Hip-hop as we know it is constantly changing and our next featured artist Cal Combs is a testament to the shift. Our understanding of the genre of hip-hop correlates directly with the values we characterize it by. Throughout history, if you were to look into the context of any hip-hop song, you’ll begin to notice the number of similarities and patterns between artists. But, this is where Cal Combs stands out from the rest. His approach to hip-hop defies a lot of previous notions about the genre and provides a breath of fresh air for listeners who have yet to find an artist they can wholeheartedly support.
“I think my first show was in Lake Placid, New York at the annual strawberry festival,” says Cal, reminiscing on his first live performance as a musician. “They booked my friends death metal rock band to play on the porch of a house, [and it was] like a relaxing outdoor kind of farmer’s market.” He then goes on to tell us that he practically shook the Yankee Candles off the tables, and he can’t imagine what the 90-year-olds who had just played before him were thinking. “This was my first time ever taking the stage and I was really about to wreck the shit out of the strawberry festival.”
In many of his songs, Cal talks about the inequality that was made prevalent to him as he went through different places in the socioeconomic ladder. As Cal grows as a rapper in the hip-hop industry, the moment is almost bittersweet for the artist. “I hate that there are so many things I can get away with as a white rapper,” Cal says. He then goes on to tell us about his last video for the song ‘Man Up.’ “…[it’s] about toxic masculinity and cultural appropriation, I dressed up in full drag, 20K people saw it and no one even reacted to the fact that I was rocking lipstick.”
Cal was attracted to hip-hop specifically because of its historically been one of the biggest voices of the people who live outside the white picket fences of stereotypical, rich, white America like “Carmel”. As a part of Cal’s experiences in and out of “good” and “bad” neighborhoods, he chose to pick up a microphone and speak about the injustices he had seen while also promoting the empowerment of ones-self to face those issues directly. “Make the music that you want to and don’t worry about anything else,” Cals says when asked what his advice is for upcoming musicians, “Never forget who you are and build everything yourself.”
Cal is part English teacher, part rapper, and has launched his music career in parallel to his teaching career, something that we often don’t see. “I just want to make music and be an English teacher,” say s Cal. As a rule, Cal sticks to the promotion of understanding responsibility, living peacefully, hard work, and positivity in the face of adversity. The content of his classroom spills over into his lyrical content and the end result is incredible.
As for his songwriting, Call tells us that he makes a whole day out of it and tends to go to places that inspire that specific song. “I like to let my environment influence my writing. I always write in a notebook,” he says, “There is a certain romance about pen to paper and the scratchy-mess I make in there.”
When it comes to collaborating with other artists, Cal tells us, “…it would definitely be John Coletrane on the instrumental, John Legend on vocals, and Chance the Rapper all on one track with me.” He then goes on to name even more of the greats like Lupe Fiasco, Das, Logic and Kid Cudi.
With millions of streams online, Cal’s latest album “Carmel,” speaks volumes on topics like inequality, perception, toxic masculinity, cultural appropriation, the American dream, drug use, and crime. Within the album, each topic is balanced throughout the 17 tracks. “Cowboy Bebop” definitely speaks to me the most. It’s really the pinnacle of [the] whole project where I detail the entire context of the album,” says Cal. He then tells us that while growing up in Carmel Indiana, he always dreamed about moving onward and outward from those institutionalized belief systems they try to instill in us from young ages.
“Take Flight” is an everyday motto for Cal. After a tragic incident involving a close friend, Cal really began to think about all of the flights that this friend would never have the opportunity to take.” It really formed how I live my life today and how I teach my students.”
Cal dedicates all of his free time after work and on the weekends to creating the music, clothing, and videos we know him for. “The impact I have already had in some people’s lives from just doing what I love has made all of these years of work worth it,” Cals says, but if he had to choose a place to perform for his “I made it” moment, it would have to be the one and only Madison Square Garden.
Cal is currently working on a new album and has plans to go on tour soon.
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