Horseshoe Gang: Anti-Trap Music

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Photo courtesy of Urbanelite Promotions
Photo courtesy of Urbanelite Promotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: What inspired the song Shoe-icide Squad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Crooked I

Kenny: That niggas hard.

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

Demetrius: Crooked is like Kobe Bryant…

Dice: Or Jordan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Who is Anti-Trap Music made for?

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

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

Purchase: Horseshoe Gang – Anti-Trap Music

Concise Kilgore: KiL Joy Division

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

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

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

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

TRHH: What exactly is the KiL Joy Division?

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

TRHH: How is this project different from Kobain?

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: What inspired the single GB1B?

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

TRHH: How would you describe you style of emceeing?

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Will we hear another Fice Lords mixtape?

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

TRHH: Who is KiL Joy Division for?

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

Purchase: Concise Kilgore – KiL Joy Division

A Conversation with Positive K

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

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

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

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

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

Positive K: The “I Go to Work” tour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: How did you link up with First Priority?

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: He shouldn’t be forgotten.

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Who was the female voice on that record?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Will there be a new Positive K album?

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

Purchase: Positive K – Make it Happen

Live from Soundset: Reverie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Who is your top 5?

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

TRHH: Did you see MURS perform today?

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

TRHH: What inspired the song Young Grasshopper?

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: More than likely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: What’s next up for you?

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

Live from Soundset: Jesse De La Pena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Tell me about the Friday Night DJ Series.

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

TRHH: What’s next up for you?

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

Live from Soundset: Sims

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Photo courtesy of Doomtree
Photo courtesy of Doomtree

For the past nine years Rhymesayers Entertainment has brought us the nation’s only remaining Hip-Hop festival, Soundset. Emcees, DJ’s, B-Boys and B-Girls, graffiti artists, and producers converge on the Minneapolis area annually to celebrate the culture of Hip-Hop.

This year the event took place at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Sunday, May 29 and featured four stages with performances by A$AP Rocky, Common, The Roots, Future, Machine Gun Kelly, Danny Brown, and Doomtree among others.

One member of the Doomtree collective, Sims took the time to chat with The Real Hip-Hop at Soundset about the importance of the festival, the upcoming Presidential election, the legacy of music icon, Prince, and the next Sims solo album.

TRHH: It’s been about five years since Doomtree performed at Soundset as a collective. What does it mean to you to be performing at an event like this with your crew?

Sims: I think Rhymesayers built something incredible with Soundset. It expands every year and it’s now gone from a local festival to one that’s on par with any one that we’ve ever played internationally or nationally. For one, props to Rhymesayers. It’s amazing what they’ve built. To be a part of that, support that, and chill with all those people out there and celebrate Minnesota rap music, and rap music in general, it feels great.

TRHH: How is it different performing with Doomtree versus performing on your own?

Sims: It’s a totally different set of songs. When I do the solo stuff I do my own Sims material. When we do Doomtree stuff we just do Doomtree songs. It’s like having two bands. It’s great that way. Nothing ever gets too old. Doing solo stuff you get to showcase more everything that you can do, doing Doomtree stuff you fit into a piece of something bigger, crazier, and more amazing, too.

TRHH: Is it hard to come up with a set list?

 Sims: It can be but now we have Paper Tiger just do it and there are no arguments. That’s the new policy. He’s like, “I picked it, and that’s what it is.”

TRHH: Is there anyone you’re excited to see perform today just as a fan?

Sims: Yeah and I already missed him. I was really stoked to see Mick Jenkins. I saw Anderson .Paak which was great – he killed it. It’s a hugely great lineup. I love everybody from the mainstream guys to the independent most underground dudes on this thing. I like a lot of these people playing today so I’m going to try and catch whatever I can.

TRHH: What is it about the Minneapolis scene that it produces so many rap acts that they say are “alternative” but they push the boundaries of what Hip-Hop norms are?

Sims: I think that there is a long tradition of Minnesota music in general that does that. There was a punk label called Amphetamine Reptile, which really pushed the boundaries of what punk music was, is, and does. Prince really pushed the boundaries of what pop music is, was, and does and how sexuality, gender, and race work. There is a tradition of how that’s celebrated in Minnesota. Being different is very cool. It’s okay to be weird and you, and we have a scene that supports weird and supports cool. You’re not automatically on the outside if you’re doing some weird thing. You get a couple more second chances here. For better or worse a lot of bad art gets a lot of second chances, which can be good when you start making good art because not everybody starts out good [laughs].

TRHH: You spoke on Prince; just touch on him and what he means to music in general.

Sims: Like I said, he pushed the boundaries of what one man could do with his life. He learned every instrument, played every instrument on his record and wrote. He has a vault of songs that have never come out. He pushed the boundaries of fashion, sexuality, gender, and race. He questioned our norms and how we do things and did it fearlessly. He was unabashedly himself. In Minnesota, he didn’t leave. He was our ambassador to the world. He stayed here because he was proud to be from here and that meant something to us. When he died there were thousands of people in the streets for days on end. We actually did go into a state of mourning because he was something different than a musician to us. It’s a hard thing to qualify with language what that feeling actually is.

TRHH: I think the world is mourning Prince.

Sims: Absolutely. Indeed, indeed.

TRHH: I know you get political sometimes, what’s your take on our possible Presidential candidates, Trump and Clinton?

Sims: I gotta tell you, man, I’m kind of checked out of this one. I’m not really participating in this election cycle. I’m over it. The choices will be presented for me between the candidates that are up, but I’m not super-thrilled about anybody. With Trump I thought it was funny last summer now I think it’s crazy that this many people actually think that he’s a voice worth listening to. I thought it was humorous when he joined in like, “Look at this crazy guy! That’s crazy!” The Megyn Kelly thing and the way that he calls women “pigs” based on their appearance, that’s not presidential!

The Tea Party was talking about the Washington elite and this and that and Jon Stewart was like, “We want the elite to lead us and run the country.” We don’t want some non-elite minds to run the country. We need elite minds picking the direction for where we’re going. It surprises me, amazes me, dumbfounds me, and breaks my heart so much so that I can’t even pay attention. I just can’t put my mind into it anymore. It hurts. It’s just hurtful. I think it’s kind of good in some ways because it displays how far we’ve got to go. That display is really painful for me to watch and hurtful, so I try to keep my mind on more loving beautiful things in my life. My life’s short so I’ve got to fill it with love as much as possible.

TRHH: When can we expect to hear the next full-length Sims album?

Sims: I just finished it. It’s coming out October of this year. We don’t have a title for it so if any one of your readers comes up with some good ones hit me up on Twitter @SIMSdoomtree. Yeah, I got a full-length coming out in October we just wrapped it. Production by Paper Tiger, Lazerbeak, and this kid named Icetep who is crazy talented. He’s a 22-year old kid from the Twin Cities but lives in L.A. now. It’s good.

BigStat: Heart of a Lion

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Photo courtesy of Jason Lyte
Photo courtesy of Jason Lyte

Connecticut emcee BigStat has paid his dues. Writing rhymes since his youth, BigStat came up in the game learning from some of the best artists in Hip-Hop. He’s rocked stages alongside rap music’s brightest stars and had his music highlighted on network TV. His continuous grind has culminated in his debut album that details loss, love, and lyrics – Heart of a Lion.

Heart of a Lion features Ghostface Killah, Krumb Snatcha, Jordan Meyer, Kill The Alarm, Toussaint, Tina Parol, Meredith Dimenna, Piet Shaw, and the son of Hip-Hop legend Rakim, Tahmell. The album is produced by Kill The Alarm, Jordan Meyer, Royce Music Group, G-Whiz, Nate Locksmiff, Mike Cash, Touch, Quincey Tones, Jo Caleb, and Sicktunes.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to BigStat about his relationship with members of the Wu-Tang Clan, how fatherhood has changed his life, and his new album, Heart of a Lion.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Heart of a Lion.

BigStat: I chose that because my government name is Gary Montelleone and in Italian Montelleone means “mountain lion” and my music is super passionate and from the heart.

