Wordsworth: Undivided Attention

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Photo courtesy of Wordsworth

Old friends and band-mates, DJ Jay-Ef and underground Hip-Hop stalwart Wordsworth reunited for a new project that combines classic and current Hip-Hop. “Undivided Attention” finds author, educator, and emcee, Wordsworth spitting his usual eloquent rhymes backed up by Jay-Ef’s cuts.

Undivided Attention comes courtesy of Ana Zach and Fat Beat Records. The 7-track EP is produced by J. Depina, Kellz On The Beat, and Donel Smokes. The release features guest appearances by Adanita Ross and Wordsworth’s eMC band-mate, Masta Ace.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Wordsworth about why becoming an author has superseded being a rapper, working with DJ Jay-Ef, and their new EP, Undivided Attention.

TRHH: You and Jay-Ef have been down for a long time. What made you decide to do a project together now?

Wordsworth: I think it was really Jay-Ef’s idea because he has been consistently putting out the EP’s. I think he kind of caught that bug. He did the Believe it or Not project and some stuff with Asia. He’s become like really engulfed in turntablism heavy. As we are all getting older we really want to maintain that youthfulness of what we love to do — Hip-Hop of course. I think he found that it’s almost the best time than any other time to put out music because you put it out for the love and it’s not as expensive as the way it used to be, and having fun at the end of the day. After the Believe it or Not record on the last EP that he put out he was like, “Yo, let’s do a joint together” and I was like, “Yo, let’s do it!” I thought it was dope because I’m trying to also ramp up my output as much too because that’s the way the game is now. People are throwing out EP’s every month. It’s a whole ‘nother level with it. As much as I can I’m going to put out stuff. The number one reason was the accessibility we had to J. Depina, which is a dope producer. It just all fit at the right time.

TRHH: How long did it take you to write to the beats?

Wordsworth: I think it took about a month. Maybe three weeks to write. If I like a beat and I have the concept and idea and just sit there with it, it’s pretty easy to do it. I believe I started doing this project maybe before we went back to school. I’m a teacher, so, it was before school started. Maybe about June/July/August. I can wake up in the morning and I could write and work on it for eight hours straight. When school is in session I’m not really trying to do anything until the weekends. If I like the beat and I sit there with it it’ll take me a few weeks.

TRHH: What do you teach?

Wordsworth: I teach TV production, music production, and also film production in middle school.

TRHH: The kids must love it.

Wordsworth: My room is probably unlike any room in the country, to be honest. I rarely show my room, but it’s made it to the news. My school ended up winning a grant. I was already teaching reading, but once I won the grant they knew what I did wholeheartedly. They let me design the room. I designed the curriculum as well. It’s not like any other classroom you’d see across the country. Even from the aesthetics and everything it’s kind of just new.

TRHH: That’s super dope. What’s the meaning behind the title of the EP, Undivided Attention?

Wordsworth: Kellz On The Beat is one of the other producers on it. Donel Smokes is another producer on there. I had this Kellz On The Beat beat and thought it would be dope to put on the EP. The first line was “Thanks for your undivided attention/Follow me through your hashtags you find in your mentions.” So, I was like, that’s it right there! Undivided Attention, let’s roll. It just worked out perfectly.

TRHH: On the song “Remember” you mention several Hip-Hoppers who have passed away in your first verse. Do you feel like we fail to give our artists in Hip-Hop their flowers while they’re still here?

Wordsworth: Now we are. I don’t think in the past we did. Here’s the thing with this Hip-Hop stuff, everybody that didn’t think they were gonna get old are now old. They’re like, “I used to hate when I was younger” about getting old. Now a majority of the people that came up around my age are older now and realizing the impact they had on the other generations coming up through the computer era and so on and so forth. I think it’s even a better time in that regard. The generation before this one, which is Drake and them, the newer artists don’t mind having older artists on records now. If you were coming up in the 90s and so on you would probably be saying those guys are old and washed up. You wouldn’t have them on a song based on commercial situations or business situations. But now it’s kind of getting to that point of if you liked somebody from when you were younger you wouldn’t mind having them on a record. Nowadays it’s way more giving the flowers than before. People were afraid of ageism and now it’s like, “Yo, I realize most of my people are older that I love.”

TRHH: Ageism in general is something that needs to die in Hip-Hop. It annoys me to no end. I saw a tweet once of someone asking who is your top 10 rappers of all-time. Someone listed Chuck D, Rakim, Kane, and KRS-One and the guy sarcastically responded “Oh, I love the 80s!” So, because they started in the 80s their impact on Hip-Hop is irrelevant? It’s confusing to me.

Wordsworth: That’s how they think. Probably because most likely that it’s that young person that doesn’t realize that they will be old. They don’t even have a perspective of whatever they do will look old to a younger person. Whether it’s construction, a mail man, or a cashier, and the new person is coming in for their job and that new person is looking at them old and they start to realize “Wow.” It’s the same effect. It doesn’t matter if it’s Hip-Hop or not. That same cycle is generally global. That’s just a universal thing of life. You have to understand that factor, but when you’re young you don’t have that ideology of understand that at all.

TRHH: Do you remember a couple of years ago when Macklemore did the song with Caz, Moe Dee, and Melle Mel?

Wordsworth: Yep.

TRHH: I saw people hating on him. The song ain’t my favorite in the world, but I was like, “Whoa, he’s giving props!”

Wordsworth: Yep, and the song did really well. I believe that record went gold or platinum. That’s a big risk for him as huge as he is to do that. That’s one of those people there that went out with it and did something like that. It’s becoming more well-known and respected. You won’t get flack for putting older artists on there. You also have to recognize that some of the greatest artists that we love like Nas and Jay are up there in the 50 range. The younger artists maybe in their 30s and 40s are like, “These guys are some of the greats, I need to get them on my record.”

The game is so young, man. We don’t have the 70-year old rapper that we’re doing the lifetime achievement award for yet. Jay is up there, but mind you, we don’t have somebody coming on doing a double time flow at 80 yet. That would be kind of ill. We’re not there yet, but I’m sure it will go there. If you look at it like being that age and being able to maintain your faculties, whether it’s scatting or singing, we see them in other genres doing it. It’s just that we haven’t gotten it yet. We gotta respect that the game is still young.

TRHH: Very young. What did KRS say? “50 years down the line you can start this/’Cause we’ll be the old school artists.”

Wordsworth: Right.

TRHH: I saw you perform on the Lyricist Lounge tour. I guess that was in ’98.

Wordsworth: That was actually in 2000.

TRHH: In Chicago.

Wordworth: Yeah! I remember that show too.

TRHH: Who all was on the bill?

Wordsworth: Yeah, it was me, Punch of course, Mos Def closed. Who else was there?

TRHH: Kweli.

Wordsworth: Maybe for that show, not the entire tour. I think Major Figgas was on some of those shows. I can’t recall who else was on that particular bill. I remember that show because I remember leaving out the back and getting on the tour bus.

TRHH: Okay, I’m getting my years mixed up. It was definitely 2000 and Mos Def had the band.

Wordsworth: Yep, and Umi Says was the biggest record at the end of the show. We all loved when he would do that song. It was definitely 2000.

TRHH: Do you have any special memories from that tour?

Wordsworth: Yeah, man. It made me realize the effect of me being on TV versus being an underground artist. I’ll never forget me going to sign autographs and having one person say, “Words, they just want you to sign autographs because you’re from on TV. They don’t know about you on the underground.” So, it was like a division of people that were there that you bring out. If you’re on TV you’re getting a whole different audience that’s coming to see you. They’ll see you on the bill and not know you’re doing music until you come out and perform music. They think you’re coming out there to do a skit from the show. That was one thing I learned about doing that tour was just the fact that I was reaching other people that I may have not thought about. I kind of thought that everybody at the show knew me from underground stuff, but I didn’t understand how wide-ranged that was.

TRHH: That’s crazy. That’s something I would have never thought of.

Wordsworth: Yeah, yeah. Because me and you would go to the show for the music and not think about there is a person right next to us that have never heard a verse, ever. It definitely opened up my eyes and mind to other things.

TRHH: Again, I hate to mention Twitter trolls, but I saw a tweet where somebody said LL Cool J and Ice Cube are overrated, we shouldn’t be mentioning them, and they each had one hit. I’m thinking, this person only knows them from TV. There is no way you can say LL Cool J only has one hit.

