The Canton hip-hop artist frequently heard that cautionary, heartwarming phrase from his mother while growing up.
“Every time I left the house, no matter what I was doing, no matter if I was going out with friends or doing some sports stuff or going out to shows,” he said. “It was ‘be careful, be safe, make smart decisions.’”
Bates decided to name his latest album, “Be Careful Be Safe,” which drops today, as a tribute to his mother, who passed away in January. He also timed the album’s release to coincide with his mother’s Oct. 6 birthday.
“The original title was going to be ‘Green Balloons,’ which is the theme for the whole album, but then my mom passed, and I decided to go with the quote she always said to me,” he said.
Throughout the eight-minute title track, Bates sings about heeding his mother’s timeless advice and the lasting impact it’s had on him.
The song speeds up and down against a jazzy sonic backdrop, courtesy of metro Detroit’s Honey Monsoon, to chronicle the rollercoaster of emotions he’s experienced since losing his mother. Bates also included the lyrics from the slower part of “Be Careful Be Safe” in his mom’s obituary.
That same underlying emotional theme is woven throughout the remaining six catchy, introspective tracks on “Be Careful Be Safe.” Bates examines the challenges with being an emerging artist on the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti-Detroit hip-hop scene in “Green Balloons” and deals with his intense stress in the Dragon Ball Z-inspired “Angry Gohan.”
“‘Green Balloons’ is kind of like a shout-out, it’s kind of a thing to local artists and kind of how I felt when I was growing up, like when you see all these people getting bigger,” said Bates, who grew up listening to the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C. and The Notorious B.I.G. “‘Angry Gohan’ is me coming to grips with struggling on my own. Alcohol addiction runs in my family, my mom suffered from it, that’s why my mom’s health problems were so bad, so it’s me not trying to fall into that same pattern.”
The album’s first single, “Holy Water,” is a musical rebirth for Bates and it’s done against a series of slow, rhythmic beats. On the track, Bates sings about “starting over, today is a new day, and it’s time to move forward.” It’s a cathartic way for Bates and his listeners to process their lives after experiencing a devastating loss or event.
The album also features brief artist-radio DJ interviews between Bates and Shannon McElfresh as DJ McFresh interspersed throughout the songs. The interviews give listeners a glimpse into the creative mind of an up-and-coming artist.
“I’ve always wanted a cool concept like that. I have several concepts I’m planning to do throughout my career, that was one of them. I wanted to execute it because it fit with that theme so well,” said Bates, who’s released previous mixtapes and EPs independently since 2010. “Shannon McElfresh is one of my best friends, she’s one of my biggest supporters in music since the beginning so I got her on this.”
Bates collaborated with several Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti artists on “Be Careful Be Safe,” including Dye Low, Drew Denton, Ian Griffiths of Ma Baker, Nico Laudicina, Avery Norris, Lola Tea and others. He highlighted his recent collaborations with local artists and musicians in a Sept. 20 “Beats and Brews” blog post.
“Kevin Divine, my media adviser at the Eastern Echo, turned me onto this thing called the hedgehog concept. It’s when you combine these three things – what you’re passionate about, what you’re good at and what you can make money from and how you find the balance between the three,” he said. “That’s what led me to start Beats and Brews last year.”
While Beats and Brews continues to grow, Bates looks forward to celebrating “Be Careful Be Safe” with an upcoming album release party and plans to write and record new material soon.
“As of now, I’m on a hot streak, I’ve got a lot of features I’m doing right now, too, so it’s pretty much like when I’m hot, I’m hot. I want to just go in a studio and record, record everything,” he said. “I’ll just have to be motivated to do it, but then when I’m on a cold streak, I’ll go back to Beats and Brews, I do the podcast all the time, I guess I just switch it up a little bit. I play that game all the time. I know that story all too well.”