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In September The Real Hip-Hop spoke to producer Phoniks about his stellar joint album with Awon, Return to the Golden Era. This time around the co-creator of one of 2013’s best Hip-Hop albums chops it up with The Real Hip-Hop.
Born in Brooklyn, New York but raised in Newport News, Virginia, Awon has Hip-Hop in his DNA. His smooth but lyrical vocals are reminiscent of top-tier emcees Rakim, CL Smooth, Buckshot, and the late Guru. Awon’s mix of substance and flow makes for a deadly combination when paired with Phoniks’ jazz-infused tracks.
The Real Hip-Hop.com spoke to Awon about working with producer Phoniks, his influences in Hip-Hop, and his new album, Return to the Golden Era.
TRHH: What did you think when you first heard Phoniks’ beats?
Awon: The first thing that came to mind was nostalgia when I heard his beats. I felt like I went back to the era of Hip-Hop I’m most familiar with which is 90s Hip-Hop. It filled a void that was present in my life musically for something organic. That’s why I was able to write quickly because I was inspired by his production.
TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Return to the Golden Era.
Awon: Return to the Golden Era is a bold statement. Anytime you compare yourself with the golden era of anything you are putting yourself in the company of the best. We felt like we had the best modern attempt at recreating that mid 90s New York Hip-Hop sound that is celebrated worldwide as the signature sound of classic 90s Hip-Hop. The golden era of the 80s was mainly diversity, what the 90s brought was a cinematic feel to each album. The evolution is evident and we just wanted to bring back innovation through simplicity in production, story-telling, and lyricism.
TRHH: What does the golden era mean to you?
Awon: The golden era means diversity and substance. It was a time where the competition was not a monetary war, yet the war of words and notoriety. The music was still art, and emcees and producers crafted their music with integrity holding the culture in high regard.
TRHH: How is Return to the Golden Era different from Beautiful Loser?
Awon: The Golden Era is different from Beautiful Loser for various factors. One difference is in the production, while Beautiful Loser is raw and unpolished it has a more musical, and jazzy landscape. Return to the Golden Era is more dark and edgy in terms of the samples and bass lines that Phoniks chose versus production of the Soul Students collectively. The second difference is the content. Beautiful Loser deals with the woes of an aspiring emcee and becoming a man. Return to the Golden Era is completely conceptual and occurs before the time frame of Beautiful Loser. Return to the Golden Era is in the mind of a late teens-to-early twenties drug dealer and all his pain and conflict due to his situation. It really has an underlying theme which is crime doesn’t pay. I chose to use some of my own experiences and included delusions of grandeur similar to Nas’ opening line on Mobb Deep’s ‘Eye For A Eye’, “A drug dealers dream…”
TRHH: When I spoke to Phoniks he mentioned how you were pumping out songs real fast. What’s your writing process like?
Awon: To be honest I write everything on my iPhone. I dump all my beats in iTunes and that’s all I listen to day in and day out. Sometimes I just have an epiphany and a song will end up done in 30 minutes. Sometime it takes a week. I record in the order of what comes to me first. As soon as I write it one time, I see my words so by the end of the verse it’s memorized. That’s how I can relay emotion even with a monotone delivery because I’m not just rapping on each track. I’m performing it for my audience. The laid back style is basically who I am and I take heed to that in writing as well.
TRHH: Tell me about the song ‘Champagne Laced‘.
Awon: ‘Champagne Laced’ was recorded second. That track felt like New York to me and with the Jay-Z sample I wanted to bring a poetic portrayal of a conscious hustler. I also wanted to make it visual. I wanted the listener to feel the adrenaline rush he got from the game as well as the paranoia. I wanted to end it on the note where the main character tells the audience he is never safe because he feels the end coming soon. Most of that song is taken from my cousin’s situation who is in the federal prison system for various crimes stemming from his man who served the feds and gave him up. You never know who to trust, there are no morals and values in the streets.
TRHH: Who are some your influences in Hip-Hop?
Awon: Man the list is crazy, but I would have to say Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Slick Rick, KRS-One, Gangstarr, Nas, B.I.G., Jay-Z, Mobb Deep, Wu, Doom, J Dilla, so forth and so on. I would also have to say my wife Tiff the Gift because when we met she was so nice to me that it made us have a small competition. Emcees always try to out do each other so it was her that inspired Beautiful Loser and it is her that I go to, to get the okay on songs. I know she won’t let me play myself because I am a reflection of her and likewise.
TRHH: What are your goals in the rap game?
Awon: My goal is to continue to preserve Hip-Hop culture through delivering quality projects to young ears that still want art. I dedicated my life to Hip-Hop. I knew when I was 8-years old I wanted to be an emcee. Even though my first LP didn’t get released until I was 28 I am still living my dreams. I want to continue to participate in the culture until my contributions are not helping. When that time comes I will work within the culture at another capacity. Having children of my own I realize how important the youth is to our future, and I always keep them in mind with underlying themes about reality. I want the kids of today to be aware of themselves in a way that is absent from music. I want them to know they have power and what you believe you can manifest it through persistence. That’s why I keep a DIY approach. Hopefully my movement evolves and more people who seek understanding through art can pick up one of my records and find what they need.
TRHH: What’s next up for Awon?
Awon: I am committed to Return to the Golden Era. Phoniks and I are getting ready for 2014 and putting out merchandise and CD’s for those that would like something tangible and we are ending the year with a 2-disc vinyl LP release via Sergent Records out of France. We are shooting some videos next month and we are in talks about a follow up in 2014. Lots of people are reaching out with warm regards and I am still taking in all of the positive reviews that are coming in from this one project. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to speak and to have my audience gain some insight about who I am–so I am honored.
Queens emcee Starvin B is a throwback to the golden era of Hip-Hop when flow, lyrical content, and wordplay were more important than swag. The hard rhyming New Yorker has been garnering attention in the states and abroad with a handful of albums that don’t lack in lyrics.
Starvin’s new album, Be Like Water features appearances by Juju of the Beatnuts, Vargo, Mic Rippa, Spit Gemz, Foul Monday, Spent D’nero, and Sean Price. The album is produced by JM Productions, George Black, Tre Eiht Special, One Take, Sauce Jacqson, and Psycho Les of the Beatnuts.
Starvin B recently spoke to the The Real Hip-Hop about the way he formulates his lyrics, the current New York rap scene, and his new album, Be Like Water.
TRHH: For those that don’t know, who is Starvin B?
Starvin B: I’ve been making music pretty seriously for the last 8-9 years. I’m from Queens, New York—Long Island City, Sunnyside area, Woodside area. I pay tribute to the golden era of Hip-Hop music and try to bring that old stuff back to the table and the honesty back to Hip-Hop music.
TRHH: How’d you get the name Starvin B?
Starvin B: It started as a joke. They called me Brando as a nickname. I was a skinny little kid so instead of Marlon Brando they called me Starvin Brando. I stuck with it because I’m a starving artist and all of that.
TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Be Like Water.
