In the overcrowded music industry, it’s rare to find a gem as talented and driven as Caleb Parker. On stage, Parker is known as Caleborate, the Bay Area artist that channels honesty, energy, and optimism dressed in dad hats, denim jackets and skinny jeans. The self-proclaimed TBKTR (or That Black Kid That Raps) proves that dreams can be manifested by genuine passion for the craft, resilience, and persistence without jeopardizing character. The current age of hip-hop has paved way for artists to simply be themselves instead of aimlessly attempting to fulfill the expectations of the industry and its audience. As one of the prominent leaders of this movement, unfazed by the boundaries set by his predecessors and peers, Caleborate has grabbed the music business by the throat and set his own terms to foster a dedicated fan-base through transparency in his tracks.
In retrospect, TBKTR earned his stripes as a spam rapper, but not once have I ever regretted discovering his music. While many will denounce those on this particular road of promotion, Caleborate stands out from the crowd; alongside balancing his time between school, work, music, and relationships of every kind, TBKTR has invested countless hours into his craft before attempting to garner his following– an often overlooked characteristic.
“Anna’s Lament,” the leading single and raw cut from his previous work from 2014, #theusual, was the first song I ever heard from Caleborate. Rather than elect a “turn-up” track to gain a slice of ephemeral buzz, Caleborate decided to further combat the industry standards by directing his fans, both old and new, to a cathartic presentation that leaves no stone unturned. TBKTR crafted a track that likely hits home for listeners from around the world while maintaining a discrete style and sound. Peep the visuals for the track below and be sure to add this TBKTR classic and the rest of the project to your collection.
To ring in the new year, Caleborate presented his listeners with the Winter Break EP, a succinct six-track collection fueled by his detachment from social media and brought to life by his poetic vocals and production from close friends including Ian Mckee, Willem Ardui, and Wonderlust. Leading up to his full-length album, Caleborate curated a handful of guest verses, working with artists like fellow Bay Area-based MCs Cash Campain and Mike Martin.
With some shows around the Bay and a TeamBackPack feature freshly printed onto his résumé, TBKTR kept the ball rolling when he surprised Twitter with a new single, “El Portal.” The track shook stereos across the Internet with its well-deserved braggadocio, aggressive delivery and clever wordplay. In the words of one of his biggest inspirations, Childish Gambino, “it’s deeper than rap.”
Just a month and some change later, Caleborate both announced and released his full-length album, Hella Good. The 12-track project features instrumentation from familiar faces Ian, Willem, and Wonderlust, and further extends to production from Analog Luke and Heartbreak Gang’s Drew Banga, 1-O.A.K. and Kuya Beats. The album blends confidence and insecurities, topped off with social commentary, and presents the juxtaposition in a manner that every listener can relate to or at the very least feel something.
While it’s more than difficult to nominate my favorite tracks off the album, if I had to I would choose “Get the Green,” “El Bandito,” and “Youth in Revolt.” There’s something about these tracks that captured the slice of TBKTR I connect with most, from despising retail jobs and being a broke college student with dreams to trying to become a successful musician and show family that this music is something we can happily live off of, but it takes time. The obvious stand-out cut is “Smh,” Caleborate’s visceral take on future bounce that accentuates his versatility as an artist. The overall project solidifies TBKTR’s spot as an erudite vanguard of hip-hop that oscillates between confidence and vulnerability, ultimately unafraid to leave all his cards on the table.
While the album is yet to reach its two week milestone on the net, the tremendous landmark in his ever-flourishing career has already received an immense amount of recognition, including a premiere on Pigeons and Planes, a cosign from fellow Bay Area mogul G-Eazy, and a spot on the front page of the Source. After spending the majority of 2015 forgoing social media to hone his craft and sound, Caleborate and his team can finally relish in the spoils of their sonic grind. Whether you’re a casual listener or a dedicated hip-hop fan, give Caleborate a chance and you won’t be disappointed– I did two years ago and I found one my favorite artists to date. Stream Hella Good below and grab your copy on iTunes.
Earlier today, I was fortunate enough to interview the Bay Area King and dig deeper into his story, thoughts, and album (Big shout out to Caleb and Nic for making all of this possible, thank you!):
Coming from a long-time fan, your music has definitely been a huge inspiration for me! It’s been a great journey so far tracking your career and seeing how you’ve progressed!
TBKTR: Thank you bro, first and foremost I have to say thank you for listening and valuing the time that I’ve put into my art, it’s truly a blessing man for real. We’ve got a ways to go, but every single vote of confidence is important and also something I really appreciate.
First off, how’s life?
Life is… I’m gonna have to be cliché right now bro, you’re setting me up so perfectly, it’s Hella Good right now haha. 🙂
Why do you make music? What do you want your audience to take away from TBKTR?
I make music because I want to have the capacity to affect the whole world, to be grasped and absorbed by the people who need it. Not because I want to make a bunch of money, but I want to change lives. I want to help the kid who’s waking up this morning like “yep, I’m gonna go to that overpass and I’m jumping off.” Or, “I’m totally gonna come home after school today and take all these Percocet and be done.”
Who’s on your playlist right now?
Lately I’ve been bumping a lot of Mick Jenkins, some Vic, I been listening to Kool John and P-Lo’s last project along with some G-Eazy and Mac Demarco. For the past two days though I’ve done nothing but listen to Tribe Called Quest and Common (specifically BE and Midnight Marauders).
Has music/rapping always been in the picture? Was there ever a moment when you realized music was something you wanted to pursue extensively?
