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Artist Spotlight Campus Events Interview

Interview with Charlie Burg

Charlie Burg is a singer, songwriter, and producer who released his first mixtape in 2015 when he was in college. After transferring from Denison University to Michigan State, he finally landed on Syracuse University to study music industry. From there, he released a series of extended plays throughout his time in University. Originally from Michigan, he now resides in Brooklyn NY where he dropped his debut album Infinity Tall (2022). Cinematic and youthful, Charlie Burg seamlessly transports listeners from one point to another with his pastel-shaded, storytelling lyrics. The curiosity and exploration that exists in his music is shown on his album art – which he creates himself. His personable whim showed in his performance at Colorado College, students still fan over his amazing show and charming personality a week later.

M: So Charlie Burg from Detroit Michigan, tell me a little bit about yourself, what is there to know about what has led you to where you are today? Tell me about your childhood and hometown and its influence on your music today.

C: Well, I grew up in a suburb about 20 minutes outside of the city. Detroit has a really rich music history that a lot of people don’t think about. Electronic dance music started in Detroit, techno and hip hop too. J Dilla is a producer that really influenced my production style. I grew up listening to Motown soul records that my dad would play: temptations, algorithm and Marvin Gaye, the classics. I think it just kind of seeps into my blood. 

M: What is the first piece of art you remember falling in love with and do you believe it takes shape in your music today?

C: I think one of the first records that really impacted me was “Parachutes” by Coldplay. Their first record was really great and solid all the way through. It taught me vulnerability in songwriting. I can’t remember the name of this painting, but another piece is a Spanish painting by Juan Mero. It has this really profound shade of blue that when I saw that blue, I thought to myself,  this is the feeling that I’d like to evoke with my music. And then I made Blue Mosaic which was my first record and I have a tattoo of it. 

M: Is blue your favorite color?

C: No my favorite color is actually either orange or forest green.

M: No way, mine is that shade of green and orange too…but what type of orange?

C: I like a burnt orange, something warm and passionate and loud.

M: We’re the same!

M: When did you make your first song and can you talk about its creative process? 

C: So art history is a favorite subject of mine. I love art history. And I have a song called Art History Part One which I wrote after I took an art history class. And Art History Part Two exists too. *Proceeds to ask to look at an art history book that someone close by is reading*

M: A lot of your online presence highlights Ralph Waldo Emerson as a major influence to you, can you speak on this and how his wisdom has impacted both your art and personal life? 

C: Yeah so it’s funny. In the early days of a music career you will reference one thing and then news outlets will fixate on that thing until you give them another thing to fixate on…I was gifted a Ralph Waldo Emerson collection of essays by my father when I was working on some EPs. There was this line that I read that said “a blood of the violet,” I think that was one of the names of the of the poems. And so I named an EP, One, Violet. And it was just kind of this conceptual drive that felt right to me. But yeah, I haven’t read Ralph Waldo Emerson in like five years so I don’t have much to say about him anymore but at that time, he resonated with me.

M: One, Violet, yes that brings me to my next question. You have a three series album that was released over a three year time span: One, Violet; Two, Moonlight; Three, Fever. Can you talk about these albums and why you decided to part them the way you did? 

C: I’m obsessed with trilogies for some reason. It just feels like a very perfect way to tell a story. 1. 2. 3. But when I put out One, Violet, and I’ve never mentioned this in an interview before so you are getting some exclusive content, I did not have a name or a concept for it. About a week before it dropped, I said, Okay, I need a name. I need a name. I have more songs that I want to put out, but they’re not ready so I’m just gonna give myself some sort of framework to release more projects; and so I named it One, Violet. A year later, I had enough songs for two. So I didn’t actually know how many I was doing or what the other ones were called. I basically set myself up for long form concepts. I used those three projects as an opportunity to explore my production. I moved away from the guitar, rock and roll, live in Peter’s attic and I dove into my computer. Those are my computer projects. 

M: On Spotify you have a playlist that is called “everyone is talented” where you feature music that people send to you — tell me a little bit more about the nature and philosophy of this playlist. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2W0NgEJvPhszTI1oaFDOVq?si=7a84183c82544c0d 

C: Yeah, um, gosh. In a span of a few weeks, I got a few songs sent to me by different musicians on Instagram. I realized that a lot of my followers make music themselves so I made a public playlist, where I had people send me their songs over Instagram. I put them in there and just wanted to give people a platform that usually didn’t have a platform. I really enjoy the playlist and listen to all the songs. 

