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Local rapper shares album's inspiration

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Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 8:47 pm

Gainesville has long been known as a breeding ground for one of the most flourishing music scenes in the southeastern United States.

With acts like Tom Petty, Less Than Jake, Sister Hazel, Against Me! and even Rob Thomas calling Gainesville home at one point or another, it is no wonder why locals take pride in our city's lush music history.

Most of the work that came out of Gainesville spawned from rock and roll. However, local rapper Shay-J hopes to leave a ripple in this trend.

Shay-J, 21, is a third-year telecommunication student who has been rapping for the better part of the past decade.

"He would always say, ‘Rap something for me man,' and I'd always tell him, 'I can't rap,'" Shay-J said. "In middle school I started to write poetry, which I eventually merged with rap and started to become really serious about it."

Shay-J's rap reached the next level when he connected with Menifasis (pronounced: ‘many faces'), a producer from Shay-J's hometown, West Palm Beach. The two began recording random tracks together in Menifasis' home studio when Shay-J was still in high school.

Shay-J's new album, "Lost In A Vast Abyss Of Hip-Hop," is actually a collection of the work he has done with Menifasis that spans as far back as when they first met.

The album began to take form when Menifasis told Shay-J to simply ‘Make some music,' with no concern as to whether it would come out as a compilation album.

"I never plan out a song I'm gonna do," Shay-J said. "I've had situations where I started writing songs on the back of tests, and then got pissed off because I couldn't get the test back."

While he does a lot of spontaneous writing, Shay-J said that there are certain occasions where he will sit in silence and write.

"It really all depends what I'm surrounded by. I do write it all down, though. I prefer quality over spontaneity," he said.

"You can say this album basically took 21 years to write," Shay-J said. "The track 'That's My Car' was the first song I ever wrote on my own."

Upon giving the album a spin, the time Shay-J puts into his lyrics is immediately evident.

Self-described as "a bridge between the old and the new," "LIAVAOHH" is driven by heartfelt, honest lyrics that come at you with authority. The beats steadily play along from start to finish, generating a mellow tone that harks back to Lupe Fiasco's 2006 album "Food and Liquor."

Shay-J said that he is disgusted with the mainstream image of hip-hop and made it clear that he wants to be known for his music, period.

"People aren't buying albums anymore. My goal is to be heard. I just walk around campus passing it out now," he said.

While he may come off as being humble and reserved at first, Shay-J's competitive side is what makes him tick.

"When I perform, I want the crowd to forget about who's after me. I'm trying to take all of the energy in the room for myself," he said, emphasizing that rap has always been a dirty game.

Shay-J studies video of hip-hop and rock performances to get an edge on other local rappers.

"I try to look for every element I can add into it to make it the best that people have seen. I'm trying to kill competition," Shay-J said.

The biggest show of his life came on December 4, 2009 at a performance at Flavet Field, when Shay-J opened for Common and KiD CuDi to a crowd of several thousand.

"I thought it was really unique. I like Shay-J for the same reason I like Common. The lyrics were really good and it was really entertaining to watch," said Brian Goodrich, a political science senior who attended the concert.

Shay-J said that the show was one of the most exciting things he's ever done.

Using that performance as a catalyst to build a local following, Shay-J has since begun to perform locally on a regular basis.

He also has plans to begin filming music videos for select tracks on his new album.

"If you do exactly what you do, as far as originality is concerned, that's what's gonna get you in the door," he said.

Shay-J has made a name for himself with uplifting originality and is constantly adding layers to his inventiveness.

"Don't place assumptions on what you think you may see from me next," he said.

You can catch Shay-J tonight at 8 p.m. in the Orange & Brew at the Reitz Union. He will be taking donations for his album at the venue.

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