Wordsworth: Those types of tweets I really just chalk it up to either being immature and not having knowledge, or you’re just young. When you’re young, you have no real reference of what it’s like to revere something. For somebody to say that, that would be like me not liking a Donny Hathaway record or Curtis Mayfield, which for me, music from that era is my favorite type of sound. I tell people all the time that I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop music and nothing really makes my soul shift like hearing that era. When I hear that era because it’s live instruments, it’s something else. It’s different. It’s a different vibe.

TRHH: Definitely. I feel that way about Hip-Hop to a degree, too. I don’t know if it’s because it was my era, but when I hear Rakim, KRS, Kane, it feels different to me. It feels very different from stuff now. I don’t know if I’m just an old man. But yeah, that music – Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, that era was soul music.

Wordsworth: Soul music. And when I hear that type of music it’s soul shifting for me. I feel different. There’s a lot of Hip-Hop records I like. Throw Illmatic on, I love Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em, Kool G Rap is one of my favorites, if not my favorite. I understand that aspect of it, but in order for me to understand the different vibrations you get from music, you have to listen to other music. So, me finding that music, like Curtis Mayfield’s Darker than Blue, there’s nothing else I can really compare to that to make me get in that mood and mode. It’s just different.

TRHH: Not to harp on it, but if you’re 20-years old you probably shouldn’t like Mama Said Knock You Out. That’s cool. But don’t disrespect this man’s body of work. That’s my whole thing. I guarantee you there are people who only know Ice-T from his TV show. That’s where we are.

Wordsworth: Let me tell you, man. Any job is the same job. If you’re dissing older artists because of their music or whatever, just know that when you get older as a plumber, as a financial analyst, as a coding person, there is a younger person that’s going to be talking about you at the job and how you do things. When they get home, they’re going to be telling their spouse, “This guy a work has been here 20 years. He’s in the cubicle doing this nonsense.” They’re complaining about you the same way you’re complaining about that. So, it don’t matter the occupation, it’s the same situation, and you will be that person. You just gotta have that mindset and understanding. It don’t matter the job.

TRHH: I assume the song “Unfaithful” isn’t a true story.

Wordsworth: Nah!! It’s the beat. When I heard the beat it just made me go there. One of the reasons I’ve been here this long is my storytelling ability. That’s the honest truth of why my career has lasted as long as it has, because I was able to get out of just being a backpacker and find my lane. In the 90s era we were all in this backpack phase and bragging about how dope you were. I was like, “I gotta get up out of that.” How do you get up out of that? I started paying attention to what makes you a great artist or writer. The Unfaithful record is me just doing what I love to do. I came with a real harsh story and made it as graphic as possible.

TRHH: How has working with Masta Ace helped your songwriting ability?

Wordsworth: Man, I was telling somebody this the other day, I’ve known Ace for almost 22 years from getting on Disposable Arts. I don’t know if you know this, but how I met Ace was because Ace was working on a Strick single for Jay-Ef’s MONA HIP HOP Records. Me and Punch were putting the EP out on Jay-Ef’s MONA HIP HOP label. Jay-Ef played me and Punch to Ace and Ace was like, “Them dudes are dope. Bring them by the studio!” He said, “I got this joint I want y’all to be on called Block Episode.” I’m standing in the studio next to Ace and he’s one of my favorites. It’s ill because I can talk to him about when I bought the cassettes and all of that stuff. What I learned from Ace is poise and what’s important. When you’re an artist a lot of times you’re very scatter brained. With the creativity you have thousands of thoughts and you want to do this and that. Ace is the guy when I watch a lot of sports analysts talk about how the game is slowed down for Chris Paul, the game has slowed down for Ace.

When I met Ace, I was in my third or fourth year of playing and still trying to figure things out. He already knew everything I’m rushing to do, I didn’t have to rush to do. I would learn about going on tour, budgeting, what to ask for on the road, song-wise why to do this on a hook, and things like that. I learned a lot more poise and confidence in myself when crafting music. That’s one of the main things that I learned was to slow down and not feel pressured about stuff. Ace is real meticulous. He’s very meticulous with things, which is why you get these albums that are story-driven, graphic, detailed, and the production is always fire and the lyrics. So, I just learned a lot of that poise. I think that’s important to maintain in this game. I’m unfazed and confident in what I’m doing, but the other key thing that me and him have in common is we’re very self-aware. So, I know if a verse is hot, if a verse is corny, and if what I’m writing is where I want to be at. So, our quality control is there, too. I think that’s what’s kept us around, respected, and regarded for what we do. Our quality control is very high.

