Rhythm + Flow is a Netflix music competition show. T.I., Cardi B, and Chance the Rapper critique and judge unsigned rappers, who are competing to win a US$250,000 prize. It’s Netflix’s first original music competition program. In several episodes, the judges are joined by guest judges, who give the competitors additional feedback.
In the Atlanta episode of the try-out phase one of the contestants who didn’t get selected to advance still made a big impression. Joe with the Flow was told by T.I. and guest judges Big Boi and Quavo that he was being eliminated from the competition because they couldn’t understand him. Debate on social media ensued and Joe saw a sharp rise in his followers and streams.
We got a chance to talk to Joe and find out exactly what happened with the show, his career, reading recommendations and more.
How accurate was what Rhythm + Flow showed on your episode compared to what actually happened?
That’s a good question. No one’s asked that yet. There were some differences. When I was rapping for Killer Mike & T.I. in the barbershop they cut some of my verse out. That wasn’t a problem. It probably happened to several contestants. I saw some of the others say the same on Instagram.
It was “unscripted” but it’s still TV. We did a couple of takes of some shots. I actually didn’t even get to pick the verses I performed. When you submit your work to be part of the show they go through your IG, your SoundCloud, all your content. The producers would go through your content and pick which verse they thought would go with the episode. They went through my releases and told me to perform that verse. I put my everything into whatever I do, so I didn’t have a problem with that. I’m grateful. The show was unscripted but some elements were predetermined.
Would you have picked a different verse than the one they selected?
I felt like the barbershop scene was good. I wouldn’t have definitely picked that verse. I got so many different verses, but I might have picked the barbershop one. I definitely wouldn’t have picked the one they had me rap in the club. I didn’t know Quavo and Big Boi were going to be there.
It was kind of weird. They sent me a folder of about 30 beats that I had to choose from. They told me which verse I had to do. So out of those 30 instrumentals, I had to pick one to rap the verse that they picked. I had made this verse to another song with a different beat. So I had to try to pick a beat that matched the verse. Or at least the one that matched the best. I picked the one I thought matched the best, but I had to speed up my delivery for it. I already rap pretty fast but I had to increase the tempo.
Then when I get to the club the energy is really high. When they spun it in the club I had to go even faster than what I’d done in my brief chance to rehearse. I had to go so fast that the syllables were really bunched together. I still hit every one of them, easily. When it was over Big Boi, Quavo, & Tip told me that they couldn’t really hear what I was saying. I knew what I was saying, even the subtitles were right. For the most part. When they didn’t select me because they couldn’t understand me I was crushed. Especially because the circumstance was somewhat out of my hands.
I wouldn’t have picked that verse. I would have picked something that was a little slower, especially with the beats they gave me to choose from. I would have dropped more knowledge. I would have picked something that gave them a more accurate representation of myself.
Is that even a valid format to truly judge an artist’s abilities, let alone their potential going forward?
No, I really don’t think it is. The criteria were never made clear. No metrics, no grading scale. Just whatever the judges happened to be feeling in that one moment. There wasn’t a rubric. Obviously, since I didn’t get picked my views might be biased. At the same time, there were some really dope people in there that didn’t even make it to the episode. One guy, Austin Lanier they told him yes in the club. I remember watching him celebrate but when they aired the episode he wasn’t even on it. So to answer your original question it definitely wasn’t how it really happened. The format didn’t give us a chance to show our best selves.
You said you were heartbroken in the past tense. Now you’ve been using this as an opportunity to elevate your career. Can you describe what kind of impact it’s had?
It’s been amazing. Even the pain I felt has been a platform. I posted it on my social media and took my followers through the experience with me. I had the realization that it wasn’t about the validation of the show. It’s about reaching people with my music. I’ve gained a significant amount of new followers. People have been reaching out for features. I’m charging a little bit more now and I’ve been booking paid shows. Booked a festival and seen some dividends. It’s been very cool. Even without the validation, it’s been a good platform for me. So many people reached out to me. Literally hundreds of DM’s. People telling me I’m dope and telling me I should have made it to the next round. I got so much more positive feedback than I expected after being eliminated. The coolest part is I’ve started getting recognized in public. They want pictures, autographs. Some people have even wanted me to endorse their brands, they’ve sent me free stuff. It’s been really cool.
