For the past nine years Rhymesayers Entertainment has brought us the nation’s only remaining Hip-Hop festival, Soundset. Emcees, DJ’s, B-Boys and B-Girls, graffiti artists, and producers converge on the Minneapolis area annually to celebrate the culture of Hip-Hop.
This year the event took place at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Sunday, May 29 and featured four stages with performances by A$AP Rocky, Common, The Roots, Future, Machine Gun Kelly, Danny Brown, and Doomtree among others.
One member of the Doomtree collective, Sims took the time to chat with The Real Hip-Hop at Soundset about the importance of the festival, the upcoming Presidential election, the legacy of music icon, Prince, and the next Sims solo album.
TRHH: It’s been about five years since Doomtree performed at Soundset as a collective. What does it mean to you to be performing at an event like this with your crew?
Sims: I think Rhymesayers built something incredible with Soundset. It expands every year and it’s now gone from a local festival to one that’s on par with any one that we’ve ever played internationally or nationally. For one, props to Rhymesayers. It’s amazing what they’ve built. To be a part of that, support that, and chill with all those people out there and celebrate Minnesota rap music, and rap music in general, it feels great.
TRHH: How is it different performing with Doomtree versus performing on your own?
Sims: It’s a totally different set of songs. When I do the solo stuff I do my own Sims material. When we do Doomtree stuff we just do Doomtree songs. It’s like having two bands. It’s great that way. Nothing ever gets too old. Doing solo stuff you get to showcase more everything that you can do, doing Doomtree stuff you fit into a piece of something bigger, crazier, and more amazing, too.
TRHH: Is it hard to come up with a set list?
Sims: It can be but now we have Paper Tiger just do it and there are no arguments. That’s the new policy. He’s like, “I picked it, and that’s what it is.”
TRHH: Is there anyone you’re excited to see perform today just as a fan?
Sims: Yeah and I already missed him. I was really stoked to see Mick Jenkins. I saw Anderson .Paak which was great – he killed it. It’s a hugely great lineup. I love everybody from the mainstream guys to the independent most underground dudes on this thing. I like a lot of these people playing today so I’m going to try and catch whatever I can.
Fans of Soundset
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Fans of Soundset
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
Fans of Soundset
Photo courtesy of Sherron Shabazz
TRHH: What is it about the Minneapolis scene that it produces so many rap acts that they say are “alternative” but they push the boundaries of what Hip-Hop norms are?
Sims: I think that there is a long tradition of Minnesota music in general that does that. There was a punk label called Amphetamine Reptile, which really pushed the boundaries of what punk music was, is, and does. Prince really pushed the boundaries of what pop music is, was, and does and how sexuality, gender, and race work. There is a tradition of how that’s celebrated in Minnesota. Being different is very cool. It’s okay to be weird and you, and we have a scene that supports weird and supports cool. You’re not automatically on the outside if you’re doing some weird thing. You get a couple more second chances here. For better or worse a lot of bad art gets a lot of second chances, which can be good when you start making good art because not everybody starts out good [laughs].
TRHH: You spoke on Prince; just touch on him and what he means to music in general.
Sims: Like I said, he pushed the boundaries of what one man could do with his life. He learned every instrument, played every instrument on his record and wrote. He has a vault of songs that have never come out. He pushed the boundaries of fashion, sexuality, gender, and race. He questioned our norms and how we do things and did it fearlessly. He was unabashedly himself. In Minnesota, he didn’t leave. He was our ambassador to the world. He stayed here because he was proud to be from here and that meant something to us. When he died there were thousands of people in the streets for days on end. We actually did go into a state of mourning because he was something different than a musician to us. It’s a hard thing to qualify with language what that feeling actually is.
TRHH: I think the world is mourning Prince.
Sims: Absolutely. Indeed, indeed.
TRHH: I know you get political sometimes, what’s your take on our possible Presidential candidates, Trump and Clinton?
Sims: I gotta tell you, man, I’m kind of checked out of this one. I’m not really participating in this election cycle. I’m over it. The choices will be presented for me between the candidates that are up, but I’m not super-thrilled about anybody. With Trump I thought it was funny last summer now I think it’s crazy that this many people actually think that he’s a voice worth listening to. I thought it was humorous when he joined in like, “Look at this crazy guy! That’s crazy!” The Megyn Kelly thing and the way that he calls women “pigs” based on their appearance, that’s not presidential!
The Tea Party was talking about the Washington elite and this and that and Jon Stewart was like, “We want the elite to lead us and run the country.” We don’t want some non-elite minds to run the country. We need elite minds picking the direction for where we’re going. It surprises me, amazes me, dumbfounds me, and breaks my heart so much so that I can’t even pay attention. I just can’t put my mind into it anymore. It hurts. It’s just hurtful. I think it’s kind of good in some ways because it displays how far we’ve got to go. That display is really painful for me to watch and hurtful, so I try to keep my mind on more loving beautiful things in my life. My life’s short so I’ve got to fill it with love as much as possible.
TRHH: When can we expect to hear the next full-length Sims album?
Sims: I just finished it. It’s coming out October of this year. We don’t have a title for it so if any one of your readers comes up with some good ones hit me up on Twitter @SIMSdoomtree. Yeah, I got a full-length coming out in October we just wrapped it. Production by Paper Tiger, Lazerbeak, and this kid named Icetep who is crazy talented. He’s a 22-year old kid from the Twin Cities but lives in L.A. now. It’s good.
Connecticut emcee BigStat has paid his dues. Writing rhymes since his youth, BigStat came up in the game learning from some of the best artists in Hip-Hop. He’s rocked stages alongside rap music’s brightest stars and had his music highlighted on network TV. His continuous grind has culminated in his debut album that details loss, love, and lyrics – Heart of a Lion.
Heart of a Lion features Ghostface Killah, Krumb Snatcha, Jordan Meyer, Kill The Alarm, Toussaint, Tina Parol, Meredith Dimenna, Piet Shaw, and the son of Hip-Hop legend Rakim, Tahmell. The album is produced by Kill The Alarm, Jordan Meyer, Royce Music Group, G-Whiz, Nate Locksmiff, Mike Cash, Touch, Quincey Tones, Jo Caleb, and Sicktunes.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to BigStat about his relationship with members of the Wu-Tang Clan, how fatherhood has changed his life, and his new album, Heart of a Lion.
BigStat: I chose that because my government name is Gary Montelleone and in Italian Montelleone means “mountain lion” and my music is super passionate and from the heart.
TRHH: How long did it take you to complete this project?
BigStat: It took me about four years because I wrote, recorded, and mixed everything on my own. I arranged most of the songs on my own, too. I’m a perfectionist so I just went back and forth. It’s my perfect project, my Reasonable Doubt, so I wanted to make sure it was perfect to me.
TRHH: So you’re pleased with the outcome?
BigStat: Absolutely, yeah. I’m super proud of this project.
TRHH: How did you link up with Ghostface for the single Press Rewind?
BigStat: I linked up with Ghostface because I was on tour with Redman and Method Man for two years. They invited me on the next tour with Red, Meth, and Ghost. That’s when Method Man introduced me to Ghostface. We talked about doing a track for a long time and when I was working on the album I felt like that was the perfect song to throw him on. I sent it to him and he hopped on it.
TRHH: How did you get on the tour with Red and Meth?
BigStat: It all started when I met Method Man when I was like 16 years old. He was one of my favorite emcees so I would go to a lot of his shows. Eventually we became cool. We would be chillin’ back stage, he’d see me everywhere, and we shared the same views on Hip-Hop at the time. After he saw me in Hartford, Boston, New York, and Philly he invited me back to his hotel room. We were chillin’ and just talking about Hip-Hop. He started spittin’ some unreleased freestyles and verses from his upcoming album. I was feeling nice and started spittin’ for him and he started buggin’ out. We were friends for a while and when I spit for him it threw him off. He wasn’t expecting it. He was like, “Stat ain’t a rapper, he’s an emcee!” He ran and got his manager and made me spit a couple verses for his manager, too. From there it was history and he had me hop on tour with him.
TRHH: Who inspired you to want to be an emcee?
BigStat: Method Man is definitely up there. When I first started writing Canibus, definitely. Black Thought from The Roots is one of my favorite emcees, and Rakim.
BigStat: That’s one of my favorite songs. That song took me three years to write. I started writing when I found out my wife was pregnant. I started writing a couple bars here and there and when I felt a certain way at all the milestones. I shot a video to it during the fall. In the video I’m driving around with my daughter in the car seat and I’m telling her the story of how she came about in the first two verses. In the third verse I’m giving her life advice so she doesn’t make the same mistakes that I made in life.
TRHH: How old is your daughter?
BigStat: She just turned 3 April 4.
TRHH: How has being a father changed you?
BigStat: Being a father is the most amazing feeling in the world. When you come home every day your kids come up to you, “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” It makes you feel important. You have the opportunity to mold a human being to be the best person they possibly can be. It’s inspiring and gives you a reason to wanna be the most successful person you can possibly be to provide for them and lead the way for them.
TRHH: On the song Real Life Rap you kind of get some things off your chest. What inspired that song?
BigStat: That song was almost a throwaway track to be honest with you. I actually sent that song to Red and Meth and I was going to have them hop on it, but the timing wasn’t right. My homie G-Whiz produced that. To me the production is almost a Nas type of beat. I really liked the beat a lot. I can do tracks like that for days. That’s just me expressing how I feel the climate of Hip-Hop is right now. A lot of cats aren’t true to themselves. A lot of rappers feel like they have to talk about ignorant stuff in order to be successful and I don’t believe that. I believe you should come from the heart, be true to yourself, and everything will fall into place. I just kind of aired it out on there real quick – a little interlude. Shout out to my homie DJ Remedy from Baltimore that did the cuts on that.
BigStat: I hope to keep spreading the word, growing the brand, growing BigStat, growing the label, Ugly Fac3 Music. I want to spread real music – passionate music from the heart. That’s what I’m all about. I hope to hop on another tour soon to keep spreading the word and growing the brand.
Controversy is not only the name of Willie D’s 1989 debut solo album, it’s the perfect word to describe his entire career. From his work as a member of the Geto Boys to his solo career Willie D has never been one to hold his tongue. This is a man who has called out the Ku Klux Klan, Rodney King fresh after the L.A. Riots, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, aka, the Grammys.
Willie D has no problem telling you what’s on his mind and his new single “Coon” does just that. Coon takes aim at black celebrities who have made disparaging comments about black people on public forums in recent years. Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith, Fox News commentator Stacey Dash, CNN news anchor Don Lemon, and actress Raven-Symone all come under fire by the Gangsta of Love.
The Real Hip-Hop had the pleasure of speaking to Willie D about his new single, Coon, why he’s anti-welfare, and about the possibilities of a new Geto Boys album.
TRHH: Why was it important for you to call out so many coons?
Willie D: It was important because I was tired of the cooning, man. I was tired of the coons running their traps. The rhetoric that the coons spew is very dangerous. Constantly hearing people getting on television and disparaging the black community is dangerous, especially when the person that’s disparaging the community is black. They often get passes for disparaging the black community and it goes under the guise of “they’re just speaking their mind,” or “thinking outside of the box,” or “they’re being independent minded,” and all that type of stuff. These are code words for, “these motherfuckers are really sell outs,” but they’re gonna get a pass because of their skin color.
TRHH: A couple of years ago Bill Cosby was very vocal about what he believes black youth should do and how they should act. Do you think Bill falls under that coon title?
Willie D: Absolutely not. Bill Cosby is not a coon. One of the definitions of a coon is a person whose criticism of the black community outweighs their contribution. Bill Cosby’s contribution to the black community far outweighs his criticism. He is just the old guy who doesn’t really have a filter like, “I’m old, I’ll say what the fuck I wanna say, this is how I feel, fuck it!” He just got caught up in that part of it –chastising black people to the extent that he came off as condescending. He’s not a coon by no stretch of the imagination.
Stacey Dash is a coon. Charles Barkley is a coon. Stephen A. Smith is a coon. Raven-Symone is a coon. Don Lemon is a coon. They do nothing for the black community but criticize. They’re propped up as these successful black individuals and they give us a sense of being successful, because we’re looking at people that look like us and we’re saying they made it and they represent us. That’s good and that’s why we don’t want them to be attacked because we see these people with these huge platforms and we’re so desperate for any type of representation on television, in Hollywood, and entertainment that we’ll take anything.
We’ll take a sellout, we’ll take a traitor. We’ll say, “At least he’s black.” When you have someone who belongs to your own demographic and they become a traitor that’s even worse than your known enemies. That’s why in many countries traitors are put to death because that’s the worst form of betrayal. Black people just haven’t gotten the memo. We wanna be friendly and nice to everybody. We wanna make peace all the time while people are at war with us. This is why we can’t get anything done because we’re too fuckin’ friendly. We’re friendly with everybody else but when it comes to us we got a problem. We’re quick to criticize black poor people and point out what’s wrong with them.
When it comes to white poor people the coons have a problem pointing out the wrongs, ills, and woes of any other community other than their own. When issues involving people that are white come up all of the people that I mentioned in the song Coon are silent. They have nothing to say and if they do speak on it they’re very humble and they are forgiving. They are very forgiving of the white people, but when somebody black does something wrong they’re like, “Oh hell, here we go again! They’re making us look bad! This is what I mean!” Remember when Stephen A. Smith made the comment to Skip Bayless about the number of black athletes who are involved in domestic abuse cases?
Willie D: Okay, well there it is then. That’s a good move to have. Here’s the deal, he made a comment after the Ray Rice incident that black athletes are just violent and commit abuse over and over. He said, “There’s a huge problem in the black community with domestic abuse and brothers need to get it together! You don’t see white guys out here doing this. Blacks in the NFL account for 85% of all domestic abuses cases.” It took the white guy Skip Bayless to say, “You know that’s because there are a lot more black guys in the NFL than white guys and that would account for the disparity.” He said, “Well I’m just saying it’s a problem and it needs to be fixed!”
When black men do something wrong they become the poster child for whatever wrong that has been perpetrated. When Chris Brown was accused of domestic abuse he became the poster child. Ray Rice became the poster child for domestic abuse. Nobody said anything about Mel Gibson but when white guys do things it happens and you put it in the past. When black males do something it’s the worst thing on the earth and they become the poster child for whatever that wrong is.
They have a different standard for us and everybody else. People are very, very unforgiving of any type of wrong that black males may do. When a black boy becomes aggressive in school and does something wrong they wanna put him on some medicine. They wanna put him in an alternative school. If he goes up and tears up a mail box or something they want to put him in prison, give him some type of record, put him on paper and give him probation so they can put him into the system. When a white boy do it it’s “Boys will be boys. Let’s reform him. Let’s put him in a program and help him out and put him on the right track.” But when a black boy do it it’s “Lock that nigger up and throw away the key like the rest of ‘em!”
It’s funny, a lot of white males who work in corporate America have done things when they were young that didn’t end up on their record. They gave them diversion programs, excuse it, or just aren’t as hard on them –they let ‘em make it. A lot of these same people become judges, prosecutors, and law men and act like they’re perfect. It’s like they never smoked any weed before, or they never got drunk and drove before, or they never fell out at a party before. They sit in judgment of others and bring down the hammer. When a black male walks into the court room they’re out to get him and make him pay. “You shouldn’t have done it!” There is absolutely no latitude for forgiveness, there is no moral flexibility whatsoever. When white boys do it, “We gotta save him. He’s redeemable.”
They just indicted a black kid in Houston for fraud. I think the kid is 15-years old and has never been in trouble before, has good parents, a father at home, everything. This is how the case went; the little kid finds a counterfeit $10 bill on the floor in the cafeteria at school. He picks it up and tries to pay for his lunch with the counterfeit bill. The cashier tells him, “You can’t use this, give me real money.” He goes in his pocket, pays, and goes about his business. Two months later he gets a call from the DA saying he’s been charged with counterfeiting. I beg anybody to go out there and find me somebody who is at least 20-years and hasn’t had a counterfeit $5, $10, or $20 bill at some point in their life. Counterfeit money gets passed around every day by unsuspecting customers – every single day. They charged this boy and are trying to fuck his life up behind a $10 counterfeit bill – crazy! But that’s the way they do us. I can guarantee you if that boy had been white it wouldn’t have been no issue. It would have been, “Where’d you find this at? Hmm, okay, that’s strange. Have a nice day!”
TRHH: I don’t remember if it was Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown, it was probably was both of them, but I remember Barkley coming on TV saying the courts made the right decision. I met Charles once, he’s a nice guy. I find him humorous but to come on TV and say “they got it right” when black boys are being shot for no reason is dangerous, man.
Willie D: I met Charles Barkley once too and he ain’t nice, he a asshole.
Willie D: He almost got his ass whooped on that day just because he’s so arrogant. I never wanted to meet him ever in life anyway. A friend of mine introduced me to him and I reluctantly spoke to him and regretted it and kicked myself for speaking to him ever since. The dude is not a good person – he’s a clown. He’s always been an asshole and he’s always been outspoken, but he hasn’t always been a coon. He started cooning when he got on TNT. I think it had something to do with his gambling issues. Maybe they saved him from his gambling problem and because of that they needed his job to be attacking the blacks. “We need you to regurgitate white supremacist talking points. That’s going to be your job, Charles,” and that’s what he does. Every time they do something dirty to black folks and want us to calm down, especially if somebody white does something to black folks, he always takes the side of the oppressor. He always sides with the person who is non-black – always. It’s automatic. That’s his job. He a coon.
TRHH: Do you think Charles Barkley, Stacey Dash, and Stephen A. Smith are out of touch due to having money or the company they keep?
Willie D: No, they know. We wanna think the most of them. We don’t wanna believe that they’re actually accepting money to sell us out! We don’t wanna believe that. We don’t want to believe that these people are actually going in here and cooning for capital – selling us out. We wanna like Stacey Dash, “She pretty, she fine. Oooh I wanna like her!” We wanna like Charles Barkley, “He’s outspoken. He came up out of Leeds, Alabama and made it. He’s charming and goofy, he makes us laugh! He’s funny, I wanna like him!” We wanna like Stephen A. “He’s very articulate, very smart, very good at what he do. He’s a black man who is sitting there and representing us.”
We want to believe Don Lemon is not selling us out. We can’t believe that. We don’t want to think of that because if we do we gotta do something about it. A lot of us don’t wanna turn from CNN. We don’t wanna make that sacrifice. A lot of us don’t wanna turn off ESPN. We don’t wanna turn off TNT. We like our sports more than we love ourselves. We do not wanna turn that shit off. We like the pain. I stopped watchin’ all that shit! It don’t matter to me. If I’m that desperate I can entertain myself. They’re not that important to me. None of it is that important to me.
Until black people start holding these companies accountable that hire these coons, enable these coons, they ain’t gonna do nothing but find another coon to replace ‘em. They gotta stop making these coons feel safe. Stop running up to these coons asking for autographs. Stop taking pictures with these coons. Stop counting these coons as one of our success stories, they’re not. They’re epic failures in the black community. Stop patting them on the back. Stop accepting crumbs. That’s what black people need to do.
White people ain’t gon’ do it because it don’t affect them the way it affect us. If the networks mean well and aren’t racist and not trying to protect white supremacy how come they ain’t got white people on there talking down about the white community every time an issue about the white community come up? How come they don’t have an Asian trashing the Asian community every time an issue about the Asian community comes up? How comes they don’t have Hispanics on TV saying, “We need to put up a wall,” and “We need to stop Mexican’s from coming over the border?” They only do that to the black community.
The black community is the most disenfranchised community because we do not have a code of conduct. We take our money and spend every damn dime we got. As soon as we get our paycheck we spend that money like we got a damn hole in our pocket. We give that money to everybody but black businesses. We give that money to everybody but our own. When we need something from these politicians we can’t get it because the Republicans say, “Why should I give them anything? They aren’t going to vote for me.” The Democrats say, “They’re going to vote for me no matter what so why should I have to sacrifice anything?” We gets nothing.
Every other community goes to the politicians with an agenda and a paycheck and say, “Here you go, this is what we want in return,” and they get it because they have economic power! We would have economic power if we didn’t spend the money. We spend over a trillion dollars a year – we got the money. As soon as we get it we give it away. The money is not circulating in the black community. We don’t have an economic power structure to go in there and demand the things that we want. This is how the government works. You can call it a bribe or whatever you wanna call it.
It’s no coincidence that you have a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg accepting a job that pays $200,000 a year. He don’t even accept the money, he gives it back to the state of New York. He’s letting you know, “I ain’t here for this lil’ crumb ass paycheck. I’m here for these deals Im’ma be making while I’m sitting back here as the mayor of New York City.” By the time Michael Bloomberg leaves office his wealth will have tripled because he’s cut deals while he was in office. That’s what it’s about, cutting deals and getting what you want. We live in a capitalistic society and if you ain’t got no money you ain’t gettin’ nothing done in this country – nothing!
All that shit about helping the poor, you can sit back and wallow in your poorness if you want to. You’re going to be poor for the rest of your life. You gotta get up off your ass and go get it! These people are not here to help you. They don’t give a damn about you, nothing about you at all. They care about them and their agenda. If you can help them with their agenda they’ll do something for you. A vote ain’t enough, you need some money. A vote alone ain’t gonna get it – you need money. Hell, if you got money you ain’t got to vote! Long as they do what you need them to do you ain’t even got to go to the polls. You got business people who don’t even bother going to the polls because they know they’re gonna get what they want anyway. Your money is the ballot. Your bank account, that’s the ballot.
TRHH: I heard you say in an interview that welfare was created to hurt black people. You also have a song called “Welfare Bitches” on the Controversy album. The anti-welfare stance is in line with conservative Republican thinking. Why are you against welfare?
Willie D: ‘Cause welfare creates a ceiling for people. I’m not totally against welfare, I’m against the way welfare was instituted and applied against the black community. For the black community welfare was put in place to cripple the black family. When we had this mass exodus of jobs in the U.S. they said that people need assistance. A lot of black people didn’t have jobs so when they said they’re gonna give you a free check, $100 bucks a month for free, $200, depending on how many kids you got you get a lil’ bit extra, we’re thinking that government loves us and are doing us a favor. They had a catch, get the black man out of the house. You can’t get this check if you got a black man in the house.
They knew when they take the black man out of the household they can control the black woman better and control the kids. They can take the strength out of the house. Get the black man out now he’s on his own. The black man is wandering. He can lay up with a woman if she’s on any kind of government assistance, which many were when this was first instituted. If he ain’t layin’ up with her he probably ain’t layin’ up with nobody. At night after you do what you do and take care of your business you got to get out the house. “Get out, can’t have you around here!” Then they had watch dogs. People snitching and telling, “There’s men in the house!” and then they cut you off. They created this whole environment of black men not being in the home. Then they turned around and blamed the black man for his absence and they actually created it.
Welfare for me should be for people that are in financial transition. You got a job, you lost your job, and you need some help. Okay, we’re going to help you out for this amount of time – we got you. Or supplemental income; you’re working, maintaining a job, and doing the best you can, come down here and get some assistance. I don’t think it should be determined by how many damn kids you have. It should also be for our elderly and our people with special needs. That’s what welfare should be for. For able bodied people that shit should be very temporary.
That’s what I believe that the welfare system should be. It should not be a situation where people are handed a free pass and stroke the check automatically to spend as they see it. That’s what I have a problem with. I grew up for a good portion of my life on welfare. My momma worked, but she also received a supplemental income from welfare. She worked. She had five kids that she raised alone on just above minimum wage. Even with that I was actually embarrassed myself to be on welfare and I swore I’d never be on welfare. But if it were not for that supplemental income, shit, I probably would have died of malnourishment. It was five of us and between paying those bills, trying to get clothes, and having something to eat it was very, very hard.
TRHH: I have a white friend who is a Republican. I asked her one time, “Why are you a Republican?” because I don’t understand why any poor people are Republican. She said, “Because I’m tired of people who don’t work taking my money.” I said, “You realize less than three percent of tax dollars goes toward welfare, right? Your tax dollars goes toward the military. That’s where most of our money goes.” She said, “Well I’m okay with that.” I said, “Why are you okay with that?” She goes, “Don’t you wanna feel safe?”
Willie D: Right, feel safe, not be safe.
TRHH: I would rather my money go toward helping people instead of killing people – that’s just me. The way you just described your mother and your family shows that every person on welfare ain’t a cheat. Every person on welfare ain’t lazy. People just go through hard times. I don’t want to make it a racial thing, but I think that’s the perception, “These black people are just lazy.”
Willie D: The thing about it though is they’ll accept that argument but they won’t accept the fact that more white people are on welfare than black people.
Willie D: These are just people who aren’t free thinkers or people who are just angry and hate people that don’t look like them. They need somebody to blame and they don’t wanna hear the truth. They wanna believe that it’s the black people’s fault. Just like there are black people who want to believe that everything is white people’s fault. Everything ain’t white people’s fault, but I can tell you this, damn near everything is white supremacy’s fault.
This country is built on white supremacy. You can be pro-black without being anti-white. You can be pro-white without being anti-black. White supremacists are anti-black. That’s the person who sees black people doing well and says, “I gotta do something about that.” That’s the person who is a cop and a black person is talking back to them so they shoot him. “I don’t like what he said, I don’t like how he looks, so I’m gonna kill him.” That’s white supremacy in action.
When they fail to indict that cop that blows away somebody and totally violates somebody’s civil rights that’s white supremacy in action. When the all-white jury or the grand jury, which I call the Klan jury, fails to indict in most cases that’s white supremacy in action. That’s white supremacy in action when a 15-year old boy finds a fake $10 bill and tries to use it and the DA charges him with a crime instead of saying, “Kids don’t know any better. I’m not going to ruin this kids’ life.” Instead they say, “Bam! I got another one!” They gotta do something to get him in the system and put him on paper.
