Lightshow spits with an unmistakable fervor. The DC rapper brings street tales to life under the guise of danceable tunes, floating somewhere between hard-edged bars and sumptuous melodies. It’s a bit of a bait and switch, the way we nod our heads to Lightshow’s music before realizing the depth of trauma he’s bringing onto wax. In that breath, the 27-year-old holds our attention in more ways than one.
“I try to take the lessons I learn and tell somebody else,” he tells me over the phone. Lightshow’s music is about living in a meaningful way, and he takes it upon himself to use his stories as fuel to guide the listener onto a better path.
On his upcoming album, If These Walls Could Talk 2, arriving August 23, the rapper glides from cutting stories of violence and gun-related trauma to vicious brags, to smooth cuts to ease our ears. In the vein of Nipsey Hussle, Lightshow exists to motivate the listener while taking them on a tour of his neighborhood. His music is welcoming and necessary. According to Lightshow, he must go down as a DMV staple.
“DC’s influenced my sound because coming up in DC is difficult,” Lightshow admits. “It hasn’t quite gotten to the industry level, so it’ll humble you, just that balance between being who you wanna be and doing what you have to do to survive.”
And survive he has. If These Walls Could Talk 2 sounds like the work of a man determined to make it, who’s also in the process of arriving. “I learned about patience and timing,” Lightshow says. “When it comes down to doing projects, I love putting out complete bodies of work. That’s my favorite thing to do. I feel like each time I do a project, it’s a different chapter in my life.”
With a feature from local legend Wale and tracks defining his neighborhood with deft humanity, Lightshow’s time in the limelight is coming without question.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Tell me about the first rap you remember writing.
Lightshow: The first rap I remember writing, I think, was a song for my talent show at school. Man! It might have been to the Clipse “Grindin’” beat. That might be the first song I ever wrote as a child.
Who else influenced your style as you understand it today?
With that beat and them being from Virginia, [Clipse] had an influence. Nelly and the St. Lunatics had an influence. JAY-Z. I always liked groups. Jadakiss, I was big on Jadakiss, coming up. Nas. Stuff like that. I was influenced by hip-hop in general. I’m a student of the game.
Talk to me about how DC influences your sound.
DC’s influenced my sound because coming up in DC is difficult. It hasn’t quite gotten to the industry level, so it’ll humble you, just that balance between being who you wanna be and doing what you have to do to survive.
I love the title of the new project If These Walls Could Talk 2. It feels like you’re getting into the trenches to deliver stories and life lessons. Was that the goal?
I feel like I make motivation music. My mom always used to say I’m like a preacher. I try to take the lessons I learn and tell somebody else… If I could find a cool way to express certain lessons that I have learned, where someone can make a bit of a better decision because that’s what my life’s been about: learning. Find a way to motivate myself through [life]. I definitely wanna give the listener something to think about.
The album is so pure in how you pen each narrative. Which song on here was most essential to get onto wax?
Wow, do I have to say just one? I think it’s all the introspective ones. Like, the intro, “East of the River.” Just because, where I’m from in DC, east of the river and the connotation of it… It was important for me to start the record off like that. Even though we come from a wild city, it’s also a big city. Just being able to capture that stuff on wax, means the most to me.
Where does the need to be honest in your music come from? Right now, online, it feels like endless and empty flexing is king.
That’s what I can offer! That’s what I do. If I'm not honest, there’s no point to it, man. I always came into this saying that I was gon’ make sure I tell my truth and give my honest opinion on whatever I talk about. So, whoever hears it, they can relate in some way. I said to myself a few years ago, if I could just put my honest to God feelings—whether it makes a girl look at me funny or make someone say, “Dang!”—the people who know and do their soul-searching, they gon’ say, “Yeah, I relate.”
What’s one thing you learned about yourself as a man while you were writing these stories?
I learned about patience and timing. When it comes down to doing projects, I love putting out complete bodies of work. That’s my favorite thing to do. I feel like each time I do a project, it’s a different chapter in my life. It’s like if y’all only knew what’s been going on. From the stuff I can talk about to the stuff I can’t talk about, I learned how to be patient. Keep grinding through anything.
Who do you want to be in the scope of the DMV and DC rap scene?
I want [people] to know the difference between the areas. Right now, in DC, we don’t get as much of a look. It’s because we can’t show our city in the same way certain places can show theirs. I approach the game differently, and I want people to understand why. I want them to know it’s deeper, it’s [a] documentary-style view.