Billy Danze: 6 O’clock Briefing

Share Button
Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR
Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR

Nearly 25 years after entering the rap world one half of M.O.P. is going for dolo. Billy Danze is preparing for the release of his first solo album, which will be a little different from his Mash Out Posse work. An older, wiser Danze has taken on the role of CEO of the We Build Hits imprint and aims to not only release his own music, but the work of young up and coming artists.

The Brownsville, New York native released the singles “Barclays Music” and “We Out Here,” which prominently feature some of the artists signed to his label. His second single, 6 O’clock Briefing, shows us a different Billy Danze altogether. On the song Danze has a sit down with President Barack Obama and breaks down the problems addressing the United States of America – a far cry from classic M.O.P. material like “Ante Up” or “How About Some Hardcore.”

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Billy Danze about hot button political topics, his We Build Hits imprint, upcoming solo album, and the future of M.O.P.

TRHH: What inspired the song 6 O’clock Briefing?

Billy Danze: You know what, bro, me and you can get together and talk about all this stuff that’s going on in the country with the police shootings and all of that, but that’s something that we can just talk about. I knew people were going to be doing records about these shootings, I’ve heard records about ‘em, but I didn’t wanna do that. I wanted to say something directly to Mr. President. I wanted to say exactly how I felt. It’s not a political piece. It’s not even a record in my eyes, it’s just me having a conversation with him and saying what I wanted to say. I made sure that the beat was the way it is ‘cause we didn’t want no dancing, we didn’t want no head bobbing, and we definitely didn’t want no clubbing going on with this. I just wanted to say what I wanted to say to the President. People are receiving it like I expected, so I’m really appreciative for the response I’m getting on it, you know?

TRHH: Would you say that you’re disappointed in Obama’s tenure in office?

Billy Danze: No. I’m not disappointed in him at all. The thing about the song is as a black man, well, as a man period, do you not see what’s happening? If we check the facts Obama did great. A shit load of jobs done popped out of the blue since he’s been in office, the economy is much better, fuckin’ gas prices went down, living situations for a lot of people have gotten better, too. So he’s done a great job. You and I both know he’s the President, which means he’s just the face. This is America – America is never going to be ran by just one person. He’s just the President and everybody else makes decisions. He has the right to object to those decisions and try to fight and push bills, but he doesn’t make all the decisions. Even in the record I said that, “We know you did what you had to do,” he did the best that he could. I’m very proud of our President of the last eight years because he turned the country around and did a lot better than the last President who left us in a really bad spot.

TRHH: What would you have done differently if you were him?

Billy Danze: I don’t know. I don’t know if there was anything that he could have done differently. The only thing that I may think about when it comes to that is maybe the points that I made in the record that, “I need you to see what’s going on out here with our people.” Business is business and I understand as the President running the country, it’s only business. But as a human being are you telling me that you don’t see what’s going on here? I think I would be addressing a little more of the incidents that’s going on because that’s very important. It’s almost like we’re going back into fuckin’ time where white officers are allowed to kill black men and women, Spanish men and women, even their own race.

They should not be allowed to shoot people, especially in the damn back, especially unarmed, without any kind of consequences. Even now if someone walks in my home and is trying to hurt me and my family and I shoot ‘em in the back I’m going to jail for murder and they came in here to kill me. So how is it cool for a police officer to shoot an unarmed man in the back and he don’t go to jail at all? At the very most they send him on leave or suspend him with pay. That’s fuckin’ ridiculous to me. I would address that a little more – senseless killings – especially police against citizens.

TRHH: You mentioned the issues going on in Chicago in the song. I’m from Chicago, how do you think the gun violence problem can be fixed?

Billy Danze: You’re from Chicago I’m from Brownsville; we basically live in the same place but in two different spots. It’s the same thing. Gun violence has been going on for years. Even now they want more gun control. What they’re trying to say is they want to take the guns from model citizens to protect themselves. They’re all gonna be disarmed but the guys on the block aren’t. I don’t know how that’s gonna help gun violence. I really don’t have an answer for that because how are we gonna move the guns? We can’t get the guns from them now! The police can’t take the guns from dudes now, so how is that possible? In the state that I’m in now there’s a lot of gun shops. Some of them were empty because they thought Hillary Clinton would get in the chair and take all the guns back from the citizens.

Some of the gun manufacturers stopped producing guns, but they’re still millions of ‘em out there. They would have been able to take them back from people who have legitimate licenses, but the criminals are still gonna have them. I don’t really know what to do about that. I don’t see that there’s much that can be done. They’re not gonna be able to get all the guns off the street unless they do some martial law shit – head door-to-door, start possibly killing people, that’s the only way it’s gonna happen. People just gotta wake up and understand you’re shooting people in your own community, you’re bringing your own property value down, you’re hurting the person that’s next to you that can possible help you. I don’t think it’s anything that can happen with the law that can stop the gun violence. I think people are just going to have to come to their senses and realize what they’re doing.

TRHH: I want to correct you on what you said about politicians wanting to take the guns away. That’s not true. I think what Hillary Clinton and other Democrats wanted to do was to make the people buying guns go through a little bit more of a background check…

Billy Danze: But there’s already a federal background check. How much more can we go through?

TRHH: I don’t know. But I do know that people with mental illness like the kid who shot those black people in the church in South Carolina, or racist people, probably shouldn’t have access to guns.

Billy Danze: Definitely not, but on the actual application they ask you all of this. You can’t be dishonorably discharged from the military, you can’t have domestic violence charges, you can’t have any kind of felonies, and you can’t have a history of mental issues, that’s basically it. They put it through this whole federal thing where they check all across the country to see if you’ve ever been involved in anything that would prevent you from getting this firearm. The only thing that possibly can happen is you actually have to go to see someone and they evaluate you and stuff like that. The kid that walked in the church and shot those people, if he had any kind of mental issues they wouldn’t have gave him a firearm. It’s probably not even his firearm. It probably was his father’s, his mother’s or somebody else. I get what you’re saying, they want to do a different kind of a background check, but everything that’s on the application is everything that can be done, unless they make you walk in a room and get some type of screening, which that would be cool, too. I mean we’re talking about firearms. Pulling the trigger to actually harm someone is not easy. It’s not easy to do. Once a person does something like that, I don’t care how sharp you’ve been your whole life, but something goes through your head and you’re a changed person after that. It’s not easy.

I just hope for the best, bro. I hope that we figure out a way to stop the violence. Maybe the people that are in Chicago and Brooklyn that are not in gangs and are just taking their kids to school or coming from work, they need to be able to protect themselves. If nobody had guns and I’m coming from school or work and I can protect myself, if you’re fighting, I’m fighting. But you’re pulling out a fuckin’ gun, how am I going to protect myself? You gotta allow me to protect myself. This is something that the government should think about too because they allowed people to get the guns in the first place. You know what it is, man. This government is all fucked up [laughs]. Let’s call a spade a spade. I’m trying to sugar coat the shit because I don’t want nobody to be mad and shit, but let’s call a spade a spade. The government is fucked up. I watched a video of an OG from Chicago who had changed his life and said his man came and woke him up one day and was like, “Yo, it’s a crate of guns in the alley!” What you mean it’s a crate of guns in the alley? It was on Worldstar or something. First of all you know ain’t nobody in the hood sitting no crate of guns in the alley [laughs]. We ain’t doing that! Who actually did that? It doesn’t make sense, bro. They want us to off ourselves so they don’t have to do it. Because we haven’t been doing it fast enough now they’re doing it. I didn’t want to get political, man.

TRHH: One last political question, what are your thoughts on Donald Trump?

Billy Danze: Trump’s an asshole. That’s my personal thought. He’s just as bad as a motherfucker in Chicago or a motherfucker in Brooklyn. He’ll fly off the handle one day. He’s used to flying off the handle and having lawyers sit around and fuckin’ tax people – that’s his kinda beef. But in this shit, you can’t be mad at fuckin’ Melania one day ‘cause she didn’t cook the right shit or she did something out of pocket and then you’re pissed off when Putin call and you talk to him like he ain’t nobody. You talk to Putin like he ain’t nobody and we all gon’ be fuckin’ fried. He’s not the dude for the job. I wish Bernie Sanders had made it this far because he was the right guy here.

TRHH: Why did you decide to do a solo project after all these years?

Billy Danze: People asked for it from time to time. It was something I was never comfortable with, even though around 2006-2007 I started doing solo records that I was leaking. They were good, people enjoyed them, and I enjoyed making them. It was a weird process for me because I’m used to sharing the mic, the song, and the spotlight with Fame. It was a little strange to me. I had to actually come up with the whole song, the concept, and everything myself. Now I just brought it back up and decided to go ahead and do it. People are really appreciating the way I’m doing it. It’s nothing different from M.O.P., because I’m always going to be myself, but it’s much different from M.O.P. because it’s a different sound, a different angle, and I get to showcase myself as an individual as opposed to doing it as M.O.P. the group. Fame is also doing a solo album, too. We’re both doing them at the same time. Right now we’re working on our solo projects, an M.O.P. project, and an M.O.P. & Premier project. We got our work cut out for us.

TRHH: Oh my God. I’ve been hearing about the M.O.P./Premier album for a couple of years now. How deep are you into that?

Billy Danze: We’re a little over halfway through. We’re working artists. We’re touring all the time, Premier is touring all the time, and that’s been the hold up. We’re really not in a rush because it’s a classic album that has to be almost perfect when we release it to the public. We don’t mind taking our time. If we weren’t touring and Premier wasn’t touring I’m sure we would have banged it out within a month or so. With the touring and doing the other projects – Fame heavily on production for other artists, myself, I’m running the whole We Build Hits Company with my own artists – we’re just kind of taking our time with everything and making sure we do everything right.

TRHH: What’s the goal for the We Build Hits company?

Billy Danze: Thank you, brother for asking that. What we’re doing with We Build Hits is putting out artists that we feel deserve to be put out. We have an artist from Atlanta, Florida, Toronto, Philadelphia, North Carolina, from different places. I didn’t want to do a record label. In my eyes a record label is labeled for a sound. No disrespect to all these guys because they’re all friends of mine, but you have G-Unit, which has that sound, you had Death Row, which had that sound, Roc-A-Fella, which had that sound. In my opinion when you have one sound on a label once that sound fizzles out then the whole label fizzles out. We’ve seen it with Death Row, Roc-A-Fella, and G-Unit. What we wanted to do was build a company, which had different sounds, so if one sound fizzles out the other can keep going so the company never dies. Sort of like a Sony or Interscope.

We wanted to do it like that because I really don’t need people around me that sound like me. I already got that covered. We can cover anything from traditional Hip-Hop, to trap, to pop music at We Build Hits. We have artists that do all of that. I wanted to make sure that people get an understanding about myself because even though I made music the way M.O.P. made music for years, I’m talented enough to do other things. That’s why you get 6 O’clock Briefing and some of the other records that you get on the solo joint. People have been responding well to all the artists that we’ve put out – my boy Ronve, D-Dub, Lucci Loner, Eyeznpowa, and my boy Tona out in Toronto. We’re just gonna keep moving and keep pushing and hopefully we get over that hump where we need to be and we can start making it a little bigger.

TRHH: What can we expect to hear on the Billy Danze solo album?

Billy Danze: All kind of things, man. I don’t know if you heard the first single, Barclays Music. It was more traditional Hip-Hop but had a really big sound to it. We just released the next record, We Out Here. I’m going after those features that I’m supposed to get and I deserve from artists that wanna rock with me like The Lox, Jada, Sheek, and all of those cats, Rakim, my crew from We Build Hits, and a few other dudes. It should be a good album. I’m working really hard at it and it’s coming out really good.

Purchase: Billy Danze – 6 O’clock Briefing

Devine Carama: Kingtucky

Share Button
Photo courtesy of Devine Carama
Photo courtesy of Devine Carama

Devine Carama has had a busy 2016. The Lexington, Kentucky emcee kicked off the year with a free mixtape titled The Jewelztape II: 500 Bars to Glorious. He followed that up with summer release of The Glorious BIG EP. Carama has capped off 2016 with the release of a full-length album called, “Kingtucky.”

Kingtucky has over 20 tracks and features appearances from D’Lee, Allen Poe, Joey Traux, Sheisty Krist, Talor Hall, JK-47, Deven Roberts, River Greene, Vegas Posada, and EF Cuttin. EF Cuttin, Obvious, and Well Blended produced the album.

Devine Carama spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his reinvigorated rhymes, exactly who is trying to steal Hip-Hop, the Believing in Forever nonprofit organization, and his new album, Kingtucky.

TRHH: Kingtucky is one of the illest titles ever, how did you come up with that?

Devine Carama: The title Kingtucky is kind of double-faceted. Part of it is when it comes to Hip-Hop I feel like I’m one of the kings. I’m one of the guys that’s been doing it for a long time and kind of putting on for the state. I think the other part of it was just trying to inspire the other cats coming up to want to be kings and want to have a discography – some of the things that don’t really matter to this younger generation of emcees. It was kind of a push for them to care about complete bodies of work and just them being kings in their own right. I thought it was a good play on Kentucky – Kingtucky.

TRHH: You rhymed with a sense purpose on this project…

Devine Carama: Yeah. I kind of feel like I always put lyrics at the forefront when I’m making music, but on this particular project I definitely did that. A couple of my OG’s, Deacon the Villain from CunninLynguists and Sheisty Krist, and some other guys from my city were saying, “We miss that old DC.” Where my mission is bigger than music now music has become a tool to try to inspire young people in my city and be more socially conscious. I think I kind of got away from the boom bap and trying to out-rhyme everything. I got away from a lot of the elements that got me fans from the beginning. On this album I just wanted to really focus on the technical rhyming and flexing as an emcee.

TRHH: You released a mixtape and an EP earlier this year in addition to this album. Why did we hear more music from Devine Carama in 2016?

Devine Carama: I think that was from the 11 months to almost a year that I took off the year prior. I had dropped one project and I pretty much took 11 months off. I noticed that the game really changed a lot in that year. I put out a freestyle and a lot of the blogs and websites that were posting me early on were asking for money now when I’d send an email out. That was just one of the ways the game changed. It was more service based. It seemed like a lot more people were making music. Things changed. I really felt like I had to not only shake the rust off, but kind of get back in the fold. I felt like I had fell out of the fold a little bit. So I was just creating music at a high level just trying to get back in that rhythm and let people know that I’m back to making music regularly. It was more of a personal thing just trying to get back into it.

TRHH: What’s your take on the upcoming young artists whose music doesn’t put lyrics at the forefront and is more about a vibe?

Devine Carama: I think me and you might have talked about this before, I’m always going to appreciate a Hip-Hop artist that focuses on lyrics as one of the forefront elements, because that’s the essence in which the game was at its best. From a personal standpoint it’s kind of disheartening as a Hip-Hop fan when I turn on the radio and it’s 99% no lyricism. But I think that from a broader perspective I’m not really mad at those emcees, I’m just more frustrated with the lack of balance. I was talking to my daughter last night and I was like, “Yeah, we had Nas, Jay, and Big on the radio but we also had M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice.” The difference was we had balance and those guys weren’t on the cover of magazines and at the forefront of the culture. It’s just frustrating when it seems like lyricism is almost like a relic. I think Kendrick and J. Cole are dope lyricists but it’s almost like they’re heralded so much because it lacks so much in today’s generation.

I feel like if you threw J. Cole and Kendrick in the era that we came from in the mid-to-late 90s I’m not even sure they would be considered one of the top emcees – just being honest. It’s become so much of a relic that you’re almost looked at as an alien or it’s a big deal when Kendrick drops a Control verse. That just shows you how much lyricism is kind of dead to this new generation. It’s boring when you’re really rapping, that’s what a lot of the kids say that I work with. I think that part kind of hurts and it’s almost like part of the culture is dying. If it was more balanced maybe I wouldn’t feel that way. Lyricism is dying on a mainstream level, but also on an indie level as well. Social media allows indie artists and their fan base to be big, too. You got a lot of indie artists copycatting what’s popping. Back in the day the indie artists and the underground cats were the ones keeping the game true. I understand it. When I go out to the club I don’t wanna hear Canibus. I understand that, I just wish it was a little bit more balanced and focused.

TRHH: You have a song on the album that I love called “Devil Stole Hip Hop.” What inspired you to write that song?

Devine Carama: I’ll be honest with you and I’m sure you can catch it, it’s definitely some subliminal things there too but something I’d definitely love to share. I feel like Hip-Hop is beyond commercialized now. You got a lot of cats that have come into the culture that are not from the culture, don’t relate to black people, yet they’re coming in trying to capitalize on the culture. That’s one aspect that I’m speaking of in the first verse. I’m in Kentucky and it’s totally a different culture. You got cats in the country that don’t even know what Hip-Hop is built off of that have come in and because they outnumber us they’re trying to dictate the culture. I’m trying to constantly battle that. That’s one of the other reasons for Kingtucky because I feel like I successfully battled that wave of people outside of the culture trying to come in and dictate what it is. This isn’t blue grass, this isn’t country music. When we talk about things that affect the black community, this is what Hip-Hop was built off of.

Also I had the 9th Wonder clip – I really do feel like in the age when we have more freedom and technology privy to us the system uses Hip-Hop against our people. I really believe that. I think it started a while ago and it’s so embedded that it’s not something you could just turn off like a light switch. It’s so many things that have been embedded that these artists are doing when it comes to the music and what these radio stations are continually shoving down our throats – pause. I just feel like it’s a greater evil at work that might be beyond what some of these artists even realize. Some of them might be part of the problem and don’t even realize it. They’re the devil’s henchmen and they don’t even realize it. Again, that just goes back to the lack of balance. I turn on the radio, I turn on BET, and they threw Big K.RI.T. out there, that was cool, but all of these atrocities happen to the black community and I turn on the radio and I don’t hear nothing about it? Not even one? The industry at least used to be good at coining one or two quote unquote conscious rappers. We don’t even have that. I just kind of feel like the devil stole Hip-Hop or is in the process of stealing the culture away from us.

TRHH: Tell me about Believing in Forever.

Devine Carama: Believing in Forever is my non-profit that I started in 2014. A middle school teacher said a lot of kids in her class were fans of the music and asked would I come in and talk to them. Prior to that I never really did a lot of community work. I was just focused on my kids, music, and playing ball. I started going to schools regularly. I got a chance to go to Chicago in 2015 and went to Simeon Academy, some Boys & Girls clubs and spoke. I got a chance to go around the country doing that and when I saw that impact that’s what motivated me to get real involved in the community. We do a lot through the non-profit. We do weekly tutoring sessions, we did the Fresh Water for Flint water drive, we do a youth coat drive, and we do youth open mics. I’m in the schools every other day. That was the bigger mission that I was telling you about earlier. I feel like God has kind of took my life toward that. That’s my passion right now. I still makes music ‘cause I love it, and just to keep my profile up so I can continue to do things in the community. Believing in Forever is definitely where my heart is at right now.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Kingtucky?

Devine Carama: Obviously at my age, 36, there is no delusions of grandeur. I’m not really trying to get big time, famous or popping. For me it’s inspiring these younger emcees. That’s my main goal. Somehow being an old head I’ve still been able to maintain my status in Kentucky as an emcee in a game where they turn these OG’s over quick and it’s on to the next. Somehow I’ve been able to maintain my position so I wanna use my position to shine a light on what real emceeing is. A lot of these kids 18-19 might not even know. They might have came up in the game on this mumble rap or whatever you wanna call it. I feel like it’s a privilege but it’s important for me to remind them that it is an art form, it’s a craft, it’s something you’re gifted with or something you work real, real hard to achieve, and something you gotta pay your dues in. An artist I always loved was T.I. He wasn’t going to blow you away with your lyrical techniques and all of that, but he was a dope emcee that made club music or anthem music. At least I wanna push these artists and let them know that you can be you.

If you wanna make vibe music or club music you can do that, but there is also a way that you can respect the craft and the art form of Hip-Hop and still do that. So just continue to push these younger emcees to be better and learn more about the history of the game so they can be better and find a way to use that history and take it to the next level for the future. I don’t wanna see this culture as an art form die away. I wanna see it still thriving in the younger generation. That’s my goal with the album so when these young cats come up like, “This Devine Carama, why is he getting posted on these websites? Why is everybody talking about him in Kentucky? Let me go see what he’s talking about.” I want them to know that they can still be an emcee who doesn’t necessarily sell out, maintains lyricism and subject matter in his music, and still maintain his position. I think that’s real important. That position is all a lot of these kids see. So if I can use that position to say, “Hey, this is where I’m at but I did it by staying true to myself and staying true to the culture,” that’s my biggest objective with the album.

Purchase: Devine Carama – Kingtucky

Tone Chop & Frost Gamble: Veteran

Share Button
Photo courtesy of UrbanElite Promotions
Photo courtesy of UrbanElite Promotions

Tone Chop and Frost Gamble are veterans in Hip-Hop. The Binghamton, New York natives have worked together over the last two decades on each other’s projects, but never as a group. With Frost moving north of the border and Chop holding it down in their hometown it would seem that an official project would never materialize – but it has.

The producer and emcee finally brought things full circle with their first official release as a duo — an EP that stakes a claim to their time in the game called “Veteran.” Veteran is a 7-track EP that is produced entirely by Frost Gamble. The EP features appearances by Awful P, Nobi, DJ Waxamillion, S.One, and Ruste Juxx.

Tone Chop and Frost Gamble chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about their history in Hip-Hop, growing up in the golden era of rap, and their new EP, Veteran.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new EP, “Veteran.”

Frost Gamble: It’s about a couple of things. It’s about our history in the game, the length of time we’ve been doing it — we’re not kids, obviously. We’re grown men and we’ve been through every era. We’ve seen the changes in Hip-Hop, both good and bad. We really just wanted to make our statement which is true to the way we were raised and the principles of Hip-Hop that we care about, but still contribute and not just regurgitate and copy what’s been done before. Create in that tradition, but also make our mark and show that that time was well spent and not a waste.

TRHH: How did you guys link up to decide to do this project?

Tone Chop: We’ve been doing music for years together. We just never put together a whole project. I’ve been doing mixtapes a long time. I’d always have 2-3 beats by him on there every single time. We just never linked up to do a whole project. We were supposed to a couple times, it just never panned out all the way. I made sure this time.

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

Tone Chop: He would just send me the beats, I’d knock the track out and send him the vocals and he would mix ‘em and all that. I would just send him a rough mix and he would master and everything for me. He’s been doing that for a while. The last mixtape I did he did every single mix on there, too. I got a bunch of mixtapes out even though they’re not gonna matter too much right now. I put a lot of work in. I’ve been rapping since about 1989. I grew up with all the good stuff. I was one of the fortunate ones. I used to do graffiti, break dance, and all that, too. I grew up around all the good stuff about Hip-Hop. It’s a lot of changes now.

TRHH: What’s your take on the negative connotation that the boom bap sound has on younger people in Hip-Hop?

Tone Chop: I feel it’s disrespectful if you ask me because it’s a lot of rappers from the golden age that are still relevant now and are still great at what they do. Look at Kool G Rap for instance, he’s still relevant. There are a lot of rappers from back then that are still relevant. They may not get as much attention as some of these younger guys, but they still deserve it. It don’t mean that they don’t deserve it. I like some of the newer rappers, but not a lot of ‘em. I think Dave East is pretty good, Fred the Godson, I like a few of ‘em. Not no Fetty Wap or nothing like that. I’m not into none of that.

TRHH: There is this wave of drug rappers and to me it’s wack, but the young kids love it.

Frost Gamble: The thing that’s changed is the way that people earn their stripes anymore. Hip-Hop has always been about the younger talents pushing back on the veterans. It’s always been that way from KRS-One going at Melle Mel. It’s always been the case with the young cats trying to claim their spot. The difference was they did it with bars. They claimed their respect with bars. When you were undeniably nice on the mic that’s when you got your stripes. Nowadays kids literally don’t rap. No sideways talk, they don’t rap. They warble on a microphone and run it through AutoTune and focus on melodies and other things. That’s cool, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I can respect it as art and their creative output. But, if we’re talking about emceeing you can’t come in the discussion. If you can’t get on the mic and spit some fire you can’t come in the discussion. Your opinion isn’t credible, even though I may still give you respect for the music you created.

TRHH: On a different note, what do you think about the emcees who use writers? I think there is a place for Diddy, Kanye, and Drake, but they shouldn’t be mentioned as the greatest. They make good music and they make hits, but they shouldn’t be mentioned with Jay-Z and Biggie, ever. What’s your opinion on the artists who use writers?

Tone Chop: Absolutely not. They shouldn’t have ‘em. When it all started if you didn’t write your own stuff you was terrible. You wasn’t an emcee and you wasn’t genuine. I used to like some Drake stuff here and there because I thought Drake could rap, but when I found out he had somebody writing for him I can’t respect it no more. I can’t even listen to him no more – that’s just me. Now they’re saying even other guys are not writing their own stuff either. I don’t even listen to Fat Joe no more. I used to be a big fan but then I heard Remy Ma was writing all his stuff, too. I don’t know how true that is, but that’s what they say. I don’t respect it. I couldn’t let nobody write nothing for me.

TRHH: What about guys like Biz Markie? Big Daddy Kane wrote all his stuff, but he’s still Biz Markie!

Tone Chop: Big Daddy Kane is one of my favorite rappers. He still is. He might not be in a lot of people’s top 10 but he’s in my top 10.

TRHH: He’s in my top 3.

Tone Chop: I don’t know. I like some other people but he’s definitely in my top 10. I got every single Big Daddy Kane album. I collect ‘em, I know. Lord Finesse is actually one of my favorite rappers of all-time.

TRHH: Yeah, I think he heavily influenced Nas and he’s not ever mentioned…

Frost Gamble: Yeah man, or Big L. Everybody talks about Big L, but nobody gives Finesse the credit.

Tone Chop: When I first started using the punchlines that’s who I listened to. Lord Finesse is the one got me addressing punchlines. I like rapping with metaphors and punchlines and all that. Lord Finesse is one of my favorites with Big Daddy Kane, and Kool G Rap.

