Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
By Quibian Salazar-Moreno It was several years ago when producer 9th Wonder stepped onto the scene as the man behind the sound of Little Brother. They released the critically-acclaimed album “The Listening”, with a co-sign from Roots drummer ?uestlove. Because of the praise the album consistently received, 9th was recruited by a bevy of artists to make beats ranging from Masta Ace and Boot Camp Clik to Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige. After Little Brother’s 2005 album, “The Minstrel Show”, dropped 9th Wonder and Little Brother parted ways. The producer went on to produce entire albums with MURS and Buckshot and various joints with his Justus League collective. Although 9th is no longer fielding questions about the breakup with Little Brother, he’s cultivating a solo career that’s bound to be just as successful, and maybe even more so, than his time with the group. His new album, “Dream Merchant, Vol. 2”, is set to drop this fall and is entirely produced by 9th with guest appearances from Mos Def, Boot Camp Clik, Jean Grae, Memphis Bleek, Royce the 5’9”, Camp Lo and a host of others. We caught up with 9th to talk about the new album, the state of hip-hop and if he will ever remix another entire album. What does the album name, Dream Merchant, mean to you? Well, my career has been a big dream, so far. The albums I’ve been on the friends I’ve made. It’s all been a fairytale. I just talked to MC Lyte the other day. You know, I’m a big fan, but we were talking about possibly working on some music, which is crazy! So a Dream Merchant is just having dreams, ya know? How long did it take to put this album together? About two years. How did you find Camp Lo? They frequent this area a lot. I live in the Raleigh-Durham area and they come through a lot. We had a mutual friend named Ski, who produced a lot of classic Camp Lo, is from Greensboro, North Carolina. He produced almost all of Uptown Saturday Night. But it’s crazy that I hooked up with them, it’s nuts! So are you still using Fruity Loops? Yup. It’s been working great for me. It might not work great for anybody else. That Mary J Blige joint I did on that Grammy Award-winning album was a Fruity Loops beat. I’m scoring The Boondocks Season 2 and those are Fruity Loops beats. I don’t know what else I got to do. You know, you’re inspiring a lot of people by making fresh hip-hop with the Fruity Loops system. That’s kind of crazy. The biggest thing about Fruity Loops man is that I can make a kid that’s 14 or 15 years old sit in his room and do something creative. That’s the biggest thing for me. And if I can make a kid do that, I’m all for it man. I rather take a program, and influence a kid than do anything else. Have you ever tried any other software like Reason, Cubase, Cakewalk or anything like that? Nah. I’ve heard of it all. There’s so many but to me it’s all about the end result. That’s all I care about. As of late, hip-hop lyrics have been taking a pounding in the media, what’s your take on violence/misogyny in hip-hop? For me, it’s all in moderation. I don’t care what era of music you’re talking about, especially music from the 70’s. I got a lot of Mille Jackson records and a lot of records from the 70’s talk about the same things hip-hop is talking about now. Superfly, although it was a soulful record was an album about a pimp. That’s probably the best soundtrack ever made, but it was an album about a pimp. And cocaine. And women. And drugs. I think the media, a lot of times just don’t understand the rebellious nature of music. You always sound like the old geezer dude that’s mad at the younger generation. I don’t care how you dress it up, you sound like your time is gone, and you’re mad that your time is gone and you want to harp on the next generation about whatever. Not to say that I don’t harp on the next generation, but it’s not their fault, they’re babies. I harp on the media and these media outlets who don’t turn the next generation on to something else. They just give them the same stuff, over and over and over. My problem is the balance, my problem is not the fact that the kids want to do the snap dance. That’s not my problem. I mean, when Luke was on the scene, I’d dance to Luke Skyywalker records for hours! So I can’t get mad at kid who wants to do the snap dance. I did the Humpty Dance, the Roger Rabbit, the Cabbage Patch, the Smurf, the Running Man, the Typewriter, any dance that looks like a buffoon dance to an adult back in the early 90’s, that’s the same way we feel about kids. Some of us are like, ‘that Snap dance is stupid,’ and Humpty Dance wasn’t? I’m not so mad at the kids, and it’s up to us as adults to preserve the hip-hop we grew up on and make that important to us. And if we make it important to us, it will become important to our children, we’ll be able to pass the torch. But it just doesn’t help when you have a 34-year old man in the club snap dancing. I mean, the whole profanity in music, that ain’t going away man. It’s always been a part of free expression. We set up the rules way back when we made the constitution. We set up that rule, now everyone wants a waiver for that rule with what you can’t say and can say. But again, it’s all the media’s fault, it’s not the artists’ fault. The media wants to play it, they’ll say “Aww, you’re killin’ our kids,’ but they signed the artists that talk like that. I don’t want to talk too much, you’ll get me starting to talk about illuminati and all that! Okay, as a producer who produces for a variety of artists is there a line emcees can’t cross when they’re spitting over one of your beats? I don’t want anybody talking about killing children. No kids. Yeah, no kids or killin’ your momma, can’t talk about that. You can talk about sex, but you can’t be too sexually explicit. You got the braggadocio rappers that wanna be super sexually, but that’s the reason why I have two albums. I have the Dream Merchant, Vol. 2, there’s a lot of cursing on there and it’s really not a record you can listen to as a hip-hop parent. This is the first time in our musical history that we have hip-hop parents. I’m 32 years old and I’m a first generation hip-hop hopper. I was fortunate enough to witness the glory and golden years of hip-hop music. But now I have kids and I have to specifically choose the records that I listen to now because I got my kids in the backseat. With that being the case, Dream Merchant is record that you need to listen to when you’re alone. The album I have coming out on Asylum, which is titled The Wonder Years, is more of an R&Bish hip-hop type record, is a record you can listen to with your kids. There’s a difference, it’s not a “Kidz Bop” CD, but it’s just a record you can listen to with your children in the back seat. Another record you can listen to with your children in the backseat is the new Common album. We’re just entering the age where we need to start separating Adult Contemporary Hip-Hop. There’s adult hip-hop and there’s kids hip-hop, where adult hip-hop isn’t music for children. That’s what it is, I make music for adults. If a kid wants to listen to it fine. I don’t think when Cameo, Gap Band and the Commodores and those musicians from the late 70’s and early 80’s, I don’t think they were making music for 7-year olds. My 5-year old loves Cameo though. Mine does too! But at the time they were making it, they weren’t making it for kids. My 7-year old knows Cameo songs because I play them. I’m talking about in 1983, their fan base was their peers and cats a little bit younger than them. I don’t think their fan base was 5-year old children. Some of these rappers coming out, their fan base is 5-year old kids, which disturbs me. They’re like 29 and “I got to do something 6-year olds will like!” And I’m like, “You do!? Really!?” I don’t get that. When LL Cool J did “Around the Way Girl”, he was talking about folks 16 and up. He wasn’t talking about no 5-year old kids. And that’s where we’re getting it confused. We have to start separating it as adult hip-hop past and present. Kweli’s “Eardrum” is an adult hip-hop record. Kids can pick it up, they may appreciate it and maybe learn something from it, but Kweli is talking to us. The subject matter is pointed to us and what we need to do as adults. Then you have MIMS, “This is Why I’m Hot.” It’s a hot record, but it’s hot for my nephew. Or “My Lip Gloss is poppin’, my lip gloss is cool.” Man, that’s bangin’ at the elementary schools and that’s where it needs to bang! I don’t want to hear that when I’m out with the boys! A bunch of late 20’s and 30 year old dudes with nice shirts on walking around, “My lip gloss is poppin’”? That’s not cool, man! That’s like watching 30 year olds doing the snap dance, or doing the Superman Soulja Boy dance. Now when my nephews do it, I get a kick out of it. I’m like, “Do the dance for me man, just do the dance.” And they do it. They turn it on, they do the dance and I get my laugh on and I love it! But I don’t want to see one of my closest friends do it! They need to stop that, or get clowned on. So have you retired from the doing the remix album stuff like “God’s Stepson”? I would say….. yeah. When I did God’s Stepson, I never thought that it was going to make the noise that it made. It made unbelievable noise. I went to Japan man and kids over there had it. That’s when I knew and understood the power of the internet. I don’t think people understand the power of the internet, when you used to have to drive over people’s house to hear a song. “Hey man, I got the ‘Brooklyn Zoo (Lord Digga remix)’, I’m the only that got it in a 30-mile radius.’ So you and your boys jump in your car and drive all this way to hear the Lord Digga remix of “Brooklyn Zoo”, when it’s a dub he got off of WBLS in New York. And he’s the only that got it! And you would listen to it over and over and over again. You were, I was, there was always a neighborhood kid that had music no one had. When I was in college, there was a kid who had the “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” remix. He was like the kid in elementary school that came to school with Prince Adam, like “Where did you find that?” I got He-Man, I don’t have Prince Adam! Where’d you get that? But now, everybody, children and the internet and IPODs, there is no turn-on factor. There is no, “I’m going my man’s house to get the new…” or “My man’s dorm room to get the new…” or “I got to stop and get some Fuji tapes because I’m going to my boy’s crib because he has ‘The Main Ingredient’ by Pete Rock and CL Smooth and I need to get a dub of it.” You would stay over there for hours and everybody would get a dub. That’s what has been taken away from hip-hop, the turn-on factor. So when I did God’s Stepson, I saw the power of the internet and it went across the world in a mater of 5 minutes. It’s crazy how I can do a song right now and send to some kid in Japan right now, and he’d have it in a matter of seconds. That’s kind of crazy to believe that can happen. That happened with God’s Stepson and I never thought that me doing that would start this craze remix phenomena of remixing full albums. A lot of people thought I did that just to get out there, but the truth is I was tired of Nas spitting over the beats he was spitting over. With the exception of “2nd Childhood,” “”Nas is Like,” actually all his Primo records and the Large Pro records like “You’re Da Man”, “Made U Look” and a couple of Alchemist records, I think we can all attest to that not since “I Am”, we haven’t been happy. Nas thinks that everybody wants him to go back to “Illmatic”, but we don’t want him to go back to the subject matter, it’s the beats bro! Can we get those back? So no remix albums from you? I think because of “God’s Stepson” and the remix craze, they’re not going to put out anymore acapella records. They’re not going to do it. Because I’ve been waiting for an acapella record of “Hip-Hop Is Dead.” I have been waiting for one. Because they know as soon as I get one, I’d have that thing remixed in three days. And I think they know it! What other upcoming projects? Like another Buckshot album, or MURS album? I’m still going to do records as far as, when it comes to whole albums like that. I’m still going do that. I did another Buckshot record called “The Formula” and I did another MURS album called “Sweet Lord” both are done. I did a joint for Erykah Badu on her new album called “Small World.” And I have artists myself that’ll be showcased on Dream Merchant and The Wonder Years, one of them is an R&B artist by Tyler Woods and that’s an artist I want everybody to look for. It’s R&B with bottom. I’m used to the Jodeci R&B… Wow… you aren’t the only one. You know what man, I am so tired of not being able to listen to R&B artists in my car and feel comfortable. Like I pull up beside some people man and I just can’t bump Chris Brown and feel comfortable. There was R&B that used to make you feel like a man. The last R&B album that made me feel like a man was the first Carl Thomas record. And there really hasn’t been anything since. Not to say that people don’t make good R&B. But I just can’t wait for everybody to hear Tyler Woods. I think everyone is going to say thank you! How does it feel to be a solo artist now? I’m cool. It’s kind of like starting over again. In the last year or so I understand what it takes to make your music acceptable to the people you want to make it acceptable to. Being the fact that I’m a hip-hop parent, I have to now examine how hip-hop parents buy music. Where we go to get music, how we receive music, who turn us on to the music? And one thing we don’t do, the majority of females our age don’t read XXL, they don’t read The Source, they don’t read Scratch, they don’t read Spin, they don’t read URB, they don’t read these magazines. It’s not a diss to those magazines, it’s the flatout truth. When you’re a mommy in your 30’s or late 20’s, you’re a mommy and a wife and you have a job; you just don’t have the time to indulge yourself in that hip-hop arena. All you read is Essence or O Magazine. On a general basis, I’ve seen more women reading “O” than anything, the problem is Oprah is not going to have a rapper in her magazine. You got to find the good place, with me being a 32 year old man doing the type of hip-hop that I do, I kind of got to find a good place and medium to put my music. It may take some process of elimination but I think I got it down. I think with the Common album, whoever was marketing that Common album said “Let’s put the album in Starbucks,” man, that’s the best thing they ever could do. Not to say he’s a coffee shop artist, that means that’s where his demographic goes, they go to Starbucks first. When they did that I was like finally somebody gets it. I want to do the same thing. All the parties that I do, I do them for 25 years old and up, I don’t play any music past 1997, I don’t play anything earlier than 1980. I try to stay within my age bracket. I do that on purpose trying to create a following for myself. Anyone under 27 that doesn’t know who I am, I really don’t care. At this point, I don’t care, ya know?
