The music industry is a tricky place. Some artists will agree that the moment it loves you, it’ll spit you out the very next second. A musician who tells this story of harsh label politics is Gilbere Forté. Hailed by fans and critics alike, the Philadelphia-raised producer-turned-artist and songwriter signed a deal with Sony Music label Epic Records in 2013. Powered through his forward-thinking approach to avantgarde-type of hip-hop, the multi-faceted artist first stepped into prominence with his 2010 debut mixtape 87 Dreams and his strong 2011 sophomore release Eyes of Veritas as well as collaborations with the likes of Kanye West, Yeasayer, Active Child, and Stromae. The recording contract was followed by his critically-acclaimed third offering PRAY, destined to catapult his career to the next level. Instead of conquering international airwaves and climbing up the charts, Forté disappeared from the scene without giving his growing fanbase a satisfying reason.
If you want to understand the music of Gilbere Forté, turn to Rakib “Raak” Uddin. Both met at Philadelphia’s Temple University in 2008. Forté’s transition from producer to artist was made possible by the musical input of Uddin, who became a constant and significant role in all of his releases. Their in-studio chemistry and the lack of finding creative inspiration in contemporary music trends made them officially join forces with HUNTR. Don’t mistake this newly-formed collective as a duo. It is much rather comprised of five gifted musicians from all over the world with the mutual desire of breaking current music norms by creating and innovating progressive sounds that have already been highlighted by their singles “Veins,” “Kindness,” and “Find Myself.” Listening to each song and the rich soundscape filled with emotive restlessness, confusion but also determination makes one realize the type of beast HUNTR really is. Here’s their story.
What is HUNTR? Who is behind it?
Gilbere: HUNTR is a group of guys who came together on a mission to disrupt music. (laughs) Raak and I do most of the production and vocals, Nick is our drummer, Boris plays guitar amongst other things, and Helly is our DJ.
You first chose to hide your identity. Why?
Raak: We wanted to keep the focus on this new sound, and not the stuff we did before. Or get caught up in people’s preconceived thoughts of what we’re supposed to sound like because we grew a lot. Plus we wanted to see who would organically gravitate to the music first.
Gilbere: For me personally, it was merely taking myself out of public eye after all the stuff I was doing as a solo artist, and experiencing the things that we were. We decided to try something different, see who’s really listening and would get onboard on the strength of just the music.
How did you first meet?
Raak: We met seven years ago in college at Temple in Philly, but HUNTR was born Fall 2014 at Ronnie’s Diner in Culver City. Bere and I were there talking about how the sound we were creating was evolving into something bigger than us as a duo, or him as a solo artist. To really bring this out, he thought it’d be dope to form a group. Then DeNiro walked in, we told him the idea. He was like, let’s call it “HUNTR.”
Gilbere: He said he’d kept seeing the word “hunter” and getting random signs about it that whole summer, but didn’t know what it meant. At first, I was like that’s kind of fire, but what does it mean? Meanwhile Raak, was writing it on napkins over and over and over like Jim Carrey in “Number 23”. Then DeNiro said drop the ‘e’.
Raak: So I had to go back again and get more napkins, so I could write it without the ‘e’. (laughs)
Gilbere: After that, we spent the next few months piecing the band together.
Can you outline your relationship?
Gilbere: Creatively we’re left and right brain, but outside of music we’re pretty much family.
How has your relationship developed since the day you first met?
Raak: When we met we were both making beats, and didn’t really like each other. But we had a bunch of mutual friends trying to link us. Once we finally got around it, we realized what we had between the two of us. After that, it was day in and day out in the studio developing a chemistry, and learning how to make songs. That was a little over five years ago.
Your sound is hard to categorize. It evokes feelings of restlessness, confusion, a bit of chaos but also determination and hope. What does it stand for?
Gilbere: Hope is something people need more of, to keep them pushing forward towards their dreams, their goals or success in life. A lot of the powers that be are all lying to us about “how.” People are afraid to admit it, but we’re all confused not only about what’s real, but what, if anything, we can and should do about it. The foundation for this sound is rooted in that honesty.
Raak: A HUNTR song is like an emotional journey of highs and lows, and as it progresses you’re more and more affected, which is parallel to the unpredictability of life. But you come out of it with a stronger belief of whatever you’re going through, you’re gonna get through. Versus some of the stuff that’s out that’s basically telling you, you ain’t shit or being who you really are isn’t good enough.
Gilbere: And that’s why the music is so driving, to intentionally evoke the emotion to want to push back, to progress, to want to change something. It’s time to wake up.
Describe your creative process together.
Gilbere: Making these songs, we literally sat on the couch in the studio, turned on Apple TV and watched a shitload of movies.
Raak: We spent a lot of money on movies over the course like two to three months.
Gilbere: There were specific emotions we were trying to tap into, so we watched movies that would invoke those feelings. And when we hit those scenes, we’d mute it, and re-score it. Taking what we see and putting into the track, before we even start writing.
