With his stylish swagger and contagious smile, Al Rogers Jr. has quickly become an artist to watch on the Baltimore music scene. From the Creative Alliance stage and Sowebo festival to The Sun’s top 10 under 30 and a packed album release party at The Crown this fall, the 25-year-old Baltimore native is spreading his positive vibes—or, as he affectionately calls them, swooz—and taking his hometown on a “love voyage” through his feel-good faith in passion, growth, and an open heart.
Upon the release of his second album, Luvadocious—a utopian storyline founded in his clever wordplay and Blacksage producer Drew Scott’s spellbinding beats—Rogers sits down with us at Red Emma’s to talk about his full-length follow-up, friendship with Scott, and how a little love can change the world.
Your Luvadocious listening party might have sold out the Red Room at The Crown.
Yo, it was packed. It was insane. I didn’t think I had that much support and seeing that was humbling. What was even more humbling, though, was that I had to go to work at the Light Rail the next morning.
Last night I was a super star and…
…and now I’m cleaning trains.
How do you balance all of that?
I have the perfect schedule. I work 9 to 5 on Saturdays and Sundays, and Monday through Friday, I’m off, but the catch is I work doubles. I work the overnight shift both nights and don’t get off until 6:30 Monday morning. It is what it is. I still gotta pay rent. But Monday through Friday? Straight-up music.
It’s great that you shared the spotlight with so many other artists that night, and even though this is only your second release, you shared the Luvadocious credit line with Drew Scott.
Yeah, it’s Al Rogers Jr. and Drew Scott. The producer is the most important. He created the environment for me to live in, you know what I mean? He laid the beats down and without that sound, it wouldn’t be a song. We just vibe. Drew’s like my brother. I call him “my brother man, from another man, from another land,” because he’s this white kid and I’m, you know, black, and we come from two totally different worlds. But when we come together, it’s all love.
How did you two meet?
About a year-and-a-half ago, we both were playing Ratscape at The Hour Haus and [Drew’s band with Josephine “Josie” Olivia] Blacksage was on. Everybody had been telling me, “Al, I think you’re going to like this band.” I played after them but before I perform, I’m super nervous. I’m like in and out, everywhere, like a chicken with his head cut off, so I couldn’t really pay attention. When I finally chilled, I was like, ‘Yo, this shit is really good—who is this?’ It was tight. I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself then, but when I got home, I made it my business to reach out. Drew was the one to respond and we were sending emails back and forth for a while. Then one day I was at my homie Lawrence’s house and I just so happened to see Drew and Josie walking down the street. I had never met them—we had just been talking through the web—and the only I reason I recognized them was because he had on this sick-ass Outkast shirt. We share this mutual love for Outkast. Andre 3000 is my hero, amongst other artists. So I called out [Drew’s] name, caught up with him, and we chopped it up. About three weeks later, I finally went past his house and we made the first song we ever recorded together. It was on his solo rap tape with Eze [Jackson] called ‘Allnighters.’ It wasn’t ’til Drew moved into his brother’s basement that we decided to work on an EP. By the time we finished it, though, we realized it wasn’t an EP—it was a full length.
Where did Luvadocious come from?
The idea came when I was on the train, cleaning, hating my job. We were already a couple of songs deep and I needed this tape to have a story and it just struck me. I’ve always believed that God was female, since a woman can bear a child. This world is extremely masculine and it seems like everything good in it is soft. And when I think of God, I think of everything good. And I was like, ‘I need to put this idea out there.’
Was Drew receptive to it?
When I told him the concept, he was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ Originally Luvadocious was going to be called ‘Scorpini’ cause I’m a Scorpio and he’s a Gemini and it was an ode to Outkast’s Aquemini, but we kind of wanted the tape to have its own identity.
It feels like something you call your girlfriend or boyfriend or lover.
[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah, yeah. For the title, I was thinking of the base word ‘lover’ and then the ‘docious’ came from that song ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,’ and when I finally came up with Luvadocious, it sounded like a place. Why not create this place for this God to be a part of?
Yeah. I have something that’s part of my brand called ‘a love voyage.’ When we think of a voyage, we either think of space or the sea, and neither has been completely discovered yet. Like those voyages, a love voyage is a constant, never-ending journey for the things that we love. You’re going in blindfolded, with no idea what’s going to happen when you arrive, but you have an open heart.
Those themes underlie the somewhat heavier rap songs of your first album, Almost. What made them come out so full and optimistic in this project?
Because in that moment, I was in love. As human beings and as artists, we have to experience things. That was an experience I needed for my music to grow.
Did you have an easy time writing these songs?
When I’m in the house, I’d rather eat some pizza and watch a movie than write a song. I literally have to force myself to sit down. But during the process of recording this project, love was heavy on my mind, so it was extremely easy. Drew and me would get into his basement and knock all of that shit out.
What’s his set up like?
It’s extremely simple. It’s like a mic, his little keyboard, and an iPad. We recorded it and took it to Matt Bittman at WrightWay Studios who mixed it down and made it sound like it wasn’t recorded in . . . Drew’s basement. [Laughs.] I also think it was so natural for the simple fact that he and I like the same shit. We’re so different, but so similar. He put me down to a lot of music that I wasn’t aware of.
And probably vice-versa.
He has this extensive-ass audio collective of hip-hop vinyl, and if you come to my house, I have a huge chest full of like 300 funk, disco, soul, and R&B vinyls ranging from the ’50s to the ’80s. So we just bounced music back and forth and went for those sounds and made them ours.
Your sound together is unique and it embodies the music scene here, where everything is just melding into one another—different people, genres, disciplines.