By:Hip Hop Journalist For many, taking a year break in Hip-Hop can be seen as sacrilege. Making a come back after ten years may be something of an urban myth. But when you are Wise Intelligent, there is an audience waiting with bated breath. This PRT front man has never faltered in his message. He has maintained the same lyrical path that he started out on and now as he rears his head after a decade of just ‘living life,’ one can’t begin to imagine just what the ‘Talented Timothy Taylor’ is going to provide. He might have dodged CNN in a recent request for an interview in regards to the billboards posted in Chicago but he didn’t dodge us here at HHC when we asked him just where he was for the last ten years. HHC: Taking a ten year hiatus nowadays can be considered temporary retirement at least. How valuable was this time to you? WISE: Well, I never stopped recording! I may have taken a hiatus from the mainstream or commercial Hip Hop scene but I never stopped doing Hip Hop! For nearly a decade I’ve been living my life. I have a family. I have children. My life is not just about a rhyme. HHC: Did you ever think that you might not go ahead and make the second album? WISE: NO, I never doubted that I would put it out, as far as making it; it was recorded for a few years before it was released. Like I said, I never stopped doing Hip Hop. HHC: Was there any pressure from external forces to make the album? WISE: Not at all! This is the advantage of being independent. INTELLIGENT MUZIK is just that. This particular brand has a mission statement that states its goal of creating infrastructure to support socially relative Hip Hop for the preservation of the culture. So, if there was any pressure it would be from losing valuable time with my seeds in the recording process. HHC: How important was making this album to you personally, as a fan of Hip-Hop? WISE: It was very important. I felt and still feel that Hip Hop as well as the Black Community from whence I hail is suffering from a lack of knowledge. This lack of knowledge is evident in the fact that everyone seems to believe that it is profitable to dumb-down. This album is my statement to that idea. I’m saying "It’s No Longer Smart to be Dumb!" The current anti-intellectual, anti-theoretical and a-historical environment in which we are embedded has doubled the homicide rate, HIV/AIDS rate, teenage-pregnancy, etc. We dumbed-down the lyrics and doubled the destructive behavior. As a fan I felt Hip Hop needed a healthy dose of socially/politically relative dialogue and or commentary! It needed some balance and this is my contribution to that balance. HHC: Did you face any major issues making this project or was it just a case of ‘the time had come’ and it all just flowed? WISE: The only real issue was how Hip Hop has become so expensive to make and market. One would think that with all the new technology the cost to record and market an album would be substantially lower than say 1990-1996. What I mean is once an artist from my hood has spent his paper recording his record he is expected to pay radio heads, indie promoters, street teams, viral marketers, etc. The business is now marketing and not music! HHC: What can your fans expect to get from this project? WISE: Hope! They say that "faith is the substance of things hoped for…" So for all those fans that had faith that Hip Hop would once again speak to the struggles of the people that created it, this album is the crowning of that faith! It is a perfect merger between style and substance. It is the bridge between the mainstream and the underground. It is as "hood" as it is "scholarly." It’s Wise Intelligent doing the impossible! HHC: If there was one thing that you could change in Hip-Hop right now, what would it be? WISE: I would change who it is that controls the mediums through which the culture is propagated. HHC: You declined an interview with CNN in regards to the Chicago billboards; can you break down why you opted to do that? WISE: This speaks to the answer I gave to the previous question. We (the Black Community) do not control CNN and CNN like most media in the western world has only served the purpose of further exacerbating the problems in the Black Community and therefore Hip Hop. I just believe that CNN does not offer a solution oriented platform but is very conflict oriented. CNN and other media in the west have never worked in the best interest of the Black or Hip Hop community. I did not want to go on National television and let CNN have the Black St. Sabina Church in Chicago in a battle with the Black Wise Intelligent on National television when we are brothers in the same struggle. I was not sure if the church sees America‘s media for what it is, as I do. So, I called the church and gave them the heads up, explaining to them that I did not think we could find a solution to this issue with CNN providing the platform; and that, we should rather meet at their church or in my hood to discuss our problems. HHC: When you saw the segment you were asked to be a part of, did you feel Hip-Hop was represented? WISE: I still haven’t seen it. But, I’m sure Hip Hop was not represented, and neither was the Black Community! HHC: You are a deep man with a serious understanding of what goes on in communities, can you pinpoint where you believe changes need to be made? WISE: On a "grand ole scale" it will take a redistribution of the world’s wealth. When we consider that some 10% of the world’s population control 90% of the earths wealth and resources, the problems and solutions become obvious. Look at Africa, the riches continent on earth (in history and resources) constantly portrayed as the poorest place on earth so that greedy mother-fuckers from Europe, Arabia and the rest can kill off her population and make their countries fat from her exploitation. If we focus on change at the local community level, we need to focus on education based infrastructure. If we the black community fails to gain control of the education, economics and politics of our communities we will forever make our place at the bottom of humanity. Yes, we have black mayors, black teachers, black superintendents as well as black businessmen, but, the economics are controlled primarily by aliens to our community. It’s no different from Hip Hop! HHC: Another album after this one? WISE: It’s coming on the heels of The Talented Timothy Taylor. It will be titled "WISE INTELLIGENT IZ…The Unconquerable Djezuz Djonez" you can get some updates and sneak previews soon at www.intelligentmuzik.com. You can also stay up to date on TOUR info as well as the INTELLIGENTNEWZ.NET, PEACE….
By: Serge Fleury Just as Eminem proclaimed in his song, “Lose Yourself”; “you only have one shot, do not miss your time to blow; this opportunity comes once in a lifetime.” Those are the words that every artist lives by when they fanaticize of making it to the big time. Every unknown MC trying to break into the world of Hip-Hop, wants a taste of the glamorous life. Whether they want to publicly admit it, or not. They all want segments on MTV Cribs, to being the headliner for tours, and to be adored by millions of screaming fans. Some are just a lot more modest than others, when speaking about their personal goals. History has shown us that in the entertainment business, its not about what you know; its about who you know. Sad, but very true. You can be the most talented person in the world, and get the door shut in your face; because you lack the necessary connections. Or you can be one of the lucky few that has connections; and the talent needed gain the spot light, that everyone craves. This is the case for West Philadelphia native, Kenneth Johnson; better known as Omillio Sparks. The kid from Philly, and formerly of Roc-A-Fella’s State Property fame; has grown into a wise businessman over the past eight years. After being signed to Roc-A-Fella Records in 1999 through Beanie Sigel, the future looked bright for the young star. When he, along with fellow State Property cohorts invaded the Funk Master Flex Show on Hot 97 and took it over; the fire was already lit. And it seemed that it would be a very long time before it fizzled out. But with only two group albums in eight years, one movie, Beanie Sigel’s incarceration (since has been released), and the break up of Roc-A-Fella; O. Sparks looked more like an outsider looking in. Now as he sets forth to debut his solo project, “The Payback” through his own imprint Colossal Entertainment; Omillio Sparks lets the world know that all that glitters; isn’t gold. CrackSpace.com: Talk about Philadelphia. How was it like growing up there? Omillio Sparks: Man, it was cool growing up there. We had Schooly D, and we had a couple of other big artists coming out of there. So it was cool coming up in Philly. CrackSpace.com: So what have you been up to lately? What new projects are you working on? Omillio Sparks: Well my project is called “The Payback”, and that’s about to drop. I also have another movie in the works called “Expendable”, and I got another movie coming out called “What We Do.” I’m just movie central right now. [smiles] Its just popping off right now; there’s a lot of things that I’m working on. CrackSpace.com: Is there any particular reason you named your album The Payback? Omillio Sparks: Well yeah, there were a bunch of reasons man. Like when that whole thing happened with the Roc; I didn’t know where my next step was coming from. Then, when the Roc was going over to Def Jam, they didn’t take me, know what I’m saying. They left me hanging in the wind, and besides that, I had some other personal problems too. Like my money was low, my lady was trippin’ on me, and I couldn’t get distribution. But I was still in grind-mode, and now I got my own company. We are in full effect now. [smiles] CrackSpace.com: Was it hard to make a solo album, after being involved in just group projects? Omillio Sparks: Nah, not at all. Even with all that other stuff going on, it wasn’t hard for me to do that. Because I was starving; and I was hungry, know what I’m saying. The more things I go through, the better I write. So every time something hit me, and I’d recover from it. It was like; “BOOM!” I’d make a rhyme. So it wasn’t hard at all. Man, it made me strong actually. CrackSpace.com: Do you still keep in contact with all the members of State Property? Omillio Sparks: No doubt, I’m in contact with everybody except for Freeway. I done talked to Mac [Beanie], and Oschino is on my new mixtape. I still talk to the Gunnas, I just don’t talk to Freeway that much. But I’m still in contact with the boys. CrackSpace.com: So everything is still cool between you and Beanie? Omillio Sparks: Yeah, ain’t nothing bad between us. CrackSpace.com: What did you learn from your experience at Roc-A-Fella and working with Jay-Z? Omillio Sparks: Just to handle your business, keep your mind on your money, man. Keep your folks tight, and keep your business tight. And I’ll tell you that and that everything is not what its cracked up to be. I want to see everything in writing, and after that; my lawyer has to see it in writing. That’s what l learned man, straight up. CrackSpace.com: How was your mind set during that time when The Roc was going through turmoil? Omillio Sparks: It was crazy man, I never knew why we didn’t come out. [long pause] Listen man, we had State Property. Me and Oschino was a group, Crakk [Peedi] was a solo artist, Beanie, was a solo artist, Freeway was a solo, artist, and The Young Gunnas was a group. Then we got to Hot 97, and we was all in one building. CrackSpace.com: Yeah, I remember that night. Y’all took over the station. Omillio Sparks: Yeah that night was CRAZY! You feel me? Then everybody was like; “damn these n***as are hot!” “so what’s up with them?” So that was a buzz for us, and then here comes the State Property album. But we was still all broke. And there wasn’t anything before someone came; and actually worked out the deal for us to promote State Property. We was like; “if we’re State Property, and we doing all this, then where’s our cash at?” So that’s how that was going down. Then me and Oschino couldn’t come out, because he was going to jail and I was working. I was under contract with Oschino, so I couldn’t sign without him. Then Freeway did a song with Puffy and them, so he was about to drop his record; and we still got pushed back some more. Omillio Sparks: So meanwhile back at the ranch, [laughs] we still kept it popping, because we did “State Property: The movie”, and we hit the road. But we was like; “hold up!” Because we’re working but, everybody ain’t eating. So that’s how it went down, and we never came out. But we was still riding. We were like; “Jay you’re our man you’re the boss, so we’re riding with you.” “If anybody comes at ya neck, you ain’t got to say nothing we got you, just fall back.” So when [they] did the break-up of Roc-A-Fella, and Jay took the rest of them and left us, that’s when we was like; “WHOA!”, “HOLD UP!” But this is a business know what I’m saying, it was all business. But now I got my own company, Colossal Entertainment. CrackSpace.com: So during all that down time, were you still making music? Omillio Sparks: Well, I wasn’t chilling. But before I started making music; I had to handle my business. I had got with my business partner, then we had formed the company, know what I’m saying. So first I had to get comfortable, before anything else. CrackSpace.com: So how did the situation come about with you writing the hook for “I Just Wanna Luv You (Give It 2 Me)” for Jay-Z? Omillio Sparks: I was just in the studio, I was in the B Room, and they were in the A Room. Then Mac came into the B Room, and he heard me laying the song down. Then he went back into the A Room to tell Hov what was going on. Then Hov came back into the B Room, know what I’m saying. [smiling] Then Hov heard the hook, and he wanted it. Next thing you know, I’m flying to go meet Pharrell, and shoot the video out in L.A. CrackSpace.com: What other material have you written? Omillio Sparks: Well I wrote seven songs off the first State Property album, and six off the second State Property album. I had something on “The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse” album too. I did a lot of writing, thank God for the publishing companies. [laughing] CrackSpace.com: So that ASCAP money must be looking real good right now? [smiles] Omillio Sparks: Oh right! Now its good! We get about $8.00 per record, we just chilling man. I’m just feeling good, and going shopping. [smiles] CrackSpace.com: Would you say it’s hard switching from artist to CEO? Or do you wear both hats equally? Omillio Sparks: You would think that, but with all the crap I went through; it already made me a CEO. Because my brain thinks big business first; that’s just second nature right now. Everything I do, I plan it out first. I figure out in which direction I’m moving, in and I execute, know what I’m saying. CrackSpace.com: So what’s one of the toughest lessons you’ve learned in the music business so far? Omillio Sparks: [long pause] This is what I’ve learned. I learned that it doesn’t matter who you are; whether you’re Puffy, Jay-Z, or just anybody with a sh*t load of cash, always know who you are. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. When I got up [there], I was riding with the people who had the money, so I thought everything was going to be right. And that ain’t always what its cracked up to be. Just make sure you handle your own business; because if you don’t see no results, then you’re working for nothing.
