Shawn Chrystopher Interview
|Label:||Honour Role Music|
|Next Project:||The Audition|
|Twitter:||Shawn Chrystopher on Twitter|
|Website:||Shawn Chrystopher's Website|
With thousands upon thousands of artists competing for listeners’ attention, an up-and-coming emcee has to treat each and every project like a career-making Audition – one false move, and you may have lost your best chance at the big-time. Booth mainstay Shawn Chrystopher knows exactly how high the stakes are as he approaches the release of his brand new EP and, despite the nervousness that afflicts even the most experienced actors, he has a feeling this will be the one that’ll cement his status as hip-hop’s next big leading man.
Since introducing himself with the aptly-named “Me” way back in fall 2008, the Inglewood, California up-and-comer has brought us a whopping 19 features, including reader-acclaimed, Booth-exclusive freestyle “Do It For You.” Now, Chrystopher’s getting ready to take his game to the next level with The Audition , the follow-up to last year’s much-buzzed-about A City With No Seasons LP (available for free streaming and download at the artist’s official site). Heralded by leaked cut “Can’t Take That From Me” and the Booth-premiered “Like a Kid Again,” the project is scheduled to hit stores and online retailers next Tuesday, March 23.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Shawn Chrystopher steps into the Booth to discuss his colorful approach to tracklist selection, why higher education is worth much more than a diploma, and what activity never fails to make him feel just “Like a Kid Again.”
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Shawn Chrystopher Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is an Inglewood, California native who has been on our radar since October of 2008. A 19-time feature artist and a freestyle series alum, please welcome do-it-yourself emcee/producer Shawn Chrystoper – how you doin’, man?
Shawn Chrystopher: I’m doin’ good, man.
DJ Booth: Thank you for joining me inside the DJ Booth.
Shawn Chrystopher: Definitely.
DJ Booth: Let’s rummage around through your past a little bit before we go ahead and delve into your bright future. Sound good?
Shawn Chrystopher: Yeah, sounds great!
DJ Booth: Some artists, they fall in love with music and they think that school will do nothing but hinder their development for the future, but you embraced the opportunity to pursue higher education. I know you didn’t graduate from school, but was there ever any question in mind that going to school was the wrong thing to do?
Shawn Chrystopher: No, never. One of the main reasons why I wanted to go to college more than anything else in the world is because, even if you don’t leave school with that paper, you learn to network with people, you learn to build relationships with everyone. Like, my high school, it was all black, all Hispanic. When I went to USC, I was, like, the only black kid in a lot of my classes. It put me into real-life situations even before I was goin’ out into the real world. If I [had only gone] to high school, I would only know how to deal with two different races of people, and that’s not how the world is. I was introduced to all different sorts of races in college – that experience you can’t get from anything else.
DJ Booth: Let’s say you had not decided to pursue higher education, you didn’t go to USC. Do you think you’d be developmentally where you’re at right now in your career, or do you think you’d be back a few steps?
Shawn Chrystopher: Without school, I wouldn’t be where I am right now – not to say that I wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t be exactly here. Like you said, I’d be back a few steps, cause school just taught me so much. And people always say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” That’s partly true, but it’s also, when you meet that person, how do you relate to them, how do you converse with them, and that’s what school teaches you: it teaches you how to speak to people of different ages, races, and colors, and to build those relationships. So without the relationships I built throughout my career, I would be nowhere.
DJ Booth: Who knows. If you had not gone to USC, maybe you and I would have never connected, and we wouldn’t be doing this interview right now.
Shawn Chrystopher: [laughs] Exactly!
DJ Booth: Now, focusing on the future, March 23rd, you are scheduled to release a new project entitled The Audition.
Shawn Chrystopher: Yes.
DJ Booth: Is this a stage at which you’re no longer nervous?
Shawn Chrystopher: No, I am always nervous. I am always nervous. It’s just, because with this music, you put yourself out there, and you’re vulnerable. I would tell my friends, when I was workin’ on my project, it’s kinda like, if Kobe [Bryant] misses a game-winning shot on Tuesday, and lets people down, he has a chance to redeem himself on Thursday. If I put this product out that I’ve been working on for a month, and people hate it, I can’t come back in two days with something else! This has to linger for 8 to 12 months, and so it has to be perfect. So I’m always nervous, ‘cause you just never know what people are feelin’ right now.
DJ Booth: Shawn, what segment of the listening populace are you “auditioning” for, so to speak, the most? Is it prospective record labels, DJs, your fans – who do you think is the critical audience?
Shawn Chrystopher: Um…
DJ Booth: You can say “all of the above,” if you want.
