7evenThirty: The Problem

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Born in Jackson, Mississippi and now residing in Dallas, Texas producer/emcee 7evenThirty came on the scene in 2012 with his concept album, Heaven’s Computer. The futuristic album introduced 7even to the rap world and took him musically to outer space. With his recently sophomore album “The Problem” 7evenThirty has come back to earth to speak on our planet and its ills.

The Problem is produced entirely by Mello Music Group producer Gensu Dean, who also happens to be a Jackson, Mississippi native that relocated to Dallas. The project features a single guest appearance by Duck Down recording artist Sean Price on the song ‘Hook Heavy’.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to 7evenThirty about joining forces with Gensu Dean, working with the incomparable Sean Price, and his new album, The Problem.

TRHH: Why’d you title your new album ‘The Problem’?

7evenThirty: The original idea for it was a 4 track EP – kind of like a holdover EP until the next full album. I originally titled it “The Problem” because I wanted it to be a showcase of me as a producer and a rapper. Like the slang definition of “the problem”, 7evenThirty is a problem for other emcees. Then it kind of grew into a bigger concept when I decided to bring Gensu in as the producer and do it as a whole project. The concept of The Problem grew from being just a slang term. It’s still representative of the slang term but it’s also talking about “the problem” as in issues in the community, particularly the black community.

TRHH: How’d you and Gensu Dean get together to decide to work on this project?

7evenThirty: Gensu and I are from the same hometown. Now we currently live in Texas. We kind of reunited in Dallas. Me, Gensu, my wife, and his wife all hang out. I was letting him hear some of the ideas that I had in mind for an upcoming project. My wife said, “Have y’all thought about working together? What if you got Gensu to do the beats?” We decided that it was a cool idea because we always wanted to work together anyway. We had a couple of tracks together that was on some of his projects. We found our chemistry by then anyway so we decided to do the whole joint together.

TRHH: How’d the song ‘Hook Heavy’ with Sean Price come about?

7evenThirty: It was after the album was just about completed. All of the verses were done and we were in the mixing process of the album. We still stuck with the concept of it being me on all of the lyrics with no features, but we thought it would be cool to do at least one really strong feature. I thought about Sean Price because he’s one of my favorite rappers right now. I was going through tracks to see what track would be good enough to suit a strong feature. I thought about that ‘Hook Heavy’ track and thought Sean would just sound beastly on this track. We reached out to him through the label. He was already familiar with Mello Music Group and he thought it was a good idea to do something. He said, “Let me hear the track first and I’ll let you know if I can rock with it.” We sent him the track and he thought it was dope. He did his verse and sent it back that night. When he sent the track back to Gensu he said, “Tell 7evenThirty that this shit was dope and if y’all wanna do a video I’m down to do that too. Just hit me up.”

TRHH: Wow, that’s dope, man.

7evenThirty: Yeah, and it meant a lot coming from him because he’s a hard cat to impress. He ain’t that easily impressed with too many people so that went a long way.

TRHH: How is this album different from Heaven’s Computer?

7evenThirty: Heaven’s Computer was very purposely done as a concept record. It was a specific concept storyline — a fictitious sci-fi, soundtrack, storyline to that whole album. Me and the producers that I worked with on that album took it as far out as we could take it and followed the storyline concept. It’s basically a sci-fi, graphic novel, comic book type approach to it. We took it very seriously so it’s like you’re listening to a movie. The Problem is more stripped down. There are no skits like on Heaven’s Computer, there are no special effects, there is no sci-fi artwork or soundscape to it. It’s less synthesizers and things involved, less voice acting — it’s straight beats and raps. As Dean would say he has many different chambers in his production so he could get crazy wild with the beats to fit my personality. He refers to me as a quirky and eccentric kind of artist so he has beats to match those different chambers. He was throwing me some of the craziest unorthodox beats with the craziest beats per minute that he could throw at me that he knew that I could rock. He may not give those to Planet Asia, Roc Marciano, David Banner, or Large Professor. He has beats that he crafts for those guys too, but for The Problem every beat was hand crafted with my personality in mind. Even though it’s just beats and raps it feels just as crazy and weird as Heaven’s Computer is.

TRHH: What was the recording process like with you and Dean?

7evenThirty: Dean has so many beats and all of them are dope. It’s weird the way he works. He doesn’t make any beats normally with anybody else around and I don’t really record vocals with anybody else around. We would get together and pick out samples and beats, which he never does with any other artist that he ever works with. I had the honor and the privilege to sit around with him and say, “That sample is dope, let’s do something with that.” Or he’ll already have something in the vault that nobody has heard before and I’ll say, “That’s dope, let’s do something with that.” When I got ready to write to each song he would send me one track at a time through Dropbox and I would write to it at home in solitude and send it back to him. I told him not to send me any other beats until I sent him the finished version. I had to execute it one at a time for me to stay on task. If he sent me a folder full of beats I wouldn’t get anything done because I would literally sit around and listen to the instrumentals because they were dope. I wouldn’t focus on either one. My attention span isn’t the greatest so I have to do these kind of tricks to keep focused on one at a time.

TRHH: How would you compare the Hip-Hop scene in Jackson to the scene in Dallas?

7evenThirty: That’s a good question. Jackson is more of a smaller city so everybody knows each other and it’s really close knit. Everybody is very creative. We have a lot of creative artists coming out of Jackson but Jackson as a city doesn’t have the monetary resources that a city like Dallas has. On the flip side of that, Dallas has access to the major monetary resources that a major city would have, but the scene as far as the artists go is not as close knit as the artist scene in Jackson. Dallas is a bigger city so everything is more spread out. You may see a whole slew of different artists and it isn’t like Jackson where you have the main artist running the scene on a regular basis. In Dallas it’s less close knit than Jackson is.

TRHH: How’d you develop your style of emceeing?

7evenThirty: I have a lot of different influences that I pull from over the years. I’ve been writing since ’96. When you’re forming any kind of craft you kind of emulate who you’re inspired by. You can tell very loud and clear in my earlier works who I was inspired by. You’re going to hear Andre 3000, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Ol’ Dirty and shit like that. It’s very obvious who my influences are in my earlier recordings. Over the years you kind of learn to listen to your own voice. The way that I did that was I stopped listening to all my favorite artists. I stopped listening to Outkast, I stopped listening to Dirty, Busta, and all the Hip-Hop artists that I knew had a major influence on me. I kind of forced myself to listen to myself and that happened during the Heaven’s Computer album. I found that as a result I may have my subconscious influences thrown into this pot, a kind of creative gumbo, but the story was told through my voice. I can express it as myself and at the same time I figured out a way to give homage to people that influenced me like Dilla, I loved the way Dilla wrote rhymes and I would give homage to Dilla without necessarily sounding like him. I would give homage to Outkast and Wu-Tang without necessarily sounding like Outkast and Wu-Tang. It’s to the point now where I can listen to my inner self and what you hear is what came out of it.

TRHH: What do you hope to accomplish with The Problem?

7evenThirty: Even though it’s not a concept record there is an underlying theme. I feel like The Problem is way more of an accessible album than Heaven’s Computer is. Heaven’s Computer is more like a niche market – your comic book readers, sci-fi, anime, nerd group. With The Problem it’s a way more accessible album with tracks like ‘$ Stacks & Body Bags’, ‘Filthy Rich’ and the single ‘Hook Heavy’. I wanna draw people in with that but there is this underlying message that you get when you listen to the album. It’s a time of great turmoil with the situation in St. Louis with Mike Brown, the brother Eric Garner that got choked out in New York, and John Crawford that got shot in a Wal-Mart in Ohio for holding an air gun. This type shit has always been happening but I guess it’s more evident now with technology. People with cell phones and cameras make it a little more in your face now. My objective with The Problem is to play my part in keeping my message out there and keeping people’s eyes and ears open to what’s really going on and start to find some solutions to these problems.

Purchase: 7evenThirty – The Problem

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A Conversation with Blacastan & Stu Bangas

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Photo courtesy of Stu Bangas

Photo courtesy of Stu Bangas

The formula of having one emcee and one producer on an album works best in Hip-Hop. Parading in cavalcades of producers on rap albums has soured the game. Rarely does the recipe work when there are too many chefs in the kitchen. Demigodz emcee Blacastan and producer Stu Bangas have resurrected the tried and true formula for their latest project, Watson & Holmes.

With the title of the album taken from the fictional characters Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson, Blac and Stu created one of the grimiest releases of 2014. The album is produced entirely by MPC master Stu Bangas with guest appearances by Apathy, Block McCloud, Celph-Titled, Vinnie Paz, Planetary, and Esoteric.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Stu Bangas and Blacastan about the genesis of their collaboration, working side jobs while still being involved in Hip-Hop, and their new album, Watson & Holmes.

TRHH: Why’d you guys decide to get together and do an album?

Stu Bangas: We first met four or five years ago at a show in Boston. Some dudes that Blac was with and myself almost got in a scrap. No brawl broke out or anything like that. Afterwards we discussed it and talked about working together. Fast forward a year after that it was a record that a label wanted to do with myself, Reef, and Blacastan. We started bouncing beats back and forth but that album never materialized. Me and Blac decided to take the stuff that we had done and went ahead and put out a whole record. We liked the stuff that we had done, and the chemistry that we had, and the end result of the initial songs.

TRHH: How much of the record is new stuff?

Blacastan: Most of it is new stuff. We started with the core of it being a lot of the records that we salvaged from the previous project. That would have been 3 or 4 maybe. We had such a good flow going that coming up with records wasn’t even a problem, even to this day. Right now we’re working on an EP and the stuff that Stu produces I usually never have a problem with writing lyrics to it. I’d say four joints were from the original project. A lot of the stuff we re-worked. Some of it was halfway done and we finished or added to it. It’s not like we just had records that were sitting around that we just threw in.

Stu Bangas: The main one was the single ‘Nubian Metal’ that we dropped. It was the first one we ever did and it was dope. That was in 2012 and one other one. The rest is shit we did in the past 6-7 months.

TRHH: Who came up with the concept for the ‘Nubian Metal’ video?

Stu Bangas: I did that, man. We were trying to get a video done with Celph and Paz but we didn’t want to stress them. It’s hard to get everyone together. Blac was like, “Just throw it up on Youtube.” I tried to do something a little different with it so I was looking up old Blaxploitation films. I found this one video with all the trailers from the illest Blaxploitation films. It was like an hour long but I downloaded it and took the parts out that I liked and thought it fit with the song.

TRHH: That was dope.

Stu Bangas: Thank you.

TRHH: How did the song ‘The Machine’ with Apathy come about?

Stu Bangas: That was a record I found off this person I buy from in China. It was an Asian record and it was just dope with the vocal sample and keys. It reminded me of that record that Alchemist did for C-N-N with Foxy Brown on it, ‘Bang Bang’, just because of the piano and the way the drums hit with it. I sent it to Blac and he said it was dope. He killed the first verse and we planned on getting Apathy on the record anyway so I said, “Why don’t we use this one?” Blac stayed on him because he was busy working on his record. I was bouncing at the time and Blac called me and said, “Yo this is crazy! Ap did his verse, we did it back and forth.” I wanted to hear the song but I couldn’t because I was busy bouncing at this club I work at. I got home and heard the song and it was crazy. These dudes went in.