By:Hip Hop Journalist College Park, a suburb of the sprawling southern Hip-Hop capital Atlanta has birthed many MCs who have maintained a solid glow to the Georgia skyline. Names like Jermaine Dupri and Luda rep Collie Park to the fullest. Now it is the time of a couple of Luda’s co-horts to shine. Playaz Circle has been down with Luda longer than DTP has been in existence. With their up and coming album Supply and Demand destined for release later this year or early next, the duo made up of Tity boy and Dolla Boy gave us here at HHC a little insight into what goes on in their world. Talking on how hard it is for them to make the albums final cut the duo break down their views on changing lanes, whose opinions matter and just how unity continues to rage in the South. Hip-HopCrack.com: When is the album dropping? Playaz Circle: Basically we was in a deal with Universal and we got out of that deal and signed with Def Jam and DTP. We are hoping to get out the end of this year, the beginning of next year. We have a song out right now The Duffel Bag Boys which features Lil Wayne and we are just doing our thing. Hip-HopCrack.com: You have been talked about for a long time, why have we had to wait so long for this album? Was it just down to label politics? Playaz Circle: I mean it is what it is. You have to realize we are street artists and this label here in the past has put out a lot of radio hits and stuff that has gone straight to pop; you know stuff of that nature. So I think with us we had to think of a new avenue to get our album even heard and to break it through. Hip-HopCrack.com: Taking a new avenue, isn’t that a case of denying your creativity and what you stand for? Playaz Circle: You know we could say it was Universal’s fault or DTP’s fault or we could say it was our fault. But I think this time it’s been good for everybody as this time we have all learned and made decisions. You know we can make comfortable decisions from things that have been done in the past. I think even our opinions are listened to now as artists. I think our creative control is that much more respected and listened to throughout all this process. Hip-HopCrack.com: That is obviously a good feeling? Playaz Circle: Yeah that is a great feeling for people wanting to actually hear your ideas because when you hear feedback it is good to hear it from another perspective. We come from a whole different back ground and just getting that feedback from us is something we like getting for support. Hip-HopCrack.com: Being that you yourselves stated, street artists, coming into the mainstream was it hard for you to cater to a different audience, as those who listen to mixtapes may not even bother with shelf albums. Playaz Circle: Yeah it definitely is and that is the great part of being with Luda. He has had such a great career on the radio and we knew when we came onto DTP that we could lock down the street aspect. It was going to be a challenge getting onto radio and being heard and appealing to all these other listeners. Hip-HopCrack.com: You weren’t concerned? Playaz Circle: I think our biggest thing was if we were crossing over, it was because it was something we wanted to do. It would be because the song had capabilities to cross over. It would be nothing to do with what we had changed. Of course we have songs that will go pop, like most artists do because at the end of the day pop just means popular. If we have a song that is popular and people like it, doesn’t matter if you are street artist or whatever. Like Sean Kingston who has that Beautiful Girls tracks, that is a mix of everything. As long as a track sounds good, it has to stand out. Hip-HopCrack.com: How important is being part of a collective. Did you always want to be part of one? Playaz Circle: Well we have always been down with DTP. We all stayed in the same complex. We always said if one of us got on we would come back and look for the others and shout out to Cris as that is what he did. He came back and gave us the opportunity to do our group thing, Playaz Circle and we are here now. Hip-HopCrack.com: Where does Duffle Bag Boys come from? Playaz Circle: It is like the bigger picture of Playaz Circle, which is the group. Duffle Bag Boys is our movement, you know our group, our side of town. We have artists all across the country. It is basically our movement. They are people who are getting money, you know you don’t have to be in the streets; you can be a blue collar, white collar worker or whatever you may be. Just someone who strives to get so much money that they can’t fit it in their pockets or their wallets, you going to need a duffel bag so you can do it big. It’s like if you have a duffle bag full of money you have made it in some people’s eyes. Hip-HopCrack.com: Who have you got on the album? Playaz Circle: I don’t know if it is too late to say or too early to say as we have had albums done but we have been constantly recording. A lot of big name producers and a lot of no name producers. I think that our problem that we have is trying to narrow down which 13 songs we are going to use. We have certain songs that we like and times keep passing and music keeps growing so we just keep recording and replacing the songs. We work with everyone we are fans of, but right now the artist list is so long as we have worked with so many people, it is hard to say that all these tracks are going to go on our first project Supply and Demand. Hip-HopCrack.com: Who is executive producing the album? Playaz Circle: You could say Playaz Circle or you could say DTP because basically the Exec Producer is who is paying for the recording time. Me and Dollar have been doing that as sometimes your budget may be closed or you might have to wait on a signature and to be honest we are not waiting kinds of people. Hip-HopCrack.com: Is there anyone outside of DTP that you call on for advice when it comes to music? Playaz Circle: Of course, Lil Wayne, Baby have all been down with the Duffle Bag Boys. The whole Cash Money has been very supportive during this whole process and even Slim; you can have a conversation with him where you can just take something from. Outside our camp there would be Polow the Don, Raekwon, he gave us a lot of game. There is a lot of people you just wouldn’t think are going to be mentioned are people who have given us a lot of heads up on the Hip-Hop game. It is good when you have peers in the game that can offer up constructive criticism and you can take something from them. Hip-HopCrack.com: Are you confident with this project? Playaz Circle: Oh man we are confident with each other, we are confident with the project and the music period. We do this for the streets, we get money regardless. This is like a hobby to us. We have been in the streets for so long; we ain’t made no major money out of this yet, so we can’t really put all our eggs in one basket. We make sure our family and our friends are straight and then we go to the studio and do our thing. It is like a hobby and our work at the same time as we know we don’t want to do the street thing forever. We want to make money and open the doors for our friends and our families to eat through the music. That is what time it is. We just want to be helpful in our community. And it is fun, who wants to go to a job when you don’t want to be there? Who wouldn’t want to get paid for expressing their thoughts? This is a job where we enjoy getting up and doing what we do. Hip-HopCrack.com: Did you two come up together? Playaz Circle: Yeah clearly we came up together; before we knew how to rap it was already written. You know we don’t even look like a natural group when you see us together as one of us is real tall and the other real short. It goes deeper than that. Like you said we are family orientated we are into the community; we know each others moms and dads, the whole thing. We came up from the bottom to this point and it feels good to have a video shoot where everyone comes through from High School and family came out. It was like a big reunion.
By: Serge Fleury Boston Massachusetts; one of the most historical cities in all of America. If you ever visit, make sure you take a walk through Boston Common. After the nice long stroll, make sure you hit the Bull & Finch Pub (Cheers) on Beacon Street for a couple of drinks; and something to eat. Being the major sports town that it is; there should be plenty of people to talk to, when discussing the Boston Celtics and their 16 championships. But if you’re not a basketball fan, then the Patriots, and their winning ways are your next choice. And if none of that interests you, then the on-going saga of the Boston Red Sox has to catch your fancy a little bit. Get a Bostonian to say; "pahk the cah in Hahvad Yahd", and your journey to "The City On The Hill" is complete. If you wonder off into the music realm of Boston, most likely you’ll come across more pop music/R&B acts of yester-year; (circa New Edition, Aerosmith, and New Kids on the Block) rather than [true] Hip-Hop contributors. With a city that has a population of over 590,763 people, finding a credible list of talented MC’s is few and far in between. In retrospect, a list might not even be needed. Because you would probably be able to [literally] count the front runners on one hand. But in doing that, make sure you save a couple of fingers for Edo G, Jaysaun (formerly of the Kreators), and newcomer; Slain. After Edo G released "Life Of A Kid Ghetto" back in 1991, it solidified him as one of the most lyrical MC’s the game has to offer. The album, which sparked the timeless classic "I Gotta Have It", helped catapult the project to over 600,000 copies sold. As for the Kreators’ former front man; Jaysaun has worked with the likes of Gangstarr’s Guru, Cappadonna, Pete Rock, and Krumbsnatcha. While garnering enough attention for MTV to display his talents. While still making a name for himself, Slain managed to move 7,000 units of his mixtape; "The White Man Is The Devil" with no distribution back in 2005. He then quickly bulked up his resume by collaborating with Royce Da 5’9", Cypress Hill, and DJ Lethal. After all joining forces, and recruiting the help of turntable specialist; DJ Jayceeoh, they caught the eyes of Duck Down. Now it’s only a matter of time before the Special Teamz take it to the house, when others seem to keep on turning the ball over. CrackSpace.com: What’s good y’all? So how’s Boston these days? I’m originally from there also. Edo G: Boston is everywhere! Are you still a fan of The Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics? CrackSpace.com: Of course! I couldn’t imagine being anything else. Special Teamz: [laughing collectively] Edo G: That’s good, that’s all I need to know. CrackSpace.com: So how did you guys first get hooked up with Duck Down? Jaysaun: Well we did this mixtape together, that ended up doing really good. It was like the number one selling mixtape, and it ended selling like 8,000 copies. Before we did that, Duck Down had expressed a little bit of interest; but we wasn’t able to solidify anything. So then we ended up going on tour to Canada with Sean Price, and then Sean P came back and said; "these n***as are official, you need to f**k with them." And that kind of renewed the channels that had already been opened before; and this time we was just able to get it done. CrackSpace.com: How was your reception up in Canada? Jaysaun: It was good. It’s always going to be a little better outside of the states. But the reception was good man. Slain: Somebody actually got stabbed at one of our shows. Jaysaun: Yeah, some kid got stabbed at one of the shows; and the police actually came to our room. Because [they] couldn’t believe that a bunch of US rappers, that were up there doing a show, didn’t have anything to do with it. But other than that, everything was good. We did about like five shows, and we was rocking with Sean P every night. So the vibe was definitely going on. CrackSpace.com: Why don’t you think a lot of MC’s from Boston haven’t been able to successfully hit the mainstream? Jaysaun: Boston is a hard city. Don’t nothing come to anybody from Boston easy; know what I’m saying. It’s not place where [you] can just get on. That might happen in other people’s fairy-tale world. But in Boston, you got to put in time and work. You have to suffer, and go through the trials and tribulations. That’s what happens when you’re from up there, and it’s a difficult process. A lot of people don’t have the grind in them. There’s a lot of MC’s I know personally, that don’t even rap no more. And back in the day they were the sh*t! But they just didn’t have the grind. Boston can beat the spirit out of you, if you’re not willing to travel and make it happen. Slain: I think as far as New York and L.A., there are so many labels; and you might be able to fall into Hip-Hop. Because there’s also a lot of venues. So if you’re doing your thing, you can easily latch onto something. Like management, promoters, or whatever. Because there’s much more resources in other cities, than there is in Boston. And that’s where some of the hate comes in. Like if you’re from [there] and you get sh*t cracking; that’s when people want to bring you down. Because [their] not getting [their] own sh*t cracking. So you really have to stick to your grind; and you really have to shake off a lot of the hate. CrackSpace.com: What can we expect to hear from your album; "Stereotypez"? Slain: There’s a lot of "boom-bap" Hip-Hop on there, conscious sh*t, and a lot of lyrics. We got some classic producers on there. From Pete Rock to DJ Premier, and some up and coming dudes. Like Marco Polo [pronouncing it Mah-Co Polo], Jake One, and Ill Bill. We have a wide variety of subject matter, and we stick to that hard "boom-bap" production sound. CrackSpace.com: That Boston accent is thick! [Laughs] Slain: Yeah man, that’s part of my style too. Man, it’s like that with the rhymes too. And it’s only from [our] area, you ain’t gonna find that nowhere else. CrackSpace.com: How did you all first come together as a group? Slain: Well Edo and Jay known each other for years. Like they recorded a couple albums