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The Up-Turn Presents: Mapping Hip-Hop

When I received an open-ended final assignment for my writing class this past semester I pretty much knew what I wanted to do right away.  The class was about being a writing tutor and how to teach people how to write so I decided to interview some of my favorite under-appreciated writers and lyricists about their writing process.  Although I’m not going to try and make claims about connections between rappers based on their influences, hometowns or styles I hope that the mapping serves as an illustration of just how amazing the world of hip-hop is right now.  Hit the jump to read my quick interviews with Chef the Chef, Sidewalk Kal, uhlife, B L A C K K R A Y, Hanz, Chris Villa, NicX, and Tay Devenny.

Chef the Chef:

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How do you usually begin writing your songs?

When I write songs I usually try to picture myself as a character like a cartoon character. Not necessarily a character of myself but sometimes i do that too. From there I try to create a legend, a boastful sort of list of why this character is the best. I try to make sure that you know if the legends that I look up to or if the people I see as untouchable were to hear my words they would see what I am trying to do and respect it.

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

I really try to write like the rapper I would want to hear.  I draw so much from hip hop.  I almost feel lonely about it, everyone is trying to be progressive which I understand but I like what I like.

What is your editing process like?

As far as editing, haha this is funny because I don’t really edit.  I don’t go back and try to look at my rhymes and place them.  It just doesn’t feel right to me, I like keeping the natural raw feeling of writing something that isn’t “complete”. I think it adds a kind of factor to my lyrics that a lot of other rappers are missing.  It’s the awkwardness, the sense of feeling uncomfortable that I really try to look for. I look to provoke reactions from people and to bridge our minds because I think ppl would enjoy my thought processes without trying to edit them, it’s just a part of my flow sometimes.  Of course I go back and maybe make slight changes especially on endings of verses. I love to end verses on good notes because it gives us a collective “damn…” moment like even if you didn’t get the whole verse you can understand the end of it.

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

My academic past I think has had some impact on my writing. I think that the fact that throughout grade school I was always a good and effective writer, teachers always told me I wrote with feeling. This was never on purpose I just liked making things “dramatic” because I had seen it so much in books I read or movies I’ve seen that it just felt right to me.  I never liked to read early on, I do enjoy it much more now but I essentially taught myself how to read as a kid by just sight reading books with family members.  So academics I think really unconsciously refined my skills as a writer and lyricist today.

Do you have any favorite lyricists or lyrical influences?

id say peolpe like MF DOOM, nas, j dilla, madlib, pharrell, early kanye works, rage against the machine, bob marley, sublime, little brother, so many, dwele, stevie wonder, herbie hancock, tiger woods, jay z , biggie smalls, rakim.

Sidewalk Kal:

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How do you usually begin writing your songs?

I usually start writing like vibin out to the beat for a while then getting stream of conscious writing starting with the verses usually. If I don’t start with the verse It’s because I immediately hear a hook in my head and I’ll start coming up with melody ideas like I’m a R&B singer or something.

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

Lately I’ve been drawing inspiration from artists that talk about real things in their life while maintaining an incredible technical proficiency toward their craft. My newer stuff has been getting a lot more personal, I’ve been trying to get away from rapping just to rap. But at the end of the day what I write is dictated by the music I’m negotiating with.

What is your editing process like?

I usually don’t edit, for the most part what I write down is what stays.

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

Well I feel like a lot of my writing and artistry in general is about a sense, a knowing, an intelligence that is in spite of the educations I’ve received throughout my life I guess. I’ve always been smart, if I didn’t have some of the opportunities I’ve been blessed to have I still would have been smart, but I could’ve been on some real grimy shit, like robbing the type of kids who are becoming my fans now

Do you have any favorite lyricists or lyrical influences?

Some of my favorite lyricists though are Drizzy Drake, 90s Nas, Big L, Lil’ Wayne during that crazy ass summer in 2007 he had so like Drought 3 era wayne?, Nicki Minaj, definitely Kanye – he’s one of the artist I feel the most kinship with in terms of background dynamics and mentality, Hov of course, Chief Keef [ a disarmingly honest and funny writer which he doesn’t get credit for], Future, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes before he fell off, Kool g Rap, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Khalil Gibran, and believe it or not LiveLoveA$AP era Rocky, and Schoolboy Q. I’m forgetting a lot more but this a good mix of current favorites and some that I grew up with.

uhlife:

How do you usually begin writing your songs?

sometimes i hear an instrumental and it all comes to me at once.  most times, it happens like a collage. the way my life is, i’m always on the go, bustin’ missions on the bus, train, my rickety ass skateboard or by foot. i get random inspirations in random places all the time & end up writing lines or a few bars here & there on whatever’s available (when my rap book isn’t on me)… ripped napkins, torn pieces of paper… my rap book’s filled with random lines, little bunches of bars, hooks, and quotes (that i read or hear people say in passing conversations) all over the pages.  when i hear an instrumental and the vibe is right, those i take the bits and pieces most relevant to the feeling i’m getting from it and piece them together until it feels right.

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

i mentioned this a little bit in response to the last question, but it’s everything around me and all the things i go thru. my music is about life and focused on the experience of it, so that’s the primary inspiration for it. My personal journeys, travels and the things i come across and experience throughout them. For instance, a little dialogue i overheard between a mother and her little girl sitting behind me on the train one time gave me an idea for a hook. it’s little things like that. life is a festival. there’s always something going on, no matter how subtle it is. i try to build something w/ whatever touches me.

What is your editing process like?

i edit as i go along. i do that with everything i write. it’s just how i go about it. when it comes to raps, i’m usually spitting the verse over & over as i go along (to make sure the feel’s right), so by the time i’m done building it, i’m usually satisfied. when it’s done, i spit the full piece a few times back to back w/ the beat, just to make sure i really fuck with it. when i don’t, i just save the parts i do like and scrap the rest.  there’s been plenty of times i’ve had two or three verses written somewhere that i didn’t feel too strongly about separately and have mashed the parts i liked most from all of them together into one hybrid verse that ends up being the best of all those little worlds.  a good few of my favorite verses i’ve ever come up with have come out of that little process right there.

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

the same ways my life in general has influenced my songwriting, really. it’s given me bits and pieces of inspiration along the way.

Do you have any favorite lyricists or lyrical influences?

my favorite lyrical influences are the ones i’ve come across in little snippets of real life, like that conversation between the mother and her little girl.  in general, i’m inspired by too much to fit into one answer, so i try to show love to different influences every time someone asks me this. this go ’round, i’ll show love to one of my biggest influences as far as songwriting goes, which is the delta blues. how intimate the themes and content of so many of those songs are with the personal struggles, experiences, and travels of their musicians was always profound to me. you can hear the cries of their souls in ’em. pure spirit. the sound of turning pain into beauty.  robert pete williams is probably my favorite songwriter out of all of them. his songs are poetry yo. the deep reflection, the dark tone of so much of his subject matter that he would always tinge with hope. that hope that keeps you floatin’ on. very impactful on me & how i write lyrics.

B L A C K K R A Y:

How do you usually begin writing your songs?

I first must be very relaxed and healed up, then I’ll play the beat if i’m not feeling the beat within the first 5-7 secs then I won’t use it.  But far as writing, I always freestyle too my self too get the feeling then take pieces from the freestyle and mix in with the shit I write down, If that makes any sense.

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

Far as inspiration, it comes from made up fairy tales and hood shit that I’ve been around.

What is your editing process like?

My editing process is really hard too explain, but I can say that I hate editing.  I’m too impatient.

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

No influences at all from academics.

Do you have any favorite lyricists or lyrical influences?

I don’t have any favorite lyricists. I stay away from that.

Hanz:

How do you usually begin writing your songs?

since i am a sample based producer, i usually begin my songs with one sound. The sound can be a noise that doesnt necessarily have a rhythm; just something that keeps me interested enough to add more sounds to it. an hour later after the track is complete, i listen to that noise i first started off with, then delete the noise.Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

I draw inspiration from images, and the feelings that go with the images. I like nature and i’m really into new technology, that’s where the sort of postmodernism in the music comes from. The industrial revolution was an interesting and dark period in history, when i think about it now..(hated learning about it in school).. I imagine the setting of my work to be a mixture of the movies “quadrophenia, blade runner, and menace II society”. I see things as a combo of those old movies, stylistically.

What is your editing process like?

My editing process is messy to others,  but it’s kind of like when you have an unorganized  house yet you know exactly where your car keys are at all times. Things are organized so only i can read them. After i write my ideas down, i translate them into music.

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

The influence of  my academic past on my music is moderate. I didn’t do well in music class in high school. My teacher used to call my parents out of concern every other month. Sad faces on progress reports. I did very well in art and physics though. I like the structure of things, Sometimes my work references mythology or film; My Firethief EP (creator of light prometheus, beginning, the thief of fire). i’ve sampled a reading of “on the road” for a few seconds, used a few audiobook samples. It’s what the art world would call “collage art”, even if alot of the melodic notes are played by myself.

