D.C.’s hip hop scene is more diverse than it has ever been, cultivating a new wave of emcees who bring to the table a wide variety of styles and influences. There isn’t a distinct ‘sound’ that defines local hip hop, and this is evident when looking at the eclectic roster of acts who’ve recently achieved buzz outside of the region like GoldLink, Chaz French and Jay IDK.
Adding to that growing list is Innanet James, a 21-year-old rapper from Maryland who recently released an impressive debut project called Quebec Place. The record is nuanced with elements of go-go, house and soul, setting up a dynamic listening experience for those who’ve had the chance to discover it.
The title alone, an ode to the residential street in D.C., hints at how heavy of an influence James’ hometown has on his music. Quebec Place serves as a window into James’ personal life, as he illustrates his Maryland upbringing and struggles of making it as a rapper. His candor and polished technical prowess are well beyond his years, and it’s interesting to think of what he’ll accomplish down the road.
Before he opens for Jay IDK on Oct. 18 at U Street Music Hall, I spoke with James via email on his recent release and future plans.
How has living in the D.C. area influenced your music? Do you find inspiration from other DMV-area artists?
Yeah, I grew up in Maryland, in Montgomery County in the Silver Spring area. It’s right outside of D.C., so as far as my area influencing my music, it molded it with being able to tell stories about stuff I’ve seen and know from my hometown–like the sole references, and lines I say in songs that people here at home will be able to relate to.
Speaking of–who are your influences?
My biggest influence was Lil Wayne, so it’s crazy to see he’s thinking about retiring.
How did you get into music?
I got into music from rap being all I knew from a young age–no bullshit, I remember hearing [Ghostface Killah song] “Cherchez LaGhost” waking up some mornings. And yeah, my dad played in go-go bands, but his music was different from mine. I wanted to do my own thing.
Where’d the moniker “Innanet James” come from? Is it referencing the fact that you first became known online (à la Myspace Tom), or from something else?
[Laughing] I got my name off some high shit–I was fried one day and started thinking, “I’m always using the internet in some way,” and then it made sense for my music. Like, if people find me, where are they most likely to find out about me first? The internet, and it all just worked.
It seems like you popped up out of nowhere just a few months ago, with the release of “Summer.” How long have you been making music? Was “Summer” in the works for a long time, or was it more of a sudden success?
I’ve been making music for a minute on-and-off for years as a kid, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was 20. [And] nah, “Summer” was a sudden success–[I] heard the beat, wrote the song and went to the studio all in like, two days.
Your debut release, Quebec Place, just dropped a few weeks ago–how was the writing/recording/prep process? Is this something you’ve been working on for years, or a relatively new endeavor?
Quebec Place was a new endeavor. I wrote and recorded it all in about three months a little after “Summer” was released. It was a process because it was all new [to me]. I didn’t know a lot about putting an E.P. together and like, song structure and all that kinda shit.
Did you record the album in the D.C. area, at a local studio?
I recorded it at a few places, mostly house studios but [they were] in Maryland.
I assume your new record’s name is a nod to Quebec Place in D.C.–what’s the significance of that area?
I grew up all over the DMV area–born in D.C., moved to Maryland, then back to D.C., then back to Maryland, back and forth until eventually around [when I was] 11, my family moved to Quebec Place and there I remember having a few of the best summers growing up. So since Quebec Place is a summer project, I named it after where I spent my favorite summers.
Your new album features a few collaborations. What would your dream collaboration be–i.e., if you could work on a track or album with anyone, who would you choose?
Yeah, I’ve got Chaz French and Anik Khan on it for two very dope tracks [“Jams” and “Flavour”], but I think if I could’ve gotten Anderson .Paak on this joint then it would’ve been crazy–that’s my dream collab.
Along with releasing the album, you’ve been touring around a bit, supporting artists like Mike Stud and The White Panda–is this your first time traveling to promote your music? How does touring compare to performing at home or spending time recording?
Yeah, I’ve done a few shows. It’s cool; I’m still getting used to it for real, but the show’s the same everywhere when you’re new. It’s a few people who know your music, but you’re really trying to get people to know it.
And finally, now that the record’s out–what’s next for Innanet James?
More music, more music and more music.