TRHH: I didn’t know you were a bouncer, man.

Stu Bangas: Yeah, for extra cash.

Blacastan: Dude, he’s an Olympic class power lifter!

TRHH: [Laughs] Well I could tell by looking at him, but I didn’t know he made money off of that.

Stu Bangas: Yeah, it’s steady income because the music money comes and goes in waves.

TRHH: Stu, how was doing this album different from doing Machete Mode?

Stu Bangas: It’s really not that different, man. To work with Esoteric and Blacastan is really effortless. They like my beats. I’ve worked with other emcees who like my beats but they’re like, “Do this to it and change this,” or they take forever to write and get back to you. These dues hear the beat and go in. Both of them have good ideas to add on. It’s not just raps and beats. They know where they want drops to go, they know how to sequence the album, stuff like that. They see stuff that I don’t always necessarily see myself. They bring a lot to the record and it’s easy to work with them.

TRHH: Blac, the song ‘The Road’ gave pretty good insight into life on the road. Do you ever feel like giving up rap for a more normal consistent life?

Blacastan: Yeah, I mean I’ve dabbled. I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve worked at grocery stores in produce. I’ve worked in car lots as a lot attendant, I’ve worked in sales — I’ve done everything, man. Like Stu said, every now and then I have to revisit a day job because the money in rap just isn’t that consistent. I’ve been blessed to go out on tour and make thousands of dollars, and then you’re left high and dry. For 6-7 months you’re dead broke sleeping on your aunts couch or whatever – it’s crazy! ‘The Road’ is an accurate description. The first verse of the road I wrote while I was in St. Catharines, Canada on a tour with Block McCloud. We just had a terrible show. We dealt with a terrible promoter. All of those frustrations were so real. What we were talking about was actually happening in real time. The second verse I wrote six months later toward the completion of the album.

TRHH: I like the honesty in the record because I believe in rap there’s a lot of phoniness and flossing. What you described is the average rappers life.

Blacastan: Well I’d say the average independent rapper. This game has got so much smoke and mirrors it’s not even funny.

TRHH: Why do you think people don’t speak on that kind of stuff more often?

Stu Bangas: They’re embarrassed. I don’t know why anybody is embarrassed to admit that someone is working. You gotta respect someone that works. What I don’t respect is these lazy bums.

TRHH: That’s a ridiculous thing to be ashamed of.

Stu Bangas: Yeah, it goes against every core thing that should be instilled in people. People think it’s cool to not work – I don’t know.

Blacastan: It’s almost more acceptable to say, “I’m a gangster, I kill people for a living, and I rap.” That’s more acceptable than saying, “I punch the clock and I’m a blue collar dude.” You’re viewed as unsuccessful if you have to rap and subsidize your income with it. It means that you suck as a rapper. If you were dope you’d be making thousands off of this. You suck so you’re not making anything off of it. It’s not true. If you look at Hip-Hop right now, the wackest people are the people making the most dough off of it.

Stu Bangas: Even the independent dudes that are touring and selling a lot of music, they have people backing them. It’s not technically independent. They have a big push behind them, but people call it “independent”.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the Sherlock Holmes and Watson title?

Blacastan: Stu made a beat and he sent it through to me. The beat was so fresh that I just blacked out. It was probably one of the quickest songs that I wrote for the whole project. I wrote it almost instantaneously. In that song I have a line that’s like, “As we embark on a journey like Watson and Holmes/ Enter the hood, neighbors wanna lock up their homes,” and the light bulb came on. I don’t know where the hell that reference came from but it was crazy! I referred to us as Watson and Holmes. I thought maybe we should name the song Watson and Holmes and after that I was like, we should name the whole project Watson and Holmes. Sherlock Holmes and Watson were a duo together. They complimented each other real well and knew what each other was going to say. It’s the same thing with me and Stu. We’re doing business together, we’re making music together and at some points me and Stu are thinking the same things at the same time and it’s real crazy. That’s how ill the chemistry is. Nothing is better than Watson and Holmes – it just works. It sounds dope. Also there was a comic book that was out and we happened to come across it while we were in Philly.

TRHH: Who is Watson & Holmes for?

Stu Bangas: Blac was just on the AOTP album and that was a really good look for him in terms of broadening his fan base. We kind of tried to tailor some of the music toward that fan base. We both know what that sound is and what the fans of those artists like, but we also tried to take it to another fan base. You got certain indie rap fans that like the AOTP sound and some that don’t. We tried to step out a little but to get it to as many people that might enjoy it as possible. With the theme of the album we thought maybe we could interest people that are more into the stylized conceptual things – like with the art, and the sequence of the record is like a Sherlock Holmes movie.

Purchase: Blacastan & Stu Bangas – Watson & Holmes

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Introducing: Sean Anonymous

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Photo courtesy of Sean Anonymous

Photo courtesy of Sean Anonymous

The final installment of this week’s look at Hip-Hop on the Warped tour features Sean Anonymous. Anonymous serves as one of the headliners on the Yo! Bring it Back stage at the 2014 festival. The Minnesota emcee’s introspective lyrics carry on the tradition of Minneapolis rappers that spit with substance.

The Real Hip-Hop talked to Sean Anonymous about his musical influences, upcoming projects, and performing on the Yo! Bring it Back stage at the 2014 Vans Warped tour.

TRHH: What’s it mean to you to perform on the Warped tour?

Sean Anonymous: It’s just a good opportunity. Performing is one of my favorite things, if not my favorite thing to do in life. It’s a chance to get my music and my message out to different people in different cities every day and it’s a beautiful experience. I love it.

TRHH: Have the audiences been receptive to your music?

Sean Anonymous: Very receptive. Especially with the amount of younger kids that come out to Warped tour. They’re very open to new music. They are down for the call and response and down to get moving. It seems like they’re having a good time.

TRHH: Why is it important in your opinion to have the Yo! Bring it Back stage at an event like this?

Sean Anonymous: It’s so many reasons – countless reasons. Especially growing up with Hip-Hop like I did – I started listening like 15 years ago. It was a different vibe back then, people were freestyling, there were still people dancing. I think there are a lot of aspects of Hip-Hop that people are losing out on with mainstream Hip-Hop culture nowadays. I think this stage is a great representation of what it’s like, but it doesn’t feel antiquated by means. It still feels new, but it goes back and includes all the elements. We’re bringing that to these kids that may have never seen a break dancer before. The may have never seen a freestyle before. They may have never seen DJ’s scratching and cats painting out there. I feel like that’s one of the most important reasons. Also, it’s just really fun to do. It’s one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

TRHH: Are there any acts that you’ve seen on this tour that you’ve never heard of but are kind of diggin’ now?

Sean Anonymous: Yeah, definitely. Especially being next to the Beatport stage. There are a couple of cats on there like my bus mate DJ Nicola Bear and she’s been smashing it. She’s one of the better DJ’s I’ve seen in a long time. Also Bad Rabbits. I’ve heard of them before but I’d never seen them before. I saw them play at the barbecue a couple weeks ago. It’s kind of throwback soul but they kind of have some punk elements too. They are one of my favorite acts out here. I could go on and on. There is a huge list of great cats.

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

Sean Anonymous: Growing up the first time I remember listening to Hip-Hop was being 4-years old in the back of my mom’s car and she would flip it to the Hip-Hop station by accident and I heard it and I would get down. She probably wasn’t completely about it. I heard M.C. Hammer, but I’m all about syllables. The people that made me want to rhyme were Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, Eminem, and even before that Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, all those great people. I still listen to their music to this day and I still dig what they’re doing. I feel like Busta Rhymes is overlooked. I love Jay-Z and everybody but when people talk about the greatest emcees of all-time Busta has been doing it since the 80s and he’s still very relevant and killing it. He’s one my favs.

TRHH: I think it’s because his personality is so big that people forget that he’s actually spittin’.

Sean Anonymous: Oh yeah. A perfect example of that is the ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See’ video. He’s walking around with the aboriginal face paint and there is like black light paint, he’s walking around with a cane and a top hot and there’s an elephant behind him walking to the beat. Man, I will never forget that video as long as I live. That was some of the shit that made me want to rap, write, and be an artists in general. Shout out to Busta Rhymes.

TRHH: How’d the collaboration ‘Weight’ with DJ Snuggles come about?

Sean Anonymous: Oh, you know about Snuggles?

TRHH: I know a little bit.

Sean Anonymous: Snuggles is my homie. We’ve actually worked on a couple different things back in the day. I asked him to come up because he makes the sets that much better. I’ve been knowing him for a while. He was Brother Ali’s tour DJ, he won Scribble Jam for the beat boxing stuff. I started building with him and he would beat box on stage. At Soundset three years ago they were doing a compilation through Fifth Element, the Rhymesayers Hip-Hop shop in Minneapolis, and they wanted it to be a big collaboration type thing. They put me in touch with some of the cats from Audio Perm which is a producer collective in Minneapolis. I did this thing with Julian Fairbanks and there was a little open space on it and I was wondering what can happen with it. He didn’t even beat box on the track. It was a track called ‘Seats Taken’ and I had him doing vocal scratches. We just kept on building and he was working on his EP, That Beat, and he got a dope, dope beat from Big Cats back in Minneapolis and it was the type of beat where you just wanna write to it as soon as you hear it, which are my favorite types of beats. It’s easily one of my favorite tracks that I’ve been a part of – I love it. I’m glad that you know about that, man, that’s nice.

TRHH: What’s next up for you?

Sean Anonymous: I actually have an album coming out with my dude Dimitry Killstorm. It’s my first full-length. We haven’t announced the name of it yet but we’re hoping to put it out either in the fall or next spring. It is my best album I’ve ever made. It’s also the realest album I’ve ever made. It took me about a year and a half or two years to make. I went through a lot of stuff while making this album, a lot of hardships, a lot of rough times. I lost my mom in that time and there is a lot of songs dealing with that. It’s definitely the most personal album that I’ve ever made. I know when it comes out that there will be people out there that can relate to what I went through and I just hope listening to this album can help them get through it, because it helped me get through it just writing my feelings while going through that stuff. It’s going to be good. I got Wordsworth from Lyricist Lounge, Aceyalone, P.O.S. from Doomtree, my old roommate Lizzo who is blowing up. She just got signed to Virgin over in Europe. She’s Rolling Stone’s top 10 artist to watch – she’s killing it. It’ going to be a good time. You should check it out.

