A report by Mark Elibert for Billboard.
When it comes to making music, the rising artist Caye is no rookie. Music has always played a major role in the life of the Boston-bred MC. For starters, he’s named after Bob Marley’s tenth studio album Kaya, one of the many albums his parents played while Caye was a child. At three years old, Caye picked up the piano, and at age 10, he moved on to the drums. “I mostly played funk, reggae, and jazz but in the 9th grade I switched to the steel drums,” Caye tells Billboard. “There was a calypso band at my dad’s 50th birthday party and I met one of the guys. He started giving me lessons and sent me to Trinidad to learn more about the culture and the instrument.”
That trip would build the eclectic sound we hear from him today. His music is a fusion of hip-hop, reggae, rock, funk, and jazz; his inspirations include Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder. In an era dominated by 808s and snare drums, Caye’s use of live instruments and nimble lyricism have brought a buzz that the 20-year-old embraces gracefully. While attending USC, his breakout record “Coma” in 2016 earned over 5 million streams and his status in the college circuit was cemented with sold out shows and a legion of fans that would rival the fan base of other rising MCs.
Fast-forward two years later and Caye is moving on to the next step in his career with his debut album Pink Tree Paradise. By taking an official leave of absence that USC allows for their working students, Caye is able to put all his focus on this album and his career. The 11-track project takes a look in to the life of the buzzing artist. With features by Wiz Khalifa, Danny Diamonds, and Rosy, Caye is taking listeners on a fun-filled, summer ride down the fused sound he and his producer Dawgus created. The vast canvas that Dawgus provides for Caye allows him to use his striking voice to paint the picture that his music is trying capture.
Caye’s future looks bright as he and his team are gearing up for the release of Pink Tree Paradise. A promo run has already begun, with the music video for the Wiz Khalifa-assisted song “Easy” arriving around the time of the album’s release. Work has already begun on the follow-up project to Pink Tree Paradise and a tour is planned for the fall. In short, Caye doesn’t seem to be lifting his foot off the pedal.
Billboard got the chance to speak with the busy singer/songwriter/producer about the album, his views on changing the world through art and what it was like to work with Wiz Khalifa on “Easy.” Check out our conversation below.
Let’s talk about that trip you took to Trinidad in relation to your move from Boston to LA. Now that you’ve toured most of the country, what have each of these transitions done for your career?
A lot, man. I went down to Trinidad the summer going into 9th grade. I stayed with a family down there and I brought back the Caribbean influence and added it to my producing and songwriting. When I was 18, I went to college at the USC Thornton School of Music and met my producer Dawgus. From there, we started working with my manager, put our musical backgrounds together and tried to figure out a new sound.
The transition from Boston to LA was a pretty big leap, but it also felt right at the time. Going to Trinidad, I knew it was time for me to expand, because I lived in Boston my whole life, which was like living in a bubble. Moving to LA immediately made me okay with traveling and living in different places. Since I’ve been touring, it’s like I don’t really live in one place at the moment. I’m just always bouncing around and seeing so many different things. So yeah, it’s been pretty crazy.
I want you to take it all the way back to your first project Day Trips and talk about the evolution from that project up to where we are now with Pink Tree Paradise. What lessons did you learn throughout this evolution?
Oh, wow. Let’s take it back to when I first started putting stuff out on SoundCloud. I used to put out EDM music way back in the day and I kind of switched to more Flume-type of music. I then switched to making hip-hop beats, but like all different styles; not your classic hip-hop beat. I got a mic and recorded over those beats and hid it away on my computer. My cousin somehow found it and convinced me to put it out. I ended up doing that, and one of them did well, with like 100,000 plays or something like that.
That made me realize that I could actually do this. So I made Day Trips 4 or 5 summers ago. That was my first little project. I definitely have come a long way from then. I have a team now, and I know now how important teamwork is. You can’t do it all by yourself. I was producing, writing, rapping, singing, playing the instruments and doing all my own press. I can tell you that wasn’t effective at all.
There are a lot of different sounds on Pink Tree Paradise, from hip-hop to reggae. What led to the album sounding this way?
