Abhishek Iyer, known by his rap alias Shake, is another aspiring South Asian rapper hoping to make his mark on Chicago’s growing rap scene. He has already displayed his talent to freestyle over hip hop beats via his YouTube channel, and he has created numerous music videos including a ‘Derrick Rose anthem.’
Despite being unsigned, Shake continues to push to make his name and has released the first video from his debut mixtape album,‘About Time’ titled ‘Dreams Without Money.’
I catch up with the rapper in this QnA.
Tell us a bit about yourself Shake?
What up world?
I was born in Chennai, and I grew up in Ahmedabad, Gujarat (India). I moved to the U.S. with my family in 2002, and I have stayed in the Chicago land suburbs since then. I rep Chicago because it is the best city in the world.
Nowadays, I work 9 to 5 in sales, and I make music on the side and promote my art whenever I am able to. It is a challenge juggling the two lifestyles, but it is fun at the same time. I’m working hard to create a successful career in music and my 9 to 5 job. Hopefully, my music becomes my primary career and I can make a living off just doing music one day. My music is created totally independently from start to finish. I put the ideas together, get the songs recorded and mixed at the studio, and then create a vision for the final product. Nowadays, my main objective is to handle my office job, family life, and promote my music successfully all at the same time.
How did you get into rapping?
The first time I heard rap music was the year I moved to the U.S. in 2002.
50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying was the hottest CD out at the time, and a friend played me the P.I.M.P remix by 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg. We were on a field trip to an amusement park and I remember putting on the headphones and staring out the window of our moving school bus and being absolutely blown away at the fact that this genre of music existed. I was always into poetry, speeches, and singing, and I loved music that made you move to the rhythm. Hip-hop and rap combined all those elements.
The music was unlike anything else I had ever heard, and I was hooked. This was in the 8th grade. Since then I started scribbling rhymes whenever I could, rapped along to whatever rap song I could memorize, and started recording to hone my craft. I recognized my knack for it and just ran with it.
I have a lot of musical influences. Anything from Bollywood, to country music, to hip-hop, and EDM, and everything in between and outside.
My biggest rap influence is definitely Eminem, and my favorite rapper right now is Wiz Khalifa.
How did you come up with your rap alias, Shake?
It’s a pretty simple rap name. My real name is Abhishek, like the famous Indian actor Abhishek Bachchan. Since my name’s pronounced ‘Uh-be-shake’ and its pretty long, my fraternity brothers in college started calling me Shake. The name stuck, and I didn’t want to ‘create’ an alias or manufacture a rap personality for myself. I just wanted it to be me, so I stuck with Shake as my rap name. My best friends call me Shake, so it would be my name regardless of whether I rapped.
Describe your rapping style? How does it differ to other aspiring South Asian rappers such as Alpha Singh and Rex?
I’d describe my rapping style as fluid and simple. I try to stick to rhythmic flows and melodic rhyme patterns. To me, ‘how it sounds’ and ‘how I say something’ is more important than ‘what I’m saying’. B/c in my opinion, the sound, and flow is what catches people’s attention. Once the music hooks you in without having to pay attention to the words, you will naturally pay attention to the words because you’re interested in connecting more with the music. I still choose the words I use very carefully, and try my best to keep it clever, funny, and entertaining.
My music is also very personal, and I aim to make a connection with each listener as if I made the song just for them, and they were the only person listening. I do it as if I am talking to the listener one on one, and telling them about my life.
I think Alpha Singh and Rex really do their thing on tracks, and we all have very unique styles. We all come from somewhat similar origins, and have some similarities, but the way we paint on our canvases is vastly different. You will find a lot of common themes amongst the topics we talk about, and will find a lot of unique strengths in each one’s music.
I’m guessing you’re a huge fan of Derrick Rose! With almost 40,000 YouTube video views for ‘Derrick Rose Anthem,’ how do you feel about that?
That was one of the best moments of my life. I give all credit for the song’s success to my friend Savrut who gave me the idea to make the song. The timing was perfect. Derrick Rose won the MVP award that season, and the whole city was going crazy over our star player. The experience of watching something you created rise in popularity by the minute is a tremendous feeling. The internet and technology have made the impossible possible for every kid with a dream to say what’s in their heart. My friends and I took advantage of the resources and time we had in college to create something beautiful and spread it across the city. My friend Sirish made the video and was the genius behind all the awesome clips and edits.
It was just an awesome time for everyone who was part of the movement because of how organic the product was.
I borrowed money from my parents to book a couple hours at a local studio. We shot the video on a $80 flip cam that I bought, and Sirish put the video together on a half-broken Mac while skipping class and sitting in our college apartment.
It was an amazing experience overall.
You are a proud member of the Alpha Iota Omicron brotherhood? Just out of curiosity, what is that?!
Alpha Iota Omicron is the best fraternity on the planet. We are a band of brothers. We are all individuals, but we stand together as one. I joined the fraternity during my freshman year of college at the University of Illinois. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I have an older sister, and because of my fraternity, I have a group of brothers who have my back till the day I die.
