Caleb Parker is a real person. Give his latest album, which is aptly titled Real Person, a listen and you’ll easily agree. But it’s not the title or the title track that drives this point home, but instead the artist that breathes in between every beat.
Born in Sacramento but living in Berkeley, Caleborate is on his way to the top. He’s a genuine guy. His music speakson what it’s like to be an up and coming rapper as well as his more personal and guarded feelings. He pulls back the curtain with his album and lets listeners in on life behind an artist and the recording process, all the while creating a project that bumps.
Over some Korean Barbecue in Los Angeles, EARMILK caught up with Caleb to chat about everything from his new album to his thoughts on President Trump’s effect on the music industry. While barbecue beef sizzled on the grill, he opened up about his recording process and mused on the importance of music in the world.
Check out the interview below, lightly edited for clarity.
EARMILK: Why title the project, Real Person?
Caleborate: I chose to call it Real Person because it fit, you know. It was really simple. The way it came about was that we (Caleborate and Manager, Nic) were in New York at a bodega. We met the store owner, and I told him I made music and about the album. When I went to show my Instagram though, I didn't have a picture, but in my bio, I wrote "I'm a real person," because it looked kind of creepy. So when I showed him, he was like, "ha that's hella funny," he laughed at it, and so we looked at it and thought it would be a good title. That's how all the best titles that we've come up with, they just happen. We don't really sit and think about it; you just have to let it happen.
EM: So then the song, "Real Person" obviously came after that.
C: Ya, it came after that. I was writing a song, and I kept having that hook in my head, "Winter, Spring, Summertime, I'm a real person." And I was like, "well fuck, that's perfect."
EM: So at the start of "Bankrobber," you mention that you just came back from a hiatus of not smoking, that you're not high and that you're just going to try and feel it. Why mention that on the track?
C: So when you're in the studio, and you're doing a take, you want to fall into the groove. So sometimes with recording, if you take it seriously as an art form, it's work. So sometimes when you're high, it's not work, it's just music. Ya know? So it just depends on the song. For this, I had to give the right take. It just depends on the vibe. For some songs, you don't want to be high when you're recording. Some songs you need to be super focused and be able to give certain inflections on certain parts. But other songs, you can just rock out. So this was one of those where I had to stay sober.
E: So is that because of the emotional significance?
C: It just depends on what the song calls for. On a song, you feel it. Like, when you have your headphones on, you just want to rap and be raw. So that's the way it's going to be received, or the beat makes someone want to dance. Other songs, like "4 Willem" you want to be very calculated about how you deliver each word because it's so important. It makes or breaks the song. If you do it perfectly, people can feel every single word, you know, it makes them want to cry. If you don't do it perfectly, it doesn't connect.
E: So let me ask you this. Going off of the smoking thing, one could probably argue that any point in an artists career is stressful, be you at the bottom or the top of the game. I would personally say that your current position is the most stressful because you have buzz and accolades, but you're not at the point where you're making tons and tons of money, and financially everything is great. How do you manage the stress?
C: Hmmm, man, writing helps. A lot. Sometimes smoking is that release, sometimes friends, sometimes other art. But it is very stressful, and I'm glad that you recognize that because a lot of people don't. It's a weird point to be at. It's like playing college basketball and being a star, but the money doesn't translate. It's hard. That's just what separates that college guys from the pros.
E: Right, so does that frustrate you? I mean, you're doing well but….
C: Ya, kind of. It frustrates me, but it motivates me to go harder, as well. Like, that's it. Go harder and maybe it will happen faster or maybe when it happens, it will blow up even bigger. So you just have to keep going hard. Every day I wake up, and I don't have what I envision for myself. It makes me want to toughen up and do better.
E: Even for me, on a daily basis, if I don't make a To Do list or schedule for my next day, it stresses me out. Do you set yourself up every day like that?
