ALYX Ryon x Jumbled: Greatest Show on Earth

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Photo courtesy of John Bachman

Two Maryland musicians teamed up to produce one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2024. Emcee ALYX Ryon and producer Jumbled created Greatest Show on Earth, a project that runs the gamut of dopeness, both sonically and lyrically. Greatest Show on Earth is a 19-track album produced entirely by Jumbled. Each song on the release highlights both artists ingenuity and their fearlessness.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to ALYX Ryon and Jumbled about the struggle to promote music as independent artists, their unconstrained approach to creating, and their new album, Greatest Show on Earth.

TRHH: Explain the title of the new album, Greatest Show on Earth?

ALYX Ryon: Well, Greatest Show on Earth kind of came about thinking about almost life in the sense of it being like a public access spectacle [laughs]. Where it’s like it can also kind of sort of be connected to the whole idea of a circus sort of thing, but it’s more so closer to that. If you’re flipping on a public access channel you see a lot of different people and a lot of different types of perspectives and everyone’s just kind of showing up with what they have. So, that’s kind of sort of the feeling that I felt coming off of the vibe, as far as writing goes anyways, trying to just bring that across like, “This is it! These are the things!”

TRHH: I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched public access.

ALYX Ryon: I was obsessed. I kind of sort of still am to some extent.

TRHH: Really? What’s on there now?

ALYX Ryon: I go on YouTube and just like look through everyone’s public access from the past 20 years [laughs]. Just deep dive into all kinds of stuff.

TRHH: In the 90s I watched it a lot and it was just so funny because it was so ridiculous. I think Spirit of Truth is the greatest thing to ever come from public access, right? You’re not familiar with Spirit of Truth?

ALYX Ryon: No.

Jumbled: No.

TRHH: Oh my God! You are but you just don’t know it. The cursing preacher? Reverend X?

ALYX Ryon: Ohhh yeah, okay.

TRHH: He was out of L.A., but yeah, his stuff coming out 15 years ago or so, God, talk about entertainment. So, how did you two get together and decide to do Greatest Show on Earth?

Jumbled: I want to say we have connected back from Myspace, if that’s even possible. I know we’ve been kind of connected for a while and we hadn’t really met in real life. I started doing some open mic things, I only did it for two months right outside of D.C. at a record store, and then we finally kind of met in person. But even that was almost seven years ago, which is crazy. We’ve just stay connected and I usually put stuff in Dropbox or Google Drive and then he just kind of popped up and just sent me two songs. One had been used and the other one it’s just like I’ve just been sitting on for years. It’s just like, “When did I even send this to you?”

I’m sure I sent it out ages ago and he just had stuff. I mean, he’s been doing other projects, solo stuff, and self-produced kind of stuff, so I think just kind of through the internet for a while. I was always trying to connect with local people – semi-local I guess [laughs] you’re in Baltimore. We just kind of had this connection for a while and even when I was writing my press release or whatever it’s just like, we’ve been working on this, oh, but we did a song on my Christmas album, and then I did like a do-wop kind of thing and he jumped on that. Kind of like an overlapping thing like, here’s this other stuff I’m working on while we’re still kind of piecing this together — like years in the making kind of thing.

TRHH: What was the recording process like? Just back and forth Dropbox?

ALYX Ryon: Yeah, pretty much. Just sending the beats over and then kind of sort of going through each one and just seeing which ones worked. Again, like you were saying originally what had happened was way back, this had to be at least 2017ish or something like that, you sent me this huge folder of stuff. For years I had kind of sort of recorded almost an entire projects worth of stuff over a whole lot of stuff that he had previously sent. I was just overthinking it to the point where it was just only a minimum amount of stuff actually kind of made it out to see the light of day.

After we did the Christmas track and some other compilation type stuff that he had going on, I just had it in my head so badly — I just knew I want to do a project with this person in particular. I just get it. I was hearing it and I just I get it. Even though we’re working on Hip-Hop stuff, I just hear a lot of our similar influences and things that we’re both having in common. When we did the Christmas project the album cover was almost reminiscent of a part of Nirvana’s Bleach and Nirvana’s my favorite band in the whole wide world. I seen it and I was just like, “This guy is brilliant.” [Laughs] If there’s anybody I want to do an entire project with it has to be this guy.

Jumbled: A lot of the times you send stuff back and forth sometimes they’ll ask you to extend things or change things slightly. He’s sort of taken some of the songs, and I think “Glasses” is probably the best one, where he’s like, “I made these changes, I hope it’s okay.” And it’s like, yeah you kind of put your own spin on it. It wasn’t just me verse/chorus/verse kind of thing. You kind of flipped it and sort of chopped it up a little bit.

