Ras Beats: Control Your Own

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Photo courtesy of Worldwyde Recordings
Photo courtesy of Worldwyde Recordings

Born in Denmark and raised in Queens, New York Ras Beats continues the East Coast tradition of making that old boom bap. His sample-based sound provides a feeling from a past era with a modern day appeal. Ras Beats’ work is on full display on his newly released album on Worldwyde Recordings, Control Your Own.

Control Your Own is a 14 track album that features O.C., Elzhi, Roc Marciano, Sub-Con, Breeze Brewin’, Kool Sphere, Fev, A.G., J-Biz, Rasheed Chappell, Blacastan, Sureshot La Rock, Masta Ace, and Sadat X.

Ras Beats spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his beginnings in beat-making, the current sound of mainstream Hip-Hop, and his new album, Control Your Own.

TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Control Your Own.

Ras Beats: That came from a conversation I was having, actually. We were talking about some real life stuff at the moment and I said, “You gotta control your own,” and when I said that I thought that should be the name of the album. When it comes to the album it’s in reference to this album being independent and making sure you control your own music, the sound of it, and the integrity of your music. On a larger scale as a grown person, you may not be able to control a lot of this necessarily on the outside but you can control how you act, your own morals, and your behavior. That’s something that means something to me and that’s the meaning behind the title.

TRHH: What made you decide to do a producers album?

Ras Beats: I’m always making beats, listening to music, looking for samples, chopping them up and all that stuff. I came to a point where there were some great producer albums out there but I wanted to add my two cents. It’s something I had thought about for a while and it got to the point it was inevitable and I had to do it. Also to put some good music out there and kinda get busy with it. It’s something I had an idea with for a while but I kind of went back and forth, but I had to do this. I started working on it and that was it.

TRHH: Tell me about the first single, Wit No Pressure.

Ras Beats: When I decided I wanted to make an album Roc Marciano was one of the guys I had to get on there. He’s one of my favorites. He’s an emcee so you want to make sure as a producer that you do your best when you get him on a record. I came up with the beat and it was for Roc. I was fortunate enough that I knew him and we made it happen. It felt like a good way to start the album.

TRHH: How did you initially get into production?

Ras Beats: Probably the same story as a lot of people that do beats in my kind of style – sampling and chopping them up and all that. For me it came from just looking for old records, listening to music and being like, “Oh, that’s where such and such got the sample from!” My knowledge started expanding from there and after a while I decided to make something on my own. Like anything else you start working on your craft and you get to a point where you start making songs. It was very organic. I was a fan of music then I started making my own and going from there.

TRHH: What’s your take on the keyboard sound that has taken over Hip-Hop in recent years?

Ras Beats: That’s a tough one. At this point I think I’ve gotten into the mindset that if I don’t like something I don’t really listen to it. It sounds cliché, but if it’s good it’s good. I just always liked my Hip-Hop to be funky. I like it to have a certain grit and grime to it – something that affects you in a way that no other music affects you when you hear that first couple bars. To me it’s not that much keyboard production that gives me that feeling. Not that it necessarily has to be based on samples but there is a certain feel that that type of production gives you that I don’t personally hear in the cleaner keyboard sound. I like it a little grittier, personally. With that being said there is some stuff played on keyboard that still has that feel to it, but to my ears it’s not all that much that has it. It’s personally what I like listening to.

TRHH: What is your workstation of choice?

Ras Beats: I keep it really simple. I got my turntables set up and I got my Akai MPC 2500 next to it. That way I hear something, get inspired or am in that mood I can kind of get going in ten seconds. I do it on the 2500 at first and then go to Pro Tools when it’s time to record and mix. It’s the 2500 and I have a little keyboard hooked up to it – not so much for keyboard beats but for any samples I want to manipulate. I basically try to work with the samples and do my own take on it. I find something I want to work with and change around enough to where it’s mine now. I think the science behind it is if you find some incredible record to sample you have to add on to it and make it more than what it was when you heard it.

TRHH: How did the new single, Knowledge of Self with Elzhi and O.C. come about?

Ras Beats: I got the verse from Elzhi and I wanted to finish it up with somebody that could match what he was talking about. Elzhi is saying some things in there and you can’t just put anybody on the record next to him. O.C. was somebody that came to mind. I knew he could bring that home from there. A.G., who is also on my album was able to put me in contact with O.C., and he heard the record and was down with it.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite verse on Control Your Own?

Ras Beats: [Laughs] A lot of people ask me about my favorite songs and favorite verses. I don’t think I have one. It changes from day to day. The O.C. verse is pretty incredible. Off the top of my head I’d have to say that verse but I’m really happy with what everybody gave me on that album. Everybody that’s on there definitely came through and I really appreciate that. If you ask me tomorrow it’s going to be a different verse [laughs].

TRHH: If you could produce an album for one artist who would it be?

Ras Beats: Oohh, that’s tough. I might have to think about that. I don’t know.

TRHH: Okay, give me a few.

Ras Beats: I would have to go all-time favorites. I would love to do a record with Grand Puba – he’s one of my favorites. I would love to do a whole album with Craig G. Roc Marciano, I’d love to do a whole project with him. There’s a lot. There are a lot of people I’d like to work with and a lot of people I’d love the opportunity to do a whole project for them.

TRHH: Who is Control Your Own made for?

Ras Beats: I mean without sounding weird first and foremost it’s made for me. I wanted to make sure that this was the album that I planned to make. I wanted to make sure that it was good. I wanted to make sure that if there was a track or an interlude that I’m not loving it came off. There are a couple songs and interludes that didn’t make it. After that, once I was happy with it I want people out there who are looking for music and don’t care about politics, trends, and things like that and love music, beats, rhymes, good lyricists, drums, bass lines, and filters, that’s who I made it for. People that love music and don’t care about trends and what’s hot right now. They love music and that’s who it’s for.

Purchase: Ras Beats – Control Your Own

Reef the Lost Cauze: Furious Styles

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

Twenty-five years ago the film Boyz N The Hood was released and it launched the careers of several young actors, most notably Hip-Hop’s very own Ice Cube. A coming of age film set in South Central, Los Angeles, Boyz N The Hood centered around the lives of three young men – Doughboy, Ricky, and Tre. The calming, no-nonsense, father figure in the film played by Laurence Fishburne was named “Furious Styles.”

Furious Styles is also the name of new joint album from Philadelphia emcee Reef the Lost Cauze and producer Bear-One. The title of the album is indicative of Reef’s status and outlook in the game of rap. Furious Styles is produced entirely by Bear-One and features appearances by REDiROC, Peedi Crakk, STS, Truck North, and Slaughter Rico.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Reef the Lost Cauze about his writing process, what it was like to work with Bear-One, and their new album, Furious Styles.

TRHH: How did you link up with Bear-One to do Furious Styles?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Bear has been a friend and an OG that I’ve known for about 12 years. He was always doing his thing around Philly. We recorded some tracks together for different projects and collaborations for other artists. We had a few tracks of our own in the cut and we decided one day to get the project poppin’. I hate to use the word “organic” because I feel like so many people have used it, but this is one of those projects where that was my friend first. That was my man and he just happened to be a great producer. He respected me as an emcee and we moved from there.

TRHH: How long did it take you to complete the album?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Once we got going it was off and on because we both had a lot of stuff going on. I’d say it was about a year. Some of the tracks were recorded over the last 4-5 years. We just added maybe 5-6 new joints and kept it moving like that.

TRHH: How was doing this album different from doing an Army of the Pharaohs or JuJu Mob album?

Reef the Lost Cauze: This is actually my twelfth solo album. Every time I work with an artist or a producer on my own project it’s my show, as opposed to an Army of the Pharaohs or JuJu Mob. Those are group projects. I play the role of making sure everybody else’s vision is respected and I’m able to feed off of other people’s energy. When it’s just you and the producer and it’s your project you’re able to do a lot more, have a lot more fun, with a lot more freedom. No constraints. You’re running the show.

TRHH: Why did you title the album Furious Styles?

Reef the Lost Cauze: I always loved that name and it just fit with the ferociousness. It’s a very raw project. Also I am Furious Styles. I’m an OG now. I’m an old head. I got my two sons and in the hood I’m constantly spouting wisdom to the young boys but I’ll also give you hell. Those things all combined and lined up for that title.

TRHH: Tell me about the single All Ours.

Reef the Lost Cauze: All Ours is a joint with my man REDiROC from a crew called Ape Gang, which is a crew out of North Philly that’s really repping. He’s an artist that Bear has worked with for a long time. We just got in the studio, Bear made the track, which is a gritty soul sample, and we just got together and knocked it out.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Do you write rhymes as they come to you or do you write to the beat?

Reef the Lost Cauze: When I had a lot more time on my hands I would just write, and write, and write. Now it’s more or less when I hear a beat that really strikes the mood and gets me inspired I’ll sit down and start writing. I’ll always try to keep a pen and pad or a recorder close by for when I think of some rhymes. As far as writing to music, it’s usually the beat that does it first.

TRHH: What inspired the song You Know Me Well?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Aw man, the beat was just so sinister. When I heard it the first time I just went in. It’s just basically a testament to the skill and art form of raw Hip-Hop. I couldn’t wait to get that out there to the people.

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

Reef the Lost Cauze: It’s definitely You Know Me Well. That’s my one right there. I love Black Out, but I would have to say You Know Me Well.