See Sean Anonymous on the Yo! Bring it Back stage at the 2014 Vans Warped tour:

July 24 Atlanta, GA Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood
July 25 St. Petersburg, FL Vinoy Park
July 26 West Palm Beach, FL Cruzan Amphitheatre
July 27 Orlando, FL Central Florida Fairgrounds
July 28 Charlotte, NC PNC Music Pavilion Charlotte
July 29 Nashville, TN Tennessee State Fairgrounds
July 30 Milwaukee, WI Marcus Amphitheatre
July 31 Bonner Springs, KS Cricket Wireless Amphitheater
August 02 Salt Lake City, UT Utah State Fairpark
August 03 Denver, CO Sports Authority Field at Mile High

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Wax: Continue

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Photo courtesy of Wax

Photo courtesy of Wax

In keeping with this week’s Warped tour theme The Real Hip-Hop chatted with L.A. based emcee, Wax who is performing on the Beatport stage as part of the festival. Formerly a Def Jam recording artist, Wax was dropped from the label in 2011 due to creative differences. His release from the legendary label turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The comedic emcee flourished musically and personally upon venturing out on his own and released the critically acclaimed album ‘Continue’.

Wax spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the perks of being an indie artist, performing at the 2014 Warped tour, and the follow-up to his album, Continue.

TRHH: What’s it mean to you to perform on the Warped tour?

Wax: It means a lot, man. It means I must be doing something right, I guess. It’s interesting because it’s a very young crowd. I think that’s good. When you’re young and you hear music for the first time it affects you even more. I’m definitely making a lot of new young fans and it’s a good thing.

TRHH: Have the audiences been receptive to your music?

Wax: Yeah, they have. I’m not as big as some people are here. A lot of the younger folks aren’t into it as much but the parents love my stuff. I see all the old folks gathering around. It’s been good.

TRHH: Are there any acts that you’ve discovered on this tour that you’re a fan of now?

Wax: Yes, absolutely. K. Flay being one of them. This band called Plague Vendor. A lot of people on my stage especially. This band called One Ok Rock from Japan is amazing. Those are the main ones I can think of off the top.

TRHH: What’s the difference between being an indie artist and being an artist on a major label?

Wax: You can make a lot of your own decisions being independent. You can do the music you want to do. You might not make the most money, or you might make even more because you don’t have to pay them anything. I think the most important thing is creative freedom – doing what you want and not having somebody looking over your shoulder.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Feels Good‘?

Wax: I went through some depression in my life and that was a song I wrote when I was starting to get over it. That song and my whole album was about continuing on and not letting things affect you. That was written in a time when I was getting over some bad rough times.

TRHH: Was the music therapeutic for you at that time?

Wax: Absolutely. It always is. Music is always therapeutic. Music saved my life a million times.

TRHH: How’d you get into the podcast world?

Wax: To be honest with you I’m a big fan of Bill Burr’s podcast. I pretty much was like, “I’d like to do that,” because it’s almost therapeutic. I just talk. I pretty much stole his formula for the most part. I’ll tell him that openly. It was fun.

TRHH: When will we hear the follow-up to Continue?

Wax: Hopefully at the end of this year. This tour kind of put off my recording process but as soon as I’m done I’m not doing any touring, I’m just working on the album. So hopefully December or January but I don’t know, man. Sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes it goes real fast. We’ll see.

See Wax live at the 2014 Vans Warped tour:

July 23 Virginia Beach, VA Farm Bureau Live At Virginia Beach
July 24 Atlanta, GA Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood
July 25 St. Petersburg, FL Vinoy Park
July 26 West Palm Beach, FL Cruzan Amphitheatre
July 27 Orlando, FL Central Florida Fairgrounds
July 28 Charlotte, NC PNC Music Pavilion Charlotte
July 29 Nashville, TN Tennessee State Fairgrounds
July 30 Milwaukee, WI Marcus Amphitheatre
July 31 Bonner Springs, KS Cricket Wireless Amphitheater
August 02 Salt Lake City, UT Utah State Fairpark
August 03 Denver, CO Sports Authority Field at Mile High

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Introducing: Pat Maine

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Photo courtesy of Paul Montano

Photo courtesy of Paul Montano

All this week on The Real Hip-Hop we’re highlighting acts that are currently performing on the 2014 Vans Warped tour. The Warped tour isn’t typically known as a platform for rap artists but this year’s tour features the Yo! Bring it Back stage, a stage that showcases the four elements of Hip-Hop – the emcee, the DJ, the b-boy, and the graffiti artist.

One of the artists performing on the Yo! Bring it Back stage is Salt Lake City emcee, Pat Maine. Maine spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the Salt Lake City Hip-Hop scene, the follow-up to his last album, Doomsday Charades, and performing on the 2014 Warped tour.

TRHH: What’s it mean to you to perform on the Warped tour?

Pat Maine: I think it’s one of those things that every artist has to do. It’s like that stepping stone. Warped tour is legitimately one of the hardest fucking tours there is out there because of the places it goes in the country and the time of year it goes through them. It’s always the hottest time of the year and the hottest places. It’s a grind – it’s like 13 hour days no matter how you look at it. Realistically to me it means that I’m doing the right thing. I look at a lot of artists that I looked up to and early in their careers they did Warped tour. When I look at their interviews they always say the same thing too – it’s one of the hardest tours. I would just say it makes me feel like this is the beginning of something bigger at this point. We’ll see.

TRHH: Have the audiences been receptive to you so far?

Pat Maine: Yeah, it’s cool. With the Yo! Bring it Back stage we’re a ground level stage so we get to interact with the people a lot. I spend a lot of the day walking around with CD’s. I have 10,000 CD’s I brought out on this tour and I walk around and tell people about my set time to get them to come and hang out. I make ‘em laugh, give ‘em my Instagram, follow them, and they follow me back. I stay super interactive throughout the day and sometimes I get some of those kids that make it back to the stage and we all have a good time. I feel like for every handful of people that actually makes it to the stage it goes pretty well. I’ve been giving away like 300 CD’s each day. A lot of them people are donating money for – at least 50 of them. Freaking Cleveland did really well for me. I checked my Twitter today and had like 17 notifications from kids from Cleveland. I thought I did horrible in Cleveland to be honest with you. I thought it was an off day and I check out my feed and it’s lot of love from Cleveland. It’s been really cool. My social media has completely changed. I’ve had to figure out how to be interactive. It seems like these kids don’t really care about Facebook that much. They’re all on Instagram and Twitter and that’s where I’ve been at all on tour. My whole approach has changed since being out here.

TRHH: Talk about the importance of the Yo! Bring it Back stage being on a tour like this.

Pat Maine: I think it’s super important because Hip-Hop culture is important. There is not a whole lot of representation of Hip-Hop culture in mainstream society. Warped tour is a very mainstream thing at this point in time, however Kevin Lyman and their team do a good job of bringing bands on that they believe in. At the same time Hip-Hop is not represented at its fullest extent. We get to do that. We get to give kids that perspective and point of view. We get to unify with them in the moment with freestyles, cyphers, and get to have a good time. We have emcees, DJ’s, graffiti artists, break dancers, we get to expose them to all of that and they have a legitimately good time. It’s a whole new perspective for them. When you say you’re a Hip-Hop artist to these kids and the first thing that pops in their mind is chains and hoes – what’s glorified. We actually get to expose these kids to what Hip-Hop culture is. A lot of them don’t realize it’s actually a culture rather than rap music. They are only exposed to one piece. That’s why I think it’s important to have it out here.

TRHH: Are there any acts that you’ve seen on this tour that you weren’t familiar with and now you’re a fan of?

Pat Maine: Yeah. I’ve really grown to like Scout. He’s the only turntablist that’s out here. He’s also the engineer and writer for the band Issues. He’s out there cutting every day and he really shows us a lot of love because he comes from an underground Hip-Hop background as well. K. Flay, I wasn’t very familiar with her and what she was about until this tour. It was cool to watch her. I’m still trying to keep my eyes open.

TRHH: When I think “Salt Lake” I don’t think “Hip-Hop”. What’s the Hip-Hop scene like in Salt Lake?

Pat Maine: It’s awesome. There is a strong Hip-Hop scene in Salt Lake City right now. I didn’t grow up there. I actually grew up in an even smaller place that no one has ever heard of in Utah called Heber City. I moved there from San Diego when I was 9-years old, so I knew what Hip-Hop was going there. I listened to a lot of 2Pac when I was 8. I can imagine how funny that looked me being an 8-year old white kid listening to 2Pac in Heber City. That was what opened the door for understanding it. I moved to Salt Lake City because there was a Hip-Hop scene. It’s really cool and grassroots. If you take Minneapolis’ Hip-Hop scene and go back 10 years, that’s what Salt Lake is almost like. It’s very young. There is still a lot to do but there is so much love for it all. There are so many raw graffiti writers, a lot of dope emcees that are doing more battles on bigger battle channels. As far as touring artists actually making a name for themselves there’s not really a lot of that. A friend of mine named Task Rok has gotten a lot of Youtube love but nobody from there has really ever made it. It’s all very new, very fresh, and very raw. That’s what I appreciate about it for sure.

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

Pat Maine: It just depends on what period of my life you’re looking at. When I was super young I always wrote. I found poetry and realized what I was writing was poetry. Then I got older and realized that I liked Hip-Hop a lot. They eye opener was obviously Eminem when I was a kid. I listened to a lot of Busta Rhymes and obviously Wu-Tang. I also listened to a lot of Metal that had Rap in it when I was super young. What made me want to be more on my independent stuff was when I found Tech N9ne, Living Legends, Hieroglyphics, and all those super underground artists that were pushing that movement. That was when I found myself as an emcee. Before I felt like I was emulating and imitating and then I found what I connected with. That’s kind of the chain of events that led me here.

TRHH: What exactly does “Doomsday Charades” mean?

Pat Maine: It’s like a dark piece of art, that’s what that whole album is. Doomsday Charades is all about personal doomsdays that we all kind of go through and this is about picking your own doomsday. It’s a game of charades basically. Every song is related to some sort of struggle that I had to go through. It’s struggle music. Doomsday Charades is very fitting because each song has an in depth background to it. It took 5 years to make. It only took that long because I wasn’t forcing that album. I had made two or three albums in between the time of starting that album. Those are all the darker songs that ended up coming together and Doomsday Charades is what it came to be.

TRHH: What new music do you have coming up?

Pat Maine: I’ve started so many projects over the last couple of years since Doomsday Charades released. I’m trying to find the right producer. I think I’ve pinpointed a few of them. I started a live band project and a project with a couple producers. I made a couple of songs with them and it didn’t work out. I always end up more focused than everybody else is. They kind of have their own agendas as well. For whatever reason I’m sitting on a bunch of songs that I think I’m going to release as an EP, but they’re all so over the place from the different projects. The next album that I’m planning on making is with a guy by the name of Tsuruda out of Salt Lake City. His beats are sampled based but he also has that grimy bass sound that you hear in EDM. He really bridges the gap between that modern sound and that classic Hip-Hop sound. It’s like Madlib meets Skrillex. The beats get your head nodding but they have that aggressive tone that electronic music can create. I’m kind of going that way. I think we’re going to make a dope album together. I don’t know when that will be released – probably in the next year or so I imagine.

