The Writer’s Block: Rapper Xperience on Making Hits with Macklemore and Loving the Work

Seattle rapper and songwriter Xperience (born Tyler Andrews, “XP” for short) has long been making hits with Grammy-winning lyricist and previous American Songwriter cover artist Macklemore.

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For the album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, XP is featured on songs like “Brad Pitt’s Cousin” and “Let’s Eat.” He’s also worked behind the scenes, writing hooks for tracks with artists like Kesha.

But how does one write a hit song, a hit chorus? What happens when you start hearing words you wrote in commercials or during sporting events?

That’s just what we asked XP for American Songwriter’s Writer’s Block Series. Let’s dive in.

American Songwriter: How did songwriting begin for you? Was it early on or was it something you discovered a knack for later?

Xperience: I started writing when I was about 16. I had grown up on gangster music like 8ball & mjg, sauve house, Twista, crucial conflict, etcetera. So when I moved to Washington and heard things like Souls of Mischief, and Kool Keith, my mind was blown. I remember writing a song I called Cyphermentology. [Laughs] I am very embarrassed about this. But it was just me writing and rhyming the biggest words I could think of. Wasn’t my best. But eventually, I sharpened my sword, and I believe I got better with every project. I didn’t start singing till I met Mack. And from then on, I’ve just been trying to challenge myself and become the best writer I can be. I also don’t limit myself to just rapping anymore. I feel I can write in any genre if need be.

AS: When do you feel most satisfied during the process of writing a song, especially one you enjoy?

XP: I feel most satisfied the moment you record the last thing you need to record, a harmony or something, and then you play it back. It’s like “Yes, that’s why I just spent two hours trying to perfect this. This is what I heard in my head.” It’s like, mission accomplished. Nowadays, there’s even more of a rush when I write a hook for Mack, go on tour, and then hear tens of thousands of people singing something I wrote in the homie’s basement. That’s crazy to me.

[RELATED: Writer’s Block: Indigo Girls on Their Evolution of Songwriting]

AS: Have you ever experienced writer’s block and how did you get past it?

XP: I don’t think I have ever experienced writer’s block. But when I listen to my older stuff, I wish I had [Laughs]. I’ve always had a problem with going back and rewriting something. I usually just let the pen do its thing and I’m done. But watching Mack write helped me with that. He’s very good at writing a whole verse and then scrapping it completely because he feels he can do better. It’s that perfectionist aspect I’ve always lacked but tried to obtain. 

AS: Is it hard to let a song go—any examples of this from your current record?

XP: I just wrapped up a project with JFK of Grayskul, and we had like 20 songs. Only 14 made the album, but it was definitely hard to just say those aren’t going to be used. Of course, we could just release them as singles in the future, or use them on a future project. But most likely by then, we will just want to make new music. Do they end up being lost in the ether? 

AS: How did your relationship with Macklemore begin and develop, musically?

XP: We met at a Brother Ali show in Olympia. I think. We argue about this to this day. But I’m pretty sure we both were opening and met after. I was like, “You’re hella dope,” and he was like, “You’re hella dope.” And it went from there. Soon after, he invited me to come to his apartment in Olympia and work on some music, which ended up being his first album. We did a song called, “Hold Your Head Up,” which is the first song I actually tried singing on. He heard me kind of playing around and was like, “Yo, do that!” So I did. Ended up being a lot of people’s favorite song.

AS: What is most important when writing a hook, especially for a song with Macklemore?

XP: He really likes imagery. So I try to capture what he’s saying in his verses and sum it up with images that I know he will like. But the other part is, landing on really catchy melodies that will get stuck in your head, making sure the space is there so it actually feels like a hook. And not overcomplicating it, because you want people to be able to remain it, and sing along.

AS: What is the hardest part for you when it comes to staying motivated to keep practicing songwriting?

XP: I would say the hardest part is coming up with something really dope, but not being able to keep it for yourself. It’s like giving your child away for adoption. But letting your child live with Macklemore isn’t so bad.

AS: What advice would you share with songwriters who are just getting into the art form?

XP: Be adaptable and willing to learn. You don’t know it all, and what you think is dope, might not be to the masses. I had to learn how to look at myself from the outside and give myself real critiques. If you can do that, then you can go into any session, whether it be rap or country music. You must be willing to adapt. 

AS: When you write, is it beginning to end, or do you pick up a song, put it down, go to another, and come back?

XP: For me, I like to write beginning to end. But as I said before, this can hold you back from getting the best possible outcome. You should be willing to stop and come back, just to get a different perspective. But when I’m working with Mack, I challenge myself to get something he will like in one try. We call those one-take Timmys!

[RELATED: The Writer’s Block: Kid Koala on Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together in a Song]

AS: What do you love most about songwriting?

XP: What I love most about writing is seeing the smile on people’s faces when they feel what intended them to feel. Or when I pull an emotion out of them like I’m gonna make someone cry with this one. It gets deeper than that though. I also realize we are saving lives. I couldn’t tell you how many people come up to us and say they were thinking about suicide or something but heard this or that song, and it saved their lives. It reminds me what I’m doing it for.

Photo by Beeba / Courtesy XP

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