Back in August of 2014, I decided to challenge myself creatively with the "16s On Sunday" series. Every week I would write a 16 bar verse, and perform and record it on Sunday. This came at a time when I had finished up all the writing and most of the recording for my upcoming album, and we were working on some of the more technical aspects of preparing it for release. In the meantime, I wanted to keep my pen game tight. The goal wasn't necessarily to gain exposure or create a super polished product, but to become better at writing, memorizing, and performing. I made the process public simply to hold myself accountable.
Over the span of 4 months I recorded eleven 16 bar verses, which became Season 1 of "16s On Sunday." While that's not exactly one a week, it was a super productive time for me, and it helped me to continue to sharpen my skills while we were finishing production on the album. The ultimate test will come when I submit my audition tape for the www.teambackpack.net cyphers, later this month. That video will serve as the Season 1 Finale, and hopefully will stand as a testament to my progress throughout the process. Before the Season 1 Finale airs, I wanted to take a look back at Season 1 and critique my work. Please join in the convo and leave comments. I appreciate all the support and feedback!
16 Bar Challenge
My favorite bars: "In the 'Age of Extinction,' I transform like Optimus/ Spit a 'Fantastic Four' when I flame on like phosphorus/" (These are bars #3 and #4).
This is where "16s On Sunday" was born. As a response to a call-out, I wrote and recorded this verse. This got a lot of love on Facebook before I posted it to YouTube, and I am grateful to everyone who checked it out and expressed support. Lyrically, I am very happy with this verse. If I have one critique, it is in the performance. I was trying to go hard in the spirit of competition, but when I look back on the video, I'm just shouting the whole time.
BET Hot 16 2014
My favorite bars: "Bars hit your throat like an elbow off the top ropes/ But the flow touch your soul like a Pac quote/"
This was my submission for BET's Hot 16 2014 competition. The winner of the competition would be featured in one of the BET Award Show Cyphers. The beat is the one chosen by DJ Drama, for all contestants to rap over for the competition. Initially, I had a hard time liking this video. But I also had a hard time figuring out what specifically was wrong with it. I'm sure I was just being hyper self-conscious, due to thought of DJ Drama judging my performance (based on the number of submissions, I'm sure interns sifted through most of the videos). The more I look back on it, the more proud of it I am as a solid submission. I think the writing, energy, and performance were all solid. If I could go back, I would turn up the volume of the instrumental, to get a better mix between the vocals and the music. I also have some issues with my breath control (my breaths seemed really loud), but I think turning the instrumental up would control for some of that.
Episode 1 "Be"
My Favorite Bars: "Dopeness eminating out the speakers, y'all should soak it up/ Or spray it your hair and let your Soul Glo/ In lion skin, looking like I'm James Earl Jones, bro/ Which would make me the Mufasa of these Pridelands/"
This is the first official entry in the "16s On Sunday" series, which I decided to begin after doing the previous two videos. For the beat I went with "Be" produced by Kanye West, off of Common's classic album "Be." I picked it because it is one of my favorite intros of all-time. This entry is a little bit of a sore spot in the series for me. I love the writing here, and the bars above are some of my favorite of the entire series. But for me, the performance leaves a few things to be desired. At this point I was still having issues working out the proper volume of the instrumental, so the vocal/music mix isn't as balanced as I'd like it to be. While I love my charisma and energy, I also look a little stiff, and I think you can hear it in my delivery too, as I could've been a little more nimble on the beat. Finally, for me, the delivery of the last two bars is cringe-worthy. And why did I say, "... braaaaand new," like that? Progress is a process.
Episode 2 "Two Words"
My favorite bars: This one really needs to be experienced as a whole, but "Got me boxed-in, like I'm Happy Wok take-out/" was some nice wordplay.
This is the first of two story telling verses in Season 1. It is also without a doubt the most emotional entry in the series. While this examines the relations between citizens and the police, and I wrote this in the midst of all the coverage of the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, I wasn't trying to draw any comparisons, or present this as any type of commentary, in regards to that incident. This is more directly a nod to the Bob Marley classic, "I Shot the Sheriff." To me, "I Shot the Sheriff," is an extremely powerful song about integrity, and abiding by a moral code (in which self-preservation is a pillar), even if that moral code is not always consistent with human law. For some reason, probably related to all the Ferguson coverage, I was feeling really moved by the song that week, and decided to write something inspired by it. I chose the beat for "Two Words" by Kanye West, off his album "College Dropout," because I thought it fit really well with the sentiment of the story.
This is the only video which features a separate intro/outro, because I couldn't bring myself in and out of the story fast enough to do it all in one take. I think the performance is really heavy, and I like that about it. It's a heavy story. I really wish I would've turned the instrumental up, because it is essentially drowned out by the vocals. This hurts the performance because I think it makes it come off a little more over-zealous than it actually was. That's probably my only complaint here. Eventually I'd like to make this into a song with some original production.
Episode 3 "Feelin It"
My favorite bars: "Aroma of the conversation mimics that of travelers/ Familiar with the Gaza Strip or pyramids in Africa/ But when it comes to passports, a lot of us are lacking 'em/ Some even legality, INS is tracking 'em/" I love the idea that a conversation can have an aroma.
