May 3, 2010

Students' hip-hop hit hot: Recording by B.o.B. and Eminem jumps to iTunes No. 2

A Cornell music student and a recent graduate have composed a song that jumped to No. 2 on the iTunes' singles chart just days after its release and is now No. 9 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Atlantic Records hip-hop recording artist B.o.B. released "Airplanes," written by Kinetics (Jeremy Dussolliet '09) and One Love (Tim Sommers '10) April 13. The single, with verses written by B.o.B. and chorus and music by Kinetics and One Love, landed among the hip-hop top tunes by the last week of April.

Enamored with the song, hip-hop star Eminem joined B.o.B. on another version April 27, and it appears on B.o.B's album "The Adventures of Bobby Ray" as "Airplane part ii." The instrumentals and chorus remain the same, with new verses written by Eminem and B.o.B.

The collaboration between Dussolliet as lyricist and music major Sommers as composer began at Cornell two years ago. Last spring, they produced their first album, which wended its way to Atlantic Records.

The pair, now known in the industry as "the Cornell kids," have signed a contract to write three songs this year.

"Although I don't specifically talk about the labor movement in my music, I try to stay on top of politics in my songs," says Dussolliet, an ILR School graduate. "For me, the most important part of the music is the content. I definitely want to be doing socially conscious and provocative music. Cornell has been a huge impact on my music from that perspective."

Says classical percussionist Sommers: "Whether or not I use classical theory, just knowing it is advantageous. I love having a wide background, all those different styles and time periods to draw on."

Sommers' adviser, Paul Merrill, Cornell's Gussman Director of Jazz Ensembles, explains that multicultural influences fill hip-hop. "The more music an artist studies and is exposed to, the wider the framework they can draw upon. These influences seep into popular music, especially hip-hop." Merrill sees correlations between hip-hop beats and a traditional triplet jazz feel, and he points to another similarity: "In both genres the notion of improvised ideas are crucial."

Ironically, before rooming with Dussolliet, Sommers scorned hip-hop. It took a year of Dussolliet constantly playing rap before Sommers began to appreciate the focus on lyrics and beat and the challenge of recreating the sound.

Sommers and Dussolliet plan to room together again in New York City next year. Dussolliet will continue his current work at City Hall on campaign finance reform and write music in the evenings. Sommers intends to work full time on his music.

"It's hard to be an artist these days," says Sommers. "We're focusing on songwriting [rather than performing] because it's our foot in the door." But he and Dussolliet hope that Kinetics and One Love recordings will someday find as big an audience as "Airplanes" has.

As Dussolliet's lyrics say, "Can we pretend that airplanes/In the night sky/Are like shooting stars/I could really use a wish right now."

Linda Glaser is a staff writer in the College of Arts and Sciences.