11) 2084 (Ronin)

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At some point during my last semester of grad school, I started feeling nostalgic about high school (lol) and started listening to all of the music that I listened to back then. This mostly consisted of Hieroglyphics and Living Legends, the two crews that have influenced my rapping style the most. Even though Pep Love is hands down my favorite Hiero member, Tajai has been another one of my favorites and his mixtape Sleeping Giant was on heavy rotation in my iPod back in 2008. One of the standouts from this mixtape is a track called “Authentic Intelligence,” which is originally from a previously hard-to-find EP called Projecto: 2501. What I love about this track is how its relatively simple and straightforward beat allows Tajai’s vocals to take center stage with his remarkably technical and varied flow. Since this track’s original EP was relatively unknown and out of print while I was in high school, I was never able to listen to the whole thing until 9 years later when I found it on Youtube. So one night while I was writing my thesis, I finally listened to the entire thing.

When I listened to it, I instantly fell in love with track 4, “DigiDestruction.” Much like “Authentic Intelligence,” this song features a simple and straightforward beat that allows emphasis to be placed on Tajai’s flow and rhyming schemes. It lasts for almost 6 minutes and contains no hooks or choruses. What I enjoy most about this song, however, is the storytelling that Tajai implements, especially near the end of the song when he describes a shootout that ends with him getting sniped in the back and dying. After playing this track on repeat for a while, I was eventually inspired to make a track with a simple, straightforward beat that would tell a story with no hooks or choruses over the course of 6 minutes. The story would take place sometime in a dystopian future and feature lots of action scenes and shootouts in order to remain exciting over the song’s entire length. This is how “2084” was born.

I started “2084” by making a simplistic beat with nothing but drum sounds and looping it for 6 minutes. Afterwards, I focused on creating the story line. The lyrics would first describe the world where the story takes place. Then, they would describe the role of the narrator in this world. Afterwards, they would launch into story-telling mode for the rest of the song. The world would be a future dystopia where the country is run by an authoritative tyrant and all forms of art, expression, speech, and media are heavily suppressed. Meanwhile, the narrator would be an artist who speaks out against this suppression and other injustices through his music despite the danger that it puts him in. Lastly, the story would tell of an assassination attempt on the narrator by the government and the action that occurs during his escape. After struggling with different elements of the story’s plot, I finally settled on the narrator getting shot at during a performance, taking out his would be assassins, escaping the city in a stolen police car, hiding out in an abandoned house during the night, then getting in a massive shootout with tons of police during the song’s climax. I had a ton of fun while I was writing the lyrics and intentionally made parts of them completely over the top and unrealistic for entertainment purposes.

After I finished that draft, I was happy with how the song started but dissatisfied with how repetitive it ended up being. Since I was pretty sure most people wouldn’t make it to the end of the song, I decided to scrap that beat and replace it with something more exciting.

Once I released this song, I knew I had to explore this world more in later releases. I originally thought this would occur as a future concept album that tells the story of a lone warrior named Ronin who battles various forms of evil and injustice in a dystopian future.  When I started ordering the songs on Origins though (which was still called Left Field at the time), a natural progression began to take shape from being completely powerless at the beginning of the album to being very powerful at the end (“2084” was always going to be the last track since it would not work anywhere else). That was when I realized that the Ronin concept could work for this album if I treated it as Ronin’s origin story. This is what caused me to change my stage name from Ry-Man to Ronin and title the album Origins. I even changed the title of “2084” to “Ronin” for a brief period, although I eventually decided to keep the original title. That way, it would be obvious that the story takes place in the future.

Even though I was happy with the Soundcloud version of this song, I didn’t think it was a good fit for the end of the album. So for the third time, I decided to scrap the beat and replace it with something else. Since I was pressed for time at this point (I was in the process of finalizing the mixes for Nick), I dug through the vaults for an old beat to repurpose instead of starting a new one from scratch. This led me to an instrumental for a song called “Awakening” that I had been working on with Gabi. This song was supposed to use an extended metaphor of a beast (such as a dragon or something) waking up from hibernation to describe the increase of open racism during the beginning of Trump’s presidency. It was divided in two distinct parts: an atmospheric yet threatening section that consisted of nothing but a kick drum and a synth, and a chaotic section that consisted of heavily compressed drums and a deep synth bass. The atmospheric section would feature Gabi describing the beast waking up from hibernation while the chaotic section would feature me describing the chaos and destruction that it causes throughout the world. We eventually scrapped this song in favor of “No Place Left” but once I rediscovered it, I decided that it would make a great album closer as the “2084” instrumental. So I rearranged it in a way that caused the atmospheric section to occur during calm sections of the story and the chaotic section to occur during action sequences. The final result is the song that you hear at the end of Origins.

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