This past Saturday morning I awoke with a jolt. Later that day I would be interviewing University of Redlands Fall Fest 2017 artists, DJ Ben Maxwell, rapper Joe Moses, and R&B singer, Ty Griffin, better known by his stage name, which is tattooed on the front of his neck, the renowned Ty Dolla $ign, with KDAWG Radio. Before the show, a few select KDAWG Radio and the Redlands Bulldog newspaper staff members awaited anxiously, dancing to sound checks they could hear through the walls while we were locked into our make-shift studio in a side room of the Orton Center. Each one of us just as thrilled as the next by the thought of not only meeting, but also interviewing these artists we so deeply admire.
Up and coming DJ Ben Maxwell entered the studio, followed by his mother, Lily, and high fashion model girlfriend, Frankie. With a huge smile on his face, Maxwell excitedly hugged his dear old friend and KDAWG Station Manager, Shapari Samimi. As Samimi is not only a friend but also a fan of his work, she helped set up Maxwell with his gig as the opening act. Their history made for a relaxed conversational setting, the perfect environment to get to know Maxwell as an aspiring DJ on the brink of success.
Maxwell said that he has always been passionate about music, growing up bouncing back and forth between instruments, experimenting with new sounds and cultivating his talents. But it wasn’t until his second year in high school when he began taking DJ lessons and discovered his love of producing.
“I got DJ lessons from my parents actually, from this sketchy dude’s apartment in the Mission, in San Francisco,” shared Maxwell. “He had a production program on his computer and I was like I’m trying to do that.”
Instead of sticking to a single instrument, producing allowed Maxwell to combine the sounds he loved from the guitar, to the keys, to the drums, which is what lead him to embark on the journey to become a professional DJ.
To receive a formal education while immersing himself in his musical career, Maxwell transferred from UC Berkeley to University of Southern California, to study music industry.
“For my first couple of interviews and discussions with the staff there they said that once kids get into their third or fourth year in the program they start immersing themselves in the area and the industry,” explained Maxwell. “And they just want them to fly.”
Before making the decision to transfer to USC to study music, Maxwell struggled to balance his coursework with his career. Now that his studies and career are synchronized, a new challenge arises: traveling out of state to tour and consequently missing his classes. In fact, just last week, Maxwell was out of state performing both Wednesday and Thursday, which is not a rare occurrence.
“It’s really just communicating with my teachers,” explains Maxwell. “And staying on track in that sense has proved to be a little challenging but I am on top of it still.”
As Maxwell’s success is rapidly growing, and his career has become more demanding, the question of if he would consider dropping out of school to follow his career, has crossed his mind, and our minds too. When posed with this question, Maxwell’s mother, Lily, laughed nervously. Her son explained that before he found this music program at USC, dropping out was something he regularly considered, but now it is not a worry.
“The program I’m in now, the teachers get excited when you have a tour date and miss class,” shared Maxwell. “It is a very supportive environment in my program so I have no doubt that I’ll be able to finish relatively easily in the next few years.”
With consistent tour dates and several thousand views on his Soundcloud, Maxwell is reaching the brink of great success, which has proven to be both exciting and demanding.
Maxwell describes that his position as an up and coming artist “definitely feels really good but there’s a lot of pressure as well, to keep getting better and keep putting out better music than I have in the past.”
Given the consistent demand to produce new and improved music, I questioned what influences and inspires Maxwell. He explained, while chuckling to the thought of listening to My Chemical Romance, that he grew up hearing pop music on the radio, and that what is popular at the time still influences him today, in terms of trying to make the catchiest tune. In fact, being on the radio and collaborating with the likes of Major Lazer is Maxwell’s ultimate goal.
“Oh my god, I’d love to do a song with Major Lazer one day. I love that kind of EDM radio crossover, Ty Dolla $ign has a song with them, I love that song,” exclaimed Maxwell. “I’d like to collaborate with someone in that lane of crossing that EDM radio, still very listenable stuff.”
And that’s where Maxwell heart lies, with what is listenable and very catchy. Instead of focusing on quintessential EDM, (Electronic Dance Music) he want’s to make popular music that will make his listeners feel good.
With his nearing performance in mind, we asked Maxwell what he does to prepare for a set, whether it depended on his mood, the mood of the crowd, or what is popular at the time.
