Emcee ILListic and producer Ill2ectual The Sound Cultivator are AJCKS, short for “Acid Jackson.” The Long Beach, California group have returned after a six-year hiatus with the first in a series of releases titled. “Good Grief.”
Good Grief is produced entirely by Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator. The 12-track album features appearances by Blueprint, Carnage the Executioner, and Illogic.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to AJCKS about their disdain for social media, people peaking too soon, and their new EP, Good Grief.
TRHH: Why’d you title the new EP Good Grief?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: Man, it’s kind of a loaded but not loaded answer. We got a string of music coming along right, the way I kind of got it planned out is all the titles of the EP’s are kind of going to make up a single phrase. So, if you had our cassettes, or vinyls, or the CD’s, on the spine once they’re stacked together you would see that whole phrase. It’s a nod to the homie Ktown Oddity, actually.
I used to do work for Strictly Cassette — I did all the audio. My boy Button Pusher who runs the other side of things for it, he had this artist Ktown that he brought that did a whole tribute to the Chinese calendar. So, a beat tape per year on that calendar spiral, so, it’s something like 12 beat tapes in total or something like that. But anyhow, the way he had that whole beat tape thing connected I thought that was kind of sick. So, it’s kind of a nod to that in a way.
TRHH: So, how long will that play out?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: It’s going to be 5 EP’s, unless I break one of those down to like a conjunction so that I don’t have to come up with five different beat tapes [laughs].
TRHH: What was the process like recording Good Grief?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: Good Grief is actually made up of half joints we recorded as demos back in what ILL?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: Right around there, yeah. And then the rest of the album is made-up of all new material. We technically have like right now two albums worth of old material, and we’re currently sitting on about three different albums in the pipeline. We’re just kind of figuring out how to package it and present it the right way that we think fits with the kind of style of art we’re putting together currently.
So, recording wise with the blessing of technology, both of us are audio engineers. We went to school and whatnot, so he’s got Pro Tools, I got Pro Tools. He’s doing his recordings on his side back at his studio. I send him loops, he’ll send me back his sketches, between there we start building it up to a full song. Eventually it’ll transition to whatever it becomes a part of as far as the album sequence. So, from demo to complete phase it goes through a couple of different growth spurts.
TRHH: What else is in your production workstation?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: I use a lot of outboard gear. I got a Fender Rhodes, I got a Roland keyboard. I get a little happy with toys. I’ll visit pawn shops and take over people’s bad dreams and cycle them in and out. The main one I’m using is that Roland Fa-06. It doesn’t have the sounds that I thought Roland was going to come through with on it, but it’s definitely decent. I still use a Yamaha Motif. I’m currently using the MPC Live II and the SP-404 in conjunction with each other. I’ve got guitars and basses and whatnot, so whatever I find that I’m trying to bury I could kind of play around with. I still use Reason 5, honestly. I got all kinds of refills on Reason 5. I got an old computer that I got just staged with some old shit. I’ll bring out old Uncle MIDI and start rocking with that, too.
TRHH: On the song “OBSRVTN” you speak on the negative aspects of social media. Are you able to disconnect from social media when it becomes too much, or do you just take it for what it is?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: I don’t even use it! I’m like, fuck social media [laughs]!
ILListic: I’ve seen it grow. Me and my buddy always talk about how when we was in high school how we used to be on AOL Instant Messenger and like going back and forth. OBSRVTN is kind of like how everything is graduated from where I saw everything begin, to where everything is so in your face now. How I kind of deal with it is experience. It’s been kind of the same since I was 15-16. I always say we was born right when the internet kind of started popping off.
So, I deal with it kind of by not dealing with it, because I remember seeing the skeletons you know. That’s what OBSRVTN is about, just looking at everything and being like, “I can’t believe everything went from that to this.” Back in the day you’d be M or F? Like, male or female? How old are you? You would have chats like that, so now that everybody’s all in your face just moon walking and doing all that, it’s just crazy to see. I just disconnect from it. I know when to turn it off and turn it on.
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: Yeah, man, I feel like social networks are like Yelp had babies with all the other people who leave comments on like bad reviews for things. It’s like it’s on steroids. Besides all the tracking, social networks have a really funny way of making you feel like you’re not a product, but you’re definitely the product. I don’t even use them, to be honest with you. I ditched that shit a while ago. When I was using it, I used it under my artist name. I’m not feeling “Dear diary, I did this today. Dear diary, I did that.” I’m on some like, “No one cares, work harder.”
TRHH: What about from a promotional standpoint?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: I’m kind of old school, man. I feel like good music should stand for itself. There’s a lot of muck out there, so even if you’re trying to be out there socially promoting this shit I feel like if it’s dope people recognize dope. Good music stands out. It’ll float to the top eventually, hopefully, if people are looking. Illogic had a meeting with us to make me get out there and do social networks and shit like that for promo and whatnot, it’s so wild. I grew up in an era where we used to float tapes to each other, so like if something was dope it just came to you. You have people in your circle. Somebody went visiting the East Coast or something for a summer and comes back with a whole shoe box of some new shit. I’m kind of like in that same fashion. When I go digging for records I still find dope shit. When I’m on Spotify I treat that kind of like digging. I look for what I think sounds dope and I hunt for it. I’m not trying to see who hashtagged the best shit today. To be honest, I don’t even know what’s going on with the new scene. I work a pretty hefty nine to five and when I’m not doing that I got the wife and kid, plus I’m making my own shit.
