Deal The Villain: Beards, Beats, & Kicks

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Photo courtesy of DTV

New Jersey producer/emcee Deal The Villain is back with his latest release titled, “Beards, Beats, & Kicks.” The EP is an ode to some of DTV’s favorite things and some essential elements in today’s Hip-Hop lexicon.

The project was preceded by a string of creative visuals to give fans a sneak peek into what Beards, Beats, & Kicks would encompass. Released on RTD Records, Beards, Beats, & Kicks is a nine track EP featuring Michael Cardigan with production by Flying Lotus, S1ncere, Knxwledge, and Deal The Villain himself.

Deal The Villain chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about his favorite retro sneakers, his appreciation for the late, great J Dilla, and his new EP, Beards, Beats, & Kicks.

TRHH: How’d you come up with the title for the new EP, Beards, Beats, & Kicks?

Deal The Villain: Well basically it’s about what I’m into in terms of being a sneaker head. Beards is more or less the style aesthetic in terms of what’s going on in fashion and how we present ourselves. Beats, that’s just the sonic’s that’s underneath it all. It encompasses what life is – how you walk, how you step, how you live, and your perspective.

TRHH: What was the inspiration behind the song ‘Legend Blue’?

Deal The Villain: Legend Blue was more or less encapsulating how I was born, where I matured and grew, and how I look at life moving forward. If I was born in an earlier time I would have been stillborn because I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck. Moving forward in terms of the things I’ve seen in life and in the end of where I want to leave it – I want to leave it for my family, my siblings, and if I have kids. It was a birth to death thing just as the genesis of the new project.

TRHH: You’re a producer in addition to an emcee, do you prefer producing to emceeing?

Deal The Villain: I like to more or less fit in where I get in. My first love is making beats. I actually deejayed first and moved to making beats. Of course back in the day because we love rap music, I wrote my little rhymes in elementary school, but I always drawn to the beats. In terms of what I enjoy now, in maturing as an emcee I’m flattered any time another artist will ask me to do a feature or guest because that means that I’ve worked on my craft that much and I’m respected by my peers to step in and do that. I’m just as honored when people ask me for beats or they want me to come in and produce a track. I’m just in love with the music so there really is no preference. It’s just whatever is required of me, I get to it.

TRHH: What does your production set-up consist of?

Deal The Villain: It varies. I’m a mad scientist when it comes to producing. I’ll build beats in sessions with Pro Tools, Logic, Reason, or I’ll use an MP. As of right now I’ve been using Reason a lot, dumping them into sessions to do my mix down. Whatever gives me whatever sound I’m feeling and whatever vibe I’m going for, it doesn’t matter. As long as I can get the work flow right with it I’m ready to rock.

TRHH: I know you’re a Dilla fan, and you did a J Dilla-themed project. What’s your favorite J Dilla track?

Deal The Villain: [Laughs] To say that I’m a J Dilla fan kind of understates it. However you come to know J Dilla, I’m with it. I don’t get upset with people who got with him posthumously. I was with him when he was Jay Dee, doing remixes, and doing Pharcyde tracks. That kind of shows how long I’ve been in the game [laughs]. My favorite track where I can say I totally just fell in love with what he was doing was ‘Fall in Love’ by Slum Village.

TRHH: Aaaahhh, same here, man! That’s my absolute favorite J Dilla beat of all-time.

Deal The Villain: What makes me upset is that on the re-pressing because of the sample clearances it wasn’t on there. So you know you go through Slum Village and Dilla CD’s and you gotta buy it again, or you download a version and it’s not on every version! When those drums kick in and he says that “1, 2” that’s it.

TRHH: It’s a wrap. And you know what’s funny? The same song was sampled on the Jaylib album for ‘The Official.”

Deal The Villain: Official! Exactly. That’s the thing about it, Dilla would take different parts of a sample source and flip it a whole ‘nother way and it still got that knock and that bob to it. I love it!

TRHH: Yes, me too. The video for ‘Retro’ is real dope. Do you have a favorite pair of retro sneakers?

Deal The Villain: I like basketball sneakers first and foremost. A lot of people are into the runners. Nothing against them but that’s not my thing. I’m a bigger guy, so I have a bigger frame and I’ve always been into hooping shoes. My favorites are the 6’s, 7’s, and 8’s because that’s what he wore when he won his first three championships. I just love the style of those. They’re just clean and you can wear those with just about anything. Particular the 8’s because a lot of people don’t give the 8’s a lot of love. They’re like the only Jordan’s with a cross strap. I’m into those. I like being into what everybody doesn’t gravitate toward because you’re able to make it your own. Everybody loves Jordan’s, but everybody doesn’t love every J.

TRHH: Would you say you follow that philosophy musically as well?

Deal The Villain: Yeah. It’s just like I said with the sneakers, what may not be my style or what I gravitate toward, I still respect it. I still know when somebody’s catching an outfit that’s clean and they’re wearing a pair of NMD’s or Boost’s. Just ‘cause that’s not my wave, I love that. The same thing with music. Just because I may not sound authentic pulling off a certain genre or style within Hip-Hop or rap music, it doesn’t mean that I don’t care for it. I just know in terms of what I do, what I like to push myself in being progressive with. Because I pay attention to other styles it helps me cultivate my own.

TRHH: Who is Beards, Beats, & Kicks made for?

Deal The Villain: Beards, Beats & Kicks is made for everybody in this day and age. All the guys sitting there and they’re growing their beards out, whether it’s for fashion means or religious means, that’s the style. Women are loving the men with their beards. It’s just part of the aesthetic. You always gotta be clean with a nice pair of kicks when you step out. That’s part of the presentation. The music is the soundtrack to our lives when we get up and we move. So I like to feel that’s for everybody that can pick and that’s into each and every aspect of it. It’s not just about if you got a beefy beard or you rocking the hottest kicks or got a certain knock. It’s a metaphor for how you look at it and how you feel about it. Hopefully what I’m saying and what I put forth is just vibe that people connect with. Hopefully it’s for everybody.

Purchase: Deal The Villain – Beards, Beats, & Kicks

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F.Y.I.: ameriBLACKKK

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Photo courtesy of Jessica Magaña

From Mid-City, Los Angeles comes an emcee named F.Y.I. After starting out as a member of the group Those Chosen, F.Y.I. went solo. He released a couple of solo projects independently, collaborated with the likes of Ab-Soul and watched his career blossom.

F.Y.I.’s most recent release is a politically charged full-length album called ‘ameriBLACKKK.’ The album is produced by Sir Jon Lee, 2One2, and Rich Kidd. ameriBLACKKK features appearances by Sir Jon Lee, Demont Crawford, Front Page, and Kaye Fox.

F.Y.I. spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about making the transition from a group dynamic to a solo career, why we should all be proud to pay for music, and his new album, ameriBLACKKK.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of your album ameriBLACKKK?

F.Y.I.: Well it all kind of started from my first solo tape called, “Yo the Places You’ll Go. I had a song on there called “King Technology” which was like a remake of a James Brown song called “King Heroin.” It was a spoken word kind of style. On the song I said, “Ameriblacks” and when I said I thought it was dope. I just liked that word. As time progressed and I was putting out other projects that word just kind of stuck with me and I knew when I started on this particular record that I wanted to call it that. From there I just kind of based the whole concept around it.

Low key, I’m trying to push that as maybe a new word that people in my community refer to each other as. We have a lot of names and the concept behind ameriBLACKKK in general is pushing the restart button and claiming some ownership on what we want to identify ourselves as, as black people in America. It’s been a lot of names that’s been given to us and a lot of names that have been tagged, but ameriBLACKKK is something new and something different.

TRHH: The artwork for the album is very interesting. What story is being told on the cover of ameriBLACKKK?

F.Y.I.: I definitely wanted it to be a conversation starter. A lot of people that have seen the artwork have their own interpretation. Any artwork, which I really wanted to put out as a piece of art to a certain extent, is open to interpretation. My interpretation of it when I see it is it has a darkness to it on purpose. It’s really an indictment of this American society. Not even that, just really saying what it is, since the inception of America that’s what it’s been for people of color and minorities. It’s been oppression, it’s been a struggle, and it’s been a fight. It’s kind of challenging the establishment in a sense that there is high honor and praise given to George Washington and some of the founding fathers, but on the backs of black people especially these things were created. It’s a little boy too, which is whole ‘nother layer. You see this boy who clearly has African features but has that crazy skin color, so it’s a crazy contrast there artistically. He’s also dressed like one of the founding fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or whoever and he it has that noose going on.

It’s all these different elements historically as well as kind of making an artistic statement that since the beginning this is what it is and we can’t ever forget that. That’s why on ameriBLACKKK I spelled it with a triple K at the end. Anybody who has ever looked at Hip-Hop covers we’ve always seen America spelled with a triple K, but I put the triple K in the word “black” instead because we can’t really speak on the black experience in America without that struggle and oppression component. It doesn’t define black people totally and it’s not something that black people should dwell on because we have achieved regardless, but it’s definitely part of the narrative of the story, so that’s why the triple K is in the “black” of ameriBLACKKK.

TRHH: What do you say to those who say that black people in America are better off now than they’ve ever been so why are you complaining?

F.Y.I.: I understand, I understand. I won’t say nothing to those people because those arguments are futile to a certain extent. I’m not going to change anybody’s mind that remotely thinks like that. Obviously we can get on CNN and debate forever and ever. It is what it is. Unfortunately that’s where white privilege and all these things come into play. It’s just a skewed lens that people are even seeing this through. Obviously there’s been examples of progression and a lot of things that have happened for the community that have been positive. The overall thing that we’re talking about is a historical legacy. We’re talking about never forgetting. That’s like saying to a certain extent why do Jewish people keep talking about the holocaust? Because there’s something to talk about! We should never forget about it from a historical aspect and obviously from their cultural aspect.

Once again, it doesn’t define a community and it’s not supposed to paralyze a community but at the same time, even in 2017, it’s not something that should just be forgotten. Obviously when push comes to shove, whether it’s a 12 year old boy getting shot in the back of his head for no reason, or something else happening that’s racially motivated, or the prison industrial complex, all these things that people are very much woke about now, it really just goes back to that foundation. It goes back to what was instituted in 1690, 1774, and all this crazy stuff. Like I said before, I’m not talking to those people. I’m talking to my community and those that are allies to my community, especially if they listen to Hip-Hop they should never be offended by those subject matters. Hip-Hop is a microcosm of these communities that talk about these things. For anybody else outside of that it’s probably not made for them anyway [laughs].

TRHH: What inspired the single ‘These The Times’?

