Social media is a unique thing — it connects us all. The people you can encounter and the words you may read can either be flat out ugly or extremely beautiful. Quite honestly, beautiful incidents are a rarity in cyberspace these days, but when they do occur the feeling is refreshing.
Thanks to Twitter I was able to connect with a female emcee from across the pond by the name of MitZfit. A click on her SoundCloud page immediately blew me away. Her voice, her flow, and her lyrics were all striking. She rhymed over industry beats from the likes of Kev Brown, 9th Wonder, Tom Misch, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and sounded right at home.
During a trip to London I had the opportunity to meet MitZfit. She showed me around her hood in the Brixton district of London and we chopped it up about UK Hip-Hop, her musical inspirations, and her goals in the music business.
TRHH: How did you first get into Hip-Hop?
MitZfit: I’ve always grown up around music. I grew up in an era where I was listening to a lot of R&B. I was born in the 80s and grew up in the 90s. In the 90s R&B music was really in but it was heavily influenced by Hip-Hop. I was always listening to R&B. My mom loved R&B music so that’s what I grew up listening to. Because of the Hip-Hop influence you had a lot of R&B tracks featuring a lot of rappers. That’s how I got into Hip-Hop and learned to rap, hearing the rap verse on the R&B track.
TRHH: When did you start rapping?
MitZfit: I started rapping when I was like 6 years old. It’s crazy, I know.
TRHH: What were you rapping about at six?
MitZfit: I was rapping about getting sent to bed! No, I’m only joking [laughs]. I learned to rap because my mom bought the TLC album Crazy, Sexy, Cool. I loved the album. I’m a big fan of TLC. They showed me what it was like to be a female. They were like big sisters to me watching them on screen. I loved Left Eye, I thought she was so dope. Obviously when that album came out I learned it back to front, page to page I studied the booklet. I learned all of Left Eye’s raps. That’s how I learned to rap, memorizing Left Eye’s verses. I was six, I didn’t think it was what I was going to do in life [laughs]. I was just loving music. That was how I learned how to rap.
TRHH: Who are some of the emcees that influenced you?
MitZfit: I used to listen to a lot of Will Smith growing up, I’m not going to lie. Queen Latifah – I listened to her a lot. Missy is someone I grew up on as well – I love Missy Elliott. MC Lyte here and there. It was weird for me because if I’m being honest I’m not going to sit here and try to reel off all these rappers that I know. R&B music taught me how to rap and that’s real – that’s honest. Any rapper that I was influenced by it was because I heard them on an R&B track and I learned their verse. I couldn’t tell you the names off the top of my head. I mentioned a few because they had albums out. I learned about Mase because he was on a Mary J. Blige album.
TRHH: How did you come up with the name “MitZfit?”
MitZfit: It just came to me one day. I used to call myself “RV.” That’s just the initials of my first and second name. One day my sister was like, “Rochelle, you can’t call yourself RV!” I uploaded one of my songs to YouTube way back in the day under RV and my sister said, “How do you expect someone to find you because when I typed in ‘RV’ in YouTube it came up with RV trucks?” [Laughs] She was like, “You’ve got to think about your name,” and I said, “You know what, you’re right. In the right time it will come.” And one day it just came to me. I don’t remember when or where, but it did. I guess I was in a space in my life where I was trying to figure out my place in society and within the world.
It just dawned on me that I don’t fit it in anywhere. You can’t put me in a box. You can’t define what I am or who I am. There’s a term where they say, “I’m trying to put my finger on it, but I don’t know what it is.” With me I’m a misfit and it’s not a negative thing, it’s a positive thing. I don’t fit into crowds with people, I’d rather do my own thing. I’m a misfit. I’m different from the status quo. I’m always outside of the box. I don’t agree with following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing or talking about the same thing everyone else is talking about. I’m just me. People will look at me and ask where do I fit in – I don’t. You can’t place me with one group of people because I’m just a misfit.
TRHH: What exactly makes you a misfit? Why don’t you fit in? Give me an example.
MitZfit: Listen to my music. Who is really talking about what I talk about? I mean, I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there that aren’t spitting conscious lyrics – there are a lot. But what female is really out there talking about what I’m talking about apart from maybe Rapsody? Who? The market for conscious female rappers is not a lot. You’ve got really good female rappers doing their thing but they’re not talking about nothing. I remember back in the day females were doing their thing but they were talking sense. They made it fun, they made it sassy, they made it strong and they made it powerful. No female is really doing that today. They’re just talking about whatever it is they’re talking about. That’s what makes me a misfit. I’m a female rapper but I’m not nothing like the rest – I’m different.
TRHH: What is the London Hip-Hop scene like?
MitZfit: I mean, there is one, for the record [laughs]. There is one but it’s very underground. It doesn’t really get the recognition that it deserves. London does have a lot of Hip-Hop artists that have done and are doing their thing right now. We’ve got Little Simz, she’s dope. I love her. I’ve been to a couple of her concerts. She’s doing her thing right now. The UK Hip-Hop scene is hard to define if we have a “Hip-Hop” scene because Grime is classified as Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop is classified as Grime in the UK. So you’ve got emcees that are spitting Grime but are considered Hip-Hop. It’s just so hard to define and no two are the same. London is not very strong on the specifics of Hip-Hop. Everyone just kind of throws it in the bag and says, “Yeah, they’re rapping on the mic so let’s just call it Hip-Hop,” or “Let’s just call it Grime.”
TRHH: It’s the same way in America.
MitZfit: Oh really?
TRHH: People just throw it all together. What inspired the song “Away From Me”?
MitZfit: [Laughs] I just wanted to get away from me. No, I guess I was just having one of those days. Life inspired me to write ‘Away From Me’! A lot of things had been happening within the world. If you listen to the track you notice I say, “How do you expect people to put their head up/ When they keep the lead up,” In Flint those things were happening and it was like, even though I’m over here in London it effects me because how can these things go on and no one not do nothing about it? How is that even allowed? As a black person living in London I’ve got my own struggles and sometimes it just gets too much. I can’t handle it.
To hear some fuckery going on in another part of the world where people can’t even get water, water, the most basic resource that humans need. That’s what’s happening and that caused me to write that sometimes I feel like I just want to get away. I’m trying to get away from me. If you listen to the chorus it’s like, “You wanna get away? Come over here, let’s smoke this weed, come, let’s escape.” Sometimes we can’t get away how we want to so we turn to weed to escape in that moment.
TRHH: Or whatever else.
MitZfit: Or whatever else. Whatever rocks your boat that that moment.
TRHH: In your music you’re open about your sexuality, which is not very common in Hip-Hop. Why is it important to express that side of yourself and did you ever worry that it might hurt you in any way?
MitZfit: See the thing is with me is it’s not important for me to express my sexuality. I haven’t made it a point go out and write these songs to prove that I like women or whatever. It’s just me writing about me. I’m just being me. It’s me living my life. I can only write about me and what I’m doing. If I’m going to be open with that, then I’m going to be open with it. It hasn’t caused any problems and I would hope that it doesn’t. I’m hoping that the people don’t focus on my sexuality, but rather what I’m talking about. Sexuality is just a small part of us. It’s not supposed to take up everything. I don’t think it’s necessarily important. I haven’t thought that it’s going to do me any damage in any type of way, and if it does then it’s dumb ‘cause it shouldn’t. It is what it is.
TRHH: What are your goals as an artist?
MitZfit: I wanna put out good music and continue to do that. I’m not doing this for fame or for the money. I hate fame [laughs]. I’ve seen what fame does to people. It’s not a nice thing. Obviously I want to be successful financially — if I can be that’s a blessing. My goals are to keep pushing out good music and be continuous with it. To have longevity and being known for an artist that has continued to put out quality material. Each time I release something for it to have meaning. My goals are for someone in another part of the world to hear my music and feel inspired. That’s my goal and it’s happening already. In a sense I am achieving that goal and it feels wonderful to know that someone else in another part of the world, a completely different time zone, is listening to what I’m saying and can relate to it and can also be inspired or empowered from it. That means a lot to me.
In 2016 longtime collaborators Tone Chop and Frost Gamble joined forces to release an EP called Veteran. The emcee/producer duo wasted no time getting back in the lab to create what is one of the best albums of 2017, “Respect Is Earned Not Given.”
The 14-track album magically mixes Chop’s grit and wit with Frost’s phenomenal production. Respect Is Earned Not Given is produced entirely by Frost Gamble and features appearances by Tragedy Khadafi, Planet Asia, White Rhino, Bigga Haitian, DNA, DJ Waxamillion, and the legendary Kool G Rap.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Tone Chop and Frost Gamble about taking their music to the next level, collaborating with some of their Hip-Hop influences, and their new album, Respect Is Earned Not Given.
Tone Chop: I had the title for like a year or so. Basically I feel like you should earn your respect lyrically. These guys nowadays don’t have to. It’s just me showing everybody we gotta earn our respect and we’re going to earn it. When I came up we had to have rhymes ready all the time. You couldn’t just be like, “I rhyme,” or whatever. Nowadays they just get over. They get hot over a YouTube video and you didn’t really earn nothing. You didn’t have to sit in the trenches and rhyme it out. When I battled somebody you had to have 25 verses, not three rounds. You had to have verses on deck. I always had rhymes on deck. I had that title for a while now. I told Frost about it and he was like, “Yeah, let’s go with it.” That’s really it. It’s a popular quote anyway. At the same time to me it means musically you should have to earn your spot. I have done it, but not worldwide, so we’re earning it worldwide right now.
Frost Gamble: The EP was the warm up, especially Chop’s back story on who we are and what we’re about. On the LP Chop goes much deeper lyrically. You get to find out more of his story, more of his personality, and more of our complete style and sensibilities. I’m really proud of what we made. I feel like it’s a complete cohesive album. There’s nothing throwaway about it. We put our heart and soul into every track.
TRHH: Chop, would you say you took your skills to a new level this time around?
Tone Chop: Absolutely, absolutely. Frost will tell you that even when I make a mixtape I try to push the envelope every time. Veteran we did before the deal and all of that. This is me with the deal and really making the album. The EP, we did 7 songs and put them on there. This is me trying to make an album. I got over 20 mixtapes. This is me trying to spill it all out without having to do certain things like club tracks or whatever. I’m not into that type of stuff. I spilled it out a lot more. There’s a lot more to this album than Veteran by far. I feel like we both stepped it up.
TRHH: Was stepping it up a concerted effort to step it up or did you just get better over time?
Tone Chop: I think we got better over time. If you listen to the intro it say, “They’re praying I fall off, we just got better with time.” There are a lot of people waiting to say, “He’s hanging it up, congratulations.” But that’s not happening. The movie that we got after this is just ridiculous. We just keep getting better – it’s crazy. I’m 44 years old, I ain’t no youngin. For me to keep getting better at something is a positive thing.
