From The Vault: N.O.R.E.

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Photo courtesy of Militant Entertainment

Before he became a drink champ N.O.R.E. was an emcee. He came onto the scene in 1996 at the peak of the East Coast/West Coast rap wars. Along with his partner Capone, N.O.R.E. formed the group C-N-N and defended his city with a response to Tha Dogg Pound’s New York, New York with a song called “L.A., L.A.”

What followed was an album deemed a street classic called The War Report. With Capone behind bars N.O.R.E. carried the flag for Capone-N-Noreaga and released a handful of successful solo albums. It was N.O.R.E. that introduced the masses to the Neptunes and their sample-free sound. In the meanwhile he built up his resume and rocked alongside rap royalty like Big Pun, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest.

In July of 2010 I got the opportunity to interview N.O.R.E. fresh off the release of part 2 of The War Report. With an album still on the charts N.O.R.E. was preparing to release a solo project that was kinder and gentler than The War Report 2. N.O.R.E. was really excited about his upcoming album, but if you’re a fan you know the full-length album never actually came to fruition. Nonetheless, my conversation with N.O.R.E. was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in Hip-Hop. That’s a fact!

TRHH: Tell me about the new single Nutcracker.

N.O.R.E: We just got finished throwing out the Capone-N-Noreaga War Report 2 album, which is in stores right now. I really wanted to do something that was totally opposite of what the Capone-N-Noreaga album represented so I wanted to jump out there on the solo tip real fast and get straight back to clubs.

TRHH: Is this new album gonna be mostly club joints?

N.O.R.E: I’m aiming that way, man. I’m really aiming that way as of right now, yep.

TRHH: It’s been like 12 years since you dropped the first solo album. What’s changed as far as your recording process in that time?

N.O.R.E: I think I’m faster. I think I work faster. I’m very comfortable in what I’m doing. This sort of feels like the first solo album, N.O.R.E. , because I’m not really rushing things. I needed Macy Gray on the hook and she came to the studio. I needed certain producers and they came. Everything feels like it’s all organic, nothing is forced, so it kind of feels like the first album.

TRHH: Tell me about the Macy Gray song.

N.O.R.E: It’s called Electrolytes. I’m a big fan of Macy Gray. I was cooking the song up, she happened to be around, the producer called her and asked if she was down to get on the record. She came through and did it that night. It’s a classic. It’s something that people are definitely not expecting, N.O.R.E. and Macy Gray, but then again I always do the unexpected. I’m expected to do the unexpected [laughs].

TRHH: The War Report 2 has a lot of critical acclaim. It’s one of the best albums of the year. Were you pleased by the way it was received by fans and critics?

N.O.R.E: Absolutely, man. For XXL to give us a XL, I’m not even sure about the other writers, but it’s so many wonderful writers and great fan responses. In the climate of Hip-Hop and what it is right now, but probably the way me and you look at Hip-Hop is probably not the way Hip-Hop is perceived nowadays. For a person of our caliber to come out with an album and people still say it’s a classic during a climate where we’re surrounded by people who don’t really understand the essence of real Hip-Hop, I’m very satisfied.

TRHH: How’d you hook up with Raekwon to put that all together?

N.O.R.E: We had a deal at EMI. Rae already had his deal in position. He asked if we would be down to partner up. I wasn’t opposed to it and we left it like that. The deal was Thugged Out/Ice Water.

TRHH: On the album Brother from Another is one of my favorite joints. Why did you and Capone decide to make a song like that because it’s kind of different?

N.O.R.E: It’s real easy, man. I don’t want the business to ever define our relationship as friends. For instance, right now I immediately jumped on my solo world domination mission and I’m back in New York right now to do a show with him tonight. I love the fact that we get money together. Our friendship is real. I don’t necessarily have to speak to him every day. I don’t have to hang out with him every day, but the love for each other as friends should never stop. We just reminisced to what brought us here. A lot of people hear the Phone Time song where we talk about him being locked up and me holding him down while he’s locked up, but this is the story before Phone Time. That’s what you get from Brother from Another Mother. Everything that I’m saying is dedicated to everything that went down prior to him going to jail. It’s like part 2 to Phone Time but in a weird way it’s part 1. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Nobody really understood the gesture of our relationship and what we went through. We just wanted to paint it out. I lost my father, he lost his mother.

TRHH: On another song off the album you talk about Tragedy Khadafi. What’s your relationship with him right now?

N.O.R.E: We’re cool. I bid him his salute. We spoke a lot since he’s been home. I invited him to a show and I think he couldn’t break curfew. We haven’t really spoke since then. Definitely salute to him. Hopefully he gets his stuff together and we can eventually meet at the top again.

TRHH: There’s a song you have called Stay Flawless with DMX and Ja Rule. Where is that song from? Is that going to be on the new album?

N.O.R.E: That song was on my new album. I actually had a record with DMX that I was holding for years. When I seen VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and DMX and Ja Rule got together and squashed the beef I thought it was only right to throw Ja on the record. It was three different camps, my camp, Ruff Ryder camp, and Murder Inc. and Empire. Everybody basically wanted to hear the record. When I sent the record for people to hear somehow it got blasted out and leaked and this would have been a phenomenal great record that could have been placed on my album but thanks to the hackers they fucked that up. Who knows, I’m very cool with DMX and Ja Rule, you never know when another one will happen.

TRHH: Do you feel like New York Hip-Hop is more united these days? I feel like people are squashing beefs and getting together more often now.

N.O.R.E: I don’t think that it’s got something to do with Hip-Hop, I think it’s got something to do with people growing up as men. It’s just like throwing eggs on Halloween. When you was 8 years old you thought that was the dopest shit in the world. Every Halloween when it came around you wanted to get dressed up and bomb people, put shaving cream on people’s things, go trick or treating and steal people’s candy. But then when you’re 18 you’re no longer doing that. I think it’s the same thing. All this beefing in Hip-Hop and all this separation in New York being how small we are I think everybody sort of realizes that this is the time to do it. Everybody’s older, let’s get money together.

TRHH: It’s been ten years since Big Pun passed. Give me a Big Pun story that nobody ever heard before.

N.O.R.E: I have so many stories. I can’t tell you if nobody never heard ‘em. I don’t know if I told this before but I remember coming to Pun’s house and I was shooting a video or something. Pun was like, “Yo, come to the Bronx before you go and do the video!” I went to the Bronx and went in his crib and he had his daughter and his son boxing. It was the weirdest thing. They were arguing and he made his daughter and son put on boxing gloves and just go at it. I can tell you one thing, his daughter is not a chump.

TRHH: What was his point? Was he trying to make her tougher?

N.O.R.E: Absolutely. I can’t even recall if he was trying to make his boy tougher or if his daughter was the bully. I can’t recall exactly but that’s how he solved problem in his house. He let his kids fight. I think a lot of kids should grow up that way ‘cause if you do grow up that way you’ll have a lot less shooting going on. I think that’s what’s wrong with this generation, a lot of these people just didn’t have fights as children. Here you go as a grown man and all you’re used to doing is jumping people or stabbing people. Then you get a gun in your hand and you really just don’t know how to fight. This is the reason why you have so much useless crime going on because half of these people don’t even know how to fight.

TRHH: That’s an interesting point. I’m from Chicago and you probably heard that the murders are off the chain this year. It’s a lot of gun violence. How would you change that now? Like you said, a grown man doesn’t know how to fight, well he’s not going to learn how to fight now — he’s still using a gun. How can we change that end all the violence?

N.O.R.E: Geographically it’s always different. I can probably give you a solution to how we could do it in New York probably ten times before I could give you a solution to Chicago. Chicago is so gang oriented. When people say L.A. is the gang capital of the world, I salute them with two of my hands. But those gangs that derived from L.A., most of those people are from Chicago. Even down to the Black Panthers which really started the gang epidemic. When you think about places like Chicago and L.A., in order to stop what’s going on, I basically don’t really have an answer or comment toward that because it’s so deeply rooted in the blood stream of those people. As opposed to New York where the gang scene is actually becoming pretty bad. At the end of the day for people in New York it’s very easy. You take a gang member, from a Blood, a Crip wherever they are from, and you put them with a gang member in L.A. and pretty much the people from New York might not be the same. They don’t really know what they’re claiming. The same thing with the Vice Lords and Disciples and the Folks and all that. If you take those people from Milwaukee and bring them to Chicago they’ll probably have a whole total different outlook on life because it’s a totally different aspect. I guess that’ll be my answer. I was getting real deep, I was getting real deep.

TRHH: [Laughs] The first time I heard you was in ’96 on the L.A., L.A. joint. I still can’t find that original version anywhere. I won’t say that song set off the East Coast/West Coast stuff but it was a response. Since then have you talked to Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound?

N.O.R.E: Those are my peoples. The funniest shit in the world from Dogg Pound doing New York, New York, and us to respond with L.A., L.A. is the closest artist to me on the West Coast is Kurupt. I speak to Kurupt a lot. It’s crazy because it’s just ironic that that’s how life happens. Obviously it’s no drama now. I was just in Long Beach and I performed L.A., L.A. and everybody got a crack out of it. Everybody thought it was funny. We all sat and got drunk. It’s all love. It’s just like said with the trick or treat thing, everybody’s over it, let’s all get money. I think that it’s funny that those are my closest friends on the West Coast.

TRHH: What can we expect to hear on the new album?

N.O.R.E: Right now we’re really 75% in. I blew up the Macy Gray, Im’ma hold everything else in for surprises. This is something different. It’s still who I am and in line with N.O.R.E. but it’s something special. I can’t pinpoint it. It’s definitely something that you’re used to from me with a touch of something that no one is used to from me. I gotta try something different. I been in this game for quite some time and I don’t want to keep doing the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty much sticking to the script but instead of the script being black and silver I’m using a little bit of blue, a little bit of red, a little bit of sky blue and a little bit of orange in there. I’m making it bright. At the end it’s going to always be what you wanted.

TRHH: Do you have a title?

N.O.R.E: Right now it’s Super.Thug because we’re gonna make it make sense. We got Scoop DeVille, we’re waiting on Swizz, we got a couple with Scott Storch, we got Neptunes, it’s my first time working with Neptunes in years. Thank you my brother. Thank you for being on point. I like doing interviews with people on point.

TRHH: Thank you, man. I appreciate it.

N.O.R.E: Okay then my brother, peace out.

Purchase the N.O.R.E. discography:

The War Report

N.O.R.E.

Melvin Flynt – Da Hustler

The Reunion

God’s Favorite

y la Familia…Ya Tú Sabe

Noreality

S.O.R.E.

Channel 10

The War Report 2: Report the War

Scared Money – EP

Noreaster

Student of the Game

Lessons

Drunk Uncle

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The Highlanderz: 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag

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Photo courtesy of Anthony “L’s” Cruz

Gunnie Sanotchra and Lefty Barnes are The Highlanderz. Their namesake is taken from the 1986 film The Highlander – a warrior who can only be killed by decapitation. The L.A. based duo are both solo artists in their own right but have joined forces for a new EP.

Keeping with the movie/decapitation theme The Highlanderznew project is titled “8 Headz In A Duffle Bag” after the 1997 film. 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag is an 8-track release that features Billy Danze of M.O.P. and is produced entirely by Anthony “L’s” Cruz.

Lefty Barnes and Gunnie Sanotchra of The Highlanderz spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about the politics in Hip-Hop, being a West Coast group with an East Coast sound, and their new EP, 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag.

TRHH: How did you two get together to form The Highlanderz?

Lefty Barnes: Basically a few years ago we were chilling in his garage drinking some brews and talked about trying to pool our resources together and see what comes out. Me and him have known each other for a long time. We’re both fans of each other’s music. We kind of figured it would be a good fit.

TRHH: What inspired the song ‘Saddam Hussein’?

Gunnie Sanotchra: [Laughs] Shit man we were sitting down and putting together the hook. We wanted to be straight forward of course. I’m taking this shit different, I don’t think Left thought about this shit. I was thinking about the niggas that was trying to take over the world. You had Napoleon, you had Hitler, and you had Saddam at one point. We’re the next niggas that’s trying to take this motherfucker over.

Lefty Barnes: I took it that way as well but I was more like, “we’re tyrants on the mic.” Who are the tyrants in history? Like he said it was Napoleon, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein. I was thinking about it kind of the same way.

Gunnie Sanotchra: As you can see we don’t communicate well with each other.

TRHH: [Laughs] Why is that?

Gunnie Sanotchra: I think we’re too much alike. We’re the same sign. We’re both Leo’s. We’re stubborn and hard headed and shit. He thinks one thing and I’ll think something else.

Lefty Barnes: We’re real quick to shoot each other’s ideas down. If I say something he don’t like he’s quick to tell me and vice versa. I think we agree most of the time though. Beat selection, titles, and concepts really ain’t a problem. It’s more other stuff.

TRHH: Like life stuff?

Gunnie Sanotchra: Regular shit like should we buy tequila or whiskey.

Lefty Barnes: What bar are we going to today? Shit like that. That’s pretty much what we argue about.

TRHH: Who came up with the concept for 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag?

Lefty Barnes: Gun did, actually.

Gunnie Sanotchra: I was tripping. We had the mixtape already called “Don’t Lose Your Head” and we wanted to stay along the same lines being The Highlanderz, taking on that title, and cutting motherfucker’s heads off. Don’t Lose Your Head was the warning and apparently somebody got stupid at some point and we got 8 Headz in a Duffle Bag now. Followed by Head Shots. So we’re just cutting motherfucker’s heads off pretty much.

TRHH: Same Faces is a song that speaks on what could be any rap circle in America. Why do you think we see the same faces at every Hip-Hop event?

Gunnie Sanotchra: It’s the politics. It’s radio politics as well as underground politics. If you’re not cool with whoever the DJ or promoter is at that time they’re not fucking with you really. You have to really go in there and snatch the mic on some fuckin’ bogard shit.

Lefty Barnes: I think too certain artists will get comfortable in that spot and are scared to move on, move out, and go to other places.

Gunnie Sanotchra: Big fish in a small pond. That’s the mind state pretty much. You’re not doing much, you’re just going to stay right there. You’re not doing it purposely but you’re hogging a spot from somebody else – a new act that could be coming out or whoever.

TRHH: Your style is so refreshing to hear in today’s climate. How did you guys develop the Highlanderz sound?

Gunnie Sanotchra: For me personally it was me going back to what it was in high school and shit like that when niggas was rhyming in the cypher. Of course you make songs, hooks, and all this other shit and do it how it’s supposed to be done. Neither one of us ever really broke the surface so it’s not too hard to get back to where you came from. What better way to set it off than doing what we love to do. I don’t give a fuck if a do a song with fuckin’ Petey Pablo – who gives a fuck? At the end of the day I know how to rhyme. I’m an emcee. I wanna do what I have fun doing. I’m sure Left is the same way. We grew up battling each other.

Lefty Barnes: I don’t know if we really developed it, it’s just us. This is what we are. We grew up on Redman, Wu-Tang, The Alkaholiks, and people that were spitting bars and had that sound. Not saying that we’re trying to copy them, I would say update it so it’s something fresh. Today everybody is doing all this mumble rap, jingles, dances, and shit like that. There are other rappers that rap with that old school flavor but it’s very far in between that anybody gets any shine like that.

Gunnie Sanotchra: Niggas don’t really mean it. This the new classic shit. The conviction is there because niggas been around. It’s not like motherfuckers came out the microwave with this shit. We been cooking this motherfucker for years.

TRHH: Coming from the West Coast have people out there been receptive to your sound?

Gunnie Sanotchra: You gotta remember Project Blowed was the epicenter for anybody coming out of L.A. So many styles was birthed there. At the end of the day it all played to your lyrical ability. If you wasn’t really saying nothing you’d get booed and the “please pass the mic” on your ass. The sound is more of a New York type of sound but as long as the lyrics are there. The crowds haven’t really been an issue.

Lefty Barnes: Everyone has been pretty receptive to what we play, what we perform, and what they listen to. We’ve gotten pretty good feedback.

TRHH: Who is 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag for?

Lefty Barnes: It’s for anybody and everybody. It’s pretty much for people that like that raw Hip-Hop. I don’t wanna use the term “throwback” but we kind of coined a phrase that it’s the “return of the boom bap.” Everything moves in cycles. We’re bringing this back. It’s for Hip-Hop heads – people that like that raw, no nonsense, snap your neck music.

Gunnie Sanotchra: The gritty, hungry shit. Niggas spittin’ like they’re starving still. You want to put on Trey Songz, you can do that. But if you wanna wild out and want to go back to some Onyx or some early Wu shit, you got some brand new shit right here to fuck with.

Purchase: The Highlanderz – 8 Headz In A Duffle Bag

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Oswin Benjamin: Hueman

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Photo courtesy of Tayo Adewole

In the muddled mire of mumble rap a Hip-Hopper can often find oneself questioning the future of our culture. The reality is dope music has never left Hip-Hop. Sometimes you just have to search a little bit to find it. One reason for optimism is Oswin Benjamin. From Newburgh, New York Benjamin has made a name for himself by spitting honest and introspective lyrics every time he touches the mic. Appearances on Shade 45’s Sway in the Morning show helped to showcase Benjamin’s talents to a global audience.

Oswin Benjamin is preparing for the release of his debut album and is slated to take part in the 10-year anniversary of Soundset on May 28 alongside artists like Ms. Lauryn Hill, T.I., Mac Miller, Talib Kweli, and Atmosphere.

Benjamin recently released a 6-track EP being offered for free download titled “Hueman.” The music of Black Milk & Nat Turner and their Sunday Outtakes inspired the music on Hueman and give the project a jazzy free-flowing feeling.

Oswin Benjamin spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about spirituality in his music, his upcoming performance at the 2017 Soundset Music Festival in Minnesota, and his new EP, Hueman.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new project “Hueman”?

Oswin Benjamin: At the time I was making it there was a lot of stuff going on, especially in the urban community. I saw the division between black and white. It was Black Lives Matter on this, All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, or whatever. At the end of the day as human beings we’re all going through the same things on difference scales. It may not be police brutality but it may be a parent missing in a household or poverty. On a certain level we all go through certain ills and qualms as human beings. I think that the main focus shouldn’t be on the issues that we face but the issues that really makes us “us” which are things like love, fear, and emotions that enable us to really be human and to experience humanity on another level outside of the wrongs that are happening.

TRHH: Why do you think people don’t look beneath the surface when confronted by a person or situation that they may not be familiar with?

Oswin Benjamin: I feel like as people we’re only a reflection of what we’ve been taught. Especially me, a lot of people that I know and friends of mine that I’ve known they’re taught to react a certain way in situations. I feel like it takes a certain level of maturity or a certain type of life experience to shift your focus. It’s just not everything that I’ve been taught. Sometimes you gotta get those answers for yourself. It’s not a bad thing giving somebody the benefit of the doubt. Not everybody is out with malicious ill intent toward you. I feel like that’s something you have to learn on your own growing up.

A lot of these ideas that are imparted into us are from other people and they can’t talk outside of their experience so they will talk about something that happened to them and warn you to be careful of certain people. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re not, but I feel like you have to gain a certain level of discernment to know the type of people that you’re dealing with. I feel like if that’s not something that you’re taught or you haven’t experienced enough to be able to make those judgments on your own then you’re going to become susceptible to everything that everyone has told you over the years as opposed to you knowing these things for yourself.

TRHH: I hear a lot of spiritual and religious references in your rhymes. Why is it important to you to interject your faith into your music?

Oswin Benjamin: Ah man. A small part of me feels like it’s an obligation. I grew up in the church and my mother would say things like, “You really have to be mindful of what you say and how you live because you may be the only man of God that anybody ever sees.” Having words like that it’s difficult for me to throw that in the back of my mind and just let it wither away. I feel like it’s super important. It’s a message that’s not spoke of enough. I feel like the airwaves are filled with a lot of misogyny and vanity. Very seldom do we look back on the things that are really important, like your faith, the way that you view yourself, the way that God views you as opposed to the way an ex-girlfriend may see you or somebody that doesn’t know you who may try to label you. Those are the things that are not important and again, it’s not spoken about enough. I guess that’s my contribution. I’m going to let everybody know the things that I was taught. Love is important. God loves you, I love you, and that’s a message that not enough people hear. It’s my job to put that in the music.

