Scofield: The Legend of Scofield

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Photo courtesy of Kenautis Smith

Scofield is am emcee from the west side of Chicago. His music is much like the everyday citizens of Chicago, blue collar and relatable. Scofield’s rap career began as a member of a super lyrical crew called Deepsicks and he has now broken off on his own. To introduce fans to himself as a solo artist Scofield released a full-length album titled, “The Legend of Scofield.”

The Legend of Scofield is produced by Cysion, DreamLife Beats, NY Bangers, Kloud Nine Music, and Royal Audio Tunes. The album features appearances by Jah Safe, Damo, Jerry G, Breana Marin, T Rell, M the Emcee and Cysion.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Scofield about becoming a solo artist, the lack of a distinct sound in the Chicago music scene, and his new album, The Legend of Scofield.

TRHH: Why did you title the album ‘The Legend of Scofield’?

Scofield: It’s basically a nickname and a brief look into my psyche, my demeanor, and what makes up Scofield. I got a lot of friends that call me “Sco” or “Uncle Sco” so it was kind of a play on words. I just wanted to have an introduction to this facet of my character.

TRHH: The song ‘No Problemz’ has a battle rap feel to it. Do you come from a battling background?

Scofield: Not necessarily. Kind of, sort of, but not really. When I was younger I was in a group called Deepsicks. We battled our fair share of groups around the city and when we went to college we battled guys in college. One of the guys in my group, Jah Safe, actually won the Rhymespitters freestyle battle two years in a row. Another guy that’s affiliated with us named Vitamen D won it another year. I’m always around battle rappers, but I would probably consider myself more of a writer. I’ve been around battle rap since the beginning. I wouldn’t consider No Problemz a battle rap, I would consider it an in your face spitter type song.

TRHH: How is working on solo material different from working with Deepsicks?

Scofield: Working in a group your duties are kind of limited. It was three of us so I was really only responsible for coming up with a hook and then a verse, or just my verse. Working on the solo side it’s the first time you really get a chance to be yourself and you’re developing full songs, verse to verse, hook to hook. You’re developing a vision in terms of the overall feel of the project and what the direction is going to be sonically. It’s a lot more difficult, but it’s also more gratifying because it’s a chance to tell your story firsthand. It’s a chance to have your imprint on a song fully 100% without having to compromise. A lot of times working in a group you may not even like the beat that you’re rapping over or performing to. But for the collective cause of what we’re trying to do you will take those steps to accommodate and challenge yourself as an artist.

When you’re doing a project solo you’re picking all the music, you’re picking what the tone of the song is going to be, what the concept is going to be, the title, everything. It’s much more of a gratifying effort working on the solo side, but at the same time stepping out of the shadow of the group and not having the crutch of “all I gotta do is write a 16” now I gotta write two or three 16s and now I gotta come up with a hook. From a challenging standpoint it’s gratifying from that stance because it’s 100% you. There isn’t anybody else that’s factored in on the development of that song or that project.

TRHH: You’ve been doing this a while and you’re a college-educated guy, what has kept you going in the music business?

Scofield: Just the love of the music, truthfully. I compare it to sports. I play basketball, I play football, I play baseball – I’m always going to love that. It’s part of my DNA. Music is also like that for me. It’s always going to be a part of my DNA. It’s a part of my everyday being. For me it’s easy, I’ve always loved music, I’ve always loved rhyming. I’ve always loved challenging myself to write something. Whether or not I’m putting an album out or having an opportunity to perform some music I’m always going to write. I think I’m going to do that for the rest of my life. It wasn’t that difficult because it’s a passion that I have, like you with journalism. It’s something that you’re always going to be a part of and there will be times in your life when you’ll have the opportunity to do it a little more than you did in the past.

For me it was just a timing scenario where I had the time, I had the resources, and I had the drive to complete a project that I thought would resonate with the general public. At the end of the day in the landscape of music that we’re in today, the style that I put out there is not really the norm. For me it was an opportunity to try to keep that alive and say there are definitely still artists out here that care about the marriage of the lyrics and the beat, their concepts, and the message that they’re putting in their music. I just took it upon myself to say, “If I have a voice I’m going to do it.” Until somebody tells me don’t do it anymore I’m always going to be involved in it.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘City Lights’?

Scofield: It was a cool out song. The gentleman that I actually recorded this with who did all the mixing and mastering of the project, his name is Cysion. We met in Detroit and have been around each other from a music standpoint for a number of years. I had a track that I wanted him to be on and I wanted him to do something different. He’s definitely from the ilk of the battle rhyming and that whole Detroit Hip-Hop scene. I didn’t necessarily want him to do that, I wanted him to do something different. I challenged him to write a verse for the song that was more atypical of what he would normally do.

It’s just like a celebratory song. It’s a cool out song. It’s me talking about hanging out and being a Chicago guy. It’s him telling the same story from a Detroit perspective. When we collaborated on the chorus it’s more of a metro Chicago thing when I’m going into European flagships and so forth and so on, and he’s talking about Detroit Muscle. It was just two world’s coming together saying this how we vibe, hang out, and kick it. That’s what the song is about just having a good time but telling the story from the perspective of me being a Chicago guy and him being a Detroit guy.

TRHH: What do you love about the Chicago Hip-Hop scene and what do you think can be improved?

Scofield: I love that it’s a lot of people out there that are involved in it. It’s always something new and burgeoning coming up in the scene. If you think about the Chicago Hip-Hop scene you’ve got the up north underground Hip-Hop scene which is pretty much the dominant effect on the north side. Then you have the drill scene or more of the street scene. In that whole sea of talent there are some guys and girls that are really good at what they do. From that standpoint it’s always pushing you for two things; number one, it’s always an opportunity to you have your voice heard, and number two, there are people challenging you every step of the way to improve your craft and to remain relevant and stay consistent — there is a lot of competition. The thing that I think needs to improve is just the integrity of the music. Right now we’re trapped in a scenario where we’re riding a wave that wasn’t generated by Chicago people. You got a lot of people that are riding the wave of a group of artists that are from a different place in the country.

Chicago doesn’t really have a go-to identity right now and the only go-to identity that we’ve ever gotten any press for was the negative one, which is the drill movement. It’s glorifying a lot of violence and feeding into the media machine of Chicago being such a violent place and it’s not really like that. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life and I come from a time where it was way more violent than it is now and way more dangerous to be out in the world than it is today. Every step you take you see that the media is glorifying violence and you have artists that are jumping into that and further glorifying it. If there are any improvement or changes needed we need to have an identity as an overall community and we need to stress that. Whether that’s a certain style of music or a certain sound of music, it’s something that we just don’t have. You got to Detroit they have a sound, you go to New York they have a sound, you go to Atlanta they have a sound, you go to L.A. they have a sound. You go to Chicago and it’s like a melting pot of all these different sounds. I don’t think we’ve mastered any of them and that’s the reason why we don’t really flourish.

TRHH: Isn’t that indicative of how diverse Chicago is though?

Scofield: I wouldn’t say that. If you think about it, if you go to Atlanta, Georgia most of the people that you meet there are transplants from another place. You have a lot of people from the east coast; New York, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, they all come to Atlanta for job purposes straight out of college. You go out to Los Angeles and most of the people that live there are not from Los Angeles. They came there for some other reason and then they dive into whatever that sound is that’s there already. There’s melting pots all over the country. Yes, we are in the middle divide in terms of geographically where we are, but we still don’t have a sound. It’s almost the same as if you move somewhere else you have to acclimate to that vibe and that culture. It’s not the other way around.

It doesn’t usually work like that where you bring a certain something to the table. You usually have to acclimate to what’s going on around you and your surroundings. The same thing holds true with music. If Chicago had a defined sound people would come here and would have to at least incorporate that into their own style in order for that to work. It wouldn’t be the other way around. It wouldn’t be like “I wanna be from down south this year, and next year I wanna be a New York rapper, and the next year I wanna be a laid back west coast rapper.” This is the core sound of music here. You can add to it to further flesh it out, but it wouldn’t be a scenario where you’re all over the place and don’t have a defined sound.

TRHH: Who is The Legend of Scofield made for?

Scofield: First and foremost people that respect good Hip-Hop. If you like whoever you would consider to be the core Hip-Hop people, the Nas’, the Biggie’s, the Jay-Z’s, or whatever the case, then you’ll like this album. Anybody in the age of 30-to-45 you’ll like this album. And then in general anybody that just respects emcees. If you like good hard beats and good rhymes you’re going to like this album. I think there is something in there for everybody. It’s not just a trendy album. It’s a deep album if you really listen to it and some of the things I’m talking about. Even if it’s tongue in cheek it’s a message in every single song. Bar for bar I think anybody who likes emcees will like it. You can’t not like it if you like good rhymes, it’s right there in the pocket for you.

Purchase: Scofield – The Legend of Scofield

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Verbal Kent: Half My Life

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Photo courtesy of Below System Records

Verbal Kent is a Hip-Hop veteran. Since the late 90s Kent has released music as a solo artist and with various groups. With nearly twenty years in the game Kent has spent half of his life in Hip-Hop. The Chicago emcees latest release makes note of his career in Hip-Hop with an album titled “Half My Life.”

Half My Life is released courtesy of Below System Records and is produced entirely by German producer by way of Spain, Superior. The 11-track album features appearances by Vic Spencer, Sonnyjim, Lance Ambu, and Recognize Ali.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Verbal Kent about collaborating with Superior, his fondest memory in his rap career, and his new album, Half My Life.

TRHH: Why did you call the new album ‘Half My Life’?

Verbal Kent: I’ve been writing raps and involved in rap for about half my life now. A lot of the songs on this album come from a place of reflection and looking back, and then looking forward to where I am now.

TRHH: Do you ever look back over your career at fond moments and think, ‘Damn, I never thought I’d be here’?

Verbal Kent: Yeah, definitely. Some of the moments of being in Europe touring with Ugly Heroes were surreal for me. I never had massive expectations of what would come from this. I did this as a more of a therapeutic way of dealing with life. I love doing it for my own reasons. In Europe where we did Hip Hop Kemp and big festivals in Prague and Germany – some of those shows were surreal for me like, “I put all this work in for myself because I love doing it and I’m here right now.” I started making music for pretty pure reasons. I love doing it, I love the craft, and I’m a big fan of it.

TRHH: A lot of guys that I talk to say that the Hip-Hop fans in Europe are more accepting. Would you say that’s accurate?

