Beyond the Bay and back: An interview with Caleborate
Caleborate, also known by the alias TBKTR (That Black Kid That Raps), is a Berkeley-based artist about to slam through an infamous regional glass ceiling — one that’s held back a number of promising local figures from receiving national acclaim. Furthermore, he’s doing it without leaving behind even an ounce of his celebratory hometown spirit.
Caleb’s 2015 debut full-length Hella Good was a soulful meditation waxing poetic on AC Transit and Based ideals, indebted equally in time to generational icons such as Kanye West as it was in place to Bay Area legends like E-40. Yet with his forthcoming project 1993, Caleb seems positioned to become a star in his own right, one removed from comparison and on track to become the one to which others are compared.
While Caleb’s music is more hyphy in attitude than it is in production, he’s cultivated an aesthetic that stays true to his fervent regional pride even when painting on more varied sonic canvases. The rapper has already built a rewarding discography during his relatively short career, one grounded in the DNA of local affiliates such as The Heartbreak Gang (associated with artists such as Iamsu!, Kehlani, and P-Lo, the latter of whom holds a production credit on 1993). Yet he’s found a way to distort this homegrown sound towards a wider palette, embedding his songs with an optimistic soul and feather-light glide.
Take “Options,” the latest single from the forthcoming 1993, and a Cal-A production that transcends the usual Bay Area rap signifiers and finds Caleb sounding completely at home over a rippling piano and shimmering rhythms. Caleb’s a dynamic vocal presence — dipping his toes into the track with infectious warm-up ad libs before jumping in headfirst and tearing the beat straight through. He’s proving his claims in real time when he brashly yowls, “Why I gotta stunt so motherfucking hard?”
Caleb’s chemistry with Cal-A goes beyond “Options.” Just listen to him spar with the producer’s atmospherics on one-offs like “The Juice” or the low-key triumphant “Want It All,” the latter of which features fellow East Bay rapper and friend G-Eazy. Caleb’s few Cal-A collaborations so far are enough to make you hope that the two form a Noah 40/Drake-level partnership in the next few years. The same way Drizzy’s dejected boasting sounds sinisterly regal over 40’s lush minimalism, Caleb’s brotherly confidence shines extra bright through Cal-A’s squeezed-dry soul samples and off-center keyboard licks.
Caleborate’s best song yet, however, is the Kuya Beats and P-Lo produced “08
[Carter Flow],” 1993’s lead single and a spiritual homage to Tha Carter III-era Lil Wayne, who is Caleb’s most significant influence. Ironically, while you can indeed hear some of the same insatiable hunger that fueled Weezy during one of rap’s most notable winning streaks, “08” finds Caleb instead channeling more clearly younger contemporaries. There’s his hometown chest-puffing balanced with a clear-headed tenderness that resembles Chance The Rapper’s relationship with his own city of Chicago, but also a clever melodic sensibility that echoes that of the Bay Area’s very own Nef The Pharaoh, as well as, at times, Too $hort.
The latter is the kind of figure Caleb grew up admiring: one who holds him to his roots while subsequently igniting his ambition for the highest of heights. He has an unstoppable work ethic befitting his idols, and Caleb’s on his way to inspiring his own generation of to-be musicians. This black kid that raps isn’t even close to the first one to do so, and Caleb reminds you constantly of those who came before him that got him here today. But even in this moment, when he’s set to break out with all eyes on him, he’s looking ahead and ready to inspire others to make sure he won’t be the last in his lineage.
1993 is out August 29. Read an interview with the rising East Bay rapper below.
The Bay Bridged: How did you first get involved in music?
Caleborate: I got involved with music by hanging out with my older brother Cash Campain. He, just like me, used to spend his time in college writing songs and going to record them with his friends. Once I started to get a hang of the creation process thanks to my brother, I was able to just start jotting down lines and song concepts on my own.
TBB: You were born in Sacramento and raised in the Bay Area. How has the region in which you grew up shaped your songwriting?
C: Shit man, the hyphy movement really influenced me. I’d have to say though I was influenced in a different way than someone would naturally assume. I was always into the way artists like Mac Dre & Keak Da Sneak were able to keep me interested throughout the duration of their raps. I also used the region as my gas, and as my steam to propel me to go harder. It’s no secret that artists from Northern Cali have to work substantially harder to be heard. So being from here naturally instilled a killer work ethic in me. I’d say that work ethic has much to do with my songwriting ability at this point, and it will probably be the blame for any improvements that come about in the future.
