A higher state of mind

by Ryan Snyder

Fifteen, 10, maybe even five years ago, if an aspiring hiphop artist had revealed that he grew up going to opera camp or spent a summer on Broadway, it would all be over before it started. Credibility shot. You just didn’t go from playing Young Simba to being a young stunna. Tupac Shakur had an advantage in that his legend had already been built in a pre-internet world before he revealed himself as an ex-Baltimore School of the Arts ballet prep. It’s no coincidence that 20-year old DC-born rapper and current Guilford College student Beau Young idolizes ’Pac. He shares the same thirst for enlightenment, a higher social and political consciousness you could say, as the legendary artist and like Tupac, his art is founded in learned classicism.

You’ll always hear baseball scouts talk about prospects in terms of their essential tools: how well they run, field, throw and hit for average and power. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is among the most revered five-tool prospects in baseball because he excels in every facet. Young, or BeauYoungPrince as he’s artistically known, could be the Mike Trout of hip hop. Most probably don’t even realize that there’s a place in hip hop for a five-skill performer. That is until BYP whips out a bass on stage, an instrument in which he was schooled intensively in both classical and jazz for 10 years. Or when he intermingles wicked footwork in with his oscillating flows over beats he created himself.

His last tool, however, is one that isn’t readily apparent on stage. BYP is an independent artist in the truest sense, doggedly guiding his own career until he’s sure he’s taken it as far as he can by himself. So far, it’s earned him a sold-out show at Sullivan’s in New York City, a venue whose only other sold-out hip-hop show was Mos Def. As of press time, he and his hype man Fish are taking part in a SXSW showcase hosted by DC indie label Pop Up Shop Records, which broke the 5,000 RSVP mark last week. He’s had A&R reps from Kanye West’s GOOD Music label reach out about culling a best-of mix from the staggering seven tapes he’s released in his short five-year hip-hop career, with two more likely on the way before the year is out. His philosophy for staying indie is simple: Be awesome live and make free music.

“The songs are great and whatever, but the live shows are where it’s at. No one wants to go to a show that’s bland,” Young said over a plate of French toast for lunch. “I’m to the point where playing bass is a part of my sets. Rappers don’t do that. You don’t see anyone bring that type of variety to it nowadays. I want it to be a real show. The New School is giving me hope and that’s where I’m coming from.”

The New School is into Old School, it seems. He gushes about groups like a Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets, but references the Cool Kids and their snap-backs, gold chains, clean breaks and smooth, early ’90s throwback swagger as the sound and style he most closely models. It’s definitively seen and heard in his first video from back in 2010, a track called “Prep Matters.” The look is that of a young Eazy and the sound is fat, G-funk bass, splashes of djembe and Donnie Hathaway vocal snaps way up in the mix.

It’s also not complete representative of the BYP sound, who opens a new chapter in his songbook with each release. 2011’s The Reverse Effect and War found him stringing together psych, crunk, shoegaze and synthy R&B, while the DOPE Collective mixtape from earlier this year dabbled in more aggressive dubstep and electro beats. It’s a diversity of style that originates from an ethos that demands he constantly remain open and vigilant to the approaches of others he meets, whether it’s studying how A$AP Rocky can rile a crowd to a frenzy with minimal effort, turning a cold experience with his hometown hero Wale into a building point or osmosizing the resilience of old/new rapper Danny Brown. His newest track, “Night Sky,” was produced by British beatsmith Star Slinger and represents the next evolution in his young career.

“The Star Slinger jam, to me, is the future of hip hop. Real glitchy, indie-style beats, that’s what I want to move to. UK producers try really hard to make authentic hip hop but fall a little short because their influences are always down South hardcore hip hop,” Young said. “I know they want that authentic sound and I want their authentic electronic sound. I just want to make this a freak show of music.”

BeauYoungPrince will perform at Greene Street Club this Friday.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan