“Every rapper that’s actually good at what he does is an intellectual,” says a laid back Shawn Chrystopher from his hotel room in NYC’s Times Square. “Wayne is an intellectual, Jay of course is a intellectual, listen to the things he says its like “How’d you think of that?” Speaking with the tone of a man who’s used to thinking things through, it’s not hard to see which side of the line he falls on. But then again, a quick look into his past shows why that’s never been the case.
Graduating high school at the age of sixteen and being offered a four and a half year scholarship to the University of Southern California, Shawn’s future potential, much like his IQ, was truly sky high. But while his peers were still managing their acne, the Inglewood California native was fully focused on a future in music making, mastering five different instruments and building the writing, rapping and production skills that would make him a Hip-Hop All-star. “I was in school band from 7th grade to 12th grade,” he quickly points out.” So we learned music theory and all those things.” Not one to be limited to the classroom, Shawn was also drawn to the production lessons taught by master musician Quincy, via his work with the King of pop. “When he’d do things for Michael Jackson, he would have instruments on different sides so if you listen on the headphones, the strings are on the left and the horns are on the right,” he says with an excited grin. “Stuff that you may not pay attention to but I catch like “Yo that’s crazy!”
Honing his production method, Shawn soon developed the sound that would catapult him into the spotlight. “I use those 808’s that knock the speakers out, it has the substance of the Midwest with the instrumentation of the south,” he says detailing his process. “I would describe it as the new west coast, real high energy and real passionate.” With a signature sound and an introspective, melodic rap style influenced by the late great Tupac Shakur and Midwest marauders Bone Thugs-N- Harmony, Shawn had all he needed to create his debut project, 2009’s A City With No Seasons, which would go on to receive rave reviews from OKPlayer.com and HipHopOfficial.com.
When it’s all said and done, there is no substitute for the grind. A lesson Shawn got while promoting his project. “One thing I’ve learned is no one going to sell you if you can’t sell yourself,” he says of the work that would have him and his team on their computers for up to 14 hours a day in search of the next gig. “If you want these opportunities, you have to go out and get them.” Thanks to his online presence (over 2.5 million views to date) Shawn became the star of his first ever tour that he’d built from the ground up with sponsorship by the artist-friendly website, MySpace. “People would be like “Who else is on the tour?” and I’d be like “just me,” he says with a laugh.
Being a self-made man, people often wonder why he would bother entertaining offers from the majors that came calling after his March 2010 release The Audition EP scored over 35,000 downloads in its first week. But to those who would question him, he simply asks them to look at the bigger picture. “When a painter does a painting, he wants everyone to see it. So if I’m doing music I want everyone to hear it, and labels can put you on that main stage.” When asked about the well-known pitfalls of signing to a machine, Shawn simply shrugs like a man expecting the question. “I know there are politics,” he says earnestly. “But sometimes you have to swallow your pride for your art.”
There are plenty of things that bother Shawn Chrystopher about the music business. The lack of true artist development by labels, the rush of one-hit wonders diluting the world of Hip-Hop, the reoccurring philosophies of money over art that overwhelm the radio station. But the one thought that ruffles the feathers of the artist who has crafted his every step toward success, is the assumption that true MC’s are not thinking class musicians. “I think I try to be too intellectual when I don’t have to be,” he says shaking his head. “I do that purposely to separate myself, but I don’t think that’s anything extraordinary,” he says with a proud smile. “I put it out there more, but we’re all smart.”