Monday, August 31, 2015

Jonah Still Slump

Mind State

    Here is a handful of tracks from Jonah Hexxx of Tha Slumplordz, taken from his most recent release, New Pimpin..tha E.P., featuring production by Sumpin Else and Jonah himself, under the alias 9 Continents. A true return to the caliber, capturing the essence of slump, this E.P. features that vintage Lordz sound, even containing a flip of their classic "Back Weapon" track, originally produced by Hard Rard. Stay tuned for The John George Chronicles, coming soon! Artwork above by Pill Gerrard. For those who dig what they hear, check this interview I conducted with Jonah about a year ago.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fear the Poet: An Interview with Gel Roc

Gel Kevorkian

    Gel Roc of EX2, Massmen and The Cloaks has a voice that is instantly recognizable to anyone who is a fan of the Project Blowed movement. He has contributed numerous verses to projects by the Blowed alumni and his collaborations read like a list of who's who when it comes to independent west coast hip-hop. Whether he's recording with EX2, working with longtime collaborators AWOL One and Mascaria, or dropping a guest verse, Gel is always putting in work, effectively documenting L.A.'s underground scene. Gel took some time to chop it up with me about his early years as a b-boy and graffiti artist, the formation of EX2, his work with AWOL, Mascaria, Joe Dub and Xczircles, The Cloaks project and the latest EX2 record, Common Thread.

Could you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and graffiti? What inspired you to start making music?

    Yeah, man. I started getting into music because of a lot of my family influences. My parents were heavily into music. I started collecting records at an early age, going through my mom's record collection, and I had uncles who were in bands, so music was an influence early on. Later I got into break dancing and then I went through the skateboarding phase. So hip-hop, early on, poppin', break dancing, skating, that eventually led into high school and graffiti. I hung out with a bunch of the homies that were already up on game. Eventually everybody turned out to be the crew that I'm still runnin' with twenty two odd years later, Life Seen Differently heads.

That would be the LSD crew? Can you talk about your connection with them and your experiences with graffiti?

   In high school, it started out with a bunch of homies that were from BK, which was Beyond Kings, out of La Mirada, Whittier. And also TB, Trouble is Back. Then there was LSD. Back then, a gang of homies were all part of different crews. I started out writing Reins with TB, then eventually got into BK, and then BK kind of migrated into LSD. So it was this natural evolution of all the homies who had different little clicks and the serious mainstays eventually became LSD heads over time. It was the established crew you graduated to. So there's different generations of the L. It started in 1989. It was BAS, Bombin' All Suckas and in '91 it officially became Leavin' Suckas Dead. So there's a lot of history with the crew. It's hard to do it justice in a brief interview but a good reference of our roots can be found in the book The History of Los Angeles Graffiti Art, Vol. 1. The experiences and wild ass trials are well documented. Nowadays, the collective is still pushing pretty tough with new blood and some vets still active in the streets. I get out and paint yards and walls when the crew gets together for meetings and shit.

So that's how you connected with AWOL? Through graffiti?

Yeah, that's the origins, but actually, me and AWOL, Roach, Deeskee and others have ties from the party crew days too. AWOL used to DJ. Vyrus from EX2 was part of a party crew. Me and a couple homies from LSD were from the party crew scene. So we actually knew each other from all of that, as well as the graffiti world. Tony kept doing his thing and started recording demos out of his parent's spot in Whittier. Eventually I got brought back into the loop through music. Next thing you know, we were recording Noise in the mid-90s. After that, I just kept writing with EX2 and started hanging out with [AWOL] all the time. Because before, back in the graffiti days, I was always freestyling with everybody. Everybody always knew I was into hip-hop back then. I was always freestyling and shit, but I never took it serious because I didn't have any way to record. When I got the opportunity to record with Tony, I started doing as much as I possibly could and that's pretty much how it got down, you know?

I'm glad you mentioned freestyling, because I always thought it was cool that you freestyled so many verses on the EX2 records. So that's something you've been doing since the beginning?

    Yeah, man. I'm kinda moody, so I write a lot of shit but a lot of stuff that I do is on the spot. I write a lot on the spot. It depends on who I'm writing with. If I'm dialing something in that's real super focused, like with EX2, or I'm just amongst some really good writers - there's a time and place for everything. Sometimes, back in the day, with EX2, we'd get into sessions and I would stay on that freestyle mode and I always liked to do the least amount of takes as possible. Whether it's combining a written or kicking a freestyle. I've done that throughout my whole career and there's probably freestyles on every project I've put out, including the new EX2. Me and Regret have a freestyle song on the new EX2 and I know I have some other freestyle verses as well. It's just how I get down, but obviously inspired by the Blowed.

One of the things I wanted to ask you, with your work with Mascaria on The Void project, or your work with Xczircles on Beautiful Tragedy, it sounds to me like maybe the subject matter is inspired by the production. Like, on Beautiful Tragedy, the beats are kind of somber and reflective, and you were really introspective on that album, whereas on The Void, the production was more spacey and psychedelic, which seemed to inspire the lyrics. Would you say the lyrics were inspired by the production or is it the other way around?

    It's a little bit of both, but yeah, the production is definitely what inspired a lot of these projects. Going into The Void - Mascaria is a super creative type and definitely on some dark, sinister production and I think The Void really displays his personality. So it was more of a challenge for me to do a record with him on that level and really get deep into character. So yeah, production definitely drives a lot of what I do and I know exactly how a project is gonna sound based on the producer that I'm working with. Like, the Joe Dub record was a little bit more reality based.

And that's Mascaria rapping with you on The Void, right?

    Yeah, he did all the production and he rapped with me on that as well. He didn't really rap on the Laws & Flaws album, which is another one he produced. So we just kept building - we had some good momentum - and he wanted to do more rapping at that time so The Void was a good venue for him to do that.  You know, we pushed The Void out, which is a project I'm really proud of.

Can you talk about how you hooked up with EX2?

    I remember hanging out with AWOL and he invited me to the Brainfish. The Brainfish was a local show he was throwing. And I remember seeing Syndrome and Vyrus serving some fools from the east coast and I was like, "Oh, those fools are dope!" We just kept hanging out and eventually we ended up recording at AWOL's spot, like I mentioned, for some of those early projects. Vyrus was instantly, like, "Yo, Gel is on the roll call, for sure." We just clicked out the gate and the rest is history, but I ended up just hanging out with everybody and just ran with it. I've always been the type that had a lot of drive and didn't want to waste a lot of time. I always tried to document everything and recognized that we were doing something special. I just knew everybody around me was super talented. From the graffiti world, from the hip-hop world. So to me, it was like, we gotta get as much recording in as we can. So that was, sort of, my role, to make sure everything was legitimized. I just recognized what was going on in the scene. Things were starting to kick off. It was a special time. The L.A. underground scene was thriving and I didn't want it to be for nothing. I was always trying to get everything recorded and trying to put a vision behind everything. That's how a lot of the projects got put together. I just wanted to make sure everything was driven behind where we're from and just reppin' the town and whatnot.

Sirk did some production for the first few EX2 releases, but has he been involved behind the scenes on all the EX2 albums? What is his role when he's not providing beats?

