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(Image: Sintex Era - Account/Rapper)

It's a frequent complaint of mine that today's generation of emcees seems to be completely disconnected from the political and economic realities of the 21st century. At a time when the uneven distribution of wealth has reached levels not seen since the 1920's, there's been almost no counterbalance in hip hop to the celebration of one percenterism found in an album like Watch The Throne. It was a refreshing change of pace, then, to hear Sintex Era's recent single Trickle Down, a verbal dismantling of the current status quo.

The bio that came along in the email with the single mentioned that the Ohio-born Sintex was, "a reckless accountant by day who moonlights as an MC by party time." After exchanging a couple of emails with him, it became clear that he was a really sharp guy who had a pretty strong message to deliver. He agreed to answer a few questions, and the result is an interview that covers everything from the current state of hip hop to an explanation of Reaganism to advice for future revolutionaries. So first check out the song below, and then read on to see what Sintex had to say:

Sintex Era - Trickle Down (Occupy Your Job) (right-click to d/l)




Your bio says that you are an accountant, and that you worked in Manhattan. Can you tell me what firm you work for? Or if not, can you give us some sense of how big the firm is?

I work at one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world...it's constantly on the tip of everybody's tongue. I won't name the company, as my views don't represent theirs, and I'm not being paid to represent the company in this manner. I'm just paid to account for their numbers...in Manhattan, I was the accountant responsible for one of their "smaller" subsidiaries. The company transferred me out here to the Bay Area to take on bigger responsibilities for one of their bigger divisions, and now I'm responsible for a large number of assets and high-level financial reporting. My 'Clark Kent' side isn't too difficult to find on the net. [Ed. Note: Confirmed. He works for a huge corporation that you are likely exposed to in some form or another every day.]

It seems like it would require a pretty big change in your world view to go from being an accountant to putting out songs that speak out against the corporate world that you're a part of with your day job. What was the turning point for you that inspired you to put out a song like "Trickle Down?"

I'll be honest with you, Fresh. Before I'd even finished college, I'd seen Corporate America try to destroy members of my family. So while I came into this corporate culture myself, I'd already had it in my mind that this system was an accepted evil. Throughout my career, I've seen the vile practices of Capitalism first hand...even had to carry them out myself. I'm no snitch, because (*Hyman Roth voice) THIS IS THE BUSINESS I CHOSE.

However, during and after the so-called Great Recession, I realized that even white-collar workers were being screwed over. We're doing TRIPLE the work with no raises, while the people on top are still getting big bonuses and higher salaries. In talking to people who are on the same level as me in Corporate America, I realized that this is the trend. So I decided to make a song for all of us. The good thing about leading the proverbial double-life is that my alter-ego can look at what I'm doing for a living and say, "Yo, this shit is WACK."

One of the problems I think some people have had with embracing the Occupy movement is that its scope seems to be so large that, unlike more traditional protests, it doesn't really have a narrow set of goals or demands that the average person can easily rally behind. What do you see as the goal of the Occupy movement and what changes do you think it can realistically achieve when all is said and done?

(Image: Sintex Era - Account/Rapper)The Occupy movement realizes that there's something wrong, yet folks can't put their finger on exactly what's messed up. They know that profits are still at pre-Great Recession levels (even better in many cases), and that the entities responsible for this downward spiral haven't felt the anguish that the rest of us have felt. They've seen the so-called 99% struggle, while the folks on top are still precariously guiding the system and living their extravagant lives.

But, as you said, the movement hasn't consolidated their goals. Their talking points are obscured, to the point that all they can all agree on is that the 99% is getting screwed. This is very true, but they have to say exactly why and what they want to do to change this. They have to present the argument as something that Congress will have to vote on, as the Civil Rights movement did back in the 60's. Until this is done, they'll continue to get booed during their rallies by other self-righteous 99%-ers who ridicule them as a bunch of white unemployed college graduates.

Your latest song is called, "Trickle Down." Can you talk a little bit about the concept of Trickle Down Economics and why it hasn't worked? Defenders of trickle down typically accuse those who are against it as being socialists; in your mind is that the alternative to our current system? Or is there a way for capitalism to work in our society without there being the sort of inequalities that you talk about in your song?

'Trickle Down Economics' (or 'Reagonomics') is this bullshit economic theory that if the Federal, state, and local governments look out for businesses and the top individual economic earners (i.e. giving them tax breaks on income and capital gains), then it will benefit everybody. For instance, that billionaire who owns all of the business should get a tax cut, so that he can use that excess money to hire more workers and/or invest in the industries that help others earn more wages. This excess money will trickle through all of the different workers, and eventually end up at the "bottom"...that plumber who cleans the shit out of the toilets for that business that the billionaire started with his tax savings. That's the basic theory of 'Trickle Down Economics'.

(Image: Sintex Era - Account/Rapper)The 'Trickle Down' system hasn't worked. Look at the last thirty years, in which we saw the maniacal decrease of the tax rate for the top earners of this country. Guess what? The top 1% has seen their income INCREASE at an exponential rate, while everybody else has seen their incomes stay the same (even decrease by some estimates). It doesn't work. Numbers don't lie. People may disagree on ideology, but all agree that 2+2=4. Trickle Down Economics don't work. I'm an accountant...don't trust me. Just ask me to prove it to you.

Capitalism can only exist with haves and have-nots, and it was definitely this way before Reagonomics. But the pre-Reagan era was a tad different...while there were always rich people screwing over everybody else, it wasn't that glaring insult of uniform income inequality that it's become in the last 30 years. The last time it was this bad was before the Great Depression and FDR. And that in turn led to the Great Depression and FDR.

In short (excuse my misanthropy), human beings aren't yet capable of either pure Capitalism or pure Socialism. Human beings are greedy, and in order for either system to work out, greed must be set aside for the greater good of society. We're not there yet. That's why pure Socialism hasn't worked since Western Europe took control of world economics, and that's why Capitalism always goes apeshit evil when it's allowed to run wild. 'Trickle Down Economics' is Capitalism being allowed to run wild.

From my viewpoint of hip hop, it seems that the genre has evolved into something that's completely apolitical now. There's always been an undercurrent of materialism in mainstream hip hop, but that was traditionally balanced out by more political or conscious groups like Public Enemy, BDP, Native Tongues, Ice Cube. Now with this current generation (at least within the mainstream), dominated by the likes of Young Money, Maybach Music, even Kanye and Jay-Z, the only message in the music seems to be instructions on accumulating and spending wealth. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the current state of hip hop, and what you think the music's emphasis on this sort of wealth fantasy is having on its audience.

Negative. Maybe I was just too young to remember, but hip hop acts with a deeper political, social and moral message didn't used to be called "conscious rappers". Even NWA was bringing a very important political message between their "I guess I'll be a nigga 4 life" hooks. Now cats who want to talk about what's really going on are compared to Common, Jay Electronica, or just considered old school and outdated. Being socially conscious is just a gimmick these days. Nobody wants to hear it anymore, unless it's a filler song. If rich MCs were actually giving cats instructions on how to get wealth, that'd be a great thing. But cats are just flashing money in their audiences' faces, like "Look what I got!" So now, people are just following that example. Sorry, I can't really answer this question without sounding like an old grumpy fuck.

Further on that point, who do you see as the party responsible for the direction that hip hop has taken: the emcees themselves, or the corporations that are signing and promoting these artists?

Responsibility is in this order:
(3) Corporations. Supply and emand.
(2) MCs. They write the shit. They're no better than corporate puppets who lay off entire communities just for a profit.
(1) The audience. One pure thing about Capitalism is supply and demand. The corporations and artists supply what the audience demands.

(Image: Sintex Era - Account/Rapper)As far as hip hop's reaction to the Occupy movement, one of the most interesting responses that I've seen came from NYOIL aka Kool Kim from the UMC's. Essentially his stance was that the black community has historically played the role of the marginalized "99%" since the founding of this country, and the largely white middle class that seems to be the driving force behind the Occupy movement by and large enabled that marginalization of the black community. So his reasoning for not supporting OWS basically comes down to, "Why should I help those who never helped me?" I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on that sentiment, as it's something I've heard a few times within hip hop.

I agree with [Kool Kim] on this. Some even see the OWS movement as being a bunch of spoiled white suburbanites who are unable to get jobs...if they were employed and making a decent living, they wouldn't be out in the streets protesting. It's amazing how easily Americans of non-color forget that they're getting fucked over the same way that Americans of color are getting fucked over. They tend to forget that the middle class was simply created to be a buffer between the haves and have-nots. This movement shows that the powerful forces have pushed the envelope too far, and now the appeased class of the nation is angry. But their anger at the system isn't in defense of Black folks and other people of color...their anger is more like "Hey, don't fuck ME over, too."

But with that being said, I think that it's a very good thing when people are rising up against Capitalist tyranny...no matter what race they are. I wish that more Black folks would either join this movement or start one of our own in this regard. Because this income inequality shit is just getting out of hand. I'm all about some good ol' class warfare.

The country's gearing up for the next set of elections, and the subject of the 2008 elections were pretty contentious on this site. My argument at the time was that the hip hop community's embrace of Obama as "our" candidate was misguided, because no matter what a candidate's intentions are going into their campaign, by the time they get to a position where they are nationally recognized they will be indebted to so many corporate lobbyists that the average citizen becomes, at best, an afterthought once that candidate is in office. My suggestion at the time was to vote for an independent candidate, and that will likely hold true again this time. With that said, I'd be interested in hearing your own thoughts on how Obama has done up to this point and which candidate you think is the most likely to take steps toward resolving some of the inequalities in this country?

The way you put this question is very important, as you are basically stating that Obama didn't run as the African-American's President, or the Liberal's President. This is very true. Obama ran with Imperialist rhetoric, and has done a very good job as an Imperialist President of an Imperialist country. And I'd rather see him in charge of this country than the Republicans...things just always seem to fuck up whenever they're in office. And they hate Obama so bad on that side that they're going to come out in droves against him...an Independent candidate would merely siphon off his votes so that a Romney could get in office. Talk about a bad situation gone worse for Americans.

To be honest, this country is too soaked in its own bullshit to make any meaningful changes at the political level. The only way things will get back on track is a revolution...and this revolution is inevitable. It's just a matter of when. Politics is merely fun to watch these days...nothing's truly going to change without a real revolution. So, with that being said, I'm rooting for Obama. I like seeing the Black dude play the game so well.

What would your advice be to someone who is looking to take some action? Let's say I'm an average office worker just getting by, what can I do? For a lot of people, as unappealing as the current status quo is, the potential risks inherent in acting out against that status quo (losing your job, jail time, etc.) are equally if not more unappealing. So what do you think an individual has to gain by working against the system?

Be smart. Wait it out. Get into the system, perform well, be a star. Don't lose thyself. Don't coon. But don't be stupid and get fired. Don't gossip. Be strategic. We need more people in the system who don't necessarily agree with it. Most people in Corporate America have sold their souls for comfort. We need more revolutionaries in high places. Because the change is coming. But don't go shooting your one gun at an army full of loyalists...you'll lose a losing battle, and nothing will change. Wait and be strong. The time is coming.

(I mean "gun" in a metaphorical sense, future foes)

Suppose the Occupy movement fizzles out, and the Corporate influence over our society remains unchallenged. What do you see as the end result of this, say 10 - 15 years down the road?

OWS is definitely going to die out, but that doesn't mean that the sentiments will die with it. And that doesn't mean that corporate barons won't keep being corporate barons. The current state of affairs is simply not sustainable. I would give it a maximum of 15 years before the people of this country, no matter their race, join together and topple the system as we know it. And 15 years is really stretching it. Shit, it might happen this year. But it won't be in the form of OWS, even though it'll branch of from OWS.

I know you have a new album coming out in March, "Black Tea." Can you give us some details on the album? Are the songs going to be in the same vein as "Trickle Down," or should we expect something else?

(Image: Sintex Era - Account/Rapper)Glad you asked this question. Are the songs like "Trickle Down"? No and yes. No, there aren't any more specifically political songs on the album. Yes, every song is like "Trickle Down". This album is about the indulgences of our society, with me actually diving in and joining the party. However, in joining this Roman orgy of a culture that ours has become, I have some comments about the things that I'm engaging in. In "Trickle Down", I'm in Corporate America, part of the culture, getting the money, playing the game, but saying, "Wait a minute. This is bullshit, too." That's also what the other songs are about, except they touch on other areas of life. Here are some song titles: "Binge", "Company Ink", "Run With It", "When It's Over".

The entire album is produced by 2 Hungry Bros. It'll feature Opio from Hieroglyphics, K.Gaines from Sleepwalkas, Isis Yasmeen and Hazel Salazar. If I keep talking about the album I'm going to get too excited to complete my sentences and then I'll

Any last words or shoutouts?

Yo, straight up...you gotta see the video that my brother's company (Hentertainment Media) made for "Trickle Down". [Video below at the end of the interview.]

my links: www.sintexera.com
www.twitter.com/sintexera
www.facebook.com/sintexera

Also google 2 Hungry Bros...they're part of all kinds of things.

I have alot of treats in store for this album, so stay tuned.




And there you have it! Big thanks to Sintex for taking the time out to answer all of those questions and for dropping some real knowledge on us. As mentioned in the interview he has a new album, Black Tea, coming out in March, which we'll have more details on once it's released. In the meantime, check out his video for Trickle Down:


Sintex Era - Trickle Down

And here's one more of his videos, featuring Isis Yasmeen who will also be appearing on his next album:


Isis Yasmeen and Sintex - Keep Movin' On

1/08/2012 3:30:00 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image: Rock Mecca - Pirate Radio Star)

A couple of weeks ago an emcee out of Queens going by the name Rock Mecca hit me up with a song of his that was really different from the submissions I've been getting recently. The song, New York Noise of off his upcoming 2012 album Pirate Radio Star, had a real throwback vibe to it: a piano loop, a chopped up Fat Joe sample and the sort of gritty lyricism that the New York rap scene used to be flooded with a decade ago. The track would not have seemed out of place on an old Clue for President or Tony Touch mistape, and it got me really curious about who this dude was who had seemingly time travelled straight out of the year 1998.

A quick search on the internet turned up very little on "Rock Mecca": no photos beyond the above Taxi Driver image, and little info to be found other than a link to a production team out in L.A. called Pause Productionz. Even the other blogs that posted the song didn't have any info on him, so I emailed him a few questions to see what was up. After reading his responses, which surprised me by how well thought out they were, I still can't say I know much about this dude or any idea how old he is (vocally he sounds young, but his point of reference seems to be much older). That seems to be the way he wants it to be for now, but in any event he had some really interesting things to say about NY rap and the diminishing concept of regionalism in hip hop.

First, check out his single New York Noise then read on for the interview:

Rock Mecca - New York Noise (right-click to d/l)






I couldn't find much background info on you out on the Internet, so can I ask how old you are? I'm asking because what I'm really interested in is what era of rap you grew up listening to, and when you yourself started rapping.

That's a good question though because I think we all look for a frame of reference to go along with the music, and that's how we all add to our listening experience, either by reading inserts, or searching the net or reading magazines articles about the artist. The thing is, and you'll see a little later, the theme of this project, Pirate Radio Star, is to take away that frame of reference. So it's just raw music. Some people will be like 'Oh he's a young dude tryna act like this or copy so and so', or 'Oh, he's an old school dude'. Some people will try and guess what the influences are, the very questions you're asking. Some will be able to pick influences out of songs. The way I present the album, I may be a fourteen year old writing rhymes in his room or a fifty year old that use to rhyme in the old school clubs with a Kangol on. Whatever. Without being able to be pinned down, you let the music speak for itself. Pull the listener out of his comfort zone of having everything handed to them. I think there's so much emphasis on the personality and not the music, I'm tryna experiment and flip it around this time. It's no big deal though, so I'll reveal all that later. But to answer your question I started rhyming at the end of high school. I listened to so much of it I just started writing.

There aren't many emcees, mainstream or even underground at this point, putting out the sort of NY style of "street" rap that you have on the two songs of yours that I've heard. With younger kids now that have really only been exposed to the softer edged rap of the past few years (Drake, Kanye, J.Cole, etc) do you think they'll be able to relate to the music you're putting out? Is that something you're even concerned about?

That's a good point. Even the underground sounds like the mainstream now. The subject matter is a little different but the flows and sounds are just like the mainstream. The underground has become big business too so its understandable. I think people out there can definitely relate because what I'm talking about affects people now, it's whats going on today. On New York Noise, I say 'What you want I keep it real or a fantasy life? New York in 88' or whats poppin tonight?'. Its not something that happened years ago that I'm tryna recreate. People can definitely relate to the subject matter, but if the sound is aggressive or foreign, then it's not a concern, as long as it's good. I can't relate to every artist that I like. I think that's what attracted outsiders to Hip-Hop in the first place. You couldn't relate but it was intriguing. Not everybody is the same out there, even if the corporations talk to us like we're all the same. One thing though, is that we can't confuse what people are exposed to and what people actually like so I'm not really concerned.

Have you heard any of ASAP Rocky's music? A lot of writers covering hip hop have anointed him as the next emcee to carry the torch for NY, but he sounds like a southern rapper with his flow and the beats that he uses. Your own music is immediately identifiable as "New York," so I'd be curious what your impression of Rocky was if you've heard any of his stuff, and your thoughts on him potentially becoming the face of NY hip hop.

