Music

Orgies, Lockdown Babies, and Mastering Sinigang: A Conversation with Fil-Am Artist Guapdad 4000 and Producer !llmind

Two Fil-Am artists on living the dream.
IMAGE Paul Middleton
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Guapdad 4000 (real name Akeem Douglas Hayes) released his first studio album Dior Deposits in 2019, but he’s been making music since he was a kid. Growing up in a biracial home (his mom is Filipino, his dad is African-American), Guap draws on all of the experiences of the immigrant life for his deeply personal music, which has started to earn him a reputation as one of the most exciting rap artists to rise out of the woodwork in years. 

This month, Guapdad is releasing 1176, the follow-up to his debut. It’s executive produced by fellow Fil-Am !LLMIND (a.k.a. Ramon Ibanga Jr.), who has worked with A-list artists like Kanye West, Ariana Grande, Drake and Ludacris, and many others. Guap is also the first artist signed by Paradise Rising, the sister label of 88rising in partnership with telecom giant Globe.

We caught up with both Guap and Illmind for a freewheeling chat about the new album, the NSFW origins of Guap’s song “Gucci Pajamas,” and why sinigang with powdered mix is the best. Excerpts:

Esquire Philippines: Where are you guys now exactly?

Guapdad: I’m in L.A.

Illmind: I’m in New Jersey.

Filipinos have a tendency of taking pride and ownership of other Filipinos making it big and becoming successful on the world stage. Have you guys been feeling the love from Pinoy fans?

Illmind: I definitely have. When I make a post, in the comments section, I’m definitely seeing more Filipino flag emojis. And I see little Filipino jokes here and there, stuff that only Filipinos would understand. And I’m seeing an influx of that for sure, and it feels really good. This is sort of the first time, personally for me in my career, where I’m really able to really wave that flag a bit higher. A lot of times, as a producer, I’m behind the scenes. I’m the guy, in the studio making the music, I’m with the engineer and not really showing my face. Now that I’m out here being a producer-artist, I could talk a little more, show my face and definitely feeling the love back, so it feels good. 

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Guapdad: Definitely been feeling the love all around. It’s been great just connecting with Filipino people who didn’t necessarily know about me before. And now, they’re coming and enjoying the music. Just kind of tapping into what I already have going with the rest of my fanbase. Everybody’s coming together and integrating and just becoming one community.

Photo by Paul Middleton.

Guap, you’ve talked about the people who have influenced you and your music. Have you had the chance to meet your heroes and idols?

Guapdad: I’ve met a few of my heroes, and it’s been a blessing to be able to do that. I’ve yet to meet somebody that I really look up to that was super mean to me or didn’t give me that respect that young artists want so bad. All of my interactions with all of the legends have just been positive. And for the most part, they just tell me to keep doing what I’ve been doing already. That makes me feel really good about what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished.

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Illmind: Very similar to Guap. Over the years, I’ve been super fortunate to have met some of my heroes. A few of them have ended up becoming friends of mine, but there are definitely still more that I’m trying to meet. The list grows over the days, months, and years. 

But yeah, I’ve definitely had some amazing experiences. One, super surreal one that I still think about to this day, was meeting Dr. Dre for the first time. When I first met him in person through a mutual friend who works for Dre, we were across the street from a studio. We were at the bar, and he was like, ‘Hey Illmind, I hear you got those beats. Where they at?’ And I was like, ‘Dr. Dre, there’s a studio across the street, you wanna go?’

So we walked over there, and we’re in the studio, we’re by the speakers, I plug my computer. Dr. Dre is sitting behind me. And he’s like, ‘Illmind, play me some shit.’ So, I’m like I’m about to play my most fire shit ever, This was 2014. I play the first beat, I’m thinking it’s the best thing ever. And he’s back there. And in my mind, I’m thinking Dre love this. And I played another beat, and another beat. 

This whole time, I was looking straight, but on the 5th or 6th beat, I take a peek, turn around, and Dre is literally sitting on the couch, on his phone, not moving at all, just like this (mimics bowing head and looking at phone). So I’m like, damn, Dre hated all of my beats. I completely bombed this little meeting. So I stop playing beats. I felt a little down. He was giving me pointers, and he was like, ‘You gotta push.’