TRHH: How long did it take you to complete this project?

BigStat: It took me about four years because I wrote, recorded, and mixed everything on my own. I arranged most of the songs on my own, too. I’m a perfectionist so I just went back and forth. It’s my perfect project, my Reasonable Doubt, so I wanted to make sure it was perfect to me.

TRHH: So you’re pleased with the outcome?

BigStat: Absolutely, yeah. I’m super proud of this project.

TRHH: How did you link up with Ghostface for the single Press Rewind?

BigStat: I linked up with Ghostface because I was on tour with Redman and Method Man for two years. They invited me on the next tour with Red, Meth, and Ghost. That’s when Method Man introduced me to Ghostface. We talked about doing a track for a long time and when I was working on the album I felt like that was the perfect song to throw him on. I sent it to him and he hopped on it.

TRHH: How did you get on the tour with Red and Meth?

BigStat: It all started when I met Method Man when I was like 16 years old. He was one of my favorite emcees so I would go to a lot of his shows. Eventually we became cool. We would be chillin’ back stage, he’d see me everywhere, and we shared the same views on Hip-Hop at the time. After he saw me in Hartford, Boston, New York, and Philly he invited me back to his hotel room. We were chillin’ and just talking about Hip-Hop. He started spittin’ some unreleased freestyles and verses from his upcoming album. I was feeling nice and started spittin’ for him and he started buggin’ out. We were friends for a while and when I spit for him it threw him off. He wasn’t expecting it. He was like, “Stat ain’t a rapper, he’s an emcee!” He ran and got his manager and made me spit a couple verses for his manager, too. From there it was history and he had me hop on tour with him.

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

BigStat: Method Man is definitely up there. When I first started writing Canibus, definitely. Black Thought from The Roots is one of my favorite emcees, and Rakim.

TRHH: Tell me about Adriana’s Song.

BigStat: That’s one of my favorite songs. That song took me three years to write. I started writing when I found out my wife was pregnant. I started writing a couple bars here and there and when I felt a certain way at all the milestones. I shot a video to it during the fall. In the video I’m driving around with my daughter in the car seat and I’m telling her the story of how she came about in the first two verses. In the third verse I’m giving her life advice so she doesn’t make the same mistakes that I made in life.

TRHH: How old is your daughter?

BigStat: She just turned 3 April 4.

TRHH: How has being a father changed you?

BigStat: Being a father is the most amazing feeling in the world. When you come home every day your kids come up to you, “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” It makes you feel important. You have the opportunity to mold a human being to be the best person they possibly can be. It’s inspiring and gives you a reason to wanna be the most successful person you can possibly be to provide for them and lead the way for them.

TRHH: On the song Real Life Rap you kind of get some things off your chest. What inspired that song?

BigStat: That song was almost a throwaway track to be honest with you. I actually sent that song to Red and Meth and I was going to have them hop on it, but the timing wasn’t right. My homie G-Whiz produced that. To me the production is almost a Nas type of beat. I really liked the beat a lot. I can do tracks like that for days. That’s just me expressing how I feel the climate of Hip-Hop is right now. A lot of cats aren’t true to themselves. A lot of rappers feel like they have to talk about ignorant stuff in order to be successful and I don’t believe that. I believe you should come from the heart, be true to yourself, and everything will fall into place. I just kind of aired it out on there real quick – a little interlude. Shout out to my homie DJ Remedy from Baltimore that did the cuts on that.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Heart of a Lion?

BigStat: I hope to keep spreading the word, growing the brand, growing BigStat, growing the label, Ugly Fac3 Music. I want to spread real music – passionate music from the heart. That’s what I’m all about. I hope to hop on another tour soon to keep spreading the word and growing the brand.

Purchase: BigStat – Heart of a Lion

Willie D: Controversy

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Photo courtesy of I See You Publicity
Photo courtesy of I See You Publicity

Controversy is not only the name of Willie D’s 1989 debut solo album, it’s the perfect word to describe his entire career. From his work as a member of the Geto Boys to his solo career Willie D has never been one to hold his tongue. This is a man who has called out the Ku Klux Klan, Rodney King fresh after the L.A. Riots, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, aka, the Grammys.

Willie D has no problem telling you what’s on his mind and his new single “Coon” does just that. Coon takes aim at black celebrities who have made disparaging comments about black people on public forums in recent years. Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith, Fox News commentator Stacey Dash, CNN news anchor Don Lemon, and actress Raven-Symone all come under fire by the Gangsta of Love.

The Real Hip-Hop had the pleasure of speaking to Willie D about his new single, Coon, why he’s anti-welfare, and about the possibilities of a new Geto Boys album.

TRHH: Why was it important for you to call out so many coons?

Willie D: It was important because I was tired of the cooning, man. I was tired of the coons running their traps. The rhetoric that the coons spew is very dangerous. Constantly hearing people getting on television and disparaging the black community is dangerous, especially when the person that’s disparaging the community is black. They often get passes for disparaging the black community and it goes under the guise of “they’re just speaking their mind,” or “thinking outside of the box,” or “they’re being independent minded,” and all that type of stuff. These are code words for, “these motherfuckers are really sell outs,” but they’re gonna get a pass because of their skin color.

TRHH: A couple of years ago Bill Cosby was very vocal about what he believes black youth should do and how they should act. Do you think Bill falls under that coon title?

Willie D: Absolutely not. Bill Cosby is not a coon. One of the definitions of a coon is a person whose criticism of the black community outweighs their contribution. Bill Cosby’s contribution to the black community far outweighs his criticism. He is just the old guy who doesn’t really have a filter like, “I’m old, I’ll say what the fuck I wanna say, this is how I feel, fuck it!” He just got caught up in that part of it –chastising black people to the extent that he came off as condescending. He’s not a coon by no stretch of the imagination.

Stacey Dash is a coon. Charles Barkley is a coon. Stephen A. Smith is a coon. Raven-Symone is a coon. Don Lemon is a coon. They do nothing for the black community but criticize. They’re propped up as these successful black individuals and they give us a sense of being successful, because we’re looking at people that look like us and we’re saying they made it and they represent us. That’s good and that’s why we don’t want them to be attacked because we see these people with these huge platforms and we’re so desperate for any type of representation on television, in Hollywood, and entertainment that we’ll take anything.

We’ll take a sellout, we’ll take a traitor. We’ll say, “At least he’s black.” When you have someone who belongs to your own demographic and they become a traitor that’s even worse than your known enemies. That’s why in many countries traitors are put to death because that’s the worst form of betrayal. Black people just haven’t gotten the memo. We wanna be friendly and nice to everybody. We wanna make peace all the time while people are at war with us. This is why we can’t get anything done because we’re too fuckin’ friendly. We’re friendly with everybody else but when it comes to us we got a problem. We’re quick to criticize black poor people and point out what’s wrong with them.

When it comes to white poor people the coons have a problem pointing out the wrongs, ills, and woes of any other community other than their own. When issues involving people that are white come up all of the people that I mentioned in the song Coon are silent. They have nothing to say and if they do speak on it they’re very humble and they are forgiving. They are very forgiving of the white people, but when somebody black does something wrong they’re like, “Oh hell, here we go again! They’re making us look bad! This is what I mean!” Remember when Stephen A. Smith made the comment to Skip Bayless about the number of black athletes who are involved in domestic abuse cases?

TRHH: I do not because I avoid Stephen A. Smith at all cost [laughs].

Willie D: Okay, well there it is then. That’s a good move to have. Here’s the deal, he made a comment after the Ray Rice incident that black athletes are just violent and commit abuse over and over. He said, “There’s a huge problem in the black community with domestic abuse and brothers need to get it together! You don’t see white guys out here doing this. Blacks in the NFL account for 85% of all domestic abuses cases.” It took the white guy Skip Bayless to say, “You know that’s because there are a lot more black guys in the NFL than white guys and that would account for the disparity.” He said, “Well I’m just saying it’s a problem and it needs to be fixed!”

