"Don’t box yourself in" is a commly heard piece of advice among artists. Allowing the art to grow organically and its own path, regardless of the medium, is something 29-year-old Mez, born Morris W. Ricks II, has never shied away from.
Between producing, songwriting, directing, designing clothes for his creative agency Heirs Entertainment, and voice acting, Mez is open to whatever form his storytelling wants to take. “I feel like talent is not a genre thing," he says. “It’s not a medium thing. It’s something that just across the board exists, you know? You just have to find a way to execute it.”
In 2015, Mez (formally known as King Mez) had writing credits on 12 out of the 16 tracks on Dr. Dre’s third studio album Compton, including featured verses on three of those tracks. Mez’s pivotal role during the project's creation demonstrated his soulful cadence and sharp lyrics. Earlier this year, Mez made his directorial debut, stepping behind the camera for the "Middle Child" music video for fellow North Carolina native J. Cole. With only 12 hours to write the treatment, Mez planted easter eggs for viewers to decipher along with sampling some of his favorite movie scenes.
The Warner/Chappell signee recently released three installments of his EP series Data Plan, which serves as an extension of his forthcoming album Still Loading. Many fans have been anticipating the MC’s album release and were in for a treat with Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III release this past Friday (July 5), which included two featured verses from Mez, on “Costa Rica” and “Sleep Deprived.”
Billboard spoke to Mez about his Data Plan series, his directorial debut, the Revenge of the Dreamers III sessions, his relationship with J. Cole and more. Check it out below.
You’re a rapper, producer, songwriter, director -- how important is it for you to not box yourself in creatively?
Man, it’s just being like water. Especially with art, [but] I feel like it could apply to so many things. When I was young and I first started making music people would say, “Man, you’re such a good storyteller.” I don’t think that’s the type of thing that should be confined to music. Being a storyteller and doing visuals and this and that -- I think I could just try it in other mediums. I feel like talent is not a genre thing. It’s not a medium thing, it’s something that just across the board exists, you know? You just have to find a way to execute it. I think that’s why it works for me.
How early did that interest spark for you? Were you always artistic?
Always. My mom was super creative and imaginative. She would say, “Yo, what’s that y’all see on the floor?” Me and my little brother would be in the house with my mom. We’d look around and she’d be like, “Y’all better not get in the water.” The couch would be like the safe haven. We’d be like, “Oh shit!” and jump around on the couch. She fed our imagination at such a young age. It shaped me to be this way.
You have writing credits on Dr. Dre’s Compton. Were you always writing for other people?
It’s funny because that’s a one-off thing. I wrote a whole album for this dude and it’s like, I’m not like a writer though for other people. Same with the director thing. I’ve never directed a video before but I think I could figure it out. I’m such a big fan of doing things at such a high level that I study. If I’m going to do what I study, take my time and try to do it right and don’t cut corners, that makes a big difference. I had a tryout and there was no result. I went back home to North Carolina and packed everything. I flew back on my own. When I got to Cali, that’s when they called me and said, “Dre wants to work with you. You could come back to Cali.” I was already there like, “I’m already here, bro. Let’s work.” We went to the studio and the rest was history.
I read that you were so immersed in that role that when you were done, it took awhile for you to get back to your actual self and music.
Yeah, like method acting yo. I been in this person's mind for so long. It did take a minute. Probably like six to eight months just to get back to being creative just for myself in my own way. That’s why I gotta be careful in making that much art for somebody else, you know what I’m saying? It’s like influential. You know I feel like I’m back in my bearings and doing my thing.
Where did the idea for the Data Plan series come from?
Well, it’s Data Plan because my album is called Still Loading. You’re the first publication I’m telling. I haven’t talked about it yet. It’s coming out in the summer or the fall time. Data Plan is like an extension of it. I can’t really give up the concept of my album yet.
Man, I’m so excited to see how that plays out. You’re like an easter egg person with your art.
I am! Did you see that thing with the cover? The cover had this code that you had to decode and the album title came from that. I love detail. When I open up about the concept of that album man, I can’t wait. You’ll see a bunch of little things here and there.
You had the opportunity to direct J. Cole’s "Middle Child." That opening scene when the beat dropped, the lighting strikes and seeing the audience for the first time was a cool effect. You said that was inspired by Pitch Black. Do you take a lot of inspiration from films?
In the movie it was this dude out in darkness, in a different planet and there were like aliens, but you couldn’t see anything. It was complete darkness and lightning struck and you saw all the aliens. I remember the way that made me feel. I wanted to recreate that feeling for other people. It’s like Kanye West finding an Aretha Franklin sample and he flips it and turns it into his own thing. It was that way for me. I saw the movie and I sampled the movie the same way you would sample a beat or a song, you know?
I know you didn’t have as much time to write the treatment for this video. Were a lot of these ideas things that were in the back of your mind?
I had a couple things I thought of previously, but the truth is I work at my best with very little time to execute because there's not a lot of time to second guess yourself. I was that way with school, with papers and doing them the night before [or] morning of and always getting the best grade. I can’t say its the best way for everybody to do everything, but I work best under pressure.
Do you plan on directing again?
Yeah. I got more coming out this year. More videos. You probably the first person I’m telling this to. I have an idea for a feature film. We’ll see if I get that thing sold and do a movie.
What were the Revenge of the Dreamers III sessions like for you?
It was a movie. You meet so many people that are talented and we didn’t know of each other before. You became fans of each other, supported each other. It was tight man. It was a moment.
I know you and Cole both have roots in North Carolina. How did that relationship come to fruition?
Man, the truth is I ain't never meet Cole in North Carolina. First time I ever spoke to Cole was on Myspace in like 2009. Actually earlier than that, maybe 2007. I was in high school and Cole was in college. He had this song called “School Daze” and he was going by The Therapist. So I hit him like, “Yo me and my brother listen to your song ‘School Daze’ all the time. This is fire.” We went back and forth, time had passed and my little brother was like, “Yo, remember that dude The Therapist? He got signed to Jay-Z.” That was crazy. That’s how I met him. The first time we really like met though was when he heard my music in L.A. He was in L.A. and heard my music in No I.D.’s studio. That same studio is the studio I made Compton, which is crazy -- he happened to be there.
Talk a little bit about your producing. How did you get into that?
Just out of necessity. Lack of not having the beats and the music and I really wanted to get into it. Next thing I knew I was trying to play instruments and now I could play the keys. I could play the bass a little bit.
Did you go to school for anything art related?
Man, I never went to school for anything artistic. I went to school for engineering. Going to school for art is cool and I don’t take that away from anyone or anything, but it’s something special about not being classically trained in anything. There’s a lot of coloring outside the lines. Even with videos there are a lot of directors who went and did things the way I did it because there’s not a real way to do it. I did it how I thought was cool and it’s just different, you know? It makes it different so I try to learn as much as I can about things, but I do wanna keep a lot of freeform about the way I create.
Let's jump a little bit into your brand Heirs. When did you launch that and what is the meaning behind it?
The funny thing is this is just merch for my creative agency. Heirs is my creative agency. J Cole’s “Middle Child” video was the first project that my creative agency did. Now we got other projects. A creative agency is a company where people come to for ideas and execution of ideas. Heirs is an ideas company. It’s a creative agency, but I love clothes so much that I wanted to make merch.
It’s just so much more personal, man. I just feel like my energy as a person, there’s no wall or barrier. Even like when people say King Mez to me it doesn’t feel like my personality to me. It’s like a barrier. Mez is what my friends call me. That’s what I want everyone to call me. It felt like the right thing.