TRHH: Everybody’s top 10 list is gonna be different…

Tone Chop: Yeah, of course. I think it depends on which stuff you grew up on. A lot of these younger guys ain’t grow up around Big Daddy Kane. A lot of them don’t even know who they are. I got two boys and I teach my boys about the older stuff. They like newer stuff and I tell them that stuff from back in the 80s and 90s is better – it’s more to it.

TRHH: Like we talked about a minute ago, there is a divide and somewhere the history got broken. I interviewed this kid Ric Wilson recently who’s 21 and he said Drake inspired him to rap. He doesn’t sound like Drake, his music is different. He said his cousin is J. Wells and he told him to learn about Rakim, Chuck D, and all these other people and that’s how he got his style. I think it’s important that somebody take these young kids and says, “Hey, you should know who this is.”

Frost Gamble: Let’s talk about that for a minute. You mentioned Chuck D, Chop and I come from that era. I believe there was an effort by record labels to remove knowledge from music releases. I grew up listening to Boogie Down Productions, Poor Righteous Teachers, X Clan, and Public Enemy. This exposed me to all kinds of thinking I never would have been exposed to. I never would have become conscious about the things that people have to go through in the world if it wasn’t for that. But people today don’t get that. They don’t get that education, the jewels, and the wisdom. The 5% influence is gone. They don’t get the same opportunity to learn if every song is about strippers and molly what opportunity do they fuckin’ have? There’s inputs to that.

TRHH: I think that’s why some of us hold on to Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole so much. Those dudes aren’t like KRS but they’re saying something more than the rest of these cats are saying.

Frost Gamble: They’re saying something.

Tone Chop: I like J. Cole. I’m a J. Cole fan.

TRHH: Yeah, he’s dope.

Tone Chop: I don’t know, Kendrick don’t really do it for me, though for some reason. He is nice and everything but I think maybe it’s the beats. Some of his old stuff when he was doing mixtapes, I like all that. But the last albums he did I really wasn’t big on it.

TRHH: Really?

Tone Chop: A lot of people like him. I don’t hate him, I’d just rather listen to J. Cole over him by far.

Frost Gamble: I like how J. Cole produces for himself, too.

Tone Chop: J. Cole is saying something, too. He’s not just rapping. I think that’s another problem, too. Nowadays, dudes ain’t rapping no more. The rap part is not important to them no more. They just feel like they want to sell a record. Who doesn’t? But at the end of the day why sell yourself short and not give something to the people? The most terrible thing to me about rap is all these guys got children and they all make negative songs. I got two boys and I got song about the older one teaching the younger one. All these dudes got children and you never hear them do a positive song, ever. It’s terrible. We know you’re turning it up and all this other stuff but what about being a father and the stuff that matters? I don’t get it.

TRHH: I think we lost the personal touch in Hip-Hop a long time ago. It still exists, you just gotta dig for it.

Tone Chop: You gotta dig for it. I listen to a lot of music, but it’s not the stuff that’s playing on the radio. I like underground rappers. If it’s any old school it’s gotta be somebody like Vinnie Paz or somebody like that. Vinnie Paz is a real good artist, too, all the way around. I don’t know if he’s in my top 10 or nothing but I listen to him and he has a message, too. It’s the message that’s gone.

TRHH: I think there needs to be a balance. Everybody can’t have a message. I remember when Ice-T dissed LL and was like, “He ain’t talking about nothing,” but let him do his thing with the girls, you know? It’s okay.

Tone Chop: I’m an LL fan still. I like all the stuff he does. I think he does both good. He does commercial records well and hard rap well, too.

TRHH: I think he’s one of the most underrated rappers of all-time. People just focus on the love songs.

Tone Chop: If he comes out with something I won’t skip over it. I’ll check it out.

Frost Gamble: I think L is super dope, but he wins his battles even when he loses battles. Moe Dee got him as far as I’m concerned, but he won that battle somehow. Canibus definitely killed him, but he won that battle, too because Canibus is working in a Starbucks somewhere and L is still L.

Tone Chop: He’s got records with some of the young dudes, too. I heard a couple records. He got one with Raekwon, Murda Mook, the battle rapper dudes, and whatever else. I watch a lot of battle rap, too. I ain’t gonna lie. It’s still a lot of lyrics in that – punchlines and all of that. You can get a lot of that from battle rap these days. I don’t know. That’s why me and Frost got a formula. We trying to stick to the formula. I been rapping for so long. I was gonna give it up not too long ago and Frost was like, “Nah man, nah. Just keep going at it.” I been going at it for so long. I been king around here where I live at. This town is just a lot of trouble and it’s going down fast. You got a bunch of young dudes around who think they got something but they really don’t.

I been around here for a long time and I always wanted to get recognized worldwide for what I do and that’s what we’re hoping to do this time around. Me and him been making music for over 20 years together. The title is about how long we been doing it and how long we been putting in work together as a team. We could have did an album a couple times but I was just on my mixtape game for a long time. I was at a point where I was doing a mixtape every other month and putting it out myself. I used to record and do everything all by myself. if you don’t got somebody backing you to promote it and get it in the right spots it’s not gonna get the attention anyway, no matter how good it is.

TRHH: How’d the song “Leave it Alone” come together?

Frost Gamble: The meaning of it is complex to me. I made that beat a year or two ago. When I made that beat Sean Price was still alive. I played it for him and he thought it was dope. We set it off to the side. As a side story, Sean Price is just an emcees emcee and I very badly wanted to work with him. You couldn’t approach him on social media. You weren’t going to have a pleasant conversation that way so I knew that wasn’t the correct approach. I figured one day with one of my friends I’d go to Brooklyn, get to meet him, and make it happen organically. A couple years go by and it never happens. He passes away on my birthday. On the day I turned 43 he passed away and he was 43 years old. It really affected me. It made me think, “I’m never hesitating again. If there is a move to be made, I’m making it.”

That had a bit to do with us doing this album. Because I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice I reached out to Ruste Juxx and I was doing a different song for another project I was working on. When we realized we wanted to use Leave it Alone for Veteran and kind of use it as quazi-Sean Price tribute it made sense to have Ruste jump on it. I asked Ruste, “You gotta say it’s cool if you don’t feel it’s official for us to use his voice, let me know and I’ll kill it.” He was like, “Nah, man. This is crazy and I’m gonna smash it!” He jumped right on it and did his thing. Nobi is Chop’s boy and had done a track with Sean Price before. He’s from Queens and he brought the whole New York connect together. That track is really special to me for that reason.

Frost Gamble: Nobi’s dope, too. He has music out there and he’s official all the way around. He’s a good dude. You meet dudes and you get a relationship with ‘em and it’s fake and not real. He always tells me, “Whenever you need me, I’m here.” ‘Cause I make beats, too and he used to rhyme over my beats or whatever. If I need a drop or anything like that he was always there for that. He always respected what I did so I told him when I need him I’m gonna make sure it counts. When I hit him up I knew this record was good because he had a record with him. I’m a big fan of Sean Price, too, so it just all came about. I told him I had an EP coming out and it could be exposure for the both of us. He hopped on the joint fast, too, no problem. He got a nice little website and whenever I came out with a mixtape or anything he always put it up on his website to try to get me a little extra exposure. He’s a good dude, man.

TRHH: On the song Dedication you shout out a lot of veterans in the game in your verses. What was the inspiration for that one?

Tone Chop: Just all the rappers I grew up listening to. Everybody I mentioned on there is everybody I listened to growing up from Boogie Down Productions, to MC Shan, to Three Times Dope. That’s the era I grew up on. I listen to old school rap all the time. I just had to make that record. I did a beat for it and I did it to that originally. I told Frost it would be perfect for the EP. I sent him the vocals and he did the breaks and stuff behind it. I did it originally to a Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes sample that I spit it to. He put all the break beats behind it and it came out much better the way he did it. The rhyme just came from not only influences, but all the people that I grew up listening to. I’m still missing a few names in there, but I tried to cover as many as I could.

When I listen to it now I hear a couple other names that I could put in there still. I covered a nice amount of it so people could understand where I’m coming from. It’s just paying homage and respect to the rappers that I grew up listening to. A lot of people nowadays don’t even know as many rappers as I do. They can’t name an album, a song, or nothing. I think that’s terrible. To do anything you have to know some type of history. These young cats nowadays don’t know history or nothing. They’re just rapping to get a check. It was never about that for me. The fame wasn’t about that for me either, but I know it comes with the territory. It’s just all the rappers I listened to growing up and they influenced me in one shape, form, or another.

TRHH: Frost, you use the MPC right?

Frost Gamble: Yes.

TRHH: Which MPC?

Frost Gamble: I’m currently on the Renaissance. It’s one of the more modern machines, and I love it. I’m an old school guy but I’m not opposed to technology at all. On the other hand I still have an Akai S900 in my studio which was built in the mid-80s and I still use that as well. I’m an MPC guy because I like the physical aspect of it. Software is cool but I gotta have the pads. I gotta play the instrument, I just can’t program the song. I use the Renaissance, the S900, and samples.

TRHH: What do you guys hope to achieve with Veteran?

Tone Chop: Exposure definitely. The main thing is exposure so the world can hear what I got, not just where I’m from and some areas not too far from here. I’m pretty known in Upstate New York. I got a nice little reputation ‘cause I used to battle. I crushed a lot of mics in my day. Worldwide exposure definitely and the more exposure the better. That’s the main thing for me. I’m sure for him, too. We’ve been wanting this type of exposure for a long, long time and feel like we deserve it. Hopefully it takes us to another level so me and him can follow up and kill this project, too. I know we’re gonna follow up with something way crazier.

Frost Gamble: I would agree. I don’t care about money, I don’t care about fame, I care about the respect of people who I give respect to. That’s the Hip-Hop we were raised in. It was always about mutual respect among those who had a shared understanding, belief system, and appreciation for the culture and the art. That’s what we’re going for. Definitely I’m hoping we build a platform where we do have an opportunity to do releases again like Chop talked about. Maybe even have the opportunity to help out other people that are important to us. The biggest thing is engagement, reach, and having people hear, enjoy the project, and hopefully respect the passion and commitment that went into it.

Purchase: Tone Chop & Frost Gamble – Veteran

Archie Green: The Black Pharaoh

Share Button
Photo courtesy of Archie L. Green, II
Photo courtesy of Archie L. Green, II

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” — 1 Corinthians 16: 13-14

That Bible verse could be the mission statement for the next chapter in Cleveland emcee Archie Green’s career.

In the midst of a tumultuous time in our country, Green has decided to tackle the tough topics facing Black America on his new project, The Black Pharaoh. The Black Pharaoh is a 7-track EP produced by Archie Green himself with additional production and mixing handled by Perry Wolfman.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Archie Green about the decision to bare more of his soul on wax, the current racial climate in the United States, and his new EP, The Black Pharaoh.

TRHH: I sense some anger in your voice on this project. Would you say that’s an accurate assessment?

Archie Green: Very accurate, very accurate [laughs].

TRHH: Expound.

Archie Green: What Black Pharaoh is in terms of the subject matter, it was my perspective but also what I deem to be the perspective of a 21st Century African-American male living in America. With everything that’s’ been going on in terms of police brutality, the unjust killings of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and countless others I finally felt like I needed to speak on it. Up to this point, as far as my music is concerned, I’m always focused on myself. I’ve been talking about my dreams and the naysayers of my dreams, but now I’m kind of past that point and I felt like I needed to do something bigger than myself.

I have to admit it was definitely stepping out of my comfort zone talking about what I talked about. I titled the first song Blacks Only because I feel like the only people that would understand that are people of color in terms of the police brutality, but also me making a remark of where are the new Belafonte’s, where are the new James Baldwin’s, where are the new Nina Simone’s? The higher ups that are in positions of influence and power were not speaking up at the time I wrote it. Now we’re seeing more of it. To sum it up I’m just an angry black man [laughs]. I’m an angry, prideful, but also depressed black man. That’s what you hear in my voice.

TRHH: What do you say to those who say, “What are you angry about? This is the best situation that black people have been in since they came to this country,” or “Those people who were killed by police, 95% of them were doing criminal acts,” how do you respond that segment of people?

Archie Green: 95% of the people who would say that are not the color of people who would understand. I think the main thing is, as hard as it is for me to even expound on it, it’s really hard for me to express a way for them to understand. Let’s say 95% of those people weren’t innocent, there is still 5% that were innocent. And of the 95% that weren’t innocent, did they not deserve a fair day in court like anybody else? There is countless other video representation to the point that every time I’m on Facebook or whatever and you see another case of an African-American, Latino, or whatever that’s being beaten by the police unjustly, sometimes without any kind of reason. Someone might have jaywalked or looked at someone the wrong way. We’re talking about 2016, not the Emmett Till days. So have we come a long way? Yes we have, but at the same time we still have a long ways to go. I don’t know if we’ll ever reach that destination of true equality, not just in a legal sense, but a moral sense.

