Back To The Essence of Hip Hop With Billy Bang

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Although they share the same name, Billy Bang has no connection to the well-established late American jazz artist. Yet he still seems to have a distant affinity with him, strongly appreciating the diversity of genres by incorporating smooth sax riffs and gentle melodies into his music. His main inspiration emerges from the golden age of hip-hop in New York, growing up in a thriving city of diverse new talent. Billy focuses on the importance of creativity as a means of rising above the struggles of oppression and uniting as a community through that creation. He has become increasingly more recognised in the industry through his recent feature on Anthony Lewis’ hit single ‘Candy Rain,’ and is currently developing an EP centred around the concept of ‘Back2DaEssence.’

We chat to Billy Bang about his process in developing his skills as an artist, growing up in New York in hip-hop’s golden age, and his interpretation of the true essence of hip-hop. Ayla Dhyani writes.

You’re working on your EP at the moment, ‘Back2DaEssence.’ How is that coming along?

The title is actually still subject to change. I think I might want to end up naming my album ‘Back2DaEssense’ instead of my EP, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m still working on the EP, but I’m trying to drop it by the end of August 2014.

What do the words ‘Back2DaEssence’ mean to you?

Well, I come from hip-hop, so the essence of hip-hop, to me, is what’s real and what’s true. It comes from somebody wanting to escape or change their surroundings. Hip-hop rises out of struggle and pain, and then from the struggle and the pain, you get a lot of creativity. Hip-hop, I guess, was our escape out of oppression. I am a part of the hip-hop culture, and I just want to get back to the feeling and the essence of the music where people get to know you and connect with you on a deeper level.

When did you feel that things were beginning to get real in your musical career? Is there a pinnacle moment that stands out for you?

It was always real to me. I always knew what I had. My situation was always a matter of focusing not on an ‘if’ but on a ‘when’. I’ve just been honing my skills and just bettering myself in my craft. I always knew it was destined to happen, it was just about when, or who was going to get involved. I would say the ‘Candy Rain’ record with Anthony Lewis was definitely the biggest exposure I’ve gotten thus far, so I guess this is one of my pinnacle moments. But I was also on BET’s ‘The Deal’ when I was in college and landed a segment on there in 2010.

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How was it working with Anthony Lewis on ‘Candy Rain’? How did you get involved with him?

Actually, I left New York, went to L.A, got a deal, and ended up getting signed with Anthony Lewis through the label. So we were essentially ‘label mates’ and they just put me on the record as a feature. So I didn’t know him at all from the beginning, but he’s like a little brother right now.

The style of ‘Candy Rain’ is quite different to your solo work. Did you feel that you were still staying true to your style by featuring on the single?

Well, it’s politics! (Laughs). 'However which way you've gotta get in the door, you gotta get in the door'. I think that what helps me is that I’m quite a versatile artist, in that even though my music may be different, it’s all still me. So that’s something that I’m content with. I don’t feel like I’m selling out or doing something that I don’t like. I would never be involved in something that I don’t like.

You produced your new single, ‘No Filter’ yourself. Do you strive to produce your own work?

Well, I think the term ‘production’ changes between genres. If you look at certain genres of music, the producer is somebody that builds the concept of the record from start to finish, and it's not always necessarily whoever did the beat. I think that I do produce my own records. I mean, I come up with the idea, give or take, and may allow others to take care of the instrumentation part of it sometimes, but I still have my input in every record that I do. I think that this album that I do will be primarily my own work, both with production as well as lyrically.

Who has influenced you?

I was born when New York hip-hop was everything, and everybody was trying to sound like us. As far as musical and cultural influences, when I was young I listened to Rakim, Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, Kid ‘N Play, A Tribe Called Quest, as well as artists that nobody’s really ever heard of like Nice & Smooth, Readhead Kingpin, and Nikki D. My taste in music came from that movement along with my mum introducing me to other sounds. She showed me stuff like Enigma, Jim Morrison, Nirvana, as well as Smashmouth. So I have a very wide taste in music. I started off writing poetry, so as far as lyrical influences, definitely Nas, Jadakiss, and Wu-Tang etc. They are true lyricists. 

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What can we expect from you in the future?

I just want to tell people to get ready for a wide variety of music. I think that where I can go is limitless. I think that the industry doesn’t really compliment, or isn’t really set up for people that are outside of the box, but I’m already outside of the box. I feel like it’s going to be very exciting for people to just see what I’m coming up with.

What stimulates your soul?

Love. My love for my music. My love to create, and feeling and knowing that I can bring something forth from an idea, and then put it down on paper, to then make it a sound and give it to the world. To know that it’s affecting somebody else’s life in some way or another. That gives me a purpose. So definitely creating stimulates my soul.

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