As anticipation builds for his forthcoming album Traphouse Jodeci II, we called Ye Ali to talk about his Instagram caption-driven road to success, appreciation for dance choreography, & everything in between. Ye Ali’s new single Too Much featuring Key! is available now.
SL: I’m gonna start it off with, well, I looked into you, and I saw that you were talking about how you used to be popular on Tumblr and how you had a switch from deciding to be famous through that or to actually like, have a voice and say some shit. So what pushed you to make music and decide that you would rather have a voice than just an image?
YE ALI: I mean, it was just an embarrassing question to answer when people would ask me, like back in school like what I did, and I, I didn’t do shit but just be funny or be popping. Like it was no real like substance or direction, so it was just like a personal thing. I just wanted to be able to say something that made sense and not look like a fool. So a lot of my homies made music since I was like in middle school, so I was always around it like passing out flyers or being a hype man type of shit. And being in school, Twitter was just an outlet that I could talk to artists on, and back then a lot of people used to steal my tweets. Shout out to 40 [@40oz_VAN], he had stolen a tweet from me one time and I fuck with bro. Like I met him before, but I don’t know if it was intentional or whatever, but people did it and he did it. And a tweet got like thousands, hundred thousands of retweets, and an A&R reached out to me and told me that he remembered me Tweeting that before, like a year before or something. So he asked me if I was stealing the Tweets from other people, and like where the lines came from, and that shit. I told him I made all my tweets up and that other sites would post it, and they still do it now. So he told me I should look into writing music or trying to write for somebody or to just put some shit on SoundCloud cause I had bars. I mean, but none of it was like, it wasn’t like it rhymed or nothing. So I was still kind of trying to figure it out. Like this shit wasn’t bars or nothing. It was just like, just real shit.
SL: & 40 usually just posts one-liners and stuff. So you just had a one-liner that hit home?
YE ALI: Yeah, I think the most popular one I have now is the phrase, “You’re not proud of me, you’re just surprised.” I said that maybe a couple of years ago and then 6LACK’s manager reposted it on Instagram and then a bunch of people started hitting me up about the quote. So shit like that happens, then it’ll put me on somebody’s radar. And then I’ve had like bigger artists or bloggers or whatever, posting my shit and then fans have tagged me, like, “Yo tag Ye Ali, tag Ye Ali.” And then they’ll either like delete it or tag me.
SL: That’s like a whole other world. I’ve never even thought about Tweets like that. That’s like some Lil Nas X shit in a way, how social media and music collide. You know what I’m saying?
YE ALI: Yeah, and I’ll just kind of like, if I get stuck on a song or some lines, I’ll write the songs on Twitter over time. Just like a line of the hook, sometimes. And if people retweeted it a lot, I’ll make it the hook & actually put it in the song. So like I’ll do the one-liners without a rhyme scheme just so people might like it more who don’t necessarily listen to a lot of rap, but they’ll like your line. So it was just a way for me to gauge my songwriting abilities. One that was super-viral last year was simple. It was like, “You’re fine & you’re stressed.” And like girls went fucking crazy for that, I was seeing it on like captions and like a bunch of shit. And I still haven’t dropped the song yet. But a lot of it came from people like taking lyrics from me or using them for captions and other people would say that’s mine.
SL: That’s wild. That’s very interesting. And you were saying that you came up making Twitter homies with music and shit like that. So who are some people that you really like came up with and like are seeing shine now?
YE ALI: I would say probably the earliest is Jazz Cartier. I was a fan of him on MySpace back before he had dreadlocks. It was like a long time ago. And so I used to just write him on MySpace and Twitter, like, “Bro, I fuck with your music,” back before I was really doing music. And then one day he hit me a few years ago, he was like, “Bro I’m in Toronto and they’re playing your music. I didn’t even know you did music, but that shit’s like out here in Toronto.” So that was really cool to see him blow up. & Bizness Boi, probably. He’s a great producer for like PartyNextDoor and 6LACK and Swae Lee, a bunch of those guys. He was one of the first producers I met in LA.
SL: I was actually going to ask you about your international audience. Do you feel like you blew up in other places before you blew up in your hometown? Where do you think you started popping first?