When black men do something wrong they become the poster child for whatever wrong that has been perpetrated. When Chris Brown was accused of domestic abuse he became the poster child. Ray Rice became the poster child for domestic abuse. Nobody said anything about Mel Gibson but when white guys do things it happens and you put it in the past. When black males do something it’s the worst thing on the earth and they become the poster child for whatever that wrong is.

They have a different standard for us and everybody else. People are very, very unforgiving of any type of wrong that black males may do. When a black boy becomes aggressive in school and does something wrong they wanna put him on some medicine. They wanna put him in an alternative school. If he goes up and tears up a mail box or something they want to put him in prison, give him some type of record, put him on paper and give him probation so they can put him into the system. When a white boy do it it’s “Boys will be boys. Let’s reform him. Let’s put him in a program and help him out and put him on the right track.” But when a black boy do it it’s “Lock that nigger up and throw away the key like the rest of ‘em!”

It’s funny, a lot of white males who work in corporate America have done things when they were young that didn’t end up on their record. They gave them diversion programs, excuse it, or just aren’t as hard on them –they let ‘em make it. A lot of these same people become judges, prosecutors, and law men and act like they’re perfect. It’s like they never smoked any weed before, or they never got drunk and drove before, or they never fell out at a party before. They sit in judgment of others and bring down the hammer. When a black male walks into the court room they’re out to get him and make him pay. “You shouldn’t have done it!” There is absolutely no latitude for forgiveness, there is no moral flexibility whatsoever. When white boys do it, “We gotta save him. He’s redeemable.”

They just indicted a black kid in Houston for fraud. I think the kid is 15-years old and has never been in trouble before, has good parents, a father at home, everything. This is how the case went; the little kid finds a counterfeit $10 bill on the floor in the cafeteria at school. He picks it up and tries to pay for his lunch with the counterfeit bill. The cashier tells him, “You can’t use this, give me real money.” He goes in his pocket, pays, and goes about his business. Two months later he gets a call from the DA saying he’s been charged with counterfeiting. I beg anybody to go out there and find me somebody who is at least 20-years and hasn’t had a counterfeit $5, $10, or $20 bill at some point in their life. Counterfeit money gets passed around every day by unsuspecting customers – every single day. They charged this boy and are trying to fuck his life up behind a $10 counterfeit bill – crazy! But that’s the way they do us. I can guarantee you if that boy had been white it wouldn’t have been no issue. It would have been, “Where’d you find this at? Hmm, okay, that’s strange. Have a nice day!”

TRHH: I don’t remember if it was Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown, it was probably was both of them, but I remember Barkley coming on TV saying the courts made the right decision. I met Charles once, he’s a nice guy. I find him humorous but to come on TV and say “they got it right” when black boys are being shot for no reason is dangerous, man.

Willie D: I met Charles Barkley once too and he ain’t nice, he a asshole.

TRHH: [Laughs].

Willie D: He almost got his ass whooped on that day just because he’s so arrogant. I never wanted to meet him ever in life anyway. A friend of mine introduced me to him and I reluctantly spoke to him and regretted it and kicked myself for speaking to him ever since. The dude is not a good person – he’s a clown. He’s always been an asshole and he’s always been outspoken, but he hasn’t always been a coon. He started cooning when he got on TNT. I think it had something to do with his gambling issues. Maybe they saved him from his gambling problem and because of that they needed his job to be attacking the blacks. “We need you to regurgitate white supremacist talking points. That’s going to be your job, Charles,” and that’s what he does. Every time they do something dirty to black folks and want us to calm down, especially if somebody white does something to black folks, he always takes the side of the oppressor. He always sides with the person who is non-black – always. It’s automatic. That’s his job. He a coon.

TRHH: Do you think Charles Barkley, Stacey Dash, and Stephen A. Smith are out of touch due to having money or the company they keep?

Willie D: No, they know. We wanna think the most of them. We don’t wanna believe that they’re actually accepting money to sell us out! We don’t wanna believe that. We don’t want to believe that these people are actually going in here and cooning for capital – selling us out. We wanna like Stacey Dash, “She pretty, she fine. Oooh I wanna like her!” We wanna like Charles Barkley, “He’s outspoken. He came up out of Leeds, Alabama and made it. He’s charming and goofy, he makes us laugh! He’s funny, I wanna like him!” We wanna like Stephen A. “He’s very articulate, very smart, very good at what he do. He’s a black man who is sitting there and representing us.”

We want to believe Don Lemon is not selling us out. We can’t believe that. We don’t want to think of that because if we do we gotta do something about it. A lot of us don’t wanna turn from CNN. We don’t wanna make that sacrifice. A lot of us don’t wanna turn off ESPN. We don’t wanna turn off TNT. We like our sports more than we love ourselves. We do not wanna turn that shit off. We like the pain. I stopped watchin’ all that shit! It don’t matter to me. If I’m that desperate I can entertain myself. They’re not that important to me. None of it is that important to me.

Until black people start holding these companies accountable that hire these coons, enable these coons, they ain’t gonna do nothing but find another coon to replace ‘em. They gotta stop making these coons feel safe. Stop running up to these coons asking for autographs. Stop taking pictures with these coons. Stop counting these coons as one of our success stories, they’re not. They’re epic failures in the black community. Stop patting them on the back. Stop accepting crumbs. That’s what black people need to do.

White people ain’t gon’ do it because it don’t affect them the way it affect us. If the networks mean well and aren’t racist and not trying to protect white supremacy how come they ain’t got white people on there talking down about the white community every time an issue about the white community come up? How come they don’t have an Asian trashing the Asian community every time an issue about the Asian community comes up? How comes they don’t have Hispanics on TV saying, “We need to put up a wall,” and “We need to stop Mexican’s from coming over the border?” They only do that to the black community.

The black community is the most disenfranchised community because we do not have a code of conduct. We take our money and spend every damn dime we got. As soon as we get our paycheck we spend that money like we got a damn hole in our pocket. We give that money to everybody but black businesses. We give that money to everybody but our own. When we need something from these politicians we can’t get it because the Republicans say, “Why should I give them anything? They aren’t going to vote for me.” The Democrats say, “They’re going to vote for me no matter what so why should I have to sacrifice anything?” We gets nothing.

Every other community goes to the politicians with an agenda and a paycheck and say, “Here you go, this is what we want in return,” and they get it because they have economic power! We would have economic power if we didn’t spend the money. We spend over a trillion dollars a year – we got the money. As soon as we get it we give it away. The money is not circulating in the black community. We don’t have an economic power structure to go in there and demand the things that we want. This is how the government works. You can call it a bribe or whatever you wanna call it.

It’s no coincidence that you have a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg accepting a job that pays $200,000 a year. He don’t even accept the money, he gives it back to the state of New York. He’s letting you know, “I ain’t here for this lil’ crumb ass paycheck. I’m here for these deals Im’ma be making while I’m sitting back here as the mayor of New York City.” By the time Michael Bloomberg leaves office his wealth will have tripled because he’s cut deals while he was in office. That’s what it’s about, cutting deals and getting what you want. We live in a capitalistic society and if you ain’t got no money you ain’t gettin’ nothing done in this country – nothing!

All that shit about helping the poor, you can sit back and wallow in your poorness if you want to. You’re going to be poor for the rest of your life. You gotta get up off your ass and go get it! These people are not here to help you. They don’t give a damn about you, nothing about you at all. They care about them and their agenda. If you can help them with their agenda they’ll do something for you. A vote ain’t enough, you need some money. A vote alone ain’t gonna get it – you need money. Hell, if you got money you ain’t got to vote! Long as they do what you need them to do you ain’t even got to go to the polls. You got business people who don’t even bother going to the polls because they know they’re gonna get what they want anyway. Your money is the ballot. Your bank account, that’s the ballot.

TRHH: I heard you say in an interview that welfare was created to hurt black people. You also have a song called “Welfare Bitches” on the Controversy album. The anti-welfare stance is in line with conservative Republican thinking. Why are you against welfare?

