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.
The divide between fans of traditional Hip-Hop and fans of what’s been deemed “mumble rap” is not one of age, but of ideals. What moves you musically is what moves you – that’s fine, but what about the craft? Some members of the Hip-Hop community believe that skill still matters and one of those people is MC Shan.
Shan believes that lyrics matters so much that his first album in nearly 30 years is titled “Bars Over Bullshit.” The 22-track album finds the Queensbridge emcee rhyming over various forms of music, showcasing his versatility and reminding folks that he still has it. Shan is all about bars, not bullshit.
MC Shan spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about why there was a 27-year gap between albums, his battle with addiction, his beef with KRS-One, and his new album, Bars Over Bullshit.
TRHH: The title of your new album is ‘Bars Over Bullshit’ — what exactly is the “bullshit” that’s referenced in the title?
MC Shan: It’s just mumbling [laughs]. Songs are just mumbling absolutely nothing. That’s not a key phrase that I coined, it’s just something I identified with, with things I’ve seen on the internet. My man Prez had said it to me one day and I was like, “That’s a good title for the album.”
TRHH: What do you say to those emcees from your era or a little bit after who say, just let the kids do their thing, they’re making money and having fun?
MC Shan: Let them do their thing but at the same time there’s no substance to the music. This is what the kids are listening to. Yeah, let them make their money but don’t tell the kids to go do drugs. In my era I’m the last person to talk about doing drugs. I’m in the studio doing drugs but I’m on the record saying, “Don’t do drugs.” The glorification of it is be as thuggy as you wanna be. I can’t even say let them do it because that’s stupid. Ain’t nobody hating on what they’re doing, it’s just the message they’re bringing across — the dumbing down of America. Everything has got to be thugs, shooting, and you’re fighting over a color that nobody is even getting a dollar off. If that question was brought about to see if I’m a hater, I’m not hater. I just don’t like the message. Let them do what they do. My parents didn’t understand my music and I don’t understand theirs. That’s not the point. You aren’t saying anything.
TRHH: Nah, I don’t think you’re a hater at all. I’m with you 100 percent. I’m 41 years old. We’re from a different era.
MC Shan: If you think about it, if I don’t do what I do what are we supposed to listen to? Are we just supposed to be music-less? We’re just supposed to listen to nothing? Let them do them and we’re supposed to listen to that? I don’t have to listen to that. If you think about it people my age and your age, are we supposed to succumb to that? There is no more Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, there’s no more of that. Where is the uplifting of the community? There’s no more songs that say be a doctor or be a lawyer.
TRHH: That’s interesting that you brought that up because I interviewed Kane a few years back and he said he would never release another album and was content with his body of work, and a lot of guys from your era feel that way as well. Why was it important for you to release an album in 2017?
MC Shan: Just adding on to the legacy, that’s all. It’s not for me to make a million dollars. I just want to put some music out right now that has something to say. Each one of my songs stands for a different thing. I’m telling stories – things that people can listen to and identify with like, “Man, that happened in my life.” And I’m just spitting rhymes – freestyling – what I’m known to do. It’s a braggadocios type of thing. Hip-Hop the way Hip-Hop was originally formed and I don’t get it to where a youngster can tell me that I can’t do something that I helped create. Come on, what do you mean?
TRHH: I think it’s that idea that this is a young man’s sport, but I think that’s been debunked over and over again. It’s false.
MC Shan: I also think that’s false. I think that people say that to keep you blinded and blind-sided. They want to make you feel irrelevant because what you’re saying is way better than anything they’re talking about right now. If somebody gets a whiff of what’s real it’s going to start bringing up questions about your talent, what you’re doing out here in this industry and what you’re saying. You’re not telling the kids to do anything constructive. You’re just telling them to get killed by the police and go to jail. Sell drugs, go ahead, and be as high as you want.
Kids want to follow the rapper. If the rapper is doing molly he wants to do molly too. You’re sipping lean and got your Styrofoam cup and the powers that be are the ones that are really pushing that. It’s not so much now because the internet is out and anybody can do anything, which is still the powers that be. It’s just out there for people to soak up. The attention span is so short nowadays that if you’re saying anything that you have to think about it’s like, “I don’t wanna hear that — I just wanna rock to this beat.”
TRHH: This is your first official album since 1990. The album’s final track ‘Let’s Bring Hip Hop Back’ was released when I first interviewed you five years ago….
MC Shan: Right, I just put those back on there anyway. There’s like two of them that was put back on there. Let’s Bring Hip Hop Back, I just ended it with that one because it’s something that was out already. Some people might have heard it, some people might not have.
TRHH: Why did it take so long to release Bars Over Bullshit?
MC Shan: ‘Cause I just wasn’t in the mood [laughs]. I just wasn’t in the mood, period. It’s not like I’m sitting here starving or just trying to get some money. I’m cool. I get my royalties; I’m still getting paid off of Snow. I’m still living nice. I don’t have a house with a big U-shaped driveway and 90 rooms in it, because that’s impractical. Back in the days when I did have millions I had a four-story house and I wouldn’t go in some of the rooms in years. Sometimes I would just go in the rooms just to say I go in there.
TRHH: On ‘Wanna Be A Big Star’ you say, “All I see is a fake bunch of Ice Cube’s and G Rap’s.” Explain that line.
MC Shan: That’s another one that was out already. It’s saying that they just wanna be Ice Cube and G Rap. You’re doing gangsta rap but you’re not doing gangster things. You know G was a gangster, you know Ice Cube was a gangster, but these kids now they ain’t about that. They ain’t no real gangsters. They’re just out here following what the next guy is doing. They were trendsetters in that, these guys are just out here screaming stuff that they ain’t about. 99% of the time they get their chin checked by the street. If that’s what you’re saying you are the streets are going to test you.
I was just on the internet today watching about how many young rappers got killed in 2016. That’s real crazy. Some of them I never heard of but I’m looking at the content of their music and they’re pointing guns and playing that role like they’re really it in the streets. You ain’t really watching your head because if that’s how you’re moving you’re supposed to watch everything and the first thing that comes moving at you you’re going to hit it, period. You’re getting caught sleep. If you was really about that life ain’t no sleep, period. You don’t even let people know where you live at in that life. You got your money and put your house over here and you don’t take nobody to your house. The only time they see you is when you’re in the hood doing what you do. At night, nobody knows where your kids are at and where you rest your head.
MC Shan: Kinda sorta. Another thing is to just show the difference in my style and his style. We just don’t even match. There was never a battle between me and KRS. That’s one of the greatest lies in Hip-Hop ever told. Another thing is if you got a problem and that’s the way you think, when I’m in your face don’t smile in my face. We’ve been on stages together plenty of times and that’s never what comes out of your mouth when I’m in the vicinity. But when I’m not there it’s, “I took out Shan.” When I’m there it’s, “We’re cool, we’re cool, we’re cool.” The closest we ever got to do something head to head was the Sprite commercial, period. When I sit back and think about some of the stuff that he says, sometimes you’re just too much on your own. You just rattle off at your mouth. Acting like you’re the all-wise knowing Hip-Hop god of all gods. Come on, man. Go sit down and do your thing. Get your money doing your lectures or whatever.
Be the cult leader that you are. I mean, he’s very powerful with his words. He reminds me of a Jim Jones or one of these dudes that runs the occult. If House of Hip-Hop says jump off the bridge, they’re going to jump off the bridge. I just don’t believe it. Let him do his thing. That’s what ticked me on that one. If you listen to his album that he just dropped and you listen to mine it’s two different things. I do music to entertain. I ain’t trying to teach nobody nothing on there. If you get a lesson or a message out of it, that’s cool, but I’m not nobody’s teacher. And anybody who sits back and says they’ll let this man teach you, go do your own research. The same books he read is out there.
TRHH: There is a bit of an R&B flavor to the album, with some club music and a little bit of rock. Did you set out to make a musically diverse album or did it just turn out that way?
MC Shan: That’s just always been me. That’s why I could never be put into a category. If you go back to my first album and as we used to say drop the needle, the second song is different from the first song. Everything was always different. It was never a thing where you’re going to drop the needle and everything is sounding the same. I always did that, which is why I could never be put in a class of this, that, or the third. I’m either going to tell a story, do a freestyle, or do something totally off the wall. That’s just always been me – musically diverse.
MC Shan: That right there is a re-write of a song that I did back in the days called ‘Cocaine.’ It’s metaphorically telling a story about a girl. You don’t know that I’m talking about cocaine until the very end of the song.
TRHH: That song relates to your personal struggles, right?
MC Shan: It directly relates to my personal struggles, but not in 2017. It was just something that I wanted to reissue again. If you didn’t hear it the first time it was out, here it go again, re-done over.
MC Shan: It’s made for those who listen to that kind of music. I’m not trying to get new fans. If you listened to me back in the days and you want to listen to some Hip-Hop the way Hip-Hop was formed, that’s what it is. I’m not trying to get into the box of what these kids are doing nowadays. That’s the kids’ music. Y’all do what y’all do. But if you’re of my age and you want to listen to some good Hip-Hop, this is for you. Because there ain’t no good R&B out anymore, it’s being done by Autotune singers. Even the R&B game is not the same anymore. If some of those R&B singers came out with some new stuff there would be plenty of people interested in hearing what they have to say over the years because there’s nothing for them to listen to. Nowadays an R&B song is “bend over and let me fuck you from the back.” That’s the R&B of nowadays.
$hun is a Southern emcee with East Coast sensibilities. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee but now residing in Houston, Texas, $hun, much like yours truly, just loves that old boom bap. In 2016 $hun (short for Marshun) released his debut project “The Rough Draft.” Soon after he began prepping for the release of his second effort.
His second release finds $hun rhyming over beats from 9th Wonder’s 2016 Zion beat tape to create an EP titled, “Will Rap 4 A Way Outta Here.” The free release features appearances by J Greer, Relli, and 1.2.
The Real Hip-Hop chatted with $hun about learning from the mistakes of others to help to keep him on the right path, his desire to meet producer 9th Wonder, and his new EP, Will Rap 4 A Way Outta Here.
$hun: I titled it that because it was around the time of the election so I really wanted to play off of that a little bit. All of the material isn’t me preaching about material things but I kind of wanted to play off of that. I actually had the idea for the cover art weirdly before I had the title of the tape. It kind of helped me in my decision to title it that. I played off it in different ways; I played off it with the Trump thing and the election. Will Rap 4 A Way Outta Here, as in this situation that we’re all in. And also Will Rap 4 A Way Outta Here, as in just trying to make it overall without getting into a better place politically — better spot for my family and me being able to support people.