Starvin B: Be Like Water is a tribute to Bruce Lee, of course. Bruce Lee came up with it but it’s also the music that’s featured on the album has no intention of fitting in with the music business. It’s just going with the feeling of music. It’s a tribute to the fluidity of freestyling and putting that on record.
TRHH: How is this album different from your last album, Something in the Water?
Starvin B: Something in the Water was more of a contrived effort that told stories and had a darker feel to it. It was coming from a darker place. It was about things that people go through like battling addiction and alcoholism. This one is pretty much having fun with it. Be Like Water is getting in the studio and coming up with the best rhymes and best beats as opposed to trying to tell a story with a song.
TRHH: What’s your writing process like?
Starvin B: I just go with whatever is in my head. With Be Like Water there was no hesitation on the trigger finger as far as what I was writing. Everything that I wanted to say I didn’t hold back on it. Be Like Water is about constructing the best feeling bar–whatever was hitting right.
TRHH: Do you write to the beat or when something comes to you?
Starvin B: I write when something comes to me. On Be Like Water there’s joints on there that aren’t even written. They’re freestyles that I said to myself over and over again.
TRHH: Who are some of your influences in Hip-Hop?
Starvin B: I’ve got countless influences in Hip-Hop. Sometimes people that you don’t want to sound like can influence you [laughs]. I’ve got countless influences, to name a few Sean Price, Redman, and Nas. Some people that around me influence me as well like, Foul Monday, Spent D’nero, and JuJu of course. I spent a lot of time hanging out with JuJu. They’re a big influence on how I write and what I put together.
TRHH: How’d you link up with Sean Price?
Starvin B: He just came to the Goblin Music Studios to record some records and he liked it so much that he hung out there. He caught wind to what I was doing so we did one record and it came out phenomenal. We just did another record that just came out. Hopefully we’ll do some more. I’m pretty sure we will. The chemistry is pretty good.
TRHH: Why do you think so many New York emcees have strayed away from the New York sound?
Starvin B: Because they’re trying to pay their bills. They’re trying to live the glamorous lifestyle–I don’t think they’re able to do that. Sticking to the underground doesn’t really payoff and they see how it goes so they’re stuck catering to that. It’s really a mistake on their part because it takes the fun out of music. It also takes the ability to identify where they’re from. It basically is like being lost. I don’t know what to say to those guys.
TRHH: Is it more beneficial for you to be independent then to try to get a major label record deal?
Starvin B: That’s up in the air. That’s something I haven’t figured out. I don’t have the answer to that. So far it’s working out OK for me but it’s not great. I’m sure that with a big label I would have had a lot more of a look and more of a buzz going on with some more money behind me to push it. Being independent I’m able to do whatever I want as far as the direction of my music—that’s good. If it does take off I’ll be the one that benefits from that more than anyone and that’s good, too. It’s questionable whether it’s beneficial or not.
TRHH: What’s next up for Starvin B?
Starvin B: I got another EP about to drop with One Take. Jonathan “One Take” Erazo has produced a lot of stuff for me. He came by Goblin Music Studios and we worked on a song called ‘Trained Assassins’ with Spit Gemz, Eff Yoo, and Carmen Indhira and that came out nice. That was two years ago and in that two-year span he’s been giving me beats and we’ve got about 12-13 songs that we’re going to put out real soon. That project is called ‘Blood from the Stone’ and you can look for that before the end of the year. I’m excited about that. Things are looking really good. People are starting to catch wind to what I’m doing. I’m just going to keep rocking. It’s part of me so it’s a natural thing. I’m not contrived; I’m not trying to project an image. I just give them the music, I believe in it, I enjoy doing it, and I’m going to continue to come out until I get sick of it—I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Purchase: Starvin B – Be Like Water
Gone are the days when Hip-Hop acts worked solely with their crew. The last few years have seen rappers join forces to record EP’s and albums together. Producers and rappers have also done joint projects giving fans a break from what their used to hearing from each artist. Sometimes these collabos work, most times they don’t.
One case of a collaboration working happened this summer when Virginia emcee Awon linked up with Portland, Maine producer Phoniks for Return to the Golden Era. The album’s title is fitting as Return to the Golden Era is a jazz influenced, sample heavy, boom bap album, with A+ lyricism and spoken hooks—the way rap music used to be.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Phoniks about connecting with Awon, his beat-making techniques, artists he’d like to produce for, and his new album, Return to the Golden Era.
TRHH: How’d you hook up with Awon to record Return to the Golden Era?
Phoniks: A few months ago I reached out to some of my favorite emcee’s looking to collaborate. I was a big fan of Awon’s debut album, Beautiful Loser and his work with New Zealand-based producer SoulChef, so he was actually the first person I hit up. He responded right away, telling me that he loved my sound and wanted to work on an EP together. We immediately clicked so well that we decided to do an entire album.
TRHH: What was the recording process like with you two being in different states?
Phoniks: It began with me sending a batch of 9 or 10 beats. I think we ended up choosing 7 of them for the final album. We both have home studio’s, so I could spend all day making a beat, send it off to A, and he’d spend all night writing and recording rhymes and we’d have a track done by the next morning. He’d e-mail the acapella back to me and I’d do the intro, cuts, final arrangement and mixing and mastering. I’d send the final mix back one last time and he would either approve it or suggest some minor changes until we were both happy with every track. It’s cool how the internet lets two people that are 700 miles apart collaborate like that. There were times where I’d send him a beat at 8 p.m. and get a track back at 11 a.m. the next day and I’d be like “How the hell did you write and record 48 bars with all these crazy metaphors and references in one night?” But the dude just works like an animal.
TRHH: Why’d you title the album Return to the Golden Era?
Phoniks: Our whole goal with this project was to throw it back to the 90′s golden era of Hip-Hop that we both share a passion for when the music was just about dope beats, storytelling and lyricism. Awon was born in Brooklyn in the early 80′s so he was born into the heart of that. I’m ten years younger, but have always been a student of that era. We both listened to a lot of Reasonable Doubt, The Infamous, Illmatic— just raw 90′s Hip-Hop during the production of the album. From Awon’s perspective, he approached this project as a concept album where he was rapping from the point of view of himself as a young adult during that time, growing up on the streets of Newport News, Virginia as a hustler with dreams of wealth and opulence. Most of A’s previous work borders more on the line of conscious rap, so he stepped into a different role on this album and just let loose.
TRHH: How did you get started in production?
Phoniks: I got into Hip-Hop at a young age. At thirteen I heard a Masta Ace song in an Xbox game and looked him up. I listened to Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer and was hooked. Shortly afterwards I heard GZA’s Liquid Swords and it was game over from there. At 14 I realized what sampling was. Everything clicked in my head after listening to a soul track on the radio that I recognized as an MF Doom sample. It was like “Oh wait, he took that from there to make that?! I thought he was playing it on a keyboard.” After that I think I watched every beat-making video on YouTube and ordered an old MPC 2000 Classic off eBay. I found the instruction manual online and would read it every night until the package came. I already knew how to work the thing inside and out by the time I opened the box and I’ve just been in the basement listening to jazz and soul and making beats ever since. That was in 2006.
TRHH: Who are some of your influences in Hip-Hop?