How’d you get into playing the acoustic guitar?
I’ve been playing since middle school. It was somewhat off and on. Sometimes I wanted to build my skills as a musician. Other times I thought I need to focus on rap. As I got older I realized that it’s something that can set me apart. I don’t really know of many artists who have the lyrical ability that I do that can also play the guitar proficiently.
You definitely stand out. When I listened to your EP I was impressed with how many different deliveries and tempos you used. You are certainly stylistically unique.
That’s the whole brand. Joe with the Flow. It’s indicative of several different things. Flow as in rapping obviously, but also as a state of consciousness. The flow state. Where you are at your highest level of productivity but simultaneously doing it with ease. While feeling gratitude for the blessings that are your abilities. In art and in life. As things are moving you feel an elevated sense of well-being. You wake up grateful, you move through your day with happiness. This positivity allows you to manifest your goals.
My name isn’t just about mastering the flows of my art form, although it does also reflect my cadences and delivery. In life, creativity demonstrates infinite possibilities and potential. My name reflects that, my philosophies, and state of consciousness.
Who did the mixing on your EP? Whoever it was put their foot all the way in it.
I appreciate that you actually listened. It threw me off when you were quoting my rhymes.
No doubt. If everything goes how you want, what do you see as being the progression of your career?
Ideally, I want to put myself into a position where I can become a spiritual leader in my community. I want people to be able to use my music as a conduit for people to tap into the power of their actual potential. I want them to see me use the God-given power I possess and tap into their own God level abilities. I want them to realize they can use their potential to manifest their dreams. I need to get on major platforms for my message to spread. Being on the Netflix show just accelerates the process. I have an album in production. I need it to chart. I need it to get major coverage. The fans and attention I’ve gained will only help me achieve that.
I feel like the album is going to really stand out. Everything I’m doing is focusing on completing and releasing it. People are going to hear a different type of music. It’s got more promotion behind it and I’ve got shows to promote it already. The next step is to get invited to some of these festivals. The arenas. I need to impact people on a larger scale. I want my following to grow. Not traditionally either. I’m pushing forward in a revolutionary way. It’s not just going to be my artistry. It’s going to be what I put into my music. There will be knowledge. There will be positive messages. It will still be entertaining and catchy. The way I’m doing it will be my unique contribution to my craft, my community, and to the world.
To have knowledge you must acquire knowledge. I can tell that you’re well-read. What books would you recommend reading?
I would highly recommend The Celestine Prophecy. It’s a novel but it’s full of wisdom and truth. The author definitely knows what’s up. James Redfield, check him out. It deals with how energy affects people’s lives. The book will give you a complete understanding. The Four Agreements, that’s by Don Miguel Ruiz. I’d recommend that. It teaches how self-limiting beliefs rob us of joy. It demonstrates how what you say becomes an agreement you’ve made with the world around you. These agreements pick up energy and become real. Negative thought creates negative results. Positive affirmations manifest into desirable outcomes. I woke up this morning and did a gratitude exercise. I do that every day, it wires me differently.
I’m really glad you asked me that. Books are where the real knowledge is. The other ways of receiving information; tv, videos, & social media are cool. You can learn stuff that way. It’s nothing compared to the interactivity of reading text. How you must interpret it and absorb the parts that resonate. I could recommend many more. I’ve read so many. I’ve got a whole list of impactful books.
You got an athletic scholarship to Morehouse. What sport? What was the outcome?
I played football. It was my side hustle though. I viewed music as my main goal. I knew that football would help me progress for the moment. I got an athletic scholarship as well. Added up it was a full ride. I went to school until my senior year. Played ball my freshman and junior years. I got a bad concussion that last year. I was forgetting things. I immediately stopped playing. During my senior year, I went all the way up until I only had 6 classes remaining before I graduated.
