Going with the flow

By Charlton Azuoma and Victor Yoon

Pulling a pair of headphones out of his pocket, Tim Choe ’12 asked a friend if he had heard rapper J. Cole’s new album. As his friend listened to one of the album’s songs, Choe was busy thinking about his own rap that he had been working on.

While many students regularly listen to rap music, Choe is one of several seniors including Josh Ha ’12 and Kameron Lucas ’12, who actually make their own raps. He first started writing his own lyrics in eighth grade, drawing inspiration from both American and Korean rap. His influences include Lupe Fiasco, Pete Rock, Nas and Tablo.

“At first I was just rhyming and stuff for fun,” Choe said. “Then I realized I was damn good, so I said I might as well make money off of it.”

Before he started rapping, however, Choe made instrumentals.

“I always liked music, so you could say I’ve wanted to be a rapper or a musician since I was 7 years old,” Choe said. “I didn’t want to work in some white collar job. I’d rather burn out than slowly fade away.”

While he still occasionally uses his own beats in the songs that he makes, Choe mostly uses instrumentals provided by friends or made by professionals. Using one of these beats as a starting point, he then builds the song by brainstorming a topic to rap about.

“I’m usually inspired by other people’s music and topics, and then I relate it to my life,” Choe said. “I just write down whatever comes to my mind. I don’t worry about rhyme too much, since it’s more about flow and story telling for me.”

Creating his own songs has given Choe a new perspective on professional rappers.

“I think most people have a really big misconception that rap is easy or something,” he said. “Honestly, I think it’s harder than singing, or at least, more work is put into it.”

Choe plans on pursuing a career in rap and hopes to release a mixtape of his music called “Nokturne” by June.

“I just want to get my mixtape to whomever I can,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to sell it, but I might if I feel like my music is worth people’s money.”

 

Josh “Ukno” Ha ’12

 

Even though he didn’t start rapping until 10th grade, Josh Ha ’12 felt rap’s influence when he was young.

“As a kid, I was exposed to a lot of hip-hop, ranging from classic groups like De La Soul and Gang Starr to more recent underground rappers,” Ha said.

He and Aaron Strauss ’12 started rapping as a duo, but the two quickly realized that it would be more efficient if Strauss produced the songs while Ha rapped on them.

Going by the name iLLtalics, the rapper and producer combo hope to release its first project by the end of the year.

“Most of the production is Strauss’,” Ha said. “Because it’s our debut project, I wanted to use as much of his material as possible. But even still, we’re using a couple of professional instrumentals and a beat from Jason Park ’14. We’re really busy with school and college applications, but we hope to finish in December if possible.”

Regardless of how far he takes his rapping, Ha hopes to continue working with Strauss, even if they end up attending different colleges.

“Rapping is a thing that can work long distance,” Ha said. “He can send over beats, and we can still make songs.”

Last year, Ha participated in a freestyle rap battle with Zena Edosomwan ’12 and Camden McRae ’12, but outside of that free-style battle, there is not much of a community among rappers at school, Ha said.

“I’ve heard some of the other rappers’ releases and what they’ve been working on, but I don’t think the rappers at school have really formed a community,” Ha said.

He said the rappers at school could really benefit from collaborating or even just talking more about music since they all have different styles and talents. Ha’s particular style is rooted in his own life experiences.

“Frankly, I try not to put on a persona when I rap,” Ha said. “I mean I don’t talk about events that actually happened to me, but 90 percent of my raps come from real life experience. I think it makes the topics a lot more relatable to people my age.”

 

Kameron “KevinSpacely” Lucas ’12

 

The group Starter Team Scholar Gang, headed by Kameron “KevinSpacely” Lucas ’12 and Alex “Rolaans” Rowland ’12, was first envisioned by the duo in seventh grade as their love for hip-hop and rap music began to grow.

“It just kind of developed as we both had a passion for hip-hop,” Lucas said. “We both wanted to do it and we were good friends from a young age, so why not do it together?”

The group prides itself on making true hip-hop music with a message of keeping one’s individuality and getting back to the roots of hip-hop.

“We just want to have fun,” Lucas said. “We want people to listen to it and be like, ‘Oh that was really clever. This is a dope beat.’”

Like producing any type of art, the group has to go through an intricate process before signing off on a track. Rowland creates the beat with Lucas adding his input. After that, the duo heads to a studio to add lyrics to it. Once the drafts have been completed, they mix and master the track.

Through the website SoundCloud, the rap group is able to produce their music for the public’s enjoyment. As is true for any artist, there will be people that do and don’t like what they put out, but for the most part, Lucas said people have been receiving the music well.

“We’ve had people that we don’t even know hitting us up on Facebook and trying to do tracks, trying to get one of [Rolaans’] beats, and trying to do features,” Lucas said.

As for inspirations, STSG is inspired by some of the biggest names in rap today, especially J. Cole. Yet while they admire his balance of beats, lyrics and a real message, Lucas and Rowland are still trying to remain individuals and keep to their own STSG brand of music.

“We don’t want to be at the bottom with all the new-coming people,” Lucas said. “We want to go straight to the top as fast as we can.”

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