Patrons of Deep Ellum’s Buzzbrews Kitchen are likely to recognize Evan Bornes by his perky dreads and thick, wide-framed glasses. The 21-year-old Lake Worth native, also known as rapper-producer PeepSigns, has adopted the popular hangout as his base of operations when producing music or editing his new podcast, Black Swan.
For the podcast, Bornes talks with Dallas musicians and artists about their crafts. The conversation is set to music that swells, bends and snaps around it. His most recent episode, number 5, features pop auteur and SMU Meadows alumna Sudie Abernathy.
“The podcast itself is about one’s own uniqueness; doing what you truly love to do is so rare that it’s almost nonexistent,” Bornes says. “So people who do [it], whether it be entrepreneurs, writers, dancers, any type of people, [I] interview them.”
He hopes that with the show, local creatives will learn about resources available to them, or how to use them better. Local musician Lily Taylor says Bornes’ method works because he’s also an artist.
“Evan will go back into the scene and ask what’s going on, and with the podcast he is creating a more focused area for people to discuss their work,” Taylor says. “So not only is he creating a space where people can talk about the work that they’re creating, but he’s also contributing to the ecosystem.”
Bornes discovered his passion for rapping as a student at Lake Worth High School, by way of the spoken word poetry he heard on Def Jam Poetry and Brave New Voices. “It spoke so deeply and came from a place of true emotion that stirred [the souls] of anybody that watched them,” Bornes says.
He proceeded to hone his craft by filling composition books, and telling stories and freestyling to anyone who would listen. When a supportive teacher died, Bornes recited a poem in tribute to him at a talent show, winning first place. That’s when Bornes says he realized he could “make a point to somebody.”
Bornes took the emcee name Evidence and cut his teeth while attending UNT, where he worked with singer-rappers Rei Altru and Mecca Dishmon of soul outfit Pocketbook, and producer Chem Stat, who mentored him on how to make beats. During that time, Bornes would show up to the Prophet Bar every Wednesday to perform and hear other acts like RC and Gritz play.
Bornes focused on music to the point that his school work suffered and he dropped out of UNT shortly before his expected graduation date. For a time he was homeless, sleeping on a rooftop near the Deep Ellum DART station, but he held down a job at Rick’s Cajun Cafe and would still show up every Wednesday to Prophet Bar.
Eventually DJ Junk Food noticed his hustle and drafted him to play a house show with rapper K-Wash. Bornes didn’t want to go by Evidence anymore, so he decided to reinvent himself before the show.
“I had this journal that my girlfriend drew pictures in,” he says. “I was trying to combine different concepts together inside of the name. I knew I wanted the name to be about awareness; awakening; about finding something within yourself. I made different combinations of names, and PeepSigns was at the end of it. I was like, ‘Let’s go with that.’”
Bornes began playing shows as PeepSigns at the Crown and Harp and recording music with ChemStat, and he quickly amassed a following. Music entrepreneur Joseph Nelson approached Bornes at Sandaga 813 and offered to manage him as part of his imprint Konscious Konnect.
Last year Bornes released the song “Why?” as a stern if soothing plea for personal responsibility that melded Andre 3000’s keen observations with Kanye’s doe-eyed vulnerability. In March, Konscious Konnect released a music video for the song, featuring Bornes as an earthy reformer who persuades two gang members to reconcile with the man they’re beating up.
This fit in with Nelson’s vision for PeepSigns as an alternative to the violent imagery and substance abuse put forward in some hip-hop. But Bornes wasn’t totally comfortable with the direction he was being shepherded in. He didn’t want to lecture.
“I felt like when I was doing ‘Why?’ some of the thoughts were close-minded. The overall view is positive, right, but some of the views [I have now] are different. [I want my music to have] a more open, more unifying feel,” Bornes says.
Bornes severed ties with Konscious Konnect soon after releasing “Why?” and decided to return to being a student in a spiritual sense. “We don’t find what we’re going through by just sitting in your room and writing all of these things that you think are true, but I had no real perspective. What is my purpose as an artist to go and serve?”
Unexpectedly, he found that new purpose while walking on the Katy Trail, where he came across an older man who needed directions. The two ultimately struck up a conversation and the man told Bornes he was a professor of philosophy visiting from Italy to care for his sister.
As they continued along on the trail, the man convinced Bornes to follow him somewhere new. “He was like, ‘Yeah, this is the right way,’ and he asked, ‘Have you ever been to this one trail?’” Bornes says. “I was like ‘Nah, man. Let’s do it.’”
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They discussed the work of philosopher Rollo May before the man began telling him a story about a woman who kept a black swan in a cage. “He tells me about the rarity of the black swan ... and as he’s talking to me, I kind of zone out and I see this black swan, which is much bigger than the ducks. Its very presence is magnificent. [I was] very inspired by the fact that it couldn’t fly away. ... Everyone feels at one point that they’re in a place where they can’t get away.”
Seeing the black swan invigorated Bornes to begin a podcast of the same name, that would offer lesson plans in creativity to listeners. On the episode with brand developer and longtime friend Crystal Z. Perry, they discuss strategies for creatives to market themselves. Black Swan also serves as a historical record for Dallas music, and especially hip-hop. “I’m just so excited to see [what’s next],” Perry says. “He has literally evolved into a different person.”
Perry’s episode, like the rest in the series so far, is accompanied by warm music that contorts around the conversation, breaking out krautrock drums when she answers questions on strategy, and fading out to make room for moody, electric pianos when she speaks to her background. “The music for my podcast was the first thing I gave feedback on,” she says, comparing the score to Erykah Badu’s “Danger.” “I told him, ‘Evan, you’re never going to beat my music.’”
Bornes plans to nurture Black Swan into a multimedia experience. He also hopes to build an event called The Black Swan Experience, which would unite his various guests for a workshop. “It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m prepared for it,” he says, “as long as it’s steady each week.”