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Rapping Sewhilkin Jimmy

By on September 23, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
Wearing his trademark grin and his own brand-name streetwear with easy going confidence, Sewhilkin Jimmy looks ready to take on the rap music world.

By Susan Lagsdin

Reading the printed text of rap is about as satisfying as the recitation of a grammatically translated Elvis song (“You are not anything but a hound dog, barking all the time… You have never caught a rabbit and you are not a friend of mine…”). 

It’s much better when it’s live. 

However, local music artist Sewhilkin Jimmy has written down, memorized and performed thousands, maybe millions, of words since, on his first-ever headphones, he heard the hip-hop group Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony at age 11. 

So, scan this excerpted passage from Broken Inside, which for him turns into just several seconds of rapid-fire, rhythmic rap. 

 Doing this all my life/Can it really be my biggest mistake/Honestly/Every time I think about/it I get the worst stomach ache/I Start to convulse/My eyes roll back /My whole body begins to shake /I don’t know how much more of this I can really take /As I breathe/I slip from reality/My life’s a dream

 If you’ve chanced to hear Sewhilkin perform at Radar Station spoken word events, you know that he can deliver amazing complex and intimate ideas, in rhyme or slant rhyme, with a calculated rhythm so fast that you’re compelled to listen.

 Granted, especially if you’ve been raised on rap and hip-hop tunes, your comprehension score is high, but even if your ear is more attuned to the pace of Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, or Tony Bennett singing Cole Porter, there’s meaning to be gleaned.

 Sewhilkin maintains that for him, and for all authentic rappers, the meaning of those emotional words comes always from experience. 

No “ghostwriting.” No “covers.” Each word he sings directly reflects his own life. And it’s not been easy.

 Born into the Penticton Indian band in Canada, he spent time in Entiat, Auburn and Alaska. He labored on a fishing vessel at 15 and picked up temp blue-collar jobs. He drifted close to the law, scalded by regional racism, and developed a destructive drug and alcohol habit (choosing 40 oz. Colt 45 malt liquor in lieu of high school classes) from which he freed himself in 2012.

 Family abandonment meant a childhood living out of a backpack, being handed to relative to friend to foster care and back again. 

Now 34, he said about a bedframe he’d just acquired, “I’ve never had a real bed before. I spent so many years on other people’s couches — if I ever had a room, the mattress was always on the floor.” (He’s feeling safe and settled now in the East Wenatchee home of his mother.) 

 “Rap music,” he explained, “was at first good to listen to, then to dance to and then — wait! The lyrics… these folks are living the same life I am.” Smiling as usual, he said about being (very) poor for a while, “You get creative, and you sure move around more easily.” 

 A self-taught life-long learner, he audits the Great Courses and researches copiously in several subjects. “All you need is a library card,” he proclaims. “And you can learn anything on the internet.” 

He’d like to someday target ambitious but stymied kids with a message that, “You don’t have to follow anyone else’s ‘regular dream.’”

 Sewhilkin hasn’t chosen the most standard of art forms, and it has no regular path. His personal composing process locks in memorization the hard way. 

“I need a rhythm, a beat, to start. A line or two will come to me and I repeat it over and over until the next thought, or rhyme. My voice will find its own pattern,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll have six lines and repeat them two, 20, 115 times until the next line… The song wants to be told in a certain way.”

 A few years ago, his life in a low trough, Sewhilkin literally shredded all his writing. But, he said, then he heard about a rap contest, and he started in again. “I gave myself one and a half years to make it as a rapper.” 

After totally shredding all his collected rap songs, just a boxful of loose papers, in 2015, Sewhilkin regained confidence and started fresh. He now organizes his work in dozens of these (mostly labeled) notebooks.

Tech savvy and driven, he delved solo into every aspect of the business, started a line of rap clothing and has geared up with his own recording equipment.

 Can I ever really be awake /I’m standing on a ledge /As the cliff breaks /Falling through the sky/watching the day break/Reminiscing on a life full of heartbreak/Is this my leap of faith

Incrementally, Sewhilkin’s words caught on. 

He was invited to World Underground in New York in 2016, hot East Coast performer Ren Thomas linked up with him in 2018 to produce the rap Fame, and he captured radio and ethernet time. Now he has fans in 15 countries; some nag him when he hasn’t posted a song for a while.

 He writes constantly — every thought’s a possible lyric. Sewhilkin’s writing lives in dozens of small notebooks, and much more is available in the ethers on Spotify, iHeartRadio, YouTube, iTunes, SoundCloud, Apple Music, Deezer, Amazon and Google Play Music.

 Here’s another passage from Broken Inside. Rap it as fast as you can — bet you won’t hit Sewhilkin’s pace or grab the intensity. But you’ll catch a glimpse of an artist — a poet and a musician — poised to take on the whole wide world of rap music.

 Did I just partake/And awake the sleeping giant/That is so defiant /Well I’ll feed him some devil’s food cake /And pray to God he gets a bellyache/Let me pump the breaks /Before my Lord I forsake /You wanted another verse /Well I gave You a multiverse./I traveled through time

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