The Metropolis – A Photo Series

By Taylor Barrett

It’s a weird time to be alive, no doubt, looking back on my travels and forward to the trips that may just have to wait. But at the same time, it has been somewhat of a forced reminder that we shouldn’t always be in “go mode”. In fact, I find it unfortunate that it takes a catastrophic event to get us to realize as a society that hey, you can stop and look around, you can stay home for no good reason, and it’s okay to take it down a notch and smile at a passing stranger when you’re out and about. It’s good to remember that this is about us, not just ourselves.

In a way it feels like mother nature has swept in and put a halt to the incredible machine that we have turned our society into. When visiting cities, it almost feels like the level of energy in the atmosphere is unstoppable, but that is anything but true. What seems like a fragmented system of disconnected parts is actually much more interdependent than you’d think, with everyone’s social position contributing to the well-being of the whole. This has proved to be an eye-opener for many, and it shows how important each and every one of us is for this world. Even if you don’t have the job you want, the car you wish you could afford, or a house you own instead of rent, we must realize that we all play an important role and that we have each other to depend on–which is what will make us stronger in the end.

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Pike Place Market, Seattle
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Downtown Seattle
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Downtown LA
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Downtown LA
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Downtown Seattle
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Downtown LA
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Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.
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Downtown LA
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Downtown Bellevue
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Las Vegas Boulevard

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Zak James: From Montana to Brooklyn

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

Moving around and music have always been a part of life for rapper and Montana native, Zak James––they’re intertwined and innate within each other. Growing up, Zak moved 28 times and attended six different elementary schools in Montana. Born in Billings, Zak also lived in Butte, Great Falls, and Helena. Because of this, he told us he always felt out of place growing up, and sometimes a little socially awkward, but maybe that’s what brought him to the stage. Music gave Zak an outlet to express himself, a space that wasn’t given to him by the classroom, a space that allowed him to grow out of his introverted nature and transition into the hyper-extroverted music industry. He needed to be willing to speak to anyone and everyone––whether that was face to face or through the microphone.

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Zak started to hone his craft at a young age by writing poems about his hamster and about how much he hated eating vegetables, but since then his music has come a long way. Zak brings a lot to the table, his music is upbeat and positive, but it’s also contemplative. He told us that he just wants his audience “to feel something,” that he hopes to spread positivity and inspiration. And this makes sense because that’s exactly what Zak does in his own life. He told us that if he inspires someone to start “a taco stand” or a small business, he’s happy. 

Zak originally got into hip-hop in the sixth grade when he ran across an mp3 player that was lying on the curb. A lucky find that introduced him to several songs by Nas, songs that ended up inspiring him to start writing his own music and exploring the genre.

There was something about rap that resonated with Zak. Growing up without much of a father figure, he could relate to the artists that share their story of also growing up in a single-parent household. What inspired James the most was that despite the odds, these artists he respected and admired had confidence and were able to spread their messages––whatever they may be––through rap. Zak told us that at a young age this was empowering, and that’s when he realized he wanted to do something similar with his own life.

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Because of Zak’s deep connection to his Montana roots, he told us that he includes references to his home state in every project that he produces––giving a shout-out to the home and culture that helped shape who he is as an artist. Zak also credits Jesse Frohreich, a.k.a. Farch, with helping him refine his lyrics and put them into motion, mentioning that he had a lot of content, but Frohreich’s advice helped him toward finding his own style and voice as a musician. James also mentioned that Eddwords is currently one of his favorite artists out of Montana.

On a broader spectrum, Zak draws influence from some of the contemporary greats, including Mac Miller, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Joey Bada$$. He enjoys the fun-loving spirit of Mac Miller, the accessibility of J. Cole, the talent of Kendrick Lamar, and all he could about Joey Bada$$ was that he “is on another level.” All of these influences can be heard in Jame’s style and within the variety of musical genres that he dabbles in.

While Zak grew up in Montana and sees it as his home as an artist, he recently moved to Brooklyn, New York, following his dreams and trying to make a name for himself. And you can bet his songs aren’t about his pet hamster or his disdain for broccoli anymore, now they’re about who he is, what he’s done, and what he hopes to achieve.

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Moving to New York wasn’t easy. James had to leave his family, his friends, and his growing fan base behind, but, like a lot of people who move thousands of miles away, he finds comfort in social media and the fact that he can move across the country and still bring his music to his friends and fans back home. While it was hard to leave Montana, he told us that it was more of a celebration than anything else:  it “was like a big send-off,” with nothing but love and support from his home-state fans. He told us that this was something special about Montana, something he hopes he can also find in New York. He told us Montana has “a close-knit community where everyone cares,” and “people will go beyond themselves to support you just because.” 

Not only did the support from Montana help drive Zak to pursue a career in the music industry, but it also allowed him to refine a style that was separated from the standard geographies of hip-hop. Zak brought up that since Montana is landlocked and in a space outside of the East or West Coast, it was easier for him to acquire influences in a different fashion than you might expect. Rather than growing up in New York and being inspired by Jay Z, or growing up in Los Angeles and being inspired by 2Pac, he told us that artists from Montana have the ability to freely pick and choose their influences. As a result, he mentioned that in the Montana hip-hop scene, it’s harder to define what sub-genre is most prominent, instead, it’s just “all over the place.” And you can find truth in Zak’s insight when you hear his music and the artists that he collaborates with.