I think Baltimore is on the edge of becoming the “it” city. More artists just need to understand our worth and value and continue to work together and push forward. You can ask anybody: I support other people’s shit here until I’m blue in the face. There are so many talents out there.
You definitely use more R&B and soul influences on this project, too. Unlike Almost, you sing now.
Honestly, I enjoy singing. I want to say more than rapping, but it’s just different. I’m blessed to be capable to be able to do both. When I come up with different flows and ways to rap, I’m stoked as hell, and when I come up with a melody, it’s like, ‘Oh wait ’til they hear this.’ But when I started pinning down lyrics to sing, it was like I was stepping into something else—something genre-blind. I just wanted the project to not be categorized.
But there is a cohesiveness.
I was afraid that certain songs were going to stick out but I’m so thankful everything flowed. I think my favorite song, though, is the only one that gives that old-school, hip-hop feel, which is “U>Me” with Joy. It was extremely easy to write because it felt like something from my first tape.
It’s a definitely a throwback love song that shows the line between both your albums.
I got [92Q’s] LaDawn Black on the tape. You gotta understand—my first breakup? I was in the eighth grade and I thought I was in love. I probably wasn’t, because I was like 13 years old and what the f*ck did I know about love? But I was a preteen listening to The Love Zone and LaDawn Black during my first breakup. [And] I grew up in the club. By the time I was going to the Paradox, Miss Tony was already gone—R.I.P.—but it was [Bmore club artist] Blaqstarr, and now he’s on my tape.
And he was at your show.
Yo, he’s a Baltimore legend. Both of those people are on my project. I never would’ve thought in a million years that I could pull that off. These are people I looked up to. Growing up here is not easy, and for them to get that platform is really amazing. When I came up, I was always fighting. I grew up in West Baltimore, went to Milford, then moved to the city—East Baltimore—in the ninth grade and went to Northern. I didn’t graduate, got my GED, and that’s probably my only regret in this world: not finishing high school. But I guess it worked out.
[But] when I moved to the city, it was a whole different world. I’ve seen a lot of shit. I’ve seen friends get stabbed. I’ve seen friends get shot. I went to friends’ funerals. So for me to be at this point now, making music about love and prosperity, it’s completely yin and yang. I strayed away from that path because of my brothers. One is locked up and he’s going to be gone for a long time. The other is staying on the straight path but was in and out of jail, too. I wasn’t trying to break my mother’s heart so I made a vow when I was 17 that I was going to straighten up and that’s when I started doing music. Music saved my life—literally.
That period of your life undoubtedly led to this part of it, too.
I’m going to put it this way: if you don’t know what the dark feels like, you won’t be able to appreciate the light.
I know you said Almost was necessary for you.
I was going through some serious shit during Almost. It was like a diary. I was scared to death because I had never told anybody that I got someone pregnant and that she got an abortion before. My mother’s first time hearing that was through the song. But it was definitely necessary. I think having both out now is going to give me more leeway for the third tape. As artists, we have to really experience, and I have a lot more to talk about now.
I had to ask myself: was I existing or was I living? And I didn’t like the answer I came up with. My next project is going to be all about living. I’m focusing on the things I need to do to better myself. I’m about to take a lot more risks. I want to help the lost souls, the misguided, the lovers, the youth. There’s always somebody who’s going to be able to relate to my story and take it with them.
It’s like you growing up listening to Blaqstarr and now having an album with him on it.
Our music is going to be here much longer than we will. I can die tomorrow and Luvadocious is still coming out and it’s going to be here until the world implodes and that’s amazing to think about . . . It’s a revolving door; people come, people go, but the experience and the music lives on. I might have grown past a certain stage, but whoever I was at that point in time—that energy that was inside of me—it’s still there, and somebody else out there is going through the exact same shit who can listen to it and grow. I want to make music that’s timeless, that will never go anywhere.
I assume it’s safe to say that’s the long-term goal: more music.
Oh yeah. I want to sell out Madison Square Garden. I’ve never been there, but I don’t want to go there till it’s my time. Either that or Coachella or some show that’s over like 10,000 people where the whole crowd is screaming “swooooz.” That’s how you know Al Rogers Jr. is in the motherf*cking building.
The love ship has landed.
Yo, the ship and the boat have sailed.
So you have to give me backstory of “swooz.”
Swooz was a term created by my cousins and me. This world is made for us to be so separated—class, gender, [sexual] preference, race—and I wanted to create something that everybody could be a part of. I wanted to make something for the average person who wakes up and feels insecure, to let them know they can conquer anything. I wanted to make something for people who feel alone, to let them know that even though we’re all connected, there’s still only one you, and you need to appreciate who you are first, and then help the person next to you appreciate who they are, and then grow together. I think when you have a network of people who are strong and independent, the world will grow. It has so much potential when people have open hearts and hope and faith. So that’s what the swooz is: joy, happiness, and free love. If you feel that way, you’re swoozy. At shows, I want people to scream swooz because I want them to be happy.
Do you think if that ever happened at the Garden, you’d still stick around Baltimore?
Oh yeah. I want to start a cat rescue here. I love cats.
You know it’s National Cat Day?
Oh, go to Twitter and pull up my two boys—Lou and Tommy [pulls out his phone and scrolls to a picture of his cats].
But yeah, everything is going to have swooz in the name. Swoozy Cat Rescue. The Swooz Room Rec Center. And I read that two of my favorite rappers, Styles P and Jadakiss, opened up natural juice bars in the hood in New York City for the people to stay healthy. We got liquor stores on every single corner here, but we don’t have anything fresh. I thought that was cool as hell, so I might have to borrow the idea.