Ronesh: Lead the Orchestra

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Photo courtesy of Mark Sandstrom

Emcee and producer Ronesh put the mic to the side for his latest release, “Lead the Orchestra.” Coming to us courtesy of Filthē Analects Record Company, Lead the Orchestra is a well-rounded 12-track album produced solely by Ronesh.

Lead the Orchesta boasts an all-star cast of artists including Ché Noir, Fleetwood DeVille, DJ ALO, SolarFive, Open Mike Eagle, Jack Herrier, NotPO3, Doc Wattson, Big $ilky, Defcee, Brittney Carter, Teefa, Grey Matter, Navarro, Stik Figa, D. Lanham, Qwazaar, Black Native, Decay, I. Deal, Equipto, Nitty Scott, Buk of Psychodrama, and Myka 9.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Ronesh about maintaining his ties to Chicago, bringing together emcees with contrasting styles, and his new album, Lead the Orchestra.

TRHH: Why’d you title the new album Lead the Orchestra?

Ronesh: There’s an expression I’ve heard, I’m actually not sure where it originates but the saying is that “in order to lead the orchestra the conductor must turn their back on the crowd” and that really resonated with me. I felt like for this album a lot of it was taking my own ego out of it, because you know I am an emcee as well as producer. Instead of feeling like I needed my voice up front at all times, picking out my beats, and hoarding them for myself, I wanted to shine some light on others rather than being the star vocalist soloist here. I wanted to create and curate something featuring a bunch of other talented people. That phrase really resonated with me. I’ve had it in the back of my mind for years. As these songs started coming together it seemed appropriate.

TRHH: You do rhyme on the song Galaxy Brain; why did you only rhyme on one track?

Ronesh: Originally, I was not gonna have my voice on the album at all, but just going through the songs that I had been working on it’s just one of my favorite beats. I feel like it doesn’t sound like a lot of other things I’ve produced. The other guys on there, Grey Matter and Wattson, they liked the song and it just seemed like a good fit.

TRHH: How difficult was it to get all of the features done on Lead the Orchestra?

Ronesh: So, you know, it’s not easy. I’ve had this idea of doing a producer album for probably 10 years and it never took off. So, this time around I was a little more organized. I made a big list of about 75 emcees that I wanted to work with, not all for one album, but like to pick from and just started sending things out. Some people respond, some don’t, some too busy, some are not, some of these people are my friends, others I’ve reached out in more of a professional capacity. I actually was able to finish it up quicker than I thought. The first song for this was recorded in July of 2022 and the last one was like October of ’23. I’m pretty happy with that pace. I actually expected it to take longer. Many of the artists on this album are very professional — quick turnaround, so, that was cool.

TRHH: You have an eclectic group of emcees on this project that might not normally interact. Did you purposely set out to, for example, have someone from Psychodrama on a song with someone from Freestyle Fellowship?

Ronesh: Yeah, you nailed it. I mean, that track in particular, but in general I had this idea of people who might sound good together but wouldn’t ever be in a space where they would end up on a song together. Psychodrama, I’ve been a fan of theirs since I first heard Buk on the Adrenaline Rush album in like ’97 and then got hip to some of the stuff they were doing with Suave House and just kind of kept up over the years. I’ve done a record with Buk before as well, and then Freestyle Fellowship I got hip to when I was living in Cali.

They’re very different emcees, but they have something similar going, Buk and Myka 9, in that they are very artistically creative and unique with their cadence. The way they deliver, you don’t hear it every day. It’s not like a rap by numbers thing. I had that beat and I had Buk’s verse on there already and I was like, “Who else should be on this?” and I just started hearing Myka 9 in my head so I reached out to him. Cool collaboration.

Another one that was really cool to me was the song “Outside” featuring Defcee and Brittney Carter. These are two emcees that I was actually surprised they had not done something together before. For me, I feel like they’re kind of from a similar era, like a little bit younger than me. They were some of the younger cats that I started getting hip to when they were first coming up and have really both taken off in their own ways.

They both felt perfect for the beat, but then I also felt like they’re coming from completely two different places. Like a white man, a black woman, he’s kind of got a gruff voice, she’s super smooth. They’re both really lyrically dense, but in completely different ways. I love that in Hip-Hop when you can hear two people who you might think not have that much in common come together and make something that’s cohesive.

TRHH: The last song, “Ursa Minor/Earth to Mothership part 2” has a space age sound. Take me into the production and sounds on that song.

