J-Zone: Fish-n-Grits

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Photo courtesy of Ricky Comuniello
Photo courtesy of Ricky Comuniello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Yeah, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Who is Fish-n-Grits for?

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

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

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

Purchase: J-Zone – Fish-n-Grits

Mega Ran: Mat Mania

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Photo courtesy of Ballin PR
Photo courtesy of Ballin PR

Hip-Hop artists have long been fans of pro wrestling. In recent years Killer Mike and Pusha T have paid homage to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in their songs. Thirty years ago LL Cool J named dropped Haystacks Calhoun and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in his verses. Pastor Troy frequently walked around with the World Heavyweight championship belt, the Insane Clown Posse actually wrestled for various promotions, and Snoop Dogg is in the WWE Hall of Fame.

One emcee has taken wrestling fandom in rap music to another level. Mega Ran released a nine song EP dedicated to pro wrestling titled Mat Mania: The Album. Ran incorporates elements of WWE superstar’s theme music with intricate rhymes dedicated to the characters. The project is produced entirely by Lynx Kinetic and features Doug Funnie and MURS.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mega Ran about Mat Mania, his podcast of the same name, the Nerdy People of Color Collective, and plans for his Random Beats Music label.

TRHH: What did you think of WrestleMania?

Mega Ran: [Laughs] Man, it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t real crazy about a lot of the results. From a fans perspective they gave us what we wanted, seeing all of the older folks back was great. As far as the actual action I don’t feel like they delivered in a way that made me happy. I don’t think a lot of the storylines were settled. Overall I had a blast. Just being there was great. I lost my voice screaming. It’s always a fun time.

TRHH: What was your favorite match?

Mega Ran: My favorite match I think was Chris Jericho and AJ Styles. Those guys had a really good match. They got the crowd involved. It was a lot of ups and downs. Best of all, the result wasn’t what I expected — seeing Jericho win when AJ has kind of been on the rise. It was cool.

TRHH: A lot of people, including myself, were disappointed with that.

Mega Ran: Yeah, but you know what, they fixed it all the next day. Now AJ is the number one contender. It’s kind of crazy. It’s almost like the show didn’t mean anything because Shane [McMahon] is in power. All of the things that are supposed to be up for grabs they’re just turning them all around, which is kind of weird. It’s like they knew they messed up so let’s fix it now.

TRHH: I found something interesting that you said a minute ago about the storylines. How old are you?

Mega Ran: I’m 37.

TRHH: Okay, you’re around my age. I just turned 40. I’ve been watching wrestling since like 1984 – since I was 8 years old. I was into NWA and WCW. My buddy is about your age and he’s a WWF guy. I noticed a difference in how we view wrestling – it’s very different. He’s a storyline driven person, while I like the athletic part of it. I don’t care about the stories. I couldn’t care less about who is mad at who, I just wanna see a good match. I really liked the girls match. I thought that was pretty good. Where do you fall in that since you’re younger than me?

Mega Ran: I’m kind of in the middle. I was telling a buddy of mine that maybe I’m a little too invested overall because I do a podcast now and I kind of analyze it. It’s kind of taken the fan side of me and making it take a back seat, which is not always great. I like a good match. I don’t care what the cause is or why they’re fighting. I would love to see a really good match. That’s all I wanna see. I don’t care how they got there. I just wanna see a really fun, good match. So I’m more with you, I like good action.

TRHH: I relate. I write about basketball as well as Hip-Hop. Writing about basketball and being around players has kind of ruined the game for me. I can’t enjoy it anymore. One, it’s work, two, a lot of these guys aren’t the most pleasant people. I can’t watch a game objectively. I’m not a fan of LeBron James at all because of shit that I’ve seen him do. I know he’s the greatest player in the world, but he’s an asshole. I kind of stopped covering games. I just wanna enjoy it. Talk about the Mat Mania Podcast and how it has affected you as a fan.

Mega Ran: It’s the exact same thing when you meet guys. Most of the guys I’ve met in the early goings of this have been really cool and that’s really what made me want to do it. Not just that they were nice to me, but I saw so many similarities in the wrestling business side of it as I saw in the music game. Guys work their tail off in the indie circuit and hopefully get the chance to do some cool things. I saw so many similarities just from talking to guys and that’s what made me wanna explore it and talk about. But yeah, a lot of guys are not nice. At WrestleCon I was trying to get a word from a few people and some people just didn’t care. You mention LeBron James and it’s hard because he is the greatest in the world and everybody he meets want something from him. If you or I were in that position where everybody you met wanted something from you, you’d probably be a little bit of a jerk too. You just can’t keep up with who is genuine and who is not and it’s just not easy to do that.

TRHH: I don’t want to get off on LeBron James…

Mega Ran: Please let’s not, I’m still a fan of his [laughs].

TRHH: [Laughs] Well no, the shit that I’ve encountered with him has nothing to do with people wanting stuff from him. But I know what you’re saying, I’m sure that is a big part of his daily life and it can get frustrating, especially with the media. He’s not the only one that’s rude to the media, but whatever about him. You and Xavier Woods are cool, right?

Mega Ran: Yes. We just kind of bonded over a love of the same things – video games and nerd culture in general. I met him way before anything every really popped off with his wrestling stuff. He was doing a lot of indie stuff with Florida Championship Wrestling and he kind of sought me out looking for music. He wanted some music that reflected his nerdy side. Back then they would let him choose his own music. He searched the internet for Mega Man and found my stuff. He asked me to use one of my songs and we’ve been cool ever since then. He said, “If I ever get called up I’m going to definitely get at you about trying to do some work with us.” Fast forward 3-4 years and they’re the hottest thing on TV. It just shows that a little bit of hard work and probably a lot of luck and you never really know how things will work out. We maintain a really good friendship. Every time he’s in town we hit an arcade or go grab something to eat. I never like to talk shop with guys like that but he actually enjoys it. He likes talking about it probably to people who aren’t in it. It’s probably a bit more of a release to do that and enjoy yourself.

TRHH: That’s dope. How was doing this project different from doing your last album, RNDM?

Mega Ran: It’s like night and day. This was me taking a back seat from being so serious and just having fun exploring stuff that I love. Kind of like the old way I used to do things where I took Mega Man stuff and made a Mega Man themed album. I took wrestling stuff and basically wanted to cut promos over beats. That’s really what it was. I just wanted to cut loose, have fun, throw some catch phrases around, and have a good time. I feel like wrestling and rap is so related. I was talking to a voice actor friend of mine who does some work with Dragon Ball Z. He was like, “Why do you think there is such a connection between Hip-Hop and Dragon Ball Z?” He said, “Because it’s the same thing. It’s the same story. It’s just one is played out on animated screen.”

It’s the same story of these larger than life characters trying to get stronger and proving their toughness. That’s comic books, video games, and a lot of pro wrestling, too. I just saw that similarity there. Everybody wants to be the coolest or the toughest. Ric Flair is the best example. Every rapper wants to be Ric Flair. You want to be the coolest dude that gets all the girls and is the flyest. That swagger that Ric Flair exuded in the NWA days has been Hip-Hop for 20-30 years. That’s why I wanted to do it. I wanted to have some fun and explore some new stuff. I feel like the RNDM album that came out in the fall was very heavy. I touched on some very heavy topics – some that I never thought I’d put into records. It was very cathartic and therapeutic for me to do it, so this time I decided to have some fun and put out a record that would explore another side of me – one of my many fandoms.

TRHH: Have any of the wrestlers heard what you did with their ring entrance music?

Mega Ran: Yeah, I heard that The Undertaker wants to sue me.

TRHH: What???

Megan Ran: No, I’m just playing [laughs]. Something like that happened with the Meek Mill thing. Actually New Day heard the track and that’s really all I care about. The people that I knew, I wanted them to like it and that was mainly my concern. Xavier Woods told me he plays it for them in the car and they’re like, “Yo, this is dope!” and “How did he manage to fit every one of our catch phrases in one song? It’s cazy!” He told me he’s gonna pass it around to the other guys, get their opinions, and let me know. Hopefully they’ll dig it but that’s enough of a co-sign for me.

TRHH: That’s dope. You got MURS on the album who is also a big wrestling fan. Talk about working with him.

Mega Ran: MURS is the big homie and he’s honestly a guy that I consider a mentor in music. I’ve been listening to his records forever. I met him a couple times and he told me he appreciated my work ethic and the music that I was putting together. He found me while he was scouting artists for the Paid Dues Festival back when that was still a thing. He came across me and came out to one of my shows. Ever since then I didn’t wanna let that go. It was like, “Wow, this dude is like my hero.” His insight more than anything has been great. Now I can actually text him and ask him questions and he’ll give me detailed answers based on his experience. It’s a really great thing. Now most of the time we just talk about wrestling. When I told him I was doing the album he said, “Yo, are you doing anything about the Wyatt’s?” I was like, “Maybe.” He said, “If you are I need to be on that.” I was like, “Okay.” If the big homie said so, absolutely. So the song was actually done. I had two verses on it and we stretched it out to make space for him and he killed it. It’s always an honor to get down with people you look up to so that was dope.

TRHH: Who are your top 5 wrestlers of all-time?

