Hip hop has gone on many twists and turns throughout it's history. However, at the route of it all, hip hop has always been a strong form of expressing conscious thought. Chicago-based emcee, Uspire, emphasises the relevance of the origin of the genre in his latest project ‘Shadows In The Night.’ Rapping over the instrumentals of the legendary Pete Rock, Uspire takes us on a journey that combines technicality and lyricism, while connecting us through a deeper message of the human experience. At it's core, the project challenges the struggles that each of us go through throughout our lives, and acknowledges the strength that each of us have within us to overcome suffering.
We chat to Uspire about the concept behind his latest project, the diversity of the Chicago hip hop scene and the importance of human connection. Ayla Dhyani writes.
You just dropped your latest project ‘Shadows In The Night,’ tell us a bit about the concept behind it.
So the concept basically takes on a whole lot of struggle, hardship and negative situations. It doesn't try to minimise the violence or the pain and suffering that you're going through, but rather helps you see through a different lens and have a new perspective on it. To use the pain or struggle that you're going through as something to propel you to do something positive. It doesn't try to down-play the negative things that are taking place, but tries to help you see it through a new light. And that kind of goes into the title of the album as well, ‘Shadows In The Night,’ with the darkness being the troubling situations and then the light being that sense of hope. So in order for there to be a shadow in the night time, there has to be a source of light.
Was there something that inspired you to go in that direction for the project?
I guess it was just a collection of personal experiences along with just talking with other people. I'm really a person that likes to expand my perspective a little bit. I like talking to people who are different to me. People that come from different backgrounds and have different life-stories. I've had some troubling times that put me in a darker place, but once you have time to reflect on things you're able to come out of that stronger than you were before. I guess that's the basis for creating this project.
Definitely, it's such an important part of the human experience. To connect with others through that struggle.
Exactly. I think there's probably a track on there for everybody regardless of your demographic or your situation. I think there's probably at least one track on the record that everybody can relate to in some way and feel a personal connection to.
You used a whole lot of instrumentals from Pete Rock. How did you come about using that?
Yeah, he's one of my favourite producers in hip hop. Him and J Dilla are probably my two favourite producers. However, Pete Rock takes me to a place and creates a soundscape that is such a great backdrop for me to go into and create a story.
Tell us a bit about the meaning behind the name Uspire.
I guess a message that was always relayed to me as a child, and pretty much all throughout my life, is to not be content with just who you are, but always aspire to be greater. Not to just be content with what you know, but always look to expand your knowledge. So it's the word aspire, but put with a "u." I like that the word "us" is in there because when I'm making music, it's not just for me, it's for everybody that wants to partake in listening to it and joining in on that experience. So I see it as an "us" rather than a "me." I guess to take it a step further, it's also an acronym that stands for Underground Soul Preserved In Rhyme Esoteric, which basically means that the style of hip hop I'm doing might not be the stuff that is on the charts right now but for that relatively small group that still appreciates real lyricism, I'm kind of keeping the soul of hip hop alive.
How did your journey in hip hop originate?
I've been a fan since I was first exposed to it around 8-years-old and through the years it grew on me more and more. I started to really develop an appreciation for the lyrics. People like Rakim, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest just to name a few. So like most people, I just started as a fan of the genre and then in high school I remember being bored in class and sitting at the back of the class and jotting down rhymes. I think one of my first rhymes I wrote was talking about some of the teachers who I wasn't to fond of and pointing out funny things about them and stuff like that (laughs). Then when I was about 18 or 19, I actually started recording for the first time and ever since then I've been polishing my craft and constantly improving.
How do you find the Chicago hip hop scene today?
There's a wide spectrum of different styles. I think there are some more well-known artists connected to the city than others. You can see it with mainstream artists like Common who will give you a real conscious style, and Kanye West who's had a career that has really changed style from his early days where it's been more soulful, to now where it's a little more experimental and loud-sounding production-wise. So I think if you really delve into the city and check out the styles, it's a pretty wide variety of sounds. Add-2, who's the only other emcee featured on the project. He's been doing some incredible things on the scene for a while. In 2006 he really came onto the scene, and he's one of the younger dudes right now who's putting Chicago on it's back and doing positive things. Not only in his music, but in the community as well.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
As far as producers, I'm obviously really into Pete Rock, Large Professor, DJ Premier, Hi-Tek, and 9th Wonder. Then in terms of artists, anybody who's really lyrical. Some of the younger dudes like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole. I like Blu & Exile. People who are more underground. There's a dude out in Michigan called One Be Lo. I'm a really big fan of his. Obviously anybody that you'd just dream of working with. Q-Tip, Rakim, Nas. Anybody who's been in the game for a while and you respect their skill set and their contribution to the genre.
We touched on this a bit earlier, but because you have such a deep lyrical content throughout the project, what's the main message you want to send to the masses?
Well, there's a good amount of story telling on the project. I guess there's a lot of people that make music that has a good message. Sometimes it's lacking a message all together, but the lyrics sound nice. I really tried to combine those things. To give a strong content, but not sacrifice the technical aspect of the genre at the same time. It could be a story about a relationship or there's a track on there that's about my best friend's mother who died of cancer. So these are things that really tap into your emotions, but at the same time if you listen to it from a technical standpoint all the lyrical components are there. So that's really what I try to do. To not just give content, but quality as far as the technical component and connect all that to the one concept. I mean, there's a lot of tracks that I could have put on there, but they didn't necessarily fit with the overall concept. So I wanted it to be pretty cohesive in terms of what I'm actually talking about.
Do you have any other projects that you're working on at the moment?
Not currently, but I have ideas all the time. I really like projects that revolve around one concept and relates back to that. So at the moment I have ideas for two projects in my mind that I'm going to be getting into. When I actually put out something, I want to have something to say and be able to share some type of knowledge to the people rather than just saying any old thing. So right now I'm just doing the research, getting my knowledge up and when I feel like I've got a good pile of information, then I'll just get into the writing process. You gotta crawl before you can walk.
What stimulates your soul?
Anything that I find creativity within stimulates my soul, whether it's art, music, movies or even food. To learn something new everyday and just interact with people are two big things. I have a real appetite for learning. I feel like you should never be done learning. Every person is filled with their own experiences and I feel like you can learn from other people's stories as well as your own.