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SHEI Magazine is a University of Michigan student-run fashion, art, and pop culture publication. Everything from the photography, writing, modeling, editing, and publicity of our bi-yearly print publications and monthly digital mini is created by students who attend the University of Michigan. Founded in 1999, SHEI Magazine continues to produce issues of professional quality, as well as provide real-world experience to students interested in journalism, publishing, and the fashion industries.

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Interview: Jay Foss

Gus Turner

Hip-hop has never been a stranger to the revolving door of contenders and pretenders, with one-hit wonders like Sisqo, Rich Boy, and Coolio slipping in and out of our collective conscience over the years. But with the release of his latest EP, That Smoothy Good, little-known backpacker Jay Foss makes it clear that he has no intentions of getting lost in this shuffle. Boasting a long book of smooth, thought-provoking lyricism and a technical ability—or, as he calls it, his “lava flow”—capable of constructing anything from tongue-twisting mazes to slow, simple burns, the Syracuse senior is clearly ready to move onto bigger and better things. We caught up with the Foss to get his answers on the challenges of being an up-and-coming artist, his newest album, and more. Photo: Facebook/JayFoss.

For those not familiar with Jay Foss, what would be the first thing you would want them to know? What's your story as an artist? What brought you into rap?

The first thing I'd like people to know is that I'm trying to drop the "Jay" out of my rap name and just go as “Foss.” Diddy made name-changing seem too easy though. So for now I choose not to worry about it and just stick to getting my name out there as a whole. That being said, Jay Foss is a down to earth guy with complex lyrics. I've watched others rap and one day said to myself I think I could be a lot better at it than the people I saw doing it. My freshmen year of high school this kid got signed to RRR, Scott Storch's label back when he was cool. Every morning before school started. this kid would amass crowds of people off of him free-styling or battling other kids. My friend said to me, as a joke, why can't you do that? So then I started. Writing raps became a way for me to escape. It was like my diary. I spent about 2 years writing and performing them to the bathroom mirror before I'd even told people I was doing it, let alone pursuing a career in it.

What can you say about your recently released project, That Smoothy Good, in terms of the creative process and how it all came together? How did you and Pfister come to collaborate? 

I met Pfister my sophomore year—I'm a senior now—in a random apartment on campus. The guy who lived there had grown up with him and knew that I rapped so he introduced the two of us. Pfister said he had been working with Ski Beatz for some time now and was looking to get a rapper on his own beats. I spit a couple bars over one of his beats during a party they were having. A couple days later he hit me up asking to do work. His style of production, at least in my mind, yielded the entire concept of That Smoothy Good, from the title to the way I sound on each track.

A number of factors--including the Internet and advances in recording technology--have allowed hip-hop's talent pool to become increasingly overcrowded. Does it intimidate you when there are so many other up-and-coming rappers out there reaching for the same thing as you? What distinguishes you from them? 

The only time I feel intimidated is when I'm not making music, if that makes sense. Because the Internet is so powerful, I have to stay focused in order to intimidate the rappers who do worry about it being overcrowded. If I don't think about the fact that everyone and their mother are rappers and I just keep making raps, then I'll be good.

Do you feel that coming from Syracuse—a city not widely known for its hip-hop scene—is a disadvantage for you in terms of gaining exposure, or is it better for a younger artist like yourself to work out of a college town and use your fellow students as a fan base? 

You really don't even understand how hard it is coming out of Syracuse. There really aren't many venues to perform and I believe an artist's stage performance is what brings the Internet's power to a halt. You can have the coolest songs in the world but if you can't perform them, then nobody cares. There isn't much opportunity in Syracuse for rappers, so being at the University is truly a blessing.

Is there anyone else from Syracuse that we should be looking out for?

Indo, Austin Holmes, & Sean Mags

Do you worry about being stereotyped as a "college rapper" in the mold of Hoodie Allen or Mac Miller?

No, because I am rapping about college stuff. It's just obvious I don't make watered down music like that of Sammy Adams or any other college artists. Asher Roth was/is considered a college rapper but at the same time a lyrical genius. That's where I wanna be. A college rapper that sounds like he went to college (laughs).

Which rappers do you point to as having an influence on your career?

Pusha T, Eminem, Andre 3000 & Lupe Fiasco (pre-Lasers though. I can't stand whatever he thinks he's doing now.)

As a communications and rhetorical studies major, how has your education played a part in shaping your style or artistic persona? Has it ever been difficult to balance the demands of schoolwork and your career? 

How did you know I was a CRS major?? (laughs) Rhetoric is crazy. When I’m writing my rhymes I do look at the "and's" "or's" "so's" and "but's" in my lyrics; I'm that picky (laughs). It influences the character of the raps as well; where the sarcasm comes in or how I'm juxtaposing sampled songs with my lyrics. In my time at SU, I learned that communication is a beautiful work of art when done correctly. So my raps are really just stabs at trying to perfect an art form.

What can we expect from you in the future? What happens post-graduation?

Just more music and shows; expanding my outreach in every sense of the music.