Following the release of his album and a plethora of singles and videos to match, rising artist and rapper Robert Martino – otherwise known as The Young Al Capone – kindly took part in an interview.
We talk all things hip hop, from inspiration to bars to live performance, and plenty that falls in between. Here’s how it went.
* * *
Hi Robert, great to chat – thanks for the interview! For those new to your work, how would you define what you do?
Oh yo, anytime – it’s great to be here, it’s really nice to meet you, and thanks for having me!!
I guess I would define what I do as Hip-Hop, really old school Hip-Hop like something from the 90s or the 2010’s. I want to bring back that old school style of lyricism into the mainstream, because nowadays it’s just something we have kind of lost and gotten away from.
If I can, I want to keep it alive, and I want hip hop to keep going. I know it will without me, but if I could be one of the instrumental players to keep this kind of genre alive, then man I’d be blessed and lucky, and just honored every day to be here.
The scene knows you as The Young Al Capone – what’s the story behind that?
The story behind that, now that’s an awesome question. I made The Young Al Capone to deal with all of the things in my life that I wasn’t necessarily strong enough to handle. He’s the villain, and he’s the bad guy on the record – he’s kind of like the guy that I’m playing on this album and in this story, and throughout the entire album I’m rapping from his perspective, so a lot of the things that I’m saying I don’t necessarily agree with but, it’s just what I thought he would say.
It’s like my alter ego, just like Slim Shady and Eminem, but he’s a really cool character and his name is a spin on the Young Sinatra, when Logic used to be the Young Sinatra back in the day. I always just thought that was really cool and Logic’s my hero. I have a line in one of my songs where I say “If Frank Sinatra’s taken then f it I’ll be Al Capone” and that’s kind of like the birth place of the Young Al Capone.
“I feel like a lot of kids these days don’t even know who Biggie is, and that’s just sad.”
Your breadth of influence ranges from Nas to Eminem, from Action Bronson to Kendrick. What qualities do you think an inspiring rap artist needs to highlight in order to really connect?
I think a good thing to focus on is the culture for sure, you know, and not just what’s going on now – I think it’s important to go back into the history of Hip-Hop and learn where it started, where it came from, how long it’s been, and where we’re going. If you go back into the 80s, go listen to slick rick and all of those guys, and then listen to Nas and Jay Z and Jaz-O and Herb McGruff and Big-L. Then after that, after you listen to the roots and everybody in the 90s, go listen to everybody in the 2000s, and the 2010s, and the late 2010s, and then now.
If you look back at the history of Hip-Hop, it’s really cool because it’s just like a world tree, and everybody took from each other, so that’s kind of what I did. I went back in time and I listened to the way these guys were talking, the slang they used the way they enunciated their words. That’s another really cool thing about rap that makes certain artists so special, it’s the way they enunciate their words. Like Biggie, you know, Biggie had that slow Brooklyn flow where he lagged behind the beat, but he was only able to do that because of the way his voice sounded, it was so unique.
I would say just go back in time, become a nerd about this stuff, read, learn the history and the culture and then eventually you’ll just start to get better, but do your history for sure. I feel like a lot of kids these days don’t even know who Biggie is, and that’s just sad. It’s important to look back at where we have been to really understand and find out where we should go.
What was the first song you ever crafted, and how has your approach changed in the time since?
The first song I ever crafted… Now that’s a really good question. It was called Graduation Day, back in 2016, and it was a really cool song, to be honest. I didn’t really know what I was doing yet so it didn’t come out well, but I think back then I just wanted to finish a song and have something that I could listen to.
But now, all of these years later, now that I’m a lot better, I always just want to make sure that every song I make is perfect, and it sounds good, and it’s dope, and it’s something fun to listen to. I think that’s how things have changed, I just really got a lot better and started to pay a lot more attention to detail.
Tell us about the single If Tomorrow Never Comes, what prompted you to tell this story at this moment, and why do you think the piano and voice combination brings out such captivating passion and depth?
You know I made that song when I was in a really bad place, and that song is so special to me because it tells my story and where I was at that time in my life. I was really depressed, I was really sad, I was in school and I didn’t want to be there, and I was chasing something in my life that was gone – I was chasing a distant memory, and I was stuck in the past.
That song is so important because it showed me working through all of those problems and bad thoughts that I had in my head. It was definitely a cry for help, and it was saying ‘god damnit, I need help, somebody help me, I just want to be loved, and I wanna love myself and be free but I cant because I’m haunted by all of these things that happened in my past’.
I think that song will forever remain like a staple in time for me, because every time I listen it takes me back to the first day I heard that mix back and I wrote the song, and I feel all of that pain and everything that I went through. And now I’m thankful, looking back – it doesn’t make me sad, it is what it is, and I’m grateful I wrote that song.
I think it was way better then anything I was doing at the time but, I think that’s why it’s so special, because it represents me and who I am, and what I stand for. A lot of the other records on the album I’m just talking shit, trying to scare people, and be like ‘hey look I can rap, look at me, just like Jay-Z and Biggie and Nas’, but that song is real, and it’s from my heart, and it’s unbelievably special to me and will always remain something special inside of my heart.
What’s the rap scene like in Boston lately, and how did you first get your foot in the door in terms of building your audience?
In terms of building my audience, I think I just got really lucky over the years. I’ve been rapping for about 7 years now just working at this every single day, and I wouldn’t say it was all luck, it was definitely a lot of persistence, but I was lucky enough to open up for a lot of up and coming artists in the city like Dylan Reese, Matt Corman and Hi-Rez, all of these people that gave me a chance and a platform.
