A-Villa: Carry on Tradition

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Zeiter

Photo courtesy of Andrew Zeiter

Chicago producer A-Villa pulled off the impossible. During his infancy in beat-making, Villa honed his craft while simultaneously politicking with some of the best and brightest artists in Hip-Hop. Over a 4-year span A-Villa worked tirelessly to create his debut album, ‘Carry on Tradition’.

An ode to that old “boom bap” Carry on Tradition isn’t a walk down memory lane, it’s more of a look into the future with features from some of rap music’s future superstars.

Carry on Tradition features an all-star cast of performers that includes Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, Willie The Kid, Kool G Rap, Noreaga, Twone Gabz, Rapper Big Pooh, Mikkey Halsted, Cormega, Killer Mike, Lil’ Fame, Ras Kass, Guilty Simpson, Skyzoo, Fashawn, Elzhi, Freddie Gibbs, Naledge, Vic Spencer, Blu, Reks, Chaundon, Joell Ortiz, Scheme, Big K.R.I.T., Inspectah Deck, Termanology, Sean Price, Oh No, Joe Budden, Saigon, Jon Connor, BJ The Chicago Kid, AZ, Freeway, Havoc, Macie Stewart, and Rapsody.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to A-Villa about his beat-making techniques, his new album, Carry on Tradition, and why his first album will also be his last.

TRHH: How did you manage to pull off this album with so many dope guest appearances?

A-Villa: It was really just three-plus years of networking in the music industry. It was doing groundwork, going to as many concerts as I could, trying to get backstage, go to meet and greets, social networking, e-mails, and texts. I was just building contacts through the years and trying to get myself introduced to artists who I’m a fan of and really just playing the odds. Usually on the first meeting it was just me introducing myself, telling my story quick fast and what I’m trying to do with the music. Hopefully I’d meet them again when they come around on tour – sometimes artists pop in the city 2-3 times a year. I finally got the music in their hands and obviously the music spoke for itself. I kind of built it like that.

TRHH: I’ve been seeing you at shows for maybe 15 years or more and I never knew you made beats.

A-Villa: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. It’s crazy. You bring up a good point. I just started out as a fan of music, obviously in the Hip-Hop genre. I never pursued music. I never even made music back then. When you say 15 years ago it was just a dream then. It wasn’t nothing I was pursuing or thinking about it. It was not until 2010 that I was finally motivated and pushed to do it. It was from the ground up learning how to make beats. I bought my first MP[C] in March or April of 2010. I just started competing in beat battles like a month later. I won my first beat competition at Reggie’s. It was a Mikkey Halsted event. I was battling cats that kind of had placements at the time. I got a favorable response and realized I had something and I really went full throttle and pursued it.

TRHH: What beat-making equipment do you use right now?

A-Villa: Maschine, man. Maschine is my baby. It has been for a few years now. I really jumped off the MP quick fast and jumped into Maschine. I mastered it right away. I’m comfortable with it – the whole Native Instruments. I always laugh and say they owe me a check because I’ve been screaming out “Maschine” for the longest. Domingo from New York, another legendary producer, me and him always been talking Maschine for years and putting other producers on it. I introduced it to Pete Rock personally. I was like, “Pete this is it. This is the future,” and he was like, “Nah, nah I’m still with MP,” so I really couldn’t pull his arm on that. Maschine is really my center console for my production among other things like keyboards. I like to implement live instrumentation into my music as well. I like to play my drums, record drums, and program ‘em after the fact. I like to use horns, guitars, and bass lines. All those things I try to mix together with sample chops as well.

TRHH: Do you play those instruments or do you hire musicians?

A-Villa: I play a little bit of keys. I play a lot of drums on this album and program them after. I play bass lines, and I did the guitar – just a few licks. I had Nico “Donnie Trumpet” Segal formerly of Kids These Days play the horns on a couple songs. I had another one of my buddies play some bass lines. Ninety-five percent of the sounds on the album are from me.

TRHH: Explain the title of the project, Carry on Tradition.

A-Villa: Obviously that’s from the AZ line from the Nas song ‘Life’s A Bitch’. How it works with this is a couple things — from a music standpoint just being a fan of the golden era of Hip-Hop music – the late 80s and early 90s. Coming up in that era is what really drove me to pursue music eventually. I’m not necessarily trying to bring that sound back. You got the new heads all the time saying, “Oh, you’re trying to bring the old school back,” but it’s not like that at all. What I’m really trying to do with my music is sustain and maintain the integrity of the music that was being made then. I think it got kind of lost along the way.

I’m just trying to bring that feeling back of a full album experience. You and myself looked forward to every Tuesday and buying that new album, the tape, CD, or the vinyl. We’d bust it open and read the liner notes and listen to the music. It was a whole full-on experience and I wanted to introduce that to this new generation that’s about quick fast music — iTunes, and Spotify. I’m not necessarily knocking that because everybody listens to the music differently, but I wanted to offer an alternative option. The album is available on CD, vinyl, and digital so they’re going to have that option. It’s really bridging the gap with new artists, popular artists, and the legends of the game. It’s people that you and myself came up on. You’re going to hear an album with Kool G Rap who is a legend and somebody that I look up to. That was my Jay-Z or Nas when I was coming up. Having him on the album with a popular artist like a Big K.R.I.T. that’s newer and more popular to this generation is something different.

On this compilation you won’t have the same three or four rappers rapping on the same song. My idea was to flip it and have an artist like Big K.R.I.T. on a song with Inspectah Deck. It’s something you wouldn’t normally hear and it might sound crazy on paper but it works. It works because they’re both just talented emcees at the end of the day. It’s just true artists making good music so it don’t really matter what generation you come from or where you come from, it’s all about good music at the end of the day and that’s what it is. On a personal level I just became a new father. The whole tradition of just passing on everything to that next generation, this is my gift to my daughter. My daughter is on the album cover and she plays an important role in it and she’s actually featured on the last song. I dedicated it to her, it’s called ‘Never Give You Up (One for Ava) and it has Rapsody, Guilty Simpson, myself, and her. It’s a song that ties up the whole journey of the album. She just represents the new chapter of my life and the next Hip-Hop generation. All those elements are tied together.

TRHH: The song ‘Live from the Villa’ is real hard. I’ve been waiting on somebody to bring those drums back and I’m glad you did. Talk about how that track came together.

A-Villa: I’ve always had that beat. I’ve actually used that beat in producer competitions and I always got the crowd moving. It’s a really hard beat. I was actually in the studio on separate occasions with Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, and Willie The Kid when they came to Chicago. I met Action Bronson through Dante Ross, the legendary A&R and producer in his own right. He was managing Action Bronson at the time and they were doing Closed Sessions, the label I’m affiliated with now. I kind of came in the studio, introduced myself, and started playing beats. It was the first beat I threw on and Action was like, “That’s the one!” He immediately started writing, jumped in there, and knocked it out. Even that night I was like, “Yo, this sounds crazy.” Before you even heard a joint with Action Bronson or Roc Marciano on it I was like, “Yo, I wanna put Roc on this.” It just sounds like something Roc Marciano would go off on. I sent it to Roc and I didn’t hear nothing from him. It wasn’t until Roc came to Chicago that he vibed with it and knocked it out. It was the same thing with Willie The Kid, he came into town and we knocked out that song and a couple of other songs. We did a song on the last Tony Touch album called ‘Power Cypher’. It was definitely an organic experience. It was no e-mail stuff. It was really just us in the studio bouncing off each other and it made a dope song. If you hear the album version it’s even deeper. The drums come in by themselves and it morphs into a beat box which is done by my man GQ the Teacher. He does the beat box and Chaundon starts rapping. It’s real dope.

TRHH: The song ‘A Day in the Life’ is incredible. The highlight of the song for me is having Macie Stewart on the hook. Talk about how this song came together and how her voice complemented the beat.

A-Villa: Yeah, man. I was inspired by the Raekown song ‘Heaven & Hell’ with Ghostface. Sonically I was trying to match that vibe with the production on here. I immediately thought about AZ when I heard it. I always wanted to work with him and I had a connection to him so we made that happen. I had the concept in mind of what I wanted it to be. Kind of like that hustler’s mentality and the struggle from the beginning to becoming a success, whether it’s in rap or anything else. I had wrote down a hook for it. It was originally for a male vocalist. I was working with BJ The Chicago Kid at the time, he sang on another song on the album, but I wrote it for him. I was a fan of Kids These Days at the time. I kept hearing this incredible vocalist from that group, of course it’s Macie Stewart. I invited her to the studio to kind of vibe with the music and the album. I played that record and she loved it. I showed her the lyrics that I had to it, she looked at what I wrote down and she did some scribbling on her own, and it’s what you hear today. She remixed what I wrote and put her own twist and talent on it and she made it a beautiful melody. It’s one of my favorite records. After that I met Havoc when he came to Chicago, the same with Freeway. Freeway jumped on it immediately because he wanted to be a part of something real special. He’s a huge fan of AZ and Havoc and it all came together like that.

TRHH: Who spit your favorite verse on the album?

A-Villa: Ooh, that’s a good question. It changes every time I hear the album. I like Sean Price’s verse. I like what Fashawn did. Willie The Kid spit an incredible verse and Freddie Gibbs. It really changes daily. These are not phoned in verses, which you kind of get sometimes with compilation projects. It was really like rap sport where they all were trying to out-do each other either in the studio or if I did have to send an e-mail to somebody they’d want to hear the other person’s verse and vice versa. I even had artists try to change their verse after the fact ‘cause they heard such and such’ s verse. They kind of prolonged the process of making the song. I get it, it’s a competition of emceeing but it made the song better.

TRHH: Why is ‘Carry on Tradition’ your last album?

A-Villa: Man, another good question. Really because it was a 3, almost 4-year process of my life. It was a lifetime dream of mine. Once I accomplished it, it was almost a sense of it being done. It was hard work and it took a lot of time. It was my blood, sweat, and tears. I put everything into it. Music wasn’t always something I was serious about as a career. I’m realistic, music doesn’t sell like it did back in our days. I have a career to fall back on. I did the opposite approach. I went to school, I graduated from college, and I became the Vice President of a bank. I built my career first and then I jumped to the dream. I’m not knocking young artists for jumping into the dream first, but there’s nothing wrong with doing it the way I did it too. I tell young artists all the time to have that plan A, B, C, and D prepared because nothing is promised, especially in the music industry.

Once I became a father that became my priority – raising my child and taking care of my family. I don’t think at this point in my life where I’m at I can make an album better than this. It took so long to do it and I really put my all into it. If you want to say it, it’s been a lifetime process in making this album. I just took all the elements that I gained just being a sponge and a fan of music and made it into what this is. I’m not saying I can’t make an album like this. If somebody wants to cut me a check and give me the time to do it, I’m not going to say never. I’m still going to make music, I still have side projects I’m working on, I have unreleased material, I have instrumental projects I can put out, and I have some major placements in the works. Music is still going to get made, but it may not be an A-Villa type album or a sequel to this album – but who knows?

Purchase: A-Villa – Carry on Tradition

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A Conversation with Apollo Brown & Ras Kass

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Merriam-Webster describes the word ‘blasphemy’ as “great disrespect shown to God or to something holy” but Apollo Brown and Ras Kass mean no disrespect to the creator with their new release. Blasphemy is a joint project by the Midwest producer and West Coast emcee that’s easily one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2014.