TRHH: What inspired the song “Dear Black Man”?

Oswin Benjamin: The community I was living in. Just looking around at community, my friends, and myself. I just got a savings account. I get money and the first thing I wanna do is spend it on sneakers. I know a lot of friends that don’t have no suits. They go to interviews with sweaters and sneakers on because they don’t have suits, but they’ll have pistols. That’s my reality. That’s the thing that’s around me. It’s got to come to a point where there’s got to be more than that. Why is this? Why is this all we’re about right now? It’s got to be something deeper than that. Dear Black Man is me looking outside at my surroundings.

TRHH: That’s deep, man. As you said that it reminded me of when I was younger I went on a job interview and I wasn’t dressed properly. I ended up getting the job, which is surprising, but looking back I’m 41 now and I go, “Man, what was I thinking?” Nobody ever told me, “This is what you do,” or “This is how you do it.” I think that’s what a lot of young people are missing – direction and guidance. I had parents but my parents were always working or busy trying to find ways to put food on the table. I took care of myself to some degree because they were always trying to keep the lights on. They never had time to tell me to do this or that and I think a lot of people are dealing with that today – probably more than when I was younger.

Oswin Benjamin: For sure. I agree 100%. A lot of latch key kids, man. It’s a harsh reality. A lot of us are forced to grow up and be adults as children because of circumstances like there being nobody there to watch us because they gotta take care of the adult responsibilities so we have to raise ourselves. In doing so it’s a lot of trial and error. I definitely understand that.

TRHH: Who inspired you to want to be an emcee?

Oswin Benjamin: Ah man, it’s a couple people. From the very, very beginning though I’d have to say Lupe Fiasco. That was the guy that kind of got me started. I started listening to rap music real late because I grew up in the church. With my mother we couldn’t listen to nothing that wasn’t gospel. If it wasn’t Donnie McClurkin, Kirk Franklin, or Matthew Ward we wasn’t listening to it. I listened to Lupe the first time at my brother’s college. One of his dorm mates was playing American Terrorist from the Food & Liquor album. I was like, “Yo, he is ridiculous.” Then I went back and listened to some more of his stuff. He was telling stories. His imagination is crazy. That’s what really forced me to try it out. I would dabble in rap and stuff before that trying to freestyle and mimic people but hearing it done on that level I was like, “Wow, let me try it out,” and it ended up sticking.

TRHH: How would you describe your style?

Oswin Benjamin: That’s a good question. It’s real. I’m telling my story and the story of the people around me. I don’t know if I could put a name on that. I don’t ever want to be labeled as the conscious guy or the ratchet guy. I’m a human being. There are days where I wanna be righteous and there are days when I don’t. I don’t ever want the music to be labeled under one thing because I feel like as a human being you’re allowed to feel different things. So I don’t ever want it to be put into one box.

TRHH: You’re performing at the Soundset Festival this year. What does it mean to you to take part in Soundset?

Oswin Benjamin: I can’t even explain that to you. When I found out I was overly excited just to see my name on the bill with legends like Lauryn Hill, Pete Rock, and Bobbito. They’re kind of like mythical creatures that you only hear about. I never thought I’d share the same stage with them or just be on the same bill with people like that. For me it’s extremely humbling. As excited as I am I’m extremely nervous at the same time. This is definitely a milestone for me.

TRHH: What’s your ultimate goal in the music business?

Oswin Benjamin: It’s a couple of goals. One of them, I know I can’t change the whole world but I want to allow people to see that there is more than what’s in front of them. I feel like the perspective switch on a lot of things is very, very important. So any way that I can push that envelope and just push Humanism. It’s alright to feel how you feel. You don’t gotta be at the top of your game all the time. It’s alright for you to feel low and it’s alright for you to feel good. Aside from that I just want to make sure that everybody that’s looked out for me is taken care of. I want to be able to build a legacy that my kids and my parents will be proud of. I want to make a stamp in this world, not as one of the greatest to ever do it, but you can look at Oswin and say, “He was real. Everything that he did was real and came from his heart.” That’s ultimately what I would want.

Download: Oswin Benjamin – Hueman

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Alex Rocks: Rise N Shine

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Photo courtesy of Gabriel Tineo

Music is in Alex Rocks’ blood. Rocks plays piano, guitar, and bass in addition to being a DJ. The Spaniard plays in a live band and deejays for Radio Gladys Palmera. Alex Rocks has also ventured into production and recently released his debut album, Rise N Shine.

Rise N Shine is an 11-track album produced entirely by Alex Rocks. Released by the Lovemonk label the album features appearances by U.S. rappers Sleep Sinatra, Junclassic, Jack Jones, and French singer Jessica Fitoussi.

Alex Rocks chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about the Hip-Hop scene in Spain, his love of deejaying, and his new album, Rise N Shine.

TRHH: Why did you call the new project Rise N Shine?

Alex Rocks: Actually it was Sleep and me who decided to use this title. It was the last track we worked on together and we just really liked it for the album as well.

TRHH: How did you assemble the artists that are featured on Rise N Shine?

Alex Rocks: I got in touch with them through social networks. I really dig their style and loved the stuff they were putting out.

TRHH: How did you initially get into production?

Alex Rocks: It kind of came naturally after I started deejaying. After several years spinning and collecting records I became aware of the many samples I was finding while digging. My first sampler was an Ensoniq EPS 16+, and sometime later I got an AKAI 2000 XL, which I make my beats with to this day.

TRHH: What led you to start Spain Diggin’?

Alex Rocks: I started the Spain Diggin’ project after several years of collecting vinyl. I was meeting all these other Spanish collectors, buying records off them or exchanging material, I just thought it would be interesting to let them talk about their passion.

TRHH: Do you prefer deejaying over producing?

Alex Rocks: Deejaying to me is really important, it’s where it all began – sampling scratching, beat juggling, trick mixing. I do think both DJ’s and producers should work with vinyl and analog samplers like back in the day, I think that with digital the sound changes too much. But anyway I don’t like to put deejaying before producing or vice versa because I feel they go hand in hand – if you don’t have vinyl records you can’t sample and produce Hip-Hop with the right sound.

TRHH: What’s the Spanish Hip-Hop scene like?

Alex Rocks: There are a lot of very good artists, but I usually listen to American underground Hip-Hop, jazz, funk, soul, disco, and so on. Old stuff and new – I like to be up-to-date on what’s cooking in every genre, which takes up a lot of my time.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on Rise N Shine?

Alex Rocks: I have to say all of them. I’ve been working on those productions for years, and we chose the best beats I had to date, avoiding any kind of filler. I couldn’t choose any in particular; they’re all special to me.

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

Alex Rocks: Good question, but a tough one. There are so many, both from the old school and the new. To be honest I would probably have a heart attack if I would ever get offered an opportunity like that. I can give you some names: Smif-N-Wessun, Rakim, Sadat X, Rob-O, Grap Luva, C.L. Smooth, Q-Tip, KRS-One, Black Moon, Nine, Busta Rhymes, Lord Finesse, Large Professor, but I could give you hundreds more.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Rise N Shine?

Alex Rocks: I’d like the album to become a future classic for lovers of that golden age sound, and I hope to release many more records on vinyl. A shout to all my people, and thank you Sherron for this interview. Peace, fam. Much love!

Purchase: Alex Rocks – Rise N Shine

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Phat Kat: So Old School

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Photo courtesy of Below System Records

One of the rawest emcees in Hip-Hop is Phat Kat. For well over a decade the Detroit native has spit some of the most razor sharp lyrics in rap. His latest release is an ode to the old school called “The S.O.S Project.”

An acronym for “so old school” The S.O.S. Project is a 10-track album released by Below System Records. The album is produced entirely by German producer DJ Dister and features appearances by Ron D, La Peace, A Minus, and DJ Dez.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Phat Kat about working with the late great J Dilla, the hunger of emcees from Detroit, and his new album with DJ Dister, The S.O.S. Project.

TRHH: How’d you link up with DJ Dister to do The S.O.S. Project?

Phat Kat: We linked up on his previous Consistent Knockouts project. I got a song on there called “Rappin’ Ass Rappers” and the chemistry was so dope he said, “What do you think about doing a whole record?” and I said, “Shit man, let’s do it.”

TRHH: S.O.S. stands for “So Old School” but being old school has a negative connotation in Hip-Hop these days. What’s your opinion on the views that some younger artists and fans have of previous eras in Hip-Hop?

Phat Kat: I really don’t give a fuck to be honest. I could give less than a fuck about how anybody feel. I’m an old school emcee. I’m from the old school. I’m from the golden era so that’s what I represent. Whoever don’t like it I don’t give a fuck.

TRHH: I recently saw a debate regarding younger Hip-Hop artists. People are split on if the younger generation should know Hip-Hop history. I don’t know all of their names but recently one guy didn’t know a Biggie records and one guy didn’t know a Pac record and stuff like that….

Phat Kat: My whole thing about that is if you wanna be great you gotta study the greats. How you expect to be a great artist if you don’t know your past? You gotta know your past or you’ll be looking crazy. Somebody will ask you some knowledgeable shit and you can’t even answer the question. That shit don’t make sense. You definitely need to study your history. I study mine. I know about all the greats that came before me.

TRHH: On the album you have a song called “Revolt for Change” that speaks on police brutality. Why do you think a riot and a revolt would be more effective than a protest? Do you think that a revolt would just give them more of an excuse to kill us all?

Phat Kat: It depends on how you go about shit. You gotta be strategic. When I say riot and revolt I don’t mean go and tear shit up and burn shit down. We’ve seen what happened in Detroit with the riots back then. It’s buildings that still standing up that they burned in the Detroit riots that they haven’t even tore down yet. I’m not telling motherfuckers to go burn and fight, but you gotta stand up for something. If you don’t stand up for something then you’ll fall for anything. You just gotta be knowledgeable about what you’re doing.”

