New artist spotlight: Freestyle rap artist gathers cultural influences
Fans of the Houston hip-hop music scene may stay close to their claim that the culture is still at its highest point, but graphic design junior Sherif Omotunwashe argues otherwise. A resident of Alief and an Ella Fitzgerald fan, Omotunwashe asserts that the culture is traveling backward rather than moving forward.
“We’re all stuck in a small box that doesn’t let people express creativity in flow, lyrics and instrumental choice,” Omotunwashe said. “Houston isn’t as big as it could be, because the city holds back the people who focus on making music that can last and instead would rather push the songs that can last for only one month.”
Unlike most up-and-coming rappers who find appreciation and luxury in being exposed to booming beats and head-nodding rhymes at an early age, Omotunwashe grew up in a very strict household with very little music playing. Even though his parents weren’t hasty to show him any sort of music, he was at least shown the cultural side of his Nigerian background, often hearing African music on the radio when he rode around town with his father.
Although grateful for knowledge of his roots, artists like Lauryn Hill greatly made Omotunwashe start thinking about creating music on his own during his eighth-grade year. Having been thrown into a couple of freestyle sessions during lunch period with his peers and becoming more interested in hip-hop, he started writing songs once he set foot at Elsik High School and furthermore started rapping under the stage name Sherif, his first name.
“When I transferred over to Elsik, that’s when I started to get interested in rap,” Omotunwashe said. “I was serious in the creative aspect of writing lyrics and making songs, but as far as promoting it and putting stuff out, I wasn’t as serious.”
That was until he finally hit Cougar grounds and made enough money to gather some recording equipment. With about four to five years of material, Omotunwashe finally dropped his 11-track “Artist Rendition” mixtape two years ago on Datpiff.com.
In an effort to tidy up Houston’s rap scene, Omotunwashe notes that he was careful with crafting the overall theme of the project, stating that he wanted to tackle subjects in an orthodox manner, deviating away from the club bangers that he said Houston has had enough of.
“I wanted to hit on a lot of topics that people weren’t familiar with. There’s a lot of topics that rappers cover, but I want to be able to take those and twist it in a certain way,” Omotunwashe said. “The song ‘Happy Birthday,’ for example, can at first be looked at as something good. However, a lot of people can relate to having a bad birthday, so I changed it to that. I’ve never heard an artist rap about that.”
“Artist Rendition” certainly contains varied concepts and ambitiously works to push the mind of the listener. Other tracks on the project also work together, such as “The Beginning” and “The Ending.” Omotunwashe isn’t shy to take on relationships in these tracks, first talking about the ease of developing one when we’re younger and then pinpointing the struggle of doing the same as we get older.
In addition to drawing and painting, studying graphic design at UH is more of a stepping stone for the Nigerian-American artist. Making a triumphant presence in Houston is his primary agenda now, which is why Omotunwashe believes that designing his own cover art as well as completing work with other artists is a surefire way to promote his artistry.
His performances greatly impact his product promotion as well. Very recently, he tagged along with petroleum engineering sophomore Johnny Egbo — stage name JohnnyyP — to perform at an opening show for Flatbush Zombies, Joey Bada$$ and Ab-Soul at Warehouse Live. Alongside Reginald Helms, the two recently put out “Down and Out Too,” a track which branches off the original in Egbo’s “One Night Only” mixtape.
“We really compete with each other to make ourselves better artists overall,” Egbo said. “I can’t really remember where I met Sherif, but thank God that I did. He has helped bring myself up as far as my music.”
Omotunwashe is also recognized by his childhood friends, who predict that his music will take him further than they could possibly fathom, and also notes that his agenda in helping the Houston rap scene will catapult him into the right direction.
“I feel like he’s playing a different role whenever he’s on stage, so it’s very interesting to watch,” said Lola Ishola, a longtime friend of Omotunwashe. “The way he switches with his emotions is interesting to me. I always thought Sherif had talent, even before he started working on his music. I really like his music and the way he uses a lot of metaphors in his lyrics.”
The art of “soul rap,” as Omotunwashe puts it, seems to be the next obstacle in his music ventures. His appreciation for Fitzgerald’s music created another motive for him to sonically challenge Houston by inviting jazz samples and instruments to resonate within his music. He said we can expect to see a new project containing this new feel in the spring.
“Anytime I release music, I want people to feel like they’ve gotten to know me, and I want it to be relatable. I feel like a lot of rappers talk about the physical struggle, but not about the psychological struggle,” Omotunwashe said. “But I’m not going to make the mistake of being lazy. I have a huge family, and I’m the only artistic one who can draw, paint, rap and write poetry. There’s a reason why God gave me these gifts.”