before, with other dudes. And those situations didn’t work out the way they wanted them to. And I actually had Jay come in, and record something with me. I’d been working with DJ G-Squared from the Kreators, and we all came into the studio. Basically we had a good time man; and we made a banger. I mean the sh*t came out dope! Then we went through a trial period; where we was feeling each other out for a little bit. And after switching labels, and not knowing where to put [our] record out; we finally found Duck Down to call home. CrackSpace.com: How would you describe the Hip-Hop scene in Boston? Edo G: I thinks it’s flourishing right now, there’s a lot of young groups up there. From what I’m hearing and seeing; there’s a lot of people getting it in. And they’re making a lot of good products. The only thing is; they got to get out of the "mixtape world", and into the "album world." Then I think it’ll make more of an impact, internationally. CrackSpace.com: So what’s your opinion on the mixtape route? Edo G: It’s like you’re giving too much away. If you have an album coming out; then a mixtape before or after the album is good. But not like ten mixtapes before you put an album out. CrackSpace.com: Does it bother you when some people may automatically label you all as underground MC’s? Edo G: Nah, that doesn’t bother us at all. Because it is what it is, and we make Hip-Hop music. It’s about lyrics and good beats for us. We’re not competing with the majors, know what I’m saying. We’re just doing what we do. CrackSpace.com: How was the creative process during the making of this album? Was everyone pretty much on the same page? Edo G: Nah, everyone is never really on the same page. Because we all got different ideas, and different musical styles. But once you get a lot of hot beats, it makes the process that much easier. So we made sure we didn’t listen to a lot of whack stuff, and we really chose the producers well. They’d send us a batch of beats, and we would normally pick out out of those. CrackSpace.com: Even though Boston is only three hours from New York, a lot of people think Boston is behind from a Hip-Hop standpoint. Do you find that to be true? Edo G: That’s false man. With this internet, everybody is on an even playing field. So we’re right there with what’s going on in the Hip-Hop world. So yeah, I would definitely disagree with that. CrackSpace.com: Do you feel any pressure to perform well, since you’re on such a recognizable label as Duck Down? Edo G: We do what we been doing, know what I’m saying. It’s not like this is new to any of us, so it’s just a continuation of what we’ve been doing. But now we’re just elevating it onto another level. I feel some pressure just for the city of Boston. But we’re definitely going to put them on our back, and have everybody ride with us. So they can also support what we’re doing. CrackSpace.com: So how do you plan on standing out in an over saturated market? Edo G: I think just the combination of the group. Like me being a black dude from Roxbury, Jay being the mulatto cat from Dorchester, and Slain being a white Irish cat from Southie. Also DJ Jayceeoh; he’s a Jewish cat. So you just put us in a mixing pot all together. And if we had an Asian cat, then we would probably complete the world, know what I’m saying. [laughing] Special Teamz: [Laughing collectively] Edo G: So basically it’s just different styles, and different experiences. Also what we talk about, is not really being talked about in Hip-Hop right now.
By: Serge Fleury When you’re associated with something for a long period of time, (a musical group for instance) its only human nature for members of the band to grow tired and weary of each other. We see it happen all the time. Regardless what they might say in front of the cameras, ultimately a few of them usually have different agendas. It doesn’t matter if its Rock & Roll, Country Music, or even Hip-Hop; after a while, tensions flare. And before you know it, your favorite group is headlined on every front cover magazine as going "splits-ville." Especially in Hip-Hop, we’ve all seen it before. The legendary group EPMD has gone through their own trials and tribulations; so has The Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, and most recently the North Carolina trio of Little Brother. Even Atlanta‘s own Outkast has been rumored to be headed toward a divorce. Lets face it folks, break-ups are just a way of life……..Or are they? From 1995-to the present day, there’s actually one group that’s just as tight as when they first started. No bickering over the lime light, no complaining they their bars got cut from 16 to 8, and attitudes because they were reassigned to do a hook instead of having a solo. When attendance is called, the names of Buckshot, Top Dog, Louieville (Sluggah), Tek-N-Steele, Starang Wondah, Sean Price (Ruck), and Rock are always front and center. If you’ve been living in outer space for the last twelve years, and are unfamiliar with these people from Hip-Hop standpoint; you may simply refer to them as The Boot Camp Clik. The group that gave us such classics as "Who Got Da Props", "Bucktown", and "Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka" are back to let the Hip-Hop community know that "ain’t a damn thing changed." In fact, their only getting stronger as the years go by. With the signing of Boston‘s own ED O.G. and his collective known as The Special Teamz, along with KRS-One, and Amanda Diva; Duck Down is more likely to be looking up these days. Buckshot had a chance so sit down with CrackSpace.com and talk about the future holds for the whole entire platoon, and what projects we can expect from all of the soldiers. CrackSpace.com: So did "The Last Stand" album perform like you guys wanted it to? Buckshot: Well at the end of the day, it did what it did. But we can look at it like this; if we didn’t have that album out, then right now we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So that in itself, so should count way more than how many units it sold. You have to look at it like this; we are a self contained fully operated unit. Meaning everybody plays their part, in a little something. We’re not a company that’s ran by 20,000 people, or 20,000 representatives everyday. We’re still grinding, and the street team is always working. So that’s why we’re still seeing something, as opposed to seeing nothing. Because a lot of rappers at a lot of labels, don’t have anything cracking. CrackSpace.com: How have you all managed to maintain your chemistry throughout the years? Buckshot: I can only contribute that to the creator. We don’t sit around and have meetings about staying together. [laughing] I think the essence of it is; the fact that we’re more than just a record label. Because we’re really cool, and we’re really tight with each other. We do share a bond with each other physically. If ever they needed help, I would never be like; "oh that’s just a record company dude, and I can’t help him out right now." That’s what other people do, and that’s what separates Boot Camp/Duck Down from a lot of other operations. But being that we’re talking about [our] operation; that’s how we run it. Because we’re a family. We got Jewish people, black people, Haitians, Chinese, and Filipinos. Everybody is running with Duck Down. CrackSpace.com: So what made you decide to come out with "Casualties Of War", as an album filled with unreleased material? Buckshot: Well you can’t put all songs on every album. There were songs that were casualties, and that we had sacrifice. Just because it couldn’t make on a certain album; we still had a place for it to come out. What’s crazy is that we treaded in one direction, and headed in another. So its another Boot Camp album, its not a compilation. You may think of it as a compilation, because you haven’t heard of it; and "The Last Stand" came out a minute ago. So this is just a continuation of "The Last Stand." CrackSpace.com: So how did The Boot Camp Clik and The Justus League come together? Buckshot: It was all through DJ Evil Dee. First, Evil Dee put me and Dru Ha onto 9th Wonder; and then Dru was communicating with 9th. Then Dru put me on, and he was like; "yo, you got to hook up with 9th." Then we all took a trip out to North Carolina one day, and that’s how it all happened. It was the whole entire Duck Down family; and we went down there to hook up with 9th and The Justus League. Boot Camp and The Justus actually ended up doing a lot of stuff that week, because we was all there. CrackSpace.com: After the success you had with "Chemistry" between you and 9th Wonder; what can we expect from "The Formula"? Buckshot: Well I am the "The Formula", that’s why I called it that. Because we’re working on something great. So being that the first album was called "Chemistry", we’re just going to show [them] that we still work great together. I didn’t just go in and start rapping and freestyling on "The Formula." I went in there and made good songs, that talk about sh*t. CrackSpace.com: Do you have any when another Heltah Skeltah album is coming out? Buckshot: Their album is called "D.I.R.T. (Da Incredible Rap Team)", and that will be out as soon as they finish that sh*t. They’re not even finished with it yet. CrackSpace.com: Oh, so its in the works, but just not completed? Buckshot: Nah, but when its done, it’ll be out. They have fun doing what they do. Even though Sean Price is rocking on the solo side, but that’s how they started. They formed together through me, a lot of people don’t know that. CrackSpace.com: Steele is coming out with a mixtape. Does that mean he also has solo project in the works too? Buckshot: Well yeah he’s, coming out with some work too. A lot of people don’t know this; but Steele started this whole movement, truthfully, before any of us. Steele was the first person out of all of us with a record deal. CrackSpace.com: Oh really? He was? Buckshot: Yes sir. I used to follow Steele. He was the one who came up with the name Boot Camp, and all of us played our parts. Then we created Duck Down and Bucktown. Me and Dru sat in his Subaru on Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn, and came up with the names. CrackSpace.com: For over ten years, everyone has become familiar with the faces of The Boot Camp Clik. So what made you decide to sign new talent now? Buckshot: We had plenty of opportunities to sign people. We were going to sign Eminem years ago. We had plenty opportunities, but the timing just wasn’t right. We could have picked up soldiers along the way, but it just wasn’t time. But now Duck Down is a real solidified label. So now I go hard at being the producer over at Duck Down, and Dru can go hard at being the executive producer. Back then, we couldn’t do it the way we can do it now. Like now, I got full focus on producing. I’m a Quincy Jones-type of producer; meaning I just don’t only make beats. Like if I hear a song, and it got good lyrics but not the beat, I’m going to go in and say; "lets change the beat." I have a different style when it comes to producing. Producing just ain’t beat making. CrackSpace.com: How do you think the whole Duck Down brand has maintained its relevance throughout the years? Buckshot: Well at this point in [our] careers, we done been there, and we done that. But the bottom line is; we’re MC’s that’s solidified in the game. Whether the young generation knows us; because we got to keep putting out music, or not. But that’s not easy for any rapper, actor, actress, product, or company. That’s not easy for Coca-Cola, that’s why they keep changing their bottle every f**ckin’ month. But the bottom line is that we’re in; and there’s a lot of people that aren’t even in. And people have to remember that. CrackSpace.com: What was the problem with your previous distributor? What made you all strike a deal with Koch Records? Buckshot: Well Koch bought out Navarre Corporation, and we was with them. Its like; if I’m living in a crib, and somebody buys it out, I still have a contract with the crib. So they have to keep me too, and that’s what happened. Koch ain’t a bad place, know what I’m saying. It ain’t a bad place, but it ain’t a great place. There’s no distribution that’s great. CrackSpace.com: What makes you think that? Buckshot: Because everybody can do a better job, that’s why. We all can do better jobs. Everybody can go harder at whatever they do. But then there are some people that don’t have an opportunity to be on Koch. But we’re not on Koch, we’re through Koch. We have a distribution deal with them. We’re on the 8th floor, and they’re on the 6th floor. CrackSpace.com: Was there ever a time when members of The Boot Camp Clik wanted to pursue other endeavors? Like try the major label circuit? Buckshot: Rock went over to Interscope, and Tek-N-Steele was on Rawkus. People forget those things, because they never made an impact over there. They only made an impact when they came back to Duck Down. Because we know how to work our soldiers; we know how to make it do what it do. And that’s why we signed KRS-One, Amanda Diva, and whole lot of other artists, because we’re ready to step our game up. If you open up a XXL Magazine, you’re going to see us in there. There’s a lot of groups that ain’t never going to get into XXL; period. And if you’re not in XXL, or anyone of the top magazines, then you’re hustling backwards. CrackSpace.com: Do you worry about capturing younger audiences? Buckshot: I’m not targeting them, but if I obtain them; then that’s great. I wasn’t around for the James Brown era, but when I hear him, I know its good sh*t; so I’m turned onto him in this era. The same with the Chi-Lites. We got the two markets; the seen and the unseen. The unseen markets are the ones that come to your shows, and they’re active. The seen market is active too, they’re just on a visual level. CrackSpace.com: Do you know when we’ll hear another O.G.C. album? Buckshot: I don’t know, but you’ll hear all of them on Boot Camp. Like Top Dog, he went in on the Casualty album! I love him on that album! Starang did his thing too, and so did Louieville. But as a group, I don’t know. I really can’t call it.
