iHipHop Interview- Scratch: More Than A Mouthful…

Written by Serge Fleury

Saturday, May 30th, 2009 at 12:26 pm
Views: 1606


scratch-1_phixrBefore Hip-Hop became the super-powered juggernaut it now is, once upon a time the art of freestyling (REAL freestyling, not writing something down, memorizing it, and calling it a freestyle for a mixtape) was accompanied by the art of the beat box.

If there wasn’t s sound system around, there was always someone in the cipher talented enough to make the instrumentals with their vocal cords.

Sometimes the impromptu DJ’s skill would out weigh that of the person he was “supposedly” playing second fiddle for, thus causing the beat boxer to be the main attraction on the street corner, in the high school lunch room, or wherever else he performed.

Today, beat boxing has reached a whole new plateau with artists like Scratch (formerly of The Roots) making sure that what was created in the late 70’s and early 80’s doesn’t evaporate from Hip-Hop’s current landscape.

Releasing his first beat boxing project back in 2002, with The Embodiment Of Instrumentation, he returns in 2009 with Loss 4 Wordz [Click for review], and a stellar cast of participants to boot.

So for all of those who thought that Scratch’s speech was replaced with musical instruments when he was born, here’s your chance to finally know otherwise…

iHipHop.com: When did you first realize you had the ability to do what you do?

Scratch: Ever since I was a kid… I was blessed with the ability to project sounds from listening to the stuff that’s being played on the radio, to playing with toys, and things like that…

I was mimicking sounds from the TV and the radio, and as time went on, I just perfected the craft…

I didn’t realize it had any meaning to it until I did it in front of my friends, and they were just as amazed as I was… So from there, that’s when I realized that I should do something with it…

iHipHop.com: Is that also around the same time that you knew that you wanted to make a career out of it?

Scratch: Were I grew up, there weren’t a lot of outlets for music… You were either on the corner doing dirt, or just trying to get out of the area… So when I turned 18, I moved out of Camden, New Jersey and moved to Philly because I felt like there were some outlets over there for music and opportunity…

Because it was a city, and there were a lot more things available like talent shows, and just any kind of place to perform at…

iHipHop.com: Do you have any routines or vocal exercises you go through before performing, or do you just go in?

Scratch: I pretty much just go in… I don’t do any “Doo-la-fa-cee-doo” type-stuff… [Laughs] More of what I do with my performance is more of what I’m feeling… If I’m feeling good, it’s going to come out good…

But mainly I just do my prayers before I hit the stage; I have to give my blessings before I walk up on stage… After that, it’s just really freestyling it out with my performance, and I just feed off the audience… There’s not exactly a ritual that I do before I hit the stage…

iHipHop.com: So you don’t have any secrets to not running out of breath?

Scratch: Nah, not at all… When I was younger when I first started, I was running out of breath when I would do stuff… I would have to stop to catch my breath, and then start up the beat again… Then I realized that I could actually use inhaling and exhaling at the same time while I’m doing it, and just make different sounds as I’m doing it…

So I just used it to my advantage, sort of like I was hyperventilating as I was doing it… That’s how kept going, going, and going… But now I use a loop station, so it makes it a lot easier… [Laughs]

scratch-loss4wordz-450x450iHipHop.com: [Laughs]…  Your latest project is Loss 4 Wordz [Click for review]
, and your last was The Embodiment Of Instrumentation back in 2002. Was there a reason why you took such a long lay off in between projects?

Scratch: During the time I came out with the first project, it was real experimental, and it was based off of seeing if people would be into a whole beat boxing record…

It was to see if people would be opened to listening to something different that’s not being played on the mainstream, and even on the underground tip…

Then people dug what I was doing, so I really wanted to go in next time, and really put it together on a higher level… I wanted to really focus on making music, because that’s what comes first…

Also, when I was recording the Loss 4 Wordz [Click for review] album, it took some time because I wanted to get different artists on the record, but I had to meet up with their schedules…

Then I had to find a label home afterwards, because I didn’t have a deal when I started recording the record, I just wanted to start making the record…

I wanted to make a name for myself, and not neccesarilly detaching my name from The Roots, but to have my name go with the face… So the only way to do that was to go out on my own to get that exposure…

iHipHop.com: You have people like Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Estelle, Musiq Soulchild, and Damon Albarn from the Gorillaz on the project. Was it difficult getting a hold of those kinds of people for the record?

