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ENCORE: Listen Up! Charlotte Rapper Elevator Jay Has 'Sum’na Say'

Alfred Sergel IV drumming in Charlotte.JPG
Photo courtesy of the artist.
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Charlotte-based rapper Elevator Jay is opening up doors to the Queen City's hip-hop scene.

In September 2019, hip-hop publication XXL posed a question: “Is North Carolina next up?” What they're referring to, in part, is the A+ rap and hip-hop talent coming out of North Carolina including prominent names like J. Cole, DaBaby and Lute. When it comes to Southern-fried rap and hip-hop in the Queen City, Elevator Jay is the name to know as the king of country rap in Charlotte.

"I feel like quantity is put over quality for music. Not to diss anybody, but I like to take my time. I like my food in the oven, not the microwave."
– Elevator Jay, Charlotte rapper

Interview Highlights:

On his start in music:

I had family around me that let me hear good music. And I wanted to make music so bad, and I didn’t have anyone make beats for me. So around 11 or 12 years old, I wrote my first rap, and I went into the living room and rapped it to the family. And after that, I kept trying to make it. I had a PC back then when Napster was popping, so I would download music and instrumentals. I would take headphones, snap them in half, and I used to plug them back into the computer’s microphone jack so they would turn into a mic. The first microphone I had, I made it out of headphones. That was the very first time I had laid down vocals … off some headphones!

On his first music influences:

My first cassette tape that I ever had in my possession was Kris Kross “Totally Krossed Out.” I even got in trouble one time wearing my clothes backwards because of listening to Kris Kross. I also came up with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and then I started getting into the regional music and Southern rap. What I do today is pretty much an ode to all of that stuff I came off of.

I listened to a lot of stuff from North Carolina and Charlotte. We used to have a spot back in the day called Willie’s Records and Tapes. I used to ride my bike up to Beatties Ford and go to Willie’s. There used to be a basket with free music in it. I didn’t have any money, so I just got the free music and local music. So I was on some local music that some people probably remember, but a lot of people probably don’t even know about, like Dirty 130.

On naming his 2015 release 'Sum’na Say' after OutKast’s famous Best New Artist speech at the 1995 Source Awards:

“Sum’na Say” was the first album that I really took extra, extra seriously. Everybody knows I look up to OutKast, and I always listened to their records and said, “Man, I want to make something like that.” And it wasn’t about stealing style or copying them; the same feeling I get from listening to OutKast records, I want to get that with my album. I want to take the torch and do my thing in the name of what they started.

On the future of Charlotte music:

To go back to that XXL tweet, a lot of us Charlotte rappers were like, “Y’all late to the party, man. We’ve been rocking.” But we’re going to take the shine when we get it. The important thing to remember is … let’s do what we have to do to keep the lights on us. I remember an interview with Big Gipp from Goodie Mob where he said, “The time on top is much shorter than the time it took to get there.” I’ve seen in the past, a lot of cities and states get shine for a little bit, and it doesn’t last as long as New York, L.A. and Atlanta’s music scenes… So I want to make sure, while Carolina has it, we do what we have to do to keep that shine over here.

On being the co-creator of PlayerMade, the monthly music showcase at Snug Harbor:

It’ll be the fifth year anniversary of PlayerMade next year. Me and Shane Coble (Rapper Shane) wanted to throw a party of music that we listened to when we ride around the city. We have a different playlist … we play a lot of B-Side stuff. You’ve got to dig in the crates to hear what we’re playing [laughing]. We now do it once a month, every second Friday of the month, as an ode to Southern rap of all eras. I had an artist on stage who was from Dellahay Courts; nobody knows where that is, but it’s one of the original neighborhoods of Charlotte. I feel like PlayerMade’s a mixture of people, and you’re meeting somebody else from the city.

On how to keep the shine on Charlotte music:

Number one: make sure you have good quality material. Not to diss anybody, but I like to take my time. I like my food in the oven, not the microwave. Number two: make sure you’re hitting the scene and getting to know these people. Because if you’re making music, and you’re repping the city, and you’re repping the Carolinas, the stars will align and people will have your back. And when it’s time for L.A., New York or Atlanta to ask about you, people will vouch for you.

It’s like living in a neighborhood; if you don’t know anybody in your neighborhood, then you can’t really go next door and ask for ketchup or a toilet paper roll [laughing]. The more people you know, y’all can take care of each other. You don’t want everybody all over the place when the shine is on your region. Seeing Lute … that’s my homeboy. We’re pretty much from the same neighborhood; he’s from Beatties Ford, I’m from Beatties Ford. So to see him scream “Beatties Ford” to a wider audience? It makes me happy. It’s cool as hell.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Elevator Jay - “The River”
Dirty 130 - “On My Block”
Elevator Jay - “Sum’na Say”
Elevator Jay - “Ain’t Nothin’ Finer”
Elevator Jay - “When You Win”
Elevator Jay - “Blank” (Remix) feat. Ill & Lute
Elevator Jay - “For Y’all”
Elevator Jay - “Back Then”
Elevator Jay - “Vibrations”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).