BY GABRIELLE DEE | ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR
“Music has been my first priority and school the second,” said Clyde Lawrence ’15 with a knowing laugh. “I completely neglect my classes for the most part.”
For students who plan to pursue music — whether professionally or recreationally — keeping their lives as college students and performers in harmony can be difficult. Many of these performers enjoy participating in a vibrant artistic community on campus and look forward to pursuing careers in music.
Lawrence, the eponymous singer and keyboardist of the Clyde Lawrence Band, has been a fixture of the Brown music scene since his arrival almost four years ago. The band has performed an amalgam of funk, R&B and pop at house parties, formals and large venues downtown. The group has also collaborated with many other student performers on campus, such as Dolapo Akinkugbe ’16 and Cody Fitzgerald ’15.
The University’s open curriculum and focus on a liberal arts education can encourage artists’ work. Lawrence, a psychology concentrator, said though he “loves studying patterns and systems,” which have informed his approach to music, he does not intend to pursue science after graduation. Instead, he and his band will hit the road and go on tour next year.
Lawrence’s music career began long before he came to College Hill. He began playing the piano and the drums at four years old, and he gained early exposure to the entertainment industry at a young age due to his father’s work writing films. At five years old, Lawrence became the youngest member of the Songwriters Guild of America when his father sent his son’s version of a pageant song for “Miss Congeniality” to the film’s producers.
Since then, Lawrence has had to balance his interests in “film scoring and performing because it’s normally a choice,” he said. “I thought I would take a crack at performance because now is the time to fuck around with that.”
“Only in high school I started taking myself seriously as a singer, and only in college did I have the idea that I wanted to be the frontman of a band,” he said.
Music also emerged as an early passion for Akinkugbe, who records as DAP the Contract.
“I listen to music 24 hours a day — it’s weird that I don’t have earphones dangling right now,” he said. His mother was a piano teacher, and he grew up surrounded by music ranging from the classical melodies of Beethoven and Mozart to the anthems of Eminem and the Beatles.
In a quiet voice laced with British and Nigerian inflections, he speaks quickly but with consistent rhythm. Though his sound often focuses on hip-hop, his tracks feature rap mixes with a wide variety of influences — such as opera, recordings of political speeches, jazz and classical piano — layered on top of one another.
His potent lyrics address topics both political and personal, including police brutality in the United States, homophobia in Africa, the Nigerian government and relationships in his everyday life. The unifying concept behind all of the lyrics is that they focus on real events, he said, adding, “I don’t make stuff up.”
“It’s always me, no matter what genre or style it is,” Akinkugbe said. He cited rap gods Kanye West, J Cole, Drake and Kendrick Lamar as well as legendary producers Just Blaze, Timbaland and Pharell as his main influences.
Since forging his own musical path, Akinkugbe has produced around 450 beats, each individually labeled. Sometimes the inspiration comes in a flash, he said, noting that he produced one of his favorite songs in just 25 minutes. But at other times, producing requires stolid patience, and he takes up to six hours to perfect a track.
“You’re already telling the story in your head as you make the beat,” Akinkugbe said, explaining that he simultaneously writes his raps and crafts his beats. “Rappers who just rap can be amazing, but they’re always going to miss that last bit of musicality.”
Rebecca Carrol ’15 also writes all of her own material, and her lyrics tackle issues including female empowerment in the entertainment industry. “I want to make my thoughts and problems I see in the world digestible in rap form,” she said.
“Listen, this is fair and square / I’m kind of obsessed with your derriere,” she sings in the first lines of “Boy Booty,” a song that responds to the music industry’s focus on women’s bodies and paucity of attention to men’s bodies.
Carrol “raps from her heart about issues that are actually important,” said Asia Nelson ’15, manager for ReMC, Carrol’s stage name. “Her raps are very powerful when I listen to them — they take something funny and playful and make it have a deep meaning.”
ReMC stands not only for Carrol’s initials, but also for mic controller. But Carrol recently decided to rename herself as Malka Red, which “sounds more like an actual name,” she said with a laugh. In her raps, Carrol often refers to herself by her alter ego “Red Queen.” The persona stems in part from the Red Queen hypothesis, which Carrol learned about as an evolutionary anthropology concentrator. The hypothesis asserts that in order to survive, every creature must continually adapt to an ever-changing environment.
“I really want to make upbeat club banger songs that still have an underlying message if you listen hard enough,” Carrol said. She listed her main influences as Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper, MIA and Angel Haze.
Her trajectory in rapping began in high school, where her interest in wordplay and rhyming inspired her to execute her entire valedictorian speech in “kind of a slam-poem-rap hybrid,” she said.
The band richard, on the other hand, began in “a grungy-ass, flea-infested basement,” said one of the nine members during a joint interview with The Herald.
Eight members of the hip-hop punk fusion band — alto saxophonist Sumner Becker ’14, trumpet player Sage deLisser ’15, guitarist Peter Enriquez ’16, bassist Ana Gonzalez ’15, drummer Arun Janssens ’15, vocalist Chloe Kibble ’17, keyboardist Grant Meyer ’16 and track producer Wes Sanders ’15 — piled onto the front steps of a Power Street house, slightly inebriated.
“We shotgunned beers before you came,” a band member said.
Jannsens said richard started when he needed to pull together a show to raise funds for the Food Recovery Network, a student group that distributes leftover food from campus eateries to homeless shelters in Rhode Island. He blasted an email to musicians he knew, and thus richard assembled.
