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Homegrown hip-hop artist gains ground with new album

By Kris DiLorenzo
TIM LAMORTE/RIVERTOWNS ENTERPRISE

Julian Caldwell released his new album last month.

 

DOBBS FERRY — In what may be a first for a Rivertown, Dobbs Ferry has received a “shout-out” on a new hip-hop album.

In the title cut, “No Music,” lifelong village resident JSWISS (Julian Caldwell) sings:

“You want quality lyrics, well then I'm that guy

I rep the D-O-B-B-S F-E-R-R-Y

That's the 9-1-4 you know the area code.”

The song covers most of Caldwell’s history, from being a shy boy to his days at Dobbs Ferry High School:

“Didn't grow up ducking from guns for survival

And not many looked like me in my high school

Cuz you know it's Dobbs Ferry not Bed-Stuy.”

Caldwell, 24, released the album online last month, and the buzz is building; bloggers around the world are commenting on it. After he performed at the album’s June 24 release party at The Bitter End in Manhattan, club-goers from several countries congratulated him.

While his music has international appeal, the artist is homegrown: Caldwell's parents, Bert and Robin, have lived in Dobbs Ferry since 1996, and Bert, a former Tower Records buyer, has been influential in connecting his son with musicians.

Caldwell has been making music since he was a child, and recorded his first demos at 15. His debut professional production, the mixtape “IMROBOT” (Individually Most Ridiculous of Brilliance Out Today) was released in 2009, the year he graduated high school. He marked his graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013 with the release of the LP “Awthenticity.” Caldwell has a B.A. in broadcast journalism. He is a contributing writer to the Rivertowns Enterprise.

Music kept tumbling out between those dates and afterward: mixtapes, singles, EPs, LPs. His previous release, in 2015, was an EP called “ALLCAPSNOSPACES.” His performances promote his recordings, and the recordings drive people to his shows.

By now, Caldwell estimated, he has performed more than 400 shows, one of the most memorable being part of the Apollo Theater’s 80th anniversary celebration in 2014, where he was one of only two hip-hop artists.

“They went through all the decades that the theater existed,” Caldwell recalled. “It was me with a band; we covered songs from the ‘80s, and then up to 2000, and I did an original song. It wasn’t Amateur Night; I was invited to perform.”

That invitation reflects the caliber of Caldwell’s distinctive music. He calls himself an emcee, not a rapper, and described the difference.

“I think an emcee comes with a higher level of lyricism,” he said. “It’s not so much that the content always has to be super-deep and about changing the world, but even if it is, it’s not braggadocio. The wordplay is sharp, the delivery of it is sharp, as opposed to a rapper. It’s being a part of the music overall, not just rapping over the music, but being within it. It’s not just to put on a beat that goes the whole way through and just rap over it. As the music ebbs and flows, I ebb and flow with it.”

“Sunshine to Rain” exemplifies that ebb and flow. The song has a moody, musical opening, and then Caldwell’s voice sneaks in, grows louder, a trumpet plays, a female voice appears; Caldwell’s voice becomes an instrument weaving in and out among the other instruments. The effect is more sophisticated, more musical than most hip-hop.

Besides Caldwell’s way with words, there are a couple of reasons for this musicality. Since childhood, he has listened to other types of music: jazz fusion, soul, and rock, and the clubs he frequents offer that variety. As a result, JSWISS has played not just hip-hop clubs in Brooklyn, but also has appeared at SOB’s (Sounds of Brazil) in downtown Manhattan. On Aug. 24, he will celebrate his birthday performing at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side, where hip-hop is rarely on the bill.

Caldwell also differs from the pack in using a live band rather than machines, including a saxophonist and trumpeter; a sextet usually backs him in live shows. There is no “sampling” of other people’s work.

Even Caldwell’s emcee name is unique; he didn’t invent it trying to be clever. It’s a fifth-grade nickname from a friend, a play on K-Swiss athletic shoes. “My first passion was basketball,” Caldwell explained. “My first dream was of playing in the NBA.”

His current reality is better than a dream. The Source, an influential hip-hop music and lifestyle publication, published a review that praised Caldwell and “No Music” in concrete terms: “No matter what it is, it’s undeniable that there’s something special about this artist that is deeper than just ‘he makes good music’… Simply put, 'No Music' is an incredible introduction to an artist determined to rise higher than where he was yesterday and is achieving his goals one well-executed project at a time.”

Caldwell shed light on the album’s title. “The idea behind ‘No Music’ is about music being so much a part of your life that there’s really no difference, no separation; it’s not like there’s life, and music is a part of it. It’s all one. I think other people can relate to it. You have songs or albums that will take you back to a specific part of your life, or a specific emotion; that song is attached to you.”

In the title song’s second verse, Caldwell names songs and artists that relate to his life.

“There’s references to the music I was listening to when I had my first crush, when I had my worst breakup,” he said. “I’m always specific about what song I could go to, what could take away or enhance what I’m feeling right now.”

Summing up “No Music,” Caldwell said, “If you’re just looking for a rap album, this isn’t it. It’s a hip-hop album. It’s got the soul, it’s got the funk, a little bit of jazz. I’m an emcee, not a rapper.”

For a more on JSWISS — music, videos, and upcoming events — visit jswissmusic.com.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


 

JULY 15, 2016

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