Phoniks: My all-time favorite producer is Pete Rock, but I love all the 90′s east coast guys. Lord Finesse, Large Pro, Buckwild, Premo, Showbiz, Q-Tip, K-Def, I know I’m leaving guys out, but you get the idea. My favorite producer right now is a cat out of DC named Damu the Fudgemunk. To me, he’s carrying the torch as far as that jazzy, soulful, boom-bap type of sound goes. His sampling is on another level.
TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use?
Phoniks: I was on the MPC 2000 for almost 5 years, but in 2010 I sold it and grabbed a Maschine right when they first came out. Although I miss the feel of making beats on an MPC every day, the Maschine has sped up my workflow so much that it’s worth the trade-off. Now instead of having beats sitting around on floppy disks for months waiting to be tracked out, I can flip a sample and program some drums and get right back in the DAW to start mixing and finalizing the track. Besides that, my rig just consists of a turntable, mixer, and stacks of vinyl records. The more you simplify your setup, the more it forces creativity. You spend a lot less time twisting nobs and more time making music.
TRHH: What’s your take on the keyboard-heavy Hip-Hop that’s dominating the scene now?
Phoniks: I can’t listen to most of that stuff, man. Every once in a while I’ll crawl out of my bubble of 90′s Hip-Hop and turn on the radio to hear a rapper on a dubstep beat and it’ll just send me back down to the basement. All that trap stuff, to me, it just doesn’t have any soul. I can tolerate it in the club, but don’t put that shit on in my car. I need to hear music that has swing and bounce and provokes thoughts, not these soulless beats with watered down emceeing that have been plaguing the radio waves lately. [laughs] I guess I’m just a backpacker.
TRHH: Who are some artists that you’d like to produce for?
Phoniks: I want a chance to collaborate with some of the New York OG’s. Emcees like Masta Ace, OC, Chubb Rock, Afu-Ra, Jeru The Damaja, J-Live, Sean Price, Buckshot, Tragedy Khadafi, Sadat X, the guys who I’ve spent the past ten years listening to. If any of them read this, get at me at phoniksbeatz[at]gmail.com and let’s talk about a collab.
TRHH: What’s next up for Phoniks?
Phoniks: Awon and I currently have plans to meet up next month and film a music video for ‘Return to the Golden Era’. Besides that, I’m working with a bunch of other dope emcees from all over the country right now, I’m not going to mention any names, but there should be a lot more Phoniks production credits before the end of 2013. Right now, my focus is set on promoting Return to the Golden Era and trying to break into the top-tier of Hip-Hop coverage. Getting on publications like HipHopDX, AllHipHop, and XXL and from there, getting consideration for Newcomer and Freshman of the Year awards. It’s difficult to get people to take the time to listen to you as an independent artist sending unsolicited emails, so we’re currently looking for a publicist or someone who can help us get our music heard by the right people. To contact us for press, booking, or management purposes, hit up awonandphoniks[at]gmail.com. Believe that I’m not going to sleep until I feel the project has received the recognition it deserves.
In part one of “A Conversation with J-Zone” the rapper/producer discussed his return to the rap world, his foray into drumming, and his opinion on rap baby boomers. In part 2, J-Zone talks about feeling like a “black weirdo”, how his approach to the music business has changed, and if he’ll hit the road in support of his new album, Peter Pan Syndrome.
TRHH: Another song that spoke to me is ‘Black Weirdo’. I feel out of place in nearly every situation. Have you felt that way for most of your life?
J-Zone: I felt that way all my life. Because being black and being lighter skinned you’re dealing with light skin vs. dark skin. Going to a school that’s majority white with a small black population you’re dealing with it from black friends who are supposed to have your back because white students don’t like you either. Being an only child and having eclectic tastes, my mother was into a lot of revolutionary stuff so she had African influence stuff in the house. My dad was into jazz and he also went to college at Southern Illinois University and his roommates were white boys from the Midwest. They introduced him to rock–Cream, Deep Purple and groups like that. All these influences were in my stash when I was growing up. When it came time to dating and shit like that I was different, I was just into different shit.
When I got older and stopped doing the music shit I was working on the book in 2010 and was working in a school. I worked in a school district that was majority black. The staff, faculty, and students were like 80% black and 20% Hispanic. I had a semi-high top fade. I’d be listening to weird Hip-Hop shit in my car and they’d invite me to these grown and sexy party’s where everybody on the flyer is dressed like Cedric the Entertainer. Everybody is wearing a Steve Harvey suit and they’d always want to invite me to church. I don’t down nobody’s religion but it was like Tyler Perry movie gone bad. That was never my experience, I never related to that. My experience from the black perspective was from the knowledge side. My mother made me read Malcolm X, Soul on Ice, and Seize the Time. I’m growing up learning about the Panthers, all the stuff James Brown did with the Civil Rights Movement, and inventors. When they say “black experience” they don’t talk about that. It’s like this nouveau Steve Harvey, Tyler Perry, Nia Long grown and sexy thing.
I saw the movie Good Hair and that’s where I got the idea for the song from. I wasn’t rapping then but I felt like I gotta do something about this. I’d be in the barbershop and hear, “What are you getting those haircuts for? You know you ain’t got no job! You can’t get a job with a haircut like that.” That’s the problem. Instead of starting our own businesses in our own neighborhoods we feel like we have to go elsewhere to find a job and you feel like you gotta straighten your hair to get a promotion. I got into this big argument with this woman in the barbershop and I said, “That’s why Trayvon Martin happens. We don’t have no respect.” You come into the black community and a lot of things aren’t black owned. You wonder what the image of success is and what’s considered normal and status quo. I’m a young black dude with a business but I’m quirky, I’m different, and into different things and they don’t understand it so they knock it down. They say I’m not grown but I’m trying to do the best I can.
I was always raised to believe that ownership was the key. That’s what my family always told me, to try to own something on your own terms instead of asking somebody for something. In that environment a lot of people’s image of success is to assimilate into mainstream culture. In terms of what’s successful for us I live in a black neighborhood and I go to the library and Tyler Perry has his own section of DVD’s on a display and I’m looking in the black interest section and it’s a girl waiting for her man to get out of jail, this brother is on the down low, this dude is a player, and everything is in the hood. You don’t have no history! That’s part of our experience? Really? To a lot of people that’s what the black experience is. I refuse to believe that shit. To me that’s just not what I do. The fact that I listen to a little rock, old school rap, I get crazy haircuts, I don’t wear the standard shit so they wonder about you. It presents a problem with dating and social circles and I don’t fit in anywhere. It’s not just alienating the black bourgeois, I’m going after everybody on this album because I’m not on anybody’s team—I’m on my own team. A lot of my friends who are black, quirky, different, or a little bit of a nerd, these are the things that they go through. People may hear that song and might not like it. I’m not saying it’s true for everyone but I’m saying it’s something I deal with so I have a right to talk about it.
TRHH: On the song ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’ you said, “I know the real world exists I just refuse to join it,” Why do you refuse to join it?
