Emcee Pete Sayke and producer Maja 7th have joined forces for an EP titled “CRWN.” The Midwest musicians created a thought provoking and introspective release that’s deeply rooted in the sound and aesthetic of Hip-Hop.
CRWN is a 7-track EP produced entirely by Maja 7th. The project features appearances by Philmore Greene, Bubby B, Scienze, Amare Symoné, and Neak.
Pete Sayke and Maja 7th chatted with The Real Hip-Hop about the influence that Native Tongues have on their music, the struggle to reach enlightenment, and their new EP, CRWN.
TRHH: How did you guys decide to do a project together?
Pete Sayke: Maja’s cousin, Crown, that’s what we called him. His name was Chris but we also called him “Z.” He was really important to the crew. He pushed us all to constantly be better and make better music. He wanted the best for us and he wasn’t a musician, he wasn’t trying to put music out. We lost him and I think everybody felt it. Obviously, Maja felt it a million times more than we did. The project is a bit of an homage to him. Leaving the “O” out of CRWN was kind of like that’s his halo. It’s an homage to other people that we’ve lost along the way as well. I kind of touch on those people throughout the project.
The other part of it, and this part is kind of more on my end of it, we’re already kings and queens. We’re already more than enough, but we constantly seek validation. We’re already wearing the crown, it’s just a matter of recognizing that it’s there. So, going along with the celebration of death that’s why on “Under the Bodhi Tree” you hear that gunshot at the end. I’m killing off the former version of me that cared so much about those things and I’m able to live this freer life and it goes right into “Old Head.” It’s almost like me talking to my younger self.
CRWN is the second installment of a trilogy. Gold & Rue was all about things that we sacrifice trying to become something in the eyes of the public or attain wealth, we give up so much of the really important valuable stuff in our lives like relationships, time that we can’t get back, and all these things. It was examining the history of that like, why do we have these traumas and what are we trying to cover up? CRWN is what I just spoke of. I finally get it and I recognize what we already are, so, let me drive that home. It’s therapeutic for me. Music definitely is therapeutic and I’m able to get those things out as I learn more throughout my life. And then we’re going to go into Bonita, which I won’t touch on, but it’s the proper way to end that trilogy.
TRHH: From the title track to the other songs on CRWN what I hear is someone who is unapologetically black. What was your mindset going into this project?
Pete Sayke: It’s a culmination of life, man. I was having this conversation with one of my neighbors about how one of my big regrets in life, and I don’t have a ton of them, but one of them was not going to an HBCU and essentially eschewing some of the things that I should have sought out and didn’t know better because society is like, “here is this big conveyor belt of things that you’re supposed to do. You just get on it and we’re going to pile things on.” You at 17 are supposed to know what you’re going to do with your life. You’re going to go to this state college because that’s just what you do. You graduate, get a job you hate, pay for a house you can’t afford, have these kids that you actually don’t want [laughs], it’s just one thing after the next. I just turned 40 in June and it’s so much of just life experience. I’ve always known who I was, but I’m just super-comfortable in just being. Because I’m in a work place I don’t need to put on my work voice, you’re about to get it bruh. This is just what it is. You understand it.
TRHH: You know how you see old people in the grocery store yelling at each other?
Pete Sayke: Yes!
Maja 7th: Yep.
TRHH: At some point you just don’t give a fuck no more. I’m getting there. I’m 45 and the shit I used to care about is gone.
Maja 7th: It doesn’t matter anymore.
TRHH: It does not matter. That’s a beautiful thing though. Maja, it seemed like CRWN was short on samples to me, or you really chopped them up and hid them. Did you play everything on this EP?
