“Tripping into Pushups” with John Lubeen Hamilton

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Last week Bwog’s resident rhyme-buster Zach Kagan visited CUSH and talked to John Lubeen Hamilton about freestyling, CUSH, and the rapper’s newest EP. Lubeen will be preforming tonight at Camille’s on 116th and Amsterdam, 8pm.

Dressed in sweatpants and a tee-shirt, John Lubeen Hamilton sets a casual and relaxed atmosphere at a meeting of CUSH, Columbia University Society of Hip Hop. It’s a small circle of students and hip-hop aficionados who gather Thursday nights, cozied up in a corner of the IRC—tonight, they’re laughing, sharing and analyzing songs. Hamilton, whose stage name is simply “Lubeen,” is trying something different: a group discussion about the mechanics of his specialty, freestyling.

In the laid back setting of CUSH, Lubeen is soft spoken. He directs the discussion like a true student of the core curriculum, guiding responses toward deeper answers. After a few minutes the meeting starts to feel like the Music Hum curriculum’s missing hip-hop unit. He provides specific examples to back up his assertions, citing the way Eminem rhymes extended vowels, or Busta Rhymes’ lightning-fast flow. There’s a certain finesse to free-styling, he says; “You got to bend English to your will, just don’t break it.” Some free-stylers get to the point where they’re thinking two lines ahead of the words they are saying. Others focus more on keeping an unbroken string of rhymes, not halting or stopping. However, Lubeen has learned that tripping up is almost inevitable—the idea, he says, is to then emerge from it and keep the flow going, which he describes as “tripping into pushups.”

Freestylers have plenty of tricks up their sleeve to do this. They can start rhyming about whatever they see, or use certain phrases that buy them just enough time to think of their next lyric: “everybody knows,” “check it,” et cetera. Lubeen’s personal favorite is just his name. “If you listen to me freestyle, you’re going to learn my name. John Lubeen Hamilton!”

I sat down with Lubeen afterwards to talk about his independent projects. While he serves as executive coordinator at CUSH, he has been rapping on his own as well and he’s just released his first EP (which you can listen to here). Positivity is a big goal for Lubeen, both in his own work and what he does for CUSH. Even “Look at Me Now,” a track that could so easily be overtly confrontational, is more about finding his confidence as an artist. “I wrote that one in CC,” he jokes. “Actually a lot of my music gets written in class.”

The big question on Lubeen’s mind is a common one amongst Columbia’s creatives: while he’d certainly enjoy a career in rap, he’s worried about the state of audiences.

“They have no patience,” he says, “[Hip-hop]’s the only genre where if you don’t put out a product in 9 months people think you’re over.” There’s just so much music being created that artists can’t afford to loose any momentum or take any downtime for the fear of being overshadowed by the next big thing and passed on by listeners. As he puts it, “The second someone catches you catching your breath they say, ‘Why aren’t you working?'”

But Lubeen is determined to stay above the radar: this year he submitted his name to preform at Bacchanal but wasn’t selected (he performed with CUSH in 2011). Next year, his senior year, he’d like to end it with a bang by appearing on stage in 2013. Until then, he’ll still be doing shows, recording tracks, and educating anyone who’s willing to learn at CUSH. Lubeen’s the kind of guy who can just as easily get newbies to try free-style at CUSH as he can get a crowd going at a show.

That’s what makes him quite literally the man for any gig.

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  1. Anonymous

    John is the best!

  2. Anonymous

    Listen to EP, Lubeen is one cool guy.

  3. copyedit  

    perform, not preform
    lightning, not lightening

  4. Anonymous  

    godamn bruh. He just inspired me to write a defense rap in the name of based God. It kills anything he's put out. But I can't post it because is too controversial....

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