YE ALI: It was definitely Toronto for sure. I dated a girl from Toronto, so I had been influenced by it culturally because she was Jamaican and I was just really fascinated with the culture & the people. I went out to Toronto and I saw a bunch of people who looked like me, you know what I’m saying? And a lot of times I go through life or college and shit and it’s like not many people. And I say that meaning like Ethiopian Eritrean, like I’m Moroccan, and so it was kind of crazy to see just people who look like me and it just kind of felt like home. So that was like the first place that embraced me. And then I embraced it right back. I worked with a bunch of Toronto producers and artists like very early. So like I was, you know, paying homage and like giving guys beats for free and like just building, cause I felt like they had shown me love first, But it’s kind of always like that. Sometimes it’s like if you’re outside and you’re standing next to a light post, the light’s only so bright, and you got to step back until you see how big this shit is. But if you just look up and you’re right next to it, you don’t get the full glimpse, you don’t get the full shot. So it’s kind of like sometimes people are too close and they don’t see it because they’re taking it for granted. Just knowing you. So it’s nothing personal. It’s like that for a lot of people, I think.
SL: And I’m actually glad you spoke on that. I was gonna ask if you were Habesha.
YE ALI: Yeah, I’m Moroccan.
SL: Do you have any significant influences? It can be from anything really. Just a beat, certain producers, even visual art. I’d love to know what really gets you in a creative mood.
YE ALI: Yeah, that’s a good question. I like spa music. Like since I was a kid like waterfalls or like spa music, but like actual music, with flutes and very dreamy-sounding shit that you would hear if you go to a spa to get a massage. Like wind chimes & shit like that. And so I was a fan of Sade and Anita Baker cause I just really liked how deep their voices were for women, but their beats were all very minimal and very ambient. And Sade was like my first crush, my first anything. And I had a crush on her before I knew how she looked. I’m like a little kid. And then I got older, I realized how she looked and I was like, damn. But I think Sade for sure was like the first earliest I can remember of really being obsessed with somebody. I fuck with Prince a lot, Purple Rain was my shit as a kid. And then like Minnesota artists period. So there’s another group called Ready for the World, I’m a big fan of theirs. A lot of people sampled their music. And Trey Songz had the song Girl Tonight, which was one of his biggest songs. That was a sample of their song, I think it’s one of the most sampled songs in urban music history, which is Let Me Love You Down. So I really like seeing people who look like me who are very eclectic and not necessarily doing the norm, kind of like rock-star type. So I was digging how they were dressing and like wearing boots with perms and lab coats. The swag was crazy. I liked guys like Jodeci & Timbaland. And I was a big fan of like crews, like groups. I always thought it was really cool, like Dipset, like a bunch of dudes who are all pretty tight individually. Like NSYNC, The LOX, and anybody that was in a group. I was even the same way with wrestling, I was more into like tag team guys than the individual star. I just always liked the impact of numbers and having a tight-knit crew. So I was always influenced artistically by that. For example like Jodeci vs Boys II Men, Boys II Men probably has more hit records but you can’t name me one guy from Boys II Men. Like you definitely can’t name me two guys from Boys II Men. I just feel like Jodeci had the attitudes, all of them were that guy. I just was drawn to that type of confidence. And so I wanted it to be like that with my friends and be like a crew.
SL: So do you still feel that the hip-hop process is group oriented when it’s such an electronic world right now? Cause I know it might be hard to like connect with the producer if he’s from a different city, at least emotionally. But you could still do it, through sending tracks and all that. Is it easy to still stay in tune?
YE ALI: I mean it’s all relative. It just depends on the situation. Cause I mean, ideally I just like to have my homies in the studio with me, but of course, I’ll just do the song myself or something like that. But it’s just, I just feel better with a bunch of talent around me that I can ask questions and have conversations, but it’s rare and everybody’s busy and everybody’s doing their own thing. So like I’m a fan of those moments where everybody can just get together. The studio five, six, 10 deep smoke and just do music.
SL: So do you think liking team-oriented shit, do you think that has anything to do with why you have recently transitioned into more writing for other people and like, behind-the-scenes work.
YE ALI: More so like a check has to do with that. Like if it’s a bag involved I can, I’m definitely down for the teamwork thing. And then the fact that I’m naturally like that, I’m always down to break bread with somebody, I’m not stingy. So it’s like, I like to get money with people, so even if it’s 500 bucks or if it’s something that I could give you, I just like to break bread with people. So it’s mostly about that. But I like my track record to be like, you know, I used to work with producers who would give me beats for free, but probably 90% of those producers, the handful that I’ve worked with, I’ve gotten them all placements, with me when I started producing this shit. So like, I got them their money eventually, you know what I’m saying? It was just like, we’re more than even, but just to show you, I didn’t forget, just on some good business shit. I think it’s just good business to break bread with people.
SL: With your status as a writer, can you speak on what type of environment that’s like? Is it a chill setting, you know, six people in a room, batting ideas around, or does it seem forced?
