Greenlights Music: A Beautiful Mood

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Photo courtesy of Thanos Alatsidis

Chicago Hip-Hop band Greenlights Music consist of emcee/producer RP, singer Willow Wells, and emcees Bob Rok, Abitight, Amanu, Casagrown, and Phonetics. In the summer of 2022 the group released a 16-track album with a title that reflects its music.

A Beautiful Mood” is produced entirely by Greenlights Music founder RP and features appearances by frequent collaborators Anthony Gomez, Alo, and Jah Safe.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to members of Greenlights Music about returning to the stage, how they handle disagreements within the group, and their new album, A Beautiful Mood.

TRHH: Why did you title the album A Beautiful Mood?

RP: That’s funny you asked. That’s one of the first things that we came up with. It was really because of Jah. Jah Safe had come over to hang out. We were just spending some time together because we hadn’t seen each other in a while. And he kind of started freestyling on the very first track we have there. We had some sax on there from Anthony and we had singing from Shonie and he just started kind of saying, “it’s a beautiful mood.” Like he was in a genuinely beautiful mood. And I think when Bobby listened to that he said, “Why don’t we name it that?” That’s what this is – a bunch of different songs that are kind of based in different moods and feelings.

Willow Wells: Also, one of the things that we were working with was I think that all of us after coming out of a pretty intense artistic experiment through the initial COVID years that we were kind of ready to change the vibe up little bit and experiment with new sounds and see where it took us.

TRHH: I read about the different approach you took to producing or creating. Is that what she’s referring to when you guys took a different route for this one?

RP: Yeah, I would say so. I do the production and I think that for me I kind of opened up the bag a little bit and went to samples as well as live instrumentation. So, I wanted to kind of go that direction and I think Bobby pushed me to kind of start going in directions I hadn’t really thought of going or considered. I had thought about mixing stuff and recording live stuff and making samples out of it, but I hadn’t taken too many samples and actually played live instrumentation on top. So, we kind of went that direction and it ended up being really, really dope.

TRHH: What’s the creative process like with so many people in the band?

Willow Wells: Well we had one tonight [laughs]. I would say we eat together, we are friends, we’re family, and we have each other’s back at very critical moments. So, we attempt to get together as often as we can and listen to things freshly off the press and try to do the creative process together as often as we can, and sometimes bring our own poetry that we’ve been thinking about or marinating about on our own. But we make a practice of having friends, holidays together, and we cook.

Abitight: It’s very layered too ‘cause you know Andres is always working on beats. He’s always sending out beats. We’re always getting music constantly, and when that happens certain songs gravitate toward certain people, so one of us out of so many will either write a verse or a chorus and then we would build off of those ideas. So, it’s very important to be organic, but there’s been so many different ways. We’ve been doing music for so long sometimes it will come prepared with stuff, but usually it’s just organic and we’re just vibing. But it mostly stems from Andres constantly working on music, working on instrumentals, sending that stuff out to all of us. So, usually depending on the days that we’re working or our availability, usually there’s three or four people here working on tracks. They’ll formulate a song from scratch vocals, to choruses, down. From there it gets sent out.

Willow Wells: We bounce them back and forth and text each other and say, “Listen to this lyric” or “Let me just send you a voicemail note.” It happens in 100 different ways and we make it work.

Abitight: We’re constantly building and bouncing off each other.

Bob Rok: I think there’s a lot of healthy vengeance as well you know. It’s kind of like listening to shit and then you’re like, “Oh yeah?” and then you kind of get challenged by what you’re listening to and you go home and you start working on what you’re gonna put into it. Or you hear the beat and right off the bat you start thinking of something conceptually, you bring it to the group and then people are usually pretty good about adhering to that concept or just being really collaborative and genuine about having something to say in that regard or having something to say about that subject.

TRHH: How do you guys handle disagreements?

Willow Wells: Like family. We’re like family. Most of us have known each other in some regard for quite some time and we’ve worked through a lot. We’ve worked through supporting each other through divorces and deaths and births. I consider these guys the godfathers to my sons. We argue, but I think that we argue very healthily.

Abitight: Me personally, I mean, I’ve known Andres, god, for 20-30 plus years. He is like my brother. And we do have disagreements and we do argue, but we also can trust one another. Beautiful Mood turned out great because being a rapper you could be stuck in certain ways but getting notes and then having constructive criticism and to trust the other person, that’s what it comes down to. I trust what he says. I believe in this vision, I believe in his perspective, and in terms of if we’re doing a particular type of song and we’re trying to convey a certain feeling.

RP: I will say too, as far as Bobby was talking about the healthy competition, I’ve gone back to the drawing board with verses because I’ve heard Bob’s or I’ve heard Cam’s and have been like, “Okay, I need to do better.” Sometimes it’s doesn’t have to be someone being like, “I don’t really like your verse” or “I don’t like what you’re doing there” more than them just doing better than you and you being like, “Well, shit. I gotta kind of up the game a little bit here.”

