Sometimes necessity is, in fact, the mother of invention, and Upstate rapper, producer and songwriter Shyland Flowers say he was initially drawn to hip-hop music for one very simple reason.
“If I’m being completely honest,” he says with a laugh, “it’s because I can’t sing. If I could sing, I’d be doing a whole different thing.
”It’s a good line, but the truth is a little more complex than that. Flowers also became a rapper because he loved the hip-hop genre and wanted to explore it.
“Hip-hop is the most loved, but most misunderstood, the genre of music,” he says. “When you’re young and impressionable, you see the Jay-Zs or the Cam’rons or the Kanyes, and you want to be those types of people. And I’d always written poems, anyway, so I kind of just fell into that.”
”Flow like water"
Over the past year or so, the Upstate-by-way-of-Washington rapper has released a slew of singles and an EP called “No One Is Safe,” all of which put his confident, unpredictable delivery front and center over creative beats and synth-spiked arrangements.
Flowers can vocally dance around a track with ease, laying down double-time and off-kilter rhymes that always land dead center, but he says it’s taken some time for him to feel confident about his rapping. And that’s probably because he was influenced by some of the best, and most intimidating, MCs of all time.“It’s taken 10 years for me to finally be comfortable with my flow,” he says. “I think Jay-Z is probably the greatest rapper of all time, and when I was coming up, I was listening to a lot of Jay-Z, a lot of Nas, a lot of East Coast kind of rap. To me, their flow was like water; that’s who I looked up to the most.”
‘A nostalgia-based artist’
Lyrically, Flowers eschews the typical braggadocio or gangsta tales and comes from the heart, whether he’s talking about memories of his youth or a woman he’s pining after, or both, as he does on his recent single, “Monalisabonet.”
I can get political and I can do my social commentary, but a lot of my stuff comes from nostalgia,” he says. “I refer to myself as a nostalgia-based artist. I talk about my childhood and my upbringing or my experiences in middle school and high school. And I love talking about girls that I love that I could never actually be with; those are my favorite topics.
Despite releasing various singles, collaborations, and an EP in the last year, Flowers says that in general, he prefers to take his time with his material.
“I don’t like releasing a lot of music,” he says, “and a lot of people have told me that that’s to my detriment. And maybe I’m not where I want to be in life, but I was raised to live with the music before searching for the next thing. You live with the music for a few weeks or a few months because opinions can change. I try to space out singles and release albums when I really need to, and then keep moving.
”Flowers is a mainstay of the Upstate hip-hop scene, and he says there’s been a steady improvement on that scene over the last few years, citing fellow local artists like Skully, Khemo and Wordplay Luck as inspirations. But he also says there’s a lot more room to grow.
“It’s not at the place where I’d want it to be, but it’s in a way better place than it’s ever been,” he says. “I feel now that there are more studios and there are more live acts. When I first started, there was maybe one studio for rappers to go to in Greenville, but now there are more avenues. It’s growing, and growth is always good.