VERSIS: I JUST WANTED TO TALK TO YOU
photography by dana washington
When Colin Palmer was a music-loving high school student, his Mac crashed and his aspirations of being a producer were channelled into the written word, and so Colin became Versis. The teen MC found a lane early. Before he was 21, he clocked credits with a wide array of collaborators like Dibia$e, fLako and Mar. Wherever it was going down in Los Angeles, Versis was in the audience, or if he couldn’t get in the club, he was outside soaking up vibes. After his respectable debut album Illcandescent, the ubiquitous young man slipped under the radar. Versis went quiet for several years before re-emerging, transformed, in 2015 with copeæsthetic, a project much meatier, moodier and introspective than anything previous. Versis wasn’t rapping about rapping as much as he was rapping to himself, questioning himself, demanding more out of a human being who was coming into his own. I FaceTimed with the 24 year-old to speak about the life processes that led to copeæsthetic, surviving the sea of scenes in L.A., and mental health. This interview by sweeney kovar.
copeæsthetic is one of my favorite pieces of music from 2015. It’s very personal without feeling like a diary. What personal elements inspired the album?
Versis: Part of what inspired copeæsthetic was witnessing [my brother’s] battle with bipolar disorder. This project, seriously—when you mentioned mental health in your email to do this interview, you reminded me that [mental health] was one of the main things I wanted to touch on with this project. I didn’t want to do it directly but I just wanted to talk about really important things that matter to me and that turned out to be mental health. Throughout the album I talk about my own struggle to keep a level head as well. It’s sometimes cryptic, but it’s there—I’m talking to myself most of the time on it.
What did you discover about yourself making the album? Do you feel you’ve had the necessary catharsis?
Versis: I proved to myself that I could really put my heart and mind into something and it could manifest the way I envisioned. I learned to trust my ear, to trust the ideas that come to me. I definitely feel like I had a necessary release in creating this album. The week the album came out, I was at work and I had a release moment at my desk. I shed some tears and I think that was symbolic of letting go of that pain that made me create the project in the first place. The whole project doesn’t stem from just the situation with my brother and I, it’s all connected through the fact that I learned how to write music through his influence. He took me to the guys that recorded me for the first time. He connected me to the people who recorded all my first music all the way up until my first album, Illcandescent. Hearing people being able to understand what I’m saying feels good. It’s good to know the way I’m communicating is translating .
You’ve been rapping for a while now and have various projects under your belt but it really sounds like you’re the most comfortable on this new album.
Versis: That’s one of the things I thought about and I wanted to get that across and I’m glad it translated. It came from the heart.
How did the dynamic between you and your brother specifically influence the album?
Versis: ‘rain on a Sunday’ or ‘calidelphia’ wouldn’t exist without my brother. Our dynamic definitely influenced many parts of the album. I can take it back to how I learned to rap from listening to the stuff he would play. He used to play The Lox and D-Block. He’d always rewind the CDs to have me understand what they were saying. He influenced my writing towards being detailed. As far of the subject matter of copeæsthetic, our dynamic made me talk about being conflicted with loving myself and loving someone else close to me when there are reasons to be disappointed in myself or in that someone else. Our relationship leading up to the album made me have to start to learn about unconditional love and self-love. I also want to clarify that even though we’ve had our situations, I’m putting it in the music to show how I’m dealing with it. It’s not to be putting him on blast like he did this or he did that. We still talk at least every couple of weeks. We’re still growing through it.
How critical to the formation of the album was that situation between you and your brother that you added on ‘rain on a Sunday’?
Versis: I’d say it was a key happening in the sense that I wouldn’t have had the time and space to process the recent happenings, let alone to record the other songs if things didn’t go down like that. When all that was happening, something told me to record audio. It’s weird cuz I wasn’t immediately thinking ‘I’m going to record this and do an album!’ I knew I wasn’t going to see him for a while after he kicked me out. In short, that moment recorded on the song was a precursor to the darkest times I’ve ever faced. At one point, I’d come home after work and just sit in the dark in silence. That was another part of the break: dealing with family stuff that led to me looking at myself more closely.
Where do you want to go musically now that you’ve processed that a bit more?
Versis: I want to make feel-good music, pretty much. I feel like since I’ve started I’ve just been talking about rising above situations and shining light, so I want to continue on the path. I want to evolve. Working with Swarvy is definitely a part of that evolution because it’s live instrumentation. I’m learning how to write songs more now—not necessarily to follow structure but to work with structure. Just some evolution shit. I left behind a lot of doubt, a lot of fear, a lot of insecurity. Now, whenever a thought about doubting myself creeps up, I face it and try to counter it by doing the exact opposite of what it’s saying.
You’re 24 now. How do you look back at those years in your late teens when you were finding your voice as an artist?
Versis: I was on this wide-eyed autopilot trip. A lot of cool shit was happening for me fast. I had to go through the whole influence thing. I was influenced greatly by the times, I was influenced greatly by the first things that really grabbed me in hip-hop. Black Moon was one of the first groups that I really got stuck on. Obviously [A] Tribe [Called Quest]. At that time in my life, Blu was the first rapper I really connected with where just through the music I felt we would understand each other, like we were on similar planes. The whole scene in L.A. in the late 2000s was exciting. It felt like something was happening and it was getting crazy over here again. It’s still warming up over here, honestly. I feel like history is being written right now and it’s not even annoyingly crazy yet. Look at FlyLo on the intro to Kendrick’s album. I remember being raised by Adult Swim and hearing FlyLo beats and trying to figure out what the fuck that was. Watching all of it bubble was crazy. I feel like making music was my alternative to joining a gang. I felt like I could find a home through it, and I did. I understood what I needed to do. For Illcandescent, I printed that up myself. I used to hold a box of CDs wherever I’d go—a show, whatever. I was watching what everyone else did and tried not to do that. You know the dudes on Venice and Hollywood that try to throw CDs at you? Nope. I just had nice-looking CDs in the box and if you’re curious enough, you’ll ask. I preferred that. I felt that would weed out attention that wasn’t genuine anyways. I would just show up.
I remember seeing you show up at spots that were 21 and over before you were 21 yourself. You’d just be there.
Versis: Yeah, dude. Just show up. I’m still trying to understand what’s happening here—I feel like something’s happening still, something like a jazz renaissance.
For someone who was out in public doing your thing so early, you took a pretty significant break from putting out music after your first album, Illcandescent.
Versis: Honestly, I just wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore. Ok, put out a good album. What else is there? Then life started to get crazy. I started feeling more down than ever. Maybe because I felt music was my only hope. I remember recording one of the last songs for Illcandescent, ‘Life After You’ and starting to have doubts and wondering if I was good enough. I didn’t take into account the fact that maybe I had something or understood something that other folks didn’t. I was doubting my own abilities. I was doing too much thinking. Iman Omari told me in 2011, ‘You gotta get over yourself.’ But it didn’t even register until this year when he reminded me he said that. That’s always been something I’ve dealt with—being my own worst enemy. Sometimes I think that’s what my name has represented in a sense since Versis is spelled with an ‘i’ and not a ‘u.’ I started putting shit out when I was 17. When I was 19, I put out my first album, Illcandescent. Keep in mind that’s only a few years of me even trying to write songs. To get love for that was dope, but at the same time I didn’t want to take credit since I didn’t feel I knew what I was doing. I had to take time and get a better understanding. I’m glad I did because listening to Illcandescent and older projects … it’s consistent. It’s always been a good message. I just need to chill out and not get lost. I feel like people get lost trying to keep up.
How hard is it to not get lost in L.A.?