5Qs With: Greenspan
He’s known for his rapping, but Greenspan, born Brian Dawkins, should have become a pianist.
“When it came down to going to piano lessons, when I would figure out the song, I would look straight at my fingers,” he said. “The teacher would tell me to look at the music, but like, I can’t see the keys if I do that.”
He chuckled and turned away to look out the window in the vacant studio we sat in at Maryland Art Place. Triggered by another detail of his piano playing days, he snickered, and confessed his short attention also prevented him from being master of the keys. “I’d be at the piano and be doing shit, but then drift off,” the rapper said. “I always felt I was missing stuff happening outside.”
Now, at 29, and with what seems to be better work ethic, his alternative career in rapping doesn’t seem so bad. He has a number of accomplishments including having been sponsored by Toyota car brand Scion for his first release, Got Green. The Baltimore native has even shared stages with artists like Wiz Khalifa, Slum Village, Wale, Mac Miller, Big Sean, Stalley and Skyzoo, to name a few.
And now, he can add ‘CreativeMornings guest speaker’ to the resume. Greenspan will be discussing April’s theme of ‘Humility’ at Maryland Art Place. Surely no longer taking any projects for granted, he still regrets not being able to play the piano as well as he knows he should. But, the Baltimore native is bound to accomplish that someday.
“My kids are definitely gonna know how to play!”
Living vicariously through your children -isn’t that what they’re for?
Here’s our 5Qs With.
What was your first set like, being Greenspan? Uh, nervous? Ha, but I’m still nervous when I perform. I don’t know. As a matter of fact, what I do remember, there was a spot –a vegan spot, called the Yabba Pot, and one of their locations at the time was on Washington Boulevard. But upstairs, they used to do like shows, or whatever. So, I remember that the crowd wasn’t too big, so I’m like Imma kill it, ain’t nobody there, so I don’t care. Whatever. Then one of the Baltimore hiphop artists that I look up to, Ogun. Right before I was about to go up, who walks in the door? Ogun. I’m like, shit! This was before him and me became friends, I just knew him from the stage, and we met and all that, and he was one of the guys I used to watch and pay attention to to get my performance down. Like, he just controlled the room, controlled the stage so well. But yea, I was nervous, and as I said the crowd was light, so those nerves went away and [I] got a little cocky, but then he walked in, and all that shit went away. Like, what the fuck is going on? But it ended up being, I guess, as good as it could be for my first ever performance.
What inspires your music, your lyrics? Life and experience. Everything is written from experience, so honest emotion. Musically, I’m inspired by Marvin Gaye, and stuff like that. Recently I was doing a record and it sounded to me like Sly Stone. I had my guy put guitar to it, and I was like, this might not sound like Sly, but upon hearing the groove, I just kept hearing Sly, haha.
Dope music inspires me, as well. Not just dope lyrics, but I like vocal arrangements and working with singers and bands -live musicians, rather. So yea, good music inspires me. Life and experiences inspire me, as well.
Humility. What does that word mean to you? I mean, humble. That’s what I’m going to be talking about. I’ll define it as far as Wikipedia and Webster’s is concerned, but as you go deeper into the word -the root and etymology of the word -the root, it comes from “humus,” if you will. I say “down to earth” but it’s like “lowly” according to the definition, like a lack of importance. The more and more the definition went on it’s like, damn, you’re making someone feel down-right poor, like a peasant. And in my opinion, you can be of high importance, high in value, and still have a level of humility.
You can be the guy creating opportunities for people, and being a blessing to somebody else, but not have such a pride of authority. You can create opportunities for someone else and not need a pat on your back. You give for charity, or whatever it may be, and you don’t need recognition for it. I believe you can be of high value or importance, but still humble.
So what are we in for on Friday? Well, my perspective, for real. I’m going to try not to ramble, haha. But, yea, I’m just going to give people me. This is kind of my first speaking engagement, for real. But not really, but really. Haha, whatever. I think the format will be more of a dialogue with Katie. And yea, it’ll be me and my perspective on the word and ways to look at it. I’m going to be talking about some of my experiences -some very humbling experiences.
Can you share one of those experiences, now? Sure. This is the first one that comes to mind. Last year, May 30th, we did an event called Baltimore Indie Fest, and it was a -well, we made a big deal out of it -and the thought behind it was it was supposed to be a recurring thing -annual. And it was great. It was 8×10 in Federal Hill. Packed it. Yadda yadda ya.
My cousin, Che-alyn Mitchell -we called him “Lor Fal” -was there. It was the first time he had seen me perform. I had a song with him in it, because he was in jail at the time when I wrote it. So the first time seeing me perform, first time hearing that record, first time hearing it and it was live, with the band, it was a great night. I shared a bottle of Dom Pérignon with him, which was beautiful. Three days later, he was murdered. You feel what I’m saying. So it was like, from being on that high…
We were at a recap dinner for everybody that put on the Indie Fest, and we’re there talking about Indie Fest when I got that call. I just lost everything. I just broke all the way down. And that was June -June 3rd. And till the top of September, I was unproductive. I couldn’t do nothing. So, talk about a humbling experience. I remember I was booked to to perform, I remember, June 26th, which was at 347, at the time. I got to the last song, which was that song, [and] I lost my shit in front of everybody. I did, while explaining that record. I was explaining it, then broke it down, and it was just too emotional for me. I just couldn’t get through it. Everybody that was there, my people -my cousins, my guys -they helped me up. It was an unforgettable experience.
Special thanks to Greenspan for the chat, and to Maryland Art Place for the location.
Check out Greenspan’s latest music video Perfect Timing.
Registration for your free tickets are now available. Head to creativemornings.com to reserve your seats now. Strangers With Style is a proud partner of CreativeMornings Baltimore.