Vic Spencer: The Ghost of Living

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Photo courtesy of Perpetual Rebel

One of the best lyricists in Hip-Hop currently is Chicago’s own Vic Spencer. His music is not reminiscent of Chicago’s drill scene or its conscious movement — Vic has his own lane. His rhymes are full of wit and depth, while being very much hood.

Vic’s latest release is a joint project with an equally eclectic artist, Big Ghost Ltd. The duo teamed up for an 11-track album called The Ghost of Living. The album is produced entirely by Big Ghost Ltd and features appearances by D. Brash, Q. Grav, Goose, and Alex P. Keaton.

Vic Spencer recently spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about The Ghost of Living, how he hooked up with the elusive Big Ghost, getting props from the late Sean Price, and his upcoming musical releases.

TRHH: How did you and Big Ghost link up for The Ghost of Living?

Vic Spencer: I hooked up with Big Ghost through a tweet. Somebody suggested my music to him. He went and listened and I guess he liked what he heard. I guess he was waiting for me to reach out to him. It was so quick. I saw somebody say something and then I heard the Griselda Ghost album. I liked dude’s production so I wanted to put it out there that I’d jump down on some Ghost production if I had the chance. He saw that, hit me up and was like, “I’ve been listening. The music is heavy. Let’s do something.” I just started recording instantly. He started sending me beats, I started recording, and we finished the joint in like two and a half months. It happened that quick and I didn’t think he was going to release it this year but going deeper into the project, the last few songs that we recorded made it sound real wintery. We wanted to make it sound like some “winter body bag slap box with polar bear” music.

TRHH: Big Ghost is a mysterious guy so what was the process like going back and forth while you were recording it?

Vic Spencer: We had a few phone conversations and a lot of it was through text. We’d dialogue through text what he’d like to hear. I was actually looking for him to be a critic to the work but just from working with him on this project he already has the self-belief in the person already that he works with. I’m looking for him to critique each song that I send him a reference to but he’s just excited with how fast I’d done the work and how effective it is. He was like, “Ah man, this is so cold!” and I was like, “Man, ain’t none of the songs wack?” [Laughs] That’s what’s up. It was just a process – sending him joints after I’m done recording. I would record a joint for our project every Saturday for two and a half months. I’d send him a reference and he was just going crazy. He mixed and mastered the project so he formulated everything – the track listing and how the tracks should flow. He did all of that and that’s a first for me because I’m normally the guy that does that. He has the same belief and faith that I do so we shared that. We have a lot of things in common – the music that we listen to, the age – the old villains win [laughs].

TRHH: Why did you release this project so soon after St. Gregory?

Vic Spencer: I wanted to have something like a quick strike album. I never did that before. I came out swinging early last year with Chris $pencer, the album with Chris Crack. Then I came out with a Best of, but it really wasn’t like a Best of. It was more some of my recent recordings that didn’t have a position on any album so I put a lot of those songs together. Some of my songs from previous albums are also on there. I put out St. Gregory as my main solo album. I didn’t think it was going to come out but Ghost really believed in dropping it this year. He hit me out of nowhere like, “I’m going to drop another artist’s project before ours,” and this was in between me recording so I wanted to knock all these songs out and get them out the way so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. That’s how I work. I’m sitting on 3-4 albums. With that it was easy for me to go ahead, finish, and knock it out. By the time I finished all the joints he was like, “You finished it so fast. I believe in it. I’m listening to it thoroughly, it sounds like a murder on Christmas album. Let’s drop it this year!”

We were really behind the scenes wondering if we could get it done. I said, “With the position of power that you’re in, your opinion is stronger than mine, I say yes. You go out there and put the word out and it’s going to do some numbers.” He believed in that and I’m glad that he did. St. Gregory got slept on, too. It got slept on kind of hard. I wasn’t expecting anything big from St. Gregory, but just coming off The Cost of Victory, the album that made it to Rolling Stone, so forth and so on, when I dropped this album I believed that it’s better than The Cost of Victory, it just didn’t get any of the publicity that The Cost of Victory did, so when Big Ghost hit me about dropping it this year I thought maybe this will be able to slap ‘em in the head and put a foot on their neck since they didn’t want to give me the praise that St. Gregory deserved. Maybe some people will go back and check out St. Gregory as well. It’s a double edged blade, it just happened so quick though.

TRHH: On Vicente Fernandez you kind of sent some shots at some rap cats. Do you feel out of place amongst your peers?

Vic Spencer: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s definitely speaking to that and I don’t have no problem with that, actually. Last year it came to me that I’m an individual, I’m not just a Chicago rapper. I had to stop looking for the respect from these new artists from Chicago and start building with legends that I believe in from Chicago or outside of Chicago. I don’t look at Chicago artists that I look up to as “Chicago artists” I look at them as legends. I started to put myself in that position and that form. It’s me getting it out of my system that I don’t need these young guys’ respect. I’m still gon’ chin check ‘em, and of course that’s what Vicente Fernandez did.

Also it’s just a sign of me moving forward in my career as a legend. It’s something that I’m trying to go after. You never seen none of my albums with none of these young rappers on it. You only see legends on there. That’s why I’m trying to move forward and not even think about or listen to what these artists are doing, because that’s what kind of got me off track and going at rappers in 2015. That’s definitely what Vic Spencer do, but Vic Spencer wasn’t made to come in the game and try to do publicity stunts and all of that. Vic Spencer wants to be a legend. I want to be around when you talk about Eminem, Hov, Westside Gunn & Conway, Sean Price, and Redman. That’s where I want my name to be mentioned, not with these Chicago rappers.

TRHH: Your rhyme style is different from almost everything coming out of Chicago. How did you develop your style of emceeing?

Vic Spencer: Right. I developed my style of emceeing from listening to a lot of off the grid rappers. I listened to Redman, Yukmouth, and Sean Price and started to formulate something that I could call my own. The beats do a lot of talking for me, too. If the beats fire and it touches my soul then I’m all over it. My style is not to be focused on one thing. When people listen to one of my songs they should learn more than one thing. I have no conceptual songs so I try to stay away from doing that type of stuff and teach things in the music. More conversational. We don’t talk to each other no more. We’re always on the phone or on social media. Humans don’t talk to people how they should or how they did when I was growing up. We had telephones. We had to run home if we wanted to talk. We met up with our friends and did stuff. We talked at the lunch table about different stuff. That stuff ain’t going on no more so I’m just trying to keep that alive in some sort of sense when I’m creating a record.

TRHH: On Adventures of Vic Spencer you reference how Sean Price gave you props before he passed. What was it like working with Sean and how much did his words mean to you?

Vic Spencer: Me and Sean Price developed a real good relationship before he passed – the last three years. I remember him calling me and telling me that I inspire him and that just did something to me, man. I didn’t let it resonate for a legend to look at me and listen to my music on a level that I listen to his. I took it serious but the words he was saying were way beyond me. He always was the type of guy that would spit a rap to me, tell me 1000 jokes, and then drop the real bombs on me. Sean Price was one of those guys that was telling me to rap over trap beats, believe it or not [laughs]. He would tell me, “Man, you need to jump on some Young Chop beats,” and I’m like, “Naw cuz, What? Are you kidding me? I’m not finna jump on that shit after listening to 5000 Sean Price songs. Come on, bro!” We dialogued back and forth about it and what his thing was, was, “Yo, you can be better than me.” He was one of those kind of guys. He said I didn’t need his co-sign. He said, “You’re the type of dude that can jump on a Twista beat and be rapping just like him.”

His whole metaphor behind it was, “I want you to look at it like I’m an old school car and you’re one of the euro cars. You can still drive around, I’m the car that pulls up on the block, get out, posts up, and everybody respects it. But you, you can move around out here. You don’t need a tune up every 3-4 months.” I thought it was pretty dope to get that kind of advice and push from an artist that I respect and looked up to. For one of my all-time idols to tell me that is amazing, man. I always hailed that high to my career because having a person like Sean Price back you is like finding a real diamond in the dirt because he don’t like nobody! He glorified it and people respect him for that. When he starting bigging me up, people respect that too. I’m going to always have Sean Price in my blood. That’s why he wasn’t on St. Gregory because he was there in my spirit when I was doing that album.

TRHH: You said you have four albums worth of material, so what’s next up for Vic Spencer?

Vic Spencer: I’m finishing up the second album with my brother Chris Crack. We go by a group called Chris $pencer. We got the tracks all done, we ain’t got a title yet, we ain’t got the art, but that’s what we’re working on right now. We’re just mixing and mastering. So that’s the next thing that I’m gonna drop. I plan on having an album with super-extraordinary producer A.Villa. He’s from Chicago as well. He put out a compilation with all of the Hip-Hop legends – Noreaga, Sean Price, Skyzoo, everybody was on his album. It was like a Kid Capri mixtape. He’s a DJ but he produced it, it’s crazy. I got an album with him on the way. I got an album with my boy Dr. Mindbender. He produced 4 or 5 joints on St. Gregory. He produced a lot of joints for me throughout my whole career, from the Walk Away music on down. He did a lot. I got my next solo album. I’m like 25 joints in. I’m going to pick like 12 joints, but I like to have 40 to 50 joints to pick from. That’s how I work, that’s how I get down. I’m halfway done with the recording process of my next solo album. Big Ghost said he wanted to do a part 2, but we ain’t started working on that yet. We’re gonna keep that under the wraps.

Then I got this other album called Women’s Bathroom. It’s basically me, one producer that goes by the name of O’Bounjour, and I just went and picked the dopest female rappers and put them on my album. It’s like 25 features with different women on the album. It’s narrated by a woman in the bathroom talking about what women talk about in the bathroom. We’re not accepted in the bathroom. It’s sort of like a manipulation for guys. That’s sort of how the concept came about for the album. The whole album is just about being accepted by women. It’s pretty dope, man. I’ve been working on that album for about seven years, man [laughs]. I ain’t gon’ even front. Every year I put something into it. I want people to care about female artists, especially female artists I rock with. I’m working on that. That’s a real deep project that you want to impress the teacher with, so I’m holding on to that. I’m just working, man. That’s what’s going on for Vic Spencer. It’s a working year and I’m just going to keep it flexing how Sean Price would want me to do it.

Purchase: Vic Spencer & Big Ghost Ltd – The Ghost of Living

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Intelligenz: Feature, Don’t Follow

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Photo courtesy of Cam Thomas

With a name like “Intelligenz” you know before you hear one lyric that you’re going to hear something of substance. Intelligenz is an emcee from Chicago, now residing in the DMV, who takes pride in delivering conscious content. Don’t mistake her femininity for a lack of ferociousness. Intelligenz’ music masterfully combines consciousness and her Christian faith without losing her aggressiveness on the mic.

In 2012 Intelligenz won MC Lyte’s Next Top Female MC Competition which led to a mentorship with arguably the greatest female emcee of all-time. A military veteran who is no stranger to discipline, Intelligenz continued to hone her craft in the studio and on the road and her hard work resulted in a deal with underground independent Hip-Hop label, HiPNOTT Records.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Intelligenz about her relationship with rap legend MC Lyte, the importance of consciousness in her music, and her upcoming project on HiPNOTT Records.

TRHH: How’d you get the name Intelligenz?

Intelligenz: I actually kind of stumbled upon it when I was in Vegas having a conversation about the state of Hip-Hop. I felt like we were getting away from the conscious state that I was familiar with Hip-Hop being in. I just said, “How come people don’t rap with more intelligence?” When I heard the name I thought it was pretty dope and I asked my friend who was there if they thought it fit and he was like, “Yeah, I think it’s you.” My first concern was does it sound arrogant and he was like, “No, it works,” so I ran with Intelligenz.

TRHH: You’re originally from Chicago and on the second verse of your new single Welcome to the Grind you use that Chicago flow. Would you say you learned the importance of the grind from growing up in Chicago?

Intelligenz: Absolutely. Not to take anything from anywhere else but I feel like Chicago is known for being able to make it through the struggle, the hustle, and that includes tragedy, poverty, and success even. The winters — It may sound a little funny but winters are harsh, especially when you’re struggling. I just think it toughens you and it definitely is a grind at all times.

TRHH: How did you make the transition from being a Military Police Officer in the Air Force to being an emcee?

Intelligenz: I’ve always written. It was just kind of my way out, I just more so kept it to myself. When I came into the military I could remember being at my first base and being at technical training school and this group of guys were around freestyling. That was my chance in a new world to branch out and say, “Here’s what I can do.” I was horrible at first freestyling [laughs]. The fellas quickly let me know that. It was pretty much battle rap style – they talked about you head to toe. They also motivated me and treated me like a little sister but when it came to that everybody went in. That’s how I got my courage to step outside the box a bit and speak up, but I was still very hidden. I didn’t necessarily pursue it. My focus was the military and giving the military 100%. At the time I was around a lot of people who wanted to pursue music and it was kind of swaying them toward some decisions that I wouldn’t necessarily make.

I enjoyed my time in the military so once I got out, I was married at the time, I would always write and write and my ex-husband said, “Why don’t you just go for this? You’re out here writing like you’re putting out an album.” I always feared the stage and the spotlight. I didn’t want celebrity, I just wanted the music. I decided, you know what, it’s time. I’ve loved this, I’ve tried this, I’ve tried a couple of open mics in the military and I enjoyed it. I appreciated the applause but I still didn’t feel comfortable on the stage. When I got out the military I decided it was now or never. Either I was going to live with regret or live with at least knowing that I tried.

TRHH: Talk about your relationship with MC Lyte and what is some of the best advice she’s given you?

