DJ Lord Sear wears many hats in Hip-Hop. He’s a DJ, producer, and vocalist. He’s worked with some of the most notable names in Hip-Hop like MF Doom, the Beastie Boys, and the late Big Pun. Sear served as a DJ on The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show in the 90s and toured with Hip-Hop icon Eminem in the 2000s.
Lord Sear’s relationship with Eminem eventually led to him having his own show on Sirius/XM’s Shade 45 called “The Lord Sear Special.” The Lord Sear Special features a mix of music, comedy, and celebrity interviews. The show airs Monday through Friday from noon to 4 P.M. Eastern Standard Time.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Lord Sear about the evolution of deejaying, his relationship with Shade 45 founder Eminem, and The Lord Sear Special radio show.
Lord Sear: I’m not saying it’s something that I always wanted to do but when I started I was a DJ. I was a DJ for a rapper that was signed to Columbia named Kurious, he’s a good friend of mine. I was a jokester. I guess it grew quickly to being curious in radio through Bobbito. I was on the radio with Stretch and Bob, that’s how my career started. I didn’t know that I was actually going to have my own radio show. I really like doing my show. I have fun doing it because it’s what I wanna do. I play what I wanna play and I talk my shit, give people credit, and still have fun. Not to be dissing crazy people but it’s out of fun, not out of character. I’m not trying to disrespect anyone. I like having fun doing it. It’s good for me, it’s good for my heart, it’s good for my soul. I like doing it.
TRHH: The interview you did with London Keyes was crazy. Do you enjoy speaking to non-Hip-Hop people more than Hip-Hop people on the show?
Lord Sear: A little bit of a mixture. Dealing with a radio show that I had called The All Out Show we dealt with actors, actresses, and weird people. I was cool with that but I’m not trying to be a Howard Stern or a shock jock radio person. I just want to do my thing – have fun and play dope music. I like interviewing the Hip-Hop people sometimes. That’s why it’s called The Lord Sear Special because you get different aspects. I have a video game person that calls up, porn stars of course, maybe somebody weird, a DJ, a producer.
TRHH: Your relationship with Eminem goes back a while. How did you get linked up with Em?
Lord Sear: Through the radio show that I did with Stretch and Bobbito. His manager Paul Rosenberg dropped off music of his demo for me and Bob at Bobbito’s store back in ’97 or ’98. From there I got to get to know him and build a relationship. From there it went on to where I’m at right now. I never knew he was going to be where he’s at. It wasn’t like, “Hey man, I like Em, too.” Em was always a cool person. He’s a down to earth person. A cool cat, he was never fronting.
TRHH: Talk a little about how you hooked up with Ren Thomas and your involvement in his new album, I Been Nice.
Lord Sear: There was a spot called Vida in Jersey and everybody from rappers to DJ’s would come through. I met him out of nowhere. We just started talking. I just got to get to know him and wanted to work with him. I gave him some beats and stuff. That’s how we got cool a couple of years ago.
TRHH: You still deejay at clubs now and you’ve been doing it for a long time. What’s your opinion of Serato and how it’s changed how you can become a DJ?
Lord Sear: I’m not saying names but I knew rappers before that could actually deejay with vinyl – Lord Finesse, Redman, Rakim. I’m not saying Serato is easy but if you go to school for it at the Scratch Academy and you sit there and put the record back, turn it up, make sure the BPM’S work, they match, the sound effects, a lot of it is technology and what’s new. The 8-track could have been around forever, the cassette player could have been around forever, now they’re trying to destroy CD’s. There’s going to be new laptops with no CD player. You’ll just have a laptop with a USB. There are DJ’s that don’t even use Serato, they use USB’s. I think that if you really wanna be serious about becoming a DJ you should learn what was first, using vinyl. Learn it first before you’ll be caught out there and you ain’t got no vinyl and no nothing. It happened to a lot of DJ’s where they didn’t know what laptop to use, how much RAM or memory, and all that weird shit with technology. I think Serato is alright for what it is, to have fun with. I think it’s cool for some producers to do beats on it, too.
TRHH: What’s the hottest record in the clubs now and do you have a sure shot joint that you go to to light up the club every time?
Lord Sear: I can’t really tell you that because I haven’t really been a “club, club” deejaying in a while. If I was to go somewhere the Young M.A OOOUUU, but I’m not sure because I don’t really attend those clubs like that. You hear the same shit all the time. Drake is everywhere.
TRHH: Where are you spinning now and what kind of stuff are you playing?
Lord Sear: Sometimes on Wednesday’s I’ll meet G-Bo the Pro. He was known in the 90s for ill mixes and mixtapes. He’s from Spanish Harlem. He was your Puerto Rican version of Ron G with the ill blends. He has a party he does on Wednesday’s with me, DJ Cano, DJ Bambino, DJ Erika and Just. I’m playing old school Hip-Hop, 80s and 90s Hip-Hop and R&B. Maybe some 80s rock – white shit, breaks, it’s universal. That’s what I play.
Lord Sear: I wanna do some more voice overs. I definitely wanna get some more gigs going. I wanna make the show more enhanced. I want to get some more guests, some more ideas. Have a little more funniness, some more seriousness, get some more good music, some more good blends. I’m the old so I wanna teach the young. Play some old joints, some seriousness joints and they’ll be like, “Wow, that shit got a dope beat. Maybe I can rhyme to it?”
This week we celebrate the birthday of the late Sean Price. Sean was one of my favorite people to interview in Hip-Hop. He hated typical questions and his answers were off the wall and honest. When I booked my first interview with Sean his publicist Matt Conaway told me, “Don’t ask Sean what he thinks the current state of rap is because he’ll say ‘Idaho.’” I knew then that I was going to enjoy talking to Sean P.
In 2011 Sean joined up with Detroit artists Black Milk and Guilty Simpson to form Random Axe. The album of the same name was gritty and raw, but allowed Sean to rhyme over production that he normally didn’t spit on. Black Milk gave us a different dimension of Sean without taking away the grittiness that was Sean Price.
Enjoy my 2011 interview with Sean Price. The interview displayed what kind of man Sean was. He was a man of conviction and extremely humorous. I miss Sean personally and Hip-Hop misses him as a whole.
TRHH: How did the Random Axe project come together?
Sean Price: I was on tour with Special Teamz a few years ago. I got a call asking if I wanted to do a song with Guilty Simpson and I was like, “Yeah.” Then the phone hung up and I was like, “Who the hell is Guilty Simpson?” The guy on the tour bus was like, “Yo, I got a lot of Guilty Simpson music.” So by the time we drove to where we were supposed to do the show I had heard a bunch of Guilty songs. I was highly impressed. I was like fuck doing a song, let’s do a whole project. I did “Run” for his album and Black Milk did the production. I was like, “Yo, this shit is banging, let’s do more.” That’s what happened. It turned into an album and here we are.
TRHH: How was recording with Guilty different from recording with Rock?
Sean Price: It was easier. I say that because we had one producer. I just shut up and took orders this time instead of trying to dictate everything. It was much easier. Black said, “Rhyme to this,” I said, “You sure?” he said, “I hear you on this.” I wrote the rhyme, Guilty wrote his part, and we just knocked it out real quick. Whereas with Heltah Skeltah me and son have a bunch of beats, he has a particular style he likes, I have a particular style I like, and we can take like three sessions just picking out beats alone. That’s the difference.
TRHH: The video for The Hex is dope. Who came up with the concept to have you cooking shit up in the video and what was it like shooting it?
Sean Price: I have no idea. I know I didn’t make it. Neither me, Guilty or Black made it. I think the guy Todd and Dru and them came up with the concept. It looks great but it was hours. It was boring as hell. Twiddling my thumbs, hurry up and wait. The initial guy that drove us up there crashed the van. He has no respect for the passenger side of the ride so he broke the mirror on a Verizon truck and he broke the mirror on somebody else’s car. We had a bad driver. It was a bad experience, man [laughs]. The video came out great though.
TRHH: Was this in New York or Detroit?
Sean Price: We shot the video upstate, a little past White Plains. We found a little hotel and did it there.
TRHH: You’ve toured the country and you’re working with two cats from Detroit, what are the similarities between Brownsville and Detroit?
Sean Price: Ain’t no similarities. Detroit is 100% fuckin’ wilder than Brooklyn, man. Straight up and down. Them motherfuckers ride around with choppers in their backseat. We don’t do that shit. Where you from, homeboy?
Sean Price: Alright, well you got projects. You know how the projects are. It might be 18 floors with apartment A-to-H on each floor. They don’t have that shit in Detroit. You can’t really walk around with an AR-15 because it’s so many fuckin’ windows somebody’s going to tell on you. Out there they can do that shit. Them motherfuckers crazier to me.
TRHH: Brownsville is pretty crazy though, right?
Sean Price: I mean Brownsville is berserk too but we might have a .38 Special or a 9mm. The most you might have is a little TEC or MAC or something. Them motherfuckers got Johnny Rambo weapons out there. You can’t get away with that shit in Brownsville because like I said there’s too many windows. Somebody’s gonna tell on you.
TRHH: I interviewed you a couple years ago and I know you don’t like the basic questions so I’m going to go off on a couple odd questions here. Recently on Twitter Rhymefest and Jakk Frost have been vocal about Lil B making an album called “I’m Gay.” I want to know your opinion on the whole Lil B situation.
Sean Price: First of all I’m not homophobic. They can’t shake your hand and give you gay, you feel me? You can’t give me 5 and then I got gay on me [laughs]. I heard he uses the term “gay” as the actual meaning, meaning “happy.” So if he’s happy, he’s happy. Good for him. God bless him. I feel no way. He don’t mean it like he’s gay and sleeps with men, he means it like I’m happy. If that’s what you are, be happy, bro. I’m happy for you [laughs]. What he eat don’t make me shit so, whatever.
TRHH: Also on Twitter I saw you say that you wanted to work with Redman. Have you heard back from Red yet about that?
Sean Price: Hell yeah!
TRHH: What’s the status?
Sean Price: Now we’re waiting for Khrysis. We’re waiting for Khrysis to give us the beat and me and Red gon’ knock some shit out. I was just fucking with Red on Twitter to get a reaction out of him. Even my threats wasn’t no malice intent if you read ‘em. I was just like, “Yo, you better call me or… Im’ma call you again!” That’s my G. Redman is my GOAT, that’s my greatest of all-time.
Sean Price: Yeah. So I definitely want him on a record with me, for sho.
TRHH: What makes Redman the greatest of all-time?
Sean Price: To me? Muddy Waters. That’s the best Hip-Hop album ever. In my world that’s the best Hip-Hop album ever. Nothing is better than that. No Chronic’s, no nothing! That’s my favorite album ever.
Sean Price: Yes. I know every line verbatim on that bitch. I even know the skits on that bitch. That’s my shit right there.
TRHH: That dropped around the same time you dropped your first album, right?
Sean Price: Hell yeah. And he actually sampled Rock on a record too so that make it even more ill.
TRHH: Give me your top 5 emcees of all-time.
Sean Price: Redman, Buckshot, Brother J from X Clan, my man Ike Eyes, you don’t know this nigga. And my partner, Rock. I knew how to rhyme but Rock taught me the fundamentals. I would have pages of rhymes. My first partner, this other dude named Has and Rock showed me the ropes. They said, “Nigga you got four songs right here. That ain’t one rap!”
