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Campus artist profile: Will Thwaites, the ‘schoolboy rapper’

Shane Steinberg | Wednesday, April 28, 2010

He roams the campus, his textbooks at hand, study cap on. To the untrained eye, he’s just another Notre Dame student going through the daily grind of what it takes to bleed blue and gold. Yet it’s the way Will Thwaites seemingly blends in on campus that makes him so different.

See, behind the textbooks and everything that makes him a Domer, lies a mic, a yearning to throw on his signature sunglasses, and a lyrical prowess that makes Thwaites a breath of fresh air in an industry full of recycled artists.

He’s not rapping about drinking, drugs and scoring chicks. No, unlike the Sam Adamses and Asher Roths out there, Thwaites is about a different brand of hip-hop — one founded on intelligible lyrics, actual themes and songs built around more than simply blowin’ it up and livin’ the thug life. A moment’s glance at the album cover of Thwaites’ upcoming mixtape, “Be Somebody,” is all it takes to realize what he’s all about: reppin’ the schoolboy image.

The equation, as Thwaites points out in the song “Remix to the Suburbs,” is simple: “I’ve got beats that are sick, rhymes that are luscious, and skills like fine wine, so kid you better not rush us.” Yet what makes Thwaites an artist you ought to know isn’t necessarily his uncanny knack for lyrics, his beats, rhymes, or skills, but the different angle he takes to the whole process. He’s an artist that at first you’d think you’ve seen before, rapping about things you might think you’ve heard before, but this sophomore economics and Film, Television and Theatre double-major is in fact anything but unoriginal and recycled.

Thwaites recorded his first song two summers ago, before he came to Notre Dame. What started off as a mere joke has since blown up into a bonafide artist about to release a mixtape with the hopes of making a name for himself.

He’s doing what he loves, and to paint a comparison, he hopes to become the Notre Dame version of Mike Posner. It’s Mike Posner’s rise from a small-time campus singer/songwriter at Duke to a success in the mainstream music industry that inspires Thwaites and gives added weight to his aspirations of turning that “mere joke” into his own success story.
Yet Thwaites is not one to ride the coattails of others’ success and simply put out music that sounds like theirs. Instead of being a carbon copy of the artists he can’t avoid being compared to, he’s chosen to buck the trend and lend himself to something unique — like the title of his mixtape suggests.

Being somebody is a process, one that often starts off as a joke and continues with the help of a Rock Band microphone to record songs, a copy of Apple’s GarageBand to mix songs and perhaps most importantly, the help of friends, like Lauren Ruhling (Thwaites’ press secretary/stylist) and Jason Lovell (his manager and graphic designer).

He’s come a long way, though, from his humble beginnings. We’re not talking “from Marcy to Madison Square” like Jay-Z. More like from video game equipment to legitimate studios where he’s grinded out songs during breaks from school and basically any chance he gets. Luckily for the former St. Edward’s Hall rap battles champ, Thwaites has the creative chops to hold his own and keep things fresh.

It’s that process — the making of an artist — a wholesome schoolboy rapper reppin’ the suburbs, to be exact, that’s on full display in Thwaites’ debut effort. What’s clear at first listen of “Be Somebody” is that Thwaites is all about showing off his innovative pop stylings, especially in the lead track, “Still Shining,” and possibly even upping the ante on a couple of songs later on in the mix. His tracks run each into the next seamlessly. The quality and mix of Thwaites’ cuts never fail, but instead give an insight into something new and infectiously catchy. And it’s that catchiness and his hybrid style that have earned him over 35,000 hits on YouTube and should drive an even larger audience for him going forward as he puts out more music.

The real standout in Thwaites’ collection is “Daisy’s Lullaby,” a song cut straight from the diamond that is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, “The Great Gatsby.” Here, Thwaites is in tip-top form, with lyrics that epitomize what makes him unique and fresh as a new artist. While straying from the general sound of much of the rest of his songs, Thwaites mixes orchestral splendor and the electro feel of a potential dorm party favorite. And it’s that intelligence and closeness that breathe life into the song, allowing it to play like fine wine, as each listen brings a new appreciation for the song.

From sitting down and chatting with Thwaites, it’s clear that he loves making music. More than that, though, he has actual talent and seems to have found himself as an artist before having ever really put anything out there. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, as success is really just a measure of how his music is received both by his fellow Notre Dame students and anyone outside of campus who happens upon his mixtape.

For now, though, this schoolboy rapper has his sights set on finals week. As he best describes himself, “student first, rapper second, but if I get one shot I intend to empty the clip.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
Contact Shane Steinberg at [email protected]