Intelligenz: I think some of the best advice I’ve received from Lyte is probably some of the unspoken advice. That’s not me trying to navigate from some of the things that she has shared, which I’m willing to share, it’s just how she carries herself. I was just referencing her the other day. She moves with such a state of class and excellence. The biggest thing that I’ve learned from her just from observation is she treats every single person that she encounters like a person who is deserving as they are of respect. There is no ego, there is no arrogance, there is a certain type of kindness and positive energy that exudes off her and you can’t fake that. For me, I like to be around genuine people regardless of whatever celebrity status you feel you have or have been confirmed. It’s about how you treat people and that’s one of the things I appreciate, and how I treat others, learning from her.

Some of the best advice that she’s given me is to stay true to who I am as an artist. If I’m an emcee, be an emcee. Don’t be afraid to speak about something that’s conscious and also don’t be afraid to step out into different areas and tap into other talents that you may have. Overall be true to the craft. The biggest thing I’ve learned from her is stepping back and observing as an emcee, as a daughter, as a woman in this industry to treat everyone with respect. I can’t express that enough because I’ve seen quite a bit. It’s nice to see someone at the top of their career, at the top of their game, with longevity, still have a sense of sincerity to everyone that they encounter – it’s humbling.

TRHH: You mentioned being conscious twice. Why is it important to you, and why do you think it’s important in music to have a level of consciousness?

Intelligenz: I think because there’s power in consciousness. I don’t necessarily like to say “woke” because I think that’s a term that’s becoming exploited. I mean conscious on any level, and that includes having the right to choose music. We’re now in a place where we are so conditioned that if someone isn’t co-signed by someone who is famous we don’t even break new artists anymore. We haven’t even opened up our minds to say, “You know what, I really like that record. Nobody knows who that is, I’ve never heard of them, I’ve never seen any of their shows but I heard this song and I loved it.” On the reverse side of that is, I didn’t like that song at all, but this person just co-signed them and they’re going on tour with this person so because the industry has stamped them we have determined that the music that they put out into the world is now quality. Conscious to be able to make our own decisions, conscious to take our power back as our own consumers, the power that came with Hip-Hop as far as unity. Although there was a period where we had gangsta rap and there are things that we can always improve, we still had people like Lyte, people like Queen and U.N.I.T.Y., we had The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, we had Eve speaking about women being abused — we had variety. In that variety was consciousness. Today we just kind of have this one lane.

Consciousness is important to me because it’s a part of who I am, it’s not all of who I am but it’s an aspect of who I am, and I would like to always be honest with that. Also because I think it’s time we get back to diversification in music. That’s what I think is frustrating for a lot of listeners. We’ve maybe lost 5-to-10 years of an audience of people who felt like they lacked being fed in music. It just became here is the blueprint: club music, turn up. If you have to rewind the track today and you couldn’t pick it up the first time it’s considered a task to people. Some have been so mentally conditioned to get it the first time around and not have to evaluate what’s being said. It’s only about the beat, and while that’s nice in one aspect to want to hear great chords and great drum kits, if that’s what your music renders, at the same time words are so powerful and can last for so long, especially with them being repetitious, just like a melody. We’re just not giving our audiences that. We’re no longer giving them the variety. For me, being conscious is staying true to the music that I like to put out without being apologetic about it, even if in the beginning it takes me just a little bit longer to reach the masses. They’re out there, we just have to keep fighting for them back.

TRHH: What inspired the song Round of Applause?

Intelligenz: Round of Applause was kind of me saying I’ve been grinding for so long, nobody really knows, but it’s okay for me to pat myself on the back. It was a long time and a hard time for me accepting God’s gift. I didn’t know how to balance being confident without feeling like that confidence was a form of arrogance. As a result deep down I think I doubted my talent. When Round of Applause came around it was my way of saying, “It’s okay. Yes, I deserve this and I don’t necessarily need that validation from everyone.” Even though I’m saying I need a round of applause that round of applause begins with me inward and then outwardly next. I speak on a lot of things.

That third verse is dedicated to Lyte. I start it saying, “See Lyte gave me the light and the lesson that’s understood/When a legend lends you a message it’s a blessing for what is good.” I’m just talking about how she takes me underneath her wing, she tells me that I can be unstoppable, which is also the name of her book. In the beginning I talk about my relationship and dynamic with family – the ups and downs, the loyalty and lack of loyalty, family can be by blood, by friend, associate, extension, there’s a lot that’s in there.

TRHH: When can fans expect to hear your full-length project?

Intelligenz: I pushed it back. A lot of stuff was brewing underneath. I just came off tour with the legendary Slick Rick. There’s a lot of great things happening as a result. People are reaching out to me, I’m getting better production opportunities now. At the very latest we’re looking at April, no later than that. Just because of some of the timelines that are coming up after that. My first EP with my label HiPNOTT Records is going to be called Feature Don’t Follow.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind that title?

Intelligenz: Even going back to the comment on conscious state and everybody following one blueprint, everyone is starting to have the same sound. While it’s okay for similarities and a trend I didn’t want us to get into a place where we lose our own sense of artistry and creativity and begin to blend too much. When I have my first official album I want to be one of the first females in quite a while to put out a project where it’s only me. I’ll have a singer but as far as an emcee I will be the only person rapping. The singing parts I will be writing every hook, every verse, and organizing every melody. That also limits the opportunity of people that I respect as emcees that I would love to work for.

That’s what’s going to happen on Feature Don’t Follow. I’m saying be who you are, collaborate with people without necessarily picking up their sound. Like I said, you’ll always find similarities with emcees because most of what you’re trying to do has been done, but what I’m saying is don’t be afraid to tap into what you bring to the table. Whether that’s lyrically, swag, or creativity in how you deliver your verse. I will have featured people on this project but the goal is for us to bring our own talent to the table and not necessarily follow each other so, Feature Don’t Follow.

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

Intelligenz: My ultimate goal I would say number one more than anything is to break every barrier and stereotype about what the female emcee is supposed to be. I want to bring a form of class and dignity that I feel like I had when I was growing up. It was okay to be clothed. Or if your choice is to lead with a little more sex appeal, I was also welcome even if I’m clothed. I got to choose from many different women and pick which one I wanted to be as an example. My representation and how I carry myself, I hope that other young women subscribe to it. I hope that I influence them in a positive way. I hope I lead the trail to say that it’s okay to do Hip-Hop and also speak Christ’s name.

I hope that I’m able to reach and influence other females to say that it’s okay to write, to literally have words that matter and power, and it’s okay to look something up. You do not have to subscribe to this blueprint of us being overly exposed, or six inch heels, or tights or we won’t be seen. If that’s who you are, own it. No matter what I say or the next person. But if you feel pressured and think it’s the only way to get there I hope that my path and how I’ve carried myself brings someone else a little bit of influence, positivity, and hope that’s it’s possible. That they can see my journey and say, “She did it, it’s possible.” Maybe I won’t get there to that Grammy, but I hope if somebody is watching me that they feel like for whatever their level of integrity is they feel confident enough, secure enough, ambitious enough, risky enough to jump and trust their dreams and be exactly who they are as they pursue it.

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Jabee: Black Future

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Photo courtesy of Benji Sukmanee

Photo courtesy of Benji Sukmanee

Jabee is an Emmy-award winning emcee from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His music is thought provoking, inspirational, and from the heart. Jabee unapologetically gives listeners a glimpse of what life is like for a young black man from OKC. Jabee’s most recent full-length release carries on that tradition.

Titled “In the Black Future There’s a Place so Dangerously Absurd” or “Black Future” for short, Jabee’s 20-track album features appearances by Statik Selektah, Najah Amatullah, Meant2B, Deus, Allie Lauren, Hannibal King, Miillie Mesh, Cookie Turner, CID, Ashliann, Adam Ledbetter, and Chuck D. Black Future has production from Sardash, Chris Cutta, Phen, DJ Semaj, The Jake, Jonathan Cloud, Halo Hitz, and Todd Beats.

Public Enemy front man Chuck D has been quoted as saying, “Jabee’s music has the potential to change the world,” and that’s heavy praise coming from the likes of Chuck.

TRHH: Explain the title of your album, Black Future.

Jabee: It’s based on a friend of mines poem. Whenever you think about the future, not only the future of our people, but anybody, you want a bright future, we want successful lives for ourselves and our children. That’s where the title comes from. It was originally written for a Black History program. My friend who wrote it said that Black History has become passé. We’re just so used to hearing it and you pat yourself on the back during Black History Month. She was like, “What about the black future?” That’s what the motivation was behind it.

TRHH: Given the current state of black people in America, what’s the ideal vision of our future that you have?

Jabee: It’s a lot of different things. I guess for me it’s about taking care of each other, loving each other, and making sure each other is safe and protected. That’s all we want. I think that if we did that for each other the future is bright.

TRHH: Yeah, man. Have you heard of the book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome?

Jabee: I definitely heard about it but I haven’t read it though.

TRHH: I just started reading it and the author, Dr. Joy DeGruy, talked about how she went to South Africa in 1994 and everyone greeted each other with, “How are the children?” It was kind of like if the children are okay, we’re all okay kind of thing. In America her son was about to get beat up by a bunch of boys who said he was looking at them funny. She was saying how do we go from “What you looking at?” in America to “How are the children?” in South Africa? I think that speaks to what you’re saying about if we just cared about each other more.

Jabee: Wow. Yeah. I need to read that. That’s exactly right. You hit the nail on the head. A lot of that is we’re so used to and conditioned to only be concerned with our wellbeing and how I’m doing. If I’m good that’s all that matters. There’s so many slogans and phrases that are exclusive and it’s all about me, me, me. Part of my mission is to try and change that. That’s where we get lost because it’s not just about you. If I’m straight, it’s my job to make sure somebody else is straight. If I’m civilized, it’s my job to civilize the uncivilized. If I got it, then it’s yours. We’re so used to bragging about us having and you not having. To me that’s wrong.

TRHH: What inspired the song Tried So Hard?

Jabee: I was going through some stuff with close friends. I’m from Oklahoma and a lot of musicians, artists, bands, and rappers try to make it out of Oklahoma. I’m not anywhere where I’d like to be by any means, but to a lot of people I’m doing a lot. People don’t realize that you’re still sacrificing so much. You’re sabotaging so much of your life. I’m on tour right now. I have two young daughters that I’m not getting to be with because I’ve been on the road for weeks. Somebody back home who has not been able to tour may look at me and say, “He thinks he’s all that,” no, I’m working hard for this and I’m sacrificing so much to be out there. Not only that, I’m doing shows but I’m not making anything. I’m using my own money and I’m borrowing. It’s not about who is the dopest, it’s about getting out and doing it and fighting for what you want. At the same time all the negative things that come back when all you’re trying to do is do you – that’s where it came from.

TRHH: Do you feel pressured to leave Oklahoma? I’m from Chicago and I’m old enough to remember a time when nobody cared about Chicago Hip-Hop. Nobody cared about Chicago Hip-Hop until Kanye. Common and Twista were here for 10-12 years and they did okay. Common didn’t blow until he moved to New York. That was the thing, Shawnna moved to Atlanta. Everybody had to leave to be somebody. Do you feel that pressure to leave home?

Jabee: I used to. I used to a lot. Not so much no more. I feel like a lot of my story lies in the fact that I am from Oklahoma. I feel like just by me being there it makes things easier. I can just live there, hop on a plane, be in New York for two weeks, and come back home. As opposed to moving to New York, jumping in the scene, struggling to pay bills, and everything that comes along with it. Not so much no more, but I did early on because the culture in Oklahoma was small for Hip-Hop music. I feel like now they’re kind of opening more to a Hip-Hop scene and it’s growing. It’s easier to be there and have opportunities at home for rapping.

Before you couldn’t get a show so you try to go to Houston, Dallas, or Kansas City. There are still places like Atlanta and L.A. where there is a music industry for urban and Hip-Hop music, but I feel better just going and visiting for a couple of weeks, recording, meeting with people, and setting up stuff. Then they make it a point to take time and see me because I’m only there for a couple of days. If I moved it would be like, “I’ll get with you next week,” but I’m only here for a couple of days so we have to do it now. I think it’s gotten better, at least for me, to be in Oklahoma because I can do a lot there whereas years ago I couldn’t and it was necessary to leave. I love it. I don’t ever plan on moving.

TRHH: How is this album different from Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt?

Jabee: Of course production wise. Everything Was Beautiful I put out with MURS. It was put out under his name and he didn’t want any samples so the production I got to have a little bit more freedom with. With Everything Was Beautiful I only had two weeks to record the album because he wanted to put it out on a certain day. And I was just in a different place in my life. I was at a place where I wanted to stop rapping. I had just had my first baby, that’s why I put her on the cover of it. Because I was at that place in my life I wrote that album as if I was writing it to her in case something happened to me, they could play it for her and she could say, “Okay, I see what my daddy was like.” With this album I kind of was more about the message. It wasn’t about being super-lyrical, having the hottest bars, and trying to kill cats. It was just about getting the message across and expressing how I was feeling, what I was going through, and what I was seeing around the world.

TRHH: What happened with your relationship with MURS?

Jabee: Nothing, we’re still tight. I was just on tour with him last summer. I think when he started doing the label thing he had just signed the deal with Strange right after. He didn’t really shut it down, he just kind of passed it off to somebody. He was still going to be involved but the guy he passed it off to kind of dropped the ball and didn’t really want to do it. I think it kind of left some cats hanging, but me, I was already on it before I met MURS. It was nothing for me to pick up the pieces and keep going. That’s still my bro. I call and talk to him even if it ain’t about music – just advice on life. That’s someembody that’s genuinely my friend and a big brother to me.

TRHH: How’d you link up with Statik Selektah for Exhausted?

Jabee: I met Statik at South By one year. We talked for a little bit and he was like, “When you get home send me a track so I can check you out.” I think he had missed my performance but somebody had told him about me. When I got home I sent him a track and he said, “When you get to New York hit me up, we’ll work.” I went to New York, he invited me to his house, he made some beats, we recorded, we watched the Mayweather fight, and just kicked it. We’ve been cool ever since.

TRHH: Why is it important for Jabee to speak on issues that pertain to black people?

Jabee: Because I’m black [laughs]. And I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine being black in America. I feel like our culture has been invaded so much, especially with rap music. We kind of lose our identity in a lot of ways. What’s ours isn’t even ours anymore in a lot of ways. I just want people to know that a lot of the things that we see, a lot of it’s wrong. Being black it’s a part of my responsibility. Not only that, I’ve dealt with it and seen it in a lot of ways. Whether it’s police brutality or black on black crime or racism, I’ve dealt with a lot of that stuff. I’ve had situations in all those areas. It’s affected me so I speak on it. I know if it’s affecting me in Oklahoma City it’s affecting so many people all across the country.

TRHH: What was your opinion when you heard Lil’ Wayne say he never experienced racism and was dismissive of the Black Lives Matters movement?

Jabee: Even though he came back and apologized and said he was high – he might have been high – he was just being real. He’s not a normal, everyday person. For instance if Lil’ Wayne walks in a bank they’re not going to look at him the same way they look at me. If Lil’ Wayne walks in a room full of white people they aren’t going to look at him the same way they look at me. He’s not an everyday black person. He’s not dealing with the same things an everyday average person on the streets deals with. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be an average black man in America because he’s not an average black man in America.

I think in a lot of ways he needs to be humbled. The same kids who are dealing with those things, getting pulled over, and having all these things happen to them in the streets are the same ones that support, believe in him, and buy his music. To say you don’t believe in it is one thing, but to say, “I don’t have to deal with it because I’m a different kind of person, class, and individual. My circumstances are different, but I definitely believe that it happens,” that’s one thing. But to be like, “I don’t believe in it, it’s not real ‘cause I don’t deal with it.” that’s wrong. It’s definitely out here.

I thought he was just being honest. He don’t know what it’s like. You go to a Lil’ Wayne concerts and its thousands and thousands of little white kids, so to him white people love him. That’s the reason I don’t use the word “nigga” in my song because of situations like this. The same kids who are at the Lil’ Wayne concert rapping every lyric and thinking it’s cool might be the same ones who are at a private school in the suburbs and when they see a real n-i-g-g-a in 7-11 then they act different than they did when they saw Lil’ Wayne at the concert. Or they’ll go to a party, try to fit in, and think it’s okay to say nigga. People like that don’t know because they aren’t around real people all the time. They aren’t actually in society the way we’re in society.

TRHH: Yeah, but how can you not know? That’s my thing.

Jabee: I think he shouldn’t have said he doesn’t believe in it. He should have said, “I don’t experience it, but I know it goes on.”

TRHH: Definitely. I don’t know much about Oklahoma, but I know they’ve had two black people in the past year who’ve been killed by police, right?

Jabee: Yeah.

TRHH: I know that much! If you watch the news you know what’s going on in Chicago. You have to know!

Jabee: Exactly. You gotta understand he’s not a real person. He’s a musician and some musicians we can’t look to them for their social awareness or their political views because they just don’t know. They’re not there for that. I remember watching Lil’ Wayne when I was in middle school. When you watch somebody grow up in the spotlight, you watch them go from one person to another, for instance, I grew up around gang culture and I have family members in gangs. Where I come from you don’t just become a gang member just because you hang around people. You gotta be put on. You don’t just become a gang member because you decide to one day and that’s the colors you wear. You gotta legitimately get put on. It’s not something that you can put on and take off like a costume. That’s not real people to me. I think he’s a dope rapper, but that’s it. I don’t pay attention to him for anything other than him rapping. His opinion on rap or politics I don’t listen to because it’s not real. It’s not coming from somebody who is experienced in life like an average person.

TRHH: Let me ask you this then, the backlash that Kanye has received for supporting Trump, is that different than the Wayne situation because Kanye actually used to speak about things?

Jabee: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I feel like Kanye, I hate to say it, I feel like Kanye is on drugs [laughs]. I feel like there’s some part of him that’s still there. One moment I’ll be like, “Man, what’s wrong with this fool?” then I’ll see a video where some kids stopped him in the street and he let him rap for him. I still see glimpses of the old Kanye, but again when you get so high up I think it’s possible to forget where you started, where you came from and what you’ve been through. It can make you who you really are or who you really wanted to be at the end. We never know, he could have just been pimping that whole conscious thing just to get in the door.

TRHH: Conscious rap hasn’t worked for too many people [laughs].

Jabee: Yeah, that’s true. It hasn’t. I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. I saw that he met with Trump but I don’t know if he said why. I read different things about him wanting an autograph and he was speaking to him about stuff in Chicago. I was listening to a 2Pac interview the other day from like 94-95 and he was saying how, “It’s crazy how we sell 5 million records and no politicians reach out to us. The President hasn’t reached out. We’re the voice of five million people in our country and not one President has spoken to us.” When I think about it like that I can kind of appreciate it. I think it’s one thing to say, “This is our President, I want to holler at him and let him know what’s going on,” but at the time he was saying he would vote for him, I don’t know. From what I could tell anybody with money wanted Donald Trump to win. Kanye got money so it might make sense for tax reasons to support him.

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

Jabee: My ultimate goal is just to share my story, try to inspire some people, make a living, and continue to do it for as long as I can. I want to be on the road and take my kids with me and have fun. I want to try and be there for people and help change lives. I don’t want it to stop with music. If I’m on tour and I get to your city during the day we can do a workshop or a conference and do the concert at night time. During the day we do a class and in the evening we do the concert. That’s my ultimate goal, to be able to do stuff like that. During the day we go to a high school, spend all day at the high school with the students whether it’s speaking or teaching, and at night we have the concert. That’s the kind of things I want to do.

Purchase: Jabee – Black Future

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Ren Thomas: I Been Nice

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Photo courtesy of Sensi-Starr

Recent appearances on Sirius/XM’s Sway in the Morning show introduced a whole new audience to Ren Thomas but make no mistake about it, Ren ain’t new to this. The north Jersey native has a handful of projects on his resume and is a champion battle rapper. Ren didn’t just get dope, he’s been nice.

Ren’s latest effort is a 13-track album executive produced by DJ Lord Sear called, I Been Nice. The album is produced by Pete Rock, TAB, Level 13, Expo, OLR, Per C Wells, Nemisis, A.U.R.C., Nightwalker, and Solo For Dolo. I Been Nice features appearances by Illmaculate, Twizz, Jade Gritty, Boogieman Dela, Lawrence Arnell, Cambatta, and Skrewtape.

Ren Thomas chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about his relationship with Lord Sear, on why he’s not just a battle rapper, and his new album, I Been Nice.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album “I Been Nice?”

Ren Thomas: I won Team Backpack this year. Every year they have a big competition with about 10,000 emcees. I ended up winning and they were basically dropping a bunch of my videos. One of the videos was titled, “Ren Thomas has been killing shit lately.” I was trying to come up with album titles with my DJ/producer Expo. He was looking at his phone and the video that just dropped and he said, “Yo, why did they say you’ve been killing shit lately? You been nice!” I was, “I been nice, yeah,” that’s why I titled it that.

TRHH: The single I Been Nice, is the remix by Pete Rock or is the original?

Ren Thomas: The original is by Pete Rock. The album cut is done by OLR out of Yugoslavia. Basically when me and Pete first started working together he said he would do the record but wanted to keep it promo so we didn’t run into anything down the road because the beat that I used he had used for something else. He didn’t want to run into problems down the road getting sued by a third party or something like that.

TRHH: What was it like working with Pete Rock though? Did you guys get together and do it?

Ren Thomas: No, I was working with Lord Sear. I was talking to Sear and he said, “Yo, I got a bunch of Pete Rock beats.” I said, “Let me hear them.” He played them and the first joint he played for me was the one I used for I Been Nice. I wrote it and recorded it and Sear sent it over to Pete and he was like, “Yo, I fuck with it.” Then me and Pete started having conversations and are talking now about doing a follow-up – maybe an EP, maybe a single, we’re not totally sure yet. We just did the Doomsday Cypher with Sway and finally got to meet and were in the same room. He’s an amazing dude.

TRHH: Do you think that having a battle rap pedigree makes people take you less serious as a recording artist?

Ren Thomas: I don’t want to generalize myself in that category because I came into battle rap different than a lot of other people did. I was already making music when I came into battle rap, so I was using battle rap as a tool to promote my music. Nowadays a lot of people these days don’t actually rap, they just do battle rap. It’s kind of strange to me that people do that. When I came in I was a recording artist already. I had a deal and the deal was stopping me from putting music out. The only option I had to keep rhyming all the time was to do battle rap. I decided to do it and that’s when I met Poison Pen and PH. Because I already had records out before I started battle rapping I feel like I wasn’t placed in the same category. I feel like I was always a better songwriter than a battle rapper in general.

TRHH: Have you ever felt the need to dumb down your rhymes to attract a bigger fan base?

Ren Thomas: I wouldn’t say I ever felt the need to do it. I definitely have. Even me as a listener to a lot of different kinds of music, because I have a really eclectic style where I don’t solely listen to Hip-Hop really. Sometimes I like when music is a little more dumbed down for certain reasons. It’s not the kind of stuff you’re going to listen to and gain knowledge from. Sometimes you just want to have a drink and smoke out with your homies and not have to pay attention to every little detail of every bar to catch it. I would never dumb down and say things that I didn’t believe in or rap about being a thug or selling crack or walking around with a pistol on me. I feel like that would be dumbing it down for someone like me because that would be me selling out and not talking about what I believe in. Sometimes the rhymes aren’t as crazy with over the head punch lines. Sometimes it’s cool to lay back and let the beat breathe a little bit and treat your words as if they’re another instrument.

TRHH: I was surprised at how versatile you are on this album actually. The music is very different. Is that consistent with how you’ve always been or was that something you went for specifically on this project?

Ren Thomas: Well, when I sit down and do a project I don’t really think about what I’m going to do. I kind of just take what I’m being surrounded by at the moment and start to write about it. I bring in producers I vibe with at that particular time. This album is really, really diverse. When I put out my previous project, “Who the Fuck is Ren Thomas?” I feel like every song sounded like it was a different album. This album sounds like every song fits it, but it’s very, very different in the way that I deliver on every song. I don’t want to always be so bar heavy and aggressive. Sometimes I want to lay back. Sometimes I want to make songs about getting my dick sucked. Sometimes I want to make songs about fighting. There are so many different personalities that I have inside of me that I want to release. I like to sing a little bit. I really started to experiment a lot on this album and through that I gained a lot of beautiful records, I feel.

TRHH: How has working with Lord Sear helped you to move forward in the game?

Ren Thomas: Sear is one of the most respected people from Stretch and Bobbito, his show on Shade 45, and Walk like a Duck. If you mention Lord Sear to somebody and they don’t know who he is then they basically don’t really know much about Hip-Hop because he’s such a pioneer. Me and him basically linked up and he started helping me out and getting me placed in the right situations and meeting a lot of the right people. I was the first artist he vouched for to be on Sway and Sway was highly impressed so he brought me back for the Doomsday Cypher. Working with Sear has basically pushed me to the next level. He’s just a great dude, yo. That’s my brother at the end of the day. I didn’t know who he was when we met each other and he didn’t know who I was. We were just two guys sitting next to each other at a bar, having drinks, and bullshitting with each other about sports. Mr. Len from Company Flow actually told him that I was one of his favorite rappers coming out of Jersey. Sear reached out to me a few weeks later, I sent him some music and he said this is who I am. I was like, “Oh shit, you’re Lord Sear?” I had no idea who he was. I met him as Chris or whatever his first name is. Working with him has really taken me to the next level. Just having that co-sign of him on this project is going to do a lot of extra numbers for me. I appreciate the fuck out of him.

TRHH: What’s your favorite song on the album?

Ren Thomas: I think that my favorite song on the album is probably “Focus.” I really, really like that record. I speak a lot of truth in that about what was happening in my life when I was recording this album. I talk about winning Team Backpack and pulling over on the side of the road and crying. I sold my first record that morning. It was the first record I ever sold to somebody. I made a bunch of money and went to Team Backpack and on the way I had Shade 45 on and my record came on. It never really hit me that I’d never been able to take the time to really be in the moment and see what I’ve been doing the last year. That was a moment of reflection for me like, “Damn, I just did a bunch of crazy shit!” I talk about my ex-girl on that record and I feel like I sing really well on it, too. Nightwalker did the production, I feel like it’s a phenomenal song. It’s like choosing your favorite kid. I feel like all 13 records on there are amazing in their own way, but that one speaks to me a lot.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with I Been Nice?

Ren Thomas: I hope to achieve a bigger fan base. I’m always trying to grow that. I’m trying to tell people that, especially coming from battle rap, people constantly put me under that banner – I’ll rep that banner, that’s fine, but battle rappers can make music. Just because I spit really dope bars doesn’t mean I can’t make great records. I feel like this album is full of great records and people aren’t going to be able to deny that. I ain’t trying to change the world with it or nothing, I’m just trying to make it a step closer to changing the world.

