One of the most common questions musicians (and all artists , really) get asked is “what are your influences?”. I’d say i’ve gotten this question in at least 75% of the interviews i’ve ever done. When i first started getting the question, i would scramble to think of the people I based my sound on. This scrambling would lead to me pretty much just prattling off a list of other producers I like, regardless of their actual influence on my music. Eventually, that got tiresome and I just decided to go with answer option B whenever that question would be posed. That answer is “I don’t believe in influences.”. Now, let’s not be confused here. EVERYTHING is the result of influence on some level. But having direct influences, that you draw from others, into your own art, to me, has always been pretty corny. Back in the day, what are considered “influences” by today’s standards , would be called “Biting”. I’m more of the belief that real influence is not palpable. It’s nothing you could list or explain. It’s kinda like explaining to a person why your personality is the way it is. For instance, If you were to do that by saying something like:
“well, I’m funny like my friend bill, but i get my timeliness from this girl i used to date and my love of spicy foods can be traced back to my friend paul”
people would laugh in your stupid face and tell you that you’re a loser herb. So, when ever i hear an artist do that with their music, it just rubs me the wrong way. It’s one of those things that sets off my “Bullshit-o-meter” that seems to be go off more often than not when hearing artists talk about themselves and their work. That’s the thing though, artists use their own “influences” an an easy pass for other to understand their music. I get that. people nowadays need to be pointed in a direction before they’re willing to even waste a second of their precious time. But i fear the vast majority of these artists really do believe their own bullshit hype. The best is when someone completely mediocre like 3rd eye blind lets you know they’re influenced by Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. OF COURSE THEY ARE!
I will say this though, there are people who list influences who are spot on. Britney Spears saying she’s influenced by Madonna is a no brainer. Partially cause they’re both talentless whores who made careers without being good at anything in particular , but more so cause it’s 100% fact that Spears not only bit Madonna’s musical angle, she’s managed followed her career blueprint to a tee. Turns out madonna is a little smarter than Britney. Babies + getting fat + more babies = career suicide. Perhaps she’s also influenced by Kirstie Alley as well (but with non-adopted children).
In reality, to me at least, artists are influenced by their surroundings. Their parents upbringing style. Where they grew up. Experiences. Era’s of music they listened to , as opposed to specific artists. I can definitively say that the music i make and have made is 100% a result of hip hop I listened to from 1989-98. Without question. But there’s certainly no one or two artists I could single it down to. It was simply my formative years as music fan. No more ,no less.
I’ve noticed it always annoys interviewers and writers to give vague answers like that cause they want the easy connection. Nothing gets music critics and writers dicks harder than the easy comparison.
When I first came out as a solo artist all I heard was that I sounded like DJ shadow. Shadow was dope ,so this didn’t bother me. But the assumption that I sat in a room studying his work to find inspiration was preposterous. Truth be told, I’ve heard “Entroducing” maybe 4 times in my whole life. Good album, nothing against it all all. I just always preferred listening to stuff with vocalists on it. The few times I’ve said this in interviews, the interviewer has been flabbergasted. As if, it’s absolutely impossible for a person to make the type of music I do without being influenced by Shadow.
Then there are those artists that are so influential, they’re not even worth bringing up any more. Rakim influenced a whole school or rappers. Stevie wonder Influenced a whole school of soul singers. The Beatles influenced rock bands of all genre’s. But acts like those are truly influential cause they changed the landscape of music as it was known. That kind of influence is almost subconscious to most and it spans far and wide. Listing any groups like that in your influences is like saying your favorite food is “all things bread like”.
Often times, I’ll make something , play it back later , and think “huh, that sounds like a _____ beat”. That kinda shit is gonna happen. Remember, now more than ever, there is nothing new under the sun. But People have to learn how to differentiate between “being influenced” and “biting someone”. Influence is that silent thing that makes you do what you do. it pulls the levers without you even being aware of it. Biting is just some sucker shit people do when they run out of ideas. It’s people forcing influence upon themselves.
The difference between the two is of Paramount importance. learn it. live it. Don’t bite it.