Termanology: Shut Up and Rap

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Photo courtesy of Termanology

Photo courtesy of Termanology

Shut Up and Rap!? I couldn’t have said it better myself. The request is not only an appeal to today’s rap artists, it’s also the title of the latest offering from Lawrence, Massachusetts emcee Termanology. While Term is a new school artist he has a golden era approach to emceeing and puts lyrics at a premium – Shut Up and Rap is a perfect example of that.

Shut Up and Rap features Skyzoo, Torae, Wais P, Willie The Kid, Slaine, Superstah Snuk, Chris Rivers, Artisin, Astro, Chasen Hampton, Chilla Jones, Lumidee, Michael Christmas, Lil’ Fame, Hectic, Cortez, Cyrus DeSheild, Doo Wop, REKS, Dutch ReBelle, Ea$y Money, H Blanco, and Inspectah Deck. The album is produced by Alchemist, Statik Selektah, Billy Loman, and Termanology himself.

Termanology spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his new album, Shut Up and Rap, the Good Dad Gang movement, and his upcoming album, Politics as Usual 2.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title Shut Up and Rap?

Termanology: It’s a catch phrase and it also means there are lot of people out here doing a lot of talking and they can’t really rap.

TRHH: Did you purposely fill up the album with a lot of features?

Termanology: Yeah we kind of tried to shed light on Boston. I recorded the album in Boston so a lot of the people on the album were Boston rappers. Cyrus Deshield is from Boston, Chilla Jones, and Michael Christmas. Ea$y Money is from Haverhill which is near Boston. I was kinda giving dudes a chance around the way to flex their skills on the album.

TRHH: Tell me a little about the joint ‘The War Begins’.

Termanology: We felt it was a good way to get off the album with that. I like to set off my albums aggressively. On the last joint there was a joint called ‘Scandalous’ with Chris Rivers so this was kind of a part 2 to that. It was me, Chris Rivers, my artist H Blanco, and Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang. I want to throw a couple more emcees on there to give it some extra life.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Do you write to the beat or whenever you feel inspired?

Termanology: If it’s up to me I’ll write to the beat. Sometimes if I think of something hot I’ll just write it down in my phone or on a piece of paper.

TRHH: You’ve always had a hardcore East Coast sound. What do you make of the wave of East Coast cats rhyming with a southern sound?

Termanology: I got mixed feelings on it. In a way I feel like it’s really wack, but at the same time it’s been such a long time that the music has sounded like that so to the younger crowd that’s Hip-Hop to them. They like that shit. I can’t be too mad. It’s wack when I see OG’s from the East Coast rapping like they’re from the South over trap beats. It’s kind of wack sometimes.

TRHH: What sparked the Good Dad Gang movement?

Termanology: I take such pride in being a good father and spending as much time with my kids as I can. It’s something that I hash tagged and I never really intended it to become a clothing line and everything else that it’s becoming. I’m really happy I did it because I opened a lot of people’s eyes. People are buying the clothes like crazy. Females are rocking it and supporting so I’m happy. It’s all about motivating fathers to spend as much time with their kids as they can. Money is cool, but you’ve got to be there and document it so you can see it later. Your kids are only going to be small once so you have to instill that knowledge at an early age.

TRHH: How difficult is it for you personally to spend time with your kids having the career that you have?

Termanology: Oh it sucks. It’s rough. I’m on tour right now. I haven’t seen my kids in over a week now. If I wasn’t on tour it wouldn’t be like that. I’d be trying to hang out with them as much as I can. As a parent it really sucks, but at the same time I’m able to supply a certain type of lifestyle for them. What I’m doing now with all this grinding is to set up their future so I gotta do what I gotta do.

TRHH: How has the Shut Up and Rap tour gone so far?

Termanology: It’s going good, man. People are showing up.

TRHH: Do you have plans to tour anymore this year?

Termanology: Yeah, February 13 the EST tour starts in New York. That’s me, Edo.G, REKS, Akrobatik, and DJ Deadeye. We’ll be in Rome, Paris, and a whole bunch of other countries.

TRHH: What else do you have on deck for 2015?

Termanology: I’m really trying to build the Good Dad Gang movement, the website TermanologyMusic.com, and my clothing line Term Gear. My artist Ea$y Money is dropping his new album. DJ Deadeye is dropping a new album. Politics as Usual Part 2 is my new album. It has beats by DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Statik Selektah, Buckwild, 9th Wonder, Evidence, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. It’s really crazy and it’s shaping up to be some kind of a masterpiece.

TRHH: When will we hear Politics as Usual 2??

Termanology: I’m hoping for like April or May – we on it.

Purchase: Termanology – Shut Up and Rap

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Awon: Matte Black Soul

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Photo courtesy of PJ Sykes

Photo courtesy of PJ Sykes

Virginia emcee Awon has been on a hot streak as of late. Following the 2013 joint album with producer Phoniks, Return to the Golden Era, Awon joined forces with fellow Virginian emcee Dephlow for the 2014 album, Dephacation. Both projects produced enough buzz to give Awon’s music a few more ears and more opportunities.

Awon’s latest release is a solo album titled ‘Matte Black Soul’. The album was released by Awon and Phoniks’ newly formed label, Don’t Sleep Records. Matte Black Soul is produced by Phoniks, HDK, Ak, Rashard, and Awon himself.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Awon about his new album, Matte Black Soul, the formation of Don’t Sleep Records, and the upcoming sequel to the critically acclaimed album, Return to the Golden Era.

TRHH: I was surprised that you dropped this record so soon after Dephacation. Why’d you decide to drop it so close?

Awon: Well, I look at each thing that we do as a different entity. It’s not necessarily about sales and notoriety as it is about getting music out to the audience that I feel like they’ll vibe to at that particular time. I had been working on the project for a couple of years off and on. It was something I’d pick up in my spare time and set it down. After it was all said and done then Phoniks got his hands on it and we felt like it was the perfect time for it to come out. It was wintertime and cold in most of the country, and there are some social issues going on so the reason why we put it out was timing. If not now then we’re not going to have another opportunity. It’s that window right now.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album.

Awon: Matte Black Soul was what we came up with. Initially it was “Matte Black” and what we realized after going through everything was it had a soulful feel to it so we wanted to prepare the listener for what they were about to hear. When I think of matte black I think of technology and how our devices are matte black. They use it now as a sign of luxury. You got luxury watches that are matte black. It gives an air of elegance and sophistication along with some nostalgia. When something is matte and not finished it gives an essence of that antique feel – especially when you see a car in that color. That’s where it came from, more maturity, sophistication, elegance and the sound is the soul. That’s why we ran with Matte Black Soul.

TRHH: The vibe of the album is upbeat. That wasn’t a conscious effort to make it that way, right? It just kind of felt soulful to you?

Awon: Yeah it felt soulful and passionate. The fact that I recorded that album on my own and worked on it in my own time and my own zone really made it stand out to me where I can feel free to take as much time as I wanted on the record. I wasn’t on the clock in the studio. I wasn’t on somebody else’s time. It was at my home studio and I really got to vibe with it. A lot of it was the mood that I was in. I recorded a lot of those records late at night – after I had company or after I had a good night. All of those records were done after I was hanging out and partying with my friends so that’s the energy that I carried on after the night ended and it carried on to the records.

TRHH: You produced some songs on this album. I wasn’t aware that you made beats. What equipment did you use?

Awon: Well I wouldn’t call myself a producer as much as I just hear certain things and utilize them. I’m using all software. Everything I do is done with Garage Band and Logic. It’s basically taking loops, adding drums, filters, and stripping the track down – nothing spectacular. I do like to get my hands on the production aspect of records, even down to picking samples. Certain records we’ll use because I just like that record in general. Somebody might have used it but they didn’t use it this way. You always hear something different.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Natural High’?

Awon: Actually my wife. It kind of just outlines the ups and down and funny things in a relationship. I just decided to write something that was fun and upbeat and almost had a comical satire to it. Usually songs like that are real emotional or vulgar in the sense of being degrading. I just wanted to do something that was a little more fun and take a lighthearted spin on it while poking fun at myself at the same time. It’s inspired by the relationship I have with my wife and that’s why I wrote it. That’s one of the first songs that I recorded for the record.

TRHH: What did she think of the song?

Awon: Oh, she loves it! She thinks it’s incredible. We sit back and laugh about it a lot. To be honest having her around is a great measure just by having somebody to critique your work. She gets to hear everything first so in actuality she kind of co-produced it by saying, “You should do this, you should leave that off,” and it worked out. Her playlist is what made the album so I definitely appreciate her for that.

TRHH: The song ‘Free Your Mind’ had the dope Richard Pryor intro on it. How’d that song come together?

Awon: That song is produced by one of my best friends Rashard. I actually found that intro from the Wattstax record where they had the big concert for the Watts movement back in Cali. That was a big thing so I said let me grab that because what he said was profound to me. I remember someone telling me that Richard Pryor just wanted people to take him seriously. In his comedy he put a lot of social issues that were provocative for the time but the comedy out-shined what he was doing. That was one of the instances where he said something incredible but nobody caught it because everybody is laughing. If you listen to the rest of the record you hear the crowd going hysterical. I thought for this time that people wouldn’t be laughing because it is an instance that we are faced with right now that’s in the media that we talk about. It goes into a greater sentiment in the song where there are a lot of stereotypes that are running at us – stereotypes that I hear, stereotypes that some of us may believe. It’s a respectability politics kind of standpoint that I’m coming at, but in the end of that record I denounce the word but I also admit that we’re programmed and conditioned to use it. At the end of the day who can we point the finger at? It’s also a play on A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Sucka Nigga’. What Q-Tip did was incredible for that record. It was before its time. Twenty some odd years later we’re still having the same debate. That record really came about from the debate that different generations have about the use of the word, the stereotypes that go along with the word, and how it affects our community.

TRHH: Talk about the formation of Don’t Sleep Records.

Awon: Phoniks and I wanted to put records out and instead of it always being our name with no label we wanted our own imprint. We didn’t have an imprint to release music on and we don’t have a desire to sign to a major label or seek a record deal. It’s really pointless at this point and time. We look at what we do as collaborations when we work with another independent label to produce vinyl or another release. We just wanted to have an imprint that we could put our music out and music that we felt fell under the same umbrella of what we’re doing. Another project we have in line is with a young brother by the name of Peebs The Prophet and a producer from Budapest, Hungary, BluntOne. We feel like it’s the type of music that we like, it definitely fits in to what we’ve already done, and we just want to give these brothers a platform so that they can be heard and we can spread some light on what they’re doing. Hopefully we’ll continue to put our own music and music of other artists out on the banner when the time is right. We’re just growing it slowly and taking it day by day to help it expand. The goal is not necessarily monetary as opposed to ownership. A lot of people only think about monetary value as opposed to ownership, which is monetary value when you own it. That’s where we’re at right now. We don’t want nobody owning us.

TRHH: What’s the status of the follow-up to Return to the Golden Era?

Awon: That’s actually in the works. Phoniks came to Virginia over the summer and we recorded quite a few records at a studio in Richmond. We recorded directly to tape because we wanted to continue with the warm feel of our music. Since we had a couple dollars in our pockets we decided to go to an analog studio where they can make that possible. We plan on reconvening this April and finishing up some more records and keeping the process going. We’re hoping that by the summer or early fall that the album will be finished and we’ll be prepping on that release for everybody to have that proper follow-up.

Purchase: Awon – Matte Black Soul

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Introducing: Nick Weaver

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Photo courtesy of Ryan Skut

Photo courtesy of Ryan Skut

For the first three years of his career Seattle emcee Nick Weaver blessed fans with a multitude of music. While briefly residing in Los Angeles Weaver dropped mixtapes, EP’s, and collaboration projects leading up to the release of his 2013 full-length debut, Day One, None.

Since then Weaver has laid low on the music front to get some real life issues in order. He returned to his original habitat in the Pacific Northwest, which rekindled a fire that flickered in 2014.

Nick Weaver started off 2015 properly with the January 6 release of his free 6-track EP titled “Yardwork”. The EP is an ode to becoming a “grown ass man” that is produced by Weaver and Hilsyde and features appearances by Nige Hood and YC The Cynic.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Nick Weaver about the adjustments of becoming a full-fledged adult, his foray into production, and his new EP, Yardwork.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new EP, Yardwork.

Nick Weaver: It’s basically talking about the struggles of getting older, growing up, and becoming more of an adult. That’s the central theme. A lot of the stuff I talk about on the album is getting closer to my family again and figuring out what’s important and what’s not. The other part of that is life is like a yard – the more you tend to it and deal with your issues, problems, and stuff you’ve gotta resolve, the better it’s going to look in the end. That was the other part, putting in the yard work to make everything better than it originally was.

TRHH: How old are you, man?

Nick Weaver: I’m 28.

TRHH: I’m 38. It’s usually around the age of 30 that you start feeling enlightened a little bit. Do you feel like life is more serious for you now?

Nick Weaver: Yeah, definitely. Over the last couple of years that’s where it went for personal reasons and people around me. It’s all part of getting older I think.

TRHH: It definitely is. For me it was scary. I really didn’t know why but after a while I was fine. My life went from being fun to a “now I have to plan for retirement” type of thing [laughs].

Nick Weaver: For sure [laughs].

TRHH: What made you go from where you were to needing to spend more time with your family?

Nick Weaver: It’s been a couple things. I was in L.A. for a while and really working hard on music and over the last couple years my dad had gotten sick. I was coming home a lot to see him. Fortunately he’s doing really well right now and everything is good. It should never be something like that to drive you to focus more time and attention on your family, but sometimes that’s just how it is. That was a big driving force more than anything.

TRHH: How is Yardwork different from ‘Day One, None’?

Nick Weaver: The last album I was really trying to for a more accessible sound. I handpicked all these beats from all these different producers that had a sound that I thought anyone who turned it on would instantly start vibing to it even if they didn’t like Hip-Hop or were older or younger. Over the last year I started teaching myself how to make beats and make everything on my own. I did that and worked with my producer in L.A., Hilsyde and he pimped them out and made them sound really, really pro. There is not necessarily one track that people would throw on at a party or that type of thing. It’s very real, very upfront, there are only two guest features and they’re rappers – there are no singers on it. It’s pretty much just me on it. In that regard it’s more stripped down.

TRHH: What beat making equipment are you using?

Nick Weaver: I run Logic Pro and I run a 25 key midi. It’s got a built-in drum pad into it – like an 8 pad MPC. I would make a skeleton of the beat and take them to Hilsyde and he would flip ‘em. He uses a big Korg Triton and another keyboard that I’m not familiar with and he would build on top of it and make it sound much larger.

TRHH: Who inspired you to want to be an emcee?

Nick Weaver: Growing up Nas, Biggie, Jay-Z, Eminem – those are my big 4. Those are the ones that I was fixated on. When I was really little between the ages of 7-to-10 and not really buying my own music yet my big brother had every kind of music under the sun. He would play the old school Ice-T, Run-DMC, and Snoop Dogg. I always listened to it when he was in the car and I liked it. When I could make the choice to listen to my own music it was dominated by that Bad Boy era [laughs]. I got into Puff Daddy and that quickly got me into Jay-Z, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Nas and Eminem.

TRHH: That’s a heavy east coast influence for a west coast guy [laughs].

Nick Weaver: Yeah, I know, for sure. My friends always clown me and say I have no love for 2Pac or anybody west coast. I do but I grew up obsessed with the east coast sound. I don’t know what it was. I was way more drawn to the grimy pianos and the way the drums were. I love west coast rap but something about the east coast sound stuck to me.

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

Nick Weaver: It’s interesting because in a way I’m a little bit of an outsider on the Seattle scene. Once I started doing this stuff I was already in L.A. There are a ton of talented people. One guy that I really like is Raz Simone. He’s got a raw and very exposed element to his music. He’s out there really putting his soul out in everything he does and it’s really cool to see. The whole Macklemore thing always comes up because everyone thinks that everyone is trying to go in the same lane because Macklemore is from Seattle but it’s really not like that. There are so many different eclectic mixes of it. There are people with maybe a little more general accessible sound, there is a lot of live band Hip-Hop, there are people on street Hip-Hop, and there’s some abstract stuff. It’s cool, man. It’s a pretty eclectic scene, way more than a lot of people think would even be in Seattle.

TRHH: ‘The Story’ was cleverly put together. What inspired that song?

Nick Weaver: The sample is an old Simon & Garfunkel song, ‘America’, and it just felt nostalgic. It felt old school but I didn’t want to rap about something generic like how good of a rapper I was. I didn’t want it to be too deep because a lot of the album is deep and serious. I was going through my old CD case and the beat was playing so I said, “You should just write about this like a story. Talk about when you were growing up.” The whole thing is the story never changes so the first verse is me talking about being a kid listening to all the rappers that I told you about. The second verse is me as an adult and music is there. I’m talking about listening to Big Boi’s ‘Ascending’ in the car and stressing out about my dad. I’m listening to Kendrick’s ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ while I’m stressing out in L.A. traffic. The story just never changes. Music is always there and always has a presence.

TRHH: The Platter video was dope. Who came up with the concept?

Nick Weaver: I started writing that verse and I wasn’t even thinking about writing like a cooking show. I started saying, “Take a glass of heartbreak, a pinch of unrequited love…” and I just started going on this tangent about what kind of ingredients you need. Then I started thinking, well shit I should make this song specifically to be a video and it would be funny to make it a cooking show. I took it to my buddy in L.A. Mike Peer who is a great director and he saw the vision all the way through. He picked the perfect scenario, scene, and all the stuff for me to be doing on camera. It was a cool one. I was pretty psyched about that.

TRHH: What’s next up for you in 2015?

Nick Weaver: It took me over a year to get between Day One, None and Yardwork. I put out basically nothing in between that. I’ve made a big commitment to myself to change that. This year is all about putting out as much as I can that’s good quality music. I want to stay in the picture and the peripheral of the blogs and the music fans. I really want to lock in some big Seattle shows with some big names. Hopefully I can lock in some shows with some national acts. Ultimately it would be really dope whether I do it on my own or jump on with another larger Seattle act that’s doing it, but a small regional tour that did the whole I-5 thing and went from Seattle all the way to L.A. or San Diego and back. Music is tough, man. I’m sure you talk to plenty of artists who bitch and whine about this to some degree. When you get behind, you get really behind. You go out of the conversation and it gets discouraging. It’s funny you asked about goals because a lot of times you don’t set goals. You just go forward with what you’re trying to do. In short, that’s what I’m trying to do for 2015.

Download: Nick Weaver – Yardwork

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Chuck D: The Black in Man (Part 2)

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Photo courtesy of Carl Ryder

Photo courtesy of Carl Ryder

In Part 1 of The Real Hip-Hop’s discussion with Public Enemy’s front-man, Chuck D, he blessed us with stories of the late Jam Master Jay, gave us a glimpse into the making of Ice Cube’s first solo album, and provided background on the latest offering from Mistachuck, The Black in Man.

In part 2 the rhyme animal goes in depth about the 30th anniversary of Def Jam, his public tiff with New York radio station, Hot 97, his opinion on the recent racial unrest in America, and offers some insight into the next Public Enemy album.

TRHH: Do you believe that the recent incidents of unarmed black men being murdered by police will rekindle some kind of consciousness in young black people or Hip-Hop?

Chuck D: If education is not available 24 hours out of a day for a young black boy or girl and ushered in by older people, how do we expect them to actually turn the coin to actually say, ‘I’m conscious of the fact’? We know they’re frustrated. The United States of America made it seem like if you’re a young black person unless you’re famous you don’t mean shit. You ain’t got no money? You don’t mean shit. As a matter of fact you’re going to look at people that look like they got money all the time even if they don’t and this is what you gotta look like in order for you to mean shit. Police brutality has been happening all this time because it’s the end result of the captured – the captured demographic, captured culture, and captured people does not ever bode well for people who have never had the control to teach themselves, manage themselves, enforce themselves, educate themselves, and make a living for themselves. It’s going to be more catastrophe than one.

These things pop up even more so because of social media. You can get angry but you’ve got to process anger. How do you process the anger and who are you speaking to and who are you speaking for? Black folks are only 12% of the United States of America. In order to get things to change you need to convince a whole lot of white folks in America because it’s a big body and block of them. People keep talking about race riots, ain’t gonna be no race riot. It’s going to be racial tension in places where black people live if it don’t get better. We only live in so many spots in the United States where most of the American programs are going to be like, “Who gives a fuck? They don’t live near us.” You want to look for black folks in America you can find us. You know where to find us. That’s what happens when you don’t have the demographic numbers to be a legitimate threat at times. I mean a threat just knowing that you can do your own thing and you have your own thing rolling without always help from the government, although I don’t have anything against the government assisting the forwardness of our demographic of people. Other people seem to be actually moving because they have help from the outside. Black folks are cut off from the diaspora of black people around the world who are going through similar struggles because of the color of their skin or the detachment of where we are from.

You’re going to have these cycles perpetuating and people are going to make money off of our demise like they are now. You lock somebody up, you getting money [laughs]. Lock black folks up, shit, you’re getting money. If getting money is the name of the game who is getting money while we getting got? The prison industrial complex is the biggest cache industry for the past X amount of years in this millennium. You would think that it would get better but as time goes on we’re more into this programmed slavery that is evident. So what do we do about it? On The Black in Man I talk about the prison industrial complex on a song ‘P.I.C. I Hate Every Inch of You’ which actually was a record that Johnny Cash wrote about Folsom Prison. It’s talking about the prison ground. It’s another Johnny Cash reference. He used it on The Man in Black, and I’m The Black in Man.

TRHH: A lot of people, myself included, took offense last year to Peter Rosenberg saying, “Nobody made Chuck D president of Hip-Hop”…

Chuck D: Well nobody did. He was absolutely right. It’s a job that I wouldn’t have fuckin’ took anyway.

TRHH: [Laughs] You were criticizing Summer Jam, but his words didn’t seem to bother you at all. Can you explain your feelings behind the whole thing?

Chuck D: Well number one the thing that got me twisted was when they tried to defend that nothing was wrong with a stadium full of white folks hearing and also mouthing off the word “nigger” 500 times. My whole thing is Hot 97 was sloppy and it’s not censorship but damn man, control the goddamn performance. While everything has gotta be a nigga-fest you gotta have white folks in the stadium. And then you say, “This is the way it is now,” well who told you that? Who gave you permission to actually say this could go and you throw everybody black under the bus just because a few people with some jobs said so? That was my point of view.

When they had the audacity to try to defend it I had to go beyond just calling it sloppy. I just said it was sloppy. They got more offended that I called it sloppy as opposed to saying it was fucked up! I just said it was sloppy. They came out of left field trying to defend it saying it wasn’t sloppy. I’m like, dude I’ve been part of 5000 shows and concerts. You’re trying to tell me that this shit isn’t sloppy? It was sloppy when I was part of it. The first thing that the host said that year was, “Yo, you gotta peep these niggas. These was the niggas that started the revolution. Give it up for these niggas PE!” This was the host. Don’t try to tell me what you did and what you didn’t do. That’s some bullshit. It was wack when I was there. It was bound to get sloppier with nobody there to hold y’all in check.

TRHH: I was working Lollapalooza a couple of years ago and I heard a white kid recite a Kanye lyric, “Shout out to Derrick Rose, you know that nigga nice.” A white dude said that right in front of me. I ain’t going to jail for nobody, but it made me wonder, what happened that this is okay in their minds? Is Hip-Hop partially responsible for throwing that word out there to make it seem okay?

Chuck D: A grown man and a grown woman is partially responsible for pretending that it’s okay. That’s what it is. It ain’t got nothing to do with Hip-Hop. If you’re grown and a kid throws a battle at your crib you ain’t gonna be like, “Oh, that’s just what they do.” Fuck outta here! What you throwing a bottle at my house for? Ain’t nobody taught you better? What, are you going to be scared of the kids ‘cause they might have a gun? So as grown folks you’re just not going to say anything? How are you going to have a stadium full of white people up there and y’all spittin’ “nigga” like it’s water? Who taught you that? Nobody addressed those questions. Nobody came up with an answer. I would have even accepted somebody saying, “Man, I came up with that ‘cause I’m that nigga, yeah!” Yeah, okay, so we know how to deal with you accordingly. But nobody said anything ‘cause they know that something is wrong in that picture.

People try to legitimize the word “nigger” and I’m like, what educational process allowed you to think you could come up with that and get away with it? They’re like, “What do you mean? Fuck that.” Most people try to answer with some quasi-sounding education bullshit. Who told you that? Once you’re sloppy with something it has a tendency to get sloppier and even disappear. When it happens to get itself back on track what you have is somebody putting it on track that ain’t got nothing to do with you. Oh yeah, a lawyer is going to make sure that Hip-Hop is running right [laughs]. Some accountant is going to come in and give it infrastructure. Man, please. It’s like somebody coming in your house and cleaning it every day but you ain’t sanction them to clean it. You just sloppy as a motherfucker and going to take what is clean and find out at the end of the day that you don’t own it or shit.

The whole thing with Peter Rosenberg, I never looked at him as being the problem. He was never the problem. The things that he was saying were totally irrelevant. Dude, you aren’t even making sense to your friends and supporters [laughs]. I’m just saying give me some answers, man, and cats couldn’t come up with answers to support it.

TRHH: I met Rosenberg at Rock the Bells a few years ago and I find him to be disrespectful in general. He is dismissive of anything that was before he discovered Hip-Hop. If it’s not A Tribe Called Quest or Nas it’s old, angry, or whatever. It’s funny coming from a Jewish guy to me but he acts like he’s a champion for the culture.

Chuck D: Well, it’s understood. Everybody has that right. When it comes down to it, it might be one of those things where if it’s dismissive based on his convenience to have something to say or to have a hold on something that could be unfair to those that are before his time who are trying to get a leg up in the industry in which he has a job. But the more that you get deeper into it you’re humbled by the vast opportunity for everybody to make this thing grow even further. You’ve got to be humbled by the size of Hip-Hop. It’s a worldwide thing. Why would I go to Sao Paulo and do a free concert in the city in front of 50,000 people who basically speak Portuguese? Why would I get hired to go to Brazil and do that? It’s because of Hip-Hop. Does it mean they’re more or less than any Hip-Hop fan? No. The more that you’re humbled to the existence of what this music is, what it’s done, and where it continues to reach the more you’ll realize that your opinion should be building and not wanting to take it down.

TRHH: I think I heard him do an interview with Kool G Rap and G Rap was saying that he was inspired by Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee and this guy sort of laughed. G Rap was saying how nice those dudes were and Rosenberg and his crew kind of thought it was funny. Not just Rosenberg, but a lot of people have little respect for the pioneers of Hip-Hop. The Rolling Stones are celebrated. The Beatles are celebrated. Certain genres of music respect their forefathers, but in Hip-Hop the people that laid the groundwork for you are laughed at.

Chuck D: For me to give you an analogy that runs into slavery it goes beyond the article that you’re trying to cover. It can’t be conveyed in two or three sentences. Even if I say it’s connected to slavery people don’t have the vast detailed concern to over-stand the answer and say, “I see that, I see that.” Or they don’t have the over-standing aspect of giving a fuck to know that that’s the reason [laughs]. So you gotta have to give it in broad strokes and go somewhere else that say, in order for Rosenberg to really be accepted by somebody in Hip-Hop he has to feel that he’s in a position that he knows more than who he’s talking to. And to fill the position to know a little more than who he’s talking to he’s relying on two instances. He’s relying on the appearance of people who might actually look the part but don’t know as much so he can actually seem superior to their inferiority in the knowledge of the genre. Or he could just feel like the history that starts with him is where it really started to take off and everything else is something, because nobody is concerned about that because he doesn’t encourage the concern in his position of power. If you don’t encourage people to be concerned about shit that you don’t know about that keeps you in a power position. It’s too deep to put into a few sentences.