Maja 7th: I did not. It’s the way I arranged them. I played some of the underlying elements, like lead on CRWN for the hook, basslines and stuff like that. I actually had a guy I met in South Bend named Adrian who played the bass on “Big Girl Sings.” It wasn’t necessarily choppy, but some of the samples that I picked don’t sound like it. I tweeted about this, if you listen to “The World” featuring Scienze, shout out to Scienze, an incredible emcee, it sounds like they’re with The Funk Brothers in ’73 and they’re just in the background providing a nice palette for them to get busy on. That was the whole point with this. I told Pete before we went into it, my job is to make sure that in the midst of all these great stories that you’re telling, and there are so many third or fourth level lyrics on this project, we can’t lose sight of the groove and the bounce throughout. It was my job to make sure that it wasn’t too heavy while he went through and explained where he was or is in his life. That was my approach, to make sure that we had a nice solid palette underneath him, but it still had a nice groove and a nice bounce to it while he told his stories.
TRHH: There’s a song on CRWN called “Native Tongue.” How important was the Native Tongues crew to you guys’ development in Hip-Hop?
Maja 7th: Aw man. Man! I’ll try to be brief. It’s funny you asked that because there are so many elements from this album that we pulled from our childhood and how we came up. The Native Tongues are a part of that. I remember De La, Queen Latifah, Monie, and then they got with the Jungle Brothers and it was a huge collective. I remember watching those videos and thinking, “these guys are a little different, but they make dope music!” It was just something that stood out to me as a kid and I always gravitated toward them because they were so different, but the product was always dope. They’re huge influences. I used to love them as kid. I’m happy that De La got their stuff back on streaming now and I hope the deal is done properly so they can benefit from that. It’s been way overdue. I loved Native Tongues, especially as kid. Huge influences.
Pete Sayke: I’ll just piggyback off that super-briefly. I was telling my wife this last night, you know you grow up as a kid listening to what the older people listen to around you. Every family function was Parliament and Earth, Wind & Fire. The first batch so to speak of Hip-Hop that I heard and embraced was De La. “Me, Myself, and I” came on in my cousins’ crib and I was doing the running man! That was my jam and I was like, “whoever I see them with is who I’m rocking with.” I was listening to those and getting the tapes. They’re super, super-important. As soon as I can I’m copping as much as De La’s catalog as I can cop.
TRHH: I think it’s very unfortunate that they never got back together. Imagine if they would have toured? Tribe, De La, JB’s, and Latifah together?
Maja 7th: Crazy!
Pete Sayke: Crazy. And then you throw in Common and Mos to tag on probably.
TRHH: They’re like extensions of them, yeah.
Maja 7th: Even Little Brother would have been in there somewhere.
TRHH: It seems like every crew has their issues with each other. It’s sad, and as a fan it bothers you, but as an adult I see it because we all work with people who rub us the wrong way. Work is work.
Pete Sayke: Right. We had to pay homage. They’re just too important, too important.
TRHH: The final song on CRWN is called “Big Girl Sing” and in the first verse you say, “Anxiety trying me, dog/Threatened by what was dying inside of me, dog.” What was dying inside of you?
Pete Sayke: So, the intro and outro are tied together. I start the intro that way, “Stress and anxiety trying me dog/What I do, suppress it down even further, crack a smile that I learned to put on from surrounding me, dog.” So, like I said earlier, me kind of killing off the older version of myself. Even though I’ve always made music from the love and passion of it, the artistic integrity, and all of that, there was always this part wondering if there was something I was supposed to be chasing. Am I supposed to want to be the G.O.A.T.? Am I supposed to want to be on TV? Am I supposed to want any of these things? I got to a point where I was like, “Man, over the last few years I’ve been making the best music of my career because I don’t care!” I don’t care about that.
All I care about is kicking it with my best friends, making great music, letting people hear it, and that’s what we’re doing. Fast forward to Big Girl Sing, I wanted to start it off the exact same way. What was dying inside of me was, I’ve quite a few times before. I was like, “man, I’m getting too old for this” or “nobody wants to hear me” or just doubting myself. Again, I just got to a point where I’m enough, I don’t care, I’m just going to do this for me. That’s what I was alluding to that was dying inside of me. It was essentially like the original fire that I had in me to create was dying and I needed to find a way to reignite it. Oddly enough, it was reignited by not caring about what I was previously chasing.
TRHH: How did you get to that point to not care anymore?
