Red Bull’s New York office was bustling with producers, writers, and affiliates eager to listen to the 15-minute playthrough EP, Lifetime — a fresh release from the Chicago veteran, Twista.
The 5-track hip-hop project and its’ correlating behind the scenes footage were recorded alongside Red Bull Songs and Red Bull Studio Sessions. Over a 3-day studio stretch, the genre-fusing melodies inspired an elevated vulnerability in the MC.
Lifetime serves as Twista’s first-ever collaborative effort, placing Red Bull Music’s songwriters and team pen to pen with the legend on wax. And after nearly three decades of lyrical adroitness, Twista exists within the evolving culture transmitting the same vigor he delivered on his ’92 debut LP, Runnin’ Off at da Mouth. Beyond a surplus of artistic accolades and a Guinness World Record title as the fastest rapper in the world (for pronouncing 598 syllables in 55 seconds), Twista continues to pay it forward.
Just this month, in his beloved Chicago, the rapper launched MAPS, a program dedicated to educating youth on the inner workings of the entertainment industry. Enlisting a bevy of rap power players, MAPS’ impact gears up its’ conspirators and founder for the next tier of their legacies: community. The Knockturnal sat down with Twista to discuss the importance of creative safe-havens, why rappers should feel comfortable joining forces through composition, and how Lifetime is representative of just that to him. Become acquainted with Twista’s latest endeavors now.
The Knockturnal: Your discography stretches back to 1992. What does the Lifetime EP mean to you?
Twista: The project Lifetime means to me what the title says, it has been a lifetime. [Laughs] Still, Lifetime is special to me because it represents the longevity of my career. When Red Bull presented the idea to me, I was excited about the opportunity to work with writers, because I write all of my own material. I started thinking about Drake, Kanye West, and Beyoncé people who use other writers to create a project. I wanted to see what that experience felt like. This is why I am excited about Lifetime!
The Knockturnal: It is interesting that you speak to that. For this EP, you worked hand in hand with Red Bull’s songwriters and producers. Collaboration is frequently a hot-button issue within hip-hop.
Twista: People have their own personalities and way to handle things, once they are presented to them. I am sure Kanye [West] has a lot of writers in the room. However, I have never heard people find an issue with Kanye’s music.
The Knockturnal: A lot of purists within hip-hop deem pen help a problem. To add context, there was an uproar following Drake and Pusha-T incident.
Twista: I think even with the Drake situation, he did not have to let anybody know anything. Drake could have just kept doing what he is doing. I think it would have spoken [differently] if he told people, “I know how to write my songs. I do write a bunch of songs. This is what I do as an extension of my creativity. If you do not like it, let me see you do better.” He could have just left it at that.
The Knockturnal: I think at this point you have established that you are a lyricist.
Twista: Yes, that is why it should have been so comfortable to speak on. I think it should be an easy topic for an artist like Kanye West, Drake or me. I feel once you have proven yourself for a certain amount of time, then I think you are granted that right to try other things. So, listeners can be like, “We know Twista can rap.”
This should be a fun project for people to see how I express lyrics. I want people to say, “I wonder if Twista wrote that part of the song or did one of the writers write that?” I look at my experience with Red Bull as an expansion of my creativity. That goes for any other artist that utilizes writers. It is simply an expansion of creativity and sometimes people just do not understand that.
The Knockturnal: Your opening track “Still on Top” says you are never going to fall off. With as long as you have been making music, do you ever feel as though people have counted on that?
Twista: I think sometimes longevity is overlooked or not respected enough. People do wait for you to fall off! With this project, what became exciting to me was the opportunity to express my thoughts to the writers. From there, the writers were able to take my words and put them into a song format. It was very special to me, considering that can be a [challenge] sometimes.
I am more so known as a fierce lyricist or battle rapper type of MC. I am always thinking of hard lyrics, so I rarely enter that realm. So, to have writers in the room helping me out [was effective]. We were able to talk it out and then they would communicate my ideas back in song form. I thought, “This is dope.” It really helped me express my feelings.
The Knockturnal: Do you feel there was a newfound aspect of vulnerability in regards to expressing your thoughts to a writers’ room, as opposed to the previous battle rap bars you mentioned?
Twista: Yes! For me, it became easier to be vulnerable to the room full of writers with time. I think they have now assisted me in becoming vulnerable to the general public. This is why the time with Red Bull Music worked fully. As a reference, I think I paid attention to the way JAY-Z released the LP, 444. That is the feeling I had in my body when I recorded this new music. The overall idea was to open up more.
The Knockturnal: In your vlog with Red Bull, you quickly let your studio conspirators know you wanted to collectively come up with the direction of this new music. Why was that important?
Twista: For me, it would have been hypocritical of the whole idea with Red Bull Music to not maneuver that way. Why even have people in the room if you are going to be overly imposing with your thoughts? The purpose of doing this was to become more open musically.