It’s one of those things that I know more than you, so how come you don’t know your shit? I do know my shit, I know more than you! So what put you there? “Oh, the shit that you know doesn’t count,” that type of thing back and forth. Rosenberg didn’t invent that. He’s just part of that character role that’s been there for a long time be it Blues or Jazz. Eventually they rely upon the ignorance of black folks to not give a fuck about our history so they might feel that they’re lending a service to black folks like, “Hey, this is your history and I think you should know this and the fact that I’m telling you this gives me credence of being here.” [Laughs] A person has to rely on the ignorance of somebody who A, has never had their history presented to them on a regular basis through unusual circles and B, not being able to give a fuck about it since they haven’t been presented with it. It’s hard to put in two sentences, Sherron. Once you go down the road of racial reasons in 2015 it’ll make the most ignorant person of history come out and say, “What the fuck you talking about, you got Obama!” [Laughs] We’re not talking about that! What are you talking about?

Cultural history is important. I get blown to the side when somebody black especially wants to not pay attention to the white guys that follow black history like they don’t exist. The Rolling Stones named themselves after Muddy Waters’ record. But they don’t know nothing about Muddy Waters. They don’t even know Muddy Waters was the title of Redman’s album and they call themselves Hip-Hop! Where do I start with you? You gotta go bit by bit. You can’t teach history overnight. The closest time when history seemed to drown people overnight was when Hip-Hop decided to dip into history and you had this thirst out there. This thirst was out there having people go into history books and challenging teachers. KRS-One was dropping more history in verses than anyone has ever heard in their life regarding black people or people of color. People got interested and it was like, “Oh man, they infiltrated the mainstream with this. We gotta figure out a way to turn this shit down a little bit.” I’m not saying it was a concentrated effort but they, and what I mean by the ubiquitous “they” is the people at the cash registers of the culture, felt that they could make more money off of ignorance than they could off of areas that they defined as a threat. All along it was that fear that “If these black conscious artists get more and more educated what’s to stop them from following my white man company self to my home in Connecticut? It’s not like it’s some thug shit. They’re smart and they’re talking that thug shit. This is a problem!” A lot of the west coast gangsta stuff was really convenient because it took the heat off a lot of peoples backs too.

TRHH: That was the time that I stopped listening to Hip-Hop a little bit. It kind of turned me off. I was listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the alternative stuff that was coming out. I just didn’t believe it.

Chuck D: I know. The main thing was the belief of it. You had to believe Ice-T because Ice-T would tell stories. He would cap an end to a story that would really make you question whether you should go that route or not. N.W.A. came in with, “If you wanna take that road, we’ll watch you take that road.” Whether you believed that Dre and them were gangsters was irrelevant. Ice Cube would write a story and he was so clever that it would make it alluring. When Cube left that fold as a writer then the logic went out of it. Then you have a lot of people that copied off of that shit. I believed aspects of The Geto Boys because they were those dudes for real from the 5th Ward. Other cats would come out and you’d be like, “Damn, I don’t really believe if you’re this dude at all.” Some cats would come out and you believed them but they weren’t good [laughs].

Gangsta Rap was so supported at a particular time and now everybody wasn’t good and those that happened to be good wasn’t that cat for real so they were just faking it. But it was still supported. Even the conscious music era had a lot of cats that weren’t really true to the core honest and believed it. One thing you got at that time was rap music’s honesty in the late 80s and early 90s. Kurt Cobain and his crew were totally giving it from what they thought was real. Pearl Jam, those dudes man, shit! Layne Staley, them motherfuckers believed every bit of what they were saying to the point that it haunted them. 2Pac believed every little chord of whatever he said and did. It was a thin line with that like, “Yo, man do you really believe that shit?” Some cats were like, “Hell yeah I believe that shit!” and some cats wouldn’t tell you. That was a big change. By the end of the 90s the honesty of Hip-Hop was vague. It was kind of here and kind of there.

TRHH: Sort of along the lines of what we talked about earlier was your song ‘Anti Nigger Machine’. It’s another one of my favorite PE songs. Why was that song so short?

Chuck D: Because it had to fit the scheme of the album. We wanted to deliver 60 minutes straight like a radio show. On a radio show dead air will kill you, so we never believed in dead air. Everything longer doesn’t mean it’s better. If ‘Anti-Nigger Machine’ was longer I don’t think it would have been better. It’s almost like what I believed for The Black in Man. It’s 37 minutes and the biggest complaint about it is, “Damn, I wish it could be longer.” A, it ain’t gonna be longer, B, that’s what we wanted you to say. In this day and time less is more. You should make the most out of less. I think that’s the way albums should be in the millennium.

TRHH: The 30th anniversary of Def Jam just passed. I know you had issues at some point with them in the past, but what’s the biggest lesson you learned career-wise from your time at Def Jam?

Chuck D: Number one, I was recruited to go to Def Jam. Rick Rubin reached out and asked if I could be down. That’s a different dynamic than anybody else has ever dealt with. I was never looking to be put on. The biggest thing I learned at Def Jam was you gotta build your area around yourself to fit into their machine. The minute that they stopped having people that did it for themselves to fit into their machine and they started wanting to do it for others it helped some, but it also curtailed others. I never really had issues with Def Jam, but with Universal. It was never for public record to put out there for people to talk about because it’s nobody’s business anyway. It’s my business. Somebody asked me if I had an issue with the releases that Def Jam had just done and I said Universal has done it with Def Jam and why would I disrespect my releases? Or disrespect them trying to put it in the marketplace? They’re like your artistic kids. I support that and I support the fact that they were able to make sure that each piece was out there and thorough.

We left nothing in the vault. There is no such thing as being unreleased but, there are things that were released on 12 inches that people will never find and they don’t have. We were thorough with that and they got thorough with that at Def Jam/Universal, even down to re-releasing a DVD which we won an award with years ago and it was cool. You don’t go anywhere dissing the things that you made yourself, even if they own it and got the masters. I’m not going to diss any of the things that I was a part of. The things that I’m a part of stand the test of time because I still rely on those things. I’m gung ho about it and I’m glad. They just better send me a box of my shit [laughs]. Whatever help they need from me, if I got the time I’ll help them out. One of the best things was having one of our true scholars, ?uestlove curate it – that’s important.

TRHH: When will we hear the next Public Enemy album?

Chuck D: I don’t know. I think we’re going to come out in different rotisserie parts. The key for me and the crew is to release records and songs in different configurations and different elements. Part of Public Enemy 2.0 is breaking Public Enemy down into parts. Jahi who is a guy I’ve known for 15 years, is a veteran emcee, and Public Enemy with DJ Lord, Davy DMX, Atiba Motta, and Khar Wynn the band leader make up the baNNed. The idea came from going to a George Clinton show and their supporting band was an act that came from their camp called The Children of Production which was a song that was on one of Parliament Funkadelic’s popular albums in the 70s. In The Children of Production were other band members and disciples from Parliament Funkadelic, even George’s daughter. They would do the songs that Parliament would not do in their set – or songs they never did or haven’t done in a long time. The shit blew me away. Children of Production is coming out doing songs like ‘Funky Woman’ which is on the 1970 album and ‘Funky Dollar Bill’ and shit like that.

That gave me the idea that when we go around and do a tour we need another component of Public Enemy that sets Public Enemy up, which is me, Flavor, and the rest of the crew, but using Public Enemy parts. After a year of discussion we started Public Enemy 2.0 when Jahi comes out and performs records that we don’t ever stand a chance of doing, and we also cut an album on him reinterpreting Public Enemy records but in his own vein. We just released ‘YO!’ which is off of People Get Ready by Jahi. Jahi is originally from Cleveland so we released ‘YO! to coincide with LeBron James coming back to Cleveland like Jahi came back to Cleveland where I met him in 1999. Now he’s out in the Bay and he’s an “emcee”. He understands where Public Enemy is coming from. He can handle any crowd. He can take a crowd from shit to sugar and we’re glad to have him along as part of the PE machine. PE2.0 means Project Experience Millennium. The next PE record will probably be 2015 but before then you’re going to see a lot of the parts of PE also release pertinent songs – some of them with my involvement, most of them not. The PE album will definitely be short.

TRHH: The last time we spoke you were headed to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I loved your speech. I was very proud of that speech…

Chuck D: You caught the edited version.

TRHH: Really?

Chuck D: Yeah, man. Flavor was up there 15 minutes, man!


Chuck D: I had to go to the bathroom and pee and I couldn’t find a spot. He kept talking and I was like, “What the fuck?” It was crazy, man. They took the knife to that whole thing. One thing they didn’t take the knife to which they could not which was also the biggest honor was having Harry Belafonte usher us in. That was bigger than anything else in the world. And Spike Lee! Spike came out. I’ll tell you a line that was really funny right — Spike is Spike, man [laughs]. We’re in the place and they’re naming the inductees, it took 18 years for Rush to get in. Their people were out in force! All of Canada came down, man! The reception for Rush was crazy and Spike said, “Yo, we’re on the road! We’re on the road at Boston Garden!” [Laughs] And Rush put it down in their performance, too. It was really good to get acknowledged. Harry Belafonte and Spike Lee – that was special.

Purchase: Chuck D – The Black in Man

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Chuck D: The Black in Man

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Photo courtesy of Carl Ryder

Photo courtesy of Carl Ryder

For nearly three decades Chuck D has consistently expanded the boundaries of how Hip-Hop music is perceived, created, sold, and heard. A true visionary and champion for Hip-Hop, the founder of Public Enemy continues to add on to his legacy and to the culture with his latest solo album, The Black in Man.

The ten-track release finds Chuck rhyming harder than ever over rock, soul, funk, and blues influenced tracks. The Black in Man features appearances by Mavis Staples, Jasiri X, Kyle “Ice” Jason, and Jahi of PE 2.0. The album is produced by DJ Johnny Juice, Confrontation Camp, C-Doc, Hardgroove, Sammy Sam, and Divided Souls.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer about the Bomb Squad’s impact on rap music, taking part in the 2013 Kings of the Mic tour, and his new album, The Black in Man.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, ‘The Black in Man’.

Chuck D: Well Johnny Cash was the man in black and I respect his point of view and he was able to come out with the truth and honest music, so I’m the black in man. The black in me is irremovable so that’s where that came from.

TRHH: How did ‘Give We the Pride ’ with Mavis Staples come about?

Chuck D: We actually got involved in doing a Stax reunion more than ten years ago. I told Ms. Mavis about another song and she recorded the vocals. Divided Souls who are actually located out of Baton Rouge, Atlanta, and Madison, Wisconsin are one of my top production teams. They were able to take the vocals and make a new composition. We tried to get it to Mavis to put on one of her new records, but she had just finished wrapping up her album with Jeff Tweedy. It was just kind of there so I put a vocal on it and they produced it and I was like, “Wow, okay, now what do we do?” I decided to build an album around it and that’s how The Black in Man was formed.

Also through our SPITdigital distribution and record company we were getting ready to test the market place with new approaches to albums – shorter albums, building an album around one song, and being able to have video be your main statement. Filler on an album nowadays is songs that you don’t do videos for. We wanted to be able to create a new template that classic Hip-Hop could follow and do well for themselves. The Black in Man came out and everything was ready. When you have a known commodity or known name you’ve got to lessen the period when you have the big wind up going to let everybody know, “Here’s the album.” I think those days are over. I think the first minute that you’re able to announce something or have a video or a song everything should be ready to go. Especially when you’re independent. Independent today means a whole lot more than what it used to mean.

TRHH: Why were there 18 years between The Autobiography of MistaChuck and The Black in Man?

Chuck D: It actually wasn’t 18 years. It was 14 years when I released Don’t Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin’ in 2010. The problem in 2010 was the masses weren’t open to the configuration chain as of yet. The configuration got flipped around in recent years because everybody got acclimated on the same page just recently. 2011-2012-2013 was when smartphones, iPad’s, and tablets were the main vehicles for downloading music and that’s all new. In 2007-2008 downloading music meant downloading it on your own computer and making a blank disc out of it. 2010 was the beginning of phones being the biggest device to download music. In 2014 it’s understood. It wasn’t understood 4-5 years ago. Four or five years ago I released Don’t Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin’ and it wasn’t an understood format – now it is. It’s not that people aren’t going to support another format, it’s just that they’re going to make a priority on what is going to be the thing they’re going to flock to first.

TRHH: I’m not familiar with that project and I bought everything Public Enemy has ever put out.

Chuck D: Yeah, it was only online. Social networks weren’t solid in promotions. What we were able to discover in 2012 and 2013 is that social media is our biggest way of promoting things that we have online. We’re going to re-release Don’t Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin’ again in something like March or April.

TRHH: How are Chuck D albums different from PE albums?

Chuck D: Maybe the choices of music. Maybe the points of view are a little bit wider. With Public Enemy it’s like a one team notion and at the end of that particular notion you’re able to describe an attitude for more than one head. If it turns out to be a record like ‘Harder Than You Think’ it’s got to be something that everybody feels in step with. You don’t want to feel uneasy about a point of view that I might want to deal with individually while performing in the name of the group. A Chuck D record is still going to take some of the songwriting elements and I’m going to vocally record and take on some of the things that might not fit. My point of view is going to come through but the creation of songs might be different.

TRHH: I spoke to Edo.G and he was really bigging up SPITdigital. What differentiates SPITdigital from a TuneCore?

Chuck D: TuneCore is all over the place. I was one of the cats in the beginning that helped Jeff Price with TuneCore. I was one of the guys that helped Richard Gottehrer lending what I thought might appeal to the Orchard in 2004. TuneCore is now a major part of Universal because it’s been vested by big business. They’ve got a big infrastructure to bring in a lot of artists at a particular time. You know, big structures can sometimes turn into MySpace where you’re aggregated but you move from one sphere into the next and to the next. How do you get known? How do you get your stuff out there? I’m not saying that we’re known to get anything out there but we can be more personal, our accounting can be clearer, and until we build these other parts – a way to market and promote artists better – that’s what’s going to make us different. When you get aggregated it’s not a guarantee that that’s going to sell your product from the store. These are the next rounds of what people are realizing when they go to any of these stores, be it iTunes, Amazon, or Spotify you’ve got to be able to alert people. Hip-Hop is taking the easy way out with alerting people because it’s using drama and gossip and hype as the main thing to get a Hip-Hop artist known to the younger demographic. That’s been a fuckin’ problem.

TRHH: What do you think is a better way?

