Euphoria - An Interview with Rapper Aaron Ventura
Welcome to The Westminster Confession of Funk
Thanks for the invitation. You had me at "Westminster."
How did you get into rap? Did you enter through the production/beats side, or the poetry/performance side?
My Uncle Davis was the coolest person in the world to me growing up. I wanted to be just like him. He put me on to the four elements of hip-hop: Graffiti, Break Dancing, Rapping, and DJ’ing. I used to have a break dancing crew in Junior High and it was around that time that I started making my own beats to dance to. I fell in love with the process of beat-making and it wasn’t long before I started looking for someone to rap over the beats I was producing. I hated all the local rappers I knew of so I decided to just write my own. That was the beginning of my “rap career.” Beat-making was my first love, the lyrics came later.
What do you see as the particular strength that rap brings to the communication of truth, beauty, and goodness?
I would guess that the average rap song has twice as many words in it compared to the average pop song. Rap typically requires two to three 16-measure verses per song. This means you can say a lot in 3 minutes of music. You can develop lengthy logical argumentation, expound Scripture, tell stories, and express emotion in a way that other genres of music cannot. This is the strength of Christian Hip Hop and--if an artist is steeped in the Scriptures--truth, beauty, and goodness will come out in the final record. We cannot give what we do not have and I so work hard at filling my life with influences that cultivate a sense of all three qualities.
Is there a specific mission that you see yourself on?
The mission I am on is the pastorate. Preaching the Word, making disciples, bringing people together around Christ, those are the things I love to do. If music can assist me in those tasks, that’s a bonus. I used to make music so that people would think I was cool or so that I would be famous. Once I realized the vanity of those pursuits, I started approaching music differently. At this point, I try to make music that I would want to listen to. I want my records to encourage people in their walk with Jesus. My personal motto is “encourage the saints, don’t entertain pagans."
Do you write your own beats? If yes, what is your set up?
Yes, I write and produce everything from start to finish. I use Logic 9 as my workstation and my main instruments are Omnisphere (a digital VST) and Exhale. I recently sold my Roland Fantom X-6 because I just never used the sound bank on it. I use an Akai MPD and Battery for programming drums and a PreSonus Firestudio Mobile to record vocals. I am obsessed with drum sounds (I used to be a drummer) and so I will do all kinds of sampling and mixing to get the kind of boom and bap I want on each record. I am playing around with loops for an upcoming project but typically I play everything through the MPD. The real magic happens in the mixing process with the plugins. I use Waves plugins and have spent countless hours building my own presets to get the sound where I want them. It’s meticulous and intense, but very rewarding when it comes out right.
You have a favorite beat writer or producer that you go back to regularly?
My favorite producers are Aaron Marsh (Copeland) and Jeremy Larson (Sucre/Violents). Sonically, they are at the top of the game along with the greats like Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and Pharrell. My friend and frequent collaborator, Danny Cary, puts me on to a lot of music outside of the hip-hop world and that has been a huge blessing. I have come to love a lot of music that I would never have found on my own. I also love movie soundtracks with an epic scale. I like Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer’s work. Music is visual for me. Movies bring together the best of those worlds. In another life I would have been a filmmaker.
What poets and rappers do you find consistently inspiring?
This might sound like a “Jesus-Juke,” but King David and the Psalms are my forever inspiration. I sit down with the Psalms everyday and am always trying to learn how to chant or sing new versions of them. (I love David Erb’s through-composed Psalms). Because Hebrew poetry does not rely on rhyme scheme the way that English poetry does, it has expanded my own vision for what a rap song can be.
Outside of the stuff that God wrote, I try to keep an ear to what the “secular tastemakers” are cooking up. This means I will take a day and listen to Kendrick Lamar, Drake, or even Taylor Swift. It helps me keep a pulse on what the world is doing. If there is something worth taking, I take it.
In the world of Christian Hip-Hop, I like the folks over at Humble Beast, especially Jackie Hill-Perry. I am sucker for hype-music and trap-beats so I bump just about anything that Reach Records puts out (even if I don’t fully agree with their theological trajectory). Trip Lee, KB, Andy Mineo, and Lecrae are all in a playlist somewhere on my iPhone.
I am also a sucker for singer-songwriters with a warm aesthetic. This inspires me more than anything in the rap world. I like Billie Marten, The Oh Hello’s, Purity Ring, Holly Ann, Sucre, The Staves, and many others. Few things excite me more than discovering a new artist who “gets it."
