(AllHipHop Interview) Music has been a part of Shawn Chrystopher’s life since his single mother, looking for something for her son to do after school, signed him up for middle school band. Shawn was introduced to a band director that taught him how to incorporate instrumentation into rap music, and the young trumpet player was set on a path to making Hip Hop a vital part of who he is.
Later on Chrystopher connected with another musical mentor who just happened to be one of the most celebrated composers in history. Grammy winning superproducer Timbaland took the rising rapper under his wing and as executive producer, helped Shawn craft his debut studio album The Lovestory LP set for release this week.
The 18-track project is a reflection of the rapper/producer’s Inglewood, California sphere of influence. Being 15 minutes away from Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Compton put Chrystopher “at the center of it all.” As a result his music provides the varied point of view of a multi-instrumentalist, storyteller, beatmaker, and artisan who sees his voice as a powerful tool.
AllHipHop.com recently spoke with Shawn Chrystopher, and the 27-year-old emcee talked about his new album, his relationship with Timbaland, his fellow L.A. rap peers, the George Zimmerman verdict, and more.
AllHipHop.com: You’ve been making music for a while. How does it feel knowing you’re about to release your first official L.P.?
Shawn Chrystopher: It’s amazing. I could have done this year’s ago. I felt like if I sold music last year or some years ago I would been cheating the fans, because it wasn’t until the past two years that I’ve honestly knew who I was an artist. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, where I wanted to take people. Now I can honestly say you can spend $12 dollars on this, because it’s going to teach you something. So to be in a place to be able to drop my debut album it’s really a good feeling, because I’ve come full circle as an artist. This is Shawn Chrys. This is who I am.
Can you describe the concept behind The Lovestory LP?
It stems from other records that I’ve made. A lot of the records that stood out to my fans where the ones I wrote about my past relationships with women. I had a guy the other day tell me he was getting a tattoo of the lyrics from my song “The Reason” that I wrote about one of my exes. When I see things like that I see that’s what my voice is for. So I’m writing these records, using my voice to tell my story about my life in regards to love. Not just love towards women. I love my homies. I love my family. I love this art Hip Hop. Everything I love has a record on my album.
Timberland is executive producing the album. How did you first connect with Tim?
I was chilling at a friend’s house one day and somebody called my phone and was like, “Timberland is about to call you in 10 minutes.” I was like, “What?” It was out of nowhere. We got on the phone and we chopped it up for about an hour. He was like, “I want to put you in a position to change some kid’s life 15 years from now.” But I can’t change someone’s life 15 years from now if I’m signed to another artist. I had to stay independent. I couldn’t sign to somebody. He just signed on to help with my direction, help me pick which songs are the best ones, and how the album should flow from top to bottom. I learned so much from him. He’s a legend. At the end of the day I have to stand on my own two in order to change someone else’s life 15 years down the line.
What was it like working with him in the studio? Was it intimidating working with a musical legend?
The first few times I was ever in the studio with him I was just silent. I was actually less than a fly on the wall, because at least a fly on the wall moves around. I was literally in a corner silent. I just sat back and learned. One of the first times in the studio he asked me [for my opinion]. I was like, “yo Timberland is asking my opinion.” I just gave my honest opinion like, “I think you should change that, change this.” Just me being honest was the reason he continued to f*ck with me. So now, not that I don’t see him as a superstar because he is, but he’s also my friend. Just being able to call somebody a legend and a friend at the same time, somebody I watched for years is actually working on my project is an incredible feeling.
Were you around for the recording sessions of Justin Timberlake’s [The 20/20 Experience] or Jay Z’s [Magna Carta Holy Grail] albums?
When they were doing Jay’s I was mostly in L.A. recording my album. Justin recorded most of his stuff in Los Angeles so I was blessed to be a party to those sessions. It was amazing to see that. I told Justin when they dropped Justified, MTV did this “Making The Album” [special], and I recorded that shit and still got it on VHS. I told Justin I got that shit so he realized I’m not just saying “you dope” just cause I’m signed with Tim, but I’m saying you dope cause I truly believe that shit. So Justin started f*cking with me too. It was just a great vibe, a great atmosphere and you can tell by how dope the music is.
We know Tim worked on your album. Who else contributed?
