• Jimmy Fishbein
  • Twista

“I’m known for a certain tempo of music,” says Chicago hip-hop veteran Twista. The tempo is remarkably fast—after all, the man otherwise known as Terrell Mitchell landed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1992, the same year he released his debut album, Runnin’ Off at da Mouth. More than two decades later and Mitchell is still at it—today he releases his ninth album, The Dark Horse.

The new album is Twista’s first in nearly half a decade, and he’s kept busy since he dropped The Perfect Storm in 2010. Aside from releasing a mixtape (2012’s Reloaded) and an EP (last year’s Back to the Basics), Mitchell’s been consistently popping up on tracks by a younger generation of Chicago rappers. He compared himself to the Higgs boson on Chance the Rapper‘s “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” laid out the realities of street life on the remix of Lil Reese’s “Traffic,” and rapped about bopping on Sicko Mobb’s “Bitches & Bikinis.” Mitchell recruited some younger artists for The Dark Horse: it notably includes “No Friend of Me,” a bonus track with drill rapper Chief Keef and Stunt Taylor, the west-side MC whose “Fe Fe on the Block” helped soundtrack the blossoming bop scene.

Twista’s been active in Chicago outside of the hip-hop scene as well—he’s organized food drives with south-side one-stop shop Exclusive773, and just last month he hosted a shoe convention called Sole Expo at Lacuna Lofts in Pilsen. When I spoke with Twista on the phone a couple weeks ago I first asked him about his involvement in the community. We also spoke about the up-and-coming locals he listens to and what inspired the name of his new album. Here are some select quotes from our conversation:

On engaging the community outside of hip-hop

“It’s my city, man. I think everybody represents the town they’re from, and it’s a part of their hearts—it’s just bigger than a location. Me being from Chicago I definitely want to always give back. I think just with age and over time, [I’m] in a position to do different things to come up with different ways to give back to the community. It started out with just rap shows, talent shows, and things like that. Now we’ve evolved to things like the [Sole] Expo, charity basketball games, and so many other things.”

How Chicago has influenced his new album

“On the simplest level you got me, Stunt Taylor, and Chief Keef on a song, so that’s one thing. Working with those guys like that—Chief Keef being like a face of Chicago right now to youth. And just the sound. I’m known for a certain tempo of music and certain sound, so when you hear the drill sound or turn-up music it sounds a little different than when you get to certain songs on my album like ‘One More Joog’ or songs like ‘Six Rings’ you can hear the elements that I normally do music to change.”

On working on a song with Chief Keef and Stunt Taylor

“It was kind of easy. I guess once people hear more of Stunt Taylor’s music they will realize he’s not really a bop artist, he’s really along those lines of a Lil Durk or a different artist like that. It’s fairly easy to get them on a track that had that vibe together. Once we heard the way Stunt Taylor was doing that hook and how it was flowin’ to the beat, it was real easy for me to mesh in with my verse as well as Chief Keef. So that track was real easy to come together—we all feel each others’ vibe.”

The rising local rappers he enjoys

“Everybody, man. I like the new girl Dreezy. I like Lil Herb, I like Lil Bibby. I’m a big Lil Durk fan—I like his music a lot—as well as my man Chief Keef. Everybody. I like King Louie, I feel like he’s one of the most innovative artists when it comes to styles and he’ll be recognized a lot for it soon—start paying attention to him.

“Chance the Rapper I’m into a lot. I like his little brother as well, Taylor Bennett—he gets it in. My man BJ the Chicago Kid—we got a chance to work on some music before, he’s real cool. My man The Boy Illinois, me and him are real cool, we get it in. Me and my homie YP. YP is a big artist from Chicago, or should I say underground artist who gets it in. Young Problem, we just did a video and a song together. Just came out with a song on Sir Mickey Rocks’s album, so, I get it in, man.”

How he came up with the title of his new album

“Reading, just chillin’ around reading a bunch of different things. I saw that one of the Beatles was considered a dark horse—I always forget his name too when I’m ready to tell somebody where I got the idea from [Editors’ note: George Harrison]. They called him the ‘dark horse’ because he was a writer yet you knew Paul McCartney and all of the other guys’ names more, but he wrote songs for the Beatles.

“I was like, ‘man, that’s how I feel in the industry, it’s like I’m a dark horse.’ It’s like, you hear all of these names and see all of these guys doing their thing. But when you really look into it, check out a person like Twista’s career and look at the longevity, the list of people I work with, and my songs . . . it’s like, ‘Wow, you’re considered a dark horse in the industry, you gotta pay more attention to him.’

“Then I just liked that the word horse was in it because I’m a Sagittarius.”

On his long hip-hop career

“It’s a lot of times, it’s plenty artists that release records that don’t reach expectations—but if you love this music then you keep going. To me this music is like the basketball industry, the basketball league. It’s like, LeBron loses a lot of nights, but he’s still LeBron; he still comes out, he still loves basketball, he still plays hard the next game. So I look at this music thing like that. If you love doing it, it’s not about reaching every expectation that some person may see that they consider you the man or one of the stars or whatever. It’s about you loving what you’re doing and being satisfied with it yourself.

“So I’m always gonna make some noise on some level. Usually when I get mad I go hard. Somebody make me mad enough I shake everything up a little bit.”