WORDS BY KIAH MCBRIDE
At first glance, Shawn Chrystopher is the epitome of a California native. Skinny jeans and t-shirts from an expansive color palette adorn his small frame coupled with a “too-cool-for-school” vibe. There is something about him that sends you cyber-surfing his name. It could be that his infatuation with cartoons and jaunty demeanor or his staunch college boy bravado. Whatever the case, you find that Chrystopher brings a ferent perspective to west coast music. While his sound does allude to strong Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West influences, Chrystopher offers his own story and musical creations—he often produces his own tracks—that give him mainstream appeal.
It’s clear that Shawn Chrystopher isn’t your typical Cali artist. He grew up in Inglewood, CA listening to punk rock artists like Green Day, and graduated from high school at the age of 16. He scored a four-and-a-half year scholarship to the University of Southern California and by 2009, landed an ad campaign with LRG clothing line for their 10th Anniversary. Not bad for a kid in glasses.
His first mixtape titled Keep Your Classroom Vol 1. received over 10,000 downloads and was an introduction to what is now considered the “new age” sound of educated artists. In August 2009, he released A City With No Seasons—an album that he hoped would separate his sound from artists that he’s often grouped with like Wale.
Now Chrystopher is back with his upcoming EP, The Audition, scheduled for a March 23 release date. Unlike previous projects, Chrystopher comes with more light-hearted rhymes that will surprise fans accustomed to his intellectual lyrics. His first single, “Like A Kid Again,” boasts a fun, relatable sound, and tips a hat off to the art imitates life adage. Always ahead of the curve, Shawn Chrystopher is poised to take on the ever-evolving music industry and change the image of west coast hip-hop.
Shawn Chrystopher: I think of music as fingerprints. I don’t think that anybody can make the same music. I think that if you have a piano, a guitar, and a drum set in a room and you put 15,000 bands in that room one after another, neither one of them will make that same exact song. Even though you have the same instruments you all have different songs. I think with me, my music is different because it’s mine. I have a story that nobody else can tell because I’m talking about my life. When it comes to sound, I grew up in Inglewood, CA so I’m five minutes from some of the richest people in California and I’m five minutes from some of the poorest people, so I would listen to everything. I used to be really into Green Day and then I would listen to Bone Thugs-N- Harmony. I was really into 2Pac and I listened to John Mayer. So you have all of that in me; I just mixed it all together so I think it’s unique because it’s mine.
SC: I would study what songs were popular and why they were popular and which songs weren’t. I remember one year when Juvenile’s “Slow Motion” was the number one song in the country. I was like, this isn’t a club song and it’s not up-tempo; it’s so hood but it’s the number one song on the Billboard. I would just sit and try to figure out why certain songs were big and others weren’t. Why certain artists make it and why other artists’ second album destroyed them.
SC: I have a seven-year-old sister but I was practically out of the house by the time she was born, so I grew up an only child. I was a Latchkey kid so I would come home and my mom would still be at work so I had to entertain myself. TV really stimulated my mind because I would watch everything and I would learn how to talk, how to walk, how to act, and how to dress. Other than TV I had some of the best neighbors. I still talk to my neighbors that I grew up with as a kid; we’re really good friends. I grew up in a house so I had a backyard, was able to go out and play, and have block parties. That made my childhood fun because I could ride a bike. That’s why I started the song off “I used to ride bikes” because I was the kid on the bike in my neighborhood. I rode the bike from sun up to sun down; I had nowhere to go most of the time I just liked bikes. Basketball and riding bikes was my childhood, and cartoons. Actually, that still is my life. I need to grow up!
SC: Really dope shit. I tried my best to create a different sound that I’ve never done before. My past music was really intellectual and I tried my best to not be like anybody in my area, and sometimes I went over people’s heads. I tried to over think my music too much in order to stand out when really I could just be myself and stand out. So this project is more me than I’ve ever done. I have fun with it, tell jokes on songs—I personally don’t take life too seriously because I like to have fun. I think that it’s something that people can relate to; people can have fun with it and play it in their cars. I think people really are going to fuck with it.
SC: Not more so than being an artist but production can carry me a long way because I can produce until I’m dead. I can’t rap when I’m 50. I will never turn my back on either one of them—I love them equally because I love to perform, I love to be in front of the crowd, but I also like to create music. As a producer, the same way a painter paints a blank canvas, we make songs out of silence. We sit in the studio with nothing and we create something that people either love or hate, but at the end of the day we started from silence. That’s something that I thank God every day that I have the ability to do—that I can create art from silence. I would never stop producing or rapping; I would do both until people get tired of hearing me rap and then I can produce the rest of my life.
SC: The whole purpose of doing what I do is that I want people to see the west coast in different light. I think that with movies like Menace II Society and Boyz in the Hood people automatically think that’s all we are, especially in Los Angeles. What the gangster rappers did for L.A., like 2Pac put us on the map, I want to do for L.A., just on the other side of the spectrum.
SC: I think I will already have at least one Grammy or Grammy nomination, I will be on the cover of a few magazines, and have foot in the door for pursuing fashion. I really love fashion. I don’t just want a clothing line; I want to design for high end line that’s already out. In five years I think I’ll be able to travel, meet people, and go to fashion shows. Then I’ll be able to do both music and fashion.
SC: I watch TV on mute. It started out when I was little. I used to be up late watching TV on mute because I didn’t want my mom to know. When I would watch TV on mute I would make up my own stories with dialogue and everything. It was all in my head and had nothing to do with the show, but it made me feel like I wrote it. Now people come over my crib and point out that the TV has been on mute for two hours, but I don’t even notice anymore. I love watching TV on mute because I can still do other things and at the same time create my own episode.
Check out Shawn Chrytopher’s commercial for upcoming EP, The Audition: