Emcee Graffiti is a rapper, producer, and beatboxer from Upstate New York.
We talk a lot about comics and video games on Effective Nerd. While these are two of my favorite mediums, they do not begin to scratch the surface when it comes to my creative endeavors. I hope to expand on these topics in the future. I have a lot of great interviews coming up that will hope you enjoy it. Today will be my first music-related interview.
I started playing guitar when I was thirteen. I wasn’t the best, but I tried. When I was fifteen a friend of mine asked me to play guitar in a punk band he was starting. After one year, one show, and a bunch of lineup changes, I was the vocalist and bass player in a street-punk band called Class Action.
I spent the later part of my high school years playing shows and having a blast. Then it came time for me to go to college. My one band mate joined another band and I had a falling out with the other. My high school punk rock days were officially over.
In college, I was part of a pop-punk band named A Call for Heroism. We played a few shows at school events, but nothing crazy. At that point in my life I was beginning to grow tired of relying on many people to play music. That is when I began to teach myself music production. I didn’t need other people if I could play every instrument.
I started off my journey into music production by making electronic music. Though it wasn’t my favorite type of music at the time, it taught me the basics and got the ball rolling.
After I graduated college I began hanging out with people in my local hip hop scene. I have listened to hip hop my entire life (my first CD was Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number by Aaliyah), but this was when I really fell head-over-heels for hip hop.
I have spent the last six years teaching myself how to produce hip hop music. It is really helped me grow as a musician. I still play in bands from time to time, but it is nice to be able to make music on my own whenever inspiration strikes. One of my future goals is to create a short hip hop album.
I love hip hop for the similar reasons I loved growing up in punk rock culture. It is real people making real noise. I have always appreciated how genuine these genres are. I have been to a lot of shows in my day, but hip hop and punk are where I really an “at home” sense of camaraderie.
This week I got to speak with Emcee Graffiti of Iron Bar Collective. He is a great friend, and has served as a giant source of inspiration in my life. Iron Bar Collective took me under their wing when I wanted to delve deeper into hip hop. Without them I probably wouldn’t have the knowledge and appreciation for hip hop culture that I do today.
An Interview With Emcee Graffiti
Aaron Iara: It is a pleasure to be able to talk to you about your work. Please tell the readers a bit about yourself and the work you do.
Emcee Graffiti: Thank you for giving me this opportunity! I go by Emcee Graffiti of the Iron Bar Collective. I’m a rapper, beatboxer, and singer.
Aaron Iara: How long have you been making music? Have you always made hip hop, or have you created in other genres?
Emcee Graffiti: Well, Hip-Hop has been intertwined in my upbringing for as long as I can recall. I started beatboxing when I was six after watching Police Academy. I started rapping when I was around 12, but I didn’t start performing and building til I was 20. While Hip-Hop has always been my focus, I had a short lived Alt-Rock band I was the frontman for. We did 4 shows in total and only recorded a crappy demo single.
Aaron Iara: You are a very talented beatboxer. With digital creation and the internet being the forefront of music (especially hip hop), it seems that beatboxing is not as popular as it once was. How do you feel about this? How has the internet and digital production affected this aspect of your art?
Emcee Graffiti: Well, in the mainstream eye beatboxing has faded a bit. However, in the actual beatbox community, it’s stronger than ever. Between different worldwide championships, scientific research into the the physical impacts of beatboxing, and the reemergence of people wanting something organic in their music— it’s doing well. I think the digital aspect, from loopers to apps, has helped it become more accessible and appealing to people.
However, someone that is super good with a phone app might not be able to hold their own in an improv session or a live setting. The technology is making it easier for industry heads to find an idol.
Aaron Iara: When it comes to making music, there are a lot of parts that need to come together (lyrics, music, production, mixing/mastering) What is your process for bringing everything together?
Emcee Graffiti: Ya know, it really depends on the situation. While I generally prefer to write to a beat and be inspired by a beat to write something (Scuffed Timbs is a prime example), I do often just write to nothing. Or whatever tempo is in my head. I do write a lot of my concept tracks acapella initially. When I find a fitting beat I’ll make my tweaks lyrically. I just like to make sure that my verses compliment the beat and vice versa.
As for the mixing and mastering, I’m only just starting to teach myself those aspects. I do think that communication is key with your engineer. If there’s s specific sound I’m looking for out of the mix, I try to send an example. Otherwise I’m just like “make it nice to listen to!”
Aaron Iara: I completely understand. Even though I don’t record music that often anymore I still write lyrics regularly. I usually write to nothing or make up a beat in my head to write to.
It can be difficult to maintain motivation and progress when working on a big project. What do you do to stay motivated and productive?
Emcee Graffiti: In regards to a solo project, motivation isn’t an issue.I’m always happy and excited to work on things when I don’t have any pressure on. Even when I set a deadline for myself with a solo project, I find it easy to stay excited and on track.