Just having that skill and the knowledge to do that, it just made it more interesting to me. It wasn’t just, “Okay, well this is a beat I made five years ago and I like this concept.” It’s sort of almost remixed, which kind of added more life to it, even for myself after listening to it 100 times. It just kind of makes it more of a cohesive collaboration instead of just “you do your part and I do my part.” We’re kind of meeting in the middle on some of these things.

TRHH: I have to go back, ALYX, how old are you?

ALYX Ryon: I’m 31.

TRHH: How do you know about Nirvana? What was your entry point? They ended 30 years ago.

ALYX Ryon: Around the time I was born, for sure. I mean that’s just my whole musical pilot. A lot of the stuff that I kind of sort of raised myself on was just 90s alternative rock. A lot of just boom bap Hip-Hop type stuff — even 80s rap, too.  My musical pallet is just ridiculous. It’s all over the place [laughs].

TRHH: Jumbled, the drums on “Everything Rose” are nuts and the sound playing throughout. Take me into the production of that song.

Jumbled: [Laughs] I’m trying to remember. I kind of walk back and forth, because I do use a lot of break beats, which I think is sort of frowned upon. It just gives a good structure and kind of lets you sort of experiment a little bit more, but I’ve been trying to make my own drum patterns. It depends on the kind of sample too — if there’s something that kind of matches up, there’s already this catalog of drum breaks, and kind of using that or just kind of play. I have an SP-303 sampler and so I’ll just kind of play that live and sort of loop that.

I couldn’t tell you what that was. I probably could go back and look, like I said, we’ve been working on this stuff. I had put that on a little beat tape kind of thing and I think he actually grabbed it off that, because I would have sent him the standalone track and he’s like, “Oh, I really like this and I’m gonna just rip it straight from your blend.” I said, “No, I can send it to you,” and he’s like, “No, it’s fine. It’s already done, recorded, it’s already mixed, here it is.”

I think the one track is almost fading out and then the drums sort of awkwardly kind of stumbles into the actual song. I’m like, “We can trim that up,” and he’s like, “No, it’s fine, let’s just leave it like that.” I’m assuming that’s a break, because I just kind of collect those records when I can find them and sort of modify them, but most of the time I don’t do too much to them.

Because when I’ve tried to scuff some things up like that I have a friend I’m working with and he’s like, “No, don’t do that. Just kind of leave it. You’re trying to do too much to it and trying to manipulate things.” Now I just let it ride out and add some layers to it. I just try to make it a little bit more interesting instead of just the sample and drums. What else can you do to kind of just add some more effects to it and things like that.

TRHH: How much does live instrumentation come into play when you make beats?

Jumbled: I would say it’s probably 50-50. I haven’t had as much time, I’m really trying to do more this year. I teach high school and so we went to a 90-minute period, so, it really kind of burned me out going into winter break. I was like, “I’m gonna truly try to carve out time.” In terms of adding baselines, I usually kind of start with a sample and then either go to a break or make some type of drum pattern and adding some bass. I’m just trying to do a little bit more with that in terms of layering things and not just pulling from the same song.

It’s convenient because usually things are in the same key or the same tempo, but it’s just trying to just kind of break out of that habit a little bit more. Just trying to keep things pretty obscure, not so much for sampling, but just finding things that people haven’t been using. I feel I spend a lot of time doing that like, “Okay, I really like this, someone must have used it before,” and you kind of dig into that a little bit more like, okay, this must be kind of fair game. So, kind of running with that a little bit more – stuff that people haven’t heard as much or can’t recognize.

TRHH: “Bobby Digital” is one of my favorite songs on the album. The piano and parts of the flow gave me RZA vibes. Was the song titled Bobby Digital because of the beat?

ALYX Ryon: Well, the beat had a different name, but I was right in the middle of listening to the beat while watching the Wu-Tang series that was on. I had the TV on mute and I was just seeing they was all in the studio. Just hearing the beat and it just clicked immediately and I just started freestyling to it. I just was rapping and after freestyling for a while it was just, “Let me write some of this down real quick.” [Laughs] It happened very organically, I can tell you that much. The way that the beat sounded to us really just reminded me of exactly what I was looking at, even though that was the biopic sort of version of them it’s still the same vibes.

TRHH: What’s both of your opinions on RZA as an emcee?

Jumbled: It’s so hard because I have a really soft spot for the first Bobby Digital album. I don’t know much of his solo stuff, but in terms of being on Ironman and things like that there’s just so many memorable lines it’s hard to criticize. It’s kind of to the same extent that people discredited J Dilla in terms of his rapping. They’re like, “Well, he’s really a great producer, but not a great rapper.” Yeah, but when you hear that line you’re like, “Oh, I love that one,” even if it’s just one or two out of a whole song. It’s just it’s a time and a place thing. I’m not that familiar with a lot of solo RZA stuff though.

ALYX Ryon: Me on the other hand, I freaking love RZA’s rapping! 36 Chambers, just his energy, every time he shows up you could tell this was the battery. Everybody was getting on board to try to match that level of “AHHH!!” He was just ready, and especially on the Gravediggaz early stuff, too. That’s another RZA thing that I keep in mind every time I think of RZA. The way that he comes across you can tell that him, ODB, and GZA are related because it’s like, y’all are one-of-a-kind, but y’all come from the same planet because ain’t nobody attacking the beat the way y’all attack certain beats. It’s interesting, but definitely appreciated, for sure.

TRHH: I ask because he’s one of my favorite rappers ever and I see so many peoples say he sucks and he can’t rap. I’m like, “Am I listening to the same thing?” because to me he’s incredible.

Jumbled: I totally forgot he was on the Gravediggaz. I just totally blanked on that. Oh my God.

TRHH: You guys have a lot of different kind of sounds on this album. A couple surprised me. Take me back to you choosing the beats. What made you go outside the box on some of them?

ALYX Ryon: As far as picking the beats?

TRHH: Yeah, there was some that were kind of unconventional.

ALYX Ryon: I just absolutely loved it because again, I’m just the type of person where I just love alternative music and instead of trying to compete with what everybody else is doing, just really finding a lane where it’s just like, how much can we express with this right here? I remember even in the initial emails of me sending them out to Jumbled and being like, “I feel like with the things that I’ve already kind of sort of heard it could be somewhere in the realm of a descendant of a Madvillainy sort of thing.” I love how much they were able to express and they didn’t have the shortest song lengths, and they didn’t always have to have hooks.

They caught the moment — a lightning in a bottle kind of. Every time I just heard these beats it was doing that exact same thing like if I were to hear a Madlib beat tape or something. It’s just making me feel this is this, that is that. Just creating that world was really easy to do, because it was always something to soundtrack it. I already have enough ADHD stuff going on as it is. I just be thinking a lot, so it was just going all of these places where I was going. The beats were going all of the places.

Jumbled: In my past I’ve tried to like, “Oh, this rapper is X style,” and so I’ll package two or three and send to them and they almost never use them. So, I really have kind of stopped doing that. Even when I wanna connect with somebody new and I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna make this beat and somehow get their name into the hook or something,” and nine times out of ten they pass on it. It’s like, “Okay, I don’t know what to do.” So, just kind of throwing stuff out there. The only one I really wanted him to use was the “Kane and Undertaker” just having a hard rock riff, very Rick Rubin kind of style.

I sent that and I was like, “I just made something over the weekend, you should check this out,” and then of course probably within two or three days he’s like, “Oh, here it is, and here’s 2 versions, and it’s got this outro clip that’s really long, but it just goes with it really well. Which one works better?” I’m like, “They’re both great. I don’t know. It’s for you to decide.” That’s the only one that was really deliberate and then just kind of just giving them a lot of options saying, “Hey, I’ve got all this stuff, this is old stuff,” and then when I have the time making two or three things and then sending them over like, “If you like this, great, if not we’ll put it back in the folder for somebody else to grab in the future.”

TRHH: I was gonna ask about Kane and Undertaker — not the song itself, but the people. How close do you follow them outside of wrestling?

ALYX Ryon: [Laughs] With all due respect, I gotta keep Kane at arm’s length outside of wrestling. Undertaker, he’s all right, Undertaker is cool. I have to kind of keep Kane at arm’s length. It hurts a little bit — one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time growing up was Kane. I had the Kane toy and all of that, so.

TRHH: I think they’re both on the same page though, unfortunately.

ALYX Ryon: I mean ‘cause same with Triple H and Stephanie and them.

TRHH: Yeah, they are wealthy people. They’ve got money. If you see people with money 9 times out of 10 they’re super politically conservative. But Kane has said some way-out stuff. Anyway, on the song “LIVE FROM the OUTFIELD” you have a line where you say, “Will fuck you up, but sometimes I too need an arm to cry on,” and then you go on to talk about human duality. Why was it important for you to speak on the duality of man, in a genre that’s overrun by machismo?

