Independence Day seems like a fairly appropriate occasion to shine a spotlight on some new, independent hip-hop out of H-Town, don’t you think? So, before your ears are shattered by the colorful mortar fire tonight down at Freedom Over Texas in Eleanor Tinsley Park, give a listen to the latest work by Houston native Casey Colello, better known as Fullmetal.
Holidays are important to the man — particularly when it comes to putting music out. His first proper release, 2010’s sound-clip-laden Tim and Eric tribute Check it Out! with Fullmetal, came out on Thanksgiving. Trillmatic, his imaginative, live-band re-creation of Nas’s legendary Illmatic album, dropped on Valentine’s Day 2012. Only fitting, then, that we get something new from him now, when we’ve got the whole day off of work.
Today, Fullmetal celebrates the release of “Nothing Like It,” the first taste of the debut full-length he’s been chipping away at for the better part of three years. And fittingly enough for July 4, the British are involved. Well, one Brit, anyway. “Nothing Like It” is produced by Jay Abdul, a Londoner with whom Fullmetal has cultivated an overseas rapport over the years.
“I met him around six years ago,” Fullmetal says. “I found him online, found a beat of his on SoundClick. It was tagged. I rapped over it, and I ended up sending it to him, just like, ‘Hey, check this out. I totally didn’t pay you for this beat, but listen to what I did with it.’”
“He actually liked it a lot, and ended up sending me the untagged version as well as three or four other beats that I ended up using on the project,” the rapper continues. “We’ve had a working relationship ever since. I’ve never met him face to face. We’ve Skyped a couple times. I just like what he does and he likes what I do, and it works.”
“Nothing Like It” doesn’t feel like most of the rap percolating underground in the city, and that's not just because of Abdul’s squiggling, retro synth sounds or congas ‘n’ cowbell beat. Without much irony, the track tackles a topic a lot of young rappers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: the hardship (and freedom) of trying to chase a dream while remaining firmly flat broke.
“It’s really just about being in this so-called rap game for a while now and literally not making any money yet,” Fullmetal says. “Which is fine; it just is what it is. It sucks, as far as, like, a status thing. That’s definitely a metric to measuring your status, is the amount of money you’ve made. Despite that not happening, though, I haven’t lost my drive.
“I haven’t watered anything down; I haven’t decided to go a different route,” he adds. “It’s playful; it’s me making fun of myself and my situation, while expressing that it’s not going to slow me down.”
Not the most traditional theme for a rap tune, maybe, but it’s certainly relatable. And it’s hard not to find yourself screaming along to the chorus hook of “MONEY AIN’T A THANG I got a lot of.”
The single’s cover, which features an 8-bit hammer smashing a piggy bank, hints at the retro-inspired goodies to come on the full album, Avoid the Lava. That title should strike a chord with any Super Mario Bros. veteran who has devoted more time than he or she might care to admit trying to conquer the castle actually containing that elusive princess.
“For this (album), I like to think that the subtext is all kind of based around nostalgia,” Fullmetal says. “So, you’ll hear a lot of 8-bit sounds; you’ll hear references to a lot of things that remind me of my childhood.
“I’d like to call myself a gamer, but I know that I’m probably not a real gamer by today’s standards,” the rapper continues. “I appreciated games when they were just bite-size chunks and they didn’t require so much of my concentration and my time. I think that’s what really resonates with me — 8-bit games don’t require as much dedication to get through them. They make me think of being young and better times, when I didn’t have to pay bills.”
Fullmetal has plans to shoot an epic music video for the new song, recalling the late-‘90s heyday of lavish, “Mo Money Mo Problems” mini-movies. To further highlight the theme of the track, though, the emcee plans to fund the effort the only way a penniless indie rapper can.
“I decided, in the spirit of the topic of ‘Nothing Like It,’ I was going to release a GoFundMe campaign to get the music video done for the single,” he says. “I just thought it was kind of cool to continue to flesh out that theme of broke-ness and tell people that this is real. I’m not just rapping about being broke because it’s cool right now. Sure, I could go shoot it where it’s just me rapping in front of a graffiti’d wall, but I really want it to feel big, so we’ll see how many people are willing to give a stranger their money.”
If the cash comes rolling in, Fullmetal will put it to work. But that’ll hardly be his ultimate ambition for Avoid the Lava when the full record drops (of course) around Labor Day.
“I think, more than anything, I just want some recognition,” Fullmetal says. “I want people to hear it and like it enough to want to become fans. Ideally, I’d love to go on tour and sustain my life with music. But I don’t think it would even take that much for me to feel successful. As long as people jam it and like it and are asking me for more, then I’m satisfied.”
Catch Fullmetal onstage at the Secret Group Satellite Annex show at AvantGarden on July 14. 9 p.m. No cover.