TRHH: I had a discussion about this with a friend of mine. We discussed the idea of white fear. Subconsciously they’re looking at it like, “If somebody did to us what we did to them we’d kill the motherfuckers.” They’re afraid of black people rising up and getting revenge or something. We ain’t gon’ do that. We just want a piece of the pie. Most of us are just trying to make it. It’s that deep ingrained fear that we’re gonna get them back so they have to keep us under their thumb to avoid retribution.
Willie D: Yeah, they worried about the wrong shit. That’s the furthest thing from fucking black people’s minds. Black people just wanna live in peace and be able to pursue their dreams without being targeted for failure and denied access. That’s what we want, period! They worried about the wrong shit. They ain’t gotta worry about black folks, God gon’ avenge all the shit they did.
TRHH: Yes sir! The last time you and I spoke was right before the 2012 Presidential Election. Compared to the current Presidential candidates Mitt Romney seemed to be normal. What do you make of the support that Donald Trump is receiving in his run for President?
Willie D: [Laughs] Ain’t that something. That goes to show you how far behind we are and how much further we have to go. We really are going backwards in this country on every level. It’s not just in the music business. It’s in law, medicine, education, politics, and race relations. We’re going backwards on everything. This is the country that is so arrogant that it don’t believe it can fail. Some people believe that we can continue to be the same way and still somehow be better and so-called be great. That ain’t gonna happen.
I hear people say “Make America Great Again” well I’m a descendant of slaves and America ain’t never been great for me. America has never been great to me. I’m a descendant of slaves and I am a product of discrimination daily. I live in a country that practices white supremacy against my race. How can I say that that’s a great country? No, America is not a great country. It might be great for white folks but any black person that thinks America is great is a damn fool.
As far as talking this shit about if you don’t like it go back, go back where, motherfucker? Black people deserve to have everything that this country has to offer. Anything that’s beneficial to anyone, black people should have the first right at it because we built this country. We built the country. Nobody else built the country – we built it. It’s always funny to me when I hear anybody call black people lazy. They say, “Black people don’t want these jobs. Mexican’s want the jobs. The jobs that Mexican’s are getting black people don’t want to work them.” That’s a lie. If you ain’t got no job you’ll take anything and a lot of these jobs ain’t even being offered to black people because they know that they can get Mexican’s to work these jobs and they can half-ass not even pay ‘em sometimes because they’re undocumented.
TRHH: Dr. Ben Carson said Harriet Tubman shouldn’t be on the $20 bill, but on the $2 bill. What’s your take on his statement?
Willie D: Ben Carson is another self-loathing coon. He thinks it’s cool to have Harriet Tubman, a slave abolitionist, demoted to a $2 bill but have Andrew Jackson, a slave owner, remain on the $20 bill. Andrew Jackson don’t need to be on shit! George Washington, none of them racist motherfuckers need to be on no kind of money in the first place. If we were in another country America would still be complaining about them being on the currency. They’d be calling them all kinds of names. Imagine if Hitler was on some money? These dudes are slave owners, man. They ought not to be on money anyway. They shouldn’t be on street signs, no buildings, no airports, and no monuments! These motherfuckers was slave owners! And they’re part of the reasons why we have all these issues we have in America today.
TRHH: A lot of white people see them as our founding fathers – their founding fathers.
Willie D: But what the fuck did they find? That’s what I wanna know. I hear them say “founding fathers” but what did they find?
TRHH: I think in their opinion they saved them from British rule.
Willie D: They saved them from British rule, but what did they find?!!?
TRHH: [Laughs] A new land? They took a land from some people?
Willie D: So they founded that, huh? I don’t know, man. They don’t wanna give it up.
TRHH: Scarface has gone public saying that he won’t ever do another Geto Boys album. Are the Geto Boys officially laid to rest?
Willie D: I can’t tell you, man. I can’t really answer that question. It might be, it might not be. I don’t know. I’ve always enjoyed doing Geto Boys records. I spoke to Scarface this morning and he was talking about getting in the studio. It wasn’t for a Geto Boys project, but still. You never know with Geto Boys. I don’t know. Right now I’m focused on Willie D. I’m doing my thing. If it happens, it happens. If it does happen I can tell you it will be a killer ass album! If it don’t happen I’m pretty satisfied with our catalogue and the legacy that it’ll leave.
Willie D: Yeah, that’s coming. That’s coming big time. That’s coming this year. In fact I get back in the studio at the end of the month and I’ll start putting out some more songs for it. I think Im’ma drop it right when school starts back – like August/September.
Established artists on their own, producer Centric and emcee Joc Scholar have joined forces as the Hip-Hop group Grand Opus. From Oakland and Fresno, California respectively, Centric and Joc have followed in the footsteps of legendary acts like Eric B & Rakim, Gang Starr, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth as DJ/producer and emcee combinations where quality is the number one priority.
The result of this union is a 12-track album released by Free At Last Music titled “Forever.” Forever is produced and mixed entirely by Centric and features appearances by Planet Asia, Fashawn, and Alicia Renee.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Centric and Joc Scholar about the formation of Grand Opus, the intricacies of their craft, and their new album, Forever.
TRHH: How did you two come together to form Grand Opus?
Joc Scholar: Me and Centric met years before we formed Grand Opus through a mutual friend in music. He introduced me to Centric and instantly I fell in love with his beats. We were doing music separately. I would hit him up when I needed a track and we worked like that for years. In 2013 we formed Grand Opus. We were coming into the new year and I said I wanted to do something different and go all-in on his beats. That was the birth of Grand Opus. The rest was history.
TRHH: What was the recording process like with you guys being in different cities?
Centric: It was like the Foreign Exchange process but not foreign [laughs]. We’re both in Cali but Joc is in Fresno and I’m in the Bay so it’s still a good amount of hours between us. To make things easier I do what I do –make beats that cater to him that I think is dope and I think he would think is dope. I would lay it down, send him the track and he would go to different studios to record in his area and get everything mixed and mastered. The internet can be a lovely tool [laughs].
Joc Scholar: The title Forever is significant because it’s the first track that we recorded for the project. That was the first single and visual that we put out as Grand Opus. That was our introduction to the world. That was the beginning of the recording process for the album. By the time we got to the end we still didn’t have a title. We didn’t have the title until we were going into the mixing process. We peeped how everything unfolded. I’m big on that – watching the signs, and it all fell together. Forever fit the whole concept of the album and it just so happened to be the first single. We weren’t even thinking of that being the title track.
Centric: Everything pointed to “Forever.” All of the signs pointed to that.
TRHH: Centric, what happens if you think Joc should say a rhyme differently? Or if Joc thinks a certain part of the beat should be flipped in a certain way? How do you go about critiquing each other during the process of making a song? Do you guys have that comfort with each other?
Joc Scholar: As far as I go me and my brother are so in tune with each other I literally never had to critique anything he does. He sends it and it fits. It literally fits like a glove. It’s like, “Whoa!” everything is exact.
Centric: Basically what Joc just said. So far it’s never been a situation where I think he should have done something different or he thinks I should have done something different. Our styles and personalities when it comes to music just fits so well together. I bring out the best in him and he brings out the best in me. It’s literally nothing to critique.
Joc Scholar: Are we comfortable enough to do that? Yeah, if that was the case. But that’s definitely not the case.
TRHH: Centric, what’s your work station of choice?
Centric: You want me to give away the secrets [laughs]. You want me to spill the recipe. I’m a “whatever it takes” type of dude. I know a lot of producers have a formula they stick with and whatever ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’m kind of that way but if I’m trying to achieve a certain sound I will use anything. I will go over people’s houses to get my hands on different drum machines. I will pop out the keyboard, I will go to someone who plays drums and get the sound from the live drums. I will use a computer program like Reason or Fruity. Whatever it is to achieve what’s in my head is what I do. On a normal basis I would say the equipment that I use the most is the MP. I kind of bounce between the MP and a computer program. I keep it classic for the most part.
TRHH: Which one?
Centric: 2000, baby!
TRHH: You guys have a song “Cen Cal Profile” with Planet Asia and Fashawn. How’d that song come together?
Joc Scholar: Me and Asia from the same era. We grew up together out here. We grew up in the whole Fresno, Cali rap scene. We watched it all unfold. Asia busted out and left, did his thing, and helped put us on the map. That’s nothing. Every time we see each other it’s like, “Hey, when we gonna do a track?” For me it’s gotta be the right song. Fashawn is like the next generation. He’s like the prince. He took it further. We all know each other and all see each other. Me and Asia came from a different side of Fresno than Fashawn. It was nothing, it was just about the right time and the right track. When we did this album I didn’t want a lot of features on it, if any. When Centric sent me that track it was so Fresno, Cali. It was so perfect and it was the one I wanted Asia and Fashawn on. We’ve been talking and building on it for years knowing that we wanna do a track, but not knowing what track. That just happened to be the track.
TRHH: What’s your opinion on the resurgence of west coast Hip-Hop? The past couple of years has been heavy on the west coast like it was back in ’91, ’92.
Centric: Yeah [laughs]. It is, it’s heavy right now. I’m enjoying it, personally. I’m loving west coast Hip-Hop right now because to me the way it is on the west coast is the best of both worlds. What I mean by that is as far as the attention that west coast Hip-Hop is getting is reminding me of the early 90s, but the sound of it is more soulful, more authentic, and more conscious. I’m getting that real Hip-Hop sound but the attention that it’s getting right now is love too with cats like Kendrick Lamar. I feel like west coast Hip-Hop is in a good position right now. I think it was the perfect time for a group like us to come together and do what we do. I’m not just saying that, it’s not just my opinion. I’ve heard it from a lot of different people like, “Yo, this is the perfect time for y’all to drop a project like this for the west coast!” Everything is timing.
Joc Scholar: What I’m noticing as far as Cali making that resurgence is we’re not afraid to be those lyrical dudes now. I love how a lot of cats are spitting darts and spitting heat now as far as the lyrics. Not that it stopped anywhere else as far as the region. You have a lot of regional sounds and a lot of regions are going for that pop. That’s not to knock anybody else. As a whole mainstream-wise we’ve been out the spotlight since the Death Row era. Cali, they not trippin’. They spittin’ some heat. You got game Game, Blu, and everybody is spitting heat and bringing that raw essence of Hip-Hop. It’s just going in circles. It’s touching all regions, it’s just right now it’s Cali that’s keeping it Hip-Hop.
TRHH: Joc, on the song Beautiful you said a lot meaningful things about the good and bad that we see in the world. What specifically inspired that song and what were you trying to get across to listeners?
Joc Scholar: I think mainly what inspired that song is it was directly around the time of the Kenyan massacre, the bombing in France, and the San Bernardino massacre. Those types of events at that specific time sparked that energy when I heard the track. I knew I wanted a track like that but I didn’t hear it yet. That was probably the last song that we recorded that made the album. When I heard it, it was perfect because I knew I wanted to speak on something like that. Anybody who knows me knows that that’s a large portion of what I’m talking about and where my head is at. Pretty much current events, current state of the world, and of America. What I was trying to get across was to keep your eyes open and don’t take everything that you’re fed. Read the ingredients.
Centric: Oh man. Everything [laughs]. On a serious note what I would like to see happen with Forever is just for the public to recognize what we were trying to do as far adding to Hip-Hop culture. What me and Joc set out to do, we did. In my opinion we executed that perfectly. Everything was on time and the way we wanted it. It’s still the way we want it. I just feel like I want the world to see that. I want the world to see what we saw going into the project, making the project, and now that the project is done. We just wanna be a part of everything dope that’s going on in Hip-Hop right now. I feel like Forever has a place in that world. I just want to get some eyes on it and get the recognition that I feel it deserves. I think it’s a classic album. I know the word “classic” is really tossed around these days and I try not to use it unless I really mean it [laughs]. People are going to be like, “You biased,” well yeah, a little bit. But truth be told if I wasn’t a part of Grand Opus and I heard Forever I would think it’s dope. Hopefully the world sees what we see.
Joc Scholar: I’ll say the same. Pretty much recognition for what it’s worth, and for what it is, and for us to get that listen for it to be heard. One of my big things is that when you’re talking about stuff and you’re fairly new I’m a firm believer that if you make dope music it needs to be heard and eventually it will be. What we aim to put out with the album is our contribution. This is us from our mind and this is our contribution to Hip-Hop and it should be heard. Cats won’t realize it at first but we got a unique style and sound going on. We just want our place and for the Hip-Hop community to be like, “Them dudes dropped a dope album.”
J-Zone is one of my favorite people to interview in Hip-Hop. His honesty and candidness is refreshing in today’s synthetic society. J-Zone the musician keeps it as real as J-Zone the man. Since coming out of retirement in 2013 J-Zone has not only produced more thought-provoking rhymes he’s producing the funkiest music of his career.