M: Your tour is coming to an end at the end of the month, what are your plans for when you get off the road? 

C: I am going to hole up in my Brooklyn apartment and not leave New York for months. I was actually thinking of doing a week of silence because I am around people everyday all the time. I heard one of my friends is doing this and I don’t know, I think that’d be really cool. I would just be with my plants that I’m excited to see. My favorite is my monstera that my friend gave me about three years ago.

Rapid Fire Round: 

M: Who are some of your inspirations both musically and non musically? 

C: Prince, that’s it….non musically Joan Didion. 

M: What is a philosophy or quote you live by? 

C: Don’t be afraid to say yes to things.

M: What is a new hobby, interest, or skill you have picked up recently?

C: I’d say like… fricken painting. I use acrylics and watercolor. 

M: What is your astrological sign?

C: I am a Virgo, I don’t really believe in it but it is a fun thing to talk about. 

M: If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

C: Paris, France. 

M: What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

C: Mint cookies and cream.

M: What type of sandwich would you be and why?

C: I would be a turkey panini with monster cheese. 

M: What is your guilty pleasure?

C: Dark chocolate.

M: If you had to name this chapter of your life what would it be?

C: Margo because that is my old dog. 

M: What is something you have been doing that brings you joy?

C: Reading by Joan Didion plays it as it lays. It’s dramatic. I like drama, I like the dichotomies. I like to write in a journal too but I don’t think that brings me joy, it can be painful. I only focus on the bad things and get depressed. I want to do pottery. 

Charlie Burg’s Infinitely Tall, Available on Spotify and Apple Music
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Artist Spotlight Interview

An Interview With Seiji Oda

Seiji Oda is a rapper, singer/songwriter, and producer from Oakland, California. He began producing and creating music in high school. His big break hit when Seiji and his brother Nathaniel, or Lil Ricefield, released their viral hit “Trapanese,” a song that poked fun at asian stereotypes and referenced countless anime and other Japanese pop culture over a Seiji-produced beat. The song was remixed by local Bay Area rappers Daboii and Cash Kidd. But Seiji isn’t only an incredible producer, he can rap, sing, and songwrite just as well. In the past few years, he has worked heavily on his solo work, releasing one of my favorite albums of this year, lofi//HYPHY, an album that combines the two genres, the former being known for it’s chiller production and the latter known for its danceability. I got the opportunity to talk to Seiji about his upcoming album ORA//太陽, which is coming out on November 7th.

What’s your process for making a cohesive body of work, whether that’s a two-piece or an entire album?

I usually approach it by having a theme for whatever the project is. A lot of the time it might be a single song that inspires the full body of work. I think “Ok here’s this song that has this specific feeling that I’ve never done before and I want to keep building on and around that.” It’s really about that feeling. For this next project, I really want to make sure that every song, or at some point around the song I get that feeling from it. When you hear a song and think “that shit has that shit in there”, I can’t really describe it. The reason I listen to music is to get a specific emotion or get in a certain mood, so I try to create bodies of work that represent how I feel and I can go back to that project when I want to feel that way. 

It’s just fun too. Music doesn’t have to be serious in order to be impactful. It can be some dumb shit. It doesn’t have to be the most polished thing in the world and it gets the job done.

I saw that you made a Japanese City Pop playlist and your new song City Pop 001 incorporated that genre. Are we going to hear more of that on the album?

Not this album. I just did that as a loosy because that was what I was feeling at the time. That’s what I’m really into right now, but I definitely see myself doing a project based all around that. A fully City Pop-inspired project is gonna happen sometime. This next album is a whole different thing.

What vibe will the album have?

It’s called ORA//太陽, which means the sun in Japanese. The alternative title is A Love Letter to the Sun and I wrote it that way because to me the songs are ordered in a way that represents the phases of the sun throughout the day. The first song feels like the sun rising, it has a peak, and the project ends at the end of the day. I really wanted to capture this feeling I get sometimes when I meditate. It’s very warm, orange, I don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s that warm feeling that I get that I want to capture in the music. That color is why I ended up calling it ORA, the first three letters of orange. But it’s also that glow, expanding light that I was feeling. I think it has a cohesive, overarching sound but each song is totally different in terms of the tempo and the type of music it is. It’s definitely more Balledy than most of my music is. I think that a lot of my music is more rap, just me talking shit, freeform. This is more me writing songs to somebody or for somebody rather than a stream of consciousness. I wanted to come at this project with more intention. That’s not something I necessarily think I have to do, but I wanted to do it for this project, it’s how I wanted it to feel. Then it can be re-interpreted from there. 

