The Quiet Intellect Of Lyriq The Misfit
I first saw Lyriq The Misfit a few months back at Tonic Room. He was the opening act at the All Smiles monthly showcase and I was taken with his performance. He was tall, with a full beard, hitting his lines on the mic effortlessly, yet with conviction. I was surprised to learn he was just 22 and relatively new to music. As we sat down to talk at a quiet cafe, he told me about how he was born in Chicago, but moved to Green Bay when he was 5. "As a kid, it was amazing because I got to be a kid and not worry about all the things that come with being a little black child growing up in Chicago."
While he loved many things about Wisconsin, there was a feeling of being an outsider that was hard for him to shake. Moving back to west side Chicago when he was 18 only threw him off further, feeling as though he had loose connections to his culture that were not perceived as legitimate. Thankfully, he’s found spaces where he’s comfortable and feels like he has room to grow. “Presently, I’ve been finding a lot of spaces that don’t make me feel like that. Definitely, previously, I felt like there wasn’t a place for me. Growing up around predominantly white kids, going to school, and you know my dialect changes. I started to speak clearer. A lot of shit where people say, ‘You’re definitely black, but you’re not black enough for the black kids.”
Lyriq is that potent combination of quiet and intelligent that leads to big things. He has an observational approach to life, and believes in self improvement and independence in the music business. When I ask him about the significance of his name, it’s the most obvious answer that one could derive: Lyriq is a nod to his love of words and lyricism and Misfit is a nod to his introverted nature. Both these things come accross completely. He seems a bit stand-offish at first, almost uncomfortable discussing himself. But once the conversation opens up, he reveals a perceptive person that understand the importance of marketing and playing to his own strengths.
We discuss the realities of being a new artist in a sea of low-cost, instant music where fans move on quickly from things that don’t grab them. “People don't owe you anything. They don't owe you anything. You have to work for that. And when you get it, you gotta work to keep it.” Lyriq believes it is his job to earn the listener’s ear and lure them into his sphere. “I think about music in the same sense as food. If I give you a taste of something, I want it to lead up to something much bigger that will leave you feeling full.”
His first project, 95 Til' Googolplex The EP, is 8 tracks full of vivid, poignant imagery over knocking beats. From the opening track ‘95 Til’ you can hear the strong voice he has. It is reminiscent of the nasal sound of Vince Staples, but deeper and more smooth. At a a level of pure sound, his voice alone could carry the music.
Lyriq doesn’t rely on this though, and his fast, open approach to songwriting allows for a genuine feeling to come across in his music, something that feels like it’s coming from a place of personal truth while relating to larger issues in society. “A lot of it sounds like I’m tackling a lot of big issues. It might seem like I’m talking about something that’s going on elsewhere in the world. But it always comes to cliche shit, like ‘if you want to change the world you have to change yourself.’ He will listen to the beat only only one time and then write to it before he records, giving himself a stream of consciousness that ends up feeling cohesive.
This talent for cohesion has led him to stick with the album format despite the going wisdom that new artists should focus on singles. He feels that his work is best received this way and that you can get people excited about an album as long as the product is great and you advocate for yourself. When talking about putting out albums he says, “It works if you do it right. Granted, you have to be musically inclined, but you also have to be aware of how to market yourself. Especially if you’re an independent artist and want to stay an independent artist. You have to learn these things. You have to learn both sides of the trade. A lot of people try to neglect that and they try to have other people do it for them. And it’s like, ok if stuff goes wrong, how you going to know what goes wrong if you don’t know the other half of it?”
This wise attitude may have rubbed off from those he looks up to musically. Lyriq is a part of the lauded youth organization Young Chicago Authors, which fostered people like Chance the Rapper, Saba, and Noname. These are all artists that are showing ways the be an impactful independent artist on a national level from Chicago, and he looks to them as models for how to remain a sustainable artist.
Lyriq has a certain patience and believes that if he works at his music and remains humble, it will get the right reaction from the right people. YCA is headed by Kevin Coval, a celebrated poet and organizer known for being an influential figure in the Chicago creative scene. When discussing Kevin he says, “He was one of those people to where if you try to get his attention before it's that time, you're not going to get it. So my attitude was take this serious. Show him how serious I am with my craft and we'll take it from there. When I started working on Indigo Soul and I started spitting those at the open mics, he was definitely paying attention and definitely reached out.”
Indigo Soul is a potent project that deserves more attention than it’s getting, but it seems like Lyriq has a larger arc for himself. The songs sound great, playing with some of the same sonic landscapes that rising star Ravyn Lenae is known for. He can go from boastful to insightful in a way that makes sense, in the same way he can go from romantic to sexual. It’s an impressive effort, showing why he’s peaked the interests of people like Kevin Coval and figured out how to gain traction online. With his talent and strong mindset, there’s little doubt that he will be a recognized voice in Chicago before long.