    Yeah, Sirk has always been the Abolano Records label head. He used to do his own thing. He used to put out little mixtape compilations with other local emcees. I think he had one of the Black Eyed Peas on a tape he did back then. When EX2 hooked up with Sirk, he recognized us from the Three Eyed Cowz tape. That was prior to Undersounds, which is the first album we started recording. And he became accessible to us with a dope studio and we were like, "Cool! Now we have a legitimate studio where we can record, vibe out." He basically built Abolano Records around us at that time. He had the means and he became that person that was doing the production, doing all the graphics work - I would bring all the pieces from LSD heads, like Pang One, and he would put it all together. He was the one who really brought it all together. I would give him all the ideas and Sirk was always the one that was the real driver behind the label and made sure everything came out with the visuals that we needed to do for what we did, man. He's still behind everything that we're doing today. He's a big part of EX2, history and present.

You mentioned Three Eyed Cowz. I personally love Noise and The Evil Cow Burger and I know they're now considered underground classics. Do you have any memories you could share about the recording of those projects?

    We did most of the recording at AWOL's home studio. The biggest memory I have of recording Three Eyed Cowz was driving to San Francisco to work with Tommy V and doing one of those songs with Tommy V, Rashinel, AWOL, myself. That was probably the biggest memory I have, being out in Frisco and meeting up with, like, Global Phlowtations and doing all kinds of stuff out there. That was all the old school stuff.

EX2 lyrics always had a strong battle edge. Is that something you were into prior to the Blowed or was that inspired by your experiences there?

    We already had that mentality from backyard parties, testing local emcees and bagging sessions that led to us battling each other for fun. We made sure our presence was felt at open mics, no doubt. And yes, we definitely went to the Blowed and had our fair share of experiences, for sure. That was a true battle ground back then.

    I think one of our first battles with Blowed heads was us and Kali 9, with Khynky Rhead, Slant and Puzoozoo Watt, but that one didn't start at the Blowed. There's a lot of stories and memories. Some of that shit kept on until we battled side-by-side at a B-Boy Summit in San Diego in some 310 vs. 619 ciphers. Those were some of the best times, man. I remember one year we traveled to Cincinnati to Scribble Jam, the year Undersounds of the 562 dropped. We ciphered and battled out of state heads that I won't mention, but are household names today that may surprise you. We didn't do shit in the actual Scribble Jam battle though. We were away from home and partying [laughs]. I'm pretty sure I was the only person that entered but I was on a good one and jumped on the mic when they called someone else up who lagged getting to the stage. I blew my shot to place because they knew I wasn't that person. May have been the year Sage Francis won it. Don't recall exactly.

I know you were part of Massmen. Was there a connection with Massive? Is that where the Mass from Massmen comes from?

    No, they're independent of each other, but Massive, he's family. He was always producing along with Fat Jack. I think that just happened to be more of a coincidence. Unless there's some history I'm not aware of. Massive was actually the vocals in the background on "Slow Lights." I don't know if a lot of people know that. But he was the guy doing the car jacking in the background of that song. His ties with Massmen are tight. He produced some of the early EX2 stuff and was a mentor to some degree. He took us and Roach under his wing and would come around with beats and shit to work on.

One of my favourite tracks you've done was "Dead Poets" with Existereo, produced by Longevity. Do you have any memories recording that?

    Existereo was working on that first album, Dirty Deeds & Dead Flowers. Him and Longevity invited me over. Longevity was making a lot of beats at that time at Deeskee's house, where him and 2Mex and Subtitle were living at the time. They had that slammin' ass beat and we came up with the chorus on the spot and we knocked that song out. That's a personal favourite of mine as well. Longevity's got dope beats. He's definitely someone that's in my line of sight that I need to build with. Everything comes together over time, you know?

EX2 took a bit of a hiatus after Nemesis. Did you record Laws & Flaws to fill in the gap or did you always have plans to do solo albums alongside the EX2 projects?

    Yeah, I just kept pushing and doing as much as possible. Solo shit was just the natural next step for me. For the last few years I've been working on multiple albums at one time, group works and other projects on my own. I really just like working with different people to see where I can push boundaries, trying to hit different audiences with different production.

You seem like you're connected everybody and have done some great posse cuts, one of my favourites being "Cease to Amaze." You had guys like Tommy V and Zagu Brown, who weren't really releasing too much around that time. Can you talk about bringing everybody together for that track?

    "Cease to Amaze", on Laws & Flaws, you know, I was always at the Blowed. I was everywhere where there was a hip-hop show in L.A. There were just too many people to do individual songs with everybody. I was the kinda dude who was trying to connect and do songs with everybody, like, "Let's do a song." So, you know, if I didn't have time to do a song with everybody, it'd be like, "Ok, let me do a song with Tommy V and Zagu and 2Mex and L'Roneous, etc." So that's how I view posse cuts. It's trying to get as many homies on a song, who I didn't get a chance to work with, and keep this documented. The underground hip-hop scene in L.A., and even abroad and beyond L.A., it's history now. So I'm always trying to work with as many people as I can, people I respect and want to hear music from.

Speaking of beyond L.A., you recently did a project with TDM out of Virginia, called The Element Tree. Can you talk about how that project came about?

    Tree Dust Muir is Ovate, Abomination, Toobz, who does artwork and vocals, and Rezult, who does production as well. That really started with Vyrus. He moved from Whittier to Atlanta, I think in 2006, 2007, and he hooked up with Tree Dusk Muir. They started doing production for his album, Silent Kaos. Before that album came out, we hooked up with those guys and I'd go out to Atlanta to work with Vyrus. So basically, I was out there maybe once a month, in Virginia, and we ended up getting that whole album done in, like, four months. That album was a collection of songs that Vyrus and I did with TDM around the time that Silent Kaos was recorded.

You had a low key project with Joe Dub recently. I really love that project, and I think Joe Dub really captures the 80s with his beats. Can you talk about that album and explain the name From the Vault?

    Yeah, that album was actually started quite some time ago. I recorded, like, three, four songs back in 2005, 2006. When I was out in Hawaii, I visited Joe and he gave me a bunch of those beats. So I recorded a few of those songs over the next year. And in the last, I don't know, four years, I went back and grabbed those beats and started to flush out that project. But I always felt like it was an older identity. Even Joe, I think, today, would be like, "I love this project, but let's do something current." So when it came out, I was like, "Ok, it's all revised, remixed and remastered. We'll put it out, but let's call it From the Vault." So it was old to me, but new to the world when we dropped it last year. I dropped it low key because I didn't feel like it was the most current project. But all the close homies around me, they really dug it. So I like that it came together the way that it did.

It was cool that you had J-Smoov on there because there isn't that much material by him out there.

    Yeah, and J-Smoov was one of those guys I was always saying, "Yo, we gotta do something!" So that was an opportune moment to do that. I was recording a great deal with Self Jupiter from Freestyle Fellowship, and J-Smoov popped in mind, to do that song with him and Jupiter. So that's how that came about.

Can you talk about recording the Beautiful Tragedy album, and how it came about?

    Beautiful Tragedy, I got a chance to hook up with Xczircles. At the time, I thought he had some really dope production. I don't know if people realize how dope he is. The production he was doing, along with where I was, recording in my own studio, was a good time to capture a lot of progressive song writing on my own, in between EX2 projects. I felt that album was really reflective of where I was at, at the time. There's a lot of substance and growth in that album. I felt more matured as an artist during the writing of that record. It was also dope to get my old school homie DJ Drez to do all the cuts on that one. I'm real proud of that record.

And you had another beast of a posse cut on there, with Longevity and... Shit, I can't even remember who else. You had like twenty emcees on there.

    See, I forgot I even had Longevity on that one! Zagu, again, was on that album. Mestizo. You know, I just try to build as much as I possibly can, man. There's a lot of dope emcees out here, so whenever I get a chance I'm always trying to work with people and keep building.