TRHH: Why is that?

Reef the Lost Cauze: It’s the perfect marriage of music and rhyme. It’s one of those things that when I started writing right away it spoke to me. I heard the beat and went right in on it.

TRHH: Who is Furious Styles for?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Furious Styles is for people that appreciate that raw, gritty, street, Hip-Hop. I make music depending on moods and who I’m working with. That’s the mood I was in and Bear’s style is the style I gravitated to for that project. I’m not a one trick pony. If you listen to any of my projects it’s different vibes and different moods for each palate that the producer lays out for me. This is just for that and that’s why we went with that title and that’s the vibe we’re coming with. It’s a heater. Short and sweet, punch you in the face, get in and get out. I think people will dig it. It’s the perfect summer time wild out music and Bears beats are incredible.

Purchase: Reef the Lost Cauze & Bear-One – Furious Styles

Introducing: The Higher Up

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Photo courtesy of HigherUpNY.com
Photo courtesy of HigherUpNY.com

New York natives Mark Scott and Kye Brewin are The Higher Up. Scott is an emcee with a slick and substantive delivery, Brewin is a producer with a sample-based boom bap sound. Together they make up one of the most promising young acts in Hip-Hop.

The Higher Up has a golden era formula with a modern day aesthetic. Their music is very much Hip-Hop, but relevant to the sounds and themes of today. The duo recently released their debut project, The Higher Up Album, for free. The Higher Up Album is produced entirely by Kye Brewin and features appearances by Breeze Brewin, Marcos Crespo Jr., Jannel McLean, and Wordsworth.

Mark Scott and Kye Brewin of The Higher Up spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the origins of their group, their goals in the game of rap, and the creation of The Higher Up Album.

TRHH: I got hip to y’all through a tweet from Big Ghost

Kye Brewin: Shout out to Big Ghost.

Mark Scott: [Laughs] Yeah, shout out to him. We put out one single called “Patients” and Kye tweeted it to Ghost. I don’t think he expected him to respond.

Kye Brewin: Ghost was fuckin’ with it.

Mark Scott: Ghost posted, “Yo, this is crazy!” and I was like, “Wow.” I follow him. He’s the most honest.

Kye Brewin: We’ve been following him for years. It was mad love for him to do that.

Mark Scott: Years. So he was like, “Let me know when the album drops.” So we let him know and I guess he really likes it.

TRHH: Tell me about the song Patients.

Kye Brewing: I don’t know, I just wanted a banger, yo. I found one sample and it was cool but I didn’t know what to do with it. It didn’t stand alone by itself. I ended up coming across the flute that you hear and I had to find a way to blend the piano and the flute together. It just started coming together. It was a banger. I had to make the drums hit.

Mark Scott: Kye hit me like, “Yo, I got something crazy for you.” I walked in and he was playing it and I was like, “Wow!” it was incredible. Patients was the easiest song that I wrote. As a writer when you hear certain instrumentals you get loose. I had that done the same day, probably in the same hour.

Kye Brewin: That’s usually how we work. As soon as I send him the beat this dude is writing the whole song. He hits me back like 3-4 hours later like, “Yo, I did it.” It’s real organic.

Mark Scott: When we put Patients out I thought it was one of the songs we should lead-off with because as intricate as it is, it’s also really playful. We were sure a lot of people would really enjoy it. Now it’s got a couple thousand plays on SoundCloud and hopefully more as time passes and more people listen to our work.

TRHH: Did you guys record this album together?

Kye Brewin: We usually record it together but he goes off and writes it in his own space. For the recording part, yeah.

TRHH: Mark, what’s your writing process like? Do you write rhymes to the beat or whenever you feel inspired?

Mark Scott: When I started writing I wrote without a beat. It was like that for years. I always knew that Kye did beats. He comes from a lineage of music people who have been in this industry and have made a name for themselves – The Juggaknots, Matic Entertainment, Queen Herawin, Breeze Brewin’. He’s been doing beats for a long time. When I hit him I told I had been writing. He always had people approaching him because there are 100,000 rappers per area code in America [laughs]. I was very confident in my material. As we started coming up with concepts for projects he would send me the beat and it would be crafted so it fit my persona. Right now we’re just clicking on all cylinders because he knows where I’m going to go with it and I know where he’s going to go with it. For example, on the second verse of Patients he said, “You came in on that verse exactly how I wanted you to do it.”

Kye Brewin: Whenever I’m making beats that I know are going to be on a Higher Up project with me and this dude I immediately try to picture how he’s going to approach the song. Usually he does that. Sometimes he’ll do it in different ways. I’ll still fuck with it but I will usually make it so that he can flow over the joint.

TRHH: Kye, what work station do you use?

Kye Brewin: I use Reason. I do most of my stuff in Reason and Pro Tools. I’m starting to get into actual samplers but I started with computer beats. I started on FL Studio and worked my way up to Reason.

Mark Scott: We’re not high maintenance. We’re building this thing from the ground up. The more access we get to certain resources the more we’ll be able to adjust to that. We know from a bare bones standpoint we’re able to just come in and if there is a mic in the room, a computer, a little keyboard, and some records we’ll knock it out.

TRHH: How did you guys come together to form The Higher Up?

Kye Brewin: We was in middle school together. I knew that he liked dope music so when he came up to me I already knew what it was – we were gonna make real Hip-Hop. A lot of people approach me like, “Yo, I know you make beats,” but they don’t know the kind of beats I make. I dabble with the trap a little bit but for the most part I like my boom bap.

Mark Scott: I had a little bit of a different approach. I think that as a writer you have to be adept enough to adjust to whatever you’ve got in front of you. Also you have to be honest and you have to write something about your life experiences that people can resonate with. The first song we ever did together was Dead Presidents. I jumped on one of his beats at first back when he had a SoundCloud, back when SoundCloud was not poppin’. He didn’t know that I had joints ready for his beats on SoundCloud but I wanted to show him what I could do.

Kye Brewin: I wasn’t crazy about my beats back then.

Mark Scott: [Laughs] Hov is my favorite all-around artist just looking at him as a person and the moves that he did. It’s between Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint, and the Black Album as my favorite albums. Dead Presidents was easily my favorite instrumental at the time. When I wrote to it I wanted to deliver it right. He heard it and I guess he saw something. We were 14 or 15.

Kye Brewin: We’ve learned a lot. We know what to do and not do at this point. We spent as long as we did mainly because we’ve never released a project like this. We’re two different minds working together. That’s what took us so long, and we’re focusing on real life stuff that gets in the way. Best believe for the next project we’re going to go back to the original format where we’re just knocking out joints and throwing them y’all way.

Mark Scott: We’re just developing this formula where we’re going to really hit the gas now and keep giving everybody content and a body of work. I think that’s what’s important. I don’t think it’s important to have the one banger. You only have the one banger and eventually people are going to want to tap into what you have of substance and as an artist. We’re on that wave right now. We’re working consistently and constantly. We finally got that bug.

TRHH: How is this album different from Therapy Sessions?

Kye Brewin: First of all let me just start off by saying Therapy Sessions is a Higher Up project but it’s different.

Mark Scott: [Laughs] It’s a Higher Up project in a sense that he did all the beats.

Kye Brewin: I didn’t give it to him for a project. It was just all my old beats and he just did it. I’ve been working since I was 13, I’m 22 now. When you get 200 plays on your SoundCloud it discourages you after a while.

Mark Scott: Especially when you have an attitude that you’re better than everybody [laughs]. It’s like, why are people throwing out these duds and getting all this love? Where is it coming from? Is it real? What happened with Therapy Sessions was we were in a car and I was dropping him off. We would get together every now and again and work. I was like 19. Like he said before, sometimes real life issues get in the way. We had a conversation, and it wasn’t a fall out because he’s my brother. We had a back and forth and he was like, “I don’t know,” and when he said that I knew what he meant. The “I don’t know” question is so deep.

I’m sitting there thinking we’re on the cusp of where we could hit this road and make timeless, classic stuff that people are going to look back on and say, “That was really good and I’m still listening to it today.” We wasn’t on the same page so I said let me kick his ass. I made Therapy Sessions. I sat down with all of his beats. Some of them were downloadable, some of them were not. I would ask him on the sly, “Can you send me that one joint,” and he didn’t know what I was doing with it. I was also going through something personal at the time and that’s why I called it Therapy Sessions. By the time I was 20 I found a studio in the Bronx by the Gun Hill stop and started knocking out these songs. Shout out to D-Trackz and Mada at The Attic Studios. I eventually let Kye know about it and it ended up being better than he expected.

Kye Brewin: Yeah ‘cause it’s a bunch of old beats!

Mark Scott: [Laughs] By the time I was finished with it he was like, “Yo, I love it but damn you used all my old beats!”

Kye Brewin: It woke me up because if you could do this with all my old material that ranges back to when I first started producing, let’s go back into the studio and let’s really work and show everybody what I can really do.

Mark Scott: Therapy Sessions was a really impassioned project because of a lot of personal issues and a lot of turmoil that I was going through at the time and I voiced it. A lot of things go with that because you don’t necessarily know how that’s going to come out and I was really confident in my writing ability and in how his songs would sound. From that I did everything from scratch. At the end of the whole day I said this is a Higher Up thing because this is work that Kye put in. I tried to make something out of it and then I said, “Yo, look at this. Imagine if we sat down and did something organically.” From that, that’s how we started working on The Higher Up Album. We were doing the album before Therapy Sessions.