Ronesh: It’s actually got a beat change in it, but the first half of it is my man D. Lanham rapping on there. I had found a sample of a guitar and it wasn’t super distorted and then it was just like 2 notes. I started just messing around in Ableton throwing all these crazy filters on it and distortion and then started playing around on a little keyboard changing the pitch of it, so it’s not the original melody that was in the sample.

I wanted to have something with really minimal drums kind of instead of my more traditional kick/snare/kick/snare I had more of like a bongo’s thing going and added some heavy bass. I experimented actually with adding more because I’m a drums guy and if the drums aren’t banging usually I’m like, “Nah, I don’t like it,” but I wanted to kind of have a lot of space for D. Lanham to kick what he was kicking on there.

Then the second-half of that song features Qwazaar from Typical Cats, Outerlimitz, and that beat is like a remix beat of Earth to Mothership pt. 1, which is the second track on the album, so I wanted to kind of bring it back around full circle. Why did I choose to put them together? I think it’s both because they both had like a spaced out feel — some of the imagery, and the lyrics. D. Lanham starts out, “From Ursa Minor shining into the cross that’s in the South…” Ursa Minor I believe is a constellation and then Qwazaar’s closing it out talking about the mothership. I just felt like it would be cool to have something with a beat switch in it to close out the album.

TRHH: There is a big Chicago presence on this project. Why was it important to you to have Chicago emcees represent on Lead the Orchestra?

Ronesh: I mean, I think that’s where my roots are as a Hip-Hop artist, producer, figure. I started out going to shows probably in 2000 or 2001. Everything from like Evanston to Rogers Park, which were kind of closer to where I lived with my parents, all the way out south, out west, wherever something was. Just taking everything in that was in such a rich and vibrant independent scene at that time. Even though I moved out of Illinois 15 years ago I’ve still maintained close relationships and close connections to people there.

In some ways I have like the strongest connections there because I feel like when you’re young in an artistic scene the people that you’re building with you’re spending the most time with, you’re bonding with, it’s easier to feel closely connected. People I’ve met later in life, we’re cool, but we weren’t like in the trenches together. So, it’s not as close. I did want to make sure I featured folks from all over, but there is very strong Chicago presence and that was intentional.

TRHH: You also have a pretty strong female presence with Teefa, Nitty Scott, Brittney Carter, Ché Noir, and Psalm One. Did you purposely want to highlight women on this album?

Ronesh: I definitely didn’t want to miss the opportunity to do so. I mean, for a long time, but I’ve noticed especially in the last like five years, women just killing it, man. With things being separated from the major labels, artists being able to build fan bases on their own and have independent careers I feel like women have been able to thrive because they are not put in the box that big record labels want them to. I noticed for a long time in the 90s we had we had so many dope women on major labels and then when you get to like 2005-2010 there is a dearth, there was a void. And it’s not that women stopped rapping or making dope music.

I felt like the labels stopped taking a chance if you didn’t sound a certain way or look a certain way. Men have probably had more room. That also happened with men. I think like late 2000s you had Lupe Fiasco on a major. I don’t know that Def Jam or Atlantic or anyone like that was going to take a chance on a woman rapping like Lupe. Hard to say, but anyway, I’m really grateful for all the contributions I got, and yeah, the women on the album had some of the best verses on there, so shout out to them.

TRHH: Who spit your favorite verse on Lead the Orchestra?

Ronesh: Man, favorite verse, that is a good question. Off top I’m gonna say Ché Noir on the song “Remains Remain Nameless.” I think everybody came lyrically very strong and what stood out to me, and this is probably things that I noticed because I’m the one mixing it down, listening closely in my headphones, just the clarity in her voice, and her delivery, and presence is so strong. There’s a reason why she is getting love from the Conway’s and Skyzoo’s of the world. Of course, she’s saying real shit too, but vocally her presence just really stood out to me. That was really impressive to me.

TRHH: What do you hope to achieve with Lead the Orchestra?

Ronesh: So, I hope to introduce listeners to some artists that they might not have heard before, might not have checked for before, and personally for my own career what I’d like to achieve with this is I would like folks to start reaching out to me more and knowing that I got beats. This came together ’cause I had 200 beats in the hard drive and I don’t rap that much, man. I write a rhyme maybe a couple times a month, if that. So, I got hella beats and I hope that artists of quality will hear the quality in this music and feel like maybe we could build, so next time it’s not just me chasing folks down to try to rap. Hoping to get back what I put into it, you know.

Purchase: Ronesh – Lead the Orchestra

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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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