Purchase: Ren Thomas – I Been Nice

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Daniel Son: Divizion Rivals

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Photo courtesy of Colin Borley

Photo courtesy of Colin Borley

Daniel Son and Saipher Soze are two emcees from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. While they’re both young in age they are longtime musical collaborators. Their lyrics and flows are reminiscent of a time when groups were at the forefront of Hip-Hop and each members voice complimented the other. The undeniable chemistry of the Daniel and Saipher led to a union with production team and record label Crate Divizion. The result is an album called Divizion Rivals.

Divizion Rivals is a free project tailor made for those that love raw beats and rhymes. PhybaOptikz, Giallo Point and Vic Grimes of Crate Divizion produced Divizion Rivals. The 14-track album features appearances by Skuddy Rankz, Blizz & Raspy, and SmooVth.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Daniel Son about his history with Saipher Soze, the Toronto rap scene, and his new album, Divizion Rivals.

TRHH: How did you and Saipher Soze link up for this project?

Daniel Son: First off me and Saipher made our first track together when we were 13 years old. We met when we were in grade 8. We’ve been building ever since then. We never actually released a tape before, so this is the first time we’re dropping a tape. We’ve got hundreds of songs we made over the years. For 14 years we’ve been rhyming together. We’re both 27 now and we linked up when we were 13.

TRHH: Why did it take so long to do a project?

Daniel Son: We never really had the situation that we have now. We have a team of producers that we work with – The Crate Divizion. We just never really had the vision. Now we have the vision and understand what we’re trying to do with the music. The situation is proper now. We’re dropping on Crate Divizion’s independent label. It’s a good look. We’re both at the top of our game. We’re focused. We pretty much just banged out this tape in a month.

TRHH: Why’d you name the album Divizion Rivals?

Daniel Son: I’m a Washington Redskins fan and he’s a Giants fan. Off of that and the label and producers are named Crate Divizion so we just flipped it like that. On the cover I’m in all Redskins gear and he’s in all Giants gear. We’re kind of bringing that theme across and flipping the words a bit.

TRHH: How was doing this project different from doing The Gunners Tape?

Daniel Son: I didn’t really know that I was making The Gunners Tape until I started getting a collection of tracks. Really since the summer time I’ve been working on three albums. Each one is produced by each of the Crate Divizion producers. Gunners Tape was produced by Giallo Point from London, England. Really I was just recording a whole bunch of joints. The producers were flooding me with beats. I was going to the studio, that’s another different aspect, actually going to the studio for that album. I was going to a studio called Number 9 Studio in Toronto. Drake and his people are always in that studio. That studio is seriously official.

This whole tape I recorded at my crib and mixed the whole thing. We’re handling all the recording, mixing, and mastering ourselves. With this one we had the vision. With Gunners Tape I had a good collection of songs. I put it together and didn’t know what to expect. When I released that DJ Eclipse picked it up, DJ Premier, and PF Cuttin’. That made say, “I have to go real hard now.” I went to Soze and was like, “Bro, I’m not trying to make this shit about me. We gotta do a tape so we can both get the shine.” We got the vision now. We’re sitting down doing all of these tracks together. I’m banging out my verse and sending it to him and he lives five minutes from the crib so he’ll fly over and knock out the track just like that.

TRHH: Talk a little about the single Test Drive.

Daniel Son: Test Drive was one of the first tracks that we recorded. It’s crazy, I just moved into a new spot and my landlord is the best reggae artists in Canada – literally he’s the number one reggae artist in Canada. Through him I’ve been meeting a lot of local legends and a lot of the OG’s. He’s exposing them to my music and the love I’ve been getting from all the OG’s made us want to put that video out first because the OG’s say we got that “bring ‘em back” type of thing. We wanted to start it out with that, set the tempo off right, salute the OG’s in the game, and move forward from there. That track is vintage Vic Grimes on the beat. That’s his alley all day. That get away pursuit music is what we specialize in.

TRHH: We always hear about Drake when it comes to Toronto but not much else. What’s the Toronto Hip-Hop scene like?

Daniel Son: You’re right about that. Drake has shined a lot of light on the city, though. The scene is really inspired right now, even the music isn’t really my style of music. There’s a lot of youngins that are popping off right now. There’s this cat Top5, he’s like 17-18 years old and he just did a track with Styles P. He’s from a big hood out here called Jungle. He brought Styles P to Jungle. I don’t think Styles has really been to the hood in TO and they brought him to the hood. There’s some people that are popping but they’re really trying to make drill music. All the youngins out here are trying to copy Chicago as heavy as they can, even down to the language.

Everybody’s an opp out here now and the shorty’s are all thots. All the youngins that are really popping and getting views on YouTube are inspired by Chicago and making Toronto-themed drill music. There’s not a lot of people like us that are making music like we’re making, that’s why I know our shit is gonna pop soon. There’s some cats but they had their chance. There’s some people that were making our style of music while we were still coming up. They had their head start on us, but it’s our time now. They had their chance to make it pop now we’re gonnna make TO pop with this classic music.

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

Daniel Son: Nas, Redman. When I was young I start doing the text battles when I was 9 years old. My uncle Danny is from Harlem. He had a record label called Bulletproof Records. They won the Canadian version of a Grammy for reggae – a Juno. He had a studio in his basement. Every time I would go over there for family functions I would see the studio and he had old Hot 97 tapes of Big L freestyles and my cousin would bump that. I don’t even know what made me start rapping. I just know I would bite rappers lyrics on one message board and use them on another message board. I got caught and I had bit so many rhymes already that I knew what it took to make an ill verse. I owe all my bars to text battles.

TRHH: Text battles? Explain to me what that is.

Daniel Son: I used to go on My name back then used to be Technique. You sign up and people would put out open challenges so you say “Let’s battle.” You set a little due date, write your verse trying to play off the man’s name or where he said he’s from – that’s how I learned how to make punch lines – straight up. When I was little I used to take the Freestyle Friday verses. That’s how I got caught stealing bars off Freestyle Fridays and a man called me out. I was like, “I ain’t gotta bite no more. I already know what it takes to make an ill verse.”

That shit was big, bro. I was like the youngest text battle champion of all-time. I was literally like 9 years old battling grown men and shit. What’s funny is they don’t call it free styling, they call it “key styling.” There used to be MSN chat rooms where motherfuckers would go there and battle. When I was young I didn’t want to do records, I wanted to be a ghostwriter. I recorded my first track at 12 years old. My pops bought me a mic and I was using Cool Edit Pro. I mastered that shit by the time I was 14 years old. That was the life back then, bro. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been going hard with this shit.

TRHH: What can people expect to hear on Divizion Rivals?

Daniel Son: Divizion Rivals has a good mix and a good balance of everything. It doesn’t matter what type of style you go there for. There’s jazz samples, slow tempo, high tempo, there’s joints with banging drums, there’s joints with no drums, there’s all types of saxophones. We make our vintage getaway driver music. We make music for people to steal boats, helicopters, all types of shit like that. High pursuit speed chases. Giallo Point and Vic Grimes handle 50/50 of the producer duties. My dude PhybaOptikz only has one joint on there. The beats are crazy.

My dude Soze is about to show why he’s the illest. I’m just here trying to set up the alley oops all day. I’m setting up the assists. People kind of know about me, but my man is about to jump on the scene in a big way with this tape. Everybody that knows us is saying, “Wow, it’s his time.” He’s ready to step into the spotlight. I’m excited for him. This is some good shit. There’s going to be a track for everybody on there. I wouldn’t even say that we’re rappers no more, we’re more like jazz vocalists with how many jazz-inspired themes there are. It’s good music at the end of the day – original production, good sampling, the bars are there, and the hooks are there. We got like two features and the rest is just us. It’s not a feature heavy tape, it’s just us going back and forth – good shit.

Download: Saipher Soze & Daniel Son – Divizion Rivals

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War Church: Gunship Diplomacy

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Photo courtesy of Roy Gardiner Jr.

Photo courtesy of Roy Gardiner Jr.

SKECH185 & Analog(ue) Tape Dispenser are War Church. From Chicago, Illinois and Houston, Texas respectively, the group released their debut album New Age Middle Finger in 2011. SKECH’s unorthodox rhyme style meshes perfectly with ATD’s electronic-influenced production to create for lack of a better term, a beautiful mess.

War Church returned in 2016 with a full-length follow-up album called Gunship Diplomacy. The 12-track album is produced entirely by Analog(ue) Tape Dispenser and features appearances by I.B. Fokuz, Lamon Manuel, Teddy Faley, Malakh EL, and Collasoul Structure.

The Real Hip-Hop chatted with ATD and SKECH185 of War Church about their unique sound, their growth as artists, and their new album, Gunship Diplomacy.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Gunship Diplomacy.

ATD: Gunship Diplomacy refers to “Big stick ideology”; another way of saying “Walk softly, and carry a big stick.” It refers specifically to the practice of displaying naval superiority during political negotiations with foreign entities. In short, it’s the act of parking a gunship off the coast of another nation with whom you are negotiating. For me, the record’s title is an expression of the frustration we feel politically and with the music industry, in general. The record is our gunboat, the threat of our superiority [laughs].

SKECH185: This record is very uncompromising. It doesn’t placate to a particular audience nor does it beg for acceptance in anyway. It was put together over a good stretch of time so all signs of trying to keep up with current trends was nixed very early in the process. Because of those elements we needed a title that fit that school of thought. When ATD suggested that all I could say was “fuck yeah.” In all seriousness, over the period between New Age Middle Finger and Gunship Diplomacy I felt like indie rap became more visually artsy without taking steps in that direction sonically and in large part became very vanilla in approach. Everyone is overly branded and media trained. Excellent merch, great logo’s but lacking heft in terms of content and subject matter until the rise of the next guard 3 years ago. That said, this is an assault on the adopted frailty of the indie rap scene and self-victimization championed by many socially conscious people. You either step out of the way or get left as rubble.

TRHH: How is this album different from New Age Middle Finger?

ATD: To me, Gunship Diplomacy is much more mature record than N.A.M.F.; I mean that in terms of how we produced it and it’s production quality in general, and the content that lies within. When we made N.A.M.F., we were two broke kids in college and, to me, that life experience is ingrained in that record. Now, we’re both in our 30s, I mean, SKECH was the best man at my wedding. We’ve gotten older. That comes with some bonus attributes like more patience with specific projects and a slightly greater social and political awareness. I think those old man attributes show themselves throughout GSD.

SKECH185: In many ways, this album lacks the insecurities of N.A.M.F., whereas we were testing the waters of our sound and technique on the first one but now we know who we are. I truly believe becoming more mature as men helped shape the writing in regards to our willingness to say “fuck it” and go for the unfamiliar. We threw traditional rap formats out of the window and tried to make something that was foreign to us because we are aging weirdoes and we care less about peer approval.

Lyrically, there is far more ownership of the man that I have become than it was on the first record. Ownership of ones message is a very big thing to me because I’ve seen the positive and negative effects my music has had on people in my life. I don’t play it safe but I respect the power of words and don’t throw anything out there for shock value in the way I think I did a few times on N.A.M.F.

TRHH: What are the origins of the name “War Church?”

ATD: Christianity strangely enough. It started as a conversation in the Flat Iron in Chicago. We were talking about the origins of the Christian faith over cheap beer and whiskey. Recently, I’d seen a documentary about a religious scholar that theorized that Yahweh, the Christian god whose roots begin in, at least, the Canaanite pantheon if not beyond that, may have initially been a god of war. I don’t recall the exact conversation but we both agreed it was interesting that all of these people professing this supposed faith of peace would really be worshipping an old god of war every Sunday, at which point SKECH shouted “War Church!” and the project we were already working on took on a name.

TRHH: Was it difficult for you guys to do this album being in different cities?

ATD: For me, our process is a curiosity. I’m not really aware of anyone else that works how we do but, I mean, it’s sort of a recent development in human history that we are even able to work this way; over the internet. We tend to, sort of, go into our own black holes or silos and work solo and, after a few weeks or months we’ll share something. I’ll hit his inbox with a beat or he’ll hit mine with a recording or some lyrics and we’ll just kind of go from there; sharing notes, re-working ideas, et cetera.

SKECH185: I find it kind of magical in the respect that without speaking to each other about our progress or process, we will turn around and have things that sync up. In truth, I write most of my rhymes without having a beat and he doesn’t sequence his beats for regular rhyme structure yet when he sends them to me I, more or less, have verses of the same tone structure fairly similarly to his sequencing. Of course there is reworking but not as much as you would think. Thanks to the internet, we can talk and bullshit or chew the fat about society at large and that friendship I believe forms the bridge between cities.

ATD: In terms of its difficulty, I don’t know. We definitely don’t have a lot of direct contact during the albums actual, physical development, if you know what I mean. I’m not there when he records a verse, he’s not around when I’m making a beat. That comes with it’s own set of inherent problems, but I don’t know that I’d say it’s especially difficult given the availability of cell phones and the internet.

TRHH: ATD, what’s your production set up consist of?

ATD: I think most producers would laugh at my set up, if it even qualifies as one. At this point, it consists of a Macbook Air and an $80 USB record player. I predominantly use Ableton as my DAW but, on occasion, I’ll fire up Reason. Inside of those, I use a few different software synths. That said, most of Destroyer and Gunship Diplomacy use the standard Ableton kit. I’m content to mouse-in samples, synths, drum hits, and use my QWERTY keyboard as a midi-controller. I mean, I’ve had various pieces of gear over the last, something like 17 years, but at the end of the day I’m just not a gear head. It’s not about that for me. The tool is just the means for an end result.

