Senior Cory Leo’s capstone aims to provoke discussion about an unfamiliar culture: hip hop
by Katherine Dominek, ’19
“There’s always this aha moment when you are listening to a track for a sample. When you hear it you know exactly what you want to do with it.”
Senior Cory Leo, a self-described “producer and sometimes rapper,” had his first “Eureka!” during the summer of 2017 while touring abroad with a band of student musicians.
“There was a song I had on a playlist on that trip that I had been listening to,” Leo said. “The track behind it had this chorus sampled into it. I just really liked the sound of a full choir being used. It really gave the track a lot of soul.”
Wanting to make something similar, Leo found a muse in a rendition of the gospel song “Behold, How Good” by a symphonic choir traveling with him.
“The very last chord of that song stuck with me every time I heard it,” he said.
Using a recording of one of the choir’s performances and synth percussion software, Leo put together his first instrumental track: “Behold.”
Leo produces music online under the pseudonym Chordonic, a blend of the musical term chord—meaning multiple notes played simulaneously—and -onic, a suffix used to name acids. His art is reflected in his name, as Leo contrasts the sharp beats of hip hop with the smooth melodies of contemporary jazz when mixing instrumentals.
“Jazz just sounded right to me,” Leo said. “Any given classic hip hop artist you can think of has used a Miles Davis or a Sonny Rollins or a Dave Brubeck track to sample from, [and] I was like ‘I got to get back to the roots.’”
Leo founded Upper Arlington’s Hip Hop Club last year with hopes of directly sharing the culture with students by inviting local musicians to speak. At the time, he did not envision it as being the basis of his capstone project, which is to discover how being exposed to a new culture impacts one’s worldview.
“[Most speakers] are part of a culture that has not saturated Upper Arlington whatsoever,” Leo said. “So I thought, ‘Well, UA needs a little something different. Why not expose [hip hop to] some of the people that are going to be the future of UA, and see what happens?’”
As part of his capstone, Leo also released his debut album Crisis Averted on July 7. The album features 8 songs and was made in collaboration with multiple Columbus-based artists, including UAHS senior Dylan Davis, aka Myle$ Davi$.
Leo rapped about resisting negative societal pressures in the opening track and accepting uniqueness. He said: “Got a mind on the same grind as those who are inclined / To set difference aside and take collective pride.”
Hip Hop Club meets once a month in room 119. For more information, follow @uahiphopclub on Instagram.