December 31, 2019

Essay #3: The cerebral and therapeutic value of art

Our first essay in our newly serialized selection of op-ed pieces focused on the special attributes of music, film, and art in the context of time, legacy, and user experiences. Our third essay will be focused now on the third characteristic, and how it forms this basis for self-reflection and its physiological, therapeutic value.

What is the cerebral and therapeutic value of art?

To get started, it should be noted that the core concept of art’s value as a therapeutic device is its ability to tap into the wide range of human experience. When people absorb or create art, several factors come into play. These are time, place, and the artists’ life experience, outlook, and intention in creation. Depending on the level of practice and ability to tap into subconscious levels, all of these characteristics come together to create a wholly unique serving of expression. Whether it is highly regarded or forgotten, the artists themselves are “in the zone” of creativity, and exercising their brain with a therapeutic and meditative exercise. Others consuming art, too, have the same ability to become immersed by and pulled into the world of the artist’s imagination with each film viewing, music listening, or visual experience. Each of these paintings, compositions, sculptures, or films, leave viewers with a degree of understanding and an experience to take away. Whatever that experience may be could be abstract and up to interpretation, or it could be simplistic in its execution and effect, but even what might appear simple could have even deeper levels of meaning that come out of either intentional or subconscious creation. No matter what the medium or the message is, art in all its forms has a therapeutic value for all to benefit from.

To try and not sound too preachy, this idea should largely be known or recognized already when it comes to the arts and the humanities. What some people in life might not realize though is the importance of the arts to maintain a healthy and balanced mind state and how it directly supports problem-solving and creative thinking in many of life’s struggles and situations. How exactly does AirdriftSignals support this? Through the past couple of decades, there have been mounds of research on the subject, which will be detailed below in several examples.

As a young music listener, I have had the joy of discovering many musicians in different genres. Also, as a movie lover, I have enjoyed watching many classic and current science fiction and horror films growing up. There is an argument to be said for different genres of music and art. When the Columbine High School massacre took place in '99, the mainstream media needed to put the blame on something, or someone. At the time, the main culprit was shock jock metal frontman Marilyn Manson, while other "dark" or heavy metal music became the main scapegoat for future shootings or violent incidents involving adolescents. Now, nearly 20 years later, society has come to the realization that mentally disturbed individuals with prescriptions could cause harm with or without the "help" of metal music, meanwhile multiple studies on the genre suggest the opposite that was proposed 2 decades ago. The documented results that metal music can calm aggression in listeners may be a shock for some people, but for those who understand the power of art as a vehicle of escapism, it isn't that hard to comprehend. 

The heavy metal genre of music specifically maintains documented mental health benefits, and other interests of my own, including science fiction and horror movies have stirred my imagination growing up and built up my fascination with the macabre and fear of the unknown. Little did I know growing up that these films too, have a positive impact on viewers' brains. Most people who know no better when asked, may dismiss horror films as something negative and ridiculous. Of course, there are no shortages of bad films that leave viewers in their seats screaming at the main characters what they should be doing to survive. This practice in worst-case-scenarios is in actuality our fight-or-flight response, learning from the mistakes of those who meet untimely ends on screen. The studies done suggest that scary movies also counter-balance the stresses of life, bolster our immune systems, and even lead to positive mental health benefits.

After tackling these two most controversial genres of art, it is easy to see how most other genres fall into categories of therapeutic effects. Classical music has already been studied to death, with the many calming benefits aplenty that don't need to be referenced here. A good film or just very good storytelling gives viewers an escape from the daily stressors of life. Even beautiful architecture or paintings fill people with a sense of wonder as they ruminate on the time and place of its creation. Hip-hop, one of the primary genres covered by AirdriftSignals, has been found to be a "strong source of self and community empowerment." Video games (which I will argue is an art medium), is the newest scapegoat for teen aggression, but has since been proven to not be a link to violence. While there are those who suffer from gaming addiction, The Psychological Bulletin recently revealed that the activity hosts a wide range of benefits, including cognitive improvement, boosted creativity, motivation, and emotional and social well-being. With no stone left unturned, it's clear to say that all mediums of art carry variations of the same positive mental health benefits. Besides all of these positive results, how does this carry over into our daily life?

From some of the articles that have been referenced, there are clear indications that consuming these different forms of art bleed into our daily life. From the reduced stress levels from heavy metal listeners or horror movie fans, to the empowerment felt from hip-hop, to the boosted cognitive functions and creativity of gamers, to the increased intelect of avid book readers, all who enjoy their choice of art benefit greatly. And while the arts can seem abstract, the benefits can absolutely be measured. In another report, the benefits of arts education in schools far outweigh the cost of funding it, such as academic improvement, increased self-esteem, less interest in drugs, and reduced criminal activity, among many others. The National Institute of Health even admits that engagement in the creative arts results in positive health outcomes, and improves overall public health. What does this mean for us? 

