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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.

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Rap music writing

A lot has changed since my original post about my son's rap writing endeavors. For one thing, my son is a year older and no longer a “teen.” But with that bump in age have come more noteworthy changes for him; among them, a maturity in his rap music. Now I’m not talking about his voice, though it may sound a little lower, or his sound, which is undeniably crisper, or even his beats and melodies, more varied and dimensional. No, as a mom and a writer, I’m referring to his stories, the substance behind his music. Specifically, his ability to put words together to express something meaningful, creative, intelligent, and engaging. That’s what writing is all about.

I’d like to believe I’ve matured, too, as the mom of a rap writer. And I think I have. The profanity doesn’t bother me as much, although I still prefer listening to the “cleaner” songs. More important, I get the point of rap more than I did a year ago. It isn’t just a fad or a culture or a mix of (sometimes confusing) words and beats; it’s an art. To be able to write rap—and do it well—takes time, talent, patience, reflection, and deep concentration. Mostly, though, it takes good storytelling.

With the release of his new mixtape “Jetta Tapedeck,” I thought I’d sit down and ask my son a few more questions, writer to writer.

Your new mixtape basically chronicles a night out in your car. Most writers draw ideas from their personal experiences. How personal is this tape?  

It’s relatively personal, more so than my past music. I still wanted to keep things a little ambiguous, but I also wanted to portray character growth and how I’ve moved away from my childhood tendencies.

Explain how you organized the songs for “Jetta Tapedeck.” Did you start with an outline or a synopsis?

No, I don’t use an outline or synopsis. I usually have an idea of a track list and build on that idea. I like the first song on the album to be catchy and the last song to be more introspective and slow. Then I try to make it all cohesive as I go along. You’ll notice, for example, that there’s a reference to my car in every song.

What, in your opinion, is your best lyric from this tape or any other? Explain why.

“I found a mystery woman, I found a mystery woman, I thought if I repeated myself, then maybe history wouldn’t.” This is from the new tape. I like the double meaning of it, and it fit well in the context of the song.

One of my favorite expressions is from the movie Finding Forester, where Sean Connery tells his young mentee to first write with his heart and then go back and write with his head. Do you follow that advice when you write rap or do you prefer to go with your gut?

With rap, I think the writing comes from the heart and the recording comes from the head.

But most serious writers have to do at least some rewriting and editing to fine tune their work. What role do these processes play in rap writing for you?

These days, I’ve become less confined to my first attempt at writing. If something fits better, I’ll change a word or shorten a sentence. But as far as major editing, I don’t do that. That would take away from the raw emotion of the writing.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer of music? Has your education helped in that growth?

I’ve tried to make my lyrics more relatable. I stopped trying to impress people with clever word play and analogies and have tried to make my music more grounded, easier to interpret. I don’t want to confuse people with my music; I want them to understand it. And yes, my education has given me a better understanding of the world, and that helps with my writing. It’s also expanded my vocabulary.

Any ideas for your next project?

No…you don’t want to force writing.  I’m just going to relax for awhile.

And that, as they say, is a wrap.

To read part one of Writing and Rap Music: A Mother’s Dilemma, click here.

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If you have teenage kids, you probably know all about rap music. If you’re like me and have a child who writes rap, well, you may know more than you’d like to know about rap music. And, like me, you may have a mixed opinion about it.

Rap music is really all about beats and lyrics. As a writer, I can appreciate that. I like good writing and a good message performed to a catchy beat.  Of course, a big complaint of parents is the profanity that seems to make its way into rap songs, and I’m no different. I’ve always wondered why rappers couldn’t get their point across without using all the colorful language. My son’s lyrics are relatively tame, but an expletive here and there can still feel like nails on a chalkboard. I’m sure other moms of rappers agree. So what are we to do?

I decided to sit down with my son and find out a little bit more about what goes into the writing of a rap song. The result? His answers not only helped me understand and even embrace his passion, they offer some good tips for writers of all genres. Here’s what my son had to say:

What or who inspired you to start writing rap?

A friend of mine used to write raps, which were more like poems, and text them to people. He got me inspired to write my own raps. Professionals who’ve inspired me along the way include Lupe Fiasco, Blu, and J. Cole.

How is writing rap like writing poetry? How is it different?

Well, rap music and poetry both need flow and rhythm. They also should have a conclusion and tell a story. But with rap, you’re more inclined to make everything rhyme. You also have to have more structure with rap, because it has to fit within a beat and be musical at the same time.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing rap?

There’s a lot of pressure to show your credibility, which can limit you as a writer. You have to try to keep it real and be true to yourself, approach every song as yourself.

Why do you think profanity is so prevalent in rap music?

There’s always a place for filler words, like swear words, in rap songs. Profanity is used because artists are mostly from a younger generation, so they’re more desensitized to that type of word. Plus, the fan base is young people, who again don’t care about swear words. The profanity is more a reflection of the generation than the music itself.

In your opinion, is profanity necessary for a good rap song?

No, but a swear word wouldn’t hinder a song’s success. On the other hand, too much swearing in a song wouldn’t make it mainstream, but some artists don’t care if they’re not mainstream.

How do you come up with an idea for a rap song?

I usually come up with a concept from my mood or something that happened. I don’t know how the song will unfold or end, though, until I start writing.

Has writing rap music helped you in other areas of your life? If so, how?

Mostly, it’s helped my vocabulary grow. It’s also helped me socially and kept me up on current events. And it’s helped me become a deeper thinker.

What advice would you give an aspiring rap writer?

Find a way to separate yourself from everyone else, and keep some ambiguity in your lyrics so that listeners have a reason to listen to your music again and find new interpretations of it.

 

Image by Vincent & Bella Productions