In this FRONTPAGE interview, we check in with one of the most talented producers in the music world – the one and only Pi’erre Bourne.
As much as music production allows for open expression and artistic invention, the actual process of recording (and the industrial demands that come with it) can be almost claustrophobic. When I meet Pi’erre Bourne at a photoshoot in Manhattan, he’d already spent several hours posing for the camera and needed some air; when you spend all day cooped up inside a studio doing something that requires focus and repetition, even the sensory overload of Midtown is a welcome respite. Pi’erre jumps at the opportunity to catch his breath, get the blood flowing again, and let the sounds of the city clear his head.
A food order arrived from a Chik-fil-A around the corner, but without any condiments, so Pi’erre decides to break off on a momentary side quest to acquire the sauce. His publicist says someone else would be more than happy to run the errand, but Pi’erre still insists on doing it himself; it was clear he needed a quick change of scenery, but it also seemed like he didn’t want to get too comfortable being waited on and served. Despite the undeniable influence his sound has had on the landscape of rap and pop music alike, the devoted cult that follows his every release, and the astronomical clout level of many of his collaborators, Pi’erre Bourne has made it a mission to hold onto his humility, whether that’s something larger than himself like sharing his platform with emerging artists or something as seemingly trivial as running down the block to get his own sauce packets.
A native of Queens, Pi’erre doesn’t spend quite as much time in the city as he used to, but that makes his visits now all the more special — a few days before we speak, he and his family celebrated his grandmother’s 80th birthday. While shaped by the distinct energy of New York City, Pi’erre lived in Atlanta for several years studying audio engineering, and so many of his closest collaborators, like Playboi Carti and Young Nudy, are Atlanta-bred. Spending time in places with their own scenes and sounds gives him what he sees as “a great balance,” both creatively and personally. “My father’s from South Carolina, and I went to high school there, which was a hell of an experience compared to New York,” he says, laughing. “But I appreciated that, because it molded me into who I am. Living in different places made me not stubborn to other cultures, because I had to adapt. You get exposed to different genres in different places, whether it’s church music or jazz. The sound is a little different when you travel, but you still see the same love of music everywhere.”
That sense of balance manifests in so many aspects of Pi’erre’s career and body of work thus far, as an artist who has melded multiple lanes into one. He may have become a marquee name as a producer first, but he’s been rapping and making beats alike since childhood, and he sees no real separation between those sides of himself. Not to mention he’s something of a lowkey style icon, though he might be too modest to describe himself in those terms. When we meet, he’s wearing a hoodie that’s mostly black with a splash of the now signature Pi’erre purple, the textile equivalent of a producer tag. “All of my fans are wearing purple now. At the concerts, you see everybody waiting in line has their own purple, no matter what brand, it’s just all purple. That shit is so cool to me.”
He apologizes to me and corrects himself anytime he swears; you can tell it’s important to him to be humble and respectful, to put on the best face he can for his family and fans alike. Never one to simply churn out beats or phone it in on a project, Pi’erre is much the same way in person: choosing his words carefully without overthinking them. He’s not the loudest guy in the room, never one to show off or act out, but he’s probably the funniest once he opens up and starts riffing. Good manners and good humor are both important skills when you’ve navigated between so many worlds.
Pi’erre sees no real separation between his different creative skill sets. When he’s in producer-mode and helping another artist craft their sound, he is much more than just a beatmaker getting hit up for commissions. He’s an equal partner truly invested in collaboration, with technical know-how and engineering experience that makes his compositions fuller and more striking than his now many imitators: “Sometimes my engineering or production experience can be a distraction when it comes to just rapping. It’s helpful to know about mixing and mastering, but it can get in the way when you just need to think of words.”
He’s increasingly taken on yet another role as the primary creative force behind his Sosshouse label and a mentor to its roster of emerging talent. Pi’erre has used the Sosshouse moniker for his own music in the past, and he’s been friends with members like Chavo for almost a decade, but it’s recently become more fully-realized as a label and collective. With the release of The Life of Pi’erre 4 and TLOP 5 (the final installments of a cycle that began as free mixtapes in 2016 and ended with two major label albums), Pi’erre has fully established himself as an auteur in his own right, an artist who is still relatively young but now has the knowledge and experience, as well as the industry connections, to put on artists who aren’t yet household names. “It’s been a learning experience for sure,” he says. “Some people when you work in a collaborative setting, it’s more 50/50, sometimes it clashes. So when I get to do my own thing with Sosshouse and we’re more on the same page, it’s special.”
