Harry Fraud has quickly risen as New York rap’s go-to producer since helming French Montana’s anthemic “New York Minute” featuring Jadakiss (and later, Nicki Minaj and ostensibly every rapper in the Tri-State Area) and “Shot Caller.” He’s also produced tracks for everyone from Action Bronson and Rick Ross to Riff Raff. His “La Musica de Harry Fraud” sonic signature vies for one of rap’s most recognizable drops, though he’s not much of an outward showman himself. Fraud prefers to be in the studio, working. Sometime after 2am, in a hazy, weed-laced room at Premier Studios in Times Square, the quiet Brooklyn native put finishing touches on his upcoming EP and talked with Sound of the City.
Rap pioneer Joseph Simmons, also known as ‘Run’ of Run DMC, had a successful music career spanning more than three decades. For Tell Me More’s ‘Wisdom Watch’ series, host Michel Martin talks with Rev. Run about his evolution from rapper to preacher. Via NPR
NPR Interview With Reverend Run
For those who may not know you, how would you introduce yourself?
What’s good Pizzle, I first want to thank you & wegoinin.com for all
your support. To those who don’t know, they call me CuzOH!, I’m a NU
Revolution Entertainment Recording artist (formerly known as Black
Knight) from Hempstead, New York (BIG BLUE!!). I have been featured on
all my cousin and label mates mixtapes and also “Bridging The Gap”,
Vintage Experience, and King Noah albums, along with the collaboration
mixtapes “Super hero Theme Music” Vol.1, and “The Eye Of The Storm. I
am also the program director for Revolt Radio.. All around good guy ..
You’re dropping your debut solo project “Everybody’s Favorite
Cousin” November 13th. What can you tell us about the project and what
your hopes for it are?
EFC, is my first Solo Project. I have a nice resume of features and
collabs but, this is my first interpretation of me . I wrote every
song, I wrote and sang every hook and chorus except for on “Life On
The Fly” which Paul Rivers Bailey sang the hook and “Party In The Left
Wing” which Wordsmith dropped a 16 and joined me on the bridge. I look
at EFC as like my introduction to the music world and wanted to
showcase my abilities to the fullest. I got some killa production
from Moe Productions, Benny Rome, JS AKA The Best, and of course my
brothas Capish , and Street Level Productions. When I started the
creation process, It wasn’t planned, it just happened naturally. I was
going through a sporadic break up that kinda made my life do a 360 and
I needed a new focus. Don’t worry, this is far from a sad love story
Album…lol.. in fact, I didn’t give that situation a bar at all, but
damn that motivated the hell out of me. When all said and done,
“Everybody’s Favorite Cousin” is upbeat, fun, a party, along with
some social commentary on things going on in the world and in my
environment, that you or your cousin, or your cousin’s cousin can
relate to. Easiest way to describe it, “Hip-Hop”. I hope everyone who
listens embraces the music, embrace the honesty, and become a fan.
Like I said earlier, this is my first project and I plan on making
music for a very long time and only improving.
Your music always reflects a great diversity of topics and
styles. How important is it for you stay versatile?
Thanks for noticing that brotha, cause I believe that is what I’m all
about. I’m not going to punch you in the head with Meek Mill or
Cassidy like punchlines, but I love to experiment with different flows
and styles of music, I feel like nothing is outside the box, I dont
even know what the box is. I grew up listening to Outkast, The Chronic
album , Ghetto Boys, Das Efx, Smiff N Wesson, Scarface, Nas, Heavy D.
Phyliss Hyman, Pete Rock & CL Smooth Luther Vandross, Public Enemy,
Earth Wind & fire, NWA and more those are just SOME of my favs, and
none of those artist are alike in anyway. So I just feel like all
types of music is in me, That’s how I’m programed and I’m going to let
it out in every way possible without boundaries.
Production wise, what do you look for when picking beats to
Complexity, I hate loops!!!!…lol..That’s a tough
question because I’m never looking for a particular sound, I’m looking
for the story within the production if you digg what I’m saying, How
creative would this beat allow me be, I look for a lot of emotion…
Saxophones, and classic pianos always seem to catch my attention..
On top of being a dope MC you’re also the program director for
Revolt Radio. What is Revolt Radio and your role with it?
Thanks again, Revolt Radio is a 24/7 streaming station that features
shows like the unsigned hour with DJ Nominal, The Fleet Flavor Show
with the Fleet DJs, Conspiracy World Wide Radio and more. We also have
a blog which you can check out all the latest, indie music, videos,
fashion, ect… We rocking strictly for the indie artist!! Artist out
there can go to the site to find out how to submit. Right now on
Revolt Radio I been handling a lot more of the technical stuff, site
updating, and making sure we up and running well. Since I been
transitioning more to the artist side within our label and
concentrating more on the music my partner DJ Nominal has been
handling the bulk of the work and is doing a great job by the way!!..
Long Island has always had a pedigree of dope MCs. Who are
some of your favorites coming out LI?
aaaahhh man we have some of the most influential MC’s in Hip-Hop
history like Rakim, EPMD, De La Soul, Chuck D, Grand Daddy I.U., (From
the Stead), Busta Rhymes, and Method man also, one of my fav rappers
ever but he don’t rep us like that. I’m trying to get myself on that
You’re a former member of the Army. How has your experience in
the military impacted your music?
I have a soldier like work ethic, I get more done before the sun come
up than most people do in a entire day. Ive also been fortunate to
have done a good amount of traveling and mingled with different
cultures and I do allow it to influence my music from everything from
content, sound, slang, ect. When you deal with cultures outside your
environment it allows you to learn how different cultures think, how
different cultures would perceive a thought of mine. So I guess its
true what the commercial say, the Army broaden my horizons…
What else is on the horizon for CuzOH! Black
Music music and more music. I got the “A Graphic Ending” video
dropping soon. I’m already working on my follow up EP, and Wordsmith
and myself will soon be working on a collaboration project. We already
got the production locked and loaded, we planning on finding a nice
beach spot to record so we can give you guys a classic. All in all,
Just staying relevant and consistent. I’m all about my team NU
Revolution Entertainment and building our brand along with NU
Revolution Filmz & Revolt Radio.
Any final words?
Well Of course, thanks alot to you and
wegoinin.com. To my fans sorry it took so long for me to drop, but I’m here and I’m not slowing down ever. Shout out to the team, Wordsmith,Diallo, Capish, DJ Nominal, My Nephews G & Rell. One Love to Rahmel & Jo-Jo (till we meet again). Peace to Guitars N Bandanaz & the entire
Wolf Pack, The Balcony Boyz, Kapo & Ice Casa!!. Everybody out there follow your dreams!!
“Everybody’s Favorite Cousin” November 13th!!
I Love You Mom!!!!
In this week’s episode we have CuzOH! Black (Long Island, Nu Revolution Ent.) to talk about his upcoming project ‘Everybody’s Favorite Cousin’, dropping on November 13th. Also, joining us from the road, David Dallas (Duck Down, New Zealand) gives us a ring to let us know how tour is going (he’s currently touring with DJ Ease, Yonas and Aer), the inspiration behind ‘Buffalo Man’, making the cross-over from New Zealand to the states and he mentions his favorite things about being in the U.S.
For those not yet up on you, how would you introduce yourself?
I would say I’m Eddie B. Get used to me because I’m never going to stop.
Two things that definitely comes across in your music is you insane lyricism but also your flow which you can switch up pretty effortlessly. Does your writing affect the flow you use, or is it the beat, or a combination of both?
The beat always tells my flow what to do. If you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone than all your music will sound the same so its important to let the beat speak to you. I can’t imagine flowing the same on every track to me thats just boring bullshit.
You and underground legend Shabaam Sahdeeq are linking up for a joint project, “The Wolves.” How did that come about and what can you tell us about the album?
One day I was at D Block studio kickin it with my homie and Styles P and my phone rang. I picked up and Harry(Fraud) told me he had Bam in the lab. I was always a supporter of Shabaam’s music so me and my homie left Yonkers and went to the studio. We ended up making a very powerful song. Next thing you know we had banger after banger being made and an album to release.
You are also working a lot with Harry Fraud who is blowing up crazy. How did you two link up and how important is your musical chemistry together? You’re on some Guru and Preemo shit!
First and foremost Harry Fraud is my best friend. We came up together and to see him accomplish his goals makes me very proud. We have been making music together for 10 years and everytime we go into the lab together the end result is always epic. I guess because we’ve been doing it for so long. Its funny you say Guru and Preem because we are both huge Gangstarr fans.
I know you rep for Jersey as do I. Who are you some of your favorite Jersey MCs?
Move from Bk to New Jeruz y’all know the rules Biggie Amalls already told yall fools. My favorite artist from Jerz is Redman nobody’s fuckin with Reggie Noble. Lets not forget Lauryn Hill as well. She’s just amazing even though she only dropped one album it’s still one of the greatest LP’s of our time.
You recently got down with Man Bites Dog Records who have been putting out seriously quality music for some time now. How did you link up with them and what can you tell us about the project?
The album is called Paper Piff and Polo. It drops in Vovember and people need to have it in their life because its quality music that isn’t disposable or watered down. It’s just banger after banger. Alot of the homies are featured on this album. It meant alot to me that everyone was down to collab with your boy. The artists featured on my album are Smoke Dza, Sean Price, Action Bronson, Termanology and Mistah Fab.
What else is on the horizon for Eddie B. ?
The only thing on the horizon for me is more music. After we release this album we will start the next one. Can’t stop won’t stop gotta keep grinding.
Any final words?
Surf School… Fool
Gunplay was consuming so many narcotics while making his aptly titled debut mixtape, Sniffahill, in 2008 that he dubbed himself “five-drug minimum” on one of its freestyles. Actually, for meter’s sake, he said it in an abbreviated form (“five-drug mini/I popped ’bout… I forgot about how many”), but the nickname stuck.
“At any given time, I was on lean — prometh[azine] and codeine — coke, X, weed, and maybe Percs or some prescription drug to mellow everything out,” the Maybach Music Group loose cannon says, recalling his preferred drug cocktail circa ’08. “And I would just be in a zone. Those were the days. I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground.”
As Gunplay developed his voice on mixtapes like Off Safety and Don Logan as well as releases by the Carol City Cartel, references to drug use became staples of his music. Though just one element of a volatile lyrical mixture equally rife with callous and even occasionally grotesque descriptions of sex and violence (“Dirty bitch got doodoo on her thong/Make a nigga go soft, limp noodle can’t bone,” he grunts on a track called “Always in Some Trouble”), it was Gunplay’s talk about sniffing hooray that made the “human L.A. riot” notorious.
But as common as it is for rappers to boast about $1,000-plus-a-week weed habits, copping to a weakness for hard drugs has, until very recently, been a faux pas in hip-hop — an admission of weakness with potentially career-ending ramifications.
“I knew some people would be like, ‘He snorts cocaine! Awwawawaa!’” an excited Gunplay howls during his sit-down with New Times at Doral’s Huge Music Recording Studios. “But I. Don’t. Give. A fuck,” he says pointedly. “I knew there’s a million motherfuckers that’s snorting that’s going to vibe with this. So I’m gonna make music for them. And after a while, them motherfuckers gonna tell the sober motherfuckers: ‘Man, you trippin’, dawg! You might need to snort a line and listen to dawg’s shit. Or at least drink a wine cooler. Dayum!’”
But the effects of his drug habit took a toll on his breathing and appearance, not to mention personal and professional relationships. Things came to a head on Memorial Day 2008. “That whole weekend, I went hard,” Gunplay remembers of his last coke bender. “I had a corner left of the eightball in the bag, and I put it on the back of my hand, blasted off, and said, ‘That’s it — I’m done.’”
A coke-free Gunplay approached his rap career with renewed focus. “I wasn’t expecting to live this long. So I’m like, ‘Shit, I’m still here? Hold up, let me buckle down.’” And his electric 2010 collaboration, “Rollin’,” with the similarly rambunctious (and then-ascendant) Waka Flocka Flame, was the turning point he needed to propel his career forward following the disappointment of the Triple C’s album Custom Cars and Cycles.
“He on that same crunk shit I’m on,” Gunplay says, referring to the “Hard in the Paint” rapper. “That motherfucker jumps in the crowd, moshing with the people. I’m on that! When he did it, and was mainstream with it, now the public has an ear for that. So when I bring it to the table, they are going to [be more open to it]. It meshed real good, and the public accepted it.”
Released for free online this past February, “Cartoon and Cereal” with Kendrick Lamar was even more revelatory. The pain that’s always bubbled beneath the surface of Gunplay’s rhymes was brought to the fore by some of his most personal lines: “Salt all of my wounds/Hear my tears all in my tunes/Let my life loose in this booth/Just for you, motherfucker, hope y’all amused.”
“That crunk shit is cool, but the easiest music I can make is that heartfelt music, that truth shit that I really want to say without rapping,” Gunplay insists. “But I have to put it in rhyme form. When you hear a Gunplay album, you’re gonna hear that. At the end of that album, you will totally understand Gunplay. I want you to know why I’m so energetic and why I feel so much pain in my heart. The world is [totally ass-backward] to me. And that’s why I act the way I act.”
When Gunplay drops his Def Jam debut, Medellín, there’s a strong possibility he might do so under a different name. Turns out Gunplay isn’t exactly a corporate-friendly moniker. When Maybach Music Group was invited to participate in a freestyle cypher segment at the 2011 BET Hip-Hop Awards, producers not only balked at letting Gunplay appear but also barred the other MCs from even saying his name.
Enter Don Logan, an alter ego the rapper adopted from the 2000 British crime drama Sexy Beast, costarring Ben Kingsley as a determined enforcer capable of flipping from unnervingly calm to raging psychopath in a split second. After becoming a rabid fan of the film, Gunplay introduced the persona on a 2010 mixtape of the same name.
“When I saw his attitude in the movie, I was like, That’s me,” the rapper barks. “We’re gonna make the transition so we don’t have to go on BET and they call me G-Play. No! The name is Don Logan. If you don’t like that, it’s Jupiter Jack. Welcome to my universe! Yeah!”
But Gunplay’s name isn’t the only baggage likely to give him trouble as his profile grows. There’s also the matter of his fascination with Nazi iconography, specifically the large swastika tattoo on his neck. Though there’s nothing to suggest that the MC of mixed Jamaican and Puerto Rican parentage harbors anti-Semitic views, there’s also no justifiable reason in the average person’s mind to get such a tainted symbol tattooed on one’s body.
Still, Gunplay has a fairly complex explanation for the tattoo. And hoping to elaborate, he reached out to New Times after his comments in a recent interview with music blog Pigeons and Planes became a hot topic on Twitter and music websites.
“The swastika was a Chinese symbol back in the day, meaning love, peace, and prosperity,” Gunplay says. “When Hitler picked it as a symbol for his Third Reich, it was right side up. And after he got in power, he turned it to the left, and that’s when it got corrupt.
“That’s basically the same thing that happened with me. We’re born innocent, and the way you grow up — the people you’re surrounded by, the environment — it turns you crooked. It turns you into that bad person, that thug, that undesirable element.”
It’s a forgone conclusion that the flak Gunplay receives for the tattoo will only increase as he becomes better known. Yet he has no plans to cover it up. “If anyone don’t like it, fuck them,” he says before letting out a hearty laugh. “[Unless] I go to prison or they kill my ass, I don’t care.”
Gunplay’s uncompromising brashness leaves little room for indifference. Music websites and online video commenters tend to peg him either as an iconoclastic evil genius, an imbecile, or worse. But with nonthreatening, Drake-style emo rap becoming hip-hop’s new norm, it seems the door is wide open for an incorrigible antihero to make the genre dangerous again, in much the same way that DMX, high and freshly sprung from prison, did at the height of the Bad Boy era some 14 years ago.
“What my mama used to say?” Gunplay asks rhetorically. “Sometimes you gotta play the fool to catch the wise. You might think I’m retarded and dumb. Cool, I like to keep an air of unpredictability around me. I might dap you up, smile, and slap you in the face. I don’t even know what I’m gonna do next.”
Actually, if this rap thing doesn’t work out, Gunplay already has a back-up plan. He’s already preparing to launch his Apples and Onions Executive Escort Agency this fall. The business concept: Export his Miami-style, street-level pimp skills across the United States, starting with Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, to which he’ll temporarily relocate in September to begin operations.
“This has been my dream since I was a kid,” Gunplay says. “Since I broke my first bitch, I always knew, yeah, I’m gonna own an escort service. I’m gonna take this po’ pimpin’ to some mo’ pimpin’.”
Asked if Def Jam might have any reservations about its latest signee treading into such dubious legal waters, Gunplay doesn’t appear the least bit concerned. “If they don’t like it, they’ll be fucked up, ’cause I’m doing it.”
The Jammington came out a month ago. Are you happy with how the project is doing?
It’s doing well, man. It’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who bought it and bloggers. It’s well-received.
It has a very soulful, boom-bap vibe throughout. What made you want to go that direction?
To be honest with you, I didn’t have a direction when I sat down to do this album. I never recorded an album in New York, ever. That was the only direction, for me to come home and record the record with ATG and just make a dope record. We didn’t have a sound or niche we were going for. We just wanted to make something dope and just jam. That’s what we did. Every song was written in the studio. When I got off the plane, we went straight to the studio and the first song I wrote was “The Note.” That set the tone. We just went in and nine days later, 80% of the album was complete.
What was it like working with ATG for the entire project?
It was dope, man. He has a vision, just like me. We basically have the same taste. There wasn’t really any push and pull on getting this album done. It felt like we had been working with each other for years. Mind you, I met ATG just a year prior to that at CMJ. I had never even heard of him before and I can’t even remember how I met him. We were at the club and he was hanging and he told me he had beats and he sent them to me. I told him I wanted to do a whole album with him and he thought I was playing. The chemistry was perfect, man. Working with him, the chemistry was really easy.
You both have a wide range for styles you can go.
It helps that I know how to pick beats, man. That’s one thing that I can actually say about myself. I know what beat goes perfect with me and any artist. I’m really good at picking beats. Picking through the best of his best made The Jammington. I told him if I couldn’t bring my 50% to his 50% then the song wouldn’t be 100. I felt my voice, cadence, and words had to fit perfectly with the beat and if it did, we win.
How do you know when a song works?
How can I explain it? It’s kind of hard to explain. When you know, you know. I don’t have that sickness most New York rappers have where they think they can rap over anything and it’s going to be dope. Just because the beat is dope, doesn’t mean it’s going to fit you. It’s like a pair of Jordans. Just because they’re nice, if they’re too big, they won’t look right on you. It’s the same thing with beats. There’s nothing technical that I can actually explain to the letter. I’ll listen to the beat and freestyle eight to ten bars in my head and try to formulate a concept and then I’ll listen to my voice as the beat is playing and if it just doesn’t match then it just doesn’t match. It’s just a feeling.
Do producers always understand your vision?
During our process, luckily we didn’t run into any disagreements. He trusts my judgment. When I pick my beat, I deliver. We picked “The Note” for the first song and he picked that concept. He said to do something like a kidnapping. I did and I ran with it and it’s the way that I attacked that beat with the concept that just made it. When we did the second song, he just let me do me and as I was doing me, I was looking for his input. I wanted him to produce my record. I didn’t just want him to make the beats and I would rap. We basically just trust each other’s judgment and that’s why it was so easy for us to do this album.
The Jammington is barely 26 minutes long. Do you see shorter albums becoming a trend?
I didn’t set out to make a short record. I just used advice from Yazarah. I had a conversation with her a long time ago and she said, “Yo, when the pen stops, the song is done.” I basically did that for the album. I could have made fourteen songs, but for what? It’s overkill. And a month prior to me recording the album, I was doing an interview and we was talking about how less is more. I guess that stuck with me as well. When I got to the tenth song, I just knew to stop. Between those two conversations and just adding extra songs just to add them made no sense. An extra brush stroke can destroy the whole painting, so I was just done.
I don’t follow the trends of hip-hop. That was never my thing. If it happened to fit at the same time, then it was good timing. If I had done this with No Excuses, then No Excuses would have been ten songs. (laughs) I don’t know why some of these rappers do what they do. When I tracked out the album and saw the time, it didn’t matter because it was dope. Let’s run it. I’m going to roll the dice. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. I understand that this is a business but if I’m happy with the record, I can sell the record that I’m happy with and that’s why, across the board, I got high ratings for this album. I did something right.
It’s a smooth listen.
Exactly. I never wanted to have filler. When the pen stops, just stop. It’s over. If you think back to Nas’ Illmatic, there were nine songs plus the intro. If he had one more song, it could have been a regular album. I don’t want to compare myself to Nas. I’ll let the people do that. But as a fan of music, if the album just runs correctly, just like Illmatic and The Jammington, and it’s perfect, then nothing more needs to be said. Even though it’s 28 minutes, hey, that’s the greatest 28 minutes I’ve had in the last couple of years.
What was it like working with Craig G?
Come on, man! I look back on my 13 year-old self like, ‘We did it!’ For Craig G to reach out and extend his hand, say, “I like what you’re doing. Hit me up anytime you need a verse.” I’m not one for validation, but that right there, that’s validity. That’s Craig G! This is Juice Crew Craig G! I grew up patterning myself after Craig G, especially with the punchlines. Listening to him back in the day and now I have a career and now he’s reaching out to me, can’t nobody tell me nothing. I got respect from one of the most respected and we made a dope joint.
And the fact that he gets on Twitter and talks about the song, because he’s done features with a whole lot of rappers, but to see him go hard and say, “Yo, this song is dope, check it out, me and Chaundon,” that’s like, ‘Wow!’ It’s surreal to me. I’m watching it like I’m not even involved. I’m watching it and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is just dope.’ It was a dope song that went into a dope album. It fit. I made sure I got the right people for this album. I didn’t just reach out to certain people. I could have gotten other names that are heavy on the net but it wouldn’t have made sense. I went for what made sense.
Certain collaborations wouldn’t have made sense and the styles wouldn’t have made it to this record, like if I would have reached out to Big K.R.I.T., not saying I could have got him. I knew YC the Cynic for years. I’ve known Von Pea from Tanya Morgan for awhile. It’s one of those things where if you actually build with people before you do the music, the songs come out better. It could be dope but I would rather go for classic than just dope.
You did your “Golden Era Mondays” series. Did that help your buzz?
Yeah. It helped. It got a lot of people onto what I was doing at the moment and it brought more awareness to the album. I’m getting a whole bunch of new people to actually hear what I’m doing every week until the release of the album. It worked in my favor. That’s why I only did it for that time period. I wasn’t trying to do it every week for a whole year. That would just cheapen the music. I’m here to sell music and make money. I didn’t come here for the culture. I came here for the paper. I just happen to be nice. I came up in the Bronx with nice rappers who taught me to rap but look, I want to make money at this because I can do it on the corner for the culture all day and be nice.
With all your involvement in the JUSTUS League, do people forget your Bronx roots?
Yeah. It happens. But it is what it is. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Are you not listening to what I’m saying?’ I say “Bronx, New York” in damn-near every other rhyme. There is no Bronx in North Carolina, but I guess by association of the crew I was running with at the time and the way hip-hop goes, people just love to lump people into that one group. I don’t have no beef with North Carolina. I live in North Carolina. I went to school there and I started my rap career there, but I was born and raised and became an adult in New York City.
Are you still involved with the JUSTUS League?
None. Not at all. It’s Golden Era Music.
You know what? I can’t even speak on this situation fully. There is no beef. There is no, “if I see you on the street I’m punching you in the face.” There’s none of that. I guess you could just say that we just grew up and grew apart and that’s it. I really can’t give you a concrete answer to what happened because it really doesn’t make sense. It’s not over money and nobody’s lady got hollered at. And it doesn’t even matter. It’s all about Golden Era Music. I applaud everything that everybody else is doing and that’s it. But all I can focus on now is the Chaundon and Golden Era Music brand.
DJ Flash is on The Jammington. Do you still work with him?
He’s on there, but the people I’m running with heavy are Big Pooh, Joe Scudda, and Big Dho.
What other projects are you looking to do next?