By: William E. Ketchum III Detroit hip-hop has gotten a lot of love since J Dilla passed in February 2006, but Phat Kat has been through it all. Having worked with Dilla since the mid-90s and constantly showing his face at various events in the city, Kat has cemented a reputation as one of Detroit’s most respected, yet attainable hip-hop figures. With a hip-hop scene that’s open to the mitten and a stellar sophomore album, Carte Blanche, getting rave reviews, the MC known as Ronnie Cash is finally getting some of the recognition he deserves. In an interview with HipHopCrack, Phat Kat talks about his album, the Detroit hip-hop scene, and touring. HHC: What’s been going on? Phat Kat: I’m on tour right now, on the Carte Blanche tour, the album came out. Just out here grinding, man. We’ve been to LA, Frisco, Seattle, Portland, Albuquerque, a whole gang of spots on the west coast. The east coast leg started yesterday, and we’re just out here grinding. HHC: What spot has received you the best besides Detroit? Phat Kat: It’s a toss-up between San Francisco…I’d have to say San Francisco. Just the whole little vibe that was going on in there, and everybody knew the shit. HHC: With this album, it seems like you’ve really stepped your game up lyrically. What have you been doing between your first album, The Undeniable, and Carte Blanche? Phat Kat: With The Undeniable, that album was pushed back three times, the album was like three years old. The album’s supposed to came out in 2001, the album came out in 2004. That’s the difference. It’s not really nothing different in how I was going about things, but the album was dated. It was pushed back. The album was three years old before it even came out. With Carte Blanche, it was fresh. That’s really like my first album to me. The situation I was in, I didn’t feel like the label believed in what I was doing 100 percent, so I wasn’t going to give 100 percent as an artist to a label that wasn’t giving 100 percent as a label. With the situation I’m in now, you can tell it’s 100 percent. I was full throttle on this album. HHC: Yeah, you document that in the song, “My Old Label.” Do you think that a lot of other artists on Barak Records went through the same thing? Phat Kat: Every artist over there feels almost, if not the same way that I felt. I’m not there, so I can voice my opinion and say what I feel now. I don’t have a muzzle on me, I can say whatever I want to say. And, if the truth (hurts), so be it. But it’s the truth. It wasn’t a good situation. HHC: You also have the song, “Survival Kit,” in which you go through some things that every artist should know. Out of that whole kit, which would you say would have helped you the most in your career? Phat Kat: Really, Rule #2 and Rule #1, it’s a mixture of those two. Rule #1, “You want shit done, you’ve got to do it yourself/it’s the only true way to see your growth and your wealth.” It’s the only true way! You’ve got to do shit yourself. And #2, “Only you are responsible for you.” You’ve got to take responsibility for your own acts, and control your own destiny. That’s what it’s about. HHC: It seems like ever since J Dilla died, Detroit hasn’t gotten a lot of nationwide shine as far as the music scene. How much of that would you attribute to the music itself, and how much would you attribute to media outlets flocking there in light of Dilla? Phat Kat: It’s a mixture…it’s really this. It’s a jedi mind trick, everybody knows that. The reason Detroit has a lot of people looking and checking is because of the passing of Dilla. His passing raised awareness of the music that was coming out of this city, so everyone wants to know and hear what’s next since Dilla passed. I already prepared for that, and that’s what Carte Blanche is. That’s what’s next. That’s what we’ve been doing. We knew that with the passing of Dilla, that was going to raise awareness. A lot of people were expecting us not to come with nothing! So we really just stepped up to the plate and accepted the challenge, to show the world that we got some crazy music that’s getting made out of this city, man. So now that y’all are looking, now y’all can finally hear and see. HHC: So what is it like for you, now that Detroit is getting so much exposure? Phat Kat: I mean, it’s different, man. I’m not used to it, so I’m really just taking it all in stride. But it’s a beautiful thing. Now that people are looking, they can hear, so it’s a beautiful thing, man. HHC: Being a personal friend of Dilla, how bittersweet is it for you that all of this is happening after Dilla passed? Phat Kat: it’s bittersweet, because we used to always used to say that the music we were making was light years ahead of people, so that it was going to take them years to catch on to what we were doing anyway. It’s kind of fucked up that he can’t be here to see people finally catching on, but I know he’s here in spirit with the stuff we created, so it’s all good. HHC: There are a whole lot of projects coming out of Michigan right now. You’ve got Slum Village, Elzhi’s solo, OneBeLo, and other projects. With all the projects coming out in that area, which ones are you personally looking forward to the most? Phat Kat: Actually, me and Elzhi are doing an album too. We formed a group called Cold Steel (named after Carte Blanche’s Elzhi-featured single of the same name). Yeah. We just really putting ideas and crafting songs, and we’re just going to see what we come up with. We might put it out on Look. … I’m looking forward to Guilty Simpson’s album, I’m looking forward to the new Slum Village album, and I’m looking forward to this Cold Steel album. HHC: You’re from the D, so you’ve basically worked with everyone out there. But if you could have a fantasy track with any three MCs from the area and any producer, who would it be? Phat Kat: Well, of course it would be a Dilla joint. It would be myself, Royce Da 5’9”, Elzhi, and Eminem. I think we would all bring something different out of each other on that track, and it would be one of the craziest songs ever made.
By Will “Deshair” Foskey Here at HipHopCrack.com, we’ll do whatever it takes to ‘Make It Work’ all ‘Because of You’. And while you’re ‘So Sick’ of our competitors, we brighten up your day ‘When You’re Mad’. HipHopCrack.com is going to do us, so we suggest that you ‘Do You’. Any diehard Ne-Yo fan would know that I just incorporated a few of hit R&B hits into the first paragraph. For those that allowed for it to fly over their heads, start from the top until you catch up. Ne-Yo is currently one of the busiest entertainers in the Music Industry today. So when you’re lucky enough to catch the Las Vegas born, songwriting phenom in between his busy schedule; in this case, ten minutes after he woke up in the morning, you have to be ready when your phone rings. You want you’re exclusives; we have your exclusives… What do you believe was the best story you’ve told so far through music? Ne-Yo: I don’t think that I’ve told that story yet. There are feelings that are going on in my life that I’m still trying to figure out how to trim it down to 3 minutes and 30 seconds. What are the odds of ‘Make it Work’ being the next single off of your album? Ne-Yo: Since ‘Do You’ is such a slower-mid, we’re probably going to go with something a little faster. ‘Make it Work’ is definitely going to be a single; I just don’t feel that it will be the next one. It’s either going to be ‘Can We Chill’ or ‘Go On Girl’. Through my research on your influences, I was a bit thrown off. You’re quoted that Sammy Davis Jr. and Prince played a huge part in your growth as an artist. But when you open your mouth or perform on stage, people often compare you to Michael Jackson. Can you make sense of this? Ne-Yo: Yes, I can. I looked up to Prince as a Musical God, because there’s nothing the man can’t do musically. I looked up to Sammy Davis Jr. because of his overall swag. Sammy Davis Jr., glass eyeball and all was a cool, cool cat; he was electric on stage. As for the Michael comparisons, it came from me literally studying Mike and I’m not talking about his dance moves. I can dance, but it has never been my forte’. When I was learning how to see, I hated the tone of my voice because it was nasally and thin. My mom used to listen to cats like Billy Ocean, Donnie Hathaway and Sam Cooke; singers with these rich, smokey voices. That was what I wanted to sound like, but I didn’t have that (richness). So my mom gave me Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album and Stevie Wonders “Hotter Than July” album. She told me to study both albums back and forth and I would become a better singer because of it. So that’s what I did. I knew “Off The Wall” frontward and backwards. And she was right; I became more comfortable with my own voice. When you’re name is brought up, longevity is not too far behind it. How do you feel about the fact that many of your fans who love you now, also believe that you will be the artist that they will grow old still loving? Ne-Yo: Man, it’s a beautiful feeling. I believe that this is the one thing that every artist absolutely strives for. Every artist wants to be around for as long as they can be. I’m trying to have U2’s career. They’ve been at the highest level spanning for decades, making great music and selling out stadium after stadium and all of that; it’s a beautiful thing. I guess that if I just keep doing what I’m doing, I’ll be alright.
By: Serge History has proven that someone can be the most talented MC in the world, but if you don’t have solid production, you’re more likely to fall flat on your face. Even though fans might sing their favorite artists lyrics for years to come, initially the beat is what’s going to attract them to take a listen. From DJ Premier, to Pete Rock, to 9th Wonder, they’ve all helped MC’s fill their resumes up with head-nodding classics. But if you want to take a closer look into the world of production, then pay close attention to West Coast native J Wells. This producer/rapper first got his start by touring with the Likwit Crew, which consisted of Hip-Hop veterans such as King Tee, and Tha Liks (formerly known as Tha Alkaholiks). After building up his buzz with "The Wolfpac Mixtape" which featured some of the best MC’s the West Coast has to offer, he quickly compiled a working relationship with artists throughout other regions as well. Now he steps back in with his newest creation, "Digital Smoke", a joint project with himself and the one and only Dogg Pound Gangsta, Kurupt. CrackSpace.com had a chance to chop it up with the West Coast beatsmith as he breaks down the creative process of making albums, his association with Kurupt, and the art of making noise. CrackSpace.com: So how did you and Kurupt come together for this album? J Wells: Well we’ve been working together since the Puff, Puff Pass Tour back in 2001. When I first met him, I was on tour with Alkaholiks. So pretty much, we’ve been working together ever since then. We kind of accumulated records over the years, and he came with the idea, and supported me. CrackSpace.com: What would you say is your first love? Producing or rapping? J Wells: My producing is a monster of its own, I’ve been doing that for years. I just produced something for Keyshia Cole’s new album, and I got stuff with Snoop Dogg. I did the Goodie Mob record "Play Yo Flutes" a couple years back, and I’ve worked with Rakim. As a producer, its just been great. But I started off rapping like when I was around 12 years old. Then I started making beats like around 15, so I kind of let it all play itself out. I’ve grown as an artist, but Kurupt always told me to rap. He heard me rap a couple times, and he was digging it. So he kind of encouraged me to step up to that plate. CrackSpace.com: What are some of the things you’d say you learned by working with King Tee and Tha Alkaholiks? J Wells: Just to be yourself, know what I mean. Do what you feel, do what you like, and don’t follow everybody. Just go out there and do real music, like Tha Alkaholiks they always did them. They always had their own sound. Plus just learning all the different elements of Hip-Hop, especially from J-Ro. Like the importance of having a good show, and just about the roots of Hip-Hop, you know. Oh yeah, and of course how to get drunk. [laughter] CrackSpace.com: [laughs] I’m sure that was an important lesson also.. J Wells: [laughs] Yeah man… CrackSpace.com: So were you and Kurupt pretty much on the same page when it came to the creative process of the album? J Wells: Well yeah because we had some songs together already, then we made some songs specifically for the album. We kind of rearranged some things, like I’d go to him for a track listing. He’d be like; "I like this, but add this song", and he say" put a verse here." Then he told me to add my solo song called "Los Angeles" which came out crazy! That was his whole idea, he was like; "people need to hear J Wells, people need to hear you." So I was like "alright cool", and I just followed his direction. So I definitely put some of my best sh*t on there. CrackSpace.com: Do you think there’s any particular thing that makes West Coast production stand out than any other region? J Wells: Well we’ve always had that polished sound, know what I mean. Like Dr. Dre, he’s the biggest producer in Hip-Hop, and he’s from the West Coast; and he’s definitely one of the most polished producers out there. Plus you DJ Quik, Battle Cat, and myself. We pride ourselves in great mixes and sound. CrackSpace.com: Do you have any other projects in the works besides Digital Smoke? J Wells: Well I’m producing for other people. Like I said, I’m working on Keyshia Cole’s next album, and I did some stuff for Rakim’s next record. I have my solo album coming out, and its called the "Inebriated LP." That’s going to be a concoction of party music, and just having fun man, know what I mean. I’m just producing for folks, and putting it down. I just did some stuff for Big Gipp from Goodie Mob, he got another album coming out; and I’m working on some stuff for Nicole Wray too. CrackSpace.com: What advice do you have for other inspiring producers? J Wells: Just to know the essence of beat making, know your roots, and just go in and make your own sound. Know how to take the drums off those old records, and know how to use the break beats. Learn how to be a businessman, because this is a business. So just learn everything you can, so you can be on top of things. Because if not, then you’ll be working backwards.
By: William Ketchum For being one of the most heralded figures in independent hip-hop, El-P sounds impressively grounded while talking to CrackSpace. Since his entrance into the game with former Rawkus trio Company Flow, the NYC native has earned a reputation as one of the most avant-garde, consistent producers in the industry, with his highly successful Definitive Jux label housing indie mainstays like Cage and Aesop Rock; and as an abstract, angst-filled lyricist. With every project he approaches, El-P seems to take on a totally different style of production: his Fantastic Damage solo debut deftly organized hazy, abrasive sounds, and his High Water instrumental LP saw him experimenting with jazz. With his sophomore LP, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, El keeps the trend going, experimenting with even more sounds and rapping with the just as much urgency as he ever has. His explanation? “I’m just a fucked up person.” Read on to see El-P talk about his latest record, life in New York City and illegal downloads. HHC: It’s been a minute since your last solo album. In between Fantastic Damage and now, with all of your work that you do with Def Jux, how has your focus been balanced? El-P: It’s been balanced as well as it possibly could. The fact is that what I do now, most of the time it’s bigger than just me. I’m working to help other artists and I’m helping to produce for other people. I try and balance it as much as I can, but I can’t really do both at the same time. So eventually, I had to be like, “Yo, I’m going to do this. I have to go back into my little world, now.” So eventually, that’s all it was about. I was like, “Yo, I have some shit I’ve gotta change.” HHC: What kind of viewpoint did you use for the new album? Did you have a specific mission or message that you wanted to convey? El-P: Just a fuckin’ eloquent translation of one man’s experience during strange times, trying to walk through the muck and mire and live like everyone else is. That’s my viewpoint. I just wanted to be an honest voice. I have no intention of getting on a soapbox and preaching to anybody, or anything like that. I just wanted to capture my time, and my head is the filter. I just wanted to tell some stories and to create a record that, ten years from now, people could look back and have some sort of understanding of what it really meant to be alive during this time. I just wanted to give the fans something I think they’ve been craving for, which is honesty and genuine expression. And that can be fucked up. … Something that we can look at, where even if it’s not your voice, it’s a voice that makes you feel something, and you understand that there is something to be said here. Whether or not I succeeded is up to everybody else. HHC: I read something that quoted you as saying, “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is what I imagine New York City whispering into my ear.” Elaborate on what you meant by that. El-P: New York City is the backdrop to my story, where I was born and raised. Everything in my music and my life is influenced by New York City. That’s a love-hate relationship, the same way that life is hard, and sometimes life is great. I think that over the past five years, the city has been a lot harder psychologically on people than anyone is really admitting. Because you have some obvious things, and I think that…I have self-destructive tendencies, I’m a bit of a crazy bastard sometimes. I think that walking through this city and trying to survive, the city can suck the death out of you, insert the worst into you, and it can magnify your worst tendencies. You have to fight to a degree, heavily, to be the person you want to be in a city like this. If you’re not careful, it can follow you…of course, it’s bigger than New York. But there are times where I’m like, “Goddamn, this city can kill me. This city is going to fucking kill me.” And that’s just the way it is. That’s really what the record is about. It’s about being susceptible to all that bullshit. Having serious ups and downs, and yet, I’m resigned…I’m not going to be taken out. HHC: Your style is always out there, production-wise and lyrically. When I told a friend I was interviewing you, he told me to ask you what drugs you’re on when you make your beats. Where does that style come from? El-P: Drugs! It comes from drugs, of course! [laughs] It’s funny when I get asked that question, because I wonder…it’s because I’m a fucked up cat, basically. I’m a fucked up person. That’s basically the answer. But other than when you’re sitting in your apartment in Brooklyn, …and you’re fucking trying to fucking write something in the pad, and you’re hearing die rants and people screaming, and all types of noise, and cars, and you start walking around and then you hear birds chirping, and church bells in the distance, singing. All this noise and all this shit in conflicted frames of my skull, it kinda worked its way into my mind as one, and I couldn’t separate it. I’m not one of these people that can live somewhere and make music….I just pick up on the shit, and I corporate it in. I’m just trying to turn chaos into beauty. That’s all I can tell you; I’m a fucked up person. HHC: You’re also versatile, which is odd for someone whose style is as unique as yours. Your beats will be a certain way, while your beats for Mr. Lif would be more structured. El-P: Well, more traditionally structured. HHC: How difficult is it for you to work with artists who aren’t always on the same page as you are? El-P: I think the key to being a good producer is being able to make music for other people that’s not the same shit you do for yourself. It’s a challenge, and it’s something I’ve learned how to do. If I’m doing something for Lif, I know what Lif wants. Lif wants something much more straightforward, and I’m going to give it to him. Because I’m going to work with him to get the music he wants out of him. Of course, my vision is going to be a part of it, because I’m a producer and because I’m an artist and we’re working together, but of course I’m going to give Lif something different than I’m giving me. To be honest, no one wants what I use for beats [laughs], and I can’t do it for anyone else. It’s kind of hard to explain, but that’s like my blood right there, that’s my DNA. That’s something that I can’t create for anyone else, because I have to be 100 percent involved in the process, as plain as possible. And the thought behind the shit, the way that I do it…I would never subject anyone to that process [laughs]. They’d kill me. They’d murder me. … I have to be able to provide people different things, I have to be able to do different things for different situations. I’ve worked really hard at being able to be versatile. HHC: With the new album, you also have a lot of rock and jazz artists: Mars Volta, Cat Power, Trent Reznor. What made you take that approach? El-P: Put it this way: name one hip-hop record that you’ve ever heard that was comprised of samples from all hip-hop records. All your favorite classic hip-hop records are sampled from rock, jazz, funk, soul, Brazilian music, all different genres. To me, to have the Mars Volta on a section is like finding the Mars Volta in a dusty bin for a dollar when it was recorded in the 60s. So I just look at it as sampling, I just like to weave it in. I’m a hip-hop producer and a student of music, I’ve got thousands and thousands of records of all different types of genres. Shit that fucks my head up is that all these producers out here have the same record collections that I do. More, actually—20,000 records, 30,000 records—all these different records that they have, with all these different genres of music, with all these different structures, different ideas; and they keep coming up with the same wannabe career beats every time. That shit fucks my head up. I’m like, “How are you listening to all this music, and not coming up with some different shit?” So to me, working with other musicians is just natural; it just makes sense to me. If I would’ve found your part on a record, I would have sampled that shit. But now, I don’t have to clear it. HHC: Within the past few years, you’ve really revamped your studio and invested a lot into it. What do you think is the most valuable addition that you’ve made? El-P: Do you want directions to my studio, too, so I can get robbed? What the fuck? I’m a musician, and I put my money into it. I’m not going to go down a list of shit of money and prices. HHC: I didn’t mean price-wise, I meant what’s the most valuable musically. El-P: Ohhhh, my bad. I thought that was a weird question. Now I understand your question, and I’ll answer it. Pro Tools is the most valuable shit, in terms of, it’s the hub. It connects all the other instruments, all the other synthesizers and functions, and everything that I use. It’s where it all comes together, and where the final touches put on it. HHC: It’s 2007. Five years later, would you still rather be mouth-fucked by Nazis unconscious? El-P: [laughs] Yeah, man. Pretty much. HHC: Advance copies of your album had the specific names of their recipients watermarked all over them to help thwart bootlegging. Do you think downloading has downgraded the quality of music? El-P: I’m not one to bitch and complain about shit. To me, it’s just become a part of the culture. To some degree, I can’t blame motherfuckers for it. Kids are used to it now, it’s established. Cats can get ahold of a record before the shit’s on sale. I leave it up to the artist to make a record that is deserving of a kid spending his hard-earned cash. It’s there, so we’ve got to work with it and figure it out. A lot of what motherfuckers are mad about is that they put piece of shit records out, and they can’t trick kids into buying it anymore. They can’t even put one single out and there’s a bunch of hot trash on the album. And a kid is like, “That single’s the shit!” and they run out with their $15, which is too much anyway for something that they can get free, then they buy the album and one single is the only hot song on the record. Basically, kids now, they’re just smarter. They just want to hear the shit and they just want to know they’re not getting scammed. A lot of that scamming is big right now, they’re putting out wack albums. They’re not putting any effort into it, they’re not taking the shit seriously as an art form. … If a motherfucker likes my record, of course, my plea would be that if you really do like it, please buy it. It’s going to be better quality, I’m going to package the shit right, it’s going to look great, and if you come out, you’re going to get all types of shit, and it’ll allow me (to keep making music). It’s a relationship between the fans. All they’re asking us is, “Make some quality shit so that I don’t have to get it for free, listen to your wack mediocre album and toss it into the trash in my computer.” That’s how I look at it. HHC: Any possibility of another Company Flow record? El-P: This year, we’re planning on releasing the 10-year anniversary of Funcrusher Plus on Definitive Jux Records. It’s going to have a DVD of the last show we did in 2000, and we’re talking about doing new songs for that one. I don’t think it’s any type of full-fledged reunion, but we’re definitely talking about getting down on some [records]. But basically, I think that’s going to be the end of it, but you never know what to do.