Chris Villa:

How do you usually begin writing your songs?

The beat really, it unlocks certain emotions from my brain that im feeling whether i was feeling that way that day or not. Sometimes ideas come to me when im watching a movie/documentary or searching for samples and I immediately have a topic and create a beat to it, but that’s rare, very spontaneous.

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

A lot comes from being slept on, like I know im better than a lot of rappers. So im very angry, it pushes me to go harder and so I always try to get better.

What is your editing process like?

All i can say is, I do everything my damn self. I had to teach myself how to sample and all that, mix it as best as i can, record myself, come up with effects for vocals, and mixing vocals. It can be time consuming when your doing it all yourself, usually takes me an hour or 2 to complete a song. One thing I like to add is when recording your vocals, you have to have a breathing technique, otherwise youll be punching in in the middle of a verse constantly.

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

It didn’t. Rapping improves vocabulary in itself, and in Highschool youre forced to learn things you probably never wanted to, so I would say the internet influenced my writing. If I was curious about something I’ll just look it up.

Do you have any favorite lyricists or lyrical influences?

Yea, rappers like bizzy bone was a huge inspiration and influence, especially in his later solo years, people was calling him crazy, instead of trying to understand him as a person. I wanted to be like him in the way where I can be who I am and not cater to what people like, always being the underdog. I like truth and rapping with attitude over lyrics anyday.

NicX:

How do you usually begin writing your songs?

Well I begin writing by first, figuring out what picture i would like to paint by the end of the song, second, I come up with the flow, then, I fill in the flow with words, and different rhymes schemes.

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

Well I get my inspiration from random places, i listen to a lot of 90’s music, because back then music was timeless so i figure out what was it that made that music timeless and some how add that feel to my music. Plus things that keeps my brain going, I watch the Simpsons a lot because it always has me thinking for some reason.

What is your editing process like?

Well man honestly, i’ve had times where i record and play it back and switch up a few lyrics but I try to make sure everything’s a go before i even record.

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

Well I mean it has in a way and it hasn’t, i’m not a metaphoric or simile type of guy so it hasn’t helped me in that way. It has helped rhyme scheme wise in a way but not much. It has as far storytelling you know, as far as beginning , climax and all that and just starting as story and building with as many words as possible, thats why I kinda rap fast now because I have soo much to say with so little time.

Do you have any favorite lyricists or lyrical influences?

Well I mean it has in a way and it hasn’t, i’m not a metaphoric or simile type of guy so it hasn’t helped me in that way. It has helped rhyme scheme wise in a way but not much. It has as far storytelling you know, as far as beginning , climax and all that and just starting as story and building with as many words as possible, thats why I kinda rap fast now because I have soo much to say with so little time.

Tay Devenny:


Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?

I usually look at images or watch films in terms of my own process and I’ll just gather info from there. My favourite film to watch is a  Terrence malik film days of heaven that really inspires me to create a broad landscape with my lyrics.

What is your editing process like?

My editing process is sloppy as fuck. I just go and do it then clean up after kind of

How, if at all, has your academic past influenced your songwriting?

I had a keen interest for English when I was at school so that helped plus I studied film at college so that ties in with my inspiration plus my other goals I want to achieve. It expanded my vocabulary and that is something Im always expanding on.

Do you have any favorite lyricists or lyrical influences?

Blu. Hands down. The man is a god. The projects herfav(c)olour and jesus are too special to me I religiously listened to those projects back in the day and still do.  Dev Hynes from blood orange is a impressive lyricist and he makes that tasty music. I mean you’ve got a load of people I could name but blu is the main inspiration.

Concluding Thoughts/Sappy and Sentimental Shit:

Rappers are artists.  It’s easy to think of hip-hop as a monochromatic art form, however, the influences that inspire rappers, the visions they work with and the goals they set are as varied as the music they produce.  Hip-hop is alive.  The artists that produce it are tied to their cultures, surroundings and imaginations and act as reflectors and interpreters of it all.  To define hip-hop or try to assign common threads between rappers doesn’t do justice to the vibrancy of their collective creativity.  I just appreciate their talent and willingness to share their experiences and thoughts with the rest of us.

-PK

pkelly94The Up-Turn Presents: Mapping Hip-Hop