Chuck D: It’s not a better way, I think it’s a more patient way. You get a fan one at a time. One person at a time. I think this whole “we gotta get these numbers” is something a corporation would say when they have a staff and sales department. When you’re in an independent boutique situation you gotta celebrate one number, and one fan at a time. When you have that understanding that’s what makes it better. You gotta have an understanding of who you are, who you are not, what you can do, and what you can’t. I think the lowest hanging fruit is when somebody gets caught up with the law with their pants down and it becomes a big story and then all of a sudden everybody is talking about that person. I just think that’s a bullshit way. It’s comes from that adage that there is no such thing as bad news. That’s bullshit! Because as a grown man I don’t want people to know certain things about me. It ain’t none of their business. When does the way I shit on the bowl become part of my marketing plan? That’s bullshit [laughs].

TRHH: Is that society or is that Hip-Hop?

Chuck D: Well Hip-Hop is a part of society. Society is like that and Hip-Hop comes out of that just like a thumb out of the hand. Hip-Hop is culture and culture is a reflection of how certain things are, even if the culture is secure. This is something I think Hip-Hop can reach out to fix. I’m not even dissing but what makes Kim Kardashian “Kim Kardashian”? Nobody knows really. But we know how she ended up. That’s not enough for the average person to look upon and say it’s going to work for them. You’ve got to be clear about your craft and clear about your art and explain what it is. That’s important.

TRHH: I want to go back to Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Was there any extra pressure to deliver on that record that was different from a PE album by it being Cube’s first solo record?

Chuck D: Yeah, of course. It was the pressure to be able to deliver something that we’re going to deliver from our camp that’s going to make somebody in the west think we can’t do that. We had to make Dre and Eazy say, “Damn, okay. That shit is good.” We wasn’t playing around with our reputation and we really had to deal with Ice Cube’s reputation going back to his guys. We didn’t want N.W.A. to break up either. We thought Ice Cube could make this record and go back to N.W.A. but it wasn’t to be. The only reason Ice Cube came to us was because he said Dre and Eazy didn’t have enough time for his solo record. The only reason that Ice Cube felt that he had to get it out in a hurry was because he felt he wasn’t being compensated in N.W.A. like Dre and Eazy who had some ownership in it. He had the permission from Priority and Bryan Turner to be able to record and do his own solo album. He just needed somebody to help him so he could actually get paid too. That’s how that happened. He ain’t ever really looked back because he puts together movies with the same detail, vigor and aplomb that he puts together his music.

TRHH: When people talk about the greatest Hip-Hop producers you always hear the names Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock. What is the Bomb Squad’s place in Hip-Hop history? There were a lot of records like stuff from Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh that the Bomb Squad produced that people don’t know about.

Chuck D: The big difference with Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad was we dared to make records that people would hate. We would twist it until they ended up loving it. We never really looked to see if anybody would love our shit. We ain’t never make a move for popular things — at least that’s the Public Enemy program. Even Ice Cube took a page for himself as a persona by making the record “The Nigga You Love to Hate”. I remember Eric Sadler saying, “How is somebody going to talk about how much they’re hated?” [Laughs] But that’s all people talk about nowadays. Not how much they’re loved, but how much people hate ‘em. Nobody hates you. Nobody knows you enough to hate you!

TRHH: That’s true. How did the Bomb Squad’s production change when the Biz Markie thing happened and sampling laws changed?

Chuck D: It changed it a bit because people looked closer. They built departments at record companies that would reject certain sounds they thought they heard. But we were good at disguising and we got by with whatever, it’s just we couldn’t be obvious in any particular part of a production. The Bomb Squad sound started to change when boards became automated. Because that allowed one person to go in there and deal with an engineer with automation. Before that it would be five of us on a board making a mix. It’s easy to say that we made records with noise but the noise had to be sonically mixed and correct or you lose the record. Hank made all those mixes. That was an important aspect of Hank Shocklee’s production – not just hearing it in the beginning, but really hearing it in the end. Hearing it in the end is all you got. You gotta make sense of all that mess. We all would come up and say, “This is an arrangement but it’s gotta come out like glass in the end.”

TRHH: It’s impossible to have a favorite Public Enemy song. You guys are like The Beatles, there are so many great songs. But gun to my head I’d say ‘Can’t Truss It’. The video was incredible too. I remember seeing you guys on that tour and you lynched the Klansman….

Chuck D: I’ll tell you the story about the lynching of the Klansman. We wanted to do that in 1988 with Run-DMC. It was us, Run-DMC, EPMD, Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and J.J. Fad. I remember being at the Philly Spectrum and it wasn’t a heated discussion it was more of a philosophical difference. I wanted to hang the Klan in our set and Jam Master Jay was like, “Nah, y’all can’t do it.” I was like, “But yo, this is our set,” and he said, “But this is our tour.” [Laughs] Jay is my man. He was really a dude in charge and I love him to death, man. It really straightened me out ‘cause Jay said, “Y’all do it on your tour!” which was two years later. I wanted to hang ‘em in 1988 and Jay’s explanation was, “We’re going to be going to places like Albany, Georgia where you have people who are in the Klan. They could be people that work in the arena or with the crew and they could just not really hang a light right and a light stanchion will come down on your head. You gotta be weary of that and we don’t want to be part of being a part of a casualty. At the end of the day we got assigned to this. This is the Run’s House tour, make no mistake about it.” I was like, “Yeah you’re right, I guess,” [laughs]. If anything we miss Jam Master Jay for his leadership and humility more than anything, man.

TRHH: That was the tour for the second album. It’s the one tour I didn’t see you guys on. I had a buddy who went and he said that you guys stole the show.

Chuck D: The whole key of performing that we learned from Run-DMC was it’s not about the individual act. It’s about how people came in the beginning and how they went out at the end. We were one show – one show! We weren’t five shows in one, we were one show. Everybody supported each other. They had another rap tour going on at the same time and none of the rappers got along with each other. Our tour was wonderful. A tour that I couldn’t check out a year before because we were on tour with LL was Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys. When people ask me what do I think about Hip-Hop today versus back then, the thing I miss the most is very cohesive touring where you came in the door and left more excited than when you came in. I don’t think today’s acts leave that because I don’t think that’s emphasized. I know when you came into a Hip-Hop tour in the late 80s you left better than you came in as a fan.

TRHH: I can say that I’ve experienced that and I was very young at the time. The only time I didn’t experience that was the N.W.A./Too $hort tour. That was not a good feeling.

Chuck D: Yeah, things spiraled out of hand when you started going into the area of harder-core. My philosophy was you had to mix it up. If you don’t mix it up you just got something without sugar in it. If it’s green tea without sugar in it you can drink it because you know it’s good for you. But that shit was whiskey [laughs]. It’ll get you high for a second and it might get you in a fight, but that shit was whiskey. You gotta mix up the packages. When Public Enemy went out in 1990 it was us, Heavy D, Kid N’ Play, Digital Underground, and then there was a hardcore group here and there. We had to roll with the mixed packages. When I played harder-core packages with Sisters of Mercy or later on with Anthrax then we’d let people know that this is the real deal, we’re playing hardcore shit now.

TRHH: Speaking of touring, a couple years ago you did the Kings of the Mic tour with you guys, LL, Ice Cube, and De La…

Chuck D: Oh the tour that everybody wished would go away and never would have happened? That tour hard zero coverage by BET and zero coverage by urban radio. It kind of wished that it never happened and we wanted to make a statement. LL, Ice Cube, and De La Soul are about the best that you will ever see. We wanted to roll out with a deep package and make a statement. I’m telling you from beginning to end LL was smashing them every night and they just tried to pretend that he wasn’t. What I mean by the media is your Hip-Hop blogs and your Hip-Hop conversations. I don’t think there was a better tour. LL was so despondent after because he didn’t get that he accomplished something great by the areas that are supposed to take care of Hip-Hop. He felt that they overlooked him and I thought that they did too.

What LL Cool J presented to the table, I’ve never seen a rapper command equally those aspects of Hip-Hop and Rap music where he has a large contingent of women getting a real rap song, not one with an R&B singer, and then being able to come back with a song that dudes will nod their head to, and do it for an hour and be ready for more! Who is keeping score here? Who got the scorecard, man [laughs]? It’s like, “I ain’t heard from L in a while,” You ain’t hear nothing? And you ain’t gotta hear 5 cuts, all you gotta do is hear 1 at a time. He’s got a song now that’s on our charts. It’s LL Cool J so he’s going to give you an hour or two of great entertainment. Z-Trip was incredible. To me it was like going to camp in the summer. It was like going to a barbecue. I drove half that tour. I would take the bus sometimes, I’d rent a car and drive through Michigan – I had a ball. Public Enemy just completed our 100th tour which was a date in Sao Paulo, Brazil in front of 50,000 people in a park. I’ve been on 100 of ‘em man and I’ll tell you, that tour was special.

Part 2 of Chuck D: The Black in Man

Purchase: Chuck D – The Black in Man

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Brian Coleman: Check the Technique

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Photo courtesy of Mary Galli

Photo courtesy of Mary Galli

Stories in Hip-Hop are rarely told correctly. They most certainly aren’t often told in detail. Author Brian Coleman has gone above and beyond the call of duty to give rap fans some insight into some of the genres most important creations. Beginning in 2005 with ‘Rakim Told Me’ Coleman compiled the most important information from some of Hip-Hop’s greatest albums by the people that made it happen.

Coleman’s latest look into some of Hip-Hop’s best albums, ‘Check the Technique Volume 2: More Liner Notes For Hip-Hop Junkies’ carries on the tradition that he started nearly a decade ago.

Check the Technique Volume 2 gives a detailed glimpse into several classic albums including Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Black Sheep’s A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Mos Def & Talib Kweli’s Black Star, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper to name a few.

Brian Coleman spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the start of his love affair with Hip-Hop, his all-time favorite Hip-Hop album, and his new book, Check the Technique Volume 2.

TRHH: Let’s start from the top, how did you get into Hip-Hop?

Brian Coleman: That’s a very complicated question. I grew up all over the northeast – New Jersey, Massachusetts, and I was born in New York. I wasn’t born in New York City, I was born on the other end of the state in Rochester. I kind of always been around the northeast. From a young age I was always a big music fan. I listened to the Fat Boys and Run-DMC back when they hit in 83-84. I was only 13 or 14 so I wasn’t really that sophisticated of a listener so I didn’t realize there were different kinds of music. It was all just music to me. I was listening to The Police, Van Halen, and a bunch of different shit. I think my love affair with Hip-Hop was more like 86-87. I definitely remember very clearly hearing Miuzi Weighs A Ton from Public Enemy’s first record and just being like, “What the fuck!? This is crazy!” From that point on that was it.

I was fortunate enough in high school in the late 80s in central New Jersey I could get in KISS 98.7 so I listened to Red Alert. Red is a man that influenced millions of people through that radio show and I was one of them. I used to listen religiously every week to what he was doing. That was really all you needed. I wasn’t seeing a lot of live stuff back in that era. I was going to a lot of Punk shows. What the crossover was for me was I felt that same energy from golden era Hip-Hop and Punk. Some people think it’s weird, but I didn’t think it was weird at all. It made perfect sense to me. From there I gradually went from being just a fan to doing a radio show in the mid-90s in Boston. I’ve been in Boston since like 1988. I did a radio show where I went to college at Boston College and I kind of started writing. It was a gradual thing. Writing books about any kind of music, Hip-Hop especially, was never really my life-long goal. It was a natural progression and it just kind of happened. It’s all been very random and beautiful.

TRHH: What inspired you to write the first book, Rakim Told Me?

Brian Coleman: I was writing for a lot of magazines at the time. I was getting kind of frustrated with the word count that some of these spots were giving me to cover some of these old school guys. To be fair, it wasn’t very sexy to do a huge feature on Dana Dane or even Slick Rick back in 2003. That was the least sexy thing you could do if you were writing for a magazine. That was my passion and that’s what I wanted to do. I was fascinated by these back stories when I started talking to these guys. Really it grew almost directly out of me being annoyed and frustrated with the way the magazines were. Keep in mind this was before the blog world even existed, so that wasn’t an option. I think if the internet was where it’s at now or even 5 years ago back in 2005 I probably would have just started a blog. I might not have decided to print up that first book. It wasn’t an option. I put that book out almost as like a fanzine on steroids. I wanted it to be out there.

I’ve always valued books. I like magazines –they’re fine and I respect them. I actually like fanzines more than magazine’s because they’re more from the heart. They don’t have these slick ads and there is no real agenda. There is no back door shit like, “Well they took out $10,000 in ads so we better feature their artist.” Fanzines are more my style, which is from the heart and spazzing out over music you love. That’s really what Rakim Told Me was. I took a bit of a risk in that it was not destined to succeed and guaranteed that people were really going to like this shit. I felt it was worth a shot. I got a designer who is a friend of mine and I figured out a little about how to get stuff printed for a fairly decent amount of money. I just did it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I had friends at Traffic Entertainment who are still my boys to this day and they’re distributing the new book, too. They helped me get out in record stores and that was really the key.

My philosophy has been that this book doesn’t live in book stores. This book is for record stores. That was really the crux of it really. It’s not like no one had ever thought of this before but I just said, “Getting it in Barnes & Noble and Borders and all that shit is probably not going to happen.” First of all they don’t give a shit about Hip-Hop and second they don’t give a shit about books that are independently published. That was okay with me because I knew it was a book about music and a book that should live in record stores and they bought it. As much as I dislike Amazon, Amazon and a bunch of incredible indie book stores bought it. It sold a decent number and that confirmed what I always knew which was, I wanna know this shit so I do it on my own, for very selfish purposes, but I know there are tons of people out there who want to know the exact same stuff and feel the exact same way about this music. That’s really it in a nutshell.

TRHH: How is Check the Technique Volume 2 different from Volume 1?

Brian Coleman: From what it’s about at its very core there is no difference. It’s about wanting to know everything you could possibly know about your favorite records. It’s different albums, it’s a bigger book, it looks better, but at its core it’s the same exact thing. But, that being said this is 9 years down the road and I’ve figured out some things. I had some time to put into this and do some lengthy interviews with a lot of different people. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to get access kind of building on the success of the other two books. So it helps that I can send the previous books to people I want to interview so they can see what I’m trying to do and they can make their own decision on whether they want to take part or not – generally they do.

