TGNR’s Paul K. DiCostanzo sat down with Hip-Hop star Chris Webby for an extensive three-part interview. With the release of his new mixtape, Webster’s Laboratory II, (available today, 6/1/2016, 300PM EST) they caught up on all things music, life, and his reflections on growth as an artist. Enjoy this exclusive TGNR Chris Webby interview.
TGNR Paul K. DiCostanzo: I am here with Hip-Hop artist Chris Webby. Thank you for joining me and chatting with TGNR today.
Chris Webby: Absolutely.
TGNR PKD: You’ve been on a lot of people’s radar, and you’ve been working hard in your laboratory. Tell me about 2016 in the laboratory.
CW: The laboratory’s location has changed many times throughout the years, I have worked in many studios in many states. Right now I am at home. Its set up in my parents house in Southport, Connecticut. It’s nice to have that easy access, easy availability for the time being.
TGNR PKD: Tell me about a day in the lab.
CW: A day in the lab… it totally depends. There are all different types of days. Sometimes there are creative days which entail getting up with a producer, working on some music from scratch, and trying to make something new.
There are other times – borderline creative days – where I already have a song written. Then we go to lay it down, and make it sound as cool as possible.
Then there are the mixing days, the more technical days, which I just finished a weekend of having. Which is making it all sound good after its more or less done, to make it sound as best as possible to the listener.
Those days are quite tedious and they take a lot longer than you would think. A lot of the songs I work on nowadays there are at least 10 hours put into every song, if not more. There is even a song on this project that I think took us near 30 hours. From the time I started writing it to the time we finished.
Chris Webby, the Creative Process & Webster’s Laboratory II
TGNR PKD: Describe your creative process. Where does a song begin? Does it start from a big idea? Or does it start from the bass line up?
CW: Some things start from a big idea. The more conceptual songs start before I even hear a beat. ‘Wow… I should write a song that takes this approach, and talk about this.’
A lot of them start when a beat is being made, or when a beat is given to me. Just start listening, humming, making a little hook of some sort. Once you have a hook in place the verses tend to come around it.
There are a lot of ways to go about it. I prefer to work in the studio, with the producer, and stay hands on throughout the whole process. When it comes to traveling and things like that, you don’t always have that option.
TGNR PKD: What do you feel you’ve accomplished in Webster’s Laboratory II?
CW: I think I’ve accomplished a new level of maturity. Its old Webby, but its rebranded at the same time time. Anyone who likes my old stuff: the punchlines, verses, that’s all there for them. But there is going to be a new sense of maturity.
My first mixtape technically came out when I was 20, and I am now 27. I am a very different person than when I started, I live a much different lifestyle than when I first started. I’ve matured a lot, finally. It took quite some time, but I have really matured a lot.
I have really changed a lot about how I go about things, and I think the fans are ready for that. I don’t think they want to hear the same party, crazy Webby I’ve always been. There’s still an element of that, I still have a good time, don’t get me wrong. They want to hear more, they want to hear me build on that. They know I’ve gone through some stuff that I can talk about. I get very personal on this project while still having a good time throughout the rest of it.
TGNR PKD: How have you grown?
CW: I have learned a lot about the industry and how it works. I have learned a lot about business just from a personal stand point, and how to keep it running. But its been tricky, very tricky, but I’ve learned how to keep an independent business afloat.
I have learned how to bring in new revenue streams from different sources to ensure I can keep doing this, because there isn’t that much money in music anymore. You need to learn how to build on top of that. Unless you’re part of that top-tier where they really do make a lot of money off music. I make money off of music, don’t get me wrong, but its an expensive career to keep running, and you have to think big picture.
I have also learned a lot about making music.
TGNR PKD: How so?
CW: I have learned a lot more in recent times melodically. I have always understood melody, but I have never sat down and just studied it. The harmony, different inflection, the way you say things, cadence, tone, I have learned a lot about that.
I have listened back to some of my old stuff, and really its less of what I am saying that makes me cringe, but how I say it. I think the way that I present this music now, the way I rap, the way I deliver these hooks, the way I construct a song is just on a much more professional level than it once was.
“I didn’t have a Jedi Master who helped guide me from Padawan to full Jedi Knight. I had to figure out a lot on my own. It really made it take a lot longer.”
Webby & Becoming A Professional
TGNR PKD: I have two quotes for you that I want you to interpret in your own experience:
“Before you become an artist, you must become a professional.” How do you see that in your career?
CW: I think I became both around the same time.
TGNR PKD: When was that?
