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A Talk with Shaw Calhoune

Following a series of jazz rap projects for the past half decade, Maryland’s Shaw Calhoune has finally released his full-length debut album, Carry Out On Shaw. A concept record where the MC starts working at a shady fast-food outlet, the album sees Calhoune cook up some of hist most creative material yet.

In the album, the rapper works at a newly-opened carry out serving everything from seafood to chicken wings, but its reputation is already poor. With customers waiting hours for subpar meals, Calhoune narrates his failing business through a series of comedic sketches.

“My reason for using the food theme was because, down here in D.C., we’re known for our food spots, which is the carry out,” Calhoune said. “I just wanted to showcase the world I’m coming from, the whole culture, the DMV culture.”

While his food-centric community inspired the theme of the LP, Calhoune had other influences regarding why he chose to make his restaurant a poorly-managed spot where customers come in just to complain. “I kind of got the idea for that from Redman,” he said. “You know the ‘I’ll Bee Dat’ video when they were drinking the soda and they all spit it out? That’s where I got that part from.”

9th Wonder and J Dilla are just a handful of producers who inspired the soulful sound of Carry Out On Shaw. Borrowing the summery style of his previous efforts like 2023’s Fly Langston, Calhoune had no intention of changing up his creative process for his latest work. “The approach was just like any other of my projects,” he said. “Always treat it like your last. Always aiming to do better than your last project, to always push the bar.”

When asked if he had worked in fast food before, Calhoune’s first response was a sardonic laugh. “I never went back to that place ever again,” he said, before quickly segueing into the next question.

Although work on the LP began about a year ago, Calhoune has been mulling over the idea for quite some time, having come up with the title years prior. “Usually when I come up with my titles, it’s a year or two [before the release.] But thank god I have a good memory!”

He went on: “The title usually happens first, and that’s when the process starts. It may take a year, it may take a couple of months, because it’s a whole strategy plan in terms of beat-searching. That’s the main thing, and once you get the beats, you pick the topics and see which beat fits which topic, then just execute in terms of writing, and then record.”

In regards to production, Calhoune showed no interest in drastically changing his style. The same way he chose his features, the MC gravitated towards familiar faces he knew he could rely on. “It was artists that I’ve pretty much built a rapport with, that I feel comfortable reaching out to, that would jump on the song within a heartbeat.”

Looking to the future, it looks like the restaurant won’t be opening its doors again anytime soon. “Me and sequels, nah. We move on to the next. You guys can always come back and listen to this joint to enjoy. I don’t really do sequels; usually I’ll do something that’s similar, just to give you that feel. It’s not going to be Carry Out On Shaw 2; it would have a completely different title, but maybe the feel would be the same … I just bring too much to the table creatively just to do something again. I just like challenging myself, giving myself different challenges on different projects.”

Moving on from Carry Out On Shaw, it seems like Calhoune is determined to push himself in 2024. Listing off a series of albums he has in the works, he teased new projects like Back to the Matters at Hand, Vanilla Bean, Plant Based, and Shaw Not Shawn. Though details on the upcoming albums are scant, in classic Calhoune style, the rapper has the titles fresh in his memory for whenever the creative process begins.

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