Verbal Kent: I think so. I think “accepting” is a pretty general word. I think what happens in Europe is a lot of the countries, the cities, and the fan bases are un-impacted by societal expectations of what music is so they find music on their own terms. If they find an artist they hear and they love, they love that artist. They don’t care who anybody is telling anybody to like. Sure they’re up on trends and they’re up on what’s good and what the latest is, but if they find a rapper or a group that they like they’re gonna like it. You have an easier chance of being found or appreciated in Europe because of that reason.

TRHH: Speaking of Europe, how did you link up with Superior?

Verbal Kent: He hit me up maybe a year and a half or two years ago about being featured on his album, The Journey. I did two tracks with him and we just kind of hit it off. His rhythms, tempos, and choices of beats just meshed well right away when he heard what I had done. The first track I did with him was called “Mastermind” and when he heard it he said, “This is how I want people to sound and come at my beats.” I liked his stuff, too and he asked me to do another one and I was like, “Sure, man.” I kept building with him. I’m always looking for people to collaborate with that are like-minded, our interests are aligned, and we do this for the same kind of reasons. I just started chatting with him, he brought up the idea and I was down for it.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘The Little Things’?

Verbal Kent: The Little Things is just kind of my silly take on a love song. I hear a lot of love songs where they’re kind of fake versions of love songs. What I mean is they’re love songs that they think people will wanna hear or they’re about superficial parts of love in a relationship. The Little Things is like my Seinfeld-ish take on a love song. It’s about the intricacies and the tiny things about your partner, how you fulfill each other, and how these little details add up to a bigger picture in a relationship.

TRHH: The song ‘Meet Your Idols’ is really creative. How did you come up with the concept for that song?

Verbal Kent: [Laughs] Thanks, man. I know some people might think I went a little too far. I hope I didn’t offend anybody. I kind of thought about how I’m a lyricist and a quote unquote “battle rapper” in the late 90s and early 2000s sense of that phrase. I don’t do the pre-written battle stuff, but when I was coming up it was freestyling and cyphers and that kind of thing. It kind of drew me into the culture. With Meet Your Idols I always found it hilarious that when you’re a quote unquote battle rapper you always have this imaginary opponent that you’re always going at. You’re threatening someone that doesn’t exist in your raps when you’re shit talking.

With Meet Your Idols I thought I’d be pretty direct and since all these raps are basically punishable by death when you’re threatening to kill these rappers and slay these rappers I thought what if I would use actual dead rappers as a point of reference for all these fake threats. It’s also kind of a tribute at the same time. I can play on words, I can play on all these legends that are resting in peace, and it’s something that anybody would get that listens to rap. They would get all the references. When you’re picking references as a rapper you wonder what demographic is going to understand what you talk about. In this case everybody that listens to rap is going to know most of the people I name drop. I kind of just had fun with it and hopefully it wasn’t too offensive to anybody – it might be, we’ll see.

TRHH: When you write how often is what the audience might or might not like in your mind?

Verbal Kent: Pretty rarely to be honest. It’s something I’m aware of and obviously I think about it. When I write I think of what someone like Royce da 5’9” or Redman or Eminem would think when they heard my raps. It’s not about the fans. That’s how I push myself. I want to impress the people that impress me, and that’s what drives me to get mathematically better at rap versus what a lot of people would do on the entertainment side of it, which is what a 13-year old girl would want to need them to talk about. I’m about the craft in that sense. Whatever happens as result is whatever happens regardless of that.

TRHH: Do you write to the beat or whenever rhymes come to you?

Verbal Kent: I definitely write to the beat. If I don’t have the beat on me, let’s say Superior sent me the track for Meet Your Idols, I would have that beat in my mind and jot down notes throughout the day if I wasn’t near my device and then I’d go back to it. To be honest I write a lot in the car when I’m driving around. That’s when ideas seem to flow to me. I used to write in the home office sitting or in a café. Now when I’m in the car driving around the city ideas flow. So if I don’t have the music out I’ll kind of write ideas to the song with the beat in my mind, otherwise I’ll definitely write to the music directly.

TRHH: Do you still live in Chicago?

Verbal Kent: I do. Born and raised.

TRHH: What’s kept you here? So many of our Hip-Hop artists leave for whatever reason.

Verbal Kent: If you’re comparing me to Common or Kanye, they have career reasons to leave. I think if I were specifically pursuing music as a money making device then I would probably have to leave too. For me that wasn’t my choice so I can live anywhere I want and record anywhere I want and be a studio artist who puts out albums once a year or two years and then do tours when he needs to do tours and live anywhere in the world. I think what’s kept me here is business and family for the most part. Now I have kids, so school and stuff. I don’t imagine I’ll live in Chicago forever, but for now I’m engrossed in it. I can’t leave. I’m stuck!

TRHH: How has the Chicago Hip-Hop scene changed since you first started?

Verbal Kent: Again, I don’t even consider myself a part of the Chicago Hip-Hop scene anymore. When I was doing my thing I was certainly a part of it and a contributor in many ways in terms of a performer, I’d book concerts, and had different dynamics with all of the people that were coming up. That was like the late 90s, early 2000s, ending closer to 2007-or-8 for me. After that life for me happened in different ways and I chose to branch out, tour Europe and get out of the city. I didn’t look at Chicago as a resource for music anymore for me.

I basically lost touch with anybody who was making music in Chicago aside from a select few of people I came up with and people that were good folks that I kept in contact with. Different scenes started and it’s probably two or three different scenes since I stopped about ten years ago here since I stopped being part of it in terms of performing, gigging, and networking and all that stuff. I don’t think I’m an authority on Chicago Hip-Hop scene at all. I think some of what’s coming out is very impressive and a lot of it is for young people and I can’t relate to it.

TRHH: You have another fellow Chicagoan on the album, Vic Spencer. How did you link up with Vic for ‘Go Get the Dank’?

Verbal Kent: We never met in person until this year. I heard about him and he heard about me. He reached out to me about a year ago to be on one of his projects. I was like, “Oh cool, I like this dude.” I like his energy on the mic and all that stuff. I did a song for him on one of his albums and I thought of him to be featured on this project too. Because he’s working on a project with this guy Sonnyjim out of the UK. I did another track with Vic and Sonny for their project and thought it might be cool to feature both of them on mine too. It came about pretty naturally. I’m happy I linked up with that dude, I like him. I only met him once in person but we communicate online and just kind of shoot the shit sometimes. He’s a real good dude, I like him.

TRHH: Who is ‘Half My Life’ made for?

Verbal Kent: That’s a good question. I think it’s quote unquote “grown man rap” for sure. I think you have to have life experience as an adult in the world to some degree. I think some of the cleverness and intricacies of the songwriting and ideas are pretty accessible to anybody. Some of Superior’s production also transcends and anybody would dig it. Also I think it’s for more of a mature crowd of rap fans, it’s for the golden era fans, it’s for people who are fans of lyrics and mild storytelling elements of Hip-Hop. Not the silly storytelling stuff, but people who want to dive in and have an emotional reaction to music. It can be relatable.

Purchase: Verbal Kent & Superior – Half My Life

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Chuck D: Nothing is Quick in the Desert

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Photo courtesy of Piero F. Giunti

2017 was a busy year for Chuck D. He released a surprise Public Enemy album for free to commemorate the group’s 30 year anniversary, finished up the debut album for his rap/rock super-group Prophets of Rage, and took part in a book that celebrates our culture’s rich history called “Chuck D presents: This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History.”

The book chronicles important moments and music in Hip-Hop from its inception in 1973 to present times. Throughout “This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History” Chuck offers words of wisdom on various artists and their achievements in Hip-Hop. Who better to give us play by play on Hip-Hop’s greatest moments than Mistachuck?

Chuck D spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about being part of the rock band, Prophets of Rage, the Public Enemy album that was given to fans for free, and his role with the book, “This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History.”

TRHH: How did you become involved in ‘This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History’?

Chuck D: It actually was a recorded segment on my weekly Rapstation radio show “And You Don’t Stop.” Two guys, Duke Eatmon and Ron Maskell from Canada, they already were curators of Hip-Hop special programs on radio up there in Montreal. I thought they would be an easy fit to do it on my radio shows on Rapstation. Since they collected 3-4-5 years of flawless recorded content they already had the written content down. I said, “Look, this should be a book.” It took a couple of years to make it happen.

TRHH: Did you chip in at all with any of the research part of the book?

Chuck D: No, but I spanned across the total time. The research was done by Duke and Ron and also Flatline who actually puts together the radio shows on Rapstation, And You Don’t Stop. Although I’m a graphic artist I didn’t even contribute to the graphic arts either. I have a digital squad called Mad Urgency. They are fantastic illustrators from across the world. I was kind of the figure head that made sure it all came together. I didn’t do any art and I didn’t do any facts on it.

TRHH: In reading the book I discovered that in 1984 KDAY in Los Angeles began playing Hip-Hop 24/7. This was a surprise to me because being in Chicago I remember in the late 80s hearing rap for one or two hours every Saturday night. It wasn’t until the early 90s that Chicago stations began playing rap for more than one day…

Chuck D: Yeah, Pink House, Ramonski.

TRHH: Exactly! Disco Dave!

Chuck D: Disco Dave. Support! It wasn’t actually the first all day Hip-Hop station. I think it was WRAP in Norfolk and WKIE in Richmond that were the first 24 hour rap/Hip-Hop stations that I knew of on the AM dial. So I wasn’t too surprised when I came out to Los Angeles and heard KDAY. I was happy.

TRHH: Was there a piece of information in the book surprised you?

Chuck D: Oh there’s endless pieces. I can’t name them off the top of my head, but really this book could be 3000 pages long. The challenge was getting it down to 380 pages long. There are things that are happening every year and every day. We tried to keep the high road on it, Sherron. We didn’t need any crazy drama or beef. I tried to get to the fact of the matter because too often rap and Hip-Hop is stereotyped into this problem area of music and whenever they want to give it coverage it’s based on some issue that it had. I wanted to tell people that there are a whole lot of unbelievable achievements when it comes down to the art form. And we have to honor it as an art form and curate it, master the curation of all these artists, and not overlook it. Jazz has been a very, very important yet scrutinized, yet passed over, but also managed from the outside art form. Hip-Hop is kind of begging for that management.

TRHH: You released the Public Enemy album ‘Nothing is Quick in the Desert’ last June for free. What led to you making this album free for fans for a while?

