The Opus: Man Down

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Photo courtesy of Kinga Spanier

The Opus is a production duo from Chicago comprised of The Isle of Weight and Mr. Echoes. The two have over a twenty-year history of crafting unconventional instrumentals for emcees as well as for themselves. The group’s most recent work is an EP titled, “Man Down.” “Man Down” takes a look at police brutality and the impact on its victims. The 8-track EP features appearances by Castro Hye, MetaMorpheus, and Rubberoom.

The Opus will be taking part in the 2018 Soundset Festival on May 27 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, Minnesota. The event will be headlined by Atmosphere, Logic, Migos, Erykah Badu, Tyler, the Creator, and the Wu-Tang Clan. The Opus will take part in the Last of the Record Buyers Production Showcase at the Essential Elements Stage.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke with one half of The Opus, Mr. Echoes about performing at Soundset, their Man Down EP, and The Opus’ next musical venture.

TRHH: For those that don’t know, who is The Opus?

Mr. Echoes: The Opus is me and my partner Aaron Smith. We decided to become a production duo. When we kind of branched off from Rubberoom we decided to do our own thing. We said, “Let’s do production on our own, do our own projects, work with people who want to work, and be creative.” It just kind of went from there. I didn’t know what that meant back in the day. I didn’t know if I would be doing instrumental stuff or working with emcees. The crazy part is that it all worked out to doing mostly instrumental stuff. A lot of people told us they could hear our music without lyrics on them and the beats could hold it down themselves. We started doing that and the more we went along we had different emcees featured on top of our beats. The more projects and songs we decided to do we started making way more instrumental music. I guess that brings us to where we are right now as far as projects. I still like that mix of doing projects with emcees, depending on the song, and doing a project that’s all instrumental. I guess that’s who we are.

TRHH: Do you guys work in the studio together or do you send beats back and forth?

Mr. Echoes: Right now it’s crazy how our process works. We basically do beats individually. We live thirty miles away. I’ll do a beat, Aaron will do a beat and if he wants to add something to my beat or I want to add something to his beat then we’ll kind of collaborate from there. We typically do beats separately when we’re in a pre-post of making a beat. It will always be done separately and we’ll kind of add on to what we have.

TRHH: What does your production workstation consist of right now?

Mr. Echoes: Right now I’m using Maschine. I started using Maschine Studio. I was using the MPC 1000. MPC’S are great but they’re kind of linear in a way where you have to kind of search through things. If you want the right drum kit sometimes you have to load up stuff to see what that kit sounds like. With Maschine the difference is you can demo a lot of stuff ahead of time to know whether or not that sound is going to work. I decided to move on from the MPC to Maschine only from a pure workflow kind of situation. It’s really crazy that I’m saying this, I didn’t want to spend two hours looking for drums, but even with Maschine it gives you so much to look through that I almost spend two hours just looking for drums [laughs]. It’s the weirdest thing. I just feel like the workflow is much quicker than loading up sounds and figuring out whether or not I want to use those sounds versus Maschine where I’m demoing hundreds and hundreds of sounds at one time. I use Maschine Studio, output it from there to Pro Tools, and then go from Pro Tools to delivering it.

TRHH: Are you guys still against sampling?

Mr. Echoes: No! I think sampling is beautiful. I’m never against sampling. It depends on what you sample. I don’t try to be typical in sampling. I like to sample really unique and obscure things that I’m like, “Oh wow, that would make a great sample!” I’ve never been the type of producer to grab 100,000 soul sample records and go through them and sample from there. I’ve never sampled that way. It’s so funny, when we were doing the Architechnology album with Rubberoom one of my friends came over and expected to see crates and crates of records. As soon as he walked in my studio he was like, “Where are all the records?” I said, “What records? What are you talking about?” He said, “Well, how did you make that album?” I’m like, “I didn’t make that album from records. I made that album from obscure stuff. Stuff that I listened to through a movie, a soundtrack, or on television.” He was like, “So you didn’t use any records in the process of this album?” I was like, “No, I don’t sample in that way.” As far as being against sampling, no I’m not against it. It has to be done in a way where it’s unique to me. I feel like my partner is the same way where it has to be unique to him. Would I be for going to the record store and buying a bunch of vinyl? I would say nah, I’m not doing that anymore. I’ve done that here and there but I never really regulated myself to, “This is what sampling should be and I’m going to do it this way.” I don’t believe that there should be rules to it. You can do whatever you want to do.

TRHH: The Man Down album touched on some major topics that the world is currently facing. How did you guys decide to take that route when making the album?

Mr. Echoes: That is a very interesting question because how it was made was based on the relationship I have with my brother. My brother lives in Minnesota. He’s Castro Hye on the Man Down album. I went to Minnesota to see him and just to hang out. I was at his house and we were up late talking and playing music. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. One o’clock in the morning turned to two o’clock in the morning and two o’clock in the morning turned to four o’clock in the morning. Somehow, we just found ourselves outside on his porch just talking. We were talking about the political climate of what was going on. He was telling me about this song that he wanted to do. He just sits back and writes without beats. He was talking about this idea of a song that he had and I was sitting there kind of like beat boxing, but in a very wack way. It was a very stripped-down version of a beat box while he was talking about this song. We started developing the idea from it. I was doing the sound of the drums in his head with my mouth. It was kind of weird but it was coming together like that. The rhythm of my beat box was fitting with what he was saying. His lyrics were fired up and it was awesome. I went back to the house, thought about what we did on his porch, and made the beat from there. I demoed it back to him and he was like, “Yeah, that’s great!” It all started out as one song.

It didn’t really start out as this project concept that we put together as Man Down. If you listen to it from beginning to end it has this concept to it and a political awareness of it. We started out with the one song. I wasn’t really thinking about any other songs that we would associate with it. My partner decided to add some more songs to it so we started building off of that one song, which is Man Down, then we added “Where Do We Go from Here” which is the intro, then “A Vine of Lies” and then “The Way of the Gun.” We started wondering what would fit into the concept of the man down. It was like a puzzle and it started fitting together. That’s pretty much how we came up with the concept of Man Down. We were kind of frustrated and mad at how things are right now. Originally how it came up was Philando Castile was murdered a couple of weeks prior to me getting there to my brother’s house. We started talking about that and it’s kind of interesting that this happened right around the time that I went out there. I felt like awareness needed to be made of that. It’s all a part of that. The concept of Man Down is us being frustrated of where we are right now and why we are still in this situation. Where do we go from here? A person is telling you that they have a gun in the car, and by law they can have a gun in the car with a concealed carry, and still gets murdered based off of the fact that he’s black. That’s how that whole concept came about.

TRHH: Do you feel like Man Down provides any solutions?

Mr. Echoes: No, it doesn’t provide a solution but it provides a conversation. It provides awareness that this is where we’re at. Is it a solution that tells us where do we go and what needs to be done? No. My object was to really raise awareness that this is where we are right now. I didn’t want to make a record just to be making a record to make a record. A lot of records that I make right now are based on me raising awareness, having a voice, and saying something. That is a good question. How do you find a solution for it? Maybe you find the solution being out there, protesting, and being a part of the conversation. I feel like if we’re not starting the conversation then why am I really making a record about it?

TRHH: What does it mean to you to perform at Soundset this year?

Mr. Echoes: I mean, it’s beautiful. I wasn’t really expecting it. I can see why we’re there as far as producers. They have a segment called “The Last of the Record Buyers Producer Showcase” and with that they feature producers that they feel are relevant in the game. It was beautiful for them to reach out to me because it made me feel like I’m relevant in the game and I’m doing something right. DJ Jazzy Jeff is going to be there and last year was Pete Rock and I’m part of that legacy of being recognized as a good producer. For me it’s huge. My skills have been recognized to a point where I can be a part of that legacy and on that showcase. It’s a very humbling experience for me. It’s a very huge thing.

TRHH: What do you have in-store for fans at the Soundset Festival?