Frost Gamble: I think it’s validation, too. Chop and I have been getting our energy from fans. Just like he said, it’s crazy at our age that we’re just breaking through and just starting to get this love. We have people from the UK and France telling us that we’re into the music and it’s inspiring. It erases that self-doubt. I spent a lot of years hearing a bunch of bullshit from A&R’s about having to make a beat that sounds like whatever the trend is. Chop and I have never been about that. We stuck to the Hip-Hop script right from jump and we’re fortunate that after 20 years of being stubborn people that it’s come back our way and it’s working. We’re blessed.
Tone Chop: Imagine being a basketball player and you’re great. You’re telling everybody all the time and show them what you do for years, but you never made it on the right team or made it to the next level. This is just me showing them and I appreciate it. I’ve been telling them for years. If you go back and listen to my mixtapes, I’ve never been garbage. I always had hot music it just didn’t get to the masses. I didn’t have the platform to get it to the right people. If I did then this would have happened a lot sooner, I know it would have. That’s why we say everything happens for a reason. It just wasn’t our time and now is our time. We stuck to what we do and we do the music that we like and the music that we would listen to. It’s not too many people that inspire me lately, seriously. It’s a lot of dudes out there that aren’t really impressive. I got love for this. This is what I do for a long time. I always try and push my pen more and more every time.
Frost Gamble: That’s the beauty of this label situation, now we have the connections to reach out to people and be credible. With G Rap I basically just reached out to his manager and started a conversation. He saw that we were official and weren’t bullshitting and wasting their time. It was such an incredible experience because G Rap is clearly, if not thee, one of the greatest of all-time. He’s incredibly important to our culture and lyricism. He has unquestionable contributions, but he was so humble and so cool to work with. We sent him the track with Chop’s vocals on it and he hit me back right away. We’re texting and he’s not doing it from a distance. He’s like, “Man, Chop killed this. This is dope. I hope I can keep up!” He said something real complementary like that, what a great person. He doesn’t have to show us love like that, but he did. That’s exactly the kind of thing that feeds Chop and I energy. That’s all we ever really wanted. We don’t want to be rich, we don’t want to be famous, but we do crave acknowledgment from the architects – the people that we admire, the people that we respect. It all ties right back, respect is earned, not given.
Tone Chop: I’m highly grateful that he liked the record before putting himself on it. Nothing is revised. He got the record how it was. I didn’t change none of the words or nothing after he did his verse. I kept everything the same. I’m grateful that he even gave me the props and said that the record was dope before he even got on it. That was one of them records where I was telling Frost that we don’t even need a feature on it at all. He said G Rap was the right feature for it. He put it together and the record is making a lot of noise. Hopefully it catches fire. He’s got an album out right now and he’s been one of my favorite rappers and I’ve never changed. I got certain rappers that I hold to a certain pedestal. That’s why when they ask me about the Jay-Z album, I’m a fan of Jay-Z, don’t get me wrong, this one is better than the last one but this ain’t the Jay-Z that I want to hear. I feel like the 4:44 joint, I don’t know, I feel like my album is better. I know as a rapper you’re supposed to feel like that, but I’m not just saying that. I feel like we put together a solid body of work.
TRHH: I’ve only listened to your album once so I’ll have to go back and listen again and judge that. I hit Frost up when I was listening to it and I was like, “Holy shit, this is crazy!” It’s banging from beginning to end. I love it, but I do like the Jay-Z album a lot.
Tone Chop: I like the Jay-Z album, don’t get me wrong. I like it better than a lot of the last few that he did. He went back to his roots this time with the beats and everything. It ain’t a bunch of trap bullshit on there. I do like it, but I’m not like, “Wow.” Like I said before, anything he puts out people are going to hop on it anyway. He can call it anything he wants. They’re saying he’s the GOAT so maybe next time he’ll call it The GOAT and have a picture with him looking like a goat on there.
TRHH: [Laughs] You know what I think the buzz is? Number one, it’s the whole Beyonce thing. 2, I’m a fan of what people call “rapping about rap,” just lyrics. I love that, but the majority of people like when they can connect with you on some shit. 2Pac didn’t have the greatest flow, but because of the shit that he said people love him to this day. They could relate to the shit he was saying and Jay-Z doesn’t really do that. There’s not one club record on that album, which is not normal for Jay-Z. Jay-Z is being vulnerable, which he’s only shown glimpses of over time. That’s why people dig it.
Tone Chop: Speaking of 2Pac, I actually appreciate 2Pac more now than when I was younger, actually.
Frost Gamble: Oh yeah, me too and it’s not even close.
Tone Chop: I listen to 2Pac now and I get a whole different chill listening to 2Pac now than I did when I was younger.
Frost Gamble: We were East Coast kids. That whole East/West thing, media induced or whatever, I felt like at the time he was pouring fuel on that fire. I loved Biggie deeply, so I was not messing with him back in the days. I deeply appreciate and respect his artistry, the impact he’s had, and his legacy and all of that. I do listen to his music now, but at the time outside of the Digital Underground stuff he was on radio silence as far as I was concerned [laughs].
TRHH: I’m the opposite of you guys because I was heavily into him back then, but now I can’t listen so much. Only because I don’t think the production has held up. He’s got some shit but some of the beats sound very dated. I can listen to some Preemo shit from back then and still love it, but some of the production was not that great to me. It’s hard to argue with a guy who had that kind of success.
Frost Gamble: Right.
Tone Chop: Absolutely.
TRHH: Frost, did you take a different approach working with Chop than when you worked with ZotheJerk on Black Beach?
Frost Gamble: With Chop we’re so much further along in our understanding of each other. Zo is my twin and we’re really close, but we’ve only been making music together for 3 years. Chop and I have been making music together for 30 years. When Chop says, “I’m looking for such and such,” or “I got whatever on my mind,” I know what he’s talking about right away. I know what’s he’s going for and it’s very easy for us to communicate. We’ve done so many songs with each other and Chop still surprises me with flows and styles. Even though he surprises me I’m well prepared to lay down the sonic blueprint that he needs. We laid almost 30 songs for Respect is Earned Not Given and just picked the best 14 and put it on wax. Yes, we’ve gotten better but we’re working like crazy to get there. It’s still fun. Sometimes we have deadlines that stress you or other projects we’re working on, but with Chop it’s always fun. It comes very easily for me.
TRHH: The beat on ‘Bing Stories’ is crazy. Without sample snitching, how did you find that sample because that was nuts? What genre was that?
Frost Gamble: That’s a jazz sample. That’s an old jazz record. It’s just a loop. You can hear from the album that sometimes I chop things up and take it crazy, but that’s just a loop. As soon as I heard it I was like, “This is a storytelling joint right here.” Chop has lived an interesting life so I knew he had some stories. I said, “Check this out if you want to tell some experiences to this,” and man did he write a compelling story.
TRHH: Chop, on the last couple songs “Inspiration” and “See You Again” you kind of got personal. Was it easy for you to spit those rhymes?
Tone Chop: With the Inspiration joint I go to this group and it’s church based, but it’s a recovering group. I’m not necessarily recovering but it’s a friend of mine who runs it and he’s a pastor. He reached out to me because he knows that I have a voice. He tries to help me out. Sometimes I have a lot of things on my mind and I can go to that group and express myself without anybody judging me. Inspiration really comes from going to that group and being around people that are trying to do positive things in their life. They have people constantly knocking them down because they had a drug problem or an alcohol problem, so it’s actually inspired by that. I’m trying to inspire you and inspire myself as well. You know how people quote things all the time? I took a few popular quotes and weaved them in the rhymes to bring forth a positive message. I have kids and I want my kids to be able to listen to my album top to bottom. I don’t want them to have to skip through songs. My oldest son is into Hip-Hop very much. I’m trying to show him the ropes at the same time because he’s already writing and ready to jump in the bag already. I’m trying to inspire people with that one.
See You Again is about a good friend of mine that passed away. It was a couple of years before I made the record, but it just wasn’t the time to make the record. I was just sitting there thinking and it just all poured out the way it was supposed to. I feel like those records all come from a special place. It has to come from that special place. If I tell Frost I need something pain wise he knows what I’m talking about. Those two records really came from a special place. I’m a street dude. Frost knows what it is, but unless you really know me personally then you don’t know what I mean by that. I was a person that was really in the streets. I’m not trying to glorify anything but I was really getting money. I went down the wrong path and got in trouble. To cut a long story short I just went through a lot of changes. That’s why it says in the song, “I’m making changes, so if you don’t hear from me that means you’re one of them.” That means I cut you out of my life, I don’t need you around, you’re not helping me in any way trying to further what I’m trying to do. If you’re not going to be behind me positively it’s no sense in having you around. I cut my circle down a wicked lot in the past five or six years. If I see somebody I won’t turn my back on them.
Frost will tell you, where I come from I’m popular. I know a lot of people. I’ve been here all my life so it’s hard for me to go anywhere and not see anybody I know anyhow. I don’t ever shrug them off or nothing. We just might not chill or go hang out at my barbecue or nothing. We’re still cool though. I just don’t need those types of people around. I need positive energy. I got a lot of feelings and everything. Everything that I do is for my kids. I really tried to make an album this time. This ain’t no mixtape. Veteran was dope, don’t get me wrong. I told everybody that this was going to be way better than Veteran and I feel like we accomplished that. All 30 joints could have went on the album and we could have got away with it, but we had to narrow it down. I let Frost pick everything to be honest with you. There’s only one joint on there that I really wanted on there and he made it happen. He picked out all the other joints. I let him use his instincts on that and I think he did well. Everything flows well throughout the whole album.
Frost Gamble: That’s another reason why I’m so blessed because Chop gives me that kind of latitude and reach. It’s beautiful for me as a producer. Think of the power of that. Chop is a master emcee. He’s been doing this his whole life. He’s wrecked stages, cyphers, battles, corners, every place. For him to go, “I’m just going to go in lyrically. I’m going to dig deep, give you personal stories, battle bars, and be a good caretaker of that for us.” That’s the opportunity that he’s offered me and that’s a privilege. I take that seriously. We package up these products as carefully and as thoughtfully as possible.
One thing I wanted to share with you real quick, on the See You Again track that was a last minute decision on if that was going to make the album or not. When we made the song I was beside myself listening to it over and over again. I couldn’t believe how much of his soul he poured out on it. He was like, “Yeah, but this is a touchy thing. It’s about a real person who has a real family.” I won’t put too much info out there but Chop went to the family and had some chats to make sure he had their support before doing anything more with the song. It was very much a last minute decision to include the track and I’m so glad that we did. I think what Chop did on it is just brilliant.
TRHH: I agree. It was the perfect way to close it. What are some of the positives and negatives about being an indie Hip-Hop artist?