Image courtesy of Seiji Oda

What do you see in your future working on genre-bending music? Will we hear this on your upcoming album?

This project is different. Each song is inspired by a different era of music. I’m not trying to combine to different things, but there is a theme throughout this project of looking at two different sides. I wanted to recreate the concept of lenticular images with this project where you’re listening from a different perspective. Most music has equal things on each side. I wanted to break that. People have done this in the past. The Beatles were very free about their panning. They would have the drums panned to the left, which is weird as hell, most people have their drums in the middle. I wanted to make lenticular songs, where there’s a song on one side and a whole other song on the other side. Depending on which ear you’re focusing on, you might hear something very different. That’s a theme of this project, especially in the first song. Throughout the project, it switches back and forth between the bright side of the sun and then the more cozy, comfortable side of the song. You’ll see it in the project. Half of the songs are uppercase and half are lowercase to represent these two sides. It switches back and forth between this.

I see that every Sunday you post a new item of music. Since you’re fully independent, is that a way to keep fans engaged, or is it more to keep yourself engaged in making music?

I would say it’s both. It’s definitely for the fans though. As an independent artist, I’m always trying to get new people to listen to my music. What matters to me the most is having the people that always listen to my music or more casual fans feel like they’re part of something. This is why I do early releases of music on my discord or artist page. I do this to create an engaged community. I want to create a space that people can return to every Sunday and build a personal relationship with the people that listen to my music. I can’t just disappear for four months drop an album and not talk to anybody, I’m not Frank Ocean, not yet. It also helps me stay creative, I work best within structure. Having limitations makes me more creative, like here’s something I have to do and how can I go outside this box.

Who’s better at lacrosse, you or Ricefield?

You can ask him *Seiji points the camera at Lil Ricefield*. Probably him not gonna lie.

Seiji and his brother Lil Ricefield//Image courtesy of Genius

Do you have a path that you’ve thought out or are you just taking things as they come?

Right now I’m just taking things as they come. In terms of music, I have my releases planned out. I have what projects I want to put out and in what order. In terms of life though, we’re figuring it out.

I really liked your Hyperpop remix of aero3, do you plan on making any more Hyperpop songs in the future?

I do love Hyperpop. I love trying to produce songs like that because it’s so intricate. I have been working on this project with one of my friends KP. He is really interested in it. His project is going to be really Hyperpop-heavy, and it’s mostly produced by me. 

Who are your biggest inspirations and influences, both musically and personally?

Lately, I’ve been inspired by Nujabes and his production, especially Lofi. Anyone that’s into that, whether they know it or not, pulls from his shit or from Dilla. I’m not a big Dilla fan, but of course, I listen to a lot of his stuff. Erykah Badu is another one of my favorite artists and inspirations, both musically and personally. Also Souls of Mischief. They were a jazzy hip-hop group from the 90s in the bay. I like that the way that they don’t take themselves too seriously but they also take themselves seriously. They take their craft seriously but they had fun with it. I think being light about stuff helps develop your craft. One of my favorite movies is Everything Everywhere All at Once. That’s definitely inspired me, maybe not in terms of music but more as a creator. They’re hella funny with their shit, but they can get their message across because their not trying to hit you over the head with it. It’s like “how can we make this cool ass thing and throw as many ideas at the wall as possible and not take ourselves too seriously to get our message across.”

-Seiji was disappointed that I hadn’t seen the movie-

Image courtesy of Seiji Oda

Are there any other movies that inspire you?

I wouldn’t say a movie necessarily but one of my aesthetic and sonic inspirations is Samurai Champloo. I love the storytelling. Princess Mononoke also inspires me. I have a two-piece Princess Mononoke-inspired project that I’ll drop on a Seiji Sunday

Who are you listening to right now?

I really like the new Smino album. I’ve been listening to a lot of City Pop. A lot of Cindy. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Pluggnb remixes on SoundCloud. They got a crazy Ariana Grande Pluggnb remix. 