TRHH: The video for “Bravo Café” was really cool. How much fun was it filming it?

Willow Wells: It was so much fun!!

TRHH: Yeah, it looked like fun.

RP: It was, man. And we were on caffeine. We had worked all day and then we kind of had to get the energy back to get up and make a song about coffee.

Bob Rok: That café had just opened and it was also kind of a museum for horror films.

RP: Yes, so it’s called The Brewed Café in Logan Square.

Abitight: The owner, Jason, I’ve known him since junior high. So, it’s like once again everything we do….

Willow Wells: All roads lead back to Greenlights Music [laughs].

RP: DJ Intel from Chicago, he does a couple different venues out there, but he runs a coffee shop, let us in there and they were nice enough to give us the time to be able to do that. The concept was literally based off of a record we wanted to give tribute to, which is a guy named Joey Bravo who made a coffee song and that’s what I sampled from. And it ended up being a really fun song and something we were like, “This is easy to make a video from if we kind of focus our efforts.”

Bob Rok: But also, I remember at the time when we were recording that song everybody could really only do like eight bars. Speaking of disagreements, it was like, “What was it gonna be with those eight bars?” And then we were all kind of talking amongst each other, because I think coffee is something that we genuinely love and something we probably could have done an entire album about, honestly in all the ideas that everybody was bringing about it, but that’s a hard concept to stretch out. It ended up being a surprising thing that everybody really loved. I think everybody really loved and was a huge fan of the song. Also, Kevin did such a great job.

Willow Wells: But back to your point, we play really well together. We get along and we know how to have a really good time and get the work done efficiently, so I think that’s one of the gifts that we bring out in each other.

TRHH: “Stroke of A Genius” had a Cypress Hill type sound. How did that song come together?

RP: You know, I think that was again kind of a one off we had. I think I just started it off and then everyone kind of jumped on accordingly. That hit me first, I guess, and I love Cypress Hill, so that’s a compliment. I appreciate that. It ended up kind of being loosely about the industry, I guess. It came together pretty quick and I feel like the beat itself was definitely more up-tempo, So, definitely more like that 90s almost, boom bap, type of Hip-Hop, which I love.

TRHH: The song “Flack Jacket” has some morbid lyrics. What inspired that song?

Bob Rok: I wrote the first verse and then the chorus and I had just finished an album that I put out called “Press Start.” And had a lot to help from Andres and the rest, actually. But it was getting to be fall and about to be the end of October and it was a few weeks before that and I was actually kind of trying to pitch it like, “We should drop this conceptual horror song around Halloween,” but it ended up being more like January. One of many concepts that I feel like we’re talking about on the album is when you start to get older you start to think about your mortality.

When talking about death I thought of the movie Inception where Matthew McConaughey goes into space and he falls through a black hole and in the black hole he sees all of time and space — the future, the present, and the past in this sort of neat row, almost like a bookshelf where he’s speaking with his daughter from another time and it made me think of absolutely like morbid, but also just falling in and out of reality at that time. And one thing that I was very inspired by was Aesop Rock’s “Spirit World Field Guide” which he put out just about a year before that. So, I was just like in that mode.

TRHH: How hard was the pandemic on the band not being able to perform live?

RP: It was hard, man. It was hard. I think that’s one of the reasons why we got together and really started kind of escalating making music in the last two years or so is because we were pent up. I think that’s one of the major things that we’ve all kind of done for quite some time, and not doing that was tough for sure.

Willow Wells: We’re busting the rust off of all of that though.

RP: We’re back out and we’re doing gigs again.

Bob Rok: I think the pandemic was difficult, but also in that time I built a studio at home just in a couple of weeks. I was just like ordering mics. There was just nothing else to do. So, I worked on a lot of music and wrote an entire album. I also discovered that I don’t care for the company of others in the sense that, you know what, isolation is fine with me! I thought it was gonna have the Jack Nicholson effect in The Shining where I was just gonna go crazy and stuff, but that’s not what happened. I was like, “this is kind of great” and then I hung out with my wife, who I actually get along with, and we just kind of got out of each other’s way and life just continued.

RP: It was different from me, man. It was hard being alone. I’m single, so it was really hard. These guys bless my life because whether they were coming over peppered one by one because of the pandemic or finally when we started being able to get back together again, we were making some really good stuff and the competitive juices were flowing, man. People were really writing really good stuff and I guess it all kind of comes together with A Beautiful Mood.

Bob Rok: That was like a breath. Like taking a breath and being like, “Okay, we’re cool.” And we started performing live again – The Beat Kitchen and doing shows for that summer and also the record release when I put out Press Start.