“Probably a combination of all three but mostly the mood of the crowd,” responds Maxwell. “I never really go in with too much of a set plan […] I have tons of music to work with and just steer it in whatever direction feels right from there.”
And like clockwork it was time for Maxwell to head to the stage to do what he does best– hype up the audience with an energetic performance.
Ty Dolla $ign
Sauntering in with a half smoked joint in one hand and a name brand Red Solo cup in the other, Ty Dolla $ign had finally arrived, accompanied by his entourage running about twelve people deep. With his shades on, Ty introduced himself in a deep raspy voice and then took his seat to begin our much anticipated interview.
Have you ever wondered if the persona presented on stage by performers is simply an alter ego or their real self? This may be the case for some artists, but not Ty Dolla $ign.
“It’s my artist name,” stated Ty. “I just give my full self to the audience and try to give people the best performance they’ve ever seen in their lives.”
Throughout his career Ty has taken on several roles, from producer, musician, to writer. In fact Ty has written many songs for both himself and other artists. When discussing his writing process, Ty explained that inspiration could come from anyone to anything, even a conversation with a small liberal arts school’s journalist and radio show host.
“It could start from a conversation I’m having with you and you say something cool and I just think of a song to go with that,” shared Ty. “Or it could be somebody putting on a beat, or me playing guitar or playing keys, and a song just comes out of nowhere.”
Similarly, Ty’s music is influenced by anything he’s ever heard from any genre, as long as it is good and there is something he enjoys about it. Listening to everything from old school punk rock, underground hip hop, to mainstream EDM. Even the music Ty listened to in his youth influences his most recent singles.
“For instance, the new Dawson’s Breek song I dropped,” explained Ty. “We weren’t even listening to it, hadn’t heard it in years, but there’s this one song by this 90’s singer named Terence Trent D’arby, where his melodies are kinda sick over a beat you wouldn’t think that melody would go over. I felt like when I heard Dawson’s Breek, the finished product, it reminded me of something that Terence Trent D’arby would do.”
Although Ty’s music is inspired by multiple genres and contain a variety of themes, from sex to political hot topics, he does have an intended message and vibe he’d like to pass onto his listeners.
“Intended messages, love, positivity, light, and that’s all it’s about,” shared Ty. “There’s a lot of hate going on right now in the world and we need a lot more love, clearly.”
In his more recent music, especially albums, Free TC and Campaign, Ty has begun to incorporate political topics, something that he hadn’t frequently touched on early in his career.
“Seeing everything that’s going on I felt that even though I may make party songs, I may just bring up the subject of f******t that’s going on how we should just stick together and hold on.”
With only minutes left before Ty would be called onto stage, his manager prompted us to ask about his newest album, Beach House 3, dropping Oct. 27. The highly anticipated album will be one of Ty’s best works, accompanied by a short film, which will shed a little light on the real Ty Griffin and hopefully inspire and provide comfort to his listeners in similar circumstances.
“This time it really lets you see more so into Ty Griffin and exactly what it is I’ve been through,” described Ty. “And maybe it will inspire somebody out there that’s going through the same things that I’ve been through.”
On that note, Ty Dolla $ign exclaimed “it’s a vibe,” hinting at the hit song he’d later perform, exciting the studio he walked into just minutes before. With his half smoked joint still in hand, he sauntered out just as he entered, leaving his Red Solo cup previously filled not with Hennessy as I expected, but with orange juice.
After seeing Joe Moses perform earlier that evening, I was giddy at the thought of interviewing him. The passion Moses exuded on stage and the energy he incited in the crowd during his performance made me all the more eager for the interview.
As soon as he finished on stage and made himself a cup of spicy golden chai to soothe his parched throat, Moses walked in enthusiastically, “Ready to turn up!”
Moses is a Los Angeles native rapper, from South Central LA: 54th and Crenshaw to be exact. Despite his raw talent, Moses is a self proclaimed underdog of the West Coast and has just recently decided to fully commit to his musical career. This commitment to his artform was palpable while Moses performed on stage.
“I love that. Man the fans, you don’t even understand, where we come from and what I used to do and what I’m doing now, so it’s very exceptional,” shared Moses. “It’s a blessing to see people just adapt to what I’m doing and have fun with me while I’m up there on stage.”
Moses is well versed in the workings of the music industry. Moses has collaborated with several artists, but his favorite being Ty Dolla $ign.
