Maja 7th: Get Familiar

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Photo courtesy of Dub MD

Photo courtesy of Dub MD

Producer Maja 7th has crafted tracks for various artists with varying styles, including GLC, Add-2, Dominique Larue, and Killah Priest to name a few. The Indianapolis, Indiana native’s music is tailor-made for the artists he works with, but with his own stamp on each track. Maja is set to release a compilation album called “Get Familiar” to allow those who aren’t to do just that – get familiar.

Dropping in May, Get Familiar is a collection of classic and new tracks produced by Maja 7th. The album features guest appearances by artists like Freddie Gibbs, Mikkey Halsted, Mic Terror, L.E.P. Bogus Boys, and Pill among others.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Maja 7th about becoming recommitted to record producing, why RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan inspired him to venture into Hip-Hop, and his new album, Get Familiar.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album ‘Get Familiar’?

Maja 7th: A lot of new people and new supporters, I don’t like to use the word ‘fans’ because I don’t feel like I’m to that level, ask me, “What have you done before I heard this?” I started getting asked that question a lot so I got some of the records that were my favorites, some of the joints I did that got me to this point, and mixed those in with new records that I’m working on just to get people familiar, no pun intended, with me all the way around. That was the whole concept of the album to get some of the new supporters familiar with my older work and also give ‘em some new heat.

TRHH: In the video teaser for the album you said you had to get recommitted. What does being recommitted entail?

Maja 7th: For me there was some life instances that happened. I put out a couple of projects, The Breakout was good for me, and I worked with a couple of artists then I lost my father. My father passed away and it set me back mentally and everything. I had to kind of regroup and sit down and look at myself. Somebody actually asked me, “Yo, are you still working on music?” That bothered me because close friends and family know that’s what I do. When somebody asked me that I had to really look at myself and say, “Hey, you gotta get back out there and get back on your grind. There is so much more material and product to put out. You gotta use your gift.” I got recommitted. I started making beats, contacting artists, and using the relationships that I’d developed. I knocked the dust off, knocked the rust off and just went back in hard. It was a couple things that put me down for a little bit but I had to get back into it. I started putting forth the effort and working on the craft.

TRHH: I lost my father too about six years ago. Unfortunately I can relate to you. How difficult was it for you to get back to normalcy and the everyday grind after losing your father?

Maja 7th: There was a stretch where it was really, really tough. Like you said, that’s a small club that you’re in. Everybody can’t relate to that. You’d have to have lost a parent to understand what that does. It set me back for a little bit because my father was one of my biggest fans. He got to see me on MTV with Freddie Gibbs and Mikkey Halsted when we dropped ‘On My Own’ and the video came on. He got to see me on TV and that was huge to him because he’d always been a supporter. When he passed it was like taking a piece of me away. I had to go through my grieving process. I know it’s different for people, people grieve in different ways and I understand that. I had to sit down and really go through the grieving process because my pops was one of my biggest fans. He used to always tell me, “You’re going to be alright. I know you’re gonna make it.” When he was taken away from me I had to take care of the acceptance portion and accept it, number one. I also had to think about what he would have said. He would have said, “You gotta get back on your grind and go chase your dream. The fact that I’m gone, don’t let that stop you from chasing your dream.” Once I realized that it lit a fire under me. I got refocused, got back on my grind, and now we got Get Familiar.

TRHH: I read that Wu-Tang’s ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ inspired you to become a producer. What is it about Wu that grabbed your attention?

Maja 7th: Man, I’ll be honest with you ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ pretty much changed everything for me. RZA is my all-time favorite producer, period, no questions asked. When I heard C.R.E.A.M. come on the sample was so gritty, grimy, and dusty. These dudes are out here dropping bars in the midst of the grimiest grit. It caught me off guard to how dope they were lyrically. If you listen to the first album the production was so consistent. It sounded like they recorded it in a basement but it had that grit, grime, and soul to it. That’s what caught my attention, how nice they were lyrically. Chef was creative, Ghost was creative, Method Man was creative — they all were their own characters. They really got me hyped about Hip-Hop and RZA with the production, it was a wrap.

TRHH: That’s interesting. I’m a Hip-Hop fan from the cradle but there was a time when I stopped listening to Hip-Hop. When the Gangsta stuff took over I listened to Alternative music. When I heard Wu-Tang I was like, “Oh my God!” It reminded me of the stuff that I loved and grew up on like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. Wu-Tang got me back into Hip-Hop. Do you have a favorite RZA production?

Maja 7th: [Laughs]. You know what man, I’ll be honest with you, probably my favorite joint from RZA is ‘Triumph’. It’s hard because he got some heat, but the beat on Triumph is ridiculous. If you actually listen to how that beat is put together with the strings in the background, the bass line how it just thumps all the way through the changes, that beat is incredible. That’s a beat that you can put up against anything.

TRHH: What beat-making equipment are you currently using?

Maja 7th: I’m dabbling into Ableton Live. I’m old school so a lot of my guys laugh and are in awe that I still use Sony ACID Music. That’s what I taught myself to make beats on so there is a version of that, that I still use – I chop samples in that. Ableton Live has become my favorite and I mix that in with Reason. I also use Fruity Loops as well with sequencing in terms of drums and whatnot. Hardware wise, I’ve never really been a hardware guy. My guy Slot-A and my dude Mike Schpitz are always telling me about getting hardware. I got a Korg padKONTROL that I’m messing with, trying to manipulate it and use it like an MPC machine. That’s pretty much it, just a MIDI controller for the keyboard, that’s it.

TRHH: Do you play any instruments?

Maja 7th: I do. When I was in high school I played two or three different instruments. I studied brass, I had a Jazz Studies minor when I was in college so I can play trumpet, french horn, and piano. Yeah, I can play instruments and read music as well.

TRHH: How do you incorporate that into sample based production?

Maja 7th: Well the sample is the foundation once you find it. Anybody that makes beats knows once you get it and the foundation is laid, even if the drum pattern is not what you’re going to finish with, it’s just the foundation. The fun part for me is the melody — the part for the hook, the part for the bridge, the part for the intro, any transition that you put it in, that’s what excites me. That’s the part where I have to use my ear and try to sync it up with whatever key the sample is in. Whenever you hear my production anything that you hear, whether its horns or synthesizers, that’s me that’s playing that. I also make beats that are sample free. There are 2-3 joints on Get Familiar that have an R&B feel. The goal is to expand and show people that I’m not just a sample based producer, I’m not just boom bap, I’m not just this, you can’t box me in.

TRHH: I recently saw Talib Kweli on his tour with Immortal Technique and he said the Midwest has the best producers. He mentioned guys he’d worked with — Kanye, J Dilla, and Hi-Tek. What is it about the Midwest that we bring the soul out in our sound?

Maja 7th: Honestly I think in the Midwest, whether it’s Indianapolis where I’m from or the Chi, a lot of our family members are from the South. I grew up listening to Al Green, B.B. King, and James Brown. My mom used to play those records and they were from the South, so Soul music came with it. I think a lot of people in the Midwest have someone in their family that has Southern roots. You can look at the food in the Chi, a lot of it is Southern-influenced. It’s also a melting pot. We’re in the middle of everything. People come to a huge city like Chicago and they might be from Memphis, Mississippi, or out West – you never know. We’re exposed to so many different people and so many different types of music, it’s just a melting pot by default. Whether it be through your family or people that you meet it’s just soulful. I think people in the Midwest are in the right area where people pass through and you get the chance to get put on to a lot of different types of music.

TRHH: What can we expect to hear on Get Familiar?

Maja 7th: I got my guy Neak from the Chi. I got Real Talk from Chicago as well. He did an incredible record called ‘Get Ready’. The dude is a genius lyrically, he’s insane. You’ll hear versatility like I was talking about earlier. There are going to be a couple of records that will surprise people because I have a joint with an incredible songwriter that I started working with in Indianapolis by the name of Bubby B. You’ll see when you hear the records that we did that it’s a complete R&B song. It’s not what you would expect from me. You’ll hear a lot of different things. I did some experimenting as far as R&B, I put more singers on hooks, and I’m also going to dig back in the crates and get 4 or 5 joints that I feel helped put me over the top and we’re going to mix those together. It’ll be a melting pot. It’s not going to be your traditional album that’s sequenced a certain way or has a cohesive sound. It’s going to be all over the place in terms of the production but you’ll be able to see the versatility and people that have followed me will be able to see some growth. That’s what you can expect, I’m really excited.

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G.C.: Don’t Sleep On Me

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Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR

Photo courtesy of Dunn Deal PR

Based in the birthplace of Hip-Hop, the Bronx, rapper G.C. has a simple request, don’t sleep on him. Confident in his abilities and eager to make a name for himself G.C., AKA “Godz Chyld”, recently released a free EP with a title that echoes his current sentiment, “Don’t Sleep On Me”.