CW: Relatively recently. I think I was an artist before then, but I wasn’t the artist I am now. I was still an artist in training. The thing about this business and the internet, I had to find myself and learn what I needed to do, how I needed to do it, and how to rap rap in front of everybody. Everybody watched this process, and that’s something a lot of people don’t have to do. Which is learn to be who they really are in front of the world.
I didn’t really have much guidance. I didn’t have an older rapper who stepped in and put his arm around my shoulder and taught me the ways. I didn’t have a Jedi Master who helped guide me from Padawan to full Jedi Knight. I had to figure out a lot on my own. It really made it take a lot longer.
Now we’re seven years in. I feel I finally understand the musicality and the business on a level I should have probably understood years ago. And because I had to figure this out on my own, I am always happy to take the longer route. I would rather have the decisions hang on my shoulders than someone else’s. I would rather fail because I failed than have someone else to blame.
TGNR PKD: Duke Ellington said, “You live in search of the melody.”
CW: Yes. Melody is the building block for all music. Now Hip-Hop is obviously its own thing. Not all Hip-Hop has melody, not all my music has melody even, but the majority does.
Melody is key. Melody scientifically releases Serotonin in the brain. That’s what’s going on with a certain song you just can’t stop listening to, it actually triggers something chemically in your body. So does rhythm, don’t get me wrong, but melody is powerful.
TGNR PKD: Ellington was also speaking in terms of the creative process as a whole. Living in search of the next song, the next project. How does that portion of it work for you?
CW: That’s my life in a nutshell. As soon as your done with a project, like I am with Webster’s Laboratory II, you have that brief moment to catch your breath. Afterwards its right back to it. You always need to be making music, I always feel like I need to be making music, or touring, or doing something.
That’s what some people don’t understand about this job. I make my own hours, I can sleep late, to some it may even appear that I am lazy at times. Sometimes I am, don’t get me wrong. I am a big video game enthusiast, I love a nice lazy Sunday, but at the same time this is a job that weighs on your mind all the time. It is always going 24/7, and its almost impossible to turn off.
There are other people who work a job they clock in and out of, when you’re clocked out you don’t really need to think about that job until you have to go back. This job, even if I don’t do anything Hip-Hop related all day, I don’t have a show, I don’t go to the studio, I am still thinking about what I need to be doing. Its just this never ending stress that just lives within you. It keep the fire burning, its a good thing, its just crazy that you can’t turn it off. It really does make you go a little nuts at times.
Every time I relax a little too much, I feel as if I should be doing something right now. I should be progressing my career in some way, shape, or form. I should be calling someone, nurturing some sort of relationship, or writing some music, or setting up a show, or something.
TGNR PKD: This a career that you’re totally immersed in, and it is your life. Do you feel having something like this to focus on helps you with your ADD?
CW: I think it does help me with my ADD, but it also can make it a little more difficult. Sometimes it raises the anxiety levels. There are times where there are so many things I need to be on top of at once, or at least thinking about. Whether it be a tour coming up, or a merchandise package I need to get out, or a project, getting the project finished. Then I need to get it mastered, then I need to get it printed out, then I need to get it signed and sent to the warehouse. I need to do a feature for this guy. There are always so many different things where if all I had to do was make music, it would be simple. But its not all there is to it.
I used to live with a mindset that was kind of, ‘I just need to make music.’ That’s no way to live because you just can’t allow other people to run the rest of your life. All while you hole up in a studio, smoke weed and get creative. You need to be on top of all of it, you need to be your own boss.
I’m an independent artist, and if I’m not calling all the shot’s what’s the point?
Chris Webby Growing As An Artist & A Man
TGNR PKD: You and I have been talking a lot about how you’ve grown personally. How do you feel you’re growing in your music?
CW: It’s very important for me to be very personal. I have always been personal in my music at times. Not all of my songs are long looks into my life, personality, and problems. But I have always been sure to touch base on that.
Now I just have different problems, different things on my mind, and its important to get my fans up to speed. A lot of my fans have grown up too, and its important that I grow up with them.
TGNR PKD: You feel that you’re growing with them right now?
CW: Yeah. I feel like some of them were waiting for me to grow up too, to be very honest with you. I do a lot of weed songs, and party songs. Those are things that so long as I am smoking weed and partying I will continue to do. They want more, they want the depth.
The songs that make a fan for life are not going to be the party songs, and the songs that don’t connect with them. Listeners want someone they can relate to in some way, shape, or form. The way I go about it is just speaking candidly about my personal life. If that’s something they can relate to, it is something that helps them get through their day.
