• Howard Butler

Highway Talks His Seattle Upbringing, Aliases, and Being a Rapper-Producer

Seattle native Mekhi Rogersknown by many as up-and-coming rapper Highwayis a product of the modern rap era; drawing influence from trailblazers of the genre he occupies. Individualism is a value that Highway holds himself tightly to, constantly striving to show and stay true to who he is. He has created a notable buzz for himself in the Pacific Northwest scene as a rapper, but has been always been tied to good musicboasting production credits for artists like Chief Keef and Duwap Kaine.

Highway has garnered an expansive list of connections in the game throughout his time, being formerly linked with other famous Seattle acts like Lil Mosey and Isaacjuccuzzi as a part of the collective Osixx. Nowadays, he's seen chatting with the likes of JetsonMade and members of Chief Keef's GloGang, as well as Sosa himself.

We linked via Zoom to chat about the culture of Seattle, the time he met Kevin Durant, and his incredible music videos. Check out the conversation below and make sure to check out Highway, as his upcoming project CountFast is going to be making major waves.

Howie: Before Highway—who was Mekhi Rogers, and how did you get into making music?

Highway: I grew up making music since I was like 7 or 8. I grew up around music a lot, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time around people who made it, though. I just listened to all types of music in my mom's truck.

Who were the artists of your childhood that stuck around to help shape your influence to create?

Shit... Soulja Boy, Gucci Mane, Future... I would say Chief Keef, but I was already 14 or 15 when he came out. All 90s R&B; Soulchild, that’s really what was playing in my mom's car. There were so many; all Bay Area stuff, really—E-40 and Too $hort, as well. All the West Coast artists, really; it could go on forever.

What is the significance of the number 9 and 2009 to your persona?

2009 was just a real significant year for me. I had to take on responsibility as my own; I really felt like an adult, even though I was 11 and in middle school. That’s when I started seeing lots of shit and being introduced to shit people usually see at an older age. I started to get around it at that time, and that’s when it was my responsibility to make sure whatever I want happens. I don’t know if you remember, but it was a recession. I didn’t know anything about it at the time, but it affected me and my family the most. I found myself; I started to realize who I was as an individual. That’s when I was having the most fun and when the best music was coming out, too.

Is there a meaning behind the “countfast” phrase you use?

Countfast is just something I said in a song, and it stuck with me. So, I just took it on as my name—Countfast9. I really do count fast. Quick, I can show you.

Now that you’re back in Seattle, what’s the scene like out there for hip-hop?

It’s kind of cookie-cutter to me; a lot of people be trying to fit a certain image. Like I said—in 2009, I really found out I was an individual and that’s how I’ve tried to play the music scene. I just try to be myself. I don’t feel a lot of the shit going on, but there’s a lot of good shit going on as well with the music scene. Lots of great artists, producers, engineers out here, but I just remain an individual and stand on my own shit while I’m out here. There’s just a lot of shit I can’t really connect with going on.

What’s your favorite thing about Seattle?

Our culture, for sure. We got a lot of culture—from sports, food, music, neighborhood shit—there’s a lot of culture in Seattle that we don’t get a lot of shine on. It starts to get watered down, but we’re starting to get a little bit of light shining on it. Since growing up, it’s just been a lot of culture. I remember playing little league football and basketball, and the rivalries between the teams are for real. If you grew up in South Seattle or Central District, you’ve seen the talent. We have someone every year going to the league—doing big things, adding to the history of Seattle. Even the food; everybody knows about the food. It’s just a whole lot of culture.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Seattle?

Hmmm... right now, I have to give it to Ezell’s Chicken. I haven’t been to Ezell’s in a minute. Right when COVID started, a lot of shit just got weird. The food started tasting a little different, you know? I just feel like after this shit, everything will go back to normal and I can’t wait. Ezell’s was slipping a little bit, but it’s still good. When you’re hungry and can’t get food anywhere, you can always count on Ezell’s for a good ½ pound. That’s what I get; ½ pound with the cajun fries. I get a little drink, and some Honey Mustard on the side.

What do you think is more important to the city of Seattle—Pike Place Market or the Space Needle?

