Rapper, speaker and philathropist Big Piph is a well-traveled ambassador of goodwill. In his music, he’s known to insert positive messages and good vibes into his lyrics, and in life, he intends to do the same.
As a way to build upon this positivity, Piph spent the last month overseas in the Next Level Program, an exchange program involving cultural exchange, in which he worked with youth groups, and collaborating with other artists.
Back in the states, he continues performing and speaking to the youth. While in Fayetteville, I had the chance to sit down and talk with him.
What has inspired you to travel so much?
Early on my parents took us on road trips, so early on I had the experience of knowing that this world is a big place. I love experiencing different cultures; throw that in with small tours in the states, just a few hours away — (it) has such a different feel. I applied to a program called “Next Level” which has a base of music but also workshops within the community, a type of “cultural exchange” through the department of state. So, nowadays, I just apply or look for opportunities. And since I’ve done a bit of traveling, it allows me to have more of these opportunities.
Following up on that, has traveling became a passion for you?
Yeah, but here’s the thing — I also like being back at the crib too. I like the balance of being able to leave a lot and experience different cultures. I’ve become used to traveling, from road trips, tours, and traveling as a young adult.
Where would you like to visit next?
To do music in South Africa, Tokyo, and Kenya. I’ve been to South Africa and Tokyo before, so my top place would be Kenya.
What was the first song that really inspired your music career?
First time I really paid attention to a hip-hop song, (I was always hearing it but the first time I really listened to it) was “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature. I was jamming to it and wasn’t even paying attention to what it meant. I got my mom to get it for me and as soon as she heard it she knew exactly what it meant. We were driving and she actually threw it out the window. But the thing was “man that’s so clever.” I was struck by the fact of a song sounding fun but having a so many sub-topics and different meanings to it. The second song was by 8Ball and MJG because it was the first time I was really attracted to the sound. The music was there, but the singing over it was almost like another instrument. My parents always listened to old soul music and that was the first time that I heard rap that sounded like that soul music.
How has your hometown, Pine Bluff, affected your music?
Pine Bluff, I’m really glad I grew up in Pine Bluff just because any place I’ve lived past that isn’t like Pine Bluff at all. Pine Bluff has a real bad rep. The part they don’t tell you is it’s a place that you reap what you sow. It’s a place that you can just get by in if you aren’t putting in a lot of work, then the systems or powers at play will just claim you. So it wasn’t a bad place at all, but you had to work and know where you are going. Some of my best times have been in Pine Bluff — now I’m influenced by it to go travel and to rap. It reflects in my music and mentality, because my music comes from me and Pine Bluff is a huge part of me it affects my music even if it’s not said each time.
How did you first get involved with Tomorrow Maybe?
Yeah, so we were doing these shows called The Chills, I was part of a label deal with five artists that performed. Two of the acts got all the love, so I made it my goal to make it hard for anyone to follow me. Rather it was a major or an independent act I want to perform to make it hard for them to overcome what I just said. From then I brought some people in but that band kinda disintegrated. Later on, I found this little group that all had great talent. I brought in two singers and we just started playing and brought out a whole different beat.
I saw your Ted Talk. You spoke some very inspirational words. How did you overcome your fear of speaking at a young age to now rapping and speaking in front of large groups?
I preciate that. Yeah so my biggest fears were, water (I couldn’t swim, I couldn’t wash my hair in the shower), talking to attractive women, and my last one was public speaking. So I was trying to get over my fear of public speaking and I entered a talent show. I bombed, then nothing bad happened. I then entered another one and did worse, but once again, nothing bad happened, but this time I fell in love with the art of rapping and performing.
So you’ve had a lot of recognition lately from a CAMA Award and a song of yours in Boo 2! A Madea Halloween. Were you expecting that and what was your reaction?
I was overseas, at first, I didn’t even know I was nominated. It took me two days to find out what I had won because I had been overseas, but it’s cool, you know you do things without expecting rewards. Of course, once again, you do things creatively and have your own criteria for it, so to have a song dope enough to be in a movie I preciate that. I also had a song in a Netflix documentary as well so I actually have two songs out on movies.
What is your own creative progress when making music?
First I have to get back into fighting shape, so to speak. Like I will spend a month or two just rapping on stuff I’m not even gonna put out. Most of my songs come from ideas in my head so I can tell that idea to my small group of producers who can then make a beat around it. Then, I write to it if there is singing involved, and I’ll write a reference hook and give it to the artist I want to sing. It’ll be a link up between myself, the artist, and the producers in terms of vocal arrangement and we’ll just keep trying stuff ’til it works. That’s the longest part. I won’t record my voice until I know it forward and backward, I’ll spend three days ahead of time rapping 10 times a day without a mistake. Once I can reference to a verse without thinking about it it’s ready. My goal now ahead of time is that a song should feel so like if the finished product doesn’t feel the way I want it too in my head I’ll actually throw it away.
What are some current projects you are working on?
So a show called “The Glow” it will be me, music, possibly a band and a screen with visuals behind us. It’s like a one-man show concert. The goal is to have it all fleshed out by mid-April, then start touring at the end of the year.
A huge thanks to Big Piph for giving me the opportunity to talk with him.