F.Y.I.: Shout out to Sir Jon Lee, he’s the producer of the track. He’s an up and coming producer/rapper from Compton. He’s real dope. When I heard the track it had a soul feel to it. It definitely has a “feel good” feel to a certain extent. I’m really big on contrast so I can take a beat that sound kind of happy and talk about something somber. Or I can take something somber and I might talk about something lighter. I like contrast when it comes to music from an artistic standpoint. When I heard the beat it just evoked emotion. It’s a real emotion. I think it’s a real emotion that most everyday people can identify with whether you’re a man, woman, black, white, old or young. It’s just a reflective thing.

Shout out to Kaye Fox, she’s just basically singing a thought that this is the present days that I’m in, these are the days and times that we’re living in, the circumstances that I’m in aren’t necessarily the best or I just want them to improve, and I’m feeling sometimes that I need to take the short cut. Just like I see the next man or the next woman out there doing things not necessarily the right way but they seem to be getting further ahead in life than I am. That’s where that’s coming from, since it’s at least conveyed from a media standpoint that every time you look at TV niggas is drug dealing, they got all the money in the world, strippers are making all the money in the world, house wives, everybody is balling out and not doing anything that’s edifying themselves or are really in a good light. It’s like, “Damn do I need to do that too?” or do I need to do the right thing, go to school, improve my education, and stay with my dream? It’s definitely a theme song for the everyday person that’s trying to better themselves, but do the right thing.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the name ‘F.Y.I.’?

F.Y.I.: In short my rap name used to be Foreshadow when I was in a group called Those Chosen. I’m coming from an underground super-lyrical scene so as the time I was like, “Foreshadow, that shit is ill!” When I say my rhymes I want it to be something that I’m speaking, so that’s kind of where that came from. Some people from that era knew me as that. As time progressed and I stepped out on the solo tip I knew that wasn’t going to work strictly on a branding side of things on some industry rap shit. I just decided to shorten it to “F.Y.I.” and it stands for “Foreshadow, Yahweh, Included.” Yahweh is Hebrew for “God” so I’m just basically saying that God is with me. Foreshadow is a moniker that I had before so I just shortened it and went from there. Every now and then I’ll say it’s “for your inspiration” but it’s not “for your information,” that’s what it doesn’t stand for.

TRHH: Was it difficult for you to become a solo artist after being in a group dynamic with Those Chosen?

F.Y.I.: Yeah, because to be completely honest with you I never envisioned myself being a solo artist. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I was happy being in the group and not to throw salt on the group, my boys, and musical partners, I was doing a lot of the heavy lifting conceptually. It was very much my baby. A lot of it was my own vision. It really wasn’t no thing to me. We are in a group but I was very much involved 85% of the time with everything. I had no aspirations to be solo. It wasn’t like, “I’m going solo to get away from these niggas,” it really wasn’t like that. Unfortunately from their standpoint they weren’t really sure if they wanted to do music. The game is a funny thing when you start doing a little bit more and there is money involved. Even though we were very much on the upswing of things and not at a level where we could go solo, people just get weird. That’s kind of what happened.

Going into the solo thing it was like, “Alright I’m here, I got a lot that I want to share, I got a lot of stories and concepts,” and I kept pushing. The main difference between being a soloist and being in a group for me is 90% of it is a lot more pen pimping. You gotta really push the pen. When you’re in a group all you have to contribute is an 8 bar or 16 bar verse. When you’re solo you gotta really step it up and come with verses, re-write verses, and bring character to all the songs. Unless it’s just me and you on one verse and everybody’s like, “Oh, he really spazzed on that verse. The other two are just okay.” It’s definitely been a challenge but in a good way. ameriBLACKKK is my fourth project that I’ve put out independently so the group thing has been behind me now for a minute. I’m pretty used to being solo and now I probably wouldn’t go back to being in a group unless I’m linked with Common, Nas or Joey Bada$$ or something. It would have to be a super-group [laughs].

TRHH: What’s your favorite song on ameriBLACKKK?

F.Y.I.: My favorite joint besides all of them? It really depends, man. Every day it changes. ‘These The Times’ has been growing on me a little more even though it’s a single. It’s a great little appetizer for the average listener but I really like it. I think it’s really rich as a song instrumentation wise. I like ‘Don’t Be Afraid (Yatty Tickler),’ I like ‘Spend Godly,’ I like ‘Blame Me,’ I like a lot of joints. Spend Godly is my joint right now. A lot of people like Blame Me and I can’t blame them.

TRHH: Why should fans cop ameriBLACKKK?

F.Y.I.: I think when they get this album they’re going to get a complete body of work. If they’re fans of bars, if they like beats, if they like to hear edutainment, something with substance but they can vibe out to it, these are all good reasons to get it. Be proud to pay, that’s what I tell people. The reality is the most expensive form of the tape that they can get is $9.99 on iTunes. You gon’ spend $9.99 at Subway. I honestly feel that in general we’re going into a new era where people are proud to pay and people don’t mind purchasing music again. I know we were in a situation for a while where everyone was throwing out free music.

For me personally, right now as an artist if I was to put out something for free even if I had whoever on it I don’t know if people would value it as much. It’s about putting value back into the art, and it is art. It takes time to make music and as an independent artist I would say it’s even more sacrifices to make music than whoever you may think of on a bigger mainstream level that has a big budget or whatever. It’s $9.99 and I think it’s a good album. People will definitely enjoy it and it’s for the community. If you’re into the community and what’s going on with black folks and what’s going on in Hip-Hop in a real way you gotta pick this up and just vibe to it — bump it.

Purchase: F.Y.I. – ameriBLACKKK

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MC Eiht: Which Way Iz West

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Photo courtesy of Depiktions

For nearly 30 years MC Eiht has had one of the most recognizable voices in Hip-Hop. Like Ice-T and Ice Cube before him, MC Eiht is a master storyteller with a hardcore California edge. Whether as a solo artist or as the lead member of Compton’s Most Wanted, Eiht’s smooth delivery and signature accent have painted the picture for listeners of just what it’s like on the streets of Compton. Ehit is undoubtedly on the Mount Rushmore of gangsta rap.

After taking a step back and surveying the land Eiht has returned with his first full-length solo album in over ten years. MC Eiht’s Blue Stamp Music Group partnered up with DJ Premier’s Year Round Records to produce a 15-track album titled “Which Way Iz West.”

Which Way Iz West is executive produced by the legendary DJ Premier and features appearances by The Outlawz, WC, Kurupt, Xzibit, Big Mike, J. Starr, MayLay, The Lady of Rage, B-Real, Bumpy Knuckles, and Eiht’s original group, Compton’s Most Wanted. The album is produced by Brenk Sinatra and DJ Premier.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to MC Eiht about his Blue Stamp record label, which Compton’s Most Wanted album is his favorite, the rivalry and truce with fellow Comptonite DJ Quik, and his new album, Which Way Iz West.

TRHH: It’s been over ten years since you released a solo album. Why did you wait so long to release a project?

MC Eiht: Shit, ‘cause the music was messed up. I knew at the time that fans was gravitating to one sort of music, so to not want to be washed up in the bullshit and the masses I decided just to sit back and observe how music was going instead of trying to put something out to try to either compete or do what somebody else was doing. That’s what I did. I just watched everybody else put out records and seen how the direction of music was going.

TRHH: Did a particular incident happen or did a certain artist come out to make you flip that switch and say, “Okay, it’s time to put out an album?”

MC Eiht: I just think everything evolves with music. When you listen to fans, listen to people who buy your records and they’re telling you what they don’t like, the direction of how music is going, how they feel that nobody is basically holding down the foundation of what we call Hip-Hop – as far as West Coast artists I’m speaking, I ain’t gon’ speak for everybody else, as far as I am concerned what I was hearing was nobody was getting music how we used to do music. Not to say we want to stay stuck in the times but that’s just what it was.

TRHH Premier told me in 2010 that you had over 40 songs that needed to be mixed and released. How many of those songs made it to this album?

MC Eiht: The album has 15 songs on it, so 15 songs out of those 40 made it to the record. It was basically Premier just telling me I had to stop recording because every time I sent him some stuff it would be a new batch of music that he would have to go over. He was like, “Eiht, don’t send no more records. Let me sit down and analyze these and Im’ma choose the best fifteen out of these.” That’s how it went.

TRHH: What went into the creation of the single ‘Represent Like This’?

MC Eiht: Basically me just wanting to bring back the old feeling of West Coast music that I miss. Taking us back to The Chronic, Nuthin’ But a G Thang, Snoop Dogg, and the Boyz n the Hood era.  I just wanted to make some music in that form or in that direction. Not that niggas wasn’t doing it over here, but because of everything else that was getting popularized we wasn’t able to get that. I started to make the single in that direction with Dub C to basically go back to the streets of West Coast music.

TRHH: On the last song on Which Way Iz West you take aim at the artists you aren’t feeling and you say, “Long as the shit catchy you ain’t gotta be lyrical.” Why was it important for you to get that off your chest?

MC Eiht: Well, in my opinion with the younger generation buying most of the music or in control of what was going on and what was popular, I just felt that nobody was putting the serious time in trying to create a good lyrical song. As long as you had a nice hook and it was danceable or something catchy then it didn’t matter what your lyrics were about. It didn’t matter if you told a story, were conscious about something, or were trying to describe what happened in the hood or whatever. I felt that as long as it was sing-a-long and everybody could pop their fingers to it then yeah, that’s what we’re doing now.

TRHH: Take me to the first album and ‘Duck Sick.’ Did you think that term would take on a life of its own the way it did?

MC Eiht: Man, really we was just some young cats in the studio clowning. It was a group of us – me, Chill, Slip, Mike, my man Tom, Rick, Jolly Joe, we used to be a tight knit group. We used to clown with each other and come up with things that we thought was hip and what was cracking. Words like “the Duck Sick” and “Killing ‘em off side by each,” we used to come up with stuff that we thought was identifying us as a crew. Did we know it would take off as far as it did? No, because to us it was our thing and we didn’t feel like people outside of our little circle would really get it. To be playing on the aspect of records and to be out in the Hip-Hop community, knowing how record executives are with censorship and all of that we decided to flip “get your dick sucked” to “duck sick” because we were trying to save ourselves from the headaches from the executives at the label. We would try to come up with slick shit to say.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite CMW album?

MC Eiht: My favorite CMW album was probably Music to Driveby.

TRHH: Why is that?

MC Eiht: Because I was able to express myself on that as far as control of the record. It was my first time producing and being an executive producer on a project. It was the first time in 2-3 albums that I had put out before that I was able to take control of my career and give a project my direction. I came up with the title Music to Driveby and with the cover how you were looking in the back seat. It was the first time I was able to control my works of art.

TRHH: I interviewed DJ Quik in 2011 and he told me how he was messed up about the issues that you two had because he loved your voice and was a fan of your music. He talked about you two recording together and hanging out at Snoop’s wedding. While all of that was going on did you share the same sentiment that Quik had about you guys’ beef?

