Code Nine and Purpose are members of a crew called Tragic Allies. Purpose has handled production duties while Code Nine serves as one of the crew’s emcees. The Massachusetts natives have joined up for an official release called “Below Sumerian Skies.”
Below Sumerian Skies is a 14-track album produced entirely by Purpose. The album is the epitome of what Hip-Hop should be – raw beats and rhymes. Released by Below System Records, Below Sumerian Skies features appearances from Paranom, Estee Nack, and M-Credible.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Code Nine and Purpose about the difficulties that come with being perfectionists, why they refuse to dumb down their sound, their Tragic Allies crew, and their new album, Below Sumerian Skies.
TRHH: Explain the title of the album, Below Sumerian Skies.
Code Nine: The title of the album kind of embodies my whole style in a sense. It’s kind of a metaphor. Below Sumerian Skies insinuates that we’re under skies of the Sumerians. For people who don’t know the Sumerians were the original urban civilization under Sumer. It’s modern day Iraq. It’s kind of a vision that I had and it encompassed the whole feeling of the album. It’s a metaphorical term for life situations. The whole album is like that. It’s not really something that’s concrete – it’s a lot more abstract and a little bit more in depth.
TRHH: Tell me about the single Staff of Moses.
Code Nine: Staff of Moses was actually a beat that was taken. Purp had it sent it out for another project. We were sitting in the lab one day and we just laid it down randomly and it came out really dope. We remixed it and as we always do we sit down and we build with the homies about the music that we’ve made. Essentially everyone who listened to it kind of felt the original more. We reached out to who we gave the beat to and see if they’ve done anything to it. We didn’t get a response so we put it on the album because we really liked the joint. The song itself is kind of one of those braggadocio, metaphorical joints again where I’m flexing lyrically. It kind of felt more like a single. It didn’t really have a single concept, it was just a little more loosely based. That’s the feeling we were going for. I know when Purpose really likes something then I have to roll with it because Purp is really an analyst when it comes to music. I respect his opinion a lot so when he really feel something I run with it.
TRHH: Have you heard back from the person who originally had the beat yet?
Purpose: Interesting story is I was on the phone with Killah Priest. He was out somewhere with Ghost doing some shows. He was like, “Yo, send me some beats!” I sent that beat to Priest and he was really feeling it. A couple months went by and he never used it. I hit him up like, “Yo, what’s good? You using that beat?” There wasn’t any response in email so I called him and he didn’t get around to recording anything to it so I was like fuck it, let’s roll with it on the Code project.
TRHH: Code, why did it take you so long to release a project?
Code Nine: A lot of things. I’m kind of a perfectionist, which is a double edged sword because there’s some point where I have to draw the line and be like, “Alright, enough of trying to perfect this project. I have to release it,” even releasing the album how it is. Of course being an artist you always notice the flaws in it. I love the album and I think it’s a good representation of the type of music that I make. It took a long time because it took a long time for me to get out of my head as far as the music and get out of my own way. You can ask Purp, there is a running joke with the whole crew that if I hate the song then everyone else is going to love it. I’m so critical of my own music. It took me a while but I’m glad that it did. We had an album in mind back in 2012. That was when we started to lay the foundation and we had to see what direction we were going in. Toward 2014-15 it really picked up and we started really seeing the vision so we had to change the way we were going a little bit. We recorded like 27-28 song for this project.
Purpose: It was like 38 joints, yo.
Code Nine: It was a lot. It was a lot of songs. We’re still sitting on crazy material but we had to narrow it down to 14. I can honestly say that it was me having to step out of my own way a little bit. I was starting to get too much into it and at some point you gotta just let it go and let it be.
TRHH: Do you worry that your rhymes might be over the heads of today’s listeners?