Willow Wells: Can I just add that I think that one of the benefits of what happened with all of us being physically separated for a while, but also physically separated from having those live performances where we really feed off of the other human beings in the room is that all of that energy needed to go somewhere and artists all over the world you’re either gonna explode or we’re gonna pour it into something. And because of that, there was this renaissance that’s happened in art forms all over the world, but definitely happened in our family here, which is we just had so much to give and nowhere to give it, so it had to get poured out on the page. So, a lot of good poetry and art and music came out of that discomfort that we all experienced together.

Abitight: Don’t get me wrong, I like to perform live, but being able to create was my solace. Coming here and making music I found my peace. Some of us have home studios. Even though I have equipment at home, I really don’t make music at home. I mostly write at home, so this is my stage here – getting down at this microphone over here.

TRHH: I have to say that the pandemic was like the best two years of my life. It sounds awful ‘cause people died and people were sick, but for me it was great.

Abitight: It was profitable for me as well [laughs]. It’s so sad, it’s so sad.

TRHH: Yeah, it’s sad. I hate to even say it, but it was awesome. Having to go back to the office was like, “Oh my God, brutal.” But you know what? I got it good. I got it good. I won’t complain. You guys have a show coming up on Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago at Hippy Holy Daze 5; what do you have in-store for the fans at Hippy Holy Daze 5?

Willow Wells: Fire. Straight fire!

RP: We have a great live set. It’s because there’s a lot of us, but it’s also pretty tight. The beats are banging. We’re going to be doing a beat set, so it’s gonna be all of my production, so it should be pretty dope. Obviously, Badwolff is also performing and Amanu is half of Badwolff, Casagrown is the other half who is not here tonight — he’s in Greenlights as well. So, he’ll be up there doing his thing with Badwolff, then they’ll come up and do some songs with the Greenlights. So, it should be pretty dope.

TRHH: Who is the “A Beautiful Mood” album made for?

Abitight: Everybody. A Beautiful Mood is the fourth album that we did and I can play this album over and over and over and over again. And every time I discover something new and this is our own music. It’s pretty funny ‘cause you can listen to your music and get sick of it, but this is the one I can listen to it over again. And it feels great every time. I enjoy it every time. I don’t want to say, “that’s no cap” but that’s the truth. I truly enjoy this fucking album [laughs]. By you reaching out to us it truly solidifies that this album speaks volumes. I don’t know how you guys feel, but that’s how I feel, so thank you.

RP: Yeah, thank you.

TRHH: You’re welcome.

Willow Wells: And also, just to add one little thing, this was one of the projects which I have like a young high schooler and when he heard this album he had the same stank look on his face that I did or some other members of our band or other people who have listened to it did. And he was like, “Damn!” and then he saw that he said that in front of me and was like “Oh! But it’s really good!” When we were making it and I was listening to some of these tracks I was like you know grown folks, when I say grown I mean 30 and up, miss vibes, and miss whole songs, and miss vocals, and miss lyrics!

Umbrella should not rhyme with umbrella. Lyrics and music and him kind of dipping his toe in so many different waters of what kind of musical styles that we could somehow marry together and make it sound good. ‘Cause you know these 15-year old’s, they are snobby about everything. They’re like, “That ain’t shit.” The feedback that I got from the young folks who heard it was like, “We like this. This reminds us of some stuff that I can enjoy on my own, or I can enjoy with my uncle, or I can enjoy with like my cousins.” It created a mood, which I think is ageless — I hope.

Abitight: Sometimes I forget how old we are [laughs].

Bob Rok: But the question of who did you make it for, when I think about when I was younger how many albums that absolutely weren’t made for me and they had such a huge effect on me. I’m talking about like, what do I know about life in Los Angeles in the 90s when like Snoop is putting out his solo stuff and then all of Death Row is popping off. Listening to this as a kid here in the Midwest and it’s like a completely different world, but I think it had such a huge effect on me and that’s where you start out with your relationship with music. And so, when we’re making this album we’re hoping that it’s having an effect on people to kind of like look at it in that same way and hopefully we’re reaching the level of people that we consider our peers. So, you know it’s a huge compliment to hear that there was some essence of Cypress Hill in there.

I think all of us are huge fans of music and huge music nerds and we really harp on lyrics and delivery, and we’re all in our own way a bit of perfectionists, and I think we have learned how to work together really well and collaborate in a really cohesive way. So, the audience that we’re going after, in my head, I’m trying to write about and for people that are in the same area as me. I don’t feel old, but I don’t have the same ambitions or even the same struggles that I did when I was a kid. When I was in my 20s and the most important thing seemed to be to getting fucked up with my friends on the weekends. Now you know I’m an adult, I have a mortgage, it’s a completely different life. But at the same time that doesn’t mean that I ever stop being a fan of music and making music. So, I feel like we’re speaking to adults and hopefully the music is universal enough that of course kids would kind of listen to it and be like, “He said ‘weed!!!’”

Purchase: Greenlights Music – A Beautiful Mood

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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