Grieves is coming to the Williwaw on Oct. 8, and his show is being opened by a local rapper, Ben Swann the MastaDon. Swann is 27 years old and was born and raised in Anchorage. Swann has been rapping since his middle school days, and while he is not a student of UAA, he is a carpenter who helped remodel UAA last year and also worked on the ice rink in the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. His business card is a condom with all of his plugs printed on one side.
Wanting to know more about Swann, TNL contacted him for an interview and asked him about his career and life as an up-and-coming rapper here in Anchorage.
TNL: I got your contact information off of your condom business card. I think that’s a really interesting idea. Did you get that idea from somebody? Or did you come up with it?
Swann: “Actually, my friend Nathan Starbard came up with that idea. He came up with the condom idea, I branded it and he helped me with the Photoshop and we kinda teamed up on that one.”
Is your stage name MastaDon? Or is that just the condom brand?
“My stage name is Ben Swann the MastaDon. I actually just got some of my first hoodies mocked up, the prototypes are made from there. I’m gonna try to produce them. So, hopefully those are gonna be coming out soon.”
How long have you been rapping?
“I’ve always been into poetry and writing lyrics and stuff like that. And I listen to rap. Will Smith actually, way back in the day got me into rap music. I didn’t start rapping until me and my friends would freestyle in middle school. Then in high school, I started writing rap songs and recorded my first one. I think I was a junior. I’ve been doing this for quite a long time. But, I was always kind of quiet about it, it was more for me and my friends… So it took years of just working at it to get confident enough to put it out to the public… Ever since I started doing that I’ve been trying to hit the ground running. It’s just nonstop. The more I do it, the more I want it.”
How many years have you been doing it?
“I’m 27 now so… I would say… 14 years, 15 years. My first song came out in 2006, so 10 years ago. But, I had published works in elementary school, for poems and stuff.”
You said Will Smith was a big influence on you wanting to rap. Are there any other influences?
“Well, he wasn’t so much a big influence on me wanting to rap, but he kind of opened up the door to me listening to rap music. I was really into Michael Jackson as a kid and my family don’t like that kind of music, they liked other stuff. I have never seen that until Fresh Prince of Bel Air and I started listening to Will Smith. I remember what it was that actually got me into writing music, and taking it seriously, was a Bone, Thugs ‘n’ Harmony beat. Somebody left the instrumental CD at my house, and they left the Notorious Thugs beat with Biggie Smalls. I would just play that over and over and that’s pretty much what got the fire lit.”
What made you want to branch out and go on the big stage?
“I want to do what I like to do as my living. Once you find what you love to do, you never work a day in your life. I wanna do something I love… I really wanna go for it.”
What do you do when you’re not doing shows?
“I’m a journeyman carpenter now, and I’ve been doing it about nine years. I’m all worn out. I’m working two jobs and I’m just trying to stay floating. I just wanna do something I like. I keep the music on the side and when I work so much I can’t do that much. I can’t imagine how much I could get done if [rapping] was my day job. I’m starting to finally get some money coming in from iTunes and internet plays and stuff like that, and a little bit here and there from gigs. It’s headed in the right direction.”
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for anyone?
“I got all kinds of like short and sweet things I tell myself, but I know being an artist in Alaska is especially hard. Just like anything in Alaska everything is just harder up here for us. And if you’re not as good, or you feel you’re not as good, as the next person, that means you just gotta work harder! If you work hard, hopefully, good things come. Everybody is rapping so it’s really hard to keep that fire burning and keep going and you’re going to want to quit. Most importantly, just remember why you do it and that’s cause you love it. If you have a passion for anything, money will come. I just try to remember where I was a year ago, where I was six months ago, and that’ll keep me going sometimes when I’m in a rut or feeling a little down about things. And I’ll look back and I’m like well I have been making progress. You gotta put the work in to make that progress. You might work every night at it, but not come up with anything for seven days or maybe 20 days. You haven’t come up with anything, but you’re still working.”
Do you ever think about leaving Alaska to pursue your career elsewhere?
“Especially around this time of year, when it starts getting cold. This is all I know, man, so I have gone out of town quite a bit this summer. I’ve done shows in Fairbanks, I did a show in Denali, I’ve done a show in Girdwood, and I did a coast-to-coast show in Hollywood one time. When you go out of state, it seems like you get a lot more love instantly. Then, it’s weird when you’re in your hometown here, a lot of people don’t really care. You just gotta keep remembering why you do it and get rid of all the doubt, you know?”
You can see Ben Swann the MastaDon open up for Grieves at Williwaw on Oct. 8 at 9 p.m. You can also check him out online at:
Facebook: Ben Swann The MastaDon
Soundcloud: Ben Swann AK