In contrast I find that with myself, and others I’ve chatted with over the years, when you’re collaborating on a larger scale (more than a single) it gets tough. You feed off your team and your team feeds off you. Anxiety can get wild when one person is done with their part and you’re not. Or if you’re the one the project is waiting on. It suddenly makes it feel more daunting.
In a situation like that, my motivation is to not be the stressed one. To not be the last one to cross the line. To make sure what I’m bringing will crush my homies. I may not have the absolute hottest verse on something, but you best believe I won’t be outshined. That fear of being outshined is what keeps me motivated.
Aaron Iara: Competition, even when it is friendly, can serve as a very important motivator. There are many sources of creative energy. Some wait for inspiration, while others train their creative skills. There are endless strategies for approaching the creative process. How do you approach your own creativity?
Emcee Graffiti: More often than not I have to just take myself away from distractions. Any time I can just sit down and not have distractions around me(family, friends, video games etc), I can just work. Once I get an idea, I make a plan to seclude myself for a time. Unfortunately, sometimes actually finding a substantial block of time to work is hard.
Aaron Iara: As someone who has been playing gigs for most of my life, I know that making a name for yourself in the local and national music scene can be a daunting process. How has the process been for you? What obstacles have you run into?
Emcee Graffiti: When I first started doing shows in 2007, it was a pretty smooth jump into the scene. I was a young charismatic guy that helped out with things. I was going to open mics and would help set up and tear down. I was rocking festivals and helping with set up, tear down, promo, and planning. Being nice and helpful goes a long way. Especially when you’re just doing it without pay. I put my solo art on hiatus for a while to focus on other ventures and now that I’m back to focusing on my solo art, I’ve found that I’m not nearly as energetic and full of stamina as I was a decade ago. Plus, I’m not doing shit for free these days.
Right now the biggest obstacle is my own standards. I won’t work with people I don’t dig. I won’t support people that I think are trash. I don’t want fans that are racist, homophobic, or just general people I want to punch. There are a lot of games to play in any community. Politics, art, industry, whatever. I’m much more picky about the games I’ll play these days. [Insert Arthur Morgan laugh]
Aaron Iara: I have felt the same way recently. It can be difficult to navigate in a niche where many of the players are manipulative and negative. I used to find that discouraging, but I have learned to just avoid the “games”.
What advice can you give to those who want to make their own music? Do you have any advice for those who want to make hip hop specifically?
Emcee Graffiti: Create. Just create. If it’s good, people will tell you.If it’s shit, people will tell you. But if it’s something you love doing, just do it. Don’t put your worth in other people’s hands. If no one like what you do but you still enjoy it, don’t stop. If only one person digs what you’re doing, keep doing it for yourself AND that one person. But if you want to make things that people like, listen to what your critics say. Make changes. Which is more important: your pride or your goal?
As for Hip-Hop. Do whatever you want. Hip-Hop is a full-on culture. If you just embrace the rapping part of it but not the culture of it, I probably wouldn’t dig you. There’s a certain finesse that you can’t learn, you just get. That comes from embracing the culture.
Listen to some of the older Hip-Hop. Watch some documentaries. Wear clothes that express yourself. Go hang out with people that are doing things you like. Don’t try to be an expert, just become part of it if you actually love it. If you don’t love it, please stay the fuck out of it.
Aaron Iara: Give a shout to some of the great local musical talent! There are a lot of talented artists in our area.
Emcee Graffiti: When I first started listening to local Hip-Hop it was all Pitch Control Music (Dezmatic, Shyste, JB!!, Sev Statik, Sween etc). I def looked up to those cats. Eventually, they became my peers. But, they’re still the OGs. Big peace to Pig Food Records, Beat Shot Music, Final Word Records, and my own team Iron Bar Collective (Dephyant and Gorilla Tao). Right now the four hardest working cats I’m seeing that are putting out consistently dope material are JB!!, Mic Lanny, Juice Mega, and B Chaps.
My favorite album to come from the area is still “Brain Cave Deluxe” by Elsphinx. Devin B, Oz.Alone, Ohzhe, Mike Arson, Kaine, Zae Biggs, Maddness, Villa Dom, Animal Cracker, MistaPigz, Icabod Chang, and Xkwisit are all heads I get a chance to kick it with on a semi often basis. I’ve had the pleasure to collaborate and/or rock the stage with all of them. Almost all of them have projects in the works. 2019 is gearing up to be a terrifyingly awesome year.
Aaron Iara: That is quite the list and I completely agree! I have had the pleasure of seeing most of these artists live. They are all very talented and make great, entertaining art.
Do you have any other projects in the works that you would like to discuss?
Emcee Graffiti: Well, speaking of 2019– I’ll be releasing my first solo album in nearly 10 years. The album is titled “Aversion Therapy” and is set to release on Friday 04/12/2019 on all major digital media platforms. The majority of the project is self produced with only two vocal features.
Aaron Iara: I can’t wait! Make you keep us posted as you get closer to the release date! Where can our readers find you and your work?
Thanks Emcee Graffiti!
A huge thank you to Emcee Graffiti for taking the time to speak with me this week. I hope you all decide to check out his music and see what he has been up to.