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Mez Talks J. Cole’s Clout, Dr. Dre’s Influence and Seeing Nipsey Hussle at Whole Foods

Imagine directing your first music video ever — and it’s J. Cole’s “Middle Child.” 

Mez has a hard time calling himself a rapper because he feels the term is limiting. He states, “I love rapping but that’s not where it’s going to end for me. I see so much for myself as a creative.” Creative in his sense means directing J. Cole’s “Middle Child” video, writing on Dr. Dre’s “Compton” album, starting his own creative agency Heirs, designing clothes, and still finding time to make his own music.

Hailing from Southeast Raleigh, North Carolina, Mez, whose real name is Morris W. Ricks II, is a go-getter who believes it’s possible to speak things into existence. For example, he already has a suit for the VMAs with no knowledge of when the awards ceremony is actually happening — he’s that confident in being nominated. Mind you, this is the first music video he’s ever directed.

In fact, Mez (formerly King Mez) sees pressure and difficulty as a prime moment for preserving and conquering. For one, there were multiple treatments for the visual, but it was Cole who took a liking to Mez’s vision and decided to give him a shot. This resulted in a 12-hour writing process to fully encapsulate the imagery exuded in all the different aspects of the song.

To never have directed a music video and receive Cole’s trust in executing a video on this level — the song of which became the year’s first multi-platinum single while covering a slew of sensitive topics — Mez sees this as far beyond a coincidence. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen nobody with a heart as big as his in this business,” says Mez.

Most recently, he wrapped up an opening slot on JID’s Catch Me If You Can Tour and continues the momentum with two new songs in the Data Plan series:  “Upset” featuring Landstrip Chip & WYNNE and “Always Waiting.”

Variety caught up with Mez to discuss how he landed in the studio with Dr. Dre, comparisons to Childish Gambino, and the reality of working with J. Cole.

What does it mean to see “Middle Child” go multi-platinum?
Man, Cole’s at a point in his career right now… he’s a superstar rapper with a cult following. Like an MF Doom. He’s a cult rapper but just a star, if that makes sense. It’s hard to explain. He’s a fake underground rapper because he’s actually a superstar. That’s the best way to describe it.

You both are from North Carolina but met through the industry. How’d you initially link?
Omen [signed to Dreamville] played Cole my music for the first time at this studio in Sherman Oaks. It used to be No I.D.’s studio but four or five years later, it was Dr. Dre’s studio. I wrote an album for Dre in the same room Omen played Cole my music for the first time.

You wrote 15 out of 16 songs on “Compton.” How did you land with Dre?
I had a try out. They didn’t call me back so I went back to North Carolina. But I was, like, “Yo, I really want this thing to work.” I closed the lease to my apartment, put everything in my car, and shipped it across the country before they called me back. Then I got there, like, “Welp, I’m in L.A. now, this is scary.” [Laughs]

How old were you?
I was 24. I was hella scared. I ended up staying on my friend’s couch the first night. The second night, they called me like, “Dre wants to meet you. He liked your try-out, can you come back to L.A.?” I was like, “I’m already in L.A.” I’m sure that’s why it worked out for me. If I was on the East Coast and had to make arrangements… I had zero backup. I was scared as sh–. All my belongings were in this car, already headed across the country. It felt like the right thing to do.

Did pursuing these opportunities take away from your own artistry?
Yeah, for sure. Writing for people and this and that, it takes time. It took time to even get out of the mindset of someone [else]. It felt like method acting, because you have to leave your mindset for someone else’s for a long period of time. It took time to get back to my own personal sh–, but I’m starting to feel the way everything lined up was meant to be. I’m about to come into the music business as a dude who directed a music video for J. Cole, then wrote an album for Dr. Dre.

It’s a story I didn’t think was going to be mine. I thought it’d happen differently, but I’m interested in it. It’s so different. A lot of people keep telling me it reminds them of Childish Gambino, the dude who does film and music. I’ve never seen that. I’m excited because one, I know exactly who I am and what I want. For an artist taking their time getting to where they want to go, you know exactly what your brand is going to be. I tell people all the time, “Dexter’s Lab” meets “The Boondocks.” That’s the best way to describe me as an artist. I didn’t have such a succinct explanation when I first came to LA. Now I’m older and coming in knowing exactly who I am and what I want. There’s no missteps, no miscalculation. I’m hella excited.

What is it that you want?
I want to create endlessly. I want to change people for the better, change the world for the better. I want to grow and be a better person myself in the midst of this whole shit. I want people to meet me and be inspired. Quick, short conversations — five minutes, two minutes. I always say it’s not because I want to be so popular. It’s about being meaningful. I really give a f– about my life being meaningful.

It took you 12 hours to write the treatment. What was your reaction when he said he was into it?
I was gassed. I speaking sh– into existence, I swear to God. I always get what I want when I just move like it’s gonna happen already. I make arrangements. Even moving to California. I’ve been this way for a long time. 

That’s so inspiring. It almost reminds me of Nipsey.
I look up to him so much. Last time I seen Nip was in Whole Foods a week and a half before he passed. I remember I was in the smoothie section. I’m the only black person in Whole Foods in downtown L.A. and see another tall ass black dude walking around the corner. I look up and it’s Nip. I’m, like, “Oh shit, what up man.” I met him a few times, I know him through my boys Mike & Keys. I was like, “Congratulations on everything.” … He’s great, one of the best. Super special dude. Always been inspired by him, even before I met him. He mentored me and a lot of us from afar with his interviews and the person he was. Especially being the background that he’s from. I’m not a Crip. I don’t bang or nothing, but I’m from that same texture of environment. It’s special to see somebody become who he became.

How did you collaborate on the look of the video?
Cole is super hands-on about everything. Aesthetically, I knew what I wanted it to look like. I took a lot of references from “The Royal Tenenbaums.” I like Wes Anderson. I like the symmetry in the shots, the balance in the shots. Even if it’s not always something in the middle, it’s always balance. I took a lot of that for the framing, but Cole and also Scott Lazer were very influential in decisions. Cole was like “I want a all-black female marching band.” Even the face at the end, he told me “I want to talk about black women and their value somehow. How can we do that? How can we make a social commentary?” It was very collaborative in that way. He’d say “I want it to feel like this,” and it was my job to go find a way to execute and make it work.

Was there pressure?
Hell yeah, there was pressure. First of all, I’m the best version of myself under pressure. I’m addicted to discomfort right now. I put myself in uncomfortable positions and I always end up excelling and impressing myself. I get the best results out of my discomfort.

How has Cole influenced your own career?
It let me know the shit from the heart is always gonna win. Seeing him and Kendrick be successful… how are Drake, Kendrick, and Cole at the top of the mountain? Even Drake, he’s in touch. The music he writes, he’s vulnerable. It’s funny because a lot of the music coming out from younger generations — the hits, the pop records — it’s not really vulnerable. It’s a lot of sh– talk, but people who end up at the top are people with real shit involved in their records. You can’t get that high without that. People gotta love you. Some artists make music that people love, but very few artists are people who people love. That’s the difference.

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