Oh, man, my plate is incredibly full. I have plates! (laughs) I have plates with their own tables. I have The Freshington, and it’s being produced by Cutty Fresh. He’s affiliated with Tha Bizness. We’re actually almost done with that album. I just have to go back to Atlanta and record it. My whole process with recording albums now is that I have to record with the producer. Coming up with the JUSTUS League, I never had the producer in there with me. I engineered my own sessions and I didn’t have a producer telling me to try it a different way. I had to break out of that. I’ve known Cutty Fresh for awhile now and this is the first time I’m officially rapping on his beats. He’s been sending me beats for awhile and I had to find my side that fit his style. I didn’t want to waste his time if I wasn’t going to be dope on his incredible production. I had to get ready and have dress rehearsals, but now I’m ready to show out.
I’m three songs away from completing an album with Shuko from Germany. He’s good out there and his name is heavy out here. We’re almost done with that record. I’m also going to work with Family Biz Entertainment. That’s a group of producers. That crew, they’re super-incredible and when you hear the beats on that record, you’re going to think I signed to MMG. Them beats are crispy, radio crispy, like, ‘Wow, Ross might come to you after that.’ And then me and DJ Soulclap, we’re in talks of doing an EP. I’m going to fly out to Germany and do that record with him but more than likely that will turn into an album. I’m not going out there to record seven songs. We’ll probably do fourteen. DJ Concept has already sent me beats and I have to sit down and see what that album will sound like.
On top of that, I’m directing videos. I directed my video “Hindsight” and I’m going to go to New York and shoot more. I’ll also do videos for The Freshington and I’m producing a really dope EP for an artist who I can’t say yet. I’m busy out here, man. I’m busy.
And on top of this, I’m running a label. These are all things that I wanted to do but never had the opportunity. I guess the whole dissolution of the crew was a blessing because I was always a team player. If you look at the timeline for how people were putting music out, I was always putting songs out but not albums until the end. I was always the road manager and selling merch and I knew what needed to be done. I wasn’t forced into any of it, but when it was my turn, I was going to rock. But by the time it was my turn, it was falling apart at the seams and I was dolo, by myself. Everybody was on tour and I was in the studio recording it, A&Ring it, getting it mixed, it was all me. There was distribution but that was it. It was just an opportunity to put something out. And then when the opportunity for No Excuses came out with Traffic, they didn’t do shit. It was just another opportunity. When all that shit was said and done and I said, “Fuck it, I’m not doing that again,” Dho set up distribution with Empire Distribution. And you can see that it’s different now. There’s a video attached, there’s more awareness on the internet. I had to take a different approach from putting music out back then. It’s one of those blessings in disguises.
We worked together when you were known as Cyrus. Do you feel like you’ve had a rebirth since changing your name to Don Streat?
I did. It was a progression that came along, I guess, probably a couple years after that. I feel revitalized. I feel good.
What prompted the name change?
What happened was around ’05, my cousin, whose name is Curtis Don Streat, around ’05, he was killed. So I put out a mixtape called The Don Streat Theory Volume One. After that, just out of respect for my cousin and all of that and just wanting his name to live on, I adopted the name and use it as my rap name.
Did your music change with your name?
With me, it’s always changing because I feel like I’m diverse. I feel I can basically do it all even though I stick mainly with underground music because that’s the music I love. But I feel like I’m always evolving and always changing.
On your last mixtape, you worked with Khrysis, Illmind, and M-Phazes. What’s it like working with producers of that caliber?
It’s a good experience anytime you’re networking with people that’s the best at what they do and to me, there’s always pressure to not let the beat outshine you and sound like you’re supposed to be there. That’s my goal. I always try to step up my game to be better than the last time. I don’t know if I’m achieving that every time, but that’s what I shoot for and that’s what I aim for.
How do you improve as an artist?
I’m always writing. I write all the time. I try to sound as different as I can from what everybody else is doing. It don’t always come out that way, but that’s what I shoot for. I don’t try to sound like anybody.
What do you listen for when you hear beats?
It’s basically just a feeling. I tend to stick to the hardest-edged beats because that’s basically what I grew up on and grew up liking. I usually gravitate to the harder-core beats but I like all kinds of stuff. But it’s usually the beat itself that just has to grab me. Sometimes there’s just something about the beat that I’ll be like, ‘That’s the one.’
You’ve had quality projects with big names attached to them. Are you happy with how far your music has gone so far?
I’m not as happy with how far they’ve gone. With this new project, I’m trying to beat down the door with this one. I didn’t want to just put it out on my own without that steam behind it. With people, a lot of times they gravitate to people that’s already out and doing stuff, so I just figured that I would get a couple people on the record that’s at the top of their game and try to throw them on the record and with the skills I had, hopefully it would be something that would get people in tune with me and try to take it to the next level.
What’s the hardest part about trying to grab people’s attention?
I think the hardest part of the process is just getting people to listen. People’s attention spans are a finger-snap away and especially if they don’t know who you are, that’s the hardest part is basically getting them to pay attention to you. I was watching Akon’s Behind the Music about artists trying to get heard and his brother said he doesn’t listen to new music unless he knows who’s bringing him the music. Just getting people to listen to you, I think that’s the hardest part about being a new artist.
How do you feel hearing your older music today?
I still like some of the older music that I did back in the days. I think I’m more polished now but I still like a lot of the stuff that I did because I wouldn’t be who I am without that person. I like a lot of the old stuff but I think the sound is cleaner now.
You also served in the military. How did that change you?
It didn’t change me. I’m still pretty much the same. I can’t say that that experience didn’t change me at all. I was strictly an East Coast artist before and that’s all I listened to all my life and then coming down South for the military, it was like a total 360. This was before the big South explosion before I even came to North Carolina. That music was already here. It was like a culture shock to turn on the radio and not hear the music I would normally hear at home.
What can you tell us about your upcoming album?
The album has M-Phazes on there, Illmind, Khrysis, Astronotes, Sean Price, Rick Marvel, Lil’ Fame, Termanology, Chaundon, Slaine, Dynaste, Kool G. Rap. I know I’m leaving people out, but there’s a lot on there. I got a lot of dope features on there and a lot of dope production on there. That was one of the main reasons why I didn’t just want to drop the album myself and have it not go nowhere.
What are you most proud of on this album?
I think the amount of exposure that this project’s been getting so far. My song with Rustee Juxx has been getting a lot of attention. It’s putting me in the spotlight more than I’ve ever been. Just getting heard more, that’s an accomplishment in itself to me
When is the album coming out?
I was hoping to put it out by the Spring but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen so I’m hoping by early Summer I can get it out. For the most part, it’s in the mixing stage right now. I got a couple more songs I have to record. I got about five songs already mixed.
What inspires you when you make music?
Lyricism and wordplay. I try to give people music like the artists I respected growing up, the Kool G. Rap’s, the Big Daddy Kane’s, the Rakim’s. They were always dope with their wordplay and they always had a certain kind of delivery that kept your attention. That’s what I try to do when I get on the mic, just keep it as live as I can.
Your debut album Underground Superstar is finally dropping. What makes an “underground superstar”?
Someone who is known but not known, if that makes any sense. It’s like you’re well-respected in your craft and what you do and I’m a master of my craft at that level. It still leaves more room to conquer.
There’s no question you’ve earned your stripes on the underground circuit, from tours to guest appearances and more. What took so long to get this first album done?
I never really saw myself as a solo artist. I never really just wanted to stand on my own like that. I’ve been in a group since day one with Wordsworth with the Punch and Words thing. Even in the streets, rhyming and battling, we were always together. We did the eMC album and that’s four guys right there. I never really had a desire to do an album on my own but thanks to DJ Soulclap, we made it happen.
Did he have to do some convincing?
No. It wasn’t that hard. We were always emailing songs back and forth to each other. He’d give me beats and he’d tell me that we had about ten beats now. He asked why don’t we just do an album and I said, “Sure.” He sent me a new record and that’s “Clap Your Hands” and that’s how we got started.
DJ Soulclap produced the entire Underground Superstar. What was it like working with him?
It was cool. The only hard thing was working with him in Germany. Our time schedules are different and it was just a matter of getting the right beat. He’ll send me something and if I liked it, I wrote to it and recorded it and sent it back to him. I was looking for the right, particular joints so that was always a timely process that made it hard. And I’m overseas all the time so I should get that much more love now!
Did you ever meet up with DJ Soulclap or was everything done online?
Half of the album was done through email and so forth and for the other half of the album I flew out to Germany for a week and a half and we touched up certain records and finished other songs for the album.
Is there a noticeable difference between the tracks you recorded in America and overseas?
I notice a difference. The records I did in my apartment sound different than when I record over there. We ended up keeping most of the records I recorded in my apartment. The record “Run,” he made that beat in his crib right in front of me and I sat at his table and wrote it in an hour. But I think the records I write in my own space, with my own time, come out better. I never like writing in the studio because I always feel like I’m wasting someone’s time. I always feel like I have to rush so I’ll drop something real fast and I don’t like that. I like taking my time with it.
You have the song, “Cleanin’ My Sneakers,” dedicated to your shoe collection. What are your favorite sneakers?
The Cartoon’s, the Brown Pride. The way they look with the artwork and the tattoos and the clown face, those are the first pair I ever bought that I ever fell in love with. And the Christmas edition of the Lebron James that came out a year and a half ago. The retro Jordans are always banging. And I need to get the One’s again. But there are certain ones that I like. I don’t just buy any types of Jordans.
I remember talking to Words years ago about playing pick-up ball. Do you play?
Yeah, I do.
What do you wear when you play?
I’ll probably wear the Bugs Bunny Jordans. I have one particular pair that I put to the side to play basketball in. It’s okay if they get scuffed. I play in those, it’s cool. But just those, though. I keep those to the side just to play basketball.
“Tweet” is a great song about a woman so buried in her phone that she misses everything else. Is that the most obnoxious thing a woman can do?
Nah, there’s more. She can be nosy and all up in your business. Instead of paying attention to you, she’s paying attention to what you’re doing and she’s looking for dirt. That’s kind of annoying when you accuse somebody for doing something for nothing.
What are the five most annoying things a woman can do?
Know when to pay your man some attention and when to give him his space. Don’t just bully your way in and be too forceful and ask him hundreds of questions. I’m not trying to explain the game of basketball to you when I’m watching the game. You gotta know how to cook. Three, you gotta always be sexy, because if you’re not sexy for your man, another female will be. That’s major right there. Four, you just gotta know how to handle a household. Some of them really don’t and it’s amazing. They don’t know how to clean and they take their clothes off and throw them all over the floor. I used to think women were the neatest people in the world. They’re worse than guys. And five, you gotta put it down in the bedroom.
No doubt. Do you ever feel underappreciated in the game or have you stopped thinking about that?
No, I never stopped thinking about that. I feel I’m very much underappreciated but I feel it’s because of the level of where I’m at. The exposure is so hard to get and it’s kind of frowned upon, like, ‘Oh, you’re down there making underground records. You can’t do this, that, and the third.’ I’ve always felt underappreciated but if they ever heard me rhyme, they would understand it and I would get that much more respect from them. I push for that now.
Do you have any desire to have radio and commercial hits or are you happy with where you are and the music you make today?
I’d say that the music that I make and the music that the public gets to hear are two different things. I love to make those hit records and have that for my own personal career but I’ve written stuff for other artists that are totally out of my realm. I’ll do it but I understand that there’s a machine that comes along with it and it’s a money game as well. You can’t just have the hits. It’s a money game as well and it’s expensive and it’s a game that I can’t play at the moment.
A lot of the younger fans of hip-hop today were in elementary school during the Lyricist Lounge days. Do you think a lot of kids have gone back and did their homework about you or do you think kids need to be put on to what you’ve accomplished?
I think the younger generation needs to be put up on what I’ve accomplished in the past. I understand it and I don’t have it, but the sad thing about hip-hop is that they just don’t honor those that have done things before them. It’s like, ‘What are you doing now?’ And there are some people who go back and listen to the older stuff but the majority, nah, they don’t. They just keep it moving and only pay attention to what cats have done already. You can hear it when they’re impressed with what someone says and you tell them, “Nah, LL did that” or, “Masters of Ceremony did that.” You run into that kind of scenario a lot.
Do you find yourself schooling a lot of younger fans?
Yeah, I have. I also was working with this company called Hip-Hop Love and they had me talk to a bunch of teenagers, ranging from 16-19 years-old. We would do these hip-hop workshops where we would rhyme and freestyle and school them on the game. There are some awesome kids that are willing to learn.
But like Masta Ace said, it’s Disposable Arts.
Right now, yes, yes it is. It’s very much disposable arts at the moment. You get the music so fast and the way that you receive music now is just totally different. It’s like, ‘I heard that song three minutes ago. Who’s the next cat?’
I can see that being frustrating with trying to have a single make an impact off Underground Superstar.
Exactly. If you don’t see the post in the first three or four pages of a blog, nobody’s going that far back. That’s why I stay constantly posting the link on my Twitter and Facebook and SoundCloud page so people can always know what’s going on.
How do you balance blasting the same song out without getting repetitive and annoying fans?
I’ll probably send it to a different person that will blast it out to their circle of friends. I’ll pick different people that I’m sending it to or hit a particular celebrity or friend and let them blast it out and get people outside of my little realm to hear it. I just try to stay on top of it and I don’t do it more than one record a month. But I will throw it out at different times of the day. I will shoot a video to it and it’s the same record but now you’re getting visuals to it
What are you most proud of off of Underground Superstar?
It’s a toss-up between “Love Crazy” and “Follow Your Dream.” “Follow Your Dream,” for the content and what I’m rhyming about, it was the second-to-last song I recorded and I’ve never made a record like that. I’ve always been braggadocios and rhyming. Hopefully this will reach the younger generation so they can grow with Punchline. And “Love Crazy” because there was a situation like that that I went through.
Fans loved eMC’s album The Show. Do you guys have plans to record another record?
Yeah. We’re actually thinking about it now. Everybody has solo albums coming out. Words’ album, The Photo Album, comes out June 12. It’s real dope. I’m on there. Me, Words, and Ace have a record on there called “Vanish.” It’s a pretty good album. I think there’s sixteen joints on there. I’m pretty sure he’ll release more records. He has about three records floating around out there now. Masta Ace’s album comes out, I think, in July. Once all that comes out we’ll do another eMC album.
Have you and Wordsworth talked about a Punch and Words album?
Yeah. We talked about that. He wants everybody to get my solo point of view so that when we come together, everybody has an understanding of who we are.
What’s your focus for the next few months?
Moving forward, even if I’m on tour, I have my ideas to start recording another Punchline album all by myself with different producers. The next one will be totally me, all me. Hopefully that’ll be out early next year.
You’ve been working on The Package for a long time and it’s finally out.
Yeah, I’m happy that it’s finally out. I could have put it out months earlier but I wanted to make sure everything was right. I hadn’t put a mixtape out in so long that I wanted to make sure everything was right as far as the music.
What took so long to finish?
I needed to pull some favors and get some artists on a couple of records and try to get fans from their fanbases. There are people that don’t remember when I was around from five years ago. I had to make sure I have the right production and evertytihng. I’ve been known to rush things. I wanted to do this one the right way but I definitely have to speed it up though. The conveyor belt’s moving though.
Do you think a lot of your older fans are still there or do you have to bring them back and get new fans at the same time?
I feel like I probably have to bring them back. A lot of things have changed. The rappers that were the hottest rappers out then are not necessarily the hottest rappers out now. You have to bring new fans in.
When you first signed with Def Jam, artists and labels were just starting to take the internet seriously. How have you seen the game change over the past five years?
Five years ago, when I was on Def Jam, the independent artist was just emerging with the internet where you didn’t need the label and the label was just starting to stop spending the big marketing dollars and the big video budgets. You have your destiny in your own hands. You just have to build off the energy you create. I think the biggest difference now is that you just have more freedom to do what you want to do. You don’t have to wait for the label to pay for a video for you or wait for the label to do this. The indie artists can just do it. Even the people who are not indie artists are putting things out to appear as indie artists just to appear cooler. The indie artist right now is just really standing on top as opposed to being locked up in a label.
How has your approach changed to music over the years?
I think that the songs are still there but I’m using some different production because you gotta be smart. You want to make your music heard in every market. I’ll rap over a track that might be considered a Drake track or a track that might be considered a down south track. As long as the song is good and you got a good flow then you can catch anything and get your message across. The difference now is that I’m not boxed into one type of track now. I’m trying to grow with hip-hop.
How does your creative focus change with the style of beats?
There are differences. Some songs call for the chorus. The game is very chorus-heavy right now. There might be songs that are not too deep. That’s what hip-hop is. Not every song is one that’s supposed to teach but there are some songs like that on there. Music is supposed to be fun and I think the south tracks are a lot of fun. You’re gonna hear partying and it’s going to be easier for a DJ to mix into their mix. That’s the business side of what’s going on. I’m not going to box myself into one thing, especially when you’re an indie artist and you gotta put your own money up. I’m like a new artist again and I don’t want to box myself into one box. I want people to see that I can do a bunch of different types of records.
Do you have a favorite type of record to make?
If I had to pick one, something that people can easily sing along with. Those are my favorite ones. The ones that people pick up on the fastest. There’s two tracks that stick out on The Package that I think people will pick up on. One is “Paid Dues” and one is a south record I got Yo Gotti on. Both of those records are good for what they are. If I do one show in Charlotte there might be more responses to the Yo Gotti record but if I do a show at SOB’s, there might be more of a response to the Biggie record. I like having that choice where I’m not so boxed in. But I want it to sound authentic. I don’t want it to sound like I’m trying to sound like Gucci Mane, Mac Dre, or Rick Ross. The track is going to be different but it’s always going to be me. And I always switch my flows on the records so it’s not that hard.
What was it like bringing Yo Gotti into your world?
I would say the one question about my music that’s never changed is that it’s still street music and it’s never changed. Our subject matter is not that far apart and we kind of come from the same world. When I sent him the record it’s not like he had to spend a whole lot of time to figure it out. He knew what I was talking about and I knew he would be perfect for the song. I don’t look at all the dividing lines in hip-hop music.
Does it ever bother you that you’re giving all this music out for free?
Yeah. It’s tough. It’s tough. But I think you have to think about putting it out because you’re trying to sell more in the future. Nowadays it’s not so much about the records but having that one song, that one track.
What do you want The Package to do from here on out?
I want it to restart my career and jump start the buzz so I can get back into the flow of making more records. I’ve been doing this for so long and me coming back out with a new record again gives me energy. I need energy off of this to keep it going. If one thing carries me to the next then I think I’ll be great.
Are there still a lot of fans out there expecting battle tracks and hoping you’ll battle again?
I think there are fans that want me to do that but it’s just that I think that if you’re going to be a battle rapper, you have to love it and you have to marry it and you have to be really, really into it. I never really married it and I never really wanted it. It’s hard for a Jersey artist to come out so to do that, most Jersey rappers are battle rappers, if you ever noticed that. I think that’s because that’s the only way we really have to get in but that’s not really what I’m about and I respect everybody that does it because I know it’s only getting bigger and bigger and bigger, but that’s not really me. But I praise the people that are doing it. If I can’t go out there and do it and be the best at it, then I don’t want to go out and do it.
Do you ever regret battling to begin with?
If I wasn’t doing that, I’d be sitting home in the studio doing nothing and no one would no nothing about me. I am grateful for it. Most battle rappers are battling to get themselves some type of situation and recognition. They’re trying to get out of that to do something and I already got out of it so I don’t think I have to go back to it to get out of it again.
Do you still keep up with the battle scene?
Yeah. One of my friends is actually getting ready to get into it.
We did a song together, “Leanin’,” about a year ago. I got a lot of positive feedback from that.
Yeah, that got dope responses. I’m probably going to put that on The Package 2. We don’t want to give out all the tricks out at the same time. We got a lot of heat coming up and we’re going to be real selective with how we put it out.
What’s next for you?
The Package 2 with Lazy K and we got Trappin’ in the City with Big Kap and we got the EP we’re doing, with yours truly, yourself. We got a lot of work.
Your new mixtape, Layer Cake, is almost finished and you’re going to Europe on a 33 day tour. You must be busy right now.
It’s crazy. For me to even do half the stuff is like a dream come true and I’m really, really proud to even have the opportunity to be flown around the world. I can’t stress that enough. I never imagined that I’d be able to do shows in Slovakia and other places. They just have a real love for hip-hop out there. Shout out to All Systems Go, they’re booking the tour. I’m going to be doing shows with Slaughterhouse, the homie Saigon, and El Da Sensei. Some of the shows I’m going to be doing myself but I’m really lucky the music I put out has drawn a broad scope of fans. The tape is almost done and hopefully I can have it pressed before I leave, not just for the internet. It actually has to be done before I leave.
What stands out to you about Layer Cake?
To me, it’s a new vision as far as I’m stepping away from doing the acronym series, like Making Doubters Over Think. It’s a new project and it’s the closest thing to me to an album since it’s going to be all original production and it’s something cool for me too because Layer Cake has a lot of meaning. On something like a wedding cake, you’re going up the rungs, rising up. It’s a mafia term too. It’s a metaphor for what I’m working on. Even though I’m moving up, there are just so many more to go.
Do you look at your music as being layered as well?
That’s the biggest metaphor, probably. There’s many layers to my music. I don’t have just a certain genre. I can fit into different styles and I think there can be different layers from the hardcore music to the funny to the conscious. I can do features with Hell Rell and Big Shug but also do something with 7L. I think that’s where the layering comes from.
Where does the versatility come from?
Not wanting to be in a box. I see dudes plateau and that’s what they are. It’s awesome to have a genre and that’s what you can do to have dedicated, loyal fans, because they like you, but if you want to expand as a person and you love music, you want to produce a beat that can be funky or soulful or you can sing a chorus. You can try different stuff. You want to always advance and get better.
How have you improved over the years?
Through dedication, man. I’m never happy with anything. I don’t even like sending older songs anymore. People ask if I can perform an old song and it drives me crazy because I feel like I can always be better now. I want to perfect my craft, the flows, metaphors. Every level of it, I want it to be perfect. A lot of people get comfortable and that’s not a knock. I want to be bigger than that. People like Krumb Snatcha is my big brother and AOTP and Snow Goons have been great. I’m not just stuck to doing one thing. I can try out different stuff in a way that fans will still hear what I’ve done before. I can make all types of records in an artistic way. J. Cole is doing that in a really good way right now. It’s fresh and it’s not too overboard. Even someone like a Mos Def, someone like that. It’s not like they have big commercial hits, but it can be acceptable, like “Oh No,” with Pharoahe Monch and Nate Dogg.
You’re still working on what you would consider to be your debut solo album. How’s that coming?
My everything is in this. It’s one of the best production line-ups I’ve ever had. I’m lucky to have all these guys. I want to really wait to release it. I want to have the right attention and the right focus for people to be knowing my music before I release it. I want to have Layer Cake and a couple of collab CDs I’m doing come out and I want to have the people be tuned in at least enough to get it. There might not even be one feature on it.
I want to do something with my music on it. Everywhere I go, I’m the most known unknown rapper. I’m on every blog, I’m touring, I’m on so many different albums, I’m on every guest appearance, but there’s nothing like, ‘Damn, that’s M-Dot’s record right there.’ I want to have something for myself. I’ve been flooded with so many features and that’s not a bad thing. I just want to do a solo record that’s more my individual music. I don’t just want something to be a 16 and a guest appearance. I want to have my message on the record. I’ve worked so hard to get to this point and I want people to realize that with anything, not just rap, you can get to anywhere. You can’t get pissed about someone not playing your or posting you. You have to stay at it. You can’t get mad at a show having ten people. You have to still perform. You have to stay with it. You can’t take off a year. You have to basically take your bumps and bruises.
And it’s crazy. I’m visiting a friend in Ohio and J. Rawls hit me up, so you might be hearing something with me and him.
You’ve done a lot of collaborations throughout your career. What are some of your favorites?
This new track I did with Tribeca and Camp Lo is really dope. To be featured by them, they’re doing a whole CD together, that was a real fun one. We’re going to shoot a video to that. There are so many dope records. I feel like there’s no one I haven’t worked with and that’s not being said in a bad way. There’s so many dope artists but that’s definitely one of them. I also did a record way back with Freestyle from The Arsonists when we toured Europe. He featured me and Wordsworth on it. It’s called “Struggle.” That’s a real serious record for me because it has a real serious message to it. Another track I was happy to be a part of was my brother from the same neighborhood, Explizit One, who has produced on Edo’s albums, featuring me and Big Pooh. It was years ago and it was called “No Surrendering.”
What do you expect from fans when you go overseas?
