Stepping Into Individuality With Alias

Some people call him Josh, but his alias is Alias. One of the dopest rappers to emerge from Elmont, New York, he is blazing his own trail in the world of music. He is ⅓ of the group, URBVN ARCHITECTS NYC, who have amassed a significant social following, and are racking up the streams. Even on his own, with the release of “Growing Pains” (2018) and “Duality” (2020), he has gained some notoriety. Surely, his alias is a name you will not forget.

I first met him at a studio party in Greenpoint, hosted by a mutual friend. In that time, we discussed Black space. No, not the void that looms above us, sprinkled with specks of far-away stars. We spoke about what defines a Black space, the diaspora, and the spirituality that comes with being Black. That’s what struck my interest. At that moment, I knew this was only a prelude to a larger conversation, but one that’s been going on for thousands of years. A conversation that has, at some point, floated through every household. I wanted to talk to him about God. 

In an interview exclusively for HangTime Magazine, Alias talks about his past with religion, mental health, and his newfound spirituality. In addition, we spoke about where his music’s been, and where he is excited to take it too. We sat down at a park near the Pomonok Houses in Queens, right across the street from Queens College, a school he attended. There, he bared his soul.

A: Dan’s been trying to connect me with Rain for a minute. I used to chill with Rain, like I hung out with him when I was younger. Actually, when I was going to college here, [Dope Rebels] used to throw parties here, they used to throw parties, bangers. They would actually rent houses in Brooklyn, this is before Airbnb type shit. They were renting homes. Everyone would pop out and they were always killing their performance. That’s so cool you know him like that. He’s very talented. 

C: I met him in a whole different way. I met him through hanging out with my bro. Rain was at his place for a bit, and I got cool with him. I started hanging out with him on the side and then a beautiful friendship blossomed out of that.

It’s funny how you said his music blows everyone else’s music out the water, because I agree.

It’s his own genre. I’m not saying the other rappers sound the same, but when I hear Rain, I know it’s Rain. 

It’s versatile. The thing with the other cats is they have a very specific lane. You know it’s them because they’re making that lyrical, no drum type of rap, which is dope. The underground is making me branch away, specifically because it’s too similar to each other. The thing that Rain does, and the thing that I try to do myself, I don’t want every song to sound the same, and I want to show my versatility as an artist. Some of these dudes, they don’t even rap on hooks. Not to diss anyone, but a lot of people don’t do hooks. They just want to spit bars, which only takes you so far. It’s one thing to be a good rapper, and it’s one thing to be a good artist. You know what I’m saying?

That’s exactly how I feel too. They got that flow that’s like “Damn, yeah, yeah.” I appreciate it because I love good rap. But that’s more of an underground sound, so they really have to accumulate that fanbase to get those plays.

Yeah it’s tough bro. There’s so many rappers, but what’s up with the replay value?

Photo by Curtis Ashley

I guess that brings up the question of selling out. Are you making music for the sake of getting plays, or are you making the music you want to make? But I think there’s a nice middle area, a nice gray area where you can do both. And if that’s something you think Rain does, and you like that about him, you should find a way to do that, but in your way.

I’ve been trying to do that for a minute. I was falling into that style by accident, just by being influenced by boom-bap and seeing the new renaissance coming up, and me being friends with some of those cats. I by accident, being a fan of Griselda, caught myself rapping on that type of shit.

One of my older friends who’s kind of tapped in with the industry had a conversation with me and was like, “Bro what are you doing?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He said, “What makes you sound different from these cats? You’re good at rapping, but that’s the easy part. You’re done with that. This sounds like a Griselda beat, this sounds like a lane that’s been done before. What about this is giving me Josh Alias vibes?” He kind of caught me off guard, I was a little defensive, but it hit me. What am I doing different from these cats? What ‘s gonna set me apart?

I got too influenced by a style or genre, that before I knew it, I was just emulating it. I think that’s natural for anyone. I wasn’t trying to bite or anything, it’s just that I was influenced by what I was listening to a lot of. There was a time when I was listening to Immortal Technique all the time. Before I knew it, I’m talking about government conspiracy theories.

You asked me to listen to “Growing Pains,” I listened to it. It’s a great album, love it, but I did feel like you were doing that New York style of rap that I’d already heard before. You had some really good bars on there; I appreciate the Cellino & Barnes reference. It’s authentic New York shit. But I was like damn, one listen will be good enough. What do you think will be a way to make this album more you without giving up the ability to have it played on the radio?

