Interview: MONA

By Azeem Khan

George Monastiriakos is a Montreal-based student rapper who attends McGill University and studies Political Science and History. With the release of his first studio album in 2012, George has performed at various times, including charity events held by World Vision McGill and Amnesty International McGill. With tens of thousands of views on videos on his YouTube channel MonaHipHopTV, he plans to release a sophomore album by the end of this year. Counterpoint had the privilege of sitting down with George and interviewing him on his work.

Q: What made you interested in rapping, and compelled you to seriously pursue music?

A: When I was younger, about 8 or 9 years old, I would constantly rap and sing. I grew up in a single-parent home, so a lot of my male influences were hip-hop artists. Tupac, Eminem, I used to always sing and rap along to their songs. Eventually, I started writing my own lyrics at 9 or 10 years old. I’ve been writing lyrics for over 10 years now. Even so, it wasn’t until after high school that I began to seriously consider rapping as a major part of my life and my future. I’ve been releasing tracks since December 2011, and did my first set of shows on May 25th and 26th, 2012. It was benefit concert at my old high school, and from there I started getting bookings at small bars and hip hop showcases. Sorry for going on and on, now I feel like I’m summarizing my whole music career! It’s been a ride.

Q: What’s been your best experience performing thus far? What’s been your favorite show, if you could pinpoint just one?

A: I can’t really pinpoint a favorite show. But the first time I did a show, parents and young people from the audience went to my mom and congratulated her on raising a good son and stuff, so that was amazing, and it made me feel happy. Some people have cried at my shows where I’ve performed my more heavy or emotional songs, and the thought that I can make somebody feel that way through a song, to be able to move people, is pretty powerful.

Q: Do you have any advice for up and coming artists or bands?

A: I think the issue with a lot of artists is that they don’t let people know what they’re doing, so they might be kind of under the radar. You have to let people know what you’re about and what you’re doing. You have thousands of potential listeners on the street, in the metro, at school. Push yourself and innovate. There’s always going to be an interest in, and an audience for your music- You just have to find it. Don’t be afraid.

Q: I can definitely see how your interest in Poli Sci would influence your music and the messages in it, as you talk about a lot of politically relevant issues. Can you explain the overarching themes in your music, and what the main messages have been in your songs?

A: Every song is a different piece, a different part of me. With every song, I try to incorporate as many messages as possible. For example, I may not make a song that’s all about global warming, or imperialism, or the occupation of Palestine, but I’ll say one line in the song that will make you think about those things. Every song is me, though, and every song involves my personal experiences, with people, with love, loss, tragedy, sadness, success, determination, happiness, being an underdog. Even in songs where it’s me bragging about being a rapper, I try to add a punch line about human rights, or other politically relevant issues.

Q: With these themes in mind, is there any song that you wrote that was particularly potent for you? A song that when you performed, it really stood out amongst the rest?

A:Definitely My Dedication, the first song from my first album. In the first verse, I talk about how my dad died, and in the second verse I talk about why we should be grateful for our lives, then onto how people in other places around the world have it far worse than we do here in the West. Every verse just has a bunch of different ideas that I carry into almost ever other song I make. It’s a little emotional.

Q: You have an album that you’ve been working on and that’s coming out soon- When will that be and what’s that been like?

A: I started writing songs for this album in November 2012, right after I released my first one. I’ve written 30, maybe even more songs tentatively, but this album is going to be 13 songs that fit together perfectly. I spent a lot of time choosing the beats, writing the lyrics, making sure that everything, song 1 to song 13, is cohesive. But I don’t have a release date yet. I’m going to figure that out after this semester, when I have a little more time.

Q: You talked briefly about this before, but who are artists that you look to as an inspiration and that have maybe influenced your sound? Do you have a favorite music genre?

A: I’ve listened to different artists and types of music at various periods in my life, and I think that my music is an agglomeration of all those preferences. As a kid I used to listen to Eminem, Nas, Tupac, 50 Cent, Jay-Z; I looked up to those guys. As I got older, I started gravitating towards different types of music. Rock and heavy metal; Linkin Park, System of a Down, Slipknot. I really love the energy that they bring. It’s loud, it’s heavy, it makes your blood rush. Some of my music can be very intense, and I think that’s where I get it from. Now, I even listen to folk and jazz music. Nevertheless, no artist has influenced me to the extent where I’ve wanted to copy them completely. What I really look up to are people that I think are exemplary human beings; My mom, Carl Sagan, Noam Chomsky. They’ve helped mold my worldview, and influenced me to want to contribute something positive to the world.

Q: Any last thoughts you’d like to share with our readers or part with?: I definitely want the readers to know that you can not let anyone put you in a box! If you want something, or feel compelled to do something, go and do it, and don’t be scared. Get the job done while you’re here, living this life, and enjoy it! This life is the one experience you have, so make the most of it. If you’re scared of something, challenge yourself and go against that fear. You might surprise yourself.