Willie D: ‘Cause welfare creates a ceiling for people. I’m not totally against welfare, I’m against the way welfare was instituted and applied against the black community. For the black community welfare was put in place to cripple the black family. When we had this mass exodus of jobs in the U.S. they said that people need assistance. A lot of black people didn’t have jobs so when they said they’re gonna give you a free check, $100 bucks a month for free, $200, depending on how many kids you got you get a lil’ bit extra, we’re thinking that government loves us and are doing us a favor. They had a catch, get the black man out of the house. You can’t get this check if you got a black man in the house.

They knew when they take the black man out of the household they can control the black woman better and control the kids. They can take the strength out of the house. Get the black man out now he’s on his own. The black man is wandering. He can lay up with a woman if she’s on any kind of government assistance, which many were when this was first instituted. If he ain’t layin’ up with her he probably ain’t layin’ up with nobody. At night after you do what you do and take care of your business you got to get out the house. “Get out, can’t have you around here!” Then they had watch dogs. People snitching and telling, “There’s men in the house!” and then they cut you off. They created this whole environment of black men not being in the home. Then they turned around and blamed the black man for his absence and they actually created it.

Welfare for me should be for people that are in financial transition. You got a job, you lost your job, and you need some help. Okay, we’re going to help you out for this amount of time – we got you. Or supplemental income; you’re working, maintaining a job, and doing the best you can, come down here and get some assistance. I don’t think it should be determined by how many damn kids you have. It should also be for our elderly and our people with special needs. That’s what welfare should be for. For able bodied people that shit should be very temporary.

That’s what I believe that the welfare system should be. It should not be a situation where people are handed a free pass and stroke the check automatically to spend as they see it. That’s what I have a problem with. I grew up for a good portion of my life on welfare. My momma worked, but she also received a supplemental income from welfare. She worked. She had five kids that she raised alone on just above minimum wage. Even with that I was actually embarrassed myself to be on welfare and I swore I’d never be on welfare. But if it were not for that supplemental income, shit, I probably would have died of malnourishment. It was five of us and between paying those bills, trying to get clothes, and having something to eat it was very, very hard.

TRHH: I have a white friend who is a Republican. I asked her one time, “Why are you a Republican?” because I don’t understand why any poor people are Republican. She said, “Because I’m tired of people who don’t work taking my money.” I said, “You realize less than three percent of tax dollars goes toward welfare, right? Your tax dollars goes toward the military. That’s where most of our money goes.” She said, “Well I’m okay with that.” I said, “Why are you okay with that?” She goes, “Don’t you wanna feel safe?”

Willie D: Right, feel safe, not be safe.

TRHH: I would rather my money go toward helping people instead of killing people – that’s just me. The way you just described your mother and your family shows that every person on welfare ain’t a cheat. Every person on welfare ain’t lazy. People just go through hard times. I don’t want to make it a racial thing, but I think that’s the perception, “These black people are just lazy.”

Willie D: The thing about it though is they’ll accept that argument but they won’t accept the fact that more white people are on welfare than black people.

TRHH: Exactly!

Willie D: These are just people who aren’t free thinkers or people who are just angry and hate people that don’t look like them. They need somebody to blame and they don’t wanna hear the truth. They wanna believe that it’s the black people’s fault. Just like there are black people who want to believe that everything is white people’s fault. Everything ain’t white people’s fault, but I can tell you this, damn near everything is white supremacy’s fault.

This country is built on white supremacy. You can be pro-black without being anti-white. You can be pro-white without being anti-black. White supremacists are anti-black. That’s the person who sees black people doing well and says, “I gotta do something about that.” That’s the person who is a cop and a black person is talking back to them so they shoot him. “I don’t like what he said, I don’t like how he looks, so I’m gonna kill him.” That’s white supremacy in action.

When they fail to indict that cop that blows away somebody and totally violates somebody’s civil rights that’s white supremacy in action. When the all-white jury or the grand jury, which I call the Klan jury, fails to indict in most cases that’s white supremacy in action. That’s white supremacy in action when a 15-year old boy finds a fake $10 bill and tries to use it and the DA charges him with a crime instead of saying, “Kids don’t know any better. I’m not going to ruin this kids’ life.” Instead they say, “Bam! I got another one!” They gotta do something to get him in the system and put him on paper.

TRHH: I had a discussion about this with a friend of mine. We discussed the idea of white fear. Subconsciously they’re looking at it like, “If somebody did to us what we did to them we’d kill the motherfuckers.” They’re afraid of black people rising up and getting revenge or something. We ain’t gon’ do that. We just want a piece of the pie. Most of us are just trying to make it. It’s that deep ingrained fear that we’re gonna get them back so they have to keep us under their thumb to avoid retribution.

Willie D: Yeah, they worried about the wrong shit. That’s the furthest thing from fucking black people’s minds. Black people just wanna live in peace and be able to pursue their dreams without being targeted for failure and denied access. That’s what we want, period! They worried about the wrong shit. They ain’t gotta worry about black folks, God gon’ avenge all the shit they did.

TRHH: Yes sir! The last time you and I spoke was right before the 2012 Presidential Election. Compared to the current Presidential candidates Mitt Romney seemed to be normal. What do you make of the support that Donald Trump is receiving in his run for President?

Willie D: [Laughs] Ain’t that something. That goes to show you how far behind we are and how much further we have to go. We really are going backwards in this country on every level. It’s not just in the music business. It’s in law, medicine, education, politics, and race relations. We’re going backwards on everything. This is the country that is so arrogant that it don’t believe it can fail. Some people believe that we can continue to be the same way and still somehow be better and so-called be great. That ain’t gonna happen.

I hear people say “Make America Great Again” well I’m a descendant of slaves and America ain’t never been great for me. America has never been great to me. I’m a descendant of slaves and I am a product of discrimination daily. I live in a country that practices white supremacy against my race. How can I say that that’s a great country? No, America is not a great country. It might be great for white folks but any black person that thinks America is great is a damn fool.

As far as talking this shit about if you don’t like it go back, go back where, motherfucker? Black people deserve to have everything that this country has to offer. Anything that’s beneficial to anyone, black people should have the first right at it because we built this country. We built the country. Nobody else built the country – we built it. It’s always funny to me when I hear anybody call black people lazy. They say, “Black people don’t want these jobs. Mexican’s want the jobs. The jobs that Mexican’s are getting black people don’t want to work them.” That’s a lie. If you ain’t got no job you’ll take anything and a lot of these jobs ain’t even being offered to black people because they know that they can get Mexican’s to work these jobs and they can half-ass not even pay ‘em sometimes because they’re undocumented.

TRHH: Dr. Ben Carson said Harriet Tubman shouldn’t be on the $20 bill, but on the $2 bill. What’s your take on his statement?

Willie D: Ben Carson is another self-loathing coon. He thinks it’s cool to have Harriet Tubman, a slave abolitionist, demoted to a $2 bill but have Andrew Jackson, a slave owner, remain on the $20 bill. Andrew Jackson don’t need to be on shit! George Washington, none of them racist motherfuckers need to be on no kind of money in the first place. If we were in another country America would still be complaining about them being on the currency. They’d be calling them all kinds of names. Imagine if Hitler was on some money? These dudes are slave owners, man. They ought not to be on money anyway. They shouldn’t be on street signs, no buildings, no airports, and no monuments! These motherfuckers was slave owners! And they’re part of the reasons why we have all these issues we have in America today.

TRHH: A lot of white people see them as our founding fathers – their founding fathers.

Willie D: But what the fuck did they find? That’s what I wanna know. I hear them say “founding fathers” but what did they find?

TRHH: I think in their opinion they saved them from British rule.

Willie D: They saved them from British rule, but what did they find?!!?

TRHH: [Laughs] A new land? They took a land from some people?

Willie D: So they founded that, huh? I don’t know, man. They don’t wanna give it up.

TRHH: Scarface has gone public saying that he won’t ever do another Geto Boys album. Are the Geto Boys officially laid to rest?