TRHH: I’m in Chicago so I’m a little cut off from the rest of the country. What’s the consensus on Trump in Texas?
$hun: It’s kind of both sides. Speaking on the issues I’ve seen a lot of people go both ways. I am also speaking with mostly African-American’s or “minorities” as they like to call it. It’s a lot of hate for Trump, but it’s also a few people that feel like he can actually do something good. I wouldn’t say everybody blows him off. It’s a lot of people that feel like it’s about to be a repeat of Ronald Reagan or something like that. I would say it’s more dislike toward him than it is like.
TRHH: Are these African-American’s that think that he might be able to do something good?
$hun: It’s a few, but mostly no. It’s not the African-American’s. With the people that I’ve had conversations with it’s actually one Hispanic that saw a lot of positive in him and Ronald Reagan. I didn’t live through that era so I wouldn’t know. They had a lot of good points to make on that. For the most part the rest of the people are white people that actually have a lot of positive things to say about him.
TRHH: Why did you choose to rap over 9th Wonder beats for the entire project?
$hun: These are beats from 9th Wonder’s beat tape called Zion. 9th Wonder has always been one of my favorite producers. I’m not even from the East Coast, I’m originally from the South. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee but I’ve been bouncing around a little bit, I’ve been in California and now I’m here in Texas. I was always real clingy to the East Coast sound and music. 9th Wonder to me is the boom bap god. I’m trying to get in touch with him. I want him to hear the project.
TRHH: I love the feeling of the single ‘Get Based!’ How did that song come together?
$hun: It was just me and my boy 1.2, we actually went to school together. That’s like one of my best friends. He was with me through all of the processes. He was with me through the process of putting together The Rough Draft and with me through the process of putting together this project. We were just going through the beats on Zion. It’s not really an intro to this beat, that’s why I said on the track, “Let’s get right into it.” Soon as the beat dropped we instantly got a connection. We both felt it and from there we just did our magic. We cooked it up. People always ask me what made me write this or think of this and I always tell them the beat told me to write it. Soon as I heard the beat I just heard, “Get based, get based!” A lot of people ask me, “What does it mean?” and I just tell them, “Create your own reality.” We play off it so many different ways that it can mean whatever you want it to mean.
$hun: It’s different because I feel like I experimented a little bit more with it. I know The Rough Draft is boom bap as well but I feel like with this project I actually expanded my artistry a little more. I tried to be a little bit more unconventional. The Rough Draft is unconventional but I would describe it as normal boom bap. This one is boom bap but it’s not something a normal artist would actually put out. I feel like a lot of the beat switch ups and sample-heavy songs is something I feel like a lot of people would listen to and like the beats but wouldn’t get on it.
TRHH: On ’09 Jams you said, “OG’s that I look up to, make sure that I don’t fuck up too,” explain that lyric.
$hun: The OG’s would be the OG’s in my neighborhood that I grew up in. I just came back from Memphis and everybody was giving a bunch of love and telling me to keep pushing. They want to see me do better than what they did because at the end of the day they’re still in the hood. As a kid coming up I actually looked up to these guys. These were the people I aspired to be like. I’m a young kid in the hood so really this was all I knew. I felt like these were the gods. As I left Memphis and broadened my horizons I can look back at it and see these niggas is really fuckin’ up. OG’s that I looked up to made sure that I don’t fuck up too, so I’m going to study their moves. I’m trying to learn from their mistakes so I won’t have to make the same mistakes. That’s why I say, “Live through the ones who peeped things, so you ain’t never gotta peep game.” If you live through them you already seen the mistakes they made so you already making the right moves.
TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on Will Rap 4 A Way Outta Here?
$hun: That’s tough. My favorite song would have to be Conversate, the outro.
TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Will Rap 4 A Way Outta Here?
$hun: I really wanna meet 9th Wonder. He doesn’t have to sign me to Jamla. I just wanna hear 9th Wonder say I did his beats some justice and it’s dope. That’s really what I did it for, to get 9th Wonder’s attention. I just want to fly out to North Carolina and have a genuine conversation with him and a relationship. I’m a boom bap artist and I feel like 9th Wonder is a boom bap god. That’s really what I would hope to achieve and from there just let it keep building. I’m big on short term goals to help me get to that long term goal.
Redman is one of the greatest emcees of all-time, period. When you factor in his lyrics, longevity, and live show his status is undeniable. From his solo work to his collaborations with Method Man and Def Squad, Red has kept a very “high” standard when it comes to his rhymes.
At the 18-year mark of his career Reggie Noble wanted to give fans a little more Reggie and less Redman. In the winter of 2010 Red was promoting his seventh solo album, Reggie, and I was granted an interview with the How High star. The album was a slight departure from his previous projects, thus the title.
I was nervous that I’d get more Reggie than Redman during the interview but what ensued was one of the best interviews I’ve ever conducted. You don’t get any more real than Redman. Enjoy.
Redman: The new album Reggie is just not a Redman album. No Redman album, no Supaman Luva, and no skits. There are no tracks done by Erick Sermon. Reggie is out of the box a little bit. It’s more musical and more conceptual. I want y’all to get good music and growth from this album. I ain’t trying to show an alter ego as far as personality, just on the music. When you get a Redman album you know what to expect, this is unexpected.
TRHH: I listened to the album and I was extremely surprised by the sound of it. What made you go a different route with the beats on Reggie?
Redman: When I first did it, it was a mixtape and ended up as an album. I wanted to try something different — that was it. I was coming up with Muddy Waters 2 and I was going to take it back on that one. I was actually going to have 90s sounding beats on that one. I had a half of an album done while I was doing the Red and Meth Blackout 2 album. I said let met finish up 6-7 more songs and call it an album. If you look I only have 13 joints on there and it’s like the shortest album I’ve ever made.
TRHH: When you were making the album were you afraid that you might alienate your fans?
Redman: Not at all because it’s a movement. I want them to understand that I want to do this music as well. Don’t keep me in the box supplying one kind of music to y’all. I’m not saying that I’m trying to win or anything like that, I’m just feeling the music and I want to let loose. I just want to show my fans growth more than anything. I’m trying to prove a point on growth. I’m nice this way with a more “now” sound and with my old ways.
TRHH: The first single is Def Jammable and on the chorus you say, “I don’t know what you people gonna do without him,” is that directed toward the Def Jam label?
Redman: No, it’s not directed at anyone. It’s directed at the whole game. I’m a big influence. I’m proud of my essence in this game and how it branched off and helped other people. If I still got it in me to do it, then why not do it? I keep that fun personality in the game. We got a lot of thuggin’ and muggin’ in the game right now — which is cool. But who’s going to let people know that it’s still good to have fun and still be a thug when you want to? I still have a job to do. Yeah, I said, What you gonna do without me, I’m still on my job.
TRHH: Tiger Style seemed different than anything else on the album to me. How did the Tiger Style joint come together?
Redman: I worked with my boy Chris upstate. That’s like my brother, man and we just toss around beats. I do a lot of work that’s not affiliated with albums. I might just go in the studio and do a song. I’ve got plenty of songs that no one has ever heard, and that was one of them. Actually, I was going to mixtape that one. That was part of the mixtape I was doing while I was doing the Blackout 2 album. I gave that record to Flex and he went to town on that joint! You know why he went to town and why it sounds different, because it’s so much of the usual that you hear on the radio. That ain’t nothing but a freestyle and a hook. I don’t even have a concept on that record, it’s just spitting. You like it because it’s that food for the soul that y’all been missing. That substance, that don’t give a fuck, and that rocking without having a pretty ass hook. That’s where I come in, that’s where the fuck I come in.
TRHH: [Laughs] Was it hard doing an album without Erick Sermon for the first time?
Redman: You know what, kind of and sort of not. When I go in with E I’m concentrating on making the song on how he’s building the beat and then me and him come together on the hook. On this one I just kind of let loose with whatever I was feeling. My and my crew Gilla House did whatever we felt on the album, Saukrates, Ready Roc, Runt Dawg, Melanie, and E3. Whatever we felt on this album, we did and that’s where I left it off at.
TRHH: Why didn’t that make the album? That was crazy man!
Redman: OK, well if I could have I would have. You know Mike passed. I’m a great fan of his by the way. He passed and there’s so much litigation as far his paper work and who gets what right now that I know it would be impossible to work that out. When I wrote that record it was for a mixtape too. I knew the sample was impossible to get, well not impossible but it was going to be a pain in the ass to get, put it that way. When I wrote the record I didn’t write it without the curses. When you get a sample like that you can not curse and be talking about bitches on there like I did — and I did. I just knew I wasn’t getting that at all.
TRHH: I want to go back, I’m from Chicago and I remember seeing you on the Hard Knock Life tour when you were suspended in the air, the ropes got stuck and you had to be cut down….
TRHH: You referenced this in the song Maaad Crew. What do you remember about being stuck up there like that, also didn’t you land on top of a guy and seriously injure him?
Redman: Ah, you did your homework, yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh ha ha!!!!!
TRHH: [Laughs] What do you remember about being stuck up there because I remember you landed on the guy and he got hurt right?
Redman: Absolutely, absolutely, I’m over the fuckin’ audience and one of the ropes popped and I was hanging out of it halfway. I was literally about to come out the harness on that motherfucker man. The harness started flipping upside down. I had to hold on to one rope and hold one side of my body up. They started wheeling me back and my man came up there with the 13 foot ladder and shit, climbed up there and tried to unhook me but that shit wasn’t working. He gave it one more good push and he unhooked me, but he unhooked the fuckin’ harness. I don’t know if he thought I was gon’ hold on to the rope. I was gon’ hold on to that rope and burn my hands and shit. When he unhooked I ain’t know he unhooked the bitch and when he unhooked it we went right to the ground, ladder, everything. Fell on his ass – he went right to the hospital. That was some TV shit to see.
TRHH: I want to go back and ask about your episode of MTV Cribs. You easily had the best episode of MTV Cribs of all-time, do you still live in that same house?
Redman: Yeah, I still got that crib. I didn’t really look at it as a big thing when I fuckin’ did it. They offered to rent me a crib and I turned that down. I didn’t wanna rent no fuckin’ crib and show off a crib I don’t know, that ain’t G. Plus I still live in the hood, too. They would have been like, “Nigga, that ain’t your fuckin’ crib!” I just had my shit. The motherfuckers told me noon they was coming through. I had just got finished coming from a studio session that morning, that’s why my fat ass cousin was sleeping on the floor ‘cause I ain’t have no other bed and shit.