TRHH: What were you doing when you heard Usama Bin Laden was killed and what are your thoughts on the whole situation?
Sean Price: I had just flew back in from Edmonton, Canada. I landed in Newark airport so I had to drive back to Brooklyn. A car service picked me up to take me back home. We were getting on the Holland Tunnel and one lane was closed because somebody got killed in the Holland Tunnel. When that happened the driver was telling me about that and then he said, “You heard what happened? They got Bin Laden.” I was like, “Word? Wow.” I was buggin’ a lil’ bit. They had the TV in the car and I saw people celebrating. Granted he did what he did, but we looked ugly as Americans celebrating somebody’s death. I know people wanted him dead but it looked ugly. People were popping champagne like it was New Year’s. I didn’t like that. I understand why, but it was ugly.
TRHH: You’re Muslim too, right?
Sean Price: Yes I am.
TRHH: What’s your opinion on the way they buried him? They said it was under Islamic tradition but it really wasn’t. You don’t dump a body in the ocean.
Sean Price: You’re supposed to be buried in the next 24 hours.
TRHH: But not in the water!
Sean Price: But not in the water. I don’t know what they were thinking. You’re dealing with people that don’t respect Muslims…. they don’t respect Bin Laden! So I doubt they would respect his wishes for a proper burial. I don’t think they’re actually Muslim haters but they are Bin Laden haters. To a certain degree I can’t blame them. If I had real bad enemy like that and I got at him, you think I give a fuck about his traditional funeral? Fuck that nigga! I’m throwing him in the garbage. That would be me, personally. If I got beef with you and you believe in some certain shit I don’t give a fuck what you believe in. I’m throwing you in the trash dude, fuck you! I can understand that.
TRHH: I can too. He didn’t give a fuck about the people in the towers and their burial.
Sean Price: Ya’ know? Yeah! So why would they give a fuck about his tradition? Throw that motherfucker in the water. I wouldn’t give a fuck about my enemy either. A proper burial? Get the fuck outta here! Set him on fire. Give him a cigarette and a blindfold and pop this nigga. I don’t agree but I understand. It’s all fair in war.
Sean Price: Yeah. Shit I ain’t rich! I’m making good money but I ain’t rich, B. I don’t have enough money to retire. Even if I don’t wanna rap I still gotta work [laughs]. Like I said, pride don’t feed the babies. Fuck that shit. I’m going to do whatever it takes. As long as my fingers and toes move Im’ma get money.
TRHH: Do you ever get tired of being on the road?
Sean Price: I’m tired of that shit right now. I even have religious conflicts with me and the music. My music is haram. Anything taking you away from studying your Qur’an is foul. But Allah knows in my heart that this is how I take care of my family. I have that conflict every day.
TRHH: He still does his music but there are no instruments, it’s just drums. Can you see yourself taking that route and making halal music?
Sean Price: No, I can’t. Because I love talking the bullshit I’m talking. Im’ma be honest, I love talking this bullshit. I can’t see myself not rappin’ and not talking the bullshit I’m talking. I love that shit! I can’t lie. Once I stop I’m just going to stop all the way. I’m not going to Cat Stevens myself. Respect due to him, but I’m not going to do that.
TRHH: Random Axe will be performing at Rock the Bells this summer. What do you guys have in-store for the Rock the Bells tour?
Sean Price: I plan on bustin’ everybody ass that’s on the bill!
Sean Price: Word! It’s all fair in war like we just said. Everybody is competition. I’m trying to crack everybody ass on the bill. When the people leave I want them to go, “Sean Price, Guilty, and Black bodied the show!” They’ll tell a friend and they’ll telephone. And when you’re on the telephone you’ll tell another friend and spread the gospel. Let ‘em know we ain’t playin’! Seek and destroy mission, that’s what that is. I’m coming to bust everybody ass on stage and have the best show I can give.
TRHH: Is there anybody on Rock the Bells that you want to see as a fan?
Sean Price: Nah.
Sean Price: Nah. I’m cool with everybody but I’m friends with no one. I’m cool with everybody but I’m friends with none of them niggas. It’s all competition.
TRHH: Not even Black Moon?
Sean Price: That’s family! Buck gon’ try to bust my ass too on stage. That’s what we do. Him and Steele taught me that. I’m only doing what I was taught.
TRHH: When are we going to hear that Mic Tyson album?
Sean Price: I’m putting the finishing touches on it now. Random Axe is done, we’re gonna do a Boot Camp album, and then I’ll wrap my shit up. Once I wrap my shit up I hand it to Dru and it’s on him when he wanna release it. He’ll release it when the time is right. I trust his judgment, everything has worked so far.
TRHH: Give me some insight into Mic Tyson. Who are some of the producers and guest emcees?
Sean Price: I got Beat Butcher on there. My man V.Don, Alchemist, and Evidence are on there. I’m about to go down south and work with 9th. I can’t do an album without fuckin’ with 9th and Khrysis. By the time I come back from there I’ll wrap up the album. As far as guest stars I don’t consider Boot Camp guests–that’s my family. Outside of Boot Camp I’m trying to get M.O.P. I spoke to M.O.P so y’all finally gonna get that M.O.P/Heltah Skeltah record.
TRHH: Did you come up with them? Y’all from the same area, right?
Sean Price: We from the same hood. We know the same people. We didn’t grow up together, but we’re both from the same hood. Those my niggas, those my niggas. I remember when I was first coming up [Lil’] Fame came to the crib, we smoked out, cracked jokes, and played beats. That’s family, they’re cool. I’m trying to find MF Doom. I want to do a Doom record and probably Bilal. After that I’m done. I don’t want a bunch of guest stars.
TRHH: The last time I talked to you I asked you about Nicki Minaj and you said “Who?” Do you know who she is now and what’s your opinion of Nicki Minaj?
Sean Price: Yes! I have none.
TRHH: Why should fans go out and cop that Random Axe?
Sean Price: Because if you don’t Im’ma get Hex to fuck one of y’all up [laughs]. Im’ma get Hex Murda to beat the shit out somebody.
TRHH: [Laughs] Alright, well talk a little bit about the Random Axe album.
Sean Price: Ah man, the shit is great. We got 15 joints on there. The shit is hard. We got Fat Ray, Fatt Father, it’s a bunch of fat guys on the album [laughs]. We have Danny Brown on there. We got some girl singing but I forgot her name. I just did my part and flew back to New York. Black did the whole album. I don’t even have thank you’s on the album. Black is the only one with thank you’s on there. He just took it and did his own thing. This is Black Milk’s album starring me and Guilty [laughs]. It sounds great though. It has different beats that I wouldn’t normally rhyme to, but they sound good. I just let Black take control. He gave the orders and I just followed them. It came out pretty good.
Massachusetts emcee M-Dot loves the art of rap. His passion for the game is evident in his lyrics and in his visual creations. Over the better part of the last decade the Boston Music Award winning rapper has stayed busy with tons of features and a handful of mixtapes in preparation for his recently released solo project, Ego and the Enemy.
Ego and the Enemy features appearances by Method Man, Dominique Larue, B.A.M., Tribeca, Camp Lo, Jaysaun, and Krumb Snatcha. The album features production by Buckwild, Marco Polo, KAN, Jon Glass, LX Beats, Khrysis, Hi-Tek, Whatson, Es-K, Soulplusmind, LP2, Snowgoons, Large Professor, and Marley Marl.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to M-Dot about his new album, Ego and the Enemy, what it was like working with classic producers, the long process of creating the album, and part two coming in late 2017.
M-Dot: Ego and the Enemy is exactly what it sounds like. Ego is the enemy. Self-pride, over confidence, insecurity, there is no competition, it’s just you versus you. At the end of the day you’re really born alone and die alone in so many ways. The other people that you think are competition, that’s fabricated. I’ve used that my whole life. I’ve created chips on my shoulder. I’m from Boston where we have a lot of really good emcees, a lot of really good producers, and deejays. It’s a crabs in a barrel type environment because we’re not New York. New York is the home of Hip-Hop and we’re like right there – three and a half hours away. It’s dope, we do our thing, but we never really had a humongous industry artist. Edo.G sold a lot of units in the early 90s. Guru of Gang Starr, people thought he was from New York because he moved to Brooklyn. We haven’t had too much mainstream success.
That’s not necessarily my lane, but that’s where a lot of the chip comes from with me always feeling overlooked and left out. I kind of like it because it’s something I fed off of and built off of. I kept it low-key to myself and used it as fuel. I almost encouraged it in some ways – staying cool with everybody but at the same time feeling left out. “Why am I not on that album? Why am I not on that show?” Ego and the Enemy, man. Also, “M.D.O.T” is inside of that title. Each letter once, which is really creepy, too. Ego is part one and Enemy, which is already recorded is part 2. It’s coming out later this year. The first is pretty heavy with the lineup and the second one is just as good. Method Man is on it again, Large Professor is on it again, and Marco Polo is on it again. We want longevity and success. We’re gonna hit ‘em with the left, the right, and the uppercut – stay down [laughs].
TRHH: My favorite song on the album is Dreamscape. What was it like working with Marco Polo for that song?
M-Dot: I love that song. I like his drums in general. It just sounded like an evil song. The album has a lot of evil undertones to it. I just kind of zoned out. I’m sure you caught it but there is 64 bars – 32 bars in each verse. That’s four verses. I couldn’t stop writing. I was like, “Yo, can you set it up to where you set it to 32 bars?” and he was like, “Yeah.” He chopped it up and set up the lay out of the record. I just had these weird dreams and shit. That’s not a joke. I was pissed being left out and was like, “This is what you want? You want me to talk about shooting people? You want me to talk about killing people? Is that going to get you to buy the album?” It took a lot of dark feelings to bring that shit together because I’m not really somebody that talks about that type of stuff. It’s a dream, it’s not me saying I’m going to shoot anybody or kill anybody. I don’t promote that type of stuff – it’s not my M.O. I’m more blue-collar, an everyday regular person. I got three kids. I don’t promote violence. That’s a dream and something I had to get out of me. It felt good getting it off my chest. It’s one of my favorite tracks too, by the way.
TRHH: I remember hearing the song Shine with Meth and Dominique Larue a long time ago. How long did it take you to complete this album?
M-Dot: Man, start to finish? There’s some records on it that are 4-5 years old and there’s some records on it that I did a couple of months ago. The last three months I banged out the Hi-Tek song, the Snowgoons song, and the Marco Polo song. I saved all the big dogs for the end. The Large Professor song was one of the last tracks. He sent me some beats when I was wrapping up the album. 911 was originally going to be an album track with me and Sean Don. We had Es-K who produced it, he’s a dope producer, but that album never came to fruition. We didn’t finish it. Everyone did their parts but life stuff happens. I had another kid, and we didn’t end up finishing it. I love that song so much. I felt like it would be a perfect closer. All of the tracks have an alignment. I was recording that at the same time as Death to Raquel. They have an ebb and flow to it. At first it starts out dreamy and dark, then it gets a little light in the middle, and then it gets back to that dark place at the end like a roller coaster.