Kye Brewin: We took a long break from The Higher Up Album and did the second half of the album last year. It took a while and our promise to the fans is it won’t happen again.

Mark Scott: We’re in that zone right now. We’re very happy with the product but we’ve been working on this since 2012-2013. The new stuff that we have in the vault is all about progress.

TRHH: Your sound is brand new but has golden era elements. Did you consciously set out to avoid trends when recording this album?

Kye Brewin: As far as what trend? You’re talking about trap?

TRHH: Yeah. The popular drug culture music.

Kye Brewin: Here’s our thing, we didn’t wanna be associated with weed. We didn’t want to be associated with drugs. We want people to look at us for substance, for our music, and what we say, not just as something you can get high to. You can get high to our music but that’s not something we wanna be known for. We didn’t do trap because I sent him maybe five beats that we knew would be on the album and I wanted a consistent sound on the album and at the same time I wanted variety as well. We’re not against trap. If the record is right we’re gonna do it.

Mark Scott: I believe Hip-Hop is drug culture. I don’t think it’s a new thing. I’m sure 75-to-80% of these guys that are talking about certain things that are the trend now are doing it because it’s a trend. They’re not doing it because it’s the life that they came from. There are exceptions to that rule. I’m all about making your life better and making process. Actively using certain agents is a detriment to your health because you’re so far stuck in a certain environment is working backwards. I’m not an addict. Kye is not an addict. We have delved into certain things. I’ve had my own personal things. Cigarettes is on the album and it talks about the battle I had with smoking. It’s not that I don’t glorify it, but I don’t use that as my whole angle.

We just like to go in and give people insight into what we’re thinking. He does his beats and give’s insight into what he’s thinking, when I write I give insight into what I’m thinking and it’s honest, real, and relatable to everybody. But we still have fun with the music. You can play certain joints at social events. It’s not following a trend. On my Twitter bio I say that we do Hip-Hop the new old fashion way. Also with that, a lot of people think that when they’re hearing a sample beat you gotta be “lyrical miracle” and you don’t really have to do that. You can put your words together in a creative way that people can follow. They’re following your every bar, your every line, they’re following the changes in the beat, and they’re following the changes in cadence and flow. Everything comes from the mind and the soul.

TRHH: What’s the ultimate goal for The Higher Up?

Kye Brewin: Sky is the limit. I’m down to win a Grammy off of this. You got underground artists really out here making money and getting off a positive message — household names that started in the underground with samples. Sky is the limit honestly.

Mark Scott: We’re going to take this thing as far as we can, but we also know that we’re both very able artists. We have some ideas for the next one and it’s gonna be real funny for the audience. We wanna take it as far as possible because what we’re offering is refreshing. I wanna make people look at the world different than they did yesterday and hopefully that will cut through the bullshit and reach audiences on a level never seen before. I just got that passion about it. I think we can do it – I firmly believe it.

Download: The Higher Up – The Higher Up Album

Craig G: I Rap and Go Home

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Photo courtesy of Christoffer Krook
Photo courtesy of Christoffer Krook

M.C. Craig G released his first song in 1985 at the age of 12 years old. He shined alongside Masta Ace, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane on the greatest posse record of all-time, The Symphony. A superb battle rapper, Craig wrote the rhymes in the battle scenes of the Eminem film, 8 Mile.

Since 1989 Craig G has released a handful of quality albums, but his latest release just might be his best material to date. I Rap and Go Home is an 11-track release that finds Craig G emceeing at arguably the highest level of his career. The album is produced entirely by VaporWorldz and features Kool Keith, Canibus, Ras Kass, Jarobi, Buckshot, and Rockness Monstah.

Craig G spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the art of battling and coming off the dome, the secret behind his longevity in the music business, and his new album, I Rap and Go Home.

TRHH: Explain the meaning behind the album’s title, I Rap and Go Home.

Craig G: The reason I named the album “I Rap and Go Home” is basically because I have been doing this a very long time and I’ve seen every aspect of it as far as the unnecessary things that are involved with being in the entertainment business. I have been doing it since a very young age so I didn’t have a normal childhood or a normal home life. I was on tour a lot, traveling, and in studios. Now I just feel like it’s more about displaying the music, doing your shows, going home and not giving everything of yourself to the business. I just want to keep something for myself. I want to have a regular life so I rap and go home.

TRHH: How is this album different from your last album, Ramblings of an Angry Old Man?

Craig G: To be honest with you none of my albums are different. I just posted something on Twitter a little while ago where I was explaining that people should stop expecting me to reinvent the wheel with my music because I like the original wheel just fine. I just believe that there is an unprecedented amount of people that still just like hard beats and lyrical skills. That’s pretty much what I represent. It’s nothing new, I totally understand that. It’s nothing ground breaking, I just stick to my strengths. Ramblings was more of a testament about the music business. This is more a collection of songs about my general thoughts. It’s nothing contrived or made up, it’s just how I feel about things. I just hope when I release music that there are enough people who feel the same way.

TRHH: The titles of your last few albums give off the vibe that you’re secure being an elder statesman in Hip-Hop. What’s your take on those who believe that there should be an age limit on emceeing?

Craig G: I believe that they’re out of their rabbit ass minds because there is no age limit in other genres of music. I don’t think that a particular genre of music should be singled out with ageism. It’s not sports. A lot of people that are older their brains are still as sharp as a young person or even sharper. It’s not athleticism so as long as you crank out good music you should be able to stop when you feel like stopping. No one bats an eye in our genre of music when the Rolling Stones are touring and they probably need oxygen tanks back stage. They still make hundreds of millions of dollars on the road. I believe that the Run-DMC’s, Public Enemy’s, and LL Cool J’s of the world should be doing the same.

TRHH: You’re known by many for your freestyles; what’s your take on how now freestyles are no longer off the dome and how battles are just two dudes in each others faces trading insults?

Craig G: Wow. For one, I appreciate being known for freestyling but for me that’s just something I do. It’s not a huge part of what I do. The problem for me with freestyling was that I got pigeonholed. After a couple of battles I’ve had I got tossed into the “He can freestyle but he can’t make music” box. I had Droppin’ Science, The Symphony, and numerous songs out before anybody even knew I had those skills. I don’t tend to lean on it. That comes so easy for me. The challenge for me is writing cohesive and good songs.

As far as the battles go I just believe that they should have kept a freestyle round in these newer battles for the simple fact that you want to see if people are witty enough to respond under pressure. To me there is no pressure in knowing who your opponent is months before when it comes to mental fitness. I believe that there should be a freestyle element in all battles just to see how nice you are off the dome. The art of battle came from snapping which is what we did growing up when we made fun of each other. You had to think quick and on your feet. That’s the only discrepancy I have with the battles now. If you walked into a room and didn’t know who your opponent was it would take way much more skill to have to battle that person.

TRHH: There has been a lot made about Drake not writing his own rhymes recently. What’s your take on ghost writing in Hip-Hop?

Craig G: To me not writing your own lyrics doesn’t make you a bad artist, but at the same time at least admit to it. Be real with the fans. There are artists who have writers and they’re still great artists. Almost every R&B and Soul song that I like had a different writer so I can’t penalize a rapper for it unless he’s acting like he didn’t do it. I say stick to your strengths because there are great writers who probably don’t want to get behind a mic. They need jobs, also. At the same time if you’re acting like you’re the hottest thing since sliced bread, you have all those skills, and you’re so nice, and you have someone else pulling the strings just be real about it — that’s all.

TRHH: What inspired you to write the song Long Time?

Craig G: Ah man, Long Time is probably one of my favorite songs ever now because of the simple fact that I just wanted to talk about being fortunate enough to see the birth of it and like I said in the song, see it go from park jams to infiltrating the club scene in New York City, Run-DMC and them infiltrating the arenas and sponsorships, and even into the 90s and growing bigger. I just wanted to tell that story because I feel like the younger generation, much like we were when we were younger, thought we knew everything. The difference was we actually listened if we knew someone knew what they were talking about. It’s okay not to have all the answers and it’s okay to learn something. I feel like people who think they’re perfect and they know everything scare the hell out of me. I feel like I’m not going to stop learning until I go on to the next life. I believe that it was more of an educational piece for me but it was still really heartfelt because I got to witness a lot of this stuff. It just felt very organic.

TRHH: You’ve been making records for over 30 years but you’re still a young man. What’s been the key to having longevity in a volatile music business?

Craig G: To not care. Honestly. My son who is 21 is getting into Hip-Hop and making music. I constantly remind him, “Just do what feels right to you because no matter what you do someone is going to say something.” It’s okay to not be stuck in your ways. It’s also not okay to alienate your core base of fans. I feel like from album one to album seven that I always tried to make sure that my core base of fans… Let me correct that, album two because I did not like my first album. That’s why I named my second album “Now, That’s More Like It” but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Just stick to what got you where you’re at and don’t alienate them because you’d be surprised how many people still like your strengths. Some people may say you’re stubborn for sticking to those or you’re stuck in the past, but the way I see it I’m speaking to the people who grew up with me in Hip-Hop.