I haven't heard his stuff yet but seen him here and there on the Internet. I wish him the best. I think we'll see more of what you're describing in the future though as far as defining sounds. We won't define sounds by regions anymore. There's no such thing as a local sound these days because everybody everywhere is exposed to everything. It's hard to have a local scene so the new kids don't come up only listening to someone from their neighborhood which is how you develop a local sound. They grow up listening to whatever Radio One and Clear Channel determines since they got the same songs playing on the radio in every city. We all hear the same thing. Since the South are ten years strong at the top now, anyone who kinda got into Hip Hop during that time are going to sound like that and they'll be influenced by it. And that's going to go on for a long time. The next generation will sound like the people that are shining now regardless of where they're from. Radio programmers got the same songs playing all over the country, the world even, so guys in New York will sound like guys in Atlanta and L.A. and the U.K. and so on. As far as being the face of New York, it's a tough cross to carry but everyone anoints their champ. Corporations got their champ, the streets got a champ, the critics got a champ. I don't mind just having a cult following that really appreciates the music I make.

Since you're from Queens, I'd be interested in hearing who you think is the greatest Queens emcee of all time: Nas, LL Cool J or Kool G Rap (or someone else)? Was there any one emcee from Queens that really influenced your own style?

Man that's one of those Jordan vs Kobe vs Lebron type of questions. Its hard to compare greatness because there are a lot of outside factors in this game. Some guys didn't get the push they deserved or the chances others got. Some guys benefited from what others did before them. Those guys you named all had an influence, because even if I missed their era, I went back and studied them. And that's what I was saying before, the youth are inquisitive so they go back and check stuff out. They go outside of what they're force-fed and seek new stuff out. Old stuff too. Old folks are more close-minded and stuck in their comfort zone. But those you named all influenced each other as well as myself. I think Queens itself is an influence because there's so much history and competition. If I sound like someone it may be because we walked the same blocks, went through the same avenues, etc. But I wouldn't say any one emcee defined my style.

Can you talk about your plans for Pirate Radio Star? When do you think you'll be releasing it? Who is handling the production? What's the next song you're planning on putting out?

Pirate Radio Star will be released early in the new year. Its pretty much done. I'm just putting the finishing touches on it at this point. Everyone that heard the album is feeling it and bumping it every day so I'm sure its going to make an impact out there. I'm deciding how to approach releasing it. Maybe I won't reveal my face, like a real pirate radio host. Make the cover all black or all white. Just let the music speak for itself. What I hate now is that there's so much side talk and beef and theatrics that the album takes a backseat. The rapper is so busy selling himself he forgets to sell the album. I want this music to be at the forefront. What's funny though is that most of the producers are from Europe. It just turned out that way. And the same way someone from New York sounds like they're from the South, you got people out in Europe making beats like they're from Brooklyn. It's all about your influences and what you like, what you're exposed to. The next single though is called Top of The World. I think people are really going to feel that one.

Any last words?

Pleasure vibin' with you man. Just telling everybody out there to stay tuned for the Pirate Radio interrupting your regular programming real soon. If you like it, look for it. You'll find it.



Big thanks to Rock Mecca for taking the time out to do the interview. I think his words speak for themselves, but I have to say I was surprised by how well thought out and insightful his responses were. If I was on the fence before doing this interview, I'm now definitely interested in seeing where he goes from here.

And finally, here's the other single that Rock has put out so far:


Rock Mecca - Runnin' Runnin'

Further Listening:
Rock Mecca on Bandcamp
Rock Mecca on Reverbnation
11/10/2011 6:30:00 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image: Curly Castro)
Photo by Liz "NonOfYourBiz" Padova

Yesterday's blizzard caused a momentary delay in our relentless "Curly Castro Week" coverage, but we're back on track just in time for tomorrow's release of the Winston's Appeal album. So to wrap things up, we've got the second part of our interview with Castro (you can read part 1 here), and at the end of it you can find a video for his new single "Da Ingredients" that he just put out this week - it's so dope, you might just want to go watch the video first to get in the right frame of my mind for the interview. Once the album drops, we'll update this post with a link to it (or just keep checking RockTheDub, which will be officially handling the release).

On to the conclusion of our interview with Curly Castro:




As I understand it you were a hype man before you were an actual emcee. What was it that inspired you to eventually take that leading role as an emcee? Was it a situation where you realized you were just as good as the people you were handling hype man duties for, or did you just need to build up the confidence?

I truly appreciate this question Fresh. I admired many a hypeman, realizing their true Importance. Flavor Flav, Freaky Tah, Spliff Starr, Jarobi, Proof, and one of the greatest 'play-your-position' Hypemen ever: Memphis Bleek. Early on in my Rap career I realized the importance of a competent Hypeman. I harnessed my 'Grenade w/out a Pin' kinetic style, and used it to Augment all those who I would back up on Stage. It enhances the performance, the performer, and the rapport with the crowd. It is a dying Art in Hip-Hop, but I carry the Hypeman torch proudly. I did however become a very accomplished writer and Performing Artist during this process of 'Hyping', and felt I could offer up Rebel styles of my own. So I stepped to the front and laid claim to my proper place in the Hip-Hop pantheon. The only co-piloting I do these days, is as part of the Live component of the 5 O'clock Shadowboxers. (plug, plug)

I was going through some of your older stuff with Bohemian Fifth and saw that there was an endorsement from Jazzy Jeff. Was he at all connected with the group?

Jeff offered up our second professional Co-sign (G-Dep was the first). Other than him being impressed by our Professionalism, and the look of our Debut album, he had no hand in our Artistic Rise through the Ranks.

[I later followed up with Castro on the G-Dep reference and he added the following:]

It was the same with G-Dep. These cats wanted to give us props, but not a helping hand. Not that we wanted Hand-Outs, but in 2001, when they were few and far between...It would've been nice.

A lot of the readers of this site were first exposed to your music through your collaborations with Zilla. How did you two originally hook up?

Zilla and I would run into each other at various Hip-Hop events in our Metropolis. We had a mutual respect for one another's craft, but were not familiar with the other's Music. It wasn't until I formally joined the now defunct 'Beatgarden Ent', that we noticed the parallels within our respective Musical output. Then we got to know each other on a personal tip, and Realized we are A-Alikes. Kindred spirits on a Unique musical journey towards Oblivion. Three Dollar Pistol Music, Your Friendly Neighborhood Re.Bel, Noir-Hop, Major Crimes and [You And] Who's Army are the result of our Nu Age Hip-Hop Philosophy. Duck and Take Cover. Phoenix in the Hole.

Seeing some of the footage of your live performances with Zilla, your shows seem to be a lot more creative than the typical indie rap show. You perform in art galleries, alongside acts that aren't necessarily hip hop, you've got outfits that tie into the whole theme of the Shadowboxers -- it seems like it's a lot more involved than just having you two get up on stage and rap at people for a half hour. For those of us who have yet to see you guys live, can you break down what a performance with you two is like?

This is a Shadowboxer question, but I'm more than happy to answer. During 5 O'clock Shadowboxers performances, we decided to give the crowd a fully immersed Audiovisual Experience. With our Outfits, mood lighting (ha ha), Props (Holsters and implied Paranoia), and Noir Pulp-based media, we attempt to transport the average listener and concert-goer to an uncharted Soundscape. When fans leave a Shadowboxer show, they can't help but discuss it afterwards. We wanted to have a visceral companion piece to help folks Absorb not just the music, but the experience as well.

A Curly Castro show, on the other hand, is half 'Lightning inna Bottle', One third Pryor/Foxx stand-up, and One Fourth Boom Bap Purist. Essentially: an Honest Man Awakened by the Struggle, equipped with a Microphone.

(Image: Curly Castro - Winston's Appeal)

You've got an album coming out at the end of the month [This Friday: January 28th, 2011], Winston's Appeal. Can you talk about the meaning behind the title?

Winston's Appeal derived it's title from the controversial Walker's Appeal scribes by David Walker. It was the first official Documented opposition, to the practices of the antebellum South, and the Enslavement therein. It was proliferated in secret, sometimes sewn into the lining of Naval Peacoats and jackets. Walker was poisoned and Assassinated for his Efforts, but his impact reverberated through History. Winston's Appeal is my formal Submission that is in stark contrast with the current Musical Climate, and Socio-Economic ills that plague us to this day. It is my Appeal, my first Solo Appeal, to the conditions (musical or otherwise) we face this millennia.

Also, can you tell us what we can expect from the album? Who are some of the beats from, and who's making guest appearances? Your old MySpace profile mentions a Winston's Appeal album that was originally scheduled for 2008. Is there any material from back then that made the final cut, or is everything on it more recent?

Winston's Appeal is the culmination of three arduous years of musical output. It took the time it did because I stepped away from it periodically, to garner a better perspective on the work. Some of the records are more aged than others, some are spanking three clear coats of paint New. Some were re-visited, some were abandoned. But the whole process was a necessary Guantlet to arrive at this point of completion. Shit, music is new until someone hears it.

The album features Production from Georgia Anne Muldrow, Lastword, Zilla Rocca, C-Rock, Doc Martin, Larry E., & dj Xclusive. The features on the album are Ethel Cee, Alaina Nelson, Zilla Rocca, Khadijah Bermiss, Ambush, Jawnzap 7, Akilles, Unless, Magnum O, the One Sun Lion Ra, Eshon Burgundy, Rokbottom, Burke, Verso, and (God damn this list is long, ha ha) more. Some of these Artist are familiar, some seem anonymous, but All are extremely talented and I thank them for their contributions.

Finally, is there anyone you want to shout out or any other that you want people to know about?

I give Supreme thanks to Larry E., my engineer who suffered through three years of Recording, Mixing & Mastering. I give thanks to All the Artists who assisted me with my Opus. I give thanks to RocktheDub.com for supporting my Musical output, putting out my last mixtape, and Co-Piloting the release of 'Winston's Appeal'. I give thanks to ClapCowards.com, PassionWeiss.com, SoMuchSilence.com, MetalLungies.com, FlawlessHustle.com, & 33Jones.com for the continued coverage and Critical input that I deem so necessary. I give thanks to Dom P. (the Big Salmon) my manager and Area 51 survivor, for his continued guidance.

I give Thanks to my self-appointed Peers in this Musical Jungle: Small Pro, Has-Lo, Ethel Cee, DOUGLAS MARTIN aka BLURRY DRONES, MARGEL SOPHANT & SELA Elucid, Ari Lourdes, Alex Ludovico, Mally, dj Dylan of Freak Recordings, Blueprint, El Carnicero, Starky, dj Ambush, Random, & dj Jim Redz.

I give thanks to Jeff Weiss for the gift of Solid advice, consultation, and Serrated Blade writing style. I give thanks to Fresh of 33Jones for this Interview which is Dopeness Personified. I give thanks to Dewey Saunders aka eMCee Unless for his Design prowess and his Pollack/Picasso artwork, that makes my Sound look that much better.

And I give Thanks to my A-Alike Zilla Rocca (of 5 O'clock Shadowboxer Fame) for pushing me to be a Better Artist every time I sit to create. Man sharpens Man like Steel sharpens Steel. And we have Swords for days on You Suckas!!!! Three Dollar Pistol Music, save your pennies. Respect!




Big thanks to Castro for taking the time out to answer all of those questions. As soon as Winston's Appeal drops we'll update this post with a link to the album, so check back for that tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a new video that Castro just dropped this week:


Curly Castro - Da Ingredients
1/27/2011 8:00:00 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image: Curly Castro)

As mentioned yesterday, Philly emcee Curly Castro is about to drop his latest album, Winston's Appeal, this Friday. To help promote the release, Castro agreed to take some time out and answer a few questions for us. As with most of the interviews done on this site, it was conducted via the internets, and I've left Castro's responses unedited aside from adding in a few links. Part 2 of this interview will be put up at the end of the week. And be sure to check the end of this post for two more singles off of Winston's Appeal. On to part 1 of the interview:

First off, can you give us the science behind the name "Curly Castro"?

I'm a big Fan of Marilyn Manson (go head, ask about me), in particular the duality of his name. So Curly Castro is my version of the yin-yang within. The Curly is the sarcastic, the playful, what the Ladies like to call the Kid. The Castro is the despot, the Revolt, the depressed Pharoah. Or something like that...

Let's talk Flatbush hip hop for a minute. If I'm getting the timeline right, you were born and lived there through the 80's and the first half of the 90's when the area really seemed to peak as far as the groups that were coming out of the neighborhood: Fu Schnickens, Bush Babees, Cella Dwellas, East Flatbush Project... Can you talk about what the music scene was like while you were there, and how much, if any, influence that had on your own development as an emcee?

Well to be honest, I wasn't Rhyming back then. But I was thoroughly influenced by the Era. My peers and I were the First True Hip-Hop generation to emerge from the Mecca. Hip-Hop was on the walls, in the Air, in the Slang, all over your gear, it was the way you Balled (played Basketball), it was how you would talk to a shortie, it was inescapable. So every breath I took between '77-'95 in Brooklyn, I would inhale Hip-Hop. And when I decided to be an eMCee in '96, I just Exhaled.

And while we're on the subject of Flatbush, greatest emcee to come from the neighborhood: Special Ed, Chubb Rock, Busta, Talib Kweli or Shyne?

Hands down, Busta. The Coming was just that, his coming Out Party. And Flatbush was where the Party Started. Chubb and Special Ed definitely lit the Torch, but Busta swallowed said Torch and breathed rapid-FIRE. Kweli, while I respect his achievements has been disappointing me lately, and that's all I have to say about that. And Shyne fell for the Okie-Doke we like to call Puffy.

After Flatbush you went to college in Philly? What school?

I attended Temple University. And a Nigga graduated too. Ha Ha!

You studied Philosophy, correct? Did you plans at the time to eventually have a career in music? I ask because I'm wondering if what you studied had any impact on how you developed as an emcee?

My Philosophic Studies empowered me with the Ability to Question. Don't take things for face value, Investigate. So it made me question style, substance, rhyme & reason. And if anyone casually listens to my Style, it's readily apparent I don't write like Every Tom, Dick, and Harold Miner emcee out there.

Who's your favorite philosopher?

Hume is one of my Favorites. He subscribed to a belief rooted in the Power of Nature & Earth. I defer to Mother Nature consistently, and know her to be All-Powerful. So his lessons resonated with me the Most.

One last question related to the subject of philosophy: On your upcoming remake of GZA's Unexplained/Homeless Swordsman [More details on that in the near future...], you drop a couple of references to the Nation and the Tribe of Shabazz. Are you a Five Percenter?

I personally am not a 5%-er. But I studied with a lot of my Peers who were. But the Discipline was alive and Kicking as I grew up. Master Fard and Clarence 13x were brought up frequently when cyphers got Deep. I was just too young to apply the Knowledge. But alas, after all the logic and the Theory...I'm a non-denominational Prophet-in-Training, under the watchful eye of the Most High. (I wanna be like El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz when I grow up.) I Do adhere to some of their hard-wired tenets like: the God within us All.

Getting back to the subject of school, a fair amount of the people reading this site are college aged kids who are just getting into music, and I'd like to hear if you have any advice for a kid who's still in school and is looking to have some sort of professional success as an emcee.

First off, don't fall victim to all the detractors, who will attempt to assassinate your character. It goes without saying "Believe in Yourself", all I have to add is, Use all of your intellectual Resources!! During your years of Academia, apply what you learn everyday. Am I a better emcee because I'm well-read? Hell Mutha-Phucking Yes! Am I more Malleable to situations because of my Street Intellect? Hell Mutha-Phucking to the Yes. Everything you absorb through Osmosis will help you construct a well-balanced Rap alter-ego. Whatever that means...(Laughs Maniacally)

You now seem to have split about equal time of your life between NY and Philly. I'm curious as to which city you consider to be "home" at this point. As a test of where your geographical allegiances lie: Sixers or Knicks? Eagles or Giants? Flyers or Rangers?

My Skin is made of New York. But I am a Philadelphia Transplant. So I casually follow the Eagles and Sixers. But I am a Bronx Bomber at Heart, an Uber-Yankee fan. I also am a Supreme Fanatic of The Jets (since before Al Toon), and The Oklahoma City Thunder.

Can you break down the timeline on how you got your start in the Philly music scene?

I entered the Labyrinth of Philadelphia in '95. In '96 I started rapping Seriously. And I would say I became a Professional Recording Artist in 2000. I used to run with the powerhouse called Bohemian Fifth, received some critical acclaim for our Debut Album "We The People...", then we disbanded shortly after. Ridiculoid. After that I was co-founder of SquadZilla, an artist collective built on support and shared resources. After that fell Apart (sensing a theme here?) I set out on my Solo career in '08, and never looked back at Gommorah. I appreciate those experiences and gleaned from them all. All played a part in the creation of my current Infrastructure.




