Kings Dream Entertainment’s very own Paul Russell shared how his musical journey and eventual signing with the label was anything but conventional. Shifting focus, Paul explains more about his official debut album, its creation process, the themes he explores, and ultimately what he hopes listeners will get out of it.
Rapzilla: There’s a line in “Kimbo Slice” where your sister shares how you always had an entrepreneurial spirit and that you sold duct tape wallets in school. Now you’re selling albums in undergrad! From that angle alone you’ve had a better glow-up than most. Talk a little more about the title for this project.
Paul Russell: (Laughing) That’s one way to look at it. Yeah, so the title comes from a line in a Joan Didion essay that I really like. In the essay (On Self-Respect) she talks about wrestling through doubt, disappointment, and yet still being able to learn from those experiences. It’s crazy because not too long after reading this essay I experienced my own dry season where the jobs I applied for weren’t hitting me back. The future seemed uncertain, and I wasn’t sure about whether or not I’d sign to Kings Dream.
The majority of this album was actually written in between me applying for jobs. So the songs all detail the lessons I’ve been learning about being in that state of confusion and what it means to be grateful even in the midst of closed doors. The title is in many ways a connection to that point in my life.
Rapzilla: Crazy how God uses what we read, listen, or watch to impact and shape us. What was the timeline from when you had the concept for the album to when you submitted those final masters? Did any songs turn out differently than how you expected?
PR: Oh man the timeline of this record is all over. Six out of the ten songs on the album are things I wrote over Winter break. “Open Road” was written before Via Text came out. “Renfro” was going to be on Via Text originally but I took it for my album. “Osuman Place” I accidentally deleted on my old computer drive and so had to remake it from scratch. The first song, “Kimbo Slice,” is actually the last song I made. But while the creation process wasn’t super linear there was still a lot of intention behind it. I sat down and really thought through what I wanted to say and how I was gonna communicate it. I made a whole bunch of songs to explain and speak on the concepts I was exploring.
Rapzilla: That’s neat that the process was very planned out but also organic. I’m on Kings Dream’s email list and when they sent out the email that you were dropping “45th Avenue Interlude” I saw that it was originally going to be on Ruslan’s upcoming Indie Jones III but you stole it (laughing).
PR: (Laughing) Yeah, so for “45th Avenue Interlude,” Ruslan, Jon, and I were all at a hotel in New York for a concert. I walked into the hotel room late and they had already recorded their verses. I recorded my part but afterward, I was like “Yo can I actually keep this?”
Rapzilla: Was Ruslan cool with it or was he like “Nah, you need to gimme one of your songs?”
PR: He was cool with it. He’s very flexible about stuff like that so he was just like “Yeah you can have it. I’ll see what I can do.”
Rapzilla: It’s awesome that you and the rest of your labelmates have that relationship where you can share and give each other tracks. It really does seem like family between you three. Speaking of features and collaboration, a lot of people (myself included) got excited when you unveiled the tracklist. Your song “Gave You the World” has Montell Fish! What was it like working with him?
PR: Well, firstly it’s hard to get features in general. I mentioned how a lot of the album was thoroughly planned out from a conceptual standpoint and so when I’m working with other artists I don’t always have the opportunity to sit down and tell them, “Okay so here’s the whole narrative arc of what I’m trying to say.” So sometimes there’s a clash with the vision which can be tricky to navigate.
Working with Montell though was great. I’m a big fan of his. I don’t know how I first heard his music but even before I knew anyone with a connection to him I thought he was great. He came to Ruslan’s house and was hanging one day and I was freaking out cuz I realized they knew each other. I told Ruslan I was a big fan and the next day Montell hit me up on Instagram and said he’d love to make music.
Later on, I made “Gave You the World.” It originally had a third verse from me but when I sent it to Ruslan, he suggested to have Montell hop on it. I loved that idea and I cut out my part and sent it to him and the song is in the current form it is now.
Rapzilla: Hopefully, this is just the beginning with the collabs between you two. Were there any other people you wanna feature or work with?
PR: In the CHH world specifically, I would really love to work with Aaron Cole and WHATUPRG.
Rapzilla: I’ll also keep my fingers crossed on a future Jon Keith and Paul Russell collab album in the future. What were the biggest differences between Via Text, your collab album with Ruslan, and Once in a Dry Season?
PR: The way Via Text happened was I would make half of a song and then send it to Ruslan and he would redo the beat, add a verse and then we’d talk about it. Since I was in school this would just happen at random times throughout the year. With Via Text as we were coming up with themes for the songs we were both thinking, “Okay what’s something that we can both co-sign on?” It’s different to make music on your own because you get a lot of control over what you can communicate and wanna say. For example, “The Rules” on my album couldn’t work as a Via Text song because that track is more going into depth about my story and my relationship with my girlfriend.
Rapzilla: You mention going more in depth and from a logistical standpoint you certainly do that on your album too; you produced a lot of the songs yourself. What’s it like being both on and off the mic in that regard?
PR: I love doing producing. For me, the song feels a bit incomplete if I didn’t play some part in producing it. Even if I just start with a metronome click then build it up to a whole song…I feel more in touch with what is going on.
Rapzilla: Okay now I don’t want to make you pick between your children here but do you have any favorite tracks on the album? What’s a song that you’re really excited for people to hear?
PR: Wow it really does feel like having to pick between my kids. I’d say “Good Things” because it’s a microcosm of the themes of the project. It’s very personal. “The Rules” too…I just love the grooviness of that one and how that turned out. Listen to all the songs though!
But if I had to just release only one song it would be “Good Things.” I really had to go through something in order to write that. That one feels really close to my heart.
Rapzilla: Alright in one sentence why should people get your album and merch?
PR: Oh wait, I gotta incorporate both into one sentence?
Rapzilla: Okay you get one sentence for the album and another for the merch.
PR: That’s better. Okay.
I really and truly believe that the shirt that says “Once” and has me sitting on it…I think that shirt is the second greatest merch item of all time.
You should listen to this album because its the first time I’ve tried to make a group of songs that have a real meaning to them and that communicate who I am, what I’m learning about life, about God, and existence. I’m happy to release it.
Do as Paul Russell says and purchase the project and get merch bundles here. Once in a Dry Season is out now. Read Paul’s track-by-track breakdown here.
Purchase or stream here.