How’d you get into producing?

I used to record myself on my old ass computer. That was me making songs over other people’s beats. I got to a point where I wanted to make my own shit and what I wanted to make wasn’t out there. This was before the youtube type beat era, we didn’t have those in 2012. Producing was the only option. I was also heavily inspired by HBK. I was like “these dudes are producing all of their own shit?”. That inspired me to be able to do it all myself, I didn’t have to have a whole team, I could just do it in my bedroom, so that’s where it started. When I was first making beats, I was on Mixcraft 5, and that was something. It was ass. 

Who is the next collab for you in the bay? Who’s your dream collab?

I’m working with the homie ClayDough, he’s a producer, me and him are gonna drop a project. I got some music with Franco Dollas dropping, it’s going to be on the album’s cassette tape. I also got some music with Nate Curry, he’s from Sacramento, but me and him are gonna put out some stuff. For dream collab, E-40. I just want to see his process. Just to be in the same room with him and soak up the game. 

Why are you dropping on Monday?

The reason I do that is because it technically drops on Sunday night so that way I can drop everything I need to on YouTube first so the people can see it before the album comes out on Sunday. I don’t like dropping on Thursday or Friday, even though it’s the industry standard and that’s when people look for new music because the context for me is more important than the numbers. If more people listen to it on a Friday, they’re going to be out with friends and doing stuff and listening to it. I’m not mad at my music being played in that setting but I’d rather have it be played on a Sunday when you’re having a relaxed day. I want people to listen to my music in the context where they are putting their full attention to it rather than playing it in the background.

Seiji’s doing a bonus track version of the album, which is going to be a virtual cassette tape. He’s going to sell it directly to the fans through emails. It’s going to have a lot of extra stuff, songs, videos, cover art, the tracklist, and more. This is a great opportunity to have ownership of music in a day and age where we’re streaming all of our favorite music.

ORA//太陽 is coming out on November 7th on all streaming platforms.

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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight – Three Artists That Should be on Your Radar

By Oliviero Zanalda

Hip-hop has become an extremely fast-paced genre, with people constantly blowing up at a moment’s notice and fading into irrelevance just as quickly. This is a list of four rappers (one honorable mention) who are currently gaining popularity and could eventually break into the mainstream. Should they achieve mainstream success, I’m confident they will be able to maintain it. That’s why I wrote this article. All of these artists bring something new to the table and I think that they should be recognized for this. In this article, I delve into the artists’ background, their rise to fame, and what they’re doing that makes them stand out from other rappers who similarly haven’t achieved mainstream success just yet. Again, the artist’s future is not determined, so take this article with a grain of salt, but if any of them become household names, don’t forget where you heard them first.

Although these artists haven’t necessarily influenced the genre, I believe that they have the possibility to do so if they are able to continue growing their fanbase and artistic capabilities. This is why I’ve included this article in the Artist Spotlight series.

BabyTron

Image courtesy of BabyTronSB (YouTube)

BabyTron is one of the most entertaining rappers gaining traction right now. Hailing from Detroit, BabyTron is a perfect representation of the unique sub-genre of Michigan rap. BabyTron started rapping in high school, forming the group ShittyBoyz with fellow Detroit natives StanWill and TrDee. ShittyBoyz started gaining some attention with the short-lived popularity of “Scam-rap”, a genre of rap that focused on internet scamming and credit card fraud. BabyTron stood out in the group though, with his casual delivery mixed with comedic lyrics that contain clever wordplay. Additionally, once Scam-rap started to lose its popularity, he was able to adapt and quickly change the focus of his lyrics from scamming to other illicit topics while maintaining the same entertaining flow. He was also signed to a local Detroit label, The Hip-hop Lab, which has helped him develop this unique style even further and improved the quality of his music. The production of his songs is also something that will stand out to a first-time listener. Most of his beats are lively and extremely fun to listen to as they utilize samples from songs from the ’80s and ’90s blended with unconventional 808 placement. This is also what makes BabyTron so special and what might make his music appeal to people who tend to stray away from modern rap music. His nostalgic production and epigrammatic delivery and bars could interest people who aren’t fans of the autotune heavy, futuristic-sounding music of Yeat and Ken Car$on. Fortunately, BabyTron doesn’t solely rely on nostalgia, which means he can innovate if he has to. BabyTron is set to be one of the leaders of the Michigan rap scene, but his success is also reliant on the growing popularity of the sub-genre. Only time will tell as the sub-genre still needs to grow and reach more listeners outside the midwest, but I believe that BabyTron is going to be one of the bigger artists of this sub-genre if Michigan, and specifically Detroit, becomes a more well-recognized capital of hip-hop innovation.