Visually I think it looks pretty amazing. I’m proud of it. My designer James Blackwell crushed it. It has over 350 images in the book. I think it helps to break up the texts because there is a ridiculous amount of texts. It can make you go blind just reading straight texts. It also kind of draws you in even more as you make your way through the chapters. I’ve always hated when you have all the images in the middle of the book and you have to go back and forth. That’s stupid to me. I can’t imagine why you would do that. I know why people do it, I just think it’s idiotic. They do it because it’s super to have everything on that glossy paper in the middle. But people who do that shit don’t think about the reading experience because it’s a horrible reading experience. I wanted to do it my way – the way I would want to read it. That’s really the big difference.

I think a lot of people are kind of shocked that it’s a self-published book because it looks so good and I love that. It makes me proud. It makes me proud for myself and it makes me proud for anyone who self-publishes a book because you don’t have to wait for people’s permission to let you publish books. If you’re energized by something, just do it. That’s what Hip-Hop is. What’s more Hip-Hop than that? What’s more Punk Rock than that? Schoolly D wasn’t like, “Will you please let me put my music out?” It was like, fuck that, I’m doing this shit if you like it or not. The world is a better place because he did. Just think of all the people that he influenced. If he’d waited around begging people for a record deal he might have just given up. Luckily he believed in it and did it. That’s what Kool Herc did and that’s what Grandmaster Flash did with their art. That’s what it’s all about.

TRHH: How long did it take to complete this book?

Brian Coleman: I mean it’s a difficult question to answer. I can tell you that the intense work that I did on this book was probably about 9 months to a year. Some of the interviews were older interviews, but not many of them in this book. I kind of supplemented them with tons of more interviews. For instance people have asked me how I got Doom on the phone, but I’ve been sitting on this Doom interview for 13 years. But there are other interviews in that chapter that I did a year ago. The Doom interview that I did in 2001 was dope, but it wasn’t enough to do a full chapter. I’m pretty proud of this list. I always tell people, “I think it’s about 50,” of albums I’ve covered in these books but it’s actually 66 in all three books. I’m pretty proud of that.

TRHH: What albums did you try to do for the book that just didn’t materialize?

Brian Coleman: I generally don’t like to talk about the ones that don’t happen because these books are about what does happen, not what doesn’t happen. I’ll say that there are definitely a lot of artists that I wish I could have covered. Queen Latifah is one who her handlers just constantly block me from getting to her. Dre is another example. Here is the one thing I’ll say because I’m not going to talk anymore about stuff I didn’t do because there are so many that I have done, every artist that I do talk to seems to really enjoy doing these interviews. If I can get to the artist in an ideal world it’s never a problem.

Some people surround themselves with people who are meant to keep guys like me away from them. Because I’m not going to sell their next movie, their next talk show, or next TV series. It’s something that the artist would enjoy but from a business perspective it’s not really going to help their current box office career or sell more headphones or whatever. Their job is to keep people like me away because they’re trying to monetize every second of these peoples day. That’s sad, that’s too bad. Sometimes if you’re Will Smith that’s the way your life has gone. I don’t think Will Smith is losing sleep because he’s not in that chapter. It’s too bad for fans, and I’m one of those fans. It’s still a dope chapter so I don’t lose any sleep over it either.

TRHH: What was the most surprising thing you discovered during the process?

Brian Coleman: There’s a lot. Surprising is relative I suppose. Something can be surprising without being super dramatic. A lot of this shit is kind of hidden in plain sight. If you have an early copy of the first known album from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. People knew Rock the House, but it wasn’t a ridiculous smash. I’m taking about He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. There’s a sticker on the front of it that says “And plus bonus scratch album”. That was Hip-Hop’s first double album. The reason was is because it actually started as a solo DJ Jazzy Jeff scratch album that would have been the first turntablist album ever made. You can look at that record now and think, “Wow, that’s crazy!” There really is no DJ presence on ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ so it’s almost two albums that have been mushed together. Most of the heavier DJ cuts are toward the end. That’s a perfect example.

You already love a certain record and subconsciously don’t think you can love it anymore or be more attached to it, but then you learn shit and are like, “Wow.” Kool G Rap almost died before they made Wanted: Dead or Alive. He was in the hospital and people thought he was going to die. I’d never heard that one before. It was new to me. He came back from that and was stronger than ever. He even said, “People joke with me that they put a microchip in my brain in the hospital.” Guys can look back on that shit and laugh but it was not a laughing matter at the time, I can tell you that. So basically there are revelations like that in every chapter and that’s the beauty of it. Some of them are minor and some of them are major.

With the Dr. Octagon album you may love it and think, “Wow, they must have been in the lab for about six months crafting this crazy record,” but they didn’t record for more than a week. That was a record that was put together fairly quickly. Not that it’s sonically this glistening record like The Chronic or some shit, but that was kind of the point. If you read what Dan the Automator was talking about he was trying to do the anti-Dre record and shake Hip-Hop up — the same thing with El-P and Company Flow. Those are the guys that I’m drawn to. The people that want to shake the tree a little bit and wake people up and let them know Hip-Hop doesn’t have to be a certain way. Dan the Automator makes an interesting comment in the intro of the chapter. He says, “People say that the sun rose and set with DJ Premier and Dr. Dre and that just wasn’t the case.” That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love and respect Dr. Dre and Premier, because he does. You can tell because any producer that comes after them will do so. He was just saying that Hip-Hop is more than what they offer. That was more about fans than those artists. It’s reminding fans that there was Public Enemy back in the day but there was also Biz Markie. Things don’t have to be one way and that’s the beauty of music.

People say, “What is Hip-Hop?” and how do I answer that? You’d need a week for me to talk about all the different shit that Hip-Hop is. There is so much under this tent that Hip-Hop is and that’s the beauty of it. Most people like it all. Most people aren’t like, “I only listen to Public Enemy and X Clan and that’s it!” No they listen to all kinds of goofy shit, serious stuff, and R&B shit. I don’t know anyone that listens to one certain kind of music and one specific type of Hip-Hop. Everybody likes a wide range of it and that’s what these books are all about really. You have Too $hort, Company Flow, Public Enemy, and X Clan and that’s a beautiful thing.

TRHH: One thing that surprised me was with Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. I did not know how big of an impact that Sir Jinx and Eric “Vietnam” Sadler had on the creation of that album. That really surprised me. Talk a little about the AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted chapter.

Brian Coleman: That may be one of the examples of the one thing that is really the motif that goes across every single album I cover and that’s that making art is not easy. It’s never just one person. There are always a lot of different people involved. Emcees can influence producers even if they don’t co-produce. The Bomb Squad was a complicated enough group on its own making a Public Enemy record or a Son of Bazerk record. Adding Cube, Jinx, and the Lench Mob to the mix and it was penciled to be a total shit show. It could have been chaos, everyone clashing, and all these egos, but it wasn’t. That was kind of the beauty of it. Jinx was brought in originally because he and Cube had a history together making music – both as emcees and having Jinx produce. Jinx was really brought there to make sure, and both Cube and Jinx agree, solely to make sure it didn’t end up sounding too east coast. They wanted to keep L.A. in there. Jinx was a dope producer and the Bomb Squad wasn’t always around so there was down time. Jinx would fuck with stuff a little bit to see what happened. It’s not like you couldn’t erase it or use some other shit.

That’s really what happened, it was the dawning of Sir Jinx as a top-level producer. It happened very naturally. Like Cube said it wasn’t like, “Fuck the Bomb Squad, Jinx is going to produce some songs here.” Jinx could have said, “Hey, this shit sounds east coast,” and The Bomb Squad who was literally ruling the world then could have said, “Who the fuck are you? Shut up.” But they respected Cube and Jinx so it was a give and take. That’s really when the best art happens — that’s really what that album is all about. It can be a very volitive mixture to mix the sounds, aesthetics and sounds like the west coast and east coast, which are very different. And also to mix egos and personalities. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is a triumph of mixing both of those together and coming up with something amazing. That’s the back story but on its face that’s just a fucking dope record. You can listen to it and it makes sense. I can hear how it’s a Bomb Squad record and I can hear how it’s a Cube record. It’s not one or the other. It was the only Bomb Squad/Cube record. It was a one-time thing and that also can be very powerful as well.

TRHH: In the final chapter you cover Wild Style. When people think of Hip-Hop albums they don’t think of the Wild Style soundtrack, but it’s an important movie…

Brian Coleman: The interesting thing about that one is it’s not even the soundtrack. It’s the break beats that were never even released as an album until this year. Originally I’d done a version of those for the liner notes for this package that Kenny Dope did on his KD label. My chapter looks different but I added a bunch of stuff from what they did so it’s a little bit different. To answer your question, the Wild Style soundtrack is ridiculously underrated in the impact it’s had. That album was out there and a lot of people to this day bump that shit all the time. That’s really the shit. It’s the essence. Krush Groove was Krush Groove. It wasn’t, “Wow, I feel like I’m in the middle of this shit!” It was a Hollywood version of what Hip-Hop was. Wild Style is the New York version of what Hip-Hop was. That was the real fuckin’ deal. There are some parts of it that makes you raise your eyebrows like the Patti Astor stuff. Those live sequences is as real as its ever gotten.

Tell me a movie where people have actually captured a more realistic version of what live Hip-Hop is? That was 35 years ago – that says something right there. Me babbling about all that stuff is to say the break beats were the actual DNA of that whole movie. That’s what they used for the live sequences on stage when Busy Bee was rockin’, Double Trouble, and Cold Crush Brothers. That’s what they used and that story has never been told – ever. That’s important to me. People have talked about Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted before, maybe not as in depth as I have and maybe in different ways, but no one has ever fucked with the Wild Style break beats. That’s kind of what happens. I’ve already covered De La Soul, Ice-T, Eric B & Rakim, Run-DMC, irrefutable classics. So when you get to the third volume you can really start stretching out and I can say, “You might not consider this a classic but once you read it you might think differently.” That’s the luxury I’ve had this time around. Keep in mind too that I’m also my editor, so I can do what the fuck I want [laughs]. Whether people like it or not.

I’m not lecturing you on it but I’m saying, “Maybe check this out you and might think a little bit differently about Wild Style and you might like it even more the next time you watch that movie.” The same with Dr. Octagon. That might not be on their list of the best Hip-Hop albums ever made and that’s fair enough. I can tell you that once you read this chapter you’re going to appreciate it more – there is no way you can’t. With all these chapters it tells you about the process that goes into it. No one ever knows about the process. You can talk all you want about the hit single that came after they’ve done all this work to make it, but I’ve always been more interested in the shit that I don’t know. I know ‘O.P.P.’ was a big hit, OK, got it. It was a great video, people love it, but how did that song come about? That’s kind of a crazy song. That’s what I’ve always been more interested in.

TRHH: Have people told you that your book introduced them to certain albums?

Brian Coleman: Introduced? Sometimes. Just last week somebody told me that they always loved the Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince album but kind of put it away 15 years ago and hadn’t thought about it. They said, “As soon as I read that chapter I was like, ‘Shit, man I love this album.’” Or conversely someone will say, “I never heard of this Dr. Octagon thing before. I know Ice Cube and Naughty by Nature, but I went and listened to it and bought it on iTunes and it’s great shit!” The books are supposed to be gateway drugs for people to get into shit. If they come in knowing half the albums or more, but they learn 2-or-3 or 10, they learn more about groups that they’d heard about in the past but maybe didn’t pay attention, maybe they heard the single but never bought the full album, that’s the best thing that can happen in my view. It’s kind of why I make the books as long as I do. You may not know every one of these albums and you may not give a shit about every one of these albums, but hopefully there is enough that going in if you only read the ones that you know you’ll still get your money’s worth. The other shit is just bonus.

TRHH: What are your top 5 Hip-Hop albums of all-time?

Brian Coleman: Oh jeez. I don’t do lists. I think it kinds of paints you into too much of a corner when you do lists. I’ll tell you my number one and that’s Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions [To Hold Us Back], hands down. That’s the best Hip-Hop album ever made. No one will ever top it – ever! I don’t care if it’s 50 years from now you won’t top that record. I’d put that as my number one. You can look at my books and I love all those records. I don’t see the point in debating what’s the top 5, 15, or 20 albums ever made because it’s all personal taste. If someone loves a certain artist I don’t say, “You’re an idiot.” A lot of people will look at my taste and be like, “What the hell is the matter with you?”

I listen to crazy shit, man, believe me. I listen to stuff way beyond Hip-Hop that people would be like, “Shit, dude.” If people really knew all the stuff I listened to my street cred would be right into the toilet. I’m proud of it because the producers that people love don’t listen to just Hip-Hop, they listen to everything. They listen to Madonna, Lorde, and all the shit that’s out there because you have to do that to be a great producer. Your ears have to be wide open to everything, not just Hip-Hop. That’s the way I live. I think that it’s tempting to do a top whatever list, but I’d rather just talk about albums I love rather than trying to rank a bunch of shit. I understand why people do them, but I try to leave it to other people to do that. PE is definitely number one and it will never be dethroned.

TRHH Why do you say never?

Brian Coleman: I just don’t see how it’s possible. Maybe I’m wrong, you’re right [laughs]. Maybe that is foolish of me to say in the same way that you could be like, “I never thought I could be more into ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ and then I read your chapter and was like, ‘holy shit’. I never realized all that shit and it made me like it even more!” You’re right, it could happen. But when that album hit I bought it on the day it came out and I had the highest expectations you could possibly have and they were all just destroyed. They were blown out of the water. It was 400 times better than I even thought it would be. The tidal wave that it created after it happened, I mean Straight Outta Compton wouldn’t have sounded anything like it sounded without Nation of Millions. Think about all the shit that Straight Outta Compton influenced. It’s crazy to think about the tidal wave. There was so much stuff that came before Nation of Millions that was dope. It took all of that and put it in a blender and injected some kind of nuclear plutonium into it and made it into a giant crazy beast that was better than you could ever expect. I hope someone makes an album that’s better than that in 10 or 50 years, but I don’t see how it’s possible.

TRHH: Why is this the last installment of Check the Technique?

