A-1 grew up in San Francisco with first-generation immigrant parents, which in retrospect helped expand his musical exposure at a young age. After living on the East Coast for a few years, A-1 returned to his hometown of San Francisco where he has made a name for himself in the local music scene.
He’s been able to create friendships and collaborate with talented Bay Area producers like Mikos Da Gawd and Mr. Carmaack, as well as the Los Angeles-based, DJ Falcons. His latest compilation “Thurlian” is a collection of songs he’s recorded over the past two years that symbolize different aspects of what it means to be “Thurl”, T.H.U.R.L – to Think (for oneself), Hustle (for one another), Understand (each other), and Really Live (one’s life to the fullest).
We asked Adam about his musical influences, his recent collaborations, and the impact of gentrification on the SF music scene.
What type of music did you listen to growing up?
In my house, we listened to everything from West African salsa music and Miriam Makeba. All kinds of African singers to Italian folk songs. Stuff like that. To the Beatles to Ray Charles to Bob Marley. My dad was especially a music fanatic growing up. He had LPs of random hip-hop crews that you’ve never heard of from the 80′s, like Wreckx-n-Effect.
My musical upbringing was really eclectic as far as what I was listening to. Nobody in my family really has the bug to create music though. No one played an instrument, wrote music, or sings. I’m the first in my family to take the artist route.
Who are your biggest hip-hop inspirations?
At different stages, I was inspired by all kinds of different artists. that’s just how it is growing up. Your music taste will evolve.
When I was in middle school, I got put on to Outkast. I just loved the sound of the songs. I didn’t pay attention to the lyrics back then. I couldn’t really hear them. I just loved the sound and the feel and the vibe. That when I started getting into hip-hop music.
At the school I was going to, it was unpopular to listen to the radio. All the cool kids in my school were listening to underground Bay Area rap, gangster stuff from the Bay Area like Mac Dre, San Quinn. C-Bo, the Mobb Figaz and all that stuff. That was my middle school experience.
As I got to high school, it evolved more and became more about the lyrics. As you get older and wiser, the words matter more. That’s when I started getting into East coast hip-hop like Wu Tang, Jadakiss, but then there was also A Tribe Called Quest, Hieroglyphics, MF Doom, Madlib and all that stuff. I just feel like it all has something to offer. To this day, all that stuff I listen to. Everything from Ice Cube to Outkast.
The one that really stick as classics in my mind is Outkast. They are still my favorite group. Their lyrics are good. They managed to stay relevant the whole time. They just make timeless music. It doesn’t sound like part of an era. I just love their stuff and I want to make timeless music too.
What brought you back to San Francisco after living on the East Coast?
I never had intentions of leaving for good. The plan was always to come back. I just wanted to go to different places for some perspective and a change of pace. I wasn’t doing anything good out here. I was getting in trouble and getting involved in a bunch of stuff I shouldn’t have been getting involved in.
A friend of mine from Boston, Sac Masta aka Isaac, said he had this apartment with a literal recording studio. He knew I liked to rap for fun. I was thinking about taking it seriously. He said “you should come and hang out here for however long you want and work on music and get good at it”. So that’s what I did. I moved to Boston. That’s when I started to record and learned to write full songs by myself.
After living in Boston for a year, I wasn’t ready to come home yet. After being in San Francisco for four to five months, I decided to go to New York for a year. When I was out there, I didn’t have a place to stay. I reached out to some people and ended up being able to stay on couches. I obviously did a lot of writing and gained different perspective to bring back home with me. That’s where I wrote and recorded After School Special. Living in New York for that year. That was my first mix tape that had any notoriety.
After that, I came back home and dedicated myself to developing my fan base and becoming known in my hometown. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
How did you first get introduced to Mr. Carmack and what about his production style makes him so special?
I got introduced to Mr. Carmack through my homie, Mikos Da Gawd. He’s also a producer. He DJs my shows as well. He’s like my brother, you know? He showed me Carmack’s music and told me that he had showed Carmack my music and that Carmack wanted to send me a beat. Without ever having spoke to him, I said yeah, let me hear the beat. He sent it to my email. It was the Hopscotch beat. He sent me that before anyone else had heard it.
At the time, I was working on a song. I heard about his music that way through Miles and then slowly over time got to know him. He would come to Miles’ house. We all lived in the city and were all making a name for ourselves in the city at the same time. We just became cool. We became homies and did more work together. Then [Mr. Carmack] moved to LA and blew up. He’s humble enough that he still wants to work and everything. It’s cool. He’s a dope dude.
He’s probably got the best production sounds in the game in terms of his mixing and mastering, it’s next level. He’s got a really unique ear, plays some instruments. His stuff is like super sophisticated shit that you can go dumb to. That’s how I like to describe his sound. There’s so much finesse, it’s so sophisticated but at the same time you can go completely stupid to it in the club. That’s one side to him. The other side is really elegant, beautiful melodic stuff too. As soon as you think you have his music figured out or pigeon-hole it in some type of way, he completely shatters the mold you made.
Why did you decide to collaborate with Los Angeles-based DJ Falcons?
I met him through Aaron, through Carmack. He happened to become good friends with some of my good friends. And then we became friends. He had heard the work I had done with Aaron and reached out to me. He sent me a bunch of beats, I chose one and then we just went back and forth, sending each other ideas. Just chipping away at it and narrowing it down. That’s eventually what became “Boss Mackin”.
Even the way he did it was super unorthodox. I recorded the vocals on a laptop. I didn’t even do it in the studio. I tried to do it in the studio and we didn’t like how it sounded. We went with the rough draft as a reference. And then it ended up being released on Fools’ Gold. It just goes to show you that in the music business, there are no rules at all. Whatever pleases the ear, that’s what the rule is.
Where are your favorite chill spots in SF?
I used to love hanging out in the bleachers in Moscone Park in North Beach, kinda more the Marina. I had friends in the Fillmore and North Beach projects that went to Galileo and stuff. That was always a dope kick it spot. The park on Cayuga off of Alemany, that was another cool one. I went to summer school at Balboa and that was a chill spot. They have a baseball diamond over there that’s in the cuts. We used to hang out there and do the things that teenagers do. I used to have a million. There’s Turtle Hill by Twin Peaks. Train yard in the Bayview. Man, there’s like a million, dude. Upper Noe Park Bernal Heights. Shout out to Upper Noe Park in Bernal Heights. Bernal Hill is legit.
What’s your perspective on the local music scene suffering from ongoing gentrification?
I think talent that was born and raised in San Francisco is definitely being forced out. Any talented people that were born and raised here, that scene is gone. Everybody that is dope that has talent that is doing something with their art that was born out here is either moving now, they are in the process of moving or have already left. [They went to] LA to live a cheaper lifestyle or just out of the city because they can’t afford it.
I think there is a music scene bubbling out here coming from people who have come to the city as part of the wave of gentrification. And now that they’re here, they’re managing to hold on and do their art. It might be the first wave, not the tech engineers but just the artists and the hipsters that came a few years ago. If there is some type of a bustling art scene in San Francisco, it’s definitely not being spearheaded by the natives of this city. Everybody that I can think of that’s making it in music has been in LA for at least a few years now.