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.
Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
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.
By: Starrene Rhett Baby Boy Da Prince says he is the Prince of the City — New Orleans, that is. His career began at age 16, opening up for No Limit Records recording artist Choppa and it took off from there. In 2003, his hit single, “The Way I Live,” became a hit in New Orleans. He then went on to tour with Juvenile, 50 Cent, Paul Wall and more. Then came Hurricane Katrina. It blew his high for a little while but definitely didn’t keep him down. He wrote his latest album, Across the Water, while living in a FEMA trailer but now that’s all behind him. His family is well and back together, and he’s back in business, in control and in demand. According to Da Prince, it only gets better. Hiphopcrack: I was reading that you won Best Rap and Hip-Hop artist at the 19h Annual Big Easy Entertainment Awards, so for people who may not be familiar with that, can you explain what it is and how big of a deal it is to win? Baby Boy: I got that title because I’m the official person through all this, ya heard me? I got that music that’ll make you [sings in gibberish] longatongtongthong…ya heard me? Hiphopcrack: [laughs] What is that award show though? Does it come on TV? Baby Boy: It’s something they do every year in New Orleans ya heard me? Ya Dig? And I won the best rap and Hip-Hop artist this year, ya dig? Best rap artist in New Orleans, ya dig? Over Lil’ Boosie and over Lil’ Wayne, ya heard me? Hiphopcrack: That’s pretty big. Do you consider yourself a new jack or have you been in the game for a while but it’s just that people are just now starting to recognize you? BB: People started recognizing me when I did my first song, ya heard me? And it was just hot man, and they started backing me once I started making mire music. Hiphopcrack: You suffered some major losses after Katrina, did that inspire you to pursue your music? BB: Yeah, it inspired me because life is more than just materialistic things too ya heard me? I had to just saddle up and say, “Come on Sally, let’s ride this horse until the wheels fall off and the horse shoes go blaow!” Hiphopcrack: How’s your family doing after that and how are you holding up? BB: My family coolin’ coolin’ retarded droolin’ right now. We sat it out throughout the year [being split up] and now we back together like birds of a feather ya heard me? Hiphopcrack: What’s the situation like in New Orleans right now? BB: The situation in New Orleans right now is everybody came back home, which is a beautiful thing, ya heard me? Hiphopcrack: Are you helping to rebuild your hometown? BB: Anything New Orleans ask me help to do for the city I’ll do it, ya heard me? Hiphopcrack: Let’s talk about your album, Across the Water. It’s out in stores right? BB: It’s in stores everywhere! You gotta go get it! You gotta go get it! Hiphopcrack: What can people expect from it? BB: I want people to expect the unexpected from it because it’s about different stuff. I’m talking about more than one subject. Hiphopcrack: Is a lot of the subject matter about what you went through with Katrina? BB: I ain’t said nothing about Katrina because I was actually in Katrina so I ain’t gonna speak on that. My body was actually swimming in those waters so I aint really talk about Katrina. Hiphopcrack: I feel you. Who did you work with on the album in terms of producers and rappers? BB: Mannie Fresh produced a track, I worked with Nina Sky, and Lil’ Boosie. Hiphopcrack: How long have you been raping? BB: I’ve been rapping for the last 8 years. Hiphopcrack: You started when you were 16, huh? Didn’t you perform with Master P? BB: My pahtna Choppa, he was with Master P and I was his hypeman. Hiphopcrack: Who are some of your musical influences? BB: Mystikal Hiphopcrack: How are you helping to keep New Orleans on the map? BB: I rep it everywhere I go. Hiphopcrack: What makes New Orleans so unique in terms of the Hip-Hop scene? BB: Because we got all styles, ya heard me? Hiphopcrak: You got any projects coming up other than your album? BB: Yea, my mixtape is about to come out with DJ Smog. Hiphopcrack: I see that you performed on Nick Cannon’s Wildin’ Out. That was just music but do you see yourself up there in a sketch one day or acting? BB: Yea, I see acting. I see all kind of stuff, ya heard me? I’m just tryna get into everything. Anything I can do, we can make it official toilet tissue and I can wipe my ass with cash and be the first to blast but don’t pass gas if you fart I will not smell it beebie (in New Orleans drawl). Hiphopcrack: How do you plan to solidify your place in the game right now? BB: I’m the Prince, and the reason why I know I’m here to stay is ‘cuz I’ma keep coming with fire singles ya heard me? Hiphopcrack: That was basically it but do you have any last words? BB: Last Words…go get the album, it’s in stores right now. Hit me up on myspace.com/babyboy and babyboydaprince.com. NICE TO MEET YOU STARRENE!!!
By Kevin L. Clark The R&B scene has experienced a resurgence it cultivating original material as of lately. Not necessarily gone are the rap-R&B hybrid tracks, but the artist – both young and veteran – are settling for that good ole soulful sound. One in particular is singer-songwriter, Joe. The Georgia born crooner was raised under the watchful eye of two preacher parents. But as the former Gospel singer turned R&B heartthrob, Joe became a chart topping success. With songs like “The Love Scene,” “Don’t Wanna Be A Playa,” and “I Wanna Know,” Joe Louis Thomas became a household name. Even though the saying is, “What goes up, must come down,” the proverbial powerhouse grinds hard through low sales to drop the aptly titled Ain’t Nothin’ Like Me (Sony/Jive). Joe continues to make the ladies swoon and Crackspace sits down with him as he talks about his worst relationship ever, the new album and what he would if he was the true man for another woman. HHC: The response about the new album has been really good. Do you that people are still receptive to good R&B? Joe: Yeah, I hope that that’s what that means. I definitely like to look at it that way. It’s a lot of hard work. Especially when you got hip-hop doing so incredibly and you have all the young people doing the Michael Jackson thing… HHC: Michael Jackson thing? Joe: You know everyone is back to singing and dancing. But I’m not hating, I think that it’s cool to see people doing that. HHC: For a long time, it seemed that people were only going to be fed that hybrid of rap infused R&B tracks. Are the male R&B singers ushering in a renaissance of great R&B songs? Joe: Yeah, if you want to put me in that category, then yeah. I’m trying to be one of those guys that is coming out and making great songs. I’m trying to represent a whole different kind of thing. It [my music] grabs the old school, it holds the young school. It crushes all boundaries. HHC: You’ve always had a way with the ladies in your songs. Has you ever not been able to swoon a lady? Joe: [Laughs] Yeah. The one’s that’s already taken, I can’t get them. HHC: “If I Was Your Man” is a track that hits me close to home. If a woman was to already have a man, but you know in your heart of hearts that that’s the one you’re supposed to be with – what do you do? Joe: [Laughs] Ah, man, I’m going to have to talk to her. I got to try to make her see the light! She needs to leave the dude [laughs]. I’m just kidding… I don’t know what I would do. That’s crazy. I don’t know if I would pursue it, but if it was meant to be it’ll come to me. We, as men, always got to look at it like a tables turning type of thing. If I was really happy with this girl and another guy came in that’d mess up your whole life. Where’d you come up with such a crazy question like that? HHC: [Laughs] It is something personal… But if “Love Is Just A Game” – what sport would you compare love to? Joe: It would have to be something somewhat competitive. It would probably be something like basketball or tennis. HHC: What was your worst relationship that you’ve ever been in? Joe: Let’s see… I was in one for a long time where I lost everything I had. That was a long time ago. I just walked away from it. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just because I was young dude and I felt like I had to move on. HHC: My Name Is Joe was your highest selling project to date, right? Joe: Yeah, it was… HHC: How do you think your fans have grown while listening to your music? Joe: I think they’ve seen me go through the up and down thing as far as record sales go. The true fans never really looked at the decreasing sales. They just see me continue to move forward with my career. That would be a disappointing thing to watch the charts while your career is going up and down. I try not to focus on Billboard or any of the number charts. That could be a let down for you. One album could do well, one could do great and one could do horrible. HHC: If you could create the perfect love scene for a lady that you care about – what would it be? Joe: The perfect love scene… To me that’s really, hmm… There’s a few ways that you could do that. That love scene would start off in the Jacuzzi; you know that bubble bath type of thing. I’d light the whole room up with candles. I’d probably serve some white wine or that red wine and pour it for her. I’ve probably jump the gun and got right to romantic part. [Laughs] I didn’t do any type of set-up… HHC: The new album is high on the charts and you really felt confident about this album going in. What has changed in your life that has influenced some of the material that you’re coming out with on this album? Joe: I wouldn’t say that a whole lot has changed. I was in a relationship during a 3-4 year period and it dissolved on the part to where I was more hurt in the end than she was. I kind of wrote through all of that right there. That was a big focus in the back of my mind. That experience semi-affected my writing and the songs that was on my mind. The last song on the record was really autobiographical about my relationship. HHC: When it’s all said and done – what do you want your fans to know about Joe? Joe: That’s a good ass question, Kev. What would I want them to know that they don’t know about me? Hmm, let’s see… I don’t know if I have an answer for that. I try to stay focused; I live my life as an open book. I want people to know that the person who I am looks at the end picture. I look at myself living really well; not just in the sense of good with my own finances. I want to make a way out for a lot of people. I want to be the next Barack Obama in this joint. Ultimately, I want to change the world in some kind of way. If I can do that through music, then that’s how I can do it.
By: Starrene Rhett A-Plus is at the top of his game. As a seasoned vet with experience in the Hieroglyphics and Souls of Mischief crews, he has now stepped out on his own after more than 10 years in the game. He has grown up, matured, and as a solo artist and business man, he shows off his skills as Producer/Rapper/CEO-Extraordinaire, with his latest endeavor, My Last Good Deed (Hiero Imperium Records). Although major label deals are a thing of the past for A-Plus, he says he’s just fine. Being independent works for him, and that’s what he’s sticking to. With alternative methods of promoting him self and an already loyal fan base, he’s not worried about sinking in the ever-changing Hip-Hop tide. However, he does have a bone to pick with people who illegally download music, as well as some great advice for other veterans trying to get back in the game. Check him out… Hiphopcrack: Don’t hate me for this but do people ever confuse you with A Plus from Hempstead (NY)? A-Plus: Every now and then somebody confuses me with him [laughs]. Hiphopcrack: Why did it take so long for your first solo album to come out? A-Plus: Because I wasn’t really focused on making the solo album. I’m a part of Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics so I put most of my energy into making making the Hiero albums and stuff. And, I hadn’t really thought about making a solo album until Tajai made one and then Opio said he was trying to work on one, so I figured it was time for me to work on one as well. Hiphopcrack: The title of your album, “My Last Good Deed,” was inspired by a conversation you had with your dad. Can you elaborate on that? A-Plus: We were just talking; we talk all the time. My dad was giving advice and we were just talking about random stuff like work and relationships, and I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about specifically because that was a while ago, but I remember his answer to me on something included the phrase, “make that your last good deed,” and I thought that was dope. So, I was like, yeah, I’m going to call my album that. Hiphopcrack: What can people expect from the album. Did you deviate from your sound with Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics? A-Plus: I wouldn’t say I deviate, really. One thing about Hieroglyphics is that from album to album, none of them really sounded like the last album but they had a sound that was kind of…it’s our sound basically. After hella years, there’s kind of a way to tell our music. And I didn’t deviate from the normal way I make music. The difference is, I didn’t work with anybody but myself on the album, so it was all my decision making as far as the beats and the subject matter and the topics. I do a lot of production for Hiero anyway, so it’s still going to be familiar to anybody who’s familiar with Hiero. Hiphopcrack: Being that you have your own record label and you’re an artist — not just a normal artist, but one who raps and produces how is it balancing being a business man and an artist? A-Plus: It used to be kind of difficult when we first started the record label about 10 years ago, but I got used to it over the years. It’s my regular job now, to be able to do all that stuff. I have to admit it took some getting used to in