Frost Gamble: Lots of positives. We still have our creative control. The label never pressures us to make any bullshit. They never say, “Go make a club record,” or “Go make a trap record,” none of that. They will challenge us to get features and create our art in a way that they can deliver. They want strong albums and they are looking for features. There are a lot of positives. We have such a good situation with 22 Entertainment. We’re incredibly thankful. I guess the downside of being independent is you have to fund everything out of pocket. Rap money is slow money. It takes a long time for iTunes to pay the labels, it takes a long time for the labels to pay the artists, and it takes a long time for the radio stations to pay for spins. It’s not fast money by any means. For me that would be the downside, but the upside far outweighs it.
Tone Chop: I wouldn’t want to see it any other way to be honest with you. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where they’re telling us what to do and all that. Creative control has got to be there. When he hands the album in and they go, “Man, this is dope,” and they didn’t hear nothing before then that’s like if you give somebody 16 songs and they tell you it’s a masterpiece and they didn’t hear one of them, that’s got to mean something. That shows that the label is behind what we’re doing. They didn’t hear no songs at all. We did the album, he handed it in, and that’s that. They were like, “It’s a masterpiece.” That makes me feel good and makes me push harder to know it’s appreciated.
You know how many people go unappreciated nowadays? There are millions of rappers that go unappreciated. It’s not that they ain’t dope or nothing, it’s just that they ain’t get the right look. I think we got the right look and we’re in the right situation. Like I said, I got all my trust in Frost. Not just because we’re friends, but I know he knows what we do together as a team. If you’re telling me he’s making a certain move I don’t generally go against it because I know it’s for the good. I would go without no features if it was up to me. I feel like I’m strong enough that I don’t need features at all. The features I do have, all the records came out dope. I appreciate it but I’m not stressing about having a feature.
Frost Gamble: We haven’t told the label yet, but we’re going to try to do the next project with no features. We’re going to try to convince them that we don’t need any features on the next project. We gotta get this one to pop first.
TRHH: Speaking of features, Tragedy Khadafi is on the album, how’d you hook up with him?
Frost Gamble: It started with my compilation album. For a couple of years now I’ve been working on a compilation album called “I Missed My Bus” which is all features. When things started popping with 22 Entertainment I reached out to Tragedy. This was around the time we working on Chop’s album and getting close to having to turn it in. I knew they would want features. Tragedy and Chop actually have a little bit of history because Chop had sent beats to Tragedy before and Tragedy liked them. When I hit him I was like, “Let’s do a Queensbridge to Binghamton connect,” and he was with it. We had that Here I Go record. It’s just a fun straight Hip-Hop joint. It was the perfect vibe to get someone like Tragedy on. That relationship has really grown. We’re in regular contact and Trag and I are working on an LP, and you’re definitely going to hear more Tragedy and Chop together. It’s a must, they just sound amazing together.
Tone Chop: I think it’s for everybody. Why wouldn’t it be? I know people who don’t listen to Hip-Hop at all and they listen to my music. They got a whole different perspective on Hip-Hop when they listen to my record. I got family that don’t listen to rap at all. They’re going to support regardless, but they don’t just support, they listen to it too. I feel like it’s for everybody. I feel like anybody can get something out of it. Like I said, I got children. My son is a critic. He doesn’t like certain things. He doesn’t listen to what’s on the radio. He listens to the same music his daddy listens to and he’s ready to rap right now. We’re going to do something very soon – I already see it coming. The rhyme he’s got put together right now is pretty good for only being in fourth grade. He raps better than some of these guys on the radio already. I don’t ever shoot for a particular crowd, I just do what I do.
I just make music. I make music that comes from a certain place – it’s natural. I feel like if your music don’t come from the right place it’s not real then. You can have all the money and cars that you say you got, but at the end of the day if it ain’t coming from the right place it’s not real. There’s dude that got ten children but they don’t have one single song that’s positive on their album at all. It’s about trapping and popping bottles. Can you play your record for your children? Can you kids listen to the music you do honestly? Can you let your children listen to it and you feel good about that? I would have to question that. I know I can play my record for my kids. There’s nothing on there too vulgar or too crazy, right or left. They can listen to it top to bottom and I don’t have to have an unsettling feeling at all about it. They can listen to it and enjoy and know I made it with them on my mind because they’re always on top. That’s just me.
Frost Gamble: I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, you totally can play this album in front of kids, but that’s Chop’s rare ability. He can make the toughest, hardest songs without swearing. He has a vocabulary, he has character, and he has a presence that comes across on the mic. He can threaten you without using the F word. He’ll let you know what he’s about to do to you on the microphone without using offensive words. That’s a rare skill. I agree with Chop, I think the album does have something to appeal to everybody, but who we made it for is honestly ourselves. We’re going to stick to the script. We make music that we like to listen to. I got no idea what half the music on the radio sounds like. Most of these famous artists that people hate, I don’t hate them because I don’t know what they sound like. I don’t listen to them.
Tone Chop: I never heard one Lil’ Yachty song, Uzi Vert, nothing. I never heard one song by them. I heard Kodak Black once. A friend of mine showed me a track and I almost puked. That’s how terrible it was.
Frost Gamble: I recently listened to that Desiigner joint, Panda. I’m not hating on him, I don’t know if he’s dope or not. I sincerely wish everyone in the industry wealth, success, and all of that, but I wondered what’s the big deal? I know I’m an old guy because I don’t get it half the time. I’m like, “This is the beat to the song they’ve been talking about for months?” Did they hear Ransom’s album? Did they hear our album? I don’t get it. I don’t understand why it gets any attention at all.
TRHH: You know what? We’re dinosaurs, man.
Frost Gamble: [Laughs].
Tone Chop: If I’m a dinosaur or not if you’re horrible, you’re horrible. If you got anything to say about my opinion we can meet somewhere and I’ll surely shred you. It’s not a problem. I don’t battle no more but people still try to do it nowadays and I tell them, “You really don’t wanna jump in that bag. Just stick to doing what you’re doing.” My record is flawless. I took one loss and it’s not really a loss because I beat him too, and that’s like one of my dudes I rhyme with all the time and he’s nasty. I don’t take that loss as nothing. That’s one loss out of a gazillion rappers I done tore to shreds. A bunch of mumble rappers, too. They come to me all the time. My boy got the bodega and they come up to me all the time like, “I heard about you. You ain’t that nice,” and six bars in they’re already getting their bottle of soda and breaking out the door, “Can I get that Dutch Master and that pack of cigs? I’m outta here.”
On August 8, 2015 the Hip-Hop world lost one of its giants when Sean Price passed away at the age of 43. From his work with Heltah Skeltah, Random Axe, and his solo material Sean Price was consistently one of the nicest emcees in Hip-Hop. His gritty, yet humorous style of rhyming garnered him fans all across the globe – he was beloved in the world of rap.
I interviewed Sean Price on a few occasions and the thing that stuck with me the most was just how much he loved his family. Sean contemplated leaving rap to work at Costco because, “Pride don’t feed the babies.” Sean left behind three children and a wife, Bernadette, who took on the task of sifting through Sean’s music to give his loyal fans a gift called “Imperius Rex.”
Imperius Rex is a 16- track album that was released on the two year anniversary of Sean’s passing. The album features production by Alchemist, 4th Disciple, Stu Bangas, Crummiebeats, Joe Cutz, DJ Skizz, Harry Fraud, Marlon Colimon, Nottz, Dan The Man, and Marco Polo. Joining Sean on Imperius Rex are Junior Reed, DOOM, Ike Eyez, Buckshot, Rock, Vic Spencer, RIM., Freeway, Smif-N-Wessun, Foul Monday, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Method Man, Styles P, the late Prodigy, and Sean’s wife, Bernadette.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Bernadette Price about putting together Imperius Rex, the hardships her family has faced since losing its patriarch, and the legacy of her husband, Sean Price.
TRHH: How does it feel that Imperius Rex is finally here and being so well received?
Bernadette Price: It feels great. I was excited to let it go.
TRHH: How long ago did you finish the album?
Bernadette Price: I would say maybe two months before it came out it was done. It was some things coming in a little late, but it worked out.
TRHH: How difficult was the process of going through all of his music to put Imperius Rex together? I know it must have been a lot, I even sent him beats at some point.
Bernadette Price: It was difficult having to sit there and listen to him and dealing with the things that I was dealing with after his passing. It was very difficult.
TRHH: What troubles did you have after he passed?
Bernadette Price: People change. What I thought while he was here wasn’t all that I was seeing while he was gone. It was a lot of that, and then the emotions of having to deal with our children at the same time while dealing with everything else.
TRHH: How are the children holding up? I know you have the baby and two older ones. Shaun was five when he passed, right?
Bernadette Price: Yeah, she was five. She’s now seven.
TRHH: How have the kids been since he passed?
Bernadette Price: Definitely it’s different. The older ones are spaced out. They’re over here and over there trying not to think about it. Baby girl goes through it a lot.
TRHH: Before Sean passed I kept hearing him say he was planning to drop an album called “Niggletius Con Queso.” Why was the title changed to Imperius Rex?
Bernadette Price: [Laughs] It was changed because I told him that I didn’t like that title. A lot of people call him by his album name. To avoid any type of misunderstanding I said, “Nah, you gotta change that,” and he understood so we changed it. That’s how Imperius came about.
TRHH: [Laughs] I liked Niggletius!
Bernadette Price: I mean it is a dope line, but nah, not for that. That’ll cause problems in the future.
TRHH: You appear on the album rhyming a little bit, how was that for you to get in the booth and let your voice be heard?
Bernadette Price: I just thought about him and all that other stuff went out the window. I didn’t think nothing of it, really. I’ve been around him a long time so I picked up a lot of things.
TRHH: Were all of the features on the album done after Sean’s passing?
Bernadette Price: A lot of them, yeah.
TRHH: How many actual songs on the album were done before he passed?
Bernadette Price: Four. I can’t even say whole songs because when Sean wrote, every 16 was a start to a new song or it was finishing up another song. I just basically built it up that way.
TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Bernadette Price: I love them all [laughs]. To me the whole album is my favorite right now.
TRHH: I interviewed Sean like three times and he was always a funny guy and one of my favorite people to interview. How different was Sean the rapper to Sean the man?
Bernadette Price: It’s not really a difference because he was always him. When it was time to be serious it was time to be serious, and that worked both ways as far as music and home life. Sean was always funny from growing up when we were kids, so that’s no surprise that he was still doing it in his home as well as in his music.
TRHH: How long were y’all together?
Bernadette Price: We were together 23 years, but we broke up a few times. He said it in his songs that we broke up and got back together. We did that a few times, but were always in touch with each other and with each other.
TRHH: Sean always mentioned you in his songs, which is rare in Hip-Hop. Most rappers don’t even acknowledge that they’re married. How did you feel being shouted out in your husband’s music over the years?
Bernadette Price: [Laughs] In the beginning you’re one way and once you get it and understand then you feel more free to open up and be like, “This is who I am, this is what it is.” You hear him say that a lot, “It is what it is.” It felt great to me. It didn’t bother me [laughs]. He’d always ask me, “Can I say this, can I say that?” when it was concerning me or any other woman. It was cool.