Chuck D: We were entering our thirtieth year. I had been busy with Prophets of Rage and with Flavor. I took the executive order and said, “What do we give back to the people who have supported us for 30 years?” I just disagreed with the “take, take, take” with no give. If somebody has been dedicated to support you with their mind, intention, and their wallet for 29 years why don’t we do something unprecedented for our thirtieth year? That’s where that came into play.

TRHH: You released the Prophets of Rage album soon after the PE album. It seemed like Prophets of Rage gave you new life. Is Prophets of Rage a little more freeing than Public Enemy?

Chuck D: No, Public Enemy is really free. Prophets of Rage is more regimented. You got five people who are the best at their positions in the world and you can’t take no seconds off [laughs]. Tom Morello is like the Michael Jordan of rehearsals. After you finish rehearsals you don’t stand a chance of coming close to losing. Public Enemy is more freewheeling, under the auspices of my control, and it’s a lot of fun there, too. But this is a lot of fun just playing my one position as an emcee for a power rock band. It’s two different things but equally enjoyable. Prophets of Rage has played in front of 2.7 million people before their first album which is unprecedented. You always gotta have your A-game on.

TRHH: We’ve talked a handful of times and we’ve never discussed Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age. It seemed to me at the time that that was a time of change for Public Enemy. What was the mindset of the group going into that album considering how much things had changed in rap since the last album to 1994?

Chuck D: The biggest mind difference with Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age was to go totally against the grain and do as many unpopular moves sonically as you could possibly do. That was the goal. Music had slowed down and we wanted to still be fast in some aspects. People thought gangsta rap was a trend and we said yes it’s a trend but pro-positive points of view are cool, too. The liner notes drew up a scenario with the album that said the country would be taken over by David Duke, the Euro nations would all consolidate, a bunch of stuff with the world climate like earthquakes, droughts, water rising, and all that stuff. I did that as look into 1999. Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age is released in 1994 but it tells itself it’s a 1999 album. That was the secret in it. It wasn’t made for 1994, it was made for 1999.

TRHH: It’s relevant today, too.

Chuck D: Unfortunately, yeah.

TRHH: I love hearing you talk about tours and one tour that I went to hit Chicago on New Year’s Eve of 1991. The Greatest Rap Show Ever featured Public Enemy, Geto Boys, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Naughty by Nature, Queen Latifah, Kid N Play, A Tribe Called Quest, and Oaktown’s 357…

Chuck D: Where was that at? Rosemont?

TRHH: Yep, Rosemont Horizon. That is as stacked as any show could get. I remember being upset that Geto Boys, Fresh Prince, and Tribe’s sets were so short, but looking back it must have been impossible to divide set times with so many acts on the bill. What are your memories of that tour?

Chuck D: Our memories were of us simply saying that we were one of the biggest acts of the time so the biggest acts gotta take everybody to their different regions so they can get down and play in front of their constituencies. That was what it was all about. We tried along with Ice-T to try to be the elder statesmen that would tell everybody, “Look, this is not us versus you. This is all of us doing a four hour show. So we’ll be here to support you as much as you’re around and understand this is how the order is going to go on.” It’s funny because we’re ten years older than everybody and they always looked at us as older brothers. When I see everybody even to this day they remember the mentorship, the older brother looking out type of vibe, and just the fact that somebody was concerned about their betterment as much anybody else.

TRHH: Do you still see that today with artists that are coming up under the label or that you encounter?

Chuck D: Not really. I see that a lot of artists don’t know their power and they kind of forsake their responsibility on talking to other artists. I think that’s a shame. I get the question all the time, Sherron, like, “Yo man, what do you think about artist’s social responsibility?” I said, “Number one artists should have some kind of responsibility. If it ain’t social it should at least be to their peers,” If you’ve got an artist that’s been out ten years and he can’t give no advice to somebody just coming in or somebody young coming in doesn’t want to hear no advice, I don’t know what that’s about. We have to work on our bridges a little better.

TRHH: On Behind the Rhyme with Kool Mo Dee you said that the late 90s and the He Got Game era was your best period for writing. Why was that your best period as a writer?

Chuck D: I don’t know, I think I was in the right place, right age, right time, and it was at the turn of the century. It was a bunch of different things coming out in technology as well as the way that people heard, saw, and listened to things. In 1998 it was cumulative as far as how it influenced me on what everybody was doing and what was going on. I wrote He Got Game which kind of led to my love of sports and the sports world, especially ball. I really went headfirst into all this stuff that was already loaded up in me. I just let it out.

TRHH: I loved the He Got Game album.

Chuck D: When I see people talk about bars, I got bars on that album that could zoom past people. If you don’t know ball a lot or if you just know rap or don’t know rap, you’re not going to notice the spit.

TRHH: The book is titled ‘This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History’ during a time when many of the younger generation are apathetic about rap history. Why is our history important and why should young people in particular pick up this book?

Chuck D: Every generation has their thing but they should also know where it comes from if that they say that love it. If they say they don’t love it, the young and the old, well if you don’t dig it how much of it do you need to learn about? The answer could be none. This is for people that say that they love it. So why freestyle the facts? Get the real facts in the deal and learn about something that you love.

Purchase: Chuck D Presents – This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History

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A Conversation with Todd E. Jones

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Photo courtesy of Todd E. Jones

Hip-Hop has always been a major part of my life. I’m a life-long fan having been exposed to the Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow as a small child. I was dialed in for the RUSH/Def Jam boom and fully immersed in the culture during the golden age of Hip-Hop. The 90s was an extraordinary time in Hip-Hop that many of us still clamor for to this very day. In the early 2000’s things began to change. A lot of people were making money off of Hip-Hop which diluted the art form. People started doing it for all the wrong reasons and the talent level in the mainstream took a plunge.

On the underground scene artists were sticking to the blueprint drawn up by their predecessors and producing some incredible music. The problem was that kind of music wasn’t promoted very much. You had to dig to find it. One source of information for me during that was a writer named Todd E. Jones, aka, New Jeru Poet. His Hardcore Hip-Hop Interviews website boasted a who’s who of underground rap music. His style was conversational and you could tell he had a true love for the music. In each interview he would play word association with his guests and the game became my favorite part of his interviews. Out of nowhere Jones would disappear. My go to place for underground rap features was gone.

Fast forward to the end of the decade and yours truly began writing about Hip-Hop music. When I started interviewing artists myself I borrowed a lot from my favorite Hip-Hop journalist, Todd E. Jones. I always hoped that one day Jones would read my work and recognize the respect that I had for what he’d done. Thanks to social media that day has finally arrived.

It’s with great pleasure that I present to you my conversation with Todd E. Jones. In our discussion he explains how he got his start in Hip-Hop journalism, why he disappeared from the world of Hip-Hop blogging, and the shocking reveal of what he’s been up to in recent years.

TRHH: How did you initially become a Hip-Hop journalist?

Todd E. Jones: [Laughs] That’s a good question. You know what? I wanted free records [laughs]. I love music but it’s so expensive. I would literally steal CD’s out of the record store sometimes because I loved music and I just couldn’t afford it. I figured since I loved music so much I might as well just go after the artists. Hip-Hop is about hustling. The beauty of it is the do it yourself attitude where people make their own beats, write their own rhymes, and sell their records. It started out with some people selling tapes out of the trunks of their car. I wanted to hear every tape, CD, and record I could. I started contacting people and they were easier to contact than I thought. They started sending me free records so then I learned what to do is not just to go to the record labels. Duck Down is one thing, Seven Heads was another – they started sending me free music. Then I got in touch with the publicists and once you get in touch with a good publicist and you do right by them they start sending you more records! I started talking to publicists and it literally got to the point where I got at least eight records a day. I couldn’t wait ‘till the mail came.

Then there were Hip-Hop legends for example, Sticky Fingaz who was in Onyx, Sean Price, or Common who I got when they were indie. Anybody who is an indie Hip-Hop person, whether they are an emcee or a singer, they want publicity. What I would do is write for multiple sites. I wouldn’t just write for my own site, and they knew if I got them an interview it would be on like five sites. Here is the thing, with the reviews it eventually evolved to me only writing about what I like. I wouldn’t write negative reviews. If you were an emcee and you put out an album and got a review or an interview from me, it would be from the heart. It would mean that I liked your work and I wanted to support your work and perpetuate that work to get you publicity. People would send me even more records which would be great! I’d get stuff from Hip-Hop artists from Japan and Europe, for instance like Grand Agent who left America and went to Germany, J Dilla did a lot of stuff in Japan. It just kind of blossomed from that. It really grew into something I never imagined.

TRHH: I hear a lot of parallels in my venture in this with yours. It’s kind of funny…

Todd E. Jones: I checked out your site and it’s tight. It’s good, I like it!

TRHH: Thank you, man. I appreciate it. I stole a lot of stuff from you, man [laughs].

Todd E. Jones: That’s okay. That’s alright. What do you think Hip-Hop was founded on? Taking records from other people!

TRHH: That’s true. I’m definitely inspired by you. You’re a major reason I started doing this. What’s your opinion on how Hip-Hop blogs have evolved?

Todd E. Jones: It’s funny that you say that. Let’s get into it really [laughs]. I kind of backed away from it. As you noticed I don’t publish anymore under Todd E. Jones. I publish under a name called Nicholas Tanek. What happened is in all honesty I was a drug addict. I was high as hell the whole time I was doing those interviews. I was in a marriage that was going nowhere and had faded away. I met this other woman who was a high school sweetheart – her name was Lynn. We got back together and had the most honest, unique relationship you could think of. There was not one lie ever. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2012. I was devastated. I live in New Jersey, hence New Jeru Poet. Hurricane Sandy hit, she died, I’m going through hell mentally and emotionally and I decided to write a book in her honor. The book is called “The Coolest Way to Kill Yourself,” and it’s under the penname Nicholas Tanek. So all this time as much as I love Hip-Hop, the blogs, and journalism, I really just kind of got sucked out of it. People stopped sending me records. In all honesty I’m kind of out of touch. The last Hip-Hop album I bought was the new Tribe Called Quest album and the new Run the Jewels album. Fifteen or twenty years ago I would have known every underground Hip-Hop record like Day By Day Entertainment, Vast Aire and stuff like that.