So obviously you've done a lot of work with AWOL over the years, and you guys go way back. You had the Life After Death mixtape a while back, but can you talk about what was behind the decision to do a project now and what inspired The Cloaks project?

    Well, we had done so much work over the years. We've just been really down homies. We were always kickin' it and doing songs and features together and we felt it was well overdue for us to do a project together. So we did that Life After Death mixtape as a sort of precursor to this album. And we started working with Awkward. He just seemed like one of the dopest producers to fuck with on some current shit. But at the same time, we knew we'd go through the beat selection and find something that we thought was reminiscent of where we started, but just extremely current. That was the whole purpose, really, to work with someone who was really progressive with the production. Two, three songs in, we didn't even really have a name for the album, and then one day Tony called me and said, "Yo, I got it!... The Cloaks." And, you know, the way me and him work, songs get started off text message jokes and bullshitting on phone conversations. That's how things take life for us, when we're building. Songs could just be us sitting in a room, talking shit, and then, boom, we start writing. So The Cloaks was just this impromptu idea that he had and next thing you know, I was turning out a verse and he was like, "Oh shit! This is it." And then the whole thing, the concept, just fell in line and started taking structure and took a life of it's own. The identity became, "Fuck all these selfie taking social media rappers. Let's do something that pushes anonymity and is different than what anyone is doing.

And you guys really put effort into making cool packaging, and unique merch, like the action figures. Is all that stuff still available?

    The vinyl is still available, I think we have a few CDs left but we sold out a lot of the merch. The Cloaksmen are all sold. But yeah, man, The Cloaks, the packaging, it was just Abolano Records putting out good projects that the fans and supporters can depend on. From the LMNTL Work EP, to Undersounds, to Nemesis, to Resurgence, all those records, we feel really good about the artwork and we feel like we set a precedent for what the artwork should be, including The Cloaks, which came out on Abolano Records. From Resurgence and Beautiful Tragedy, we take a lot of pride in that. And that comes from a lot of the graff heads I work with, in my crew, and the likes of Ghostshrimp and Albane Simon who is responsible for The Cloaks layout and imagery, but Sirk dials all of that stuff in behind the scenes to maintain the vision that I keep feeding him, like, "It's gotta look like this. It's gotta sound like this." He does all that stuff. So currently, he's wrapping up the new EX2 album, Common Thread.

I thought it was great that you got Gonjasufi to rap on the album because everybody focuses on his singing, but I always liked his rhymes!

    To be honest, I thought he was gonna sing on that song! But he just turned it around and spit a rap. I met him back on Pepsi on the Record, when he just went by Sumach. I think that really had to do with our roots because when I reconnected with him for The Cloaks, that was our frame of reference, rapping in San Francisco, when we were younger. So full circle, even though he's established himself more as a singer, I think he just kept it exactly where we started and that was super dope 'cause he just did that verse and I was super hype!

Are you guys planning on doing a second Cloaks record?

    Yeah, we've actually already started the second Cloaks record. We're about three, four songs in. We're still collecting beats for that project. That'll probably get released in spring of 2016. Awkward is still a producer.

He's from the U.K., right?

    Yup, Awkward is from the United Kingdom. He does music with a lot of people out here and we just had an opportunity to do The Cloaks project with him, and we just wanna keep things going. We're real happy with The Cloaks and all the homies that supported it, so we got that next project in the chamber.

So you mentioned the new EX2. That's being produced by Xczircles...

    The new EX2 project is produced by four different producers. Xczircles does about a third of it. Calm, from LSD, does about a third of it, and Boise from CBS does a third of it. And there's one song produced by Leineken. So technically it's three primary producers, which really brought together a cohesive sound. And the Leineken track, it was sort of an impetus to the whole album. I had been doing some solo touring and Digit was with me. We went to Frisco with Tommy V, and we hooked up with the homie Haez, did a random song and then we were like, "Ok, this is the start of the new EX2 project." Tommy V and Haez are on the new project. The rest of the project we recorded at my studio, here in Whittier.

So what can people expect from the new EX2, in terms of the sound?

    The new record sounds like some 2015 EX2 shit. It's got Tommy V, AWOL, Origin. It's got a posse cut with Ellay Khule, Existereo, Subtitle, Escape Artists with Zxcircles and Aamir, NGAFSH, Riddlore?, you know, all these heads are on this album. This album is pretty much headed up by Regret, Digit6 and myself - and, of course, Vyrus is on the record as well - and then those features and guest appearances bring it full circle. But it sounds like some traditional EX2, but 2015 vibe, so we're really proud of the record. We accomplished what we set out to do. It's 17 songs deep. The production is dark, like you'd expect from an EX2 project but definitely some bangin' underground hip-hop. And it's got cuts all throughout the record by Otek and Roach the DJ. Deeskee did the mixing and mastering on the album. So it's got that EX2, La2thebay feel to it. It sounds real traditional, from our camp.

    We're real proud of this record, mainly because Digit was locked up for most of the 2000's, so he missed from Nemesis to Resurgence. So to get him back in the mix, full circle, he really crushes this whole album, you know, getting a lot off his chest and saying a lot of stuff he's been wanting to say over the past two records that he missed out on. So I'm excited for him and for all of our fans to hear this new record, especially with him in the mix.

So other than The Cloaks and the new EX2, do you have any other projects in the works?

    Yeah, I'm also working on an album with Megabusive. It's called Hip-Hop Against the World. It's produced by Megabusive and he raps on there with me. It's currently being mixed by Deeskee. It's probably three quarters of the way done. That'll probably drop in 2016 as well. I'm excited to get that out and let people check it out. Beyond that, I have multiple projects that I'm working on. I have another album with Avatar that features The Shape Shifters and Onry Ozzborn. There's individual songs with everybody from EX2, Acid Reign, Neila. It's just an opportunity to build with everybody from Project Blowed and Los Angeles and keep everything movin'.

Lost Filez ov Eternia

Hip Hop Brazil 

Check out the new underground hip hop blog by long-time Beetbak supporter John Henry from Brazil!  There are some gems on there, and I'm sure there are more to come.  Welcome!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Sound For Sore Ears

Walkman Hits

Thank you once again, Cody, for the hookup with this fat underground release!  Sporting one of the dopest covers in the history of album artwork, Dojah released this tape back in 1998.  I'm not sure if he was doing this on the anonymous tip, or if he just had really poor marketing skills, but his name is absent on both the cover and the tape, as is that of all guests.   Either or, I like to think the music speaks for itself.  Half of this tape was posted up way back on the mighty Ghetto Tyylit, with the exclusion of the intro, outro, interludes and instrumental pieces.  While it's true those excluded pieces don't do much for the album (covers of "The Banana Boat Song", the "Pink Panther" theme, and "Don't Worry, Be Happy" would be strange inclusions on any release, especially on a project which is otherwise so accomplished), I think it's important to present this album in its entirety, warts and all.  
Big Shawn from Bored Stiff appears on "R-A-P", and a couple emcees I can't identify show up on "Let' em Have It".  Beats are appropriately stoney and sample-based in that '98 flavor. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

SK Stays Motivated

"We put steel over fire and hammer it"

    The latest video from Soul King of the Likwit Crew, the Barbershop MC's and the Get Dat Money Boyz Choir, "Motivated", is another soulful, boom bap excursion featuring production and cuts by DJ Breeze and directed by Nocturnal Dream Pictures. This track is taken from his upcoming album The Diaspora. Check it out below and make sure to check his latest project, Black Lion, here! If you want to support you can cop his 2011 Supreme Era Volume 2 record here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Last of a Dying Breed: An Interview with A.K.M. of Cypha 7

Astro Pimp

    Afterlife O.G. and member of Cypha 7 and the Get Dat Money Boyz Choir, A.K.M, has always used his commanding voice to spit unfiltered reality rap. His rhymes detailed hardship and struggle, and how "Knowledge, wisdom and understanding" could be used to overcome. In recent years, A.K.M. has been keeping a low profile, focusing on family life, occasionally popping up on tracks with the Tabernacle MCz and Soul King. I recently had the opportunity to speak with this elusive emcee and he kindly broke down some history for me.