Ras Kass and Apollo Brown masterfully mesh with each other’s styles to produce an album that’ll make listeners thinks, laugh, and bob their heads. Blasphemy is produced entirely by Apollo Brown and features guest appearances by Pharoahe Monch, Rakaa Iriscience, Royce Da 5’9″, Xzibit, Bishop Lamont, 4 Rax, Larina, Slaine, Sick Jacken, and Sean Price.

Apollo Brown and Ras Kass recently chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about the origins of their union, their new album, Blasphemy, and its importance in today’s Hip-Hop landscape.

TRHH: How’d you two guys get together and decide to do this record?

Apollo Brown: Like I tell everybody I’m fortunate as a producer to work with artists that I’m a fan of. Me and Ras are obviously in the same industry and we work with a lot of the same people. We maybe have run in the same circles, but we never have crossed paths until now. I called him out of the blue one day and said, “Yo man, this is Apollo. We need to get together and we need to make some music.” Fortunately enough he knew who I was and was a fan of my work, just like I was a fan of his. I’ve been a fan of this man for years. We got together to make some music, and there you go.

Ras Kass: He could have said do a verse or some shit and I would have said, “I’m all in, let’s go.” Really for me it was the challenge of the ball being in my court now. I was like, “OK, this nigga gonna give me some hot ass beats, what the fuck am I going to do with this?” I like that fear, that nervousness of, yo man, I’m in a really good opportunity I can do something that we can both be proud of or I can fumble on the one. He took it 99 yards so what am I going to do [laughs]? I really feel like we did that and I’m very happy that people are receptive about it.

TRHH: Why’d you title the album Blasphemy?

Ras Kass: Blasphemy is a metaphor. The original title of the album was ‘How to Kill God’, which was still a metaphor. That’s the first song on the album. We’re made in the image and likeness of God, we’re all God’s creations so killing God is being evil, being a hater, being sexist, and being racist. Blasphemy on the flipside is the opposite spectrum of how to kill God. Blasphemy is the American flag, in God we trust on a dollar that some people will sell crack to their momma for, creating wars, droning people, that’s blasphemy. That’s why there’s duct tape on George Washington’s face. They’re both the same metaphors just envisioned differently.

Apollo Brown: We had placement issues with ‘How to Kill God’. It was a very abrasive title.

Ras Kass: It’s potato/potato. The song still exists.

Apollo Brown: Definitely. We still get our point across, so it’s all good.

Ras Kass: I believe in a supreme creator. I don’t want to get too far into my religious beliefs. I’m not trying to blaspheme the creator. I do have some issues that we fight and kill over a dollar and at the end of the day its Fiat money. Blasphemy and How to Kill God are pretty interchangeable conceptually. I’m not really trying to kill God and neither is it blasphemous. They are metaphors. I think it’s a lot deeper than the surface.

TRHH: I think the album in general is important because of everything you just said. I think it’s important to get people to listen. Fans of yours are going to listen to lyrics anyway, but it seems more multilayered than a lot of the shit that we’re hearing right now.

Ras Kass: Yeah.

Apollo Brown: I would say so, definitely. It provides the feeling that you need, it provides the concept, the political undertone, the religious undertone, and Ras Kass doing what he does best.

Ras Kass: And sonically it’s banging. You could pull the raps off and just listen to those beats. The production is A1. The challenge was to make sure we put the right hooks on stuff. Apollo produced it. He didn’t just make beats, he produced an album and I think it shows. I’m very happy with what we’ve done. It’s layered. It’s not just a bunch of raps over beats.

Apollo Brown: It’s definitely a full project. They are songs. You’ve got a lot of people out here that put words over beats, put it on a CD and call it an album. This is a production. This is a full-fledged album from front to back, top to bottom, that gives you everything that you need when you listen to this music.

TRHH: The intro of the album with the Spirit of Truth

Ras Kass: [Laughs] That’s Apollo, the whole concept.

TRHH: That shit was great, man. I loved it [laughs].

Apollo Brown: You know what’s funny, I’m a fan of the Spirit of Truth. I think he’s a funny guy and I think he speaks what he wants to speak when he wants to speak it. I’ve been a fan of this dude for years. I used to listen to him back in 2006. He used to blow my head, man. Let me pause that real quick, he didn’t blow my head…

TRHH: [Laughs].

Ras Kass: Whoa [laughs]!

Apollo Brown: But you know what I’m saying. Originally I had four different interludes that I was going to put on the album with the Spirit of Truth but I didn’t want to give people an overload of him. I think the way I did it was perfect. The intro was perfect. It set the mood to me. It was blasphemy. Everything he was saying was blasphemy.

Ras Kass: He’s me when I’m like 60. I’m probably going to be this guy at some point in my life. That shit was hilarious.

Apollo Brown: The way that he says things and puts certain words with certain words, who puts the word ‘fucking’ next to ‘God’? It’s so blasphemous the way he does that shit. It started off with a light mood and it runs into How to Kill God.

TRHH: That dude follows me on Twitter, which is one of my biggest victories in life [laughs]. He’s a funny motherfucker. He’s the shit. I love that guy. The funny shit about him is he really believes the shit that he says.

Apollo Brown: No doubt. He’s dead serious. He’s not playing or joking around. He is dead serious about that shit.

TRHH: He needs that show to come back on, man.

Ras Kass: He needs a cartoon. I’d watch that on Adult Swim any time. He’s awesome.

TRHH: Another interesting thing on the album is ‘Giraffe Pussy’ [laughs]. That’s got to be the most dope title of all-time. Who came up with that?

Ras Kass: Thank you! It’s an Xzibit hook. I use that phrase “higher than giraffe pussy”. If I was trolling on someone’s site and I saw something called giraffe pussy I’d go check it out. It’s just so fucking random. I’ve got to hear this. Who makes that song? What is this? It just worked out great. We had an interview with a female who was referencing the song and me and Apollo just started dying laughing. It’s just funny to hear other people say it.

Apollo Brown: Especially females when they’re like, “In your song Giraffe Pussy..”

Ras Kass: It’s awesome. It just makes me happy. I smile on the inside.

TRHH: [Laughs] You have to. Who thinks of giraffe pussy?

Ras Kass: No doubt and everybody dumbed out. Salute. I just want to thank everybody that was a part of it. Royce and Bishop, them niggas got it in.

Apollo Brown: No doubt. Hell yeah.

TRHH: Ras, did you approach this project differently from your previous albums? I don’t think you’ve done an album with just one producer.

Ras Kass: I haven’t. Everything is unique to me. Every time I go into conceptualizing where I want to go, sometimes I don’t know the direction at the beginning and this is kind of how it happened with me and Apollo. The cool thing is he wouldn’t overload me. He would send me four or five beats. Out of the first batch I might have picked four. A couple of weeks later he would give me another batch so it was really cool. I could process it, start to write, and then I’d figure out the concept. I approached it like I was getting an opportunity that I want. His production is A1; the nigga is a talented dude, so how do I complement that? He’s giving me his A-game. I’m not getting the throwaway shit so how do I make sure he doesn’t feel like he made a bad decision? Sometimes I have to scout around and say, “I kind of need a song like that,” but with one producer I can tell him the concept and he can create that for me. It’s dope.

TRHH: Apollo, how was working on this album different from doing an Ugly Heroes or The Left album?

Apollo Brown: The examples you gave are group albums so you’ve got a lot of different opinions going on. I approach every project and every album the same, but I do realize that I’m working with an artist that’s totally different from other artists. Every artist has their own walk of life, everybody walks a different path, everybody has their own plight, and everybody has their own thing that they want to say. I’m working with a professional; somebody who can get in the lab and do what he needs to do. I don’t have to babysit him. Like he said I’d send him four or five joints, and let him do his thing. Then I’d send him another four or five when he’s done with that. I don’t have to go to him and say, “So what did you write on that?” or “Why don’t you demo that out for me?” or “Why don’t you spit it over the phone real quick I want to hear it.” Nah I ain’t gotta do that. This is fuckin’ Ras Kass. I’m not going to babysit this man. I’m going to let him write what he wants to write and spit what he wants to spit. I feel as though the beats that I give him and anyone speak to you. Anything that I sent him spoke to him and urged him to speak back. What ever he spoke back that’s what Blasphemy is right here.

With my approach to making a record I’m very pro-getting in the studio with the artist. There are a lot of albums now that are made these days that are e-mail albums. With the way that technology is today it’s amazing that you can make an album via e-mail. That’s amazing, but myself, I can’t vibe with somebody over e-mail. We have to get in the studio together, we have to create this album, and we have to record this album. I want to see his face when I play this beat. I want him to see my face when he comes out from spitting that 16 out of the booth. When he comes out I’m like, “Woo, that was crazy!” Couple it together, mixed down, bounced out, and we’re listening to what we created and we’re vibing out together like, “This shit is going to be hot when it gets done.” You can’t do that over e-mail.

Ras Kass: And to me it’s little things. What if my internet is down? Here is an example, on one song my cadence went down. Do you remember that?

Apollo Brown: That was on ‘Please Don’t Let Me’, yeah.

Ras Kass: I hit a note because I heard it and I wanted it to go down. He was like, “Try it up,” because then it has more explanation because it’s going into the hook. That would’ve taken three days via e-mail.

Apollo Brown: When you get into the studio and vibe out with each other and its organic and natural you get to know the person you’re making the album with. It’s not just some old bullshit. You get to actually hang out. And I think everybody should want to. Why wouldn’t you want to get to know the person you’re sharing your craft with? I’m sharing my most intimate craft with you. This is what I do and this is who I am. This is how I live, these are my workings, and I’m sharing it with you. I want to on a personal level. You can’t do that over e-mail, you just can’t. The process is simple, easy, its organic, it’s very natural, and as far as I’m concerned it’s easy to make a classic.

Ras Kass: I was playing dominoes down stairs in my house in Carson. We were playing all types of CDs and I put my tape in. One of my friends was like, “Who is this?” I was like, “It’s me.” After the third song he was like, “Who the fuck is this?” I said, “It’s me,” and he was like, “Get the fuck outta here. My friend is the best rapper I’ve ever heard.” His name is Curtis Daniel. He owns Patchwerk Studios in Atlanta, which is a journey and a creation of me, Bob Whitfield, and Curtis. It was dope for him to call me today because he’s like my harshest critic. He loves me to death and believes in me but he called me today and said, “This shit sounds amazing!” That’s what I want to hear. That makes me happy.

TRHH: What inspired the single ‘Humble Pi’?