And that concludes part 1 of the interview, but we're just getting started! In part 2, coming this Friday, Castro discusses the upcoming album, kicks some knowledge about the antebellum south and shouts out half the population of Pennsylvania. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's a couple of cuts off of Winston's Appeal:

(Image: Curly Castro - Wise)

Curly Castro - Wise (right-click to d/l)



Curly Castro - Teenager (right-click to d/l)

1/24/2011 5:00:00 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image: The Chronic Re-lit)
Earlier this summer I received a press release announcing that Dr. Dre's classic album The Chronic was going to be rereleased under Death Row Records. The announcement caught me by surprise, as prior to that the only references to Death Row I had heard for the past couple of years concerned Suge Knight's increasingly dire financial situation and his penchant for getting knocked out by random street brawlers. As it turned out, a group of investors out of Toronto, WIDEawake Enterntainment Group, paid $18 million for the label's back catalog of material, which included the masters for The Chronic and Tupac's All Eyez On Me. The initial press release stated that Lara Lavi, a self described "Jewish soccer mom," would be the CEO of the revamped Death Row.

I was willing to give Ms. Lavi the benefit of the doubt, though - while a "soccer mom" certainly didn't seem like a great fit for a gangster rap label, Ms. Lavi and her husband had been involved in the music industry for quite some time. At the very least it seemed like a reasonably sound business investment, as the only thing that seems guaranteed to sell these days is back catalogs. Yet there was some cause for concern when the announcement for the reissue of The Chronic, "The Chronic Re-Lit," stated that the album would be remastered and would include new verses from "the public." It seemed like a big risk to mess with an album that has been universally hailed as a classic among hip hop fans, so I reached out to Ms. Lavi to ask her about the album, her efforts to make amends with the label's former artists, and the general direction of this new Death Row. Here's what she had to say:

Prior to the purchase of Death Row, the one album WIDEawake had released was from R&B singer Sean Jones. It seems like a drastic shift to go from r&b to old school gangster rap, so what spurred your initial interest in acquiring Death Row?

WIDEawake Entertainment Group Inc. is a separate company from WIDEawake Death Row Entertainment LLC. WIDEawake Entertainment Group signs all sorts of projects and artists from singer songwriters, to children's music. WIDEawake Death Row is strictly about building a future with the legacy of thousands of amazing masters from the Death Row vault and possibly building new relationships with some of the former Death Row artists.

What spurred our interest initially was this was a business decision a year ago to acquire the company out of bankruptcy. As I got more into it and had more contact with the artists and their representatives I realized I was also in a unique position to encourage some karmic restoration with these artists. That is a challenge in and of itself since the artists still don't really trust the name Death Row.

Even though it's been a few years since he's had any association with the label, the name Death Row still carries with it an association to Suge Knight. Given the history of his approach to business - I'm referring specifically to his past use of physical violence in his business dealings - did you have any concerns about becoming involved with Death Row? Again, i realize he is no longer connected to the label but is there any concern that he may try to force his way back in?

No concerns whatsoever, Suge has moved on and we wish him well. In many ways the man was brilliant in what he accomplished. I think even he realizes now that not paying taxes and royalties led to the demise of his reign at Death Row. Death Row must be about the artists, their music and their fans - this is what really drives business and assures these artists get paid and fans get authentic hip hop they are clamoring for daily.

Suge Knight was very much immersed in the culture of the label, in the sense that he had a very hands-on approach to managing his artists, appearing on magazine covers, in videos and on stage with his artists, etc. By your own description - a "Jewish soccer mom" - you would seem to be the polar opposite of Suge. Is it safe to assume, then, that your approach to the business will also be different from his?

I am an artist in my own right. I still write songs, sing songs, produce songs and place songs for film, TV and advertising. I am a singer songwriter and a business woman and the CEO of Death Row Records. My public persona as an artist or celebrity has nothing to do with the image and the music of Death Row. My job is to work my business development management to make this company successful for the artists and the investors. My private life is very different from the former head of Death Row. My image with the Death Row artists makes no sense. Frankly no management should take over the image of the artists in my view - again Death Row is now completely about the artists, their music and their fans and that would stand to reason - their imagery. Which I fully respect but don't need to imitate or try to be something I am not. The Death Row artists i have talked to understand that as an artist I get them, as a business women, I want the best deals for everyone. It is that simple.

(Image - The Old Death Row Logo)The press release made note of the fact that Death Row's history does bring with it some fairly negative connotations - Tupac's death and the gang affiliations of some of its former artists being perhaps the two most significant contributors to that. A lot of that negativity, however, gave Death Row an image that no other label had and, for better or worse, that image helped propel sales of the label's albums. I'm wondering how (or if) you plan to distance the current incarnation of the label from the negativity of the past while still maintaining what made Death Row so unique in the first place.

Well it would be pretty silly in 2009-2010 to start trying to re enact the insanity that was the old Death Row. What really made Death Row unique was the sound - the West Coast original sound developed by the brilliance of Dr. Dre, Snoop, Daz, and many others. This was and is a signature sound like no other. All the rest is hype - at the end of the day this music, the actual music is what is unique and timeless. This is where the real value is.

Going forward, is your plan with Death Row to focus primarily on reissuing the back catalog and unreleased albums? Or are you looking to sign and develop new artists as well?

Eventually we will sign new artists but right now we have our hands full just assessing and logging all the thousands of songs and related contracts in the vault. I have my eye on a couple former Death Row artists who I believe have made sure they are fresh and currently relevant to today's market with the right team behind them. They know who they are. We are talking. [Pure speculation on my part, but I'm guessing one of those artists would be Crooked I.]

My understanding is that you have an agreement with Amaru Entertainment to license Tupac's material, the rights to which have been fought over for years. I'm curious to hear if you have any plans in motion yet to actually begin licensing out his songs. Does your deal with Amaru Entertainment also cover Tupac's unreleased material?

Yes we have an excellent working relationship with the entire Amaru team. I made this a huge priority when we first bought the catalog. We are entitled to an album's worth of unreleased Tupac repertoire which our goal is to put out to honor his birthday in June 2010. I have been very public that this will be as pure a Tupac album as possibly along the lines of All Eyez On Me.

There's been a considerable amount of excitement about this reissue of The Chronic, but some of that excitement has been tempered by the announcement that the songs are going to be digitally remastered. In recent years, "remastering" has meant that the loudness of the track has been increased through dynamic range compression, often diminishing the sound quality from the original. Can you give us a brief explanation of what approach is being taken on remastering these songs, and how you expect that will improve the quality over the originals?

Our financiers chose John Payne [a.k.a. "JP", co-founder of Death Row and the label's original Sound Engineer] to be in charge of the audio quality for the re-lit project. I leave it to him to answer this type of question. He was in charge of audio quality control. Hopefully everyone will be happy with his work.

In an interview from last may, John Payne said that, "there are a couple Dre tracks that had no third verse, and we're going to be seeking people to complete them. We won't go to the entertainment realm. We just want average, everyday people." Is that still the plan, are you going to be adding in new verses? And if so, can you expand on what was meant by "average, everyday people" - does that mean you'll be working with unsigned artists for the new material?

John Payne spoke without knowing where Dr Dre stood on unreleased material. He also indicated he had a very close long term relationship with Dre which encouraged us to hope that he could gain permission from Dre to exploit unreleased Dre material without resistance. We have learned subsequently from Dr Dre's lawyer that we were mistaken. Given the importance of slowly building trust with Dr Dre that we would be wise not to push this issue at this time but rather re visit it once a more positive level of trust is established - it will probably help when all these guys start actually receiving their royalty checks.

(Image - The Old Death Row Roster)

Both Dr. Dre and Snoop originally left Death Row on rather bad terms. The press release said that, "our mission is to honor Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and all the Death Row artists who deserve better treatment, by showing our respect and desire to start new dialog." Are they going to have any involvement with the reissue of The Chronic, or any potential involvement with the label going forward from here?

We are patiently waiting for Dre and Snoop and all the Death Row artists to see that I and the company are truly sincere. Again once they start feeling the royalty checks they never got before, the ice will melt a little bit. As an artist, I must remain fully respectful to these artists but I am also accountable to our financiers who have a bottom line they must have me address as well. It is a delicate balance. It will get better.

Now that you own the Death Row catalog, you have access to something a whole lot of hip hop fans have been clamoring for: access to some of the best beats of Dr. Dre's career. Do you have any plans on releasing instrumental versions of some of the older material?

We would love to, but in time, we want peace in the valley with Dr. Dre and his entourage and colleagues. Again the whole point of the Chronic Re-lit and From the Vault is to honor Dre as the greatest hip hop producer of our time, we sincerely hope the fans enjoy the 30 minute Dre interview never before seen and all the rest of the amazing content this package offers on Sept 1, 2009. [From the Vault is a DVD that will be included with the reissue of the Chronic, containing unreleased footage and interviews from the early days of Death Row.]

Cut from this interview was a question I asked Ms. Lavi about the notorious production credit on the original Chronic album for "Big Titty Nicky." Asking the new female CEO of a major record label about someone nicknamed "Big Titty" ranks up as possibly the most awkward question I've ever asked in an interview, but it seemed like a great opportunity to finally get the details behind that story. She didn't have an answer for me, though she did offer to get back to me on it. If anything ever comes of it, I'll post it up here.




Death Row also passed along a couple of links to promo videos that they've put together for the label. The first video recaps some of the early days of the label, including a brief glimpse of Tupac on CNN. The second video's the promo for The Chronic Relit, which will be out on September 1st. Big thanks to Ms. Lavi for doing the interview, and thanks to Sasha Stoltz for helping to make it happen.

Death Row Promo Video 1

Promo for The Chronic Relit

To find more details on Death Row, The Chronic Relit album, and their future plans, check out these links:
Death Row on Myspace
Death Row on Facebook
WIDEawake Death Row
Death Row on Twitter
(I can't believe I just typed out the phrase "Death Row on Twitter." Times truly are changing, I suppose.)

And since we're discussing The Chronic, I'd be remiss if I didn't include at least one video from the album:


Dr. Dre - Let Me Ride
8/10/2009 9:00:51 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image - Soul For Hire)
Most of you reading this site have undoubtedly visited SpliffHuxtable.com at some point, the greatest instrumental site on the internet. I've known Biz, the Toronto-based producer behind spliffhuxtable, for a few years now (well, not "known" in the real life sense of the word, but in the myspace/email/im way of knowing someone). From time to time he would pass along a track or two from a kid named Century Sam that he had been working on an album with, Hunger Is A State of Mind. Every song I heard blew me away, both in terms of the beats, which kept my speakers knocking, and the lyrics, which delved into some very personal details of Sam's life.

Following in the tradition of rappers like KRS-1 and Just Ice, Century Sam spent time living homeless on the streets of Toronto while honing his skills as an emcee. At one point in his life he depended on hip hop as his sole source of income, earning cash through performances, selling mixtapes and producing beats for other artists. In 2007, Sam released the album Hunger Is a State of Mind after spending four years putting it together. Now a year after the release, Sam and Biz are making the entire album available for free (link at the end of this post), and along with that the two of them took some time out to sit down for an interview. Over the course of the discussion, the duo discussed a wide range of topics, including their approach to making beats, Toronto's hip hop scene, Sam's life on the street and his thoughts on rappers who deal drugs on wax. I think everyone from casual hip hop fans to aspiring producers and emcees will find that Biz and Sam dropped a ton of great information in this interview.

I know most of you haven't heard of Century Sam before, so we'll start off with a track from the album just to give you an idea of what's going on, and at the end of the interview we'll have a couple of more tracks and a link to download the full album for free:



Century Sam - Soul For Hire



Let's start with the introductions first. Biz, you're known on the internet as the man behind spliffhuxtable.com, but a lot of people don't realize that you do production of your own. How long have you been making beats? Is there a definable "Biz" sound to your beats?

Biz: I've been seriously making beats since I was about 16, I was DJ-ing before that and still do, and my sound's gone through a few changes as I've got new gear or learned new tricks.
As to my sound? I'd say ask any MC's I've worked with and they'll say there is, but I think of myself as pretty versatile. Id like to think I can drop a soul-sample banger with a more "traditional" underground sound, a club beat, some left field Def Jux shit, whatever.... neither me or Sam stay stuck on one vibe too long, we keep it fresh...but two things you can always tell a Soul for Hire beat for are the drums and the bass. Gotta have the snares sharp and that bassline HEAVY.

(Image - Business aka Biz)For those who don't know, spliffhuxtable highlights instrumentals from mainstream and underground hip hop producers. You never really editorialize on your site, but I think people would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the current state of hip hop. I'd imagine that you're no fan of the current trend of making ringtone beats, but are there any current producers out there that you're excited about?

Biz: Oh most definitely. Black Milk is the future, Rza's still got it, Jake One, Neptunes can still pull it off...and I gotta give it to some Hometown boys who're doin it: Moss and Marco Polo got it going on for sure. As for the state of Hip-Hop? It's dead, but, like all music, only when it dies can it be reborn. There's always good stuff growing underground, but with so much money and so little talent in the mainstream, it gets drowned out by all that ignorant bullshit on MuchMusic and MTV.
You cats down south have it a little easier, simply due to a bigger population. We just dont have enough TRUE heads up here to keep quality music in the mainstream.
As for my site? You can ask Hip-Hop why it's not giving me any fire to post... I can't stay back in the 90's forever. Im working on branching out to shine a little more light on some unsung heroes and rookies in this game.

Sam, you're not only an emcee, you also handled a fair amount of the production on Hunger is a State of Mind. Between producing and writing rhymes, does one come easier to you than the other? Do you get more satisfaction out of one or the other? From the various background material I've dug up, you point to Biz as your mentor as far as producing. Is there anyone that helped put you on the path to emceeing?

Sam: I gain the most from making a song, start to finish... cutting the beat, getting the vibe and writing a whole track. As far as rapping goes, to me, it's more therapeutic, you can express yourself more literally, talk about what's on your mind and connect with people. Im really into the whole leaving the world with a message when Im dead and gone aspect. Its a well known fact that Biz really showed me what was up with production and I think you can hear that beat wise, but in terms of rhyming it was J.A.I. Murdah (featured on 881) that really put me on. We would record on the ghettoest shit before we ever even knew what recording was. He would play guitar an Marlon Brown would beatbox, then wed record that on a tape and then play the tape and rap over it while recording that onto another tape. Marlon Brown was also instrumental in the advancement of my style, I took a lot of lessons on structure and flow from him. Lastly I gotta let the world know about Cheiko, this dude is a stage veteran, he showed me everything I know about being a stage mc. My game on stage was WEAK till he schooled me.

Biz: From what I see, Sam comes with more fire when its the one two of a beat and lyrics done at the same time. I can see him plan how the breaks are going to come, how hell tie the lyrics together with the changes in the beat, and it just makes it more organic.

The two of you work together as producers for Soul For Hire. What's the process like when you two are working on a beat? Is it a situation where one of you will lay the groundwork and the other one will come in and finish it off? Or is it a collaborative effort from start to finish?

Biz: It all depends on the beat. It could be nearly done and Sam will load it up, re-do the drums, I'll come back and it's way hotter and run with it. Or, we'll do a beat, finish it, come back later and re-flip the whole thing totally different. There's no plan to follow, we just vibe off a melody or a break or a dope sample and run with it. Some beats are started when Century leaves me some hot ass drums on the MPC, some are skeletons I'll come in and play keys over. Lately, now that were focusing on bringing the sound out from the lab to a live crew, there's been more of a collaborative effort in writing real songs, as opposed to just dropping blazing loops all over the place.

Sam: It really truly depends on the beat, we dont always both touch a beat the other produced, but Id say we're pretty good at knowing if we have something to add to something we hear. Initially I would NEVER play over a biz beat, lately though I been doin a lot more on that end of things. With Soul For Hire now working on a group album and the addition of singer/guitarist Marlon Brown we been letting the music just happen. If you have something to add, add it, if it suck it gets cut.

Biz: We just roll with whatever is best for the beat. No room for egos to start messin with shit when theres work to be done.

From other producers that I've spoken with, there's a tendency to be very protective of the beats that they create, in the sense that many producers don't respond well when their beats are critiqued. I'd imagine that there are times when you two will disagree over what changes need to be made to a beat to make it work. How do you two resolve situations like that? Is it a matter of just having to compromise, or does it become a situation where one of you needs to defer to the other to get it done?

Biz: We argue, but not often. Generally we've been on the same page for like 5 years now, so that doesn't come up too much. When it does, we just go with whatever makes the song better. It's not a one shot deal, we keep going back to songs over time to improve.

Sam: I find if it does really come down to a stand off so to speak, whoever started it usually takes control. Generally I do a lot of the tracking even on a beat Biz made alone, thats mostly because as the one whos going to rhyme on it I care more about how its tracked then he would.

Can you give us some more details on Soul For Hire in general, as far as what you're doing right now and what the future is for it? What artists have you been working with?

Biz: We're still making bangers, but lately we've been really focused on the live show. The whole "For Hire" aspect is on a short hiatus. I've been to hundreds of shows where it's just play cd, rap, next track, rap, stop cd, next act... that's not much of a show, you know? So we're breaking it out, going live, with live beats, guitar, bass, singers and Sam rapping. It's gonna be ridiculous. Mark my words.

(Image - Soul For Hire)Sam: We have worked with a lot of artists over the years on countless projects. We did a count the other day and it was something like 20 albums deep for us at this point. A lot of what weve been working on in the last year plus is caught up in label/management/artist disputes so really speaking for myself Im focused on S4H and my own solo work. Im working with Marlon Brown on his solo effort and I know Biz has been hard at work with Lupo tha Butchas solo album "Blood on the Altar" and we both been workin hard on Bahs solo album entitled "Put That Man Down", I also might have a beat on the next Mathematik album I got my fingers crossed cuz Im really feelin the track. Im just tryin to get beats out to hungry MCs. Anyone interested can send an e-mail to beat@soulforhire.com.

