Droppin’ Knowledge: Behind The Boards With Baltimore’s Zen Master Of Sound, Shine

And we back…nah, nah, nah…

Veteran Baltimore, Maryland producer Shine recently released his new album, As The Beauty Became, a lovely and luxuriant collection of mostly instrumental hip hop that pulses and hums with an organic vitality. This contemplative set of nine tracks also includes two sterling guest cuts, one with Brooklyn’s Nappy Nina, and the other featuring Old Line State neighbor Jurdan Bryant of Spillage Village, two emcees well suited to Shine’s sound and aesthetic.

The 27-year-old musician, who is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, has been working on his art over the last ten years and has produced tracks rapped over by Bryant, Mac Miller, EARTHGANG and JID. In 2017, Shine and Bryant released the EP, Sankhara, (at the time credited to Shine & JurdxnBryant), a beautiful collection of atmospheric, jazzy hip hop.

In 2020, Shine released two short, effervescent collections of music, Today Again and Alone Time. The three track sets shimmer and sparkle, teeming with life, and a gentle, meditative groove. Shine creates a bright sound, where hight-hats snap and keyboard washes rise to create a rich aural landscape of laid back and soulful beats.

As The Beauty Became begins with the meditative “REBIRTH (INTRO),” which includes a soothing vocal loop and gentle piano. The sound drops and stutters, and the music ends with an affirmation. “SELF DOUBT” features a chorus of “oohs” and percolating electronic sounds. “STILL LEARNING” finds Bryant rapping over what sounds like a sitar on repeat, the beat holding him up but still giving him plenty of room to breathe. In “TRYING,” keyboards crest and splash, and ethereal electronics are accompanied by a percussive, disembodied “ah,” enveloping the listener in sound.

Nappy Nina joins Shine on “Prayer,” the seventh cut on the record. Shine and Nina take us to church, lift our spirits and remind us of all the beauty the world has to offer, because we sometimes forget, especially over the last year.

As The Beauty Became is both powerful and quiet; a sensuous album that rewards the listener with repeated spins.

Recently, Shine spoke to Backseat Mafia about his art, the new album and some of his favorite Baltimore spots.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for publication.

What inspired you to create music? What inspires you everyday to create?

I first got inspired to make music by seeing my older brother and cousins doing it as a kid. I remember watching my brother use a karaoke machine to lay vocals on cassette tapes in like ‘99-’00. I was like, that is really cool. I wanna do that too. Plus a few of my cousins were also doing the same thing around this time. It just seemed like something natural to get into. I gravitated to it organically. I started out rapping at first. My first memory of making anything was recording a verse off the top of my head to the Missy Elliott “One Minute Man” beat! I was like 7 or 8. Something like that. I had a verse, and my older cousin had a verse. It felt so divine and purposeful. I wanted to keep doing that.

Everything inspires me honestly. Life itself. Experiences. Learning new things, self-reflection on my own personal growth is substantially inspiring. Seeing those I love passionate about things. Other people’s art I admire also, inspires me greatly. Music, movies, paintings. As a musician, I feel like there’s always something to grab from. I don’t like to force it though. I try to let the inspiration find me, instead of vice versa.

 If someone asked you to describe the “Shine sound” in one sentence, what would you say?

Soulful and authentic.

How did you come up with your artist name?

My artist name “Shine” is derivative of my actual name “Deshon.” My older cousin gave me that name when I first started taking the music real serious. We recorded a song on his old pc with Cubase at the time. It was my 13th birthday actually. We had the mic setup in the bathroom and made like 10 songs that weekend. Good times! My name at first was actually D-Shine, but I later shortened it.

Where is your favorite place to create music?

My favorite place to create would have to be in my crib. That’s where I’ve always made music since the beginning. It’s always where I feel most comfortable. I’ve moved and lived in different places over the years, but wherever I live I usually set up in my bedroom and just vibe out. I’ve recently been placed in a situation where I now have a dedicated space in the house for making music, which is dope. I think I’ll always enjoy making music where I live the most. It’s my safe space. Where I can be vulnerable and free off all doubt and restrictions. I do want to experiment with creating outside in nature more frequently, too. Stay tuned!

What is the one non-musical item you must have with you when you are creating?

The one non-musical item I must have when I’m creating is peace. It’s not anything tangible I can think of that I NEED, but I can’t make anything solid without peace of mind in that moment. Clarity. Creating is such a meditative experience, I’d prefer no disruptive energy.

