The Underscore: Behind the custom music of ESPN
This month on The Underscore, we spoke with rapper and spoken word artist, YAW GEEZ. Yaw has a unique perspective as an artist because he got his professional start at ESPN! He has worked on various projects for SEC, NBA, The Undefeated and more. Read on to learn more about the dynamic and talented Yaw Geez.
Tell us about your journey from a former ESPN employee to Artist.
I rapped for fun in college. Once I got hired at ESPN, I put the pen down to focus on my Television career. After about a year at ESPN, I realized that Corporate America was nowhere near the experience I thought it would be so as an outlet, I started writing again as a little bit of a coping mechanism. I could sense I was getting better so I decided to release a full length mixtape in 2010 entitled "Entry Level" which was well received around ESPN. From there, I was approached to write and perform a spoken word piece for NFL Countdown in 2012 and that's where the hobby turned into something that could possibly be another career path.
Tell us a bit about where you are from, your musical background, and what kind of music you make?
I was actually born in Hartford, CT. I spent the majority of my childhood in Central Jersey and went to high school outside of Philly. I don't have a musical background per se. I listened to a ton of music though. I started to really follow and understand hip-hip when I was 14. I listened to Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Wu Tang, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Lost Boyz, etc. I like to call the music I make adult contemporary hip-hop. I talk about my life, family, and relationships while keeping the braggadocious element of hip-hop in my music.
Has your ethnic and/or cultural background influenced your music in any way? If so, how?
My Ghanaian Parents weren't big music buffs like that, but we had a ton of music in the house. They listened to a Ghanaian genre of music called Hi-Life. Listening to it in the house gave me ideas about melody and voice command. My aunties and uncles who lived in Brooklyn were huge into Michael Jackson, Run DMC, and KRS-ONE. I got a lot of my musical knowledge just from spending summers in NYC as a child.
How has your art allow you to express yourself during the current times of the pandemic and social justice movements?
For me, the beginning of the pandemic was difficult for me to get anything out. My mind was all over the place and I really didn't know how to express myself throughout all the uncertainty. It was tough for me, but as is the case with most creatives, your ability takes over and one line turns into two lines, which turns into verse, etc. Once I got in a groove, I was able to nail down all the things I wanted to express and executed them the way I wanted to.
What projects have you worked on with ESPN and which one was your favorite?
I've worked on multiple projects. The first set of "Journey" Pieces in 2012 will always be dear to my heart because it was my first real opportunity. I’ve worked with The Undefeated the last two years for Black History Month. I think the John Thompson piece is my favorite, thus far.
Tell us about the creative process of one of the projects you have done for us? What were your inspiration points?
I approach it from a journalistic perspective. I am a huge sports fan so I am already familiar with the topics I am writing about. I also do heavy research on the subject to try to see if there is anything that I don't know about the person that I could incorporate creatively. After that, it's figuring out the music aspect of the piece with my producers in conjunction with ESPN's production team to figure out direction and mood. I just try to give the audience something very different than anything they heard before. There isn't anyone making Lyrical rap pieces about sports figures. It's a great lane that we have created. Its a blessing to blend my two loves in a creative and authentic way.
Any advice for any young aspiring musicians/composers?
Study the history of whatever genre of music you choose to get involved with. It gives you a great base and from there, you can develop and hone your own skills. As cliché as it sounds, consistency really is the key. 10,000 hours. Never stop learning. You have to make a ton of bad music before you can make good music consistently. Honing your craft daily is the most important thing. 15 years ago and right before I started working at ESPN, I told a friend I was going to stop making music. He responded, "Don't stop writing. You never know what it might lead to." Every time I have an issue and feel like I want to stop "Don't stop writing" replays on loop in my mind.
Lastly, because this is ESPN, are you a sports fan? Which team(s)?
I’m a big, big sports fan. I like the Knicks, Yankees, Giants, and UCONN Basketball.
What do you have on the docket these days and where can we find you?
I’m working on some more stuff for TV networks and hoping to release some music later this year. You can find me as YAW GEEZ on Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal and @yawgeezmusic on Instagram and Twitter.
Thank you to former colleague and now artist, Yaw, for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Check him out at the links above!!