As a fan of many forms of art, I cannot stress enough how important it is to support independent artists. I have had the privilege of meeting so many talented individuals through the years, and it is a great honor to have great minds collaborate on something special. Overall, the support and spread of art is one of the most important indicators of our excellence as a human species, and a way to improve our communities from the ground up, which always start from within our minds' eyes. Artists always receive great benefits from being a creator, and the critical thinking and problem-solving skills involved when making something out of nothing helps them in their daily life as well. Still, even if you are a person who thinks they aren't that "good" at art, there's even a study that supports that you should participate anyways! Working on something, whether it is just sketching with a pad and pencil, painting, or even the act of knitting could significantly reduce stress levels in the body from just 45 minutes of activity! The studies are numerous, and the results are in, so what are you waiting for?! Make some art today! 

December 14, 2019

Interview: Nary Da Producer

Our featured interview this holiday season is seasoned Pittsburgh producer extraordinaire, Nary Da Producer!

AirdriftSignals: How long have you been focused on producing hip-hop beats?

Nary Da Producer: I started seriously producing music around 2007 when I briefly relocated to Green Level, North Carolina, so we can say 12 years... I was making beats for my cousins and some artist around the area... I always knew I would do something with music even before then... But I ended up signing to two different indie labels during my stay in North Carolina that showed me a lot about the business aspect of the music industry and I took what I learned from that and started my journey into this music thing!

AirSig: As a producer based in Pennsylvania, how has your home base and local scene informed your creativity? Are there any local spots that have given you inspiration?

Nary Da Producer: ... I love my city! Shout out to everybody that's grinding and doing their thing! I haven’t worked with too many in my city... really just because I didn’t start out producing in Pittsburgh... But what I will say is... the thing that inspires me about the city is... just the grind... there’s a lot of go getters, dope artists and producers that came from here! Mel Man, Sam Sneed, Johnny Juliano, I mean even legends like Ahmad Jamal!! Pittsburgh is definitely a musical city man! As far as local spots that inspire me... I would have to say “Jerry’s Records” located in a section of the city called “Squirrel Hill” because that's where I go digging for vinyl!

AirSig: Oh, so you dig for your loops then? 

Nary Da Producer: Oh most definitely!!! I feel like digging is one of the biggest fundamentals of hip-hop and more! Most of the things I find rather it’s old classic records or even some random drum loop I like to find new ways to make it into something fresh! I know there’s sites like splice that give you a source to find loops and things of that nature too... It’s just crazy to see how much you can do as far as creating music in today's era!

AirSig: What events in your life made you want to make music and who are your biggest producer influences?

Nary Da Producer: I honestly can say every minute of my 24 hours inspires me to create! My heart and soul is making music... SOULFUL music! Every time I turn on my MPC, I just feel the moment! My biggest music influences are Pete Rock, Chad Hamilton, Just Blaze, Bink, Manny Fresh, Dj Premier, Hi-Tek, J-Dilla, Marley Marl, Trackmasters, Scram Jones, My Bro J.Dova from Atlantic City! And SO many more!

AirSig: One of our previous articles covered a hip-hop single by Cuban Pete which you produced, called Nothin’s Gonna Stop Me. It features a classic sounding female singer crooning the hook and it recalls a golden era of music. It also has a certain Dilla vibe as you mentioned him being a big influence for you just previously... Is there any style or era of music that calls out to you when making beats? 

Nary Da Producer: J-Dilla is forever man! His legendary work and the things he’s done with that MPC are incredible! I feel like there’s J-Dilla influence all over the hip-hop culture! He’s definitely one of my biggest influences. Also shout out to Cuban Pete and the UK! We have an EP coming real soon!! My favorite era is the golden era of hip-hop! That era influenced my style a lot! Just the sound and the feel of that time! 80s R&B is another era that calls out to me! I like some of the new stuff that's coming out too!

AirSig: While listening to that single, it’s amazing to think about how the Internet allows people from all walks of life to connect, and nowadays even allow those who are separated by thousands of miles to create some amazing music! It gained a lot of traction internationally following its release and even got airtime on a French radio station. Does this added international element to your music give you added desire to see how many other international artists you could work with?