the beginning, but I’ve acclimated well to the situation. I can take care of all my responsibilities without much of a problem. Hiphopcrack: What are some of the benefits of running your own operation? A-Plus: The first two benefits, the classic benefits are obviously being in control — creative control and monetary control [of more money] — those are the two best things; to be able to control everything creatively and to make a good living and be in control of myself as opposed to waiting on somebody’s opinion, and letting them see how much I work and taking my check. Everything is up to me and it’s a good feeling. I’m not having my life in anybody else’s hands; especially from some record company with some cat that doesn’t really care what happens but just wants me to make some pop music so that I can make him rich, so his child can have a limo on his way to grade school, f – - k that. Hiphopcrack: Where’s your place in the industry as a veteran with the direction of Hip-Hop being so different now, and the sound so different? How do you make yourself still relevant? A-Plus: It would be a lot harder than it is if we hadn’t established a fan base before we left the major labels. But, with that fan base, we’re able to survive regardless of what’s going on in the Hip-Hop culture. What’s going on now, like with top 40 R & B or you know…I don’t really have a problem with any other forms of Hip-Hop but if we had to rely on visual exposure from the Hip-Hop TV shows and channels like MTV and VH1, then we wouldn’t be around at all because it costs bread to do that, and they’re only looking for a certain sound. It’s like a part of the whole system of media and radio and TV. That’s why it takes a billion dollar company to get an artist some airplay. If we had to rely on that, then we probably wouldn’t be around, but either way, it doesn’t matter to me; it’s a good thing if I do get on TV but it doesn’t matter because my fans ain’t checkin’ for me on TV… Hiphopcrack: …You’ve been doing a lot of touring anyway, right? A-Plus: Yep; touring and we were the first group with a Hip-Hop website back in ’95 with the dot com explosion. That kind of helped us once we were fresh out of our deals with majors, and alternative forms of promoting ourselves kind of kept us in the game. Our fans are there regardless of whether we’re getting exposure or not. That’s why, if somebody only relies on Hip-Hop magazines and the radio to know what’s going on in Hip-Hop, they might ask what have I been doing for the last 10 years, because they might not have any clue. But I’m probably selling more records than your favorite dude and making more money off of it too, but I wouldn’t wanna say nothing like that [laughs]. Hiphopcrack: This is an obvious question, but how is it different with the creative process working solo as opposed to working with a collective? A-Plus: I had to get into the process because I’ve had a group mentality ever since the beginning. With the first Souls album, I was always doing a lot and relying on other people’s ideas to see what we’re doing, that was the only difference with my album. First of all, I wasn’t used to rapping that much, I usually would spit no more than a 16 on a song when it was my part. But this time, I got to do a lot more rapping and I was the rapper in the studio by myself a lot. It’s not the same as building with the other souls, making something, so I kind of had to get used to the idea of “this is your shit.” But I used to talk to my friends because I have group mentality bad and I leaned on my family and friends for advice to get out of that but once I got into the process, it was easy. Hiphopcrack: If you had to chose between production and rapping, you only get one, which one would you chose and why? A-Plus: Production. After these years have gone by, I enjoy the process of production. It’s almost therapy for me. When I sit in my little studio room, I could do it all night. I don’t need anybody there. It’s just fun to hear something that you created. Even though I started rapping first, I kind of [really] got into production. I enjoy it a lot more. Also, it’s timeless and faceless. I can be a producer forever. If you’re an emcee, there are certain times when visually, you might have to let it go; like, you might be too old to move around stage with as much vibrancy as before — not to say that an older emcee can’t do that, I’m just saying there are some things that you have to start thinking about, and also, I’ma keep it real, if you start looking old, people start calling you old. Luckily, we got in the game real early and, even for how old we are, people always say we look younger. That’s just because we’re fortunate, but you see some rappers start getting a fat neck. They’re eating all good and pushing on 40; that ain’t really appealing to a young dude, he’ll say, “That’s an old rapper, I bet he doing some old school shit,” but that’s not going to happen with you in production. People don’t have to know what you look like. You don’t have to be out in the spotlight but you still get paid and still develop notoriety. Hiphopcrack: Here’s a random question for you: What was the last good deed you did? A-Plus: Let me think…that’s a strange question…the last good deed I did was leaving my neighbor my keys because she was moving out and she might not have been able to fit everything into her new apartment, and she needed more time to figure out what she was going to do with the stuff, and she didn’t seem to have it (time), so I left my keys and made some space in the living room and said, “You can put stuff here until you figure it out , by that time, I’ll be home and I can help you figure it out. That way you don’t lose anything.” I thought that was pretty nice. She was pretty foine too. Hiphopcrack: What advice would you give to another person who has been in the industry for a while, but might be trying to figure out how they’re going to get back in? A-Plus: I would tell them first and foremost, they need to have a lot of material and they can’t make material at the old school pace these new kids out here are making music fast. Anybody can make stuff if you got a digital recorder and a microphone. If someone who is garbage as sh – t, is putting out a mixtape every two weeks, and you’re putting out one or taking two years to finish your album and can make one mixtape every three months, then you’re probably not going to get the shine you’re looking for. I would also say be prolific as you possibly can and make sure you have more stuff, and that you’re not dated because none of the new kids are going to check for you if you sound like the same sh – t you were doing seven years ago, or however long. And, use your stripes to your advantage. Use the fact that you’ve been around the block to make an impression with whatever you put out, not to the point where you be the old school jaded rapper who’s mad at everybody new, but walk around like you got stripes and hop on the mic like you an OG, people feel that. But I was saying you gotta be extra prolific to make a dent in the market these days, especially with the mixtape explosion and myspace. Anybody and their mama feels like they can be an artist, and there’s a lot more competition out there — I’m not saying talent-wise, I’m saying quantity-wise — a lot more than any old school head was facing about seven years ago. They gotta be quicker and sharper than these young dudes because they’re out to get it for real. That would be the little bit of advice I would give them. Hiphopcrack: Is there anything you want to add? A-Plus: Yea. Let me add something for all those cats out there that think it’s cool to download everybody’s sh-t. If you really down with Hip-Hop — people try to say they’re down with real Hip-Hop, trying to make all these distinctions and sh-t, but you can’t really be down with Hip-Hop if you downloading everything. It makes it harder for people doing alternative stuff, that’s not being pumped with millions of dollars through the normal stations and channels, that majors are using; they take a hit too, but underground and smaller companies, like mine, and other people I know, take bigger hits when people are downloading the sh-t off the internet. That sh-t is foul and you not representing Hip-Hop when you do that shit. You’re just a sucker if your do that sh-t. I swear if you’re a fan of mine and you come to me and say you downloaded my album, I’m going to punch you in the mouth. People talk a lot of sh-t on the internet and like to be antagonistic and hide behind the keyboard, but if you really want to be a real boss, download my album off the internet, come to my face at my show and tell me you did it, and I’ll make you famous by punching you in the mouth. That’s all I got to say about that. And, go buy my album, My Last Good Deed. I wanna shout out my mama, my mama reads all of my interviews, and I want to shout out my son, his birthday is coming up, and that’s pretty much it, one love to my click Hieroglyphics.
