“Emotions Translate Into Sound Very Easily”: The Stories Behind ewonee .’s “Radiance”
Rap music and hip-hop culture have long been the lifeblood of Poughkeepsie-based producer ewonee .. Growing up in Mount Vernon, New York, he claimed the same home base as pioneering rap groups like Heavy D & The Boyz and Pete Rock & CL Smooth for much of his life. “Me and Pete Rock are actually from damn near the same neighborhood,” he tells me with a laugh. “The park where I grew up playing, the playground where I grew up seeing all the shit I wasn’t supposed to see, it’s got a mural of Heavy D in it.”
As he transitioned into his teenage years, ewonee . started to grasp the significance of residing in the same physical space as an iconic producer like Pete Rock. “Once I grew up and really figured out who he was and how important he was to this shit, that was a big thing for me,” he explains. “It almost felt like an omen.”
The Mount Vernon influence didn’t stop there, as Pete Rock’s brother Grap Luva and his group INI’s album Center of Attention album played a major role in nurturing ewonee .’s fascination with rap music. Once he heard his father’s copy of Nas’ It Was Written, his love for the genre was pretty well cemented. “I just remember stealing that CD and playing it until it broke and then my dad being mad at me that I broke it,” he says.
“Once I grew up and really figured out who he was and how important he was to this shit, that was a big thing for me. It almost felt like an omen.”
Further influenced by his father’s Ron G blend tapes, ewonee .’s interest in music went another level when a friend introduced him to FL Studio during his early high school years in 2009. Though he was immediately intrigued by the process of beatmaking, there were many growing pains before he felt comfortable using the program. “I’m one of those producers where it took me years,” he admits. “I remember the first beats that me and my homie made on FL after we got it were like techno beats. It wasn’t necessarily good sounding techno.”
When another high school friend also started utilizing FL Studio, the two aspiring producers quickly forged a collaborative partnership where they’d share knowledge and show each other tricks and tips. “He would come to me with something new and we would trade shit back and forth.” he says. “That really helped me.”
Though ewonee . knew his skills were progressing, they still weren’t where he wanted them to be by the end of high school. “I remember listening to Madlib and that’s when he was dropping the Medicine Show series,” he says. “I remember listening to those beats and thinking to myself, ‘Yo, you ain’t shit.’”
“I just remember stealing that CD and playing it until it broke and then my dad being mad at me that I broke it.”
That all changed when ewonee . graduated high school and relocated from Mount Vernon to Poughkeepsie, NY in 2011. Not long after completing the move he noticed a significant uptick in his compositional abilities. “I was actually making beats that were cohesive,” he says. “Rappers would come to me and say that they wanted to rap on beats, which was a cool thing at the time.”
The years of practice were starting to pay off, but it was a post-high school opportunity that really took ewonee .’s talents as a producer to the next level. “The skill didn’t really catch up to my thoughts until I went to audio engineering school at SAE Institute of Technology New York in 2012,” he says. “It was the best thing I could have possibly could have ever done. That put the battery in my back where I was like, ‘You might as well take this really seriously.’”
Taking the process seriously led to the release of ewonee .’s solo Bandcamp debut the Enjoi._eep in April of 2014 and a slew of other projects over the course of the next two years. Then he released Radiance in December of 2015, the most personal album of his career.
“I feel like emotions translate into sound very easily.”
During the time proceeding Radiance’s release, ewonee . navigated several hardships by channeling his emotions into his music and using the album as an escape. “I lost my aunt on my father’s side that was kind of like the grandmother of that whole side of my family,” he says while reflecting on the experience.
In addition to losing a beloved relative, ewonee . also had to navigate some rocky waters in his love life. “When she passed I was going through some relationship shit too with a girl that I had been with for two years, two and a half years,” he says. “The cumulation of that shit was kind of wild.”
As difficult as the loss of his aunt was, ewonee . believes part of the grieving process was instrumental in helping him complete Radiance. After the funeral he went to her house to help divide personal belongings among family members — an almost therapeutic process at the time. “I brought back a bunch of statues and some Stevie Wonder records,” he says. “The energy just kind of helped me to finish that album like a month after that.”
In addition to the heavy circumstances surrounding the creation of Radiance, the album also set a new bar for musical ambition by blending live instrumentation with ewonee .’s sampling. Struggling through the challenging new process was invaluable, but it wasn’t always easy. “When Radiance came to be I had bought a bass and was sitting down and trying to teach myself scales and stuff,” ewonee . says. “But it’s super difficult. At least for me.”
“I brought back a bunch of statues and some Stevie Wonder records. The energy just kind of helped me to finish that album like a month after that.”
For ewonee ., the hardest part is the subtle art of of knowing how to record and layer each instrument correctly. “You can learn all those elements, but I think the real skills comes in incorporating them,” he explains. “You can sit down and learn a bass part and then you get to record it and it might not come out how you want it. Or you might have to process it a certain way to get it to sound how you want it to sound.”
Beyond live instrumentation, ewonee . also used iPhone recordings to enhance “1.10”, one of his favorite songs on the album. “There’s field recordings in the back of that and the drums are from a break that I just chopped up,” he says. “That’s not normally my process. It’s powerful.”
Whether using live instruments, samples, or field recordings, for ewonee . it’s all about capturing his feelings into each song and transmitting them to the listener. “I feel like emotions translate into sound very easily,” he says. “I used to love to draw and I skateboard. All of that deals with a lot of emotions and getting it out. I can’t really translate what I’m thinking on a the skateboard that easily, I can’t really translate how I was feeling with drawing as easily.”
After the cathartic experience of making Radiance, ewonee . hasn’t wasted any time getting back at it. Upon finishing his Molecular Structure album in September of 2017, he’s already hunkering down in his lab for a long, snowy New York winter. Based on a recent tweet where he teased his studio setup and a new haul of records, he’s having no trouble translating his emotions into sound for his newest project.