It’s a different type of love over there. They’re more into the boom-bap. They really enjoy the live performance. It’s not about thirty rappers who pay to perform like it is here and people come for certain acts and leave for others. In Europe, they come to shows and stay there. There’s dope shows in America, but I think there’s a lot more dope shows in Europe because they’re a lot more hungry for that underground hip-hop. I have two kids and that’s probably the worst part about going out there, being away from my kids, but it’s my job and it’s something I have to do and something I love to do. I sacrifice that but I get to be in front of all these people who might be fans of my music.
Your new album Angel Dust and Waffles has one of the more creative titles I’ve heard in awhile. How did you come up with that title?
Me and my homeboy Dom, we recorded the album in his basement and the original title was going to be Dom’s Refrigerator and we were going to name different songs like “Brita” and “Lasagna.” Everything in his refrigerator. But I said something and he said, “That’s like angel dust and waffles” and we just laughed so hard. We were like, ‘That’s the title right there.’ It got a good response. It means it’s good food that drives you crazy. Everyone’s been coming up with their own titles for what part two should be.
Bullet and a Bracelet was another great title for an Illa Ghee album. How do you decide on a title?
Sometimes it’s simple statements that you want to come out with and just say something. Anybody that knows my music knows I always named my music by feeling. I have a song called “Designer Jacket” and it has nothing to do with a designer jacket, but the song just felt like a designer jacket. The beat just made me feel good. That’s how I come up with titles.
Dom Dirtee produced the entire project. How did you two meet and work on an entire album?
Me and Dom have always been friends. He’s done most of the covers for my CDs. He’s also a producer. We were chopping it up one day about coming out with a CD. I always felt his beats were pretty good and we decided to just do a real project, an EP, and see what happens. It can’t hurt. I think he’s a dope producer, fresh. I’m trying to stay away from the cookie cutter sound, all the music that sounds the same. It’s fresh but it’s still hard-hitting. I’m glad the people like it.
What did you hear in Dom that let you know you could do an entire album together?
I would say it’s more of an up-to-date boom-bap sound. It’s kind of a cool, gritty boom-bap sound but it’s not so gritty.
You’ve been pushing Angel Dust and Waffles on your own. You don’t have a promo team behind it or anything like that. What’s that been like?
It’s been work. It’s a job. We actually put it out through Soulspazm. We’ve just been pushing it, really pushing it. You really have to understand people and if I’m one of your favorite artists, support the project. I’m not at the point where radio is playing my stuff. I don’t have the machine behind me. In order for me to keep going, I need you to keep me going. I’m still constantly putting out projects. I may not be putting them out as fast as you want me to, but the projects that I put out, I gotta make sure they go as far as I can push it.
What’s been the biggest challenge being independent today?
It’s the awareness, making sure people are aware of the project. People still think that I can have it in the stores. Everyone doesn’t have iTunes. It’s really the awareness of where they can get it, where you can cop it at, and what other means you can use to get it as far and wide as possible.
Are you enjoying the independent process and grind?
Yeah, because if I fail, it’s my fault. There’s no one else to blame but me. Plus I’m learning as I go. There’s nothing better than learning as you go along with it.
On Twitter, you recently shouted out Maino for his success after being released from prison, a situation you’re familiar with. What does it take to be successful after prison?
My outlet didn’t work out so much. I came out and I thought Mobb Deep would teach me the ropes, but they didn’t, so I had to go out and learn them on my own, pretty much. I didn’t have a mentality for the business and they sure didn’t let me know about it. I just figured I would have the best teachers with them being in the business and if it wasn’t to be put out through them, they would show me the best way to be independent and I have to say I was wrong about that.
You were loyal to them through their various beefs from what I could see.
Yeah, I was loyal. I mean, we’re still cool today. I just learned that you can’t wait on nobody. I just wish that things would be different and unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. Me being the person that I am, I’m not going to give up. I just took a longer road. The road is taking longer than expected.
Even through your trials and tribulations, Angel Dust and Waffles is a testament that you’re still making great music.
Yeah, because I feel I’m a good artist. I strongly feel I’m a good artist. The response that I get from the fans and new people that are introduced to my music, you know, everything has been, “No, don’t stop. A lot more people know who you are than you think.” That’s why I always say that I’m the most known unknown rapper in New York City.
Each album you’ve dropped has shown improvement in your ability to rap. How do you consistently show improvement?
It’s about matching everything up. I learned how to put together an album watching Mobb Deep and watching the Alchemist. Silently, I learned to sit there and look at how they structure an album or whatever. There is no loyalty, I learned. All you can do is just hope for the best. Whatever you feel strong about, hope the people will accept from you. You just put your best foot forward. You just can’t have albums with songs all over the place. I know different emotions come out as you write albums but you don’t want to go all over the place. It’s just a process. When you talk about different topics and different subjects, it’s how you want it to be perceived. It’s also about the beats you pick. You want to make sure you pick things where it doesn’t sound like you’ve done it before. I try my hardest not to sound repetitive.
What’s next for you now that Angel Dust and Waffles is out?
I’m working on a quite a few projects. The main ones now that I’m working on is Move Still, Lay Standing. There’s another one, The Ghee Code. And Disco Lemonade. Those are the projects right now. Me and Dom are going to work but I’m also going to work with different producers and different artists, just to fill my repertoire. I can be a part of the new talent and prove that I can stand on my own with any talent out there.
For those who aren’t up on you yet, how would you introduce yourself?
Peace it’s Red Eye. 25% of The Closers / 20% of Infinity Gauntlet / 100% Monster / aka Fatrick Ewing / aka Spewdini the Great / aka Da Drugganaut …
You’re about to drop your new mixtape “St. Fatrick’s Day.” How did it come about and what’s your goal with the project?
I was working on songs for my solo album with my business partner Ruff and we decided it would be a free download for my fans instead of throwing it on iTunes and trying squeeze a few bucks out of it. I went about it the same way I would with making an actual album. I mean it technically is an album. 100% original material. All killer no filler haha. My goal is increase my fanbase and let people know that ill music still exists and artists are still giving them that rawness even though it’s not on the radio.
The guest list is a “whos who” of underground talent. What kind of chemistry are you looking for in your collaborations when you’re putting together a track?
I just enjoying working with other dope artists. It keeps me on my “A” game lyrically. You can never slip up or people are gonna say such and such ate such and such on that track. Plus, I enjoy trying to outshine my features. I’m like Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier walking around with my victims ears on a chain as war tokens haha.
You’re also a member of two crews The Closers and Infinite Gauntlet. Who is in those crews and what projects do you have lined up with them?
The Closers consists of the legendary Shabaam Sahdeeq, super production duo Thorotracks and myself. We are currently working on a follow up to our critically acclaimed mixtape, Bullpen Sessionz. This time it will be an album. No title as of yet. Look for it in the fall.
Infinity Gauntlet consists of FT aka Fuc That, Bekay, El Gant, Shabaam Sahdeeq & myself. We are currently working on an untitled album as well. Should be dropping late ’12
I’m guessing you’re a comic book fan judging by the crew new name Infinite Gauntlet. Thanos is the shit! What are some of your favorite comic book series and characters?
I was a huge comic book fan as a youth. I had mad comics. Infinity Gauntlet was ill because Thanos merked everyone with the gems. The way he did it was even iller. X-tinction Agenda was another ill series featured in X-Men, X-Factor & New Mutants. My favorite character is Spider-Man though. We both from Queens haha.
There has always been references to comic book characters throughout hip hop. What do you think the connection is?
I think MCs and comic book characters go hand in hand in the way they exaggerate their abilities. Plus, a lot of us grew up reading comic books.
What’s next for you as far as projects?
Working on the two group projects as well as a collabo project with Born Unique called Slime Bros. The album is called Slime Syndicate. I’m also working on a few ep’s with producers. Me & DJ Qvali ” Scratch & Sniff”, Me & Nickel Plated “NickelEye Volkoff” and few other producers like Skammadix & Robot Oxford. Lots of shit popping off in the near future. Be on the look out for my debut album , Bullet Hole Bukkake. As well as the follow up mixtape to St. Fatrick’s Day, Fatrick Ewing.
Anything else you want to say to the people?
Thanks for supporting your boy and I won’t disappoint. Nothing but classics in the catalog. I have a strong team rolling with me and we gonna smash and scrape anything that gets in our path.
You just dropped your new project The Swashbuckler Vol. 1: The Viking Wars which is really dope. Tell us about goal for the project and how it got started.
Well the goal is to bring hip hop back to where it started, with artists that I Think needed to see some Light, either again or kind of for the first time and restore some substance in the game.. It started in like 06 as an idea for a concept/compilation record that talked about real issues and based off of social and political problems that plague our present and history..RML came up with the name and we just started building and putting it together..
What’s the significance of the title? The content is definitely on some Viking shit!
It’s like The Rebel Pirate album that comes out in the middle of all this colorful happy (soft) music that has no soul or life..Just for the moment shit…We just wanted it to almost seem and look like a Heavy metal record haha..because it doesnt really look like urban street type of hip hop album ..but is just that and more.. and its different not really like anything else out right now..I think the record is diverse and has wide spectrum of music and features with a raw hiphop feel still.
You’ve got a great range of MCs on the project. Everyone from Copywrite and Killah Priest to Royce Da 5’9 and Gillie Da Kid drop verses. Tell us how you went about deciding who rocked over which beats. Did you have the beats then envisioned the different MCs on them?
You know me and RML would just go thru joints and think who would fit and yeah I would hear somebody on a beat and we would agree and send it to them to write to with a concept usually already premeditated or whatever, but this album went through so many changes to get to where it ended up…some songs I rebeated, some we recently added over the past year or less and songs that have been out on the net but never had a home and we always knew certain songs would stay on the project we just had to fit them in.
The production is pretty varied but definitely in that boom bap camp. How would you describe your production style and technique?
I work with the MPC 2000XL classic piece of course and other samplers and workstations. I’m a Pro-Tools guy though…I have a motif and tons of vinyl, a drum set, and other live instruments..guitars bass etc…but man the setup has changed tremendously. The first studio (Man Bites Dog Studios) which I am head engineer at, was in my basement, professionally designed and built by RML and I and our friend Mark who used to help with the label and was a contractor at the time, but I had a water pipe bust and it almost flooded the studio so we moved everything to where it’s at now, Man Bites Dog Studios and its better than ever, as far as the setup goes.
I know this can be inappropriate to ask a producer, but were you sampling Conan on “The Crusaders?” Either way that sample is crazy!
HAHA nah its cool I get that a lot “hey did you sample this? or “whrere did you sample that from” but good ear, yea I sure did, but thank you.
What other projects do you have in the works?
Well I did work on the UK Version of Copywrite’s new Album God $@ve the King. I produced 4 songs I think. That comes out at the end of April and we have a new Vast Aire EP “A Space Illiad” following the OX 2010 album A Street Odyessy..I did some songs on there and of course I will mix and master that and I am working on some other things I wont mention yet haha but have some VERY BIG things in the works.. Saty tuned!
Anything else you want to tell the people?
Yeah man first off thanks for your time and the opporunity…But yeah get the new album, The Swashbuckler OUT NOW!!! iTunes, amazon get the instrumentals and cleans too for Radio. For now Digital only but physical copies coming soon!! Get That NEW Copywrite God Save the King and Vast Aire OX 2010 and Killah Priest The 3 Day Theory I produced that whole album….check out our whole catalog…www.manbitesdogrecords.com is almost finished and will be up VERY soon…
Subscribe to our youtube channel we have over 30 some videos on there, All our artists…follow us on twitter and facebook Man Bites Dog Records, Kount Fif……. @kountfif @manbitesdogrecs @mbdswashbuckler… Peace to man, women and child and all who support Man Bites Dog and Kount Fif… Stay tuned the label has much more to come…#Respect
Take us through the history and start of Man Bites Dog Records. What was your vision in starting the label?
After film school I was looking for something to do. I was writing and directing an indie film called “Hunting With Simon Ashley” which I also made the soundtrack for. I hit up bands and went through tons of songs to find a perfect line up of songs. I liked this, it was also so much faster and easier than trying to make indie films. My roommate at the time was getting in to recording and had just got “Pro Tools”. In 2005 we started the label with some locals to the DC area. The vision was to make classic records that reflected a certain time period in hip hop.
Do you see yourself as catering to a specific type of sound?
At first it seemed that way but with time comes change. Although we specialize in throwback style sound, we have some very interesting things afoot. Jason Rose is a good example of that.
There are only a handful of underground labels putting out quality music these days like Nature Sounds, Stones Throw, and Babygrande for example. Where do you see Man Bites Dog as far its place in the industry? Is there a niche you are looking to fill?
I think we have made our own place in the market. I would like to say that if you check for Duckdown or Stones Throw you would also check for us, as well as Rhymesayers. I guess that’s on the fans to decide. I am just gonna try to continue to make classic records with no skippers. That’s the real goal, you press play and let that mother ride.
In an increasingly digital age, how does a label such as yours have to adapt their business model and marketing to fit the current music industry landscape?
You mean in an age where mf’ ers just steal your product? Yea some real slick stuff people be pulling. Real fans support they don’t steal. If people want quality they will have to support to keep it going. People have the real power. We make quality that’s our business model. Crazy some of the people who rock our stuff, just haven’t given us the co-sign yet, like they are waiting or something. We have
certain releases that we will just be pushing digital, adapt or fall, I read “Who Moved My Cheese” I know what time it is.
You’ve got a great lineup of MCs such as Killah Priest, Copywrite, and Vast Aire, as well as producers like Stu Bangas. How did those relationships start?
Priest was the first national artist to sign. We had done some songs with dude prior and had a good working relationship. Kount Fif produced the “Gun for Gun” joint with Nas and him so it was a good fit. He came down and in roughly 3 days had the basic outline for the “3 Day Theory”. I worked on Copywrite for a couple of years, first we signed him to a producers deal called “The Puppet Show” about a year after that we signed “The Life and Times” deal. With Vast originally I was thinking just doing a record with him and Copy together. Timing was off so we approached the idea of doing a solo.
Copywrite’s God Save The King is getting great feedback and I think is his best work. How does it feel to have a project like this come out on your label?
It feels good. That album has had a couple different faces to it. Originally being just a UK record and now being two separate projects. It’s exciting to hear the feedback from critics and fans alike.
I know that Roc Marciano has an album coming out on Man Bites Dog. How did that come about? What can you tell us about that project?
Last Summer I hit up Roc to do some verses for some label projects, one of which has been released now “Golden State (Of Mind)” on Copywrite’s God Save the King album. The others will be on Stu Bangas & Vanderslice’s D.W.A record as well as one verse on The Swashbuckler. Since then Roc and I have been going back and forth on what would make sense for us to do together. He brought up Marci Beacoup and sent me song joints. They were banging. End of story.
What’s on the horizon for Man Bites Dog that we should be looking forward to?
There is a ton going on now but coming out the end of this month is “The Swashbuckler” which is a project that has been 5 years in the making. Everyone is on this joint. Royce, Roc Marc, U God, Copy, Cappadonna, Killah Priest, Heltah Skeltah, Outerspace, Torae, Vast Aire, Jason Rose, Inspectah Deck, Bronze, Gillie da Kid, Nine, Planet Asia, man this list goes on and on. It is produced by myself and Kount Fif. Crazy record. Also we have Stu Bangas & Vanderslice’s record D.W.A. All I have to say about that is wow! Forget what you know about anything, this record body slams your neck and ankles, so hard. Everyone and I mean everyone is on this record. Alchemist, Evidence, Roc, Apathy, Vinnie Paz, Slaine, Ill Bill, Outerspace, Esoteric, too many names…We are also releasing Tage’s (MHz) record ‘Contagion” which features production by Sid Roams, oh no, !llmind and features Copywrite and Planet Asia. Dope record. There is more stuff we are working on but I don’t wanna overwhelm people right now, I am sure we will get up again and I can lay more stuff on you.
Follow on Twitter: twitter.com/manbitesdogrecs/man-bites-dog-records
You’ve been around for awhile but have never really dropped any J-Force project or received as much credit as you deserve for producing. Your new project, Cadillac Respect, showcases your talent as a producer. Did you feel it was finally time to be recognized?
Definitely. I’ve been making beats for a long time, since 1990. The SP-1200 was taught to me by Ski Beatz. He used to bring it around with him and back in the day, all my friends met him. He would stay at one friend’s house and then stay at mine. Everywhere he went he brought the SP and he raided everybody’s parents’ record collection. I watched him program it and work it. Since I was a drummer by nature, I felt I could definitely program some really hot samples and drums into the machine. So yeah, I’ve been doing it for a hot minute.
You remix a lot of classics on Cadillac Respect, and it’s rare that I enjoy remixes.
I call them “revisits.” A “remix” is technically readjusting treble and bass and EQs in that aspect. But we’ve been using the word “remix” on the DJ level a little loosely. To me a revisit, and there’s actually a definition on the inside of the album, a “revisit” is basically calling back a classic accapella, with no disrespect to the original composition, and bringing a new composition totally.
It’s wild. People say the first single I put out was “Bullseye.” I was recording out of Englewood, New Jersey with Ski Beatz and it was next to Dance Floor Distribution, it was a record distributor and there was a studio inside the record distributor spot and that’s where I originally met back up with Ski. I originally met Ski at WBLS, maybe the late ‘80s. My DJ used to be Kevvy Kev and he was on Saturday nights on WBLS and Pete Rock was on Friday. They did the “Marley Marl in Control” show.
So I met Ski in the lobby of WBLS and later on caught up with him at this spot in Jersey and that’s where I recorded a song called “Dippity,” that I’d just seen on YouTube recently. But the A-side wasn’t my mix. The b-side was “Dippity” and I sampled Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” which Tribe sampled at the same time. I took some really hot drums, I think Public Enemy used it on “Don’t Believe the Hype.” What else did I take? I took “Doo-daa dippity” from Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours.”
So that’s really the first single I ever really did. That came out, I believe in ’90 or ’92. I don’t have the record in front of me but that’s really the first record I ever really did. And then “Bullseye” came out in ’93. I failed to put the year on my singles for after “Bullseye” and “Runnin’ on E.” It was kind of open arms for New York underground radio. Stretch Armstrong played whatever I did. DJ Premier, whenever he did an all-star weekend, he played both my singles. I had a little sticker on both of my singles “Live and Direct from the House of Hits” because Marley mixed both of my singles. Those were the first three singles that I did, from ’93 to ’96 I put out my own stuff. “Pink Chicken” was the third single that I never came out with that’s on Cadillac Respect. But I never came out with the version that’s on Cadillac Respect. It’s actually a revisit as well. The original is on YouTube. I took Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do?’s” bassline with Harvey Mandel’s “Cristo Redentor.”
And that was the original mix and then I chopped up a Shirley Bassey loop and put some crazy drums on it and I did a revisit of my own track f¬or the Cadillac Respect project, because it is a revisit project, and keeping with the theme, I put one of mine on there. Basically if you’re a DJ and you appreciate mixology, you’re going to love the album and the way I seamed the interludes together. It’s for real hip-hop heads.
How do you know when you have a revisit right?
How I always make beats is usually to know the beat is hot, I’ll usually throw O.C.’s ‘Time’s Up” over it and I’ll test it with a hot accapella. You know when it’s right. If it complements the vocals and it doesn’t sound anything like the original, then I feel like you got it. If it’s not anything better or brings anything different to the original, I don’t think you really should touch it.
“Time’s Up” is a great standard.
The fact of the matter is “Time’s Up” is such a strong record that you have to come with a lot of heat to do that one over. As far as I’m concerned, it’s almost cheating because he sounds dope over almost anything. And if the revisit is not going to do what the original does, then I leave it alone. That’s why you didn’t see me come with this one here. But that song is a classic, period, the end. But it is tough. You know when the formula is right after you’ve been doing this for so many years and if you can come forth with something new and paint a new picture. And the revisit, I altered the lyrics too to do different things. I started off the Ghostface one with the hook and the “Oh my God” sample at the beginning of the Buckshot one. It’s a whole new formula and a new picture. That’s what I feel you have to do to really do a revisit correctly. It can’t be the same formula as the original recipe.
Are there other songs you look at as untouchable for a revisit?
I would say yes, absolutely, “The Symphony” being a good example. In fact, when I met up with Marley for one of the first times, I met him at a record store in Rockland County and we were both digging for records. I asked him why he picked that beat for “The Symphony 2.” You out of all people, take the Otis Redding again. I really wish the remix had a version from the original Otis Redding “Hard to Handle” sample. I actually said that to him and Marley appreciated the honesty and then we started to hang out and get tight after that.
It takes some balls to say that to Marley Marl the first time meeting him.
(laughs) Well, you know what? Honesty is the best policy to me and that’s all I am, nothing but blunt and up front. A lot of people might not like that and appreciate that. Either you want to sit around the roundtable and tell fairy tales or you want to just deal with the truth. The truth of the matter is “The Symphony 2” is nothing compared to “The Symphony.” But you’re talking to a guy where the beat is first to me. A lot of people get into the lyrics and what they’re saying. I don’t really care what they’re saying if the beat’s not hot. If the beat is hot then I want to hear what you’re saying. “The Symphony 2,” the beat was not hot to me and that’s the point. If Marley didn’t want to talk to me from there on out, that’s fine, but we all know that’s the truth. (laughs)
If fans tuned into Future Flavas, they’ll know you. What were those days like?
That was a platform for me to really flex and hone my production skills, you know, thought that show. I would rock the two SP 1200s with the mixer in between and then of course you got Pete Rock on the turntables. It was magical. Sunday nights, the show came on from 10-11 and it was the time when I was really blossoming as a beatsmith and I was fortunate to have Marley actually mix the singles that I put out with my own vocals. It was pretty cool.
Marley moved up to Chestnut Ridge, New York and I was upstate at the time and that’s how I really ran into him. He would ride around in a red Marc 7 around and he had “Marley” plates on it so it was kind of sticking out like a sore thumb. After awhile, I was invited to do the Future Flavas show with him and Pete Rock and after the show, that’s where I would record these artists that were guests. We would record them after over J-Force beats and I was in full rotation of most of the shows from ’99 to 2001. And I actually was with Marley when he changed from Hot 97 to Power 105. I was with that whole transfer. And then I kind of fell off. I didn’t really go to every show anymore and I would up actually leaving and then I popped up doing some beat stuff for documentaries and networks.
When everything was all good, what were some of your highlights?
Well, during the high points of the show, I would say it was around 2000, I was called by a music publishing company that Jay-Z’s protégé was feeling on one of the tracks that leaked out on my CD. That was Jaz-O. I went to Masters at Work to record this Jaz-O record that later became “King’s County.” To me, that’s where people would say, “We didn’t know you did that.” A lot of people didn’t know I did Future Flavas. I was just in the background with exclusives and SP beats. But the King’s County record was picked up by Fat Beats and I wasn’t credited on that. I lost a lot of stuff for awhile. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s the music industry. I’ve paid dues that I don’t even want to disclose in this conversation but you know some other stuff that I did, for sure, that I had to deal with.
I always felt that I gave you my pinky but I still had a whole hand to give and now, hopefully with the Cadillac Respect and the reception of websites, if people embrace it, I got a lot to give, man. I could be the guy that brings it back to the essence of New York City underground. I’m not really interested in crossing over. I’ve bought albums for the Premier cuts on the album, not the radio records. If I heard one track that was underground, I bought the whole album. I’m trying to be the album cut guy. Everyone is crossing over to some Golden Era-type stuff, and if it’s gonna stay where it’s at, I’ll be that street credible guy all day long. I’ll make those territory records all day long.
Do you think a lot of the younger artists rocking over ‘90s sounding beats is authentic appreciation or reaching for a gimmick?
It’s tricky because a lot of people think that I’m stuck in a time warp, but I feel like history will always repeat and if you look at the true “Golden Era” of hip-hop, I mean, I’ve been listening since Soulsonic Force records and Malcolm McLaren and Man Parrish and all those instrumental records that were from Britain that people were breakdancing too. If you think about it, I think the culmination of the Golden Era as a genre, it was definitely the ‘90s era and if I already existed in that era and that era is what we keep going back to, then why can’t that era exist again? We’ve been talking about it coming back for years. Is 2012 going to be the resurgence of that? Then let’s go. If not, then I’ll still be here and stuck in that time warp for when it does lift off again. I kind of look at myself as an untapped reservoir or music and an endless sea of music. I have DAT discs and old Adidas sneaker boxes full forever.
