Photo Credit: Anthony Harvey

Peace and mental well-being are often times hard for a person to obtain. And when you grow up in the streets of Detroit, it can seem almost impossible. However, with the power of music and knowledge of self, Courtney Bell believes that he can help lead people to a better state of being.

Born and raised on Detroit’s westside, Bell is a hip-hop artist with a passion for conscious thought and a deep connection to the realities of street life. To simply call him a rapper would be doing him a grave disservice. Bell, who isn’t a fan of labels to begin with, describes himself as an activist, artist, and shaman amongst many other things. But if you have to call him anything, call him “a human having a human experience”. But to understand his unique human experience, you’ll have to tap in with his new mixtape Microdose.

Executively produced by Royce Da 5’9 and coming out in mid-May, Microdose is Bell’s first new project since coming out of his 3 year long hiatus from music. During his time away, Bell had gone through a metamorphosis that transformed his mind, body, and spirit. As a result, not only is this new tape an introduction to the world, but it’s also a reintroduction to his day-one fans. The title of this project has a double meaning too. One on hand, it represents the mixtape’s goal to give audiences a small taste of who Courtney Bell is. On the other hand, it’s a direct reference to Bell’s belief in the healing power of psychedelic medicine. Between his deep messaging and a new outlook on life, Bell certainly has a strong foundation for a great project.

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We sat down with Bell to discuss his return to music, inspirations for the Microdose, and personal growth.

BLAC: What made you decide to commit to conscious music?

Bell: I would say consciousness has always been there. I’ve been spiritual since a kid. Spirituality has always been there. For me, it’s been figuring out do I convey this message without coming off corny?

How do I show spirituality and consciousness in a dope way to where people receive and can take from these parts of my life? Because sometimes, whether it’s spirituality, consciousness, or whatever, the majority of the collective consciousness, don’t resonate with the people. And they don’t care to hear it. I just want to find a medium between a street nigga and someone who has grown. How do we how do we tow that line?

How do we not glorify the streets, but I tell you these stories that I experienced on a daily? These experiences of my cousins, my brothers, my uncles, my close homeboys that I grew up with that got life or that’s murderers or that’s killers. How do I tell you those stories without glorifying it? 

I’m a street nigga first. I lived the street side before I became conscious, and lived it at a high level. I have grown so much since then and I have so much empathy for people in that space. 

BLAC: Now as stated in both this interview and a lot in your music, your consciousness isn’t just political, but also spiritual. Could you give the people just a brief overview of your beliefs and what role you believe spirituality has in helping the Black community?

Bell: As far as my religious views, I am a student of life. I am a student of the creator. I am a human having a human experience. So me not dealing in labels allows me to learn from all things because there is truth in all things, whether we want to admit it or not, whether we want to see it or not.

I don’t deal in religion. I deal with the creator on a one-on-one basis. For the majority of my life, I grew up Christian. My mother was Catholic, so I experienced religion my whole life. But when I started to ask questions that my priest couldn’t answer, it made me start going inward. It made me start to seek. It made me start to search. And it made me build a relationship with the creator one on one.

I feel like until [Black people] get to a genuine space of questioning and really seeking to remember who we are, what we are, how we got to this space, and taking accountability, we’ll get to a space of rapid growth. I feel like spirituality plays the biggest role. Because if you’re operating in a space of not knowing who you are, what you are, or who you really are, then you can be told who you are. You can be molded to be what they want you to be.

Courtney Bell’s lead single “Westside” feturing Royce Da 5’9

BLAC: So getting deeper into the music. A large part of this new project is your collaboration with Royce Da 5’9. Could you explain how you guys linked up? 

Bell: Royce got connected through his brother, Vicious. Like I have been I’ve always been able to rap, always been able to do music. But in 2017 I lost my uncle and he was a part of my journey with music. So once he transitioned I started to take music really seriously. So about the year going into it, I had my name circulating around the city and just in the music market space in general. And Vicious was always somebody who showed love. He was always somebody who embraced me as a little brother with music. He was somebody that I looked up to at that point in time. So as my name started to circulate, he started to mention my name to Royce like, “Bro! It’s this young kid. He one of us. Like, he can rap! You should have your eye on him.”

