In a world of $500 million dollar power ball jackpots and celebrity ya-ya's, it's easy to get caught up in the pursuit of fame and fortune. But sometimes making music isn't about making it big. Sometimes it's all about the act of creation. Fortunately for music fans, there are still a few good acts out there that value the process of creation above all else. We sat down with just such a person, Cincinnati hip hop artist Jacob Fortner, aka MC Forty, to talk about making music for the love of music.
So tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a 21 year old junior at the University of Cincinnati studying marketing. I wrote my first rap when I was like 10. Right about the time Eminem made Eight Mile. I also got turned on to Linkin Park and their lead MC, Mike Shinoda. It was incredible because besides groups like N-Sync and other boy bands, it was my first exposure to music. It was new and interesting and exciting so it just kind of drew me in. So I wrote a little and spit freestyles. Over time I became known as that white kid in school who rapped.
Wow, that seems really young. That's like half a lifetime ago for you.
It feels like it was just a little while ago.
Yeah, time flies. That's why I like the fact that you're out here making things happen. So how often do you perform?
I used to be on a once a month thing. Trying to hit up open mics at Baba Budan's, Rohs Street or wherever.This guy, MC Till, used to have monthly shows here (Rohs Street Cafe.) He'd invite me up to perform as an opening act. And it'd be about the size crowd you saw at Clifton Heights, 30-40 people or so. Which in a venue like this is good. Now it's less often than that.
What caused you to pull back?
I think it's that I'm more into recording. I don't want to perform as much. Making my last album and promoting it was a fun experience. And I'm putting more focus into that.
So how many records do you have?
I have two original albums out. One with Wonder Brown, the guy on the flyer right there. It's called Walking Words. That one kind of launched everything. Then I put out a solo album called Sleeping Showers with a producer named Clutch from Hamilton, Ontario. So I have those two projects and a mixtape, L!qu!d Crack .
Wait, how did you meet a producer from Canada?
I met him through Wonder Brown. I had a gap year after high schoolI was about 17-18. I met Wonder Brown at Tazza Mia, a little coffee shop that used to be on campus. He heard me perform and asked me if I was interested in doing a song together. We connected and recorded one song, then another and another. We eventually recorded the 12 tracks that became Walking Words.
So after hanging out and working together on that project, he invited me to this thing in Boston called the Cram Session. It's an event in the Christian hip hop network where producers, rappers, singers come together in this small, expensive house in Boston and record an entire album over the course of three or four days. Clutch came down from Canada and we just kind of vibed with this crazy, over the top energy.
So you're writing, producing and recording right there on the spot. Is that your typical process?
Generally I like to take my time with things. It usually takes me a few sessions to write a song. I don't really ever do it in one sitting. Then there's the revision process. I like to type up the lyrics on a computer so I can go through line by line. I don't want to waste words. So I would say I like to take my time writing it and revising it so I can get the most out of each word. The beat is important, the music, the mix; it's all important. But, I have to lay down the foundation of the words. That's my responsibility. That's my job as an MC.
Are there certain themes or ideas that you hit on when you write?
Most of the time I'll sit down with an idea that I think is gonna go a certain way and then it'll go completely left field. Sometimes the word play takes it in a totally different direction. But I think the common theme of my music is to start by being vulnerable and opening up to talk about my feelings or my frustrations on something. I also want to be careful not to turn into an emo rapper. Because most of my problems are 1st world problems so I don't want to come off as "Oh, This is hard! Life is hard! Life's a struggle!"
But to be more specific, on Sleeping Showers I was voicing a lot of depression and aloneness that I felt during high school; some bitterness that I had towards my belief in God and my faith. Both of which are really important in my life. I was totally working through it from a doubt, anger type perspective. It was really necessary for me to write about some of those things, but I want to grow out of that.
To go where? What direction?
I really want to get into more storytelling in the next project. Using the creative process as an opportunity to tell stories from other peoples perspective. And ultimately just have a lot of fun with tracks that you can ride around to and get down to, but still have consciousness.
So where are you going with this whole thing?
I guess the best way to describe it is no expectations, no excuses. Being 21, in college, no wife or kids, I have the freedom to pursue music seriously. But it's a hobby right now. I'm not getting blown up for gigs all the time. I'm not constantly performing at the hottest venues. But we (Wonder Brown & I) are going on a short five city tour this summer. We'll be hitting Pittsburgh, Philly, New York, DC and a small town somewhere along the way. Sometimes I'm like "Do I need to do more work with rap? Do I need to be really ambitious? Or do I need to really dive into the business programs, networking, etc?" To some extent I'd say yes to both. But I don't wanna be all stressed out about it; worried about what gigs I'm playing or how much money I'm making. Fortunately, that's not an issue right now. I just feel encouraged by my peers to continue to have fun with it and share it with people that want to hear it on whatever level; regional, local, or backyard.
The cool vibe I get is that it all seems so effortless. Not that you don't put work in, but that you're not forcing it or chasing after it.
In general, desperateness is unattractive. I'm not desperate to be famous or to get on with the local promoters. But I also don't want to be lazy or use that as an excuse. I want to be a good steward of the gift and be ambitious with that. I think we can all step our game up; be encouraged to work harder and have fun.
So where can people connect with you and your music?
They can connect with me and my music at mcforty.com, Facebook.com/MCFortyMusic, twitter, band camp, soundcloud, reverb nation and all the usual places.
They say that money makes the world go 'round. And that may be true. Thank God, and/or your favorite musicians, that music makes the world beautiful! If you're a fan of local hip hop, be sure to check out MC Forty & DJ Etek along with other local artists at The Comet this Wednesday. Show starts at 10pm. Free. Local. Hip Hop. And make sure you check out the latest release from MC Forty, Sleeping Showers.