Can you speak about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and some of your early influences?

    Man, I would say with hip-hop, I was born in '78, so I remember having the Beat Street record on my Fisher Price record player and going to see those flicks, and that was my first introduction to hip-hop. At the same time, the older cats on my block were break dancing and breaking out the cardboard and you could see it in the environment, you know? I didn't start actually rapping - I didn't think I could do this [laughs] - until about '92. I was probably in the 8th grade when I wrote my first rap. I spit it at school. Actually, I think it was 7th grade because there were 8th graders there in the mix. So, the 8th graders were like, "Oh, that shit was dope!" So I felt validated. That was my first little cipher and the older kids thought it was dope. After that, I started writing on computer paper, the kind that used to have the little holes on the side, like, the old computer paper. I used to write on that because it reminded me of a scroll. So I could just write and write and not break up the paper if I didn't want to.

    My influences were, like, King Sun, Ice Cube, of course, LL, Kool Moe Dee, EPMD. Around '92, that was it. I was into more east coast shit, De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest.

So would you have been pretty young then when you started going to the Good Life?

    Yeah, I got introduced to the Good Life because I had a summer youth employment job at Southwest Jr. College in the audio/visual department, and this brother was really dope - a jazz singer out here named Dwight Tremble - he was the head of the audio/visual department, and there were a couple older cats who worked there with me. I was the youngest. So I was probably 13 or 14 when I got that job. And this brother named Bo had brought some tapes from the Good Life, a Freestyle Fellowship tape, and something else. I can't remember. It might've been Volume 10 or CVE maybe. But he brought two tapes in particular, I remember. And I was like, "Where did you get this from?" And he was like, "It's the Good Life!" So that summer I started going to the Good Life religiously. That shit was like a Thursday night ritual. I was somewhat of a juvenile delinquent. And the Good Life would end at like 10 o'clock if I recall right. So it wouldn't be too late if you were takin' the bus. That was the ritual: try to get a nickle bag of weed and a 40 and go to the Good Life.

I heard that because the Good Life ended early, people would rhyme in the parking lot afterward and that's where the name Afterlife came from. Is that right?

    You know, I'm not sure. I know I was on Afterlife Recordz, but I wasn't with them, per se, back then. It wasn't until later, when I formed a group, then we got on Afterlife Recordz and got more known, individually and as a group. Just being around, fools don't really know you. We used to have what's called "blow up." Either you "blow up" or you get "please pass the mic." So [laughs] I never got "please pass the mic." I had a couple calendars and every Thursday was marked, "Blow up, blow up, never got a chance to rap, blow up." Then as I got older, it'd be "blow up, hosted with so-and-so, hosted with Funky Trend, blew up." So every Thursday had something that said what happened in a couple words.

It sounds like it would be pretty traumatizing to get "please pass the mic", so I'm glad you didn't have to go through that.

    [laughs] I'm not sure if I would'a kept rapping.

How did you hook up with Shaheed?

 Shaheed's a couple years older than me. Maybe three or four years. So when I was in junior high, he was in high school. And he went to school with and was in a group with my next door neighbour. They went to South Torrance High School. That's how I met Shaheed. When they went out on the weekends and went to hang out and shit, they let me tag along. Then I got in their group, which was me and this brother named Kesi - he was really dope - and me and Shaheed, and we were Rhyme Network. That was our group, the Rhyme Network. And then Kesi went solo. He did his Busta Rhymes thing and went solo. But once he went solo, we started doing more paid shows and pressing up tapes and CDs. So, for whatever reason, the duo was better than the trio, or we got more accomplished.

You mentioned being part of Afterlife Recordz. Can you talk about how you became part of Afterlife and how it all came together?

   Man, from my recollection, one night - it was at Project Blowed. It was after the Good Life. Good Life was going on simultaneously, but a lot of the backbone of the Good Life switched to Project Blowed because you could cuss on the mic and it stayed open later and it was right across the street from Leimert Park. So it was a different dynamics because at the Good Life you couldn't cuss and it ended at 10 o'clock. So, Project Blowed was going on simultaneously. And this good, good, good brother named Riddler was doing a lot of the beats and engineering at Project Blowed. So one night after we performed, we talked to Aceyalone - I don't know if he approached us or we approached him - but we ended up having a conversation about, "Where can we record at?" And he hooked us up with Riddler and FSH. And they had a spot, CVE Headquarters, off of Normandy and 80-something, not to far from the L.A. Riot Epicenter on Normandy and Florence. They had a studio not too far from there. That's when we started recording with Riddler. And I was into vinyl, so I would always bring vinyl to sample. I was really into vinyl - old music and shit. So we started recording over there and doing more shows.

    Medusa was a big part of our shows. She had different connects and would always put us on. Then a situation arose with this dude Adam. His folks was, like, millionaires and shit. We went to his house one day and it was ridiculous. Like, some Beverly Hills shit. They brought down the silver platter with sandwiches and oranges and shit [laughs]. I forget what his dad did, but it was something in entertainment. I know Busdriver's peoples were big into entertainment as well. Matter of fact, Busdriver's pops was a producer on Moesha, so some cats, like Tray Loc - who was also managing us for a second - they would make guest appearances on Moesha. Their little rap scene on that show, that was taken from the Good Life. So through those connections we were able to form Afterlife, which was some revolutionary shit, in theory. In theory it was really dope. In practice, it kinda fell apart. But in theory, we were our own owners and that shit was cool. It was a situation where [CVE] just pulled us in. 

    We was on some vinyl, split vinyl. With every vinyl you'd share it with another group on the flip side. So we shared a vinyl with OMD, which was 2Mex and Xololanxino. We got close with them too. Me and Shaheed ended up being roommates and 2Mex and Xinxo had a place that was just around the corner from us. So we'd soak up shit from them 'cause they were on their own independent thing, they were pressing their own CDs up and just maxin' on they market. So that was that whole era, you know what I'm sayin'? We were at the right place at the right time. Everyone was recording out of the same spot and had the same affiliations and shit. It was a few of us, man. It was Eastside Badstads, and Busdriver, and Chu Chu and Legion, Hip Hop Klan with Ellay Khule...

You mentioned Adam. Is that that the same Adam who was part of Legion?

    Yes, yeah! Yeah, yeah.

FSH and Riddlore always had a certain sound with their production, but a few tracks on Pages From tha Book of Life sounded a bit different. You mentioned bringing records to sample. Were you involved in the production side of things?

    Yeah, exactly. Definitely. Some of it, they had already. Like, "You guys can fuck with this." But especially the interludes were records I bought. I would go diggin'. I was fortunate enough to live close to this thrift shop that had stacks and stacks and stacks of records. I would always read the back or the inside covers of the records and tapes and I'd see who they sampled. And I would remember and shit, so I would look for those artists and then, just from diggin', I would get a feel for what I liked in terms of the year, the record label and the instruments that was being played. Those were the three main factors. And sometimes the artwork would attract me to it. If the art was fly, or I knew the artist or the label then I would fuck with it. And some shit was just a gamble, if it just seemed like some rare shit, you know what I'm sayin'? I wouldn't say I was a producer but I definitely had input on what I wanted to hear.