Code Nine: Honestly, yeah. It’s a constant battle. I’ve been trying not to dumb it down but figure out a less intricate way of putting cool ideas. That’s the only way I can describe it and I think I’m getting a little bit better at that. I want people to really have to listen to it, analyze it, and break it down. A lot of my younger dudes don’t really listen to the stuff that I listen to so when they hear it they feel the vibe. They don’t really catch the lyrics and the references, but they feel the vibe. And I got my homies that really listen to and analyze lyrics. I’m trying to play a game where it’s right in the middle. I can make music that anyone can vibe to if they’re not listening to it, but at the same time if you really wanna listen to and break down the lyrics it can blow you away. I personally want people to sit down and have to listen to my lyrics. I want it to grab your attention and I want you to go, “Yo, what is he talking about?” and have to do research to figure out what the hell I’m talking about. Those are the emcees that I really feel, the ones that make me have to rewind some shit. For me that’s what Hip-Hop is about.
Purpose: Tragic Allies as a whole we try not to dumb the shit down because let’s be real, nowadays I ain’t concerned about whether the listener can get it or not. If anything the listener needs to step up their game because today’s music there is no intellectual value to it. It’s not making the listener any smarter. Back in the day when ill rappers were coming up and saying witty and intellectual shit it made us wanna get on our knowledge shit and expand our vocabulary’s Today’s music is missing that. I ain’t catering to people who wanna listen to some dumb down shit. They can go to the club and listen to that shit, but I ain’t with it.
Code Nine: I’m the youngest one out the crew. I started hanging out with Purp and Estee when I was 15 years old. I came from that era because of them. I was a young cat reading the dictionary. I would make it a habit of finding a random word and starting my shit off with that. Nowadays cats don’t have to do that because that’s too much work. That’s not the type of music that they’re doing anyway. I feel like there is a big demographic of people that are craving that substance. I feel like even with our music, if people really wanna give us a listen, the Kendrick Lamar fans, and the J. Cole fans, those people want some sort of substance and we can appeal to those crowds. The genre that we’re doing is more in the category of people who fuck with Planet Asia, Roc Marciano, Westside Gunn, and Conway. I feel like we fall into that vibe and we’re comfortable with that because we know those people are gonna appreciate the music.
TRHH: Recently a kid came out and said he couldn’t name 5 Biggie and 2Pac songs.
Code Nine: Yeah, Lil Yachty.
TRHH: Right, and Lil Uzi refused to rap over a Premier beat. A lot of those same kind of people think the boom bap sound is old and dated. What’s your take on the new wave of cats that push back on what they consider old school?
Code Nine: Being somebody who is 28 years old, I’m a little bit older and a little bit wiser. I’m by no means old or wise, but I still have a lot of people I mess with who are younger. I understand at some point everything has to evolve and change. I’m not hating on kids doing their music. I even heard some dope shit coming out of Chicago like the drill scene. I listen to a lot of music. Even if I don’t like it I pick and choose and listen to a lot of different shit. I’m a little bit more open to certain stuff. I’m not hating on what none of them kids are doing – I don’t fuck with it. What they’re doing is being disrespectful. You can do what you gotta do and not spit in the face of the people who made it possible for you to do that. That’s a slap in the face, so I don’t fuck with that. As far as them doing their music, that’s cool.
My biggest beef with it is the game doesn’t have a lane for anything else other than that. It became a corporate monopoly where it’s all about money and what’s selling, so there is no lane left as far generating real profit and being comfortable making music if you’re doing something like we’re doing. My biggest beef with it is the behind the scenes shit that make it possible for a Lil Yachty to be popping. I don’t even blame them, they’re doing what they do. It’s somebody putting them in the position where you got little kids looking up to them, that fucks with me. That’s the true change of the game that I’m having a hard time adapting to, not so much the music. To me the music sucks – a lot of it. Some of it is good, but a lot of it sucks. At the end of the day I can’t blame them. I straight up blame the corporations that take that shit and make it popular and give them the avenue to be able to do that on a widespread level.
TRHH: Don’t you think the J. Cole’s and Kendrick’s are changing that? They’ve proven that you can talk about something and still sell records.
Code Nine: Yeah! No, definitely. But they also have a lot more commercial appeal than a lot of people who are doing music and are very talented but just don’t have that commercial appeal. I feel like it is essential right now to have those guys because they are keeping the last leg of that part of the art form alive. To me though the one thing that’s still left and is still the last branch that’s really connecting the younger generation to emceeing is battle rap. A lot of these battle rap cats can spit. They may not be able to make crazy ill music, but a lot of these dudes are putting together crazy, witty, lyrical, clever lines. A lot of these young dudes still fuck with the battle scene. That and having people like Kendrick Lamar, but there’s not a huge lane for it and they still have to do almost pop records to sell records. They have an album with different material but it’s different, it’s different.