By: Serge Fleury The art of MC’ing isn’t rocket science, in fact the equation is quite simple: Keep hitting the people with solid material; and they’ll keep you from being tomorrow’s history lesson in their extra credit "Hip-Hop 101" college course. Many have tried, and a lot have failed in the 30+ years of this industry. But for the few that can keep up with the "supply-and-demand" mentality; the reward is well worth it. Especially for an artist that hasn’t had anything handed to them on a silver platter. In 1994, a young and hungry MC by the name of Keith Murray dropped an album called "The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World." The album would go on to sell over 500,000 copies. He then followed up with "Enigma" in 1996 which was fairly successful in its own right, but before he could truly enjoy his new found success; he was sentenced to a 33 month jail term stemming from a bar fight. While in prison, "It’s A Beautiful Thing" was released, and at the same time, a significant drop-off in his album sales were also occurring. After serving his prison term, he parted ways with Jive Records, and headed over to Def Jam Recordings. There, he would join his fellow Def Squadian Redman, as label mates. He soon dropped his fourth installment, "He’s Keith Murray" in 2004; but his situation at the super label deteriorated when he was removed due to an altercation with another employee. Now after a three year hiatus, Mr. Murray AKA, "The Lyrical Lexicon" steps back onto the scene with his latest offering, "Rap-Murr-Phobia (The Fear of Real Hip-Hop)", through Koch Records. So is this independent label really a graveyard? That’s exactly what the compound-word lyricist, lets the world know. That life truly does exists, after the major label deals are gone. CrackSpace.com: So what can we expect from your new album, Rap-Murr-Phobia (The Fear of Real Hip-Hop)? Keith Murray: Real drum-driven tracks. You can expect word play, vocabulary, and you can expect rhythmic flows. Along with verbalization and articulation. You can expect a well-rounded album, not just one or two singles, and the rest of the album his garbage. This is a "Keith Murray" album; featuring Redman, Method Man, Erick Sermon, L.O.D., and Lil Jamal. Is there any particular meaning behind the name you chose for your project? Keith Murray: Yeah, because rap is taking a beating right now; [they're] saying its the creation of society’s woes. A lot of people tried to kick me when I was down. Now I’m up, and this album is a dedication to Hip-Hop. Also for all those who know and love Hip-Hop, and Keith Murray. This album is also about how I do me in this element, and what the people love me for. I’m not trying to appeal to the masses, of those who probably won’t get it in the first place. CrackSpace.com: Do you think "lyricism" is a lost art form in today’s Hip-Hop? Keith Murray: Its forgotten because the people that are involved in Hip-Hop now, don’t know the history of it. But it has its levels, there are still a lot of dudes out there spitting. But it the end, either you perform, or you die. Which one are you going to do? CrackSpace.com: So you’re not worried about your lyricism going over the heads of the average listener? Keith Murray: I take pride in my lyrics going over n***as heads, because the mothaf**ckas that do get it, is going to root for it. I’m a thought-provoking MC, I’ll make you look in the dictionary. That’s my sh*t! I’ll make you be like; "what the f**k did that mean?" I don’t want to be just straight forward that you can total understand everything. I’m from an era where you make people think. CrackSpace.com: So how did you manage to stay focused on music with all your personal troubles and label drama? Keith Murray: I’m used to drama in my life. Both my parents passed away, I’ve been in and out of jail, my friends passed away, and they’ve also been in and out of jail. I’ve been poverty stricken, I’ve dealt with domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse. That’s just life; you take the good with the bad. How you come out of a negative situation, is what counts. CrackSpace.com: Have you took any steps to try and introduce yourself to a younger audience that might not be familiar with your work? Keith Murray: I’m not trying to go out there and stretch myself thin, I’m just dealing with the basics first. If I go out there and make some new fans, then that’s cool. But there’s a lot of mothaf**ckas that already know "Keith Murray." CrackSpace.com: So what’s been one of the major changes for you, by going from the majors to the independent circuit? Keith Murray: Well independent labels don’t have dollars to throw around, they do; but they’re tight with their sh*t. Every dollar counts, you ain’t getting no car service sitting outside for five hours, driving you around the streets, and bullsh**ting your ass off. The budgets and overhead is a lot lower, but you can make your money on the back end. Now Koch is competing with all the majors out there. Now your first week sales won’t be the same as a major label, but that’s when you grind it out and pace yourself. CrackSpace.com: What’s the biggest misconception about Keith Murray? Keith Murray: That I’m not a real nice guy. I never whipped somebody ass that didn’t deserve it. I’m a communicator; and I’m not just going out there, and not caring about people’s needs. I really do care. CrackSpace.com: Your last album was released back in 2003. Was it hard to get back in the studio and a make a full length album after a four year lay off? Keith Murray: I didn’t even listen to that f**cking album. It wasn’t hard at all, I [know] I’m nice. I [know] I got what it takes. Its just the fact that I had to go sit down and find the right words; and that’s just what I did. CrackSpace.com: So basically during that time period, what were you doing? Were you still making music? Keith Murray: I did a mixtape called "Kicking Ass pt. 1", and then I came back with "Intellectual Violence." I’d just press up like a 1,000 copies and give them away. I didn’t try to sell any of them. Keith Murray: It didn’t even feel like three winters to me. Damn; three winters went by that fast? CrackSpace.com: [laughter] Yeah, three winters sure did go by that fast. It was back in 2003 when you came out with "He’s Keith Murray", back on Def Jam. But now you’re back in the game, and we’re happy you have you. Keith Murray: Yeah, thanks man. I just had to come back in the game right way.
By: HipHop Journalist Leaving his home city of Toronto wasn’t that big a deal to producer Marco Polo. He knew he was migrating south to better himself and by doing so would be flying the Maple Leaf high as soon as he got himself settled. With his Port Authority album getting the nod from many of the mainstream magazines; that maple leaf is already up in the air. Yet this Italian from north of the border is only just beginning his attack on music. Marco Polo may be the new kid on the block to many but for purveyors of real Hip-Hop he can be seen as a welcomed salvation. HHC: How long have you been in New York? Marco Polo: Almost five years now. HHC: Good move? Marco Polo: One of the best I have made. HHC: Toronto has a great Hip-Hop scene though doesn’t it? Marco Polo: Yeah it has some dope talent and it is so big that you just reach a point where you can’t go any further. So rather than reaching a point where you set up shop there I wanted to start a fresh in New York. HHC: No regrets? Marco Polo: Definitely not, as that is the whole reason why I am where I am now. You have to hustle here. HHC: Were there any major obstacles in your way making that move? Marco Polo: At first it was overwhelming, just the city being so big and so crazy; everything moves so fast. There are a lot of obstacles and there are a lot of people trying to do music. It is really saturated with people trying to get on, especially producers. You have to be really good at what you do and your hustle has to be good and make sure you separate yourself from everyone else. One of the obstacles I had at first was that I worked at The Cutting Room and a lot of cats just looked at me as an engineer or as someone who managed the studio and not a producer and that is one of the reasons I left the cutting room to try and focus on being a producer. HHC: Had you done a lot of networking in NY before you arrived here? Marco Polo: I did more in the sense of trying to get a job at a studio, not trying to shop my beats. It helps to know some people and I did know a few people when I got here. I had a place to stay, so I didn’t have to worry about the expensive rents. HHC: Were you musically inclined from a young age? Marco Polo: My Pops used to play all types of music in the house growing up; before I even thought about producing I was around a lot of good music. From Stevie Wonder to Donny Hathaway, to the Beatles to Steely Dan, so my Dad was open minded with what he listened to. I also played drums in High School for the band and when I left High School I just wanted to do as there was nothing else I wanted to do. I just decided to make a career of it. HHC: So I can’t ask you the generic question that so many people ask ‘if you weren’t doing this what would you be doing’ then? [Laughs] Marco Polo: [Laughing] No I would be doing nothing; I would be broke. I would be in the corner. HHC: With you doing a stint at engineering, do you think that aids the production process; does it make you a better producer? Marco Polo: I am not sure if it makes you a better producer, it doe help. It can go both ways. Sometimes knowing too much about the technical process can affect the music in a bad way; if you know how to make it work for you it can definitely help. A lot of the producers that are successful on the underground, like Mad Lib and especially J Dilla, a lot of their stuff sounds raw and unpolished. Because of that, that is what makes it so dope. So if you get caught up in the technical aspect of engineering and you put that in your production, its just Hip-Hop is not supposed to sound so pretty at times. We are in the era of keyboard beats and to me that is not Hip-Hop. That is not the way it sounded when I was growing up and it all depends on how you use that knowledge, so it can be good and bad. HHC: You said with your Port Authority album that you ‘were taking it back to what you grew up listening to.’ Marco Polo: Definitely. A lot of people call my album a throw back album.. HHC: Does that bother you hearing that? Marco Polo: Personally it is a little as I am making music that I think is relevant and good now, not ten years ago; it is timeless. A lot of people don’t say it in a disrespectful way; they are saying it in a comparison as a lot of people that I worked with were popular in the 90’s. But to me I think that the artists that I worked with are just as talented now as they were back then and we connected and made some good music. It wasn’t an ode to 1990’s Hip-Hop. HHC: Do you think we are stuck in a place where people can’t understand true Hip-Hop moving forward? Marco Polo: Unfortunately it is like that. A lot of the kids growing up now, it’s not their fault as they are not even exposed to it. The media will only play a certain thing and I am not saying that that [one thing] is not a part of Hip-Hop, it is just a ‘part’ of Hip-Hop; there is a whole other world that should be getting love. HHC: Shopping videos can be really hard when you are not in the ‘vein’ of everything else out there this has to be frustrating? Marco Polo: It is and that is the whole point of getting an outlet. HHC: So knowing the major channels will more than likely shut you down, not because your video is wack BUT because it doesn’t follow the same path as what they air right now, what other ways can you channel your video? Marco Polo: I mean the internet right now. I would rather it be TV but you have to take what you can get. With the whole emergence of Youtube and sites like that you can get a lot of people watching your videos through those. HHC: We have seen a few producer albums coming out this year; Swizz, Timbaland, Alchemist solely produced Prodigy’s album. Do you see this as being just another way of showing how relevant producers are now? Marco Polo: That is an interesting question. I feel like producers have taken the forefront over the artists today and I personally don’t really like that. I like the love and the respect that people give producers these days but I think producers should be in the background and the artist is the face of it and it is as if it has happened naturally that producers are more of the stars and I don’t know how that happened. I definitely took on the artists’ role with this album by putting myself out there, but I would love to see it go back to the MC being the true star and the producers just handle the music. HHC: Do you think producers have come to the forefront because lyricists are so bad? Or is it because this is just how Hip-Hop is today? Marco Polo: I mean it is probably a combination of all those things. You know we see guys like Pharrell and Timbaland, they are maybe more exciting to people nowadays than the actual artists are. They are getting full album deals and label deals, man I don’t know; I don’t really have the answer to that question. I know Hip-Hop is wounded right now; I wouldn’t say it is dead by any means. I wouldn’t say it could die but it is going through a transition period and maybe it has to explode before it gets back to normal. I just try to put all the negativity that people feel towards Hip-Hop into making the best stuff I can. HHC: Was the Port Authority on 42nd and 8th the inspiration for your album title? Marco Polo: Yes as it all ties in with the Marco Polo, the traveler. When I was coming up to New York on the bus I ended up in Port Authority and here is this kid coming from out of town, up to New York to make it. I felt that it defined the last three years of my life, the move from Toronto, trying to make it in New York and then trying to make this album. Marco Polo was a historical character who traveled and he was a force to be reckoned with when he went and discovered places. To me it all made sense, but more so me traveling to New York and ending up at that location. You know how grimey that location is, that corner of Times Square is still a little shaky, you know it is a little ‘street’ and that defines the whole of my album. I am bringing that East Coast/New York Hip-Hop. HHC: The album came out on Soul Spazm/Rawkus, is that your label? Marco Polo: Well that is who I am signed to directly, but it is a joint venture with Rawkus Records, so it is a Rawkus release. HHC: You have worked with the crème de la crème of the underground; Rawkus is known for housing such artists. Did you see yourself situated there before you got that deal? Marco Polo: You know what when I started to work on this album a couple of years ago, I would never have expected to be on Rawkus. I just thought they were done, I didn’t realize they were still trying to do the label thing. Then as they emerged, to be honest, it wasn’t on my list, but it happened and it happened naturally because Soul Spazm and their relationship with Rawkus, it came to be. I definitely think now, looking at the type of album I made, it fits with the Rawkus brand and what you have come to expect from them. HHC: Are you happy with the way your album has been received? Marco Polo: I am. The printed press has been amazing, XXL gave it an XL which is amazing and I think I am the first Canadian ever to get an XL. HHC: In New York has it been hard for you to achieve credibility as a producer being that you are Canadian? Marco Polo: It depends on what you define credibility or success on. In the underground or the independent scene, I think I get a lot of props and respect from my peers. Trying to move into the majors and work with the 50 Cents has been a little more difficult. I haven’t really pursued it to be honest as I have just been in my own zone. You know maybe this year will present more opportunities. But I feel as if I have done my thing in the independent circle over time, it took a minute to get there but when you start working with a lot of people and you get those co-signs, it starts helping your reputation. HHC: So you not averse to moving over to the majors? Marco Polo: No I am not against it and I would like to work with those dudes, I would love to get those checks as straight up it pays more than what I do, working with underground artists, not because they have the money. But the independent label game just isn’t that big and we all have to eat. I would definitely say I am in no rush and it doesn’t affect how I make music and I don’t feel like I have to change my style to get into that world. I think it will just happen naturally. HHC: Do you always see yourself producing Hip-Hop? Marco Polo: Not really as I am capable of producing anything if I want to. It is just that is my specialty right now. Good music is good music.
