Talent Spotlight: Interview with rap renaissance man Emcee Monte
Emcee Monte is an up-and-coming artist in the world of hip hop. Young, driven, and inspired to put out something positive into the world, the performer intentionally dedicates himself to creating work that uplifts, empowers, and tells stories that bring communities together. “The only other thing in my life that matches my passion and desire to create and perform is my passion to help people,” explains the artist to ARTpublika Magazine. And, given everything that’s happened over the last few years, it’s a noble intention that is more than welcome in the world. We interviewed Monte to learn more about his art, what’s in his heart, and why he puts social good at the forefront of his creative pursuits.
How did you first get interested in music? Who were your favorite artists as a teen? How have your interests shifted since then?
I first got interested in music through my mother. She is a singer, who grew up performing in a gospel choir and, later, got into soul, R&B, and jazz. We would be hanging around the house, helping her clean or while she was cooking, and she would play the best music! So, it was a big part of my childhood. I was always trying to sing and dance like Michael Jackson. I also started a Boys II Men cover group in the 5th grade; we won the local school talent shows. And, Stevie Wonder made me want to learn about everything he did, I loved jamming to his music.
My older brother introduced me to hip hop. I fell in love with the music and the culture. I would walk around rapping LL COOl J, Run-DMC and Dana Dane songs. As a teen, my favorite artists were Common, Nas, Twista, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, Outkast, Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, The Roots, and a few others from the Soulquarians camp. All of my favorite hip hop artists from that era have had long and successful careers, and are still big in the industry today. Out of contemporary artists, I have Lupe Fiasco, Lecrae, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Rapsody — among others — on constant rotation.
Why do you try to keep your music clean? Why is promoting positivity important to you? What made you decide that this is the path you wanted to take?
I think that a lot of the mainstream rap music we’re exposed to today is explicit, violent, full of stereotypes, misogyny, gang culture, etc., and is spoon-fed to us by the industry — it keeps us trapped in a destructive cycle. Hip hop emerged as a form of protest against oppression. Many of the very first rap songs to blow up told stories of Black and Brown communities, spoke out against oppression, and gave voice to America’s poor. When I listened to them, I embraced hip hop culture and wanted to rap, learn to break dance and draw graffiti. Compared with the state of rap music today, it seems to me that we have lost our way.
I think that young people are influenced by today’s music, just like I was as a child. Hip hop is arguably the most influential culture ever created, and rap is currently the most consumed music worldwide. That’s powerful, and we have to use that power for good — to change the world for the better. Zulu Nation popularized the phrase "peace, love, unity and having fun" and I think that is what hip hop is all about. I’m here to bring that back.
You’re a fan of performance art and graffiti art. What attracts you to these art forms?
When I was young, I discovered that performing on stage is a powerful experience that is unmatched by anything else. Having the ability to create art is a magical gift, and I feel blessed to be able to share it.
I love to express my creativity in different ways, one of which is drawing. As a kid, I drew bubble letters and wrote my name in cool and creative ways, long before I learned that what I was doing was called is called tagging. When I was in the 7th grade, I began drawing in my first art book, filling it with tags and mural concepts. Whenever I saw a mural, I would spend time on it — taking in every part, examining every letter, and identifying all of the details. I also loved seeing the b-boy and b-girl characters depicted in graffiti; as a teen, I saw myself in the pieces because I was a b-boy, too.
When I was officially introduced to graffiti, I loved the colors, creativity, the expression of the art form, and the idea of painting something so unique. One of the artists I admire most is Lavie Raven, my mentor and one of the founders of the University of Hip Hop.
What are you currently reading?
What is the best piece of advice you've ever taken?
It came from one of my childhood mentors, as well as from Michael via the book I mentioned above: Believe in yourself and do not doubt what you are capable of.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself as a successful full time performer, with the artistic freedom to make the best art that I can; I see myself recording music and touring; I hear my music getting significant airplay on the radio; I see myself financially set and debt free; and, most importantly, I see myself in a position to help and mentor other artists from Chicago.
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