That’s what I’ve been doing. I kind of transformed myself. I killed myself off so to speak, hence the title of the book, The Coolest Way to Kill Yourself. No one really physically kills themselves in the book. I killed myself off and became a brand new person. I don’t hide it. It’s no big deal. I go by Nicholas Tanek these days because of the book. I started writing for a blog called Take Back Your Sex as Nicholas Tanek. On Take Back Your Sex I write about the kink community. Take Back Your Sex is a sex-positive blog. It’s run by these two women that are very into sex education, kink, and being positive about sexual expression. That’s what I’ve been doing. I haven’t stopped blogging. When it comes to Hip-Hop blogging, in all honesty I love Hip-Hop but I’ll read an article if it shows up on my Twitter of Facebook feed, but I haven’t been following it. I used to go to SOHH all the time. I used to be a very big participant in the forums on SOHH. Because of the death of Lynn and the devastation I just kind of tuned out. I love Hip-Hop music and I’ll still listen to it. When Sean Price died I was really, really sad. I had a connection with him. He was a great guy and I knew him! I think maybe the older you get the less you get connected with the forums and the blogs. I just kind of took a left to writing about sexuality instead of Hip-Hop. I’m straight, but I like being around kinky people [laughs].

TRHH: I have so many questions now. On a serious note, was it suicide? How did Lynn die?

Todd E. Jones: No, she died from complications from ovarian cancer and liver failure. The book is called The Coolest Way to Kill Yourself because it’s about giving yourself to love basically. It’s a metaphor on multiple levels. Basically it’s like giving yourself over to love and doing what you want to do in a creative sense without giving a fuck what anybody else thinks. In other words, I’m going to write this book, create this thing, and do what I do even if it kills me [laughs]. And that’s the coolest way to kill yourself. For example, if you’re an upcoming emcee in a group you’re going to bet everything. You’re going to bet your life savings, you’re going to bet your lifestyle, your work, to make that perfect record and to have that perfect career even if it kills you.

She died from complications of ovarian cancer, but one thing she did was she made me express myself. I was doing this Hip-Hop blogging and I was loving it. Then I got married, I was struggling with drugs, and I kind of got seduced into the regular everyday life – house, wife, stability, and job. The suburban life was tempting and I thought it would save me. The more I got into the suburban life the more Hip-Hop and the more journalism kind of faded away and it was really sad, dude! It was really, really sad because I loved it and I was proud of it. Keep in mind I did this for love. I made some money off of journalism – not that much. I did it because I loved the music so much. Slowly I became that kind of corporate robot which I hated and which I refuse to be from now on [laughs].

TRHH: Regarding the drug issues, what were you doing and how did you beat it?

Todd E. Jones: That’s a good question. I was doing coke and heroin. I beat it through love. It wasn’t spirituality, it wasn’t therapy. Basically after my marriage Lynn and I got back together and we simply stopped because it was too much but we also loved sex. We loved sex! So we got into the kink community. The kink community is fun. It took up more of our time mentally and eventually physically to be a part of the kink community where it became healing. Slowly we got our shit together. It’s like trading one addiction for another. We traded drugs for sex and here I am now [laughs]. I’m writing for TakeBackYourSex.com, and I’m part of the kink community, and I go to parties and, I write about activism in sexuality. I guess you can say sex saved me [laughs].

TRHH: [Laughs] Hey man, that’s not a bad thing to be saved by. You’ve done interviews with artists like Sean Price, Guru, and Baatin who are no longer with us. Do you ever reflect on those conversations or on your own mortality seeing as how these guys passed away so young?

Todd E. Jones: Definitely. I’m really glad you brought that up. Guru, Sean Price, and Baatin those really hit close to home. I wrote for the Source a little bit, but I was mentioned in the Source when that Baatin interview happened. Then I was on a song – a J Dilla produced song! Not my name but Baatin came to me and said he was going solo and he was going to go as Titus and put out his own album. On a song called “Reunion” from a Slum Village album they mentioned the interview and they were talking about my interview. I was like, “Holy shit! That’s on vinyl! That’s forever now.” I’m a part of that. They didn’t mention my name, and I’m fine with that. I couldn’t believe it.

With Sean Price, out of all the emcees he is one of the emcees that really hits close to home because I feel like him. I know what he’s going through. He’s a rough guy and he brags enough because he knows he’s got talent, but he’s also the brokest rapper you know [laughs]. He’s always dealing with some shit and he makes light of it. When Sean died it was like my brother or my best friend died. You knew all the struggles he was going through and you can relate to all the struggles he was going through. He died at such a young age and then you think, “I’m not that much older!” I’m only a couple of years younger than Sean Price. Right now I’m 42. He was in his forties when he died. It was really sad and it really put a lot of levels on my perspective on life in general.

And then there’s Guru. Guru was sad. Him and Premier made such amazing music and have such a legacy in music and when I heard the Solar stuff I was like, “What are you doing?” He passed away and I heard the rumors about Solar and I really don’t know what to believe. It’s just disheartening. The whole thing is sad. Baatin could have done some Andre 3000 stuff. I really think he had the potential to really go far. Sean Price – it was like my heart got ripped out of my chest. Guru’s passing makes me sad, but we got those Gang Starr albums and they’re awesome. Daily Operation, Hard to Earn – Hard to Earn is so tight! It’s one of my favorite Hip-Hop albums. It’s in my top 10.

TRHH: What’s your favorite Hip-Hop album of all-time?

Todd E. Jones: I would say Low End Theory by Tribe Called Quest. I go back to that all the time. I think it’s a perfect album. I actually got an A on a philosophy term paper by quoting “What?” by A Tribe Called Quest from Low End Theory. It’s just perfect. It’s so tight. The way it jumps from song to song, it’s great, it’s perfect. I like Midnight Marauders, I love it, and it’s a great album. But if you think about it the way it’s cut where it jumps from song to song it’s just the way Tribe Called Quest’s live songs are too. They’ll be in the middle of a track, finish a chorus, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad would hit the cross fader and go right to “Can I Kick It?” or some other song. That’s why I like Low End Theory. It’s very energetic and it sounds cool. Those basslines are amazing! You got Ron Carter live on that? That’s amazing. Listen to Excursions, as soon as it hits you feel it in your chest. I personally think it’s the best Hip-Hop album of all-time, but that’s just my taste. You like what you like. Everyone has their own taste. For me as an album I always have that in my car.

TRHH: What was the most memorable interview that you’ve done?

Todd E. Jones: I would say Common. You know why? Because this was when Electric Circus came out and Common was going out with Erykah Badu. You can’t tell it in the interview but Erykah Badu was in the background and she was finishing his sentences for him. It was great. Hip-Hop has a lot of masculine energy, but I don’t give a crap about that. I thought it was adorable. I thought it was really charming. Seriously she was in the background and he had me on speaker phone. I’m asking him a question and it turned into something where I’m not just interviewing Common, I’m interviewing Erykah Badu and Common. That was kind of cool.

TRHH: He’s my favorite emcee of all-time. He’s number one on my dream list of interviews. What’s funny about that is soon after that she left him for The D.O.C. That’s life.

Todd E. Jones: They were in love, man. She was in the video “The Light.” I kind of lost touch with Common after Finding Forever. It’s not because of interest, it’s just because they weren’t sending me free records anymore [laughs]. One thing I do love about the journalism aspect of Hip-Hop is finding these pockets of very different Hip-Hop. Have you heard of The Five Deez?

TRHH: No.

Todd E. Jones: Oh! Fat Jon! Fat Jon is a producer. He knew J Dilla, he’s friends with J. Rawls. Five Deez is some pretty interesting stuff, Pase Rock, J-Live! That introduced me to Def Jux, Mr. Lif, and Vast Aire. Vast Aire’s got some cool stuff going on. You know that Hot 97 wouldn’t play their records. There’s a great documentary on Netflix about Stretch & Bobbito, have you seen that?

TRHH: Yes!

Todd E. Jones: I remember listening to Stretch & Bobbito! That’s what’s awesome about Hip-Hop journalism you get that energy and find those people who will probably never find a voice anywhere else, who will not be popular, who will not go platinum, and who will not sell tons of records. They aren’t about selling tons of records, they’re about the art and the expression. That’s what I love about it. That’s what really gets me. It goes back to punk rock. I was a punk rock kid when I was a teenager, I got into Hip-Hop afterwards. It’s “do it yourself” because the record label is not going to sign me, so you know what, I’m going to create my own record label! I’m going to take two turntables and a microphone, I’m going to put on shows, I’m going to make music I want to make, and boom! That’s very inspiring to me.

TRHH: How’d you get into Hip-Hop initially?

Todd E. Jones: I grew up a middle class white boy who loved soul music. My father loved soul music. Originally it was a crazy white neighborhood. Whiter than white, golf courses, very boring shit. There was an influx of black, Indian, and Asian people coming into my town. I was a kid – like 8 years old. The more you’re around different cultures the more you’re exposed to their culture and their music. As a punk rock kid I would go to Dead Milkmen shows, Kennedys, see the Ramones at CBGB’S and shit like that. That attitude of not being the typical white suburban person and hating seeing that – I got into. I started to hang around a lot of different cultures and people. It was 3 Feet High and Rising, because originally as white people if you’re surrounded by a bunch of white people you’re scared of other cultures and races. I admit this – it’s horrible.

I was scared of rap music [laughs]. Just because it was a culture different from mine, not because of anything else. And then I heard 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul and there was something welcoming to that. I loved it! Three is the magic number was a kid’s song, and Buddy was sexy and funny at the same time. This is great! And I couldn’t get enough after that. After 3 Feet High and Rising I got turned on to A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. I saw “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and I was like, “This is great!” Because of my interest in Hip-Hop and because I had black friends my interest in Hip-Hop deepened and I have more black friends [laughs]. And I got more Hispanic friends, Latino friends, Filipino friends, Indian friends, and Asian friends. As a white male Hip-Hop really opened me up to appreciate other cultures and to respect other cultures. I think that’s what’s most important. That’s the thing that Hip-Hop did for me. It helped me to be a better person because it helped me to understand and be opened-minded to any kind of culture.

TRHH: Now I have to pay homage and take a little bit from your recipe so, what was the last incident of racism that you experienced?

Todd E. Jones: [LAUGHS] Oh shit! Oh you’re good! You’re good! You’re really good. Holy shit! I forgot I used to ask that question all the time [laughs]. You’re good. You want the real deal?

TRHH: Keep it real.

Todd E. Jones: I have a big cock and I’m in the kink community. It’s not huge, but it’s not small. I was at a kink BDSM play party and I was kind of dismissed before my stuff was shown because I was white. There’s a whole thing about sex and kink with black men, white women, and the white cuckold. There’s a whole dynamic and I’m not even involved in that, at all. In the kink community a lot of people think that if there is a black dude that he’s got a huge cock. I’m six foot, I’m not built, but if I’m next to this big good looking black dude then automatically I have a little cock. That’s just not true. This white woman automatically thought because I was next to this really big black dude that I had a small cock and it was not true. Is that reverse racism? It all worked out fine, let’s put it that way [laughs].

