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

Artson: E.A.R.T.H.

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Photo courtesy of Score Press
Photo courtesy of Score Press

Artson is a Hip-Hop renaissance man. Beginning his career as a B-Boy, the El Paso, Texas native who now resides in Los Angeles now expresses himself as an emcee. Throughout his catalog Artson relays to the listener the life of a Chicano/Native American artist.

Artson released three consecutive projects in in 2016; Reverse Through Time (March), War Cry (April), and most recently E.A.R.T.H. E.A.R.T.H., an acronym for “Every Artist Responds To Her” is produced entirely by G Koop and takes a look at our planet and our purpose on it.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Artson about his start in Hip-Hop culture, his lifestyle store H.O.M.E. in Long Beach, California, and his new EP, E.A.R.T.H.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title E.A.R.T.H.?

Artson: After dropping the other two I went back and worked with my indigenous brothers out here. I wanted to do a project where each song was talking about Earth and what I’m doing here, what my story is, and my connection. I wanted to get more into my roots. The title stands for “every artists responds to her” and it’s just what my business is here.

TRHH: What is your business here?

Artson: Getting in touch with my culture. When I grew up I wasn’t as in touch with my culture. I grew up in a border town, El Paso. We were forced to speak in English. My parents made us learn American culture. I didn’t grow up on a reservation so I didn’t learn none of my indigenous roots. It was Hip-Hop that led me to that. When I was young I heard Hip-Hop culture and I was attached to the words. I knew it was about community and bringing people together. It didn’t really make sense to me as a kid but I liked it. Throughout the years I started to realize what it really meant. I started to get deeper into how ancient Hip-Hop really is and how we’ve been doing this a long time.

The drummer was the chanter, the dancers were the fire, the people came together and we’ve always been cyphering and getting in that circle. We’ve always been doing graffiti; we were just doing it on the mountains. The drummer became a turntablist. It led me back to remembering who I am and where my roots come from and where Hip-Hop comes from. It kind of led to this album. I’ve been doing music but I never took it that deep. I wanted to get a lot of stuff out of me on these last projects. This one was at that point where I wanted to get that root out of me and let it grow. So I went and got my bros and we did this album.

TRHH: Why did you release so many projects so close to each other?

Artson: I took last year off to do all these projects. When I was done with them they all made sense to me as a story. I wanted to find a way to have them all be together. Also trying to be part of what’s going on with the times. Things are moving so fast with social media and the attention span is so short that I wanted to hit people over the head on overload almost to get them to realize that it doesn’t have to be like that. I wanted to go overboard and let you get a piece of me every month. I wanted to hit ‘em with it to let them know that people need to fall back a little bit. I wanted to speed up a little bit to almost prove a point.

TRHH: Tell me about the song The Blocks.

Artson: That’s off the Reverse Through Time project. That project is more of a street-hop album and telling a backstory of my life, getting a lot off my chest and letting people have an insight to things that I’ve held inside – things that I’ve been through, seen, and done. I’ve never really put it in my art like that so I wanted to let people in on that. Also for myself to get rid of those things that I was carrying. I wanted to get it off my chest. I’m at a good point in my life right now. I’m not carrying none of that energy with me right now, except for the fact that I never really told it. I wanted to push it out of me and that’s what happened with The Blocks, I wanted people to know that story of me.

TRHH: You started with breakdancing, right?

Artson: Yeah. I’m a B-Boy.

TRHH: Would you say that you have more love for emceeing than B-Boying?

Artson: That’s a tough one ‘cause I’m pretty much just a Hip-Hop head. I grew up when you tried to do all four elements. I really love B-Boying and I feel like emceeing gives me two different outlets. I get to express myself dancing, but then I get to tell my story through emceeing. It’s a really tough question. I actually love all four elements and when the culture comes together as a whole. I don’t like to see it separated like that. I like when it’s all in one house. I like going to a jam or a function where there’s emcees, B-Boy’s rockin’, graf on the wall, and the DJ’s are killin’ it. It’s a toss-up [laughs]. I love the fact that I can tell my story, but B-Boying is something that I just do. I definitely wouldn’t give up one for another.

TRHH: Tell me about your H.O.M.E. store in Long Beach.

Artson: It’s kind of like a lifestyle store. It’s kind of like the things I do and the way I live my life and also tying myself into my roots. It’s kind of like a trading post off of a reservation. It’s an urban trading post. I have indigenous medicine in there like sage, crystals, and sweet grass. It also has Hip-Hop gear and home décor stuff that brings positive energy into your home from all indigenous people from all around the world. We have some African stuff, some Chinese stuff, stuff from Thailand, and from the Natives in America. I have some alkaline water, cold press juices, and things like that because I like taking care of myself and my temple – it centers me. I’m just trying to surround myself with positive energy so I’m bringing all of that into the store just to give that opportunity to people to put things around themselves that’s going to bring positive light into them.

TRHH: The song Never Give Up is very inspirational. What inspired you to write that song?

Artson: Like I said earlier I took last year off to get these projects done. It was really the year before I went on tour and people were asking for CD’s. It was a little weird for me because I’d been on the road so many times and that wasn’t happening before. The CD game was done. It also let me know that it had been a while since I’d dropped something. People want CD’s? That’s crazy. It was a trip so I decided to take the next year off and do some music. It was inspiring to see youngsters asking for CD’s. Cats in college were like, “We don’t want a download. Anybody can download music online. We want a hard copy of your stuff.” It made me start thinking about not giving up on what I’m doing, what I’m chasing — this Hip-Hop thing.

I have to keep pushing, keep dancing, keep being around the emcees, and keep listening to what the DJ’s are doing. Technology is changing so fast, even with the DJ’s and you have to keep evolving with the times. I released these three projects just doing something different, also getting with my Native brothers and encouraging them to tell our story. Throughout history they’ve been trying to erase the Native people and our story. We’re here and we can’t give up on pushing the story of what our people have done for us and how they allowed us to still be here and talk our story. We’re doing it through Hip-Hop. An accumulation of all those things came into this song of never giving up on yourself, the culture, what your dreams are, and keep pushing and trying to get through it and take it further.

TRHH: What’s next up for Artson?

Artson: Trying to drop these videos. I’m getting these videos for the project done. I still have a couple other projects that I didn’t involve in this trio. It’s just trying to wrap those up and either drop another one at the end of the year or the beginning of next year. I’d like to drop one at the end of this year and finish up the last one next year. I’m just going to keep pushing and educating these kids on what Hip-Hop is. I do a lot of outreach programs, teaching, educating kids, going to the colleges and speaking about my story. I go out there and touch the people, express myself, do some shows, and hopefully motivating and expiring the next cat to go out there and do the same thing and keep pushing this Hip-Hop culture.

Purchase: Artson – E.A.R.T.H.

M.I.: Omerta

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Photo courtesy of AboveGroundStudios
Photo courtesy of AboveGroundStudios

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano were the fathers of the National Crime Syndicate. The Syndicate was a conglomeration of Italian and Jewish criminal organizations in the United States in the middle of the 20th century. To pay homage to the prevalent gangster theme in Hip-Hop, DJ Cutt and M.I. of Constant Deviants took on the monikers of the late gangsters for a new album titled “Omerta.”

Produced entirely by DJ Cutt, Omerta is one of the best releases of 2016. The album is a throwback to mid-90s east coast Hip-Hop with a 2016 feel. Omerta is big on beats and rhymes with Mafioso mentions sprinkled throughout.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to one half of Constant Deviants, M.I. about the American mafia, SIX2SIX Records’ foray into film making, and his new album, Omerta.

TRHH: For those that don’t know, explain what Omerta means.

M.I.: Omerta is a code of silence. It’s a term in the mafia that means “code of silence.” It means that you don’t speak to people about what goes on and whether it even exists or not.

TRHH: Why’d you name the album Omerta?

M.I.: In today’s day and age there is so much talk about people telling that it’s kind of like a twist. With the music game everybody is talking about not snitching and everybody is talking about the mob shit but I’ve never heard a rapper use the word Omerta before. It’s so unused and we wanted to come from an angle with this project that we wanted to touch on the mob stuff but we didn’t really wanna come off like Kool G Rap or somebody came off with it before. We didn’t want to play on it too hard. With me being Italian and Cutt being Russian we got the heritage of Lansky and Luciano and that’s where we came up with the title. Omerta being such a big part of the culture and a term I’ve never even heard used in mob movies, it felt like the right word to use with what we were trying to come across with and represent the balance of the mafia thing with the album. We’re not trying to come off like we’re mobster either on it.

TRHH: Did you come up with the Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano idea before or after you came up with the concept for this album?

M.I.: Really it popped in my head one day when I was watching a documentary on them. I always knew Meyer Lansky was Jewish but I didn’t know he was Russian. Cutt is Russian Jewish. When I heard that in the documentary I was watching I was like, “Oh shit, that’s bugged out.” It’s been a while since somebody really touched on that mob thing. In the 90s everybody was naming themselves after mobsters and stuff like that but it kind of faded out. We dropped the Avant Garde album last year and it was more jazzy and smoothed out. We needed something hard and more rugged to go back to our original sound. We try to do a little something different on every album. That’s when that came up. Omerta was always a word I wanted to use anyway for a name of a song or whatever. It’s a unique word and it’s not used a lot. A lot of people claim to have knowledge of mob stuff but they don’t know what that is. When we came up with the concept we decided to use that to title the album.

TRHH: Tell me about the single So Underrated.

M.I.: That was the first joint we actually did for the album. Initially when we decided to do this album we wanted to have that MPC feel – an MPC swing to it. It was supposed to be an EP actually. The plan was to do 6-7 joints, throw it on vinyl, and throw it out there. That’s when Cutt hit me with the So Underrated joint. He already had the cuts on there. A lot of times we’ll come up with the hooks together. That particular one he sent it to me and it already had the cuts on it so it set the precedence for the album. After we did that joint I thought we should do an entire album. The album isn’t like every record has a point about the mafia to it. A lot of the samples we chose for the album are samples that have the feeling of that Luciano/Lansky era musically. A lot of the metaphors and punchlines are based off of books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen about the mob. It’s not necessarily that every song is about the mob. That song doesn’t have anything to do with the mob but there are lines that touch on that. It was a hard joint that set the precedence for the album.