Shine took a while to do too, man. My homie DC sent me that. I laced my verse and said, “Yo, can I use that for my album?” We didn’t acquire Method Man on anything monetary, that’s Method Man. We just had to get his permission. He laid a couple verses. It was DC’s song but we got the permission. It took a long time, but we got the OK and let it fly like two years ago as a single. We couldn’t sit on that any longer. A Method Man song? Especially a song I think is dope. It’s not just a feature. It’s a good song. A long time, man, but I’ve been doing other projects. I put out mixtapes, I’ve been doing other music, but I’ve been stashing these records. Mind you, we have that other CD pretty much recorded unless I add other tracks to it. We cut 20 songs from this CD. It was a planned attack – strategic.
TRHH: How was doing this album different from doing Run MPC?
M-Dot: That was a feature-heavy album. I’m not really about features. I want the best producers. I want dudes that have produced on Biggie, Nas, and Jay-Z albums and that’s what this album is. Buckwild produced on Volume 1, Big L, D.I.T.C. Hi-Tek produced several records on the G-Unit album and Anderson.Paak. Large Professor did three beats on Illmatic. I wanted classic producers. Marley Marl, dog? That’s like the inventor of Hip-Hop. Run MPC was different. It was a lot of sending stuff because my man lived in France. That’s the biggest difference I can say. This was more like in the studio. There were so many verses on that album, but this is mostly just me. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus. There’s like four songs with features out of 17 at the most.
TRHH: The video for Give it to Me was dope. What was it like filming that?
M-Dot: Man that was so much fun. It was crazy weird too because I had a camera strapped to me. It looked like a pelvis camera. It was coming out of my crotch and like six feet in front of me. There were seven GoPro cameras wrapped around it and I’m walking through Oakland and San Francisco. It was dope. Shout out to my man Vic Keys. We planned that video for a long time. We went out to Cali for some shows and a radio interview in San Jose and we just kept on shooting. We dedicated a whole day to shooting and the other days we just shot some shots. We shot whatever I was doing. As they say out there it was “hella” fun to shoot. We were just having a blast. We got to go to G Coop’s studio. That’s my homie. He produced I Got the Keys for Jay-Z. That’s my man now. I met him through Victor Keys the director. That’s my dude now and he’s producing on the next album.
TRHH: Regarding the next album, you said did 20 songs for and it sounds like you have some more stuff in the making. When do you hope to drop the second part of Ego and the Enemy?
M-Dot: I’d like to have it by November. I’m a winter dude so that would be kind of dope. My birthday is in January. November would be kind of dope. It would give me enough time to space out these two albums. I’m probably going to cut a lot of those songs too and do some different shit. That’s the plan, to keep the momentum moving. We still have 4-5 videos in the can that we’re just sitting on. We’re trying to be forever. Lasting, something that’s special, something that people study, something that people appreciate on every level from the art, to the video, to the music.
M-Dot: I just want people to hear it. That’s it, real talk. If people give me a fair shot I think we’ll get even more respect. We were number one on UndergroundHipHop.com in sales in six days. We had the most sales in six days compared to anybody over the last thirty. There’s some good albums like Run the Jewels, much respect to them. That’s some crazy stuff, I didn’t know people still bought CD’s like that. That’s a trip for me. We’re trying to get more awareness to this music.
Mahogany Jones is an activist, an educator, and an artist. A former four-time 106 & Park Freestyle Fridays champion Mahogany Jones puts lyrics first, A Detroit resident, Jones’ music is consistent with the Motor City sound – soulful, thought-provoking, and unapologetic.
Last summer Jones released her critically acclaimed album, Sugar Water. The 13-track album displays Mahogany Jones’ versatility and growth as an artist and a lyricist. Sugar Water is produced by Mozaic, iRonicLee, and Darell “Red” Campbell.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mahogany Jones about her Sugar Water album and its upcoming reissue, the role her Christian faith plays in her music, and her movement to empower women, A PURE Movement.
Mahogany Jones: Oh wow. When we first started putting things together I want to say it had been Outkast’s anniversary. I was really thinking about their formula and whether intentional or not this is how it kind of fell down. It was this interesting mixture that made what they had to say and how they had to say it more palatable. It seemed like Big Boi always came with the raw what your everyday average Joe on the street was up on. Dre always had something that was always on some higher consciousness and just made you think. Their mixture made it that if you were about that street life you were gonna listen because of what Big Boi had to say and if you were on the aware conscious tip you were going to listen for what Andre had to say.
I thought about my own formula and I kind of previously had just been in your face, whether it had been my faith or different things that I stood on. The last project that I did was called Pure. It was very heavy in content with a lot of serious subject matter. Like Lauryn said, “Sometimes you gotta throw an MF’er in it so ignorant N’s can hear you.” That’s pretty much where it came from. People need this water, but sometimes you gotta put a little sugar in it so people get what they need.
TRHH: The song Dying Breed is incredible and speaks on our culture. Why was important for you to convey that message?
Mahogany Jones: Thank you. I think for a few reasons. I serve as a Musical Ambassador with the U.S. State Department and pretty much get to experience Hip-Hop globally and get to and see how certain countries are doing such a great job of preserving Hip-Hop culturally. It’s not just, “Oh, we’re out here making dope records and doing dope graffiti,” but truly the essence of the culture. Brazil actually has a department that uses Hip-Hop in its government. They get it. They get that Hip-Hop is really a tool that can be used for social change and to engage people. It just seems as if nowadays we don’t really get it. I’m not speaking about the differences.
I believe that Hip-Hop can be many truths. Sonically it can be different, the experiences that people have can be different — that’s cool. I just mean it’s essence of peace, love, unity, and having fun. The same way that rock music is passed down generationally, it’s something that we need to start taking pride in. We got so many people coming up but nobody is looking back to the roots of understanding where it came from or why it’s here, but people are making records sounding stupid and looking dumb. I feel like we need to understand it and appreciate it so we can continue to be vanguards of it. We need to continue to push out a culture that’s respectable and important.
TRHH: How did you become a Musical Ambassador for the State Department?
Mahogany Jones: It’s funny, it’s a program that actually has been happening since the days of Dizzy Gillespie. Now it’s a program that American Voices is over. Years ago someone who is my mentor, her name is Toni Blackman, she put me on to it. She was one of the first Hip-Hop Musical Ambassadors. She was like, “Yeah, it’s the program called American Music Abroad. You should apply for it so you can do what I do.” I scraped up a band because I couldn’t do it as a solo artist. It was me, a DJ, a drummer, and a vocalist. I applied in 2012 and they called us in for an audition, I auditioned and got it. My first tour was five countries in Africa. Since then it was kind of a snowball effect of individuals getting at me and asking me to come. I had my second American Music Abroad tour just recently. I was out on tour for about a month with my band in Madagascar, Pakistan, and D.C. this November. So far I’ve served about 16 countries since 2012. It’s been phenomenal.
TRHH: What role does your faith play when you go into the booth?
Mahogany Jones: I think the same role that it plays when I make decisions about how I date or how I engage with people. It’s a part of the fabric of who I am. When you listen to Kendrick or Lupe or Chance or when we think about a lot of the artists that we love we hear it in their music. And not because they have a dogma that they’re trying to shove down their throat but because it really is a part of who they are. That’s why I love music. I think about artists like Mary J, Stevie Wonder and you got their life. That’s what makes you love it. You’re sharing a perspective of your life that I can relate to. I think more as of late it’s less, “I have this agenda to share Christianity with you,” and more so I just want to share my life, I happen to be a Christian, and this is going to be my perspective.
Mahogany Jones: A PURE Movement was birthed out of frustration oddly enough. It might have been 2006 when I was doing more Christian shows or events. I would get booked and people would come up to me and say, “We’re so happy you came here to present to our girls! They’re going to be blessed!” I would just be really upset because my male counterparts would come and share what they have to say and you’re not going up to them like, “We’re just so happy you’re here for our boys.” It’s, “We’re so happy you’re here and what you have to say is valid to our boys and our girls.” As a woman I would just go places and it would be like I only had something valid to say to girls. I always say this and it’s true, my brain or my spirit doesn’t have genitalia. I may be packaged as a woman but I’m having human experiences that are valid for whatever your gender. What I have to say is valid. I got to a place where I was tired of being selected or isolated solely because I’m a woman. I felt like God was saying, “You need to do a project just for women and it’s going to be called ‘PURE’.” I was like, “Eh, I’m not doing that.” I ran it by my producer when I got the epiphany and he was like, “No, you have to do that.”
Listening to him I couldn’t do a project for women and it’s just me so I invited other women to the table. I also couldn’t do a project for women and not invite men to the table so I had a few of my bros feature on the album. The album turned into a movement. I didn’t want to put out a piece of music and not have tools for people to have a conversation. I’m putting it out with a purpose for people to engage in conversations that shift the paradigm or will help create a culture where people really respect women. We did a social media campaign, I do two annual events long with my partner Get Jayne Consulting, which is now Get Jayne Sounds, and we do something for Sexual Assault Awareness Months which is in April. We do Denim Day Detroit, and we do another event called Pure Purple which is for domestic violence and that happens in October. I also have a curriculum where I mentor young girls in self-esteem and body image. I’ve been doing that for the past two years. That’s pretty much what it is.
TRHH: Keeping with the theme of women, what’s your opinion on the Presidency of Donald Trump and the reaction by so many women throughout the world to him being in power?
Mahogany Jones: It’s so funny because as soon as I was saying I really want to be in a position to create a paradigm shift on how we treat and engage women his face just popped up in my brain like a hologram [laughs]. I’m just really saddened by a lot. My personal belief and stance is I’m definitely pro-life, but I believe that women should have the choice. I don’t believe that abortion should be a contraceptive, ‘cause it’s not. I think being responsible is really important, but again, who am I to judge? I don’t think we as a government should legislate morality, so when I see all these crazy decisions that he’s making it’s very disheartening and very sad. Especially knowing that he has no regard for women and the fact that little boys are on the bus telling girls, “Trump says I can grab your pussy,” it’s like wow, really? It’s no bueno, man. It’s all bad. I don’t even know what to say.
TRHH: Me either. Back to the music. What inspired the song Home?
Mahogany Jones: Again, I think it’s a very compromising situation for me as someone who is a U.S. Musical Ambassador and has worked with the State Department and seen great things come from our country and seen how in a lot of ways the U.S. does really help a lot of countries in regards to foreign policy. But in a lot of ways we’re also pretty foul [laughs]. Being a woman of color and living in the country I’m definitely pushed to the edge in society, I’m definitely marginalized in a lot of ways. Our bodies are disregarded. This recent rash of police brutality is crazy. I live in a predominantly white neighborhood and the things that come out of people’s mouth sometimes just blows me away. I just realize that in a lot of ways we’re definitely displaced and we don’t have somewhere that feels like it’s ours. It’s very compromising because as much as I am African, I’m more American. I’ve been to different countries in Africa and it’s like, “Oh yeah, you’re an American,” and I’m like, “Wait, I’m African!” and it’s like, “Not really, shorty!” It’s rough.
TRHH: I’d never left North America until recently – I went to England. When people heard me talk they’d go, “Oh, you’re an American!” For some reason I never identified as being an American. Does that make sense?
Mahogany Jones: Oh no, it does! That’s so loaded, “Oh, you’re an American,” is so loaded with disgust, awe, it’s a lot that comes with that but it’s true and you feel it. Did you feel that for the first time that this country in so many ways doesn’t embrace me, but in so many ways I am so much a part of this country?
