Trials & Tribulations: An Interview with Virghost

Spirituality. Confidence. Bitterness. Betrayal. Resiliency.

These are all pieces to the musical puzzle that makes up Virghost’s latest album It Gets Greater Later. Arguably his best project to date, the album takes listeners through a bright-turned-gloomy period the Memphis emcee experienced after relocating to Nashville. The project also shines light on Virghost’s desire and determination to be globally recognized as one of hip-hop’s elite artists.

It Gets Greater Later takes a different lane than its predecessor, 2014’s GHOSTS. Virghost’s previous project focused on his life between 2005 and 2008, a challenging period that served as his motivation to get involved with spoken word and hip-hop. However, It Gets Greater Later touches on more recent situations and experiences, such as Virghost winning K97‘s “Next Big Thing” competition and him being a casualty of infidelity.

Virghost talked with A Humble Soul about creating It Gets Greater Later, his bittersweet feelings towards K97’s competition, and why he’s not fond of rap’s mixtape culture. He also opened up about revisiting spoken word poetry; how going through a divorce changed his life for the better; the passing of hip-hop artist Fathom 9; and Memphis’ thriving music scene.

AHS: The last project you released was GHOSTS, which focuses on a period of your life when you were in college. Things are more current on It Gets Greater Later. What were you trying to convey with your latest effort? 

When I started the album, I was originally wanting to show the transition from living in Memphis to moving to Nashville. I moved here in 2014, and when I moved here, the last project I had come out was GHOSTS and before that was Summer in September with KingPin. On GHOSTS, I was talking about things that happened back in college, so I never really got to reflect on the stuff that happened with the K97 competition in 2013 or the move I made to Nashville. It’s kind of like this album picked up from where Trial N Error left off, my album right before Summer in September. The major theme of it was supposed to be the transition from Memphis, being a known artist in Memphis to being practically a nobody in Nashville. And why I moved here and what went on with that. During the year that I was recording it, I started off with a bunch of bravado-type tracks, displaying lyricism and all that, but in the middle of recording it last year I went through a divorce. That kind of changed the mode of the album, but it also added a great element to it that was not there in the beginning.

You’re open and candid on the album’s track “Nashvillain.” You talk about cutting ties with a lot of people and switching your surroundings. The song sounds like a theme for someone making a fresh start.

That was actually the first song I put together and recorded for the whole project. Right before I left Memphis, and when I moved here to Nashville, I was real bitter. When I moved here in 2014, I didn’t record any music at all. I had shows and stuff I turned down. I wasn’t feeling music. I was bitter from the K97 stuff, because it didn’t really turn out like I wanted it to. And my group, PBE/Squad, we had kind of fell apart. A lot of the guys in the group kind of turned on me. And a couple people actually got mad because I moved to Nashville, like I was turning my back on Memphis and that wasn’t what I was doing. I moved here and started doing music, but my original reason for moving to Nashville had nothing to do with music. But I took advantage of the move, after that year. When I was living in Memphis, I felt like, to a certain degree, I was viewed as an hero-type figure because K97 doesn’t usually let a lyricist win something. They don’t showcase lyricism and that type of stuff, so when I won, a lot of people were happy that I won, not just because of me, but because [K97] put light on a lyricist. When I moved to Nashville, that whole thing changed. I personally felt like a villain because of the way a lot of people were treating me.

When I spoke to you in 2014, you seemed appreciative of winning K97’s Next Big Thing competition. But on this album, it seems like things have changed. On “Nashvillain,” you talk about the station giving you props but not playing your music. And on the track “Searching,” you say, ‘Fuck the Next Big Thing, I was the biggest thing before that shit.’ What brought forth the change in perspective?

I’m still appreciative of it. It was a great opportunity. I appreciate the opportunity and the things that came with it. A lot of people found out about my music that wouldn’t have known about my music if I wouldn’t have won that contest. But like I said in the “Nashvillain” song, ‘They said I was the greatest when they heard me on my tracklist, but at the same breath they still playing all that whack shit.’ That’s literally what it was. They were telling me that. I had “Be Without You” out, and they were telling me, ‘This is the hottest song we’ve heard by anybody, not just in Memphis.’ [DJ] Mic Tee said that. But at the same time, they weren’t playing it. And I understand the politics and the big money and all that goes behind it. For a lot of people, you have to have the dough to get your records played, you’ve got to have the representation. And I didn’t have none of that, so I understand that. But it’s still hypocritical. Don’t tell me that I’m one of the dopest dudes you ever heard, but you ain’t playing my music. And I feel like that contest didn’t really have nothing to do with me. I feel like it was more so for them making their selves look good. And I’m not afraid to say that. I said that before I even won the contest. Now what I said on “Searching” when I said ‘Fuck the Next Big Thing, I was the biggest thing before that shit,’ it wasn’t really a shot in my opinion. What I was saying was, before I won that K97 contest, like, back in 2009, I was literally probably the hottest poet in Memphis. The same level of notoriety I had as a rapper in 2013 with the Next Big Thing, I had in 2009 as a spoken word artist. And I was also saying I don’t want to be completely labeled by that shit. It’s way more to me and what I’ve done than just the K97 Next Big Thing contest.