ALYX Ryon: I mean because that’s the whole thing with me is just to be as honest I feel as I possibly can with at least how I feel on things. Anybody who just says they’re one way all the time, they’re lying.  That’s just not the case. They show what they want to show and they have different feelings inside, whether or not they put it out there for the rest of the people to see. With me, I just really want to get it across that I might like this or feel this, but that doesn’t mean that this over here doesn’t exist too.

A line from out of that same song, I was reading the book “Scary Close” by Donald Miller that changed my whole life when I read it. It just really kind of sort of broke down the idea of the human ego and to be able to express yourself in a way that’s authentic in order to have a healthier relationship and more intimate relationship. For him he was talking about in pursuit of his wife and relationships, but I took that as a whole ethos in life in a sense, where we all need to kind of sort of work a little bit harder at being more intimate with people, because that’s what matters.

Connections matter, making people feel something matters. Making people feel something you can’t always just have them turned up and like they don’t know you. That’s what some people’s problem is with a lot of musicians that they feel like are overrated. They’re just like, “Oh they’re tight, but I don’t really bla, bla, bla.” It’s because they don’t feel like they know them.

There’s a million people out there that’ll say they love 21 Savage over Jay-Z because they feel him more. They feel like when they hear him they hear a piece of themselves, and that’s what matters. Having that connection where people feel like they have a piece of you that they can relate to within themselves. So, yeah, I rap this way sometimes, but I have these feelings too. It’s all here [laughs]. It ain’t no big deal.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Greatest Show on Earth?

Jumbled: I think personally, to kind of showcase his skills because he’s done a little bit on albums, but I feel it’s kind of been a while. You’ve done singles here and there and stuff like that, but just since this has started he’s kind of like, “I’m gonna make a video,” and then a video shows up in my inbox. And then he’s sending multiple ones like that, and it’s giving all these songs more life. I’m not a music video person — I’m not. I’ve kind of leaned into TikTok a little bit because I can make something short and put it out there and it’s a quick turn around and I like that, just to stay relevant I think to some extent.

The true collaboration of this — I hate saying this is the best project I’ve been involved with, and I’m really excited about it, and I want people to hear it, but it’s just this uphill battle. There’s just so much stuff out there and I’m like, “Okay, how do I reset and how do we work together to get people to hear this project?” Because it is really good, and I’m really excited, and I’m really proud of it.

It’s almost breaking my brain because the preliminary clicks have kind of stopped and it’s getting on streaming, and that’s a good thing, but how do you play the game almost at this point? How do you really get it out there and say like, “Hey, you like X, Y and Z, you should check this out.” You can do that all day to people and it doesn’t mean they will check it out. How do you really catch their ear? So, it’s just making my brain kind of work overtime.

What can we do to get this out there? We’re trying to figure out some shows and it’s just been just more like scheduling and timing at this point, but getting out there without overdoing it too, because we have families and work and everything. So, it’s just kind of making me almost sort of reset, personally. It’s making me reset like, okay, what can we do to get this out there in people’s ears without being annoying and obnoxious about it?

ALYX Ryon: Just so I answer more accurately, what was the exact question again?

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Greatest Show on Earth?

ALYX Ryon: All right, complete world domination.

TRHH: There you go!

Jumbled: Can I say this one [laughs]?

ALYX Ryon: I mean, I’m just being honest. But like for real, because the same way that there’s already 5 1/2 music videos kind of sort of officially floating around to this, I could easily see visuals for every single song on this project. That is just refreshing and colorful and makes me look forward to performing. If there’s a decent enough response to the way that the visuals have been coming across I absolutely cannot wait to perform more of these songs and really present it in front of people. Because it’s one thing when you hear it and you listen to it, and I’m glad that people like it and like what they heard, but the idea for the way that I see everything with this particular project, there’s so much more. We’re just getting started for real, for real. We’re just getting started.

Jumbled: And just trying to maintain promotion. I think it’s just because the culture is like, “Okay, well, this project is a month old, what’s the next thing?” It’s so hard as a creative person. You wanna move on to the next thing, but it’s like, no, if you didn’t catch this a month ago it’s still relevant, it’s still a great project. How do you keep things relevant? I think the videos help with that, but it’s like finding the right channels for that kind of stuff, too. It’s just a whole new territory I think, at least for me. How do we keep playing this game and getting in front of people? Everybody’s online all the time, but how do you still catch their eye? I don’t know.

Purchase: ALYX Ryon & Jumbled – Greatest Show on Earth

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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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