(W)rapping students and lyrics

Riley Overend

It’s no surprise that campus supervisor Ryan Shaw’s hip hop career has flown under the radar of nearly all the students and faculty he watches over everyday. After all, even fans at his own shows don’t realize that the 25-year-old is a rapper until he actually grabs the microphone.

“The one thing that I’m told always when I get off stage is that people didn’t know I was there to rap. The crowd is usually more stunned than anything else,” Shaw said. “People look at each other like, ‘Did that just happen?’”

The astonishment is understandable. With pale skin, red hair, and casual attire that matches his mild demeanor, Shaw–known in the hip hop community as Cyberclops–does not fit the mold of a stereotypical rapper.

“I try to perpetuate the whole ‘don’t look like I should be rapping’ thing. I usually just try to look and act as uncomfortable as I can,” he said. “I try to downplay everything I do.”

While his stage presence and attitude come across as carefree, his delivery is, in fact, very calculated and deliberate. A self-described “rapper’s rapper,” Shaw carefully crafts each line to include multisyllabic rhymes and complex rhythms, aspects of his music that often go unnoticed and unappreciated by casual listeners.

“It just comes down to trying to say things in a way most people haven’t said them,” he said. “Whether it’s rapping in triplets, or double time, I try to keep people guessing. I try to cram as much into each line, as far as syllables and schemes go.”

When it comes to his content, Shaw frequently talks about the art of rap itself–in his song “Yes Please,” he describes it as “spitting rhymes about spitting rhymes.” His emphasis on clever wordplay and traditional lyrics mirror old school hip hop, but sound modern thanks to his fast, syncopated flow.

Through his unique style and sample-based production reminiscent of the breakbeat era, Shaw and his various hip hop groups have gained recognition in the industry. In 2010, he joined Candlespit Collective, a trio with two other emcees who performed several times at Slim’s, one of the Bay Area’s premier live music venues. Two years ago, he played a show at a summer music festival in Michigan that was headlined by leading hip hop instrumentalist RJD2. Last summer, he even toured around the nation rapping with up-and-coming producer Durazzo.

As for his future in hip hop, Shaw doesn’t know if it will devolve into a hobby or transform into a full-time career. But, either way, Shaw seems right at home.

“This job allows me to have that career and be a struggling artist without really having to go all in with it,” Shaw said. “If I blew up, that’d be awesome. Everyone wants to be famous for something, but it’s not necessarily why I do it. I pretty much do everything to entertain myself.”

Maybe Cyberclops is the hero that hip hop deserves, but not the one it needs right now. A silent guardian. A watchful protector. Maybe, for now, he’ll pull a page out of Bruce Wayne’s book and just be Ryan Shaw, campus supervisor.