TRHH: I watched an interview with him where he talked about rappers throwing away money in the strip club and he said, “How do you think your wife would feel about that?” It’s not something I would consciously think about but I was like, “Wow, he’s right.”
Bernadette Price: [Laughs] Right. I mean, like I said he grew. He grew tremendously. I’m not going to say our relationship was perfect, because no relationship is perfect. We grew together. He noticed his faults and I noticed mine. Once you get past that and you understand you become more aware. Me being his wife, there are feelings for everything that the husband does. Women are not just crazy [laughs]. Some you do have that are crazy, but for the most part they are not. It’s always something that a man does to make them crazy. Once you start realizing you become aware, get it right, and everything is gravy.
TRHH: I’ve heard that a lot recently [laughs].
Bernadette Price: Nah, it’s true! Me and him we grew up from teens. There was a lot of things that were going on that shouldn’t have been, but like I said, everyone is growing. You adapt to the negative as well as the positive. With growth everything’s made great [laughs].
TRHH: Will there be more Sean P music in the future?
Bernadette Price: Yes, there will be. He definitely let me know and a few others know that this is what he was working on. There will definitely be more.
TRHH: What is Sean Price’s legacy in Hip-Hop?
Bernadette Price: It’s awesome. He’s a great person in and out, regardless of anything. He’s definitely missed. His legacy means a lot to everyone around the world, and I’m going to try my best to keep it going as long as I’m here. It’s going to be great.
For nearly a year Nick Weaver has released single after single giving listeners a glimpse into his state of mind at each time. In typical Weaver fashion, the songs were thought-provoking and heavy on lyrics. The culmination of Nick Weaver’s stream of consciousness is a 5-track EP called “Photographs of Other People.”
Photographs of Other People finds the Seattle native taking his art to a new level, incorporating ideas, sounds, and methods not previously touched upon in his music. The EP is produced by Sendai Mike, MEMBA, Kevin Boris, and Nick Weaver himself.
Nick Weaver talked to The Real Hip-Hop about the importance of focusing on yourself, why it’s important to invest in your sound, his upcoming tour of Germany, and his new EP, Photographs of Other People.
Nick Weaver: The whole album is super-centered on focusing on yourself. Specifically on this album for me, focusing on mental health and not focusing on others. It’s kind of a literal and figurative name. If you take a photograph of other people you’re not focusing on yourself. This album is really about that – coming to terms that you really need to do some work on your own, and prioritize yourself over everybody else or you’re never going to overcome whatever it is that’s irking you.
TRHH: That’s kind of the mode I’m in these days, man.
Nick Weaver: It ebbs and flows. I feel like it just sort of hits you at different times. Obviously it’s a byproduct of getting older too. You realize that I got tons of my own shit that I need to deal with, process, and improve so I can be happier in my own life. I can’t take on all these outside influences right now.
TRHH: How much does that affect romantic relationships?
Nick Weaver: For me personally it’s a mix. It’s all relationships in my own life. That goes all the way to professional music industry relationships. I think more than anything it’s just a newer perspective for me. It’s always in the back of your mind that of course I’m always going to help people, hear people out, and listen to their problems. But at the end of the day I’m not their psychiatrist or their manager or their therapist or their doctor. I’m still just myself and I have my own life that I need to fulfill. It’s really the idea of never losing sight of that. When you’re younger you get so invested in other people’s lives. Everything else is invested in other people that you lose sight of the fact that maybe you are overlooking you own issues and maybe you’re putting your own stuff aside.
TRHH:How much has social media help or hurt your goal? I find that social media can be draining, but it’s also helpful in some ways.
Nick Weaver: There’s a good amount of commentary from myself on a few songs on the album about social media and a little bit about the strain. I think it’s like anything else, if I could I would eat Dick’s cheeseburgers in Seattle every single day because they’re amazing, but I can’t because it’s not healthy to do that. I feel the same way about social media at the end of the day. I feel like it is good, it is entertaining, and it’s vital for independent artists like myself – it’s the only way we have to really communicate with fans and make sure that they see everything that they want to see. It’s super important but at the same time you have to draw a line for yourself and be aware.
I ask myself a lot, “Why are you picking up the phone and opening Instagram? Is it to really do something important or distract yourself from the other three things you need to get done today?” When it comes relationships and how I view my friends, family, and peers, I definitely feel overall it’s a strain and a lot of times you see uglier sides of people which is something that I touched on, on a few songs on the EP. A lot of times I just have to not even look because if I want to check in on somebody I go directly to their Facebook page or their Twitter and just handle it like that.
TRHH: How would you compare this project to your past releases?
Nick Weaver: This one is crazy different because it’s got a lot of singing on it. I think that’s the first thing anybody is going to notice the first time they listen to it. Honestly, people are familiar with a lot of my older work because it’s a lot more personal and has a lot of emotional stuff tied to it. This album brings back that but it’s different in the whole vibe that it’s about a whole different side of emotion that I don’t think I’ve ever really written about – yourself first. Everything else has been written about — maybe issue I’m going through but this idea of focusing on yourself, working on yourself, and never losing sight of that, that’s that overarching theme.
TRHH: Was it a concerted effort to make this project more melodic?
Nick Weaver: Absolutely, and a big part of that is just that I love all types of music and I think creatively I was hitting my own wall with what I was doing. I’ve been doing Hip-Hop for a long time now and I needed to do more than just write 16s, write hooks, and write verse after verse and bar after bar. Introducing singing really made it a lot more fun for me and a lot more interesting. I found my attention for the songwriting and song creation process went way up when doing that. It’s been a lot of fun, man.
Nick Weaver: Thank you. That verse is pure and simple – it’s a product of the times. That verse touches on everything that I have been feeling and seeing. That’s another kind of duel name for Photographs of Other People, it’s this sort of examination of society where it’s at. There are pieces of that slammed in and out of the album. Both What You Doin’ These Days and Soundbyte are super politically and societal critiques. What really sparked that was where we were at during that time. I understand that just because you rap about it and tweet about it doesn’t mean you’re really changing the world and going directly at the cause, but for me it’s important to reflect how I feel about that stuff in a way that will get to people. Luckily I have the ability to do that through my music.
TRHH: As a lyricist how difficult is it to come up with the correct words to fit a song and how often do you scrap rhymes?
Nick Weaver: All the time, all the time [laughs]! I can’t even tell you. I’ll write a song and sit for a few minutes with it and go, “Yep, that’s the one.” I’ll go grab a glass of water, come back, and instantly delete it. As you’ve probably have heard very many times in the writing field, just write it down. Let it flow and don’t worry about editing it in the moment, because then it’s not in the moment. That is very true but at the same time something about writing lyrics, you can put the beat on loop and write for 3-4-5 hours if you want. Then you go back and have all these concepts. Just like I’m sure you have with your writing there are songs when you write them you know in your gut instinctually that that’s what you want to say and it’s perfect. Then there’s also songs where you don’t know and then there’s stuff that you write and you hate it. For me it’s never been a super fluid process. It’s never that easy, although sometimes it does come more naturally than others.
TRHH: You were asking fans in Germany for ideas about venues to perform in. What’s the status of that and what’s your touring schedule looking like this year?
Nick Weaver: We are hoping to go to Germany in November. We’re working right now on getting the booking all in place. We’re going to hit my top 5 cities in Germany, and that’s actually my top 5 Spotify streaming cities. That’s still Berlin, Munich, Essen, Hamburg, and Dusseldorf.
TRHH: As an independent artist what are some of the ups and downs that you have to deal with trying to make it financially?
Nick Weaver: Some independent artists may have some other financial backing, but for me every dollar that goes into anything is mine. You always toe the line between how much can I do myself and still be happy with the results, and how much can I invest in whatever it may be – creative design, videography, and photography. I think the one thing that never can change is you are investing in your sound. Even if you don’t have a lot of money or hit a period where your money is low, don’t ever compromise the quality of your sound. You can find cheaper options and maybe your quality goes down a little bit, but don’t go all the way back down to when your recordings don’t even resemble what you want your art to be like. Those are just the struggles. All of us that do this stuff want it to come out as perfect as possible, but the reality is you don’t have all the endless resources. Just maintain the quality that you like and you’re comfortable with anyone in the world hearing it, and always adhere to that. If you don’t have the money right now to do it, grab that second and third job and stack it back up so you can do it.
Nick Weaver: I want to obviously give my fans something new and different from what I’m doing, because I’m always trying to elevate my art and take it somewhere that I love and other people will love. I really hope that people listen to this and feel what I’ve got to say. I really did put a lot of thought into what I wanted this entire project to capture about my own mind. Luckily I got to work with some amazing producers with MEMBA, Sendai Mike, and my good friend Kevin Boris, who is my drummer. They really, really helped turn this into a really nice sounding project, so I’m super thrilled about that.
Dephlow is one of the dopest emcees in Hip-Hop. His voice, his flow, and his lyrical content check all of the boxes for what it takes to make a great emcee. The Virginian’s latest release, “Most Dephinite” is a head-nodding happening that should heighten Dephlow’s profile in the culture of Hip-Hop.
Most Dephinite is an 11-track album released by Don’t Sleep Records. The album features Deph’s frequent collaborator Awon and is produced by Boom Beats, F Draper, and Phoniks.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Dephlow about being vulnerable in his music, the ups and downs of being an indie artist, and his new album, Most Dephinite.
TRHH: How would you compare Most Dephinite to your first solo album Deph Threats?
Dephlow: I thought the Deph Threats album didn’t start the way that it ended. I was in a different place when I started that project. I got to the point where I felt like I was done with it. My pops passed away in the middle of working on that project. It was a lot of shit going on besides that that made that project real personal. The space that I was in at that point in time was different from when I was creating this one because in a sense I didn’t have a lot of content talking about that, it’s just a matter of my mind state at the time. In doing this one it was a lot more focused and to the point. I knew where I wanted to go with it based on the production.
Basically Boom contacted me and just let me know that he was trying to work. At the time I was trying to get production from wherever I could get it from because I just wanted to stay working. He sent me a folder full of beats and the first one I clicked on was ‘No Rappers Allowed.’ That was the first record that I wrote. It tells you where my mind state was. I was hungry. I’m still hungry! I feel like when I put Deph Threats out people were paying attention because of Dephacation. This one I’m hungry because I feel like people ain’t really understanding what it is I do and where I’m coming from. I feel like I have something to prove on this album as opposed Deph Threats where I just had something to get off my chest.
TRHH: How was it different having Phoniks take a backseat on production this time around?
Dephlow: He didn’t necessarily take a backseat. When Boom sent me the folder of beats I basically went through and wrote something to all of them because it was that good. He sent another folder of beats and I wrote something to the majority of those, because they were that good. He came at a time when I was looking for production and it was perfect timing. It gave me a different vibe and it was exactly what I was looking for. Some of it was aggressive, a lot of it was just well put together from front to back.