TRHH: Sugar Bear, right?
Redman: Yeah. He got his ass up. I told him we had to get up about 11 so I could clean and shit and these motherfuckers pop over about 8:30-9:00 and shit expecting me to be on point. I was like, “Man, fuck it. Let’s go,” and that’s how it ended.
TRHH: It’s one of the best, man.
Redman: Good lookin’, man.
TRHH: On Rockin Wit Da Best you said, “Let the streets decide who’s nice.” Do you feel like you get the respect you deserve from the industry?
Redman: You know what, I do. I think I don’t but I do. I ain’t gon’ lie when I’m mention amongst the top 10 or top 15 I’m in that bracket. That’s good from the years I came out. I see so many nice niggas and it’s like how do we decide the nice bracket? On how many records you keep dropping, being relevant, or is it the respect? You could have all the records and fame but you might not get respect in every borough like the next rapper would. You might not give off that kind of feeling or appearance that this rapper would. Your fans might not listen to this rapper and them fans might not listen to them.
How do you really decide? Biggie passed and he’s definitely the top 3 of all-time. It’s more niggas coming out. I’m still holding the belt up in this bitch on my end. Meth still holding the belt, Busta still holding the belt, we still relevant and shit. When is that list going to change? That’s the only thing I was saying. When is it going to give some rooms for other emcees? I think Eminem is one of the top 3 now. When are we going to switch those names around? I think Eminem should be one of the top 1 or 2 now. I vote for Eminem in the top 3.
TRHH: You mentioned Eminem and Biggie, who are your top 5 of all-time?
Redman: KRS-One and Slick Rick is my first. Biggie, Jay, and Em.
TRHH: Eminem gave you a shout out on a song. How does it feel to hear your contemporaries like Eminem give you props as one of their inspirations?
Redman: It feels great. I gotta also add Ludacris. Ludacris been holding it down, too. I love Ludacris’ flow and I love the quality that he puts in his music. His quality is great. I have to add him on the list as well. Both of those guys gave me props when they came out. I hear a little influence in their music as well. I look at it as great because that’s my job, man. I’m here to influence and also educate. If I can influence somebody else in their career to this kind of work and for them to go off on their own thing and do it, hey man, it’s great. I’m doing my job. You know what, I feed back off of them. I learn shit from them. I learned a lot of shit from Em and Luda just listening to the music.
We kind of circle that love back around and they might not know it and we don’t all talk. We all influence each other and we influence newcomers. That’s our job, man. I just want to put it out there that I influence those guys and those guys are still bumpin’. You got guys that came out sounding like other people or tried to do other peoples styles, but not with me. I just influenced their personality. They had their own style. I just influenced their personality to go and do whatever and they’re still winning. Eminem is nominated for 10 Grammys and he says I helped influence him. That’s great, my job is done. I don’t want anything. Im’ma be blessed for that.
TRHH: You’ve been around for a minute. What was the point where you said, “I made it,”?
Redman: I ain’t say I made it yet because I got a lot of things I wanna do. I wanna direct. I wanna make a women’s open toe sandal shoe line. This job only opened doors for me to do more work. I got a lot of things I wanna do before I say I made it.
TRHH: You’re one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen – solo or with Meth. What makes a good live performer?
Redman: Having a voice. Most important is sounding like your record without the lip syncing. People really appreciate when you sound like your record. They don’t give a fuck if you go up there and do a half an hour, but if you go up there and sounding like your record and you’re giving it your all – moving around, showing movement, showing you’re not scared to touch the fans, that’s what they want. Some emcees gotta go up there with a lot of jewelry and a lot of shit because they don’t move. That’s their excitement, their look, and it works for ‘em. I don’t wear no jewels. I ain’t gotta do all that shit. Energy is what I’m built on. That’s what overseas is built on as well. I learned more about doing my shows from overseas than here.
TRHH: How so?
Redman: Overseas is great, man. Overseas still appreciates 90s music. You can almost go to a party overseas and deejay, and I still deejay, too. I went over there and fucked around and started playing new shit. No one was dancing. Soon as I threw on LeFlaur Leflah by Heltah Skeltah the party starts. Throw on some Black Moon, the party starts. Throw on some old Biggie, the party starts. Throw on some Fu-Gee-La, the party fuckin’ starts. Throw on some Busta Rhymes Break Ya Neck, the party is off the fuckin’ hook! Serious.
TRHH: Why do you think overseas is on a different level than we are here? What do we need to do to catch up?
Redman: We don’t need anything to catch up because overseas listen to us. I just want to state this, overseas is such a big market but they don’t know how to control their market as far as emcees. They have such a different language barrier and a religion barrier. It’s hard for an emcee from Germany to pop off in Switzerland. Whereas a New York rapper can appeal to West Coast or down south, anywhere in America. Once they get that down pat they’re going to be unstoppable. We learn a lot of shit from them as far as TV and fashion, a lot of shit people don’t know about. But they learn the music from us. That’s from talking English and trying to be like us. Which they should be trying to be like their self. Once they get that it’s going to be over. It’s going to be over. They got a lot more people. It’s crazy.
What we could learn from them right now is respecting the culture of Hip-Hop. Respecting the essence. We done turned the Hip-Hop game more into a business, which is good, but it got more into a flossy, fashion kind of thing. I know we’re in the new generation but that wasn’t really how the basis of Hip-Hop was built. It was built on grind, it was built on skills, and it was built on earning your position as being the man. Biggie, Jay-Z, and Nas earned that position as being the top 3. They didn’t just have a hot record, no they was burning shit down to be the top 3! Just like in my category, KRS-One and Slick Rick, those two guys was puttin’ foot in ass to be the top emcee on my list and to be different. That’s what we need to respect, man. Just get that essence back of respect for Hip-Hop. We can learn and it’s coming back around.
Prime fucking example, Red and Meth did a show in Atlanta maybe a year ago, that’s when down south was on fire, fire. You couldn’t even do nothing there without playing some down south music. The show was just alright. We came back around this year and it was like they never seen us before. The show was off the hook. You know what I got from that? They getting tired. Even their own people and own sound is getting tired of crunk, crunk, crunk, crunk. We brought some of the fans out in Atlanta. I been in Atlanta and the only thing they do is play crunk. When the fans came out that night in Atlanta they came out to hear some Hip-Hop. Big up to fuckin’ ATL, man.
TRHH: You live out there now?
Redman: No, not at all. I got a house out there. My kid’s lives out there, but I don’t. I been affiliated with Atlanta for a long time, since ’93.
TRHH: A lot of people debate over what the best Redman album is, what’s your favorite Redman album?
Redman: Muddy Waters branched me from that dark ass album I had before that one, Dare Iz A Darkside. I don’t even remember doing that one.
TRHH: That’s ’94 right?
TRHH: That one was rough, man. I liked that one.
Redman: I know. You know what, chicks come up to me and tell me that’s their favorite album. That’s weird. Them some weird chicks. I ain’t gon’ lie, them some weird chicks. Muddy Waters brought me to the light a little bit. I was exercising, I laid off all the drugs I was doing on Dare Iz A Darkside and I was back.
TRHH: Why should fans go out and cop that Reggie album?
Redman: It’s like, why not? We got so much music out here and all of it’s sounding the same really. I love it. Some of the records stand out, but that’s radio’s fault. A lot of people say all the shit sounds the same. You want something different in the CD deck, buy something different. Buy something with some soul in it, buy something with some substance. That’s what we need, we need some substance to this music. I don’t have a whole album full of singles and “brand new music, brand new music” on every fuckin’ record. No, I got some regular sounding shit, more conceptual, and that’s what it is.
New Jersey producer/emcee Deal The Villain is back with his latest release titled, “Beards, Beats, & Kicks.” The EP is an ode to some of DTV’s favorite things and some essential elements in today’s Hip-Hop lexicon.
The project was preceded by a string of creative visuals to give fans a sneak peek into what Beards, Beats, & Kicks would encompass. Released on RTD Records, Beards, Beats, & Kicks is a nine track EP featuring Michael Cardigan with production by Flying Lotus, S1ncere, Knxwledge, and Deal The Villain himself.
Deal The Villain chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about his favorite retro sneakers, his appreciation for the late, great J Dilla, and his new EP, Beards, Beats, & Kicks.
TRHH: How’d you come up with the title for the new EP, Beards, Beats, & Kicks?
Deal The Villain: Well basically it’s about what I’m into in terms of being a sneaker head. Beards is more or less the style aesthetic in terms of what’s going on in fashion and how we present ourselves. Beats, that’s just the sonic’s that’s underneath it all. It encompasses what life is – how you walk, how you step, how you live, and your perspective.
TRHH: What was the inspiration behind the song ‘Legend Blue’?
Deal The Villain: Legend Blue was more or less encapsulating how I was born, where I matured and grew, and how I look at life moving forward. If I was born in an earlier time I would have been stillborn because I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck. Moving forward in terms of the things I’ve seen in life and in the end of where I want to leave it – I want to leave it for my family, my siblings, and if I have kids. It was a birth to death thing just as the genesis of the new project.
TRHH: You’re a producer in addition to an emcee, do you prefer producing to emceeing?
Deal The Villain: I like to more or less fit in where I get in. My first love is making beats. I actually deejayed first and moved to making beats. Of course back in the day because we love rap music, I wrote my little rhymes in elementary school, but I always drawn to the beats. In terms of what I enjoy now, in maturing as an emcee I’m flattered any time another artist will ask me to do a feature or guest because that means that I’ve worked on my craft that much and I’m respected by my peers to step in and do that. I’m just as honored when people ask me for beats or they want me to come in and produce a track. I’m just in love with the music so there really is no preference. It’s just whatever is required of me, I get to it.
TRHH: What does your production set-up consist of?
Deal The Villain: It varies. I’m a mad scientist when it comes to producing. I’ll build beats in sessions with Pro Tools, Logic, Reason, or I’ll use an MP. As of right now I’ve been using Reason a lot, dumping them into sessions to do my mix down. Whatever gives me whatever sound I’m feeling and whatever vibe I’m going for, it doesn’t matter. As long as I can get the work flow right with it I’m ready to rock.