Nary Da Producer: I think it’s dope how the Internet links all us musicians together from all across the globe! When I first sent Cuban Pete that beat (Nothin's Gonna Stop Me), he sat on it for a few... And then he finally messaged me like “Nary I think this is it!" He sent everything over and I mixed and mastered it and the rest is history! I think it’s really cool that it spent almost a month in rotation on the radio in France and the UK!

AirSig: Are you more interested in expanding your producer portfolio across multiple emcees and keeping yourself a free agent or eventually joining forces into a hip-hop duo or creative team? 

Nary Da Producer: I recently been working with Solomon Childs, affiliated with the Wu Tang Clan... I got some work with Cuban Pete of course lol. I’ve been working with a lot of rising artists from PA and all over the globe! Also there’s a few big COLLABS in the works! I’m working on my beat catalog and collaborating with a lot of different artists! As far as joining forces with another producer or team, I wouldn’t rule it out but right now I’m just focusing on my own craft.

AirSig: Is the MPC and Pro Tools your sole production tools? 

Nary Da Producer: The MPC and Pro Tools are definitely my go-to's! That swing and just the feel when you’re producing on the MPC is something special! BUT! I also use FL Studio too! That software is dope! Sometimes it annoys me with all the extra layering I like to do to get that fuller sound I’ve grown accustomed to using the MPC but all around it’s dope! So yeah the MPC Touch/MPC 2000, Pro Tools, FL Studio, and mad vinyl records and other sounds are my go-to's!

AirSig: Do you find creating on the MPC a smooth and effective process? 

Nary Da Producer: Most of the time... If I’m going for something with a classic feel... The MPC is my go-to! The process of creating those kind of moods but if I’m going for a more modern feel I would incorporate my FL Studio with the MPC and get really busy!

AirSig: How do you follow your instincts with your creative flow to make captivating and engaging beats? 

Nary Da Producer: If it feels right I just go with it! Most of the time my ear doesn’t steer me wrong lol! Like I said though it’s all about the mood when it’s time to create!

AirSig: Your newest release, a full-length beat tape titled The Chill Out Volume I, is designed to introduce the world to your atmosphere of sounds, and is designated as an instrumental hip-hop album. Is there anything you’d like to see accomplished with the release of this first volume of this series? 

Nary Da Producer: I would like people to just enjoy the project! Also, I would like the world to know HIPHOP IS FOREVER!! I feel like it's something a little different than the usual 808s and robotic sounding Hi-Hats that’s in a lot of today’s music... I feel like this is a project you can turn on and just chill lol... If you don’t rap or sing you just might after you take a listen!

AirSig: I've also noticed that hi-hats have had a bit of a renaissance in the last ten years with so much hip-hop/trap music. Do you think it's just a fad that will fade in another ten years or will the polyrhythms always have a place going forward? 

Nary Da Producer: A lot of the music is being created with D.A.W. aka Digital Audio Workstation and a lot of the software is so digital sounding along with the heavy quantization they're using in a lot of these new era records that it begins to sound robotic... I feel like trap is here to stay because it has its own place... I wouldn’t call it hip-hop at all but it’s something of its own genre.

AirSig: I, myself, very much enjoy the music of hip-hop. Usually you can hear so many other influences and genres blending into the work of certain producers, such as classical, oldies, and even electronic music. Are there any other genres you might be interested in exploring more, or exclusively, as you continue your musical career? 

Nary Da Producer: I’ve definitely been exploring R&B... some trap/mainstream. I would like to venture into creating jazz music too! There’s a lot of music man! I get inspired by a lot of the elements!

AirSig: Who have you been listening to lately outside of hip-hop? You mentioned you're a fan of jazz music.

Nary Da Producer: Lately, it’s been Ahmad Jamal, a lot of classic R&B, and a lot of instrumental music!

AirSig: What does it mean to you to stand out in a genre that is so diverse and full of talent?

Nary Da Producer: I feel like being yourself and staying true to yourself is everything! It’s so easy to get caught up with following trends because whatever’s the new popular thing is what a lot of people tend to flock to I feel like.

AirSig: Are there any other upcoming projects that you are excited to be working on or planning on releasing soon?

Nary Da Producer: Look out for my first all trap music instrumental project “Nary’s Trap” coming soon! I got a project coming with my bro Prynce who’s also from Pittsburgh! Definitely good music! Also go get Solomon Childs project “Wu Tang BBQ” I got a few records on there! Cuban Pete’s upcoming EP produced entirely by me is on the way! And just follow my social media to stay updated! Also I just wanna just finally shout out a few artists I work with In my city....Prynce and Gotti Boi!!