My style is a little less formatted but the production was a lot more formatted. The blending of the two for me was just something. Every time I heard a new mix of it I was excited. I would say that it just gave me a different energy. It was a little more aggressive than what you might have heard previously when working with Phoniks. Phoniks was working on a couple of different projects. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to work with him, it was more of a situation where we had to figure out the timing.
Dephlow: That’s about a true story. The little kid at the end of the record is this little dude I’m still cool with from a previous relationship. It didn’t work out. When I met him he was just turning one. I thought if I was in his life from this point forward I can be some sort of positive influence for him. On a personal level, I knew what he needed. This is five years worth of experience that I’m talking through and watching him grow up and wishing I could be the coach or the teacher, but being that the relationship didn’t work out you don’t have the right to do that.
Yet and still you know he’s not going to need that guidance any less. You just hope that he gets it from someone else who has the same game, or at least as much of something to offer him other than Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto and shit. If he’s six right now this ain’t what he would be listening to. We hung out and I see that he likes all of the shit that kids like. This ain’t his lane yet, but one day just like everything else it will come full circle and he will hear his year old self on a record and he’ll understand what it is I was trying to get across. Hopefully he will carry on that sort of intent.
TRHH: Is the song ‘Round One’ related to this song?
Dephlow: It’s basically tied in to My Brother’s Keeper. It’s the same situation, but now I’m addressing the relationship. This is separate from the kid. This is the relationship in that same situation. It’s all written from experience and if it’s not personal experience, it’s something that I’ve seen my OG’s and people close to me go through. I’ve added pieces in there. When I played those two records for people close to me some of them were in tears, some of them had goose bumps. That reaction you know is genuine because there is a physical reaction to a sound or words and thoughts that you put together. I felt like those two records in particular were tired together and those who needed it or those who understood would instantly get it – they would feel it.
TRHH: I find in Hip-Hop that different people like different things. Some people like the beat, some people like the flow, some people like the content. I listened to Jay-Z’s album and I think some people don’t like it because of the music, but a lot of people do like it because of the vulnerability and the substance. I think we can trace it back to 2Pac, which we talked about two years ago. While he’s maybe not technically the greatest rapper, but his passion and substance is what touched people. A lot of your rhymes are witty and have punchlines and stuff like that, but how important is it to you to touch that nerve with people?
Dephlow: When you think of a 2Pac and you think of the fact that you can’t kill 2Pac, even though he wasn’t the best lyricist of all-time, you can’t kill who he is. I don’t even speak in the past tense when I speak about 2Pac. I speak about who he is because he’s still here with us, because of the fact that he made a mark and he said some things in casual conversation that people still quote. People still use his words for motivation or a way of contextualizing something that has happened. We live in an age now where everybody has an opinion. Everybody can make noise about whatever they want to make noise about, so when you say something about yourself that may be something that people can use against you, and at the same time you’re doing that you’re offering that strength to somebody else who is dealing with the same issues. In a perfect balance of how we live I guess it’s necessary to do as an artist. I haven’t listened to the Jay-Z album but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people that by the time he gets to the point where we understand who he is outside of being a hustler, it’s going to be too late. People will have already made up their mind about who they want him to be. He’s just that guy, you can’t be anybody else.
People reinvent themselves all the time with how they say things, but what they’re saying doesn’t change too much when they’re not really touching those nerves. On certain records like “Song Cry” he did, but he ain’t a social media guy and he’s not wide open and neither am I. The only way you can do that sometimes is by adding those records that really reflect who you really are and hope that it helps the people who it’s intended to help – the criticism be damned. If you didn’t get it, it wasn’t for you to get. That’s the great thing about having independent artists like the team of people I’m working with. We’re going to give you something that you don’t actually have to buy into. You already know what it is when you listen to it, you just have to take the time to hear it.
TRHH: Speaking of the people you work with, on the song ‘Blood’ you work with Awon. Your verse touches on a lot of different things. What’s the message behind that song?
Dephlow: When you look at how we live, especially here in America, and all the little shit that we covet and we don’t want to lose, and kill and die over, there are other people who are actually being killed and worked to death in order to obtain the shit. What I’m saying is when we buy into that we buy into somebody else’s misery. And we contribute to our own. None of this shit really means anything at the end of the day. That diamond ain’t as rare as they tell you it is. It’s a good marketing scheme. That big ass gold chain that we want to rock is basically rocking a few souls on our neck. Them Jordan’s we put on our feet, a whole family is working to put together some shoes that don’t cost shit to make that we kill each other for, for no fuckin’ reason. The status shit that we do, all the shit that we buy, where they’re taking the resources, whether it be human or natural, and exploiting the people who do it.
We want to take trips to Dubai and front like we’re royalty, or whatever the case may be, and when we get there and see all of the shit that they built, but what you don’t see is the people that built that shit. When you go to the Dominican Republic or wherever you go on your vacation and you don’t see the natives on the beach with you and you’re not asking questions like, “Why is this like this?” or “Why are the people who work here the darker they are they get exploited more and have less freedom?” While you’re enjoying yourself, having a good time, and taking pictures for the gram, there’s some motherfuckers suffering. It’s all tied in to the fact that it feels good at first like, “Oh shit, this production is different from the message.” That’s exactly the parallel that we have in real life. The production is different from the message or the product.
TRHH: I saw you speak online about the support you’ve received worldwide. What are some of the hurdles you have to leap over being an independent artist and how important is getting support from the listeners?
Dephlow: In my situation I hit a window of opportunity where Soundcloud was still a platform where a lot of people were trying to find music. I found a window through there when it was still a viable option to get it out. Because where I’m coming from I wasn’t able to build the pieces to start from home and move outwards – I did try. Nobody from where I’m from does that, even though everybody knows who Pharrell is, who Timbaland is, and who D.R.A.M. is. These are all people who are from the same place, but had the same problems. In the situation now where the internet allows people to get it wherever they are, to have that support worldwide and for people to actually show it by purchasing your music and asking you to come to where they are to perform, it reminds you that it’s worth doing. It’s worth continuing to make music because it is appreciated. Certain places in America, especially where I’m at in Virginia, seem to be some of the last places to really embrace the type of music that I make or the type of things that I do.
It’s not really about me. I’ve always been the type of person who has championed the basics. Regardless of what people feel like about Dame Dash I know he knows what he’s talking about. So when he says, “Get your merch game right and perform,” I always wanted people to look at like you don’t need whoever the local DJ is to host some shit where you gotta pay him to go and perform. We can do that ourselves, get the building and let’s make it happen. Nobody has bit on that idea but I guarantee you whoever does is going to win. These kids are figuring it out. 18-25, they’re working together to make it happen. Eventually Virginia will have a culture, but for me to get embraced from so many different places I need to see that – it keeps me motivated.
Dephlow: It’s really for me. This one is, “Alright, I said what I had to say for right now and if I never make another album, so be it.” I really don’t like the way this shit is headed in terms of either side of it – creatively or the way the business side works. Really it’s just for me to be able to say, “I said what I had to say, I offered something to the culture, and hopefully the people appreciate it.” I gave the type of effort that I would want anybody who has a major backing to have and not just take advantage of their opportunity to make money. I really just want to be able to say that at the end of the day in time either the people will understand what I was trying to say. On Deph Threats I said a lot of things on that album before they transpired and when it came to pass I didn’t have nothing else to say.
I didn’t want to tell you, “I told you so.” All I want to do is say, “What do you want to do now? Are you ready for the next step?” That’s where I’m at in the point of making music – what do I want to do now? I had another plan the whole time. All of the videos that people see are the videos that I produced and that’s where I want to stunt. Your Benny or your Hype, or anybody else started with that. Ultimately I want to tell our stories where they need to be told, on film, short stories or documentaries. Whatever I can do in order to try to further this shit the way I feel like it needs to be represented and address some of the issues. I might talk about them in my rhymes, but it’s nothing for me to really sit down and discuss tight jeans with somebody like, “Why you got those on?” Really talk about what’s going on with who we are and who want to be more importantly.
In early 2017 Los Angeles emcee Ill Camille released her sophomore album, Heirloom. The album is an impassioned and cohesive piece of art in which Camille bares her soul with exceptional emceeing. Heirloom is easily one of the best releases of 2017.
Heirloom features production by DJ Battle Cat, Paperboy Fabe, DDotOmen, MMYYKK, JLbs, Nate P, Quamie Yae, Rick Hughes, Mndsgn, Like, Iman Omari, Critikal, Sigurd Lauritzen, Los Angeles King, Tuamie, Mark Knoxx, Devan “D1” Hooker, and Georgia Annel Muldrow.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Ill Camille about her purpose for picking up the mic, why Europe embraces Hip-Hop acts differently, and her latest album, Heirloom.
Ill Camille: Well, that wasn’t the first name for the album. I changed the name to Heirloom close to the time that we actually released it. I was initially going to roll with the title “Illustrated B-sides.” In 2012 I dropped an album called “Illustrated” so I felt like this album was the B-side to that. Battlecat hit me up once he started hearing things in completion and he was like, “I think this album is a little bit too personal and introspective for you to give it such a mixtape sounding name. I encourage you to sit down, take a couple days and think about making a name change.” Literally the next day I just came up with. It was random and it just stuck and felt right, so we rolled with that.
Ill Camille: It’s been five years and in that amount of time so many things have happened. I’ve grown a lot just as a person. My communication is different. The way I express myself is a little bit deeper and I’m a little bit more transparent. It’s going to come out in the music for sure. I am who I am, but I felt like there was a maturity there that wasn’t present on the other album.
Ill Camille: Georgia Anne had sent me a batch of beats a long time ago and that was one of the ones I always liked, but I couldn’t think of anything. Right before the album was getting done there was this need for me to travel. I just wanted to get out and explore. I had been in L.A. so long that I felt stifled and wanted to get out. I was getting all these emails from people from different countries telling me how they listen to me and I’m like, “Damn, I never even been to your country and you’re taking me in like we know each other.” The saying “home is where the heart is” I feel like a little piece of my heart is everywhere in places I’ve never been. That’s why I did that song. Damani Nkosi, who is the feature on the song, he always travels. That’s what he’s known in my city for doing – he’s a traveler. He told me, “You’re going to get this need to travel and once you travel it’s going to come across in your music,” so I wanted to do a song foreshadowing me traveling eventually.
TRHH: Have you toured outside of the country yet?
Ill Camille: I just got back from a month long tour. I was in Berlin for a while, I was in London, I was in Stuttgart, and I was in Amsterdam.
TRHH: What did you think of Europe?