Brian Coleman: Just to be clear, it’s not my last book hopefully, but it’s the last one in this series. I just feel like the albums that are really dear to me personally, because that’s what these books are – they aren’t me telling the book reader what the best albums of all-time are, I wanted to know more about them and now you also know more about them. That’s really what the books are. That being said, there are still some outlying records that I love that I could cover. I don’t feel like a fourth volume in a series would have as much meat in it. It would be like Run-DMC’s first record that has several tracks that are filler. It would be a shorter book. It would be weird for me to do a 200 page book after doing two 500 page books. Finally, going back to something that we talked about earlier in the interview, there are some artists that I tried to get for three books in a row and they’re just not fuckin’ with me. I’m kind of tired of that too. I tried. I tried for 9 years to get you on the fucking phone and clearly there’s something that says you don’t want to do this book.

I don’t take it personally with any of this shit. It’s the handlers, it’s not the artists. Cube has got better things to do than to talk to me, and I understand that. It doesn’t offend me in the least. I do consider it an honor that he looked at all his options of shit he could have done and said, “I wanna talk to this dude.” For every time I get rebuffed from someone I say, “Chuck D didn’t mind talking to me. Ice Cube didn’t mind talking to me. Some people that I idolize found it as a valuable way to spend an hour or two of their time.” I feel good about it. I feel good about everything. I do want to do more books, I just don’t feel like doing another one in this series. I wouldn’t be as fired up about it. That’s my requirement; I have to be fired up about some shit to do it. Believe me, I’m not buying my lake house with profits from this book [laughs]. This is a passion thing. All of the books are passion things. Even when I was on Random House I wasn’t making any money. If I’m not ramped up about it, it’s not going to happen.

Purchase: Check the Technique Volume 2: More Liner Notes For Hip-Hop Junkies

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SigNif: Friction

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Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR

Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR

Born in Milwaukee, and now residing in New York SigNif is an emcee that carefully balances sharing her opinions in her music with just plain old having fun. Her sound is immersed in East Coast boom bap, while her rhymes are reminders that she’s from the Midwest. SigNif recently dropped her third full-length album on the Intelligent Dummies label titled, “Friction”.

Friction features appearances by Elzhi, Sadat X, Aldrick, Genesis Renji, Shaun Bake, and Emmy Wildwood. The album is produced by Skeff Anselm, JBM Beatz, DJ Puerto Roc, Fate, Radio Raheim, Tay Lee, D-ski the Illeagle, DJ Enygm, Tivon “Symphony” Jeffers, and Moteleola.

The Real Hip-Hop chatted with SigNif about her move from Milwaukee to New York City, her opinion on the term “femcee”, and her new album, Friction.

TRHH: Why’d you name the new album ‘Friction’?

SigNif: I named the new album Friction because to me it was just fitting given the obstacles that I had over the last 5-6 years doing Hip-Hop. I just wanted to touch on those issues that I had. I know it kind of comes off as negative when you think “friction” but I wanted to play on that title and address the issues I was having throughout the years being a female emcee, me dealing with so much opposition and people not taking me seriously. That’s kind of where the name Friction stems from.

TRHH: The opposition that you’ve dealt with seems like negative friction to me.

SigNif: Yeah, it is because still to this day it’s hard to get people to listen to the album. It’s already an obstacle for artists with no co-sign or nothing behind them so it’s like, “Why should I listen to this and on top of that you’re a female emcee so why should I give this the time of day?” A lot of times people prejudge it before they listen to it or they might look at the package and say, “Nah, I don’t think so.” So it’s like you’re met already with all this aggression. I thought the name was just fitting because there’s been so many ups and downs with me doing music. I stopped for a period of time even with this album. It’s been close to two years since I put out my last project and I was battling if I was going to continue doing music.

TRHH: So what made you keep going?

SigNif: I got a spark of energy because the top of 2013 I was invited to France to tour. The tour kicked off in the summer of 2013 and I went to France for a 5-6 city tour. It gave me a spark and made me feel like people do care and people are listening. Maybe it’s not the right crowd I thought I was trying to gauge my music to or maybe it’s not hitting the right people that I wanted to touch, but somebody is listening and somebody cares. That really gave me a spark so I started putting the project together two months before I went to France to tour. That spun the actual title track, ‘Friction’ and I wrote ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Late Night Jazz’. That was something that I went to the studio to record so we could shoot a video while I was over there.

TRHH: What was the inspiration behind ‘Late Night Jazz’?

SigNif: Shout out to Radio Raheim who produced it. I have a song called ‘Afternoon Jazz’ that I put on my first LP that I released independently called ‘The Transition’. That song has that jazzy, 90s Hip-Hop feel so it reminded me of that song. There is a second part to that where on the third verse of that song I’m paying homage to some of the jazz greats, which I did the same thing for Afternoon Jazz. It just gave me that vibe so I wanted to play into that pocket. That’s where the inspiration came for that song. I never planned to write a second part to Afternoon Jazz. It was just the perfect timing. You can almost say that Radio Raheem set the events into play by sending me the right track at the right time.

TRHH: How is Friction different from Significant Wizdom II: Atypical?

SigNif: I would say it’s kind of on the same plane in my mind, but I took a step back and actually thought about how I wanted to present this album. I wanted it to touch more people and I wanted to present it in a way that was relatable and maybe not so “in your face” so to speak. I wanted to still be user-friendly but draw people in so they could get the message. I took my time with this. The project has been done for many months. After it was done I went into how I was going to market it. I took a step back and looked at everything I did previously and decided what I wanted to do different. The sound is the same, the message is the same, but I thought about how I wanted to get it out more.

TRHH: How’d the collaboration with Elzhi, ‘Play 2 Win’ come about?

SigNif: Oh, man that was totally random. At the beginning of the process I came up with the idea to only work with female emcees and female vocalists. I wanted to show that unity that’s not shown in Hip-Hop. When women are presented in the forefront of the mainstream and underground they kind of stand alone and don’t unify with other women unless it benefits both of them. I collaborated with female vocalists but when it came to female emcees a few people that I had relationships with gave me the OK that things were going to fall into place and they didn’t. I had to kind of regroup and think about what I wanted to do.

The producer for that track, JBM (Beatz) said, “Why don’t we reach out to Elzhi?” We started a list and after the females got scratched I came up with another list with a couple of names. Elzhi was not on the list but he knew Elzhi is one of my favorite emcees. I thought there was no way it would happen. JBM nudged me in that direction. We reached out and his camp was down for it. We sent the music over, he listened to it, and came back with a verse that tied into not only what we asked him to do but it tied into my previous work so you could tell he did his research. Elzhi doesn’t give half-assed verses anyway. Everything he does is legit. For him to take that further step and say things that tied into things that I’ve done previously was like, okay. He was the most notable name on the list. I had a couple other contacts and we went back and forth but those situations didn’t come into fruition, which is okay. We didn’t really expect it and low and behold he came through and knocked the joint out and it was effortless.

TRHH: What led to your move from Milwaukee to New York?

SigNif: I was flying out a few times a year working on music. I had a little bit of an opportunity that seemed promising. I thought if all of this was happening from me flying out a few times a year and I was taking meetings and things like that, then maybe I should move so I can be there all the time. For better or worse it didn’t work out like I planned it to workout but I’m glad I made the move. Music brought me here and it’s still why I’m here today. I came on a wing and a prayer pretty much with no family and no place to stay. I ended up being homeless for a while but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

TRHH: Homeless? How did you get by?

SigNif: [Laughs] Yeah, like I said, I had no family and I had one friend here and his situation wasn’t that good. I ended up sleeping in a shelter for 3 months. It was bad, but when you’re like 21-22 you don’t care – whatever I have to do to make it. I was still doing music and what I had to do but the end result of it was I was sleeping in a shelter. It was a sacrifice and I don’t regret it.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘You’re Beautiful’?

SigNif: That song is produced by Tay Lee. He’s a longtime collaborator. I always liked the song, “You are so beautiful to me,” and I thought it was the best song ever written because it’s the same four lines to the whole song – a lot of people don’t know that. For many years that song has been in the back of my head. When I got that beat I just kept saying, “You’re beautiful, ya, ya, you’re beautiful.” I don’t know if that seed had been planted for years and years, but when I got that beat it kind of struck a chord in me. Like, I love this song so much I need to talk about what beautiful is to me. I laid the chorus and had Aldrick sing the chorus over it before I finished the verses. When I went back and wrote the verses I thought about what beautiful was to me and what my mom told me made me beautiful. I didn’t know it was going to be such an inspirational song. I didn’t sit down and plan to write something for little girls and young women to be uplifting but that’s the way it turned out. I’m extremely happy it did. It was the beat and the sound of the track – I liked the way it felt and that’s how it flowed out.

TRHH: Where do you stand on the term “femcee” or just being labeled a female emcee?

SigNif: Actually I’m the only emcee that’s a female that doesn’t have a problem with the term. This is America, everything is gender-based. That’s the way the world works. I don’t care about a term because I’ve never been placed on a pedestal for being a female emcee. I don’t have anybody behind me and it’s just my brand and me pushing it, so when people do take the time out to listen they’re actually into it because of me. They aren’t thinking gender-based. So when they’re passing it along or writing a review they aren’t focusing on the point that I’m a female emcee. That’s why it never bothered me. I can understand why it bothers other female emcees because when they are given props people always throw that in there, “female emcee”. I actually don’t have a problem with the term though. It’s never been my main attraction. People are more focused on what I’m talking about, the show, or the lyrics. They might throw it in there that I’m a female but it’s not the headline or what they’re focusing on. I don’t feel any way about it. I know that’s what most female emcees want, they just want to be labeled as an emcee, but when I’m already getting love for being an emcee and my gender isn’t highlighted it’s already a plus for me. Plus I’m a woman first. I put that at the forefront of everything. I don’t mind it at all.

TRHH: How did you hook up with Skeff Anselm?

SigNif: Skeff was a mutual friend and it’s funny that it happened like that. Doing music and being in this industry people say, “I know so and so,” but Will our mutual friend said, “Skeff produced for Tribe and I’m going to tell him about you.” He told him and he checked out my stuff and we linked up. That’s pretty much how it went. Those stories never work out. That’s why Skeff is so important. He liked the music and he was down to be one of the producers on the project. He has so much knowledge and skill. We sat and talked for hours about him being on tour with Tribe when they first started – for a while he did the sound. It went beyond production and he ended up helping mix the whole album. This is the first time I got to take a backseat. I didn’t need to always be in the studio for the whole recording and mixing. I just focused on writing. He came in and took a lot of stuff off my shoulders. He helped me and showed me a lot of things. It’s a blessing to have him and I talk to him several times a week. We’ll be at an event and he’ll introduce me to people like, “This is Large Professor.” He’ll introduce me to people like it’s his next door neighbor or something [laughs]. It’s a blessing to have him on the team and we still have some more songs in the works.

TRHH: What do you hope to accomplish with Friction?

SigNif: I want each project to reach a little further for people that maybe have been sitting on the fence with me and aren’t sure if they should listen or people that have listened and are waiting for something to spark something in them. I want to keep reaching with each project. It’s not like I’m waiting to take over the Hip-Hop scene or be the next big thing or anything like that. I kind of want to keep it organic, even though that’s probably cliché to say right now. It’s still grassroots and I still want it to gravitate to people that say they’re looking for a little more substance or something that they can relate to. It’s something that’s homegrown and that’s what the plan was for this project.

Purchase: SigNif – Friction

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Fong-Sai-U: Ballads of a Massacre

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Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR

Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR

Emcee and producer Fong-Sai-U is trying to bring the griminess back to Hip-Hop. Raised in Washington D.C. and now residing in California, Fong-Sai-U came up in the game under true Hip-Hop heavyweights. Sai-U was mentored by Black Thought of the legendary Roots crew and the late Guru of Gangstarr. The golden era east coast sound is embedded in Sai-U’s DNA.

Hoping to give fans a much-needed dose of raw rap, Fong-Sai-U is preparing for the release of his second album titled, ‘Ballads of a Massacre’. The album is produced entirely by Fong-Sai-U and features appearances by Dice Raw, Scarface, and Guru. Ballads of a Massacre is slated to be released in the spring of 2015.

Fong-Sai-U spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about how he views his production, his relationships with Hip-Hop greats Black Thought and Guru, and his upcoming album, Ballads of a Massacre.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Ballads of a Massacre?

Fong-Sai-U: Everybody wanna be happy. All the rap music now is happy. Back in the days it wasn’t competition but it was more raw. Everybody had different styles and it was raw, but the music was like “snap your neck” music. I wanted to make an album where all the songs ain’t going to be battle rap but they’re going to be hard as hell. I felt like Ballads of a Massacre was a good title because lyrically I’m trying to slaughter it. I’m trying to take off heads and use my sword as much as I can. I’m not going at certain emcees, I’m just showing the raw side of things. You can’t really say my music is underground and you can’t say it’s mainstream, I’m just riding the fence.

TRHH: Did you produce the entire album?

Fong-Sai-U: Everything. Every single thing. I don’t really use outside producers much. I get people to send me beats and I listen to it and if it don’t stand up to my beats then I won’t use it. Most of the time they don’t. I’m not saying I’m the greatest producer but I want somebody to send me something better. If I can make it why would I take it from you?

TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use?

Fong-Sai-U: I was on the MPC 2000XL for a long time and then I started using the Renaissance. I ain’t gonna lie it turned me out. I was one of those people that didn’t like software. I still don’t like software because I like to be able to pound my pads. I like hands-on stuff. I don’t really look at the computer. Most of the time I look at the screen on the Renaissance unless I want to send it to somebody or something.

TRHH: How is this album different from A Soldier’s Story?

Fong-Sai-U: A Soldier’s Story was rushed. It was a quick album and was really rushed. It’s me basically talking about life stuff, Hip-Hop, and the ghetto. It was topic-based but thrown together quick, that’s why it only had like 6-7 songs. I got a deal and they were rushing me to throw something out quick. They rushed me, I threw it out, and it didn’t really resonate. That’s why this album I wanted it to be 12-13 songs and bangers all the way through. A Soldier’s Story was 2011, it’s 2014 and throughout that period I’ve been producing this album.