Pete Sayke: It’s just life, man. We see people come and go out of our lives, we lose people to death, people have relationships fail, all that stuff can either harden you or it can drive you in a different direction in a more positive way. I think just life experiences have taught me more than I could have imagined having learned at 40 about myself. The reason I started going to therapy was because my wife’s aunt passed and my aunt passed, seeing my parent’s pre-diabetic, dealing with Parkinson’s, my dad has glaucoma and can’t see out of one eye, with all of these things I started to do what I call “dark math.” We’re talking about the first time we heard Native Tongues, right? That feels like yesterday, but that’s thirty years ago. How quickly that thirty years passed, fast forward thirty years from now and I’m going to be 70.
That’s the stuff that I was doing and it was not to be insensitive, but it was driving me a little crazy. I had to kind of sort that stuff out. I think working those demons out and putting those things to music – Under the Bodhi Tree felt extremely important to me. Whether or not other people hear it that way, that was important to me because I had never said those things. The Bodhi tree was the tree that Siddhartha sat under when he achieved enlightenment. Not to say that I’m there, but that’s at least the beginning and that’s the beginning of that journey. Everything that followed on the project was like, “this is somebody that is now getting to understand who he is.
TRHH: Man, is that ego? Because I find myself doing that too. I’m like, “Damn, I’m 45. My moms just turned 69.”
Maja 7th: It sneaks up on you.
TRHH: Yeah, and it’s scary. Is that ego? I have a friend who is really into yoga and meditation and all that stuff and she’s like, “We all die. That’s your ego that wants you to be here.”
Pete Sayke: Facts! Facts!
Maja 7th: That’s real right there! Whoever said that, that’s real.
TRHH: Yeah, but I like being here [laughs]! Maybe it’s the unknown? I don’t know what’s next. Is it nothing? Is it judgment? This life is all I know.
Maja 7th: The unknown is always scary because this is exactly what it is, the unknown. So, you don’t know. You can lose a lot of valuable and precious time focusing on that instead of capitalizing and making the best of the time currently. I lost my father and my cousin Chris within a year and a half of each other. That was tough. It was real tough on me. You fast forward to now and I feel like I just met Pete when we were in the dorms broke. You fast forward it and I’m almost 40, I’m making this great music, my momma is healthy, I’m blessed. I have to take more advantage of thinking about those things instead of worrying about stuff that we can’t get back or letting that stuff fester. What you both are talking about I’ve dealt with that as well, but I’m just trying to focus on the current and living in the moment. I’m trying to do more things for myself that are enjoyable. Doing certain things to make you happy, that’s important. Mentally that’s important as well.
TRHH: Who is the CRWN album made for?
Maja 7th: Aw man! The older you get when you make music you think that the music that you make is going to follow your age. I guess subconsciously you think, “Welp, the older I get the music that I make is going to be for people our age.” Pete texted me a couple of weeks ago and I said, “Man, it’s grown folk’s music, it’s grown folk’s music!” He was like, “I feel you, but if you listen to some of these beats, these are not just grown folks beats. These are things that I can hear this artist on or that artist on.” I may have gone into it pigeonholing it like that, but, now the album is for whoever wants to receive it. There is no certain age group to it. I think people deal with things in their 20s, their 30s, and in their 40s. This music might inspire a dude that’s 19 that’s dealing with something. He might be able to relate to some of the things that Pete is talking about on the project. It’s just for somebody that enjoys good music. I call it “soul music” because it’s so personal, but, I can’t really put an age on it. it’s just good music and it’s impactful. That’s the best way I can say it.
Pete Sayke: I echo all of that. I’ll just add to it that it’s for whoever needs to hear it at that time. Whenever so and so discovers it – if it’s next week or in six years. Me and Mike Schpitz talk about black box music all the time. We feel like when all of civilization is burned to a crisp, future generations of archaeologists will dig and examine the relics, you want what you say to represent something. Hopefully that something is you, your surroundings, and what’s of substance. Not everything needs to be deep, but that’s how I approach it. I want shit to be important to me. Whoever needs it at that time, this is for you.
Maja 7th: Well said.
Purchase: Pete Sayke & Maja 7th: CRWN