TRHH: Yes. The people in Europe made me feel that way. I don’t feel like an American in America, but they made me feel like an American over there. It was definitely noticeable. I had mixed reactions from people. They were all positive but it was like, “Oh my God, you’re an American! Where are you from? That’s so cool!” and then, “Are you voting for Trump?” [Laughs] The funniest thing is I told everybody that he’s not gonna win. I was literally like, “Don’t worry about it. There’s no way he can win.” I didn’t think it would happen.
Mahogany Jones: Again, I wonder if there’s someone who listens to the stuff I say and is like, “We’re not sending her anywhere anymore!” [Laughs] It just makes you wonder if there is some massive diabolical plan in the works. Sometimes it’s like, is this a conspiracy theory? It makes me believe more so in the whole idea of Armageddon. Is this some crazy social experience? Are you doing this to push us to the edge to see what will happen? Are you trying to make another Civil Rights Movement happen by putting us in the throes of the most doomsday situation? Did you put out Hunger Games to set us up to get us ready for what’s coming?
TRHH: Your style is a little bit aggressive. How do you balance your aggressive style with keeping it clean and delivering a message at the same time?
Mahogany Jones: [Laughs] I don’t know. It’s so funny. I just feel like I’m a life mixologist. I’m the kid that was like, “I wonder what chocolate and potato chips is gonna taste like?” “I wonder what happens if I mix this with this?” I get my Punky Brewster on. Everything in my life is mixed up. I like colors mixed up, I like food mixed up, I like genres of music mixed up. Just how I am as an individual is a very strange balance. Even as an educator my kids are like, “Oh my gosh, I have so much fun with you but you’re so mean!” [Laughs] I don’t mean to be, but it’s in love. I don’t really know. I don’t know if I’m always successful that’s why I intentionally hold myself and say, “Just do an album where you aren’t talking about anything heavy.” I don’t know how successful I was when I go back and listen to Sugar Water. I don’t know if it always works ‘cause that’s just what it is.
Mahogany Jones: Wow, I’m working alongside Versatile Entertainment, which I’m really proud to say. One of my heroes that I look up to as a lyricist, J-Live, is a part of that collective. We’re working together to actually put out a deluxe edition of Sugar Water this summer with a few remixes that I can’t leak yet, but I’m excited. One of which will probably be with J-Live on Dying Breed. The deluxe version of Sugar Water will be coming out but I’m working on new music as well. I have two projects in the works. One is with a trumpeter and composer whose name is Kris Johnson. We’re working on doing a live album. I’m pretty stoked about that. Then I have an album called “Blurred” which is basically talking about once physical niceties have exchanged it kind of blurs the ability to properly see or make good choices or decisions when it comes to being with somebody. Those are the three things that are in the works.
One of the best lyricists in Hip-Hop currently is Chicago’s own Vic Spencer. His music is not reminiscent of Chicago’s drill scene or its conscious movement — Vic has his own lane. His rhymes are full of wit and depth, while being very much hood.
Vic’s latest release is a joint project with an equally eclectic artist, Big Ghost Ltd. The duo teamed up for an 11-track album called The Ghost of Living. The album is produced entirely by Big Ghost Ltd and features appearances by D. Brash, Q. Grav, Goose, and Alex P. Keaton.
Vic Spencer recently spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about The Ghost of Living, how he hooked up with the elusive Big Ghost, getting props from the late Sean Price, and his upcoming musical releases.
Vic Spencer: I hooked up with Big Ghost through a tweet. Somebody suggested my music to him. He went and listened and I guess he liked what he heard. I guess he was waiting for me to reach out to him. It was so quick. I saw somebody say something and then I heard the Griselda Ghost album. I liked dude’s production so I wanted to put it out there that I’d jump down on some Ghost production if I had the chance. He saw that, hit me up and was like, “I’ve been listening. The music is heavy. Let’s do something.” I just started recording instantly. He started sending me beats, I started recording, and we finished the joint in like two and a half months. It happened that quick and I didn’t think he was going to release it this year but going deeper into the project, the last few songs that we recorded made it sound real wintery. We wanted to make it sound like some “winter body bag slap box with polar bear” music.
TRHH: Big Ghost is a mysterious guy so what was the process like going back and forth while you were recording it?
Vic Spencer: We had a few phone conversations and a lot of it was through text. We’d dialogue through text what he’d like to hear. I was actually looking for him to be a critic to the work but just from working with him on this project he already has the self-belief in the person already that he works with. I’m looking for him to critique each song that I send him a reference to but he’s just excited with how fast I’d done the work and how effective it is. He was like, “Ah man, this is so cold!” and I was like, “Man, ain’t none of the songs wack?” [Laughs] That’s what’s up. It was just a process – sending him joints after I’m done recording. I would record a joint for our project every Saturday for two and a half months. I’d send him a reference and he was just going crazy. He mixed and mastered the project so he formulated everything – the track listing and how the tracks should flow. He did all of that and that’s a first for me because I’m normally the guy that does that. He has the same belief and faith that I do so we shared that. We have a lot of things in common – the music that we listen to, the age – the old villains win [laughs].
TRHH: Why did you release this project so soon after St. Gregory?
Vic Spencer: I wanted to have something like a quick strike album. I never did that before. I came out swinging early last year with Chris $pencer, the album with Chris Crack. Then I came out with a Best of, but it really wasn’t like a Best of. It was more some of my recent recordings that didn’t have a position on any album so I put a lot of those songs together. Some of my songs from previous albums are also on there. I put out St. Gregory as my main solo album. I didn’t think it was going to come out but Ghost really believed in dropping it this year. He hit me out of nowhere like, “I’m going to drop another artist’s project before ours,” and this was in between me recording so I wanted to knock all these songs out and get them out the way so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. That’s how I work. I’m sitting on 3-4 albums. With that it was easy for me to go ahead, finish, and knock it out. By the time I finished all the joints he was like, “You finished it so fast. I believe in it. I’m listening to it thoroughly, it sounds like a murder on Christmas album. Let’s drop it this year!”
We were really behind the scenes wondering if we could get it done. I said, “With the position of power that you’re in, your opinion is stronger than mine, I say yes. You go out there and put the word out and it’s going to do some numbers.” He believed in that and I’m glad that he did. St. Gregory got slept on, too. It got slept on kind of hard. I wasn’t expecting anything big from St. Gregory, but just coming off The Cost of Victory, the album that made it to Rolling Stone, so forth and so on, when I dropped this album I believed that it’s better than The Cost of Victory, it just didn’t get any of the publicity that The Cost of Victory did, so when Big Ghost hit me about dropping it this year I thought maybe this will be able to slap ‘em in the head and put a foot on their neck since they didn’t want to give me the praise that St. Gregory deserved. Maybe some people will go back and check out St. Gregory as well. It’s a double edged blade, it just happened so quick though.
TRHH: On Vicente Fernandez you kind of sent some shots at some rap cats. Do you feel out of place amongst your peers?
Vic Spencer: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s definitely speaking to that and I don’t have no problem with that, actually. Last year it came to me that I’m an individual, I’m not just a Chicago rapper. I had to stop looking for the respect from these new artists from Chicago and start building with legends that I believe in from Chicago or outside of Chicago. I don’t look at Chicago artists that I look up to as “Chicago artists” I look at them as legends. I started to put myself in that position and that form. It’s me getting it out of my system that I don’t need these young guys’ respect. I’m still gon’ chin check ‘em, and of course that’s what Vicente Fernandez did.
Also it’s just a sign of me moving forward in my career as a legend. It’s something that I’m trying to go after. You never seen none of my albums with none of these young rappers on it. You only see legends on there. That’s why I’m trying to move forward and not even think about or listen to what these artists are doing, because that’s what kind of got me off track and going at rappers in 2015. That’s definitely what Vic Spencer do, but Vic Spencer wasn’t made to come in the game and try to do publicity stunts and all of that. Vic Spencer wants to be a legend. I want to be around when you talk about Eminem, Hov, Westside Gunn & Conway, Sean Price, and Redman. That’s where I want my name to be mentioned, not with these Chicago rappers.
TRHH: Your rhyme style is different from almost everything coming out of Chicago. How did you develop your style of emceeing?
Vic Spencer: Right. I developed my style of emceeing from listening to a lot of off the grid rappers. I listened to Redman, Yukmouth, and Sean Price and started to formulate something that I could call my own. The beats do a lot of talking for me, too. If the beats fire and it touches my soul then I’m all over it. My style is not to be focused on one thing. When people listen to one of my songs they should learn more than one thing. I have no conceptual songs so I try to stay away from doing that type of stuff and teach things in the music. More conversational. We don’t talk to each other no more. We’re always on the phone or on social media. Humans don’t talk to people how they should or how they did when I was growing up. We had telephones. We had to run home if we wanted to talk. We met up with our friends and did stuff. We talked at the lunch table about different stuff. That stuff ain’t going on no more so I’m just trying to keep that alive in some sort of sense when I’m creating a record.
TRHH: On Adventures of Vic Spencer you reference how Sean Price gave you props before he passed. What was it like working with Sean and how much did his words mean to you?
Vic Spencer: Me and Sean Price developed a real good relationship before he passed – the last three years. I remember him calling me and telling me that I inspire him and that just did something to me, man. I didn’t let it resonate for a legend to look at me and listen to my music on a level that I listen to his. I took it serious but the words he was saying were way beyond me. He always was the type of guy that would spit a rap to me, tell me 1000 jokes, and then drop the real bombs on me. Sean Price was one of those guys that was telling me to rap over trap beats, believe it or not [laughs]. He would tell me, “Man, you need to jump on some Young Chop beats,” and I’m like, “Naw cuz, What? Are you kidding me? I’m not finna jump on that shit after listening to 5000 Sean Price songs. Come on, bro!” We dialogued back and forth about it and what his thing was, was, “Yo, you can be better than me.” He was one of those kind of guys. He said I didn’t need his co-sign. He said, “You’re the type of dude that can jump on a Twista beat and be rapping just like him.”
His whole metaphor behind it was, “I want you to look at it like I’m an old school car and you’re one of the euro cars. You can still drive around, I’m the car that pulls up on the block, get out, posts up, and everybody respects it. But you, you can move around out here. You don’t need a tune up every 3-4 months.” I thought it was pretty dope to get that kind of advice and push from an artist that I respect and looked up to. For one of my all-time idols to tell me that is amazing, man. I always hailed that high to my career because having a person like Sean Price back you is like finding a real diamond in the dirt because he don’t like nobody! He glorified it and people respect him for that. When he starting bigging me up, people respect that too. I’m going to always have Sean Price in my blood. That’s why he wasn’t on St. Gregory because he was there in my spirit when I was doing that album.
TRHH: You said you have four albums worth of material, so what’s next up for Vic Spencer?
Vic Spencer: I’m finishing up the second album with my brother Chris Crack. We go by a group called Chris $pencer. We got the tracks all done, we ain’t got a title yet, we ain’t got the art, but that’s what we’re working on right now. We’re just mixing and mastering. So that’s the next thing that I’m gonna drop. I plan on having an album with super-extraordinary producer A.Villa. He’s from Chicago as well. He put out a compilation with all of the Hip-Hop legends – Noreaga, Sean Price, Skyzoo, everybody was on his album. It was like a Kid Capri mixtape. He’s a DJ but he produced it, it’s crazy. I got an album with him on the way. I got an album with my boy Dr. Mindbender. He produced 4 or 5 joints on St. Gregory. He produced a lot of joints for me throughout my whole career, from the Walk Away music on down. He did a lot. I got my next solo album. I’m like 25 joints in. I’m going to pick like 12 joints, but I like to have 40 to 50 joints to pick from. That’s how I work, that’s how I get down. I’m halfway done with the recording process of my next solo album. Big Ghost said he wanted to do a part 2, but we ain’t started working on that yet. We’re gonna keep that under the wraps.