Are you a vinyl crate digger? If you are, do you have a favorite place to dig? A shout out to your favorite record store in Baltimore? 

Oh yeah, most definitely. I have been grabbing records since high school. When I first moved to Baltimore, around 16, I didn’t necessarily come up collecting vinyl but something I got into later. When I first started making beats and sampling, it was definitely exclusively through online sources. I.e YouTube, sample blogs, facebook groups etc. I now incorporate it all when digging for samples. The act of physically digging through them crates hits differently though! I’ve learned so much about the music I love and the artists [who] have inspired me from buying vinyl. I love The Sound Garden in Baltimore. They have a bunch of gems and all the records are pretty organized. The staff is pretty cool, too. I like that. My favorite find was there actually. I stumbled upon this record “Here’s That Rainy Day” by The Paul Horn Quintet. I sampled that particular record for a beat I made back in 2014. That beat turned into ‘Monday’ by EARTHGANG ft. Mac Miller. It was crazy to see the record randomly without even looking for it. I feel like that’s the universe. That was a good moment. A lot of my favorite finds have also been at thrift stores too, believe it or not. I came up on ‘Wattstax’ original soundtrack on vinyl. That’s a joint I’ve sampled heavily before I copped the record, too. So it was cool to find it at the thrift.

What is your preferred music production software/tool? Do you regularly use live instrumentation? 

My preferred DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] has been [Image-Line’s] FL Studio most consistently since I started out. That’s what I learned. I’ve used a lot of different software over the years though, trying to find my way. I always go back to FL. I’ve recently started using [PreSonus] Studio One for about a year now. I really like it. I also record vocals and engineer, so Studio One is great to make beats and also record clean vocals. An all in one program. It reminds me a lot of [Avid Technology’s] Pro Tools, which is what I was using before.

I’ve been studying music theory and teaching myself how to play the piano lately. Everything has been by ear, so I really want to tap into the technical side and challenge myself. My goal is to be able to play multiple instruments one day and make the type of stuff I enjoy sampling.

 What is your favorite piece of audio gear or instrument? Why?

That’s a good question. It’s hard to answer! My gear/ setup has been consistently changing for the past few years. I’m not too attached to anything I have at the moment. I honestly feel like I’ve still yet to obtain that favorite piece of gear. It’s going to happen soon though. I got my eyes on some stuff. It would probably have to be my pair of Audio-Technica ATHM50x (headphones) now that I think about it, because they’re the most important.

What album or track are you most proud of, or is most significant to you?

I’m most proud of a track I produced for someone else more so than anything I’ve done for myself so far. It’d have to be “Monday” by EARTHGANG. Just how everything came together. It was the first real “placement” I had got. It was unexpected, but organic. I got a chance to have Mac Miller rap on a beat I made in my mama’s basement. That was pretty cool to me. That track has over a million views on YouTube. Definitely my proudest moment as a producer so far.

Favorite artist, or artist you admire, in any medium? Another artist who guided your spirit while you created your new album?

There’s quite a few artists who’ve inspired me on my journey. J Dilla for sure. His music changed my life. Definitely a lot of jazz musicians. I got into jazz the more I got into sampling and making beats. Becoming a student of the craft, you start learning names and their music. Some of my faves are John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Weldon Irvine. I started to discover that I really appreciated Jazz pianists – Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, cats like that. I’m also heavily influenced by that neo-soul sound that came up in the late 90’s early 2000’s. I wouldn’t necessarily call it that, it was just a more evolved and creative way to express R&B. Artists like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Jill Scott. I remember hearing that stuff as a kid from my mother playing it all the time. That stuck with me on a very subconscious level.

DOOM is the goat. I was listening to Madvillainy consistently while making this last project. But when am I not listening to that album?!. Whenever I’m feeling stressed, depressed, sad, anxious, I can count on DOOM’s lyrics to uplift my spirits. His expression was so unique and unlike anything else. Gave me the confidence to be myself and not overthink as much. Art could, and should be as raw and unapologetically you as possible. That’s what his music taught me. I really enjoy reading, so there’s writers that are inspiring too. Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin. I love Black writers telling Black stories. I also have to shout out Alan Watts, Ram Dass, and Deepak Chopra. Their philosophies have rearranged my perspective completely, in a good way.

Favorite music to listen to when driving, relaxing or chilling?