Are you going to release those?
I got at least a fifteen, twenty year run right now. If it was to resurge again, I’m right there.
What would it take for someone to get a J-Force beat?
Okay, great question. I’m really feeling Roc Marciano, hard. Marcberg, I’m a big U.N. fan. I’m into mic-ripping vocals and braggadocio. I’m into story-telling, of course, but I’m not into champagne-popping music. I stopped listening to mainstream radio from ’98, ’99. I don’t even know what Drake looks like, no disrespect. I’m really, like, so to the left of mainstream right now that I don’t even care to be mainstream. I think that’s a lot of girl scout hip-hop. Like, when people say, “Do you like the beat?” they mean, “Would you buy it?” and I wouldn’t buy a lot of it that’s out there. I don’t know who’s calling the shots as far as what becomes mainstream but I think hip-hop has gradually descended from 1997, 1998 to the present day.
I’ve done a slew of records with Killa Sha and Jojo Pellegrino and basically if you got gut-wrenching lyrics, I’m interested. Give me a shout. It won’t even be hard to get with a J-Force beat, but I will reserve the right to be selective.
I just want to keep my ear to the grindstone and I am less interested in the mainstream unless you’re a Christina Aguilera and you think you got some words for myself. I could see Mary J. Blige on some of my records. I always loved the meshing of R&B and I gotta give it to guys like Pete Rock and Kevvy Kev. They kind of started that back in the BLS era. They were putting Mary J. accapellas over rugged-ass beats. I love the singing over hard beats, but as far as the lyrics being Cristal-popping, eh, that’s more for the skinny jean era and the backpackers. That’s not my cup of tea at all. No disrespect. I mean, if that’s your thing, hey, I’m not hating on it. It’s not my thing.
You use the SP 1200 for your beats. What is it about that machine that brings music alive for you?
I really like the way it spits out drums. I like the way it swings without even using swing. I also like how what I put into it, it spits it out even hotter, like if I grab a snare from a random record, the way I sample the snare, the way I EQ the snare into the machine gets the machine to spit it out fuller and thicker than the original form. I would like to see the original SP 1200 with 20 second sample time. I wouldn’t even need the minute sample time. I also came up with ways to fit much more information into the machine. I get more than ten seconds worth out of it anyway, but I feel like less is more in every aspect. As far as production, it’s kind of tight. Let’s keep the emphasis on lyrics and keep the beat hard and basic. That’s really my formula. I don’t really deviate much.
Can you take us through the making of a J-Force beat?
You know, I used to start with the loop and then as soon as I chopped the loop or whatever sounds I want as the melody part, as soon as I get that part loaded, it’s very easy to add drums. Nowadays, I have tons of drum disks so all I really do is thumb through the vinyl on the Technics and sometimes I have a CD. I’ll load up a drum disk and just play a segment and actually place the needle over different parts and have the drums playing and then the loop second. It’s really either or. I do this on the spot. Also, I’ve been into comprising all the loops that I hear on a given day. I’ll just do burn CDs, I call them, where I’ll just have stuff that I like the way they sound and put them on the turntable and burn them to a disk. I’ll just collect stuff that I like the way it sounds and save it for a later date and I’ll just have tons of loops from the turntables and the way I would want them to sound as the end result.
To me, that’s also a part of producing music and changing the tune of the way a record was originally recorded. On the Technics 1200, the green is the way it was recorded. I don’t necessarily like the way tones of a note where in it’s original form. It may have wandered plus right, negative eight, plus two. I’ll save my burn CDs and use them for a rainy day when you got beat block and you can’t hear a beat. I’ll just pop one of those in because I got tons of those too. I’ll pop one of those in. I label it with a date and I wrap the CD in a piece of paper from wherever I got the loops from so everyone can get their sample credit if it ever came out and became something, so I’ll know where I got it.
I used to just fish through vinyl and I could still do that, but mainly I got burn CDs of stuff that I like and wonder why I never did nothing with that and then I’ll load up a drum disk and figure out what drums sound right with that. I’ll loop my burn and then I’ll just keep marinating on the drums, going through snares and maybe popping in a new disk. That’s my formula nowadays. It’s easier for me. I could also go to a studio session and make them up on the spot.
How I’ve actually been working with rappers at present is I would ask them two questions. Who are you feeling right now hard? The Doors, the Temptations, and then what kind of music is it? Is it ballads? I kind of pick the rappers’ heads and if it’s a melancholic feel, I know what loops to play them and if it’s something else, I’ll know what to play them. It saves time and I can make them a custom beat. Production is the graduation of DJing. If you can play something that a crowd feels then you can tailor something for an artist that they feel.
Are you at your best when you’re making something custom for an artist?
I definitely have the catalogue. Here’s the deal. I’ve been fortunate to play beats in sessions and you’ll want two of the three. I can’t even bombard these guys with seventeen or twenty beats. I can’t even hit them with beat CDs anymore. If I feel the rapper, it takes twenty minutes to say, “Hey, I think you need this. You’re gonna like this.” That’s usually exactly how it happens. It has become a lot easier. I also hone those kinds of skills at Future Flavas. You had to be able to play stuff for people and have them like it in ten minutes. That’s cool. Not everybody is going to love a J-Force beat and if they do, not everybody is for a J-Force beat. It can’t be a forced issue, in my opinion. It has to be right, but I’m willing to work with grassroots up to established artists. If you’re tight, you’re tight and we can rock
What was it like working with Jaz-O?
I was actually working for a music publishing company at the time, Reach Global. They actually started doing Chuck D and Flava Flav’s Public Enemy catalogue. Years ago, I used to fish on my computer for writers that weren’t signed to publishing deals, like writers on Eminem records. So one day I got a call from one of the writers I worked for and we ended up publishing “The Originators” record and that was Jaz-O and Jay-Z and Jaz-O jumped over one of my beats. They called me and said they had good news and bad news. They said how much it was paying upfront and how much on the backend. We all know we’re never going to see the backend. It was $1400 on the frontend and on the backend, which I never received, which is all right. I never received the credit, which is not all right.
Fat Beats came out with it. DJ Clark Kent had the A-side of the single. I don’t believe “King’s County” even made his Immobilarie album and I don’t know why. A lot of people ask me why and I have no idea. But the bad news is I had to show up at the studio session 24 hours after I got the call and it was no problem. Jaz-O was there and we had no idea what the hook was going to be. I believe he wrote his lyrics on the spot and I did all the little ear candy drops around his lyrics and he looked at me and asked what we were going to do for the hook. I said we could Run-DMC the hook and he could say something and I could cut something. I didn’t have my rare accapellas that I liked to cut, like my Mobb Deep and Raekwon records. I ran out and came back within an hour, still on the clock, and Jaz-O actually did compliment me on my studio etiquette and he couldn’t believe how we brought that record home in six hours. The engineer was a monster Japanese kid. It was really one of my favorite moments recording anything. That was around 2000, 2001 and a lot of people, I would tell them that I made that record and they would really jump back. No one really knew. I got so many more things like that. I’m basically an untapped resource to this day.
What was it like working with Killa Sha?
Killa Sha was my dog. I miss him so much. Rest in Peace. He did so much for my career and the documentary side of me. He actually brought me to Quincy Jones III and that took me to doing the Rock the Bells Wu-Tang movie and that got me a call from Bling, that went on the network and then off the network. VH1 pulled it. It was real cerebral and about the real blood diamonds. He started all of that. I did four records with Sha. I did “Black Dracula” and actually Marley got the credit for it. I had to correct one of the blogs that posted it. I did “Raging Bull.” That was actually blogged too. I have a song called “Analyze” that came out later and now I believe my man Phantom is working on a Killa Sha release and “Raging Bull” will come out on that.
I’m trying to collect some Sha lyrics for something new and I’m actually working on something with Killa Sha and Tame One. It was recorded posthumous and I got the accapella. I talked to Phantom about recording something new. It’s gonna be special. He’s my boy. We used to vibe out on the Future Flavas show and I really miss that guy. I was fortunate enough to get a couple in with him. Some stuff might still come out. We have to drop it later. That’s if this real stuff comes back. Hopefully there’s a resurgence and the younger crowd has to hopefully get turned onto it first. That’s why I came with Cadillac Respect, to hopefully educate the young ones.
Will we hear more from J-Force in the future?
100%. I’m tired of laying. I got a couple of other projects going on already. I got myself a Mac computer. I can record in my laboratory now, which used to just be a pre-production spot. But now with technology, I got the Mac and I record everything in Garage Band. All of the stuff on Cadillac Respect was Cubase and Pro Tools. I got another project that I’m loading into that and you should be hearing a lot more from J-Force in the years to come.
Will you always use the SP 1200?
100%. I’ll never stop using that. As a matter of fact, there was a show that I remember DJ Premier coming to and him telling Marley that the thing with me on the machine is that you could never tell what equipment I’ve used. I said to him, “Hey, Premier, it’s all in the hi-hat pattern. It’s all in the way that you sample your hi-hats and how you play your hi-hats.” He looked at me like, ‘Of course. That is the right answer.’ It’s all in the drum pattern and the rate you sample your drums, to me. Sometimes a snare that doesn’t have to be tuned down in the SP, a snare that in other words that’s sampled in real time and then played in real time on the SP is really clear and almost sounds digital on the SP even though the SP is a dirty, 12-bit machine. There’s a way to sample the drums onto the machine where they sound like Akai drums with a dirty loops. That comes with time and you have to know how to freak these machines into fooling the people. I may tell you that I hung up the SP and play you five beats that you could have sworn I made on an Akai. If I play them for you on a CD you’ll never be able to tell what machine I made them on. But I like the SP. It forces creativity. You only have ten seconds and you have to bring it home. It’s raw. That’s what hip-hop is about. It’s less. Less is more, definitely.
How’s your relationship with Marley Marl and Pete Rock today?
I haven’t seen those guys in awhile. I’m loving the Cocoa Brovaz and Pete Rock album. I’ve been a huge Pete Rock fan, of course. He’s been an influence and Marley’s been an influence. I haven’t seen Marley in awhile. I hope I see him real soon and hope he’ll stand behind the album. He had a lot to do with it. There’s a lot of treats from Future Flavas that were never available until now, including the “Self Conscious” revisit. I came up with the scratch hook. It’s an official Future Flavas record. I wanted it to feel like a Future Flavas radio show, hence the crowd and some of the sound effects. I did want it to sound like a radio show album and paying homage to the Future Flavas time because that is when I started coming up and honing the craft of beatmaking.
Those days were great. I hear Marley, through the grapevine, is trying to do a reunion show on the web. I don’t know if it’s going to be on the radio again. But I look back and I wouldn’t change a thing. It was so much fun going to the show. Sunday nights will never be the same again. I loved it. I have no regrets about that. I was just really humble. I was in the background and I wasn’t shout-out hungry and I wasn’t so much into the notoriety. I just loved watching people appreciate the stuff that I was putting forth. I didn’t have a need to really be upfront. It wasn’t like that for me. It was just about flexing the skills and quietly playing the background.
And I’m not totally happy with how I did it. I should have been more aggressive. I was in my 20s then and I was doing it for the love. There were a couple of times that I caught feelings, one being the Black Rob exclusive that Marley would rock at the beginning of a show for about a year or two straight. It was a Black Rob and J-Force exclusive and he actually shouted me out on it. That beat eventually became a beat for an AZ revisit. Anyway, Black Rob didn’t realize it. During the radio show, he was freestyling over an SP beat. He told Marley he would rock with us and he wanted something from them and that I should just play him the beat he rapped to and that was my beat. Then he looked at me like, ‘You made that beat?’ Then my feelings got involved and I didn’t really want to continue further. Rob wanted to know how to get in touch with me and I told him to get at me like he got at Marley and maybe I could have been on that album if I didn’t drop the ball. But no one really knew who J-Force was. I should have been more aggressive. There are regrets and maybe I should have shown a little more teeth. But I’m ready to do that now. I’m stronger, older, that much faster. Little things like that.
Who are your favorite artists to sample?
I don’t know if I should divulge that! (laughs) I like obscure, cruddy, 1960s rock records. I’m into rare soul from ’67 to ’72. I got a record at home by Manny Kellen. There’s just tons of stuff on that one record. Who else am I fishing for these days? I like R.B. Grieves, another pretty underground soul singer from back then. I got a ton of stuff that you’ve never heard of. There’s just stuff you never heard of. To me, I believe in not sampling the hits. Sampling stuff that fell by the wayside, that no one really took notice of, that’s the art of hip-hop. It’s not taking a Sister Sledge loop and adding drums to it. That’s not really what I do, anything when the loop is hot, the loop is hot and just throw some drums on it. The Ghostface record on Cadillac Respect is me looping The Escorts and I just added drums. Mainly that’s that.
Do you ever go back to older samples you’ve chopped and remaking the beats with your current mindstate?
Let me tell you what. I’m constantly known for sampling something on a Saturday morning and add the drums to it and the loop and shut the machine off without even saving the samples. That’s my new shit, and I’ll come back to it later that day or the next day. I’m really anal with what I save to discs nowadays. Not everything is floppy disk worthy. I’m really picky. It’s crazy. It’s a gift and a curse. But the formula just has to be so right. Timeless is what I shoot for. A lot of the stuff on Cadillac Respect, it’s from back then but it doesn’t get old.
And that’s what I try to bring forth in my brand of music. If it’s not classic material and it just sounds good for this season, then it’s not for me. It’s like how I come to the end result of my sound. “King’s County” doesn’t sound like it’s dated at all in my opinion. That could bang for ten, twenty years the way I sampled it. It’s a Glen Miller record and it was on the Hair Soundtrack. It’s so rare. I’ve never seen it at any expos. If you hear the original and “King’s County,” it will explain everything. I don’t even remember where I got those drums from but there’s a couple of producers who’ve used those drums. I left a couple of beat disks behind in my travels and I think people got a hold of them and I can tell those drums showed up on other records. I don’t remember where the drums on “King’s County” came from but the notes on “King’s County” that I chopped came from Glen Miller on the Hair Soundtrack. But I got a lot of rare records. That’s really all I deal with.
What’s next for you?
Ultimately I may do one more revisit project. I have these ideas of chop CDs whereas I would be sampling and chopping Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and Kiss. I’m a Kiss freak. And have it like Pink Floyd Meets Hip-Hop. I’m thinking of some concepts and some mash-up CDs along those lines. Other than that, if you hear track fifteen on Cadillac Respect, you’ll hear “Pink Chicken.” Those are my vocals. I rap too and if somebody steps to me with the right mathematics I would like to do an album with guests. I wouldn’t rap on every track but I would produce every track and do all the interludes. Hopefully that happens but if not, I’m fine in the background playing the beats.
Download Cadillac Respect here.
You recently dropped The Cure 2, another dope Willie the Kid mixtape. Are you happy with how it’s doing so far?
Yeah, I’m excited about it. The Cure 2 was definitely a project that I was excited about putting together last year. I did The Fly 2 and The Crates to really go in that direction for The Cure 2. It’s really an in-your-face, a rhyme-driven project. I wasn’t really looking for no radio hits or I wasn’t looking for no single hooks. I was really just trying to take it back to the cipher and the basement and we definitely got that approach, definitely.
That was my favorite part of the mixtape, just real lyrical tracks. Are those your favorite tracks to make?
I enjoy it all, man. I enjoy making stuff for the mainstream because for me, it comes natural to make that type of material. When I’m able to just go crazy and do whatever the heck I want to do, it’s therapeutic for me, man. It goes beyond making music for a career at that point. When you sign to a label and the label got certain expectations and you have things you have to do for certain markets, that’s a strategy. But when I’m making music just for me, it’s holistic, man. It’s a therapy process for me, man.
What tracks were the most fun on The Cure 2?
The most fun, I think, was picking the beats. That was probably the most fun in the process. I was getting the grimiest, most in-your-face process I could find. I went with my trustees for that and got Frank Dukes, MoSS, and getting together with all my brothers and carving out that process. That, and the artwork, putting that together.
Is it ever hard getting beats for a free download?
Oh nah, nah. Those guys are good friends of mine. Those guys, I respect their talent and they respect mine. We talk on and off the grid. I understand what they’re doing and I understand what they do. I do records for them and I never charge them anything and they send me records and never charge me anything. I think for us all, we understand that and now if I had a major release and it was dropping and I had a budget, I would definitely pay them out of being a good dude and being fair, but as far as mixtapes, I think we all recognize the power of the underground and what it means to put some good shit together, even if it’s not mainstream.
And they’ll be the first ones you’d call when you get a budget.
The last time we’d talked you just released the Never a Dull Moment EP with Lee Bannon and the album was forthcoming. How’s that project coming?
It’s dope. We can’t stop making the music, man. We’ve been making mad music and some of the music is so dope I want to put it out. “Drunk Ass Bitch” was really for the Never a Dull Moment but we threw that out on The Cure 2. Now we have to just sit down and organize it. We make tons of music all the time but we haven’t really started pushing anything on the project. He sends me beats and I send him songs back and we go on and on with making music but I think we have to organize what we’re doing for the project.
But it’s definitely coming out. I would say we just got lost in the sauce and the idea of making the music. We just have to get the release date and all that.
You’ve always been known for working with DJ Drama, but you weren’t on his latest album Third Power. Is everything good?
Dram’s still a good friend of mine and we still keep in touch. He’s doing what he’s doing with his career and I think I just have to keep doing what I’m doing with mine for now. I think for now, everybody, me, him, Don Cannon, Sense, La the Darkman, everybody’s found a new comfort in just going in their own direction. No hard feelings. There’s no beef, no internet blogs. Everybody just needs to work in their own space right now. We’ll get back to it eventually.
Do you want to establish yourself as a solo artist more?
Yeah. I think we never gave our solo careers a chance. We’ve always been so connected to each other for such a long time. I don’t want to say we grew out of it but we all grew into a need to pursue our individual paths. That’s what was next on the agenda for everybody.
Do you have any regrets from the moves you made back in ’06 and ’07, when you were just starting to become knowing in the hip-hop community?
I can’t say there’s anything I wouldn’t do because it all got me to where I am today. I’m not one for regrets. I think everything that happened was supposed to happen. I think being so attached to Drama and the Apphiliates and Gangsta Grillz, I think what that did was give me a platform for being able to do what I’m doing now. I think it gave me a platform. I think back then, it gave me the leverage to do this crazy shit I’m doing now.
You’ve worked with a lot of big names on Gangsta Grillz mixtapes and albums. What have you learned through those experiences?
The number one thing I learned, man, was who I am as an artist. I believe in organic, natural chemistry and an organic, natural physical process. I like to identify with the artist as a person and I think that really makes for a beautiful product. A lot of times in the past, we were doing shit because it was good for business or it flowed for what we were doing as a company, business-wise. But I think in 2011, from some of the collaborations I did, like Styles P, Cory Gunz, and Jon Connor, I think stuff like that, and Krondon from Strong Arm Steady, I think those kind of collaborations and musical projects we put together, I think they speak more to what I’m saying as far as having a true bond and a true connection with the people I’m working with for the sake of the music.
Who would you like to work with next?
I’m excited to work with some producers. I can rap for three or four motherfuckers. I want to work with the RZA, Kanye West, Havoc, Pete Rock. All the producers, man. Madlib. I want to work with some producers. That’s who I want to get with.
What does it take for up-and-coming producers to catch your ear?
I don’t know, man. I just know when I hear it. Friends of mine say I’m too picky and they’ll play me a beat and I won’t like it and a week later I will. I’m real funny about beats and I’m real particular about beats. I got to a point now where I don’t even rap on beats unless it makes me go crazy at first. I don’t believe in “grow-on-me” beats. The song magically comes together in my mind before I can write it down. That’s the kind of beats I’m looking for and I got some real good friends in the business that I can turn to for beats. Every time Alchemist sends me beats it’s always incredible. I think Al’s one of my favorites right now and of course Lee Bannon. They send me shit and it always goes. And my man V. Don out of Harlem, New York. He’s got some crazy shit too. When I get beats from them brothers, I’m straight. But I do want to branch out and make some more music with up-and-coming producers and I think that’ll come as I keep making music.
What’s next for you?
I’m about to do this project called Moment in Time. It’s going to basically be, I’m not even sure what to call it at this point, it’s going to be a package where you download a link and you get some videos, rare throwback footage and rare behind the scenes footage. It’s basically going to be an interview and music to go along with it. It’ll be like when an artist went on Rap City and they showed all their videos at that time. I’m going to give a real in-depth interview about my career and videos from throughout my career.
How’s your big brother La the Darkman doing?
Oh, he’s doing well. He’s doing really well. He was doing some dates with Wu-Tang on the Wu-Tang Tour. He was just reaching out and going back to his roots with the Clan. Him and RZA’s relationship has always been great. We got some great things coming in the future with La and RZA so check out for that.
What talent should we be watching for from Michigan next?
My man S. Class Sonny. Make sure you check out for him. He’s a friend I grew up with and he had to go away, pay a debt to society. But he always stayed in touch and when he came back, I told him all my resources would be his. He’s my friend, but I’m telling you he’s one of the most influential and hardest-working cats I know. I’m not talking about the ones that are already on the radio and known already. He’s one of the fastest growing guys. Check for him.
For those who aren’t yet up on you, how would you introduce yourself?
I’m a writer, a Hip Hop/rap artist, an activist. I represent the people, the 99%, the working man and woman, people who struggle, people who cop new fashions or do drugs to cope with their problems. Real humans. To me, that’s what this culture is all about. I rap about shit I know, shit I been through, shit I see, shit I fear and shit I dream about. I’ve wanted to die, been in trouble with the law, graduated from college, worked my ass off. I hate the man, I love my people. I’m sarcastic, self deprecating, brutally honest, passionate, compassionate, sensitive, super-lyrical. I want peace, but I aint afraid to knock somebody head off. I’m anti-arrogance and I don’t give a fuck if you swag. I do me, and that’s exactly why they feel me.
Your “World View” project is scheduled to be dropping soon. Can you explain what it is, who’s involved and your motivation behind it?
World View is dropping in 2012, presented by DJ Booth, End of the Weak (EOW/EODub) & The Morgan Stanley Foundation. The first-ever 100% for-charity global Hip Hop project, World View features contributions from every continent, approximately 20 countries and every United States region. The album boasts production from Domingo, Harry Fraud, The White Shadow, Tranzformer, ATG and many more, as well as guest emcee appearances from the likes of Joell Ortiz, Sean Price and KRS-One. All proceeds are being donated to Guns 4 Cameras (a.k.a. Aim to Live), a 501c3-registered nonprofit dedicated to eradicating street violence through the Hip Hop-inspired education and empowerment of our at-risk youth.
Your music is very influenced by your social views and your activism. How important is it for those passions to be conveyed in your music?
My mother was an activist. I was raised an activist. I have a bachelor of art’s degree in Sociology from Vassar College. I’ve led protests all over the country as well as worked in maximum security prisons, alternative to incarceration centers, teen centers and soup kitchens. And I do feel strongly that politics are important because they affect us at the street level, in our day-to-day lives, even if we can’t always see or feel it. But politics aint everything. And ideas and songs can be political without being blatant, in-your-face, Democrat-vs.-Republican political.
Of course, my political opinions and passions are important to me and play a significant role in my music, my message and my movement, but this doesn’t mean every song is intended to be or going to come off as political.
Do you see your music as having a particular goal or is it more about communicating what’s inside you?
I make music to release, for myself. I make music to relate, for my listeners. And, less often, I make music to educate, for those who can learn from my experiences or education. I am not just a political rapper, or a Jewish rapper, or an underground/indie rapper. I am complex, just like my fans and followers. On World View and other projects, I:
Go in on current events (e.g., “Mr. President” w/ Y-Love; or “Imperialism” w/ C-Rayz Walz & Reks).
Speak revolution right to the 1% (e.g., “The People’s Champions” w/ Shabaam Sahdeeq, Punchline & Beretta 9 [of Killarmy]).
Comment on the state of Hip Hop (e.g., “Radio 2.0″ w/ KRS-One et al.).
Talk that gritty, grimy street shit (e.g., “Bars & Hooks” w/ Sean Price, The Kid Daytona & The Incomparable Shakespeare; or “Metal Music” w/ ILL BILL, El Gant, Tenacity & Blame One).
Embody other objects (e.g., blood in “Stay Spittin Stay Flowin”; or drugs in “Requiem” w/ SoulStice, Ess Vee & CuzOH! Black [coming soon!])