Then I got this other album called Women’s Bathroom. It’s basically me, one producer that goes by the name of O’Bounjour, and I just went and picked the dopest female rappers and put them on my album. It’s like 25 features with different women on the album. It’s narrated by a woman in the bathroom talking about what women talk about in the bathroom. We’re not accepted in the bathroom. It’s sort of like a manipulation for guys. That’s sort of how the concept came about for the album. The whole album is just about being accepted by women. It’s pretty dope, man. I’ve been working on that album for about seven years, man [laughs]. I ain’t gon’ even front. Every year I put something into it. I want people to care about female artists, especially female artists I rock with. I’m working on that. That’s a real deep project that you want to impress the teacher with, so I’m holding on to that. I’m just working, man. That’s what’s going on for Vic Spencer. It’s a working year and I’m just going to keep it flexing how Sean Price would want me to do it.
With a name like “Intelligenz” you know before you hear one lyric that you’re going to hear something of substance. Intelligenz is an emcee from Chicago, now residing in the DMV, who takes pride in delivering conscious content. Don’t mistake her femininity for a lack of ferociousness. Intelligenz’ music masterfully combines consciousness and her Christian faith without losing her aggressiveness on the mic.
In 2012 Intelligenz won MC Lyte’s Next Top Female MC Competition which led to a mentorship with arguably the greatest female emcee of all-time. A military veteran who is no stranger to discipline, Intelligenz continued to hone her craft in the studio and on the road and her hard work resulted in a deal with underground independent Hip-Hop label, HiPNOTT Records.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Intelligenz about her relationship with rap legend MC Lyte, the importance of consciousness in her music, and her upcoming project on HiPNOTT Records.
Intelligenz: I actually kind of stumbled upon it when I was in Vegas having a conversation about the state of Hip-Hop. I felt like we were getting away from the conscious state that I was familiar with Hip-Hop being in. I just said, “How come people don’t rap with more intelligence?” When I heard the name I thought it was pretty dope and I asked my friend who was there if they thought it fit and he was like, “Yeah, I think it’s you.” My first concern was does it sound arrogant and he was like, “No, it works,” so I ran with Intelligenz.
TRHH: You’re originally from Chicago and on the second verse of your new single Welcome to the Grind you use that Chicago flow. Would you say you learned the importance of the grind from growing up in Chicago?
Intelligenz: Absolutely. Not to take anything from anywhere else but I feel like Chicago is known for being able to make it through the struggle, the hustle, and that includes tragedy, poverty, and success even. The winters — It may sound a little funny but winters are harsh, especially when you’re struggling. I just think it toughens you and it definitely is a grind at all times.
TRHH: How did you make the transition from being a Military Police Officer in the Air Force to being an emcee?
Intelligenz: I’ve always written. It was just kind of my way out, I just more so kept it to myself. When I came into the military I could remember being at my first base and being at technical training school and this group of guys were around freestyling. That was my chance in a new world to branch out and say, “Here’s what I can do.” I was horrible at first freestyling [laughs]. The fellas quickly let me know that. It was pretty much battle rap style – they talked about you head to toe. They also motivated me and treated me like a little sister but when it came to that everybody went in. That’s how I got my courage to step outside the box a bit and speak up, but I was still very hidden. I didn’t necessarily pursue it. My focus was the military and giving the military 100%. At the time I was around a lot of people who wanted to pursue music and it was kind of swaying them toward some decisions that I wouldn’t necessarily make.
I enjoyed my time in the military so once I got out, I was married at the time, I would always write and write and my ex-husband said, “Why don’t you just go for this? You’re out here writing like you’re putting out an album.” I always feared the stage and the spotlight. I didn’t want celebrity, I just wanted the music. I decided, you know what, it’s time. I’ve loved this, I’ve tried this, I’ve tried a couple of open mics in the military and I enjoyed it. I appreciated the applause but I still didn’t feel comfortable on the stage. When I got out the military I decided it was now or never. Either I was going to live with regret or live with at least knowing that I tried.
TRHH: Talk about your relationship with MC Lyte and what is some of the best advice she’s given you?
Intelligenz: I think some of the best advice I’ve received from Lyte is probably some of the unspoken advice. That’s not me trying to navigate from some of the things that she has shared, which I’m willing to share, it’s just how she carries herself. I was just referencing her the other day. She moves with such a state of class and excellence. The biggest thing that I’ve learned from her just from observation is she treats every single person that she encounters like a person who is deserving as they are of respect. There is no ego, there is no arrogance, there is a certain type of kindness and positive energy that exudes off her and you can’t fake that. For me, I like to be around genuine people regardless of whatever celebrity status you feel you have or have been confirmed. It’s about how you treat people and that’s one of the things I appreciate, and how I treat others, learning from her.
Some of the best advice that she’s given me is to stay true to who I am as an artist. If I’m an emcee, be an emcee. Don’t be afraid to speak about something that’s conscious and also don’t be afraid to step out into different areas and tap into other talents that you may have. Overall be true to the craft. The biggest thing I’ve learned from her is stepping back and observing as an emcee, as a daughter, as a woman in this industry to treat everyone with respect. I can’t express that enough because I’ve seen quite a bit. It’s nice to see someone at the top of their career, at the top of their game, with longevity, still have a sense of sincerity to everyone that they encounter – it’s humbling.
TRHH: You mentioned being conscious twice. Why is it important to you, and why do you think it’s important in music to have a level of consciousness?
Intelligenz: I think because there’s power in consciousness. I don’t necessarily like to say “woke” because I think that’s a term that’s becoming exploited. I mean conscious on any level, and that includes having the right to choose music. We’re now in a place where we are so conditioned that if someone isn’t co-signed by someone who is famous we don’t even break new artists anymore. We haven’t even opened up our minds to say, “You know what, I really like that record. Nobody knows who that is, I’ve never heard of them, I’ve never seen any of their shows but I heard this song and I loved it.” On the reverse side of that is, I didn’t like that song at all, but this person just co-signed them and they’re going on tour with this person so because the industry has stamped them we have determined that the music that they put out into the world is now quality. Conscious to be able to make our own decisions, conscious to take our power back as our own consumers, the power that came with Hip-Hop as far as unity. Although there was a period where we had gangsta rap and there are things that we can always improve, we still had people like Lyte, people like Queen and U.N.I.T.Y., we had The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, we had Eve speaking about women being abused — we had variety. In that variety was consciousness. Today we just kind of have this one lane.
Consciousness is important to me because it’s a part of who I am, it’s not all of who I am but it’s an aspect of who I am, and I would like to always be honest with that. Also because I think it’s time we get back to diversification in music. That’s what I think is frustrating for a lot of listeners. We’ve maybe lost 5-to-10 years of an audience of people who felt like they lacked being fed in music. It just became here is the blueprint: club music, turn up. If you have to rewind the track today and you couldn’t pick it up the first time it’s considered a task to people. Some have been so mentally conditioned to get it the first time around and not have to evaluate what’s being said. It’s only about the beat, and while that’s nice in one aspect to want to hear great chords and great drum kits, if that’s what your music renders, at the same time words are so powerful and can last for so long, especially with them being repetitious, just like a melody. We’re just not giving our audiences that. We’re no longer giving them the variety. For me, being conscious is staying true to the music that I like to put out without being apologetic about it, even if in the beginning it takes me just a little bit longer to reach the masses. They’re out there, we just have to keep fighting for them back.
Intelligenz: Round of Applause was kind of me saying I’ve been grinding for so long, nobody really knows, but it’s okay for me to pat myself on the back. It was a long time and a hard time for me accepting God’s gift. I didn’t know how to balance being confident without feeling like that confidence was a form of arrogance. As a result deep down I think I doubted my talent. When Round of Applause came around it was my way of saying, “It’s okay. Yes, I deserve this and I don’t necessarily need that validation from everyone.” Even though I’m saying I need a round of applause that round of applause begins with me inward and then outwardly next. I speak on a lot of things.
That third verse is dedicated to Lyte. I start it saying, “See Lyte gave me the light and the lesson that’s understood/When a legend lends you a message it’s a blessing for what is good.” I’m just talking about how she takes me underneath her wing, she tells me that I can be unstoppable, which is also the name of her book. In the beginning I talk about my relationship and dynamic with family – the ups and downs, the loyalty and lack of loyalty, family can be by blood, by friend, associate, extension, there’s a lot that’s in there.
TRHH: When can fans expect to hear your full-length project?
Intelligenz: I pushed it back. A lot of stuff was brewing underneath. I just came off tour with the legendary Slick Rick. There’s a lot of great things happening as a result. People are reaching out to me, I’m getting better production opportunities now. At the very latest we’re looking at April, no later than that. Just because of some of the timelines that are coming up after that. My first EP with my label HiPNOTT Records is going to be called Feature Don’t Follow.
TRHH: What’s the meaning behind that title?
Intelligenz: Even going back to the comment on conscious state and everybody following one blueprint, everyone is starting to have the same sound. While it’s okay for similarities and a trend I didn’t want us to get into a place where we lose our own sense of artistry and creativity and begin to blend too much. When I have my first official album I want to be one of the first females in quite a while to put out a project where it’s only me. I’ll have a singer but as far as an emcee I will be the only person rapping. The singing parts I will be writing every hook, every verse, and organizing every melody. That also limits the opportunity of people that I respect as emcees that I would love to work for.
That’s what’s going to happen on Feature Don’t Follow. I’m saying be who you are, collaborate with people without necessarily picking up their sound. Like I said, you’ll always find similarities with emcees because most of what you’re trying to do has been done, but what I’m saying is don’t be afraid to tap into what you bring to the table. Whether that’s lyrically, swag, or creativity in how you deliver your verse. I will have featured people on this project but the goal is for us to bring our own talent to the table and not necessarily follow each other so, Feature Don’t Follow.
TRHH: What’s your ultimate goal in the music business?
Intelligenz: My ultimate goal I would say number one more than anything is to break every barrier and stereotype about what the female emcee is supposed to be. I want to bring a form of class and dignity that I feel like I had when I was growing up. It was okay to be clothed. Or if your choice is to lead with a little more sex appeal, I was also welcome even if I’m clothed. I got to choose from many different women and pick which one I wanted to be as an example. My representation and how I carry myself, I hope that other young women subscribe to it. I hope that I influence them in a positive way. I hope I lead the trail to say that it’s okay to do Hip-Hop and also speak Christ’s name.
I hope that I’m able to reach and influence other females to say that it’s okay to write, to literally have words that matter and power, and it’s okay to look something up. You do not have to subscribe to this blueprint of us being overly exposed, or six inch heels, or tights or we won’t be seen. If that’s who you are, own it. No matter what I say or the next person. But if you feel pressured and think it’s the only way to get there I hope that my path and how I’ve carried myself brings someone else a little bit of influence, positivity, and hope that’s it’s possible. That they can see my journey and say, “She did it, it’s possible.” Maybe I won’t get there to that Grammy, but I hope if somebody is watching me that they feel like for whatever their level of integrity is they feel confident enough, secure enough, ambitious enough, risky enough to jump and trust their dreams and be exactly who they are as they pursue it.
