A Conversation with F.Stokes

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Photo courtesy of F.Stokes

Photo courtesy of F.Stokes

What began as an idea to teach primary education and social lessons to kids through rap music and urban culture has materialized in the form of a children’s book called Rappin’ Ricky: Block Party. The books author is emcee, F.Stokes. Originally from the Midwest, Stokes has called both coasts home and implemented each regions influences into his music.

Always thinking outside of the box, F.Stokes started a Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2015 in support of Rappin’ Ricky that reached its desired goal in just three weeks’ time. The result is Rappin’ Ricky: Block Party, a mixtape called Rappin’ Ricky: Radio, and various educational videos.

F.Stokes spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about all things reading and rappin’. Stokes discussed the importance of highlighting the unpublicized side of black America, delves into his love for early 80s Hip-Hop, and tells us what the future holds for Rappin’ Ricky.

TRHH: How did you come up with the idea for Rappin’ Ricky?

F.Stokes: I’ve always wanted something on bookshelves and on TV animation-wise for the young kids that really reflected the positive things in our community. I wanted to reflect the Trayvon Martin story that the media really didn’t amplify. I think it’s important to show how unified we really are, how tribal our community is, how we encourage and support our youth. Rappin’ Ricky became a vessel for me to get all of these ideas out and to paint the image of the young black kid that we both know, but the world doesn’t know necessarily. It’s really important that us as leaders, you as a journalist and me as an artist, give people a passport into our community and allow them to see how protective we are, allow them to see how loving we are, and how intelligently brilliant we are. Rappin’ Ricky is a very, very intelligent kid. He’s a young social maverick. Part of it is due to survival and part of it is due to him being a child in a community that’s supportive.

TRHH: What’s the reception been like for the book?

F.Stokes: Super-positive. We released it a few weeks ago and have sold upwards of 300 copies. That’s with no press really and this was like a preliminary release for our Kickstarter backers and friends and family. The demand became so high that we had to go back and print more to sell – people just wanted it. It’s been remarkable, really and it’s only going to increase. We have a couple of schools lined up to buy 50 apiece. I’m big on presentations. If I had to do it over again I would probably give it a little more time and release it in March or so, which we will do when we do the re-release. People are hungry for it so I gave it to ‘em.

TRHH: There’s also a mixtape that accompanies the book called Rappin’ Ricky Radio. How did that idea come about?

F.Stokes: Rappin’ Ricky Radio is kind of a precursor to where I wanna go musically with Ricky. I want to create a radio station that is completely geared toward educational, inspirational, empowering Hip-Hop music. Rappin’ Ricky Radio is kind of the introduction to that. I think books are great, I think literature is fantastic, but in today’s market you have to create something that’s a reflection of pop culture for kids to really get it and Hip-Hop is that. It’s almost like a natural progression for me. It’s one of those obvious things. I wanted to be able to make a song about personal hygiene and taking care of your body and make that song as big as a Nicki Minaj song or a J. Cole song.

TRHH: In early 2015 you released an EP called “A Princess named Leroy” that was also very unique. What was the inspiration behind that project?

F.Stokes: I wanted to produce an EP that took us back to the early and mid-80s. I also wanted to highlight the significance of deep house music and how it connects to Hip-Hop. A Princess named Leroy just gave me the perfect foundation and platform for that. To fully entrench myself I had to create a whole ‘nother character and Leroy became that character. I had to give it almost a Gnarls Barkley type feel to make it authentic. I think we killed it. In fact, we’re re-releasing A Princess named Leroy in a couple of months as well to give it some light and some shine. It’s such a dynamic project, man. Everything with that project came together perfectly. That could not have happened if I didn’t become Leroy.

TRHH: Why was Leroy a princess?

F.Stokes: It’s kind of a metaphor. There has been some of the greatest wars in the history of mankind over the protection of princesses. To make Leroy fit that quality as a creative he wasn’t accepted in his community because he wanted to express himself through how he dressed and different genres of music that would be considered feminine in our community. That’s where the princess part comes into play. It gave Leroy a level of glow, it gave Leroy this pristine quality, and a level of pureness and the work kind of reflects that.

TRHH: The single “The Slums” was inspired by early 80s Hip-Hop. Are you a big fan of that era and why do you think that time in Hip-Hop has been sort of forgotten?

F.Stokes: I’m a big fan of that era because I’m 34-years old. The 80s was like the most fucked up years and also the greatest decade in the history of African-American’s in this country. The crack epidemic, the introduction of the Uzi, and all these things were divisive and crippling to our community, but at the same time these things helped make us brilliant business men and taught us about product and demand. It’s interesting how something that completely stripped our community in the 90s we began to reap the benefits of it with the Master P’s and J. Prince’s. I’m a fan of the 80s, I’m a baby of the 80s and how things were done in the 80s even though it was New Jack City. I think in the 80s music there was no pop. Everything reflected the community. You saw something happen and you fuckin’ wrote about it and recorded that music. You didn’t have the pressure of selling records because people didn’t think Hip-Hop was a viable genre just yet. They thought it would come and go or be around 10-15 years, but naw man, this shit is here to stay! The positive that, that perception had was it allowed the guys in the 80s to somewhat be reckless with the music to a degree and say whatever the fuck they felt. I wanted The Slums to be the greatest reflection of that. That’s why it’s so hard. That’s why it sounds like it was recorded in a fuckin’ project hallway.

TRHH: Tell me about the remix EP, Forever I Love Madison.

F.Stokes: That came out a couple of years ago. I basically wanted to put out something to show my love and appreciation for Madison, Wisconsin. We’re going to remix that – it’s happening right now. That’s the next move. The EP I did with Lazerbeak from Doomtree, Death of a Handsome Bride was remixed and that became F.I.L.M. My producers and my DJ are going to use some of the songs off A Princess named Leroy, remix those songs, and also add them to the whole F.I.L.M. collection.

TRHH: Tell me about your relationship with Madison. Why is Madison important to you?

F.Stokes: I grew up there. My mother moved us there when I was 12-years old. Madison was the first place that allowed me to cultivate a fan base. Madison was the first place where I sold out my first show. The town is very important to me. That’s why I go back so much. I could probably run for Mayor of Madison.

TRHH: Go for it, man.

F.Stokes: If I was a bit older and had some more patience, then yeah. I still got some really good years left in me of fuckin’ up, and as a mayor you can’t fuck up [laughs].

TRHH: Hey, Marion Barry fucked up and got re-elected [laughs].

F.Stokes: That’s a great point! That’s a great point, man [laughs]!

TRHH: I do a lot of interviews with artists that come through Chicago on tour and periodically I ask them what’s the best city they’ve been to and all of them say Madison.

F.Stokes: No way!

TRHH: I’ve had one guy tell me Madison was terrible.

F.Stokes: Get the fuck out, man.

TRHH: Yeah, they all say Madison is the livest city as far as the show. Why do you think that is?

F.Stokes: It’s such a chill town, bro. It sits on an isthmus, we have access to two lakes, it’s a beautiful town, the women are gorgeous, and there are a couple of new restaurants and bars that are great with mixed drinks. We have great food. It’s really just a beautiful town. Even if you’re having a bad day you are less than a mile away from a lake. You can walk to the lake and vibe out. In the summer time they have live performances almost every day on the lake. They like families, they like people of color, and they like helping people of color. So if you’re a person of color you’ll get a bunch of awesome shit that’s probably a reflection of white guilt, but it’s okay! [Laughs] It’s still great shit! We gotta be honest with it too, man. You’ll get a lot of free shit. If you’re an 18-year old single mother from the south side of Chicago they gon’ hook your ass up! You’ll be first in line for the section 8, you might get a car from the local church, all that fly shit to get on your feet! That’s why it’s an awesome town.

TRHH: What’s next up for F.Stokes in 2016?

F.Stokes: Good question, man. I’m so insanely focused on Rappin’ Ricky right now, dude. I want to take it to the next level and make it an animated series. We will create Rappin’ Ricky merchandise so kids can wear the Rappin’ Ricky fly shit to school. Partnerships – I’m big on partnerships so you’ll see a lot of brands partnering when it comes to Rappin’ Ricky – a lot of cross marketing. Those are all part of the next steps.

Purchase: Rappin’ Ricky!: Block Party

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Tim Hicks: The Cornel West Theory

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Photo courtesy of Michael Andrade

Photo courtesy of Michael Andrade

Dr. Cornel West is a philosopher, activist, and a democratic intellectual. The Cornel West Theory is a Washington D.C. based Hip-Hop band that carries on the tradition of their namesake via music. The group entered the last quarter of 2015 with the release of their third album, Coming From the Bottom.

The band shocked fans by kicking off 2016 with their fourth released titled “The T.A.B.L.E.”. The T.A.B.L.E. is produced entirely by Tim Hicks & The Church and features appearances by Deborah Bond and Blue Nefertiti of Les Nubians.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to The Cornel West Theory front man Tim Hicks about the aim of the band, their relationship with Dr. Cornel West, and their new album, The T.A.B.L.E.

TRHH: What exactly is The Cornel West Theory?

Tim Hicks: We represent the last resistance in music. In Hip-Hop we represent survival. The Cornel West Theory is a representation of the musical tradition that we come from. The Cornel West Theory is the sound of survival.

TRHH: For those that don’t know who does The Cornel West Theory consist of?

Tim Hicks: The Cornel West Theory consists Rashad Dobbins – he’s one of the lead vocalists. Brother Sam Lavine is our drummer. John Wesley Moon is our electronic sample wizard for the live show. On bass we have a brother named Ezra Greer who has been with us since the debut album. We have two beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sisters in our group who are not with us all the time but they are core members and original members of the group and that is Ms. Yvonne Gilmore who is also an ordained minister who is back and forth between Chi-Town and Ohio, and sister Katrina Lorraine. They both provide the spoken word aspect. There is myself, Tim Hicks. I’m one of the lead vocalists and I’m the producer and composer for the group.

TRHH: Was Dr. West receptive to his name being used for the group?

Tim Hicks: Yes! Surprisingly he was. It was very dream-like to get him to say okay. He was more than supportive from jump street. I went to one of his book signings back in 2004 at the prompting of my sister in law and another good friend of mine. They thought I should track him down and see if I could get his approval for it. I mustered up the courage, went to the book signing and stood in line. I tried to keep my composure like it was something that I did every day talking to someone of iconic status. I ran the idea down to him really fast. He was like, “Man, you got my blessing, brother.” He wrote his number down at Princeton where he was at the time. A year later I ran into him again and gave him some music from an earlier album that we had not yet released which was going to be our debut album. I let him know that we were trying to get in the studio and record with him. Two years went by and Doc was gracious enough to come down to Maryland to the studio and record with us for the first album. Here we are four albums later still with his friendship, his mentorship, and his support. The doctor is a great brother. We’re honored to be able to use his namesake.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of your latest release, The T.A.B.L.E.?

Tim Hicks: That’s a good question. The acronym means absolutely nothing. We did that on purpose just to kind of mess with people and spark some interest in what it represents. The album was originally going to be called “Dope on the Table”. I discovered that somebody, I don’t think it was Raekwon himself – shout out to Raekwon, he’s one of my favorite emcees – top 5, hands down, at any rate there was a mixtape called Dope on the Table. Us being Hip-Hop heads we honored the tradition of not biting and stealing anybody’s style. We decided to shorten it to “The T.A.B.L.E.” and that title came from when I was watching HBO’s The Wire. Me and Rashad are huge Wire fans. We’ve studied it several times over like a book. I was watching this one episode in the first season and the police commissioner was responding to pressure from city hall to shut down one particular drug crew to curb the violence in the streets. He was arguing with a subordinate and said, “Tonight on the 6 o’clock news we put a lot of fucking dope on the table!”

For some reason it rang out in my head. When you think about Hip-Hop we always refer to that word “dope” to describe something that’s outstanding or sonically amazing. Somebody that has a gift with lyrics we’d call them lyrically dope. Obviously within the African, Latino, and poor European communities, I say European because they aren’t white, we need to stop swinging those words black and white around because they are actual colors and not people, needless to say in those places the word dope means something outside of Hip-Hop. It represents something ugly. If you’re looking at it from a gangster view dope represents purity too if you’re talking about drugs. This album was basically an album for Hip-Hop. It’s just straight up Hip-Hop, boom bap, no concept for the whole album. There was no consistent theme throughout the album. It was just hard beats and hard rhymes. This is what we’re placing on this table to offer to people. The acronym doesn’t stand for anything. We were just fucking around.

TRHH: You have a song on the new album called Christopher Martin. What are the origins of that song?

