It’s not just about hip hop, it’s a movement. Wordsmith, the Baltimore based musician, is here to not only entertain, but educate through a Message of Purpose. He does this in a unique way that allows people from all walks of life to understand and enjoy. Each song provides a message through clean, quality, and marketable music for the masses.
On July 21st, Wordsmith dropped his latest album, “Perspective Jukebox”. It’s a conscious hip hop album that stands out in a world where conscious hip hop continues to be shut out. That being said, this man isn’t just a rapper, he’s an artist and businessman. His label NU Revolution Entertainment is recognized by his alma mater Salisbury University as a certified alumni business. Major accomplishments include being a Top 5 winner in the Great American Song Contest, touring Africa & Israel for Wordsmith’s American Music Abroad Tour, being included in the Five Artist to Watch Presented by JBL, and having featured music at Red Bull’s BC One World Final. Early next year, he will be working with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on a rendition of “Carnival of the Animals”.
Dylan Lyles of Icon Vs Icon had a chance to chat with Wordsmith about all of these accomplishments. They chat modern day hip hop, his charity work, and what he hopes to accomplish moving forward.
To start this off we always like to learn a bit about a musician’s early life. What are your first memories of music?
I like to think my first memories of music are unique because it didn’t take place in the U.S. My dad served in the Army for 27 years so I spent most of my childhood moving every 2 years to different states and overseas. My brother and I were both born in Germany, but the second time we lived there I was around 10 years old. My parents would take me to this store on an American base in Germany called AAFES and they would have a small collection of music. Crazy thing is by the time an artist would release their 2nd or 3rd album Germany was a year or two behind so I would just be getting their first album; TV shows were the same. Another big moment for me was when my parents bought my brother and I a boombox with the tapes Run DMC “Tougher Then Leather” and The Fat Boys are Back. I was a avid tape collector so I still have several tapes from these artists in my collection; they are priceless in my opinion.
What type of music, bands or artists had a impact on your life early on?
Your really taking me back, Dylan. I would have to say A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, EPMD, Redman and Nas really influenced my love of Hip Hop. I was a avid tape collector so I still have several tapes from these artists in my collection; they are priceless in my opinion.
What was the moment like when you decided this is what you wanted to do with your life?
When I graduated college music was actually my back up plan if acting didn’t work out. Majoring in Theater Arts and TV Production between Morgan State and Salisbury University I was invited to audition for Grad school at Penn State University. I told myself if I don’t get into Grad school for acting I would put all my efforts into becoming a professional musician. Well, we see how that turned out and I have no regrets as this was the path I was supposed to take.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I officially got my start in the indusrty by chance to be honest. I was mailing out this demo called “Classic Material” to several websites, Magazines and even labels. This was when blogs were just starting to get big on introducing new talent to the masses via the web. One day a guy named 730 emailed me from this site called Hip Hop Game saying he loved my demo. I remember he wrote an article on me for the site and that led to several opportunities along with some notoriety in the industry though I was just getting started.
You grew up in Baltimore; I grew up in Glen Burnie so I know the area well. How did growing up in Baltimore influence your sound?
I definitely call Baltimore home as I have lived here now well over 15 years. For a kid who didn’t have a regular home growing up I love my city! I can truly say Baltimore influenced me in the most positive way. We are a very blue collar hardworking city with an unfortunate opiate and homeless problem. Subjects like this are covered in my music but moreover it put me in the mind frame to make music for everyday people. Those are the ones who wake up early each morning and bus their tail to provide for their family and be productive members of society.
In a world where mumble rap has all but taken over the mainstream hip hop world, what drives you to continue making conscientious hip hop?
What’s sad, Dylan, is the phrase “Mumble Rap” is actually a term used to describe today’s Hip Hop. Nothing about the word mumble is considered a good thing in society. Last time I checked when someone mumbles you’re telling them to speak up and be clear lol. Being a Father I have seen how mumble rap has taken on a life of its own for our youth and here is some perspective for you. We as Americans pride ourselves on being a super power that sets an example for the rest of the world, so the fact that we promote a form of music where you can’t even understand what people are saying doesn’t represent American culture or any culture for that matter. It’s a slap in the face to the pioneers who paved a way for so many artists. Yes Hip Hop should have commercial aspects for radio airplay, but the focus on making quality records along with storytelling are sorely missing right now. I continue to make my conscious commercial Hip Hop in hopes the tide will change and the industry will get back to supporting artists who will be in the game for the next 10 years instead of two to three. I will continue the good fight by showcasing some good songwriting in the Hip Hop genre. In closing, the consumer shouldn’t be settling for this low quality form of music and demand Hip Hop artists give them more…
No matter the content matter of the song, there is an aura of positivity in your music. What would you say is the overall message you try to put forth throughout each release?
I appreciate that, Dylan. I would say a message of purpose is prevalent in all my work. I just feel you can make enjoyable music for the radio audience and backpackers equally; just have to be creative! I can’t write a song unless there is a purpose in place and that doesn’t always mean preaching to people. I love to party like the next man I just make my party and love songs with good taste so kids and adults can both enjoy it with cringing.
