5 Questions With… Mez

Local hip hop artist, clothing designer and director Mez shares what it’s like to be back in Raleigh for the Dreamville Festival.
As told to Ayn-Monique Klahre

This weekend, Dorothea Dix Park will host the first annual Dreamville Festival, a showcase of musical talent (plus food, art and more) curated by North Carolina-native J. Cole. There are a bunch of big names in there, but there’s one act that locals will be most excited about: Mez, a Raleigh native known for singles “Monte Carlo” and “Long Live the King” and collaborations like Dr. Dre’s Compton album and J. Cole’s “Middle Child” music video. We caught up with the artist on the phone in between appearances at Social Status, CAM and visits to his hometown friends and relatives. Here’s what he told us.

Photo courtesy Dreamville Festival

Where’d you grow up?
I grew up in southeast Raleigh, on Barwell Road in Chastain—not where the tech companies are! I graduated from Garner Senior High School, which I think they tore down, because now there are north and south garner high schools. Everything changes so quickly, that was just about 10 years ago.

Did you always know you’d be a musician?
I always wanted to be an artist and I always wanted to make music. I was generally creative. I don’t think music is my biggest talent, I think it’s problem-solving: if I’m interested in something, I choose to invest myself. For example I recently directed a video for J. Cole, that’s a great example because I’m not a director by trade but I’m very interested in film, I was writing treatments for a while. I solved the problem of how to make something visually appealing. I feel like I haven’t had a job in 11 years, because I’m waking up and having fun every day. Recently I’ve been figuring out clothes, we’re doing a few popup shows while we’re here, we did a fun one yesterday where we played video games and had a bunch of people come out. Today I’ll be at CAM selling merch from 1-5, but then from 5-7 it’ll be a creative conversation.

What will you be talking about?
I’m there as much to talk as I am to listen, I want to hear what people are doing and see if they can teach my something, it’ll be an open forum, not speeches. I’m thankful for my experiences but I also want to make it easier for the people coming behind me.

Is there anything you wish you’d known earlier on?
Lots of things! But most of all I wish I’d known the covet the process instead of the product. If you invest more time in the process, it’s easier to make something interesting. My instinct is to take one thing, one song, and shape it until it’s perfect, to spend hours and days and months on this one thing—but if you get good at he process, you can make 10 good songs in a week. I still fight with that sometimes, being a perfectionist, I struggle with failing forward. I spend a lot of time with pieces of music before putting them out, but it would probably be better to make a bunch of music than to focus on one or two songs. I feel like I’m not going to be the highest version of myself until I make a bunch of bad songs! David Bowie has a quote about how the magic happens when you’re worried you’re going to drown; I think that it’s in those uncomfortable spaces that we’re at our best.

Are you excited to be back in Raleigh for Dreamville?
Yeah! It’s in Raleigh, it’s home. Me and Cole have an extensive relationship, so my business team talked to his team at the inception. They’re really cool and supportive. I met J. Cole seven years ago, even before I met Dr. Dre, and he’s one of the coolest people in the music business. He was the first person in a high level at the industry who thought I was talented. 9th Wonder took care of me, too. There are quite a few artists from North Carolina right now, of course Cole and the there’s Luke from Charlotte, I’ve known him for a long time.

There will be so many of my friends and family there, I just came from a family friend’s house because I don’t get back as often as I want from L.A., and my family’s in Baltimore now so we spend the holidays there. I feel very thankful to be back home, to be in front of this many people and to be doing the show with the people I’m doing it with, to be working with Cole again right after the music video… I just feel very thankful right now.