Scratch: It was a little difficult, here and there because either somebody is touring, or they’re in the studio recording their project, or it was something like they were on the other side of the world, and I had to get to them… So to make it easier, I had to do a lot of traveling to make it successful…

But once I got that going, that’s when things finally started to come together, and as I said before, I didn’t have a label deal at the time… The funding that was going into the record was basically coming from me doing my shows… So every time I did a show, I was putting money aside to fund the record…

iHipHop.com: Was there anyone you wanted to get, but couldn’t?

Scratch: Pretty much everybody I got on the record was cooperative when it came to getting it done… They saw what I was trying to do, and we met at different shows and things like that, which made it a lot easier… For instance, with Kanye West, it was just a phone call, and he came out the next day with Consequence and they recorded at my studio at my home…

With other people it was just really mixing times with schedules, and putting things together that made sense… Other than that, everybody was very cooperative in getting down, and putting this together, and getting it out there…

scratch-2iHipHop.com: How was the creative process? Did you basically go in and wing it until you guys came up with some that worked?

Scratch: Each song was put together differently than the other… Some songs I would go in the studio and make the beat, and I had a couple of different co-producers that I worked with… That was to give the songs different textures, because I didn’t want the album to sound repetitive on each track…

So with some songs, I made the beat right there, and I would be like, “Who can I hear on that beat?” Once I did that, that’s when I would go out and work on trying to get that artist to be on that particular song… Or if I already got with the artist, we pretty much made the song right there on the spot…

Like with Damon Albarn from the Gorillaz, we were hanging out a lot and working a lot on past projects… When we got into the studio, it was 10’ O clock in the morning, and we had a nine-piece orchestra come in, and we laid the song right there on the spot…

iHipHop.com: How do you feel about beat boxing as a whole? Do you feel as if it’s a lost art form?

Scratch: It’s an art form that re-creates itself each time, just like music… The form of it have never really left, I think it’s just changed just how the ways of times change… For instance it went from the Fat Boys and Ready Rock C to nowadays where it’s in commercials and the sound bites for videogames… It keeps evolving, and we keep evolving with it… There are newcomers that are coming up, and they’re keeping the torch lit…

iHipHop.com: How would you describe the audience’s reactions during your live shows. Are they always receptive to what you’re doing on stage?

Scratch: I’ve worked with all kinds of audiences… I’ve done stuff where it was like a really mainstream audience, and the only way to get to them is by doing something that’s a Top 40 sound… With older crowds, I can rock stuff from back in the day to stuff that’s in the present, down to underground tracks…

Basically my performance is kind of like what a DJ would do, but the way I approach it, I’m doing it vocally… So far 90 percent of the shows I’ve done have been a success… A lot of times if you’re on a bad system, it doesn’t sound right coming through the speakers, and that makes your performance look bad…

People don’t look at it like the system was bad; they look at it like the performance was bad… A lot of times, I go to the venue an hour before the show to see what the people are into, and then I go from there…

iHipHop.com: How do you keep on top of your game? Are you constantly trying to find sounds or whatever to imitate?

Scratch: From time to time I try to challenge myself, but I don’t do it every single day… When I was younger, it was that way, but now life is a little different… But now I just basically do whatever I’m feeling at the moment…

Like recently I put out a beat box mixtape, and that was something the label wanted me to do so people can really hear the talent that I have than what I just put on the record…

So they’re going to be blasting that all over the place, but it was a little bit of a challenge, but I enjoyed doing it because I was challenging myself to do stuff that I don’t normally do…


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