Share my secrets and insecurities (e.g., “Doctor Doctor” w/ GuessWho?).
Divulge on relationships (e.g., “Thank You (A Tribute To My Mommy)”; or “The Dating Game – Revisited” w/ Jade Foxx).
Celebrate with my peoples (e.g., “Cheers” w/ Whatzisface).
Attempt to inspire (e.g., “The World Is Yours” w/ Sha Stimuli; or “All My People” w/ Josh Martinez et al.)
You’ve done a number dope joints with Harry Fraud who is blowing up crazy. How did you two initially link up?
Fraud and I met about a decade ago, before anyone had heard of either of us. We met through mutual friends Various, Werdplay and Fafu of BLESTeNATION, an Interscope-signed group that only a few years ago seemed destined for stardom. Fraud produced a couple records on my solo debut LP “See the Light”. In 2011, he and I both took big steps forward, and I am very proud of and happy for him. And, good news, we got more hot records in the works and coming soon, including one with Voli and me that is already finished, stupid crazy dope, and POSSIBLY destined for Fraud’s album and/or World View. For more on this, look out for a forthcoming feature on RefinedHype.com.
Who are some of the artists who have inspired you and who you look at as role models in the game?
As a ‘Tough Jew’ growing up, I was inspired by artists with similar backgrounds, such as ILL BILL and Remedy. As a politically minded emcee, I have been inspired by Immortal Technique and Chuck D. And as an artist, I learned a lot about the writing, recording, production and performing processes from friends Harry Fraud and Whatzisface. But truthfully, I am much more inspired by what goes on inside my head and in the world around me, as well as by philosophers, social theorists and political activists.
Any new artists that you’re feeling lately and are looking to work with?
Production wise, I would love to work with DJ Premier, Alchemist and the Snowgoons. As for fellow emcees, I don’t want to give anything away because, at this point, with World View, anything is possible, and some crazy collaborations are already quietly being cooked up.
What’s on the horizon for 2012 for you?
I’m almost finished with World View. Just a few more records to complete, and then I’ll be dropping this multi-year effort via DJ Booth later this year. After World View, I am going to spend a lot more time writing and a lot less time networking and promoting. Since I didn’t start taking this rap thing seriously until December 2009, I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. But once my foothold is fully established with World View, I plan to work on more solo records, with some of the most creative producers in the game. I plan to push boundaries and inspire these geniuses to go even further left field with me. We all know that’s where I belong.
When I first heard you were writing a book, I was really excited to read it and now that I have, I’d definitely recommend it to everyone. How did the idea for a book come about in the first place?
I had been writing stuff and posting it on my blog on Dante Ross’ website in 2009. The stuff was getting good feedback and people wanted more, but a lot of the material was stuff I’d written over the years so I was really just archiving. The blog game is like the mixtape game – you have to drop something very often or you’re forgotten. I was writing pieces that were 2000-3000 words and there was no way I could keep that up at a one post per week rate, so I decided to compile them into a book and make it a cohesive project. I was always a full-length album-driven artist when I was doing music, not a mixtape or 12” single artist. I like pulling a bunch of one ideas into one project, so a book was a good option. I also wanted to write one because my grandfather wrote one and he could never get it published, so I’m kind of living out the dream for him.
What were some of the challenges you faced writing a book?
The editing process was much harder than the writing. It was also hard to revisit some of the rougher moments at the end of my rap career because I’d already put those moments behind me, but I found that writing about them helped me find humor in them.
You mention in Root for the Villain about how you never “broke through” to the side of super-stardom, yet you still had a very successful career as an MC. It seems like you wrestle with the notion of success and failure on an everyday basis.
Of course, because we live in a world where everyone is judging you 24/7. It’s easy for you to find pride in what you’ve accomplished because you know what went into it, but on the surface people will trivialize what you’ve done and been through. When it comes to hip-hop, if someone says “I’ve never heard of you,” its not like they’re curious and trying to check for you because you may have been slept on for a multitude of circumstances. It means you can’t be worth much if you’re not known on a major scale. It’s like, “Oh, he only has 500 YouTube views, 4,000 Twitter followers, 1400 Facebook likes, and no Wikipedia page; he must be wack!” So when music is all you’ve been about and your career didn’t produce tangible commercial success, people start mentioning failure. And as artists, many of us forget to separate our artist personas from who we are as regular people. If J-Zone didn’t sell a lot of records, Jay the person feels like a failure because when music is both your passion and income, the two entities are connected. I had to learn to separate myself from J-Zone to appreciate what I’ve done.
Do you feel you ever look at the ideas of success and failure as mutually exclusive?
They’re both relative, not exclusive. I personally only see things as a failure if you don’t meet your goal and you don’t learn from the experience. As long as you walk away with something, it can’t be a total failure. And even if it is, so what? It’s not a dirty word; you have to embrace it and use it to your advantage. A lot of people misunderstood what I meant by “failure” in the book title. I don’t believe I’m a failure, but by the standards of the music business and the average person who’s not in the know of how it works, I was.
You titled your book Root for the Villain. Was that a nod to Nas’ “One Time for Your Mind”? Where did the title come from?
(Laughs) Nah. It just meant to support the person who walks the road less traveled and refuses to play by the rules simply because they’re there. That road is one where things can easily go wrong, but it’s cool to show love to a cat who has the balls to do things his own way and not compromise.
It’s been entertaining reading your various writings across different websites over the years. What got you into writing?
I always wrote, since middle school. Even when I was doing the music full-time, I wrote columns for Hip-Hop Connection, SLAM Magazine, The Source, Hip-Hop DX, and Elemental. It was a side hustle for as long as I’ve been active in the music business.
Are you still making beats and networking with artists today?
Not so much. I made a few beats in 2011, maybe 3 or 4. One of them came out, a remix I did for my man Has-Lo. I do beats when I feel inspired; it’s more like an occasional hobby now. I started learning how to play drums just to keep some music going in my life and I DJ from time to time, but that’s it for now.
Do you have plans for any new J-Zone albums in the near future, especially with the publicity you’ve generated with Root for the Villain?
(Laughs) No, I seriously doubt it. I had my time. Not saying never; maybe I’ll do a comeback album from called “Live from the Nursing Home” in 2041.
Any plans for new books in the future?
I hope so! I want to write another one, but I can’t do it in the same style as this one. “Root for the Villain” is 34 years of living rolled into about 200 pages. I want to work on a biography for another musician or maybe write a book about one thing in particular. I definitely want to keep at it, but I have no idea what the next one will be about. It just has to come to me naturally.
You’ve been covering high school basketball for awhile. What prospects in the NYC area should we be on the lookout for in the future?
In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve interviewed and/or covered Kemba Walker, Charles Jenkins, Sebastian Telfair, Tobias Harris, Kyrie Irving, and Lance Stephenson when they were in high school – they all went to the NBA. That being said, NYC basketball is down at the moment. New Jersey and other places around the country are much better areas to recruit talent. But there are a few bright spots here. Leroy “Truck” Fludd from Boys & Girls HS in Brooklyn is a tough dude; he dominates games. Jefferson HS in Brooklyn has a young, rugged team that’s real exciting to watch. Mount Vernon always runs a great program; they always have talent and good coaching and the players go on to be solid young men. So there’s a few bright spots out there.
If you’re the GM of the Knicks, what moves are you making to turn them into a serious contender?
Put the New York Liberty on the court instead.
Do you think fans will dig into your older music after reading the book?
So far they have.
Has your grandmother, Evil E read Root for the Villain yet?
Yes. She liked it and thought it was funny, but said I curse too much and had a tough time reading because she needed a magnifying glass to see all the print.
Here is a really interesting interview with the directed and co-produced of a new documentary on financial disputes surrounding The Sugar Hill Gang’s classic “Rapper’s Delight”
“I said a hip-hop, hippie to the hippie” could quite possibly be one of the most significant verses uttered in rap history–but most fans don’t know the legal and financial battle the words unleashed.
The Sugarhill Gang released what’s widely regarded as the first hip-hop hit, the 15-minute“Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, and the single went on to sell 10 million copies. MCs Wonder Mike and Master Gee at first were co-credited with writing the song. The documentary “I Want My Name Back” directed and co-produced by Roger Paradiso, unveils how a faux version of the Sugarhill Gang allegedly co-opted the song, the royalties and their legacy. As a result, the real Sugarhill Gang was forced to work menial jobs while embroiled in an over 20-year legal battle with their former boss.
Paradiso records candid interviews with the real Master Gee and Wonder Mike. Speakeasy spoke with Paradiso in conjunction with the film’s premiere at Slamdance Film Festival this week.
Why did you decide to do this project?
Basically, I met the guys through their manager [Edward Albowicz]. I gotta say I was a little skeptical because I didn’t know too much about the story. I was not interested in a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll story. But I was really struck by a couple aspects of the story. As soon as someone said to me we got these guys going out saying they’re us and they trademarked our names, I was like whoa, that got my attention. There were other areas that needed to be explored that came up later in the discovery and the discussion. Also, I said, well, that’s an interesting story because I don’t know any band of their renown that you could say that someone else went out and said, I’m Paul McCartney or John Lennon. It’s a strange situation. I said that might be an original story. And talking to them I realized that there are parts of the story that are fascinating. It’s a 30-year buddy movie. It’s a 30-year having hung in together, having grew up together. How as teenagers they became stars. How they helped ignite a whole new form of music. I just thought of the relationships and these two guys overcoming these two obstacles and I thought that’s something we can do and make interesting and hopefully we have.
What’s the response been so far?
We’re getting some inquiries. We’re hoping the big boys could take it and wide release on it. You get pigeonholed a lot of times. I see it as a story with commercial and mass appeal. I think it’s like the “Rocky” of hip-hop. It’s Erin Brockovich. These guys went through a lot trials and they’re still standing.
People don’t know the real story. They kind of were famous before MTV really took hold. The strategy of the record company was really not to make any artists famous – it was just to make money for the record company. So they really didn’t get a lot of promotion. People kind of know generically “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang .The Sugarhill Gang is well-known. Unfortunately, in the compromise settlement in the trademark issue, the guys chose their actual names and the other party took the group name. A lot of people know the Sugarhill Gang, but they don’t know the story behind those individuals and that’s why we made this film.
What do the Master Gee and Wonder Mike think of the documentary?
I always kid them. I say they’re just like actors. Actors can’t watch themselves. But I think they’ve gotten used to it. I think they were surprised at some things that came up on our research. I think the whole backstory, kind of connection, probably opened their eyes a little bit. I think they obviously feel comfortable with it. We’ve done shows where we’ve performed after it. We’ve gone on a lot of talk shows and interviews and talked about it. It’s pretty much their life story. When you’re doing a documentary sometimes, there’s this objectivity thing. Since I couldn’t get the other party to participate, it pretty much became a documentary about their lives and their point of view.
They still have a lot of followers, don’t they?
They’re really big in Europe and as I discovered there’s reasons for that. There’s laws now currently in the States where you can’t present a band without original members and if you do, you have to let the audience know. That’s a rather recent thing here. It was more traditional for that to happen in Europe. Actually, logically if you think about it, the promoters there had a distinct advantage over the promoters here. To go over there from the States if you’re American, you have to a have a passport. That passport has to show your picture and name, so it was harder for someone to pull identify theft over there. So I think the audiences were maybe a little more sophisticated about the story and the promoters were a lot more diligent.
Why do you think “Rapper’s Delight” endures over 30 years later?
I think it’s “Apache” and “Rapper’s.” I think it’s like magic. You can’t predict what people will like in terms of a song or a movie or anything. It captured everyone at that time. I think there’s a nostalgia about it. There’s also a structure to it that’s pretty amazing, if you think about it. A 15-minute rap. That’s kind of hard to do. When they actually recorded it, it was pretty amazing that it was done in one take. The aura that we presented just was one of those things where all of the stars aligned and it just kind of happened. To think these guys could show up coming from different angles and different places and get in a studio without much rehearsal at all. I don’t think they had any rehearsal. And just go out there and record it in one take. 15-minutes of verse. It’s pretty incredible.
When they finally won back their names, did they get the money they deserved?
My understanding is the settlement is still not complete. The tragedy of the royalty situation is that there’s a statute of limitations of 7 years. They were able to go from 2010 to 2003, by then obviously all of the songs had hit their stride in terms of revenue. I must say I’m really surprised and happily surprised that I hear “Apache” and “Rapper’s Delight” all over the place. “Apache” is a big anthem song for sports arenas. And “Rapper’s” just keeps showing up on the airwaves. “Rapper’s” has been on several international and national commercials.
Maybe they’ll still get their happy ending.
The thing that’s fascinating about it from a story point of view is as I mentioned, they stuck with it. They’ve overcome all these obstacles and they’re still together after 30-plus years, and they’re sort of a comeback. They still claim people love them and we show that in film a little bit. I just think that if we can get this story out it could be a really good ending for them.
Dutch, you’ve been dropping tons of freestyles and mixtapes. In your latest freestyle, you shout out Victor Cruz. Are you surprised by their victory at Green Bay?
I was going crazy! That’s my favorite sport and I’m a diehard Giants fan. I had to throw that in there! I knew they was going to win, but I didn’t know how. I was saying to some of my people watching the game that I didn’t know, it could have been a close one or a blowout. I didn’t know they were going to win in that fashion, 37-20.
I didn’t know they were going to have to play the officials at the same time.
Exactly! Oh, they had me sick! But it’s been like that all season. That’s why I think we’re going to the Super Bowl and are going to take it all. We’ve played the officials all season. I can’t wait!
Your latest mixtape, No Relief, recently dropped. Are you happy with how that’s been doing?
Yeah, I’m very, very satisfied. I think it’s gotten a good response. We’ve done shows off of it and I’ve done videos. The whole reception towards the No Relief project is way bigger than I thought it would be.
How have you grown on No Relief compared to your last mixtape, Katrina Flood?
When I listen to those two projects, they’re almost polar opposites because there’s a maturity in the music. I always said that when I made music, whether or not I was grown or not, I wanted the people that listened to me to grow with the music. I showed my growth as an artist and my maturity is there also. It’s different from being in the street and rapping about it or looking at it from a different point of view and looking at it as a man. That’s where No Relief is.
Did you feel like that element was missing in your earlier music?
I don’t feel like it’s missing, but that’s just me and how I make music. I feel like I wouldn’t be able to make the same type of music I’ve already made because then I’d be cloning myself and doing the same thing. That was just a natural progression. With No Relief 2, which I’m about to do, I can still go back and kick that shit, but as a fan and if you’re a fan of me and my music, I had to take a break from being super-lyrical all the time and let you know where I’m at in my life and my mental state.
How’s No Relief 2 coming?
No Relief 2 is done! Right now, I’m at the point where I’m working on No Relief 2 videos and all that crazy shit and recording at the same time. But I think I was done with No Relief 2 by the time one dropped. Before one dropped, I was done with two. With No Relief 2, it’s going to be one of my favorite projects to date.
What makes this one of your favorites?
It’s a mixture of Katrina Flood and No Relief. It’s like I took it up a notch on both levels. I took it up a notch with myself and I took it up a notch with my spitting. Everything that I did is up a notch. This one is going to be more like a mixtape. No Relief is more like an album. No Relief 2 is more like a mixtape. With No Relief, I was more in tune with my actual personal life and I was putting my heart on the records. With No Relief 2, I’m having a little more fun, going back to what I do, going back to spitting and going hard, sparring with different artists. We’re also going to kill them with our EP. Going to kill them with that.
I love the music we’re working on, but I’m a little biased.
You should love it. It’s heat! I’m loving it so far. When you hit me about doing a project, it tapped into a different part of me and a different part of music that I always listened to and that I was always a fan of. What I’ve been getting from you, 730, these are easy. These are like putting rookies against Tyson. I can do these in my sleep. This is the type of music I came up with and the type of music that made me love rap. This is easy! I can kill this! What I love about your joints, specifically, is that it’s so hip-hop. I lock in the studio by myself with these. It reminds me of Gang Starr’s “Code of the Streets” with this project, “Just to Get a Rep.” That’s the vibe I get. That’s my shit. I fucks with that!
This is the first time I’m ever talking about my own music in an interview.
I’m glad it’s with Dutch New York. That’s what I’m talking about!
Me too. We’ve got about four songs done, but we should be ready to drop soon.
Right. We don’t even have to put a time on it. Whenever that project is the best that it’s going to be, we can green light it. We’re going to keep recording and hopefully we’ll have that out there early spring.
Sounds like a plan. You put a lot of music out for free. Does that ever get frustrating?
It’s frustrating to a certain point, but even if I didn’t have any way to put it out, I would still be recording the same volume of music. I just have an easier outlet to get the music out. I work so hard on the music. It’s hard chasing people down and trying to get your music posted in different places. There’s also people that don’t want the music. Even if I didn’t have the internet, I would still be recording and I’d still be out in the streets in the middle of the ciphers. I’d be wherever the music is. It’s still an outlet. The people that want to find it, they’re going to find it on the internet, for free or for pay. It doesn’t matter to me. I love the music and I’ll do it until I don’t have a voice left. I’m doing this for y’all.
Do you see your fanbase growing?
Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s been mind-blowing to me. I didn’t expect it. When you’re in the studio by yourself and with your people, you don’t really know how many people are listening, but doing shows and seeing the amount of people that come to shows and listen to the music and know the music, it’s crazy. I did a free listening party for my mixtape and the turnout was crazy. There were so many people. I got the biggest spot I could get and I still would have needed a bigger spot. I love the people for that. I’m going to continue doing it. The people have been very receptive to it.
What’s going on with your group The Stack Boyz?
Right now we’re working on The Stack Boyz Season Finale mixtape. We have some solo projects they’re working on too. We’re deep and everybody’s nice. Everybody’s in the studio right now. Matter of fact, they’re in the studio now, as we speak. The Season Finale is going to be the next thing to go. I’m thinking about doing a StackLand concert and everybody’s going to come out and do their joints. We’re working on that for the summer. That’s something crazy to look out for.
How did you “Yeah” adlib come about?
I was doing a freestyle, a “Miss Me” freestyle, and the beat stopped and I paused and I was just like, ‘Yeah!’ The faces when I did it was like, ‘Ooh wee, what was that?’ I couldn’t even record because they were running with it. I had to keep giving them that!
I don’t think you can shake it at this point.
(laughs) No. I’m running with it!
You have a strong online presence with your music today. What else are you working on as far as the internet is concerned?
I’m trying to centralize everything through DutchNewYork.net. I’m going to send my regular emails out still but I want to centralize everything and my YouTube page is where all my videos will be. I love the support, but if you’re trying to find out anything about me, that’s where you go.
You just released The Susan Sarandon Story mixtape, which features an array of quality guests and some of your best beats. You must be pretty proud of the project.
Yeah. I definitely am. A lot of it is songs that were already out or are coming out. I just had a lot of music sitting around and I felt like people didn’t really know my body of work or they weren’t really associating different joints I did for different artists, so I just really wanted to put one cohesive thing together.
Do you think people will realize all the songs you’ve done as a producer now?
Yeah, I hope that not only that, people know me for different works that I do. I want people in California who hear about me from working with Fashawn or A1 or Omar Aura to hear about the music I’m doing with Steven King or REKS or vice versa. I’ve got stuff in the works with people in Detroit that I essentially cold-called because they had never heard my music. I’m kind of all over the place.
A lot of your songs feature more than one artist. Is it ever a challenge making cohesive songs with so many people involved?
Yeah, it’s very difficult. I don’t like to do it online. I literally like to have everyone in the same place. I would say maybe only two or three of those records on the tape, I’m just trying to think off the top of my head, were done with people in different places, saying that I may have not been there for part of the recording process. Being there, you get to add your input and you’re taking yourself from being a beatmaker to a producer, if that makes any sense.
Is it ever hard giving constructive criticism to established artists, especially with you as a relatively new producer?
Yeah, especially if you’re in a session with someone you’ve never worked with before and you admire them as a musician and you think they could have done it better or done something different or you have a different idea. It takes a certain personality but I think that the music just comes out way better and I think most people will listen to criticism, if they’re smart, at least.
What are you most proud of on The Susan Sarandon Story?
One of my favorite songs on the mixtape is “The Masquerade” by Hadji Quest. I’m really proud of that because that’s a perfect example of what we were just talking about. Hadji Quest is the homie from Brooklyn and he’s got a project coming out and Statik Selektah did most of the production on it. That song was essentially just one verse and I had gotten really attached to the beat because I played this guitar riff at the end and I arranged it a certain way. I told him we couldn’t just have one verse on there. I told him to come over to my house and we would figure out what we should do for the hook and he should write a second verse and he should write a bridge. We crafted the song around a certain structure and Statik made the cuts and the song sounds fantastic. The other thing about it is that no one’s ever heard his music before. That’s the first song that he’s released, so to have that song be the first song released and have it be a song that I’m so proud of, I was really happy with that.
And you’re doing more work with him, right?
Yeah. We’ve done probably fifteen or twenty joints, but I’m not sure how many. I think there’s only ten or twelve joints on his project that he has.
Why did you name the mixtape after Susan Sarandon?
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I’ve been working on my full-length and I was going to use some of those records. But the musical direction went elsewhere, so I was thinking if I should scrap these songs or whatever and I decided to put them out and I didn’t know what to call it so I went to Twitter of all places. I asked my followers what I should call this project and YC the Cynic, who’s the homie, said I should call it The Susan Sarandon Story. So that’s how the title came about but what he didn’t know was that I was looking for something very weird and along those lines, but it also just kind of worked because I happened to go to school with Susan Sarandon’s daughter and as far as having any ties to the music or the content is zero. And it really is, you know, this is not an album. This is a collection of songs. When I put out a full-length and when I eventually get the project out, it will definitely be more of a complete project. But this is just something I wanted to get out to get people more familiar with me. I wanted to throw a weirdo name on it and let’s just run with it.
Could this parlay into a ping-pong match, with Susan Sarandon and her connection with the ping-pong club SPIN?
I would love so. I would love so. It’s funny. If you search her name, a review for my project actually comes up on the first page. Maybe she sees it. That’s some high end, snobbery side of ping-pong, right? Like people riding horses and drinking champagne in between ping-pong matches?
I don’t think it’s the kind you’d play in your basement.
I don’t know if that’s me.
You’re also working on a project with Chaundon. How’s that coming?
It’s done. It’s actually been done for four or five months. He flew out to New York for two weeks, knocked it out, went home, I got the mixes done and that’s it. It’s a good project. Ten songs.
You do a lot of work with Steven King as well. What can we expect from you guys?
He just dropped an EP called Distribution Habits. He’s of course on the Kool G Rap record with Rustee Juxx on my project. The EP was produced by myself, Harry Fraud and Statik. The album is pretty much done. We need to get a couple more songs mixed, but the LP is done. Ill Bill has a record on there. I have records. Fraud has records. There’s a Statik record that Term is on that is crazy. We actually just did a couple joints with REKS and Steven King that are out of control. That album is coming. That’s hardcore, gritty New York rap.
How’s your official compilation coming?
Good. I’m like, four or five songs deep. I’ll probably over-record, but it’s going well. You’ll see a lot of the same people on this project as The Susan Sarandon Story, but it’ll be missing a few and I’ll be adding a few people.
How do you balance which beats go for the various projects you’re working on as well as the ones you sell to artists for their projects?
Up until more recently, I have been more of going along with I’m just going to make a ton of beats and send them ten joints when someone asks for beats that I think they’ll sound good on. But lately I have been, sort of, as I’ve been crafting beats, who I would maybe try to craft this more specifically for, do that, and then send that to them. Sometimes I just know immediately, whether I hear a sample or once I start chopping it up. I’ll know, hey, this is for so-and-so.
As far as selling beats to random people, I’m really trying not to do that. I’m not trying to do the random I don’t know you-type of music anymore.
Can you take us through the making of an ATG beat?
For people who listen to The Susan Sarandon Story in their entirety, they’ll notice that the only track that has no samples is the last track with REKS and Lucky Dice. And that came about just from a guitar riff that I was playing. If you hear any guitar in my beats, it’s usually live guitar that I’m playing. So if I’m doing something that’s sample free, it’ll start with a guitar riff and then craft it around that. And those beats are always special to me so I always put a little bit more into them, I think, as far as time and self-criticism and perfection.
