Myrlin Hepworth is loath to admit it, lest anyone get the wrong idea, but when we called him at his home one recent Tuesday morning, the local rapper, poet, activist, and educator was watching a documentary on the Eagles. Not exactly what one might expect from an aspiring hip-hop artist. Yet Hepworth, who readily admits growing up listening to the band (as well as to Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations) believes there is a lot to be gained by exploring styles outside the hip-hop/rap realm.
"It's all music, so there's something I learn everywhere. With the Eagles — and I think this will be a big disconnect for people who listen to my music — what I hear are four male vocalists harmonizing in an incredible way. You could say the same thing about the Temptations. That's part of what makes their sound so great. Those incredible harmonies," he says. "I'm just learning how they compose music, how they add layers, instrumentation, and collaboration. It's super-valuable.
"It's not that I want to set out and make a record that sounds like the Eagles or the Temptations," he quickly adds, "but how someone in the Eagles flips a certain number of syllables might influence the way I'm rapping or how I create a hook. There's not a whole bunch of new ideas out here; there's just new ways of arranging old stories."
Hepworth takes those final six words to heart on his latest release, Eulogy and Blue. The album features a darker tone than his debut, The Funky Autopsy, focusing on the cult of celebrity and the negative effects it can have on relationships.
"I don't want to be famous 'cause that shit will kill you," he raps on "Letter to Dave Chappelle," while name-dropping numerous artists and public figures who died too young: Tupac Shakur, Amy Winehouse, the Kennedys, and "too many to mention."
"The shit is about mortality. Life is hinged on death. Everything is about that at some point," he says.
His belief that there are "new ways of arranging old stories" is never more true than on "#27," a song about his uncle, shot in the back for a couple of dollars when he was just 23. The song weaves together his story and its effect on his family, with the old stories of artists like Otis Redding, Christopher Wallace (Biggie Smalls), Tupac, Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, and others who died at or before reaching age 27.
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"It's a crazy fucking song," he says, before adding somberly, "I'm almost older than all these people now."
Not all of Hepworth's work is so dark, though often it is pointed and political. Hepworth doesn't hesitate to take a stand on local issues such as immigration, or national issues that hit at a local level, including the war on terror, Syrian refugees, and school shootings. His songs, sometimes painfully (though purposefully) hit home in exposing "toxic masculinity," police brutality, sexual issues, male rage, and the pervasive teaching of violence to the youth.
"In the 1960s and '70s . . . those artists were reacting to the political climate of the time. Because I love history, I'm into commenting on what we're living through now, but on a macro level . . . And I'm speaking about personal narratives, and the personal can be politically charged," he says. "The purpose of my art is to speak and express the most amount of truth I can reach with my limited amount of time here on Earth."