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And that really put the battery in my bag. It was definitely a shock to my ego, because at that point I was like, I could be anyone. This was coming right off producing for J Cole and Drake. I was feeling like I’m the man. It humbled me and it made me go back to the studio and work even harder. And then eventually, years later, I ended up going in the studio with him, and we ended up making some music and we ended up laughing about that day. So that was one of my most memorable experiences ever.

It's been said that rap is life, and artists really pour their whole life experiences into their music. In your case, Guap, tell me about the kind of life you’ve had so far. You’re still pretty young.

Guapdad: On the album, I talk about a lot of things that are hyper-specific to me in my experience and my life.  The album is really about my origins. I talk about my parents going to jail, friends that I know passing away from violence. I talk about being biracial. I do Filipino things, I do black things, and me things. I even talk about death of family members. I lost my uncle recently and I bring him up, I think twice. So music has always been super personal to me. 

What about you Illmind? How do you help artists bring out who they are in their music?

Illmind: Every session that I do, every song that I produce, to me, is a learning experience. I don’t really approach the music in a way that I try to make the best thing ever. It’s more like, let’s try something, if it’s cool, then amazing, and if it sucks, then cool, we can do something else. But I sort of go in there and try to have fun and see what happens. I’m very much a let’s-see-what-happens kind of guy, maybe to my own fault sometimes.

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Photo by Paul Middleton.

Guap knows this. I love challenges. And I think that’s also why I was able to produce such a diverse set of sounds on this project. Guapdad is so diverse, we can literally just load any beat and he would kill it. Cos he’s the artist version of me as a producer. Where I take all of these influences, and we can do this style, and we can do that style. And so, the problem with us is, what do we do, which lane do we go? We ended up really controlling and finding a real sound for this album that’s not only cohesive but very diverse in flavor and texture. And it tells Guap’s story completely. I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to it.

As a producer, my goal is always, how can I help this person tell his story to the best of his ability? And how can I bring something out of them that no one else could potentially bring out? And that’s always going to be my job, as a music producer. To help this person create something from nothing. 

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Guap, in interviews, you always come off as being so self-assured and confident. No false pretenses. Where does this come from?

Guapdad: To be honest, I really always believed in myself. I was raised that way. I feel like I was the star, forever. I moved that way in everything I create. And confidently, I can say that I am really good at music. So I know every time, I put my all in something. It just has to be some of the best stuff out, because a lot of people have taken the effort to do that. 

How did you and Paradise Rising connect?

Guapdad: I first connected with 88Rising, when I went to the festival that they threw. I met some artists and got acquainted and developed some relationships that turned into music. The first song I did was with the Higher Brothers, and then I did another one with Rich Brian. And then we just kind of developed a working relationship. And when it was brought up that they were doing the Paradise Rising label and initiative, I thought that this project that me and Illmind were working on because we’re both Filipino, would be a good fit for it and it worked out.

Guap, what’s the most rock star thing you’ve ever done?

Illmind: He’s on the way to do a brand new one, are you kidding me?

Guapdad: (Laughs): I’m on my way to Atlanta right now, so we may have another one of those. I’ve done some rock star shit. On a scale of 1 to 10, how rock star do you want? 

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Like, have you trashed a hotel room? Been in an orgy?

Guapdad: So, talk about rock star. I was in an orgy, having a foursome. After a long night of meditation with those beautiful women, we woke up and they left my house after breakfast. Somebody made eggs. And I noticed my Gucci pajamas were missing. So I texted them and I posted this text message on social media, and said ‘You stole from me!’

I can’t find them anywhere, and it turns out one of the girls had them. And I just wanted them back. But she wouldn’t give them back. She was like, ‘No, this is legit my payment for the fun that we had last night.’ And I was like, ‘Gimme back my clothes!’ 

So instead of being super petty…never mind, I decided to be super petty, and I put up ‘Wanted’ posters all around L.A., New York, and Atlanta for my pajamas. And then I made a song, and I put Chance the Rapper and Charlie Wilson in it. And the only other person to do that is Kanye West, the biggest rock star of them all. That’s my rock star story for Esquire.

Listen to Gucci Pajamas here:

 

What about you Illmind?