Shawn Chrystopher: I think it’s just the fans, man. That’s all I really worry about, ‘cause everything else will fall into place. I think that, if you don’t grab the people, everything else you’re doing is unnecessary. When I named the product “The Audition,” what I was talkin’ about is basically, you know, I’ve been rappin’ since I was 14 years old, and I’ve got two or three mixtapes under my belt, but I’ve done things, and I’ve worked harder than a lot of people who get more shine that I have, and it’s kinda just like, “Man! Why does this person continue to get the leading roles, and I’m always just a supporting character?” So, this project is my audition for the leading role. If I hit the nail on the head, like Will Smith or Denzel, they don’t have to audition anymore; people just say, “Hey, we’ve got this movie that we wrote for you. Would you like to do it?” and the they pick yea or nay. And that’s kind of what I’m doing with this is, I just want to work so hard with this, that people can say, “Hey Shawn, I have this show,” “Hey Shawn, I have this interview.” Rather than us havin’ to always go out and try to grab stuff, our Emails will be flooded and phones ringing off the hook, and it’s all because of this particular audition.
DJ Booth: I love how deep that answer was, because – and I tell people this all the time – it’s so disappointing on my end to ask an introspective question like that, and get a lame answer! So when you ask that question and you get a well-thought-out, well-spoken answer, I have a smile from ear to ear, Shawn.
Shawn Chrystopher: [laughs] Thank you man, I appreciate it.
DJ Booth: You’re welcome. In mid-February, DJBooth.net, as of course you know, premiered the lead single off the project, “Like a Kid Again.” Shawn, at the age of 23, what if anything do you do to make yourself feel like a kid again?
Shawn Chrystopher: I have a seven-year-old sister and, whenever she comes by my crib, or whenever I come by to visit her, man, I feel like I’m seven. When I’m playing with her – it’s just like, we’ll sit and watch Dora or Yo Gabba Gabba or we’ll go outside and play catch with the ball and play soccer, ‘cause she’s in a little soccer league and I play the goalie, she knows how to kick the ball around me… just, to see how much fun she has. ‘Cause she doesn’t know anything about what’s on the news, nothing about the economy, nothing about any earthquakes. She doesn’t know anything other than, she goes to school every day and she comes home and does homework and she plays. We’re all just so lucky to always feel like that, and that’s what I always tried to convey in that particular song – it’s just like, remember when we were kids? Let’s try to have that feeling, because there’s nothing better than feeling like a kid. Nothing in this world, to me.
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree more, actually. The innocence, I think, is the best part. You don’t know any better, so you just live life.
Shawn Chrystopher: Exactly.
DJ Booth: Shawn, in an Email that you sent to the online community, you wrote that you recorded over 40 songs for this project, and you believe it shows more personality than anything you’ve ever done before, musically. Is it safe to assume, then, that you’ve somewhat held back in the past on letting listeners into your world?
Shawn Chrystopher: Yeah. I think that what happened was, there were so many artists from my hometown that came out prior to me, so what ended up happening was, I didn’t want to be in the same lane as them. So I said, “Here’s this person, here’s this group… let me make sure that, when I release my music, people don’t say, ‘Oh, he’s trying to be like them, he’s trying to be like this person.’” That’s why I’m super-excited about it, and super-nervous, ‘cause it’s kind of like, if you don’t like this project, then I don’t think you will like me as a person, and that sucks, ‘cause I think I am pretty cool! [laughs]
DJ Booth: [laughs] Hey, I think you’re pretty cool too, so that’s two!
Shawn Chrystopher: [laughs] Mos def. Thanks, Z!
DJ Booth: No problem. So you’re saying this project, up to this point at least, is the truest representation of who you are not only as a musician but a person?
Shawn Chrystopher: Yes.
DJ Booth: Let’s go back to the amount. You recorded 40 or so songs for the project. How do you go about narrowing down a total like that to, I don’t know, 13, 14, or however many songs you plan on putting on this project?
Shawn Chrystopher: This is gonna sound really, really weird, but, when I was a kid, I was found to have this kind of – it’s not a disorder – but it’s called synesthesia, and it’s a certain autism, and it’s where, when I hear sounds I can see colors. There’s different kinds of it, like, sometimes when people hear sounds they’ll get a certain taste in their mouths, or some people see numbers and see them in colors… if somebody ever says, “This guy has on a loud shirt,” that comes from people who have synesthesia; a shirt cannot be loud. So what happens is that, when I hear these songs, I see different colors and, at the end of the day, I just want my project to be the same from top to bottom, with a certain hue of whatever it is that I see.
DJ Booth: Let’s go back for a second to… synesthesia, is that what it’s called?
Shawn Chrystopher: Yeah, synesthesia.
DJ Booth: OK, so when you hear my voice, what color comes to mind?
Shawn Chrystopher: Nothing. Because it’s not particularly the voice, because it doesn’t fluctuate that much.
DJ Booth: Let’s say I started beatboxing and humming the questions to you – at that point what color would my voice be?
Shawn Chrystopher: Um…
DJ Booth: I’m giving you a hard time, I’m playing, it’s OK.
Shawn Chrystopher: [laughs] I don’t know, man! But I would love to finish this interview off with some beatboxing – that would be pretty cool!
DJ Booth: Yeah, I don’t know if we’re gonna get to that.