Deal The Villain: [Laughs] To say that I’m a J Dilla fan kind of understates it. However you come to know J Dilla, I’m with it. I don’t get upset with people who got with him posthumously. I was with him when he was Jay Dee, doing remixes, and doing Pharcyde tracks. That kind of shows how long I’ve been in the game [laughs]. My favorite track where I can say I totally just fell in love with what he was doing was ‘Fall in Love’ by Slum Village.
TRHH: Aaaahhh, same here, man! That’s my absolute favorite J Dilla beat of all-time.
Deal The Villain: What makes me upset is that on the re-pressing because of the sample clearances it wasn’t on there. So you know you go through Slum Village and Dilla CD’s and you gotta buy it again, or you download a version and it’s not on every version! When those drums kick in and he says that “1, 2” that’s it.
TRHH: It’s a wrap. And you know what’s funny? The same song was sampled on the Jaylib album for ‘The Official.”
Deal The Villain: Official! Exactly. That’s the thing about it, Dilla would take different parts of a sample source and flip it a whole ‘nother way and it still got that knock and that bob to it. I love it!
TRHH: Yes, me too. The video for ‘Retro’ is real dope. Do you have a favorite pair of retro sneakers?
Deal The Villain: I like basketball sneakers first and foremost. A lot of people are into the runners. Nothing against them but that’s not my thing. I’m a bigger guy, so I have a bigger frame and I’ve always been into hooping shoes. My favorites are the 6’s, 7’s, and 8’s because that’s what he wore when he won his first three championships. I just love the style of those. They’re just clean and you can wear those with just about anything. Particular the 8’s because a lot of people don’t give the 8’s a lot of love. They’re like the only Jordan’s with a cross strap. I’m into those. I like being into what everybody doesn’t gravitate toward because you’re able to make it your own. Everybody loves Jordan’s, but everybody doesn’t love every J.
TRHH: Would you say you follow that philosophy musically as well?
Deal The Villain: Yeah. It’s just like I said with the sneakers, what may not be my style or what I gravitate toward, I still respect it. I still know when somebody’s catching an outfit that’s clean and they’re wearing a pair of NMD’s or Boost’s. Just ‘cause that’s not my wave, I love that. The same thing with music. Just because I may not sound authentic pulling off a certain genre or style within Hip-Hop or rap music, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care for it. I just know in terms of what I do, what I like to push myself in being progressive with. Because I pay attention to other styles it helps me cultivate my own.
TRHH: Who is Beards, Beats, & Kicks made for?
Deal The Villain: Beards, Beats & Kicks is made for everybody in this day and age. All the guys sitting there and they’re growing their beards out, whether it’s for fashion means or religious means, that’s the style. Women are loving the men with their beards. It’s just part of the aesthetic. You always gotta be clean with a nice pair of kicks when you step out. That’s part of the presentation. The music is the soundtrack to our lives when we get up and we move. So I like to feel that’s for everybody that can pick and that’s into each and every aspect of it. It’s not just about if you got a beefy beard or you rocking the hottest kicks or got a certain knock. It’s a metaphor for how you look at it and how you feel about it. Hopefully what I’m saying and what I put forth is just vibe that people connect with. Hopefully it’s for everybody.
From Mid-City, Los Angeles comes an emcee named F.Y.I. After starting out as a member of the group Those Chosen, F.Y.I. went solo. He released a couple of solo projects independently, collaborated with the likes of Ab-Soul and watched his career blossom.
F.Y.I.’s most recent release is a politically charged full-length album called ‘ameriBLACKKK.’ The album is produced by Sir Jon Lee, 2One2, and Rich Kidd. ameriBLACKKK features appearances by Sir Jon Lee, Demont Crawford, Front Page, and Kaye Fox.
F.Y.I. spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about making the transition from a group dynamic to a solo career, why we should all be proud to pay for music, and his new album, ameriBLACKKK.
TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of your album ameriBLACKKK?
F.Y.I.: Well it all kind of started from my first solo tape called, “Yo the Places You’ll Go. I had a song on there called “King Technology” which was like a remake of a James Brown song called “King Heroin.” It was a spoken word kind of style. On the song I said, “Ameriblacks” and when I said I thought it was dope. I just liked that word. As time progressed and I was putting out other projects that word just kind of stuck with me and I knew when I started on this particular record that I wanted to call it that. From there I just kind of based the whole concept around it.
Low key, I’m trying to push that as maybe a new word that people in my community refer to each other as. We have a lot of names and the concept behind ameriBLACKKK in general is pushing the restart button and claiming some ownership on what we want to identify ourselves as, as black people in America. It’s been a lot of names that’s been given to us and a lot of names that have been tagged, but ameriBLACKKK is something new and something different.
TRHH: The artwork for the album is very interesting. What story is being told on the cover of ameriBLACKKK?
F.Y.I.: I definitely wanted it to be a conversation starter. A lot of people that have seen the artwork have their own interpretation. Any artwork, which I really wanted to put out as a piece of art to a certain extent, is open to interpretation. My interpretation of it when I see it is it has a darkness to it on purpose. It’s really an indictment of this American society. Not even that, just really saying what it is, since the inception of America that’s what it’s been for people of color and minorities. It’s been oppression, it’s been a struggle, and it’s been a fight. It’s kind of challenging the establishment in a sense that there is high honor and praise given to George Washington and some of the founding fathers, but on the backs of black people especially these things were created. It’s a little boy too, which is whole ‘nother layer. You see this boy who clearly has African features but has that crazy skin color, so it’s a crazy contrast there artistically. He’s also dressed like one of the founding fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or whoever and he it has that noose going on.
It’s all these different elements historically as well as kind of making an artistic statement that since the beginning this is what it is and we can’t ever forget that. That’s why on ameriBLACKKK I spelled it with a triple K at the end. Anybody who has ever looked at Hip-Hop covers we’ve always seen America spelled with a triple K, but I put the triple K in the word “black” instead because we can’t really speak on the black experience in America without that struggle and oppression component. It doesn’t define black people totally and it’s not something that black people should dwell on because we have achieved regardless, but it’s definitely part of the narrative of the story, so that’s why the triple K is in the “black” of ameriBLACKKK.
TRHH: What do you say to those who say that black people in America are better off now than they’ve ever been so why are you complaining?
F.Y.I.: I understand, I understand. I won’t say nothing to those people because those arguments are futile to a certain extent. I’m not going to change anybody’s mind that remotely thinks like that. Obviously we can get on CNN and debate forever and ever. It is what it is. Unfortunately that’s where white privilege and all these things come into play. It’s just a skewed lens that people are even seeing this through. Obviously there’s been examples of progression and a lot of things that have happened for the community that have been positive. The overall thing that we’re talking about is a historical legacy. We’re talking about never forgetting. That’s like saying to a certain extent why do Jewish people keep talking about the holocaust? Because there’s something to talk about! We should never forget about it from a historical aspect and obviously from their cultural aspect.
Once again, it doesn’t define a community and it’s not supposed to paralyze a community but at the same time, even in 2017, it’s not something that should just be forgotten. Obviously when push comes to shove, whether it’s a 12 year old boy getting shot in the back of his head for no reason, or something else happening that’s racially motivated, or the prison industrial complex, all these things that people are very much woke about now, it really just goes back to that foundation. It goes back to what was instituted in 1690, 1774, and all this crazy stuff. Like I said before, I’m not talking to those people. I’m talking to my community and those that are allies to my community, especially if they listen to Hip-Hop they should never be offended by those subject matters. Hip-Hop is a microcosm of these communities that talk about these things. For anybody else outside of that it’s probably not made for them anyway [laughs].
F.Y.I.: Shout out to Sir Jon Lee, he’s the producer of the track. He’s an up and coming producer/rapper from Compton. He’s real dope. When I heard the track it had a soul feel to it. It definitely has a “feel good” feel to a certain extent. I’m really big on contrast so I can take a beat that sound kind of happy and talk about something somber. Or I can take something somber and I might talk about something lighter. I like contrast when it comes to music from an artistic standpoint. When I heard the beat it just evoked emotion. It’s a real emotion. I think it’s a real emotion that most everyday people can identify with whether you’re a man, woman, black, white, old or young. It’s just a reflective thing.
Shout out to Kaye Fox, she’s just basically singing a thought that this is the present days that I’m in, these are the days and times that we’re living in, the circumstances that I’m in aren’t necessarily the best or I just want them to improve, and I’m feeling sometimes that I need to take the short cut. Just like I see the next man or the next woman out there doing things not necessarily the right way but they seem to be getting further ahead in life than I am. That’s where that’s coming from, since it’s at least conveyed from a media standpoint that every time you look at TV niggas is drug dealing, they got all the money in the world, strippers are making all the money in the world, house wives, everybody is balling out and not doing anything that’s edifying themselves or are really in a good light. It’s like, “Damn do I need to do that too?” or do I need to do the right thing, go to school, improve my education, and stay with my dream? It’s definitely a theme song for the everyday person that’s trying to better themselves, but do the right thing.
TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the name ‘F.Y.I.’?
F.Y.I.: In short my rap name used to be Foreshadow when I was in a group called Those Chosen. I’m coming from an underground super-lyrical scene so as the time I was like, “Foreshadow, that shit is ill!” When I say my rhymes I want it to be something that I’m speaking, so that’s kind of where that came from. Some people from that era knew me as that. As time progressed and I stepped out on the solo tip I knew that wasn’t going to work strictly on a branding side of things on some industry rap shit. I just decided to shorten it to “F.Y.I.” and it stands for “Foreshadow, Yahweh, Included.” Yahweh is Hebrew for “God” so I’m just basically saying that God is with me. Foreshadow is a moniker that I had before so I just shortened it and went from there. Every now and then I’ll say it’s “for your inspiration” but it’s not “for your information,” that’s what it doesn’t stand for.
TRHH: Was it difficult for you to become a solo artist after being in a group dynamic with Those Chosen?
F.Y.I.: Yeah, because to be completely honest with you I never envisioned myself being a solo artist. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I was happy being in the group and not to throw salt on the group, my boys, and musical partners, I was doing a lot of the heavy lifting conceptually. It was very much my baby. A lot of it was my own vision. It really wasn’t no thing to me. We are in a group but I was very much involved 85% of the time with everything. I had no aspirations to be solo. It wasn’t like, “I’m going solo to get away from these niggas,” it really wasn’t like that. Unfortunately from their standpoint they weren’t really sure if they wanted to do music. The game is a funny thing when you start doing a little bit more and there is money involved. Even though we were very much on the upswing of things and not at a level where we could go solo, people just get weird. That’s kind of what happened.
