For LA rapper Sahtyre, love comes later. He’s spending the daylight hours of Valentine’s Day working on a video with Open Mike Eagle of their hip-hop crew Swim Team. They’re two of the next-gen LA MCs tipped by Customer Service member and Low End Theory resident Nocando—whose Jimmy the Lock debut roared into the world last month—as part of a new set of originals ready to make their mark on independent rap. Sahtyre (pronounced “satire”) had just recorded a new track that does for Valentine’s Day what last year’s Sahta Claus EP did for Christmas—and after he’d had his way with Yuletide, there wasn’t much left but eggnog spatters and a chalk outline. The rapper explains why he thinks these kind of holidays are silly: “If you love somebody, you don’t need Valentine’s to do”—and then a phalanx of police and fire-engine sirens tears the rest of his statement to shreds. “Sorry,” he apologizes over the phone, “but I do live in LA.”
But you’d know that as soon as you heard Sahtyre’s music. He’s yet another ferocious MC with a Project Blowed pedigree—an artist’s artist and technician’s technician who can scan the four corners of any given intersection and give you one line to make you laugh and another to leave you stunned. The world-famous Leimert Park open mic might have just passed its 15th anniversary, but it still trains MCs for onstage combat. And that’s where Sahtyre really comes from. His debut, High Saht, came out last year, but he’s been battling at Blowed since he was 13 years old and went by his given name of Cassidy Howell.
“It was all through Kail,” he says, remembering the formidable Customer Service rapper whose Hollywood Squares was a sleeper monster in 2008. “He heard me spit and said, ‘Dude, you need to come here. You’re good for 13, but if you really, really wanna get good, you have to come here.’ I used to sneak out my window every Thursday night. I was supposed to be in bed and going to school the next day because I was super-young. But my homie just got his permit, and we’d literally steal his dad’s van and roll out to Blowed every night for two years. And we never got caught. It must have been destiny!”
Now 22, Sahtyre’s a member of the 10-strong Swim Team, a new Blowedian crew with a rising profile and rapidly expanding potential. And he’s a respected battler and survivor of the World Rap Championships (among others) who has years of experience chopping out fine and ferocious (and finely cadenced) attack tracks; in numerous YouTube clips, you can watch Sahtyre shark-bite opponents, then curl into a defensive crouch while they gnaw back.
What’s he thinking when bearded Dirtbag Dan is deriding his very humanity? “I try to take myself out of it and feel the crowd,” Sahtyre says. “I wanna be a spectator in my own battle. A lot of times in a high-pressure situation—a battle rap or shooting a free throw or anything like that—you have to take yourself out of the moment and observe. Take like—an omnipotent kind of view! It sounds kind of spiritual, but you have to be one with that moment.”
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He was actually studying philosophy in college—back when he was going to school. As discussed in the song “J.O.B.,” he dropped everything to go full-time into music. And he understands why philosophy isn’t always regarded as the most dynamic pursuit: “A lot of philosophers are boring as fuck,” he says and laughs. But to him, philosophy is everything. The point, he says, is to always look at things from new perspectives.
At his home, the only rap you’re likely to hear is by Sahtyre and his friends. Otherwise, anything goes—Hendrix, Radiohead, Lily Allen, piano concertos or old blues songs, all of which, he says, help him develop as an artist. “Earlier today, I was talking with my homie Alpha from my crew,” Sahtyre says, “about how when blues and jazz musicians started out, they were Africans trying to produce African music—on American instruments. That led to techniques like guitar-string bending—trying to achieve a song on an instrument that was not made to make that sound. To me, that’s so beautiful. People knew what it sounded like in their heads and knew what they had to do to create that—to manifest that in reality, that’s the epitome of being an artist.”
Sahtyre performs with 2Mex, DJ LA, MC Prototype and Late Bloomers at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona., (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Tues., 7 p.m. $10. All ages.
This article appeared in print "Battle-Tested: LA rapper Sahtyre on rap-attack techniques and the importance of being omnipotent."