Monday Close-up: Hip Hop Utah Valley-style

2009-03-15T23:00:00Z 2012-06-06T16:31:49Z Monday Close-up: Hip Hop Utah Valley-styleMark Johnston - daily herald Daily Herald
March 15, 2009 11:00 pm  • 

It may not be as dramatic as South Central Los Angeles or Detroit’s 8 Mile Run, but a life growing up in Utah Valley has provided local MC Sean Curran, aka “Definit,” with plenty of struggles, drama and stories to share through lyrics.

Hip hop music has been a large part of Curran's life as far back as third grade, following him through struggles with family, relationships and addiction, and is still with him as he performs on a stage in front of a crowd gathered at D's Place close to the Brigham Young University campus. Mic in hand and passion in his eyes, voice and actions, Curran moves the crowd with some good, energetic hip hop music.

"There's really not a lot in Provo. ... We had [a show] a couple of weeks ago, it wasn't the greatest turnout and it's just another testament to me that hip hop is far from Provo," said Curran as he prepared to take the stage with his fellow lyricist Simeon Lawrence, aka "Young Sim."

"And I'm OK with that, I'm not trying to make this a career. I enjoy it, I love it, I always want to do this."

Some might be surprised at the idea of an underground hip hop scene in Utah Valley, but Curran, along with a close group of talented friends from around this state, have been at it for years. Producing beats, writing lyrics and recording their life experiences onto tracks, these local artists might be hard to identify compared to those appearing on MTV and BET.

"Nobody would pick me out of a crowd and look at me and say, 'He makes hip hop music,'" said Curran, "and I enjoy that. ... I don't feel I have to look a certain type of way to make a certain type of music."

As a youngster growing up in Orem, Curran was first introduced to hip hop music through the music collections of some of his seven siblings. Artists such as Wu Tang Klan, Mobb Deep, Tupac and Nas drew him into the music scene, and by his sophomore year in high school, Curran was hooked. He began working on his own music on a $600 keyboard he purchased himself.

"There wasn't a lot of quality to that keyboard, but we made a lot of beats."

Six hundred dollars seemed like a lot of money to Curran at the time, but over the years a small recording studio has been built piece by piece in an old bedroom in his parents' basement. Long since having moved out, Curran still returns to his parents' home frequently to unleash his creativity in the studio which, according to Curran, "can get the house shaking a little bit at times."

His mother, Colleen Curran, couldn't be happier with the old bedroom-turned-noisy-studio that has brought numerous local artists through the home.

"There's a lot of pounding going on ... and occasionally I've had to stomp on the floor from the ceiling. But all in the name of creativity," she said.

Despite the occasional noisy night in the basement, the home studio has been a blessing for her and her son.

"Sean is getting into something that has been really great for him," she said. "It's been a wonderful release for any of the stresses that he carries from addiction, and it's also opened a whole world of creativity that we never knew he had."

Those stresses of addiction are evident throughout the room, with fist- and foot-shaped holes through doors and hidden behind posters.

"This is a history of addiction and anger," said Colleen, so no matter how loud the pounding music is, it's a great improvement from the negative pounding of aggression that was once there.

Curran struggled through six years of drug addiction, being hooked on pain killers that started in high school and led him to doing other things. Curran found help in treatment centers, counseling and 12-step meetings, which he is still active with today as he tries to help others.

"I've been clean and sober for five years," Curran said. "I'm just grateful to have a life and I'm grateful I'm not where I was."

As a member of the LDS Church, Curran has found much strength and support from his faith, but it is something he rarely mentions in his lyrics.

"I do mention God a little bit and what he's done in my life because anytime I mention my past and my addictions, I have to give credit to how I changed," he said, "How it wasn't really me, it was the Lord in my life."

Although his music is not strictly religious, it is nothing but positive and a great contrast from many mainstream hip hop artists. Speaking of his own struggles in life, whether with addictions, relationships or family, Curran strives to share a positive and reinforcing message with listeners.

"I don't talk about anything that I don't agree with. I talk about what my life is about and it's far from money and cars and women in a negative way."

In fact, he works as a salesman and is also a full-time psychology student at Utah Valley University. One day, he'd like to do social work in drug addiction recovery. Music is his passion, but Curran doesn't have plans to make a career out of it. While others obsess over sending out demos and trying to be discovered by major record labels, Curran is happy sharing his musical talent in local venues and producing tracks in that small home studio. Curran's studio consists of the bare essentials needed to work. With around $2,000 of computer equipment, keyboards, turntables, speakers and a mic packed into the small, comfortable room, Curran spends hours taking samples from old LPs and CDs and even his father's old band, and mixing them to produce something new and unique. With much influence from famous producer and rapper Kanye West, Curran enjoys mixing the old with the new for an interesting and diverse sound to all his beats.

With these beats he mixes quality lyrics.

"My topics are so different from what people are used to, then maybe that's a good thing," he said, "I don't focus on, in my opinion, the negative things that move the radio."

His life story is evident in all songs, including this verse from "The Good Days" that appeared on his debut album "Definit ... Is Not Here."

"For years I lived scared and survived those nightmares, at last I found myself amongst musical chairs, lyrics replaced opiates, beats replaced weed, God replaced prison and put this path in front of me ..."

Once a beat is produced, Curran will send it to fellow artists he is working with and they'll begin writing lyrics and sharing ideas. Sometimes it gets a little competitive as they try to outperform the other before coming together in the studio for the final recording.

Through the Internet, performances and everyday encounters, Curran has met a variety of artists that he has collaborated with over the years, including Simeon Lawrence of Salt Lake City, via Philadelphia. After meeting in Las Vegas while working, the two realized that they both shared the same passion for hip hop music as well as similar morals and beliefs.

"I'm really lucky to have a dude that is on the same place as me as far as beliefs, as far as values, as far as experiences in life," said Curran of Lawrence.

The most recent tracks the two are recording for their upcoming summer release focus mainly on relationship troubles they've both experienced in the last couple of years.

"Along with Def's music he's got a story behind it. I love who he is, he's a good dude and the music just adds to that," said Lawrence of Curran. "It was easy for us, after we linked up down [in Vegas], to come back and start recording and put our life on tracks."

While Curran is content with having his music on the local scene, it's more driven artists like Lawrence that keep pushing him to take his talent to the next level.

"I'm kind of half empty when it comes to music in that I don't really have plans to pursue it. And Simeon, he's got the talent and the drive to do that," Curran said.

Lawrence says that by using music that kids obviously gravitate to, they can help send out a more positive message through their lyrics.

"The music is going to be a front for different types of messages to get out there," Lawrence said. "And if they can have that sound but a better message, it's a good thing."

So with no promises of big money, fancy cars or cribs, Curran uses a different motivation, his young nephews and his own life lessons to keep recording music with a better message.

"My message is a clean message, it's uplifting, it's my heart ... and I think there's a lot of people that want something like that," Curran said.

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