Mainstream Hip-Hop has seemingly been overtaken by music that’s more about a vibe than verbal ability. Those on the underground have carried the torch for a standard that was started during Hip-Hop’s golden era. Milwaukee emcee Taiyamo Denku chose his most recent release to ask a question that so many Hip-Hoppers have asked in recent years, do you want bars?
“Do You Want Bars?” is an album that comes courtesy of 100 MAD Records and is produced entirely by BoFaat. The 15-track release features appearances by Nature, Moka Only, Adlib, Timbo King, Shyheim, Punchline, Wordsworth, I Am Many, Chris Rivers, Mood, Dizzy Dizasta, Freeway, and the late Gift of Gab.
The Real Hip-Hop chatted with Taiyamo Denku about the story behind his rap name, his November 2022 tour, and his new album, Do You Want Bars?
TRHH: Why did you call the new album Do You Want Bars?
Taiyamo Denku: [Laughs] I’ve always been real keen on complex bars, complex lyrics, hard punchlines. That’s kind of just my style in a nutshell. Basically, that’s what I give on pretty much every track is bars. The question is do you want the bars because I feel like there is a lot of music out there that doesn’t really classify or specify its music around the actual lyricism. There’s concepts, and concepts are cool. I feel like I can do concepts. I feel like I’m very versatile as an artist. I definitely like to play around with words and to be creative with the bars. I just love to do it. It’s always been what I’ve been into.
TRHH: I feel like at some point that was the standard and it changed. I really don’t know why, but bars for the mainstream don’t really matter anymore.
Taiyamo Denku: I don’t know the actual point or time when it transitioned, but I can think all the way back to when I was in college. I was still in my group Wastelands and I was trying to slang CD’s. I was going up to random people. I remember going up to this girl and I was like, “Hey, what’s up? You wanna check out my new album?” And she said, “Well, is it something I can dance to?” And I said, “Well, I mean, you could. It’s more so you have to listen. There’s a lot of creativity in the album.” And she was like, “Well, if I can’t dance to every song then I don’t want to hear it.” I feel like that’s what I get.
I’ve been with girlfriends in the past and they’re all like, “You probably got those groupies when you’re on tour.” I do not have groupies. I have male groupies. I have dudes that love my shit to a core where they ask me about bars at shows. I don’t have girls coming up to me like, “Oh, you’re so good!” It’s never that. At shows I do I got hardcore Hip-Hop heads coming up to me like, “Yo, you killed that shit!” Or “That one bar was crazy.” The majority of my shows that’s what goes on. It’s a bar fest. I feel like what I bring to the table has never changed. I can do the bubble gum pop rap shit, but I wouldn’t feel right about doing it.
TRHH: On the song “Justin Case” you said, “Your only concept of Hip-Hop is mumble rap and trap.” This is something I’ve wondered about. For some people those genres are Hip-Hop. Do you think the mainstream promotion of mumble rap and trap is detrimental to the future of rap music?
Taiyamo Denku: It’s not my lane. It’s not my idea of what Hip-Hop is. I think what happened over the years with Hip-Hop and rap in general is it did what other genres did. Like when rock broke off into punk, ska, or whatever. I feel like Hip-Hop broke off into these sub-genres. So, I feel like the idea of it being Hip-Hop music is there, but I don’t think it represents the culture of Hip-Hop how it should. I feel like it’s more focused on a lifestyle instead of the art and the culture. They might feel like they’re making art. Because it’s popular right now I feel like they’re more in it for the money, girls, and club shit. I feel like that’s what they’re in it for, not so much the art form and representing the culture of Hip-Hop.
TRHH: On the song “Channel” you say, “Real Hip-Hop ain’t no Grammy sound.” Explain what you mean by that line.
Taiyamo Denku: You know what came to my mind when I wrote that line? When Iggy Azalea won Hip-Hop Artist of the Year. How does that happen? It’s not like the OG’s of Hip-Hop stopped making music. They just got filtered back because this new era of music became the forefront of what Hip-Hop is. I feel like it’s sub-genres like I said, and the focus is on pop rap, drill, trap, or mumble rap shit. That’s the forefront of the music. It’s not based on a skill-set anymore. You’re not winning a Grammy because of your skill-set. I understand Grammys are a popularity vote. I understand that’s what it is and that’s what it’s been.
Back in the day, you still had real Hip-Hop artists winning Grammys. You still had real rappers winning Grammys. Now if somebody like Iggy Azalea can win a Grammy because she sold so many records in some short amount of time, I don’t even know. I don’t even listen to her shit, bro. I’m just saying if somebody like that can win Album of the Year at some point in time that’s what I mean. Hip-Hop is not a Grammy sound. We don’t have real Hip-Hop in the Grammys anymore.
