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21 Colorful Crimson Talk Opening for Yardfest and Breaking Old Musical Norms

By Courtesy of 21 Colorful Crimson
By Aziz B. Yakub, Crimson Staff Writer

21 Colorful Crimson is a music collective composed of 21 Harvard freshmen who will open for Lil Yachty and Wale at Yardfest. The Crimson sat down with their president, James A. Mathew ’21, and a member of their business team, Jasmine Hyppolite ’21, to discuss their upcoming performance, the challenges of navigating an artistic group dynamic, and the role of diversity in their art.

The Harvard Crimson: Tell us a bit about the principles of your music.

James A. Mathew ’21: The central piece [in our name] is “colorful,” which speaks to diversity, which speaks to the fact that the class of 2021 is the first year at Harvard to be majority-minority. We have lots of different racial backgrounds, lots of different socioeconomic backgrounds. We count our three pillars as creativity, inclusion, and love, which is what we’re really trying to communicate here. If someone hears our music, we hope that they—when they get to know a little about our group—not only enjoy the music for the musicality, but also for those pillars, what we’re standing for.

THC: One of the admirable things about your music is that it sounds eclectic while simultaneously managing to coherently meld diverse genres—what is the specific artistic process of crafting this sound?

JAM: One thing we do, speaking to diversity, is obviously have visible diversity in our members but also reflect diversity in our music. In the art we’re creating, we do very diverse things in terms of our stylistic endeavors in music. We have an opera singer and we have a rapper. Fusing the two and combining elements of rock and jazz gets people's minds going in terms of this creativity and this diversity and we are still establishing our craft. Talking about that process is difficult, and we’ve had many meetings where we’ve been quite argumentative because 21 minds are never going to agree perfectly.

THC: What are some of the arguments you’ve been dealing with concerning your Yardfest set?

JAM: We’ve fallen into two camps when it comes to designing our set. Some people were calling for a more equal representation in terms of the style of music and the other people wanted more hip hop because of the what the Yardfest show is going to be. Some people said, “I hate that idea. That’s too slow. People are going to think that that’s boring.” Other people said, “We need that otherwise we’re just a rap group. We’re no different.” We ended up striking a balance. We found a good compromise of how to show that we are more than just hip hop. We are all these genres that our great artists bring to the table.

Jasmine Hyppolite ‘21: Something that I loved [about formulating our Yardfest set] was that every single person sitting in that room had a marker on the drawing board, and every single person was able to say, “I think this is right, I think this is not.” It’s: this is all our art, I can’t tell you how to do your art, you can’t tell me how to do my art, but this is our product at the end of the day.

THC: Your group is navigating a lot of concerns dealing with how to balance these individual interests. Are you are producing the best art that you can while keeping everyone happy?

JAM: I think one thing that I find so beautiful about art is the subjectivity of it. What I’d say is that so far we’ve managed to produce some great work because we don’t just do something to do it. You know if our jazz singer says, “I think I don’t have a good enough of a role right now,” we don’t just put her on the track to kind of appease her. If we’re going to do something, we try and put a lot of work into it and do it right, and I think that that commitment to quality work does make for a good product at the end. But I think that initially we did have that struggle. Some of our hip hop artists thought that the inclusion of the other genres on the hip hop track kind of devalued that product.

THC: In this process of integration of styles, in this almost inherent intersectionality in your art, do you ever feel as if you’re almost diluting hip hop as a specific genre? Do you feel like you have any responsibility for upholding musical categories that were born from a specific history?

JH: I would say no. Our team is a melting pot. Our music is a melting pot. It’s just going to happen, and I don’t really think that we’re super focused on having one song for each genre, or upholding a genre, because we’re not looking to assimilate or affirm something that already exists. We’re trying to break a new norm. We do that through who we are as well as what we make, so I think that we have a very little amount of focus on working on the preexisting structures.

THC: We’ve talked a little bit about the melding of styles that you guys have, but could you speak a little to if and how personal diversity has influenced your music?

JAM: Our group [gives] a platform for friendships to form that very likely wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. I think that personal diversity, how different people are, just makes their friendship and their coming together all the more beautiful. It’s really a family already.

THC: In what ways do you see these relationships manifesting in and impacting your music?

JAM: I think that those friendships allow some more spontaneous collaboration. If you’re not too friendly with someone, you’re not comfortable with that person, [and] your collaboration will be very formal. That formality can be kind of restricting, if you’re more comfortable, you might critique the other person more honestly, you might let them know that that note was a little off, we should do another take. That comfort leads to better art, better creation, because again, it's authentic. It’s real.

THC: It seems like your groups see your music—correct me if I’m wrong—as having some sort of political or social message. I’m curious, in a group as diverse as yours, how do you deal with differences in political and social values in the messaging of your music?

JAM: I think that when it comes to what we want people to take away from our art socially and politically, I think that one—there are two sides to it—there is one that is implicit and one that is more explicit. The one that is more implicit: When you take a look at a picture of us, there is kind of a statement in that professional collaboration that does not restrict itself to any lines that we think about—racial, socioeconomic, any of those things. More explicitly, what we’re trying to say in our music, we’re trying to make statements. We’re making a track right now that deals with some social issues, that touches on things like police brutality, issues such as that. You do bring up a good point, in that everyone is coming from different backgrounds, people are not all going to have the same political beliefs. How we navigate that is over a space where there is a forum for people to chime in that is very respectful. We get to hear all of the views of our members. If someone is concerned with something, they voice that concern.

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