As far as a sample joint goes, it usually starts with the sample and I usually hear something right away that makes me want to chop it up. I’ll chop up the sample and arrange it in the way that I want or the way that I hear in my head and then start attacking the drums and just digging through drums and trying to find the right drums, which can take anywhere from a minute to 30 minutes sometimes, figuring out the right drums. And then once I have the basic structure, I might start thinking about song structure and how this would be presented as a song and how it can build and how it can move from start to finish and that process can take more time than it took to make the actual beat. A lot of times, once someone takes a song, I like to think they’re more like skeletons in the sense of once somebody decides to go in on something, if I hear changes to be made, I’ll go in after the fact and try to make it sound better. And now, of course, is the big component of bass. I like to play basslines on my bass guitar, if I can, but sometimes the samples have it.
What element does the live guitar bring to your production?
I think it adds a more universal sound. I think whether I’m playing with samples or playing guitar on the beat, I think the guitar is one of those instruments that’s sort of understood everywhere. Sometimes it sounds crappy but sometimes it can take emotional songs to either higher or darker places. The guitar is one of those instruments, it just breathes. It cries. What is it? “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”?
What other equipment do you use when making beats?
I use a midi keyboard and as far as production, I’ve been making all my beats in Pro Tools and Reason, so if I’m doing any synth work, I’ll use Reason as sort of refiltering before Pro Tools. I used to use solely the MPC and just pack everything in Pro Tools and do all the mixing in Pro Tools, but it just got to be too slow for my work ethic. It would just take too long to do everything. I’m actually looking forward to seeing this new MPC that they got, to see if it works anything like they say it does. I actually kind of jacked that move from Statik. I was making beats on the MPC and I started watching him and I saw I could get a lot more work done if I just used Pro Tools. You do lose the pads, the feeling of the pads. I do miss it, but I’m just way more productive.
What other projects can we expect from you?
Omar Aura has his mixtape coming. That’s coming soon. I didn’t do all the joints on there but me and him are doing an EP after that is released. There’s talks of other EPs with people but nothing has come to fruition. Hadji Quest’s project is coming out. Curtains has a new project coming out. I don’t know what the date is but I’m on that. I think I have five songs on that. Just a lot more of the same, just trying to get placements up and trying a lot more to do these producer-artist projects because I had a great time doing it with Chaundon.
You’re one of those MCs who stays working. It seems as though there’s never a dull moment with you.
Yeah. I feel like if I stop moving, then hip-hop is over. That’s why I put out this new song that I got called “Crank.” It’s kind of like the movie, where if you stop moving, then your heart just stops. If you stop moving, you die. I feel like I gotta keep going. I got some things to bring to the table that people should definitely check out.
Your new album, Relentless 2, has a KickStarter page to collect funds for marketing. That’s a great way to raise awareness and support.
Definitely. It’s adding marketing dollars. I could use those things towards different things, little radio campaigns and all that. I put things out with my label and in conjunction with other people, doing the little digital stuff. But I’m just trying to combine the old ways and the new ways also. Because some people, they concentrate just on the ‘net and the free downloads. I believe that if you combine both forms, if you still make hard copies, if you still concentrate on merchandise and shows and you still do stickers, like back in the days, and just combine the old and the new, it would just make more of an impact. I was just looking for people to contribute marketing dollars. I don’t think I gave myself enough time. I only made it 30 days. I should have made it 60 days. And I probably should have made the money lower, too, so that I could definitely use it towards something. But it’s worth trying. Everything is worth trying. If you don’t try, then you’ll never know what could happen. This year, I’m trying everything, as long as it coincides with what I’m trying to bring to the table. It’s all good. It’s definitely a way to, just like the name, kick start a project. All the people that hit me up on the ‘net for verses and other stuff, somebody should be able to contribute $5, $10, $15, whatever. But the people want what they want and they move when they want to move, so you just move with it.
It’s gotta make you feel good to see some support from KickStarter.
Yeah. I’m definitely trying to raise awareness because I run into people overseas and they’ll tell me they didn’t know I had all this out and the last thing they remember is Never Say Never or wherever they stopped and at what point they stopped hearing my stuff. It’s really about raising awareness that the stuff is actually out because that’d be the thing. A lot of artists, they have mixtapes and they have songs out but other people in other places and countries don’t know if it’s out if it’s not being promoted and for an underground artist, there’s only a few ways. There’s the internet or you’re touring. There’s only a few ways and you gotta try everything to get it out there.
How is your next album, Relentless 2, coming?
The project is done. The project is done and mastered. I’m just trying to figure out new, creative ways to promote it. I have other mixtapes out and they got good responses and they got good downloads and people supported it, but every project, you’re trying to do at least a couple notches better than the last one. And I want more people to know that it’s out, so even things like SXSW, even if I’m not in it, I’m gonna go this year with merchandise and go to different festivals and just show up with my merch and just raise awareness. The response for Relentless 2 has been good. I put out a few leaks. I put out the leak with Rock from Heltah Skeltah. I put out another one, a video called “This Is” and another song called “Crank.” The response has been good on all three of them. So now it’s just about bringing it all home. I got a few shows up and down the East Coast and I’m doing Europe at the end of March. Everything should be good. Everything’s going to be tight. I’m just trying to get it warm because I have another album that I’m trying to drop at the end of summer called Keepers of the Lost Art. Relentless is the appetizer for that.
You’ve done so many guest appearances that you were able to compile them into a compilation, The American Classic. Is it easy for you to collaborate on your own projects when it’s time?
Everybody looks out, for the most part. There are some people, where their schedules are so hectic, that it’s hard to get them to do it if they’re not getting paid, but for the most part, everybody that I’ve done stuff for has returned the favor. That’s the current climate right now. If you got a name that people check for, you could barter. You trade services. Sometimes I do verses and songs for different producers and they hook up websites or artwork. They trade. Same thing with the MCs. I might hook them up with a video producer and they hook me up with a verse. It’s a community. The more we stick together, the better things look.
For the most part, the people you see on my project, I know them and I’ve sat down and had conversations with them and built with them. It’s not like an internet thing where I just hit them up and they magically just do a verse for nothing. I know the people, aside from maybe one or two people that we caught a vibe on Facebook or something. For the most part, I know them. Sadat X, Steele from Smif N Wessun, Hasan Salaam, they’re all friends of mine. That’s what makes the music real to me.
What is it about you that allows you to pull off so many collaborations and have them work?
I don’t know. It’s a couple things. Artists might look and say, “Okay, if I do a joint with Shabaam, he’s gonna promote it and he’s going to make sure he does what he can to make sure it gets out there. It’s not like we just did a song that I’m going to play for my friends. It’s going to get out there somehow.”
People respect the grind and I respect other people’s grinds too. You might see me at a show and talk about doing a joint and if I respect your grind and I know that you’re doing your thing, I want to be a part of it and I’m not going to charge you nothing, especially if your name is up. I want to be a part of your movement and I want you to be a part of my movement. We each get a piece of each other’s fanbase. And if I’m on your CD, I’m going to make sure I promote your shit too. I’ll let people know I’m on this. That’s how I get down. I’m fair. Whoever’s on my project, that’s who I’m cool with.
Do you still have fans mentioning your older music and following your older stuff?
Yeah. There’s a lot of fans, they get familiar with my new stuff and they check for my older stuff. There’s some fans out there, they just want to hear the retro sound and they just want to hear my older stuff. It’s crazy, because at the time, I didn’t think of it like that. I didn’t think that people would still be excited about it, like 10-15 years later, but I feel like some people are more excited about it now than they were when it actually came out. But it is what it is. I’m fortunate to have come out in the Golden Era and I’m still doing it now. Some people gave up. I don’t know. I guess ‘cause they couldn’t see the money out of it.
But I love hip-hop. Some people got pottery, I got hip-hop. (laughs) Whether I’m working a job, because I’m a barber and I go to school. I work at a hotel. I do different things, but I always juggle it and I still do my hip-hop too and I make a good amount of money. It’s like, if you love it, you’re in it for the long haul. It’s like jazz. It’s the same thing as jazz.
Before there was an age boundary with rap, where it was a young man’s game, where once you were out of your 20s, people figured you should stop rapping, but realistically, how can you put an age barrier on rap when people have been listening to rap for, like, five generations now? That’s five generations of hip-hop listeners. There’s people’s grandparents that were listening to King Tim III. You can’t really put no age barrier on it. That’s why I named this series Relentless, because I’m not going to stop. And every year I learn more and I learn better the aspects of the business part of it and not just the music. So you know, hopefully it’ll be like jazz. We’ll still be touring the States and Europe and wherever they like it.
My aim is just to make timeless music that people will be able to check out years from now and be like, ‘I like this.’ My demographic is 29 to, like, 35, but I could appeal to the younger people too because it’s like, I don’t think there’s really no age barrier. I just don’t make childish music. I don’t make music to get silly to. It’s more thinking music, it’s more driving music. I’m really not too much on the party side. I could make party records, but I’m not in party mode 24-7, so I appeal to the people who like to think and the street element also.
Besides Relentless 2 and Keepers of the Lost Art, you’re working on some collaboration albums. Can you give us some insight into those?
I got a limited edition 45 that I’m coming out with DJ Spinna. It should be out in two, three weeks. I’ve been messing with Spinna forever. That’s like my brother. My vibe and his vibe are just trying to keep it classic. He did “5 Star General” with me that had Eminem on it and he did a lot of other classics. We did the Polyrhythm Addict album that came out in the ‘90s and the one that came out in ’07. We’re trying to continue that and we might be dropping an album called Midlife Crisis on BBE. The 12” is kind of like the lead-up to that.
And I got another project that I completed with a new artist named Eddie B and another guy called H Fraud. H Fraud really does a lot of production for French Montana and Lil’ Cease and a couple other artists that I like that are more mainstream. He kind of reached into his other element to do the album with me and his artist, Eddie B, who’s an ill lyricist too. Our album is Crossfire. We got Maffew Ragazino, Poison Pen and the Incomparable Shakespeare. More newer cats. We got Chace Infinite from Self-Scientific. It’s a different album. It’s still that underground flavor though. Straight lyrics. Something that you pop in and smoke to and drive to and listen to and rewind it, “He said that.”
I got a couple other projects, like The Closers, with Red Eye and the two producers in Thoro Tracks. I’m just trying to stay busy. I’m going to keep some of them under wraps but The Keepers of the Lost Art, Relentless 2, the album with DJ Spinna and Crossfire with H Fraud and Eddie B.
What’s it like working with Spinna today?
Spinna is a rare, rare dude. He’s really a DJ. He’s the essence of what I think about when I think of a DJ. That’s who I think of. His house, where he lives in, he has a whole ‘nother different apartment that has wall-to-wall records. Shelves, actually like rows, like you could go down rows like a supermarket (laughs) of records. He’s a producer and he’s a DJ. Working with Spinna is like working with a hip-hop Simon. You mention a sample and he’s going to go find it. It could be an accapella and he’ll run down the aisle and find it. He might have the test press of it! Working with him is definitely classic, classic material and the project with me and Spinna, I’m going to be telling more stories than anything. Definitely more story-oriented because I feel like that’s missing in hip-hop too.
But the 45 that we got coming out, there’s a song on one side and there’s a story side called “Motion Picture.” We cut up that Royal Flush record and he’s killing it. There’s definitely a lot of scratches and a lot of fly shit in there! (laughs) I’m excited for a 45. I never had a 45. It’s a little baby record with the cover and everything. Collectible! Only 500! Only 500 are being made! If it was done in time, I would have offered that on KickStarter as one of those incentives, but KickStarter is basically a test for me. I wanted to see if it could work and it worked for some people but what works for others might not work for you. Now that I put that up, I see other people wanting to go to KickStarter too. Hey, whatever. I’ve seen it work for Ras Kass though. Ras Kass, he turned up a lot of money. That was good.
Do you think you’ll do another Polyrhythm Addicts album?
I want to do a reunion album but it’s hard to coordinate five people. Apani is a mother now, she just had twins. Same thing with Tiye Phoenix. All our kids together is like a whole football team with subs! (laughs) It’s hard to kind of coordinate five people, me, Spinna, Complex, Apani and Tiye Phoenix. That would be a fly album. With all of us, that would be an incredible album, but making it come together is harder than it seems.
Are Tiye Phoenix and Apani still rhyming?
Yeah, they’re both still rhyming, but after you’ve been doing this for a certain amount of years, some people feel like they get to a crossroads and they either stay focused on rap or they focus on work and mouths to feed. Me, I’m in a different zone. I still do my grown man business. I still got two jobs and I still go to school. I just finished school. I just feel like I could handle it. I can’t give up on hip-hop. There’s people out there that still want that real shit so I’m going to keep going. As far as them, I don’t know what their plans are. They’re both still rhyming. I just don’t think that it’s a priority for them to come out with stuff regularly. It’s on them. They’re my sisters and Spinna and Complex are my brothers. Whenever they’re ready, I’m down. There’s not going to be any blockage from me.
How do you hear your music evolving as you keep recording?
Well, it definitely is changing, because, as you become a parent and you get older, your topic range changes a little bit. Your whole perspective changes. It should change. I see myself growing as far as getting more with the business aspect of it and rhyming in my age bracket. (laughs) It’s less wilding out and it’s more grown men business on it. I still got that street element to my music, but it’s not about wilding like before. It’s more contained. I’m open to describing other, different topics. I’m going to get more into stories because I feel like that element is almost gone.
Are you hitting the road soon?
I should be out in Europe in March for a couple festivals. I’m doing an East Coast tour. I think touring is important for artists because some people don’t realize what you have going on until they see you rip a stage. Last year my appendix burst and I could hardly walk in Europe. I was dragging my bag around the whole tour. I had 175 stitches. I had to clean it, change the bandage, rock the show, go back to the hotel, take mediation. I’m in this hip-hop shit for the long haul.
Stu, you’ve been busy working on a lot of different projects, from the full-length LP with Blaq Poet to working on Copywrite’s new album God Save the King. What was it like working with Copy?
It was pretty easy to work with Pete. He’s a real talented dude. I’ve been listening to him probably since I was a freshman in college. I know what type of beats he sounds good on as far as the tempo and as far as what type of vibe on the beats that he would gravitate towards. I sent him a ton of beats and he took a bunch and maybe out of every seven or eight, he picked, like, two and then recorded on them and sent them back. I wasn’t in the studio with him but he would send them back and it was always pretty crazy what he came up with. I pretty much sent him all of my new shit that I was making and he picked the ones that he was feeling and he laid them down. It all came out pretty good as far as I’m concerned.
When you send out beats, you have your idea of what artists would sound good on and they have their own ideas. Do you feel like Copy picked the best beats or did you have others you wished he’d taken?
There were a couple of them that when I make them, I think, “Oh, wow, everyone’s gonna want this one” or whatever. There were one or two that he said were crazy and he planned on using those and I was excited to hear the finished product but he didn’t use those. There were a few of those. But of the ones he picked, I’m pretty happy with the way they sound. It’s a good mix of him picking ones that I really felt strongly about.
Is it a little intimidating sending music to someone that you’ve been a fan of for a long time?
At first it was. It’s like, ‘Oh, wow, what if he doesn’t like my shit?’ He was hitting me up on Facebook and it was cool. We were going back and forth but the first time I sent him, like, fifteen beats and I was wondering about what if he didn’t like any. But then we did a freestyle for HipHopDX and it came out good and then we did another one. Then there weren’t any inhibitions at that point.
The “Workahol” beat was something I hadn’t heard from you before in your other productions. Did you feel like that was a departure from your usual sound?
Nah, it was different. It was a different tempo. It was a little bit slower. I talked to my partner in crime, Vanderslice, and he said I always do beats that sound like you could murder somebody to. I tried to branch out with Copy since he’s not talking about killing people and robbing people. There’s nothing wrong with talking about that. But I was looking for different types of vibes and that’s one of the ones I came up with.
Did you surprise yourself at all with that beat?
When I made it, I knew someone was going to want this and he said right away that he wanted it. As soon as I sent it out, ten minutes later, he said he needed this. When I heard the sample and then as soon as I started chopping it up, I knew it was going to be pretty good.
I love the gritty, dirty Stu Bangas sound but also hear your production growing. How do you see yourself maturing as a producer?
I’m becoming more than just samples and drums. That’s what I started with, just chopping samples and chopping drum breaks. And now I’m trying to get more into different types of synths on the beats and trying to make the overall sound quality bigger and better and trying to get some major label placements. There’s a couple of guys talking to me and Vanderslice who shop beats to major label guys. If that happens, good. If not, no big deal. I just do it because I like to do it and working with talented artists. That will continue, going forward.
I just want to keep on making dope music. I figure the rest will take care of itself. I’m not too concerned with chasing big names. I just want to make dope music. The other stuff, I’m not concerned with.
Is it a challenge getting beats heard with how many producers are out there today?
Not too much. There’s a lot of competition, but you just have to catch the rappers at the right time. I get pretty good feedback and I just try to pay attention to what guys are working on stuff. That’s what the internet is good for. I know what guys are working on projects and I’ll send something to them. I’ll put certain things aside for guys when I know what they’re looking for, specifically.
You and Blaq Poet did an album together, Blaq Poet Society, last spring. What was it like working with Poet on that?
It was pretty crazy, man. I’ve been listening to Poet since he was on Tommy Boy and Screwball and “Who Shot Rudy” and all that stuff. I never thought I’d be working with him. Working with him was good. He’s a nice guy. He’s pretty straightforward. That project was kind of like my baby and it came out how I envisioned it, as far as the whole horror movie theme to it. Putting it together with him and Vanderslice was like a dream come true and being thoroughly involved in the process of making the record.
What are you working on next?
Vanderslice and I linked up with a label out in Virginia called Man Bites Dog Records. We’re putting out our producer record called Diggerz With Attitude. It’s all our production. We’ve got Roc Marciano on it. Alchemist is rapping on it. Evidence, Ill Bill, Vinnie Paz is on it, Poet’s on it. There’s a bunch of other guys. So we’re doing that and we’re almost done with a whole record with Smiley the Ghetto Child. We’re almost done with that and that’s all me and Vanderslice’s beats. And we’re about halfway done with the Wais P record and me and Esoteric are about a quarter of a way done with the whole record. And I did a joint for Ill Bill’s next solo record that’s out this way and I did one for Vinnie Paz’s next record that has Mobb Deep on it, and I’m super-excited about that because I’m huge fans of those dudes. I got a few records on Chino XL’s project and I already heard back on that. I’m just trying to make beats and get them on other people’s records and I’m always looking to do more projects.
Can you take us through the making of a Stu Bangas beat?
First, I find a dope sample and lately, I’ve been so busy with my nine-to-five and I got a kid now so Vanderslice will hook me up with some samples. I would say 80% of my samples come from him. He’s the best dude I know at picking samples. I’ll trade some stuff with him for some samples and after I get some stuff I like, I’ll probably just throw it in Pro Tools, the part that I want to use for the beat, and then I’ll add some synths and bass over it, speed it up or work on the tempo and find the right drums I want to use for it.
What equipment do you use?
I’m still using the MPC 2000XL. I don’t think I’ll probably ever switch from that. I’m too comfortable with that system itself and then I got a Korg keyboard I just got that’s pretty sweet. I have a Micro-Korg that I’m still working with to put stuff over the samples and Pro Tools to record.
I finally figured out where you got your email handle, Thornton Melon, from. Shouts out to Rodney Dangerfield.
Back to School! (laughs) That’s like a classic movie. It’s really cheesy and campy but that dude really cracks me up in that movie for some reason.
Do people usually get that reference?
Nobody ever gets it. I was sending Jaysaun beats a couple of years ago and he was asking me who the fuck was Thornton Melon and I told him not to worry about it, it was a long story! (laughs) Nobody ever gets it.
You have a new album dropping, God Save the King. It’s a great album, same dope lyrics but definitely a shift to more spiritual lyrics. What made you include more spirituality in your lyrics? Was it both of your parents passing?
It actually wasn’t. I’ve been saved since I was 16. I never didn’t believe in Christ. I was just too selfish and caught up with trying to prove to the world that I could rap. In the back of my mind I think I had what most Christians have, which is this plan to do what I want to do for me and then I’ll catch up with God later. That was always my plan, which is an ignorant plan because you don’t know when you’re going to die. I almost quit rapping for the Lord when I was 17. It’s not really anything new, it’s just that I couldn’t run from it any longer. I think there was a point in high school when I was spazzing out on Jesus tracks. It’s definitely nothing new. People that really know me know that it’s nothing new. I just couldn’t run from it anymore. The things I was caught up in before, like going out, wilding out, getting wasted, random chicks, it wasn’t…It made me feel guilty and it terrified me. It wasn’t fun anymore and I just couldn’t do it anymore, man. It didn’t do anything for me anymore but worry me. I just had to do what I had to do for me, but you know, man, I just try to be the type of Christian that God wants me to be. I don’t judge people, man. I’m no better than anybody else. If you judge somebody, first of all, that’s not what we’re here to do. The world is messed up, basically, dude, and that’s why I’m a Christian. I’m not better than anybody else because I’m a Christian. I’m a Christian because I’m a total mess-up and I need Christ in my life. That’s it.
When did you feel like you didn’t have to prove you could rap anymore?
On Life and Times [of Peter Nelson], after all that stuff started and I lost my mom and I lost my Grandpa and dealing with the loss of Camu and seeing all sorts of people dying and seeing how fragile life is, because my mom died out the blue, man. She didn’t have any illness. She just died out the blue. My sister went in her bedroom and saw her dead laying in her bed. Life is fragile and I used Life and Times as therapy, which is probably, I’m sure that’s what it sounds like. Dude, I don’t know, man. It just got to a point where it’s like, people know what you do. When I was making Life and Times, I made it a point to try to help other people who were going through pain with my music because I could relate to them and I figured they could relate to me. I figure I’ll be the voice that speaks for them and I’ll make some music so they can say, “Hey, there’s somebody else that’s going through what I’m going through. Now I got some theme music to help me through my painful day.”
Have your fans responded the way you wanted them to?
Yep. Exactly as I hoped they would. The magazines, exactly as I wanted to. It’s funny, when XXL gave me the XL rating, the review is almost exactly verbatim what I was hoping for. So everything came out right on that album. I feel like it’s a little bit slept on, but hopefully when this one drops people will go back to Life and Times and The High Exhaulted too. I feel like people slept on it but it’s all good. It’s to be expected, man.
How do you feel hearing your older music today?
I like it. I feel like it’s good for the time it came out. I feel like my flow could be more refined. You know, you just look at it, like I’m sure you look at old interviews and wonder why you did it like that and if you knew what you know now you would do it like this. It’s like, ‘Why didn’t I know back then to do it like this?’ But it’s dope. It’s raw. I’m proud of all my work, except the only song I made that I hate is “Let Me In.” I can’t stand that song. I knew it was a filler when I was writing it and I hate that song. But yeah, man, I’m proud of every song I’ve done. There’s nothing I listen to and cringe when I hear it. I’m happy with High Exhaulted. I’m happy I made it. It represents a time in my life when everything was carefree and I was just trying to show people I could rap.
I remember talking to you a few years ago and you said you hated that album and couldn’t listen to it.
(laughs) You know what? I guess that’s probably because at that point, so many people only had that to reference to. I definitely don’t hate The High Exhaulted at all. I don’t know. Maybe I was over-exaggerating, trying to prove a point. I’m really proud of High Exhaulted and happy I made it. I just wish that I would have made it more well-rounded and more concept songs but it’s not like I learned anything new after that. I knew how to make an album, but I just was being stubborn. I just wanted to show people that you couldn’t F with me on the mic. I made countless metaphors and meanings and it wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t like I could only do that on two or three songs. I could do it all day and I wanted to show people that I knew exactly what I was doing and that I could do it all day.
Do you still feel a need to prove yourself to people?
No. I feel that need. I feel that need often. I’m about to do a song with Chino and [Planet] Asia and Bronze Nazareth. I have to write my verse today and they’re all beasts on the mic. I feel like when you let your guard down you stop being as nice as you can be. Even when I’m writing emotional songs or conceptual songs, you have to be as sharp as you can be. I’m my own worst critic and if I don’t like the first two bars I won’t record it. I’m OCD with my writing. If I don’t like the first two bars I won’t record it.
Does it take awhile for your albums to come together?