If there are younger fans that are going to come along they’re more than welcome, but I generally speak to the people who grew up in Hip-Hop with me because they’re alienated. Even as a Hip-Hop fan they feel like at a certain age you shouldn’t like this or you shouldn’t like that. The biggest testament to that is all of the classic Hip-Hop stations that are popping up all over the nation. Now people our age are the guys that advertisers are looking for. I just wanna speak to them. Like I said I’m not trying to alienate anyone myself, but my core people who came up with me in this don’t get recognized enough as fans in Hip-Hop so I cater to them. That’s the secret to longevity to me. That and having an “I don’t care” attitude. I just do what I do. I wasn’t the biggest 2Pac fan as a technical emcee but he said something on a song that always resonated with me, “People are gonna hate you for whatever you do, so just do you.”

TRHH: I can’t let you slide without asking why you hated the first album?

Craig G: I was 16 years old and got a $50,000 check from Atlantic Records. I won’t say that they said, “Hey, do a House music record,” but because the simple fact of it was I loved House music before it went really left in those years. When I did “Turn This House into a Home” which is the first single off The Kingpin that song sat for a year and a half before it actually came out for commercial release. So by the time it came out the label was like, “Give us a couple more of these songs.” I just feel like we weren’t focused and rushed the album. That’s why I named the second album, Now, That’s More Like It. That’s one of the reasons I did not like the first album. I had no input.

To me honestly my first two albums were good albums but I feel like I didn’t hit my groove until I got into the independent world where I can display more of myself without having to do a single or a radio record. I’m able to go in and do what I do. I think that if it wasn’t for the independent game I would have walked away from this completely. I appreciate all of the indie artists that are striving, trying to do it on their own terms, and trying to make a new fan a day. I just appreciate them all and the community is very warm and welcoming if they know that you’re genuine about it. It keeps me going and it’s very inspiring to me, also.

TRHH: Why is I Rap and Go Home an important album in 2016?

Craig G: I Rap and Go Home is very important in 2016 because as you know in this era everything is centered around a persona or not being yourself. Basically what I try to preach and try to do by example is just be me. It’s a hard job trying to live a life that’s not yours – it’s very hard. Not every entertainer wants to go to the after party and drink champagne, buy overpriced stuff, or rent stuff and act like they own it. Some of us live a regular life. I just feel like it’s important because you gotta go home. If you don’t feel comfortable at home then you’re doing something wrong at home. Just be yourself. I’m 43 years old and I’ve been in this for thirty years. I’m not interested in being on the scene as much as opposed to being heard. It’s very important that people understand that life is not completely a party, and it could be a party without being at a party. I enjoy being at home. I cut my grass and do stuff like that because I didn’t get a chance to do that when I was younger. I started at 12 years old. It’s important because I want more people to be comfortable with who they are.

The biggest problem facing this world today is people being followers. If everyone were individuals and everyone accepted everyone as individuals, maybe, just maybe things would be a lot better. My last few album titles have just been honest. I just want to be honest with people, that’s all. Honesty is missing in Hip-Hop. Everyone can’t be winning at the same time. That’s not how life works. I’m not speaking on me personally, but because you’re losing doesn’t mean it’s the end. Maybe you can inspire someone by telling your story about how things aren’t going right. That’s why I became a huge fan of Alternative Rock because they’re truthful about their music. They’re not averse to speaking about how they weren’t cool. Not everybody can be cool at the same time, that’s not how it works. It’s important to me because I Rap and Go Home represents having a normal life and being regular. Not everybody has to be extra.

Purchase: Craig G – I Rap and Go Home

Apathy: Handshakes With Snakes

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Photo courtesy of Score Press
Photo courtesy of Score Press

According to Merriam-Webster the word apathy means “lack of feeling or emotion,” or “absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement.” That definition certainly applies to Connecticut emcee Apathy’s outlook on today’s rap music trends and so-called friends within the industry. Apathy addresses those issues on his recently released fifth solo album, Handshakes With Snakes.

Handshakes With Snakes is produced entirely by Apathy and features appearances by O.C., Ras Kass, Twista, Bun B, Sick Jacken, B-Real, Mariagrazia, Spit Gemz, Nutso, Marvalyss, Blacastan, Oh No, Kappa Gamma, Celph Titled, and the late Pumpkinhead.

Apathy spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the lessons he’s learned in the music business, why rap is not pop, what it was like to work with legendary lyricist O.C., and about his new album, Handshakes with Snakes.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Handshakes With Snakes?

Apathy: That’s basically like industry rule number 4,080. It’s a reflection on the industry and phony people. You meet so many phony people throughout your life and I was coming to a point where there are certain people in the industry who you think you’re cool with but then you realize you’re acquaintances with them. You realize acquaintanceship is not a thorough friendship. It’s not like you hate anybody or there’s really bad blood, you just realize that there are snake ass shady people who seem like they’re cool with you but they talk shit and act like they’re your people’s people or they hate on you a little bit on the low. The older you get the more it comes to light and the more you see it it’s like, “Man, fuck this shit.” That’s basically why I titled it Handshakes With Snakes. It’s some music industry shit but it’s also regular life shit dealing with shady people.

TRHH: What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in the music business so far?

Apathy: I think the most valuable lesson that I’ve truly learned is that this is the music business and not the music friendship, or the music relationship, or anything. It kind of goes hand in hand with Handshakes With Snakes. I have learned that these people are not your friends or your buddies – this is the music business. Also you do music to sell albums. We all came up doing music for fun and you can do music for a hobby and create music, but when you’re doing music in the music business then it’s all business and you have to focus and be business minded. Otherwise you can just say, “Yeah, I do music as a hobby.”

TRHH: Do you think the reason why so many of our favorite groups disbanded over the years or had beef with each other is because it’s business and not friendship?

Apathy: I think there is probably a thousand variables and each situation might be unique, but yeah, that’s probable. I feel like there are certain situations like with EPMD where they had issues with the business, no pun intended. I think that there are probably a lot of guys that started out as teenagers together in groups and then over the years you mature, become an adult, and your tolerance level for bullshit is smaller. You go through different stages of your career and you also have a lot of ups and downs, ideas, and resentment over the years. I think all those things could put cracks in the dam of a group, but I feel like a lot of it is you start out with this as your passion and your hobby and you love it but once it starts becoming business there are so many other factors that are introduced.

TRHH: Tell about the song Rap is Not Pop.

Apathy: That just came from me being absolutely disgusted. Let me tell you something, nowadays it is a disgusting time. You can’t even say, “Yo, things aren’t right, right now. The music isn’t right, right now. That rapper is wack!” There is not even a chance where you can say rappers are wack anymore without people calling you a fuckin’ hater or discrediting your opinion. People act like you’re so fucked up for saying a rapper is wack. Not for nothing but there are rappers like Lil’ Dicky, and I get it, he’s like a really funny guy and he technically has skill, but I grew up listening to M.O.P., House of Pain, Gang Starr, and Tribe Called Quest, stuff that was a different vibe.

Now you got anybody who can do any style, you got a guy who looks like he can be a little nerdy, and you have a suburban white dude doing trap music. There’s no more rules and no more quality control. It’s just all a bunch of horse shit. When you’re not allowed to say anything there is something inherently wrong with our culture. There is no system of checks and balances. Rap is Not Pop is me breaking down all that shit and saying all these guys trying to do rap as pop, do it as a commercially viable thing, and just view it as a come up and party thing, that’s not what it’s meant to be. It’s just a traditionalist standpoint.

TRHH: I agree with you 110% and I’ve tried to pinpoint when and how the bullshit became acceptable. I don’t really know. I feel like it was gradual. Like maybe it started with the Puffy’s, even though he made great music. Certain things just got more acceptable over time and then it just got ridiculous.

Apathy: It was definitely gradual. Let me tell you something, I’m a white rapper and I get it. There are tons of white rappers who are respectful of the culture and they’re real. There’s Jedi Mind Tricks, Necro, Non-Phixion, and Slaine. There’s white rappers who do it right and all of a sudden this super-duper nerdy sounding white boy soft rap came in and it kind of altered the face of everything. It reminds me of what white people do to every black music that comes along. There are certain white people who come in and bastardize it and then they get defensive when you try to question its validity or quality. It’s like, “What, bro? You can’t tell me what to make. This music is for everybody. This is our culture.” Get the fuck outta here. You haven’t even paid the dues. You don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about. It’s like there is this whole generation who just comes in and feels entitled to it.

That’s why I said in that line, “What whites did to jazz when the music was black,” because they take it as this pure art form and it gets watered down. I remember back in the day when Brian Austin Green, who was an actor on 90210 and there was this white dude who was the son of the owner of the Nike Corporation named Chilly Tee and they made rap records and they were jokes. They were too white boyish. I know this isn’t back in the day, I know this isn’t the 90s, and I know this is the future and it’s 2016. I don’t hate this guy and I’m not trying to make an example out of him either, but I heard the Lil’ Dicky guy and this super-duper, nerdy, jokey, white boy rap, it’s cool if people enjoy it, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but man if back in the day somebody came around like that you would get the face slapped off your skull! You know what it’s like? We live in a bizarro world now. When Hip-Hop was the realest we live in a bizarro world from it.