Tim Hicks: Aw, man. Well anybody that’s a Hip-Hop head we dig deep since being children on some, “Yo, gimme that tape, let me fold this joint so I can look at these liner notes and see who did what.” Needless to say one day as a child I discovered this brother named Christopher Martin. That’s his government name but his real name is DJ Premier aka Preemo. Hip-Hop heads dig deep and know what your government name is and everything. Preemo is iconic in the whole bands head but specifically for me as the producer of the group Primo is top 2. My top 2 is Premier and Pete Rock. That’s no diss to the other producers that influenced me. I kind of don’t rank them in a way. How you gonna pick between Pete Rock, Premier, Dilla, Diamond D, and folks like that? Inspiration and influence wise I was already a Premier and Pete Rock head. In the end of 2014 I submitted a track of ours to an e-mail that somebody said was for Preemo. Somehow by God’s grace the record actually got through. Two months passed and I got an e-mail that said, “Yo, this is dope. I’m playing this tonight. – P” The little kid came out in me and I was like, “Oh my goodness, it’s DJ Fuckin’ Premier!!” Preem actually played our record. He stopped the show Live from HeadQCourterz and introduced the record and it was like being a kid. You’re used to seeing these people on TV and hearing them on the radio, and imagining your moment like, “One day I’m going to work with these guys. One day they’re gonna know who I am and know me for my music,” but when it actually goes down that’s what makes it crazy. It’s just a reminder that we’re doing the right thing. At any rate, Premier played our record and I found out he was coming to D.C. for the PRhyme tour. That PRhyme album was a big influence on this record, The T.A.B.L.E. Somehow I have people that care about me, a wonderful friend who loved me enough to get me a V.I.P. ticket to that show [laughs]. When I got there my mission was to chop it up with the kings of this shit and let them know we’re doing it and hopefully they like what we’re doing. Met Preem and Royce real quick, saluted the brothers, and gave them a copy of our third album which was released last year called Coming from the Bottom. It’s an excellent record too if you have not checked it out. You kind of need to hear that one almost before you hear The T.A.B.L.E. I definitely recommend checking that one out.

Preem got that record from me and X amount of months later somebody hit me up like, “Yo, did you see this?” I go to YouTube and Sway is interviewing Premier and Royce about something in conjunction with SXSW. At the beginning of the interview he asked who they were checking out on the road. Royce starts talking about the new cats like Kendrick and Big Sean. Sway goes over to Preemo and out of nowhere he said, “I’m checking out this band called The Cornel West Theory out of D.C.” I was once again floored like, “Damn, I must be doing something right.” The record is being created throughout that time. When I did the track I don’t know what possessed me to do the track that way. It kind of came together in a style where I wasn’t trying to bite Preem but it’s sort of like if you have a jazz musician – the jazz musician might have a jazz tribute band to him and they’re playing his stuff. It’s almost like that. Without actually playing a Premier song or me trying to bite his style I showed the influence that he put on me in the game. I think any producer or emcee should be able to highlight the influences in what you’re doing without people being like, “He’s a straight rip off.” That one track in particular was a play on old jazz cats that would pay tribute to each other. Coltrane had a record called “Like Sonny” about Sonny Rollins. Archie Shepp had a record called “Four for Trane” about Coltrane. It’s playing in a style that’s reminiscent of what you do to show people how you affected me. If anyone listens to that track they can hear it in the beat. Me and Rashad were talking and I asked if he wanted to call the track “Three For Preemo” and he said, “Why don’t you call it his regular name?” The original title for the track was actually going to be called “If Christopher Martin Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole lot of Dead Copycats” which is a play on a Charles Mingus song about Charlie Parker called “If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole lot of Dead Copycats”. It’s basically saying, “Yo Preem, thank you for doing what the fuck you do. This is where we are.”

TRHH: Has Preem heard the song?

Tim Hicks: You know what, I still don’t know yet. I hope he has. I know Preem’s been on the road. We’ve been back and forth over e-mail and Twitter for the last couple months, which is a blessing. People like that don’t really have time to just stop for anybody. It’s a blessing to know whatever I’m doing is getting that attention. I actually heard from Preem about a week ago. He said he was out on the road and he was going to check the record out in about a week when he gets back. Who knows, maybe he heard it? That’s a OG, he’s not going to necessarily hit me and be like, “Yo, Oh my goodness!” Maybe he will, but I think the OG’s give you the head nod like, “Okay. Keep coming youngster, Let me see where you at with it.” Hopefully he has heard it and he hears the sincerity in the record and knows these ain’t some clone niggas trying to bite and be on some asshole shit. That’s not the intention at all. That’s why we specifically named the track Christopher Martin. There should be no questions in the minds of a true Hip-Hop head. It’s also a shout out and a head nod to Guru. You gotta have the two, it’s like Pete Rock without C.L. You know who Pete is and you know C.L. is but you gotta have that combination. Rest in peace, Guru. He’s an inspiration on all of us.

TRHH: What made you put the Booker T sample in there?

Tim Hicks: People kind of have this idea about us. We’re waiting on the world to catch up but the few that do, know. Some people tend to get afraid of us. I’ve actually heard this before. A brother in L.A. told me,” Cornell West Theory is the band I hear everybody is afraid of.” I don’t know why that is [laughs]. I think people are used to us being edgy and hearing social-political-cultural commentary from us. With The T.A.B.L.E. I didn’t want to focus on anything heavy directly. Me and Rashad, that’s where we come from. Even if we just spit you’re still gonna hear a progressive message in that rhyme. This album was about having fun. Stuff that I might not have necessarily put on a Cornel West Theory record before, this album was me just wanting to give the people some good Hip-Hop shit. Hip-Hop, it draws from a lot of different shit.

You might have a track that starts out with a scene from a movie. Like on a Wu-Tang album where they have those skits and clips from early Kung-Fu films. It’s part of that aesthetic of layering your music with little pieces to highlight the overall piece. We laugh a lot, man. Like Tip said, “I laugh to keep from crying.” We don’t walk around with black Matrix coats on all the time. We like to have fun with it and sometimes slapstick is the best way to do it. If you listen to every little sample on this record there is a message in it – every little piece! When you hear that Booker T we’re letting people know and we ain’t gonna name no names ‘cause it don’t just consist of wack niggas. It actually consist of some people that we are inspired by and we feel like, “What you doing right now might not be utterly wack but it ain’t dope enough for a balance in the face of all this wack shit that we got out right now.” It was just a lil’ reminder that we’re coming from you. That’s what that meant. After we take care of what we gotta take care of we coming for your ass.

TRHH: What’s your beat-making equipment of choice?

Tim Hicks: Aw, man. I have one guitar, man. My instrument is a MacBook Pro. That joint goes with me wherever I go and I go with it. I work on Logic 10. I actually didn’t learn Hip-Hop the way most cats learn it with the MP, ASR, or the SP1200 putting all those pieces together. I learned on an old KORG 01/W keyboard. My brother showed me how to sequence on it so I was doing stuff organically – no samples. I finally got to start messing around with samples once shit became digital and I upgraded to Reason. I did the first two albums on that. The third album Coming from the Bottom is all straight Logic production working on my brother’s computer because I didn’t have an instrument. I call my computer my instrument ‘cause that’s what it is. I was working on my brother’s joint for some time to get that third record done. Finally God looked out for a poor man, gave me a little bit of money, and let me invest in my craft. I had to take this shit seriously. If you don’t have the proper tools then you’re not going to be able to compete. So here we are, man. I’m short roughly 2 g’s but I have the capability to compose now. It is what it is. So, I’m working on a MacBook and Logic 10 is my best friend for right now.

TRHH: Your music can be considered conscious but like you said, you guys like to have fun. Your music is more versatile than it may seem. How would you describe your style of music?

Tim Hicks: Type 1. Type 1 is the best way to say it and the reason why I say that is because that wording is specific to us. It’s an idea that came I believe from a scientist. Rashad is the one who put this concept in the air, but there is a scientist who said something to the effect of society becoming one consistent thing. Even if it is many different things coming together it creates a Type 1 society where all those elements are in this one thing and we figure out how to work together. For us we feel like what we do is Type 1 music. It’s Hip-Hop at its core ‘cause that’s the generation we all grew up in. We are affected by a lot of different things. It could be The Wire, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Jimi Hendrix record. It could be Radiohead, it could be Patrice Lumumba, the former PM of the Congo who was assassinated because he tried to do something right. It could be that I miss my babies because I haven’t seen them. Type 1 is the way we describe our music and our style. It’s Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do, my style is no style, motherfucker, this is what it is. Experience it and hopefully you’ll be able to walk after you get caught with the serious blows [laughs]. Type 1 is the way I would describe it, playing off what my boy Rashad would say.

TRHH: What’s next up for The Cornel West Theory?

Tim Hicks: A barrage and an onslaught of more dope ass music. We got some projects in the works for 2016. I know somebody is thinking that we’re crazy because we released two albums within the span of 3 or 4 months. Most of the time it’s usually a year or two gap between people’s albums. We don’t want to do that though. We don’t have any rules in terms of the same rules that govern the music industry. We don’t care about those rules because we have no budget, we have no backing, it’s straight indie over here – like literally, literally indie. That’s without an indie label, it’s just us. While we have only ourselves to control the output we feel like right now is a good time to flood people. There was a 4 year gap between the second album and the third album so our goal is to never repeat that. We want to be able put out great music and hopefully the people see it as great music. We got some more tricks up our sleeves for 2016. The T.A.B.L.E. is just the introduction to this particular year and phase for The Cornel West Theory. I don’t wanna give up any more than that in terms of names of projects. I will reveal to people that they might get another album or two this year – we’ll see. Just know that it’s more dope shit coming [laughs].

Purchase: The Cornel West Theory –The T.A.B.L.E.

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Torae: Entitled

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Photo courtesy of Robert Adam Mayer

Photo courtesy of Robert Adam Mayer

Coney Island emcee Torae is back with his sophomore solo album, “Entitled”. Nearly five years since the release of his debut album, For the Record, Torae has remained busy spitting verses on a handful of side projects. One half of the Barrel Brothers also hosted his own radio show, The Tor Guide on Sirius XM’s Hip Hop Nation, and landed a role in VH1’s original film, The Breaks. Emceeing being his bread and butter, Torae used Kickstarter as a launching pad to reach out to his fans for an assist to get his second album completed, and they responded resoundingly.

Entitled is produced by !llmind, Khrysis, Pete Rock, Eric G, Praise, MarcNfinit, Apollo Brown, Nottz, Jahlil Beats, E. Jones, Mr. Porter, and DJ Premier. The album features appearances by Saul Williams, Phonte, Jarell Perry, 3D Na’tee, Kil Ripkin, Teedra Moses, Mack Wilds, and Pharoahe Monch.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Torae about his work off of the mic, an impending change in his vocabulary, his memories of the late Sean Price, and his new album, Entitled.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new album, Entitled?

Torae: I like to incorporate double entendre’s in my lyrics and sometimes that lends itself to titling the album as well. The title is definitely an example of that. For the early portion of my career I had a sense of entitlement. I felt like since I was a nice rapper that I should automatically be granted access to the industry and enjoy some of the successes that some of my peers enjoyed that maybe weren’t as talented or as lyrical. That’s really not the case. Just because you feel like you may be as talented or more talented than a particular artist doesn’t necessarily make you entitled to their same success. Just because you’re a good person doesn’t mean that you’re going to be rewarded with good things in return. We all would like to believe in karma but at the end of the day there is no real guarantee that anything is going to happen for you until you get out there, do it, and make it happen for yourself. Me being in this business going toward ten years at this point and never getting that critical acclaim or mainstream success that sometimes artists look for, I did feel entitled to it but now I’m in a position where I have to get out there, bust my ass, work, and if it happens it happens. If not, I just still have to do what I do. That’s kind of a negative connotation on what “entitled” is – feeling like something is owed to you. On the flip side of that we are entitled to certain rights and respects. Some of the content on the album deals with the lack of respect for us as people of color. I think there is a lack of respect that we’ve been seeing predominantly with young black men being gunned down, strangled, and killed. Some of the content on the album touches on that and for that portion of what entitled means is we are entitled to the same rights, privileges, and freedoms as everyone else.

TRHH: Why did you decide to take the Kickstarter route for this project?

Torae: For me the Kickstarter is less about the money. Ten thousand dollars is definitely not enough to make my album. Ten thousand dollars covered two beats on my album. If you look at the track list it’s up to 16. For me it was about gauging where the audience is. I do feel like a lot of the audience is docile to a degree. I don’t mean that to be disrespectful, but I really wanted to see who would get active. I just wanted to motivate the people, give them some type of incentive, and see where the different levels of supporters were. There is your $10 supporter that’s like, “Yeah, I support you Torae! I’ll put ten dollars on it and when the album comes out send it to me.” There is a $100 supporter who wants the t-shirt, the sweater, the album, and the autograph. There is a $500 supporter that wants the whole package and for me to come to their house and play them the album early. For me I used Kickstarter as a gauge to see where I was with my followers and my supporters and try to put them in levels so I can build up a supporter who may just want to the buy the album and get them to the point where they want to buy merch and tickets to a show as well. For me it was more about the analytics than the actual financial contribution. I definitely enjoyed it. It was fun, it was successful, and right now I’m having a blast fulfilling a lot of these Kickstarter rewards.

