Following in the footsteps of a successful parent can be a discouraging task. When your father is Dallas producer SymbolycOne, there's a lot to live up to: Two Grammy awards, a list of list of collaborators including Kanye West and Eminem, and even an appearance (two, actually) at last week's grand opening of The Bomb Factory, alongside Erykah Badu and Sarah Jaffe.
But for S1's son JaVohn Griffin, who records under the alias Vohnbeatz, there's no reason to feel intimidated. That's because, at just 17 years old, his resume already includes co-production credits on tracks for Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli and Lecrae. He even has his own hip-hop project, Black Swan. No, for Griffin, the sky appears to be the limit.
Griffin has been dedicated to music production since the tender age of nine. And while genetics may play some part in VohnBeatz's undeniable musical talent, his style and execution are unique, innovative and more importantly, his own. In this world of recycled themes and cookie-cutter riffs, VohnBeatz strives for something different. "Honestly, at this time, music has really downgraded," claims Griffin, speaking like a weathered veteran. "What people want to hear [on the radio] is not what I'm a fan of."
Citing current favorites from the new Kendrick Lamar album, to singer-songwriter Jhené Aiko, to The Chainsmokers, an EDM DJ duo, Griffin's musical taste is eclectic to say the least -- and he's adamant about his appreciation for all genres.
"I want to be the one that makes that change," Griffin says. "I'm not really concerned about the fame or people knowing my name, I just want to change the industry. Like, people's perspective."
When he's not in the studio, Griffin is your average teenager; he loves basketball, hanging out with his friends and honing his skills as a drummer with his high school's band. The thing that sets him apart is his incessant drive and dedication to his craft -- a fact he no doubt gets from his father, who was in the studio when he learned of his second Grammy win back in February.
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Last year, for example, a schoolmate suggested Griffin check out the MC stylings of Alex Davis, another student at his high school. After giving the tracks a listen, he reached out to Davis, who goes by Alex the Great or ATG, and expressed interest in working together. Davis agreed, and after knocking out one track, the two knew they needed to keep their dynamic going. Thus, Black Swan was born.
By December of 2014, Black Swan had released a video for their track "Drop Me Down," and two months later, dropped the debut EP. Considering the quick turn-around time between the formation of Black Swan and the release of the EP, the young producer says he is satisfied with the results, especially on the production side. "A lot of people can tell that it's really diverse. It's hard to balance, but what I did was, [Davis] has a certain voice, so I specifically made tracks for his voice and it worked out," he recalls.
If all of that wasn't impressive enough, Griffin finds the time to network (a phrase not familiar to most 17 year olds, mind you) and showcase his talent. Earlier this year, he found his way to the League of Extraordinary Beatmakers beat battle at Sandaga 813. In fact, he not only made his way there, but he finished in second place.
That being said, Griffin admits that his passion for production isn't always as smooth as he'd like. "Sometimes I just get in a slump to where I'm just not feeling it. I'll start ideas and just hate them." Most recently, however, the young mix master has been working hard to find a balance between school and his production ventures. "I feel like I've been really busy lately," he says. "I've been in the studio, but not like I would like to. But band season is starting to clear up after UIL and everything should be fine."
Even while juggling his many hats, Griffin maintains his positive, humbled attitude and doesn't allow his stress to deter him from being the best he can be. And with a strong support system of both of his parents, family and friends, he is seemingly unstoppable.
Currently, VohnBeatz is in the process of working on new material, including upcoming projects with Common, Skylar Grey, Torsha Lynn, Cayman Cline and Rhymefest, just to name a few.
Next month he's set to take another crack at the League of Extraordinary Beatmakers battle on April 11 and then he'll be off to Los Angeles for the prestigious ASCAP EXPO iStandard Producer and Rapper Showcase on April 30.
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And if you thought producing was the only tool in his arsenal, be sure to check out Raekwon's S1-produced track "I Got Money," set to drop in April as well. Originally recorded back in 2008 when Vohn was around eight years old, he and his older brother Dee were enlisted to sing the hook and the song is finally ready to be heard.
But even with all the music projects he has underway, Griffin's primary focus is on his grades, this year's UIL competition and spending time with his friends and family. He doesn't feel as though he's missing out on any "normal teenager stuff" because he understands the need for balance, much like in his music. And if his development so far is any indication of his ability to find and maintain that balance, then there is so much more in store for this artist.
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