That Honorroll KID is an MC based in Des Moines who just released a new album titled Peace God. In our conversation we discussed how the 18 track full-length differs from past work, including the Phase 2 EP which he dropped earlier this year with 1400slim. We also touched on how Honorroll Records was created and how he’s developed since first releasing Say No More, in addition to broader themes surrounding masculinity and how to find peace within.
villin: Hey, this is villin and that track is titled “Work” by That Honorroll KID from his new full-length album called Peace God. In the conversation we had focused around the release we dove in head-first, with the MC explaining away any religious connotation associated with the album’s title, instead interpreting it more as something signifying strength and equilibrium.
That Honorroll KID: It’s like the power within me and the peace within me, just finding a balance in all of it. Can’t get good without bad, you know what I’m saying? Can’t get bad without good. Just trying to find my own balance; that’s where the peace comes in.
villin: If anything is true about where KID at in this season of his journey, it’s that a search for balance is at the heart of it. There’s an aspect of it that deals with just being a man seeking internal harmony, and we talk about that more later, but as he explained, the album itself goes a long way in digesting his creative process to this point, and developing a far more well-rounded piece of work.
That Honorroll KID: I would say this is me putting it all together. Kind of, like, polishing what I do best and honing in on the things that I tried to expand on before that I didn’t really execute on, in my opinion.
villin: In terms of the story on how KID got to Peace God goes though, there’s a lot more to consider that led up to the release of the album. More specifically, we spoke at length about how the entire Honorroll crew came about and the Phase 2 EP, which was released a few months ago with Des Moines’ 1400slim.
That Honorroll KID: That’s like my cousin. We grew up together. We got a lot closer as of late with music and just being around each other a lot more since I got back from college. But we grew up together. Our families are tight and my mom knows his mom very well, our little brothers play basketball together, we play basketball together. Just family.
villin: As for the term “Honorroll,” it’s a distinctive word that was agreed upon by a close-knit group of friends looking to create something of a mission statement for their work.
That Honorroll KID: We’re all honorroll. So, Honorroll Records is TC, me, and then 1400slim. It originally got started with me and TC out of high school. And then we had another one of our friends who was our manager, who’s also making music now known as keeno—check his stuff out—but he ended up being our manager. We came up with the name Honorroll all on the phone together.
villin: And what it means is something they’ve tried applying across all outlets of life.
That Honorroll KID: Grade A everything. So, it’s like, I feel like Grade A goes with everything. It’s the best of the best so no matter what you’re talking about it’s number one. Honorroll, like, me personally, I didn’t make the honor roll. TC made the honor roll. But when I came up with the name, the girl that I was with at the time, she had a whole bunch of honor roll achievements on her wall. And I was just looking up, I happened to be looking up and seeing, I was like “Honorroll Records.” And that shit just rolled pretty well. The Grade A, you know what I’m saying, the best, that could be like either smoking, that could be with school, with grades, that could be with quality of something, just top of the top.
villin: The trio of TC, KID and 1400 put out a single earlier this year, but it was the latter who released the aforementioned collaborative EP this past summer called Phase 2. The second in a hopeful series of releases from the duo, it covered eight tracks, led by a single titled “FEELS DIFFERENT.” How it differed from something like Peace God comes down to the broader approach of collaboration between the two.
That Honorroll KID: Man, OK, so like Phase 2, first of all I just want to say I think personally Phase 2 is way better than Phase 1. Like, it’s not even close. But, my favorite track on Phase 2, personally, is either “SHARK TANK” or “TOO PLAYER.” And I say “TOO PLAYER” because we made “TOO PLAYER,” like, the day of the listening party. So we wasn’t even really supposed to put it on the tape. It was just, I had heard the beat the night before and I was like we gotta put it on there. And we just kinda went in there and kind of executed it really well. But then I just like “Shark Tank” because I think “Shark Tank”—it’s not the main song on the tape, but I just feel like we was just goin’ crazy off the energy.
villin: “FEELS DIFFERENT,” and secondarily a track called “POKÉMON,” serve as personal favorites from the EP, but when thinking back there are a few different tracks that stand out the greatest to KID, himself.
That Honorroll KID: I think those are big crowd favorites, too. Like, “FEELS DIFFERENT,” for me, we dropped that as the loose single off the tape so I’ve been listening to it a lot more. So, it don’t give me the same feeling it did when I first dropped it—it kind of feels different. But it’s still hard, I like “FEELS DIFFERENT.” That’s like a different type of sound that I have, I feel like.
villin: Continuing, he added that this variant in sound really does come down to the collaborative spirit between himself and 1400slim. The EP also contains a few features from GnarlyJevy, who also appeared on the track “Work,” which introduced this episode.