Ras Kass: There’s a movie by Darren Aronofsky called ‘Pi’. He did ‘Noah’, which is not really one of my favorites but he’s an ill dude. Basically the guy shows numerically how to reach God. He figures out the number and rabbis, men in black, and Muslims are trying to kidnap him. It’s an ill movie. Humble Pi was multilayered because a lot of times in rap there are elephants in the room. Not to be a hater but I pride myself in being sarcastic enough to tell a joke that’s really true about people. I’m not hating but I’m saying, “Hey bro, you probably shouldn’t put a Confederate flag on your clothes. Did you make so much money that you lost touch with the fact that they used to chop our dicks off and put them in our mouths and they would have picnics and then go to church?” That’s what happened. There’s pictures of it. They would bring their kids like a spectacle, hang a black man, cut his dick off, put it in his mouth, and you want to put that on your clothes? After you’ve made all this money? Somebody needs to tell you that’s not cool. If I have to be the one to tell you that’s not cool that’s just a pull up. That ain’t dissing. That’s pulling a brother up and saying, “Look man, get your money but that’s some wack shit.” Humble Pi is about that – the mathematics of God, and chill bro, some of that shit ain’t cool.

TRHH: Why is Blasphemy an important record in 2014?

Apollo Brown: It’s an important record in 2014 because it’s amongst so many other important records in 2014. It’s cool to put out an album when nobody else is putting out an album. You’re kinda forced to be the only one to get shine. But when you can get shine when you have albums like Run the Jewels, PRhyme, and Barrel Brothers come out and you’re still getting shine you’re doing something right. It’s important, and this year is a great year for Hip-Hop. You’ve got all these anticipated albums that are dropping and not disappointing including Blasphemy, come on, man. To me right there is why it’s important. Not to mention this collab. You’ve got Ras Kass doing what he does best, you’ve got Apollo Brown doing what he does best, putting that together, creating the perfect marriage, boom, you’ve got Blasphemy.

Ras Kass: It’s funny because Curtis Daniel texted me and said, “I think you’ve met your soul mate in music [laughs]. And that’s cool as shit, because he’s known me since I was fucking ten years old and he’s been my harshest critic. He supports and believes in me, and he’s like, “This is that shit.” That’s good that it comes full circle.

Purchase: Apollo Brown & Ras Kass – Blasphemy

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Rapsody: Beauty and the Beast

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Photo courtesy of Rapsody

Photo courtesy of Rapsody

The first lady of Jamla Records, Rapsody has been on a tear. After blessing 2013 with the She Got Game mixtape, she stole the show on the Jamla is the Squad compilation with her standout tracks ‘Illuminaughty’ and ‘Betty Shabazz’.

The North Carolina native kept that momentum going with the release of her new EP, Beauty and the Beast. Produced entirely by The Soul Council, the 10-track project ventures to musical places that Rapsody never previously explored. The always classy Rapsody invites fans in to see her beauty, as well as to see her in beast mode.

Rapsody raises the bar lyrically and stylistically on Beauty and the Beast, which is not surprising given her constant evolution and the consistency in her catalog. Her work ethic and talent are the reasons why 9th Wonder proclaimed Rapsody the leader of Jamla Records.

“We need a leader,” 9th Wonder said of Rapsody on The Combat Jack podcast. “She represents the culture and she rhymes her ass off.”

‘Nuff said.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Rapsody about the ups and downs of being a recording artist, her frustrations with being boxed in as a female emcee, and her new EP, Beauty and the Beast.

TRHH: While listening to the new EP it sounded to me like you were feeling a little loose and at times serious. What was your mindset like when recording this project?

Rapsody: With this one it’s probably the most free I’ve felt when I was doing a project. I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. I wasn’t worrying about trying to make any lists or get people to understand that I can rap. This project was one where I felt totally free like, “I’m just going to do whatever I feel like and whatever feels right.” I think that’s the difference and why you say I was loose. Some days I might be reading up on the Mike Brown case or the John Crawford case and I got something on my mind so I sit and write about it. That’s why some songs are a little more serious than the other ones. Other days I just catch a feeling and don’t overthink it. However it feels, that’s what comes out. I just wanted to put something out that was dope, was me, tell more stories, and talk about more things that were important to me instead of trying to prove something.

TRHH: Not feeling like you have to prove something, does that come from being more confident in your rhymes?

Rapsody: Yeah, more confident and just coming to the realization that all that time trying to prove yourself or worrying about the gatekeepers, who aren’t always in it for the Hip-Hop culture but make the decision on whose hot and who makes this list — just realizing that, that really doesn’t matter. You have your own lane and your lane is wide open. You just gotta do whatever feels right. You can do it in your own way without having to go the path that everybody else does. Cater to your fans and just make great music. I think me just being comfortable with that is the difference in me feeling like I don’t have anything else to prove. This is my seventh project if I’m not “this” to you by now then it’s whatever at this point. I think it’s just not really caring anymore.

TRHH: The song ‘Drama’ sounded different from what we’re used to hearing from you. How’d that song come together?

Rapsody: We were in the studio and Problem and Bad Lucc came down to the studio for a week to hang out. Khrysis made the beat. I had the beat for almost 8 months or so, just figuring out what I wanted to do with it. I’ll get a bunch of beats for a project and I’ll sit on them until I catch a feeling from it. On this one I wanted to experiment and try to do something different. Just switch up my sound some because I felt like trying something new. Problem got in the booth and he did the hook, “go ahead, go ahead” and I just went in and filled in the rest. I recorded it twice. The first time I got in the booth I just had fun with it. When 9th listened to it he said, “This doesn’t sound like a Rapsody track. It sounds like how everybody else would rhyme over it.” He was right so I rewrote it and did it again just to make it me, but at the same time I still got to experiment with a new sound and a new beat, something that was fun and something that was party-like for me. A lot of my songs have a lot of feeling in them. They’re really laid-back and very soulful, so I’ve wanted to do something like that for a long time.

TRHH: I saw something where 9th Wonder said you were a beat hoarder…

Rapsody: [Laughs] Yeah that’s true.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Why do you hoard beats and at what point do you start working on ‘em?

Rapsody: Part of the reason I hoard beats is because we have a production team of seven producers and they’re all equally phenomenal. Everybody’s crazy amazing. I’m always in the studio. I stay in the studio more than I go to my house and sleep. So when I’m around and everybody is making these beats it’s hard for me to pass up on a beat. It’s like, “Yo, let me get that, let me get this,” and after a while I look at my playlist and I’ve got all these freakin’ beats that I want to touch but time doesn’t always allow me to get to them like I want to. I just keep them. I’m not selfish with them. If I put out a project I won’t use all of them. Let’s say GQ or Halo is behind me and they’re in the studio one day I’ll say, “If you want to go through this batch of beats I’ve got, here you go,” that’s how it goes [laughs].

My process, it depends how I feel during the day. I have a bunch of beats but I can’t necessarily sit down and write to a beat. I have to feel it. The feeling has to match. I go through all the beats that I have and whatever feeling I’m looking for that day. I’ll find the beat that matches that and we’ll go from there. Some days I’ll have a bunch of beats and nothing really fits the emotion I’m having or the story I want to tell or the angle I want to do, so I’ll go online and I’ll find somebody’s instrumental and I’ll write to that. 9th or Eric G will make a beat to whatever I write and will switch it out. That’s kind of how my writing process is. Whatever I’m trying to bring out in the lyrics I have to have something that matches that.

TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new EP?

Rapsody: It’s nothing too deep. The people came up with the title. Somewhere after She Got Game and Jamla is the Squad dropped we were putting out videos for ‘Thank You Very Much’, Betty Shabazz’, ‘Roses’ and people would tweet, “Yo, you’re a beast!” or “Beauty and the Beast!” We would see several of the same tweets like that. 9th was like, “Yo, that’s a dope title,” and I liked it too. He said, “What do you think about naming your EP that?” I said, “Cool, I’m with it.” The original name of the EP was supposed to be Betty Shabazz, but we felt like Beauty and the Beast made more of a statement and it fit better. It’s just talking about how you can be feminine and a woman but you can still be a beast on the mic. It’s just having those two world’s exist at the same time, that’s the idea behind the title in a nutshell.

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

Rapsody: No, I don’t really. I love all of them for different reasons. With every project I do it’s hard for me to pick like one favorite. There are standouts. I like ‘Drama’ a lot because it’s one of the more fun songs that I’ve ever done. I like ‘The Man’ just because I know a lot of people can relate to it. It’s an honest story for a lot of people. I like ‘God Forgive Me’ and ‘Godzilla’ – that was another one that was really fun and me stepping outside of the box and experimenting a little bit. That’s like my top 4 out of the 10 [laughs].

TRHH: The song ‘The Man’ kind of takes a look at how young men deal with having absentee fathers. What inspired you to write that song? It’s different because it’s from a male’s perspective.

Rapsody: I grew up in a two parent home, but I have friends and I know a lot of people who had to grow up early and be the man of the house. They didn’t get to enjoy their childhood because they had younger siblings to take care of and make sure things were straight, or they were raised by a woman. It’s something that I don’t ignore. I see it daily. I always see it in my life and it’s something I felt like needed to be addressed, whether it was from a male or female perspective somebody needed to talk about it.

What really pushed the idea forward was the beat. Eric G gave me the beat and the sample says, “The man.” The first time I just got in the booth and 9th wanted to hear me on it so I rapped three different verses that I had in my phone. 9th was like, “That’s crazy, I love it!” We came up with a hook and it was dope but I really wanted to do something with that “man” thing. I felt like I could so something and flip it. It took me a while. I’d sit and vibe to it and it just clicked. What made it click was I have friend named LeVelle Moton and he’s the head coach for North Carolina Central’s basketball team. He recently put out a book where he talks about growing up and his dad wasn’t there. Me reading that, reading a story similar to that, and riding around listening to that beat just made it all click. That’s what I wanted to talk about, a young boy who has to grow up early and be the man of his house because that’s an honest story. I thought a lot of people would appreciate it, so I tried it.

TRHH: When I saw you last fall in Chicago and we did that whole press thing where they drug us all down to that room and the dude asked you what female emcees you were checking for…

Rapsody: [Laughs].

TRHH: You remember that?

Rapsody: Yeah, I remember that.

TRHH: [Laughs] You said you always get the wack “female emcee” questions. Talk about why those types of things annoy you. What bothers you about that?

Rapsody: I do. Those are questions that put you in a box. It’s crazy that the majority of most interviews I know at least half of the questions they’re going to ask. I’m never usually wrong. “How does it feel to be a female emcee?” “How does it feel being the only female on your label?” “Who are the other female emcees you’re checking for?” “Is there anything you have to face as a female that was hard or different?” It’s always the same questions. I hate that you can’t see more about a female’s artists life. Why can’t we can’t have a wider range of questions like other artists who aren’t female? It’s just real general, basic questions that are asked over and over again. I think it’s easy. Those are just easy questions. Once I’ve done one interview if you do research you know the answer. I get tired of answering the same question over, and over, and over again. Across the board whether it’s me, Jean Grae, Noname Gypsy, Ill Camille, or Nitty Scott our answers don’t differ too much in that aspect. Let’s get a little more creative with the questions. I sit in a room with these guys and they’re getting all these dope questions and the first question I get asked I know it’s going to be something about being a female. It’s disappointing to me at times.

TRHH: I interviewed Persia a few years ago and afterwards she tweeted, “Shout out to Sherron. He’s the only person that didn’t ask me about Nicki Minaj.” I’m like, really? I would never think to ask you or her about Nicki Minaj. Are journalists trying to get a negative quote out of you or something?