See Pat Maine on the Yo! Bring it Back Stage at the 2014 Vans Warped tour:

July 22 Columbia, MD Merriweather Post Pavilion
July 23 Virginia Beach, VA Farm Bureau Live At Virginia Beach
July 24 Atlanta, GA Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood
July 25 St. Petersburg, FL Vinoy Park
July 26 West Palm Beach, FL Cruzan Amphitheatre
July 27 Orlando, FL Central Florida Fairgrounds
July 28 Charlotte, NC PNC Music Pavilion Charlotte
July 29 Nashville, TN Tennessee State Fairgrounds
July 30 Milwaukee, WI Marcus Amphitheatre
July 31 Bonner Springs, KS Cricket Wireless Amphitheater
August 02 Salt Lake City, UT Utah State Fairpark
August 03 Denver, CO Sports Authority Field at Mile High

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Kid Vishis: Timing Is Everything

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Hip-Hop is a funny game. There are unwritten rules that if broken will leave a mark for life. One of those rules is you can’t put your man on just because he’s your man – he has to know how to rhyme – period. Detroit emcee Kid Vishis avoided all of those potential obstacles. Despite being the younger brother of rhyme animal Royce da 5’9″, Vishis did things his own way.

The Sick Em mixtape series and a few guest shots on releases from Royce prepared Kid Vishis for the release of his first full-length album. Dropping on July 22, Kid Vishis’ debut album Timing Is Everything features production by Mr. Porter, Chase Moore, Nemesis, and Nick Zervos. The sole guest appearance on the album is from Vishis’ brother, Royce da 5’9″.

Kid Vishis chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about his goals in the rap game, following in the footsteps of his brother Royce da 5’9″, and his new album, Timing Is Everything.

TRHH: How does it feel to finally be dropping your debut album?

Kid Vishis: It’s my proudest moment to date. The album is very important. I’ve been focused on verses for so long – going verse for verse with other emcees and trying to kill them that I wasn’t focused on records. So now that I’m completely focused on making songs it’s a great representation because this is just the beginning of my song making era.

TRHH: How did you make the leap from being a rapper to a song writer?

Kid Vishis: Just time put in, man — at the studio constantly writing. It was really right before we did the album I kind of got into song mode. It was things I wanted to get off my chest. I’ve always been a vent style of writer where I unleash anger. Now it’s like I’m starting to learn how to bring across other aspects of me, not just the angry side, but the personal side and try to master the overall craft – storytelling, concepts, spaz out records, all of that.

TRHH: Explain the title of the album, ‘Timing Is Everything’.

Kid Vishis: It’s my time now. I feel like that because I know what mode I’m in now. I got the verse for verse type of thing and I feel like I got a good grasp on it and I feel like I’m getting better at it. I’m just trying to bring the songs to that level. In order to be a complete emcee you gotta know how to do everything. I feel like right now at the moment my story needs to be heard and this is a great start for me. Even the tone of Hip-Hop right now is missing that aggressive “rewind it back, what did he just say” stuff. It’s a lot of goofy shit going on in Hip-Hop right now.

TRHH: Definitely. Why do you think lyricism has taken a backseat in recent times?

Kid Vishis: I think it’s become more of a kid thing. Everybody feels like they should make music for little kids. When you do that you come up with the silliest type of records. Lyrics is not something they’re paying attention to. They aren’t listening to a bar and saying, “Wow, what did he just say?” It’s none of that going on right now. It’s really about having fun, going to the club, and bragging about what you’re wearing. I feel bad. My, my brother, and the OG Trick Trick from Detroit was just talking about this. This isn’t my era but being that I got older brothers they put me up on Breakin’, Beat Street, 8 Mile, and stuff like that. It’s movies that represent Hip-Hop that people really respect. People nowadays don’t have that. It’s not too much to respect. It’s all the same stuff.

TRHH: I think the history is lost. Hip-Hop is the only culture that laughs at its forefathers. If you mention Kool Moe Dee today people will laugh at you, but he’s a legend! For some reason if you’ve been rapping longer than five years you’re old.

Kid Vishis: Right! Yeah, that’s definitely going on. A perfect example is Joe Budden’s battle with Hollow Da Don. A lot of people were wondering why Joey was doing this because Hollow Da Don just beat Lux – I don’t feel like he beat Lux, but it’s a lot of people that felt like Joey was out of his league. Joey has a pretty good battle resume, and he’s a much better lyricist than Hollow. Just like you said, people are basically lost in the social media era. Whoever is popping in the social media era are the only ones that matter. People who paved the way before them are looked at like, “Whatever, he’s a old nigga.”

TRHH: You mentioned your brother; did you ever have any apprehension about getting into rap because of people potentially comparing you to your brother?

Kid Vishis: I was more worried about if he would accept me. When I first started writing rhymes I was feeling like, “Will he say I’m dope or do I have to keep writing to try to prove myself to him?” So I would just rap for all his friends. All his friends would be like, “Yo Royce, your brother is vicious!” These are the words that they used to describe me – more than one person, henceforth the name. I never really felt like a shadow with Royce because he’s so supportive.

TRHH: What’s the best advice Royce has given you about the music business?

Kid Vishis: Hard work, stay working, stay dedicated, and just rap. Don’t worry about what they’re playing on the radio and trying to fit into that. Don’t worry about the underground rapper that’s poppin’ and rapping like him. Do you and work hard at it, and try to push your brand out there. Royce is the hardest working rapper that I’ve ever seen. It’s not even close and I’ve been around some pretty dominant emcees. If Royce can have the success that he has and keep working how he does it’s almost like, who am I to feel like I should take a break? Hard work is the main thing. It’s hard work over talent and everything else. You just gotta keep at it.

TRHH: Tell me about the single ‘Talk Behind My Back’.

Kid Vishis: That’s Chase Moore produced. It’s a lyrical spaz out record. It’s playing out the concept that people talk behind your back but when you see ‘em it’s handshakes and smiles. It’s not really that I’m upset with people talking behind my back, I’m just putting it out there that I know you’re talking. I see you, I’m aware that you’re smiling at me, but I’m not going to say nothing to you. I’m on to it, but I don’t respect it. That’s one thing that happens to me a lot. A lot of people talk about me and say I’m in my brother’s shadow or I’m not as good as my brother but they see me and say, “Yo Vishis, you’re so nice!” whatever. That’s where my being self-motivated comes into play. If you let other people say things and it gets back to you, tears you down, and takes away your confidence, then you’re not in the right profession. That’s another thing my brother told me, don’t worry about what other people say. The easiest thing to do is for one person to put another person down – just worry about yourself.

TRHH: Early on Kanye West was motivated by people saying he couldn’t rap or whatever. He’s a perfect example of not listening to people and using that hate for fuel.

Kid Vishis: That’s me. That’s me all day. I don’t complain at all if I hear somebody say something about me. I can see them the next day, I don’t say nothing, it’s just motivation. I like looking in people’s eyes when I know that they’re lying about something just to see how they look. When I’m writing I remember that face and it fuels me to keep pushing harder. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, I’m doing my job. It’s great motivation for me to be around that element and keep it to myself.

TRHH: Your album isn’t overrun with guest appearances and only has a couple of producers. Was that done strategically or did it just turn out that way?

Kid Vishis: It was the zone that I caught. I reached out to the guys that I already worked with before. Chase Moore, Nemesis, and Mr. Porter had already been on previous projects. The only new person was Nick Zervos and he just came with a beat that fit the intro. For the most part it was me trying to reach out to the people I already had a little bit of a chemistry with, record records, and pick from those to see which were the best ones. Once I got the ball rolling I started recording a lot of those Chase Moore beats. Nemesis sent some and I recorded over those and Mr. Porter heard what I was doing. That’s how he ended up giving me two beats that were super bangers. I got right in the studio and recorded that. I let people hear it and they went crazy over it but I was like, “We ain’t got Royce on here.” I’m on all his projects so it just made sense. Once me and him recorded our track I didn’t even know who else to put on the album. It was a lot of people that wanted to be a part of it, but everybody couldn’t be. I’m not trying to go through feelings and stuff like that. I did the album, finalized it, and started working on another project that I’m going to put features on. That’s coming out real soon, too.

TRHH: What do you hope to accomplish with Timing Is Everything?

Kid Vishis: Honestly man, I just wanna get on the mind of the Hip-Hop community. I want people to be like, “I like this guy. I think he can rap.” It’s okay to hear it and want to hear more from me. Like, “He was dope and he can spit, but I wanna hear more concepts and stories.” That’s just growth. That’s where I’m at right now. That’s why I’m so excited to put this project out because I know what I can do. This is just the very beginning. This album isn’t everything I can do in one album. It’s a diverse album and I really went in and had fun. I want people to respect me after listening to this album and want more.

Purchase: Kid Vishis – Timing Is Everything

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Mac Lethal: Alphabet Insanity

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Photo courtesy of Pierpont Artists Co.

Photo courtesy of Pierpont Artists Co.

Kansas City’s own Mac Lethal hasn’t released an album since 2011’s Irish Goodbye, but he’s remained one of the busiest men in rap. Mac wears many hats as an author, DJ, producer, and owner of Black Clover Records, but is first and foremost an emcee. His latest single ‘Alphabet Insanity’ finds the rapper breaking down the alphabet in rapid fire fashion. The song was such a hit on Youtube that it caught the attention of talk show host Ellen Degeneres who invited Mac to be a guest on her show.

Lethal’s bread and butter however is the live show. His critically acclaimed performances have entertained fans all across America. The Midwest road warrior will take part in the 2014 Chalice California festival July 12-13 at the NOS Events Center in San Bernardino, California. Also performing at Chalice California are Hieroglyphics, E-40, STS9, Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang, and Supernatural among others.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mac Lethal about appearing on the Ellen Degeneres Show, his upcoming solo album, and performing at this weekend’s Chalice California festival.

TRHH: What does it mean to you to perform at the 2014 Chalice California festival?

Mac Lethal: I’m excited to see new festivals birthed from positive movements. It’s 2014; everyone is doing their own thing and throwing their own, huge, awesome parties and festivals. This is another example of making our voices louder.

TRHH: Is there anyone on the bill you’re excited to see as a fan?

Mac Lethal: E-40, man, obviously [laughs].

TRHH: What’s your opinion on Prop 215 and medical marijuana?

Mac Lethal: I don’t live in California, so I don’t know if I understand it in great detail. However, while medical marijuana is a good thing, it would be a lot smarter, less draconian, and more beneficial if we just legalized marijuana everywhere, for recreational and medicinal usage. This isn’t 1700. Let’s get serious here.

TRHH: You snapped on your latest single ‘Alphabet Insanity’. What initially inspired that song?

Mac Lethal: I have no idea. I get weird ideas out of nowhere because I’m always trying to think of something I feel hasn’t been done before — or at least in the way I want to do it. It just kind of surfaced one day and I decided to work on it. Luckily it stuck.

TRHH: What did it feel like to go on the Ellen show?

