Well into the creation of Return of the Rookie, the free EP that Serge released on Tuesday, the South Florida-based rapper and his producer, Mashell Leroy, came to an agreement about the concept of the project.
“Man, this is not a cohesive project at all,” Serge laughed. “That was cool with us because we just wanted to make great music and have a collection of songs.”
At least one thing was consistent throughout Return of the Rookie, though — versatility.
The lead single of the EP, “Zone,” is paced by an electric guitar.
The second single, “All Night,” sounds made to play in a Miami club.
Between them on the tracklist are back-to-back R&B songs about relationships in “Over You” and “Voicemails,” followed by “Black Shades,” a fusion of West Coast, funk and soul. Contemporary Christian Music makes an appearance on track No. 8, “Past the Clouds.” And on the bookends of the EP, “Just So You Know” and “Clutch,” Serge shows off the pure rapping ability that he flashed on his January single “Next Level.”
Serge said this versatility wasn’t deliberate. He just wanted to make the best music possible regardless of the concept, and the melting-pot of sounds that is Return of the Rookie is what happened.
“I didn’t go in intentionally saying, ‘Let me show them I can do a little bit of everything.’ … I just love a little bit of everything,” he said, “and so that’s what I want to provide on any Serge project that you hear. I’m going to give you not just hip hop, not just melodic tracks, it’s going to be a little bit of what’s inspiring me at the time.”
Serge credited his versatility to living in Miami and the taste in music of the Christians who discipled him, as well as his producer Mashell, who he started to work with in 2011.
“The people who discipled me when I first came to faith introduced me to the Hillsongs, Matt Redman, the Chris Tomlins, just were very diverse people,” Serge said. “Obviously I was already into hip hop, but they introduced me to contemporary music.
“And then when I met Mashell … I liked pop music, but Mashell was just so eclectic and diverse. He’s classically trained. He plays piano, flute. That had a huge influence on my sound because producing with him, he would produce melody-driven songs where you can’t just do something hardcore or throw-your-hands-in-the-air-type records, and so it pulled that melody out of me.”
Mashell, who produced “Timepiece” on Lecrae’s album Anomaly and “Complicated” on Tedashii’s album Below Paradise (songs which Serge also co-wrote), teaches music full-time at a performing arts school. He grew up playing a variety of instruments and started to pursue music production his senior year of high school after his cousin — mainstream producer Bridgetown (Mary J. Blidge, Trey Songz, Austin Mahone) — exposed him to it.
While Serge’s versatility seemed more apparent on Return of the Rookie, Mashell said it wasn’t anything new from his debut project, Off Season.
“Serge’s versatility was always there,” he said. “I guess he didn’t have the opportunity to work with producers who would bring that out. It’s not that common in Christian hip hop to find guys who really like EDM and stuff like that. I look over everything from Off Season now to Return of the Rookie, it’s more so him doing what he’s more or less always done but at a higher clip.
“His songwriting ability is better. His lyricism is better. I think more than anything from Off Season to Return of the Rookie, just being able to be poetic and capture emotions in simple words. I think he’s really grown in that area and I think melodically, too. … I really think Serge is a producer in his own right, to be honest with you, in terms of how he thinks about a record.”
Serge released Off Season in May 2014. Between then and the release of Return of the Rookie, his label CTF Records disbanded, he changed management and churches, and he traveled to Kenya to train youth leaders. This is why it took so long for him to follow-up his debut, but Serge vowed that he wouldn’t take a year and a half to drop his next project.
— Return Of The Rookie (@JustSerge_) October 22, 2015
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