TRHH: You have historically gotten A+ producers to work on your projects. Why is it important to you to get beats from the best in the business instead of going for cheaper tracks?

Torae: I think initially with my entry into the business those things kind of naturally happened just because the sound that I grew up and the people that I grew up respecting and admiring, those are the people that have always been on my list of people to work with. Early on in my career I was able to work with DJ Premier. Obviously you don’t ever say no to that. We just continued to work and built a rapport with one another and a friendship. That’s the big homie so any time I’m working on a project Preem is a person I’m going to call. Whether we do a joint together or not, it’s just about that vibe, having that relationship, and keeping it strong. Since that happened early on in my career it just trickled into other producers that I wanted to work with because of the respect that they have for what DJ Premier brought to the table. They’re like, “If Preem is working with him then I’ll work with him,” or “If Pete Rock is working with him, then Im’ma work with him.” For me it’s not about having these names. It’s more about the feeling and the sound that they bring. It just so happens that, that sound comes from big name producers. I worked with a nice crop of new guys. You look at my album and Praise has three joints and a bonus song. I’ve been working with a guy like Eric G since 2008 before he got down with 9th and the Soul Council. Same with E. Jones and MarcNfinit who appeared on Barrel Brothers and now he’s on this album. I like to mix it up.

TRHH: You mentioned Pete Rock and he produced the new single “Get Down”. How’d that song come together?

Torae: It came together from Pete and I vibing. He sent me like 4-5 joints and Get Down was something that really stood out. They were all dope but what I liked about that sound was it wasn’t your typical or normal Pete Rock sound. I liked the Bollywood influence on there and I love the way the swing of the drums went. That song is derived from two different things, initially I wanted to do a song about the crown talking about the blue Yankee fitted [laughs]. Blue Yankee fitted ended up being a topic that Sky and I covered on the Barrel Brothers album. I was talking about the crown and you know how important the Yankee fitted is to the culture, Hip-Hop, and New York City. I didn’t want to repeat that so I wanted to change the whole feel of what the new song would be. I wanted to use the title “Crown” for something else which ended up being on the new album. The feel of Get Down still had that same swing so I just turned it into, “I get down. This is what me and Pete Rock do. You know his catalog, you know my catalog, and when we get together we get down and rep for the town.”

TRHH: Outside of emceeing you have your show The Tor Guide on Sirius XM. How much fun is it to have your own show on satellite radio?

Torae: It’s a gang of fun, man. I feel like I’m so multi-faceted, and a lot of artists are these days. You have your hands in so many things. Being on the radio is a blessing because it’s fun and it gives me an escape from just being an artist from time to time and allows me to sit on the other side of the table. I got a chance to build some great relationships with some of my guests, some people that maybe my music may not have reached, but because I have this platform on Sirius XM we still come into each others paths. I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve sat with some amazing people, and also I learned a lot about some artists that I didn’t know about. Any way I can contribute to the culture I’m always going to be a giver and a willing participant. Having a radio show is another way to give back to Hip-Hop.

TRHH: What was your experience like working on the film The Breaks?

Torae: The Breaks was awesome. Looking back at the finished product it makes me feel really, really grateful and blessed to be a part of such a phenomenal film. I shot one day but I was on the set a couple other days. That process was dope, man just having a relationship with Phonte who actually brought me on board for the project, Meeting Dan Charnas and Seith and building relationships with them. Also, Afton the actor and Mack. It was just dope to be a part of. Wood Harris is one of my favorite actors so knowing that he was in it was also super dope for me. The scene that I’m in is a really pivotal moment in the film. I just like the fact that the battle was so close, especially when you look on social media and people are tweeting you, “Nah son you won that!” Obviously I didn’t even write the rhyme, it was all scripted. But just the fact that the battle needed to be so close and they needed somebody that looked like a no-nonsense, take no shit emcee, and felt that I could deliver it in that character says a lot for what I’ve done in the music business and for what people think of me as a no-nonsense New York emcee. I’m real proud to be a part of it. It’s super dope and we’re looking to continue on so hopefully VH1 get it right and do what they gotta do.

TRHH: Going back to the album I loved the song “The eNd”. I personally have experienced white people using the N-word toward me in a casual, friendly manor. Do you believe that Hip-Hop is solely responsible for this and do you think it can be fixed?

Torae: I don’t think Hip-Hop is solely responsible for it. I think it’s a word that we took and tried to embrace it, flip it, change the definition of it and the meaning behind it. I definitely waved the flag for that sentiment for a really long time. It wasn’t until I really started to travel the world that I saw things differently. I think that’s a lot of how people learn, just getting out of their own environment. Traveling the world, seeing different people, and different cultures it gives you a different outlook on things and a different point of view. That’s where I ended up with that word from traveling, touring, and being in Europe so much over the last 7-8 years. I felt stung every time I heard it. I had to look in the mirror and be self-reflective and say, “Look man, you can’t feel no type of way about hearing that word because for one I don’t think they fully understand the history and meaning behind the word. For two, you use it so freely in your music that they’re looking at it like any other slang word like homie, dude or fam.” I had to challenge myself to try to omit the word from my vocabulary. I made a conscious effort not to use it on the album until we got to the end and I explained why I didn’t wanna use it in my music anymore. Hopefully I can transfer that into my daily conversation as well. It’s funny because so many people who’ve heard the album have hit me up and told me, “Yo dude, that really inspired me and I’m going to try to stop using the word too.” I feel like it’s time, man. Like I said in the song, When we call each other niggas it’s all love but when they treatin’ us like niggas we wanna riot. At the end of the day it’s the same word. People give words power, true indeed, but I think that’s a word that we can do without. For me moving forward it’s a word that I’m going to remove from my vocabulary. Bear with me people, I’m working on it.

TRHH: You had a relationship with the late, great Sean Price. Can you share a funny Sean P story with our readers?

Torae: It’s funny ‘cause so many people ask that. Every story with Sean was funny. Sean was just a hilarious guy. If you spent two minutes around him you were dying laughing within that two minutes if he accepted you into his family, his heart, and into his circle. He would always say, “Listen, I got trust issues. I don’t rock with everybody.” But if you were a part of that inner-circle every moment with Sean was a fun moment. He always had a story no matter the situation or occasion. You spill ketchup on your shirt, he got a story. You open a bag of Cheez Doodles, he got a story. The overall Sean Price experience was not only one of lyrical genius and wit. Just him in his regular conversation was such a funny guy. He always kept us laughing and on our toes as far as emcees. He kept us humble and kept us Brooklyn. He’s definitely somebody that I miss. That one hurts a lot. I still get a little emotional when I try to talk about it. Overall, with Sean Price I have nothing but great, fond memories. I have a lot of fun memories. I just can’t single out one because I feel like our whole time together was a just a bunch of making dope music, having a lot of fun, and a lot of laughs.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear when they cop Entitled?

Torae: I think people can expect to hear really dope content. Let’s call it “edutainment”. It’s not so content-driven that if feels preachy. This is something that I really wish people would do – I know a lot of people won’t do it because of where we are with technology, but this is an album that you will enjoy the most if you listen from top to bottom. Get right in and listen to the intro, you take it into Imperial Sound, you get to Get Down and as the album progresses and grows so does the content and the direction. I love the fact that it takes the shape that it does when it does and turns the corner it does when it does. The sound gets a little more soulful when it does. It’s designed that way. I think album sequencing is important to putting together a dope and cohesive project. If you listen to it top to bottom I feel like it’s something you’ll love. I say it’s something on there for everybody and I say it without it being all over the place or scatterbrained. It’s literally something on there for you. If you’re a fan of that boom bap feel, it’s there. If you’re a fan of lyrics, going for it, and just rhyming to your face is blue, it’s on there. If you like it a little more smoothed out and melodic, it’s something there for you. If you’re a fan of rhymes but you’re tired of the boom bap feeling and want a new feeling, it’s a sound there for you.

Also, it’s a lot of content if you wanna stimulate your thoughts and get into some grown up shit. It’s all there. Spoken word is there. If you’re a fan of instrumentation we got trumpet solos and a lot of amazing music and musicians on it. We got a crazy guitar solo. The more I listen to the album and the way it feels overall, I feel like if people give it a shot they’ll love it and they’ll definitely find something on there for them. With that being said, if you’re a fan of Hip-Hop and you’re a fan of New York having a certain sound and feeling, if you’re a fan of getting thought-provoking rhymes, double entendres, and are really entertained with words, I think it’s a great album for you. Some people are gonna judge it and base it off of my past works and some people are gonna judge it based of what they think of me, but I just want to implore everybody to listen to it. Listen to it. Don’t go in there and prejudge it, listen to it. If you don’t love it for one I’d be very surprised, for two, we can have a conversation about it and you can give me some criticism as to what you didn’t love about it. I feel like if you go in there open-minded, vibe to it, and if you’re a fan of Hip-Hop then it’s something on there for you and you’re going to enjoy Entitled.

Purchase: Torae – Entitled

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Jasiri X: Black Liberation Theology

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Photo courtesy of Paradise Gray

Photo courtesy of Paradise Gray

Jasiri X is always at the forefront of the struggles of black people. Through lectures, protests, and music the Pittsburgh emcee consistently puts it all on the line for the liberation of black people throughout the world. X’s latest project “Black Liberation Theology” acts as a Bible for black liberation.

Black Liberation Theology features appearances from Idasa Tariq, Rhymefest, Jacquea Mae, Claire Mortifee, Tef Poe, Tyhir Frost, L.U.C., Haze Cloud, Abhaollow, Blak Rapp Madusa, Jordan Montgomery, King Legion, UP, and David Banner. The album is produced by Idasa Tariq, Black Czer, RLGN, Akil Esoon, Spaced Souls, Twilite Tone, and Just Blaze.

Jasiri X spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the Black Lives Matter movement, why contrary to popular belief conscious rap sells, and why his new album “Black Liberation Theology” is made for everyone.

TRHH: Explain what Black Liberation Theology is.

Jasiri X: It really started as an idea around a couple of things. One, I think it’s really cool that black is back in terms of people really affirming their blackness and pushing back on anti-blackness in a strong way. It seems like a few years ago we were kind of in a space where we didn’t know what to call each other. Are we African-American, are we black, what are we? I’m involved in this movement for liberation that’s happening right now whether it’s what we’ve seen happening in Ferguson or Chicago. I wanted to as an artist kind of provide an analysis of it but also a soundtrack to the movement that’s happening right now. I thought Black Liberation Theology was my commentary on where I think we need to go and the belief system on what black liberation is.

TRHH: How is this album different from Ascension?

Jasiri X: In a lot of ways I wanted to make Ascension not as political as the music that people know me for. I wanted to make this album that had a theme and was a more spiritual lyrical album. I kind of wanted to show people a different side of me as an artist. With this one I’m very much coming with a political analysis. Also too I went into this album with a clearer idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be an album that was a tribute to the albums that brought me into consciousness in the mid-90s. Even production wise I wanted it to sound a certain way. I wanted to use the clips of the different speakers because that’s what the albums in the 90s used to do. I wanted it to speak to the times. Normally whenever something went down I’d have a song or a video. Instead of me doing that I put this project together to speak to what’s happening right now instead of doing individual videos.

TRHH: Speaking of videos, the single “The Babies” is real dope. Talk about the unfortunate incidents that inspired that song.

Jasiri X: Appreciate that. Wow, man it was many incidents. It was originally inspired by an article in the New York Times called “The 1.5 Million Missing Black Men”. It was basically talking about all the black men that were missing from society whether they were killed or mass incarcerated. The video was inspired by that. When I heard the hook on the song coming from Gil Scott-Heron it made me think about all of this violence perpetrated by the police on us, violence in our community, or the idea of violence solving problems in general, how does it affect our children? How does it affect a child to see Tamir Rice is killed playing with his toy gun and nothing happens? His memorial is still there in the park where children play. What psychological affect does that have on his sister who was handcuffed beside him as he died? Sam DuBose had nine children and was killed by the Cincinnati campus officer and he was on the way to watch a movie with his child. How does that affect that child? That’s what I wanted to convey in the song The Babies. Lots of times we tell our children that violence is the answer. All around us they see people doing violent acts, whether it’s bombing another country, or police beating, kicking, or shooting somebody and we’re told that it’s the right way. I just wanted to talk about that hypocrisy.

TRHH: Recently here in Chicago there have been protests over the police murdering 17-year old Laquan McDonald. What’s your opinion on that situation and the countless other young black people across America that have been murdered by the police?