Before I made this album, my main thing was all about taking different genres and making it into something that’s more mainstream that people can listen to. I want to take listeners who listen to one type of music and kind of expand their range and open them up to other genres. That’s kind of what Pink Tree Paradise is; a bunch of different genres. There are songs with reggae, jazz, and Latin influences. Before we met, my producer Dawgus and I grew up playing a bunch of different genres of music, so that helped in creating this sound that’s on the album.
What’s the inspiration behind Pink Tree Paradise?
This is my debut album. It’s really my life experience up until this point. The “paradise” part is that I’m finally not doing anything school-related. I pushed everything aside to focus on my paradise, which is music. It’s what I wanted to do my whole life. As for “pink,” in high school I used to call shit that I thought was dope “pink,” and the “trees” aspect is like, life, you know — weed and everything.
One of the features that stands out on the track list is Wiz Khalifa. What was it like working with him and did he give you any advice?
I met Wiz about a year ago. My manager brought me and Dawgus to the studio where Wiz was at and we chilled, smoked up, and played music for each other. We had this one song that he wanted to hop on so he got to work and had it ready for us the next morning. It was crazy how quick and organic it came about. He’s been killing the game for so long and he’s still at it. He’s someone I can look at and see how to shape my career.
The best advice he gave was mostly about evolving as an artist. When he was first coming up he was always rapping about girls, money, and weed and now he has all that. That was his motivation. Now, he needs to find other motivations. He told me that he’s been struggling with finding that since he has everything he rapped about earlier on. I think that was really interesting to me. Evolving your motivations. As an artist, you need to want something in order to get people to feel what you’re saying.
People have made comments about the lack of talent some artists have these days. Do you feel you have an advantage over your peers because you’re a multi-instrumentalist, and do you feel any pressure to deliver quality material?
I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage. Like, I wouldn’t know, so don’t quote me, but Drake doesn’t play any instruments, I don’t think, and he’s been on top of the game for several years now. I don’t necessarily think it’s an advantage, but it definitely helps me express what I want to hear and what’s in my head more easily. And I wouldn’t call it pressure, either. I definitely feel excited and determined to help shape the music industry like back towards playing live instruments and what it used to be having real talent. Not to say there isn’t real talent out here, but some of these guys aren’t showing it.
Why do you feel music should go back to live instrumentation?
I didn’t mean going back, like, retrace its steps. I feel like music was in this era when everyone was playing live music with bands and stuff. It was great, but it’s also costly to have a 10-piece band on tour. So when technology came along, it became more cost efficient to do all that. Now we’re kind of finding a way to get through that initial phase of just using computers. It’s the same process, one is just a little bit easier. I think to really expand and make music even better than it was is to know about that era and add real instruments to the music.
An artist that used live instrumentation is one your inspirations, Bob Marley. His music changed the world. You’ve mentioned before that you want your music to do the same. Is that still your mindset?
I was thinking about that the other day. I must of have been like in 4th or 5th grade where I realized what death is and how intense the world is. I remember that being super scary for me and how real it was. I think the way I got myself over that initial shock and being that scared was thinking that if I can leave a mark and change something then I’ll be good. It’s like, I’ll still be here when I’m gone.
Growing up, Bob Marley was always a huge influence on me. He’s probably my biggest influence as an artist musically. Along with his movement and what he was pushing for and just how good his music is, it really inspired me. So changing the world for the better, much like what Bob Marley did, is something that I really want to do.
Now, looking at what Kanye West has been doing lately, where he says he’s trying to change the world, what do you think about his approach?
I mean, I definitely want to be cautious about how I change and influence the world. Honestly, there’s really nothing new with Kanye. This is Kanye. This is what he’s been doing and what he’s going to keep doing. It’s just on a whole new level. I think it’s a smart marketing tactic to get all the eyes on him. He’s blowing up way past where he already was. But I don’t think his actual impact on the world is really going to carry over through generations, personally. I think his music for sure will lock him in as a legend.
Lastly, when you first started, you had a huge buzz growing in the college scene and some would consider your music to be just for the college kids. How do you quiet the naysayers and convince them otherwise?
I think that a lot of that came from me being 20 years old and a sophomore in college. A lot of my friends are in college, so they looked to me to come and do shows and stuff. But I think one thing to tell the naysayers is that my producer Dawgus and I have been doing music for 16-17 years already. In the music world, we’re not these new kids just making music. We’re veterans in the music game as musicians. The music speaks for itself.