Hangin' With Yizzo
Marlena Scott, News Editor
This year is a big one for Athens hip-hop trio Yizzo with a four year chapter coming to a close in May with graduation. Rappers CG, Slife Barrow, Dolo Brown and their manager Brian Williams are more than ready for what’s to come in their future. This is grander and more complex than just some guys spitting words, it is a movement; a conundrum of self-expression through what these guys love to do. They incorporate film, culture and style into their music and they do it all on their own.
An entire mixtape, Champloo, available for free on their website, is dedicated to the Japanese television series Samurai Champloo. The tracks are built around samples from the show to add another level of entertainment and depth. Yizzo’s music reflects their genuine, varied interests and ever-flowing creativity.
Sitting in their living room listening to a mix CD made up of some of modern rap’s finest, including some of Curren$y’s latest release New Jet City, the artists talked about where they’ve been, where they are now and where they’re headed.
The movement began simply, on a basketball court in Columbus their senior year of high school.
“We used to hoop on the same basketball team: me, Slife and CG," said Brown, the tech head of the group. "After basketball season, we were looking for something else to do and ended up getting a computer with some programs on it. I’ve always been messing around with computer stuff and I was messing around with a program where you could do voice-overs and make instrumentals. We started rapping on there and ended up taking it a little more seriously; I got another mic and we got [to OU] our freshman year and CG was really wanting to get his music out there, so we started just promoting and sharing our music with our friends and people we met and that’s how it started.”
Brian Williams, Yizzo’s manager, joined the team sophomore year. “We were just kind of friends and it grew as this thing started to build up," said Williams. "That’s the thing, too: they made a lot of big moves over the summer between freshman and sophomore year. That’s when they started establishing the group, establishing the ‘this is who we are, this is what we’re about’ kind of thing and that’s where I got involved.”
Williams, a finance major at Ohio University, takes care of the booking, the publicity, the money and basically everything else that has come with the formation and growth of Yizzo.
The team is entirely self-made. Yizzo records its own releases, writes its own songs, produces its own music videos and promotes its own work. It’s all done in the comfort of the group's studio and it's all quality. This is by design.
“Today’s rap scene is more independent than it has ever been before, even [from] the early 2000s," said Williams. "Take Nelly for example. The first song he ever recorded was 'Country Grammar'. That was the first single he ever recorded by himself. It was a hot single and it took off. It’s not like that anymore--you need to have a collection of self-made stuff. They’ll ask about how many albums you’ve sold, how many shows you have done, how much money you have generated. We also want to make sure we keep creative control."
They’re only interested in distribution partnerships if anything, and even that isn’t necessary with the accessibility of Internet distributors like iTunes, where they can be their own publisher.
“It’s going through a lot of changes, but this is what we’ve got at the moment," said Brown.
Brown leads up the stairs of their old, college-town home to their studio, a bare room set aside specifically for the creative process. Impressive, expensive recording equipment, a broken-in futon and the faint smell of marijuana smoke fill up the space. To the left of the entryway is an old cardboard box filled to the brim with tattered record sleeves booming with various Motown releases, G-Unit singles, a Bob Marley album, Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and The Best of Bill Cosby, among many others. Brown inherited most of them from family members, and presented his copy of Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt with a smile.
Brown, Barrow and Williams showed off their self-produced videos, all recorded with Brown’s DSLR around Athens and Columbus. They look professionally done, complemented with creative story lines and quality filming.
The guys are modest and humble; when asked about where they’ve performed, Barrow responded, “We’ve been here for most of the time. We’ve done a few of the Number Fests. We just recently did SXSW. That was fun, that was a good experience. [We do] a lot of shows in Columbus and Cleveland; big venues like The Newport in Columbus and stuff like that.”
Brown kindly added, “We opened up for Wale in Columbus.”
And that’s only the beginning. “We’re working on breaking into Cincy and Pittsburgh right now and getting a few more shows in Cleveland," said Williams. "I’m working on a mini tour of some sort; trying to find a tour that’s already going on and get them on board with it."
As for after graduation, the guys have big plans, explained Williams. “Upon graduating in May, our plans are to move out to LA; either Santa Monica, Venice Beach, West Hollywood, somewhere outside of LA where it’s relatively cheaper. We have a couple guys out there already so we want to get out there and tie up all of our connections; basically do exactly what we’re doing here but there.”
Yizzo feels that they’ve grown out of Athens and are ready to move on to something larger. “My biggest thing is to get out and get ourselves into a bigger market,” Barrow said.
The guys don’t even consider themselves in touch with the local music scene anymore because they’re so focused on the next best thing. They feel they’ve done all they can here. Barrow continued, saying, “We’re still going to be doing shows around here up until we leave. We’ve got the Number Fest and The Over Hang coming up next semester. Those will probably be our last few shows here for a while.”
But Athens will always be home base for the guys and they consider it to have been great practice for the next best thing. “We’ve had so many learning experiences, from running our own events, to promoting, getting people to hear our songs, everything that goes into it," said Barrow. "We’ve learned so much. We’ve built a team here. It started out just us four. There were other side-pieces and things that went into it but now it’s a team that we built together. Everyone knows their role, everyone has a job. We’re just making big moves out here.”
CG, a huge factor in the build up and artistic vision of Yizzo, joined in after the initial interview. He provided a peek into his writing process, saying, “It might seem kind of weird, but I use my phone when I write.” He put his headphones in and zones out to another world. Pen in hand, he wrote what was on his mind, connected to the twangs and drum kicks and from this writer's perspective, visibly felt whatever he was listening to.
Yizzo is a genuine group of artists with big dreams and a whole lot of dedication. The members all have diverse skill sets to bring to the table. They’re slowly but surely on the rise and their vision is clear. In four years they built an enterprise and a name for themselves, and they only hope to keep that going in their future ventures.