Willie D: I can’t tell you, man. I can’t really answer that question. It might be, it might not be. I don’t know. I’ve always enjoyed doing Geto Boys records. I spoke to Scarface this morning and he was talking about getting in the studio. It wasn’t for a Geto Boys project, but still. You never know with Geto Boys. I don’t know. Right now I’m focused on Willie D. I’m doing my thing. If it happens, it happens. If it does happen I can tell you it will be a killer ass album! If it don’t happen I’m pretty satisfied with our catalogue and the legacy that it’ll leave.

TRHH: Will there be a new Willie D album?

Willie D: Yeah, that’s coming. That’s coming big time. That’s coming this year. In fact I get back in the studio at the end of the month and I’ll start putting out some more songs for it. I think Im’ma drop it right when school starts back – like August/September.

Purchase: Willie D – Coon

Grand Opus: Forever

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Photo courtesy of Lakeela Smith Photography
Photo courtesy of Lakeela Smith Photography

Established artists on their own, producer Centric and emcee Joc Scholar have joined forces as the Hip-Hop group Grand Opus. From Oakland and Fresno, California respectively, Centric and Joc have followed in the footsteps of legendary acts like Eric B & Rakim, Gang Starr, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth as DJ/producer and emcee combinations where quality is the number one priority.

The result of this union is a 12-track album released by Free At Last Music titled “Forever.” Forever is produced and mixed entirely by Centric and features appearances by Planet Asia, Fashawn, and Alicia Renee.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Centric and Joc Scholar about the formation of Grand Opus, the intricacies of their craft, and their new album, Forever.

TRHH: How did you two come together to form Grand Opus?

Joc Scholar: Me and Centric met years before we formed Grand Opus through a mutual friend in music. He introduced me to Centric and instantly I fell in love with his beats. We were doing music separately. I would hit him up when I needed a track and we worked like that for years. In 2013 we formed Grand Opus. We were coming into the new year and I said I wanted to do something different and go all-in on his beats. That was the birth of Grand Opus. The rest was history.

TRHH: What was the recording process like with you guys being in different cities?

Centric: It was like the Foreign Exchange process but not foreign [laughs]. We’re both in Cali but Joc is in Fresno and I’m in the Bay so it’s still a good amount of hours between us. To make things easier I do what I do –make beats that cater to him that I think is dope and I think he would think is dope. I would lay it down, send him the track and he would go to different studios to record in his area and get everything mixed and mastered. The internet can be a lovely tool [laughs].

Joc Scholar: No doubt. A lot of We Send Its.

TRHH: Why’d you title the album Forever?

Joc Scholar: The title Forever is significant because it’s the first track that we recorded for the project. That was the first single and visual that we put out as Grand Opus. That was our introduction to the world. That was the beginning of the recording process for the album. By the time we got to the end we still didn’t have a title. We didn’t have the title until we were going into the mixing process. We peeped how everything unfolded. I’m big on that – watching the signs, and it all fell together. Forever fit the whole concept of the album and it just so happened to be the first single. We weren’t even thinking of that being the title track.

Centric: Everything pointed to “Forever.” All of the signs pointed to that.

TRHH: Centric, what happens if you think Joc should say a rhyme differently? Or if Joc thinks a certain part of the beat should be flipped in a certain way? How do you go about critiquing each other during the process of making a song? Do you guys have that comfort with each other?

Joc Scholar: As far as I go me and my brother are so in tune with each other I literally never had to critique anything he does. He sends it and it fits. It literally fits like a glove. It’s like, “Whoa!” everything is exact.

Centric: Basically what Joc just said. So far it’s never been a situation where I think he should have done something different or he thinks I should have done something different. Our styles and personalities when it comes to music just fits so well together. I bring out the best in him and he brings out the best in me. It’s literally nothing to critique.

Joc Scholar: Are we comfortable enough to do that? Yeah, if that was the case. But that’s definitely not the case.

TRHH: Centric, what’s your work station of choice?

Centric: You want me to give away the secrets [laughs]. You want me to spill the recipe. I’m a “whatever it takes” type of dude. I know a lot of producers have a formula they stick with and whatever ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’m kind of that way but if I’m trying to achieve a certain sound I will use anything. I will go over people’s houses to get my hands on different drum machines. I will pop out the keyboard, I will go to someone who plays drums and get the sound from the live drums. I will use a computer program like Reason or Fruity. Whatever it is to achieve what’s in my head is what I do. On a normal basis I would say the equipment that I use the most is the MP. I kind of bounce between the MP and a computer program. I keep it classic for the most part.

TRHH: Which one?

Centric: 2000, baby!

TRHH: You guys have a song “Cen Cal Profile” with Planet Asia and Fashawn. How’d that song come together?

Joc Scholar: Me and Asia from the same era. We grew up together out here. We grew up in the whole Fresno, Cali rap scene. We watched it all unfold. Asia busted out and left, did his thing, and helped put us on the map. That’s nothing. Every time we see each other it’s like, “Hey, when we gonna do a track?” For me it’s gotta be the right song. Fashawn is like the next generation. He’s like the prince. He took it further. We all know each other and all see each other. Me and Asia came from  a different side of Fresno than Fashawn. It was nothing, it was just about the right time and the right track. When we did this album I didn’t want a lot of features on it, if any. When Centric sent me that track it was so Fresno, Cali. It was so perfect and it was the one I wanted Asia and Fashawn on. We’ve been talking and building on it for years knowing that we wanna do a track, but not knowing what track. That just happened to be the track.

TRHH: What’s your opinion on the resurgence of west coast Hip-Hop? The past couple of years has been heavy on the west coast like it was back in ’91, ’92.

Centric: Yeah [laughs]. It is, it’s heavy right now. I’m enjoying it, personally. I’m loving west coast Hip-Hop right now because to me the way it is on the west coast is the best of both worlds. What I mean by that is as far as the attention that west coast Hip-Hop is getting is reminding me of the early 90s, but the sound of it is more soulful, more authentic, and more conscious. I’m getting that real Hip-Hop sound but the attention that it’s getting right now is love too with cats like Kendrick Lamar. I feel like west coast Hip-Hop is in a good position right now. I think it was the perfect time for a group like us to come together and do what we do. I’m not just saying that, it’s not just my opinion. I’ve heard it from a lot of different people like, “Yo, this is the perfect time for y’all to drop a project like this for the west coast!” Everything is timing.

Joc Scholar: What I’m noticing as far as Cali making that resurgence is we’re not afraid to be those lyrical dudes now. I love how a lot of cats are spitting darts and spitting heat now as far as the lyrics. Not that it stopped anywhere else as far as the region. You have a lot of regional sounds and a lot of regions are going for that pop. That’s not to knock anybody else. As a whole mainstream-wise we’ve been out the spotlight since the Death Row era. Cali, they not trippin’. They spittin’ some heat. You got game Game, Blu, and everybody is spitting heat and bringing that raw essence of Hip-Hop. It’s just going in circles. It’s touching all regions, it’s just right now it’s Cali that’s keeping it Hip-Hop.

TRHH: Joc, on the song Beautiful you said a lot meaningful things about the good and bad that we see in the world. What specifically inspired that song and what were you trying to get across to listeners?

Joc Scholar: I think mainly what inspired that song is it was directly around the time of the Kenyan massacre, the bombing in France, and the San Bernardino massacre. Those types of events at that specific time sparked that energy when I heard the track. I knew I wanted a track like that but I didn’t hear it yet. That was probably the last song that we recorded that made the album. When I heard it, it was perfect because I knew I wanted to speak on something like that. Anybody who knows me knows that that’s a large portion of what I’m talking about and where my head is at. Pretty much current events, current state of the world, and of America. What I was trying to get across was to keep your eyes open and don’t take everything that you’re fed. Read the ingredients.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Forever?