C: I usually make mental notes. One of the things I feel like I need to get better at is handling small things. I'm able to do the big things very well, the music, the artwork, the recording, the covers, the merch, whatever whatever. But it's the little things in between, whatever they may be, that I need to do better. I usually get my work done; it's just prioritizing and being as just as enthused about the parts that I want to do and the stuff I don't want to do.
E: One of the things I picked up on in Real Person and your music in general, is you seem to keep, or even prefer, unedited takes. For example, on "Make Me & Take Me" your homie calls in the middle of a take, and you decide to keep going. Why do it that way?
C: It comes from the people I record with, it could be Nic (Manager), me, or whoever but honestly, it's just cool sometimes, you know what I mean?
E: Oh ya man, definitely. It's just so different from so many artists who have to get the right take, or it has to be perfect. But your music has a much looser feel to it, which is a whole different thing.
C: Well, when you have an experienced ear you realize that those little idiosyncrasies or those little frays in the art are what make it special. It's the opportunity for the shell to rip a little bit and for you to peek inside to see what was going on. So if it happens and it's cool and is raw and natural, you can leave it in there. Why not? It's dope.
E: Totally. I love on "Make Me & Take Me" when your homie calls, we the listener can hear your friend saying "alright man, take care." It's a very raw interaction that's relatable, and it gives a different side to you as an artist.
C: It does, ya, it's dope. It's a human element.
E: Ya, it's like you break the 4th wall. Very dope. So one of my favorite lines on the album is "I'm tired of people saying I'm so slept on." For me, I translate that as hitting to the core of what it means to be a rapper on his or her come up. Right? Can you tell me a bit more about that line and why it bothers you?
C: It doesn't do anything for me, [laughs] it's like, "Thanks, I know I should be bigger than that." God…But I appreciate it! But it is a reminder of where I'm not. It's a weird thing; it's a weird thing. It's like telling a guy who plays basketball, "Hey man; you should get paid more!" [laughs] Like, every single game going out, playing so hard and getting reminded that I'm not getting the check I deserve. Thank you for believing that I'm worth more, but no thank you for reminding me [laughs].
E: It's funny because that phrase has become such a thing in the underground scene. Like, 'oh, you're sleeping on so and so' or whatever. I'm 90% sure I saw an article titled "Caleborate is the most slept on." I was glad to see you point that out. It's nice gesture, but that's not solving the issue.
C: Ya, it doesn't do much. But I do appreciate it. And to that person, I say, "shit, help put me on. Let's do something to change it." I'm trying; I'm doing my part. I want to get out of that slept on phase, but it comes with time. It's worth working and waiting for.
E: So hows it been since releasing the album?
C: The response has been cool, but not much has changed. My fan base has grown, my buzz level has increased but not too much has changed. But, I think it will soon. I think it's going to come with time with the project being out and with us continuing to push the project and us creating content around the project. There are some videos we have that we are just waiting to release. And then, of course, there are some shows. I mean, I'm not not going to do shows.
E: I was going to ask, what's up with your tour?
C: The hope that I have right now is to tour with an artist that I can gain some fans from. It would be a good look to work with someone that has a larger fanbase, that's in the same vein as me. That would be cool and ideal. But I also wouldn't mind putting my own tour together with some peers. I'm just waiting to see where the project goes, I mean, its only been out less than a month, so I want to give it some time to get discovered. I know there will be a little buzz that comes with it. If I keep pushing it too, I know it will take off.
E: Something else I noticed about the album is that you touch on politics a fair amount. I wouldn't call you a "political rapper" by any means, but you still do drop little jabs at our not so supreme leader and make comments on the political spectrum. Can you tell me about that?
C: I feel like you have to have an opinion about what's going on right now. It's unprecedented [laughs] it's some never before seen shit. It can really affect the future of the human race; it's kind of scary.
E: It is. I appreciate you as an artist actually saying something. A lot of people are staying silent a bit too much right and now and it's kind of fucked.
