Infinite is a street-conscious lyricist with southern beats. Laurel Isbister is an acoustic guitar player and singer with a background in Eastern European music. These seem like different worlds, but both artists work through musical traditions to express contemporary concerns. Interviewing each other, Infinite and Isbister found that they share similar struggles as creative women in the music business, and they even discussed the possibility of collaboration.
Infinite: How long have you been writing?
Laurel: Since I was a little kid. I went to college to study music, and I got into choral music from Eastern Europe—Bulgaria in particular. It wasn't until I got out of choir that I started doing more solo work.
Laurel: How did you get started?
Infinite: I would write poetry for family weddings or anything like that. I played basketball at the University of Kentucky for two years and then transferred to Jackson State. I was still playing music as a hobby, but when I got to Jackson, there were rappers coming up everywhere. I decided (music) was something I wanted to do full time.
Laurel: How's that going for you? I know it's a challenging business.
Infinite: It's up and down until somebody eventually notices. Until then, I pay for everything, recording, graphics, Web site, everything.
Laurel: I like artists who have been successful outside the mainstream, who have gone independent—got their own label, got their own distribution going—because I think you have more power that way. I've heard the best way to get signed is to make it independently, because then you have more leverage.
Infinite: I wanted to ask you what you think about rap, in general.
Laurel: I've learned some about it since living in Jackson. Before, I had only really heard what I now know is called neo-soul. I also studied African American music in grad school. I learned about things in African music that (are) still found in rap. It's amazing the things that are still there. It's like a badge of honor that those things are still there. I respect the idea of taking language and turning it into music, and the rhythms are interesting to me, but as far as rap goes, I guess all I really know are stereotypes.
Laurel: How does spoken word bump up against rap? Are they totally different?
Infinite: Rap is more popular. It depends on where you are. Here in Mississippi, I don't think spoken word is as influential because there are not as many places to go and hear it as there are in places like Chicago. Here, everything seems to evolve from blues and R&B.
Laurel: So what would you tell somebody like me to help me "get it" about rap?
Infinite: Right now, as an artist, I can honestly say that I don't even like a lot of the rap that's out there right now.
Laurel: So there's a divide where you feel like it's not representing you?
Infinite: Right, because there's a lot about rims and jewelry and things like that ... but there's a whole other side to rap.
Laurel: So what would you like rap to be known for?
Infinite: It's the way you deliver it. A reverend and a rapper could say the same thing, and the rapper may have more impact because of how cool the kids think the rapper is. In that sense ... artists (can) at least extend one or two positive messages, that's all I ask.
Laurel: Where did you get your inspiration for your song "Mississippi Streets?"
Infinite: In the beginning of my career it was really hard to get respect as an artist—especially a female artist. … Nobody helped me in any way until I had a name for myself. I feel that song speaks to that. We have so many good artists out now, but instead of other artists embracing them, they see them as competition and try to push them away.
Laurel: That tension is really obvious.
Infinite: The song also says that I'm from Mississippi. I believe in Mississippi, and I'm for Mississippi. I'm not going to be the type of person to just say I'm going to stay in Mississippi, even if I get big. … To me, Mississippi is becoming successful, and people do come back. I think it can be done here.
Laurel: There's one song I'd love for you to maybe collaborate on with me sometime. It's a song about the Delta. For me, it's a good feeling of nostalgia, but I know for most Mississippians a pleasant song about the Delta, there's just a certain disconnect there. My history is that I had family members who had slaves, so to me it would be interesting to have somebody come in and put in another angle to make it more real, to show the other sides to the story. I just don't want someone to listen to the song and think that I don't know that there's more to the story.
Infinite: I would love to do that. Even if something didn't come to me right away, I love the challenge of working on something new.