Ill Camille: I thought Europe was dope. They embrace music in a different way. They take it all in. They’re going to buy your album, they’re going to sit through all of your performance, and they’re going to dance. I’m not talking about a head nod, I’m talking about a full-fledged dance. If they’re rocking with you they’re gonna show it. They don’t have the reservations we do here when it comes to music. It was so much love there I kind of wanted to stay another month. I thought it was dope.
TRHH: The word that comes to mind when I listen to Heirloom is “warm”
because it just feels warm and soulful. How would you describe Heirloom?
Ill Camille: Heartfelt. That’s where I try to do music from first is the heart. Everybody’s got one so I feel like if you touch the core of people it’s going to go. If I talk to you on that level then we’re really having a conversation and that’s all music is. I think my music is heartfelt, whether I’m talking about something positive or negative, it’s coming from that place first.
TRHH: On the song ‘Almost There’ you say, “So much dialogue about balling and currency/That being a broke Negro can be discouraging.” How do you think the love of money in Hip-Hop has affected the culture?
Ill Camille: Man, that’s like 80 percent of the conversation it seems like. That’s the focus. Let me say this, to an extent I almost understand it. For black people that’s where we find a lot of our value is in money, because every day we’re devalued. As soon as we acquire some wealth or anything of that nature we sort of exploit it because that’s the way that we feel good. In that way I understand it, but when that becomes the focal point and the end goal it just takes the “Hip-Hop” out of Hip-Hop to me. I’m just trying to get back to the point where we’re storytelling, talking, dialoguing, and having a good time. I want to hear that stuff too on a record. I want to be able to understand you on your record, too. I just feel like so much money talk muddies everything.
TRHH: The song ‘Renewed’ was very touching and relatable. Was it difficult for you to write and record that song?
Ill Camille: Yes. That song was recorded in 2014. I did it one time and there was a part where I was writing in the booth as I was going along I just felt like however it came out was how it was going to come out. It was difficult to do it in the first place. To even think about me having to put those things down on paper for me made them real. I didn’t want to talk about it but I had to talk about it, because that was the only way I was going to heal from it. I did it in 2014 — that was the first take. I never re-recorded it. By the time the album was coming out that was the last song we got to because I couldn’t really listen to it either. It’s still hard for me to listen to. We had to listen to it to check the levels and get it sonically intact. We just added music around it. That was a hard song to do.
TRHH: I read an interview you did where you touched on questioning if you should even keep pursuing emceeing. How do you feel now about your standing in Hip-Hop?
Ill Camille: I feel like that’s my job. I don’t control how long I’m going to be an emcee. For right now while I have momentum and God is putting me in places that I’ve never been and getting my music in places where it’s never been, that’s my job. I have to fulfill my duties until I’m assigned otherwise. That’s all this is, is an assignment. It’s a responsibility to be an emcee. I gotta walk in it and I gotta own it, so that’s just what I’m doing. Right now nothing else even feels remotely right or natural to me, so I know this is what I’m supposed to do. Before I didn’t have confidence in myself like that, I didn’t have confidence in my support system either, and I didn’t have confidence in God that this was something that I should be doing. When my mentality about all of those things changed and I became more assured you start seeing how it’s actually supposed to play out, and it’s playing out.
Ill Camille: I’m just going to continue to do a lot of shows. I got some more videos I’m about to drop to keep the Heirloom movement pushing forward. I made the album 16 tracks for a reason, because I wanted it to live for a while. That’s the focus but I’ve already started working on a couple of other projects, two of them being collaborative projects with two of my favorite producers. That’s what’s going on right now and shoot, that’s it!
It takes bravery and skill to attempt to walk in the shoes of a legend – especially when that legend is your father. Chris Rivers has done just that. The 23-year old son of the late, great Big Pun has blazed his own trail in Hip-Hop while doing his father proud.
Chris Rivers is one of the most respected young emcees in Hip-Hop. He’s shared stages and mics with some of the games greats and has mastered the art of freestyling. Rivers can also get it done on wax and his latest release “Delorean” is proof of that.
Delorean is a 21-track album released by ThatsHipHopMusic.com. The album features appearances by Oswin Benjamin, Jarren Benton, Dyce Payne, Lydia Ceaser, Whispers, S.E.A., Lil’ Fame, Derez D’Shon, Jean Dash, Styles P, and Sheek Louch. Delorean is produced by NaCion, Unleash Musik, Sol, K-Ill Beats, Anthony, Superb, Excel Musik, Melks, Dune Deal, Silent Jay, Data, Khardier Da God, and Rod the Producer.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Chris Rivers about living up to the legacy of his father Big Pun, what it takes to maintain happiness, and his new album, Delorean.
Chris Rivers: I’m pretty into sci-fi and I’m 23 but I do have an old soul. I’m into new stuff as well and that’s what this project has. It’s got those old school flows, that passion, and that delivery but it also has that new school style and fun-ness to it. The ‘Back to the Future’ reference made sense when you’re bringing the past to the future musically as well. Plus, I just geeked out a little bit with it.
TRHH: The single ‘Lord Knows’ has a great vibe and a positive message. What inspired you to write that song?
Chris Rivers: That one was pretty dope. It was 2Pac inspired. If you listen to it, it has a bunch of 2Pac song references. We knew the movie was coming out soon and the anniversary and all of that, so it was definitely inspired by him. I would say the most specific song that the whole song was inspired by was ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ but we wanted to put a positive twist on it. That’s why we have more of that uplifting feel to it. Me personally, I grew up without a father so I got to see my mom as a single mother struggle with kids and I got to see my sister do the same thing. I definitely wanted to give a story from the perspective of something that I’ve been through and pay homage to 2Pac at the same time.
TRHH: How old were you when your father passed?
Chris Rivers: I was 6 years old.
TRHH: Do you have any memories of your father?
Chris Rivers: Yeah, not too many because I was young when he passed. I do remember situational stuff. I remember being in the studio a lot and playing in the arcade. We lived in the studio for like months at a time while he was recording. We were in a lot of hotels. I remember he was a prankster. He would pour water on anyone who would fall asleep. We’d hear a gunshot downstairs and run down there and a person would be laying there with ketchup on their head. He had a sick sense of humor. I remember little things but not too much.
TRHH: N.O.R.E told me a story that he came by the house to see Pun one day and your dad had you and your sister boxing…
Chris Rivers: Yep.
TRHH: You remember that?
Chris Rivers: Yep. He used to have us boxing. He trained my older sister so she had hands. He didn’t train me because I was a boy and he figured I was a little tougher. He threw me in there to fight her and I was punching like a 3 year old. I was throwing mad punches and out of nowhere she would catch me with a crazy haymaker or a combo that he taught her and I’d get knocked down. I probably got knocked out three times before I learned how to duck. I definitely learned the hard way but I still enjoy boxing to this day. He left an impact on us with that.
TRHH: Did you feel any added pressure getting into Hip-Hop being the son of a lyrical giant?
Chris Rivers: Oh yeah, definitely. In the beginning I would say I did more so than I do now. I started right after high school. I was 17 at the time and that’s an age where you discover who you are as a person and as an artist. I definitely felt like I needed to live up to his name, his legacy and the pressure of what people would expect of me, because I am going to be held at a higher caliber. Along the path of my career I established myself as an artist, I’ve learned myself as a person, and I’m more comfortable with who I am and my artistry. I don’t feel as much pressure to live up to his name, I more feel pressure to create more for myself, craft my own legacy, and live up to my own standards. I don’t feel as much pressure to be like him or live up to people’s expectations of what they think I should be because I’m his son. I’m more comfortable now, so I don’t really feel it too much.
TRHH: ‘Old Thing Back’ is really creative song. As a young emcee in the game do you think it’s important for you and your peers to be knowledgeable about the music that came before you?
Chris Rivers: I appreciate that. To a degree. I’m not saying you need to quote every song from the 80s or 90s, but I do think it’s important to know where the music that you got inspired by came from. It helps you to get a perspective and realize who was successful in that time. Certain music is timeless so if you want to be significant and still known 10-20-30 years from now you gotta see how they did it and learn from the past. A lot people respect you a little more if you do know a little bit – the real Hip-Hop heads. I do think it’s important.
TRHH: The Abundance skit stuck out to me. It’s an astute observation from such a young man. Do you believe that happiness is sustainable?
Chris Rivers: I do think a general happiness is sustainable, like overall how you feel in life. To actually sustain it that’s what Buddhist Monks do. They really practice peace and peace brings happiness. With peace there is no chaos, and chaos brings a lack of happiness. I do think happiness and love is just an emotion that is induced by certain things. When you have more control of how you feel and how you react to the world around you, you can sustain it for longer periods and have a better overall emotional state.
I don’t think the actual raw hype of happiness is sustainable, because as human beings we always seek bigger things. Even if I maintain a level of happiness that works for me right now I’ll get used to that level of happiness and try to get one that’s even more than that to satisfy the current state of happiness that I have. I think ultimately, perspective wise the way humans are I don’t think we can continuously hold on to it, but I think we can put ourselves in places where we overall feel better than we’d like right now.
Chris Rivers: I do like some of the fun ones like ‘Bag’ and ‘I Got Too Much’ but I really like the intro and outro a lot. I like ‘Delorean’ a lot and ‘Brightness’ a whole lot too. I would say one of them.
Chris Rivers: I really want people to finally see me more for who I actually am. I feel like a lot throughout my career I’ve been pushed and pulled and kind of unsure of the steps I wanted to take. I’m still not at my maximum potential, but I feel like this is the most unique project and I feel like it’s going to be received well. I hope to extend my demographic and have a bigger fan base through this. I really want to get the message out there of who I am and I think people will receive it – I think it’s going to be good.
Five years ago on this day I started this very website. After years of interviewing artists for other outlets I wanted to start my own thing and showcase artists that I felt represented the culture in a proper way, thus TheRealHip-Hop.com.
When the websites that I’d previously written for vanished all of my old content was gone. I decided to re-publish many of those old artist interviews in the “From the Vault” series.
On the 5-year anniversary of TheRealHip-Hop.com it’s fitting that I dig into the vault and present to you my interview with Warren G. Warren is without question the nicest person that I’ve encountered in Hip-Hop. He’s also the first big name artist that I ever interviewed. What better way to celebrate The Real Hip-Hop’s birthday than with the purveyor of G-Funk, Warren G.
I spoke to Warren in September of 2009 as he was preparing for the release of his sixth solo album, The G Files, and a subsequent tour. Warren G and I spoke about The G Files, his time on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, his favorite producer on the mic, and his big brother Dr. Dre.
TRHH: The new single from The G Files is called Swagger Rich with Snoop Dogg — tell me about that song.
Warren G: It’s a song I put out as a feeler to get the buzz going. Swagger Rich is a record where I just wanted to try something different. What they’re playing on the radio is that electro-Hip-Hop. I just wanted to try one of those types of songs. I was like, “Who can I put on here to rock with me just to be different?” I was like, “Let me put Snoop on there.” I put him on and we put it down.