Jabee is an Emmy-award winning emcee from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His music is thought provoking, inspirational, and from the heart. Jabee unapologetically gives listeners a glimpse of what life is like for a young black man from OKC. Jabee’s most recent full-length release carries on that tradition.
Titled “In the Black Future There’s a Place so Dangerously Absurd” or “Black Future” for short, Jabee’s 20-track album features appearances by Statik Selektah, Najah Amatullah, Meant2B, Deus, Allie Lauren, Hannibal King, Miillie Mesh, Cookie Turner, CID, Ashliann, Adam Ledbetter, and Chuck D. Black Future has production from Sardash, Chris Cutta, Phen, DJ Semaj, The Jake, Jonathan Cloud, Halo Hitz, and Todd Beats.
Public Enemy front man Chuck D has been quoted as saying, “Jabee’s music has the potential to change the world,” and that’s heavy praise coming from the likes of Chuck.
Jabee: It’s based on a friend of mines poem. Whenever you think about the future, not only the future of our people, but anybody, you want a bright future, we want successful lives for ourselves and our children. That’s where the title comes from. It was originally written for a Black History program. My friend who wrote it said that Black History has become passé. We’re just so used to hearing it and you pat yourself on the back during Black History Month. She was like, “What about the black future?” That’s what the motivation was behind it.
TRHH: Given the current state of black people in America, what’s the ideal vision of our future that you have?
Jabee: It’s a lot of different things. I guess for me it’s about taking care of each other, loving each other, and making sure each other is safe and protected. That’s all we want. I think that if we did that for each other the future is bright.
Jabee: I definitely heard about it but I haven’t read it though.
TRHH: I just started reading it and the author, Dr. Joy DeGruy, talked about how she went to South Africa in 1994 and everyone greeted each other with, “How are the children?” It was kind of like if the children are okay, we’re all okay kind of thing. In America her son was about to get beat up by a bunch of boys who said he was looking at them funny. She was saying how do we go from “What you looking at?” in America to “How are the children?” in South Africa? I think that speaks to what you’re saying about if we just cared about each other more.
Jabee: Wow. Yeah. I need to read that. That’s exactly right. You hit the nail on the head. A lot of that is we’re so used to and conditioned to only be concerned with our wellbeing and how I’m doing. If I’m good that’s all that matters. There’s so many slogans and phrases that are exclusive and it’s all about me, me, me. Part of my mission is to try and change that. That’s where we get lost because it’s not just about you. If I’m straight, it’s my job to make sure somebody else is straight. If I’m civilized, it’s my job to civilize the uncivilized. If I got it, then it’s yours. We’re so used to bragging about us having and you not having. To me that’s wrong.
Jabee: I was going through some stuff with close friends. I’m from Oklahoma and a lot of musicians, artists, bands, and rappers try to make it out of Oklahoma. I’m not anywhere where I’d like to be by any means, but to a lot of people I’m doing a lot. People don’t realize that you’re still sacrificing so much. You’re sabotaging so much of your life. I’m on tour right now. I have two young daughters that I’m not getting to be with because I’ve been on the road for weeks. Somebody back home who has not been able to tour may look at me and say, “He thinks he’s all that,” no, I’m working hard for this and I’m sacrificing so much to be out there. Not only that, I’m doing shows but I’m not making anything. I’m using my own money and I’m borrowing. It’s not about who is the dopest, it’s about getting out and doing it and fighting for what you want. At the same time all the negative things that come back when all you’re trying to do is do you – that’s where it came from.
TRHH: Do you feel pressured to leave Oklahoma? I’m from Chicago and I’m old enough to remember a time when nobody cared about Chicago Hip-Hop. Nobody cared about Chicago Hip-Hop until Kanye. Common and Twista were here for 10-12 years and they did okay. Common didn’t blow until he moved to New York. That was the thing, Shawnna moved to Atlanta. Everybody had to leave to be somebody. Do you feel that pressure to leave home?
Jabee: I used to. I used to a lot. Not so much no more. I feel like a lot of my story lies in the fact that I am from Oklahoma. I feel like just by me being there it makes things easier. I can just live there, hop on a plane, be in New York for two weeks, and come back home. As opposed to moving to New York, jumping in the scene, struggling to pay bills, and everything that comes along with it. Not so much no more, but I did early on because the culture in Oklahoma was small for Hip-Hop music. I feel like now they’re kind of opening more to a Hip-Hop scene and it’s growing. It’s easier to be there and have opportunities at home for rapping.
Before you couldn’t get a show so you try to go to Houston, Dallas, or Kansas City. There are still places like Atlanta and L.A. where there is a music industry for urban and Hip-Hop music, but I feel better just going and visiting for a couple of weeks, recording, meeting with people, and setting up stuff. Then they make it a point to take time and see me because I’m only there for a couple of days. If I moved it would be like, “I’ll get with you next week,” but I’m only here for a couple of days so we have to do it now. I think it’s gotten better, at least for me, to be in Oklahoma because I can do a lot there whereas years ago I couldn’t and it was necessary to leave. I love it. I don’t ever plan on moving.
Jabee: Of course production wise. Everything Was Beautiful I put out with MURS. It was put out under his name and he didn’t want any samples so the production I got to have a little bit more freedom with. With Everything Was Beautiful I only had two weeks to record the album because he wanted to put it out on a certain day. And I was just in a different place in my life. I was at a place where I wanted to stop rapping. I had just had my first baby, that’s why I put her on the cover of it. Because I was at that place in my life I wrote that album as if I was writing it to her in case something happened to me, they could play it for her and she could say, “Okay, I see what my daddy was like.” With this album I kind of was more about the message. It wasn’t about being super-lyrical, having the hottest bars, and trying to kill cats. It was just about getting the message across and expressing how I was feeling, what I was going through, and what I was seeing around the world.
TRHH: What happened with your relationship with MURS?
Jabee: Nothing, we’re still tight. I was just on tour with him last summer. I think when he started doing the label thing he had just signed the deal with Strange right after. He didn’t really shut it down, he just kind of passed it off to somebody. He was still going to be involved but the guy he passed it off to kind of dropped the ball and didn’t really want to do it. I think it kind of left some cats hanging, but me, I was already on it before I met MURS. It was nothing for me to pick up the pieces and keep going. That’s still my bro. I call and talk to him even if it ain’t about music – just advice on life. That’s someembody that’s genuinely my friend and a big brother to me.
TRHH: How’d you link up with Statik Selektah for Exhausted?
Jabee: I met Statik at South By one year. We talked for a little bit and he was like, “When you get home send me a track so I can check you out.” I think he had missed my performance but somebody had told him about me. When I got home I sent him a track and he said, “When you get to New York hit me up, we’ll work.” I went to New York, he invited me to his house, he made some beats, we recorded, we watched the Mayweather fight, and just kicked it. We’ve been cool ever since.
TRHH: Why is it important for Jabee to speak on issues that pertain to black people?
Jabee: Because I’m black [laughs]. And I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine being black in America. I feel like our culture has been invaded so much, especially with rap music. We kind of lose our identity in a lot of ways. What’s ours isn’t even ours anymore in a lot of ways. I just want people to know that a lot of the things that we see, a lot of it’s wrong. Being black it’s a part of my responsibility. Not only that, I’ve dealt with it and seen it in a lot of ways. Whether it’s police brutality or black on black crime or racism, I’ve dealt with a lot of that stuff. I’ve had situations in all those areas. It’s affected me so I speak on it. I know if it’s affecting me in Oklahoma City it’s affecting so many people all across the country.
TRHH: What was your opinion when you heard Lil’ Wayne say he never experienced racism and was dismissive of the Black Lives Matters movement?
Jabee: Even though he came back and apologized and said he was high – he might have been high – he was just being real. He’s not a normal, everyday person. For instance if Lil’ Wayne walks in a bank they’re not going to look at him the same way they look at me. If Lil’ Wayne walks in a room full of white people they aren’t going to look at him the same way they look at me. He’s not an everyday black person. He’s not dealing with the same things an everyday average person on the streets deals with. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be an average black man in America because he’s not an average black man in America.
I think in a lot of ways he needs to be humbled. The same kids who are dealing with those things, getting pulled over, and having all these things happen to them in the streets are the same ones that support, believe in him, and buy his music. To say you don’t believe in it is one thing, but to say, “I don’t have to deal with it because I’m a different kind of person, class, and individual. My circumstances are different, but I definitely believe that it happens,” that’s one thing. But to be like, “I don’t believe in it, it’s not real ‘cause I don’t deal with it.” that’s wrong. It’s definitely out here.
I thought he was just being honest. He don’t know what it’s like. You go to a Lil’ Wayne concerts and its thousands and thousands of little white kids, so to him white people love him. That’s the reason I don’t use the word “nigga” in my song because of situations like this. The same kids who are at the Lil’ Wayne concert rapping every lyric and thinking it’s cool might be the same ones who are at a private school in the suburbs and when they see a real n-i-g-g-a in 7-11 then they act different than they did when they saw Lil’ Wayne at the concert. Or they’ll go to a party, try to fit in, and think it’s okay to say nigga. People like that don’t know because they aren’t around real people all the time. They aren’t actually in society the way we’re in society.
TRHH: Yeah, but how can you not know? That’s my thing.
Jabee: I think he shouldn’t have said he doesn’t believe in it. He should have said, “I don’t experience it, but I know it goes on.”
TRHH: Definitely. I don’t know much about Oklahoma, but I know they’ve had two black people in the past year who’ve been killed by police, right?
TRHH: I know that much! If you watch the news you know what’s going on in Chicago. You have to know!
Jabee: Exactly. You gotta understand he’s not a real person. He’s a musician and some musicians we can’t look to them for their social awareness or their political views because they just don’t know. They’re not there for that. I remember watching Lil’ Wayne when I was in middle school. When you watch somebody grow up in the spotlight, you watch them go from one person to another, for instance, I grew up around gang culture and I have family members in gangs. Where I come from you don’t just become a gang member just because you hang around people. You gotta be put on. You don’t just become a gang member because you decide to one day and that’s the colors you wear. You gotta legitimately get put on. It’s not something that you can put on and take off like a costume. That’s not real people to me. I think he’s a dope rapper, but that’s it. I don’t pay attention to him for anything other than him rapping. His opinion on rap or politics I don’t listen to because it’s not real. It’s not coming from somebody who is experienced in life like an average person.
TRHH: Let me ask you this then, the backlash that Kanye has received for supporting Trump, is that different than the Wayne situation because Kanye actually used to speak about things?
Jabee: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I feel like Kanye, I hate to say it, I feel like Kanye is on drugs [laughs]. I feel like there’s some part of him that’s still there. One moment I’ll be like, “Man, what’s wrong with this fool?” then I’ll see a video where some kids stopped him in the street and he let him rap for him. I still see glimpses of the old Kanye, but again when you get so high up I think it’s possible to forget where you started, where you came from and what you’ve been through. It can make you who you really are or who you really wanted to be at the end. We never know, he could have just been pimping that whole conscious thing just to get in the door.
TRHH: Conscious rap hasn’t worked for too many people [laughs].