What I have to do more of, and what I’m starting to do in my unreleased work that’s going to be on my next album, is tapping into something that challenges me a little more. One of my songs, I started singing more. I really want to be able to channel my emotions through more than just rap, cause I’m a fan of music first. Rap came second. What I’m trying to do is make good records; make shit that is timeless.

I’m working with this producer, Adam Snow in LA. We made like 2-3 songs, one of them had The Game on it, and all of those songs have been going crazy. The only thing I did differently with him was the production. He’s providing me beats I’m not used to, that I’m not comfortable with. So by me trying to find a balance on it, I’m creating stuff I’ve never created before. I think that’s something I overlooked. I just rapped on beats that were comfortable to me, but now the challenge is what I’m starting to fall in love with.

Bar to bar, I feel like I can go against anybody, but that’s not what I’m into anymore. I’m over that stage of my life of rapping trying to impress people. Now I’m trying to make good music that my grandkids can bump. That’s what I’m gonna do for my next project so I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a box; don’t just always think about rapping. I’m trying different effects on the vocals, experimenting more, and I’m actually falling in love with that process. I’m having more fun in the studio than I’ve ever had before.

It got to a point where rapping became too easy, I hate to say it like that.

I feel you. That makes a lot of sense. Now that you’re not just rapping, have you considered getting into the beat making process and producing your own music?

Yeah, I kinda do, but at the same time, I feel like it’s such an art form on its own, I’ve been around so many amazing producers that I just want to let that be for now. That outside influence inspires me. I don’t want every single thing to be from my brain, that’s why I like my engineer that I work with. It’s a different outlook. I control everything I make, but even the engineer being like, “That echo sounds fire,” or this producer sending me a beat I would’ve never picked that sample for, that affects how I make music. It inspires me in a good way.

I have messed around with beats, but at the same time there’s so much amazing production out here that I just want to focus on the raps and let [the beats] be one of the few inspirations when I make a song.

In your own words, what is the main difference between “Growing Pains” and “Duality?”

I think the reason I have a connection to “Growing Pains” a little more is because it was my entrance into the music industry. That’s what started me out; that was my “Illmatic” in a way. I didn’t know shit, I didn’t have connections, I didn’t have bread. I took a full-time job, I was commuting to the city. Like, I learned music through that album, mixing and mastering. Everything was fresh to me.

And I had a lot of pain. I was actually going to this college right here. Where we’re sitting is very nostalgic for me because there were moments I was alone, going through mental things and trying to meditate. I would meditate exactly where we are sitting. All those emotions, and the confusion of not knowing stuff fueled a lot of music.

It was a therapeutic album. As men, we’re not given too many positive outlets. That’s exactly what I was dealing with when I made “Growing Pains.” I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings, and they were really strong feelings. All I knew was to make that album. Whenever I hear that album, every single song, every single lyric, I kind of remember where I wrote it. A lot of it was on the Q17. A lot of it was exactly where we’re sitting now. A lot of it was in the back of class. I think the difference is that I had a lot of emotion with that album, and a personal sentiment because I didn’t know anything. I learned as I went. 

I connected with a famous engineer in Manhattan, Chris Conway, who worked with Eminem and DMX. He became a fan of my stuff and we built a really strong connection. He was one of the first people, at that level, who complimented my work, very humbly, but he did and it meant a lot to me. That’s why that album means a lot to me because I wanted it to be an album where people heard it and they understood me. It was more rappity-rap, for sure, but it had a lot of pain in it. 

And it did well. That album to this day had at least 20 people, just from my recollection, reach out to me and say that album helped them not kill themselves. I’ve had four people actually write college essays on that album. It’s crazy because I made it in a place of pain, but I didn’t think it was going to help other people deal with their pain. 

The deal with “Duality” was me getting some buzz, and having some industry connections from “Growing Pains.” The cover says it all: balance evil and good. Being in the game and just growing up, I saw a lot more evil than good, and I was stuck in between both, whether it be my vices or whatever. 

That album I got more experimental. It had more hooks, and I was singing on more of the hooks. Also, I got more features on that album; I wanted to showcase who I was around that inspired me. On “Growing Pains,” I was like, “Screw this. One man army! I got this, this is my story.” The second album, I’m like, “These people have influenced my story, and I want to showcase them too.”

That’s a long answer, but that’s what it was.

Photo by Curtis Ashley

Your first album was you and your pain, where you garnered your community. The second album was you speaking to them like, “Hey, you’re not in this alone,” and sort of guiding them through the pain. You have your new single, ‘Wonder Why’. I’m interested to know the direction of your next solo project.