TRHH: I don’t think we will either. What you just said reminds me of the KRS-One lyric where he says, “There can never really be justice on stolen land.” The beginning of America is rooted in death. We love to say, “We’re the greatest country in the world,” and we have all these freedoms but our origins are rooted in death, colonization, slavery, genocide – it’s just nothing good.

Archie Green: [Laughs] Wow, you’re absolutely right. I just turned 30. I know I’m still young but once you hit 30 you look at the world totally different. There are certain things at this point that you might accept that will change and certain things that aren’t. It’s not that I’m happy about it, but it is what it is. This is the way of the world and to not accept that is completely ignorant. I think the episode “Hope” on Black-ish was a powerful depiction as well as an explanation of the state of America on race relations. I can’t remember the monologue that Anthony Anderson’s character had with Tracee Ellis Ross’ character were he basically explained, “Look, this is how it is, baby. To ignore it or act like it doesn’t exist is wrong.” There is no way that you can sit there, ignore what’s going on, and continue to hope and pray because what happens is that hope is snatched away from us. It’s been snatched from us for so many years.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do another project like The Black Pharaoh again in terms of continuing to speak from the standpoint of the angry black man. Yeah, I’m an angry black man but we’ve been angry black men for over 400 years. I felt like God compelled me to make this project. I felt like I needed to get that feeling out because there are a lot of people behind me that feel the same way, but because of who we are in the community or how we were raised we might not be as boisterous in the community about it. I decided to use my platform to speak out and say what’s on my mind and what I feel, and that’s it. Hopefully it will spark some discussion.

TRHH: What does the title “The Black Pharaoh” mean?

Archie Green: The title “The Black Pharaoh” to me is like The Black King. The reason why I used “Pharaoh” was an homage to Egypt – basically the dawn of civilization as we know it. Osiris, Horus, Kemet – all that I learned down at Morehouse. The Black Pharaoh is the black king. Like Puff said on his latest project, MMM, “The black man is God.” That to me is what The Black Pharaoh represents. The cover was inspired by a picture that a friend of mine from NYU had taken. He was riding on a camel in Tunisia while he was studying abroad. It was so powerful to me because he’s on this camel in Africa and he has a Camel cigarette hanging out of his mouth. It was like he was in the origin of where we all came from, but it was Americanized by that cigarette. I thought it was a powerful image. I had my homie Dakarai Ashby paint the cover as well as put the collage together.

What it represents also is it’s supposed to inspire people. One of the things with me and my music is I’m always telling people to pursue their dreams and believe in their selves. One book that really pushes that is The Alchemist. That image of the man on the camel can also be like a black Santiago – Santiago is the main character of The Alchemist. There’s one joint where I say, “I’m not Archie anymore, I’m Santiago.” I’m doing my best to push people, especially if you’re black in this world, still believe in yourself and know that you’re a king. Know where you came from and because of that be great.

TRHH: What inspired the song Blacks Only?

Archie Green: What I alluded to before was it’s just a culmination of anger. I wrote the song the night that the Mike Brown decision came through where it was decided that it wouldn’t go to trial. I was so angry. It was basically an out of body experience. I went straight to my laptop and started writing. It was that coupled with everything else. When Trayvon Martin happened back in 2012 I wrote a song called “Suspicious” and it was saying the same thing. It was more about disbelief like, “Did this really happen? Is this the reason why he died?” When the Mike Brown decision came out I was like, “Man, fuck this shit.” I can’t sit back and say it’s unbelievable and whatever – I’m angry.

That obviously inspired it and what else inspired it was nobody within the black entertainment community was saying anything about it. The people were too silent because they were thinking about their egos, the endorsements they might lose or whatever by supporting a Black Lives Matter. That’s basically what inspired that song. It was me finally speaking out and saying it was ridiculous that these innocent young men have been killed just for being themselves and no one is saying anything about it. Let me be the one to speak out and say something and if enough people hear about it, more people will speak out and it will bring about change.

TRHH: Throughout the EP you have excerpts of clips from Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Minister Louis Farrakhan. It was dope to me. The Ali clip stands out to me, what led you to use those voices on the project?

Archie Green: Thank you. That to me is part of the whole CLASS element. Those guys to me are what CLASS is all about in terms of Creatively Learning to Achieve Sustainable Success. That’s what CLASS means and those guys are pioneers of that. They really were saying in essence what I was feeling. I know that there might be certain people that listen to those clips and might think that I’m racist, as has been said many times on social media and across the country before. Being pro-black is not being racist. It’s just me being proud to be black, proud of my culture, and proud of my people. At the same time there are certain things that need to be said, man. Me also being a Morehouse man there are certain things that are in me – deeply rooted in me to say on a record.

That Ali clip was from like the 60s. I found all of the clips on YouTube and when I found that Ali clip I was in awe of how that was 50 years ago and it’s still relevant today. It’s still relevant almost to a T. Guys are getting pulled over, if they don’t comply with the police, they do something to provoke ‘em, beat ‘em up, shoot ‘em, whatever the case may be. There was so much that he was saying. I’m not saying that we’re not all brothers as human beings and as mankind. I believe that we’re all brothers, but at the same time how does a brother kill a brother? Rob him of his culture? Rob him of his religion? Kill his pregnant wife? You look at Flint, Michigan and it’s like it’s still going on, man. I wanted to pay an homage to them as well as bring to light that these guys spoke on these issues decades ago and we’re still going through the same thing.

TRHH: What’s your take on Donald Trump being the next President of the United States?

Archie Green: There’s a few different feelings I have about Trump’s impending term as President. Obviously at first, utter shock and disgust. It was super hard to process. However, after the initial shock and disappointment, I had a feeling of urgency to work. Now is the time that all these so-called leaders in our communities stand up for our rights as persons of color. Protests will not do much more than bring attention to the issue. It’s time to effect change in laws, finance and commerce. We must also hold Trump accountable for all the promises he made during the campaign. I’m willing to see what he and his cabinet does, but at the same time I ain’t gonna stand on the sidelines. I’m going to continue to work for a better future for the next generation through my art.

TRHH: You get real personal on the song Layers. Is that song based on real life events?

Archie Green: That is 100% accurate.

TRHH: Was it difficult for you to disclose those types of things?

Archie Green: In the beginning it was, but at the same time it was therapeutic for me. One of the strengths I had in doing that song was being transparent and not feeling embarrassed about it. I know there are a lot of people that suffer from depression and alcoholism, especially in the black male community that are not speaking on it. For me it’s just a part of being human – it happens. Alcoholism can creep up on you and if you don’t know how to control your drinking these types of things can happen. I was being transparent about how I lived with my sister, when I first moved in I couldn’t even afford to pay rent, and she basically covered my rent.

To me it was like, am I gonna continue to be this surface artist or am I going to be a guy that really bares his soul? A guy that tells the truth and the whole truth? I thought I should really peel back some layers for the people because I know there are people out there that have gone through what I went through and continue to go through. I’m in a happy place now, but around the time I wrote that song I was really going through it. I had suicidal thoughts and everything from dealing with my DUI, not being able to drive, not being around people for an extended amount of time, but I’m thankful to God that I went through it. It made me a stronger person. The fact that I was able to put it out on a song like that is a testament to my strength as well.

TRHH: What do you hope to accomplish with The Black Pharaoh?

Archie Green: That’s a really good question. I think the main thing for me is I really hope it sparks discussion in terms of its impact. I hope that there are artists and people in general that listen to it and look in the mirror and decide that they’re not going to stand on the sidelines with everything that’s going on. I salute Kendrick Lamar for what he did at the Grammys and Beyonce for what she did at the Super Bowl and the Formation video. I spoke on a panel at the Cleveland School of Arts about that. We’re seeing more and more people step out and speak on it.

Outside of that I want to bring more people to the CLASS movement. I really would like to take it out on the road. I would like to perform in Chicago, Detroit, and go back to New York. I’d like to take it on the road and hopefully reach a new level of being an artist. As long as I’ve been doing this as an independent artist I still can’t say that this is all I do. I got a day job like a lot of other artists that I know. I really hope and pray that once this comes out I can reach a certain level where I can really put my all in this and do this for a living so I can continue to push the CLASS movement out there for people as well as deliver great music.

Purchase: Archie Green – The Black Pharaoh

A Conversation with Supa Dave West

Share Button
Photo courtesy of Supa Dave West
Photo courtesy of Supa Dave West

The man who has been a significant contributor to the sound of De La Soul for the past sixteen years has been Supa Dave West. West, a Queens, New York native is the mastermind behind some of De La’s most notable tracks like “Baby Phat,” “Voodoo Circus,” and “The Grind Date.”

In addition to his work with De La, Supa Dave West has crafted tracks for the likes of Talib Kweli, E-40, Slum Village, Planet Asia, Jim Jones, Phife Dawg, J Dilla, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Most recently Dave West was at the helm of the production of De La Soul’s critically acclaimed new album, “and the Anonymous Nobody.”

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Supa Dave West about his work on De La Soul’s and the Anonymous Nobody, his musical pedigree, working with late Hip-Hop legends J Dilla and Phife Dawg, and his upcoming full-length solo album.

TRHH: I first heard you work with De La Soul in 2000. How did you guys initially link up and what has made this relationship so successful?

Supa Dave West: Somewhere in the end of ’96 I had a deal with Q-Tip’s Museum Music label that was signed to Elektra. My group was called Hot Sauce. Basically it didn’t happen ‘cause Q-Tip’s label didn’t work out. Phife had some music of mine and Phife’s manager was Fudge who is Dave from De La’s first cousin. One trip that Dave took to Phife’s crib in Atlanta with Fudge he was just listening to my music that Phife was playing and he called me out of the blue that same day. That’s how it happened. Those two songs became Copa (Cabanga) and something else. The reason why it’s like that is we’re really like minded. We’re like cousins to each other. We all share the same kind of humor. We just come from a certain place. They’re from Long Island, I’m from Queens. It’s something that’s kind of tight-knit and musically it just became the same thing. We have a lot of similar conversations musically and everything else. If I can be a vehicle to bring some of their ideas to life it just always seems to work out.

TRHH: You guys took a different approach to this album, sampling stuff from the Rhythm Roots Allstars. What was the process like for you recording this album?

Supa Dave West: It was tough in the beginning because I actually became a part of that crew. The drummer that they were using, who is the legendary Fish from Fishbone, I kind of replaced Fish because I understood De La’s side of it from the production end and I’m a drummer by trade. I was kind of put right in the middle when I became the drummer in the band where I could explain the music side from De La’s perspective to the band and translate that back to De La from the musician’s side. It was very hands on. It was kind of uncomfortable at first ‘cause I had a certain way I was trying to pull the music out of everybody. We’re jamming, playing live, and improv-ing and I’m playing drums and trying to move the music a certain way. At first it was crazy but then it kind of took on a life of its own. After hours of just recording with them we kind of just jelled and started getting really creative.

TRHH: Is the initial feeling out process the reason why this record took so long?

Supa Dave West: Nah, I wouldn’t say that. It mainly took so long because De La’s tour schedule never really stopped – it never stops. There would just be times where they were out on the road and we’d have to come back to L.A. and have another round of sessions. That’s really what it was – the group’s schedule. What helped that along was sometimes good things take time so you get a chance to listen and reflect on what was done and come back and make changes. It was a good amount of time to do all of that.

TRHH: As a listener this album seemed very different sonically than other De La records. Was that done on purpose or did it just turn out that way?

Supa Dave West: Well where it was recorded is key. We recorded in this spot called Electro-Vox in L.A. It was a studio that was connected to Paramount Studio. It’s got original Neve boards and a lot of outboard gear, so when we were recording it through the board just jamming that sounded like twelve inches that could have been cut right there before we even touched it. The stuff that it was running through was kind of crazy. From that the sound was a culmination of different moods. We were in uncharted waters and real vulnerable seeing how it would land and how it would stick – true art shit, throwing it against canvas and letting it dry.

TRHH: You mentioned that you’re a drummer, what is your musical background? And as a Hip-Hop producer what’s your weapon of choice? What’s your workstation set up like right now?

Supa Dave West: As a drummer my background is gospel, R&B touring, a lot of session work, musical directing, bands, and stuff like that. That was from like the end of ’92 to somewhere around 98-99. My weapon of choice is just anything. I produce from any perspective. I can sing something, catch a melody from that, sample myself, lay a beat, lay live drums, it starts from anywhere. I don’t really have a weapon of choice, that’s how I keep myself open and creative production-wise. I may start in studio and go to Pro Tools and lay down a guitar line or something that I saw and start editing and put drums to that. I might go from a drum machine perspective still, it just depends on what mood I’m in.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite De La track that you’ve produced?

Supa Dave West: Wow, that’s a hard question [laughs]. You mean this album or in general?

TRHH: In general.

Supa Dave West: That’s a hard one, man. There’s a bunch of those. I like Copa (Cabanga), I like Grind Date — I like a lot of them. There’s history behind how those records came together so it’s hard to say.

TRHH: At some point J Dilla wanted to do an album where he emceed and enlisted his favorite producers; you were one of them. What was it like working with J Dilla on The Diary?

