It is with mixed emotions that I write this interview post honoring my son’s farewell-to-rap tape titled “Valleys”: excitement for his fan base and the release of some of his best hip hop songs yet; sadness about how this release marks the end of a journey that’s helped shape my son into the person that he is; appreciation for his unique gift of art; pride for all he’s achieved, from the day I discovered those first eye-opening lyrics in his nightstand drawer to his killer performances this past year at local clubs and college campuses; and concern that he will miss this personally fulfilling and gratifying activity.
One emotion I’m not feeling, though, is regret. Despite my occasional misgivings about the virtuousness of the rap genre, writing is writing, and I am a huge supporter of the craft. And let’s face it—good writing, whether it be creative nonfiction or rap lyrics, requires hard work. When I see such unwavering dedication to something that furthers creativity, strengthens work ethic, hones both skills and senses, and then gives back by entertaining or enlightening…well, there’s nothing there for a mom to regret. (Of course, that he pulled off a 4.0 this past semester, during one of his most academically-challenging and musically-fruitful years, makes any wee regret I may have had quickly dissolve.)
But enough about me. I sat down with Jack, for the third time, to get his thoughts on his new mixed tape and the final chapter of his rap writing venture. Here’s what he had to say:
For those who haven’t heard the story, tell us how you came to title your new tape “Valleys.”
I went to high school and spent a lot of my growing up years in Apple Valley, Minnesota. And Fargo-Moorhead, where I attend college, is known as “the valley.” But symbolically, the title refers to the hills and valleys, or highs and lows, of life. So it not only relates to my upbringing but also to where I’ve been and my life experiences.
You’ve mentioned how personal growth has motivated the lyrics behind many of your songs. Does this new music portray that same theme?
I think it’s less about me talking about my personal growth and more about people perceiving it. The listeners will hear the growth, so it’s less contrived this time, more natural.
I know you wanted to go out with a bang when writing the music for this tape. What went into the writing process this time around that makes the songs stand out?
I wrote about 50 songs and cut it down to the best 10. I started with a bigger inventory this time so that I could make it the best it could be. I also put more pressure on myself to make this final tape satisfying. I’ve gone back after I’ve recorded and listened more critically, then done more editing and perfecting.
In addition to your music writing, you’ve written many papers in your college career so far. Do you see any parallels between the two types of writing? Has either helped or hindered the other?
With my syntax, there’s a big disparity between writing an essay and writing a rap song. But there are many parallels too. They both have to have a good introduction, the body needs to relay a story and be engaging, both have to have climaxes, and there has to be a good concluding sentence—one that ties in and clinches. Actually, the conclusion is probably the toughest part for essays and rap songs. No matter what you’re writing, though, the more experience you get doing it, the more it’ll help any kind of writing.
Writing takes guts and a certain amount of risk. That’s probably an understatement when it comes to writing rap. How do you overcome the fear of exposing your soul to the world?
I don’t give that much thought to it. Some people are more private. I’m more open. You want people to relate to you. One of my strengths is that I’ve always been good at relating to people.
If you could go back and change one thing about your musical endeavors, whether it’s related to writing or not, what would it be?
It’s hard to say whether I’d change anything, but I would probably have cared less about others' opinions. I was always worried about how rap might affect my future, my future employers. But everyone’s been supportive and positive.
Finally, something everyone wants to know: Is this really the end, or will we hear one more song after the release of “Valleys?”
I will always write. I can’t say I’ll never write another song. It is the end of me releasing music and acting as a musician. I feel satisfied with where I’m at, and I think it’s time.
And that about wraps it up. Except for one thing: Congratulations, Jack!
To read Jack's previous interviews on writing and rap, see Writing and Rap Music: A Mother's Dilemma, Part II and Writing and Rap Music: A Mother's Dilemma, Part I.
For more information about Jack's music, please visit jyak.bandcamp.com.