Southwestern University graduate Jay Nava ’22 performed his “hip-hopera” Realize for Real Here’s on April 19. The performance was the final product needed to earn his masters in music composition from Texas State University.

Nava said that he couldn’t have completed his masters program at Texas State without the foundational knowledge of music theory and classical composition that he gained at Southwestern. While completing his studies, he has been performing in the underground hip-hop scene in Austin, both as a solo artist and with his band, Royal Regiment. In his Music Composition program at Texas State, he combined this knowledge of traditional music composition with his passion for hip hop.

“My music is my identity,” Nava said. “I am one half hip-hop and one half classically trained. I feel like hip-hopea is the middle ground where I can be authentic without sacrificing any part of myself. In creating this opera, one of my main goals was to cross the boundary between the popular genre of hip hop and classical music. Because I believe that the genre of hip hop has a place in the academic space. I think it deserves a spot in the conversation.”

As the composer of a hip-hopera, Nava considers himself to be an experimental musician who likes to make use of the aspects of different genres. He rapped and played his keyboard while orchestrating an ensemble of 22 musicians. This ensemble included five Southwestern graduates: Alex Wilhelm ’19 on drums, Aidan Sweeney ’22 on electric guitar, Will Lord ’22 on bass, Ben Muñoz ’21 on vocals, and John Marrero ’22 on vocals and saxophone.

“Both ‘opera’ and ‘musical’ have book definitions,” Nava explained. “But personally, I think that the distinction comes down to attitude and approach. It’s hard to put into words. […] I just like to use [genre] as a jumping off point. For the hip-hopera, I really wanted to do my best and be as faithful as possible to both hip hop and opera.”

Photo courtesy Ethan Sleeper '22 Photo courtesy Ethan Sleeper ’22Nava was greatly influenced by Chicago-based rappers, particularly Noname and Chance the Rapper. In his survey of the opera genre, he started with Orpheus from the 17th century and ended with Don Giovanni when the genre was beginning to be classically realized. He was captivated by the way that opera uses classical musical motifs and harmony to convey a central musical theme. Nava said that through using elements of opera he was able to create a fitting harmony.

“There is a musical melody present throughout the entire performance that represents family,” he said. “My show is an opera because there is no ‘dialogue,’ instead there is a hybrid of dialogue and rap sections that I call ‘rapatives.’ The traditional equivalent are known as ‘recitatives.’ My opera was my very first attempt to tell my story from beginning to end without any abstract jumps in time. This was important to give it a sense of progression. All the scenes in the opera are [a retelling of my life through] the musical performances that I have done.”

The story began with his first performance at an 8th grade talent show and ended at the present day with his performance of the hip-hopera. In creating his new music, Nava finds himself drawing on what he learned from his favorite Southwestern professors: Associate Professor of Music Bruce Cain, Associate Professor of Music David Asbury, Associate Professor of Music Jason Hoogerhyde, and Professor of Music Michael Cooper. He also draws on the skills he learned participating in Southwestern’s New York Arts Program.

Nava sees himself progressing his career as a composer by applying to the University of Texas and the University of North Texas for a doctor of musical arts degree in music composition. He plans to compose a full three-hour opera in the next few years. In the meantime, he will continue to perform in Austin and release new music with Royal Regime and his rap group M.PAC. A recording of Realize for Real Here’s will be available on Nava’s Patreon soon.