Thursday, December 1, SDSU hosted the HeadSTRONG Toy Drive in the Student Union in collaboration with Polinsky Children’s Center in efforts to raise toy donations for children. The drive was a huge success, and so was DJ Josh Giggin’s performance.
Josh is the founder of ECLECTIK, his music corporation based in San Diego that’s linking up with artists, producers, and music professionals around the world.
Since July, when Josh launched ECLECTIK, the organization has been growing fast. When I asked him how often he makes music he laughed and replied, “I don’t make music, I’m too busy watching over everyone else.” From a close knit group of friends who share a passion for making music, it’s grown into 20 founding members and 34 members overall in several different countries.
But that’s not important to DJ and founder Josh, he’s simply here to “set a culture.”
“Music these days is really hard to listen to. Just in general, listening, you don’t even know what they’re saying.”
“When I find artists through SoundCloud to bring onto ECLECTIK, they have to have a certain sound. Something you can listen to—easy listening—it inspires you to get up and go through your day. I’m really versatile with my song selection, that’s why a lot of people in our group are really versatile. They can sing, they can rap, then they can trap.”
“I have to be inspired to inspire. If I’m not inspired when I DJ, it’s hard for me to spread that. My main inspiration is to be an inspiration.”
As for who inspires him, it’s mainly underground, “low-key” producers. His favorite genres are trap, new soul, hip hop, and R&B.
ECLECTIK rapper Ta’ Sean Du Bois began writing when he was 6 years old, and his talents have since escalated into what he calls “feel good music” that you can wake up and go to the beach to.
“I always loved reading and writing, it was like my best subject in school and I also really loved music. I liked the aspect of beat, the lyrics, and how the lyrics matched with the beat pattern. I started rapping early, like in high school. We would freestyle everyday afterschool by the ice cream truck, and then I got more confident and I started rapping over like Kendrick or Dr. Dre and then I started writing my own music. I officially started rapping like senior year.”
Ta’ Sean says his main musical inspiration is Kanye West.
“My parents are from the Caribbean’s, so I grew up listening to reggae. I didn’t think there was any other kind of music. My older brother showed me “Champion” by Kanye West and I was just like, ‘What is this!’ That’s when I started listening to like Nelly and not really people who were like ‘in in’ at the time ’cause they were different, but I liked that.”
He’s inspired by artists like these because of their “swag.”
“They’re so confident in themselves, that they’re gonna take something from like 17 yeas ago, mix it with something new, and put it out there. Being confident is hard, being able to do all that is hard, and so they really helped me improve that.”
Since forming ECLECTIK, Ta’ Sean can see his improvement in his music and performing, as can all of the founding members.
“Performing is scary, that’s what’s hard,” he said. Each of the members I spoke to said they still get nervous when they’re about to perform, “but that excitement and joy also drowns that [nervousness], and then you’re hyped.”
ECLECTIK is constantly expanding. Josh told me about their Link Up show in Orange County, which showcased local talent, and their #LinkUp efforts in San Diego as well. With a worldwide organization, communication can be a problem.
Josh: “We’re everywhere, it’s hard for us to all talk and gather our ideas, but everyone believes in the mission. There is a sound that needs to be spread. Money’s not a big thing to us. It’s easy to make good music when you’re not worried about money.”
“We have a DJ in Australia. We have a DJ and producer in the UK, she’s actually planning a music festival and she’s already asked us to go there. One of our artists is going to be going on tour early in 2017. It’s gonna be 17 cities over two months.”
Those are just a few of ECLECTIK’s exciting future prospects. But through all the success, they’ve kept it real. To all the budding artists out there, the founders of ECLECTIK have this to say:
“There’s always gonna be haters. You can’t please everyone, but you just gotta keep going. In a group of 10 people you might get one person that’s gonna like your song, and that one person is gonna make it worthwhile. And that one person is gonna turn into a whole fan base and next thing you know, you’re playing at a music festival in front of thousands of people.”
And if that doesn’t happen, “we’ll find you,” they added, laughing. Josh did a great job DJing the Toy Drive at SDSU. And I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from ECLECTIK in the near future.
When I first saw Stanaj he was on stage doing sound check, laughing and joking with swooning female fans, getting ready for the Less Stress More Love show with SoMo in San Diego. The 22-year-old R&B singer is fresh to the music scene but harbors the skills of a seasoned professional. Just releasing his EP, The Preview, this past August, he’s already on his first nation-wide tour and upcoming worldwide debut. He’s been endorsed through social media by stars such as Kim Kardashian West, Russell Simmons, Chris Brown, and NBA player Brandon Jennings just to name a few. He sang his way to Coachella prior to releasing any original music, sang “Let Her Go” on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, and got signed a year ago with LAVA/REPUBLIC. How has this kid done this? When I heard him sing, that question was answered.