TRHH: Whose idea was it to integrate the sound bites throughout the album?

M.I.: Me and Cutt do that together. Pretty much everything we do we kind of have a formula. We do something like that on every album. I couldn’t tell you if one of us said to do it more than the other. It kind of just happened. Once we decided we were gonna do that we went back and thought about certain things that we wanted to use and found the songs that we wanted to use them for. We used the Richard Kuklinski joint from the Iceman documentary that was on HBO. That was after the record “Fuklinski.” The “GTFOH” joint was from the Goodfellas piece that we used when they were having the conversation at dinner and Tommy was teasing Henry Hill saying, “I’m funny how? I mean funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?” and he was like, “Get the fuck outta here!” We took a Meyer Lansky interview and used that as a hook on one of the joints. We did that together. It’s something we do on every album whether we use sound bites or music interludes, it just kind of happens naturally.

TRHH: How’d the song Delorean come about?

M.I.: With this album we just wanted to use things that kind of had that feel to it. It wasn’t just about Luciano and Lansky and trying to have this feeling of the 30s and 40s. We just wanted to talk about stuff that nobody ever talks about, kind of like Omerta. Nobody ever talks about Delorean but Delorean got an ill story. If you knew about what was going on in 80s you knew what a Delorean car was and homeboy got caught up in that whole cocaine conspiracy thing. Everything isn’t based around the mafia on this album, it just kind of set the tone for it. Delorean was just a word I wanted to use so I told Cutt, “Yo, I wanna do a record called Delorean.” It triggered him and he made the beat for it. I wrote the rhyme, we sat in the studio one day and found some good lines to throw in the cuts and that was it.

With me and Cutt when we make music it happens organically. It’s about words and feelings. The joint on the album Sparks Steakhouse doesn’t have anything to do with Sparks Steak House, it’s just a mob reference. The name of the beat was “Café Piano” when he sent it to me. Because it was café it made me think of food. The hook talks about somebody being food. Because of that reference I thought about how we could make it go back to the mob stuff and Sparks Steak House was a popular mobster restaurant in New York. That’s where Paulie Castellano was killed in front of. I just wanted to do something to set the tone with the cocaine shit and the 80s appeal and Delorean felt like the perfect title for that song.

TRHH: How did SIX2SIX get involved in filmmaking?

M.I.: Originally me and a homeboy of mine, JPowell did a project with these guys from Switzerland some years back, SWC, who did all of the production on it. The name of the album is SWISS BANKS. It’s a nine-song album that we put out on vinyl. JPowell did a lot of our videos over the years and when he heard the album he was like, “Yo, let’s do a video for all of these joints.” I thought we could do videos for ‘em but let’s do something different like a movie. What we did was we shot full videos with acting in between. I guess it’s similar to something like a Streets Is Watching but it’s a little different because it goes straight through. It’s an hour long. There is acting and a video will set up what’s in the scene. The songs that are on the album that we didn’t shoot videos for are inside of the score of the movie.

We did that joint and I kinda enjoyed it. I liked writing in it and acting in it. It was a chance to try our hand at something like that. It came out good and a lot of people liked it a lot. We screened it when we went to Switzerland and they really dug it a lot. What I realized at that time was we didn’t have the means to do a full feature movie, but I had a full feature movie written. I wrote it back in 2008 with a homegirl of mine. He kept wanting to shoot it but we did what we did because we got our homeboys and homegirls together and put a little something together. It wasn’t like we got real actors and really planned it ahead of time. It was like, “Yo, we shooting today?” “Yeah, we shooting today,” and we did it like that. I knew we couldn’t do a full feature movie like that. He had a homegirl of his that was a producer named Cass Riddick. She’s been in the independent film industry for about 8 years. He introduced us and she helped put our first full feature movie together, which is SIX2SIX The Movie. We’re running it through the film festivals right now. We just finished it in March so we’re starting to submit it to all the film festivals right now. We’re actually going to shoot our second full feature movie soon. It happened organically.

Nowadays the music is awesome, I love making music and that’s going to happen automatically, but you need to do more than just making music now. You gotta be more involved and more active. People don’t really buy music that much anymore. Yeah, we sell physical product and put everything on vinyl, CD, and limited cassettes, but that’s not enough to really make a living off of. Digital is cool but once something is online digitally for sale it’s free somewhere too. It’s hard to actually make a living selling just music. The movies give us a chance to put our music in the movies. We also have a clothing line so it gives us a chance to market our clothing line inside of the movies. It’s just another form of expression. You just have to be broader now as a company. You can’t just make music and think that that’s it. You have to try different things. I enjoyed the film aspect of it. I want to get into more acting, not just in our movies. I want to act in other people’s movies as well. I’m getting more into that now. I got a few gigs coming up this summer so it’s cool.

TRHH: Who is Omerta for?

M.I.: It’s for the old and the new. People say our music sounds like the stuff from the golden era, boom bap, old school Hip-Hop but we try not to limit it. With Avant Garde we tried to mesh the golden era sound but make it sound up to date sonically. A lot of what happens with these cats that make music from the 90s is they get stuck sounding like the music was actually made in the 90s. Their rhyme flows, beats, samples, and the way its mixed sounds like something from the 90s. Other than the fact that they’re not recording in analog, which is the probably most important aspect of something sounding like it was from the 90s. That’s what gave that music back then such a solid sound. Everything sounds like it’s from the 90s except for that, so it really doesn’t even sound that great. It sounds tingy and the drums are weak.

I would say Omerta is for our original fan base that’s been rocking with us because we’re going to give you what Constant Deviants gives you on every album. It’s also for people that have never heard of Constant Deviants and just like good rap music. It seems like as much as trap music and all of that is still surviving, it seems like it’s a lot more people wanting to hear quote unquote rap music. I don’t even consider that other music Hip-Hop. I don’t even dislike it, I think it’s cool. It’s just not Hip-Hop music to me. It’s more R&B. I don’t know what it is to tell you the truth. This is for people that like lyricism, hard beats, like hearing scratching, and want to hear a good rap record with a good bounce to it – you’re going to like this album.

Purchase: Constant Deviants – Omerta

Gilead7: Peaces of War

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

Tomorrow Kings emcee, Gilead7 and Echoes of Oratory Musik producer, Subtrax have joined forces for an album titled “Peaces of War.” The 9-track album meshes Gilead’s abstract lyrics with Sub’s boom bap beats. Peaces of War is a modern piece of work with a nod to the golden era that tackles the duality of the universe – peace and war.

Peaces of War is produced entirely by Subtrax with additional production by Nameless. The album features appearances by Collasoul Structure, Arty Swell, I.B. Fokuz, Clockwize, Word Man, Nat Key Cole, and Oddeo.

Gilead7 recently spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his issues with ethnic labels, the status of his Tomorrow Kings crew, and his new album, Peaces of War.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Peaces of War.

Gilead7: Yes sir, yes sir! Peaces of War is really about the duality of nature itself. There is a peace which I define as the unity of all things. There is a diversity, which I define as the war, which is the individuality of everything. The title of the album basically indicates that there is no way that we can synthesize the two. We have to live within the tension. The songs on the record displays this in different ways; through the rupturing of religion, through identity, through Hip-Hop culture, et cetera. I’m just looking at the duality of nature itself and asserting that we can’t solve it, we have to live within it.

TRHH: That’s true but it’s also a little bit depressing [laughs].

Gilead7: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I’m not here to bring hope; I’m here to bring awareness. I think there are ways that we can use this duality to bring about some sort of immediate resolve, but at the same time as soon as one solution happens another problem pops up. I enjoy the idea of living with intention.

TRHH: How did you link up with Subtrax?

Gilead7: I’m from Chicago and came to Southern California in 2009. In 2012 his crew Echoes of Oratory Musik were doing a show with Qwazaar from Typical Cats. Qwazaar is a long-time friend of mine. I said, “Y’all don’t know me but would it be cool if I could open? Is that possible?” They let me on and from that point on we gained a relationship. I linked up with Sub around 2012 and we’ve been kind of crafting things together from that point. It took us a while to get here.

TRHH: How would you compare the Chicago Hip-Hop scene to the L.A. scene?

Gilead7: That’s a great, fantastic question. My analysis of that just from growing up in that scene is there is a little bit more of an edge to Chicago Hip-Hop, especially Chicago emceeing. There is a style that we do that is heavily invested in gory imagery in terms of freestlying. When we freestyle we’re looking for a certain objective whereas when they freestyle out here is more about a stream of consciousness. Those are definite distinctions. Also, it seems like the way that public transportation is set up out here versus in Chicago there are microcosms of the Hip-Hop scene that never intersect. In Chicago if you’re out there you might be everywhere. There is a different overlap that happens in Chicago that doesn’t happen here.

TRHH: Tell me about the song Piece Offering.

Gilead7: Aw, that’s one of my favorite joints on the record [laughs]! Basically the word is not p-e-a-c-e but p-i-e-c-e. I’m looking at rupturing notions into fragments. The first notion in the first verse deals with the rupturing of religion where I say, “I was dope since I left Jesus hanging on Golgotha,” and things like that. I’m indicating a rupture from notions of Western Christianity and notions of claiming divinity in that form. The second verse is a look at Afro-diasporic and Mesoamerican identities and coding the question of how we define ourselves. Sit across the room from yourself after you separate yourself from yourself and ask yourself if you were the one to name your essence would you call it black? Looking at notions of identity, is it the best thing for us to identify ourselves through labels such as black and Latino? The third piece is the nature of Hip-Hop in general in terms of many people out there are looking toward maintaining the past and looking at doing that in ways that kind of hinder the culture in its advancement.

TRHH: To touch on part of that, do you believe that our labels hinder us in any type of way?

Gilead7: Yeah, I do. Labels are different. Some labels don’t involve histories of oppression like others do. For example labels like Latino, black, and white, these legal terms in many ways we attempt to redefine ourselves through these terms that were imposed upon us. I also touch on there being evidence that Africans were here before the middle passage. Before the middle passage occurred we didn’t term ourselves in language like that. So if we’re on a quest to find identity is it best go and reclaim those terms? I’m not saying don’t do it, but I’m posing the question, is it best to do it in those terms? Maybe it is. But it’s something we should be aware of.

TRHH: Do you worry that your rhymes or subject matter are too complex for the people who could benefit from them most?

Gilead7: Not really. Some people have told me that before. I don’t necessarily worry about that. My view of art is that first of all it’s for the individual making art. Those who gravitate toward it do, and those who don’t, don’t. There are other parts of my life that may be quote unquote more accessible to people. I also teach philosophy and religion at the college level. Maybe in those ways I think what I do may be quote unquote complex but in terms of art my crew Tomorrow Kings we always say, “Do art and the let chips fall where they may.”

TRHH: How would you classify your rhyme style?

Gilead7: I would say a dose of me fractured through a bunch of my influences. My first full-length The Dark Room, which I did in ‘05, was all Chicago. You probably know some of these guys like 5th Element, Molemen, I did the record around those guys. I think in that record all of my influences were present but I did something different. All of my influences range from Irish folk music, to Tori Amos, to a lot of Belizean music. I was listening to a bunch of Breeze Brewin, Juggaknots, and things like that. I would classify my rhyme style as a mix of all of that stuff the way I do. Very intense, very quirky, very obscene at times, and very thought provoking hopefully.

TRHH: What’s the status of Tomorrow Kings?

Gilead7: Right now we’re kind of all working on our solo records. We did a record in 2013, Nigger Rigged Time Machine. That was released through ReServed Records, which got us some good attention — nothing huge. It definitely raised some eyebrows and that created the atmosphere for us to do solo projects. Lamon Manuel just finished his album, Music to Feel like Shit To. SKECH185 and Analog[ue] Tape Dispenser just finished an album called War Church – their crew is called War Church, SKECH being the emcee and ATD being the producer. Jyroscope did a record called On The House, which is their interpretation of Hip-House. We’re all on our solo grind and hoping to come back together on some crew shit pretty soon, but that’s the move right now.

TRHH: Who is Peaces of War for?

Gilead7: This is kind of what me and Sub discussed. Because of Sub’s production style, it’s heavily boom bap, and it’s been a while before I rhymed over something like that. At the same time it’s my origins. I did some Tomorrow Kings stuff that was more experimental; it’s pushing boundaries in those ways. Sub pushes boundaries in different ways. I think the project is dedicated to both people who tend to like abstract more far-reaching rhyming and those that are dedicated to what’s called the pure essence of Hip-Hop – the golden era sound. It’s dedicated to both groups and sometimes those groups don’t intersect. I’m rhyming over boom bap tracks but not in a way that many people do. So I think we’re targeting those who love the purist shit and those people who do love rhymes of my nature.

Purchase: Gilead7 & Subtrax – Peaces of War

Pugs Atomz: For the Future of Hip-Hop

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Swan Watkins
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Swan Watkins

Chicago producer Bryan Ford is a one man band. He plays drums, bass, keys, and guitar on his various compositions. Ford’s forte is electronic music but he’s now ventured into the world of Hip-Hop. Hoping to push the boundaries of what Hip-Hop sounds like Ford released the album, For the Future of Hip-Hop.

The album is produced entirely by Bryan Ford with Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Killah Priest and Chicago Hip-Hop stalwarts Awdazcate and Pugs Atomz handling the vocals.

Pugs Atomz chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about how he linked up with Bryan Ford, working with Killah Priest, the internet’s impact on rap music, and the new album, For the Future of Hip-Hop.

TRHH: How did you get involved with Bryan Ford?

Pugs Atomz: He had hit me up to play his monthly that he had at a club out here. The set up was his band would learn your music and play it out in the next month. We played the show and really had a lot in common when he heard a lot of my other tracks so we decided to record something. The first song we recorded was actually the Killah Priest record. It’s kind of crazy because I came to practice for the show and Killah Priest was just in the corner of the room chillin’. I was like, “Wow, okay, let’s get it!”

TRHH: At that stage was an album in the works or were you guys just vibing together?

Pugs Atomz: Him and Bryan already had a relationship and had recorded a few songs. I was new in the mix but when I kicked my verse to that record Priest was like, “Wow, okay, you got some bars.” From there we started making music pretty much every week. Right now we probably have about 20 songs.

TRHH: What was the process like recording the album?

Pugs Atomz: For the most part you just kind of go to Bryan’s studio and kick back. He plays a couple beats and something will hit you. I’m a pretty quick writer and I freestyle a lot as well so I’ll just jump on the mic and spit what I have. Priest will be with a pen and a pad just killin’ every time he would set up a song. It would go back and forth like that.

TRHH: At this stage of your career do you prefer rocking over live instruments than rhyming over traditional Hip-Hop beats?

Pugs Atomz: I’m from the golden era. I started rapping back in the 90s so the DJ always holds a big piece of what I feel traditional Hip-Hop is. I think at this point since everybody raps, good and bad, you need more musicianship in your show to really stand out more so and not make it seem like anybody can do this. Bryan has a background in house music, dance music, as well as rock. A lot of times I’ll listen to his beats and it’s like I’m digging in a record store. It’s like, “If I hear The Funky Drummer on this it would be cold.” He would just pull up that stuff from his memory. He plays tons of instruments and he’s been playing for years.

TRHH: You mentioned how everybody raps these days, what do you think started the idea that everybody can do this?

Pugs Atomz: The internet for the most part, people being able to have studios in their crib, and the decline of vinyl is another big thing. People are buying more vinyl now but when I first started out if you had vinyl that meant you were serious. Now you just gotta have an mp3, a viral video, or some blog to post you and you’re rolling already. It’s not like a lot of heads have to say that you’re the man. You can automatically jump and say you’re the best ever. If they get the right people to see it on the blogs or they look crazy or something, they can take off. It’s kind of wild like that. If you notice a lot of times some of the people that get a crazy spotlight weren’t prepared. They were just messing around then they realized the world was watching. I do a lot of video shooting and editing. It could be somebody I’m doing a favor for and somebody will look at my channel and assume that this person has been at it forever and ready to kill it, but this is just their first time out and they’re just testing the water.

TRHH: You take the good with the bad with technology I guess.

Pugs Atomz: Yeah. In the same sense the Future of Hip-Hop record stands out because everybody is not doing that. It’s something you couldn’t really prepare for like, “Oh word, let’s see what this is about.”

TRHH: Why is the album titled For the Future of Hip-Hop?

Pugs Atomz: For the most part Killah is always on some next-level lyricism type thing and Bryan is pulling from all these different genres to make the beats. Also in the sense of he’s sampling himself. When I say he plays instruments it’s not in the traditional band sense of it. If he needs some drums he plays the drums and chops up his drums. He needs a horn player, they come in and play some stuff and he cuts that up as well. He takes it to the next level of it still being musical and about the roots of sampling, but also pushing to a new sound. We had a listening session with industry cats and some respected emcees. To have the full band on stage and all of us on the bars, it was a different look.

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

Pugs Atomz: Right now probably Fifth Floor. That beat is crazy. It’s real menacing and the way the hook drives it really pulls you in. Also what I’m writing about is like the old school loft parties from here where most people would get their bread and also get their name up. I used to throw parties and Bryan had his own space to throw parties as well. I didn’t even know that until after I recorded the record and I was like, “Whoa!” He was in it, just on a different side.

TRHH: What was it like working with a cat like Killah Priest?

Pugs Atomz: It was definitely one of those notches on your belt. It was like, “Fair enough, I’m here.” I didn’t even really know it was gonna happen like that. I was just coming for practice and they started a record and let me hear the beat. I had something for it and he was vibing with it. The first time I heard his “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” that was like a moment because a lot of my guys here were Five Percenters, New Tabernacle and all of that. It resonated with me. To get a chance to spit in that realm was refreshing and took me back to my beginning.

TRHH: Who would you say For the Future of Hip-Hop is suited for?

Pugs Atomz: From what I’ve seen at the shows it’s more so for people who like music, man. We played a Bernie Sanders fundraiser party and it was definitely not like a B-Boy occasion, if you get me. But they felt the same way as if we were rocking for a bunch of heads.

TRHH: What next up for Pugs Atomz?

Pugs Atomz: I’m the Creative Director for Iridium Clothing so I’ve got a bunch of new summer stuff coming out. I flew to Memphis to paint a mural that’s talking about the whole history of music there. We have the new single “Just Me and My Girl” with Bryan Ford and my homie Awdazcate. I’ve got an album on BBE coming out in September, and I’ve got a bunch of videos coming out in the next few months.

Purchase: Bryan Ford – For the Future of Hip-Hop

Horseshoe Gang: Anti-Trap Music

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Photo courtesy of Urbanelite Promotions
Photo courtesy of Urbanelite Promotions

Most rappers come into the game with little to no guidance. A love for the culture impels them to partake in the art of emceeing. For Long Beach, California group, Horseshoe Gang they began with a leg up on most aspiring rappers. The younger brothers of West Coast rhyme slinger Crooked I, Demetrius, Julius, Kenny, and Dice had the great fortune of learning from one of the best.

The Horseshoe Gang have honed their crafts over the years releasing a slew of projects at a rapid rate. Their latest project is a full-length album that takes aim at one of rap’s hottest trends – trap music. Anti-Trap Music is a 12-track album produced by KXNG Crooked, Jonathan Elkaer, DJ E.D.D.E.H., Tabu, Pitchshifters, Komplex, Aktive, and Serious Beats.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Horseshoe Gang about the knowledge passed on to them by their older brother, Crooked I, their beef with the Funk Volume record label, and their new album, Anti-Trap Music.

TRHH: Why did you name the new album Anti-Trap Music?

Julius: To be honest the title came from us just being pissed off. We’re a fan of this culture and we’ve been listening to music for years, and years, and years. We kind of feel the way Jay-Z felt when he made Death of Autotune. It’s needed. We don’t have a beef with trap music sonically, but the message is extremely wack. The beats sound cool, the hooks are catchy, and some of them can rap. For the most part the message is too repetitive. It’s too many cats trying to sound like the next trap star. It’s getting to lame and gimmicky. We feel like Hip-Hop is always supposed to be more than one dimensional. This album is about everything else. It’s not trap, it’s about struggle, relationships, police brutality, whatever. Hip-Hop is not meant to sound gimmicky and trying to sound like the next man. That’s why we came up with the title.

TRHH: Why do you think Hip-Hop moved away from music with a message?

Demetrius: Damn, that’s a good question. It had something to do with the fact that with technology it’s so easy for somebody to become famous. It’s hard to weed out the weak shit and keep the dope shit when anybody can be a star overnight on YouTube. Since that’s the case bullshit sometimes is funny and becomes popular with other fuck niggas. If you got fuck niggas making fuck nigga music, it’s a gang of fuck niggas in this world so they’re going to flock to that. It hurts the pure artistry and the ones who have depth to their music. Technology is a big part of the reason the substance was killed because it’s too easy to become famous even if you’re not talented.

TRHH: What inspired the song Shoe-icide Squad?

Demetrius: Just what’s been going on forever. Again, now that everybody has a camera on their phone we can now see what’s been going on. It’s real senseless crimes. Cops are shooting black people with their hands up who aren’t doing nothing. We had to make a song addressing that. To these niggas who think they’re gang members and thugs out there killing each other, okay while you’re out there killing why don’t you aim your guns at the cops because that’s what you need to be doing. Instead of killing each other go kill cops, how about that? That’s why we made that song.

TRHH: You don’t condone killing police though, right [laughs]?

Demetrius: I’m telling you right now when it comes to cops who abuse their authority and kill innocent black people, yes, I condone killing them.

TRHH: This kid here in Chicago Laquan McDonald had a knife and was slashing tires. The cop rolled up on him and shot him 16 times in the middle of the street. He was walking away from the cop when it happened. There are some people who say, “But oh he had a knife and he was acting erratically. “ What do you say to those people?

Kenny: I say dude in Colorado who shot up the Batman movie and killed I don’t know how many people and walked out, they cuffed him.

Demetrius: That other cat that went to that black church and sat there for two hours, stood up and killed a gang of people and left in handcuffs. He was unharmed when he left. Cops claim they feel threatened by the person, well they need to actually be threatened then. Like I said, cops kill innocent black people. When it comes to black on black crime, guess what bro, if you’re going to kill people why don’t you kill the enemy instead of killing each other? In a perfect world nobody would kill anybody. But the problem is we don’t live in a perfect world. While there is killing going on, kill the enemy instead of each other.

TRHH: Do you think it’s because people don’t view the police as the enemy? Even guys that are doing dirt.

Demetrius: Yeah, subconsciously they don’t view the police as the enemy and two, they’re more scared of the consequences that police can bring than what each other can bring. It’s almost a slave mentality. You don’t go against massa but you go against each other. I’m saying, fuck that, fight back. The underlying point is fight back.

Julius: The song is a protest. We’re metaphorically a vigilante group. Somebody asked me what the solution could be and I feel like maybe they need to change the process. The process that soon-to-be cops go through. It ain’t like they’re making a ton of money. A lot of these cats were probably bullied in school and they basically have a vendetta. They wanna be the bully now. They want to walk around with the gun on them and chastise people. Maybe they need some type of program that you go through before you become a police officer where you have to spend X amount of months in an inner-city church or something where you understand the people you’re policing.

Demetrius: It definitely needs to be some type of fundamental change so the mentality of the people they let into the academy is different. Again, that’s in a perfect world. You gotta some time fight fire with fire, unfortunately.

TRHH: Is it easier or harder working together when you’re family?

Kenny: It’s way easier because we’re closer. We’re way closer than your average people. We can understand what one another is trying to convey before they make a track and as they’re doing so. The chemistry is there. Plus we’re around each other all the time. I would say it’s much easier.

Julius: A lot of these groups aren’t built for being a group. They’re suckers, really. To be honest some of my favorite groups that I looked up to didn’t stay tight and didn’t stay a unit. Shout out to the people like Bone Thugs and the groups that stick together, but some of these groups after the first or second album they let egos or whatever else get in the way and disband.

TRHH: When you think about all the great groups in Hip-Hop somebody left or had beef – Wu-Tang, N.W.A, EPMD, Tribe Called Quest. I think De La Soul is the only one to really stick together from way back.

Demetrius: It’s tough. I think some of it has to do with the fact that you have certain groups where you have a clear cut person who is more talented than the rest of them. Fortunately in a group like ours we’re all pretty even. We’re evenly matched and we help each other become better. This person might be great at this and this person might be the best at that, but all around we’re even. That helps us out a great deal, also. There is no clear cut best in our group but Ice Cube was the best rapper in N.W.A. it’s just what it is. Every rap group has their own Beyonce and they’re going to want to be Beyonce.

TRHH: Crooked I

Kenny: That niggas hard.

TRHH: [Laughs] He’s been around a long time. He’s seen a lot of ups and downs and has a lot of knowledge to share. What are some of the jewels that he gave you guys coming into the game?

Demetrius: Crooked is like Kobe Bryant…

Dice: Or Jordan.

Demetrius: That’s a different debate for another time [laughs]. Basically it’s like having somebody that great in your house at all times able to drop jewels at any given moment. Growing up with Crooked in our house is the number one reason why our skill level is where it’s at. I don’t like to pat ourselves on the back like that but you have to say what it is. The skill level is that high because we had the luxury of being brought up with a lyrical genius in your house every day. That’s why our chemistry is unmatched. If Crooked is the best rapper ever, which we believe, then we’re going to be the best rap group ever because we’re students that live in the same house.

Some of the jewels he would drop would be maybe double-time our raps or punchlines. Punchlines are like examples in a debate. When you’re debating somebody you’re going to have bomb ass examples to prove your point and best them in the debate. An Example is basically a metaphor, just like in a rap. It’s jewels like that, that Crook would drop every now and then and we’d be there to pick them up. He taught us how to rap in general. He would say, “I’m going to school. Learn these four bars by the time I get back from school.” And at the time we were 3-4-5. We learned them by the time he got back and then he would give us four more. By the end of the week we’d have a whole verse.

Kenny: As far as the ups and downs, he went through a lot of ups and downs in his career being signed to Virgin, Death Row, and Shady and in between that sometimes there was no label and sometimes there was independent labels. He kind of told us that you don’t let one setback discourage you. He had a bunch of them. Sometimes Crook would play us a song that we thought was the hit and we’d be on with that song but one thing or another would happen. A lot of dudes turn to drugs or selling drugs, or quit. He stayed with it and that taught us perseverance and shit.

TRHH: I remember seeing him with Suge all the time and then he was gone. It was like, what happened to him? And then Slaughterhouse happened. The Funk Volume thing, what happened and where is that thing now?

Dice: We won and haha suckers! I’m just fuckin’ with you [laughs].

Julius: We feel like that’s the way a Hip-Hop battle is supposed to be unless you have a personal issue with a dude and you wanna see him and fight or take it to the streets. Unless it’s all that, that’s what it’s supposed to be. They threw out a challenge, our name was mentioned and we were ready to go. That set off the rap battle. After it was done we salute them, they salute us and it’s all G.

Dice: Don’t ever say our names. That’s the problem. Don’t ever say our names. If you got a name, don’t say our names. An under the bed nigga rappin’ and just started rappin’ three weeks ago, you say our name and we’re gonna laugh at that. If you got a name, nigga, don’t say our names ‘cause we hungry, we starving, and we ready to go at all times.

TRHH: Did y’all really take that seriously though?

Demetrius: Knowing about Horseshoe Gang we got several songs. We got a song called Waiting to Get Dissed, we got a song called Still Waiting to Get Dissed, and we got a song called Praying to Get Dissed. When you got ravenous dogs like us that’s starving if we hear anything that sounds like “horse” and “shoe” together niggas is there. That’s kind of what it is. They were on a platform where they have a big following. A lot of people saw that. We can’t let that slide. Hopsin said “Anybody,” and bless his heart, he didn’t know no better. Niggas is starvin’!

Julius: A bunch of times it will be an artist with five views on YouTube going at us or on his own Facebook page saying he’ll body Horseshoe Gang and putting a long rap in his thread. If that’s what you wanna do, that’s cool but at the same time it has to be on a platform. If you’re putting out a challenge it has to be on a platform that people can see and recognize. You can’t just be on your IG page talking greasy ‘cause then we’ll be battling everybody.

Demetrius: We’ll be battling everybody all day. Motherfuckers hit us up all the time doing that. I’m like, come on nigga, get your follow game up.

Dice: Not only get your follow game up but if you don’t get up out that bunk bed nigga and quit trying to rap and knock it off! They knew lyrically they couldn’t fuck with us. They was trying to lure Slaughterhouse and everybody else out to get their buzz. They should have bypassed us. The other people didn’t even bite. We biting everything.

TRHH: It seems like lyrics are the most important things for you guys. How do you balance being lyrical and trying to make a hit?

Dice: Lyrics is at the top but not really for us. I don’t know if a lot of people know but we did a mixtape series last year called Mixtape Monthly. We put out a mixtape every month for a full year. What we were trying to do was show people that we can do everything. Not only that, each mixtape had a different theme. We had a mixtape called R&B – Rap and Bitches. Half of it was rap, half of it was R&B. We can do radio songs, we can do whatever. We’re trying to showcase all of our skills, not just some of them. Niggas wanna get their heads chopped off, we there. Niggas wanna make songs about bitches, we there. Niggas wanna make songs about the club, even though some of us don’t even go to the club, that song will be dope. We got something for everybody. We put out 14 projects in one year. We was working and our mixtapes went under the radar. A lot of people didn’t hear ‘em but if you hear ‘em, they’re dope.

TRHH: Who is Anti-Trap Music made for?

Demetrius: Everybody. I swear I was saying this in another interview but a lot of cats lose sight of what it’s supposed to be about. They say, “I’m gonna make this album for the d boys,” or “I’m gonna make this for the bitches,” that’s cool but don’t you want everybody to bump your shit? Don’t you want a song for the females and a song for your homies? LL Cool J, he would make I Need Love but he made Mama Said Knock You Out, too. He wasn’t a dude trying to cater to one audience. That’s what you do if you wanna make your whole career around one small group, then that’s you. As far as us, we feel like we’re sticking to the essence and making songs about everything.

Dice: Not only that we’re getting tired of our nieces and nephews running around saying they’re trap queens. They not trap queens and they don’t even know what that is and you’re pushing a message that they don’t know nothing about. The tune is cool, I kind of like it. I don’t know what they’re saying because it’s kind of gibbering, but what I’m saying is I don’t want little kids running around saying they’re trap queens when they’re not and they don’t even know what that is. The nigga that’s making the song probably don’t even sell dope. They’re just making a song. Im’ma need y’all to calm down with that shit.

Purchase: Horseshoe Gang – Anti-Trap Music

Concise Kilgore: KiL Joy Division

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

Concise Kilgore is a veteran of the underground Hip-Hop scene. The Salt Lake City emcee released his debut album, Digitails a decade ago and his sophomore album, Kobain in 2012. During that time he’s released a couple of mixtapes and rocked with some of the best rappers in the game. Concise Kilgore recently released his new album KiL Joy Division on Pink Cookies Records.

The album features the Barrigar Ladies, Tri State, Bo York, Rasco, and Cig Burna. KiL Joy Division is produced by DJ Babu, Statik Selektah, Brisk Oner, Lbow Deep, Finale Grand, and Concise himself.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Concise Kilgore about the Salt Lake Hip-Hop scene, how he draws inspiration from fallen rock heroes, and his new album, KiL Joy Division.

TRHH: What exactly is the KiL Joy Division?

Concise Kilgore: KiL Joy Division is basically just me and my mind. I take it back to being a kid and basically just living life. I’m using my imagination through words as far as this album goes. That’s KiL Joy Division. But then there is also other terms, you have Joy Division and Concise Kilgore, it’s also a play on words. I go by Kil sometimes, K-I-L, and you also have the band Joy Division. It’s an influence on me but not necessarily the album. I didn’t use Joy Division samples or anything like that. Basically the lead singer from Joy Division is a big influence.

TRHH: How is this project different from Kobain?

Concise Kilgore: This one is a little darker and stripped down. Kobain was heavy with features and guest producers. On this one I kind of scaled it back to maybe 3-or-4 producers and three guest appearances. It’s only nine tracks long.

TRHH: It’s hard to think of something being darker than something named Kobain [laughs].

Concise Kilgore: I kind of paid homage to these great minds like Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis. They were kind of self-inflicted by demons. I think Ian Curtis was a little more inflicted by demons than Kurt Cobain. I think Kurt Cobain was dealing with a lot of depression and Ian Curtis just didn’t wanna live anymore.

TRHH: How do you draw inspiration from characters that didn’t wanna deal anymore?

Concise Kilgore: I just try to give ‘em life again. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Joy Division perform. You’ve probably heard 3-4 of their songs before. They were really introverts. I’m like that too. I don’t really do a lot of talking, but once you get on that stage you act like it’s going to be your last time on stage. Both those guys, especially Ian Curtis, had this raw energy about them when it came to music. That’s where I draw that inspiration from.

TRHH: What inspired the single GB1B?

Concise Kilgore: Griselda Blanco’s first brick, probably a little bit Of Cocaine Cowboys. Another part of that would be getting the beat from Statik Selektah in the surroundings that I did. Joey Bada$$ had a show in Salt Lake City and I worked at the radio station at the time. U92 is a Hip-Hop and R&B station. They came through and Statik played a real quick set for this thing they do called 5 O’clock Roll Out. I was like, “Yo man, I need another banger.” He said, “Cool, you coming to the show?” I said, “Yeah, I’m coming to the show.” I get to the show, go back stage, and I’m in the room with the whole Pro Era. Statik Selektah pulls up all the beats, I’m sitting there with the laptop on my lap, and I’m talking to Joey Bada$$ about meeting Madlib, MF Doom, Jay-Z, and Nas. It’s kind of both of them, Griselda Blanco and the experience of picking that beat. That being said, I just needed to let loose on the beat lyrically.

TRHH: How would you describe you style of emceeing?

Concise Kilgore: I would say a lot of imagery. A lot of influences from Kool Keith and MF Doom.

TRHH: Those are abstract kind of guys. I can see that.

Concise Kilgore: Yeah. It’s not off the wall to me but it’s off the wall to a virgin ear or listener. It totally makes sense to them when they’re writing. Doom is not straightforward but he tells these riddles in songs that he does and you’re like, “Yeah, I get it.” The same with Kool Keith. He’s super abstract with super word play – things that don’t make sense to someone who doesn’t listen to him often. If you listen you kind of get where they’re going with certain song titles and some of the lyrics that they write. I would explain that my influences are MF Doom and Kool Keith with a bunch of imagery in the words.

TRHH: When I think of Hip-Hop I never think of Salt Lake City. What is the Hip-Hop scene like there?

Concise Kilgore: It’s pretty vibrant, I guess. It’s like any small town. It would be like having Hip-Hop in Iowa, Omaha, Nebraska, Portland, Oregon, or Albuquerque, New Mexico. The scene is pretty good. You have a bunch of rappers. Some are good, some are okay, and some are real good. That some that are real good, there aren’t a lot of them but they kind of make do. There are shows every week. I just performed with Denzel Curry. There is a festival with all of Hieroglyphics, Flatbush Zombies, A$AP Twelvyy, Da$h, so it’s kind of getting bigger as the years go on.

TRHH: Will we hear another Fice Lords mixtape?

Concise Kilgore: Yes. I have that on deck as my next project which will probably be in the summer.

TRHH: Who is KiL Joy Division for?

Concise Kilgore: [Laughs] KiL Joy Division is for the dreamer. I picture people playing this record to go to sleep. When they go to bed or in the night, it’s all over the place. It’s an emcees emcee record. Even people who are not really into Hip-Hop can grasp on to a couple of songs. After a while you get familiar with it and it starts to grow on you.

Purchase: Concise Kilgore – KiL Joy Division

A Conversation with Positive K

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Photo courtesy of Shots by Watt
Photo courtesy of Shots by Watt

In the late 80s and early 90s Positive K made show stealing appearances on songs by MC Lyte and Brand Nubian. His voice, his energy, and his lyrics made his album one of the most eagerly anticipated releases of its time. In late 1992 Positive K dropped his debut album, The Skills Dat Pay Da Bills that was catapulted by the number one rap single “I Got a Man.”

After releasing a few more singles Positive K moved behind the scenes in the business of rap. He later dabbled in acting and standup comedy, but his first love, Hip-Hop came calling back. Positive K has released a few singles in recent years and most recently partnered up with Greg Nice of Nice & Smooth for the single” Make it Happen.”

Positive K chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about his start in rap, what it was like to have a Top 40 hit, his friendship with the legendary Big Daddy Kane, and his upcoming album with Greg Nice, The Great Minds.

TRHH: I first heard of you from the song “I’m Not Havin’ It” with MC Lyte. I remember seeing you perform on the tour when The D.O.C. had his accident with Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, and MC Lyte.

Positive K: The “I Go to Work” tour.

TRHH: Okay, I was like 13 years old, man. During MC Lyte’s set you came out and the people went nuts. What was that time like when you were affiliated with First Priority and on that tour?

Positive K: Yes. It was a weird experience. I was cool with all the rappers except for everybody in my crew. I did a lot of writing for First Priority. I looked at them like a family to me, but I don’t think they looked at me as family. I was like the outsider. I always got the second position. I didn’t get all the work or the promotion for my record or whatever it was. It was always like that. That’s one of the reasons I left the company. It’s so crazy you’re talking about the I Go to Work tour because I used to open up the show with the songs Step Up Front and A Good Combination and then I’d come back out and perform with MC Lyte. Like you said the people were going nuts.

It was so crazy because after about 2-3 shows the owner of the label came to me and he was like, “We’re not going to be able to keep you on the road any longer,” and I’m like, “What the hell are you talking about? People are loving me!” They couldn’t afford to have me on the road. They gave me some lame excuse or whatever it was. I had brought a DJ and I had a bodyguard. The DJ and the bodyguard stayed but they were telling me to pack my bag and leave. At that time me and Big Daddy Kane were really tight and he was like, “Yo man, let me holler at you. That situation is not exactly what that situation is supposed to be.” He said, “I know what it is. You’re getting a lot of love right now and they don’t want you to outshine what’s going on.” They were sending me home for nothing. Kane said, “Look man, if you don’t wanna go home get on the bus, man.” Big Daddy Kane was one of the main headliners so he called the head of the tour Cara Lewis and she’s like, “If Positive wants to stay I’ll let him open up.”

They thought I went home so the next day I came back out and seen everybody and they were like, “What are you doing here?!” Everybody’s jaw just dropped. I went back out, opened up again, and tore it down. After that tour ended that’s when I left First Priority because I knew it wasn’t fair business for me to be there. They didn’t have my best interests at heart. It wasn’t the artists, it wasn’t MC Lyte, it was just the company that was doing their little slight of the hand. I left the company and Big Daddy Kane produced some big records for me. One of the songs that was first produced with Kane was “I Got a Man.” I had a reference to it but I really laid the song down with Big Daddy Kane where I got it perfected to what I wanted to do. That was the story with the I Go to Work tour with D.O.C., Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T, MC Lyte, and myself. It was a dope tour, it was great. It was a fun time and a wonderful experience. I never had so much fun on a tour since then. That was a real, real fun tour.

TRHH: I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1989 and I remember them announcing that The D.O.C. wouldn’t be there because he was in an accident. Who knew at that time that he would never regain his voice?

Positive K: That was some type of freak of nature accident. Come on? You gotta be kidding me. He could have broken a leg, an arm or something, but your voice? That was insane. It’s so crazy because I just ran into Kool Moe Dee. We was all down in Atlanta, Doug E Fresh was there, Kane, we were all talking about the I Go to Work tour because that’s when I got my first big tour experience.

TRHH: You go back even further than I’m Not Havin’ It, what was your initial introduction to making records in Hip-Hop?

Positive K: I moved from the Bronx to Queens, New York. I was always rhyming from the Bronx. I was a young kid with “Lime to the lemon, lemon to the lime” basic rhymes trying to write stuff. I ran into a dude called Queens’ number 1 solo sensation, his name was Sweety G. I was like his record boy. He would do big parties all over Queens and I was like his protégé. You carry the records, wear the sweatshirts that say “Sweety G Productions”—you was down with the crew. He knew I was rhyming and he said, “You’re good, you got something.” He used to always cut songs and make me rhyme in front of people. I was small, short, and spittin’ these rhymes coming from the Bronx. Queens dudes was like, “This is weird! This dude is kinda nice!” We cut some songs and he introduced me to Mike & Dave who were members of the Crash Crew. They were known for doing big parties, production, and putting out independent records. He wanted to do a compilation album with some new rappers and I was one of them.

The album was called Fast Money and I’ll never forget it. There was a guy wearing Cazal’s holding a gold chain. It was black with gold trim and the picture was like a sketch. I was the first song on side A and my song was called “Getting’ Paid.” Another artist got his first start on that record and his name was Rob Base and his song was called “DJ Interview.” I’ll never forget it. That was the first record I ever made. I remember sitting up listening to Mr. Magic for I don’t know how long waiting for that record to be played. For a month and a half I didn’t miss a minute, a second or nothing! I thought he wasn’t going to play my record and all of a sudden I heard it come on and I was like, “Oh my God!” My heart just dropped. Time stood still for a minute. It was incredible. I used to carry that record with me everywhere I went. It was crazy, it felt good, and it changed my life meeting Mike & Dave and Sweety G. He’s doing a lot of great things right now with the Book Bank Foundation and his philanthropy stuff. He’s a good guy and I talk to him all the time. If I have a situation I’m going through and I need to talk to somebody I call him and he still helps me out. He’s a good friend and I have a good relationship right now with a guy who helped me find my way in music.

TRHH: How did you link up with First Priority?

Positive K: After I made the record with Mike & Dave it wasn’t a deal to make records, it was just that one song, so I was looking for a manager. I was calling around to every record label in the world. I called Def Jam. I went to every label that put out rap records. That was at a time when you could call a record company and actually get somebody on the phone. I had a list of numbers I used to call every week and speak to somebody and asked if they’d listen to my stuff yet. I spoke to a lady by the name of Heidi Smith at Def Jam, this is the legendary Heidi Smith who helped build the company, but I didn’t know it then. I used to call and aggravate her and she said, “You know what, I want to introduce you to somebody. Take this number down. His name is Lumumba Carson, give him a call.”

I gave him a call and met him at Restoration Mall in Brooklyn. He listened to some of the stuff I had and said, “You need some songs. We gotta get you a producer.” So he introduced me to this guy named Daddy-O who had this group that he’d just put together called Stetsasonic and they were working on some stuff. He took me to the studio with this guy in Brooklyn and we recorded a song called “Quarter Gram Pam” which was my first on First Priority. Daddy-O was dope in the studio. He was incredible, he played, he knew how to deejay, scratch, all of that. That was my first lesson on how to really rhyme in the studio. I was rhyming how I rhymed in the street holding the microphone. I didn’t know how to work in the studio at that time. Daddy-O taught me how to back up off the mic, how to set your songs up, how to break it down, and how to get your concepts together.

Lumumba Carson introduced me to a guy named Nat Robinson who was starting this new label called First Priority. He had his son and a young lady by the name of MC Lyte. We sat, we talked, he heard the new stuff I had and he loved it. Bam! I signed the deal. That was my introduction to First Priority. What you don’t know which is so interesting is Lumumba Carson was the son of the activist Sonny Carson. I was his first artist he ever managed and he was my second manager. He was probably one of the guys that was most influential to me as far as navigating through the business. Lumumba Carson taught me how to be knowledgeable about the record business, you guys know him now as Professor X from X Clan — God bless his soul. He’s a very important person to me and I think about him on a regular basis. He helped me navigate through the whole thing and brought me to the forefront of the music business and meeting of the who’s who in the game.

TRHH: I know Professor X as Professor X. Somebody recently said that he was really big in running the clubs in New York. He was a promoter or something, right?

Positive K: Yeah, him and Paradise Gray who is also from X Clan. They ran the Latin Quarters. Paradise was a manager at Latin Quarters and Lumumba was the go between for a lot of groups to come in from BDP to Stetsasonic to Biz Markie to King Sun to Just-Ice, he did it all. He brought everybody into the club. He was very big in the club scene from the Underground, Roseland, all of that. That’s how I started doing shows, matter of fact that’s how I got good at shows. He started sticking me out there without no record. He said, “If you can perform and tear it down without records when you get one you’re going to be incredible.” He used to stick me in the middle of a show with KRS-One, Stetsasonic, Masters of Ceremony, and Ultramagnetic. It was crazy.

Somebody just sent me a picture with Scott La Rock and all of us in the Latin Quarters, which I think is a very rare picture because I don’t have any pictures with Scott La Rock – God bless his soul. Lumumba was very big in the game and his father was a very big activist. The movie The Education of Sonny Carson was very pivotal in the black community, especially in the Brooklyn area. I was the first person he ever managed and then he managed King Sun, then he managed Just-Ice and we were all God’s. We were all God Body so it was incredible. He had knowledge of self and he was a deep brother. Everything about him was spiritual. He was named Lumumba after Patrice Lumumba. His family was very deep, his mother was a very sweet woman. I remember eating her food many times in Brooklyn. We had a lot of good times. I truly and sincerely miss him, I really do.

TRHH: He shouldn’t be forgotten.

Positive K: Never, never! Not with his accomplishments in the game.

TRHH: Did you have any idea how big “I Got a Man” would become? There are phrases from that song that are still used today. It was huge. You said Kane had something to do with that record?

Positive K: It was a lot of producers on that record. I had a reference of the song from Slippin’ into Darkness by WAR. It was looped up. I just had my rhymes down and the hook. I played it for Kane and he said, “That’s dope, let’s do that over.” We did it over to a song called Razor Blade and that’s when I completed the whole record. Kane was the first one to put it together, then I started tweaking it. Kane is the kind of person that once he does it he’s not going to go back and mess with it again. There were things I didn’t like about it and he said, “It’s dope right there.” I said, “Nah” and he said, “Well you do what you gotta do with it then.” During that process there was a song called Nightshift that I put out independently. Everybody thought I was crazy to put out a song independently. I was probably one of the first rappers in New York City to put out a record independent after Russell Simmons.

The record went through the ceiling and I got my deal with Island Records. Then they heard the rough draft of I Got a Man and they went crazy. Nightshift was making noise and I sold 60,000 copies of it independently. They said, “You got a deal. We wanna sign you.” and the rest was history from there. Did I know it was going to be that kind of record? I knew it was going to be that kind of record because I mixed that song 9 times! I’m talking 9 times I mixed that record, man! I’m talking major mixes. I hired engineers, blocked out the studio, and I was in there for 2 or 3 days. I did that 9 time so to get that record to where it was like, “That’s it right there!” I knew everybody was going to sing it. I knew it in my soul. Everybody was tired and saying, “This is it. It’s banging!” nah that’s not it. Every second, every minute, something happens in that song. That’s how I wanted it to be. With the blessings of the man upstairs everything turned out right for me. I’m here 20 some odd years later still performing it like it was yesterday.

TRHH: Who was the female voice on that record?

Positive K: Everybody puts rumors out but the bottom line is that’s going to be released in my book [laughs]. When my book comes out I’ll let everybody know who it was. Everybody said it was Shante, they said it was a girl Keisha from Brooklyn, they said it was Lyte, but I’ll release it when my book comes out.

TRHH: I know Big Daddy Kane is your man and you’ve worked together in the past. When I spoke to him he said he’d never make another album because people just want to hear the old stuff. Why is it important to you to continue to make new music?

Positive K: I spoke to Kane about that many times, too. I wanted Kane to do some new stuff with me and he doesn’t want to do new stuff right now. He wants to work on his legacy and what he’s done. Big Daddy Kane is my brother and my all-time favorite. He’s helped me so much that I don’t think I would be who I am right about now. That dude is so incredible. I’ve never seen anybody work the way he works. He goes into the studio and does a song just like that. He’s really gifted and really, really talented. Performing, his charisma, his aura, and his discography is so crazy. He’s done so much and made this game change so much that I think he feels he’s done all he came to do with this game right now. If he chooses not to make another record I don’t think anybody would be mad at him. He brought me into the game, he brought Jay-Z into the game, he brought Sauce Money into the game, and he helped with little Shyheim. Biggie is influenced because of Kane and being around that close cypher of all of us. The man has done it. It’s like James Brown, what do you want him to do? He’s done it all, movies TV shows, I mean, come on. He took rap to the forefront of keeping it rugged and commercialized. A lot of cats couldn’t do that. You couldn’t get on the radio, on Soul Train or TV shows. He has done it.

The guy broke the mold. For him to say he’s concentrating on his legacy and making sure the story is told right and people look at him in the right light after he leaves the planet, why mess with that? That’s like Jordan leaving at the prime of the game. He’s beat ‘em all. It’s like Floyd Mayweather, he beat everybody that he can beat, he did the best he could do, he got in everybody’s face, he never ran from nobody, he never ducked nobody, what is there left for him to prove? It’s just working on your legacy, and I respect him for it. That’s what he wants to do and I respect him. I’m happy with what he’s done. I think the man is incredible. I think he’s a monument not just to Hip-Hop, but to music, period. He taught us how to bring singers in and nobody was doing that. There was an album that he was heavily criticized for, for it having an R&B feel to it and that was Biggie Smalls’ biggest thing. If it wasn’t for Kane making that step Biggie wouldn’t have had some of the songs that he had. Kane plowed the road and paved the way for a lot of dudes to take chances. And there wasn’t no more chances to take because Kane already did it.

TRHH: You have a new single with Greg Nice called “Make it Happen”, how did you two get together to make that joint?

Positive K: We’re friends 25, almost 30 years. Another group that Kane helped out a lot was Nice & Smooth. Kane had an apartment on Parsons boulevard. We used to all sit up there and drink 40’s. G Rap lived like four apartments down. We were all there; Nice & Smooth, Scoob and Scrap, G Rap, Freddie Foxxx, Shirt Kings, and myself. We hung out together and we never stopped. I’d see Greg and he’d say, “My man is in the house,” and I’d jump on stage and tear it down. I’d see him some place and say, “My man Greg Nice is in the building,” and he’d come on stage and tear it down. He always had a respect for me and I have respect for him. He’s a monster on stage. I do my thing also. I don’t wanna brag but I do a very, very great show.

We just decided to do something so we did Make it Happen. He produced that song and we recorded it. After that we decided to do an album. Right about now we have a group called The Great Minds because great minds do what? Think alike. Greg Nice and I have this group called The Great Minds and the album is self-entitled The Great Minds. It’ll be out in a couple of weeks. Make it Happen was something I did before we did the album so I decided to let it go now so we can get a little warmed up before the album comes. The album is incredible. I enjoy it. I dig it. We got some great produces on it – DJ Scratch, Louie “Phat Kat” Vega, Bink Harrell, we got Vance Wright — Slick Rick’s old DJ on there, Greg produced some stuff, the great Easy Mo Bee produced two songs on there, which are bananas! The album is really sick.

TRHH: You mentioned Greg Nice performing, I saw Nice & Smooth perform and I think they did 2-3 songs and tore it down for an hour! I’ve seen Doug E Fresh do that before, too. What is it about the golden era cats that their performances are on such a great level and how did that change?

Positive K: Yeah, yeah, yeah, incredible. Simplicity, man. We performed when we didn’t have records. The same thing Lumumba told me. I used to perform and rhyme off break beats. I used to set things up and do little routines to make the crowd do this and that. I used to tear Latin Quarters down without a record. People used to tell me, “When you get a record you’re gonna be a problem.” That’s how it was for all of us. We didn’t have records. If you did have a record you only had one, so you had to be more of an entertainer than anything. We learned in the clubs. We learned on stage. A lot of these guys haven’t learned on stage.

We made records while we were on stage. Greg Nice was a beat boxer for T La Rock before he even did Nice & Smooth. A lot of people like us performed before we had records so when we had records that was easy then because everybody knew your records. That’s why it was at such a high level. It changed so drastically because everybody just concentrates on records right now. When you see somebody right now there is no stage presence, they don’t sound anything like the record, they look so uncomfortable it makes you uncomfortable to watch it! That’s where the difference is.

TRHH: You released the Back to the Old School project and there was a leak of your First Priority album…

Positive K: That’s a bootleg album somebody released. It was like lost tapes that were put out. I had nothing really to do with that. It’s like a free download you can get. It was songs that had samples on them that could never be cleared. They were laying around in the studio, somebody got their hands on them, and put them out. That’s all that was. I had nothing to do with that.

TRHH: Why has there never been a proper follow up to The Skills Day Pay Da Bills?

Positive K: Let me tell you something, man I’m still working right now. It was so huge and so much that I was really burned out with the game. I evolved over more into the music business. I had two RUSH Associated labels, I had a deal with PayDay/Polygram where I signed Red Bandit and we did the Nine Dog MC record. I’m not sure if you remember that but we Biggie on there, Puba, Snagglepuss, Pudgee Tha Phat Bastard, it was like nine guys rhyming forever – it was a great record. I turned into a promotion company which was Creative Control Promotions. I had a studio and everybody came through from Fat Joe to some of Wu-Tang.

We went to the record promotions thing, which was really big. I take pride in being the guy to break Outkast in New York City. I took it to Funkmaster Flex and he didn’t want to play the record but he did. The first time Outkast was ever seen was in my studio and my office. I morphed into the business and things got so crazy I got very, very burned out. I decided to take a break from the business and say I’m done. Everything I did from day one was a struggle, man. I was going through problems with Polygram, also. I just got tired of struggling and said I would come back to it when I had more passion and more love for it. I did shows, moved to California and did a bunch of new things. I’m back here now. This is what it is. I’m feeling good. I fell out of love with it for a minute, but I’m back in love with her again and I think she loves me back!

TRHH: Will there be a new Positive K album?

Positive K: You better believe it, baby. You better believe it. I’m halfway done with it now. We just had to get the Great Minds album out of the way. There is a Positive K album coming right now, believe that. This is going to be a very, very exciting year. If life is long enough for us to see it’s going to be a wonderful year in 2016 and a great 2017! I can promise you that.

Purchase: Positive K – Make it Happen

Live from Soundset: Reverie

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Photo courtesy of The Real Hip-Hop
Photo courtesy of The Real Hip-Hop

For the entire week The Real Hip-Hop has brought to you exclusive interviews with artists that performed at the 2016 Soundset Festival. The final interview is with Los Angeles emcee, Reverie.

Reverie, a poet and graffiti artist, used emceeing to take her out of the gritty, gang-ridden streets of Los Angeles. Only in her mid-20s, Reverie already has a clothing line and several musical projects under her belt but continues to hunger for more.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Reverie about performing at the 2016 Soundset Festival, her transition from the streets to the stage, her influences in Hip-Hop, and her upcoming solo album.

TRHH: What does it mean to you to perform at Soundset?

Reverie: I guess to be real about it, it means that I have been acknowledged by all the people I grew up looking up to, and still look up to as a Hip-Hop icon of my generation, which is a fucking honor. It’s a fucking blessing and a lot of work. It means that after all the shit I’ve been through growing up in Los Angeles… I came from a broken home, raised by a single mother who was never home because she was working her ass off to barely get by paying the fucking mortgage on our house, my brothers were in and out of jail, I was sniffing crystal meth, kicking it with the gang, getting arrested, and ten years later I’m performing at the dopest Hip-Hop festival in the country.

To me today is a monumental thing for me. It’s amazing. I’m living a fucking dream. My reality has become better than my dreams, which is a trip because ten years ago I was living in a fucking nightmare. It means a lot for me to be here. It’s a really, really, really great feeling. I’m really appreciative to everybody that put me on this festival and also to all the fans who came to see me today. It was a lot of people there to see me who knew my songs and my words. It’s just been amazing. This has been an amazing day for me. It’s one of the most important days of my life.

TRHH: You touched on how you were in a dark place ten years ago, how did you get out of that dark place?

Reverie: It was kind of a weird transition. All my friends that I used to kick it with are either doing long prison sentences, have been killed, have killed themselves, or are doing life in prison. I don’t really know how I grew out of it. I think it’s just because all my friends started disappearing and I was forced to do other things. I guess seeing all my friends going down that dark route that I was going down with them just really got old and it was just way too detrimental to my existence. And I found Hip-Hop. I always listened to Hip-Hop but to actually start doing Hip-Hop, I guess I never thought about this ‘til right now, literally when I started recording Hip-Hop was when my whole life changed. Really Hip-Hop saved my fucking life. I would not be here if I never started recording my poetry. That’s some real shit. That’s what it is. I never really sat down and said all this shit, but Hip-Hop saved my fuckin’ life.

TRHH: Hip-Hop has saved a lot of people’s lives.

Reverie: Yeah, all around the world, it’s crazy. I’ve toured through Europe, I’ve been to Brazil once and it’s amazing seeing how amazing Hip-Hop is. I can come to Minnesota and I’m from Los Angeles and people from here feel my music. Just like fucking Atmosphere; I’m from California and I listen to their shit and it hits me. I would never even think about the fact that they’re from here. It’s a universal thing around the world. It’s a beautiful thing. Hip-Hop is more than just music. Back in the day it was laughed at and now it’s becoming more respected as it should be, as it has been by the people who’ve listened to it for years. It’s really a beautiful thing. It’s not just music to some people, it’s a sanctuary really.

TRHH: You’re from the west coast and you opened up your set today with 2Pac’s Hit ‘Em Up. 2Pac was an emcee and a poet, like you. Is that someone who has inspired you?

Reverie: Fuck yeah, man!! I’m from Los Angeles! I’m from northeast L.A., Highland Park we bump 2Pac every day! Growing up that shit was on the daily bumpin’ Pac. Everybody loves Pac. We bump all his shit – the radio hits, the underground shit, the fuckin’ old shit before he blew up. We live off 2Pac. He was so much more than just a rapper. Like you said, he’s poetic, he tells stories, he talks about the youth, he talks about the corruption of society and the government, he talks about that gangsta shit, he talks about being a poet, he talks about being that rose that grew from the concrete. He’s so much more than just a rapper.

When people are like, “I don’t like 2Pac, he’s just a gangster,” he was a gangster but just because you’re a gangster doesn’t mean that you can’t be an intellectual human being who has a lot to say about this world. I’m an example of that. I grew up kickin’ it around a gang and I’m a very fuckin’ intellectual person. I’m here in fucking Minnesota ‘cause I’m a fuckin’ hustler. I used to sell drugs, now I sell 16’s. It’s all about what’s inside and the past does not define people. To answer your question, yes, 2Pac is in my top fuckin’ favorite four rappers. Rest in peace. I can’t wait to meet that fool when I get to the other side! He’s amazing, man.

TRHH: Who is your top 5?

Reverie: I have only four that I would give credit to. In no particular order it would be 2Pac, Eyedea, Atmosphere – Slug obviously, and MURS. Those are my favorite rappers that really influenced me as an artist but also as a person. Those fools brought me the sanity that I lacked and I will always be appreciative of that shit and I will say that shit proudly. Those are my favorites.

TRHH: Did you see MURS perform today?

Reverie: Yeah! I’ve seen MURS perform a million times. His shit never gets old. That’s the big homie. Much love to MURS — that was hella dope.

TRHH: What inspired the song Young Grasshopper?

Reverie: That song barely came out about a year ago or something, but that song was actually written during the process of me creating Russian Roulette with Louden, who is my little brother. I was just going through a lot in my life. My music is always kind of dark. Russian Roulette is pretty dark and three or four songs into the project we didn’t have a title. One of my homies that I grew up with from Highland Park who is from the gang I used to roll with killed himself. He was playing Russian roulette. After that the album got really dark. I just started talking about everything I’ve been through, what my homies have been through, and what can bring somebody to blow their fucking brains out living in the streets.

I also wanted to bring light to the situation and talk about it in an intellectual way so people who look at my album as just a gangsta rap album could see there is an intellectual side to this person who grew up in the hood kickin’ it with gangsters. That’s why I wrote that song Young Grasshopper, it’s talking about political issues. It’s talking about how people from the big cities have all the odds against them and have to work up from that. I touched on that because that’s how I feel and I feel like people who are in the position that I’m in and have people listening to them, it’s their fucking duty to talk about everything in life. I’m not embarrassed to talk about that. I’m not embarrassed that I’m a smart ass woman coming from Los Angeles.

That’s where the inspiration for that song came from. It didn’t make it onto the album because I felt like it really didn’t go with the whole thing because the album was really dark. I just wasn’t ready to release that yet so a couple of years later I released it. I filmed the video in Paris with Madstrange, shout out to Madstrange. It was the perfect place to film it because I’m just this young girl from the hood in motherfucking Paris talking about some real shit that I’ve gone through being an American person in Los Angeles.

TRHH: What’s your take on our presidential candidates, Trump and Clinton?

Reverie: Wait, is she going to be the candidate now? Is it done?

TRHH: More than likely.

Reverie: I haven’t been keeping up for the last three or four weeks, I’m not gonna lie. I know Donald Trump is going to be the one for the Republicans.

TRHH: She’s not confirmed but she’s close.

Reverie: Oh man, oh man. I have a lot of mixed feelings about that shit and I’m not informed enough about it that I feel comfortable making a solid answer. But since you’re asking I think both of them are in general shitty candidates. I also think that both of them have some cool things that they’re touching on. I think they’re both extremists, but they do have some cool points. Not enough for me to feel comfortable saying I’m rooting for either one of them. Honestly I’m gonna vote, I vote every time I can, but I’m going to have to do more research on who is the better candidate. I’m also not afraid to vote for the Green Party or anybody else. I’m going to do research on that, but I also feel like regardless of who wins you gotta change on your own. These people are gonna be the face of our country and unfortunately it’s not gonna be a good look for us, but that is what our country has done to itself. We will have to deal with consequences.

I also encourage people to not depend on the face of the country to change the world. I’m a perfect example that you can change the fucking world on your own and you don’t need to depend on a political party to do so. You change the world with your own two hands. You can change the world by giving somebody a fucking smile when you walk by them on the street, or by telling someone you like their hair, that’s going to go a long way. The nicer people are to each other the nicer the world will be. People are scared to show their happiness or love for something because they’re afraid of looking weak, or whatever the fuck it is – that’s some bullshit. Basically I say, don’t depend on whoever is President to change the world.

You gotta change the world and you have the power to do so. There is a cool saying, if you think you’re too small to make a change sleep in a room with a mosquito. That’s some real fucking shit. I’m a little mosquito in this world of 8 billion people and I’m doing a lot of things, so is everybody else here, and so are you with your blog. We’re the example. You can do so much with your own two hands and people forget that. I’ve seen a couple of the debates and stuff but I don’t know so much that I feel comfortable talking about it. What I will say is change the world with your own two fuckin’ hands! Our country is a joke to the whole world anyway [laughs]. Hey, it is what it is. I love America. I’m American, I’m proud.

TRHH: How’d you link up with Necro for the new song Los NewYorkAngeles?

Reverie: I been bumpin’ Necro since I was a little girl. Growing up in high school we listened to hella Necro. In 2010 I met him at Paid Dues and he invited us to be in his music video, The Kink Panther. We were the only girls to keep our clothes on. All the other girls were strippers and crazy girls. They got down though, I’m not hating — they made the video crack. That’s how I met him. Over the years we kept in touch a little bit. He noticed my music growing and he has a respect for my music. This last time I was in Brooklyn he came out to support and it was really great. We linked there, we were vibing and had a couple drinks and were like, “Hey, let’s work on a fuckin’ song!” so we did. We went to the studio a couple days later and recorded the song. It was Louden on the beat and we made a music video that’s going to come out soon. We just dropped the song and it’s basically a collaboration between the coasts and the generations of Hip-Hop. It’s amazing. Shout out to Necro, he’s the big homie. He’s hella cool.

TRHH: What’s next up for you?

Reverie: In a week I’m taking off with DJ Lala to Switzerland for a couple shows. The last year and a half of my life I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been home. I’ve had no time to make music. I’ve just been dropping singles with music videos. This year I told everybody that I can’t tour because I need to make music. I have not dropped an album in a year and a half. This is the strongest my buzz has ever been right now and it’s okay because I feel like I’m captivating people with other things than just my music. People like me as a person as well. I’m so grateful that people appreciate me. It’s a really great feeling to be appreciated around the world. Since I told people I’m not going to be touring much this year I’m finally going to be able to work on a project. So this summer I’m going to be working on a project and I’m going to be producing a lot of it, working with other producers, and I should probably drop it in the fall or the winter. So that’s what’s up next, my new album is coming and it’s going to be the best one yet. I’m really excited.

Live from Soundset: Jesse De La Pena

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Photo courtesy of The Real Hip-Hop
Photo courtesy of The Real Hip-Hop

The first element of Hip-Hop is deejaying and it is without question essential for the culture. From the day that DJ Kool Herc created Hip-Hop until today the DJ has consistently been the backbone of the culture. DJ’s break new artists, support emcees at live shows, and rock parties throughout the globe.

As part of the 2016 Soundset Festival a tent was erected and called “Essential Elements.” The tent featured an assortment of DJ’s that were not just your average DJ’s; they are trailblazers, award winners, and legends. Shannon Blowtorch, Skeme Richards, Jazzy Joyce, Crazy Legs, Marley Marl, and Jesse De La Pena took turns rocking the turntables at Soundset’s Essential Elements tent.

Jesse De La Pena is a Chicago music icon. While deejaying is his first love De La Pena wears many hats. In his thirty-plus year career he’s been a promoter, producer, music curator for Vocalo Radio, and a Grammy nominated musician.

The Real Hip-Hop got the opportunity to talk to Jesse De La Pena following his raucous set at Soundset 2016.

TRHH: How’s it feel to be performing here at Soundset?

Jesse De La Pena: It’s pretty awesome. I’m a big fan of Hip-Hop – been into it almost all my life, since a kid back in the 80s. The fact that I was able to come out here, play, and do what I do for a younger crowd, an older crowd, B-Boys, a little bit of everybody, it was just a good energy to get out of town and see how Minneapolis does it. I’ve been hearing about it for almost ten years. It was great to be a part of it – a lot of great energy.

TRHH: How did you feel about your set? The people started breakin’ at some point.

Jesse De La Pena: Yeah, the original idea was that I was going to play a B-Boy set but early there were no breakers. I decided to make it a party set, but toward the end they came around and got into it. I had to kind of adjust the set but as long as you kept it fun and up-tempo, and get the girls to start dancing. We can hit the B-Boys but we gotta get everybody into it. It was a lot of fun.

TRHH: Do you have a sure shot go-to record for events like this?

Jesse De La Pena: For this, not at all. All logic is out the window. What you think is gonna work most of the time you’re scratching your head because it’s getting younger and younger every year. We’re getting older and older. I don’t do this as a club DJ as much. I’m not out in the clubs on weekends and everything. I do it occasionally. I still keep some residencies but even then it’s kind of a niche market. I’m able to do what I do but I can still cater on the weekends a little bit, but the game has changed with trap and bass. It’s cool, I can pick out elements that I like and segue. I’ll give them this, then I’m gonna go back and do me. You kind of go back and forth. Having an emcee with me like Dirty [MF] is good because he can dictate to them and verbalize what I’m trying to do and kind of walk them through what it is.

TRHH: What’s your opinion of how Serato has changed the game for DJ’s?

Jesse De La Pena: I am on Serato. I’ve been since 05-06. I think it’s elevated the game to a situation where you have more options and you can get more creative. There’s a lot of great positives. But then it has got it down to where the investment to be a DJ is not as much. You don’t have to invest in a record collection; you can just get a hard drive from your boy. There is good and bad in it. If you’re a creative person you will soar and be more creative. If you’re just kind of in it because it’s the trendy thing to do I would just encourage people to also start digging for records. Don’t abandon digital but know both of them. I’m glad I started with the analog stuff.

TRHH: What’s your take on the changes that the Hip-Hop scene in Chicago has had?

Jesse De La Pena: I’m not nearly as involved in it as I was. I work in radio and I hear what’s coming out and even in that I kind of pick and choose. I don’t know if I’m a good person to speak on it because I’m not as involved in it. Back in the late 80s and 90s I was really in it. We had our Blue Groove Lounge every Monday night with weekly Hip-Hop. We were booking artists that were coming out, local, and international artists. Now I see things that I like that I can kind of tolerate. I can pick out the stuff that I can deal with. A lot of the stuff I can’t deal with, maybe it’s an age thing, maybe it’s a drug thing, or a gang bang thing. A lot of that stuff that the kids are into, and I don’t wanna sound like an old man, but I can’t really vibe to it. It doesn’t speak to me.

TRHH: Tell me about the Friday Night DJ Series.

Jesse De La Pena: It’s a series with Vocalo Radio. We’re the sister station of WBEZ, it’s the NPR affiliate. I’ve been doing that show for about five years. They originally had a Friday mix show but when I came in and they asked me to take over I just reached out to friends of mine that were touring – maybe international guys that were coming through town but had that local element, too. The show is built where it kind of represents a lot of different things. We put together a DJ collective; we had a competition to find some of the best DJ’s in the Midwest. Kid Cut Up is down with us, Big Once, Pumpin Pete, one of Chicago’s first Hip-Hop DJ’s. And then we got electronic guys like Jeremy Sole on the west coast. The idea is to really push further than regular radio stuff. There’s a lot of music out there that people will never hear and these DJ’s are one’s that are pushing envelopes and being more creative overall. So that’s what the Friday Night DJ Series is. It’s an avenue of six hours of DJ sets where we focus on just good music. No rules, it’s an open format. We’re really trying to focus on the up and comer and whoever is in town we’ll try to reach so it’s a balance – worldwide, you know.

TRHH: What’s next up for you?

Jesse De La Pena: I really wanna get back to doing music – production and beats and stuff. It’s been a while. I’ve been gathering stuff but it’s just a time thing as you get older and have a family and all of that stuff. I’m trying to get back to it. I’m dusting off my MPC so hopefully I’ll get back to doing some music – I’d be happy with that. I’m really just trying to get out of town more – this is perfect. It’s been a while since I’ve been out. I go out to L.A. and New York but I’m trying to go more Midwest – Kansas City, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. All those places that I used to play I’m trying to reconnect with people and kind of let them know what I’m doing nowadays. I’m happy to be a part of this — I’m really honored.