Rapsody: Word! I think a lot of times that is what it is. They want women to be catty against each other. There is this mentality that there can only be one female emcee. There can only be one white rapper. That’s the mentality I see. They ask you these questions like, “I know you’re gunning for her head – you want her spot.” It’s never expected that we can coexist at the same time and we can all have a different lane. They don’t expect us to support each other. They don’t expect there to be a camaraderie between females and that’s the sad part. You know what drives media, social media, and television – it’s conflict. If they can get any little bit of conflict from your answer that’s going to be the headline for the whole interview: “Rapsody goes at Nicki Minaj” or “Persia something, something Nicki Minaj”. That’s the driving force nowadays, conflict.

TRHH: What’s the best and worst part of being an artist?

Rapsody: The best thing is just doing something you love. Having a career off something you’re passionate about, having the freedom to do that, and making music that touches people. All the hardships you go through is worth it when you can go to a show or meet someone in the street that listens to your music and they’re like, “Yo, I play this song all the time when I’m going through this,” or “Your song helped me through my marriage,” or “I grew up in a single parent home raised by my mom and I love ‘The Man’.” It makes me emotional. That’s what music is for, connecting with people. That’s what I love most about it. And just having the ability to create is great to me.

The not-so great thing is the music business. The business side of it will give you a headache. It will drive you nuts. That’s the thing I don’t like about it, the business part. Putting yourself out for the world to judge sometimes can be really hard. People don’t look at you as a person like them. They put you on a pedestal and you’re judged for everything you do. You can’t be normal. You just can’t be someone that enjoys making music. You have to be somebody totally different that they judge and pick at. I can’t imagine what it’s like being Jay-Z and Beyonce. Their child is in the media every day because her hair is like this, or whatever. To deal with that is nuts, but that’s what comes with it.

TRHH: What’s Beauty and the Beast’s importance in Rapsody’s catalog?

Rapsody: I just think for my journey, where I am skill-wise, where I am in my career, and where the culture is Beauty and the Beast hit at the right time. Coming off the momentum of She Got Game, there is a resurgence of females making headway again in Hip-Hop. It’s the rise of the indies, it’s like the perfect storm. Beauty and the Beast is a project that helps start the conversation that females can rap just as well as men. You can’t call us “female emcees”. Give us a respectful title, “emcee” like you would anybody else. You can’t box us in. It feels good to read people’s comments like, “Yo, she’s not a female emcee, she’s an emcee,” or “She can rap just as good as any of your favorite artists out,” or “She’s in my top 5 out of everybody.” Just to break those barriers, that’s what I think is the great thing about Beauty and the Beast, the time that it dropped, and everything surrounding it. That’s what I’m glad to see. I just want to do my part for the culture and help other artists that are female.

Purchase: Rapsody – Beauty and the Beast

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Juice: Bar’d Up

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Photo courtesy of Juice

Photo courtesy of Juice

In the 1993 KRS-One song ‘Outta Here’ he spit the rhyme, “Some said all they wanna do is battle, they can’t write a song, so their careers won’t last long.” That line was in reference to KRS’ start in rap in the mid-80s, but it still applies to battle rappers of today.

One emcee who has attempted to escape from the battle rap box is Chicago’s Juice. Most known for his defeat of Eminem and subsequent victory in the 1997 Scribble Jam, MC Juice has gone on to release a handful of projects that show fans that he does more than freestyle. Juice is scheduled to release two new albums in 2014 titled ‘Bar’d Up’ and ‘It Is What It Is’ respectively.

The projects are coming during a tough time in Juice’s life. While relocating to California, Juice was stopped by police in Nebraska, had $22,000 in cash seized and now faces ten years in prison. Juice is asking for help from his fans via indeigogo to assist with his legal fees. A $25 donation will get you both of Juice’s new albums while helping him clear his name in the courts.

The Real Hip-Hop chatted with Juice about his upcoming projects, his place in Chicago Hip-Hop history, and the legal situation that could land him in prison for a decade.

TRHH: You’re releasing two albums soon. Why’d you decide to drop two at the same time?

Juice: People hadn’t heard from me for a while. I started exploring different types of production and experimenting with new flows and hooks. I wanted to be able to offer music that satisfied my core fan base and the new fan base I am acquiring.

TRHH: The new single ‘When I’m Around’ is hard. Talk a little about the concept for that song.

Juice: The song was modeled after MJ’s return to basketball after being gone for a couple seasons. It’s really about me coming back in the game and reestablishing my dominance in the city. Only the rappers I respect are allowed to live under that scenario, so yeah, it does go kinda hard.

TRHH: Do you think being noted mostly as a battle rapper has helped or hurt your career?

Juice: Primarily, it has hurt my career. Historically, battle rappers are like Hip-Hop’s version of the circus act. There are no records to sell, no publishing to get, very little merchandising, and except for a cat like Supernatural, very little opportunity to tour. In my case, people know I can write but they try to deny it to keep me in a certain lane. Then they won’t have to put me in the top of anything. I am blessed to be in a rare class of artists who can emcee and freestyle as well as write. I am the ultimate threat to the one dimensional prototype commercial rapper. I can do what they do but they cannot do what I do – period. In a way, being pigeonholed has helped me creatively because nobody knows the actual level of my songwriting ability. I dare say that no one will be expecting what I hit them with. I can’t wait to see people’s reaction when it drops.

TRHH: What’s your writing process like?

Juice: It’s very fast when I am inspired. It just pours out. If I am not inspired, I write some of the worst stuff you will ever hear anywhere. It also takes me a very long time if the beat isn’t up to par. “For years, I would carry beats like Nick Cannon’s ex/Now I only write to the best quality tracks I can get.”

TRHH: What did you think when you heard about the kid from Arizona calling himself Juice?

Juice: I actually found it flattering. My guys, not so much though. I actually met dude at a show I did in Phoenix. At the time his name was Rugby. He hit me up on some Black Wall Street shit instead of on some Hip-Hop shit, but there was no tension. I’ve got some serious ties out there in Arizona so I wasn’t worried. Rugby basically told me he thought I was dope and shortly after changed his name to Juice. I don’t think he really knew that the name “Juice” means respect. I have built the name to embody a certain skill level and when he couldn’t reach that level it was basically over for him.

TRHH: Talk a little about the legal situation you’re dealing with.

Juice: Let me try to be brief; there are new laws that allow police to pull you over and take your money, valuables and/or property “legally”. These are called Civil Forfeiture Laws. In most cases you are not charged with a crime if you sign the money or valuables away to the police. The police department receives 80% of everything they seize and 20% goes to the US government.  My case is a little different though. Twenty two thousand dollars was seized from me and my lady. I threatened to sue and would not sign the money away so we are now being charged with illegal possession of money. We are each facing 10 years in a Nebraska prison. I have put together a fundraiser where people can buy my two new projects and support my cause. The money from albums sold will help me hire a legal defense team to beat the charges. People can go to www.helpmcjuice.com to help.

TRHH: When I think of Chicago Hip-Hop I think of Common, Twista, and Juice. What do you think your place is in the history of Chicago Hip-Hop?

Juice: Well I used to equate my place here with the lack of commercial success I have had. So my list would have been as follows: Common, Kanye, Twista, me, and Lupe. After being out here doing shows and grinding I have to say that people generally think I am the #1 rapper from Chicago and the backbone of the Hip-Hop scene here as we know it. I am learning that respect for the art form outweighs commercial success in the hearts and minds of most people. I think I embody a dedication to and an elevation of the art form in a different way than a lot of other Chicago emcees.

Help MC Juice

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Mama Sol: Inside Out

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Photo courtesy of Rynelle Walker

Photo courtesy of Rynelle Walker

Mama Sol is a poet, teacher, motivational speaker, and an emcee. Her music and her life is filled with messages of not only the struggle, but also hope – hope for a better future. Sol doesn’t waste time solely pointing out the negative, she also shines light on the positive — it’s in her nature.

The Flint, Michigan native is also a breast cancer survivor – something you don’t “survive” without a positive mental attitude. Sol doesn’t mind telling her story to others in hopes that she can educate and inspire – it’s in her nature.

Mama Sol’s latest musical release with her band Tha N.U.T.S., ‘Inside Out’ is another dope display of her music with a message. The full-length album features appearances by B. Pace, Johnny Manuel, Arubus, Mumu Fresh, and Stic.Man of Dead Prez.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mama Sol about her fight with cancer, forming her band Tha N.U.T.S., and her new album, Inside Out.

TRHH: How’d you get into emceeing?

Mama Sol: My brother. My brother rest his soul inspired me to learn. I’d write poetry somewhat. I’d write down my thoughts and share them with him. He said, “Sis you need to start putting this on a beat and letting other people hear it.” As a kid I was always a writer and he inspired me to start putting it to music.

TRHH: Where’d the name “Mama Sol” come from?

Mama Sol: Well “Sol” is a name that my family has always called me because I’m a Leo and it’s a sun sign. Sun is my ruling planet and my sign. When I started teaching at an African centered school in Detroit all the kids addressed the adults as “Mama” and “Baba” because they were taught Swahili. They attached Mama to Sol. When I decided to leave the school to pursue music full-time I promised my students that I would keep that name for them.

TRHH: I discovered you from the song ‘Manhood’. I really love it. What inspired you to make that song?

Mama Sol: Thank you. I was having a conversation with a friend. They were discussing the whole child support issue and I told them I don’t get child support. They were surprised and I told them I hate court. I hate the way the system is designed. It dawned on me that I don’t know any deadbeat fathers. I don’t know any except my son’s father. As adults sometimes we have to realize that we made the decision to be parents. We can’t rely on the system to determine how children are raised or who sees who according to who has what. I felt like I owed that to all the brothers that helped me raise my son and all the brothers that are active and effective fathers. It came from my heart. It’s kind of more of a love song than anything else. Maybe I just have good friends but I don’t know any deadbeat fathers. We shine too much light on negativity and hate instead of love and positivity. So I wanted to write the song in tribute to these men because they deserve it.

TRHH: That’s interesting because in listening to you I realized I don’t know any deadbeat dads either. For some reason it’s the label we get as black men but I don’t know a single person that doesn’t take care of their children.

Mama Sol: Yeah. Think about the circle that you keep if you’re surrounded by a bunch of people that don’t take care of their kids and everybody is on child support and in and out of court. Come on, don’t nobody have time for that! I don’t. I don’t want them couple pennies. If you haven’t taken the initiative to help your child physically, mentally or, financially you going to court and being forced to do this is not going to necessarily light a fire under you. Having a child creates an unconditional love that I don’t think you’ve ever felt before until you have a child. If that light didn’t go off when you saw that child, held them, and said, “This is mine, I have to protect and nurture this child,” best believe the court system is not going to set that off. And now we got another brother in prison because of a lack of love. Where is the balance? It’s messed up how it’s set up. It’s some good guys out here and they deserve a little more recognition than they get.

TRHH: Your music is hard to put in a box. It has so many different elements in it. How would you describe your sound?

Mama Sol: It’s pure and it’s honest. A lot of times we don’t get a lot of honesty from artists. I’ve been through a lot so I give you every aspect of me. My music is like a diary of my life. My new CD Inside Out is not a Friday night “let’s go kick it” CD, it’s a Saturday morning “let’s clean the house” CD. It’s a CD you don’t have to take out if your boss came to the door or if your kids or your mother are in the house. The space that I’m in right now is where Inside Out was written. It is soul music because it comes from my soul. It comes from this inner space, but at the end of the day I’m a poet and I have a way with words. I don’t have a label for it. I don’t like to label myself as anything other than pure and honest. I’m just seeking enlightenment and as I grow the music will grow and the message will. You’ve got to refine yourself.

