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Feature: A Man Of Many Names

By Abbie Doyle, Copy Editor

Peter Vilardi is a man of many words and many names. A sophomore at Ohio University studying music production and minoring in journalism, Vilardi makes hip-hop music under the moniker MC Freeman.

When asked about using a different name, Vilardi was quick to draw a parallel to rapper Childish Gambino. “It’s just like Donald Glover is Donald Glover, but he’s also Childish Gambino,” Vilardi says. “He’s not changing anything about himself, he’s just being the same him, it’s just by a different name. So that’s kind of how I treat my own work.”

Hip-hop isn’t the only means Vilardi uses to express himself. “What else do I do...I do a lot,” said Vilardi when asked about other extracurricular activities. “I make music under the name MC Freeman, I rap under my own name, I do stand-up comedy, I’m part of a student-run sketch comedy show called Fridays Live.”

As if Vilardi didn’t have enough going on already, he’s also performing on this year’s Dean’s List Tour. The tour is a traveling showcase of the best underground artists in New York City, and the tour travels around to colleges to highlight the traveling and local musicians. Appearing as MC Freeman, Vilardi will be performing for the tour when it winds its way over to OU on March 29th in Baker Theater.

“The emphasis [of the tour] is on hip-hop and hip-hop culture, but of course they welcome musicians of all types,” states Vilardi. “One of the OU artists who’s playing, Wholehearted Halfwits, they were a music guest on Fridays Live one week and it was awesome--kind of a thumping blues rock. It’s very variable, very interesting.”

Vilardi auditioned for the tour completely on a whim at the beginning of December. “I saw the posters come up the week before, and I saw my friend was a judge, and I just went, ‘This looks really interesting,’ and day of decided to throw my hat in the ring,” he says. “So I ran down and did it, and I was the second or third person to try out, so I was like, ‘Well, we’ll see how this goes; they’ll probably forget about me.’ I just did a song and they really liked it.”

“My only concern,” continued Vilardi, “since it’s on Palmer Fest, I think a vast majority of people who would say, ‘Oh that sounds kind of cool,’ will be like ‘Nah man I gotta be at Palmer Fest,’ or they’ll be passed out because of Palmer Fest.”

While Palmer Fest certainly has its appeal, what sounds more interesting--obliterating one’s liver (plenty of OU students do that often enough) or seeing firsthand the immense talent that exists among Ohio University’s musical scene, particularly hip-hop? There are many opportunities to see music in Athens, with weekly shows at the Skull and Casa Cantina as well as The Union, but a lot of these gigs focus around rock and punk artists. Every month The Union has the Hip-Hop Shop, which encourages all rappers, freestylers, poets and fans of hip-hop to get together for live performances. Vilardi attends the Hip-Hop Shop and spoke a little about the art of freestyle and creating rhymes on the fly.

“Not everything that I do is made up as I go; most of the stuff that I record and put out is prewritten, so freestyling is mostly cyphers, things like that, like at the Hip-Hop Shop,” says Vilardi. “In fact, it’s funny; I was going to spit a prewritten [at the Hip-Hop Shop] but I completely blanked, so I just started freestyling. That’s the opposite of how that usually goes; normally you freestyle and you go, ‘Uhhhh! I’ll just spit something that I’ve written.’ The main thing with freestyling is just doing it a bunch. I tend to have an idea, sort of, of what I want to go for. The main secret is to listen to other people rap.”

It’s no easy task to keep so many rhymes and lines in one’s head and be able to put them together at a mic in a room filled with people. Vilardi, however, is at a serious advantage by participating in so many activities that require constant verbal communication.

“I’ve read my whole life, I’ve done theater as well. I’m still doing TV and stand-up, performance art that really requires you to be on your feet and have stage presence,” explains Vilardi.

“In terms of lyrical content,” continues Vilardi, “I can draw from anything. I have a notebook that I keep on me; I write down turns of phrase I like, sometimes little snippets of conversation I overhear, just like anything that sticks with me. Even just random, stupid, funny shit. And I don’t consciously go, ‘I’m gonna try and look for inspiration,’ ‘cause you never find it. The secret is just absolutely waste time.”

At this point Vilardi laughs at himself and gives a few words of wisdom. “Procrastinate constantly. Nine out of ten times I’ll write a song or come up with an idea for a song the night before a test, when I’m supposed to be studying but I haven’t yet, but I’m trying desperately to distract myself. And then I start writing a verse and it’s amazing, and the next morning I go in and just do terribly on the test, but it’s absolutely worth it. Stay in school. But sometimes, you know, take one for the team. Write a good song.”

Vilardi admitted to occasionally slacking on schoolwork for the sake of his music, but that’s because music is his whole life. He becomes flustered when he tried to express in words just how important the art form is to him. “It’s insane. I think about music probably more--I think about music--I spend time thinking, not even listening, just thinking about it! Like when I could be getting food, or, like, talking to people. It’s a lot. The music is absolutely, 100% completely what drives me. I mean I love hip-hop but I could sit down and talk for hours about Radiohead. There’s just so much good music that I feel like it would personally be a waste of my own time to just focus on making one type.”

Vilardi explores the many different genres of music not only in his own personal tastes but also in what he creates. This past fall he performed at the Athens Fall Folk Fest, where he was able to display his singer-songwriter talents.

In addition to his solo work, Vilardi collaborates with hip-hop artist 61ack4eart (pronounced Blackheart), formerly of Athens but currently studying abroad in London. Vilardi and 61ack4eart are also part of a hip-hop group called The Underestimated. Vilardi is the only member presently in Athens; DC King of Hearts graduated, Big Sto transferred to Hiram, and 61ack4eart is abroad.

“Once the hub-bub dies down, the next project on the radar is our collaborative debut album, putting out EPs and things like that. We just want to work with some of the beats we have built up and then start working with more,” said Vilardi of The Underestimated’s future plans.

Currently Vilardi records in his room in Bromley with the mike set up directly in front of his wide window so he can overlook Athens while he raps. This home-studio approach is one that he has no qualms with, both during college and after graduation.

“It kind of doesn’t matter what happens or where I’m taken, as long as I’m in some kind of job where I can afford to live in a place to record things and make music.. Whatever happens, happens. I’m freestyling my life at this point.”

[Editor’s Note: Support Peter Vilardi (performing as MC Freeman) and other local artists performing for the Dean’s List Tour at March 29th in Baker Theater. Viewers will have to purchase a wristband for five dollars in order to attend, and the performances start at 7 p.m.]

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