Centric: Oh man. Everything [laughs]. On a serious note what I would like to see happen with Forever is just for the public to recognize what we were trying to do as far adding to Hip-Hop culture. What me and Joc set out to do, we did. In my opinion we executed that perfectly. Everything was on time and the way we wanted it. It’s still the way we want it. I just feel like I want the world to see that. I want the world to see what we saw going into the project, making the project, and now that the project is done. We just wanna be a part of everything dope that’s going on in Hip-Hop right now. I feel like Forever has a place in that world. I just want to get some eyes on it and get the recognition that I feel it deserves. I think it’s a classic album. I know the word “classic” is really tossed around these days and I try not to use it unless I really mean it [laughs]. People are going to be like, “You biased,” well yeah, a little bit. But truth be told if I wasn’t a part of Grand Opus and I heard Forever I would think it’s dope. Hopefully the world sees what we see.

Joc Scholar: I’ll say the same. Pretty much recognition for what it’s worth, and for what it is, and for us to get that listen for it to be heard. One of my big things is that when you’re talking about stuff and you’re fairly new I’m a firm believer that if you make dope music it needs to be heard and eventually it will be. What we aim to put out with the album is our contribution. This is us from our mind and this is our contribution to Hip-Hop and it should be heard. Cats won’t realize it at first but we got a unique style and sound going on. We just want our place and for the Hip-Hop community to be like, “Them dudes dropped a dope album.”

Purchase: Grand Opus – Forever

J-Zone: Fish-n-Grits

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Photo courtesy of Ricky Comuniello
Photo courtesy of Ricky Comuniello

J-Zone is one of my favorite people to interview in Hip-Hop. His honesty and candidness is refreshing in today’s synthetic society. J-Zone the musician keeps it as real as J-Zone the man. Since coming out of retirement in 2013 J-Zone has not only produced more thought-provoking rhymes he’s producing the funkiest music of his career.

Zone learned to play drums in 2012 and has been incorporating live drums into his production ever since. J-Zone’s funky drumming is on full display throughout his new album, Fish-n-Grits. The album, his seventh solo album and twelfth overall, is written, produced, recorded, and mixed by J-Zone and released by his Old Maid Entertainment record label. Fish-n-Grits features appearances by his long time collaborators Al-Shid and Has-Lo.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to J-Zone about his new album, Fish-n-Grits, the plague of hustle rappers, the importance of mastering your craft, and how his late grandmother, Evil E impacted his life and his music.

TRHH: Was there less or more pressure doing an album for the first time with no real theme?

J-Zone: I didn’t feel any pressure. It had no real theme but this album started the way all my other ones did – just making music. When you get to a certain amount of songs you start to see a stich kind of form. With Peter Pan I made like 7 or 8 songs before I came up with the theme. Even the concept albums started as ideas. Peter Pan was half instrumentals and vocals, but it was still more vocal. This one is basically 50/50 so with that kind of structure it’s kind of hard to pull off a concept. So I said, “What if just stretch out on some music shit and accumulate everything I’ve done from before I was J-Zone to now?” The alter egos, live instrumentation, beat making, cutting, and I didn’t do the skits but I kind of had some of the personality from the skits, and rolling everything into one. I didn’t feel any pressure because it started the same way. I just changed the direction of it.

I noticed albums are kind of getting shorter, not in minute length but track length. Look at Run the Jewels and its ten songs, this album is ten songs, that album ten songs. I haven’t really made an album that was less than 17-18 cuts since Bottle of Whup Ass really, and that was an EP because so many of those were skits. So many of my songs were a minute long so I decided to do something different and do 15 straight up tracks and see how it goes. I never did an album like that. I don’t even feel pressure no more when I make music. I just make music at this point. I’m not competing with anybody. I don’t feel like it’s competition or I have to get attention above who else is making records, I just do my thing. It’s kind of like letting the people in on my process and have them watching me do what I do. I’m not thinking in a music business sense even though I was looking around at the current climate. I wanted to do it my way. I wanted to try something a little different and never felt no nerves about it.

TRHH: Is it more enjoyable for you to do an album with mostly original music than sampling the way you did in the past?

J-Zone: I still sample. Playing instruments and people think they’re samples, I get a rush off that. Before it kind of became known that I was playing drums people thought they were samples. Just Blaze told me when Peter Pan came out that he didn’t know what was samples and what wasn’t drum wise. I didn’t sample no drums except for like one cut – The Fox Hunt. To me it’s just all music. I think indie Hip-Hop has always had a stigma against live instrumentation. I kind of addressed that on the album. Sampling itself, I’ll always do it. It’s in my DNA. It’s part of me as a producer, it’s just getting crazy with so many sources that reveal the samples. I understand that if you sample something you gotta prepare to be outed, it’s just that a lot of stuff on this level can’t afford to be cleared. I just studied the style of the music I was sampling so much to where I could learn how to create it with minimal reliance on sampling. In terms of drums and bass, not at all. I’m a student of the music. It’s not like I have a sample and I got a week to replay this shit. I sit with the original music and study it, and study it and study it, and study it. I did so much studying in terms of how stuff was mic’d, what kind of gear was being used, and I was able to get some of that mojo without actually sampling it.

TRHH: You referenced Dr. Dre on the album and how you can’t sample his stuff. You mentioned the snitching web sites, which I actually love…

J-Zone: They have a purpose. A lot of times you really wanna know something and it’s great for that but it’s a double-edged sword because if it’s like a Kanye West thing or a Jay-Z thing you know it was cleared. Who cares? They have the money. A lot of records that were before the statute or records that were independent, it cost a lot of money to clear stuff. The same people you’re honoring you can also get them in trouble. I do see the appeal of it. Most of the stuff I’ve been snitched for was drums. I’ll never have to sample a drum again because anything that I can sample I can play. It’s just a matter of getting it to sound that way. To me that’s the challenge, that’s the fun. I do replays. I did a bunch of studio work for Danger Mouse and Marco Polo. That’s a challenge to me, even more so than digging to find a drum break, to try to channel the spirit of the original drummer but put my twist on it and then record it in a way that I can get that sound. I’ll be down there for hours, sometimes days and weeks, trying to nail a specific drum sound or a specific playing style. It makes me a better drummer, a better producer, a better musician, and a better engineer.

What can be seen as being messed up I see it as a positive. People getting called out for drum breaks, well let me go down there and see if I can make my version and make it funky as the original. It’s training because a lot of that stuff wasn’t cut to a metronome. A lot of that stuff had imperfections. Music didn’t become really perfect until the 80s when everybody was on a metronome and were trying to compete with a drum machine. Music in the 80s if you couldn’t play like a drum machine as a drummer you couldn’t survive. In the 60s and 70s were most of the samples are from guys were just in the studio grooving. Those imperfections are part of Hip-Hop for sampling. A lot of those classic breaks have imperfections. It’s actually training to learn how to play something imperfectly perfect. That’s a challenge and I enjoy that. In terms of experimenting with different drums, different mics, different mic positions, different heads, and moving the drum kit to a different place — that trial and error, I’m a nerd for that kind of stuff. I love it. I really enjoy playing stuff. I play with bands and stuff, too. I’m still learning. I’m not a professional by any means. To bring that into my production is not like I have to do it to avoid a lawsuit, nah, I love to do it.

TRHH: One of the themes I picked up on when listening to the album is you seem frustrated with other rap artists, be they old school, new school, or aspiring mixtape rappers. Are you really sick of rap?

J-Zone: Well I have nasty sense of humor. Of course it’s all done tongue in cheek. I love Hip-Hop. If I didn’t love Hip-Hop I wouldn’t have dedicated my life to it. And there is great music out there. There is great modern Hip-Hop. I’m not one of those guys that thinks it ended in the 90s. Artists from back then are still making good music. I was just kind of taking shots at the cheapening of rap. For instance, if you see a bunch of jazz guys playing in a subway station there is like a donation bucket or a hat where you can drop money in the hat. My first drum teacher was a street musician. He was a jazz cat that played on the street and I met him playing on the street! He was playing in Penn Station. I was just watching this cat and I was like, “Man, he’s got some serious jazz chops.” I put a dollar in the hat but I was like, “Yo, you got a card? I wanna take a lesson.” It wasn’t like they were grabbing people as they were walking by like, “Yo, yo, yo, check me out!” It was like, “We’re playing and if you like what you hear give me a buck or give me a quarter.” Most music works that way.

