Boulder Teen Channels Anxiety, Isolation Into Rap Lyrics

April 7, 2020
Tavi Moddel of BoulderTavi Moddel of BoulderCourtesy of Mulu Moddel
After a bit of school work and exercise, Tavi Moddel says there's not a lot to do at home so he's grateful he can spend time writing and producing rap.

This is a hard time for a lot of teenagers.  They’re stuck at home when they’re developmentally hardwired with an intense desire to be around friends.

But 16-year-old Tavi Moddel of Boulder is using his isolation at home during the coronavirus outbreak to collaborate with friends online and hone his skills writing and recording music. 

“One thing great about music is it gives me something to do in a time like this when we have a lot of free time,” he said.

Tavi has been writing poetry since elementary school and has always loved music. The two eventually collided. He began writing one of his latest raps “Corona Time” just when the virus was in its early stages in Colorado. His friend Gavin Leach produced the beat and another friend, Collin Miller, also raps on it.

We’re in the middle of something, I really don’t know what to do.

Look at the news, when I wake up in the morning it sayin’ we don’t got school

Shout out Stensrud (Tavi’s principal), I'm with the crew

Hop on a beat and I rap to a flute on the interlude, it’s coming soon (This references a mixtape Tavi was going to drop before the coronavirus outbreak)

We get it going you better stay tuned

Back to the news

We all gonna die from a virus that’s feeling like we in a movie

I’m getting woozy. Everyone gettin’ so sick. Only thing decent is Uzi (Rap star Lil Uzi, released two albums in a week right when the virus hysteria started so Tavi said, “that was one of the things everyone had to look forward to.”)

Food getting’ scarce, pull out my hair.

Went to Whole Foods and they  fresh out of pears.

I’m (expletive) scared ‘cause I played pick up with Rudy Gobert. (That’s the NBA basketball player who had the coronavirus but has since recovered.)

The song by the Colorado teenager has more than 1,200 plays on SoundCloud so far. Tavi's music can be found on his Instagram music account @damntavi and on Apple Music and Spotify. 

Tavi Moddel of BoulderCourtesy of Mulu Moddel
Tavi Moddel checks the sound as he gets ready to record a rap. Tavi Moddel uses a USB microphone, a laptop, headphones and the GarageBand editing program.

To make his music, Tavi has a simple set up: a USB microphone, a laptop, headphones and the GarageBand editing program.

Sometimes he’ll start a song by cranking out lyrics in his notebook. Or sometimes it begins with a beat.

Now that his school is doing remote learning, Tavi gets up around 9 or 10 a.m. He said in the first two weeks of spring break, “I think I speak for everyone when my sleep schedule got thrown way off.”

Now he takes care of his school assignments in the morning and by afternoon, he’s got a yawning day ahead of him. They’re no more social outlets like lifting weights after school or just hanging out with friends. He runs and has done some hikes but “there’s really not much to do.”

“I have to be careful because there’s some older people in my household so I don’t want to be a factor in anything bad happening,” he said.

Tavi knows that as a kid in Boulder, he doesn’t fit the narrative of most rappers. He writes some songs about his life but others are “story tracks” where he imagines another person’s life. Tavi is a social person but he said, “There are  a lot of things I don’t talk about with people and I can sort of express myself through music, especially rap.”

Like many of his peers, Tavi struggles with anxiety and that’s where his songwriting helps.

“I feel like I can take all of those thoughts that are just jumbled in my head and screaming at me and making me feel actually worse than I am and put them on paper and that’s a way to sort of rationalize my thoughts,” he said.

Tavi Moddel of BoulderCourtesy of Mulu Moddel
Tavi Moddel hits a ball around with his dad Garret Moddel. After a bit of school work, he says there's not a lot to do at home other than write and produce rap.

The song Undeniable is about how, while he may not fit the narrative of who a rapper is, Tavi believes he can make quality rap. Part of the song talks about how people blindly follow social media, which he said, can be “an echo chamber for negativity.”

Stir the pot ‘cause I heard a lot of (expletive), tryna turn it off

Echo chamber full of sheep, I’m a dog and I’m barking right back ‘cause I herd the block

 Tavi likes word plays like in this lyric where he “heard” the people, but he’s also “herding” the sheep.

One topic he’d like to tackle more in songs is school and the mental toll it takes on students. Even in non-coronavirus times, it’s a source of huge anxiety for Tavi and his friends. He said school doesn’t focus on the individual student. He feels like he’s just meant to spit out information on a test. Some of these feelings come out in the song “Eulogy,” which also features Shaedon Karschner, a teen he met on the internet.

What they’re saying not hittin’ acting like they got wisdom

We stuck in a flawed system leading to a lost vision

Feeling like I’m Pac spitting ‘cause I really see no change 

Tryna ride the path they paved but I’ve been getting road rage

Clip out wings like parrots and they got us living so caged

Only taught to repeat things until we lost our own way

But right now, Tavi is really missing something about school — his friends.

“I would give a lot to be able to go in the middle of the student center where everybody just kind of gathers during passing periods and after school. That was always something I looked forward to in my day.”

Right now in the midst of this unprecedented change and isolation, Tavi is just trying to create and innovate and — like the rest of us, stay positive.

“I’m just trying to keep my head high, stay focused through this because I know that if I take all the precautions necessary, we’ll eventually make it out of this,” he said. “I think there’s no point in dwelling on something negative when instead I could be making it as positive as possible.”