Pittsburgh MC Ethan Bence infuses contradicting themes to co-exist

As an emerging young MC, 19-year-old Ethan Bence is on a mission to reignite the recognition of hip hop in Pittsburgh. His forthcoming EP, ‘Outspoken Introvert,’ highlights his impressive lyricism and production style, creating a running theme of tracks that cleverly interweave whilst also contradicting another. 

We chat to Ethan about his creative process, his biggest musical influences and what ‘Outspoken Introvert’ means to him. Ayla Dhyani writes.

Your latest single, ‘I’ll Tell Ya’ is reminiscent of the 90’s. Tell us about the track.

Sure. The track is the first single from my upcoming EP. I wanted the track to portray how I feel about myself as a 19-year-old that loves older music. I feel like I’m an old soul. That’s why in the track you hear me telling the little “youngin’s,” and in the video you see some older aspects. It’s just a vintage feeling track.

You’re currently a business student in Pittsburgh. How did you branch out into hip hop?

I’ve always loved hip hop. The first song I remember hearing is ‘Hypnotize’ by Biggie when I was four. I remember writing little rhymes here and there throughout my childhood, but in my senior year of high school I started writing songs. I recorded a few at my house and showed some friends at school, and they really encouraged me to release it and take it more seriously. After that, I released an EP over industry beats, and then began working on my current project. After I started performing live, that was it, I knew I had to pursue music.

How do you find the hip hop scene in Pittsburgh?

It’s interesting. Obviously we have the two huge superstars, Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa, but after that, there is a large drop-off, not in talent, but in recognition. Pittsburgh is an interesting city like that. It’s not a very hip hop city like New York or Los Angeles, and it’s very tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone, but it’s cool, there are a lot of talented artists here and since Wiz and Mac blew up, you can feel the anticipation of “who’s next.”

You’re also set to drop a new EP ‘Outspoken Introvert.’ What does the title mean to you?

The title means everything to me, because it is what I am. The whole concept of the EP is contradictions, and things that coexist but don’t necessarily make sense. That’s where I’m at in my life right now. It also sets the tone for the EP. Each song on the EP has a pair that it is the opposite of. I want it to be like a puzzle for listeners to figure out which songs are the opposite pairs. Obviously, there is one song left out because there are 7 records. And when you find the song that is left out, you’ll know by the title.

Your upcoming EP upholds a strong production style. Tell us about your creative process.

Thanks! Basically, I take a top-down approach. I had the concept for this EP before I wrote any songs for it. I didn’t know all the little nuances I would put in obviously, but I had the general concept of opposites. From there, I had some rough song ideas that I knew I wanted to explore. But honestly for me I need to be inspired to create. I feel that once you get to a point where you have solid flow, lyricism, and wordplay, you need to progress beyond rapping about rapping.  

And for me, I can only write when I’m inspired. Even if that is rapping about rapping. But more specifically, I really like to create a whole project that is worthy of critical analysis, but at the same time can be listened to at a party and enjoyed all the same. So when I was writing the songs, I had to have the whole EP in mind - the opposite themes. Within the opposite pairs of songs, for example, I say some lines that are reversed.  For example, in ‘Outspoken (Intro)vert,’ I say “See my vision is revision, tell me if you feel the same,” and in the last track, ‘Hardcore’, I say, “It’s a revision to my vision.” Stuff like that is all over the project, and I really hope that listeners will enjoy discovering them and finding out how the songs are related.

Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?

I have a lot, I like to think that I can learn at least one thing musically from every artist, whether I use it or not. But my biggest influences are Eminem, Tupac, A Tribe Called Quest, Dr. Dre, The Roots, etc. My parents listen to a ton of different music, so as a kid I would hear Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and a bunch of older artists. Even though I don’t listen to them by myself, they definitely have influenced me.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?

That’s a great question. If it were anyone, dead or alive, I would probably say Tupac. He just had so much passion. He made you feel his pain and his beliefs.

And what do you anticipate for the future?

I would love to go on tour, especially internationally. One of my other passions besides music is travelling, so the fact that I may have an opportunity do both at the same time is really appealing. Other than that, I hope to have a successful release, and help some people along the way.

What stimulates your soul?

Music. When creating this EP, I had feelings I had never felt before. Songs like ‘Dreams’ are extremely personal and cathartic. I think music gives me an outlet that I didn’t previously have, and that definitely stimulates my soul.