Supa Dave West: J was a creative like myself. He liked me ‘cause I didn’t sound like him. Im’ma be straight up. I didn’t sound like him and I had my own thing that he appreciated. When he heard my shit it made him wanna go to work. We talked about the concept and we were inspired by each other. It was a beat tape that I sent him where I was needle drop sampling — It was real raw, unconventional, and brand new. He liked everything on that beat tape. He thought it was real innovative. I think he demoed up like 2 or 4 of them. It was just general camaraderie.

TRHH: You also worked with another legend that has passed on, Phife Dawg. What was it like working with Phife on his Ventilation LP?

Supa Dave West: That was just dope. Phifey was just vibrant. He was just walking with the Hip-Hop shit on his back. He just lived like that. It was fun because he vibes in all kinds of different ways. He was very culture-driven and came with a bunch of crayons in his box. That was just fun in general. We know each other from the neighborhood – that’s a whole ‘nother history.

TRHH: What advice would you give to aspiring producers trying to get into Hip-Hop right now?

Supa Dave West: Stick to your guns. Stick to what really resonates with you. I wouldn’t want them to neglect what they’re inspired by. People’s opinions are whatever. People have an opinion about this generation of Hip-Hop as opposed to mine. It’s jazz musicians who have a perspective on what we were doing and how crazy that sounded. I would say for them to stick to their guns and try to be original. Try to do something in there that’s signature. Try to change the world somehow musically.

TRHH: Is there a dream artist that you’d like to work with?

Supa Dave West: On the production tip I would love to work with a Quincy Jones or a Nile Rodgers. Those are heroes of mine. Primo, I’d like to sit down and get some tips from Primo – that’s a hero of mine. As far as emcees maybe like KRS-One just for that blatant Hip-Hop culture in your face type of shit. I feel like I could be real B-Boy and uninhibited with somebody like KRS-One. Definitely Jay Electronica kind of for the same reason but in a futuristic way. And definitely Jadakiss, I like Jadakiss.

TRHH: He gets busy, man.

Supa Dave West: I like Jadakiss for the same reason I like Westside Gunn. His voice is crazy.

TRHH: Will we hear a sequel to Beat Boxing?

Supa Dave West: Yeah, Spit Boxing. That’s on deck. I was thinking about doing a live version of Beat Boxing between that live in studio just to exercise the musicality side of me. I know how to blur the lines with that in terms of how the music sounds and not sounding jam-bandy. Outside of that an album called Digital Native, which is a solo full-length album. It’s some guests, but it’s my album. That’s the first thing on deck.

TRHH: When will we hear that?

Supa Dave West: Probably toward the top of the year – a single with a video.

TRHH: You’re rhyming on this?

Supa Dave West: Yeah, I spit. I come from the family tree for real. Half of that is about that. How do you really test out a beat if you can’t really have insight from a different perspective? It all kind of ties in. I’ve been refined in that way just being around the best emcees and seeing how their process works and realizing a lot of that is cousin to my same process. It’s just time. It’s kind of like the butterfly thing. It’s time for me to go there. It’s been in me for a minute. This will be my first installment. It’s some pass the baton type of shit. I’m a cousin to the Native Tongues, I’m not original Native Tongues. I’m still a fan of the Native Tongues, just the digital side of it. I’m just speaking on where the technology is going, not specifically, it’s just a play on words. This is me lending to my side of that tree.

Purchase: De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody

Zion I: The Labyrinth

Share Button
Photo courtesy of Ballin PR
Photo courtesy of Ballin PR

Twenty years ago Zumbi and Amp Live burst onto the scene as the group Zion I. The emcee/producer duo created thought provoking music that could make you move. After drifting in different directions Amp Live and Zumbi are no longer a group, but Zion I lives on. Zumbi now goes by his original rap name, Zion I, and has released his first solo album under the Zion I moniker entitled, “The Labyrinth.”

Released on his very own Mind Over Matter Record label, The Labyrinth features appearances by Deuce Eclipse, Jane Hancock, Codnay Holiday, Viveca Hawkins, and Alam Khan. The album is produced by Teeko, Decap, Ariano, and Mikos the Gawd.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Zion I about the transformation of his group, the problem of gentrification in the Bay Area, how he copes with the loss of his father, and his new album, The Labyrinth.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album The Labyrinth?

Zion I: Basically this album was chocked full of hardships trying to get it done. In the beginning of the process I stopped working with the producer who’d been in the group the whole time. Amp Live was in the crew, he’s not in it no more, it’s just me. We stopped working together the beginning of 2015. After he left I left my management, I left my booking agent, one of my best friends that I grew up with passed away, my grandmother passed away, and then in August of last year my father passed away. It was a lot of shit going on. In the process of all that my music came back to me. It was my way of dealing with all these situations.

I called it The Labyrinth because what I’ve learned about the labyrinth is it’s basically like a walking meditation. You walk into this circle and follow all these lines and the whole aim is to get to the center of it. While you’re walking through all these concentric circles you’re supposed to contemplate all your challenges. When you get to the center of that circle that’s when you’re supposed to gain clarity about all the different things you’re going through. That’s basically what I wanted this album to be – taking somebody’s hand and walking them through my life and all my trials and tribulations in an effort that at the end of the record there is an emotional release. There is more clarity. I want people to be able to reflect on their own struggle by viewing mine. I want people to have clarity and a sense of peace once they finish listening to the whole album.

TRHH: On the song “Saving Souls” you say, “I hope I’m saving souls.” Is that similar to what you’re saying when you say you want people to have clarity?

Zion I: Yeah, man. I come from the era of Hip-Hop when it was about empowerment. Back in the day our way of communication was distant drums. We had no other way of talking. We didn’t have the internet. We make these songs and now I know what it’s like to be in Brooklyn, I know what it’s like to be in Chicago, I know what it’s like to be in L.A. It’s about raising awareness and consciousness. I’m still at that point with the music. I feel like that’s an element of Hip-Hop that is very important to me and where I think the culture should be and I don’t wanna lose that. That’s definitely a primary focus of mine.

TRHH: You touched on it briefly, but how exactly did Zion I go from being a group to a solo entity?

Zion I: Man we’d been working together since the early 90s. We traveled the world and released hella albums together. I don’t wanna go too much into it ‘cause I could probably write a book about it just trying to figure it out. We just stopped clicking like we used to. I think he was going through some things family-wise and whatnot. It just started to be a rift. We were really tight homies for years and it just started to be something that was different. We’d be on the road and fools wouldn’t be talking to each other for two weeks on the road. It just started getting weird. That’s the homeboy, why ain’t we talking about basic shit? I started asking him about it in 2013 and he said, “Nah, it’s all good. I might have to not tour with the group sometimes.”

2014 came and I wanted to make some music. He said, “Okay,” but wouldn’t really send no beats. Then I started getting irritated like, “Blood, what’s up? Just be honest with how you’re feeling.” Then it started to be a situation where I felt like I was doing a lot of shit to push Zion I forward and he was just kind of falling back and wasn’t into it. At that point I was getting other producers to work. Finally it was like, “Hey man, we gotta do something about this because it’s not even fun no more. This music has always been a source of freedom and creativity. It’s a good time and it allows me to enjoy my life and right now it don’t feel that way.” He was like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna tour no more,” and at that point he just decided that he was gonna do whatever, not be on the road as much, and I was gonna hold the mantle of Zion I and keep going.

TRHH: What made you take the crowd funding approach with this project?

Zion I: I don’t know how much I can go into this but generally speaking I don’t have a label I’m signed to. I do my own independent label and I have a distributor that I’ve been working with for years. Generally when I announce that I’m doing an album they give me funding. Basically they give me an advance without a contract because we’ve been working together for so long that it’s always been good. This time when I asked for an advance they said, “If you want an advance we have to cross collateralize your catalog and own the record for perpetuity. I was like, “Hold up, why do we have to change the contract?” and they said, “It’s a new era. Records aren’t selling the way they used to, everyone is streaming so we have to protect our investments.” I didn’t wanna do that.

One of the things that has allowed me to remain in this game for so long is the fact that I own my masters and I own my music. Long after I put out the record I’m still getting royalties through SoundExchange, ASCAP, and all of that. I know that to give that up I won’t be able to sustain in the game. I needed a way to help me fund this record because I’m manufacturing vinyl, making videos, and doing a radio campaign. I’m coming out the pocket for everything. It was basically just a way to engage the fans and bring them into it a little more. People that already fuck with the music anyway, give them an opportunity to get involved and also for me to connect more with them and interact a little bit. It’s been cool. I haven’t honestly raised that much bread, but it’s been good for me to get out of my shell and be interactive with the people who have shown love for so long.

TRHH: You released a song on the Stay Woke Mixtape called “Tech $.” Talk about why you decided to write that song.

Zion I: I pretty much explain it in the song. Gentrification is going wild in Oakland right now. I don’t know how much you know about this city out here but it’s black, Latino, Asian, and it’s white folks out here, too. What happened was I was in this crib with my family and my dad passed away. A week after that the landlord that I was renting from said he had to sell the house. I said, “Let me buy it,” and he said, “Alright, $750,000.” I was like, “Damn, I don’t have that right now.” I had just done a short sale on my other crib in West Oakland so my credit was not the greatest. I sold it because my son was having really bad eczema. I bought at the top of the market. The market crashed in 2008 and I bought it in 2007. The house was worth about thirty five percent of what I paid for it.

My son was suffering. The environment over there is very toxic. There’s hella freeways and the ground has all this industrial shit going on. It wasn’t a good situation. I did a short sale on the house and moved to this other house in East Oakland. I started looking at cribs around Oakland and I noticed immediately that in the two years since I had been living in that house prices had jumped $1500 to $2000. A crib that used to be $2000 was now $4000. I started getting hip to this gentrification wave in Oakland. The first thing that happened was Uber announced that they were building their headquarters in Oakland. Once that happened streams of out of towners started coming here and it became the hot place to be. They call it “The New Brooklyn.” Places where it’s traditionally Latino and black families like West Oakland, North Oakland, and Downtown Oakland all of a sudden it’s very white there and the prices were going up hella high.

I basically wrote the song to talk about the experience of being gentrified out of a city that I love so much. It’s across the board. I got homies that teach Kung-Fu, they just got evicted. My son’s daycare just got evicted. A bunch of my peoples have been kicked out of their cribs – people who have been in Oakland 10-15 years. It’s an interesting thing that’s happening out here. It’s not really cool, but it’s one of those things that you look at it like, “What can I do?” I make music so I can write a song about it and show people the process of me actually leaving my house. It was not a fun thing to do, but I thought it was the only way I could speak out and use my voice.

TRHH: You touched on your father passing and you have a song on the album about your late father called “Not Ur Fault.” Was it difficult for you to write such a personal song?

Zion I: Hell yeah. I wrote that the night he passed away. I was going to kick it with my son. I was taking him to see my homie the Grouch’s daughter – they always hang out together. We were going to go swimming. I’m waiting in line to get into this lake and all of a sudden my lady just runs up out of nowhere and she’s like, “You gotta go, your dad just passed.” I drop off my son and head off to the hospital. I go see him, his body was cold, ashy — the life was gone. I shed my tears and went home. It was obviously a sad day. I tried to go to sleep and I couldn’t sleep. At 3:30 in the morning I went down to the studio and I just started thumbing through beats.

I found that beat and it just seemed to speak to me. I immediately starting writing to it. It was a way to deal with the pain and the loss. It was a real honest song. Music for me, that’s how I use it. I’m not writing songs about macking hoes and all the money I make. It’s about real life for me. Not to say that that other shit ain’t cool, but my personal take on it is it’s a personal thing. I reflect on my life. It was a heavy moment. I’d never lost a parent before and it really hit me hard. I just wanted to express the love and adoration that I had for my father and recognize the good job that he did in raising me. I didn’t know how good a father I had until I realized that a lot of people don’t have fathers.

TRHH: I lost my dad in 2009 and it’s still difficult for me. How are you coping?

Zion I: That’s a great question. It is hard. What’s crazy about it is when you say that I feel you saying it. It makes me feel my pain a little more. In addition to that, one of my best homies I grew up with, his father passed earlier this year. It’s a trip because when my dad was hella sick and sliding down the slope I’m talking to my best homie and he’s like, “Damn, my dad is in a bad way too,” and basically my father just happened to pass before his. It’s like this mourning thing. I’d say for about six weeks after my father passed I was just in a slump. I couldn’t leave the house. I was trying to write music but I could only write about my father passing. I was like, damn, I can’t make this morbid ass gothic album. I’d almost not even write.

I wrote “Not Ur Fault,” “Heaven 4 a G” and maybe one other song in that time period, but that’s it. I couldn’t really write but I focused my energy on my kids and my family. I know I’m really blessed and I know my father is still here with me at the same time. I just hold him in my memory. In my studio I got his picture right underneath my computer. He’s always with me and always in my memory. I know one thing, performing these songs live I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it. I really don’t know ‘cause even when I just listen to them I tear up. I’m glad that I was able to express the feelings and capture them in the moment, but at the same time it’s still a very raw feeling for me. Right now I can’t see myself getting on stage and performing those songs. I might try, but I don’t know if I could get through it right now. That’s real shit.

