I sat down with Chicago natives, Lamont Wallace and Zion Richardson, to get a deeper look at the rappers behind Dorm Room Studios. We were later joined by producer/rapper Emik Vayts and got a better insight of what these freshman have in store for UW-Madison.
What is the form of art that you guys practice?
L: We express ourselves through music.
How would you categorize your music?
Z: Simply put, I guess the best genre of music would be Hip Hop, but I feel like at times we’d transition over to Pop or R&B.
How long have you been making music?
Z: Well, I think it depends on how you look at it, because we been rapping for years before now, but we actually just started making music in September.
L: We used to freestyle all the time in high school, but we never, like, recorded anything in a studio until we got here to college.
What influences you guys when you’re making music, where does your inspiration draw from?
Z: One of the main people that really inspires me is Kanye West, just like, how he innovates and never fails to change how people view Hip Hop. Also, one of my favorite rappers is Big Sean, so like, just like the way he rhymes and mixes certain words that you wouldn’t expect together, that’s another point I draw inspiration from.
L: For me, it’s just Rap and Hip Hop in general, like, growing up listening to the Lil Waynes and the– my favorite rapper right now is Chief Keef just ‘cause I’m from Chicago– and just, like, seeing all the different ways that they express themselves. They’re in the same genre but their music types are still different…so just freestyling and, like, being able to put my words and my rhyme schemes into a recording, like, it feels good to listen to yourself rap and listen to your own song on Soundcloud, so that kinda motivates me.
L: Another inspiration would be people singing along to your work– it’s extremely satisfying. They’re like I like when you said this or I like this part of that song and it’s like wow, thank you!
How have you guys been expressing this on campus? So, you guys said that you guys started recording, can you talk a little bit about that?
Z: Well, to start, our group name is Dorm Room Studios because we physically record in a dorm in Sellery, so that’s already involved on campus. And, to add to that, there are different Snapchat stories in the dorms, there’s a Sellery story, there’s a Witte story for the Witte Residence Hall, and whenever we drop a new song we always post to those stories to help get our music out there.
L: We were actually at a party, at The Palisades, and they were inside playing music or whatever and we went outside to like, the balcony area and it was just a ton of people out there, and then I was like Z make this beat, and we just started freestyling in front of everybody that was outside of the party, and after everytime– when we freestyled back in highschool everytime we messed up or ran out of stuff to say, we’d just be like uhhh and that ass was fat, ayyy and that ass was fat and then, we was freestyling and we had met this dude named Emik and that’s who our producer is now, and he was like guys this is catchy, let’s make it a song and we was like what? and we had never thought of it that we could make an actual song. So, we just got in the studio with him and he, like, showed us how everything worked and then we wrote our verses and everything and that’s how we started rapping.
What is some notable work or your favorite tracks?
Z: Well to be honest, the track that everybody likes the most so far has been our first song which is “That Ass Was Fat”, we just hit 7,000 plays on Soundcloud with that one. And, I think the reason everybody likes it the most is– I don’t know whether it’s the fact that we’re telling stories or whether it’s the fact that the chorus is so catchy, but that seems to be everyone’s favorite, they like to call it a classic.
L: I feel like my personal favorite is definitely our new song “Better”. Um, mostly because I just feel like we really hone in on our Hip Hop skills more, like what we’re talking about, the beat. And I like to think that each track is getting better and progressing.
Z: You’re trying to improve each track, like you want each song to be better than your last one, you know?
So, what does the process look like, in terms of beat making, producing, writing, recording, and editing?
Z: So, like, it’s really different just depending on the song. Most recently, the process has been we start off– we make the beat– and then we think what’s a chorus ‘cause like, for us, the hardest part to make is the chorus. Rapping comes easy to us, like we could rap forever but, if you don’t have a chorus nobody’s gonna like what you’re saying if it’s not catchy, you know? So, after the beat we make the chorus, then after the chorus we each write our verses. Then, we say our verses to each other and I might be like Lamont, bro, that’s too weak you gotta go harder and Lamont might say the same thing to me like I don’t think that’s gonna fly, Z, so then we write and edit our verses, then we end up with a finished product.
Could you talk a little bit about Emik’s role?
Z: Yeah, his role, it fluctuates from time to time…first off he has a very extensive background in beat making and producing, so he’ll always be like extremely integral in that process, and he can also rap. On our first three songs, “That Ass Was Fat”, “Gameday”, and “Quiet Hours”, he made the beat and he rapped. And, most recently, on our last song “Better” he helped us produce the song, but he didn’t rap on that one. So, he’s always had that producer role, but from time to time he’ll also have a rapping role on a song.
What is the most difficult part of the process?
L: Like Zion said earlier, the most difficult part is definitely coming up with a chorus, just because, like, we want it to be catchy so that people listen to it, ‘cause like, we could rap for hours and hours, but like, we really think the most important part is definitely the chorus.