I met with him backstage about an hour before he was to perform. Between the exclamatory “Baby girl’s!” and his signature serenades, Stanaj was a hoot to interview. He wants to be an all-around artist, like Justin Timberlake, dipping his talents into movies, TV, and music. He’s got the personality to do it—his charisma filled the room. He was gracious and thankful to be there, and told me the fantastic story of his journey.
“It’s been pretty freakin’ crazy, you know, starting about a year and a half ago. I mean, I was doing music in New York right out of high school, but I had no luck and it was kind of just go, sing at a karaoke bar, kind of thing. What happened when I came out to California, I was basically doing the same thing in L.A., I was just singing at a random place—karaoke bar—and just from social media, there was a basketball player there, he put me on his Instagram, his girlfriend put me on her Instagram, and then this person found me, and this person found me, and next thing I know I’m signing in Drake’s house.”
Stanaj’s life is a modern-day male version Cinderella story, or, as his family nicknames him, Forrest Gump, and goes to show what can manifest when hard work, pure jaw-dropping talent, and a little luck come together.
Stanaj got his start in singing at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a children’s choir. He says that experience definitely shows up in some of his songs, especially his upcoming releases.
“I always loved it, and there are some songs that I actually haven’t released yet that have kind of like a super choir-driven base to it, it’s pretty cool.”
Hailing from Albania, he also sang Albanian music and, being the youngest in a big family, was exposed to multiple genres and decades of music growing up. From all the different types of music he grew up loving, it was ‘90s R&B that stuck with him.
“I just always had a thing for it. I love the soul that they were, you know, projecting. I love the emotions in the songs. It just, I don’t know, struck a cord with me.”
We talked about his almost-magical transition from making music on social media to making music with the likes of writers who work with Rihanna and Chris Brown.
“I was writing songs in my bedroom, to writing songs with Grammy Award winners.”
Through his crazy journey, he’s learned a lot.
“It’s an art to write a song. In itself, just the structure of a song and how many measures and when to go to the pre-, how long the chorus should be, like I had no idea what the hell any of that meant. So going from writing in my room to writing with Justin Tranter, who wrote “Sorry” for Bieber, to Haze Banga who’s done songs with Beyoncé, you know, these people who are just like mind-blowing musicians and songwriters, you learn a lot. Like a year ago, I think I’d written like 200 songs, and it’s funny—you can see the progression from the beginning to where I am now.”
Stanaj’s career is moving forward pretty fast. With all his celebrity endorsements and incredible raw talent, it’s a speeding train going in the right direction. Not long from now he’ll be hooking up with the best in the business—we talked about who he hopes to collaborate with in the future.
“I would love to collaborate with Justin Timberlake, if I could make a song with him that’d be pretty amazing. I love Ariana [Grande], she’s great—super good vocalist. And Drizzy Drake.”
Drizzy Drake—the mysterious Instagram picture that made Stanaj famous over night. He told me how a random friendship turned into him playing piano at the YOLO mansion.
“So, recently I was seen at the karaoke bar, basketball player put me on his Instagram, and this guy, Jas Prince, hits me up and we ended up becoming friends. I never like Googled this guy or anything, but he’s the guy who found Drake. So one day, I’m playing basketball at his house and Drake FaceTimes him and we ended up going there and that’s how I met him.”
“We didn’t end up working on any music, not yet—hopefully—but they would keep inviting me over. It was just a super, super cool experience to see. You know, I got to go into his home studio and listen to some songs, I got to play the piano in his living room, it was super cool. Awesome guy, and hopefully one day I’ll get to work with him.”
As for who inspires him, Stanaj has got a long list. He hopes to grow into a career like Justin Timberlake’s, and after his enthusiastic chat with me, I don’t doubt he’ll one day be on movie screens. As for musicians, he loves Boys II Men, Brian McKnight, and other stars who ruled the ‘90s R&B scene. He calls his style a new twist of R&B and pop, and said his recently dropped EP The Preview embodies that type of “cinematic soul” he wants to be known for.
The Preview was Stanaj’s chance to showcase his original sound, and, thankfully, there’s so much more of it to come.
“I’m releasing another project soon, I don’t have a date yet, but I’m releasing another project soon and then I go straight to Europe. I’m going to London to work on an album, London and then Sweden, and then I have another tour come spring.”
His Albanian family doesn’t know what to make of him.
“I don’t think they really understand what’s happening. Like they do, but then at the same time they’re like, ‘Oh, how’s it going?’ Like I was just on Jimmy Fallon and they’re like, ‘Oh that’s nice.’ Meanwhile everybody here is like flipping out.”
Right, and there’s a funny story about Stanaj singing “Ain’t Love Strange” on The Tonight Show.
“It’s funny, I met Jimmy in 2013. I walked up to him on the sidewalk and I sang like a quick snippet of something, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna be on your show one day.’ And then, literally three years later, I’m on his show.”
Stanaj and Jimmy Fallon ended up re-creating the same video Stanaj had taken of that experience backstage.
Before wrapping things up, Stanaj had a message for all his fans that have supported him from the beginning: deep down, he’s still that kid singing karaoke and is super grateful to be where he is.