J-Zone: I just don’t think anything is worth dreading getting out of bed every day. I’ve been down to my last dime but my most unhappy time was when I hated getting out of bed. You can’t run from reality but it’s also questioning, what is the real world? The real world is, go get this job, marry this kind of person, have these kids, because that’s what we say to do. If that’s not what I want to do I’m just not going to do it. But by doing that I have to accept and understand that there are going to be consequences. If you’re black, over thirty, and don’t have kids, people think you’re gay—that’s it! I’ve had chicks from other ethnicities say that shit to me like, “How are you black, over thirty, never been married, and don’t have kids?” That goes to show that there is a standard there and there is an expectation for somebody in my position to be in, whether it’s positive or negative. If you refuse to conform to the expectations that are there for you to fall into then you’re going to have some problems and do a lot of explaining. The older I get the more I have to explain.
TRHH: How is your approach to your rap career different than the first time around?
J-Zone: I ain’t got no expectations, man. That’s it. I did the record for fun. I wasn’t planning to do it. Everything was like an accident. I just came back from South Carolina shooting some videos. I had never done a video before but I knew I had to because that’s the modern thing. At the last minute I realized, oh shit I gotta shoot a video and promote this! I just made the record and was going to throw it out there. I literally was going to press up a couple of CD’s, tapes, throw it on iTunes and call it a day. People are like, “You gotta do this and that,” so I’m getting sucked in to a lot of the things that I hate but I’m doing it now and not taking it personal. If somebody doesn’t review it, gives it a bad review or ignores it, whatever. If the record don’t sell or the video only gets 100 views, whatever.
This time around I’m not connecting my personal worth as J the person to the success of a J-Zone record. Before the two were inseparable and that’s why it crashed because when the record didn’t do well I thought I was a failure. This time around I’m aware of how the music business works, I’m aware that I’m older, my demographic is a lot smaller than it was ten years ago. I don’t know yet. The point is I’m going into this like I’m a new artist again. I have a history and a catalog and some stripes but I’m going into this as a new artist just doing his thing. Hopefully people like it, if they don’t, know I’m not going to let my personal worth get caught up in what the record does. This time around I just understand the business. I don’t get too high or too low. I just make the music I like and try to enjoy the ride.
TRHH: In the book you had some sad stories about touring. Do you plan to go back on the road in support of this album?
J-Zone: That’s something that I’m juggling with right now. Like I said, I made the music not thinking about anything but the music. I haven’t been on stage since 2007 at a Knitting Factory show where I just bounced. I got a bunch of DJ gigs lined up, but in terms of getting back on the mic I’ll do what I can to promote the record, but in terms of rapping on stage I forgot the words to all the songs. I’d have to re-learn them. I put in trash, delete after all that and wiped it out. I’d have to really prepare but it’s one of those things. Do I wanna perform, being dead honest with you? No. I don’t want to but if I get a chance to travel Europe again and do this I might have to put all the energy I got back into it and come up with a show because this is what I do for a living. To get a chance to go overseas again I might do it. To drive to Jersey and do a rap gig, there’s a chance I ain’t gonna do that shit [laughs]. Come on out to Manhattan and do a 25 minute show? That ain’t gonna happen. But if I get 20 dates in Europe or Australia I couldn’t turn that down, man. If they step to me and say in two weeks you gotta go here, then the next two weeks I’m going to be working 24/7 to get back in shape to do it.
TRHH: Who is Peter Pan Syndrome for?
J-Zone: It’s for Hip-Hop kids born in the 70’s, early 80’s and even the 60’s who realized that it’s not something you have to outgrow, you can still enjoy it. People who might take care of their responsibility but they don’t see a problem enjoying life. They realize that the kind of haircut you wear, the music you listen to, or your attitude toward dating might be the same as when you were 25 but nobody has a right to judge that because most of the people doing the judging are miserable themselves. It’s also for fellow black weirdos. To be the stereotypical black man in America over 35 who is respectable, what are you supposed to be? I’m just trying to be a trendsetter. There is nothing wrong with being an oddball. People think being an oddball is trying to be cool or ironic. They act like that’s something you gotta leave in your twenties but as long as you’re taking care of your responsibilities, why not? If you wear what you gotta wear to work but you listen to your Hip-Hop, on the weekend throw on your Patrick Ewing shoes, Reebok Pumps, or throw on your old Starter hat, that’s OK. You don’t outgrow enjoying life. As long as you ain’t hurting nobody why should you stop enjoying life just to fit in with everybody in your age group? Life is too short to be miserable out here.
Purchase: J-Zone – Peter Pan Syndrome
Queens, New York emcee J-Zone has returned after a five-year hiatus from the music business. The rapper/producer initially retired from the game after being frustrated by the industry. Zone chronicled the ups and down of his career in the 2011 memoir titled Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit, and a Celebration of Failure.
J-Zone’s latest creative effort is an album produced, written, and mixed entirely by J himself titled, Peter Pan Syndrome. The album features appearances by Celph Titled, Al-Shid, Has-Lo, and Breeze Brewin’.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to J-Zone about why he returned to rap, his struggles to fit in with the norms of society, and his new album, Peter Pan Syndrome.
TRHH: After leaving rap you wrote the book Root for the Villain, which was kind of an explanation of why you stopped rapping. So what made you decide to come back?
J-Zone: Well, I don’t even know if I could say it’s coming back. It kind of is coming back but the same thing that made me want to make a record made me want to write a book. You go through stuff and you look for an outlet for it. My frustrations with the music business were expressed in the book. I was looking for an outlet for life after the music business. To write a book takes a lot of energy. You have to be in a certain zone to do a book and I couldn’t get back in that zone. A lot of the stuff that I touched on in the book I wanted to take it a little further. It happened by accident really. I started learning how to play the drums just for fun. I dabbled with a little bit of production but nothing serious. I put out the 45 last year and I was thinking about putting out another one but I was going through these things in life and thinking about all this shit that was going on.
Meanwhile I’m dabbling with the drums and making beats for a 45 and before you know it I had 10, then 15, then 20 songs. It just happened, man. I was trying to come up with two songs for a 45 and it just snowballed. I don’t even think I made anything that’s good for a 45. I just made a bunch of album cuts. It’s like everything else that I did. It started as one idea and while you’re working on that idea you get another and another and after five or six you start to see a skeleton form and get some direction. With the book I wrote chapters and it started to take shape. Once you get to the halfway point and can see where it’s going you can kind of make stuff to guide it further in that direction. It was totally by accident. It was a combination of life and trying to makes stuff for fun.
TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Peter Pan Syndrome?
J-Zone: I don’t even remember Peter Pan. When I was a kid I remember the cartoon and he was like the little dainty dude with the hat and shit but I don’t remember anything about it. As you get older and start going through shit you start to Google shit you’re going through. One thing you never wanna do is Google shit you don’t know the answer to ‘cause then you’re gonna end up fucked up. It’s like, I’m 35-36, should I be married? And you put it in and it says if a dude is that age then he’s damaged goods. I’m 36 and looking for a job and I’ve never worked a real job, I put it in and a lot of the results I was getting was “grown ass men with Peter Pan syndrome”. It was always a message board or comment thread talking about people that don’t wanna grow up. Everything I was going through or questioning the general consensus was this is shit that people who don’t want to grow up do. Peter Pan Syndrome kept coming up and I thought it was cool. It had a little ring to it and I was playing around with titles at the end and wanted something to do with being hesitant to grow up and Peter Pan Syndrome always came up. Later on I looked at the Never Neverland story. It came from me not being a typical adult and not wanting to grow up.