Going into the solo thing it was like, “Alright I’m here, I got a lot that I want to share, I got a lot of stories and concepts,” and I kept pushing. The main difference between being a soloist and being in a group for me is 90% of it is a lot more pen pimping. You gotta really push the pen. When you’re in a group all you have to contribute is an 8 bar or 16 bar verse. When you’re solo you gotta really step it up and come with verses, re-write verses, and bring character to all the songs. Unless it’s just me and you on one verse and everybody’s like, “Oh, he really spazzed on that verse. The other two are just okay.” It’s definitely been a challenge but in a good way. ameriBLACKKK is my fourth project that I’ve put out independently so the group thing has been behind me now for a minute. I’m pretty used to being solo and now I probably wouldn’t go back to being in a group unless I’m linked with Common, Nas or Joey Bada$$ or something. It would have to be a super-group [laughs].
TRHH: What’s your favorite song on ameriBLACKKK?
F.Y.I.: My favorite joint besides all of them? It really depends, man. Every day it changes. ‘These The Times’ has been growing on me a little more even though it’s a single. It’s a great little appetizer for the average listener but I really like it. I think it’s really rich as a song instrumentation wise. I like ‘Don’t Be Afraid (Yatty Tickler),’ I like ‘Spend Godly,’ I like ‘Blame Me,’ I like a lot of joints. Spend Godly is my joint right now. A lot of people like Blame Me and I can’t blame them.
F.Y.I.: I think when they get this album they’re going to get a complete body of work. If they’re fans of bars, if they like beats, if they like to hear edutainment, something with substance but they can vibe out to it, these are all good reasons to get it. Be proud to pay, that’s what I tell people. The reality is the most expensive form of the tape that they can get is $9.99 on iTunes. You gon’ spend $9.99 at Subway. I honestly feel that in general we’re going into a new era where people are proud to pay and people don’t mind purchasing music again. I know we were in a situation for a while where everyone was throwing out free music.
For me personally, right now as an artist if I was to put out something for free even if I had whoever on it I don’t know if people would value it as much. It’s about putting value back into the art, and it is art. It takes time to make music and as an independent artist I would say it’s even more sacrifices to make music than whoever you may think of on a bigger mainstream level that has a big budget or whatever. It’s $9.99 and I think it’s a good album. People will definitely enjoy it and it’s for the community. If you’re into the community and what’s going on with black folks and what’s going on in Hip-Hop in a real way you gotta pick this up and just vibe to it — bump it.
For nearly 30 years MC Eiht has had one of the most recognizable voices in Hip-Hop. Like Ice-T and Ice Cube before him, MC Eiht is a master storyteller with a hardcore California edge. Whether as a solo artist or as the lead member of Compton’s Most Wanted, Eiht’s smooth delivery and signature accent have painted the picture for listeners of just what it’s like on the streets of Compton. Ehit is undoubtedly on the Mount Rushmore of gangsta rap.
After taking a step back and surveying the land Eiht has returned with his first full-length solo album in over ten years. MC Eiht’s Blue Stamp Music Group partnered up with DJ Premier’s Year Round Records to produce a 15-track album titled “Which Way Iz West.”
Which Way Iz West is executive produced by the legendary DJ Premier and features appearances by The Outlawz, WC, Kurupt, Xzibit, Big Mike, J. Starr, MayLay, The Lady of Rage, B-Real, Bumpy Knuckles, and Eiht’s original group, Compton’s Most Wanted. The album is produced by Brenk Sinatra and DJ Premier.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to MC Eiht about his Blue Stamp record label, which Compton’s Most Wanted album is his favorite, the rivalry and truce with fellow Comptonite DJ Quik, and his new album, Which Way Iz West.
TRHH: It’s been over ten years since you released a solo album. Why did you wait so long to release a project?
MC Eiht: Shit, ‘cause the music was messed up. I knew at the time that fans was gravitating to one sort of music, so to not want to be washed up in the bullshit and the masses I decided just to sit back and observe how music was going instead of trying to put something out to try to either compete or do what somebody else was doing. That’s what I did. I just watched everybody else put out records and seen how the direction of music was going.
TRHH: Did a particular incident happen or did a certain artist come out to make you flip that switch and say, “Okay, it’s time to put out an album?”
MC Eiht: I just think everything evolves with music. When you listen to fans, listen to people who buy your records and they’re telling you what they don’t like, the direction of how music is going, how they feel that nobody is basically holding down the foundation of what we call Hip-Hop – as far as West Coast artists I’m speaking, I ain’t gon’ speak for everybody else, as far as I am concerned what I was hearing was nobody was getting music how we used to do music. Not to say we want to stay stuck in the times but that’s just what it was.
TRHH Premier told me in 2010 that you had over 40 songs that needed to be mixed and released. How many of those songs made it to this album?
MC Eiht: The album has 15 songs on it, so 15 songs out of those 40 made it to the record. It was basically Premier just telling me I had to stop recording because every time I sent him some stuff it would be a new batch of music that he would have to go over. He was like, “Eiht, don’t send no more records. Let me sit down and analyze these and Im’ma choose the best fifteen out of these.” That’s how it went.
MC Eiht: Basically me just wanting to bring back the old feeling of West Coast music that I miss. Taking us back to The Chronic, Nuthin’ But a G Thang, Snoop Dogg, and the Boyz n the Hood era. I just wanted to make some music in that form or in that direction. Not that niggas wasn’t doing it over here, but because of everything else that was getting popularized we wasn’t able to get that. I started to make the single in that direction with Dub C to basically go back to the streets of West Coast music.
TRHH: On the last song on Which Way Iz West you take aim at the artists you aren’t feeling and you say, “Long as the shit catchy you ain’t gotta be lyrical.” Why was it important for you to get that off your chest?
MC Eiht: Well, in my opinion with the younger generation buying most of the music or in control of what was going on and what was popular, I just felt that nobody was putting the serious time in trying to create a good lyrical song. As long as you had a nice hook and it was danceable or something catchy then it didn’t matter what your lyrics were about. It didn’t matter if you told a story, were conscious about something, or were trying to describe what happened in the hood or whatever. I felt that as long as it was sing-a-long and everybody could pop their fingers to it then yeah, that’s what we’re doing now.
TRHH: Take me to the first album and ‘Duck Sick.’ Did you think that term would take on a life of its own the way it did?
MC Eiht: Man, really we was just some young cats in the studio clowning. It was a group of us – me, Chill, Slip, Mike, my man Tom, Rick, Jolly Joe, we used to be a tight knit group. We used to clown with each other and come up with things that we thought was hip and what was cracking. Words like “the Duck Sick” and “Killing ‘em off side by each,” we used to come up with stuff that we thought was identifying us as a crew. Did we know it would take off as far as it did? No, because to us it was our thing and we didn’t feel like people outside of our little circle would really get it. To be playing on the aspect of records and to be out in the Hip-Hop community, knowing how record executives are with censorship and all of that we decided to flip “get your dick sucked” to “duck sick” because we were trying to save ourselves from the headaches from the executives at the label. We would try to come up with slick shit to say.
MC Eiht: Because I was able to express myself on that as far as control of the record. It was my first time producing and being an executive producer on a project. It was the first time in 2-3 albums that I had put out before that I was able to take control of my career and give a project my direction. I came up with the title Music to Driveby and with the cover how you were looking in the back seat. It was the first time I was able to control my works of art.
TRHH: I interviewed DJ Quik in 2011 and he told me how he was messed up about the issues that you two had because he loved your voice and was a fan of your music. He talked about you two recording together and hanging out at Snoop’s wedding. While all of that was going on did you share the same sentiment that Quik had about you guys’ beef?
MC Eiht: I mean, I thought the beef started on some bullshit. I thought it was a misunderstanding of people outside of me and Quik. The beef happened and that’s what happens in Hip-Hop. We’ve had a lot of beefs so I took it for what it was. Growing up and becoming a man, an executive, and a business person you tend to want to get past the drama in music. I’m the type of dude that I like to fuck with everybody and work with everybody. My sentiment was, “If everything is cool, that’s how it is.” I’m a street nigga but I’m also a grown man with kids and a family. I had to look beyond the beef. I feel like when we got to Snoop’s wedding everything was cool and we talked. We didn’t plan on working in the studio at the moment, but I think at the time our mutual feelings were how did the beef happen, it should have never happened, let’s get over it, and if we’re gon’ work we gon’ work.
TRHH: You did an interview with Vlad where you talked about how 2Pac went backwards affiliating himself with gangbanging after coming from where he came from. Did you get flack for that because people are really protective and loving of 2Pac?
MC Eiht: No. I didn’t get not one negative comment about it because I wasn’t trying to portray my nigga in a negative light. Because I knew 2Pac. He was one of my friends. We toured together, we worked on Menace II Society together, so I never used it as a tool to try to downplay or do some of that other shit that dudes are doing today trying to disrespect his name or whatever. My point to that was, coming from somebody who grew up in Compton, who grew up into the gang system, it was just a backwards trip for my nigga who was already a multi-mega-star to get affiliated and start banging. He was already a militant cat and a strong-minded lyricist. I just felt coming from Compton and growing up into gangs that it was a backwards transition to come from New York and come here and feel like you have to start gang banging because you belong to the clique. Some dudes do, some dudes don’t. I just felt it was a backwards move. So no, I didn’t get flack for it because I wasn’t trying to downplay him or say he was somebody he wasn’t. In my opinion somebody who don’t have to get into the life of gang banging shouldn’t want to get into the life of gang banging.
TRHH: Were you surprised when you heard about people in New York being Crips and Bloods?
MC Eiht: It caught me off guard. I been going to New York since 1987-88 – back when it was cliques, crews, Latin Kings, and stuff like that. They’ve always had their projects and blocks but I never knew of actual Crips and Bloods until a few years ago when it just became so large. I was shocked at first because I looked at New York as a place that was the originators of the craft and themselves being original. To go to the aspect of ragging it, bandana flagging, and having colors it was kind of crazy to me.
MC Eiht: Basically me just wanting to get off my chest and talk about the direction of where I feel cats was going in the music game. I wanted to express myself and then pay homage to my man ODB and Wu-Tang. They originated the Brooklyn Zoo and the concept was that we’re wild out here, we’re still crazy in the streets, and they’re still animals in the concrete jungle. Like I said music is so happy now and so about money, big wheels, and big this and that I just wanted to show cats that it was still on that level.
TRHH: A lot of younger fans have been introduced to you from your verse on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city album. Have you encountered new fans that went back to discover your catalog after your appearance on Kendrick’s album?
