In an industry pulsating with diverse sounds and evolving styles, Chicago-hailing act DJ Scandalous stands out as a unique fusion artist, seamlessly bridging the gap between the old-school vibe and the modern era of hip-hop.
Showcasing this confluence of musical timelines melding the rhythmic beats of the past with the contemporary lyrical flow, is his latest track "Venomous." As he prepares for his upcoming album, First Class Ticket Volume II – The Album, he offers a glimpse into his approach to music that transcends traditional genre boundaries, aiming to touch the hearts of a diverse audience in an exclusive interview with Earmilk.
He shares insights into his creative process, collaborations, and how his Chicago roots have shaped his distinctive sound. From working with the likes of Twista and Playboy-T to crafting beats that resonate across generations, he delves into the artistry of blending musical epochs while maintaining his unique identity in an ever-changing industry.
DJ Scandalous, "Venomous" is a fusion of different eras and styles. Can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to bridge old-school and modern sounds in your music?
The beat and a simple melody were created before the vocals were added. Once the vocals were added, Kenny Bartolomei (of the production group, the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League) and I created the melody around the lyrics. The idea was to infuse the legend of Chicago with an old-school undertone but with a Modern sound. It’s just a piece of what I’m working on for my album, “First Class Ticket Volume II – The Album.”
Working with artists like Twista and Playboy-T must have been a dynamic process. How did the collaboration come about, and what was it like blending your styles?
I wanted to have different styles displayed on my album from the get-go, so I was looking to find a hip-hop artist who would fit the mode of a fast flow, but rap, and have every word understood, so I reached out to Twista’s Manager. Playboy-T is a long-time collaborator, so I reached out to him afterwards to complete the track.
Chicago's musical heritage is rich and varied. How do you feel your upbringing in the city has influenced your music, especially tracks like "Venomous"?
I have always been a big fan of Twista’s music. I grew up listening to him, Crucial Conflict and Do or Die, among other Chicago artists. So at one point in my musical career, I wanted to collaborate with Twista, and I felt this time was the perfect opportunity for me to do so. I also have always been interested in music produced outside of hip-hop.
The beat of "Venomous" has been described as hypnotic and reminiscent of the early 2000s. Can you walk us through your creative process for crafting such engaging beats?
From the very beginning, in terms of the creation of the track, I wanted to collaborate with Twista on a song. So with that in mind, I purposely created a beat that I thought would be something that Twista would be able to excel on. I did a little bit of research myself by listening to Twista’s catalog before I crafted the beat.
Twista's fast-paced rhymes are a standout feature of "Venomous." How did you work to ensure the production complemented his iconic style?
I simply followed with whatever Twista says in his lyrics, so I tried to complement his words as best as I could with the melody. That’s the reason you hear the changes in the melody in his verse. Before the lyrics, you wouldn’t see a vast difference in the flow of the melody. How I craft all the music on my upcoming album, “First Class Ticket Volume II – The Album”.
With Playboy-T adding a contemporary edge to the track, how did you aim to balance the old with the new while maintaining cohesion in the song?
I’ve worked with Playboy-T for over 12 years, so it wasn’t difficult to craft the melody around his lyrics. At any rate, he would’ve excelled, regardless of what beat I threw at him.
You've managed to create a sound that appeals to both old and new generations of hip-hop fans. What is your secret to reaching such a diverse audience?
Well, I have listened to hip-hop for many years from Puff Daddy and Dr. Dre to today’s music, so in all honesty, it was not difficult. I’m influenced by the early days of hip hop to what you hear now and that’s what will be reflected on the album I’m currently working on, “First Class Ticket Volume II – The Album”.
In an industry that often focuses on genre boundaries, how do you maintain your identity as a musical chameleon without being boxed into a single category?
I do whatever I feel. For a good span of months, I will be heavily into hip-hop and doing nothing but creating hip-hop music. Then suddenly, I will be inspired by pop music, and for another long stretch, I will write and produce nothing but pop music. It’s all about my mood, so that’s how I work. I don’t like forcing anything. I just let the inspiration come and work from there.
Could you share a particularly memorable moment or challenge you encountered while producing "Venomous"?
Honestly, there wasn’t too much of a challenge. I just simply went through the steps that I normally do where I create a demo, received the vocals, then create the melody around those vocals. As I’ve said, I don’t force anything. I do whatever comes to me naturally. I always have the song crafted in my head before sitting in front of a drum machine or keyboard.
How do you decide which elements of past eras to preserve and which modern twists to introduce when creating new music?
I think most melodies will always stand the test of time. I think what usually changes is the beat so for a lot of music today, for example, they take songs from the early 2000’s such as old Timbaland music and create a new beat, but keep that melody. So as long as you create a good enough melody that will stand the test of time it will never become an issue. I just simply created a beat that matches with the music of today. That’s how my new album “First Class Ticket Volume II – The Album” will sound.
Can you share insights into how you approach the lyrical content of your music, especially in collaboration with other artists?
Usually, I have a topic in mind when deciding to create the music. From there I tell the artist what I would like the song to be about, or sometimes I will actually write the lyrics myself, but again that comes from being inspired by something and having the idea before actually putting the necessary pieces into the song.
With the music industry rapidly evolving, what strategies do you employ to keep your sound fresh and relevant?
Once again, I don’t worry about too much in terms of the melody. The only thing I really pay attention to is the drums and their style. Sometimes I don’t worry about that either. I just create whatever comes to mind. I don’t try to mimic what you hear today. It’s just simply what am I feeling on a particular day that inspires me to create a song.
How do you feel about the current state of hip-hop, and where do you see your music fitting into that landscape?
I think the current state of hip-hop is just fine. Everything evolves, and everything changes. Nothing should be the same. Music that is stagnant loses its appeal. But some people like to listen to the music they grew up with during their generation, and I completely respect that. There’s a place for nostalgia and a place for something fresh. Most of us like a mix. Everything isn’t for everyone. So I’m not one to judge just because a genre changes or evolves.
With "Venomous" being such a strong homage to different hip-hop generations, what message do you hope listeners take away from the song?
I don’t really have a message for listeners, except that I just want people to simply enjoy it and get something out of it. I want them to feel something, whether they are excited, whether they’re sad, whether they’re happy, whatever emotion evolves I am happy when they feel it. I don’t make music just to make music. I want you to feel it.
Finally, after the success of "Venomous," can fans expect any upcoming projects or collaborations that will continue to blend the lines of musical eras?
I am currently working on a hip-hop album, titled “First Class Ticket Volume II – The Album”. You can expect that in the first quarter of 2024, and it will feature hip-hop legends along with up-and-coming artists.
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