Rap Pioneer Twista Is Still Here, Still Surviving: Interview

“Sometimes people look too far outward, but you should first start inside yourself and then work your way out.”
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Twista, 2020

Sur·viv·al:

(n.)

  1. The state or fact of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances.
  2. An object or practice that has continued to exist from an earlier time.

I associate the word “Survival” with war, and with rap artists. Unlike war, rap isn’t life or death. It is old, though. Old enough to give merit to those artists who continued to exist after the times changed. Though eras may change, classic albums, timeless music, and legendary artists all have one thing in common: They last. 

I thought about how rappers survive the times while interviewing Twista, 46, earlier this month. The highly influential rapper, born Carl Terrell Mitchell, was inside Red Bull’s New York office, speaking with me over the phone before catching a short flight back to Chicago, his hometown, and the city which hosted the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. Twista was excited about the weekend, and equally as enthused about his new, six-song EP, titled Lifetime, recorded and released in partnership with Red Bull Songs and Red Bull Studio Sessions.

“At the beginning of rap, it wasn’t in Chicago like that, and as a fan of East Coast rap, I was rapping more so to please artists and writers in New York,” Twista remembers. “I wasn’t accepted as well as I thought I would be. Rappers would diss me. They would say hateful things. So, I got mad at the East Coast. I said fuck it; I’m going to only rap for people in my city, on my block. Sometimes people look too far outward, but you should first start inside yourself and then work your way out. Once I made that change, that transition, everything flourished.”

At 15 minutes long, Lifetime is a snack pack. Twista recorded the project in Los Angeles over three days with producers Lord Quest and Bixtel as well as songwriters Roken, Crash Land, pineappleCITI, and Jordyn Dodd. Twista lights up when the project’s fifth and best track, “Time Zone,” is mentioned. “[It] gives me a pleasant vibe,” he says before adding, “Shout out my girl pineappleCITI, she helped write that.”

Twista, 2020

Drake’s controversial, career-changing mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late celebrated its fifth anniversary the day before Lifetime’s Valentine’s Day release. How different would the world view that pivotal project and all the participants if the famous Canadian rapper said, “Shout out my guy Quentin Miller, he helped write that” before Meek Mill could send the infamous tweets?

Drake didn’t owe Miller public acknowledgment. He credited the rapper and songwriter on six of the album’s 17 records, but further, public recognition would’ve kept his accused “ghostwriter” from being seen as a blemishing secret. While replying to a question about his experience working with a songwriter, Twista brought up Drake and his overall perspective on rappers and musicians who utilize songwriters. 

“Working with another artist should be seen as an extension of creativity,” Twista states plainly. “Anybody who ever questioned me, or a Drake, or a Kanye, or a Beyoncé, I would say [to them], outdo us.” These are the words of a veteran creative who penned world-renowned classics and doesn’t need validation from anyone, especially anyone who isn’t going to do it better. 

Twista, 2020

It’s been 28 years since Twista’s 1992 debut album, Runnin Off at da Mouth, back when he rapped under the moniker Tung Twista. Several months after the release, The Chicago Tribune published the announcement: “TUNG TWISTA LANDS SPOT IN GUINNESS BOOK.” “He’s been clocked at a record-breaking 598 syllables in 55 seconds,” wrote Mary Stevens, noting the total was 69 more syllables than Daddy Freddy, the previous World’s Fastest Rapper who held the record with an impressive 529 syllables in 60 seconds. 

“It wasn’t a conscious thing to rap fast, it was a conscious thing to be different,” Twista explained to Genius last year. 

When I asked Twista about mastering the flow that brought him notoriety, he cited his guest feature on Doe or Die’s 1992 classic “Po Pimp” as the verse where he knew. “I literally looked in my buddy’s face and told him, ‘I’m about to change the way the whole industry raps when I do this verse,’” he tells me as if it happened yesterday. 

“I had found myself. ‘Po Pimp’ was one of the first demonstrations of me coming full circle to what and who Twista is and what he should sound like.” —Twista

Self-discovery has led rappers to experience career-changing creativity. Losing oneself has left just as many sounding victims to the times. When asked if he struggles with maintaining a sense of self, Twista got candid:

“Throughout my career that would come out, and everybody would go crazy over that artist. So for a few months, I may get lost and would forget what I need to do. I’ll always get a full circle reminder, like, dude, you gotta be you. In the middle of my career, I would always get lost and refind myself. At this stage, I realized who I am and I’m comfortable in my own skin.” —Twista

As a living rap pioneer of the world-famous double-time flow, author of a wildly-celebrated No. 1 single, and countless other classics, there’s a certain reputation that will forever surround Twista. He’s made the records, influenced a generation, and is still releasing new music with a brand partner like Red Bull and performing at summer music festivals. He’s active, always present, and still enjoying almost three decades of surviving the times.

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