Space Needle. I like Pike Place, but I gotta go with the Space Needle.

Were you ever a Sonics fan?

Yeah, for sure. I can’t remember, but I think I went to the last game of the final season. My mom, where she worked at, she used to help out Kevin Durant’s mom. She helped her get dressed and find outfits to go to the games. She loved my mom so much that one day she gave her some tickets, and I believe it was the last game of the season. She told her to tell her family and bring whoever she wanted to go. We went—it was me, my dad, my mom, and my brother, and then we got to sit front row. We saw everything that we never got to do; we never got to do anything like that. So, we saw everything; it was crazy. They have this little section where if you have the front row tickets, you could go back to the VIP section to get a whole bunch of snacks and different shit like that. I even got to take a picture with KD; I was like 7 or 8 at the time. That shit was fun.

Since the team moved, have you found a new team? Are you a big basketball fan?

Yeah, I’m definitely a basketball fan, but I mostly just be on 2K. I fuck with Luka Doncic and the Mavs. Obviously, I want the Lakers to win this year, though, because Los Angeles has been going through way too much bullshit, losing so many people. They deserve it. I don’t really watch every game, but I stay on top of who’s winning. I automatically stay up Luka, though, and Damian Lillard. I fuck with both of them. Luka, though—that’s my guy.

Prior Demand—the project you released earlier this year—would you consider that your debut album?

It’s a mixtape. It’s just a combination of songs that needed to come out. Not every song I wanted on there went on there; I’m going to figure out how to get those out. We dropped that, and yeah, it’s a mixtape. I think it’s up there as far as the quality goes with albums, but I consider it a mixtape. The shit I got coming is next level.

That’s why I was confused; everything seemed so professional. Especially with the cover art, you really went the whole ten yards. 

Yeah, we definitely took it serious. 

I saw you just dropped with Basskids. Do you have any other plans for the rest of 2020 that we should know about in terms of releases or anything... Collaborations, verses, videos?

Videos—I’m about to drop the “Cash First” video. I know the people who pay attention to the snippets and what I’m releasing will know about “Cash First.” “Textin’ My Ex,” I got the video snippet of that on Instagram. So yeah, I got the “Cash First” and “Textin’ My Ex” videos, and I’m going to drop an album soon. I don’t really have a release date yet, but CountFast: The Album... Fuck it, I’m not even going to call it an album. It’s a project, at least for now. When it’s album time, though, you’ll know. It’s a different vibe when you come with the album; that’s the one. I got to make sure everything’s straight with the numbers and everything; I got to build up before it’s go time.

The first song that got my attention that I discovered was “Midnight.” Not only was the song killer, but I specifically loved the line, “I ain’t alone but life is getting lonely, you wanna be Sosa n**** fuck Tony.” Is there a story or anything that goes with “Midnight?”

When I wrote that song, I was feeling like I was ready to move on to new shit. I was just feeling like I was nowhere close to where I want to be. Every line is the truth, I always try to say shit that I feel and that other people will feel. When I say shit in my music, I mean it. I don’t say shit to be cool; I don’t really care about what Tony Montana is doing. Sosa is the real boss; I want to do what Sosa is doing. He got Tony knocked out of the picture, anyway. “Ain’t alone but life is getting lonely,” that’s really how life gets. When you get older you can stay around a bunch of people, but you may not be with them, for real, and they may not be really with you, either.

With the song “Sleep Walking,” is the title a metaphor for something, or do you have any experience with sleep walking?

What I meant by sleep walking is when you’re really high. You’re awake and moving around, but you’re asleep. You’re just high as fuck.

The third track I wanted to ask about was “Better Prepare.” What is your order at Roscoe’s on Pico?

It’s got to be the Chicken and Waffles. I have only been there a couple times, but that’s all I know. They’re famous for that, so I have to trust them. I know they got other shit that I’ll get around to trying, but it’s not really a go-to restaurant for me because I’ve only been there twice. Every time I go, though, that’s what I’ve gotten and same with everyone I’ve gone with. That’s what they famous for.

