Hip hop virtuoso Shears '06 to release latest album in March
Anthony Shears seems like the average Dartmouth junior: he wears a giant jacket, wool cap, backpack and carries his laptop under one arm. But when he opens up his iTunes, it's not just famous artists' music -- Shears' own rhythms and harmonies flow out.
Few are aware of the soft-spoken Shears' talent, maybe because he exudes modesty and graciousness that one does not usually associate with hip-hop artists. He has released several records and is known as a rising star in the underground rap scene. His newest album, "The Growth," is scheduled to hit stores in late-March.
Although he recently transferred from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Shears hails originally from Seattle. He came to Dartmouth for the New England college experience as well as the Economics program. He makes the ten-hour trip home approximately eight times per term to work on his music with collaborator Zack Gannes, a.k.a. DJ Phonetic.
Influenced by family and a natural drive for music, Shears began writing songs and producing recordings at age nine. Music came naturally to Shears, who grew up listening to Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G. and L.L. Cool J. The L.L. Cool J. single, "Can't Live Without My Radio," inspired a young Shears to follow his love for making music.
"I was always encouraged by my mom and family to try stuff out I could always rely on their support and approval," said Shears.
His hometown of Seattle -- which gave rise to music greats such as Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and other innovators -- influenced Shears's interest. In eighth grade, Shears won a national K-Swiss music contest, collecting $450,000 for his school and more for his own musical endeavors.
By tenth grade Shears's fascination with the music business blossomed and he formed the Shears Music Group, a company to finance his music. Shears wrote lyrics and performed them, backed by the music of DJ Phonetic. The combination of Shears' hip-hop lyrics and Phonetic's rock-heavy piano and guitar background tracks create a truly original beat. Phonetic brought samples into the mix to add a whole new dimension to the pair's rhythms.
While Shears spits lyrics reminiscent of L.L. Cool J or Jay-Z, the music is a hip-hop base with hints of Nirvana and Hendrix. Original, catchy and hard to categorize, it's so professionally done it's hard to believe two full-time college juniors are wholly responsible for it.
"Essentially, for me it's not about putting my music into a box. Hardcore rap, gangster rap, pop rap, commercial whatever. I'm not into that. I make music. I try to make music that everyone can relate to, even if you haven't had the same experiences," said Shears about his music's style.
Even with DJ Phonetic at Western Washington University and Shears at Dartmouth, the pair's collaboration remains strong. Their recent collaborative effort, "Welcome 2 Seattle," has sold well under an independent label, mostly due to underground buzz and a strong Seattle fan-base. Performing at a Seattle youth center called "The Mission" and at colleges such as Bryn Mawr has only strengthened their following. Shows at Smith and Dartmouth are in the near future.
With his quiet personality, it is easy to sense Shears' discomfort at the prospect of performing live. He admits he is more of an in-studio type of musician; however, he is willing to perform, if only to broaden his audience.
"We want to spread our music like rock groups used to do it -- build a fan base and then gradually make it big; not like the big acts do it now, with just one big song and then they're huge for a short while. We want to be working for awhile," said Shears.
With his obvious talent and already impressive resume, it is dumbfounding how mellow and modest Shears appears in person. While praising his collaborators and influences, he plays down his own image with humility.
However, finishing their newest album "The Growth" has been a tumultuous process for Shears and Phonetic.
"Basically, the 'Growth Mixtape' is a soundtrack to the last nine months of my life. I've had a lot of stuff happen some stuff I don't talk about, but I did do a lot of venting on this project. This mixtape is about growing up, which over the last eight to nine months, I did a lot of," said Shears.
By March, "The Growth" should be readily available to the public. Lead by the single "Mea Culpa," it promises to bring Shears and Phonetic to a new level of fame. Guest vocalists, guitarists and other musicians grace the songs written by Shears and mixed by DJ Phonetic. The project is immensely important to Shears, who has dedicated the recording to his late father, who passed away during its recording.
"Everybody hurts, everybody cries. I don't use a stage name, because I'm speaking to my audience as Anthony Shears. These are my real life experiences, stuff that's really happened to me," said Shears.
Even if he never makes it big as a musician, Shears will probably always be involved with music -- talent and passion like his simply cannot be ignored.