By Kevin L. Clark She may be only 21 years-old, but if you take one listen to songs off of her debut album East Side Story– you’ll hear the voice of someone who’s been here before. Emily King has dazzled audiences and critics alike with her unique songwriting and beautifully crafted voice. It is that distinct and wondrous sound that’ll be blaring out of the speakers during the 3rd Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival in New York. The Room Service Group allowed Crackspace to talk with the New York native as she breaks bread; discussing the allure of New York, talks about her anxiousness to perform at the Festival and shares what she learned from being on the road with John Legend. HHC: Being a New Yorker – what is one thing about the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival that an out-of-towner would cherish that a New Yorker would think is just commonplace? EK: I would have to say that it would probably be the diversity. There’s a soul within New York that exemplifies the culture. I think a lot of those things are traits of New York that I miss every time that I leave. There’s the quality of music that I especially miss. I was on the road with John Legend and we were in Arizona. First, let me say that it’s too hot, but the music in New York just sounds native. Arizona was dope, too, don’t get me wrong, but New York is like a country in its own. HHC: How did you hear about the Festival and what piqued your interest about joining its line-up? EK: I have been hearing about it through friends for awhile. I had never been to it, but I heard about all the incredible artists that have graced its stage. So, I couldn’t say no to the opportunity. I have an incredible stage show to present to the audience. I’ll be on there for about 30 minutes and I hope that everyone enjoys it. HHC: Speaking of the line-up – it’s a raw assembly of people. Is there anyone on the ticket that you’re excited to see perform? EK: Ghostface all day! I’m looking forward to the experience. Doing this show has me feeling like this is going to be some sort of family reunion. HHC: On your album East Side Story — you wrote the majority of the songs. Which one best reflects your personality? EK: …Good question… Umm, I don’t know – I think that it changes from day-to-day. Today, there’s a song called “Moon” and I’m kind of feeling like that. I just got back from the road and I just want to have some tea. I’m a Cancer so… I can be shy or a few other things; like I really want to go to the beach right now. HHC: I still haven’t been to Coney Island, yet… EK: You need to go to the beach! [Donald] Trump bought up a lot of it. They plan on tearing down the amusement park and building up new stuff. HHC: What is one thing about New York that keeps so many people coming through to experience its highs and lows? EK: I come back here for the food. You can get anything that you want right there on your block. There’s the spontaneity. You can just walk around and get into anything, virtually. It’s amazing. You don’t know who all you can see. There’s always something that’s going to happen. The diversity is key, the energy is just fulfilling. So many people crammed into one little space; there’s something that’s bound to happen. That is very good for songwriting. HHC: Since this is a hip-hop festival – will your performance cater to the hip-hop enthusiasts? Or will you have something else in store? EK: I do what I do. I grew up in that culture so it comes out naturally. There may be some surprises. You’ll just have to wait and see. HHC: With this being the 3rd Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival – what do you think that Emily King will bring to the concert that’ll be innovative and refreshing? EK: My band is dope. We have fun on stage. I just want to bring a fun vibe to it. I want to let people know that I’m here to have a good time. HHC: What inspired you to write “U and I”…? Was it a relationship that you were in or was it a reflection of someone else’s relationship? EK:Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I think that it’s me, sometimes I think that it’s about somebody else [laughs]. I’ve definitely been through that before. Sometimes I write a song and it’ll come true after… like I spoke it into reality. HHC: What have your learned by being on the road with John Legend that you’ve used to help with your own stage show? EK: I have learned that you have to have your own ritual to do before a show. No matter if you don’t have enough space and you have to go elsewhere, you just have to have something to do. Musically, I learned that there are so many details that you need to look at before performing. He’s [John Legend] a real class act and he caters to a wide range of people. From young to old, black and white, he’s just very appealing. Aside from music, I learned just to enjoy every little moment. We drove around in a bus with the band for 12 hours at a time and I loved the experience. So, I want to continue to love the experiences that I’m blessed to go through.
By Kevin L. Clark They say that hard work breeds success. If that is true, then, BMI’s – Catherine Brewton – is a thoroughbred. Her current status as Vice President, Writer/Publisher Relations for BMI Atlanta was earned through drive, passion, and a love of the creative arts. The woman whose career plans began with financial services sits down Crackspace to talk about how she got into the music industry, what it takes to remain in the game and has an interesting story to tell. HHC: Before we dig deep – how did you get your start in the music industry? CB: I started out in financial services and I had no real career plans to be in the industry. It was pre-destined. I started a PR firm that basically did PR and Marketing for athletes and some individuals in the entertainment business. I later met Mike Green and I got my start there in 1992-1993 working for NARAS. I then heard that BMI was opening up an office in Atlanta. I was offered an opportunity. I took it and I was there from the ground up. HHC: Was being apart of the industry something that you needed to be associated with? CB: No. I’m from Charlotte and I went to a small black school. Getting an education was the most important to me. My mom had to quit school and she went back afterwards. With me being the oldest, she was really on me about getting out and having a career that would make some money. As soon as I graduated from college, that next day, I had a job. HHC: What was it about the industry that appealed to you? CB: Early on, it was just an opportunity to do something. The PR gig was a very good entrepreneurial start. Working for NARAS and the Grammy’s was a beautiful foundation for what would become the next part of my career. I don’t know if I was so much as enticed by the glamorous side of the music business. I think it was more so the creative side. I was a singer, but I never wanted to be apart of that limelight. I was interested in the engineers, producers, songwriters, etc. That creative aspect of the industry is what appealed to me. HHC: Before working with BMI, you were with NARAS – why’d you leave? CB: It was just an opportunity for me to be closer to that creative process. It was definitely closer to the action. This was more in line with what my career path should be. HHC: How was it working with BMI in your first few years before you had your first promotion in 1999? CB: It was very hard because I think coming in, BMI – not intentionally – had taken for granted the growth of urban music. People thought that rap would be gone. I mean, little did anyone know that it would become so mainstream. For me, I believe that it was going to become what it is now and I bought into the trends and became proactive in exposing the genre. Atlanta was in its early stages of being in the national spotlight. I learned who were there – the major songwriters, artists, and producers. I was trying to figure out the lay of the land. It took me seven years to do that. There were a lot of writers who weren’t excited with being at BMI, at the time, and