Biz: The name came out of the fact we were doing a lot, I mean A LOT of beats just for money. And when that started ot take over our own output, we took a step back and have re-focused on putting out some slammin tunes to let folks know what we about.

Whenever I get a chance to interview a producer, I always find it interesting to hear where they get their inspiration from. What music were the two of you listening to when you grew up? Are there any established producers that you look to for inspiration? Do you have any singers/groups (or specific labels) that you turn to when you start looking for samples to use?

Biz: I cant speak for cench, but my influences are pretty random. I grew up in the 'burbs so I had a lot of exposure to Rock and Techno music early on, and after I started rolling downtown more and met Sam I got onto the Hip-Hop vibe in a big way. I actually went to school for music, so there I really opened up to Soul and Jazz and Afrobeat. I have no loyalty to any genre when it comes to samples. I made a reggae beat from a 50's doo-wop tune, my beat "Withdrawl" for Toronto crew Corrupted Nostalgia is a slowed down techno record and me tuning a guitar into a delay pedal. I've taken big samples before, but youd need to use a microscope to find em. In terms of what Hip-Hop influenced me, I can make it simple: Rawkus Records 96-2000. Everything that came from that era, and the Fat Beats era, really set me off, and the explosion of the Tdot scene around 98 with "Old Time Killin" and the Circle movement showed me we can do it in Canada. I pull a lot more influence from old soul, disco and Techno music than other current hip-hop, thats for damn sure.

Sam: Its funny cuz what is listened to growing up really influenced the way I made beats and it never really occurred to me until Biz was asked in an interview on 89.5 about what we listened to and how it influenced us. My mom was from Cali and she had such a wide range of musical taste. I grew up on the standard white family shit like: Beatles, Doors, Joplin, Hendrix, etc. (not The Stones she hated Jagger) but also: James Brown, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Barry White, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Shirley Bassey, and a wide variety or terrible 80s electro clash stuff that I couldnt name for money, it was all off vinyl too I might add until someone stole our record and player in a b&e around 90. Lately Im sick of samples though, a lot of the time Ill just loop something for inspiration, play a whole beat around it and then take it out. On a beat like Am I Wrong theres like 2 different samples all in filters an then a whole song played around it, so like Biz I have NO loyalty whatsoever when it comes to a sample. In terms of rap for inspiration Ill always bump a lil' bit of Jerseys finest Joe Budden when I need to get in the mood to put down some fire.

Biz: Sam IS Canadas Budden. You read it here first!

Most of the people reading this site are from America, and we tend to have this image of Canada as kind of a cleaner, more polite version of the U.S. It's not necessarily the kind of place that I would expect to have such a strong hip hop community (and I must admit, it wasn't until Rich London started sending me his mixtapes a few years ago that I was even aware of how big the Toronto scene is). So what's Toronto really like, both in terms of the actual city and what the music scene is like? I'm also curious as to which, if any, American rappers have had an influence on Toronto's style of hip hop.

Biz: Whatever the latest trend is, that's what 90% of the dick riders in the city jump on. If it's crunk, then they from the south, if it's the return of the Boom-Bap, everyones got breaks in their tracks.

Sam: The city truly is filled with haters, they call it the "Screwface capital" for a reason and Im not really so down with that. I say all the time (and not proudly) that the scene here is like the movie Mad Max cuz its a big barren waste land where everybody would just assume kill each other over scraps. Its funny because as soon as you go out of town its all love. People genuinely feel your music and sing along, in T-Dot I can barely get my boys to sing tunes they say they love! Interesting side note some of the first shows I did were open mics that Rich London used to rock at a place called Down One Lounge. Then my crew got in a lil' bit of an altercation resulting in us being banned from the spot.

Biz: I dont know how it is in NY / NJ you seem to love your own. Up here to make it as a local Artist you better make it big somewhere else or nobody gives a shit about you.

Let's get to the album itself, Hunger is a State of Mind. From what I understand, it took you almost four years to put it all together, in part because you ended up rerecording it on more than one occasion. Can you give us some more details on what the process of putting the album together was like?

Sam: A big issue with the album was always money. Im not playin around in my raps, Im a broke dude. So wed get to a point where it was "finished", then it would sit for a month or two ('cause I had no dough) and Id end up doin a new song that was much better than at least a few cuts. Then wed analyze it and Id always want to do better shit because I had made that progression. Dont get me wrong it's not like its a whole new album, lots of the songs are really, really old and re-recorded. Take a song like "Youth" for example, the original recording was from when I was about 18 or 19, although it had tons of emotion and was a lil' more amped in terms of delivery in places, it sounded like it was recorded inside of a pop can. Father is the only one with original lyrics from when I was 19 and it went through about 4 different beats before the album version came together. The albums sound changed so much over its time that new beats were constantly an issue. Think about an old Timbo beat Ginuwine days and then think now. Any producer will tell u that you always take steps, you wouldnt even recognize a beat I made in 2000 right now.

You eventually did release the album, though, so was there a specific moment when you knew that this version was the version that was ready to be put out to the masses?

Sam: It was done in 2007 and sat on the shelf for about a year while I was goin through some tough times. J.A.I. Murdah resurfaced after about 5 years and helped me get me back on the grind. We also did 881 (featured on your site) which is one of the most meaningful songs and biggest moments in music to me, that song was 7 years in the making. In the end me an Biz also switched around some of the beats and got the final track order down, and I was happy with the finished product so maybe it's good that I waited. I finally had the money to get it pressed up in nice cases so it was time to go, I couldnt wait anymore I was ready to just move on to the next project.

Biz: Sometimes the songs just didnt feel right. You cant explain it, but after re-doing a verse or a beat or even something like a snare drum, it comes together and you just KNOW its done.

(Image - Hunger Is a State of Mind Album Cover)
After listening to the lyrics on the album, it's clear that you're significantly more "street", in a very literal sense, than most other rappers that claim to be. You talk about living on the streets when you were homeless, and what you had to do to make some money, including selling drugs. Can you give us an idea of what your life has been like over the past several years, as far as where you were living and how you were surviving, and what your situation is like today?

Sam: My life (and everyones) is a constant struggle. I have even ended up back on Bizs couch as recently as last summer. I just keep on grinding through it. For about 2 years I was living off of music, I would record, produce, mix peoples' tapes, do shows, sell mixtapes in the street, hell I would have sold you my soul for the right price, that mind state and life style is where the name Soul For Hire came from. Recently I been livin a little better but Im still trying to get everything right, music really keeps me straight, it drives me to keep everything together. On a real tip me an Marlon used to live in a stairwell and so no matter the issues I face in my day to day, lifes not that bad at the moment.

On the song Youth, you mention that you were selling drugs at one point to pay your bills. You don't ever glorify the act of dealing, though, which is very different from the kind of "coke rap" (Clipse, Lil Wayne, etc.) that's been popular in hip hop the last few years. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on rappers that promote dealing drugs as some sort of career achievement. Along with that, do you think it's possible to put references to drug dealing in a song without glorifying it?

Sam: I always looked at myself as a conscious MC, but conscious doesnt mean you have to write songs about sunny days and girls you like, you can be conscious an talk about reality, example: Mos Def, Nas, Common. Im glad you picked up on the fact that I dont ever endorse it. Selling drugs is not fun or respectable (although supporting yourself and your family on your own is) and you know whats even less fun? JAIL or DEATH! So I dont endorse drugs as a career choice by any means. Not to say that I look down on it though, some people are really good at it and run it like and actual business, hell some run it better and more successfully than some real businesses. I feel that some people are far beyond having to work within what society deems as "normal" or "proper" lifestyles, I still dont like whats called the "real" world, its anything but real.

With coke rap I have a lot of different opinions, it truly isnt good for anything involving hip hop really, although its always been there. I respect anyone telling their story and giving you insight into their world, but there are little kids growing up taking the wrong view of what these people mean. They grow up seeing the older dudes in their hood doin it, then they hear Lil Wayne talking bout it an makin it sound all cool an swaggery like thats what truly got him on tv. I lived in the states for a bit I never lived in the projects (although I been to some of them) I lived in the less dangerous projects of Toronto, so I cant really comment on the mentality that life conditions into your mind, but I can imagine from my own experiences that it does seem like all you can do. Regardless of what you do though I do feel like you can inspire others through your actions, just because what you did was considered illegal by the government doesnt mean it wasent inspirational that you managed to survive on your own, or that you managed to buy property, or that you can afford to help those less fortunate than you when your up.

Biz: I think too that Sam and I coming from such wildly different backgrounds helps us stay honest instead of becoming caricatures or cartoons like so many rappers today seem to do.

The whole album is very personal, with a lot of the lyrics discussing the intimate details of your life. Two songs in particular stood out for me, Youth and Father, where you talk about the very different relationships you had with your [deceased] mother and your father. How does your approach to a song like Father, which clearly had a lot of emotion invested in it, differ from a "club" song like Soul For Hire?

Sam: Im glad that you asked me this question, because it is very different. I usually just write whatever I feel at the time to be honest, however it is MUCH harder to write club music and actually feel like its good or real. Anyone can slur the word lollipop a dozen times over a hot beat and have a single ready to go, but to be able to make club music thats about something is nearly impossible (although were tryin that on the S4H album). I dont really have a problem writing personal songs at all, they just come to me, a beat gives me a feeling and I go with it. Music is really my therapy, yall are listening to my life.

Has your father heard any of your music? [On the album, Sam makes several references to the rocky relationship he has had with his father.] Do you have any contact with him today?

Sam: My dad was and is actually really supportive of my music, he used to be a soundman in the 70s. He gave me his left over gear and ghetto computer which, along with my turntables, built my first studio. He hasnt heard Father but would probably like it if he did, Im not sure he can truly understand rap but he can tell if someones good which is funny, and understands music is an expression of feeling. When I used to record in the kitchen back in the day he would know if someone was wack and hed even tell me. He would say things when I played tracks like "I think your doubles are too loud" or "that guy has no timing". He always told me to keep doing music and not to give up on it, thats about the only thing we see eye to eye on. Im sure hes proud that I stuck with something and found success even if it is minor.

(Image - Century Sam)From what I hear, you're currently working on two new albums, a follow up to Hunger is a State of Mind and a debut album for Soul For Hire. What can we expect from those two albums, and when can we expect to hear them? Is Biz going to drop a few rhymes on the Soul For Hire album?

Biz: The Soul for Hire album is going to be major, mark my words. We're having trouble even describing it to cats. We think it's some real 21st century hip-hop, and it's all original, no loops. As for me on the mic? Don't hold your breath. I wouldn't want to show up my boy.

Sam: Biz rapping? I WISH!!! Secretly Biz can actually rhyme, hes dope, he just has no voice for it, or more to the point he hasnt worked to find it if he has one, but his vocabulary and thought process are in the right place for sure. I think it's more of a lack of material because hes co-wrote many a song with me, and hes usually involved in the writing process in some way. My hope is that hell have a Biz version of Hi-Teks verse on Hi-Teknology 1. In terms of what to expect from the Soul For Hire album? Theres no way for anyone to expect what were coming with, it's totally different from what youll all think were about if you listen to Hunger Is a State of Mind. Its kind of like "Out Here" (the 2nd track on Hunger) but on a next level! Lots of live playing and almost NO samples, its basically intelligent REAL music that girls can dance too, SHOCKING CONCEPT I KNOW! My 2nd album (or possibly EP I havent decided yet) is gonna be the follow up, a little more of the same with the addition of a new producer or two (WHAT UP STYLUS!).This ones for the heads not the masses, its for the REAL Sam fans cuz I can't just leave them hangin, they need more pain in the stomach music.

Biz: I think you can separate it like this: Sams next EP is for the HEADS and the Soul For Hire Album is for people just down with good music.

Any live shows coming up, for our readers up north who want to see you perform? Any plans to head south of the border and do a show in the U.S.?

Sam: Im always doing shows here and there so you can keep updated on me at: www.myspace.com/therealcenturysam. As for Soul For Hire were workin on stepping up the live performance to be far above just turntables and raps so itll be a minute but trust me when we get there, itll be different. As for the States, I dunno. I was actually setting up a tour to go around Canada and hit Reno after the west coast but it all fell apart. Its really hard to get shows here and in the states, generally promoters either wont pay up front, will pay you for the show but not travel, or theyll pay me but not enough to bring Biz. Id love to tho, maybe this interview will help that cause a little, know anyone in Jerz? Anyone reading this thats interested can e-mail get@centurysam.com.

Biz: We try and get out there as much as possible, but we gotta stay focused on these projects to make sure the quality is there and we give our fans what they deserve.

And finally, anyone you want to shout out?

Biz: I'm gonna shout out my crew S4H, our newest member Marlon Brown [I'll be damned if I could find Marlon's myspace page, but just hit up the main Soul For Hire site for more info on him], and all the cats online still keeping it alive and reading 33jones, ya heard?! Big respect to all the cats we work with on the regular.

Sam: I wanna shout out anyone like you, who supports independent artists through whatever means. Support your back yard y'all! Go ahead an download, its not about that, how do you know if you like something right? BUT IF YOU LIKE AN ARTIST AND THEYRE INDEPENDENT, GO OUT AND BUY THEIR ALBUM!! HELL GO GET IT FROM THEM EVEN!! BUY THEM LUNCH! Ok sorry thats my rant.

Shouts out to: Marlon Brown, J.A.I. Murdah (FREE J.A.I. MURDAH!!!), Ms. Bedard you got this all started S4H thanks you, Mugz, D-Man, Big Shaggalicious, the original Blunt Rapz Fam, Bah, Ko, Pro, Nilz, Lupo, and Young Rob, Stylus (TRUST ME HES ON THE COME UP), Torontos ORIGINAL Mindbender, Quanche, MIZ I GOT YOU DOG, Ali The Son of Abdul, all my DJs doin their thing (MIKE STOAN YOU KNOW I GOT YOU!), all the independent artists in the city and country that dont get the love they should, and finally shouts to the fans that have supported me over this long stretch Im in the middle of, I do this for me, but it wouldnt be the same without you. Much love!



Century Sam - Father



Century Sam - Hunger is a State of Mind



Shout out to Biz and Century Sam for taking the time out to do the interview. They were also kind enough to make the entire album available for you guys to download free:

Century Sam - Hunger Is a State of Mind album d/l (megaupload link)

The album is tremendous, I really can't recommend it enough. The production is damn near flawless, the lyrics are on point, and it sounds better than just about any album you've dropped $18.99 for in 2008. Go get it! I'll probably be putting up a couple more songs off of the album in the next day or two in case you need further convincing, but do yourself a favor and go grab the album now.

Century Sam online:
CENTURYSAM.COM
Century Sam's MySpace page

Biz online:
Spliffhuxtable.com
Biz's MySpace Page

Soul For Hire online:
SOULFORHIRE.COM
Soul For Hire's MySpace Page
6/8/2007 07:10:01 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image - Danny Swain)
Last fall, during my brief stint at OhWord, I got an e-mail from a kid out of South Carolina, Danny Swain, who had signed with Def Jux earlier in the year. Originally working on his own, Danny had spent the previous few years juggling the demands of being a college student while developing a solid following as an independent producer and emcee. After winning a contest sponsored by mtvU and Def Jux, Danny signed a deal with the record label to release a digital EP.

As so often happens in the music biz, however, things didn't go quite as planned. When we first talked, almost a full year after signing the deal, Def Jux had yet to release the EP and the promotional efforts for their new artist were decidedly limited. Not content to leave the fate of his career in the hands of record label execs, Danny's been putting in some hard work promoting his own music - which might be best described as sounding like something Lupe Fiasco would put out if he had a sense of humor, a genuine heir to the Native Tongues throne - and as part of that effort he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. His answers - discussing his relationship with Def Jux, life as an independent artist, and his musical influences - were surprisingly sincere, offering up a look into the life of an artist who seems to be well on his way to success, with or without the help of his record label (downloadable mp3s included at the end of the interview):

There hasn't been a lot of exposure, at least on a national level, for the hip hop scene in South Carolina. From what I have heard, it's been strongly influenced by the Crunk and Snap movements of the past few years. Yet you've got a kind of Native Tongues vibe to your own music, both in the lyrics and the production, which is not at all what I would have expected. So what artists have you been most influenced by? Do you listen to any of the more "traditional" southern artists?
South Carolina is my home state, don't get me wrong, but I think the main reason why my music may not have that stereotypical "Southern" sound is because I haven't lived here my entire life. My parents were in the military, so we've lived all over the world; as a result, I was exposed to more things that people who may have never left their own city let alone their own state might not have ever had a chance to experience. I didn't move to South Carolina until 1996, where I've been living ever since, but it was the music that I was exposed to from travelling the globe that influences my sound most, anything that I grew up on. They certainly weren't playing De La or Tribe or even Wu on the radio like that by the time I moved down here, so fortunately for me I was aware of who they were and sought out the music on my own instead of waiting for the radio. Meanwhile, the stuff they DID play on the radio: UGK, Trick Daddy, Outkast, Goodie MoB, Scarface, Eightball & MJG...I was definitely digging so if I never moved down here, I probably wouldn't have been exposed to that either. The bottom line is that there needs to be balance, there needs to be diversity. I think that once we (South Carolina) show the country that there's more to us than crunk and snap -- which I am certainly not opposed to, mind you -- we may finally get that national exposure.