Mega Ran: Man. Wow, top 5 all-time? Macho Man Randy Savage is first. Jake the Snake might be second, Nikita Koloff third, Ric Flair fourth, and a tie between Stone Cold and DDP for fifth.

TRHH: Really?

Mega Ran: I know that’s a little different probably from most, especially DDP. DDP is one of my favorites for so many reasons. Yo, I just found out that DDP just turned 60! That dude is old!

TRHH: He started at 35.

Mega Ran: He started so late and that’s what I wanted to talk about. That’s me with this music stuff. I didn’t put out my first record ‘till I was 31. Learning the game late and coming in, that was me. He’s been my inspiration for that. It’s never too late to start going hard. For that reason he’s always in my top 5. He’s one of my favorites of all-time.

TRHH: That surprised me and Nikita surprised me, but I think DDP is grossly underrated. He gets a lot of flak for being Bischoff’s friend, but he had to work the matches.

Mega Ran: He had to work. It doesn’t matter who your friend is if you can’t work.

TRHH: I thought he was great in the mid-90s era. He was really good.

Mega Ran: He was. I always loved the feud with him and Savage. It was some great stuff.

TRHH: You said you made your first record at 31, what’s your take on the sentiment that rap has an age limit on it? For years the way to diss somebody is to call them old and irrelevant. But all my favorite rappers are in their 40s.

Mega Ran: It’s nonsense. I was going to say that all my favorite rappers are “old” if you consider it old –30, 40, and they’re still dope. It’s ridiculous. People don’t even realize it. I guess it’s a certain generation that will say that but then when Jay-Z drops a new record they’re all about it. When Rick Ross drops a new record they’re all about it. The top guys are older and that’s what it is. I wish Hip-Hop didn’t have that age-ism going on. I feel like it’s kind of fading away. We’re at the point that if you make dope music you will find a group of people who will enjoy it.

TRHH: Jay-Z is a perfect example. He’s in his late 40s. Eminem is 40…

Mega Ran: He kills it every time. If Jay-Z drops a record right now I’ll be like, “Sherron, I gotta go. I gotta go get this Jay-Z record.” It’s still big news to me and it will continue to be a big deal because he doesn’t disappoint.

TRHH: You’re a comic book guy, right?

Mega Ran: I am.

TRHH: Comics, video games, wrestling it’s considered nerd stuff, but it’s all very much Hip-Hop. How do we break the stigma that these things that are so much fun are viewed as nerdy in rap culture?

Mega Ran: I feel like we’re getting there but it’s taking a while for sure. It is getting there. It’s becoming more and more okay for younger kids, especially of color, to get into things that they weren’t necessarily okay with them getting into in the past. I’m trying to do my part. I started an organization called the NPC, the Nerdy People of Color Collective, which is a group of dudes including myself, Xavier Woods is involved, former NFL players, basketball players, scholars, and rappers. People that are in desirable positions in life, but being proud of their nerdy side and talking about it. There is a website, NPCCollective.com where we collect essays from people. They get to talk about their past, explore it, and embrace it to hopefully show some little kid who looks a little different that it’s okay to do these things and be yourself. It’s okay to be yourself. Everybody else is taken so you gotta be yourself.

If everybody does their part and tries to lift up kids that you see, encourage them to read, encourage them to study, to get better at things, and to be creative we’ll slowly get there. It’s not going to be easy. This is a hard thing to break down, Hip-Hop especially. It’s rooted in that masculinity where you got to be tough. I was just telling a friend of mine that tough guy rap is dying. Tough guy rap and gangsta rap is dying. All the top guys are just regular guys – that helps a lot. To be able to look on the charts and the videos and see people that aren’t talking about killing, and this and that but being creative, being themselves, and even embracing their nerdy side. Somebody told me Drake was nerdcore and I was like, “What?” He said the video for Hotline Bling is mad nerdy. I said, “You know what, it kind of is.” He’s doing all this goofy dancing and stuff. This could never fly in the 90s. We’re from the same era so you know if this was the 90s every top group would have been dissing that.

TRHH: Yeah. I think Kanye had a lot to do with what’s accepted today. I think Puffy too, but a lot of these guys are clones of Kanye. They have their little twist to it, but Kanye changed what’s acceptable in Hip-Hop to a degree.

Mega Ran: I totally agree. He was the guy with the backpack and the Polo on who was okay with talking about materialism, God, and all the other things that he did. We thought guys like Lupe Fiasco was kind of doing the same thing. Here was a brother from the hood talking about skate boarding and giant robots. I think that he helped to pave the way, but Kanye took it to another level. A lot of guys definitely owe their career to Kanye.

TRHH: What’s next up for you musically? What are you working on?

Mega Ran: Ah man, there is no next right now, at least not for me. I’m working on getting this label off the ground. Random Beats Music is myself and K-Murdock. We’re putting out an instrumental project from my man AF THE NAYSAYER from New Orleans. Also just trying to help out other artists that I see potential in and help them get their music to a bigger stage. I got my eye on a few people. I won’t make any announcements yet. There will be a couple more releases this year but they won’t necessarily be Mega Ran releases. They’ll just be things that I’ll be working with on the background tip. There is a lot more to come – a whole lot. My man SkyBlew has got another record he’s working on. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening.

Download: Mega Ran – Mat Mania: The Album

Konflik: Maturity

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Photo courtesy of Christian Cruz
Photo courtesy of Christian Cruz

Merriam-Webster defines the word “Maturity” as the quality or state of being mature; full development. For Chicago emcee Konflik the time between the release of his 2012 debut album Birth, and now has been a process of growth.

The manifestation of those lessons learned is a full-length album titled “Maturity”. The 11-track album takes you inside the mind of Konflik and chronicles the path he traveled to attain maturity. Maturity features appearances by Masta Ace, SwizZz, Lega-C, and Shawnna.

Konflik spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his issues regarding higher education, how social media has worked in his favor, the state of his hometown Chicago Bulls, and his new album, Maturity.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Maturity.

Konflik: This is my sophomore album. The first one was entitled “Birth” so I wanted to keep a little structure going with that. The real reason behind it is since the time my first album was released a lot of things changed. I took on a lot of responsibility from the music and also life itself. I had to get a lot of things done on my own. I feel like I grew up and progressed in that aspect. That’s what I wanted to represent, making choices, taking everything into consideration as far as the things that you go through.

TRHH: How is this album different from Birth?

Konflik: When I recorded Birth I was in a different position. I was kind of with a label. It was a lot of pressure because I was trying to be myself but I was kind of being told what to do. I wouldn’t say it was a complete artistic takeover or anything like that, but they would say, “You gotta make this kind of music,” or “This kind of song.” My goals back then were also a lot different than what they are now. This album is more me. It’s more independent. Everything came from me on this album. There was nobody involved. I left those people alone.

TRHH: On the album you have a song called Take Notes that’s critical of higher education. What inspired that song?

Konflik: I was a student. I went to school for quite a few things – business, music, and graphic design. There was a lot of factors for this, one, I don’t think the struggle of the student gets recognized too often. I think the general perception of a college education is you’re in and out in four years tops. It’s not really like that. When you’re a student and start taking all of the variables into consideration just scheduling your classes can become a hassle. Sometimes classes get booked and you have to wait ‘til next semester. The price of an education is super expensive. Then you have to look for a job in your field, which is extremely hard. It’s a big struggle and I don’t think it gets recognized too often.

The second thing about that song is I’ve always had a love and a passion for music but I never really had a support system around me. Everything around me was always, “Go to school and get a good job.” That’s all I’ve basically been fed my whole life. It just made me realize what my true calling is and what I really want to do with my life. Whether it was a long shot or not I wanted to take that. I’m spending all this money and studying all this stuff that I’m not really passionate about. I felt like I had to put something out there for the students to let them know that I know their pain and if you really wanna do something, do it, but it’s not gonna be easy. It’s not as easy as they tell you it’s gonna be.

TRHH: I feel like parents and older people can be dream killers. They have good intentions when they tell you to go to school and get a job because they want you to be stable. But they crush that little kid in you that wants to do what you want to do.

Konflik: [Laughs] I know exactly what you’re saying, your inner-child.

TRHH: Yes. It’s practical. You’ll have a roof over your head and food on your table, but will you be happy? Life is so short that it’s so important to be happy – it’s so important. Maybe the next generation will implement that more but our generation was just taught to get a job.

Konflik: Absolutely. I completely understand. I went through all of that. Like I said, I didn’t have a support system. That’s all I’ve been pretty much fed. When I decided I wanted to do music and started making sacrifices and decisions to make this a reality a lot of people didn’t agree with me. I was getting crucified left and right and told I was chasing a dream that was never going to come true. I was told I needed to get it together and get my head out the gutter – I’ve heard it all. I can honestly tell you that even back then financially and as far as responsibilities and stuff and I have a lot more together than I do now, I can honestly tell you that I might not be in the best financial situation, but I’m a lot happier right now that I’m doing what I love to do than I was back then doing something that I didn’t love. I kinda shut a lot of people up when I dropped my first album. Once I ended up with distribution and I was on iTunes and Google Play nobody had anything else to say because it got to a point where I was selling product. It all worked out for me.

TRHH: How did you decide to become an emcee?