Don’t Sleep On Me features an appearance by Snyder Scribez and production by Jordan River Banks, Pre, St. Peter, C-rius Touch, and Bronze Nazareth.

G.C. explained to The Real Hip-Hop why he’s “Godz Chyld”, why Tupac Shakur inspired him to pick up the mic, and why people need to stop sleeping on him.

TRHH: Explain the title of your new EP, ‘Don’t Sleep On Me’.

G.C.: I already came out with two projects before this one so I feel like people been sleeping on my music. I got this beat from Jordan River Banks, got on it right away, and that was just how I was feeling that day. I was feeling like I’m putting out this music, people not noticing it, so Im’ma make sure people not sleeping on me no more. This was the song to do it. Once I did that song it made sense to name the whole project that because that’s the mind state I was in when I was making it – making sure nobody is sleeping on me.

TRHH: Why do you feel like people are sleeping on you?

G.C.: I think the biggest thing is promotion. I know I got the talent and the music but the one thing I don’t got is the right promotion. I’m not reaching the people the way I feel like I should be. That’s really what’s holding me back – the exposure and the promotion. The music is there and once people hear my music I usually get a good response. The biggest problem is getting people to press play but once they press play they never regret it.

TRHH: Jordan River Banks produced the title track and another song on the EP, but this isn’t your first time working together. How’d you hook up with Jordan?

G.C.: We hooked up through Sound Cloud. Like I told you, I had projects before and the first project I put out was in 2011 called ‘Book of a Scribe’. I was on God Sendant Music, an independent label. He heard the music that was on there and I already knew him because I’m a big fan of artists like Killah Priest and Hell Razah. They use a lot of his beats on their music so I already knew who he was. I hit him up on Sound Cloud and said, “I love your beats.” He heard my songs and was feeling ‘em. We decided to come up with one or two songs. He sent me two beats and in a week I had it done already and sent it back. He was feeling the song so much that he was like, “Yo, you wanna work on a project?” and I was like, “Hell yeah!” He sent me a couple beats, I worked on it mad fast, and boom, you have the Forever EP. That’s a great project.

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

G.C.: The first person that made me want to rap period was 2Pac. That was the first rapper that I listened to. Growing up in my house there was only three things that got played, Bob Marley, 2Pac, and Wu-Tang. I grew up on all of that, so all of that made me wanna start rapping. 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me and Me Against the World album’s, once I heard that I wanted to do the same thing. It made me wanna rap and get people to see what I was thinking about. I was real quiet when I was young so I used rap as a way to show people where I was it. I didn’t talk a lot, but as soon as you start rapping people start listening. That’s your opportunity to capture them in that moment so that’s what made me wanna do it.

TRHH: What is it about 2Pac that grabbed you?

G.C.: I think more than anything it was probably his energy. I was probably like 12-years old when I started listening to him so he was talking about a lot of stuff that I wasn’t going through. I wasn’t an adult and going through those situations, so I think it was his energy and his personality. That was around the same time that Tupac: Resurrection came out so I was watching all of that. He was a deep dude and it inspired me to wanna do that.

TRHH: You’re from the Bronx, right?

G.C.: I live in the Bronx, but I’m really from Washington Heights. It’s real close together because Washington Heights is like the top of Manhattan going into the Bronx. I’ve lived all over – Maryland, PA, Queens, but I’m in the Bronx now.

TRHH: What differentiates a Bronx emcee from an emcee from the other boroughs?

G.C.: We all pretty much the same. It’s not really that different. Living in New York I guess people find little differences between the boroughs, but really we’re similar, yo. It’s not really that much of a difference.

TRHH: Your name G.C. is short for “Godz Chyld”, but I read that you’re not religious. Where does the name come from and why’d you make the change from Wize One?

G.C.: I had so many names, yo. I used to go by “Young Prince” and “Young God” but in 2011 I was on God Sendant and they were telling me I was going to have a problem with those names because people already had them. I just came up with something quick, which was “Wize One” just to get the deal to go through. It wasn’t really a name I was feeling like that, that’s why I ended up changing it anyways. I changed it to Godz Chyld because that’s something I feel like I naturally am. It’s not saying it’s an image I’m trying to put off to people. I literally walk through life feeling like I’m god’s child. To me that doesn’t mean that I’m the most righteous person, everybody and everything is god’s child. The sun and the universe is god’s child because it exists. Everything that exists was created, I was created too, so I’m god’s child. That’s all I am and I don’t gotta be nothing to be that. All I gotta be is myself. I’m pretty much saying I’m being myself but when a lot of people hear that name they expect a certain thing. I didn’t expect people to see it that way because I’m not even thinking the way that they’re thinking. I have to put myself in their place so when they hear that name they’re expecting something and I’m not bringing that so I abbreviated it to “G.C.” so people can wonder what it means and it gives me a way to explain what it means. That way there is no confusion.

TRHH: What’s next up for G.C.?

G.C.: I’m working on something right now, but what I’m really focusing on is promoting the three projects that I already put out – mainly the one that I just put out ‘cause I feel like that’s a real good project. I feel like it’s a lot of real good songs on there so that’s what I’m focusing on the most. I could work on something new but I already got three projects that people could listen to. If you were to become a new fan right now I got three projects for you to listen to and that’s a lot of music in itself. I’m trying to focus on getting people to hear those. I’m working on something else but I’m just getting started with it right now. I just love making music, but I’m focusing on getting people to stop sleeping on me.

Download: G.C. – Don’t Sleep On Me

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Big Shug: Triple OGzus

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Photo courtesy of Doug Katz

Photo courtesy of Doug Katz

Gang Starr Foundation’s Big Shug is back with his fifth album titled, “Triple OGzus”. The Boston native concocted an album that blends boom bap with soul. “Triple OGzus represents me as a street veteran, underground icon and original gangster who is always wise to the game,” Shug explained. “I love the fans and will always represent authentic Hip-Hop music with my soul.”

Triple OGzus is produced by DJ Premier, Kid Called Quest, Reel Drama, DJ Brans, Charles Roane, Gem Crates, and MoSS. The album features appearances by Termanology, M-Dot, Trumayne, Singapore Kane, and REKS.

Big Shug spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his new album, Triple OGzus, his transition to the big screen, and his relationship with the late, great Guru of Gang Starr.

TRHH: How’d you come up with the title ‘Triple OGzus‘?

Big Shug: Number one is me being an OG – original gangster. I’m just a veteran cat and with everything that I’ve embodied over my life I know I’m an OG but I’m also above that. That’s why it’s “OGzus” because it’s above that. I got so much wisdom and so much to offer so I put it musically on this album. That’s where that name came from.

TRHH: The song ‘I Bleed For This’ is unique in that it doesn’t sound like your typical DJ Premier track and also because you’re singing on the hook. How long have you been singing?

Big Shug: I’ve been singing since I was like 9 or 10. Me and Guru started Gang Starr together. Originally when we first started out in our performances we would sing and we would rap, so it was a little ahead of its time. I was always a strong singer so we would have a pretty good show. I’ve sang like most of my life.

TRHH: Do you write rhymes as they come to you or do you write to the beat?

Big Shug: I basically write rhymes when they come. It’s both situations. If someone is contracting me to do a 16 or somethin’ they gotta give you the music and you gotta write to it. Sometimes I have things in my head and I just put it together and write it out to go along with whatever beat. It’s actually both ways ‘cause I’m always writing even when I don’t have music. At the same time a lot of times you get the music and then you write.

TRHH: Do you ever have trouble matching up rhymes you wrote with certain beats?

Big Shug: Nah, that doesn’t make sense to me [laughs]. I’m not going to hear music and rhyme to it just for the sake of doing it. I’m gonna make it work. To me that’s a true emcee. I can rhyme rapid style and all kinds of stuff if I wanted to but that’s just not me. If someone gives me a beat I can write to anything that I get. It’s never no problem with that, bro.

TRHH: I spoke to Fong-Sai-U last year and he told me that near the end Guru secluded himself from people. What’s your take on the whole Solar situation and the state of mind Guru was in near the end of his life?

Big Shug: We have no idea what state of mind he was in because we didn’t see him for 9 years of his life. For 9 years he was with Solar doing whatever. When I speak of that I speak of me and Premier because we’re still involved in our music and what we do. The original Gang Starr Foundation is really Guru, Preem, and Shug because when Jeru and Group Home left it was still us doing stuff. That’s my man from the beginning but we have no idea what was going on with him. He chose to roll with Solar. I can’t even speculate on what was going on because we weren’t privy to no type of information. He just stayed away. It was sad because we didn’t want him to go out like that. Any time we would go to spots that they were supposed to be they wouldn’t be there. With the way they were, staying away from us, I really don’t know what his state of mind was.