One of the things I always liked about your music was that you rapped about reality. You painted a picture so that people who maybe didn't grow up in the same type of environment got invited into your world. And you had a lyric, "Raised in a world that's fucked up, or is it us?" I always loved that, how you were doubting yourself. It was very real. Is that something that you made a conscious effort to do or was it a case of you just writing and that's what came out?

    Man, with writin', I recognized that were two - at least two - aspects of emceeing, which was freestylin' and then writin' songs and shit. And I just wanted to be as vivid and expressive and original and down to earth and real as possible. 'Cause I think rap, coming up in the hip-hop era, you had, like, hip-hop to me was an album within itself. You had the Kid 'n Play, you had the N.W.A., you had the 2Pacs. You had different things that were characterized through different artists. And I just wanted to be more than just a metaphoric, "I run like feet and I chew like teeth" [laughs], you know what I mean? I didn't want to be just all metaphoric. I wanted to tell stories. I wanted something that would be timeless, that would be relevant forever because it's some real shit. Like, it's coming from where it's coming from. So I guess I made a conscious effort, but at the same time when you're in a creative process, you set out but it depends on what it is. Sometimes you rhyme to the beat, and it's like, "What is this beat talking about?" Sometimes you'd write around a concept and find a beat to go to it, you know what I mean? Sometimes they would come together at the same time.

After Pages from tha Book of Life you guys released a couple EPs, Tha Inner-G and Cypha 7 Has Not Been Mixed Diluted or Tampered with... Was it your intention for those songs to be part of an album or were you just recording?

    We'd be just recording at that time. It'd be like, once we have seven songs, six songs - 'cause I just wanted everything to be dope. You know, Nas' first album was only nine songs and every one was different and dope in their own way. So I wanted an album short, to be seven or eight songs. And I wanted the song titles to sound like book titles. So really, it was no intention. We'd get to so many songs and be like, "All right, this is a project. What we gon' name it?" And we happened to link up with J.B. - he was a drummer for Medusa - and one day - this shit is crazy - one day he gave us a beat tape and there was a number on it. And I waited and procrastinated until one day I was like, "Fuck it! I'm callin' the number." And he was like, "Man, my phone is getting cut off tomorrow! You wouldn't have been able to contact me and shit!" After that, we'd go to Santa Monica and fuck with him. And this other cat named Nate, - he's a big DJ in  Los Vegas now - his name was DJ Spider, and we'd go to his house and record with J.B. I don't know if the song with Shock G is on any of those CDs, but Shock G saw us perform one night and he was really cool and down to earth, and he was like, "Ya'll dope! Anything I'm able to do as far as music, I'll fuck wit' you. Here's my number." I don't know if it made it on there, but you could see on those albums, all the production was by J.B. I think Tha Inner-G and the other album were all produced by J.B.

One of the trademark songs for Cypha 7 was "Astro Pimp." That song popped up on a bunch of projects. Can you break down the concept for that song?

    Wow, man! [laughs] It's funny. People would hit us and be like, "Yo, I got what you were saying! I got what the meaning was," and they'd say some really profound, deep shit and I wasn't even intending that [laughs]. You know, I was in my Jimi Hendrix mode, I guess, as far as drinkin' and druggin' and that shit just came out, man. I remember the night I heard the beat, and I was like, "This shit is dope!" And I went to the car and did some extra shit, just drinkin' and druggin' and writin' and when I came back to the studio, I had "Astro Pimp." And one of my good brothers, Wise, he came to the studio - I think he had given us a ride to the studio that day - and he added some shit on it. The part where it goes, "Well, you should follow through! Astro Pimp!" He be talkin' in the beginning, matter of fact.

You mean Otherwize?!

   Nah, not Otherwize. He was one of the Gods and shit. He was like, "I wanna talk on this shit." I don't think Shaheed was there that day. It was just some spontaneous shit. They just played the beat that night and I was loaded. I played it for Shaheed and he was like, "Man, what the fuck? Lemme get on this shit too!" So we went back and recorded Shaheed's verse on it later. But yeah, that was just some shit, man. Probably if I listened to it again, I could give you something a little bit deeper [laughs] but in real life, that's just how it came out. It was basically a fly, funk induced outer space metaphor for higher perspective. P.I.M.P. stands for Powerful Instrument of Musical Proportion.

The last Cypha 7 projects were from 2004. Have you and Shaheed ever talked about doing a new album since then?

    You know what, man? Actually, yes. To answer the question directly, yes, but not seriously. Shaheed lives in a different state, but with technology, if we really wanted to, we could do another album. But we were talking about putting out our old catalogue on iTunes, Soundcloud, all the new technology we got and if we could distribute our old stuff first and then maybe perform at the next Project Blowed reunion. That's pretty much the extent of it. I know [Shaheed] got some solo stuff he did not too long ago. I have a whole album, Moment of Impact, which is pretty much done. I just lost momentum, I guess, or lost desire for the whole hip-hop game. Not for the music, but for the game. But Born Allah, he's pullin' me out of retirement. I'm featured on some shit with Born called "Swordplay" which is supposed to be on a Wu-Tang mixtape or something, with Killah Priest and some other people. That's supposed to be droppin' soon. I can't front, man. With that shit, I'm kinda on my own dick. I rap like I used to and when I hear it, on some Back to the Future shit, it sounds fresh to me. I would definitely say look for "Swordplay". When I record it and then I hear it later, I wanna listen to my shit, if I lost my memory, I wanna think, "That shit was really dope!" If I ever got amnesia or whatever, I wanna hear my old shit and think, "Man, that cat is really dope."

You were also part of The Good Brothers project. Can you talk about how you became part of that?

    Same shit, man. Riddler put us on. Riddler is a really good dude. He always looked out for Cypha 7. We appreciated each other musically and lyrically. Whereas I felt like it was some other cats who may have been more in competition with us, in the hip-hop world. I always felt like it was enough, like, you can't be a better me than me! We all rap, but you can't be a better me. So let's all eat an put each other up. Riddler exemplified that. Any opportunity he had where he thought we'd be a good fit and we would shine on, he would definitely put us on. So Riddler hit us up and told us to come to the studio for that. We didn't even have anything ready. He just called us up, like, "Come to the studio and do something. We're doing a project." We came through and you could tell, like, half of my rhyme is kinda recycled from "Jump Off the Planet" 'cause he just told us to come right to the studio, put on the beat, like, "Fuck it."

Other than your work with Born Allah, all I've heard from you is your recent mixtape, A.K.M.Bo Slice Vs tha World. Can you talk about putting that together?

    Man, that was just a mixtape effort and it's like a solo effort and the process for that, for me, was just going online and choosing mixtape beats and shit. Shit that I felt wasn't overused, per se, that was recognizable but not overused. So, that was just the process, puttin' in my best effort. I dunno if you saw the artwork. One of my boys photoshopped my face onto Kimbo Slice's body. That shit is ridiculous and funny to me [laughs]. Yeah, I think a lot of times, you know, it's not super duper clever to come up with A.K.M.Bo Slice, but I like it. It's kinda rugged, on a hip-hop tip. So from that, I just wanted to do some songs about that and shit.

When I asked Born Allah about what you were up to, he mentioned that you were focusing on your artwork. Is that visual art you're working on?