YE ALI: It depends. I like putting it together myself so I know who’s in the room. I’m not the biggest fan of just working with a bunch of people I’ve never met. So if I can organize it goes better for me, but I’m learning to work with people on the spot.
SL: You’ve been in this for a while, so you’ve definitely made a lot of crazy memories. So regardless of if it has to do with actually making a record or even music in general since this has begun what are some of the craziest shit that’s happened for you in your life just because of this music?
YE ALI: I mean, being able to quit my job was amazing.
SL: What’d you use to do?
YE ALI: I mean I had a bunch of jobs in college, but after I was working for a charter school, and I like public health. So pretty much dealing with physical fitness and shit like that. I love working with kids. That was pretty fun. But once I quit, it made me just have to grind harder and just be better at the craft so I can, you know, live a life, you know what I’m saying? That was pretty crazy that I did it. And then that I just, I stuck with it. And then I would say probably just on a personal level, like just being in the studio with PartyNextDoor. Just soaking up the game, and it was just one session, but it was so tight. The shit I learned from there, I never stopped implementing it. It was just like little shit that just stuck with me that, you know, so that was pretty tight. Everything else is just business, which is cool, but, talking to Teddy Riley, Isaiah Rashad, PND, I like having just genuine conversations with people about life instead of music and not necessarily just that.
SL: So we saw a couple of people doing dances to your music on YouTube, so I was just wondering if you fuck with any certain videos that you’ve seen or if you enjoy choreography in general?
YE ALI: Yeah, there’s this choreographer named Kierra, she did some stuff for Beyonce before, she taught my song “What to Do,” to like 15 different countries and a bunch of dancers from other countries started teaching it. And I never write a dance to a song ever. Like that’s crazy. This dude on Instagram, I think his name is “just be more,” he’s a crazy choreographer & dancer. This dude Taiwan Williams is another amazing choreographer, and dancer. There’s this girl Nat Bat. She was in a bunch of Chris Brown’s videos. She’s cold. She did some choreography for one of my songs. Yeah, I actually talk to a lot of people in the dance community. I’m a fan of that shit. Following back, all that.
SL: Have you ever considered making up some new choreography for your songs?
YE ALI: Yeah, we’ve talked about it. I just don’t shoot videos a lot and I’m very picky about the final product. So a lot of stuff I shoot never comes out. So I just don’t want to waste their time.
SL: Word, well we really wanted to ask what you look for in music videos, cause we see that you go for a certain aesthetic of course. What are some things that you have to have?
YE ALI: Man, I don’t really know, and maybe that’s why I don’t shoot so many videos. I’m comfortable in front of the camera, but if you let me make the final decision, then it’s just not gonna come out unless people overpower me, you know? I’m just weird with that process for some reason. Music, I’m not that weird about, but visuals, I am. Even with pictures, I am.
SL: It’s just something that you have less control of, you got more hands involved.
YE ALI: Yeah. I’m gonna do videos more and more, I just gotta get more comfortable with the directors.
SL: You’ve got to find that perfect fit. Like if you find the perfect fit with a video director, you could make some crazy ideas come to life.
YE ALI: I’m actually shooting this video for Patrone & Lemonade, with Riv, like a nice month. They had reached out, they were fans of the music. That’s going to be probably my biggest budgeted type of video.
SL: Did I see Key! in one of your videos?
YE ALI: Yeah, that’s the homie. He was just on some silly shit in the Lingo video, in the beginning. We actually got a song dropping soon, a strip club joint off of my album, it’s called Too Much.
SL: Is there anything that you would like to talk about, with upcoming music or anything like that?
YE ALI: I’m just bad with dates and titles, so it might be called different shit by the time it comes out. But I’m working on a couple of albums right now. Traphouse Jodeci II, which is what everybody’s waiting for. I’ve been working on that for like three years off and on. Some songs got sold to other people, so we kind of depleted the album so it pushed it back for a minute. I wasn’t supposed to do that.
SL: Do you feel like it’s weird if you’re making like a real personal project, and songs end up getting sold to other people and other people are using them? Do you ever feel weird about other people saying your words?
YE ALI: Nah, but I am dealing with something now where it’s a song that somebody wants, but we haven’t done the paperwork or anything yet. And it was supposed to be my single and then their people wanted it, so I might just keep it. And so that’s like the first time I’ve ever dealt with that to where I’m like, Nah, I might keep it. And they’re with a label, where they can do a lot with it. So it just depends if I can get a good push on my side to push the record as crazy as they would. So that’s just like the first time I’ve really dealt with that.