Pi'erre Bourne explains how he built his career from the ground up.
This April, Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia” detonated on the shores of planet Earth with the fury of ten thousand suns. The song, which would peak at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 in our hearts, combined the power of Carti’s freewheeling lyrical style with a humid trap beat produced by a young man named Pi’erre Bourne.
“Magnolia” proved to be a springboard that has since helped Bourne land credits on 21 Savage’s Issa Album, Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv is Rage 2, and Nav & Metro Boomin’s Perfect Timing. But in truth, the song was as much a career inflection point as it was the culmination of a musical odyssey. Bourne (birth name Jordan Jenks), who turns 24 next week, is an obsessive musicmaker who has been rapping and producing beats for over half his life. Since graduating from high school in Columbia, South Carolina, he has attended two accredited institutions of higher learning, become Young Nudy’s go-to producer, released three installments of his The Life of Pi’erre (TLOP) mixtape series, and held an array of jobs, including a salaried gig as in-house engineer for Epic Records, all the while refining his craft, expanding his network, and accumulating clout in Atlanta and beyond.
Bourne visited HNHH’s Manhattan office on a recent Tuesday afternoon to explain how he built his music career from the ground up.
Why did you decide to leave college?
I got into Winthrop and the University of South Carolina. I went to Winthrop for a year, I got suspended for some weed. It was a bunch of bullshit. I was rapping, man, they just didn’t want me to rap on campus. I had to meet the dean over some weed.
When I got suspended I came to New York and tried music up here. I got impatient and was just thinking longer down the line. It’s not really popping up here for the music scene, [considering] how often somebody blows up in Atlanta. Iit’s like literally the next six months, somebody else. Every six months! So it’s like, I’m gonna go down there and better my chances.
I tried to go back to Winthrop for another semester. It didn’t work out, so I decided to take my talents to Atlanta.
Were you trying to be a musician the whole time you were at school?
Since I was a kid. I only went to school for my parents.
What were you studying?
Accounting. Because everyone at church said, hey, your son is good at math. Let him do accounting! But I like graphic design. The thing was, I had taught myself so much with graphic design prior to college that my classes were boring. It was so many introduction classes. So I was like, nah, this ain’t gonna work.
The first time, I had all my music around me, so I felt like maybe that was a distraction. The second time I went, I didn’t bring any music equipment. It was hard to not make beats and shit, because that’s what I love to do. But I tried to focus. I was in tutoring classes, doing the whole nine, making sure my grades were good so I could continue the college experience. But that shit does not work, bro. I was really trying my best. And got denied. I was like, word, that’s cool. I wasn’t sad, I was just like, man, I wanna rap! I want to make music, I want to make beats! Fuck this, I’mma go somewhere else.
How long were you in Queens?
When I was in Queens, it was a good eight months. It was 2012, then I moved to South Carolina and worked at Walmart and Target. And that’s when I thought of the plan to move to Atlanta.
You were back in Columbia?
No, I was upstate. My mom was not having that shit, I could not go back to my momma’s house.
What did you take away, if anything, from working Walmart and Target?
I hated it. Every job I had, I hated. If it wasn’t with me making music, it was pointless to me. But you gotta eat, you gotta pay bills, so you gotta have some money in your pocket to take care of that and still be sane. So I had to get a job.
What other jobs have you had?
Man. I worked at Walmart, Target. Radio Shack. I worked at Lady Foot Locker out here at the Roosevelt Field Mall. All the girls used to come in there.
Did you flirt with your customers at Lady Foot Locker?
What! That’s all I had to do! Sell them the shoe! An insole, or a shirt. This looks great on you! And I got the southern accent in New York! Boy… that shit was lit. I liked that job. That was the coolest job.
I worked at Zaxby’s in Atlanta. I worked at RaceTrac, a gas station in Atlanta, I did overnights there. I fell asleep driving, so I had to quit. And I worked with my father. He had a two men and a truck business.
I heard you made the “Magnolia” beat while you were driving to Zaxby’s.
Yeah, my friend, he has a Mustang, right. When I quit working for Epic, I was with this nigga everyday. Literally. Getting on his fucking nerves. Telling him, bro, I’mma fucking blow up. Bro, fuck that shit. I hope I made the right decision, I’m glad you’re on my side. Because some people would have been like, bro, why would you quit working for Epic Records? Why would you do that? It was because I thought of myself as being bigger than that.