Konflik: I’ve always loved music and have always been into it. In high school I was freestyling in the hallways, I joined the poetry club, and I used to write a lot. I even did school plays back then. As time progressed there was other students that wanted to get into music. I starting recording with them. I knew a bunch of taggers and some of them became promoters and they needed people to perform. It was just kind of for fun because I love Hip-Hop, but it just kept progressing throughout the years to what it is now.

TRHH: I know you’re a big Chicago Bulls fan. What’s your take on the current status of the team?

Konflik: I compare this Bulls team to last year in the Thibodeau era. I think coaching has a lot to do with what’s going on with the Bulls right now. I think they’re still searching for an identity. Are they a fast paced team? Are they the mean defensive Bulls that everybody hates? I think they’re still trying to find that rhythm and gel well with the system. They’re not winning as much as they used to but I still think they’re a great team and can be utilized correctly. I don’t like Hoiberg. I don’t like our coach. He’s probably a great coach with a great offensive mindset, but I think the chemistry isn’t there.

Everyone is so focused on trying to figure out how they fit in the system that they aren’t gelling well together. I think if Thibodeau was still in the picture this would not be happening. Thibodeau would be snapping right now. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. You barely see the guy smile. He would not be happy and the team would not be playing the way they’re playing right now. If he was still here they’d still be the third to second seed going into the playoffs. I do have hope for these Bulls. I think they can get it together. I think Hoiberg needs to start getting mad.

TRHH: I don’t think it’s in his personality to get mad. He’s not that kind of guy.

Konflik: Yeah. That to me to is the main determining factor in the different play of the team. If you made a mistake under Thibodeau he’ll get in your ass like colon cancer [laughs]. Hoiberg is probably like, “Oh, it’s okay. Get ‘em next time,” no, it’s not.

TRHH: How’d you link up with Masta Ace for Reputation?

Konflik: Man, Twitter. To put it out there I’m not really a social media kinda guy, but Twitter has done some great things for me – Masta Ace is one of them. I was always a fan of Ace growing up as a kid – especially in high school when he dropped Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer. Those albums were really dope to me back then. I always wanted to work with him for as long as I’ve been rhyming. It’s been like a dream of mine I guess. I was new to it so I was following people I admired. I was following him on Twitter and I noticed he was real interactive with fans and anyone who’d talk to him. I thought that was cool. I think we talked about football a few times. We talked about the Bears and Eagles.

I asked him, “I’ve always wanted to work with you. Who do I gotta talk to, to make that happen?” and he responded, “You’re talking to him.” He sent me a message with his e-mail. I e-mailed him and we’ve been cool ever since. I went out to Manhattan, we met at Lofish Studios and laid down Reputation. He was real cool. He schooled me on a few things in the industry that I didn’t know in regards to sampling. Since then it’s just been hi and bye and keeping him updated with the project. He even hooked me up with Jerry [Graham Publicity]. He’s just a cool guy. Ace is a cool dude.

TRHH: What does maturity mean to you?

Konflik: I like to think back to a time when music was huge to me. This was basically in high school. Masta Ace, Nas, Talib Kweli, I could go on and on with people who made music that touched me in the heart and made me feel strongly about certain situations. Chicago is not a real nice city [laughs]. It may look nice, but it’s crazy out here. They would speak on a lot of things that would go on out here as well. I wanted the same impact that I felt back then on people who listen to Maturity like, “Wow, he said something real,” or “He said something dope,” “That’s how I feel.” I kind of talked about a lot of things that I’ve been through and that lay on my mind but I don’t really have conversations about. Self-expression, and I just kind of just wanted people to hear it and have that connection with it like they know me personally. That’s my goal. That’s what Maturity is to me, a connection to the people. I know what you go through because I go through the same thing. Just because I rap don’t make me different than you.

Purchase: Konflik – Maturity

Nick Weaver: Prowler

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Photo courtesy of Alex Aristei
Photo courtesy of Alex Aristei

Nick Weaver is back with a full-length album called “Prowler”. After tackling tough topics on 2015’s Yardwork, the Seattle emcee toned down the subject matter this go around while still maintaining poignancy. Prowler is a 12-track album full of innovate, thumping beats and lyrics about everyday life.

Clocking in at just under 35 minutes, Weaver took a “less is more” approach on Prowler. Each song is brief (the longest song is four minutes and three seconds) but packs a punch. The album is produced entirely by Nick Weaver and features appearances by Anthony Briscoe, da Deputy, and Grynch.

Nick Weaver spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about handling all of the production on his new album, painting pictures with rhymes, and what it’s like to be a prowler.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Prowler?

Nick Weaver: When I went and made this album I was doing everything differently. I was having trouble writing new stuff prior to this album. I just kept writing about the same stuff. My previous album, Yardwork was your borderline come-up rap/embracing your life struggles and whatnot. I think for myself it just became played out and creatively stale to do that. I didn’t know what the fuck to write about because I didn’t want to write anything that wasn’t accurate to who I was. I always want the art to represent the artist. I didn’t know what the fuck to write about so one of my best friends from California, Quinn is a guy I sent iPhone memos to – rough concepts. He said, “Just write about all the stuff that you do.” I’ll travel for work a lot for these events and somehow I’ll just randomly be in Nashville by myself eating ribs. I’ll be walking around Salt Lake City in the middle of winter listening to old school beats and shit. He said, “All the random stuff that makes you who you are, write about that.”

So I started to embrace that and write about the small shit in my life that doesn’t necessarily have a ton of meaning but represents who I am. I’ll go for a drive at 3 a.m. and listen to music by myself. I’ll pull up to a park at midnight and shoot jump shots completely alone. I’ll drive and go get a slice of pie at Shari’s at six in the morning just ‘cause I want to. The title “Prowler” is actually from a Black Rob line from a song that he did with The Lox called “Can I Live” where he says, “Nighttime prowler/Grimy after hours.” I just liked how that word sounded. To me it just meant embrace the weird dude that rides around in his car listening to music. I’m sort of this weird hermit that just locks himself away. I don’t even mean it as “weird” but just embrace that stuff and talk about it in a way that makes it sound cool, visually descriptive and interesting.

TRHH: Tell me about the song Gospel.

Nick Weaver: I made that beat first. I really liked the beat. Prowler is referenced quite a bit throughout the album. It starts off with the Black Rob line and it talks about being in my car listening to Nina Simone and drinking gas station coffee. It’s really coming to the full identity and by the time the beat drops the song is just pulling all this stuff from my life into the lyrics. It talks about being on a roof and mislabeling Orion’s Belt. I’m talking about going to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest that you can only get to when the tide rolls out. Right now that song is everyone’s favorite. It has that aggressive “hit the beat as hard as you can and go hyper-lyrical” but it’s clear enough and paints vivid enough pictures that it feels like this big grand tale. That or Proceed is probably my favorite track on the album.

TRHH: Why is it your favorite?

Nick Weaver: I just like the sound. I like that it has a powerful sound despite it not being about anything super-emotional one way or the other. It has a certain vibe to it. This idea that I really tried to go forward with as an artist – avant-garde lyricism. I would never compare myself to Nas, but when I wrote Prowler I listened to how Nas described things all the time. I love how if you listen to one Nas song you can see every detail, just like a really great author. I wanted to replicate that or do that in my version and my own vision as best I could. That song and Proceed tells these stories without needing a background explanation, even though they’re kind of abstract not necessarily about direct things.

TRHH: How is this album different from Yardwork?

Nick Weaver: We talked about it last time when we first chatted, Hilsyde handled most of the production on the last one. I came up with the skeletons and loose concepts of the initial beats, but he made that sound like it sounds. He deserves most of the credit for that. Whereas this album I just produced everything up here on my own. I locked myself away for a while learning how to make stuff sound good in Logic. The first difference is sounds are totally coming from my brain. Yardwork was talking about the struggle of becoming older and stuff with my family – it was a very personal record. This one is personal but it’s not an emotional one. This one is more about just finding the abstract pieces in life. Finding the nuances and subtleties in life, casting them to the front and showing every little detail about who you are. It’s a way different sound and vibe. Yardwork had a lot more moroseness and sadness to it. Prowler is more upbeat. There are hard hitting beats, there is a lot of energy behind it — it ebbs and flows with energy.

TRHH: You mentioned Hilsyde. So he had no involvement with this new project?

Nick Weaver: No, not this time. I wanna work with him again soon in L.A. though.

TRHH: How did you get to the point where you were confident in your abilities as a producer to do this 100% on your own?

Nick Weaver: I had to lock myself away, sit there and make a beat. When it was done, make another beat. When that was done, make another beat. Over and over and over again. The first 20, 30, 40 beats I made were cool. They were alright, but I would never put those on my album. The one that clicked with me was “R.I.P.” which features an emcee out of Forth Worth named da Deputy, who is a good friend of mine through music. I made that beat and it was that moment that you see in memes and shit. I finally got it arranged right. I chopped up the sample from an instrumental rock song, flipped it, and made this catchy melody. I was sitting there in the room in my boxers and I hit play and was like, “Boom! Fuck! There it is!” I was dancing around the room and shit ‘cause I finally made something that I thought was dope and catchy. It’s like anything, for you it might be writing. At some point when you write a good enough thing a long time ago you don’t forget that point. It’s like the switch, you don’t forget that switch. This is how you do this from here on out, and I just started building from that.

TRHH: What inspired the song Forgot?

