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Campus musician: Alex Andre

Allie Tollaksen | Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Alex Andre isn’t your typical rapper – his rhymes don’t focus on money, drugs and sex. He doesn’t write to brag or boast – he’s much more interested in expanding your mind than inflating his ego. Oh, and he’s studying economics and physics at Notre Dame. 

Andre, a senior originally from Chicago, released his first mixtape, “Two-Steps and Chimneys,” on March 25 on DatPiff.com, a mixtape-hosting website. The tape is available to stream or download for free, and with all the work Andre has put into it, it’s certainly worth the listen. 

Though “Two-Steps and Chimneys” may only be Andre’s second release, he is in no way new to the music scene. He has been playing bass guitar for ten years, which Andre explains gave him a sense of music and rhythm. 

“My rhythmic awareness comes from my years as a jazz and funk bassist. I think my funk background comes through a lot on tracks like Jetset and New Socks,” Andre said. 

Jazz and funk certainly make an appearance on the mixtape, but Andre brings an even more diverse background to his music. He has been involved in spoken-word for four years and some of his poetry even made it on to the mixtape in the form of an intro, interlude, and outro composed of three intriguing spoken word pieces. 

By combining his background in music and spoken-word, the self-proclaimed “hip-hop head” began writing and performing hip-hop his sophomore year of college, but he certainly does not sound like the rap artists we hear the Video Music Awards (VMAs). Instead, Andre writes about the things he cares about. 

“I want people to know that this isn’t the hip hop you hear on the radio,” Andre shared, “My songs and poems touch on a huge range of topics: racism, relationships, identity and conformity, politics, philosophy… and just life.” 

Andre worked with fellow Notre Dame student Dylan Walter to produce the mixtape, which incorporates a variety of samples and performances from jazz bass to Kendrick Lamar. The production proved to be more complicated than expected, Andre said.

“The level of detail involved in mixing is crazy,” Andre explained, “More than half of the production process is listening to the mix over and over again, tweaking levels and effects to get the right sound through everything from earbuds to Beats, from laptops to car speakers.”

Still, all of the hard work was certainly worth it – the thirteen-track mixtape sounds professionally produced. Highlights on the tape include “Hip Hop Heuristics,” one of the album’s more downbeat tracks, which includes a standup base and some serious lyrics. 

Andre raps about life and happiness, singing, “I’ll leave the sky for the stars/’Cause the hardest part of living is accepting what you are/Imperfect is enough/I see the half full cup/I’m young, but old enough to know I don’t know what I want.” 

Another standout track is “Celebrate (feat. Mina),” a love song that samples a personal favorite song, “Celebrate Me Home.” But the great choice in sampling is not unique to this track. Song after song, I was continually impressed with the production and samples used, not to mention the lyrics. 

Andre drops an amazing collection of references ranging from Jim Jones to Richard Pryor to Samuel Clemens. His writing seamlessly transitions from funny, albeit painfully familiar (“I get lost like a freshman”) to intellectual (“I think they overdosed on Ayn Rand/I reach for help, but I ain’t felt the invisible hand.”) to deeply personal and spiritual (“Sometimes I struggle and my words feel useless/But when I talk to God when I’m most fluent”). 

When explaining his music, Andre added, “Hip-hop is about life, and I tried to put my life down on this mixtape.” 

It’s clear this goal was accomplished in “Two-Steps and Chimneys.” The mixtape is full of personality, with each track tackling real issues and feelings with finesse.  The mixtape is certainly worth a listen, and with the talent Alex Andre exhibits in just his sophomore effort, the University’s very own hip-hop artist is sure to go places.