In Prince of the Mitten, BabyTron raps over 19 different beats from fellow Michigan rappers’ songs

Ken Car$on

Image courtesy of The Artistree

Ken Car$on is continuing the tradition of heavily autotuned Atlanta trap that was pioneered by Young Thug and Future while taking inspiration from Playboi Carti’s often criticized simple delivery and lyrics. It’s safe to say that Playboi Carti is one of his biggest inspirations, with the Atlanta rapper signing Ken to his Opium label and introducing him as the opening act throughout his 2021 King Vamp tour. However, Ken Car$on is not another Carti clone. Ken Car$on reminds me of youth. He coined the name “Teen X” for his brand, short for “Teen Ecstasy”, or “Teen High”, which is meant to represent the ecstasy and excitement of one’s youth. While youthfulness is a recurrent theme in pop culture, concurrent with the obsession and romanticization of teenage years in movies and TV shows, Ken Car$on reinvents this often played out concept. His music is genuinely fun to listen to; his lyrics that regard partying and youthful ignorance are complemented by his child-like voice and appearance. His production is just as spry as his delivery and lyrics. Utilizing 8bits and other similar plug-ins, Ken’s production is reminiscent of early-90’s video games music. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the youthful concepts surrounding his music, video games are often associated with young people, so this actually adds to his youthful essence. What makes his youthful appearance genuine is that it isn’t a facade. He started making and releasing music online at around 17. This contrasts with the “Netflix Teenagers” who are almost always played by adults well in their thirties reciting scripts written by people who think they know what 18-year-olds are like, but will just end up making Vine references 6 years too late. Ken’s appearance isn’t just a stage act either. People who have met him have stated that he is a genuinely funny person who does what he pleases, no matter how silly it makes him look. Ken Car$on is gaining popularity at a decent rate. Hopefully, a future collaboration with Playboi Carti can help gain him some recognition for his reinvention of youth representation.

Yeat

Image courtesy of Pitchfork

If you don’t know who Yeat is yet, you will soon. With a simple name and simple lyrics, his music is so simple that you won’t be able to forget his innovative simplicity. The Portland (Oregon) rapper is set to be the next big thing, with cosigns from Drake and Kanye West, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more of his static, slurred flow on mainstream rap songs in the near future. As a matter of fact, you may have already heard his music without knowing it. His song “Sorry Bout That” blew up on Tik Tok last year, and is still one of the most popular Tik Tok sounds today. What makes Yeat stand out is his voice. The best way I can describe it is as if someone was attempting to melodically growl in the best way possible. His lyrics are nothing to write home about, but lyrics are not the focus of his music- as angry as it might make certain people. His futuristic-sounding production relies heavily on loud bass, very little sampling, distorted synths, and, most importantly, bells. He admitted to not knowing a thing about producing music and that the only production he ever does is when he adds the bells into the song himself after he receives his beats. With a record deal with Interscope in the books and his recent 2 million monthly Spotify listeners milestone, Yeat is hip-hop’s next big star who will help usher in an even simpler subgenre of trap music. He is the lyrical rap fan’s worst nightmare, for better or for worse. His music is modern. Modern art forms, such as visual arts and architecture, are often very simple in appearance, even if they took a lot of time and effort to create. This form of modern has now been adopted by hip-hop, with simplicity becoming a key element in how the music is presented by innovative artists like Yeat. Hip-hop is a living, breathing genre, and it’s constantly innovating and reinventing itself. The only way it can do this is by allowing rappers like Yeat to push the boundaries of the genre.

Honorable Mention: Sematary

Image courtesy of r/HauntedMound (Reddit)

Sematary is who Chief Keef could’ve been if he had grown up listening to black metal and had access to the experimentalism of Bladee’s music. The Northern Californian’s music relies heavily on extremely distorted guitars fused with twisted vocals that sound like they were growled into an Xbox 360 mic and heavily autotuned afterward. His lyrics mix black metal and Chicago drill, two of the most lyrically aggressive genres, putting him on track to becoming a very controversial rapper should he make his way into the mainstream. Low-quality is also Sematary’s image, whether it’s his purposefully poorly designed album covers or his Instagram page many of his posts look like they were taken in 2015 on an iPhone 5. His music isn’t for the faint of heart as it focuses on satanic imagery and one can find heavy distortion over almost every part of a Sematary song. Whether his satan worshipping is an attention-grabbing tactic or not is yet to be seen. Additionally, his music also attempts to reverse the reputation that black metal has gained as a genre that attracts neo-fascists. His lyrics are extremely anti-fascist, with many of his obscenely aggressive threats directed towards those groups; and when I say aggressive, I really mean it. While these topics can be shocking to some people, they could help him gain attention. The reason I give him an honorable mention is that I’m not sure if this type of music can gain enough popularity to thrust him into the mainstream. While it’s very unique, it will also turn a lot of people away as some of his songs are genuinely hard to listen to if you’re not used to the type of lyrical content or production. He could gain more popularity in the underground scene, however, which might be what he’s going for. While some may view Sematary as a bit cringe-worthy, which he no doubt is at times, I think that it’s part of the absurdity of his character. A kid who’s obsessed with 2013 Chicago drill, black metal, satanism, anti-fascism, and looks like he’s in need of a shower could be an underground sensation, or he could be the driver of a wave of nostalgia and experimentalism that will soon fade away. 

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Artist Spotlight Local Shows: Previews & Reviews Reviews Shows

CONCERT REVIEW: The Front Bottoms at Mission Ballroom 10/11/21

By Henry Hodde

The Front Bottoms’ performance at Mission Ballroom last Monday was a reminder that punk rock and roll is not dead. The genre is alive and well alright. It may not look the same as the days in which The Clash and The Ramones reigned supreme, nor does it sound like Metallica, or even Green Day. Nevertheless, fans of noise first and foremost ought not despair. 

The Front Bottoms at Mission Ballroom

The Front Bottoms are not a new band. Guitarist Brain Sella and childhood buddy Mathew Uychich began to write music together in 2007, adding Uychich’s brother Brian to complete the original lineup. Sella and Mathew Uychich still form the heart of the New Jersey band, but on Thursday, the founding duo were complemented by Erik Kase Romero and Natalie Newbold. The next hour and a half quickly morphed into 90 minutes of exhilaration, energy, experimentation, happiness, and noise. The concert was easily the best I’d attended live in recent memory.  While this distinction doesn’t really carry significant weight considering that I grew up in rural Middlebury, VT and spent my first year of college living through a pandemic, I have a feeling that it will take a while for another show to match this celebration of sound. 

“You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” set the tone for the concert, with a strong drumset backing a series of playful guitar riffs and a set of conversational based lyrics that embody any good Front Bottoms song. “West Virginia” brought hard hitting head bangs, “Jerk” crowd surfing and a sense of vulnerability through Sella’s words. Then we were into the classics. “Twin Size Mattress.” “Montgomery Forever.” “Peach.” The songs that stole my heart- each one building the excitement, the energy, and the joy on the faces of those that populated the crowd. 

Sella belts out “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)”

It’s the randomness, the human in the lyrics. I remember sitting in my room at boarding school, trying to write an English essay when Sella’s voice first reached my ears from my roommate’s Iphone 8 speaker. I was struck by the abstract, the volatility, the repetition. Lyrics like “this is for the lions living in the wiry frames of my friends bodies,” “I avoid using traditional techniques,” and “it’s snowing right now I wish it was summer” all define The Front Bottoms. They might seem pointless, unimportant, childish even. But it’s exactly this approach that makes the band relatable. It’s what makes the band identifiable. It makes them relevant. As a 21 year old kid, I don’t necessarily need wisdom in my music, nor do I desire it. No. I want friends. I want to feel someone else speaking about a sense of chaos and uncertainty. Who else gets the occasional feeling that they just need to voice their aimless and spontaneous thoughts?