“I’m beyond grateful to do this every single day. I know it’s been said, ‘It’s because of you,’ but it really is. It really is true, that it’s like the most grateful feeling having people appreciate what you love most in life. Just thank you, on a different level of thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Stanaj thanked his fans at the show by singing his heart out on stage. He opened with “Goddess,” followed by “Ain’t Love Strange,” “Sleep Alone,” “Romantic,” and even sang his famous rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. Fans went crazy, screaming every word of his album. His stage presence was so energetic and genuine, it was hard to believe this was his first tour.
I look forward to seeing more of Stanaj in the future, as I’m positive he’s going far. He has almost an unbelievable story; karaoke-bar singer pulls himself up to the level of A-list celebrities all because of sheer talent. But hey, stranger things have happened.
‘Something special must be in Canadian water!’ Jahkoy Palmer said that comment to him made by many journalists was the inspiration for his highly anticipated EP titled Foreign Water, which just debuted in October. The album followed his September single “California Heaven,” featuring L.A. rapper Schoolboy Q, which received rave reviews from USA Today, Billboard, and the Fader and is skyrocketing to the top of Spotify viral charts. Jahkoy has been described as “the next in the list of big names to come from Canada,” but his unique genre-blending approach tying R&B and electric house makes him stand out from the rest. His eclectic sound and feels-hitting vocals have generated active support from Pharrell, Elton John and his single “Odd Future” premiered on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 Radio Show and played on Drake’s OVO Sound Radio. Jahkoy tore up the stage at festivals all over the U.S. this summer, driving crowds crazy at Lollapalooza, Wireless UK, Billboard Hot 100, and tons more. The world wants more, and the 22-year-old Def Jam Recordings artist is cooking up a world tour, a new album, and new shows for 2017.
Jahkoy’s been making music for so long that he laughed when I asked him what his first musical experience was, saying “I couldn’t tell you my first experience with music just because I’ve been doing music for so long that I don’t even remember when I started. I just remember always loving it.”
He’s been writing music since he was 11. “It started with writing poems in school. I turned a lot of those poems into music—I used to rap at the time—so it was a lot of poems that turned into raps.” Rapping under the alias of “Raheem” in Toronto was the beginning of Jahkoy’s journey.
“I grew up on a lot of Def Jam poetry. I’ve always wanted to be a part of that experience of the spoken word, and expressing how I feel in a format that was like written to tell a story, and also make it sound smooth. As a kid it’s like ‘monkey see monkey do,’ you see something that’s really cool [and] you want to try it, and that’s how it was for me. I saw something that was really dope and I wanted to be a part of music. I love music, music always changed how I felt, it would make me feel better. A funny story that my mom tells me, I guess when I was 2 years old and every time I started crying she would put on this record by Craig Mack called ‘Flava in Ya Ear,’ and she said every time she would play the record I would stop crying immediately. So I guess music has just instilled in me [a way] to help me get rid of my demons and get vulnerable, and just express myself as a whole. Ever since I can remember I’ve just been in love with that form of expression.”
“I love music, music always changed how I felt, it would make me feel better.”
We talked about Jahkoy’s transition from rap to R&B, and where his inspiration stems from. “I started singing two years ago at the Disclosure show. At the time, I didn’t know who Disclosure was or know anything about them,” he recalled. Jahkoy first saw the Electronic Duo at their concert in Toronto, which he’d gone to see Vic Mensa. As his first exposure to purely instrumental music, Disclosure blew him away. “Just having that experience, seeing instrumental music being appreciated by people just enjoying themselves, listening to the bump of the beat. And having that first experience, not really familiar with the instrumental world, and it struck me that there could be potential vocals over these records to make them like number one hits. And it was wanting to go through a bit of trial and error to make some potential hits in that dance-infused world. It was using, I guess, pop music with urban—a little bit of that urban—and throwing it over house records. With all the technology that we have right now, we’re able to do so many things to make good music, and it’s so hard to I guess label it, I like to just call it good music. Music is evolving… a lot of my music has three elements—house, R&B, or acoustic, those are the worlds that I live in musically and that’s how I express myself. I never like to stick to one, I never like to cater to a specific style, I just like to express myself entirely and how it comes out at the moment is how we’re going to execute it, and most of the time it comes out at random.”
He then opened up about the evolution of his signing voice and where he’d like to improve upon. “I’m still working on my voice, vocally, and learning where I can take things. ‘Cause I’ve only been singing for a couple years now, so I’m not where I’m going to be if I get like ten years of experience. Right now, I feel like I’m still in the earlier stages of my career. I feel really comfortable where I am, especially over time. I’ve been going to vocal lessons, I feel more in control of my voice, feel more comfortable, but I’m still learning. The future is bright, the rest is history.”
He’s definitely right about that; Jahkoy’s future is bright. He’s setting out to prove himself here in the U.S. and continue making waves.