TRHH: How was working with DJ Dister different from working with J Dilla?

Phat Kat: I mean, it’s a different producer! Just like it’s different working with Dister than Dilla, or Dilla and Pete Rock, or Dister and Black Milk, or Dister and Young RJ, or Dister and Nick Speed. It’s all different. Everybody got their whole different flavor. It’s just about having that chemistry with whoever you’re working with. You gotta be like peanut butter and jelly. That shit gotta fit. If it don’t fit you’re not doing something.

TRHH: There are a group of fans that view J Dilla as the greatest of all-time and there’s a group that say because he didn’t have a bunch of mainstream hits that he’s out of the conversation. What’s your opinion on that and where does Dilla rank amongst the great Hip-Hop producers for you?

Phat Kat: I always told Dilla he was the greatest when he was here. He looked up to Pete Rock. To me it’s Dilla, Pete Rock, and Preemo. When people say you can’t put him in that context okay well what about all the hits he did for Busta Rhymes? What about Janet Jackson? Erykah Badu? Tribe Called Quest? You fuckin’ name it, man. Who is saying he didn’t produce for mainstream artists? Where are you getting that from?

TRHH: Actually it was Chris Rock who said that most recently [laughs].

Phat Kat: He don’t know what the fuck he talking about! Real talk! He need to do his research. And that shit he did on Rick Ross shit was wack. That shit was garbage, man.

TRHH: I agree with you on that.

Phat Kat: That shit was horrible. He didn’t need Chris Rock on there, man. And he sounded like he was drunk as hell, too.

TRHH: And he didn’t sound genuine.

Phat Kat: Nah man. That shit sound like he got paid.

TRHH: Definitely. On the song ‘The Monument’ you speak on Detroit and your sound. While the South seems to have a stranglehold on popular rap I feel like some of the best music has come out of Detroit in the last 15 years or so. What is it about Detroit that the artists that come out have that certain grit and authenticity?

Phat Kat: Well because we always felt like we were counted out from the beginning. Any emcee that you hear from here that’s making noise from myself, to Em, to Royce, to Elzhi, to Guilt, we all got that chip on our shoulder. We all felt like we were counted out and we got some shit to talk about. Put us in the room with any of the greats and we’ll burn ‘em.

TRHH: What’s next up for Phat Kat?

Phat Kat: I’m working on a new record. Me and my man Katalyst from Australia are in talks to work on a new record. Shit, I’m always recording. I got a tour coming up following The S.O.S. Project. That’s what I really been doing – I’ve been doing a lot of touring and having my feet kicked up over in Europe. That’s where I be at.

TRHH: I’ve interviewed a few cats who’ve said this, but I think it was Redman who said Europe is where it’s at…

Phat Kat: That’s where it’s been, actually. That’s where it’s been hiding. People think Hip-Hop is dead, naw, she over in Europe chilling.

TRHH: Why is that?

Phat Kat: Because over there they respect the artists more and they respect what came before them. They know their history and they’re knowledgeable on all the shit that the great artists were doing back in the day. From the 80s all the way till’ now they’re very knowledgeable. You’ll get on stage and have a fan asking you, “Dude, on ‘Cold Steel’ when you said bla bla bla what did you mean by that?” They really up on their shit over there. You can’t really come with no weak shit ‘cause that shit ain’t gon’ fly over there.

Purchase: Phat Kat & DJ Dister – The S.O.S. Project

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K’Valentine: Here For A Reason

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Photo courtesy of Shaun Andru

Chicago: The City of Broad Shoulders. Its inhabitants are inherently tough. Since the days of prohibition the city has been rife with crime. In the inner-city poverty, segregation, poor public education, and blistering winters make survival in Chicago all the more difficult. Despite the harsh circumstances there are more success stories than failures. One such success story is K’Valentine.

Coming from less than ideal circumstances after her father was murdered when she was just six, K’Valentine turned her pain into poetry. She released a couple of mixtapes on her own before catching the ear of BK MC Talib Kweli. Valentine joined Kweli’s Javotti Media record label and the result is a 12-track album appropriately titled, “Here For A Reason.”

Here For A Reason features appearances by Tweet, BJ the Chicago Kid, Kendra Ross, Scotty ATL, Niré, and Talib Kweli. The album features production by Dope Boi, Lexi Banks, C-Sick, Thanks Joey, J.LBS, Antwan “Amadeus” Thompson & Trilogy, Maurice “Mobetta” Brown, and Dave West.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to K’Valentine about her relationship with Talib Kweli, what drives her to excel in the music business, and her new album, Here For A Reason.

TRHH: How does it feel to finally have your album “Here For A Reason” out?

K’Valentine: It feels great. It’s a blessing to be able to share something with people that I’ve been working on for a long time now. It feels good. I was just telling DJ Spin that I couldn’t believe it. The first day it came out I was like. “Man, I got an album. My album is out.” It felt surreal in a sense. It feels great. If I had to describe it I’d say it’s a blessed feeling.

TRHH: Why did you title the album “Here For A Reason?”

K’Valentine: I titled it “Here For A Reason” because the end of 2015 I was hit by a drunk driver and I survived the car accident, of course. Prior to that I had been struggling trying to figure out what I would call the album, but after going through something as traumatic as that and coming out of it with no permanent damage that was just what I felt like I should name the album. I felt grateful to still be alive and I feel like I’m here for a reason.

TRHH: Is the song “That’s Real” based on real life situations?

K’Valentine: That song is based on my hope that I will one day get to experience that. I haven’t experienced the love I speak of on “That’s Real.” It was me speaking it into existence. It’s based on other people’s love that I’ve been able to observe, but not personal.

TRHH: That’s surprising actually. Is there a reason why you haven’t experienced that kind of love?

K’Valentine: It just hasn’t happened yet. Not to say that I haven’t been in love but the love that I speak of on “That’s Real” is real love and real love to me is reciprocated. I’ve been in love before, but I’ve had my heart broken so it obviously wasn’t reciprocated from the guy. If that makes any sense [laughs].

TRHH: It does. It’s a one way relationship kind of thing, right?

K’Valentine: Yeah.

TRHH: I was surprised at how versatile “Here For A Reason” is. Did you set out to make the album with different styles or did it just come out that way naturally?

K’Valentine: Naturally. Basically what I do is I get the production and I let the production begin the song and I finish it. I let it begin the story and I finish it with the lyrics. When I would speak to producers and they would ask me what type of beat I was looking for I was never able to give them a straight answer because I like all different types of beats. I would listen to what they sent, pick out what I like, and write to it.

TRHH: You never write lyrics without the music? You always write to the beat?

K’Valentine: I wouldn’t say that. I can just be going about my day and lyrics will pop in my head so I’ll write ‘em down in my phone. But for the most part I do like to write to the beat.

TRHH: Chicago can be a hateful place, even in Hip-Hop circles. What has your experience been like coming up in the Chicago Hip-Hop scene?

K’Valentine: In Chicago the more popular sound was drill. You have Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa and they have different sounds. I would say I wasn’t really included in that circle. I don’t wanna say anybody hated on me, but I’m just in my own lane, minding my own business, and making my music the way I wanna make it. I go where the love is. I’m in New York often and New York shows love.

TRHH: New York has not historically shown love to people who are from outside of New York. I don’t know if you remember Outkast being booed on stage at The Source Awards in ’95…

K’Valentine: I didn’t know that.

TRHH: You didn’t know that?

K’Valentine: No.

TRHH: New York is historically a harsh place. Maybe it’s changed now.

K’Valentine: Yeah, it probably changed.

TRHH: I love the vibe of the single”Family,”what inspired that song?

K’Valentine: It was actually production. In that song I was speaking from a more personal place. I’m just speaking on my family so I don’t know who wouldn’t be able to relate to that song. That’s usually your first circle of influence and support. Those are the ones who hear everything you do first and then it trickles down to your friends and associates. I’m pretty close with my immediate family.

TRHH: You’re also close with Talib Kweli. What’s it been like working with him and what’s the best advice he’s given you about the music business?

K’Valentine: Working with Talib has been an awesome experience. I’ve been informed about a lot of things that I didn’t know about. I know so much more about the music industry creatively and business-wise. He’s given me a lot of gems but one that I would say stuck out is when told me, “You don’t need the industry, the industry needs you.” He’s really big on having your rights and being independent. It’s amazing. I continually learn from him.

TRHH: I’ve been watching you grind and work hard for years. Last year I saw you at the Art of Rap Festival giving your all when the doors first opened to the venue and there were hardly any people there. What keeps you motivated and working hard during the tough times?

K’Valentine: Oh okay [laughs]. The fact that you have to keep going. Even if it’s a couple of people in the room you never know who is watching. It’s about being consistent. I can’t be at one show giving all of my energy and not the other. It doesn’t matter how many people are there. Just having that mentality that this is really what you wanna do so whether the room is filled or not you’re gon’ still deliver.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Here For A Reason?

K’Valentine: I hope to gain respect as an artist and gain more exposure. I’ve put out mixtapes prior to but this is my first all original body of work. It’s me from the first track to the last. I just hope to also be able to uplift and empower people and remind them that there’s still artists here who care about love and who care about giving people hope and exchanging positive energy. There’s people out here that you can still relate to. It’s a lot of Hip-Hop out there where they party 24/7. I don’t really know people that do that. It’s not a realistic lifestyle. I just hope to capture hearts, capture minds, and inspire people.

Purchase: K’Valentine – Here For A Reason

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From the Vault: J. Cole

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Photo courtesy of Sony

In the summer of 2010 I covered my first Lollapalooza at Grant Park in Chicago. The line up featured headliners like Green Day, Lady Gaga, The Black Keys and Soundgarden – but I was there for the Hip-Hop. Cypress Hill, BBU, Kidz in the Hall, and B.o.B played that weekend but the artist I was most excited to see was J. Cole.

From Fayetteville, North Carolina J. Cole was this new rapper with a whole lot of buzz. He released a couple of critically acclaimed mixtapes that caught the ear of Mr. Shawn Carter. J. Cole became the first signee to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label and his debut album was eagerly anticipated.