One day I woke up and realized I had been playing myself. I didn’t want to graduate and become a math teacher. I didn’t want to be a 9-5 guy wearing a suit and tie every day. I could have. It was well within my capabilities, but I really didn’t want to. I had to tell my parents, my family, the girl I was dating at the time. They all had expectations of me to go through with school. That wasn’t who I wanted to be.
I just dropped out. I quit my job. I left everything behind and reshaped my life. It was only a year ago. I had a car that I was making payments on. My dad took over the payments to help me while I was in school. When I dropped out he took the car. So now I’m an unemployed dropout with no means of transportation. My dad told me I had to leave the house by January. Everything was crumbling. Then at that moment the Netflix show came along and started filming. I’m Zen. I’ve been meditating and I hold it in, but people don’t know what I’m going through at the time. I’m trying to prepare for a performance but I’m facing the reality of being homeless in a month.
It was a blessing. When I did that it allowed me to rebuild my life the way I wanted. I had saved my student loan and tax refunds in college. I used those savings to rebuild my credit. With improved credit, I got a car. I used the car to do Uber. I used that money to get an apartment. So now I got a job, a car, and an apartment. With an open schedule to pursue my music. Now I’m getting paid for album sales, streams, features, and some show money.
That’s highly admirable. A lot of up and coming artists are too cool to talk about having jobs and doing “regular” work. Working a job takes a lot of character. Especially if it doesn’t further your agenda or career.
It’s all about energy again. A true musician wants to create an authentic experience. It’s too many that are faking. We’ve created a materialistic competition. To promote music on social media you must display materialistic trophies to demonstrate your status as an artist worth paying attention to. Frequently these benchmarks have nothing to do with the quality of the music.
Some people have to work jobs. If you aren’t living with your parents you still have to pay rent. Everyone doesn’t sell drugs. People glamorize that though. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when you’re earning a paycheck. You have to convey authenticity, not demonstrate a facade that doesn’t exist. I’m going to use that to create a real experience for the listeners that ultimately will be more enjoyable. I’m just going to be myself and have fun. I shouldn’t have to follow a cookie-cutter format.
I want to rap about working hard. I want to rap about meditating on the daily. That’s a wave. People are on that now. People are embracing spirituality, they’re going vegan, meditation is becoming common.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Society is elevating its level of consciousness. Many are coming to the realization that religions can leave us trapped and divided. It often highlights the separations caused by race and class. All of us are one. If we’re going to start taking better care of ourselves and uplifting each other we got to make some music that elevates all people.
It’s got to be digestible though, a lot of conscious music can be dense. Sometimes it assumes a level of knowledge that the listener might not possess. On your EP, I liked how you would go in and out with the level of thought required to process the lyrics. I feel that when you combine that with the musicality of the production you selected it makes the music more relatable.
Exactly. Damn bro, I can tell you really listened. You get it. I’m adding knowledge without going over people’s heads. They can get a small dose or a large dose. Those that get it already will really get it. From boom bap to acoustics I want to have the flows and music that will keep them listening long enough to take something good into their lives. I’m trying to be the balance.
You are absolutely right. Conscious music can be difficult to digest sometimes. Some music keeps the culture stagnant but it’s catchy as fuck. It’s a real dilemma and I’m right in the middle. There are many choices but very few paths. I’m going to help be the guide that brings you to catchy music that pushes the culture forward. I believe that there’s a demand for that.
Hopefully, I’ll have the album out before the end of the year. It’s going to be called FLOWer. Emphasis on the flow. It’s actually an acronym. Freely loving others without expecting returns. The album is centered around love, but deeper. It touches on themes such as the flower of life, which is a sacred geometric structure. Some would say the blueprint of our reality. Themes such as the ability to engineer your reality. There’s more guitar on this project as well. I’ve composed some riffs and then sent them out to producers who’ve returned them as complete instrumentals. I try to be involved with the instrumentation and arrangement. I want to be a rapper but I also want to be a musician. I’m proud of my abilities as a singer/songwriter and my ability to compose.