“Foreign Water is out, my first album. That lets me know that the engines are running, so now I really gotta prove why I’m the one and why I should be here, what do I bring to the table. I’m trying to bring a fresh experience to the listeners of the music world, in this industry, to share the experience of someone from Canada. I’m coming from the other side of the border, I really want to share the Canadian experience. I’m in America now, I’m seeing different things and meeting new people and absorbing a lot, becoming more of myself and seeing all that’s out there. I’m only going to grow and am only going to become better at what I do, trying to master my art as much as possible and understanding what it means to be in the music industry and what being a part of the singer-songwriter world is, and linking up and making these connections. When I first came out to LA, I found myself in a lot of happy accidents. I came out here to make music and really put my foot in the door, and prove to everybody why I’m here. I’m working on my album—hopefully top of the year, looking at a world tour, potentially, got some shows coming up early in the year. It’s going to be awesome.”
Jahkoy’s got some pretty exciting stuff lined up and has made a lot of major transitions, but through all of it he hasn’t forgotten why he’s here. “I really just want to put an imprint on the next generation so that they can absorb my energy and potentially feed off of my energy and deliver it to the following generation, so it just goes on. I’m inspired by Kanye West and Pharrell, these guys are leaders of my generation and they deserve a reward, if you ask me, for being the guys that stepped out of the norm and stepped out of what everybody felt was the comfort zone and really, like, express themselves as a whole. They weren’t holding back for what anybody thought, they just wanted to be artists. I just want to bring my perspective and share my story.”
I spoke with Pennsylvania rapper Eric Will. He shares his journey of becoming a rapper and his true goal of inspiring others.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where you’re from, how you started, and what you’re about?
I’m from Easton Pennsylvania. I started back when I was 14 years old. I mean, I started when I was younger, I learned a few instruments and stuff, but then I got like a piano and I started to make like little hip hop beats with my friends, and from there we just kind of started writing stuff and doing like little recordings. My dad was really into music, so he got like a microphone setup and everything, so we would just mess around with little instrumentals and all that kind of stuff when I was 14. And then from there, me and him just kind of kept doing it and just working towards that, and it’s been quite a journey. I have so much more to learn and master my craft and stuff, but it’s just been an amazing journey so far.
When did your writing develop? You’re making these instrumentals, starting off with these beats, where did you find the inspiration to craft and write lyrics?
So me and my friend, we actually both started out with just freestyles. And then probably when I was about 15 or so I started to write my own stuff. I actually had like a whole book- a little book- with a bunch of words that like a rhyme together [laughs]. I would just go through the book and like write a song, it wasn’t anything great but it was little exercises to learn more rhymes and stuff like that. You know, it started when I was 14, but I feel like I didn’t really get extremely serious until I was like 17. That’s when I really started to sit down and produce and write, you know? My songs like really came together and my voice and my mind and who I am.
What changed? What made you think, ‘I need to sit down and get serious about this.’ What in your life made you come to that realization?
So, like, in high school, I had a few very close friends and they all kind of liked my stuff so they told me like, ‘dude, you should just keep pursuing it.’ And of course you have haters and stuff in the beginning, and they’re all trying to hold me back, but you know I feel like both ends of the spectrum -people that hated it and people that encourage me to do it- really like flipped the switch on me. And people were like, ‘dude, you should just keep doing it, just keep doing it,’ you know? I turned 17, I had a job, so I like went and bought everything so I could record my own stuff. That’s really what did it, was when I went out and bought all the recording stuff to help produce my own music.
What challenges have you faced along this road?
From people, of course. Everyone has an opinion on music and stuff. When I first started, you know, you’re never going to jump into anything you do and be like amazing at it. You know, a lot of people, when I first started, that were like ‘you shouldn’t do this and this and that,’ and everybody hated and stuff, so that was a huge thing. Getting over that barrier, passing that barrier, where everyone said I should stop. And, you know, it’s hard to keep doing something that everybody tells you, like, ‘no you shouldn’t do it anymore.’ So that’s definitely one challenge. And of course the money, you know, and going to school. I don’t know how it is down there, going to high school and stuff. Over here, going to high school, we can get up at 6 o’clock in the morning.
“So I’d go from 6 o’clock in the morning to 11 o’clock at night after work and then come home and try to write lyrics, it was crazy. That was definitely a huge challenge. But you know it’s that grind that you put into it I guess that really shapes it.”
Yeah, it’s your motivation that makes you stick out. That’s what holds people back and that’s what makes people stand out. So who are you working with right now? Or who have you worked with in the past?
I guess I’ll just start with like my management. I got a manager early this year, he’s an awesome guy. He really helps me out with all my promotions and stuff like that. I have a producer that I actually just recently got, his name is Homage, we are working on an album just recently. We just decided that we can definitely make something cool, so we just started just signing some contracts and stuff like that. I worked with Hi-Rez. I mean, he’s an awesome guy. He was kind of like the first big person that I got to work with and I remember messaging him- it was crazy- he got back to me right away, and I was like ‘oh my God’ [laughing]. He’s like one of my favorite artists for such a long time, since high school, so when we got to talking it was just awesome. Then he actually hooked me up one day with Emilio Rojas, and he’s an awesome guy too. We actually had a track as well, I plan on working with a few other artists in the future. I would like to maybe work with like Chris Webby, and I plan on working, down the road, again with Hi-Rez and Emilio, maybe working on a track.
