The following is an interview with C.Y.N (an independent hip-hop artist based in Athens, GA, via West Virginia, via Philadelphia) before the release of his short film “Wake Up.” We will upload the film for viewing next week also. We also showed his first film “Fuck Radio” when it was released in 2016. In this interview we talk about C.Y.N’s influences, how he’s involved with his community, and his cultural shock of moving to West Virginia from Philadelphia as a teen.
SD: First of all, thank you again for sharing this short film with us, which, like your previous film “Fuck Radio”, feels urgent and necessary. So, what immediately shook the shit out of me was that the first words of the film are, “Why are you here?” And the answer is, “Because I’m supposed to be.” That simple statement goes against all of the messages black people receive in this country. I felt that everything that followed in the film kept subverting those messages. For instance, you, the writer/rapper sort of takes a back seat in the film, and your community is more present than you are. So the “I” in “Because I’m supposed to be here” felt like the community to me. Is any of this relevant to your process of creating the film?
CYN: Me taking a back seat, was exactly for that reason… I wanted to show them what was going on instead of just standing in front of the camera rapping about it. When I answered the question “Why are you here” I feel like I’ve found some of my purpose to be here in this day and time, because of where I come from, what I’ve seen, and I’m still alive to talk about it. So I feel like I’m here to truly WAKE people up, and to show them things that they only hear about. In a way that only I can.
SD: Your answer got me thinking of the people/artists/educators who came before us who felt the same way you do, about feeling the need to wake people up, shake shit up, raise hell, etc. I know it’s not easy to point to a singular source of inspiration, but could you point to few people or places or events or art that woke you up?
CYN: Most definitely I can. As far as people go, I would have to give credit to my dad, Eric Patterson, for just introducing me to different people and their causes. People like Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, etc… By him doing that, it allowed me to find out who these people were and the reasons for their movements. As far as art goes it’s a few pieces out there that I can say “Woke” me up, but the one that comes to mind right now would have to be the Statue of Liberty. She’s suppose to represent freedom, democracy, and justice… But her feet are still in chains. And for places it’ll have to be southern West Virginia. Being from Philadelphia and growing up around so many different cultures, when my family and I moved to WV in early 95′ it was the biggest culture shock of my life. Because before then I had only watched, read & seen movies regarding hard racism, but little did I know, WV had it waiting on me in living color, or lack there of. From the kids to their parents it was like I stepped into 1965. My first week at Welch Middle (Go Waves!) I witnessed a racial fight, maybe about 5-6 black kids & about 8 white kids. I was used to the mass fights, “rumbles” what we called them in Philly. I had even had a few war wounds myself (#2 pencil to my stomach) but even if we got to fighting on Monday morning we were all cool by Tuesday at lunch time. But what I witnessed in WV was very different… It was just a dislike from both sides, it was pure hatred for the person who didn’t look like you.
SD: Oh man, I was involved in that fight you were talking about (and the one the year after)–a few white dudes had called us niggers and we called them crackers so we all “agreed” that we should have a huge race fight. Anyway, I’m surprised by your Statue of Liberty image—I didn’t know her feet were in chains so I’d never thought of it that way, but I see what you’re talking about. You moved from Philly, to West Virginia, and now you live in Athens, GA. Community is a big part of your work, especially in the latest film, so in what ways do you think each of these communities helped shape you as an artist?
CYN: Funny you ask that, because I’m working on a HipHopumentary talking about exactly how all three areas help shape me into the artist I am today. So you gotta stay locked in for that answer.
SD: You can’t tease like that. But I’ll be patient though. Okay, back to the film. The scene where y’all are at the table discussing issues and plans for the community: I assume they were all leaders of different parts of the community, but I wasn’t sure exactly. Could you explain the different positions or roles of the people at the table?
CYN: Yeah, I try not to deal with anyone who doesn’t motivate me in some sort of way. All three men who were at the table with me are leaders in their own right & movement. Dictator & 3-10 are both artists who’ve been a part of the Athens HIPHOP scene for years. Koomie is actually a tattoo artist, and in my personal opinion, the best in Athens, GA—he’s also affiliated with the Growth & Development movement. I knew regardless of where they stood, this community means a lot to them, so it was easy getting them together and talking about real issues.
SD: That’s cool to see folks from different parts of the community getting together to have difficult conversations and collaborating for better solutions. Can you talk a little more about the Growth & Development movement?
CYN: Just a group of men who may have went through some trying times, and struggles, who try to show the next generation a better way of living.
SD: When you first showed me the film, just to see what I thought about it, I mentioned that I loved everything except for the graphic at the end that says WAKE UP. I told you I thought it was maybe too preachy and you could take it out. But your response, which I appreciated, was, “The WAKE UP stays.” Your response got me thinking about why was I concerned with being “too preachy.” Why was I being cautious around your art? It’s something I have to think deeper about, but now I’m thinking that some of my caution, or fear of being too preachy, might be related to caring about white audiences. Anyway, I learned a lot in that moment of your response to me: The WAKE Up stays. I felt a lot of power behind it, and it’s something I need more of as a writer. So, why did you want to the WAKE UP to stay?
CYN: “The Wake up stays” means just that, it had to stay… what is the point of any of this if we’re not trying to wake people up, make them open their eyes to the current events in the world? Even though the “Wake up” is at the end of the film, it’s truly the beginning of the much-needed conversation. No it won’t be an easy conversation, or heavily agreed upon conversation, but it’s needed to start the process of changing things. Not only in our communities, but around the world. I overstood where you were coming from when you said it may be too “preachy” but the great thing I think we accomplished with the film is that it affected everyone who’s seen it in a different way. So by the time they get to the end of the film, even though the effects may be different, the purpose is the same, the message has the same volume. Because we can’t fall asleep at the wheel, we have a lot of work to be done.
SD: Because I’m always curious, and you know this a sitting-on-the-porch question just so we can keep drinking and talking shit: What are your 10 favorite albums?
CYN: It’s Dark and Hell is hot – DMX
Confessions – Usher
Doggy Style – Snoop
Share my world – Mary J Blige
American Gangster – Jay-Z
S. Carter Vol2 – Jay-Z
All Eyez on me – 2Pac
Philadelphia Freeway – Freeway
The Miss Education of Lauryn Hill – Ms. Lauryn Hill
Only Built Cuban Linx (Purple Tape) – Raekwon the Chef
Tical – Method Man
C.Y.N. bka Cool Young N.I.C.C.A. is an independent hip-hop artist based in Athens, GA, via West Virginia, via Philadelphia. Since 2011, he has been the label head of WORK FOR IT Ltd. CO. C.Y.N had released six mixtapes (most recently “Take 3: Street Symphony”) and two short films, “Fuck Radio” and “Wake Up” along with numerous live performances, some on famous stages like Vinyl in midtown Atlanta.