Stik Figa and Conductor Williams on their latest collab, Tomorrow Is Forgotten
Tomorrow Is Forgotten, the latest collaboration between rapper Stik Figa and producer Conductor Williams, is a document of the times in which we find ourselves. While Stik’s no longer a local resident—having moved to a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas a while back—the music on the album is reflective of his experiences, as well as his friendship with Williams.
“Out here in Texas, man—this is another world,” Stik says when we speak by phone. “They just don’t care. There’s this weird energy out here that I didn’t anticipate. Even being from Kansas, I’m thinking, ‘Well, we got our backward people. It won’t be that bad,’ but what I failed to understand is it’s like a culture out here: it’s just like, ‘Liberty liberty liberty liberty,’ no matter what the conversation.”
It’s definitely something that was motivated by the times and the energy of the world, because Stik just felt like he wanted to document the feeling of this period in time.
“From the title to the subject matter to the relationships with your people: everything is just encapsulated in this moment,” Stik continues. “With this whole thing going on, I’m not at home and then–to double down on me not being at home–I can’t go home if I wanted to. It was just kind of like, ‘Yo, I gotta find a way to express all of this existential dread that I’m experiencing in some kind of way and with somebody I trust.’”
While the album started about two years ago, when Stik was still local, the only song which was completed in person was “Aqua Lung,” but then Williams got busy producing bigger names—like the title track to Termanology’s Vintage Horns, along with Westside Gunn’s “Euro Step” and “Michael Irvin”—and Stik wasn’t sure that the album would ever happen.
“Then, he just started sending me beats while I was out here,” explains Stik. “I was in this weird place where I was like, ‘Man, I’m not even sure if I’m gonna record music right now,’ and he was like, ‘Come on, man, I got these joints. Whatever happened to them?’ I recorded a bunch of them in 2019 and we were trying to round it outright when the COVID thing happened and then the studio that I was recording at, they were shut down.”
Even though COVID happened, and Stik moved several states away, they were able to make it happen, even though the vibe was a little different than it might’ve been, otherwise. Considering the rapper and producer are used to working with one another in immediate proximity, it changed things.
“It’s just a different energy to do it over email,” Stik continues. “With him, specifically, it’s way different because this is a different vibe when we do it in person, but I think we were able to still get most of that vibe on the record to the best of our ability without sacrificing our chemistry.”
That chemistry is readily apparent on each and every track of Tomorrow Is Forgotten, and the way the album plays out, you can hear Stik struggling to keep going. It just sounds like an emotional fight that the rapper is going through.
“Conflict is a major theme, you know?” Stik replies when I offer up that summary. “Internal conflict. Existential stuff. Just a lot of self-reflection and conversation and getting to a place where…”
Here the rapper pauses and explains that he likes to think of himself as somebody who’s fair, in that he likes to try to see things in a way that’s fair to everybody involved, with a sincere amount of empathy. However, for Stik, it’s lately come to a place where he’s becoming less forgiving for the things he sees happening in the world.
“I’ve always been trying, but then someone was like, ‘Well, I mean, let’s consider this,’ and ‘Let’s consider where this is coming from and why this is happening that way,’ and ‘Let’s consider that it’s gotten to a place now where we’re past that in a number of ways,’” he relates with an obvious sense of weary frustration. “Whether it’s politically, whether it’s scientifically—I’m just kind of past the point of like debating my humanity with people.”
As he puts it, he’s not making music to appeal to people who are not listening: “I don’t speak for everybody, but that’s kind of what the energy of that record was. The conflict is that I like to think of myself as a loving person and a person who’s willing to hear you out, but on that—you show your hand? I see what it is. I know what I’m dealing with now, so I will act accordingly.”
That last statement definitely comes out in Tomorrow Is Forgotten‘s last track, “The Fall Out.” It’s a remarkably upbeat piece, instrumentally, and it’ll make you want to dance, but listening to the lyrics, it becomes readily apparent that you’re shaking it to a song about broken relationships.
“There are some things that just need to be said,” Stik says. “They’re not disrespectful things: it’s more like some emancipation kind of stuff, you know? I don’t have to continue feeling like I’m lesser in that way artistically or creatively or that I need to be validated by these things that I used to or these music institutions or people that you do business with. You’re working to validate yourself. I’m like, ‘Wait, I’m working backwards because I’m already me. The value is there.”
One of those people who recognized Stik’s value is the producer on Tomorrow Is Forgotten, Conductor Williams. Along with Miles Bonny and Approach, Stik credits Williams as being one of the first people outside Topeka to embrace him as a rapper and musician.
“Me and him linked up and it’s just been like, ‘That’s my guy,’ Stik explains. “Like, my real good friend, so we just always make records. Even if they don’t come out, we’re just always making records if we’re in a room together.”
When I speak with Conductor Williams the next day, he offers some further explanation as to how the album came to be what it was.
