New Orleans hip-hop artist Pell (Jared Pellerin) spent the first three months of the pandemic split between boredom and action. Living in L.A., where he had opened his own studio, Pell was already more than a year into a new venture that aimed to empower emerging New Orleans artists: a collective called GLBL WRMNG.
But quarantine meant that he couldn’t actually work with anyone else, or initially travel home to Louisiana. On the bright side, he was finally able to fully focus on GLBL WRMNG for the first time. On the other, L.A. quickly transformed into a creative wasteland.
“The thing that I love about L.A. is being able to be around a lot of people in the industry,” said Pell, who has since moved back home to New Orleans. “Having that taken away from me felt very isolating on a creative level.”
Eventually Pell, 28, started to get his groove and creativity back. He played a few livestreams and found inspiration in the studio and a concerted effort. Then, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis on May 31. Two days earlier, on Pell’s birthday, the rapper had just released a single, “inhale.” His understanding of his own position was about to change. Where before he would use major world events as inspiration for his music, he knew he had to do more.
“The whole world was drawing their attention towards what I’ve experienced in my life, every year that I’ve been alive,” he said, raising his arm and pointing out the color of his skin.
“That had been the first time that I felt the weight of my words and what I stand for being more important than the way that they were delivered,” he added. “In a moment where everybody’s paying attention, words do matter. Actions do matter. I’m going to marches, we’re making sure that we’re donating. … I felt that I came alive during that time. I mean, not on an artistic level, but as a human being in terms of readjusting my priorities.”
Pell said that what happened throughout the country last summer helped to modify GLBL WRMNG’s identity: from that of artists helping artists and speaking for the resilience of New Orleans, to one of direct action in the community.
He started the collective with friend Nate “Suave” Cameron. It includes about 25 members who are producers, songwriters and performing artists, including Jelly of Tank and the Bangas, Malik NinetyFive, Jzzle, Lil Iceberg and Kr3wcial
Pell executive-produced its first album, glbl wrmng vol. 1, to be released on Feb. 19 on INgrooves.
“The project came from wanting to connect big-time and known managers, lawyers and artists with up-and-coming and less-developed artists in the recording community here,” Pell said. “And creating an infrastructure so that there can be some type of music business that we have here, especially during a pandemic time where live events are taken away from us, which in this city is a huge part of the infrastructure for a recording musician just as much as a live musician.”
The name was a literal call-back about the impacts of climate change on New Orleans and has added a community-minded activist mission statement for the collective. Anyone who wants to see progress in their community has to become an advocate for it, Pell said. He said he doesn’t see himself as an activist, per se, but he wants progress made in southwest Louisiana.
To start, they partnered with nonprofit HortiCulture—run by Nate Cameron’s wife, Krystle Sims-Cameron—which works with recently released incarcerated women to build community gardens. The members of the collective will be joining to help the organization build gardens, clean up Lincoln Beach at Lake Pontchartrain and hold other community events in and near New Orleans.
Some of the streaming proceeds of first single “504,” on which Pell appears alongside Kr3wcial and $leazy EZ, are going to Concerned Citizens of St. John Parish, another nonprofit that operates in “Cancer Alley,” an area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that has been historically used by factories as chemical dumping grounds that has both disproportionately high cancer rates, and now, the third-highest COVID-19 death rate in the country.
“I don’t consider myself an activist; I consider myself somebody who wants progress in my community,” Pell said. “That alone is the type of activism that each person that is a part of this project is contributing.”
When he was putting GLBL WRMNG together, Pell looked to the likes of other iconic groups as inspiration, such as Wu-Tang Clan, A$AP Mob, Odd Future and Dreamville. A few songs were recorded before the pandemic that didn’t end up being used on the album, he said. When the pandemic began, the members had to reinvent how to make music with such a big group of artists.
None of those other groups had worked under these circumstances before. Eventually the group set deadlines to wrap up the songs last December.
“During this unique challenge of not being able to really see one another for an extended period of time and commune with one another, it presented its own type of world that we had to create for ourselves, and I think it’s cool,” he said.
The new collaborative album is the latest example of Pell, whose family had to evacuate New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, paying homage to and celebrating the vibrance and endurance of his city. Fans won’t have to wait much longer for more music, as he’s also been working on his next solo record, which will be out sooner rather than later because it’s a retrospective look at his personal 2020 experiences.
While the GLBL WRMNG album is a collective internal look and showcase for New Orleans, his next album will be a more personal, microcosmic experience.
“I have my own New Orleans story,” he said. “I don’t even think I would be an artist if I wasn’t from New Orleans. … I have to get that across every time I make a record because to be from New Orleans is to be an artist, to me. I feel like it’s given me those wings to get out here in the world.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.