MC Eiht: I mean, I thought the beef started on some bullshit. I thought it was a misunderstanding of people outside of me and Quik. The beef happened and that’s what happens in Hip-Hop. We’ve had a lot of beefs so I took it for what it was. Growing up and becoming a man, an executive, and a business person you tend to want to get past the drama in music. I’m the type of dude that I like to fuck with everybody and work with everybody. My sentiment was, “If everything is cool, that’s how it is.” I’m a street nigga but I’m also a grown man with kids and a family. I had to look beyond the beef. I feel like when we got to Snoop’s wedding everything was cool and we talked. We didn’t plan on working in the studio at the moment, but I think at the time our mutual feelings were how did the beef happen, it should have never happened, let’s get over it, and if we’re gon’ work we gon’ work.

TRHH: You did an interview with Vlad where you talked about how 2Pac went backwards affiliating himself with gangbanging after coming from where he came from. Did you get flack for that because people are really protective and loving of 2Pac?

MC Eiht: No. I didn’t get not one negative comment about it because I wasn’t trying to portray my nigga in a negative light. Because I knew 2Pac. He was one of my friends. We toured together, we worked on Menace II Society together, so I never used it as a tool to try to downplay or do some of that other shit that dudes are doing today trying to disrespect his name or whatever. My point to that was, coming from somebody who grew up in Compton, who grew up into the gang system, it was just a backwards trip for my nigga who was already a multi-mega-star to get affiliated and start banging. He was already a militant cat and a strong-minded lyricist. I just felt coming from Compton and growing up into gangs that it was a backwards transition to come from New York and come here and feel like you have to start gang banging because you belong to the clique. Some dudes do, some dudes don’t. I just felt it was a backwards move. So no, I didn’t get flack for it because I wasn’t trying to downplay him or say he was somebody he wasn’t. In my opinion somebody who don’t have to get into the life of gang banging shouldn’t want to get into the life of gang banging.

TRHH: Were you surprised when you heard about people in New York being Crips and Bloods?

MC Eiht: It caught me off guard. I been going to New York since 1987-88 – back when it was cliques, crews, Latin Kings, and stuff like that. They’ve always had their projects and blocks but I never knew of actual Crips and Bloods until a few years ago when it just became so large. I was shocked at first because I looked at New York as a place that was the originators of the craft and themselves being original. To go to the aspect of ragging it, bandana flagging, and having colors it was kind of crazy to me.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Compton Zoo’?

MC Eiht: Basically me just wanting to get off my chest and talk about the direction of where I feel cats was going in the music game. I wanted to express myself and then pay homage to my man ODB and Wu-Tang. They originated the Brooklyn Zoo and the concept was that we’re wild out here, we’re still crazy in the streets, and they’re still animals in the concrete jungle. Like I said music is so happy now and so about money, big wheels, and big this and that I just wanted to show cats that it was still on that level.

TRHH: A lot of younger fans have been introduced to you from your verse on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city album. Have you encountered new fans that went back to discover your catalog after your appearance on Kendrick’s album?

MC Eiht: Cats have discovered the catalog and told me that after hearing my verse on Kendrick’s record that they’ve gone back and watched me in Menace II Society or seen me in Thicker than Water. I’m appreciative of the new fans and the young crowd who appreciate some real good Hip-Hop. Not to say that everything is bad, but the young crowd has the music that they like. I don’t fault ‘em for it. It’s just not what we did and they’re not used to what we used to do back in the days. With doing the Kendrick song it garnered me some new younger fans, but it’s not like they took to a direction where they think that Eiht should do what the new people are doing. They appreciate what I’ve done and they’re able to go back and listen to records like Music to Driveby or We Come Strapped. It’s enabled them to see where MC Eiht has come from and he’s not just been around from the Kendrick thing.

TRHH: What’s your goal for the Blue Stamp record label?

MC Eiht: My goal for Blue Stamp Music is just to try to put out some good music. Stuff that’s authentic, heartfelt, conscious to the streets, and has a good feel to it. And stuff that would be true to the origins of Hip-Hop. I don’t want people forgetting about where Hip-Hop came from, the foundation of Hip-Hop, and who are forefathers are. That’s what Blue Stamp Music is about. We’re about trying to keep the integrity of real good Hip-Hop music alive.

TRHH: Who would you say the Which Way Iz West album is for?

MC Eiht: I’d say it’s geared toward those people who want a story in their music. It’s geared for people who want more than just a catchy hook in songs. It’s for people who want to understand what an artist is about and what he does with his music, and people who can understand what we’re talking about.

Purchase: MC Eiht – Which Way Iz West

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Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Skillmatic

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Photo courtesy of Skillionaire Enterprises

Thirstin Howl the 3rd is an all-around entrepreneur. The Brownsville native is a producer, film maker, fashion designer, and an author. He’s also an emcee and Hip-Hop is his bread and butter. Thirstin recently released the album “Skillmatic” a nod to Nas’ classic debut album, Illmatic.

Skillmatic is produced by Will Tell, Domingo, Marc Spekts, Young Lo, Anger Bangers, Fes Uno, W.A.T.E.R., and UG of Cella Dwellaz. The album features guest appearances by Meyhem Lauren, Spit Gemz, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Rack Lo, Dak Lo, Master Fuol, Dre Brown, Sticky Fingaz, and the late Prodigy.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Thirstin Howl the 3rd about the origins of his entrepreneurial path, his Lo-Life clothing line, and his new album, Skillmatic.

TRHH: You’ve taken the word “Skill” farther than EPMD ever took “Business” with their album titles. Why the title “Skillmatic” and how long have you been holding on to that title?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: I always had that title. It was probably one of the first I ever came up with. It was never the appropriate time to release it. It was too close to when his releases happened. And then he did Stillmatic, so that gave me even more reason to keep pushing it back. I had the idea for a long time. You know the craziest shit too? I had the cover for a long time. I’ve been sitting on the cover for years just waiting for the right time. Last year Illa Ghee put out Illamatic and I was like, “Ah, I can’t do it now.” I gave his time to do what it had to do and respected that he used it as well.

TRHH: On the title track you rhyme with Prodigy and you say, “I’m a poet’s first word, a magician’s last trick.” I thought that line was so ill. What were you thinking when you wrote that rhyme?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Just feeling my potential, man. You gotta feel yourself too when you’re working on your music – absorb it. Rap is some egotistical shit too. That’s what I was feeling. “I’m here. I’m doing this. It ain’t gon’ ever be done like this again.” None before me, none after me type shit.

TRHH: What was it like working with Prodigy?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: It was cool, man. It was a humble situation. Prodigy is a laid back dude. He showed love when he came through and got busy on the spot. We just hung out in the lab, put in some work, and kicked it. It was an honor too and I had the right track. I had that track already recorded but I took one of my verses off so I could put Prodigy on. I felt the song just matched the Mobb Deep vibe all the way.

TRHH: You’re an entrepreneur that works in a lot of different areas. How were you able to come from prison to become a self-sufficient businessman because that’s not really the story for most people who’ve been incarcerated?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: I was given opportunities through certain people that helped change the direction my life was headed in. It gave me a chance to see other things besides what I was seeing in my own neighborhood and where I come from. Not that I ever abandoned that either, because I remained with both the entire time. As I was being helped other people were showing me other paths in life that really caught my interest. It helped me to stay off the street as far as having a job and shit. For my last bid I had gotten a job with MTV while I was still on the work release program from prison. A lot of things there through the Amer-I-Can Program for Social Change opened my eyes and my mind and showed me so much that I didn’t understand. I always knew I was a smart dude, but that’s when I realized I was dumb the whole time. It showed me other paths. A lot of people came in to help. A lot of the people at MTV have a lot to do with it as well. Even getting a job there I was shown so much love and trust in everything we were dealing with.

I worked for on-air promo so I worked production all the time, every day. Everybody knew I came from prison. Everybody knew I was through a program. But everybody treated me properly and encouraged me in ways in life to understand. It was a good thing. Me remaining there so long I learned everything about how it is to do a production behind the scenes, not just being the dude in front of the camera. Most of the times when you work the lowest part of any team of production you usually learn to work every job because you’re going to be the guy who fills in any time somebody is not filling one spot. You get to learn so much. By being a production assistant I learned a lot of the production management side of things. That’s why when I shoot a video and I don’t shoot a video, I shoot three at a time. I know how to schedule and organize the time to pull off those three with the same budget money that I would use for one –how I’m doing rentals, who I’m hiring, who’s going to work, who’s going to be sufficient, who is going to be able to push for 20 hours. It’s a lot of things to factor in.

TRHH: From day one you’ve been an independent artist releasing music through your Skillionaire Enterprises label, what advice would you give to an up and coming artist who thinks that signing to a major label is their only option?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Just believe in yourself, man. If you’re willing to put your money into how much you believe in yourself you’re probably gonna win. You don’t have to wait on anyone. For labels you have to wait for them to tell you you’re good enough for what they’re looking for and what their standards are. I guess I never was that. That didn’t mean I wasn’t gonna fuckin’ put out a record or a nigga ain’t gon’ respect for me rap. I said fuck it, I’ll do it myself. I found ways to let the independent stuff help me. When I released a single with Rawkus, which I’m a nobody and Rawkus is doing tremendous promotion for the Soundbombing album, I’m on the album and my name was on every billboard out there so I released my own album at the same time to ride the wave of the promotions and I probably sold just as much. Just because I rode the wave of those promotions and I know how to make that work for me.

TRHH: Was that the Skilligan’s Island album?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Nah, that was the Skillionaire. Skillionaire was actually the first album that I put out through a 4-track and all that. The worst quality of music as far as no mixing. I recorded everything on a 4-track and didn’t even know how to work the 4-track. I put it out and I didn’t even know what a mix was. Skilligan’s Island was like pieces of Skillionaire and Skillosopher together. Skillionaire and Skillosopher were both made in the same way – 4-track stuff. That’s just material I was doing at home. By Skilligan’s Island we was mixing everything down.

TRHH: You’ve been consistent with putting out the grimy New York sound. What’s your opinion on the new wave of East Coast acts that sound more Southern?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: A lot of them are younger kids that were raised by the radio. According to their age it is what was being played when they were kids. They’re doing the New York sound if you ask me ‘cause they were programmed in New York to do the shit. They don’t know the difference. Especially the influence, they don’t understand. Remember that sound has been consistent with radio for almost twenty years already. It’s probably about almost the same amount of time that New York fuckin’ had Hip-Hop in a grasp. They were raised with that music. I understand the evolution. It’s nothing we can do about some of the evolution and things that are happening. Just know how to make everything work in your favor no matter how things are changing or whatever. And if you wanna make change shut the fuck up and just put in the work and make the change. Stop complaining. Everybody’s complaining but they’re not staying consistent. They’re putting down people that are working. Even though you might think that other music is trash, them motherfuckers are working. If a nigga is dropping 3-4-5 albums of that trash that means he’s putting in some work. You can’t mock a man working.