“Au Revoir (Adios)” closed the show. Fitting right? One of my best childhood friends used to hate when I played that song for him. “There’s no point,” he’d exclaim. “The entire song has like 3 distinct lyrics!”  I always thought he was missing the point. “That’s not what The Front Bottoms are about,” I’d tell him. I wouldn’t say I listen to The Front Bottoms to learn how to live my life for the next 10 years. No. If I wanted that, I’d turn to those podcasts from Yale professors that my mother loves to forward my way. Maybe I just want to laugh, to bounce up and down for an hour and a half, and most importantly, to listen to noise. And I think there’s some value in that too.

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Artist Spotlight Personal Piece Uncategorized

Artist Spotlight : Xavier Wulf

By Oliviero Zanalda

Every so often, an artist or group of artists will emerge and immediately cause an impact, becoming widely acknowledged by the public as influential. While certain artists have been fully credited for their music and influence, as they should be, many artists haven’t received the full recognition they should get. This series is meant to highlight artists that haven’t been fully credited for their experimentation, artistic capabilities, and influence on music. 

Xavier Wulf is by far one of my favorite artists of the past decade. The Memphis born, LA based rapper is one of the pioneers (along with Bones, Chris Travis, and Black Smurf) of the dark, underground Memphis rap scene that created the “trap-metal” subgenre of hip hop. Some of the most notable current mainstream artists include $uicideboy$, City Morgue, 6ix9ine (in sound, not persona), and XXXTentacion. This sub-genre utilizes loud, often vulgar, and in-your-face lyrics, dark trap production, and reckless personas that aren’t focused on money and fame like many mainstream trap artists. In its birth in the early 2010s, trap-metal was highlighted by its rejection of the mainstream and its embrace of skate and BMX culture. While many of these artists have changed and conformed to current trap standards, Xavier Wulf has always been the self-proclaimed king of the underground, which we hear in “Request Refused”, where he states, “I’m an underground king and I ain’t gonna drop the belt”, and that’s why he has such a loyal fan base. 

Biography and Early Career

Xavier Wulf, whose real name is Xavier Beard, was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1992. He started rapping in his late teens around 2011, originally going by the name Ethelwulf as a part of the rap group RaiderKlan, which included rappers such as Spaceghostpurrp and Denzel Curry. He released his debut mixtape The Wolf Gang’s Rodolphe in March of 2012, before leaving RaiderKlan to pursue a solo career. RaiderKlan’s importance can’t be understated as they were one of the first rap groups to exclusively release music through free streaming services, being cited as early pioneers of the 2016 Soundcloud movement. Wulf’s early work was heavily inspired by Memphis legends Three-Six Mafia with absurdly violent lyrics and rudimentary production (listen to “Who the F**k is You” and “Help Yo Self” for early examples of Wulf’s solo work). It wasn’t until the release of Blood Shore Season 1 in 2014 that Wulf started to develop the sound that he’s so well known for. His breakthrough mixtape Blood Shore Season 2, released the same year as the first mixtape in the series included “Psycho Pass”, which blew up on the now non-existent social media app, Vine. This is how I was introduced to his work. 

How I Discovered Him

When I discovered Xavier Wulf, I was a moody 7th grader in late 2015, the era of hoverboards, Fetty Wap, and Vine. I was coming off a three year long Eminem phase and I was searching for rappers who broke the lyricism mold that I had become so accustomed to. When I first heard “Psycho Pass”, I only heard seven seconds of the song, which was only the beat drop, but I was immediately hooked. The song’s repetitive, submarine-radar-like beeping accompanied by the rapid 808s and slow bass, which are all introduced separately, counter Wulf’s pugnacious voice and lyrics. His lyrics in this song are simple and almost as aggressive as his delivery, with the topics consisting of infidelity, smoking weed, ridding himself of his opponents by any means necessary, and burning incense for some reason. One of the best parts of the song is when Wulf says, “I’m standing on a boat finna set the damn sail/I burn incense because my brain likes the smell/She get a whiff and thought that it was a spell/I ain’t say, ‘Come,’ but she at the hotel” which he spits right before the aggressive beat drop where the production finally matches his energy. I continued to listen to the rest of Blood Shore Season 2, which is widely considered as his best project by critics and fans alike. Following the success of the mixtape, he continued to drop similar two Tundra Boy Season projects and Project X, which includes the song “Akina Speed Star”, another breakthrough song for Wulf which includes an intro sampled from the anime Initial D.

