Chicago rapper Ausar is no stranger to performing live, but he knows the importance of setting the stage. The rapper sat down with buzz ahead of his set at this year’s Pygmalion Festival and discussed the Champaign-Urbana music scene, his musical inspirations and the impact of rap music.
buzz: How did you get into music? What’s the Ausar origin story?
Ausar: Well, music has kinda always been a thing for me. My mom had been singing in the church choir basically since I was born. At times, she would call me up to sing solos with her — and those are probably my earliest recollections. After that, I took piano lessons for a few years until we just couldn’t afford them anymore. But it wasn’t until my mom got married that I found a real love for hip-hop. I was really close to my older brother, Nick, who used to sit and listen to instrumentals all the time. To earn cool points with Nick, I said that I was interested in instrumentals, too, so we would listen to different beats and artists like Game, Lupe, Common and Mos Def. My oldest brother, PJ, also put me on to a lot of music, specifically Pharrell and the Neptunes. Together, we would all sit and make beats, rap and write in our basement and see who would come up with the best verse. Since I’m competitive, I just wanted to be better than my older brothers, so even when we weren’t together, I’d still write. And that, rapping, became something that I enjoyed and love. Then, when I got to college, I joined this organization called WORD, which stands for Writers Organizing Realistic Dialect, and they were the ones who kinda gave me the push to start putting out music for real. It’s been history from there.
buzz: You’re originally from Chicago but are now based in the Champaign-Urbana area. What differences do you see between these respective music scenes?
Ausar: A whole lot — and honestly, although both are supportive of artists, the amount of support that Champaign offers is actually ridiculous. Because everyone genuinely wants everyone else to succeed, there isn’t this hyper-competitiveness that you’ll find in other cities. Everyone is close-knit. In Chicago, it’s a little bit more competitive, but I love how buzzing it is. When I go back to the city, it’s just a whole different feel. I feel more inspired because there’s an abundance of talent, and I want to establish myself there, too.
buzz: As a relatively newer musician breaking into the music scene, who have you looked up to in the industry?
Ausar: Well, my favorite rapper is Common. My favorite artist, in general, is Lauryn Hill. Of course, being from the city, I have to mention Ye (Kanye West) and Chance (the Rapper). Chance, specifically, gave me the confidence to feel like I can do this. Though I’ve never met this man a day in my life, we’ve always been 2 or 3 degrees removed. Like, the grade school that I went to — he was there the year before I graduated. I graduated with his little brother, Taylor Bennett. A lot of the things that I’ve been a part of, he’s been involved with, including T.I.P. Fest. The year after he threw, the next year I performed on the same stage. It’s just one of those things that I’ve always found interesting and encouraging, and he’s a person I find to be influential.
buzz: Is this the first time you’ve played Pygmalion? What expectations do you have going in?
Ausar: This is the first time I’ve ever played Pygmalion, and I’m super excited. I want my set to stand out because we’ve been working hard rehearsing for it, and I feel like it’s cool, so I hope everyone else thinks it’s cool, too. I know there’s going to be lots of local talent killing it also — like Melvin Knight, Stoneface and CJ Run — so yeah, it’s going to be a really dope experience in general.
buzz: Will you be showing off any new tunes? What are you currently working on/hoping to release soon? What are your goals going into the show?
Ausar: I will definitely be previewing some new music, and it’s some of my favorite stuff that I’ve written thus far, so I’m super excited to show everybody. And, in terms of the things that I’m working on right now, I’ve been writing and recording for my next full-length project, called “David,” which is set to release on “I-don’t-know-when.” And other than that, I’ve been working on this EP series called “Me & My Friends,” which is basically like joint EPs with some of my favorite artists.
I just want to set the tone. I know we’re right before (Playboi) Carti and CJ, so, you know, I just want people who are going to those shows amped for that. And I want people to make a mark. I want people to remember who I am after the show is over. I want to connect with the audience and spread a message because I feel, more than anything, that should be my goal when I’m on stage — to make sure that my music sticks with people and is life-changing.
buzz: Who are you most excited to see this year at the festival? Non-locals and locals.
Ausar: Well, in terms of locals, definitely all of them because all of them are my homies! You know, Melvin, Stoneface and CJ Run. For non-locals, I was excited to see Clairo and Eryn Allen Kane, but they couldn’t make it out this time, which is okay, because I’m sure I’ll run into (them) eventually. I’m also really excited to see Carti. I think it’ll be a dope show and I want to be a part of that.
buzz: What does being able to play in a local festival like Pygmalion, with so many diverse bands, mean to you? How does preparation for this show differ from others?
Ausar: It means a lot to me. This is the biggest platform I’ve had thus far in terms of being on a festival bill. And I will say, in terms of preparation, I’ve never prepared this much for a show this much in my life; it’s honestly been a learning experience. And although it’s been somewhat difficult, I’ve truly enjoyed every minute of it.
buzz: What is your advice for someone who is on SoundCloud, or trying to make it in the scene and really passionate, but also very frustrated with their art?
Ausar: In all honesty, you have to keep going and let God lead you. There are going to be dark spots and there are going be light spots. You just gotta roll with the punches and realize that, if it’s for you, God will make a way. But I’m a firm believer that you can be phenomenal at whatever you put your mind to. So, keep putting the work in.
buzz: What would you say rap music has done for you, and what do you think rap music has the power to do for other people?
Ausar: Rap music has, although it’s so cliche to say this, but, like, it really has changed my life and created opportunities for me that, otherwise, I probably never would’ve had. And I know that this is a platform for me — and I want to continue to do this for the rest of my life and progress and grow both extrinsically and intrinsically. What’s more, it can help other people through their hardest of times; it can give a message. Music is meant to resonate, and when it resonates in the right way, it can transform your life.
Catch Ausar at this year’s Pygmalion Street Stage on Saturday from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.