TRHH: How did the Lo-Life crew evolve into a clothing brand?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: Consistency of our style and fashion within the individuals. And then from the evolution of our music making it into a culture. It just got a lot of attention. Just because we created a style that’s religious it’s not time sensitive. It’s not a fad like a lot of other things in Hip-Hop. There were many attires in Hip-Hop that were a fad. Not to say that they were fads, they were trends. They went out of style at some point. I remember when everybody was getting Cazal’s and people were getting shot for their Cazal’s in New York. And then everybody just started wearing Cazal’s again like it’s nothing. What? It was dangerous! Even me, I’m thinking twice before I put on Cazal’s because I remember what it was. You can’t mock them dudes. You can’t mock none of that. Sometimes you just gotta respect evolution. The same way they didn’t like our music – our parents and the people before us, the elders. They fully didn’t understand and they couldn’t agree with it.

TRHH: Who is Skillmatic made for?

Thirstin Howl the 3rd: It’s made for me. I make music that I like, that I’d listen to. If I don’t like one of my songs I won’t listen to it until I fix everything and make it to where I like it. That’s the kind of Hip-Hop I love – the kind I’m making. If you notice on all my albums I’m not catering to nobody. I’m coming with something you probably haven’t seen – a style, an aura, an imagination, some sort of versatility. Something to still keep the game fresh. There’s almost nothing out there that you can do brand new. Skillmatic is for people who love Hip-Hop and they’ll see it exactly for what it is. Know what I mean? That’s the truth. Even though there’s a Nas cover and title there’s nothing I did “Nas” on that album. There’s one song that has a sample of his voice on the hook but I didn’t try to recreate none of Nas’ music or anything like that. I came totally Thirstin Howl the 3rd style.

Purchase: Thirstin Howl the 3rd – Skillmatic

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From the Vault: 9th Wonder

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Photo courtesy of Lee Hayes PR

In the summer of 2010 I made my way to New York City to attend the Rock the Bells festival. It was arguably the most stacked Rock the Bells lineup that had ever been put together. Snoop Dogg, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Lauryn Hill, Slick Rick, Rakim, KRS-One, and DJ Premier performed on the main stage. On the other stage artists like Immortal Technique, Clipse, Brother Ali, Big Sean, and Wiz Khalifa performed.

I admittedly camped out at the main stage most of the day because nearly everybody that performed acted as the soundtrack for my formative years. It was literally Hip-Hop heaven.

I had one bit of real work that day and that was to head over to the smaller stage to interview producer 9th Wonder who was performing with MURS. I was ecstatic. 9th Wonder was a guy I saw come from the message boards of Okayplayer with his group Little Brother to producing for the likes of Jay-Z, De La Soul, Sean Price, and EPMD.

When I met 9th he was classy and cordial.  He informed me that he had to take off and get his stuff because his trailer had been confiscated and handed over to a newly arriving Jay-Z and Beyonce. We laughed and 9th gave me his cell number so that we could reschedule the interview, and we did. Ladies and gentlemen, 9th Wonder…

TRHH: How was it performing with MURS at Rock the Bells?

9th Wonder: Incredible stuff, man. MURS and I have been friends since 2003. We’re talking about becoming an official group now – unofficial official, whatever. It was fun. A lot of our influences were there. Probably one of our biggest influences if not the biggest influences was there, A Tribe Called Quest. Our next album is going to be like an ode to Midnight Marauders. Rock the Bells was crazy. Everybody was there, Snoop, DJ Premier, Lady of Rage, Dave from De La Soul, Nas, Lauryn Hill, everybody was out there. It was a Hip-Hoppers heaven, really.

TRHH: My favorite song that you and MURS did was Yesterday & Today. That song got me through some hard times and I never get tired of hearing it. Take me back and talk about how you and MURS made that song.

9th Wonder: Yesterday & Today is a sample by William Bell. He’s an old Stax musician that did the song “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” which was remade by Jaheim. The soul of Stax Records from the 60s and 70s used to get people through. That’s why I try to sample the works that I sample because it’s got that feeling in it, man. It’s just life music pretty much. I made the beat and let MURS hear it and he knew exactly what to write about. If you ever listen to MURS & 9th Wonder you know we make music that drives people’s emotions and deal with real life situations instead of your normal average “we over here partying.” Nobody parties 24/7. You gotta be doing something else during this time period [laughs]. That’s where that inspiration came from. We got in and knocked it out. We made it during Murray’s Revenge, it was a good time.

TRHH: I heard MURS and David Banner both say that they end up arguing with you when you’re working on records. What sparks those disagreements and how do you come to a resolution to finish the projects?

9th Wonder: They say argue, well, they really mean argue [laughs]. With MURS, any time you got two strong individuals trying to come to one common goal it can get tough sometimes. Not to say that we’re mad to the point where we don’t like each other. It’s just a point where he has an opinion and he feels strongly about influencing me on his and vice versa with me. The same with David Banner, a song that I begged him for five straight hours to do a record over and he was like, “Man, I don’t know,” ended up being the best song on the album – the song we got with Ludacris. Sometimes it just takes a while and it’s just a part of the creative process. We’re men and when you’re men you know how to handle stuff. You handle it, get it over with, and keep it moving. That’s why MURS and I are great friends and David Banner and I are great friends.

TRHH: Talking about David Banner, Death of a Pop Star is coming in November. What was it like working with him and what can fans expect to hear on that album?

9th Wonder: Oh man, that was one of the most bizarre experiences that I’ve had. A lot of people don’t expect to see us together anyway when it comes to making music because of the music that he’s made in his past and the music that I’ve made in my past. Everybody likes to put people in boxes, “You only make this type of music and David only makes this type of music,” but people forget that he was in Crooked Lettaz before, which was kind of a precursor for a new artist Big K.R.I.T. that’s coming out of Meridian, Mississippi. That’s the thing, we just decided to make good music.

We’re both black, we’re both grown men over 30, we’re both southern, and that’s what we have in common together. We decided to get together and make some music for our generation. Kids can feel it as well, but I don’t think when Cameo and Earth, Wind, & Fire were making records they were thinking about my 11 year old. They were thinking more about my brother or kids his age. He’s ten years older than me. I think we’re trying to make music for our peers that they can enjoy and love Hip-Hop on a mainstream level. That’s where we got the idea to do Death of a Pop Star and it comes out November the 9th.

TRHH: You got another project coming out soon, tell me about Entrapment.

9th Wonder: Oh man, Entrapment comes from my label It’s a Wonderful World Music/Jamla Records. It comes from an artist of mine by the name of Big Remo. Big Remo is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, just like myself. Big Remo is a storyteller. He’s a street storyteller, but he’s a storyteller nonetheless. The album comes out September 28th. I didn’t produce the whole thing. Producing whole albums takes a lot out of me. This time I have a production team called The Soul Council. Soul Council members on the record are E. Jones, Fatin, Khrysis, AMP, Ka$h, and myself. Young Guru made a beat on there, who worked with Jay-Z for years and engineered for Jay-Z. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, the beat makers from Rick Ross’ camp did records. Eric G, M-Phazes from Australia did the first single, “Go.” David Banner has a song on there with him called “Wonderbread.” It’s time for me to start putting out my own artists. I’ve been lucky to work with Jay, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, in that order. I’ve been very luck to do that. Now it’s time for me to take everything that I’ve learned from them and all the accolades that I got from them and kind of pass it on to somebody else. Big Remo is the start of that on September 28th on Jamla/IWWMG.

TRHH: You just rattled off a bunch of big names. I remember reading that you wanted to work with Ghostface. Has that even been discussed and who else is on that list of people you want to work with?

9th Wonder: The crazy thing about Rock the Bells is when you try to reach out to people you always run into management, people around them, they got homeboys who got beats. The chance of getting a beat on there is very low. The one thing about Rock the Bells is that you meet the people face up and straight up. I’ve known Ghostface for years now and every time we see each other we exchange numbers because everybody always change their number all the time. I saw him and said, “We have to do something. What are we doing? Come on.”

It’s not that many people, Ghostface, Raekwon of course, I had a conversation with Nas over the past weekend, I’m a huge T.I. fan — I would love to do a record with him. The list is not that big. As far as cats on the come up I mentioned Big K.R.I.T’s name, Wiz Khalifa, the new generation of artists that’s coming out now that are kind of carrying the torch of what was started by us and we got the torch passed to us from the golden era. That’s how it goes. Those are the people that I would love to work with and hopefully Ghostface and I will be working together in the future.

TRHH: Another one of my favorite records you did was the Ludacris song with Common and Spike Lee, Do the Right Thang. That must have been big for you, too. How did that one come together?

9th Wonder: I tell artists all the time, even the ones that’s on, sometimes I think we get to a point and a certain level where we don’t have to do things for free or do certain things just to be doing them. DTP reached out to me to work with a group called North Clique, I’d never heard of them but they’re from North Carolina and they reached out, I went to the studio to work with them. North Clique disbanded and Small World went solo. I worked with Small World for a while. I did a couple records for him and his album never came out. He’s a dope artist and a talented guy. Ludacris heard the beats that I did for Small World and he was like, “Man, I need him for my next album.”

Next thing you know I just so happened to be in Toronto doing a True School party and Luda was up there shooting Max Payne. It was like ten feet of snow on the ground so they arranged it where we’d get in the studio together and that’s where Do the Right Thang came from. He called Common on the spot and Common jumped on it. Spike Lee spoke at the beginning of it, which kind of brings things full circle because of what I believe when it comes to True School and that generation – A Different World, School Daze generation I like to call it. That’s the second time Spike Lee has talked on a track of mine. The first time was De La Soul and “Church.” I think everything happens for a reason and that whole thing came together and that’s one of my favorite Luda albums. Me being on it or not, that’s one of my favorite Ludacris albums, Theater of the Mind.

TRHH: It’s the best one to me.

9th Wonder: [Laughs] It’s dope and it got the Preemo joint on there. It’s crazy.

TRHH: Without getting into the negative side, this year saw the end of Little Brother with the final album. Talk about the legacy that that group is going to leave on Hip-Hop.

9th Wonder: Man, I had a conversation with Drake recently, Big K.R.I.T, Wiz, Big Sean, the list goes on and on of these new artists that say that we influenced them. I had no idea. You never know who is listening but when you think about it we started our journey in 2001 as Little Brother. I knew Phonte since 1998 but we started our journey in 2001. When you think about it if I’m a 14 year old kid starting off listening to LB and now I’m 23, you’ve been following us for 9 years. It’s kind of hard to think about it. Once a kid said, “I’ve been listening to you a long time,” I said, “How old are you?” and he said, “I’m 23. I’ve been listening to you since I was 14,” and I’m like, “Wow!”