TBB: How has growing up in the Sacramento/Bay Area region impacted who you are as a person?
C: Naturally, it has made me a very rare-based, eclectic, hyphy human being.
TBB: You’re a student, correct? How does being a student affect your life as a musician?
C: Yes, I was a dropout for a while though. I had to get this music shit straight. I’m back enrolled now though, senior year back at Academy of Art as a Multimedia Communications major. These days, I’ve learned how to balance it. I think it does great things for the music. It forces me to have a real life, like outside of music and outside of this industry. It keeps me grounded, it also keeps me hustling.
TBB: You don’t sound like the stereotypical Bay Area rapper, instead flirting with more soulful production than the typical signifiers of “hyphy.” How did you decide on what kinds of beats you wanted and the sound you strive for?
C: I just always made the kind of music I liked and listened to in my personal life. All the artists that inspired me are all present in my music. There are even some hyphy signatures in there. I try to weave in every influence every time I knock out a project. I however do think that the sound I bring to the region brings a nice sort of accent onto an already lit collection of artists.
TBB: How did your collaboration with G-Eazy “Want It All” come together?
C: Man, G was and just is a really great dude. He just reached out after hearing the project and it was real quick. I sent him over a couple records and he chose that one. Before I knew it I had a version in my inbox with his verse on it and it was a flame ass verse. It was honestly one of those situations where it was perfect time.
TBB: 1993 is your follow-up to last year’s Hella Good. How did the writing/recording process for the two releases differ?
C: More time, more maturity. I grew as an artist and as a person, and I feel like that reflected in my writing being more personal and more well rounded, but I also focused on the composition element of these songs a lot more this time around.
TBB: Your first single off 1993 is an ode to ’08-era Lil Wayne. Is he a spiritual guidepost for this new project? Are there other artists whose influence you felt deeply impacted 1993?
C: Wayne is always going to be a big influence on me. His music was at its hottest during a very pivotal point in my life, as were artists like J. Cole or Kanye West. I think that’s what 1993 captures. It captures the inspirations of an artist that grew up listening to that kind of material and that kind of culture.
TBB: Can we expect your unfinished Twitter-released track “Midnight” to make an appearance on 1993 in some form?
C: Maybe (laughs). I’m shocked at how sought-after that song has been since I previewed it that night. That’s awesome that there’s so much love for it.
TBB: Can you tease any collaborations that we should expect on 1993?
Caleb: Damn near nah (laughs). But I’m doing it for you in the end. I want everything to be fresh to your ears when you get it.
TBB: You recently completed your first ever tour. How did it go? What did you learn from those shows that will influence your future live performances?
Caleb: It was incredible. One week was just not enough, honestly. I learned a lot on tour man: I learned how to be a professional, and I added so much to my shows they are beginning to come together how I always envisioned them. I can’t wait until my headline show for 1993. That shit is gonna be so damn lit.
TBB: Who are some of the artists that you think are of the most significance to the Bay Area music scene right now?
Caleb: Damn. There’s too many to list. Lil B first and foremost, then our legends/forefathers; Fab, 40, $hort etc. Then in terms of all my peers, of course I love what Su is doing, very proud of P-Lo he’s reaching great new heights. Kool John, Rexx Life Raj, Down2Earth, Legendvry, and the whole Wavbros. movement, Kamaiyah, Lani and G of course. That’s my guy man, I’m so proud to be a friend of his as well as a fan. He keeps setting the bar high and I really appreciate him for that. My brother Elu is really prospering and I’m very happy to see his growth, Cash Campain and 1-O.A.K. been killing it. Samaria is really, really incredible and she’s gorgeous (AF) so she’s fasholy someone who I been listening to a lot lately. Jay Ant been doing great things, Yase, Trill Youngins, all been putting out fire. Man there’s too many to list, honestly.
Pranav splits his time between recording homemade Run the Jewels covers with his best friend and striving to become a regular at his local sandwich shop. He will defend his position that The Haunted Mansion is the peak of late-era Eddie Murphy (barring Shrek) until he passes out from getting too worked up.