Whenever everybody is like, “That’s the old shit, you’re an old head, the old days are gone, why are you stuck in ’94,” well guess what, Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders was a classic for a reason. Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers was a classic for a reason. Illmatic was a classic for a reason and people are still acknowledging that to this day. So where are those classic records like that today? Nobody is making records that are that classic. It’s not happening. Those records are classic and it’s uncontested for a reason. Just like rock is not making anything as classic now as Jimi Hendrix or the Beatles. There are no groups like that and you can’t deny that. Just like you can’t deny that there is nobody as good as the Fugees were in ’96, Nas was in ’94, Wu-Tang was in ’93, and Tribe was in ’91, ’92, and ’93. There is no question that it’s not the same.

TRHH: In recent years I’ve heard a lot of old school cats say, “All you old school cats stop hating on the young cats and just let them do their thing.” It’s shocking to me because they came from that era. Why are they giving a co-sign to bullshit?

Apathy: Because they’re scared. They’re scared of being irrelevant and not popping off. I address that in songs too. There are legends who dick ride these new dudes because they want to get money with those dudes. To be honest there is no integrity in that. I get it, I wanna get paid too but the way to do that is to keep doing what the fuck you’re doing. Not sit there and dick ride fuckin’ Mac Miller who comes out or some other dude. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Once again, I don’t hate a Mac Miller, it’s just not my taste. But you see the older heads dick riding these young dudes and the young dudes don’t give a fuck about them. It’s corny. Get off their fuckin’ dicks. Let them do their fuckin’ shit and just make good Hip-Hop like you used to.

TRHH: O.C. is on a couple of songs on the album and you two have an album coming out in the future together. What’s it like working with O.C.?

Apathy: He’s literally one of the best guys I’ve met in my life. He’s mega, mega humble, very, very super real. He’s easily in my top 5 biggest influences of my life in Hip-Hop. His “Word…Life” tape changed the way I approached writing raps and making music completely. It’s surreal to me that even when I’m not hanging out with O I’ll put in Word…Life or Jewelz and bug out that that’s like a brother to me now. I’m very appreciative that I get to work with him in that capacity and that he respects me in that capacity. We’ve become like family.

TRHH: You have a verse from the late Pumpkinhead on the album. Talk about your relationship with Pumpkinhead and how that song came together.

Apathy: I was friends with P.H. for almost twenty years. I can’t remember the specific spot we met but it was in the underground New York Hip-Hop scene. I’m pretty sure it was probably at Nuyorican. P.H. was literally one of the coolest, most down to earth, dope guys who was an absolutely lethal emcee. People saw that Pumpkinhead got into battles but they don’t know how good his records were. The dope thing about P.H. is up until the point that he passed he never fell off. He was dope constantly and consistently. A few months before he passed I was talking to Celph on the phone and we were talking about the guys who have come and gone in the underground, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, but fell off with music. We were talking about how dope Pumpkinhead was and how he still killed it. He was still so nice and he still had that thirst and that hunger. It never stopped with him. He just always wanted to tear somebody’s head off and his raps were super clever. He was fantastic.

That joint on the album was an old verse that I had of his. The song ended up getting dismantled. All the files between me being a young guy in my early 20s when it was recorded I had lost all that shit. We found it after he passed away. We found a whole bunch of files from an album that I was working on back in the day that never got finished. I listened to his verse and I was blown away by how it did not sound dated at all. And it blew me away where it almost put tears in my eyes how it seemed so prophetic. He was talking about, “If I ever get burned, I’ll leap out the urn/My ashes will return.” I was floored with how it was applicable to what was happening. It was like he was speaking from beyond the grave. It was incredible and he did such a fantastic verse that we had to put it on the song. I didn’t want that to be lost forever. I wanted people to know how dope he was. It was also crazy too because he’s one of the first guys from my graduating class that I came up with that was close to my age in our whole scene that I was close with. It just fucked me up that I hadn’t kept better in contact or tried to do more records because we both felt like we had all the time in the world and could do this forever. We really took shit for granted.

TRHH: I think that’s a normal human thing. We just go along with our lives but you never know, man. You never know.

Apathy: Yep, exactly.

TRHH: On the song Moses with Bun B and Twista you used a bit of a different style. What inspired you to switch it up on that song?

Apathy: If anybody listens to my shit they’ve heard me rap double time mad times. I’ve done lots of double time and bounce tempos in my career. I don’t particularly like doing it for my raps, but I wanted to do a joint with Twista. He followed me on Twitter so I followed him back and sent him a message saying, “Hey man, we used to be label mates. I’ve always wanted to work with you,” and he was like, “Yeah, man, let’s do it.” Bun is like family. He’s the homie. He shows so much love and I figured if I was going to do something with that tempo I have to put Bun on it. He’s one of the kings of that shit. I knew Twista was gonna obliterate it. It’s crazy because even though I knew Twista was gonna do his thing, I never realized how hard he was gonna body that. When he sent me his verse back I was like, “Holy shit! He killed it!” He killed me on that song. I tried to do my best because I knew what I was up against but he dismantled me on my own song. I’m happy he did because I love the way that song sounds.

TRHH: Was it a conscious decision to produce the whole album yourself or did it just kind of work out that way?

Apathy: It just kind of worked out that way. I kinda do it out of necessity and I also get inspired in the process of making something. Like when I have a break beat looped up and I’m searching through samples. As soon as I find the right sample I’m like, “Oh shit, here we go!” and it’s off to the races. I didn’t really do it consciously but it just kind of organically happened like that.

TRHH: Overall with this album I sense frustration on your part with the current make up of Hip-Hop and aspiring rappers. Is that accurate?

Apathy: Yeah, for sure. But it’s not like I’m an old angry man. I live a good life. I’m chillin’, I’m happy, I got a daughter, I got a wife, I go take walks by the ocean and shit. I’m chllin’, it’s just that with a culture that I so insanely put my heart into I refuse to bite my fucking tongue when it comes to something I love so much. Even though I’m not sitting around stewing all day about what other people are doing – I don’t give a fuck what the next man does – it just breaks my heart that things have changed and I don’t feel like things have changed for the better. I just watched an M.O.P. interview where they were talking about this shit and it was hilarious.

I agree with them so much because they were like, “How did this happen? We had motherfucking Rakim, Public Enemy, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and M.O.P. We’ve gone from that and now we’re here?” We’ve gone downhill. You can’t listen to Wu-Tang’s Cream, Eric B & Rakim’s Follow the Leader, or Nas’ New York State of Mind and say lyrics have advanced beyond that. We’ve gone backwards. The only saving grace is underground Hip-Hop music. There are amazing lyricists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole but they aren’t making songs that are traditional in the aspect of Hip-Hop. It’s definitely something else now. I’m not saying they’re not Hip-Hop, I’m just saying it’s evolved into a different genre or a different form of music. It’s not boom bap, it’s not Hip-Hop, it’s not what it was.

TRHH: You’re 100% right and it’s sad. I do think guys like Kendrick, J. Cole, and Joey Bada$$ will inspire the next crop of guys.

Apathy: They are. I’m seeing it because I’m meeting mad young kids who are like 18. In Connecticut there is a group of young black dudes with dreads and they’re all on that Joey Bada$$ Hip-Hop revival shit. These kids remind me of Souls of Mischief or Pharcyde or something. It’s like, thank God you guys are here! It’s such a breath of fresh air. Their favorite album is Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage and they’re 18 year olds. This album came out before they were born.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Handshakes With Snakes?

Apathy: At this point to appeal to the heads who are true Hip-Hop fans and hopefully to put on some new Hip-Hop fans. I never think in terms of that anymore. What do I hope to achieve with one album? I think it’s just basically fighting the good fight and keeping this shit going as long as we can. It’s all I know how to do anyway and it’s all I’ll allow myself to do because you won’t see me do some bullshit. It’s ingrained in me too deeply, I can’t help it. When I was first signed to Atlantic Records these guys were sending me beat CD’s that ended up being the same beats that T.I. used for his hits. I just couldn’t do it. I was always the kid who wanted to work with Premier and Pete Rock but at the major label they’d say, “But we got Lil’ Jon and Rick Rock sending you beats.” The beats were cool but they weren’t for me. I was always trying to be that guy. I just keep on ticking, man, that’s all I can do.

Purchase: Apathy – Handshakes With Snakes

Artson: E.A.R.T.H.

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Photo courtesy of Score Press
Photo courtesy of Score Press

Artson is a Hip-Hop renaissance man. Beginning his career as a B-Boy, the El Paso, Texas native who now resides in Los Angeles now expresses himself as an emcee. Throughout his catalog Artson relays to the listener the life of a Chicano/Native American artist.

Artson released three consecutive projects in in 2016; Reverse Through Time (March), War Cry (April), and most recently E.A.R.T.H. E.A.R.T.H., an acronym for “Every Artist Responds To Her” is produced entirely by G Koop and takes a look at our planet and our purpose on it.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Artson about his start in Hip-Hop culture, his lifestyle store H.O.M.E. in Long Beach, California, and his new EP, E.A.R.T.H.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title E.A.R.T.H.?

Artson: After dropping the other two I went back and worked with my indigenous brothers out here. I wanted to do a project where each song was talking about Earth and what I’m doing here, what my story is, and my connection. I wanted to get more into my roots. The title stands for “every artists responds to her” and it’s just what my business is here.

TRHH: What is your business here?

Artson: Getting in touch with my culture. When I grew up I wasn’t as in touch with my culture. I grew up in a border town, El Paso. We were forced to speak in English. My parents made us learn American culture. I didn’t grow up on a reservation so I didn’t learn none of my indigenous roots. It was Hip-Hop that led me to that. When I was young I heard Hip-Hop culture and I was attached to the words. I knew it was about community and bringing people together. It didn’t really make sense to me as a kid but I liked it. Throughout the years I started to realize what it really meant. I started to get deeper into how ancient Hip-Hop really is and how we’ve been doing this a long time.