TRHH: Can you share a never before told Guru story?

Big Shug: What people don’t really know is me and Guru were friends from the beginning. Before this rap thing came to light we were friends. In the earlier days of Hip-Hop we would go on any corner in Boston or buses and just start singing and rapping. It used to be fun because it was so plain and it was the beginning and we were super-popular to the local people in our area. Just being a friend with him was great. There’s no special story because me and him did a lot. We went to Atlanta years ago to try to make it out there. We were going to meet up with Larry Blackmon and some other people trying to jump off our career. This was many years before he started with Premier. There are no special stories like I said, it’s just me and him was boys. We did a lot together.

TRHH: Tell me about the single ‘Off Rip’.

Big Shug: Off Rip is basically what it is. We’re just lettin’ you know from the gate that this is how it goes down. It’s kind of like a cypher joint where we’re all just going in. In the video we’re just on the corner outside. It’s nothing elaborate, just raw spitting. It’s me touching on a few things. Everybody knows about our legacy with Gang Starr, Guru and everything. I’m just giving them that grimy Hip-Hop.

TRHH: I saw you recently in the Larry David movie ‘Clear History’. How’d you get into acting?

Big Shug: The first movie I was in was ‘The Town’ with Ben Affleck. I was in the extended version and the collector’s edition because it got cut from the main movie. It actually took off because a lot of people were seeing me when they would order the movie, therefore I started getting recognition. After that I was called to read for ‘The Heat’ with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy – I’m also in that movie. After that I was in the Larry David movie. CP Casting keeps calling me and putting me in these situations and I have to ace it. I also just finished filming this movie called Black Mass with Johnny Depp. That’s about a South Boston gangster, Whitey Bulger, who was once on the most wanted list. They just started calling me and I’ve always had that ability so I guess it came to fruition.

TRHH: Who is Triple OGzus for?

Big Shug: Triple OGzus is for authentic Hip-Hop fans. There is something for the youth because the music is educational the way we do it. I have a young son in high school and you won’t find nobody in his school and his AAU basketball sector that aren’t fans or know about his father’s music. It’s for the OG’s as well, it’s for some Gang Starr fans. The reason why I say it’s for “some” is because when I started making Big Shug records Gang Starr wasn’t together. Therefore I caught on to some fans that know me just as Big Shug. It’s really for a lot of people. It’s for grown Hip-Hop because I do a lot of singing on the album. There are actually 4 songs on the album that aren’t rap songs. There is a remake of “In the Rain” by Oran “Juice” Jones, “Relationships” is an interlude, “Days Go By”, and I have a strip club song called ‘Make That Body Do’ which I sing on a bit but I’m really talking about a night out at the strip club. I’m singing on a few hooks too.

It’s for women, men, older fans – a lot of people, it’s just not targeting the genre. That’s why I call it Hip-Hop and Soul music. You’re going to hear some raw Hip-Hop and you’re also going to hear some Soul music as well as far as crooning and getting deep. It’s a couple of ill joints on there where I’m just going in as an emcee getting at it. I feel the album is for different parts of everyone. I just completed another album that’s in the works for a deal that’s a total Soul album called “The Living Room”. It’s only singing, it’s maybe rapping on one song. People who have followed Gang Starr know that I always sang, even on Jazzmatazz. I try to give you entertainment with these albums. It’s not just going to be me rapping with dudes and a bunch of features. I know a lot of brothers in Hip-Hop that I could call and they’ll jump on a verse in a minute but that’s really not what it’s about. It’s about me trying to be authentic with it and giving that brand of Hip-Hop for different people, you know?

Purchase: Big Shug – Triple OGzus

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dFresh: Universal Laws

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Photo courtesy of Dub MD

Photo courtesy of Dub MD

The late great 2Pac famously said, “If you believe, then you can achieve,” and Delaware rapper dFresh echoes that sentiment. Inspired by Earl Nightingale’s self-help album “The Strangest Secret”, dFresh released a free EP titled Universal Laws: Chapter 1. The first installment of a three part series, Universal Laws educates listeners on the power of positive thinking.

Universal Laws: Chapter 1 was successfully funded via Kickstarter and features Damilleo Stacks. The 7-track EP is produced entirely by GxWay.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to dFresh about his innate optimism, his theories on success, and his new EP, Universal Laws: Chapter 1.

TRHH: Why’d you decide to go the Kickstarter route for your project?

dFresh: Actually it sort of piggybacks on a story from before that. I actually started on Universal Laws several months before the Kickstarter even happened, almost a half a year. I have my own personal space where I record all my music. I went to school for sound so I learned a little bit about setting studios up. I set up a small set up of my own and it actually got broken into. All the equipment got robbed out of it.

TRHH: Oh my God.

dFresh: Yeah, it was pretty bad. I had about four songs for the Universal Laws and I lost everything. I ended up losing countless amounts of other material that I was working on. I had that equipment for 6-7-8 years, close to my whole career in Boston. The Universal Laws felt so strong to me that I had to keep it going. I had to make it one way or another. Besides that I had to get back on my feet. I wasn’t about to stop. The dude that did the video for Universal Laws spearheaded and partnered up with me to help with the Kickstarter. That’s where all that stems from.

TRHH: Explain the title of the project, ‘Universal Laws’.

dFresh: It’s not made up word or anything like that. A lot of people talk about it. It’s hard to describe it without using the words. It’s pretty much laws that are fairly universal. Laws that different religions, cultures, and ethnicities talk about like prosperity and trying to use your mind to do what you want. It’s universal so the tools can be used negatively and positively. It’s up to you to decide how you wanna use it. It’s certainly talked about in religion and other people use it for prosperity and stuff. It’s something that applied to me. Besides the instance that happened with the robbery, beforehand I really felt it. I listened to the speech “The Strangest Secret” by Earl Nightingale on my 25th birthday about three years ago. Honestly when I heard it I didn’t even know what to do with it at first. After really listening to it a couple of times it motivated me. Because I make music I felt I had to be a vessel for it to get the word to other people. I felt it was so empowering to me that I would hope that other people could benefit from it as well. Part of what he was talking about was laws of the universe. That’s where the name and title came from.

TRHH: What about it was empowering to you?

dFresh: The fact that I personally felt that I was embodying some of what he was saying already. I felt as though I was reaping the benefits of some of what he was saying without consciously knowing what it was. My mother is a very positive person so I got a solid foundation of the glass is half full theory. I’ve always been someone that was positive. I felt like when Earl Nightingale was doing his speech I almost wasn’t hearing anything new. I felt like everything I heard was said to me in a different way one way or another. So if I’m already reaping these benefits from me living like this and me trying to live like this, what’s more self-empowering than knowing that you’ve already been living by it? I came from Delaware, I have no family in Massachusetts. I came up to go to school and I’ve been building off of that. You know about me losing my equipment and there has been other extremes that have happened while I was in school that I talk about on Universal Laws. There is always going to be some type of obstacle. Even with my stuff being taken I was still trying to do that and with me trying to do that I’m already reaping the benefits. There is nothing more self-empowering. I feel like a lot of other people might have been the same way even if it’s not 100% of their life — at one point in their life. That’s some of the stuff that will motivate you, knowing that you can do it and you’ve already been doing it.

TRHH: Tell me about the single, ‘The Strangest Secret’.

dFresh: Well the Universal Laws project itself will be a series. When you listen to the whole series through you’ll get the entire Earl Nightingale speech – well, you’ll get paraphrases of a large majority of the speech. It’s a half hour speech. Theoretically you’ll be able to listen to the whole speech all the way through. The Strangest Secret is really just to open it up. It’s to start it off. The song titles will have different reasons for their names. The first universal thing is the title, The Strangest Secret, it’s the opener.

TRHH: What’s it like working with GxWay?

dFresh: It’s phenomenal really. Me and him actually have our own personal relationship. He and I went to school together. When I started he was one of the people that I met the first year I was there. We pretty much built a relationship from there. We really didn’t know each other from a can of paint. He was actually doing graphic design, he wasn’t even doing audio. Our school wasn’t a predominantly black school. It was a Rock & Roll type school. One of the main genres a lot of people did was Rock & Roll so you end up gravitating to a lot of the Hip-Hop heads. Everyone also doesn’t live in the dorms. Me and him lived in the dorms so we’d see each other and say what’s up. I’m the type of person that’s more outgoing when I need to get to know people. I didn’t even know he made beats. One day I was walking by his dorm room and heard some beats. I’m a performer so when I heard the beats I didn’t even knock, I just opened the door and started spittin’ something. We just hit it off and started doing tracks. He went different places but we always found a way to bring it back. We’ve been working on this project for the past 2-3 years and it’s almost like it’s back to normal how we always used to work.

