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When coming up with new music, Stefan Ponce finds inspiration everywhere. And to him, it’s always personal. 

“I used to think that I could only make music if I was feeling sad or happy,” he said. “And I realized I was cheating myself from making music that way. And I can be optimistic to whenever the universe gives me the time. And that’s when I try to make music the most.”

He’s behind some of the hottest collaborations with some of the hottest artists in the country including Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino and Vic Mensa.

“I just like play beats,” he said. “But I think the best way, how I like to work, is in a more collaborative environment – where it isn’t just my idea or it isn’t just their idea.”

Ponce is also a live DJ and a key player in Chicago’s underground hip-hop scene.  But he says he feels most comfortable working in the studio. 

“I love DJing and I love performing. I am a performer,” he said. “I can be in a room and talk to anyone and feel like I can control the room just being myself you know. It’s just like natural but I think now it gives me extreme anxiety.”

But he works through his anxiety of live performance and still finds ways to connect with fans in person and online. 

“I think people who listen to my music are people who are like me, very eclectic, very different,” he said.

Now in his 30s, Ponce has been making music since he was a teenager in Chicago. He started out by messing around on garage band on his computer.  He lives in L.A. now, but returns to Chicago often to work on music and to visit his two young sons.  He talks about growing up in a tough environment on the city’s Northwest Side but found his way through music. 

 “You know in the 90s, it was different,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to be making music. All my uncles when I was younger were all gang members and drug dealers. And I’m glad it hasn’t caught on to me.”

Ponce said his parents’ Mexican roots absolutely play a big role in his identity. And his love for Latin music has greatly influenced the music he makes today.

And he credits his Chicago roots for launching his career and a music scene that continues to evolve. 

“There have been multiple great music scenes in Chicago,” he said.

With new projects always in the works, Ponce has some good advice for up and coming artists of all kinds:

“Be bad at it,” he said. “That’s the best. Be bad before you get good because at times I thought I was great and I wasn’t. But I learned so much from what was going wrong before things started to go kind of right.”