By Athif Rahman
Sam Walker is an ecstatic and enthusiastic man, aged 28 and currently in his third year of his Audio and Music Technology degree, where his passion lies in the hip-hop music genre. Originally from Buckinghamshire, Walker left school aged 16, however did not let that get in his way of following his drive for music. Initiating the interview Sam explained how he’s always loved music yet hip-hop is the genre that he’s grown up with, having older siblings listening to it. He stated, “hip-hop’s my number one, it hits me here” whilst pointing at his heart, he further went on saying how he’s been loving the hip-hop coming out of Chicago in the past few years with young artists such as Chance the Rapper. Walker mentioned how the band Outkast is one of the inspirations for wanting to go into the music industry, he continued “their artistry has changed so much that each album has been different from the last one and they always reinvented themselves.” Once recognising music is where his talent lies, he attended college studying Music Technology, which led to his degree where he’s presently working on his documentary on Chicago hip-hop.
In the late summer, Walker went to the USA to shoot a hip-hop documentary intending to gather footage in both New York and Chicago where he’d create a documentary comparing and contrasting hip-hop in both cities. Comparing the footage, Walker recognised therewasn’t as good a story in New York but when arriving in Chicago, Walker instantly recognised the massive story available, where Chicago’s become a sort of successor to New York in terms of hip-hop; according to Walker’s interviews, Chicago is now the central hub for hip-hop as New York once was. The biggest thing Walker’s learnt from his trip comes from an interview with the record label Private Stock was that “the last five years has been a hip-hop renaissance in Chicago”, thus being the perfect time for the documentary. He continued with how the hip-hop culture and industry has created a sense of community, which has recently been building up towards its prime to the point that now is Chicago’s time in the industry; especially with rappers like Kanye and Common who have all come from Chicago. Continuing, Walker mentioned a lady called Emma McKee (who’s well known for the personalised embroidered jackets she creates for famous artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Chance-the- Rapper). She mentioned how “art imitates life” in that people’s art becomes better when there’s something happening in society or politics that people don’t like and have something to say about it.
Walker’s documentary’s narrative focuses on several interviews with experts, exploring hip-hop and Chicago in terms of social and cultural factors and issues, focusing on concepts such as education. Walker hopes that people who don’t necessarily listen to hip-hop watch and enjoy the documentary, where those with a negative mindset around hip-hop can perhaps become more understanding of the genre and where it stems from. This goal he explains results from media’s negative representations of Chicago, due to the crimes there. However, as Walker explains “Chicago’s a massive city” where crimes, although big, happen in very minute parts of the city. He states, ‘Chicago’s just trying to do better in society’ thus hopes to at least broaden people’s knowledge, if not reduce negative notions related to hip-hop, (being seen as a genre from ‘the streets’) and encouraging more positive perceptions and portrayal of Chicago without the stigma related to it.
The fascinating thing I found out about Chicago from Walker was that they have an initiative called the ‘Young Chicago Authors’. Their purpose is to provide a place for youngsters who may represent marginalised communities to engage in conversations about equality and social justice/injustice. They express their words through music, describing their stories and realities of growing up in today’s society therefore providing kids a chance to turn away from the streets and pursue a career and life without negative consequences; whilst teaching them basic educational skills too. ‘Louder Than A Bomb’ is their annual competition between several schools and organisations commencing a youth poetry battle. Initiatives like this are essential for such areas to allow alternative ways of life.
Walker has created a website displaying his favourite music out to the world. It acts as a
physical artefact for him to showcase to potential future employers in the music industry. It’s an example of an extracurricular activity he’s done, potentially providing a head start due to the competitive nature of the industry. The websites name is “Mellif”, which is short for Mellifluous, meaning sweet in musical terms and as Walker believes, music in general especially the hip-hop genre is mellifluous thus choosing this as the name – to quote Walker, “the word mellifluous is mellifluous.” The websites future is to keep the social media aspects regularly updated, whilst publishing reviews and interviews with other artists. For those of you reading out there who enjoy music or writing in general and are looking for ways to contribute your writing, feel free to contact Sam (firstname.lastname@example.org) to perhaps review a gig or comment on an album you’ve heard, he’s open to other genres too!
Walker’s experiences so far have taught him that to never feel afraid of following ambition and to always try reach your goal even if it means asking high status people in the industry. The worst-case scenario, they say they haven’t got time, whilst the best is that the experience you’ll receive may help you in the future. Other advice he gave is ‘be pro-active’ and get a LinkedIn account, and look for opportunities to improve your experiences and skills. Through this method, Through LinkedIn, Walker got in touch with Bill Adler, who was the publicist of Def Jam Records in the 1980’s (who are a major hip-hop label) who promoted famous artists such as Run-D.M.C, LL Cool J and Public Enemy. This clearly shows a case where Walker’s advice worked for him – he reached out, got an interview, where and at the same time, Adler being intrigued by Walker’s project, had interviewed Walker for the last part of their interview. One of the major pieces of advice Walker received was “marry well.” Bill said this as his wife supported him so much to pursue his career despite starting late in his life, that it eventually paid off – for the rest of us, it seems that he generally means to surround ourselves with people who support and encourage us.
Walker’s desire for the future is to continue focusing on the journalistic aspects of the music industry, perhaps making more music documentaries on other cultures bringing hip-hop into their own pop cultures, such as Paris or Tokyo who have their own spin on hip-hop. For those interested in other cultures’ hip-hop, Walker has suggested to listening to Django, a French hip-hop artist. Regardless, he aspires to have a job he loves that allows him to support his future family. He’d love to continue facing challenges, such as large projects, giving him goals, which he can look forward to overcoming to grow as a person. Despite starting as a niche notion from America, hip-hop has come far in society, being incorporated in fashion and sports too with “some sort of hip-hop community in most countries.”
Ultimately the conversation ended with his top music artists. These included Nas (who’s album ‘Illmatic’ was the reason for his engagement in the genre), Kanye and Common. His favourite female artists included TLC, Kelela, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Finally, make sure to keep an eye out for Walkers documentary “Fantastic Beats and Where To Find Them” – out late next year!
Photos: Sam Walker