Mac Lethal: Most surreal, stressful, and rewarding experience of 2014 so far — aside from having my son with me every day, of course.

TRHH: Are you surprised at how popular “Texts from Bennett” became?

Mac Lethal: To be honest, no. The streets need Bennett. Hopefully it isn’t done getting popular –fingers crossed.

TRHH: When can we expect the next full-length Mac Lethal album?

Mac Lethal: I am working on a bunch of stuff right now, and when I feel the time is right, I will cut an album together and release it. I have never really released an album that I felt got the care and attention it deserved. I don’t mean from a record label or anything, I mean from me. I have always felt pressured by myself to hurry up and release whatever music I was working on. But I am in a good space where I want to make things as good and new as possible, and release it in a creative way. So I’m taking my time and making something really special, at least to me.

TRHH: What do you have in-store for fans at Chalice California?

Mac Lethal: I will buy anyone a beer who comes up to me during E-40′s set and tells me who won the 2014 IBJJF Worlds absolute division in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu last year. For the record, I know the answer.

Purchase tickets for Chalice California

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A Conversation with Brother J of X Clan (Part 2)

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Photo courtesy of Suburban Noize

Photo courtesy of Suburban Noize

In part 2 of A Conversation with Brother J, the X Clan front-man discusses joining Suburban Noize Records, touring with acts like Public Enemy and Insane Clown Posse, and X Clan’s upcoming album, Magnegro.

TRHH: Did ‘Funkin’ Lesson’ and ‘Heed the Word of the Brother’ catch on in New York? Those songs had the funk like the West Coast was doing at that time.

Brother J: Surprisingly enough it did because George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic was such a worldwide sound we didn’t have issues like “that sounds West Coast” or anything like that. That was a party jam, homie. We used Birdsong’s drums from ‘Rapper Dapper Snapper’ so it had dance flavor. For cats who was break dancing and groove dancing they gravitated toward it. It was a bigger hit in the East Coast than we thought. ‘More Bounce to the Ounce’, you can play that anywhere and everybody will dance, I don’t care who you are. 45 King did that track for us at the time. He put it on a Hip-Hop level as well as the funk of More Bounce and Parliament. It was a unique signature and the way we approached it lyrically was different. We wasn’t rhyming like “cat in the hat and the rat” we wasn’t doing that. We was putting something different down. Those records were tremendous hits out here but in the West we trumped because we were rhyming on it and not sounding like whoever was popular and rhyming on funk at the time, whether it was Spice 1 or N.W.A., we wasn’t rhyming like them. It was more complex on funk. That was unheard of at the time. Cat’s wasn’t rhyming like that. Even De La when they rocked it, it was “My, Myself and I” it was different. It wasn’t spitting. It was a different pocket. I know I had a hell of a content to squeeze into 16 bars and 24 bars. I had to do it without being too wordy and still being on beat to deliver this message. It’s a different type of chemistry – truly funkin’ lesson.

TRHH: You touched on your writing style and your production style. Talk a little bit more in detail about that. What’s your writing process like and what equipment do you use when producing?

Brother J: I started from the turntables, man. That’s what I was pointing out from the beginning. I was so addicted to searching for breaks that cats didn’t have. It’s like the Indiana Jones of your Hip-Hop journey. Finding a break that nobody got and rockin’ it. It’s still that way to this day. Cats search for the best beat to have everybody talking. It’s different now. Now they’re doing it digitally but back then we were digging in the crates. There are things that you hear when you’re creative. Everybody can’t hear the bells. Everybody can’t hear those voices talking and those lyrics coming so it’s hard to describe a technique. It’s not like I put twenty words on a page and connect them and make them make sense – it’s not that. There’s a track playing and there’s forces around it that are saying things – a breakdown, a bridge, or whatever, you hear it and you activate.

Being a writer is a talented thing on any level. I admire any writer because you’re capturing these voices. It’s like capturing a license plate number, “What’s the tag on that thing?” and you’re writing it down but it’s a talent for you to capture, memorize that, and hold that moment — the same thing with lyrics. When that happens you know if you don’t write that down something will come and distract your focus and kill the ride, the delivery, and what you heard from the beginning which was a great idea. Your idea will be shot down if you don’t capture it right away. Freestylers have it but they say it at the spur of the moment and when they finish the jam they don’t remember any of that rhyme, homie – ever again. To be a writer is a serious talent that must be respected, because you’re able to capture and chisel to where it fits best. That’s why it’s no excuses. If you got time to chisel before it hits the radio and all of that, every time should be immaculate – every time.

I started on an 8 second sampler on my mixer with my turntables and stacking up cassette decks and having the loop on tape deck 1 and hitting the sample and cutting and mixing drums until I learned how to 8 track. You move up the lane from there. You learn how to use these machines and this technology – the timing of things, certain drum patterns don’t fit with others. As you grow older you master the notes and what drum sounds match with samples. Sometimes you got drums that don’t mix note wise with a track. You may think it sounds good, but really it’s disturbing in the area of composition so when you mix you’re gonna have problems. So you get older to learn that and these are things that I learned and implement in the Clan’s newer music. I work with the new George Clinton’s and new Sly Stone’s – young cats who have mastered funk all their life who come and work with me. Some cats are platinum, some cats are low key ghostwriters who have worked with some of the biggest artists in the game but they’re tired of contributing to foolishness. They wanna see somebody take their composition and be as legendary as East Blackwards is now thanks to the people. I can’t make it legendary. If the people don’t check for it, it just becomes an album on the wall. I’m glad to continue my library. I’m glad to still be working.

TRHH: You released two albums on the Suburban Noize label, Return from Mecca, and Mainstream Outlawz. How’d you wind up on that label because their roster had rap artists but they were extremely different from what you were doing?

Brother J: [Laughs] Well this was the thing; I was interested in signing to Rhymesayers Records at the time. I was impressed by their roster out of Minnesota and also Stones Throw Records. It was a lot of things going on. People were looking for distribution at the time so a lot of cats didn’t want to take it on because they didn’t want to stain X Clan’s history. It’s like if I can’t get big enough to do what I need to do marketing wise for you I don’t want to touch the project. So the people at Suburban Noize had like 21 different groups there. They had punk rock, suburban rap and stuff like that so I saw it as P.E. signing on to Def Jam at the time. Those groups were totally different than them. You had an egotistical LL Cool J and you had Brooklyn white boys in the Beastie Boys. It was so many different things going on at that label and RUSH Management that I felt like sometimes you gotta be the fly in the buttermilk to make a little shakeup.

Punk Rock music was originally a rebel’s music. I didn’t see it like I was joining a band of misfits hollering about marijuana laws. I saw it as the founder of your group and your label was the Corporate Avenger. If people do their homework on Kottonmouth Kings they’ll see a lot of rebellious people that made serious change. These cats were doing early internet before cats even knew what going online was. You gotta remember the children of what they consider servants of the beast and all that foolishness — they’re children of the system. Is somebody in your circle going to be human enough to say “that’s not right, I gotta warn people?” And even though it’s through punk rock they were doing what X Clan was doing for their people. Come to the table with who you are. If you say you’re punk rock’s X Clan and I’m saying I’m black people’s Corporate Avenger we can come to the table and build on how to get this freedom music out to the people. That’s what my deal was based on. Kottonmouth Kings had absorbed all of that freedom music of their people. They’re crazy, wild, and do their thing but that doesn’t have to affect my court. When y’all see me drinking 40’s and smacking girls on the ass then it’s a problem [laughs]. As long as I’m still Brother J it shouldn’t be no issues. You should be glad that somebody is signing me and giving me an opportunity.

I toured for five years with them, brother. I toured for five years with Damian Marley, ICP, that platform opened up so many doors for me that I dare somebody to say something. I was touring more than major cats and nobody was even hearing my product because urban marketing required so much money for my music to be put into the stream I finally saw the problem. These were the first two albums I put out outside of a major. I see how much money my deal really had to kick out to keep us in competition — rotation, video play, placement, all that cost money, bro. I was telling conscious cats, “Yo, ain’t nobody holding you down. If y’all got bread you can win.” If you got 5 groups everybody Voltron and push one through and go in. Stop coming out with everybody on a record and they all split up and do solo deals. No, everybody put that money on the best one here, the best spokesman, and push through. Spearhead your business.

These are things I was trying to teach from this platform. Tech N9ne taught me so much about merchandise. Kottonmouth Kings taught me so much about merchandise and these were in suburban markets I never knew existed. Tech N9ne would go and do 60 cities. Homie, I didn’t even know 60 cities existed for you to be touring through. What kind of 2-and-3 month’s ridiculousness is that? Crazy! Suburban Noize was a learning ground. I didn’t care what people were saying. They come on the site looking for me and expect it to be a bunch of black rappers and cats with kente cloth and Dead Prez’s and I said no, I took a different route but I still get the same respect. Those audiences respect us because we came with Hip-Hop culture. We didn’t come trying to rap. I know a lot of people that get booed in their circuit – top notch artists that can’t do a 30-city tour with ICP. We were the only conscious group ever to do 30 cities with ICP, homie. You know what kind of performances you have to keep to do 30 cities of Juggalos, man?

TRHH: I would think that that would be a scary crowd. What were the Juggalo crowds like?

Brother J: Man they was rockin’! You gotta think they ain’t never been around my way or in my hood to hear what we spittin’. You only hear that from the distance on a mixtape or something or if you’re in that side of the city that really dishes that out. You ain’t never heard nothing like this if you live in the back woods of Montana or wherever. You can’t angle up to say “boo” to that, especially if the people that you came here to see are giving us a straight pass like, “Yo, X Clan is the business. They influenced us!” These cats got online and hit their people virally. Some people use that internet properly, bro. These cats use it properly. Before they even go out they say “Our guests are on deck, X Clan. We sampled their song ‘Voodoo’ back in the days and that was one of our first gold projects.” These cats were going gold independently. They were sampling ‘Voodoo’ and I didn’t even know this. These cats were sampling my stuff from way back like this and they come and pick me up for this tour? All we had to do was rock from there to make the pass official. If we went on there and struck out then we’d be stupid.

So I can’t come in there trying to teach them something that is over their head. I just have to go in there, rock, and bang you because my music is the lesson plan. I don’t have to do more than what it is. Look how that works. I don’t have to switch up. You’re rocking to my music and the flow of my lyrics, but my message is already there. I don’t have to stop and say, “Do you know what the red, black, and green flag is?” I just keep rocking because all my lyrics and my content is straight out. Teaching is not threatening. Building is not racist. So we taught them a lot about Clan so now we have official fans in that arena. They thought we would have struck out and been one of those lists of cats that got booed. Shit I know white groups that got booed on those circuits. It’s not a black or white thing. They booed Bubba Sparxxx. They damn near tore his head off whoopin’ on him when he went to perform ‘Booty, Booty’ or whatever that was. One word off and those cats will come at you. It’s like fight club performing for Juggalos, homie. It’s a serious clique and they either respect you or they do not. They think as one.