Illmind: Listen, I’m a dad man, come on. I don’t really have those types of stories. To be completely honest, I don’t know if any of my experiences qualify as crazy, rock star necessarily. But definitely, when you start as a producer, you start by being broke, having no money for a long time. And for some people, you reach this point where you have a ton of money, and a ton of people calling. You’re a new kid with new money, so let’s do crazy stuff.

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And I did some of those crazy stuff. Definitely the finest of the finest wines and foods, and people, finest of places, those types of things. Going back and thinking about those times, it was definitely amazing, but to me, those types of experiences just feel so much better when you know where you came from. It’s like, you come from nothing and all of a sudden, you’re on a private jet doing this and this and this. And it’s like, wow, look how far I’ve come. I know that’s not as crazy a story as Guapdad’s, but I take it pretty easy.

I know you’ve been asked this a bunch of times, but right now which artists would you love to work with?

Illmind: Yeah for me, every year there’re new rock stars being born around the globe. Not only here in America. So as a music producer, I have this luxury, of being able to pick and choose who I want to produce for and try to make this connection. Like, I’ve been very fortunate enough to work with a lot of my heroes, but there’s still a handful.

I would love to do a song for Adele at some point, I love her. There’s a lot, I don’t have anything with Chance the Rapper yet, I’d love to work with him.

Guapdad: I wanna work with Nas. I always liked Nas, and I think me and Nas would float circles around some instruments for real. Man, I used to say Rick Ross.

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Illmind: Hopefully one day.

Guapdad: I really like Brent Faiyaz and what he’s doing.

What have you guys been up to during this whole lockdown period? How have you been staying creative?

Guapdad: I started cooking. I got really good at cooking.

What’s your specialty?

Guapdad: Probably seafood. Fish. Been cooking a lot of sea bass? 

What about Filipino food?

Guapdad: Yeah. I can make adobo. I cooked pansit recently. And sinigang. Yeah, I made sinigang like two months ago.

Illmind: Do you cook with the powder or no powder?

Guap: I use powder baby!

Illmind: My guy! You got to!

Guap: I want that sour man.

Illmind: That’s the cheat code!

What about you Ill? What’s lockdown been like for you?

Illmind: It hasn’t been super different. Even before lockdown I’ve been working from home. I have a home studio. So it’s a lot of just making music from home. Not being able to travel is unfortunate. But you know we work around it, so I’ve just been home. Oh and I made a baby! 

Lockdown baby!

Illmind: Yeah we did a lockdown baby action and we popped one out. So that’s been a bundle of joy for me, it changed my life completely. I have this brand new perspective about everything I do. That would be one of my humble thank you blessings that has happened during Covid. So yeah, keeping it low-key, nothing too crazy. Putting out fire albums with Guapdad.

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What about you Guapdad? Any lockdown babies on the horizon for you?

Guapdad: Please no! Because my lola would kill me. My lola told me that I couldn’t have babies until I graduated college. And seeing as I dropped out of college, looks like I ain’t having no babies.

Guapdad with his lola

Photo by Paul Middleton.

What’s 2021 looking like for you guys?

Guapdad: I want 2021 to be a pivotal year for me. I mean, it is going to be pivotal for me. And I’m excited to see what’s beyond that. Because I do not yet know. But I pray for positivity for the rest of the year for me and for everybody. 

Illmind: It’s very similar for me. As creatives we don’t know what the future holds. We just have our beliefs and we try things. Some things work, some things don’t work. I’m hoping for 2021 that a lot of things work, and we pivot in ways that we ever could have imagined.

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And for me to be more specific, this Guapdad album is literally changing everything for me, in terms of just really reminding myself of how much fun it is to do and as a producer, really just being able inject your creativity in that type of way. And it’s something I’m going to be doing a lot more often. 

You know, me and Guap, this is only the beginning for us. So more of that, more music with a bunch of people. God willing. I have some big records on the way that I’m super excited about, and I’ve been dipping and dabbling and gallivanting in the crypto space. I just put out an NFT sample pack that sold at auction for $6,000 (P292,300). And it is the first of its kind, which is super awesome. I have some more NFT surprises and creative NFT stuff that I’ working on right now. So this year I’m gonna be really heavy in that space. I know Guap has some awesome stuff coming too.

Guapdad’s new album 1176 drops on March 29.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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