Nick Weaver: I was just messing around again and I came up with this piano loop. The original song was written over another beat that was 808 heavy, big drums, atmospheric track. I wrote all those lyrics over there. It was a menacing type song. I was sort of freestlye mumbling over the piano of Forgot and as I started doing that I flipped the initial line of, “I wrote that late night manuscript/I keep that stick shift handle grip,” and it just fit so perfectly. The sound, the vibe, and the lyrics perfectly matched. I’m talking about being in the Louvre with a canvas print and driving at night toward Kansas City to go get Burnt Ends, and it fit the vision so perfectly. Going back to being visually descriptive, it was the perfect vibe for it. Initially I thought about adding drums to it and I sat there listening but my buddy Quinn said, “Just leave it like that. It’s cool. It’s short. It breaks up the craziness of the album,” So we just left it.

TRHH: You mentioned energy, the big sounds, and the piano; how would you describe the overall sound of Prowler?

Nick Weaver: That’s a good question. I think I’d describe it as “cinematic”. I know that, that has a lot of fuckin’ douche baggery attached to it, but you gotta hear me out. It has stuff to me that if you just listen to the beat, especially Proceed, Gospel, Taste, and Forgot, it sounds like something you’d hear in a movie intro. It could be the ending credits or some crazy scene where people are walking through a field or the mountains. It has that big sound to it. When I play Proceed I always picture Marshawn Lynch slamming through the rain in a black and white slow motion 4K – some big epic shit. When I was way younger and messing around on the keyboard I had I would always play these beats with big chords and make this big epic sound. I wasn’t recording, just playing it. That’s what I came up with. Cinematic is the best way to describe it in my own mind.

TRHH: Who is Prowler for?

Nick Weaver: That’s a good question. I think Prowler stands on kind of two legs. I think there is a lot of heavy lyricism going on in Prowler. If you’re of any sort of school, whether it’s old or new, and you like lyricism and grew up listening to that type of shit you can certainly find it in Prowler throughout. Especially because of how much time I put into painting pictures with stuff. It also has a lot of accessibility, meaning that people that might not listen to Hip-Hop will like it because of what I said previously – the cinematic sound. You put on this shit and it’s really well mixed because of this guy named D-Sane who is a Seattle Hip-Hop producer and sound engineer. He mixed it all down and recorded it so it sounds really good. It just hits clean. The sounds are big. There’s a lot of fun, different beats. It doesn’t stay in one place. It’s kind of all over in how it sounds. I think it’s for people that would randomly throw on some Hip-Hop every once in a while. If you like clean lyricism you can find plenty of that in Prowler.

Purchase: Nick Weaver – Prowler

Chuck D: Man Plans God Laughs

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Photo courtesy of Carl Ryder
Photo courtesy of Carl Ryder

On the song “Louder Than a Bomb” from the groundbreaking 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, Public Enemy front man Chuck D rhymes, “…I give you what you lack/Come right and exact/Our status is the saddest/So I care where you at, black…” Those rhymes were almost like a mission statement for Chuck D and PE, and they are just as relevant today as they were twenty eight years ago.

In 2001 a company called the Young Chicago Authors started a non-profit named after the PE album cut, Louder Than a Bomb. Kevin Coval, the Louder Than a Bomb founder established the organization to give young people in Chicago a creative outlet. Today Louder Than a Bomb plays host to the world’s largest youth poetry festival.

Recently Louder Than a Bomb celebrated its 16th anniversary and honored Chuck D for nearly thirty years of masterful work with words. Chuck has dedicated over half of his life to giving us “what we lack” and “caring where we’re at” so it’s only right that a little something be given back to him.

Prior to the Louder Than a Bomb festivities at the Metro in Chicago I had the extreme pleasure of speaking to one of the greatest emcees of all-time, a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and one of my personal musical heroes, Mr. Chuck D.

TRHH: Let’s start off with Gene Simmons.

Chuck D: [Laughs] You fuckin’ with me, man.

TRHH: Gene Simmons said he’s waiting for rap to die

Chuck D: He’s waiting for Fetty Wap to die? [Laughs] Nah, let me stop.

TRHH: [Laughs] He said he’s waiting for rap to die in the next ten years.

Chuck D: Everything dies.

TRHH: Do you really believe that rap music will die? Classical music still exists.

Chuck D: First of all, rap has never been a music.

TRHH: What has it been?

Chuck D: It’s been a vocal application on top of music, so music is always here. This is why rap has never disappeared anyway. Hip-Hop is a culture, rap music is rap on top of music. It started from cats rapping over records. It’s rap vocal application. Rap is in the middle of talking and singing so to say that rap is going to disappear is the stupidest thing. It’s as stupid as saying, “I wonder when these singing records are going to stop.” To scare him somebody should take one of KISS’ records and rhyme over it.

TRHH: Somebody should.

Chuck D: If they can actually find something good enough [laughs]. I respected KISS when I was a teenager. I wasn’t 2 years old when it came out. I went to an all-white high school. Some kids liked it. I liked the kids that liked Led Zeppelin and that type of stuff. Their music reminds me of cheap beer.

TRHH: Explain.

Chuck D: Cheap beer. It has its purpose. I went to college in ’78 so what was happening at that time was Disco and KISS. I think Gene Simmons is looking at rap music as something like what Disco did. Disco when it first started out was very hot. It was a black music, they just changed up on the patterns. My brother introduced me to Disco at that time. You know what I played on the radio show? T-Connection “Do What You Wanna Do.” That was Disco, but all that stuff from The O’Jay’s, “I Love Music” and Earl Young changing the drum pattern – the beat. Then once it got to the point where it was understood and people liked that thing then you started seeing Giorgio Moroder from Germany, computers, Miko synthesizers, it just got corny, man. I think people look at rap music sometimes like anybody can do it or anybody can say anything over anything and it’s going to catch on with money behind it. I think that’s what Gene Simmons sees. He doesn’t understand what Black Milk is doing. He wouldn’t understand guys like Torae. Those are craftsmen. You gotta look at those guys like Yusef Lateef and jazz cats. Looking at a dude like Premier is like Art Blakey. This is the thing to print, Gene Simmons wouldn’t know how to compare DJ Premier to Art Blakey. Hip-Hop cats that are skillful are like the most eloquent of jazz cats. If you ain’t into that world it’s all cheap beer.

TRHH: The last time we spoke you told me the next Public Enemy album would be short, and I was shocked at how short it really was.

Chuck D: Twenty nine minutes.

TRHH: Also what stood out was the sound was different.

Chuck D: The sound is always going to be different. Every time I try to do a record it’s going to be different. I’m never, ever going to be the same. I’m never going to do the same thing twice, and even when you say you’re not going to do the same thing twice you end up sounding here and there like the same thing twice because you are who you are. We’ve had massive successes and intentionally went away from the massive successes that we did the first time around just to be difficult. Outkast was like that, De La Soul was like that. Some people are like, “Well I got something so Im’ma ride with it.” Kanye in a certain way is starting to believe that, that’s the way he’s going to be and like it or not he don’t care. People say, “Bring back the classic Kanye,” but the classic Kanye was like 20 something years old. You can always go and get it. It’s out there. College Dropout ain’t goin’ nowhere.

TRHH: I think with Hip-Hop fans it’s like a special moment in time. If you were in college when College Dropout came out it means something special to you.

Chuck D: They want everything like that. They wanna look like they did in the mirror too [laughs]. It’s understandable but the thing that’s different about music and art is they can go and get the same thing. You want to go back to 1988? Then get on the internet and get everything from that time. You’ll get it exactly how it was.

TRHH: I’ve spoken with Daddy-O and Easy Mo Bee and both of them told me how you motivated them to release their respective projects. What’s it like working guys who are veterans and guys new to the game and helping to bring the best out of them with SPITdigital?

Chuck D: My goal is to make sure that people can get the most out of themselves and explore these areas as artists and craft persons well beyond what society determines for them, “Oh it’s over for you because you’re a certain age,” says who? I want this area to be more fruitful for them but nobody controls this area. I told Daddy-O and Easy Mo Bee to just get in the area of creating and releasing knowing that if it’s one copy that you move to a zillion, the system is set up to give you what you give out fairly. The only thing that I can deliver is a fair system. My latest comments have been trying to get people to understand that SoundCloud started out great but ended up being bought by the monsters. People are finding out that their music is being jacked on SoundCloud. They’re gonna scrape down half your shit and cry to the sample clearers.

TRHH: Eric B was recently on The Combat Jack Show

Chuck D: Eric B is like a union leader, man.

TRHH: Yeah, he said he had a hand in helping you with business stuff at Def Jam. How exactly did Eric help you and is that sort of camaraderie missing today? I remember seeing Sir Mix-A-Lot on TV years ago and he said that he was doing an interview using all this rapper slang and he said, “Chuck D told me you speak well. What are you doing? You don’t have to do that.” I feel like pulling each others coats and helping each other out is absent in Hip-Hop now.