On “Searching,” you reflect on your time as a poet and spoken word artist. You even do some spoken word at the end of the song. Did it feel refreshing to
revisit your roots?

Yeah, it’s funny because I wrote “Searching” for two reasons. I was trying to revisit myself as a poet because I really left that shit behind when I focused on rapping. A lot of people still want to see me as a poet; they don’t want to hear my raps. Even though I won that contest and did all of the things I did rap-wise in Memphis, a lot of people still, to this day, know me as a spoken word artist. And that’s all they want to see me as. But that’s not where my mind is at, but I do want that back because that’s my first love. I wrote that poem at the end before I even came up with that song. And the reason I wrote that poem, it was for people who kept asking me to do spoken word. That’s why I said, ‘Fuck this shit, give me another beat that I can rhyme on.’ It’s like, ‘I’m givin’ you this spoken word, shit. You got that, now let’s get back to this rap.’ That’s what the poem was about. But the song in its entirety, it was basically picking up where GHOSTS left at the end. It was telling what happened when I was in Hypelife with Phat Mak and spoken word and all that. And it was basically me trying to find myself as an artist. But I can’t find myself if I don’t find the spoken word artist in me because that’s where I started.

​​You’re very outspoken and assertive in your music. Do you encounter a lot of jealousy and/or competition because of this?

I don’t personally think anyone is jealous of me. Locally, I feel like there may be a couple of people who have a little fear in them because of me, not because I’m a super-ass rapper or nothing like that, but it’s just the way I carry myself. I don’t fear no other artist. I don’t care what level you’re on. I may be local by definition, but my mind has never been local. I’m not star-struck by J. Cole or [Big] K.R.I.T. or nobody like that. I may be star-struck by Nas or somebody I look up to, or Playa Fly, somebody who was doing it when I was younger. But people in my same peer group, even if they are top artist in the world, I look at myself as that. Even though I may not have that right now, that’s how I look at myself. To a certain extent, yeah, I’m very competitive. A lot of people may look at that as something cocky. A lot of people say I’m cocky until they get to know me as a person. I’m very confident in what I do, but I’m not no cocky person. Life has humbled me many times in the last 10 years. ​

We’re currently in the era of the mixtape rapper. Fewer artists are releasing albums because fewer people are buying them. What are your thoughts on rap artists solely releasing their music as mixtapes nowadays?

Man, I don’t like that word. Mixtape, it’s like it has a bad rap when it comes to rap music. When I hear the word mixtape, I automatically think it’s not your best effort. That’s why I hate when people call Big K.R.I.T.’s independent albums mixtapes. Those are not mixtapes, those are albums. He put his all into that. When I approach music, I don’t approach it as a mixtape. This is art. It has value to it. Think about it, what other genres come out with mixtapes other than hip-hop music? I feel like we should quit calling our projects mixtapes. We make albums. That devalues what we do when we keep releasing shit and calling it a mixtape.

One of my favorite vibes off your latest album is “Nevermind.” How did that song come about?

It’s funny you say that, because that’s one song I was about to take off the album because I felt like it didn’t fit. It Gets Greater Later is a really deep, dark and personal album. And that song is so bouncy, but my engineer was like, ‘Naw, we gotta keep that on there.’ He kept telling me it was hard. That really was just fun, a rap track. It was something I just wanted to get on and go in on. I didn’t really have a purpose for it. I just wanted to be lyrical on there and say what I had to say.

Who is the guy at the end, Ricache’?

Ricache’, he was in…if you go search for my videos, I have a song on Youtube called “Ain’t No Love.” Ricache’ is the guy rapping right after my verse. He was in my group, when we had Squad/PBE. Even though Squad and PBE, we don’t have that anymore, me and him are still very close. Literally, man, I feel like the only person in Memphis messing with me lyrically is Ricache’. He just hasn’t been putting any music out as of late. I just wanted his voice out there. I wanted the people to hear something he had to say. Ricache’ is like Big Foot. (Laughs). He dropped a classic album in 2013. He’s just getting his thing together right now, but I just wanted to get his voice out there until he drops again.