Music wasn’t ALWAYS something I knew I would be doing as a career; it was always an art form I loved and had an extensive connection with, but it wasn’t until I was like 16 that I knew I wanted to do this thing somewhat seriously. There was certainly a day where I sat back and listened to my rhymes and said, “Damn, I could do this hit for real!” I’d probably say that day came around the age of 17. Thats when I began to make sacrifices to make sure that I could always make music no matter what.
On another note, congrats on your album! What does the project, Hella Good, mean to you?
Thank you bra! This project obviously means a lot to me because it’s based off of so many personal experiences and moments. It serves as a timestamp for me I guess, similar to how most of music does. It will always remind me of the place that I was in at this time in my life and how I managed to sort through my problems to find happiness and thrive in the world. The amount of positive reception it has received means so much to me because I’ve always wanted to see my music received this well, and with this being the first project that has ever reached this sort of height and level of admiration, I’ll always remember it.
On your Hella Good week post last night, you thank two of your close ties for letting you “write those songs in [their] house.” What’s your writing process like? Does it differ between singles, mixtapes, albums, etc?
I’m glad you noticed that bruh! Haha. My writing process (ideally) happens really late at night/early in the morning around 1am-sunrise. I usually write at this time because
- I’m finally home from school or work or a show or a session
- It’s quiet, everyone else is asleep and I can think very clearly
- I can’t sleep lol
It doesn’t change based upon project at all, although now it has gone through some minor changes because with more notoriety I spend a lot less time at home and more time working. Either producing, rehearsing, meeting people, shooting videos etc. My time is being asked of me more now that I’ve dropped this project. Sometimes if I can’t write at home I’ll write in the car or on the bus.
You also shoutout Nipsey Hussle. How has he shaped your career so far and possibly the track “The Hussle”?
He totally influenced “The Hussle”, he’s also help influence my grind. There have been times that I’ve clung onto a few of his verses in moments of doubt or times where the going got a lil’ tough. I never quit though.
What exactly is the “sauce”?
The sauce is my music. I don’t play with that shit, I don’t skimp on it. You ever go get some nuggets, or tenders or chicken strips and they don’t give you enough sauce? Or they charge you extra for that shit?! How am supposed to enjoy my meal without the sauce?! How am I supposed to enjoy my life without music? So when it comes to my music i’m not gonna fuck around, the sauce is gonna be the best, and you’re going to be able to get as much as you need whenever you need it.
Of all the great producers on your project, can you shed some light on your relationship with Willem Ardui? He’s been one of your right-hand men from the start– how is it working so closely with someone that lives on another continent?
Man, my relationship with Willem is so unique. We met over Facebook because of a spam comment of mine he saw on YouTube. This happened about 2 years ago, we weren’t always making music together. However, once we got started we never stopped. willem is an amazingly talented producer just like everyone featured on the album and i’m lucky to have met the guy. We’ve organized a great workflow over the years, thanks to Facebook and Skype he and I can effortlessly throw ideas back and forth and work on beats, craft up ideas and explain our intentions for songs. Over time we’ve gotten better and better. I really want to meet him, like it’s really weird that this music is doing all that it is, and yet I’ve never met the guy who’s made some of my more influential tracks.
“Fuck being a rapper, graduate to keep from slaving.” Throughout this album and many of your other projects, you have referenced the duality of being a college student simultaneously pursuing a music career. I have a taste of what it’s like juggling similar priorities, but can you expand upon what it’s like divvying time between work, school, music, etc? Would you change any decisions you’ve made?
It’s hard man. It is really difficult. To explain it would take so much time. It can take so much energy from you at times and cause you to fall off in one of the three areas when one demands more than any of the other. The fact that I’ve made a financial commitment to 2 of the 3 is also a huge deal. I wouldn’t change any of the things i’ve done though because they all got me here. It’s just been incredibly hard.
“You think that’ll get me on the radio, it sound ignorant enough, don’t it?” Can you tell us about this line and moreover your approach to the industry?
The game is all fucked up man haha. In some ways that’s awesome and in some ways it’s bad. In the past (90’s) the stuff that used to play on the radio in terms of hip-hop was a bit more enlightening and carried a little more substance, now it seems that in order to infiltrate the mainstream market or influence the masses you’ve got to make vulgar types of songs to get looks. I refuse to sacrifice what I believe in for a check, or attention. In some ways the line speaks for itself.
At the end of “All Mine” from your Winter Break EP, you mention “social media withdrawals” and possibly “surviving one-hundred percent without it.” What’s the story behind this disconnect from the realm of social media? Would the world be better without Facebook, Twitter, etc?
I can’t say if the whole world would be better without those websites, what I can say for sure is that we’d enjoy life more. We’d be more in the moment, and less focused on living for the approval of our peers. In a sense, I guess that search for approval is an innate human instinct though, because we seem to always try to find ways to instigate our lives being more vibrant than they actually are. All I know is that for me as an artist, I work better without being connected to social media all the time. It sucks that it’s such a necessity.
As we wrap up the interview, I’d like to conclude with some broader questions. With another incredible project under your belt, what’s next for Caleborate?
More music, soul searching, graduation, more production, more overall growth as a person.
What are your thoughts on the current state of hip-hop?
I think it’s going through its second golden era for sure. I love that there are so many different types of hip-hop out and that the focus seems to be somewhat shifting to more honest rap. I think that as long as we don’t lose sight of the music that brought this genre into its glory, it will never die.
How do you define success?
As long as you are doing what you love, and you’re loving doing it, it’s lit.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Stay focused, stay hungry, study the game, don’t sacrifice your soul for anyone or anything, keep real people around you, and know yourself.
Anything else you’d like to tell your fans out there?
Thank you for listening, supporting and putting up with me and my gemini ways. I love you all, hope to meet each and everyone of ya’ll soon. Until then, stay positive and don’t let anyone rob you of your happiness.
[Image Shot by 36Neex]