When Rilla Force sits down to write music, he thinks of how it will make you physically move. He wants to get people nodding their heads, tapping their feet. The percussive beats and feel of the bounce are the most important elements to establishing that groove. Then, to write the melodies, he will call up his homies to help him.
But growing up, you would more likely hear the instrumentals of Kenny G or Yo-Yo Ma floating through Joshua Major-Paschal’s (aka Rilla Force’s) house than Top 40. His appreciation for producers like Timbaland and krump producers like J-Squad and Flying Lotus started around 2005, when he joined a krumping group at the Boys and Girls Club in Framingham. It wasn’t long before Major-Paschal moved up to the Club’s recording studio on the second floor of the renovated firehouse, and started creating music for his krumping group, V-Squad. He pulled inspiration from sound innovators like Kanye West and T-Pain, people “who started something from ground zero, turned a whole ecosystem upside down, reinvented something and make it their own,” said Major-Paschal said in an interview with Allston Pudding. The same could be said of his music as Rilla Force.
Creating music for V-Squad taught him how to build a community of creative friends. Within the 40-to-50-person group, every member had a role: big homies, little homies, shadows, twins, juniors, and more. “This big community made me comfortable in the internet realm,” Major-Paschal said. “Dance community, internet community, it felt the same.”
Enter: SoundCloud. By 2009, producers introduced Major-Paschal to subgenres of EDM, like Jersey Club, future bass, and future beats. By 2010, he found a home in electronic music and became a producer himself. “At first, I considered myself a producer because I was making beats. Then, I started noticing electronic artists and experimental artists were calling themselves artists,” Major-Paschal said. “I realized I’m not just doing this side of the coin, I’m an electronic artist. Art is art. Art doesn’t mean lyrics. Art is subjective.”
With that in mind, Rilla Force’s sound has always been evolving. On his last album, the name of the album was the name of the sound, RNBDM (“R&B Dance Music”). “In 2016 and before, I didn’t have a word for it. Future beats wasn’t it, even if it was more in that realm,” Major-Paschal said. “Now I know what I’m really about, what I’ve learned over the years. I’m reinventing, reiterating what I can do.”
But pushing and reinventing yourself has ups and downs. He grew apart from the friends he had initially been making music with, and he considered quitting in 2013. But he persevered, and his whole life flipped. DJ Complexion elevated Rilla Force’s career by playing his Stevie Wonder remix on the London equivalent to Jam’n 94.5. It was Rilla Force’s radio debut and international exposure all in one go.
The ups kept coming. That same year, Dexter Brandon offered Rilla Force his first label deal with Kolossus Records. “Dexter redefined what a label should be, what a family should be,” Major-Paschal said. “He believed in me.” Even though Dexter lived in Atlanta, they still talked every day, which helped Major-Paschal gain confidence with his music.
Now, Rilla Force’s latest album Fiesta personifies his evolution of an artist from krump, to hip hop, to future beats, and beyond. Like the album’s title suggests, the tracks tell the story of going to a party. Getting ready to go out is all about managing expectations of how you think it’s going to go, but when you arrive, it might be something completely different. And that’s okay. The first four songs are Rilla Force’s interpretation of what the party is going to be: he imagines the songs will fall in line with his previous repertoire of heavily instrumental tracks, although they aren’t RNBDM or future beats. These tracks are infused Brazilian funk beats.
The first song “Bailar Conmigo” asks the listener to dance with him with enticing maracas and hand drums. Then for “FOMO (Interlude),” Rilla Force realizes he has to stop imagining what the party will be, and go there. From there, he slowly starts to incorporate his voice more and more, which is an instrument he hasn’t prioritized in the past. The single “Amen” encapsulates the feeling of arriving at the party. We have arrived at something new. The second half of the project then features Rilla Force’s lyrics and vocals, plus the help of Latrell James, Lord Felix, Neal Rosenthal, and Ryan Stanbury. Fiesta is the love story of where Rilla Force’s music has been and where it’s going to go.
“Typically I produced music, and that would be my art,” Major-Paschal said. “Now I’m experimenting using my voice, with my singing my voice as an instrument. If you’re experimenting with Rilla Force, it’s a goody bag—you pull out a Snickers bar, and that’s an instrumental song. Then you pull out a Heath bar, and that’s an acapella song, a vocally produced song.” He experiments with different genres even within this one album. You’ll hear South American baile funk, Brazilian funk, and club heavy dance-oriented music. “I try to gauge what people need to hear, in conjunction with what I want to make.”
Major-Paschal is a very forward-thinking person with his musical career. Every year, he makes a checklist of what he wants to accomplish, from big goals to small goals, and how he wants to evolve himself and his music always makes the list. Of course a music genre with “future” in the name is going to ask its artists to think ahead. “I listen to what music is sounding like, I think about, ‘How have I done that already? Should I try doing this and that, and can I keep my musical integrity?’” He already has his next two projects after Fiesta lined up. When we wrapped up our interview, he mentioned his next stop was a recording session. “It never stops!” he laughed.
Fiesta, out November 1, is presented by local Boston company Gratitude Sound Music.