When I make a beat I can’t rush to the studio and rap on it. I make so many beats I have to choose what beat is right for myself. I don’t have a crew or a team saying, “Yeah, put that on the album!” I have to be my crew and team. If I do a song and I don’t want to hear it more than one time I won’t use it. But if I do a song and I listen to it more than one time then I use it, because that’s how I want this album to be on every song. It ain’t no fast forwarding. You go to 1 then you got to 12 and that’s it. I didn’t want it to be all short. A Soldier’s story was cool but this is going to be one that people can feel and talk about.

TRHH: What inspired the single ‘Bad Guy’?

Fong-Sai-U: Oh man, truth! I heard that Jay-Z hook and I just had to go in on it. I just get tired of songs where everybody is drug dealing and everybody is ballin’. Everybody does something that really they’re not. I was ripping the song but at the same time I was trying to get a point across. Just ‘cause you take a Jay sample that don’t mean you gotta rap about cars and money. Every time you hear somebody use a Jay sample they’re rapping about the club or cars. It’s never on no Hip-Hop. If you think about it you can’t really find a Jay sample that somebody samples and rapped about Hip-Hop music. I ain’t never heard it, that’s why I used it. A lot of these cats is BS. I done did it all. Every song don’t have to be about the street or who you killin’. That’s just the times we’re in, but I refuse to lay down my mic and go to that level.

TRHH: You used to go by the name Divine, right?

Fong-Sai-U: Divine, that’s’ my attribute. I’m a five-percenter. I still go by Dvine. Fong-Sai-U is my emcee name. You gotta understand my background. I’ve been there with RZA and Mef in ’93, The Roots in ’92, and Guru from 2000 to when he passed. My travels in this music game has really been sick. I seen a lot of things. If I wanted to follow the leader then I probably would have been on, but I’m my own leader with my own team. I don’t believe in following people – I don’t care how cool we are. Most of the time when you’re signed to a rapper you ain’t gonna see the light of day and most of the time when he goes down you’re going to go down too.

Guru was the first person that put me out. I was with him on some crazy adventures. As a producer he took a chance on me and put me on Baldhead Slick when nobody else would take a chance on me. I met him on the Okayplayer tour. I really give him the credit. I was out there, but I wasn’t “out there”. I wasn’t on records.

TRHH: The new album has a verse from Guru on the song ‘What’s Real’. How long have you had that verse?

Fong-Sai-U: Man, we did it in 2001 or 2002 but nobody heard it my G. I held on to it. I didn’t know he was going to pass either. Guru went through a dark place before he died and he was secluded from a lot of people. It was just him and that wack nigga Solar. Nobody knew what was going on. This was for years until he passed. I held on to that verse for a minute, but when we did it, it was crazy because Ice-T was in there, Treach was in there — everybody was in there! That was the time when Guru was still drinking so it was a party in the studio. We did it in one take. I freestyled my part. I’m a battle emcee so I freestyle a lot. I’m not one of these dudes that says, “I go in the studio and do a whole album freestyle!” If I do it I ain’t gonna tell you and you ain’t gonna know. That’s the whole art of freestyling. I give much kudos to that dude because he taught me a lot – even though at that time he was wildin’.

TRHH: What did you learn from Guru?

Fong-Sai-U: Stuff like be patient. I was always trying to get on. The thing between me and him was I never asked him to put me on. That’s what I tell brothers, don’t meet an artist and be like, “I got a CD and bla bla bla,” don’t do that, man. It makes the turn away from you. If you’re going to be cool just kick it. If y’all become friends that’s that. If he’s going to put you on he’s going to put you on, on his own. Patience is a virtue in this game. That’s what I learned from him. Back then I was young so I was trying to get on anything at any time. It wasn’t happening so I was getting frustrated. He also taught me at his age to live your life ‘cause Guru was acting like he was 20. He was living his life. He was a kid at heart and he never let his age get to him. Those two things I took with me to this day.

On Reasonable Doubt Jay was getting up in his 30s – he wasn’t 21, he wasn’t 18. A lot of people think that this is an overnight game. Stuff happens on YouTube with these little dudes getting on but if you want classic material it ain’t no overnight game. You can’t wake up in the morning and have a classic album. Everybody screams “classic” but it be doo-doo. It don’t work that way. Everybody screams about Dre’s Detox and are mad at how long it’s taking but you gotta understand he takes his time. If you want classic material it takes years. Look at Prince. Patience is a key.

TRHH: Earlier you mentioned Solar, what do you make of the relationship that Guru had with him? It doesn’t make sense to anybody.

Fong-Sai-U: I met Solar one time man and I remember Guru told me, “He’s crazy, God.” It destroyed me when it all went down because somehow this nigga had a mind control thing on him, man. I know it wasn’t a secret because Guru wasn’t gay — it wasn’t none of that BS. To this day nobody knows. A lot of people don’t know that Guru wasn’t talking to anybody. He secluded himself. I think Solar went to Guru when he was in seclusion mode. He used the trust factor — he was the one to trust, he was the one to befriend, and fuck everybody else. He rolled with that and that’s how it all came about.

He stayed away from everybody and started producing a whole bunch of wack albums with Solar. Him and Premier didn’t talk for years before that. He secluded himself and Solar found a weakness. When you seclude yourself sometimes you’re going to need somebody, and that was that somebody. It was just a bad somebody. Everything that went down was terrible after he died. Dude produced a letter that Guru room didn’t even write. I bet you don’t hear about Solar now. You don’t hear peep.

TRHH: Was Solar responsible for help him to stop drinking?

Fong-Sai-U: No, man! No, that’s a lie. Guru stopped drinking before Solar. Guru was sober before Solar. He started working out before Solar. Solar just tried to take credit for something that he didn’t do. He was full of lies man. Ice-T and everybody wanted to beat him up. Ice new Guru from the beginning. Solar just came out of the blue with a whole bunch of lies. He wasn’t responsible for anything in that man’s life but devastation. That’s it. He destroyed that man. He made that man put out all these wack albums. Guru could have gotten back with Premier and banged out. Solar had that nigga talking bad about everybody. He put it in his head that Premier tried to get over and get money from him. Guru believed it. That’s how it all ended. If they could do a documentary on it, which they won’t, it would be a good one.

TRHH: You came up in the game under Black Thought of The Roots. What’s the best piece of advice he ever gave you about the music business?

Fong-Sai-U: When I met Black Thought I tried to battle him with a girl named Timber Red. This was like 1992. I was 15 or something. He took to it and liked my “umph”. From there every Roots show I would be at. From then on I was on the mic at every Roots show. I don’t care where they were. I would catch the bus and do whatever I had to do to get there. He took me on tour. That’s always going to be my older brother. Sometimes I get pissed at him and go off on him and he’ll laugh. I get emotional and all of that but that’s always going to be my big brother — to the death. Because he fought for me as far as going on tour when nobody else would. Me and ?uestlove wasn’t that cool but he vouched for me. He vouched for me a lot. So I wouldn’t say The Roots I’d say Black Thought. That’s somebody I would ride for.

He said, “When you go on stage you’ve only got five minutes. In those five minutes what are you going to say to make the crowd scream?” I’ve stayed with that the rest of my life. It’s true, when you go on stage you have five minutes to say something to make that crowd go off. If you can’t make them go off it’s a done deal, period. They don’t know who you are or where you’re coming from. All I had was five minutes every time I got on stage. I did a song with Jaguar and then I would do The Lesson. If you don’t have anything to say in five minutes to make the crowd go crazy then it’s done. That’s the key. He’s on the Tonight Show now so the last time I talked to him was a couple of months ago. We talk off and on but he’s mad busy trying to act and stuff like that. Sometimes I talk to him for advice and sometimes I shout out to make sure he’s cool. People grow up. Back then we were young and wildin’ out. Somewhere you have to come to a pause. Everybody is grown up and doing their thing. That’s like my brother. Me and Dice Raw knew each other from the same page. The same time I was around was when they were trying to put Dice Raw on. That’s why I have a song with Dice on my album.

TRHH: Who is ‘Ballads of Massacre’ for?

Fong-Sai-U: That’s a good question. It’s for everybody, man. I’ve got a joint with Res that I haven’t dropped yet. That’s my next single. I’ve got a joint you’d think Drumma Boy produced it. It’s for everybody. Some of the backpackers really don’t feel my stuff that much. I’m not talking real underground stuff that you can’t understand. I’m talking about stuff that anybody could listen to and understand it. It’s really for everybody.

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A Conversation with MC Lyte

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Every conversation about the best female emcees begins with MC Lyte. Lyte is the first female artist to release a solo album with 1988’s Lyte as a Rock. Her music has influenced every female rapper to ever pick up a microphone over the last 25 years. MC Lyte is Hip-Hop royalty.

The last ten years of Lyte’s career have been focused on other things besides rap. The L-Y-T-E spent a good amount of time in Hollywood doing voice over work, deejaying, and starting the Hip Hop Sisters Network – a non-profit foundation that promotes positive images of women of ethnic diversity.

During the last decade Lyte has blessed fans with an occasional appetizer to feed their cravings for her music, but now they’re about to be served the main course. Lyte is gearing up for the release of her eighth solo album slated to drop at the beginning of 2015. Lyte released the singles Cravin’, Ball, and Dear John in preparation for what’s certain to be another dope chapter in the MC Lyte book.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to MC Lyte about working with Common for the single ‘Dear John’, the importance of Audio Two in her music career, her favorite album that she’s ever done, and her new album dropping in 2015.

TRHH: I saw you perform at the AAHH! Fest. What was that experience like for you?

MC Lyte: Oh man, it was emotional [laughs]! It was a beautiful occasion. I’m very honored to be asked to participate in that festival because they could have chosen anybody. Chicago happens to be a great city for me in terms of the love that they show and the support that they give. As a matter of fact I’m performing there on December 7th at the Arie Crown. They always show up, show out, and really represent for me. It felt really good.

TRHH: That festival was created by Common and you worked with him on the single ‘Dear John’. Talk about how that collaboration came about.

MC Lyte: Oh goodness, well after the song was done with my lyrics it had three verses on it. We felt like it needed a man on there to represent and talk to the men as well. When you talk about the subject matter and the tone of the song it felt like there was no one else to get but him. I went after him and said, “Come on, we gotta do this!” We’ve recorded before so it wasn’t our first collaboration. It’s certainly been a long time between the first one and this one so I’m happy that he was able to represent.

TRHH: Dear John is also the theme song for the Educate Our Men scholarship. How’d you get involved with that?

MC Lyte: We have an organization called Hip Hop Sisters. People can find out more information at HipHopSisters.org. Since its inception we’ve been able to give out two $100,000 scholarships each year. This year we decided to switch it up a little bit. We went and visited the president over at Dillard University and he talked about the shortage of young men on campus. We asked what we could do and we decided to start Educate Our Men simply because we wanted to drive numbers to HBCU’s. The first one is Dillard University for 2015. For 2016 and years to come we’ll be able to provide supplemental scholarships to men attending those different schools as well.

TRHH: I follow you on Twitter and your tweets are always positive and motivational. What is it important for you to share your thoughts with the world? Even in your last three singles the messages have been uplifting or have had a good vibe.

MC Lyte: Well I’m all about a good vibe [laughs]. I’m just wanting to provide something different in the midst of all that’s happening. It’s just really reflective of who I am as a person. It feels right in time and in step with who I am. Now is the time that everyone hears it because I’ve been able to garner attention by other means – through speaking, performing, hosting, and deejaying. Now that I have everyone’s attention it just makes sense to say what it is I want to say, and that happens to be something positive. I’m moving!

TRHH: Going back to the beginning, what impact did Milk and Giz have on your early career?

MC Lyte: Oh goodness, they are the reason! They produced the very first song, second song, and the album along with King of Chill. They were the ones who pretty much put the MC Lyte sound together. Also when it came to a record deal, the record company wasn’t really interested in a female emcee. Management said if you want Audio Two you have to have MC Lyte – this is a package. Initially that was how I wound up signed to a major record label. Somewhere in there they realized I wasn’t all that bad [laughs]. I was somebody good to have on the roster. We went from there and I wound up being with that label for 13 years.

TRHH: You reunited with some old friends at the BET Hip Hop Awards recently. What was that experience like for you?

MC Lyte: It was great. It’s been 20 years since we’ve all been on the stage performing that song. We’re certainly friends and we talk to one another all the time, but to actually get up on the stage and perform that song it was magical. Also to be included in the BET Hip Hop Awards, which is usually a male domination presentation, it felt good to be amidst what is considered current and give a golden era performance. It was great.

TRHH: Tell me about the new single, ‘Ball’.

MC Lyte: Well it’s featuring Lil’ Mama. She brings some youthfulness and some young energy to an already energetic song. It just seemed like the right match to be able to have a platform where we could show her skills, and it’s also true meets new. True School meeting New School and it just felt right in the studio. Once I dropped my lyrics and I had that second verse I knew automatically who I wanted on it – it was her. She came to the studio, wrote her lyrics, went in the booth and smashed it. When it came time for the video she brought the energy. She’s a dancer and she was able to do the choreography and add everything to the video. It made it a nice presentation.

TRHH: What will fans get if they download the MC Lyte app?

MC Lyte: Who knows? [Laughs] You’ll get the tour schedule. It’s a pretty generic app, however it does give the information that’s vital to an MC Lyte fan. That’s where I’m going to be, the latest photos, latest videos, and the latest MC Lyte music that you’re able to stream and also download.

TRHH: What is MC Lyte’s favorite MC Lyte album?

MC Lyte: Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm! Wow. I guess my favorite would either be the first or the second. The reason why is I wasn’t really thinking about it, I just did it. It wasn’t until I got completely in the music business that I took into consideration all of the politics and how it’s so important to be on the charts and on the radio. All of those things take effect and you start skewing things to satisfy those demands. Whereas with the first two I just did what I felt and didn’t think two things about it.

TRHH: I would go with those first two as well. It’s tough to choose between the first two. Kickin’ 4 Brooklyn is probably my all-time favorite Lyte song though.