When I think about it I started listening to Tribe when I was 14 years old. I listened to Tribe Called Quest all the way through high school and college and that’s been the case for some of these kids that I’m running up on. Some of these kids are some of these artists that are coming out now, including Drake. So that’s the legacy that we left. It was a great run. I learned a lot about them. I learned a lot about myself. Any experience you go through it needs to teach you about yourself before it teaches you about other people. That’s what happened. The music will live on forever regardless of all the entities we choose to put music in. The music will live on forever and we’ll always have those albums that everyone can enjoy.

TRHH: Talk about your position as a professor at Duke.

9th Wonder: I’m not teaching this semester, I’m teaching next semester and the semester after that. I taught last semester, spring 2010. I was brought over to Duke by Dr. Mark Anthony Neal. A great person who taught me a lot about teaching a class on that academic level – things that you should say, things that you shouldn’t say as far as being a professor. It’s crazy for me to even say that. I don’t have a degree, bro. To teach a class at an institution such as Duke… passed that, to teach a class at any institution whether it be Duke or a historically black college! People like to put those colleges over historically black colleges, but to be teaching a class at any university, and not only to be teaching a class, but to be teaching what I’m teaching, the history of Hip-Hop. Some people come to class and think they’re gonna get a record deal, no. This is the history of the music that has shaped your whole life whether people like to admit it or not.

You need to understand why when somebody says, “What’s up, man, what’s going on?” you say, “I’m chilling.” Chilling comes from somewhere! “What’s up man, where you at?” “Yo, I’m at the crib.” Crib comes from somewhere. All those are Hip-Hop terms. You need to understand how much it really influences your life and that’s what I teach in these classes. It’s an amazing experience. I would never trade it for the world. I saw Michael Eric Dyson this weekend at Rock the Bells. I heard he was there and I told my man to go get him. I want to meet him. I talked to him once on the phone and I wanted to talk to him again. He came up to me and said, “Aw man, professor!” For him to look at me and say that is outta here. It’s crazy. It’s just another road I can go down to meet new people and experiences and things

TRHH: What else is coming up for 9th Wonder? We heard you rhyme on the Fornever album are we going to hear a full album of you emceeing?

9th Wonder: [Laughs] No! MURS wants me to rhyme a lot on his next album. He said, “Phife and Q-Tip can do it, me and you can do it!” I don’t know. First and foremost what’s coming up is September 17th in D.C. I’m a part of the Congressional Black Caucus’ panel on Hip-Hop on Politics. I love to do panels. I love to do Q&A’s to see what people think about what’s going on around them. NBA Elite 2011 on EA Sports. Myself and my production partner E. Jones scored the entire game. That comes out in October. All the music in the video game we did and that means a lot. They also made me an ambassador for that game. They didn’t know I knew that much about basketball. I visited EA Sports, it was a great facility and I had a good time with them.

I’m a new member of the Universal Zulu Nation. I was inducted at Rock the Bells in Los Angeles by DJ Mark Luv who is the West Coast Zulu King. If you know the history of the Zulu Nation and Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force going all the way up to Tribe, going all the way up to present day, it means a lot to me to be a part of something like that. And my label, which is very important to me. We got projects coming out of everywhere. I’m just doing that and keeping it Hip-Hop, just keeping it Hip-Hop.

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Awon: Moon Beams

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Photo courtesy of Donique Wiggins

In Hip-Hop we’re all hypocrites. We deride our favorites for stepping outside the box while at the same time criticizing them for sounding the same on every project. With the exception of Outkast, no other artist can recover from doing something a little bit different from the norm. But how else can you grow if you refuse to try something new?

Don’t Sleep Records co-founder Awon finds himself venturing slightly off the beaten path with his new release, Moon Beams. Moon Beams is a 9-track EP produced entirely by French producer Linkrust and boasts only one feature from Awon’s wife and fellow emcee, Tiff the Gift. Awon doesn’t change much lyrically, but Linkrust provides more buoyant beats for the emcee to tell his story on.

The Real Hip-Hop talked to Awon about what he looks for in an artist for his Don’t Sleep label, why he’s in a happier place as of late, and what it was like working with Linkrust on their new EP, Moon Beams.

TRHH: How’d you link up with Linkrust?

Awon: Actually, Tiff knew Linkrust. He did a remix for her – The Same Old Tree. I thought that that joint was wild crazy. She had been telling me that he was real dope and when I went to France I actually got to meet him. He met up with us when we were out there. He’s actually from France and we had a show in his hometown so he made sure he was there. We built for a minute and when we got back he sent all of us those tracks that I eventually got on. At the time Tiff and Dephlow was busy. He kept hitting me up and I said the hell with it, I’ll do it. I was interested in his style of production. I have a very diverse palate in terms of what I actually listen to musically. He fit into that mold. He actually won a Stones Throw producer battle some time back. The obscure style just reminded me of some of my heroes like Doom, Madlib, and Dilla. It was a no-brainer to just gravitate toward his style and just do something with it.

TRHH: Moon Beams is more upbeat than your previous projects. Was that a result of Link’s production or where you are in your life currently?

Awon: It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a result of his production as well as my state of mind right now. Things are better. We’re doing music professionally now. We’ve been to different places and done a variety of shows. I think all of that success independently has helped to shape a more positive attitude toward Hip-Hop, toward the culture, and what it is that we can actually achieve together. When I speak about “together” I mean myself and the crew, Don’t Sleep and what we can actually do without having somebody kick in the door for us we actually created our own lane. I think that’s true for anybody right now trying to put their foot in the door. Technology is giving anybody a green light to put out music and create content that might be viable. God bless the internet.

TRHH: Speaking of the internet, how was working with Linkrust different from working with Phoniks?

Awon: Because we don’t talk [laughs]. His English is okay. It’s better when he’s speaking than writing. Most of the time it was just me zoned out by myself with his beats. With Phoniks we talk over the phone and when we record he’ll come down to Virginia and we’ll just do marathon sessions in the studio. This I recorded myself, I wrote the rhymes, and I sent it to him and he mixed it, mastered it, and sent it back. It was just e-mailing back and forth and no real dialogue.

TRHH: Wow. That’s incredible, man.

Awon: Thank you, thank you. I’m glad it came out that way. This is the second time I did something with language barriers. The first time was with MZ. MZ’s English is really good. He’s a very intelligent dude but sometimes writing things can get misinterpreted than if you’re sitting in front of somebody’s face and you can see the affect and kind of use deductive reasoning to figure out what they’re talking about if you can’t understand it. But behind the keyboard and the screen it’s really difficult to do that. It’s very difficult with deductive reasoning. It was a challenge but it came out dope. I think part of that separation helped to bring it together and be more cohesive because I didn’t have him telling me, “Yo, I don’t like that. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” He took it all and I just trusted him. I said, “Yo, in the mix do what you feel.” He took it to another level and I was very impressed.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title “Moon Beams?”

Awon: As of late a lot of negative things have happened in the social climate of the world. Sometimes negativity takes us to places that are not necessarily here. We get inside ourselves and inside our spirituality. I had grabbed lot of records from a friend of mine, an older cat. He gave me a bunch of records and a lot of it was Funkadelic, Parliament, Bar-Kays — a lot of the stuff with artists that took on an Afrofuturistic persona. Moon Beams comes from the Afrofuturistic idea that we are not just a ray of light. It’s a ray of light coming from somewhere that’s not of this earth – extraterrestrial – something different. The concept of Afrofuturism is one that intrigues me because when I think about the artists who gave us these ideas of black people being something different, something other, that type of upliftment to think about your race being something more than just human. Something out of this world is a beautiful concept when your sovereignty and your freedom is threatened in the least bit of a way.

I had to get away from the negativity surrounding the political realm and everything because there’s a lot of things that are gonna happen to a lot of brothers and sisters soon. I wanted to take people to a realm that was still pro-black and righteous but just somewhere different and out of this world. That’s where we got the title from and that’s where we got the style for the art, which is inspired by Sun Ra, which is the original Afrofuturist. Everything came from a place that’s either from my record collection or from the people that I admire. Nas said it best, “No idea is original.” I just borrowed from elders and put something together that I felt was the perfect mix of Hip-Hop, funk, and every other genre that I listen to. That’s where we arrived.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Cloudy’?

Awon: Anxiety, depression, and just negativity online on social media. Waking up and going to your timeline and everybody’s angry but not doing nothing about it. Everybody got an opinion and yet they’re hypocrites because they’re self-righteous but they’re doing the same shit that they complain about. A lot of that is about just dealing in the world and how even being online adds a weight to us like, “Damn, I don’t feel like this.” You don’t ever wanna just shut it down and not be a part of it because as creatives we have to do it. At the same time it is daunting. Like, everybody’s problems is on your shoulders. Everybody’s self-righteousness is on your plate every day. That’s where it came from, ‘cause I’m beginning not to like people That’s where Cloudy came from, man. I hope that people immediately ask questions about that joint because I hope that people identify with some of the things I was speaking on.

TRHH: I definitely identify with it, but for me it goes beyond the internet. It’s kind of how I’ve always been [laughs]. The internet definitely makes it worse.

Awon: [Laughs] I got you, I got you. Like you said it’s the ugliness and the things that I see in other people that just impede on my world to a degree. Nobody realizes that even some of the decisions that you make become consequences for others. Nobody is accountable and that lack of accountability creates a reckless situation for a lot of people. It’s just me being fed up with everything – my job, politics, politicians, TV, the internet, the content. Everybody is trying to get over or everybody’s full of shit. You get fed up. I have a lot of friends that have been going through anxiety and social problems just because of it. People get real stressed out. I hope that people catch it and resonate with it and maybe they might find some sunlight somewhere to know that somebody somewhere does face the same things that they do on an everyday basis.

TRHH: Your wife Tiff the Gift appears on the song “151” and kills it. The last time I spoke to her she talked about the competition in your household. Was there a competitive situation when recording 151?

Awon: Yep! Yep! She heard my verse and was like, “Oh, that’s hard!” I remember her writing her verse right there and I was like, “Oh shit!” I instantly knew that she stole the show on that track and I just let it go. I didn’t revise anything because I had already recorded my part. She thought it was so strong that she just wanted to do it. That was one of the first times that she immediately recorded, too. It was a good day. She showed out on that joint. If you read between her concepts she took it the 90s for real. I’m talking about things that are more abstract – who’s a villain and who has your best interest at heart? Who’s pulling the wool over your eyes and who’s not?