    Yeah, man. I paint, and matter of fact, if you've seen Tha Inner-G artwork, it's a baby - a fetus inside the womb - with a mic on the umbilical cord. I did that. In fact, I did it just for the album so I painted it real small. I did it CD size. So, it wasn't big, it was actually that size. I lost it though [laughs]. I could do another one but they're all one of a kind. It'll never come out just like that. So my shit is on that kinda tip. I'm working with some, like, a mix of collage with spray paint and acryllic. It's fun. I did an art show a couple years ago at Leimert Park. I have a few more pieces now. When I get twelve - I'm pretty much at twelve, I just have to do a little refinement - I wanna do a little calendar, you know, post cards and posters and shit and start there. I hope I get recognized.

So we talked about your art and you mentioned Moment of Impact, but do you have any music planned for the future you'd like to talk about?

    You know what? No real business plan like that, man. It's really on the hobby tip for me now. I do got brothers that be mashin'. I'm on a song with Born and SK that's really, really dope, called "Cold as Ice" and we're lookin' to do a video for that. And you know, I can be pulled out any time to do some shows and shit. I'm still dope. I still got it. I'm in better shape then I was back then [laughs]. I can perform. It ain't nothin' for me. So if the moment and opportunity arises for me and Shaheed to do some shit or just like you pulled me out for this. My wife, she know I rap and shit, but she was like, "You doin' an interview?" So I can be pulled out to do it but I'm just not into it as a profession. I'm not as invested as I was before. You know, just travelling for free shows, just to get recognized. It was necessary at the time. I don't regret it.  Even if it was rockin' for two people, it made them Cypha 7 fans and they could spread the word. It was in the name of hip-hop. It's the game I don't appreciate, you know?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

SK is the Black Lion

"Concrete graffiti rap"

    Many hip-hop writers these days will speak about whether or not a rapper is "relevant", which as far as I can tell is their way of referencing an artist's ability to adapt to what's "hot" at that current moment. Watching your favourite artists flush their integrity down the toilet in an attempt to stay relevant is a painful experience. In 2015, the music of the past is much more relevant than what is pumped into our brains on a daily basis. Hip-hop of the past was struggle music, something which should be very relatable to most in our current predicament.

    Soul King is an artist who never gave a fuck about what the masses deemed relevant. He comes from the "Supreme Era" and represents it to the fullest. This is evident from his work with the Barbershop MC's, to his collaborations with Born Allah and the Tabernacle MCz, to his solo work, which is the topic of today's post.

    His latest offering, an EP entitled Black Lion, is a celebration of the Supreme Era, a time when soulful beats and lyrical content were the top priority, rather than swagger and image. And while experimentation and attempts at innovation are admirable feats, there is a lack of appreciation for those who stick to the foundation and make music that just fucking sounds good. Most experiments are failures, after all.

    And music that sounds good is exactly what you get with Black Lion. SK's smooth flow is enough to practically mask the fact this dude has bars! And with very tight, consistent production, there are no weak points here. Whether he's breaking down his manifesto, on the title track, spitting lyrical boasts ("Loco"), dropping knowledge ("Blesson"), or ripping up the mic with his comrade Born Allah ("3:16"), SK is consistently entertaining and engaging. And most importantly, the shit just sounds good.

    Black Lion features appearances by Agallah, Tattoo, Tahmell and, of course, Born Allah, and production by Default, Mos Sef and Quabo QDC. It can be downloaded for free here. If you're a fan of Cypha 7, the Tabernacle MCz or the Barbershop MC's, do yourself a favour and check this out.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Welcome 2 dah West!

"Drive by homocides/ our bud is the best"

    Ganjah K comes with the second video for his upcoming Possession of Sales album, "Welcome 2 dah West", a funky west coast anthem featuring cameos by Rifleman, Medusa, Self Jupiter and Supernatural, among others. With this video, Ganjah invites us into his world and reminds fans he's still the lyrical heavyweight who murdered guest spots throughout the 90s. Directed by DK NoDeal. Stay tuned for Possession of Sales, as well as a giant chronic sack of vintage material, including the fabled First Brigade album!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Big Mass is the California King

    Massive aka Massdog came up under the guidance of Compton's Most Wanted's DJ Slip and DJ Unknown, and over the years he has become a heavyweight of a producer in his own right, through his work with Volume 10 ("Harderthanally'all", "Chucks & Khaks" & "Blaze On"), AWOL One ("To Low to Get" & "The Real Underworld"), MC Eiht ("Kind of Pimpish"), Rappin' 4-Tay ("Do You Wanna Ride", "Think It Over", "Ho Over My Homie", "Every Third Brother" & "Win or Lose") and EX2 ("Exceeding Expectations", "Lmnts ov No Remores" & "KXLU Commercial"), among others. He has also carved out an impressive solo career, from his rare and elusive Back to the Under Ground album, released in '92, to the G-Funk infused Watch Yo Back, Massive has shown himself to be versatile yet consistent.

    The L.A. veteran's latest release, from 2010, California King, released under his birth name, Marshall Ford, is a bit of a sonic departure from his previous albums, with more of an emphasis on funk and soul than his previous records. The album opens with some old school flavour, a tribute to pure hip-hop, with some excellent cuts by Roach the DJ, but quickly shifts to a more funky, soulful tone, complete with summery vibes and sung hooks, handled by Massive himself. Listeners get a strong dose of funk with "This Club is Hot" - a club track that you wish they would play in actual clubs - which sees Mass crooning on the hook and kicking some fun, light-hearted rhymes. And the subject matter, for the most part, sticks to love and lust, realized on tracks like "Brighter", a love song for Mass' lady, and "Get in My Bed", a very soulful excursion. "Buggin" is a unique cut, with a 60s feel that really emphasizes Massive's ability to adapt as an emcee. "All for You" is another homage to true love, something Mass clearly has and values in his life. Overall, this is a light-hearted but very mature album, making the choice to use his real name seem logical.

    While each song stands on it's own, the album maintains a cohesive feel and is really a complete listening experience. "Blaka Blaka" is another club-friendly track - this time with a cool gangster edge - featuring a guy called Black August, and done in a way only a seasoned vet can, with an emphasis on deep, funky grooves. The funk continues on "Evolution of a Mass", a stand-out track that sees Massdog breaking down his past hardships, lessons learned and his philosophy on getting through the trials and tribulations of life. "Baby The SunShine" is a shimmering summertime gem with substance, a tale of his struggles in the music business: "Hip-hop betrayed me and I just let 'er/ but she turn me on and I won't forget/ that my style like Bruce with the sound effects." Another highlight is "Loose Some Weight", a heartfelt and brutally honest story of Massive's struggles with his weight. The album closes how it began, coming full circle, with some very dope scratching by Roach the DJ and a real "true school" vibe, which pays tribute to some of his past work with AWOL, showing that while this album may have veered off into unexplored territory, Massive always sticks to his roots.

    You can download the album for free here, courtesy of the man himself. As he explained to me, "[Everybody can] get the album for free. It's a gift to my peeps!" And this album is definitely a gift, so grab it now and enjoy it while summer is still here! And if you would like to support, you can cop some of his past work here.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Underated Collaberated

I Used To Be...