TRHH: How would you guys classify the sound of War Church?

ATD: I have no idea. I listen to this record and can’t really point out its origins. In a way it feels alien, even to me. It’s aggressive, it’s frenetic, it’s noisy, it’s socially and politically aware. It’s something I’d like to see Hip-Hop in general move towards; recapturing that anger and class consciousness it once had in acts like Public Enemy.

SKECH185: I agree. The goal was to make something as unfamiliar to the genre as possible. It’s uncompromising, intense, artsy as fuck, intelligent, goofy and tries not be referential. Because of that, and laziness, we haven’t really come up with a catchy name yet [laughs]!

TRHH: Who is Gunship Diplomacy for?

ATD: For anyone with $9.99 [laughs]. In all seriousness, I think it’s for people like us — frustrated people who see in the world so much ignorance and ill will towards men.

SKECH185: I used to say we make music for people who read books and lift weights [laughs]. Perhaps it’s for the folks who feel like they can almost see the hidden cameras capturing the mundane and magnificent for the entertainment of an unknown audience.

Purchase: War Church – Gunship Diplomacy

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MZ Boom Bap: The Rawness

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Photo courtesy of Ca L Rodrigues

Photo courtesy of Ca L Rodrigues

MZ Boom Bap is a producer from Porto, Portugal. Part of his name (Boom Bap) is indicative of the style he brings forth in his music. MZ’s classic Hip-Hop sound has caught the ears of emcees throughout Europe and America. His music also caught the ears of Awon and Phoniks of Don’t Sleep Records.

MZ’s first official release comes courtesy of Don’t Sleep Records and is entitled “The Rawness EP.” The Rawness EP contains six tracks of Boom Bap’s production with vocal assistance from Awon & Phoniks, Curtis Roach, Philo, Ryler Smith, Nemesyzz Rigby, and MC Shinobi.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to MZ Boom Bap about the Portuguese Hip-Hop scene, why he prefers working with new artists over established artists, and about his new EP, The Rawness.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new EP, The Rawness.

MZ Boom Bap: I chose that title because I try to use old machines like the Akai s950, the Ensoniq EPS-16, and the MPC 2000 – old dirty stuff – 12 bit machines. I try to make it sound like it did in the early 90s. I chose that title because of that and also because I like my sound not clean. I like my sound dirty and I tried to put noise on this EP.

TRHH: Did you always use those old machines?

MZ Boom Bap: Yes, always. I never use software. I use only machines. I never liked software and computers. I’m not good at computers. I’m bad with computers and for me the process of creating is better with machines.

TRHH: What does the “MZ” in your name stand for?

MZ Boom Bap: It stands for “mistake” but with a Z. In my country my name is Jose [JO-ZAY], but people call me “Ze” [ZAY]. I put the Z in the middle. Many people think I’m a girl.

TRHH: I did. I thought you were a girl. I don’t know if it’s an American thing but here we’re used to seeing “Mz” as “Ms.”

MZ Boom Bap: That’s true. Many people before knowing me thought I was a woman and call me “sis” and all that. In my country we don’t have that meaning. In your country you’d call me “Ze” [ZEE].

TRHH: Right. In America and maybe in other places too your name would be pronounced Jose [HO-ZAY].

MZ Boom Bap: Yes, because you have that Spanish word. Portuguese and Spanish are very similar languages. Only talking you can feel the difference.

TRHH: I have a friend from Brazil who is in America now and she’s taught me some Portuguese words…

MZ Boom Bap: It’s the same language. We write the same way and all that because Portugal discovered Brazil. It’s an old colony.

TRHH: Yeah, I know. That’s a long story [laughs].

MZ Boom Bap: I don’t know if it’s true or not [laughs].

TRHH: No, no. It’s true. They definitely took it over. A lot of people think America was the biggest home of the slave trade but it was actually Brazil.

MZ Boom Bap: That’s true and I can tell you why, Portugal had a lot of colonies in Africa. The middle of Africa was from Portugal like Angola, Mozambique, Guinea, and Cape Verde. All those countries before ’75 were Portuguese colonies, that’s why the slaves go to Brazil because we put them there. We had many countries in the world. Many people don’t know that because we are very small, but we had a lot of colonies around the world. India was a Portuguese colony, and Macau, China, a lot of countries.

TRHH: How’d you link up with Awon and Phoniks of Don’t Sleep Records?

MZ Boom Bap: Look, Phoniks was following me a long time on Soundcloud. First he started to repost my music on his channel then later we met by internet. The guy that was more interested in my work was Awon. He contacted me because he knew that I was making this project and he asked if I could show him the project that I was making. I tried to make this project without spending any money. At the beginning this project was to be free on the internet. What I did was find some young dudes to make the rhymes – all youngsters. I have people on the tracks that are 16 years old. I did research on Soundcloud and I tried to work with the little dudes. I had an opportunity to work with known rappers in the underground scene in the U.S., but I preferred to work with young kids on this project.

TRHH: Why did you prefer to work with young kids?

MZ Boom Bap: Because I think it’s easier to talk with them because of egos. I think when we work with someone that is already known they look at us like, “Okay, you are a new guy, I’m going to do what I want with your music,” It won’t be easy for me to say, “I don’t like that rhyme,” or “I don’t like that verse.” I think with youngsters I have the opportunity to make the project together and say what I feel about the tracks they did.

TRHH: How long have you been making beats?

MZ Boom Bap: I’ve been making beats like ten years. I stopped at six years because I was a rapper in a big, big crew here in Portugal. I was only focused on that at that time. I decided to go out of it because in Portugal we don’t have a Hip-Hop market. It isn’t easy to make music here. I decided to start making beats and the music I like alone. I’m living now in a small, small city. I go out from the big cities to be only focused on my music.

TRHH: How did you get into Hip-Hop?

MZ Boom Bap: I started hearing French rap. It’s the first contact that I had with Hip-Hop because my family was immigrated in France since the 70s. I started hearing NTM, IAM, and all that old school. Then I started having the first contact with Portuguese rappers and then I started to rhyme first. At that time I don’t have microphone to rap and all that. I downloaded Fruity Loops and started making some beats. I liked it a lot and never stopped making beats.

TRHH: So you started with Fruity Loops and now you use all of these older machines?

MZ Boom Bap: Yes, many years with Fruity Loops. I think I was with Fruity Loops like six years.

TRHH: And you didn’t like it?

MZ Boom Bap: I like it but it was not the way I wanted to make music. Imagine here in Portugal we don’t have access to all those old machines. No one has it. I think I’m the only guy in Portugal that has the Akai S950. No one has the Ensoniq EPS-16 here. No one knows that machine. The first machine that I had was the MPC 1000. Then I started making beats and selling them and I bought all the machines that I have now – selling beats on Soundcloud. I made beats for people all around the world, Australia, Africa, America, Europe. It was very good to me because I’m having a lot of support from all those countries. When I sell a beat to someone I like to keep them as a friend. If you follow me on Facebook you can see all of the people that go to my page and comment I always reply.

TRHH: What’s your take on the current keyboard influenced sound in mainstream Hip-Hop?

MZ Boom Bap: I respect the mainstream a lot. My music is old school but I can understand that some artists need to make an evolution. You don’t need to do the same thing your whole career. I think it’s frustrating that for 10-20 years you’re doing the same music. I respect all kinds of music. I’m not that old school guy that doesn’t like anything. I don’t like trap music, but I respect it. I don’t have any problem with that. I think it’s wrong when people say, “Trap is shit,” I don’t think that. It’s an evolution. If you ask me if I like some dudes and the clothes they use, no, I don’t like. They look like girls. But I respect their music. I’m not that kind of guy. If they’re playing it in the club I won’t go home.

TRHH: What’s the Hip-Hop scene in Portugal like?

MZ Boom Bap: I can’t explain it very well because you live in a different reality. It’s a very small scene. You have a market for maybe 3 or 4 guys, but don’t expect to make millions. A concert for a big guy here is like 2000. We don’t sell CD’s, we don’t have vinyl — we don’t have nothing. People only earn money from live shows.

TRHH: It’s the same way in America [laughs].

MZ Boom Bap: Yeah, but in America you have big labels, we don’t have that here. No one pays for beats and all that here. I already produced for the big guys here and I don’t even mention that on my portfolio.

TRHH: Why not?

MZ Boom Bap: Because it’s not interesting to me. I don’t want to be in this market. People don’t like my music here. They don’t know nothing about Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop here is like the young kids brought in after 2000. They don’t understand the music I do. They say, “Oh you use the machines with floppy disks, why use that when you can make beats in the computer?” I can tell you with this record I’ve already sold like 60 vinyl’s for Portugal in the last two days. I’m happy with that.

TRHH: Would you ever consider leaving Portugal?

MZ Boom Bap: No. To be honest I think I can do my music here. The way I work I can work here and be worldwide. But, who knows? In the future, maybe. For now I don’t think that. I think I might move to a big city here like Lisbon.

TRHH: What’s your favorite song on The Rawness?

MZ Boom Bap: I like them all because they’re all so different. The track with MC Shinobi is the most different track on the album because that shit sounds like ’94. They’re all different tracks. I can’t say that I like one more. I think the track that people like most is the one with Curtis Roach – the kid who is 16 years old.

TRHH: How’d you find Curtis Roach?

MZ Boom Bap: I found him on Soundcloud. When I had that beat I said, “Man, I’d like to have a dude rhyming like Q-Tip on this,” and the kids had the same type of voice. It’s because he’s a kid. His voice is going to change in the future.

TRHH: You said you don’t want to work with any famous emcees….

MZ Boom Bap: It’s not that I don’t want. I want. I’m not making a big deal to work with big ones. I’m happy with what I’m doing now. I think I can keep working with kids and do a good job with them.

TRHH: If you had to pick one emcee to work with who would it be?

MZ Boom Bap: Maybe anyone from Onyx.

TRHH: Anybody from Onyx?

MZ Boom Bap: Yeah.

TRHH: Really?

MZ Boom Bap: I love Onyx, bro. Let me explain why I love Onyx, to me they are the real definition of gangsta rap. The first time I saw the DVD of Onyx’s tour I said, “This is crazy.” I thought that shit was unreal. I think they made a revolution in rap. They made the hard street part. Their faces are the definition of their music. They are scary, man. I was with them in Portugal last year, they are scary dudes.

TRHH: Well, they’re actors now.

MZ Boom Bap: They’re still scary [laughs]. Sticky is a big guy with a crazy face. I never saw that dude smiling.

TRHH: They get overlooked. There was a time when the west coast dominated rap and the east coast came back. When people talk about the east coast coming back they mention Biggie, Wu-Tang, Nas, and Mobb Deep, but they never mentioned Onyx. Onyx was the first big group that brought the east coast back.

MZ Boom Bap: I think that’s a mistake. I’ve never seen any group that does a live show like them in rap history. You talk about Mobb Deep, but I think their concert is very boring. On the CD you think it’s the real shit but you go to a show and they are so boring. It’s boring to see them on the stage. When you see Onyx, if you don’t move the dudes look to you like, “Hey man, if you are not moving go away.”

TRHH: Well they were tutored by Run-DMC who was amazing on stage. It’s a little bit of a different era between Onyx and Mobb Deep – maybe a year or two.

MZ Boom Bap: One day I will show you a group from France that doesn’t exist now called Saian Supa Crew. Their live shows were crazy. They had beat boxers, break dancers, all of that shit on stage. I like that. I like Onyx’s live show. I think the definition of gangsta rap is a little distorted. I think the real gangsta music is Onyx. In Europe they have a legion of fans. If you go to Poland or Russia and ask what group they love and they’re going to say Onyx. In those countries you have real hard people – crazy people. They are tough. They like to go out and fight. Onyx is the number one group there. I think they spend more time in Europe than the USA. They’re working with dudes from Germany called Snowgoons. I don’t like their music. It sounds to me like Jedi Mind Tricks. I don’t like that type of music.

TRHH: What’s next up for MZ Boom Bap?

MZ Boom Bap: I’m working on an album. I’m hoping to have it done in February and try to find a label to release it for the summer. I already have 7 tracks. I work 24 hours a day on this, bro. I need to work ten times more than people in America because I need to show that I’m working. I put videos on my page with beats and I’m making live beats and all that. That’s my method, you know?

Purchase: MZ Boom Bap – The Rawness EP

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Ras Kass: Soul on Ice

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Deputa

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Deputa

1996 was a pivotal year in Hip-Hop. The Fugees released their record-breaking sophomore album, The Score. One of Hip-Hop’s all-time brightest stars, 2Pac was murdered in Las Vegas at the young age of 25. Nas released his biggest selling album to date. Dr. Dre left Death Row to start a little company called Aftermath. The Geto Boys reunited after a short hiatus. Acts like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, MC Lyte, UGK, Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, Redman, Too $hort, and Outkast added on to their legacies with critically acclaimed releases. The debut solo albums of a couple of artists named Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Heltah Skeltah, Xzibit, Ghostface Killah, and Jay-Z were also released in 1996.

Another artist that made their debut in 1996 was West Coast rhymer, Ras Kass. During a time when gangsta rap was the dominating sound coming out of California Ras Kass’ music was all about lyrics. Punch lines, similies, metaphors, historical references and storytelling permeated Ras Kass’ debut album, Soul on Ice. The highlight of the album was a near eight-minute song called “Nature of the Threat” that chronicled the origins of white supremacy and its impact on the world. Nature of the Threat cemented Ras Kass’ status as one of the best lyricists in Hip-Hop.

