“I was in a couple deep dark places and that comes out in the music.”
For Pk Delay, emotional vulnerability has always come easy.
“When I first started out … I was just making music in my room,” recalls the Pittsburgh-based rapper. “It wasn’t like I was in a studio where people were around, and I would care about what they would say. I would just be in my room with my emotions, and I never had trouble putting that out.”
Inspiration came from artists like Lil B and Curren$y, who stuck out to Delay (in part, at least) for their willingness to talk about everything from being broke, to feeling weird and out of place, to regretting bad decisions, while also, Delay notes, “being so confident in themselves that it [didn’t] matter.”
That kind of confidence is echoed both in Delay’s writing, and in the sheer volume of his output. In addition to his recent full-length record Silver, he’s constantly dropping new tracks, including the EP The 2w0, which came out last month.
In many ways, those releases are polar opposites: Recorded at ID Labs with Wiz Khalifa’s go-to producer and engineer E. Dan, Silver – which came out in April — is easily Delay’s best sounding, most professional effort. “I got to work with the big dogs,” he says with a laugh.
Sonically-layered and punctuated with ear-catching instrumentation, that record was influenced by the heavier hip hop of his childhood, like G-Unit and DMX , as well as alt rock and new wave (“Alternative music, there’s just something about it,” Delay says. “If I could make that music, I would make it!”)
Thematically, Silver deals with issues of fame, purpose and self-worth. “This world is fucking up my energy and I can’t blame it/it’s not like I pretend to be wannabe famous,” he opens on “The World,”; “Famous” serves as a kind of mission statement: “I don’t care about this fame shit … I’m just tryna be the greatest.”
The 2w0, in contrast, was written more-or-less on the fly and recorded in a week. “Those are nowhere near my best songs,” Delay is careful to mention, but even so, the tracks feel up-to-the-minute and viscerally resonant, a result of “just stepping back, looking at the world and all this stuff that’s going on,” he says. “I was in a couple deep dark places and that comes out in the music.” In the wake of — among other things — the June 19 murder of rising hip-hop artist Jimmy Wopo, “It’s just been a rough year. You know what I mean?”
Plenty of modern hip hop trades in melancholy navel-gazing, but even at his weightiest Delay seems more concerned with working hard, getting his shit together, and encouraging the people around him to do the same. “Lately I’ve been under pressure/stepping out of my depression … If you’re going through a hard time/Well I’m going to try to lend a message,” he offers on “Dead That,” avoiding any kind of Drake-style performative sensitivity in favor of solidarity.
Emotional balance, too, is a big part of Delay’s appeal, and he’s a major advocate of taking care, both physically and mentally. “We run around all day, our generation is all text and drive, texting, texting, texting, texting, drive, drive, drive,” he says. “Our minds don’t really get to take a rest. So I would just say, even if its five minutes, 10 minutes, just for some mindfulness, to sit down and listen to yourself. Just let your thoughts flow and get a minute to yourself.”
For Delay, who occasionally collaborated with Wopo, the rapper’s death was a blow both on a personal level and to the larger scene. “He was definitely on his way to greater things. His swag was so unique,” Delay says. “He was from the Hill District, I’m from the Hill District, so beyond just the music, that’s a loss to the neighborhood. I know there was a lot that he planned on doing for the [area].”
But, overall, Delay remains optimistic about Pittsburgh hip hop. “We’ve got a lot of creative artists. You can tell who’s been serious about it for a long time, and they’re starting to get [more of a] spotlight. I think that the scene is really thriving right now,” he says, “I feel like the door is open and we’re going to step up and hopefully be able to work together, keep the egos out of the way.” Questions of the scene’s future are often posed in terms of who will be the next Wiz or Mac – an oddly persistent narrative that suggests that Pittsburgh only has room for one successful rapper at a time. “That just puts a limit on everything,” Delay says. “The world is bigger than Mac and Wiz. They’ve definitely done big things for the city of Pittsburgh, music-wise, they showed that it was possible.”
But, he adds, “When people try to put that on me, I’m like, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m trying to be me. I’ve got my own values and my own image that I’m trying to portray. I don’t want to be in nobody’s shadow.”
Margaret Welsh is the Pittsburgh Current Music Editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org