High school is a strange, confusing time in anyone’s life. Between the raging hormones, the social anxiety, the self-doubt, the puberty, the unchecked attitudes, and the misguided idea that teenage you knows better, survival-of-the-fittest is the name of the game — a popularity contest where you either win or you die.
Nothing else in the world could possibly matter… well that’s what it feels like, anyway.
Ten years since having made it out of the hellish playground alive, Detroit-hailing QUINN XCII released his third studio album, A Letter To My Younger Self and, having already raked in tens of millions of streams, it’s a 12-track ode to the person he was back then reassuring him that, contrary to what he may have thought at the time, everything is actually going to be okay.
“Myself in high school, I was a very shy kid,” he begins to tell me, “I had friends for sure, but particularly in the classroom I was very shy and I didn’t like raising my hand or answering questions — I just didn’t really enjoy showing people what I had to offer as a person.”
Music, art, and creative writing among some of his earliest passions, he opted to keep them private for fear of judgement. “I had a lot of fear growing up about explaining to people what I wanted to be when I was older, fear of people laughing at me and people not taking me seriously,” he confesses, “But I think as I grew older that I just grew into a kid who has other problems and realised that there’s a lot more life to live after high school.”
I can relate as he sums up the high school experience, “I think a lot of us in high school sort of beat ourselves up and think of that point as the most traumatic point in our lives. We’re just too young to realise that there’s a whole lot more life to be lived.”
Conversely to his timid teenage self, he’s coolly confident and managed to make a boast-worthy career of his passions, and I wonder how high school him would’ve reacted if someone told him that he’d be the king of his own billion-streams empire, and he laughs off the notion.
His humility is sincere as he reasons, “I don’t know how the 2009 version would react to that, I think he would be very excited for sure but also I will say that I’ve always been a pretty humble and pretty chilled person so even if I would’ve told myself back then that this would happen, I’d still feel like most of me would react to it in a moderate way just because I’ve always not let excitement get the best of me too much.”
The release of “Stacy”, a song rooted in the idea of a high school crush, made him realise that there really were so many emotions to unpack and feelings to work through surrounding the theme of high school, inspiring the decision to embark on this nostalgic journey back in time.
QUINN called up R&B singer and producer Imad Royal — long-time friend and co-producer of his first two studio albums — to help him realise the nostalgic essence of the sound he wanted to capture with A Letter to My Younger Self, so I ask him how important it is to have a set of ears that you can always trust to make musical decisions when you’re unsure.
“Oh, so important! I think that’s exactly what he was, that set of ears that I could always go to and ask for input and really, honestly, he would kinda bring me back to reality when I was second-guessing a song,” he explains and his respect, gratitude, and appreciation for Royal is palpable.
He continues, “For me I often lose faith in a lot of the stuff I make, I can listen to it for a week and love it for a week and then suddenly just start second-guessing it, so to have somebody there to remind me that the song is still good and still worthy of making the album, someone that I can constantly talk to as a companion is really special.”
The album that he wrote for his much younger self works through issues that we can all relate to today, as kids or as adults: issues with self-forgiveness, with faith and spirituality, with self-love, with giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, and with making and accepting mistakes.
He strikes a chord as he concludes, “I think what I’m trying to say with this album is that if I could speak to my younger self I would tell him to just not take things too seriously and to not beat myself up too much about things that go wrong because there’s gonna be a lot more mistakes that you’re gonna make, there’s gonna be a lot more opportunities to fail or succeed and just to enjoy yourself.”