The last time we spoke, you talked about how you met your then-wife after deciding to do spoken word and create music. Obviously, things have changed since then. On “Samson’s Theme,” you are unapologetically open about being unhappy with your marriage. You also touch on being a victim of infidelity in the song. Can you take me back to when you created that track?That song actually had way more to it, but I didn’t put it in there because I didn’t want to be too harsh. And a lot of people that heard it said I was harsh. But I was thinking, ‘If you heard everything I wrote, you wouldn’t say that.’ Basically, man, I had found out about a lot of stuff. I left my wife. I got tired of the disrespect — the stuff she was saying to me around my kids. It happened for years. That stuff went on for a long time, I just felt like, as a husband, that’s nobody’s business. One day, I just got fed up and left. I moved with my uncle, and when I did that I found out my wife was cheating on me. She had been cheating on me. Originally, I didn’t leave because she cheated on me. I was just tired of the disrespect. When I found that out, I didn’t necessarily get mad about her cheating on me, I got mad because the last three months we were together, she was doing a lot of extremely disrespectful stuff towards me. I didn’t know why she was doing it. I started blaming it on myself. She was doing stuff right in my face, giving me signs she was cheating on me, but I just trusted her. She was my wife. I thought, ‘Maybe she’s doing this because of this. It ain’t because she’s cheating on me.’ When I found out she was cheating on me, it put everything into perspective of why she was acting the way she was the last three months we were together. It made me extremely mad, like, to the point where I was going to do something really crazy. At the last minute, I called off what I was about to do, and I just vented how I felt in the studio. That night, I went to the studio; it was like the easiest thing I’ve ever recorded. It’s like I didn’t even write that shit. I wrote it, but it didn’t feel like I wrote it.

How is everything now?

I’m good now. I was big on family, big on my wife, and big on my kids. I still am. Even after I said all of that, I still respect my ex-wife. I’m not going to let anybody do nothin’ to her. If a man puts his hands on the mother of my kids, he’s going to have to deal with me. Right now, I’m in a great place, man. Actually, this is the best place I’ve been in since before I graduated from college. No lie. That divorce was the best thing that could have happened to me, even though, during that time, it was the darkest, worse thing that could have ever happened to me. After I got on the other side, that’s what I needed to give me the extra push to really do this music shit. It was hard to not wake up to my kids every day, but I’m used to that now. It’s all good. [Regarding my ex-wife], I don’t have no anger toward her at all. I wish her the best.

On the first verse of “The Darkness,” you drop a few lines about attending funerals and people dying before they get the chance to fully enjoy their lives. What moved you to place those lyrics in that song?In the beginning of 2014, my grandfather passed away. The beginning of this year, my grandmother passed away. A poet dear to me, an older lady by the name of Gran Gran from Memphis, she passed away in 2014. Fathom 9 passed away in 2014. A lot of people passed away in 2014. What I was saying in that line, I was really talking about Fathom. Fathom’s passing, that shit tore me the fuck up. Fathom was such a big breath of life, and he was not an old guy. And he had so much music in him and so much positivity in him. And it just shocked me that a person like that passed away so early, but then you got people just going out here and ending people’s lives and they’re still here.​​

It sounds like you developed a closer relationship with God on this album.

I’ve always had a close relationship with God, man. And I put that on my dad for instilling that in me my whole life. I’m not a religious guy at all, but I do believe in God. And I believe there’s a reason for everything and God knows the reason, and that’s what keeps me sane. Even when I was going through my divorce, it’s meaning in that. Something positive is going to come out of that, even though it was bad. I reference God a lot in my music, all of my projects, but it was more so in this one than any other one. A lot of people don’t know that about me; I have a very, very close personal relationship with God. Even on my song “Greater,” the first song on It Gets Greater Later, I say, “I’m growing more every time you water my seed.’ I’m talking about God. The first two lines on the album, I’m talking about God.

I notice you touch on cities in each district of Tennessee on It Gets Greater Later. You go from Memphis to Nashville to my old stomping grounds, Chattanooga. Break down your track “Chattanooga.”