TRHH: You released a book called “What Words are Worth Volume 1.” What made you want to make an accompanying piece to your album and when will we get a volume 2?

Wordsworth: My plan is to do every album. It’s just that I kind of go with wherever I’m at with what I’m doing. I figure if I go right to volume 2 some of these other things that are already prepared won’t come out. Volume 1 is done of course, Volume 2 I started, but I just actually finished another book. It’s actually a book that sixth graders up to high school can read. It’s based on an animated script that I wrote. That book is completed, I’m just waiting on the illustrations to be done for each chapter. The Volume 2 will probably come out next summer. I vowed to myself to do an album and a book every year. Volume 2 I started already, but I also have another book idea that I’m working on as well. I won’t do both books at the same time. After this next book comes out, which will probably be January or February, that’ll probably be the book for that year, which buys me time.

TRHH: That seems like a lot of pressure to me.

Wordsworth: Nah, I think it’s needed because what I’ve learned at my age and stage at what I do, the literary work has actually brought a whole new life to my career. The “author” word actually supersedes the “rapper” word at the stage I’m at now. I’m very realistic with myself. There’s not something that people could say that I’m not aware of. I have to understand as I’m aging and progressing I have to have these other literary works in different arenas. I see myself as a spokesperson being on panels and doing openings, not only with rap, or maybe stuff being read from my book. Or people stepping on open mics reading from my book.

I just see it in a whole different arena from where I’m at and adapting to where I’m going. It’s really just part of growth. I think you have to do that. If you don’t grow and think that it’s going to be all music, that’s not the way to go. I have a musical written. I have a whole bunch of stuff written. They’re all coming out though, it’s just step by step. I got a new album coming out too. It’s actually getting mastered this weekend. That’s produced by my boy Kellz with the Heat. He did the whole album. I just try to keep staying busy with stuff. I’ve done music for Power, NCIS, and Criminal Minds. You gotta really be thinking about all these other arenas that are adequate to your age, too.

TRHH: Why adequate to your age?

Wordsworth: Because as you get older a lot of times the shows may slow down. Some people may be able to tour a lot, but the arenas changes because the people you network with are older too. I’m networking with peers my age that have actually spawned and grown into arenas themselves. If they’re working in a corporate field they’re not going to necessarily hire me to come through rapping, but they might hire me to come and do spoken word based off of my books, which actually is my raps. Or I may get hired to be on a panel at a college to talk about music production and things of that nature. I think you’ve got to kind of look at what you can see older people doing. You see older people get hired for these types of things, and they aren’t necessarily hired for everything they did when they were younger to perform it. But they’ll get hired off the knowledge that they have from it to actually implement it in other arenas and ways. So, I think you have to be very real with yourself and identify that.

TRHH: Who is the Undivided Attention EP made for?

Wordsworth: I would say this one goes to the core of what I do – the boom bap heads. I would say this is more in the boom bap vibe. You got the scratching on there and things like that. My solo albums typically don’t have scratching, but it’ll have some boom bap on them. I call it more modern boom bap, if that’s a term. This one is kind of more gritty, 90ish boom bap. I would say it’s modern boom bap style too with J.Depina, Donel, and Kellz with the Heat they have boom bap, but it’s a different twist to me when I hear the sounds used.

I get a lot of beats from people and they’re thinking I love boom bap, which I do, but they give me boom bap that sounds dated to me at times. This boom bap just rocks now. When you hear “Sinister” it just rocks. If I’m going to do boom bap music, if that’s what we wanna say it is, I want to make sure I’m doing stuff that can compete with a Griselda boom bap sound. They’re like modern boom bap to me. They rhyme on stuff that don’t have drums sometimes, sometimes it’s just boom bap vibes. They rap on what the 90s era is about with how dope they are. I think it’s just really recognizing the fact that it’s boom bap, but with a modern spin on it.

Purchase: Jay-Ef & Wordsworth – Undivided Attention

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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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