Looking back on the interview I conduced with J. Cole it’s funny how things turned out. He was so eager to drop his first album and it wouldn’t come out until over a year later. Since then he’s released four albums, two of which are gold, and two platinum – not bad.

Cole has his detractors and with good reason – everything ain’t for everybody. But for my money he’s one of the best young artists in the business of rap.

TRHH: How does it feel to be performing at Lollapalooza?

J. Cole: Ah man, it’s an honor, it’s a blessing. I’m excited to see what’s about to happen.

TRHH: Are you excited to see a certain act?

J. Cole: I can’t really stay that long but if I could I would love to see Lady Gaga, I’d love to see Erykah Badu, the Black Keys, it’s a lot of artists I’d love to see.

TRHH: What’s the song “Who Dat” about?

J. Cole: Man, that’s just a rap record. It’s straight hard beats, hard raps. It’s a rap record at its finest. It’s just me flexing lyrical abilities. It’s not your typical first single, but I’m not your typical rapper so I think it made a statement like, “Alright, I’ll come out with this and see how y’all respond.”

TRHH: There was some controversy regarding the cheerleaders in the school. How would you address those who said you put Fayetteville in a negative light?

J. Cole: Those peoples really don’t get it if they’re saying that. I think it’s really just a kid that wants to come home and show love to the city that he was raised in and grew up in his whole life. It’s nothing more than that, that’s it.

TRHH: When can we expect to hear the album?

J. Cole: We got a date but I’m not saying that date no more because I feel like it’s going to change. I know how this thing works. I’ve seen it happen too many times. When a lot of people want my album it’s going to come out. If I put my album out right now I could do 15-20,000 first week, I don’t wanna do that. I don’t wanna be under the radar. I wanna touch as many people as absolutely possible.

TRHH: Do you have a title?

J. Cole: I do, but I haven’t put it out yet.

TRHH: Can you give some insight into some of the producers that are working on the album?

J. Cole: Yeah, right now some of the producers are myself and No I.D. and that’s it right now as far as what’s making the album. Maybe that’s subject to change in terms of who I go in with. Right now it’s just us. No features right now, but that’s going to change. I’m going to get like one or two, but it will not be a feature dominated album at all.

TRHH: You make beats?

J. Cole: Yeah I make beats.

TRHH: What equipment do you use?

J. Cole: I started out on the ASR-X Pro, I changed over to Reason about five years after that, and then I started using Logic recently.

TRHH: Phonte from Little Brother said when they came out he felt a certain way about people saying, “Oh, you can rap for somebody from the south.” Do you get a lot of that and if so how do you respond to it?

J. Cole: I do. They say it in different ways. They may not say it like that but they may say another thing and you basically know what they’re trying to say. I don’t respond to it no kind of way, man. All I can do is do my part to change that stereotype. All it is, is stereotypes – it’s not true. All I can do is do my part and do my best to change that stereotype.

TRHH: What’s the best advice Jay-Z ever gave you?

J. Cole: I can’t tell you the best but I can tell you he gives me a lot of advice. I’ll tell you it’s really good advice. Whenever I get asked that question I can never remember one particular thing, but he gives me a lot of great advice.

TRHH: A lot of people feel like you’re the next great one, I feel that way…

J. Cole: Thanks, man.

TRHH: I really do, man. I’m proud of you. Do you feel pressure to live up to that?

J. Cole: Nah, man. I’m ready to live up to that. It’s just a matter of finishing this album and putting it out. I’m at that point where I’m ready for it to be heard. I’m ready to finish it. It’s hard when you’re trying to promote singles and finish the album at the same time. I’m just at that point. I don’t feel the pressure, I feel the excitement like, “Yo, I’m trying to come out and show it!” That’s all it is.

TRHH: What’s your ultimate goal in the music industry?

J. Cole: Man, just to be around for 15-20 years and still be great. Still give people the music they wanna hear and have my spot on everybody’s list. Everybody’s got their top list – either the greatest or top 5. I wanna be one everybody’s list.

Purchase J. Cole’s discography

Cole World: The Sideline Story

Born Sinner

2014 Forest Hills Drive

4 Your Eyez Only

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The Ol’ Days: Crepes & Mild Sauce

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Photo courtesy of Mo Parker

Ki’ of NC and Rookie Chi are The Ol’ Days. Both men wear different hats for the group, Ki’ is a producer and Rookie is a videographer, but both play the role of emcee. Their music is lighthearted and fun –reminiscent of the “old days” of Hip-Hop. The group dropped their debut album, 1979 in 2014 and has returned with their sophomore album, Crepes & Mild Sauce.

Crepes & Mild Sauce features appearances by Boog Brown, Kwote, D2G, and Noble MC. The album is produced by Ki’ of NC, Kayo, Slone, NATEOGDETROIT, Laquan Backstreet Beatz, DJ Proof, The Daydream Sound, RST, Kenny Keys and Point 5 aka Navigate.

The Real Hip-Hop chatted with The Ol’ Days about the humor in their music, the harsh Chicago music scene, and their new album, Crepes & Mild Sauce.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Crepes & Mild Sauce?

Rookie Chi: [Laughs] So here’s the thing, man we were trying to bring out the sophomore album which was going to be Silver Alert but we kind of came up short on the crowd funding. We were looking for something else to do. We looked in our inbox and we had this influx of emails from producers from France that were hitting us up with beats. The beats were heat, too. The two guys that were on there most prominently were Kayo, and Slone, shout out to them. They sent us a nice amount of beats and we put them together and it was about an EP’s worth back then. We were thinking about doing an EP but we couldn’t think of no way that we could fuse the two cultures together. We chose food. We said let’s get a crepe and let’s put a condiment on the crepe. Nobody puts condiments on desserts so that would imply that we’re trying to be funny at the same time. It’s kind of the fuse of the food and us trying to be comical at the same time. Mild sauce is from Chicago and the crepe is from oui, oui France. That’s how we came up with it in a nutshell.

TRHH: Wow. That’s funny. It seems like you guys have a humorous tone to most of the stuff that you do. Does that come naturally? Is it how you guys really are or is it premeditated?

Ki’ of NC: I would say it’s natural. This goes back to the roots of how we started. Vibing in the studio and just having fun is how you come up with creative ideas. One of the groups that did this and inspired us was Slum Village. When you listen to some of their early stuff they had some funny skits where they were just wildin’ out in the studio. We believe in keeping that fun alive. We’ll be in the studio trying to come up with a concept, we’ll listen to a beat and start singing some random words and say, “Let’s make a whole song about this since you’re BS’ing.” The first album we did a whole song about ugly women. You see ‘em and think they fine then they turn around and you say, ‘UUUGGHHH.’ It literally happens like that. We sing whatever we feel to that beat and we go with it. We don’t fight it. It’s organic. We just have fun like that. Every session might not be fun. You come in here and you may going through it with your girl and you might make a song about the ladies. One week it might be about money. We go off of feel.

TRHH: How is this album different from 1979?

Rookie Chi: 1979 was weird because it wasn’t supposed to be our first album. Our first album was called “God Bless America” back when we had three members. Our third member quit when the album was at 90% so we pretty much had to scrap that damn album and start anew. I always bring up to Ki’ that this was a very scary time for me personally because I had no idea whether we were going to be able to find a sound or an identity or not musically. We started from a comical place. Hell I didn’t even know we were going to have a third member. Ki’ brought the third member on as a surprise to me. This dude pretty much taught us how to be technically better rappers and then he left before we dropped the album. It was like, “What do we do?! He just told us how to rock the fuckin mic!” After that we didn’t know if we had the confidence to keep it going. Thank God we did. I always give Ki’ a lot of the credit with that. Ki’s was searching for sounds.

A couple of those songs from God Bless America made it on 1979 and we didn’t even have a sound yet. We didn’t know how we wanted that album to sound, technically. I think we kind of got to the point where we were somewhere in between Pete Rock & CL Smooth Main Ingredient and Slum V Volume 2. Shout out to the dude that mixed our album, Leland Philpot. He had a lot to do with that sound, just as much as Ki’ almost. Those guys were going back and forth when we were making songs. We would make like two songs per sessions, sometimes three, and these guys would put it together in a way where it was sonically coming together and consistent. That’s the difference between Crepes & Mild Sauce. With Crepes & Mild Sauce we weren’t really searching for a sound. We were borrowing somebody’s beats and trying to sculpt stories around the sound that they had already made for us.

Ki’ of NC: The difference with the second album to the first is we dug more to try to be artists. I only did one beat for Crepes & Mild Sauce versus producing half of 1979. I’m not no egotistical producer. I don’t have to have every track on the album, I don’t think like that. I wanted to fall back more as an artist and get more into my writing and really dig into the words that I was saying. I’ve heard a few people say that they can tell we grew lyrically. We showed some growth on Crepes & Mild Sauce. We showed some depth and that we’re not a one trick pony. I know some people say we’re comedy rappers but we’ve rapped about every subject on the planet. I hope we’ve proved that.

Rookie Chi: We got lyrical, too. Give yourself credit. I snapped on a couple of tracks. I’m a writer.

Ki’ of NC: I can write but I wanted to get more into it. I know you did, too. After 1979 dropped I saw Rookie grow as an artist. I knew Crepes & Mild Sauce was going to be dope lyrically because we were taking the pen to new places.

TRHH: Why did Facey McFacerton leave the group?

Ki’ of NC: Facey at the time said he was going to med school or something like that.

Rookie Chi: We don’t really know totally but he was definitely making a transition.

Ki’ of NC: I think he was moving to the west coast and going to med school.

Rookie Chi: It was a lot of different reasons but the main thing was it was a life transition that he was making. It was bad timing.

Ki’ of NC: I don’t want to say bad timing because stuff happens to people at different times. You can’t stop nobody from what they got to do. It was rough because The Ol’ Days was a group that almost didn’t exist after that. Rookie was devastated. We talked a long time and I told him we could do this. I said, “Let’s strap up our boots, get back in the booth, and keep going,” and we did.