Zak works alongside Eric, a.k.a. Numerik the Scientist, Michael Graef, and Reid Graham. You will also see James collaborating with Montana filmmaker Colter Olmstead for a majority of his music videos, and bouncing song ideas off of Chloe Gendrow and Josh Edwards––helping him develop a creative space through the presence of his friends and fellow artists. 

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Music has helped Zak grow out of his introverted nature; it’s allowed him to unearth and manifest the culture of his communities and spread his story. But the biggest part of hip-hop for Zak is the freedom it allows him as an artist, saying: “sometimes, I just enjoy dancing and being goofy.” 

You will also find Zak creating in more arenas than just music. James has his own clothing brand alongside the help of his close friend, Oscar Fossum. Now in Brooklyn, Zak recently launched a new line of hats under their brand entitled, “Badmouth”, with the slogan, “Speak for Yourself.” In short, the dude is versatile.

Whether it’s writing lyrics, performing on stage, acting in music videos as multiple characters, or designing his own clothing, Zak’s charismatic personality is nothing shy of impressive. His desire to spread positivity, love, and a general passion for life is frankly wonderful, and as someone looking in from the outside, it’s easy to see that this is only the beginning. 

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Get a feel for Zak’s music and style with a trip through his music videos, the making of his first full-length album, and our interview with James himself.

Also check out Zak’s latest music video, “I’m Not Concerned”, produced by Jak Flames and Eric G. the Scientist, and filmed by Michael Graef, with assistance from Mick Pengilly.

Find Zak James on all major platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, and through the links below. Also, be sure to check out Badmouth Clothing and their newly released hats.

Follow Zak James – Instagram | Youtube

Badmouth Clothing: http://www.badmouth.store/ 

Tylo $mith

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

Rapper and singer, Jordan Smith, aka “Tylo $mith”, hails from Great Falls, Montana. Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, Smith spent most of his summers in Vegas, and the rest of the year in Montana.

Smith has lived most of his life in Montana since the age of three, telling us that the amount of space in the Big Sky State allows him to focus on what he is most passionate about: music. Because the atmosphere and pace of life seems to be slower in Montana, it allows for more creativity and imagination, and a lot of time to do so.

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Smith has been musically inclined most of his life, and had his first formal introductions to music in school. Smith started singing and playing music around the 5th grade, playing the saxophone and singing, quickly realizing that his talent and passion was geared towards his voice. Smith joined his high school’s choir and honed his skills as a musician, and following this experience, Smith decided it was time to take things in a different direction: “I just decided one day that I was going to try being a SoundCloud rapper.” He told us with a short laugh.

Smith told us that he was inspired by his success with choir and the encouragement from his Choir teacher. His love for music evolved when he downloaded production software on his computer and started to make his own beats. After his first successful attempt, he found that the next logical step was buying a microphone and jotting down some lyrics–turning him from just another kid in his basement with a laptop, to Tylo $mith.

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In the Fall of 2016, Smith took his passion to the next level and began recording his original music extensively. When we asked him: “Why hip-hop?” Smith told us that he chose the genre because it’s the “most lyrical,” lending itself to his own creative process. After writing and releasing a few albums, the young rapper from Montana began doing shows in 2017–performing around Montana nearly 10 times.

Although Smith stated that he feels it can be hard to break out in the Montana Hip-Hop scene, he has been well received on platforms such as Spotify, with over 40k monthly listeners. His new album “Blue Lens” dropped on November, 2nd, and has drawn nearly 100k track plays in less than a month. Smith also recently released a music video for “So Gone” and the title track “Blue Lens”, with the help of Bozeman filmmaker Colter Olmstead.

Tylo $mith’s production crew consists of himself and two producers, who make the majority of his beats. Justin Winkler and Kaden Mann make up JaiKae Beats, the producers for Tylo $mith. Smith mentioned that once he started working consistently with the same producers, it made his sound more cohesive throughout his projects, bringing a new form of clarity to his albums. He told that out of all of his mixtapes and albums, “Blue Lens” is by far the most well-rounded and cohesive album, and we can agree.

Although Smith appreciates the atmosphere of Montana, he tells us that he plans to move to Los Angeles, California in the near future–a city with a larger audience for his music and a more conducive music scene.

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When asked about any Montana artists or rappers that have inspired him, Smith told us that Montana rapper, Zak James, has been a big influence. The two met at a show they played together a few years back, and Smith said that they have been great friends ever since. He mentioned that not only is James incredibly talented, but that he’s always fun to be around (whether or not music is involved).

Smith’s broader influences include Big Sean and Tyler, the Creator, telling us that he really admires Big Sean’s flow and attack, and how Tyler, the Creator says just about anything he wants– influences you can hear in Smith’s music.

Be sure to check out the new album, “Blue Lens”, as well as the music video for “So Gone”, and the title track “Blue Lens”. Smith is also in the process of working on an accompanying mixtape, so be sure to follow him for future details. You can find Tylo $mith on Instagram, and his music on Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud.