Sa-Roc: MetaMorpheus

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Photo courtesy of Robert Adam Mayer
Photo courtesy of Robert Adam Mayer

With over a dozen releases under her belt in just a brief amount of time Sa-Roc has solidified her position as one of the most though-provoking emcees in Hip-Hop. The titles of her projects and songs pay tribute to great civilizations and icons throughout history. Her lyrics harken back to the days when the emcee made the listener say, “Yo, rewind that!”

The Washington D.C. native released a mixtape in mid-2016 titled “MetaMorpheus Mixtape.” The free mixtape combined classic Sa-Roc material with new songs to serve as a reminder and an appetizer for her fall release, MetaMorpheus. MetaMorpheus is a five-song EP released by Rhymesayers Entertainment. The project is produced by long time Sa-Roc collaborator, Sol Messiah and Gensu Dean of Mello Music Group.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Sa-Roc about the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, why boom bap will never die, and her new EP, MetaMorpheus.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new EP, MetaMorpheus?

Sa-Roc: MetaMorpheus is a play on two words, metamorphosis obviously, and Morpheus. I’m a big fan of The Matrix. Morpheus is one of those characters that if you read more deeply into the unwritten part of the script of the movie, he thought he was the one but it turned out that he wasn’t. Essentially he wasn’t the one because he didn’t believe that he was the one. He believed that someone else outside of him was more capable of carrying out or shouldering that power. The idea of MetaMorpheus is the transition or development of one’s self from a being of untapped potential to one that blossom’s into the one that’s capable of anything.

TRHH: So do you see yourself as the one?

Sa-Roc: Of course! We should all see ourselves as the one [laughs]. We come here with a unique blueprint. We come here with a unique genetic makeup and unique electronic signature. No one is capable of achieving the same potential as any one of us. We are unique in our imprint on the world. Just that alone makes us amazing individuals and beings capable of anything.

TRHH: What’s the inspiration being the EP’s title track?

Sa-Roc: That kind of speaks to that whole transformation bit. It’s somewhat autobiographical but it can be applied to anyone in a sense that as we go through life we transform from our beginnings into something. In particular this one speaks to an experience coming from a beginning in inner-city neighborhoods where it can be a struggle trying to get out of that environment mentally and physically – and all the challenges that you face trying to do that. In the hook we say, “We’re more than just a city,” we’re capable of more than this existence that seeks to define us, shape us, and keep us trapped — It just kind of talks about developing ones potential beyond environment.

TRHH: Your music has always been filled with references to past great civilizations and people. Where exactly does that come from when you’re writing?

Sa-Roc: I’m a student of history and culture. I’ve always been exposed to that very early on. I went to a school that taught Pan African centered education so we learned about great empires, specifically great empires of the east. That’s always resonated with me and I’ve always had an alignment with ancient and modern eastern culture, from Africa to Asia. That greatly influences my writing and my rhymes.

TRHH: Do you write to the beat or when rhymes come to you?

Sa-Roc: I have lines that I’ll write down when I think of them. I have written songs off the top with no beat or with a tempo or a skeleton beat that I’ll find off the internet. Sol Messiah might create a beat with the same BPM as that beat and I can rap over it. I’ve done different things, but mostly I catch a vibe off of a beat that’s already been created.

TRHH: On the song Eye of the Phoenix you snapped! Talk about how that song came together.

Sa-Roc: Why thank you. That actually was produced by a compadre of ours, Gensu Dean from Mello Music Group. We met him through David Banner and we always kind of wanted to work together. He sent over the track and I just vibed over it. We made history [laughs].

TRHH: The music that you rhyme over can be considered boom bap. In recent years a lot of newer artists have called that sound old or dated. What’s your take on that?

Sa-Roc: [Laughs] Well good music to me can never be dated. We live in a fast food age. As the internet progresses and is more accessible to people, certain internet applications and programs are more accessible. So you have programs like Fruity Loops and Garage Band on every phone, which makes it really easy to learn how to produce. You have a lot of up and coming producers who are creating, in my opinion, fast food beats. Then you get fast food rappers who’ve only practiced or been trained on fast food beats. There’s only so far that you can go so it becomes more difficult and complex to rap over a quote unquote “old school” or “boom bap” beat. I think the attempt to stigmatize boom bap is just an attempt from people who have a little less talent, aren’t able to articulate themselves, and aren’t able to ride the beat the way they can some of these more simplistic beats. I think that’s where some of that comes from.

TRHH: That’s an excellent answer. I’m so glad you said that [laughs]. That’s one of those things that’s been annoying me so much. I’m 40 years old so boom bap is everything to me. I try to listen to the new stuff and it’s not for me. You know Dante Ross, right?

Sa-Roc: Uhhh, no.

TRHH: He’s an executive. He helped discover De La Soul, Brand Nubian, and some other people from the late 80s and early 90s. He’s a white guy from New York. He tweeted “When did real Hip Hop come to mean dated boom bap?” and I was like, “Nah, not you!” I’ve heard that a lot recently and it’s really surprising to me.

Sa-Roc: That’s the thing, a lot of these mature cats don’t want themselves to be labeled as old or in the past so they try to ride the wave of what’s new, current, and popular. They start dissing or trying to minimize what they came up on, and what some of them even rapped over or produced. I just feel like it’s definitely political to try to stay in the loop because that’s what they’re pushing right now. They’re pushing this… this drivel.

TRHH: [Laughs] That’s a good word for it. It’s kind of sad. What’s your opinion on the upcoming Presidential election?

Sa-Roc: [Laughs] I generally don’t get into politics, but let’s just say I’m not really happy with either of the candidates. We have more pull and the more potential to exercise our power with local and grassroots elections. So it’s important to be a part of electing local sheriffs, councilmen, and mayor’s to actually exercise your political power. Both parties in my opinion are a train wreck. I don’t necessarily believe in voting for the lesser of two evils because either way you’re still voting for evil. It’s interesting. It’s certainly once again called into the question of the age old practices of these two political behemoths and why there can’t be any other party on the main platform or the main stage whose voice can be heard.

We’ve seen with Bernie Sanders how that quickly kind of got squashed. A lot of his platform was opposed to Hillary but because he’s part of the Democratic Party he had to acquiesce to her. I don’t want to say she bested him, but they pushed her because they wanted her to represent the party and not Bernie Sanders. Again, I believe it’s really important to exercise your influence over local government. That’s where I believe we as a people have the most power. But definitely keep abreast on what’s going on and if you feel compelled to vote for either of the two candidates, do you. I feel like both candidates are a train wreck, for sure.

TRHH: What about the Green Party candidate and the Libertarian candidate? Are you up on Jill Stein and Gary Johnson?

Sa-Roc: I’ve heard some things about Jill Stein. I’m not completely solid on her platform.

TRHH: I feel you. I’m voting for Jill Stein. I mean, we lived through Bush but I don’t recall the candidates ever being this bad. This is the best that they could produce? It’s kind of sad.

Sa-Roc: Yeah, it’s sad and scary.

TRHH: How is the MetaMorpheus EP different from your other material?

Sa-Roc: I guess it’s different in a sense that I’m just in a different space musically. Every project that I produce I feel like I advance creatively. I think it’s consistent with most if not all of my projects that I present a pretty diverse offering of what I can do as an artist. MetaMorpheus is more a sentimental kind of vibe, then I’ll have hard hitting and gritty deliveries on songs like “Cthulhu’s Revenge” and “Eye of the Phoenix” and I do a little melodies and singing and stuff. I think it’s consistent as far as artistic caliber for sure. I’m just at a different stage creatively in my career.

TRHH: What’s next up for Sa-Roc?

Sa-Roc: Working on a new album. We’re actually starting that now. The fall continues with shows and performing. We’re just going to continue to put out more content and videos. I really, really wanna focus on this new album that we’re gonna be releasing probably in 2017. We’ve got some heavy hitters on this one. Musicians who’ve worked on some Dungeon Family stuff and some really dope singers and writers. I’m really excited about the way that this project is going to be developed and I’m really excited about it being launched with Rhymesayers because they are consistently taking care with my offerings and what I present to the world in their platform. That’s my main thing, just to keep moving forward and increasing visibility.

Purchase: Sa-Roc – MetaMorpheus

Ryu: Tanks for the Memories

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Photo courtesy of Score Press
Photo courtesy of Score Press

Los Angeles emcee Ryu is most known for his work as part of many different groups. Ryu is the ultimate team player as a member of Fort Minor, the Get Busy Committee, and Styles of Beyond. Now Ryu is going for dolo with his first solo album titled, “Tanks for the Memories.”

Tanks for the Memories is produced primarily by Divine Styler with one track handled by Apathy. The album features appearances by Divine Styler, Everlast, Tak, Gravity Christ, Bishop Lamont, Jams, and Celph Titled.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Ryu about working with Divine Styler, why he finally decided to do a solo project, his thoughts on today’s mainstream rappers, and his new album, Tanks for the Memories.

TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Tanks for the Memories.

Ryu: Tanks for the Memories is kind of a metaphor loosely based on my experiences in the music industry. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs and it’s been a bit of a battle. The “Tanks” symbolizes the battle. If you look at the album artwork it’s a little kid kind of looking back at his past – that’s where it came from.

TRHH: On the single “Been Doin’ This” you pay homage to Gang Starr. How’d that song come together?

Ryu: My man Divine Styler who produced the whole album came up with that beat. A good friend of mine named Redeem just passed away a couple years ago and he was a huge Gang Starr fan. I’ve been kind of thinking about doing a tribute to Redeem because he was the one that got me into rapping and he was my biggest fan. When he passed away it was hard on all of us. I figured I’d rock that one for Redeem. The whole song is a story about growing up with Redeem. With it being a Premier beat I shouted out Guru as well.

TRHH: Why’d you decide to do a solo project after all this time?

Ryu: It was one of those bucket list things. I didn’t want to wonder “what if?” I figured no matter what happened with this record, if it’s successful or if it’s not, at least I can scratch that off the list. I just did it for me basically. In this day and age in this climate of music it’s not going to sell a million copies. My incentive was to just do it for me and hopefully people like it.

TRHH: How was recording this album different from doing a Styles of Beyond album?

Ryu: In some ways it was the same because I worked with the same cast. Divine was one of the original producers of Styles of Beyond along with Vin Skully, and Cheapshot was our DJ. I basically just stuck with the same people I’ve worked with my entire career. I did the whole record with Divine and had Cheapshot do cuts. It was kind of the same process, a little more tough in a sense that I had to carry all the duties of rapping and conceptualizing with the songs. It’s a little bit harder to do on your own but it’s also more fun that way because you get to do what you want. You don’t have to compromise with anyone. Also I got Tak from Styles of Beyond on the album too, so it’s kind of like a Styles of Beyond album.

TRHH: Divine Styler produced the album and it has a golden era feel to it. Was it a conscious effort to give the album that sound or did it just turn out that way?

Ryu: It just turned out that way. We started doing some tracks and it starts taking a shape of its own once you get 3-4 tracks in. I could have went a couple different directions with this album. I could have went the Fort Minor album direction with radio singles. I could have went Get Busy Committee and did some new school stuff. I decided to do on this album what comes most natural to me, which is just spittin’ over hot beats. That’s all I really wanted to do. The end result ended up sounding like something that was kind of throwback-y but current at the same time. A lot of people that I played it for said it has that old school golden era feel but it doesn’t feel throwback-y, it feels current.

TRHH: That’s definitely the vibe I got from it. I love the album, man.

Ryu: Thank you, thank you.

TRHH: I’m feeling the album and I’m very excited about it.

Ryu: That’s good because you’re the first person outside of my friends who has heard it, so that’s good coming from you.

TRHH: Like you said, it’s got old school elements but it doesn’t sound dated. It’s very modern and dope.

Ryu: I could have been one of those grumpy old rappers and complained about how music doesn’t sound good nowadays or I could have just made an album and showed ‘em how to do it. That’s where it came from.

TRHH: I won’t use the term “grumpy old rappers” but I hear older school cats say shits wack now, but I also hear some say, “Stop hating on the young cats and let them do their thing!” What’s your take on the old school’s take on modern rappers and what’s your take on modern rappers?

Ryu: I think it’s fine. I don’t put too much on it. I don’t hate on the young kids and I like a lot of it, too. It just is what it is – it’s different. This is their version of Hip-Hop. You can’t really blame them for that. Some of it I like more than others. A lot of it just sounds the same. It’s good, there just needs to be variety. There is people out there doing traditional Hip-Hop records but a lot of time that even sounds like they’re emulating and it’s not coming from the heart. I’m kind of indifferent about it. It’s cool. Once in a while I’ll catch a new song that I kind of like, but very rarely. I just listen to old stuff.

TRHH: I feel like after a little lull the west coast has been producing the best music in recent years. The best shit is coming out of California now. What’s your take on the resurgence of west coast Hip-Hop?

Ryu: I don’t know, I can’t really call it. I agree, the west coast is bringing some innovation back into the game. Schoolboy Q’s last record was amazing. I liked it better than Kendrick’s to be honest. It’s got that street feel to it. L.A. artists are lyricists since the Project Blowed days and even Snoop. Our gangster rappers were even lyricists at the same time. Everybody has their time to shine and the west coast was bringing something different to the equation and it started catching because people were sick of the same old thing. Kendrick, Schoolboy Q, and the whole TDE thing kind of set that off. Even YG does traditional gangsta rap but that was missing. It wasn’t any of that going on right now. I think we’re just filling a void.

TRHH: You have a song on the album called “I Did it To Myself” that’s real introspective. What was the inspiration behind that song?

Ryu: That song I actually did a few years ago. A lot of people liked it so much I just tacked it on the end of the album. That’s the only song not produced by Divine — it was produced by Apathy. The concept behind that was I was signed to Warner Bros. with Fort Minor, which is Mike Shinoda’s group with me and Tak from Styles of Beyond. I also was signed as Styles of Beyond with Warner Bros. It basically didn’t’ work out. It was a bad situation. I spent a lot of time blaming other people for that, “The record label sucks. The President of Warner just don’t understand us. Linkin Park could have done more to promote us.” I was blaming a lot of people. I realized after a while that I was sitting there on the record label waiting for someone to do something for me instead of going and doing it on my own. At the end of the day the only person I could blame was myself. That was like a diss record that I was going to do about the whole situation but it ended up being a diss record to myself.

TRHH: That’s a great lesson to learn though.

Ryu: Yeah, me being a little bit older in the game for rap, that’s the kind of stuff that I appreciate. The younger me wouldn’t have looked at it like that. Me being older I think the timing is right for everything because if I had done a solo album when I was 21 I don’t think it would have been the same. It would have been ignorant. It’s good to be able to look at yourself and factor in all things when you’re making your decisions as an older rapper.

TRHH: Who is Tanks for the Memories made for?

Ryu: It’s made for me and Divine Styler – that’s it. We did that record in my kitchen. We had no expectations for it. We just did it to watch ourselves bug out [laughs]. We’d just sit there in the kitchen, play a beat, make ugly faces, and dance around. We made it for ourselves. Like I said I could have went a couple different directions and tried to cater to what I feel was the best selling or the most people would like it. I just did it for myself and Divine, that’s it. We had a fun time doing it.

Purchase: Ryu- Tanks for the Memories

Substantial: Present

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Photo courtesy of Kokayi
Photo courtesy of Kokayi

Substantial and Marcus D make up the group Bop Alloy. Originally from Maryland but now residing in Virginia, Substantial is the emcee of the group. A veteran artist, Substantial boasts one of the best voices in Hip-Hop with substantive lyrics to match. Marcus D is a producer from Seattle, Washington who currently resides in Tokyo, Japan. Marcus’ music merges his talents as a pianist with that classic boom bap sound.

Bop Alloy’s most recent release is a 5 track EP titled “Present EP.” The project is produced entirely by Marcus D and features appearances by Precious Joubert, Intelligenz, and Steph the Sapphic Songstress.

One half of Bop Alloy, Substantial spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about The Present EP, his role with the HipNott Records label, and his upcoming solo album slated for a fall release.

TRHH: You and Marcus D have been making music a long time on your own. How did you initially come together to form the group?

Substantial: We initially came together after he reached out to me a minute ago, back when Myspace was still a thing. He contacted me through Myspace and asked me to hop on some tracks on his debut album. We basically kept in touch and kept working. I stepped to my agent that was handling my stuff in Japan at the time and told him if I did an album with this kid it would probably go pretty well. I mentioned it to Marcus and we had already done three or four tracks by that time. We’ve just been making music together ever since.

TRHH: Where does the name “Bop Alloy” come from?

Substantial: Around the same time that I had that conversation I figured if we were gonna do a project that we needed a name for it, or us together. A lot of the production that he was sending me was jazz influenced. It was fusing jazz with Hip-Hop so I basically tried to come up with something that summed it up really well. Bebop is a well known style of jazz so I just shortened that and went with bop. Alloy is a type of metal fusion. So I just used those words to describe our sound and we’ve been rocking with the name ever since.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new EP “Present”?

Substantial: Present is part three in a series of EP’s that all lead up to my solo album. The solo album I’m working on is called “The Past is Always Present in the Future.” There were different EP’s that tie in to different portions of the full album. The first EP that came out was called “The Past” the second one was “Always” and now “Present” is the one we just released. The songs that fall into the “Future” section are all gonna be included on the album. We went with Present for this particular EP because it’s part of the title for my album, but also of all the producers that I collaborate with Marcus D is the one I presently collaborate with the most. So when I was choosing who would handle the production for that particular EP it made the most sense to work with the guy I work with the most right now.

TRHH: Tell me about the song The Sub Way.

Substantial: I was basically vibing to the beat that Marcus sent – it’s an amazing track. When you’ve been writing as long as I have the challenge is coming up with an original concept. The first thing that you have to accept is the chances of you talking about something that no one has ever talked about before is slim to none. The least I can do is come up with a creative way to do it. I talk about my life growing up in Maryland and the other areas I lived leading up to present day. It’s tied into the title of course, but I wanted to use the various subway trains that are tied into all of the neighborhoods that I describe. It starts in Maryland then it goes up to New York and I mention all the trains around there. Then I talk about the MARC train in Baltimore which is how I used to get back and forth to D.C. and PG from Bmore when I wasn’t driving, and eventually Virginia where I’m resting at now. I figured using the subway would be an interesting way to tie my life story together.

TRHH: What’s your recording process like with you guys being on opposite ends of the country?

Substantial: Most of the time it depends. If we’re working on something for the other’s project that will determine who hits up who first. In this particular case when I started working on this project I hit up Marcus and was like, “This is what I’m thinking.” He started sending me tracks, we’d have enough tracks, and then we wouldn’t ‘cause I’d change my mind about one. As the process was going on he’d e-mail me the beat, I’d open it up in a session and lay down what I call “scat tracks” where it would be no words. I’d just be scatting over the beat with different flows over whatever melody. I’d develop the idea, lay down a rough, and send it back. He’d give feedback. It’s at least one phone conversation a week, a whole lot of e-mails, and a couple of text messages on the joint until we got it where we needed it to be.

TRHH: What exactly is your role at HipNott Records?

Substantial: At HipNott I’m Head of A&R. I’m also an artist on the label. That’s how I first came into the fold. Maybe a couple months into my contract with them as an artist they offered me a job as Head of A&R with the label. That was maybe March of 2015.

TRHH: Has your role at HipNott Records changed the way you create and view music?

Substantial: I wouldn’t say it’s changed how I create or approach music. The only thing now is I spend a lot more time on the phone with artists making sure they have what they need, following up with different things, and pitching ideas to them – just whatever they need to help make their project happen. Truthfully it’s not too different from what I’ve been doing for years with different artists that I knew needed my help, it’s just now I get paid for it [laughs]. We all kind of know a bunch of artists so if you’re like a big brother to a lot of them you’re always offering advice. You’re always making calls on their behalf, linking them with whoever, kind of going out and checking out the latest acts and taking one or two under your wing. That’s something that I always did even when I was doing demos, it’s just now it’s in an official capacity.

TRHH: Give us some insight into the upcoming solo album.

Substantial: As I mentioned before the new album is going to be called The Past is Always Present in the Future. Right now I have production from Oddisee on there, The Other Guys, Marcus D, my man Algorhythm from The Stuyvesants, Gensu Dean off of Mello Music, and John Lane who is part of Oddisee’s band, Good Company. There’s a lot of great production. The title is somewhat self-explanatory like, no matter how much things change over time there are certain things from our past that will remain constant, which I think applies heavily to what we see going on in the world right now with police brutality and a long list of other issues that are facing the black community. So I think it’s something that we kind of know to be true, I just feel like The Past is Always Present in the Future is the perfect way to sum up what we’re seeing.

The album deals with a lot of those things. It talks about legacy – recognizing what I’m ultimately gonna leave behind, cause I ain’t gonna be here forever. And basically making from that standpoint and recognizing the fact that I can get out here, tap dance, and do all this bullshit that a lot of artists do to make money, however if it was all about that for me I’d just hit the block [laughs]. I decided to go this route with my music because I saw this as a vehicle to not only help myself, but other people. Starting with my community and branching out and affecting change throughout the world. I recognize the power of this art and me putting a lot of thought into what I’m doing and making sure my legacy is one I can be proud of, and more importantly my family can be proud of.

Purchase: Bop Alloy – Present EP

Masta Ace: The Falling Season

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Photo courtesy of zoefotografie
Photo courtesy of zoefotografie

From the start of his music career Masta Ace has always pushed the creative envelope. His projects come across as more movies than albums. Ace beautifully intertwines beats and rhymes with stories that everyone can identify with. Ace’s latest release adds on to his legacy of making full-length albums that display his talents as a storyteller and a lyricist.

The Falling Season is an album that takes us back to Masta Ace’s high school years. Ace guides the listener through the highs and lows that he experienced during his most pivotal years in his home of Brownsville, Brooklyn. The album is produced entirely by KIC Beats and features appearances by Chuck D, Your Old Droog, Pav Bundy, A.G., Nikky Bourbon, Torae, LT, Queen Herawin, Wordsworth, Stricklin, Cormega, Beej Gordy Brooks, Deion, Denez Prigent, Pearl Gates, World Famous Supreme Team, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Masta Ace about The Falling Season, why making the right decisions is critically important for young people, working with producer KIC Beats, and his dream of writing for the big screen.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, The Falling Season.

Masta Ace: The album takes you back to my high school years between the ages of 13 and 18. That’s kind of the age I feel like young men make sometimes the wrong decision and sometimes the right decision. When they make those wrong decisions at that age it’s the time of your life where one wrong decision could impact the trajectory of your life and send you in a whole different direction. I found at that age that a lot of cats that I was hanging with started to fall, make mistakes, go to jail, and just go in different directions in their lives and they never really recovered from it.

TRHH: Why do you think that is? Why do you think that at that age so many life altering moments happen, especially in our community?

Masta Ace: That’s kind of the age were you’re sort of transitioning from kid to young man. You can kind of see adulthood right in front of you. Once you hit the teens you start thinking you know everything and nobody can tell you nothing. You think you got everything figured out and your parents don’t know nothing. You start going out there and making those decision. At that age also you start hanging out a little bit later and kind of do your thing a little bit. You’re able to have a little bit more freedom but sometimes in the city that freedom is a bad thing because you wind up being with the wrong kind of people in the wrong kind of situations. If you haven’t been given the right foundation from a parent then you can easily fall into the wrong trap.

TRHH: How long have you had this concept in mind for The Falling Season?

Masta Ace: This concept really just came up when I wrote the first song for the album. I had a bunch of beats but the first song that really came to me and made me want to write was the Young Black Intelligent record. Once I wrote that record it kind of spells out what I was going through at that age – the struggle growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, having friends that went a different direction, feeling that pressure to not necessarily be a good student because that was a cool thing to be, but wanting to do what felt right to me. Once the lyrics were written I knew exactly what the album was going to be about.

TRHH: Young Black Intelligent is a song that I relate to. Unfortunately a lot of young, black, intelligent children have to deal with feelings of isolation in their own neighborhoods and even some homes. What inspired you to write that song?

Masta Ace: The song just really spoke to who I was at that age and that time of my life coming up in the neighborhood that I came up in. So many of the kids that I hung with on a daily basis and played football with had no interest in school or anything related to school. They were really all about the streets. For a while there had I made one or two different decisions you and I wouldn’t be talking right now. There would be no artist named Masta Ace. My fate would have been completely different. I wanted to tell the story of that struggle. I didn’t even think about how it could relate to other people, I just wanted to tell the story from my perspective. It just so happened that many people, and many young people now can relate to being in that situation.

TRHH: Did you purposely have KIC Beats produce the entire album or did it just turn out that way?

Masta Ace: It’s purposely because I was looking for a producer or producers that could put together some music that was sample free or pretty close to it. When I heard his sample free music it still felt like it was samples. That’s what I was looking for – somebody who had music that sounded like samples even though it wasn’t. Once I heard his little library of beats I knew that he was the right guy to do the whole thing. Right away I picked out 4-or-5 that I definitely wanted to write to. That just carried through the whole album.

TRHH: Why was it important to have sample free music?

Masta Ace: At the time the album that I was working on was supposed to be for Penalty which is distributed by Sony. It was made very clear early on that we couldn’t bring any music that had samples in it because it was going to create an issue because of the Sony name. When people see that Sony name and they know that you used their music they’re gonna come after you with guns blazing. That was the initial reason why I was looking for a producer that was sample free. They worked on the eMC album as well. As the project came together I just felt like it wasn’t the right home for the album and decided to move it, but I stayed with the plan.

TRHH: How long did it take to complete the album?

Masta Ace: If you count mixing and everything it took a year. In terms of writing, picking all the beats, and creating the songs it was probably 7-8 months. I was on the road with eMC and that kind of slowed the process down. It wasn’t like a continuous 8 months working on it. I was out promoting the eMC record and doing shows with them so I would take big blocks of time off while I was touring with them and then I’d come back and work on it some more.

TRHH: You have a lot of great guest appearances on The Falling Season; talk about the joint you have with A.G. on the album.

Masta Ace: That’s probably the one record on the album that doesn’t have anything to do with the theme of the album. There is no message there that connects with the theme of the album. He and I had collaborated on a few records together over the last maybe year or two. I felt like we had good chemistry musically. I felt like we were a good match. I’ve known A.G. for a long time. We’ve been cool for years. I decided to reach out and see if he was down and he was definitely down to jump on it. That just made it all the better.

TRHH: Was this album the most autobiographical of all your albums?

Masta Ace: Definitely the most autobiographical of all of them. The two previous albums, Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer were fiction based but had autobiographical elements in it. This album is kind of the reverse. It’s autobiographically based but had elements of fiction mixed in to make it more fun. So yeah, definitely the most out of all of them.

TRHH: What’s next up for Masta Ace and M3 Records?

Masta Ace: Next up is a project with Marco Polo next year. I’m trying to really transition into writing screenplays. I have a TV show idea that I’m developing. I want to take my writing to other areas — TV, movies, big screen. That’s where I’d like to go with it – that’s what I’m pursuing.

Purchase: Masta Ace – The Falling Season

Jyroscope: On the House

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Photo courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity
Photo courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity

I.B. Fokuz, Collasoul Structure, and DJ Seanile are Jyroscope. The Chicago trio came onto the scene five years ago with their debut album, Ragtime. Soon after Jyroscope released a mixtape paying homage to their favorite rock tunes titled, “On the Rocks.”

Jyroscope returned in early 2016 with a new project paying homage to a genre created in their hometown of Chicago — Hip House. Born in the late 1980s and reaching its peak in the early 90s, Hip House combined Chicago’s soundtrack, house music, with New York’s burgeoning music called Hip-Hop. Jyroscope reintroduces fans to the once popular music on a free mixtape called “On the House.” On the House is a 9 track release available for free download that features appearances by Jondae Scott and Malakh EL.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to the members of Jyroscope about the On the House mixtape, their growth as artists since their 2011 debut, and their upcoming EP, Mute.

TRHH: Why did you guys decide to do a Hip House project?

I.B. Fokuz: First and foremost we kind of came off of our last project “On the Rocks” where we were rocking over a whole bunch of rock tracks and we wanted to dabble in different genres. We chose to do house. It started as a fun idea but as we watched it manifest before our eyes it really hit home because this is the Mecca of house music. Mixing Hip-Hop with house music really hit home for us. It was a great idea at first but it really manifested into something that we wanted to explore even more. It was a good choice and as you listen to the music it kind of progresses with those thoughts, if that makes sense.

TRHH: What are some of your early memories of Hip House music in the city?

Collasoul Structure: With Hip House of course the obvious would be hearing Fast Eddie. Frankie Knuckles of course, Mr. Fingers, and obviously The Percolator is the most well-known song across the board. People in different places on different planets know that song.

I.B. Fokuz: Later on down the line we got Outhere Brothers. I think sometimes people did it unintentionally. Because it’s the city of house music you were bound to ride the 4/4. I think the appreciation for that authentic Chicago sound kind of got lost when it started to go overseas. Not to put down anybody – obviously everything it evolves. It took on as EDM, rave, and things like that which is still cool. Taking it back to your first question and connecting it to your second one it’s like bringing it back to the essence of where it comes from but with a modernized flow and modernized approach, we thought it would make things interesting.

TRHH: Do you guys know if Fast Eddie or any of those other guys heard On the House?

Collasoul Structure: I would hope so. I really hope some of the greats and legends get to hear it hopefully. I’m praying for it. If they do I hope they know that we are truly trying to pay homage and uphold the standard. People haven’t really jumped onto Hip House in a long time. It blossomed then and fizzled and stayed where it was in that time. People are kind of starting to do something similar. You can sort of say that Flo Rida is on that wave. No one really touched upon that genre and that portal. We sat and thought about jumping into this full force and brought it back to the city.

I.B. Fokuz: Just to camelback off what he said we were very sensitive to the fact of paying that homage and making sure what we were doing was done right. Even though we did it in our way and wanted to elevate it we still wanted to make sure the roots were deeply planted so it could be appreciated by the greats. Actually by you asking did these legends hear it, funny enough one of the tracks that we did called “Vibes” was collaborated with The Black Madonna and Simba.

Collasoul Structure: It was a Simba Selecta song and Black Madonna remixed it. I heard it a little while back and played it for I.B. and Seanile. It’s the essence of house right here. When you hear that song you think “house” like this is what it’s all about right here. We went straight to work on it. Thankfully we got a dude that believed in us and helped us put together a video for it – Mr. Kory Stewart. He put together a masterful video, we put it out, and people embraced it. Simba Selecta and Black Madonna tweeted to us, “Hey, we are in love with this song. We would love to play it in shows. We really dig it and appreciated that you re-worked our song.”

I.B. Fokuz: Just to bring it full circle back to your question directly, that’s what we would love to hear and I think that’s the reason why you even asked the question. It’s one thing to do something and get love from the people but when you’re really paying homage to somebody, for the people that you’re paying homage to, to reach their hand out and be like, “Hey, y’all did it right,” that makes us appreciate the project more. This project is still growing wings. We released it in February but with the video coming out it’s spreading more wings. To be honest with you, and I can speak for all of us, On the House is really just the prototype to what we are prepared to do in the future. This is really just to open up the portal. We really want to tap more into the Hip-House, not meaning that we don’t have the boom bap because we got a lot of cards up our sleeves. But the Hip House is very special to us.

TRHH: How have you guys grown as a group since the release of Ragtime?

DJ Seanile: It’s been a lot of years since Ragtime. Everybody has grown as artists – digging for records, finding new styles, and different things that we all want to do with the music. Since Ragtime we’ve just been evolving day after day after day after day. With the Hip House record it just shows that there is no genre that we can’t discover or research that we don’t try to give it our all to make our own sounds with the genres that we come across. I’m really looking forward to the next one, but the Hip House genre that we decided to do this time really touched home with me because I grew up on house and I spin house all the time. It’s a moment where it’s finally a record that we could put out and really get into, and doing live shows with it makes it even better. The Vibes video just shows you the evolution since Ragtime.

Collasoul Structure: I feel like we were pretty good then but we’ve grown leaps and bounds. When you listen to Ragtime we sound like 15-16 years old. You can hear the growth in our voices and the styles. Our wording has gotten sharper, our delivery has gotten sharper, Seanile’s cuts have gotten sharper literally and figuratively. We studied ourselves, our influences, and basically jumped in a plane and went up there a little bit. I’m very, very proud of us.

I.B. Fokuz: Just to add to that, when you speak about Ragtime first and foremost Ragtime was a representation of our struggle and endurance before that was released. Just to give you some background, when Jyroscope came about that was ’05. Me and Collasoul Structure we were in the same high school in the same division class at Hyde Park Academy. Funny enough, we really didn’t clique up until senior year. We had amazing conversations and builds, but it really didn’t kick off until senior year. When we graduated in ’05 that’s when we really took it serious to link up and do what we was doing.

We started off on the south side just doing open mics and stuff. As we were growing in these open mics in our own approach it was a lot of guys that took us under their wing just to say, y’all need to get out of the hood on the south side and the rest of Chicago needs to hear you. It’s almost a metaphor of the whole world needing to hear you because you’re not going to be heard just being on this block. We give credit to a lot of brothers that helped us out. When we went to the north side we started exposing ourselves and performing in different cities in the country. It really helped us to understand what we had. This whole process of us learning all this stuff and maturing was us creating Ragtime.

Ragtime really was like a representation of the starving artist in the struggle. A lot of people don’t know that Ragtime came out in 2011 but it was probably written in 2008. It was all written by ’09 it’s just that we didn’t record it. This was a project that captured our early moments when we were buzzing in the streets and out here in Timbs in the snow passing out flyers, going to open mics, building with the rest of our brethren which is now Tomorrow Kings. All of that stuff was being built around that time. When we finally released Ragtime in 2011 that’s the reason why you heard On the Rocks.

When you listen to the style and flow on On the Rocks you can kind of tell that there was a little maturity and growth in our rhyming skills, patterns, and concepts. You can tell that On the Rocks is different from Ragtime even though they were released in the same year. It was a point where we were like, “Should we put out Ragtime?” but this was like a photo album of everything that we experienced so when we released it, it was appreciated as such. When you ask how we have grown from that point, it was a lot of growing before that point which led to this moment that makes us approach things the way we approach it now.

TRHH: Because of that growth is it difficult when you guys are performing to do those songs?

I.B. Fokuz: Could you elaborate on that question?

TRHH: Do you not want to perform the songs off of Ragtime because the sound has changed or because you’re just in a different space right now?

DJ Seanile: I personally feel like anything that we’ve done in the past I’m always down to do again. At the gig today I was listening to some of Gilead’s records off of ADVENT and I was like, we gotta perform “Sophia” again, it’s been too long. There is nothing on Ragtime that I wouldn’t perform on a daily basis.

Collasoul Structure: That’s a very, very good question. One thing I can say first and foremost is I never feel ashamed to perform any of the songs from Ragtime because they got us to where we are today. We hold those so close to the heart. We definitely still do perform songs from Ragtime. We still have a very limited supply that’s for sale, too. We’re gonna rock it until the end. Some of those songs still can compete today I feel. I definitely understand what you mean when you ask if it’s difficult to perform those because you feel like you have grown so much.

There will be a disparity in the styles when you hear something live from Ragtime, to when you hear something from On the Rocks, to when you hear something from On the House, and when you hear the new stuff from the Mute EP. It’s gonna be there. If anything it’s a challenge for us to re-learn songs from Ragtime that we haven’t done in a long time. It’s actually fun, it’s exciting. One day I’d like to perform the entire album of Ragtime all the way through like we did at the release party. It would be hard as hell but it would be fun.

TRHH: I spoke to Gilead7 a while ago and he said the Tomorrow Kings would come back as a crew pretty soon. How soon will we hear something from Tomorrow Kings?

I.B. Fokuz: I will say this, Tomorrow Kings never left. Tomorrow Kings never split up, Tomorrow Kings has always been united. To put it in more perspective as to why Jyroscope is starting to buzz again like we were doing in ’08 and ’09, Tomorrow Kings being this collective of emcees we founded this and brought this together as a collective of unity. A lot of people have attempted to do this but weren’t able to capitalize and build an umbrella to build from. We actually did that. We released a great album, Nigger Rigged Time Machine. We did a lot of great things as far as touring and getting out here. We really created a platform for the individual artists in the crew.

The reason why I say that is because you have to understand when Tomorrow Kings started Jyroscope as far as emcees was the only duo within the crew. We was technically how Souls of Mischief is in Hieroglyphics. Jyroscope is like the Souls of Mischief of Tomorrow Kings and everybody else is solo emcees. When we all came together to build Tomorrow Kings we put in some years to even get that recognized, honored, and respected. By even doing that we all kind of put our own individual thing on hiatus to really nurture what Tomorrow Kings is right now and the respect that it has. By us putting those years in now it got back to that point where now that we solidified this foundation now we all gotta get in our own individual stations so we can nurture where we started from.

When we came together we all were hungry on our own stations but we put so much time as a family that it was a point of emphasis that we all had to grow individually to be those pillars to hold up that building. That’s the reason why you’re hearing Skech185 coming out with his new album. That’s the reason why you’re hearing Lamon Manuel about to release his debut project. That’s the reason why Gilead7 just released his project. That’s the reason why you heard Jyroscope just released On the House and we got more stuff in store. We all individually are strengthening ourselves as we built this foundation so now when we release all these projects best believe that, that next project of Tomorrow Kings is going to be brewing.

The more projects you hear coming out from each individual member, that’s when you need to put the clock on and be like, “Okay, I done got an album from him, an album from him, and an album from him, I know what’s next! Tomorrow Kings is about to come back out with that haymaker again.” Everything is calculated. Everything is put into place in its right pattern so it can still be accepted well but it still has the breathing room for everybody to shine which was the point and emphasis from the beginning.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear on the Mute EP?

Collasoul Structure: For starters it’s gonna be hard. It’s gonna be tough. Tough meaning it’s gonna bang. You’re gonna feel it. We really, really put some energy into these rhymes. We always do, but we really put some strength and conditioning into these rhymes. I’m over-elated about how it’s coming out so far. You can expect production from Jason Gatz of Gatz and Goods. Also Ashley Good from Gatz and Goods because her vocals are on one of the songs. You’re gonna expect some hard hitting instrumentation.

I.B. Fokuz: My production is scattered on there.

Collasoul Structure: Right. Crazy rhyme schemes, ridiculous word wizardry, really cool creative concepts, some DJ Seanile cuts –super sharp cuts! When you listen to it your ears are gonna be bleeding.

I.B. Fokuz: He ain’t leaving the studio until we get that right cut!

DJ Seanile: [Laughs].

Collasoul Structure: A little bit of this, and a little bit of that. We’re gonna keep it short and sweet. It’s gonna be an extended play, but it’s gonna be short and sweet.

I.B. Fokuz: And to be honest with you, bro it’s easy for us to say this is a new beginning but this is just a continuation of our growth and maturity. On the House was really our proper introduction back into the wave of things. Mute EP is us flexing our guns a little bit like, “Yeah, don’t get it twisted, we still got that sledge hammer on deck.” It’s not gonna stop there because you might get another Hip House project right after that. You might get a rock track after that. You might get a jazz album right after that. You might get a folk album right after that.

If this hasn’t been emphasized, if you know what a gyroscope is it balances things. It keeps things balanced. The reason why we are Jyroscope is because you can put us in any environment and we will adapt to it. Best believe that this Mute EP is gonna get thrown at people like a haymaker but we ain’t stopping there. That’s a little jab to the neck. Once you recuperate from that we’re gonna give you something to bob your head to and hopefully your head don’t fall off your shoulders from the last blow. We’re definitely keeping it coming, but the Mute EP is gonna be pretty tough.

Download: Jyroscope – On the House

Ras Beats: Control Your Own

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Photo courtesy of Worldwyde Recordings
Photo courtesy of Worldwyde Recordings

Born in Denmark and raised in Queens, New York Ras Beats continues the East Coast tradition of making that old boom bap. His sample-based sound provides a feeling from a past era with a modern day appeal. Ras Beats’ work is on full display on his newly released album on Worldwyde Recordings, Control Your Own.

Control Your Own is a 14 track album that features O.C., Elzhi, Roc Marciano, Sub-Con, Breeze Brewin’, Kool Sphere, Fev, A.G., J-Biz, Rasheed Chappell, Blacastan, Sureshot La Rock, Masta Ace, and Sadat X.

Ras Beats spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his beginnings in beat-making, the current sound of mainstream Hip-Hop, and his new album, Control Your Own.

TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Control Your Own.

Ras Beats: That came from a conversation I was having, actually. We were talking about some real life stuff at the moment and I said, “You gotta control your own,” and when I said that I thought that should be the name of the album. When it comes to the album it’s in reference to this album being independent and making sure you control your own music, the sound of it, and the integrity of your music. On a larger scale as a grown person, you may not be able to control a lot of this necessarily on the outside but you can control how you act, your own morals, and your behavior. That’s something that means something to me and that’s the meaning behind the title.

TRHH: What made you decide to do a producers album?

Ras Beats: I’m always making beats, listening to music, looking for samples, chopping them up and all that stuff. I came to a point where there were some great producer albums out there but I wanted to add my two cents. It’s something I had thought about for a while and it got to the point it was inevitable and I had to do it. Also to put some good music out there and kinda get busy with it. It’s something I had an idea with for a while but I kind of went back and forth, but I had to do this. I started working on it and that was it.

TRHH: Tell me about the first single, Wit No Pressure.

Ras Beats: When I decided I wanted to make an album Roc Marciano was one of the guys I had to get on there. He’s one of my favorites. He’s an emcee so you want to make sure as a producer that you do your best when you get him on a record. I came up with the beat and it was for Roc. I was fortunate enough that I knew him and we made it happen. It felt like a good way to start the album.

TRHH: How did you initially get into production?

Ras Beats: Probably the same story as a lot of people that do beats in my kind of style – sampling and chopping them up and all that. For me it came from just looking for old records, listening to music and being like, “Oh, that’s where such and such got the sample from!” My knowledge started expanding from there and after a while I decided to make something on my own. Like anything else you start working on your craft and you get to a point where you start making songs. It was very organic. I was a fan of music then I started making my own and going from there.

TRHH: What’s your take on the keyboard sound that has taken over Hip-Hop in recent years?

Ras Beats: That’s a tough one. At this point I think I’ve gotten into the mindset that if I don’t like something I don’t really listen to it. It sounds cliché, but if it’s good it’s good. I just always liked my Hip-Hop to be funky. I like it to have a certain grit and grime to it – something that affects you in a way that no other music affects you when you hear that first couple bars. To me it’s not that much keyboard production that gives me that feeling. Not that it necessarily has to be based on samples but there is a certain feel that that type of production gives you that I don’t personally hear in the cleaner keyboard sound. I like it a little grittier, personally. With that being said there is some stuff played on keyboard that still has that feel to it, but to my ears it’s not all that much that has it. It’s personally what I like listening to.

TRHH: What is your workstation of choice?

Ras Beats: I keep it really simple. I got my turntables set up and I got my Akai MPC 2500 next to it. That way I hear something, get inspired or am in that mood I can kind of get going in ten seconds. I do it on the 2500 at first and then go to Pro Tools when it’s time to record and mix. It’s the 2500 and I have a little keyboard hooked up to it – not so much for keyboard beats but for any samples I want to manipulate. I basically try to work with the samples and do my own take on it. I find something I want to work with and change around enough to where it’s mine now. I think the science behind it is if you find some incredible record to sample you have to add on to it and make it more than what it was when you heard it.

TRHH: How did the new single, Knowledge of Self with Elzhi and O.C. come about?

Ras Beats: I got the verse from Elzhi and I wanted to finish it up with somebody that could match what he was talking about. Elzhi is saying some things in there and you can’t just put anybody on the record next to him. O.C. was somebody that came to mind. I knew he could bring that home from there. A.G., who is also on my album was able to put me in contact with O.C., and he heard the record and was down with it.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite verse on Control Your Own?

Ras Beats: [Laughs] A lot of people ask me about my favorite songs and favorite verses. I don’t think I have one. It changes from day to day. The O.C. verse is pretty incredible. Off the top of my head I’d have to say that verse but I’m really happy with what everybody gave me on that album. Everybody that’s on there definitely came through and I really appreciate that. If you ask me tomorrow it’s going to be a different verse [laughs].

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

Ras Beats: Oohh, that’s tough. I might have to think about that. I don’t know.

TRHH: Okay, give me a few.

Ras Beats: I would have to go all-time favorites. I would love to do a record with Grand Puba – he’s one of my favorites. I would love to do a whole album with Craig G. Roc Marciano, I’d love to do a whole project with him. There’s a lot. There are a lot of people I’d like to work with and a lot of people I’d love the opportunity to do a whole project for them.

TRHH: Who is Control Your Own made for?

Ras Beats: I mean without sounding weird first and foremost it’s made for me. I wanted to make sure that this was the album that I planned to make. I wanted to make sure that it was good. I wanted to make sure that if there was a track or an interlude that I’m not loving it came off. There are a couple songs and interludes that didn’t make it. After that, once I was happy with it I want people out there who are looking for music and don’t care about politics, trends, and things like that and love music, beats, rhymes, good lyricists, drums, bass lines, and filters, that’s who I made it for. People that love music and don’t care about trends and what’s hot right now. They love music and that’s who it’s for.

Purchase: Ras Beats – Control Your Own

Reef the Lost Cauze: Furious Styles

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Photo courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity
Photo courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity

Twenty-five years ago the film Boyz N The Hood was released and it launched the careers of several young actors, most notably Hip-Hop’s very own Ice Cube. A coming of age film set in South Central, Los Angeles, Boyz N The Hood centered around the lives of three young men – Doughboy, Ricky, and Tre. The calming, no-nonsense, father figure in the film played by Laurence Fishburne was named “Furious Styles.”

Furious Styles is also the name of new joint album from Philadelphia emcee Reef the Lost Cauze and producer Bear-One. The title of the album is indicative of Reef’s status and outlook in the game of rap. Furious Styles is produced entirely by Bear-One and features appearances by REDiROC, Peedi Crakk, STS, Truck North, and Slaughter Rico.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Reef the Lost Cauze about his writing process, what it was like to work with Bear-One, and their new album, Furious Styles.

TRHH: How did you link up with Bear-One to do Furious Styles?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Bear has been a friend and an OG that I’ve known for about 12 years. He was always doing his thing around Philly. We recorded some tracks together for different projects and collaborations for other artists. We had a few tracks of our own in the cut and we decided one day to get the project poppin’. I hate to use the word “organic” because I feel like so many people have used it, but this is one of those projects where that was my friend first. That was my man and he just happened to be a great producer. He respected me as an emcee and we moved from there.

TRHH: How long did it take you to complete the album?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Once we got going it was off and on because we both had a lot of stuff going on. I’d say it was about a year. Some of the tracks were recorded over the last 4-5 years. We just added maybe 5-6 new joints and kept it moving like that.

TRHH: How was doing this album different from doing an Army of the Pharaohs or JuJu Mob album?

Reef the Lost Cauze: This is actually my twelfth solo album. Every time I work with an artist or a producer on my own project it’s my show, as opposed to an Army of the Pharaohs or JuJu Mob. Those are group projects. I play the role of making sure everybody else’s vision is respected and I’m able to feed off of other people’s energy. When it’s just you and the producer and it’s your project you’re able to do a lot more, have a lot more fun, with a lot more freedom. No constraints. You’re running the show.

TRHH: Why did you title the album Furious Styles?

Reef the Lost Cauze: I always loved that name and it just fit with the ferociousness. It’s a very raw project. Also I am Furious Styles. I’m an OG now. I’m an old head. I got my two sons and in the hood I’m constantly spouting wisdom to the young boys but I’ll also give you hell. Those things all combined and lined up for that title.

TRHH: Tell me about the single All Ours.

Reef the Lost Cauze: All Ours is a joint with my man REDiROC from a crew called Ape Gang, which is a crew out of North Philly that’s really repping. He’s an artist that Bear has worked with for a long time. We just got in the studio, Bear made the track, which is a gritty soul sample, and we just got together and knocked it out.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Do you write rhymes as they come to you or do you write to the beat?

Reef the Lost Cauze: When I had a lot more time on my hands I would just write, and write, and write. Now it’s more or less when I hear a beat that really strikes the mood and gets me inspired I’ll sit down and start writing. I’ll always try to keep a pen and pad or a recorder close by for when I think of some rhymes. As far as writing to music, it’s usually the beat that does it first.

TRHH: What inspired the song You Know Me Well?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Aw man, the beat was just so sinister. When I heard it the first time I just went in. It’s just basically a testament to the skill and art form of raw Hip-Hop. I couldn’t wait to get that out there to the people.

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

Reef the Lost Cauze: It’s definitely You Know Me Well. That’s my one right there. I love Black Out, but I would have to say You Know Me Well.

TRHH: Why is that?

Reef the Lost Cauze: It’s the perfect marriage of music and rhyme. It’s one of those things that when I started writing right away it spoke to me. I heard the beat and went right in on it.

TRHH: Who is Furious Styles for?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Furious Styles is for people that appreciate that raw, gritty, street, Hip-Hop. I make music depending on moods and who I’m working with. That’s the mood I was in and Bear’s style is the style I gravitated to for that project. I’m not a one trick pony. If you listen to any of my projects it’s different vibes and different moods for each palate that the producer lays out for me. This is just for that and that’s why we went with that title and that’s the vibe we’re coming with. It’s a heater. Short and sweet, punch you in the face, get in and get out. I think people will dig it. It’s the perfect summer time wild out music and Bears beats are incredible.

Purchase: Reef the Lost Cauze & Bear-One – Furious Styles

Introducing: The Higher Up

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Photo courtesy of HigherUpNY.com
Photo courtesy of HigherUpNY.com

New York natives Mark Scott and Kye Brewin are The Higher Up. Scott is an emcee with a slick and substantive delivery, Brewin is a producer with a sample-based boom bap sound. Together they make up one of the most promising young acts in Hip-Hop.

The Higher Up has a golden era formula with a modern day aesthetic. Their music is very much Hip-Hop, but relevant to the sounds and themes of today. The duo recently released their debut project, The Higher Up Album, for free. The Higher Up Album is produced entirely by Kye Brewin and features appearances by Breeze Brewin, Marcos Crespo Jr., Jannel McLean, and Wordsworth.

Mark Scott and Kye Brewin of The Higher Up spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the origins of their group, their goals in the game of rap, and the creation of The Higher Up Album.

TRHH: I got hip to y’all through a tweet from Big Ghost

Kye Brewin: Shout out to Big Ghost.

Mark Scott: [Laughs] Yeah, shout out to him. We put out one single called “Patients” and Kye tweeted it to Ghost. I don’t think he expected him to respond.

Kye Brewin: Ghost was fuckin’ with it.

Mark Scott: Ghost posted, “Yo, this is crazy!” and I was like, “Wow.” I follow him. He’s the most honest.

Kye Brewin: We’ve been following him for years. It was mad love for him to do that.

Mark Scott: Years. So he was like, “Let me know when the album drops.” So we let him know and I guess he really likes it.

TRHH: Tell me about the song Patients.

Kye Brewing: I don’t know, I just wanted a banger, yo. I found one sample and it was cool but I didn’t know what to do with it. It didn’t stand alone by itself. I ended up coming across the flute that you hear and I had to find a way to blend the piano and the flute together. It just started coming together. It was a banger. I had to make the drums hit.

Mark Scott: Kye hit me like, “Yo, I got something crazy for you.” I walked in and he was playing it and I was like, “Wow!” it was incredible. Patients was the easiest song that I wrote. As a writer when you hear certain instrumentals you get loose. I had that done the same day, probably in the same hour.

Kye Brewin: That’s usually how we work. As soon as I send him the beat this dude is writing the whole song. He hits me back like 3-4 hours later like, “Yo, I did it.” It’s real organic.

Mark Scott: When we put Patients out I thought it was one of the songs we should lead-off with because as intricate as it is, it’s also really playful. We were sure a lot of people would really enjoy it. Now it’s got a couple thousand plays on SoundCloud and hopefully more as time passes and more people listen to our work.

TRHH: Did you guys record this album together?

Kye Brewin: We usually record it together but he goes off and writes it in his own space. For the recording part, yeah.

TRHH: Mark, what’s your writing process like? Do you write rhymes to the beat or whenever you feel inspired?

Mark Scott: When I started writing I wrote without a beat. It was like that for years. I always knew that Kye did beats. He comes from a lineage of music people who have been in this industry and have made a name for themselves – The Juggaknots, Matic Entertainment, Queen Herawin, Breeze Brewin’. He’s been doing beats for a long time. When I hit him I told I had been writing. He always had people approaching him because there are 100,000 rappers per area code in America [laughs]. I was very confident in my material. As we started coming up with concepts for projects he would send me the beat and it would be crafted so it fit my persona. Right now we’re just clicking on all cylinders because he knows where I’m going to go with it and I know where he’s going to go with it. For example, on the second verse of Patients he said, “You came in on that verse exactly how I wanted you to do it.”

Kye Brewin: Whenever I’m making beats that I know are going to be on a Higher Up project with me and this dude I immediately try to picture how he’s going to approach the song. Usually he does that. Sometimes he’ll do it in different ways. I’ll still fuck with it but I will usually make it so that he can flow over the joint.

TRHH: Kye, what work station do you use?

Kye Brewin: I use Reason. I do most of my stuff in Reason and Pro Tools. I’m starting to get into actual samplers but I started with computer beats. I started on FL Studio and worked my way up to Reason.

Mark Scott: We’re not high maintenance. We’re building this thing from the ground up. The more access we get to certain resources the more we’ll be able to adjust to that. We know from a bare bones standpoint we’re able to just come in and if there is a mic in the room, a computer, a little keyboard, and some records we’ll knock it out.

TRHH: How did you guys come together to form The Higher Up?

Kye Brewin: We was in middle school together. I knew that he liked dope music so when he came up to me I already knew what it was – we were gonna make real Hip-Hop. A lot of people approach me like, “Yo, I know you make beats,” but they don’t know the kind of beats I make. I dabble with the trap a little bit but for the most part I like my boom bap.

Mark Scott: I had a little bit of a different approach. I think that as a writer you have to be adept enough to adjust to whatever you’ve got in front of you. Also you have to be honest and you have to write something about your life experiences that people can resonate with. The first song we ever did together was Dead Presidents. I jumped on one of his beats at first back when he had a SoundCloud, back when SoundCloud was not poppin’. He didn’t know that I had joints ready for his beats on SoundCloud but I wanted to show him what I could do.

Kye Brewin: I wasn’t crazy about my beats back then.

Mark Scott: [Laughs] Hov is my favorite all-around artist just looking at him as a person and the moves that he did. It’s between Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint, and the Black Album as my favorite albums. Dead Presidents was easily my favorite instrumental at the time. When I wrote to it I wanted to deliver it right. He heard it and I guess he saw something. We were 14 or 15.

Kye Brewin: We’ve learned a lot. We know what to do and not do at this point. We spent as long as we did mainly because we’ve never released a project like this. We’re two different minds working together. That’s what took us so long, and we’re focusing on real life stuff that gets in the way. Best believe for the next project we’re going to go back to the original format where we’re just knocking out joints and throwing them y’all way.

Mark Scott: We’re just developing this formula where we’re going to really hit the gas now and keep giving everybody content and a body of work. I think that’s what’s important. I don’t think it’s important to have the one banger. You only have the one banger and eventually people are going to want to tap into what you have of substance and as an artist. We’re on that wave right now. We’re working consistently and constantly. We finally got that bug.

TRHH: How is this album different from Therapy Sessions?

Kye Brewin: First of all let me just start off by saying Therapy Sessions is a Higher Up project but it’s different.

Mark Scott: [Laughs] It’s a Higher Up project in a sense that he did all the beats.

Kye Brewin: I didn’t give it to him for a project. It was just all my old beats and he just did it. I’ve been working since I was 13, I’m 22 now. When you get 200 plays on your SoundCloud it discourages you after a while.

Mark Scott: Especially when you have an attitude that you’re better than everybody [laughs]. It’s like, why are people throwing out these duds and getting all this love? Where is it coming from? Is it real? What happened with Therapy Sessions was we were in a car and I was dropping him off. We would get together every now and again and work. I was like 19. Like he said before, sometimes real life issues get in the way. We had a conversation, and it wasn’t a fall out because he’s my brother. We had a back and forth and he was like, “I don’t know,” and when he said that I knew what he meant. The “I don’t know” question is so deep.

I’m sitting there thinking we’re on the cusp of where we could hit this road and make timeless, classic stuff that people are going to look back on and say, “That was really good and I’m still listening to it today.” We wasn’t on the same page so I said let me kick his ass. I made Therapy Sessions. I sat down with all of his beats. Some of them were downloadable, some of them were not. I would ask him on the sly, “Can you send me that one joint,” and he didn’t know what I was doing with it. I was also going through something personal at the time and that’s why I called it Therapy Sessions. By the time I was 20 I found a studio in the Bronx by the Gun Hill stop and started knocking out these songs. Shout out to D-Trackz and Mada at The Attic Studios. I eventually let Kye know about it and it ended up being better than he expected.

Kye Brewin: Yeah ‘cause it’s a bunch of old beats!

Mark Scott: [Laughs] By the time I was finished with it he was like, “Yo, I love it but damn you used all my old beats!”

Kye Brewin: It woke me up because if you could do this with all my old material that ranges back to when I first started producing, let’s go back into the studio and let’s really work and show everybody what I can really do.

Mark Scott: Therapy Sessions was a really impassioned project because of a lot of personal issues and a lot of turmoil that I was going through at the time and I voiced it. A lot of things go with that because you don’t necessarily know how that’s going to come out and I was really confident in my writing ability and in how his songs would sound. From that I did everything from scratch. At the end of the whole day I said this is a Higher Up thing because this is work that Kye put in. I tried to make something out of it and then I said, “Yo, look at this. Imagine if we sat down and did something organically.” From that, that’s how we started working on The Higher Up Album. We were doing the album before Therapy Sessions.

Kye Brewin: We took a long break from The Higher Up Album and did the second half of the album last year. It took a while and our promise to the fans is it won’t happen again.

Mark Scott: We’re in that zone right now. We’re very happy with the product but we’ve been working on this since 2012-2013. The new stuff that we have in the vault is all about progress.

TRHH: Your sound is brand new but has golden era elements. Did you consciously set out to avoid trends when recording this album?

Kye Brewin: As far as what trend? You’re talking about trap?

TRHH: Yeah. The popular drug culture music.

Kye Brewin: Here’s our thing, we didn’t wanna be associated with weed. We didn’t want to be associated with drugs. We want people to look at us for substance, for our music, and what we say, not just as something you can get high to. You can get high to our music but that’s not something we wanna be known for. We didn’t do trap because I sent him maybe five beats that we knew would be on the album and I wanted a consistent sound on the album and at the same time I wanted variety as well. We’re not against trap. If the record is right we’re gonna do it.

Mark Scott: I believe Hip-Hop is drug culture. I don’t think it’s a new thing. I’m sure 75-to-80% of these guys that are talking about certain things that are the trend now are doing it because it’s a trend. They’re not doing it because it’s the life that they came from. There are exceptions to that rule. I’m all about making your life better and making process. Actively using certain agents is a detriment to your health because you’re so far stuck in a certain environment is working backwards. I’m not an addict. Kye is not an addict. We have delved into certain things. I’ve had my own personal things. Cigarettes is on the album and it talks about the battle I had with smoking. It’s not that I don’t glorify it, but I don’t use that as my whole angle.

We just like to go in and give people insight into what we’re thinking. He does his beats and give’s insight into what he’s thinking, when I write I give insight into what I’m thinking and it’s honest, real, and relatable to everybody. But we still have fun with the music. You can play certain joints at social events. It’s not following a trend. On my Twitter bio I say that we do Hip-Hop the new old fashion way. Also with that, a lot of people think that when they’re hearing a sample beat you gotta be “lyrical miracle” and you don’t really have to do that. You can put your words together in a creative way that people can follow. They’re following your every bar, your every line, they’re following the changes in the beat, and they’re following the changes in cadence and flow. Everything comes from the mind and the soul.

TRHH: What’s the ultimate goal for The Higher Up?

Kye Brewin: Sky is the limit. I’m down to win a Grammy off of this. You got underground artists really out here making money and getting off a positive message — household names that started in the underground with samples. Sky is the limit honestly.

Mark Scott: We’re going to take this thing as far as we can, but we also know that we’re both very able artists. We have some ideas for the next one and it’s gonna be real funny for the audience. We wanna take it as far as possible because what we’re offering is refreshing. I wanna make people look at the world different than they did yesterday and hopefully that will cut through the bullshit and reach audiences on a level never seen before. I just got that passion about it. I think we can do it – I firmly believe it.

Download: The Higher Up – The Higher Up Album

Craig G: I Rap and Go Home

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Photo courtesy of Christoffer Krook
Photo courtesy of Christoffer Krook

M.C. Craig G released his first song in 1985 at the age of 12 years old. He shined alongside Masta Ace, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane on the greatest posse record of all-time, The Symphony. A superb battle rapper, Craig wrote the rhymes in the battle scenes of the Eminem film, 8 Mile.

Since 1989 Craig G has released a handful of quality albums, but his latest release just might be his best material to date. I Rap and Go Home is an 11-track release that finds Craig G emceeing at arguably the highest level of his career. The album is produced entirely by VaporWorldz and features Kool Keith, Canibus, Ras Kass, Jarobi, Buckshot, and Rockness Monstah.

Craig G spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the art of battling and coming off the dome, the secret behind his longevity in the music business, and his new album, I Rap and Go Home.

TRHH: Explain the meaning behind the album’s title, I Rap and Go Home.

Craig G: The reason I named the album “I Rap and Go Home” is basically because I have been doing this a very long time and I’ve seen every aspect of it as far as the unnecessary things that are involved with being in the entertainment business. I have been doing it since a very young age so I didn’t have a normal childhood or a normal home life. I was on tour a lot, traveling, and in studios. Now I just feel like it’s more about displaying the music, doing your shows, going home and not giving everything of yourself to the business. I just want to keep something for myself. I want to have a regular life so I rap and go home.

TRHH: How is this album different from your last album, Ramblings of an Angry Old Man?

Craig G: To be honest with you none of my albums are different. I just posted something on Twitter a little while ago where I was explaining that people should stop expecting me to reinvent the wheel with my music because I like the original wheel just fine. I just believe that there is an unprecedented amount of people that still just like hard beats and lyrical skills. That’s pretty much what I represent. It’s nothing new, I totally understand that. It’s nothing ground breaking, I just stick to my strengths. Ramblings was more of a testament about the music business. This is more a collection of songs about my general thoughts. It’s nothing contrived or made up, it’s just how I feel about things. I just hope when I release music that there are enough people who feel the same way.

TRHH: The titles of your last few albums give off the vibe that you’re secure being an elder statesman in Hip-Hop. What’s your take on those who believe that there should be an age limit on emceeing?

Craig G: I believe that they’re out of their rabbit ass minds because there is no age limit in other genres of music. I don’t think that a particular genre of music should be singled out with ageism. It’s not sports. A lot of people that are older their brains are still as sharp as a young person or even sharper. It’s not athleticism so as long as you crank out good music you should be able to stop when you feel like stopping. No one bats an eye in our genre of music when the Rolling Stones are touring and they probably need oxygen tanks back stage. They still make hundreds of millions of dollars on the road. I believe that the Run-DMC’s, Public Enemy’s, and LL Cool J’s of the world should be doing the same.

TRHH: You’re known by many for your freestyles; what’s your take on how now freestyles are no longer off the dome and how battles are just two dudes in each others faces trading insults?

Craig G: Wow. For one, I appreciate being known for freestyling but for me that’s just something I do. It’s not a huge part of what I do. The problem for me with freestyling was that I got pigeonholed. After a couple of battles I’ve had I got tossed into the “He can freestyle but he can’t make music” box. I had Droppin’ Science, The Symphony, and numerous songs out before anybody even knew I had those skills. I don’t tend to lean on it. That comes so easy for me. The challenge for me is writing cohesive and good songs.

As far as the battles go I just believe that they should have kept a freestyle round in these newer battles for the simple fact that you want to see if people are witty enough to respond under pressure. To me there is no pressure in knowing who your opponent is months before when it comes to mental fitness. I believe that there should be a freestyle element in all battles just to see how nice you are off the dome. The art of battle came from snapping which is what we did growing up when we made fun of each other. You had to think quick and on your feet. That’s the only discrepancy I have with the battles now. If you walked into a room and didn’t know who your opponent was it would take way much more skill to have to battle that person.

TRHH: There has been a lot made about Drake not writing his own rhymes recently. What’s your take on ghost writing in Hip-Hop?

Craig G: To me not writing your own lyrics doesn’t make you a bad artist, but at the same time at least admit to it. Be real with the fans. There are artists who have writers and they’re still great artists. Almost every R&B and Soul song that I like had a different writer so I can’t penalize a rapper for it unless he’s acting like he didn’t do it. I say stick to your strengths because there are great writers who probably don’t want to get behind a mic. They need jobs, also. At the same time if you’re acting like you’re the hottest thing since sliced bread, you have all those skills, and you’re so nice, and you have someone else pulling the strings just be real about it — that’s all.

TRHH: What inspired you to write the song Long Time?

Craig G: Ah man, Long Time is probably one of my favorite songs ever now because of the simple fact that I just wanted to talk about being fortunate enough to see the birth of it and like I said in the song, see it go from park jams to infiltrating the club scene in New York City, Run-DMC and them infiltrating the arenas and sponsorships, and even into the 90s and growing bigger. I just wanted to tell that story because I feel like the younger generation, much like we were when we were younger, thought we knew everything. The difference was we actually listened if we knew someone knew what they were talking about. It’s okay not to have all the answers and it’s okay to learn something. I feel like people who think they’re perfect and they know everything scare the hell out of me. I feel like I’m not going to stop learning until I go on to the next life. I believe that it was more of an educational piece for me but it was still really heartfelt because I got to witness a lot of this stuff. It just felt very organic.

TRHH: You’ve been making records for over 30 years but you’re still a young man. What’s been the key to having longevity in a volatile music business?

Craig G: To not care. Honestly. My son who is 21 is getting into Hip-Hop and making music. I constantly remind him, “Just do what feels right to you because no matter what you do someone is going to say something.” It’s okay to not be stuck in your ways. It’s also not okay to alienate your core base of fans. I feel like from album one to album seven that I always tried to make sure that my core base of fans… Let me correct that, album two because I did not like my first album. That’s why I named my second album “Now, That’s More Like It” but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Just stick to what got you where you’re at and don’t alienate them because you’d be surprised how many people still like your strengths. Some people may say you’re stubborn for sticking to those or you’re stuck in the past, but the way I see it I’m speaking to the people who grew up with me in Hip-Hop.

If there are younger fans that are going to come along they’re more than welcome, but I generally speak to the people who grew up in Hip-Hop with me because they’re alienated. Even as a Hip-Hop fan they feel like at a certain age you shouldn’t like this or you shouldn’t like that. The biggest testament to that is all of the classic Hip-Hop stations that are popping up all over the nation. Now people our age are the guys that advertisers are looking for. I just wanna speak to them. Like I said I’m not trying to alienate anyone myself, but my core people who came up with me in this don’t get recognized enough as fans in Hip-Hop so I cater to them. That’s the secret to longevity to me. That and having an “I don’t care” attitude. I just do what I do. I wasn’t the biggest 2Pac fan as a technical emcee but he said something on a song that always resonated with me, “People are gonna hate you for whatever you do, so just do you.”

TRHH: I can’t let you slide without asking why you hated the first album?

Craig G: I was 16 years old and got a $50,000 check from Atlantic Records. I won’t say that they said, “Hey, do a House music record,” but because the simple fact of it was I loved House music before it went really left in those years. When I did “Turn This House into a Home” which is the first single off The Kingpin that song sat for a year and a half before it actually came out for commercial release. So by the time it came out the label was like, “Give us a couple more of these songs.” I just feel like we weren’t focused and rushed the album. That’s why I named the second album, Now, That’s More Like It. That’s one of the reasons I did not like the first album. I had no input.

To me honestly my first two albums were good albums but I feel like I didn’t hit my groove until I got into the independent world where I can display more of myself without having to do a single or a radio record. I’m able to go in and do what I do. I think that if it wasn’t for the independent game I would have walked away from this completely. I appreciate all of the indie artists that are striving, trying to do it on their own terms, and trying to make a new fan a day. I just appreciate them all and the community is very warm and welcoming if they know that you’re genuine about it. It keeps me going and it’s very inspiring to me, also.

TRHH: Why is I Rap and Go Home an important album in 2016?

Craig G: I Rap and Go Home is very important in 2016 because as you know in this era everything is centered around a persona or not being yourself. Basically what I try to preach and try to do by example is just be me. It’s a hard job trying to live a life that’s not yours – it’s very hard. Not every entertainer wants to go to the after party and drink champagne, buy overpriced stuff, or rent stuff and act like they own it. Some of us live a regular life. I just feel like it’s important because you gotta go home. If you don’t feel comfortable at home then you’re doing something wrong at home. Just be yourself. I’m 43 years old and I’ve been in this for thirty years. I’m not interested in being on the scene as much as opposed to being heard. It’s very important that people understand that life is not completely a party, and it could be a party without being at a party. I enjoy being at home. I cut my grass and do stuff like that because I didn’t get a chance to do that when I was younger. I started at 12 years old. It’s important because I want more people to be comfortable with who they are.

The biggest problem facing this world today is people being followers. If everyone were individuals and everyone accepted everyone as individuals, maybe, just maybe things would be a lot better. My last few album titles have just been honest. I just want to be honest with people, that’s all. Honesty is missing in Hip-Hop. Everyone can’t be winning at the same time. That’s not how life works. I’m not speaking on me personally, but because you’re losing doesn’t mean it’s the end. Maybe you can inspire someone by telling your story about how things aren’t going right. That’s why I became a huge fan of Alternative Rock because they’re truthful about their music. They’re not averse to speaking about how they weren’t cool. Not everybody can be cool at the same time, that’s not how it works. It’s important to me because I Rap and Go Home represents having a normal life and being regular. Not everybody has to be extra.

Purchase: Craig G – I Rap and Go Home

Apathy: Handshakes With Snakes

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Photo courtesy of Score Press
Photo courtesy of Score Press

According to Merriam-Webster the word apathy means “lack of feeling or emotion,” or “absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement.” That definition certainly applies to Connecticut emcee Apathy’s outlook on today’s rap music trends and so-called friends within the industry. Apathy addresses those issues on his recently released fifth solo album, Handshakes With Snakes.

Handshakes With Snakes is produced entirely by Apathy and features appearances by O.C., Ras Kass, Twista, Bun B, Sick Jacken, B-Real, Mariagrazia, Spit Gemz, Nutso, Marvalyss, Blacastan, Oh No, Kappa Gamma, Celph Titled, and the late Pumpkinhead.

Apathy spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the lessons he’s learned in the music business, why rap is not pop, what it was like to work with legendary lyricist O.C., and about his new album, Handshakes with Snakes.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Handshakes With Snakes?

Apathy: That’s basically like industry rule number 4,080. It’s a reflection on the industry and phony people. You meet so many phony people throughout your life and I was coming to a point where there are certain people in the industry who you think you’re cool with but then you realize you’re acquaintances with them. You realize acquaintanceship is not a thorough friendship. It’s not like you hate anybody or there’s really bad blood, you just realize that there are snake ass shady people who seem like they’re cool with you but they talk shit and act like they’re your people’s people or they hate on you a little bit on the low. The older you get the more it comes to light and the more you see it it’s like, “Man, fuck this shit.” That’s basically why I titled it Handshakes With Snakes. It’s some music industry shit but it’s also regular life shit dealing with shady people.

TRHH: What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the music business so far?

Apathy: I think the most valuable lesson that I’ve truly learned is that this is the music business and not the music friendship, or the music relationship, or anything. It kind of goes hand in hand with Handshakes With Snakes. I have learned that these people are not your friends or your buddies – this is the music business. Also you do music to sell albums. We all came up doing music for fun and you can do music for a hobby and create music, but when you’re doing music in the music business then it’s all business and you have to focus and be business minded. Otherwise you can just say, “Yeah, I do music as a hobby.”

TRHH: Do you think the reason why so many of our favorite groups disbanded over the years or had beef with each other is because it’s business and not friendship?

Apathy: I think there is probably a thousand variables and each situation might be unique, but yeah, that’s probable. I feel like there are certain situations like with EPMD where they had issues with the business, no pun intended. I think that there are probably a lot of guys that started out as teenagers together in groups and then over the years you mature, become an adult, and your tolerance level for bullshit is smaller. You go through different stages of your career and you also have a lot of ups and downs, ideas, and resentment over the years. I think all those things could put cracks in the dam of a group, but I feel like a lot of it is you start out with this as your passion and your hobby and you love it but once it starts becoming business there are so many other factors that are introduced.

TRHH: Tell about the song Rap is Not Pop.

Apathy: That just came from me being absolutely disgusted. Let me tell you something, nowadays it is a disgusting time. You can’t even say, “Yo, things aren’t right, right now. The music isn’t right, right now. That rapper is wack!” There is not even a chance where you can say rappers are wack anymore without people calling you a fuckin’ hater or discrediting your opinion. People act like you’re so fucked up for saying a rapper is wack. Not for nothing but there are rappers like Lil’ Dicky, and I get it, he’s like a really funny guy and he technically has skill, but I grew up listening to M.O.P., House of Pain, Gang Starr, and Tribe Called Quest, stuff that was a different vibe.

Now you got anybody who can do any style, you got a guy who looks like he can be a little nerdy, and you have a suburban white dude doing trap music. There’s no more rules and no more quality control. It’s just all a bunch of horse shit. When you’re not allowed to say anything there is something inherently wrong with our culture. There is no system of checks and balances. Rap is Not Pop is me breaking down all that shit and saying all these guys trying to do rap as pop, do it as a commercially viable thing, and just view it as a come up and party thing, that’s not what it’s meant to be. It’s just a traditionalist standpoint.

TRHH: I agree with you 110% and I’ve tried to pinpoint when and how the bullshit became acceptable. I don’t really know. I feel like it was gradual. Like maybe it started with the Puffy’s, even though he made great music. Certain things just got more acceptable over time and then it just got ridiculous.

Apathy: It was definitely gradual. Let me tell you something, I’m a white rapper and I get it. There are tons of white rappers who are respectful of the culture and they’re real. There’s Jedi Mind Tricks, Necro, Non-Phixion, and Slaine. There’s white rappers who do it right and all of a sudden this super-duper nerdy sounding white boy soft rap came in and it kind of altered the face of everything. It reminds me of what white people do to every black music that comes along. There are certain white people who come in and bastardize it and then they get defensive when you try to question its validity or quality. It’s like, “What, bro? You can’t tell me what to make. This music is for everybody. This is our culture.” Get the fuck outta here. You haven’t even paid the dues. You don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about. It’s like there is this whole generation who just comes in and feels entitled to it.

That’s why I said in that line, “What whites did to jazz when the music was black,” because they take it as this pure art form and it gets watered down. I remember back in the day when Brian Austin Green, who was an actor on 90210 and there was this white dude who was the son of the owner of the Nike Corporation named Chilly Tee and they made rap records and they were jokes. They were too white boyish. I know this isn’t back in the day, I know this isn’t the 90s, and I know this is the future and it’s 2016. I don’t hate this guy and I’m not trying to make an example out of him either, but I heard the Lil’ Dicky guy and this super-duper, nerdy, jokey, white boy rap, it’s cool if people enjoy it, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but man if back in the day somebody came around like that you would get the face slapped off your skull! You know what it’s like? We live in a bizarro world now. When Hip-Hop was the realest we live in a bizarro world from it.

Whenever everybody is like, “That’s the old shit, you’re an old head, the old days are gone, why are you stuck in ’94,” well guess what, Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders was a classic for a reason. Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers was a classic for a reason. Illmatic was a classic for a reason and people are still acknowledging that to this day. So where are those classic records like that today? Nobody is making records that are that classic. It’s not happening. Those records are classic and it’s uncontested for a reason. Just like rock is not making anything as classic now as Jimi Hendrix or the Beatles. There are no groups like that and you can’t deny that. Just like you can’t deny that there is nobody as good as the Fugees were in ’96, Nas was in ’94, Wu-Tang was in ’93, and Tribe was in ’91, ’92, and ’93. There is no question that it’s not the same.

TRHH: In recent years I’ve heard a lot of old school cats say, “All you old school cats stop hating on the young cats and just let them do their thing.” It’s shocking to me because they came from that era. Why are they giving a co-sign to bullshit?

Apathy: Because they’re scared. They’re scared of being irrelevant and not popping off. I address that in songs too. There are legends who dick ride these new dudes because they want to get money with those dudes. To be honest there is no integrity in that. I get it, I wanna get paid too but the way to do that is to keep doing what the fuck you’re doing. Not sit there and dick ride fuckin’ Mac Miller who comes out or some other dude. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Once again, I don’t hate a Mac Miller, it’s just not my taste. But you see the older heads dick riding these young dudes and the young dudes don’t give a fuck about them. It’s corny. Get off their fuckin’ dicks. Let them do their fuckin’ shit and just make good Hip-Hop like you used to.

TRHH: O.C. is on a couple of songs on the album and you two have an album coming out in the future together. What’s it like working with O.C.?

Apathy: He’s literally one of the best guys I’ve met in my life. He’s mega, mega humble, very, very super real. He’s easily in my top 5 biggest influences of my life in Hip-Hop. His “Word…Life” tape changed the way I approached writing raps and making music completely. It’s surreal to me that even when I’m not hanging out with O I’ll put in Word…Life or Jewelz and bug out that that’s like a brother to me now. I’m very appreciative that I get to work with him in that capacity and that he respects me in that capacity. We’ve become like family.

TRHH: You have a verse from the late Pumpkinhead on the album. Talk about your relationship with Pumpkinhead and how that song came together.

Apathy: I was friends with P.H. for almost twenty years. I can’t remember the specific spot we met but it was in the underground New York Hip-Hop scene. I’m pretty sure it was probably at Nuyorican. P.H. was literally one of the coolest, most down to earth, dope guys who was an absolutely lethal emcee. People saw that Pumpkinhead got into battles but they don’t know how good his records were. The dope thing about P.H. is up until the point that he passed he never fell off. He was dope constantly and consistently. A few months before he passed I was talking to Celph on the phone and we were talking about the guys who have come and gone in the underground, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, but fell off with music. We were talking about how dope Pumpkinhead was and how he still killed it. He was still so nice and he still had that thirst and that hunger. It never stopped with him. He just always wanted to tear somebody’s head off and his raps were super clever. He was fantastic.

That joint on the album was an old verse that I had of his. The song ended up getting dismantled. All the files between me being a young guy in my early 20s when it was recorded I had lost all that shit. We found it after he passed away. We found a whole bunch of files from an album that I was working on back in the day that never got finished. I listened to his verse and I was blown away by how it did not sound dated at all. And it blew me away where it almost put tears in my eyes how it seemed so prophetic. He was talking about, “If I ever get burned, I’ll leap out the urn/My ashes will return.” I was floored with how it was applicable to what was happening. It was like he was speaking from beyond the grave. It was incredible and he did such a fantastic verse that we had to put it on the song. I didn’t want that to be lost forever. I wanted people to know how dope he was. It was also crazy too because he’s one of the first guys from my graduating class that I came up with that was close to my age in our whole scene that I was close with. It just fucked me up that I hadn’t kept better in contact or tried to do more records because we both felt like we had all the time in the world and could do this forever. We really took shit for granted.

TRHH: I think that’s a normal human thing. We just go along with our lives but you never know, man. You never know.

Apathy: Yep, exactly.

TRHH: On the song Moses with Bun B and Twista you used a bit of a different style. What inspired you to switch it up on that song?

Apathy: If anybody listens to my shit they’ve heard me rap double time mad times. I’ve done lots of double time and bounce tempos in my career. I don’t particularly like doing it for my raps, but I wanted to do a joint with Twista. He followed me on Twitter so I followed him back and sent him a message saying, “Hey man, we used to be label mates. I’ve always wanted to work with you,” and he was like, “Yeah, man, let’s do it.” Bun is like family. He’s the homie. He shows so much love and I figured if I was going to do something with that tempo I have to put Bun on it. He’s one of the kings of that shit. I knew Twista was gonna obliterate it. It’s crazy because even though I knew Twista was gonna do his thing, I never realized how hard he was gonna body that. When he sent me his verse back I was like, “Holy shit! He killed it!” He killed me on that song. I tried to do my best because I knew what I was up against but he dismantled me on my own song. I’m happy he did because I love the way that song sounds.

TRHH: Was it a conscious decision to produce the whole album yourself or did it just kind of work out that way?

Apathy: It just kind of worked out that way. I kinda do it out of necessity and I also get inspired in the process of making something. Like when I have a break beat looped up and I’m searching through samples. As soon as I find the right sample I’m like, “Oh shit, here we go!” and it’s off to the races. I didn’t really do it consciously but it just kind of organically happened like that.

TRHH: Overall with this album I sense frustration on your part with the current make up of Hip-Hop and aspiring rappers. Is that accurate?

Apathy: Yeah, for sure. But it’s not like I’m an old angry man. I live a good life. I’m chillin’, I’m happy, I got a daughter, I got a wife, I go take walks by the ocean and shit. I’m chllin’, it’s just that with a culture that I so insanely put my heart into I refuse to bite my fucking tongue when it comes to something I love so much. Even though I’m not sitting around stewing all day about what other people are doing – I don’t give a fuck what the next man does – it just breaks my heart that things have changed and I don’t feel like things have changed for the better. I just watched an M.O.P. interview where they were talking about this shit and it was hilarious.

I agree with them so much because they were like, “How did this happen? We had motherfucking Rakim, Public Enemy, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and M.O.P. We’ve gone from that and now we’re here?” We’ve gone downhill. You can’t listen to Wu-Tang’s Cream, Eric B & Rakim’s Follow the Leader, or Nas’ New York State of Mind and say lyrics have advanced beyond that. We’ve gone backwards. The only saving grace is underground Hip-Hop music. There are amazing lyricists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole but they aren’t making songs that are traditional in the aspect of Hip-Hop. It’s definitely something else now. I’m not saying they’re not Hip-Hop, I’m just saying it’s evolved into a different genre or a different form of music. It’s not boom bap, it’s not Hip-Hop, it’s not what it was.

TRHH: You’re 100% right and it’s sad. I do think guys like Kendrick, J. Cole, and Joey Bada$$ will inspire the next crop of guys.

Apathy: They are. I’m seeing it because I’m meeting mad young kids who are like 18. In Connecticut there is a group of young black dudes with dreads and they’re all on that Joey Bada$$ Hip-Hop revival shit. These kids remind me of Souls of Mischief or Pharcyde or something. It’s like, thank God you guys are here! It’s such a breath of fresh air. Their favorite album is Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage and they’re 18 year olds. This album came out before they were born.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Handshakes With Snakes?

Apathy: At this point to appeal to the heads who are true Hip-Hop fans and hopefully to put on some new Hip-Hop fans. I never think in terms of that anymore. What do I hope to achieve with one album? I think it’s just basically fighting the good fight and keeping this shit going as long as we can. It’s all I know how to do anyway and it’s all I’ll allow myself to do because you won’t see me do some bullshit. It’s ingrained in me too deeply, I can’t help it. When I was first signed to Atlantic Records these guys were sending me beat CD’s that ended up being the same beats that T.I. used for his hits. I just couldn’t do it. I was always the kid who wanted to work with Premier and Pete Rock but at the major label they’d say, “But we got Lil’ Jon and Rick Rock sending you beats.” The beats were cool but they weren’t for me. I was always trying to be that guy. I just keep on ticking, man, that’s all I can do.

Purchase: Apathy – Handshakes With Snakes