Teenage Rap Phenom Redveil Is Growing Up on Record

Eighteen-year-old rapper-producer redveil gets most of his samples from digital databases like Tracklib and Splice, but from the way he combs through stacks of vinyl, you’d think he was a traditionalist unstuck in time. On an overcast fall afternoon at Village Revival Records in downtown Manhattan, he digs quietly and patiently: The loudest thing about him is the image of a cowboy who rides across the chest of his denim jacket. “Cover art is one of the first things I look for when listening to a new album,” he says, studying the brightly colored Cubist portrait that adorns experimental guitarist Adrian Belew’s 1986 album Desire Caught by the Tail.

He spends much of his time browsing the store’s gospel selection. His mother took him to church every Saturday for most of his life, and often played gospel around their Prince George’s County, Maryland home. “I love how emotional gospel music is,” he says. Learn 2 Swim, his breakout third album, released on his 18th birthday last spring, channels similarly big feelings, its boasts and flexes dovetailing with stories of adolescent ennui and the triumph of making it to the other side. He emerges from the racks with Golden Gospel Jubilee, a 1976 compilation with a woman praying on the cover, her dark brown Afro blending in with the black background.

Learn 2 Swim‘s own cover features a painting by the artist alleuu that depicts a veil submerged in water, his hand covering his jawline—almost prayerful—as he floats against a purple horizon dotted with clouds. The image is soulful and pensive, a representation of the transition into adulthood, reflecting the music’s dance between risk and comfort on the way to maturity. For every propulsive Learn 2 Swim track like “diving board” or “pg baby,” there are stretches steeped in painful memories, like the missed connection in the second verse of “shoulder,” or veil’s acknowledgment of suicidal thoughts on “automatic.” The beats, which Veil produced himself, blend live and programmed sounds into intricate, cascading shapes.

“Learning to swim is about how you fit into the water,” he later explains over pizza. “How much it’ll take for you to sink, how much it’ll take for you to stay afloat. It’s not a concept album, but that’s the theme.”

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