One half of the production duo The Opus, Mr. Echoes, recently released an 8-song EP titled “Needful Things.” The project is a mostly instrumental effort with an accompanying video that takes a look at our dependence on modern technology, otherwise known as, needful things.
Needful Things is produced entirely by Mr. Echoes, with one track handled by his Opus partner, The Isle of Weight. The EP features appearances by Paul Coscino, Grav, and PJ Temple.
The Real Hip-Hop chatted with Mr. Echoes about why he no longer shops his beats, people’s addictions to smartphones and social media, and his new EP, Needful Things.
TRHH: Why’d you call the new project “Needful Things”?
Mr. Echoes: Wow, that’s a great question! Basically, the project started out with a video. The video deals with the content of addiction. It’s a form of addiction that deals specifically with internet addiction. I feel like a lot of people are kind of addicted to the internet – some more than others. I can say I am. I’m always looking at my phone. When I’m at home I’m looking at my phone, when I’m on the train I’m looking at my phone, when I’m at work I’m checking my phone, and I see people doing the same thing. I was on the train one time and I saw the entire platform, 30, 40, 50 people easily, just sitting there looking at their phones. Not even moving. I could have walked past a bunch of people and pick pocketed them if I wanted to.
That resonated within me. I felt for some reason we need our phone. It’s a thing that we gravitate to all the time. We think that we need it in our minds. We can’t put it down. The phone to me would be like a needful thing – something that we think we need, but we don’t really need it. That’s how the project formed. I was thinking about things like that and decided that it was an issue that I wanted to address with listeners and the public in general. I did the video and the song itself is called “Needful Things.” The song and the video work together and that’s what I wanted to portray. I wanted to portray these things that we think we need in our lives that are so important and would do anything over, but in reality, we don’t need them at all.
TRHH: I agree with you. That is a fact, but, I don’t think it’s the need per se. It’s like having plumbing. People survived for years with outhouses and using holes in the ground, but plumbing is a wonderful thing. I was born in the 70s, so I had a life before smartphones. However, if I need to communicate with somebody, it’s much easier. It’s how I communicate for business and with my family.
Mr. Echoes: I can definitely see that. I can say it’s a great communication tool. I’m not saying we don’t need phones in general, I just feel like the level of communication and how people use their phones can kind of get in the way of their life a little bit. I see a bunch of people do this; I can’t have a conversation with you because you’re looking at Instagram and Facebook and I’m like, “Hey, hey, hey! I’m right here! I’m talking to you!” and you’re like, “Sorry, I’m just checking this one thing right now.” At my job when we go out to lunch we take our phones, put them in a pile, and don’t touch those phones for an hour and have a meaningful conversation, which I think is great. That’s what I mean by a needful thing in that sense.
I can’t even hold a conversation sometimes with people because they can’t detach themselves from their phone. They feel like they need to look at Instagram, they feel like they need to look at Facebook, and they need to respond every time that phone does something. I get it, some people are important. I do it, “Let me take this for a second. This is an important call coming in,” but if I can’t communicate with you and you’re sitting there in a zone so involved in your phone because you’re looking at Instagram photos of dogs while we’re having a conversation, I think there’s an issue there. I do love it as a communication tool. I also think there is a time and place for things, to0. If I’m at a concert and the only thing I’m doing is looking at my phone, then why did I go to the concert? What’s the point? What’s the point of doing outside socialization if the only thing you’re going to do is sit there and stare at your phone the whole time? Even on a date. What’s the point?
TRHH: I’m guilty of this myself, but it’s starting to annoy me. Whenever I go to a concert and everybody puts up their phone, it’s like, come on!
Mr. Echoes: Right [laughs]. Because you feel like you need to capture that moment. One time I went to a Method Man show at the Double Door. This guy the whole time in the front was just sitting there in his phone. The crowd was jumping up and down and I tapped him and said, “How can you not enjoy this? Why don’t you put your phone down?” Enjoy the moment, take it all in, become a part of society, become a part of this celebration. Don’t isolate yourself from this environment.
TRHH: I feel like I read once that social media and the addiction to smartphones comes from a feeling of gratification. The likes, retweets, and comments give people an esteem boost.
Mr. Echoes: Sure, I can definitely see that. Again, I think we’re all guilty of it. When putting out a project I want people to like what I’m doing. I want them to be engaged into what I’m doing. Sometimes I have to check myself, too. When putting this project out I had to check myself like, “I can’t check my phone all the time! It’s controlling me!” That’s the point I’m getting at. You think these things need to control you and it’s gratifying, but it really doesn’t. I have to tell myself to chill, put my phone down and go do something else like play a video game, or work on music — something else that preoccupies my time.
I see producers do that. They work on beats while they’re looking at their phones. I don’t get it. Again, that was something that I wanted to bring to the table, which is really the theme of this whole project. If you look at the artwork it deals a lot with that — an individual and his spouse is pulling him away from computer technology. The image is of a woman, and that might be his needful thing. It could be pornography. It’s not relegated to one subject. It could be a bunch of different subjects. It could be sex addiction, porn addiction, internet addiction. The whole project deals with addiction.
TRHH: How was doing Needful Things different from doing a project as The Opus?
Mr. Echoes: It’s interesting because everything is relying upon myself musically. I don’t have to negotiate with my partner and say, “What do you think of this? What do you think of that?” I was used to that. I guess that’s the one thing that was really different for me. It was my decision. “Oh, that sounds good to me. Let me stick with that.” Or “These drums sound great, let me stick to those.” I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I guess it’s the pro and the con of it. The pro is, I didn’t have to answer to anyone, but the con is wondering what someone would think of this, because it’s all in my head. It’s my creation. I can’t look to the left and look at Aaron and say, “What do you think of this beat?” I look to the left and there’s no one there. I look to the right and there’s no one there. So, I have to look in the center within myself and say, “Do I really, really feel this enough to actually put it out? To me that’s the difference.
