What up y’all? Welcome back to The Hip-Hop Dojo. As you know, since the very beginning, we’ve aspired to be your one stop shop for all things hip-hop. At first, we started this as a simple weekly playlist to help you keep track of what’s trending. After a long hiatus, last month we relaunched the series with an added twist: the inclusion of an artist spotlight that would allow us to recognize some of today’s freshest talent. Well, the construction crews have been hard at work, because today we’re expanding the Dojo once again. Along with our new multi-page format, we’re also adding a “Mixtape Roundup” designed to showcase the top projects to drop in the last month. We believe we’ve highlighted some very special independent releases, so please check out what we had to say when you make it to page 3.
In the meantime, we’d like to introduce you to our spotlight artist for the month of March, YoAstrum. For the uninitiated, the 20 year-old New Jersey native is a one-of-a-kind wordsmith who weaves his way through complex instrumentals that few would dare to navigate. Armed with unwavering confidence and an inexorable work ethic, YoAstrum is surely a name you won’t forget anytime soon. We caught up with the eclectic rapper to chat about his upcoming projects, anime and Charles Hamilton‘s comeback. Read further to see what he had to say, and click over to the next page once you’re done to listen to this month’s playlist. On the final page you’ll find our newest addition to the Dojo, our “Mixtape Roundup.”
’回 YoAstrum 回 – Wishing (Prod. By Geotheory)’
’回 YoAstrum 回 – Like Whoa (Prod. By TEK.LUN) #allrapperssuckexceptme’
’回 YoAstrum 回 – Megaman X (Prod. by AbJo)’
TMN: When did you first start making music, and how did you decide that it was something you wanted to pursue full time?
YoAstrum: I started making beats when I was 17; when I turned 19 I decided to start rapping though. It was a couple of months after I graduated from high school, I was living in Harlem at the time and went to college out in NY. I left school after only one semester though, college didn’t feel so much for me; I used to skip class to make beats. Once I fully decided I wasn’t going to school anymore, I realized how much I loved music and really wanted to live it so I was like “fuck it, this is what I wanna do. I’d rather just be getting by and happy doing what I love rather than secure, but sad as shit that I never pursued my aspirations.”
TMN: Is there any significance behind the name YoAstrum?
YA: Ever since I was a kid I was into stars and space. Not only that, but I always liked how Latin sounded when it was sung. A lot of older cartoons on some Tom & Jerry shit would have opera randomly in episodes and when I got older, I found out the words they were singing were in Latin. I read somewhere that Astrum is Latin for constellations, stars, heavenly body, and other worldly. Threw a Yo in front (of it) and got YoAstrum.
TMN: You’ve always done a great job of selecting unconventional production from the likes of Lakim, Mr. Carmack, AbJo, etc. What initially drew you to that style and how does it challenge you to evolve as an emcee?
YA: I came across all of them a bit after I got put on to TeamSupreme. Awhile after, I found out about Soulection and then all I was listening to was those two crews. After a while of hearing those beats you want parts. Going over their individual styles of melody is the most fun and challenging part.
TMN: Beat selection aside, you’ve proven yourself to be a worthy producer as well. What’s your process like when creating a completely original song from the bottom up?
YA: Appreciate that bruh. My process is pretty free. I usually make the beat first to set a tone, then build in whatever direction that sends me. The mixing is usually one of the most experimental parts for me.
TMN: You first caught our attention with your last project, Alchemy In Heav3n, which came out nearly a year ago. Was there any significance behind that record, and did you take a different approach at all when recording it? Did you have any specific goals you set out to achieve with that project?
YA: The energy put behind it felt personal. I want people to really feel the shit I make if anything. It was a big ass experiment built from an idea. There’s a lot of little details in that project that I know everybody didn’t catch, but it was cool for me to do. I try to approach every project differently than the last too. I hate redundant shit, so I like to do something different every time. As far as goals, I wanted to grow as an artist more than anything, and ever since then I’ve been getting a more defined vision of my direction, identifying more with myself and figuring out what I really want to create.
TMN: Your style is so unique, that it’s kind of difficult to pick out who your influences are. What artists do you find have been the biggest inspiration to you in your music?
YA: So many. From N.E.R.D. to FlyLo, to old Adult Swim bumps, to Nas, Nujabes, Cudi, Ye, and Lupe. Charles Hamilton was a big one too. He made me decide that if I were to ever rap I was gonna make my own beats too.
TMN: Speaking of Charles Hamilton, have you peeped any of his new material? What are your thoughts on his comeback?
YA: Yeah, I peeped two tracks I think. One reminded me of his older vibe, can’t think of the name but it was tight. I’m low-key amped to see him come back though. Him, Ye, Pharrell, and Cudi were my high school soundtrack. I watched the freestyles he did on Sway (In The Morning) and Hot 97 too. He’s still that guy with the off-tops.
TMN: You’re a part of the Organic Geniuses tribe along with such artists as Rakeem Miles and Mike Melinoe. Can you tell us a bit about how you first got involved with them?
YA: Yeah, I actually got hit up by Keem (Rakeem Miles) over Twitter one day. He was telling me how he and Mike (Melinoe) were starting a crew up, and at the time me and my homie Hijayy were doing the same thing (Zero Saga) so we figured why not connect? Later on, we linked up with Matt Granpap and Cash Jay. The tightest part is we’re all from different places in the country.
TMN: Jersey doesn’t get the quite the same recognition in the hip-hop community as its neighbors New York and Philly. What can you tell us about the hip-hop scene where you’re from, and has it influenced your music at all?
YA: Yeah man, I’m trying to change that. Jersey is slept on, but the music scene where I stay is low-key looking promising if you’re talking Jersey as a whole. North Jersey I’d say is eating a bit more than South though. The biggest influence Jersey has on me is how big of a melting pot it is. To me it’s a grey area. It inspires me to find that grey area in music where we all can be in tune. Here you’ll find every type of person from hood niggas to suburban hipsters, from skaters to Jersey Club heads. Jersey’s identity is tight because it can be a bridge between Philly and New York natives too.
TMN: What else can we expect from YoAstrum in the coming months? Any projects of yours on the horizon?
YA: A few surprises and shows for sure. I’m dropping my next project Days Of Violet this Fall, and plan on releasing my first beat tape too sometime in April.
TMN: We noticed you take heavy influence from anime and Japanese culture in general. Can you tell us what you’re watching right now, and if you could be any one anime character who would it be and why?
YA: Right now I just finished up Tokyo Ghoul and am watching 7 Deadly Sins. Waiting for that new season of anime to kick in. But if I were any one character, I’d be a cross between Mugen and Jin from Samurai Champloo. Mugen to me is like a rough around the edges genius that’s built off instinct. That nigga’s unconventional as fuck and goes about things free-spirited, and he’s a savage. Jin on the other hand, is a lot more calm minded and disciplined throughout situations, but he’s just as strong. They kinda remind me of fire and water.
TMN: What’s one quality you think you share with a ninja?
YA: I’m a low-key dude and I fuck with hoodies.
YoAstrum’s Shuriken Six
Each month we’ll be asking our spotlight artists to tell us which artists or songs they can’t get out of their heads at the moment. This will be known as their “Shuriken Six.”
’AbJo – From Now, ‘Til Then (v.2)’
’Future – Move That Dope (LAKIM Remix)’
’Mike Melinoe – Fear Within Melinoe (Prod. By Hijayy)’
We’d like to thank YoAstrum for graciously agreeing to be our Hip-Hop Dojo spotlight artist for the month of March. Continue on to the next page to check out our March 2015 playlist!