TRHH: You said that you wanted to make this project more east coast, what does that mean?

dFresh: I wanted to have a little more of a boom bap-ish type feel. That was a good vessel for me to do some solid conscious rap. I think greats like Talib Kweli and Mos Def are really good at doing conscious stuff on east coast beats. I have a song on there that’s a little more south. GxWay makes the beats and I give ideas on formats. He brings the pain on the beats. It’s the last song on the project and it’s sort of southern but it has a Wu-Tang type element to it.

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

dFresh: I wanna say my peers but just like when you asked about working with GxWay, there are compound stories underneath that. In my teenage years my friends were freestyling on radio. I’m mulatto, and on the white side of my family there are a handful of musicians. No one is famous in any way, shape, or form but they’re people that like to play music. My mom has 5 brothers and each one of them did something musically. One that didn’t do something musically did something technically with sound. It sort of in a way been in me. I remember as a kid me loving just to listen to music. Sometimes it wasn’t necessarily Hip-Hop, but I just loved to listen to music. I’d sing my own jingles to songs. When I was ten years old my father passed away from cancer and part of the way for me to deal with it was to vent through me writing a rap. I didn’t necessarily have to talk about him but I had to get out that emotion.

Honestly I never told anyone for 4-5 years. I showed a few of my friends my raps but it wasn’t anything crazy. When I was ten I felt that even if nothing came from me rapping, just me doing something musical and getting in the motion, even if a few people liked it, it wasn’t enough for me to not stop. It was free at the time, I was just rapping in my room so I didn’t see any harm in it. When I got to middle school to high school I heard a lot of the surrounding rappers in Delaware. A lot of Philly rappers were influential. Roc-A-Fella had a lot of artists at the time. Going to battles and listening to DJ Kay Slay influenced me. I can’t say my whole style is based off that but I can safely say there have been phases where I listened to that music enough and you sort of embody what you listen to. I’m not sure where I can safely say when somebody inspired me to rap but there were enough underlying influences — relative and environmental.

TRHH: What are your goals in the music business?

dFresh: I can’t put my finger on it but it’s a very weird fickle thing. If I set a goal to sell a million records and I don’t sell a million records am I a failure in the music industry? “I want to make sure I work with Jay-Z,” but if I don’t work with that person does that make me a failure? I feel like there are a lot of different avenues of success. I will say that I’m not trying to be mediocre. I’m trying to go 100% and then redefine what 100% is. I’m definitely trying to go as hard as possible. I don’t want to get caught up in “This is what I have to do,” or “I have to win this amount of Grammys,” because there have been plenty of greats that didn’t win Grammys. Does a Grammy determine your success? I can’t put a label on something that has so many different avenues of success. You can still be successful even if you only inspire someone to be the greatest. I don’t try to set too many goals but to make a living, clothe myself, and feed myself. I’m going to try to do the best I can but at the bare minimum if at least I can do that in some way, shape, or form I’m going to feel pretty good about it.

Download: dFresh – Universal Laws: Chapter 1

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DJ EFN: Another Time

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media

Photo courtesy of MAC Media

Miami mixtape pioneer DJ EFN dropped his first mixtape in 1993. It’s pretty remarkable to think that his first official album would not drop until 2015, but that’s what happened. This month DJ EFN and Crazy Hood Productions released “Another Time”, a full-length album that combines legendary emcees with some of the best and brightest from the new generation of rap – EFN designed it that way.

Another Time’s star-studded line-up includes Fashawn, Smif-N-Wessun, Inspectah Deck, M.O.P., MC Eiht, Sean Price, Buckwild, Your Old Droog, Royce da 5’9”, Scarface, Troy Ave, Ras Kass, Black Milk, Cormega, Redman, Masta Ace, Kurupt, Jon Connor, Blu, David Banner, DJ Premier, Juvenile, Joell Ortiz, and Talib Kweli to name a few.

The Real Hip-Hop chatted with DJ EFN regarding the Miami Hip-Hop scene, his legendary deejay career, his foray into filmmaking, and his new album, Another Time.

TRHH: Why’d you title the album ‘Another Time’?

DJ EFN: The era that I started pursuing music seriously was ’93 – that golden era, classic Hip-Hop era. It’s my favorite time so far of Hip-Hop music culturally and musically. It’s what basically inspired me to do stuff. I’m paying homage to that era, I’m paying homage to the mixtape career that I launched in ’93 which basically helped me pursue other avenues within entertainment and Hip-Hop. It’s just another time. This project is made with the morals from another time.

TRHH: Why do you think things changed from the way it was during the golden era?

DJ EFN: One of the first key factors for Hip-Hop that changed it, for good or for bad, is how big it got in terms of financial rewards – for companies, for individuals, for artists, for execs, whatever. If you’re someone from the late 80s, early 90s and you were a fan of the music you know there was a very limited fan base and these artists didn’t do it for a payoff. They were invested in the art form and just wanted respect for what they were doing. Whether it was emcees, B-Boy’s, or deejays, culturally you just wanted respect. It wasn’t really a financial gain. Once money was infused into the system it was positive in a lot of ways, but money is the root of all evil. It really took a lot out of the art and it brought in a lot of new people that didn’t care about the progression of the music, the art form, and maintaining certain values within it. The next phase of the problem is technology. Technology has impacted every type of art form, scene, and business. Technology has really had a hand in changing it after money was a big factor.

TRHH: Speaking of technology, you have a lot of artists on this album. How long did it take you to put this album together?

DJ EFN: It took me about six months, really.

TRHH: That’s not too bad.

DJ EFN: Nah, not bad at all.

TRHH: Tell me about the single ‘Lane 2 Lane’.

DJ EFN: It’s a special track because going back to my mixtape series and what I’m known for, what’s important for me on my mixtapes is to provide a quality and consistent mixtape first and foremost for Miami, where I’m from. I want to make sure I’m providing quality mixtapes for the local scene but with the same stuff that they were getting from mixtapes coming out of New York or wherever else. When we were getting those mixtapes people were repping other places because those mixtapes came from other places. It was always important to help promote the Miami identity and the Miami Hip-Hop scene and Lane 2 Lane is one of those tracks on this project that represents me making sure I promote Miami and the local scene. I’m giving you Gunplay who is a veteran but is new to a lot of people so he’s a newer veteran. He’s well respected locally. There is this new guy Denzel Curry who is doing a lot and he represents the youthful side of things and the whole new generation. I wanted to bring those two together and give you a real solid Miami track the way I would do it.

TRHH: What’s the Miami Hip-Hop scene like? I’m 38 so when I think of Miami I think of 2 Live Crew or now Rick Ross.

DJ EFN: Right. I’m 39 so we’re around the same age. I think a lot of cities have had this problem outside of L.A., Atlanta, New York, and maybe Chicago, but we’ve always been trying to fight to get heard and show what our city has to offer. A lot of people think Miami Hip-Hop started with Rick Ross and Pitbull. Although they’re very successful and those are my people, that’s not the case. I’m kind of like one of the last of the Mohicans from a scene that was small but thriving. We had a lot of people that came out of that scene that are important to Hip-Hop like DJ Craze who is like a 5-time World DMC Champion. We had an artist that got signed to Island Music called Mother Superia who ended up getting shelved. Her album that was about to come out had production from Redman, a feature from KRS-One, and her first video was directed by the GZA at the height of Wu-Tang. We had way more emcees than I’m mentioning. We had world renowned B-Boys and graffiti artists, too.

Something that happened that capped the era that I’m speaking of, I wrote an article about this for MTV, but when Mother Superia got shelved and that album never came out I feel like it closed the door on the scene that I’m from. Coming out of that scene you’ve got Trick Daddy and Ross. They aren’t necessarily from the scene that I’m talking about. They are Miami in their own right and have their own scene, but a new scene developed and people felt like that was the beginning of Miami Hip-Hop and that’s not the case. A lot of the first times that you heard Ross or Pitbull were on my mixtapes before anybody was playing them on radio. But I come from another scene so really the foundation of what these guys started from is from another scene altogether.

TRHH: What did it mean to you to get Premier and Buckwild on the project?

DJ EFN: To make it easy on myself and also to put on people locally, most of the production is handled by either friends, local producers that I’m cool with, or producers that I manage under my wing. That was purposely done because it was easier for me to deal with. I did want to have feature production that was just as much of a feature as an artist. Premier was always in my head. If I ever did a studio project I wanted to have Premier. Having Premier is like the pinnacle for any Hip-Hop head. I got Premier and what made that track really special was I asked him if he could cut up these vocals that I had from Guru. Guru hosted some mixtapes of mine and did freestyles for me. I asked Premier if he could cut up the vocals saying, “DJ EFN, Crazy Hood,” and Premier obliged. It was extremely special to me. If no one cared it was special to me and now that I have it it’s never going to go away. I have something really special that I can always refer to and that’s dope. It’s the closest thing to having a Gang Starr record.