TRHH: There was a time in Hip-Hop where honesty was the norm. I’m 38 so I’ve seen Hip-Hop change a lot. When I was a kid there was Chuck D and Public Enemy, and that was okay. There was Ice Cube, and that was okay. There was Fresh Prince, and that was okay. Today mainstream Hip-Hop is very cookie cutter and you have to be a certain way. It seems a lot less honest. Why do you think that change happened?

Mama Sol: Partially I think videos played a large part in that – the imagery. I have older brothers and they put Chuck D and all of that into our heads as little kids. I’m familiar with all of those artists. I can recall a time where there weren’t million dollar emcees. I was watching Wild Style with my older brothers and they rapped for pizza, pop, and a couple dollars or whatever. They weren’t doing it for the money. It was a way to release. It was almost like an artist being able to write down their prayers. I think with the videos all the focus went on the money, cars, jewelry, champagne, and all of that. The videos kind of shifted everything. I don’t remember seeing videos of Rakim and Chuck D.

Me and my son went on Youtube and pulled up older artists and was just looking at the differences in the videos. They weren’t based on what you have. I think the imagery of Hip-Hop changed. People aren’t comfortable with themselves – the majority of people. It’s very difficult to find people that are comfortable with who they are and where they are and want to tell that story because somebody else is going through it. That’s tough to find. It’s at a point right now if you turn on videos you’re not going to see a video where people are telling a story and the video actually goes with the song. What we see we internalize and we want to become that. I think we kind of lost our sense of self along our way. It’s sad to say.

TRHH: When I think of Flint, I think of MC Breed. That’s all I know about Flint, Michigan. What’s the Hip-Hop scene like in Flint?

Mama Sol: There are a lot of good artists in Flint, actually. There is so much more than Hip-Hop. Jon Connor just signed to Aftermath with Dr. Dre last year. He’s out in L.A. doing a lot and he took Justin Daye with him. 1000 Bars is a very profound artist. They have The Art of Hip Hop, which is something they have at the Greater Flint Art Council. They have shows and everything but it’s a small city. There is a lack of love as far as self-love dealing with young African Americans. Flint is small and the mentality of the people here is trying to outshine each other. I was telling someone the other day, “If you compete with the person down the street you’ll never leave the block.” I really don’t focus on it. I’m not really involved in a lot of things that go on in the Hip-Hop scene here unless they hire me to come in and speak or do something. I try to do things on a scale where I can inspire instead of compete. I’m not here to compete with anyone. There is only one me and one you so there is no need for us to compete with each other. They try to compete with each other and being the best artist in Flint is like being the smartest person in special ed. It’s a small city and the mentality of the people is kinda small.

TRHH: Tell me about Tha N.U.T.S.

Mama Sol: [Laughs] New Under The Sun. They’re my brothers. I love them like family. My drummer Famada, he played with me from the inception of me deciding to do music full-time. He plays any drum that you put in front of him. He can play congas, djembe, or a set. His dad is a master drummer and he and I grew up together. My bass player Twain, and my keyboard player were in band together in high school. My DJ, he and I were doing music together in high school. When I came home I bumped into my DJ, Juice and he and I hadn’t seen each other in a while. He was like, “Yo, you still rapping?” and I actually wanted to get heavily back into it. I had breast cancer and was grazed by a bullet and I really had to take a hiatus from music for a long time. He and I just started recording.

I always wanted to play with a band. I never wanted to do the CD/rap thing. I’m really moved by live music so I started forming the band. Me and Famada were in Atlanta and I was doing some  stuff with the  Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation. They had a poetry set and I would fly down there and host it. Tha N.U.T.S. are kind of like The Roots, it’s just that the names are separated. I don’t even perform without them. I’m not going to show up with a CD or I’m just not going to take the gig – I’ll do poetry. I love those guys. We are one unit. We operate as one; I’m just the vocalist for the group. I’m the voice of the group but everybody is instrumental in making the whole movement move. I hold them in a very high regard in my success. I owe a lot to them. They’re like my brothers. We cry together, laugh together, eat together, we do everything together outside of rehearsal and shows. They’re like my family.

TRHH: You mentioned having breast cancer. Talk about the discovery, how you got through it, and what you learned about yourself through the whole ordeal.

Mama Sol: When I discovered I had breast cancer I was living in New York working with FUBU, the clothing line. I was writing commercials for them. I was going back and forth from New York and Columbus, Ohio involved in some negative activity. I ended up being grazed with a bullet and I was kind of ashamed at how the whole ordeal went down so I never told anybody. It was just a graze so I thought I could nurse it back to good health and keep it to myself. So I came back home for Christmas and New Year’s and my mother caught me feeling the side of my chest. She was like, “You all right? You got a lump or something?” I’m thinking it’s cartilage from the graze because it healed up pretty good. I just felt like I was blessed and should leave the streets alone. My mom had a sister who died of breast cancer. She was very adamant about me going to the doctor to get a biopsy and have them look at it. I’m thinking, “Alright ma, there’s nothing wrong.” So we made an appointment, went to the doctor, they scheduled a biopsy. They did the biopsy and it came back cancerous. It shocked the shit outta me. At the same time I looked at it like the ancestors, the most high, and the universe talking to me like, “Yo, you know better. We gave you these opportunities to go out there and write these commercials and you went out there and tried to make extra money that you didn’t need.” I felt like it was a time for me to back away from all of that — all of the hype and celebrity events that I was attending in New York.  It just killed me from the inside out. When I discovered I had breast cancer it was alarming but I never thought that I was gonna die. I tell people that when I go to speak on breast cancer. Your mind frame has a lot to do with you healing.

I never thought I was gonna die through five surgeries, radiation every day for three months. I refused chemotherapy and went with a holistic approach to healing and I’ve been fine ever since. I’ve maintained being a vegetarian, not drinking, not smoking, and keeping good company. I thank the cancer, I thank the bullet graze, and I thank the universe for handing those things to me. I accept everything that comes to me. I don’t hate anything about my life, even at this point, even the bad things. That taught me to love more and take better care of myself, my mind, and my energy and protect that. I do that on a daily basis. I spend a lot of time alone with my son or one or two friends but my focus is the world. How can I assist the world to become a better place? That’s what cancer taught me. You can heal yourself of anything. Everybody has cancer in their body. Some people have cancer of the mind. Disease is “dis-ease”, not being at ease. I healed and I’m still healing in many ways, not just from cancer. My brother passed away during that whole process. He got shot in Flint. It’s a lot of things you have to heal from and just keep moving forward. Cancer and that whole experience helped me to get to where I am now and being able to take care of myself and seek enlightenment in every situation because everything happens for a reason.

TRHH: What’s your goal in this music business? What do you want your legacy to be?

Mama Sol: I just want to be remembered in a positive light. I look up to Malcolm X, Assata Skaur, Maya Angelou, and Bob Marley. I wanna make my ancestors proud. Before I make any physical thing proud I want to make the spirit, the energy, and things that you can’t see happy and in harmony with me first and foremost. I don’t want the fruits of my labor to ever be more important than my labor. I don’t wanna be known as an artist that was able to obtain all these material possessions and rub ‘em in the face of the community. I’m an activist, a mother, a lover, and a liberator before I am a Hip-Hop artist. I hold those things in high regard – being a good mother, daughter, and friend. At the end of the day I need my mother to be happy. I need the people that I encounter in the community to say, “I like Sol’s spirit,” which makes it easy to accept my music.

I’m more of a historian than a Hip-Hop artist. I’m constantly studying and trying to regurgitate these lessons in my music, my speaking, and in my daily living. I want people to remember that aspect of me. That’s what’s going to come through in my music – the genuine and pure search of enlightenment. I want people to say, “That’s somebody that helped me at some point,” or “That’s somebody that encouraged me at some point,” not somebody that took from me or, “I start listening to Sol and was ready to shoot a nigga.” I just want to leave that type of legacy for those that listen to my music. Where music takes me as far as labels and all that business, I don’t know. I know this is something I’m going to do regardless of who pays attention. In saying that, I just want people to know that it came from my heart and I worked in the spirit of my ancestors and getting their approval. In return, people that are living now think I’m a good person, and my soul is at peace with that.

Purchase: Mama Sol & Tha N.U.T.S. – Inside Out

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Edo.G: After All These Years

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Photo courtesy of Myster DL

Photo courtesy of Myster DL

With over twenty years under his belt in the business of rap Boston based emcee Edo.G continues to produce excellent product. Edo’s latest release was funded by fans via Kickstarter, and is the first release from Edo’s 5th & Union record label. ‘After All These Years’ is easily one of the best rap albums of 2014 and the title says it all – after all these years, Edo still goes hard on the mic.

After All These Years features production by Pete Rock, Marco Polo, Vanderslice, Explizit One, and 9th Wonder. Joining Edo on the album are Chuck D, Camp Lo, G-Dot & Born, Guilty Simpson, Walter Beasley, King Magnetic, and Jaysaun and Slaine of Special Teamz.

Edo.G spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his new 5th & Union record label, working with Chuck D of Public Enemy on the single ‘Fight’, and his new album, After All These Years.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, ‘After All These Years’.

Edo.G: The title was just fitting being that it was my eleventh studio album. I’ve been basically putting in work since day one, man. And I’m still grinding hard and at a high level. I think I’m actually at my highest level right now lyrically in my career and I’m still putting it down after all these years.

TRHH: Why’d you decide to go the Kickstarter route for this album?

Edo.G: First because I really wanted to see if my fans would support me. That was one of the main reasons, man. Obviously me and my partner Jamieson Grillo started our own label called 5th & Union that we put this record out on. That was all part of it. I wanted to be totally independent and do what I wanted. I really just wanted to see if the fans would step up and help me reach my goal. That really motivated me more to keep hittin’ fans with music because they did. They over-funded it and we were able to launch the label and put out this product right now.

TRHH: How’d you wind up working with Chuck D for the single ‘Fight’?

Edo.G: Of course I’ve known Chuck for a long time. They were in town in Boston a couple of years back and he was doing the Hip Hop Gods Tour. I came through and rocked out with Monie Love, and everybody. I asked him, “Chuck, I need to get you on my album. I got this record that I think you’d sound dope on,” and he was like, “Word, send it to me.” He knocked it out and it was that simple. And then he was blessing enough to do the video which actually took it to another level. He’s a great dude, man. I work with him and I definitely look to him for certain advice. A lot of people don’t know he has an aggregate called SPITdigital where you can go through them to get on iTunes. That’s what I go through to get my iTunes stuff. Check out that site, SPITdigital.com.

TRHH: I talked to Chuck and he’s one of my most favorite interviews. We spoke in depth about SPITdigital. It’s opening up doors for a lot of people to do their own thing.

Edo.G: They blessed me by putting me down with that. For those that don’t know, unless you’re a label or a web guy you have to go through a third party to get on iTunes. Chuck and them only take 10 percent.  There’s no uploading fees like TuneCore and all these other sites that people go to and basically get robbed. Deal with Hip-Hop, it’s a fair deal.

