Shawn Chrystopher Talks "Catch Me If You Can," Kanye West and More
Wed, 13 Oct 2010 09:00:25
Shawn Chrystopher adds another dimension to hip hop.
His new single "Catch Me If You Can" is smart, sharp and surprising. The Inglewood rap scholar polishes each verse with a sense of intelligence and refinement that makes for some of the most clever and catchy rap music to ever come out of the West Coast. "Catch Me if You Can" even caught the attention of rap's resident king of clever—Kanye West. West slid "Catch Me if You Can" onto his recent G.O.O.D. Ass Music Mixtape, giving Shawn the ultimate props. Shawn's in the midst of working on more music at the moment, and if this first song is any indication, he's bound to flip the entire game upside down.
Shawn Chrystopher sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about how creating songs is like writing papers, the story behind "Catch Me if You Can", getting recognition from Kanye West, his favorite albums and more.
How do songs typically begin for you?
It usually starts off with making a beat. I'll either work alone or with my production partner Cameron Wallace. I'll let the beat play for like 30 minutes, and I'll mumble ideas to myself. I'll sometimes think of choruses first. I never want to write down a chorus because I feel like if I can't remember a chorus, how do I expect millions of other people to remember it? I want to have a chorus that's easy to remember but, at the same time, it deals with a certain topic. You never want to just talk about anything. I like to write a lot. I may write four or five verses and then choose different lines from each verse. Then I'll put it all together. In school, you'll write a paper and your first draft may seem good. However, when you dig down deep into it, you realize that you can really make it a lot better. I consider the first time I write something the first draft. I really spend my time actually making the best verses I can at the time. I may write a few drafts before I get to the final one I'm ready to record.
That draft method shows how deep you go.
People may think hip hop is so easy to do, but when they actually sit down to write a song, they're like, "This is actually pretty hard." There's a lot of intellect and skill involved in rap. If you think about it, every line is a simile or a metaphor. You must have some sort of intellect to pull these things off. Outsiders may look at Lil Wayne and think he's this reckless guy, but he's very intelligent to think of the things that he comes up with. His metaphors and similes are so advanced. I don't think rappers get some of the credit they deserve. I try to be very meticulous with my writing. I take my time to think of things that will blow people away.
What's the story behind "Catch Me if You Can"?
"Catch Me if You Can" is one of the most effortless songs that I've done. I was by myself in the studio playing beats, and that one caught my ear. I listened to it over and over again. There was no one around me, so I didn't have to write a specific way or try to impress anybody. I just did my own thing. That's one of the best tracks I've made because it was effortless. It was simply me from beginning to end. There was no influence from anyone else. I'm a big ball of energy. I love to talk. I love to jump around and be energetic. A lot of people may not get to chill with me and see that. With "Catch Me if You Can," I was able to showcase my personality in four minutes. I wanted to show people this is who I am. I'm coming from Inglewood, CA, and a lot of music there is so gangsta, or everyone thinks it is. I'm just a skinny kid from Inglewood. I don't have a gangsta bone in my body at all. I want people to know there are kids just like me in Los Angeles, who aren't Crips or Bloods. That's why I'm pushing that song so hard. I want people to say, "Wow, this kid is from L.A.? There's no gang affiliation. There are no similes or entendres that have to do with guns and drugs." That's why this song means a lot to me. It shows my personality and a different movement we're doing on the West Coast. We're not Death Row anymore.
Are you a fan of the movie, Catch Me if You Can?
The movie is one of my favorites because I love Leonardo DiCaprio. I think he's one of the best actors of this generation. When I first saw the movie, it grabbed me because it was a story based on a kid who did things no one could fathom. He was 17-years-old cashing these checks and pretending to be a pilot, a police officer and all of these other things. He was just a kid though! That's how I feel. I'm just a kid but I'm doing these things "grown-ups" do. I'm producing my own music and writing my own songs. That movie struck a chord with me. I was like, "This is me—minus all of the illegal stuff." [Laughs] It's not about popping bottles and sipping patron; it's real fun music.
You must've been thrilled to get on Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Ass Music Mixtape.
I actually worked with one of Kanye West's artists GLC, who is on GOOD Music. That was a big honor for me. When College Dropout came out in 2004, I was at USC, and that CD was so amazing. One of my favorite songs was "Spaceship." I felt that song. One of my favorite verses on "Spaceship" was done by GLC. When I met GLC, I told him how "Spaceship" changed my life. We built a rapport. To have my song next to other GOOD Music artists, six years later from when I first heard their music, was like my Grammy. It was one of the best feelings in the world.
Which records really shaped you?
Both of Justin Timberlake's albums—Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds —really shaped me musically. He changed the sound of pop when he did those albums. "SexyBack" was crazy. You never heard anything like that before. Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor is amazing top to bottom. I listen to Jackson 5 a lot. I like Coldplay and Radiohead. I love artists who push the envelope, raise the bar and do things differently. They only way you can win big is if you take big chances. Those artists have all taken chances with their music and succeeded. The only way for me to succeed in this world is to take a chance and do something no one has done before. There's a thin line between genius and insanity.
Have you heard "Catch Me if You Can" yet?