The main reason I named it “Chattanooga”…the song, it’s not necessarily about Chattanooga. In the first verse, I’m talking about what me and my ex-wife went through when I didn’t have no money, was losing my job and all that. I also talk about this girl who I was cool with. She was telling me about what she was going through — her baby daddy left her and all of that. Ironically, that’s the same thing that happened with me and my ex-wife. I left her, and she battled with the same thing. In the second verse, I was talking about this guy who was going through it with his newly-wed wife. He didn’t know what to do, and he was asking me for advice. I gave him advice about what I was going through with my marriage and all that, and I eventually left. What the song represents in its entirety is freedom and getting away. The reason I call it “Chattanooga” is because recently, like the last two or three years, anytime I feel like I need to get away, that’s where I go. I don’t know a whole lot about Chattanooga, but every time I go there, it’s just refreshing. I hear a lot of people talk bad about Chattanooga, but when I go there, man, it’s just beautiful to me. It’s always a place to get away for me. I named the song “Freedom” at first, then I decided to name it “Chattanooga” because that’s what I do, when I feel bad, I go to that city. When I feel down, that’s where I go to get a breath of fresh air.

Who are some of the up-and-coming acts in Memphis you’re feeling right now?Definitely Hippy S.O.U.L., man. Hippy S.O.U.L. is number one on my list. It’s funny, man. Before they were even known in Memphis, I had put together a show the year I won the K97 contest. I think I had just saw a video of them on Youtube — they were just freestyling to some beats. They had a real professional-looking video. I was like, ‘Who are these lil’ dudes?’ I hit them up and asked if they wanted to perform at my show? They were like, ‘Aw, we ain’t never performed at no show before.’ (Laughs) I was like, ‘Ah, for real? Y’all just get up there. It ain’t no thing to it. Y’all dope, so I’m pretty sure y’all can incorporate that into y’all performance.’ And they came to my show and killed it. And now, man, they are waaay better performers than me, man. They done surpassed me in a lot of stuff. I did a lot of stuff in Memphis, but it’s some things they’ve done that I didn’t even do in Memphis. And it’s just crazy that I kind of put them on that show and nobody knew them and now everybody fuckin’ know them. It makes me proud that I had a part in that. They’re going to do some big things. I’m really, really excited for their future and what they’re going to do. They’re very talented. They’re like lil’ brothers to me, man. But even though they’re lil’ brothers, I look at them as equals.

​It’s a dude named Crisis 901, he’s been grinding. I remember when he used to come to the Squad shows, just trying to get in the scene, and now he’s doing his own thing. He’s got his own shows. He has a good following of people there. Definitely him. Um, it’s a cat named…I’m not sure if he still lives in Memphis, I think he moved to California a couple months ago, he used to be called Tre Merit. He calls himself Sumo Tre now. That dude is dope ass hell, too. He’s real dope. It’s a lot of cats, man. It’s a dude named Michael Royal. He’s originally from New Orleans, but he’s on the scene in Memphis. He dope ass hell. It’s funny because I remember when I was coming up. I was the young dude, now, I’m like one of the old cats looking at the young dudes come up. It’s a lot of talent in Memphis, man. It’s so much talent that I don’t know everybody.

Right now, you have more of a regional buzz. But on your latest project you express your determination to be featured in notable hip-hop publications and recognized by the masses like some of your peers.

I honestly see myself already there with them guys if not better. My only thing is I’ve got to get to the right ears, get to the right people, man. My music is already up there. It’s nothing I can do to make my music up to par with the people like the J. Coles and the K.R.I.T.s. I feel like my music is right there with their music. I just gotta find a way to get over the hump. I’m 28, but I still feel like I can make an impact and break out. I’m not satisfied with nothing that I’ve done. Nothing. I want to be way bigger than what I am.

What’s next for you, Ghost? 

Man, me and my guy Snipes and Truth Clipsy, we’ve got a label. We started a company together called Capitol Minds. We’re trying to spread out to different places, make an impact in Nashville, rekindle some things in Memphis and expand to other cities and make this out to be something. As far as projects, me and KingPin are actually doing a Summer in September 2. We’ve already started working on that; it’s coming out in September. Me and Ricache’, we also plan on putting out a little EP this year, too. Other than that, I’m trying to push this It Gets Greater Later. I really think we’ve got a lot of work to do with this. I see this shit being in Pitchfork and Complex and shit like that. I just got to get to the right ears. That project is powerful. I just need to get it on a bigger platform, so it can compete with these major projects that’s out right now. I feel it’s on that level. Also, me and Tyke T are working on something right now. We’re going to have something together, too.

Any last words?

I just want people to give that project a listen. I put out a lot of stuff, but I really put a lot into that. Out of all my projects, the quality of that project is better, the lyricism is better, and the beats are better. My other projects don’t even compare to this project when it comes to quality. You won’t be wrong for listening to it. You’re going to love what you hear.

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