So you talked about how you’re kind of in the process of a new album coming out, how far along are you?
We’re just planning it out right now. It’s going to be more like a mixtape, not like an album, like 7 to 9 songs, give or take. We’re still like planning the release date, I’m not a hundred percent sure what time. We’re looking at it right now, and in the next couple weeks I’ll definitely be able to give a timeframe for sure, and that’ll be released on my social medias and stuff. We are just planning stuff out and getting the feel. I definitely want to have like a trap-y and old-school feel, and really combine the two, almost two rap types.
Yeah definitely, that would be unique. What do you think about your style, or even your taste in music, makes you different than other hip hop artists?
I think what makes it unique, my style, is that I like to combine old school and trap, like I can do both, alternative rap, all these different types of rap, and I think that is a huge thing. I want to make stuff that, not only can you party to it, but when you’re alone and you listen to it, you can really sit down and be like, ‘Wow, he’s talking about this and it’s real stuff.’ I think is important to have that mixture and I plan to definitely in this album, I plan to have you know some songs that start off old school and then they go off into this trap vibe, and just really give it an awesome combination of two awesome types of rap. Just combine back in the 90s, to the early 2000’s, to now, 2016, 2015, and stuff.
That sounds like a good combination. So where do you find inspiration for lyrics that people can really get a message out of? From your life and your own personal observations and struggles, or what’s going on around you?
For the most part, right now, I take what’s going on around me, just things in my daily life. I like to reach into some of my old stuff [from] when I first started. My friend’s not really doing it any more, I know he kind of got into some trouble, but I like to reach back into that old stuff in my past. Stuff that I wanted to say back when I first started but I couldn’t or whatever, like to put it in now. For other songs I kind of see what’s going on around me, stuff like that.
What do you see around you, or other artists, or other people, things, in general; what really inspires you?
A lot of artists, like Logic. Old school Logic, and his new stuff, he really inspires me. Futuristic, Eminem, he’s come out recently with his new song, which was like crazy, crazy, crazy awesome. That kind of stuff inspires me, and then everything that’s just kind of going on in the world too. It’s just crazy, if you look at the news and stuff. I like to kind of tap into that, but put my own style into that. You know, like I said, talk about this real stuff but kind of put it onto a beat that people can party too, so it’s kind of like a subliminal message. You know, they’re partying to it, whatever, but they’re also understanding this is going on.
You get the best of both worlds in that. So what you see for the future?
For my future, I’d really like to reach out to maybe some labels and stuff like that, in the future. I mean, my main goal in all of this music, really, the reason why I even started in the first place, was just to inspire people to follow their dreams and their passions, and that they can do it and stuff like that. So definitely trying even more to get my music out there to connect to people that feel like they can’t do it and tell them that they can. I feel like that’s definitely a long-term goal that I would really love to share with other people. And of course, like, reach out to other labels and all that kind of stuff and then just build up my brand and everything.
Have you ever done any shows?
I have done a few. I’ve, so far, I’ve only done like college shows. I actually might have one coming up, I have to talk to my manager a little bit about it more. One in Maryland, and I might have something that’s coming up soon, but yeah. I have done a couple shows at Stroudsburg University and then a few stuff up there. I plan to do some stuff at Shippensburg University and just some more stuff hopefully up the East Coast and future, later on, down the West Coast.
What do you find different in recording your own song or performing for your friends, what do you find different about that from performing on stage in front of students and a bunch of people? Do you ever get nervous?
I definitely do get nervous. I think what’s really different, especially because I always do it in front of my friends and I can just do you so easily I guess, because they already know what I have to offer. When you go perform in front of, especially college kids, they’re like ‘all right what is this kid doing’ and then you get up there and they’re like ‘wow, it’s crazy, this kid’s like really spitting bars!’ And it’s definitely like the reaction of the crowd that really gives you like the confidence and stuff. You almost like feed off of it, it’s just awesome. It’s always nerve-racking, right before you go on, but once you get a song or two out it gets a lot easier. Definitely an adrenaline rush.
What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give someone so that they don’t give up on a dream like this?
I would just tell people, you know, if you believe, you got to believe in yourself. It’s your passion, it’s your love. If you have such a love for something never let it go. Just follow it, you know, and everything will come along with it. Don’t worry about the money, don’t worry about all that kind of stuff, as long as you follow your dream and your passion and your want for something that’s so strong, everything will come along with it, that’s just how it works. It’s important. I was actually just talking to a kid that messaged me today for advice on his music, and I said just believe in yourself.
“That’s the most important thing, and when people don’t believe in you, you gotta believe in yourself and your craft and do it for yourself ,and everything will come along with it.”
