Chicago hip-hop artist Twista puts a new spin on rap with a Cued Speech video and his ninth album.
Considering he earned the Guinness World Record for “World’s Fastest Rapper” in 1992, Twista (née Carl Mitchell) speaks at a surprisingly normal pace. Actually, the Chicago-born artist — who’s released eight albums and collaborated with the likes of Kanye West and Mariah Carey over the course of his two-decade career — has recently taken to a whole new style of rapping: one that doesn’t involve sound at all. Last month, Twista partnered with Cue Everything, a local organization dedicated to developing and promoting Cued Speech, a visual, phonetic representation of speech (similar to a sign language) that helps deaf people to see sounds and rhymes. “I’m always rooting for the underdog,” says Twista of the partnership. “If someone has special needs, I’m always willing to help that person get to experience something that they normally wouldn’t. I’m inspired by that, deeply.”
In the spirit of spreading his sound to a previously unreachable audience, Twista and Cue Everything worked together to pair the rapper’s new song “Go” with cued speech. The organization even released a music video on their website (Cueeverything.com) incorporating footage of the rapper learning the signs — or “cues” as they’re called. “Actually being able to learn some of the words — being able to [cue] ‘go’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘peace out’ — was fun,” says Twista. “When I started rocking to the beat and [the hard of hearing also] were rocking to the beat, it felt really good to me. Moving and dancing to something that someone can’t hear is big to me.”
For the homegrown hip-hop artist, the partnership with Cue Everything was a chance to give back to his community. “I always want to represent the city. Anything for the hometown. I’m pro-Chicago.” It’s a quality he implores his fellow Midwest rappers to adopt. “When you look at the camaraderie between New York artists or Atlanta or West Coast artists, they really get it in with each other, even if they’re not cool with each other,” he explains. “We definitely need to have an understanding that Midwest hip-hop follow suit and rep [each other] the way they do on every other coast.”
In early July, Twista will release his ninth album, dubbed “Dark Horse.” He’s sticking to the fast-paced style that’s earned his fans’ adoration for all these years (“If you’re a fan [of my first album] ‘Adrenaline Rush,’ you’re going to be a ‘Dark Horse’ fan,” he says), but calling on some of his high-profile friends to add their own twists to the tracks. “It’s going to be a star-studded event,” he says. “When people hear Tech N9ne and Wiz Khalifa, they’re gonna be like, ‘Twista came with it.’ ‘Dark Horse’ is gonna be the bomb.”
But Twista isn’t only concerned with big-name additions. He’s committed to paying it forward and helping younger artists succeed — especially if they’re from Chicago. “All day, I’m always helping some new artist in some way,” he says. “Anything I can do to represent the city of Chicago.”
On his nightstand
“I’ve got science books by my bed. I like reading about biology, space and astronomy. [Right now, I’m reading about] things like the Higgs boson and the Big Bang theory.”
Artists on the rise
• “One of the first people to come to my mind is The Boy Illinois. He’s toured with Lupe Fiasco and is really doing his thing.”
• “Yung Semaj. His lyrics are dope [and his name is] James spelled backwards.”
• “I like Johnny May Cash. He’s Young Chop’s little brother. Young Chop is a big producer in Chicago.”
“I did a song called ‘Lavish’ with Pharrell [Williams]. To watch him work on that song — [I’d never seen] a hip-hop producer display talent [like that] in the studio. The way he came up with the melody for the song, the way he wrote the hook … I was really fascinated by how talented Pharrell was.”
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