If I am talking about my problems and they can relate to it, they know someone else is going through it. They can relate to it. I think a lot of Hip-Hop artists don’t get too personal, and they don’t give too many pieces of their life away…
TGNR PKD: Whereas you’re very autobiographical…
CW: Very autobiographical! I just have a few new things to say.
I know why certain artists don’t do it. Once you give a piece of yourself away, you never get it back. That’s something that is just out there and people know. You have to be comfortable with that.
To see Eminem – whose my favorite Hip-Hop artist – just to see how personal he was in his life, his relationships with his ex-wife, his daughter, his mother, that is why he was the artist he was. He was amazing. We got to see the intricacy of his life, but at the same time 10-15 years later he has to deal with that all being out there.
The things he said about his ex-wife were said. The things he said about his mother were said. That can be a heavy burden to carry, I can only image what that’s like down the line. Even if that’s how you truly felt, its different saying those things to a person, as opposed to saying them to the whole world.
Understanding Southwestern, Connecticut & Chris Webby, Self-Made
TGNR PKD: Speaking of the autobiographical, something you and I have in common is having grown up as a middle-class white guy in Southwestern Connecticut. It’s a funny thing because coming from that background, then traveling west of the Hudson River, people have this idea of what Connecticut is, and we are never it.
How has that played out for you personally?
CW: I think people outside of the area do have a view of me that isn’t accurate. People outside of Connecticut have an inaccurate view of Connecticut as a whole.
TGNR PKD: How would you explain the two?
CW: I think a lot of people, not researching me, and hearing I am from Connecticut have a different idea from who I am. I am not from the hood. I didn’t grow up poor, or having to do certain things other Hip-Hop artists had to do to get by. But I did not grow up rich by any means either. I think certain people maybe think I did, that I had certain things handed to me, that my parents handed me my career, or paid for everything. That is not true.
TGNR PKD: That someone is quietly sitting back there bank rolling you?
CW: Yeah, no one has bank rolled this. I am one of the few artists without a bankroll, without a big label who have made it this far. Its almost insane how far I have made it without a financial backing.
I think some people may believe that I did have one. My parents haven’t helped me out through life. They have been a big emotional support system, but financially my mom is a school teacher. My Dad is a guitar player.
I see artists now coming out, and the standard of a Hip-Hop artist has changed dramatically even since I have been around. I have seen a lot of artists come up who have a huge financial backing, sometimes its even family. It’s not something you can be mad at. But at the same time you just know in your head that you had to work that much harder to get there than they did.
TGNR PKD: I sense that you’re very proud about the fact that you’re a self-made man.
CW: Absolutely. When I am looked at as not being that, it does grind my gears.
TGNR PKD: How have you encountered that, first hand?
CW: There are just a lot of misinformed people. There are a lot of people who think a lot of things. Now that’s just being in the public eye. A lot of people think a lot of things that aren’t true about a lot of people.
I feel its more important than ever to tell my story. I want everybody to know exactly what I have done and what I have been through. I have been around. I have been a lot of places. I have done a lot things, I have many accomplishments under my belt. But at the same time I haven’t reached that pedestal that an artist would shoot for. I have not reached that financial security where I am good indefinitely. I am not good indefinitely, I still have a lot of work to go in that department. But I am able to keep this career afloat, do what I want to do, I live comfortably enough. I have food.
TGNR PKD: You’re not wondering where your next meal is coming from.
CW: Nah! I know its coming from my Mom probably. She’s an Italian woman! My Mom’s full bred Italian, so there’s always food in the house when I am back in Connecticut!
Reflecting on the Original Dream
TGNR PKD: Now you’ve grown a lot in your career, and I am curious looking back a decade ago, what was your dream at that time?
CW: My dream a decade ago was to be a professional rapper.
TGNR PKD: Even when you were still in college?
CW: Oh yeah. I have wanted to be a rapper since I was in sixth grade. That’s the only thing I have wanted to do. Except maybe some environmental/conservation based work to benefit the world, because I am a big environmentalist. I love animals, and its very upsetting where we are in our world today.
Aside from that, I have always wanted to be a rapper. Almost delusionally so at first, because I was just a kid who started rapping. I was terrible. I was in sixth grade, I didn’t know what I was doing. But that was before everyone was rapping. Those were in the days where as a white kid rapping the only comparison was Eminem. Those are huge shoes to fill.