Thank you Cody for hooking me up with this!
"The Co-Op Vol.1" is a classic underground tape from 2000, aptly named because of it's many wonderfully gratuitous group efforts on the mic.  Before the "Chuck Taylor Presents the Capitol's Best Collection" album, this street level production (along with the Cuf's "Cufilation" release) represented the voice of the Sacramento underground.  Led by emcee-producer Anonimous, The Underated Collaberated collective was home to a gang of talent, including members of the afore-mentioned Cuf; as well as of Verbatum and Socialistik, plus many others.   The label, Sound Cultivator Productions, I believe, was also Anonimous' project.  Along with two other emcees on this release, Fiasco and Kgee, Anonimous went on to form The Rebels Of Rhythm (not related to the J-5 Rebels), and also Hollywood Kill (also with Kgee).  His name is also attributed to production work for L'Roneous and Hieroglyphics.
Sonically, this release is as beautifully gritty as you want it.  Anonimous' beats are sample-based, unadorned, and heavy.  They are unnerving - sometimes they're jumpy, sometimes they shamble forward, dragging their feet, shaking their chains.  Unexpected, jarring sounds often enter the mix, raw and scoured.  Listen to the opener, "The Most Hated", or "A Story" to catch the meaning.  Musically, it's captivating, and a perfect backdrop for these emcees, who aren't really the wine and roses type.  Krush is on this piece after all.  They spit raw - there's nothing very glamorous about The Sac anyway.  
It's hard to imagine this release being as old as it is.  It's from 2000, 15 years ago now.   If this was rock music, it would officially be fair game for the classic rocks stations on the radio.  Listening to this tape tonight, I'm struck by that sneaky, persistent passage of time.  Not because of the music - to me, this still sounds fresh and undated - rather it's due to the mannerisms, lyrical content and subject matter of the various voices here.  At some point in time, I'm not sure when, I stopped feeling that almost tangible connection to the underground in a current sense, and began experiencing it as a dear period of time in my past - in a nostalgic sense.  And by the grey hair growing on my temples and the wrinkles forming on my face, it's clear I'm no longer 20 years old.  Listening to the trials and tribulations of the various performers on this release, I can see they can only come from the unhindered and unburdened shoulders of young people, with just one foot out the door.  However, I listen to this without any sense of mourning for my youth - and its the reason I keep coming back to music like this, made my young people, or people who were once young - because it takes that kind of young energy for me to be inspired.  This music is rough, sometimes abrasive, but it's also beautiful and breathtaking - this is music made by minds that aren't afraid to experiment (in fact, it never occurred to them to be afraid), with naive reflections on life that are almost painful in their unguardedness.  
I'm also struck listening to this music, that I've been living and loving hip hop for the great majority of my life.  I was born in the seventies, became Aware Of How Shit Is in the eighties, and once I heard Public Enemy there was no turning back.  I've seen the passage of time and how hip hop has changed with it, and I appreciate more than words can express how it has embraced with open arms people of all ages, races, and cultures as it too has grown.  It is with this, as I listen to The Underated Collaberated, that, despite hearing it through a tunnel of age and experience, I feel as in tune and supported and in love with the culture as ever - despite the fact I'm probably twice the age now as some of the voices on here.  I can't claim to represent or speak for hip hop in any way, I would never presume that, but I think it's safe to say hip hop is not a fad to just grow out of.  It's not a young man's game.  It's for life.  There are children practicing their battle raps, there are kids in their teens making their own recordings, there are the grown folks who keep it working, and there are the elder statesmen, like Chuck D, whose voice I still find as crucial as it was back in '91.  Hip hop is infinite.  No matter where I am or where I will someday be, I call it home.  And for that I have infinite thanks.   

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mister CR presents "All Green Everything"

    Mister CR (also known as Cali Rag of the Eastside Badstads) has been putting it down for a long time. He was an integral part of the Good Life movement and later a central member of the Afterlife Crew, introduced to many listeners with his tongue twisting a cappella on CVE's Declassified album. After his partner Misfit went away for a long prison stint and his brother Versatyle quit rapping, CR focused his attention on the newly formed Rumble Pacc, formed by CR and the late Crow Loc. In more recent years, CR has become much more prolific, releasing several albums a year between his work with the Goodlife Bullyz, the Project Blowed Hardcore Street Hop Division, and his solo work.

    His most recent solo project, All Green Everything, released on Self Jupiter and Daddy Kev's The Order Label, is possibly CR's most polished and well-rounded album thus far. The album kicks off with CR acknowledging those who have double crossed him in the past, but rather than dwelling on negativity, his mantra "it's all green" represents progress and moving forward, and much like his other recent projects we see CR transitioning into more mature, grown man bars, with a focus on positivity. That, of course, still leaves ample room for his trademark shit talking (hell, he had an album called Shit Talkin), but with All Green Everything, CR achieves a balance of different styles. One moment, he's introspective, speaking on his lessons learned as a youngster, the next his rhymes are chock-full of braggadocio and warnings to those who might cross the invisible line drawn in the sand.

    All Green Everything is also a reference to the Eastside Hustlas, CR's gang, dedicated to forward motion and stacking paper. Fellow Eastside Hustlas P Loc the Don, Flossy Bee, Spook Loc and Ewokalypse contribute verses, while past collaborator DJ Seedless contributes some cuts to the album closer. Sonically, the album has many moods, moving from the club ("All This Money on Me"), to the cipher ("They Call Me"), to the hood ("East Up"), again, achieving a nice balance. "Extras", the album's main single, is a reminder to stick to the script and not say more than you need to to get your point across. "Legal Tender" is a hustler's anthem, reinforcing the overall theme of album, which sees CR describing the lessons that shaped his drive for profits: "Money's the root of all evil, but you also need it to survive/ so you can miss me with that jive."

    CR has come a long way since The Badstad's Biggest of the Baddest cassette. He may have slowed down his flow a bit, but now he has a lot more to say. You can cop All Green Everything on iTunes, Bandcamp or Google Play. Physical copies coming soon...

Monday, July 13, 2015

Name Science 2 the Death (Part 2): An Interview with Sach

Grand Daddy Sach

    Sach Illpages is one of the very few hip-hop artists who has kept it pure throughout his entire career. By putting the art form above all else, Sach has crafted some of hip-hop's most beautiful and sincere masterpieces, and continues to hone his craft, delivering mature hip-hop that makes your "synapsis spastic." Sach took some time out from his busy schedule to break down his early years with The Nonce, working with Yusef Afloat, his time as an integral member of GPAC, his work with First Brigade, his "lo-fi era," as well as his upcoming album fiDELITY. Read on!

Can you talk about your early experiences with hip-hop, before you hooked up with Yusef?

    I started listening to music as an infant. My dad was into making 8-track tapes for the family. He was a blues dude. He had every blues record. So I was born into that whole life. I would sit and be chillin' with my pops and he'd be making tapes for the family in Texas or Louisiana. All B. B. King, all Albert King, all the Kings on one tape. He had these fresh little mixes. And I would just stare at the covers, not even listening, just looking at them. So somehow that imprinted on me.

    Later, the first real hip-hop that I heard was Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight" and then Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rap." So when I'm listening to those records, at that time, I didn't know the breaks, the break beats. I had no clue about that yet but I really fell in love with rap. Shortly after that, I would hear stuff on this radio station we have out here called K-Day. It was more like electronic beats like Afrika Bambaataa. We had this DJ crew called Uncle Jamm's Army that would play a lot of electronic beats. It didn't have titles and genres then. It was like graffiti and break dancing. It kind of just went together. After that, I noticed it started to change and I started to hear more rapping. So I started out hearing rappers and then after those two songs, I didn't really hear too much more until a little bit later, in the early 80s. Everything else was just instrumentals, beats to dance to. When I started hearing the emcees, I really fell in love with that. You know, hearing Run-D.M.C., there was this group called Divine [Sounds]. There were a lot of groups I heard on the radio that really influenced me. All of a sudden, I started hearing samples in the records and was like, "I have that record!" Once that happened, that's when it was over, once I realized, "Oh, I have all these records." And I'm a little kid. So now I'm listening, trying to figure out how they did it 'cause I still didn't understand the technical aspect of it. I just knew I had the source material. So I put it together by watching videos, listening to the radio, listening to the DJs talk, figuring out what cutting was, 'cause it wasn't like now where you can just YouTube anything.