TRHH: Swagger Rich also features Australian singer Cassie Davis. There are some unlikely collaboration’s on The G Files. Tell me how the Cassie Davis and Travis Barker songs came to fruition?
Warren G: Well me and Travis we’ve been working, doing shows and stuff. We were working and I was like damn, I’m here with this guy who is an incredible drummer. I said I need to put him on my album because he’s incredible. I just got at him like, “Travis can you do the drums on this song for me?” He was like, “Yep!” I sent it to him, he put ’em on and boom! That was it, after that it was a wrap. The record was poppin’ even more.
TRHH: You always brought new artists to the forefront on your albums. Tell our readers about the new artists on the album.
Warren G: Well I have Badd Lucc, Halla, Blacc Nicc, BJ, Juney Boy, Trevor Westly, and Christian Davis. All of those guys are very, very talented. My job is to help them get a shot at possibly getting signed by a record label. That’s kind of what I do on each album. I try to give people a shot to get theirs, ’cause I ain’t greedy. If that’s what you do let’s try to get it crackin’ for you. I know you got the talent, I know you can do it. Let’s try to use my avenue and make it happen.
TRHH: You were one of the original rapping producers to make it big along with Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Erick Sermon, RZA, and others. For your money, who is the greatest rapping producer of all-time and why?
Warren G: Because he kind of reminds me of myself. He loves the soulfulness. He loves a beautiful sound. He doesn’t get too hardcore. He got that real soulfulness with a touch of jazz, and that’s kinda like how I am. I can roll with that.
TRHH: Hip-Hop production has moved more toward software than hardware recently. What equipment or software do you use when you’re making beats?
Warren G: I started out with the MPC 60. Now I’m using the MPC 5000. It’s just an incredible piece of machinery. It helps me keep my timing right. I’m able to use MIDI keyboards and my computer. You can link everything up to it. That’s what’s so good about it; you can use it as a controller also. I work with a lot of plug-ins inside of Pro Tools. That’s basically it. You get the same results.
TRHH: What’s your favorite beat that you made for another artist?
Warren G: I produced a song for 2Pac and MC Breed called Gotta’ Get Mine. That’s probably one of my favorites. That’s one of my first songs that got a shot when I was trying to get noticed. It actually was my first record to get noticed.
TRHH: That’s definitely a classic! And that song is so much more special now since both of those brothers are no longer with us.
Warren G: I know. Oh yeah.
TRHH: The single Ringtone is great. Is that a flute that you used on that record?
Warren G: [Laughs] Yeah! Yeah that was a flute. I try to be different in my production so I just put a flute on there. A flute is a nice sound that a lot of producers don’t use. It’s like a quiet storm basically. But they’re going to start using it now since they heard me do it.
TRHH: [Laughs] Was it live or sampled?
Warren G: It was done through a keyboard. My boy Craig Boogie had put that on there.
TRHH: You appeared on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club a few years back, were you able to implement the things that you learned on the show into your life after the show ended?
Warren G: Yeah! Working out and eating better. I’ve been messing up lately, I ain’t gonna even lie. But I usually try to eat pretty cool. I’ll eat baked chicken breast, vegetables, and brown rice. In the morning I’ll eat egg whites mixed with spinach, garlic, and mushrooms with lentils. I try to eat pretty cool, but lately I’ve been messing up a little bit. I’ll bounce back.
TRHH: I have to ask, did anyone really want to beat the shit out of Dustin Diamond on the show?
Warren G: Yeah, they wanted to kick his ass. Harvey [Walden IV] wanted to brutalize him. I was like wow! I thought he was just bullshitting at first but he was serious.
TRHH: He would have hurt that guy.
Warren G: Yeah, he would have hurt him pretty bad.
TRHH: People give rappers a bad rap but it seemed like the rappers are the only people on that show with good sense.
Warren G: Right! Exactly [laughs].
TRHH: Nate Dogg appears along with Raekwon on The G Files song 100 Miles and Runnin’. Can you give us an update on Nate’s health since he suffered a stroke?
Warren G: He’s recovering man. He’s recovering slow, but he’s progressing. We just gotta wait and see how it turns out. He’s progressing now. He’s cool. He’s got the best care so it’s all good.
TRHH: You were the artist that brought Def Jam back from the dead in 1994, what was it like performing at VH1’s Hip Hop Honors paying tribute to Def Jam Records?
Warren G: I mean, it was cool. It was a great thing to see Russell, Lyor, Chris Lighty, Kevin Liles, Mike, and Julie it was just nice to see them. They honored me and I honored them. To myself I was like, “Wow I sold 10 million records for them which made them 100 million dollars and put them back in the game.” I felt good, I basically felt like it was my thing [laughs]. They gave me a shot when nobody else would give me a shot. That was the result of them being real with me and I kept it 100 with them.
TRHH: You’re doing a 20 city national tour this fall. What do you have in store for fans that come and see the show?
Warren G: I’m gonna do some of the new songs off the album. I’m gonna give ’em a piece of every album I did. And just do a good show. Just rock it for ’em and have a good time.
TRHH: About 10 years ago you hit the road with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Eminem on the Up in Smoke Tour. We keep hearing that Dr. Dre’s final album Detox is coming, is there any chance that we can get an Up in Smoke 2 in the summer of 2010?
Warren G: Well I’m definitely trying to get on that Detox tour!!! I’m on that!! I’m on!
TRHH: Can you confirm that there will be a Detox tour?
Warren G: It’s gonna have to be and I’m on!
TRHH: Did you work on the Detox album?
Warren G: Not yet. I’m just waiting on the call. He’ll be calling me pretty soon. I’m gonna go down there, work with him, and do my thing. The records I’ve heard so far are incredible. It’s real dope. He’s doing his thing.
TRHH: In my opinion he’s the greatest of all time…
Warren G: Who me [laughs]?
TRHH: [Laughs] Nah, your brother, man!
Warren G: It’s all good.
TRHH: I think Dr. Dre is going to come with something special because so many people count him out.
Warren G: I can’t wait ’till he drops it so he can shut all this bullshit music down. It’s gonna be a good record man, and I can’t wait.
TRHH: Can you give me an example of the bullshit music that’s out there [laughs]?
Warren G: I’m not a hater. It’s just some shit out there where you just say to yourself, how did this get on the radio? Man…I’m like…wow!
TRHH: Well you did the joint with Raekwon for your album, but have you heard Raekwon’s album?
Warren G: Cuban Linx 2? Yeah he’s vicious.
TRHH: Yeah. That shit is ridiculous. It made me love music again.
TRHH: I think everyone can relate to that song on some level. Tell me what that song means to you.
Warren G: It’s basically a song for what’s going on right now. Just letting everybody know to hold on, this shit is gonna pass. We’re gonna be back to normal again. That’s it. Just letting everybody know. Even though we’re going through what we’re going through it’s gonna be alright. We go through things.
Some guys may not be able to get a job so they have to hustle to provide for their family and in the process they end up getting caught up. You just have to keep your head up. They won’t give him a job because he’s a felon. So just hold on and keep your head up. It’ll happen, you just have to be positive about it. Even if you have to work at McDonald’s, it’s something. You don’t want to keep getting locked up behind those bars.
TRHH: I appreciate you spending your time with me.
Mr. Complex has had an extensive career in Hip-Hop. Dating back to the mid-90s the Queens, New York emcee has released music as a member of Polyrhythm Addicts and as a solo artist. His catalogue is comparable to his name, and his latest release “Forever New” is no different.
Released on his own Core Records label Forever New is produced entirely by Mortal 1 and features appearances by O.C., Tiye Phoenix, Truth Enola, General DV, Prince Po, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Brianna Nadeau, Caitlyn Reidel, Cole Williams, Maya Azucena, Respect the God, and Sadat X.
Mr. Complex chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about inequalities on the underground scene, his foray into film, and his new album, Forever New.
Mr. Complex: Because my stuff is pretty much timeless – that’s the easy answer. I’ve been recording it for a long time. I didn’t care when it came out, it was always going to be forever new. I’m an underground independent artist and people find my music that I released twenty years ago and they think it’s new. Somebody hit me the other day like, “I’m in Jamaica. My radio station is playing your song called ‘Visualize.’ It’s dope. I put it in my top ten list.” Visualize came out twenty years ago. That’s where I’m at, everything is forever new.
Mr. Complex: This album I’ve been recording for like eight years. I had started recording in 08-09. My first producer that I started doing my demos with in the late 80s/early 90s, we sort of separated. He started managing and sort of pulled me into the R&B world. He was running with CeCe Peniston and people like that. I left and started doing my own thing. I ran into him in the late 90s and he congratulated me on the work that I’d been doing. He got cancer and in 08 Pharoahe called me and was like, “You gotta call Dre, he’s about to die.” I went to the hospital to visit him and I ran into a couple of other homies from high school that started in the game with me. They had separated and went into the work force.
They were never into the music like we were. One of them retired early from being a corrections officer. He built a studio in his basement and just got nice with the beats. After the funeral I started recording. This is Mortal 1 I’m talking about. Mortal 1 learned from my man Andre Kyles, Omega Supreme. I started recording again and in light of all that I said, let’s do this for Dre. It’s been slow because he’s never been a music go so he doesn’t really care. He’d rather put new flooring down in the kids’ room and stuff like that. It’s taken a long time, plus he moved down to Atlanta, which made it more difficult. I’m just taking my time. I’ve still been working in the film world and still doing music when I can.
TRHH: I watched the video for ‘Time and a Place’ and the scenery was beautiful. Where was that filmed?
Mr. Complex: I shot that in Hawaii. Did you see the ‘Then Was Then’ video?
Mr. Complex: Swiss Chocolate Cake was an album I recorded in Switzerland, pretty much with only one producer. I recorded that one in 03-04 and again I sat on that for like eight years and just released it. That one was a different vibe. I really recorded the Swiss Chocolate Cake album in seven days total. This one here because I was able to take my time and work with one producer I was able to go through some beats, some concepts, and some emotions. I got the wordplay, I got some relationship songs because when you’re older you start dealing with marriage, kids, divorce, and life. I was able to put some of that in some of these songs. I have a little more conscious records like ‘Stormy Weather’ and ‘Gotta Get Home,’ And then I was still playing with having fun with Hip-Hop like ‘So Sad’ and ‘Then Was Then’ and a few other joints.
TRHH: Speaking of ‘So Sad’ on that song you talk about the lack of emcees on the scene right now. Why was it important for you to write that song?
Mr. Complex: When they cover the underground they always mention the same five artists. They say, “What kind of rap do you do?” and you say underground and they be like, “Who? Talib Kweli? Mos Def? Common? Pharoahe?” It’s the same five people mentioned all the time. When you’re in this world you know. I can name about 100 of them. It’s just so many that don’t get counted. I don’t get mentioned. It’s just the same people and it’s kind of upsetting. Not to disrespect anybody, everybody deserves it for the work they put in, but y’all could run to a few other emcees like J-Live, Shabaam, I could go on with the list. It’s the same five that they pick to be the representatives of this underground scene. I’m not even talking about commercial-wise. The people that they’re eyeing are still doing it, but there’s still artists out there making good music that are able to do it but they just don’t get mentioned.