Jasiri X: The idea that one cop is being charged in the death of Laquan McDonald is ridiculous. This case shows how systematic this thing really is. I have a line on the album that says, “If the shit is systematic, it’s the system or us/Kidnap the prosecutor, dismember the judge.” What I’m trying to say is it’s so much bigger than one person. After Laquan McDonald is killed these cops go to the Burger King and delete the video, other cops are covering up for this, and then the Mayor’s office is covering it up. The sad reality of the situation is he wouldn’t have been charged more than likely if this one reporter hadn’t constantly demanded the video and the judge saying it should be released. Once they were forced to release the video now they charge the guy a year later! How many times have police killed, beaten, maimed, and hurt people and have not suffered for it? The police department, the Mayor’s office, everybody in Chicago covered this up.

We’ve seen the history of Chicago police if you go all the way back to when people were being tortured. It shows that it’s bigger than one rogue officer. They try to make it like it’s one bad apple, no. When it’s a police officer or a white terrorist that shoots up a Planned Parenthood it’s a rogue person but when it’s a Muslim it’s “all Muslims” [laughs]. When it’s a black person it’s “all black people”. I just want to applaud the people of Chicago. Unfortunately this society cares about money and millions of dollars were affected on Black Friday. If this is what it takes for y’all to get the point for us to stand in front of the Apple store and shut it down, and knowing that people could have gotten arrested for that, I applaud them. This thing is not about one officer, it’s about a system. That’s why it’s happening all over the country, it’s not just happening in one place. It’s happening in Minneapolis, it’s happening in St. Louis, it’s happening in Cleveland, it’s happening in Pittsburgh, it’s happening in Chicago – it’s the system. What we have to do for real liberation is not reform but really overthrow this system.

TRHH: Overthrowing the system seems like an impossible feat…

Jasiri X: Yeah, I’m sure at one point in time when Dr. King, Malcolm, and them were doing what they were doing people thought it was impossible [laughs]. At one point in time it was impossible to think that white people and black people would be in the same school. I feel like right now for the first time people are talking about real change. People are talking about imagining a different reality and a different world. People are talking about the negative effects of capitalism. You have a presidential candidate that’s putting it back on capitalism and is doing really well. That’s really crazy in a sense. For poor black and brown folks what other choice do we have? Are we going to keep accepting a system that kills us, does not care about us, and does not value us? Think about it, this is a system that if I say “Black Lives Matter” that’s a threat. Just me as a black person wanting to affirm my humanity is threatening to this system – that’s insane bro. Not me going out and actually doing anything, but me actually saying “black lives matter” becomes threatening to you. How? That’s where we’re at, man.

TRHH: Here is why that’s a threat; because since the late 1500s black lives have not mattered…

Jasiri X: Exactly! This is not someone saying “revolution” or “let’s go to war” this is someone saying “recognize my humanity like you would any other person’s humanity,” and people are like, “No,” [laughs]. Literally that’s threatening to them and now they’re going to form white student unions just because black people want a safe space and be comfortable. To me that’s a system that’s deserving of being taken out. If that’s scary to you then it’s gotta go.

TRHH: We both know racism has never gone anywhere, but it seems more blatant lately. Why do you think it appears that racists are more vocal in recent years?

Jasiri X: True. Yes, it’s funny, man, when Obama became President we were in a post-racial America. America voted for a black President and it really had the opposite effect. It was like it emboldened racists to another level – that whole “they’re gonna take our country” thing. You have 60% of Republicans saying he’s a Muslim and this dude is eating ham, hot dogs, drinking beer, and going to church but they don’t care [laughs]. They’re like, “Oh, he’s a Muslim!” I feel the beginning of this struggle came on January 1, 2009 with the death of Oscar Grant and the organizing that the people in Oakland the Bay Area began to do around Oscar Grant’s death. It seems like since Oscar Grant was killed it’s been a wave of police murders – black, brown, men, and women – and us trying to push back and fight against this system. It seems like since Obama’s Presidency has had the opposite effect and made things more racial-ized. The vitriol against him and anybody that says anything black and conscious has gone to the limits now.

TRHH: You see it even more with their speech about Mexican’s and closing the borders. There is a fear. Like you said earlier, “They’re taking our country.”

Jasiri X: Now it’s refugees. We celebrate Thanksgiving where you came over here with no papers and Native American’s opened their arms and saved your life and now we’re talking about refugees [laughs]. You don’t want to help nobody else but you’re Christian? Insane bro.

TRHH: It’s because Latino people are growing. The racists are being outnumbered by minorities and they’re horrified that they’ll no longer run the show.

Jasiri X: But what are you afraid of? Obama didn’t start building a black army to get revenge. It’s not like brown folks are coming to the United States to start trouble. People are looking for some type of economic situation that could benefit them and their family. This is what’s crazy, people aren’t coming over here to disrupt your way of life. Just because a black or brown person moves on your street or in your neighborhood why would that be cause for concern? Unless you are the racist that you say you’re not. Why would that be a problem if three black families move into your neighborhood? If that’s a problem for you, you have to look at yourself and your supposed American-ness that guarantees free speech and freedom to do all of these things, you might as well throw all that shit away!

I was involved in the issue of undocumented folks thanks to organizations like Sound Strike and Culture Strike that took me as an artist and Rhymefest to these borders in Arizona and Alabama. In Alabama they passed a law making it that if you’re undocumented you can’t get access to gas, electricity, and the school’s had to tell on the children if they were undocumented. You know what the first thing that happened was? They didn’t have the workers to actually go into the fields and work in the agriculture section. They thought, “They’re taking jobs from white people,” but white people did not want those jobs. Black people did not want those jobs. Their solution was to make prisoners do it. When you talk about brown folks coming, studies have shown that there is an economic benefit to cities that brown folks come to. They’re coming to work and improve their economic situation for their families. They’re not a threat to anybody and the idea that that’s what they’re doing is ridiculous.

TRHH: And it’s okay for Trump to call them rapists.

Jasiri X: Yeah, yeah. A Latino commits a rape or like what happened in San Francisco where an undocumented Latino brother supposedly shot some white woman, now it’s like we have to reform laws on all Latino’s. A black person does something now we have to reform laws on all black people. What laws are going to be reformed for this white dude that shot up Planned Parenthood?

TRHH: Zero!

Jasiri X: Right. He’s a lone wolf. Nobody is saying, “We need to do something about these white Christian militias. We need to shut them down!” Nobody is saying that. That’s where the hypocrisy lies. The cop in Oklahoma City who raped 13 black women, are we saying all white cops are like him? Of course not.

TRHH: Let’s get back to the album. You got a joint on there with Rhymefest that speaks on Christ. Talk a little bit about that one.

Jasiri X: Rhymefest is really like a mentor to me. He’s the first established artist that reached out to me. He began to give me advice and guidance on this industry. He’s a real honest person. This is one of the reasons my album came out in November and not the summer time when it was supposed to come out. I played it for him and he had some critiques on certain songs. What I love about him is he’s brutally honest. If you’re somebody that wants to be better he’s a great person to be around. He didn’t just say, “I don’t like these songs,” he gave me some insight into how I can make these songs better. I went back and re-worked them and I feel like the album is better because of him overall. He wanted to do a song speaking on what if Jesus came back. He sent me the song “Christis” and his verses were already in the song. It’s really just me playing off of the verses that he already wrote. That actually led to us having a conversation about doing a whole project. He ended up coming to Pittsburgh for a week and we recorded seven songs. We have a project coming out later this year. If you like Christis hopefully you’ll like this project that we got coming up.

TRHH: On the album you have wisdom sprinkled throughout it from some of the greatest voices of the last century. Whose idea was it to lace the album with those words of wisdom?

Jasiri X: Rap music is why I have knowledge of self. I also have to give credit to my mom who gave me social consciousness and named me Jasiri. Nineties Hip-Hop is what made me want to read these books and find out about my culture on my own. I just wanted to give homage to the albums that had these clips on it. These albums would have speakers on them that I would go find out about or they would mention a book and I’d have to go and find that book. I just wanted to bring that back. Once I did it with a couple of songs I decided to do it throughout the whole album and make it a theme. Interestingly enough there was a branding company called Nation 19 that did the cover, they put on the front “Old & New Testaments”. I didn’t ask them to do that, they just did it. What we’re doing is giving you Marcus Garvey and then me rapping. In a sense we’re kind of saying the same thing. It’s the old and new way of saying it. Part of the reality that we’re facing today is rappers are the leaders. Killer Mike went around the country introducing Bernie Sanders. Rappers are the leaders now. I just thought that it would be cool to have these powerful voices and mix it in with what we’re saying today.

TRHH: I want to speak on that a little bit. I’ve interviewed Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, and Willie D from the Geto Boys and I told them all that when I was 12-13 years old they inspired me greatly. KRS-One caused me to pick up The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Hip-Hop in the late 80s and early 90s made me into the person that I am today. At some point those types of artists were pushed into the background. You just said rappers are leaders, but who are the kids hearing? Why do you think rappers with a message were pushed to the background and how can they get back into the forefront? You’re seeing it a little bit with Kendrick and J. Cole. They drop a little knowledge but it’s different than it was 25 years ago.

Jasiri X: I think it was deliberate on the part of the industry that’s not controlled by us. I was doing a workshop last year called “The Real Gangsters of Gangsta Rap” and would start off with a picture of Lucian Grainge, the CEO of Universal Music Group. I would ask students at colleges and high schools, “Who is this?” and nobody would know who he was but he’s the most powerful man in rap music. I would play the clip of Kanye on the famous “you ain’t got the answers” interview where he says Lucian Grainge cuts his music checks and is the person who decides the size of his budget and whether or not his album will be released. I show all the label heads and ask what they have in common. They’re all old, rich, white men. When it comes to old rich white men who probably aren’t around black people like that, and if they are it’s probably in a subservient position, how do they see us? It’s an idea that the only way they know how to market a black person is if they’re doing criminal stuff. If it’s a woman she’s stripped down, if it’s a man he’s shooting everything up – except not in a revolutionary way [laughs]. You gotta be shooting up your own people.

I stopped rapping at a point because people were telling me that nobody wanted to hear music with a message. It was only until MySpace and YouTube came on the scene that I started getting support online and I saw I was lied to. People do want music with a message. The biggest lie is that socially conscious music doesn’t sell, it’s always sold. Public Enemy sold, the Fugees sold, Lauryn Hill sold, Lupe sold, and Tribe sold. It’s always done well financially so it has to be something else. I think the reason you’re seeing the emergence of artists saying something more is because the movement on the street is so strong. How can you be from Chicago and see what happened to Laquan and not respond? Vic Mensa was out there in the mix! You see the work Rhymefest is doing and how he pushed back against Chiraq and all of these things. You can’t exist right now as an artist and not speak to what’s happening all over the country because the movement is so strong. Even if you didn’t wanna deal with Black Lives Matter if you were an artist coming out last year they asked you about it. I think it was Meek Mill who said he’s scared to be political. That’s worse than anything Drake could ever say to this dude. You the shoot ‘em up gangsta and you’re so hard, but you’re scared to be political? Damn, man.

I still think there is a sentiment that people think that if they get too black, too political, or too radical that the record industry won’t put their music out or give them the push so they have to dull their message. Thankfully I don’t have to deal with that because I’m not on a label, and I don’t want to be. I’m comfortable being an independent artist. I’m blessed. I’ve been independent since 2010 and I make a good living. In terms of finances I’m great. I can say what I wanna say and do what I want and not have to worry about somebody trying to censor me and telling me I’m too radical. I feel like because of that independence you’ll see more artists saying some strong things whether it’s Killer Mike of Run the Jewels or David Banner whose album The God Box is coming soon. I heard some of it and it’s incredible! You even see artists like Raury who has a strong socially conscious message in what he’s saying. I’m excited about the future of what I see artists doing.

TRHH: You mentioned the album cover earlier. I thought it was dope and different. What’s the meaning behind it?

Jasiri X: Nation 19 is the company that did it, shout out to them. I told them I wanted the words “Black Liberation Theology” written like an AK. The way they did it was really dope. Then we came up with the idea to do it like the cover of a Bible. We also have a movie coming out soon called Bars 4 Justice. We did a couple screenings of it. The movie is from when I went to St. Louis for the year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder and we did the concert with Common, Talib, M-1, Bun B, Immortal Technique, and Tef. It also covers the next day when I was arrested with Cornel West and a whole bunch of pastors and religious folks. That should be coming very soon.

TRHH: Who is Black Liberation Theology for?

Jasiri X: It’s for everybody. One it’s the soundtrack for our movement. People that go to the strip club got a soundtrack, people that go to the regular club got a soundtrack, people that hustle on the corner got a soundtrack. What’s the soundtrack of people that are involved in this ever-growing movement every day? Where are the songs that we can bump to get us in the spirit of revolution, fighting back, and pushing back on this system? Then I feel like if you want to know why we feel a certain way, why our community is moving like this, why we push back against all these systems, I feel like it can give you a good insight into that. If you want to know what’s happening and why black American’s are responding the way we are, this album will give you good insight into that. I feel like it’s for everybody, but really the genesis of it is I wanted to give our movement a soundtrack.

Purchase: Jasiri X – Black Liberation Theology

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Fong-Sai-U: The Last Ronin

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Photo courtesy of Fong-Sai-U

Photo courtesy of Fong-Sai-U

D.C. emcee Fong-Sai-U is back and breathing more fire than before, both on and off the mic. After releasing his sophomore project Ballads of a Massacre in the middle of 2015, the artist formerly known as Divine has returned in less than a years time with a new album titled “The Last Ronin”.

The Last Ronin is an 18-track album produced entirely by Sai-U. The album features appearances by Prodigal Sunn, Coopdeville, Quincy Banks, Ginger, Click2times, Rip Safron Masson, Alphonso Porter, Shakier, Dan-Igga, Ali Razor, and Artwork.

Never one to hold his tongue Fong-Sai-U told The Real Hip-Hop his opinions on Maybach Music artists Meek Mill and Rick Ross, explained the origins of his relationship with the Wu-Tang Clan, and took us inside his new album, The Last Ronin.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, The Last Ronin.

Fong-Sai-U: The Last Ronin is like a samurai that believes in himself, to put it simply. The reason why I called it “The Last Ronin” is because a lot of people are out here believing this bullshit and all these illusions. They believe in clothes and shoes. Nobody believes in their self. They’d rather believe in a car. You believe in what the next man saying but you don’t believe in yourself. That’s one reason I titled it The Last Ronin. The second reason I titled it The Last Ronin is because everybody knows samurai’s got the sharp blades. That’s how my lyrics is on this joint – raw – sharp. It’s like a Ginsu. Plus you got all these niggas out here with cornball rap names and bullshit album titles. I just wanted to bring that raw element back. You heard the joint I did with Prodigal and shit?

TRHH: Yeah. How’d you link up with Prodigal Sunn for the song Enough?

Fong-Sai-U: Oh man, I knew Prodigal Sunn since I was 21. Prodigal know my mom, man. I know all the Wu, but I knew them before it was a Wu. The Five Percenters in DC know the Five Percenters in New York. You basically know everybody from coming back and forth. I used to take Prodigal home from Father Lord house, rest in peace. Father Lord and RZA was good friends. Before Father Lord went to the essence RZA was about to put him on. He put Tha Beggas on that first Killa Bee compilation and that was it because of business. I always knew everybody but it was from a 5% standpoint and at the same time I didn’t wanna get branded. My name is Fong-Sai-U and I didn’t want people thinking I was an offspring of the Wu. Them my brothers. With Prodigal it ain’t business, he’s my brother. It ain’t like I’m trying to get somebody for a feature. That’s me calling my brother up and reaching out. I could have did it before but I needed the right element. The first thing I tell people is the only reason my beats are raw is because I was born in that cycle with the ASR-10. I was born in that cycle where you had to have an ear to make raw beats. I hear imitation RZA beats all the time. Somebody might take a common sample and loop it over and over again and don’t put no beat to it. It’s a wanna-be RZA beat. That’s not the element. The element is to have the ear.

TRHH: Why are you dropping this one so soon after Ballads of a Massacre was released?

Fong-Sai-U: Because with Ballads of a Massacre that was a big fuckin’ mess. I loved the album but I was switching PR people and went with the wrong PR person so basically the album just sat. I still got gems on there that I could drop. This is like an apology. Let me give y’all something to hold on to ‘till next year. I might drop videos from this joint and Ballads. I got some singles on there, like the joint with Res. I shot the video but it wasn’t what I wanted. After I did Ballads I was rushing, man. It was like “promote it, drop it, do a video!” I was doing videos that looked like shit. I was doing ‘em, and I got ‘em, but I never put ‘em out. It was just a rushed job. I was trying to get everything done in a month and it just didn’t add up. I pumped my brakes, slowed down, and did it differently. I took time out and made the other record. You got two records out there so now I can go back and do videos, release singles, and put my feet up until next year. This one is just harder than Ballads. A lot of people had Ballads already, you had it. I didn’t give this joint to nobody because I want people to be surprised like, “holy shit!” This shit is two times harder than any of my shit you heard.

TRHH: What led you to re-make O.C.’s classic record “Time’s Up”?

Fong-Sai-U: Aw, man it was time. It was time, time, time, time, time! Everything I said in that motherfucker is going on right now. I sat on the bleachers and waited to see if somebody was gonna do it and nobody ever did it. I know a lot of emcees that probably could have sonned that song. I don’t know if it was out of respect or whatever. I still listen to some of O.C.’s old shit. I got a connect if I wanted to connect, but when you’re dealing with some cats it’s just best to do your thing. That’s a lesson for anybody trying to get in this game. If you can make hot music by yourself, do it, because you’ll have to deal with a whole bunch of bullshit when you’re trying to get people and everything else. I did it because it was time and it was needed. It’s time for motherfuckers to come correct.

TRHH: The last time we spoke you had some critical comments about Troy Ave. Have you received any backlash for those statements?

Fong-Sai-U: Nah, man. You know why? ‘Cause the nigga pussy, man. Let me tell you something, these niggas still think money makes them hard. How the fuck you think money makes you good? Money don’t make you good, man. I be lookin’ at Meek Mill’s Instagram and he’s saying his jacket cost this much, and he’s driving 5 Bentley’s, motherfucker money don’t make you nothing, man. Money don’t make you a dope lyricist. You’re around some G’s like Jay and them, why don’t you take some tips? When was the last time you saw Jay get on social media and brag about how much he got? Take a picture in front of the money machine? Put the fuckin’ money to his ear? That shit is bullshit. Same shit with Troy Ave. He’s still talking about how much money he got and nobody don’t give a fuck about that nigga. I said what I said and I ain’t take shit back, I ain’t hear shit from it, and it just died out. On the Breakfast Club Angela Yee said something, but she ain’t say my name, because you know everybody feel fickle about saying people’s names. All he said was, “I sold bla, bla, bla and all that money goin’ back to me.” Who gives a fuck, dog? Money don’t make you lyrical. Money does not make you a fuckin’ emcee, man. The shit’s an epidemic.

You got the lord of illusion, Rick Ross. I know the real Rick Ross, my nigga. Fat boy is the lord of illusion. He was on the Breakfast Club and Charlamagne was asking him about the battle with Drake and he said Meek Mill ain’t take no L’s. I give it to the nigga because he can rap. He the only nigga that can spin some shit where you forget about him being a C.O. You forget he stole someone’s whole goddamn lifestyle. You forget he keep trying to rap and now his shit sound wack. It’s bullshit, man. The whole time on the interview he kept talking about money. I’m not saying this because I’m hating, I’m not saying this ‘cause I don’t got no paper, I’m saying this so it’s known – money does not make you a fuckin’ emcee! Money don’t make you hard. The niggas that I know in the street don’t got no money and they ain’t gonna be sitting up there dancing with money up to their ear. Fuck money because at the end of the day when you wack, you wack. I gotta give kudos to the lord of illusions, bka, Ricky “Officer” Ross. Niggas just rap about illusions and shit that ain’t real and make people believe it. I say what I say. Everybody out here acting like it’s a love fest. Everybody quick to talk about people under their breath, but when it comes to speaking your opinion it’s hush-hush.

Everybody is holding hands. Drake sonned that nigga and that’s what it is. It was good for music, now keep it moving. If you ask me, Meek Mill should have kept doing his thing. He’s still trying throw pot shots and Drake surpassed him. A blind man can see he surpassed Meek. How many times you see Drake posing with money? This nigga went in the world and told Rick Ross and everybody that Wale ain’t MMG. Fuck Meek Mill, fuck Rick Ross, and fuck Meek Mill again ‘cause that nigga a bitch. That man called you talking about, “That fat ass lying motherfucker owe you some money,” you keep that between you and that man. That’s that G code shit. That’s how I know that nigga pussy ‘cause the shit he doing is not street. What street nigga air out niggas in public ‘cause a nigga ain’t siding with them in some fuckin’ battle or whatever it may be internally? If it’s internal, you keep that shit internal. You don’t put that shit in the world and let people know what’s going on ‘cause you in your goddamn feelings ‘cause a nigga ain’t side with you when you got your ass whooped by Drake. At this rate don’t come to D.C. You come to D.C. you better come with a whole bunch of security or Ross or whatever. When you diss Wale you dissing the city to a certain extent. The same way if somebody diss you, you ain’t gonna see niggas walkin’ around Philly thinkin’ it’s sweet. Unless he gon’ recant that motherfuckin’ shit he need to stay the fuck outta D.C., straight up. I say that with all conviction. You can look at me as nobody, or as somebody with no money, but Meek Mill need to stay the fuck outta D.C., straight up!

I ain’t for nobody, I’m just keeping it real. It’s too many niggas that’s lords of illusions out here and Troy Ave is one of ‘em. Rick Ross, lord of illusions, I could go down the list. Your life ain’t real, my nigga. The Migos said they ain’t respected for the style that they invented and they ain’t respected for putting Versace out. Nigga, are y’all fuckin’ crazy, man? That’s Lord Infamous all the way! All y’all niggas are is repetitive. That ain’t no style. A lot of people did that style they just do it all the time! Don’t get me wrong, I fuck with the Migos and a lot of down south niggas. I respect them for coming in the game at their age and having grown men my age try to do their shit. I respect them in that lane, but I don’t like niggas that feel they should get more credit than what is due. It’s a lot of good emcees out here. You got good emcees, you got lords of illusions, and then you get motherfuckers that’s happy all the time with high voices, skipping around the stage, doing back flips, and on hover boards. This is rap music, my nigga. I talk to Top Dawg from TDE and I told him about that situation and he said, “Yo, fuck that shit. Just get your money, man.” That brother is busy but when he can he always throw me a couple of lines if I ask him. I respect that brother and what they doing over there. You have to have a lot of stamina and believe in yourself in this game.

TRHH: The term you used “lord of illusion” is not a new thing in Hip-Hop. Many people would say Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were not what they portrayed in 1988. Some people would even say that about Ice-T on some level…

Fong-Sai-U: But you know what, when you say that think about who you’re talking about and how long did they carry that shit on. Ice Cube came out like that for a little while and then he started acting and raising his family. Ice Cube was radical – pro black. Ice Cube didn’t keep on with the keep on. Ice Cube didn’t try to be N.W.A on every motherfuckin’ album. These niggas I’m talking about are dope dealers on every album. They got kilos, chopping bricks, and money out the ass on every album. You see the difference? Ice-T was really out there. He was really out there but he got smart and said, “I’m not out there no more so I can’t keep talking about this shit when I’m living in a mansion in the hills, living in New York, and on a TV show.” Same thing with Jay, he can’t keep talkin’ about Marcy when he knows he’s not in Marcy no more. This nigga Rick Ross still talking like he’s the real Rick Ross. How long can you do it, brother? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good emcee, but he’s burning his self out with all this shit that’s unbelievable. You gotta think about it, that’s Meek Mill’s CEO. That’s your skeleton, your battery pack, your dude, and you got this young boy out here flashing money thinking that makes him dope. Everybody you named never did that, dog. Dr. Dre got smart. If Dr. Dre would have kept trying to be N.W.A he probably wouldn’t be here right now. Back then we didn’t have security and protection like these niggas. Niggas be walkin’ with security, protection, and everything else. Even when Biggie, rest in peace, was out it was more easy to clip a nigga. Now everybody that’s talking that shit got mad security. Because you’re speaking that shit into existence.

TRHH: I’ve heard a million stories about cats like De La Soul and Common beatin’ niggas down. Regular dudes, but you’ll never hear about it in their music.

Fong-Sai-U: Nope. That’s the facts, dog. I promised myself with my music that the only thing I can do is say what’s real. Everything I talk about happened. My daughter ran away and I put that on a song. She ain’t came back yet, brother and I be worried every day, God. I say shit that’s real. My life is that broken up where I can say shit and it’ll sound dramatic, but it’s really happening. I’m talking to you right now and the police got a thing out looking for my daughter. I talk about those things and that’s my way to get it out. That’s my way to let people know that I’m dealing with real life. In the beginning of one the songs on the album I tell everybody I’m not going to fabricate shit, I’m going to let you in. I been locked up I don’t know how many times, but I don’t have to brag about it and put it in my music. I pulled the pump on a nigga, but I don’t have to put it in my music. I just wanna be an emcee, I wanna be lyrical. I’m not trying to play super hard man. Half the niggas that’s trying to play super hard man is pussy. Black Thought is my brother and my mentor, but he got caught with a gun a long time ago if you remember. It fell out the bag. But he don’t rap about that shit. It’s what’s in the water man. I understand you gotta sell records, but if you don’t live it, don’t do it, my brother. How long you think Slim Jesus got out here before another nigga try to take his motherfuckin’ head off?