Zone learned to play drums in 2012 and has been incorporating live drums into his production ever since. J-Zone’s funky drumming is on full display throughout his new album, Fish-n-Grits. The album, his seventh solo album and twelfth overall, is written, produced, recorded, and mixed by J-Zone and released by his Old Maid Entertainment record label. Fish-n-Grits features appearances by his long time collaborators Al-Shid and Has-Lo.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to J-Zone about his new album, Fish-n-Grits, the plague of hustle rappers, the importance of mastering your craft, and how his late grandmother, Evil E impacted his life and his music.
TRHH: Was there less or more pressure doing an album for the first time with no real theme?
J-Zone: I didn’t feel any pressure. It had no real theme but this album started the way all my other ones did – just making music. When you get to a certain amount of songs you start to see a stich kind of form. With Peter Pan I made like 7 or 8 songs before I came up with the theme. Even the concept albums started as ideas. Peter Pan was half instrumentals and vocals, but it was still more vocal. This one is basically 50/50 so with that kind of structure it’s kind of hard to pull off a concept. So I said, “What if just stretch out on some music shit and accumulate everything I’ve done from before I was J-Zone to now?” The alter egos, live instrumentation, beat making, cutting, and I didn’t do the skits but I kind of had some of the personality from the skits, and rolling everything into one. I didn’t feel any pressure because it started the same way. I just changed the direction of it.
I noticed albums are kind of getting shorter, not in minute length but track length. Look at Run the Jewels and its ten songs, this album is ten songs, that album ten songs. I haven’t really made an album that was less than 17-18 cuts since Bottle of Whup Ass really, and that was an EP because so many of those were skits. So many of my songs were a minute long so I decided to do something different and do 15 straight up tracks and see how it goes. I never did an album like that. I don’t even feel pressure no more when I make music. I just make music at this point. I’m not competing with anybody. I don’t feel like it’s competition or I have to get attention above who else is making records, I just do my thing. It’s kind of like letting the people in on my process and have them watching me do what I do. I’m not thinking in a music business sense even though I was looking around at the current climate. I wanted to do it my way. I wanted to try something a little different and never felt no nerves about it.
TRHH: Is it more enjoyable for you to do an album with mostly original music than sampling the way you did in the past?
J-Zone: I still sample. Playing instruments and people think they’re samples, I get a rush off that. Before it kind of became known that I was playing drums people thought they were samples. Just Blaze told me when Peter Pan came out that he didn’t know what was samples and what wasn’t drum wise. I didn’t sample no drums except for like one cut – The Fox Hunt. To me it’s just all music. I think indie Hip-Hop has always had a stigma against live instrumentation. I kind of addressed that on the album. Sampling itself, I’ll always do it. It’s in my DNA. It’s part of me as a producer, it’s just getting crazy with so many sources that reveal the samples. I understand that if you sample something you gotta prepare to be outed, it’s just that a lot of stuff on this level can’t afford to be cleared. I just studied the style of the music I was sampling so much to where I could learn how to create it with minimal reliance on sampling. In terms of drums and bass, not at all. I’m a student of the music. It’s not like I have a sample and I got a week to replay this shit. I sit with the original music and study it, and study it and study it, and study it. I did so much studying in terms of how stuff was mic’d, what kind of gear was being used, and I was able to get some of that mojo without actually sampling it.
TRHH: You referenced Dr. Dre on the album and how you can’t sample his stuff. You mentioned the snitching web sites, which I actually love…
J-Zone: They have a purpose. A lot of times you really wanna know something and it’s great for that but it’s a double-edged sword because if it’s like a Kanye West thing or a Jay-Z thing you know it was cleared. Who cares? They have the money. A lot of records that were before the statute or records that were independent, it cost a lot of money to clear stuff. The same people you’re honoring you can also get them in trouble. I do see the appeal of it. Most of the stuff I’ve been snitched for was drums. I’ll never have to sample a drum again because anything that I can sample I can play. It’s just a matter of getting it to sound that way. To me that’s the challenge, that’s the fun. I do replays. I did a bunch of studio work for Danger Mouse and Marco Polo. That’s a challenge to me, even more so than digging to find a drum break, to try to channel the spirit of the original drummer but put my twist on it and then record it in a way that I can get that sound. I’ll be down there for hours, sometimes days and weeks, trying to nail a specific drum sound or a specific playing style. It makes me a better drummer, a better producer, a better musician, and a better engineer.
What can be seen as being messed up I see it as a positive. People getting called out for drum breaks, well let me go down there and see if I can make my version and make it funky as the original. It’s training because a lot of that stuff wasn’t cut to a metronome. A lot of that stuff had imperfections. Music didn’t become really perfect until the 80s when everybody was on a metronome and were trying to compete with a drum machine. Music in the 80s if you couldn’t play like a drum machine as a drummer you couldn’t survive. In the 60s and 70s were most of the samples are from guys were just in the studio grooving. Those imperfections are part of Hip-Hop for sampling. A lot of those classic breaks have imperfections. It’s actually training to learn how to play something imperfectly perfect. That’s a challenge and I enjoy that. In terms of experimenting with different drums, different mics, different mic positions, different heads, and moving the drum kit to a different place — that trial and error, I’m a nerd for that kind of stuff. I love it. I really enjoy playing stuff. I play with bands and stuff, too. I’m still learning. I’m not a professional by any means. To bring that into my production is not like I have to do it to avoid a lawsuit, nah, I love to do it.
TRHH: One of the themes I picked up on when listening to the album is you seem frustrated with other rap artists, be they old school, new school, or aspiring mixtape rappers. Are you really sick of rap?
J-Zone: Well I have nasty sense of humor. Of course it’s all done tongue in cheek. I love Hip-Hop. If I didn’t love Hip-Hop I wouldn’t have dedicated my life to it. And there is great music out there. There is great modern Hip-Hop. I’m not one of those guys that thinks it ended in the 90s. Artists from back then are still making good music. I was just kind of taking shots at the cheapening of rap. For instance, if you see a bunch of jazz guys playing in a subway station there is like a donation bucket or a hat where you can drop money in the hat. My first drum teacher was a street musician. He was a jazz cat that played on the street and I met him playing on the street! He was playing in Penn Station. I was just watching this cat and I was like, “Man, he’s got some serious jazz chops.” I put a dollar in the hat but I was like, “Yo, you got a card? I wanna take a lesson.” It wasn’t like they were grabbing people as they were walking by like, “Yo, yo, yo, check me out!” It was like, “We’re playing and if you like what you hear give me a buck or give me a quarter.” Most music works that way.
Early on in Hip-Hop it was cool. You have Percee P, who I love and he would be like, “Would you like to check out some music?” and it wasn’t rude. It was like, alright, you have somebody going into the store that likes Hip-Hop and they might not be familiar, let me check them out. He would get into a cool conversation. A lot of those guys would actually talk to you about music and if you didn’t buy the tape they wouldn’t yell at you. It was like, “Okay, have a nice day.” If you were a tourist that was a cool part of your experience. After a while the guys got real aggressive, “ Yo, yo, yo, I know you like Hip-Hop! I’m sayin, check me out though!” I’d say, “Alright, let me listen to it,” and they’d say, “You sayin’ it’s not good enough?!?” I’m like, “Yo, I’m on my way somewhere!” They would run you down, especially if you were young and black. They figure it’s a given you like Hip-Hop. I used to carry a Walkman and be like, “If you got it on tape I’ll buy it off you. I don’t have a CD player.” That how I used to get ‘em to leave me alone. For people that don’t know anything about Hip-Hop that kind of cheapens it like, “Yeah, I was out in the street and these guys with their Hip-Hop came and bothered me.”
Whether you’re an emcee, a DJ, or a producer, there is a craft that goes into that. You spend hours on your craft. Hip-Hop is street music and hustling is embedded in Hip-Hop. The entire 90s were about “I’m a hustler” and “Hustling, hustling, and hustling,” and that hustling ethos is part of Hip-Hop. But when craftsmanship takes a backseat to the hustle, that’s where I have a problem. ‘Cause it makes people who have no craftsmanship, who don’t respect the music, who don’t respect the art form, but have a good hustle feel like they can get into it, and it becomes a free-for-all. I’ve been playing drums for four years and I’m not confident I can get out there and play with a touring band yet. People practice their craft for years before they come out. But now it’s like, “Well, I can’t really rhyme but I got that hustle though.” To me that cheapens Hip-Hop because you couldn’t go into jazz and be like, “Yo, I got this hustle,” you gotta be able to play. In pop music they don’t call it hustle they call it appeal. So you just shake your ass and hit a few notes. In Hip-Hop it’s called hustle, but in jazz, true Rock & Roll, funk, blues, classical, film scoring, and soundtracks, you gotta have a passion for your craft and be developed. I don’t care how good your sales pitch is, your music’s gotta show it. In Hip-Hop the hustle has come to the forefront and the craftsmanship is in the background. I’m supposed to buy your CD-R because you came up to me on the street ultra-aggressive? For somebody that’s not into Hip-Hop to encounter that on the street, I don’t like the way that makes us look. In particularly black music – I don’t like that.
It was kind of tongue in cheek but there’s a seriousness underneath it. It’s frustrating to know that what you’re doing is being reduced to that and cheapened to the hustle. Pull out the instrumental and rhyme for us. Give us a show! I’ll buy a CD. Give us a show! Show me something. Say, “What’s your name?” “My name is Richie,” and then give me an 8 bar freestyle about Richie. Be creative with it and then I’ll buy it. Then the hustle has shown some craftsmanship because you just impromptu rhymed bout me. That’s hot, I’ll buy a CD. I’ll put some money in his pocket so he can get some food or whatever. Even the guys on the subway who dance, they’re giving me a show! I’ll put a dollar in the hat because you’re entertaining me. You’re showing that you worked long and hard at something. You might not be able to get into a dance troupe or a dance school, but you can give me a show to make my commute a little more entertaining. I respect your craft, I’ll put some money down. Don’t just run up on me saying, “Yo son, I’m sayin’, real Hip-Hop, five dollars.” I can’t respect that.
TRHH: I started making beats probably in 2002. I’m still not very good [laughs]. It’s a hobby for me. It’s something I’m trying to learn and I’ve never devoted full-time to it. But when I started I went to Sam Ash or Guitar Center and the salesman was like, “All you need is Pro Tools!” It’s so available. There are much cheaper workstations than Pro Tools now, but it’s so available to people. I think the Soulja Boy thing was the real start of showing that anybody can do it. Do you think having these things be so accessible has contributed to a lot of these on the street hustle rappers?
J-Zone: The on the street hustle was around before technology advanced. Cats in the street were around but I think in terms of the online version of that – showing up in people’s social media – me and you are going back and forth on Twitter and someone pops up saying, “Yo, check my shit out,” that violation came from technology. I think the floodgates are open and it’s very easy to get into it. When I first started you had to have money to get in the studio. You had to have money to get equipment. There were so many barriers and obstacles to even have money to get a demo tape! And then when you got your demo you’re not even sure if it’s ever going to become something. There were so many barriers that you had to be hungry and ready.
When I was 16 and first started recording in real studios I couldn’t afford multi-track. I used to have to have the SP 1200 running and I would sequence the beats to my verses and rhyme live over the drum machine to a cassette and if I fucked up we had to start over and it was thirty five bucks an hour. I could only afford an hour so we had to cut three songs, so that meant I could only afford one or two mistake takes per song. It was a different approach. I’m not saying mine was better or worse, it was just different. Those limitations, lack of resources, it was just unavailable. Making music was so expensive. You had to have all this high tech gear that wasn’t available to the consumer. It changed your outlook on craftsmanship.
To this day I do all my verses in one take. I may punch in a line, like when I do that Slick Rick style overdub thing where I go over the line and it’s impossible to do it in one breath. I’ll punch that in, but the majority of the rhyme I do it in one take. If I screw up I’ll do it over, just because I’m so used to doing it that way, not because it makes me better or worse. It’s just in my DNA. That’s how I learned how to record songs. When Pro Tools came around I was just so used to doing it in one take or I thought I would lose the energy if I punch in after the third bar, so I’d just do it over. It’s just a different time. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just easier.
You can’t work in a hospital unless you get a certification in something. You can’t work in a lot of skilled jobs in the medical field, construction, or any other field without passing some kind of proficiency test to get certified to work. Even sports, the proof is in the pudding. If you want to be a basketball star you have to be able to do certain things to fit. Your skillset has to apply to your size. If you’re 5’9” you have to be able to pass the ball because you’re a point guard. Even with sports there is a prerequisite. With music at this point it’s like, be marketable. There really is no skill requirement and because of that the technology is there. You know how many people are gonna wanna do this? They don’t have to go to school for this, they don’t have to be proficient at this. All they gotta do is be enjoyable, get lucky, be present on social media, be likeable, Instagram stuff, and have swag and you got a shot. Will you ever be mentioned among the Pharaohe Monch’s and Rakim’s? No, but you can have a career and that’s been made evident.