MC Eiht: Cats have discovered the catalog and told me that after hearing my verse on Kendrick’s record that they’ve gone back and watched me in Menace II Society or seen me in Thicker than Water. I’m appreciative of the new fans and the young crowd who appreciate some real good Hip-Hop. Not to say that everything is bad, but the young crowd has the music that they like. I don’t fault ‘em for it. It’s just not what we did and they’re not used to what we used to do back in the days. With doing the Kendrick song it garnered me some new younger fans, but it’s not like they took to a direction where they think that Eiht should do what the new people are doing. They appreciate what I’ve done and they’re able to go back and listen to records like Music to Driveby or We Come Strapped. It’s enabled them to see where MC Eiht has come from and he’s not just been around from the Kendrick thing.
TRHH: What’s your goal for the Blue Stamp record label?
MC Eiht: My goal for Blue Stamp Music is just to try to put out some good music. Stuff that’s authentic, heartfelt, conscious to the streets, and has a good feel to it. And stuff that would be true to the origins of Hip-Hop. I don’t want people forgetting about where Hip-Hop came from, the foundation of Hip-Hop, and who are forefathers are. That’s what Blue Stamp Music is about. We’re about trying to keep the integrity of real good Hip-Hop music alive.
MC Eiht: I’d say it’s geared toward those people who want a story in their music. It’s geared for people who want more than just a catchy hook in songs. It’s for people who want to understand what an artist is about and what he does with his music, and people who can understand what we’re talking about.
Thirstin Howl the 3rd is an all-around entrepreneur. The Brownsville native is a producer, film maker, fashion designer, and an author. He’s also an emcee and Hip-Hop is his bread and butter. Thirstin recently released the album “Skillmatic” a nod to Nas’ classic debut album, Illmatic.
Skillmatic is produced by Will Tell, Domingo, Marc Spekts, Young Lo, Anger Bangers, Fes Uno, W.A.T.E.R., and UG of Cella Dwellaz. The album features guest appearances by Meyhem Lauren, Spit Gemz, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Rack Lo, Dak Lo, Master Fuol, Dre Brown, Sticky Fingaz, and the late Prodigy.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Thirstin Howl the 3rd about the origins of his entrepreneurial path, his Lo-Life clothing line, and his new album, Skillmatic.
TRHH: You’ve taken the word “Skill” farther than EPMD ever took “Business” with their album titles. Why the title “Skillmatic” and how long have you been holding on to that title?
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: I always had that title. It was probably one of the first I ever came up with. It was never the appropriate time to release it. It was too close to when his releases happened. And then he did Stillmatic, so that gave me even more reason to keep pushing it back. I had the idea for a long time. You know the craziest shit too? I had the cover for a long time. I’ve been sitting on the cover for years just waiting for the right time. Last year Illa Ghee put out Illamatic and I was like, “Ah, I can’t do it now.” I gave his time to do what it had to do and respected that he used it as well.
TRHH: On the title track you rhyme with Prodigy and you say, “I’m a poet’s first word, a magician’s last trick.” I thought that line was so ill. What were you thinking when you wrote that rhyme?
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Just feeling my potential, man. You gotta feel yourself too when you’re working on your music – absorb it. Rap is some egotistical shit too. That’s what I was feeling. “I’m here. I’m doing this. It ain’t gon’ ever be done like this again.” None before me, none after me type shit.
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: It was cool, man. It was a humble situation. Prodigy is a laid back dude. He showed love when he came through and got busy on the spot. We just hung out in the lab, put in some work, and kicked it. It was an honor too and I had the right track. I had that track already recorded but I took one of my verses off so I could put Prodigy on. I felt the song just matched the Mobb Deep vibe all the way.
TRHH: You’re an entrepreneur that works in a lot of different areas. How were you able to come from prison to become a self-sufficient businessman because that’s not really the story for most people who’ve been incarcerated?
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: I was given opportunities through certain people that helped change the direction my life was headed in. It gave me a chance to see other things besides what I was seeing in my own neighborhood and where I come from. Not that I ever abandoned that either, because I remained with both the entire time. As I was being helped other people were showing me other paths in life that really caught my interest. It helped me to stay off the street as far as having a job and shit. For my last bid I had gotten a job with MTV while I was still on the work release program from prison. A lot of things there through the Amer-I-Can Program for Social Change opened my eyes and my mind and showed me so much that I didn’t understand. I always knew I was a smart dude, but that’s when I realized I was dumb the whole time. It showed me other paths. A lot of people came in to help. A lot of the people at MTV have a lot to do with it as well. Even getting a job there I was shown so much love and trust in everything we were dealing with.
I worked for on-air promo so I worked production all the time, every day. Everybody knew I came from prison. Everybody knew I was through a program. But everybody treated me properly and encouraged me in ways in life to understand. It was a good thing. Me remaining there so long I learned everything about how it is to do a production behind the scenes, not just being the dude in front of the camera. Most of the times when you work the lowest part of any team of production you usually learn to work every job because you’re going to be the guy who fills in any time somebody is not filling one spot. You get to learn so much. By being a production assistant I learned a lot of the production management side of things. That’s why when I shoot a video and I don’t shoot a video, I shoot three at a time. I know how to schedule and organize the time to pull off those three with the same budget money that I would use for one –how I’m doing rentals, who I’m hiring, who’s going to work, who’s going to be sufficient, who is going to be able to push for 20 hours. It’s a lot of things to factor in.
TRHH: From day one you’ve been an independent artist releasing music through your Skillionaire Enterprises label, what advice would you give to an up and coming artist who thinks that signing to a major label is their only option?
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Just believe in yourself, man. If you’re willing to put your money into how much you believe in yourself you’re probably gonna win. You don’t have to wait on anyone. For labels you have to wait for them to tell you you’re good enough for what they’re looking for and what their standards are. I guess I never was that. That didn’t mean I wasn’t gonna fuckin’ put out a record or a nigga ain’t gon’ respect for me rap. I said fuck it, I’ll do it myself. I found ways to let the independent stuff help me. When I released a single with Rawkus, which I’m a nobody and Rawkus is doing tremendous promotion for the Soundbombing album, I’m on the album and my name was on every billboard out there so I released my own album at the same time to ride the wave of the promotions and I probably sold just as much. Just because I rode the wave of those promotions and I know how to make that work for me.
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Nah, that was the Skillionaire. Skillionaire was actually the first album that I put out through a 4-track and all that. The worst quality of music as far as no mixing. I recorded everything on a 4-track and didn’t even know how to work the 4-track. I put it out and I didn’t even know what a mix was. Skilligan’s Island was like pieces of Skillionaire and Skillosopher together. Skillionaire and Skillosopher were both made in the same way – 4-track stuff. That’s just material I was doing at home. By Skilligan’s Island we was mixing everything down.
TRHH: You’ve been consistent with putting out the grimy New York sound. What’s your opinion on the new wave of East Coast acts that sound more Southern?
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: A lot of them are younger kids that were raised by the radio. According to their age it is what was being played when they were kids. They’re doing the New York sound if you ask me ‘cause they were programmed in New York to do the shit. They don’t know the difference. Especially the influence, they don’t understand. Remember that sound has been consistent with radio for almost twenty years already. It’s probably about almost the same amount of time that New York fuckin’ had Hip-Hop in a grasp. They were raised with that music. I understand the evolution. It’s nothing we can do about some of the evolution and things that are happening. Just know how to make everything work in your favor no matter how things are changing or whatever. And if you wanna make change shut the fuck up and just put in the work and make the change. Stop complaining. Everybody’s complaining but they’re not staying consistent. They’re putting down people that are working. Even though you might think that other music is trash, them motherfuckers are working. If a nigga is dropping 3-4-5 albums of that trash that means he’s putting in some work. You can’t mock a man working.
TRHH: How did the Lo-Life crew evolve into a clothing brand?
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Consistency of our style and fashion within the individuals. And then from the evolution of our music making it into a culture. It just got a lot of attention. Just because we created a style that’s religious it’s not time sensitive. It’s not a fad like a lot of other things in Hip-Hop. There were many attires in Hip-Hop that were a fad. Not to say that they were fads, they were trends. They went out of style at some point. I remember when everybody was getting Cazal’s and people were getting shot for their Cazal’s in New York. And then everybody just started wearing Cazal’s again like it’s nothing. What? It was dangerous! Even me, I’m thinking twice before I put on Cazal’s because I remember what it was. You can’t mock them dudes. You can’t mock none of that. Sometimes you just gotta respect evolution. The same way they didn’t like our music – our parents and the people before us, the elders. They fully didn’t understand and they couldn’t agree with it.
Thirstin Howl the 3rd: It’s made for me. I make music that I like, that I’d listen to. If I don’t like one of my songs I won’t listen to it until I fix everything and make it to where I like it. That’s the kind of Hip-Hop I love – the kind I’m making. If you notice on all my albums I’m not catering to nobody. I’m coming with something you probably haven’t seen – a style, an aura, an imagination, some sort of versatility. Something to still keep the game fresh. There’s almost nothing out there that you can do brand new. Skillmatic is for people who love Hip-Hop and they’ll see it exactly for what it is. Know what I mean? That’s the truth. Even though there’s a Nas cover and title there’s nothing I did “Nas” on that album. There’s one song that has a sample of his voice on the hook but I didn’t try to recreate none of Nas’ music or anything like that. I came totally Thirstin Howl the 3rd style.
In the summer of 2010 I made my way to New York City to attend the Rock the Bells festival. It was arguably the most stacked Rock the Bells lineup that had ever been put together. Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, Slick Rick, Rakim, KRS-One, and DJ Premier performed on the main stage. On the other stage artists like Immortal Technique, Clipse, Brother Ali, Big Sean, and Wiz Khalifa performed.
I admittedly camped out at the main stage most of the day because nearly everybody that performed acted as the soundtrack for my formative years. It was literally Hip-Hop heaven.
I had one bit of real work that day and that was to head over to the smaller stage to interview producer 9th Wonder who was performing with MURS. I was ecstatic. 9th Wonder was a guy I saw come from the message boards of Okayplayer with his group Little Brother to producing for the likes of Jay-Z, De La Soul, Sean Price, and EPMD.
When I met 9th he was classy and cordial. He informed me that he had to take off and get his stuff because his trailer had been confiscated and handed over to a newly arriving Jay-Z and Beyonce. We laughed and 9th gave me his cell number so that we could reschedule the interview, and we did. Ladies and gentlemen, 9th Wonder…
TRHH: How was it performing with MURS at Rock the Bells?
