USC Alum Releases Debut Mixtape (Q&A)

Photo courtesy Vin Villa.

Photo courtesy Vin Villa.

Forever.FREEDOM.Dreaming is the free debut mixtape by rapper, singer, producer and USC graduate Vin Villa (aka Melvin Villaver) available on online platforms this Friday. Vin Villa has collaborated with rappers such as Juicy J and Young Thug. The Long Beach natives project is mostly self-produced and avoids being sample-heavy, which showcases Villas instrumentals. The second track, Legendary, has hints of J. Cole with a unique drum beat over the emcees musical aspirations to be a legend. Followers of Vin Villa will be familiar with certain tracks in a final version of lyrical content officially released, such as Time, a soulful song and Vinny Gigante, a powerful track outlining swagger through beat and lyrics. Vin Villa clearly has an ear for creative hit-making, as the melody in FREEDOM (feat. SLR)has an unorthodox horn loop that is bound to induce head-bobbing. Perhaps what is most refreshing for the academic emcee is his lyrical content, drawing upon his experiences and lifestyle growing up in a working-class family and being part of marginalized communities. Villa is Filipino, and offers insightful commentary on race in his life and society while interlocking it with entertaining beats. The Daily Trojan discussed the project with the artist.

Daily Trojan: Who are your biggest inspirations for this mixtape and in hip-hop?

Vin Villa: I am inspired by the real Los Angeles. I’m talking about South Central, Inglewood, Watts, Compton, Gardena, and Long Beach. My biggest influences for this project are the Los Angeles uprisings. I was born on the day of the LA Riots in ’92 in Los Angeles, so I draw inspiration from the city post-riots. I draw inspiration from literature and academics I was exposed to at USC. The American Studies & Ethnicity department has a course called Black Music and the Political Imagination. These courses developed my radical imagination and opened my mind to create this project.

DT: Not many emcees can claim that they’re a graduate of a university of such a high standard as yourself. How do you think your education has influenced your music?

Vin Villa: I’m inspired by academics. We’ve heard emcees talk about how nerdy hip-hop is. I’m definitely one of those nerds. The way I grew up, not very many of my friends went on to pursue a collegiate education, whereas I looked at my education as a way out, as well as a chance to meet new people and develop my thoughts and creativity. USC is a big influence on me. I’m a hometown kid who got to go to his dream school, but it came a significant price. My parents are working-class, so I had to work hard to survive and thrive at ‘SC. I underachieved during high school so I had to transfer to ‘SC from community college. But I knew that being here would sharpen my skill set. So I really have no regrets. At this point, my music and my education are part and parcel of each other.

DT: Much of your mixtape is self-produced. How did you get involved in production?

VV: My mother enrolled me in piano lessons at a young age. Those skill sets translate well into MIDI-based computer software music production. I grew up loving artists that wrote, produced and composed original material, so that is what I strived to become. Producing wasn’t always a passion of mine. I was tired of asking for beats, and with the piano background, I took the initiative to develop my production skills. Now, I have a multi-dimensional skill set that separates my music. Everything is written, produced and performed by me with the exception of a few well-trusted collaborators.

DT: You’ve opened for artists like Juicy J and Young Thug. What advice can you give to aspiring performers to gain opportunities and visibility that you have obtained?

VV: Creating your stage show is a whole other monster. You’re only as good as your live show, and I went from being a studio-based musician to a confident live performer. I would advise performers to find a good booking agent who believes in your music and who can get you on stages. From the big name venues to low-end small stages, all performance venues count.

DT: What would you say sets your lyrical content apart from other hip-hop performers?

VV: We like to turn up, and we make music to turn up to… But I’m not the kind of artist who is going to glorify a superficial, wealth-obsessed lifestyle often heard in rap. I come from a working-class immigrant background. My parents sacrificed a lot just to raise me here in the States. So I make music with deeper meaning. It’s music about life. It’s music that is experimental but balanced, bending genres. You hear a variety of genres influencing each sound. It’s a combination of what I grew up listening to and where I grew up and who I grew up around.

DT: What themes or topics do you delve into most on this release?

VV: The project has taken on its own life as a complex metaphor. I like to call it a young man’s take on labor, race, class, sexual, gender and identity politics in 2016. The language of youth is present. How we talk, platforms we use, emotions we go through and paint a picture of a young person finding themselves. I talk about my dad losing his job, being Filipino and dark-skinned while growing up in a neighborhood that is influenced by black American and Latino cultures. I negotiated my identity, code switching between L.A. hood slang, Spanish, academic English and Tagalog. I talk about the social issues impacting the communities that I’m a part of, including race and relations with police. I open up about my joys, and I disclose my fears. It’s a thorough account of my life up to this point, growing up in L.A. post-L.A. riots and what that culture signifies to me and my generation.