Yung Lyricist stands out in a lot of ways. It's not because we've settled on a crowded and overwhelmingly Caucasian La Jolla restaurant for an interview. It's not because, as a rapper, he looks disarmingly underdressed in a plain white tee and jeans that actually fit. A small diamond stud in his ear and shiny Nikes are probably the only thing that might get him confused with his musical peers, whose idea of “casual” might be to wear three carats instead of five. And it's not because, unlike many of those peers, he doesn't drink or smoke, rarely uses profanity, attends church on the regular and never degrades women.
What makes Yung really stand out is that, in a city that's rarely mentioned in the same sentence as hip-hop, he might be the underground scene's biggest talent you've never heard of. This, while also sticking to a moral code that's rarely seen in any debauched music scene.
“I try to stay humble. I never tell myself I'm good,” Yung explains over bites of a curried lamb wrap. “You get comfortable—that's when you start declining in skills. Never content. I'm happy people like my music, but I'm never satisfied.”
In a San Diego scene that has all too often focused on blunts, balling and bitches, Yung clearly represents that new breed of MC like Kanye West, Common and Lupe Fiasco (whose lyrical flow Yung most clearly resembles) with emphasis on issues of the heart rather than ho's.
“I think rap's in a midlife crisis right now,” he explains. “We're just really trying to find ourselves again. People aren't making music because it's emotional and a way to express yourself. People are just using it as a tool to make money. It's not even creative.”
Perhaps if Yung had grown up as Calvin Smith in Logan Heights instead of Mira Mesa, his subject matter would be different. The 20-year-old was once a 2Pac-loving kid who carefully balanced his love of thug life with his love of church life. He didn't really start getting serious about music until after high school, but since then, he's released two free mixtapes on his MySpace page, where he raps over existing beats. It's on songs like “That Girl,” “Make Her Feel Good” and a remix of M.I.A.'s “Paper Planes” that Yung's real passion comes out.
“I get all my inspiration from Marvin Gaye when I'm talking about the ladies. Nobody beats that man. I'll probably never be able to match it, but strive for perfection and you're gonna come out good.”
Nonetheless, he openly acknowledges that it might be an uphill climb for him. He rightly calls out local radio stations for not supporting San Diego artists trying to make it in the game.
“They don't play any local artists at all. I had a cousin come from Texas, and he was, like, ‘You guys don't have any local artists on the radio?' It was crazy to him.”
He points out the stigma of being a rapper in a city that's not exactly getting national attention. “We just don't have respect yet. I wanna get signed to a major [label], get national exposure and put San Diego on the map.”
Until then, he'll continue to plug away on his site and blog, while also studying fashion design at Mesa College. A sequel to his mixtape The Way I Feel is on the way, and while there are plans for a proper LP, Yung mostly sits in his room with a mic, listens to beats and gets that indescribable feeling that helps him write up to four songs a day. Is he the best rapper out there? No way. The most talented rapper to come out of San Diego? Probably not. But what he represents is a youthful beacon for all the untapped talent that has gone unnoticed because it originated south of Long Beach. Yung Lyricist might not yet be the prophetic talent that will put San Diego on the map, but give him time and he very well could be.
“I'm just trying to give people an alternative. Something different. From kids to adults, I'm just trying to reach out. No restrictions. I wanna make music for everybody.” He laughs, adding, “But mostly the women.”
Check out www.myspace.com/ylyricist.