I had finished the whole album and I was done but I hadn’t had that Buckwild record yet. I needed one more record and a vibe that I felt like was missing on the project. Me and Buckwild had communicated a lot in the past. He would send beats for other artists that I managed — I manage Mayday and Wrekonize who are signed to Tech N9ne. I had a folder of his and I found that beat. I asked if it was still available and he said it was – Boom, that’s where that record came from.

TRHH: Who spit your favorite verse on the album?

DJ EFN: Aw man I can’t pick one favorite verse [laughs]. I can tell you a couple of favorite verses, definitely Your Old Droog on the Buckwild record – he killed it. Redman is one of my favorite emcees of all-time, he murdered it for me. I hope this doesn’t sound like a diss but I was actually surprised by Stalley. He just murked the Premier record.

TRHH: Oh yeah, he can rhyme, man.

DJ EFN: I knew his stuff but I hadn’t really paid as much attention until I started looking into him and tried to get him on the track. What he returned to me was more than I even expected.

TRHH: With over 20 years in the game to what do you attribute your success?

DJ EFN: Personally I believe in consistency. In whatever you do, stay consistent. Even if times are tough for you and it’s hard to be consistent, whatever you’re putting out there be as consistent as you possibly can. Be consistent with product, quality, relationships in terms of the people you’re dealing with, and be honest too. I always tell people it’s nothing wrong with hustling but polite persistence is the best way to get things done. It’s hard for people to diss you when you’re being polite. Even though they want to because you’re being too persistent, but you’re being polite about it and respectful. People can’t diss you for that.

TRHH: What’s next up for Crazy Hood?

DJ EFN: I’m managing my artists Mayday and Wrekonize. They’re doing their album on Strange Music. We’re setting up their national tour and a Canadian tour – that’s big on the plate. I’m going to continue to promote this project because I’m very aware that we live in the internet age where stuff comes out and it’s gone in the ether. I’m going to continue to put it in people’s faces until it finds an audience that appreciates it. I know that I can’t stop because it’s tweeted out in the world. I’ll continue to promote it and do remixes and stuff.

Another big thing on my plate is I started a film company with a business partner of mine. It’s branched off from Crazy Hood Productions and it’s called Crazy Hood Film Academy. We have these film project that we’ve been putting out in a series that I came up with where we’re exploring different countries through their Hip-Hop scene. The first movie was Cuba, which is my parent’s homeland. It got picked up by Revolt TV. We just signed a licensing deal for the next two series’ which is Coming Home: Peru and Coming Home: Haiti. They’ll air in March and in May. We have short films too. One of our short films just got picked up by Cannes Film Festival in France. We’ll continue to push the envelope on the film side. It’s completely new to me. I don’t consider myself a filmmaker but I have ideas and visions and I’m going to execute them the best as possible. If people like them, cool, that’s dope.

Purchase: DJ EFN – Another Time

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Mega Ran & Storyville: Soul Veggies

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Photo courtesy of Brick Records

Photo courtesy of Brick Records

The days of rap duos are seemingly dead. The early 80s meteoric success of Run-DMC spawned acts like EPMD, Salt-N-Pepa, De La Soul, and Mobb Deep to name a few. For whatever reason (ego, greed, and/or divisive record companies) Hip-Hop has been all about the soloist in recent years, but that trend appears to be changing.

Philadelphia raised artists Mega Ran and Storyville have joined forces under the banner of “Soul Veggies”. The group’s new album of the same name is a carefree project that harkens back to the days when Hip-Hop was fun.

Soul Veggies features appearances by Wise Intelligent, Russel Tate, Laura Zahn, D.O.E. Boy, and PT Starks. The album is produced by Small Professor, Wann Sklobi, DJ Seedless, Mike Paris, The Cymatiks, Kid Icki, Lost Perception, The Symphony and Storyville himself.

Mega Ran and Storyville spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the formation of their group, the importance of being funny on the microphone, and their new album, Soul Veggies.

TRHH: How’d you guys link up to do this album?

Mega Ran: We’ve been linked up for a long time, actually. We’ve known each other for ten years. We’re both from Philly. We were in a rap crew together – RAHM Nation. We met through a guy named Ohene, a dope artist who was also a teacher at a Hip-Hop class at Temple. The class was kind of a talent scouting operation. When he found out we were dope and doing some cool stuff he would link us all up. I met a lot of the guys that I still work with today through that union. That was back in like ’04 in Philly. We started working on my first record together. I knew Storyville could rhyme but I didn’t know he could produce or do other stuff. Turns out the dude is like a multi-talented, multi-faceted cat. We continued to make more and more music from there. He produced one of my favorite songs from the first album, a song called ‘Push’. From there we just kept on working and built a great relationship. I moved to Phoenix a few years later and he moved to Boston but we still maintain contact and hit the road when we can. I figured it was just time. Maybe three years ago we started working on this record. Every time I’d come home to Philly to visit we’d record a song. It was one song after another until we had an album. Next thing you know it was ready so we just put it out, but it was literally three years in the making — maybe ten years in the making actually, but at least three.

TRHH: What does the title “Soul Veggies” mean?

Storyville: Soul Veggies mixes the two ideas behind the record which is that it’s an organic record with a lot of heart in it, that’s the soul. The veggies is like, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. Yes, it’s vegetables for the soul but we’re not taking ourselves too seriously. It’s primarily a fun record. Also we both like to play video games so when you play video games you’re vegging out.

Mega Ran: Absolutely. It’s the combination of just making organic music from the heart and soul and vegging out on pop culture, TV, video games, or whatever it might be.

TRHH: The video for ‘React‘ is incredible, who came up with the concept?

Storyville: It was Cardoza, wasn’t it?

Mega Ran: I think it was the director Mike Cardoza. We had a bunch of different ideas but his ideas took it over the top. He was like, “Yo, I want some gangster Reservoir Dogs style thing,” and I was like, “Perfect, that’s one of my favorite movies.” Any time I get to put a suit on I’m down with it. It was a fun record. I wanted to make sure we had some scenes of B-Boy’s but he crafted the story around that. It was super dope, man. A lot of people say it’s like Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ style where it’s a chase and an old Dragnet style thing. The director Mike Cardoza who also produced and directed my documentary did that and he did a great job. He really knocked it out the park. I love coming to people with a concept and have them taking the concept to another level rather than them saying, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that.” He truly directed that video. He had a great idea and executed it to perfection.

TRHH: Is injecting humor into your music premeditated or does it just come out naturally?

Storyville: [Laughs] That’s a good question. It depends on the song. Ran and I both come from the freestyle era where people come straight off the top. A freestyle didn’t mean a written that didn’t belong anywhere, it meant improvised. We both incorporate a lot of that into our writing styles so a lot of the humor is sometimes goofy. There is a rap where I say, “You ever throw metal into a microwave/Well it’s worse with plutonium.” I was just saying random stuff out loud and it worked itself into the rap. The concepts a lot of times are premeditated so it’s both.

Mega Ran: I had to learn that through the years. I think working with Storyville helped that. I came from an era in the early 90s where a lot of Hip-Hop was hard. It was Timberland boots, skully’s and hoodies and it was hard. It was cold hard rap. It took me a while to be able to accept that I like to laugh and I like fun stuff. Why can’t I put that in the music? It started to come naturally. It was more or less trying to live up to the name that I’ve given myself, which is “Random”. I attempted to be unpredictable on the microphone and then it just started to come natural.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Rappin’ About Rappin’’? I’ve noticed a lot of backlash in recent years aimed toward rapping about rap, but I’m a fan of it. It’s what I was raised on.

Mega Ran: Me too! I love it. I hope people get this and I’m glad you asked, but we’re poking fun at ourselves. We’re from the school of old where it’s all about rapping about how dope you are. Unfortunately a lot of guys do it and you can almost tell that they aren’t necessarily the most talented at it if they spend a little too much time doing. Homeboy Sandman comes to mind – an incredible emcee who never raps about how awesome he is. It can happen and you can still see how great you are by just saying how silly you are, how you watch a lot of TV, or your last girlfriend broke up with you because you didn’t eat healthy or something like that. I came from that school so we’re just kind of poking fun at ourselves and the movement that we came from. A lot of guys continue to do it, but not a lot of guys are doing it at a high level. Story has a line that says, “My lyrics are lyrical/I deliver them like delivery.” [Laughs] These are the things that might come out when somebody is trying to flex so hard that they might neglect a pattern or a style instead of repeating the same word over and over again.