TRHH: I first heard of it from Michael Jackson.
J-Zone: That was another thing that came up. He had the Neverland Ranch. I ain’t with it the way he was talking about, running around with a bunch of young kids but in terms of expectations of what you’re supposed to be doing at this point of your life. It’s like, damn, I don’t wanna do that. Does that mean I’m not a mature adult? I was running around getting Gumby haircuts and people were like, “J, you’re a little too old for that.” Word? Everything that I saw was telling me what I had to do to be an adult. Even on Facebook, I might post some low brow humor and people are like, “Oh J, grow up.” Damn, everybody in my age group is on that shit. They’re like, “Aren’t you a little old to be listening to Tim Dog and thinking it’s funny?” Nah man, I still listen to that shit! I didn’t outgrow some of the shit you’re supposed to outgrow.
TRHH: Your drumming is on full display throughout the album. How difficult was it for you to incorporate live drumming into your production this time around?
J-Zone: It wasn’t difficult at all. I’m still learning how to play. I’ve only been playing a year and a half. The technique is the most difficult part but in terms of the process it wasn’t really nothing. I would program drums but basically I would just make a beat and I would have the music sequenced in the sampler like I always did. Whenever I’m making beats drums is always the last thing I add, I always have the music first. So when I have the music in there I try to find the tempo of the beat. I’d be sitting there with the sample or bass line going and I’d get on a kit and play what I would normally program. Once I got the pattern down it was a matter of choosing the right snare drum, do I muffle the bass drum or do I let it ring, do I mic it close or far, what kind of rolls do I put in? I just translated what I would program to the kit and get the right drums and the right tuning to make it sound right with the beat.
If the beat is 105 [bpm] I’d just pull out the metronome and play what I wanted to play to the metronome so that it was steady and in time. Then I would manipulate it, run it through a tape deck, and try to dirty it up to make it sound likes some old Stax or Motown. It was a lot more tedious. Before when I found the snare I wanted I just sampled it and programmed it. Drums are very hard to get them to sound like you want because you have to experiment with the tuning. Sometimes I had to take the heads off, put a wallet on the snare drum, leave it open, tune the toms a different way, put a napkin on the bass drum head. It’s a lot of trial and error. It’s a lot more tedious but it wasn’t that bad of an adjustment. It’s just a matter of learning how to play what I was hearing.
TRHH: The song ‘Rap Baby Boomers’ kind of resonated with me. I’m one of those people that’s being talked about. It makes me angry to think that people my age are viewed as irrelevant to the art form. Why’d you choose to address that topic?
J-Zone: Because the people that we grew up listening to, some of them are still around, but a lot of them are gone. People are using words like “veteran” to describe me but I’m still used to being young! I’m used to being youthful. I’m just 36 and I still feel like my generation is the young one and then you get online and you see the generation gap between old and new. It’s also people are like, “Word, you still doing that music shit?” It’s almost like a stigma if you do Hip-Hop or like it past a certain age. It’s like, that ain’t for grown folks. All of a sudden you have to start wearing penny loafers and watching Shemar Moore movies and listening to The Whispers. I think because Hip-Hop is so young it’s never been here before. We see what happens when young jazz heads get old, when young funk cats get old, and when rock kids get old–Hip-Hop kids getting old is new shit. We had Spoonie Gee and guys like Big Daddy Kane and LL who grew up on those older guys but if you were born in the early to mid-70s we’re the first generation that were raised on it since we were little kids. We didn’t get our first rap record in college; we heard our first rap record when we were four or five. Hip-Hop was our soundtrack to grade school, junior high, high school, college, and adult life. Who is making music for us?
When Soulja Boy and Ice-T when at it that’s when I was like, “Shit is about to change.” Ice-T was actually older than your average rapper when he blew up but still Soulja Boy was like, “You old enough to be my granddaddy,” and he’s right. There’s such a stigma attached to rapping past a certain age, especially if you’re not rich. Jay-Z does it but Jay-Z is making money. If you’re a struggling artist or a rapper getting by and you’re 36, 38, or 42 and this is what you do then your peers are looking at you funny and Hip-Hop is wondering if you’re relevant. The worst thing that you could call somebody in Hip-Hop is old or broke. When you go to the barbershop it’s like, “He’s old,” or “You know he ain’t got no money.” I’d be in the barbershop and hear people say, “50 Cent is old,” and I’m thinking 50 is just a year older than me. He’s making way more money and is having way more success so if 50 is irrelevant what does that make me? It’s not that I believe what I said in the song but this is what a lot of people believe and what they say.
Who is going to represent us? Jazz artists never feel the need to hang it up and go work in an office. Rock musicians don’t do that. In Hip-Hop once you hit 30 you’re no longer to rap about getting your dick sucked. You’re no longer allowed to curse because you got kids. Hip-Hop is so youthful it’s like once you get to a certain age are you allowed to continue being Hip-Hop even if you’re an adult with responsibilities when the cameras aint’t rolling? I take care of my responsibilities, I’m an adult, I look after my grandmother, I have a house to upkeep, I pay my taxes, pay my bills, but I’m always going to be a Hip-Hop kid, I don’t care if I’m 80. I grew up listening to Hip-Hop a lot of the young kids don’t respect or understand but what are we going to do? Cop out or support each other? Instead of saying “There ain’t no more good Hip-Hop out. Fuck it, I’m gonna keep listening to 90’s shit,” if we have more artists from our generation that aren’t scared to come out and write books, make music, make movies, and stay active then we have a voice. As long as we have a voice and support each other then we don’t have to worry about if someone 21-years old don’t relate to us. We feel like when we get a certain age you gotta leave that shit all the way alone and stop creating and that’s why we have no voice.
TRHH: It drives me crazy when people say artists are too old to rap. I saw Kings of the Mic with LL, Ice Cube, Public Enemy and De La Soul and every one of them tore it down. It wasn’t like it was a bunch of old guys up there. Why can’t they contribute? I haven’t really liked an LL album since the mid-90’s but put him on stage and he’s one of the best. He still can contribute so why is he irrelevant?
J-Zone: I think it’s our fault. It’s my fault and it’s our generations fault because we get to a certain age and say, “OK it’s time for me to be a parent, Hip-Hop’s a thing of the past, I don’t have time to check for new releases, I’m a family man,” but yet you have time to put on Midnight Marauders and listen to it every day. When we were growing up all of that shit you’re talking about was in plain sight. You turn on MTV and you saw LL, De La, Kane, and EPMD. Now Public Enemy is still putting stuff out, De La is still making music, I’m still making music, Masta Ace is still making music, Craig G put out on an album this year. They’re still making music but you have to dig for it. You can’t turn on Rap City no more and see the shit. If you turn on the TV you’re not gonna get Special Ed, you’re going to get Soulja Boy or Kendrick Lamar or A$AP Rocky. They’re in the forefront and it doesn’t mean we’re not still doing it. You just have to seek it out and a lot of people either don’t have the time or don’t want to make the time.