Chuck D: We were taught by our father who passed away in February. My dad was very clear in saying, “You stand up for who you are. Nobody is better than you. That doesn’t mean nobody is worse than you but you stand up for who you are, and you want people to have better than what you have for yourself. There is enough to go around for everybody. I don’t care what you do but when you go out into the world you go with your head up and chest out.” That was the same thing going into business. I was an older brother to a lot of cats. You can’t gobble everything up. You don’t wanna gobble, you’ll become sick. I would pull Eric over with some things and Eric would say, “Yo man, I got this deal through 4th & Broadway so you better look at your contract.” Eric B was like a union leader, man. The Eric B’s, Hammer’s and Ice-T’s, guys like that would always set people free. They would always be giving of themselves. We had a brotherhood, we traveled together, and we played shows with each other. The stage is where all the niceties would end, but that’s no different from back in the day when Jordan would run into… with the exception of Isiah [laughs]….

TRHH: [Laughs] Oakley, Barkley…

Chuck D: Right, we boys but Im’ma bust your ass on the court. I remember this very clearly, me and Kane are close like brothers, but the thing I remember one time is Kane mopped us up so bad. I mean he just tore us to pieces [laughs]. I was laughing and I was hot but what happens is you get them back the next day. That’s your motivation – honing your talent into a skill. That’s what you want in anything is competition, but it’s growth as a crafts-person. Those times were special, man because it was rap against the world. So when Gene Simmons say something about rap music you would expect that he’d have a lot of eloquent responses as opposed to saying, “Leave him the fuck alone.” No, because he needs to be addressed. What’s your music about? Compare your music to Led Zeppelin.

TRHH: [Laughs] There is no comparison.

Chuck D: I mean, he would. He’d tell you KISS is the biggest band of all-time.

TRHH: The cheesiest band of all-time.

Chuck D: But he’s relying on people who don’t know that. KISS will tell you that they filled stadiums and they’re to be respected for what they did, but you know what, you gotta fight for this too. Who do you think the KISS of Hip-Hop would be?

TRHH: That’s tough, man.

Chuck D: I’m not belittling anybody either and I’m not belittling KISS. Just a spectacle, KISS is spectacle. Who was a spectacle?

TRHH: Hammer comes to mind but I don’t wanna do that to him.

Chuck D: Yeah, yeah you don’t wanna do that to Hammer, right?

TRHH: I have respect for him. He tore down a lot of stages.

Chuck D: KISS tore down stages too. You can’t really point to a music that didn’t. Didn’t they do “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite?”

TRHH: Yeah, he said something about Flash and Run-DMC being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame too. He has no respect whatsoever. I take that shit personally.

Chuck D: I know, I take it personally too. If he came around and flipped all of a sudden tomorrow and said he loved rap music would you buy it? I wouldn’t buy it. I’d buy that as much as Howard Stern saying it. We really don’t give a fuck about what anybody says. Fuck you dude, it’s gonna go down. That’s what it’s about.

TRHH: What are you feelings on the support that Donald Trump is receiving as he heads toward being the Republican candidate for President?

Chuck D: Welcome to the United States of America. A place that has forgotten that we were a couple of percentage points away from Sarah Palin being the Vice President with a 70-year old President where anything could happen.

TRHH: What’s next up for Chuck D and Public Enemy?

Chuck D: I got three service areas; SPITdigital, trying to tell artists to have their labels and do their thing, RapStation, a 12 station channel that we really enjoy, servicing thousands of artists, and Public Enemy doing some special things. I’m just trying to be of service. That’s what I’m trying to be on the way out. If I can’t make you go home to your family and say, “I like what I’m doing and I’m paid for doing it,” that’s why it’s important to be eloquent in all foundations of this because it’s not about an artist making a living, it’s about all the service areas. “What are you doing, Sherron?” “I’m a journalist. I write about music, culture, and other things in society.” “Wow, so what else do you do?” “That’s how I make my living.” “Wow, how can I do that?” and you’d be like, “Not overnight!” It don’t happen that way [laughs].

Purchase: Public Enemy – Man Plans God Laughs

Onry Ozzborn: DUO

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Photo courtesy of Fake Four Inc.
Photo courtesy of Fake Four Inc.

Onry Ozzborn is no stranger to collaborating. In his 19 year career the Seattle native has been a part of many groups including Grayskul, Oldominion, The Gigantics, and Dark Time Sunshine. Ozzborn’s latest project carries on his tradition of collaborating. Appropriately titled “DUO” Onry Ozzborn’s new album is in the same vein as Scarface’s “My Homies” series where Onry invites his friends to rock with him on each track.

DUO features Aesop Rock, Eligh, Sadistik, Latrell James, Rob Sonic, Nathan Quiroga, P.O.S., Kimya Dawson, Asphate, Dem Atlas, K Death, Cloudy October, Theory Hazit, Terra Lopez, Homeboy Sandman, and Pigeon John.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Onry Ozzborn about his new album DUO, its accompanying film project, his favorite song on the album, and the possibility of a new Grayskul project.

TRHH: Did you purposely set out to record an album with all guest appearances?

Onry Ozzborn: No, I didn’t. I actually started the album over five years ago. I was randomly recording music. I didn’t have a concept or a title or anything. I was randomly dropping verses on different instrumentals and whatnot. On a couple of songs I heard certain people’s voices and styles to it so I reached out to some people. As it progressed it just kind of evolved into that. I decided to have a guest on each song and do a duet album with all my friends. That’s why it’s called DUO.

TRHH: Because they’re all your friends was it easier to get features?

Onry Ozzborn: Oh, definitely. Almost everybody I worked with are friends of mine over the years from touring. I never try to force anything. I let the song tell me what should go on it and what shouldn’t. I just let it take its course and reached out to friends of mine. It was smooth sailing.

TRHH: Tell me about the film that accompanies the album.

Onry Ozzborn: The film is the entire album shrunk down into a thirteen and a half minute visual. It’s a medley of the entire album, but it sounds like one song. I was able to get everybody that’s on the album in the film.

TRHH: Oh wow. What was the filming process like?

Onry Ozzborn: It was phenomenal. It was a good time, man, being able to have all the artists for the most part in one place. The people that live out of town and couldn’t make it sent footage in and we were able to implement it into the film in a very unique way. Once you see the film you’ll understand. It’s a R2D2 type thing. The movie is the visual version of the album.

TRHH: My favorite song on the album is “Burn” with Theory Hazit. How did that song come together?

Onry Ozzborn: I just heard him on it. I’ve never worked with him before but we’re friends. When I heard the beat I knew Theory would kill it. I went ahead and dropped the whole thing. I did the Burn thing, he heard it and felt it and did the same thing. I didn’t think it needed a hook, I just wanted some raw spit on there.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Onry Ozzborn: Yeah, my favorite song is “Wired” with Asphate from Maxilla Blue. It’s pretty unique sounding to me. I haven’t heard a song like that. His verse was phenomenal to me. Everybody killed it but I haven’t heard a verse like that since early Pharoahe Monch.

TRHH: When will we hear a new Grayskul album?

Onry Ozzborn: That’s not even in the works. I’m working on this, a new Dark Time Sunshine after that, and JFK is working on a solo album so it’s going to be a while.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear when they buy DUO?

Onry Ozzborn: Just a variety of a lot of different types of music – a lot of mood swings. There are like 23 different people on the album so you won’t get bored. It’s put together very cohesively though, it’s not like a compilation or just some songs thrown together. It’s real organic throughout the whole thing. It’s only a 51 minute listen so it’s not that long.

Purchase: Onry Ozzborn – DUO

CookBook: A Whole New Cook

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Photo courtesy of Julia Pinedo
Photo courtesy of Julia Pinedo

In 2013 L.A. emcee CookBook released two joint EP’s with different producers. His first project was with DJ Rhettmatic called Phantom Menace. A few months later Cook joined forces with producer/emcee Blu for YES. Carrying on that tradition CookBook acquired the services of Dilated Peoples member, Evidence, for a new EP titled A Whole New Cook.

A Whole New Cook is produced entirely by Evidence and features appearances by Madchild, DJ Babu, LMNO, DJ Romes, and Evidence himself.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to CookBook about what it was like working with Evidence, the current status of his group L.A. Symphony, and his new album, A Whole New Cook.

TRHH: How did you and Evidence come together to work on this project?

CookBook: I’ve known Evidence for a long time. He’s been a friend of mine for a while. You meet in the scene and kind of come across each other. I’ve worked with him a couple times over the years. This is the third installment of an EP series that I’ve been doing where I work with one producer and let their production style and beats draw something different out of me. I was rhyming over a lot of my old beats so I wanted to do something new and work with a lot of these people that I’ve developed relationships with in the industry over the years. The first one I did with Rhettmatic and the second one I did with Blu. I’d known Ev for a long time and thought it would be really dope to work with him. I talked to him and he was with it. Between our crazy schedules we figured out a time, got in, and knocked it out.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title “A Whole New Cook”?

CookBook: For me the EP series has been sort of transformative in that it started in a time in my life when I started to do new things musically, artistically, my philosophies, and in my personal life. My life was changing. I think that is the culmination of me totally cutting loose and feeling like I’m 100% doing music the way I want to do it and not having to worry about anything. The title was saying just that, it’s a whole new Cook. Not that I wasn’t authentic before, but I feel like my full self. I’m totally cutting loose now and letting it all hang out. To me that was a new thing, plus the track. Before I worked with Ev I always liked the quote from his song where he says, “I’m a whole new cook,” and I thought it would be a dope thing for a song. I told him about that and he was like, “Yo, that would be dope.” Once we made the actual title track we both kind of looked at each other and thought it was the track for that quote. It all worked out perfect and came together.