Fong-Sai-U: [Laughs] And you over there so you know what I mean! How long you think that little white boy got before somebody bust his fuckin’ melon?

TRHH: Not long, unfortunately.

Fong-Sai-U: You know what I’m sayin’? He got a video where he talkin’ about, “If y’all come on Frank block, bla, bla, bla,” nigga, that’s not where they gonna fuck with you at! They not gonna fuck with you on your block. You still gotta tour and them choppers cut through motherfuckin’ vans and everything else. Five niggas surrounding you don’t mean shit. Rest in peace Cap and all them niggas in Chicago. That drill shit is real. Niggas dying for that shit, man. Salute to RondoNumbaNine. Niggas dying for that shit and you got your happy go lucky trailer park ass trying to do it. What? You got Lil’ Bibby and certain people co-signing, but they’re really not. Bibby just said he fuck with dude, he ain’t co-sign him. Niggas know that in Chicago if you co-sign that white boy you’ll probably have problems because now you’re going against your city. It’s a list of niggas that done died doing drill music and you got this motherfucker think he gonna do it? He just gonna come take it. You’re gonna be the Eminem drill dude, huh? I don’t wish bad on nobody, but I’m just waiting for somebody to stomp his motherfuckin’ ass out or we hear about him on the news or some shit. He invite that shit in. You can’t move like you wanna move ‘cause you put that shit in the world like you Josey Wales. You got guns in your video, niggas with guns, and you say you’ll do this and that but you look paranoid as hell. That nigga stuck looking paranoid. I ain’t never see a motherfucker look paranoid 24 hours a day. He got paranoid eyes. Slim Jesus paranoid. Even in the video he look paranoid.

TRHH: At some point in time the importance of being lyrical ceased and it shifted to persona – money, how many times you been in jail or shot, whatever the case may be. It didn’t matter how good your rhymes were, your persona became more important. When and why do you think that happened?

Fong-Sai-U: You know what, because niggas was trying to get money. Niggas was trying to fuckin’ get money. You had niggas that used to be lyrical and all of a sudden they wack as hell. You know why they wack as hell? Because they’re trying to do everything that these young boys are doing. I ain’t gonna say no names. I like to say names, but I still respect some people from afar. It’s some old niggas that used to be dope back in the day and now they’re wack as shit because they’re trying to do music that goes against what they know how to do. They’re trying to do the commercial songs to sell records. They’re trying to ride the fence, but if you don’t know how to do it, it will backfire and blow up in your face. Then you’ll be another artist on the wayside and you won’t be selling shit. Won’t nobody give a fuck about you. I got a list of niggas don’t nobody give a fuck about. You ever see somebody spread their selves across the board? They wanna do commercial songs, underground songs, south songs, and motherfucking country songs. They wanna do every goddamn song just to prove that they can do it. You can’t do that. You gotta ride your lane ‘till that motherfucker close. You gotta age with time, that’s how you get dope. Money is the reason why a lot of these niggas say, “Fuck being lyrical, I’m just gonna rap stupid.” Or they stay lyrical and do song with somebody that’s commercial to try to sell records. It fucked the game up, dog.

I got Phat Gary to open up my album, he’s Statik Selektah’s manager. He used to be Guru and Preemo’s manager — he’s my mentor. He tried to get this old school nigga, and he gonna know who I’m talkin’ about, but this motherfucker asked me for $10,000, man. And this nigga ain’t had no hit since goddamn 1993. You can’t give these old school niggas a bone and try and bring ‘em back ‘cause they want too much money. Then you got the rapping niggas that’s good that are trying to be like the commercial niggas. They try to be like the commercial niggas but in interviews they talk about keeping it real and changing with the times. No motherfucker, you sounding wack with the times! You gotta stand on your square. You know why Prince is still dope? Because Prince still stays Prince. His music might change a little bit, but all of his music connects. You know when you hear it it’s a Prince song. You don’t see Prince saying, “Fuck that, let me start rappin’!” Niggas wanna get money and because of that they reduce their skills. You putting yourself back because you wanna get money, but what happens is you don’t get no money, then you end up flopping and sounding all rusty. This game is fame. One day you’re up, the next day you’re down and nobody fucks with you. Back in the day you used to have some longevity, but now you’re so in and out that everybody loves you today and hate you tomorrow. The underground rappers wanna get money and end up spitting a whole bunch of wack shit. They just sound like fuckin’ garbage.

TRHH: What are people gonna hear when they buy the new album?

Fong-Sai-U: Fire, my G. It’s raw, dog. I ain’t gonna toot my own horn ‘cause I heard niggas go on VladTV tooting their horn and they’re wack. I’ll let the people hear it. I’m from D.C., man. People think D.C. is just Wale and Fat Trel, but D.C. had an underground scene once upon a time. D.C. had a whole bunch of lyrical ass niggas once upon a time. Some of ‘em don’t rap no more and some of ‘em do. I tried to spin back around and get some of ‘em, but they don’t have it no more or they’re wack as fuck. I’m trying to show that D.C., not Maryland, has ill ass emcees. You got Oddisee, the Diamond District, and Gods’Illa that are doing their thing but their lane is totally different. My lane is totally different. I was doing my thing for a minute there. Motherfuckers know who I am from the battle circuit. I do all my production, so I’m a one man gang. I want people to hear the album and know that D.C. has real spitters. A lot of cats have fan bases, but Oddisee and them are more happy, backpack Hip-Hop. Me, I’m more ride the fence. The left side is Hip-Hop, the right side is street, and I just merge them together. That’s my life. I wasn’t running around with no flowers and backpacks.

When ‘Riq was trying to push me to do things I was in the streets getting locked up. He pulled himself back, back in the day because I was hard headed. I was doing all the wrong shit. I probably could have been on a long time ago, but I was running the fuckin’ street. I can’t rap about, “Everybody put a fist in the air and let’s move!” [Laughs] I can’t do that shit. Break dancing and spinning is not my life. When I was in D.C. if I wasn’t on 58th I’d be on 13th with my god son and both of them places is shoot ‘em up, bang-bang. When I wanted to rap I would go to Howard University with a backpack and battle niggas on the campus. That’s where I found the best emcees at. That’s how I crafted my skills. When I walked off Howard’s campus it was back to the hood again. It’s niggas today that still wanna rap like De La Soul, that’s cool if that’s your lane. It’s a fan base for that, but it’s just not me. In D.C. you either all the way super Nubian Hip-Hop or you’re all the way gansgsta. There is no in between. It’s either right or left. My lane is showing people that D.C. has the full package and I can be that representer. The Last Ronin is gonna be that one, I promise you on that.

Purchase: Fong-Sai-U – The Last Ronin

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Dephlow: Deph Threats

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Photo courtesy of Don’t Sleep Records

Photo courtesy of Don’t Sleep Records

Hampton, Virginia emcee Dephlow has spit verses on various tracks by Don’t Sleep Records founders Awon and Phoniks. In 2014 Deph and Awon joined forces for a collaborative album called Dephacation. Now Dephlow is going for dolo with 14-track album titled “Deph Threats”.

Deph Threats is produced by Phoniks with two tracks handled by F. Draper. The album features Awon, Envy Hunter, Tiff the Gift, Nehemiah Bell, My Main Man Keion, and Anti-Lilly.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Dephlow about his new album, Deph Threats, working with producer Phoniks, and why his first album might be his last.

TRHH: How does it feel to have your debut solo album Deph Threats out?

Dephlow: It was a gradual process to try to figure out how I feel to be honest because it took hearing from my older brother, who is 3 years older than me and a heavily influence on my character. He gave me the call and said he only listened to it one time but some things stuck out to him. He said it might be one of his favorite albums that he’s ever heard. In the context of our relationship he’s not the kind of guy that’s going to sugar coat anything. If it’s not dope he’s going to tell me as he has in the past. After he told me that I was about as excited as you can be. Until he told me that, I didn’t know how to feel. I was glad to get it out there finally. I didn’t really have a whole lot of anything else to really feel until I started getting feedback from people I needed to get the stamp of approval from. This is a deeply personal record and a lot of those people were right there with me in those spots. When they told me how much it resonated with them I started to feel a sense of accomplishment like I achieved what I set out to do.

TRHH: Was it a conscious idea to have Phoniks produce most of the album?

Dephlow: Yeah, yeah, most definitely. That was the plan during the course of Dephacation. We all kinda were on the same page in the sense that we wanted to make sure our team was strong and be able to roll out the project in a way that people would embrace it. That’s pretty much what happened. It’s been in the works for the last two years. I was blown away by what he did. That dude works very hard at what he does. For him to have put out the volume and quality of work that he has in the past two years and put the effort in that he put into this record I was very appreciative. He understood how much this meant to me. It might not be like that for every producer and rapper who works exclusively on a project but we had that type of chemistry and I think it comes through in the music.

TRHH: Whose idea was it to put the Dusty Rhodes interview at the start of Hard Times?

Dephlow: That was Awon, man. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. I was in the middle of a studio session and he called me the day that Dusty Rhodes passed. He said, “Yo, they just played this throwback interview from Dusty Rhodes and that shit would go perfect with that record!” I had already recorded the song. We talked about the interview for like another hour. We were so hyped up at that it was so perfect for the record. That’s my generation. I grew up on that shit. I was hoping that the age range of the people that would appreciate this music would catch on to that and feel me on that one as well. I think it was an ’88 interview or something like that and the shit that he was saying still applies today. You look at the McDonald’s workers who are demanding a live-able wage and what do they do? Replace them with computers.

TRHH: I think that was 85 or 86, like 30 something years ago.

Dephlow: Earlier than that. See, I wasn’t even walking at that point in time [laughs]. I was barely on this planet and it still rings true today. We had damn near a thousand people laid off from our shipyards at Newport News recently. They’re not getting a severance package – hard times.

TRHH: How was doing this album different from doing Dephacation with Awon?

Dephlow: This was a very personal album. I was dealing with a few things that made me think about not really being able to do an album. I was just about to graduate college and the day after I would have graduated my father passed away. I was dealing with him being sick and trying to help take care of him. Those types of events make you look at a lot of things differently. No matter how old you are you still grow up a little bit more when those types of things happen. It was a situation where I was just dealing with those things the best way I knew how and that was with the pen and the pad. It was funny because I already had the concept for the album in mind before I started writing it. It ended up being completely different from what I intended. It’s part of God’s plan I guess. I don’t have another way to describe how I was able to pull myself together and put it together. It was different in a sense that I was including everyone into some personal situations and taking a risk by doing that hoping that people would relate to it and it would affect them in a way that was positive. And then I wasn’t really trying to break mics. I feel like we did that on Dephacation. I really didn’t wanna do a whole hour of talking shit, I just wanted to make something that could live forever. To be honest that was really the main goal – to make something that would live forever and touch people.

TRHH: How has losing your father changed you personally and as a musician?

Dephlow: As a musician there was a point in the process where we had to reflect on his life. I learned things about him that I wanted to make sure I didn’t keep to myself in terms of where he came from, what he made out of himself, and in certain ways I’m responsible for carrying on that type of legacy and character – especially as a black man. There is this myth that we don’t know our fathers, we don’t have fathers, or we don’t have positive black men to look up to. When this man’s life was over all people could talk about were things I was blind to because our relationship was the way the father/son relationship a lot of times is where you’re so much alike that you don’t get along very much. In that way I’m responsible as an artist to say I have a family legacy that’s not really about prestige and money, it’s more about character and I want that to reflect through the music. That’s how it affected me personally and through the music. It’s all about people respecting you for who you are instead of looking at the optics of it – how many followers you got on Instagram or how many likes you got on a Facebook post. None of that really matters unless it’s coming from people who have been affected by what you’ve done or who are you.

TRHH: What inspired the song “Troubled Young Man”?

Dephlow: To be honest I wanted to take people on a trip through what my childhood was like a little bit. I wasn’t really able to capture some of the moments. I’ll tell you exactly how that song started, in the place that I live there is a little community pool. A lot of times there is nobody there, but this one day I’m going there to write some rhymes and just hang out and this white dude was in the pool with all his clothes on [laughs]. He had some jean shorts, a shirt, a hat, he was like war veteran or something. He was drinking a beer in the pool and it seemed like as soon as I showed up my presence bothered him. It made me think back to my elementary school, and I shot the video at my elementary school and filmed the same pool that basically had a policy of no blacks. This elementary school is now closed. The pool is now closed as well I believe.