C: Ya, it's wack, it's pretty wack. We need each other bad right now, in a lot of different ways. Like I was saying earlier, it's 105 degrees today, that's a historical world temperature on this day. It's never been this hot on this specific day. It's odd. So in a lot more ways than social, political and economical, we need each other. That's why I think music is so important right now; it's gotta become authentic, it's gotta become real. We've got to get people to hear this message and feel it; we don't have the time to fuck around.
E: Going off of that, how do you think Trump's presidency has affected music and the music world?
C: One of my friends, before he got elected, said that the best thing that could happen if he got elected is that we as citizens may truly realize our power and influence over the country. And I think that's a great point. Artists are realizing that their voices have the potential to change popular culture and societal norms. So I think his presidency if it has done any good, has inspired people to use their voice. To be louder, be more vocal and be more involved with what's going on. It might be what we needed. We might have been pretty spoiled and detached from what was going on.
E: I think we were and I agree, that's a great way to look at it. It's a fucked up situation, but it's a situation that we as a nation can work our way out of.
C: It says a lot about us as Americans that we had to let it get like this. Doesn't it? [Laughs] Shooting paper towels man, he's our president. [Laughs] That's our president, it's like a comedy show!
E: Going off of that, let me ask you this, do you as an artist feel a specific responsibility to do right by the younger generation?
C: Of course. Of. Course. Because there were artists, who did right by me. So yea, of course. And I see it already happening right now in the bay area, and it makes me so happy. There are kids out there that fuck with my music, and I love it. They fuck with me for good reasons, you know? They don't dress like me or advocate for the things that I advocate for, but they are all themselves. I've heard their music. I went to this Youth Radio program in Oakland, and the kids were psyched to play me their shit and are fans of my shit. So that was dope, its why I do what I do, seeing that was dope. And, this statement might sound weird, but I fuck with the kids, I fuck with the youth. Like, Pharrell, I always liked Pharrell, like, no matter how old he was, he always got it. He's never felt old. We're his peers. But yea, the younger generation is lit and them taking anything from me is awesome. No matter what I become, I told kids to be honest in their music, and that's dope. It's a good feeling.
E: So speaking of role models, is Cole your favorite?
C: He's my personal favorite, ya.
E: What do you think about his career and what he's doing right now?
C: He's a personal favorite, I don't know if he's the best, but I love what he's doing right now. He and Kendrick have been strong beacons of hope for Hip Hop for the last 5 to 8 years. I don't think I'm the only one of my generation of artists that would say that and be thankful for that, they kind of kept that door cracked for us. I just hope to continue to hear him do vanity projects. His last project was really good, 4 Your Eyez Only was a side of Cole that I had never seen before. I also saw him mature as a lyricist. I feel like he's peaking, him and Kendrick, they're still getting better. I'm excited to see what keeps coming and hopefully one day we work together.
E: So Cole has Dreamville, as far as your career is concerned, is that a path you'd like to take as well?
C: Definitely. I'm a fan of so many up and coming young artists, that's one of my future endeavors for sure.
E: So I've got a semi off topic question for you, but it's one that I think is both interesting and important. As an artist, and as a fan, at what point do you draw the line of no longer supporting an artist based on their off-stage actions? As an example, the R. Kelly situation and everything that is coming out right now.
C: It just depends on what happened with each situation. In certain cases, it's not my place to say. But I'll keep it real with you, with R. Kelly, I'll always fuck with the hits. It's a part of my culture. I don't know how to say it. R. Kelly is who he is and the songs he made, especially at the times we got them, we didn't know those things. So I can't take away how a song makes me feel or the emotional connection I feel with it. But as far as fucking with R. Kelly, I'm not going to tell everyone "Yo go get his new album" or be best friends with him, but we can't judge his past art based on his present actions.
E: That's a fair point, ya. So that's all I've got, is there anything else you'd like to add?
C: I appreciate everyone that is supporting me and showing me love. I'm a real person, and I'm trying to take that all the way up. Thank you to everyone who is helping me make that possible.