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Despite being nerve-wracking, ComCo auditions are an enjoyable time for all involved.

Real with Rill Ill

Matt Hughes talks
local hip hop scene
Online Arts Editor
As we follow our favorite musi-
cians on Twitter and Instagram,
vicariously experiencing the excit-
ing life of stardom, it's easy to for-
get that there was a time when
Kanye West was locking himself
"in a room doing five beats a day
for three summers" or when Jay Z
was Big Daddy Kane's hype man,
filling up stage time during cos-
tume changes. We experienced
a collective shock when Beyonce
reminded us that, not too long
ago, she lost to a now-defunct
rock band from Michigan on "Star
Search." Such a loss seems incom-
prehensible in light of her present
fame, but back then she was just
another young musician trying to
make her way into the industry.
The gap between celebrity and
obscurity is vast and unforgiving.
But as difficult as it may be to tra-
verse, there are people out there
like Beyonc6 or Jay Z in the mid
'90s, going to school and working
side jobs Monday through Friday
so they can have their weekends
free to write music and do shows,
slowly trudgirig toward recogni
Ann Arbor is, of course, home
to a range of musicians in vari-
ous stages of this journey. I went
to the Blind Pig last winter to see
Riff Raff, a rapper who, at the time,
was quickly ascending the ladder
of celebrity but still not quite atcthe
top. He showed up more than two
hours late, which really worked to
the detriment of his opening acts
- all rappers and producers from
the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area. A
duo made up of Ypsilanti-based
producers Crackzilla and Milosh
had to spend the majority of their
set responding to the impatient
audience's boos with middle fin-
gers and "Go fuckyourself"s.
But the first opening act, Paper
Rockets, got on stage before the
audience got tired of waiting for
Riff Raff and received an appro-
priately warm response for some
excellent work. Delivering humor-
ous lyricism with retro flows and
beats built around an eclectic
selection of samples, Paper Rock-
ets made an impression - they got
their name on the same playbill as
Riff Raff and gained at least one
new follower on Soundcloud.

This past week I met for coffee
with Paper Rockets's main pro-
ducer, Matt Hughes, a.k.a Rill Ill.
Hughes came in while I was order-
ing a coffee and sent me a text to
let me know he arrived. He wore a
gray North Carolina hat and a blue
jacket and didn't really stand out
from the crowd.
Hughes is originally from
Detroit, but moved to Ypsilanti
when he was in middle school and
has lived there ever since. He's
currently attending Eastern Mich-
igan University, where he studies
"Yep, I do all of my album cov-
ers," he said, indicating his par-
ticipation in a common practice
amongunderground musicians.
Throughout our talk, Hughes
pointed out the many ways in
which being a rapper or a hip-hop
producer requires you to be self-
sufficient. He's been rapping for
nine years and producing for about
six, but the need for self-sufficien-
cy is what got him to start produc-
ing in the first place.
"Really, (I started producing
because it was) hard to get beats
from people, you know, shady pro-
ducers. Eventually I was just like
'Fuck it, I'll do it myself', "he said.
Through a whole lot of practice,
however, Hughes has begun to
churn out an impressive quantity
of high-quality beats. Part of his
success can be explained by the
fact that he doesn't just draw from
the traditional R&B and funk cata-
logue that the majority of produc-
ers use to make their beats. I asked
him about his song "Ride Then
Die," which seemed to have a har-
monica sample on it.
"Yeah, I was listening to the
sample yesterday; it was like a
prog-rock sample from the '60s. I
don't remember the band,"he said.
"First off, (I picksamples based on)
whether or not it's at the Salvation
Army. Then covers, I look for what
kind of instruments are being
played on each track, things like
that, you know."
"Usually I'm kind of a lab rat,"
he said. "Just me in the studio, you
know, chugging it out." Like most
producers these days, Hughes does
all of his work on his laptop. He
uses a production software called
FL Studio - the same program
used by Soulja Boy, Lex Luger and
9th Wonder, among others - in
conjunction with a USB turntable
to put together his tracks.
But there is a downside to being
a "lab rat," Hughes explained.