Every summer they would have a summer camp out there and if you could imagine it being 90-100 degrees and us black kids doing this free program on the playground playing basketball or doing the bare minimum that the Hampton Parks & Recreation was providing, watching these other kids in the closed off fence with the barbed wire enjoying the pool. They have a policy that’s pretty much known to all of us that we’re not welcome. That’s how my whole attitude started for that song where I’m like, “I come to your community pool, piss in the deep end/They lookin’ like Jay-Z looked when he leaped in.” The face that he had on that picture where he jumped in the pool was the reaction to these people when I do this to show them fuck your pool and fuck y’all rules. The McKinney, Texas thing that happened kinda inspired that idea as well. It was the same premise – We’re not comfortable with you being around us in our element. The rest of that was really the things that I see in a lot of my friend’s little brothers or those same kids that are a little bit younger than me that went through the same thing that I had to go through. It’s just a little insight into the kind of things that shaped who I am.

TRHH: Was it difficult to transition to more substantive lyrics when you’re more known for punch lines?

Dephlow: Not at all, not at all. Honestly my passion is for the written word, period. This may be the only album I ever make because what I really wanna do outside of rap is to write and get people interested in reading again because I find that a lot of people aren’t. My brother gave me this book, “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. Here is another one of those context clues as to why my brother is so influential and important to me because his mind is always on something other than what’s popular. It’s what’s actually going, what’s the mechanics behind driving things the way that they are, political science, and those kinds of things. Upon reading that book I rediscovered a passion I had for something that’s non-fiction and educational in a way that paints a better picture of why things are the way that they are so you can better understand what you can do to change it.

TRHH: You have a song on the album called “What Would Pac Do”. Pac has been gone for nearly twenty years now and when some people think of 2Pac or romanticize him they think of his troubled side. You highlighted Pac’s conscious side in the song. How’d you come up with the concept of the song?

Dephlow: Absolutely. The true story behind this is I was sitting listening to a Chevrolet commercial and they were using a sample from this beat. I had already wrote that and the beat was right there in the pocket that I wanted so I recorded it and sent it to Phoniks and he was like, “You gotta let me remix that!” so he remixed it. The whole concept of it was we saw a situation where this brother was basically attacked and he stood his own ground. That sort of passion to stand up for yourself and what you believe in — we’ve been missing for that long. True, the brother was very versatile. He was a Gemini so he was multi-faceted. There are a lot of moving parts to 2Pac that are probably already lost on this generation and that’s okay. What I was trying to do was basically remind people about the passion that the dude had about everybody. Not just his people, but everybody. In that sample it’s white folks, black folks, Puerto Ricans, we gotta do something. All of the social issues that we have are bigger than just black folks and bigger than just Mexicans. We all have a common enemy but we all have these same sort of distractions that have to circumvent and get around that.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Deph Threats?

Dephlow: I think maybe I’ve already accomplished it – I made my family proud. Judging from the phone calls and feedback that I’ve been getting from people who were willing to reach out and let me know, it’s affected people. It’s even given people who weren’t in the demographic that I intended to hear this music insight. Certain tracks on that album gave them more perspective. They may have been expecting beats, bars, and punch lines. They got that, but they got food, too. I couldn’t make that album again today. I think they got a piece of music that’ll live, if they choose to. What I expected to get out of this is hopefully an opportunity for people like yourself to even talk to me without have 700,000 followers on Twitter or whatever [laughs]. I don’t care about social media, man, so I’m not looking to get new followers or Facebook friends. At the end of the day that’s a vehicle to get them there to hear the music and it’s a way to reach out to me. I love hearing from people. I’m not one of those people that has an ego and won’t reach back like you’re above that. This is real music, I’m a real person, and these are real people who are affected by it. I appreciate that and I need them to know that just as much as they want to let me know that they appreciate the music. So, that’s happened.

Purchase: Dephlow – Deph Threats

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Pearl Gates: Diamond Mind

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Photo courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity

Photo courtesy of Jerry Graham Publicity

Washington Heights emcee Pearl Gates rhymes with a purpose – to let listeners see that in between the grit and the dirt many jewels can be unearthed. Gates’ first official release on Below System Records “Diamond Mind” is a modern throwback, meshing current day stories of life in the Big Apple over a golden era boom bap sound.

Diamond Mind is produced by Kic Beats, iRobot Scott, M. Stacks, Twizzmatic, Sirplus, and Khrysis. The EP features appearances by Boldy James, Nikky Bourbon, Carl Sherron, SyLL, Range Da Messenga, Jacqueline Constance, Pav Bundy, Ali De Leon, Wordsworth, Stricklin, and Masta Ace.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Pearl Gates about his musical inspirations, working with the eMC crew, and his new EP, Diamond Mind.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Diamond Mind.

Pearl Gates: I just wanted to highlight the importance of having a clear and strong mindset as far as coming from the environment that I came from with the adversity, the hood shit, drugs, and bad influences. Treating that third eye like it’s a precious jewel is a message I wanted to relay through the music. I just wanted to highlight the strength in that perspective.

TRHH: What struggles did you encounter coming up?

Pearl Gates: Basically being from Washington Heights it’s a very involved with the drug trade. My neighborhood is largely populated by a demographic that has connections with other worlds.  The Heights is like a port. You got the Dominican’s and the whole Tri-State area so just the relationships, the steps, and having access to that was very prevalent. Just like any other hood you can easily lose your way and be influenced by things you see around you. There were things I couldn’t afford and I’d see people pull up in my neighborhood in expensive cars, and having expensive tastes. I’m kind of circumventing the surface and thinking deeper beyond that — what the meaning of life is, what’s important, and what to value under those circumstances. That’s why I wanted to highlight that with Diamond Mind. The concept is freeing yourself from that and becoming one with your third eye and really seeing the reality for what it’s worth.

TRHH: How is Diamond Mind different from A Star in a Broken Sky?

Pearl Gates: I think A Star in a Broken Sky was in a darker place. I was actually involved with a lot of stuff that I would rather not mention. I say that to say that it brought out a side of me that was very dark. This one is more illuminated. There is more understanding of purpose on this project.

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

Pearl Gates: Man, I would say the first person that really inspired me, emceeing wasn’t his strongest suit and that would be RZA. I heard RZA on “Triumph” and I lost my mind. The way he described how his beats travel from the speaker to your cerebral cortex was so vivid in my mind. The very next day I was writing rhymes. I wasn’t even a teenager yet, I was 11-12 years old. That was my first inspiration. As I got older I appreciated Nas very much.

TRHH: Nas is your favorite emcee?

Pearl Gates: Yeah, Nas is definitely my favorite emcee. That’s number one right there. I also have a lot of 2Pac influence, and even the people I rock with like Wordsworth and Masta Ace. That’s pretty much it. Other than people I really mess with, I listen to all forms of music and I write different genres for other artists so I keep my mind open in that sense.

TRHH: You mentioned Wordsworth and Masta Ace, you have members of eMC on the album and you worked with them on Fly Thoughts. What’s it like working with Stricklin, Wordsworth, and Masta Ace?

Pearl Gates: Oh man, it’s great. Not only are they ill emcees but they’re great people. It’s great to work with artists that after so much time in the game they’re still excited about it and approach it like its brand new. It’s pretty dope to me. I think the experience has been great working with them, the professionalism, and their character. When you think about all their contributions to the game it’s a blessing to be able to work with people of that caliber.

TRHH: How’d you get the name Pearl Gates?

Pearl Gates: The way RZA was painting his picture on the Triumph joint was very vivid and it did something to me. It changed my thought process. I was very poetic at that time. The way I came up with it was like, there are two types of rappers the more I listened – the God emcees like Nas, Biggie, and Hov, and there are ordinary rappers. I didn’t want to jump the gun and consider myself a God emcee, but I didn’t feel like I was just an ordinary dude doing it. So really what separates the God’s from the mortals is the pearly gates of heaven. I just dropped that “y” and kept it as Pearl Gates. I wanted to at least lyrically be a standard.

TRHH: Have you ever met RZA?

Pearl Gates: I’ve never met RZA, man. It would be dope to meet him and work with him.

TRHH: That would be a dope thing to tell him. It’s funny you mentioned RZA because he’s one of my all-time favorite emcees…

Pearl Gates: Yeah, he’s been so many different types of artist. He’s been Bobby Digital, Prince Rakeem, so many things. What’s he’s done with the production is legendary. Being in that crew he got overlooked by other emcees in the crew but he’s dope.

TRHH: Definitely. And his style is unique. Have you ever heard the verse he did on “Dangerous Mindz” off the second Gravediggaz album? It’s one of the greatest verses I’ve ever heard.

Pearl Gates: Nah, I never heard that.

TRHH: He destroyed it, man. That album came out a few months after Wu-Tang Forever.

Pearl Gates: So he was on the same wave as far as writing?

TRHH: Lyrically, yeah.

Pearl Gates: I’ll check that out. I like the joint he did with MF Doom, too. He’s got so many verses. He’s definitely underrated.

TRHH: I think so, too. Who would you say that Diamond Mind is for?

Pearl Gates: I think it’s for people that want to hear quality rap music. That’s all it is. Really highlighting that thing of Diamond Mind and the third eye and having that perspective clear through all the bullshit that you go through in your life, that’s what it is. It’s a reflection of me putting my best foot forward as far as delivering from that third eye. I wanted to make it fun, clever, and also something that you could listen to from a Hip-Hop standpoint and enjoy it. I think it’s for whoever wants to find that quality rap music and enjoy it.

TRHH: What’s next up for Pearl Gates in 2016?

Pearl Gates: I got a new album coming out in May. I’ll be going on tour in Europe possibly. I have a whole bunch of radio show with satellite radio and a couple of interviews. It’s going to be a busy year, for sure.

Purchase: Pearl Gates – Diamond Mind

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Chordz Cordero: HighBred

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Photo courtesy of Dub MD

Photo courtesy of Dub MD

Chordz Cordero and Sir Manley are HighBred. From Jamaica Queens and Muskegon, Michigan respectively, the duo teamed up to create a full-length album that fuses Hip-Hop with Soul. The project, titled “The HighBred LP” not only intends to usher in a new sound, but also a movement.

The HighBred LP is produced entirely by Boonie Mayfield and features appearances by Venson Dix, J’ Mel Lu, Che’ V, Mickey Wallace, Zo’ Kimoni, Trademark Massey, Passionate Poet, and the late Pumpkinhead.

One half of HighBred, Chordz Cordero spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about joining forces with his partner in rhyme Sir Manley, the impression left by his late mentor, Pumpkinhead, and his new album, The HighBred LP.

TRHH: How did you guys come together to decide to do this album?

Chordz Cordero: We were introduced by a mutual friend of ours. I was in Michigan visiting a friend of mine and we got in the lab and had a nice conversation. Those conversations turned into a similar love for music. We worked on a couple of joints and I pitched the idea of working on an EP. We were gonna do an EP of his beats with me rhyming on it and him dropping a feature or something like that. But then he came with the idea of having a different producer take care of the whole project. He sent me some beats from this guy named Boonie Mayfield out of Colorado. I loved what I heard. He sent me four originally and we extended those to six. We loved those so much that we decided to do a whole album.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the name “HighBred”?

Chordz Cordero: It’s actually a few meanings behind it. It’s a hybrid of two different styles – my style and his style being brought together. He’s originally from the west coast and I’m from the east so we have that going on. The “High” is for a higher state of mind, and a higher state of being, and higher quality. “Bred” is the future offspring that will change the world. Put those together you got the new HighBred – the new people that are here to change the art, break the barriers down, and change the world.

TRHH: Tell me about the single “How I See“.

Chordz Cordero: We were having a conversation about different views and perspectives in life. His views were a little different from my views. I wanted to make a song that was telling stories from different lives. It fit perfect. I didn’t want to have a hook that was too complex so we made it simple. We wanted to have that be the first single. We did a couple listening sessions and that was one that was a favorite so we wanted to push that out first.

TRHH: With both of you being in different states what was the recording process like for this album?

Chordz Cordero: I went back and forth to Michigan. We did everything in his studio at his house. He had an open door policy. I was there so much we’d knock out 4-5 joints at a time. Everything was organic. I took two trips to finish and a third trip to do some videos for the album. Everything was in the studio. We didn’t do any e-mailing back and forth. We had a good time, it was organic, and the chemistry was there.

TRHH: Pumpkinhead is featured on the album. Talk about your relationship with him and how his passing affected you.

Chordz Cordero: Ah man. Pumpkinhead was like my big brother. He took me under the wing a while ago and showed me a lot of ins and outs in the game. I wanted to have him on the project because this was going to be one of my first official projects to come out. Him always co-signing me with everything I did I wanted to make sure that his presence was felt in anything I did from then on. I worked with him so much that it was pretty much like a favor. He showed me love on the verse and did his thing. Our relationship was a strong one. We spent a lot of time together inside and outside the studio. It was a lot of camaraderie there. I met his family and people he considered brothers and close personal friends. His influence on us made us a big family even after his passing. I can’t say anything bad about the man. He definitely affected my life and other people’s lives. He touched so many lives. You wonder did he just affect yours and you hear all of those stories and are like, wow. It’s a whole new meaning and a whole new connection. I wanted to make sure that his presence is always felt from here on out with my projects. The album wouldn’t have been complete without his verse on there.