She’s coming at it from a perspective of grandeur so every punchline she is basically naming the most expensive things in the world. The Michelin Stars, the chef, the six ring queen is an ode to Jordan, nobody else has more than six rings, the Lamborghini V, the most expensive car in the world, and it just keeps going on. The Space Shuttle toilet when she shit, the Pink Lotus Tiffany Lamp, is the most expensive lamp. She just went crazy doing research and everything. It was very GZA-esque to put that shit together and I was blown away. How she was in the pocket the whole time was just ill. It was a rappity rap song. Real emcee shit and I was real impressed. That’s why I put it out first. When everybody heard it they were like, “Yeah, this is the right order.” That played a lot into the sequence and everything.

TRHH: MZ Boom Bap said you were responsible for bringing him to Don’t Sleep Records. What qualities in an artist are you guys looking for at Don’t Sleep?

Awon: I feel like doing something that is your signature and something that is unique to you. And while MZ is a producer that goes through great lengths to produce his beats. You know everything he does is all analog. It only becomes digital at the very end. His set up consists of tapes, rack mounts, there’s not really beat machines there. It’s like the MPC 50 something, I forgot the number, but it’s a rack mount, it’s not even a fuckin’ beat machine. It bugged me out when I saw his set up. He would show me pictures online and we would talk. To know that he’s doing it in the purest form is one thing. His engineer is a beast, too. His name is Koar. Koar has done a lot of work with Ruste Juxx and Duck Down. When I found out the whole back story and said, “These dudes are in Portugal? Wow.”

I don’t know anybody else who does it that way, who doesn’t have a lot of money and has been in the game for years and chooses to do it that way. In fact I believe it’s only Adrian Younge who is completely analog still until the final process of actually getting it to the people. The whole process with Adrian Younge is analog until the very end and that’s the same with MZ. That was real dope to me and that’s why we brought him there. In terms of emcees, I just surround myself with people that I feel like hold their own and that have something that I feel like I admire. If I admire somebody that says a lot because emcees are usually very egotistical. I’m humble enough to admire when somebody’s ill. It works to our success and not our detriment so I feel blessed to know that we’re making some great decisions.

TRHH: Who is Moon Beams made for?

Awon: I was hoping a wider audience. I was hoping people that listen to Hip-Hop but are willing to dabble in different genres and people that listen to different genres but are willing to dabble in Hip-Hop. It’s not necessarily for my core fans. This is something very experimental that I wanted to do so I was hoping that I may catch some people on the outskirts and bring them. Everybody’s palate is different, everybody’s iPod is different, and I respect that. But I wasn’t pandering to any specific audience besides tailoring what I did to Linkrust’s style of production and really just letting him guide the way. It was challenging. He really challenged me with the production ‘cause it’s not the typical beats that I would normally gravitate to, but sometimes you have to break the norms to get the best out of you. Hopefully we might revisit this conversation and it may be a success down the line. Today I’m happy though. The response has been really warm so it’s already a success in my eyes.

Purchase: Awon & Linkrust – Moon Beams

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Sultan Mir: Too Visible To See

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Photo courtesy of Sultan Mir

Sultan Mir is a producer from Las Vegas, Nevada, who now resides in Fort Myers, Florida. His beats give you that old boom bap and are loaded with several layers of soul. Mir has produced for the likes of Journalist 103, Juice, Block McCloud, and C Rayz Walz. The Muslim musician signed on with SunCycle Entertainment and created an album with emcee Recognize Ali called “Too Visible To See.”

Too Visible To See is a 13-track album that features appearances by Planet Asia, DJ TMB, Davenport Grimes, DJ Tray, Ron Ron, Tha Soloist, El Ay, DJ Goadman, C Rayz Walz and UG of Cella Dwellas.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Sultan Mir about the importance of Islam in his life, his initial introduction to producing, and his album with Recognize Ali, Too Visible To See.

TRHH: How did you link up with Recognize Ali to create ‘Too Visible To See’?

Sultan Mir: I connected with Recognize Ali through my homeboy Godilla out in PA. I had sent him over some beats and he got Recognize Ali on one of the tracks. I was like, “Yo, he’s nice.” I reached out to him and we started working. I already had a project in the works called “Too Visible To See” but it was originally supposed to be a solo album. After a while I was like, “Let’s just do this, how about me and you do a collaboration album and just call it the same thing?” I still had the same beats and everything went from there.

TRHH: What went into the creation of ‘World’s Greatest’?

Sultan Mir: It was one of the beats I already had on the album originally before I got him on there. It was just one of those tracks where the chemistry was there. It was a great track overall. It was a great feeling. We wanted to reach out to Davenport Grimes, he works with Audible Doctor and all them. We wanted to get somebody good to sing the hook. It was one of my favorite tracks so I wanted to make a music video for it.

TRHH: How did you initially get into production?

Sultan Mir: In December of 2012 me and one of my homeboys Zach out here in Florida started messing with Fruity Loops Studio. We were just messing with beats for like a few months. I was actually getting pretty good at it and in April I figured I’d go on the internet and create a Soundcloud and Facebook so I could connect with the Hip-Hop community. Early 2013 was when I started going on the internet and people started hearing about me.

TRHH: What producers inspired you the most?

Sultan Mir: Over time we have different favorite producers or artists at certain times. At the time when I first started to create music I was real big into MF DOOM, Madlib, 9th Wonder, and J Dilla. Those were the ones that originally crafted my sound. Then I started to go into DJ Premier – he’s one of my favorites. I’d have to put Nottz up there, too. Those are definitely my influences.

TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use?

Sultan Mir: Matter of fact I still use FL Studio, man. I don’t use hardware. I never got into using it. I figured I learned something and got good at it, why change? I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

TRHH: It works, man.

Sultan Mir: I did go through a few sets of studio monitors and shit like that.

TRHH: On your Youtube page you speak on a lot of issues pertaining to Islam. Why is it important to you to get your message across on such controversial topics?

Sultan Mir: I’m glad you brought this one up. I don’t know, man. During my journey there was a point in time where I was looking for answers and going through a lot of stuff – a lot of pain. The music was helping too but I came into Islam as well. I was able to connect the information about Islam and all the information I had learned before throughout the years about all the conspiracy theories going on around the world, studying history, geopolitics and all of that. It started to have symmetry. It was connected. After a while it felt like this was the truth for me. I felt like it was something I wanted to get off my chest. Emcees put whatever they got going on in their mind to the pad and they put it in a song, but producers don’t really get to express themselves verbally. I wanted to do like those little podcasts do on the history of religion, politics, and stuff like that so that’s what I do on my Youtube page. I did a few of them, I haven’t done one in a while.

TRHH: What’s your background? Were you raised Muslim?

Sultan Mir: I’m Cuban and Persian. I wasn’t raised in a religious home like Catholic but I converted like eight years ago.

TRHH: What would you say to those people who would question why you would convert to Islam?

Sultan Mir: I would be the same way ten years going through all the misconceptions in their view and I would kind of ask the same question. I think through time and me researching it felt like the truth to me and it’s obviously one of the three Abrahamic religions. We obviously have the stories of the prophets like Jesus, Moses, Abraham and shit like that so it made more sense. The word “Tauheed” means the unity of the one God, instead of the trinity in Christianity, which I kind of didn’t accept growing up. I was mostly atheist growing up because of that concept. I couldn’t really wrap it around my head. It made sense to me. A lot of research over the years led me to the truth, I guess. Everybody has their own truth, right?

TRHH: If you could produce an album for one artist who would it be?

Sultan Mir: Oddisee from Diamond District – Mello Music Group. He’s probably one of my favorite emcees right now. He actually has really dope beats as well. That would be great.

TRHH: What’s next up for Sultan Mir?

Sultan Mir: I’m working on my third studio LP called “Amirica.” Amirica is an LP with a lot of different artists, kind of like my first LP Sultan’s Empire. I got a lot of different features on there. Some from the Middle East we got Malikah, we got Rush from Arabian Knightz, and Hamorabi. In the U.S. we got Verbal Kent from Ugly Heroes, DJ Eclipse, Journalist 103, V-Zilla from Army of the Pharaohs, and UG from the Cella Dwellas. It’s a dope LP.

TRHH: When can people expect to hear that?

Sultan Mir: Right now it’s still in the works. It’s still in the recording process. I think maybe late ’17 or early 2018.

Purchase: Sultan Mir & Recognize Ali – Too Visible To See

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From The Vault: N.O.R.E.

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Photo courtesy of Militant Entertainment

Before he became a drink champ N.O.R.E. was an emcee. He came onto the scene in 1996 at the peak of the East Coast/West Coast rap wars. Along with his partner Capone, N.O.R.E. formed the group C-N-N and defended his city with a response to Tha Dogg Pound’s New York, New York with a song called “L.A., L.A.”

What followed was an album deemed a street classic called The War Report. With Capone behind bars N.O.R.E. carried the flag for Capone-N-Noreaga and released a handful of successful solo albums. It was N.O.R.E. that introduced the masses to the Neptunes and their sample-free sound. In the meanwhile he built up his resume and rocked alongside rap royalty like Big Pun, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest.

In July of 2010 I got the opportunity to interview N.O.R.E. fresh off the release of part 2 of The War Report. With an album still on the charts N.O.R.E. was preparing to release a solo project that was kinder and gentler than The War Report 2. N.O.R.E. was really excited about his upcoming album, but if you’re a fan you know the full-length album never actually came to fruition. Nonetheless, my conversation with N.O.R.E. was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in Hip-Hop. That’s a fact!

TRHH: Tell me about the new single Nutcracker.

N.O.R.E: We just got finished throwing out the Capone-N-Noreaga War Report 2 album, which is in stores right now. I really wanted to do something that was totally opposite of what the Capone-N-Noreaga album represented so I wanted to jump out there on the solo tip real fast and get straight back to clubs.

TRHH: Is this new album gonna be mostly club joints?

N.O.R.E: I’m aiming that way, man. I’m really aiming that way as of right now, yep.

TRHH: It’s been like 12 years since you dropped the first solo album. What’s changed as far as your recording process in that time?

N.O.R.E: I think I’m faster. I think I work faster. I’m very comfortable in what I’m doing. This sort of feels like the first solo album, N.O.R.E. , because I’m not really rushing things. I needed Macy Gray on the hook and she came to the studio. I needed certain producers and they came. Everything feels like it’s all organic, nothing is forced, so it kind of feels like the first album.

TRHH: Tell me about the Macy Gray song.

N.O.R.E: It’s called Electrolytes. I’m a big fan of Macy Gray. I was cooking the song up, she happened to be around, the producer called her and asked if she was down to get on the record. She came through and did it that night. It’s a classic. It’s something that people are definitely not expecting, N.O.R.E. and Macy Gray, but then again I always do the unexpected. I’m expected to do the unexpected [laughs].

TRHH: The War Report 2 has a lot of critical acclaim. It’s one of the best albums of the year. Were you pleased by the way it was received by fans and critics?

