Richmond’s Ty Sorrell is a rapper/producer for all seasons, as thoroughly proven by their quartet of 2020 records. February saw the release of Mystery Box, a three-track EP produced by Help! I’m Stuck In The Computer!, a fellow member of the Tribe Ninety Five artist collective. Sorrell quickly followed it up with the full-length concept project Fast Food in May and the debut album by Cardinality–their collaboration with singer AG Himself–in July.
That just left the autumn unaccounted for; they couldn’t let the year end without one more EP, The Fall Selection, and it’s the sound of Sorrell at their most seasonally-centered. Sampling classic jazz vocals and pianos draped in dusty wax, they harness the chill in the air and a sense of the otherworldly in-betweenness of it all. Meanwhile, Sorrell’s crisp flow and minimal drums hit like the crunch of a brown leaf underfoot–only darker and desaturated, like a moonlit reflection in the window of a passing car.
After releasing The Fall Selection but before Halloween, Sorrell spoke to The All Scene Eye over FaceTime. Decked out in orange and getting ready for their first-ever pumpkin carving, they showed us around their studio space in Tribe Ninety Five’s new Richmond home. We can’t bring you those visuals here, but we can share some highlights of the conversation, in which Sorrell reflects on their favorite aspects of fall and gives us some insight into their philosophy of creative ego.
Eight months into pandemic conditions, how are you holding up?
Good–I mean, definitely considering pandemic anything, and anything else that’s stacked on top of that. But yeah, nah, definitely good.
How has the lockdown situation impacted what you do as an artist and also Tribe Ninety Five?
For me, when it first went down and my job closed and we were getting unemployment and stuff, honestly, it was great. It was like the perfect situation in an unfortunate situation. Me and my partner, we had our own apartment at the time, and the rest of Tribe Ninety Five–well, at the time, it was just me, Alfred. is associated, and the folks over at Bon Ki, and that was really it. The rest of the people were still in Dumfries, in our hometown.
They were already thinking about moving right as everything happened, so that really just messed up everything for them, but long story short, we all ended up in the same place. I’m upstairs with–there’s like, three bedrooms, and then we have this studio room, and then downstairs is Billy Capricorn, Afrocat, and a friend of ours that’s in Dhemo, then me, Luther, and AG upstairs. Bon Ki has their own house and Alfred. has their own place, kind of like a rogue ninja. But so, we managed to get that, and that took it to a whole other level.
As far as Tribe Ninety Five operating, this was exactly what we’ve wanted for a long time. We were just kind of making do with what we could up until we were able to have what we have now, so honestly, for us, it’s been a win overall. We have everything in-house as far as artwork, mixing and mastering, production, and stuff like that, so as far as making music and presenting it, we’re able to do that here, which is amazing.
What has it been like having everybody in one place?
We’ve been lucky enough to have a very, very slow burn, so by the time we moved here, we already had such a solid foundation, as far as friendship and just knowing each other as people, that nothing really changed at all. It was very smooth as far as that aspect of it, and it’s just been how it’s always been. I’m really grateful for that. It is like a family, so that has remained and only gotten stronger at this point.
You put out Fast Food, you put out Cardinality, a couple other things just this year. When did you first start working on The Fall Selection?
Usually when I put something out, it’s already been done for, like–sometimes a year or a year and a half. Sometimes a few months, but it depends. Sometimes there’ll be a couple songs from two years ago on there. With this one, it was one of those things where I had just put out Cardinality, and I just started wondering about Ty Sorrell stuff after that, and kind of was just like, “I don’t know what my next move should be.” I didn’t feel pressured to put something out, but I did feel like I needed to reestablish the difference between Cardinality and Ty Sorrell, because I feel like some people may have not understood why there was a difference. I mean, the people that like Cardinality, they definitely get it. I think that they understand it and why that’s its own thing, and how it can’t really exist without AG and I, so that’s cool, but I wanted to put something else out to establish that this is this and that’s that.
But also, you know, it was my birth month. I was born in October. I love fall. I love Richmond in the fall. I wanted to also just put something out for people in Richmond to play during the season. I had the season in mind, but really it was just, I made “Original Tint,” the first song on there, and was just like, “Man, I have a couple songs like this,” and those couple songs was “House of Wax” and “Society,” both with Rob Gibsun, and then the other one with [Prof.] Ant. I had those in the tuck probably for almost a year, eight months or something like that. And once I got those three, it clicked. Then I listened to what I was talking about throughout the thing, and I was able to thread a concept behind it. Kind of–not a last-minute thing, but definitely over the past two months.