9th Wonder: Incredible stuff, man. MURS and I have been friends since 2003. We’re talking about becoming an official group now – unofficial official, whatever. It was fun. A lot of our influences were there. Probably one of our biggest influences if not the biggest influences was there, A Tribe Called Quest. Our next album is going to be like an ode to Midnight Marauders. Rock the Bells was crazy. Everybody was there, Snoop, DJ Premier, Lady of Rage, Dave from De La Soul, Nas, Lauryn Hill, everybody was out there. It was a Hip-Hoppers heaven, really.
TRHH: My favorite song that you and MURS did was Yesterday & Today. That song got me through some hard times and I never get tired of hearing it. Take me back and talk about how you and MURS made that song.
9th Wonder: Yesterday & Today is a sample by William Bell. He’s an old Stax musician that did the song “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” which was remade by Jaheim. The soul of Stax Records from the 60s and 70s used to get people through. That’s why I try to sample the works that I sample because it’s got that feeling in it, man. It’s just life music pretty much. I made the beat and let MURS hear it and he knew exactly what to write about. If you ever listen to MURS & 9th Wonder you know we make music that drives people’s emotions and deal with real life situations instead of your normal average “we over here partying.” Nobody parties 24/7. You gotta be doing something else during this time period [laughs]. That’s where that inspiration came from. We got in and knocked it out. We made it during Murray’s Revenge, it was a good time.
TRHH: I heard MURS and David Banner both say that they end up arguing with you when you’re working on records. What sparks those disagreements and how do you come to a resolution to finish the projects?
9th Wonder: They say argue, well, they really mean argue [laughs]. With MURS, any time you got two strong individuals trying to come to one common goal it can get tough sometimes. Not to say that we’re mad to the point where we don’t like each other. It’s just a point where he has an opinion and he feels strongly about influencing me on his and vice versa with me. The same with David Banner, a song that I begged him for five straight hours to do a record over and he was like, “Man, I don’t know,” ended up being the best song on the album – the song we got with Ludacris. Sometimes it just takes a while and it’s just a part of the creative process. We’re men and when you’re men you know how to handle stuff. You handle it, get it over with, and keep it moving. That’s why MURS and I are great friends and David Banner and I are great friends.
TRHH: Talking about David Banner, Death of a Pop Star is coming in November. What was it like working with him and what can fans expect to hear on that album?
9th Wonder: Oh man, that was one of the most bizarre experiences that I’ve had. A lot of people don’t expect to see us together anyway when it comes to making music because of the music that he’s made in his past and the music that I’ve made in my past. Everybody likes to put people in boxes, “You only make this type of music and David only makes this type of music,” but people forget that he was in Crooked Lettaz before, which was kind of a precursor for a new artist Big K.R.I.T. that’s coming out of Meridian, Mississippi. That’s the thing, we just decided to make good music.
We’re both black, we’re both grown men over 30, we’re both southern, and that’s what we have in common together. We decided to get together and make some music for our generation. Kids can feel it as well, but I don’t think when Cameo and Earth, Wind, & Fire were making records they were thinking about my 11 year old. They were thinking more about my brother or kids his age. He’s ten years older than me. I think we’re trying to make music for our peers that they can enjoy and love Hip-Hop on a mainstream level. That’s where we got the idea to do Death of a Pop Star and it comes out November the 9th.
TRHH: You got another project coming out soon, tell me about Entrapment.
9th Wonder: Oh man, Entrapment comes from my label It’s a Wonderful World Music/Jamla Records. It comes from an artist of mine by the name of Big Remo. Big Remo is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just like myself. Big Remo is a storyteller. He’s a street storyteller, but he’s a storyteller nonetheless. The album comes out September 28th. I didn’t produce the whole thing. Producing whole albums takes a lot out of me. This time I have a production team called The Soul Council. Soul Council members on the record are E. Jones, Fatin, Khrysis, AMP, Ka$h, and myself. Young Guru made a beat on there, who worked with Jay-Z for years and engineered for Jay-Z. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, the beat makers from Rick Ross’ camp did records. Eric G, M-Phazes from Australia did the first single, “Go.” David Banner has a song on there with him called “Wonderbread.” It’s time for me to start putting out my own artists. I’ve been lucky to work with Jay, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, in that order. I’ve been very luck to do that. Now it’s time for me to take everything that I’ve learned from them and all the accolades that I got from them and kind of pass it on to somebody else. Big Remo is the start of that on September 28th on Jamla/IWWMG.
TRHH: You just rattled off a bunch of big names. I remember reading that you wanted to work with Ghostface. Has that even been discussed and who else is on that list of people you want to work with?
9th Wonder: The crazy thing about Rock the Bells is when you try to reach out to people you always run into management, people around them, they got homeboys who got beats. The chance of getting a beat on there is very low. The one thing about Rock the Bells is that you meet the people face up and straight up. I’ve known Ghostface for years now and every time we see each other we exchange numbers because everybody always change their number all the time. I saw him and said, “We have to do something. What are we doing? Come on.”
It’s not that many people, Ghostface, Raekwon of course, I had a conversation with Nas over the past weekend, I’m a huge T.I. fan — I would love to do a record with him. The list is not that big. As far as cats on the come up I mentioned Big K.R.I.T’s name, Wiz Khalifa, the new generation of artists that’s coming out now that are kind of carrying the torch of what was started by us and we got the torch passed to us from the golden era. That’s how it goes. Those are the people that I would love to work with and hopefully Ghostface and I will be working together in the future.
TRHH: Another one of my favorite records you did was the Ludacris song with Common and Spike Lee, Do the Right Thang. That must have been big for you, too. How did that one come together?
9th Wonder: I tell artists all the time, even the ones that’s on, sometimes I think we get to a point and a certain level where we don’t have to do things for free or do certain things just to be doing them. DTP reached out to me to work with a group called North Clique, I’d never heard of them but they’re from North Carolina and they reached out, I went to the studio to work with them. North Clique disbanded and Small World went solo. I worked with Small World for a while. I did a couple records for him and his album never came out. He’s a dope artist and a talented guy. Ludacris heard the beats that I did for Small World and he was like, “Man, I need him for my next album.”
Next thing you know I just so happened to be in Toronto doing a True School party and Luda was up there shooting Max Payne. It was like ten feet of snow on the ground so they arranged it where we’d get in the studio together and that’s where Do the Right Thang came from. He called Common on the spot and Common jumped on it. Spike Lee spoke at the beginning of it, which kind of brings things full circle because of what I believe when it comes to True School and that generation – A Different World, School Daze generation I like to call it. That’s the second time Spike Lee has talked on a track of mine. The first time was De La Soul and “Church.” I think everything happens for a reason and that whole thing came together and that’s one of my favorite Luda albums. Me being on it or not, that’s one of my favorite Ludacris albums, Theater of the Mind.
TRHH: It’s the best one to me.
9th Wonder: [Laughs] It’s dope and it got the Preemo joint on there. It’s crazy.
TRHH: Without getting into the negative side, this year saw the end of Little Brother with the final album. Talk about the legacy that that group is going to leave on Hip-Hop.
9th Wonder: Man, I had a conversation with Drake recently, Big K.R.I.T, Wiz, Big Sean, the list goes on and on of these new artists that say that we influenced them. I had no idea. You never know who is listening but when you think about it we started our journey in 2001 as Little Brother. I knew Phonte since 1998 but we started our journey in 2001. When you think about it if I’m a 14 year old kid starting off listening to LB and now I’m 23, you’ve been following us for 9 years. It’s kind of hard to think about it. Once a kid said, “I’ve been listening to you a long time,” I said, “How old are you?” and he said, “I’m 23. I’ve been listening to you since I was 14,” and I’m like, “Wow!”
When I think about it I started listening to Tribe when I was 14 years old. I listened to Tribe Called Quest all the way through high school and college and that’s been the case for some of these kids that I’m running up on. Some of these kids are some of these artists that are coming out now, including Drake. So that’s the legacy that we left. It was a great run. I learned a lot about them. I learned a lot about myself. Any experience you go through it needs to teach you about yourself before it teaches you about other people. That’s what happened. The music will live on forever regardless of all the entities we choose to put music in. The music will live on forever and we’ll always have those albums that everyone can enjoy.
TRHH: Talk about your position as a professor at Duke.
9th Wonder: I’m not teaching this semester, I’m teaching next semester and the semester after that. I taught last semester, spring 2010. I was brought over to Duke by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal. A great person who taught me a lot about teaching a class on that academic level – things that you should say, things that you shouldn’t say as far as being a professor. It’s crazy for me to even say that. I don’t have a degree, bro. To teach a class at an institution such as Duke… passed that, to teach a class at any institution whether it be Duke or a historically black college! People like to put those colleges over historically black colleges, but to be teaching a class at any university, and not only to be teaching a class, but to be teaching what I’m teaching, the history of Hip-Hop. Some people come to class and think they’re gonna get a record deal, no. This is the history of the music that has shaped your whole life whether people like to admit it or not.
You need to understand why when somebody says, “What’s up, man, what’s going on?” you say, “I’m chilling.” Chilling comes from somewhere! “What’s up man, where you at?” “Yo, I’m at the crib.” Crib comes from somewhere. All those are Hip-Hop terms. You need to understand how much it really influences your life and that’s what I teach in these classes. It’s an amazing experience. I would never trade it for the world. I saw Michael Eric Dyson this weekend at Rock the Bells. I heard he was there and I told my man to go get him. I want to meet him. I talked to him once on the phone and I wanted to talk to him again. He came up to me and said, “Aw man, professor!” For him to look at me and say that is outta here. It’s crazy. It’s just another road I can go down to meet new people and experiences and things
TRHH: What else is coming up for 9th Wonder? We heard you rhyme on the Fornever album are we going to hear a full album of you emceeing?
9th Wonder: [Laughs] No! MURS wants me to rhyme a lot on his next album. He said, “Phife and Q-Tip can do it, me and you can do it!” I don’t know. First and foremost what’s coming up is September 17th in D.C. I’m a part of the Congressional Black Caucus’ panel on Hip-Hop on Politics. I love to do panels. I love to do Q&A’s to see what people think about what’s going on around them. NBA Elite 2011 on EA Sports. Myself and my production partner E. Jones scored the entire game. That comes out in October. All the music in the video game we did and that means a lot. They also made me an ambassador for that game. They didn’t know I knew that much about basketball. I visited EA Sports, it was a great facility and I had a good time with them.
