HXLT didn’t mean to let three years go by. To hear him tell it, the genre-slicing musician (born as Nigel Holt, and formerly known as Hollywood Holt) is a prolific creator. By his estimate, when left alone he can write five albums a year—and if it was his choice he’d release them all. But after his self-titled debut, a charisma-blessed blend of rap and punk, landed him with Def Jam, his career stalled. He produced an album that simply didn’t connect with executives, and was essentially shelved by his label. Understandably, this was upsetting. He couldn’t work his way out by adding more drums or vocals. Art and commerce were simply at odds.
“I am an insane person,” he tells CR. “I’m completely irrational when it comes to things that I believe in and love. If I feel like I’m this way. I physically cannot be anything other. When I signed to Def Jam, I signed to Kanye West. I was really excited about that. I’m going to create all this cool music with Kanye and be around all the guys! When that didn’t happen, it was disheartening.”
While HXLT emphasizes he doesn’t hold any ill will (“You have to be able to convey your art to them in a way they’ll understand it,” he notes. “If you don’t, you shouldn’t work together, you should find someone else.”) the shake-up, left him creatively blocked. He was also depressed, though it’s something he only recognizes now. In that period, he got married and had a child, both of whom he calls the loves of his life.
Although it felt like nothing would ever make him happy again, ultimately it was his son that provided the motivation. One night, enraptured by the album in progress, father and son spent an entire evening together just listening to demos. As HXLT recalls, the moment felt transformative.
“He just sat there and listened to the music,” HXLT recalls. “What instantly came into my mind was if I die—God forbid—and my son grew up and heard my album, he would know who I was. I got mad, and was like, ‘Fuck everything I’m going to fucking snap!’ I use anger as a tool to push me through a lot of things that I have to do. After I had that epiphany with my son, I got angry at myself for being depressed. I was like, ‘Get your ass up and make new songs!’”
Purpose renewed, the musician dug into creating new work, deleting everything he had attempted up until that point, and recording so fast that in two months he had the majority of what would go on to become his sophomore release, Bloom From Doom. This time he was sharing more of himself and the songs began to connect. An argument with his wife only strengthened his resolve to remove barriers in the process. His honesty can be heard directly on heartbreak track “Lifespan of a Dollar,” which uses the demo recorded in the basement of his wife’s parents’ house on what he calls the “worst day of his life.”
“Anytime I was sad, I would pick up the guitar or piano and ask, ‘What does my pain sound like?’” he recalls. “What notes does my pain make? I picked up the guitar and I started playing the notes my heart felt like.”
The themes tackled across Bloom From Doom are heady. “All My Friends” speaks to those friends he lost around the Southside of Chicago, which he describes as a place where too often people simply aren’t given the information they need to work toward something greater. “Anti-Special” is a dark, beat-heavy dis-track, aimed at one person in particular, but generally about all those who doubted him during his slump. (Again, HXLT makes it clear there’s no ill-will left—a theme that runs through the majority of his life.) And “Stay Alive,” acts as a promise to any listener struggling that there’s someone out there who gets them—and wants them to live life and take positive risks. (“I look at everything from a direct standpoint,” he laughs. “I don’t like vague things. I like direct action.”)
But if this reads like an exercise in gloom or anger, HXLT wants to make it clear that it isn’t. His creative flow is back. He invests heavily in friendships (a word he has tattooed on the side of his head). And he’s blessed to make a living doing what he loves. In short: HXLT is happy. He wants to give back. And he wants to keep making music that matters. And he wants to keep moving up.
“I’m lucky that I know how to be content in life,” he says. “I know what makes me happy and I know what I need and what I don’t need. I want to be able to exude this energy that helps people on a giant stage, and share those enjoyable moments. Singing my songs and them singing them back to me and crowd surfing. That’s all I want. I have money, I have the love of my life. I have my friends. I have everything in life that makes me happy and fulfilled. The only thing I don’t have is that giant stage. I want to be on the world stage, and I want to scream ‘Stay Alive’ to 50,000 people. That’s my goal.”END
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