My thing is, if you don’t want to make the time then don’t say there’s nothing out that for you. I was one of those people but now I have no right to complain about the state of music. As long as there’s people making good music from all different generations, if I’m not gonna put in the work to look for it then I have no right to complain. I think a lot of people said Hip-Hop was a phase in their life and only die-hard music people will continue to seek it out and pursue it. That audience gets smaller and smaller. I think it’s because they are comparing it to how big LL or De La was twenty years ago. These guys are still living, working, creating musicians but it’s scaled down. The kind of music they do and I do is not going to be on the most popular sites. This is unexplored territory for Generation X. We’re becoming old so what do we do? Do we continue to support what’s left and people who are doing it in small numbers or do we say fuck it and keep listening to golden era shit? Meanwhile artists from that era who make quality stuff lose their audience. That’s the choice.
Purchase: J-Zone – Peter Pan Syndrome
The biggest Hip-Hop festival of all-time, Rock the Bells is back with a plethora of performers that cover nearly thirty years of Hip-Hop. Acts like the Wu-Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamar and Black Hippy, Pretty Lights, Common, Kid Cudi, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Girl Talk, J. Cole, KRS-One, Big Sean, and Rakim among others are slated to perform.
The 2013 Rock the Bells festival kicks off this weekend at the San Manuel Amphitheatre in San Bernardino, California. The festival will then move to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California on September 14 and 15, the RFK Festival Grounds in Washington DC on September 28 and 29, and the New Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 4 and 5.
Rock the Bells founder Chang Weisberg spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the performances, the past, and the future of Rock the Bells.
TRHH: A lot has been made of the virtual performances at Rock the Bells this year. When Dr. Dre did the 2Pac hologram at Coachella a lot of people were split on it. I for one didn’t like it…
Chang Weisberg: Did you actually see it?
Chang Weisberg: So you were there?
TRHH: No, on Youtube.
Chang Weisberg: It’s tough, man. It’s like a big sports moment. For me it was like Gibson hitting that homerun. It’s different watching it on TV than being there. So the execution of it you saw on Youtube, which by the way is a different view from actually being there. Regardless, conceptually you could have a problem with the fact that maybe you don’t appreciate that type of entertainment.
TRHH: What made you decide to go the virtual performance route this year?
Chang Weisberg: You know what, one I had been fascinated with the hologram performances with what the Gorillaz did at the Grammy’s and Madonna. I was there front row, center for what Dre was doing with the 2Pac performance and people were excited about it there. Some people freaked out but some people liked it. Up until that point at a live show it’s only been about the music—always. The authenticity, the musicianship, and the connection with the audience was pure. It was very entertaining. I was blown away and couldn’t really explain it. I think there is a lot of online evidence that people were interested in it and it caused a lot of good things to happen, especially for 2Pac’s catalog and the live part of music incorporating technology and where things might be going in the future. Those are all the main reasons for our attacking the opportunity there. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the behind the scenes knowledge of the 2Pac hologram. Are you fairly familiar with that and how it was done?
TRHH: No, I have no idea.
Chang Weisberg: Ultimately there’s an avatar, a simulation of the real thing. Holograms are projections but they come from an avatar that’s created on a computer. There are several ways to do that. I can say this and I’m not here to tear anything down or take away the musician’s tricks but there were no family members involved in the creation of the avatar for the 2Pac hologram. For the ODB and Eazy-E performance the family members have been essential. They are going to be used in the creation of the avatars, which are going to be projected on our stages. It’s been an amazing and a beautiful process to be a part of. How people respond to it is how people respond to it. It’s out of my hands. As a company and someone that is always trying to evolve, what we’re doing on the stages is an amazing opportunity to have performances that are absolutely one of a kind.
What we do on these shows will never happen anywhere else ever again. September 7, which is the first day of Rock the Bells would have been Eazy’s 50th birthday. The last time ODB performed on a stage anywhere was at Rock the Bells. The fact is that RZA, Divine, the estate of ODB, and the rest of the group members all see this as a massive opportunity to honor their brother, cousin, husband, and father. Me, I normally keep it with the managers and the groups. I’ve never had to deal with the families the way I’ve had to deal with the families in this process and it’s been a really cool thing to do–very worthwhile for me selfishly and gratifying. To be in the studio watching a widow work on her husband’s avatar for immortality so it’ll always be captured and out there is a very unique thing to watch. To watch kids who haven’t really hung out with each other hanging out with each other to honor their father is a big deal, man. Hopefully you’ll get to see it first-hand because you’re not the type of person to not show up at Rock the Bells.
TRHH: I will definitely show up at Rock the Bells in San Francisco. Rock the Bells is like Christmas for me.
Chang Weisberg: I’m glad to hear that because Rock the Bells is ever changing for people and their opinions on how we program and what we bring to the table. The biggest story is that E-40 and Too $hort are going to be in the Bay area after many years and struggles to get back in there.
TRHH: That was my next question. What does it mean to have E-40 and Too $hort performing at Rock the Bells in the Bay?
Chang Weisberg: Oh man, it was really hard last year. They were on the L.A. show and it got to a point where I had a little artist coalition for E-40 and Too $hort to be on the Bay area show. To have to ask the guys to stay home, man! Next to the hologram thing I think seeing E-40 and Too $hort rock the Shoreline Amphitheatre for the first time in 7 or 8 years is going to be good. The Bay area fan base is one of the most energetic and super-positive crowds we have. I told people I don’t have to worry about trash clean up because the fans in that area keep it so clean! It’s so awesome. I can’t say I’ve seen them on a major stage in the Bay area. I’ve seen them in smaller rooms. I wasn’t at Summer Jam when all the initial issues came up so I can’t speak for it. I can tell you that the venue and everyone who is involved in the show is ecstatic for that performance. The reasons being what they were, just proves that if you stick with something that anything can happen. People are willing to give people the opportunity under the right circumstances.
TRHH: You recently added A$AP Mob, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, and Trinidad Jame$ to the bill. In many ways they are leading the pack for the next generation of Hip-Hop’s great acts…
Chang Weisberg: I’m hopeful. I think one of the more fascinating stories of the last year is A$AP representing from Harlem. They have the knowledge of where Hip-Hop came from and they’re spinning it their way now. Between A$AP, the Black Hippy crew, and Cudi they all represent how Hip-Hop has evolved over time. Nineties era Rock the Bells fans are getting a nice glimpse at what Hip-Hop will look like in 2013, 2014, and 2015 this year.
TRHH: You added Pretty Lights and Girl Talk to Rock the Bells. What do you say to those that say those acts aren’t Hip-Hop?