Music with a message. I just like to incorporate whatever I’m going through at the time, political issues, into the music. I definitely want to start doing more solo stuff, a lot of the stuff on SoundCloud is stuff I’ve done with Lyrical. But I have a lot of conscious music, and also some club music. I like to make music for everyone.
I think a lot of the criticism that rap gets today is about its lyrics and content. Do you think that’s true?
Yeah, I definitely agree. I think the image that a lot of the rappers today have is degrading towards women and certain minority groups, as far as sexuality goes, and I really feel like they like to up-play things that will get people f***** up out here [laughs]. It’s the government’s way of keeping things separate. I don’t necessarily agree with that, I make more of a message in my music for sure.
So what do you think you’re doing differently than other rappers, besides making music with a message?
Just being myself. I think I get inspiration from like Kendrick, J.Cole; people that are true to themselves with the music and you know just image-wise as well.
Yeah, what do you think about rap, modern, today, right now; what do you think about it?
I think it’s pretty embarrassing to be honest. I feel like most of it, like, if you’re not acting like a monkey on stage you don’t get really a lot of respect. A lot of who the media play, that are the largest, that you see on TV are just talking about nonsense. See T.I. is the perfect example. You know he started off making like real trap music, less conscious music just from his standpoint. You know, he grew up in a bad neighborhood so his music is set from that standpoint, but now it’s more political, more conscious on civil rights. Now that he’s coming to the conscious side of things, I definitely see him less in the spotlight of the media because he’s opening people’s minds with the music that he’s making now, and that’s not what ‘sells.’
“You know what I’m saying? It’s all about the sex image and how much weed you smoke and how many drugs you sell and how much money you have. But in reality, we should be focusing on what’s happening in the world today, you know, trying to be a positive light instead of just mucking it up even more than it already is.”
What do you think about the evolution of rap, compared to what it was in the 80s, 90s, even early 2000’s?
Honestly I think it’s devolved. I really admire people like Isaiah Rashad, J. Cole, Kendrick, because they are really speaking on what’s happening in their lives and what’s happening in society and they give solutions to those issues in their music. I feel like that’s one thing that Biggie didn’t do a lot of. Tupac definitely did, you know, he was a social activist. He had music that was more violent to suit a certain group of people, but I really think that was more of the label pushing him. I really think it’s devolved since then.
I want to talk about politics for a second, just because in one of your songs you get a little bit political. Since you’re trying to stay positive, how have you responded to the current political situation and how has it influenced your music?
Like in the song Can’t Find Love, we really just tried to open people’s minds to the ignorance that is everyday life in America. Racism is like the biggest issue I feel like in our country right now, just with political candidates, Republican and Democratic parties, that’s all they focus on is racial tension. I feel like the leaders today are trying to start a race war just for the sake of making money. It’s really sad; war is the biggest moneymaker in the world. A lot of people our age are like ‘I’m not trying to go vote because I don’t like Hillary or Trump.’ I feel like we don’t have a candidate that speaks for us. My fiancé is really into Jill Stein. I’ve been reading up on her a lot lately and even though the chances are really slim for her to win, I feel like if people got together and got behind her we could see some real change in the country. I just want to see a change in my lifetime; I want to be a voice for change and for the millennial group and younger.
How did you get started? When did you start rapping? How did you get into rap music, like what was your first experience with hip hop?
I grew up playing like hardcore metal; I played drums. My uncle is actually a really famous producer, he produced like Jay-Z’s first album Reasonable Doubt and I think the next two after that. He’s really the one who got me into hip-hop. I remember going to his house as a young kid and seeing all his Gold Records on the wall, like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, DMX, all those iconic artists and just being able to sit in the studio and watch him work. He really inspired me; he gave me my first set of drums. That’s why I got started. And singing in church, I have always been in the choir or playing drums with the praise team. That was really the start—the church, and a lot of artists can relate to that.
Yeah, I’ve actually heard that more than a few times. Do you find that influences your art?
Definitely, in every way. A lot of my music has that feel. You’ll hear biblical references, metaphors. What I find is that if people hear something familiar, it catches their ear even quicker. Which Chance is doing with his new album. He has a lot of biblical references in his art and I feel like it just makes it easier to catch people’s hearts, and that’s all I’m really here to do.
Another thing I noticed in your songs, like a lot of other rappers will try to maintain this image of them constantly partying and never sitting down and working on anything. But you, in some of your music, take a different approach and you talk about how hard and how much work it takes. That’s probably part of what you were saying earlier about how you just want to be real. When you push this message, are you trying to be honest or are you trying to be different?
I feel like being different is just being yourself. If you try too hard to be different, it seems fake. I just try to stay true to myself as much as possible.
As an artist, have you ever felt an ethical dilemma of having to conform to any kind of genre or needed to change your perspective or your attempt to be conscious in your writing, in order to make it easier to sell or easier to market?