I think it was just the resilience I had over the years that really got me to where I am now, and I think it keeps pushing me further and further every single day. I feel like every day is a new challenge and a new journey, and I’m just honored to be here on this ride and trying to make this music every single day. I love it, I just love it all – I love the hustle, and I love music, so I’m blessed to be able to what I’m doing everyday.
“If I could I’d be on a world tour right now, performing every single day, because I love it, it’s my dream.”
How important is live performance for you, and how do you make sure to bring the right energy and presence when you hit the stage?
Live performing on stage, oh god, honestly, it’s the best – I don’t think that there is anything in my life that even comes close, or even gives me that same feeling as when I’m on stage – I feel like I’m somebody else, I feel like I’m free, and I just don’t feel like… I don’t know, it’s almost like when you’re having a panic attack, and you feel like you’re floating in the air, but when I’m floating there’s no fear, I just feel free and like I can be myself and scream and yell at the top of my lungs. I think the crowd really feels that when I’m performing, you know, I feel that energy and they can see how happy and ecstatic I am to be there, that we all just start screaming and yelling together and it’s just an unbelievable and amazing time.
To prepare I don’t do much, I always make sure that I eat, that I have water to drink, because there has been times when I’m performing and through my sets my throat gets so dry that I can’t even perform. You know one time, I remember, oh my god – I was rapping in Quincy and my throat got so dry I couldn’t rap, like people were just handing me drinks on stage and I was just drinking whatever people were handing me, haha, which is kind of stupid because who knows what were in those drinks, but I was just drinking everything, it was crazy.
You know I love it, I just love performing more then anything, and if I could I’d be on a world tour right now, performing every single day, because I love it, it’s my dream.
The Return Of The King is the name of the new album. What does the project represent, and what do you hope people take away from it?
You know I think that’s an awesome question. I think the project represents my music and me, and I think it also represents the direction I want to take my music and the style of Hip-Hop that I’m going for, you know. I think before The Return of the King I didn’t really have a direction with my music, and I didn’t really feel like I had a place to fit in yet, when it comes to Hip-Hop, but I think that when I put that album out, I finally found my place in this industry and I finally found where I belong.
I think it definitely sets the precedence for what’s to come in the future and what we can expect from me and my music, because it just took all of my music and everything that I do to a completely new level, and it really showed people, ‘hey, I can rap, I want to rap, and I’m doing it, and I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere for a long time’, and I cant wait to see what’s going to happen next, because I feel like every single day’s a new journey and adventure.
Which track from the album do you think will hit fans with the greatest impact, and why?
Umm like I said before, I think If Tomorrow Never Comes will definitely have the greatest impact out of any song on the album, and I think I kind of already answered this but, it’s just something so special to me and it’s something so unique as opposed to all of the other songs, I think that the interlude is pretty cool too as well. The interlude, actually – fun fact – is a real conversation I had back with someone very special to me when I was a kid, I remade it with an actress but, it’s called Remembrance of things Past, which is in reference to a novel written by Marcel Proust. I think in the books he’s recounting, just you know, a lost love, and, yeah it’s really cool.
I think those two records – If Tomorrow Never Comes, and Remembrance of Things Past for sure, they definitely show a different part of me that isn’t really seen throughout the entire album, and that part is more me and the real me and it’s Robert; less of the Young Al Capone.
What’s your biggest ambition right now, and how will you go about achieving it?
My biggest ambition right now – that’s another cool question. To be honest, right now it’s to just make this brand new album and try to take over the world. I really want to be like the next Kendrick Lamar, the next Jay-Z, the next Joey BadA$$, the next Logic, and I think to get there, you know, there’s a certain level of excellence and talent that I need to reach. Every single day I’m just shooting for the stars with a rocket in my backyard. That sounds corny but that’s an old G-Eazy line that I love from back in the day, in 2010 when he was popping.
But yeah, I wanna take over the world, man, I want to be the next Jack Harlow, man, I want to be famous, so hopefully someday soon we get there man.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
To be honest, I was never really given any advice in the music industry, I just saw what I wanted to do, and I did it. I wish I was given some advice but I never was, I did everything on my own. I had a lot of people who helped me get to where I am but I never had anybody sit me down and be like ‘hey, this is what you do, and that’s how to get there’, it was all just me on the internet spending hours and hours and hours researching Hip-Hop and culture, and this game, and the industry, just trying to learn how to exist and be what I am now.
Every single day I’m still learning, I’m still learning things now that tend to re-route everything and it’s a never-ending battle, every single day just a constant struggle to survive. But I really do love it, so we’re going to keep going and see what happens next.
What’s something about you that people might be surprised to hear?
Umm definitely that I am a massive nerd – I love Pokémon cards, I love Digimon cards, I love video games. If you throw an anime off the top of the dome I’ve probably watched it. I like ballet, I like the performing arts… I’m a big nerd dude, a massive nerd, don’t let the internet fool you, dude – it’s lies, it’s all fake, haha – and I defiantly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Is there anything else we should know?
I feel like we kind of covered everything. Oh I have a new album coming out next summer, it’s going to be called Everything that I promised you. I’m really excited for it and thank you guys so much for having me, this was crazy, you guys killed it with the questions. To be honest, I was pretty stumped on some of these questions, they were really good. I hope that I gave you some good answers, and I hope that the readers will love it, and thanks for having me, man, it was really nice to meet ya, and I hope that you guys have a really good day.
* * *