TRHH: Paul’s Song is a track on the album that stands out to me because of the piano playing. How did that song come together?
Mr. Echoes: So, the concept was just the drums. I had an underlying piano on it just to kind of guide the drums a little bit. I had a friend, Grav, who is on there. Gravity put out his debut project that was produced by Kanye West back in the day. He came to the studio one day and just started beat boxing. If you hear the beat box on there, that’s Grav. I loved the way it sounded and I just kind of incorporated that under it. It just came to me like, “I think I should have a piano player on this.” I wanted the piano to follow the rhythm of the other synths that are on there. At first, I wanted it as a layer to have him follow the synths, but then he came over and another friend of mine who was at the studio and produces as well was guiding the piano player on different chords and rhythms that he should hit that I didn’t even think of.
The piano player just started playing all these different styles. If you listen to the piano it sounds a little jazzy and bluesy. We put all those different parts together in the song. At first he just played straight through. He didn’t chop it up into different bits. After he played straight through we took segments of his playing and put them into different spots of the song that I thought felt great in different times of the song. Some stuff he did in the end I actually chopped some of it and put it in the middle and at the beginning. It all came together great the way that he actually did it, being able to get into the feeling of the song, which I thought he did a great job of.
TRHH: Your sound has always been different from whatever else is going on in Hip-Hop. Are new artists accepting of the challenge to rap over your production?
Mr. Echoes: It depends on the artist. You stated that “your production has always been a little different,” yes, it’s always been a challenge. A lot of emcees when they heard the Rubberoom stuff they’d say, “Ooh, I want a beat like that!” because they heard the emcees from Rubberoom rhyme on those kinds of beats. But then when they actually get the beats they have a problem with following the beat and the time signatures. It’s difficult for them and they don’t realize it until they actually start rhyming over it like, “Wow, this beat is super-fast.” A lot of our tempos are up there. It may not sound up there, because that’s the way we produce it, but some of the tempos on a lot of our tracks are 90-95-100 beats per minute. Sector Rush was almost 110 beats per minute. These fast types of songs that had Brian and John just flowing over them, and then another artist wants to take a shot at it and realizes that the beat is too fast for them. They’re used to beats that are 65-70 beats per minute – super slowed down – and then they’re like, “I can’t rap to this.” It’s always challenging. It’s always challenging with different emcees and it always takes the right emcee to rhyme over my tracks.
I think the last emcee that actually did it well was ADad. He rhymed over one of the songs on our last project, Praying Mantis, and it was incredible how he did it. I just feel like a lot of people when they’re listening to the beat try to do it and then they just give up. That’s why I don’t really solicit a lot of my beats to emcees anymore, because that part became so frustrating. They say they want a beat, you give it to them, and then they realize that they can’t do anything with it and it goes by the wayside. For the most part, when things like that happen we just put them out as instrumentals sometimes. That’s how certain songs just turn into instrumentals because they’re beats that some people couldn’t rhyme over and I’m like, “I like this beat. I don’t want to waste it. I’m going to actually put this beat out and not wait for the perfect emcee to come along and rhyme on it.”
TRHH: Have you ever been asked to change your style by an artist?
Mr. Echoes: If we’re going to say style, no. If we’re going to say tempo, yes. We’re always asked to change our tempos and slow it down. I’d make a beat and they’d say, “Can you slow that down?” No, I can’t slow that down for you to rhyme over. It’s just the way that it is, unless they’re paying me a significant amount of money to slow it down, which is rarely the case. We’re trying to collaborate with independent artists, but once you start telling me how to produce the song then I feel like I’m not the right match for you. I had this one guy who wanted me to change the hi-hats, the timing of the hi-hats, and slow it down.
He wanted me to do surgery on it and I said, “Maybe this beat isn’t for you. Maybe you should be asking somebody else who can fulfill your needs.” I feel like, if this is what you’re asking me for after you heard some other Opus production, you say that’s what you want and I give you what you want, and then you have me start changing and altering to it a point where it’s not really what I gave you, sometimes I bow out and say, “Maybe this isn’t for you. Maybe you should be looking for a different type of production.” And it’s okay. I feel like that happens in Hip-Hop all the time. They want slower types of tempos and specific types of sounds. I just don’t do that. I do what I do.
TRHH: Do you have a favorite song on Needful Things?
Mr. Echoes: Yes, I do! I have a couple favorite songs. The song that I’ve been really into lately is “Lotus Underwater” because I love those hand drums on there. For some reason when I made that song I fell in love with the hand drums. That is my favorite song on that album. My next favorite song is Legacy, the one that Isle of Weight produced. It just has such an ethereal feel to it and it’s so Opus to me. It’s beautiful. It has a beautiful drum pattern that works very well with the sounds that he used. Those are my two favorite songs.
TRHH: Who is the Needful Things EP for?
Mr. Echoes: I think it’s for the person that likes to listen to music. The person that loves good arrangement. I feel like the album has a really good arrangement to it. It has a lot of different movement to it. For the person that likes music that’s going to take them on the trip, it has that to me. Especially when you listen to it on vinyl. One of the things that I love is listening to it on vinyl and flipping it over again, and again, and again. Looking at the vinyl spin along with the song playing, it all works together for me. For the listener, it’s for the person who wants to go on that trip and listen to music that moves them and takes them to a place of feeling good. It’s for the person that enjoys beautiful production. I feel like it’s a well-produced album. I love the way that is sounds. If you like good sounds, if you like good arrangement, and good melodies, it’s for you [laughs].
Purchase: Mr. Echoes – Needful Things