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Rising: SJ Rap Duo Tyson onBEATS Find ‘Purpose’

In Music
Amir Tyson, left, and Ridwan Bass (onBEATS), right, each hail from San Jose and are deeply rooted in the local scene.

Amir Tyson, left, and Ridwan Bass (onBEATS), right, each hail from San Jose and are deeply rooted in the local scene.

As is the casefor so many young men and women, Tyson Amir’s college experience was a time of self-discovery and reassessment. It was during Amir’s freshman year at San Jose State University that the emcee and vocal half of local hip-hop duo Tyson onBEATS finally found his creative voice—littered among the glistening shards of broken compact discs.

Sitting at a cafe inside Eastridge Mall on a recent afternoon, Amir recalls how he came to the decision to physically destroy his entire CD collection.

“I wanted to clear the space in my head,” Amir says, explaining how he felt that his collection had become a stumbling block in his creative process. He says he was worried that the very records that had inspired him to take up hip-hop were hindering him—preventing him from finding his own, unfiltered style.

From that moment on, it no longer seemed like he was emulating the stars he looked up to; instead, the words that began filling the pages of his notebooks were entirely his own.

“I really see a difference in who I was as an artist before that and who I became after that,” he says.

Since then, Amir’s craft has taken him to five continents, he’s seen his lyrics translated into Turkish live on stage and was even welcomed to Morocco on behalf of King Mohammed VI.

And yet in Amir’s hometown of San Jose his efforts are still largely overlooked, despite the fact that he’s been called the “Marvin Gaye of hip-hop” by underground king Yasiin Bey, formerly Mos Def.

Amir’s beatsmith and fellow San Jose denizen, Ridwan Bass (better known as onBEATS) shares a similarly impressive resume—with a production discography that includes collaborations with Murs and Planet Asia. Before he took the name onBEATS, Bass went by Fanatik, lived in downtown San Jose with Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter Wolf and was behind the first full-length release on the now influential underground label.

Amir and Bass have been friends for more than a decade. The two met in 2002 through Remarkable Current, an independent label to which Amir was signed. The seeds of their collaboration were sown when onBEATS heard Amir spitting some slam poetry he had written, and the producer wondered what the words would sound like set to music.

As fate would have it, Amir was a fan of Bass’ work on the Rasco song “Unassisted,” which he had done as Fanatik. The emcee approached onBEATS about collaborating and the producer agreed—though it would take some time before they ultimately began working together as Tyson onBEATS.

Work on Purpose, the duo’s first full-length, began back in 2010. Since then, the chemistry that has emerged between the two has been undeniable. According to onBEATS, everything he’s thrown Amir’s way has clicked with the emcee’s style and vision.

“It was natural,” the producer says of working on Purpose with Tyson. “It’s not like I had to go and find beats that I normally don’t like that much or had to change up styles or anything like that. This was a lot of stuff that I was feeling the most.”

That chemistry can certainly be felt on the album’s title track, which Tyson onBEATS rolled out as their lead single late last year, as well as on the duo’s latest single, “We So Fly,” which dropped this past summer. “Purpose” garnered spins on college radio and “We So Fly” gained the attention of tastemakers like Okayplayer, 2dopeboys and even landed a spot on VH1.com.

Tyson onBEATS plan to release their third single, “Karma of the Streets,” this winter—appropriate timing considering that the clip for the song was filmed in the midst of some fearsome Detroit weather during last year’s polar vortex.

Though the song and accompanying video may have a bleak tone, Amir is optimistic about the future of Tyson onBEATS and the momentum the project has gathered thus far.

“If you’re creating a sound that resonates with people on a level where the mind is stimulated, the heart, the soul—if you believe in all those different elements—there’s power in that,” Amir says. “I’m not trying to move people in a specific direction, but I want people to be moved, whatever it is.”

 For more info, check out Tyson’s website.

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