TRHH: Purpose, what’s your workstation of choice?
Purpose: Right now on the right side of my lab is my production side where I do all production. On the other side I got a custom made Mac where I do all the recording. I got an old school MPC, I got the MPC Renaissance, but to be honest I use them shits sparingly nowadays. I really do fuck with a lot of the software now. People say maybe you can do certain shit differently if you use drum machines and all that, but honestly if you know what you’re doing you can do that on software as well. Some of the software that I use is FL Studio just like millions of other people. It’s about the way you EQ shit, the way you mix shit, the way you make snares snap, kicks have more punch to them, the way you use effects on your samples, the way you construct everything. I can make a beat on the MPC and reconstruct it in FL Studio and it will sound the same or maybe even better because I feel like I have more options with the software.
TRHH: Do you guys have a favorite song on the album?
Code Nine: Probably not the same one.
Purpose: Definitely not the same one.
TRHH: Both of you give your favorites.
Code Nine: There’s a lot of joints that I really like. For me the one that stands out is When the Saints Out. It was literally the last joint that we did on the whole project. We were already wrapping up, I was at the lab, he played the beat and I was ready to lay something down real quick. It ended up being one of the strongest joints on the album. That’s by far my favorite and it just happened to be the last joint that we did.
Purpose: That joint is tough but my personal favorite is the joint called Forces of Nature…
Code Nine: I knew it!
Purpose: [Laughs] It came out of nowhere. I almost scrapped that beat. He had come over and I had been fucking with that beat. I wasn’t sure about it and he just comes through and just starts kicking his verse to it. He made me feel the beat that much more. He opened up my eyes and my ears to what the beat was supposed to sound like. From him spitting that verse I ended up adding on to the beat, he ended up spitting another verse, and we just laid it down that day.
Code Nine: A lot of the joints that came the most organically were the best. It was a couple of joints I wrote at my house by myself. A good chunk of the album was written there in the lab with the beat shaking the whole crib. The joints that come out organically where I show up, he’s making the beat already, I start kicking something, and it ends up on the album, I feel like that’s the best way to do music.
TRHH: Who is Below Sumerian Skies made for?
Purpose: It’s for everybody. For people who feel like we feel. I really don’t cater my music or my sound to anybody particular. I do music that I feel. That’s why I don’t go out of my lane because I don’t feel like I have to. I do what I do and what I feel inside of me. I make music for people who feel what I feel and go through what I go through. I would say it probably caters more to the intelligent street cat or the true Hip-Hop cats that still fucks with the real sound and likes melodic beats with hard lyrics – music with substance, that’s what it caters to. The Sumerians’ whole view was brought upon because they were people who lived in perpetual darkness. Our studio is the Gray Skies – it all came together like that.
Code Nine: I would say the album definitely has street vibes. It definitely caters to the streets and that’s definitely because of how we came up and where we came up. It’s definitely something that I feel like a lot of people can feel. I look at a lot of my fans and I have people from all different walks of life and people going through all different sorts of circumstances and they can relate to it. You’re going to have a couple joints on the album that make you feel a certain type of way. You’re gonna have other joints where you might not feel a certain way emotionally, but you can connect to the sound. It caters to somebody that can feel that sort of vibe, somebody who is going to take the time to listen to lyrics, a message, and people who appreciate the art form.
That’s who it’s for, but I don’t feel like it’s limited to anybody. It’s for somebody’s uncle. They might hear one of the old samples and be like, “Oh my god!” It doesn’t just cater to one demographic of people. We know the type of listener who is really going to appreciate it though. It’s not one type of person but it is somebody who is definitely going to take time to break down the lyrics, but also appreciate some incredible, amazing production. The production makes it easy for almost anybody to listen to it. People that truly appreciate it are people who are going to listen to more than just the beat.