Welcome to In the Studio, a feature dedicated to exploring the fantastic independent musicians at Kenyon. This week, we showcase Will Oakley ’20 a political science (“unfortunately”) major and studio art (“possibly”) minor from Washington D.C.
When did you start being interested in music or playing an instrument?
So I first kind of got introduced to rap when I was about thirteen, like a lot of white kids get introduced, through Eminem, and immediately I was inspired to rap. But for five years I was too scared to do anything with it because I was like, oh I’m white, I’m from a privileged background, I can’t rap, it’s not right. So for five years, I would write stuff about myself and I was too afraid to show anybody and finally, when I was eighteen I started putting myself out there a little bit.
What aspects of culture, politics, art or your environment have been most formative to your music?
Initially, that was something I really struggled with like, what am I gonna rap about? Because rap, generally speaking as a genre, has been largely black artists from inner cities, coming from a lower socioeconomic status than I do, talking about their struggle. So initially I really didn’t know what I was gonna rap about. So when I first came out, I was rapping about politics and essentially my political opinions but that felt preachy.
When I was a freshman at Kenyon I dropped a mixtape. It was super political. It was pretty bad, in hindsight. But, that whole fall, first fall, I basically didn’t talk to anyone for my first semester. Which, as sad as it was, it was also somewhat of a creative breakthrough, because when you’re not really talking to people you’re in your own head, which is bad for your mental health, but it also gives you a ton of ideas. So I’d always have a sheet of loose-leaf paper with me and then every time I was hit with an idea I’d write it down. And I’d fill up pages and pages of that. So I would say, in terms of topics, it’s kind of evolved from my political opinions to whatever observations I had about life and just [became] kind of an outlet for any sort of tension I had in my mind. It was just a way to let it all out.
So has Kenyon changed the way you go about writing?
In a sense, not really, necessarily, Kenyon College, but just the experience of going off and being on my own and going through stuff and going through depression, definitely, changed my creative process, for sure.
What are some songs or albums that have been influential?
So initially, as I said, it was Eminem– his early stuff, The Marshall Mather LP. That music is just, there’s something about it that just is like a drug to insecure thirteen-year-old white boys. So that was initially what got me into it, and then from there, I branched out. I was originally kind of an old head. So I liked “Ready to Die” by Biggie, Illmatic, the old stuff. But I eventually came around to the new school through Kendrick– Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was a big album, To Pimp a Butterfly. But really the artist I’ve definitely gravitated towards for the last couple of years has been Kanye West.
The way he is always pushing the boundaries, and basically with each album has kind of reinventing himself in terms of production, in terms of lyrics. I think a lot of artists they find a certain style that works and they stick with it, and they try to recreate it until that style eventually goes stale with the public and they get somewhat washed up. But Kanye just keeps reinventing himself and I see him as the true definition of what it means to be a creative.
I’ve also recently expanded out of rap and I would say Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and Blonde–those were like the two first non-rap albums that basically inspired me. And also Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak. Before I found everything outside of rap boring, but I eventually came to discover the feelings that melodies can evoke. So throughout the last couple of years I’ve been singing every day and trying to work on my singing voice and add that into my music as well so I can have both rap and melodies in there. And that’s kind of the direction rap is going. It’s becoming increasingly the case that rappers are also singers and there’s’ a lot more melodic elements to rap as opposed to just drums, bass, and rap.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’ve got a lot of projects. I decided to create two alter-ego artists because I had different creative impulses. So for one artist that I”m coming out with is a cheesy pop artist that I just did because I wrote some songs on the piano and came up with some corny lyrics and I liked the melodies. That will be coming out next month. [It’s] kind of modeled after Shawn Mendes, kind of like that thing.
I also have a mumble rap persona, which is a new trap style. The reason that I do that is sometimes you just wanna come out with music that’s just kind of fun and the lyrics are just kind of nonsensical. It’s kind of exhausting if you try to say something profound in every song sometimes you just wanna enjoy the music itself and not concern yourself with the lyrics. So that will be coming out next month as well.
And then, my personal music, I will be releasing my first music video this week. And then I have a couple singles I wanna do. I’m also working with a bunch of other rappers at Kenyon, we’ve kind of developed a group. Shoutout: Francis, Mamadou, Taaj, Jacob, Rashawn, Q. We’ll be dropping a couple songs by the end of the year, probably doing some performances.
So I heard that recently you had somewhat of a breakdown where you ran fifty-five miles over the course of a night. Can you please comment on that?
So, you know, as Kanye himself once said, “You can either call it a breakdown or a breakthrough.” And the reasoning was that I feel we are–here’s another Kanye West quote–he said, “we are all actors in a giant script we didn’t write.” And so, that day, Friday, I woke up and I was like, damn I have to be at this class at this time, this class at that time, and I realized that the world we live in is so scripted and in a way we’re all kind of just slaves to the clock. We all just have to be at this place at this time. We’re all just kind of actors playing our part.
And so when I ran, I left my phone, I really didn’t have any sense of what time it [was], and I had no plans for where I was going and how far I was going. And there was just something extremely liberating about that. Because even when we do things that we enjoy, say watching TV or going for a run we still, we’re like, it’s going to end at this time. We’re still very much in line. So the song I most recently put out and then deleted because I’m going to put it as part of a feature was called, “I’m going to Fiji,” a reference to The Truman Show. The main character [in The Truman Show] has the desire to get away to Fiji and then everybody in the show keeps trying to hold him back and they work as hard as they can to keep him in this bubble. So my long term goal is to escape the Truman Show bubble. Though easier said than done.
Check out some of his music on Soundcloud!