Last November, the Bay Area gathered in San Francisco to celebrate Too $hort’s iconic 35th anniversary. Recognizable faces sprinkled the packed venue, from Golden State Warriors assistant coach, Mike Brown, to award-winning musician, Kev Choice. That’s when my friend introduced me to another legend I’d seen in the crowd: Passwurdz—a versatile wordsmith associated with the East Bay’s popular art collective, Grand Nationxl.
We connected while waiting for $hort to begin, and Pass showed me the concept for his upcoming album, Flowers, which he told me he was finishing up at the time. The artwork was a headshot of the veteran lyricist from North Oakland rocking a fully flowered beard—literally. The image symbolized his growth, maturity, and flourishment as one of the most respected battle rappers to ever emerge out of Northern California. In fact, earlier this year, he was crowned as “Oakland’s Greatest Battle Rapper Ever” by No Jumper, a nationally heralded rap podcast. Needless to say, I was excited to hear how his album would sound.
Now, nearly 5 months later, it’s here. And it was worth the wait.
Over the years I’ve seen a lot of battle rappers—those who typically spit aggressive bars in order to destroy their opponents in a 1-on-1 format of verbal boxing—leave that arena in order to attempt a studio album. Some of the greatest lyricists ever, like Supernatural and Juice, gained worldwide recognition on stage, then decided to hit the booth. Sadly, those spitters have traditionally fallen short, unable to translate their raw energy of face-to-face confrontations into a work of multidimensional art when recording a full-length album.
So, when a rapper does make that transformational leap—especially at a high level—it’s an achievement worth recognizing, and celebrating. Flowers is exactly that. It’s an artist blossoming from the rich soil of his past experiences, and sharing that growth in the form of audio medicine. It’s vulnerable yet muscular, introspective and expansive, seasoned while simmered. This is excellent music, period. As listeners, it’s time to give Passwurdz his flowers.
48 HILLS For those who are unfamiliar with you and your body of work, who are you as an artist?
PASSWURDZ Whassup wit it. My name is Passwurdz, aka Pass [@Pass510]. I’m a longtime battle rapper, recording artist, and songwriter.
48H I know you’ve been doing this for decades. Here’s that famous clip of you as a 16 year old delivering a cutthroat freestyle for those who haven’t seen it. Throughout those years, you’ve always been respected as a top battle rapper in the circuit. What does the term “battle rapper” mean to you and how do you prepare for that head-to-head clash as an emcee?
PASSWURDZ To me, the term “battle rapper,” and battle rap itself as a culture, has evolved many times over the years. I started when you had to show up to a venue, sign up on the spot, battle whoever they put in front of you over an instrumental played by the DJ, and battle against multiple people in the same night. Now, we’ve evolved to a place where a battle rapper is booked far in advance to battle against a predetermined opponent—acapella—and each rapper is compensated for the performance regardless of the winner or loser.
Personally, preparation is an arduous task but extremely rewarding, if done right. Getting a big reaction from a crowd of people is a huge payoff for the late nights of writing, editing, and perfecting the performance. Preparation is all about self, and execution is about interpersonal connection.
48H Who are some of your biggest lyrical inspirations?
PASSWURDZ There are so many. Rappin Ron (RIP), E-40, Hieroglyphics, Yukmouth, Mac Dre, Jay Z, Kool G Rap, MF Doom, Tha Jacka (RIP), Scarface, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Project Blowed (shoutout Nocando aka All City Jimmy). There’s too many to name, but I’ve always been fascinated by people who use words and language in a way that I didn’t know was possible.
48H What have been memorable highlights in your career so far?
PASSWURDZ I think the most memorable might be when Tha Jacka [Oakland rap legend who was killed in 2015] saw me out in public and recognized me from battle rap. At the time, I had no idea but found out that he was a huge fan of the culture and kept up pretty closely with what was happening in the battle rap world. He was such a major influence on myself and my brother growing up, so finding out in real time that he knew who I was will always be very special to me.
Aside from that, entering [a national] tournament and making it all the way to the finals is something I’m very proud of. I entered as a replacement in the West Coast division, and ended up one of the final 2 out of 48 rappers from around the country. Feel pretty good about that one.
48H What’s the difference between battle rap and recording an album?
PASSWURDZ I was excited about battle rap at the same time that I first began getting interested in recording music in a studio; I was about 12 or 13 years old. So both aspects of rapping and using words have always been something I was obsessed with. Battle rap allows me to do things with words that I don’t think I’m capable of doing in the music that I create.
With that said, I generally think that all creativity comes from the same part of the brain and follows the same kind of rules: You become obsessed with a particular creation, or category of creations, and you want to do your best to create your own project—song, battle, rhyme, painting, story, etc.—that can stand next to the best of the best.
48H What went into the decision to make your first studio album? What was that process like and what were the challenges while making that transition into the booth?
PASSWURDZ There’s hardly a transition for me, as I’ve been creating music since before I really started battling. I have a few projects with my partner Apes (under the group name Anml Plnt, pronounced animal planet) so songwriting and recording have always been a major passion of mine. While I was experienced in creating music and comfortable in the studio, I felt like I had never really delivered something to the world that was a true reflection of my personal perspective, nor my musical range.
I knew that my team, Grand Nationxl, would be able to help me bring this to life in the best way possible. This is a solo album, but it was truly a collaborative effort. Bryan Simmons, an incredible musician, plays on half of the album. Kevin Allen, Mani Draper and Brookfield Deuce were in the studio with me for almost every song helping with arrangements, edits, mixing, etc.
48H Tell us about the title, “Flowers.” What inspired the concept of this album and what does that word represent for you?
PASSWURDZ The title track was the first song I had recorded for this project, before I knew there would be a project. At that point it was just a song. After having recorded a few songs, I sat and listened to what I had created thus far and the “Flowers” song really stuck out to me.
Flowers represent growth, mourning, celebration, nature. It felt like the perfect fit for what I was trying to accomplish. I immediately thought of the album cover when I decided on calling the album Flowers.
48H What’s next for Passwurdz and Grand Nationxl? What can fans look forward to next from “The Wolfpack”?
PASSWURDZ You’ll see some music videos, performances, and more content from this album. June 18 we’re at The New Parish and you can definitely expect something special to happen at that. More music coming from the team. [Group member, Brookfield Duece, has also just announced his album for this summer]. Gotta stay tuned!