You made the switch to using samples in your beats after you heard Freeway's What We Do. What was it about that specific song that had such an impact on your approach to production?

(Image - Danny Swain) I had been making beats since I was 15 or so, and everything I did was original. I may have replayed some samples here and there, but for the most part everything was original keyboard-based compositions. I was really influenced by Don Blackman and Patrice Rushen, one of my earlier beats was a replay of "So I Say To You" by Sylvia St. James, which Blackman produced. But that was the extent of my sampling, just replaying stuff occasionally. For years I always thought that I'd never be able to do what my heroes at the time -- DJ Premier, RZA, Prince Paul, Dr. Dre -- were doing. Especially Prince Paul, dude would use like five different samples in one song! It wasn't until around the time I got my first sampler -- which was really just my uncle's MPC that he let me use whenever I wanted -- that the whole Roc-A-Fella and Diplomats movement began to start up, which made pretty much every dude with a sampler wanna loop up records and throw some drums on 'em, ha ha.

When "Supreme Clientele" dropped, that's all me and my boys would play; everybody went apeshit when Jay dropped "The Blueprint", but me more so because I was really into the beats and I wanted to make joints that resonated as hard. But still, I was reluctant to jump on the sampling bandwagon 'cause like I said, every Joe Schmoe my age with a Gladys Knight record and a SoundClick page was trying to be the next RZA, so I was like "nah, I'll just keep doing me". But when I heard "What We Do", being familiar with the Creative Source record ["I Can't See Myself Without You"] that I had owned for quite some time, and seeing how Just Blaze chopped that song up, maaaaaan...it inspired me to start using samples because it showed me that there's more to sampling records than just taking a loop in a song and putting some drums on top. I mean, Premier pretty much had the chop game on lock and like I said, back then I never thought I'd be able to do what he did because he was a legend. When this new cat came out of nowhere killin' it on the beats, it let me know I could do it too. I knew I was a creative cat and that if I kept at it, I could make beats that hot someday.

Prior to signing with Def Jux, you seemed to be making some pretty big moves on your own. What was the deciding factor for you in signing with the label?
Before I signed with them I was used to doing everything on my own: promotion, distribution, marketing and all of that. It all paid off and I thank God for that but to be honest I felt like I had hit a glass ceiling years ago. Where else could I go? I had done so much but still felt like more could be accomplished if I had that extra push. So I figured that Def Jux would embrace me and help take my career to the next level but here we are a year later and still no album, no promotion at all, a lot of people don't even know that I'm on the label.

It would seem to me that, to go from an independent artist to a signed artist, you're essentially giving up a lot of creative freedom in exchange for the bigger budget and increased exposure that a record label can provide. Is that a fair assessment of the situation? Having been with Def Jux for roughly a year now, would you do it all over again or would you have stayed on your own?
If I knew that things would be the same now a year ago when I first signed I probably would've thought more about the move to an indie. I, too, assumed that being on a label, especially one like Jux would mean, if not a bigger budget, increased visibility and exposure. It couldn't be further from the truth. Where are the magazine articles, the interviews, the blurbs on sites like Nah Right? I can't expect support if no one knows who I am. They really could do more to help get my name out there. I understand the record industry is in a decline, but they have an obligation not just to me, but to MTVU to make sure my album comes out. That's where part of the promotional money is coming from, from MTVU. I want everyone to know that. I'm not asking for a $50,000 advance, I just want to know when we're going to put this record out. Why is it that I go weeks without hearing from someone? I'll e-mail or call the label and not hear back until I write a snarky e-mail. Why should it be like that? Meanwhile, I have to pay bills and put food on the table so what am I supposed to do? If I wasn't going to be a priority why did they pick me? To be honest, I don't think anyone at the label takes me seriously.

A lot of people have this glamorous image of the music industry where getting a record deal is almost equivalent to winning the lottery, that you're financially set for life once you sign with a label. Yet you have a day job in addition to the work you put in with the music. Can you give us some details on the financial realities of being an artist on a label like Def Jux? What level of success does an artist need to achieve for the music to become a full time career?
(Image - Danny Swain) The first thing I tell these kids that come up to me asking how I do what I do 'cause they want to do it too, the first thing I say to them is "don't quit your day job". There isn't anything in this industry guaranteed, else I'd have quit my day job as soon as I got picked up by Jux. The glamour days of the huge advance and the big budget videos are long gone, you've got artists signed to majors who, in theory, are in better positions career-wise than an indie guy like me, and yet they're shooting their own low-budget videos and putting them on YouTube, totally bypassing the MTV rotation and heavy dollars it would cost to shoot a regular video. The money is gone, don't come into this business looking to strike it rich 'cause it ain't gonna happen, that's just the reality. Which is why the second thing I tell these kids is if you're looking to get into the entertainment industry to hit it big, you may as well hang it up now. These days if you can make a decent living from album sales, shows, and for a producer selling beats and such, AND keeping a day job to supplement that income, I tip my hat to you because to me that's the new goal. That's success to me, because it's attainable and not as lofty of a goal as getting picked up by a major or going platinum.

I was reading an article that my friend John Book passed along and it said that, as an artist, if you have a thousand true fans that will, without question, support you in every way possible...that's 1000 guaranteed CD sales, and I won't even mention venues and touring...then you're pretty much set. [Danny is referring to Kevin Kelly's 1000 True Fans] The key is to get those thousand fans. If I don't do anything else in this hip-hop game, if I never sell another CD or never get mentioned when people talk about dope new artists, I'll have proven that artists can take their career into their own hands and still have moderate success. I tend to think that unsigned is the new signed.

Further on that point, with you having a 9-to-5, what's your schedule like as far as getting into a studio and working on new music? Do you just work on stuff over the weekends? Call in sick when you want to get a new song finished up?
Aww man, anything I had to do to finish up an album or a track, you name it, I've done it. I feel so bad, 'cause I've had to fib a little. I stopped calling in sick after a while 'cause everytime I did, I'd actually get sick! Then I couldn't call in 'cause they'd be like, "I thought you were just sick...?" So I'd tell them I'd be in late 'cause I had to take my sister to school, or I had to drive my mom to the airport. I was terrible! But I feel like it all paid off. And it wasn't like I was lying all the time, because usually I'd book studio time for the weekends anyway. Even if I wasn't at my job I'd have schoolwork so I'd make sure everything was finished during the week so it wouldn't be hanging over my head come the weekend.

Have you had a chance to get in the studio with any of the other artists on Def Jux? Any upcoming collaborations?
Out of all the Jukies on the label I've only met Hangar 18, Despot, El-P and Del right before he signed. And that was only because I hosted the CMJ showcase in October. They're all cool cats, and Hangar's Alaska invited me to open up for them but it was finals week and I couldn't do it. Other than that, there's no communication, I guess everyone has their own thing going on. Mr. Lif is supposed to be on my first Def Jux single but trying to catch up with dude is like pulling teeth. Just like with the label, I'll e-mail him or call him and not hear from him for weeks, if at all. I sent beats to him months ago and I'm still waiting for a verse. So to answer your questions, all signs point to no, not at all.

You were in a program at Claflin for aspiring teachers. Does teaching still hold any interest for you? To follow up on that, you have an overall positive message in your lyrics; do you think as an artist you have the ability (and/or the responsibility) to have an impact on kids?
At first, I didn't really think I had a responsibility because I didn't think I even had an impact in the first place. I was just trying to rap and get my music heard. But the more people started to hear it, the more I realized that I do have power, my words do carry weight. From the time I put out 2005's "F.O.O.D." to when I was working on "Charm", a lot of kids were like "Danny, why do you curse so much in your songs?" And I had to be mindful because I didn't want their parents to tell them not to listen to my album just because of a few swear words that I once thought were harmless. If you listen to the last track on "F.O.O.D." I say "'F.O.O.D. 2' coming soon" but I scrapped it to make "Charm" 'cause I wanted to make music that everyone could listen to. Not that I was super crazy with the cursing and vulgarity or anything, but I did eventually clean up my act just a little to be more accessible. I think it's fantastic that so many kids gravitate towards my music, given that their heroes are cats like Souljah Boy and Lil' Wayne. As for teaching, I don't want to rule anything out but as of now I'll have to pass on having my own classroom. As much as I talk about retirement I still feel as if I have a lot to do in my music career, and before I start changing lives through teaching, I want to finish what I started trying to change lives through music.

Long term, do you see yourself staying signed with someone else's label (be it Def Jux or someone else), or do you have plans to go back out on your own?
Unless I can find a label that will actually support me and not disappear on me, helping my career progress instead of stalling it, I will most certainly be back on my own in the future. Like I said earlier, unsigned is the new signed. Cats be like, "I'm trying to get where you at, dog", and I'm like, "I'm trying to get where YOU at!" Ha ha, no but seriously, I'd rather have my shit be fucked up because of something I did than because I waited a year-and-a-half for a label to realize that three deadlines for my album have since passed by and that they need to get on the ball. If you're not going to promote me, I'll do it myself. I'm not above it. If you're not gonna put my album in stores, guess what? I can do that too. Every album since "Charm" has had national distribution, meaning on shelves in retail stores. Do you realize how much money I made from "Charm"? "Danny Is Dead" was supposed to be my Def Jux release, but I put it out myself 'cause they weren't communicating with me and I sold almost 3,000 copies which is dope when you consider I do EVERYTHING on my own. Do you realize how much money that is? It only makes sense to stay on my own if they're not going to do anything. Why go to a university with no professors? I feel like I could be learning so much from those that were there (on the label) before me, but no one reaches out. I'm gonna continue to give these labels the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not sure for how much longer I can do that.

As a "producer slash emcee," do you find either role to be more enjoyable than the other? Does one role come easier to you than the other?
I've been producing for almost half of my life, which is a scary thing to say. Me being a rapper, I mean...I'm so thankful for all the success I've got as an artist, but it wasn't even supposed to be like this. I wanted to be behind the scenes as a producer, but I had to use my albums as a vehicle so people could be like "yo, who made those beats? I wanna cop one." After a while it just got to the point where since no one was buying beats, putting out albums helped put food on the table. But soon people started getting into my music, and I really started to enjoy making albums, so that's why "Charm" is so thorough, or "Danny Is Dead" is so thorough, 'cause by that time I was really getting comfortable with my rapping. I figured if I was going to this, I was going to do it right. At the end of the day I'd give anything to just be a successful producer, you know...the last thing I want is to be forever scrutinized because people still think I sound like Kanye, or they don't like my voice, or my lyrics are just okay and nothing special, or...whatever. The thing I hate the most is when I read a review and the person is like, "Danny may not be the most cerebral MC, but..." Or "Danny's lyrics may not be that complex, but..." Like, seriously? What a slap in the face. So with that type of nonsense criticism I enjoy being behind the scenes and producing. I definitely enjoy producing more but rapping allows my productions to get heard. I had to put out like three instrumental albums just so people could hear my beats, for crying out loud.

Finally, can you give us some details on your upcoming album, which I'm assuming is still planned for release under Def Jux? Are you aiming for a concept-type album, a la And I Love H.E.R., or is it going to be a more "traditional" album?
Well, the "And I Love H.E.R." project will be coming out later this month. It features Von Pea from Tanya Morgan, Che Grand and Naledge from Kidz In The Hall. I really appreciate them being a part of the album, they really bring out the best in the overall presentation. The album is being produced by me and my boy Goose, who did "Lip Flappin'" from "Charm". The whole album is the story of a dude who falls for a girl and the stuff they go through. It's an allegory for my music career, and I think this is by far the best album I've ever done in my life. I'm at a tipping point so if people aren't feeling this I swear I'm gonna disappear for like three years and come back with an EP where I just rap over loops from library records, on some straight DOOM shit. With this album I'm really trying to drive home the idea that just because you're an "underground" rapper doesn't mean your music has to have a certain aesthetic or a certain type of sound. I like boom-bap as much as the next man but why can't my music have hooks you can sing along to also?

I was reading a Just Blaze interview where he was saying that back in the day, being underground didn't mean you rapped a certain way, it just meant you haven't achieved mainstream success yet. He was saying that dudes like Jay-Z and Big L were underground at one point, but just hadn't broke through yet. After "F.O.O.D." I got out of that same mentality and stopped trying to sound like what I thought an underground rapper/producer was supposed to sound like and just did me, and it worked. Now I'm taking that and totally increasing it to the nth degree. I wanna say "And I Love H.E.R." is like "Charm" on steroids, but really it's more like the "F.O.O.D. 2" I wanted to make years ago, just with less vulgarity and better beats. Despite the bright and shiny cover, it's a really dark album and I'm kinda back on my D. Swain, sarcastic/cynical tip. But there's balance too; like I mentioned earlier, balance is key. You can be a jaded artist and still smile sometimes. These old, bitter MCs rap about the same thing; I'm like, "I know God must've done something in your life today that made you happy about SOMETHING, smile muthafucka!" Ha ha. I'm putting out "And I Love H.E.R." myself because Def Jux obviously doesn't plan to, and it'll lead in my EP with them later on in the year, if that ever comes out. After this project I'm not doing any more concept records, it involves so much work and to get just a "way to go, Danny" here and there doesn't really make up for all the time spent laboring over it.

Danny Swain - Check It Out (Remix)



Danny Swain - You Owe Me



For more info on Danny, check out his website and his MySpace page for updates. Then stop by the Def Jux store to download two of Danny's previous albums, Charm and Danny Is Dead (both great albums), for free.

And if you still haven't gotten enough, Danny was also recently featured for the cover of Performer Magazine (looking like a young Marlo Stanfield). You can read the full article online.
3/11/2007 07:00:01 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post

(Image - DAME and M.O.G. of Triple Nickels)
As a followup to our feature on the Yadibox.com mixtape - which you've already placed your order for, right? - I shot off a few questions to one of the featured emcees, Jerm (pictured above on the right). Going by the stage name of Mutation of Greatness (M.O.G.), he's one half of the group Triple Nickels alongside fellow emcee D.A.M.E. and one third of the Rowdee Black Giants. Confused? No worries, it will all be explained in the course of the interview. All you really need to know is that he's been putting out some truly original sounding hip hop with his two groups, and, having already gotten the attention of MSN and garageband, he's poised to make some big moves as an independent artist.

To give you a taste of what to expect from M.O.G. before we get to the actual interview, here's a track that he's been working on with his Triple Nickels partner DAME, off of their upcoming album "Smoke Jumpers." I don't believe this is the final, mastered version of the track, but it's hard to imagine there's much more room for improvement on this one:

Triple Nickels - Love Fest



There's a second track you can listen to and download at the end of the interview. Here we go:

For the people reading this who have never heard of Rowdee Black Giants, what can you tell us about the group?
Rowdee Black Giants are a hip hop band cut from the same cloth as ensembles such as Sweetback and The Brand New Heavies to instrumental funk, diatribe and Fathead. Think Blues Traveler meets Public Enemy. RBGeez released two cd's, "That Philadelphia Sound" in 2002 and "The Vampire Huntress Soundtrack" [named after L.A. Banks' Vampire Huntress] in 2004. The Triple Nickels are the emcees within the Rowdee Black Giants. Triple Nickels (Trey Fives) are the Mutation Of Greatness (MOG), Da Average Man Evolvin' (DAME) and Hannibal C. Lunatic. Hope it's not too confusing, but the Triple Nickels have been working on completing it's debut release on Beat Garden Entertainment/Yadibox Entertainment titled "Smoke Jumpers".

At one point Rowdee Black Giants had their music featured on MSN Music. How did you get hooked up with them? As an independent artist working with a large corporation like MSN, did you have to make any compromises to get your music on the site? [For full disclosure's sake: I was one of the developers for the MSN Music site, though I never spoke with anyone from Beat Garden until a couple of years after I left that job.]
The opportunity with MSN Music came from our affiliation with garageband.com. We were having a great deal of success on the hip hop charts, 2 songs in the top 20 and 5 in the top 50 at the time. We received great reviews from fans and MSN approached us to be included in their initial launch of the digitally distributed Garageband Records/MSN Music. We didn't have to make any compromises. They set us up really well where all we needed to do was finance our own promotions/marketing, but at the time we were having issues with our band's management and really couldn't capitalize on the opportunity. But Garageband Records/MSN Music played a major role in showcasing the Rowdee Black Giants (RBGeez) as their initial hip hop artist to be featured at the launch. It was a good look for us because it set up the foundation for what we built into yadibox.com.

A lot of independent artists, when they reach a certain level of success, the question of "selling out" becomes an issue. How do you feel about that - is it possible for an indie artist to make money off of the music and still stay true to their roots?
It depends on how you define selling out. In general, we believe it's possible for indie artists to make money off the music and still stay true...assuming staying true is what got you there in the first place...it wouldn't make much sense to deviate from the blueprint. It matures with time, but essentially if you stay grounded by your roots...you stay true.

If you could work with one major label artist/group from Philly, who would it be?
It's got to be Black Thought or Peedi Crack. Two monsters of the genre for sure.

