Interview: theMIND Talks His Debut Project & Chicago’s Rising Music Scene

The Chicago hip-hop scene is bursting at the seams with fresh talent. One artist in particular who is making waves and carving his own path in the bubbling scene is R&B singer Zarif Wilder, also known as theMIND.

The 27-year-old singer/producer is showing himself to the world, creating an alluring listening experience with his newly-released full-length project, Summer Camp, after racking up credits on Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book (“No Problem” and “Finish Line/Drown”), Joey Purp’s “Cornerstone,” and more. Combining his unique sound with a higher level of artistry, the 11-track mixtape is a cohesive body of work that takes listeners on a musical journey, showcasing his soft, dreamy vocals over lush piano instrumentation balanced by a surge of electric, psychedelic vibes, separating him from other R&B acts.

READ: Chance the Rapper Humbly Paves His Way On ‘Coloring Book’

And although a Philly native, Wilder’s sound is a true product of the city of Chicago, collaborating with the on the rise acts like Knox Fortune, Noname, Towkio, Donnie Trumpet, and Mick Jenkins, fusing their varying sounds to create a groovy sounding concept album.

“It’s so much easier to make music with friends,” Wilder explains over the phone. “I feel like if you make music with your friends you’ll literally come up with the best sh** you could ever possibly make. Just because they know you and you know them. It’s just like playing basketball with your homies.”

Just 48 hours after the release of Summer Camp, theMIND filled us in on his first foray into music, creating his debut project, and more. —Ben Rappaport

VIBE: How did you get into music?
theMIND: I started writing around the age of nine. Not music but poetry.  I don’t know if it was really in any format at that particular time but that ended up in me writing small raps here and there doing small monologues and a bunch of other stuff—really anything that let me get my hands and feet wet at that age.

So, how did that evolve into something, and eventually into theMIND?
It kind of evolved into something else once I started to link with my friends who were producers. I was around 15 or 16 when I really started taking it seriously. I remember my dad helped me build a studio in my basement and I started recording people in my neighborhood. Some of the sh**tiest recordings on PRO II because I never really used it before, but just the simple fact that I could record made everyone f**k with it. My dad also started to realize that I wanted to do music and was like, ‘Okay, let’s figure out a school where you can go and do that.’ At that time the only two schools I knew of were Columbia College in Chicago and Boston. I visited Boston and it sucked. Then I went to Chicago, not even to see the school, just the city, and I knew this is exactly where I was supposed to be. Chicago is dope. The colors are just brighter. It was cold as hell, but the people were out.  That was the first time I experienced a Chicago winter and I was like, damn! And if you can fall in love with the Chi in the winter you’re in. The summer time is definitely the reward.

Who are some of your musical influences?
The list is limitless so if you’re going from the beginning of time it would have to be the artists like Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, the Isley Brothers. Being an eight-year-old kid listening to those legends! I don’t even think I appreciated it at the time. As I got older it was Dru Hill and a lot of 90s R&B groups. B2K, too. And I love all the alternative sounds like James Blake, Sampha and Blood Orange.

READ: Divine Intervention: Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes Shows What It Really Means To Be Young, Gifted & Black On ‘Freetown Sound’

Summer Camp has a cinematic feel to it. What was your thought process behind the mixtape’s vibe?
When I was creating it I wanted to make a full body of work. I hate when you listen to albums and artists don’t make it sound like cohesive. You know what I’m saying? I wanted to make a front to back project that makes you have to listen to it all to get the message. Like you have to get every vibe.

I love how you were able to adopt the Chicago sound on Summer Camp, too, with Towkio, Knox and Donnie Trumpet. 
It’s so crazy because we’re all friends. The Chicago scene is really, really dope. I was so happy that Knox was getting this acclaim because I’ve f**ked with Knox since the beginning. Everyone is realizing how dope he is. And I think it’s the same mutual feeling when any of us drop a project. I love the way that we function out here because it’s all one big family.

The mixtape is also co-produced by creative collective THEMpeople. What’s your relationship with them (no pun intended)? Is it another organically formed collaboration? 
ThemPeople is everybody. It started originally with five members: this guy named Joey Maze, who I came up to Chicago with from Philly, Lon Renzell, Sean Deaux and Michael Anthony, who is like the band leader and curator. But now it’s three producers: Sean, Mike and Lou. If we were The Jackson 5, I’d be like Janet. I’m not in the group, but I’m still a Jackson, you know? People still associate me with them because that’s literally the squad. So, it’s a collective, but they’re all individual artists as well.

Being that you’re open to collaborating, if you could collaborate with anyone who would it be and why?
Damn, that’s a tough question. Definitely Sampha. Definitely James Blake, he’s just a freaking genius. Kid Cudi! He is perfect. SZA for sure. I like Logic a lot, too, how he goes off the reservation a lot.

Now that you’ve put out your solo debut, what’s next?
I want to do it all. Tour definitely. We are trying to link up with some cool people right now to make sure we make something really dope. The live aspect of all the songs is important to get it across. I want it to be as represented in the same manner that we introduced the project. So I’m definitely doing that, and I’m working on a small EP next. Then I’ll probably move into the realm of working on my album. I’m taking everything one step at a time.

Take a listen to Summer Camp in its entirety below.