Chang Weisberg: They are so Hip-Hop that they dig deeper than a lot of beat junkies I know. They’re just Hip-Hop heads caught in a dance world. A-Trak is a DMC champ, he holds down Kanye but I’m not mad at him going to EDC and crushing it in front of 15,000 kids. People are open and expanding. Good music is good music. Pretty Lights is big fat dubby trippy beats. He’s got a great track with Kweli and a lot of people don’t know that. The electronic dance movement and Hip-Hop started together. Deep House in Detroit has its roots in Hip-Hop. Having Chase & Status on the bill; they’re the biggest dub crew in England. They’ve got the number 2 record on the BBC. They’re gigantic and they’re Hip-Hop heads. Their live show is crazy. They’re at Rock the Bells because they’re Hip-Hop guys and they wanted to be in front of a Hip-Hop audience and I wanted them to be. There are so many versions of Hip-Hop and we’re trying to embrace all of it. Classic 90′s era Hip-Hop is still on the bill but it’s time to open it up to something that’s going to be unique for now and the future.
TRHH: Have artists doing full albums run their course for Rock the Bells?
Chang Weisberg: No. There are a lot of albums that I still want to see happen and acts that I want to see. We just want to try to play with that as it develops. The last couple of years have been the 20th anniversary of a lot of great albums. We had that embarrassment of riches in 2010 with Doggy Style, 36 Chambers, The Miseducation [of Lauryn Hill], and Criminal Minded. We did so many records.
TRHH: Midnight Marauders, Paid in Full…
Chang Weisberg: Yeah, that’s why people did it and that’s why I told people then that it may never happen again. I don’t mean to be redundant but this year’s show will be a unique show unlike anything that’s happened previous to Rock the Bells or anything that will happen in the future. You can’t recreate the ODB and Eazy-E holograms at Rock the Bells ever again. I was excited because two-thirds of the bill just put out new music. Tech N9ne just put out a great record I feel. Wale and J. Cole have awesome records out. Cudi had a number one record. Dom Kennedy will have new music. Deltron is finally putting out the album I said was coming out last year. I have no control over those things but the record is ridiculous and I know Deltron 3030 is near and dear to a lot of Bay area heads and when that plays out a lot of people are going to be happy.
TRHH: Although you’re the boss I’ve seen you at times enjoying the performances at Rock the Bells. Who are you excited to see this year at Rock the Bells?
Chang Weisberg: Sometimes when I’m not caught up in the drama of making sure everybody stays on time on our stages I love to watch our show. Didn’t we watch Deltron a little bit together last year?
TRHH: No, it was Bone Thugs.
Chang Weisberg: Bone, yeah on the main stage. First and foremost E-40 & Too Short. Number two I want to see Black Hippy. Kendrick has one of the best records of the last couple years. Schoolboy Q is getting ready to drop and I know they got some surprises, also Prof, Kweli, Slick Rick & Doug E Fresh, and Girl Talk. Who are you excited for? A lot of people are bummed out that Tribe is not performing or asking me why KRS is not headlining. I hate the whole billing of a show with names and where they have to be. The first act Snow Tha Product will be worth getting there early to check out. Jhene Aiko has a little bit of Lauryn in her. That’s where her inspiration comes from, I strongly believe it. You gotta get there early, man.
TRHH: I’m excited to see Sean Price. Common is my favorite emcee of all-time. I think Rakim is the greatest emcee of all-time and KRS-One is number two so those are my guys.
Chang Weisberg: I knocked it out for you! How you gonna get away and watch A$AP? It’s gonna be tough. The sets are long enough that you can catch two things in one hour. You can get a lot in if you have tennis shoes on. I feel bad for the ladies that dress up and have the big girl shoes on.
Purchase tickets to Rock the Bells
ROCK THE BELLS 2013 FESTIVAL SERIES LINE-UP:
ACTION BRONSON (now performing in ALL MARKETS)
A$AP MOB (featuring A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, A$AP Ant, A$AP Twelvy, and A$AP Nast)
A-TRAK (performing in Los Angeles and Washington DC only)
BIG SEAN (performing in Washington DC and New York only)
BLACK HIPPY (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock)
BIG DADDY KANE (performing in Washington DC only)
CHASE & STATUS
DELTRON 3030 (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)
E-40 AND TOO SHORT
IAMSU (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)
J. COLE (performing in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York only)
JOEY BADA$$ WITH PRO ERA
JURASSIC 5 (performing in Los Angeles, Washington DC, and New York only)
LOGIC (performing in Washington DC and New York only)
PRETTY LIGHTS (performing in New York only)
RAPSODY & 9TH WONDER (performing in Los Angeles and Washington DC only)
SLICK RICK & DOUG E. FRESH
SNOW THA PRODUCT
TALIB KWELI (performing in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC only)
TRINIDAD JAMES (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)
TYLER THE CREATOR (performing in San Francisco, Washington DC, and New York only)
WALE (performing in Washington DC and New York only)
YG (performing in Los Angeles and San Francisco only)
YOUNG DIRTY BASTARD
Rapsody is back just a year after dropping her debut album, The Idea of Beautiful, with a new mixtape titled She Got Game. The sixteen-track mixtape finds Rapsody taking her lyrics to another level and staking her claim as one of the game’s best emcee’s—male or female.
She Got Game boasts guest appearances by Wale, Raekwon, Ab-Soul, Phonte, Jay Electronica, Mac Miller, and Common among others. The mixtape features production by DJ Premier, Denaun Porter, and 9th Wonder and the Soul Council.
Rapsody spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about what it was like working with rap legends Common, DJ Premier, and Raekwon, the struggles she faces being a female emcee in a genre dominated by males, and her new mixtape, She Got Game.
TRHH: What has the last year been like for you since The Idea of Beautiful dropped?
Rapsody: It’s been a crazy year to say the least. A lot has happened in the last year as far as growth and expanding the fan base. I love The Idea of Beautiful but I told 9th I had no expectations for it. I just wanted people to like it and see the growth. For it to get the response via reviews that it got and the fact that people loved it, it landed me as a BET Music Matters artist and I got to perform on 106 & Park and all of these other things. It was great for me and then to put this piece of work together and be able to pull of the features that we pulled off—I’ve wanted to work with Jay Electronica forever and I never thought it would be this soon. I grew up listening to Common and I didn’t expect that to come this soon. It’s just been a really good year to say the least.
TRHH: You have features from two of my favorite emcees on the mixtape, Raekwon and Common. What was it like working with them and how did you actually get Common because he don’t really jump on everybody’s stuff?
Rapsody: No, he doesn’t. The Common thing was more so a lot of 9th’s help. 9th and Common have known each other for a while and they talk from time to time. I had that record and it just sounded like him to me. I even got the “Feels like love, love,” inspiration from him because it sounds like something along the lines of something he would do. 9th just reached out to him one day and sent him the song, Common heard it and said, yeah. Not to say it was that easy but that’s just what it was. I was blown away. He had a speaking engagement down here at North Carolina Central and I went to it. He gave a phenomenal speech and I went to meet him afterwards. He was very nice, humble, and a real genuine dude. He was like, “I got the record and I like it. I’m gonna do that for you. You got my word and when I give my word, I give my word.” That was one of the last records we were waiting for because he was shooting two movies during the summer.