I wanted to put out those fires so people knew that this was the right place for them. HHC: What are your daily responsibilities? CB: Managing our existing writers. I did a big Gospel event. I deal with a lot of events. One in particular was in conjunction with MTV [held in Miami]. I work with the up-and-coming acts, as well as the established successes. I field calls from one extreme to another, as well as overseeing the events that BMI is apart of… it never ends. HHC: Looking back – how hard do you think you’ve worked to get to where you are now? CB: I’ve been extremely blessed and I don’t take anything for granted. When people say how “hard” I’ve worked, it’s more in the fact that I’m an overachiever and that I pride myself on that. My phone is always on. The job hasn’t been without its setbacks, though. But I have no regrets in anything that I do. I believe that God pre-destines our lives. I’ve worked extremely hard and have been patient, as well, but been aware that I am committed to my journey that is far from over. As long as I feel that way, I’ll continue to be where I’m needed. HHC: What have been – if any – the perks to having such a position as Vice President, Writer/Publisher Relations for BMI Atlanta? CB: Perks to me are what you make it. I don’t really see it as “perks”. I do run the office efficiently. I try to live by the same rules that I set for my people. The perks are that I can create my own schedule, but I don’t cut corners or slack in the least. That is not me, at all. I love having a small office. It’s been really nice to have a staff that understands and gets things done the way that you like. HHC: What do you think it takes to be successful, not only, within the music industry – but, specifically in your position? CB: I think that a commitment to being the best at what you do and to understand your position is key. What I’ve found in most situations is that people do not want to step outside the box. They want things laid out from A-Z and do not think that there may be something just as good only for A-M. The people I tend to gravitate towards are forward thinkers and they have passion. If you are not passionate about the things that you do – what good are you to me? A person who doesn’t need confirmation, who just consistently does their work, and steps up to the plate is the one that I am looking for. I am very committed to using interns, because when they come in to work and learn the routine – sitting in the staff meetings and such – they grow and mature into a well-rounded person. HHC: You’ve worked alongside some pretty phenomenal songwriters. What was your most memorable experience? CB: Probably my most memorable experience was at my second or third award event. [At the BMI Awards] we did a tribute to James Brown, and the house band was Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, Dallas Austin, Rodney Jerkins, and Colin. They played with James [Brown] and his horn section. It was an incredible experience; it was a beautiful night. HHC: Has any experience since you’ve been in the “business” inspired you to work harder? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it? CB: Francis Preston. She was the hardest working woman in show business. I have never seen a woman do so much for the business in the course of a day. She was a major inspiration for how classy and elegant she was. She could hang with Isaac Hayes and then go hang with Vince Gill and they all love her no differently. That to me is what inspired me to be better and to embrace all music everyday. I continue to be driven everyday that I walk through that door. HHC: What are the drawbacks to working within the music industry? CB: You do not have a life. You give up so much personally. I was looking at my schedule and I see that I am here way too much. It is a personal commitment that you have to make to the industry. HHC: For the aspiring songwriters or anyone for that matter whom wises to be a part of the business – what are some words of advice that you have for them? CB: Stay true to your craft. If you believe in your heart of hearts that that is what you’re supposed to do, practice and sharpen your skills. For instance, Pharrell was questioning his first single and I was thinking to myself, ‘Pharrell has had so much success across the board and is still questioning himself!’ You’re only good as your last hit, so you need to get out there and showcase your skills. You need to have faith in what you’re trying to do. This is certainly not a game and not an easy process. A lot of people get deals, but spend years on the shelf. You must use the vehicles that are out there and present yourself accordingly. HHC: With people such as R. Kelly and more recently, Fantasia, coming out and saying that they cannot read or write – what affect does this have on the songwriting community? CB: You know I am so troubled by that comment. I know of the problem that R. Kelly was facing. I think that God heightens your gift when you lose something, somewhere. I think that with R. Kelly and Fantasia, that case is true. I keep the both of them in my prayers. I hope that they are in works to do something to curb those problems and create solutions out of them. They both have children, and I would hope that they are trying to do something… if they haven’t already because that is sad to not be able to read a book to your children. The fault can also be laid down to the public school that are not teaching our children the fundamentals required to compete in this world. HHC: Continuing with songwriting – within the R&B and Hip-Hop genres people tend to think that there is a lack of originality within the music. First, do you think that this is true? If not, why? If so, what do you think can be done within the songwriting process to change the nature of the music? CB: I disagree. I think that [the music] is original. You have someone like Anthony Hamilton and I think that he’s a certifiable genius. I think that Trey Songz is a bright star. People are inspired everyday. So when they say that there is no originality, I think that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Kanye West is a genius as well. R. Kelly is a phenomenal songwriter who continues to push the limits of creativity. I don’t find that a lack of originality in the music to even be the case. Inspiration comes from so many different forms, but does that make them not original? I do lay blame on the record labels. If there is a song that R. Kelly came out with that was popular, then everyone wants a song that is like that. Charlie Wilson has a classic R&B album. He stayed in his lane, even with the song that R. Kelly wrote. It was done tastefully. People want to do the same trends that everyone else does. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear someone that is doing something different. Radio isn’t trying to jump at the bit for Anthony Hamilton. HHC: You’ve accomplished so much seemingly so quickly in your career. Do you think that you’ve had too much too soon? Or do you believe that your work ethic is a direct result of your success? CB: Oh, no.. no… NEVER! I believe that divine intervention played a part in making me prepared for what I’m doing now. I was just on the cover of an Atlanta magazine. I didn’t get caught in all of the things that go on within the industry. It’s a business and that is how I treat it. When I am not working, I don’t wish to be a part of it. I think that is how you survive, to some degree, without being tainted. You have to separate the two. HHC: Last question – what do you think it takes to have longevity in a business known for its short-term memory? What words of caution can you give to those aspirants before they take the plunge into those shark-infested waters? CB: I would say – know that you know, that you know, that you know, that you know that this is what you want to do. It is not a game. It is entertainment, but it is a business. Be prepared. Read everything. Find mentors. Separate yourself when the occasion calls for it and make sure to seek God in every decision that you do.