Yeah, man. It all depends. If I’m clear-headed and if things aren’t going all crazy in my life then I can sit down and focus. God Save the King has been done since back in August, it’s been finished, but we just had to wait for it to get a proper release. We didn’t want it to come out in the fourth quarter with so many albums coming out and so many independent albums, like Torae and Evidence. I feel like my album would have got overlooked because there was so much heat dropping, so I just figured to wait for the new year. But it all depends, man. I’ve been writing for so long that I know exactly, not to sound cocky, how to eliminate the filler and get exactly what I want to say on paper.
Speaking of longevity, we’ve been doing interviews for eight, nine years at this point. What’s motivated you to keep going and not give up?
I guess I really like it, man. It’s just a part of me. It’s a part of who I am. It’s a major part of who I am. I abandoned wanting to be a cartoonist for rap and I don’t know, man, I really like doing it. I’m always eager to get better at doing it. I feel like I can always get better, so I don’t know. I think I make pretty decent music, man. I think I’m one of the lyricists that picks good beats. I don’t think I pick horrible beats. I just like doing it, man. I like putting together sounds and putting together new patterns. I’m always writing down ideas or emailing myself ideas. I just have so much stuff that I want to put out in rap that I don’t see people doing.
Where does God Save the King stand in your discography?
Dude, honestly, I feel like it’s my best album. I feel like everybody says that when they put out a project, but I really do. If I were to describe it to somebody I would say it’s High Exhaulted meets Life and Times. I consider everything that I’ve done before kind of like college. All the stuff that I’ve learned and all the mixtapes that I’ve done, The Jerk, High Exhaulted, Life and Times, I applied it all to this album and I finally, I don’t know, man, I feel like I just figured out what I was doing on my last album in terms of making an album and putting the tracklisting together and knowing how to make an album and knowing how to finesse an album. A lot of the songs on there are raw. It’s not a lot of…I mean, I feel like Life and Times is a more mature album than this. This is a lot of clowning around and raunchy metaphors. I’m talking about spiritual things in songs too. This is my favorite joint. This is the joint that I’m most proud of, for sure.
It sounds like you’re okay with balancing raunchy punchlines with spirituality.
It is what it is. To be real with you, I wrote all those songs and recorded all those songs before I decided to make a change in my life. It wasn’t until May that I decided to make a change that I couldn’t live like that anymore, and I made it into music. I know a lot of my fans are the way they are. A lot of my fans dabble with drugs and they run around and wild out. That’s the kind of person I was and can be on any given bad night, so I guess that’s the kind of people my music attracts. But maybe it will take my raw songs to get them to listen to what I have to say about the spiritual things.
I’m always going to destroy the mic, no matter what. I’m me. I’m not just, over the night, turn into a person that’s not me, but it is what it is, man.
Was “White Democrats” a jab to Asher Roth?
Nah, man. What we were doing, when Nas and Jay had their beef and got together and squashed it, they called it “Black Republicans.” Me and Mac had our differences and squashed it. Shout out to Mac, real cool dude. We called it “White Democrats” and wanted to see if anybody gets it. I know why you said it, I said an Asher Roth line and he said one. Personally, I said it because I needed something to rhyme. I was just rhyming and I think he was just rhyming too and playing with words. But it’s always fun to jab at people that you, at one point, had an issue with. But it’s no big deal. If I saw that dude, I’d buy him a matzo ball or something.
What music inspires you today?
Oh, man. If we’re talking about hip-hop, it’s gotta be, like, Jay. It’s gotta be, like, Biggie. It’s gotta be newer cats like Jay Elec. It’s gotta be Royce. It’s gotta be Crooked. Crooked, to me, is maybe my favorite. There’s some Christian MCs who are incredible, Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, Eshon Burgandy, and Believin’ Stephen. I shouldn’t have to say “Christian MC” before their names but I guess that’s so cats can find them a little easier. If we’re talking about rock, it’s Radiohead. I really want to make an album that sounds like a Radiohead album, but with rhyming. Doing with rhymes what they do with instruments.
Where do you see your music going in the future?
I have no idea, man. I have no idea. All I can say is I’m going to keep it as honest as possible and keep it as new and fresh and not try to do what everybody else is doing and try not to do what I’ve already done.
Is the O.Dot crew still around?
Nah, dude. Tage, from Megahurtz, is about to drop a solo. He’s got Oh No on production. It’s incredible. People might just wake up when they hear this. Jakki is still doing stuff. Dom, I guess he really doesn’t care too much about music. Catalyst doesn’t really care too much about music. I mean, bro, Catalyst is a mind-blowing MC. Everybody in Columbus always nags him and bugs him about why isn’t he doing anything. He doesn’t care. I try to get all my friends motivated but I can’t make them want to rap. We’re all together, man. They just don’t care. They really just don’t want it.
It sounds like you’re putting more a focus on MHz in the future.
Yeah. I’m focused on who wants to make music and more on myself. To be honest with you, I’ve said in some interviews that I don’t care about rap. That’s maybe an exaggeration. I care about rap, but it’s maybe not the first thing on my list. I’ve done it for so long and I know it’s going to be there so I don’t have to force it to be there. It’s like me saying that I care about my hands. I don’t know that my hands are always going to be there but I’m going to wake up with my hands and ask about what I’m going to do about my left hand tomorrow. It’s going to be there. I don’t know, man. It’s cool. I’m trying to work with who wants to work and Tage is super-motivated and we’re about to do this MHz with RJ and Jakki and Tage and we got a few Camu verses in the vault. We’re trying to do something real, real, real crazy. Real innovative. Try to do something that’s not too standard in hip-hop.
I think fans will really appreciate that.
Yeah, man. We’ve got, like, ten songs done. The songs we have are really, really, really dope.
You haven’t been in any lyrical beefs lately. Are you staying away from that now?
I tried to squash beef with everybody who had a problem with me or I’ve had a problem with in the past. That door is still open. I don’t harbor or hold grudges. Cats out there who I may have had an issue with ten years ago or five years ago, or whatever, we should just squash it and make some good music or just squash it. I’m not the type that wants to have beef with people. I guess that’s the Christian in me. I want to make peace with everybody I’ve always had a problem with over some dumb music. Life’s too short for all that.
Anyone in particular that you’d like to squash it with?
Yeah. Like, really, truthfully, Cage and Apathy. Those are two cats that we’ve had our very small differences in the past and it’s not because I want to make music with them, necessarily. It’s because, bro, we’re all humans. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be at peace with each other. Those are probably the only two cats. And you know it’s on mind if I’m going to say it in an interview. You know it’s heavy on my heart if I’m going to say it in an interview. I’ll take the blame. I guarantee I had something to do with it but I’ll apologize. I’m embarrassed at things I’ve done in the past and I’ve acted immaturely. I feel like those are two talented brothers and I would like to not have any stupid ill will between any of us.
I feel like there’s a misunderstanding and people think I’m a different way than I am. People think I’m a super-jerk but when you rap, you become a super character and you become an exaggeration of yourself in certain songs. You take a thought and you exaggerate it to the tenth power. You take all of your egotistical, jerk thoughts and you put it to a verse but that’s not how a person is in real life. I could see how cats don’t want to come first because they think they’re going to put out their hand and you’re just going to leave it hanging. But I don’t think any of us are like that. We’ve all been in this game for over a decade. Obviously we’re all doing something right. There’s no reason we should all be enemies.
Honestly, we should have some kind of union in underground hip-hop because there’s a lot of labels selling our underground albums and we’re not making any money off it but somebody is. Like, I still see The High Exhaulted in stores and I’m not getting paid for this. Somebody is. All the underground artists who know each other and can get a hold of each other should form some sort of union and make sure that we can all get paid from our old albums but we can’t do any of that if we’re all too busy beefing with one another and we can’t get along and we think somebody hates us. It’s not like that with me, man. I’ll sit down and squash it with anybody. After I lost Camu and certain members of my family, I don’t hold onto any of that. Life’s too short.
You had a great run in 2011, where you dropped a lot of quality music and seemed to have your fanbase grow exponentially. Would you say it was a breakthrough year for you?
Yeah, I would say. The reason is I got the solo project out and made a lot of noise running around with Bronson and hosting the J-Love mixtape. I’ve been getting a lot of love from different angles.
Why do you think more fans started paying more attention to you?
Just consistency. I always had a certain group of people but now there’s more angles. You fan base gets you and more people talk to more people and it starts to form together.
Anyone who’s followed J-Love’s mixtapes and the Outdoorsman movement knows your music, which you’ve dropped consistently for years. Was it ever frustrating putting out so much music and not getting the recognition for it?
Nah. When you put out anything, people catch up at different times. Some people jump on it right away, others jump on it later. That’s what’s happening. Everything’s happening, actually, the way I saw it. People hit me every day about records from a year ago. It’s brand new to them. It’s all out there and let people absorb it on their own time. It’s all good. People might hear something tomorrow they like and with the internet, they’ll start doing some research and find all kinds of dope material out there.
Your solo album, Self-Induced Illness, was a great album. Were you happy with how that did?
Truthfully, it moved steadily. It moves well. Whatever it was doing when it first dropped, it’s still being consistent. It’s a reminder to me that new people keep finding out about me. A lot of independent artists, they tell me, when they put something out, the first month or two or first quarter, they get the most amount of sales but with me, it’s been steady. People are rocking with us, so that’s a good thing.
You made that a double disc too. Why go that route?
There were a whole lot of people that were checking for me from the start. Disc one is all new, fresh material and disc two was half new joints, half older joints that I put out that I figured I’d throw out to people who didn’t know. It was the first go-around where you let people really get to know me.
What’s been some of the better moments that’s happened for you since Self-Induced Illness dropped?
I’ve got a lot more shows since the album dropped. A lot more dates, doing a lot more shows, which is definitely a plus, and just more love in general. The response has been good. It’s put me on a different platform, for sure. I’d been doing this for awhile but I didn’t have an album of my own. I had songs on other people’s albums and mixtapes, but putting out an album, and a double-album, I feel like people kind of understood, like, ‘All right, this cat is for real.’
What’s your song-making process like?
It varies on the topic. I don’t do everything the same. Every song is not three 16s and two hooks. Sometimes I just want to go in and black out and sometimes I want to talk about a concept that takes more time and say things clearly. It varies.
You’re working on an album with Buckwild now. How’s that coming?
It’s in the real early stages. It’s dope. It’s what you’d expect. It’s real hip-hop, classic New York sound with the beats and rhymes. It’s coming along well.
How did the album even come about?
That actually came about through Dante, Dante Ross. Dante was actually managing me for a couple of months. I would come through and I would rock shows and Dante would ask me about my management situation so he was managing me and one of the first things he told me was that he was close friends with Buckwild and he thought I was dope. I grew up on Buckwild so for me to hear that was dope! I didn’t even know Buckwild knew who I was. Me and him made everything official with him managing me and Bronson. He wanted to set it up with me and Buck and just do it. That’s how it started.
Are you recording everything together or sending files back and forth?
Well, we started. He sent me one beat through email and I wrote something crazy to that. But we’re basically doing it the old school way, going to the lab together, writing joints, really doing this together. It’s not just like he’s emailing me a bunch of beats. We’re doing it in the flesh. That’s how it’s going down.
Will we hear this in 2012?
Early. That’s the first thing I plan on dropping, early this year. Hopefully in the next two or three months, it should be wrapped.
Are you working on a solo album?
The Buckwild project, that kind of came out of the blue with Dante. But I was already working on an album called Every Day is Thanksgiving. I’ve been working on that for awhile and that’s gonna be crazy. I got some of J-Love’s best production ever and it’s featuring Large Pro and Ayatollah. Just Blaze got me on something for that project. Me and Just have been really cool for a long time. We’ve been building for when the time is right for him to help me out with something. Earlier I didn’t even want to bother him with something but with this project, he’s got me. He’s been a man of his word since I’ve known him so you can definitely expect a Just Blaze joint on that album. It’s gonna be really, really, really crazy. I’m not gonna go in too much on the features. It’s just gonna be me and a couple members from the fam. But that should be coming out at the end of the year. Look for the Buckwild project relatively soon and then I’m gonna try and end the year with this Every Day is Thanksgiving LP.
You’ve worked with Large Pro through the J-Love projects. What’s it like having him on your album though?
Yeah. This is actually the first track he’s produced for me. I’ve been on his tracks, but this track is crazy. It’s going to be in the stash until the end of the year. Hopefully I hit them with some real good projects this year. I got some shows lined up for Europe and got a lot of shows in SXSW. We’re just going to keep the ball moving.
You’ve also got a project in the works with Action Bronson. How’s that coming?
That’s also in the early stages. Me and Action are finishing it. We’re just working on it as we find time to do it. It’s not really rushed. We find time to go to the lab and knock a couple of joints out. That probably won’t be done this year, probably more like next year. We’re hanging out and it’s fun. People think we just rhyme together or we met through music. That’s my man from 12 years-old. We’re childhood friends. We’re not even looking at it like it’s a project. We’re hanging out, knocking some rhymes out, and stack X amount and put the best joints out and hit ‘em in the head with a classic.
Action Bronson’s been a part of the movement for awhile and he had a breakout year last year. What do you think helped him get noticed?
The consistency, man. It’s quality and consistency. Those are the two words to describe how to really grind and get your presence know. You put out dope projects consistently. A lot of people think he hasn’t put out enough music yet but he put out four projects last year! He was just consistently dope. How could you front on that? It was dope and he worked hard.
What has J-Love meant to your career?
I started this with J-Love. It’s been extremely valuable having him. He’s the person who taught me how to write bars. Before he was even doing his MC thing, when I first hollered at him for beats, he was breaking down how to write songs and all that. He basically put me on to the whole game. He was a person I knew before music. We hung out with mutual friends and working with people like J and Action is cool because we had relationships before music.
What’s your favorite dish from Action Bronson?
I don’t know. He’s a champion, man. I never had anything bad that he cooked, to be honest. The lamb chops are real crazy. He makes different pastas and different sandwiches. It’s cool. Me and Action got close in junior high school. Me and him took cooking for two reasons. One, we liked to cook and two, all the girls were in cooking, so we already knew what time it was. That’s the class where we really became friends. We’ve been cooking together since we were kids. It’s funny.
Will you cater your own album release party?
Why would we call somebody else?
Makes sense. What are your specialties?
I do a lot of baking and sautés. I try not to fry things too much. I’m also heavy with the lamb chops and soups. My chicken soup is crazy. The beef stew. Things like that.
The ladies never get tired of that.
Not at all. It lets them know we don’t really need them because we cook better than them anyway. They love us a little more because they know that’s not gonna keep us!
Any new dishes you want to master?
Nah, not really. But you know, I’m might just buy a new cookbook or turn on the cooking channel. I just don’t have time for anything right now.
Who are your favorite chefs?
I like [Marco] Batali a lot. I was up on Emeril early, before he got all the hype. I remember when he was in a basement cooking. I really like Batali and Emeril the best. What’s the blond guy’s name?
Yeah, he gets it in too. I respect his chef game.
You’re also known for your Polo game. What’s your collection looking like today?
It’s not as crazy as it was. I still got a lot of pieces. At this point, it’s almost like I didn’t lose the enthusiasm. It’s a way of life and what I wear. 90% of what I have is Polo. I still have a lot of classics. I got rid of some of my pieces because I got big over the years and I don’t like to just hold onto them. I got so many friends and family that’s into the whole ‘Lo thing that I downsized. I traded or sold it and even gave mad pieces away. I got a lot of the new shit. The big and tall collection is real crazy. I still have 20-50 of the classic items in the stash and I pull them out here and there. It’s dope.
Who is the future of New York hip-hop?
Maffew Ragazino, Shaz Ill York, Spit Gemz…Honestly, right now, this is the best up-and-coming line-up I’ve seen in a minute. You’ve got the whole Outdoorsman team. You’ve got us. I like Smoke DZA. He’s got some heat. There’s a lot of up-and-coming dudes from New York coming up right now and I’m happy to be a part of it. Jay Steele is coming out and he’s really no joke. He’s working on a mixtape right now. He’s my brother, like my physical brother. He’s got a bunch of joints with me and Bronson on them and Coroner. J-Love’s on some. Coroner’s stepping up. He’s working on a mixtape and an album right now. He’s recording like a beast. People know him for his features. He’s been on me and Action’s joints and J-Love’s mixtapes. Look for Jay Steele and Coroner to step up this year.
What’s your role in New York hip-hop right now?
Really, I feel like it’s just playing the position I’ve been playing, being consistent with it, putting out dope things. If I come across another MC or producer that I’m on the same page as I am, I like to introduce people and let’s all build towards the bigger picture.
You’ve been on the road a lot with R.A. the Rugged Man and Ghostface Killah. How’s the road treating you?
The road is a great experience. It’s therapy for me and it should be for any artist, I think, that’s on the road, man. It’s just therapy.
Have any plans for music developed with R.A. and Ghost?
Yeah, man. Me and Ghost have been brainstorming heavy. We’ve been talking about this and that and just tactics on how to do this album and how to attack the industry and how to get music out that people will appreciate and get it heard to where people who appreciate real hip-hop music, and what I mean by that is unsaturated, unadulterated, not compromised music and how to get it to the people where they can hear it. Ghostface being the artist that he is, he has a name that can help with the movement so I’m grateful fort that and this is a brother that is a spiritual cat also.
I would imagine there’s some good conversations there.
Definitely. Definitely, man. We go all the way from the Bible to the Koran. We just build on all tactics from the galaxy to whatever. He asks that question “why is the water wet?” and “why is the sky blue?” We’ve been building. That’s my brother.
When you talk about the album, the album you’re talking about is your solo album, The Psychic World or Walter Reed, right?
Definitely, man. It’s done. There’s nothing I will add to it. I never rushed this album, even when I had the release date of January 30th. I couldn’t rush the album now. I gave them a date and I don’t want to rush it, even if it means holding it back for a little while more. I can’t rush it out like that. I wasn’t ready and I felt like it wasn’t ready but it’s ready now. It’s ready to come in. It’s got its suit on and everything and I’m very happy with the project.
You were putting out albums at a steady rate since The Offering, and some of them got criticized for the beat selection. Did you ever feel like that criticism was fair?
Nah. All criticism is good. With The Offering, people were talking about how I had them. It’s just that predicament. When you have something like The Offering, which everybody is claiming is a classic, you’re trying to get what’s next because everybody wants to know what’s next. But I went a whole different angle. It was just crazy timing. When I did Behind the Stained Glass, which was next, I felt people might not think of it as dope as The Offering or a real follow-up to The Offering, but it was something. It was a real emotional time. I had just moved out to Cali and it was my first time working with DJ Woool like that. We just knocked tracks out and what was I going to do with tracks? We put them out. Some people liked it. Some people didn’t take it as well because they were expecting The Offering but I got that. The Offering came from a deep part but I got more deep parts. It was just The Offering. Then we went back in and I gave them a free album, The Untold Stories of Walter Reed, and that was all a download for free and it’s still available. And when we did that, DJ Woool had leftover tracks that we had done and he put out The Exorcist. Those were tracks that I didn’t want to use for Untold Stories because I didn’t think they were ready but he liked them. And then there were some tracks I recorded during The Offering, which Ryan (Man Bites Dog) put out. There was a lot of stuff and it was a lot of material. At least everybody knows I haven’t been sitting back, sleeping. But I’ve been having The Psychic World of Walter Reed as my next album and I’ve been working at it for a long time and some of it slipped out but, you know, that’s what it’s for.
It was originally supposed to be a double disc, too.
Exactly. You had “Brillionaire” that leaked out there and “Listen to Me.” I shot a video for all of those joints that leaked out because I never got to shoot any videos for The Offering. I might go back and shoot “Salvation” or “Essential” because people request those. “Uprising” did real good. Somebody put that together and that did real good.
Yeah, originally that was a double album. I don’t know if I’m still going that same route but I got three or four albums that’s ready.
You’re going the independent route here too, right?
Yeah. I gave everybody a chance with my material. That’s what happened with The Offering too. When you’re doing it independently and you have a distributor, sometimes they just get caught up and they don’t look at the passion behind it. I had Nas and Immortal Technique on there and people received it well but there wasn’t enough material there for it to get in everybody’s hands. I feel sorry for cats that missed that. If you missed it, go back and get it in your hands. It’s the same with Black August. Albums that I put my heart into, people don’t understand it but I’m always on the road and with this album, if I’m not there, it’s not coming out. If I don’t have hands on it, it’s not coming out. We had to do Black August: Revisited and with The Offering, there was a lot of complaints that it wasn’t in enough stores. The material was dope but with this one, I would rather do it myself like, “Here, you’re getting this from me.”
That approach takes more time than handing the album over to a company.
Yeah, but I got good help this time. It takes more time and it takes more concentration. It’s not just releasing it. I had another mixtape with Woool that was coming out called Castle Hop that we had to put our brakes on because I can’t just drop that right now. I can’t drop that before dropping The Psychic World.
Are you liking the independence so far?
Yeah. It’s way better. It’s hands-on and you get to really feel what’s going on. You control your own destiny. You have to come up with a certain amount and you know you get to see all the paperwork and you’re controlling it, man. From there, it’s up to the ears of the people and that’s what we work so hard for – to get to the ears of the people and to make sure that you get it to as many people as you can get it to. If you don’t like it, maybe it’s not for you, but there’s blood and sweat in this.
Where does The Psychic World stand in your discography?
Some people that heard it said I might have outdone myself. I heard a lot of different things. For me, I just think it sounds like nothing out there and it sounds like nothing I’ve heard before. There’s different elements and there’s a different mood. There’s things that’s changing and it’s me talking about different subjects. The subject matter and concepts, it sounds different. It sounds different. I would have to put The Psychic World of Walter Reed right up there with the greats.
When can we expect the album?
March. March and I plan on touring and performing those songs and doing some classics, taking it back. I just did the Rock the Bells and that gave me great inspiration for performing Heavy Mental in its entirety and just doing different tours and doing different stuff. That’s what I’m doing. It’s definitely The Psychic World of Walter Reed.
You finished 2011 with a bang, dropping your debut solo album For the Record. How’s 2012 treating you so far?
Oh, man, the year’s going great. We closed out the year with the release and we’re just kind of rolling that same momentum and energy into 2012. We have a lot of videos to shoot and songs to promote. I just came back from Europe. I’m going to get back on the road and really keep pushing. This is a special project to me and I know the shelf-life of a project these days isn’t that long but you can expect to hear stuff on this to midway through the year.
It seems as though a lot of work went into For the Record, so it makes sense to push it as far as you can. Do you feel a lot of music is disposable today and fans don’t enjoy projects as opposed to always looking for the next one?
Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. I think you hit it right on the head with the disposable part. Everybody has Pro Tools now and everybody has a Macbook and everybody has a mic. It’s so easy to create music and it also loses its value when you give it away freely. I don’t want to say I’m a throwback but I put a lot into my project and I want to get a lot out of it. When I put my mind into making an album I really want to push it to the limit. This is one of those projects I plan on working and I’m trying to get it to as many people as possible.
Do you think this is the hardest you’ve ever worked on an album?
I try to put a lot into each one of my releases. I guess it was easier with Double Barrel because I was working with just one producer, Marco Polo. On this one I had to travel to North Carolina to get up with 9th [Wonder]. I had to get up with Pete and Preem and they have hectic schedules and get to VA to get with Nottz. I definitely put a lot of miles on the car but the creative process is the same. I try to work with like-minded people who are interested in working with me but the creative process is the same. Really, it was a lot of travel, which was different with this one because I didn’t want to shoot back and forth emails and sending files. I really wanted to get in there and play records for people and try to brainstorm and come up with the best possible music. That was really the big difference with this record. I didn’t work with just one producer so I had to run around a little bit more.
Looking at this as your solo debut album, how important was it to limit the guest appearances?
Limiting the guests was just a conscious decision I made. It’s my official debut and I wanted to show that I could put together an album on my own and that I could hold it down on my own and have people just focus on Torae the MC. By limiting the guest features, as far as MCs, I felt they could just focus on what I was bringing to the table instead of focusing on the features. On my first mixtape and Double Barrel, I worked with a lot of my favorites on that, as far as MCs. People heard me on there and I’ve been on projects with a lot of my favs. This time around, I just wanted to showcase what I do and I didn’t really want to share that Pete Rock beat with anybody or that DJ Premier beat with anybody. I wanted to get out there and do my own thing.
You’ve worked with DJ Premier a few times now. What’s it like getting a beat from Preem?