I met Raekwon two years ago for the first time. He had a show in Raleigh and after the show 9th got him and brought him to the studio. I was working on ‘Thank Her Now’ at the time. He looked at me and said, “You sing?” which most people ask when they don’t know me. I was like, “No, I rap,” and he asked to hear something. 9th played him a joint and he was like, “Wow, let’s do something.” The first song we ever did was ‘Black Diamond’ in 2011. He reached out to me later on and I did a record for one of his projects that hasn’t come out yet. We sent him another one because I wanted to work with him again. I love Raekwon like everyone else does. It was supposed to be on The Idea of Beautiful originally but with timing issues it didn’t work out so we just held on to it. He finished it and we put it on the tape.
TRHH: Are you pleased with the response that you’re getting from the mixtape?
Rapsody: Yeah. I’ve seen nothing but positive comments about it. People say they love it and I’m the first female that they’re album to listen to, which is crazy. I’m very pleased and overwhelmed. I’ve had talks with my peers about it and they love it. I’m extremely happy. A lot of people can see the growth and that I really locked in and worked hard on this one.
TRHH: Your lyrics seem a little darker this time around. I detect a little bit of pisstivity [laughs]. Are you pissed off a little bit? Is that accurate?
Rapsody: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s accurate to say the least. I got a lot of things out on this one frustration wise. Throughout this year there were small periods of me getting frustrated with the business. Besides everything good that happens there are still things that you get frustrated about. There are things that I go through being an artist that’s a female that make it a little harder for me than other artists. I think a lot of that is the frustration of that coming through. That’s why it starts out the way it does. It’s a story of me in my room and I’m depressed. There were days when I would get depressed about the business. It would frustrate me so bad but at the end of the day you gotta get up and keep going. If you don’t keep going you’ll never make it. You keep going and see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s definitely like an “F.U.” moment ongoing for me [laughs]. I got a lot off my chest, even with the whole boxing me in as a female emcee like, “She’s dope for a female.” You’re pushed aside from everyone else that’s an artist and you’re in a special category. A lot of that came through in the project like, “Nah, I’m an emcee before I’m a female and I know I can rap with some of the best guys that are doing it now.” It was really getting everything out and not caring about anything and just doing me.
TRHH: Is that the most frustrating part of the business for you?
Rapsody: Yeah, that’s definitely been the most trying thing for me. People don’t even give you a chance. They already look at you and have these ideas of what it’s gonna be like. The bar is so low for you. It’s lower than other artists and they don’t expect you to perform at a certain level and they won’t invest in you for whatever reason. That’s definitely the most frustrating part for me. I don’t know if it’s how I grew up, I grew up around a lot of guys and it didn’t matter your gender if you were playing basketball or whatever. I always wanted to compete outside of my gender. I didn’t want it to be about gender. It’s definitely the most frustrating thing that I deal with.
TRHH: You mentioned the Raekwon song earlier and last year when we spoke you said you had about fifteen songs waiting to be released. How many of the songs that didn’t make the Idea of Beautiful are on She Got Game?
Rapsody: Only one and that was the Raekwon joint. I don’t think they’ll ever be released. For this project, outside of the stash that we have from Idea of Beautiful I probably recorded forty songs. We kept fifteen and the one from the Idea of Beautiful stash which was ‘Coconut Oil’. I have around twenty-five songs that I recorded that didn’t make the cut. We’re doing a deluxe version that’ll be out on iTunes. We’re going to add some of those songs that didn’t make it. I have a record with Blu that didn’t make it, a record with Styles P that didn’t make it, and a number of solo joints that I liked that didn’t make the DJ Drama version.
TRHH: Why’d you title the mixtape She Got Game?
Rapsody: Actually 9th came up with that title. Idea of Beautiful came out August 28 so I want to say this was around October or November and we were in the studio and he was like, “Yo, let’s do a mixtape called ‘She Got Game’. Nobody has ever played off that from a female perspective.” I was like, “I like it, let’s do it.” That was basically it. The concept of it is I can run with the guys. She has skills and she can play with the guys. It wasn’t too much thought into it. It was just an idea that popped into 9th’s head really quickly [laughs].
TRHH: DJ Premier kind of gave you something different from the usual Premier sound. Was that done on purpose?
Rapsody: No, not at all. It wasn’t planned. He didn’t even make it for me. What happened was that was the last record I recorded and that was two weeks before the project was supposed to come out. I was in New York and I had an interview with Sway in the Morning. The first night we got up there we didn’t have anything planned and 9th was like, “What you wanna do?” I said, “Let’s see if DJ Premier is in town.” We usually go and talk to him and listen to beats and stories about Gang Starr—we just kick it and laugh.
We go to see him and when we walked in the studio the beat was running and he was listening to it. 9th was like, “What is that?” and he said, “This is something that I made for Ludacris that he never used.” He asked me what I was doing up there and I told him I had an interview. He said, “You got another project coming out?” I said, “Yeah, in two weeks,” and he was like, “This is like three or four projects you’ve done that I’m not on!” I was like, “Well it’s whatever you wanna do DJ Premier!” I’ve been waiting forever to work with him and I never imagined it would play out like that. 9th was like, “We can take this one,” and Premier said, “Are you sure? It don’t really sound like me. It’s different.” That was it. We didn’t listen to anything else. We took that one.
TRHH: The mixtape is not really a mixtape, it has the quality of an album. Why not just release it as your follow-up LP?
Rapsody: That’s a good question. There was no concept behind it. It was just me in the studio mashing out songs and this is what it turned into. I didn’t want to sell it with all the features that I had. I just wanted to go in there and do something and not think about it and give it to the new fans. Originally the idea for She Got Game was because The Idea of Beautiful did well and I gained new fans I wanted to introduce them to some older things and sprinkle some new songs in it. It was supposed to be in the vein of Separate but Equal, the Gangsta Grillz that Little Brother had done. We already asked DJ Drama to do it for us and host it. I started recording these songs and the idea just got thrown away. We already locked in on the Gangsta Grillz idea so we wanted to stick with that because he has a different audience that wouldn’t necessarily touch with my music. So we just kept it like that and put it out. He’s always supported.
TRHH: What does it mean to you to be performing at Rock the Bells this year?
Rapsody: Ah man, that is nuts. That’s probably one of the most exciting things that’s happening this year. I did Paid Dues in 2012 before the album came out and that was crazy but to do Rock the Bells is a great thing to put on your resume. It’s a big festival with a lot of big artists and I’m excited about that.
TRHH: What’s next up for Rapsody?
Rapsody: Getting a tour together is in the works. Doing videos and doing everything we can to push this project. As far as releases go I’m in a group with Kooley High and we’re working on our next album. That’ll be out in the spring so the work doesn’t stop. I’m still in the booth recording right now for that. The majority of it is done. When I was working on the mixtape the guys got a head start and we’ve narrowed it down to a good twenty songs. It’s just me filling in the blanks for now. After that project is done I’m starting on my sophomore album, the follow-up to Idea of Beautiful.
Download: Rapsody – She Got Game