TRHH: Pete Rock is on the album. You seem to have incredible chemistry with Pete dating back to My Own Worst Enemy. Talk about what it’s like working with Pete Rock.

Edo.G: Pete is obviously one of the best producers in Hip-Hop of all-time Every time I get a chance to do something with him I’m super-psyched and the rhymes just seem to come out easily. They flow out of me, man when I’m rocking on his beats. These actual beats were old beats. They were from cassettes that I didn’t use on My Own Worst Enemy. I rehashed three beats from back then and put them on this album. You can’t tell that they’re from 2002 or whenever. They sound like they’re from right now. His music is timeless and that was a point that I wanted to prove.

TRHH: The last time I spoke to you was five years ago when Arts & Entertainment came out. You said that there wasn’t enough originality in Hip-Hop at the time. Do you think that’s changed since then?

Edo.G: Yeah. I think there are definitely a lot more people doing their own thing from that time. But still, if you’re talking commercially things haven’t changed. You know how that goes. It’s the same thirty records across the country. That hasn’t changed but independently people are doing a lot more things. You got 50 Cent who is independent now and there are a lot more people who are willing to take everything into their own hands and do it all.

TRHH: It’s definitely changing. It seems like more of an entrepreneurial movement going on. Do you think that’s due to music being more accessible by it being more digital now?

Edo.G: Yeah, of course. The internet plays a huge role in us being able to do it independently. We can still get to the masses without having to pay millions of dollars to have our records and videos played. There is no real outlet for videos besides the internet if you’re talking independent and underground Hip-Hop. We’re able to reach the masses and millions of people, thousands in my case, but other people reach millions independently without any of that. It’s played a big role. Obviously it’s diminished the CD except for live performances. You can sell a ton of CD’s on the road. With this album we brought it back with vinyl and cassette – we went all the way.

TRHH: On the song ‘16s’ you spit some battle rhymes. Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of fans say they don’t want to hear rapping about rap. They want to hear stories that they can relate to or stuff that touches them. Why do you think this segment of rap fans is growing when battle rap is what the music was founded on?

Edo.G: In underground Hip-Hop there are a ton of people spitting battle raps. Maybe if the people are crying out and asking for stories and things like that, that’s what they want. The song 16s is really self-explanatory – it’s kind of a battle rap song. That particular record is just about that. I spit a lot of battle rhymes on this album on certain songs but you do have songs like ‘Da Beef Goes On’ which talks about domestic violence and different things that go on in relationships between grown men and grown women. I got a song with Walter Beasley called ‘Let Da Horns Blow’, produced by Pete Rock. I try to touch upon a lot of things in one verse to make you think.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with your label 5th & Union?

Edo.G: We’d like to really be a niche label. We’re trying to carve out our own little niche and create a nice catalog of good music. We do intend to put out other artists in the future. Right now we’re focusing obviously on me. We still have more product from me coming. I have a documentary called ‘I Got to Have It’ coming next year that we’re finishing up. We got another record coming next year too. We just want to be that little niche label that gives good product and puts out a lot of vinyl, cassettes, and special packages. We feel that people like to get more for their buck than just a CD or a download. We want to give them a bunch of stuff. We’re trying to be a brand basically and feed the people what they need.

TRHH: Why is After All These Years an important album in 2014?

Edo.G: It’s important for me because I want to just continue to do what I’ve been doing on a high level, and even on a higher level in these next years to come with that real Hip-Hop music. For me it was important to do the Kickstarter and make sure that my fans really wanted to hear me. If that didn’t happen it would have been, “Oh well, what’s the next step?” The fans spoke and they want to hear the music so I’m going to continue to feed ‘em. That’s why it was an important album for me. And for the rest of this year we got more videos coming – a bunch more stuff for this album. Be on the lookout, BOLO![Laughs].

TRHH: Alright, man. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

Edo.G: I appreciate it too, man. All the people out there check the new album, After All These Years. You can get it on iTunes or redline.bigcartel.edog. Follow me on Twitter @EdoGBoston, Facebook: EdoGBoston, and Instagram: EdoGpics. One Love!

Purchase: Edo.G – After All These Years

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Rhymefest on AAHH! Fest

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Photo courtesy of Rhymefest

Photo courtesy of Rhymefest

This past weekend the first annual AAHH! Fest took place at Union Park in Chicago. The event featured an all-star lineup that was headlined by the festivals founder, Common. Other performers included Lupe Fiasco, Twista, Dave Chappelle, Jennifer Hudson, MC Lyte, De La Soul, Jay Electronica, SZA, Lil Herb, Damon Williams, and a special surprise performance by the one and only Kanye West.

Prior to the heavyweights taking the stage courtesy of the Common Ground Foundation, the 2014 AAHH! Fest featured a Community Stage that showcased aspiring young talent from music and arts programs throughout Chicago. The event was highlighted by a special performance from Diggy Simmons and was hosted by Chicago’s very own Rhymefest.

Rhymefest has been hands on with cultivating the talents of young artists in Chicago through his role as the Creative Director at Donda’s House. Along with Donda’s House founder, Kanye West, Rhymefest curated the “Got Bars” program – a program that allows young people to have a creative outlet and equips them with the tools to reach their potential.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Rhymefest during the event about his role at Donda’s House, his upcoming album, and the 2014 AAHH! Fest.

TRHH: Talk a little about your experience at The Community Stage.

Rhymefest: It’s legendary. Bringing arts, curriculum, and opportunity to young people who otherwise may not have had it – and it being brought by people who have experienced the best of it, the worst of it, and are teaching through giving. Being of service and not self-serving – I mean, it’s a beautiful thing.

TRHH: How has your work at Donda’s House helped you become a better human being?

Rhymefest: It’s taught me patience. It’s taught me about the human condition. It’s taught me about what’s necessary and what’s needed and it’s not only jobs. It ain’t only money, its validation, being listened to, and information. We suffer from the lack of information. My experience at Donda’s House has really taught me how to be a better organizer and leader.

TRHH: Early on you were vocal against the Drill movement in Chicago. After working with so many young people at Donda’s House what do you think is the best way to approach the youth and guide them in a more positive direction musically and personally?

Rhymefest: To correct it, I haven’t been against Drill music. I’ve been against glorification of killing. I’ve been against glorification of self-destructive behavior and fratricide. How can you not be against that? Anybody of moral conscience how can you not be against that? Example is the best way to guide young people. To go back to the lack of information, give them information and be an example of how that information and application is successful. What we did was go around the city and collaborate with 21 different community organizations, do open mics, and get young people involved. They all got to perform today on stage – the same stage with Jennifer Hudson, Common, Kanye. This is life changing for a lot of young people. If somebody could have grabbed Chief Keef or whoever before they went down a road and put ‘em on a stage like this we might have a whole ‘nother dynamic.

TRHH: Can you give us some insight into the Violence is Sexy album?

Rhymefest: Violence is Sexy is put on hold. It’s a new project coming. I changed the name and the direction of the album. That information is going to be released next month.

TRHH: What will you take away from the AAHH! Fest and what should the fans walk away with tonight?

Rhymefest: I think what I’m going to take away with what’s been happening today is anything you’re consistent with, you put your mind on, no matter what is said — hate or whatever, can be done. Anything that you collaborate and work with others and are consistent with, we can make it work if we work together. Collectivity is the key, that’s what I’m taking away. Lupe, Kanye, Common, this is the first time all of the legendary Chicago rappers are going to be together in one place. The first time ever – including Rhymefest. What people should take away is Hip-Hop has a bad rap, Chicago has an image problem, and today young, old, middle-aged, we all came together in the name of good music and community. And this can be done over and over. This is not the exception, this is the standard.

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A Conversation with Dinco D

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Photo courtesy of Jessica Glick

Photo courtesy of Jessica Glick

In 1991 a group called Leaders of the New School burst onto the scene with a colorful and energetic presence that had never been seen before in Hip-Hop. Charlie Brown, Busta Rhymes, and Dinco D each had completely different rhyme styles that managed to mesh together perfectly to create the Leaders sound.

The group released two albums, 1991s ‘A Future Without a Past…’ and 1993s ‘T.I.M.E.’, but are most known for their appearance on A Tribe Called Quest’s classic single ‘Scenario’. The group disbanded due to internal conflicts, but each emcee maintained their presence in Hip-Hop.

One member of Leaders in particular, Dinco D, left his imprint on 2014 with the Dinco De Mayo mixtape. Dinco’s latest release is a collaboration with Brooklyn rock band Shinobi Ninja called ‘MeUWe’.

Dinco D spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his start in the rap game, the breakup of Leaders of the New School, his current projects, and the possibilities of a Leaders reunion.

TRHH: Take me back to the very beginning. How did you start emceeing?

Dinco D: My brother had a local crew that had a DJ set. I used to bring records to him. I watched him coming up and picked it up on my own from there.

TRHH: How’d you link up with the other guys in Leaders?

Dinco D: We grew up together from elementary. Brown grew up three blocks from me. I went to school with his sisters. They were in my grade, Brown was a grade ahead of me, and Busta lived across town. I was doing stuff on my own and Brown seen me one day through a mutual friend and we connected since then.

TRHH: What role did Public Enemy have in your early career?

Dinco D: Public Enemy gave us our first big show. We opened up for them at a show in like ’88. It was our first big show out in Baltimore. Chuck D was like our tutor or our professor. He spoke to us about the music business, the industry, building a group, and he gave us the name Leaders of the New School. He gave Busta Rhymes his name and he gave Charlie Brown his name too – I just kept my name.

TRHH: The first album had a couple of hits on it. What was the group’s mentality going into Future Without a Past?

Dinco D: We was still in school so we wanted to make it relatable. We tried to keep the idea and the concept of the whole school thing. We all had samples. I used to have a lot of samples from my father’s record collection and we used a lot of those samples for the album.

TRHH: Let’s talk about the Tribe record ‘Scenario’. How did that song come about, and did you think it would be as big as it became?

Dinco D: We was both doing our thing around that time ‘cause we had been coming out doing shows. Finally at the same time when both of us was out we connected. Tip had talked about doing a song, everybody pushed it and we went over there and did it. We had did like four songs. It was different people on that song. Dres from Black Sheep was on there, Chris Lighty was on a version, De La Soul was on a version, Jarobi – we did like 3-4 versions. Finally we decided to narrow it down to us four and by the time we went into the studio to do the final version we knew it was a hit when we finished the record. Everybody did their verse right there. We went one-by-one and when everybody came out from doing their verse it was cheers.

TRHH: Do you think that’s the greatest posse song ever?

Dinco D: Yeah, it’s one of the best, man.

TRHH: I really like the remix, too.

Dinco D: It’s the only record where the original and the remix was played like it was both singles.

TRHH: I saw you guys perform on the Public Enemy tour with Tribe back in ’91 with some heavy acts like Geto Boys, Naughty by Nature, Jazzy and Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Latifah…

Dinco D: MC Lyte, yeah. It was different regions. We were on the Midwest dates of the tour. We didn’t do the West Coast dates, but we were on most of the dates for that tour.

TRHH: I remember you guys got almost no stage time. It was like two songs and y’all was out…

Dinco D: Yeah, it was about three songs.