Kyler Ballamy has knocked it out of the park with some incredible visuals for your music. What’s it like working with a guy as talented as Kyler?

Kyler is crazy. Kyler’s talent is crazy. He’s interesting; he’s just having fun with it. I always ask him like, “Do you understand what you’re doing?” and he just says, “Yeah, I knocked it out, lemme know what you want me to change.” I say, “Motherfucker, you crazy. You didn’t just edit; you went crazy on it.” He doesn’t care, though; he’s just having fun.

Working as an artist and producer, what does it mean to you be on both sides of the track?

It’s not something I planned to be; it just happened that way. I had never been a real rapper until I started taking it serious a couple years ago. Really, I just wanted to be a producer; I just wanted to make beats. I just started using my own beats, and I turned into a producer-rapper.

Where does the producer tag come from?

Absolutely. Oh, I made that on this little speech generator. I think it was my freshman year of high school; it was hella long ago, like six or seven years. But, I made that my freshman year on the little school computer. I didn't know how to make a tag, and I didn’t have a girl to say that for me. I was like, “Shit, I gotta figure something out.” I just went on Google, typed in speech generator, put my name in, and then downloaded that shit.

Speaking of producer tags, I was scrolling through your Instagram and I noticed you had a few back-and-forths with Jetsonmade. What is your relationship like?

We cool; we just started getting in contact. My bro from South Carolina works with him daily on creative direction and shit. For the longest time, he had been trying to connect us. Again, my bro Cheedee got us connected and since then we’ve been tight. He’s cool as fuck; I hit him like every day. We send each other beats, and we got a ton of songs together; it’s all fire shit.

I also saw you had work with Chief Keef in the vault. That’s a different Sosa than the one we spoke about earlier, but what’s it like to work with someone who, like you said, influenced you when you were younger?

Man, it’s weird. I never met him, but my homie Basskids fucks with him heavy. So, we make some beats and when Basskids goes to LA, he’ll go to his house, and Keef will hop on my shit or Bass’s shit. It’s funny though; every time I’m in LA, I always run into one of his people. Last time, I ran into Duwap; he be with Chief Keef all the time. We got a picture, but yeah—hella cool people.

Most rappers have contact emails or other stuff in their social media bios, but on Instagram, yours just says “Young Money,” which I thought was awesome. That has to do with the group, right?

Shit, really, I just be having different alter egos. Young Money, Countfast, 9, 2009, 2009doalot—all types of different shit, but when I look in the mirror, I always be feeling Young Money. I’m getting to the money; shit, I’m young. I always looked up to Young Money and Lil Wayne, too, so it just works out.

Weezy F Baby and the F is for...?

I be saying the F is for Feezy. That’s another one of my nicknames. There’s a lot of options, but I’m putting my own twist on it.

Young Money ran the game for so long. In the rap game now, is there a group you see as the ones running it?

Almost. I’ll put it this way. There’s hella people that be working and have the potential to do that eventually. I really believe Lil Baby can do that with 4PF. Youngboy, too, with his 4KayTray shit; I don’t know if that’s his gang or whatever, but he could do it. Oh, and YSL for sure; they up there already. 

How do you want to be remembered when it’s all said and done?

My goal is to redefine legendary. I want to raise the standard, and set the bar very high. That’s my goal, and I want to stick to it.

What’s your favorite song that you’ve made, and what would you recommend to someone who hasn’t heard you before?

My favorite song that’s out right now is “For A While” on Soundcloud. I listen to my unreleased shit all day long, though; I cannot wait for you all to hear it. I appreciate y’all.

Is there anyone young that you want to put on or shoutout?

Shoutout DJ Basskids. Shoutout everyone who rocked with me throughout the music—everyone putting on for me. Honestly, anyone who has ever done anything to help ensure that this music thing works out—shoutout to you, for real, because this music thing is all that matters to me daily. That’s about all. Actually, shoutout Xjay, shoutout Jetson, shoutout all of SpaceBoys. I could go on forever, but shoutout to all the producers; that’s really what I’m focused on. Shoutout Royce, shoutout 06’, all that. Shoutout producers, in general, because that’s who’s really making the difference in music.

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