Most of the band’s members said they began playing music on multiple instruments at early ages. Janssens began playing the marimba when he was three years old before he moved on to the glockenspiel. But a “career-ending finger sprain” led him to pick up the piano and finally the drums.
“My family all sings, so I grew up singing, too,” Kibble said, adding that she also started to learn the piano at a young age.
Enriquez began playing the piano at seven years old, switching in middle school to the guitar, which he has played ever since. The band members all agreed that Enriquez masterminds much of their work.
The band’s style ranges from smooth R&B to upbeat hip-hop fusion. “Someone once described us as ‘sexy silly funky fun,’ and we loved it,” Sanders said.
“Oh my god, that’s what we are!” another band member agreed, suggesting that the band monogram towels with the acronym “SFFF.”
Encompassing a wide range of genres, styles and instruments, these student performers are united by their ability to channel their passion on a campus that lacks a traditional music curriculum.
Before matriculating to Brown, Akinkugbe spent a year at the Berklee College of Music. While attending a school rooted in the study of jazz, his background in classical music left him struggling to capture the improvisation that is a central tenet of jazz music, he said. But he soon learned to adapt to multiple styles.
“I was worried if I left I’d leave the music behind,” Akinkugbe said, adding that by the end of his time at Berklee, he released an entire compilation of songs entitled “Goodbye for Now.”
At Brown, Akinkugbe studies classics and computer music. His academic pursuits often inform his rapping and producing, as his music frequently references Latin and Greek texts. One of his most recent songs features a poem translated from English to Latin in a classical opera style.
Carrol dons a bright red wig that is bobbed to her shoulders while on stage. Mixing theatricality with pithy lyrics, she dramatically eyes the audience, introducing her song as the initial beats throb behind her. Carrol bounces onstage with an energy that drives her fast-paced raps and high voice.
The members of richard crowd into a single living room, tripping over guitar and bass wires, brass instruments, drums and piano sets. They start to play a set, beginning with an upbeat “banger,” creating an eclectic mix of rap and jazz without missing a beat in the wake of frequent tempo changes. “Everything we make is a banger. Everything,” Kibble said.
It is hard to imagine richard playing in any venue besides a basement, whether to a crowd pulsing with energy or to a group of friends winding down for the night.
Jazz riffs from saxophones and pianos herald DAP’s disarming lyrics, which then break into melodious collaborations with singers, political speeches, news reports or remixed anthems, such as “Where is the Love” by the Black Eyed Peas.
His songs turn from slow, wistful piano duets to quick, heavily layered raps, again mirroring the diversity of his influences. Akinkugbe’s will to incorporate his entire being into his music is evident — snippets of his year at Berklee meld with his ties to Nigeria.
Though Brown is not a music school, its student body often shows support for musically inclined classmates.
B-Side Magazine, a student group that highlights work by student musicians and local bands through an online publication, was born when Ben Williams ’16 and Francis Torres ’16 returned from their respective study-abroad programs last semester.
Williams and Torres noticed that many students were interested in music and read relevant publications, such as Pitchfork and the Fader. “We want to make a mini version without the pretentiousness,” Torres said.
Williams said the talent and support for the music scene are palpable on Brown’s campus. At B-Side’s launch concert April 11, student performers including DAP and Lawrence took the stage.
“That’s what fuels art — bouncing off other people and ideas,” Carrol said, adding that she has been a part of an all-female rap cypher and has met up with singers on campus to generate catchier hooks for her own songs. Last semester, Carrol created a Group Independent Study Project called “The Language of Hip Hop,” and she is currently putting together a rap musical on evolution and DNA for one of her classes.
The campus music scene is “beginning to flourish, but it’s not wild enough,” Gonzales said. Student musicians would benefit from being able to register off-campus shows in order to avoid being shut down by the Department of Public Safety, she added.
“Being in a student band gives you license not to give a fuck,” Sanders said, adding that he thinks student performers are afforded more informal settings in addition to more freedom of expression. Akinkugbe said he appreciates that the Brown music scene bustles with collaborations, adding that he has partnered with the Clyde Lawrence Band, multiple a capella groups and Nice, a local band in Providence. Richard has also collaborated with Clyde Lawrence, DAP and several a capella groups.
Members of Brown’s artistic community support each other, even outside the music scene, Becker said.
As an audience member and critic, Williams said, “It’s far cooler to see someone you have some sort of connection to in the community.”
Many of Brown’s prominent musicians said they intend to stay focused on their art, even if they do not plan to make a career out of it. Lawrence said he “100 percent” plans to pursue a musical career after graduation. His sister Gracie Lawrence ’20, who was admitted to Brown early decision in the fall, will take a year off before matriculating to accompany the band on tour.
After walking through the Van Wickle gates, Carrol plans to move to New York in the hopes of advancing her rap career and exploring “the fusion of rapping and acting.”
“I would not be able to stop making music,” Akinkugbe said. He intends to apply to law school after Brown, potentially continuing his involvement with music in entertainment or copyright law.
“I’m going to be on tour rolling joints for Bruce (Springsteen), driving a bus for Bruce,” one member of richard called out, while another joked that he has “a job with Willy Wonka, because they’re a bars factory.” Mostly seniors, the members of richard give mixed reviews about remaining in the music industry.
To keep the band alive on campus, the members of richard aim to pass on their title to a group of younger students this year. “We are kidnapping people. We’re having a sacrifice. We’re forming a cult,” Janssens said. “It’s gonna be dope.”