 

Anime

Another aspect that sets Wulf apart from many rappers of the genre is his love of anime. In many of his songs, including “Akina Speed Star”, he references anime characters and settings. In “Tis the Season” he states, “Princess Mononoke chiefing chee out with Chiyoko”, Princess Mononoke is a reference to the 1997 anime Princess Mononoke from anime legend Hayao Miyazaki and Chiyoko is from the 1998 anime Akira, which is also referenced in the title “Akira Speed Star”. On “Tokyo Drift”, he remixes the Japanese hip hop group, Teriyaki Boyz iconic song “テリヤキ・ボーイズ TOKYO DRIFT (FAST & FURIOUS)”. These days, the fusion of hip hop and anime is common in the industry as Rappers have adopted the Japanese art style to design album covers, merch, music videos, and public persona. Rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s Instagram bio makes the controversial claim that he’s “Asian on the inside”. In 2018, Kanye West claimed that Akira “is not only the greatest animation achievement in history, the subject matter is so relevant to the current state of the world” on Twitter. Some fans even claimed that his outfit at the first Donda listening event was inspired by the film. What Xavier Wulf does differently from these artists is how he is (relatively) subtle about his passion for Japanese culture. He doesn’t have wrapped cars like Uzi and doesn’t go on rants about anime on Twitter like Kanye, but instead makes references to characters in his music and collaborates with Japanese artists (listen to “Riding Shotgun in Japan”, Xavier Wulf’s collaboration with Japanese rapper KOHH). His merchandise doesn’t contain anime characters and most of his album covers lack any reference to his love for anime. I appreciate this because I think that the way Lil Uzi uses anime is borderline cultural appropriation, a theme that I’ve noticed is emerging in hip hop.

Fashion and Public Persona

Another aspect that makes him stand out from other rappers is his taste in fashion. Wulf and his collaborators often choose dark clothing and baggy hoodies over designer pieces and overwhelming chains. While Wulf’s main focus is hip hop, he also collaborates with many independent clothing designers and owns his own brand, Hollowsquad. His concerts are as loud and aggressive as his music, reminiscent of underground punk-rock concerts with mosh pits, stage diving, and injuries being a common theme at most of them. His ability to create this kind of energy without assistance from technology is astounding, with reporter Boom from The Knockturnal declaring, “his energy is felt like an atomic bomb with the wave of excitement that passed through the crowd the entire show. No major light show, no pyrotechnics, or star-studded surprises”. Wulf is also known for his passion for refurbished cars, with his BMW E46 m3 making several appearances at his car meet ups around southern California. He recently refurbished another BMW m3 and seems to be working on another BMW. Before becoming a passionate gearhead, Wulf was a BMX enthusiast, however, his keenness for the sport has faded away in the past few years.

Collaborators and Next Steps

Wulf isn’t known for collaborating with bigger rappers, with his most mainstream collaborations being a 2016 feature on Lil Peep’s “drive by” and a 2017 feature on “F**k a Swisher” by Smokepurpp. Wulf’s main collaborators include Bones, Eddy Baker, idontknowjeffery, and, until recently, Chris Travis. What all these rappers have in common is that they hail from East Memphis and blew up around the same time, which is probably why Wulf chooses to collaborate with them instead of branching out. He’s released two mixtapes with Bones, a mixtape with idontknowjeffery, and countless features including the same array of East Memphis rappers. What’s next for Wulf is up in the air as the last project he released, Rude Dog, wasn’t received well by fans. This was due to the fact that he swapped his iconic, aggressive delivery for a lazier flow with mundane lyrics over mediocre production. Since then he’s only dropped a few singles and hinted at Blood Shore Season 3 but hasn’t followed up on the project since. Xavier Wulf’s been in the game for about 10 years and has been dropping projects relatively consistently since he began, so I don’t blame him for wanting to take a break if that’s his plan. If the next project is the third installment in the Blood Shore series, I’m excited to see whether or not he ditches this new flow for his classic delivery. Regardless of this, Xavier Wulf’s impact on hip hop won’t be forgotten. As the genre continues to evolve, his influence will adapt with it and always allow for an alternative sub-genre that one can look for when seeking a harder, darker sound than what mainstream trap can provide.

Recommended Albums:

Blood Shore Season 2

Project X

Tundra Boy Season 2

East Memphis Maniac

Brace

Recommended Songs:

Video of Xavier Wulf performing his 2015 song “Fort Woe”:

Interview with Xavier Wulf from 2014:

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