Storyville: With Rappin’ About Rappin’ it was originally making fun of that very hard backpacker movement, which is also the movement that I came from. If you check the track listing you’ll see that Rappin’ About Rappin’ comes right after ‘Artillery’, which is a rap about rapping. We’re definitely making fun of ourselves. The beat that I had in mind was also a trap beat so it’s also making fun of that, “I’m swaggy because I’m swaggy.” There is so much restatement of everything in Hip-Hop that you might as well be saying, “My lyrics are lyrical, son.” [Laughs] Okay but maybe let’s rap about something too. We can find a balance.

Mega Ran: It’s all about the balance. Like he said the track listing defines that because the song before we’re just rapping. So we’re just rapping about rapping and then there is a song called Rappin’ About Rappin’! The irony of it is what’s supposed to catch people.

TRHH: Will there be a sequel to Soul Veggies?

Storyville: Oh Gosh, it’s too early to say that. First of all there’s been prequels already and there will be sequels in a sense that Ran and I have been working on music together for ten years already now. Every time Ran does a project I’m involved and I wanna be involved. I’m going to give an effort to be as involved as possible. So on that level, yes, absolutely. Now will there be a Soul Veggies 2? I don’t know.

Mega Ran: Time will tell and in pop culture if the people want it bad enough it’ll happen. Spider-Man is now part of the Marvel Universe and is going to be a part of the next couple Marvel movies. We didn’t think that was possible because Sony owns Spider-Man, but if enough people want it it’ll happen. Honestly the people out there that are reading this you can decide if there will be a Soul Veggies 2 by speaking with your hearts and wallets and telling a friend of course. If y’all like it and if y’all want more you’ll definitely get more. Like Story said, he’s on every one of my projects. You could take every piece of every song that we’ve done and it would be like Soul Veggies 0.5. It’s very possible.

Storyville: Or order The Veggie Platter mixtape.

Mega Ran: That’s right.

Purchase: Mega Ran & Storyville – Soul Veggies

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Nutso: Divided Soul

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Photo courtesy of J. Segura

Photo courtesy of J. Segura

Queens emcee Nutso recently released a 7-track EP titled “Divided Soul”. The project takes a look at the duality of man, but from a street perspective. Released on Nutso’s very own #NoLabelJustUS record label, Divided Soul features appearances by General Steele, Rasheed Chappell, Dynasty the Prince, K-Major, Blacastan, DJ SupaDave, and Trae the Truth. The EP is produced by Divided Souls & DJ Pain 1.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Nutso about joining forces with Divided Souls Ent., the #NoLabelJustUS record label, and his new EP, Divided Soul.

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

Nutso: Let me tell you man, I had to differentiate the good and the evil – the evil and the evilness. I had to switch it up. You already know, man. The devil and the angel. If you look at all the artwork for this release, it’s based on the Da Vinci Code type of hidden coding and the fight between science and religion so I twisted it and made it my fight with my good side and bad side. We all have it inside us and plus it’s a play off the producers name so it all came together pretty nicely.​

TRHH: How’d you link up with Divided Souls Entertainment?

Nutso: What happened was​ we linked up via the internet and Spank and my partner Mills have been working together for some time now via music distribution and the idea came up to do an EP with them as we’ve been releasing EP’s consistently with one producer for some time, and their beats are dope as hell so we all got together and agreed and voila, it’s finally here. Divided Souls Ent. & DJ Pain 1 are known for their work with many artists such as Scarface, Ludacris, G-Unit, Rick Ross, and so many more. It’s an honor to be a part of that group of names.

TRHH: The EP has a classic East Coast sound but the single ‘Block Boy’ has a down south vibe. How’d that song come together?

Nutso: Oh yeah! This what happened, man, I came out and did 4-to-6 projects over the last 2-3 years. I collaborated with producers from overseas and from the East Coast. I did a mixtape with Nik Bean and DJ Skee from the West Coast titled ‘Western Union‘ that later became an EP. It featured Game, E-40, Kurupt, Glasses Malone, and Psycho Realm from Cypress Hill. We switched it up and brought it to the West. We been doing the boom bap and keeping that East Coast shit hard but we hollered at producers like, “Who else got beats in the stash?” We switched it up. Divided Souls Ent. & DJ Pain 1 are producers from the South and it wasn’t about doing the trap beats and all of that. They hit me with like 20 beats and it was only a chosen few I picked. When I did Block Boy I got family down south saying, “Yo Nut, we love to hear you on that trap shit even though you do that boom bap hardcore shit.” I just had to switch it up on them fools for the non-believers, but I gotta get creative when it comes to me. I do good music — never stay in a box. We are here to have fun doing music and be creative so that isn’t a trap beat or down south song, it’s a Hip-Hop record! ​

TRHH: What differentiates a Queens emcee from an emcee from Brooklyn, Staten Island, or the Bronx?

Nutso: Nuttin’ really, man. It’s how you grow up – your environment. If you come from the burbs or from the gutter you gonna hear it in the lyrics. If a nigga frontin’ on his style and his whole motive they gonna pull your file at the end of the day. I made it this far and people know who I am. I’m a storyteller from the streets and people know who I am.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Hustler’s Spirit’?

Nutso: Aw, man. I’m a Texas fan as it is from UGK to all the above, rest in peace Pimp C. Once I heard Trae I was like, “That’s that shit from the South when Outkast, T.I. and Jeezy and them was coming out!” Once I heard Trae, he’s an up and coming artist like me – he’s signed but I’m unsigned – it was a perfect collaboration.

TRHH: Is #NoLabelJustUS actually a record label?

Nutso: It actually is, man. It’s an independent company consisting of Ron Mills, Mike Duse, myself, and producer Domingo. Domingo fucked with Pun, the greatest, G Rap, you name it. That’s the team. We’re trying to broadcast that live. That hash tag is major right now.

TRHH: What’s next up for Nutso?

Nutso: We got the EP available worldwide. It’s everywhere digitally. We got the physical copies on fatbeats.com, amazon.com, and undergroundhphop.com. The Block Boy video is out and the next thing we’re working on is deciding the next single. This is an exclusive, I’m working on an album with our partner and producer Domingo titled #REDSunday. After Divided Soul coming off the spring going into the summer we gon’ come out with another one. It’s going to be an all-Queens album. I already got verses from Prodigy, Cormega, Kool G Rap, and Royal Flush. That’s in the mix right now. We just wanna let heads know we on it. Go to my music shop nutsoppm.bandcamp.com and stay in tune on nutsoppm.com, and the rest is history, man. We have a long discography available online and a few mixtapes as well on soundcloud.com/nutsoppm so subscribe and walk with the team, #NoLabelJustUs.

Purchase: Nutso – Divided Soul

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Kenn Starr: Square One

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media

Photo courtesy of MAC Media

DMV area emcee Kenn Starr dropped his debut album, Starr Status in 2006. Since then Starr has released a couple of mixtapes but has remained relatively low key – until now. Kenn Starr signed with the Mello Music Group label and kicked off 2015 with the release of his sophomore album, Square One.

Square One is produced by Kev Brown, Kaimbr, Roddy Rod, 14KT, and Black Milk. The album features appearances by Hassaan Mackey, yU, Sean Born, Kaimbr, Wordsworth, Supastition, Melanie Rutherford, and Boog Brown.

Kenn Starr spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his hiatus from the rap world, joining Mello Music Group, and his new album, Square One.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Square One.

Kenn Starr: Square One is very literal, man. When I first got down with Mello Music Group we kind of had some different ideas for a project to put out. It kind of went through some different phases. At one point I ended up scrapping what I had and scaled back and started my official next solo project. I just took it from scratch and went back in so, square one.

TRHH: How did you wind up doing the deal Mello Music Group?

Kenn Starr: Shout out to my man Oddisee. Oddisee was the connect on that. Mello was already familiar with my music but my man Oddisee helped facilitate that.

TRHH: Why was there over an 8-year gap between your first and second albums?

Kenn Starr: ‘Cause life will humble you [laughs]. With my first album and all the excitement surrounding that I just kind of got caught up chasing the rap dream. Life kicked in and I had to settle in and get myself together. During that time the label I was on folded so I was looking for a new place to call home. Once I did get back in the mix it was a couple of false starts and the next thing you know you look up and it’s been 8-9 years – it’s crazy. I feel so fortunate to have an opportunity because that’s a lifetime in today’s Hip-Hop time.

TRHH: How is this album different from Starr Status?

