Interview

Play It Again: Que Billah “Survive ft. Kora Green”

by Sara Waber

Play Too Much: Tell me a little bit about the song and working with Kora Green?

Que Billah: Ok so I don’t write. I go in the booth and brainstorm, I come up with 4 lines at a time. Late last year I was listening to Kendrick Lamar “I” and I came up with the first 4 bars of “Survive”. When I listen to good music it always makes me wanna rap. Ideas always come into my head listening to good music.

Coincidentally a few days later I was on phone with The Sick One, he was chopping up the sample to “Survive” in the background and I’m like that’s dope I want that. So when he emailed me the loop I played around with it for a day and I had the whole first verse in my head. Then the Sick One added some drums and 808 to it and I took it to the studio.

The other two verses took about 30 minutes a piece, which is quick for me usually takes me 3 hrs to finish a song. Even tho I don’t write it’s not always a fast process sometimes I get stuck but I don’t leave the booth til the song is done. Flipside is actually writing songs down takes me days.

So now the verses are done but we have no hook. I couldn’t think of anything so I sent it to three people that are amazing at hooks, Nikki Nikita, Ty Doe and Kora Green. All of them wrote 3 hooks a piece, all dope hooks, which I ended up making other songs out of.

Now I went from no hook to too many hooks to choose from (lol). A few I knew just didn’t fit so we narrowed it down and I played it for some people and Kora’s hook came out victorious. Kora is Al Green’s daughter – very talented and amazing writer and singer, she also has two sisters that are equally as amazing artists. We all went to college together. With Al Green as your father, how could you not inherit the gift? (I know you’re wondering, so let’s address the elephant in the room: no, her mom wasn’t the woman who poured hot grits on Mr. Green lol).

Originally her hook wasn’t that colorful, she hadn’t put all those harmonies on yet. That session was kinda dry. I wasn’t there mentally because right before I came to the studio, I got the news that I was having a baby. I was kinda in shock, my life had changed that day but the show must go on, so I’m in the studio trying to finish this song.

Later Kora called me and said she wanted to go back in and add harmonies. She said that she played it for a friend and he said that she wasn’t going hard enough, said she didn’t sound like she really wanted to “Survive”. He challenged her to dig deeper. Ironically that friend was shot and killed a few weeks later but he did get to hear the song. I’m dedicating the song to him, and I will formally do so when the official project drops.

Play Too Much: Wow, what an incredible process. This is what we love about our “Play It Again” talks with artists – you’d have no idea the rollercoaster that occurs behind a song. Thank you for sharing! Why did you choose this song to make a video for?

Que Billah: I choose this song because it felt fresh and new. This was the last song I recorded for my project. The project is called Escape From Chi-raq. A lot of songs on my project are outside of my comfort zone I choose some different beats than I normally rap on. I ventured out into the trap realm not to conform, but to code my message in a way that the people who needed to hear it could hear it. When I made “Survive” I’m like “Ok, this is Que Billah, this is me,” it’s unique and different but bass-heavy so I thought it was a good song to lead with.

PTM: Where was this video filmed? Give us an idea of the day.

QB: The video was filmed at a place called Amburg Hall. It’s an old school looking community center on the west side of Chicago. I performed there in my early years coming up in the Chicago scene. It’s like the D league for the NBA. I’m from the west side but it’s not to much happening music wise out west. There aren’t many venues to perform at and no one will come to the west side to see a show. So whatever happens on the west side ends up being not on the level that an aspiring artist wants to be on but you gotta start somewhere.

The day we shot the video was crazy. All my videos are crazy, something always goes wrong, especially when you have a lot of people in the video. It gets really hectic, no one shows up on time, including myself. So people don’t show up at all, even when you promise to pay them. I’m running around getting props last minute. Kora actually couldn’t make it because she was staring in a musical. So that’s actually not her singing in the video.

Also I had just cut my hair. I let the top lock up into “dreds” but I cut them off cuz it didn’t fit the time period of the video. I was having a bad hair day lol my shit wasn’t acting right people said they couldn’t tell but I could!