“We recorded a lot of songs, through the process we kind of had these dual albums working within one,” Williams explains by phone. “It was strange. I had a bunch of songs that was Stik being Stik: he’s funny and he’s doing the joke thing and he’s talking bars about your mama and it’s funny and it’s fun. Then, for another five or six tracks, I had these daunting, very deep, no choruses songs that were just structured out of him just dumping out his brain, so I sat for a while and I listened to him.”
As Williams puts it, the songs that were funny and fun—we’ve heard those before, going all the way back to something like “Absitively.” While Williams says that these Stik party songs are brilliant, there’s another side to his friend that he doesn’t think Stik’s fan might be aware of.
“So, we have these deep conversations, and I talk to him every day—literally, every day—so these conversations started to seep out into the music,” Williams explains. Interestingly enough, while Williams’ work has started to creep out beyond the boundaries of KC, his collaborations, where it’s Conductor Williams x Stik Figa or Conductor Williams x Barrel Maker, are 100% people he knows.
“There’s definitely a relationship there that I want to dig into musically and that I want to share with with their fans and my fans,” Williams says. In the case of Tomorrow Is Forgotten, what he wanted to dig into was providing as much space as possible for Stik to be able to experiment lyrically, write plainly, and wrap plainly. “I wanted to provide enough space for that but also, I wanted to elongate these beats per minute of these records because that’s what it feels like sometimes, as a black man in our America—especially the current state. Sometimes it just feels like you want shit to slow down a bit. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have enough time to react.”
Williams likens it to 20/20 hindsight, where you think of what you might’ve said or done, had you the time to do it: “You wish for a little bit more time, so you could actually collect your thoughts. You could actually speak while breathing at the same time. Sometimes, you just kind of feel rushed into making decisions–especially if you’re a man with a wife and kids and a day job or anything like that– it just kind of feels like you’re jamming your day packed with these things.”
The producer wanted the instrumentals to have enough space for Stik to think and have some catharsis in his writing. The idea was that he wanted the beats per minute to allow him as much space as he needed to go multisyllabic or tell a story.
“That’s where I was, mentally,” Williams says. “Even more than the samples that I picked, I was more or less like time stretching and manipulating it. It really wasn’t even about the sample choice: it was just about trying to find some pacing for him.”
In terms of pacing, I ask if ending the album as it does, on the upbeat tempo of “The Fall Out,” was intentionally trying to be cathartic.
“I wanted the listener to feel like it’s all good but it ain’t all good,” Williams says with a laugh. “A lot of that is, once you have a moment like that with any kind of relationship–or even just situation in general, whether it’s addiction or whatever–once you draw your line in the sand, at that point, you can be at peace with it. I honestly made that joint with those feelings in mind. Before I sent the beat to Stik, I had those feelings while I was creating.”
Williams breaks down the song, noting that it’s especially interesting that, within the first couple bars, Stik begins to mention like label deals slipping away and him not really having time to be upset about that anymore. He’s not going to try to carry this persona of a rapper that has a label deal—because “that shit is ridiculous”—and then he’s getting rid of all of his anxieties upfront.
“It’s like the moment in 8 Mile when Em says all the stuff about himself in the battle rap so that the Papa Doc dude couldn’t say it first,” Williams says. “It’s like he’s having that moment where he’s like, ‘Yo, all this shit is true, and it’s whatever, and I’m over it but I’m still rapping and I’m still finding this resolution within,’ so it was kind of cool how that worked out.”
I ask Williams how making music with Stik Figa or Barrel Maker is different from making music with a Westside Gunn or Termanology: is there a difference in the process? It turns out, the answer goes right back to the heart of what made Tomorrow Is Forgotten.
“They all come from the same place,” Williams explains. “I find a kindred spirit to the late Kobe Bryant in that it’s the music is the only thing that matters. I love [Stik]–he’s my closest friend. I love Barrel Maker. I love those guys, man: they’re at the family reunion. They’re at my Thanksgiving dinner and all of that, but the only thing that matters while recording or creating is the music and the listener.”
Williams says that he approached the music as a servant to what he and the musician want to do. In the case of Stik, he knew that he and Stik wanted to speak from the heart and so, he tried to provide and and serve him up something that he could create with just his pallet. The only difference between doing it for a friend and somebody national is that, if it’s somebody like a Westside Gunn or a Black Thought, Williams created a song from a whole place.
“There wasn’t no lead-in and I wasn’t listening to your catalog to figure out what you might want to rap on,” William says as we wrap up. “I made it from my heart and I hope it inspires you to rap and, if it doesn’t, I hope it inspires you to do something creative. When I send beat tapes out to these national artists, in the body of the email, I always mention, ‘I hope this inspires raps but if it doesn’t, I hope that it inspires your day creatively and you work out to it, or you dance to it or you whatever to it,’ so my my intention is never to be malicious in a placement. I guess, in a long-winded way, I take the same approach to music: I make it from my heart and hopefully, it inspires that artist to relieve some stress and apply some pressure creatively.”