Is it always a smooth process or do you guys sometimes encounter creative differences?
Gilbere: As much as we’re alike, we’re two different people. So naturally we’re gonna bump heads creatively. It might be a sound that’s he’s in love with, but I’m like, “uhhhhh, I don’t know”.
Raak: I sometimes go days hating Gilbere, because I think it works, he’s like mehhhh. But he ends up being right.
Gilbere: Other times it’s the other way around, he might not feeling the direction I’m trying to take it, but then I realize he was right. It’s all trial and error, but keeps us pushing each other. We’ll sometimes spends weeks on records getting the drums right, or the melodies right. Same with writing, to make sure each line is as strong as everything else you hear in the song.
Gilbere, where have you been the past two years?
Gilbere: A few months after I signed a deal with Epic, the A&R team that signed me parted ways with the label. They were the only people in the building who seemed to get what I was doing. So the first year of that was a lot of back and forth trying to get a release from my contract. Since I couldn’t put any music out, I stepped away from the scene, and somewhat of a spotlight I had. I just wasn’t fulfilled with where I was. I was put in a position where I was giving so much, that I was losing myself. Losing bits and pieces of my creativity, losing my friends, and losing touch with life. Once the reality of all that started to set in I knew I needed to press pause on music, re-align spiritually, and get inspired again. I moved from my apartment Downtown LA to the Westside, to be closer to the ocean to get more clarity, and build me back up before stepping back into a creative environment. I need to all the way be there, in order for it to be real.
Have you worked on any music?
Gilbere: For myself, not really. Raak and I messed with a few ideas here and there, but it wasn’t at the level we were accustomed to or where it is now. He was working on other projects, and I did some co-writes here and there on a few things. That kept my pen sharp, and me close to the creative process, but from a different perspective.
What does the return to the scene mean to you personally?
Gilbere: Making myself accessible to people again. I know and have met a lot of people who’ve told me I inspired them. So getting back to the scene, is me getting back to the place where I can do that for people again. Because I do feel like that’s part of my purpose here on this Earth.
RAAK, how did the last couple years go for you?
Raak: I did some writing and producing for other artists, and bounced around a few writer and producer circles that I didn’t really feel connected to. It was a cool experience, and I met a lot great people, but it just wasn’t for me. After that, was when we decided we needed to get away from L.A., and go to Philly to tap back into our core inspirations.
Gilbere: It was in those last two weeks before we packed up and left for Philly that we started “Find Myself” and “Motel.”
How has the game/music industry changed in the last couple years?
Gilbere: It’s pretty much the same shit, only the trends come and go faster now. People are still playing it safe and following trends to try and be relevant. I do like that all these new fusions of music are being created, but there’s still that battle against the box people want to put you in.
Your industry rule 4080?
Gilbere: Artists stuck in messy major label situations, have to sign an NDA as part of their deal termination, if and when they’re granted a release. This way if you say anything bad about the label they can try to sue you.
Has the role of the producer changed in the last couple years? Is there more appreciation?
Raak: When I first started I was just making beats, and as I worked more with Bere I developed more as a producer. And since we started HUNTR, producing and composing just went to a whole nother level, because we’re taking more risks. These aren’t just songs anymore, these are moments in people’s lives inspired by moments from our lives.
The biggest industry lesson you have learned?
Raak: Be careful who you send your tracks to, because they may end up on a Grammy-nominated album, and you won’t find out til after the fact. But we got a good lawyer, so I’m not tripping. They could’ve called me though, I have way hotter shit in the tuck.
Gilbere: Believe none of what you hear, and half of what you see.
What is the game missing these days?
Gilbere, tell us something about RAAK that the world should know.
He’s a great dancer, his energy in the studio is unreal. And he’s the biggest Justin Bieber fan.
RAAK, tell us something about Gilbere that the world should know.
When this is all said and done, he’s gonna grow up to become Denzel Washington’s character in “The Equalizer.”
Your first two offerings, “Veins” and “Kindness.” What can you tell us about these songs?
Gilbere: Veins for instance, we say, “we are not same.” There’s so much going on in the world that can get in the way of being who you truly are. We just want people to embrace what makes them different, versus putting so much time and energy into trying to mimic something else. “Kindness” came from Raak and I talking about being reactive when things get under our skin or piss us off. So this song ended up being more about telling someone FOH with a smile on your face, versus popping off.
Why did you choose “Veins” as your debut single?
Raak: The strings. We knew the night we made it, this had to be the first HUNTR song we put out.
How does this third song “Find Myself” align with the first two songs, and is it/how indicative is it in regards to your future releases?
Gilbere: It was one of the first songs we cut before we left L.A. end of 2014, and went to Philly to finish up the project. It kinda laid out the foundation for what the arc of this EP would become.
2016 is the year of…
Gilbere: Touré Roberts said 2015 was the year authenticity. 2016 is the year of reward.