By Will “Deshair” Foskey We, at Crackspace.com, pride ourselves in breaking the latest news, as well as delivering exclusive interviews with the people who are currently molding the infrastructure of Hip-Hop music. So it is only right that we continue that tradition by getting you familiar with Amadeus. Amadeus, born in the BX, entered the production game at the age of 16, landing his first production credit for Foxy Brown on the “Cradle to the Grave” soundtrack which went platinum. Since that time, Amadeus has taken on a full head of steam landing more production credits for the Dipset, 50 Cent, and Talib Kweli. In 2007, Amadeus has his musical hands on a few highly anticipated releases including Mike Jones sophomore album, Papoose’s debut album and the return of Freeway. In this Crackspace.com exclusive, Amadeus will put you up on his style of production, his year to come and why you should respect Mike Jones… If you can name 3 songs from your previous production catalog that you’d like for the listening audience to know you by, what are those 3 contributions? Amadeus: That’s a good question… the first one I would have to say is Cam’ron’s ‘Take Em to Church’, which was the diss record towards Ma$e. I believe that it was a big record in Hip-Hop being that they grew up together, same hood, same basket ball team, etc. I would have to say the second song is ‘Grandma’ which was on the first Mike Jones album. ‘Grandma’ was the song that meant to most to Mike on that album. If you know his story, you know how important is grandmother was to his life and his career. She was the one who pushed him to use his real name and to make sure that people remembered it. And finally, the third song would have to be ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ by Lil’ Mo. That was the first single off of her third album on Cash Money/Universal. The song was really a good look. But at the time, she was giving birth, so the song didn’t receive the push that it deserved. Who are you currently in the studio with? Amadeus: I’ve recently worked with Fabolous, Talib Kweli, 50 Cent, Joe Budden, Young Chris, Ceelo, Red Café, Jae Millz, Remy Ma… I just found out that I made it on the new Freeway album. I did about 5 records for Papoose. I did about 4 records for the Smiles & Southstar album. I’m out there right now… What was the vibe that you received from the press a few months back during Mike Jones exclusive listening session for his “American Dream” album? Amadeus: I felt that the overall review of the album was positive. I know that we’ve shocked a few people this time around with his product. Yes, he still mentions his name a lot on this record, but that’s Mike’s signature – a gift from his grandmother. The media gave us amazing feedback, saying that there were a lot of heavy bangers on the album. Talk about your chemistry with Mike and how many songs do you have on his new album? Amadeus: I felt that Mike and I really clicked on this album. I originally started off with 9 songs on his album, but due to some sample clearance issues and some of the features that he wanted on the album weren’t able to be a part of the songs in time for completion, I only have 4 now. I’d still be happy if I only had one song on his album, because it’s not about quantity to me, it’s about quality. I feel that the songs that I’ve completed with Mike are some of the best songs on his album, due to the fact that we’ve built universal music that can relate to both the males and the females. What can our readers be looking for to from you in 2007? Amadeus: I feel like this will be a set-up year for me. Papoose, Fabolous, Mike Jones , Smiles & Southstar, Lil’ Mo, Freeway and hopefully Joe Budden are all albums that will be dropping this year with my production stamp on it. And I just signed a deal with ESPN to produce tracks to be played during SportsCenter and ESPN News, so that is a good look. I’ve been in this game for 10 years, since I was 16 years old and now the world is starting to recognize my god given talent. If you like what’s going on right now in music, I am going to make you love what is going on in music.
By Kevin L. Clark Being young is certainly a gift and a curse. You have the energy to do anything your heart desires, but the public gives you its fair chance of troubles. For 21 year-old, Yung Berg, the Chi-Town rapper is gaining increasing spins off of his single “Sexy Lady.” The rapper, who got his start with DMX’s Bloodline Records, built up his weight with writing songs and being a hype man for DTP’s Shawnna. Through all the learning experiences, the young gunner has applied his wherewithal to the rap business and on the strength of “Sexy Lady,” was signed to Epic Records. Crackspace chops it up with the upstart from Chicago as he talks about his humble beginnings, how military school affected his life and explains why there are a lot of Barbie Dolls in rap today. HHC: You signed on as a hype man for Shawnna – what did you learn about the business that has helped you with your career now? YB: I’ve known Shawnna my whole life. I was originally signed to Bloodline Records. I grew up in there. I had seen the ins and outs of the business from working with them. But last year, I was her [Shawnna] hype man and “Getting Some Head,” was poppin’ on the charts, on the radio and all that. From working with them, I learned how to really rock a show. And that’s what we did… we rocked it for 6-8 weeks. Later on, I came out to California met up with management and we started cooking up my first single. HHC: Also, you kind of bounced around when it came to labels. Being signed to Bloodline Records – what was the hardest thing to accept by being with a struggling label? YB: Honestly, I wasn’t there when they were struggling. I was their first artist signed. X was still burning up hot, so it was all love over there. I was taken care of. But I know what it is to be unsigned and struggling. That shit is absolutely terrible. HHC: So, from that position of knowing what not to do – how did you get to this stage in your career? YB: I kept God first and I always knew that I was talented. I was always goal-driven. Everyone else didn’t understand what I was trying to do. Not my family, not anyone, so that’s why I named the album Look What You Made Me. The album holds all of the struggle and hard times in my life and it turned into this. My crew and I, the Young Bosses, are going to ride this out. Because without any struggle, there can be no progress. HHC: The music business is a shady beast, anyways, so amidst weak album sales – if the album doesn’t do the numbers, what’s the next plan? YB: That’s not even an option. I’ve already combated that. My single is doing incredible. The video just dropped. It’s MTV Jam of the Week. We’re dropping the remix with Rich Boy and Jim Jones. It’ll be the newest summer anthem. The album should be in stores around August 28th – early September. I have so much star power on the album, even if you didn’t like me, you’d buy it. I show love to the ladies on this one. I got Eve, Fabolous, Twista, Jim Jones, Rich Boy, DJ Khaled, Collie Buddz and the list goes on – Ray J… Shawnna. It’s damn near like a Diddy album. It’s an epic event which is why I signed to Epic Records. Not to mention, we produced our whole album. For a minute, during my struggle, I was just like… upset with people misrepresenting young artists. There’s a lot of microwave music that’s out nowadays. I’m tired of a lot that. But I feel like guys like Juelz Santana and Lil’ Wayne are really spitting! But I don’t think a lot of these younger guys are really writing. They’re like a Barbie doll… they look good, but they’re not good for you. HHC: How does you military school training help discipline you as a recording artist? YB: Military school forced me to remain focused and utilize my surroundings. I had no television, no radio, nothing. I was cut off from a lot of things. I didn’t even know that 9/11 happened. It forced me to hone my craft without any tracks. I didn’t even know that Nas and Jay were beefing. So, I learned that you could grind and work without having anything to distract you. HHC: It’s key to be versatile in this business. Aside from just being a rapper – what other hats do you wear? YB: I am an exec. I run my own label through Epic. I’m president and CEO. After me, I have Junior who sings on “Sexy Lady,” Hundred Grand, Tony Loco and Cap One. JFK and Rob Holliday are the producers. The three of us are the founders of this whole situation. We’re the triangle offense that holds it down for the whole time. HHC: Your single is making a nice climb into people iPods and all that. How can you cultivate a success when record companies are having a hard time promoting? YB: Basically, I didn’t get signed. We put out “Sexy Lady” ourselves and due to it getting burn, we got signed off of that. We’re priority. There are no acts at Epic, so we’re first on their list, you know? When there’s no other artists to worry about I think that that’s a perfect opportunity to create success. HHC: Have you musical influences ever affected certain business decision? YB: I have been around Jay and X since I was a kid. They influenced me heavily. Everything that they learned and done has trickled down; the way Jay inspires dudes is crazy. But none of what they do sounds like what I do. My album is totally conceptual. I have live instrumentation. So, the public may think it’ll be one thing, but it’s really another. It’s going to be crazy to see. It’s going to be a doozy! HHC: How do you measure the caliber of an ill MC? YB: An ill MC to me is someone who’s about spitting. I’m not going to say that I’m the illest MC, but I’m the greatest artist that’s ever hit the stage. I’ve been conditioned for this. I’m a young Muhammad Ali in this game. I’m just trying to get it. A lot of artists aren’t entertaining. It’s just a record that they drop. I’m going to set the new standard. I’m going to kill ‘em in the studio, on the press, just by saying, “Look what you made me!” To all these rappers who’ve went to the movies, I’m saying that I’m there, too. There’s no way that I’m not going to explore every option of this business. HHC: With fans listening more to hooks and catchy beats – how do you stand out within a crowd of other talented artists? YB: I’m about opening myself up to people. Barbershops are going to be arguing about what I’m doing. It is going to be something real serious. A lot of cats got some nice hooks and nice beats, people say that about “Sexy Lady.” But that’s an uncontrollable record. If you think about the process of creating the record, we did it in the backyard. We literally took it the radio station and it blew up. It wasn’t like I was trying to make my first single and everything was forced. We did that shit in 30 minutes! When you get the album, you’re going to realize what’s going on with me. HHC: What’s next for you, Yung? YB: Branding the Young Bosses, period! I’m trying to do everything from movies to film to product placement; everything to brand and break any artist that I’m working with. That equals getting money.
