On Wednesday the McKnight Foundation announced the 2019 recipients of the McKnight Composers Fellowships, which awards mid-career Minnesota composers in a wide variety of genres unrestricted cash awards to advance their artistic practices. Among this year’s winners is producer/performer/composer Stefon Bionik Taylor, AKA Bionik, who has worked with local hip-hop artists and producers Lizzo, Manchita, Sophia Eris, Lazerbeak and more, as well as Ice-T, Far East Movement, Phil Collins and George Martin.
“I’m extremely humbled and surprised by being awarded the fellowship, especially since I am a self-trained musician and composer who’s never taken any formal lessons,” Taylor says. “We’re in an era where composers aren’t just classically trained musicians anymore.”
Taylor is a self-described “unconventional composer” and plays entirely by ear, having never learned to read music. “I didn’t go to Julliard and I didn’t learn how to notate music, but I’ve worked an equal amount of hours trying to contribute something to my field,” he says. “No matter what kind of language you’re using to notate it, it’s all about creating a feeling.”
Beyond releasing his own music, producing other artists (including Lizzo’s 2015 Big GRRRL Small World album), and teaching at his private studio in Minneapolis, Taylor is an instructor at Slam Academy and a teaching artist at COMPAS. In 2016, he joined J-Sun’s Cowles Center for Performing Arts-based project MIXTAPE as music director, and with the McKnight award, has hopes of building upon the work he’s done there, creating original compositions for hip-hop choreography.
“When dancers use pre-recorded CDs or MP3s of their music, there’s no interplay emotionally between the accompaniment of music and choreography live. I really feel like that’s something that’s missing right now from dance,” Taylor explains. “Especially urban dance — this idea that you have to do all your routines to Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar or Migos.”