Al Hostile is no longer holding himself back. “One thing I’ve always tried to stress about myself is that I’m gonna be me,” he expresses. “I’m gonna do what feels right with me.”
Born Virgil Newport, the Maryland artist released his first singing album Home Grown on April 2 and is embracing singing once and for all. With the exception of this new project, his discography thus far primarily consists of rap albums. However, the 25-year-old has made it clear that rapping is behind him as Home Grown ushers in this new chapter of his music career. “I’m not trying to limit myself,” Al says. “For a long time I didn’t sing because I was scared of what other people thought.”
For Al, music is innate and ties back to his Guyanese roots and lineage. He has musical relatives and cousins who grew up alongside him and influenced his overall music creativity and explorations. Throughout quarantine, Al posted snippets of covers for songs like “Be Here” by Raphael Saadiq feat. D’Angelo and “A Long Walk” by Jill Scott, alluding to his transition out of the rap world.
But on Home Grown, Al is at his best and sounds unapologetically free. “I consider this project my greatest effort so far,” he declares. We caught up with the singer to discuss Home Grown, embracing singing and why now.
I’m Al Hostile. I’m 25 years old, and I’m a singer from Maryland.
How did you get your artist name?
Well, I used to rap. I used to go by my given last name which is Newport, Al Newport. Al is from my middle name Allister. I used to be a part of this group called 3rdiiiUth. And in [a] song, I said ‘Al is hostile.’ When I was a teenager, I had a real low tolerance — I still kind of do — for just anything. So it sometimes would come across as if I was mean. One day, a groupmate of mine said, ‘You should go by Al Hostile.’ I was like ‘Nah, I don’t really like that name. I think that’s too aggressive.’ But then one day on Twitter, she just went and said, ‘Yo, Al changed his name to Al Hostile,’ and then everybody was like, ‘Yo, that’s tight!’ ‘I love that!’ ‘That’s such a cool name!’ And I was like, ‘Well, I mean, I guess. Cool, I’m Al Hostile.’
What’s your earliest memory of music?
I love questions like that. I was actually thinking about this the other day. Growing up, I used to listen to a lot of oldies with my mom. My parents are older. So in the car with them, I wasn’t really listening to no hip-hop or even current R&B. It was a lot of Whitney Houston, a lot of Jackson 5, a lot of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder. Those are my earliest memories. If we talking about age-wise, like 2-3 I remember music just being around.
When did you start making music?
Third grade I remember writing my first rap in class, and from then on I would write raps and my cousins and I would take our phones, put on a beat and record ourselves rapping the song. [Then] middle school going into high school, we bought headsets and some program called Audacity, and that’s how we first started to record music.
I didn’t really record my first song song until 15 when I bought my first mic. I bought my first mic with Black Friday money at Best Buy. The bundle was $120, but it was half off so I took my little bit of money and I went and bought it. Went home, had no idea what I was doing and I started recording. Reverb all over the place, not compressed, just me making music. So I’d say 15, 16 is when I put out my first project. And I’ve been releasing music ever since.
Let’s get into Home Grown. Tell me about the conception and process of making this project and the title.
I was in a relationship for a while [and] the entire basis was about that. I’m telling a story. I’m saying what I should have said or what I didn’t say. This album is about heartbreak. It’s a lot. I have a lot of notes about this project, how it makes me feel. My goal is — at least on one of the songs — is to have a dude listen to it and it puts him in that position, or he relates it to a situation with a time where he felt about somebody.
Our relationship ended long before it actually did end, and I started writing the lyrics to this project while we were still together. That was November 2019. Going into quarantine, I found myself not connecting with her anymore. [There] was a moment when we had an argument and [after] she left, I check my phone and I see that Trill sent me a beat. One, it was a D’Angelo sample. I love D’Angelo. Two, the beat literally spoke to me, the lyrics wrote [themselves].
The name Home Grown came from, well, we were stuck in the house all last year so that was one. But I spent a lot of time learning about myself and about my family. I moved away from my mom’s house for about three, four years, and I came back a year and a half ago. And just being back in the house in which I started making music, I found love, and learned how to write a hook. In this house, if I’m not mistaken, is where I learned I have a decent voice. So it just felt really good.