Rookie Chi: Hip-Hop is all about the damn DJ and the producer. They like 80% of Hip-Hop. If he said we can still do it then I could have the confidence. ‘Cause I wasn’t doing jack but writing. I do the music videos but I was just writing in the rap group. Ki’ said that and I rolled with Ki’ and that was all good for me, man.

TRHH: What inspired the song Passport?

Rookie Chi: [Laughs] That’s Ki’s inspiration there.

Ki’ of NC: Out of the two of us the only person in this group that has a passport is Rookie. Here is the thing I believe, I believe you can manifest your thoughts. You put it out there in the world and it’s going to happen. Our dream is to go overseas and perform the songs that we do. That’s creative writing – manifesting what you want to happen. I’m a firm believer in that. I got a lot of stuff happening in my life now that I had to manifest. Rookie believes in it, too — wanting to go and do it and putting it out there in the world so it will happen. I can imagine what it’s going to be like on a flight, missing my family, having to Skype my wife because I can’t talk to her all the time, that’s what we want to happen. We put it on a song so we can make that materialize in 2017.

Rookie Chi: The other thing is I came up with the hook but Ki’ put this unique spin on the hook. If you listen to it again you can hear the Captain Kirk in us.

Ki’ of NC: We couldn’t get the hook right. I don’t know if people will hear it but we were struggling saying the hook. I said, “I do not like the way we’re saying the hook.” I started joking like William Shatner. He. Does. Those. Commercials. And. He. Talks. Like. This. I said, “What if we do it like that?”

Rookie Chi: I was dying laughing. You’d be surprised how many damn joints we just try something and it sticks.

Ki’ of NC: That’s having fun in the studio.

TRHH: How did you guys originally come together to form The Ol’ Days?

Rookie Chi: The first time I met Ki’ was at a beat battle. We was at beat battles throughout Chicago. Before I met Ki’ I was in this particular beat battle, shout out to Custom, if it wasn’t for you we would have never met each other. We were doing so many beat battles around Chicago that were really picking up steam. It was getting all types of young producers that were very talented together. Little did I know Ki’ was a North Carolina implant. He had just came from North Carolina maybe a year before. He was still learning Chicago people. I was there as a job and I didn’t think I was worthy of judging a rap beat contest because I had never done a rap beat. I didn’t do but a couple of songs and I was just spittin’ on them. My claim to fame was I was broadcasting a TV show that was Hip-Hop and I was doing music videos. I didn’t think I could judge rap battles. Custom said, “Go do it, you’re good enough, we need you.” The battle happened, Ki’ was in the running for several rounds. He was really strong. His beats were strong even back then. The dudes’ drums are stupid sick. He only did one track on the album but it’s the last one on the album! He wanted to put his stamp on it. I know you’re humble but you wanted to put your stamp on that shit!

Anyway, I met him at this joint and ironically I voted for him for like two rounds and in the third round I voted for the other cat. He lost in that round. We got back up at a different place called Café Lure, rest in peace to that place, it’s one of the places in Chicago that gentrification took away from us as a venue. I was just small talking to him like, “Yeah man, I just put out this joint called The Wackest Mixtape EVER with my comedy troupe. It’s funny. Kind of like the skits you be doing.” I’d heard a couple of skits he did and I thought he was funny as hell. I said, “Yo, man we should do a collabo,” and he was like, “Cool.” I meet him with Ki’ and he upgraded the callbo to “Let’s start a group.” He had another dude there that I knew named Facey. He said Facey should be in the group and I said, “Wow.”

Ki’ of NC: I did meet him at the beat battle. I met a lot of dope cats. A lot of the prominent Hip-Hop producers in Chicago were at that beat battle. I didn’t win but I got to meet Rookie. He had me highlighted in two of the videos. That was love because I’m not from here. Moving on to the second time that I met him, I was on a beat showcase at Café Lure and that’s when Rookie approached me. I had gotten approached earlier by Facey. It was kind of like a double booking. Everybody wanted to get up with me so I said, “Hey, you meet me on this day and you meet me on this day.” I gave them the same date and that’s when they came through and met me at my crib. We was vibing. All of us had the same taste in Hip-Hop. We all loved Gang Starr, Slum Village, Tribe Called Quest, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. We laid a track that day.

Rookie Chi: I just put out a podcast where I played a whole bunch of unreleased stuff.

Ki’ of NC: We recorded our first joint and that was the spark for The Ol’ Days. After that every session we was recording at least one or two songs. That is the humble start of The Ol’ Days.

Rookie Chi: We were freaking people out because we would tell them how many songs we’d do a session and they’d be like, “Damn, y’all do that many a session?” Cats don’t be doing that many songs per session.

Ki’ of NC: It was the grind years. When groups come together and its fresh and new and we’re getting better at the craft. I’m making the beats, you’re making the rhymes. It was a factory at the time. We got songs for days from that time. In that year we recorded like 40-to-50 songs.

TRHH: What’s your opinion on the current Chicago Hip-Hop music scene? Your music is different from what’s promoted and pushed to the forefront right now.

Ki’ of NC: Rookie has very strong opinions on this because of recent happenings so I’ll let Rookie handle this.

Rookie Chi: It’s funny, I would have probably still been broadcasting the TV show and doing all of the fan stuff in Hip-Hop if it wouldn’t have been for the way the Hip-Hop scene shifted here. I was looking at who was blowing up back in the day. It was 2006 or so when I started rapping and cats like Soulja Boy and all these “Young’s” and “Lil’s” was doing hella good. I was like, “Oh my God, the sound is changing.” I got scared and then I got cocky. I was like, “I can do better than them,” so then I started rapping. It’s funny because in the Chicago scene there are so many artists. When you have shows you have all of these artists there and instead of fans they’re there being critics pretty much. We had a few shows we did where we were rapping our hearts out and we were looking at a crowd that was looking at us like they were the judge and the jury on the Supreme Court. This is a Hip-Hop show and they were like, “Grrrrr!!”

It’s a lot of damn artists in Chicago. I don’t see enough fans. Fans usually come out when cats come from out of town. When Little Brother used to come they would blow it up. When Brand Nubian would come they would blow it up. Me and Ki’ saw our biggest numbers when we opened for cats like Slum Village and Talib Kweli. Cats come into town and the Chicago scene comes alive, but when you do your shows and they’re local if you get 30 you did terribly good. That’s how I feel about it. It’s hella fickle, but it’s tons more artists than it is fans here.

Ki’ of NC: When I moved here I was feeling the scene out and I didn’t know what to really expect. In North Carolina I felt like the scene was non-existent. Chicago is a bigger city and a bigger stage so I felt like I had more events to try to go to here. I was kind of blind to the city. I found out it was fickle. When we became a group and had a little bit of success Rookie said we were actually doing pretty damn good because he didn’t see groups doing the things that we were doing in their first two years. I had to rely on Rookie to be a gauge for the city.

Rookie Chi: I’m like, “Dude, do you know that don’t happen here?” and he was like, “Okay, let’s keep moving!”

Ki’ of NC: All I know is to keep grinding. I’m in a big city and I see these events and I’m going to do them. Rookie held it down with that. We did the Slum V show. We rehearsed it and got ready and pulled it off. Rookie’s eyes were big as hell and he said, “Ki’ do you know what we just did here in Chicago? This is unheard of!”

Rookie Chi: We finished the Slum V show and they were about to hit the stage right after us and they were still tripping. They were still in the crowd like, “Where the album at?” and “What’s up with that one song?” and I’m like, “Do you know Slum V is on the stage right now?”

Ki’ of NC: I’m happy being in a city with a grand stage but it’s still weird here. All I can say is Chance the Rapper. Look at Chance the Rapper, they’re hating on that guy. Why hate on this dude? He just made history. As a city I love it and hate it, I don’t wanna diss it though.

Rookie Chi: You know they love to hate here. Y’all just do! I’m from here!

TRHH: Is there something I don’t know about? Who is hating on Chance?

Rookie Chi: Nobody knows that. The Chicago timelines were going crazy when Chance won, man. People were like, “I can’t believe people actually believe he’s an independent artist,” and “Chance is this and that but he ain’t all that if you think about his music.” What the fuck? It ain’t coming from nowhere logically. Just last week y’all was tripping on mumble rap controlling everything. So we get this dude that represents everybody in Hip-Hop, and he’s from Chicago, and he’s not like a mumble rapper, what the fuck? Did we just not win that? We won! You sound like Donald Trump. You win the Presidency and you’re still a little sore. If you read my and Ki’’s timeline you might actually see a little bit of hate ‘cause it was all around us.

TRHH: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that because this is Chicago. I’m a little bit older than you guys so I remember when Common moved to New York and people were pissed off. He became public enemy number one. Same with Kanye.

Rookie Chi: With the Native Tongues! Dude, he was setting history in a different direction and all we can say is “Fuck Common, he shouldn’t have done that. He needs to come back.” What the fuck should he come back and do? I mean, now I think he should come back because he’s a lot more established and he could do a ton. Remember when Kanye came out? He did that one show at the Tweeter Center and he announced that he was with Roc-A-Fella and put the chain on – that was huge! And all I heard when I was doing interviews was about how Kanye wasn’t this or that and he stole beats. I couldn’t hear a positive interview ever and that’s when I was just doing interviews and TV. I don’t know, man, this Chi-Town hate thing really needs to change for the better ‘cause it’s crazy.

TRHH: What’s the ultimate goal for The Ol’ Days?

Ki’ of NC: We wanna put out quality music and keep the tradition going from our heroes. We spoke earlier about A Tribe Called Quest, De La, Slum, Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, all those Hip-Hop people we love who dedicated those years and that time to perfecting the craft – the beats, the rhymes, the promo, the videos – doing all that great stuff to make great music and leave a legacy. We wanna do the same. I feel like we wanna keep that flame or that torch going. A person once told me that if the world is lacking something maybe it’s meant for you to fill that gap. Not that there is a shortage of Hip-Hop, but there is something that we would want to hear if we put that out in the world. We try to rep Hip-Hop to the fullest and keep that going. That’s always been our core thing and that’s why every album you hear is crafted. It’s not like we threw it together. People complain that it takes us a long time, but it’s because we don’t believe in putting out shit. We’ll record until it’s right, the beats gotta be mixed right, and the album has to be perfect. Some people don’t care about that but we do. I’m not going to worry about what other people our doing. This is our brand and our contribution to Hip-Hop.