TRHH: Ok. Let’s do some word association. You know how this goes.

Todd E. Jones: Yeah, let’s do it! I know.

TRHH: Chuck D.

Todd E. Jones: Political.

TRHH: Eminem.

Todd E. Jones: Inspirational. He shakes stuff up and shows that it’s not just black culture. The guy’s got talent. He can flow and he’s got rhymes. I don’t like all of his songs. After Marshall Mathers I kind of tuned out, but the dude is talented as fuck! He can rhyme.

TRHH: Kanye West.

Todd E. Jones: Beats. That’s what I like him for. For example, Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest I can listen to that over and over and over again. I must have listened to Graduation or College Dropout like once or twice and I thought, “This is great!” but I never wanted to listen to it again. I never had the urge, but I was willing for a Tribe Called Quest album, I was always willing for a Public Enemy album, or something like that. The thing that resonates with me is beats. He’s a great beat maker – he really is. For example, The Blueprint, that was all Kanye West and Just Blaze so that’s what I remember him for.

TRHH: J-Zone.

Todd E. Jones: J-Zone [laughs]! I love that dude! He is awesome! J-Zone, holy shit! The first thing that comes to my mind with J-Zone is his grandmother’s driveway [laughs]. I don’t know how deep you are into the J-Zone lifestyle but there’s whole songs about him parking a car in his grandmother’s driveway, so grandmother’s driveway [laughs]. Damn, you pulled out the deep cuts on this one! Shit!

TRHH: Redman.

Todd E. Jones: Redman! Jersey!

TRHH: Donald Trump.

Todd E. Jones: Asshole!

TRHH: Kendrick Lamar.

Todd E. Jones: Tribe Called Quest. He’s on the Tribe Called Quest album. From what I know of him, and honestly I don’t know much, but from what people tell me and what I hear of him he is the new generation of flow.

TRHH: Common.

Todd E. Jones: Chicago!

TRHH: Chris Christie.

Todd E. Jones: Chris Christine [laughs]. Traffic.

TRHH: Lauryn Hill.

Todd E. Jones: I miss her voice so much. Voice. I would say voice. Did you ever hear the collaboration she did with D’Angelo called ‘Nothing Even Matters’? It’s such a beautiful song.

TRHH: Phife Dawg.

Todd E. Jones: Flow. He had the sickest flow. I was listening to the new Tribe album and on ‘Dis Generation’ he steals that song! He pretty much steals the whole album and it’s not just because he’s dead, it’s because he’s talented. He beats Busta Rhymes! When Robin Williams died you started watching a lot more Robin Williams movies and stuff like that, it’s not the case with Phife Dawg. With Phife Dawg this guy had such a flow and rhythm that it could make the most awkward kid feel cool. That’s how awesome his flow was. He was so good.

TRHH: Todd E. Jones.

Todd E. Jones: Nicholas Tanek.

TRHH: Thank you so much for doing this. I never dreamed I’d be able to talk to you.

Todd E. Jones: Oh my god! Yeah dude, of course!

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Pearl Gates: Live from the First

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Photo courtesy of Christina Verderame

After dropping a few EP’s and spitting some guest verses Pearl Gates has released his first full-length album. Released by Below System Records, Pearl Gates’ debut solo album is titled “Live from the First.” The album is a 17-track release that showcases Gates’ musical and lyrical versatility.

Live from the First is produced by Robot Scott, Sal Guod, Triangle Park, BeastBeatsNY, Jay the Great, C0rrado, Quincy Tones, KIC Beats, and Twizzmatic. The album features appearances by Cassidy, AllStox, Range Da Messenga, Syll & Kim, Bri Steves, Karina Pasian, Good Girl, Torae, and Geechi Suede.

Pearl Gates spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his musical growth, why he had to stop making music for a while in order to experience life, and about his new album, “Live from the First.”

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new album, ‘Live from the First’?

Pearl Gates: It’s kind of a double meaning. It’s an homage to my block, which is 181st but we call it “the first.” Also it’s my first album, so it’s kind of live from the first and the inception of the whole movement.

TRHH: The single ‘Rocks Right Now’ is crazy! How did that song come together?

Pearl Gates: Ah man, I appreciate that. I was actually in the studio working on the album with Robot Scott who executive produced it with me. I was writing another record and we were trying to get to a point of honesty. I have a past where I was involved in different things. I didn’t really want to shed light on that through the music, but somehow I was able to reach a point of honesty on another record and immediately I cut four records that night and that was one of the records. That was based on experiences that I had but I wanted to tie it in in a way that was metaphorically symbolic to my approach on taking over the rap game the same way as a drug block. It came from a place of honesty. That’s how that record came together. Twizzmatic produced the joint and that joint hits. As soon as I heard it I knew it was going to be something.

TRHH: You use a few different styles on the album. Was that a conscious decision or did you just go where the beats took you?

Pearl Gates: I guess normally with my creative process I do have a conversation with the production in terms of what it’s telling me and what it pulls out of me. It was definitely a conscious decision. I have records with Kool G Rap and Masta Ace, records where I’m singing, and I’ve been doing that for a long time. I wanted to incorporate that into the sound. It was strategic in terms of trying to bring to the table everything that I do in a tasteful way. It’s still Hip-Hop and has elements of musicality that are on a broader scale. I just wanted to kind of cook up in a pot and make a good concoction as far as the sonics of the albums.

TRHH: How have you grown as an artist since Diamond Mind?

Pearl Gates: Oh man, I think it’s been a noticeable growth. Diamond Mind was dope because it was like a still. It was like a picture of a space mentally of where I was at that time, which was dope. Now fast forward to Live from the First the production has gotten iller, the content, and the rhymes. I think basically one of my biggest growths is just the musicality. The rawness is still there but just bringing more elements to the music. That’s where the growth is at.

TRHH: We spoke two years ago and you said your debut album would be coming in six months. What took so long for Live from the First to drop?

Pearl Gates: There was moments where I had to take a pause and just experience life and bring that back to the music. Although I had so many records ready to be able to release, this record was important to me because I wanted it to be lasting in people’s minds when they heard it. It took more of my time than expected because I wanted to bring it out in a way that I was satisfied with the message. A lot of it was street at first and just by living life, expanding consciousness, and seeing things from a different perspective it allowed me to really flesh out not only where I was at one point, but where I am and continue to go towards. I wanted to bring that all into the fold so it took a little more time.

TRHH: Do you ever get writer’s block and have to chill for a minute?

Pearl Gates: I would say luckily I don’t get writer’s block or I haven’t had it in a very, very long time. I can’t remember the last time I had that. Like I said, when I immerse myself in the creative process I have a conversation so it’s not just me, it’s really what the production is saying and what I feel needs to be said based on the feeling. I kind of let that guide me. It’s fun because I almost have a front row seat watching it all take place. It’s kind of cool to see me working as a vessel as opposed to controlling the message. I just let it be and it’s fun as hell, man.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on Live from the First?

Pearl Gates: That’s tough, man. I really enjoy the first record on the album because lyrically it’s just so potent and it’s a good picture of the space that I had to grow up in. There’s so many joints on there. Rocks Right Now is one of my personal favorites. There’s a few. I really like the joint with Geechi too because I’ve always been a fan and getting Geechi on the album was dope. The stuff we were talking was magic on that joint. It’s so much stuff and so many joints on there.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Live from the First?

Pearl Gates: I hope to achieve a solid foot in the game. I hope when people hear it they’re like, “This album came from one of the more promising artists in the game today.” I have high ambitions in terms of where I want to go and this album is a great place to start. I think what I want to accomplish is just to solidify that I’m here and that I’ve arrived.

Purchase: Pearl Gates – Live from the First

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Skipp Whitman: Piece

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Photo courtesy of AJ Lodge

Skipp Whitman is an emcee from the Boston area who now resides in the City of Angels. His music can’t be put into box, but it’s unquestionably real Hip-Hop. In early 2017 Skipp released a 10-track EP called “Piece.” The project is produced entirely by Skipp and features guest appearances by J.W.J and Statik Selektah.

Skipp Whitman is preparing to kick off 2018 with a collection of music that’s not new, but new to me and you. “Unfinished Songs Vol. 1.” is an album of freestyles and unfinished songs by Skipp Whitman. The first single from Unfinished Songs is a song called “Comfortable” with accompanying visuals that finds Whitman rhyming in of all things, an IKEA.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Skipp Whitman about his musical background, putting pieces of himself into his music, and his upcoming album, Unfinished Songs Vol. 1.

TRHH: Why did you call the last project ‘Piece’?

Skipp Whitman: I called it “Piece” because each individual song was a piece of my life. One song was about my split with my ex, one song was about work, and the album cover art is my face broken up with all these pieces kind of coming out of my head.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Indie’?

Skipp Whitman: My career up ‘til this point [laughs]. Just kind of the idea that sometimes people want to say, “Oh I’m an indie artist,” but the point of my song is basically saying that maybe that’s not the best approach. That was kind of my flip on it. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I’m making a living off of music,” but my point is if you’re living at home and if you’re barely living are you really making a living?

TRHH: What’s the toughest part about being an independent artist?

Skipp Whitman: Just the balance. The balance of survival and making a living and leading a somewhat normal life, while finding the time to create new music, meet new people and think of new ideas.

TRHH: What’s the best part about it?

Skipp Whitman: The freedom [laughs]. The ability to not have the pressure to have to come up to a certain standard or really be defined by anything. The ability to experiment. There’s something about while you’re still under the radar that there is a freedom in not as many people watching you because you haven’t clearly defined who you are yet so you have the ability to play around with different concepts.

TRHH: You produce most of your music, what does your workstation consist of?

Skipp Whitman: An iMac, an M-Audio midi keyboard, a mic, and I just got one of those Avalon preamps and that’s it. I work on Logic. I produce and play everything on Logic and when it comes to tracking vocals, Pro Tools. It’s crazy how compact things have gotten nowadays.

TRHH: So you do everything at home?

Skipp Whitman: Yeah.

TRHH: What’s your musical background? Can you play keys?

Skipp Whitman: I can play. Everything that you hear on Piece or any of my most recent stuff I composed and played all of it. My background is I basically was raised in a recording studio back where I’m from in Boston. My father and my uncle owned it so I was an intern at like 9. I was just always around it and when they would go on tour with different bands I would be with them. I wouldn’t say a musical background in terms of being classically trained but I was just always around music.