Even film is different because so much money goes into it. You can do YouTube videos and stuff like that. I think a lot of the arts are being cheapened because of that. I was talking to Mike Clark who is Herbie Hancock’s drummer and a great jazz drummer. He said growing up all he wanted to do was play drums. It was no, “What are you going to do on the side?” or “What are you going to do to make a living?” He was like, “I said I was going to play drums. I played drums, and that was that.” Now it’s like, “What’s your side hustle?” or “What’s your angle? Playing drums? Making beats?” It ain’t enough. Everybody knows that it’s so accessible that to say that you’re going to do that and only that people will laugh at you. Music itself has been cheapened to the point where people don’t respect it as a profession, unless you’re a superstar.
Somebody asked me, “What do you do?” and I explained and they were like, “But what is your real job?” Most artists had jobs back then but when you were a musician back then it was like, okay, I know you spent X amount of time and eventually you’re going to try to make it a career. I think at this point it’s like a hobby to everybody but who can have all the other factors in play to make it a living? Luck, timing, knowing the right people, social media presence, nepotism within the music industry, all that kind of stuff. It’s just become a hustle. There are people who live it and people who are great at it, but overall it’s like a hustle and a hobby. That’s fine. It’s just different times. The arts are not respected in the schools and it’s not viable to a lot of people because we’re made to feel like anybody can do it and succeed. Unless you’re lucky, who cares?
TRHH: By listening to Fish-N-Grits and the SuperBlack single White Privilege you seem to be a little angry but more so like you have to get your feelings out on certain things. When and why did this change occur for you?
J-Zone: You mean as an artist going from more comedic stuff to that?
TRHH: Yeah, exactly.
J-Zone: It’s just life. The J-Zone character is only a piece of my personality. A lot of what I was known for 15 years ago has lived on through Chief Chinchilla and Swagmaster Bacon. They provide the comic relief as my alter egos. I’ve always been a serious thinker. I’ve always had these questions, these frustrations, and these ideas. As a younger artist I found a shtick and kind of ran with it. Looking back on my younger self it was kind of like, “I just wanna do my thing – comedy. That’s my lane.” When I left music and came back I felt like I had nothing to lose. I basically wrote this book, I’m learning to play drums, and I’m doing different things. I didn’t think I was coming back to music. I was like, “I quit, I’m retired, I’m done.” I felt like that was no pressure so if I come back, still be humorous but start addressing other shit, if I alienate people, who cares? I’m old news anyway. That’s just the way that I felt.
I’m just getting older and shit is real. I worked in a high school in the hood with high poverty, high crime, everybody wanted to be a rapper or an entertainer. Being in the music business you’re kind of shielded from that because you’re just around other music people. When you have to get a job, and you work in the community, in the hood? I’m a sports reporter and every kid thinks they’re going to the NBA so they get their whole body and neck tatted up, they fuck up in school, fuck up on the street, they think they’re immune to hard times ‘cause the ball is going to get them outta there and to watch them three years later come back to their high school and their girl is pregnant, they’re screwed up, they ain’t got no money, they’re in the streets, this one is in jail, to watch that shit happen most artists aren’t really around that. They might have grown up around that but once they get in the music business they’re not faced with that. I was dealing with that every single day.
Segregation in the school system — I worked on Long Island where segregation is huge and racism is thick. Watching a white school play a black school and feeling the tension in post-racial America, quote unquote. In the music business I wasn’t exposed to that – I just knew music. When I was working regular jobs and working in different environments, in different communities, with different kinds of people, far removed from the music business certain things started to bug me. Getting out and dating not as J-Zone; I met women in the industry, I met women at shows, I met women who were friends of friends in the industry. When I left I had to meet women on dating sites and it’s like, “Oh, you live in that part of Queens.” What is that supposed to mean? When you go back to being a regular Joe and you see shit is real, artists a lot of times are shielded from that because of their art. What did John Turturro say in Do The Right Thing? “Magic, Eddie, Prince, they’re not niggers. I mean they’re black but they’re more than black. It’s different.”
Class, race, any of that kind of stuff. I got an awareness of it from being out there. I wanted to incorporate that in my music, but I knew if I went all Chuck D on them I’d lose ‘em because I’m known for comedy. I took Chief Chinchilla and Swagmaster Bacon and put some of that humor in them. I’m still a goofy, funny guy but at this point I like lampoonery. I like to make jokes at the expense of serious stuff, almost being facetious. Using humor, but wait a minute there’s an issue at hand here that I want to discuss. I feel like as an artist the reason it’s up and down is because you’re supposed to follow what your instincts are. I don’t care about marketing or what people liked about me in the past. I don’t think about what people expect from me. You mentioned making an album that’s not as linear as a concept album, I just make what I feel because I’ve already hit rock bottom so what’s the worst that could happen? It happens again? I just make music and be real with myself and that’s it.
TRHH: You lost your grandmother recently and she played a key part in the career of J-Zone. For those that don’t know, explain how your grandmother impacted you and Old Maid Entertainment.
J-Zone: My parents were great. My mother, my dad, we’re still tight. My dad is my best friend. Me and mom have gotten extremely close as we got older. My parents split when I was 6. It was a rough time for both of them. They were always there for me, they took care of me, and they made sure I had clothes and food on the table. The 80s were a rough time. A lot of times on weekends I would stay with my grandparents. You know when you have a week off from school for winter break or spring break, I was always staying with my grandparents. I was half raised by my grandparents. I discovered music in the basement of the house that I live in today – that’s my grandparents’ house.
Music is always connected to them because they were right there. My grandmother would always yell downstairs, “Stop making all that noise!” I’d be down there playing records and I’d bring a record upstairs to my grandfather and ask him what “P” and “C” on the records meant. My grandfather knew all about copyrights because he tried to publish a book. He’d explain the Library of Congress and how you have to copyright your music. He wasn’t musical but he was smart. So much of my music pedigree started in this house with them around. As I got older my very first demo I cut in ’93 I didn’t have money for it and my grandmother gave me money for studio time.
When my grandfather passed in ’97 my grandmother was alone and I was worried about her. I was still in college and I would come back and see her. I said when I graduate I could get an apartment and try to find studio time or I could build a studio in my basement and go live with my grandmother, look after her, and be in the place that inspires me musically. I could make all the noise that I want so that’s what I did. It was only meant to be for a couple of years then I figured I would move out and get my own place. First I was gonna move to Atlanta and that fell through. Then I had a little studio apartment in Far Rockaway that I was gonna get. I was on the waiting list then her health started to decline and I was like, “Nah, I need to be here.” My dad was in Florida. He would fly up to help out but he couldn’t be here all the time. It wound up being something to help me at first, then it wound up being something to help her when he health declined. I was basically a caregiver for 17 years.
She was there and because she was there I would try to get her involved. I would say, “Grandma, get on this album cover, put this hoodie on.” She was still missing my grandfather so I used to try to cheer her up. I would say, “Grandma, you got fans!” and I would show her online where people would talk about the album cover. She used to get a kick out of that. I named Old Maid after her and used a caricature for her as the logo for the label. After my grandfather died it almost gave her another life and that’s what I was trying to do – keep her spirits up. She’s always been there when I was making music. She always encouraged it, always. Being in the basement is something special to me. It’s something about that basement. I go down there and it just feels so funky down there. My grandfather had that Cadillac in front of the house all the time. You’d smell the grits and eggs and shit cooking. You go downstairs pull out some records and it’s real funky down there. Everything was funky and it was just kind of a vibe growing up. Uncles would come over and tell jokes, play cards and shit. We’d have barbecues. So much of that was how I was introduced to music so I like to keep that close to me.
J-Zone: It sounds crazy but it’s really for me and my family, really. On the cover of the album that’s my uncle Fred, my grandmother’s brother. He used to have joke time and when I was a little kid I didn’t know all of the jokes and innuendos because I was too young but he fascinated me. That picture of me jumping up and down, that’s a real photo! Cats are drinking Bud and smoking Benson & Hedges, it’s almost like listening to a Dolemite record. That’s how he used to be. He never had his teeth in his mouth, he was always cracking jokes, and everybody was eating potato salad and shit. It was one of those family functions.
I did it for people in Hip-Hop who don’t fit in from a lyrical standpoint because I grew up on the New York boom bap, but I like the West Coast, I like the South, and I like the Midwest. I don’t like to be pigeonholed in a box. There’s so many influences on the album musically. I feel like there’s a small contingent of Hip-Hop that are not purist, guys that don’t hate the new music but it’s not for them, guys who love the 90s but want to leave the 90s there in the 90s, and people who just like good music without all the stuff. There’s a contingent of people and we talk and it’s like, “I feel like most of what’s out now isn’t for me, but I don’t hate it. I just do what I do.” Lyrically I was thinking about those people.
Musically I was thinking about people who like funk, Hip-Hop, and all those types of things. The whole mojo of the album is really just about family, my inspiration, and what got me into music. It’s been a long journey. The album covers so many things I’ve done on my journey – different instruments, crate diggin’, the alter egos, the humor, the seriousness. Everything from 1982 to now that I’ve done musically pops up on the record. The background for all that stuff is just being in this house, being around family, and listening to records in the basement. I just tried to bring that whole funky vibe like when you had a family get together in the early 80s – that vibe. Funky, a lot of trash talking going on. My uncle Fred inspired a lot of that Chief Chinchilla stuff – he used to talk like that. It’s just a whirlwind of influences really.
Hip-Hop artists have long been fans of pro wrestling. In recent years Killer Mike and Pusha T have paid homage to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in their songs. Thirty years ago LL Cool J named dropped Haystacks Calhoun and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in his verses. Pastor Troy frequently walked around with the World Heavyweight championship belt, the Insane Clown Posse actually wrestled for various promotions, and Snoop Dogg is in the WWE Hall of Fame.
One emcee has taken wrestling fandom in rap music to another level. Mega Ran released a nine song EP dedicated to pro wrestling titled Mat Mania: The Album. Ran incorporates elements of WWE superstar’s theme music with intricate rhymes dedicated to the characters. The project is produced entirely by Lynx Kinetic and features Doug Funnie and MURS.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mega Ran about Mat Mania, his podcast of the same name, the Nerdy People of Color Collective, and plans for his Random Beats Music label.
Mega Ran: [Laughs] Man, it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t real crazy about a lot of the results. From a fans perspective they gave us what we wanted, seeing all of the older folks back was great. As far as the actual action I don’t feel like they delivered in a way that made me happy. I don’t think a lot of the storylines were settled. Overall I had a blast. Just being there was great. I lost my voice screaming. It’s always a fun time.
TRHH: What was your favorite match?
Mega Ran: My favorite match I think was Chris Jericho and AJ Styles. Those guys had a really good match. They got the crowd involved. It was a lot of ups and downs. Best of all, the result wasn’t what I expected — seeing Jericho win when AJ has kind of been on the rise. It was cool.
TRHH: A lot of people, including myself, were disappointed with that.
Mega Ran: Yeah, but you know what, they fixed it all the next day. Now AJ is the number one contender. It’s kind of crazy. It’s almost like the show didn’t mean anything because Shane [McMahon] is in power. All of the things that are supposed to be up for grabs they’re just turning them all around, which is kind of weird. It’s like they knew they messed up so let’s fix it now.
TRHH: I found something interesting that you said a minute ago about the storylines. How old are you?
Mega Ran: I’m 37.
TRHH: Okay, you’re around my age. I just turned 40. I’ve been watching wrestling since like 1984 – since I was 8 years old. I was into NWA and WCW. My buddy is about your age and he’s a WWF guy. I noticed a difference in how we view wrestling – it’s very different. He’s a storyline driven person, while I like the athletic part of it. I don’t care about the stories. I couldn’t care less about who is mad at who, I just wanna see a good match. I really liked the girls match. I thought that was pretty good. Where do you fall in that since you’re younger than me?
Mega Ran: I’m kind of in the middle. I was telling a buddy of mine that maybe I’m a little too invested overall because I do a podcast now and I kind of analyze it. It’s kind of taken the fan side of me and making it take a back seat, which is not always great. I like a good match. I don’t care what the cause is or why they’re fighting. I would love to see a really good match. That’s all I wanna see. I don’t care how they got there. I just wanna see a really fun, good match. So I’m more with you, I like good action.
TRHH: I relate. I write about basketball as well as Hip-Hop. Writing about basketball and being around players has kind of ruined the game for me. I can’t enjoy it anymore. One, it’s work, two, a lot of these guys aren’t the most pleasant people. I can’t watch a game objectively. I’m not a fan of LeBron James at all because of shit that I’ve seen him do. I know he’s the greatest player in the world, but he’s an asshole. I kind of stopped covering games. I just wanna enjoy it. Talk about the Mat Mania Podcast and how it has affected you as a fan.