To commemorate the 20 year anniversary of his rap debut, in the fall of 2016 Ras Kass released the sequel to Soul on Ice, “Intellectual Property: SOI2.” In addition, Ras Kass rereleased his debut album, Soul on Ice completely re-mastered and restored, as it was originally intended. Soul on Ice: Revisited also contains 21 never before released Ras Kass tracks.

Ras Kass spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the lessons he’s learned in his twenty years in the music business, the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, Intellectual Property, and Soul on Ice: Revisited.

TRHH: How were you able to go back and release the original version of Soul on Ice 20 years after its release?

Ras Kass: That’s kind of a gray area. They didn’t have digital rights back in the days. If they don’t put it out after a certain time, and they only have it for a certain amount of time, so we kind of went into the gray area with that. I believe also the other part of it is not having the same cover. I have the original. It’s very similar but it’s not the same. We kind of did some fuckin’ TMZ shit where they’d draw something with a marker over it and it changes the picture. Some of the things are remixed. It’s a bit different. The Diamond D remix is on it, we put Jack Frost on there, that’s why it’s revisited. It’s not exactly Soul on Ice, it’s kind of looking back at it.

TRHH: Sequels usually don’t deliver in movies or in Hip-Hop, but SOI2: Intellectual Property does. Were you concerned about living up to the first album when you were making Intellectual Property?

Ras Kass: [Laughs] That’s true. First off, let me just say thank you, I appreciate it. Yeah, of course. I never thought I’d do it. Period in life people are going to pass away. The nature of life is death. We’re born to die. I don’t have the illustrious billion dollars of Jay-Z and Eminem, but this is what I do for a living and I’m blessed to be able to do this for my career. For me I was starting to look at my mortality and what I’m passing on is my intellectual property. The whole thing with Capitol Records – this is what I leave to my children. This is what they can make money from, just like The Beatles. When Michael Jackson dies or Prince dies the intellectual property is what they’re trying to sell. That’s the money!

Once I decided I would do it, it was about making it bigger than me. What have I learned from twenty years of my life that I’ve given to this culture of Hip-Hop? What legacy am I leaving if I never get all the money and fame? That’s what it was about for me and I was definitely afraid. I don’t like doing the part two’s. I feel sequels is what people do – they sell you the same thing over and over again. But people are trained monkeys and want the same thing over and over again. I didn’t want to do that. I knew I was doing Soul on Ice: Revisited and it brought up a lot of feelings and emotions. I took it from there and I was blessed to have so many awesome people help me get it done.

TRHH: What inspired the single Bishop?

Ras Kass: [Laughs] It’s kind of the defining transition in Pac’s journey. That movie changed his trajectory. I’ve never talked to Pac directly about it but I talked to Treach and he auditioned for that part. Bishop was an ode to one of my favorite movies. I was feeling some type of way, to be honest. That was no fucks given. Fuck it, Bishop from Juice. He didn’t give a fuck. He started popping his homies and everything. He was a bad guy. He became like a bully. I didn’t’ want it to be too lyrical. I wanted it to be everyday street shit, life shit, that you would encounter and have that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude about those things.

TRHH: You have a couple of tracks on the album that feature the late Sean Price. Sean was a funny guy and an amazing emcee. What’s your favorite Sean P memory?

Ras Kass: I think my favorite memory of Sean is the one that he talked about in the skit before Paypal the Feature. Me, Bleu DaVinci, Rock, Sean, we was in his project in Brooklyn. We like rap music and we’re fans first, so discussing where rap was at and looking at our record deals, I still had my deal and I didn’t even know Sean had got dropped. I guess they weren’t going to distribute Heltah Skeltah through Priority anymore. We were in the neighborhood, two dudes from L.A. and the entire projects in Brooklyn. He came up with this rap scheme in his brain and I’m laughing like it’s so stupid that it’s probably going to work. It was funny and it was him. He was funny and he was a gang leader. Watching that become Sean P, he became himself.

Twista would always say, “When I hear your records I hear a lot of you but I don’t hear how funny you are and you’re a little more street than you put on in your records.” Twista would always advise me of that and I was there to see Sean Price actually snap – Twista would call it snapping. That was dope. I feel like I finally snapped, too. It took some things in the journey to snap and convey who I am in my music. I strived to do it but people didn’t get it. I found a better way of making it audible where they can hear it. Soul on Ice is still me, but it’s almost two different records. It’s very lyrical and talking about the Illuminati, and then there’s Marinatin’, Drama and fucking with bitches and all that. I caught flack about it every other album. Nobody has ever appreciated the fact that I was dealing with my entire personality. I never had a catch phrase or one way to make it a song so you could get it – like how Eminem had “My Name Is.” People have these successful songs that communicate who they are, I never had that. Ghetto Fabulous was an attempt at that. Sean not only made one song but his projects were him.

We were having a specific conversation about rap and he did the flow, the whole, “P!” It was dope that he told that story and I was able to get it and put it on the album. Rest in peace to my brother. It’s dope to be able to be a part of something that special. To me that’s bardom to have Sean remember Ras was with me when I kind of snapped. That’s awesome to be a part of my brother’s life and his journey — Sean, his daughter, Bernadette – it’s dope. Some people get some retro love for people. People started rocking J Dilla or Phife Dawg t-shirts but didn’t have love for the person in life. I’m thankful to have been somebody who believed in him and supported him before and after. I was there loving him in real time. Even with people who aren’t passed away, I can say I believed in Eminem when nobody fucked with him when he had brown hair. I like to support people because they’re talented, not because they sell a lot of records or it’s ‘cause they die – that’s corny.

You can look at it in rap and look at who people put on their albums. They don’t put necessarily the dopest emcees, they put the popular people. That’s not what I thought this shit was about. It’s about loving the craft, but it’s still a popularity contest. If Sean Price came back from death how many of these people that are successful would have him on a record now? Or J Dilla? How many people would buy that beat now? That shit is corny. Rap is corny for that. Hip-Hop is corny for that, it’s not just rap. Hip-Hop does corny shit like that – fuck with people after they die. Hollywood with them, wouldn’t do a song with them, and when they die they wanna wear his shirt. My favorite moment is knowing I was there when my friend grew and snapped. A lot of people don’t do that. They don’t support people from the beginning; they only support them in success or in death.

TRHH: Why do you think that is?

Ras Kass: If I had the answer I’d solve it. I don’t know, man. I’m not like that. I don’t know why people dress up like furry’s and have sex. I don’t. I can’t relate. I kind of don’t wanna know ‘cause if you know you kind of went too far. I don’t know and I don’t care to know. I just know that it’s weird and I think it’s corny to fuck with Phife Dawg and follow him on Instagram after he dies, or Sean Price, or Prince, or whoever. Love ‘em while they’re here, support ‘em while they’re here. And then don’t support an artist when he blows up. It’s easy to support ‘em when a million people jump on your dick. Support ‘em when they need that help and that support. That’s what I wish Hip-Hop would get back to – core principles, loving the talent, and supporting the music and not supporting the brand.

TRHH: You laid it all out on AmeriKKKan Horror Story and explained the disaster that the country asked for with Trump. Were you surprised on election night when Trump won?

Ras Kass: I felt the apathy amongst my peers, even the quote unquote knowledgeable people. “My vote don’t count,” and I’ve been there before. I’ve been to prison, bro. Once you go to prison you realize that there are levels to this shit. Once you go to prison you have to sign something where you renounce your citizenship. You’re no longer a citizen of the United States, you are a ward of your state. Basically when you take your deal and sign those papers you’re owned by the prison. I understand that there’s level to it and I needed to step it up. There were times where I didn’t vote and I can’t expect everyone to have a growth or understanding of where I may be at. I really felt the apathy of black people. I felt the apathy of young people who were busy partying, bullshitting, trapped out, and getting money.

I’m not trying to pinpoint one person but it’s indicative of Lil’ Wayne saying, “My life matters,” instead of saying Black Lives Matter. You can’t even be frustrated and say that. You’ve made millions of dollars, brother. It’s people that work their ass off at a 9-to-5 menial job and make $40,000-$30,000 a year. Come on, man. Have some empathy. We live in a world with no empathy. That’s what Trading Places was about. Have some empathy for your fellow human being. I heard it, “If we can’t have Bernie we’re gonna fuckin’ blow up the game,” but they didn’t blow up the game. They really just let the biggest demon win. When you have somebody coming out saying the things that Donald Trump said you can see the pattern. We saw the pattern when Barack Obama got elected of an 800% increase in white power hate groups. We saw a dude walk into a church and say, “Jesus told me to kill the niggers.” That’s what Helter Skelter was about – creating this race war that they believe God – the white Jesus Christ – told them that niggers and Mexicans shouldn’t be here or they should be enslaved, and white people should have privilege.

To quit because you couldn’t get it your way is exactly what they wanted. I was very disappointed in my people as black people. I was very disappointed in the youth as a whole. When I was 24-25 we had music that was giving us brain food, not telling us how many drugs they took. At least niggas was talking about how many drugs they sold to get some money, these niggas talking about being on the drugs!  I saw it coming. I was hoping it wouldn’t I was just dumbfounded so I started trying to do the research to learn the numbers. I didn’t really want to reach a conclusion. I knew it was fucked up, I just wanted to know how did it get fucked up. Looking at the percentages and statistics was interesting in itself. To really come out and find out 40% of eligible people didn’t vote, they got exactly what they wanted. Everybody said, “Fuck it, my vote don’t count.” Well now you can kind of see it does.

I kept trying to tell people that if nothing else but what our grandparents went through getting hit with water hoses just to vote, if they’re trying voter suppression then it gotta mean something. It may not mean everything, but it gotta mean something. If they don’t want you to do it, that’s probably the reason why you should do it. Everybody fell for the okie-doke and meanwhile the polarized, galvanized racist whites went and did their job. They put the man in power who spoke the language of hate that they wanted to hear – white privilege, white power. It’s people still trying to justify that. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Admit that you made a mistake and hopefully we can change thing in the next two years! Go vote! I know we don’t have the power to select, but to some small degree we have to power to elect. We didn’t. I wasn’t surprised, I was just disappointed. I was surprised at how much of a margin. We did nothing. We bent over [laughs].

TRHH: How relevant is Nature of the Threat right now?

Ras Kass: You know what was shitty? I was doing the research for AmeriKKKan Horror Story and it fucked me up because I want to live in the world as a human being and I wanted to evolve past that and not believe that every white person was a potential predator, but doing the research it kind of reinforced that. It is what it is. I wanted to be more human, like the Common shit, the peace and love shit. It drove me to reach the old conclusion and that was sad for me as a human being. It’s not me saying it. It’s the statistics. The Amish voted – they don’t normally vote. They don’t like electricity! That’s the devil, bro. But they went and voted because he was speaking their language.

Catholics, the Pope Francis said Trump is not a man of God. He also said climate change is real. Literally in the Catholic community it splintered. White Catholic’s voted for Trump. Everybody who was white, I don’t care if they are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, rich, poor, the majority voted for Trump. Which put me back like, fuck, white people are fuckin’ insensitive beasts! It don’t matter what they profess to believe as a religion, their white privilege kicks in. It’s not even self-preservation because self-preservation is wanting to be okay. Their superiority kicks in. That’s sad because I thought we were better than that as humans.

TRHH: I agree with you, but let me throw this out there and get your opinion. I’ve been hearing a lot of people say, “Sixty million people voted for Trump, they can’t all be racist,” and also what it was is he spoke to rural America – the Idaho’s, the Iowa’s, the places that nobody ever talks about that are losing jobs. Trump gave them hope because he said he was going to bring their jobs back.

Ras Kass: Where are these jobs going to come from? The car companies have automation. Those jobs aren’t coming back. That’s like somebody saying they’re going to bring back carrier pigeons. Dude, we got iPhone’s. I think what we’re talking about is symptoms. I don’t really deal with symptoms, I deal with disease. I want to understand what the disease is, which is why I write these songs like Nature of the Threat, AmeriKKKan Horror Story, and even Interview with a Vampire and TV Guide to a certain extent. I’m writing to understand what the underlying disease is, not the symptom. You gotta understand when they want these jobs back the other thing is, “they took your jobs” it’s Nazi Germany. They took your jobs — the niggers took it, the Mexican’s took it, China took it. It’s never self-responsibility where you have to start changing and go get an education. It’s the niggers took it.

In the good ol’ days in the 1950’s a white man could work a job and provide for his whole family. Meanwhile, blacks were busy sweeping the floor for him and had to eat in the back. That’s all just coded language. It’s coded language for a lazy fucking middle-American white man who thinks he deserves everything and any time it doesn’t go right for him, although he’s disenfranchised intentionally enslaved people, that he deserves every fucking thing really easily. It’s a fucking excuse! And fuck kowtowing to the fucking white man! And by not voting and trying to do that third party shit, this was the wrong time to do that! You just gave the same devil all the fucking keys to the car – just everything! What a fucking moron show!

TRHH: I will say this, I was intending on voting for Jill Stein but after I saw how close this motherfucker Trump was to being President I was like, “There is no way!” I voted for Hillary. A lot of people just couldn’t get over whatever it was they had against her.

