PLAYING CINCY: Ronin Halloway & SmokeFace Walk Us Through “Pressure”

Playing Cincinnati
Photo by Mandy Di Salvo

Cincinnati rapper Ronin Halloway and producer SmokeFace teamed up to release their collaborative album, Pressure. The six-track project has been four years in the making and with its release, the duo is able to reflect on how far they’ve come. Although they say the style of the record is vastly different to what they’re creating now, Pressure reveals a unique drama and depth, with Halloway spitting ferocious bars over SmokeFace’s meticulously crafted beats.

Here, AudioFemme catches up with the rapper-and-producer team as they tell us the story behind their one-of-a-kind project.

AF: How long in the making was Pressure?

SF: Four years exactly.

AF: Why did it take four years?

RH: So we started making it and it took us about—for the first version to be done—two years and we went through a long mixing process trying to get everything to sound right. This is when we were still dumb kids, and we didn’t have any proper representation or know how to properly promote it, so no one heard it, so we pulled it. We reworked it and trimmed the fat and made it a better album, and we’re going to finally let it out and give it its actual day in the sun.

AF: So it’s getting its second chance here and will get its justice this time.

SF: I definitely think so. It’s like half the length, which helps, and I already think that there’s more of a response to it than there was the first time. We did a video for the title track, which was good, and there’s a couple more visuals to follow. It’s exciting.

AF: Ronin, you’ve been putting out projects in the meantime, like your most recent EP, Icarus. How have those other projects influenced the direction of this album?

RH: I think it’s kind of cool because a lot of these songs were done and one of the main reasons we even went back to this was because we did this song called “Sirens.” We probably would’ve let [the album] just go away, but we loved that song a lot and really wanted to put it out with the project. I think it’s cool because the stuff that I’ve done recently is like way different. Him, too.

SF: Yeah, my stuff now doesn’t sound anything like this, but it’s still a great album.

AF: Does your new music sound different because your styles have evolved?

RH: Big time. Artistically, personally, I feel like I found my voice. Pressure is a lot of working out and finding out what that might be, experimenting with a lot more aggressive, industrial types of styles, which is not what I do. I think it was good though, but it’s not really my wheelhouse anymore.

AF: What were some big lyrical and compositional concepts that you were both inspired by?

RH: A lot of it is just really aggressive and crazy and some of it I didn’t even put the pen down, I just freestyled.

SF: At the time, I was really inspired and listening to a lot of El-P, specifically he has a song called “Up All Night.” I was listening to a lot of slow, dredge-y, synth-heavy, trap drums—big epic stuff. The song “Cartoons and Cereal” by Kendrick [Lamar] was probably one of my biggest influences. That song was always in the back of my mind when I was making this record. I’ve since fallen in love with sampling old records and really twisting sounds.

By Samuel Steezmore

AF: For somebody who’s about to listen to the album, what would you tell them so they can experience it in the way it’s intended?

RH: Buckle up! I think it does have a little bit of a story to it, a loose story. It starts off with this song called “Fading Blade,” which I recorded myself as a choir. It almost sounds like this Lion King-thing. And then “Pressure” sounds really, really dark, it does all the way through. I think it does end on an interesting note.

It definitely changes in the middle of the album, it goes into the “Be Okay” beat, [which is] up-tempo and manic. The track after that is probably the closest to a ’90s rap sound, and then the next track is completely left-field. And then we have “Sirens.” I would definitely categorize it as almost alternative hip-hop, like Danny Brown, JPEGMAFIA, Death Grips.

AF: What kind of story does it tell?

SF: One of my favorite things about the album is the backstory. You can kind of hear it in the album – it’s a coming-of-age story starting off as kind of young crazy boys. We’re kind of going through it and growing up and experiencing consequences for decisions and then, coming out on the other side, hopefully having learned something. Especially with the pair of songs “Be Okay” and “Hangover.”

AF: Are you working on any individual projects right now?

SF: I just put out a tape with some beats on SoundCloud and Bandcamp. I just want to keep doing that for a little bit, make something and put it out. I don’t want to sit around and wait around.

RH: I have a couple things I’m working on. The next project is going to be called Excalibur and I’m working with Devin Burgess on part of it. It’s going to be three parts and one of them is produced by XVII, so that’s almost done. I’ve been recording that at Timeless. So XVII and then Devin Burgess are working on a set of songs for it and then the last one will be with [SmokeFace]. It’s going to be like three EPs.

AF: But for now, just excited that Pressure is finally out?

RH: Yes!

SF: I’m so glad—it’s finally out of our hands!

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