Shawn Chrystopher: [laughs]
DJ Booth: Next interview. In a recently-released viral video promoting the project, you said, and I quote, “90% of the people on this earth don’t live life to the fullest.” Did you come to this conclusion through empirical evidence, or statistical analysis, or have you just always felt this way, and it’s just a matter of living life?
Shawn Chrystopher: It’s just like, me going through life really observing people. I’m a big people-watcher. My Mom, sometimes – we used to really butt heads, when I was growin’ up, because to her it seems like I really didn’t care about anything. And she was like, “Shawn, you did this wrong!” and I’m like, “Oh OK, all right.” And it seems to her I’m not seriously when really, there’s just so much more to life than whatever it is we’re mad about right now. It’s like, you’re mad about this for 30 minutes, and then you’re not gonna be mad about it anymore, so why even be mad?
DJ Booth: Amen. I couldn’t agree with you more, and I still have those conversations with my mother and my girlfriends. So, nothing changes regardless of age or region lived in; it’s all the same across the board. I wanna touch on the girlfriend angle for a second, ‘cause one of my personal, all-time Shawn Chrystopher favorites is a record off the A City With No Seasons deluxe edition, “Heartbreaker.” You describe the depths to which females can sink, when relationships don’t go the way that they like. Was this record, for you, a cathartic release after an actual breakup you went through, or simply the opportunity to speak on behalf of all of us guys around the world who think it, but just don’t say it?
Shawn Chrystopher: The funny thing about the song is, when I first wrote it, I was in a relationship. I’d finished the record or so I thought, and as I was mixing down the entire album, my girlfriend at the time, she just breaks up with me. And it was just like, “Whoa, everything that I’m writing about, everything I’m conveying in this song, has just happened to me.” So then I went back, and I touched up certain things, and I re-recorded it. ‘Cause you can hear it in my voice, what just happened to me.
DJ Booth: Yes. You were pissed, on that chorus.
Shawn Chrystopher: And so I re-recorded it, after my girlfriend at the time had left me.
DJ Booth: Now tell me, was there irony here? Did she break up with you ‘cause you were spending so much time recording?
Shawn Chrystopher: Yeah. It’s funny you say that; that’s exactly what she said. She said every day I woke up, it was about Shawn, and, “I feel like you’re cheating on me with yourself.” Those were her exact words.
DJ Booth: Well, you know what? She didn’t get it.
Shawn Chrystopher: Yeah. I was down for a few months but, looking back, that was the best thing that ever happened to me, because life has been so awesome since.
DJ Booth: Plus, I got to hear “Heartbreaker” and I really, really like it. So, good job! I did a bunch of prep for the interview by simply Googling your name, and I stumbled upon a recent blog entry that was written about you. The author, who I will not name, discussed why she likes to follow you on Twitter, and she wrote, “Shawn is clever, he is open and refreshing and, because he has not made it big yet, he has time on his hands for us. This all makes for great Tweeting.” Is her perception of your Tweeting on or off-base?
Shawn Chrystopher: I would like to say “on,” but it doesn’t really have to do with where I am career-wise – I just like to talk! [laughs]
DJ Booth: See, I knew that.
Shawn Chrystopher: That’s just what it is, man!
DJ Booth: She later went on to mention that she hopes that after you do make it big, that you’ll continue to reach out to your fans via Twitter. So, Shawn, forecast your Twitter future for us. Do you think, at any point in your future, that your social networking skills will diminish because of the level of success that you achieve?
Shawn Chrystopher: No, never. It will just get a hell of a lot better. Like, my Twit pics will be like, instead of, “Hey, me and my friends sitting at my house,” it’ll be like, “Me and my Jay-Z, sittin’ at his house.” [laughs]
DJ Booth: [laughs] I think she’s gonna sleep well tonight, knowing that you will never, ever give up on her.
Shawn Chrystopher: Yeah, never.
DJ Booth: Obviously, we have you on the phone because The Audition drops on March 23. Give everybody social links so they can find out more about you and, of course, the exciting new project that’s gonna be available.
Shawn Chrystopher: My official website is honourrolestudent.com. That’s my official site – you can go see the blog, I’ve got the discography of all the projects that I’ve done, show dates. Facebook, I freakin’ love Facebook, I think Facebook is amazing, facebook.com/shawnchrystopher. Twitter.com/shawnchrys. Just hit me up!
DJ Booth: Shawn, it’s a pleasure to talk to you, as always. I thank you so much for taking the time to join me inside the DJ Booth for the interview.
Shawn Chrystopher: Thank you, Z. This is a blast, this is the highlight of my day, hands down.
DJ Booth: Better than breakfast or lunch or an afternoon nap? Really?
Shawn Chrystopher: Oh yeah, hands down. Better than breakfast.
DJ Booth: [laughs] Well then you obviously didn’t have a good breakfast.
Shawn Chrystopher: [laughs] No, I didn’t. Just cereal.
DJ Booth: Yeah, that’s disappointing. Shawn, the best of luck to you moving forward, my man.
Shawn Chrystopher: Thank you. I appreciate it, man.