Mega Ran: It’s the exact same thing when you meet guys. Most of the guys I’ve met in the early goings of this have been really cool and that’s really what made me want to do it. Not just that they were nice to me, but I saw so many similarities in the wrestling business side of it as I saw in the music game. Guys work their tail off in the indie circuit and hopefully get the chance to do some cool things. I saw so many similarities just from talking to guys and that’s what made me wanna explore it and talk about. But yeah, a lot of guys are not nice. At WrestleCon I was trying to get a word from a few people and some people just didn’t care. You mention LeBron James and it’s hard because he is the greatest in the world and everybody he meets want something from him. If you or I were in that position where everybody you met wanted something from you, you’d probably be a little bit of a jerk too. You just can’t keep up with who is genuine and who is not and it’s just not easy to do that.
TRHH: I don’t want to get off on LeBron James…
Mega Ran: Please let’s not, I’m still a fan of his [laughs].
TRHH: [Laughs] Well no, the shit that I’ve encountered with him has nothing to do with people wanting stuff from him. But I know what you’re saying, I’m sure that is a big part of his daily life and it can get frustrating, especially with the media. He’s not the only one that’s rude to the media, but whatever about him. You and Xavier Woods are cool, right?
Mega Ran: Yes. We just kind of bonded over a love of the same things – video games and nerd culture in general. I met him way before anything every really popped off with his wrestling stuff. He was doing a lot of indie stuff with Florida Championship Wrestling and he kind of sought me out looking for music. He wanted some music that reflected his nerdy side. Back then they would let him choose his own music. He searched the internet for Mega Man and found my stuff. He asked me to use one of my songs and we’ve been cool ever since then. He said, “If I ever get called up I’m going to definitely get at you about trying to do some work with us.” Fast forward 3-4 years and they’re the hottest thing on TV. It just shows that a little bit of hard work and probably a lot of luck and you never really know how things will work out. We maintain a really good friendship. Every time he’s in town we hit an arcade or go grab something to eat. I never like to talk shop with guys like that but he actually enjoys it. He likes talking about it probably to people who aren’t in it. It’s probably a bit more of a release to do that and enjoy yourself.
TRHH: That’s dope. How was doing this project different from doing your last album, RNDM?
Mega Ran: It’s like night and day. This was me taking a back seat from being so serious and just having fun exploring stuff that I love. Kind of like the old way I used to do things where I took Mega Man stuff and made a Mega Man themed album. I took wrestling stuff and basically wanted to cut promos over beats. That’s really what it was. I just wanted to cut loose, have fun, throw some catch phrases around, and have a good time. I feel like wrestling and rap is so related. I was talking to a voice actor friend of mine who does some work with Dragon Ball Z. He was like, “Why do you think there is such a connection between Hip-Hop and Dragon Ball Z?” He said, “Because it’s the same thing. It’s the same story. It’s just one is played out on animated screen.”
It’s the same story of these larger than life characters trying to get stronger and proving their toughness. That’s comic books, video games, and a lot of pro wrestling, too. I just saw that similarity there. Everybody wants to be the coolest or the toughest. Ric Flair is the best example. Every rapper wants to be Ric Flair. You want to be the coolest dude that gets all the girls and is the flyest. That swagger that Ric Flair exuded in the NWA days has been Hip-Hop for 20-30 years. That’s why I wanted to do it. I wanted to have some fun and explore some new stuff. I feel like the RNDM album that came out in the fall was very heavy. I touched on some very heavy topics – some that I never thought I’d put into records. It was very cathartic and therapeutic for me to do it, so this time I decided to have some fun and put out a record that would explore another side of me – one of my many fandoms.
TRHH: Have any of the wrestlers heard what you did with their ring entrance music?
Mega Ran: Yeah, I heard that The Undertaker wants to sue me.
Megan Ran: No, I’m just playing [laughs]. Something like that happened with the Meek Mill thing. Actually New Day heard the track and that’s really all I care about. The people that I knew, I wanted them to like it and that was mainly my concern. Xavier Woods told me he plays it for them in the car and they’re like, “Yo, this is dope!” and “How did he manage to fit every one of our catch phrases in one song? It’s cazy!” He told me he’s gonna pass it around to the other guys, get their opinions, and let me know. Hopefully they’ll dig it but that’s enough of a co-sign for me.
TRHH: That’s dope. You got MURS on the album who is also a big wrestling fan. Talk about working with him.
Mega Ran: MURS is the big homie and he’s honestly a guy that I consider a mentor in music. I’ve been listening to his records forever. I met him a couple times and he told me he appreciated my work ethic and the music that I was putting together. He found me while he was scouting artists for the Paid Dues Festival back when that was still a thing. He came across me and came out to one of my shows. Ever since then I didn’t wanna let that go. It was like, “Wow, this dude is like my hero.” His insight more than anything has been great. Now I can actually text him and ask him questions and he’ll give me detailed answers based on his experience. It’s a really great thing. Now most of the time we just talk about wrestling. When I told him I was doing the album he said, “Yo, are you doing anything about the Wyatt’s?” I was like, “Maybe.” He said, “If you are I need to be on that.” I was like, “Okay.” If the big homie said so, absolutely. So the song was actually done. I had two verses on it and we stretched it out to make space for him and he killed it. It’s always an honor to get down with people you look up to so that was dope.
TRHH: Who are your top 5 wrestlers of all-time?
Mega Ran: Man. Wow, top 5 all-time? Macho Man Randy Savage is first. Jake the Snake might be second, Nikita Koloff third, Ric Flair fourth, and a tie between Stone Cold and DDP for fifth.
Mega Ran: I know that’s a little different probably from most, especially DDP. DDP is one of my favorites for so many reasons. Yo, I just found out that DDP just turned 60! That dude is old!
TRHH: He started at 35.
Mega Ran: He started so late and that’s what I wanted to talk about. That’s me with this music stuff. I didn’t put out my first record ‘till I was 31. Learning the game late and coming in, that was me. He’s been my inspiration for that. It’s never too late to start going hard. For that reason he’s always in my top 5. He’s one of my favorites of all-time.
TRHH: That surprised me and Nikita surprised me, but I think DDP is grossly underrated. He gets a lot of flak for being Bischoff’s friend, but he had to work the matches.
Mega Ran: He had to work. It doesn’t matter who your friend is if you can’t work.
TRHH: I thought he was great in the mid-90s era. He was really good.
Mega Ran: He was. I always loved the feud with him and Savage. It was some great stuff.
TRHH: You said you made your first record at 31, what’s your take on the sentiment that rap has an age limit on it? For years the way to diss somebody is to call them old and irrelevant. But all my favorite rappers are in their 40s.
Mega Ran: It’s nonsense. I was going to say that all my favorite rappers are “old” if you consider it old –30, 40, and they’re still dope. It’s ridiculous. People don’t even realize it. I guess it’s a certain generation that will say that but then when Jay-Z drops a new record they’re all about it. When Rick Ross drops a new record they’re all about it. The top guys are older and that’s what it is. I wish Hip-Hop didn’t have that age-ism going on. I feel like it’s kind of fading away. We’re at the point that if you make dope music you will find a group of people who will enjoy it.
TRHH: Jay-Z is a perfect example. He’s in his late 40s. Eminem is 40…
Mega Ran: He kills it every time. If Jay-Z drops a record right now I’ll be like, “Sherron, I gotta go. I gotta go get this Jay-Z record.” It’s still big news to me and it will continue to be a big deal because he doesn’t disappoint.
TRHH: You’re a comic book guy, right?
Mega Ran: I am.
TRHH: Comics, video games, wrestling it’s considered nerd stuff, but it’s all very much Hip-Hop. How do we break the stigma that these things that are so much fun are viewed as nerdy in rap culture?
Mega Ran: I feel like we’re getting there but it’s taking a while for sure. It is getting there. It’s becoming more and more okay for younger kids, especially of color, to get into things that they weren’t necessarily okay with them getting into in the past. I’m trying to do my part. I started an organization called the NPC, the Nerdy People of Color Collective, which is a group of dudes including myself, Xavier Woods is involved, former NFL players, basketball players, scholars, and rappers. People that are in desirable positions in life, but being proud of their nerdy side and talking about it. There is a website, NPCCollective.com where we collect essays from people. They get to talk about their past, explore it, and embrace it to hopefully show some little kid who looks a little different that it’s okay to do these things and be yourself. It’s okay to be yourself. Everybody else is taken so you gotta be yourself.
If everybody does their part and tries to lift up kids that you see, encourage them to read, encourage them to study, to get better at things, and to be creative we’ll slowly get there. It’s not going to be easy. This is a hard thing to break down, Hip-Hop especially. It’s rooted in that masculinity where you got to be tough. I was just telling a friend of mine that tough guy rap is dying. Tough guy rap and gangsta rap is dying. All the top guys are just regular guys – that helps a lot. To be able to look on the charts and the videos and see people that aren’t talking about killing, and this and that but being creative, being themselves, and even embracing their nerdy side. Somebody told me Drake was nerdcore and I was like, “What?” He said the video for Hotline Bling is mad nerdy. I said, “You know what, it kind of is.” He’s doing all this goofy dancing and stuff. This could never fly in the 90s. We’re from the same era so you know if this was the 90s every top group would have been dissing that.
TRHH: Yeah. I think Kanye had a lot to do with what’s accepted today. I think Puffy too, but a lot of these guys are clones of Kanye. They have their little twist to it, but Kanye changed what’s acceptable in Hip-Hop to a degree.
Mega Ran: I totally agree. He was the guy with the backpack and the Polo on who was okay with talking about materialism, God, and all the other things that he did. We thought guys like Lupe Fiasco was kind of doing the same thing. Here was a brother from the hood talking about skate boarding and giant robots. I think that he helped to pave the way, but Kanye took it to another level. A lot of guys definitely owe their career to Kanye.
TRHH: What’s next up for you musically? What are you working on?
Mega Ran: Ah man, there is no next right now, at least not for me. I’m working on getting this label off the ground. Random Beats Music is myself and K-Murdock. We’re putting out an instrumental project from my man AF THE NAYSAYER from New Orleans. Also just trying to help out other artists that I see potential in and help them get their music to a bigger stage. I got my eye on a few people. I won’t make any announcements yet. There will be a couple more releases this year but they won’t necessarily be Mega Ran releases. They’ll just be things that I’ll be working with on the background tip. There is a lot more to come – a whole lot. My man SkyBlew has got another record he’s working on. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening.
Merriam-Webster defines the word “Maturity” as the quality or state of being mature; full development. For Chicago emcee Konflik the time between the release of his 2012 debut album Birth, and now has been a process of growth.
The manifestation of those lessons learned is a full-length album titled “Maturity”. The 11-track album takes you inside the mind of Konflik and chronicles the path he traveled to attain maturity. Maturity features appearances by Masta Ace, SwizZz, Lega-C, and Shawnna.
Konflik spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about his issues regarding higher education, how social media has worked in his favor, the state of his hometown Chicago Bulls, and his new album, Maturity.
TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Maturity.
Konflik: This is my sophomore album. The first one was entitled “Birth” so I wanted to keep a little structure going with that. The real reason behind it is since the time my first album was released a lot of things changed. I took on a lot of responsibility from the music and also life itself. I had to get a lot of things done on my own. I feel like I grew up and progressed in that aspect. That’s what I wanted to represent, making choices, taking everything into consideration as far as the things that you go through.
Konflik: When I recorded Birth I was in a different position. I was kind of with a label. It was a lot of pressure because I was trying to be myself but I was kind of being told what to do. I wouldn’t say it was a complete artistic takeover or anything like that, but they would say, “You gotta make this kind of music,” or “This kind of song.” My goals back then were also a lot different than what they are now. This album is more me. It’s more independent. Everything came from me on this album. There was nobody involved. I left those people alone.
TRHH: On the album you have a song called Take Notes that’s critical of higher education. What inspired that song?
Konflik: I was a student. I went to school for quite a few things – business, music, and graphic design. There was a lot of factors for this, one, I don’t think the struggle of the student gets recognized too often. I think the general perception of a college education is you’re in and out in four years tops. It’s not really like that. When you’re a student and start taking all of the variables into consideration just scheduling your classes can become a hassle. Sometimes classes get booked and you have to wait ‘til next semester. The price of an education is super expensive. Then you have to look for a job in your field, which is extremely hard. It’s a big struggle and I don’t think it gets recognized too often.
The second thing about that song is I’ve always had a love and a passion for music but I never really had a support system around me. Everything around me was always, “Go to school and get a good job.” That’s all I’ve basically been fed my whole life. It just made me realize what my true calling is and what I really want to do with my life. Whether it was a long shot or not I wanted to take that. I’m spending all this money and studying all this stuff that I’m not really passionate about. I felt like I had to put something out there for the students to let them know that I know their pain and if you really wanna do something, do it, but it’s not gonna be easy. It’s not as easy as they tell you it’s gonna be.
TRHH: I feel like parents and older people can be dream killers. They have good intentions when they tell you to go to school and get a job because they want you to be stable. But they crush that little kid in you that wants to do what you want to do.
