Thomas Agnew caught up with Shawn Chrystopher who is on tour with Big Sean for the “I Am Finally Famous” tour, to get some background on him and talk about being an entertainer vs. a rapper, Silent Films for the Blind, and label whores.
You put a lot of effort into your albums and got back rave reviews. What do you credit to your successes?
Just hard work. Just always being a perfectionist. Not thinking everything you do the first time is good. As an artist you’re going to like every song you make because you made it. It takes songs like I did in college writing essays. You got a first draft, second draft, and then you may have a final or even a fourth draft. I’ll write a verse one day knowing I’ll add on or change it the next. People can really feel effort. People can tell. Believe it or not, I don’t know how, but they can. I want people to understand I put a lot of work into it.
For those who haven’t sat down and given a hard listen to your music, how would you describe yourself and style of music?
I would think that to describe my music, I have the lyricism and the stories of a Midwest artist and the instrumentation of the south. Bass heavy, mini hi hat, loud claps and snares in my instrumentation when I make my beat. When it comes to the lyric side I think I’m storytelling, very emotional, not so much punch lines every line, rather it’s me trying to tell a story in a verse. If you blend those both together you got me.
How are you working on being known as a music entertainer compared to just being labeled as just a rapper?
When people say that I put on great shows and everything that I do, rapper isn’t the first thing that comes out of their mouths. The word rapper has a negative connotation when it comes to intelligence. It’s like you can’t be a smart rapper, that’s how society feels. I have old white people ask me in the airport, they’ll see me tailored all fresh, “Oh, what do you do?” and I say I compose music and that throws them off.
The first thing they were ready to hear was, “I’m a rapper.” I say I compose music because I do. I make beats and I write songs. There’s no difference from what I’m doing and what U2 does. So when people look at me as an entertainer first before rapping it just means a lot to me and lets me know I’m doing what I’m supposed to.
You just released Silent Films for the Blind. Can you explain the title and the influence behind it?
Silent Films for the Blind came about when I thought how I was working hard on music…and [realizing] sometimes people really like ignorant stuff more than music that was thought-provoking. I kind of felt my music was being given to an audience that wasn’t looking for that. It was like you were showing a silent film to a blind person. It was like you got this work of art but you can’t even blame them for not being able to understand it because their blind and there’s no dialogue for them to hear it. I just had to find my fan base. And that’s what I kind of did with this album. It was me homing in on my fan base.
Just to take a step back, we’ve noticed that all your projects have been albums. Do you think it’s more important to put your best into a project rather than loosely dropping mixtapes?
I’ve always wanted to work on my projects like they were albums. You never know what someone’s going to hear first of you. I don’t want people to hear something that’s just half ass and then not liking me forever. I always feel when I work on a song or work on a project I say, “All right if this is going to be the first song they’re going to press play on, what do I want them to take from this?” I never wanted to just put out random freestyles and people think that’s who I am and that I’m just a regular rapper who just freestyles and they just move on. That’s kind of why I focus on just album projects instead of mix tapes.
We recently did an article on the co-sign which speaks on artist building speed with a helpful recommendation. Do you think co-signs are credible sources for who’s good?
It’s hard to say. Certain people wouldn’t be who they are as fast without a co-sign. But I don’t think co-signs are the end-all be-all, because you can be co-signed, but if you don’t have that talent it doesn’t mean anything. Not everyone Kanye and Jay touched became them. It’s like once you have that co-sign what do you do with it? Like Young Money, Wayne was on YM for a long time. He had Boo & Gotti and all these people. So people can say, “Wayne made Drake hot.” That’s not true. Drake is a wonderful artist and Wayne just helped him get there faster. A co-sign just helps speed up the process.
Do you think people are just waiting for someone to tell them what’s hot, who’s hot instead of deciding for themselves?
I think people are label whores to a certain extent. Like, if I have a plain black t-shirt on it’s cool but if I have a plain black t-shirt with a Ralph Lauren logo on it, it’s a dope ass shirt. We can do it without the logo or with the logo just depends how hard you want to work at it. If you’re trying to sell that plain black t-shirt then you got to stop every person you talk to and tell them why you need that t-shirt. The logo is what’s going to help it sell. You don’t have to sell Ralph Lauren. You just put it out there and people are going to buy it. People are waiting for other tastemakers to say what’s hot. But it’s up to people like us to talk to people one by one and really explain to them why we are who we are and why we are a necessity in their iTunes and homes.
Being an all-around, self-sufficient machine such as yourself probably works well for you. Do you think more artists should have more of a say in their careers?
Definitely. Where artist mess up more than anything is that they think they need their label or manager or whoever more than they need themselves. They never really put any say so in cause they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes and say, “Get out of here, man,” so they just stay quiet and go in the corner. But we realize that we’re the talent. They can’t write the lines and make the music that we make. If we want something to be out, we’re going to do it our way or else it’s not going to be out. [As an artist] you want your plaque on your wall. With us being the talent we have to understand we have the power. Just be like, “I’m not putting anything out unless I do it my way.” But we have these get rich quick scheme mind frames where we’re like, “All right, man, put me out,” and then it ends up not working out.
Not all artists want to be famous. Is there a level of success that you want to get to, to be comfortable with what you’re doing?
I’m never really content. I just work until I can’t. God has given me a gift to express my emotions to the world and have people really relate to me. I don’t think I’ll really ever stop. For the most part I work for my friends and work for my family. I want everyone to be good. I tell my friends I’m not the guy that’s going to buy an Aston Martin and come back to the hood and chill with them and everyone else got whatever. I’d rather break that Aston Martin down to five Benzes and we all driving and we all good. When I can look around and see that everyone who’s ever believed in me prior [to me working on music] is good, then I know I’m in a comfortable place.