Burnell Washburn on a mission to show Utah has hip-hop cred
By David Burger
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Sep 11 2013 06:45PM
Twenty-three years ago, Stuart James Sheffield was born in Salt Lake City.
He grew up in Cottonwood Heights, graduated from Brighton High School and studied at Salt Lake Community College.
Nothing out of the ordinary about that.
But what is extraordinary about Sheffield is that he is now known as Burnell Washburn, a rapper who is arguably the most high-profile hip-hop artist in the state.
On Aug. 24, the Urban Lounge hosted a birthday party for him.
"We celebrated properly with some of my favorite artists in the world and 250 of my closest homies," Washburn said. "Every year two things are a must for my birthday: For one, a concert. Secondly, a camping session. Mad love to everyone who came out to the show."
This weekend, Washburn is touring in Arizona with his new live band The Alex Nibley Trio.
What are the favorite lyrics you’ve ever composed?
That is a tough question that would probably have a different answer every other week. Like most artists, I generally love my newest material the most because it is the freshest to me and usually more relevant to my state of being at the time. The lyrics that are standing out in my head right now are from a song I just barely wrote called "Money, Penny." Here’s a little excerpt from the second verse: "I’m a rapper, not a politician / All I ever wanted was for you all to listen / Never thought it was a game or a competition / Just thoughts in my brain on a composition notebook / Look, I’ve got a lot of shows booked, been through enough, I could write my own book / On how to get screwed over every other day and still have a big smile on my pretty little face."
What are your most memorable musical experiences?
One of the coolest moments was when I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Soundset Music Festival in Minneapolis with Macklemore to run his merch booth and perform a show of my own the next day. I had already been out there a handful of times so I knew it was going to be awesome, but it was really cool getting to know Mack better and being on the grounds to interact with so many inspiring artists that I’ve grown up listening to. I left the Desert Rocks Music Festival in Moab still half coherent at like 6 a.m. and flew to Minnesota for one of the greatest and most exhausting weekends of my life. Another one of my favorite times ever in music was opening for Del The Funkee Homosapien at Lake Powell’s Powellapalooza Music Festival.
Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration for my artwork and my life in general from just about everything and everyone around me. The other day two of my good friends, Taylor and Shamae Galloro, got married at Red Butte Garden and I was so inspired by their love and their beautiful growing family that I wrote a whole song about that. The week before that my landlord was being shady, and I was ultra stressed about financial issues, so I wrote a song about that. I am intensely inspired by extreme pain and extreme joy. When life is just in between with no extremes, I find myself just kinda "blah" with no real emotions to spill. With extreme good and extreme bad together, the yin and yang of creative energy provides more material than I will ever know what to do with.
What is the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you think about before going to sleep?
The first thing I usually think about when I first wake up is going back to bed, then breakfast, then whatever obligations I have that day. When I’m on tour I generally wake up with enormous amounts of excitement because almost every day is a different city with different people I love. When I go to sleep I’m usually visualizing the future and making sure I’m ready to take on the next day. I love to watch inspiring informative documentaries on Netflix or TED talks before bed. I refuse to watch or listen to anything negative, such as CNN, before I sleep because I always want to fall asleep in a positive mind state. When I’ve had a busy or stressful day I like to watch animated kids’ movies or nature shows before bed to take my mind off all the stresses of living in Babylon.
What is Wasatch Renaissance, and how was it born?
Wasatch Renaissance is an artistic collective designed to add a positive impact on the world through artistic and action sports cultures. It was born three years ago in Sugar House, starting in our house and blossoming into a two-story office building in Sandy. I was talking with my friends Taylor Richens and Parley Glover, and we realized we had so many talented homies doing some type of art or sport or similar lifestyle that we wanted to put together a company that could help all of them succeed and give all of them a platform to make dreams come true. We all have common dreams of making the world a better place, being free, being happy and being able to support our families and communities by doing what we love. In the last several years, I’ve seen many collectives similar to ours thriving in the state of Utah, and in my opinion it is a great thing for all of us. The word renaissance means "rebirth," and many historians claim the Renaissance to have been the bridge from the Middle Ages to the modern era. For many in the world, times have been dark lately and we believe that a new rebirth is among us through art and counterculture.
Does being in Utah hinder a musical career and from getting your message out?
Yes. There are many stigmas involved. When I tell people I’m from Utah, their first reaction is usually like "Oh, so you’re Mormon, right?" or "How many moms do you have?" and of course they use a "hick" accent while asking me these absurdities. Utah is not home to music industry. We have no major labels or big record companies operating out of the state or really any vastly popular artists claiming this state. Most of the famous musicians from here didn’t get famous until they moved away so they don’t necessarily claim Utah. In hip-hop, there has yet to be an artist from Utah get huge national or global exposure so we are just not known for that yet. People just don’t generally associate Utah with amazing music so they aren’t looking for us yet. I would be nowhere probably if I just stayed here all the time. Traveling out of state and networking with people all across the world is key to having a successful music career especially if you live in a state like Utah.
What is the meaning of life, and your meaning of life?
I don’t think there is one specific meaning but if there is it’s gotta be love.