“I try not to force collaboration,” he continues. “I watch a lot of documentaries about music producers, like Quincy Jones, who made so many albums with Michael Jackson. I make sure I connect with an artist personally like that, because I want to continue creating music in the future with the people I work with. I’m not interested in the first song I make with someone, I’m interested in song number 30, because by then the chemistry will be so much deeper. When I work with someone, I look forward to the possibilities and the potential. That keeps me creative.”
Though the name might imply as much, Sosshouse doesn’t have a set house sound; its members are diverse in style, allowing Pi’erre to experiment with different parts of his skillset and personality through each project. Pi’erre is no stranger to punk vibes, but his recent single “Hold It Up” with Kura is one of the polymath artist’s most guitar-driven tracks to date, while his tracks with J Billz and Jelly are a little bit more straight-up rap. “I don’t have to sit and make a ton of beats all day and send them off,” he says. “Now I can spend more time and really communicate with the artist and pick their brain and figure out what they want from me so I can bring my best.”
Someone like Kanye West — an inspiration for Pi’erre, who is now a collaborator — might have faced resistance early in his career as a versatile artist equally capable of laying down bars and beats, but Pi’erre doesn’t feel like other people have tried to limit or stifle his potential. If anything, he’s his own harshest critic: “It’s just a mind game, almost everyone puts themselves into a box based on what they become successful and known for, but you create your own path. When I first started making music, it wasn’t ever one sound, I was always trying out things and figuring it out. But I put my all into it, so when I complete a song and put it out, I’m usually pretty sold on it, so I’m not afraid of what everyone thinks, I’m actually excited to see what everyone will say. The way my process works, I’m so hard on myself that when people do hear it, they’ll hear the best version.”
One of the most valuable tenets Pi’erre has passed on to the Sosshouse collective is the importance of patience, learning to trust the process and keeping your hand to the wheel, even if you aren’t immediately getting the reception you want: “Back when I was starting out, it wasn’t harder to sit and wait and hold onto the music, it was harder to sit and wait for people to discover the music.”
That sense of timing is something he’s been honing like a blade for years. “You have to be able to adjust to the times and transfer to the next platform. I’ve been on social media since MySpace, I figured it out then when I was like 15 or 16. I was getting a thousand plays a day, I’d come home from school and see all these comments and it didn’t feel real, because it was just on the Internet. I’m still going to school, my mom’s still telling me to take the trash out. That was before Justin Bieber got discovered online, Lex Luger started making beats for everybody, it was right around that time. And I remember seeing all of their shit on MySpace. But those little moments gave me adrenaline, maybe everyone didn’t see it, but getting those plays kept me going.”
It’s that sense of forward-looking vision that’s been crucial for Pi’erre, with his future serving as a guiding star throughout his career, especially in times when he felt discouraged and defeated. “So much of my music with Carti leaked. It was a reset every time with everything we worked on, because all the leaks were immediately imitated and duplicated. It doesn’t bother me now because I just focus on the next project, but at first it was hard.”
Though Pi’erre has pushed past these kinds of setbacks, you can tell it’s something he’s had to actively make peace with; his tone takes on a little bit of hurt and frustration when talking about leaks compared to the positivity of the rest of our conversation. He pauses for a moment to think of the right word to describe the discouragement of seeing other people build their careers off sounds that he didn’t even get to officially release: “It felt like blasphemy. But to sit here bitter like I’m Soulja Boy, saying I did it first? I don’t want to be like that. I’d rather just keep focusing on what’s next.” It’s evident Pi’erre takes his career very seriously, but in moments like this, he’s quick to disarm himself through humor to keep from tilting over into self-importance or resentment.
His next solo record is finished, but there’s no hurry – release dates, like all things, come in their own natural time. “I feel better not working in the studio all the time, my voice is rested. Even if you’re not making music, you have to keep showing love. Go outside, meet your fans, because that love keeps you going,” says Pi’erre. Just like you need fresh air after being in the studio for hours, you need days off when there’s such pressure to always be hustling and performing. For now, Pi’erre Bourne’s main goal is finding that room to breathe, taking in the world around him, and making space for others to join in his success.
Experience this story and others in the new issue of Highsnobiety Magazine, available from retailers around the world and our online store.
Catch Pi’erre Bourne live at his ongoing “Good Movie World Tour” and stream his latest project with Juicy J, ‘Space Age Pimpin,’ right here.