Definitely. Every time I start writing a song, that’s the main thing on my mind. Depending on the mood that I get from the instrumental is really what determines that, or if I saw something on Facebook or the news that would piss me off one day, I just start writing and those are the songs that I really don’t give a f*** about, I just want marketability. I really just care about getting my feelings off my chest. Then I have songs like “Potion” that are written specifically for the radio. Everyone has that one song that you’re just trying to get on the radio that isn’t conscious; J.Cole’s was “Can’t Get Enough.” That one song that gets you in people’s ears, so they want to hear more.
Where do you think the line is? Is it just maintaining a balance so you can create something for your creative outlet and then something that’s going to be popular?
It definitely takes balance, that’s something I struggle with all the time because a lot of the ones that are really radio-friendly, I hate those songs. They’re genuine, but I never talk about stuff that is happening in my life or don’t agree with, but at the same time I want people to hear me. Sometimes I feel like people pay too much attention to the things that you hear [lyrics] in music, like ‘Ok, this dude smoke hella weed, I love to chill with him.’ I do smoke hella weed, that’s true, but at the same time there’s a reason behind it and I have a reason for everything I do. There are certain events that have happened in my life that have brought me to this point. In the music that speaks about that is what I really want you to pay attention to. You’re not getting the radio plays if you’re conscious.
“It’s all about how much drugs you do, how much money you make, how many women you got, and all of that needs to change.”
I just think it’s gotten so far from what it used to be and it could be so much better. There are definitely some artists out here legitimately trying to make a difference. It’s just mind-opening, seeing T.I. put out songs like “Peanut Butter Jelly” or “About the Money” getting millions of views, and then he puts out “Black Man” and all his other songs on his new album and they’re out for a month and have 40,000 views. People want something real but when they get it they can’t handle it [laughing]. They say ‘That’s too much, you’re saying too much,’ and ‘that’s all Black Lives Matter, I really don’t care about that,’ you know what I’m saying? People see what’s going on in the world and then they preach on Facebook how they want change but then when other people come out with music preaching that change they don’t support that music, they just want 21 Savage “I’m Flexin’ On My Ex Bitch.” You know? It’s a dope song, but at the same time it’s a shitty song, it’s just a distraction.
They don’t want to listen to something that would maybe teach them something or broaden their understanding right?
Yeah, it’d be nice if people wanted that, but all people want is entertainment. Sadly, knowledge isn’t always entertaining. It takes an intelligent person to appreciate music like that. That’s honestly why conscious music is not popular, because most of the world only wants a dope beat to shake their ass too and a catchy hook, and that isn’t everything. Music literally influences your everyday life. If hip hop wasn’t a thing, half of these guys selling drugs wouldn’t be doing it. That’s the suggestion that hip hop music plants in your head that causes these minority groups, along with segregation and other issues, but hip-hop music is huge. For that reason, the government actually has a hip hop task force where they go and catch rappers that rap about selling drugs, and a lot of these guys are stupid enough to be rapping about what they’re doing in their everyday life, like Bobby Shmurda. It was a dope song, but it got five of his homeboys locked up, and he’s in prison for 7 years. He’s only in for 7 years because he snitched on everybody else. Music is dangerous; it can be a very dangerous weapon used in the wrong way, and I feel like it can be just as positive used in the right way. You saw a lot of that in the sixties and seventies, with the Beatles and other iconic groups. They preached positivity and all their fans started the hippie movement, and the government was like ‘Hippies? You’re selling drugs to American teenagers,’ when in reality all they’re trying to do is promote peace with herbs that legitimately help people, like weed. By making them illegal you make it so people want to fight over those resources, you make it so people want to kill each other over those resources. It’s literally the War on Drugs that is the issue. Not to say that all drugs are good, I’m speaking out about weed specifically, because I feel like Big Pharma does more damage than weed will ever do. They’ll get you hooked on Heroin by calling it oxycodone. All of these drugs that are meant to help you at the end of the day only hurt you; they help you take away the pain momentarily, but then you want more and more and more until you’re not even hurting but you still want those drugs, and that turns people into crack heads. It’s a trap. The real trap is not drugs; it’s pharmaceutical companies.
Looking at your future, do you think you’re going to stay on this conscious track? Do you want to keep doing this? You talked a little bit about going more solo, but is there anything else that you’re looking to in the future?
I definitely want to promote the conscious image. I definitely still want to have radio bangers, something people know, just like Drake. Drake has mainstream songs and then he has super conscious music at the same time. It may not be about social change and civil change, but it’s conscious in the fact that he really talks about his life. He’s not rapping about stuff he’s not doing. I feel like really what people relate to are people who are like Bryson Tiller, who just talk about what’s going on in their everyday life, because their problems are problems that everyone has. The more you try to relate to people, the more positive it’s going to be, that’s why Chance the Rapper is where he is with no label backing him. In the future, I would like to stay independent, but I don’t have the pull that Chance the Rapper does, so eventually I’m probably going to have to end up signing. But when I do, I’d like it to be to a label like Fool’s Gold, Awful Records, TDE, conscious labels like that. You might make less money doing that, but I’d rather be doing what I love. You know? You might make more money in a 9-5 corporate job, but I’d rather make less money doing this.