TRHH: How is this project different from YES and Phantom Menace?

CookBook: On Phantom Menace Rhettmatic’s beats were definitely darker than what I’d usually rhyme over. They drew more of a new aspect out of me which was cool. YES was a little more my style. It was different, but a little more what I normally do – light hearted and having fun. A Whole New Cook stylistically is different because Ev’s beats are darker, slower, and a little more stripped down. He told me from the beginning, “Look, my beats expose emcees. They’re usually slower and stripped down. It’s not a lot of extras. It displays your rhymes really well, so get ready to rhyme and kill it.” Also Ev’s production style makes it different, too. He’s an excellent actual producer where he produces the vocals. He does a full producers job. That was one of the bigger differences too. I’ve never really been produced like that. I’ve had people work with me lyrically but Ev is a producer through and through, he’s not just a beat maker. He said, “You’re not gonna write these raps at your house. Come to my studio.” With most of the songs he made the beat as I walked in the door or he was making the beat while I was in the back freestlying or writing ideas down. We’d develop songs together like that. It was a really interesting process. By making it in a way that I’ve never made a record before it made a huge difference in the outcome as well.

TRHH: The song “CookBook Got the Answers” was dope. Who came up with the concept for that one?

CookBook: That was all Ev. When I heard the track I loved it. He said, “This track reminds me of when you go to a radio station and they always want you to spit a verse. This reminds me of those type of beats that they would put on.” I wrote the rhymes and spit ‘em and he was like, “It would be dope if we made it sound like a skit and make it like you were on Sway in the Morning.” I was down. We went through a bunch of Sway in the Morning audio and found where he said “cook” and “book” in two different places and put them together. That was kind of the running joke that it doesn’t sound totally natural. A lot of people were like, “Yo, were you on Sway in the Morning?” nah, I wasn’t [laughs]. It was a lot of fun doing that. Ev had that idea and we went with it.

TRHH: Do you know if Sway has heard it?

CookBook: I don’t think he’s heard it yet. I have a feeling he’s gonna. Hopefully he loves it and is not like, “Hey yo, what the hell, man?” [laughs].

TRHH: What’s your opinion on the recent resurgence of west coast Hip-Hop?

CookBook: Ah man, I’m from L.A., I love it. On the upper top scale you’ve got Kendrick killing it. With Dre’s album coming out last year you have Anderson .Paak. There are a lot of artists from every level from quote unquote underground to mainstream coming out. I think it’s great. Everything goes in cycles and music is the same way. Eventually the pendulum is going to turn a little back towards us. I think it’s a little different this time because there is a little more unity in a sense that people rhyme over similar beats so there is a similar threads. You can have a lot of west coast artists still getting down with east coast or dirty south artists or whatever. There is a resurgence but there still is a lot coming out of different camps too and I love it – all of it.

TRHH: What’s the current status of L.A. Symphony?

CookBook: We never really broke up. I think we came to a point where we were just kind of done. We just gave each other a break because we were going really hard and strong for a long time. It just became a little bit of a pressure situation. We just said, “Everybody do your thing,” and we were on hiatus or whatever you wanna call it. We always said we’d do another record whenever we feel it. In 2014 we felt it. We did a new record and put it out in December of 2014. We’re in such different places in our lives and careers that it wasn’t one of those things were you put together a record and do a big tour and have this huge resurgence. We kind of did the record for us and the fans who were still around really enjoyed the record. It’s a really good record. It was something that we wanted to do and we enjoyed doing it. We get booked for shows so if we get booked for a show we’ll go do it. Other than that we’re not actively pursuing any kind of shows, tours, or new music right now. We’re all still homies by the way. We’re super close. Those are my brothers.

TRHH: What’s the next chapter in CookBook’s book?

CookBook: Man that is a great question. First of all, I’m really excited about A Whole New Cook. I’m really excited about the possibility of things that are coming at me right now. I want to see where this takes me. I had thought loosely that this EP series was just going to be a three-parter. I’ve had so much fun doing it that even in the midst of me making a regular album again I may always do an EP with a producer in this format because I’ve enjoyed it so much. I don’t have exact plans. It’s funny, now that this project is out I’m starting to formulate a pseudo-list of producers I’d like to work with. There are no concrete plans. I’m going to be doing a lot of shows and some touring. There are a number of videos that are coming out from this project and I’m just going to pump this project up as much as I can and keep making it be as successful as possible. That’s my focus and goal right now – A Whole New Cook.

Purchase: CookBook & Evidence – A Whole New Cook

From the Vault: Sean Price

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Photo courtesy of Duck Down Records
Photo courtesy of Duck Down Records

In 2009 I began writing about Hip-Hop. As a life-long fan of the music I finally got to express to the world the opinions I previously only shared with friends. I also got to expose artists to people that may not have gotten the shine they deserved.

The best part of it all was getting to interview artists. Some artists I loved, some not so much. Some artists I’d never heard of, some I was a huge fan of.

Somehow the interviews I conducted in 2009 for another outlet got lost in cyberspace. Some deserved to be lost, some deserved to live forever. In hopes that those conversations live forever I will periodically re-publish many of those lost interviews.

The first interview that I’m releasing from the vault is with the late, great Sean Price. In October of 2009 Sean was promoting his Kimbo Price mixtape and chopped it up with me about the release, our shared love of boxing legend Mike Tyson, and Sean’s dislike for the politics of rap.

It’s fitting that on the week that we would be celebrating his 44th birthday I present to you from the vault, Sean Price.

TRHH: In a recent interview with XXL you said your kids can’t eat pride and you might end up working at Costco. That’s real talk. What about the game would make you want to walk away for a 9-to-5? 

Sean Price: I just don’t like people, period. I’m anti-social. The older I get the more anti I become. The music is one thing but you have to be a politician—I don’t wanna be. You know what I mean?

TRHH: Yeah. 

Sean Price: I don’t like people. I have a small group of people that I consider friends, and that’s it. Everybody else is whatever the fuck they are. You know what I mean?

TRHH: Yeah I know what you mean. But let me ask you, have you always not liked people, or has the business just worn you down? 

Sean Price: It ain’t even just the business, man. I grew up kinda hard man — my moms a junkie, my pops an alcoholic, my aunt raised me. I just don’t like people. It stems from me being younger, like when I show up at the family reunion they be like, “Oh that’s Sean, that’s what’s his name.” Extra explanations and shit just made me stay away. Family…friends…no. I got a small circle of friends, that’s it.

TRHH: You always come with the illest titles for your releases. The new mixtape is titled Kimbo Price, but I have to ask did you see Kimbo Slice get his ass whooped by Roy Nelson? 

Sean Price: Yeah. I don’t know you brother or how you fight but most people who say, “Yo son. You should change it. He keep gettin’ his ass whooped.” Nah, most people who say that can’t fuck Kimbo up.

TRHH: [Laughs] That’s true.

Sean Price: So I’m like, shut the fuck up, and when you knock him out I’ll change the CD to whatever you want me to call it. I’m not saying that to you because I don’t know, you might punch school buses like me.

TRHH: No, not me. 

Sean Price: The people who say that probably can’t kick his ass. You gotta understand he’s a street fighter trying to come up. You can’t learn Brazilian Jujitsu in four sessions. That’s a skill! You understand what I’m saying? But he works hard. He looks like if he keeps it up he’ll get it. He seems like a humble brother so Inshallah (God willing) everything will work out for him.

TRHH: You did a joint with 50 Cent called Dreaming, and you said, “Y’all ain’t maintaining/Y’all Mantanning.” Do you think the game is full of Mantan’s right now? 

Sean Price: Yeah, I actually say that to people. I walk up to people and say, “What’s up my brother, you Mantanning?” We all Mantanning, I’m just trying not to do it as much as everybody else — I’m no better.

TRHH: Mic Tyson is the title of your next album, and you have Tyson clips on the new mixtape. Did you see the Tyson documentary

Sean Price: Of course.

TRHH: What did you think about it? 

Sean Price: I thought it was very interesting, you know what I mean? It was deep, you know? I’m from Brownsville, I used to sell crack on the block where Mike Tyson is from. I don’t know where you from but where I’m from it’s like a kind of a demotion like, “Yo, this nigga here? I used to send this nigga to the store.” You know what I mean?

Mike used to send me to the store. He probably don’t remember but he used to send me to the store to get his stuff for him [laughs]. He used to hang out with a guy around my way named Bernard. One day he was sitting on my mom’s car and he took my Bon Ton Potato Chips and gave me $20. The next time I saw him he sent me to the store to pick his clothes up from Simon’s. He used to get his hair cut in my projects. Mike was around my way a lot.

TRHH: What’s your favorite Mike Tyson quote?

Sean Price: “I don’t like myself. I don’t like you guys and I don’t like myself. I’m having a catch-22 within my own identity. That’s why I’m very harsh with you at times, I’m very tyrannical. I don’t give a fuck if you live or die, but I do.” Yeah, that’s my favorite quote.

TRHH: Holy shit, you said that verbatim! 

