Veteran Chicago emcee Pugs Atomz closed out 2018 with an adventurous album titled, “Highly Irregular.” The tenth studio album in the Pugs Atomz catalog, Highly Irregular is a collaborative project with producer Mulatto Patriot that finds Atomz rhyming over up-tempo grooves with splashes of samples and live instrumentation intertwined.
Highly Irregular features appearances by GLC, Maceo Haynes, Algenoy Alexander, Shayna Love, Maggie Vagle, DJ Gant-Man, Nosecurity, Calid B, DJ Intel, Soul Deep, Awdazcate, and Wes Restless.
Pugs Atomz recently spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about working with Mulatto Patriot, his various artistic endeavors, and his new album, Highly Irregular.
TRHH: Why’d you name the new album ‘Highly Irregular’?
Pugs Atomz: It’s one of those things where me and Mulatto had been discussing what the direction was going to be. Before this record, I had a record I was trying to put out called “To Be Announced” and it was kind of like the unknown things. As we were talking I was running down all the stuff I had to do that week – the clothes stuff, the radio stuff, helping some people with their promotion and marketing – the regular schedule. Mulatto said, “Highly Irregular. I could wear that on a t-shirt. I wouldn’t be mad at that at all.” From my background that’s how I usually judge most things. Would I wear this? Would I post this under a picture? Would I believe in this thing? Also, I thought more about the name and all people are highly irregular. We’re made of the same things, but each person is so different. So, it’s just kind of reflecting on the human being.
TRHH: How’d you and Mulatto Patriot get together and decide to make Highly Irregular?
Pugs Atomz: Me and Mulatto have been working together for close to ten years. We never really had a relationship where he was my producer. He my engineer and occasionally he would play me a beat and I’d be working on a mixtape or he’d be working on a compilation and we would collaborate. I was just coming off finishing this album with Chris Read called “Colo(u)rs of the World” on BBE out in the UK. The guise of that was “he’s the producer, I’m the rapper.” I thought it might be time to switch it up.
Usually when I make an album I listen to 24 different producers, go through a bunch of beats, and pick out which ones I think go together, and which ones catch my ear. Since Mulatto knew me so well, because we probably recorded over 100 songs together, if he doesn’t think a beat is the best match he’ll definitely tell you. If it’s not the best take he’ll tell you and if he thinks you nailed it he’ll say, “That’s it, you’re finished.” To be able to achieve a very honest album and a perfected album where both parties are pushing for the best, no ego in it – what’s the best music we can make – we set out to do it.
TRHH: The album is very up tempo; did you go into it intending to make dance records?
Pugs Atomz: It wasn’t so much intentional. I usually pick beats that move me. At the time I was going through his beats the first record was “Sweat.” I think Sweat pretty much set the precedence of what this album was going to be. From doing all the stuff with Adeem I have a pretty good track record with up tempo beats. They usually work out for me, but again, I’m trying to do something different. The tempo of rap has definitely gotten slower. I wanted to take it all the way. For me, performing is the biggest part of rapping. These records that we’re doing will all be great on stage. They have a lot of power to them and they’re also different from the time we started them four years ago. Most of these beats were picked out four years ago and we worked on them step by step as ideas came and we changed things.
TRHH: How many songs did you record in that 4-year span?
Pugs Atomz: Just these. That’s it. Over a course of two years he would be like, “I got this one, check it out.” He might have given me six beats and I’d pick one. He’d play me some other stuff and I’d be like, “Let me get that one.” For instance, ‘Lost’ was more of a dubstep, electronic music type thing. I had him gut it, we changed some things, had singers come in, and flipped it a few times and it came out to what it is now. I was just shooting for the best music, but also making it its own thing to stand alone and meet up with the title.
TRHH: You released a 45 for the single “Sweat” which samples Nina Simone. How did that song come together?
Pugs Atomz: Initially Mulatto played it for me and I don’t even know if he thought I was going to rap to it. That record reminds me of my childhood. My parents played a lot of Nina Simone and would make me listen to the lyrics and see exactly what she was saying. In Hip-Hop that’s one of the top joints that people have rapped over and made iconic records with. For me it was the challenge because it was that record and the other record that Diddy used before. Being able to take a beat and make it your own is what makes a great singer, a great rapper, a great musician, a great artist — making your own space out of something people have used and would probably pass over. As soon as we laid the verses, Awdazcate did the skit part in it, I was like, “Ah yeah, this is a go.” The feedback from deejays all around the world has been super-awesome. People get it. There’s definitely some Outkast influence throughout the whole album.