“You know imma say my brother Ty Dolla $ign,” grinned Moses.“The chemistry is always there and that’s my brother from the mud. So our collaborations are always great, always inspirational.”
Moses has spent time as both an independent artist and signed artist to a variety of labels, including Gucci Mane’s Atlanta based Bricksquad Monopoly and now Los Angeles based Atlantic Records. With his experience from both sides, Moses has developed a preference as an independent artist versus a signed artist.
“I like them both, but being a signed artist [determines] how people perceive you, and how they look at you is different. They gonna take you more seriously, and they are gonna put more money behind you instead of you putting money up yourself,” explains Moses. “I loved being signed, I love being an independent artist too, but being signed is easier for me.”
Throughout his career Moses has been placed on both the West and the East Coast as well as the South, allowing Moses to develop an inciteful sense of how hip hop culture differs in each region.
“As far as the West coast and New York, we lack of unity. I think the south is really more unified than we are, that’s why you always see Atlanta coming around the corner,” shared Moses. “[In Atlanta] you see more collaboration with each other, see them looking more like a family. Then us we are everywhere, LA artists, west coast artists, we are just like he’s over there and we over here, we on tour. We come out for shows, but as far as family, I think Atlanta is deeper than us, when it comes to being a family and when it comes to hip hop.”
Despite the West Coast having some of the biggest artists in the game, like Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Jhene Aiko, Moses explains how they tend to maintain an individualist mentality, whereas Atlanta strives to foster a sense of community. In order to cultivate a hip hop culture on the West Coast that functions as a family, Moses wants artists to help one another to shine.
“If I light two candles and this candle blows out, I can always take this [other] candle and relight this candle, and everybody can shine. Its helping,” explains Moses. “Once LA gets that, and we get the mentality of we need to help each other, I think it’s going to be a lot better for us.”
Moses’ perceptive comments on the importance of a family oriented hip hop culture sparked a turning point in conversation. Moses is a full time musician fighting to make it big in the hip hop scene, while being a dedicated father of four children and a key figure in his local community.
After giving a shout out to his three daughters and son as well as their mothers, Moses shared that balancing fatherhood and a music career as a hungry artist is difficult and it requires communication with the mothers of his children.
“Any time that I’ve got free I spend with my kids. It’s so hard though, I never knew it was going to be this hard,” shared Moses. “Just having a blessed background and backbone for the mothers of my kids, and I gotta give them a shout out too and just holding me down and making sure everything is right within the household and just letting me do me.”
Despite the challenges his career imposes, Moses ensures that his role as an excellent father and supporting his children in their dreams is a priority of his. To maximize his time with his children Moses often brings them along to concerts, sometimes even allowing them to perform with him on stage.
“My kids come to my concerts [and] we have fun.” Moses exclaimed. “I should have brought them to this concert!”
To provide a space for children in his community, Moses has started a football chapter for young boys and girls called the LA Chiefs. Every Saturday his team plays other chapters in Los Angeles area. In fact, just before he came to perform at the University of Redlands on Saturday, Moses was at his league’s football game, where his son plays football and his daughters are cheerleaders.
“Every Saturday I don’t care what I’m doing, in the studio [late], I’m getting up, we going to the games,” explains Moses. “That’s where I just came from just now. I rushed, I actually just left my game early, […] but we lost so I’m kinda mad at them anyways!”
The time he spends with his kids and the work he does to give back to his community is what Moses enjoys most. Describing his life as a blessing, Moses has turned his life around and begun his journey to success. And as fruit of his steadfast commitment, his newest squad album, To Death Do Us Part, will drop Dec. 8, featuring “some crazy fire DJ mustard [and] Ty Dolla $ign beats, YG 4hunnid” and many more.
After a brilliant interview with Moses in the studio, which felt more like a carefree conversation amongst pals, he finished his chai tea and ran back to the stage to join Ty Dolla $ign.
Luckily, once our last interview had finished and our team of journalists and KDAWG members had swiftly broken down our make-shift studio, there was plenty of time left in Ty Dolla $ign’s set. And so, we walked into the concert while Ty Dolla $ign danced on stage as his most sensual song, “Or Nah” reverberated through the air, with a new sense of each artist and the value they bring to their particular industry.
photos courtesy of Editor-in-Chief, Willow Higgins