A Conversation with DJ HESTA PRYNN
By Tyler Malone
DJ Hesta Prynn, one part of the rap group Northern State, has been doing her own thing while the group is on indefinite hiatus. Her solo music has taken her in a more dance-oriented direction, but hiphop is always in her soul. Out on tour, Questlove, member of the Roots and arguably the high priest of hiphop, once said to her that she was his melody. As she relayed to me when I tried to pry as to his meaning: “When Questlove calls you his melody you don’t ask questions, you just put it in your bio and run with it!”
One thing you won’t find in her bio though are all the songs she’s ghostwritten for other artists. She’s said previously that “being a hiphop ghostwriter is like making out with the boy you like in high school and afterwards he tells you not to tell anyone.” All those hooks you love on the radio? Chances are Hesta Prynn has written a few of them. So Questlove, sorry, you can’t have her all to yourself. She’s not your melody, she’s our melody.
Tyler Malone: First, let’s go back and talk Northern State. Talk to me about how you guys got your start, how you ended up with a name referencing Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and whether there are any plans to ever work together as a group again.
Hesta Prynn: This is how Northern State started and how I got my MC name:
NS girls (drunk): WE WANNA START A GIRL
BEASTIE BOYS AND WE WANT YOU
TO BE IN IT!
Me (drunk): OKAY BUT DON’T CALL IT
SOMETHING OVER THE TOP FEMINIST
LIKE “HESTA PRYNN” OR SOMETHING!
NS girls: OMG THAT’S YOUR MC NAME!
Seriously though the band formed out of our true love and respect for hip-hop music. We never planned for it to be as big as it was, but quickly after it started we realized we were pretty good and had something to say. It got the attention of some major people early on–like Robert Christgau (music journalist), Chuck D, Questlove, etc. The rest is history.
At the time I was a women’s studies major at Oberlin and was really in a feminist place. Still am, maybe not as aggressive college student-y about it though!
No real plans to record again in the future although I’d love to do a reunion show in 2014.
TM: Is The Scarlet Letter a favorite book of yours? What are some of your favorite books?
HP: I love Ira Levin who wrote books like This Perfect Day, Rosemary’s Baby, and lots of others. I’m really into Margaret Atwood right now. I read a ton and always gift books–I just bought House of Leaves for Sara Quin (of Tegan & Sara) for her birthday.
TM: What do you think of hiphop today? What rappers are you listening to these days?
HP: I really like Kendrick Lamar, I think he’s excellent live, which is a rare thing in this genre. I think Nicki is great. Busta has continued to put out consistently great work for so many years, it’s inspiring. I always listen to what Jay-Z’s doing, in his amazing moments and his lazy moments he’ll always be my fave. Drake is obviously killing it right now. I like a lot of what modern rappers are doing musically but I definitely wish they had more to say on the lyrical side. We get it, you’re rich. What else? J Cole really came correct on Crooked Teeth, I like that.
TM: Your solo music of the last few years, the stuff from your two EPs, is much more EDM-oriented rather than hiphop-oriented. Was that a conscious choice to move away from the Northern State sound? Do you plan on continuing to move in that direction?
HP: You know as a DJ I play so many different types of music that as a solo artist I just wanted to explore some of the other genres I like. When you’re in a band that gets known for doing this one specific thing sometimes you need to break out and become another entity to do something else. I’ve mostly been co-writing for other artists these days, not working on my own stuff, so I’m really back to a lyrical state of mind, just writing lyrics and melody like all the time in many genres. Very heady stuff.
TM: What dance artists are you currently digging?
HP: I really like Dillon Francis on Mad Decent. I also like Pretty Lights a LOT.
TM: Besides your solo dance music and your work as a part of the rap group Northern State, you’ve created a third career in the music world as a respected DJ. How did that come about?
HP: When we worked with Muggs he really encouraged my love of the studio and creating records as opposed to performing. Questlove showed me how to loop vinyl and I liked messing around with that. People would ask me to DJ events here and there and one time I just said yes. The response was great, the rest is history.
TM: Speaking of Questlove, apparently he called you “his melody.” How do you go about becoming Questlove’s melody?
HP: When we toured with The Roots and subsequently recorded with Questlove one day he “declared” what each of us was good at. “You’re my timing, you’re my rock, you’re my melody.” When Questlove calls you his melody you don’t ask questions, you just put it in your bio and run with it!
TM: Very true. In addition to Questlove, you’ve worked with everyone from Tegan & Sera to the Beastie Boys. Who is someone you haven’t worked with yet that you would love to work with at some point in the future?
HP: Man, I would live to get some tracks from Mike Will or Hitboy and write for Rihanna, Rita Ora, some of the pop artists like that. You get a hot track and it just takes you over, I love that.
TM: What should we expect from you in the near future?
HP: Right now expect more cuts on the radio. You don’t always know who wrote what, you have to google it.
Hesta Prynn is a DJ, rapper, and music artist. She is a member of the rap group Northern State, and also has a solo career as a dance artist and DJ. In addition, she ghostwrites songs for a number of artists.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Brandsway Creative
Design by Marie Havens
DJ Hesta Prynn, 2013, Photography Courtesy of Brandsway Creative