Poised to become one of hip hop’s greatest treasures, Chicago’s own Vagabond Maurice is set to pleasantly provoke eyes and ears with the emotive “To Smile In Autumn”. Hip hop infused with a jazz-inspired Neo soul vibe, bounded by its introspective lyrics, the breezy tune is reminiscent of an early A Tribe Called Quest hit. With his contemporary LP A Garden At The End Of The World, he aims to produce permanent eargasms with his continuous exploration of life enlightenment and Black liberation. Today, Vagabond Maurice joins me to speak candidly about what intrigues him musically, spiritually and emotionally.
Greetings Maurice! Nice to meet you!
Peace! A pleasure engaging in your energy, haha.
(Laughs) Likewise! Your stage name is unique, however the term “vagabond” seems negative when viewed from a one sided standpoint. What was the inspiration behind choosing your name?
Ya’know, that’s the primary thing about my stage name. It isn’t something that I chose or made up, it was given to me by one of my closest friends from Minnesota. Before moving to Chicago, I was doing a lot of traveling and exploring different colleges to see where I’d fit the best. In those travels, my friend was essentially like, “Man, you out here traveling like a Vagabond” which in turn, led him to eventually calling me ‘Vagabond Maurice’. This was during a time I wanted to change my stage name to have my real name in it.
So, the whole notion of ‘Vagabond’, for me, leaned more toward the aspect of a person on a journey or drifter, which is the basis for most of the lyricism and sound for the music. At that point, I just started connecting the term with some raw s**t, or wanderers who could be considered ‘Vagabond’, like Ronin (wandering samurai who had no lord or master), Griot (traveling West African musicians, poets and storytellers), the graphic novel VAGABOND that recounts of the life of the famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, or even littler things like Cise Star writing “I’m just a Vagabond with Flowers, for Algernon” on the song “Feather” he did with Nujabes. But yeah, usually when I spell out the name ‘Vagabond Maurice’ in Japanese, I use the symbol for ‘Ronin’, so folks are also low key calling me ‘Ronin Maurice’ Wow, this was just question two, here we go.
Wow! What a detailed yet blissful breakdown! What was your childhood dream before pursuing a career in music ?
I feel like I’m still pursuing the same dream, I wanted to be a writer. Originally I wanted to write graphic novels and just novels in general, but then that passion expanded to Poetry, which in turn expanded into music, because I felt like the performance aspect of it all incorporated all my interests into one place. But I definitely still see it all as writing, just a different form of the medium.
Who are two of your biggest musical influences (past or present)?
Nujabes with the sound, and lyricist under the Soulquarian banner without a doubt too. I feel like I might be cheating with this answer because of how large a collective the Soulquarians were/are, but I definitely wanted to create music like the tunes I enjoyed early on.
Cool! How did they inspire you?
I guess I gravitated more to that Neo Soul, Jazz and “Conscious Rap” because it was all reminiscent of the records my pops, who was a DJ, spun at weddings and family events. I just sat with those types of vibes all my life. So, I ended up seeking out things that were similar. That, in turn, just began to inform the things I created. Making music that a younger version of myself wished I had more of.
“To Smile in Autumn” is an awesome song. Not only it’s melodic content, but also it’s thought provoking lyricism. What inspired it?
August Greene’s track “Black Kennedy” inspired the initial concept for ‘To Smile in Autumn’. I was watching their Tiny Desk on NPR (I wasn’t aware that Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins formed a group), and Common mentioned how the track was about Black people as royalty, and that really resonated with me once the airy keys came in over the drums. Before the chorus of the song hits, there was like a thirty second period of them setting up the groove and I ended up just looping that part and writing a stray verse to it which, when fleshed out, developed into the song as it is now.
Awesome! What was your creative process when crafting it?
