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Nashville, Tennessee has bred greats from Billy Ray Cyrus to Young Buck. One of America’s top music cities, it’s the polar opposite of the other American town that shares its name, Nashville, Arkansas. It’s here, though, where Shun, a rising 18-year-old rapper, was born. In a town of just 5,000 Shun first found his path playing football. He started dominating post-practice rap battles against his teammates, soon gaining the confidence to call Cash Money Records every week to freestyle; hoping his flow would someone reach his biggest childhood idol, Lil Wayne. Shun only got to rhyme for answering machines and secretaries, but he wasn’t deterred. He continued rapping, slowly moving from freestyle beatbox patterns to recording over legit soundscapes made by producers he met on Soundcloud.
Now he’s finishing up high school and has already accumulated close to 100,000 streams on Soundcloud. His debut EP, “Survivor’s Guilt” dropped on streaming services over the weekend. A product of the internet, he’s more proof that you can begin a music career from really anywhere with wifi connection. We spoke with the young artist to learn more about his childhood and how growing up in Nashville, Arkansas helped mold his character and music.
An Interview With Boston’s Donald Grunge
Premiere: Sean Gast Hits the High Seas for Love in “Buena Compańia”
Tell us a little about yourself. What should people know about Shun?
I just turned 18 in February. I live in the middle of nowhere, in Arkansas and I make all of my music on this all-in-one desktop computer that I got in 2014. My full name is Shuntay, but I just go by SHUN because when I was young people used to say Shuntay was a girly name, I was like damn you’re kind of right haha.
It’s super rural. Two things that describe it are bible belts and chicken plants. There’s cows everywhere. I mean like if you are doing something like I’m doing, it’s a great place. If music works out and I’m older, this is probably a place I’ll come back to because it’s so peaceful. There’s like 5,000 people in the whole town so it isn’t anything special whatsoever. The people here support me a lot though.
Do you produce all your own stuff?
Nah, I’m getting into it though. For right now, a majority of my stuff is produced by fades and Devaughn. But they’re two really big pieces to everything I’m doing.
Are those people you met in your hometown or on Soundcloud or something?
I met fades on Soundcloud when I was like 12. He posted some beat tape, and I listened through it and I DM’ed him like ‘hey man can I use some of these’ and then we’ve literally been working since. I met Devon through fades because they live kind of close to each other and they linked up and sent me some beats they did together. So yeah I usually work with either one of those guys.
How’d you realize you wanted to be a musician growing up there?
It all started on football teams. We’d just rap, freestyle, and I was like the best one so they made me rap every single day. And then kids in school were like, ‘alright this guy is rapping.’ I remember one day in like 8th or 9th grade, I actually recorded a song off a beat I found on Youtube called “She Said,” and everybody on the trap bus loved it and then the whole school heard it and they like loved it. I was like, if I can get this whole town to support me, that’d be good. And it was a DM I got from Michael Christmas one time. He performed somewhere in Arkansas and I DM’ed him just bored, I think I said I was gonna pull up or something like that and he was like sweet. I was asking him how do you manipulate a small town to support you and he was like ‘focus on having them love every single thing you drop and it’ll just spread.’ And that’s kind of been what’s happening.
How would you describe your music to someone before you played it to them?
Damn that’s a good question. I don’t know I guess it depends on what song it is. If I’m playing “Fool,”l its kinda like, this is some chill pop type of music that you can play with your girl. But if I’m playing Dogs, it’s like you can play this at a party. It depends on the song because there all different in little ways because I like to listen to so much
Who do you listen to? Who influences you?
It changes like every week bro. I’ll go through Twitter and see somebody and I’ll listen to them for a week straight. Like this week is Maxo Kream. I’ve been on that super duper hard for the last two weeks. I first heard him in this YouTube video, his music was playing in the back and I was like this is super cool. I used to freestyle on Lil Wayne beats all the time. I used to call Cash Money and try to freestyle for somebody everyday when I was like 8. The shit never worked.
Who would answer?
It was like a machine thing, so many machines, I’d have to sit there. One day I got the secretary lady I think and I just rapped for 5 minutes and she was like ‘I don’t know what I can do.’ Then I was like pissed off, like I just want a deal, I’m just trying to blow up like Wayne. Now looking back on it, it was like hella dumb.
Acapella? No beat?
Just going in bro, I just had a hope and a dream.
Let’s talk about this EP. I saw your little teaser video that has your city’s water tank and then “Don’t go home” flashes up. Talk a little bit about the meaning and influence behind that and the EP as a whole.
I took this whole town really and my experiences here and used that to influence all 3 songs I think. In “Dogs,” I just wanted something that I could listen to and remember certain times from here. “Over You,” I didn’t want to be super duper sad but its a reflection. When your in a small town, relationships are weird. I could talk to a girl one week and then a dude who I’m close to talks to her later on down the line and it’s like its no big deal because there aren’t any fucking girls, haha. It was really about an ex I had, and we never really made up. The whole “Don’t go home thing” and the water tower…I just wanted to make something that reflects once I leave here, I know that this is my home and this is my spot and everything started here, but I don’t want to be in a position where I have to come back. I want to take “Don’t go home” and do something crazy with it too, like clothes or something, that’ll happen really really soon.
So it’s only a three track project. What were you trying to achieve with this?
It’s like showing people that have already been there that I’m still versatile, it doesn’t all have to be the same, doesn’t have to fall under the same umbrella as Impala or “Fool” or “Cute” or whatever. For new people, it’s just like, I mean I’m 18 in a bedroom making these songs, it’s just like the rawness of that, that’s what I really wanted to come across. Like this is no gimmick.
It seems like a main theme of the EP is love. What are some of the other themes?
Other than love, I don’t know if a lot of people get it but it’s like losing people. That’s the whole “Survivor’s Guilt” thing. On “Dogs,” I’m talking about how in my city everyone loves me, telling me I’m going to blow up. It’s like in that sense, it sounds really really good but when I wrote that shit I was really really sad because like, I drop the song and it flops, nobody hit me up, and people were like ‘it’s really good, don’t worry about the numbers,’ but when “Impala” and “Cute” dropped and they both hit like 15-20k, everyone’s like ‘yeah bro you’re about to blow up, this shit crazy bro, you’re about to do so much.’ People don’t think you realize that, so it’s like there’s so much pressure on every single drop to keep these people around me and keep them caring about what I have going on. As an artist, that’s a constant imbalance, having people that are actually focused on you, that really messes with me.
So it’s kind of like a guilt you feel, if you keep being successful you gotta living up to higher expectations.
Yeah exactly. I took off a couple tracks from the EP, I didn’t think they glued in well. I’ll probably drop them as bonuses or singles on Soundcloud.
So what’s next for you this summer?
I’m planning a really big summer roll out. That’s why I made the EP three songs, because I didn’t want to have a full fledged project in April and then come back in May with something else big. I wanted to have stuff spread out, pieces and bits that lead up to something wild.
Jeremy Steinberger is a senior Journalism major at The University of Texas at Austin. He was born in Los Angeles, California as the youngest in a family with two sets of twins. He lives vicariously through music, espresso and the color yellow.