The moment I met Yoni Gottlieb (C ‘19) on a Thursday afternoon in Starbucks, I could immediately tell he loves his music. Influenced by artists such as Earl Sweatshirt, Mac DeMarco, and Tame Impala, and often spotted wearing a Frank Ocean sweater, the art of song is in his blood—his mom is a professional pianist. We were able to discuss our thoughts on some new album releases this year, from Astroworld by Travis Scott to Daytona by Pusha T, before we jumped into his experiences with music and producing rapper Slim Reaper’s debut album, RIP to the Peaceful (Me).
Although he majors in Biology and minors in Cinema Studies, Yoni maintains his focus on music through his electives and extracurriculars. In addition to being a member of WQHS Radio (his show is on Sundays from 11 to noon), he’s also a member of the Songwriting Collective (the collective meets in Hillel every Sunday for two hours to write songs based off poem prompts), part of a jazz combo half–credit course as a guitarist, and in a band duo that does Mac DeMarco covers called RAGE CAYG, alongside his friend Caroline. “The jazz combo is a great opportunity to be around incredibly talented musicians where you improvise a lot and motivate yourself to be better—it's pushed me more than anything I’ve ever done,” Yoni said.
Yoni’s interest in music has been in full bloom since high school, however. In ninth grade, he made it an outlet and began developing his debut album, Cities and Countries, a neo–classical record released his graduation week in 2015. After releasing Cities and Countries, Yoni wasn’t satisfied—he wanted to follow up and explore other genres further. “I love hip hop and alt rock and wanted to make something modern, so I started to learn beat making last summer, beginning with drum loops in Garage Band,” Yoni said. “My friends gave me feedback, and I finally got to the point where I could do a rap beat—and that’s when Ben came down to visit me.”
As well as being Yoni’s longtime friend from summer camp, Ben Weinstock is also known as Slim Reaper, originally from Colorado and Israel and currently based in New York. In April, he reached out to Yoni to help produce RIP to the Peaceful (Me). “He did an a capella freestyle and I did the beats impromptu; I also got a summer internship working for a studio in West Philly known as Third Story Recording so I could learn engineering and production as we worked on it,” Yoni said. “I also did a lot of self–teaching so I could use the production software Logic.”
At the end of the summer, Yoni and Ben went to a studio in their hometown of Denver to finish up the album alongside fellow Denver–based producer DJ Eionz (real name Ian Ellsworth). As the production manager for the album, Yoni was responsible for giving feedback. “We have a team: it’s me, Eionz, Ben, our graphic designer Efrat, and a web staff for design and promotion,” Yoni said.
The album itself is a personal exploration of Slim Reaper’s mindset. With a boom–bap style reminiscent of ‘90s rap, the rapper’s multisyllabic rhymes mesh neatly with his flow. The opening track, “Peaceful Me,” utilizes a peaceful piano to create a dreamy atmosphere and express the artist’s complacency in substance use. The following tracks, “Pusher,” “Turned,” and “Shover,” serve as an awakening, covering topics such as the passing of a friend and the value of hip hop in moving past one’s old life. Yoni directly produced “Shover,” which utilizes minimalist piano chords to add emphasis and authenticity to the lyrics, and also served as a background vocal on the hook. The final track, “RIP to the Peaceful (Me),” covers the theme of accepting one’s demons and moving forward through the uncertainty one faces. As a whole, the record’s introspective approach serves as a powerful tool for drawing the listener’s attention, and its message and production add depth to Slim Reaper’s story.
For Yoni, developing the record was a powerful experience. “In the process of helping make the album, I felt like I was overcoming my own hurdles,” Yoni said. “I’ve used that confidence in the last three months to really build my music approach, go to open mics, make a soundtrack for a friend’s short video, and mix and master a record for the Songwriting Collective.”
And the story behind his DJ name, Yugs? “At the camp I attended with Ben my nickname was Yugs,” Yoni said. “It’s my happiest name and I want to spread good vibes through music.”