"People that actually, you know,
stop and listen, like, (they give
me) a lot of good reception. But it
is hard to, you know, reach out to
people. Like I said, I'm a recluse,
that's my Achilles Heel, the mar-
Hughes isn't just a lonely artist
trying to get his music out there,
however. He is plugged into a
thriving community of under-
ground rappers and producers
in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area,
connected by online music-shar-
ing networks like Soundcloud and
Bandcamp. These musicians give
encouragements to each other
in the comments section of their
songs and regularly help each
other to land gigs and marketing
opportunities - this interview
was set up by another Ann Arbor
producer, Joonthemonsoon.
Paper Rockets's opportunity to
open for Riff Raff last year came
out of this community of musi-
cians. "We were just randomly
hanging out in the apartment,
you know, and Kyle Hunter from
(Ann Arbor hip hop trio) Tree
City called us up and was like 'Do
you wanna open for Riff Raff?',"
Hughes said.
Following one member of the
Ann Arbor hip-hop scene on
Soundcoud invariably leads you
to the rest of the community. The
most famous members are Tree
City, but a few of the other big
names are Professor Megablown
(who Hughes hangs out with on
the weekends) and the producers
I've already mentioned, Joonthe-
monsoon and Crackzilla.
Music is the foundation of this
community and, of course, all
of these musicians are focused
on improving their craft. When
I asked Hughes whether Paper
Rockets had put out any records,
he said "No, we're the type of peo-
ple that'll, like, work on an album
for a long-ass time. By the time it's
ready we've gotten so much better
that we've gotta scrap it."
When it comes down to it,
though, whether or not Hughes
finds success as a professional
musician isn't the real point. "I'm
going to try to be a freelance illus-
trator as soon asI can, but I'll prob-
ably stay in school, go to art school
at Eastern," he explained. But does
he see music as a part of his life
in the future? "Oh yeah," he said.
"I'm going to do that whether or
not anyone's listening."

E-mail John Lynch at
jplyn@umich.edu to.
request an application
for Daily Arts.

It's asad reality thatsome-
times even the strongestfriend-
ships fade. This week on "Girls,"
makes a
attempt at Girls
the remains "Beach House'
of her
friendships HID
ning a sophisticated, luxurious,
"healing"trip for the epony-
mous girls. But when Hannah
runs into Elijah and invites him
and hisgroup of gay friends over
to the house, Marnie's perfect
weekend goes awry. From that
point on,tension builds between
the friendsuntil Shosh (who is
apparently a cruel drunk) finally
loses it and rips into everyone,
sparkingthe huge fightcat this
episode's core.
One ofthe best things about
"Girls" is that it embraces (and
mocks) imperfection (see:
Hannah's horribly unflatter-
ingAmerican Apparel bikini).
It's startling to see Nicki
Minaj, an artist who's so
associated with a vibrant
style, go B
white for Lookin' Ass
her latest
video, Nigga
Ass Nicki Minaj
Nigga," Young Money
in which
she for-
gets her pop hits in favor of a
much more straightforward
hip-hop sound.
We don't get a full look
at Minaj until about 30 sec-
onds into the video. Starkly
dressed in all black, she's
emotionless, showing off her
body and holding enormous,
guns, those traditionally
masculine toys. Great as it
is to see Minaj still dem-
onstrating her top-tier rap
skills, the video's content
doesn't do much to stick
with the listener. The huge

firearms are supposed to be symbolizing anger against
shocking, but really, "scantily leering viewers, or are they
clad girl with big guns" has simply another means of
been done before.. , sexualization? The video is
While it has a fantastic ambiguous about whether
minimalist aesthetic, the Minajis an empowered
video is diminished by a woman or is simply a sex
message that's too muddled. symbol, and by consequence
Minaj seems self-conscious loses any potential state-
about the way she's per- ment-making power.
ceived, but are the guns -ADAM THEISEN

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