It honestly depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to listen to albums from Blue Note records when I’m chilling, smoking. Maybe some Madlib. Other times I like to bump Roddy Rich or Lil Baby if that’s what the vibe calls for. I don’t like to take the music too seriously when I’m listening, because I could become too critical. I’ve learned to just appreciate the moment and the energy that’s being curated. And rock with it.

Favorite artist from Baltimore? 

It would be me but I’m not from Baltimore! But seriously, gotta be the homie Jurdan Bryant. Seeing his growth as an emcee and overall artist has been inspiring to say the least. He has been putting in the work for a minute now. He’s a guy truly from the city offering a different perspective while staying true to himself. That’s dope. And the music has always been fire. I listen to it frequently as a genuine fan and supporter of the craft.

Current Baltimore artist you believe should have more attention and why?

Ah man! There’s so many I can think of right now. Baltimore in general does not get enough attention in that light.You got a bunch of folks grinding here in the local art scene. And they have been for a while, but there hasn’t been much spotlight from the outside looking in. I’ll say all the homies who have been doing their thing deserve more attention. I’ll put it that way.

As The Beauty Became is the title of your new album. What is the significance of the album’s title?

That’s actually a title I was sitting on for some time. Probably about 5 years, no lie. My creative process at the time was coming up with a title, track names and all before I even started working on anything. I think my next project will be done differently though. I always loved a title that sounded like a book, or film. These words looked significant in the context of an album in my opinion. I then wrote up a narrative that could be attached to the title. It was alignment truly, because I was shifting within my own personal life. I wanted a story that could reflect that. The analogous narrative of a butterfly from a caterpillar. The evolution from self-doubt to self-love. People appreciate the end result, the glow up. But what about all the ugly things it took to get there? As The Beauty Became!

Can you take one track from As The Beauty Became and break down how you created it?

Oh yeah, of course. I’ll go with the single off of my latest record then, “Prayer.” I made that beat like last summer. When the pandemic was really starting to kick in, and I was just in the crib making joints all the time. I don’t wanna directly give out the sample haha, but it’s a pretty noticeable flip honestly. It’s from a very talented R&B/soul group based out of New Orleans who are killing the scene now. I’ll leave it at that. I knew I really liked the beat when I made it, but didn’t know where it’d end up. I have a bunch of joints like that. Fast forward 3-4 months later, and I saw something where Nappy Nina was willing to work with folks through Social Media. I reached out immediately, as I had been a big fan and knew I’d want her to be a part of my next project in some way. It seemed like such good timing. I sent her about 4 tracks. She liked that one the most and said she’d be down to rap on it. She sent me the verse back pretty quickly, and I remember feeling so excited about how great it was. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting contribution. I later added the transition track and vocal clip at the end once I sequenced the album out with the other songs.

Favorite spot in Baltimore for..?

Word. I’ll shout out a couple spots. Definitely gotta check out Sankofa if you’re into fashion or thrift shopping. It’s a Black owned African boutique in downtown Baltimore. The owners are super cool. Also, you should pull up on Station North, Downtown Baltimore as well. That’s where I truly honed in on my creative expression. Playing DJ sets at various bars, lounges, pop ups all within that area. It’s an art district full of authenticity and a youthful energy to be immersed in.

Upcoming projects, collabos, releases? Shout outs?

Well, currently I’m just taking everything in and falling back from intentionally creating anything for a bit. That’s what usually happens after a release. Especially with this one, the release was heavy and intense. It’s something Sunday Dinner and I had been working on for about half a year trying to get everything right. So I need a small breather you know. I’m still making music, always learning new things. I’m just not focused on any specific project at the moment. Shout out to the homie Ryan. We’re working on a visual piece to represent the new album. It’s gonna be a short film that brings out topics and themes discussed on As The Beauty Became. The goal is to get that released sometime this summer. So that’s exciting. There’s a couple artists I’m working with on the production side. I’ve been feeling more comfortable stepping into a space of R&B/Soul music. I don’t like to categorize music all the time, because I feel like it takes away from the rawness and individuality. However, I understand it’s convenient. So I’ve been working with some singers who are super talented, and I can’t wait to finish and share this new stuff.

And a big shout out to Dom over at Sunday Dinner Records for helping bring my vision to life. I’m hype for all the upcoming releases on the label. We eating!

And we outta here…peace…peace…peace…

Independent artists and record labels need our support, now more than ever. Purchase a vinyl copy of As The Beauty Became from Sunday Dinner Records. You can also buy a digital copy from the label’s Bandcamp site. Purchase physical and digital copies of Shine’s other music here.

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