So, I don’t got a lot of time to keep up with the new kids. It’s different nowadays. I feel like we’re holding on to an older route of Hip-Hop with the style of beats and stuff and how we’re presenting our shit. It’s a lot of kits and trap beats these days and people extending loops. I come from a day where Pharcyde was around killing it. And at the same time, you had wack shit like fucking Kid ‘n Play out there. You had a choice, you could listen to whatever you want, whatever mood you had. Now it’s just streamlined to like, “We do this now, so get on the bus.” Not a lot of variation or deviation it doesn’t seem like. I don’t know, man, I kind of feel like on the promo tip, yeah it could be useful if you’re trying to be them dudes and you’re trying to get hot on some hashtag nonsense. I’m not interested in really blowing up. We just put our shit together for us, and we put it out there, hopefully other people dig it.
ILListic: I look at it like we’re looking at organic ways to do it, because I’m not really a poster either. I know that’s kind of what you have to do these days, but just coming out of hiding with this particular album I’m just observing and seeing what’s comfortable to post, reaching out to individuals like you, doing interviews, kind of just seeing what works, what doesn’t, and just being comfortable in my own skin, because at the end of the day I don’t really do stuff that makes me uncomfortable. I’m a pretty private person. I’m very laid back, but I understand you gotta give a little something to get something so, I get what you mean.
TRHH: I gotta go back, what’s wack about Kid ‘n Play?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: Oh, man, I didn’t mean it that way! When I was like ten Kid ‘n Play was dope. When I turned 13 Kid ‘n Play got a little wack. That’s just my timeline as far as growing up. I got exposed to some stuff that we just used to bounce around to as kids and I took it more serious when we started break dancing. You had shifts in what was going on.
ILListic: House Party is my favorite movie of all time. I’ll stand on that because I love Kid ‘n Play. He’s a little older than me, so, when he was probably moving towards it it was probably kid friendly to me. I thought those guys were the greatest. They were dancing, flipping. Me and my family would go and see the movies and all that, so, I got respect for Kid ‘n Play.
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: Class Act, man that was a whole summer on every day.
ILListic: Class Act is great. That’s a classic.
TRHH: I liked the first Kid ‘n Play album, 2 Hype, but after that…
ILListic: After that they started doing movies and soundtracks, so it wasn’t really about music like that. It was a gimmick, it worked though.
TRHH: You have a lyric on the song “Seek & Find” where you say “most people peak before they get free.” Explain what you mean by that line.
ILListic: I think just in life we go through so much. You you can sit back and peak in your teens, peak in your 20s, you can peak in your 30’s, but until you understand who you are you don’t really get free. You try to chase what you think is freedom and you still end up in the cage. And then life gets in your way. You might end up having kids; you might end up catching a case, you might end up in a situation where that freedom is going to be a little tougher to get. I say that because I watched that happen around me with friends, family, people that I thought was the greatest and their peak was that moment I saw their peak. It kind of just reads into that. Sometimes you got to understand yourself before you get to your destination and most people don’t do that.
TRHH: On the song “Sit Alone” you say, “Sometimes it’s to the point where I’m like ‘fuck rapping.’” What makes you feel that way and what keeps you going?
ILListic: When I wrote that it was like dealing with the frustration emceeing. Any emcee or rapper that doesn’t do it on the scale that’s sitting back on how they make it seem like you need to do it, because I was younger when I wrote that, it makes you feel like sometimes you’re running in a circle. You see the top guys in the industry or you see guys that you know you’re better than them, so sometimes you get to that point where it’s like, “Man, this ain’t even worth it.” Or just life in general will do that to you. You’ll be sitting back hustling and your girl is like, “Hey, that music shit ain’t doing nothing for us right now.” Just the pressures and stress of dealing with stuff like that day to day and just the pressure to keep things going. To answer your second part, it’s ingrained in me. I’m 38 now. I’ve been rhyming since I was like 11 and been recording since I was 17. So, even if I don’t feel like it, it’s so ingrained in me. I can’t stop.
TRHH: Who is the Good Grief EP made for?
Ill2lectual The Sound Cultivator: Oh, it’s headphone music. I used to do a lot of shit. Back in the day writing graffiti, rolling late night on my skateboard, headphone music was real to heart. So, this is kind of for that backpacker kid who spends that time transitioning from place to place. We’re filling that gap. Someplace to carry their thoughts while they’re getting there.
ILListic: From a rhyming perspective, I come from the era where I used to go buy CD’s on Tuesday and things like that. I was just always looking for the newest stuff and I remember when Wu was out, yeah Method was the hottest, Ghostface was the hottest, but I was really into GZA. I was really into Inspectah Deck. So, I speak for those guys that are looking for that complexity. Those two that I brought up, they speak from like a broad stroke, it wasn’t about I’m the baddest, I’m the illest, it was more introspective. It was about telling you what was going on around and making other people just go on their level. So, I speak for the people that like emcees that kind of speak to them in the way that they can relate to. So, anybody that hears the words and be like, “Wow, that makes sense to me,” it’s for you.
Purchase: AJCKS – Good Grief