Konflik: [Laughs] I know exactly what you’re saying, your inner-child.
TRHH: Yes. It’s practical. You’ll have a roof over your head and food on your table, but will you be happy? Life is so short that it’s so important to be happy – it’s so important. Maybe the next generation will implement that more but our generation was just taught to get a job.
Konflik: Absolutely. I completely understand. I went through all of that. Like I said, I didn’t have a support system. That’s all I’ve been pretty much fed. When I decided I wanted to do music and started making sacrifices and decisions to make this a reality a lot of people didn’t agree with me. I was getting crucified left and right and told I was chasing a dream that was never going to come true. I was told I needed to get it together and get my head out the gutter – I’ve heard it all. I can honestly tell you that even back then financially and as far as responsibilities and stuff and I have a lot more together than I do now, I can honestly tell you that I might not be in the best financial situation, but I’m a lot happier right now that I’m doing what I love to do than I was back then doing something that I didn’t love. I kinda shut a lot of people up when I dropped my first album. Once I ended up with distribution and I was on iTunes and Google Play nobody had anything else to say because it got to a point where I was selling product. It all worked out for me.
TRHH: How did you decide to become an emcee?
Konflik: I’ve always loved music and have always been into it. In high school I was freestyling in the hallways, I joined the poetry club, and I used to write a lot. I even did school plays back then. As time progressed there was other students that wanted to get into music. I starting recording with them. I knew a bunch of taggers and some of them became promoters and they needed people to perform. It was just kind of for fun because I love Hip-Hop, but it just kept progressing throughout the years to what it is now.
TRHH: I know you’re a big Chicago Bulls fan. What’s your take on the current status of the team?
Konflik: I compare this Bulls team to last year in the Thibodeau era. I think coaching has a lot to do with what’s going on with the Bulls right now. I think they’re still searching for an identity. Are they a fast paced team? Are they the mean defensive Bulls that everybody hates? I think they’re still trying to find that rhythm and gel well with the system. They’re not winning as much as they used to but I still think they’re a great team and can be utilized correctly. I don’t like Hoiberg. I don’t like our coach. He’s probably a great coach with a great offensive mindset, but I think the chemistry isn’t there.
Everyone is so focused on trying to figure out how they fit in the system that they aren’t gelling well together. I think if Thibodeau was still in the picture this would not be happening. Thibodeau would be snapping right now. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. You barely see the guy smile. He would not be happy and the team would not be playing the way they’re playing right now. If he was still here they’d still be the third to second seed going into the playoffs. I do have hope for these Bulls. I think they can get it together. I think Hoiberg needs to start getting mad.
TRHH: I don’t think it’s in his personality to get mad. He’s not that kind of guy.
Konflik: Yeah. That to me to is the main determining factor in the different play of the team. If you made a mistake under Thibodeau he’ll get in your ass like colon cancer [laughs]. Hoiberg is probably like, “Oh, it’s okay. Get ‘em next time,” no, it’s not.
TRHH: How’d you link up with Masta Ace for Reputation?
Konflik: Man, Twitter. To put it out there I’m not really a social media kinda guy, but Twitter has done some great things for me – Masta Ace is one of them. I was always a fan of Ace growing up as a kid – especially in high school when he dropped Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer. Those albums were really dope to me back then. I always wanted to work with him for as long as I’ve been rhyming. It’s been like a dream of mine I guess. I was new to it so I was following people I admired. I was following him on Twitter and I noticed he was real interactive with fans and anyone who’d talk to him. I thought that was cool. I think we talked about football a few times. We talked about the Bears and Eagles.
I asked him, “I’ve always wanted to work with you. Who do I gotta talk to, to make that happen?” and he responded, “You’re talking to him.” He sent me a message with his e-mail. I e-mailed him and we’ve been cool ever since. I went out to Manhattan, we met at Lofish Studios and laid down Reputation. He was real cool. He schooled me on a few things in the industry that I didn’t know in regards to sampling. Since then it’s just been hi and bye and keeping him updated with the project. He even hooked me up with Jerry [Graham Publicity]. He’s just a cool guy. Ace is a cool dude.
TRHH: What does maturity mean to you?
Konflik: I like to think back to a time when music was huge to me. This was basically in high school. Masta Ace, Nas, Talib Kweli, I could go on and on with people who made music that touched me in the heart and made me feel strongly about certain situations. Chicago is not a real nice city [laughs]. It may look nice, but it’s crazy out here. They would speak on a lot of things that would go on out here as well. I wanted the same impact that I felt back then on people who listen to Maturity like, “Wow, he said something real,” or “He said something dope,” “That’s how I feel.” I kind of talked about a lot of things that I’ve been through and that lay on my mind but I don’t really have conversations about. Self-expression, and I just kind of just wanted people to hear it and have that connection with it like they know me personally. That’s my goal. That’s what Maturity is to me, a connection to the people. I know what you go through because I go through the same thing. Just because I rap don’t make me different than you.
Nick Weaver is back with a full-length album called “Prowler”. After tackling tough topics on 2015’s Yardwork, the Seattle emcee toned down the subject matter this go around while still maintaining poignancy. Prowler is a 12-track album full of innovate, thumping beats and lyrics about everyday life.
Clocking in at just under 35 minutes, Weaver took a “less is more” approach on Prowler. Each song is brief (the longest song is four minutes and three seconds) but packs a punch. The album is produced entirely by Nick Weaver and features appearances by Anthony Briscoe, da Deputy, and Grynch.
Nick Weaver spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about handling all of the production on his new album, painting pictures with rhymes, and what it’s like to be a prowler.
Nick Weaver: When I went and made this album I was doing everything differently. I was having trouble writing new stuff prior to this album. I just kept writing about the same stuff. My previous album, Yardwork was your borderline come-up rap/embracing your life struggles and whatnot. I think for myself it just became played out and creatively stale to do that. I didn’t know what the fuck to write about because I didn’t want to write anything that wasn’t accurate to who I was. I always want the art to represent the artist. I didn’t know what the fuck to write about so one of my best friends from California, Quinn is a guy I sent iPhone memos to – rough concepts. He said, “Just write about all the stuff that you do.” I’ll travel for work a lot for these events and somehow I’ll just randomly be in Nashville by myself eating ribs. I’ll be walking around Salt Lake City in the middle of winter listening to old school beats and shit. He said, “All the random stuff that makes you who you are, write about that.”
So I started to embrace that and write about the small shit in my life that doesn’t necessarily have a ton of meaning but represents who I am. I’ll go for a drive at 3 a.m. and listen to music by myself. I’ll pull up to a park at midnight and shoot jump shots completely alone. I’ll drive and go get a slice of pie at Shari’s at six in the morning just ‘cause I want to. The title “Prowler” is actually from a Black Rob line from a song that he did with The Lox called “Can I Live” where he says, “Nighttime prowler/Grimy after hours.” I just liked how that word sounded. To me it just meant embrace the weird dude that rides around in his car listening to music. I’m sort of this weird hermit that just locks himself away. I don’t even mean it as “weird” but just embrace that stuff and talk about it in a way that makes it sound cool, visually descriptive and interesting.
Nick Weaver: I made that beat first. I really liked the beat. Prowler is referenced quite a bit throughout the album. It starts off with the Black Rob line and it talks about being in my car listening to Nina Simone and drinking gas station coffee. It’s really coming to the full identity and by the time the beat drops the song is just pulling all this stuff from my life into the lyrics. It talks about being on a roof and mislabeling Orion’s Belt. I’m talking about going to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest that you can only get to when the tide rolls out. Right now that song is everyone’s favorite. It has that aggressive “hit the beat as hard as you can and go hyper-lyrical” but it’s clear enough and paints vivid enough pictures that it feels like this big grand tale. That or Proceed is probably my favorite track on the album.
TRHH: Why is it your favorite?
Nick Weaver: I just like the sound. I like that it has a powerful sound despite it not being about anything super-emotional one way or the other. It has a certain vibe to it. This idea that I really tried to go forward with as an artist – avant-garde lyricism. I would never compare myself to Nas, but when I wrote Prowler I listened to how Nas described things all the time. I love how if you listen to one Nas song you can see every detail, just like a really great author. I wanted to replicate that or do that in my version and my own vision as best I could. That song and Proceed tells these stories without needing a background explanation, even though they’re kind of abstract not necessarily about direct things.
Nick Weaver: We talked about it last time when we first chatted, Hilsyde handled most of the production on the last one. I came up with the skeletons and loose concepts of the initial beats, but he made that sound like it sounds. He deserves most of the credit for that. Whereas this album I just produced everything up here on my own. I locked myself away for a while learning how to make stuff sound good in Logic. The first difference is sounds are totally coming from my brain. Yardwork was talking about the struggle of becoming older and stuff with my family – it was a very personal record. This one is personal but it’s not an emotional one. This one is more about just finding the abstract pieces in life. Finding the nuances and subtleties in life, casting them to the front and showing every little detail about who you are. It’s a way different sound and vibe. Yardwork had a lot more moroseness and sadness to it. Prowler is more upbeat. There are hard hitting beats, there is a lot of energy behind it — it ebbs and flows with energy.
TRHH: You mentioned Hilsyde. So he had no involvement with this new project?
Nick Weaver: No, not this time. I wanna work with him again soon in L.A. though.
TRHH: How did you get to the point where you were confident in your abilities as a producer to do this 100% on your own?
Nick Weaver: I had to lock myself away, sit there and make a beat. When it was done, make another beat. When that was done, make another beat. Over and over and over again. The first 20, 30, 40 beats I made were cool. They were alright, but I would never put those on my album. The one that clicked with me was “R.I.P.” which features an emcee out of Forth Worth named da Deputy, who is a good friend of mine through music. I made that beat and it was that moment that you see in memes and shit. I finally got it arranged right. I chopped up the sample from an instrumental rock song, flipped it, and made this catchy melody. I was sitting there in the room in my boxers and I hit play and was like, “Boom! Fuck! There it is!” I was dancing around the room and shit ‘cause I finally made something that I thought was dope and catchy. It’s like anything, for you it might be writing. At some point when you write a good enough thing a long time ago you don’t forget that point. It’s like the switch, you don’t forget that switch. This is how you do this from here on out, and I just started building from that.
Nick Weaver: I was just messing around again and I came up with this piano loop. The original song was written over another beat that was 808 heavy, big drums, atmospheric track. I wrote all those lyrics over there. It was a menacing type song. I was sort of freestlye mumbling over the piano of Forgot and as I started doing that I flipped the initial line of, “I wrote that late night manuscript/I keep that stick shift handle grip,” and it just fit so perfectly. The sound, the vibe, and the lyrics perfectly matched. I’m talking about being in the Louvre with a canvas print and driving at night toward Kansas City to go get Burnt Ends, and it fit the vision so perfectly. Going back to being visually descriptive, it was the perfect vibe for it. Initially I thought about adding drums to it and I sat there listening but my buddy Quinn said, “Just leave it like that. It’s cool. It’s short. It breaks up the craziness of the album,” So we just left it.
TRHH: You mentioned energy, the big sounds, and the piano; how would you describe the overall sound of Prowler?
Nick Weaver: That’s a good question. I think I’d describe it as “cinematic”. I know that, that has a lot of fuckin’ douche baggery attached to it, but you gotta hear me out. It has stuff to me that if you just listen to the beat, especially Proceed, Gospel, Taste, and Forgot, it sounds like something you’d hear in a movie intro. It could be the ending credits or some crazy scene where people are walking through a field or the mountains. It has that big sound to it. When I play Proceed I always picture Marshawn Lynch slamming through the rain in a black and white slow motion 4K – some big epic shit. When I was way younger and messing around on the keyboard I had I would always play these beats with big chords and make this big epic sound. I wasn’t recording, just playing it. That’s what I came up with. Cinematic is the best way to describe it in my own mind.
Nick Weaver: That’s a good question. I think Prowler stands on kind of two legs. I think there is a lot of heavy lyricism going on in Prowler. If you’re of any sort of school, whether it’s old or new, and you like lyricism and grew up listening to that type of shit you can certainly find it in Prowler throughout. Especially because of how much time I put into painting pictures with stuff. It also has a lot of accessibility, meaning that people that might not listen to Hip-Hop will like it because of what I said previously – the cinematic sound. You put on this shit and it’s really well mixed because of this guy named D-Sane who is a Seattle Hip-Hop producer and sound engineer. He mixed it all down and recorded it so it sounds really good. It just hits clean. The sounds are big. There’s a lot of fun, different beats. It doesn’t stay in one place. It’s kind of all over in how it sounds. I think it’s for people that would randomly throw on some Hip-Hop every once in a while. If you like clean lyricism you can find plenty of that in Prowler.
On the song “Louder Than a Bomb” from the groundbreaking 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, Public Enemy front man Chuck D rhymes, “…I give you what you lack/Come right and exact/Our status is the saddest/So I care where you at, black…” Those rhymes were almost like a mission statement for Chuck D and PE, and they are just as relevant today as they were twenty eight years ago.