On the letter on the cover, it says me and my cousin were chillin’ in the backyard and that really happened. I spent a majority of my time in the shed in my backyard under the tree smoking and writing music. Smoking and writing music, coming inside recording, getting my references off. It was really just homegrown. The music is homegrown, the feelings are homegrown, the emotion is homegrown, everything about it is just homegrown.
On your cover art, you wrote that the project is a “rebirth.” A rebirth from what?
When I say rebirth, I mean it’s new. The way I’m about to present myself is different. I’m coming with something that’s different from what I had. I’ve given off this stoner rap music vibe — don’t get me wrong, I smoke like a chimney and that’s still me — but I sing now. You not gon’ hear me talking about smoking in my songs. You might, but that’s what I mean by rebirth in a sense.
I remember you telling me back in summer of 2019 that you were still on the fence about singing and how much you wanted to incorporate singing in your music. What made you fully embrace it and why now?
So in the year of 2019, a lot of really good R&B projects came out. I’m a fan of R&B and for a long time, I wasn’t listening to [it] because I wasn’t liking the new R&B artists. I didn’t like the way it was forming to this trap sound. The way that I grew up listening to R&B was shifting and the art of it was getting lost.
Give me an example of this, of a project that is this new R&B you didn’t like.
What’s dude name? Jacquees? He can sing, don’t get me wrong. When he does his balance, I be like, ‘This is tight.’ But it wasn’t what I was enjoying. And it was being mass-produced at a point in time like the Tory Lanez-esque music.
I know exactly what you mean now.
Yeah. But 2019 a lot of projects came out that blew me away. And that kind of made me say, ‘Oh nah, y’alI got me f****d up.’ SiR’s project came out, Leon Thomas and Lucky Daye. Those are the three that I listened to on like, ‘Oh y’all n****s got me f****d up.’ I’d look at my man Cho and I’d be like, ‘Yo, soon as I get these beats . . .’ I used to always tell my friends, ‘Soon as I get these beats, I’m on some R&B s**t.’ And everybody was like, ‘Man, Al, you not taking it serious.’ But 2020, I got those beats.
There’s a lot of jazz influence on this project through the live instrumentation. How much of that was intentional, and how much of it was just natural?
Everything on this project was intentional. I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do, which is be there when a lot of musicians played their parts. But, everybody did exactly what I wanted them to do. The last addition to the project was the saxophone on “Come On,” and I was scrambling about that. People would ask me what I wanted them to do and I was like, ‘Just feel it out. Do what you do.’ And that’s exactly what he did, he came back like two weeks later. I was in the car and got a text message. I literally pulled over, listened to the raw sax part and then with the song, and he did amazing.
“Bleek” is your single and it features fellow DMV artist and executive producer of the album Matt McGhee. What was it like working with him?
I’m real big on [saying], ‘Alright, it’s fine the way it is.’ “Sumn Real” was one of the first songs written, and at the time that it was written and recorded, it was the only song that sounded complete. I’m going in and I’m completing all these other songs: I’m adding trumpets, baselines, piano, I’m doing all this, kind of leaving “Sumn Real” by itself because in my head I’m like, ‘It’s done.’ Matt came to me and was like, ‘Yo, not even. This needs something.’
So he was that extra push?
Yeah. He was that extra push that put everything in its proper place. He pushed to make sure that I didn’t lack.
I know you two are close friends but did you ever bump heads when making the project?
Nah, it was actually very smooth. Me and Matt work well together. We’ve made music in the past, but this was the first time where it was an equal partnership. It was honestly very fun working with bro.
What do you want your music to say to the world?
I want my music to say to the world that I have way much more to offer. I’m a firm believer that one, everything happens for a reason and when it’s supposed to happen and two, you gotta put the work in. I put work in but that doesn’t always guarantee success but it doesn’t always guarantee failure either. With this project, I want people to know that I take music seriously. This is my best effort so far, musically. I just want people to know that I got so much more left.
What else can we expect from Al Hostile this year?
Truly, I don’t know. I can say that you gon’ get a lot more me. It’s gon’ be a lot more Al on the timeline, a lot more Al trying to get back onto the shows. I’m trying to get a band. That’s my biggest thing that I’m trying to do now. And music videos. I can guarantee at least 2 or 3 music videos.