A Kid With A Dream – How ShayJToday Defies Southern Hip Hop Stereotypes
By Sumit Rehal
When you hear the word ‘conscious’ when it comes to hip hop, the first names that come to mind mostly happen to be from New York or Los Angeles.
Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, 2Pac and Kendrick Lamar are some of the most popular conscious rappers and they all hail from the coasts. The first rappers that I think about when talking about the South are traditionally Outkast, Ludacris and Lil Wayne while more recently Migos, Young Thug and Future.
These rappers have broken ground for their hedonistic energies rather than their thought provoking, lyrical content so when I was told that rapper based in Atlanta called ShayJToday was going to perform in my hometown of Croydon, South London, I instantly assumed that I was going to hear a trap flavoured sound.
As soon as I heard ShayJToday’s single “Ghetto Geppetto (Kid With A Dream)” I was instantly blown away by the raw lyricism and deep message that was being shared. The passion in the rapper’s verses showed and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see him in his first ever London performance at Life Vocabulary Magazine’s Culture Capture alongside London artist Fontzerelli down the road from me at Huss Art House.
Host Serena Hussain aka HUSS began the nightwith a symposium , which was a of the types of in depth conversational interviews that Life Vocabulary captures with Artists and Creatives.
The intimate ambience of Huss Art House provided the perfect setting for Shay J’s personable manner as he got his set going with Smooth Sailing, which I instantly took a liking to for its nostalgic Summer Madness sample. The warm vibe continued throughout the first few tracks as Shay J proved himself as more than a rapper with soulful vocals that Andre 3000 himself would be proud of.
The night then took an eye opening turn as the lyricist breathed fire bar after bar with his descriptive storytelling. The emotion of Shay J was really felt as he looked every member of the audience in his eyes as he told tales of his personal experiences.
I wonder why my brother smokes weed,
Is that the closest to god he’s ever been?
The attendees were evidently moved as the performance drew to a close with Shay J getting a standing ovation. I was then given the honour of interviewing the talented artist.
As we sat down, the rapper shared with me that he was originally from Florida before recently moving further inwards to Georgia. This was his first time in the UK but he’s a natural at performing in front of a crowd and he himself knew it went well.
“Man that was pretty cool!” Shay J told me at the end of the night.
“The energy that I wanted to give to the room, was definitely felt. I mean we live our lives dying so why not give your all to any situation and be fully in the moment?”
These days, hip hop often gets categorised into either just trap or just boom bap but Shay J, along with fellow performer, Fontzerelli displayed the versatility of the genre with unique yet compelling styles.
“Man I gotta give major props to Fontzerelli, these days people have been sleeping on New Jack Swing but he brought it back and put his own twist to that and it was cool the way he did that.” Shay J shared.
“I mean there is still an audience and older individuals that identify with those tracks that he’s rapping over, along with that we are kind of in the same spectrum but with him bringing the old school and giving you something new so that bridge that he’s building is a great thing so he’s in his own class.”
The musician then explained how his stand out style came about amid a time when many from the south are breaking through with samey sounds.
“I’ve listened to and studied some of my heavy influencers so they’re in my DNA. I don’t contemplate on who I want to sound like, it comes out in a language that you recognise but it’s coming from a place that’s so natural”. He said.
“In my city, Palm Beach, there are a lot of people who go for the thugged out vibe but at the same time that’s a reflection of the city itself. That also doesn’t mean that’s all there is. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they think that I’m from NY.
“You don’t hear underground or meaning stuff in general across the board. The mainstream stuff is the cookie cutter stuff you receive. The south is known for that bounce so it’s like you won’t expect to not hear that soul when you hear Motown but that’s not the only thing that’s in Detroit.
“When you come to London, most expect to just see Big Ben but there are a whole lot of things that most people don’t know about. I make music solely for people who are searching for what I make.”
Shay J then wrapped up with the key to his growth, which is an inspiring message for anyone else looking to climb their own ladder.
“My uncle asked, in 20/30 years from now how are people going to respond to the music that’s made now? Are they bad seeds, is this bad soil?” He shared.
“Your mindset defines your reality so if you’re not thinking outside of the box, how can you reach new heights? I don’t focus on what the next person is doing, you have to tune deeply into yourself. You can’t be successful if you look at what everyone else is doing. Period.”
Life Vocabulary Magazine’s, “CULTURE CAPTURE” was produced by Serena Hussain – the Editor aka HUSS. Hosted by HQ HUSS ART HOUSE in South London. Recorded and streamed live. Be sure to check www.lifevocabulary.com for all the footage from the night.
Keep up to date with ShayJToday on www.shayjtoday.com
All photo credits go to www.lifevocabulary.com.