TRHH: How did you get into Hip-Hop?

Skipp Whitman: Tribe Called Quest – Scenario. It was the first thing that got me excited. It wasn’t even necessarily that it was Hip-Hop per se, but that song and obviously all the related songs from there gave me an excitement that nothing I had heard up until that point gave me. Several years later, as with I think with a lot of people, I just started copying down these lyrics and gradually tried writing my own. That’s it. You discover one thing from another act, and somebody that collaborated with somebody else. In high school I did a rap in a talent show and the response from that is what started me to think that maybe I should try it.

TRHH: How did the song and video for ‘Comfortable’ come together?

Skipp Whitman: [Laughs] Shopping at IKEA, man, looking for furniture. I was with my brother who is super creative. He used to work on the Criss Angel show, he’s done all these crazy magician things, and he’s a really creative guy. I was looking for a bed and thought of the idea. We saw all these different rooms set up and he was like, “These look like movie sets. We should shoot a video in IKEA.” I hadn’t even had the song yet. I thought of comfortable furniture and all that and then I thought what does “comfortable” mean to me. So again, all the trappings of luxury and life and the twist being these are all the things I imagine myself having, but look at this, I’m just in this cheap furniture store. We wanted to give it a twist on the video so it would kind of surprise them at the end. It was actually pretty easy to shoot. They didn’t really pay attention to us, so it was dope.

TRHH: I hear a lot of different influences in your music from East Coast Hip-Hop to Reggae, how would you describe the Skipp Whitman sound?

Skipp Whitman: About two albums ago I started composing my own stuff. The more I compose my own stuff the more I aspire to be really a jazz musician, believe it or not. Those are the chords that I go for. The biggest musical influence on me aside from Hip-Hop would be Bossa Nova, Brazilian jazz. Going back to Tribe Called Quest it’s the same thing – the jazz influence on Hip-Hop. I would say the Skipp Whitman sound is like a jazzy sort of chord progression based music, if that makes sense.

TRHH: What can we expect to hear from Skipp Whitman in the near future?

Skipp Whitman: Aw man, the next project that’s coming out is called “Unfinished Songs: Volume 1” and it will have ‘Comfortable’ and all these different songs that I didn’t feel were album worthy. They were either freestyles or half the songs or whatever. And then I have a bigger project coming out after that. Ultimately what you could expect to hear is music that’s going to be reflective of my life at any given time. Whatever I’m going through is always what I write about. So you’ll continue to hear the stories and the experiences with hopefully and even further developed music base.

Purchase: Skipp Whitman – Piece

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Ruste Juxx: International Juxx

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Photo courtesy of Ruste Juxx

Ruste Juxx is one of the hardest spitters in Hip-Hop. He’s also one of the hardest working artists on the underground scene. Since his debut Ruste has released a project almost every year. Through his travels and joint projects he’s made connections all over the world that have resulted in a full-length album called “International Juxx.” The 13-track album showcases artists originating from the America’s, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

International Juxx features appearances by Cyrus Malachi, Malikah, Goldo, Razor Blade, Shae Money, Eybi, Mace the Amazing, Moicano MC, Dante Camillo, Rezivor, Genilly, Outpatient, Don Kron, Chris Rhames, Fastbuck, 3-4 Click, Denku, Shaka Amazulu the 7th, Cheshino, Tame Mohi, Doc Uno, A.U., Napoleon, and Solomon Childs. The album is produced by Bill Leigh, Last Composer, Skanks the Rap Martyr, Ough Beats, V-Herbal, and DJ Phlow.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Ruste Juxx about his new album International Juxx, what it was like working with artists from all around the world, and lessons he learned from his mentor, the late Sean Price.

TRHH: How did you come up with the concept for International Juxx?

Ruste Juxx: I thought about it because for years I’ve been doing features with international artists from all over and shit — from Africa, Switzerland, Canada, all over. I just thought about like, “Man, I need to do a whole album full of up and coming emcees from other countries rapping in their own language.” I thought it was a good way to let everybody get shine. I just made it happen. It took a long time but I put it together and the shit came out crazy.

TRHH: What was the process like recording the album with people in so many different countries?

Ruste Juxx: It was crazy, man. Some artists weren’t up to par so I had to tell them to come with something better. All the producers are all up and coming artists too. It was a headache putting it together, but I thought it was a great concept and nobody has ever wanted to do songs with their fans and shit. I knew once the album came out that everybody that’s on the album would promote it too like, “Yo, get the Ruste Juxx album. I’m on track 14!” People from all over would be listening to the tracks and they’d hear me on songs with people rhyming in an African language, Polish, or whatever then they’d get to their language and they really could respect it like, “Oh, somebody’s rhyming in French! I like this one!”

TRHH: On the song ‘I Who Have Nothing’ you have Lebanese emcee Malikah on the song rapping in Arabic…

Ruste Juxx: And she bodied that shit too! I didn’t even know what the fuck she said!

TRHH: [Laughs] Did you get translations from her for her verse or other artists before you finished the songs?

Ruste Juxx: Nah man. If I liked the way they flowed and it sounded like it was coming off it stayed and made the cut. She definitely made the cut.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite verse on the album?

Ruste Juxx: From other artists?

TRHH: Yeah.

Ruste Juxx: Her verse on that song and my man Goldo on the first single called ‘Desire Me.” He’s a Dominican rapper and he killed his verse. My man Mace from London, and the same song with Malikah, my man Cyrus Malachi from the UK, he killed his verse. It’s a lot of verses that I really like on there. I can’t really single certain people out, but I like the whole shit. Those are the top ones that stand out for me.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Desire Me’?

Ruste Juxx: I was just going with the flow with each beat that I got. The rhythm made me feel like going that route for what I was talking about on that song. It felt inspiring. I just spoke how I felt about it.

TRHH: A lot of rappers that I talk to say that overseas, Europe specifically, has a different appreciation for Hip-Hop than they do in America. Do you find that to be true?

Ruste Juxx: Definitely, man. I always get love in the States but when I go overseas or am in Europe or Canada or Japan it’s really serious. They appreciate it more because it’s the raw underground Hip-Hop. It’s not being force-fed to them like the mainstream joints and they can relate to it. I still got that 90s feel that a lot of people is missing. Not that I’m trying to do it, but they tell me that’s the type of music they like to hear. They want to see that still alive so I try to represent for them.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite city that you like to perform in internationally?

Ruste Juxx: Shit, Spain and I always get mad love when I’m out in France. Shout out to France. Every time I have shows over there it’s always been crazy love. I performed on a boat out there and rocked the house. I get crazy love in France.

TRHH: You were close with the late Sean Price; can you share one of your favorite memories that had you with Sean?

Ruste Juxx: Damn, I have a lot of good memories, man. He’s just hilarious, period. Everything that comes out of his mouth is hilarious and he’s such a smart dude at the same time. He can speak on all kinds of subjects from politics, to sports, to Hip-Hop. I got so many memories so I don’t know a certain story to bring up. He was always there for me in real life, not just Hip-Hop. I appreciate him for taking me everywhere overseas and showing me the game like a real mentor or big brother that I never had.

TRHH: Did he give you any special advice about the business when you got in?

Ruste Juxx: Nah, he never gave me advice but I always learned from him anyway just from what he did. I watched what he did and I learned a lot how to deal with promoters and how to do shows. I thought I was killing it on the shows but when I started touring with him I stepped my game up with performing. I got way, way better. It was good that he had me training like that.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with International Juxx?

Ruste Juxx: I just want to put out another classic album like I’ve been doing and hope the fans appreciate it for what it’s worth. I got like 5 more albums coming and I’m working on a volume 2, so it’s not going to stop here. I’m going to do it again. I wanted to get certain artists from overseas and let them get their shine. I’m doing videos for a few of the joints too. Everybody is going to shoot their part where they’re from and everybody is going to get their shine on, man. That’s what it’s all about.

Purchase: Ruste Juxx – International Juxx

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Koss: Born to Live

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Photo courtesy of Joseph Jeanmart

Belgian producer Koss takes an old school approach to producing. Using only an MPC and turntables, Koss has crafted a sound reminiscent of Hip-Hop’s golden era. The Liège native has history with emcees across the pond, which helped spawn a full-length album titled, “Born to Live.”

Released by Below System Records, Born to Live features appearances by Masta Ace, Keith Murray, Torae, Blaq Poet, Ruste Juxx, Craig G, J-Live, and Large Professor. The digital and CD versions of Born to Live feature remixes from K-Def, 12 Finger Dan, and B-Base. The vinyl edition is released courtesy of Slice of Spice Records.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Koss about the Belgian Hip-Hop scene, his golden era approach to producing, and his new album, Born to Live.

TRHH: Why’d you name the new album Born to Live?

Koss: To me Born to Live was a state of mind like, just be what you are, find your own formula, do your best, and stay in a good state of mind. Just staying alive and trying to do your best with your own talent and to focus on it. Follow your intuition. Born to Live is pretty simple. It’s so simple that people forget that it’s hard to make simple things. This is what I tried to do with this album – focus on what I feel and collaborate with artists that I really appreciate and make it sound good.

TRHH: How did you link up with Masta Ace for “Longevity”?

Koss: I talked with Jerry [Graham] about it. Dennis is the owner of Below System Records and he already worked with Masta Ace before. I think he went in Jersey and met with Sensei a couple of years ago. I was in Amsterdam at Waxwell Records searching for psychedelic records. The owner went to his basement and came back with the record that I was searching for. I was listening to the samples and thought it fit perfect with Ace. I called Dennis and told him that I had the beat and I wanted to collaborate with Masta Ace. He directly contacted him and let me know. I started to e-mail with Ace about it and he said, “Okay, I’m down with you. Let’s do the song.” He wrote the first verse in Brazil because he was on tour with eMC. He finished the rest in New Jersey and sent me the song. He is the perfect example of longevity to me.

TRHH: What was the process like recording Born to Live? Was it the same way with every other artist?

Koss: Not really. I met most of the artists on the album from my first EP’s. To me it’s really important to meet the people that I work with to create that connection and that respect.  Like you, I really appreciate that you take the time for the culture and interview all these legends. It really means something to me.

TRHH: Thank you.