Sean Price: I’m a die-hard Mike Tyson fan, man. Let me tell you man, I was in school out of town in Chicopee, Massachusetts at Job Corps when Buster Douglas knocked him out and I cried, man. I cried like I lost a family member. So the next day I went to the chow and the dude’s was like, “Yo, what happened to your man Brownsville?” I fucked up like three dudes that day. I ride with Mike all the way. Even on Monkey Barz I got a song that says, “I’m the boss/I smack niggas talkin’ ‘bout a Mike Tyson loss.” I’m dead serious.

TRHH: That’s crazy that you’re saying this because I felt the same way. When he lost that first fight to Holyfield, man!! That was heavy. 

Sean Price: That hurts, man.

TRHH: On the song Duck Down there’s a controversial rhyme. You say, “Y’all get scared easy/Queer like multiple pairs of Air Yeezy’s.” What are you trying to say in that rhyme? 

Sean Price: That’s not that controversial, B. I seen the Air Yeezy’s, they’re dope–but understand the line. I’ve seen like one pair that got white, black, and gray inside but the rest of them have pink. Why would I wear pink? That’s what I meant by that. If you got one pair, that’s cool, they’re dope. But if you got all of ‘em and they all got pink inside, you might be a tight end for the Packers. Know what I mean?

TRHH: [Laughs] The song Pork Chops and Applesauce sounded like it was a diss to Southern rappers. What was that song about? 

Sean Price: Ah, nah man! Nah!!! That’s not what that is neither, once again. I actually love Shawty Lo man, and I love Young Jeezy. You can go back to old interviews, I love Young Jeezy. I think Shawty Lo is hot, know what I mean? No, Shawty Lo ain’t lyricist of the year but he’s very entertaining. I was just like, If I was a country dude this is how I would rhyme. And I was making fun of my sister who lives down south and she’s such a fuckin’ Bama [laughs]. So I’m kinda poking fun at my sister.

TRHH: So it’s all love? 

Sean Price: Yeah it’s all love. I love Shawty Lo and I love Young Jeezy, man.

TRHH: You had Reverend X clips on Jesus Price Supastar and on the Kimbo Price mixtape. Did you ever meet Reverend X? 

Sean Price: No, I would love to meet him though. For Jesus Price I gotta big up my man Phonte ‘cause he brought Reverend X to the forefront for me. It just seems like that’s the kind of guy that would follow Jesus Christ, the way he’s talkin’ and shit so it just made sense.

TRHH: So will Mic Tyson be your last album on Duck Down Records or your last album period? 

Sean Price: Mic Tyson might be my last album period. I love Duck Down. If Duck Down was the Cavaliers I’d be LeBron. I think I might be contractually done after Mic Tyson and Random Axe. I’m looking for the exit. Not the exit from Duck Down, the exit from this fuckin’ bullshit period. Know what I mean? But if I stay I’m running with the team. This is my team for life. When I wasn’t the Sean Price that I am now they was still showing me love. So I’m not gassed. And like I said I don’t like nobody either, and I don’t think nobody would like me on their label anyway. I’m not that label friendly.

TRHH: You mentioned the Random Axe project with Black Milk and Guilty Simpson, how soon will that project be out? 

Sean Price: We’re 11 songs in and Black just sent me like 6 more so I’m on it.

TRHH: OK, let’s do some word association. I’ll say a name and you say the first thing that comes to your mind, cool? 

Sean Price: OK.

TRHH: Buckshot.

Sean Price: Boss.

TRHH: Kanye West.

Sean Price: Black Milk.

TRHH: Guilty Simpson.

Sean Price: Ape.


Sean Price: Special.

TRHH: Common Sense.

Sean Price: Is not common.

TRHH: Nicki Minaj.

Sean Price: Who?

TRHH: Nicki Minaj…

Sean Price: WHO? That’s the first thing that came to my mind!

TRHH: [LAUGHS] Alright. Rock.

Sean Price: My brother.

TRHH: Mike Tyson.

Sean Price: Brownsville.

Rest in Peace, Sean P!

Purchase Sean Price solo albums:

Monkey Barz

Jesus Price Supastar

Mic Tyson

Introducing: Def By Stereo

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Photo courtesy of Below System Records
Photo courtesy of Below System Records

Formerly known as The Frog Brothaz, Southern California production team Suplex and Harsh Ramirez are the Beat Bruisers. The duo reached out to emcees from both coasts to craft a new album called Def By Stereo.

Los Angeles emcee Pawz One and New York City’s Ruste Juxx were chosen to provide rhymes over the Beat Bruiser’s gritty landscapes. Released by Below System Records, Def By Stereo is produced entirely by the Beat Bruisers and features appearances by Spit Savage and Dro Pesci.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Pawz One and the Beat Bruisers about reaching out to east coast emcee Ruste Juxx, the ins and outs of west coast rap politics, and their new album, Def By Stereo.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Def By Stereo.

Harsh Ramirez: Originally we went by “The Frog Brothaz”. The movie The Lost Boys is where we kind of got the concept. There was a part in the movie where they kill that vampire and he’s like, “Death by stereo!” That’s where I got the idea and it just clicked. We ended up changing the name because we found out there might be another Frog Brothaz so we went with Beat Bruisers, but we kept the title of the album Def By Stereo and it pretty much just all fell into place.

TRHH: How did Pawz One and Ruste Juxx get involved in the project?

Harsh Ramirez: Pawz hit me up to do a remix on one of our songs. He reached out to us so we hooked that up. It was only supposed to be a single and it turned into a whole album.

Pawz One: They had “Unphuckwitable” and it was a good song and I asked them if they would be open to doing a remix. After the remix they liked the outcome and the idea sprang up to add a couple more songs and turn it into an EP so we just started working on that.

TRHH: At what point was Ruste brought in?

Suplex: I was scrolling on the wonderful world of Facebook and saw Ruste say he was looking to collab. I hit him up and we ended up linking up. We were supposed to just do one track and it kind of snowballed into a whole project.

TRHH: What was the process like recording this album?

Suplex: We kind of just stacked up the beats. We had some songs that we thought at first were a go, but there were 2 or 3 songs that we had to re-do on the production side, which was good. Me, Pawz, and Harsh would sit down and listen to the songs and make sure everything was good. With the recording process we’d get into the studio, Pawz or Ruste would vibe out to the beat, write, and then we’d do our recording.

TRHH: You guys are from the west coast but your production has an east coast sound. How would you classify the Beat Bruiser sound?

Harsh Ramirez: I’m influenced a lot by the east coast. Since I was young I was really into graffiti. When I was in sixth grade my mom bought me a subway art book. It had all of the pieces on the train like Seen, Revok, Lady Pink, a bunch of old school heads. I was always influenced by the east coast as far as graffiti. I did that until I got caught up. Musically I grew up on the west coast and it was mostly gangsta rap – N.W.A., South Central Cartel, stuff like that. Me personally I was into graffiti. We’re in Cali so we have family and friends who bang and are into that. My cousin was in Florida and he brought over Wu-Tang and I’d never heard it before. It changed my whole outlook. That shit blew my mind. I was like, “Damn, what’s this?” I was so used to listening to that west coast sound. Ever since then it had a big influence. The beats and the lyrics were just different to me. I have a lot of respect for the east coast but at the same time I rep the west, this is where I’m from.

Suplex: I kind of have the same story as Harsh. I got started with the graffiti thing looking at the graf mags and the trains in New York. When I was young I grew up on The Chronic and all of the g-funk stuff out here. Then I listened to the east coast stuff and loved the beats and the lyrics. It’s funny because I would put in an Alkaholiks tape and the homies that were bumping the hardcore west coast gangsta rap would be like, “Aw, that’s east coast! That’s not west coast!” and I’d go, “Dude, these guys are from the west coast!” I think that underground flavor is what we like – the hard banging drums, the grimy samples, and that grimy sound that we have.

TRHH: What do you guys think about the resurgence in recent years of the west coast with people like Odd Future, Kendrick, and YG? It seems like the west coast has taken back over again.

Pawz One: I think honestly it’s a lot of the people within the same camp. They’re all associated and they’re all affiliated. It’s like nepotism. A lot of them are getting put on because of relationships. That’s why you only see a handful of west coast artists getting certain looks and being put on festivals and shit like that. That’s what I see. That’s what I know from being out here, in these studios, and in different places. In Cali there is a lot of politics. I can say firsthand, that’s what it is. I think what a lot of people in other regions don’t know about the west coast is it’s divided racially and with gangs. There are so many little sections and people won’t work with you if you’re from a certain part of L.A. or didn’t go to a certain high school. It’s very cliquish and the gang culture plays a big part of that.

Harsh Ramirez: I grew up in Rialto, San Bernardino. I’m from the Inland Empire. It’s two different counties. People don’t like people from L.A. and L.A. people don’t like people, that’s mostly the gang stuff. Even people that aren’t associated with gangs still take that mentality and it puts a lot of people in boxes. I’m not like that and Suplex ain’t like that. We’re all open-minded. There are a lot of people here who aren’t like that but there are also people who are very cliquish, stubborn, and stuck in their ways. I can’t speak for the east coast but I have friends out there and from talking to them it’s a lot different out there the way everybody chills and over here it’s segregated still.