By Quibian Salazar-Moreno After close to 10 years and six albums in the game, Talib Kweli is pretty much considered a veteran. He’s been a consistent solo artist, even though his best work ever was with Mos Def and Hi-Tek, Kweli has proven many times over that he can make classic joints as well. Now Talib is returning with a new album, :Eardrum, this summer that features apperances from UGK, Jean Grae, Norah Jones, Raheem DeVaughn and KRS-One with production from Pete Rock, Just Blaze, Madlib, Kwame, Hi-Tek, Kanye West and Will.I.Am. We caught up with Talib to get info on what to expect from the project, his Blacksmith Movement and if there will ever be a Reflection Eternal or Blackstar album again. Why is the album named Ear Drum? I want to get back to the sound of what I’m doing. A lot of times with the hip-hop music I do, the distraction is what I’m talking about, whether it’s underground or commercial or this and that and I really wanted people to focus on how the music hits their ear. I don’t think people focus on that enough so I wanted to make sure I concentrated on that and how I put it out there. Lyrically was there something specific you felt you needed to get off your chest this time around? Lyrically, I deal with the same themes but I always struggle to apply them to life and have be more than just something you need to hear. I talk about women, the condition of Black women in this country. I talk about self-esteem and love and I talk about the differences of North and South. I just try to talk about today’s topics but put them in way that people are thinking but aren’t necessarily hearing. How do you go about choosing beats? From beats CDs or in-studio with a producer? Both. I solicit people and I have people send stuff in. I’ve never done an album where I’m just trying to use this producer or trying to do this one type of music besides Reflection Eternal and Liberation, on my own albums. The sound I was interested in was rounded out by Pete Rock and Hi-Tek and Madlib and Kanye and Just Blaze, those are the chief producers on the album. There’s a song on the new album where you sort of respond to fans and critics suggestions and criticisms. Do you embrace the criticisms and suggestions or pay it no mind? Yeah, that’s Pete Rock’s song. But I try to take it and use it as fuel. Any criticism, positive or negative should fuel for the next time out. That’s really what that verse was about. I talked about positive and negative criticisms and turning them around and using them as a fuel to my fire. There was a bit of confusion among your Christian and Muslim fans when you recited “Hell” on Def Poetry Jam not too long ago… Oh yeah? Really? Well, most of them are wondering where you’re at spiritually. That’s great! That’s perfect. That’s great that they would hear the poem and wonder where I’m at. That means I did my job. So what inspired the poem? Basically what people are talking about, what people are fighting about and what people are dealing with inside of themselves. Like I said, I try to deal with subjects that people are really thinking about. That’s a question that I’ve had in my life and I’m sure many people have had, which is what are the differences and what are the similarities between the religions and what has led us to think the way we think. Is there a particular faith that you practice or grew up with? Nah. I pretty much say consistently in my music that I don’t participate in any body of religion. I’ve been Christian and I’ve been Muslim, well, I can’t say I’ve been Muslim, I’ve been a 5 Percenter. But I participate in a lot of different faiths and ideas and I have respect for a vast majority of them, all of them I would even say. I think the key for me and my generation is to figure out the good and take from each way of life and apply to our lives. The Christian church has been a beacon of hope for my community in particular the Black community but I would never just wholeheartedly dismiss the church. The way I live my life is closer to Islam than any other religion as far as the way I see things, but I don’t associate myself with Islam either. So I just try to make work that expresses all of these. The Liberation project with Madlib was classic, any plans for a sequel? Hopefully. I mean, Madlib is an exciting producer to work with. He has three beats on Ear Drum and yeah, I’m sure there will be another part. Because of that project, now folks would like to hear you over nothing but 9th Wonder or Just Blaze or Dan the Automater beats. Would consider a similar project with a different producer? Wow! I just did the Madlib joint, can I get a break?! But yeah a 9th Wonder situation would be easy to do, I would be able to do that in the same fashion I did the Madlib one. The thing is, the Madlib one was demo’d up, I just had too many Madlib beats that I didn’t know what to do with. That’s how it started, I had 400 Madlib beats and I was like, ‘I like all these beats, but I can’t do a whole with Madlib, but then, maybe I can.’ What is the Blacksmith Movement? I just wanted people to have a flag to wave. What I find missing from the type of hip-hop that I do as opposed to the more street oriented hip-hop, is an actual movement. The artists that I work with, everyone is a visionary. Everyone is so good at their craft, that no one is piggy-backing on each other. And a lot of times in the street-oriented hip-hop, you have one artist that’s good and the rest of the artists piggy back. So what happens is when the rest of the artists are piggy-backing they are creating a movement that people want to be down with, sort of a family. I’ve been a part of families whether it’s Okayplayer or Spitkicker or whatever, but those things have been more fan driven. So with Blacksmith I wanted to create something for those fans, so they can wear that t-shirt and wave that flag and realize that there’s something they can be proud of. Rawkus came close to it, the artists were real visionaries, but they were unable to keep it going. Even to this day, you have people who still think I’m on Rawkus because of the movement that was created. So that’s what I would like to do. So who’s down with Blacksmith? Me, Jean Grae and Strong Arm Steady are the first artists. We already started with the Blacksmith The Movement Mixtape and that did well for us. But yeah, we’re going to do as much as we can. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about Reflection Eternal or Blackstar projects. Hopefully it’ll happen. As people get busy, the projects are harder to do. I have recordings with Mos Def that no one has heard and I recorded with Hi-Tek more than I’ve recorded with Mos Def. There are a lot of songs with me on it on the last Hi-Tek album, so you never know. Hopefully it’ll happen soon.