What's the future for Rowdee Black Giants and Triple Nickels? What projects are in the works?
We are currently looking for musicians (bass, guitar) to continue work on the next RBGeez album to be titled "The Relief Effort." At the moment we are completing work on our Triple Nickels project, "Smoke Jumpers," to be released fall 2008. We have other projects near completion as well: King Bedrock Presents Rhythm-N-Handcuffs which is a collabo of Bigg Sexx and Rock E. Fingers (alias Zilla Rocca of Clean Guns) for summer 2008, Triple Nickels the 555th mixtape for summer 2008 and solo projects from each member of Triple Nickels. Then it's back to the stage to rock out with the RBGeez. Stay tuned!

For those that don't know, can you explain what yadibox.com is all about?
With over 4 million hits, yadibox.com is a revolution in the making. It's worldwide entertainment that offers digital programming (audio, video) featuring local artists: hip hop, spoken word, comedians, dj's, producers, actors/actresses, models, radio personalities, jazz, blues, r & b, caribe, urban/comtemporary gospel via the internet. We have recently partnered with Beat Garden Entertainment and Too Tuff Productions/Danger Zone Nusic to expand and grow each of our brands. Yadibox features weekly podcasts of Zilla Rocca Radio, DJ Casper radio and DJ Nas-T of t.o.g.i radio. [Anyone looking to submit their own material to the site should head on over to yadibox for the contact information]

With Yadibox, you work with local, unsigned artists. What's the vibe that you get from most of the unsigned rappers; do you find that their primary motivation is the love of the music, or do you find that most unsigned acts are putting music out with an eye toward getting a record deal?
In most instances we're seeing artists that do it for the love of hip hop and creating music...but still each of them wants to see that hard work pay off in some form. There are a lot of FedEX/Kinkos rappers out there too. They do whatever they have to do to get signed.

A topic that comes up a lot on my site is the rise of sites like myspace and youtube (and on a more local level, Yadibox), which have given just about everyone with a computer, a mic and a copy of fruityloop the ability to put out a rap song. What are your thoughts on this -- do you think it leads to an oversaturation of hip hop, or does it force everyone to step up their game?
Giving people a voice and means to share that voice is a good thing. If the music is dope it should be heard. The problem is most of the dopest sh*t doesn't get heard, while it seems like all of the whackest sh*t is heard. Artists should always be working to step their game up.

Do you think the next great MC will come from the Internet, or is the best hip hop always going to come from the "streets"?
Both. There are a lot of street cats online nowadays. Music distribution is going digital and the streets will not be left behind.

And there you have it. Big shoutout to Jerm for taking the time out to do the interview. As promised, here's the second track featuring M.O.G. It's a totally different vibe from the first track, but still dope nonetheless:

Rowdee Black Giants - Turn You Out



You can hear even more from M.O.G. and Triple Nickels on the Yadibox.com mixtape (which we previewed two days ago). And if you didn't catch them in the interview, here are the links you need to check out:
Yadibox
Triple Nickels on MySpace
Triple Nickels on garageband.com
M.O.G. on MySpace
Rowdee Black Giants on MySpace
1/31/2007 08:00:01 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post


"Wall Street lawyer turned rapper." Not exactly the typical career path for an aspiring MC, but judging by the numerous blogs that have profiled him recently, it seems to be working out quite well for Jay Eff Kay. Often described as a lyrical successor to the Eminem of Mosh, the former attorney's music mixes over-the-top lyrics with a very serious political message. It's inflammatory, it's offensive and it's rebellious. In short, it's the kind of hip hop that Middle America used to be afraid of. While I don't agree with everything that Jay Eff Kay says in his rhymes, I do have a lot of respect for the fact that he's speaking out against everything that's gone wrong with this country and with hip hop in general.

I had a chance to ask Jay a few questions, covering everything from his start as an MC to his thoughts on politics to his beef with Okayplayer. By the end of the interview, I came away with the impression of a very savvy man who has the potential to make some big moves in the hip hop game. Here's what he had to say (two tracks from his album are included at the end of the interview):

Let's start with how you got into hip hop in the first place. I don't imagine that there were a whole lot of ciphers breaking out in the offices of a law firm, so how did you develop and refine your skills as an MC?
I definitely had to teach myself how to rap; I did not grow up in neighborhoods where people were spitting on the street corner after school. Way way back, in college, when I decided I wanted to start rapping, I borrowed a friends 8-track and a Roland sampler -- I can't even remember the model -- and made some instrumental beats. Then I started rapping over them. I really got serious about things around the time I realized how awful having a day job would be. I didn't have anyone else to record me, so I built a studio in my bathroom and recorded my whole demo in there on my own. That's true. I had to put the PC monitor on top of the toilet. So, I had to either move it or piss in the shower every time I had to go. It was the stuff of legend.

Did you do it all on your own, or do you have a crew of MCs that you work with?
I co-produce almost all of my beats with a guy named Jay Deasel. He is like the Pharrell to my Clipse. Other than that, everything is me. I don't even like to have guest appearances. There's too much shit I want to say and I can't spare the airtime. I'm a megalomaniac.

Were there any specific MCs (or specific albums) you listened to that made you want to pick up a mic in the first place?
Ice Cube and Eminem. Ice Cube was the first rapper I ever got into; in terms of using music as a medium for social criticism, I'm not sure anyone's ever done a more potent job. But, Eminem was what really made me want to be a rapper. Just the perfection in how he uses the language. Never mind rappers, he can stand next to any writer of any genre. I started writing raps within weeks of hearing the Slim Shady EP, I'm sure of it.

In another interview [with Buzzgrinder] you said that, "Rock is way better than rap." Assuming that wasn't sarcastic, why are you performing hip hop instead of rock?
When you go to a rock concert, there is a certain type of kinetic energy achieved which you can almost never achieve with rap music. Once in a while you get a song that has that energy, like "Lose Yourself" or "Jesus Walks" and it blows your mind. That's why I said that. In another lifetime, I'd be Randy Blythe of Lamb of God. But for me right now rap is just a much more efficient way for me to express all my ideas. It's mostly just me and a notebook or laptop. It's pure expression. I'd try to bring rock type energy to it; I think rap needs that right now.

Your background - white lawyer, with an apparent affinity for rock music, turned rapper - is not something that the average hip hop head can relate to. Do you think that's something that will prevent you from being accepted by fans? What would your "sales pitch" be to someone who questions whether your music is relevant to them?
I disagree with the notion that the average hip hop head's life is much different than mine. Most hip hop heads are not face down in a mound of coke with a Mac-10 across their lap and a super model sucking their dick. They are working in some shitty cubicle, hating their job, praying for their fifteen minute break to roll around so they can creep into a bathroom stall and rub one out. They stalk chicks on the internet and watch Family Guy. Although I hate Kanye, I will say that one thing he demonstrates is that people are hungry for rappers who can cover day-to-day, down-to-earth topics in an interesting way. That's mostly what I do.

Looking at the type of hip hop that seems to be selling the most these days - "ringtone" rap and gangsta rap - do you think it's possible for a political rapper to have commercial success? Do you think mainstream audiences are willing to buy into rap with a political message?
Yes, though I don't think you will find proof of that in any recent rap album. Instead, I would say look to Green Day's last album. Audiences aren't dumb. They want to be challenged. They think and talk about politics amongst themselves and they want art that reflects that.

I know that you're primarily interested at this point in just getting your music out there and having people listen to it, but how much are you concerned with the financial aspect of your music right now? My question here stems from the fact that the major labels seem to have little interest in taking risks with the artists they invest in - a rapper speaking out against the government would certainly fall under the "risk" category for them. So to put this question another way, would you be willing to tone down your lyrics if that's what was required to get a record deal?
I make no secret of the fact that I am aiming for a major label deal. I do not want to have to work in an office ever again, and I certainly don't have anyone else paying my bills right now. I don't think an artist who speaks out against the government or "system" is a risk business-wise. In fact it's good business. Corporations know this. They have made billions of dollars selling kids rebellion. Che Guevara shirts come to mind. With each new disgusting, volatile lyric, I become a safer investment. Welcome to America.

One of the underlying themes of your album seems to be that the American public is being deceived by the government. But is it enough to just make people aware of what's going on in politics these days? Given a platform to speak to the American public, what would you suggest they do to fix the current situation?
In terms of activism, you can do three things. The most important thing is your consumption. Try not to buy the system's shit. That's how you fuel it, by handing your money over to it. Second, try to put yourself in a position where you can quit your job and compete with these people. Start your own business. Third, vote for people who aren't evil devils.

On the track Den Of Rats you raise the issue that there's not much difference between a Republican and a Democrat, that they're essentially in collusion with each other. Can you expand on that idea a bit? Given the two party system, do you see any benefit to going out and voting?
Here's where that song comes from. I was working on a case where I had to write some bios of members of the boards of various corporations. And some of these people are on the boards of say five or ten major corporations, some of whom seem like they should be competitors. And you realize that there's a small handful of people who are basically running this country -- and they all know each other and help each other out. No matter who is in office, no matter who we are at war with, no matter who is selling the most hamburgers -- they always benefit. In the political aspect of this, the Republicans and Democrats -- they play this good cop bad cop game depending on who is control of Congress, but they never seem to get anything substantial done. It just really seems sometimes like they are working in conjunction with one another and with big business to accomplish jack shit -- to keep the status quo, to keep the power structure in place. I think there should definitely be more than two parties. Almost every other country has more than two parties. More choices and more competition will definitely enhance democracy. I always vote, and I almost always vote Libertarian. Not just because my own political beliefs are most in line with that party, but also to register my protest against the two party system.

There seems to have been a little bit of drama over at The Eminem Blog recently. Is Jay Eff Kay vs. Edga Da Messiah the 2007 version of Eminem vs. Cage? [The Eminem Blog gave an unfavorable review of Jay's album, which has since been removed, leading to a war of words in the comment section of the site. Here's where it started. And for the record, I love my okayplayer peoples.]
Edga Da Messiah blows shemales. That French whore who runs that site called his album more creative than mine. And trust me his music is unlistenable. You can tell this guy was eating her pussy or some shit -- she was totally biased. I can stand a bad review -- I try to learn from them. But when someone is obviously not listening to your shit or being even-handed, they deserve to be ripped a new asshole. Like this dickless faggot Andrew Martin at Okayplayer [who wrote a review of the album]. Obviously this site is just a circle jerk of backpack rapper dickriders and I never should have sent my CD to them. But this guy clearly didn't even give it a listen. Probably, he is intimidated and disoriented encountering a white man who isn't as much of a vagina as he is and that was his response. When you get 30 reviews and 25 of them are really positive, 4 are indifferent and 1 bashes you, you can pretty much assume that last guy wasn't being objective. He's too much of a statistical outlier. If you see Andrew Martin on the streets of San Francisco or wherever Okayplayer is based, please punch him in his pussy for me.

Do you have any projects that you're currently working on? Do you have any upcoming shows/club appearances that people can see you at?
I'm just working on the next album. I think I'm in a place where I can put out an album a year. I don't do shows at this point. I love the live set, but I am viewing shows more as a reward for when I can get my buzz to the level it needs to be at.

Jay Eff Kay - I'm All Over It



Jay Eff Kay - Want Sex & Violence? (Suburbia's It)



Here's a link to download Jay Eff Kay's album.

You can read a couple of reviews of American Suicide Notes Vo. 1 over at SpliffHuxtable and Rock the Dub. (My quick review: a few of the tracks need a little more polish, but it's hard to deny that Jay shows a ton of potential).

To hear more from Jay Eff Kay, stop by his MySpace page.
11/13/2007 08:00:01 AM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post


A little over a month ago, my man Zilla Rocca from Clean Guns passed along a collaboration that his group had done with a producer out of Los Angeles going by the name of "World Domination Headquarters." Zilla has laced me with several dope tracks in the past, and the six track EP that he sent, Clean Guns = World Domination, was no exception. Instead of the usual review, I thought it would be interesting to hear what W.D.H.Q. (a.k.a. "BNUT") had to say about the EP, his favorite producers, and some advice for up-and-coming producers. I've included two tracks from the EP at the end of the interview:

What's the meaning behind the name "World Domination HQ"?
I wanted a name that was like Castle Greyskull or M.A.S.K. Headquarters. Something that got across the idea that there is some devious shit going down over here.

How did you end up working with Clean Guns on the new EP?
We found each other on myspace, I can't remember who found who, but once we heard each other's music we knew that we were on the same wavelength. So I sent them out a beat CD, and two weeks later they sent me the vocal tracks they had recorded to my beats. I then mixed the songs with the new vocals, most the mixes changed a lot once the vocals were added. Clean Guns also sent out a couple accapella tracks from previous songs they did and I did a remix for their song "Hold Your Glass High", that is one of the first mixes I made where I had the vocals first.

Along with the beats, you made the artwork for the mixtape as well. What's the story behind the cover?
I wanted an image that went with the name Clean Guns, I wanted to do the exact opposite of glorifying guns. I found these images of children in Africa holding these big guns, placed them over a picture of Philly, where Clean Guns are from and just went from there. I hope people look at that cover and realize that this album is not your run of the mill rap or hip-hop.

You have a pretty unique style - to my ears it manages to be very much "hip hop" without relying on the usual type of samples that hip hop is traditionally known for. What type of samples do you usually look for when you start creating a beat? Do you have any "go to" artists or groups that you start with when you're looking for a sample to use?
I am a huge fan of the doller bin at all record stores, that is where I got at least a third of my record collection. I like sounds and samples that are almost completely unrecognizable, I think that is where any kind of unique style of mine might come from. On the other hand I love classic rock, so I'll sample anything I can find from the 60's and 70's. Soundtracks also have a lot of great music in them, like anything by Thomas Newman for example. If I am in a bind I have a crate or two filled with a few failsafe records, mostly motown, funk and soul type of stuff.

Are there any producers that you look to for inspiration?
It's a long list, but here are a few: J Dilla, MadLib, Blockhead, DJ Shadow, El-P, Ant, Dj Premier, Prefuse 73, 9th wonder, RJD2, Four-Tet, Rob The Viking, Danger Mouse, RZA, Rick Rubin, Buck 65, The Neptunes, Timbaland, Dre ...

If you could pick one artist to rap over one of your beats, who would it be?
Right now I think it would have to be Brother Ali. That man is killin it right now. He puts so much emotion into his lyrics and his delivery.

On your myspace profile, you say that, "About six years ago I started taking all my knowledge of hip-hop and applying it to my own music." Was there anything specific that inspired you to take the step from DJing to producing?
It just seemed logical at the time to take everything I learned from djing (tempo, song structure, what sounds to use, how to chop a sample, etc) and try to apply it to my own music. I had also been in a few bands, just scratching, sampling and playing keys. So I also learned a lot from them.

What's your advice for someone who's looking to take their first step toward producing beats? Do you think it's better for someone starting out to begin with software (i.e. fruityloop) or hardware?
I started out with straight up software, I think that is a good place to start because just about every piece of hardware is simulated in some type of software, and it turns out to be a lot cheaper. Once you get to know your software inside and out, then it is a good time to throw some hardware into the mix, like an MPC and synths. Right now my setup consists of Cubase sx3 with Reaktor, Kontakt, and Reason, an MPC 3000, Roland A-80 Midi controller, Technics with a Rane TTM 56, Sure MM47 and White Label needles, and a Tascam FW-1082 audio interface/controller.

Are you still DJing?
Since I started producing, I slowly stopped djing out. Production takes up almost all of my spare time.

Any upcoming projects in the works?
My roomates and I are starting a type of production team. All original music, no samples, but with the same WDHQ feel. We have a few songs completed already, and we're trying to get them on records or soundtracks/trailers, or anything to get our names out there.

Any shoutouts?
People that are down with WDHQ:

Flip Tracy: http://www.myspace.com/patchyfog
O.D.: http://www.myspace.com/soldiersofwar
Eightrack Mind: http://www.myspace.com/eightrackmind
Moss Mountain Project: http://www.myspace.com/mossmountainproject

Here are two tracks off of the Clean Guns = World Domination mixtape:
World Domination featuring Clean Guns - I Don't



World Domination Headquarters - Bonus Beat



Here's a link to download Clean Guns = World Domination (sendspace)

Thanks to BNUT and Clean Guns for letting us put up a couple of the tracks from the mixtape. For more from World Domination Headquarters, stop by the MySpace page.

And for a second take on the Clean Guns EP, check out what Passion of the Weiss had to say about it.
10/09/2007 08:31:29 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post


Though DJ Danger Mouse was the first to gain mainstream attention for creating a mashup concept album based on hip hop, these days the undisputed king of the genre has to be DJ Swindle. From his debut joining the cold blooded rhymes of Mobb Deep with the laid back sounds of Bob Marley to his latest release combining the music of Al Green and Nasir Jones, Swindle has the mashup game on lockdown.

A couple of months ago, Universal Records' legal team sent DJ Swindle a cease and desist letter, telling him to take down one of his albums featuring 50 Cent. I got in touch with him to see how he planned on responding to Universal and ended up getting a full interview out of him. Swindle has some very interesting thoughts on the music industry, his current legal situation and the process of creating a mashup album. Check it out:

First off, what's the current situation with Universal (assuming you're able to talk about it)? In another interview, you said that they were threatening "over-the-top legal action." Can you give any specifics on that?