N.O.R.E: Absolutely, man. For XXL to give us a XL, I’m not even sure about the other writers, but it’s so many wonderful writers and great fan responses. In the climate of Hip-Hop and what it is right now, but probably the way me and you look at Hip-Hop is probably not the way Hip-Hop is perceived nowadays. For a person of our caliber to come out with an album and people still say it’s a classic during a climate where we’re surrounded by people who don’t really understand the essence of real Hip-Hop, I’m very satisfied.

TRHH: How’d you hook up with Raekwon to put that all together?

N.O.R.E: We had a deal at EMI. Rae already had his deal in position. He asked if we would be down to partner up. I wasn’t opposed to it and we left it like that. The deal was Thugged Out/Ice Water.

TRHH: On the album Brother from Another is one of my favorite joints. Why did you and Capone decide to make a song like that because it’s kind of different?

N.O.R.E: It’s real easy, man. I don’t want the business to ever define our relationship as friends. For instance, right now I immediately jumped on my solo world domination mission and I’m back in New York right now to do a show with him tonight. I love the fact that we get money together. Our friendship is real. I don’t necessarily have to speak to him every day. I don’t have to hang out with him every day, but the love for each other as friends should never stop. We just reminisced to what brought us here. A lot of people hear the Phone Time song where we talk about him being locked up and me holding him down while he’s locked up, but this is the story before Phone Time. That’s what you get from Brother from Another Mother. Everything that I’m saying is dedicated to everything that went down prior to him going to jail. It’s like part 2 to Phone Time but in a weird way it’s part 1. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Nobody really understood the gesture of our relationship and what we went through. We just wanted to paint it out. I lost my father, he lost his mother.

TRHH: On another song off the album you talk about Tragedy Khadafi. What’s your relationship with him right now?

N.O.R.E: We’re cool. I bid him his salute. We spoke a lot since he’s been home. I invited him to a show and I think he couldn’t break curfew. We haven’t really spoke since then. Definitely salute to him. Hopefully he gets his stuff together and we can eventually meet at the top again.

TRHH: There’s a song you have called Stay Flawless with DMX and Ja Rule. Where is that song from? Is that going to be on the new album?

N.O.R.E: That song was on my new album. I actually had a record with DMX that I was holding for years. When I seen VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and DMX and Ja Rule got together and squashed the beef I thought it was only right to throw Ja on the record. It was three different camps, my camp, Ruff Ryder camp, and Murder Inc. and Empire. Everybody basically wanted to hear the record. When I sent the record for people to hear somehow it got blasted out and leaked and this would have been a phenomenal great record that could have been placed on my album but thanks to the hackers they fucked that up. Who knows, I’m very cool with DMX and Ja Rule, you never know when another one will happen.

TRHH: Do you feel like New York Hip-Hop is more united these days? I feel like people are squashing beefs and getting together more often now.

N.O.R.E: I don’t think that it’s got something to do with Hip-Hop, I think it’s got something to do with people growing up as men. It’s just like throwing eggs on Halloween. When you was 8 years old you thought that was the dopest shit in the world. Every Halloween when it came around you wanted to get dressed up and bomb people, put shaving cream on people’s things, go trick or treating and steal people’s candy. But then when you’re 18 you’re no longer doing that. I think it’s the same thing. All this beefing in Hip-Hop and all this separation in New York being how small we are I think everybody sort of realizes that this is the time to do it. Everybody’s older, let’s get money together.

TRHH: It’s been ten years since Big Pun passed. Give me a Big Pun story that nobody ever heard before.

N.O.R.E: I have so many stories. I can’t tell you if nobody never heard ‘em. I don’t know if I told this before but I remember coming to Pun’s house and I was shooting a video or something. Pun was like, “Yo, come to the Bronx before you go and do the video!” I went to the Bronx and went in his crib and he had his daughter and his son boxing. It was the weirdest thing. They were arguing and he made his daughter and son put on boxing gloves and just go at it. I can tell you one thing, his daughter is not a chump.

TRHH: What was his point? Was he trying to make her tougher?

N.O.R.E: Absolutely. I can’t even recall if he was trying to make his boy tougher or if his daughter was the bully. I can’t recall exactly but that’s how he solved problem in his house. He let his kids fight. I think a lot of kids should grow up that way ‘cause if you do grow up that way you’ll have a lot less shooting going on. I think that’s what’s wrong with this generation, a lot of these people just didn’t have fights as children. Here you go as a grown man and all you’re used to doing is jumping people or stabbing people. Then you get a gun in your hand and you really just don’t know how to fight. This is the reason why you have so much useless crime going on because half of these people don’t even know how to fight.

TRHH: That’s an interesting point. I’m from Chicago and you probably heard that the murders are off the chain this year. It’s a lot of gun violence. How would you change that now? Like you said, a grown man doesn’t know how to fight, well he’s not going to learn how to fight now — he’s still using a gun. How can we change that end all the violence?

N.O.R.E: Geographically it’s always different. I can probably give you a solution to how we could do it in New York probably ten times before I could give you a solution to Chicago. Chicago is so gang oriented. When people say L.A. is the gang capital of the world, I salute them with two of my hands. But those gangs that derived from L.A., most of those people are from Chicago. Even down to the Black Panthers which really started the gang epidemic. When you think about places like Chicago and L.A., in order to stop what’s going on, I basically don’t really have an answer or comment toward that because it’s so deeply rooted in the blood stream of those people. As opposed to New York where the gang scene is actually becoming pretty bad. At the end of the day for people in New York it’s very easy. You take a gang member, from a Blood, a Crip wherever they are from, and you put them with a gang member in L.A. and pretty much the people from New York might not be the same. They don’t really know what they’re claiming. The same thing with the Vice Lords and Disciples and the Folks and all that. If you take those people from Milwaukee and bring them to Chicago they’ll probably have a whole total different outlook on life because it’s a totally different aspect. I guess that’ll be my answer. I was getting real deep, I was getting real deep.

TRHH: [Laughs] The first time I heard you was in ’96 on the L.A., L.A. joint. I still can’t find that original version anywhere. I won’t say that song set off the East Coast/West Coast stuff but it was a response. Since then have you talked to Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound?

N.O.R.E: Those are my peoples. The funniest shit in the world from Dogg Pound doing New York, New York, and us to respond with L.A., L.A. is the closest artist to me on the West Coast is Kurupt. I speak to Kurupt a lot. It’s crazy because it’s just ironic that that’s how life happens. Obviously it’s no drama now. I was just in Long Beach and I performed L.A., L.A. and everybody got a crack out of it. Everybody thought it was funny. We all sat and got drunk. It’s all love. It’s just like said with the trick or treat thing, everybody’s over it, let’s all get money. I think that it’s funny that those are my closest friends on the West Coast.

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

N.O.R.E: Right now we’re really 75% in. I blew up the Macy Gray, Im’ma hold everything else in for surprises. This is something different. It’s still who I am and in line with N.O.R.E. but it’s something special. I can’t pinpoint it. It’s definitely something that you’re used to from me with a touch of something that no one is used to from me. I gotta try something different. I been in this game for quite some time and I don’t want to keep doing the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty much sticking to the script but instead of the script being black and silver I’m using a little bit of blue, a little bit of red, a little bit of sky blue and a little bit of orange in there. I’m making it bright. At the end it’s going to always be what you wanted.

TRHH: Do you have a title?

N.O.R.E: Right now it’s Super.Thug because we’re gonna make it make sense. We got Scoop DeVille, we’re waiting on Swizz, we got a couple with Scott Storch, we got Neptunes, it’s my first time working with Neptunes in years. Thank you my brother. Thank you for being on point. I like doing interviews with people on point.

TRHH: Thank you, man. I appreciate it.

N.O.R.E: Okay then my brother, peace out.

Purchase the N.O.R.E. discography:

The War Report

N.O.R.E.

Melvin Flynt – Da Hustler

The Reunion

God’s Favorite

y la Familia…Ya Tú Sabe

Noreality

S.O.R.E.

Channel 10

The War Report 2: Report the War

Scared Money – EP

Noreaster

Student of the Game

Lessons

Drunk Uncle

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The Highlanderz: 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag

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Photo courtesy of Anthony “L’s” Cruz

Gunnie Sanotchra and Lefty Barnes are The Highlanderz. Their namesake is taken from the 1986 film The Highlander – a warrior who can only be killed by decapitation. The L.A. based duo are both solo artists in their own right but have joined forces for a new EP.

Keeping with the movie/decapitation theme The Highlanderznew project is titled “8 Headz In A Duffle Bag” after the 1997 film. 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag is an 8-track release that features Billy Danze of M.O.P. and is produced entirely by Anthony “L’s” Cruz.

Lefty Barnes and Gunnie Sanotchra of The Highlanderz spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the politics in Hip-Hop, being a West Coast group with an East Coast sound, and their new EP, 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag.

TRHH: How did you two get together to form The Highlanderz?

Lefty Barnes: Basically a few years ago we were chilling in his garage drinking some brews and talked about trying to pool our resources together and see what comes out. Me and him have known each other for a long time. We’re both fans of each other’s music. We kind of figured it would be a good fit.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Saddam Hussein’?

Gunnie Sanotchra: [Laughs] Shit man we were sitting down and putting together the hook. We wanted to be straight forward of course. I’m taking this shit different, I don’t think Left thought about this shit. I was thinking about the niggas that was trying to take over the world. You had Napoleon, you had Hitler, and you had Saddam at one point. We’re the next niggas that’s trying to take this motherfucker over.

Lefty Barnes: I took it that way as well but I was more like, “we’re tyrants on the mic.” Who are the tyrants in history? Like he said it was Napoleon, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein. I was thinking about it kind of the same way.

Gunnie Sanotchra: As you can see we don’t communicate well with each other.

TRHH: [Laughs] Why is that?

Gunnie Sanotchra: I think we’re too much alike. We’re the same sign. We’re both Leo’s. We’re stubborn and hard headed and shit. He thinks one thing and I’ll think something else.

Lefty Barnes: We’re real quick to shoot each other’s ideas down. If I say something he don’t like he’s quick to tell me and vice versa. I think we agree most of the time though. Beat selection, titles, and concepts really ain’t a problem. It’s more other stuff.

TRHH: Like life stuff?

Gunnie Sanotchra: Regular shit like should we buy tequila or whiskey.

Lefty Barnes: What bar are we going to today? Shit like that. That’s pretty much what we argue about.

TRHH: Who came up with the concept for 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag?

Lefty Barnes: Gun did, actually.

Gunnie Sanotchra: I was tripping. We had the mixtape already called “Don’t Lose Your Head” and we wanted to stay along the same lines being The Highlanderz, taking on that title, and cutting motherfucker’s heads off. Don’t Lose Your Head was the warning and apparently somebody got stupid at some point and we got 8 Headz in a Duffle Bag now. Followed by Head Shots. So we’re just cutting motherfucker’s heads off pretty much.