TRHH: Who is The Labyrinth made for?

Zion I: I would say it’s made for people that are going through some kind of turbulent time or people that are seeking something more in their experience in life. I would say that this is not a turn up record. This is not a record that you play in the club and drink beers to. It’s more an introspective vibration for people to kind of sit with and feel. It’s more of an emotional thing. I didn’t do that on purpose, it was just all that I could do at the moment. I think this record is uplifting, but it’s a little darker than Zion I records have been. I played some of the songs for my son and he’s like, “Dad, this is deep!” He likes Flo-Rida and stuff like that [laughs]. He said, “It’s kind of heavy for me right now,” and I feel him because it’s heavy music. That’s how I was feeling when I created it. It is out there for some people. We all go through shit in life. I just feel like I’m talking about it in a way I feel is relatable to people. I feel like Hip-Hop is not just partying and bullshit. I’ve never thought that. This is a record that’s going to speak to people if they’re ready for it. It’s going to speak to their spirit and their soul.

Purchase: Zion I – The Labyrinth

Ric Wilson: Soul Bounce

Share Button
Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo
Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Ric Wilson is a 21-year old emcee from the south side of Chicago. His music is classic Chicago as his lyrics shift from fun loving Hip-Hop to thought-provoking messages. Wilson is also a prison abolitionist and an activist. In 2014 Wilson was one of eight delegates chosen to travel to Geneva, Switzerland on behalf of the We Charge Genocide coalition to shine a light on the practices of the Chicago Police Department to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.

Wilson’s latest endeavor on the music front is a 5-track EP titled “Soul Bounce.” The EP is produced by James Gent, 3lo, Grizz Rivers, Kdagreat, and Safe N Sound. Soul Bounce features appearances by The O’My’s, Avery R. Young, David Ellis, Daryn Alexus, and Kopano.

The Real Hip-Hop had the opportunity to chat with Ric Wilson about the high rate of crime in his hometown of Chicago and how he thinks it could be ended, why it’s important for Hip-Hoppers to know Hip-Hop history, and about his new EP, Soul Bounce.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new EP Soul Bounce?

Ric Wilson: Soul Bounce is just my sound pretty much. The sound was created by the blending of genres. Soul Bounce is like me picking option D out of A, B, C, D. Option D is the sound that no one really has. It’s really just me being me, genuinely and unapologetically. It’s about having soul. The idea is taking African-American soul – taking something out of nothing and giving it this bouncy feel.

TRHH: How is this project different from The Sun Was Out?

Ric Wilson: The Sun Was Out was a step into the direction that I wanted to go and Soul Bounce is me being in that direction and staying in that direction. The Sun Was Out was, “Maybe I’ll see if they like this,” and Soul Bounce is, “I know they’ll like this.” I identify it as my first presented project.

TRHH: What inspired the single We Love Us?

Ric Wilson: I had this conversation with my homie David who is also on the song. It’s a celebration about black life. All you see on Twitter nowadays is black death. I wanted to make a song about a celebration of black life and what that means. Everyone needs to love themselves when they’re black. I got tired of writing songs about “fuck the police” and all that shit. We don’t have enough songs saying we love ourselves. Which it’s cool to have a song saying fuck the police, but we need other songs. I wrote so many songs about that shit for years, not just because it’s been trending. I’ve been writing about police violence since I was 16. I don’t really have a lot of songs about loving myself, being black, and whatever that is.

TRHH: We’re both from Chicago and have lived through so many underhanded tactics by the Chicago Police Department. My question is twofold, one, how do you think the police can limit their bad behavior and two, what can be done to stop crime in the inner city?

Ric Wilson: First if the police want to stop their bad behavior they’re going to have to take a history lesson on why the police exist. Once they understand why police exist they damn near probably won’t wanna be police officers. The only existence and purpose of police is to police poor people and keep the poor people from the rich people. That’s the only reason why there are police. They were created after slavery. There was no policing like we’re seeing now when slavery was around. Police didn’t come about until after slavery didn’t exist anymore. They were going around locking up black people if they didn’t have a job after slavery. If you didn’t have a job after you were enslaved all your life they would lock you up because you were unemployed. They had all sorts of crazy, stupid laws, which in turn comes the creation of the mass incarceration in America. Cops have to understand and admit why they exist and then they have to say, “This is what we’re supposed to stand for, and this dude wasn’t standing for that.”

There are no cops going around saying, “I think what happened to Paul O’Neal was wrong,” or “You know what, I think what happened in Minnesota this year was wrong.” Cops aren’t doing that. Cops aren’t leading anti-police violence protests. I don’t get that shit. Every time something happens with black people or something’s happening bad they bring up black on black crime. I saw this week an article saying “We don’t appreciate y’all wanting to dread your head up because y’all use dreads to mock us.” The term “dread” comes from the Haitian Revolution. They call them “dread locks” because the once enslaved Africans in Haiti were being shot by the French from uphill and they dreaded their locks so much that they were hard to shoot because they were moving so fast up the hill. When we talk about police violence, until I start seeing police leading some anti-police violence protests then maybe we can really have a strong conversation on how we can keep the police. Until then, I don’t think we need a police force that doesn’t really want to hold themselves accountable.

Somebody steals a car and the police kill that dude. But a police officer can just shoot Rekia Boyd on the west side and just because he’s an officer with a gun he can walk away? But we’re wrong for saying we want to lock him up, beat his ass, or kill him? Now we’re the wrong ones. I feel like these double standards are very destructive to society when it comes to policing and what that means. Until the police can admit that the police are fucked up, then we can get somewhere. That’s a huge step we can take. I see many black people telling black people that what’s going on in the black community is fucked up. No one is admitting that what’s going on in the black community is not fucked up. We have all these people in the community working on trying to get the community better and we got no fuckin’ resources. This shit makes no sense. You can go to Washington Park on the south side and look at the area. Why does this area look like this? You can go up north to Lincoln Park and it’s clean as hell.

It’s the same amount of people in the areas. Who is going around cleaning up these areas? I don’t see white people that live in Lincoln Park going around and cleaning Lincoln Park up. Who is the city paying to clean up? The city literally has people who are on parole going around and cleaning up the north side of Chicago. I don’t see niggas on the south side cleaning nothing up. I don’t see the city putting community centers on the south side. Let’s talk about where the resources are going in the city of Chicago. I think once we have a real honest conversation about who is getting resources, why the police exist, and why there is more police on the south side…. think about this, bro, the places where there is the most crime at has the most police. That should pretty much tell you that police aren’t stopping crime. That shit sounds ineffective. There are hundreds of more police in Englewood but the crime is still happening. I’m confused, isn’t the purpose of police to stop crime? That’s a proven fact that more police doesn’t stop crime.

TRHH: You’ve described yourself as a prison abolitionist, I’m curious, how do you think criminals should be dealt with?

Ric Wilson: First question is we might have to change what our definition of criminals are because the majority of criminals are niggas just trying to make a living. The majority of people in prison now are the motherfuckers who are either smoking weed or selling weed – that shit is insane. If we wanna deal with people who actually cause harm in the community, like, my cousin got killed when I was 17. The dude who killed him was 15-16. It’s crazy how the states decide that they wanna do something to somebody without asking the people who were harmed by that person what they want. Our system really doesn’t ask the victims what they want. They just decide what they’re gonna do to the person who harmed a person in the community.

Then you have people who aren’t even from the community coming in and telling the community what they’re gonna do to the person who harmed the community. I believe that instead of locking folks up we could hold folks in a way of restorative justice. We create some sort of process and we figure out who the victim is and the person who did the crime or whatever, then we bring them together and figure out what the victim wants and how he can make the community better from his actions instead of exiling him away. It’s proven that shit don’t help the community. Look at the community now. Mostly incarcerated are black and brown folks.

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

Ric Wilson: It’s very interesting. Drake inspired me to rap, actually. I used to write poems and shit. Drake inspired me to rap but Gil Scott-Heron and 2Pac inspired me to rap about what I rap about. Gil Scott-Heron and 2Pac inspired the message but Drake inspired me to rap.

TRHH: How did you first hear Gil Scott-Heron?

Ric Wilson: My cousin is J. Wells. He’s like a west coast producer. He did an album with Kurupt and was with Dogg Pound and all of them. When I was first writing he told me how he produced this record for Rakim and I didn’t know who Rakim was. He told me, “You can’t tell me that you wanna be a rapper until you tell me who Rakim is.” I started digging and looked up who Rakim was. From Rakim I found some more people. I found the whole Stop the Violence Movement that they had going on. I found KRS-One and through KRS-One I found Gil Scott-Heron. I think it was the year he died that I actually found out who he was. I was obsessed with all that shit. Gil Scott-Heron used to be singing and shit too, niggas don’t be knowing that. I used to make beats and sample him. That’s how I got it, from my cousin being an old head ass nigga and telling me that shit.

TRHH: Wow. So what’s your take on the generational gap in Hip-Hop? Recently… I don’t know that kids name…

Ric Wilson: Uzi or Yachty?

TRHH: Yeah, there you go! [Laughs] One of those cats made a comment about rapping over old beats. Then Pete Rock got into it with somebody, Young Dolph or something. He was rapping about shooting guns or something and in the video there was a little kid next to him. Pete Rock was just saying we have to be more responsible around kids and the dude went off calling him old and all of this stuff. There is a clear generational gap in Hip-Hop. Do you think it’s important for everybody in Hip-Hop to go back like you did and learn who Rakim is, who Gil Scott-Heron is, et cetera?

Ric Wilson: Yeah! Definitely. Like I was talking about with the police. It’s a whole bunch of dumb ass police officers who don’t even know how the police started in America. I think whatever you’re doing if it’s art, working, or whatever you need to look up what you are working for and what you are doing. If you are a painter you need to look up painters and understand the art that you’re doing. This is an art at the end of the day. If I don’t understand the history of this art and where it came from then honestly I don’t need to be pickin’ up a fuckin’ mic. If you don’t know where you’re from you don’t know where you’re going. Last year I opened up for Chuck D at Metro and it was a huge thing for me. A lot of people didn’t know who Chuck D was and that shit blew my mind. People don’t know who Chuck D is? Chuck D is the one who started this whole fight the power movement. Chuck D is the reason why Black Lives Matter is trending and cool nowadays because he was the first one to pick up a mic and say some shit like that and spread it worldwide – him, Flavor Flav, and Public Enemy.

I think it’s super-crucial that people understand the history. I’m not knocking people who don’t know their history. Our culture is so stupid, I’ll have a run in with a white man and get into it with him and he’ll justify not liking black people from that one experience. I think when you have that mic and that moment and you’re supposed to be saying something and you know people are listening, I feel like you should try to respect that and understand that. I feel like people should know the history of Hip-Hop and what Hip-Hop is. That’s if you wanna be a Hip-Hop artist, though. If you don’t wanna be a Hip-Hop artist, maybe don’t describe yourself as a Hip-Hop artist. That’s cool, just do that. I’m not gonna get mad at you. You’re not even a Hip-Hop artist so I’m not gonna expect you to say or think about what you’re doing like how I’m thinking about what I’m doing, honestly.

TRHH: What’s your ultimate goal in the music business?

Ric Wilson: I really want people to find out what they wanna do with their life listening to my music. This is another thing that’s fucked up in our community, growing up black a lot of people don’t know where they’re going, where they’re from, and what they wanna do with life. White kids know what they wanna do from a young age. I don’t know if it’s because they have more role models or what it is. If I could be a role model or inspiration for a little black boy or black girl to figure out what they wanna be in their life, that shits dope. Another goal is for me to keep spreading what a prison abolitionist means. They came out with this movie about Nat Turner. Nat Turner probably didn’t even think that he would have a movie about him, but he was an abolitionist. He died for that shit. I just want to spread the word about what a prison abolitionist is and maybe I can change and shape the U.S. and the world in a couple hundred years, if the U.S. is still here. Rome fell and the U.S. is gonna fall one day. If the U.S. is still here maybe it can shift the atmosphere.

In 2014 me and seven other folks went to Geneva, Switzerland to submit the shadow report to the U.N. Since then I saw a headline in the Chicago Reader saying, “Do We Really Need the Police?” I think the conversation is actually opening on what is policing and can we change what we see as policing nowadays? My musical and career goals other than touching people and shifting agendas, I’m not trying to be a big rock star. I’m more of a low key guy. I’m more of a festival artist. I don’t know what comes with that. I appreciate people who move like that, like M.I.A. She might come to the U.S. a couple times a year and then she’s around the world. Music makes the world go around. I don’t wanna be in the U.S. my whole life doing shows here. Of course I want to be in the U.S. but if I can get an agent and do festivals in different countries and places like Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe with the white folks I think it would be fun. That’s the goal pretty much.

Purchase: Ric Wilson – Soul Bounce

Shabaam Sahdeeq & Fokis: Recognize Your Power

Share Button
Photo courtesy of Loyalty Digital Corp.
Photo courtesy of Loyalty Digital Corp.