AirSig: You can follow and listen to Nary Da Producer on his SoundCloud page, which already has over 20,000 streams or follow him on social media (Twitter, Facebook)! You can listen to The Chill Out Volume I on any streaming platforms, and you can also read our full review here

Nary Da Producer - The Chill Out Volume I Review

Following our at-length interview with Pittsburgh hip-hop beat maker Nary Da Producer, there's a lot to unpack. Whether it's his most recent productions, such as Cuban Pete's single Nothin's Gonna Stop Me, or his fulfillment of a childhood dream in producing four cuts for a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, on Solomon Child's 2019 album Wu-Tang BBQ, Nary is hitting the bars of his MPC hard, and now, swerving in just in time for the holidaze is Nary Da Producer's first in a themed series of beat tapes, The Chill Out Volume I!

While this is the first volume of The Chill Out, it's not the first beat tape that Nary Da Producer has been known to drop, as his regular series, simply titled The Beat Tape, has already seen six iterations, and even though Nary already has The Beat Tape 7 on deck, his unveiling of The Chill Out series is purposed exactly for what the title (and artwork) displays.

The most striking and noticeable feature of Nary's production when listening to this most recent offering is his industry-grade skill and also his soulful, J-Dilla-inspired soul. As he states in our interview, his love of soul, R&B, and also the golden era of hip-hop are what end up washing over every instrumental cut that is on deck here. His use of funky and jazzy licks are emotionally arresting, as "Mellow Situation" plays out to a beautiful trumpet and piano duet, which recalls a late-night city club atmosphere on a snowy night. As Nary mentioned in an earlier conversation, this is the right one to release for the holidaze, and it can be heard very clearly as the Tape begins to unfurl. "A Dream" continues this festivity with a hip-hop-styled exercise full of jingling bells and holiday chimes, and Nary proceeds to play around with the sample and let it ride out. "A HipHop Story" pulls in the focus with a jazzy saxophone and melodic chimes, and they also keep with the chill out and holiday vibes of the opening credits.

Of course, there's always some beats in place to even raise everything a notch higher here, with "China Connects", as it breaks up the beat tape's chosen style in favor of a more cinematic, Eastern musical rendition that is pushed through Nary's magical hip-hop filter. The kung-fu and action-inspired cut should make anyone who considers themselves fans of the Wu appreciate and revel in the intensity of Nary's (karate) chops. "Grimey Winterz" leaves some of the Eastern region strings in, and it teases out a singer's sustained croon while stringed instruments play off of her gut-wrenching despair. The emotion and soul is strong with this one, and the string section especially just glistens with Madlib Beat Konducta influence. It sounds and feels like a grimey winter indeed.

By this point, we are halfway through the experience that Nary Da Producer has guided us through. While nodding heads and pulling heartstrings, Nary is hardly finished, as he's saved some of his best for the second half of The Chill Out! "Imaginary Dreams" gets downright chilling (no pun intended) in its theatrical and soulful heights, and it's no wonder that one of Nary's biggest influences is the great Jay Dee. The soul singer featured here flutters and screams out to the heavens as the drums punctuate the clouds. Overall, all the instruments, the strings, bass, drums, and voice, all coalesce and meld into a sultry and vivid musical painting. "The Essence" sounds and feels as if Nary is a chef, sprinkling his sweet and aromatic ingredients into a mixing bowl, while the rest of us listeners are in the other room, kicking back on expensive furnishings and enjoying the fine wine of his soul's lounge, while "Murder For Da Art" settles into another slow-paced and introspective loop, bringing the energy down for a soft landing.

By the final two cuts, it's apparent that from all the previous tracks, the ecstasy has been released and it's only fitting that The Chill Out Volume I closes out with two love songs. "Romance" is the beginning of that coda, and it hits its stride with a beautiful and wistful piano loop and a playful set of drums. It's a melancholy, but a fitting penultimate track. "True Love Don't Come Easy" is a the final statement of The Chill Out, and its melody and beat are founded on the message of true love and holding onto it tight and not letting go. Its sendoff is spectacular, and from witnessing the amount of heart and soul that is put into The Chill Out tape, it's clear that Nary knows what's most important in music and life.

The Chill Out Volume I is a beautiful exploration of multiple themes and emotions. While a sidestep from his usual Beat Tape series, it makes a statement all of its own accord and holds up as a standalone work of art and lesson in beats. Whether he is working with high-profile emcees or continuing to release his own series of instrumental hip-hop, Nary Da Producer shows no signs of stopping, and in fact, seems to be pushing forward stronger than ever before. Keep him on your radar, and on repeat, for you'll be hearing much more from him soon!

Chill Out Volume I - 9/10

Recommended Tracks: China Connects, Grimey Winterz, Imaginary Dreams