When we last spoke with Charlotte-born, Congolese-American rapper Well$ two years ago, he talked about how his parents continue to push him to go to college – you know, just in case this whole hip-hop thing doesn’t work out. Judging by the title of his debut album, “The Way I’m Living Makes My Mom Nervous,” one would assume his folks still prefer he took a safer, more stable route.
“I don’t mean that in, like, a negative way,” says Well$ (government name: Leroy Shingu), calling from Chapel Hill, referring to his album title. “I feel like that’s the way people’s minds go to, you know, by and large, whenever they hear that statement.” For Well$, it’s all about showing his parents – and his audience’s parents – that today’s youth are taking more chances with their lives. “It’s just all about chasing your dreams and being an entrepreneur, like this whole DIY generation. We’re not waiting around for a great job to find us. We’re gonna go out and create that great job for ourselves.”
He would like his mother, who can be briefly heard on “Lessons” talking to her son (Well$ says she still doesn’t know she’s on the album), to understand that he’s living the life he wants to live.
“She doesn’t understand the type of sacrifices that I would take for my career and to be happy,” he says. “Like, not everything is about money. I could die without making a single dollar off of rap, but be content with my life because I got to wake up every single morning and do what I wanted to do. So, parents don’t get that, you know.”
Even though his parents just don’t understand (to borrow a DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince song title), Well$ appears to be doing fine. This Saturday and Sunday, the 22-year-old MC will be opening up for Waka Flocka Flame at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. (The Saturday show is already sold out.)
How did Well$ get such a prime spot?
“I guess my music came across Waka’s booking agent, and he became my booking agent,” he says. “I know that Waka loves Chapel Hill, oddly enough. Every time he comes, they show him a great time. So, I think he’s really excited about it getting sold out, you know. Every time he comes, they always book one show and, then, they have to do more because of the demand.”
While it’s likely more people may show up for Waka, don’t think that Well$ doesn’t have a fanbase. After all, dude has nearly 5,900 followers on Twitter. And he also has fans in the music biz, people who helped him make the bass-and-808-heavy “Famous.” “Young Man,” the album’s first track, has him teaming up with Durham indie-pop duo Sylvan Esso.
“They’re just really great friends of mine,” he says. “Nick (Sanborn), the producer and one-half of Sylvan Esso, became, like, a mentor towards me, you know. He liked my music when he first heard it and, from there, I tapped him for advice. And it just cultivated from a friendship and, from the friendship, a song came.”
He also has another track on the album, “Heaven’s Door,” that’s produced by in-demand rap beatmaker Metro Boomin. Well$ has Metro’s manager to thank for that. “Before he became Metro’s manager, he wanted to do some work for me. But, you know, he became Metro’s manager, which is obviously way more demanding. And he just connected the dots for us, man. It’s a blessing.”
Well$ also surrounds himself with artists who, like him, are trying to persevere in this hip-hop game, like the MCs who both appear on the album and are also signed to his Immaculate Taste label. One of them, Alec Lomami, who drops some bars on “Door,” is also of Congolese descent. “That’s my cousin and also the CEO of Immaculate Taste,” he says. “It’s not we’re out here saying, ‘Yo, we’re gonna be the first Congolese rap label.’ We’re cousins – that’s one – and we just like good music, man.”
So, while his parents may not comprehend why he’s pursuing hip-hop, they may be pleased to know that Well$, as evidenced by the guest shots on “Famous,” wants his family to join him for the ride.
Who: Waka Flocka Flame, with Well$
When: 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
Cost: $22 ($25 day of show; Saturday is sold out)
Info: 919-967-9053 or catscradle.com