For me, the song is a celebration of myself as royalty, which made writing it feel real transcendental while being aware of staying grounded or at least the duality of it because, ya’know, Libra is my zodiac and we be about that balance. So, when writing the lyrics it felt like I was compartmentalizing aspects of my growth and acknowledging that said growth was built from struggle. Sort of the motif behind the whole album, a lotus growing from mud. “To Smile in Autumn” is essentially my way of warding off ‘seasonal depression’, as folks put it. It just came down to finding the right record to chop up with Brad and laying everything down.
Love it! The music video for the song is also innovative. Did your interest in anime and Japanese animation influence its concept?
Shoutout to Brittney Galloway of Sleepy Gallows Studio for animating the whole video. She is an amazing animator, storyteller and nerd like myself, so when we got together to form the concept of execution of the video which is an impressionistic blending of our ideas it felt right. But yeah, as fans of anime and cartoons, those things inspired the concept for the video.
Great! Having amazing creative chemistry produces miraculous results! What is your favorite anime and why?
Neon Genesis Evangelion, mainly because the first time I watched the series I thought it was terrible. Then, years later and having more knowledge of storytelling, a friend of mine suggested I revisit the series and that s**t blew my mind. So it’s definitely top five for me. But, my favorite anime fluctuates all the time. Cowboy Bebop is in my top five as well. I hope the follow-up question isn’t asking me my top five anime.
(Laughs) No, I’ll spare you with that one. Which anime character do you identify with the most?
Phew, good. But speaking of Cowboy Bebop, I have to say that nowadays, I identify a lot with Spike Spiegel, or just the Bebop crew as a whole. I’ve got some grown problems like they do, and I relate to the way they take gigs/bounties just to makes ends meet. It’s tough. I’d also like to mention that I’m at the age where a lot of anime characters are younger than I am, so I find myself identifying with older characters more. The young protagonist, like Deku (My Hero Academia) or Tanjiro (Demon Slayer), I consider my sons. But that just comes from viewing the Shounen genre.
I’ve also found many anime characters’ humanistic qualities to be intriguing. When did you first become interested in anime culture?
Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you the transition. I’ve liked traditional cartoons and things for a long time and just thought anime looked cooler and had a higher quality. Like, I remember waking up early to watch Dragon Ball, Ronin Warriors and Sailor Moon, but also watched cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Cartoon Network and Toonami era, though, has a lot to do with things too.
Makes perfect sense! Do you see yourself creating your own anime in the future?
Without a doubt. Before I was an emcee I was a poet, before I was a poet I was a fiction writer. I’m actually preparing to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month come November, which is exciting. Want to see where everything leads.
Describe yourself in 5 words
Mindful. Balance. Seeking. Clarity. Warm.
I dig it! If your life were a song, what would its title be?
The Bridge Between Heaven & Earth
So poetic! What is one of your greatest strengths?
Problem solving and defusing escalated situations.
I can definitely relate at times. What is one of your greatest weaknesses?
Expecting myself in other people
What does success mean to you?
Oh yes! What did life teach you yesterday
I am stronger than I give myself credit for.
Sounds familiar! What messages are you hoping to convey through your music?
Being the most authentic version of yourself, unapologetic in your flaws but mindful of good intentions, will lead you down a path to happiness. Also, them Black liberation raps. Celebrate your roots.
I couldn’t agree more! Do you have any upcoming projects and events?
There’s a lot more content concerning “A Garden at the End of the World” on the way that I’m excited about. As for shows, a lot appearances are on the horizon too. All that can be found on my social media platforms.
Cool! What is some of the best advice that you’ve ever received?
Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. Sounding like Rock Lee’s life mantra.
(Laughs) Most definitely words to live by! Maurice, You were a delight! I’m sure that we’ll be seeing alot more of you! Keep up the great work and thanks for taking the time to chat with me today!
Thank you very much for the opportunity and opening up your platform to give me the space to just be me. I’m humbled and truly appreciate it!
No problem! In the meantime, we’ll keep up with you on all of your social outlets.
Ashly E. Smith is an author, poet, columnist, and freelance writer from Baltimore, Maryland. With her strong pop culture and entertainment backgrounds, Ashly strives to create articles that inspire as well as entertain.