After a dozen years in academia, Chris Shreve was ready for a change. From the stress of teaching in an era of school shootings to organizational frustrations, the senior lecturer in Appalachian State University’s public health department had gradually become disenchanted with his profession.
At the same time, he was making some of the best music of his life in his side venture as a hip-hop artist under the moniker C. Shreve the Professor. With his day job becoming increasingly taxing, the late nights of working on his art growing more difficult to bounce back from each morning, and the touring in his free time keeping him from being with his 10-year-old son at their Deep Gap home, Shreve tendered his resignation after the fall 2019 semester. Inspired by peers who’d committed to music as a career, he doubled down on his decade-plus recording and performing experience and joined their ranks.
“It was the fourth or fifth time I’d met a friend who was doing it full time, and I was working with them and I could just kind of see the weight lifted in their eyes,” he says. “They weren’t writing songs at 2 a.m. all the time, unless they chose to. It was less barely getting their art done and more, ‘I’m going to take a month or two to work on my cover art.’ It made sense to me.”
Much of that decision, however, was rooted in his ability to make a living primarily as a touring artist. Following a successful run of shows in Florida in February, Shreve returned to Watauga County to plot his next move. Had he known that, in a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic would shut down venues across the country, he says he may have stayed in the classroom a little while longer. But the shift has afforded him the time he craved with his son and art, and also prompted an increase in music production and the launch of his Who Needs a Classroom podcast. Nevertheless, some old habits have proven difficult to break.
“Some part of me likes late nights still. I was used to that. When people go to bed, the juices start flowing,” he says. “But it’s nice to have it available at 8 a.m., and sometimes the beats are fun to make earlier in the day and just take a different approach. It’s not like writing. Just sitting down with some samples and choppin’ ’em is a very different process, and then sometimes that makes me want to write in a different way.”
When the pandemic hit, Shreve had already begun work on an EP with Bristol, U.K.-based producer Ile Flottante. The two connected via the music-sharing platform SoundCloud in 2012, when the beat-maker was a mere 16 years old, and they have since collaborated on such tracks as “My Hemisphere,” “Orbits” and, most recently, “Ruffle Feathers,” a popular call-and-response song that Shreve loves performing live.
“It’s been interesting to watch him grow, but we’ve always connected on a wavelength,” Shreve says. “He likes that I say something and likes that I’m not corny with how I say it. And I just really like his style.”
Aiming for a mid-to-late summer release, Shreve met his five-song goal for the album and felt confident in the results. But then Ile Flottante — whom he describes as “a classic, DJ Premier boom-bap producer” — sent him another set of beats, from which he “easily” picked another five instrumentals, then went way back into his collaborator’s SoundCloud archive to pick a previously unused track to round out the album. The expansion of the project — appropriately dubbed ILE.Pro and slated for a Thursday, Dec. 3, release — also allowed Shreve the time and space to lyrically address not only the pandemic and its numerous effects, but other developments as well, including the social justice demonstrations following the death of George Floyd.
“I didn’t want to release music that wasn’t relevant,” he says. “During the protests, I felt like it was better to make space and not take up space, so my Instagram became, ‘Let’s share stats. Let’s share protest movement stuff. Let’s share helpful things.’ As opposed to, ‘Hey, look at me and my single!’ I just didn’t feel like there was anything I could say that was going to work there.”
A potent mix of social commentary and escapism, ILE.Pro also features “Luna,” a conceptual song that arose after Shreve’s wife had a miscarriage early in the pandemic. In the wake of the loss, Shreve felt inconsolable and struggled to make sense of the novel pain. But as has been the case throughout his life, he turned to his music for therapy and processed what he was experiencing.
“My favorite songs that I write, they click and then kind of pour out, and I write them very stream-of-conscious. And that one did that,” Shreve says. “I hope that for my fellow artists, if a rapper hears that, it might lend them the courage to rap about something they would never have rapped about. Because there’s things that you went through that is your truth that’s difficult to speak on sometimes. I don’t know how much more of those I’ll do, but it needed to be done.” shreveraps.com