Published May 16, 2016For many students, the thought of dropping out and becoming a rap star is a pleasant daydream. Tunji Ige made that fantasy a reality, thanks to the success of his lauded debut mixtape The Love Project, which he completely self-produced in his West Chester University dorm, and whose success allowed him to leave term papers and exams behind after his sophomore year. Now, the real test begins.
"I wanted to rap about how my music isn't just supporting me mentally anymore, but also financially," the burgeoning Pennsylvania-bred MC and producer tells Exclaim! of his lyrics on "22," the closing track of his followup EP Missed Calls, released in early April. On the track he spits: "I don't want to take this music shit lightly / All these hoes the same and the drugs don't excite me."
Ige says those lyrics outline how success can tempt one to be "frivolous and shallow. I'm thinking: 'Is that what I want, or do I want to chase my dreams?'"
But the young rapper's pragmatism was evident before he penned those particular rhymes. While his classmates partied during spring break 2015, Ige headed to SXSW to perform songs from the then-months-old, but still white hot The Love Project.
"It was like stepping into a new life. I didn't know what it would be like," he says of the massive Austin festival. "I always wanted to go as a fan, but the first time I went was as a performer, and I did five shows in two days."
He went again this past March to preview Missed Calls before its release. Within the short period between those appearances, he already noticed a marked difference in both the kinds of gigs he was offered, and his confidence in being able to pull them off. "The second time I went, my shows were more spaced-out and corporate. The first one was magical and crazy in comparison, especially just coming from Pennsylvania and having a regular college life. Stepping into something so different was crazy."
An even greater indication of his rapid progress is Missed Calls' sophisticated production. Ige says the new EP's beats make its predecessor sound like a "culmination of vastly different influences, and me just imitating those influences." On Missed Calls, Ige strives for a more cohesive sound, mixing tracks 15 times, employing elaborate synths and plugins to give it what he calls "beats that knock," and also taking on esteemed producer Noah Breakfast as an executive producer and mentor. Breakfast helped his new prodigy by adding polysynths and analogue to the mixes, contrasting textures that, according to Ige, made Missed Calls' songs like "Fired Up," "sound very progressive, but at the same time have that soul that you get from old Tribe stuff or old 'Ye stuff."
Indeed, Kanye West is no longer a mere influence for Ige. They're now both fellow college dropouts. What's more, Ige has graduated from citing the elder rapper on The Love Project to penning Missed Calls as a dissertation to attain equal hip-hop tenure. But above all, Ige wants his work to forever speak to both freshmen and the rap faculty.
"People want hard 808's and Auto-Tune, that stock 2016 sound. So I want to compete with everyone doing that, yet have it still sound good when you listen to it five years down the line. I want to make music that stands the test of time, but that still knocks."
Check out a behind the scenes look at Tunji Ige's work on Missed Calls' "On My Grind" below.