Its different now. A white kid coming up in today’s day and age aren’t going to get the sort of harsh come-up. It was very harsh for me. I took a lot of shit, I was called a lot of things because I was a white kid rapping. No one assumed that I could do it, and now its commonplace.
When I was in high school and college it was not a common sight.
TGNR PKD: You work for yourself making your own dream happen. In that process what was the most memorable instance you recall encouraging you? What was also the most memorable piece of unsolicited advice you received to try and steer you away from this life?
CW: Most memorable moment of encouragement… Man its hard to say sometimes because it can be such a blur. It’s one of those things where you don’t stop and smell the roses nearly as much as you should.
There have been a lot of great moments. Touring with Tech N9ne, he was an artist I grew up listening to. He really respected me. Just getting that mutual respect from people that you have looked up to. Honestly I look up to him as both an artist and a businessman. That’s amazing.
Playing on-stage with my Dad is amazing. Being able to see two generations of music on the same stage. Obviously the first time you do that it was really something. Now we got it down, its a show. To be able to do that with my Dad, with my Mom out there. It was something that was weird at first when you’re younger, because when you’re younger you don’t want your parents around. Now its cool.
My parents have always looked out for me. I’m an only child, so sometimes it seemed like they almost loved me too much and I would reject it. Now its totally cool and they have always been supportive of what I wanted to do.
Once they realized this was something I could actually do. Maybe not a first when I was in the sixth grade saying, ‘I wanna be a rapper!’ Maybe not then. Though about seven or eight years ago they had that realization, ‘wow, maybe he can actually do this. Maybe we should get behind this, maybe this is legitimate at this point.’ Because no one wants to get behind a delusional thought process.
Seeing kids who ‘rap,’ and not everyone’s meant to be a rapper. Not everybody is meant to be a lot of things. I am not meant to be a lot of things. But this is something that I have spent so many hours on, thousands of hours. At this point this is what I am meant to do, this is what I have trained for.
Its not something you can just pickup, and I see kids sometimes where I say ‘these kids need better friends who will point them in a different direction.’ That’s not to sound mean, but not everybody is meant to do this. Constructive criticism is important, I need it. But again, not everybody is supposed to do this. Not everybody is supposed to be a doctor, or to be a hairstylist.
(Article Continues Below...)
Dealing with Detractors
TGNR PKD: That brings us to the second part, what is the most memorable unsolicited detractor you can recall in your career? Trying to set you off of this path, permanently.
CW: I have had plenty of people say plenty of mean things about me. At first that was difficult. To have people that you don’t know, especially on the internet, saying things and starting rumors about you. Just cruel stuff, taking it places you would never go with someone in a face-to-face manner.
The internet has taken all empathy away from conversation.
TGNR PKD: Nobody has the balls to say in real life what they say online.
CW: Some things that have been said about me have been insane, really. At first that’s difficult. It has happened in person. I used to open up for artists or do open-mics when I was really young, and I have had plenty of people say mean things.
There was this one time I opened for Wu-Tang really early in my career, and the CD didn’t work that had my songs on them. Then they realized it didn’t work, and I was standing out there in front of a sold-out, bloodthirsty Wu-Tang crowd. Just some white kid, and they were not happy. I was booed. What I had them do was just throw a beat on, and I free-styled, and I managed to salvage enough dignity to be able to step off the stage. Though it was rough.
I lost a free-style battle in front of a lot of people. That was rough. Really rough. That bruises the musical ego very heavily.
TGNR PKD: How did you manage it?
CW: I went and partied a bunch, which isn’t necessarily the best way. This was a while ago, and it really had me down in the dumps. When this is what you do, it means the world to you. To lose a battle is the worst.
Part of that is when I realized I just wasn’t a battle rapper. I have battled many times, and I have won the majority. But the majority was on a different pedestal than it is today. Battle rapping has turned into this set-up-ahead-of-time, blood thirsty, no beat, a capella, three minute rant. It’s insane. Everybody writes it all up beforehand.
Its verbal gladiators. I respect the people who do it, and its intense. Though its not what I do. I came up free styling all the time. I like to take a beat and keep it positive most of the time. Though when I would battle people it would be on-the-spot-stuff, and I would win those.
Set up ahead of time? I don’t got a memory like that. And to lose, just destroyed my confidence in a way that I couldn’t deal with on a repeat basis. So I stepped away from doing that, and realized there was nothing for me in it.
Webster’s Laboratory II Drops Today June 1st, 2016 – Listen Online Wherever Music is Available
Write to Paul K. DiCostanzo at email@example.com
Follow Paul on Quartz!