Z: And also, the hardest part, because a lot of the times when we’re making music it’s easy for me to think rap-wise, but as far as melodies or just, like, how different tunes go, it’s hard for me to visualize the music that way. Also, rapping about something that’s relevant and deeper than the surface as opposed to just rapping about girls, or money, or cars.
L: Yeah, we really been trynna minimize how much we mention girls and money, and we try not to degrade women as much, and using degrading terms in general.
What’s the best part of the process?
Z: For me, I would say the best feeling is when, like, you know you made some hot stuff and you just, like press play and you listen to it like dang! Hearing the finished result and knowing that you’re proud of the work you put in and the end result that you got I would say is the best part, for me.
L: For me, the best part is when people, like, not praise us, but like, give us credit, acknowledgement and just knowing like, they really rock with our song, and saying oh I really like that or– I just like the validation of it.
Z: Also, I would say it’s a good feeling when they play our music at parties and everybody’s, like, singing along.
What type of feedback have you guys been getting?
Z: I would say predominantly it’s been like positive feedback like we really like your music or you guys can really rap or something around that area, but also we’ve gotten different pieces of negative feedback such as I don’t like the way you address women in this song or this beat coulda been better or something like that. It took, like, a lot of introspection for us to like, just look at ourselves and– we could really rap about more than just the basics, you know? And, you see it a lot in Hip Hop, people tend to rap about the same things, like drugs, girls, money, cars, like, the glorified life, and I think that now we’re in the midst of a transition from rapping about the basics to rapping about stuff that’s still fun but still different in its own right.
Emik: Yeah, stuff that tells its own unique story pretty much.
How do you deal with negative feedback?
E: We put it into the next song and make the song better. And every time something’s a little bit off about a song, we go even harder the next time, and just keep yelling at each other in the studio until we solve it.
L: Yeah, sometimes, there’s definitely a lot of tension in the studio, but that’s just ‘cause we know what we’re capable of, and so if someone’s not reaching their full capability then we’re gonna let them hear it. We take the criticism, we don’t get offended by it, we enjoy it actually because it helps us.
Z: I remember when we were first recording “That Ass Was Fat” I just couldn’t get my verse right when we were recording I kept stuttering and stuff, and they were like do you really wanna rap, do you really wanna say it? and I was like Yeah man, yeah I wanna say it and I got mad but it worked and I ended up flowing exactly how I had to flow, so it’s just taking any criticism, whether it’s constructive or whether it’s like, negative energy and just using it to build on the music and turning a loss into a lesson.
Where do you see Dorm Room Studios in the upcoming years, do you see it getting bigger or keeping the same people?
Z: Ideally I would say, we wanna keep it in the family, so just us three because that’s how it all started, and hopefully in terms of our fan base, I would hope it would increase exponentially. I feel like we could go bigger than just the university area, I feel like we can at least take over Madison, and seeing that we’re from different areas before college we could also send the music back to our hometowns and it could get big in those areas as well.
L: And our theory is that, maybe our hometown friends will play our music on their campuses as well, and anything we do we’re gonna do it 100%, so we definitely, like, have a vision for us going big. We not rapping just to pass time, we takin this kinda seriously. It’s more like a double major if you want to put it that way.
L: We’re currently working on making a music video, hopefully people will enjoy the video and that’ll increase, like, and be way to spread our music more and get out to others.
E: We also want to get a lot of people involved in the video, so everyone can have, like, a piece of it, because I feel like a lot of people supported us while making the song.
Emik, how long have you been producing or beat making?
E: Probably since I was like 10 years old, so probably for 8 years. I also played saxophone and a lot of instruments, I was a band geek.
And, what’s the best and worst part of producing?
E: Probably the worst part is when a track’s mediocre, and it doesn’t, like, have a message behind it or correlate with what you’re trying to say in the lyrics, so you really have to, like mold the song to the message and when I sample stuff it has to correlate with what the song’s about. For example, in “That Ass Was Fat”, the drum sample I used I was just banging on the shower walls, and I feel like it really connected with the whole persona of the song and the raw feeling to it. When we first performed “That Ass Was Fat” it was like at a party and we were just beat boxing and it was like a cypher environment and we wanted the actual beat, we didn’t want some trap beat, to convey the naturalness of the original cypher that we had.
E: The best part is really when you have a final track and you just have a final product, essentially. When you have a certain aspect of it done, it’s the greatest feeling, and then, we’re not really that angry at each other anymore.
Any last comments or shoutouts?
Z: Follow @dormroomstudios on Instagram.
E: Shoutout Free Salad.
Z: Be on the lookout for a Dorm Room Studios music video in the future, and I’m excited for what the music has in store for us in the future.