Most bodies of music — whether it’s an album, LP, EP, compilation or merely just a project — tend to embody a chapter in its creator’s lives; A snapshot of certain life period, a moment in time. San Francisco’s Tate Robertson‘s debut, Ride or Don’t, is a capsule of his homecoming to the Bay Area, the penultimate theme of “using music to return to a comforting place”.
He writes, “(I) was suddenly, finally, thrown out of my comfort zone, and I used my production to make sense of the tumult. I even got back into rapping, an earlier love of mine, to express my uncertainty. That uncertainty found a vehicle to express itself in the depths of my subconscious nostalgia.”
Robertson roots his beats in layering jazz samples over stripped down percussion rhythms for a melancholy feel to couch his lyrical musings. He contemplates his would-be relationships on songs like “forgot to call.”, “next time i.” and “time 4 u.”, rummages through thoughts of what exactly does success look like: A house, a gold watch or never having to compromise?
We spoke with Robertson to discuss Ride or Don’t, the travels that lead to his homecoming and the personal experiences that went into making the album.
The Bay Bridged: For our readers who aren’t familiar, who are you and what do you do?
TR: My name is Tate Robertson and I’m a rapper and producer from and living in the Bay Area.
TBB: What are your earliest memories involving music? What was playing in your house growing up?
TR: I took piano lessons from ages 8-11 but hated it so much! Probably because I was so bad. It wasn’t until much later that I learned about the benefits of practice.
My dad is a priest, so almost all of the music I heard growing up was hymns, organ and choir music, stuff like that. A lot of folky stuff like Simon and Garfunkel at home. The benefit of that was that when I started getting into music when I was 13, the entire world of music was like a big blank ocean for me to dive into.
TBB: How did you get into making music?
TR: I actually started rapping first, back in 2009. I used to write the worst poems ever, and that somehow migrated into freestyling — I would put beats on and rap under my breath in the shower. Finally, one day I rapped in front of my friend and he had me start recording over his beats.
A few years later, I was recording with great producers but felt like I had no control over my sound. Using more than one producer was necessary but a lot of my sound and feel was at liberty of what they wanted to make. I decided that I would start making beats and even if they were awful, I would be the one to blame, and maybe one day they wouldn’t be so awful.
TBB: You categorize your music on SoundCloud as “#lofi” and it definitely fits the mold with the jazz samples and boom-bap drums. Definitely reminds me of Madlib and J Dilla, but it also reminds me of 2000s Bay Area hip-hop (Hieroglyphics, People Under the Stairs, Zion I). Did growing up in the Bay Area influence your music?
TR: Definitely. Hiero and Zion I especially were huge to me when I was in high school. I will say, I’ve probably learned just as much from E-40 and Mac Dre and Andre Nickatina. It seems like no matter who you are or what kind of rap you do, the producers are always sampling some crazy shit. Nickatina sampling Dorothy Ashby on “jungle,” for instance…
TBB: On your latest songs “Never Change,” “2pm,” and “Forgot 2 Call” there seems to be a theme of disillusionment. Are you writing from personal experience?
TR: Sure, disillusionment is a good word for it. At the time I started this album I’d just kind of thrown my previous life away and was really unsure of who I was or what I wanted to become, and a lot of that uncertainty reflects into the lyrics and the music. Couple that with the general realization that the world is not so rosy as advertised to you when you’re a kid, and that’s about where I started.
At a certain point I acknowledged the themes that were creeping into my music and I used that unified thread to dredge up some memories, things that I could weave into the same tapestry of emotion. A lot of the lyrics in the album are not necessarily accurate, true depictions but a bit of a pastiche of things I’ve seen or lived through.
TBB: Your bio said you’ve lived in Boston, Shanghai, Tennessee, and Maryland, then you came back home to San Francisco in 2016. Can you briefly tell us about that time and what brought you back?
TR: Before I moved to the Bay Area, I lived in Tennessee and Maryland, and when I left it was to go to school in Boston. I had the opportunity to study in Shanghai for a bit as well.
I came back to the Bay because it’s still my favorite place in the world. It’s funny: By now, none of my family lives in the Bay anymore, so when I came back it was like starting from scratch. I lived in the East Bay for a bit and then in the City, and it was like discovering a whole new Bay Area.
TBB: What can listeners expect from your debut album, Ride or Don’t? How is different than anything you’ve made before?
TR: It’s a vibe. Sort of like, you’re sitting at your place, it’s 11pm, it’s raining outside, you’re smoking a cigarette, listening to a record, waiting for a call you’re not sure is gonna come. It’s the feeling in those moments where the world condenses into the bubble of your own melancholy.
I also wanted to structure it more like an LP than a CD, if that makes sense. I was really inspired by Madlib, Dilla, Archy Marshall, etc. to try to create a seamless record. There are some records that I put on shuffle when I listen to them, and I didn’t want this to be like that, but also to have it work like that if you want it to. Plus flipping samples and making beats is such a part of me now, I wanted at least some of it to play out like a hybrid of Donuts and The Unseen.
TBB: Last but not least: Best place to get a burrito in the City.
TR: Not necessarily the best but my guy at the corner store on Howard and 6th in SoMa has been making affordable, delicious burritos for me for over a year now since I moved back, so shout out to him.