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Local Listen: Christylez Bacon

This DC-native hip-hop artist thinks outside the box

It’s not everyday you see a Grammy nominee performing on the bus—but not every Grammy nominee is Christylez Bacon. As for that bus, the progressive hip-hop artist (who was recognized for his work on a kids’ album, Banjo to Beatbox) often rides the X2 Metrobus with his guitar, and he even plans on bringing a chamber-music ensemble along for the ride at some point.

A native Washingtonian, Bacon discovered a passion for performing at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and continued to hone his skills as an emcee at local open-mic nights. Sporting a blue velvet bow tie with a tweed vest and trousers, Christylez sat down with us to discuss his unique blend of genres.

To introduce people to your music, what song would you play first?
“ ‘It’s the Beatbox’—the Kennedy Center version. It encompasses what I do so well: classic instrumentation with a contemporary twist, using hip-hop and rhymes to educate.”

Pick four words to describe your music.
“Progressive, fusion, acoustic, M7B5—the name of a jazzy chord.”

Notorious B.I.G. or Tupac?
“Tupac. He was really an artist. He showed his struggle.”

What music is currently on your playlist?
“Donald Fagen and Steely Dan. I love his ability to tell stories. Also, Kanye West—his new and old stuff. In hip-hop, he’s the most creative and successful artist. He’s not following; he’s leading.”

How’s the hip-hop scene in Washington right now?
“It’s good. People are starting to get more creative in how they put together and market their shows. Cats are getting more business-savvy and embracing the DIY thing.”

What’s your favorite venue to play at in Washington?

“The Mansion at Strathmore is where I had my artist residency. I love that place—it has a different feel. The hardwood floors provide great acoustics.”

Who’s typically in your audience for a show? What’s your favorite audience to play for?
“I love an audience that thinks they don’t like hip-hop. I had a very elderly woman from Wales come up to me after the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She told me she had loved the beat-boxing.”

Describe your personal style.
“My style is ’50s meets ’70s but influenced by the present day.”

What are your fashion essentials?
“I love vests, haberdashery, ascots, and bow ties. For a long time, I was rocking a gingham tie. I love Hugh & Crye. They make shirts for men with different measurements. I get the ‘tall and lean,’ so they bring in the waist and have long arms. I’m working on a collaboration with Bill Johnson at Transient Clothing to make some vests and pants. I figure if nothing fits me, why don’t I make the clothes myself?”

How were the Grammys this year?
“It was great times being on the red carpet. A lot of industry cats and behind-the-scene cats. For me, it connected and broke down the illusion of fame. It was a very empowering moment.”

Besides performing, what do you love to do around town?
“If I’m not playing music, I’m eating and talking. Right now, I’m loving the Capital Bikeshare program. You’re gonna see me on a bike all around this city.”

What does the future hold for you?

“I’m open to whatever happens, as long as my creativity and vision is respected. I’m working on a new album called Hip Hop Unplugged, with three-part vocal harmonies, reminiscent of doo-wop. I’d love to learn more samba and bossa nova. I want to see more of the Midwest and West Coast, but there are still so many things I want to knock out in this city.”

Catch Christylez Bacon October 30 at 8 PM at Strathmore, opening for go-go legend Chuck Brown. Tickets ($38) are available here.