The camera man was late. This dude calls me says he doesn’t have any gas. I’m like “what the fuck.” I was gonna quick pay him the money, he didn’t have quickpay. I was gonna venmo him the money, he couldn’t link his bank account and his pay pal was messed up. Finally I just sent him an Uber; half way thru the trip he calls and says he forgot the memory cards. He lives far as fuck, but I said tell the Uber driver to take you back and wait for you. Trip ended up being $70, ridiculous.

Then he finally gets there and the bass player still isn’t there. I had the room booked from 4pm to 10pm and the bass player and all the extras didn’t arrive till 7pm. Now we got 3 hrs to shoot.

We got it done I’ve never finished a video in one day. Quickest video I’ve ever shot, so I thought.

I give the footage to the editor he calls me and says there is only one take of the second verse. I’m like WTF how did we only shoot one take of the second verse.  So I had to go back in and shoot the second verse. This time I just took the band in and the one girl that ran onstage and kissed me. Bass player was 2hrs late again lol. Luckily we started shooting without him.

If you look closely at the video the shots look different. The lighting is different my hair is different. I had on a different tie. Most people said they couldn’t tell but I can lol. All and all it was a crazy experience but typical and for a Que Billah video.  Actually, overall, the easiest time I’ve had with a video lol.

PTM: OMG haha that’s crazy! I actually couldn’t tell all the differences. The song and the entertainment of it all totally distracts you from that.  How did you come up with the video concept?

QB: I came up with several concepts for this video, all of which cost too much money to pull off lol. So I was wrecking my brain to figure out something simple but dope. My brain works in Spielberg mode LOL. I’m always thinking I’m actually making a movie when I come up with video ideas. I try to think big then scale them back. This time all the idea were just to big.

All the ideas involved me performing the song with a band. So I was just trying to figure out how I could make that dope. How I could utilize my band in a video. Then it hit me out of nowhere I’m like, “oh shit I could re-make the school dance scene from Back To The Future.”

I love movies about time travel. I’ve seen every movie and TV show ever made about time travel. Back To The Future and Quantum Leap are my favorites.

Initially I was just going back in time to inspire Rosa Parks to spark the Civil rights movement. But I didn’t have an ending to the video. So I was talking to my friend Noyz an incredible director, we always bounce ideas off one and other. I was like man since I can’t get a DeLorean why don’t I just Leap through time, like Sam Beckett. He was like that would be Ill mixing the two concepts. But then I’m like who could I leap to. He was like dude Leap into Malcolm X. I’m like hell yeah now we got a fuckin video lol.

But it was one thing left to do. I had to add some guitar to the song. Couldn’t remake back to the future without the guitar solo. The original song had no guitar on it. Luckily I’m in a wedding/cover band with some great musicians. I had our guitar player Packy Lundholm come down to the studio and lay a some guitar all over the song and killed the solo. I also watched him on gigs and watched Andre 3000 in the Jimi Hendrix movie and mimicked their hands and body language on the guitar. I think I did a pretty good job faking it, my mom was like “oh wow I didn’t know you played guitar” lol.

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PTM: That’s so great haha. Who do you want to shout out for helping make this video possible?

QB: I know this ain’t the my Grammy speech but I wanna thank God for blessing me with creative vision, I’m never at a shortage of ideas. I understand not many rap artists have this vision, so I have to thank the creator for creativity.

As far as mortals go I wanna thank The Sick One for sparking the first life in the song by chopping up the sample he got from Dug Infinite. Thanks to Dug too.

I wanna thank Kora for writing and performing a dope hook. Wish she could’ve been in the video. But thanks go to Precious Smith for filling in for her.

Thanks to DC for co producing and bringing the song yo life.

I wanna Thank Packy Lundholm for the mean guitar solo.

I wanna thank Noyz from Gravitti Films for the Malcolm X idea.

I wanna thank Clark Airlines for coming thru in the clutch and editing that joint. And Parker Nyquist for doing the special fx that took me back in time.

Last I wanna thank all the people that came out to be in the video. Without you guys I would be rapping to an empty room. An artist is nothing without an audience.

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