What do you love about Rap and Hip Hop as art forms?
I like dope beats. No other genre can compete. I also like the polemical and aggressive nature of rap. There is something masculine and competitive about hip-hop that appeals to the athlete and fighter inside me. Evangelicalism is effeminate through and through. Prophets are few and far between. Historically, hip-hop has been a prophetic and political form of speech. The church needs to regain that prophetic voice in its pulpits. I used to go open-air preach at the University of Idaho and I would listen to Christian hip-hop to get me in the right frame of mind. There is a holy violence that we need to recover. Rap, as an art form, is one way we can cultivate that courage.
Have church folks been supportive of your pursuit of Rap?
Yes, overwhelmingly so. When I was an undergrad at the University of Washington in Seattle, I was part of a large campus ministry (The City Church/Generation Church). I did concerts and performed at our conferences and it was all kinds of crazy and fun. This was also before I knew anything about the regulative principle of worship (but that’s another story). I then moved to Jacksonville, Florida to help plant a church (with Acts 29) and at least half of our church was either black or embracing hip-hop culture. Our worship pastor was a gifted singer and rapper named Big Fil. We created some amazing things together at the church there. It was in Florida that I did some of my best artistic work in poetry, writing, and performance. Then I moved to Moscow, Idaho which is one of the whitest places on the planet. I love it here but there isn’t any hip-hop scene. Despite some people’s reservations about hip-hop and the cultural baggage of rap music, and even though rap isn't really their thing, I have felt very loved and supported by the community. I love them for that.
More than half of the tracks of your newest album Euphoria are collaborations. What is different about the creative process when you are working in collaboration?
The creative process is exactly the same when I am working with other rappers (Big Fil, Shawn Ahmadi). I make the beat, I record my vocals and then send them the song in it’s near-complete form. All they have to do is record their verse and it’s done.
When I work with singers like Danny Cary on the other hand, it is usually more involved. We will send files back and forth and fight over what we like and what we don’t like. Danny and I lived together in Florida, so we both know each other’s taste really well. Working together can be exasperating and frustrating for both of us, but in the end, we almost always make something that we are both proud of. My music would not be what it is without his divergent tastes and opinions. When you find someone that makes you a better artist and that you actually enjoy hanging out with, hold onto them. I have been blessed to collaborate with some incredible people over the years and I am always looking for new artists to connect with. In the future I would love to simply produce for singer-songwriters and handle the behind the scenes work. That excites me.
The name of of the album made my eyebrows crawl up my forehead. It is unexpected for a rap album. What is it about, and where did you get the idea?
The name of the album is Euphoria and it is all about chasing joy. The thesis of the album can be found in the first and last songs: Bouquet and Magic. My parents divorced when I was 18 and I have spent the last ten years all over the place emotionally and geographically. The story of my life has often felt like one disappointment after another. But, when I read the Scriptures, I see that the story is actually one of God’s mercy on my life in endless perpetuity. Despite all the horrible things that have happened, my life has still been grace upon grace. Euphoria is about this journey from mourning to dancing. From sowing in tears to reaping in joy.
Music is such a human endeavor, what has your experience been sharing your music with people?
Sharing your art with the world can often feel like getting naked in front of a bunch of strangers. Depending on how much of yourself you put into the music, all of your imperfections and insufficiencies and sins are right there for everyone to see. Self-awareness can help a little bit, but narcissism is deceptive. When people tell me that the music has encouraged them, it is very satisfying. At the same time, I am still learning to get over myself and that means learning to receive feedback, good or bad, without building an identity around it. One day I hope to be mature enough to not care and truly make music simply for God’s glory and the good of my listeners. That’s the target I am aiming for.
You are up in Idaho these days, right? Maybe it doesn’t have a burgeoning Hip Hop scene, but what is the best thing about living in a small town?
Yes, I live in the shire, also known as Moscow, Idaho. The best thing about living in a small town is that I have an extra 2 hours of freedom every day because I don’t spent any time sitting in big city traffic! Now I can spend those two hours reading books instead. =D
Where can people find your work?
Spotify, iTunes, and every other digital music outlet. You can also watch music videos and download everything for free at www.aaronventura.com
You have any other projects that you are working on?
Yes, I am halfway done with a Five Points of Calvinism EP and hope to have that out sometime in the Spring of 2018.
Thanks so much for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
Thanks for having me!