Jabee: Yeah, that’s true. It hasn’t. I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. I saw that he met with Trump but I don’t know if he said why. I read different things about him wanting an autograph and he was speaking to him about stuff in Chicago. I was listening to a 2Pac interview the other day from like 94-95 and he was saying how, “It’s crazy how we sell 5 million records and no politicians reach out to us. The President hasn’t reached out. We’re the voice of five million people in our country and not one President has spoken to us.” When I think about it like that I can kind of appreciate it. I think it’s one thing to say, “This is our President, I want to holler at him and let him know what’s going on,” but at the time he was saying he would vote for him, I don’t know. From what I could tell anybody with money wanted Donald Trump to win. Kanye got money so it might make sense for tax reasons to support him.
TRHH: Totally. What’s your ultimate goal in the music business?
Jabee: My ultimate goal is just to share my story, try to inspire some people, make a living, and continue to do it for as long as I can. I want to be on the road and take my kids with me and have fun. I want to try and be there for people and help change lives. I don’t want it to stop with music. If I’m on tour and I get to your city during the day we can do a workshop or a conference and do the concert at night time. During the day we do a class and in the evening we do the concert. That’s my ultimate goal, to be able to do stuff like that. During the day we go to a high school, spend all day at the high school with the students whether it’s speaking or teaching, and at night we have the concert. That’s the kind of things I want to do.
Recent appearances on Sirius/XM’s Sway in the Morning show introduced a whole new audience to Ren Thomas but make no mistake about it, Ren ain’t new to this. The north Jersey native has a handful of projects on his resume and is a champion battle rapper. Ren didn’t just get dope, he’s been nice.
Ren’s latest effort is a 13-track album executive produced by DJ Lord Sear called, I Been Nice. The album is produced by Pete Rock, TAB, Level 13, Expo, OLR, Per C Wells, Nemisis, A.U.R.C., Nightwalker, and Solo For Dolo. I Been Nice features appearances by Illmaculate, Twizz, Jade Gritty, Boogieman Dela, Lawrence Arnell, Cambatta, and Skrewtape.
Ren Thomas chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about his relationship with Lord Sear, on why he’s not just a battle rapper, and his new album, I Been Nice.
Ren Thomas: I won Team Backpack this year. Every year they have a big competition with about 10,000 emcees. I ended up winning and they were basically dropping a bunch of my videos. One of the videos was titled, “Ren Thomas has been killing shit lately.” I was trying to come up with album titles with my DJ/producer Expo. He was looking at his phone and the video that just dropped and he said, “Yo, why did they say you’ve been killing shit lately? You been nice!” I was, “I been nice, yeah,” that’s why I titled it that.
TRHH: The single I Been Nice, is the remix by Pete Rock or is the original?
Ren Thomas: The original is by Pete Rock. The album cut is done by OLR out of Yugoslavia. Basically when me and Pete first started working together he said he would do the record but wanted to keep it promo so we didn’t run into anything down the road because the beat that I used he had used for something else. He didn’t want to run into problems down the road getting sued by a third party or something like that.
TRHH: What was it like working with Pete Rock though? Did you guys get together and do it?
Ren Thomas: No, I was working with Lord Sear. I was talking to Sear and he said, “Yo, I got a bunch of Pete Rock beats.” I said, “Let me hear them.” He played them and the first joint he played for me was the one I used for I Been Nice. I wrote it and recorded it and Sear sent it over to Pete and he was like, “Yo, I fuck with it.” Then me and Pete started having conversations and are talking now about doing a follow-up – maybe an EP, maybe a single, we’re not totally sure yet. We just did the Doomsday Cypher with Sway and finally got to meet and were in the same room. He’s an amazing dude.
TRHH: Do you think that having a battle rap pedigree makes people take you less serious as a recording artist?
Ren Thomas: I don’t want to generalize myself in that category because I came into battle rap different than a lot of other people did. I was already making music when I came into battle rap, so I was using battle rap as a tool to promote my music. Nowadays a lot of people these days don’t actually rap, they just do battle rap. It’s kind of strange to me that people do that. When I came in I was a recording artist already. I had a deal and the deal was stopping me from putting music out. The only option I had to keep rhyming all the time was to do battle rap. I decided to do it and that’s when I met Poison Pen and PH. Because I already had records out before I started battle rapping I feel like I wasn’t placed in the same category. I feel like I was always a better songwriter than a battle rapper in general.
TRHH: Have you ever felt the need to dumb down your rhymes to attract a bigger fan base?
Ren Thomas: I wouldn’t say I ever felt the need to do it. I definitely have. Even me as a listener to a lot of different kinds of music, because I have a really eclectic style where I don’t solely listen to Hip-Hop really. Sometimes I like when music is a little more dumbed down for certain reasons. It’s not the kind of stuff you’re going to listen to and gain knowledge from. Sometimes you just want to have a drink and smoke out with your homies and not have to pay attention to every little detail of every bar to catch it. I would never dumb down and say things that I didn’t believe in or rap about being a thug or selling crack or walking around with a pistol on me. I feel like that would be dumbing it down for someone like me because that would be me selling out and not talking about what I believe in. Sometimes the rhymes aren’t as crazy with over the head punch lines. Sometimes it’s cool to lay back and let the beat breathe a little bit and treat your words as if they’re another instrument.
TRHH: I was surprised at how versatile you are on this album actually. The music is very different. Is that consistent with how you’ve always been or was that something you went for specifically on this project?
Ren Thomas: Well, when I sit down and do a project I don’t really think about what I’m going to do. I kind of just take what I’m being surrounded by at the moment and start to write about it. I bring in producers I vibe with at that particular time. This album is really, really diverse. When I put out my previous project, “Who the Fuck is Ren Thomas?” I feel like every song sounded like it was a different album. This album sounds like every song fits it, but it’s very, very different in the way that I deliver on every song. I don’t want to always be so bar heavy and aggressive. Sometimes I want to lay back. Sometimes I want to make songs about getting my dick sucked. Sometimes I want to make songs about fighting. There are so many different personalities that I have inside of me that I want to release. I like to sing a little bit. I really started to experiment a lot on this album and through that I gained a lot of beautiful records, I feel.
TRHH: How has working with Lord Sear helped you to move forward in the game?
Ren Thomas: Sear is one of the most respected people from Stretch and Bobbito, his show on Shade 45, and Walk like a Duck. If you mention Lord Sear to somebody and they don’t know who he is then they basically don’t really know much about Hip-Hop because he’s such a pioneer. Me and him basically linked up and he started helping me out and getting me placed in the right situations and meeting a lot of the right people. I was the first artist he vouched for to be on Sway and Sway was highly impressed so he brought me back for the Doomsday Cypher. Working with Sear has basically pushed me to the next level. He’s just a great dude, yo. That’s my brother at the end of the day. I didn’t know who he was when we met each other and he didn’t know who I was. We were just two guys sitting next to each other at a bar, having drinks, and bullshitting with each other about sports. Mr. Len from Company Flow actually told him that I was one of his favorite rappers coming out of Jersey. Sear reached out to me a few weeks later, I sent him some music and he said this is who I am. I was like, “Oh shit, you’re Lord Sear?” I had no idea who he was. I met him as Chris or whatever his first name is. Working with him has really taken me to the next level. Just having that co-sign of him on this project is going to do a lot of extra numbers for me. I appreciate the fuck out of him.
TRHH: What’s your favorite song on the album?
Ren Thomas: I think that my favorite song on the album is probably “Focus.” I really, really like that record. I speak a lot of truth in that about what was happening in my life when I was recording this album. I talk about winning Team Backpack and pulling over on the side of the road and crying. I sold my first record that morning. It was the first record I ever sold to somebody. I made a bunch of money and went to Team Backpack and on the way I had Shade 45 on and my record came on. It never really hit me that I’d never been able to take the time to really be in the moment and see what I’ve been doing the last year. That was a moment of reflection for me like, “Damn, I just did a bunch of crazy shit!” I talk about my ex-girl on that record and I feel like I sing really well on it, too. Nightwalker did the production, I feel like it’s a phenomenal song. It’s like choosing your favorite kid. I feel like all 13 records on there are amazing in their own way, but that one speaks to me a lot.
Ren Thomas: I hope to achieve a bigger fan base. I’m always trying to grow that. I’m trying to tell people that, especially coming from battle rap, people constantly put me under that banner – I’ll rep that banner, that’s fine, but battle rappers can make music. Just because I spit really dope bars doesn’t mean I can’t make great records. I feel like this album is full of great records and people aren’t going to be able to deny that. I ain’t trying to change the world with it or nothing, I’m just trying to make it a step closer to changing the world.
Daniel Son and Saipher Soze are two emcees from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While they’re both young in age they are longtime musical collaborators. Their lyrics and flows are reminiscent of a time when groups were at the forefront of Hip-Hop and each members voice complimented the other. The undeniable chemistry of the Daniel and Saipher led to a union with production team and record label Crate Divizion. The result is an album called Divizion Rivals.
Divizion Rivals is a free project tailor made for those that love raw beats and rhymes. PhybaOptikz, Giallo Point and Vic Grimes of Crate Divizion produced Divizion Rivals. The 14-track album features appearances by Skuddy Rankz, Blizz & Raspy, and SmooVth.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Daniel Son about his history with Saipher Soze, the Toronto rap scene, and his new album, Divizion Rivals.
TRHH: How did you and Saipher Soze link up for this project?
Daniel Son: First off me and Saipher made our first track together when we were 13 years old. We met when we were in grade 8. We’ve been building ever since then. We never actually released a tape before, so this is the first time we’re dropping a tape. We’ve got hundreds of songs we made over the years. For 14 years we’ve been rhyming together. We’re both 27 now and we linked up when we were 13.
TRHH: Why did it take so long to do a project?
Daniel Son: We never really had the situation that we have now. We have a team of producers that we work with – The Crate Divizion. We just never really had the vision. Now we have the vision and understand what we’re trying to do with the music. The situation is proper now. We’re dropping on Crate Divizion’s independent label. It’s a good look. We’re both at the top of our game. We’re focused. We pretty much just banged out this tape in a month.
Daniel Son: I’m a Washington Redskins fan and he’s a Giants fan. Off of that and the label and producers are named Crate Divizion so we just flipped it like that. On the cover I’m in all Redskins gear and he’s in all Giants gear. We’re kind of bringing that theme across and flipping the words a bit.
Daniel Son: I didn’t really know that I was making The Gunners Tape until I started getting a collection of tracks. Really since the summer time I’ve been working on three albums. Each one is produced by each of the Crate Divizion producers. Gunners Tape was produced by Giallo Point from London, England. Really I was just recording a whole bunch of joints. The producers were flooding me with beats. I was going to the studio, that’s another different aspect, actually going to the studio for that album. I was going to a studio called Number 9 Studio in Toronto. Drake and his people are always in that studio. That studio is seriously official.
This whole tape I recorded at my crib and mixed the whole thing. We’re handling all the recording, mixing, and mastering ourselves. With this one we had the vision. With Gunners Tape I had a good collection of songs. I put it together and didn’t know what to expect. When I released that DJ Eclipse picked it up, DJ Premier, and PF Cuttin’. That made say, “I have to go real hard now.” I went to Soze and was like, “Bro, I’m not trying to make this shit about me. We gotta do a tape so we can both get the shine.” We got the vision now. We’re sitting down doing all of these tracks together. I’m banging out my verse and sending it to him and he lives five minutes from the crib so he’ll fly over and knock out the track just like that.