That Honorroll KID: It probably leans a little bit more on 1400’s sound, if that makes sense. It’s a collaborative process, we’ve both got the same vibe when we in there together, we work well off each other, but it leans a little bit more to his side of things. That’s why I think Peace God‘s gonna come in and really re-establish what I do with my music.
villin: Now in his mid-20s, KID began writing and recording music as a teenager. His first release, Say No More, ran 16 tracks, and still sounds fresh despite being the output of someone learning to experiement with the medium. While the release served as his formal introduction to putting music out as part of the Honorroll crew, music itself is something that’s been with KID for much longer than just a few years.
That Honorroll KID: I’ve always been big [into] music. Like, I used to sing when I was younger. And I always liked rapping and stuff, but I started actually writing and getting serious my senior year of high school, after the basketball season, and after this kid named Terry had died in the neighborhood, or whatever. And I just got really serious about making a project around that time that I just never dropped. And so then, me and TC got even more serious. We had dropped a couple songs and then after that we just never looked back. With Say No More I feel like I love that project, I feel like I had a lot of good ideas, I just wasn’t in a position to execute ’em. I didn’t really know what I was doing completely, I just kind of dove head first in trying to just establish that I could do it.
villin: When looking back and thinking about the string of releases that followed, I asked what separated Peace God, and what he hopes listeners take away from it.
That Honorroll KID: First, I want everybody to say that it’s better than Happy Tears. That’s my number one thing. But then on a personal level, I would want people to say that I am somebody who’s not afraid to express an emotion. And I’m not emotionless, but I’m aware of what having emotions can do to people’s perception. So don’t try me.
villin: Reflecting further on this point, I think it’s really important. As the two of us talked, we discussed what we were listening to and Kanye came up in the conversation. I’m not going anywhere close to talking about what Kanye’s going off on these days, but he has made a similar important point in the past—that he’s aware of how his public expressions of emotion have allowed those looking for reasons to misrepresent him an opportunity to twist those emotions and use them against him. That’s not local to him though, as either an artist or a man, and that’s what I heard here.
That Honorroll KID: I feel like as a man, especially as a Black man, we really not supposed to be emotional. Like, we not supposed to have emotions, like we not supposed to show emotions. And I’ve just never been that way, like I’ve never been somebody who could just hide all my emotions. Like, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I can act accordingly, but at the same time it’s like, if I feel something I would rather feel it than be numb to it. I feel like a lot of my life I was trying to be numb to a lot of shit and I’d rather just feel it and embrace it for whatever it is. And then act accordingly and move how I want to move after that.
villin: This is absolutely a dilemma of modern masculinity. Even when it’s authentic, there’s this ever-present cloud of toxicity caught up in its makeup, leaving the blueprint for what men should be a twisted mess at times.
That Honorroll KID: I feel like it’s just, like you said it’s just a societal norm at this point. People want the man to be the man, or they want the man to be the man and women to be women, whatever it is. But I feel like we comin’ out of that a little bit and I feel like there’s a little bit more room for people to be whoever they want to be. But I feel like, even as a man who wants to be a masculine man, who wants to be a man’s man—whatever you’d call it—I feel like you can still show your emotions. ‘Cause, like, there’s some little kid out there who’s emotional and he looks up to you and if you teach him like you can’t show emotions, at some point in life I feel like that’s going to fuck him up. You gotta bottle your emotions, that’s going to kill you.
villin: As we went on, what I continued to hear revolved around that introductory concept of harmony within oneself and balance. It’s a reconciliation with self, really, and when I asked about how it all ties together I used the word “holistic” as an attempt to frame the approach. Where KID is coming from differs from that a little though.
That Honorroll KID: I would say holistic, but more just like spiritualistic. Like, I’m just on that journey and really trying to find myself. And I’m at peace with knowing I don’t know everything but I know who I am. And I’m going to figure out what else there is to find out. And it’s not even like afraid, I’m just more open to—I don’t give a fuck. And I feel like I’ve always been like that, but I’ve been a little too nice about it, or more passive aggressive about it. And now it’s just, like, I’m just going to make y’all feel me.
villin: We didn’t talk much about specific lyrics or beats or what the songs sound like or what topics individual tracks explore, even. From my own perspective, I don’t know that it would have made much difference in terms of changing what I’m hearing with the album, even if we had explored all 18 tracks on a hyper-granular level. Our conversation does, however, create a presence that helps me better feel the album, if that makes sense. Not to double-up on a phrase from earlier, but now knowing where KID is at, the album feels different than it might have had we not spoken. And he hopes that however listeners get to the album, that they’re able to take away a message from it that’s in line with the headspace that accompanied its creation.
That Honorroll KID: As far as Peace God, I just want everybody to find their own peace, man. And whatever that means for you. Find some way to not always be worrying or always be stressing or always be coping with whatever it is that you’ve got to do to get through your day. And sometimes taking stuff for what it is and just sitting in that moment and just embracing the peace of that moment. Sometimes stuff just gets too fast for people and I think that once you embrace that moment, you know what I’m saying, that’s when you’re going to find that real calm, that real peace that we all be trying to get to.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]