MC Lyte: Yeah, that’s funny. The thing is, those rhymes were written already. I just sat in sessions with both Audio Two and King of Chill individually and they sort of built the music around what I had already written so it was pretty easy. I have favorite songs that occurred later like ‘TRG (The Rap Game)’ that I did with Jermaine Dupri on the Bad as I Wanna B. record ‘Cold Rock a Party’ was huge for me. It was fun and I liked the collaborative effort with Missy. It allowed us to perform in various places as well. ‘Keep On, Keepin’ On’ was great as well. There were songs after it like ‘Poor Georgie’, but when you talk about full albums with one to two producers – I like thematic projects where one producer can kind of do the whole thing, I’m fond of those two.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear on the new album?

MC Lyte: The truth [laughs]. The truth and me and all the different sides. The many dimensions of what living life is really like and not this one dynamic that we’re seeing a lot today. There are emcees out there who let you know who they are and wear their hearts on their sleeves and want to be seen. I respect that take. For me that’s what this album is. Once again it’s new and true. It’s new with the sound that’s happening today and ‘Ball’ is reflective of that. ‘Dear John’ is part of the true aspect of the record – taking it back to true school, organic instrumentations and elements that people are accustomed to hearing MC Lyte rock to. We have guests on the record – Mama, Common, Faith Evans, Coko from SWV, Mario, and Kenny Lattimore. I chose people who are actually my friends. I know them and I can just call them and they come through without hesitation, “I got you Lyte!” It’s a really good record, I’m excited!

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Hasan Salaam: Life in Black & White

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Photo courtesy of Tarrice Love

Photo courtesy of Tarrice Love

There’s nothing black and white about New Jersey emcee Hasan Salaam. From his music, to his activism, to his role as an educator, Hasan Salaam is colorful. One of the most passionate rappers in the game, Salaam’s enthusiasm exudes in his speech and when he spits. His inclination to inform caught the ear of Executive Vice President of Viper Records, Immortal Technique and led to Salaam signing a deal with the label.

Hasan Salaam’s first solo effort on Viper Records is the recently released full-length album, Life in Black & White.

Life in Black & White features appearances by Immortal Technique, Hezekiah, Kendal Good, Maya Azucena and Drue Davis. The project is produced by Hezekiah, Snowgoons, DJ Static, Denny Carson, Remot, dj INSITE, Craig Rip, Beatnick Dee, Crossbone T, Southpaw, and Douglas G. Simpson and Kareem Knight of the Aqua League.

Hasan Salaam spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about joining Viper Records, his opinion on American’s racial tension following the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, and his new album, Life in Black & White.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Life in Black & White.

Hasan Salaam: I’ve always been into Black & White photography. It forces you to look at all the gray area in life and that’s really what this album is about – not getting stuck into boxes, not letting people label you, or try to fit you into their limited world view. I don’t want to be ruled by anybody else’s limitations because I see myself having none. It’s also just a play on things. My mother is African-American and my father is Caucasian so growing up and dealing with race in American in this quote unquote post-racial society we deal with a whole lot of racist bullshit that shows me that it’s not post-racial anything.

TRHH: I agree with that. How did you wind up signing with Immortal Technique and Viper Records?

Hasan Salaam: I’ve known Tech for a while. Him and Poison Pen are like big brothers to me. He asked me to be a part of Viper and be a part of the Rebel Army. He wanted to put out this album and it’s just been grinding and working to get it done since then.

TRHH: How’d the single ‘Jericho’ come about?

Hasan Salaam: I was on an album by Range Da Messenger that was actually produced by Hezekiah. Range was just like, “Yo, y’all two need to work!” I looked up all the amazing joints that Hez has produced and he’s crazy. His beats are amazing. I reached out and wound up getting two tracks for the record. One is another song called ‘Unorganized Religion’. For ‘Jericho’ he already had the hook on it and everything. As soon as I heard it I knew what I was writing to it. I knew exactly who I wanted to speak to and what I wanted to speak on. I played the record for Tech and he wasn’t sure about the beat because the beat is real different. I just kept telling him, “Nah, this is it. This is the one.” Once he put his bars to it and heard himself back and how dope that shit sounded he was like, “Word, that’s the one.” It’s interesting to me how he heard the “wall” part and built off of that. I just heard the “fuck how you feel about me” part and built off of that. It just came together really well.

TRHH: Earlier you mentioned race, I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Mike Brown incident in St. Louis has nothing to do with race. What’s your opinion on that?

Hasan Salaam: I think those people are completely delusional. I think that we do not see teenage Caucasians in this country getting gunned down in the street for anything. If you’re talking about the Mike Brown situation and they’re saying that he stole some blunt wraps from the store that still is not a crime punishable by death in this country even if you’re found guilty and convicted of it. It has to do with race because black life is not valued here. It’s not valued when we’re alive, it’s not valued when we go through life, it’s not valued at all. This country built itself on our blood and it still profits from our blood.

You can get into each case individually whether it be Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, neither of these gentleman were in a position that they should have been killed, especially Trayvon Martin. He stands out more because Zimmerman was not a police officer for one, and two he’s celebrated like a national hero to some people now. The same thing with Michael Brown and Trayvon with them having marijuana in their system, marijuana is legal in certain parts of the country. In other parts of the country it’s not, fine, but it’s also not something that’s punishable by death. It’s something they use to spin that Mike Brown and Trayvon were some kind of crazy, psycho super thugs or something like that. The word “thug” has really replaced the word “nigger” in how they describe us. There’s already certain connotations that pop into their head when they say “young black teenage thug”. It’s the way everything is sold and everything is spun. If race didn’t matter they wouldn’t call out what your race is when they’re on the APB. If race didn’t matter there wouldn’t be only young black and brown men and women getting killed by the police because white people commit just as many crimes. In situations like the gunman in Colorado, he had a gun, he killed people, and they just apprehended him. There are so many cases that fall along the same line.

In the song I mention two people, Phillip Pannell and Jelani Manigault. Those were two people I knew as a kid that were murdered by police In Jersey. They were both from one of the towns I grew up in called Teaneck, New Jersey. In both of their cases no cop was ever sent to jail. I was ten years old when Phillip Pannell was killed and it’s something that stood out in my life as something that showed me the world that we live in and what’s it like to be a man of color in this world. He was shot in the back by an officer that claimed that he pulled a gun on him. Forensics found that he was shot with his hands up surrendering and they still didn’t send that cop to jail. That was in 1990 and twenty years later it’s the same thing. Mehserle shot Oscar Grant in the head while he was cuffed, on the ground, and not resisting arrest. He shot him in the head in front of mad witnesses and he got a year in jail. To me that shows that there is no value for black life at all. You’re going to get a slap on the wrist if you kill one of these little black kids. There won’t be a real punishment. You’ll get desk duty.

TRHH: What do you make of these people who were murdered by police being shot in the head? Is that police protocol?

Hasan Salaam: Absolutely not. I don’t know why they send the police to the gun range to work on having some sort of sharp shooting skill if they’re always shooting to kill. They tell them that they’re supposed to shoot in the leg or somewhere else to disarm somebody. In the case of Oscar Grant he was cuffed and on the ground. There was no reason to even pull your gun on him at that point. In the Trayvon Martin case we’re talking about a citizen. We’re not even talking about someone in law enforcement and the police already told him, “Do not pursue.” He had every right to be there. He was going to see his family.

In these cases and situations it’s the verdicts that are rendered afterward because it’s like, yeah, it’s okay to do that. When you think about these officers who are just going straight to lethal force, what is their training for? Someone posted a really good post that said, “If you’re given a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail to you at some point.” The police officers are not from our community. They come in with some idea of what black people are like. They might not have come up in communities where they grew up with black people or have been in a black person’s house other than for a call to the police. So they have these particular perceptions and when they leave in the morning they have these sayings like, “Don’t get captured.” You’re not in an enemy zone, you’re in your own country and we’re not your enemy. It’s been proven time and time again that they’re an enemy to us.

TRHH: I think a lot of these racists don’t even view African-American’s as citizens. This is their country, we’re just kind of here.

Hasan Salaam: Absolutely. You see that in people still trying to prove that Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud. He wouldn’t be the fuckin’ President if he wasn’t from this country. That’s why y’all didn’t get to run Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s really ridiculous that it’s still at a point that people can’t get past race. You look at groups like the Klan or the Tea Party who have all these things to say, but we didn’t do anything to you. Y’all forced us to come here, and since we’ve been here we’ve done every single thing within the means of your laws and regulations. We march peacefully, we’ve worked to become a part of society in all different ways, shapes, forms, and fashions legally. It’s hard as hell to be a president. Think of all the sacrifices Obama had to make. I didn’t vote for him and I don’t agree with everything that he does, but I do recognize how hard it was for him to get there. And at the same time you still have people who think that we’re the worst thing on this planet and the worst thing for this country. This country wouldn’t have been built without us. It’s fear. If we did rise up we’d be completely justified. Their revolution was fought over less – taxes — not brutality, not being slaves, not being the victims of genocide. And we’re still peaceful and cool about it.

TRHH: Getting off the serious stuff, I didn’t know you were involved in the adult industry until I saw it on HipHopDX. How’d you get involved in that?

Hasan Salaam: I’ve actually been involved in that industry longer than the music industry. I’ve been writing and doing music ever since I was shorty, like 10-11 years old, but actually putting out music took a little bit longer. I used to be a real wild kid. My mother could only take so much so at a certain point she kicked me out. I needed to eat, I needed to live and I had a homegirl who reached out to me. She was dancing in Philly at the time and she was like, “Yo, these people want me to be in a magazine and I need another dude ‘cause I don’t want no random guy all in my face.” Me and her had messed around. I did it and made like $300-$400 for like two hours of work. Some people I know went away to college, but everybody else I know was either working a shit job or hustling. At the time I was selling weed and I was like, “I don’t have to worry about getting arrested, I don’t have to deal with police, and I get to be around women!” That sounds way better [laughs]. That was my first introduction to it. I had to put a roof over my head. At the time I was bouncing from spot to spot and staying in hotels so I needed bread.

TRHH: Since you’re Muslim do you see porn as conflicting with your faith?

Hasan Salaam: What I did when I was younger is a lot different than what I do now. What I do now is more about education. I try to bring couples together to have better relationships and make better love with each other. I help individuals to help them love themselves. I don’t’ see sex as a bad thing. Everybody has their own idea of who, what, when, where, and how you should have sex. I don’t tell anybody what is and what isn’t. I feel like if what I do helps people and it’s good, then it’s good for me. I think a lot of times when people think “adult entertainment” they think, “Oh my God, it’s going to be the worst most degrading thing in the world.” I personally believe it doesn’t have to be that way.

I believe that sex is a beautiful thing and if people want to watch, that’s a fetish that some people have. If people want to be watched, that’s a fetish that some people such as myself do have. I think a lot of times people speak about homosexual’s coming out of the closet, but a lot of straight people as well keep their stuff in the closet, which is a detriment to themselves. Everybody has their thing, everybody is into something. If you keep it hidden and lash out at other people that you see having fun then it’s a detriment to yourself. Having sex is one of the most revolutionary things you can do in my opinion. Being able to love yourself and your partner is a revolutionary idea in these days and times because everybody seems to be filled with hate.

TRHH: The song ‘Father’s Day’ is really heavy and personal. Did your family hear it and if so what did they think?

Hasan Salaam: I played it for my mother. My mother’s first reaction was, “You took it easy on him.” There was a lot of stuff that I didn’t put in the song because I didn’t want to go into certain things. Her second reaction was, “Are you sure you’re going to put this out?” We had a discussion about it. To me, my music is honest. It’s never not going to be honest. However I feel, whatever is on my mind, what I’ve experienced is going to be what it is. I’m not going to pull punches, I’m not going to go off on some other zone. I know a lot of people who grew up without a father. I know some people that grew up with great, amazing fathers, so I feel that the whole spectrum should be spoken about.

At the end of the day Allah tells you to honor your mother and father and I wouldn’t be here without my father. He might have only taught me one thing, but that one thing has helped me out in life. Some of the terrible things he’s said and done is part of life. It’s made me into who I am today. If it wasn’t for that who knows if me and you would be talking right now? It is what it is. One of my biggest influences is Bruce Lee and he said, “Honest self-expression is the best expression.” It took me a year to write the song because certain things I just couldn’t get out. I had to come back to it to help me work through certain problems that me and him had. Since then he and I speak every 4-5 months and it’s easier to have that conversation because of the song.

TRHH: Will you play the song for him?

Hasan Salaam: I mean we’ve had the actual conversation that the song was. I’d play it for him but he probably wouldn’t want to hear the shit [laughs]. I don’t know, to be honest with you he’s just not a Hip-Hop person. It’s funny, he straight up told me when I was a kid that I wouldn’t be shit. I’ve known that I wanted to make music since I was a baby almost. I told him and he said, “You’ll never be shit if that’s what you do.” At the same time I actually took care of him when he was really sick and I wound up having all of my CD Baby and ASCAP checks go to his house for a while after I wasn’t there anymore like, “Yeah, I ain’t gon’ be shit? Fuck you. Hold my check,” [laughs]. It’s such a complex situation. It’s hard a question to answer honestly. Would I play it for him? Possibly if we’re in the right setting I’d say, “Check this song, it’s talking about you.” He might hear somebody else play it – I don’t know. I know when he hears it he’s going to know exactly what I’m talking about on every line. To me that’s what makes it a song that every time I hear it, it stirs up something in me and a lot of people I’ve played it for it stirs up something in them — people that I know with and without fathers.

TRHH: Who is Life in Black & White for?

Hasan Salaam: Everybody. Even though I name colors in the title it’s an album that’s’ colorless. The gray area is what will bind people together as we move forward as human beings. If we don’t confront the race issues that I speak about on this album we’ll all destroy ourselves at some point. I don’t think that white people should be offended. I don’t think they should be afraid of the album. I don’t think that people who aren’t black or white won’t relate to the things that are on there either. It’s an album that deals with life and life is full of so many vibrant colors. Sometimes we overlook all the beautiful things in the world because we focus on one thing. We focus on the things that we dislike or our differences instead of the things that bring us together. That’s what the album is about. I got a song on there called ‘Savor the Moment’ and it’s about two of the best days of my life. One day was beating a case in court and the other day was an Easter brunch with my family. Who doesn’t enjoy spending time with family no matter your race, color, creed, or religion? It don’t really matter. We all love our families, and that’s the point. We’re all one family – the human family.

Purchase: Hasan Salaam – Life in Black & White

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