Daniel Son: Test Drive was one of the first tracks that we recorded. It’s crazy, I just moved into a new spot and my landlord is the best reggae artists in Canada – literally he’s the number one reggae artist in Canada. Through him I’ve been meeting a lot of local legends and a lot of the OG’s. He’s exposing them to my music and the love I’ve been getting from all the OG’s made us want to put that video out first because the OG’s say we got that “bring ‘em back” type of thing. We wanted to start it out with that, set the tempo off right, salute the OG’s in the game, and move forward from there. That track is vintage Vic Grimes on the beat. That’s his alley all day. That get away pursuit music is what we specialize in.
TRHH: We always hear about Drake when it comes to Toronto but not much else. What’s the Toronto Hip-Hop scene like?
Daniel Son: You’re right about that. Drake has shined a lot of light on the city, though. The scene is really inspired right now, even the music isn’t really my style of music. There’s a lot of youngins that are popping off right now. There’s this cat Top5, he’s like 17-18 years old and he just did a track with Styles P. He’s from a big hood out here called Jungle. He brought Styles P to Jungle. I don’t think Styles has really been to the hood in TO and they brought him to the hood. There’s some people that are popping but they’re really trying to make drill music. All the youngins out here are trying to copy Chicago as heavy as they can, even down to the language.
Everybody’s an opp out here now and the shorty’s are all thots. All the youngins that are really popping and getting views on YouTube are inspired by Chicago and making Toronto-themed drill music. There’s not a lot of people like us that are making music like we’re making, that’s why I know our shit is gonna pop soon. There’s some cats but they had their chance. There’s some people that were making our style of music while we were still coming up. They had their head start on us, but it’s our time now. They had their chance to make it pop now we’re gonnna make TO pop with this classic music.
TRHH: Who inspired you to want to be an emcee?
Daniel Son: Nas, Redman. When I was young I start doing the text battles when I was 9 years old. My uncle Danny is from Harlem. He had a record label called Bulletproof Records. They won the Canadian version of a Grammy for reggae – a Juno. He had a studio in his basement. Every time I would go over there for family functions I would see the studio and he had old Hot 97 tapes of Big L freestyles and my cousin would bump that. I don’t even know what made me start rapping. I just know I would bite rappers lyrics on one message board and use them on another message board. I got caught and I had bit so many rhymes already that I knew what it took to make an ill verse. I owe all my bars to text battles.
TRHH: Text battles? Explain to me what that is.
Daniel Son: I used to go on raboards.com. My name back then used to be Technique. You sign up and people would put out open challenges so you say “Let’s battle.” You set a little due date, write your verse trying to play off the man’s name or where he said he’s from – that’s how I learned how to make punch lines – straight up. When I was little I used to take the Freestyle Friday verses. That’s how I got caught stealing bars off Freestyle Fridays and a man called me out. I was like, “I ain’t gotta bite no more. I already know what it takes to make an ill verse.”
That shit was big, bro. I was like the youngest text battle champion of all-time. I was literally like 9 years old battling grown men and shit. What’s funny is they don’t call it free styling, they call it “key styling.” There used to be MSN chat rooms where motherfuckers would go there and battle. When I was young I didn’t want to do records, I wanted to be a ghostwriter. I recorded my first track at 12 years old. My pops bought me a mic and I was using Cool Edit Pro. I mastered that shit by the time I was 14 years old. That was the life back then, bro. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been going hard with this shit.
TRHH: What can people expect to hear on Divizion Rivals?
Daniel Son: Divizion Rivals has a good mix and a good balance of everything. It doesn’t matter what type of style you go there for. There’s jazz samples, slow tempo, high tempo, there’s joints with banging drums, there’s joints with no drums, there’s all types of saxophones. We make our vintage getaway driver music. We make music for people to steal boats, helicopters, all types of shit like that. High pursuit speed chases. Giallo Point and Vic Grimes handle 50/50 of the producer duties. My dude PhybaOptikz only has one joint on there. The beats are crazy.
My dude Soze is about to show why he’s the illest. I’m just here trying to set up the alley oops all day. I’m setting up the assists. People kind of know about me, but my man is about to jump on the scene in a big way with this tape. Everybody that knows us is saying, “Wow, it’s his time.” He’s ready to step into the spotlight. I’m excited for him. This is some good shit. There’s going to be a track for everybody on there. I wouldn’t even say that we’re rappers no more, we’re more like jazz vocalists with how many jazz-inspired themes there are. It’s good music at the end of the day – original production, good sampling, the bars are there, and the hooks are there. We got like two features and the rest is just us. It’s not a feature heavy tape, it’s just us going back and forth – good shit.
SKECH185 & Analog(ue) Tape Dispenser are War Church. From Chicago, Illinois and Houston, Texas respectively, the group released their debut album New Age Middle Finger in 2011. SKECH’s unorthodox rhyme style meshes perfectly with ATD’s electronic-influenced production to create for lack of a better term, a beautiful mess.
War Church returned in 2016 with a full-length follow-up album called Gunship Diplomacy. The 12-track album is produced entirely by Analog(ue) Tape Dispenser and features appearances by I.B. Fokuz, Lamon Manuel, Teddy Faley, Malakh EL, and Collasoul Structure.
The Real Hip-Hop chatted with ATD and SKECH185 of War Church about their unique sound, their growth as artists, and their new album, Gunship Diplomacy.
ATD: Gunship Diplomacy refers to “Big stick ideology”; another way of saying “Walk softly, and carry a big stick.” It refers specifically to the practice of displaying naval superiority during political negotiations with foreign entities. In short, it’s the act of parking a gunship off the coast of another nation with whom you are negotiating. For me, the record’s title is an expression of the frustration we feel politically and with the music industry, in general. The record is our gunboat, the threat of our superiority [laughs].
SKECH185: This record is very uncompromising. It doesn’t placate to a particular audience nor does it beg for acceptance in anyway. It was put together over a good stretch of time so all signs of trying to keep up with current trends was nixed very early in the process. Because of those elements we needed a title that fit that school of thought. When ATD suggested that all I could say was “fuck yeah.” In all seriousness, over the period between New Age Middle Finger and Gunship Diplomacy I felt like indie rap became more visually artsy without taking steps in that direction sonically and in large part became very vanilla in approach. Everyone is overly branded and media trained. Excellent merch, great logo’s but lacking heft in terms of content and subject matter until the rise of the next guard 3 years ago. That said, this is an assault on the adopted frailty of the indie rap scene and self-victimization championed by many socially conscious people. You either step out of the way or get left as rubble.
ATD: To me, Gunship Diplomacy is much more mature record than N.A.M.F.; I mean that in terms of how we produced it and it’s production quality in general, and the content that lies within. When we made N.A.M.F., we were two broke kids in college and, to me, that life experience is ingrained in that record. Now, we’re both in our 30s, I mean, SKECH was the best man at my wedding. We’ve gotten older. That comes with some bonus attributes like more patience with specific projects and a slightly greater social and political awareness. I think those old man attributes show themselves throughout GSD.
SKECH185: In many ways, this album lacks the insecurities of N.A.M.F., whereas we were testing the waters of our sound and technique on the first one but now we know who we are. I truly believe becoming more mature as men helped shape the writing in regards to our willingness to say “fuck it” and go for the unfamiliar. We threw traditional rap formats out of the window and tried to make something that was foreign to us because we are aging weirdoes and we care less about peer approval.
Lyrically, there is far more ownership of the man that I have become than it was on the first record. Ownership of ones message is a very big thing to me because I’ve seen the positive and negative effects my music has had on people in my life. I don’t play it safe but I respect the power of words and don’t throw anything out there for shock value in the way I think I did a few times on N.A.M.F.
TRHH: What are the origins of the name “War Church?”
ATD: Christianity strangely enough. It started as a conversation in the Flat Iron in Chicago. We were talking about the origins of the Christian faith over cheap beer and whiskey. Recently, I’d seen a documentary about a religious scholar that theorized that Yahweh, the Christian god whose roots begin in, at least, the Canaanite pantheon if not beyond that, may have initially been a god of war. I don’t recall the exact conversation but we both agreed it was interesting that all of these people professing this supposed faith of peace would really be worshipping an old god of war every Sunday, at which point SKECH shouted “War Church!” and the project we were already working on took on a name.
TRHH: Was it difficult for you guys to do this album being in different cities?
ATD: For me, our process is a curiosity. I’m not really aware of anyone else that works how we do but, I mean, it’s sort of a recent development in human history that we are even able to work this way; over the internet. We tend to, sort of, go into our own black holes or silos and work solo and, after a few weeks or months we’ll share something. I’ll hit his inbox with a beat or he’ll hit mine with a recording or some lyrics and we’ll just kind of go from there; sharing notes, re-working ideas, et cetera.
SKECH185: I find it kind of magical in the respect that without speaking to each other about our progress or process, we will turn around and have things that sync up. In truth, I write most of my rhymes without having a beat and he doesn’t sequence his beats for regular rhyme structure yet when he sends them to me I, more or less, have verses of the same tone structure fairly similarly to his sequencing. Of course there is reworking but not as much as you would think. Thanks to the internet, we can talk and bullshit or chew the fat about society at large and that friendship I believe forms the bridge between cities.
ATD: In terms of its difficulty, I don’t know. We definitely don’t have a lot of direct contact during the albums actual, physical development, if you know what I mean. I’m not there when he records a verse, he’s not around when I’m making a beat. That comes with it’s own set of inherent problems, but I don’t know that I’d say it’s especially difficult given the availability of cell phones and the internet.
TRHH: ATD, what’s your production set up consist of?
ATD: I think most producers would laugh at my set up, if it even qualifies as one. At this point, it consists of a Macbook Air and an $80 USB record player. I predominantly use Ableton as my DAW but, on occasion, I’ll fire up Reason. Inside of those, I use a few different software synths. That said, most of Destroyer and Gunship Diplomacy use the standard Ableton kit. I’m content to mouse-in samples, synths, drum hits, and use my QWERTY keyboard as a midi-controller. I mean, I’ve had various pieces of gear over the last, something like 17 years, but at the end of the day I’m just not a gear head. It’s not about that for me. The tool is just the means for an end result.
TRHH: How would you guys classify the sound of War Church?
ATD: I have no idea. I listen to this record and can’t really point out its origins. In a way it feels alien, even to me. It’s aggressive, it’s frenetic, it’s noisy, it’s socially and politically aware. It’s something I’d like to see Hip-Hop in general move towards; recapturing that anger and class consciousness it once had in acts like Public Enemy.
SKECH185: I agree. The goal was to make something as unfamiliar to the genre as possible. It’s uncompromising, intense, artsy as fuck, intelligent, goofy and tries not be referential. Because of that, and laziness, we haven’t really come up with a catchy name yet [laughs]!
ATD: For anyone with $9.99 [laughs]. In all seriousness, I think it’s for people like us — frustrated people who see in the world so much ignorance and ill will towards men.
SKECH185: I used to say we make music for people who read books and lift weights [laughs]. Perhaps it’s for the folks who feel like they can almost see the hidden cameras capturing the mundane and magnificent for the entertainment of an unknown audience.