The process is pretty much the same with all three records. We went down to HeadQCourterz while the beat was playing and just caught a vibe and went where the beat was taking me. I didn’t do a lot of revision and rewriting. I like to go back and see what I can fix and lines that I can maybe say something different. Usually with Preem, with his process, he likes to do a lot of punch-in. If it’s one line he wants you to hit over, he’ll kind of direct you. He’s a producer in that aspect in that he produces the record and the vocals as well. But I think every song on that album I put the same amount of effort into as far as making sure the lyrics were right, the hook was right, the mix was right. “For the Record” was actually one of the easier ones. I went back on a couple of other ones but this one, I knew exactly what I wanted to say on the beat, Preem came with the cuts, and it was a go.
You’re shouting out Rony Seikley and Jeru Da Damaja, which was pretty cool.
Yeah, man. I definitely pull my lyrics just from life and life experiences. Whatever comes to mind, really. It’s definitely just me just going. I just go in and on that record, I didn’t want to be too preachy. I just wanted to spit. I was just spitting, just saying witty stuff and catchy lines that people would latch onto. That’s just where I went with it. Not too much thought process, just going in.
You must have been playing some old NBA Jam when you wrote that.
I’m just an NBA fan. Everybody who knows me knows I love basketball. And it’s no diss to Rony Seikley, but he just wasn’t Rony Seikley.
He did better in real life than in the NBA.
Word up. Yeah, Big Ron, Big Rony Seikley.
Are you happy with the response to For the Record so far?
Yeah. Anytime you get a chance to put a project out and have people appreciate it and have it get critical acclaim, I feel like that’s a success in itself. And definitely with the climate and with how the music is now, you don’t have to buy anything and people don’t have to spend money on a project if they don’t want to. Whether I sell one, or 1,000, or 100,000, it’s a success because anybody who bought into the project did it because they wanted to, not because they had to because it’s readily available on the internet. I appreciate every sale. And I put it out myself. There wasn’t a lot of red tape in between everything. I definitely get a lot of the proceeds coming back so it’ll be financially successful anyway because of the way I set my system up.
Do album sales bother you?
Well, it’s not a bother, per se. As an artist, I always feel like any project I put out could do better than it did,. But I’m also a realist and I’m aware of the climate in music and I’m aware that I don’t really have a super-big promotional push and I’m not on a label that’s going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to push a record the way I feel it has to be pushed. I haven’t really looked at the sales. I look at the Twitter and the Facebook and the impact the records are having on the people and that, in itself, is enough for me. It’s a different ballgame. I’m not playing with the same type of advantages that other artists have but I’m taking advantage of what I have and I feel I’m doing all right for myself.
What’s your plans for 2012?
Definitely just continuing to push the album. I’ll be shooting a couple of videos and I’m also going to do a couple of remixes with my favorite MCs, because I did the album without any features. We got the vinyl release coming in February. We’re definitely going to push it. I got out to Europe and I would definitely like to get out to Asia to rock and do a domestic run. Expect to hear a lot about For the Record in the next couple of months because it’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as where we are with it. I wanted to make sure I got it out and now it’s time to promote it and push it out to as many people as possible.
It’s been a minute since we’ve talked, but it’s been great hearing all your new music. Stoned Genius is the new album. How did that come about?
You know, the Ox City motto, we try to keep our foot to the pavement. I’m a bit of a workaholic with music. I’m all about it. I try to keep the fans with what they need, I try not to get to the point where they ask where I am or what happened to me. I try to give cats at least a project a year and hopefully with each project they’ll see how I’ve grown and I at least try to branch out and do different things but still stay Roc C throughout the whole movement.
Do you think that’s one of the keys to your success today, not taking time off?
I think what gets me by is that people see that whatever the movement is at the time or whatever the mainstream vibe is at the time, I tend to go to the left, to go to the opposite. I think that by me being relevant, All Questions Answered came out in 2005 and I’m still here doing my thing and it’s a blessing. A lot of people haven’t heard of me and to a lot of people I’m still a fresh, new artists and to the fans that have been riding with me, hopefully they haven’t gotten tired of me because I try to give them something different each time.
Stoned Genius features a lot of talented producers and MCs, from Madlib to Chali 2na. Do you think you do better working with a mix of other artists or a focused project with one producer like Transcontinental with IMAKEMADBEATS?
I think both ways work for me. With IMAKEMADBEATS, he was an up-and-coming young producer and not too many people have heard of him and I was really digging him. Mic Geronimo put me onto him and I was just digging his whole grind and what he was about and the best thing that I could do instead of just telling people about him was to do a project and get it out so people could actually hear him as opposed to doing something that’s just Roc C, each album, I work with a lot of the same people, but each album, I bring somebody new to the table and I like the challenge of my style and being featured with the producers. Each feature, they’re all my family. I don’t just do features because someone’s hot or they’re the most popular person at the time. These are people that are family and that I have day-to-day’s with.
You’ve worked with Madlib and Oh No for awhile. Do your styles change when working with them or do you feel they adjust their styles to you?
You know, each person is different. You have some producers that are just…I’m the type of person that doesn’t tell a producer exactly what I want. I like a producer to surprise me because if you don’t, they’ll always give you the same particular sound and the same type of beats that they think are good for you as opposed to you never know what you may hear me over. I like for people to do them. Whatever you think is butta, send it to me and whatever the beat tells me to do, I’ll do. That’s the beautiful thing about it.
Madlib is known for not doing interviews, so the only time we really hear about him is through other artists. What’s it like working with Madlib?
Aw, before there was a Stones Throw, there was Lootpack, myself, Oh No, Medaphoar, Dudley Perkins, God’s Gift, a whole bunch of people. We were already working. We had studios and we were already making albums together before we ever knew what Stones Throw was. Once they came along. we were already making the music a bit ahead of the game because dealing with such producers as Kankick to Madlib to Oh No all at once and dealing with all the rappers, you really had to come with your a-game to get that one beat and get the studio time. I think that work ethic kind of groomed us for when we actually got our record deals to keep us pushing.
What was it like recording with so many talented artists before the notoriety came along?
Even back then, we all had a plan. We knew Lootpack was going to be the forefront and let them set the groundwork and then have the trickle down effect. It just so happens that God blessed it that it worked out that way. Even back then when we were doing the songs and the albums we were doing it for each other and we were our hardest critics on one another. It was like, “All right, if I can impress Madlib or Oh No with this verse and this song, now I can get in and I might get two beats and so on and so forth.” We all did the same things and if you catch someone’s attention and if it’s the right time, you might record a whole album. You’ve got umpteen rappers and not so many producers. What are you going to do to stand out to get your time? Everybody works hard to stand out and you can’t be the cliche group where everybody pretty much sounded like each other. If you go down in our group, nobody sounds the same but we all have the same tendencies and we all like the same things but everybody puts their own stamp on what they do.
Was it more fun back then?
Honestly, I still feel like it’s still back in the day. I feel like no matter how many songs I may put out, I couldn’t even tell you. I couldn’t tell you about that because I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like when I finally hang up my microphone, then I’ll sit back and look at all of the accolades, but until then, I’ve got work to do so I’m trying to turn this 15 seconds into 15 years. THat’s the mission I’m on. Back in the day, it was fun. Now, it’s just as fun. I’ve just upgraded and I’ve had to make the relationships to be heard where back in the day it was just my group who I had to keep their attention. It’s all the same thing, just a different scale.
You were around before the internet boom and are still thriving now. How have you stayed relevant?
A few things. The first thing was I was a fan of the music since day one. Prior to even getting into the game, everybody that I looked up to, I watched the documentaries and read the books and saw what situations happened to them and where their luck fell hard. Once I got to that point, I knew what to look out for and what not to do. As far as staying relevant through all the booms and whatnot, I told you in our first interview, I don’t make music for the record labels. I make music for the people who feel they have no voice but have something to say, just the average, everyday cat. That’s who I do my music for and that’s who I rep for. I think they’ve grown with me and understand that I’m genuine in my quest and supported me.
How would you describe your growth as an artist through the years?
Let’s take it back before Stones Throw. I came from the era of lyrics and beats, not so much lyrics and not just beats. The lyrics had to be as banging as the hook and the beat and everything had to be on the same level. With a banging beat and a banging DJ, your A-game had to be super, super, super. I’ve always gravitated towards artists that told stories about them and what it may be and with my music, I try to do the same thing, but at the same time, I try to keep the elements of rawness and hip-hop in it. I try to keep it rawcore! (laughs) I still got the story rhymes and all that stuff, but people say if you got good stories, you’re not a good battle rapper. They say if you’re a battle rapper, then you can’t make good songs. I try to show all of that. That’s what I think I really work hard at.
You and Chali 2na traded verses on “Bar Catchers” off Stoned Genius. The chemistry sounds pretty natural.
That’s what’s up. I’m a fan of this music and at the end of the day, I want to feel like I didn’t cheat myself out of anything and to do a song with somebody is cool, but I’m not really into that. It really has to be something that I believe in from the person to the whole situation. As far as the “Bar Catchers” joint goes, me and Chali 2na was just chopping it up one day and I was telling him, other than Jadakiss and Styles P, who do you really see going hard back and forth like the stuff we grew up on? Nobody! I told him I thought we should go in at it. “Bar Catchers” is what came out of it. A couple of blunts later, there you go! It just felt like that hip-hop feel as my homie Chino says, the Golden Era, when everything was real intense. That’s how “Bar Catchers” came about.
And you guys have a full-length project you’re working on, right?
Yes! It’s called Ron Artiste! I feel everybody has a little Ron Artest in them. The man is very intelligent all the way down to where he can let you know what it is. I thought it’d be a fun project to do because I respect him as a man, not just as a basketball player. We know a bunch of people who have a little Ron Artest in them. We came up with the theme and got some homies down. That’s how the project came about. We leaked out a song on DJBooth called “I Will,” so that’s been floating around and “Bar Catchers” is the first introduction to us. From here on out, it’s go-time. 2012 is ours.
How’s the project coming?
We’re like 25 songs deep! We’re going to keep going and shoot some more videos. You’ll probably hear a song with Krondon on it soon. That’ll probably be the first official single. We’ll probably run out with that one and you’ll probably have the album out or at least a few songs by the end of the basketball season because we’re trying to capitalize on everything but at the same time we really want to make sure everything is right and potent and catches the theme of things. We have everybody on there from Rapper Pooh to LMNO to Edo G to Oh No. I can keep going! (laughs) It’s real crazy. I think it’s something that people wouldn’t expect but at the same time, I think it’s something that hip-hop needs.
Where did you guys shoot the video to “Bar Catchers”?
(laughs) Out in Camarillo, there actually used to be a mental hospital that burned down. The story is when the mansions were going up, that’s one of the areas where they used to hide out at. It was a real crazy mental spot with a lot of abuse and it burned down and they say it’s a haunted spot so I thought it’d be ill to capture that effect and try to have that ‘80s, ‘90s video look to it and do something that most people wouldn’t do. A lot of people wouldn’t even go into that spot. Just to break the stereotypes and do something fun.
In the past you’ve talked about albums with Oh No and Pete Rock. How’s those coming?
It goes back to the same theory of before we had the record deals. Sometimes we make albums just to listen to with each other. That was the beautiful thing about music. There’s projects that I just give out for free. There’s albums for sale. There’s albums that i just do for myself and there’s albums that I do for the homies to enjoy and there’s albums that I do strictly for the fans. That’s the beautiful thing about it through the years is that I”m still able to create music and hopefully it doesn’t sound like the last song that I did. The Pete Rock album is done. That’s just something that we listen to amongst each other. Me and Rapper Pooh, we have an album. We’ve been leaking songs but that’s going to be an album that’s going to end up being free. The Ron Artiste album is definitely going to be out. The album with Chino XL and Oh No, the Street Crucifixion stuff that we’ve done, we play a couple jams at parties and here and there. I’m trying. I’m trying, brother.
What are your plans for 2012?
I started my Cash Roc Ent label two years ago and Fine Print Ent. My Cash Roc is for more established artists and Fine Print is for artists I’m trying to up and groom and get to that point. I’m trying to do my projects and I got the boxer Victor Ortiz signed to my label. I got Lee Bannon, a young producer from Sacramento that’s real crazy, coming out with a joint venture I did with Plug Research. I’m just on my grind and trying to be here. This is what I’ve done before I even knew I could do it. It’s me!
Your latest mixtape, There Is No Competition Part 3, dropped on Christmas for free download. That’s a great present for your fans.
Right. That’s what we really hoped for, to really put out the music on that day. It’s a big day for people at home and people enjoying they selves and I thought it would be a great day to put out a mixtape and give some free music away, where everybody’s home and everybody wants to get into something. You open your presents and then you have a whole day to yourself. It’s not like people are kids anymore, so they don’t get toys or anything to play with all day. They get their gifts and they’re sitting around, waiting for something to get into. They’re watching sports or they’re waiting for the food to cook and why not have a mixtape to listen to during that time?
Christmas is a day when people typically disconnect from the internet. Were you surprised by how much activity the mixtape got on a day like that?
I got kind of like a mixtape following, so I was surprised by how fast it was. I wasn’t surprised that people wanted to check it out, but I was definitely surprised at how fast the traffic was moving. But of course, like you said, it was Christmas day, I didn’t know if people were going to be super-on it or if they were going to be with their families and gifts, but I figured they would be checking it out. This interview is after it, of course. We idd some promotion leading up to it so people knew what day it was coming out on, but we let the mixtape market and the people who go online and research free music find it instead of beating down their doors. It was a release where if you were home, you were gonna grab it. It was that sort of thing.
One of the themes that runs through TINC 3 is loyalty. How important was it for you to address that on the mixtape?
Really, that’s how I am. I’m loyal to my friends and I’m loyal to my family. I’m loyal to a lot of things. I’m loyal to the people who look out for me and for my fans who support me. You look for loyalty in return and I don’t think the game is always loyal to you. The fans are finicky at times and they go with what’s hot at the moment, even if you’ve been doing this for nine or ten years. You have to reinvent yourself every year to keep your brand fresh. With me, loyalty plays a little key into it but there were a lot of things that, character-wise, that I put into this tape, but at the end of the day, it was just supposed to be some good energy for you during the holidays. I used a lot of beats that were more uptempo during the beginning that hit you and give you more energy at the beginning and towards the end of the tape I slowed it down more. It’s just a lot of things that’s in my character that I put in my music because that’s what I expect.
You address the Plaxico Burress rumors and Ray J on “Lord Knows.” Did you feel you had to get that out there?
There was a couple of things on there. Of course the Plaxico situation, I didn’t talk about it beforehand. I wanted people to just check it out to naturally check it out. I didn’t release any joints before it. I think something got leaked but it was nothing that we broadly released from the tape. I wanted people to just go dig in and have that classic not-hearing-anything that’s on the tape from back in the days, from when you’d go in and haven’t heard anything. I still believe in that and that’s what we did there. That’s why with “Lord Knows,” I never told people I was talking about this situation or talking about that.
The Plaxico situation, of course everybody knows he went to jail from his weapons charge. I think when he came out he did an interview stating that he was carrying a gun because he had heard Fabolous and his Street Fam guys were running around and robbing athletes and stuff like that. I just felt like that was a real “throw another guy under the bus” move after you already did your time, almost snitch kind of thing. After you did your time, you didn’t have to give any names. You could have stayed a straight arrow and just said, “I did my time, it was wrong.” Not throwing another guy under the bus and shining a light on someone else and having people look at us like we’er in some kind of a bad light.
And the Ray J thing wasn’t a diss. It was just me getting my feelings out. It happened three months ago and if I was going to make a diss track it would have come out right way. It was me expressing my frustrations over the music. With Plaxico, I was more direct and mentioned his name because it was something I read in an interview. He was direct and I was direct as well.
You’ve always put out quality mixtapes and albums, but there are definite differences between the two. Do you feel that way?
I do. I have less format on mixtapes. With this, of course, I stuck to the theme of the death and killing the competition kind of thing. That was a theme that we came up with with this entire series. With the last mixtape, more so than the first. But I have less format. With albums, I think them through a lot. I want to put them together and try to make bodies of work that cater to wide bodies of ears across the world, not just mixtape fans. Sometimes the mixtape fans are finicky about that, like, “Why can’t your albums be more like your mixtapes?” But they’re saying it themselves. A mixtape is a mixtape and an album is an album. You touch different subjects on an album that you may not touch on on a mixtape. Even my mixtapes, for me, now have differences because The Soul Tape is different from the TINC series. The TINC series is ignorant energy, a whole different feel from The Soul Tape. THat was more laid back and more introspective, talking about things that you’re going trough. With TINC 3, I was talking my shit and cursing for me to get my point across and talking about situations a little more loosely than introspective. My mixtape series, my album series, are definitely different. Even my mixtape series are different. Soul Tape is not like the TINC series.
From the TINC series to Loso’s Way to The Soul Tape, it seems like you do your best when you have a focused theme to your project.
I definitely think that it helps you stay on course. Sometimes if you don’t have that course, you’re just creating music and what comes in your head at that moment. If you have a subject to stick to and something to really hold onto throughout the process of when you’re making music, you can make more sonically-together music that way. I don’t think it’s that much of a challenge. I think for me I can take something and kind of stay in that area for as long as I want.
Are there any books, films, or TV shows that inspire you to create?
Yeah, but it’s so many things that I couldn’t even name you one thing. I watch a lot of movies and sports. Occasionally you’re going to hear different metaphors from sports and movies. Those are all things that I come across and check out and what leads to certain rap lyrics for me because I touch on all relatable subjects, stuff I know other people have said and done and use them to my advantage. It’s hard for me to say one movie or TV show. Right now Storage Wars is on and maybe two weeks from now a Storage War line will come in my head. Yeah, I’m definitely influences by television and other things, other musicians, everything.
But you won’t be bidding on any lockers, will you?
I don’t think so, man. I don’t watch the show much. It’s been on for the last 15 minutes but it doesn’t look like they’re coming up with nothing. I know the objective is you open the door and see if you come up with something but I haven’t seen anybody come up with anything.
How’s your next album, Loso’s Way 2, coming?
It’s coming along good. I’m just working. It’s coming along good. I grabbed up a lot of beats, man, and am just trying to trim the fat off of that and see what joints actually stick to the album versus the ones that are mediocre and okay. So you have to trim the fat once you go in the studio now and make sure you’re putting out the right music.
Are you and Red Cafe still putting out the Bedrock Boyz project?
I don’t know. I don’t know if the project is going to come along yet but we worked on a lot of records and that’s just because we work with each other a lot. We throw records out. But we had just talked about it and it had never materialized but we have a lot of music together.
What was the best Christmas present you got your son this year?
I like the stuff that makes him laugh and makes him have a good time. I got him an Iron Man toy that shoots out Iron Man rockets and he can control his arm. He likes that pretty much. He played with that all day. I could say a bunch of other things and probably big stuff but you see the way a kid’s heart goes to his toys and he was more ecstatic about toys than anything else.
What artists are you a fan of today?
I like Drake’s stuff. For the new guys, I like Drake. I like J. Cole. I like Jay-Z. I like Wayne. I like Rick Ross. I like Jadakiss. Those are some of my guys.
You have strong relationships with so many different artists in the game. What do you attribute that to?
I don’t know. I just be me and try to be as genuine as I can. I think that’s what helps relationships build, when you’re actually genuine with another artist. They have their own fans and their own ties and their career, and you have to be able to work with them and still be able to create good music.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you really want to make happen?
I believe Eminem is the only person I want to work with that I haven’t at this point. And maybe Nas. Those two come to mind.
Will we hear more from your brother Paul Cain this year?
Yeah, definitely. Paul is working and he’s got a good energy. A lot of people gave him a lot of good feedback from his verse on TINC 3, so he’s back at work and trying to keep that energy up as well.
What are your plans to have a monster 2012?
I definitely have a foundation that I want to put forward a little bit more this year. We just thought it out, The Fabolous Way, in ’11, and I want to push that a little further. I’m working on another album and looking to do a mixtape towards the ending of the year, The Soul Tape 2, or maybe the fall when people are going back to school. But for the most part, that’s one of the most strongest things I want to do, is the foundation, and just get back and help people in times of need.
Icadon has always one of those artists I enjoyed listening to, Unfortunately, new music from Ic stopped when he was recently locked up. Fresh out, WeGoinIN caught up with Icadon to talk about his plans for the future, working with Rockwilder, and more.
Happy New Year. After all you’ve been through in the last year with being locked up, I’ll bet you’re happy for a fresh start with the new year.
Yeah, man. It feel good. I came from the motherfuckin’ facility with 1700 niggas locked in to Times Square with two million people, watching Lady Gaga. It’s a beautiful thing!
Were you out there all day?
Nah, I wasn’t out there all day. I went out where the crowd was, probably around 11:30. I stay right by Times Square, so I’m right over there.
I heard the people that stay there all day go to the bathroom where they stand nad that it gets really nasty. Did you see any of that?
Nah, but I heard about that. People don’t want to lose their spot. It’s crazy out there. Times Square, New Year’s Eve, you see some crazy shit out there. Word.
If you have the front row seat for Lady Gaga, and nature calls, what do you do?
I’m going to find a toilet, man. I ain’t with that nasty shit, know what I mean? I’ll tell somebody, “Look, you hold this spot down. I’ll be right back. Don’t let nobody in this spot!” And I’ll go take me a shit somewhere like a McDonald’s or somewhere. Word! (laughs)
I’d be afraid to be with you in public if you chose the alternative.
Word, man. I like Lady Gaga, man, but I ain’t going through all that. That’s some nasty shit, literally.
You were gone for awhile and I would imagine being locked up is never fun, but were you able to take anything positive away from the experience?
Oh yeah, man. I turned it into a positive. Jail is jail, but I’m not going to come out of there without making something productive, so what I did is I strengthened my rap catalog, wrote some hot shit, made my flow tighter, and I wrote a book in there. I started studying real estate and finances, investments, I took some classes in there, and made some connections. You gotta take something positive from the situation.
I think God do things for a reason and I was moving kind of wild out here, kind of reckless. My pops just died, so I was going through it. I didn’t care about living. I was starting a lot of beef, fighting. I guess God thought I needed some time off to gather my thoughts and collect them. THat just made me stronger. I got my catalog up. Now the shit I’m writing is even better. I went up north when I was 16 and that’s when I started writing. I guess I had to revisit and strengthen the flow up even more now.
Do you find that what you write changes depending on where you are, whether it’s touring, home, or jail?
Oh, yeah, definitely. It depends on where you are, how your’e feeling, what’s your situation. When your’e going through the most bullshit is when you write the best, that’s how I feel. When you’re touring, you’re in different cities and different zones. Your mindframe is different. You’re spitting from a different perspective because you’re seeing things different than what’s on your block.
What’s your plan now?
I’m about to drop a few things. I’m going to drop a few mixtapes. I’m going to drop the No Jail Could Hold Me mixtape and working on the album. We have a distribution deal with Amalgam. I’m trying to get more distribution for Johnny Pump. The deal was for two years and it expired when I was in jail. At the same time, I’m just making some fire. Word. I got two pads full of fire.
Are you still working with Rockwilder?
Definitely. I just talked to him last night and he gave me a schedule already. He said he’s making some stuff for me. You know how that’s gonna be. We’re gonna get Johnny Pump jumping and get a new deal for it. We’re gonna get that jumping again and just keep it moving. Word.
Who else have you been working with?
I’m working with another kid, my young boy. He produces and sings. I’ve got him featured on my joints, he’s down with the camp and I’m on his joints. That’s Alioune Dading. I got him on the team. He’s crazy. He’s bringing out some fire for me. Rock is still with the team and shit too. I don’t think I’m going to have too many features on this one. It’s kind of greasy. I haven’t got to eat in a minute.
A lot of fans know you as Icarus and from your days with Redman. Do you feel like fans recognize you for a solo artist as Icadon?
It’s about time. Most people, they know me as Icarus but a lot of people know me for Icadon too. A lot of people know me for rolling with Redman. That’s my nigga and all that, but I got to stand on my own two. That’s why I started my own company. I gotta get this shit popping. It’s all about Icadon right now. That’s what it is.
What do you need to do from here on out to be successful and have the impact you want to have?
First thing, I gotta make this fire. I gotta make fire and let the work speak for itself and you know, keep my team behind me and keep it real. The people that already listen to me, they already know. Just make that fire, baby. Make that hot shit. Spit that shit that’s hotter than these other niggas. I’m about to work-bully these niggas!
Icadon – Address the Game