all started at SoundLab. I like to describe it as the YMCA of music at the time. We organized small events, and [Brockton, MA] would just come out. There was this show during the winter break, and we brought in 200 people. It was the first time that we did a big show in front of a lot of people.
After that we moved on to [Latrell James’] studio. We were there once a week to prepare and make jokes. This is what really built the brotherhood. I wasn’t part of Van Buren at the time, but they already had something there. There were seeds that had been planted for years, and recently we were all like, “Damn, let’s go.”
Lord Felix: Latrell’s studio was a hub for many young Brockton artists at the time. Sometimes we weren’t even recording; we were just chilling out and making jokes, all that shit. This is how we all connected to music.
Meech: I will never forget when the [Pusha T] and Drake’s beef came in, and we were in Latrell’s studio listening to “I’m Upset” and then saying “Oh shit, Push answered!” So many situations.
I thought about the part of “Gangbanger [Remix]”Where SAINT LYOR qualifies Van Buren as a” coup “. Could you elaborate on that a bit?
SAINT LYOR: You see this group of young black men who believe in something and transform their lives. For me personally, with the way this industry works, seeing a bunch of white faces and having to learn how to navigate those spaces, you have to learn to change a little bit of who you are to get to where you need to be. At the time, I was frustrated with this process. I just wanted to embrace the fact that we wanted to take the shit. I’m sick of the borders and politics that artists have to cross to be successful. I just want to get past that, and Van Buren is the best way to do it.
Lord Felix: Facts.
Van Buren has managed to maintain a pretty DIY vibe since its inception. What’s been the most rewarding part of keeping your tight-knit circle independent?
Ricky: The freedom to create is the best part of independence. We don’t have to respond to anyone. There is nothing specific we need to do for a certain situation. If we want to make music and drop it the next day, we can do it. Because we have this implemented in our head, it gives us the freedom to make the best art and not apologize for it. Going this independent path is trying to reinvent the idea of being yourself and pushing the ideas you want, without having to respond to anyone.
Meech: From my own individual work to when we do a collective VB work, it’s like two different worlds. Freedom is so relieving because we’re in an age where everyone makes playlists that allow for quick consumption before moving on to the next thing. Art is what matters at the end of the day, so if that is necessary, you could have five or six guys rapping on a record or two people on a hook. All that is asked is what we do. It’s something that people aren’t really doing right now; most bend or break whatever the algorithm determines is hot.
Bad for the press is your first full album released as a collective. I’m interested in what you mean by the title.
Ricky: Bad for the press is the idea of [a group of] Black men being like we all said without apologizing. When we say things, many times we tend to rub shoulders [people the wrong way].
Felix: We are abrasive.
Ricky: Yes, we are definitely abrasive with the things we say. I have a feeling that with the way we talk about things, sometimes we are bad for the press. It might not always be the best way, but it’s our way.
Luke: If you spend a day with us, we are very controversial guys. We say and do a lot of crazy things, and people look at us like, “Yo, what’s right with these niggas? These niggas shouldn’t be saying things like that. Even in this interview you can tell that we are ourselves. Who cares about all this weird crap. This title really represents what Van Buren is. No matter what’s in our heart, we let it come out of shit.
As a native of Massachusetts, how do you think your home country was portrayed in rap?
Luke: Brockton hasn’t really had a great rapper before. Back then, if niggas found out you made music, you were cooking. Niggas would laugh at you.
Felix: No kidding. Brockton is a sports town. Basketball, football.
Meech: Even footballers carry more weight.
Luke: Rap was forbidden. I’m just watching it switch now, and it’s beautiful because I know we have something to do with it. You see more artists coming out, painters and all that. It’s becoming something of an art city right now. Five years ago, that was not it.
Jiles: We put this battery behind motherfuckers.
Felix: It’s so hard to find any kind of studio growing up, especially if you don’t have any kind of bread. The SoundLab has definitely helped energize the music scene. I was traveling an hour and 40 minutes just to get to the studio before that. Latrell has been instrumental in this as well, so shout at him.
What does Van Buren have to say about Massachusetts that no other artist from that state has before?
Luke: No cap, we gave freshness to ourselves. We get very deep and personal about our lives on all of our albums. Not to say niggaz didn’t do this before, but it wasn’t that common here. We don’t change who we are because of an interview; I’ll be Luke no matter that.
Jiles: Before us, a lot of people just uploaded videos and didn’t market them well. We’ll do trailers, videos, interviews and take it seriously. You need people to want to fuck with your music. We created a plan to show people that if you sell yourself well and don’t post your cover art by 10pm when no one is on Instagram like that, you might get a little more traction.
Meech: The great thing with VB is the attention to detail. From the lyrical process to the mixing, including the content and the cover, everything has a story. To this day, I will still see reposts of our songs from two or three years ago on a random Tuesday. There is a connection because we are all trying to find answers too. We’re students of the game – that era of J. Cole, Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, Kendrick Lamar, everyone has told you their story. It was so crucial for someone like me, who was a basketball player, to be able to feel Friday night lights to another level. I want it to be the same for the people here. Brockton needs it. Massachusetts needs it.
LYOR: We represent a larger community of black youth who are creative and just want to communicate new ideas about what black can be. We are broadening the spectrum. Like Jiles said, we’ve got a lot of different personalities in this bunch between street niggas and weirdos. We are all able to coexist with each other and still see ourselves as blacks. There is no requirement or accusation of “not being black enough”. It is one thing, and it is part of a larger program to promote community and unity, regardless of our background. We can still exist and be united.