Kenn Starr: If anything I would say it’s a direct continuation of Starr Status. Creatively I try not to overextend myself. I try to be the artist that people have come to know me for – a regular cat that enjoys putting out dope rhymes over dope beats, speaking on my own everyday man experiences, and getting busy with the 1,2 thing. I think the new album shows a more well-rounded individual. I have a little more life experience and maturity now and I think that comes through on some of the records. It’s definitely on par with what people came to love about Starr Status. It’s the updated version.

TRHH: Tell me about the single ‘Say Goodbye’.

Kenn Starr: Say Goodbye is a reintroduction of Kenn Starr as an artist. I’m speaking on what people know me to be as an artist, where I’m at, and the evolution that got me to that point. Just “Say goodbye to the guy that you’re used to,” this is new and improved.

TRHH: Black Milk did a few joints on the album, how’d y’all hook up?

Kenn Starr: The Black Milk production was facilitated through Mello Music Group. I didn’t get a chance to actually collab with him in person in the studio. I’m hoping that can happen at some point in the future.

TRHH: Is your verse on the song ‘Exodus’ based on a true story?

Kenn Starr: It’s based on aspects of different true stories [laughs]. When I go back and listen to records on my first album they’re very cringe-worthy. I kind of made a deal with myself that I would never dedicate a song to someone in particular. It’s too much energy to give somebody, especially with the more relationship-themed records. It’s usually coming from a general stance or a combination of maybe a couple of my different experiences or folks I know that went through different things.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Do you write to the beat or when you’re inspired by something?

Kenn Starr: Actually my writing process has changed a lot with the project that I just finished up. I used to write the rhymes beforehand and seek out the right production and the right fit. More so recently I’ve been getting into a more organic flow, kind of letting the music speak to me and seeing how I wanna approach the record. It’s such a long process, man. I’m notoriously slow with putting my stuff together. I figured a dope angle to take would be to let it be more organic.

TRHH: What else do you have on deck for 2015?

Kenn Starr: I’m just working on consistent output. Now that I’m back I wanna hit the ground running and keep giving people product. I got a couple of projects in the works but nothing I wanna start promoting too fast. Really it’s all about Square One right now. I wanna see what the feedback is like and just try to focus on that and enjoy this moment of finally being back. Hopefully the listeners will want more from me. So far the consensus has been, “Don’t wait another nine years,” so I’m trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.

TRHH: Why should fans cop Square One?

Kenn Starr: Just ‘cause it’s dope Hip-Hop, man. It’s not something that you gotta think about or overanalyze. It’s just some dope beats and dope rhymes and if that’s something you can appreciate I think it’ll be a good fit for the collection. My motto is “All rappity-rap everything”. We’ve gotten to a point where you almost get shamed for being big on lyricism. Bump that! We’re back on that. That era is coming back, man.

TRHH: No doubt! I’m happy to hear that, goddamn!

Kenn Starr: [Laughs] We’re in a deficit right now. I’m just trying to do my lil’ part.

Purchase: Kenn Starr – Square One

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K-Hill: Truck Jewels & Filters

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Photo courtesy of Jon "J Water" Mullins

Photo courtesy of Jon “J Water” Mullins

North Carolina emcee K-Hill teamed up with Australian producer Debonair P for a new EP titled, “Truck Jewels & Filters”. The release is reminiscent of 90s era Hip-Hop, with substantive spitting and boom bap beats. The EP is produced entirely by Debonair P complete with remixes of the original tracks and guest appearances from emcees Omniscence and Prince Po.

K-Hill spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the North Carolina Hip-Hop scene, joining forces with Debonair P, and his latest release, Truck Jewels & Filters.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new EP, Truck Jewels & Filters.

K-Hill: Debonair P from Australia sent over a couple of instrumentals for me to check out. I noticed he had that golden era sound where they used to filter a lot of the samples to fill the bass lines out. The type of emcee I am I like to drop a lot knowledge in my verses. I like having punch lines, metaphors, and dope lines, but I also like to say something that can inspire people, something that might describe an experience that I’ve been through – we call those jewels. That’s how I came up with the title, Truck Jewels & Filters, because I knew I was going to be dropping jewels on the project and I knew that he was going to be bringing boom bap, filtered bass lines, and hard knocking beats to the project. I represent the truck jewels part and Debonair P represents the filters part.

TRHH: How’d you wind up hooking up with Debonair P?

K-Hill: Wow, man. I’m glad you asked me that because I always wanted to tell this story. A couple of years ago when I was at A&T I used to check out their radio station and a couple of the radio stations in Greensboro. They used to play this artist named Omniscence. He had a song called ‘Amazin’’ and this song was so crazy. They used to play this song all the time and I loved the jam because he was just spitting bar after bar after bar. I’m like, “Man, that guy is so dope.” Come to find out later on that he’s from North Carolina. I didn’t know he was an artist from North Carolina, I just thought he was a new artist on the come-up that was on the radio. After I did a little research I found out he got signed to Elektra Records and got Rhyme of the Month in The Source. Here’s a cat from North Carolina that is on the radio and he got Rhyme of the Month in The Source, if he can do it, I can do it.

Fast forward a couple years later I’m on Facebook and somebody tagged him and I’m like, “Dag, this can’t be the same cat?” So hit him up and found out it was Omniscence. You know how rappers like to do, we don’t like to talk a lot so I just said, “Hey man, respect. I been a fan forever.” I didn’t expect anything back and he hit me back like, “I’m a fan of your music!” He said he’d been following me for a couple of years and after that we just clicked up. He was telling me he had a project with this cat Debonair P from Australia and he wanted me to be on it. We started talking later on and I said, “That’s a sweet deal that you’ve got. You got your 12-inch and your music out there, that’s a sweet lil’ deal.” He told Debonair P about me and passed on the contacts. That’s how me and Debonair P linked up. We linked up because an artist who I am a fan of and admire hooked me up on the humbug. That was love man. I’m forever indebted to that cat.

TRHH: Given that you’re a producer was it difficult for you to let Debonair P handle the beats on this project?

K-Hill: [Laughs] It’s always difficult because as a producer you’ll always hear some stuff that you want to change with the beat, drop this, take this out, or add this element. This man is basically overseeing the whole project so Im’ma do this thing. I’m a guest in his house so I just sat back and let him do his thing. I’m happy with what we got accomplished.

TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use?

K-Hill: I’m using Maschine right now. I’m back and forth between Maschine and FL Studio. I will never let FL Studio go. A lot of people give it a lot of flak, but it’s what comes out of it that matters. People so caught up on what type of software you’re using that you actually get away from the beat. That’s the only thing that matters, the beat. I don’t care if I have pots and pans, the beat is the only thing that matters.

TRHH: Tell me about the single ‘Whenever I Write’.

K-Hill: Wow, man. There are two versions. When I heard the remixed version I thought it’s only a golden era sound but it’s also that classic North Carolina Hip-Hop sound. It got that Mark Sparks and Ski Beatz sound that was out back in the day. We call it ‘Cackalack Raw’. I don’t know how Debonair P tapped into that sound but I always wanted to rock something to that sound, I just never had the opportunity. I selected that joint and didn’t really have a concept for the song. I just wanted to have some nice punch lines and a good feel to it so I just called it ‘Whenever I Write’ [laughs]. That’s all it was, it was just a spitter.

TRHH: Why was every song remixed on this project?

K-Hill: That’s Debonair P flexing his muscles as a producer. Back in the day whenever artists dropped a single they’d drop a 12-inch and there would be several versions on it. There would be the original version and then there would be either the Pete Rock remix, the Marley Marl remix, the Buckwild remix, or somebody else’s remix. He just wanted to bring that feel back, man. He comes off like an old soul to me. He’s going back to the essence, even with the way he releases music. He does that with every project that he does. I definitely ain’t got nothing against that.

TRHH: You’ve been around a long time. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the music business?

K-Hill: Man listen, remain humble. Always help people who are going to help somebody else. That’s the only way you’re going to keep your legacy alive. You can’t shut the door on anybody. If they’re talented and you see they got that gift, help ‘em out. You don’t owe anybody anything, nobody owes you anything, but stay humble. Never forget the people that looked out for you when you were on the come-up because you’re going to see those same people again, whether they be up there with you or whether you’re on your way back down. Just help people, man. You don’t have to be foolish about it, but if you see somebody that got something to offer to this game help ‘em out. That’s the most valuable lesson I’ve learned.

TRHH: What changes have you seen in the North Carolina Hip-Hop scene with the emergence of acts like Little Brother, the Jamla crew, J. Cole, and others?