Koss: No problem. Large Professor I tried to connect with last time, but he was on tour with Diamond D in Europe. I couldn’t meet him. Now he’s on tour with Main Source in Europe. I’m going to meet him later – we’ll see what happens. Most of the time I propose to them a theme for the song. We talk about it first, I send several beats, and they choose the beat that they want to work with. It’s really a collaboration. We talk about it and try to find an idea and a concept. It was pretty much the same thing with the other artists.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite verse on Born to Live?

Koss: I think the first verse from Large Professor. I like the energy that he put in the song. He recorded it pretty quick. He did it with his intuition and it comes fresh out of his cosmic mind. Sometimes the Professor talks with the planets. He’s on another level. I really appreciate how we talk about Hip-Hop and the culture after all these years. I’m really impressed to see how he still is addicted and passionate about Hip-Hop. He’s still connected to the culture – that’s amazing.

TRHH: How did you initially get into Hip-Hop?

Koss: This is a long story. This starts around ten years old or something. The background was Run-DMC, Notorious a little bit later, and Gang Starr. I fell in love with Gang Starr maybe between 15 and 19 years old. I discovered them later because I’m born in 87. I’m 30 years old actually, but I always love to learn the roots of the culture to be connected with the different musical forms that exist today. I connected with some French rap, too. There are some real interesting artists on the French scene. I told you, it was DMC, Notorious, and Gang Starr. I started to listen to the samples. I was really, really surprised as I was buying more and more records to discover that this culture is so universal.

Producers listen to psychedelic music, rock & roll, jazz, blues, funk, reggae, and fusion music. This message touched me because it was so powerful. I felt like it was a family and a connection. You can directly feel this when you talk to someone who fell in love with Hip-Hop too. This is something from the heart. I bought two turntables and started to collect records at 13-14. I was always digging and opening my mind more and more every day. That’s why Hip-Hop means something to me. It’s more than a lifestyle and more than a trend. This is a way to live. It’s a way to see and approach the world. It’s a beautiful thing.

TRHH: What’s the Belgian Hip-Hop scene like?

Koss: I think that the most popular thing on the Belgian scene is trap music. There are artists like JeanJass, Caballero, Romeo Elvis, and L’Or Du Commun. They created a new scene and they came from freestyle and boom bap. They just evolved very quickly with the music. I can’t go so quick with the trap evolution. I start to listen and open my mind to see what is good and this new way to produce Hip-Hop. I think that the Belgian scene has not so much recognition – this comes really slowly. Now they are on the map, because internationally when people start to hear about the artists, they are like craft men.

They are not so popular so they still focus on the purpose of why you want to be artists and produce music. They don’t think about being famous, they really want to express their souls and their message. I think Belgium is a good school to be an artist because it forces you to stay humble, create your own music, and share it with the people on a human level. I told you, this is a craft man country. People are doing their own thing with love. That’s positive. I think that Belgium has a good future for music.

TRHH: Is coming out of that culture the reason why you still use an MPC and turntables?

Koss: Like I told you for Born to Live, I think that for me it was very important to feel the culture in my hands. I use vinyl to touch the samples and to feel the musicians. I chop it up with the MPC because these ancestors are our roots, and to directly put it in front of you on the 16 pads and play with it is a way to pay homage. I really feel this simple way to do music, because it pushes me to be more creative. There are so many plugins with the computers, programs, drum machines, and even the mixers.

Back in the day it was two Technics turntables and the Vestax mixer. It’s incredible how the Hip-Hop scene was created with this simple set up. I’m really impressed about it still today. I want to keep this state of mind to bring the best out of me and to not lose myself to technology. They want us to buy so many things, but we don’t need so many things. It’s pretty good to stay on the human level with the basics and just to try to put our souls through our instruments.

TRHH: You’ve produced EP’s for Craig G and AG, but if you could produce an entire album for one emcee who would it be?

Koss: Good question. I was always a huge fan of O.C. from D.I.T.C. He always impressed me with his flow, his style, his aura, and charisma. Maybe O.C. I’m still impressed about A-F-R-O. He is on another level. With the longevity O.C. is someone that I really respect, too.

TRHH: What’s next for Koss?

Koss: I’m working on a soundtrack. It’s going to be instrumental. I’ve invited a few producers, but most of the productions are mine. I’m going to do the cuts and put a little voices on it to create the atmosphere. We have a movie in our head with our little crew. I just want to get the images and feel how I can represent this mood with my music. This is my next challenge for the moment. Now it’s just random like, “Let’s do this beat,” or “Poet fits to this beat, so let’s do it with Poet,” or “Let’s make a banger, let’s make a cool song, or let’s make a paying homage song.” It was about freedom – I was totally free. Now musically I want to start my creations from images and scenes to have a different approach about music and have a different perspective. Like Adrian Younge, he’s crazy and the way he produces music really impresses me. I think that’s going to be the next challenge for Koss.

Purchase: Koss – Born to Live

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MZM: Excuse Me, Miss

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Photo courtesy of Rainier Castro

Music can be therapeutic, both for its listener and creator. As human beings we’ve all suffered from heartbreak and sought closure from being in emotional limbo. Chicago rap artist MZM puts all of his cards on the table with a release titled, “Excuse Me, Miss.”

Excuse Me, Miss is an open letter to MZM’s ex-girlfriend. The 8-track EP is produced by Cheff Premier, Custom Made, Nero and Rob Fury and features appearances by Wes Restless, Lynn Solar, and Emanny.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to MZM about his start in Hip-Hop, sharing his heartbreak with the world, the gentrification of Chicago, and his new EP, Excuse Me, Miss.

TRHH: What exactly inspired you to create Excuse Me, Miss?

MZM: It’s a conversation with my most recent ex. We had been through our ups and downs. At one point we were about to get married and the day of she decided not to show up. We ended up breaking up and three months later we got back together for another year. After that year that was pretty much it. It became toxic. There’s a bunch of stuff that happened during that entire time. I was holding it all inside of me and it was changing who I was as a person, which I wasn’t too big of a fan of. I decided to put it out there. That’s the inspiration behind it. It’s a conversation to her; it’s an open letter for anybody to hear. Everything is factual on there. It’s an open book. I had nothing to hide and I’m sure I’m not the only person who has gone through something similar. You know what they say, “Pain shared helps heal pain.” So if other people can hear it and find comfort in their own situation off it my job is done.

For me it’s kind of shutting the door and putting the final nail in the coffin like, “Yo, this is all I got to say to you. I got nothing else to say.” I made sure I was not disrespectful on there. Cursing was at a minimum. I didn’t call her any names or anything. I was like, “You know what, I’m going to be the bigger person here. Let me say what I gotta say, but I don’t need to berate you.” Some of the feedback – one person actually sent me a message that he was with his girl almost a decade. He was on the fence about cheating on her and having an affair. He heard it – track 5 specifically – and my shit stopped him from having an affair. That’s the inspiration behind it. My job is done; even if one person was impacted I did what I had to do.

TRHH: After she left you the first time what made you go back with her?

MZM: You know how there is one person? I mean, everybody falls in and out of love a bunch of times, but there’s one person who becomes their master key — that one person who no matter what somehow they have you under their control and it’s always that one person that just fucks your head – she was mine. There’s always that one person who somehow no matter what, you’ve moved on, it’s 15 years down the road, that person pops up and all of a sudden they bring up all the old emotion that you had and you end up reverting to what you were at that time. That type of person, that’s what she was.

TRHH: Do you know if she heard the album and if so what did she think of it?

MZM: Oh, I sent it to her. I made sure I sent it to her. Her reactions were varied. At first it was a message, “I don’t care about this. I’m not going to live in the past,” yadda, yadda, yadda. Twenty minutes later it was a phone call calling me names, yelling, and raising her voice. Two hours after another text message, “Your rapping is good on here.” Two days after, another message, “What are you doing?” Two days after that a series of mixed calls. That was her reaction.

TRHH: And you haven’t spoken to her since?

MZM: Nah. If I had to compare this project I would say this is Hip-Hop’s Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear.” As far as coming up with the titling and formatting of it I was inspired by that album.

TRHH: This is a drastically different thing for you, how was making this project different from making Downpour?

MZM: One, the subject matter is the same throughout it all and it’s talking about a personal experience. Each song on here has a significant meaning to it, so it’s not just a bunch of rhymes put together. Downpour wasn’t either. Downpour was talking different things from depression, to immigration, to politics. With this one from a verse standpoint it was all for her. Each conversation was for her. Sonically I went a different route. I wanted to try different sounds and also I wanted it to appeal to her. She’s not listening to Mobb Deep, KRS, and Nas and so forth. Trying to go with a more boom bap sound for her was not going to cut it. I didn’t want the message to get missing.

I chose a different soundscape and I’m not going against my own personal grain or selling out or anything, I’m a fan of all music. Some of the newer trap shit and some of the top 40 sounding stuff I’m a fan of. I always wanted to push my boundaries artistically and this was the perfect canvas for me to do it. And also certain rhyme patterns and things that I never did before. I got to experiment. Without ever doing it I think it came out great. It shows as an artist that I’m versatile. Also, the hooks – I never wrote R&B hooks before, this time I did. I got to try my hand at writing hooks and coming up with the harmony and so forth.

TRHH: You mentioned on Downpour that you spoke about immigration, what is your ethnic background? Where is your family originally from?

MZM: Bangladesh.

TRHH: And you were born in America?

MZM: I was born in Chicago.

TRHH: What’s your stance on immigration in general and the Trump administration…

MZM: You heard my stance. If you heard Downpour track number 8 with Ras Kass and Emilio Rojas, I said what I had to say to Trump on that one. That song is called “Politricks.” I’ll be simple, fuck 45. His mother should have swallowed him.

TRHH: [Laughs] Alright then. What inspired the song “Old Chicago”?

MZM: You know what’s funny, on Downpour the first song right after the intro is called “Wrong Era.” I had a bar on there that goes, “I’m stubborn as a mule, bull headed, I’m a survivalist/I’m old Chicago, before they gentrified this bitch.” That was the inspiration for that song. I’m old Chicago. I moved out the city for a bit to a different state. When I came back to Chicago I didn’t recognize it no more. The Chicago that I knew was gone! I remember before you couldn’t walk through Wicker Park. Now it’s nothing but hipsters. You couldn’t go through Humboldt Park if you didn’t know anybody, now there’s Starbucks’ and it’s Humboldt Heights. I grew up in Rogers Park. I was born out west in Garfield Park but ended up moving up north to Albany Park and Rogers Park. That’s where I got to cut my teeth.

