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On his new song, “My Moment,” DMV native Moses Stone speaks of his journey from the U Street music scene to his current placement on NBC’s singing competition The Voice, on which he performs his blend of bouncy hip-hop, pop, and soul. He grew up in Landover and Laurel, and says he uses those experiences to strengthen his art. Stone, now living in California, spoke with Arts Desk about being on The Voice, his local upbringing, and transcending DMV hip-hop.
Washington City Paper: How did your upbringing in the DMV influence your artistic direction?
Moses Stone: I’ve seen a lot and observed a lot of different things, it definitely influenced me. I write about real life and real situations, and things that people can relate to. I’m trying to bring a positive message within the music. I’m always trying to touch on different things, whether it’s something that happened in my life, or something that may have happened in a friend’s life that I observed. I definitely try to pull my inspiration from life in general.
WCP: So what life experiences have you pulled from so far?
MS: I’ve definitely seen a lot of violence in the area. D.C. has struggled with violence and I’ve been around that. I’ve seen friends go through certain things. My older cousin, who actually got me started in music, was murdered in Washington, D.C. and I took from that. I learned from that experience not to move into that lifestyle, so I try to tell the kids to do something different, because if they don’t have any other options, that’s likely the road they’ll take.
WCP: I read in your bio that your older cousin introduced you to rap music. What kinds of artists did you listen to?
MS: He had me listen to a lot of 2Pac, Biggie, B.O.N.E. Thugs-N-Harmony, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, a lot of West Coast stuff and a lot of go-go as well. So it was sort of like a mixture of all of those things. I certainly pulled a lot of inspiration from 2Pac, just the way he would tell stories. He wasn’t really a metaphor rapper. He would keep to the story and it was just something that people could understand—-from young to older. It just connected with everyone and he’s definitely a big inspiration when I write music. I analyze the lyrics and really try to bring a message to my work.
WCP: From what musical genres do you draw inspiration?
MS: I’m half-Jamaican, my father’s Jamaican, and my mother’s American, so I pull from a lot of old reggae classics, from Bob Marley to Third World. My father used to play a lot of rock stuff as well. It was really a collage of different music because I try to be eclectic as an artist. I love to rap sometimes, sing at other times and I like to incorporate live instrumentation with that synthetic sound. I consider myself a rapper, but overall I’m an entertainer. I’m feeling however the music hits me, then I go in that direction.
WCP: You come from an area that’s saturated with an endless array of rappers and singers. What makes you stand out from the other MCs that D.C. has to offer?
MS: I’m really about pushing the boundaries of a lot of different things, and I’m not afraid to try different things. I don’t really consider myself just a rapper. I’m touching into a lot of other genres. A lot of times, I think rappers stay in one box and stick to a singular frame of mind. With me, I’m always looking to take the risk and really push myself to the next level. You can’t be afraid to blend, grow into different things, and reinvent yourself every time.
WCP: Have you found that your fusion of sounds don’t always work?
MS: You just have to know who your audience is. At the end of the day, if you have something to say and you have something that can relate to other people, it all connects. I think you have to know your boundaries and where you’re trying to take the music. You don’t want to take things so far left that people can’t get it. It’s like, “here are a lot of different genres,” but it still makes sense to people. I would definitely say don’t take it too far left. Definitely experiment, but keep it controlled where people can actually understand where you’re trying to go with your music.
WCP: Describe your ascension to the national level. How did you go from the DMV to getting placements on MTV, BET, and The Voice?
MS: I remember being in the DMV when there wasn’t really a hip-hop scene. I used to do a lot of shows on U Street—-Bar Nun, Georgia Avenue, Howard [University]. I used to do a lot of stuff there. I used to travel back and forth to New York. My parents are definitely a big part of my career. When I was younger, my mother and father would take me to auditions. That’s how I got the MTV placement. My sister saw it in the paper, my mother told me about it, and I just started practicing for it. I went to New York, did the audition and got it, and moved on to other things. It was the same for 106 & Park. It’s definitely a family experience. They’ve always been supportive of me and my music.
With The Voice, I moved out to California two years ago. I was living out here for two years, then I got homesick and I went back to D.C. to get myself back on track. I did a lot of music out there and worked with a lot of artists. Then I came back out here to California and a casting director said he loved my music. They sent me an audition invite. At first, I was kinda taken aback. I didn’t know too much about the show at the time, I just knew it was a singing competition and I didn’t know if rap would make it in that kind of show. It was definitely God-given.
WCP: How has the experience been on the show?
MS: I love the show, I definitely think it’s been a great experience. It’s definitely gotten me the opportunity to be in front of a lot of people, and perform for the world. This is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life and now I’m getting the opportunity to do that. It’s a learning experience too, because you work with legends and future legends. My coach Christina [Aguilera], I’ve been learning so much from her. With this experience, it reminds me that you can do music, and do a couple shows here and there, then get on a show like this. It’s definitely been a huge blessing.
WCP: The argument in D.C. hip-hop has always been, “we have so many great people here, but we’re not on a national stage.” What kind of advice would you give to independent artists to advice their careers?
MS: You can’t stop. You always have to keep going strong. I feel like every person has their moment in their respective lives. You gotta keep working hard at it. A lot of times, people will work for something, then they’ll stop. With music, you have to be passionate, you know. With every artist, you have to keep growing. You have to grow as a person as well as an artist. You can’t stay in one box. Don’t ever give up on yourself and keep believing.