To me this is the first week where everything really comes together. The vocal/music mix is balanced, the story fits the Ski Beats production from "Reasonable Doubt" nicely, and the laid back energy of the performance ties everything together. This is the second story telling verse, but I guess it really isn't telling a story at all. It is creating an ambiance. Maybe some day I'll write a story to fill that ambiance. The only thing I can critique is the fact that this wasn't written during the time of the series. This is a verse I had written a few years ago, for a feature that fell through, and I was dying to use it for something.
Episode 4 "Greek Fest"
My favorite bars: "Grab the microphone and I wield it like a weapon/ As long as I'm breathing, fighting with the force of Tenzin/" I was all in my feelings over the thought that Tenzin, a character in the show "Legend of Korra," may have died in that week's episode (Book 3: Change; Episode 11).
A verse I had written the day before, spit over the festival music at the local Greek Orthodox Church. I should've been rapping a little louder, but for something relatively impromptu, and with no control over the surrounding noise or music, I'm pretty happy with this one.
Episode 5 "Triumph"
My favorite bars: All the bars from my H&C brethren.
The only Episode to feature guest spots, and the only other time I recycled a verse written for something else. We recorded this in a Mickey D's parking lot in Dekalb, IL, after our performance at the House Cafe that night. This features emcees from my group Hustle & Culture, TRIM Forte, Akeem Kizart, and The ImFamous KenFlow B, as well as H&C affiliates Kid Ape and Loyd N Space.
We spit over the classic posse cut "Triumph" by the Wu-Tang Clan. My verse is something I wrote for a Hustle & Culture cypher that was supposed to take place years ago, when I first joined the group. That cypher never happened, so I figured I would use the verse for this one. Another reason I used this verse over the "Triumph" beat is because the way I deliver the bars, "I sting like a manta ray, Bruce Banner gamma ray/ Hulk Smash Abomination, fly like I'm Santa's sleigh/" reminds me of when Inspectah Deck said, "I bomb atomically, Socrates' philosophies and hypotheses/ Can't define why I be dropping these.../" I didn't do that consciously at the time I wrote the verse, but I think it definitely speaks to Wu-Tang being a strong musical influence.
I love the way this went down. We didn't rehearse the performance, so the beat actually finishes and starts over during the last two bars of my verse. I tried to stay on rhythm despite the unexpected shift. Next time we need a DJ!
Episode 6 "Backseat Freestyle"
My favorite bars: "Kill an emcee, then go for lunch at the taco truck/" ... All in a day's work for the Wordbender.
This one. This one is everything I wanted the series to be. Even though I wasn't doing this for views, I'm a little bummed out that the views started falling off at this point, because I think this is when everything came together for the next four episodes. I think this is hands down my best performance of the series. I look loose, and that came across in the delivery. Of course after Kendrick demolished this Hit-Boy beat, I wasn't going to try to spit anything that remotely resembled his verse. I attacked it in my own way, and achieved what I feel is a good balance between braggadocio and social commentary, with some nice wordplay. If someone saw this video as an introduction to my rapping ability, I wouldn't be mad at it.
Episode 7 "Re: DEFinition"
My favorite bars: "And you wanna be a leader, but you cling to the fear/ If you electrify the people, then they'll give you the chair/ I mean look how they did Barack, and then/ Go ahead and tell me how I'm s'pposed to change world with some hope and a prayer/"
Straight political and social commentary here. The verse references Kanye West's "Jesus Walks," but it was too obvious to also use the beat (Plus, I had already used several of Kanye's beats). So I took it way back to a Hi-Tek instrumental from one of my favorite albums, and probably one of the most influential albums in my personal artistic development: "Re: DEFinition," from Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star. I know instrumentals like this are from a by-gone era, but I love rapping over beats like this.
Episode 8 "My Philosphy"
My favorite bars: "Way these rappers singing, you would think that this was 'Frozen'/ Wordbender bring the heat like I'm Firelord Sozin/"
I was challenged by a friend to rap over this beat. It felt good to get down over the jazzy production of "Boogie Down Productions." This is another one where it felt like everything clicked and I had really hit my stride with the series. The writing was tight and the performance was loose. Did you hear the shout out to Mrs. Portis!?! My fellow West Warriors know.
Episode 9 "0 to 100"
My favorite bars: "My aura so Maasai on the plains of the Serengeti/ My posture straight, even though the chain is heavy/"
I made a conscious effort to pick a current beat here, because my tendency is to lean towards more Boom Bap era production. I have tremendous respect for Drake and what he brings to the game. In an era when it's harder than ever to be a mainstream Hip Hop artist, the dude released a Top 40 song with straight bars, no hook, and no 4x4 bassline. That's pretty impressive. Anyway, I wasn't trying to channel Drake in this one, but I had fun rapping over the beat. My performance was a little tighter than I would've liked, but the writing was on point. I didn't intend for this to be the last episode, but I got so tied up in the album production process and video production, that I haven't done another "16s On Sunday" since. Thank you for taking the journey with me. This is all about artistic and creative growth, so I would love to get your feedback in the comment section! Be on the lookout for my Team Backpack audition soon!