Ann Arbor musician, 16, explores life and love through freestyle
ANN ARBOR, MI — Jeevan Angelo doesn’t become someone new when he starts rapping. He becomes himself.
Jeevan Angelo McKnight, known professionally as Jeevan Angelo, switched to his middle name so he could tell his musical stories from a new perspective. He is 16 years old and has just released his first album, a six-song compilation of his best work, entitled “Extended Playtime”.
Some of the tracks are “Test Drive”, inspired by a place on the Huron River, and “Pretty Girl Shivers”, a track about falling in love.
“Pretty Girl Shivers” is punctuated by driving guitar trills and snare drum hits, held together by a jazz-like bassline. The song is mostly composed of freestyle verses, a form of rapping where lyrics are improvised on the fly, rather than written down, and one of McKnight’s favorite ways of making music.
“If I’m out of the house, I freestyle,” McKnight said. “I hang out with a lot of friends who like to freestyle in downtown Ann Arbor and by the river. We’ll bring a speaker pretty much everywhere we go, put it down, and have a beat going.
McKnight plans to release a single soon, which he says won’t sound like he’s produced in the past. His previous song, “Skywalkin”, takes on a slower tempo, with soft electronic bass and soft instrumental accompaniment.
“Each (song) is a different mindset that I’ve been through, in terms of feeling lonely or being heartbroken,” McKnight said.
Until 10th grade, McKnight attended Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, where he was on the wrestling team and said he racked up a few concussions. Now he is homeschooled, but most important to his goals was his time at the Rudolf Steiner School, where he developed a passion for the arts, painting and singing.
“I always liked to sing too,” McKnight said. “I wouldn’t say it’s something I’m too good with, but I love to sprinkle it in there.”
Many artists, including Big Sean, have influenced McKnight’s style, most recently the music of A Tribe Called Quest. The shrewd optimism of their lyrics is evident in McKnight’s own verses, though his most successful songs also come with a touch of heartache.
“If we’re on a road, then there’s no stopping,” he said, later singing, “I’m riding on a nimbus and I want to take you.”
McKnight spends much of his day immersed in music. Justin McKnight, Jeevan’s father, also makes beats in his spare time. The young rapper gathered artists his own age from the Ann Arbor community to collaborate with, some of whom reached out to McKnight on Instagram after the release of his EP.
“A lot of kids in Ann Arbor work with music and enjoy it, which I also think is really great in this city. You have the ability to come together with people and make things happen,” said said McKnight.
McKnight also attended Washtenaw Community College, where he studied audio production and engineering. He hopes college will open new doors for him, especially a job in recording, so he can climb the ladder to run his own studio.
His studio, for now, is a laptop on a desk, next to a lighted soundboard. A digital piano sits to the left. A collage of posters paints the wall in different colors, including a giant print of “The Great Wave,” Hokusai’s classic Japanese painting.
It was strange, McKnight said, not being enrolled in high school, but at the same time feeling “liberated.”
“I was someone who had a hard time finding my place,” McKnight said. “Until I honestly started freestyling and rapping and using puns. That was something that got me going a lot.”
McKnight seeks to understand the world through his music, organizing life in a way that makes sense. He said he just wanted to get his heart out.
Jeevan Angelo songs are available hereas well as Spotify, YouTube Music and Apple Music.
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