By: Starrene Rhett Tony “Tum Tum” Richardson may still carry his childhood nickname given by his grandmother, but don’t let the name fool you. The Dallas, Texas native has released his album Eat or Get Ate, the effort that has gotten him attention from eyes an ears beyond Dallas. The album’s anthem, “Caprice Muzik,” has cast him into the big leagues and he’s ready to put Dallas on the map. When people think of Texas in relation to Hip-Hop, they think of Houston. However, Tum Tum wants everyone to know that beyond the signature chopped and screwed sound that Houston has made so popular, the Dallas sound is also a force that he’s about to unleash. Hiphopcrack: Tum Tum is a childhood nickname that you got from your grandmother, right? Tum Tum: Yeah. Hiphopcrack: Why did you decide to hold on to the name, as you got older? TT: Cuz that’s my name…my grandparents spot was where everybody gathered and stuff and she would come in the room and call me Tum Tum and all my homeboys started laughing at me but I don’t care so I just kept rolling with it like that. Hiphopcrack: Besides your name, what do you bring to the game that’s different? TT: Right now, I just feel like it’s a little watered down. People ain’t putting out complete albums, they’re just worried about the single. Me, I put no thought on the single and work hard on the other parts of the album, making sure it sounds legit where people ain’t gotta skip through. I’m still the same at the end of the day too. Every Tuesday I go to Best Buy and pick up CDs and I’ve been let down a whole lot lately [laughing]. Hiphopcrack: [laughing] I understand… TT: So that was the main point, just putting out a complete point that everybody can everybody can jam from one to 19. I put 19 jams on there. Hiphopcrack: You started out on the mixtape circuit so how important is that to what you do? TT: The mixtape circuit in Hip-Hop is real, real important because labels be more concerned about other things besides Hip-Hop so we gotta keep the streets there and do the mixtapes — do the verses – that’s why I do it, because I know the labels gotta wait until singles got this many this, this doing that, and the set up is just right…fans ain’t really worried about all that, they want to hear something new, so that’s why I do a lot of mixtapes. Hiphopcrack: You didn’t really take rapping seriously until you witnessed the Hard Knock Life Tour. What about that tour, or what about Jay-Z or any other artist on that tour got your attention to where you wanted to do this for real? TT: I was always with Jay-Z but to go somewhere and see 45,000 people with the same opinion that I got and everybody was screaming for him…that right there just made me be like, “Man, I want to do that.” But being from where you from and reaching other areas like, everybody is like, “Them dudes from Dallas,” I just wanted to show everybody what Dallas was like without them coming here — like what Dre and them did with LA, or even Nelly with St. Louis. Hiphopcrack: You mentioned being a Jay fan so being that you’re from Texas, how was it when Jay-Z teamed up with UGK for “Big Pimpin?” TT: Them the homies right there [UGK]. That really solidified Jay down here. When I was in school, I’d be like Jay is dope but a lot of cats was like, “Nah, man, he ain’t all that,” but when he got Pimp (Pimp C) and all of them on the record, it made people down here pay attention to him. Hiphopcrack: I can imagine that you’re inspired by UGK as well. Is that the case? TT: Oh yeah, them dudes cool. I like Pimp, not even his music…I like him because he’s a real dude. He say whatever the f – - k he wants to say, and tell it like it is. That’s why I like Pimp. Them dudes are OGs, they tell us what’s good, what’s going on and they really look out for us by telling us the labels are gonna do this or aint gonna do that, do it yourself so yeah, them the big homies. Hiphopcrack: Who are some of the other people you look up to in the rap game? TT: The industry game…I’m cool with Slim [Slim Thug], that’s my motherf – - king dude, Paul Wall, that’s my pahtna, E-40, that’s my dude, Shop Boyz, them my dudes [laughs]…I mess with a whole lot of people, my homeboy Trae, that’s my dude right there too. I got a lot of homeboys in there. Hiphopcrack: Being that you’re just starting to get your name out there, beyond Texas, how do you plan to solidify your place in the game? TT: I’m just gonna let my actions speak louder than words. I got videos coming out. I got two movies that I’m paying for out my own pocket…just to get the buzz to keep going. I got mixtapes still coming out, so I just want to solidify my place in the game as that dude that put Dallas on the map, made them see what Dallas is like. Hiphopcrack: So you have two movies coming out, are they documentaries about you as an artist? TT: Yeah it’s like a documentary. We’re showing everybody where I live, the clothes I got, how I get down, a couple of shows, me in the studio, me and my homeboys, and me on the road shutting down these shows. Hiphopcrack: Texas has been on the map for a while, but what is it about artists that come out of Texas or the Texas sound that makes it have such a stronghold on the game right now? TT: I guess it’s just time for some new cats to come through and do something different. If you listen, everybody got a little screw in somewhere…everybody just needs a new sound. To tell you the truth, that’s why I think my homeboys, Shop Boyz are doing what they do. It’s different. Hiphopcrack: Let’s talk about your album, Eat or Get Ate. What can people expect? TT: A real different sound. If you heard my single, “Caprice Muzik,” I know it don’t sound like no other beat or what no other rappers have right now, so they can just expect a lot of left field from me. I’m just doing something different because I’m even tired of hearing the same ol’ crap on the radio. Hiphopcrack: What producers do you have on your album, and what artists did you work with? TT: I worked with Jim Jones, my homeboy Trae from Texas – them the only two features I got on there. Production, that’s what I like. I got PIT, the one who did that “Party Like a Rockstar” I got Play N Skillz on there, they did “Ridin’ Dirty” for Chamillionaire, I got Scott Storch and I got a lot of Dallas producers on there as well. Hiphopcrack: You worked with Jim Jones. What was it like getting Harlem and Dallas together on a track? TT: I think we got the same swagger. A lot of people say that I act like I’m from New York. They say I’m a little bit too straightforward and cocky like New York niggas but that sonng — me working with Jimmy — that song came out real dope. Hiphopcrack: Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work with? TT: I want to work with 50 Cent. Hiphopcrack: You put that out there now so who knows, it might happen. TT: Yeah. Hiphopcrack: Where do you see yourself in the next five years? TT: Doing it big! I want the city [Dallas] to be known in five years as one of the next Hip-Hop meccas like Houston was, like Atlanta was, New York was, the West Coast…you know what I’m sayin? Like that… Hiphopcrack: Your goal is to put Dallas on the map but is there a difference in sound between Dallas and Houston? TT: Oh yeah, you can ask anybody that. Their stuff is a little bit more slowed down, more chopped and screwed and ours is a little bit more amped up than them. They like their stuff super slow and everybody just be chillin. With Dallas, it gotta be amped up and everybody going crazy Hiphopcrack: Any last words? TT: Just check out my Crackspace page: ihiphop.com/tumtum.
By: Starrene Rhett Mario captured hearts, young and old, as the cute 16-year-old kid crooning, “you got what I need” and ever since then, we all noticed. Now, four years older, with more facial hair, and double the sex appeal, he’s back and ready to release his third album, Go, in August. Having made his acting debut in Freedom Writers, and ready to capture more hearts with his more evolved, mature sound, his star is just beginning to rise. It seems as though things are starting to fall into place and he’s got his on take on why we love him. Hiphopcrack: Your new album, Go is coming out this summer. What can people expect? Mario: I got a lot of different producers that I worked with on the project. A lot of the album is definitely more aggressive than my last album – more up-tempo records on this album, but the slow records that I do have feel like up-tempo records so when you’re listening to them, you’re not being bored or drowned out by slow music or whatever…the first single is called “How Do I Breathe.” It’s a mid-tempo record, but I’d say it’s an intro type of record because it’s not like anything else on the album. It only grows from there. Hiphopcrack: Did you work with Ne-Yo on this album? Mario: I did. I worked with Ne-Yo on a song called “What’s it Gonna Be” on this project. We’re still panning out songs on what we’re going to keep and what we’re not going to keep so this song may or may not make it but as of right now it’s on my album and it’s called “What is it Gonna Be.” It’s a lot different from “Let me Love You.” It’s a more up-tempo record and it has a harder beat. He’s a very versatile writer so when we get together we always do something different. We did about three records but only one is making it. Hiphopcrack: What other producers do you have on there? Mario: Scott Storch, Dre and Vidal, Pharell, Timbaland, Nightridaz, which is my production company, we got three joints on my album; Akon and the Stargate — who have the first single. Hiphopcrack: How old are you if you don’t mind me asking? Mario: I’m 20. Hiphopcrack: Ok, you’re 20 now. How does it feel to have matured from being a teen singer to an adult? Mario: Some people still look at me like the little Mario until they meet me and they talk to me and realize that I have grown and there’s a difference. But for me, it’s natural. I don’t realize how young I am until somebody says, “Oh, he’s only 20.” I’m doing my thing; I have a lot of responsibilities so I don’t feel like that young Mario anymore – personal and business, so it’s been natural growth for me. Hiphopcrack: Speaking of growth, don’t you have a beard now? Mario: [laughs] Sometimes I keep it on, sometimes I cut it off but as of right now, I got it off. Hiphopcrack: How does the new album reflect your growth from when you first came out? Mario: Wow…vocally, it does just what I’m talking about — The conviction, how I’m saying it, the swagger on the record – I would definitely say the look of the album, when you see the pictures, there’s a lot of growth there and confidence. I think all of that has to do with the other. So that’s definitely what I’m talking about; the songs and how I express them on the album…how they feel more than anything. It feels more mature, it feels sexier, it feels more confident. Hiphopcrack: We know that in the industry that women feel a certain pressure to be thin or to look a certain way but I’ve noticed lately with other singers in the game that it’s been more about being able to dance and poplocking, but you’re more of a hardcore singer, so do you ever feel pressure to be up on stage dancing more than anything? Mario: I do, but it has to be controlled. When it comes to choreography, that’s when we get ready for it and I do it, but I was a singer first. I was a singer before I was a dancer. When I go to the club, I definitely dance but I feel the pressure. I don’t feel like when you listen to my music, that’s what you see or hear, I feel like I can do it if I want to but I don’t have to. But of course when you do a show, you have to add the dancing and the choreography but that’s not what makes me. Hiphopcrack: So, what does make you unique from the other dudes out there? Mario: I think it has a lot to do with the songs and the concept of the record. Hiphopcrack: Do you also write? Mario: Yep. I wrote four songs on this album. Hiphopcrack: Cool. How did you come up with the track “How Do I Breathe,” you mentioned it a little bit earlier? Mario: “How do I Breathe” came about with me and Stargate, producers from over seas who are here now. They work with pretty much everybody now. When you hear the record, it feels sort of like “Let Me Love You,” but I’d definitely say it’s more mature and the conviction is different. The track is a little more up beat and it’s fresher. When we did the record it was pretty much just me, being in my vulnerable state talking about a situation where…I had a girl at the time and we were going in between being together and out of a relationship and so on so it was like “”How can I breathe without you by my side?” “How can I see when your love brought me to the light?” It’ one of them vulnerable joints but other songs on the album are more aggressive like “Go.” It’s definitely an aggressive club joint where I’m talking to a girl about taking her home. There are definitely different personalities on this album. Hiphopcrack: So what’s your situation like with the ladies right now? Mario: It’s lovely [laughs]. I’m meeting a lot of different young ladies – Hiphopcrack: Young and old, I bet. Mario: [laughs] Both. It’s interesting. It’s really cool, man, It’s fun, but at the same time, it’s more about working right now, I’m very busy right now it’s very hard to meet one person when I’m going around meeting all these different people. I gotta keep my options open. Hiphopcrack: Speaking of you being busy, you’ve transitioned into being an actor, so do you have any new acting projects on the horizon or is it just about music right now? Mario: Actually, the DVD for “Freedom Writers” is out but I’m reading a lot of different scripts right now. A lot of different scripts are in the works. We have about 5 different scripts that I’m reading for, however, I don’t know what’s gonna come out of that so right now, I’m just looking to shoot my next film after the summer and see what comes out of it. Hiphopcrack: Would you say you’re more passionate about music? Mario: Absolutely. Hiphopcrack: Speaking of your passion, for music, what do you expect your impact to be as an artist as far as your singing and your style – Mario: Setting the bar, bringing out classic music. I think artists have been doing that but we’ve just been pushing a little further, and we’re going to set the bar and create my lane. Hiphopcrack: That was my last question but do you have anything you want to add? Mario: The album comes out in August. The first single is called “How Do I Breathe,” it’s hittin’ your radio stations right now so you can call and request it. It’s about to go down.
iHipHop Blog Team