Miramonte’s Rap All Stars

In the way that teenagers of past generations would assemble a traditional, five-piece rock group in a friend’s garage, nowadays the guitars have transformed into complicated music software and the garages into amateur recording studios.

While both instruments and style of music have shifted – into the genres of rap, hip-hop and dubstep – the passion for creating and innovating new music remains constant.

The “rap game” at Miramonte, as the rappers call it, mainly consists of five seniors, all of whom share an early liking for rap and hip-hop music. Although many of their major influences are shared, each individual maintains his own unique style, whether it’s their style of flow or rhythm.

Just by speaking with or seeing a Miramonte rapper’s appearance, one would never suspect him of writing, producing and performing his own music. It’s the sense of mystery that is so intriguing about this coalition of unassuming rappers.

From the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., they’re students; however, when they return home to their rooms (some of which have been changed into informal music studios) they completely transform their identities. Some, like seniors Peter James and Alex McGourty, adopt monikers for their musical hobby, using names Lil’ PJ and MC Gourty, respectively.

Other rappers include seniors Sean Larner, Nigel Tague and Jake Ellis. Larner and Tague specialize in raps and rhymes, whereas Ellis is a self-proclaimed master of the beat box. “I like my beats extra dubby with a side order of bass,” said Ellis.

Almost by coincidence, Miramonte’s own, five-man rapping coalition closely resembles one of their strongest influences, Wu Tang Clan, a rap group assembled in late 1992. Called “Wu-Tang” for short, the group features individual rappers “GZA/Genius,” “RZA,” “Ol’ Dirty Bastard,” and “Method Man,” most of who have also released solo albums.

“Structurally, I see a close resemblance between us and Wu-Tang. We all really enjoy working together,” said Larner. “Every person has their own specialty, and together, we can really make some sick tracks. At the end of the day though, we generally work by ourselves since we have conflicting schedules.”

James, who popularized the name “Lil’ PJ” over the last three years, largely makes music by himself. Half of James’ bedroom was transformed into a miniature recording studio over the last year. James, who has released over 20 songs since his freshmen year, including two mixtapes and an EP, traces the beginning of his rap career to elementary school where he spent time writing poetry.

“I used to write poetry, which is pretty similar to rap, when I was younger. When I first started writing raps, I was trying to rhyme as many sexual references as I could,” said James.

James’ style has matured over the years; since releasing his last mixtape, Phace Value, last year, James is constantly updating his style and means of production.

“On my next tape, it’ll be a lot about my experiences with girls. It’ll be a completely different feel. Seniors Jake Ellis, Sean Larner and Casey Nichol will be featured. McGourty will be collaborating on beats for the next tape,” said James.

James, notorious for maintaining rap rivalries over the years, includes lines about his adversaries in his raps. “There are definitely some people I’ll be expressing my feelings towards, but I can’t mention any names right now,” added James.

James also plans on changing his rap name.

“Lil’ PJ has to go. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you guys what I plan on changing it to.”

As for the future of their rap, most Miramonte rappers plan to continue their music, mainly as a hobby. They all plan to attend college in the upcoming years, which will make the collaboration process slightly more difficult. By coincidence, both Ellis and Larner plan on attending the same school, Vassar College in upstate New York.

“Jake and I are pretty excited about going to the same school next year. We definitely plan on continuing working together, mainly as a hobby,” said Larner. “Once we get enough money, we plan on buying some tables and an MPC, which is a type of beatpad.”

Things take a turn for the fanciful when Larner steps to the mic. “I just rap about whatever’s going through my head, you know, dreams, stuff like that. Just tight shit,” said Larner. A quick glance at his Facebook profile reveals his influences.

A typical status reads: “I spot stains in the fabric of time,” a classic line by People Under the Stairs.

Under James’ influence, all of the collective except McGourty have adopted Pro Tools as their recording software. Their main concern was price, unsurprisingly. Most of the professional programs run into the hundreds of dollars, but all can use Pro Tools at James’s house. McGourty uses Reason because of familiarity. All the audio software, from Apple’s Logic to Reason to Ableton to Fruityloops will get the job done.

Although the MPC has long been a staple in a professional rap studio, great beats can be made with a laptop’s keyboard. The hardware is to pay homage to a tradition, or to sound like someone else.

“It’s basically unnecessary,” said McGourty.

Q&A with Peter James:

Mirador: How did you become interested in the rap game?

James: The first rap album I’ve ever owned was Eminem’s “Show.” I bought it in third grade. My sister showed me a 50 Cent single and I really liked it. It kind of took off from there. I didn’t start listening to a lot of rap until freshman year. I got pretty into Biggie, Tupac, People Under the Stairs, Bored Stiff, Andre, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Wu-Tang.

M: When did you start writing raps?

J: I used to write poetry, which is pretty similar to rap, when I was younger. When I first started writing raps, I was trying to rhyme as many sexual references as I could.

M: How did you come up with “Lil’ PJ”?

J: Lil’ Wayne was popular at the time during my freshmen year when I created Lil’ PJ. As of right now, the name needs to be changed.

M: How many albums, EPs, or songs have you completed so far?

J: 20 plus songs. Under the alias of Lil’ PJ, I released two mixtapes and one EP. “Phace Value” was the most momentous, it was the most legit tape I put out.

M: Let’s talk about rivalries.

J: On “Phace Value,” I ripped on Chris Thatcher, who was also a-rapping at the time. I heard him talking smack about me, so I decided to rag on him on my mixtape. Currently, I kind of regret the decision, but now Chris and I are tight. On my next tape, it’ll be a lot about my experiences with girls. It’ll be a completely different feel; Jake Ellis, Sean Larner, and Casey Nichol will be featured. Alex McGourty will be collaborating on beats for the next tape. There are definitely some people I’ll be expressing my feelings towards, but I can’t mention any names right now.

M: Hobby or profession?

J: It’s sort of a hobby, but music is something that I’d be incredibly interested in later in life.

M: What goes into the process of making a song?

J: A lot of work. Sometimes it’s less work because Alex M. will make beats for me. It’s a couple days process for work. We usually work on Friday, normally four or five sessions.

M: What do you like to rap about?

J: I like to rap about life, writing things that are on my mind. Usually my best raps include me sitting down, thinking back about the earlier days.

M: Where will your rap go in college?

J: Hopefully I’ll find people who share the same interest in rap and music. I’ve always wanted to rap with someone in a different area code.

Q&A with Sean Larner:

Mirador: How did you become interested in rap?

Larner: I was sitting at my desk one day and I started writing stuff down that came into my head. It was pretty spontaneous, organic and random.

M: How would you describe your rap style?

L: I like to rap about interesting stuff that comes throughout the day, sometimes dreams when I wake up, that’s the tightest stuff.

M: What software do you use? Why?

L: We use Pro Tools, and I use it because it’s free and I’m broke.

M: Who inspires you?

L: People Under the Stairs, Method Man of Wu Tang Clan, Chali Tuna of Jurassic Five.

M: You and Jake are going to college at Vassar next year. Do you plan on rapping together there?

L: Once we raise enough capital, we plan on buying some tables and an MPC (a type of beatpad). I’m personally pretty psyched about making music with Jake for four more years. We’ll be able to make music more often being on campus together.

M: Hobby or profession?

L: Depends on if we suck or not.

M: Do you write your raps or freestyle?

L: I tend to write my raps as of right now, but I still have a huge appreciation for people that are able to freestyle, being able to think about rhymes that fast.

M: Have you released any music so far?

L: Not yet. Jake and I are making a song called “Parachutes” right now. As of now, we’re just trying to make songs. If we make an album – so be it. Right now we’re just making music.