Although I've been advised not to disclose details I can say that Universal (and most record labels) are slowly, FINALLY coming to the conclusion that Mixtape producers and DJs are one of the biggest promotional tools they have. Who else puts this much time and effort into bringing attention to their artists at no cost? All we want is a little positive exposure for our own names while we do it.

After DJ Drama was arrested in January, did you have any concerns that you might be one of the next artists to be targeted by the RIAA? Did you take any steps, legal or otherwise, to prepare yourself for that?

Most of the steps I took were to just get my point of view out there as swiftly and clearly as possible because it does matter what the majority of listeners think and the labels do listen to their customers. If enough people share in the notion that mixtape artists like myself are actually contributing to good music and not a detriment to it, then I'm confident the labels (and the labels' attorneys) will have no choice but to accept it. I can also easily envision a win-win situation existing where the labels embrace the mixtape industry and take it to a level similar to radio where it's an organized promotional pipeline that benefits all parties involved. They should be paying us a lot of money for this type of promotion. Concept mash-up albums like "80 Cent", "EM-J" or "Almatic" bring new life to classic existing artists. Mixtape DJs like Drama, Big Mike and Superstar Jay are literally responsible for the success of the artists that they 'break' through their mixtapes.

I first came across your cd Bobb Deep on mixunit.com a couple of years ago. As of right now, mixunit is not selling your cds or any other mixtapes as a result of the DJ Drama situation. Have you gotten any information from mixunit that would suggest they'll eventually start selling mixtapes again?

Mixunit, which was the highest profile mixtape site on the web, really had no choice but to take precautionary measures. You can't just sit around in the Matrix waiting for the agents to come blasting. Even way before this crackdown they were unable to sell my "EM-J: Marshall Meets Michael" CD due to Interscope's strict enforcement of anything and everything Eminem. The crazy part about all this is that I always thought the Hip Hop side would be the ones who were cool about it and it would be the other side (the Michael Jackson or the Al Green side) that would want it shut down. But nope, strangely enough it was always the Hip Hop half that was acting like a sensitive little girl about it. During the release of Nas' most recent album there was a lot of debate on the thinking behind the title "Hip Hop Is Dead". It's exactly things like the labels going after mixtape artists that he's talking about.

After Drama's arrest, he received a fair amount of support from the general public. A lot of that support seemed to be based on the idea that the labels were relying on mixtapes as part of their promotions leading up to album releases, and were thus complicit in the mixtape scene. Yet many people view mashup/blend tapes as something different from traditional mixtapes. What is your response to people who would say that an album like 80 Cent, which uses material from older albums and was not tied in with any album promotions, actually hurts an artist's sales?

Nobody will ever NOT buy an artists album because they listened to a mash-up. If anything I'm trying to bring new life and a revitalized interest into a sometimes played-out classics. As much as I love remixing songs, my main goal with these mash-up albums is to give people a feel for the type of beat work I'm coming with [editor's note: I believe some of his non-mashup beats can be heard on Platinum Pete's free album, though I have not confirmed that.]. That's why when you listen to one of my mash-up CDs you don't just hear an acapella fitted over some basic loop. I chop, sample and try to add my own signature finesse to every song including new drums, basslines, etc. I'm sampling music from whatever artist the concept entails but trying to make a whole new song out of it completely while keeping the vibe of the original. Besides, that whole Drama thing was ridiculous and off target. How misinformed can law enforcement be? I still can't believe they were so dimwitted that they couldn't differentiate between some Chinese bootlegging operation (that they had busted a week earlier) and DJ Drama (who is working for and with the artists and labels themselves).

Album sales overall have been in decline for several years. Hip hop in particular seems to have taken a very hard hit, with album sales dropping 21% in 2006. You've stated that your views on how to save the music industry are a "radical departure" from the current status quo. Can you expand on what you think needs to be done to fix the industry?

Excellent question, I love to ramble on and preach about what needs to be done with the music industry (it's just rare that someone actually wants to listen, ha.) A friend of mine recently said she predicts all media will be available for free within 5 years. I agree with this. All of the ingredients are there. Constantly increasing internet speeds, larger hard drives standard on all new computers, rampantly multiplying file sharing platforms... Once something is digital it's as good as free and that's the bottom line. It seems like last year we were saying "yo let me get a dub of that" as we shared cassette tapes with friends and traded songs until the tape hiss was louder than the music itself. There was never one instance where I remember anyone calling it "illegal sharing" even though it was basically the same concept. In fact, almost every tape deck you could buy came with two decks for dubbing! The dubs were never as good as the originals though which leads to the difference with today's 'sharing'... Once it's digital, all it takes is one original to feed music to the entire planet without one ounce of degradation. Most people, presented with the option of buying or getting the exact same thing for free, will get it for free. The industry will fight this for a while longer but will inevitably lose.

A new model has to be embraced if they want any chance of survival. My model is similar to cable T.V. and the large T.V. Networks. You pay for cable service every month and your tv show's come to you free. The only string attached is you're subjected to advertising which, as hated as it is, is the sole reason your shows and sporting events even exist. Music can be the same. Artist's would be in contract with products, labels would be more brokers than anything, brokering deals between artists and brands. People would pay for internet service and have access to download whatever they want, whenever they want knowing that your new Britney Spears song is affiliated with Pepsi Cola for example. Pepsi would have unlimited usage of her likeness in their ads and in turn they would be responsible for the recording and distribution (mostly digital) of her music. I'm not by any means saying there should be ads IN the music but it would be an ad revenue based industry rather than the sales based industry that is currently suffering. I've got a LOT more details and ideas on all this so Lyor, Iovine, Geffen, Clive.... Hit me up, let's do lunch at Smith And Wolensky's and discuss it further.

When you are in the initial stages of developing an album, what comes first: the album title or the beats and vocals that you are blending?

Usually I'll start with an artist that I've been wanting to work with, it's sort of like a fantasy production, pretending like I actually get to work with Bob Marley or Nas. I know that's hella nerdy but I've been a music lover for so long it's fun to dream a little ya dig? The only one that was spawned from the name first was "Em-J" and it just came together like it was meant to be. The others started with the artists and the name just clicked afterwards. I'm from an advertising background so I've spent long hours concepting, trying to come up with 'big ideas' for campaigns so I guess it rubs off on the music projects. The "Almatic" concept came together while working with my man Frank Lyon who is now my main partner in these mash-up CDs and music in general. We both are huge Nas fans and Frank is a sick Acapella fiend. He's the only human being I've ever met who listens to acapellas recreationally. I think he prefers to listen to songs without any music at all, just playlists of Biggie, Nas and 2Pac acapellas running in the background all day. Sick bastard! Anyway, he'll dig up the best quality acapellas he can find, using some pretty clever tactics to find the joints that few others have access to and I'll be at the stove with the pyrex, cooking up those beats using my usual artillery which is mainly and ASR-10 sampler, Korg Triton and Logic Audio with some MPC sounds imported in. I don't have or use an MPC, but as I said before, anything digital is as good as free so i've got a TON of MPC sounds on file. I'm more comfortable with the ASR keyboard set-up.

And then in comes my man Gavin in L.A. [Gavin] is the main person responsible for the album cover art and design. Usually I'll have a loose concept in mind and he'll execute it in a way that nobody else could and it looks incredibly professional. For example the EM-J cover, we thought of this 'visual mash-up' of imagery with the Michael Jackson glove giving the finger. We actually had it professionally shot by a friend of mine, local NYC fashion photographer Philippe Rohdewald (who is another brilliant artist I've been working with for years and deserves a lot of credit). The problem was the glove came out grey and flat so all of the shine and bling was added after the fact by Gavin and it came out sick. The new art Gavin just finished for the newest Mash-up Frank and I are working on now called "Snooperfly" (Snoop Dogg and Curtais Mayfield Superfly) came out insane. He took the old Superfly cover and characterized Snoop into it. Gavin's main goal, and this is no lie, is to design adult video box covers (that twisted pervert!) but for the time being he's a crucial part of our whole package.

Once you have the idea for what the concept of the album will be, how do you proceed from there? Do you just randomly select beats to match up with specific acapellas until you find a good combination, or do you have a beat in mind for a particular vocal before you start the creation process?

In most cases, timing is the deciding factor for the combinations. I'll always start with an acapella that Frank Lyon has dug up and lock it up to its original BPM. For example, on Almatic Frank got his hands on some very high quality Nas acapellas that we knew we wanted to use. Once the BPM of the acapella is locked in I build the beat around that BPM. I'll sample parts of certain songs I think will sound good with those lyrics but often the speeds just don't agree. The samples have to run too slow or way too fast and 'chipmunky' to fit on time, since I rarely use pitch shifting to cram a sample on time (unless I'm dead bent on using that sample). So if it doesn't work I just try a different song to sample. Eventually it works. Once one sample works and I've determined the right speed and pitch, I'll start to take a bunch of sub-samples for change ups and other parts for hooks. Then I'll add drums and bass lines. In the case of Snooperfly we did the opposite.

What kind of equipment do you use to create your albums -- is it all through software, or are you using turntables and samplers as well? Any software or hardware recommendations for kids out there who are looking to make their first blend tape?

As I mentioned my main tools are the Korg Triton and ASR-10 sampler/keyboard. I haven't found too much in the way of software samplers/synths that can create the same feel of the pounding Triton Kicks and the bass and the feel of the ASR-10 for sampling is unmatched. I'm on my second one now and I've been using that machine for so long that I'm just way more comfortable and fast with it than any software. In the end it all ends up sequenced and mixed in Logic Pro for Mac.

As for the kids... Obviously most people getting into beatmaking will start with Fruityloops, Reason or some other software apps which is fine but just remember that everyone is using the same stuff so to avoid having the same sound try adding 1 or 2 unique outside elements to your mix. Maybe it's an MPC or a Motif keyboard... Just something to separate your sound from everyone else.

Do you have any musical aspirations beyond creating remix albums? Any plans to make a Danger Mouse-type move and work with a major label artist?

The mash-ups are actually just a very small piece of what we're doing. They are simply a vehicle for getting my production out there and letting people know my sound and how I would've produced these artists. I've got original beats that are WAY hotter than anything we've ever put down on a mash-up album and we're just looking for the right opportunity to work with a major or up-and-coming artist. Like I said, hit me up Liles, Clive, Jay,.. Let's do lunch at Dorsia and discuss it further.

Are there any djs (mashup, mixtape or otherwise) that you look to for inspiration? Any djs out there that you'd be interested in working with in the future?

We're currently working with Crazy Chris and Chong Wizard on a new compilation album called "Mash of the Titans". I'd like to start getting my tracks featured on my favorite mixtape DJ's CDs, like Big Mike and Kay Slay.

Have you ever received feedback from any of the artists you've based your work on?

You mean other than the 'feedback' I received from "Lawyers representing Curtais Jackson"? DJ Drama actually gave me some real positive feedback in one of his recent interviews and I've had some meetings with some of the people working with the artists, for example Violator Records representing Mobb Deep.

Do you have an idea in mind for your next album?

DJ Swindle and Frank Lyon Present: Snooperfly.

The sources for your beats have been from a fairly wide range of artists - from artists traditionally sampled in hip hop like Al Green and Michael Jackson, to groups like INXS which are less familiar to most hip hop fans. I'm assuming at least some of your inspiration comes from the music you listened to growing up, so what kind of music were you into as a kid?

Growing up in Northern Cali in the 80s my Mom liked Michael Jackson and my Dad liked classical music so there was always a strange mix of genres playing, even back then. Once I developed my own tastes I went full swing into gangster rap. Run DMC and the Beastie Boys got me into Rap but it was N.W.A., Cypress Hill and 2 Live Crew, Digital Underground and Tupac that got me hooked. My favorite album and artist of all time is Ice Cube: Death Certificate. In my opinion one of the best produced rap albums ever.

As I've said several times before on my site, Bobb Deep ranks as one of my favorite albums of all time. I would have had no problem paying as much for that as any retail cd I've purchased. Do you think we'll ever see a major label endorse a mashup dj and actually sell a cd like Bobb Deep in retail outlets? Is that something you're interested in, selling your albums in a "legitimate" outlet?

I think that's an excellent idea and if the major labels had as much sense as you and were able to identify opportunities like that to bring new exposure to their existing artists then maybe they wouldn't be in such bad shape.

Are you doing any live performances? I know you're based in NY, any specific clubs that we can find you at?

I haven't DJ'd a party since some sweet 16 in Queens in 1997. I'm a producer mainly so my turf is the studio rather than the stage.

Big thanks to Swindle for coming through!

I'm assuming pretty much everyone that comes to this site has heard at least a couple of tracks that DJ Swindle has put out. I first heard one of his mashups a couple of years ago, when I picked up Bobb Deep. There are ton of dope remixes on that album, but my favorite is his take on Shook Ones:

DJ Swindle - Bobb Deep

He's made all four of his mashup albums available for free download. If you don't already have them, head over to djswindle.com and go get them!

For more information about Swindle's upcoming projects or to contact him, stop by swindleentertainment.com.

4/25/2007 6:28:29 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post


Towards the end of last year, some dude calling himself the Rap Jack Bauer started showing up in the comments section, dropping some knowledge among the spam and porn links that the site had temporarily been overwhelmed with. He hooked me up with a copy of his group Clean Guns' debut album, Sometimes There Is Trouble, and after giving it a listen not expecting much, I was surprised by how good it was (for a recap of the album, check out the previous post on Clean Guns). Clean Guns recently released a new mixtape and as I said to him after hearing it, this is like the underground equivalent of the Clipse's We Got It For Cheap Vol. 2. Featuring Clean Guns and the rest of their Beat Garden Entertainment crew, Living In Harmony is the rare mixtape that manages to sound original over jacked beats.

RJB a.k.a. Zilla Rocca recently took some time out to do an interview, discussing the process of rhyming over other rappers' beats, the state of Philly hip hop, the equipment he uses as a producer and MC, and a whole lot more. He's got some interesting things to say, check it out:

Let's start out with the mixtape. The beat selection is crazy, covering everything from the Fugees to Obie Trice to MF Doom. What was the criteria for selecting the beats?

The beats we picked were definitely from a conscious decision to let people hear us on tracks that were vastly different from the album [Sometimes There Is Trouble]. The album was built to showcase our song writing and concepts, the mixtape was built for instant gratification, something to knock in your car while MC's are just killing it. Some beats we picked ("The Score," "Dead Presidents") are classics that never get old and we've loved our whole lives. Others ("The Briefing" is "Piano Song" by DJ Vadim) were joints I at least never heard cats rhyme on for mixtapes. We also tried to stick to beats we sound good on--hardcore, mostly East coast head nodding bangers. And I think we accomplished that to some degree.

Do you find it harder to rap over beats that another MC has already used? Do you feel any pressure to outdo the original rapper? Do you have to make a conscious effort not to use the same flow/style as the original rapper?

Sometimes it's harder to get on beats that legendary MC's have used--we didn't use any Biggie beats because what's the point? You can't really top Big ever. But other times, like on the "Kick, Push" beat by Lupe, we wanted to write a totally different song to a beat everyone ties to one concept (i.e. writing about my friend Dave whose a soldier in Iraq compared to Lupe's skateboard talk). And yes, you SHOULD feel some pressure to outdo the original rapper because if you come off wack, cats will just listen to the original song and clown you for attempting to get on a Jay-Z beat. The only time I made a conscious decision to use the same flow as the original was on "Clap Clap" which was "Wamp Wamp" by the Clipse. I fucking LOVE the original and wanted to jack Pusha's delivery while rapping about everything BUT cocaine. Otherwise, it would just be a cover song.

Let everybody know why they should buy this mixtape.

We're not much of salesmen for our shit--it sounds cliched and boring but we really let the product speak for itself. 26 tracks, mixed and mastered with professional packaging, dope artwork, ridiculous rhymes and beats that will break your neck. $6 on CD Baby.com. You can't beat that shit. We put a lot of time into it and recorded tons of material that just didn't make it due to quality control. I'm personally sick of mixtapes where there's 42 tracks and about 10 get replay value. We'd rather give the absolute best 20-30 and trash the rest. Otherwise, we're wasting the listener's time.

What's your long-term vision for Beat Garden Entertainment? Are you looking to turn it into a label or is it more of a "movement"? What I'm essentially asking here is, your ultimate goal for Beat Garden is to be something along the lines of Roc-A-Fella/Duck Down (pressing records under a Beat Garden label) or more like Dipset/Wu-Tang (one crew that might have each of its artists signed to different labels)?

That's a really good question. We started this company in '06 trying NOT to be a record label, but the more dope material we make and the more accomplished, serious artists we align ourselves with, it's harder to stick to that statement. We just added the Rowdee Black Giants (well-known and respected hip hop live band from Philly) to our team, and they're doing a project called Triple Nickels that is insane. They're vets with excellent content and substance--grown man talk that is highly entertaining and vicious.

We still have So-say, who I don't think people realize is one of the nicest MC's period in the Philly/South Jersey area. His album's next up, and it's called "Primus Inter Pares (First Among Equals)." He's on "Say Goodnight" and absolutely destroys his 6 appearances on the mixtape.

We have Professor Anarchy and ASK? who sound completely different from everyone I just listed, on some indie-Def Jux-Sage Francis shit and can hang with anybody on the mic.