TRHH: That’s crazy because Low End Theory was like the hottest record at the time. What was it like being on that tour with so many established acts?

Dinco D: It was a powerful tour. It was like 8 groups on that tour. It was fun. Some dates we would get a little extra time or we would catch the right crowd because we went on pretty early. Most of the dates we caught it was a real good tour.

TRHH: Dante Ross said on a podcast that the second album T.I.M.E. was wack. Was the chemistry off with you guys on that record and do you view it as being wack?

Dinco D: Hell no! That album is powerful. That was a classic album. Dante Ross really didn’t have too much to do with that album so he was a little upset. If he don’t have his hands in something he don’t really like to talk about it. We wasn’t really getting along with Dante Ross because they were doing a lot of shady stuff up at the label and he was involved in it. That album was classic, man. By that time we were so lyrically aggressive. The first album was a concept album and now that we’d proved ourselves we wanted the freedom to do what we do and lyrically go at it. It was a competitive album. It was lyrically dope and we were all at our prime in lyrical skills.

TRHH: You produced the song ‘What’s Next’ on that album, right?

Dinco D: Yes, yes.

TRHH: That song is incredible. I still bump that to this day.

Dinco D: Yo, peace.

TRHH: No doubt. Give us the story behind creating that song.

Dinco D: I was the first one to have an S950 and get my equipment at the crib. When we was traveling I used to buy records, come back, and work on stuff. When I found that sample I was like, “This is the song, I got it!” I went and made it at the crib upstairs in my house. We all had one song that we wanted to produce. We had different producers for the album but that was my song. I found that sample and I added on stuff. Brown helped me formulate some of the pieces with it. It was just a dope song. Nobody can deny that. That’s a dope record.

TRHH: On the outside looking in it seemed like Charlie Brown was the culprit in the split of the group, but I’ve read interviews with you that made it seem like Busta was responsible. To set the record straight, what’s the real story of the breakup of Leaders?

Dinco D: You know what, everybody had their part to do with it, man. The main part was the outside part. It was Dante Ross. Dante Ross was a part of the split-up, Lyor Cohen, and our management. There was a chance for Busta to stand his ground and tie it together where he could still do his solo thing and we could still make Leaders albums. Outside forces really worked on the split-up. He took it — ain’t nothing wrong with that. That just led to a wider crack opening the crack up for other things.

TRHH: Recently Dame Dash said that Lyor Cohen was a culture vulture…

Dinco D: Yeah! [Laughs] Listen, he was a part in breaking up a lot of groups.

TRHH: Why would he do that? How does that benefit Lyor?

Dinco D: You gotta understand Dante Ross and Lyor Cohen are outside dudes and they’re controlling stuff. They don’t really care about groups and the essence of it as long as they got a hand in it and they’re controlling something.

TRHH: So it’s basically about how they can get rich off of it.

Dinco D: Yeah, exactly. They take the key element out, or what’s hot right now and get rich off of it.

TRHH: I saw you perform on the Hip Hop Gods tour a few years ago. What was that experience like for you?

Dinco D: That was dope, man. That was dope. Brown was actually supposed to come out on that tour with me, but at the last minute he got sick and couldn’t make it. I had to handle that whole tour by myself. I had to change my show and do different stuff. It was a great experience though. I stepped up and handled that and it benefited.

TRHH: How did you wind up working with The Bigg East?

Dinco D: One of the dudes is my barber, he live in my house. The other dude is his cousin. I met them when I moved back to Long Island after moving from Atlanta. That’s how I connected with them cats.

TRHH: So you’re back in New York?

Dinco D: Back in New York. I’ve been back in New York for a couple years now. I was in Atlanta and Connecticut for a minute.

TRHH: What led you back to New York?

Dinco D: The music was changing down there. A lot of the business I was doing there was a whole different game from when I first went down there in ’96. I first moved down there in ’96 and then I moved back, but it changed to a whole different game.

TRHH: What’s next up for Dinco?

Dinco D: Right now I’m working on building some tours. I’m working with Chuck and the Bomb Squad on some more Hip Hop Gods stuff. I got some stuff coming with some other cats – The Bigg East. I’m working on an album with different bands. I got a single coming out that’s going to be crazy with Shinobi Ninja. I got a lot of projects. I’m just keeping busy and entertaining and making sure I leave a mark of some new stuff to give them an idea, man.

TRHH: Is there any truth to the rumors that there will be a Leaders reunion?

Dinco D: We talk about it. I talk to Busta here and there. It’s going to have to be up to him to step outside of his box and what he’s doing and make time for it. He talks about it, we’ve talked about it, so we’ll see, man.

Download: Dinco D – Dinco De Mayo

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Hilltop Hoods: Walking Under Stars

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Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

Photo courtesy of MAC Media Promo

This past Labor Day weekend Chicago’s North Coast Music Festival played host to some of the brightest stars in electronic dance music, but it was Hip-Hop and its rebellious spirit that will remain in the brains of Windy City concertgoers.

Raucous performances by the likes of Action Bronson, Talib Kweli, and Riff Raff entertained festivalgoers, and show stealing sets by headliners Kid Cudi, and Snoop Dogg capped off the weekend’s events.

Performing to a late arriving yet enthusiastic crowd Southern Australian trio Hilltop Hoods made new fans during their hour-long set in Chicago’s sweltering heat. New to America, but not new to the music business the Hoods are comprised of Suffa, MC Pressure, and DJ Debris.

The group recently released its seventh studio album, Walking Under Stars. The album features appearances by Maverick Sabre, Drapht, Aaradhna, Dan Sultan, and Brother Ali. In support of the album Hilltop Hoods are touring North America to expose this part of the globe to their brand of Hip-Hop.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Hilltop Hoods about their performance at the North Coast Music Festival, exposing American fans to their music, and their new album, Walking Under Stars.

TRHH: What’s it mean to you guys to perform at the North Coast Music Festival?

MC Pressure: North Coast Festival is an amazing opportunity for us. It’s our first time in Chicago so it means that we’re like fresh meat in front of an audience that don’t know who the fuck we are. It’s like starting all over again for us. We get to go out there, prove ourselves, have a lot of fun, meet new people, meet with our fan base, and connect with people we’ve never played in front of before, so it’s huge for us to be able to play this festival.

TRHH: How do you feel your set went?

Suffa: It was okay. We were early and we weren’t expecting anything. That’s the key when it comes to stuff like that. It was hot, but by the end we had a crowd and they were rocking with us. We enjoyed it.

MC Pressure: It’s kind of interesting to watch people’s faces. They kind of walk up with not much expectation and by the end of it those same people are kind of getting into it. That’s the reward for us.

TRHH: How is it different performing in the States versus performing in Australia?

Suffa: We’ve been doing it for a long time back home and we’re established. If we play a festival set like that back in Australia we’re usually on a headline spot so we’re playing to 10-20,000 people. You adjust your mindset and you’re playing to a few hundred, but we try to give the same set wherever we go regardless. If it’s 200 people or 20,000 we try to give the exact same energy. Your sun doesn’t help though [laughs].

MC Pressure: I thought the “C” in Chicago was meant to be fucking cold! You’re a bunch of liars. TV has lied to me [laughs].

TRHH: [Laughs] Hey, it’s the summer time, it’s going to be hot. Explain the title of the new album ‘Walking Under Stars’.

Suffa: This is part two of a set of albums we’ve done. We did ‘Drinking from the Sun’ in 2012 and this is the second record in the set of two. Drinking from the Sun was about Hip Hop in our country coming to the surface and becoming popular. Walking Under Stars is sort of like a celebration of that a little bit.

TRHH: What inspired the single ‘Won’t Let You Down’?

Suffa: Wifey [klaughs]. That’s a song about our partners. We were working with Maverick Sabre who has such a soulful voice and it lends itself to that sort of song. Wifey is a big fan of Maverick as well so it’s almost a gift to her as well getting one of her favorite singers on a track dedicated to her.

TRHH: The video was crazy! Who came up with that?

Suffa: [Laughs] I wrote most of our video treatments. There were a lot of people confused on Twitter, Facebook, and the Youtube comments and everything. I said it on Twitter and I mean it, I’d rather confuse you than bore you.

MC Pressure: Some people were just outright angry with the confusion that it caused saying, “I fucking hate this video ‘cause I don’t get it! It’s dope, but I don’t get it! Fuck you!”

Suffa: It polarized people. Some people were like, “I fuckin’ love it, this is really different.”

TRHH: I liked it.

Suffa: Oh cool, thank you.

TRHH: How’d you wind up working with Brother Ali on ‘Live & Let Go’?

MC Pressure: I’ve been a big fan of Ali and so have the other boys. In the last ten years everything he’s dropped has been dope. I’m a big fan of pretty much most of the shit that the Rhymesayers camp puts out. Our manager touched bases with Ashanti, his manager and we ended up meeting up with him in New York. We were recording at the Red Bull Studios there so we ended up hanging out with him for a couple days, getting to know him, and recording the track. It was a really fucking good opportunity for us to make a track organically. It’s so easy with the internet these days to throw someone a 16 bar verse or a beat or whatever. It was really good to have the opportunity to sit in the studio. All of us wrote our raps in the studio the day that we recorded them together. We were all on the same page so I think it really helped with the whole vibe and authenticity of the song as well.

Suffa: We’re working through our favorite emcees — emcee by emcee. We’ve worked with Pharoahe, Black Thought, Chali 2na, and now Ali.

DJ Debris: It’s a bucket list.

TRHH: Who’s next?

Suffa: I don’t want to say in case they don’t want to work with us [laughs].

TRHH: You guys have been around for a while and are big in Australia, but how important is it for the group to make it big in the U.S.?

Suffa: It’s not. That sounds weird but we’re ambitious with music and we work hard and everything, but we don’t lay there at night going, “We’ve gotta make it, we’ve gotta make it.” We’re established back home, we’ve toured for years, we’ve bought our houses, we’ve got our families set up, so if we can get it popping over here it’s definitely a bonus and something we’d love, but as far as priorities go, our priorities are family and shit like that. Ambition goes down the page a bit.

MC Pressure: I think the bottom line is as long as we can make a living off of our music and be comfortable, that’s enough. We don’t have to be rich or the biggest. As long as we’re comfortable and we can make the music that we want to make, tour, and bring it to people – especially overseas. It’s a gift for us to be able to come over here and perform to several hundred people at a side show. Ten years ago I never would have dreamed that I could come to the States, the birthplace of Hip Hop, and be able to perform in front of 3-4-500 people at our own show. That’s a gift for us. It’s almost like a luxury.

Suffa: But if it does pop off then we’ll take that [laughs].

MC Pressure: Of course. I think that’s the best attitude to have. You can’t try to blow up. You just have to make the music that you’re feeling, be authentic, and make sure your music is you. If it happens, cool. That’s the only way to blow up. You can’t just aim to blow up. You come up fast and you disappear just as fast.

TRHH: What do you guys think of Iggy Azalea and how are people feeling her back home in Australia?

