“Who is Gatsby?”
A pause. You can see the mind working behind the dreads shuttering out the glare of the California sun.
With the prose of a poet, the young Dreamville, N.C. artist explains that Gatsby is the emotional side of a complex human being. But instead of hiding it in shame, he’s opening it up for the world to hear, with the hope of making an impact. “I chose emotional freedom over conforming”.
An aura of strength and power is felt with every word Gatsby remarks. This is a man who has overcome pain, overcome adversity in his life. Instead of letting it crush him, it has become an enlightening experience in knowing how he can shape the lives of others – turning wounds to wisdom.
“I want to be somebody I wish I had when I was going through what I was going through. Things would have been way better”.
Gatsby is in California right now after a brief trip in Vegas, far from where he grew up on the East coast. He explains that a change of atmosphere can bring new thoughts and trigger new ideas. He’s still riding the high of last year’s Currently Untitled – a record that put his name on the map for a lot of listeners.
“Emotions are power” he explains when questioned why he makes music rich with passion. His message comes straight from the heart and from the soul. Gatsby explains multiple times where he snaps back to reality after a half hour with a pad of paper full of lyrics, and it shows with his effortless delivery and stream of conscious lyrics. “I am so in tune with my emotions that I can make that a language for not only me but for other people to understand through music”.
But he admits his messaged wouldn’t be heard if he didn’t have the skills to back it. “As long as the beat is hard, I can do anything”. It shows on tracks like “12 Out Of 10” where his nimble flow bounces relentlessly across the colourful beat. His raw skill pulls you in, and his message keeps you hooked.
Tracks like “Superhero” and “I Like Flowers” show the vulnerability that go against the grain in hip hop, where rappers are often eaten up by their competition and their fans if their music isn’t built on braggadocio and fronting. Instead, he bears messages of patience and understanding, allowing his music to blossom beyond the hip hop paradigm and into a more honest expression of self. On “Intro”, he prophesies “I guess misogyny was cool for a minute but now I’m older / And them adolescent games they play might have you pushing strollers”. A simple message, but a message that has been largely absent since Tupac told us that its time to heal our women and be real to our women.
“I want to offer hope”
Gatsby is a vessel, not to another place or time but to a side of ourselves that we have long shunned or been afraid of. He shows that it is powerful to be vulnerable, and that strength comes from respect we show to ourselves and others. Gatsby’s message is that of embracing our emotions to become the truest version of ourselves, as only then will we have the strength to face the challenges the world puts in front of us.
Blackened Redfish with Ginger and Coconut Beans
Blackened fish is a staple in Cajun cuisine, dating back to the 1980s. Chef Paul Prudhomme, who is known for taking soulful Louisiana cooking to the world stage, thought of it as his signature dish, after creating it by blanketing a spice blend overtop a firmer fish like snapper, grouper, and in this case, redfish. The key is to incorporate enough potent spices without leaving diners gasping for air out of the spice, the salt, or both. Instead, a crackling paprika finish should be the desire to leave the tastebuds watering but not overwhelmed.
We get to go against traditional chefing with this recipe by intentionally burning the food – in this case, smoke is good. Ensure that the fish is completely covered in the spices, as you’d like them to burn and not sear too much of the fish itself. The spice blend in this recipe consists of mainly paprika, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, dried thyme, and red pepper flakes. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium-high and cook for 5 minutes a side or until just cooked through.
The beans dish fits as seamlessly with a Cajun or Creole main as it does an African one. It provides its own flavours and spices but is a sweeter and nuttier taste to balance the heat of the fish. The two flavours you’re aiming to accentuate are ginger and coconut. Do this by heating coconut oil over medium heat, adding a healthy amount of ginger until fragrant, and mixing in a can of rinsed black beans, a can of unrinsed black beans, and a can of coconut milk. Let it boil then simmer, and after 20 or so minutes add salt, pepper, and you guessed it – more ginger. Credit to NYTimes Cooking for the recipe.
Capping the meal off is a Champagne Cocktail. Described by Esquire as an “old-as-bones drinks that never loses its glamour”, the cocktail is said to have originated in the champagne-soaked 1920s and hasn’t lost its lustre since. Add a sugar cube to a champagne flute or coupe class, drop 3 or 4 drop of Angostura bitters, and add champagne. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
Knowledge, balance, hope.
Dissecting the interview and listening to his tracks over and over again, this is what I kept taking away from Gatsby’s presence. Obviously, that’s oversimplifying a wildly complex character, but the pillars of who he is seemed to influence each of them.
There is so much experience and depth to Gatsby. It takes the Earth many trips around the Sun for most of us to begin to understand life like Gatsby has in his short years on this planet. Patience, acceptance, dignity. Respect. Balance.
What I respect so much about Gatsby is that he embodies these emotions in all he does, from his conversations to his social presence to his art, to the point where it becomes contagious. Being around Gatsby inspires you to be better. He’s very well read and well spoken, with a sense of spirituality that seems in tune with the universe. If I asked him during the interview where Venus is, I’m sure he could have pointed me directly to its location in the sunny sky.
Gatsby’s music is food for the mind and for the soul – it has a healing quality to it. Fish was the natural choice – it is brainfood for a reason, with compounds that counter Alzheimer’s, builds and repairs brain cells, and reduces swelling to counter degenerative diseases. The Omega 3s in fish are even linked with lower levels of depression. Fish is a meal that keeps one’s mind healthy. It is prepared in a Cajun style, one of the many classic cuisines known under the umbrella of Southern soul food.
The fish is blackened a little but remarkably smooth on the inside – tough and gritty on the outside but gives away to a tender inside with gloss and finesse. Light but full of substance.
The side of coconut ginger beans are versatile and velvety but have a timeless and classic feel. Beans are the foundation of countless culinary staples, but this is a different and unexpected take on them. This parallels Gatsby’s roots in traditional boom-bap hip hop but with a modern flare.
Finally, a crisp and refreshing champagne cocktail is the perfect toast to life. To making it. To overcoming what all of us have had to overcome. Not only is the sweetness of the champagne and sugar a seamless pair with the heat of the meal, but it pays homage to Gatsby’s namesake, a soul from a simpler time.
The experience is a boost to the system, a reminder why life is worth living to its fullest. Your mind, body, and soul emerge refreshed. There is a clearer sense of self, a focus on the version of you want to live. Enjoy it, and don’t let anything stop you from becoming it.