Edo.G, Shabaam Sahdeeq, and Fokis are Hip-Hop veterans. Together they have nearly 60 years of experience in the business of rap. These three men know the importance of utilizing their abilities to reach their goals, and they want to spread that message to fans of Hip-Hop.

The two emcees and producer have linked up for a new EP on Loyalty Digital Corp. titled, “Recognize Your Power.” The 9-track EP is produced entirely by Fokis and features appearances by Craig G, Torae, DJ Eclipse, Liteskin, Oh No, Planet Asia, and Ras Kass.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Fokis and Shabaam Sahdeeq about working with Edo.G, why it’s important to play to win, and their new EP, Recognize Your Power.

TRHH: How did you guys get together to decide to do this project?

Shabaam Sahdeeq: We all been working on a few joints together but in different locations and on different albums. Fokis wanted to make it happen. Me and Edo had been talking about doing a song or two here and there and the same thing with me and Fokis, so we decided to do it all in one lump on this EP. It came together pretty fast and dope. I did a lot of my vocals before I went on tour in Europe. By the time I came back they was done and ready to go. Now we’re going about shooting videos and releasing some things.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the album, Recognize Your Power?

Fokis: Shabaam actually came up with it. My cousin did the poetry on the project and Shabaam was just listening to it and came up with that. It’s consistent with everything concerning why we even put this project together. The theme is about recognizing your powers with the ability that you have right now.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: Yeah, the ability that you have within. Whether it comes from getting up and going to work out or even voting. The power is within you.

Fokis: And what you choose to do with it. We chose to create a project. We’re all in three different places so we chose to utilize technology and that’s the beautiful thing about where we are right now musically. We have the ability to do that. I don’t ever have to see these guys and we can create a project and that’s dope.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: And then when we do meet up we can shoot some videos. We get it done. Everybody is in a different state and everybody has different things going on, but where there is a will there’s a way.

Fokis: And my name is Will so it all works [laughs].

TRHH: Talk a little about the single Play to Win.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: Play to Win is just about champion bars. Play the game to try to win every time you release a joint.

Fokis: We’re trying to maximize. We got the heavyweights on there lyrically. We thought it was the perfect single to release first because it just represents everything – bars, hard beats, scratches – boom, that was it.

TRHH: What was it like working with Edo.G?

Shabaam Sahdeeq: Edo is on tour right now. As far as putting the music down it happened 1, 2, 3. Right now he’s on tour so he’s missing out on the promotional aspect of what’s going on. I’m sure as soon as he gets back in town he’s going to jump right in.

Fokis: He definitely works fast. He knocks out vocals, shoots them right to you, and boom.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: Yeah, they shot like four videos in one day, right?

Fokis: Yeah, we drove out to Boston to shoot videos and Shabaam came into New York for a couple days and we knocked out some more videos.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: That’s how you do it. That’s the power right there.

TRHH: That’s a lot of work, man. Speaking of work, Shabaam, you also recently released a joint project with Marvelous Mag. Talk a little about the God’s Coins EP.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: We had that project done since like wintertime. We was just sitting on it and toying with how we were gonna release it, and what joints to release. We actually got more joints than what’s on that EP. It’s about continuously working and finding new, different things to drop at different times that segue each other. This is like a segue into Recognize Your Power. It’s a free project for everybody to get. Recognize Your Power is the main event with the vinyl, cassettes, and everything.

TRHH: Like an appetizer.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: Yeah, God’s Coins is the appetizer, this is the main meal. Word up. Some of those are industry beats. We took one from J Dilla, we took one from White Lotus. Those joints obviously we can’t put out to sell commercially. Recognize Your Power is obviously the main course.

TRHH: Fokis, talk a little about your recent weight loss.

Fokis: It’s simple, I was 303 pounds. I was recording and mixing the Barrel Brothers album with Skyzoo and Torae. While I was doing that album a friend of mine introduced me to CrossFit. At that point I wasn’t even rapping like that anymore of even producing. I was just engineering.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: He was trying to look like a G.I. Joe [laughs].

Fokis: [Laughs] I saw the success of the Barrel Brothers project. I recorded and mixed that in my home. Just seeing the success of it inspired me how you could create something right in your crib and it could shoot out to the world and you can get bread off of it. At the same time a friend of mine introduced me to CrossFit. It’s very challenging, but I love overcoming challenges. I basically got hooked on the CrossFit and as I started to drop weight I got more and more motivated musically. I hit a point where I’m down to 217 and I feel fantastic creatively. It made everything around me so much better – life itself. I love my job. I get up, I go to the gym, and then I go and create music. Back to the Recognize Your Power, it’s what we make of it so I’m going hard. Shabaam goes super hard with this music thing. Fitness and music go hand in hand.

Shabaam Sahdeeq: Yeah, you’re definitely recognizing your power ‘cause I’m trying to get on that, too. I’m trying to get on that fitness. It all goes hand in hand.

TRHH: Who is the Recognize Your Power album made for?

Shabaam Sahdeeq: This album is made for all the people who think they can’t do it, but they can. That’s why we called it Recognize Your Power. The people that’s out there trying to make it every day recording joints, mastering, doing art work, engineering, working out, painting, everybody is trying to tap into that inner power and make something happen this is what you put on. This is the soundtrack. You pop it in your ear when you’re painting, driving, making moves, this that joint right here. I think all the songs are pretty much motivational joints.

Fokis: Absolutely. Definitely some good hard bars, some good hard beats, and some melodic flavor in there. If you’re a fan of some rap music – Hip-Hop – you’re gonna love this project. It’s two amazing legends on there.

Purchase: Edo.G, Shabaam Sahdeeq, & Fokis – Recognize Your Power

Tiff the Gift: It Gets Greater Later

Share Button
Photo courtesy of Teo Frank
Photo courtesy of Teo Frank

Virginia emcee Tiff the Gift released her debut solo album Cool, Calm, Chill in 2010, She followed that up in 2014 with her sophomore project, Better to Give. After a two and a half year wait Tiff has returned with her third album released by Don’t Sleep Records titled “It Gets Greater Later.”

It Gets Greater Later is produced by Phoniks, JR Swiftz, LinkRust, F. Draper, Kalvion, and Kameleon Beats. The album features appearances by Rodney “The Soul Singer” Stith, Dephlow, and Tiff’s husband and emcee, Awon.

Tiff the Gift spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the importance of growth and acceptance in her life, the creative dynamic between herself and Awon, and her new album, It Gets Greater Later.

TRHH: Explain the title of the album, It Gets Greater Later.

Tiff the Gift: It’s basically a statement that I’ve always said since my early years in high school. Me and my mother would talk and when I’d be in a bad mood or things wouldn’t go exactly the way I wanted them to go she would always say, “It gets greater later.” I lost her not too long ago so I wanted to find some way to tie her to the album and that’s just kind of how I tied it.

TRHH: How is this album different from Better to Give?

Tiff the Gift: It Gets Greater Later shows growth. I’ve had a lot of things that I’ve gone through. I mean, it’s a natural growth process over the years since I dropped Better to Give up to now. I’ve learned a lot of different things. I picked a variety of production and I tried to expand my audience. Trust me, I love the listeners that I already have but I want to reach out to different demographics and people who have different ears so I wanted a mixture of production on this one. That’s the major difference. Growth is always big for me so you’ll see a lot of that on this album.

TRHH: Is the growth lyrically as well as musically?

Tiff the Gift: Just all around growth. They say experience is the best teacher and I feel like I’ve had experiences that have allowed me to grow, whether they’ve been musically or in my personal life, all of that comes out in the music anyway. I have a big thing about authenticity so when I saw “growth” I mean all around growth.

TRHH: Tell me about the song Passed Out.

Tiff the Gift: That was the first single off the album. It’s a song that was dedicated to my mom. I don’t think I’ve dealt with everything upfront as soon as it happened. One day I was in a different place and I kept trying to force myself to write a song that was dedicated to my mom. For an artist that’s the natural thing to do but it just didn’t come. For some off reason it just didn’t come and a year later that song came about. I just started thinking about everything. Even though the song may seem kind of dark it’s actually a point in my life where I came to the realization of a lot of different things. It’s acceptance, so for me that was super powerful because that was a turning point in my life.

TRHH: Would you say acceptance has trickled down into other aspects of your life? Would you say learning how to accept things has helped you with other things?

Tiff the Gift: Oh, absolutely. That whole situation changed the way I felt. I’ve always been a super strong person, but we all go through things in life where we have some sort of ignorance about something. I think the biggest thing about me that I can say I got over is the lack of ignorance and thinking that you can change everything. Sometimes things happen and you don’t have control and you have no choice but to be faced with acceptance. That’s what that taught me in every aspect of my life. Even with the kids, sometimes you can be super overbearing not realizing that these kids are gonna be who they’re gonna be. You can help guide or give advice, but certain things in life we just don’t have control over. It made my faith a lot stronger, that’s what I mean about acceptance.

TRHH: On the song “Same Old Tree” you have a line where you say, “I don’t even like rap.” Do you really not like rap? Can you explain that lyric?

Tiff the Gift: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s a very good question. It’s crazy that you asked that. I was talking to one of my best friends, Kaveen, he’s like a big influence over everything that I do musically. He calls me a part-time rapper because I’ve always worked full-time and went to school. He was like, “Yo Tiff, if you actually went hard and put 100% into it you could go further than you can imagine.” That line was kind of for him.

TRHH: I hear that kind of thing from a lot of rappers. I read an interview years ago with Rhymefest and he was saying how he was a janitor at a school and someone took a crap all over the wall or something and he quit that day and has been making money off of rap ever since. His point was that you have to give 100%…

Tiff the Gift: [Laughs] Yeah, you have to.

TRHH: Do you feel like you’re at that stage now?

Tiff the Gift: Yes, yes. That was what the whole line was for. That has so many meanings to it, not only the going hard part. I love the questions you’re asking because they’re outside of the norm. People always ask me in interviews what motivates me when I write and it’s funny ‘cause I never listen to rap to get me motivated or hyped to write a rhyme – I never do it. I’m a big soul head and a big R&B head. I actually listen to slow music. I’m kind of soft on the low. I’m a rapper, I’m not supposed to be [laughs]. That’s what I gravitated to from being around my parents they loved music and kept it around me. That’s what they played and we couldn’t touch their radio.

TRHH: Is there any current soul music that you’re listening to?

Tiff the Gift: Man, you kinda put me on the spot. I don’t think it’s soul but it is kind of R&B, she’s from northern Virginia, Kali Uchis.

TRHH: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. She’s from South America somewhere.

Tiff the Gift: Yeah, but I think she moved to like northern Virginia or something. I love listening to her sound. I can vibe out and relate. She did it real different in my opinion.

TRHH: Yeah, she’s dope.

Tiff the Gift: What They Say is one of my favorite songs. A collab with her would be dope.

TRHH: That would be dope! You should try to do that. How does being married to another emcee help or hurt you when coming up with lyrics?

Tiff the Gift: [Laughs] I’m an extremely competitive person. I don’t think I could have married anybody that was not an emcee, not musically inclined, or somebody that didn’t challenge me. It’s a very competitive household. The worst thing to hear is, “Your husband is so much doper than you,” and on his end he don’t wanna hear that his wife is so much doper than him. We wanna hear that we’re both dope, so we go at it [laughs]. We argue over beats, we argue over a lot of different things. It’s just a creative household. The energy is awesome. I can say that music has truly kept us together for this long. When you can sit down with your partner and they can tell you??? What you don’t want is a yes man. No artist has a whole plethora of great music [laughs]. Something they did was terrible and he stopped me from a lot of terrible things like, “Nah that sucks, babe. Don’t do that.” The feeling is mutual and he doesn’t let it ride. I don’t let it ride either.

TRHH: Do you ever get sensitive about stuff like that? Like for me, I make beats. I’m not that good [laughs]. But I’m learning and I sent a lot of beats to a lot of rappers and nobody is really feeling them.

Tiff the Gift: [Laughs].

TRHH: Hey, it is what it is. I went from the stage of having my feelings hurt to, “Okay, how do I fix this?” and “How do I get better?” Was there initial hurt feelings if he called your work wack?

Tiff the Gift: I’m going to give you some background and try to make it as short as possible. I was raised in a house full of truth. When I lost my mother I lost my best friend. A lot of people throw that out there, but people who know me know how close my mother and I were – my father as well. I have a real tight bond with my parents. Still to this day my dad is my strength. I’m a Taurus so I was a hard head. My feelings would get hurt easily and I was very defensive. My mother told me one day, “Step back. Why are you so angry at your father about his criticisms? You’re listening more to the way he said something and you’re worried more about your emotions than you are about what he’s saying.” Over time you learn. So I guess the answer to that is I don’t really get defensive anymore because I’m an adult and I’ve learned that’s part of the growth process.

You can’t really pay attention to how somebody is saying something or how you feel about something. You have to listen to what it is they’re saying and the meaning behind it because if he didn’t give a damn then he wouldn’t say anything. A lot of times when people give you that criticism they save you from standing in front of thousands of people and embarrassing yourself. So it’s not really about how somebody says something or my feelings, it’s about what kind of message they’re trying to send and is it going to be beneficial for me. In one line I said, “My daddy is a stoic too, I guess that it’s inherited.” My daddy always said, “Baby girl, you gotta put your emotions to the side sometimes and make sure that you make conscious decisions. Because emotional decisions will put you in a bad position every time.” You can’t get better if you don’t take that criticism and if you don’t move on from how you feel.