When everybody is listening to that classic Tribe Called Quest sound they’re not thinking about all those things, but we get it. We understand from the lyrics to the beats. Rest in peace J Dilla, the thing he did with beats I respect that the way Big L or Biggie took the time to write dope verses. Why try to rep all of that, man. We understand what true real Hip-Hop is, whether we’re being funny or sending a message. We’re just trying to keep that going along with the greats. Every now and then we’ll get a nod from our heroes and that’s cool along the way but we’re gonna keep doing it. We might be in our graves when people really appreciate our music. They’ll get it and see that we’re really about this. We weren’t playing around. That’s just a legacy thing. If you want to put a stamp on this thing we want to make a legacy for ourselves and show that we represent the greats and maybe possibly we can be a great too one day if we work hard and eat our spinach [laughs].

Rookie Chi: My bandmate is the wholesome guy. I’m gonna say I would like for one of our albums to get paid for. Paid for by what we do. People say they want an album and we put that album out and it pays for itself, that’s my goal personally. If we’re able to do that time after time again that’s how I’ll know we made it. Obviously there is a margin as far as success goes but that’s the main thing that I want for us. I want our art to pay for itself. I want for us to be in the black for once. Seriously we put everything on the line for this. We got families, we got jobs. We spend the first 15-to-30 minutes of our meeting every week talking about our jobs and families. Sometimes our meeting gets cut short because of family stuff. It’s real with us, dawg. It’s real.

Ki’ of NC: It’s not like we in our twenties, we’re The Ol’ Days [laughs].

Purchase: The Ol’ Days – Crepes & Mild Sauce

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O.C.: Same Moon Same Sun

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Photo courtesy of D.I.T.C Ent.

In 1994 O.C. came onto the scene with the hit single “Time’s Up.” The song was filled with so many quotable lyrics that have been repeated and sampled to this day. O’s debut album Word…Life followed and solidified him as one of the best lyricists in the game. Twenty-three years later, with numerous solo and group efforts under his belt, O.C. has returned to unleash a new chapter in the O.C. story, Same Moon Same Sun.

Same Moon Same Sun: 1st Phase is the first part of a three-part series available for free download on DITCEnt.com. The album is produced by Motif Alumni, Duck Dodger, Gwop Sullivan, Supa Ugly, DJ Manipulator, Soultronik, and Showbiz. Same Moon Same Sun features appearances by AG, David Bars, and Majestic Gage.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to O.C. about working with his Diggin’ in the Crates crew, the importance of knowing your worth in the music industry, and his new album, Same Moon Same Sun.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Same Moon Same Sun?

O.C.: It’s self-explanatory basically. We all live under the same moon, the same sun. Everything that goes on under the moon and the sun happens with everybody. I just left it open for people to interpret it the way they want to interpret their life.

TRHH: Why did you release this project for free?

O.C.: Me and Showbiz felt it was necessary. We’re into this thing of re-branding D.I.T.C. It’s been quite a long time between albums. The Worldwide album was in 2000 as opposed to the D.I.T.C LP that came out last year. I’m just letting people know that we not playing. We really never left, we just wasn’t putting out an abundance of music. We just wanted to get people back in the mix and let ‘em know we appreciate them, so why not give it to them for free?

TRHH: What inspired the song “Good Man”?

O.C.: Just life in general. We aspire to be good people. It wasn’t just pertaining to men as a whole, it meant just men and women in general just trying to be good human beings, do what they have to do, do what they have to do for their families and for themselves.

TRHH: I saw you speak recently and you talked about how cats from your era take less than what they deserve as far as shows and stuff like that. Why do you think that is and how do you think cats can change that and get more of their worth?

O.C.: It’s a thing about your self-worth. People don’t realize, and I’m talking about myself, including D.I.T.C music I put out 17 albums. If you google my discography and really do your research my stock is what my worth is. I just feel like a lot of people shouldn’t let other people determine what their worth is. An example is promoters will get at me and throw names at me and I’ll just tell them, “Call ‘em back because I’m not doing this for that.” My worth is everything to me.

TRHH: I saw you perform in 97’ right after Jewelz came out at a little bar on the north side of Chicago and you were incredible. How much pressure was on you to deliver after Word…Life and do you feel like you came through with Jewelz?

O.C.: Thank you, brother. It wasn’t more or less pressure in a sense that I knew I couldn’t do it again, it was just the excitement type of pressure trying not to repeat what I did prior to that, meaning Word…Life. Trying to give people growth, this is what being an artist is about, growing. I get quite a few people saying they want Word…Life again but I can’t give ‘em that. That was a moment in time that just can’t be captured again. I was just looking forward to the excitement of people seeing what I was coming with for the next project, and excited for myself as well.

TRHH: Last year D.I.T.C. released the Sessions album and you did a lot of heavy lifting on that joint. What was it like recording that album?

O.C.: It was dope, man. For a long time as a collective we were all in one room. This includes Fat Joe with his busy schedule. Just being in the room together brought back nostalgia. It just felt good. For the most part we did most of the album in the studio. You have a few members that live out of town or out of the country. We tried to do as much as we can together as possible as opposed to e-mailing something to somebody from the beginning. We did the bulk of the work in the studio. Whatever we couldn’t finish or needed to be finished if somebody wasn’t there physically it left us no choice but to send it to ‘em. So if we had to send something to Joe, Diamond or AG that’s how it had to be done. For the most part it was dope, man.

TRHH: On the new album you have a song called “Real Life” that speaks on Big L’s passing. Was it difficult for you to write such a personal song?

O.C.: It was difficult to put it down and give it away so to speak. It’s something I’ve been holding on to for over 15 years. It wasn’t as difficult to pen it, but it was difficult to share it with people. It was just time, man. He’s gone physically. He’s not gone in spirit. People know who Big L is but I felt like for me it was time to let go and share it with the people. Share the experience of what actually happened that night. Everything I wrote about has always been in my head. It more or less took Showbiz by surprise because he was the one that gave the call to everyone on the actual night that he got killed.

He was on his way somewhere, made a U-turn on the George Washington Bridge, called up Joe and him and Joe went down to Harlem and physically seen him under the sheet. He confirmed it and locked it away. When I brought it back up it was like, “Wow, that’s what happened?” and I was like, “Yeah, you’re the one that put the call in.” He tucked it away but I didn’t. I tucked it away but it was like yesterday for me so it’s always been there I just had to put it in word form.

TRHH: I loved the Trophies album you did with Apollo Brown. Will we ever hear a follow-up to Trophies?

O.C.: You’ll have to ask Apollo about that one.

TRHH: Really?

O.C.: Yeah, it’s not even up to me. It’s up to him. If it happens, it does. If it don’t, we got one in the tank and it’s in the history books and I’m good with that. If we could work something out it would be dope, I’m sure.

TRHH: I know Same Moon Same Sun is just the first chapter, what can we expect to hear on the next installments?

O.C.: It’s actually two more installments that are coming through. Part 2 is called Same Moon Same Sun: Road to Peridition. It’s a journey. You’ll have to really hear what I’m doing to get a grasp of it and probably refer back to the first album. It’s like a big puzzle. A big story of a life journey. Part 2 will probably be in the end of May/early June. The third part, which will be the final installment will probably be before 2018 comes in. All those albums we’re gonna do the same format because we really believe that without the support we couldn’t do it. I don’t like calling people fans, I think fans will turn their back on you but with a support system if they don’t like something they’ll still hold up and give you that benefit of the doubt.

We feel like the support system deserves consistent music from us and whatever way we have to give it we’ll give it to ‘em. At the end of the day we’re giving out the projects on the D.I.T.C website, but it’ll probably be less short lived as far as being free on the second and third one. We’ll probably take it down after a short while and put it up. A lot of people were asking to buy it on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon. I understand that in these days and times people wanna put it on their phone or their computer and not actually want the CD. We actually have CD’s and vinyl, too, for the purists. We’re just trying to accommodate everybody, man, and just give back at the same time, too.

Download: O.C. – Same Moon Same Sun: 1st Phase

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IMAKEMADBEATS: Better Left Unsaid

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Photo courtesy of Score Press

IMAKEMADBEATS is a mysterious character. He chooses to play the background personally but his music is far from reserved. His music is eclectic and sonically engaging. IMAKEMADBEATS has crafted beats for the likes of Planet Asia, Kinetic 9, Midaz the Beast, and Blueprint among others.

His music has also been noticed by important people in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. IMAKEMADBEATS’ music has been on display at the Hattiloo Theater, the Brooks Museum, and even Memphis Grizzlies basketball games. Continuing to entrench himself in the community IMAKEMADBEATS has partnered with the Memphis Music Initiative for a program called “Youth” that is geared toward aspiring teenage musicians.

IMAKEMADBEATS also recently released an 8-track EP titled Better Left Unsaid. The title pays homage to the EP’s content. Better Left Unsaid is an instrumental project that shows off BEATS’ abilities behind the boards.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to IMAKEMADBEATS about his musical influences, working with the Memphis Music Initiative, his new Unapologetic World app, and the Better Left Unsaid EP.

TRHH: Why’d you decide to do an instrumental project instead of having people rhyme over those beats?

IMAKEMADBEATS: That’s a very good question. I wanted to do an instrumental joint because I’ve done projects producing other artists. In 2009 we dropped The Transcontinental, myself and the rapper Roc C from Oxnard – he’s down with Stones Throw. A lot of the reviews came back and a lot of people were telling me I should just drop an instrumental joint. Then I did IMAKEMADBEATS which was a producer compilation album that featured a whole bunch of amazing artists and I still got a lot of, “Man, you should drop an instrumental project,” [laughs]. To be honest that’s kind of where it all started in the beginning. When I was first making beats other producers would tell me that I didn’t leave room for a rapper. They told me I was making music, not necessarily beats. I learned how to scale back and leave room for an artist, and that was cool.