Ras Kass: For those people I say, there are levels. It’s all being sick but one is worse than the other. I’d rather have the flu than have AIDS. I’d rather sprain my ankle than be paralyzed and be quadriplegic. I understood that. First of all, I don’t like Hillary Clinton. I don’t like Obama! He ain’t ever did shit for me. But come on, man. Does that mean I vote for David Duke because I don’t like dude and I’m making a protest? You think that’s a meaningful protest? That’s false equivalence and what we did was a massive false equivalence. We’re going to suffer the consequences of inaction or being apathetic or ambivalent. If you’re not part of the solution then what are you? A lot of people chose not to be part of the solution.

Like I said, I voted for Obama and I didn’t like the guy. I saw some cool black people got to go and kick it, but I’ve never been invited. I said some important things that need more of a voice, maybe he should have came and talked to me. Yeah, it’s cool for the cool blackies. I’m not a cool blackie. He didn’t spend time going to grab leaders in the hood, he talked to the cool niggas. So who gives a fuck about that? It’s the same social strata, but I voted for the nigga because it was better than voting for what the fuck Romney was talking about. I watched Chappelle on Saturday Night Live and he said some funny shit. He said, “All my wealthy black friends are talking about leaving the country, but not me.” It was a joke but jokes are rooted in honesty. He said, “These new tax cuts are going to be good for me,” because he’s rich. But they’re not going to be good for me. I’m not rich.

Whether you’re black, white, yellow, green, purple, gay, or whatever, if you’re rich it’s going to work out well for you. We have a completely shrinking middle class. We’re going back into poverty. It’s going to be a third world situation. I’m a small business. All these Obama laws have fucked my small business up. Big business is going to be good. It’s not going to affect Capitol Records who fucked with my life. My small business is going to suffer. Rich people can complain all they want. The actors and everybody that sang is disappointed, but they’re rich, we’re not! If they don’t like it they could move. Where the fuck can most of us go? His jest was funny but it’s for real. We don’t have nowhere to go.

On Instagram I posted a picture saying, “If you didn’t vote I don’t want to see you out there marching and protesting. You had a chance to exercise your vote. So shut the fuck up. You’re reacting when you had an opportunity to be proactive. I don’t wanna hear the votes don’t count because now you kind of see they do.” A sister from Detroit went into the votes don’t count thing and I said, “Well as a black woman and me as a black man, if y’all ready we can pack up and get the fuck on out of here, but where we gon’ go?” The other option is we start the revolution. What I wrote to her is, “Niggas is too scared to do either one.” Niggas don’t wanna leave their hood, let alone leave and go back to Africa. And niggas don’t wanna bust no guns, they shoot each other! They do not shoot the people that murder and kill them.” It’s cowardice. It’s an internal cowardice within our people and I hate having to have this conversation but it’s where my heart is at, it’s what I’ve been going through.

I said it in my music from the beginning, and I live this shit. I said it a long time ago, “Give me 50,000 black, angry role models/Take me to D.C. I’ll throw the first fuckin’ bottle/’Cause I don’t give a fuck about a menial existence/And I don’t give a fuck about a resistance/Civil rights will not suffice/In the name of Jesus Christ, they got my soul on ice.” That’s what I’m saying, I’m most disappointed in my own people. I bet most of my friends that legal weed is gonna be gone. They’re going to repeal so many Supreme Court decisions – Row v Wade – it’s a wrap, bro. Digging ourselves out of this hole is not going to be a four year thing. They got everything now. Pence is worse than Trump. It’s just bad. I perceive it as bad. It’s not a “cup half full” situation. This is ugly.

TRHH: It’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare. Let’s get back to the music; you touched on going to prison and your issues with Capitol Records; you’ve had a lot of ups and downs in your career. What has kept you motivated to keep going in this business of rap?

Ras Kass: I don’t know, man. That’s a good question. I’m in too deep, bro [laughs]. What the fuck else am I gonna do? I can’t be an attorney at law now, I got felonies. Perfectly honest, I love the creative process. I’ve never liked the business side of music. It’s corny and snakey and skeevy. It’s broken my heart a couple times. At its best it changes lives and makes the world a better place. I’ve been blessed that sometimes it’s done that for me. It’s changed my life in a positive way. Other times people have let me know and shown me how I’ve changed their life in a positive way. I feel like the creator put me here for a reason and it may not be to be the big popular cool guy. I’m okay with that. That was never really my motivation anyway. I do want to make sure that I’m financially stable and that type of shit. I deserve a decent house and to be able to retire. I work toward that from a business standpoint, but the other part of that is the spiritual and what’s fulfilling.

I’m fulfilled and I enjoy doing this. When I’m not fulfilled I kind of don’t do it. I guess I put myself in prison [laughs]. That’s what I used to do. I’d get frustrated and say, “Fuck this shit! Damn it all to hell,” but I’m too old for that shit now. I’m motivated by the journey and feeling blessed. Once again, some people work 30-40 years for a lot less money and hate it and dread it every day. I’ve been blessed to be able to travel and see a lot of this world, and hopefully see a lot more of it being able to say what I feel. I don’t even have to go say some shit that somebody put in my mouth, I get to say what I really feel from my heart and sometimes people receive it and support me in it. That’s a plus, I can’t complain.

TRHH: Twenty years after the release of Soul on Ice, what would you say the highlight of your career has been and what do you see going forward?

Ras Kass: I don’t really have a highlight. It’s been a good journey. It’s peaks and valleys. I don’t have anything in particular. I would say this, on Bardom I allude to a few experiences that I’ve had. I forget more than I remember, but sometimes having those amazing experiences with people I looked up to, I still look up to, I’ve been that fly on the wall, and I’ve seen some amazing shit happen in a genre that I really respect. It’s priceless. I couldn’t pay to have seen and done some of the amazing things and met some of the amazing brothers. In Bardom I say, “Me and Pun shared a pint of Henny.” I’m a dude from L.A., I’m younger than Pun, I was a fan and I pulled out a pint of Hennessey. He was like, “Let me hit that,” and we were in the trailer drinking Hennessey, just me and him. That shit ain’t gon happen again. Fuck bro, that’s awesome. Me and Big Proof, rest in peace, we were on the Anger Management Tour and all the buses accidently left us. We had to figure out how to get 100 miles to the next venue on our own. That will never happen again.

There’s no particular best moment, I just call those the Bardom moments of my life. I just had so many great journeys, and sometimes not-so great. Sometimes it was really shitty, but I think the good outweighs the bad. I don’t wanna depend on being a rapper for the rest of my life, but it’s always a part of me. I do want to be able to invest and help other artists. I’m still trying to put myself in a position of power and influence so that I can bring people to the table that I think deserve a chance to be heard. In the future I’d like to be the same way everybody else in my grade is. I would say in my grade is right before me is Outkast, Xzibit, Pharoahe Monch, Common, Kweli, Mos Def, around that class. They have good careers and they don’t do albums all the time. They do albums once every five years or so when they feel like there is something to say they say it. I wanna be there, obviously, and making an impact, but not necessarily as an artist.

Purchase: Ras Kass – Intellectual Property: SOI2

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Termanology: More Politics

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Photo courtesy of Viceland Photography

Photo courtesy of Viceland Photography

In 2008 Termanology gained notoriety with his critically acclaimed solo album, Politics as Usual. The album boasted a list of all-star caliber producers that hadn’t been since Nas’ Illmatic – and oh yeah, Term could really rhyme. The coupling of Termanology’s lyrics with a hall of fame list of producers made Term and underground darling and one of the best young artists in rap. Eight years later Termanology is revisiting that old formula with a new album called “More Politics.”

More Politics is produced by Just Blaze, Buckwild, Dame Grease, Hi-Tek, Q-Tip, Statik Selektah, Nottz, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. The album features Saigon, Bun B, Bodega Bamz, Masspike Miles, Chris Rivers, Ea$y Money, Westside Gunn, Conway, Your Old Droog, Crushboys, Sean Taylor, Cyrus DeShield, KXNG Crooked, Joey Bada$$, Kendra Foster, Sheek Louch, and Styles P.

Termanology spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about More Politics, how his lifestyle changes are reflected in his music, and about his next solo album.

TRHH: How have you grown as an artist since Politics as Usual?

Termanology: I think growing as a person has something to do with it. You grow as a person and you grow as an artist. A lot of the things I was involved in eight years ago when I dropped that first album are not the same thing I’m involved with these days. Now I got two kids, I got an organization called Good Dad Gang. I’m not running the streets anymore so I think that kind of helped me open up my topics and the way I approach making music as well.

TRHH: More Politics has a more personal tone to it than previous records. You rhyme more about relationships and your children. Was it difficult for you to express that part of yourself?

Termanology: I wouldn’t say it was difficult for me to express it. I think it kind of comes out real naturally. The more difficult piece for me was, now the song is done, do I let the whole world know this? Do I really want to share with the whole world my relationship with my girl or my relationship with my kids? It is real personal. The hardest part is making the decision whether or not the people get to hear the music. At the end I felt like the music was so strong that it was okay to share my life with the people. The music was that dope that I thought people would rock with it.

TRHH: You made reference on one song that More Politics has more jewels than your previous projects. Was it calculated that you added more substance to your rhymes or did it just kind of come out that way?

Termanology: I don’t know, man. Over the years just realizing what stands the test of time, a lot of the times it’s the music that’s actually saying something. When you first get in the game you’re so hungry and you just want props. You want people to say, “He’s nice. He can spit.” In the beginning I focused on a lot of that, especially doing underground rap, that’s what they want – they want the bars. I focused on that a lot of my career but making this album it was conceptual. When you lean conceptually your thoughts come to life and my thoughts were positive. I’m trying to be positive these days and that’s what it all comes down to, spreading jewels.

TRHH: I remember years ago Ice-T said the greatest rapper is not the best rapper, it’s the one that touches people the most. He was saying that in reference to 2Pac. What’s your opinion on that? Is that how you see yourself going in the future?

Termanology: I kind of agree with what he said. I like a lot of artists where a lot of people would be like, “Term, why do you like that artist? I’m not a fan of them. I don’t like their style.” A lot of times my excuse is, “But do you hear what he’s saying though?” For instance, French Montana, a lot of people in the underground circle don’t really care for French Montana. They would rather listen to The Roots or more underground stuff. When you listen to the album it’s not only pop. You get a clear vision of who this person is, their struggles, and their pain. Then you start to relate to them as an artist. I feel what Ice-T was saying. I feel like Pac was one of the greatest. I don’t feel like he was technically lyrically as good as a Big Pun or a Big L, but he still touched the people. I like to do a little bit of both. Sometimes I do simple rhymes where they’re not really intricate or mind blowing, but the words that are said are deep so I still keep them. Some rhymes I say are all about word play and just being lyrical, too.

TRHH: How did the single “I Dream B.I.G.” come together?

Termanology: Buckwild had came to Boston to host a beat battle. I told him, “Hey, let’s get in the studio after the beat battle.” He went to the studio with me in Cambridge at my man Arkitek’s spot and laid down seven new beats. Out of the seven beats I had Dream B.I.G. and I’ve been sitting on that beat for like three years now. It was one of the first beats I got for the project. When he gave me the beat I came up with the chorus and the first verse. I was going to finish it myself but I kind of got lazy and felt like I said everything I had to say. I did a couple of beats for Sheek Louch’s album and in return he said he’d do a verse for me whenever I needed it. I just thought it would sound real fly with The Lox on it so I reached out to Sheek and then I reached out to Styles. We shot the video and I was lucky to be able to have Jadakiss in the video, Styles, Sheek, Buckwild, and Chris Rivers.

TRHH: I wasn’t aware that you made beats, man.

Termanology: Yeah, man. I got a few placements. I did a joint called “Drivin’ Round” on the Wu-Block album with Erykah Badu. I did two beats on Sheek Louch’s last album Silverback Gorilla 2. I did “Obamacare” and “Hold it Straight.” Even on my album Shut Up and Rap there was a beat that I made on there. I got a couple joints. I don’t really promote that I’m a producer like that. That’s more something I do for the fun of it ‘cause I just love Hip-Hop.

TRHH: The last time we spoke you said this album had beats from all of the producers on it, but also DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, and Evidence. What happened to those songs and will we ever hear them?

Termanology: The last time we spoke was the beginning. That was before I got Just Blaze and Dame Grease. I had a whole different lineup for this album. I had an Evidence beat and a Primo beat, but those two beats I ended up putting on a different project I got coming out called Anti-Hero. The 9th Wonder beat ended up being put on the Term Brady EP that I put out last year. All them songs are coming out, it’s just they ended up getting split up because conceptually they fit different projects more. The 9th Wonder joint is fire. There’s a video for that, it’s called Grade A. The record with Premier is amazing! It’s crazy! It’s going to be the next single off the next album, Anti-Hero. I got that in the stash and there’s a video for the Evidence joint, too. As soon as Anti-Hero drops you’re going to hear the new Primo joint and the new Evidence joint.

TRHH: When does that album come out?

Termanology: We’re looking at March. I’m about to go on tour with the Beatnuts and then I’m going to Europe with REKS. After that when I get home hopefully I’ll be able to get into the studio and put the finishing touches on Anti-Hero. It would be nice if it dropped in March or April, if not maybe early summer.

TRHH: We’re Both Wrong is a real powerful song. How did that concept come to life?

Termanology: I just rhymed with the beat. The beat says, “We’re both wrong.” I went to Q-Tip’s house with Statik and they were working on some DJ stuff. Tip started playing us some beats. Once Tip started playing beats I told him, “I had beats from Primo, Pete Rock, Statik, Alchemist, and all these people, but I’ve never worked with you, Tip.” I did a song with him rhyming called Stop, Look, Listen with me, him and Styles P, but I never rhymed on one of his beats. The beat that was playing just happened to be “We’re Both Wrong” and he was like, “Oh, you like this one?” and I was like “Yeah.” He gave me the beat right then and there on the spot.