Early on in Hip-Hop it was cool. You have Percee P, who I love and he would be like, “Would you like to check out some music?” and it wasn’t rude. It was like, alright, you have somebody going into the store that likes Hip-Hop and they might not be familiar, let me check them out. He would get into a cool conversation. A lot of those guys would actually talk to you about music and if you didn’t buy the tape they wouldn’t yell at you. It was like, “Okay, have a nice day.” If you were a tourist that was a cool part of your experience. After a while the guys got real aggressive, “ Yo, yo, yo, I know you like Hip-Hop! I’m sayin, check me out though!” I’d say, “Alright, let me listen to it,” and they’d say, “You sayin’ it’s not good enough?!?” I’m like, “Yo, I’m on my way somewhere!” They would run you down, especially if you were young and black. They figure it’s a given you like Hip-Hop. I used to carry a Walkman and be like, “If you got it on tape I’ll buy it off you. I don’t have a CD player.” That how I used to get ‘em to leave me alone. For people that don’t know anything about Hip-Hop that kind of cheapens it like, “Yeah, I was out in the street and these guys with their Hip-Hop came and bothered me.”

Whether you’re an emcee, a DJ, or a producer, there is a craft that goes into that. You spend hours on your craft. Hip-Hop is street music and hustling is embedded in Hip-Hop. The entire 90s were about “I’m a hustler” and “Hustling, hustling, and hustling,” and that hustling ethos is part of Hip-Hop. But when craftsmanship takes a backseat to the hustle, that’s where I have a problem. ‘Cause it makes people who have no craftsmanship, who don’t respect the music, who don’t respect the art form, but have a good hustle feel like they can get into it, and it becomes a free-for-all. I’ve been playing drums for four years and I’m not confident I can get out there and play with a touring band yet. People practice their craft for years before they come out. But now it’s like, “Well, I can’t really rhyme but I got that hustle though.” To me that cheapens Hip-Hop because you couldn’t go into jazz and be like, “Yo, I got this hustle,” you gotta be able to play. In pop music they don’t call it hustle they call it appeal. So you just shake your ass and hit a few notes. In Hip-Hop it’s called hustle, but in jazz, true Rock & Roll, funk, blues, classical, film scoring, and soundtracks, you gotta have a passion for your craft and be developed. I don’t care how good your sales pitch is, your music’s gotta show it. In Hip-Hop the hustle has come to the forefront and the craftsmanship is in the background. I’m supposed to buy your CD-R because you came up to me on the street ultra-aggressive? For somebody that’s not into Hip-Hop to encounter that on the street, I don’t like the way that makes us look. In particularly black music – I don’t like that.

It was kind of tongue in cheek but there’s a seriousness underneath it. It’s frustrating to know that what you’re doing is being reduced to that and cheapened to the hustle. Pull out the instrumental and rhyme for us. Give us a show! I’ll buy a CD. Give us a show! Show me something. Say, “What’s your name?” “My name is Richie,” and then give me an 8 bar freestyle about Richie. Be creative with it and then I’ll buy it. Then the hustle has shown some craftsmanship because you just impromptu rhymed bout me. That’s hot, I’ll buy a CD. I’ll put some money in his pocket so he can get some food or whatever. Even the guys on the subway who dance, they’re giving me a show! I’ll put a dollar in the hat because you’re entertaining me. You’re showing that you worked long and hard at something. You might not be able to get into a dance troupe or a dance school, but you can give me a show to make my commute a little more entertaining. I respect your craft, I’ll put some money down. Don’t just run up on me saying, “Yo son, I’m sayin’, real Hip-Hop, five dollars.” I can’t respect that.

TRHH: I started making beats probably in 2002. I’m still not very good [laughs]. It’s a hobby for me. It’s something I’m trying to learn and I’ve never devoted full-time to it. But when I started I went to Sam Ash or Guitar Center and the salesman was like, “All you need is Pro Tools!” It’s so available. There are much cheaper workstations than Pro Tools now, but it’s so available to people. I think the Soulja Boy thing was the real start of showing that anybody can do it. Do you think having these things be so accessible has contributed to a lot of these on the street hustle rappers?

J-Zone: The on the street hustle was around before technology advanced. Cats in the street were around but I think in terms of the online version of that – showing up in people’s social media – me and you are going back and forth on Twitter and someone pops up saying, “Yo, check my shit out,” that violation came from technology. I think the floodgates are open and it’s very easy to get into it. When I first started you had to have money to get in the studio. You had to have money to get equipment. There were so many barriers and obstacles to even have money to get a demo tape! And then when you got your demo you’re not even sure if it’s ever going to become something. There were so many barriers that you had to be hungry and ready.

When I was 16 and first started recording in real studios I couldn’t afford multi-track. I used to have to have the SP 1200 running and I would sequence the beats to my verses and rhyme live over the drum machine to a cassette and if I fucked up we had to start over and it was thirty five bucks an hour. I could only afford an hour so we had to cut three songs, so that meant I could only afford one or two mistake takes per song. It was a different approach. I’m not saying mine was better or worse, it was just different. Those limitations, lack of resources, it was just unavailable. Making music was so expensive. You had to have all this high tech gear that wasn’t available to the consumer. It changed your outlook on craftsmanship.

To this day I do all my verses in one take. I may punch in a line, like when I do that Slick Rick style overdub thing where I go over the line and it’s impossible to do it in one breath. I’ll punch that in, but the majority of the rhyme I do it in one take. If I screw up I’ll do it over, just because I’m so used to doing it that way, not because it makes me better or worse. It’s just in my DNA. That’s how I learned how to record songs. When Pro Tools came around I was just so used to doing it in one take or I thought I would lose the energy if I punch in after the third bar, so I’d just do it over. It’s just a different time. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just easier.

You can’t work in a hospital unless you get a certification in something. You can’t work in a lot of skilled jobs in the medical field, construction, or any other field without passing some kind of proficiency test to get certified to work. Even sports, the proof is in the pudding. If you want to be a basketball star you have to be able to do certain things to fit. Your skillset has to apply to your size. If you’re 5’9” you have to be able to pass the ball because you’re a point guard. Even with sports there is a prerequisite. With music at this point it’s like, be marketable. There really is no skill requirement and because of that the technology is there. You know how many people are gonna wanna do this? They don’t have to go to school for this, they don’t have to be proficient at this. All they gotta do is be enjoyable, get lucky, be present on social media, be likeable, Instagram stuff, and have swag and you got a shot. Will you ever be mentioned among the Pharaohe Monch’s and Rakim’s? No, but you can have a career and that’s been made evident.

Even film is different because so much money goes into it. You can do YouTube videos and stuff like that. I think a lot of the arts are being cheapened because of that. I was talking to Mike Clark who is Herbie Hancock’s drummer and a great jazz drummer. He said growing up all he wanted to do was play drums. It was no, “What are you going to do on the side?” or “What are you going to do to make a living?” He was like, “I said I was going to play drums. I played drums, and that was that.” Now it’s like, “What’s your side hustle?” or “What’s your angle? Playing drums? Making beats?” It ain’t enough. Everybody knows that it’s so accessible that to say that you’re going to do that and only that people will laugh at you. Music itself has been cheapened to the point where people don’t respect it as a profession, unless you’re a superstar.

Somebody asked me, “What do you do?” and I explained and they were like, “But what is your real job?” Most artists had jobs back then but when you were a musician back then it was like, okay, I know you spent X amount of time and eventually you’re going to try to make it a career. I think at this point it’s like a hobby to everybody but who can have all the other factors in play to make it a living? Luck, timing, knowing the right people, social media presence, nepotism within the music industry, all that kind of stuff. It’s just become a hustle. There are people who live it and people who are great at it, but overall it’s like a hustle and a hobby. That’s fine. It’s just different times. The arts are not respected in the schools and it’s not viable to a lot of people because we’re made to feel like anybody can do it and succeed. Unless you’re lucky, who cares?

TRHH: By listening to Fish-N-Grits and the SuperBlack single White Privilege you seem to be a little angry but more so like you have to get your feelings out on certain things. When and why did this change occur for you?