TRHH: On the single “Original” you’re doing some singing. Talk about how that song came together and your background being a vocalist.

Chordz Cordero: I’ve been a vocalist as far as I can remember. I actually started off as a singer, then I got into emceeing, and then production a little later. That would probably be the strong suit – songwriting and singing. As far as Originals, that came about by another conversation about how the game has changed so much. The love for the music has changed and we saw that early. We had a conversation about how there used to be different cyphers in the park, watching Hip-Hop evolve into something great, seeing it at its peak, and missing something great. It’s pretty much like a reminiscing song talking about how we wished the game would still be like when we loved it so much.

TRHH: Why do you think the game has changed and is there anything you love about it now?

Chordz Cordero: I’m not completely disgusted with the game – I can’t lie about that. There are certain artists that have definitely shown me that the creativity and the passion is still there, so I definitely acknowledge and appreciate those artists. I’m not really big on radio play. A lot of the artists that I listen to happen to be in similar circles. I can’t say that I’m completely disgusted with the game, I like the way that it’s going. There is a lot of potential that can be made. I love the creativity. I love the direction that it’s going back to. I feel like there is a cycle thing happening. I feel like there is a certain peak of consciousness, a peak of flossing, a peak of political issues, and it goes back and forth. I feel like the people who love music or have a passion for the art are finally getting their voices heard again. I feel like it’s a good time for the game.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear on The HighBred LP?

Chordz Cordero: A vast variety of different works. We have R&B on there, thought-provoking songs, retrospective songs, uplifting songs where we’re telling people that they can do what they wanna do, but we try not to make it too cliché. Just a lot of positive vibes, diversity, live instrumentation, good lyricism, good featured artists, and just an overall solid project. I’m very proud of this work right here. I feel like it’s a good listen front to back.

Purchase: HighBred – The HighBred LP

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Enter to win tickets to Reaction New Year’s Eve

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Photo courtesy of React Presents

Photo courtesy of React Presents

The Real Hip-Hop.com is giving you the opportunity to win one pair of general admission 2-day passes to Reaction New Year’s Eve.

The event takes place December 30-31 in Rosemont, Illinois at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and will feature performances by Deadmau5, Skrillex, Purity Ring, Chvrches, Robin Schulz, and Cashmere Cat among others.

Hip-Hop acts slated to perform include Run the Jewels, Chance the Rapper, ProbCause, Thundercat, BADBADNOTGOOD, Show You Suck, DJ Intel, and Jakhoy.


For more information, visit http://reactionnye.com/

Like and Follow Reaction NYE on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Purchase tickets for Reaction NYE

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MoSS: Marching to the Sound of My Own Drum

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media

Photo courtesy of MAC Media

With over 15 years of experience crafting tracks for mainstream and underground artist’s producer MoSS has finally released his first solo album. Titled “Marching to the Sound of My Own Drum” the 15-track album is produced entirely by MoSS and released on his very own MoSS Appeal Music label. The album maintains MoSS’ signature boom bap aesthetic while expanding sonically.

Marching to the Sound of My Own Drum features DJ Premier, AZ, Joe Budden, Ill Bill, Inspectah Deck, Slum Village, Chuuwee, Eternia, REKS, Witch, Havoc, Onyx, Red Café, Slaine, Termanology, AKA, Deuce Wonder, Joell Ortiz, Supastition, Skyzoo, Vstylez, Big Gov, Jon Connor, Willie the Kid, Guilty Simpson, Illa Ghee, Peedi Crakk, Royal Flush, and the late Sean Price.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to MoSS about his new album, his relationship with the legendary DJ Premier, and a blockbuster release for 2016 with one of the greatest emcees of all-time.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album.

MoSS: I don’t hear it but people have mentioned to me throughout my career that my sound is a little bit different. I don’t hear it, but that’s what everyone tells me. On this album I kind of did some things that really weren’t traditional in Hip-Hop. I just decided that the best way to put that in the title was “Marching to the Sound of My Own Drum”. This album is a little bit selfish. When you go into an album you try to make singles or build around something, with this album I didn’t try to make any singles. I wanted to go after a certain sound and I’m doing it for me. It sounds selfish, but that was the best way to demonstrate or showcase what I can do. When you’re working on other people’s projects you kind of have to cater to what they want. This was the first time where I didn’t have to answer to anybody. No one could tell me what I could or couldn’t do. No one could tell me how to make things sound. No one could give me hints or advice. This is just me and that’s what the title came from.

TRHH: Did you encounter input from the emcees on the album about the sound?

MoSS: One of the reasons why this record took so long is I kept feeding beats to different artists and they kind of have to protect their brand and what they’re doing. Also just for me it’s just natural that if they’re feeling the music they’re obviously going to make a better song than if they’re not feeling the music. I always told everybody I work with, “Look, if you’re not feeling it don’t feel bad. I’d rather you come back and tell me that shit’s wack or it’s just not your thing than give me a half-assed verse just because you weren’t feeling the music.” That took a while because I had to keep kind of churning through things to make it my sound, but at the same time do something that they enjoy. Maybe half the album is not the music they actually chose, I had to re-work it. One of the problems when making a compilation album is trying to make it have synergy. One guy wants to rhyme on one thing, the other guy wants to rhyme on another thing, but at the end of the day it’s my album. I had to reel it all back in. In some cases once the album started formulating I had to go back and change some songs. Some new songs got recorded that I wasn’t expecting. I had to kind of reel those back in so they all kind of fit. At the end of the day I had the final input but I tried to make sure they didn’t spit over something that they weren’t feeling. Whenever I’ve made music like that in the past it hasn’t turned out well.

TRHH: The album’s first single “Boombastic” features Slum Village. How’d that song come together?

MoSS: I worked with Slum in the past. I did “1,2” on the Slum Village album that came out on Barak. We’ve always known of each other. I’ve always done work in Detroit in the past with Obie and other people. I reached out to them a few years ago about doing it and they were down to do it. Time had passed and that was one of the more recent songs. My manager Dan Green had been booking some shows for them in Europe. He was on the phone with them one day and I ended up getting on the phone with T3 and we made it happen.

TRHH: At one time you worked with DJ Premier’s production company. It seems like nothing ever came out of that. What led to your departure from Works of Mart?

MoSS: It wasn’t necessarily a departure where we looked at each other and split ways. It was more so he was trying something and the agreement I had was a short term thing where we were just gonna see how things worked. It actually worked out pretty well for me because there were some opportunities outside of Hip-Hop that came up. With Hip-Hop it doesn’t really matter if I’m solo or signed to Premier or Dre, at the end of the day the onus is on the producer to come up with the music that the artist is gonna take. I’m still mad cool with Premier. That’s my boy. He got busy, I got busy, and to be honest with you we never really discussed it after that. The period ended and we never really talked about it. It was a great opportunity. I’m proud of it, I’m forever grateful for it, and I think he held me down. He did his thing, but it was short term.

TRHH: I was watching something recently where he shouted you out. He’s definitely a fan of yours.

MoSS: I really appreciate anyone on this planet that enjoys my music but when you have someone like Premier it means something to me buying his records over the years. Having your peers respect your work means a lot – at least to me it does. I’ve met a lot of people in the industry but when I talk to him or am around him it doesn’t feel like I’m talking with someone in the industry or who has produced the records that I grew up listening to. He’s just a guy and that’s the best thing about him. He’s just a down to earth guy.

TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you currently use?

MoSS: I use anything. I used an MPC 2000 for years. Part of this album was done on that. Sometimes I do stuff in Pro Tools. If I sample something that has drums in it and I have to layer them it’s easy for me to do that in Pro Tools because I can line them up to the wave as opposed to try to do it with my ears. I tried Reason and I just did not get with that. I tried all those other ones and did not get with that. The only software I was able to use and I still use it now sometimes is Logic. I had an old version and they recently upgraded and it just sucks for me now. I don’t know what they’ve done but it just screwed up my work flow. What I’m finding in the last month is I’ve gone back to making beats on the MPC and sampling it in to Logic or Pro Tools and layering and finalizing it there. You can really get stuff done quickly and do quick tests and manipulate things on the MPC. Where the computer stuff is a pain in the ass. You can fine tune in Pro Tools.

I’d say pre-production on the MPC and post-production in Pro Tools nowadays. I have a couple of analog synthesizers, too. On my album I have a girl named Allie O’Brien playing flutes all over the album. She’s really good and I needed someone to bring something different. I’ll use instrumentation over the top as well. I’ll play something myself or I’ll bring her in or a guy named G Koop who has done some sample kits with Jake One. I’ve known that guy for years. He worked on the Obie record with me, too. There really is no limit. When I was younger I was stubborn and thought I had to use samples. There are so many sounds out there I’ll sample anything to be honest with you. It doesn’t really matter where it’s from. If it’s funky it’s good. I don’t think there are rules anymore. The new generation kinda changed that, which is probably a good thing.

TRHH: My favorite verse on the album was Slaine’s on “Jealousy & Envy”. Do you have a favorite verse on the album?

MoSS: No, not really. I like everything. It’s weird with the Obie, Eternia, or Big Shug records there is always something that I wanted to change. I’m actually really happy with this record. I was talking to my manager about singles and when I looked at the record I thought, “Shit, I didn’t really make any singles.” I just like how it turned out. When I listen to it I like what all the rappers did. I don’t cringe at any of the verses. I don’t really have a favorite verse. I’m really happy with how everyone went in on my record. You don’t know what to expect some time, but everybody looked out for me. I’m happy.

TRHH: You have a verse from the late Sean Price on the album and you worked with him on past projects. What was your relationship like with Sean and what’s your favorite Sean P memory?

MoSS: I met Sean Price years ago after I did “One Two Yall”. I went to New York at Duck Down Studios and that was the first time I met him. I walked in and he looked at me and without even hesitating he was like, “You look like one of the Bee Gees.”


MoSS: [Laughs] And he literally starting laughing out loud. I think Sadat X was in there. First of all I got thick skin, second of all I don’t get all tight over shit like that, and third of all I know what I look like so he wasn’t far off. When I think about that moment and the interactions I had with him that bests describes his character. I wasn’t extremely close with him in that sense. I think my manager had a closer relationship with him. I’ve always been a huge fan of his from the jump and I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of songs with him. I did “Leg Breakers” from the Big Shug album and there are a couple other records I did with him like a record by a guy named GHETTO. There’s a song I did on the Tek & Steele album, there’s “Looking Down the Barrel”, I think I did somewhere between 7 and 9 songs with him. I like them all. I liked how he spit. I liked how his charisma was on the mic. It’s really unfortunate what happened. It’s a huge loss to the Hip-Hop community and the world overall. My condolences to his family and to the label. I was very proud to have him on my album and I hope it’s a good representation of what he represented. I hope people can listen to the song and remember him in a good light. I think he killed it. I wish it was under different terms and we’d be talking about shooting a video for the song right now. Things happen. I can only offer my condolences and be proud of the fact that he was part of my record.

TRHH: Who would you say Marching to the Sound Of My Own Drum is geared toward?

MoSS: It’s so weird these days. Hip-Hop has changed so much. A lot of people have come up with these brilliant answers for this stuff but I’m going to be completely transparent on this – I don’t know. I swear this is my philosophy, I made this album and I said to myself, “I would rather make an album that’s gonna fail than do an average album.” I went into this thing saying, “I’m gonna do me once and for all.” I always wanted to do something like this like on the Ill Bill song or the REKS song with the transitions, instrumentals, and tempo changes but it was hard for me to convince people to do that. I’m proud that I did it. I don’t pretend to know how it’s going to go over with people. It may leave people scratching their heads, it may have people saying, “Wow, this is great,” I just don’t know. Some people say this to put on a good face, but if I fail or succeed I feel I’ve done what I need to do. Going forward I’ve got another project coming out early next year that’s straight hard… it’s gonna shock… it’s dope [laughs]. I’ll tell you right now I got an album coming out with Kool G Rap.

TRHH: Oh, wow!

MoSS: We got heavy hitters on that. The features we got for that record are people I’ve never worked with before that I’ve always wanted to work with. We’ve got guys from Slaughterhouse on there, D-Block, this is a record! The record should be done this weekend. We’ve got a couple of under dubs to finish and a verse to re-record. When the Kool G Rap album comes out I want people to go back to my album and see a similar sound, but the Kool G Rap album is not as experimental. I don’t know if experimental is a good word – it’s a little bit more traditional. Something came together for me on that album. I don’t know how else to say it but something aligned in the stars for me. It’s the first time in my life. The music came together on that record [laughs]. I’m really excited about that one.

Purchase: MoSS – Marching to the Sound of My Own Drum

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