That’s a good question. When I dropped “Growing Pains,” I didn’t even know who my fanbase was gonna be. “Duality” was me realizing who that was, and then feeding them, being more open and comfortable, because I wasn’t comfortable when I started it. Now what I’m going through is finding a balance of both. Being open and being relatable; not trying to get too deep per se, but enough to the point I feel I found peace talking about it, and really just challenge myself as an artist. I wanna be a sound now.

I’m starting to see “Josh Alias type beats,” that’s what I wanna go down. I want people to hear a jazz loop with some soul samples, an old woman from the 60’s singing, and me speaking from my heart and be like, “That reminds me of Alias.” That’s what I’m trying to do, tap into myself as a human being, as an artist, and really get better at being vulnerable in a way so I can touch people, but also feel comfortable with myself and not spill all my beans.

Bringing back up the topic of mental health which you touched on earlier, how is your mental health now? What are some things you do to maintain good mental health?

That’s a great question. One thing I’m doing is being open. My mental health has gotten a lot better, but I put in years of work to get it better. What I would do, even where we are sitting, I would come here and I got really into Tai Chi. I would practice meditation and I would meditate here for hours. And I went to therapy, to keep it a buck. 

I tried therapy a lot growing up but it didn’t really work. I gave it a shot with a more open mindset and that was the big difference. Working out definitely helped me mentally, and really just spending time by myself. I was around too many people and that wasn’t helping my mental state. I learned to fall in love with being alone. That’s what I really did; take my time alone, and instead of being like, “I’m bored,” actually utilize that for myself through meditation. 

And God! That’s like number one, I found God. Through my down part of “Growing Pains,” and toward “Duality” — “Duality” was very spiritual, I talked about God a lot. From “Growing Pains,” which is like my bad place, to the transition to “Duality,” I found God. I’ve been harping on that a lot, praying more, realizing that my talents are a gift, being a vessel for God with my stories that I’ve gone through and realizing what I went through was for a reason. That’s what happened when I started getting these messages, it was clicking. When I was younger and I didn’t believe in God, pastors used to come up to me and be like, “You’re chosen,” they would tell my mom a lot.

I almost died when I was born, and my mom dedicated me to God. She said, “If he lives, I’ll dedicate him,” and I never thought of that. As I got older, pastors who never knew me were telling me, “I’m seeing visions of you doing stuff for God.” I never believed until I endured Hell, and then I learned to appreciate Heaven.

What kind of spirituality are you more into now? I know that was more towards 2018, but currently, are you into organized religion or do you have an open spirituality?

I would say I have traumas connected to organized religion, growing up in the church. I felt like it was very judgemental, and I was a standout character growing up, so I had a bad taste in my mouth for a while. But now, as an adult, it’s about finding the right church. Some churches don’t cater to the needs of the misguided youth. I guess my short answer is yeah, I gave organized religion a shot. 

I like open spirituality more than I like organized religion. I look at it as a 1:1 relationship with me and God over everything. How I talk to God, how God speaks to me, his direction, non-judgement, that’s what I look at. I don’t take another man’s opinion higher than what I think God thinks about me. But at the same time, I’m not against a good church, with a good loving family.

Photo by Curtis Ashley

Getting back into the music, who are some artists that you’d like to work with?

I like Saba, Aaron May; I like more melodic artists right now, that’s who I’m vibing with heavily. I look up to Jay Electronica, I would love to work with him for sure. Locally, uhh..

Well you’re still part of URBVN ARCHITECTS NYC so you have them.

Yeah, my group, I’m always working with them. Besides them, I think WIKI is dope, I’ve always wanted to work with him. And a whole bunch of other cats are missing. It’s more than the music though. I want to connect with people who have a good message. I feel like the people I mentioned have relatable songs that I bump on the daily, that helped me through something.

If you weren’t a rapper, but you still wanted to spread your message, what would you do?

Honestly, without rap music, I would be lost. I’m scared to think what I would be without music. But I am a big fan of visuals, like I direct all of my groups videos and my own too. I’ve actually gotten outsourced and paid for directing other people’s music videos.

It’s all just different vessels to get a point across. If I wasn’t actually rapping, I’d be portraying the story through photography; before I was a rapper, I was a photographer funny enough. That’s why I love visuals. I would do documentaries about things that I stand for or communities that are struggling, things like that.

As we await the next full-size offering from Alias, revel in all his past glory here, and make sure to follow him on Instagram to keep up with his latest adventures. While you wait, check out his latest music video with URBVN ARCHITECTS NYC, for their song ‘Infrared’. The song is featured on their latest group outing, “Mutual Understandings 2.”

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