I’m used to it because the movement was like that. Why you think X Clan wasn’t really touring with a lot of people? Our crowd was rough, beyond Apollo and all of that. From the elders to the young heads they don’t wanna hear none of that rapping and booty clapping and all of that. A lot of cats got booed off and kicked out of the building with our audience, bro. We were like a black sheep in this game but we love our people so you couldn’t X us out so to speak. We were saying what your parents were doing and y’all skipped past it and went to party and we kept that movement alive. We have cats that are artists saying, “My mom loves you! She told me to get your autograph.” That’s different. And the women love intelligence so they were coming to our shows so the brothers followed. That’s a science from Adam Clayton Powell Jr., he was attractive and the sisters came to the church and he was like, “This is the movement.” The brothers came and he got to build and look at the extraordinary things that went down – powerful. We had a little bit of all of our leaders, bro.

TRHH: I saw you perform on the Hip Hop Gods tour a couple of years ago. What was that experience like touring with Public Enemy and all of the other acts?

Brother J: We had already did like three tours with P.E. before Hip Hop Gods. A lot of people that were on that run hadn’t been out for a while. Usually I run my own little caravan because I run almost like a military regimen on the road. So for me to be able to take my daughter and my DJ with me and mingle with Monie Love, Awesome Dre, Dinco, and Wise and we’re all on the bus playing dominoes and building, it was a deep break. Usually I don’t do that. My brother Chuck has been my guidance in the independent game for a long time so I said, let me take a break. I’m always overdoing it and paying for my own thing and meeting everybody in the next town. I’m always like the Batman of the whole crew. I come in on my own terms. I love everybody but show it differently. Hip Hop Gods was a chance for my daughter to come on the road with me for her first time. Her mother, Queen Mother Rage of our movement, my daughter always wanted to be a combination of both of us. I said, “You gotta come behind the curtain of the game how I learned before you make a decision that you want to be in this thing or not.” For me to just stick her in the lab and force her to be a star child is wack when she can be on stage with me and just learn ad-libs. She didn’t have to do 20-30 minutes of lyrics. Support me for 13 cities. Flavor Flav was giving her advice on how to do movements on stage and be more supportive. She got it from the best in the game. That was a good experience for me to take my daughter because she was moving to California with me so I said, “Let’s go across the country.”

I went out and supported Chuck on this Hip Hop Gods movement because cats were trying to be prima donnas and overcharge him to perform. When Chuck was reaching out for invitations everyone was trying to charge him more than what he had to provide. I don’t care about rates and things of that nature. If I see something that’s strong, that’s going to lean over into history, and just to support my brother, I’m doing it. He was being nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; even if he didn’t get inducted I was honored to ride. I came out to salute him, homie. Just on a man to man level because that’s Hip-Hop music. He’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame so when I listen to Mick Jagger and Aerosmith and all of that his name comes up! That’s big, homie. Ain’t too many people going to receive that kind of an honor. It was honorable for me on that level, it was a learning ground for my daughter to learn aspects of the game, and it was a historic time for my DJ, Ultra to be amongst all of those legends because he was a DJ spinning these cats from day one. He’s older than me so Awesome Dre and Schoolly D and stuff like that, he remembers a time when they were hot. They were the Eazy-E’s of the East Coast and Midwest. Those cats had a lot of weight.

To ride with those OG’s and cats who had some of the best shows in the game like Leaders of the New School – just to have Dinco there, I don’t care about Buss and the rest of them not being there, just to have one of those elements that used to throw some of the most bomb shows in New York or wherever! They were the first people to start jumping up at shows before Kriss Kross and all of that foolishness. Those cats were rockin’, homie! I remember going to the Townhouse in Manhattan and the whole entire place was jumping out of control. That’s when they had the stripper dude in the crew and Milo and all those cats – Leaders was hard, man. We had a good time and it opened up the door for Hip Hop Gods to be something that sponsors jump to right away because they doubted us through the weather, the time of the year that we chose to come through and the quality of acts. Schoolly D versus having Immortal Technique or Dead Prez for a Chuck D run is deep unless you really appreciate Hip-Hop. You gotta realize are you respected from the roots or are you respected from the hype? People proved all of those promoters wrong we had a good solid crowd throughout that whole run.

TRHH: Tell me about the Underground Scrolls mixtapes.

Brother J: [Laughs] Underground Scrolls was a beginning for me to have conscious artists come join me because I hear so much ratchet mixtapes. I listen to everything, I don’t have no prejudice. I see Rick Ross’ style, I see Jadakiss, I see Drake, I see all these cats. My thing was there was no conscious mixtapes out here. I took some exclusives from my vault to kind of break open the brand and it really did better than I thought it would. A lot of cats were buying that stuff online. We had the MySpace up when we dropped the first one and we had so many downloads on that tape. We were selling them during the tour when we first went out with P.E. and Jurassic. I really didn’t have to put out Return from Mecca because Underground Scrolls was doing so well. It kept the brand alive. I put out one for the Hip Hop Gods. It was some leaks and stuff that I had from the studio. It was decently mixed enough to be a listening pleasure, but not to the standard of what we do. It was more like a leak tape because I wasn’t going to be able to put out the Magnegro album until the middle of this year. I thought we were going to launch something but we wanted to weigh our distribution options a little bit more because we’re launching a label brand and not just throwing out another album.

The Underground Scrolls has been like my calling card to let people get in sync with the new stuff. You don’t have to always go back to the 90s to refer to the Clan. It keeps the buzz up and spreads the word. I look forward to putting some of these artists that I have in mind to sign to this brand to put them on the future Underground Scrolls to keep it up. If I’m graced to do a show from that platform like a BET Basement kind of thing just for conscious artists I would be elated to do that. People have expressed interest in that. We’re just going to keep putting them out and keep scouting for conscious talent.

TRHH: Why do you think there is a lack of new conscious rap being promoted these days?

Brother J: Because the conscious artists don’t respect the game. They don’t respect the process. They think that cats like Ludacris put out records and it’s easy. It’s a very hard A&R process when you’re at that platform and level. You can’t do no wrong because as soon as you do somebody is trying to take your spot. I don’t think they realize the business behind that and the money that it takes. I told you that when that money is not there to give you ten spins on MTV, to hit all the nationwide video outlets, they want money, homie. It ain’t about liking your record and wanting to play your stuff. Very few people have that option. If you’re online of course it’s easy but when you’ve got a syndicated program, nah. Unless you got the buzz of the week or the record of the month or something they’re not really going to throw out no free biscuit for you. I don’t think they respect the game. The thing about the conscious movements is you gotta respect the money at some point in time. You don’t respect the money until you get threatened to get kicked out of your place. You can’t rebel against America so much that you forget about the paper. You can’t do that. You can’t be a bohemian cat and not really care about it. You gotta eat. You gotta have food, clothing, and shelter. You don’t worship the money but you make it part of your resource gathering when you’re moving around. You can’t subtract that.

That’s the reason that I think these artists are losing in that field. You can’t be overly creative. There is a rhythm that you must obey. If you’re trying to be played and popular in pop music you can’t give me a spoken word rendition over a trap beat. It’s not gonna work like that. You have to have personality and entertainment quality with your message or it’s not going to work. When you see an artist like Mos Def, it’s a perfect template. You took the entire renaissance man type thing from a young boy’s perspective but come on, man. You was Bill Cosby’s Robin, homie [laughs]. Your understanding of the game is different. You know exactly what they can have and what they don’t. Your rocked jazz breaks until the point that the entire genres daughters are following you! And you bustin’ to where the brothers have to respect so it’s a perfect balance. They should have rode that template all the way out. That’s what Common was for Chicago coming up. How many years did he suffer spitting so much and giving out so much until he said, I just need to give enough? He said let me stop so hard to bash certain things in the industry and let me go in. When he caught that he’s winning now. It opened up several other doors for him. It’s a template that you have to respect. You have to respect the bread. You can’t be mad at it but you’re still hustling for it. We’re so elitist in our minds that we have to think above the dollar, no, the dollar is part of the resource. It’s not part of what I need to survive but it’s part of the equation that makes things easier for me to do what I do — if it be protecting your family or yourself. If you live in a city where you gotta have berries to do transactions then get you a bag full of berries. If you live in America it takes paper, honor that and don’t play yourself in earning it. That’s it and you’re good.

TRHH: I interviewed Sean Price some years ago and he said you were in his top 5 emcees of all-time…

Brother J: [Laughs] I talked to brother Sean this year, I talked to Price.

TRHH: He’s my favorite interview, ever. He’s a unique guy [laughs].

Brother J: Yes he is. He’s a crazy dude, man [laughs].

TRHH: How does that feel when your peers give you that type of love?

Brother J: I like that because I’ve always liked Boot Camp from the gate. The Duck Down label is like the Stones Throw of the East to me. They don’t have the super platform that Stones Throw has now because they’re more of a vinyl type of collective worldwide, but as far as the heart of the Brooklyn style and the rawness, I love that, son. When Heltah Skeltah came the beats, the flow, everything was magnificent. We reciprocate the same respect. I didn’t even know Pharoahe Monch was close up on my styles as I’m on his because I’m a chemist. Those brothers got it and I like the way they rock their situation. I’m glad to see that the God’s can still admire each other, look back, and remember. The brother knew the new material so that was good that they still keep the ear. I don’t train people on a 1990 situation with me. I like them listening to Mainstream, Mecca, and Underground Scrolls side of things and checking for us on the internet when we go to the station. That’s how I check for artists. I wanna see you on your good day. I wanna see what this legend thing was about. Why was it legendary? Was it hype or was it real? I’m glad cats are doing their homework. I look forward to working with cats like that, it’s going to be fun, man.

TRHH: What’s the status of the next X Clan album?

Brother J: I’m in New York finishing it now. I got about 5 cuts left. The album is called Magnegro. I thought it was a proper time to make this elevation not only of my production house but of my style, period. I have to put on a different helmet for what’s going on right now so I thought Magnegro was a perfect title for this project. Everybody wanted me to do a solo album but I don’t need that. I put out the brand that people will say, “What? The X Clan?” and listen. I built that brand for so many years. I’ve been the only cat rhyming so a solo thing is redundant. What does a solo thing mean that I’m polishing my ego now that I’m coming out like this? I just named the album Magnegro and let them know that I’m digging in them from another place right now. I think they’ll be pleased at the funk and the content that we’re choosing to put on this platform. I get it, homie. I’ve done a lot of tours and community issues and I see how all of that has to come to a point and be delivered. The single ‘Keep It Humpin’‘ is out now. I look forward to dropping this project. It looks like we’re going to be looking at a late summer, maybe fall release, and that’s what it is.

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A Conversation with Brother J of X Clan

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Photo courtesy of Brother J

Photo courtesy of Brother J

During a time when Hip-Hop was overtly afrocentric one of the premier pro-black acts out of New York was X Clan. Comprised of Professor X the Overseer, Sugar Shaft, Paradise the Architect, and the Grand Verbalizer Funkin’ Lesson Brother J, X Clan combined funk samples with Professor X’s trademark spoken word delivery and Brother J’s effortless flow to create one of the most original groups in rap history.

