By Mylin Batipps
You won’t hear Shawn Lov on the radio, but he’s everywhere on the Internet. He’s one of the most downloaded underground hip-hop artists today, and he has been in the game for two decades. After being signed by Nuffsaid Records, Australia’s highest-standing label, and performing on stage with renowned artists such as Mobb Deep, Big Pun and Musiq Soulchild, one can assume that Lov has had a very successful career so far. The reality is, however, that he has gone through a lot of hardships to reach those successes.
Shawn Livernoche was only 16 years old when he released his first EP in 1994 and has recently released his latest music video at the age of 36. The College of New Jersey graduate has gained respect from hip-hop fans for his long-lived dedication and passion for the industry. It was in the first half of those two decades, though, that Lov has paid the price for his passion for hip-hop. And without the drive to overcome those adversities, he would not be where he is today.
Growing up in the 1980s in Trenton, New Jersey, Lov lived with his parents in an unkempt apartment complex and went to school with a mixed population of black and white kids. Lov was addicted to hip-hop music. At six years old, he would go to record stores and buy LP’s from iconic hip-hop artists like Fat Boys and Run DMC. As he got older, Lov became more influenced by those artists and went to school sporting a box-top fade and over-sized clothing. The kids at school did not really click with him and his style.
“None of the white kids embraced what I was doing, and the black kids my age weren’t all necessarily old enough to really get it either,” Lov says. “My direct influences were the rappers in their late teens and early twenties all from Trenton who I spent a lot of time around.”
Lov’s father is a major influence on Lov’s knowledge of ’80s hip-hop culture at such a young age. His father left his job at IBM to become a musician and performed in bands throughout the 1970s. In the late ’80s, he opened up his own recording studio called “Hot Spots” in the outskirts of Trenton, and Lov, 12 at the time, would go there to hang out and record with older rappers from Trenton who were in their late teens and early twenties.
“I had their support, and I was influenced heavily by their rap styles, production styles, and even the philosophies of the Five Percent Nation, which was at the core of a lot of Trenton hip-hop culture at the time,” Lov says. “Their friendship and support for what I was doing helped me learn to ignore and avoid conflicts in my school with a younger age group of kids who didn’t get me.”
Because those kids didn’t understand him, they called him names and bullied him. And although Lov never changed his appearance or his beliefs to fit in with the kids, the bullying did hurt him. “You get humbled when bullied too bad,” he says.
It was Lov’s support from his crew in his father’s recording studio that kept him pushing, and before he knew it, he was on stage. In 1990, at the age of 13, Lov performed for the first time in a club in Newark, New Jersey. The show included only four acts, but for a first performance, things did not go well. “The show ended in gunfire,” Lov says. “It was not an awesome place to be in at the time.
Shortly afterwards, things were starting to look up. He continued to perform on stage a number of times as years passed and was heard by artists who were already in the hip-hop industry. SBK Records wanted to sign him as a “little brother” kind of artist, and Kool Rock-Ski from Fat Boys was interested in signing him.
He was not pleased, though, with how labels wanted to portray him, and so he didn’t accept the invitations. He didn’t want to be a “little brother” kind of artist; he felt that his emcee skills deemed him more worthy than that. He recalled press packages from the late 80s and early 90s in which he sported spiked hair and polka dot t-shirts. “I just didn’t like the fact I was going through so many challenges culturally,” he says.
Lov decided to take his emcee skills and capitalize on them. His first album, Speak of the Devil, was finished in 1994 but was never officially released. He would showcase with icons Big Daddy Kane and Little Daddy Shane at the age of 16 and compete in on-stage battles with artists like Big Pun and Mobb Deep. In 1998, he showcased with Musiq Soulchild, who wasn’t signed at the time.
“Many of them were struggling artists just like me at the time, and though I respect everyone I mentioned, performing on the same night as them wasn’t as awe-inspiring as maybe opening for a Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Slick Rick, or the countless others I grew up being inspired by.”
His biggest inspiration is Tony D, a legendary emcee and producer from Trenton who died in 2009. Lov released his the album The G.O.D.in 1998 under Tony D, which was considered his first official release. Working with Tony D for a decade helped establish his legacy as an artist.
“Any thing that was a hip-hop fan from the 80s and 90s knew him,” Lov says. “And if you lived in or near Trenton during the late 80s or early 90s, he might as well have been Dr. Dre.”
By the late ‘90s, Lov was so focused and on top of his music that school came second. In 2000 he released Never Never Land, which is considered one of Lov’s most successful albums. He was also in community college at the time, but his dedication to his music distracted him from continuing. Quitting school, he also started spending less time in his music and more time with alcohol, girls and drugs.
“It was low-life stuff I had managed to trap myself inside of mainly because the music wasn’t exactly putting me in a position where I was jet set. So I found myself in the gutter for a while.”
In 2001, Lov decided to go back to college at the age of 21. He finished community college with a concentration in journalism, and then he got accepted into TCNJ. Lov graduated from TCNJ in 2002 with a major in English and a minor in African-American studies. He wanted to include himself into black culture since he was often excluded because he was white. It was there where he met Dr. Don Evans, a then associate professor in AA studies and an inspiring person in his life.
“Him and I used to riff and play against each other in class. I clicked with him,” Lov says.
Lov was working on a little bit of his music during college, but he cranked up the volume towards graduation. He teamed up with Australian label Nuffsaid Records to produce The Blackout of 1977 in 2004. He became well known on the Internet and made thousands of dollars from his fans clicking on and downloading the songs.
But it wasn’t about the money for him; it was all about preserving the “Golden Age” of hip-hop—the ’80s and ’90s eras that were recognized for their innovation and distinct styles.
“It’s about wanting to build a catalog which has enabled me to stay culturally relevant to the people who can recite Big Daddy Kane’s song,” Lov says.
Working with German producer Sebastian Hochstein, Lov is now traveling all over the country to work on his 13th LP, Grotesque Heads, a post-modern hip-hop album which will be released in May. He is also co-founder of High Scores Classic Arcade Museum, which is located in Burlington, New Jersey. He has an autobiography out called “A Brief History of Rhyme and Bass: Growing Up with Hip-Hop” (Xlibris Corp, 2001), which goes into detail about the successes and challenges he encountered throughout his journey.
Lov pities mainstream music because of the artists’ addiction to money, which is why he is loyal to the underground world instead.
“Their hearts are in the wrong place,” he says of their lack of legacy. At the same time, Lov notes that there are many young people who do serious research about hip-hop and how it was once valued as a culture.
“The difference is, I can close my eyes and still see it,” he says.