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September 30, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
*CORRECTION: Rapper XV's name is Donavan Johnson. An earlier version of this article misspelled his name.
Hip-hop: The world of the beat, the hook, the rhythm and the rhyme. It’s a world seldom invaded by techno beats, tempo changes and, well, comic book nerds. But nerd-turned-rapper XV defies the standard by singing softly, rapping hard and performing even harder.
At 25, Wichita, Kan., native Donavan Johnson, who now goes by his rapper name XV, is building his sound by pairing it with slow melodic tunes, pulsating electronic cadences and even voicemail messages. With a youthful yet deep voice and a refreshing articulation, XV raps about current events, his personal life and of course, Star Wars.
Where: Jesse Auditorium
When: Oct. 6, 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $20, $18 for students
XV’s music puts a futuristic twist on a classic beat. Collaborating with artists such as Ne-Yo, Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa, XV takes risks with his sound to ensure versatility. Boasting a smooth delivery reminiscent of Drake and a beat similar to the sound effects of R2-D2, XV’s playful sound packs a punch with razor-sharp lyrics.
XV plans on standing out by challenging the norm. He draws lyrical inspiration from personal experience, but he won’t be singing about life on the streets or thug living with gunfire in the background.
XV’s music is more about energy, inspiration and fun. “I’m a huge homebody, so a lot of my music is more about friendship, relationships, about dreams,” XV says. “A lot of other people’s music is based on real life, the struggle, the street. I never knock it. That’s their life. My life has always been about dreaming, and a lot of my music is based around that.”
A self-declared loner, he enjoys a night in, playing video games or reading The Watchmen, his favorite graphic novel. Aside from his laidback personality, XV’s style will set him apart from the Eminems and Snoop Doggs of the industry.
“I’m like the John Hughes of hip-hop,” XV says. “If John Hughes made music, if you were able to put those scenes and that color in music, you would get my music.”
XV has already been on the music scene for a decade, and the reminder of his youth serves as constant motivation. His rapping career began at age 15, which is the meaning behind the name. With a high-energy sound, XV brings that youthfulness to every track.
“I’m trying to make an album that’s like the everyday life of a young person,” XV says. “It’s not too hard, and it’s not street. I see all my music in color, so I want my first album to be very bright.”
That brightness translates to XV’s performances, which are marked by a liveliness that left first-time listener Katie Bickley in awe. “He has one of the best stage presences I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Bickley, senior chair of MSA’s College Music Committee at MU. “I have not seen a better hip-hop performance live.”
XV says his biggest obstacle was getting out of Kansas and being noticed by a major record label. That problem is a thing of the past, as he signed with Warner Brothers Records in July and is currently touring the country with other artists.
His 13th mixtape, Vizzy Zone, dropped on Sept. 9, and his debut album is expected in March 2011. Until then, he’ll perform with stars such as Mike Posner and B.o.B., both of whom XV has worked with before. “It’s crazy,” XV says. “A lot of these artists I’ve seen grow from day one. I worked with Mike Posner two years ago. I did a show with B.o.B. when I was 19 or 20.”
XV’s music is the spark behind the track, the slow hook on a fast beat; it’s an outspoken expression of his originality. On Oct. 6, he will bring his personalized sound to Columbia. And after the show, it’s back to his bunk for some Xbox.