What elements of Richmond in the fall were you trying to capture? Tell me about what that looks like in your mind, for somebody who hasn’t specifically been to Richmond in the fall.
Just imagine a super narrow street that isn’t made for cars, with like, over-arcing trees–like, oak trees, big trees with fall leaf colors. I just remember going down Monument, or really any street in the fall, in a friend’s car, and being able to see some of the more wealthier parts of Richmond. [laughs] In one particular moment, I saw this car–I think it was a Mercedes, but it just looked so good under the lighting and the leaves. It was just beautiful. It was like a navy blue with these fall colors going on around it, and when I heard the song, it took me back there.
As far as what I wanted to capture for Richmond and how it relates to fall, I think that kind of scenery, but with this story of–almost like a film noir or something like that being played out throughout the whole thing. When it clicked, it felt like a short film.
I think the thing that just clicked for me is, you listen to the instrumentals on this album, the samples and things, and it feels very classic Hollywood in those old jazz tunes. It feels like film noir that way. Can you tell me about putting that feeling together and telling that story with the music?
The best I can tell you is, like I was saying, “Original Tint,” I made that, and that was when I was like, “Okay, I did something here, so what is this?” I just went crazy trying to find other beats that I may have had already, or making new beats–like, I just went crazy with that balance of trying to figure out what I should do. Then I found “Society,” and once I realized “Society” and “Original Tint” worked, that’s how “House of Wax” got in.
Once I got to that point, I really just started listening to what I was saying versus–like you said, the samples and how they sounded. I’m really sensitive to music, so the film noir stuff–or even almost like a Great Gatsby setting, that was one of the first things I thought of, but I needed to put my words to it, make it make sense, and make it be real. I think this project was just my attempt to do that.
Imagery-wise, you talk about certain aspects of Richmond–you mention The Great Gatsby, and I feel like that specific vision of wealth and opulence is very particular to Virginia and the south in some unsavory ways. It’s a very loaded aesthetic.
For sure, and I’m glad that you said that because being able to see, for example, the Mercedes-Benz that I saw–you know, it wasn’t even necessarily like, “Wow, I’ll never get that,” or like, “I want that.” It was just more like I knew where I was. I think of that in context to Richmond–its history with the poverty difference, and stuff like that–like you said, it’s loaded. I could show you better than I could explain it right now, but I feel like you understand. [laughs]
Tell me about the features on this album, which you kind of brought up already. Were those already in the tracks when you brought them back for this project, or are those things that you found along the way?
Rob and Ant, yeah, those were already sealed before this was an idea. The clwdwlkr feature though, that was just, like, a night here. We were playing video games, and I just had that beat, and clwdwlkr heard it and just wanted to write to it. I actually [laughs] I wrote my verse, recorded it, went to bed because I was so tired, and he just kept going. He recorded two verses, and then in the morning, he was asleep because he stays up all night. I had to pick between the two [laughs] and figure out which one I wanted. It was one of those things that happened organically. That was probably the only one that, as I was working on it, he got on it.
Are other people around you as you’re sitting down with beats making them for the first time?
Oh, yeah, all the time. More so lately–that’s been fun. When I first moved in with my partner at our old apartment–no, even before that. Around the time I was making At God’s House, that was really the first time I made music in front of people. I was recording, and then there’s like, a living room here, and people were just chilling. It was that kind of environment–that was the first time that I was doing that. Making beats in front of people, I never did stuff like that. I didn’t record in front of people. I never did that.
I had to learn how to do that because, recording at least, it was uncomfortable. Making beats, I felt pressure to make stuff that whoever was listening liked. I had to learn how to do what I would normally do anyway in front of people, regardless if they have things to say about the decisions I make. You know, sometimes people are like, “Oh, you should add this,” or, “I don’t like this.” And then you just kind of be like, “Fuck off.” [laughs] Then you’ll finish it, and they’ll be like, “Oh, I like this.” It’s just like, “Wait. You don’t have to say anything yet.”
From then to now, making beats, even recording, like, that’s all I do now, is just record in front of people. It was a big adjustment, but now, yeah, like, Luther, he’s been snagging a lot of my beats lately because we wake up around the same time, we both smoke at the same time and shit, so when I start making beats, he’s just sitting there, and he’s just like, “Yo, let me get this.” He’s been getting a lot of my recent ones, which has been cool. Me and him have a whole album together, just like, raps and beats–but it’s not all me on beats. Help! I’m Stuck in the Computer!, he produced a lot on there. I’m on there, clwdwlkr has one on there, there’s one with Billy, so that’s going to be fun.