TRHH: Were you listening to a lot of Outkast while recording the album?
Pugs Atomz: Nah, not at all. I’m one of those people that studies rap and I can see similarities and say, “This reminds me of that.” Some of the things reminded me of them, other things reminded me of Parliament. It’s more of a genuine creating from a group effort as opposed to one person saying, “This is what it is.”
TRHH: The song “July in Chicago” has such a good feel to it. What inspired that song?
Pugs Atomz: Most of my music is pretty autobiographical. I’m just really detailing what it usually feels like. My birthday is July 31 and I’ve had some of my best days and best memories in July. The second verse details a rooftop party that my brand Iridium threw in downtown Chicago. It goes through all the list of things that happened to people that came. The thing that was so amazing about New York Hip-Hop is they would tell you about these people and you would have no idea who these people were, but you’d be like,” Oh yeah? That’s who came?” Later down the line you might learn who they were talking about.
I’m talking about some of the deejays and other artists who were at the party. The first verse is detailing what it feels like to go the Point in Hyde Park or go to Rainbow Beach in South Shore on a Saturday and it’s nice outside. Shayna Love laid the hook first and we said, “That’s exactly where we’re going.” It’s actually a flip of a record that Mulatto did a few years earlier with this rapper named Simeon Viltz called “Hot Day.” I wanted to present it again in a bigger way because he had so many bits from it to choose from.
TRHH: You did the artwork for the album cover. How did you get into graphic design?
Pugs Atomz: From the beginning I was a definite doodler. My mom was a painter and she definitely encouraged me in the arts. From the time I was 15-16 I started to be a teacher’s assistant at the Boulevard Arts Center in Englewood. I was entering art contests and in high school I was into drafting – I wanted to be an architect. In senior year I took this AP art class with one of the members of COBRA, the black art coalition from the 70s, and she just really opened me up to pursuing that. And then I went to the Art Institute of Chicago and studied fine painting and video. All those things have always been with me. From my first album when I asked somebody to do the artwork and I didn’t like it, I knew I could do better and it set the tone of me doing my own artwork when possible. So, on this album I teamed up with the sculptor named Goyo who does all these metal sculptures. He probably has over 1000 of these little people that he makes and each one is part of a scene. He stopped by my store and was trying to get them in the store.
From the instance I saw them I would have loved to do something with them, but it took time. It was probably two years ago when he showed me those things. I started to play with them more in the context of me making a music video. I needed to make it more of my style, because usually his creatures don’t wear clothes – it’s more of the raw aspect of the materials. I started to style his characters, cut and paste, shape, and make them do other things that he didn’t quite do with the sculptures. I tried to make them my own. The shirt that’s on the mother figure on the cover is taken from this artist named Erin Leann Works. She actually did the cover of the 45 for Sweat. I wanted to make sure that the album connects to the single. It’s like a glimpse into what’s to come. The thing with this album compared to a lot of my other albums is I definitely worked with way more people in the sense of collaborating on the beats. Usually it’s me and the producer as opposed to having other people come and sing a part of say a few words. It helped us to orchestrate it more instead of it being all samples.
TRHH: Earlier you mentioned your clothing store and the radio show, and of course Hip-Hop; is there an area that you work in that is most rewarding?
Pugs Atomz: Nah, for me, I feel like as an artist you’re all these things. You just decide how you’re going to use your artistry and creativity. I’ve been very lucky where all the different creative pursuits that I’ve had have led me back to giving back. From the music I’ve spoken at a bunch of schools about non-violence, helped out in different campaigns, and do things to give back to the community. With art usually, my murals are usually in impoverished neighborhoods or I’m working with youth in different high schools to create some beauty in the neighborhood. With the music, it’s inspiring people. Even with the clothing, I talk to a lot of young entrepreneurs that are trying to figure out how to have their brand, have their store, become the idea person and figure out how to market and sell that. For me it always leads me back to teaching in all the things that I decide to pursue creatively.
TRHH: Who is the Highly Irregular album made for?
Pugs Atomz: I think it’s really just made for people that like music. I don’t think it’s a specific genre you have to be into. You don’t have to like hardcore Hip-Hop or jazzy Hip-Hop. If you like music you’ll dig it. I looked at my analytics from clothing to music and it’s pretty across the board from people 14 to about 65. I feel like this album specifically is one of those things that can cater to anybody within there. It’s just really good music. I’m not trying to over-rap the track, I’m just really trying to make great music – what feels right as opposed to what sounds great in your brain.