St. Louis Hip-Hop Artist Arshad Goods Talks Haters, Heartache and Humility
From the bouncy hooks of Nelly to the ruminations of Mvstermind, rap talent hardly “flies over” the city of St. Louis. Rather, it takes to the sky. Among the fly fleet soaring today is artist Arshad Goods, erstwhile U City kid with a Purdue master’s degree. Dubbed “2017’s New Breakout Star” by the Riverfront Times, he’s set to take the stage this spring as never before. With a new album on its way, rife with layers of lyrical depth, one thing’s for sure: this artist is no bill of Goods.
The following is culled from a conversation in early February.
You’ve said that you dislike being compared to other hip-hop artists. Before I impose my sense of what your music sounds like, tell me a bit about your influences.
Three Stacks, or André 3000. Outkast is my favorite band of all time. As far as rappers, Jay-Z, Nas—classic top-tier artists, especially from the late nineties. Maxwell is my favorite singer of all time. Lauryn Hill. I tried to study Prince, but his catalog is so crazy. I’m probably missing about ten percent of his output, but I respect how he learned everything about music. But when I’m watching interviews or documentaries, they’re not usually about music artists, but those from other disciplines. I like to find commonalities between great people who master their craft.
I noticed that in some of your songs you compare yourself to Steve Jobs and Howard Stern—those who were, or are, leaders of their fields, but not hip-hop.
Yeah, it’s like that Kanye West interview where others were saying stuff like, “You’re a millionaire, so what are you complaining for?” And he said something like, “Stop comparing me to broke people. Compare me to billionaires.” I chopped up that interview and put a line of it into “Marginalized Mondays.”
It seems like your project is partly about navigating gross economic inequality, but in a way that’s not heavy-handed.
Yeah, I hate being boxed in, so I also hate being called a “conscious” rapper. I was born in 1987, and while “conscious” rappers have influenced me growing up, that’s not all I do. I idolized Tupac as a kid, and what I loved about him is that he could do everything. He could make a loving song like “Dear Mama” and then he could sing a song about shooting someone. He embraced the idea of just being a human being—not one way and not happy all the time. Sometimes I want to save the world, and sometimes I want to burn it.
I get that I’m a walking conundrum, but that’s also a blessing in a sense. I try not to think too much when I’m writing. I can be comfortable in a lot of different circles. And I think my music reflects that.
In “Fear No Man,” you mention how the media has often distorted the image of St. Louis. What was it like leaving St. Louis and then coming back after grad school at Purdue?
Honestly, I used to be a St. Louis hater, until a friend of mine here took me to some places that made me appreciate things. I hadn’t been to the Grove yet, Cherokee Street or South City.
Going away showed me how small it is here. It’s easy to get complacent, to stick to your circle. Even that question “What high school did you go to?” reflects that mentality. But coming back, I realized, “You’re gonna get what you see.” If I look for negative things I’m going to see negativity. I started changing my energy and started seeing better things.
I wrote “Fear No Man” before Mike Brown, then recorded it later. Of course, his story has been told a million times in this country, but no one was expecting it to blow up here in Ferguson. In the video, it was important to show me being alone with nature, in the wilderness, like it’s me amongst the wolves. We shot it in DeSoto, Missouri, at a cabin by the lake my mom has. It was super weird, but the sky there was a purple-orange. That was not a special effect.
In “Black Sunday,” the background refrain—“It breaks my heart”—sounds like a girl group bemoaning a romantic situation, but actually the song seems to be about the lies of meritocracy. Like, “You can do anything with your life.”
But you can’t?
It’s as though the romantic world and the public world collide.
Both types of song are about heartache—either societal or personal. I wrote the line “It breaks my heart” when I overhead my mom on the phone and someone asked, “How’s that music thing going for him?” I hate the word “thing,” as though my music isn’t actually a vocation. As far as a more romantic song like “Telling Lies,” it was a culmination of all my dating experiences, not just one specific woman I was talking about.
I love the line from that song, “You’re in love with the thought of love,” the idea that lies can be a form of protecting another person who wants more than you can promise to give.
That was the part of that album that was focusing on the cycle of relationships. Of course, I don’t think anyone should lie. But I’ve done it myself a million times. And a lot of times people are in relationships that are really awkward, and they should just be having sex some of the time. My song “Four Letter Word” started as a joke—about love being another four-letter word in addition to the obvious one.
You perform with a five-piece band now. How does it set you apart?
That was always a part of the vision. I made my first album Black Sunday to get producers to respond, but I didn’t have many live instruments. The band came about during my first headlining show in May 2015. Ever since Jay-Z performed on Unplugged, I decided, “If I ever do music, I will have a band at all times.” And since then I’ve always performed with a band. The members sometimes shift, but for the most part the sound is intact. The band is also much more incorporated into my music that’s about to come out this year.
How has your new work evolved?
In my old work, I hadn’t figured out who I was. I don’t think there was anything unique about me other than being personal. But now, I’m a better rapper. I know exactly what I want to do, and what I want to say directly. I’m comfortable collaborating more —whereas before I was throwing darts at the board. People can love it or hate it, but either way I want them to listen.
Tell me about your favorite show so far.
The Riverfront Times Showcase of 2016, when the sound went out and everything stopped for a second. I remember looking out at the crowd, and everybody was confused. I didn’t even know if the microphone was working, but I shouted out, “We broke this bitch! Let’s turn it up!” And the crowd went crazy and the power kicked back on a few moments later. It was a movie moment.
Arshad Goods will perform on March 25th at Blank Space, on March 23rd at Washington University and on April 22nd for the Earth Day Festival.
Cover photo by Steven Roach