I remember talking to you about Cardinality and you saying that you wake up every day and make beats. So tell me about the archive, the vault of beats–what do you have in there?
Just a ton of beats, and like–[laughs] some songs. Oh, wait. Sorry, the way I organize this in my head is completely different than when I talk. I actually have a lot of songs. [laughs] I have a whole EP with Tron Javolta completely done, six songs. Those are some of my favorite songs too. I hope you like them when you hear them. And then a mixtape with a bunch of Richmond heads on there, production-wise and rapping. Then there’s the Luther thing, which is basically done. All those songs are done, so there’s, like, three projects-worth of songs, and then everything else was just beats.
Do you do mixing and engineering for other Tribe Ninety Five people?
Oh, yeah, Luther’s new one, I’m actually mixing right now. But as far as, like, in-house for Tribe Ninety Five–because I’ve been doing in-house now probably four or five years. I’ve always wanted to be on that, and I was really strict about, like, “Why are we–it can’t be leased from YouTube!” Like, “Stop it!” I don’t care much now. It’s more just about, you can get the beat that you want, you know what I mean? But now everybody’s starting to catch up on that, as far as rappers go. Tron, he started dabbling in production. Once he started making beats, he started using his own beats, but overall, like, Luther, Tron, clwdwlkr, and–yeah, as far as rappers go, that’s really it. Jam from Bon Ki, here and there, will come in and kill it, and then just leave and not rap. [laughs] But for the most part, as far as rappers go, other than me, everybody’s just starting to really get on the in-house-only operation.
Not that we’re against working outside of that. I think it’s more like people feel now like we should really be emphasizing what our thing is, what we’re about. What our sound is. So for example, Luther–I’ve known him seven, eight years? No, as long as I’ve been rapping, so like, nine years, and he’s just now starting to rap on my beats in the last year or so, just to give you an idea. Tron as well. We’re all getting to the level where, like, not just we like our own beats–other people in Tribe like it, and now everybody can just fluidly give shit to everyone.
I also wanted to ask, where do you get your vinyl?
I used to go to Steady Sounds, but–I don’t even want to talk about it. They’re closed! I don’t know if they’re ever coming back. Hopefully they do, but the curation, the collection, it is just unbeatable. The shit that other places would be for like, $20, for like, $3, $2, $1. So that was a loss. And they supported–Alfred. had an album in there. They sold local people’s albums. That shit is heartbreaking. We moved here, and they left.
But honestly though, shout out to Plan 9, because that’s where I go–I’ve always gone there periodically, but that’s been my go-to ever since Steady Sounds got closed down. They actually recently just got a new used discography. I went in there like a kid in a candy store, eyes wide, and just got all this shit the last time I was there.
Yeah, what’s your best find there so far?
So far, I think it’s going to be that Yusef Lateef record. I got a Happy the Man album, and that’s probably my favorite right now, but I haven’t gone through everything, so I can’t really say. Probably either that or a Chick Corea record I got. I don’t know, I’ll let you know though.
To bring it back around a little bit–I’ve appreciated, by the way, the whole time we’re having this conversation about The Fall Selection, you’re wearing orange, the wall behind you is orange, it’s a very autumnal look. What’s your favorite thing about the fall?
I think The weather is my number one. It starts getting a little windy, you can put on different clothes, and I think I can physically feel better and express myself better in the fall. Yeah, I think other than being able to dress the way I want and the weather, I was born in the fall. Whenever fall comes back around, it’s like, “Ahh.” You know what I mean? It’s like, “We’re back.”
Favorite fall beverage?
I like anything pumpkin, I’m not gonna lie. I know people like making fun of people for loving pumpkin [laughs] but I love that shit. I’ve always loved pumpkin bread, pumpkin pudding, pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, I love all that shit. I love it.
You’re in good company–I’m the same way. I’m all-in on pumpkin.
See, I love that. Because in my family, I’m probably one of the few people that like it, so I have always felt alone on that. [laughs]
You’ve put out a couple video teasers for this project. Is there any plan for music videos?
