Rapper strives for musical rhapsody

Sara Yang

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Meet senior Kevin Zhang, classical pianist turned rapper 

 

Inspired by freestyle YouTube rappers, senior Kevin Zhang officially began his rapping career in February 2010.  Today, he can also rap “off the brain, on the spot.”  Photo illustration by Dominique Pieb.

 
It started with YouTube.  Up-and-coming musical talents, such as David Choi, Traphik and AJ Rafael, have used the online video sharing resource as a launchpad for breaking into the entertainment industry.

For senior Kevin Zhang, it is starting with YouTube.

Upon his discovery of freestyle YouTube rappers who rap “off the brain, on the spot,” Zhang was inspired to try his hand at the art.  Since joining the YouTube user community in April 2010 under the rapper alias “Kazamm,” he has uploaded seven original videos and accumulated over 1,200 subscribers.

“Over time he improved drastically, he went from a beginner to an almost-pro,” long-time friend and musical collaborator senior Samuel Young said.  “Now he’s probably at his peak, and his peak will probably get even higher as time goes by because he’s just getting better and better with every video.”

A likely reason behind Zhang’s rising success lies in his musical background.  With 12 years of playing piano, five years of playing drums and even a stint with a band in freshman year, the essential rap foundations of rhythm and flow were in the bag; his main hurdle to overcome was finding a “rapper voice.”

“[Young] sings a lot, and his talking voice is different from his singing voice, so I knew that when you’re expressing yourself in musical terms, it’s a little different from talking normally,” Zhang said.  “It would sound weird if I rapped in my normal voice, so it was like, ‘Oh, okay, I gotta find [my rapper voice]. That was hard, because I didn’t know where it was. I had to experiment.”

The short-term struggle paid off.  According to friend and producer senior Sai Ravilisetty, Zhang’s “rapper voice” has only bolstered his unique image.  Yet, defining a personal style is only half the battle—a rapper is nothing without his lyrics.

For Zhang, good lyrics entail smart and witty stand-out lines.  His trademark technique is utilizing puns, historical and pop culture allusions, metaphors and similes.

 

“It’s kind of hard to describe the way he raps, it’s not something you [would] normally hear.  It’s… deeper than that,” Ravilisetty said.  “It’s not something you can just hear off like, the top of your head and understand it, you gotta listen to it a couple of times.”

With unorthodox rhymes and phrases, it is not uncommon for Zhang’s lyrical methods to elicit criticism rather than praise; as Zhang puts it, “if you got lovers, you got haters.”

”He’ll get a lot of bad comments like, ‘your stuff is messed up, like it’s weird, why do you have all these words in weird places?’” Young said.  “But what he’s doing is he’s actually creating slant rhymes and internal rhymes… so if you actually look close enough… it becomes an art, it becomes like a painting, and it’s beautiful.”

In contrast to Young, one YouTube commenter denounced Zhang’s food-for-thought lyrics as “too nerdy.”  After all, the commenter claimed, mainstream music is designed to reach out to those with the “lowest understanding,” and when “nerdy” literary devices are sprinkled throughout the rap,

For Zhang, that is exactly the point.

“Everyone knows what partying and money and drugs and stuff [are] like… anyone can understand that,” Zhang said.  “[A lot of mainstream music is] fun to dance to, but it’s just not meaningful. There’s only one level to appreciate and it’s really how it sounds good… The lyrics have no meaning at all.”

So for now, Zhang is just a self-proclaimed “small guy” on the scene.  Friends not only characterize him as an energetic, happy guy, but as a slowly-but-surely rising rapper with music in his future and on his mind.

“Rapping is a huge part of his life,” Young said.  “As of now, it’s all he thinks about, it’s all he does.  It’s pretty much the air he breathes.”  

 

To visit Zhang's YouTube channel, click here.

 

 

 

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