K-Hill: I will say this, for me it all started with Ski Beatz. He was one of the first cats to come out of North Carolina and do his thing and then it was Omniscence. That died down for a couple of years because those cats moved out of here. By the time 9th Wonder and Little Brother came on the scene they turned that eye back to North Carolina Hip-Hop. At that time I was on the come-up so I was able to capitalize on the fact that there was an eye on the North Carolina Hip-Hop scene again. Because of the seeds that those guys planted there have been more opportunities for North Carolina artists than ever. It used to be hard for a North Carolina artist to get on. We used to get out of here but once we got on it wasn’t cool to say, “Hey, we’re from North Carolina.” I forget to mention Petey Pablo too because he did a lot for North Carolina Hip-Hop. Those are the changes I’ve seen. It’s more opportunity for North Carolina cats to get on. You got the younger cats like King Miz doing his thing and that’s’ definitely been a big change.

TRHH: What’s next up for K-Hill?

K-Hill: Right now I’m working a deal on the table with Elementality. They’re doing a re-release of my project Stamps of Approval that came out almost a decade ago. I’m working on a brand new album with them, it’s going to be the full-length Achilles Hill project. I’ll probably put out another remix of Truck Jewels & Filters with some up and coming artists that are really dope. I’ll also drop a couple of loosies here and there until my full release comes out. New opportunities are coming through every day, man.

Purchase: K-Hill & Debonair P- Truck Jewels & Filters

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Sadat X: Never Left

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Photo courtesy of Tito G

Photo courtesy of Tito G

Sadat X has never left. After coming on the scene in 1990 the man born Derek Murphy has consistently blessed fans with music as a member of Brand Nubian and as a solo artist. His distinct voice, original flow, and substantive lyrics are what make X so dope. He’s created the perfect concoction that has left an indelible mark on the culture, which has contributed to his longevity. Twenty-five years after his debut Sadat X recently released his ninth full-length album and tenth solo project overall, Never Left.

Never Left features appearances by Skyzoo, Craig G, Black Rob, King T, Tony Mays, Maverick, Stryfe, Dres of Black Sheep, Nachy Bless, Fokis, Chi-Ali, Cormega, and Lanelle Tyler. The album is produced by Fantom Of The Beat, Vanderslice, Real McKoy, Man Meets Machine, Relavant Beats, ill Majestic, JFR, Matt Velez, Moods and Vibrations, and James Moore.

Sadat X spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his new album, Never Left, how he became a “True Wine Connoisseur”, and the prospects of a new Brand Nubian album.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Never Left?

Sadat X: What it means is throughout everything that has gone on with this Hip-Hop thing I’m still here – I never left. More specifically I’m speaking in terms of New York. New York has undergone a lot of sound transformations in the last couple of years. We’ve adapted to other peoples styles and not really cultivating our own. I felt I never left, that New York sound is still the same.

TRHH: What is your opinion on the influx of New York rappers doing the Southern style?

Sadat X: I can’t knock anybody else’s hustle, but I remember New York being the home of originators and innovators. We always set the trends. It seems like now we’re conforming to different trends and we were never like that.

TRHH: Tell me about the single ‘On Fire’.

Sadat X: It’s an easy listening joint with a message. I felt that my man Cormega with his style would definitely accommodate that beat. The young boy Lanelle did the hook. It’s just something smooth but not soft.

TRHH: It seems kind of different for you.

Sadat X: Yeah, I experimented with a couple of things but I liked that beat. It also shows versatility. An MC means “Master of Ceremonies” so I’m just showing another style and form of emceeing that I can master.

TRHH: How long did it take you to complete this album because a couple of the singles on the record like ‘We in New York‘ and ‘I Know This Game‘ came out almost two years ago?

Sadat X: Well it took me a minute, man. I was working off and on so it actually took me about two years.

TRHH: During that time you’ve been involved in the wine industry. Talk a little about True Wine Connoisseurs.

Sadat X: True Wine Connoisseurs is the brainchild of myself and my partner, Will Tell. It started as a joke. In the studio one day Will had a bottle of wine and he decided to film us drinking it for some reason. We put it on the net and it went viral. We started doing episodes where we would go and get wine from the stores and review it with our crazy reviews. It got to the point where people from different wine companies started sending us wine to review. We did that for about a year or two and somebody at some point said, “If you guys are ever serious about making your own wine let me know.” We met with the people and we’ve had an actual hands-on approach with the wine as opposed to somebody just making it and slapping our label on it. We were involved in the process of selecting the grapes and the tasting processes. During that period we’ve learned a little bit about wine. Will has a job in the wind industry now. That’s basically where that came from.

TRHH: I heard you on The Combat Jack Show and he said In God We Trust was his favorite Brand Nubian album and you agreed that it was yours. It’s also my favorite Brand Nubian album. Why is that album your favorite?

Sadat X: It’s my favorite joint because that album was basically a show and prove album. We was on the firing line and we had to produce. This was the post-Puba album and we went back to the basement, back to the lab, and we did all the beats on there. This was how we were feeling at the time. That album was made out of struggle and that’s why I like that the best.

TRHH: Early on you guys got a lot of criticism for the ‘Wake Up’ video and some lyrics in ‘Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down’. How did you guys deal with that at the time because it was pretty controversial?

Sadat X: First of all at the time we were younger so we really didn’t care about the controversy that we would face. We didn’t foresee some of the backlash that would come. Basically we were talking about every day and how we lived life. When you aren’t exposed to certain things you don’t really know about it. I wouldn’t say ignorant to it, but you don’t really know about it. For instance, when I came up I didn’t have too many dealings with people that were gay. Where I came from they were looked at as weak people and as people that were not men and were soft. I didn’t know any gay people so that was my perception of it. As you go around the world and times change and you meet people, you learn to kind of deal with people on their own merit. Sometimes your perception of things start to change.

TRHH: Definitely. What led to Grand Puba coming back in the fold for the Foundation album?

Sadat X: Everybody had did their own thing for a little while. It wasn’t like we wasn’t friends and wasn’t seeing each other. We seen each other through the whole process of everything. It was at that time that everybody was stable enough and free of projects that we said let’s get together and put this thing out.

TRHH: What’s the album after In God We Trust?

Sadat X: Everything is Everything.

TRHH: Yeah! That’s the one with ‘Alladat’ on it, right? With Busta?

Sadat X: Yes.

TRHH: I always wanted to ask you about that song because it was like a solo Sadat record on a Brand Nubian album. How did that joint come together?

Sadat X: Buckwild did the beat for that. Basically Busta got down on that album by chance. We were in the studio and I was doing the vocals. By chance Busta was there. I could see him in the studio while I was rhyming and he was going all crazy. He said, “Yo, I got the chorus, I got the chorus!” For somebody like him to say he got the chorus, well come on in here and put it down.

TRHH: [Laughs] I still bump that to this day.

Sadat X: Cool.

TRHH: Lord Jamar has been all over VladTV for a while now making some controversial statements. What do you make of Jamar voicing his opinions on VladTV and what do you say to those that think Vlad is exploiting Jamar?

Sadat X: If you know anything about Jamar you know that he’s not going to allow anybody to exploit him. He’s much too swift mentally for that. He’s just using this as a platform to speak his views and how he feels. One thing about Jamar as opposed to certain people that go on rants and tirades, if he does go on a tirade you can believe that he’s going to have some factual-ness behind it. Whether you choose to take it or not he’s not going to make a blind, mindless speech. It’s going to be based on some type of facts. That’s how I feel about the brother. He’s doing what he wants to do. He’s a grown man and he can handle any backlash that comes with it. As you see, a lot of people are offended by it but even more are following him.

TRHH: Will we ever hear another Brand Nubian album?

Sadat X: Yes, I would like to hear another Brand Nubian album. I guess it would have to coincide with what everybody is doing. I definitely want to have another Brand Nubian album. I’d make priority time for it.

TRHH: Why is Never Left an important album for 2015?

Sadat X: When you have certain musical genres such as folk music that go back to the revolutionary days or classical with different compositions like Mozart and Beethoven 2-300 years ago, rap is still defining itself. If they’re giving rap an age cap of at the most 50, in terms of music it’s still in its infancy. Now it’s growing up a little bit and the people that grew up with it, they need to have an outlet, too. No, I’m not going to listen to the same type of rap that my 16-year old nephew listens to. I may not even listen to the stuff that my 23-year old daughter listens to. Me at 45-years old, I need something to listen to. That’s where I feel Never Left comes in. This album is an album for people that pay bills, people that are raising children, people that may have grandchildren, and people that are going through ups and downs in relationships. I think there has been a void in that area. People always say, “Don’t you make your music for everybody?” Yes I do make it for everybody and if I do get some youngsters or new fans that want to listen to me and know who Sadat X is that’s more than great. I feel at this point there is a lane for me doing grown folk music because I know enough grown folk out here that want it, so that’s what I tried to make it as.

Purchase: Sadat X – Never Left

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