So he had the Mustang, we would smoke it out, drive to Zaxby’s everyday. And eventually, in the beginning of January this year, I started doing ten beats a day on my Instagram Live. So basically, I was just trying to keep this shit going, even when we go get food. So I would just plug up in his car. It would literally be the same thing as if we were sitting in the house. I have my laptop right in front of me, there's blunts in rotation. And music is playing. It's literally the same thing, except we're moving at maybe 70 miles per hour. I dunno, that shit is cool as fuck! Making beats. And then, he can really drive. He's whipping the hell out of that Mustang. Sometimes I be tripping out on him, like, oh, fuck!! Chill!! Slow down!!!
When I was making that beat, I feel like that [car] definitely influenced that beat. That shit's cool, I dunno. I like that, making beats in the car, just on the go.
I like the pressure. I'm so great under pressure. That's always I've been in school. I would procrastinate every assignment, wait 'til the last day, knock that bitch out, and get an A. Whooo!! Did that shit. My mom would be like, why the fuck would you wait til the last minute?? I'd be like, well, I mean I still did great, right? Instead of tripping every single day until the day of, I'd rather just trip on it the night before.
Why did you decide to go to the engineering institute?
This is what happened. After New York, and I moved to my Dad's house upstate in South Carolina, like the Greenvile area. Shit—soon as I got there, my stepmom was like, when are you leaving? Cuz you not about to be up in here like that. I feel her, ‘cause I was grown. I was maybe 19 at the time. I need to be figuring out what I'm gonna do with my life. But I know what I wanted to do with my life. She knew. Made beats since I was a fucking kid, rapping in the room, throwing my rhyme books away. So it was pretty obvious what I want to do. I just gotta get it to make sense to where they'll be like, alright, you can go ahead and do that. You gotta our support. We'll see you soon.
So I thought of SAE Institute. I was gonna go to the LA campus. But I punked out, because I didn't want to be that far away from my family. But to be honest, when I moved to Atlanta, I didn't see my family, so it was just like if I would have moved to LA or fucking China! Still didn't see my family. But I made the decision to move to Atlanta just in case of emergencies, I could call my pops, he's two and a half hours away. I was just thinking like that. Worst-case scenario, I'm moving to a place where I don't know a soul, I need at least to be able to call somebody when shit gets fucked up. So that's why I moved to Atlanta. SAE Institute in Atlanta, that shit was just the perfect decision.
How did you score the gig with Epic?
I made it happen on my own. It's Atlanta, there's a million opportunities out there. You might run into label execs in the fucking grocery store, because they stay in this neighborhood, as opposed to having an intern somewhere wipe all these fucking windows just to say "hey" to the same person you could see in the grocery store. So I would listen to them in school, they would be like, wait until you finish. But they give you your MacBook like a month within school, they give you all the programs, all the plug-ins, so you can be an engineer and record in the whole city if you got the balls. So that's what I did.
I started doing portable studios, 25-an-hour, 30-an-hour, pull up on anybody. So that's how I got my name out in the city a little bit as an engineer. And that shit spreads fast, because nobody was striving to be a great engineer in Atlanta. Everybody wants to have the best beats, have the best rap songs. So it's like, that shit was just a missing void that I felt like nobody was really paying attention to, because I feel like everyone at my school, most of the people were from Atlanta, so they were comfortable. While they were in school, they could still go and do some bullshit, go fuck around and go to their auntie house. Because I put myself in a situation where I don't have anything else to do but go to school, because I don't have no family, friends whatever the case may be. I'm super-focused.
How I got my job with Epic, my friend was cool with L.A. Reid's son, Aaron Reid. My friend, Strick, he brought me to the studio with TM88. And I didn't have my cell phone at the time, it was broken. I had an Android. And everyone else around me was on their phone, like just not paying attention, not engaged. I guess it's a gift and curse, not having my phone, because I was engaged with everybody, I was in everybody's face, I was talking, so everybody will remember me the next day.
So, my phone's broke. I told everyone I would hit them up on Instagram and shit the next day. I went and bought an iPhone with all the money I had left. I didn't have shit. I called my mom like ma, I'm about to buy an iPhone. She was like, What!? You don't have no money.
I was like, You don't understand, I met all these important people last night. I have a MacBook, but I don't have a fucking iPhone. I gotta be able to call them.
It's weird, that blue message shit really makes a difference. If people take you seriously or not. It's sad, but it's like the new BlackBerry. The green message? You won't get no hoes, you won't get no money. And that's what I want. Hoes and money!