I had the pleasure of hearing your upcoming album “Perspective Jukebox”, which drops on July 21st, and may be out by the time this is up. I must say, it’s such a great cohesive project. How do you feel this release differs from the music you’ve put out before?
Thanks for listening to my project and I have to say the word “Cohesive” is a blessing to hear. What makes ‘Perspective Jukebox’ different then my prior projects is for the first time I chose not to do a concept album in favor of a collection of songs that define the music you would hear out of a jukebox. Today’s brand of Hip Hop; my flavor of course is on their along with records representing the Dance/EDM scene followed by Hip Hop Ballads on the back end. Still, one thing you will notice is each record has a message and theme though they are radio records. You get a perspective on life throughout, but it bumps like a jukebox playing all day at a bar or club!
You recently put out a video for the song “The Statement”. There is an immense amount of symbolism throughout the video. Describe your thought process in both putting together the song and creating the video.
When I wrote the statement my train of thought was to make a powerful commercial record that covered current issues we are dealing with in the US and Overseas. The Freddy Gray protests took place close to where I live so the vivid image of coming back from tour overseas to see the Rite Aid burnt down on my block was shocking. All of this played into how I wanted to deliver the record and make a statement for those who may not be comfortable speaking up. The last thing I wanted to do with this song is make a record that bumps out of your ride, while displaying some great lyricism and a catchy hook; a great example of how we could do Hip Hop and capture the hearts and minds of so many demographics.
We here at Icon Vs. Icon are huge wrestling geeks. NXT/WWE wrestler, Bianca Blair, uses your song “We Do It Better” as part of her entrance theme. How did this come about?
Yes! Great to hear you guys are big on Wrestling. I’ll admit I loved wrestling more during The Attitude Era of Stone Cold, The Rock and Mick Foley, but it’s great to see the WWE expand and provide more opportunities for aspiring wrestlers. To answer your question as an independent artist my main source of income is the music I write for TV, Films and Games. I have several license deals with major companies around the world that pitch my music on a constant basis, so the WWE is one I have worked with in the past with promo ads. This was the first time we came to an agreement on using one of my records as entrance music, so it’s a major victory. I’m hoping to build my relationship with WWE more as I would like to work my way into writing music for several of their wrestlers on a regular basis.
In January you’re teaming with members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and students from the Maryland Institute College of Art to perform Camille Saint-Saëns “Carnival of Animals”. For someone who may be unfamiliar, what can we expect from a performance such as this?
This was a great surprise as I was on tour in Israel when I got a message from the VP of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Tonya Robles. We had a prior relationship and always talked about meshing Hip Hop with the Orchestra. What makes this special is they brought me on to create brand new narration for a famous musical composition called “Carnival of the Animals”. BSO could have easily asked me to recite the regular narration, but they gave me the full power to write the script from scratch and turn it into a Hip Hop narrated version. It doesn’t kick off until January and February 2018, but it will for sure change my life as a musician once the shows start. I also like the fact that I am opening the doors for more African Americans in Baltimore to see everything is possible and we have a place in classical music.
Along with the music I know you are involved with an immense amount of charity work. Can you describe a few of the programs you partake in throughout the area?
Definitely; I have spoken about Baltimore’s homeless problem that bothers me on a daily basis, so besides giving away money, clothes and food on my own I’ve teamed up with Project Plase to provide Christmas gifts and clothes for the homeless in the city. I have worked further with the inner city school system and teamed up with Keller Williams Realty to for “Red Day” to bring field day to Baltimore City schools that don’t have the budget to make it happen. It’s important to do your part in this lifetime and help others; no need to be selfish.
Through everything you’ve accomplished, what stands out as your creative milestone?
Last year, I become a Grammy Voting Member thanks to my writing credits through the years in the industry. Every artist doesn’t get this honor so I see it as validation for my career thus far.
As a conscious hip hop artist, what are some of the struggles you face in an industry dominated by, dare I say, “meaningless” music?
The struggle is breaking through to the audiences that want this dumbed down music that makes no sense. I don’t feel people want to think, have knowledge or be educated in this generation. Today’s Hip Hop is like fast food, while I seek to make gourmet meals on wax. What I do know about Hip Hop is the stuff that is gimmicky or a fad never lasts. I watched the No Limit era come and go, I watched the Cash Money era come and go, I watched the Slip-n-Slide era come and go so I just need to stay the course and make timeless music because the industry shifts every few years.
The Phenomenal Dylan Lyles is an obsessive fan of cinema, pro wrestling, horror, vinyl, and comic books. Bursting from the womb in 1992, Dylan’s surrounded himself with all things geek culture. Earliest memories include Wrestlemania 11, ‘The Death of Superman,’ and Jason Voorhees emerging from the waters of Camp Crystal Lake. You may see him sharing his opinion on just about everything on the internet or maybe even working the crowds at pop culture events up and down the east coast. You love him and he loves you!