TRHH: That’s tough because Nas just won like a year ago. There is no rhyme or reason to how they do things. It’ll be some weird trash and then they’ll give Nas one. What happened? Was it just an off year?
Taiyamo Denku: The Grammys is votes, right? Isn’t it popularity votes? Or is it record sales? What is it really?
TRHH: I believe there are members and they vote on every category. That’s the problem, because there might be rock people voting for rap or country and they don’t know nothing about it.
Taiyamo Denku: That actually happened to me in an emcee battle before. I was in an emcee battle and there were three judges. If the two judges don’t unanimously decide that you won, then it goes to a crowd vote. Obviously, who is gonna win in a crowd vote if one of the people is from that town? The person from that town is going to win based on the popularity, no matter if the other dude is dope or not. I’ve lost in people’s cities in rap battles because their friends were in the crowd and they based it off a crowd vote. One of the judges was a rapper and the other was a rock dude. I’m just like, why are you judging an emcee battle? It didn’t make any sense to me.
TRHH: You also dropped a project this year with Craig G called Most Amazing. What was it like working with Craig?
Taiyamo Denku: Craig is actually a super cool person, man. We did music earlier on too, and then what happened was I met a new producer. I had a big fallout with my old producer and I met a new producer and I had some older joints with Craig because we worked together earlier on. I had some older joints with Craig, so I had the producer recreate those. I did new verses and I wrote new hooks, and then I hit Craig up and I told him, “Hey, I’m putting this project together. We should maybe do a couple more tracks.” And then we did a couple newer joints and we put it together and the shit was fresh.
I know he wasn’t super keen on the artwork. I didn’t really have nothing to do with the artwork. I just gave it the nod because the label that put the record out didn’t like my original artwork for whatever reason. At that point in time I wasn’t in direct contact with Craig, I feel like he was on tour or something. So, it was crunch time for the album. The artwork didn’t look wack to me, but I know he didn’t want an old picture used because that’s not how he feels he’s represented now. So, he wasn’t super keen on the artwork, but the project came out dope. A lot of people like the project. I always sell vinyl records on tour. I’m very happy with it and he’s actually a super cool down to earth person. Have you ever met or interviewed Craig?
Taiyamo Denku: He’s like he super cool and down to earth. I mean, we had conversations about football on the phone. I mean. he’s just a cool dude, you know what I’m saying?
TRHH: Yeah. I interviewed Craig once and I met him in Minneapolis at Soundset Festival, he was with Marley.
Taiyamo Denku: Okay, yeah, that’s dope.
TRHH: Cool as hell. I like Craig. You have a song called “Blindside” that features the late Gift of Gab. Take me into the creation of that song and what was it like working with the Gift of Gab?
Taiyamo Denku: So, we had many conversations about the song on the phone because he’s on the West Coast and I’m in Midwest. But we had many conversations on the phone leading up to the finishing of that song. I don’t think he liked the beat at first, but then he said the beat grew on him, and he heard my verse and the hook and it gave him more of a direction of where to go with it. So, then he spit the verse for me over the phone, I thought the shit sounded fresh. He said he was gonna go into the studio or whatever and then when he laid it down, I mean, shit turned out fresh. I was happy with it, he was happy with it, I know he was looking forward to the release of it.
I got so many projects that I let shit sit for too long — that’s a problem of mine because I have a home studio and I’m constantly working all the time. I have 11 projects that are done just sitting in my folders and I got another 16 projects that are all being worked on at different times. So, I’m constantly working, like literally I don’t even need to make music anymore, man. I got so much material that I could stop making music. I don’t even need to make new shit and I could just keep putting out new shit for like multiple years. I just constantly work, so I like to try to put out more. I don’t know if that’s good, I mean Griselda showed that it can work putting out multiple projects. They slowed down, but they used to be the most consistent dropping shit. So, I feel like it can work and especially with people’s attention spans nowadays I think you gotta keep putting shit out. But that particular song, I know he was excited to get it out there and let people hear it and then his unexpected passing happened.
I mean, it’s fucked up because I had the plan for the album to drop and I had let him know, “Hey, we’re gonna drop this and I’ll definitely let you know when it comes out” and then I found out about his passing and it was it was fucked up, man. I mean it’s always harder even if you don’t like kick it with those people on a daily, it’s harder when you have songs with people that you didn’t get to celebrate those songs with them here. I’ve had it with many people now, Sean Price, rest in peace to him, Black Rob, Fred the Godson, I’ve worked with all these people and they’re all no longer with us. All gone way too soon, all talented artists, so yeah, man it was a blessing being able to work with Gift of Gab and hopefully people enjoyed what we did while he was here.
