I couldn’t count on two hands the number of times my friends in Provo rallied on a Friday night to see a Can’t Stop Won’t Stop show. They were a cult favorite in every sense of the word, bringing fresh hip-hop beats to a thoroughly straight-and-narrow-minded audience. Two years after leaving the P-town, I met the man behind the movement: David Eff.
David Eff and the other half of the group, Davey Hawkins, met in 2007 through a mutual friend Hawkins served an LDS mission with. A casual friendship turned into casual jam sessions, and when David Eff saw Hawkins’ band “The Kid-You-Nauts” perform a show entirely comprised of hip hop covers, the idea was born. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop officially formed in 2011, and after a number of singles, released their first full-length album, “Wildebeest,” back in June.
(You may have recently heard their single “Scrape the Sky” featured here)
Thanks to Steve Jobs and the internet, David and I were able to chat about the wild world of a white Mormon rapper.
R: So you are a white, Mormon rapper. Can you explain how that came to be?
D: I realized I was white and Mormon pretty early on in my life, but hip hop always really spoke to me. I’m a sucker for great lyrics above all else in music, and hip hop had the most lyrics per square foot. I made this my full time job, and as such became a “rapper”, when I realized how bad I was at working for other people. I feel like I’d been experimenting with it for years, and getting pretty good feedback, but didn’t decide to go all-in until 2011. I just had to see if I could make it work.
R: How would you describe your sound?
D: We like to throw around the term “revivalist rap”, because it feels a little more accurate than terming it “old school”. It’s definitely born out of the tradition from some of the great artists that founded the genre (Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, etc.), but we don’t want to be a neon gimmick. Fact is, we just don’t go for much of what is on the radio now. There’s very little emphasis on creativity, which I think is one of the most underrated blessings of growing up in the church. You learn how to have fun creatively, and to make it accessible to everyone.
R: What does the Eff stand for? Flip? Fudge? Freak?
D: Eff started as a tongue-in-cheek joke about the way Mormon kids curse (in text conversations, that’s always how they spell it). My middle name starts with an F, and as such, is technically an F word. I changed it on Facebook, but it quickly became my nickname, and now I like to say that it stands for effort.
R: E for Effort. I like that.
Based off the lyrics, rap culture seems to be dominated by drugs, sex, alcohol, and fly hunnies climbing poles. How do you operate within that as an upstanding Mormon boy?
D: I don’t bother. I rap the way that I like to rap, and I have a great following to substantiate the idea that I don’t need to do anything other than that. I think so much of what sets CSWS apart is the shock factor. People sit up and take notice when they hear two unassuming white kids start rapping like we rap. Even if some of it is bombastic (which is usually a joke in itself), it never feels… wrong. You can listen to the tracks with whoever you want. With regards to that though: A lot of consumers don’t listen to lyrics. It’s sad and often startling. I have heard some GNARLY songs played in polite company, and the radar isn’t even blipped. Pay attention, people!
R: Would you say being Mormon has helped or hindered your career? Honest answer.
D: Absolutely helped. We’ve discussed many times the fact that we since we started in Provo, we had to engage crowds in a different way, and using different energy. I also think that putting up some confines in the revision process of writing, helps drive better results, creatively. Plus… the Mormon mafia loves us.
R: Haha. The Mormon Mafia is a loyal bunch.
It must be annoying having to turn the other cheek to all your haters. What’s the most difficult part of being a Mormon rapper?
D: Oh, I’m fine with haters. They often spread the word as much as fans, and are typically less credible. What’s a little harder is the doubters. It’s almost universal. I’m not sure that’s specific to my religious beliefs, but with this profession, people really feel qualified to ask for proof. “Oh you’re a rapper huh? That’s cute. So what do you do for money?” I just have to swallow it and realize that what I do makes a lot of people happy. Not everyone gets to say that.
R: What makes it worth it for you to choose to be Mormon?
D: The idea that we can be fundamentally changed through forgiveness and the atonement is reason enough. My adherence to the gospel, and to the promptings of a loving God, have lead me to a better life than I once imagined for myself. I don’t just mean that I was lead to an interesting career path, though I surely see his hand in what I get to do. I mean that I have experienced many systemic changes in myself that I used to not believe were possible. My faith saw me through years of depression, challenging emotional setbacks and even many physical trials. I choose to be Mormon, because I know what Heavenly Father has done for me, and I still have a lot of paying it forward to do.
R: I buy that answer. On that spiritual note, if you could feature any one of the Apostles in a song, which one would it be?
D: If Elder Maxwell were still around, he’d be my ace. That was a guy who really knew the power of words. Of the options that are currently with us… I think President Packer (if he really dug deep) could add a great raspy “WHAT” to the tracks that would sound like we had DMX featuring. Too bad he won’t return my calls.
Well, we’ve got some experience with rappers and apostles. We’ll see what we can do.
You can find CSWS music on Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, and wherever else great music is consumed. You can find David Eff roaming the streets of New York city doing hood rat stuff with his friends.