Scratch made: Atlanta rapper Cyhi The Prynce applies lessons from Kanye West

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Of the inspiration for his album, Black Hystori Project, Cyhi The Prynce says, “My nephew wanted to do a black history project on me, and the school he goes to told him he couldn’t do it because I wasn’t influential enough. I said, ‘Now, I’m going to make something influential." Photo courtesy of the musician
CHALLENGE ACCEPTED: Of the inspiration for his album, Black Hystori Project, Cyhi The Prynce says, “My nephew wanted to do a black history project on me, and the school he goes to told him he couldn’t do it because I wasn’t influential enough. I said, ‘Now, I’m going to make something influential." Photo courtesy of the musician

With lines like “If God had an iPod, I’d be on his playlist” and “Ya’ll just some major haters and some math minors,” Atlanta rapper Cyhi The Prynce held his own alongside Kanye West, Jay-Z, Pusha T, Swizz Beatz and RZA on “So Appalled,” one of the standout tracks off West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

At the time, Cyhi’s lone work was the self-released mixtape Royal Flush. Since then, the artist born Cydel Charles Young in 1984 and raised in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain has dropped five more mixtapes, consistently delivering the brand of socially conscious hip-hop found throughout West’s G.O.O.D. (Getting Out Our Dreams) Music team.

On Thursday, June 19, at the Asheville Music Hall, Cyhi will close out a 16-date tour in support of his latest endeavor, Black Hystori Project. Appropriately released in February, the conceptual mixtape came to be after the MC received an interesting challenge. “My nephew wanted to do a black history project on me, and the school he goes to told him he couldn’t do it because I wasn’t influential enough. I said, ‘Now, I’m going to make something influential about the black history project. I’m going to do my own,’” Cyhi says.

Finding inspiration in black leaders who made an impact on his life, Cyhi pays homage to them by rapping multiple tracks as if it was Nelson Mandela or Huey Newton on the microphone. “If they were in the modern times, I think this is what they would say,” Cyhi says. “That’s what I really wanted to do, just be able to re-create the mindset of those individuals and put it in rap. If Malcolm X was a rapper, what would he sound like?”

Key in bringing his vision to life was West, who provided numerous forms of guidance as the album’s executive producer. Many of the songs were simpler until they received West’s golden touch, including lead track “Mandela.” The lyrics and basic sample were in place, but when West gave it a listen, he suggested adding strings to make it “more epic and more movielike,” qualities Cyhi agrees are now present.

Having input from one of the biggest names in music is certainly a boon, but Cyhi played a similar role on West’s 2013 album Yeezus, receiving songwriting credit on nine of its 10 tracks. “It’s more about being creative, brainstorming and really just going over ideas, perspectives,” Cyhi says. “We have so much responsibility in music that a lot of times we have to brainstorm our ideas and really see how we can bring them to light in the most vivid way.”

Along for the entire process of crafting Yeezus, Cyhi’s fingerprints are on everything from small word choices and attitudes in West’s vocal inflections to the album’s cover art. Providing his boss the kind of honest feedback he desires from his trusted collaborators, the experience also gave Cyhi valuable insight into creating his own music from scratch as opposed to merely rhyming over premade tracks as he’d previously done. He learned “how to communicate with the producer about what kind of drums, what’s the kick, what’s the snare, what kind of strings you want, what kind of sound effects, tempos, all that,” he says.

Cyhi wasted no time in utilizing this newfound knowledge on his next project. “I learned a lot from [Yeezus]. I was like, ‘Yo, I’ve got to try this myself.’ So, when I went and tried it myself, I was like, ‘Wow, it does work,’” he says.  “Ya’ll gonna get a lot more from me that’s way more epic than Black Hystori Project.”

The next grand project to which he alludes is his proper debut album, Hardway Musical, ideas for which have been percolating even before he signed to G.O.O.D. Music. “We’re actually in negotiations about budgets and different things now, so you guys will be hearing that real soon,” Cyhi says. “I’m so excited and ecstatic about it.”

WHO Cyhi The Prynce
with Hunter, Doug Dew and Rose Royce Rique

WHERE Asheville Music Hall, ashevillemusichall.com

WHEN Thursday, June 19, at 9 p.m. $10 advance, $15 day of show

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin is a freelance writer and a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He also contributes to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

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