TRHH: Why do you think that is?
Mr. Complex: Because people don’t really dig that much. When I mention that top 5 they pretty much are underground but a lot of them have had some sort of major push at some point in time that got them in the light. Rawkus put a lot of money behind Mos and Talib. Common had a bigger deal and Pharoahe had a bigger deal. These people were the best in that clique so they just stand out. It’s easy to remember them. People like Shabaam and J-Live, regardless of how many shows and tours that they put on they still won’t get that type of big play. It’s not like magically a hit happens. It does happen for certain cats and then they cross over to a major market. You gotta hit the lottery.
It’s a marketing game really to get these artists known. To make a song like ‘King Kong Love’ that everybody agrees is a good song, but I didn’t have the machine or no one helping me promote it so it could get to the people like it could have or should have. That song could have crossed over. The response that I’m getting from it is different from any other record that I put out. I never had anyone steal my song, put it on YouTube, and put their name on it saying, “featuring Mr. Complex.” I’m like, “Who the fuck is this dude?” but that happened with that record.
Mr. Complex: Yeah, half of it is true. I’m a writer so I can write about pretty much anything, but I do like to take from my own life. At one point in time I was living in Bed-Stuy and I had these two neighbors who used to walk their dogs all the time. Every time I looked at the pretty one the thugged out one always gave me the ice grill, the stare down, and the mean mug. One day I did catch the girl in the store and I was like, “How you doing?” We had a nice little convo and I could see the other one looking through the window like, “You talking to my girl?!?!” That’s as far as it went and my fantasy finished up the story [laughs].
Mr. Complex: That one I’ve been shooting it for five years. I put it on hold because I had to finish this album. When I get a minute again I’m jumping back into the film. What I need to do is find another editor. The editor that I had edited that Stretch & Bobbito movie. He got a Netflix job so now I have to find somebody else. I just have to raise some money for that to get the post done. It’s an incredible film so far. I shot over 50 different female artists from Jaguar Wright, to Res, to Yahzarah, to Kim Hill.
There are so many artists that you may not have heard of but they have a following, they have Grammys, they might have sang on some hit records you didn’t realize, or they might have been part of some big Hip-Hop groups. Kim Hill was the original singer in The Black Eyed Peas. She left to follow her solo career and got replaced by Fergie and then they blew up. So many stories are in this film and there’s so many things that these women go through dealing with this male-dominated industry. There are some crazy stories, man, but it’s coming out pretty good.
Mr. Complex: I had a show in Pittsburgh and that was my first show outside of New York State since I dropped this album. I haven’t been able to jump out of town in a minute and I miss that. I get there and people remember from like 20 years ago. This one cat named Blitz has a big barbecue restaurant and he treated me and my people. He had big bags of barbecued ribs, chicken, greens, and macaroni. You get to the venue and people are telling you all these things about when my first record came out. It’s like I made all these, not just fans, but a little bit more when they connect with you in a certain way. I don’t really care about the money because it seems like Hip-Hop doesn’t really make the money it could or should. It’s always a chance you can get a check here or there – I got one song in a movie already. But my biggest goal is to get back overseas and tour.
I just want to get back to places that I used to go to and people remember my name. They’re like, “Complex, how’s it going with this,” and that’s all I really have besides all these records. I have one gold record. The biggest goal is just to get around. The reaction I’m getting from people on this album is insane right now. I just got 1000 followers within a week and a half on Instagram. The response every day, multiple people are saying something crazy good about the quality of this album. I’m just curious about what’s going to happen. I’m trying to make something big that’s going to inspire people my age that’s still doing the music. Some of them can’t. Some of them gave up and have to stick to their job. It’s very difficult. I’m able to survive because I do the film stuff and that’s flexible hours as well. Some people can’t leave their jobs to do what I’m doing. I understand that and respect that. I’m just doing this because I still love this.
DreamTek is a producer, emcee, and owner of Seven Oddities Records. The Chicago native has been a staple in the underground scene for nearly two decades. Dream recently released his second full-length solo album on his Seven Oddities labels titled, “The Wizard of Oddz.”
The Wizard of Oddz is produced entirely by DreamTek and features appearances by DJ PhilLogic, Clever One, Roy Hobes, DoomsDay, Tony Patagonia, Arken Nino, and PozLyrix.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to DreamTek about his Seven Oddities record label, the lack of originality in Chicago Hip-Hop, and his new album, The Wizard of Oddz.
TRHH: Why did you call the new album ‘The Wizard of Oddz’?
DreamTek: Actually, I run Seven Oddities Records. There are 9-10 artists under it. I produce for all them artists. I record, mix, and master for all them artists. I do videos for them, I run the website, I’m basically the dude behind the curtain running shit over there. That’s comparable to the man behind the curtain running shit in the Wizard of Oz. We go by “7 Oddz” for short. I found out that there was a mafia cat back in the day called The Wizard of Odds. His name was Donald Angelini. I thought that was kind of cool that that accidentally happened like that. I didn’t want the album to be about the movie. I just kind of wanted to take it for what it was and apply it to myself.
DreamTek: I grew up in Uptown. We did graffiti and we had a crew called 7 Crew. That formed into what was the early label in 2000. We came up with the name based off the number 7. The number 7 was always dope to us. Supposedly it’s a magical number, a spiritual number, a religious number, it’s just everywhere. We added that in there and the oddities came from the fact that everybody that was originally down, and to this day, everyone has their own style. It’s like a circus of sorts – a side show. It’s all this crazy shit going on but when we all come together we form and execute properly so it’s dope. Everybody’s got their own style and that’s where the oddities came from. Usually when you have a group of heads normally they all sound the same, they kind of go together, but it’s different over here. Everyone has their own sound and style and shit, it’s real dope.
TRHH: On the songs ‘Nobody’ and ‘Puppetry’ you take shots at some rappers in Chicago. Why was it important for you to express that sentiment on those songs?
DreamTek: Man, I feel like no one really does. There’s a couple heads that have in the city here and there, but I feel like no one’s really directly been like, “Yo, what the fuck is going on?” The Puppetry joint, is basically how it is – it’s a factory almost. Being in Chicago you can go up to Sub-T on any given Tuesday or Friday and you got 100 emcees out there and they’re all the same. Certain cats stick out here and there but you got this almost carbon copy emcee/rapper thing going on. Then you got the young heads that see the money. They wanna blow up so they all copy each other. They wear the same clown outfits but no one is directly going at them. I’ve always been that way. I’ve been against anything that was bad for Hip-Hop in my opinion. I’ve always been vocal about it and throwing it in my rhymes. I’m forever talking shit [laughs]. I feel it was necessary, especially with Puppetry, to make a joint that specifically that’s all it was about. I want some younger heads to hear that, actually. Hopefully I can get that around a little more.
TRHH: On this album you did things differently and had features on it. Why’d you switch it up for The Wizard of Oddz?
DreamTek: My previous album was just all me – produced by me, scratches, all that. I wanted to include some of the label on it. I didn’t put everybody on there – I didn’t want to flood it. I wanted to do more than just straight solo joints on this one. It was actually requested by a lot of fans. They were like, “What’s up with the features,” and “Are you gonna have anybody on this one?” just mad questions. I wanted to go that route as opposed to being all Dream. That Tek the Terrible album that I did a few years back is strictly me, which is dope. I definitely wanted it to be that purposely. I remember arguing with the fam because cats were trying to sneak on it. I’m like, “Nah,” I wanted it all me [laughs]. With this new one I wanted to showcase cats from the label on it while I’m showcasing myself because I feel they’re dope too.
TRHH: You produced everything on your last two albums; what does your workstation consist of?
DreamTek: Currently I have two of them. I have an MPC Studio at the studio and I have a smaller beat-making studio at my house where I have another MPC Studio. In the past I’ve had every MPC. I’ve always been an MPC head. I had the 2000, the 60, the 2500, the small joint – the 500. It’s just real comfortable for me. I feel like the new MP’s like the one I got and the Renaissance, I feel like they finally got it right where they mixed it with the software end of it where it’s actually functional. I don’t even have to look at the screen when I’m making beats. I can just use it like a regular MP and it does its thing. That’s what I use primarily. As far as recording and mixing and all that I use Studio One – that’s my DAW.
TRHH: The song ‘Autobiography’ was real personal. Was it difficult for you to share that part of yourself with everyone?
DreamTek: Yeah. Man, it really was, man. A little known fact about that joint, I wrote the first two verses and the hook when I was 16 or 17. I never finished the joint. I loved it but I was always cautious about putting it out because I didn’t want people to know about me like that. I never finished the joint and wrote the third verse because I didn’t feel like I lived life enough to sum it up. I had that track forever, man. If you listen to the song you obviously know I grew up kind of crazy. Where I’m at now I’m getting married, I got the label, I got my own business going, I got a house, my sisters are going to college, everything is upside down for the better. I’m about to be 33 this year and it took me that long in life to write that third verse. I didn’t have enough life yet to wrap it up but I feel like I did at this point. It was definitely hard to decide to put it on there, but I’m glad I did, man. I let my mom hear it before and she gave me the OK on it [laughs]. I do want heads to know where I come from. I feel like that’s important.
TRHH: What qualities are you looking for in an artist for the Seven Oddities label?
DreamTek: I’ll use my homies PozLyrix and Scenic Roots as an example. When I met these heads they were doing shows and that’s where we met ‘em. We ended up doing the same show together, I forget the venue. I’d never heard these fools before. When I did hear them it was reminiscent of 90s style spittin’. They were spittin’ over these horrible beats, in my opinion, I ain’t trying to bash nobody. They were synthed out, almost like Cash Money’s early style [laughs]. The stuff they were spitting over it was raw and I thought they needed a home and the right beats. I cuffed them up based off of just hearing that and it turned out beautiful. Personally I look for originality. That’s really important to me and that’s one of the ways where we ended up having our own styles over here. Cadence is real important and the way they spit. I gotta believe what they’re saying. Just overall content, man. I know you know when you hear a dope emcee. Especially us cats that grew up listening to the older stuff – we know what a dope emcee sounds like. That’s really what I’m looking for is that essence at the end of the day.
TRHH: Who is The Wizard of Oddz made for?
DreamTek: Man, to me, anybody that wants that raw Hip-Hop. That’s really what it is, just straight, raw, uncut, Hip-Hop. I feel like there’s something on there for everybody for the most part. There’s some harder joints, there some more lowkey joints. I feel like it’s for any cat out there trying to nod their head, blaze one, and just sit back and listen to something. I feel like they’ll enjoy it – hopefully.