At the same time every time you produce a record for another artist a part of you compromises because you want to produce the artist. I remember going through all of that and feeling good that I learned to do that. That led to me making music for TV, movies, and other stuff. That was great but at the same that was also the rise of the beat scene. I started seeing producers like Flying Lotus and a lot of the other deep scene producers. Producers were coming out internationally who didn’t need artists. They were just putting out music. I just started wondering should I have compromised and dumbed down my stuff or should I have just kept going? I don’t regret anything, but when I had the chance to finally make something that truly represented my mind I took it, and that’s what Better Left Unsaid is.

TRHH: You’re from the south but your sound isn’t traditionally southern. How did you develop your sound?

IMAKEMADBEATS: I’m from Memphis but on my mom’s side I’m a first generation American. She’s actually Guyanese, which is a small country just north of Brazil. She migrated from Guyana to England, then from England to Canada, and Canada to the States where I was born. There’s a lot of broadened horizons at an early age on my part thanks to my mom and that family. It’s a lot that revolves around the idea of how I approach my music in a sense, like when you turn 18, turn 25, turn 30, all of us have gotten to these points in our lives and there are these requirements to be that age. So if you’re this age then you gotta be doing that or this, and if you’re not you don’t look like you’re successful. If you’re 25 you should be this or that. If you’re 30 it’s time to put away some of these things, because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. I just decided early on in life that I don’t subscribe to any of those ideals. I don’t need a wife and kid because I’m a certain age. I don’t need to be like this because I’m black. I don’t need to sound like this simply because I’m here. I can define who and what I am and what I create. That’s pretty much where I get my sound from.

TRHH: Who are some of your musical influences?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Jay Dee, J Dilla, Pay Jay, James Yancey, some of those guys. Either one of those guys, they’re all cool guys [laughs].

TRHH: Dilla Dawg!

IMAKEMADBEATS: All day! Dilla Dawg, we can keep going [laughs]. He’s my biggest influence. I feel like a lot of people are influenced by Dilla and to them that means “sound like Dilla.” For me being influenced by Dilla means sounding like me. Dilla was taking those kinds of risks early on. Dilla was not quantizing drums, messing with crazy dissonant chords, just doing odd stuff. It’s funny, you go back and listen to The Coming and listen to the Dilla joint on there and the beat never loops — the whole track! We look back and say that’s genius, but at the time that’s a scary thing, that’s a vulnerable thing. That’s not what Premier was doing, that’s not what Pete was doing, that’s not what Marley Marl was doing, and that’s not what RZA was doing. It was a loop functional thing. That beat didn’t loop the whole beat. He’s got drums that are slightly off, crazy bass lines, he took a risk. It takes a lot of strength and confidence in yourself and who you are to do that. When I say J Dilla I’m not just talking about, “I’d like to make my drums just like his,” Nah, I mean the person. The things that I picked up from him as an artist.

TRHH: I want you to speak on that a little bit because I think that gets lost on the average Hip-Hop fan. I remember ?uestlove was on a show with Chris Rock and ?uest was saying Dilla’s the greatest. Chris Rock was like, “The Light was just a small hit. Dilla didn’t really have hits.” Some of my boys kind of feel that way, too. From your respective can you explain to those people what makes Dilla one of the greatest?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Let me just clarify, if we’re talking about my perspective Dilla is the greatest. I just want to go on record that that is humbly my perspective. If I were to go into detail, specifically discussing in the realm of hits, we live in this culture and Hip-Hop is super thick in these things that define us and give us value. These terms and conditions we use to determine who is good, who is bad, who won in a battle, and all of that crap, I think we’re belittling ourselves by using some of these things as measurements. Who won in the battle? “Well homie sold more albums.” Does that mean he won in the battle? Really? Is that really what we’re going to use to quantify? Our culture of Hip-Hop is based on units sold? We’re not going to base it on any sort of curriculum as far as technical ability, skill, and versatility? All of the things that if albums weren’t sold this would be the criteria. It’s just a matter of who’s bank account is bigger? I think we do ourselves an injustice and we devalue the craft and the art of what is easily the most powerful thing created in the last thirty years, Hip-Hop.

TRHH: What does your production set-up consist of right now?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Right now the center of it is my MPC Renaissance. Everything else is Pro Tools, KORG SV1 keyboard – that’s where I get all of my pianos and Rhodes and organ. Then I have a Moog Little Phatty. Turn table, a whole bunch of records, and a whole bunch of mixing and mastering stuff — Manley EQ, Prism Titan interface, recording through a U87 through a LA-610 preamp. I have a cart of a whole bunch of percussive instruments that I use all the time.

TRHH: Tell me about the Youth program and how you got involved with the Memphis Music Initiative.

IMAKEMADBEATS: We’re developing it now. Initially when I first moved back to Memphis I just stayed in my cave. I eventually started going out to shows and meeting people and realized that this place was amazing and I didn’t understand it the way I thought I did. I could understand it better. I started working with a lot of young guys coming up. Years later I was part of the planning for Memphis Music Initiative. I don’t even know what happened, I just continued to do what I was doing and built a company called Unapologetic. This is a real dumbed down explanation, but we specialize in helping creatives and people in general be themselves. We’ve done comic conventions, performed for the Grammy Pro Recording Academy, we’ve done a whole bunch of stuff. Last summer someone from the Memphis Music Initiative reached out to me to create a program that would help out the youth in the city. When I got the opportunity to even consider doing that the first thing I thought about was who would I want to help? How would my program help? The first thing I thought was I would be helping me at 16-17 years old. Me at 16-17 years old didn’t think that Memphis had anything for me.

You said it earlier in the conversation when we were talking about the traditional southern sound, growing up here when you’re listening to Prodigy “Fat of the Land,” various Wu-Tang artists, and various random underground stuff, but also Three 6 Mafia and “hard to define which genre of music it was” artists, you get picked on. Also when you sound like me, think like me, and want to try some of the things I want to try you get picked on. Especially if you’re living in parts of town I was living in. There was very little acceptance of much outside of what you were stereotypically supposed to like. If I had my headphones on I was supposed to be listening to Three 6, UGK, 8-Ball & MJG, all of that. I remember listening to Reflection Eternal and getting picked on about that. I thought about me and the fact that I felt like I had no chance to stay here. I had to leave in order to expand and be around people who had broader mindsets. They liked what they liked but didn’t dislike you just because you didn’t like it. They didn’t alienate you. In my travels as a kid I definitely saw people in places with more open arms accepted differences, in fact it excited them. Here in Memphis in my experience growing up that was not the case.

When I came back I realized what I initially thought of this place growing up wasn’t all the way true. What the problem was, was that there are other people who thought like this and wanted to try new and different things but they were quiet because they were also used to being made fun of. If you like Dragon Ball Z and a whole bunch of nerdy stuff that would have gotten you picked on, on the Orange Mound bus heading through the hood, you stopped talking about it. The next time you came across somebody that liked that same thing y’all didn’t talk about it because nobody mentioned it. So with the Memphis Music Initiative what I’m trying to do is establish this idea in the city that this is a place of progression. Yes, we salute B.B. King, we salute Three 6, we salute Stax Records, we salute all of the amazing history that this place has created from musicians, but we’re here now and there’s more to come in the future. This place is more than Graceland. There are a lot of new and innovative things happening here. I’ve seen this for the past three years a lot, every time I’m around somebody new and young and they have some new ideas and they’re amazing ideas, after about 6-to-9 months they come to me and they feel like they gotta leave. Not because of an opportunity somewhere else, but because of the lack of opportunity here. That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to create a program where we take in kids and help them learn how to go about being an indie musician, surviving, thriving, and approaching it from a progressive standpoint. Not one built off how to sell records 10 and 20 years ago.

TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on Better Left Unsaid?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Probably the last joint titled Imakemadbeats.

TRHH: Why is that your favorite?

IMAKEMADBEATS: It’s probably my favorite right now. Three months ago it was not my favorite [laughs]. Right now it’s probably my favorite because I grew up a “hide behind the door, hide behind the person in front of me, play the background” kind of guy. This is a song called Imakemadbeats where the music for it is a robot literally saying, “I make mad beats.” It’s kind of like me standing in front of a whole bunch of people facing my vulnerabilities and screaming who and what I am. For a guy who for the majority of his life has not been able to even have this kind of a conversation because he was so shy, it means a lot to me.

TRHH: If you could pick one artist to produce an entire album for right now who would it be?

IMAKEMADBEATS: Man, that’s a real question [laughs]. Man, that’s a real G question! You know who I’d love to do an album with, Elzhi. I would love to do an album with Elzhi [laughs]. That would be a dream. Elzhi, all day.

TRHH: What’s next up for IMAKEMADBEATS?

IMAKEMADBEATS: We just launched the Unapologetic World app for IOS and Android. This app is essentially everything for us at Unapologetic. I developed it myself. What we’re going to be doing because of the mission statement that we have in terms of inclusiveness, in terms of finding those people who have felt like strangers or felt alienated in their own communities, we’re going to be focused on creating this place for people who are like me that they can go to and find other people and find other things to help push that idea and further our vision. That’s all in the app. Right now in terms of me creating music and me being an artist, we’re pushing this project. We got a lot more coming out with this project. I’ve also shot and directed a show called, “What You Doing, Nothing?” that will be part of the app. It’s kind of a talk show, kind of a comedy show. It’s going to feature some of the legends coming out of Memphis or coming through Memphis. I can go ahead and shout out one, Project Pat is on episode one.

This summer we’ll release my first signee, Cameron Bethany’s album. I produced it fully – I can’t wait for that to drop. Later this year we have some more projects coming from Unapologetic. For me it’s all about scoring. It’s all about creating audible emotion. I believe music is just emotion you can hear. We’re just getting started on those things. For us, any time we sit down and think to do something if it comes to us too easy we throw it out and try to do something bigger and greater. We got some pretty cool things lined up for the rest of this year. I’ve already finished the next project, it’s called Crazy Visions. Shout out to Ghost.

Purchase: IMAKEMADBEATS – Better Left Unsaid

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