You’ve displayed an ability to freestyle with the Thrift Shop freestyle and 3.30 AM freestyle. What goes through your mind before you spit over the beat? Do you just sit down, press record and then your rap flows naturally? Or do you think about what you want to rap before you record?
In my opinion, ‘freestyle’ is when someone plays you a beat, and you use whatever words you have. (Previously written or thought of rhymes, or totally fresh new material that you didn’t write or think about). Both kinds of rapping are freestyle to me. If you just have bars on bars on bars on a song, no hook, and you are just rapping, that is also a freestyle to me. It doesn’t matter if it’s planned or unplanned. A ‘freestyle’ is basically a rap that is not a ‘song’ in the traditional sense of the word (No hook, no specific song structure).
The Thrift Shop and 3:30 A.M. Freestyles are written and practiced raps. I am not going off the dome on those. However, I can rhyme off the top just as easily about things happening around me or do a pure improvised freestyle.
If there is too much going on in my mind before I rap, I am going to mess up. Thought doesn’t have much of a place for me when I am doing something creative. I close my eyes, clear my head, and let the music guide me. I try not to over think it.
Freestyling gives me a lot of joy because it is rapping just for the sake of rapping. There is no business involved. The material is raw and very close to my heart. I am speaking because I need something off my chest, and I want to entertain at the same time. Freestyling is a huge challenge, fun activity, and means to get better at the same time. I love the feeling of being in a cypher and spitting rhymes just for the sake of the art. Even though I love freestyling, I am terrified of doing it because you are put on the spot and you have to deliver. But, I relish the opportunity to do it whenever I can.
What is the reaction from your family and friends regarding your aspiring rap ambitions?
My family is super supportive of my rap ambitions and do all they can to encourage me. My friends are just as supportive. I wouldn’t be doing this without the support I have because without my friends and family I am nothing. I am constantly moved and inspired by the people around me. I have never felt the pressure to follow my parents’ dreams or do something I wasn’t comfortable with. My friends and family give me the utmost confidence to pursue my dreams. Amongst friends, everybody has their special talent, and mine is rapping. There are always people who are excited to hear me spit.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you may have a music video in the works? Since then, how has that progressed? What was the plan for the music video?
I shot the video, it is in the editing stage, and has the potential to be my biggest release till date. I leave the rest up to God. Lot of things have to fall in place for it to release according to plan, and have the impact I want it to. Things are progressing well, but still no definite date on the release. I encourage everybody reading to say a quick prayer and hope for all to go well!
The video idea is awesome. I don’t want to ruin the suspense, but it is shot at Classick Studios in downtown Chicago, my #1 recording spot. The video is for a 5 minute ‘freestyle’ over Chingy’s ‘One Call Away’ and the shots came out looking pretty sick. I’ve teamed up with talented videographer Nick Brazinsky for this piece. Google him and check out some of his work if you are bored!
Have you considered rapping over Indian styled beats?
Hell yea. I love rapping over Indian beats. My sister thinks that those type songs would be extremely popular and I agree with her. I just want to do it at the right time, and do the whole product justice when I put together a song like that. If I do something like that, I want it to be huge. I want it to end up in the next Karan Johar flick complete with a dance number and myself in the movie.
As an unsigned artist, what do you feel you need to do in order to continue to get noticed, and to become a signed artist?
I think what I am missing is consistency, and a little bit of good luck. I am confident in my craft and feel that I have a long ways to go before realizing my full potential. I feel that I have barely scratched the surface with how good I can be. I just want to work hard, and let the chips fall where they may.
My music isn’t big enough to attract label attention yet, or get me to the level I want to be at. I am just focused on getting better and doing my best. If the path for me happens to be signing to a label, so be it. Same goes for doing my thing independently, and same goes for rapping remaining a hobby and something I do on the side.
I am not concerned with “making it” or “becoming famous” anymore. I think that could be the biggest obstacle in a person’s progress. It definitely became so in my experience. Now, I’m just focused on making good music and putting out good material. When the opportunity arises, and situations present themselves, I plan on acting accordingly and seeing where the ride takes me.
Are there any producers that you would like to work with?
I would love to work with Rishi Rich, Timbaland, Drake’s producer ‘40’, and Kanye West, just to name a few. I would be excited to work with anybody that’s talented, and makes good music. There are so many talented producers out there, many that are unheard of. Who knows which producer will bring out the right sound? I’m all ears to anybody and everybody that’s got it.
Thank you for your time Shake.
You are most welcome Sunny, thanks for the feature. Keep doing what you are doing.
The single ‘Dreams without Money’ from Shake’s debut mix tape album ‘About Time.’ This single and the rest of the album is available to listen and download by clicking here!
Follow Shake on Twitter, like his fan page on Facebook, visit his YouTube channel and add him on Instagram via the links below.
Check out my previous QnA with another South Asian rap artist, Rex, from Chicago by clicking here.
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