The Chicago Defender’s Black Music Month Special Edition
Twista | @TWISTAgmg
When Carl Mitchell first broke on the scene, his amazing lightning speed style of rap—spitting rhymes with precision—earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest rapper on earth in his youth. He knew this was a natural gift, working hard to define and build a signature style that is unrivaled to this day.
Originally known as Tung Twista, the Collins High School graduate was one of the first rap artists to be signed to an outside record company in the early 1990’s. With his first album, Runnin’ Off at da Mouth released in 1992, it would be the first in a long illustrious music career that has sealed his work with the likes of Jay-Z, Mariah Carey and Chicago’s own, Do or Die, Kanye West and the Legendary Traxster.
His new project, Crook County, is a collaborative fusion of some of Chicago’s own stellar talent such as Jeremih, That Boy Illinois, Blac Youngsta and Vic Spencer along with production from familiar names. Having a successful relationship with Atlantic Records over the last decade produced some of hip hop’s most classic albums including Adrenaline Rush, Kamikaze, The Day After and The Perfect Storm—later returning to indie status with the release of his ninth studio album, Dark Horse.
His record label, GMG Entertainment, has partnered with EMPIRE to release the platinum recording artist’s tenth full-length album—dropping the first single, “Baddest” featuring Cap 1, produced by Zaytoven. In anticipation for the July 7th street release, Twista sat down and had a candid and honest conversation with The Chicago Defender about the next chapter in his musical career.
When did you realized that you had this gift at such an early age to rap and to spit lyrics with rapid speed?
Back then, it was more about my image of what I thought rap and hip hop was. The first thing that pops in my head are movies like “Crush Groove” and the Word up! Magazine. Today, you got The Source and all of that but back then Word Up! Magazine was your visual blueprint of how things were. There were certain hip hop stations in Chicago—if it wasn’t for WHPK and WNUR, the college stations in the city—I wouldn’t be up on the music. I had an early education on hip hop and for me back then, it was just about what type of artist I was becoming.
Today everybody can share the same rap style and just be different with their look or their swag but back then, it was about being totally different. MC Shan was nothing like Big Daddy Kane, Big Daddy Kane was nothing like Heavy D and Heavy D was nothing like the next person—everybody was different. I wanted to be different; how can I fit in with my rap style?
I didn’t perceive that it would turn into what it is today. When I started it was just about ‘I want to make a rap style that sounds different from everybody else’s’ and so that’s the only thing I concentrated on—being different.
When you look at how far you’ve come to influence other people and other groups by creating a signature sound—how does that make you feel?
It feels good. Right now, I have an understanding that I’m in the middle stage of what’s about to happen, meaning I don’t think everybody has fully understood where it comes from. We’re building up to that question, ‘Where did this style come from?’ One day it’s going to be a big topic and people will get into the specifics of who made what style and who was the first and that’s when the entire beauty of rap will show.
I’m comfortable in my skin, I feel good about what I do. When I look at what everybody’s doing I understand lyricism, hip hop and the history of it—the whole emotion of it. I took a little piece of this person and that person here and there. LL Cool J was one of my favorite rappers and Scarface. Scarface, has that deep voice and my voice is light—I can get away with biting him. So that’s the art.
Who were some of the producers you worked with on “Crook County”?
There’s a lot of new and young producers. I worked the most with YF Beatz and this other producer called Zenzan Beats, who produces for a lot of the young cats from Chicago. Also my guy, Sunny Woods, who is a DJ and engineer. He engineers for me and helped me orchestrate some of the producers. With the new project, it’s me bridging the gap with the young sound from Chicago, but these guys do it with harder edged music. I chose to do it with more hip-hop elements. So with this project, you get what Twista sounds like blended with the young guys but not necessarily the mainstream music that you hear young cats are doing. It’s a different sound; like Twista and Mick Jenkins or Twista and Vic Spencer. If you’re up on the Chicago sound, you’d like to hear what that sounds like so I’m happy about the project.
What inspires you? Everyone has their inspiration, or their time where they feel this person has influenced them throughout their career or throughout their personal life. What inspires Twista?
The first thing that comes to mind is the desire to be great and the love I have for music. For some people, I don’t think they understand how deep my love for music is. I think some artists search for an answer that may not be a concrete one. Sometimes, the answer is ‘I love the sh*t out of music.’ I’m in the studio—working on it, just vibing to a new beat, making a new song—the whole energy of what music is. I love doing it, then I look at it as something that can heal—it can also be a time machine.
As a native Chicagoan—growing up on the Westside, is it hard to separate what goes down on the streets apart from the art you create?
That’s a question that was harder to answer when I was younger. Now, I’m older so it’s a little easier now, but back then it was hard. It’s a challenge that most young artists face today. In their mind, they’re hot because of the things that they’re doing. They fear that if they stop doing it or show any other side of their personality or anything different, they may not be hot anymore. That’s one of the biggest challenges when you’re younger. For me, I was able to navigate with the music. My favorite artist is Rakim. One of the first things that comes to my mind is this dude is almost considered the dopest rapper ever, and he didn’t curse? I think to myself, if he got the ability to do that, that’s when you start to dig a little deeper. I’m a role model now and people are paying attention.
When you’re away from the studio, and the shows—what creates peace of mind?
Being happy with yourself, what you’re doing and how you treat others—not lying to yourself. Just really being happy with your place in whatever it may be. People always ask me, what does it take to get to this level? I’ll tell them to try to be a ‘good artist’, whether you’re a male or female artist. But also practice being a stand-up man or a stand-up woman to the best of your ability—that’s the first step of becoming a great artist.