Listen to a preview of Ambro$e’s latest single, “Potion”, here.
Interview with Cincinnati-based rapper and producer, Cing Curt
Hi good morning, well morning over here.
Hey, good afternoon over here.
I want to start with a little bit of your backstory. Where do you live? Where are you from?
I’m from Cincinnati. I live in a suburb a little north of Cincinnati. I started making music when I was around 7 or 8. When I first started writing, I ended up getting a karaoke machine for 20 bucks from the flea market with my dad, and he bought me some cassette tapes and I started recording from there. So I’ve been doing this for a while, it’s something I love to do.
What was that first moment when you’d say you became a songwriter or a rapper?
I remember some kid in school, I was like 8 by the way, some kid was walking on his hands at recess or something and all the girls were going crazy over him, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk on my hands. I went home that day, tried walking on my hands, and it was that night I was listening to music and I wrote a rap song. I wrote this girl a rap song, and took her over the paper, and it worked. So since then, I’ve just been going with it [laughing].
[Laughing] That’s a great story. When you’re rich and famous that is gonna be the thing you’re gonna have to tell a million times.
Yeah, I still know the girl I wrote the rap song for. It’s pretty funny.
So tell me about being a producer.
Yeah, I produce a lot of my own beats and I also engineer all my stuff. It’s really good to be behind the sound of all your music because you get the final say in everything, but it’s also kind of difficult, you know, it’s a lot of work.
Yeah, you’re your own boss so that kind of comes with the freedom but also the challenges. So have you produced other rappers?
Yeah, I produced for a guy named Jay Al, he’s from around here, and he had a music video premier on Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital YouTube channel. It’s got like a million subscribers. And a guy named Picasso from around here, he’s been on the radio stations around here and he’s done a lot of opening for artists like MGK and Juicy J.
Wow that’s awesome. In the beginning were your making mash-ups or have you always made your own beats as you’ve written your own lyrics?
I actually recently got into making my own beats, last March is when I got the equipment to make it myself because buying beats got too expensive. And that full ownership of a beat from an unknown producer can cost up to five grand, so it’s safer to go the route of making your own beats.
How do beats just come into your head? What is your process of thinking that and then creating that?
It depends on what mood I’m in. If I’m in a happy mood I’ll make a little drum beat that’s kind of upbeat and happier.
“Usually when I just make what I’m feeling, then I make the best kind of music.”
Right it’s genuine in that case. Who else have you worked with or worked for?
Recently in the last few months I’ve been linking up with other producers and engineers. There’s a guy in Cincinnati, his name’s Kyle Otto, he runs a studio called Otto Labs. He and some of the guys have been on MTV’s blog site; they go out of town, to Vegas and California, they go to labels and they shop their singles out. So I’ve been recently working with him trying to make something shake. About a month ago a minor league baseball player [John Williamson] from the Cubs hit me up, and he wants to remix my song “Mission.” He’s verified on Spotify; got like 13,000 monthly listeners, so it’s really cool.
Cool, good for you. Let’s talk about your new album Perspective. What was your inspiration for that?
This is my first album so I was trying to have as much of a subject matter as I could. Once I came up with the idea ‘perspective,’ I just went with it. Once I got it, I just started putting as much content in it as I could.
How long did that take you?
I was working on the tape for a little over a year.
How long does it usually take you to create and produce a song?
The crazy thing is that it varies. There are songs on the tape that I’ve spent three or four months perfecting. There’s songs on there that I started from scratch that I finished in a weekend.
How or when do you think of lyrics? Do you have to sit down and really think about it, or do they just come to you?
Sometimes it just comes to me. I’ll be out and about doing something or I’ll just be in the studio writing a song, and I’ll have another idea. And then sometimes I’ll have to sit down and write a little storyboard. Sometimes I have to pretty much write down the story before I write lyrics to it.
Who inspires you as an artist?
I would have to say Nas. I grew up listening to him, so it’s real nostalgic. He’s a great storyteller, so I cling to his music. Present day probably like Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad.
Have you done any shows?
Yeah, I did a show in Cleveland in July and I’ve done a few shows around Cincinnati at smaller venues.
How does it feel when you’re up there?
I love the whole atmosphere of shows, especially when it’s live and everyone’s in tune with it. Just getting on stage and putting something on for the people who are feeling the environment. Especially if you got a decent catalogue, you can play a song that goes with the mood. Once you get into there’s no better feeling.
Where do you want to go with this? Why are you doing it?
I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s like I don’t even think about it anymore I just do it. I definitely want to eventually start opening up some shows, getting bigger shows. I want to be the best. I want to be memorable, I want to have a lasting effect on people and I want to inspire. Music always helps; it helped me growing up, I’d listen to music when I was growing up and I’d relate.