The drummer was the chanter, the dancers were the fire, the people came together and we’ve always been cyphering and getting in that circle. We’ve always been doing graffiti; we were just doing it on the mountains. The drummer became a turntablist. It led me back to remembering who I am and where my roots come from and where Hip-Hop comes from. It kind of led to this album. I’ve been doing music but I never took it that deep. I wanted to get a lot of stuff out of me on these last projects. This one was at that point where I wanted to get that root out of me and let it grow. So I went and got my bros and we did this album.

TRHH: Why did you release so many projects so close to each other?

Artson: I took last year off to do all these projects. When I was done with them they all made sense to me as a story. I wanted to find a way to have them all be together. Also trying to be part of what’s going on with the times. Things are moving so fast with social media and the attention span is so short that I wanted to hit people over the head on overload almost to get them to realize that it doesn’t have to be like that. I wanted to go overboard and let you get a piece of me every month. I wanted to hit ‘em with it to let them know that people need to fall back a little bit. I wanted to speed up a little bit to almost prove a point.

TRHH: Tell me about the song The Blocks.

Artson: That’s off the Reverse Through Time project. That project is more of a street-hop album and telling a backstory of my life, getting a lot off my chest and letting people have an insight to things that I’ve held inside – things that I’ve been through, seen, and done. I’ve never really put it in my art like that so I wanted to let people in on that. Also for myself to get rid of those things that I was carrying. I wanted to get it off my chest. I’m at a good point in my life right now. I’m not carrying none of that energy with me right now, except for the fact that I never really told it. I wanted to push it out of me and that’s what happened with The Blocks, I wanted people to know that story of me.

TRHH: You started with breakdancing, right?

Artson: Yeah. I’m a B-Boy.

TRHH: Would you say that you have more love for emceeing than B-Boying?

Artson: That’s a tough one ‘cause I’m pretty much just a Hip-Hop head. I grew up when you tried to do all four elements. I really love B-Boying and I feel like emceeing gives me two different outlets. I get to express myself dancing, but then I get to tell my story through emceeing. It’s a really tough question. I actually love all four elements and when the culture comes together as a whole. I don’t like to see it separated like that. I like when it’s all in one house. I like going to a jam or a function where there’s emcees, B-Boy’s rockin’, graf on the wall, and the DJ’s are killin’ it. It’s a toss-up [laughs]. I love the fact that I can tell my story, but B-Boying is something that I just do. I definitely wouldn’t give up one for another.

TRHH: Tell me about your H.O.M.E. store in Long Beach.

Artson: It’s kind of like a lifestyle store. It’s kind of like the things I do and the way I live my life and also tying myself into my roots. It’s kind of like a trading post off of a reservation. It’s an urban trading post. I have indigenous medicine in there like sage, crystals, and sweet grass. It also has Hip-Hop gear and home décor stuff that brings positive energy into your home from all indigenous people from all around the world. We have some African stuff, some Chinese stuff, stuff from Thailand, and from the Natives in America. I have some alkaline water, cold press juices, and things like that because I like taking care of myself and my temple – it centers me. I’m just trying to surround myself with positive energy so I’m bringing all of that into the store just to give that opportunity to people to put things around themselves that’s going to bring positive light into them.

TRHH: The song Never Give Up is very inspirational. What inspired you to write that song?

Artson: Like I said earlier I took last year off to get these projects done. It was really the year before I went on tour and people were asking for CD’s. It was a little weird for me because I’d been on the road so many times and that wasn’t happening before. The CD game was done. It also let me know that it had been a while since I’d dropped something. People want CD’s? That’s crazy. It was a trip so I decided to take the next year off and do some music. It was inspiring to see youngsters asking for CD’s. Cats in college were like, “We don’t want a download. Anybody can download music online. We want a hard copy of your stuff.” It made me start thinking about not giving up on what I’m doing, what I’m chasing — this Hip-Hop thing.

I have to keep pushing, keep dancing, keep being around the emcees, and keep listening to what the DJ’s are doing. Technology is changing so fast, even with the DJ’s and you have to keep evolving with the times. I released these three projects just doing something different, also getting with my Native brothers and encouraging them to tell our story. Throughout history they’ve been trying to erase the Native people and our story. We’re here and we can’t give up on pushing the story of what our people have done for us and how they allowed us to still be here and talk our story. We’re doing it through Hip-Hop. An accumulation of all those things came into this song of never giving up on yourself, the culture, what your dreams are, and keep pushing and trying to get through it and take it further.

TRHH: What’s next up for Artson?

Artson: Trying to drop these videos. I’m getting these videos for the project done. I still have a couple other projects that I didn’t involve in this trio. It’s just trying to wrap those up and either drop another one at the end of the year or the beginning of next year. I’d like to drop one at the end of this year and finish up the last one next year. I’m just going to keep pushing and educating these kids on what Hip-Hop is. I do a lot of outreach programs, teaching, educating kids, going to the colleges and speaking about my story. I go out there and touch the people, express myself, do some shows, and hopefully motivating and expiring the next cat to go out there and do the same thing and keep pushing this Hip-Hop culture.

Purchase: Artson – E.A.R.T.H.

M.I.: Omerta

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Photo courtesy of AboveGroundStudios
Photo courtesy of AboveGroundStudios

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano were the fathers of the National Crime Syndicate. The Syndicate was a conglomeration of Italian and Jewish criminal organizations in the United States in the middle of the 20th century. To pay homage to the prevalent gangster theme in Hip-Hop, DJ Cutt and M.I. of Constant Deviants took on the monikers of the late gangsters for a new album titled “Omerta.”

Produced entirely by DJ Cutt, Omerta is one of the best releases of 2016. The album is a throwback to mid-90s east coast Hip-Hop with a 2016 feel. Omerta is big on beats and rhymes with Mafioso mentions sprinkled throughout.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to one half of Constant Deviants, M.I. about the American mafia, SIX2SIX Records’ foray into film making, and his new album, Omerta.

TRHH: For those that don’t know, explain what Omerta means.

M.I.: Omerta is a code of silence. It’s a term in the mafia that means “code of silence.” It means that you don’t speak to people about what goes on and whether it even exists or not.

TRHH: Why’d you name the album Omerta?

M.I.: In today’s day and age there is so much talk about people telling that it’s kind of like a twist. With the music game everybody is talking about not snitching and everybody is talking about the mob shit but I’ve never heard a rapper use the word Omerta before. It’s so unused and we wanted to come from an angle with this project that we wanted to touch on the mob stuff but we didn’t really wanna come off like Kool G Rap or somebody came off with it before. We didn’t want to play on it too hard. With me being Italian and Cutt being Russian we got the heritage of Lansky and Luciano and that’s where we came up with the title. Omerta being such a big part of the culture and a term I’ve never even heard used in mob movies, it felt like the right word to use with what we were trying to come across with and represent the balance of the mafia thing with the album. We’re not trying to come off like we’re mobster either on it.

TRHH: Did you come up with the Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano idea before or after you came up with the concept for this album?

M.I.: Really it popped in my head one day when I was watching a documentary on them. I always knew Meyer Lansky was Jewish but I didn’t know he was Russian. Cutt is Russian Jewish. When I heard that in the documentary I was watching I was like, “Oh shit, that’s bugged out.” It’s been a while since somebody really touched on that mob thing. In the 90s everybody was naming themselves after mobsters and stuff like that but it kind of faded out. We dropped the Avant Garde album last year and it was more jazzy and smoothed out. We needed something hard and more rugged to go back to our original sound. We try to do a little something different on every album. That’s when that came up. Omerta was always a word I wanted to use anyway for a name of a song or whatever. It’s a unique word and it’s not used a lot. A lot of people claim to have knowledge of mob stuff but they don’t know what that is. When we came up with the concept we decided to use that to title the album.

TRHH: Tell me about the single So Underrated.

M.I.: That was the first joint we actually did for the album. Initially when we decided to do this album we wanted to have that MPC feel – an MPC swing to it. It was supposed to be an EP actually. The plan was to do 6-7 joints, throw it on vinyl, and throw it out there. That’s when Cutt hit me with the So Underrated joint. He already had the cuts on there. A lot of times we’ll come up with the hooks together. That particular one he sent it to me and it already had the cuts on it so it set the precedence for the album. After we did that joint I thought we should do an entire album. The album isn’t like every record has a point about the mafia to it. A lot of the samples we chose for the album are samples that have the feeling of that Luciano/Lansky era musically. A lot of the metaphors and punchlines are based off of books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen about the mob. It’s not necessarily that every song is about the mob. That song doesn’t have anything to do with the mob but there are lines that touch on that. It was a hard joint that set the precedence for the album.

TRHH: Whose idea was it to integrate the sound bites throughout the album?