J-Zone: You mean as an artist going from more comedic stuff to that?

TRHH: Yeah, exactly.

J-Zone: It’s just life. The J-Zone character is only a piece of my personality. A lot of what I was known for 15 years ago has lived on through Chief Chinchilla and Swagmaster Bacon. They provide the comic relief as my alter egos. I’ve always been a serious thinker. I’ve always had these questions, these frustrations, and these ideas. As a younger artist I found a shtick and kind of ran with it. Looking back on my younger self it was kind of like, “I just wanna do my thing – comedy. That’s my lane.” When I left music and came back I felt like I had nothing to lose. I basically wrote this book, I’m learning to play drums, and I’m doing different things. I didn’t think I was coming back to music. I was like, “I quit, I’m retired, I’m done.” I felt like that was no pressure so if I come back, still be humorous but start addressing other shit, if I alienate people, who cares? I’m old news anyway. That’s just the way that I felt.

I’m just getting older and shit is real. I worked in a high school in the hood with high poverty, high crime, everybody wanted to be a rapper or an entertainer. Being in the music business you’re kind of shielded from that because you’re just around other music people. When you have to get a job, and you work in the community, in the hood? I’m a sports reporter and every kid thinks they’re going to the NBA so they get their whole body and neck tatted up, they fuck up in school, fuck up on the street, they think they’re immune to hard times ‘cause the ball is going to get them outta there and to watch them three years later come back to their high school and their girl is pregnant, they’re screwed up, they ain’t got no money, they’re in the streets, this one is in jail, to watch that shit happen most artists aren’t really around that. They might have grown up around that but once they get in the music business they’re not faced with that. I was dealing with that every single day.

Segregation in the school system — I worked on Long Island where segregation is huge and racism is thick. Watching a white school play a black school and feeling the tension in post-racial America, quote unquote. In the music business I wasn’t exposed to that – I just knew music. When I was working regular jobs and working in different environments, in different communities, with different kinds of people, far removed from the music business certain things started to bug me. Getting out and dating not as J-Zone; I met women in the industry, I met women at shows, I met women who were friends of friends in the industry. When I left I had to meet women on dating sites and it’s like, “Oh, you live in that part of Queens.” What is that supposed to mean? When you go back to being a regular Joe and you see shit is real, artists a lot of times are shielded from that because of their art. What did John Turturro say in Do The Right Thing? “Magic, Eddie, Prince, they’re not niggers. I mean they’re black but they’re more than black. It’s different.”

Class, race, any of that kind of stuff. I got an awareness of it from being out there. I wanted to incorporate that in my music, but I knew if I went all Chuck D on them I’d lose ‘em because I’m known for comedy. I took Chief Chinchilla and Swagmaster Bacon and put some of that humor in them. I’m still a goofy, funny guy but at this point I like lampoonery. I like to make jokes at the expense of serious stuff, almost being facetious. Using humor, but wait a minute there’s an issue at hand here that I want to discuss. I feel like as an artist the reason it’s up and down is because you’re supposed to follow what your instincts are. I don’t care about marketing or what people liked about me in the past. I don’t think about what people expect from me. You mentioned making an album that’s not as linear as a concept album, I just make what I feel because I’ve already hit rock bottom so what’s the worst that could happen? It happens again? I just make music and be real with myself and that’s it.

TRHH: You lost your grandmother recently and she played a key part in the career of J-Zone. For those that don’t know, explain how your grandmother impacted you and Old Maid Entertainment.

J-Zone: My parents were great. My mother, my dad, we’re still tight. My dad is my best friend. Me and mom have gotten extremely close as we got older. My parents split when I was 6. It was a rough time for both of them. They were always there for me, they took care of me, and they made sure I had clothes and food on the table. The 80s were a rough time. A lot of times on weekends I would stay with my grandparents. You know when you have a week off from school for winter break or spring break, I was always staying with my grandparents. I was half raised by my grandparents. I discovered music in the basement of the house that I live in today – that’s my grandparents’ house.

Music is always connected to them because they were right there. My grandmother would always yell downstairs, “Stop making all that noise!” I’d be down there playing records and I’d bring a record upstairs to my grandfather and ask him what “P” and “C” on the records meant. My grandfather knew all about copyrights because he tried to publish a book. He’d explain the Library of Congress and how you have to copyright your music. He wasn’t musical but he was smart. So much of my music pedigree started in this house with them around. As I got older my very first demo I cut in ’93 I didn’t have money for it and my grandmother gave me money for studio time.

When my grandfather passed in ’97 my grandmother was alone and I was worried about her. I was still in college and I would come back and see her. I said when I graduate I could get an apartment and try to find studio time or I could build a studio in my basement and go live with my grandmother, look after her, and be in the place that inspires me musically. I could make all the noise that I want so that’s what I did. It was only meant to be for a couple of years then I figured I would move out and get my own place. First I was gonna move to Atlanta and that fell through. Then I had a little studio apartment in Far Rockaway that I was gonna get. I was on the waiting list then her health started to decline and I was like, “Nah, I need to be here.” My dad was in Florida. He would fly up to help out but he couldn’t be here all the time. It wound up being something to help me at first, then it wound up being something to help her when he health declined. I was basically a caregiver for 17 years.

She was there and because she was there I would try to get her involved. I would say, “Grandma, get on this album cover, put this hoodie on.” She was still missing my grandfather so I used to try to cheer her up. I would say, “Grandma, you got fans!” and I would show her online where people would talk about the album cover. She used to get a kick out of that. I named Old Maid after her and used a caricature for her as the logo for the label. After my grandfather died it almost gave her another life and that’s what I was trying to do – keep her spirits up. She’s always been there when I was making music. She always encouraged it, always. Being in the basement is something special to me. It’s something about that basement. I go down there and it just feels so funky down there. My grandfather had that Cadillac in front of the house all the time. You’d smell the grits and eggs and shit cooking. You go downstairs pull out some records and it’s real funky down there. Everything was funky and it was just kind of a vibe growing up. Uncles would come over and tell jokes, play cards and shit. We’d have barbecues. So much of that was how I was introduced to music so I like to keep that close to me.

TRHH: Who is Fish-n-Grits for?

J-Zone: It sounds crazy but it’s really for me and my family, really. On the cover of the album that’s my uncle Fred, my grandmother’s brother. He used to have joke time and when I was a little kid I didn’t know all of the jokes and innuendos because I was too young but he fascinated me. That picture of me jumping up and down, that’s a real photo! Cats are drinking Bud and smoking Benson & Hedges, it’s almost like listening to a Dolemite record. That’s how he used to be. He never had his teeth in his mouth, he was always cracking jokes, and everybody was eating potato salad and shit. It was one of those family functions.

I did it for people in Hip-Hop who don’t fit in from a lyrical standpoint because I grew up on the New York boom bap, but I like the West Coast, I like the South, and I like the Midwest. I don’t like to be pigeonholed in a box. There’s so many influences on the album musically. I feel like there’s a small contingent of Hip-Hop that are not purist, guys that don’t hate the new music but it’s not for them, guys who love the 90s but want to leave the 90s there in the 90s, and people who just like good music without all the stuff. There’s a contingent of people and we talk and it’s like, “I feel like most of what’s out now isn’t for me, but I don’t hate it. I just do what I do.” Lyrically I was thinking about those people.

Musically I was thinking about people who like funk, Hip-Hop, and all those types of things. The whole mojo of the album is really just about family, my inspiration, and what got me into music. It’s been a long journey. The album covers so many things I’ve done on my journey – different instruments, crate diggin’, the alter egos, the humor, the seriousness. Everything from 1982 to now that I’ve done musically pops up on the record. The background for all that stuff is just being in this house, being around family, and listening to records in the basement. I just tried to bring that whole funky vibe like when you had a family get together in the early 80s – that vibe. Funky, a lot of trash talking going on. My uncle Fred inspired a lot of that Chief Chinchilla stuff – he used to talk like that. It’s just a whirlwind of influences really.

Purchase: J-Zone – Fish-n-Grits