And all of these artists want to put the Beat Garden logo on their releases, so I guess we'll be a label of some sort from here on out. We just make a deliberate effort to do projects and find music and artists that don't sound the same. That's why our company tag line is "Many styles. Many styles." When you said names like No Limit or Murder Inc, you knew what you were getting, for better or worse, from the whole camp as far as songs, sounds, concepts, artwork, etc. We don't want to get caught up in that--we got something that's dope for every hip hop fan.

I know you've got an upcoming project working with producers that aren't associated with Beat Garden. Can you give some more details on that? If there are any producers out there that want to get involved, what's the best way to submit stuff to you?

We decided to do something called The Beat Garden Producer Series. Thanks to the internet, everyone has access to really great music from cats all over the world. We would get cats adding us on MySpace that had some heat, so we'd ask for a beat CD. We'd get it, knock out 5-6 songs in a week and send it back for their feedback. We figured it's a great way to get our name out there while helping promote dope producers all over the world. The first joint we did is with this cat BNUT aka World Domination Headquarters. It's in the final stages of mixing and mastering, as well as artwork, as we speak. We're gonna put them out free as online downloads (i.e. Kweli and Madlib's free EP) every other month or so. This way, people get to hear Beat Garden artists on all kinds of tracks and the producers get to build up their resumes. And it's all free.

The next producers we're working with is our in house producer Alex Wood (formerly Konvict Muzik), this cat Archa (pronounced Ar-ka) from Philly who's on some Dilla/MF Doom/Pete Rock shit, Stupid Genius from Miami who WILL be one of the biggest producers in the game (remember that name--he's a BEAST) and Mydus, who you actually spotlighted a month or so ago [right here].

If any DOPE producers think this is a good look for them, hit us up on MySpace or e-mail me directly: CleanGunsInfo AT yahoo.com If you just started making beats 2 months ago, it's probably not gonna work out. But if you're a serious producer who wants to get your name out there, then let's go!

Can you describe the setup you use when you're producing beats? Do you do everything through software, or do you use hardware (samplers, turntables, etc)? Do you use vinyl at all? Any recommendations for kids out there who are looking to make their first beat?

I personally just use Reason 3.0 for beats (and sample everything) and Logic to record and mix. I have a shitty Casio keyboard as my midi controller. I use KRK speakers and a Rode NTK-1 microphone for vocals. I have some really nice Sennheiser headphones to get a true representation of the sounds.

Some cats use MPC's or Fruity Loops or Acid or ASR's--whatever tool best suits you, run with it. I've been using Reason since '03, so I feel really comfortable with it. I can make a track in about 20 minutes. I don't use any vinyl whatsoever-- all of my samples are off CD or MP3. With technology really leveling the playing field in the last 10 years, everyone now can afford and use the same tools as Dr. Dre, Hi-Tek, Kanye, etc. It's now about what you can do with those same tools. You can give me a sample that 50 other producers have used and I'll flip it my own way, using Reason and Logic, compared to someone that would use vinyl and an MPC. There's no right or wrong way, regardless of what the "purists" say--it's about making great music. Does your beat grab me? Does it knock in the car? Does it make me want to write a song? Then I don't really care how you made it. I just read an article where El-P said he just bought a Triton and his goal is to use to make it sound like HIS style, not Dre or the Neptunes. That's key--whatever you use, make your own sound. It'll be harder to get accepted at first, but people will eventually catch on. Look at Dilla.

I know every rapper has their own way of writing rhymes -- some rappers keep the rhymes all in their head, some rappers can't write without a blunt, etc. What's your process for writing a verse? Do you and Knowledge Don [the other half of Clean Guns] work together on it, or do you write your rhymes separately?

Myself and Knowledge usually write to a beat specifically. He's more of a writer than I am--he probably right now has about 80 bars memorized, sitting in his head waiting to unload. He did that for a lot of the mixtape--it was just verses he had to get out of his head to fill it up with new verses (that's definitely the case of "Regarded as Great (The Setup)" [one of the tracks on the mixtape]).

I rarely write without a specific beat in mind. We mostly write separately but we send verses back and forth via email or over the phone so we're both on the same page when it comes to a song. We've been doing it for so long together and know each other's styles so well that we don't have to look over each other's shoulder at any point--we know it's gonna be hot. And if it's not, we respect each other enough to say "Hey, fix this" or "That's not hitting."

Knowledge usually gets concepts first before he gets a beat ("Ode to the Dead" from our allbum is an example of this). I'm more random and chaotic--I'll just let the pen go and maybe after 10-12 bars, I find a concept or story that later becomes the whole song and just scrap the beginning ("The Story of Betty Boom (RUN!!)" off the mixtape is an example).

Philly sports fans have earned a pretty bad reputation for being "brutal lunatics" (to quote Jere Longman's recent book on the Eagles). Does any of that carry over into the hip hop fans? Or to put it another way -- do you find that Philly hip hop heads are more passionate and/or critical than fans from other regions?

Philly is an interesting town. We're used to losing, having our hearts broken, falling short, feeling inferior to bigger markets, bad management, etc. It's pretty depressing when you think about it! We all KNOW our team is gonna blow but they string us along and we still to believe and have hope, then they fail like the '97 Flyers, the '01 Sixers, the '04 Eagles and the Phillies of the last 3-4 years.

How that translates to the hip hop scene...I'm not sure. I do know that there's ALOT of talent here, from the mixtape/battle DVD heads to the indie cats to the boom-bap/purist set. From Joey Jihad to Reed Dollaz to Reef the Lost Cauze to 2ew Gunn Ciz to Gillie the Kid to The Flight Brothers....there's just a shitload of dope MC's for all kinds of crowds. There isn't much unity though--it's kind of like a boys club in all of these sections. For some reason, the mixtape/battle DVD dudes don't do songs or albums or shows with the true school heads and vice versa. It's very territorial and segregated. I'm not blaming anybody or calling people out but it seems like no one wants to unite for a greater cause. That's where we come in.

Rowdee Black Giants didn't need Clean Guns or Beat Garden for anything. They have a following since '99, they've gotten press, played all over the place, sold merch and started Yadibox.com, which now has over 4 million hits! But it only makes them better and makes us better by collaborating and joining up with people who are just as talented, hungry, focused, dope and as passionate as themselves in the same city. Imagine if G-Unit and DipSet did an album together--New York would win! The East Coast would be killing it again. This isn't specific just to Philly either, it's just an East Coast thing in general--crabs in a barrel. "If you get on before me, f*ck you!" Whereas Down South, cats are happy to support each other because they realize it'll make it that much easier for them to get on.

We reach out to anybody who's dope and on their business, like the Producer Series. Most of the time, the calls go unanswered and that's typical anywhere. But we'll mess with ANYBODY who we respect and is making good music, whether they get on before us or get a deal before us or whatever. Our time will come, so why hate on the next man who's grinding? If everyone in Philly who I named earlier got a deal tomorrow and became huge, it would only be a matter of time before we did, like the Seattle grunge scene of the early 90s and the NYC rock scene of the early 00's. When you first started out, did you have any problems being taken seriously as "white rappers"? Do you have that problem at all these days?

We still don't get taken seriously by people who haven't seen us in person. Our manager Big O, as well as M.O.G. of RBGeez/Triple Nickels, play Clean Guns to their friends, and they refused to believe that we are white! They had to go to our MySpace page or see the album artwork until they believe for real! I guess most people, outside of Eminem, aren't exposed to dope white MC's. I can name about 10 off the top who are sick as hell, but they aren't mainstream. Plus, this isn't a lyrical time for the industry, so hearing 2 white MC's who put a premium on lyrics is a rarity to most heads I assume. We don't ever talk about it in our rhymes because we've been doing this for 10 years and have already won over people, so it's not a big deal. We expect people to think we'll be wack, but again the music speaks for itself.

A few months ago, you were looking into the possibility of getting Sean Price or R.A. the Rugged Man to drop a verse for a Clean Guns track. Has anything happened with that? If there were no budget considerations involved, who's the one MC you're not affiliated with that you'd want to get a guest verse from?
,br /> We just talked about getting Brother Ali on the next official Clean Guns album. He's probably one of the top 5 guys now in the game, and we've been HUGE fans since "Shadows on the Sun." Plus, his style would work well with ours. Same as RA and Sean Price. We hollered at Termanology about getting a 16, but decided to put that money towards getting our album on college radio, where right now we're kicking ASS in Iowa and Wisconsin (amongst other places)!

If there was no budget constraints, we'd get Aesop Rock, Kool G Rap, Saigon, Joe Budden, Ghostface, Nas, Lupe Fiasco, Styles P, Reef the Lost Cauze...tons of others, but they just jump out immediately.

What is the immediate future for Beat Garden -- any details on upcoming projects, albums, mixtapes, club appearances?

Oh man--tons of stuff coming up. The next mixtape we're working on right now, it's about 60% done, is the Yadibox.com mixtape. It's gonna feature Clean Guns, Triple Nickels, So-Say, ASK?, Prof. Anarchy, Black Russian, Virus (not Viro the Virus) and 2ew Gunn Ciz. We're looking to get more heads on it. That'll be out in summer.

So-Say's album "Primus Inter Pares (First Among Equals)" is up next. He's finishing that and a mixtape of original beats right now. That'll be out early summer.

We have the Beat Garden Producer Series #1 with World Domination Headquarters dropping online as a free 6 song download hopefully by the end of this month.

We have another online download EP coming out in summer. It's called "Rhythm and Handcuffs" by King Bedrock. King Bedrock is myself and M.O.G.--it's a concept album on some Kool Keith/Smut Peddlers shit. I'm producing that under the persona of Mr. Rock E. Fingers and M.O.G. takes on his persona of Bigg Sexx on the mic and runs wild! Strictly for mature audiences only!?!

We have the debut project from Prof. Anarchy and ASK? called Debtor's Prism. That should also be out in summertime on iTunes, Napster and CD Baby. It's like old Del the Funkee Homosapien meets Def Jux--killer.

And Triple Nickels is getting their untitled debut album mixed and mastered as we speak. I haven't heard it yet and I assume it should be done in the next few months.

For Clean Guns, we're gonna be dropping tons of shit this year, from Producer Series to mixtapes to free downloads to shows to radio. We might release the "Say Goodnight EP" in the fall--it'll be exclusively on iTunes and Napster with remixes of "Good Clean Fun" and "Say Goodnight 2" with So-Say, plus some new bangers we've just completed.

Nico the Beast is working on a solo album of sorts with beats from me and Alex Wood. I'm just producing everybody and doing solo songs here and there. I feel like The RZA in a way in that I'd rather have a hand in 3-5 projects then just do a solo Zilla Rocca album. Who knows. But stay tuned in '07 for Beat Garden--you're gonna see and hear alot from us. I promise. We just KILLED our mixtape release party last night @ The Fire--peace to everyone who came out. Our next show is Friday May 11th @ The Medusa Lougne in Philly. It's The Friday Fix--free hip hop every second Friday. Shoutouts to Dom Pinelli from Public Axis!

Thanks to 33jones.com again for all the support. Thanks to my other blog heads-- Passion of the Weiss, Straight Bangin and Nerd Litter. Peace to everyone in Philly grinding for this hip hop shit. Peace to all the college radio stations that just added Clean Guns to their playlists. Peace to our good friends in the band Bebek--another top notch Philly band about to take over the world. Peace to my man Braille--I'm about to hopefully work with him on his next album. And thank you to everyone who's supported us, whether by coming to a show or buying a mixtape or burning a copy of our album for someone else. It's all love.

Big thanks to Zilla for doing the interview. Now on to the audio portion -- the whole mixtape is dope, but here are two that stand out:

Clap Clap (What They Do) featuring ASK?

Dead Presidents

To pick up a copy of the Clean Guns mixtape, Living In Harmony, head on over to cdbaby.com. The tape's six bucks, its worth it.

For even more music, stop by Beat Garden's MySpace page. You can find links over there to all of their artists.
4/9/2007 2:28:29 PM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post


Since less than 1% of the people visiting this site take the time to leave comments (and I love all 16 of you for that, don't ever doubt that), I'm always grateful whenever someone new comes through with something to say. So when the Rap Jack Bauer, who's been dropping some knowledge recently in the comments section, hooked me up with a cd from his group Clean Guns (comprised of RJB a.k.a. Zilla and Nico a.k.a. Knowledge Don), I probably would have done a post for him just on the strength of his contributions here. The fact that the album is really good makes this a lot easier, though.

To give you a feel for what the group sounds like, I'm putting up their track Say Goodnight featuring Sosay. Built around a sample from the Beastie Boy's Alive, this is arguably the best song off of the album:

Clean Guns featuring Sosay -- Say Goodnight

If you want to read a brief review of the album, check out Passion Of The Weiss' take on Sometimes There Is Trouble. For this post, though, I thought it would be more interesting to hear what Zilla himself had to say. I ain't Barbara Walters, so this wasn't the most organized of interviews. I'll just hit you with a few of the highlights:

On the subject of the album cover (pictured above): "The girl on the cover is Nico aka Knowledge Don's sister-in-law's daughter. We shot that in January '05. I think she was 6 years old at the time. We wanted to have an album cover that stopped people dead in their tracks and was open to interpretation. . .And is the gun real? Who knows....no one got hurt though."

Discussing the MCs who influenced Clean Guns: "Knowledge really got me into rhyming when Canibus and DMX were blowing up on mixtapes. After we heard 'Beasts From the East' and the other mixtape tracks Canibus did with DJ Clue and Tony Touch, we lost our minds and started getting it in! Before that, I heard 'Ironman' by Ghostface, and I realized I wanted to contribute to hip hop in some way. That record totally ripped my brain apart and its still my favorite record of all time to this day. Knowledge is more into songs that give him goosebumps and hit him in the heart moreso than individual albums. And I know for a fact that the song Never Again by Remedy (remember that guy? one of the 12,000 Wu affiliates from the late 90s) off of The Swarm album heavily influenced Knowledge's approach to the pen and pad. Collectively though, we went apeshit over Aesop Rock when he dropped Float. At that point, we were like 'Ok, we REALLY need to get serious about MCing--we can't just spit the same ol' same ol.'"

Zilla's take on the best MCs in Philly: "Knowledge/Nico and I are huge fans of Black Thought -- he actually grew up about 10 blocks from me. He's probably the most well-rounded MC in Philly -- freestyles, flows, breath control, concepts, live performances, consistency. Ab-Liva, formerly of Major Figgas now with the Re-Up Gang, is a monster! Very underrated. Peedi Crakk is dope--great energy and charisma. Reef the Lost Cauze is thorough, Chief Kamachi is a beast...there's a lot of dudes here with talent but none really stand out as 'the best.' Roscoe P. Coldchain is very unique--he just got home from jail. Beans is nice, but EVERY kid who came out after Beans bit him and Freeway like you wouldn't believe...it was ridiculous! And some of the DVD/battle dudes that are known on the streets are nice--Reignman, Reed Dollaz, Sandman, Hollow Man, Ness from Da Band. Those guys are the epitome of street hop in Philly and they will bring it to anybody."

Why you should go out and support Clean Guns: "Clean Guns and Beat Garden Entertainment are in this for the long run. We want people to AT LEAST listen to Say Goodnight featuring Sosay and decide from there if they want to check out the rest of the album Sometimes There is Trouble. If you like hard core hip hop with a message, you'll LOVE Clean Guns...I promise you. We've been doing this shit for years and are ready to make you love hip hop again."

Upcoming Projects: "We're about to drop our first mixtape 'Living in Harmony' in January--28 tracks of Clean Guns and fellow Beat Gardeners Sosay, ASK? & Professor Anarchy really spitting some mind-altering shit. . .Our next show is going to be on New Year's Eve at The Fire on 4th and Girard. We're going to be doing a song with our good friends in the Philly band Bebek, a trip hop/reggae/jazz band we've gotten cool with in the past 2 years. . .After that show, we're booking a hall in South Philly hopefully for February for an all ages show where we'll shoot the video for 'Say Goodnight.'"

Shoutouts: "I want to shout out 33jones for exposing us to his readers, Passion of the Weiss for doing the same (Thank you!), Yo! Football Radio with Griff & Mr. Lif, Rhyme City Records in Chicago for showing us love, Bebek, Yadibox.net, Rowdee Black Giants (The Roots but with more rock--from PHILLY!), our friends S.U.P. & Black Russian (hot ass unsigned Philly MC's), our friend David Carson defending our country in Iraq as we speak and everyone associated, linked to, and supportive of BEAT GARDEN ENTERTAINMENT. We love you and we do this for you! Beat Garden Entertainment. 'MANY STYLES. MANY STYLES.'"

Zilla's work was also selected by spinemagazine as one of the top three remixes of Nas' Hope. Click here to download Hope (Zilla Rocca Remix) (direct link to mp3)

To hear more songs from Clean Guns, hit up their MySpace page. If you like what you hear, head on over to Rapmullet and vote for them as MCs of the month. And be sure to go cop their album Sometimes There Is Trouble.

As a supplement to the post, here are videos from a few of the rappers Zilla mentioned:

Clipse, Ab-Liva and Roscoe P. Coldchain -- Hot Damn
Freeway featuring Peedi Crakk -- Flipside
Ghostface -- Daytona 500
Chief Kamachi -- The Edge
Reef The Lost Cauze -- Commander In Chief
12/19/2006 8:13:44 AM posted by Fresh | Comment on this Post