I know what I want when I come into a room. It was very important to let them know, that this now becomes a collective mind. This was not just a Twista effort. It would have been counterproductive to walk in like, “This is what I like. This is what I want.” [Laughs] My fun was entering the room and asking, “What do you think I should say? How do you think I should rap this in the song?”
The Knockturnal: Though this EP is a quick listen, the soundscapes are well-rounded. Was accomplishing this production difficult, considering you only had three days to record?
Twista: You would assume that would be the case, however, the reason it was not all that difficult was because of the team that they had around me. These fuckers were amazing. [Laughs] I was loving it. I was a kid in a candy store. I had so many different sounds and vibes to choose from.
It was dope. We also collectively understood what we had to have for five separate beats. It was a breakdown of arms, legs, and a torso. [Laughs] I say that meaning, we wanted to make a great body of work. So, we collectively worked together to achieve that.
The Knockturnal: It was unexpected to hear about your concerns regarding the sound of your voice. Elaborate, please.
Twista: Yes, it might not be expected. However, that is the fun part of being vulnerable at this space and time. Lifetime was me having fun with how shocked people would be. I know they didn’t know I do not like my voice. If somebody is in the room, they are listening to music.
Still, they have no idea that in that room, I feel like my voice is the shittiest. Of all the rappers, I feel like I have a shitty rap voice. [Laughs] I think the reason my voice sounds the way it sounds on songs, is because I try so hard. I want to make it beautiful or fierce. I go above and beyond to make it sound like something because in my mind I have this bad little kid’s voice.
The Knockturnal: Do you think those concerns are what have fueled your lyricism? Punchlines seem to be imperative to you.
Twista: Yes! My voice probably had a lot to do with why I went above and beyond to make sure what was coming out of my mouth sounded special. I’m different. [Laughs] You know? It is therapeutic listening to you now. Maybe you are right, my rap style came from the insecurity of my voice.
The Knockturnal: When I transcribe my interviews, I can’t stand the way my voice sounds on recordings. I totally identify with that feeling.
Twista: You see? [Laughs]
The Knockturnal: What are your thoughts on the current state of hip-hop culture?
Twista: The fun thing about now is that I am not certain hip-hop is headed in a direction. Everyone is so into their own sound. Also, technology has put us on a level where we have platforms for ourselves. So, I think whatever vibe you want to be in musically, you can choose that vibe, because hip-hop has become so diverse.
The state of hip-hop is very diverse. It is profitable, and, to me, it has become the main genre of music. You have your R&B, this and that — however, I remember when every other genre used to brag about being the main genre of music. I remember back in the day when other people thought it wasn’t going to last.
The Knockturnal: The title track to this EP is very feel-good. What was it like in the studio with the artist, Mad Lion?
Twista: Dope! It was real dope. I had never met him before. So, when he came into the room, he had a lot of energy. He has a sense of fierceness and innocence about him at the same time.
We talked and vibed well. I think that is what brought that positive energy to the studio. Then when the artists start writing he was in the same predicament I was. He was not used to other people giving him lyrics and things.
It was cool to watch him come around like, “Woah! I have never been around nothin’ like this.” He, like myself, morphed into the experience. Mad Lion became a big part of the session. I had a ball. Plus he gave me some flame. [Laughs]
The Knockturnal: You acknowledged your city in this music.
Twista: Yes, I describe Chicago as a centerpiece of the country. We referred to it as the midwest. Currently, we are in New York. I know whatever music you hear, you can hear that [New York] vibe. With Chicago, we are so diverse because we are in the middle.
Chicago artists are East Coast fans, West Coast fans, Southern music fans, etc. We are in the middle, so everybody previously a different sound. It was also great to see Chicago develop its own sound. For example, after you saw Chief Keef come, to me, he became the center point for a lot of artists today. You know?
A lot of artists will not acknowledge him. It was just like when Snoop Dogg came out. He changed the industry. Then when Lil Wayne came out, he changed the industry. I think a lot of the reason the younger generation raps today has to do with watching Chief Keef come up.
So, it is nice to watch Chicago actually have a sound. Many of the younger generations’ [on-the-rise artists] have no issues letting listeners know that Chief Keef was a big influence on their music. Even Lil Uzi Vert acknowledges Chief Keef in his music.
The Knockturnal: What should your fanbase be looking out for next?
Twista: My fanbase should be looking for the vibe of the Lifetime EP, to see how well I work with other artists. It is a dope Red Bull project. After this, I will be in the studio working on some more things, probably still with some of the writers. I like their vibe.
My main focus besides my new music is the MAPS program. MAPS is a music school that my producer and I started in Chicago. It is launching! We have a lot of my friends from the industry as mentors [involved]. Together we are going to have a four-week program for kids to come get connected and pretty much learn the music industry from my perspective, as well as the mentors.
The Knockturnal: Congratulation on giving back.
Twista: Yeah! I am so happy about it.
The Knockturnal: A music school adds to your legacy. How do you want to be remembered?
Twista: I want to be remembered as a legendary dope MC who put it down for Chicago — a man who gave back to the city and was always a positive spirit!