I did a bunch of the production. I got some beats from my homeboy Cameron Wallace, a dope producer out of Houston. He actually produced [Beyonce’s] “Upgrade U” with Swizz Beatz. He did Yelawolf’s “Daddy’s Lambo.” He has two songs on Ciara’s new album [Ciara]. I also got my long time partner Zaire Koalo. Me and him been working on projects since 2008. But I would say I did about 60-70% of it.
What about guest features?
I got two features on the actual album and one more on the deluxe. The only two features I got are Dom Kennedy and Polyster The Saint. Both of them are from L.A., so that was important that my features are from Los Angeles. I also made sure that my features brought something to the album and not add them just because of their name. If people want to hear other rappers they can go buy their albums. This is my album. I’m telling my story, so most of the songs are just me. But the features I have on there help tell my story. I honestly feel like I have Dom Kennedy’s best verse on my album, and I’m going to feel like that forever.
What’s your take on the new generation Los Angeles rap acts?
It’s just a bunch of kids out here making their own rules. Years ago you had to be the hardest gangsta rapper if you were coming out of California. That’s what they told us to do. You had to wear loc shades, raider gear. In the early 2000′s when Def Jam was hitting there were no L.A. acts really doing it. I remember the only artist signed to Def Jam at that time was Jayo Felony. He wasn’t the best person to represent West Coast. He was like, “I still wanna rap this gangsta shit,” so they signed him. When the internet popped off and we were able to upload our own shit without having to go through A&R’s and execs, we created our own rules. Now you have a whole bunch of people that are tired of people thinking this is what L.A. really is, and now we’re showing you what L.A. really, really is. You got Odd Future. You got YG. You got me. You got Dom. You got TDE. None of us sound the same, and we all live literally less than 15 minutes from each other. So we’re able to show how diverse L.A. is. The feeling out here in L.A. is amazing.
You have song the “Blackandwhite” that touches on interracial dating. After the George Zimmerman verdict where do you see the state of race relations in the country right now?
It’s not our country. That’s just what it is. All we can do, honestly, is work hard and bring all that food and money back home to our families. When you’re standing in front of them judges, when you standing in front of them benches and they have to decide if they’re going to side with this black man or not, it’s usually not going to be on our side. That’s just what it is. I keep telling my people stay out of trouble, because no matter if you’re right or wrong, just being black is wrong in this country. The only type of black person that’s accepted is a rich black man. If you don’t got that dough, if you’re not Diddy or Jay Z, you don’t have five passports with your name on it, you gonna go to jail if it comes to that point. And it sucks.
I really watched that whole trial and was like, “damn, man this is really f*cked up.” I’m not even mad at the verdict, because the prosecution didn’t do everything they should have done to fight for this young man’s life. I couldn’t even fault the jury. I fault the prosecution, because I don’t think they fought as hard as they should have for this black boy. In a sense, why would they fight that hard? They’re not connected to our struggle enough to fight hard.
Are you interested in producing for other artists or taking on a greater role as a producer-for-hire?
I would definitely producer for other artists, but I wouldn’t do it just because of the money. I would only want to work with other artists who really care about this shit like I do. I care about music. It’s not just a means for me to eat, but I feel like I can change the world through my music and through my words. I would only want to work people who feel the same way. That could be stupid. That might not be the most lucrative way to look at it, but that’s just how I feel. I don’t want to lend my brand out to anybody just for money. I only want to work with artists who really care about this rap shit like I do.
You have The Lovestory LP dropping the 23rd. How do you plan to celebrate?
Mad bottles of champagne. Me with all my homeboys who’ve been here since day one. Have my music on loud in my crib, and just sit there and drink and toast to life. We weren’t suppose to be here. I wasn’t suppose to be a rapper who people from all over the world are waiting on their project. I didn’t have to be that guy. I could be dead. I could be in jail. I could be working a 9-to-5, because no one wanted to hear me out when I said I could rap, but I’m not. I’m able to record a song and the whole world listen to it and really f*ck with it. So God blessing me with that and with these great people I have around me, you can don’t nothing but toast to that. That’s all I’ll be doing, toasting to life. Champagne campaign.
Shawn Chrystopher’s The Lovestory LP will be available for digital download through Honour ROLE Music on Tuesday, July 23rd at iTunes.
Check out the album cover and tracklist below.