Oh, hell yeah. I hope I don’t confuse people with it. After I did the couple videos that I have out, I kind of was like, “Alright, I needed to do that for then.” No regrets, but that was for that. So now I’m really just trying to focus on–for example, right now I’m shooting a video for “From the Loft,” which is from Chai, and Chai came out, what, 2019? It’s not Fall Selection.
I’m hoping people kind of understand what I’m doing, but basically, I want to just go back before I do–because I’m probably not going to drop anything for the rest of the year as far as projects or anything. Because of that, I thought about, like–because of course the idea crossed my mind of doing something from Fall Selection. Of course after giving people a teaser, people would expect a video for it. But it was more about, what did I want my next video to be? And that kind of led me to thinking about, “Well, what songs deserve videos? What songs do people want a video for? What do I want a video for?” I got to a place where I felt like, “Okay, well, I’ve been putting out what I want to put out. I’m happy with it. Let me give people a reason to wanna fuck with me more or give people who have already been listening something that they can really just love.”
I’m going to do videos for songs that I’ve noticed, over time, people either come up to me or message me about, or the most-played ones. Also favorites of friends of mine and stuff like that. I’m trying to wait out and gauge with everyone’s feedback. That’s why I’m always like, “Do you guys think I should blah blah blah?” I know people are like, “Just do it.” [laughs] But like, for like the shirts for Fast Food, I did that to see how many shirts I need to order. I’ll do stuff like that for a reason–but yeah. I know people are just like, “Yo, just fuckin’ do it.” It’s like–this guy, he messaged me and was like, “Yo, man, just gimme the fuckin’ shirts.” [laughs]
There’s so much buzz right now about artist-themed fast food meals, and seeing as you did a whole Fast Food album, I wonder–if there was a Ty Sorrell meal, what would it be?
That’s a good question, and that’s crazy how that happened after–anyway. That’s crazy. [laughs] Alright, I got you. A Wendy’s burger–like, Wendy’s beef–Burger King bun, Wendy’s bacon, lettuce, mayonnaise, and–who has better pickles? Oh, pickles from Wendy’s, ketchup and mustard from McDonalds, McDonalds fries, old school Burger King nuggets–like, the dinosaur ones, and the stars, or the starfish, or whatever–you know what I’m talking about?
I do know what you’re talking about.
Remember how good those were?
[Emphatically] Yes, I do.
Burger King barbecue sauce with that. And then a–I really want a McFlurry right now and I’m trying not to let that make my answer biased. [laughs] Oh, nah, Slushies from Dairy Queen.
Like the–Blizzard? Is that the one? No, a slushie?
No, Arctic Rush.
I’ve never heard of that.
Yo, look it up. A watermelon Arctic Rush, or something like that.
You put out The Fall Selection on your birthday. How did you celebrate the double occasion?
Oh yeah, that is kind of like [laughs] throwing two parties for yourself, basically. I didn’t do much. I don’t know, on birthdays, I try not to act like it’s my birthday, if that makes sense. I allow myself to have a good time, and I tell myself, you know, it’s fine to enjoy yourself and be grateful that you’re another year, but especially on the day that you drop a project, I really just try to not even think about it and just do what I would normally do.
That night, my friends bought me food–like, a really good shrimp po’ boy. It was so fucking good. That was really nice. I was drinking champagne and shit like that. So, you know, I had fun, it was a good night, and I think that’s all I needed, was to just be in our new house and just have everyone be there enjoying themselves. I really just try to play it cool and not even get hype on it. It’s funny, the last two years, every single time I’ve dropped a project, I’m always recording something else the same exact day.
So there’s no room there to stop and celebrate.
I mean, that, and I guess also just to show you how I try to keep myself the same every day. That’s one of the few ways that I can do that, is just by, like, “Oh, I just dropped something? Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m working on this song.”
And of course I appreciate all the good, and of course I don’t like all the bad, but good and bad feedback, or really good and bad anything, I try not to dwell on it. If someone’s like, “Yo, you’re the greatest ever, blah blah blah,” it feels almost the same as when someone tells me I suck, if that makes sense, in a different way. Just because it’s where I have to put that, you know what I mean? I have to be like, “Okay, thanks,” take it with a grain of salt, and then continue just–because the minute I do something different in that way, I already know myself enough to know that it just wouldn’t turn out good. It would just mess up how I approach everything.
I can’t let people who say I suck affect me, but I can’t let people who say I’m great let me get too confident or get too comfortable because I’ve made all the best shit I’ve ever made the way I am. I don’t want to change that. I try to be careful with that kind of thing.