TRHH: What inspired the single “Somebody”?

Tiff the Gift: [Laughs] Me and my homegirls have conversations all the time about relationships. They come to me about relationships or whatever. Sometimes I share with them what I’ve learned in marriage and things like that. Sometimes they even teach me things because I’m kind of outside of the single life at this point of my life. Somebody is about sometimes relationships are to be taken very seriously and sometimes they just are what they are. Loyalty is important, fidelity is important, but sometimes you just need somebody. Sometimes it’s not about tomorrow, next year, or your future, sometimes you just need somebody. And you can’t worry about what other people say. “Some men and their attempts and their intentions be boring me/Pretentious in a sense, and even more and importantly/Your opinion ain’t offensive, I’ve been mentioned historically.” So right now it’s okay for me. I’m not worried about what anybody says, I’m going with the feelings that I have right now. Not that I trust you or anything, but the “somebody” that you need sometimes is not that serious.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with It Gets Greater Later?

Tiff the Gift: I hope to expand the listener base. I hope that the people that are already listening can get a good grasp of who I am and who I’ve become over time and the fact that I’ve been working for them. I’ve been working for the listener. I recorded my first and second album within a week’s time. With this album I kind of just took my time and I wanted to make sure that first I reached out to everybody that I knew in some way, shape, form, or fashion so they could feel the energy that came from that record. And then I wanted to make sure that I could reach out to the masses. I wanted to have at least a couple of tracks on there that you can feel whole heartedly and say, “I understand, I can relate.” It’s simplicity but it’s complex.

Purchase: Tiff the Gift – It Gets Greater Later

From the Vault: DJ Premier

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

The next installment of The Real Hip’s From the Vault series features the greatest producer in the history of Hip-Hop, DJ Premier. The interview was conducted in February of 2010 during NBA All-Star Weekend in Dallas, Texas.

Preem had just tore down a club and granted me a few minutes of his time. I was grateful, nervous, but grateful. This is Preemo, the architect of numerous Hip-Hop classics!! He’s produced for the likes of Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie Smalls, Rakim, KRS-One, Common, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Heavy D, Big Daddy Kane, Joey Bada$$, Game, MC Lyte, Big L, and Dr. Dre, just to name a few!

His work as one half of Gang Starr with the late Guru is the true definition of classic material. Premier is a genius at what he does and a living legend. It was my first time speaking with him, and hopefully not the last.

Ladies and gentlemen, DJ Premier.

TRHH: What has All-Star Weekend been like for you so far?

DJ Premier: It’s been really great. We just got here today. The funny thing is I’m from New York and we just got a little rough snow but I’m used to it. I shovel my own drive-way, I shovel the side walk, take care of all my neighbors, and make sure all the old ladies get their drive-ways shoveled and get taken care of with salt and all of that. I’m from Texas originally but I’ve been living in New York for 22 years. My sister lives out here and to come out to 9 inches of snow is funny. I’m used to 36 degrees but everybody out here is panicking, flights were cancelled and all of that. We made it here safely. Big shout out to 944 magazine for having us out here, we appreciate it. Shout out to The Boardroom for having us, Russell Simmons, Melanie Fiona, Paul Pierce, Snoop Dogg, DJ Reflex, and Doug E. Fresh. It’s a beautiful thing to be out here. Shout out to Nick Javas who ripped it with me. He’s on my label Year Round Records. Also shout out to all the people that came through, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, Chris Tucker, Magic Johnson and also Allen Iverson who couldn’t be here who I’m a big fan of.

TRHH: I read that you were working with MC Eiht on his new album, how did that come about?

DJ Premier: We’ve been friends for a long time. I’ve known him since the 90’s; we came up in the same era. When the West Coast was strong with Death Row, MC Eiht had his own lane—he also became an actor in the film Menace II Society. I did my first gig in L.A. in 1989 with Gangstarr, Compton’s Most Wanted, WC and the Maad Circle, and Ice Cube. This was when Ice Cube first left N.W.A. He got into a big beef backstage. All the action wasn’t out in the crowd it was backstage. It was crazy to witness that and see how many people were mad at Cube for moving and taking that step. It turned out to be one of the best moves that he made. The first person I met in Long Beach at the show was MC Eiht. He had two beepers on his hip, a big fresh jheri curl, and black khaki’s. He said, “What’s up DJ Premier my name is MC Eiht,” and we’ve been friends ever since. I just love his style. He has a unique voice and a unique flow—he has his own lane.

That’s what it’s all about, having your own lane. Everybody always wants to sound like everybody else but when you’re different you always prevail even if it takes a minute to get there. He never switched that up. When I put out an artist named Blaq Poet on my label Year Round Record in June of 2009 we wanted to do a remix. Eiht and I were on the phone talking about new music he was working on and I let him hear the song and he loved it. He was like, “Yo let me get on it.” I let him get on it and then my man Young Maylay who’s down with Dub C. WC and Crazy Toones who is also from the West Coast let me hear his stuff and he’s a great MC. He’s going to be on my label, too. I asked him to get on it too and he sent it to me in a day—done! I said let’s shoot a video because I was working with Christina Aguilera on her new album out in L.A. Gordon Franklin who runs my label said, “Yo, I got some cheap tickets we can get. Let’s bring Poet, fly out to L.A., shoot the video, and go back to New York the next day.”

I stayed out there and worked with Christina. I snuck away…she don’t even know I broke away. I’m going to get in trouble now. I broke away from a session that she’s paying me to be out there for to go and shoot the video with Poet, MC Eiht, and Maylay. It came out really good, it’s called “Ain’t Nuttin’ Changed.” Then they came to New York and did the show for our release party. We flew them up, put them in nice hotels, and took care of them—we’re old friends. I said you know what, we should do an album. Eiht gave me like 40 songs and he doesn’t know how to mix. He gave me like 40 songs all sparse and crazy but the beats and lyrics were dope. I said, “Yo man we could do two albums together! I’m gonna put you on my label and do a couple of one-offs.”

That’s what my label represents, pure Hip-Hop from the bottom up! You gotta start from the bottom and work your way up. Everybody now is so caught up on first week sales and soundscan. Forget soundscan and forget first week sales, it’s all about integrity and quality music. We care about our fans and we care about giving them their money’s worth. That pays more than a payola record. Paying for a record means you’re buying your friends. I don’t have to buy my friends to like me. I want you to like me because I’m real and I’m me. So all those other motherfuckers let them pay for their records, we know that they don’t hold water next to what we do. I don’t care if they get 20 million spins they can’t stand next to us when we drop our stuff. Play yours then play mine—ours is better [laughs].

TRHH: Pete Rock is in town, I think 9th Wonder just left town…

DJ Premier: Family man…all family.

TRHH: I recently saw clips from the show that 9th did to honor you and Pete in North Carolina….

DJ Premier: Yeah man. That’s one of the dopest things I’ve ever experienced. To be honored…. Man I feel like I got so many more miles to go. I’ll be 44 years-old this year. The love that 9th Wonder gave me and Pete was so incredible. The band that played for us mimicking our records and sounding just like the beats we produced from out heart and soul, it was one of the biggest, dopest events ever in my lifetime. I love 9th Wonder, I love Pete. Big shout out to both of them.

TRHH: Are you still using the SP 1200?

DJ Premier: No, I’m using the S950 which is one of the old, old 1984-85 machines. And I’m still using the MPC60! The first MPC! Roger Linn, big up.

TRHH: I watched you deejay tonight, what’s your opinion of Serato?

DJ Premier: I used to be against Serato just because vinyl is the essence of how we’ve developed Hip-Hop culture. Shout out to Kool Herc the father and Afrika Bambaataa the godfather. I was against it for a long time and then DJ’s I respect like Jazzy Jeff and DJ Jazzy Jay from the Zulu Nation were like, “Preem this is what you’ve earned. You’ve carried records, amps, and speakers for years; bruising your legs, being tired, sore, paying overweight fees on planes for your record crates on tour. This is a gift to you–utilize it, learn it, and master it and you’ll be incredible.” I finally mastered it and I can do the same thing I wanted to do which is what I was afraid of losing—the integrity of what makes me great when I do vinyl.

I own all of these records that are actually played on Serato. I have every one in storage with the artwork and the credits showing who produced it, engineered it, mixed it, and shout out to my man Ronnie, Ra-Ra, and Rollo! All that means a lot to us so I don’t want that to go away. I like all the rock artists like Katy Perry, Pearl Jam, U2, and Radiohead that put out vinyl. Jay-Z still puts out vinyl, Blueprint 3 is on vinyl. I love that because they don’t neglect what made our culture great, which was the DJ. Before there was an MC there was the DJ and we are the reason why you dance and party. I stay true to the essence. I can play these types of party’s where it’s cross-over music but I’m really deep rooted in the 80’s, 90’s era of Hip-Hop. I like the grown and sexy stuff, 70’s funk, Parliament, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole you name it, all of that stuff.

TRHH: When you deejay at a club do you try to avoid playing Preemo records?

DJ Premier: Nah, ‘cause I know that’s what they want. I didn’t do it tonight. The gig’s I usually get that’s all I do is do a big segment of Premier and Gang Starr. Then I go into other stuff like breaks and the original records that we sample from. At the end of the day it’s all about your knowledge and respect for music. As long as your knowledge and respect for music is there you will always prevail because I can do any gig from House, Folk, Country, Rock, and everything. We really, really respect music. We don’t just listen to it and love it, we respect it. You gotta respect it to love it and take it to the next level and that’s what I do.

TRHH: I interviewed MoSS a few weeks ago and he said that you guys had a surprise coming this year. Can you drop a hint?

DJ Premier: If it’s a surprise then it’s gotta remain that. Shout out to MoSS, Works of Mart, Toronto, Canada. He’s one of the illest, fiercest, original producers that I really respect. That’s why I signed him to my production company because he brings another piece to the puzzle. And plus I give people their credit. You have a lot of producers that take the credit but other people produced the song—that’s just how they’re structured. With me, if MoSS produced it, it will say produced by MoSS for Works of Mart. If Gemcrates produced it, it will say produced by Gemcrates for Works of Mart. If it’s produced by Premier, it’s Premier for Works of Mart. I’m not gonna take it and put my name on it but they did it. Plus my sound is already embedded and I don’t want people to say, “Ah man now you getting other people to do your beats?” I worry about that stuff. We all have our own style; they’re just another added piece to making solid albums. It’s all about albums, I love making solid albums.

TRHH: This is the 20 year anniversary of Just to Get a Rep. That’s my favorite Premier beat of all time.

DJ Premier: I appreciate it man, thank you.

TRHH: Go back and talk about Just to Get a Rep and how you made that beat.

DJ Premier: We made that record based on that fact that Guru and I had just got our record deal for Step in the Arena on EMI and Chrysalis Records. We both bought brand new whips, he had a 4Runner and I had a brand new MPV. He was actually robbed for his car and he wrote a song about it. The crazy thing is, the guy who robbed him for his car, we found the guy. We chased him and he ran into an ice cream truck, crashed ,and died. God bless his soul. He crashed into an ice cream truck and died, what can you do? Guru wrote the lyrics based on that incident. That’s a very, very sacred and deep record. I remember the day that we went to the precinct to see the car and it was smashed up like an accordion. There was no way he would have survived that crash. It’s unfortunate that the guy got lost but at the same time it’s unfortunate that he took it upon himself to take Guru’s car. At the end of the day we prevailed. God bless his soul and God bless his family. We don’t wish death on anybody.

TRHH: You have over 20 years of experience beat-making. Do you have a favorite Preemo beat?

DJ Premier: Nah. I’m not into riding my own dick. It’s not my style. You know? Not my style.

TRHH: So what’s up for DJ Premier in 2010?

DJ Premier: Year Round Records is my label for 5 years strong. We have a NYG’z album coming out. They have an album that came out in 2008 called Welcome to G-Dom, more of a compilation type of an album with me bringing up the body of it and they did their own thing while I was on tour with Big Shug of Gangstarr Foundation. We’re also working on his album called Blue Collar. Also Nick Javas from Jersey, his album is called Destination Unknown—a very good album. I got Khalil from Houston, Texas–Missouri City to be exact. His album is called “My MC Name is.…” I’m also doing my DJ Premier album, MC Eiht, and Young Maylay. Also KRS-One and DJ Premier, we’re doing Return of the Boom Bip. Not “Boom Bap,” Boom Bip. Shout out to Q-Tip who is already on it. Grand Puba and Ice-T who are on it, it’s going to be one of the illest albums of 2010!

Purchase DJ Premier’s discography:

Gang Starr – No More Mr. Nice Guy

Gang Starr -Step in the Arena

Gang Starr -Daily Operation

Gang Starr -Hard to Earn

Gang Starr -Moment of Truth

Gang Starr – The Ownerz

Gang Starr – Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – Kolexxxion