TRHH: What’s the origin of your rap name, Taiyamo Denku?
Taiyamo Denku: Yeah, you actually said it right. People fuck it up all the time [laughs]. I’ve had people recently that want me to drop the front part because they think it’s too much and people get confused, and they don’t know how to find it, and they don’t know how to search it. I understand that. I even had 100 MAD when I got down with them want me to completely rebrand, but I’ve been doing music 27 years under the same name. So, I wasn’t ready for that, to rebrand and start fresh. I wasn’t ready for that, but basically, I used to go by this name Sandman the Lyrical back when you know the “lyrical miracle” era was upon us. But Sandman was already an established artist and I found that out. I was like, “Man, I need to come up with a name that only I will have that nobody will ever have.”
So, I remember I was sitting in college in the dorm thinking of a name. Just constantly thinking of different things that work, different things that represent me, and I came up with this name. It flowed nice and sounded nice. Basically, I got Tai from Tai chi — the more defensive fighting style of Tai chi. Because in battle rap I’m more of a defensive battle rap dude, like I’ll wait for you to strike and then I’ll come back with a harder hit. That’s how my battle rap style was, so I felt like Tai chi represented me. So, I got Tai from Tai chi and then I got yamo. Yamo is actually “llamo” spelled improperly like “name” in Spanish. It’s spelled improperly because around the time I was coming up with the name I used to always be outside doing some shit and when I would get mad like super tan or whatever people always thought I was Latin, but I’m not. So, it’s just a joke on the thing that I’m not Latin [laughs]. So, I got Taiyamo together like that and then I got Denku.
Around the time I was coming up with the name a lot of rappers were using already established cartoon character names. Like there was an MC Goku at the time, there was an MC Rohan at the time, there was all these cartoon character anime names. So, I just basically created my own cartoon character name that sounded like it would be like a cartoon character. That’s basically where it is, man. I put it all together, its definitely thought out. It’s not like I just was like, “Oh yeah, let me think of something that just sounds nice, that’s long, and nobody ever had it,” but I actually thought it out, pieced some things together, and there it is, Taiyamo Denku.
TRHH: You’re on tour in November through the Midwest and the south, what do you have in-store for fans that come out to see your show?
Taiyamo Denku: Alright, let me put it like this, my homie Carnage the Executioner, he runs the crew Hecatomb, shouts to him, he told me one time “Nowadays as a performer to impress people in the crowd you gotta do something more than rap because everybody’s just a rapper now, so you gotta do more than that.” When I do my shows I always incorporate beatboxing, because I can beatbox, I always add vocal cuts to songs, because I’m nice with the vocal scratches, and my freestyle game is crazy, so I always try to add the object game. At the end I do this crazy shit that I’ve never seen a freestyle artist do myself. It’s something I only have done. I’ll go around and I’ll gather 10 to 15 words, and I do this acapella so everybody can hear everything, and I’ll go through the entire set of words one direction off the top flipping freestyle shit and then I’ll go through it in reverse. And then I’ll be done and people are like, “What the fuck? How the fuck did you do that shit?”
It usually blows people’s minds. I honestly don’t know, man. I started out freestyling before I started writing and I guess I just got good brain muscle memory to where I can remember the shit and work it into the freestyles. Because people ask me all the time, “How the fuck did you do that? How do you do that?” and I that’s the only answer I got. I feel like I’ve been freestyling so long that it’s just something that I’ve become great at over the years. Obviously, I’m going to do joints off the records, I’m going to do joints off the “Do You Want Bars?” record, I like doing call and response — I got some joints I do call and response on. But you will not hear any over the vocal rapping for me! All the way against it! I feel like if you’re coming to see a live show, you give the people a live show.
TRHH: Who is the Do You Want Bars album made for?
Taiyamo Denku: It’s for the real Hip-Hop heads, man. It’s for the people that still love lyrics, the people that still love the gritty grimy real Hip-Hop shit that the golden era was created on. Every time I make a record, every time I do albums, the golden era of Hip-Hop is in my head. I wanna make something that I feel would have come out during the golden era of Hip-Hop. I know that’s not being “hip” according to what people say hip is, but I still have relevant concepts and ideas and lines, so I am being up to date. I just like to do it in a way that Hip-Hop is represented through me and it’s the golden era idea, thought, and that’s what it is, man. So, if you like golden era real Hip-Hop shit, if you want to hear bars, if you want to hear lyrics, if you want to hear boom bap shit, that’s what you’re going to get from a Denku record.
Purchase: Taiyamo Denku – Do You Want Bars?