Pawz One: As far as the music is concerned you got Dom Kennedy, this one, and that one and that’s great, but a lot of that is geared toward the commercial side. There is a real diverse underground. There is a lot of talented people out here and not to mention all the legends. You have Ras Kass out here who is still active, and a lot of other people out here who are still active but they aren’t getting the same attention and the same light. It’s good to see us winning. It’s like when your football team is winning. It’s good to know that they’re from the area and winning, that’s great. We’d also like other people to look into these other directions and see that there are other people out there that bring some diversity to the table. It’s just hard to convince people out west of that.

Harsh Ramirez: Yep.

Suplex: I’m a fan too. I just bought that Ras Kass/Apollo Brown album. I continue to buy projects. Some of the people that are fans out here, and it’s a very small community, also support that. It is tough out here because everybody is a rapper, everybody is a beat maker, and everybody is a producer. I think the people that still love Hip-Hop and that boom bap kind of nation are still showing love. It’s still tough out here because with the age of the computer anybody can have a multi-million dollar studio in their home with all the plug-ins, software, interfaces, and microphones. Back in the day it was a little tough to be an artist.

Harsh Ramirez: It’s like crabs in a barrel, man. Everybody is trying to climb on each other to get ahead. “You guys are cool, but you should listen to my homie!” It’s probably like that everywhere.

Suplex: With the Def By Stereo album we tried to keep that boom bap grimy flavor. With Pawz he kind of stepped out of his box a little bit than on other projects. Bringing Ruste in, and Harsh also rhymed, I think all three of them with our production just brought it. We had somewhat of an idea of the direction we wanted to go with the album but for the most part we just went for it.

Harsh Ramirez: In the moment. Whatever felt good at the time we just went with it. We’d just go back, listen to it and if anybody had any ideas or wanted to change something everybody was open. Everything went real smooth.

Suplex: Me and Pawz were laughing that we should have called this album “Audible” because we were just throwing audible’ s all the time on this album. I think I had all the songs mixed or mastered and either Pawz or Harsh said, “I’m not too sure about that track.” We were doing the director’s cut for LA 2 NY. We already had the beat, Spit already had his verse recorded, and it was mixed. We did the audible thing again and changed the beat. Me and Harsh literally made the beat that same night and it worked out. All of our egos are kind of out of the way where we can make those decisions as artists. Sometimes in Hip-Hop having more than one creative person in the room can cause people’s egos to get in the way of the creative aspect of the album. All of us in the room are mature enough to make those decisions.

TRHH: What are your workstations like?

Suplex: I use a Samsung phone to make all my beats [laughs].

Harsh Ramirez: I got a Casio keyboard and a Fisher Price tambourine and shit. Nah, I use Logic and Josh always brings his little drum machine. So we use the drum machine, Logic, Roland keyboards, pretty much whatever we got we can slap it together.

Suplex: We use Logic and use Pro Tools to mix and master. We have a couple of cheap keyboards that we use sometimes and we chop up samples and do beats on the beat machine. I have a buddy of mine that comes in and puts bass lines and guitars over the samples.

TRHH: The song “Now” has more of a serious theme than the rest of the album. What inspired that song?

Suplex: You kind of always have to have a slow jam on an album [laughs]. We just wanted to talk about how we grew up, the stuff that we had to go through dealing with fucked up ass parents, and growing from that. All of the fuckin’ bullshit we have to deal with the cops, put that in a song and relay that because there is a lot of people that have gone through the same scenario.

Harsh Ramirez: Especially with everything that’s going on right now we figured that song would fit perfect. So far it’s getting a lot of play. People are digging it so it was a good idea. I had the beat in the vault for years. I made that thing years ago. I showed it to Josh and said we should throw this on the album and it worked out perfect.

TRHH: What can fans expect to hear when they cop Def By Stereo?

Pawz One: I would say it’s raw, gritty shit that will remind them of that era when rappers could say whatever the fuck they wanted and it was no real filter. Dudes could say whatever the fuck was on their mind. That’s what it reminds me of.

Harsh Ramirez: And all of the new jack cats that know what the 90s felt like. That was our era. To me that was one of the best times for Hip-Hop – 90s, early 2000s. That’s what it sounds like to me beat wise.

Suplex: I think when they listen to the album if you’re into the hard drums, heavy bass lines, and samples they’re going to enjoy it. It’s just some grimy shit. It’s like a distorted timeline of bars starting from the intro all the way to the outro.

Pawz One: No skinny jeans!

Purchase: Beat Bruisers x Pawz One x Ruste Juxx – Def By Stereo

P.SO The Earth Tone King: American Apartheid

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Photo courtesy of P.SO The Earth Tone King
Photo courtesy of P.SO The Earth Tone King

In the middle of 2014 New York based production duo 2 Hungry Bros. linked up with emcee, P.SO The Earth Tone King to craft a 6-track EP titled Feast of Legend. The critically acclaimed release on HiPNOTT Records was produced entirely by 2 Hungry Bros. and featured appearances from Tanya Morgan, Substantial, Likewuid, and Kevo.

The Earth Tone King and his hungry comrades are back at it again with the upcoming release of a new politically charged singled called “American Apartheid”. The serious single serves as the set-up to the trios sophomore project, Paleo.

P.SO The Earth Tone King spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about working with 2 Hungry Bros, their album Feast of Legend, and his new single, American Apartheid.

TRHH: How’d you link up with 2 Hungry Bros. to make Feast of Legend?

P.SO: I’ve known 2 Hungry Bros. for like eight years now. I used to be a part of a group called the A-OK Collective. A-OK Collective consisted of me, 2 Hungry Bros., an artist named 8thW1, an artist named Fresh Daily, and Homeboy Sandman who is actually really big right now. That’s how I met 2 Hungry Bros. and I’ve been building with them ever since.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title Feast of Legend?

P.SO: 2 Hungry Bros. are foodists. They’re dope producers and they’re very much into food. They like cooking and eating. Every album that they have has something to do with food. They have an album called Table Manners, they have an album called No Room for Dessert, and they have an album called The Munchies. My name is P.SO The Earth Tone King. I adopted a title that was more like a fantasy title so when I decided to do Feast of Legend it was more like a feast – a vast feast that listeners could feast upon. It sounded mythical for me so that’s where Feast of Legend came from.

TRHH: Who came up with the concept for the Fire in the Hole video? It was hilarious.

P.SO: [Laughs] 2 Hungry Bros. is Ben [Boogz] and Deep. Deep went to a chicken wing spot and saw some chicken wings that were called “fire in the hole” and that’s where the concept came from.

TRHH: Tell me about the graphic novel, The Gateway to Greatness.

P.SO: I’ve been a comic book fan since I was 8-years old. Ideally when I came up with the Gateway to Greatness album I wanted to come up with a graphic novel as well because I’m a writer. I don’t just write music, I write stories, I work on film scripts, and things like that. One of my good friends Anwar Morse is an amazing illustrator so we collaborated together to work on this graphic novel. We released it with the album together. It basically came out of me being a fan of graphic novels and comic books. Deep and Ben are big comic book fans. We read a lot of comics so we had to put a comic into our music somehow.

TRHH: How is writing a graphic novel different from writing rhymes?

P.SO: Wow, you have some good questions, man. You did some good research – on point.

TRHH: Thank you.

P.SO: Writing rhymes is a freedom of expression. It’s poetry so however you feel is how you write. It’s almost like writing in a journal or a diary. Whatever you feel in your heart, whatever emotion you want to express, you express those through rhyme. It’s a piece of your soul that you’re putting onto the paper. Writing stories is completely different. That’s a story. You’re making it up. You’re creating a story, you’re creating an idea, and you’re creating a character. When I write a story it’s not me, when I write music it’s a part of who I am. That’s the distinction between the two.

TRHH: Do you view emcees who write as characters in a different way?

P.SO: A lot of artists create a persona. I’m not gonna front, sometimes I might exaggerate some things or embellish. But for the most part I’m on par with who I am. I know artists who create personas and characters. That’s something that I’m interested in doing. I might do an album where I’m pretending to be someone else or something else, but right now my music is a more expressive version of myself. My Hip-Hop version of myself is not exactly who I am in real life but it’s a more expressive version of who I am.

TRHH: When the last Star Wars film dropped you released Star Wars for Dummies. How’d that song come together?

P.SO: The whole idea was I wanted to do something different. I was dealing with a lot of issues because I was writing songs and was wondering, “What can I do to stand out that’s going to be relevant and exciting?” I basically thought we needed to make a song that was more caught into pop culture and relevant to what people are experiencing today. The whole Star Wars thing was crazy. Star Wars has been huge so I decided to write a song about it. We’re probably going to do that more because the Star Wars song actually did really well for us. I was going to do a song about Daredevil and eventually do a song about Game of Thrones because those two shows are really popular.

TRHH: Tell me about the new single.

P.SO: The new single is called “American Apartheid” and it’s from my new EP called Paleo, as in Paleozoic. The whole idea behind American Apartheid is we’re living in very tumultuous times. There are a lot of crazy things going on in society and in culture. I haven’t really been super-sensitive to it all so I felt like I needed to make a song that talked about my struggle as a human being, a black man, and a person living in America. American Apartheid is completely about that. This new EP is completely produced by 2 Hungry Bros., just like Feast of Legend. This one is going to be a lot of fun.

Purchase: P.SO The Earth Tone King – Feast of Legend