By Quibian Salazar-Moreno Even though Stephen Marley has been part of a musical family since he was born in 1972, he never ventured out on his own. For years he was part of the Melody Makers his brother Ziggy Marley’s award-winning band. In the 1990’s he produced Damian Marley’s debut album and also did production work for the Fugees, Michael Franti and later on Erykah Badu, dead prez, Eve and Mr. Cheeks. An avid hip-hop fan, Stephen concocted and produced the hip-hop tribute to Bob Marley, Chant Down Babylon which featured hip-hop remixes of Marley classics and appearances from Busta Rhymes, Lauryn Hill, Rakim, The Roots, MC Lyte and Chuck D. But what really got people excited about Stephen was his work with Damian Marley on the Welcome to Jamrock album. After the success of Jamrock, Stephen quickly got started on his own album, Mind Control, which hit shelves in March. We caught up with Stephen and talked about the new album, upcoming projects and what it was like growing up the son of a legend. How’d you come up with the name Mind Control? Mind Control is a song on the album that’s speaking about physical and mental slavery. High tech slavery. Just reading books inspired it like the late Great Planet Earth and actually a book called Mind Control. Why did it take so long for your solo album to come out? It’s been one long effort. It was supposed to come out like two or three years ago. At the time I was producing for my brother’s, Damian, Welcome to Jamrock album. At the time his single, “Welcome to Jamrock”, just took off but the album wasn’t ready. So we couldn’t afford to lose his momentum. But my record wasn’t really started anyway. So we decided to put mine on the backburner and finish up his album. We were trying to catch up with the momentum of the single. That was one thing on why it took awhile and then after I got a chance to sit with it you know, I made some changes and redirected it and it turned into Mind Control. Is “Traffic Jam” a true story? Yeah, that happened to us in Tallahassee. We got arrested and charged and they locked us up. Is there ever any pressure of being compared to or following in the footsteps of your father’s musical legacy? Well, it’s a good pressure. It’s a good thing; it’s not a bad thing. Our father is our mentor, so it’s okay to be compared or be pressured to be like him. That’s our teacher, it’s a good pressure, and it’s not a bad pressure. It’s not like our father is a bad influence you know. So any pressure should be in any which way like our master musically, it’s a good pressure. You produced the Chant Down Babylon album which merged Bob Marley’s music with hip-hop and you received some criticism for that. You think your father would have been cool with the project? Yeah, man. Yes! I mean there’s good and bad, but he would find things that he likes. How was it growing up as a son of Bob Marley? Was there a lot of attention or was it just regular? It was just regular for me and where I come from is an island, and it’s all good. Everybody was cool in that sense ya know? Nobody was really in awe, it was more like, “What’s up bro?”, a cool, cool, vibe. You have Mos Def on the album, how did you hook up with him? Well, first we are fans of his music. Then Damian did some work with Alicia Keys, she had a concert special. That’s where Damian and Mos Def met. Then he came down to Miami to do the Bob Marley tribute concert that we do every year and we met. He’s a friend of ours also, he’s a conscious youth, a conscious rapper, ya know? What other projects do you have coming up? We have a Kymani Marley album, that’s coming up in the fall. Kymani’s record is almost finished so that’ll be out in the fall. Then we got Julian’s record and then Damian’s record early next year and then after that, we’re going to do the Marley Brothers record. We’re all going to do a record together. You got the tour launching in April, what should fans expect from the show? Well, you know, we got the whole Marley vibe, first of all, because that is the banner that we fly. It is our crest, ya know? We’ll come out do some tracks from the old, the old stuff and some of the new stuff off of the new album. Some of my father’s stuff will be incorporated into it. Then I’ll bring out Damian, and then we’ll do the stuff that we do together and make it a nice finale. It’ll be good vibes it’s going to be a very uplifting show, ya know? Uptempo, up-vibes, up everything. It’s gonna be fire! How are you feeling about the current sound of dancehall and reggae nowadays? Well, you know there’s good and bad. Good thing to say, bad things to say. I can’t say that the music that is being pushed forward is… it’s not the essence of what we’re coming from. It’s our music still, but it’s a lighter side. I’ll just say that, So who would you recommend that has that essence? There are a number of people that come with that essence as far as youths today. You have Sizzla, you have Capleton, you have Buju, you have Spragga, all the youths that know how to balance it. Where you can enjoy the beat and dance but at the same time, they’re saying things that are constructive. So you have youths and you have youths upcoming but at the same time you have people that hustle the music and you can tell the hustlers from the difference of the real people, ya know? That is why it gets tainted sometimes because these hustlers are just in it for the hustle and don’t really have a genuine love for it, so anything goes for them. They bring all the murder into it. What gets you in the mood to start writing and making music? Anything. Anything, really. Life itself, of course is a big influence. So anything. There’s a song called “Dragonfly”, because he was outside looking at a dragonfly, so that’s how it is. Anyway which way it comes. What are your top 5 Bob Marley songs, or songs you wish you would have wrote? Come on, bro! That’s like asking who is my favorite child! Top 5… right now we’re talking about “Exodus”, because we’re getting ready to re-release that album. At the same time, where my father was musically at that time, making that album with the messages. It has “Jammin’”, that’s the album with “Turn Your Lights Down Low”, you know it was a nice balanced record. Exodus, that message, it was again, a landmark for where he was at the time. So “Exodus” is one of the songs, “One Love” is one of the songs, and then the tune “Catch a Fire”. Then the tune, “Africa Unite”. One more… “Is This Love?” You have produced outside of the family, who are some of the artists you’ve worked with? We did stuff with dead prez, we did stuff for Eve, Busta Rhymes, we did stuff for Guru. Guru’s stuff is coming out soon and we just did a remix with Gwen Stefani. As far as hip-hop, who are you feeling? For hip-hop, we tend to stick with the same people that we know until something that comes out that really just… alright, I like Lupe Fiasco. I like his style and everything. Any last words? Just keep supporting the conscious music and thank you for your support.
iHipHop Blog Team