It’s different. Some of it’s for the good, some of it’s not. Some of it I’m just like, man, it’s fucking up people. Gentrification is pushing people out of their housing and so forth. I get it, it’s a pay day for the developers. But from what they could afford to now what they can’t afford they got nowhere to go now. Now you’re pushing them out further west or out of the city in general. I get that they’re after their pay day but there still has to be some moral responsibility. That’s what prompted “Old Chicago.” That’s who I am. It’s not a tribute song to the city. It’s who I am. I am old Chicago. All of the experiences on the song are just talking about me growing up. That’s pretty much from me as a shorty to like age 22-23. That’s what that song talks about – who I am growing up.

TRHH: How did you initially get into Hip-Hop?

MZM: Man, you know that’s a good question. Growing up on the west side of Chicago and moving up north I was always the odd ball. From a nationality standpoint I stood out like a sore thumb. It was kind of where it was nowhere for me to fit in. Where do I fit in? I’m trying to fit in here. That was a mistake I made because you shouldn’t have to fit in. If you’re born to standout then why try to fit in? That’s what I ended up doing and it seems as if I was trying to find my own acceptance growing up. I ended up experiencing racism, not just from white people, but from everybody! I experienced it from white people, black people, and Spanish people. It was a weird spot to be in. Out of it all it seems as if I embraced my culture I was getting mocked and mimicked, but the only culture that seemed to accept me was Hip-Hop. That’s’ what got me into it. I would say around 11 years old I started getting into it, but I didn’t know it was specifically called “Hip-Hop” until 13. At around 13 years old I found out what I’m into actually is a culture and has a name.

That’s what got me into it. I’ve tried my hand at stuff in the past – I tried writing graffiti, breaking, deejaying and I kind of sucked at it. I was able to say what I gotta say through pad and pen and that worked out for me. I’ve been on the indie scene in Chicago since the late 90s. I put out two projects before 2001. I went by a different emcee name. Then I ended up taking a hiatus in 05. I recorded an album in 05 and never put it out. I had personal things come up — life got in the way. All of a sudden you’re thrown into adulthood and shit changes. It’s not like we were getting famous or anything outside of the city. Things weren’t really taking off and bills have got to get paid. I took a break in what was supposed to be a year and that year turned into ten. Also just the scene and climate of music ended up changing. The sound and direction started to turn me off and I was like, “Man, I don’t feel like making no music.” As of recently I got the inspiration back and got the fire lit up under my ass. During that ten years I think I had enough shit happen where I had stuff to talk about.

TRHH: What was your original emcee name?

MZM: I went by Ebonics. I had to drop that name for a couple reasons. One, when I chose that name I thought of it from a different standpoint. Initially I was battle rapping. So I was battling heads, that’s what I was doing. I went with that name because we’re all talking slang so if I have that name and that’s who I am and you’re talking that means you’re talking me. How you gonna beat me if you’re talking to me? That was my perspective at that point as a battle emcee, and also it was pretty immature. When I started to think about I thought I shouldn’t have that name. One, I’m not black. For me to have that name it was odd for me to keep running with it. I didn’t want an emcee name, period. MZM is just the initial for my name.

TRHH: What’s next up for you? Do you still have that fire? Do you have something new coming out?

MZM: Yeah. Right now I’m working Excuse Me, Miss. That one does have potential to get radio, and that’s kind of what I’m doing with it right now. I’m going to start packaging it, getting it ready, and pushing it out to some stations to see if we can get some spins on that one. That one has more appeal to not just the hardcore Hip-Hop heads, but the casual listeners – women. I think it can reach a bigger demographic and anybody who has gone through heartbreak in that sense.  After that I’ll maybe take a couple months off and then start going in the direction that I want to head in with the next project. Everybody’s on me with, “We know you can rap, we know you can out-bar people, we wanna hear you do something. We want you to bring it back to the gutter.” The next project, the best way I can describe it is either two things are going to happen. One, I’ll either wake people up or I’m going to make enemies.

TRHH: Can you give some insight into the subject matter?

MZM: I’m still going to keep things who I am, because one I’m not a street dude. I’m not going to talk about running the street with a whole bunch of guns. I’m not sipping on lean either. There are things that I still want to talk about. Some are social issues, some are things that are personal, and some are things that I haven’t really touched on, on Downpour or Excuse Me, Miss. After that I have some guest appearances in mind – people that I want to start working with and it’s going to be a bar fest. One song I have the beat for now and it’s some super trap shit. I think it’s a challenge for myself to do that one and I think I want to run with that as the first single. Not because I’m trying to appeal to a bigger crowd, but because I want to push the boundaries of what I can do. I don’t want to keep myself in a box.

Purchase: MZM – Excuse Me, Miss

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Steph Dash Nash: True Grit

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Photo courtesy of Steph Dash Nash

Steph Dash Nash has worn many hats in Hip-Hop. She’s a journalist that has interviewed some of Hip-Hop’s biggest names on Supreme Ultra Radio. She’s the co-host of the Underground Express show on Maximum FM Hip Hop. She’s the CEO of a Hip-Hop inspired clothing company, specializing in apparel for children called “Stitch N Rhyme.”

Nash’s latest endeavor is as a music producer. She produced an entire album with assistance from Big Sproxx that features a who’s who of underground Hip-Hop called “True Grit.” Providing the lyrics on True Grit are Ras Kass, Masta Ace, O.C., Torae, Adam Bomb, Tragedy Khadafi, Rasheed Chappell, REKS, Tona, Napoleon Da Legend, Shyheim, T Gramz, Planet Asia, Havoc, Preach, Theology 3, Kenn Starr, M.O.P., and the late Sean Price.

In the process of creating True Grit Steph Dash Nash was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an incurable, fast growing form of brain cancer. Steph continues to fight the disease in every way imaginable. Through StitchNRhyme.com Steph is selling Glioblastoma t-shirts. A portion of the proceeds from each shirt sold will go to the Sunnybrook Health Science Center: Gord Downie Brain Cancer Fund.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Steph Dash Nash about how she got into production, the creation of her album, True Grit, and her brave battle against brain cancer.

TRHH: How did you initially get into music production?

Steph Dash Nash: I was surrounded by Hip-Hop culture since I was a little girl, and I always wanted to be more within it, I just didn’t really know how. I especially loved lyrics, ones that could leave a visual imprint of meaningful stories but I most definitely couldn’t rhyme. I became great friends with an incredible Canadian producer Big Sproxx during a trip to Jamaica, Queens. I was there to interview Tragedy Khadafi. It was after that trip Sproxx starting introducing me to all elements of music production. He became my mentor.

TRHH: What role did Big Sproxx play in the creation of True Grit?

Steph Dash Nash: Big Sproxx provided me a lot of creative control and pushed me beyond what I believed I was capable of. He played a huge role in teaching me even the basics. The first thing he had me change was my use of the language terminology. He often frowned at me calling the metronome the “ticky thingy.” Sproxx gave up a lot of his work, personal and studio time to work with me. Sproxx stepped in more than half way through the project as a co-producer. Sproxx contributed a few songs he had been working on from his own material and he helped me sequence and arrange the album.

TRHH: You have a lot of heavy hitters featured on the project. How did you go about securing verses from all of these artists?

Steph Dash Nash: I had previously interviewed several artists and producers over the past few years for my website Supreme Ultra Radio. Incredible artists such as Diamond D, Pete Rock, Masta Ace, Tragedy Khadafi and General Steele just to mention a few. After my video interview with General Steele he told me it was a pleasure to work with a professional and to keep going. I approached a few of my favorite artists I wanted to work with and here we are almost three years later. Big Sproxx later added onto this incredible lineup of gifted lyricists.

TRHH: What does your production set up consist of?

Steph Dash Nash: At the studio I work out of there is a wide range of equipment and production gear but for this album all the music was created on an Akai MPC 1000 with a JJ OS update. The MPC 1000 was the first piece of equipment Sproxx introduced me to. I fell in love with how easy the workflow and functions of that machine are to learn. I realized I was able to create the sounds and style of music I loved right there all in one box and never looked back.

TRHH: Do you have a musical background or is the album mostly sample-based?

Steph Dash Nash: Growing up, listening to and falling in love with Hip-Hop music all of my favorite producers crafted their music using samples. That is the sound that has always moved me and resonated in my soul. That is the type of music that me and my partner Sproxx create just like all the great producers who influenced and inspired us.

TRHH: Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is something no one is ever prepared for. You worked on the album while undergoing treatment, what has kept you strong and moving forward during such a tough time?

Steph Dash Nash: Brain cancer has been a crash course in the differences between expectations and reality. Initially, I never wished to know my life expectancy or what kind of Glio it was. Everyone wanted to know but me. I felt knowing that information would cause negativity and put me in a bad headspace. Unfortunately I found out 6 months ago it’s Glioblastoma IV. The life expectancy is 9-14 months. I am going to be a bit vulnerable; actually I haven’t shared this yet. When I found out by mistake I cried every day for two weeks. Brain cancer stole a lot from me, beside memories and some mobility; I missed both my sons’ graduations. I missed them receiving honor’s roll, partial scholarship and math awards. I was in surgery both days of their graduation. I vowed to never miss another milestone. Fight every day to keep pushing. I guess you can say it’s my will to live that has kept me moving forward.

TRHH: How important have your friends, family, and artists that participated in the album been to you throughout this time?

Steph Dash Nash: Highly important. I’ve never been one to ask for help and to go at something of this magnitude alone is not possible. Everyone has afforded me extra patience and understanding. It takes me longer to complete tasks and sometimes I forget things mid-sentence but everyone including the artists on this project continue to be very encouraging and supportive.

TRHH: Talk a little about your campaign with Sunnybrook Health Science Center.

Steph Dash Nash: Glioblastoma IV is one of the deadliest forms of Brain Cancer. There is no cure. The average life expectancy is 9-14 months. That’s unacceptable. Sunnybrook Health Science Center is the first to breach the blood-brain barrier to allow patients like myself to receive chemo. I made Glioblastoma shirts and with every purchase of a shirt you will receive a free download of the song “Strange Fruit” written and performed by O.C. and a percentage of the proceeds I will donate to the Sunnybrook Gord Downie Brain Cancer Fund. This song provided me with strength to fight every day.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with True Grit?

Steph Dash Nash: I’m a true, dedicated fan of lyricism. I believe this album showcases what real lyricism sounds like. On this album, I have some of my favorite artists that I grew up listening to. I want to prove that it is possible to make good music without sacrificing the fundamental elements of Hip-Hop.

Purchase: Supreme Ultra Radio – True Grit

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