I’m a new member of the Universal Zulu Nation. I was inducted at Rock the Bells in Los Angeles by DJ Mark Luv who is the West Coast Zulu King. If you know the history of the Zulu Nation and Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force going all the way up to Tribe, going all the way up to present day, it means a lot to me to be a part of something like that. And my label, which is very important to me. We got projects coming out of everywhere. I’m just doing that and keeping it Hip-Hop, just keeping it Hip-Hop.
In Hip-Hop we’re all hypocrites. We deride our favorites for stepping outside the box while at the same time criticizing them for sounding the same on every project. With the exception of Outkast, no other artist can recover from doing something a little bit different from the norm. But how else can you grow if you refuse to try something new?
Don’t Sleep Records co-founder Awon finds himself venturing slightly off the beaten path with his new release, Moon Beams. Moon Beams is a 9-track EP produced entirely by French producer Linkrust and boasts only one feature from Awon’s wife and fellow emcee, Tiff the Gift. Awon doesn’t change much lyrically, but Linkrust provides more buoyant beats for the emcee to tell his story on.
The Real Hip-Hop talked to Awon about what he looks for in an artist for his Don’t Sleep label, why he’s in a happier place as of late, and what it was like working with Linkrust on their new EP, Moon Beams.
Awon: Actually, Tiff knew Linkrust. He did a remix for her – The Same Old Tree. I thought that that joint was wild crazy. She had been telling me that he was real dope and when I went to France I actually got to meet him. He met up with us when we were out there. He’s actually from France and we had a show in his hometown so he made sure he was there. We built for a minute and when we got back he sent all of us those tracks that I eventually got on. At the time Tiff and Dephlow was busy. He kept hitting me up and I said the hell with it, I’ll do it. I was interested in his style of production. I have a very diverse palate in terms of what I actually listen to musically. He fit into that mold. He actually won a Stones Throw producer battle some time back. The obscure style just reminded me of some of my heroes like Doom, Madlib, and Dilla. It was a no-brainer to just gravitate toward his style and just do something with it.
TRHH: Moon Beams is more upbeat than your previous projects. Was that a result of Link’s production or where you are in your life currently?
Awon: It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a result of his production as well as my state of mind right now. Things are better. We’re doing music professionally now. We’ve been to different places and done a variety of shows. I think all of that success independently has helped to shape a more positive attitude toward Hip-Hop, toward the culture, and what it is that we can actually achieve together. When I speak about “together” I mean myself and the crew, Don’t Sleep and what we can actually do without having somebody kick in the door for us we actually created our own lane. I think that’s true for anybody right now trying to put their foot in the door. Technology is giving anybody a green light to put out music and create content that might be viable. God bless the internet.
TRHH: Speaking of the internet, how was working with Linkrust different from working with Phoniks?
Awon: Because we don’t talk [laughs]. His English is okay. It’s better when he’s speaking than writing. Most of the time it was just me zoned out by myself with his beats. With Phoniks we talk over the phone and when we record he’ll come down to Virginia and we’ll just do marathon sessions in the studio. This I recorded myself, I wrote the rhymes, and I sent it to him and he mixed it, mastered it, and sent it back. It was just e-mailing back and forth and no real dialogue.
TRHH: Wow. That’s incredible, man.
Awon: Thank you, thank you. I’m glad it came out that way. This is the second time I did something with language barriers. The first time was with MZ. MZ’s English is really good. He’s a very intelligent dude but sometimes writing things can get misinterpreted than if you’re sitting in front of somebody’s face and you can see the affect and kind of use deductive reasoning to figure out what they’re talking about if you can’t understand it. But behind the keyboard and the screen it’s really difficult to do that. It’s very difficult with deductive reasoning. It was a challenge but it came out dope. I think part of that separation helped to bring it together and be more cohesive because I didn’t have him telling me, “Yo, I don’t like that. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” He took it all and I just trusted him. I said, “Yo, in the mix do what you feel.” He took it to another level and I was very impressed.
TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title “Moon Beams?”
Awon: As of late a lot of negative things have happened in the social climate of the world. Sometimes negativity takes us to places that are not necessarily here. We get inside ourselves and inside our spirituality. I had grabbed lot of records from a friend of mine, an older cat. He gave me a bunch of records and a lot of it was Funkadelic, Parliament, Bar-Kays — a lot of the stuff with artists that took on an Afrofuturistic persona. Moon Beams comes from the Afrofuturistic idea that we are not just a ray of light. It’s a ray of light coming from somewhere that’s not of this earth – extraterrestrial – something different. The concept of Afrofuturism is one that intrigues me because when I think about the artists who gave us these ideas of black people being something different, something other, that type of upliftment to think about your race being something more than just human. Something out of this world is a beautiful concept when your sovereignty and your freedom is threatened in the least bit of a way.
I had to get away from the negativity surrounding the political realm and everything because there’s a lot of things that are gonna happen to a lot of brothers and sisters soon. I wanted to take people to a realm that was still pro-black and righteous but just somewhere different and out of this world. That’s where we got the title from and that’s where we got the style for the art, which is inspired by Sun Ra, which is the original Afrofuturist. Everything came from a place that’s either from my record collection or from the people that I admire. Nas said it best, “No idea is original.” I just borrowed from elders and put something together that I felt was the perfect mix of Hip-Hop, funk, and every other genre that I listen to. That’s where we arrived.
Awon: Anxiety, depression, and just negativity online on social media. Waking up and going to your timeline and everybody’s angry but not doing nothing about it. Everybody got an opinion and yet they’re hypocrites because they’re self-righteous but they’re doing the same shit that they complain about. A lot of that is about just dealing in the world and how even being online adds a weight to us like, “Damn, I don’t feel like this.” You don’t ever wanna just shut it down and not be a part of it because as creatives we have to do it. At the same time it is daunting. Like, everybody’s problems is on your shoulders. Everybody’s self-righteousness is on your plate every day. That’s where it came from, ‘cause I’m beginning not to like people That’s where Cloudy came from, man. I hope that people immediately ask questions about that joint because I hope that people identify with some of the things I was speaking on.
TRHH: I definitely identify with it, but for me it goes beyond the internet. It’s kind of how I’ve always been [laughs]. The internet definitely makes it worse.
Awon: [Laughs] I got you, I got you. Like you said it’s the ugliness and the things that I see in other people that just impede on my world to a degree. Nobody realizes that even some of the decisions that you make become consequences for others. Nobody is accountable and that lack of accountability creates a reckless situation for a lot of people. It’s just me being fed up with everything – my job, politics, politicians, TV, the internet, the content. Everybody is trying to get over or everybody’s full of shit. You get fed up. I have a lot of friends that have been going through anxiety and social problems just because of it. People get real stressed out. I hope that people catch it and resonate with it and maybe they might find some sunlight somewhere to know that somebody somewhere does face the same things that they do on an everyday basis.
TRHH: Your wife Tiff the Gift appears on the song “151” and kills it. The last time I spoke to her she talked about the competition in your household. Was there a competitive situation when recording 151?
Awon: Yep! Yep! She heard my verse and was like, “Oh, that’s hard!” I remember her writing her verse right there and I was like, “Oh shit!” I instantly knew that she stole the show on that track and I just let it go. I didn’t revise anything because I had already recorded my part. She thought it was so strong that she just wanted to do it. That was one of the first times that she immediately recorded, too. It was a good day. She showed out on that joint. If you read between her concepts she took it the 90s for real. I’m talking about things that are more abstract – who’s a villain and who has your best interest at heart? Who’s pulling the wool over your eyes and who’s not?
She’s coming at it from a perspective of grandeur so every punchline she is basically naming the most expensive things in the world. The Michelin Stars, the chef, the six ring queen is an ode to Jordan, nobody else has more than six rings, the Lamborghini V, the most expensive car in the world, and it just keeps going on. The Space Shuttle toilet when she shit, the Pink Lotus Tiffany Lamp, is the most expensive lamp. She just went crazy doing research and everything. It was very GZA-esque to put that shit together and I was blown away. How she was in the pocket the whole time was just ill. It was a rappity rap song. Real emcee shit and I was real impressed. That’s why I put it out first. When everybody heard it they were like, “Yeah, this is the right order.” That played a lot into the sequence and everything.
TRHH: MZ Boom Bap said you were responsible for bringing him to Don’t Sleep Records. What qualities in an artist are you guys looking for at Don’t Sleep?
Awon: I feel like doing something that is your signature and something that is unique to you. And while MZ is a producer that goes through great lengths to produce his beats. You know everything he does is all analog. It only becomes digital at the very end. His set up consists of tapes, rack mounts, there’s not really beat machines there. It’s like the MPC 50 something, I forgot the number, but it’s a rack mount, it’s not even a fuckin’ beat machine. It bugged me out when I saw his set up. He would show me pictures online and we would talk. To know that he’s doing it in the purest form is one thing. His engineer is a beast, too. His name is Koar. Koar has done a lot of work with Ruste Juxx and Duck Down. When I found out the whole back story and said, “These dudes are in Portugal? Wow.”
I don’t know anybody else who does it that way, who doesn’t have a lot of money and has been in the game for years and chooses to do it that way. In fact I believe it’s only Adrian Younge who is completely analog still until the final process of actually getting it to the people. The whole process with Adrian Younge is analog until the very end and that’s the same with MZ. That was real dope to me and that’s why we brought him there. In terms of emcees, I just surround myself with people that I feel like hold their own and that have something that I feel like I admire. If I admire somebody that says a lot because emcees are usually very egotistical. I’m humble enough to admire when somebody’s ill. It works to our success and not our detriment so I feel blessed to know that we’re making some great decisions.
Awon: I was hoping a wider audience. I was hoping people that listen to Hip-Hop but are willing to dabble in different genres and people that listen to different genres but are willing to dabble in Hip-Hop. It’s not necessarily for my core fans. This is something very experimental that I wanted to do so I was hoping that I may catch some people on the outskirts and bring them. Everybody’s palate is different, everybody’s iPod is different, and I respect that. But I wasn’t pandering to any specific audience besides tailoring what I did to Linkrust’s style of production and really just letting him guide the way. It was challenging. He really challenged me with the production ‘cause it’s not the typical beats that I would normally gravitate to, but sometimes you have to break the norms to get the best out of you. Hopefully we might revisit this conversation and it may be a success down the line. Today I’m happy though. The response has been really warm so it’s already a success in my eyes.