Apathy: Handshakes With Snakes

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Photo courtesy of Score Press

Photo courtesy of Score Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRHH: Tell about the song Rap is Not Pop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apathy: Yep, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purchase: Apathy – Handshakes With Snakes

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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