On Saturday, Apr. 20, I met with hip hop/rap artist B. Aull a few hours before he opened the VIBES-sponsored hip-hop concert. His laid-back attitude, matched by an honest excitement for the upcoming show, was immediately noticeable, but not necessarily a surprise for those who have had a chance to listen to any of Aull’s music. “You hear it and you just feel good” is how B. Aull described his sound, and it’s easy to see where that feel-good energy comes from — he has no shortage of it.
Based out of Portland, ME, B. Aull has a strong awareness of his roots and how they have influenced his music. “There’s a certain humbleness that comes with being from [Maine],” Aull said, explaining that when he “first started making music 8 years ago, [the hip-hop scene] was pretty nonexistent.”
He described how he’s had to work hard to promote his music, facing the competition of advantages inherent to artists coming from New York or Los Angeles. “Being from Maine, you’ve got to find a way to make yourself stand out, because people are like, ‘Oh Maine has a hip-hop scene? Really? What’s that like?’” Aull was candid about the pros and cons of making a name for himself out of Portland, however, noting that while coming from Maine has meant “missing out on connections and opportunities,” it has also meant that he has been able to “be a big fish in a small pond.”
While B. Aull draws on “a lot of people” as influences for his music, he named J. Cole as his number one influence. “J. Cole is one for me that always stands out […] Just because I saw him perform in Portland back in 2010, 2011, before he was super poppin’, and that’s kind of what made me want to start making music.” Other artists that inspire Aull include Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West (“mostly old Kanye,”) GoldLink, and Anderson .Paak. He said he’s come to the conclusion that “there are too many good artists out right now — it’s crazy.”
Our conversation then shifted to the hip-hop community as a whole, and I asked him about his thoughts on the polarizing nature of hip-hop today, despite its growing popularity. In an industry where old-school advocates are increasingly pitted against new-wave artists, Aull placed himself in the middle of the two communities. “I mean, I grew up on 90’s, golden-age hip-hop, so I love lyricism, but at the same time, I love melodic stuff, and I love a lot of the new-age artists that are coming out with a different flavor, stuff you haven’t seen […] So I understand why its polarizing, but at the same time, hip-hop is a young genre still, it’s only 40-something years old, if that, so you’re going to see a lot of changes, a lot of sub-genres coming off of it, and I think people just have got to accept that and make the best of it.”
Here, he referenced the recent viral rapper Lil Nas X and his country infused hip-hop single, “Old Town Road.” Aull had some words of wisdom for those who may not always appreciate the newer generation of hip-hop artists that are pushing the genre in new and uncharted directions. “Find the good ones and rock with it. If you don’t like an artist, just don’t. You don’t need to talk shit about it, just keep it moving.”
As much as the evolution of the hip-hop genre may be contentious, what is not in question is Aull’s own evolution as a musician and performer. He reflected that up until this past year, his style varied greatly from the artist he is today. “Most of my music career up until about a year, a year and a half ago was, like I said I love 90’ship-hop,allbars,bars,bars,”Aulltold me. “But over the past year I’ve started to sing more, incorporate more melody, more bouncy elements, because that’s the stuff that I like.”
In a way, he said, this year has served as an “on-the-fly re-brand” for his career, a transition year for the musician, where he has been “making more stuff that I like and more stuff that has that bounce.”
B. Aull’s latest single, “Not for Nothing,” released on Feb. 22, is a strong example of Aull moving in a new creative direction, and is likely not the last we will hear from him. Careful to keep things under wraps, he told me that he was gearing up to release an EP sometime in the near future, possibly this summer.
“I haven’t put out a project in a few years now, and this will be the first project I’ve put out since I’ve been rebranded essentially, in this new era,” he said.
Aside from the coming EP, Aull assured that there would be plenty more to come during the second half of the year, from music videos to more shows. With his future looking bright, B. Aull said it best: “The rest of this year’s going to be dope.”