The group released two albums in the early 90s, To the East, Blackwards (1990), and Xodus (1992) before disbanding. In 1995 DJ Sugar Shaft passed away from complications of AIDS. Professor X passed away in 2006 from spinal meningitis. Paradise the Architect relocated to Pittsburgh and continues his activism in and out of the music business.

After the passing of Professor X, Brother J resurrected the X Clan with all new members. The group signed to Suburban Noize Records and released two albums, Return from Mecca (2007) and Mainstream Outlawz (2009). The Clan is currently in the lab working on the groups’ fifth album slated for release in mid-2014.

The Real Hip-Hop had the pleasure of speaking with Brother J about the past, present, and future of X Clan.

TRHH: Going back to the first album, To the East, Blackwards, what was your mindset while you were making that album and did you have any idea it would be classic?

Brother J: No, not at all. At that time I was about 17-18. I joined the movement at about 16-years old. I was still in high school. By the time I got to make my album I had been on point doing security for different social leaders like Dick Gregory, Dr. Sebi, Sonny Carson, you name it. We were security for elite people learning different things and that was feeding my lyrics. Days that we would go out and defend the streets if a youth was killed or an elder was attacked by the police or whatever we were into, I’d take parts of that and put it in the lyrics. What people heard on that album was sincerity more than anything because I was really for letting people know what was happening. When we moved around people would tell us their stories of what was going on in their town. The content continues to grow from there. Eventually it became a classic because a lot of artists don’t have the courage to speak about what’s happening. They don’t know how to implement funkin’ lessons to a degree. So that’s what the album was an example of. It’s like a blueprint for conscious artists to find the path.

TRHH: You went to high school with Q-Tip, right?

Brother J: Yeah, brother Q-Tip and Brother Ali [Shaheed Muhammad]. Also Jungle Brothers Brother Afrika, and Brother Mike, those were my good brothers. That’s who I actually started with when I started rhyming. There was another dude named Mighty Matt that y’all never heard of – he never got off the ground. The Jungle had more leverage ‘cause their uncle was Red Alert. They had an in-door and once they let Quest through Q-Tip’s nasal style won at that time. It was a heavy time for people with the nasal style so he rode a little further than what Jungle did. It was all good. You would come to our talent shows and I had two DJ’s, Q-Tip and them had the beat box kid Jarobi, Ali, and Phife. I remember them way back when. Jungle Brothers’ first DJ was named Brooklyn B and Mike’s cousin came in and replaced him, Sammy B. That was good times, man [laughs].

TRHH: How different was your style then? Was this before the Blackwatch Movement?

Brother J: Yeah. Even in high school, man I was never really on no raunchy, wild out stuff. I wasn’t trying to be no fly dude. I’m from Brooklyn so I’m not on no prima donna business anyway just on a borough tip. My hardness and confidence toward the mic was groomed in the block party so the talent show really wasn’t nothing. I’d go in there like how Kool Moe Dee did on Graffiti Rock [laughs]. I really didn’t care. My thing was to dig into the beat. I didn’t care who the premier dude was or what the hoopla was, you would gravitate toward what I’m kicking. That’s how we handled the talent shows. It was really just fun at the time. It was some serious grooming. Our talent shows were like the Apollo at Murry Bergtraum.

TRHH: ‘Fire & Earth’ from the second album Xodus is such a great song. My father loved that song. He passed away five years ago…

Brother J: My condolences, my condolences.

TRHH: Thank you. I played that song on the way to his burial because he loved that song so much. Talk about ‘Fire & Earth‘ and how that song came together because you said some heavy stuff in there, man.

Brother J: Wow. That’s deep. It was several things going on. One, I was tired of people comparing PX to Flavor Flav. It’s two different missions. PX was a father of a movement as a young head. He was older than me, but as far as elders who had established organizations I had a different respect for him than just a hype man. He wasn’t a hype man for me. You never seen him “yeah boying” behind my verses or any of that kind of stuff. People were so busy trying to match us to P.E. in every way that I was like, “PX, you’re going to have to spit on one.” He’s a Leo and I’m a Capricorn so we made Fire & Earth. I was working with him to put some verses down and it was a lot of stuff on my mind. MTV had banned us because we had ‘Fire’ and other things but they had BBD “Smack it up, flip it, rub it down”. It was the same problems back then that people are having now. Nothing has changed my brother. They were playing all of that stuff but I can’t say “nigga”? They tried to correct my verse before the video came out but where I come from it’s language. It’s not offensive to anyone. I wasn’t trying to say it to keep up with N.W.A. or any of those groups that were young then. It was different for me to speak it. I was learning different things about the word itself. They were trying to tell me to erase it so I wrote more “nigga” in the verse than the one line I had. I started off the song with it just to be arrogant. If y’all will ban us for saying that I’ll stop saying “nigga” when you stop showing ass and titties and shit on the videos. It was early then when they were starting to do this with the stripper type girls on the video. This was early 90s when it started to peek its head out. We had to spin it backwards because it was considered a curse so I had to lay off my BS. I was young and arrogant but I was trying to make a point that that market was growing then and I saw its head peek out of the ground. I said if y’all allowing them to do that I should be able to speak my lingo, especially if I’m trying to put a positive swing on it.

To look back it was a small battle to fight. I could have fought for a better terminology I’m sure, but I was trying to make a point that you can’t change how we communicate with each other. This is entertainment. Now you see every record everybody is saying “nigga” all the time. Even Justin Bieber is saying “nigga” now [laughs]. And cats don’t really mess with them. On TV they’ll spin it backwards or whatever but it’s so much lingo now that white kids is kicking “nigga” now. If they let me define it and send it to where it is it would have been a defense on that. Don’t talk the way we talk. I don’t go around Mexican hoods talking about, “Hey ese, what’s up?” That’s not my language. So I said let black people communicate on their own and if we get tired of the word and move on and find something else, let us find that in our time. Don’t tell me how to talk. A lot of things were going on. The Jeffrey Dahmer thing was going on, Mayor Dinkins doing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and they celebrate him on that but when he did an African-American thing they don’t have as much press on him for that. I was just seeing little different things that I could point out in my verses to let folks know we don’t mess with the swine, we running Tarzan out the jungle – the concrete jungle. These kinds of things were sprinkled in that song. It was a little B.B. King sample that we rocked on that with the jungle drums. We laid it out my lord. It was a fun record to have PX start his lyrical transformation a little bit.

TRHH: Correct me if I’m wrong, but when he was talking about “humanists” he was talking about KRS-One, right?

Brother J: I don’t have a problem with KRS like that. I just had a problem in philosophies because he had so much influence over people and to make it like “let’s hold hands, forget about whatever, and be Hip-Hop” I think that’s a better platform to teach where the core racism comes from. You have people who come to the table and really front on what a humanist value is supposed to be about. We’re supposed to come to the table as a unified force. I don’t have to have a humanist label to be that. My thing was let everybody come from their specific culture and represent. If you’re a white person, be proud, you shouldn’t be acting like me and I shouldn’t be acting like you. I thought it was a great time to teach that before you go into a humanist platform. By the time you get to a humanist platform it should be an organization formed – real serious things instead of titles being flashed around. My elders admired KRS and he put out a video talking about the flavor of ice cream comes, I forgot what song that was…

TRHH: You Must Learn.

Brother J: Yes, yes, yes! I was so pit bull for the movement and so pro-black meaning “let’s get our stuff together first” because I don’t like coming to the humanist table or any table for that matter with dirty hands and dirty robes. We gotta clean up in our hoods and while we have this influence let’s focus on ours before we get a stereotype that we don’t deserve. When we say “pro-black” that’s what that means. Let’s get clean for the table, let’s wash our hands and not only that, let’s change garb. Let’s sit with the culture. We’re so busy worrying about who is holding hands and who is being sincere and who is not as far as other cultures we’re not focusing on our own. That’s where that was coming from. It was too complex to explain to a young Hip-Hop nation. They wanted to see someone combat against KRS’ flip flop at the time. One day it was “Edutainment” and one day you’re “smoking izm” and it’s like, Yo, man, if you’re going to be the teacher, be the teacher. He was like how Ice Cube was in the West, one day you’re Muslim and then you’re back to Player’s Club.

People were trying to have people step to them where they didn’t have the heart enough to say, “Yo man, we buy your records. Stop flipping so much and have one focus.” They didn’t have enough heart to say that, but we had enough heart to say that my lord. Come to the table, let’s build. I didn’t throw it out and say no names so he didn’t have to take offense. People read through it. It could have been a silent delivery, comfortably. It was meant to say anybody thinking like that, check yourself. It wasn’t directed at KRS like that. I admire KRS. He’s one of the greatest showmen in the game. I rarely see people throw down like he does consistently from day one. I don’t want no issues with that. I’m in admiration but I’m not a groupie. If I see something that needs to be spoken I have a microphone myself. I’m going to say to my brother, “I’m your keeper. Don’t let these white folks get in your head and twist things backwards. Don’t lose perspective.” Don’t be a emcee when there is so much more message inside your situation. Don’t become Benetton before you understand red, black, and green. That’s all I was coming from my lord. I didn’t feel that was insulting on no level.

TRHH: I want to say for the record that I wasn’t implying that there was beef or anything. I just wanted to know more about it because I know you rocked with KRS years later on ‘Speak the Truth’.

Brother J: Yes sir. And that was to let them know that we don’t have no issues. We sat down as men before the record to clear whatever. If you have a philosophy and I have my different walk of life I’m not going to step on your toes on any level. As long as we have a common denominator that we’re trying to elevate people, I’m good [laughs].

TRHH: I saw you perform with KRS in 1990. I was 14-years old…

Brother J: [Laughs] That must have been in the Midwest?

TRHH: Chicago at the Arie Crown Theater. Poor Righteous Teachers was there and D-Nice.

Brother J: Yeah, I remember that [laughs]. And K-Solo. That’s crazy. K-Solo got robbed that night. They ran up on his bus.

TRHH: What?

Brother J: Yeah, I tell cats man you gotta watch these females. It just was an awkward time. People was all on that jewelry, trying to run up on cats, and setting people up. The Midwest is a dirty bowl sometimes, man [laughs]. You gotta be on point.

TRHH: Very dirty.

Brother J: Real deal.

TRHH: Why did the initial incarnation of X Clan break up and how did the Dark Sun Riders form?