Suffa: She’s just as popular back home as she probably is here. She’s pretty big with the kids. To be honest I can’t comment on her because I’m outside that world. I’m listening to the new Roots album, Pharoahe’s P.T.S.D., and that type of music. I haven’t even heard her so I can’t comment on her. Most people consider her an American artist because she’s lived here for such a long time and she uses the American accent. It’s very much rap music rather than Hip-Hop.

MC Pressure: She’s a product of the American music industry and not the Australian industry. Obviously she was born in Australia, but her music comes from here. People don’t look at her like homegrown music.

Suffa: She’s successful; more power to her, fuck it.

TRHH: You guys are touring North America for all of September, what do you have in-store for fans that come and see your show?

DJ Debris: Hopefully less hot weather [laughs]. No, we’ve got a bunch of songs off the new album that we’re slowly introducing on this tour. We’ve got songs from our last album, what more can we say?

Suffa: We’ve got a live drummer Plutonic Lab. We’re just trying to bring energy. It’s exciting for us to be in a new territory so every time we come out we’re trying to bring as much energy as we can.

MC Pressure: It’s not even like a manufactured energy. We played in Minneapolis last night and I was like, “I hope someone walks up to this gig.” We had a few hundred people in there and that’s fucking amazing! That’s exciting to us.

DJ Debris: We played Madison and that was hype as shit.

MC Pressure: Pardon my ignorance but I didn’t even know where Madison was before we rocked up there in a bus. We rocked out at a show to a gang of motherfucker’s that knew our music. That’s a privilege.

TRHH: What’s next up for Hilltop Hoods?

Suffa: We go back to Australia. We’re doing our tour over there finally. We haven’t toured Australia for like two years so people at home are starting to get mad [laughs].

MC Pressure: They’re mad at us because we came to North America before we did home!

Suffa: It’s hot over here so we’re waiting for the Australian summer to tour probably. We’ll tour hard for the next year, hopefully be back here next year again and in Europe around July. We’re just going to hug the road really.

Purchase: Hilltop Hoods – Walking Under Stars

See Hilltop Hoods on tour:

9.05.14Bluebird Theater – DENVER

9.06.14The Aggie – FORT COLLINS

9.07.14Park City Live – PARK CITY

9.09.14The Roxy – LOS ANGELES

9.11.14Crocodile – SEATTLE

9.12.14Commodore – VANCOUVER

9.13.14Rifflandia Festival – VICTORIA

9.15.14Garfinkel’s – WHISTLER

9.16.14Wild Bill’s – BANFF

9.18.14 Dinwoodie – EDMONTON

9.19.14SAIT – CALGARY

9.20.14O’Brien’s Event Centre – SASKATOON

9.24.14Underworld – MONTREAL

9.25.14The Hoxton – TORONTO

9.27.14Brooklyn Bowl – NEW YORK

9.28.14Middle East – CAMBRIDGE

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Cormega: Mega Philosophy

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Photo courtesy of Vshootz

Photo courtesy of Vshootz

Veteran emcee Cormega is back with his first studio album in five years titled “Mega Philosophy”. The critically acclaimed release is classic Cormega with his “less is more” approach to emceeing that gives the listener food for thought in every verse.

The album’s first single ‘Industry’ finds Mega pulling back the curtain on the music business. The Queens emcee raps on Industry, “When Styles made ‘I Get High’ it was playing all day/When Styles made ‘I’m Black’ it didn’t get enough play/ I guess they got a problem with anything positive/It doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t bring dollars in.”

Mega Philosophy is produced entirely by one of rap music’s greatest producers, Large Professor and features an A+ cast of guest stars including Raekwon, Redman, Styles P, AZ, Maya Azucena, Chantelle Nandi, Nature, and Black Rob.

Cormega spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about working with Large Professor, his quest for positivity in his life and in his music, the recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and his new album, Mega Philosophy.

TRHH: Explain the title of your new album, ‘Mega Philosophy’.

Cormega: It’s not much to it. The title is basically a reflection of what the album is, which is a reflection of my thoughts on particular topics. It’s my ideologies and what I believe. It’s just an album full of my thoughts.

TRHH: Why’d you decide to have Large Professor produce the entire project?

Cormega: I mean, he’s Large Professor. That was an opportunity that was just worth it. I had to seize that opportunity.

TRHH: You say some real heavy stuff on the single ‘Industry’. Talk about what inspired that song.

Cormega: I guess the industry did. That song is nothing but me putting a mirror to the industry. It’s me talking about what I’ve seen and speaking on reality. I’m just saying some point blank, accurate, factual stuff that if you give it a little bit of thought, not even a lot of thought, you’ll tend to agree with me. I had to do it tastefully and in a way that doesn’t come across as some dude that’s mad at the industry ‘cause that’s the not case. I’m actually able to make a living from the industry but I’m not going to conform to the bull crap that I see.

TRHH: Well you never really have in your career. When I think of Cormega I don’t think of somebody who has conformed to industry norms ever.

Cormega: Thank you, I try not to.

TRHH: In the late 80s and early 90s lots of emcees put excerpts from speeches by Minister Farrakhan in their songs. You don’t hear it as much today. Whose idea was it to have Minister Farrakhan snippets on ‘Industry’?

Cormega: Mine. When I did ‘Industry’ I just wanted to have something on there that was monumental and something that drove home what I was trying to say. I heard what Farrakhan was saying and it just complimented the song perfectly and I was blown away by it. It was perfect. So I put it together and the rest was history.

TRHH: When did you discover Islam and how has it changed your life?

Cormega: I don’t know when I discovered Islam. Islam has always been there. It’s not about discovering Islam, it’s about embracing Islam. There’s many branches of it. You have Nation of Islam, you have the Nation of Gods and Earths, and you have traditional Muslims. I’ve always been fascinated with Islam. Some of the figures from rap that were into Islam whether it was Rakim, Kane, or Kool G Rap are some of the greatest emcees of all-time. If you name ten of the greatest emcees of all-time probably 8 of them were either affiliated or influenced by Islam. That’s just something that’s going to make any emcee take note that’s going to be great. I think it’s impacted my life in a lot of ways. It makes me strive to be a more positive person. It pushes me to be disciplined and it makes me humble myself. In this day and age when Islam is criticized by the media and given a bad light due to the actions of a few, I feel like it’s more of an incentive for positive Muslims to show how positive they are and to contribute to the world in a positive manner.

TRHH: Speaking of positivity, you have a song on the album with Nature called ‘Divine Unity’. You and Nature have a history of beef. What led to you two squashing the beef and doing a song together?

Cormega: I think that’s a misconception. Me and Nature don’t have a history of beef. We just had a disagreement. A history of a beef is America and Russia [laughs]. We didn’t have a long stretched out period of differences and animosity. It was very short lived. We just had misunderstandings. Me and him have been cool for a very long time. We didn’t even squash nothing ‘cause it was nothing to squash. Me and him been cool for many, many years. The idea of doing a record was to show people that we’re bigger than grudges and it’s about unity. We understand our legacy and where we come from – not just the era but the community that we come from. We’re trying to set the bar and lead by example. I’m going to remix that song and try to get as many people as possible on it.

TRHH: You also squashed your issues with Nas some years ago. Take me back to what you thought the first time you heard ‘One Love’.

Cormega: I really don’t feel like answering that. That’s one of those questions that I answered so many times that it feels out of place to answer in 2014. Whenever somebody gives you love you always appreciate that. I’ll say that, but I’m just tired of talking about all that stuff.

TRHH: Okay, what’s your opinion on the situation in St. Louis? A guy in New York was choked out by the cops and obviously Mike Brown in St. Louis was shot and killed — it seems like the late 80s all over again. What’s your opinion on the current situations going on where seemingly innocent unarmed black men are being murdered by the police over nothing?

Cormega: I don’t think that there was ever a point where there’s been police hostility and brutality toward minorities and there was a cease or a point where it lessened. I think what has happened in recent years is the technological boom has caused the world to take notice in different situations. Nowadays when things happen people have their phones and their phones have cameras in them and the cameras are very good quality. What was once compressed and swept under the rug is hard to do now when nearly everybody has a camera in their phone.

I think America really needs to be ashamed of itself. If the country was a person it needs to put its head down in shame. This country was built by slave masters and its laws were made by slave masters. Its laws were governed by people that adhere to the rules and abide by the rules with a slave master mentality. So when the police come to urban neighborhoods they have the look on their face like hunters. I see it myself. Their eyes are wide as they stare through the window of their car, driving by slowly looking at you. You could just be minding your business eating an ice cream cone. You could be the most innocent guy. You might be an entrepreneur, a doctor, a lawyer, they don’t know what you are but they just look at you like that.

The racial lines are drawn and there is a contempt for people of color that has never disappeared. America gives off the illusion of one community, but it’s only an illusion. The reality is racism is as alive and prominent as it’s ever been. It’s just there are different ways to manifest now. There’s different ways to oppress, exploit, and enslave. The police have always had hostility toward people in the community and now it’s just being manifested. The thing that’s different now is people are getting tired of it. Police scare people. Their aura, energy level and way they conduct themselves is like they’re a secret army to themselves. People are tired of that and now people are trying to rebel. St. Louis is a reflection of people being tired. The fact that it’s unarmed innocent brothers that this is happening to is making people rebel. That’s what we’re seeing right now.

TRHH: Why is it important for you to speak on social issues in your music?

Cormega: I really don’t know. To be honest I don’t know why it’s important. I have no answer for that. When I do stuff I do it from the heart. I don’t know if my music will make a difference in the world. I don’t know if my words will change what’s happening in the world, but I know my words will reveal what’s happening. My words depict what I’m seeing and what I’m feeling. When I write, I write from a perspective of somebody that’s seeing it – a narrator or a journalist. I’m giving people an in depth look at my world, my thoughts, and my ideologies. That’s what it is. I don’t know what impact the music will have, that’s for the people to decide. I just do what I feel is right.

TRHH: Why is Mega Philosophy an important album in 2014?

Cormega: I think Mega Philosophy is the voice of a lot of people. I think it’s the voice of the voiceless. I think it’s for the people that are frustrated with rap, but not totally against rap. I think there is a growing number of people that want to embrace rap. They want to listen to content and substance that they can relate to but they wasn’t getting it. I think it was a breath of fresh air and the reason I’m using that term is because I’ve seen it used many times by fans. If you go on my Twitter timeline you can see the response from the people. The people have spoken. A lot of people said it’s the album of the year. A lot of people are just saying “Thank you for this album.” I’ve never had people tell me “thank you” for an album. The response from the fans has been inspiring. I’m humbled, appreciative, and in awe by the response – that’s how I feel.

I felt like I was going to lose a lot of people with this album because I was talking some other stuff and sometimes people ain’t ready for that. There are some people that I lost, obviously. No matter what you do you’re always going to lose people. But I’ve gained so many. This is my best-selling album in years. It’s the biggest buzz I had in years and I didn’t even have to diss anybody, say any names, be disrespectful, or cause controversy. All I did was speak facts and my theories on things. The song ‘Industry’ was released on May 20. Here we are in August and you still see ‘Industry’ everywhere in social media and people are still talking about it around the world. For that song to do that in 2014 where hot records die out in a week is amazing. I’m definitely taken aback by the response. I’d be lying if I said I knew it would be embraced like this. I had no idea. I’m really thankful.

Purchase: Cormega – Mega Philosophy

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