M.I.: Me and Cutt do that together. Pretty much everything we do we kind of have a formula. We do something like that on every album. I couldn’t tell you if one of us said to do it more than the other. It kind of just happened. Once we decided we were gonna do that we went back and thought about certain things that we wanted to use and found the songs that we wanted to use them for. We used the Richard Kuklinski joint from the Iceman documentary that was on HBO. That was after the record “Fuklinski.” The “GTFOH” joint was from the Goodfellas piece that we used when they were having the conversation at dinner and Tommy was teasing Henry Hill saying, “I’m funny how? I mean funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?” and he was like, “Get the fuck outta here!” We took a Meyer Lansky interview and used that as a hook on one of the joints. We did that together. It’s something we do on every album whether we use sound bites or music interludes, it just kind of happens naturally.

TRHH: How’d the song Delorean come about?

M.I.: With this album we just wanted to use things that kind of had that feel to it. It wasn’t just about Luciano and Lansky and trying to have this feeling of the 30s and 40s. We just wanted to talk about stuff that nobody ever talks about, kind of like Omerta. Nobody ever talks about Delorean but Delorean got an ill story. If you knew about what was going on in 80s you knew what a Delorean car was and homeboy got caught up in that whole cocaine conspiracy thing. Everything isn’t based around the mafia on this album, it just kind of set the tone for it. Delorean was just a word I wanted to use so I told Cutt, “Yo, I wanna do a record called Delorean.” It triggered him and he made the beat for it. I wrote the rhyme, we sat in the studio one day and found some good lines to throw in the cuts and that was it.

With me and Cutt when we make music it happens organically. It’s about words and feelings. The joint on the album Sparks Steakhouse doesn’t have anything to do with Sparks Steak House, it’s just a mob reference. The name of the beat was “Café Piano” when he sent it to me. Because it was café it made me think of food. The hook talks about somebody being food. Because of that reference I thought about how we could make it go back to the mob stuff and Sparks Steak House was a popular mobster restaurant in New York. That’s where Paulie Castellano was killed in front of. I just wanted to do something to set the tone with the cocaine shit and the 80s appeal and Delorean felt like the perfect title for that song.

TRHH: How did SIX2SIX get involved in filmmaking?

M.I.: Originally me and a homeboy of mine, JPowell did a project with these guys from Switzerland some years back, SWC, who did all of the production on it. The name of the album is SWISS BANKS. It’s a nine-song album that we put out on vinyl. JPowell did a lot of our videos over the years and when he heard the album he was like, “Yo, let’s do a video for all of these joints.” I thought we could do videos for ‘em but let’s do something different like a movie. What we did was we shot full videos with acting in between. I guess it’s similar to something like a Streets Is Watching but it’s a little different because it goes straight through. It’s an hour long. There is acting and a video will set up what’s in the scene. The songs that are on the album that we didn’t shoot videos for are inside of the score of the movie.

We did that joint and I kinda enjoyed it. I liked writing in it and acting in it. It was a chance to try our hand at something like that. It came out good and a lot of people liked it a lot. We screened it when we went to Switzerland and they really dug it a lot. What I realized at that time was we didn’t have the means to do a full feature movie, but I had a full feature movie written. I wrote it back in 2008 with a homegirl of mine. He kept wanting to shoot it but we did what we did because we got our homeboys and homegirls together and put a little something together. It wasn’t like we got real actors and really planned it ahead of time. It was like, “Yo, we shooting today?” “Yeah, we shooting today,” and we did it like that. I knew we couldn’t do a full feature movie like that. He had a homegirl of his that was a producer named Cass Riddick. She’s been in the independent film industry for about 8 years. He introduced us and she helped put our first full feature movie together, which is SIX2SIX The Movie. We’re running it through the film festivals right now. We just finished it in March so we’re starting to submit it to all the film festivals right now. We’re actually going to shoot our second full feature movie soon. It happened organically.

Nowadays the music is awesome, I love making music and that’s going to happen automatically, but you need to do more than just making music now. You gotta be more involved and more active. People don’t really buy music that much anymore. Yeah, we sell physical product and put everything on vinyl, CD, and limited cassettes, but that’s not enough to really make a living off of. Digital is cool but once something is online digitally for sale it’s free somewhere too. It’s hard to actually make a living selling just music. The movies give us a chance to put our music in the movies. We also have a clothing line so it gives us a chance to market our clothing line inside of the movies. It’s just another form of expression. You just have to be broader now as a company. You can’t just make music and think that that’s it. You have to try different things. I enjoyed the film aspect of it. I want to get into more acting, not just in our movies. I want to act in other people’s movies as well. I’m getting more into that now. I got a few gigs coming up this summer so it’s cool.

TRHH: Who is Omerta for?

M.I.: It’s for the old and the new. People say our music sounds like the stuff from the golden era, boom bap, old school Hip-Hop but we try not to limit it. With Avant Garde we tried to mesh the golden era sound but make it sound up to date sonically. A lot of what happens with these cats that make music from the 90s is they get stuck sounding like the music was actually made in the 90s. Their rhyme flows, beats, samples, and the way its mixed sounds like something from the 90s. Other than the fact that they’re not recording in analog, which is the probably most important aspect of something sounding like it was from the 90s. That’s what gave that music back then such a solid sound. Everything sounds like it’s from the 90s except for that, so it really doesn’t even sound that great. It sounds tingy and the drums are weak.

I would say Omerta is for our original fan base that’s been rocking with us because we’re going to give you what Constant Deviants gives you on every album. It’s also for people that have never heard of Constant Deviants and just like good rap music. It seems like as much as trap music and all of that is still surviving, it seems like it’s a lot more people wanting to hear quote unquote rap music. I don’t even consider that other music Hip-Hop. I don’t even dislike it, I think it’s cool. It’s just not Hip-Hop music to me. It’s more R&B. I don’t know what it is to tell you the truth. This is for people that like lyricism, hard beats, like hearing scratching, and want to hear a good rap record with a good bounce to it – you’re going to like this album.

Purchase: Constant Deviants – Omerta

Gilead7: Peaces of War

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

Tomorrow Kings emcee, Gilead7 and Echoes of Oratory Musik producer, Subtrax have joined forces for an album titled “Peaces of War.” The 9-track album meshes Gilead’s abstract lyrics with Sub’s boom bap beats. Peaces of War is a modern piece of work with a nod to the golden era that tackles the duality of the universe – peace and war.

Peaces of War is produced entirely by Subtrax with additional production by Nameless. The album features appearances by Collasoul Structure, Arty Swell, I.B. Fokuz, Clockwize, Word Man, Nat Key Cole, and Oddeo.

Gilead7 recently spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his issues with ethnic labels, the status of his Tomorrow Kings crew, and his new album, Peaces of War.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Peaces of War.

Gilead7: Yes sir, yes sir! Peaces of War is really about the duality of nature itself. There is a peace which I define as the unity of all things. There is a diversity, which I define as the war, which is the individuality of everything. The title of the album basically indicates that there is no way that we can synthesize the two. We have to live within the tension. The songs on the record displays this in different ways; through the rupturing of religion, through identity, through Hip-Hop culture, et cetera. I’m just looking at the duality of nature itself and asserting that we can’t solve it, we have to live within it.

TRHH: That’s true but it’s also a little bit depressing [laughs].

Gilead7: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I’m not here to bring hope; I’m here to bring awareness. I think there are ways that we can use this duality to bring about some sort of immediate resolve, but at the same time as soon as one solution happens another problem pops up. I enjoy the idea of living with intention.

TRHH: How did you link up with Subtrax?

Gilead7: I’m from Chicago and came to Southern California in 2009. In 2012 his crew Echoes of Oratory Musik were doing a show with Qwazaar from Typical Cats. Qwazaar is a long-time friend of mine. I said, “Y’all don’t know me but would it be cool if I could open? Is that possible?” They let me on and from that point on we gained a relationship. I linked up with Sub around 2012 and we’ve been kind of crafting things together from that point. It took us a while to get here.

TRHH: How would you compare the Chicago Hip-Hop scene to the L.A. scene?

Gilead7: That’s a great, fantastic question. My analysis of that just from growing up in that scene is there is a little bit more of an edge to Chicago Hip-Hop, especially Chicago emceeing. There is a style that we do that is heavily invested in gory imagery in terms of freestlying. When we freestyle we’re looking for a certain objective whereas when they freestyle out here is more about a stream of consciousness. Those are definite distinctions. Also, it seems like the way that public transportation is set up out here versus in Chicago there are microcosms of the Hip-Hop scene that never intersect. In Chicago if you’re out there you might be everywhere. There is a different overlap that happens in Chicago that doesn’t happen here.

TRHH: Tell me about the song Piece Offering.

Gilead7: Aw, that’s one of my favorite joints on the record [laughs]! Basically the word is not p-e-a-c-e but p-i-e-c-e. I’m looking at rupturing notions into fragments. The first notion in the first verse deals with the rupturing of religion where I say, “I was dope since I left Jesus hanging on Golgotha,” and things like that. I’m indicating a rupture from notions of Western Christianity and notions of claiming divinity in that form. The second verse is a look at Afro-diasporic and Mesoamerican identities and coding the question of how we define ourselves. Sit across the room from yourself after you separate yourself from yourself and ask yourself if you were the one to name your essence would you call it black? Looking at notions of identity, is it the best thing for us to identify ourselves through labels such as black and Latino? The third piece is the nature of Hip-Hop in general in terms of many people out there are looking toward maintaining the past and looking at doing that in ways that kind of hinder the culture in its advancement.

TRHH: To touch on part of that, do you believe that our labels hinder us in any type of way?