The concept came because there was a lot of police brutality and things of that nature going on so I just wanted to touch on that. Not only did we touch on police brutality we also touched on certain social issues like dad’s not seeing their kids, or spending money on alcohol, designer sneakers or belts but not putting money in the bank for your kids. That’s what my verse was about and Saigon’s was about how police brutality has been going on forever and it’s only getting worse so we kind of have to keep our eye on the situation and hopefully we can make some changes to our community and the way that we’re operating as a society.

TRHH: Who is More Politics made for?

Termanology: Honestly it’s made for me. I didn’t sit there when I wrote it and thought, “I really hope everybody who bought G.O.Y.A. or 1982 likes it.” I really didn’t wanna go about it like that because when you start making music for other people that’s when it gets funny and it’s not really you. The album is just for me, man. I made it because I wanted to express how I’m feeling and make some art that reflected who I am as a person now and who I am as a rapper. So far everybody is saying it’s my best album, so apparently I did a good job at executing it and I’m really proud of it.

Purchase: Termanology – More Politics

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Code Nine & Purpose: Below Sumerian Skies

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Photo courtesy of Edwin Rosario

Photo courtesy of Edwin Rosario

Code Nine and Purpose are members of a crew called Tragic Allies. Purpose has handled production duties while Code Nine serves as one of the crew’s emcees. The Massachusetts natives have joined up for an official release called “Below Sumerian Skies.”

Below Sumerian Skies is a 14-track album produced entirely by Purpose. The album is the epitome of what Hip-Hop should be – raw beats and rhymes. Released by Below System Records, Below Sumerian Skies features appearances from Paranom, Estee Nack, and M-Credible.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Code Nine and Purpose about the difficulties that come with being perfectionists, why they refuse to dumb down their sound, their Tragic Allies crew, and their new album, Below Sumerian Skies.

TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Below Sumerian Skies.

Code Nine: The title of the album kind of embodies my whole style in a sense. It’s kind of a metaphor. Below Sumerian Skies insinuates that we’re under skies of the Sumerians. For people who don’t know the Sumerians were the original urban civilization under Sumer. It’s modern day Iraq. It’s kind of a vision that I had and it encompassed the whole feeling of the album. It’s a metaphorical term for life situations. The whole album is like that. It’s not really something that’s concrete – it’s a lot more abstract and a little bit more in depth.

TRHH: Tell me about the single Staff of Moses.

Code Nine: Staff of Moses was actually a beat that was taken. Purp had it sent it out for another project. We were sitting in the lab one day and we just laid it down randomly and it came out really dope. We remixed it and as we always do we sit down and we build with the homies about the music that we’ve made. Essentially everyone who listened to it kind of felt the original more. We reached out to who we gave the beat to and see if they’ve done anything to it. We didn’t get a response so we put it on the album because we really liked the joint. The song itself is kind of one of those braggadocio, metaphorical joints again where I’m flexing lyrically. It kind of felt more like a single. It didn’t really have a single concept, it was just a little more loosely based. That’s the feeling we were going for. I know when Purpose really likes something then I have to roll with it because Purp is really an analyst when it comes to music. I respect his opinion a lot so when he really feel something I run with it.

TRHH: Have you heard back from the person who originally had the beat yet?

Purpose: Interesting story is I was on the phone with Killah Priest. He was out somewhere with Ghost doing some shows. He was like, “Yo, send me some beats!” I sent that beat to Priest and he was really feeling it. A couple months went by and he never used it. I hit him up like, “Yo, what’s good? You using that beat?” There wasn’t any response in email so I called him and he didn’t get around to recording anything to it so I was like fuck it, let’s roll with it on the Code project.

TRHH: Code, why did it take you so long to release a project?

Code Nine: A lot of things. I’m kind of a perfectionist, which is a double edged sword because there’s some point where I have to draw the line and be like, “Alright, enough of trying to perfect this project. I have to release it,” even releasing the album how it is. Of course being an artist you always notice the flaws in it. I love the album and I think it’s a good representation of the type of music that I make. It took a long time because it took a long time for me to get out of my head as far as the music and get out of my own way. You can ask Purp, there is a running joke with the whole crew that if I hate the song then everyone else is going to love it. I’m so critical of my own music. It took me a while but I’m glad that it did. We had an album in mind back in 2012. That was when we started to lay the foundation and we had to see what direction we were going in. Toward 2014-15 it really picked up and we started really seeing the vision so we had to change the way we were going a little bit. We recorded like 27-28 song for this project.

Purpose: It was like 38 joints, yo.

Code Nine: It was a lot. It was a lot of songs. We’re still sitting on crazy material but we had to narrow it down to 14. I can honestly say that it was me having to step out of my own way a little bit. I was starting to get too much into it and at some point you gotta just let it go and let it be.

TRHH: Do you worry that your rhymes might be over the heads of today’s listeners?

Code Nine: Honestly, yeah. It’s a constant battle. I’ve been trying not to dumb it down but figure out a less intricate way of putting cool ideas. That’s the only way I can describe it and I think I’m getting a little bit better at that. I want people to really have to listen to it, analyze it, and break it down. A lot of my younger dudes don’t really listen to the stuff that I listen to so when they hear it they feel the vibe. They don’t really catch the lyrics and the references, but they feel the vibe. And I got my homies that really listen to and analyze lyrics. I’m trying to play a game where it’s right in the middle. I can make music that anyone can vibe to if they’re not listening to it, but at the same time if you really wanna listen to and break down the lyrics it can blow you away. I personally want people to sit down and have to listen to my lyrics. I want it to grab your attention and I want you to go, “Yo, what is he talking about?” and have to do research to figure out what the hell I’m talking about. Those are the emcees that I really feel, the ones that make me have to rewind some shit. For me that’s what Hip-Hop is about.

Purpose: Tragic Allies as a whole we try not to dumb the shit down because let’s be real, nowadays I ain’t concerned about whether the listener can get it or not. If anything the listener needs to step up their game because today’s music there is no intellectual value to it. It’s not making the listener any smarter. Back in the day when ill rappers were coming up and saying witty and intellectual shit it made us wanna get on our knowledge shit and expand our vocabulary’s Today’s music is missing that. I ain’t catering to people who wanna listen to some dumb down shit. They can go to the club and listen to that shit, but I ain’t with it.

Code Nine: I’m the youngest one out the crew. I started hanging out with Purp and Estee when I was 15 years old. I came from that era because of them. I was a young cat reading the dictionary. I would make it a habit of finding a random word and starting my shit off with that. Nowadays cats don’t have to do that because that’s too much work. That’s not the type of music that they’re doing anyway. I feel like there is a big demographic of people that are craving that substance. I feel like even with our music, if people really wanna give us a listen, the Kendrick Lamar fans, and the J. Cole fans, those people want some sort of substance and we can appeal to those crowds. The genre that we’re doing is more in the category of people who fuck with Planet Asia, Roc Marciano, Westside Gunn, and Conway. I feel like we fall into that vibe and we’re comfortable with that because we know those people are gonna appreciate the music.

TRHH: Recently a kid came out and said he couldn’t name 5 Biggie and 2Pac songs.

Code Nine: Yeah, Lil Yachty.

TRHH: Right, and Lil Uzi refused to rap over a Premier beat. A lot of those same kind of people think the boom bap sound is old and dated. What’s your take on the new wave of cats that push back on what they consider old school?

Code Nine: Being somebody who is 28 years old, I’m a little bit older and a little bit wiser. I’m by no means old or wise, but I still have a lot of people I mess with who are younger. I understand at some point everything has to evolve and change. I’m not hating on kids doing their music. I even heard some dope shit coming out of Chicago like the drill scene. I listen to a lot of music. Even if I don’t like it I pick and choose and listen to a lot of different shit. I’m a little bit more open to certain stuff. I’m not hating on what none of them kids are doing – I don’t fuck with it. What they’re doing is being disrespectful. You can do what you gotta do and not spit in the face of the people who made it possible for you to do that. That’s a slap in the face, so I don’t fuck with that. As far as them doing their music, that’s cool.

My biggest beef with it is the game doesn’t have a lane for anything else other than that. It became a corporate monopoly where it’s all about money and what’s selling, so there is no lane left as far generating real profit and being comfortable making music if you’re doing something like we’re doing. My biggest beef with it is the behind the scenes shit that make it possible for a Lil Yachty to be popping. I don’t even blame them, they’re doing what they do. It’s somebody putting them in the position where you got little kids looking up to them, that fucks with me. That’s the true change of the game that I’m having a hard time adapting to, not so much the music. To me the music sucks – a lot of it. Some of it is good, but a lot of it sucks. At the end of the day I can’t blame them. I straight up blame the corporations that take that shit and make it popular and give them the avenue to be able to do that on a widespread level.

TRHH: Don’t you think the J. Cole’s and Kendrick’s are changing that? They’ve proven that you can talk about something and still sell records.

Code Nine: Yeah! No, definitely. But they also have a lot more commercial appeal than a lot of people who are doing music and are very talented but just don’t have that commercial appeal. I feel like it is essential right now to have those guys because they are keeping the last leg of that part of the art form alive. To me though the one thing that’s still left and is still the last branch that’s really connecting the younger generation to emceeing is battle rap. A lot of these battle rap cats can spit. They may not be able to make crazy ill music, but a lot of these dudes are putting together crazy, witty, lyrical, clever lines. A lot of these young dudes still fuck with the battle scene. That and having people like Kendrick Lamar, but there’s not a huge lane for it and they still have to do almost pop records to sell records. They have an album with different material but it’s different, it’s different.

TRHH: Purpose, what’s your workstation of choice?

Purpose: Right now on the right side of my lab is my production side where I do all production. On the other side I got a custom made Mac where I do all the recording. I got an old school MPC, I got the MPC Renaissance, but to be honest I use them shits sparingly nowadays. I really do fuck with a lot of the software now. People say maybe you can do certain shit differently if you use drum machines and all that, but honestly if you know what you’re doing you can do that on software as well. Some of the software that I use is FL Studio just like millions of other people. It’s about the way you EQ shit, the way you mix shit, the way you make snares snap, kicks have more punch to them, the way you use effects on your samples, the way you construct everything. I can make a beat on the MPC and reconstruct it in FL Studio and it will sound the same or maybe even better because I feel like I have more options with the software.

TRHH: Do you guys have a favorite song on the album?

Code Nine: Probably not the same one.

Purpose: Definitely not the same one.

TRHH: Both of you give your favorites.

Code Nine: There’s a lot of joints that I really like. For me the one that stands out is When the Saints Out. It was literally the last joint that we did on the whole project. We were already wrapping up, I was at the lab, he played the beat and I was ready to lay something down real quick. It ended up being one of the strongest joints on the album. That’s by far my favorite and it just happened to be the last joint that we did.

Purpose: That joint is tough but my personal favorite is the joint called Forces of Nature…

Code Nine: I knew it!

Purpose: [Laughs] It came out of nowhere. I almost scrapped that beat. He had come over and I had been fucking with that beat. I wasn’t sure about it and he just comes through and just starts kicking his verse to it. He made me feel the beat that much more. He opened up my eyes and my ears to what the beat was supposed to sound like. From him spitting that verse I ended up adding on to the beat, he ended up spitting another verse, and we just laid it down that day.

Code Nine: A lot of the joints that came the most organically were the best. It was a couple of joints I wrote at my house by myself. A good chunk of the album was written there in the lab with the beat shaking the whole crib. The joints that come out organically where I show up, he’s making the beat already, I start kicking something, and it ends up on the album, I feel like that’s the best way to do music.

TRHH: Who is Below Sumerian Skies made for?

Purpose: It’s for everybody. For people who feel like we feel. I really don’t cater my music or my sound to anybody particular. I do music that I feel. That’s why I don’t go out of my lane because I don’t feel like I have to. I do what I do and what I feel inside of me. I make music for people who feel what I feel and go through what I go through. I would say it probably caters more to the intelligent street cat or the true Hip-Hop cats that still fucks with the real sound and likes melodic beats with hard lyrics – music with substance, that’s what it caters to. The Sumerians’ whole view was brought upon because they were people who lived in perpetual darkness. Our studio is the Gray Skies – it all came together like that.

Code Nine: I would say the album definitely has street vibes. It definitely caters to the streets and that’s definitely because of how we came up and where we came up. It’s definitely something that I feel like a lot of people can feel. I look at a lot of my fans and I have people from all different walks of life and people going through all different sorts of circumstances and they can relate to it. You’re going to have a couple joints on the album that make you feel a certain type of way. You’re gonna have other joints where you might not feel a certain way emotionally, but you can connect to the sound. It caters to somebody that can feel that sort of vibe, somebody who is going to take the time to listen to lyrics, a message, and people who appreciate the art form.

That’s who it’s for, but I don’t feel like it’s limited to anybody. It’s for somebody’s uncle. They might hear one of the old samples and be like, “Oh my god!” It doesn’t just cater to one demographic of people. We know the type of listener who is really going to appreciate it though. It’s not one type of person but it is somebody who is definitely going to take time to break down the lyrics, but also appreciate some incredible, amazing production. The production makes it easy for almost anybody to listen to it. People that truly appreciate it are people who are going to listen to more than just the beat.

Purchase: Code Nine & Purpose – Below Sumerian Skies

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