Mr. Echoes: I’m going to put together a set that’s kind of based on some new stuff that I’m working on now with a little of some of the older stuff. My production workflow has changed. I’m still getting accustomed to figuring out a Traktor type of set up with implementing some of the stuff that I do in a live situation. It will be a little new with the old – a great mix. It will be a great DJ mix. With today’s technology I’ll be able to give people a taste of the new and the old.

TRHH: Is there anyone on the bill that you’re excited to see just as a fan?

Mr. Echoes: You know it’s weird that you say that because Wu-Tang is there and I’m like, “Let me see if they all come.”

TRHH: [LAUGHS].

Mr. Echoes: I’m really excited about seeing Wu-Tang perform from an older standpoint. DJ Jazzy Jeff is going to be there and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him perform live, but he just puts on a hell of a set. He’s just so good live! Jaden Smith is going to be there and I’m really interested to see him. The interesting thing about Soundset is it gives you the old and the new. The artists that have been doing it for a while and the current artists like Logic. I’ve been listening to a lot of Logic lately and I wonder what he’s like live. I’ve never seen him live. I like to see how people react to artists old and new. That’s the most interesting thing to me about Soundset – how people come together and appreciate new and older Hip-Hop. As far as from an artist perspective I’m really excited to see the Wu-Tang’s and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s. What I’m really interested in is they booked Erykah Badu. That’s an interesting kind of act to have on Soundset. I’m kind of interested in seeing how that plays out. Soundset is really young. It’s a lot of young people and I’m like, “Do they even know who Erykah Badu is?” I want to see what kind of set she puts on.

TRHH: What’s next up for The Opus musically?

Mr. Echoes: Right now, I’m working on a project that’s kind of like my solo effort and then we’re working on another Opus project that’s instrumental-based. We do projects that will be straight up all rappers on it and then we’ll do projects that are all instrumental. I think the next Opus project is going to be more geared in that way where it’s more instrumental-based with an emcee kind of guiding it a little bit, but not on all of the tracks. For example, we did a song with Blueprint that was actually supposed to be a part of Man Down but it just didn’t work out. We’re using the song that was supposed to be on that project for our next project, which sort of guides it beautifully into the next project that we’re doing. We have a seven-song idea for that and like I said I’m working on my EP, which is probably going to be 100% instrumental. I’m kind of following that up as well with a video. I’m working on a video now. We’re in production and starting to shoot it right now. We’re going to have a real video, not like a video where it’s some cartoons playing over our beats. It’s going to be conceptualized like that.

I’m doing a collaboration with this other producer. As a matter of fact, when I’m at Soundset I’m going to play a couple of songs that we’re working on together. We’re going to release that kind of as a solo project. When I think of The Opus I think of The Opus as a brand. If I’m going to do something with another producer it’s still under The Opus brand and if I do something with another emcee it’s under The Opus brand. It’s like a wide-open friendship with different people. I’m working with a friend of mine who also does production and a lot of live stuff. I’ve got a lot of things on the horizon for the year. It’s a matter of getting it all done. If I release something this year it will probably be closer to the collaboration that I’m doing with another producer. My goal is to have the video and project coming out this year. If I reach that goal it will be later this year – like October. My goal is to do a lot of work this year with the hopefulness of releasing some of it later in the year. If I don’t release some of it this year, then I definitely will be able to release it in 2019.

I feel like right now when you release records you have to have a very clear-cut goal in mind of what you want to do. Just making a record and putting it out, it’s so much music out right now that that just doesn’t cut it anymore. You have to make a record, come up with a very interesting visual for it, you’re going to want to do vinyl, and it’s going to all be branded that way. You can still do this, certainly. I just find it difficult to make a record and put it out. Because of how the market is right now a lot of people make records and put them out and that’s kind of it – you go on to the next record. You have to have a whole concept and a whole package behind it to really make an impact. Again, it can certainly work if you put out a dope ass song that’s just undeniable like, “Wow, that’s just amazing!” But now you have to have a dope ass song, with dope ass visuals behind it, and a dope ass concept behind it to make yourself stand out. That’s what I’m working on – trying to do a bunch of dope ass shit [laughs]!

Purchase: The Opus – Man Down

See The Opus live at Soundset 2018

About Sherron Shabazz

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