DRIP DROPS of HIP-HOP from CHATTANOOGA
By Ben Banks
A couple weeks ago I reached out to a friend of mine, Element to get his take on music, life and his upcoming album. Element and I met at a HipHopCha event where he was able to connect me with several artists to get some great pictures of their sets. He’s very much a supporter of the local scene and is now working to contribute his own unique sound into the culture.
Where are you from? What area do you feel like you best represent?
Element: I was born in Panama City, Panama, so I’m Panamanian. Father is/was Puerto Rican, so I’m also Puerto Rican. I’m an army brat, I grew up in Germany and I’ve lived in Tennessee the past 10 years. I feel like I represent wherever, I’m like a chameleon, changing to support people and places I’m around.
What/who got you first interested in music/art?
Element: In 3rd grade, I heard Eminem’s “The Eminem’s Show” specifically the song ‘Till I Collapse’ feat. Nate Dogg. After that, I wanted to be them and rap like that. I had a teacher that would give us 10 words to define and use in sentences; that really got me into poetry and working with words.
What instruments do you play?
Element: I play electric bass, conga, bongo, Latin percussion, sing a little bit and also rap. I like the bass and percussion because I get to be like the painter Jackson Pollock, with a free and loose approach. That’s also why I freestyle because I go with the flow; I’d say that’s my biggest strength/weakness. I’m also learning piano.
Who are some of your current inspirations for making music?
Element: Right now, for sound and style it’s Sango & Kaytranada. I also listen to a lot of house music, electronic, Glitch Mob and various lo-fi artists. Mick Jenkins is my one of my biggest inspirations for the content my music.
Briefly take me through your creative process for making music:
Element: For now, my process is finding a melody that fits a certain rhythm, whether it’s a two-step or Brazilian beat. After that, I’ll find a line that works, then repeating it until finding the next line.
What role does your heritage fit?
Element: It’s been hard to fit my heritage into my music because I’m from all over, like Pitbull, Mr. Worldwide, but I’ve recently been incorporating elements of Salsa, Bachata, Meringue. Latin music is cool because it can have a tribal sound that they incorporated from Africa, but can also mix in brass from Europe.
What are some of your goals that you hope to accomplish within the music/art industry?
Element: Some people do it for money or be famous but I want to be known for making culture or sound from other areas. I want to make music just for fun, but also expose people to sounds that they haven’t experienced before.
What are some themes that you really focus on in your music?
Element: “Summer is a State of Mind” is the theme of my upcoming project. I’m trying to capture the feeling of being trapped in Chatt, with all its issues, and working through those. I’m in love with this city, though, and I want to find peace within that. There’s an Earl Sweatshirt lyric that always hits me when he say he’s “too black for the white kids, too white for the blacks.” I’m a software engineer, so I don’t fit into the predominately white field. It sometimes feels like it’s winter and I’m just trying to wake up to summer.
Who’s your main audience that you’re trying to reach?
Element: The way I look at it, I’m making music for me, because if I don’t like why would others. When Mac Miller died it hit me hard, because his music resonated with me. Artists that I like don’t know I’m alive, but have changed my life with their music.
What message are you trying to send to that audience?
Element: The message I want to convey, in a sense, is the idea that institutions can be good but we don’t need them. I want to really challenge status quo and how we live life by breaking the mould of convention. My upcoming project is a concept album, “Summer is a State of Mind.” Summer brings up a lot of feelings and memories for different people, but it reminds me of home. Being in TN, even though I love it, I can’t be where I want to be, on the beach, out in the sun, but I can be there in my mind. Ultimately the idea that you don’t have to succumb to your surroundings and you can be yourself. Get out there, feel things, experience the liberation of summer.
Have there been any obstacles that you’ve overcome to pursue your music?
Element: It’s definitely been writing, because my default is to just freestyle. J.Flo taught me to capture deep moments in writing. I’m also trying to network and team up with people outside of my comfort zone. Everyone is doing their own thing and I want to be a facilitator of creativity by putting people together. Some people just don’t see what I’m trying to offer, but I just have to do it. Also, there’s work and video games, haha.
What are some victories that you had with your music?
Element: Yeah so, this is a victory/failure. Ben Van Winkle had a project called Figment of your Imagination, where he performed his own music in a loop. He asked me to write 3 songs for the project. During the performance, I went through one song perfectly and completely forgot what I wrote down for the other two songs but I was able to freestyle through them. After that, I’ve really been pushing myself to write more.
How would you best describe your brand/style?
Element: I would be say nerdy chic. I’m a software engineer by day, with my glasses and laptop case, but I’ve also got bars. The charismatic nerdy guy, I like to wear suits with jeans, so I don a very modern style. I dress like my past/present mixed into one, I really just work with what I have. I’m all about being open, being yourself, and smiling. We don’t smile enough anymore.
What are some other forms of media that inspire you? (Movies, art, TV, etc)
Element: Well, I’m a gamer; I play Dota, WoW, etc. I enjoy playing support roles and characters, I think they’re undervalued. You get to be versatile, adaptable, and whatever your team needs to win. That’s how I am in real life too, a jack of all trades, here to support others. As far as movies, I’m really into Mafia movies. One thing I learned from the Godfather is: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Different shows I watch are: Adventure Time, Regular Show, Bob’s Burgers. and anime like, One Punch Man, Attack on Titan, Full Metal Alchemist. I honestly don’t like to watch too much tv, but I love cartoons. It’s like being a kid again.
What would be a major success for you in your art/music?
Element: Finishing this album, for sure. I have other ambitions, making some kind of tech through my software career. Something else that would be powerful would be if I got a message from someone saying ‘Hey, because your music, I learned something about myself’ or I’ve helped them out of a dark place. I’d also love to be able to meet Mick Jenkins, K.Dot, etc, through the music scene, but the main thing would be if I was able to impact someone.
Anything that you want to promote? Shows or projects?
Element: Be on lookout for my project around summer 2019. I’d love to send a shoutout to H4ppyC4mper - check out his album Ftrvrythng, Vol. 3 on Spotify and Ben Van Winkle who performs at Barking Legs and The Palace. Those guys are creative geniuses with their music.
Proper respects to Tha Milk Drop for giving me this opportunity.
Where can people find you and your music?
Element: Twitter: @element_cr. Insta: elementcr. Facebook: element.
Tha Milk Drop is a site focused on highlighting the hip-hop culture in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but also taps into hip-hop worldwide. Each week we drop exclusive and new content from artists. Also catch the profiles and interviews of hip-hop artists and creatives.
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