In 2001 a company called the Young Chicago Authors started a non-profit named after the PE album cut, Louder Than a Bomb. Kevin Coval, the Louder Than a Bomb founder established the organization to give young people in Chicago a creative outlet. Today Louder Than a Bomb plays host to the world’s largest youth poetry festival.
Recently Louder Than a Bomb celebrated its 16th anniversary and honored Chuck D for nearly thirty years of masterful work with words. Chuck has dedicated over half of his life to giving us “what we lack” and “caring where we’re at” so it’s only right that a little something be given back to him.
Prior to the Louder Than a Bomb festivities at the Metro in Chicago I had the extreme pleasure of speaking to one of the greatest emcees of all-time, a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and one of my personal musical heroes, Mr. Chuck D.
Chuck D: He’s waiting for Fetty Wap to die? [Laughs] Nah, let me stop.
TRHH: [Laughs] He said he’s waiting for rap to die in the next ten years.
Chuck D: Everything dies.
TRHH: Do you really believe that rap music will die? Classical music still exists.
Chuck D: First of all, rap has never been a music.
TRHH: What has it been?
Chuck D: It’s been a vocal application on top of music, so music is always here. This is why rap has never disappeared anyway. Hip-Hop is a culture, rap music is rap on top of music. It started from cats rapping over records. It’s rap vocal application. Rap is in the middle of talking and singing so to say that rap is going to disappear is the stupidest thing. It’s as stupid as saying, “I wonder when these singing records are going to stop.” To scare him somebody should take one of KISS’ records and rhyme over it.
TRHH: Somebody should.
Chuck D: If they can actually find something good enough [laughs]. I respected KISS when I was a teenager. I wasn’t 2 years old when it came out. I went to an all-white high school. Some kids liked it. I liked the kids that liked Led Zeppelin and that type of stuff. Their music reminds me of cheap beer.
Chuck D: Cheap beer. It has its purpose. I went to college in ’78 so what was happening at that time was Disco and KISS. I think Gene Simmons is looking at rap music as something like what Disco did. Disco when it first started out was very hot. It was a black music, they just changed up on the patterns. My brother introduced me to Disco at that time. You know what I played on the radio show? T-Connection “Do What You Wanna Do.” That was Disco, but all that stuff from The O’Jay’s, “I Love Music” and Earl Young changing the drum pattern – the beat. Then once it got to the point where it was understood and people liked that thing then you started seeing Giorgio Moroder from Germany, computers, Miko synthesizers, it just got corny, man. I think people look at rap music sometimes like anybody can do it or anybody can say anything over anything and it’s going to catch on with money behind it. I think that’s what Gene Simmons sees. He doesn’t understand what Black Milk is doing. He wouldn’t understand guys like Torae. Those are craftsmen. You gotta look at those guys like Yusef Lateef and jazz cats. Looking at a dude like Premier is like Art Blakey. This is the thing to print, Gene Simmons wouldn’t know how to compare DJ Premier to Art Blakey. Hip-Hop cats that are skillful are like the most eloquent of jazz cats. If you ain’t into that world it’s all cheap beer.
TRHH: The last time we spoke you told me the next Public Enemy album would be short, and I was shocked at how short it really was.
Chuck D: Twenty nine minutes.
TRHH: Also what stood out was the sound was different.
Chuck D: The sound is always going to be different. Every time I try to do a record it’s going to be different. I’m never, ever going to be the same. I’m never going to do the same thing twice, and even when you say you’re not going to do the same thing twice you end up sounding here and there like the same thing twice because you are who you are. We’ve had massive successes and intentionally went away from the massive successes that we did the first time around just to be difficult. Outkast was like that, De La Soul was like that. Some people are like, “Well I got something so Im’ma ride with it.” Kanye in a certain way is starting to believe that, that’s the way he’s going to be and like it or not he don’t care. People say, “Bring back the classic Kanye,” but the classic Kanye was like 20 something years old. You can always go and get it. It’s out there. College Dropout ain’t goin’ nowhere.
TRHH: I think with Hip-Hop fans it’s like a special moment in time. If you were in college when College Dropout came out it means something special to you.
Chuck D: They want everything like that. They wanna look like they did in the mirror too [laughs]. It’s understandable but the thing that’s different about music and art is they can go and get the same thing. You want to go back to 1988? Then get on the internet and get everything from that time. You’ll get it exactly how it was.
TRHH: I’ve spoken with Daddy-O and Easy Mo Bee and both of them told me how you motivated them to release their respective projects. What’s it like working guys who are veterans and guys new to the game and helping to bring the best out of them with SPITdigital?
Chuck D: My goal is to make sure that people can get the most out of themselves and explore these areas as artists and craft persons well beyond what society determines for them, “Oh it’s over for you because you’re a certain age,” says who? I want this area to be more fruitful for them but nobody controls this area. I told Daddy-O and Easy Mo Bee to just get in the area of creating and releasing knowing that if it’s one copy that you move to a zillion, the system is set up to give you what you give out fairly. The only thing that I can deliver is a fair system. My latest comments have been trying to get people to understand that SoundCloud started out great but ended up being bought by the monsters. People are finding out that their music is being jacked on SoundCloud. They’re gonna scrape down half your shit and cry to the sample clearers.
TRHH: Yeah, he said he had a hand in helping you with business stuff at Def Jam. How exactly did Eric help you and is that sort of camaraderie missing today? I remember seeing Sir Mix-A-Lot on TV years ago and he said that he was doing an interview using all this rapper slang and he said, “Chuck D told me you speak well. What are you doing? You don’t have to do that.” I feel like pulling each others coats and helping each other out is absent in Hip-Hop now.
Chuck D: We were taught by our father who passed away in February. My dad was very clear in saying, “You stand up for who you are. Nobody is better than you. That doesn’t mean nobody is worse than you but you stand up for who you are, and you want people to have better than what you have for yourself. There is enough to go around for everybody. I don’t care what you do but when you go out into the world you go with your head up and chest out.” That was the same thing going into business. I was an older brother to a lot of cats. You can’t gobble everything up. You don’t wanna gobble, you’ll become sick. I would pull Eric over with some things and Eric would say, “Yo man, I got this deal through 4th & Broadway so you better look at your contract.” Eric B was like a union leader, man. The Eric B’s, Hammer’s and Ice-T’s, guys like that would always set people free. They would always be giving of themselves. We had a brotherhood, we traveled together, and we played shows with each other. The stage is where all the niceties would end, but that’s no different from back in the day when Jordan would run into… with the exception of Isiah [laughs]….
TRHH: [Laughs] Oakley, Barkley…
Chuck D: Right, we boys but Im’ma bust your ass on the court. I remember this very clearly, me and Kane are close like brothers, but the thing I remember one time is Kane mopped us up so bad. I mean he just tore us to pieces [laughs]. I was laughing and I was hot but what happens is you get them back the next day. That’s your motivation – honing your talent into a skill. That’s what you want in anything is competition, but it’s growth as a crafts-person. Those times were special, man because it was rap against the world. So when Gene Simmons say something about rap music you would expect that he’d have a lot of eloquent responses as opposed to saying, “Leave him the fuck alone.” No, because he needs to be addressed. What’s your music about? Compare your music to Led Zeppelin.
TRHH: [Laughs] There is no comparison.
Chuck D: I mean, he would. He’d tell you KISS is the biggest band of all-time.
TRHH: The cheesiest band of all-time.
Chuck D: But he’s relying on people who don’t know that. KISS will tell you that they filled stadiums and they’re to be respected for what they did, but you know what, you gotta fight for this too. Who do you think the KISS of Hip-Hop would be?
TRHH: That’s tough, man.
Chuck D: I’m not belittling anybody either and I’m not belittling KISS. Just a spectacle, KISS is spectacle. Who was a spectacle?
TRHH: Hammer comes to mind but I don’t wanna do that to him.
Chuck D: Yeah, yeah you don’t wanna do that to Hammer, right?
TRHH: I have respect for him. He tore down a lot of stages.
Chuck D: KISS tore down stages too. You can’t really point to a music that didn’t. Didn’t they do “I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite?”
TRHH: Yeah, he said something about Flash and Run-DMC being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame too. He has no respect whatsoever. I take that shit personally.
Chuck D: I know, I take it personally too. If he came around and flipped all of a sudden tomorrow and said he loved rap music would you buy it? I wouldn’t buy it. I’d buy that as much as Howard Stern saying it. We really don’t give a fuck about what anybody says. Fuck you dude, it’s gonna go down. That’s what it’s about.
TRHH: What are you feelings on the support that Donald Trump is receiving as he heads toward being the Republican candidate for President?
Chuck D: Welcome to the United States of America. A place that has forgotten that we were a couple of percentage points away from Sarah Palin being the Vice President with a 70-year old President where anything could happen.
Chuck D: I got three service areas; SPITdigital, trying to tell artists to have their labels and do their thing, RapStation, a 12 station channel that we really enjoy, servicing thousands of artists, and Public Enemy doing some special things. I’m just trying to be of service. That’s what I’m trying to be on the way out. If I can’t make you go home to your family and say, “I like what I’m doing and I’m paid for doing it,” that’s why it’s important to be eloquent in all foundations of this because it’s not about an artist making a living, it’s about all the service areas. “What are you doing, Sherron?” “I’m a journalist. I write about music, culture, and other things in society.” “Wow, so what else do you do?” “That’s how I make my living.” “Wow, how can I do that?” and you’d be like, “Not overnight!” It don’t happen that way [laughs].
Onry Ozzborn is no stranger to collaborating. In his 19 year career the Seattle native has been a part of many groups including Grayskul, Oldominion, The Gigantics, and Dark Time Sunshine. Ozzborn’s latest project carries on his tradition of collaborating. Appropriately titled “DUO” Onry Ozzborn’s new album is in the same vein as Scarface’s “My Homies” series where Onry invites his friends to rock with him on each track.
DUO features Aesop Rock, Eligh, Sadistik, Latrell James, Rob Sonic, Nathan Quiroga, P.O.S., Kimya Dawson, Asphate, Dem Atlas, K Death, Cloudy October, Theory Hazit, Terra Lopez, Homeboy Sandman, and Pigeon John.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Onry Ozzborn about his new album DUO, its accompanying film project, his favorite song on the album, and the possibility of a new Grayskul project.
TRHH: Did you purposely set out to record an album with all guest appearances?
Onry Ozzborn: No, I didn’t. I actually started the album over five years ago. I was randomly recording music. I didn’t have a concept or a title or anything. I was randomly dropping verses on different instrumentals and whatnot. On a couple of songs I heard certain people’s voices and styles to it so I reached out to some people. As it progressed it just kind of evolved into that. I decided to have a guest on each song and do a duet album with all my friends. That’s why it’s called DUO.
TRHH: Because they’re all your friends was it easier to get features?
Onry Ozzborn: Oh, definitely. Almost everybody I worked with are friends of mine over the years from touring. I never try to force anything. I let the song tell me what should go on it and what shouldn’t. I just let it take its course and reached out to friends of mine. It was smooth sailing.
TRHH: Tell me about the film that accompanies the album.
Onry Ozzborn: The film is the entire album shrunk down into a thirteen and a half minute visual. It’s a medley of the entire album, but it sounds like one song. I was able to get everybody that’s on the album in the film.
TRHH: Oh wow. What was the filming process like?
Onry Ozzborn: It was phenomenal. It was a good time, man, being able to have all the artists for the most part in one place. The people that live out of town and couldn’t make it sent footage in and we were able to implement it into the film in a very unique way. Once you see the film you’ll understand. It’s a R2D2 type thing. The movie is the visual version of the album.
TRHH: My favorite song on the album is “Burn” with Theory Hazit. How did that song come together?
Onry Ozzborn: I just heard him on it. I’ve never worked with him before but we’re friends. When I heard the beat I knew Theory would kill it. I went ahead and dropped the whole thing. I did the Burn thing, he heard it and felt it and did the same thing. I didn’t think it needed a hook, I just wanted some raw spit on there.
TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Onry Ozzborn: Yeah, my favorite song is “Wired” with Asphate from Maxilla Blue. It’s pretty unique sounding to me. I haven’t heard a song like that. His verse was phenomenal to me. Everybody killed it but I haven’t heard a verse like that since early Pharoahe Monch.
Onry Ozzborn: That’s not even in the works. I’m working on this, a new Dark Time Sunshine after that, and JFK is working on a solo album so it’s going to be a while.
TRHH: What can fans expect to hear when they buy DUO?
Onry Ozzborn: Just a variety of a lot of different types of music – a lot of mood swings. There are like 23 different people on the album so you won’t get bored. It’s put together very cohesively though, it’s not like a compilation or just some songs thrown together. It’s real organic throughout the whole thing. It’s only a 51 minute listen so it’s not that long.