I don’t know when specifically Royce started to really pay attention to me. There will be times when Vicious will have me come up to the studio and I would never even say anything to Royce. Like, I would never interact with him fully. But then he started to shout me out on Instagram and mentioning my name in conversations with people like Lupe and Joe Budden and certain people that he was communicating with. Then those people would start to tag me and then I just end up following and reaching out to them.

At this point in time, I had just finished a one-off deal with RCA so I was back independent. Then I started my healing journey. I took a hiatus from music. I went through the pandemic too. And he started to kind of communicate more through the pandemic and conversations led to me kind of like popping up at the studio and kicking it with him and talking to him like a big brother.

When I finally got back into the space of music. My team came up with an idea like, “Yo, it’d be hard if Royce executively produced this project. You’ve been gone from the music space for three years. We feel that this will be a, like a crazy talking point.” 

So I ended up coming to him maybe like pandemic time and was like, “Yo bro. I’m working on my project, and I would love it if you would executively produce it.”

He hit me with, “It’s a no-brainer, little homie, I got you, pull up on me.” And we had those conversations for about a year up until I got my deal with Monarch. I started going up to the studio more. We started recording. And he really stepped in. 

BLAC: How would you describe the way your relationship with Royce changed your music and sound? 

Bell: Royce taught me the art of perfection when it comes to music. He taught me about the feeling of it more than like what you say. Prior to working with him, if I wrote a verse, I just wrote one verse for a song. And like, that’s the verse I was going with. I wasn’t revisiting it. He shared so many stories of how many of the greats he wrote for and wrote with, and he told me how he had to write a hundred verses until they were perfect.

So like one of the biggest things I got from him is the art of writing and like just being a perfectionist. Like if I don’t feel this line for line, bar for bar, then I shouldn’t lay it down. Or I can lay it down, and then build on it. But you will know when your thought is complete.

BLAC: Now diving even deeper into the music. You have a lot of great features on here. You’ve got Skilla Baby, you’ve got Conway, you’ve got Black Thought, and of course you’ve got Royce. Does rapping with some of these legends affect your own writing process? Are you a little intimidated? Are you gassed up? Or is it like nothing changed?

Bell: All of the above. It depends on who it is, what mood I’m in at that point in time, and where I’m at mentally. When I first started working with Royce, he was someone who would make me think too much in the studio because of the level that he raps. I’ll also feel the emotions of being gassed up too like I got to rap-rap. But I’ll also have those self-limiting thoughts. I will have those self-doubts like, “Damn, what if my verse don’t meet the level?”

It depends on the energy of the other person, too. Skilla, that’s my brother for real. That’s my nigga. When me and him did our record, it was a no-brainer. It just happened. We didn’t write the record, none of that. We just freestyled the whole song together and it came out hard as hell.

Working with Simba and working with Royce and Black Thought, these are guys that I look at as elder peers. Simba more so as a peer. I respect their pen, I respect their lyrical ability, and how they move in the music space. So there’s always those thoughts of, “I gotta body them. I gotta annihilate them niggas. So I feel all of those emotions depend on the setting and the mood I’m in. 

BLAC: Last question as we wrap up here. For new listeners and old listeners of your music. Once they finish listening to Microdose for the first time, what do you want them to walk away with? 

Bell: Awareness. Mindfulness. I would want the listener to begin to question themselves and question their reality.

Because at the end of the day, all I’m here to do until I transition from this realm is to invoke thought. My job here is not to persuade you to believe in nothing that I know to be true. That’s not my job. My job is to make you question your reality and spark the thought for you to start your path. I want them to be able to put their headphones down, sit in thought, and turn over a new leaf. I don’t desire to be an artist that’s here in the moment and gone tomorrow. I know I have longevity and legroom in this thing called hip-hop.

I just want to invoke thought. I don’t want to do nothing more or less.

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