Gilead7: Yeah, I do. Labels are different. Some labels don’t involve histories of oppression like others do. For example labels like Latino, black, and white, these legal terms in many ways we attempt to redefine ourselves through these terms that were imposed upon us. I also touch on there being evidence that Africans were here before the middle passage. Before the middle passage occurred we didn’t term ourselves in language like that. So if we’re on a quest to find identity is it best go and reclaim those terms? I’m not saying don’t do it, but I’m posing the question, is it best to do it in those terms? Maybe it is. But it’s something we should be aware of.

TRHH: Do you worry that your rhymes or subject matter are too complex for the people who could benefit from them most?

Gilead7: Not really. Some people have told me that before. I don’t necessarily worry about that. My view of art is that first of all it’s for the individual making art. Those who gravitate toward it do, and those who don’t, don’t. There are other parts of my life that may be quote unquote more accessible to people. I also teach philosophy and religion at the college level. Maybe in those ways I think what I do may be quote unquote complex but in terms of art my crew Tomorrow Kings we always say, “Do art and the let chips fall where they may.”

TRHH: How would you classify your rhyme style?

Gilead7: I would say a dose of me fractured through a bunch of my influences. My first full-length The Dark Room, which I did in ‘05, was all Chicago. You probably know some of these guys like 5th Element, Molemen, I did the record around those guys. I think in that record all of my influences were present but I did something different. All of my influences range from Irish folk music, to Tori Amos, to a lot of Belizean music. I was listening to a bunch of Breeze Brewin, Juggaknots, and things like that. I would classify my rhyme style as a mix of all of that stuff the way I do. Very intense, very quirky, very obscene at times, and very thought provoking hopefully.

TRHH: What’s the status of Tomorrow Kings?

Gilead7: Right now we’re kind of all working on our solo records. We did a record in 2013, Nigger Rigged Time Machine. That was released through ReServed Records, which got us some good attention — nothing huge. It definitely raised some eyebrows and that created the atmosphere for us to do solo projects. Lamon Manuel just finished his album, Music to Feel like Shit To. SKECH185 and Analog[ue] Tape Dispenser just finished an album called War Church – their crew is called War Church, SKECH being the emcee and ATD being the producer. Jyroscope did a record called On The House, which is their interpretation of Hip-House. We’re all on our solo grind and hoping to come back together on some crew shit pretty soon, but that’s the move right now.

TRHH: Who is Peaces of War for?

Gilead7: This is kind of what me and Sub discussed. Because of Sub’s production style, it’s heavily boom bap, and it’s been a while before I rhymed over something like that. At the same time it’s my origins. I did some Tomorrow Kings stuff that was more experimental; it’s pushing boundaries in those ways. Sub pushes boundaries in different ways. I think the project is dedicated to both people who tend to like abstract more far-reaching rhyming and those that are dedicated to what’s called the pure essence of Hip-Hop – the golden era sound. It’s dedicated to both groups and sometimes those groups don’t intersect. I’m rhyming over boom bap tracks but not in a way that many people do. So I think we’re targeting those who love the purist shit and those people who do love rhymes of my nature.

Purchase: Gilead7 & Subtrax – Peaces of War

Pugs Atomz: For the Future of Hip-Hop

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Swan Watkins
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Swan Watkins

Chicago producer Bryan Ford is a one man band. He plays drums, bass, keys, and guitar on his various compositions. Ford’s forte is electronic music but he’s now ventured into the world of Hip-Hop. Hoping to push the boundaries of what Hip-Hop sounds like Ford released the album, For the Future of Hip-Hop.

The album is produced entirely by Bryan Ford with Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Killah Priest and Chicago Hip-Hop stalwarts Awdazcate and Pugs Atomz handling the vocals.

Pugs Atomz chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about how he linked up with Bryan Ford, working with Killah Priest, the internet’s impact on rap music, and the new album, For the Future of Hip-Hop.

TRHH: How did you get involved with Bryan Ford?

Pugs Atomz: He had hit me up to play his monthly that he had at a club out here. The set up was his band would learn your music and play it out in the next month. We played the show and really had a lot in common when he heard a lot of my other tracks so we decided to record something. The first song we recorded was actually the Killah Priest record. It’s kind of crazy because I came to practice for the show and Killah Priest was just in the corner of the room chillin’. I was like, “Wow, okay, let’s get it!”

TRHH: At that stage was an album in the works or were you guys just vibing together?

Pugs Atomz: Him and Bryan already had a relationship and had recorded a few songs. I was new in the mix but when I kicked my verse to that record Priest was like, “Wow, okay, you got some bars.” From there we started making music pretty much every week. Right now we probably have about 20 songs.

TRHH: What was the process like recording the album?

Pugs Atomz: For the most part you just kind of go to Bryan’s studio and kick back. He plays a couple beats and something will hit you. I’m a pretty quick writer and I freestyle a lot as well so I’ll just jump on the mic and spit what I have. Priest will be with a pen and a pad just killin’ every time he would set up a song. It would go back and forth like that.

TRHH: At this stage of your career do you prefer rocking over live instruments than rhyming over traditional Hip-Hop beats?

Pugs Atomz: I’m from the golden era. I started rapping back in the 90s so the DJ always holds a big piece of what I feel traditional Hip-Hop is. I think at this point since everybody raps, good and bad, you need more musicianship in your show to really stand out more so and not make it seem like anybody can do this. Bryan has a background in house music, dance music, as well as rock. A lot of times I’ll listen to his beats and it’s like I’m digging in a record store. It’s like, “If I hear The Funky Drummer on this it would be cold.” He would just pull up that stuff from his memory. He plays tons of instruments and he’s been playing for years.

TRHH: You mentioned how everybody raps these days, what do you think started the idea that everybody can do this?

Pugs Atomz: The internet for the most part, people being able to have studios in their crib, and the decline of vinyl is another big thing. People are buying more vinyl now but when I first started out if you had vinyl that meant you were serious. Now you just gotta have an mp3, a viral video, or some blog to post you and you’re rolling already. It’s not like a lot of heads have to say that you’re the man. You can automatically jump and say you’re the best ever. If they get the right people to see it on the blogs or they look crazy or something, they can take off. It’s kind of wild like that. If you notice a lot of times some of the people that get a crazy spotlight weren’t prepared. They were just messing around then they realized the world was watching. I do a lot of video shooting and editing. It could be somebody I’m doing a favor for and somebody will look at my channel and assume that this person has been at it forever and ready to kill it, but this is just their first time out and they’re just testing the water.

TRHH: You take the good with the bad with technology I guess.

Pugs Atomz: Yeah. In the same sense the Future of Hip-Hop record stands out because everybody is not doing that. It’s something you couldn’t really prepare for like, “Oh word, let’s see what this is about.”

TRHH: Why is the album titled For the Future of Hip-Hop?

Pugs Atomz: For the most part Killah is always on some next-level lyricism type thing and Bryan is pulling from all these different genres to make the beats. Also in the sense of he’s sampling himself. When I say he plays instruments it’s not in the traditional band sense of it. If he needs some drums he plays the drums and chops up his drums. He needs a horn player, they come in and play some stuff and he cuts that up as well. He takes it to the next level of it still being musical and about the roots of sampling, but also pushing to a new sound. We had a listening session with industry cats and some respected emcees. To have the full band on stage and all of us on the bars, it was a different look.

TRHH: What’s your favorite song on the album?

Pugs Atomz: Right now probably Fifth Floor. That beat is crazy. It’s real menacing and the way the hook drives it really pulls you in. Also what I’m writing about is like the old school loft parties from here where most people would get their bread and also get their name up. I used to throw parties and Bryan had his own space to throw parties as well. I didn’t even know that until after I recorded the record and I was like, “Whoa!” He was in it, just on a different side.

TRHH: What was it like working with a cat like Killah Priest?

Pugs Atomz: It was definitely one of those notches on your belt. It was like, “Fair enough, I’m here.” I didn’t even really know it was gonna happen like that. I was just coming for practice and they started a record and let me hear the beat. I had something for it and he was vibing with it. The first time I heard his “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” that was like a moment because a lot of my guys here were Five Percenters, New Tabernacle and all of that. It resonated with me. To get a chance to spit in that realm was refreshing and took me back to my beginning.

TRHH: Who would you say For the Future of Hip-Hop is suited for?

Pugs Atomz: From what I’ve seen at the shows it’s more so for people who like music, man. We played a Bernie Sanders fundraiser party and it was definitely not like a B-Boy occasion, if you get me. But they felt the same way as if we were rocking for a bunch of heads.

TRHH: What next up for Pugs Atomz?

Pugs Atomz: I’m the Creative Director for Iridium Clothing so I’ve got a bunch of new summer stuff coming out. I flew to Memphis to paint a mural that’s talking about the whole history of music there. We have the new single “Just Me and My Girl” with Bryan Ford and my homie Awdazcate. I’ve got an album on BBE coming out in September, and I’ve got a bunch of videos coming out in the next few months.

Purchase: Bryan Ford – For the Future of Hip-Hop

Horseshoe Gang: Anti-Trap Music

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Photo courtesy of Urbanelite Promotions
Photo courtesy of Urbanelite Promotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: What inspired the song Shoe-icide Squad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Crooked I

Kenny: That niggas hard.

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

Demetrius: Crooked is like Kobe Bryant…

Dice: Or Jordan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Who is Anti-Trap Music made for?

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

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

Purchase: Horseshoe Gang – Anti-Trap Music