TRHH: Same Faces is a song that speaks on what could be any rap circle in America. Why do you think we see the same faces at every Hip-Hop event?

Gunnie Sanotchra: It’s the politics. It’s radio politics as well as underground politics. If you’re not cool with whoever the DJ or promoter is at that time they’re not fucking with you really. You have to really go in there and snatch the mic on some fuckin’ bogard shit.

Lefty Barnes: I think too certain artists will get comfortable in that spot and are scared to move on, move out, and go to other places.

Gunnie Sanotchra: Big fish in a small pond. That’s the mind state pretty much. You’re not doing much, you’re just going to stay right there. You’re not doing it purposely but you’re hogging a spot from somebody else – a new act that could be coming out or whoever.

TRHH: Your style is so refreshing to hear in today’s climate. How did you guys develop the Highlanderz sound?

Gunnie Sanotchra: For me personally it was me going back to what it was in high school and shit like that when niggas was rhyming in the cypher. Of course you make songs, hooks, and all this other shit and do it how it’s supposed to be done. Neither one of us ever really broke the surface so it’s not too hard to get back to where you came from. What better way to set it off than doing what we love to do. I don’t give a fuck if a do a song with fuckin’ Petey Pablo – who gives a fuck? At the end of the day I know how to rhyme. I’m an emcee. I wanna do what I have fun doing. I’m sure Left is the same way. We grew up battling each other.

Lefty Barnes: I don’t know if we really developed it, it’s just us. This is what we are. We grew up on Redman, Wu-Tang, The Alkaholiks, and people that were spitting bars and had that sound. Not saying that we’re trying to copy them, I would say update it so it’s something fresh. Today everybody is doing all this mumble rap, jingles, dances, and shit like that. There are other rappers that rap with that old school flavor but it’s very far in between that anybody gets any shine like that.

Gunnie Sanotchra: Niggas don’t really mean it. This the new classic shit. The conviction is there because niggas been around. It’s not like motherfuckers came out the microwave with this shit. We been cooking this motherfucker for years.

TRHH: Coming from the West Coast have people out there been receptive to your sound?

Gunnie Sanotchra: You gotta remember Project Blowed was the epicenter for anybody coming out of L.A. So many styles was birthed there. At the end of the day it all played to your lyrical ability. If you wasn’t really saying nothing you’d get booed and the “please pass the mic” on your ass. The sound is more of a New York type of sound but as long as the lyrics are there. The crowds haven’t really been an issue.

Lefty Barnes: Everyone has been pretty receptive to what we play, what we perform, and what they listen to. We’ve gotten pretty good feedback.

TRHH: Who is 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag for?

Lefty Barnes: It’s for anybody and everybody. It’s pretty much for people that like that raw Hip-Hop. I don’t wanna use the term “throwback” but we kind of coined a phrase that it’s the “return of the boom bap.” Everything moves in cycles. We’re bringing this back. It’s for Hip-Hop heads – people that like that raw, no nonsense, snap your neck music.

Gunnie Sanotchra: The gritty, hungry shit. Niggas spittin’ like they’re starving still. You want to put on Trey Songz, you can do that. But if you wanna wild out and want to go back to some Onyx or some early Wu shit, you got some brand new shit right here to fuck with.

Purchase: The Highlanderz – 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag

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Oswin Benjamin: Hueman

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Photo courtesy of Tayo Adewole

In the muddled mire of mumble rap a Hip-Hopper can often find oneself questioning the future of our culture. The reality is dope music has never left Hip-Hop. Sometimes you just have to search a little bit to find it. One reason for optimism is Oswin Benjamin. From Newburgh, New York Benjamin has made a name for himself by spitting honest and introspective lyrics every time he touches the mic. Appearances on Shade 45’s Sway in the Morning show helped to showcase Benjamin’s talents to a global audience.

Oswin Benjamin is preparing for the release of his debut album and is slated to take part in the 10-year anniversary of Soundset on May 28 alongside artists like Ms. Lauryn Hill, T.I., Mac Miller, Talib Kweli, and Atmosphere.

Benjamin recently released a 6-track EP being offered for free download titled “Hueman.” The music of Black Milk & Nat Turner and their Sunday Outtakes inspired the music on Hueman and give the project a jazzy free-flowing feeling.

Oswin Benjamin spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about spirituality in his music, his upcoming performance at the 2017 Soundset Music Festival in Minnesota, and his new EP, Hueman.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new project “Hueman”?

Oswin Benjamin: At the time I was making it there was a lot of stuff going on, especially in the urban community. I saw the division between black and white. It was Black Lives Matter on this, All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, or whatever. At the end of the day as human beings we’re all going through the same things on difference scales. It may not be police brutality but it may be a parent missing in a household or poverty. On a certain level we all go through certain ills and qualms as human beings. I think that the main focus shouldn’t be on the issues that we face but the issues that really makes us “us” which are things like love, fear, and emotions that enable us to really be human and to experience humanity on another level outside of the wrongs that are happening.

TRHH: Why do you think people don’t look beneath the surface when confronted by a person or situation that they may not be familiar with?

Oswin Benjamin: I feel like as people we’re only a reflection of what we’ve been taught. Especially me, a lot of people that I know and friends of mine that I’ve known they’re taught to react a certain way in situations. I feel like it takes a certain level of maturity or a certain type of life experience to shift your focus. It’s just not everything that I’ve been taught. Sometimes you gotta get those answers for yourself. It’s not a bad thing giving somebody the benefit of the doubt. Not everybody is out with malicious ill intent toward you. I feel like that’s something you have to learn on your own growing up.

A lot of these ideas that are imparted into us are from other people and they can’t talk outside of their experience so they will talk about something that happened to them and warn you to be careful of certain people. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re not, but I feel like you have to gain a certain level of discernment to know the type of people that you’re dealing with. I feel like if that’s not something that you’re taught or you haven’t experienced enough to be able to make those judgments on your own then you’re going to become susceptible to everything that everyone has told you over the years as opposed to you knowing these things for yourself.

TRHH: I hear a lot of spiritual and religious references in your rhymes. Why is it important to you to interject your faith into your music?

Oswin Benjamin: Ah man. A small part of me feels like it’s an obligation. I grew up in the church and my mother would say things like, “You really have to be mindful of what you say and how you live because you may be the only man of God that anybody ever sees.” Having words like that it’s difficult for me to throw that in the back of my mind and just let it wither away. I feel like it’s super important. It’s a message that’s not spoke of enough. I feel like the airwaves are filled with a lot of misogyny and vanity. Very seldom do we look back on the things that are really important, like your faith, the way that you view yourself, the way that God views you as opposed to the way an ex-girlfriend may see you or somebody that doesn’t know you who may try to label you. Those are the things that are not important and again, it’s not spoken about enough. I guess that’s my contribution. I’m going to let everybody know the things that I was taught. Love is important. God loves you, I love you, and that’s a message that not enough people hear. It’s my job to put that in the music.

TRHH: What inspired the song “Dear Black Man”?

Oswin Benjamin: The community I was living in. Just looking around at community, my friends, and myself. I just got a savings account. I get money and the first thing I wanna do is spend it on sneakers. I know a lot of friends that don’t have no suits. They go to interviews with sweaters and sneakers on because they don’t have suits, but they’ll have pistols. That’s my reality. That’s the thing that’s around me. It’s got to come to a point where there’s got to be more than that. Why is this? Why is this all we’re about right now? It’s got to be something deeper than that. Dear Black Man is me looking outside at my surroundings.

TRHH: That’s deep, man. As you said that it reminded me of when I was younger I went on a job interview and I wasn’t dressed properly. I ended up getting the job, which is surprising, but looking back I’m 41 now and I go, “Man, what was I thinking?” Nobody ever told me, “This is what you do,” or “This is how you do it.” I think that’s what a lot of young people are missing – direction and guidance. I had parents but my parents were always working or busy trying to find ways to put food on the table. I took care of myself to some degree because they were always trying to keep the lights on. They never had time to tell me to do this or that and I think a lot of people are dealing with that today – probably more than when I was younger.

Oswin Benjamin: For sure. I agree 100%. A lot of latch key kids, man. It’s a harsh reality. A lot of us are forced to grow up and be adults as children because of circumstances like there being nobody there to watch us because they gotta take care of the adult responsibilities so we have to raise ourselves. In doing so it’s a lot of trial and error. I definitely understand that.

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

Oswin Benjamin: Ah man, it’s a couple people. From the very, very beginning though I’d have to say Lupe Fiasco. That was the guy that kind of got me started. I started listening to rap music real late because I grew up in the church. With my mother we couldn’t listen to nothing that wasn’t gospel. If it wasn’t Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, or Matthew Ward we wasn’t listening to it. I listened to Lupe the first time at my brother’s college. One of his dorm mates was playing American Terrorist from the Food & Liquor album. I was like, “Yo, he is ridiculous.” Then I went back and listened to some more of his stuff. He was telling stories. His imagination is crazy. That’s what really forced me to try it out. I would dabble in rap and stuff before that trying to freestyle and mimic people but hearing it done on that level I was like, “Wow, let me try it out,” and it ended up sticking.

TRHH: How would you describe your style?

Oswin Benjamin: That’s a good question. It’s real. I’m telling my story and the story of the people around me. I don’t know if I could put a name on that. I don’t ever want to be labeled as the conscious guy or the ratchet guy. I’m a human being. There are days where I wanna be righteous and there are days when I don’t. I don’t ever want the music to be labeled under one thing because I feel like as a human being you’re allowed to feel different things. So I don’t ever want it to be put into one box.

TRHH: You’re performing at the Soundset Festival this year. What does it mean to you to take part in Soundset?

Oswin Benjamin: I can’t even explain that to you. When I found out I was overly excited just to see my name on the bill with legends like Lauryn Hill, Pete Rock, and Bobbito. They’re kind of like mythical creatures that you only hear about. I never thought I’d share the same stage with them or just be on the same bill with people like that. For me it’s extremely humbling. As excited as I am I’m extremely nervous at the same time. This is definitely a milestone for me.

TRHH: What’s your ultimate goal in the music business?

Oswin Benjamin: It’s a couple of goals. One of them, I know I can’t change the whole world but I want to allow people to see that there is more than what’s in front of them. I feel like the perspective switch on a lot of things is very, very important. So any way that I can push that envelope and just push Humanism. It’s alright to feel how you feel. You don’t gotta be at the top of your game all the time. It’s alright for you to feel low and it’s alright for you to feel good. Aside from that I just want to make sure that everybody that’s looked out for me is taken care of. I want to be able to build a legacy that my kids and my parents will be proud of. I want to make a stamp in this world, not as one of the greatest to ever do it, but you can look at Oswin and say, “He was real. Everything that he did was real and came from his heart.” That’s ultimately what I would want.

Download: Oswin Benjamin – Hueman

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