I literally bought an iPhone after I met Aaron. I bought it the next day. Hit him up, DMed him, like yo, it's Pi'erre, lock me in. He texted my phone immediately. I didn't want to annoy him, because I know how people are, people that feel like they can get an opportunity out of it. They harass them and be a pest. So I was just like, I'm not that type of person. So I'mma just hit him up and make sure he's straight and shit. Like, yo, you good? Maybe like once a week or something. Until he be like, pull up to the studio, let's work, let's lock in.
And eventually that happened. He called me one time to come to the studio, but I was in South Carolina mixing somebody's mixtape. So I was working, it's not like I curved him while I was bullshitting, so that helped too. He said, Oh shit, he's not even in Atlanta right now, he's back in South Carolina doing a little mixtape for somebody, making some bread, then he coming right back. So when I got back, went to the studio and I got my job that day. Literally that day.
I didn't know I was gonna get a job for Epic. I didn't even know I was gonna be engineering for Epic. I literally just wanted to come to the studio and play some songs. And they needed an engineer. [The chair] was empty. They were like, we ain't got no engineer. Fuck! And they had an artist that they really wanted to record and work with. And I was like, [turns and opens arms in disbelief] bruh, what the fuck. I do this shit! This is after maybe two years of engineering in Atanta, so I'm really comfortable with my sessions, So I was like, C'mon let's get it!
Knocked it out. The song was great, they liked how I recorded him. It was his first day too. His name is Major Myjah. He's like my best friend. His father is Bounty Killer. But he sings, his voice is incredible. It's next-level shit. So I recorded him. Him having a great voice helped me get my job. It secured a lot of shit at the time, so it's just the beauty of all that.
What have you learned about music-making engineering for non-hip hop artists? Different genres have different processes.
Yeah, definitely. Singers, pop music, they really try to perfect every word. They take all fucking day. I'm just sitting there, like, damn, this shit starting to sound all the same to me. But they're like, no, I gotta do this harmony right here. I'm just like, fuck!! Because I gotta sit here and record and make sure it sounds right. Make sure they get that perfect take. Because if we don't, they're gonna sit in that fucking booth for another hour, two hours, three hours, just to get two words done. I've seen it happen.
But that's the beauty of making music. Some people have different methods and processes. That showed me a lot. So I get excited when Nudy comes into the studio, and this nigga just do one take. And then I pull up another beat, and he do one take. And then I pull up ANOTHER beat, and he do one take. I'm like, man, we about to kill the game, because everyone else takes fucking forever for a sentence, and we knocking out songs. That showed me a lot, because when you think about it, if we're all in this quote-unquote race to be the best or whatever, we're kind of winning, because y'all are taking forever on this one fucking song, and we done knocked out ten. So it betters our chances, because we might have three great songs while you made that one great song.
But sometimes I learned that it's necessary to take long a long time and make little changes, because it can really make a song better. I saw that working for Epic too. Sometimes I'd work on a song for a whole month.
Did working at Epic give you any perspective on the pros and cons of being signed to a major label?
Working for Epic just helped me understand the role of every single person in the room, whether it's the A&R, I know what he's thinking about, I know what the producer is thinking about, I know what the writer is thinking about, I know what the engineer is thinking about, and I know what the rapper might be thinking about. So it's like chess to me. Pretty easy game to be honest. As long as I'm not smoking too much weed, I'm pretty on point. Everybody be fucked up. Xans, percs, molly, all that extra shit. Man, I don't need to be gone out of space, I gotta make sure my business is right. Fuck that! So I understand everything that 's going on so no one can chump me off or play me. I might be kind of soft-spoken and chill, but I'm very smart and wise, so I know when somebody playing some funny shit. Especially ‘cause I worked for a label—I know. I really know.
You know how egos are? People who have egos. Things people say, how people carry themselves. I don't get caught up in all that hype shit. We're all human. We are all the same. No matter how much success one person gets, we are all the same.
A salaried job like the one you had at Epic provides structure. Are you more or less motivated now that you’re self-employed? Do you take more time to chill?
You know, this week, I ain't really did shit but chill. I ain't been able to do that shit all year. Like yesterday, I shot a video, but I was chilling.
What do you do to unwind?
Just watch some Spongebob, smoke some weed. Because you know they got SpongeBob live on YouTube. 24/7. Spongebob, my nigga. Yo! Anytime, you [want to] watch Spongebob, go to YouTube. It's gonna be playing. Swear to god. Someone showed me that shit in the studio maybe three months ago in LA. And I just been watching that shit ever since. That's my usual downtime. Because usually when I'm chilling, I'm making beats. and recently, I lost my laptop, I've been looking at the good of it, because I haven't really separated myself from my laptop ever. Unless I was on punishment. So I'm really enjoying this little break.