Brother J: X Clan had to take a hiatus because the movement was growing so fast that we had issues on how to reorganize it. When you got a lot of people you can think “power” but if you don’t have organization it’s weak. You’re weakening people. We’ll start contributing to the beast if a person comes to the movement and doesn’t get the conditioning that they seek to complete themselves it could become a joke. I thought that people were getting so much into the music they were forgetting that X Clan was the group and Blackwatch was the movement. They’d say, “I’m with the X Clan movement,” and that means you’re not paying attention. X Clan was not presented as a movement for you to join and you’re trying to get a crown and one of the pieces on that neck – it ain’t that. It’s not something that you sign up, send your letter in, and all of a sudden you’re down. If you’re in the understanding of what it requires to understand liberation then the Blackwatch movement accepts you. Come to our events, come to our meetings, come to our cyphers. We didn’t have internet then so as popular as we were in the country there was no way to really organize. That broke the group up. We’re not paying attention to what really made us and that was a problem. So I said I’d rather take a break from all this music until we can get an understanding about what we’re really doing here because people really believe in us. It was insane then. It was new then. We’re having a conversation twenty some odd years later but at its peak it was crazy, man.

You don’t wanna get caught up because any time entertainment is intertwined in your situation you gotta check your ranks at all times. That beast can make you greedy and Gollum-like. My thing was let’s take a break. We never stopped touring from the time we started. We got families, babies was being made at the time and we’re not even getting to see that. It was time for me to take a break so I did a little production project to keep things afloat so Island Records gave me a Dark Sun Riders project. I wanted to plant the seed to see what the real cypher is. I wanted to reform the X Clan and offer it to Hip-Hop as a council. I don’t need my council to rap. When we come to your town if we stay more than 2-3 days we can hold classes in several areas and give y’all a bomb ass show before we leave. I don’t know too many groups offering positive cypher like that. I wanted to create a trend because if there are other groups I wanted them to see that people here will welcome you. Let’s try to start our own chitlin circuit. Dark Sun was the planting of the seed. It was us stepping into digital sound. I had to start letting go of sampling. I’m a DJ, homie. I love analog sounds, I love sampling, and mixing and the collage but that music would sound like mud now up against the new sound as far as the boost and frequency that technology provides. It’s a different beast now. I had to let that go in ’94 when I started to see the transformation starting. I’m not waiting ‘till 2000 to do that. So Dark Sun was my time in the lab learning engineering and learning how to respect production even more. I was sharing my time and then cleaning up my lyrics totally where I didn’t want cursing in my music anymore. As much vocabulary and science that I study I think I can find much more to build on that just these germane phrases to entertain who? If I’m trying to raise the hood how am I spitting at them awkward? So I started to check that in myself. I shared with them the conditioning. That’s what Dark Sun Riders was.

It was a refreshment house. It was time for all of us to sit down at the table as even cypher. I had elders in that circle; I had new jacks in that circle that were conditioning lyrically just to see if everybody can get along. Some elders don’t like the generation beneath them – they don’t like them at all. Dark Sun was me doing some things at that time with the elders and the young heads and giving off a little lesson from a different frequency. I didn’t want to have ‘Funkin’ Lesson and ‘Heed the Word’ type joints. I wanted to try some new things. I wanted to try from the hands of my circle and see where it could go – fail or success. It worked out. I paved some good paths for us. On the underground years later to see people approach me with that product is a respect. That was during the time that Shaft passed, man. That was a heavy thing to even get to finish that product. It was heartbreaking to lose the person that was with me from the beginning of the conversation — from high school, homie. That was my DJ back then. Through all of my success to Dark Sun. He never got to see the later years of the Clan and combining both coasts together. I know his spirit is with me. I still have an eye for the tracks. I still hear my brother saying, “Yo, that’s wack, don’t mess with that,” or “Yo, that’s dope, put your ear to that.” I still hear him over my shoulder. It’s all blessed.

TRHH: Keeping with Sugar Shaft and also Professor X, talk about what they brought to the group and how did their passing affect you personally.

Brother J: You start a band off if you got a bass player or keyboard cat you adjust to their flows, especially being with them for ten years. PX was a manger for us when we started. He was always that guidance. He taught us the ins and outs of the game – the good and bad. He got us security jobs before we was rapping to go get a little twos and fews as young boys up in clubs we wasn’t supposed to be at. But the movement allowed us to be on point and learn behind the curtain of this rap. I never had groupie time and that was why my music stayed so focused. All that groupie thing was killed when I was 16. I done seen Salt-N-Pepa, I done seen Kane, I done seen Eric B. & Rakim behind the curtain. I didn’t have to stand out in the crowd and jump up in the air with everybody. I’m back stage securing them cats and making sure nobody don’t come and take them jewels or any of that. Our edge was different, that’s what PX was. Shaft was “something’s missing, let me find something in my crate” to fix it up a little bit and fill in the gap. He was that. That final gloss on the project to say, “Now it’s ready to go,” I trusted him like that.

Those brothers are dearly missed, man. It took me years to find people that I trust like that in the game that can help me with production now. My production style now is totally different. It’s another level of professional and it’s because I had those years with those brothers to know what the quality has to be at, whether it’s sampled or digital. Those brothers really were the hammer behind me, and Architect, Paradise too. He was a great influence. He was the first person to bring me to Latin Quarters and bring me to the turntables and let me see how the big dogs do it. So I can see what kind of rhythms people really dance to and don’t. I can see cats performing and what I would do in my show and what I didn’t wanna do. He was the dude that opened up Fantasy Island. If anybody has been to Latin Quarters, that was like a Fantasy Island for Hip-Hop, homie. All boroughs was up in that bad boy, son [laughs]. It was good times with them brothers, always. Their spirit rides with this. We don’t move on to the new cypher forgetting about where we came from. But I can’t let something sit and say, “If it’s not the four brothers then it’s nothing.” Nah man, I brought X Clan to Blackwatch. When we were doing security I said, “Yo man, our crew is going to be named X Clan and we ain’t gonna be hollering about none of that stupidity. I’m gonna take my spoken word and block party skills and take that somewhere else.” That’s what it was, and that’s what it is.

Part 2 of A Conversation with Brother J of X Clan

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Introducing: Precise

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Photo courtesy of Eddy Lamarre

Photo courtesy of Eddy Lamarre

Chicago emcee Precise  dropped a new EP this week titled Ladies Love Mixtapes. The EP is geared toward women but relatable to men with stories of love, lust, and loss. The project is produced by Tye Hill, Crankz, D.J. Thunder and Precise himself.

To celebrate the release of the project The Silver Room in Chicago, Illinois will host “Love Sessions”, a listening session of the Ladies Love Mixtapes EP with Precise on May 24.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Precise about the Chicago rap scene, his style of music that he calls ‘Adult Hip-Hop’, and his new EP, Ladies Love Mixtapes.

TRHH: What inspired the Ladies Love Mixtapes EP?

Precise: Actually I was having a conversation with Kevin Maxey of CTA Radio on WHPK one day. We were talking about the change in music and he mentioned a discussion he had with someone who said that lawyers and women killed Hip-Hop music. I thought about that and I was like, I can kinda understand why lawyers with all the sample laws and licensing and all that stuff. But then from my perspective the reason that someone would feel that women killed Hip-Hop is because we really haven’t involved them in the process of this culture. Meaning that from the perspective of rap music we don’t really create music for them or that caters to their sensibilities. That gave me the idea to create the Ladies Love Mixtapes. The EP is centered around stuff that I think women are drawn to — conversations about relationships, conversations period.

TRHH: How many of the songs on this release come from personal experiences?

Precise: Wow, all of them [laughs]. That’s a great question, bro. Every single one of them come from personal experiences. The way that the album is, I do want to touch on the women’s sensibilities but in terms of where it’s coming from, it’s coming from me and all the experiences I’ve had when it comes to women and relationships.

TRHH: Talk a little about the single, Take Our Time (Right Away).

Precise: Take Our Time (Right Away) was produced by Tye Hill and D.J. Thunder. The way that the album opens up I’m chilling with Tye at a club and I’m telling him how I just got out of a relationship but then this woman catches my eye and I approach her. Just to play on words we really don’t want to rush into anything, but we don’t want to waste our time moving too slow and letting the feeling pass.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the EP?

Precise: I don’t know if I have a favorite song ‘cause I like them all, but I like ‘I’m Dreaming’ and I like ‘Let Go’ – that one comes from a real personal place.

TRHH: Was it important for you to show that there is something else coming out of Chicago other than what’s been promoted recently?

Precise: Man, I’m so happy that you asked that question. I was just reading an article out of the Chicago Tribune where they were talking about the demise of Drill Music and how it’s taken its course. I think Chicago has always been a melting pot in terms of what comes out of the city. Part of my motivation is really to shine a light on a different aspect. I’m an adult so I label what I do as adult Hip-Hop. When you become a person of a certain age your subject matter changes so it really doesn’t matter how many cars and stuff you got. It’s more about your personal experiences and the experiences you have with others and the challenges you may have as you get older and grow in the world. To answer your question, yeah, that is part of that to shine a light on a whole ‘nother perspective – on something that hasn’t been given much light at all.

TRHH: What’s your take on the whole Drill scene?

Precise: I think it was birthed out of a struggle. I don’t think it was an accident but at the same time I think it’s been exploited. Chief Keef’s name is in the news every day and it’s never about his music. Again, it’s kind of a blessing and a curse. The reason why I say it’s a blessing is because the spotlight is on Chicago. All of these people dying every day and getting shot every day, come on, what you gon’ do about it? This has to wake up the minds of individuals who aren’t paying attention to what’s going on here in Chicago and the Drill music is the voice of that.

TRHH: What’s your take on the violence that we have in our city? Nationally we’ve become a joke. I see people on Twitter joke about how terrible Chicago is and it’s embarrassing and sad.

Precise: Sherron man, it is embarrassing. To have to answer a question like that for one of the most beautiful cities in the world it can be embarrassing, but at the same time it’s just a glimpse of what’s going on around the world. There are people getting killed in Syria right now. There’s people getting killed in Russia right now. At the same time even from the perspective of news coverage, there is more coverage of what’s going on over there than in Chicago every day. The reputation that Chicago has is really up to us to reshape and reformulate how wanna approach this and how we want our city to be seen. It’s in our hands.

TRHH: Back to the music, who is Ladies Love Mixtapes for?

Precise: Ladies Love Mixtapes is essentially for the ladies, number one. It’s also for; I’m going to coin a genre right now, Adult Hip-Hop, for those people that don’t wanna hear the gun shots and the loud drums in every song. It’s kind of a laid back spring time feel. I specifically chose the spring to drop it because I feel like that’s what it is. It’s a spring album to bring some rejuvenation and some chill out – it’s a chill mode kind of release.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with this project?

Precise: I hope to bring in some more supporters from the female species. I really wanna be able to branch out internationally with this release in terms of a different kind of sound coming from Chicago. I just want to shine a light more on what Precise is doing and how versatile I am an as artist and a songwriter.

TRHH: What’s next up for Precise?

Precise: I’m working on a few different projects. I’m working with a gentleman named Dray-Yard from Belarus. The Anti-Skinny Jean LP is officially dropping in July. That’s with Rkitech, Keith Murray, and Stat Quo. Rkitech is a producer from Long Island, New York. He’s worked with EPMD, Mary J. Blige, and those sorts of individuals. We’re dropping that in July and the single that I’m on is called ‘The Feeling’.

Purchase: Precise – Ladies Love Mixtapes: The EP

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