I read that you learned how to make your first pause mixes from Mix Master Wolf.

    Yeah, that's correct. At that point, I'm pretty much aware of mostly every hip-hop record that's in L.A. K-Day was a great source - it wasn't the only thing - but it was the only thing we had in L.A. really. So I would go build over with Mix Master Wolf 'cause I went to school with his cousin, O.J. and that's who I'm talking about on "Mix Tapes," you know, "with my man, O.J." We were friends. I would catch the bus on Friday and go to his house and spend the weekend and he introduced me to Mix Master Wolf. Wolf already had a 4-track. He was already scratching, mixing, everything. He was already advanced, in a sense. I would watch him and he would take James Brown breaks and pause mix 'em and rhyme over 'em. And it was like, "Boom! I get it!" So I got a 4-track, turntables and a mixer and from what I learned with Wolf, I brought that over to my own thing. Shortly after that, I was able to get my hands on a sampler, which took it to a whole 'nother level. So we were doing it manually, and it was kind of limited, because we were very young. It hadn't unfolded yet. But when I got my hands on the sampler, then I kind of figured out, "Oh, that's how they did that." I thought, originally, those were drum machines that they were using [laughs]. I thought Marley Marl just had this incredible ass drum machine that just had these, you know, brilliant sounding drums. I didn't know he was chopping the beats. But I started gettin' it. I really, really wanted to understand this thing. I was maybe fifteen. So by the time I was fifteen, I could make beats. I could do everything. I could rhyme. I could record. I could make a beat. I could pause mix a beat. I could sample it.

So around that time was when you met Yusef?

    Well, this was maybe the year before that, I met Wolf. I met O.J. in seventh grade. After junior high, when I got to ninth grade, that's when I met Yusef. We weren't really rhyming together at first, we just kicked it. We were just good friends. We had the same taste in gear and stuff like that. Then the summer time came, and that's when me and Yusef kinda came together. It was really cool. Yusef wasn't really rhyming at that time. He could sing and he was making music that he could sing to. He had a keyboard. He's so underrated. He was a genius. Some people just have that thing. People can make beats or whatever but some people are just truly gifted at it.


Well, he was an instrumentalist too, right?

    Yeah, the first time he came over and saw what we were doing, he came back with his guitar and a stack of records like, "I like to play these." I'm playing a record and he's guitar soloing over the record [laughs]! It was dope. Now, if that would happen, I'd go crazy, but then it was just, "Oh, that's dope." It was just part of the makeup of us. As we started developing, the music that he made to sing over, I could rhyme over, you know? So we really started experimenting. So I was like, "Make a beat on the keyboard and I'll rhyme over it and you can sing. Or let's rhyme together. Why don't you rap on it?" And just like that, it started. And you can hear how dope Yusef is.

    I'll tell you this too. We went through several lives in hip-hop, me and Yusef. We started in the 80s. Yusef passed in the year 2000 and all the way up until then, say from sixteen to seventeen, we actually got signed to a label, as teenagers. So we were in the studio. We recorded a gang of music. We recorded every single day. It was like our life blood. And we were always producer minded, so we made stuff already in an album format. So we turned in albums to the labels and they never knew what to do with us. They didn't understand that we are our own little thing, so promote us like that. Promote us like we are the shit, not like we're copying something else. We're our own entity. So we had lots of conflict with record labels and stuff because, like I said, they didn't have the balls or didn't have the foresight to make it what it really could have been.

The first single you guys released, "The Picnic Song", has a more commercial sound. Was that something the label wanted? Because it sounds different than the other songs on the single and the stuff you released on Advanced Regression, which sound more like what you'd expect from The Nonce.

    Yeah, well, we were highly influenced by De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and that is a total influence time. So for instance - some people get this, I really get it now because I'm a lot older than a lot of emcees and I look at their fans and what I was like - when you're young, whatever you're into is the world to you. If you're into trap or whatever, that's what you're really fuckin' into. And nobody can tell you, "You know, this is kinda crap." [laughs] That's what they're into and they're fully vested in that. I didn't think nothin' was harder than Tribe, so I was on that level, internally. That was my foundation. So anything, when you're young and things highly influence you, you don't have your actual own voice yet. At that time, I didn't have my own voice yet. Where I'm at now, I don't think of anything. I just do it. I concentrate on what I'm about to write about, but I'm not...

It's like you found your niche, your own style.

    Yeah, yeah, and that happens when you do so much music. You do it and do it and do it until one day it becomes unlike anything else and you know it. Once you reach that point, then you jump off and hopefully you have positive influences around you who were supporting you and don't hinder you so you can develop further. I want to say that when I got to Phlowtations, that is, to me, when I acquired my own true voice. This sounds crazy, because this is after World Ultimate. When I listen to that record, I love it, and I know a lot of people love it because it was important to them at that time of life and it imprinted. It matters to people in that kind of way, but I was very young still and hadn't read so much stuff or been exposed to so much stuff. I was rapping just out of the fuel of wanting to rap and be fresh. I didn't have so much knowledge. I'm not an idiot or anything, but the more knowledge and information you acquire, the more fuel you have to create your songs with.

Well, like you said, when you were Nouka Basstype, it was much more lighthearted, but when you hooked up with Global Phlowtations and started going by Sach, did that name change coincide with that shift in your sound?

    Yeah, it did. The simple answer to that is that I was around a lot of great emcees who were younger but who were just as dope to me. Nobody was like, "Oh, you gotta come up a bit." It was like being around a whole bunch of frickin' rap geniuses. It'd be like a jam session of jazz musicians from the 50s, a stupid session like that. That's how it was with Phlowtations. It wasn't a competition. It was more like, "You're gonna jump off there? Then I'm gonna jump off here." And we made these beautiful lyrical pictures. It was a real creative environment and a lot of people were involved with us in other ways than music, which helped me a lot too. When Phlowtations was a steady entity, people would get off on just bringing us information to feed us. Like someone would bring a box of books, or some way out movies you've never seen or maybe aren't supposed to see. You name it, it was brought to us, like, "Here, absorb this." It was crazy. So we had a really bomb bookshelf that had all the books people would bring by. We spent a lot of time at Phlowtations studying, even though it was real fun. That was a big thing that doesn't get talked about because it was all us but we was in the books. We were trying to understand everything. That's why the lyrics and concepts were precise and way up there because we were constantly trying to feed ourselves with some kind of knowledge like a whole big palette.

And that was a connection with Zagu being in Phunky Dialect? That's how you hooked up with GPAC, through Zagu?

    Yeah. Well, this is how it went: It started off at Long Beach, The Pyramid. This auditorium at Long Beach University that we performed at. This is how I remember it. It was a ton of people there. It was during the day. It was The Nonce's turn to perform, we get up there and I dunno - sometimes maybe some of these soundmen aren't supposed to be soundmen - but he started turning our mics down and we were like, "Uh, you're turning our mics down. Turn the mic up!" And this is a big arena. And he turned Yusef's mic all the way off. And we're like, "Really?!" [laughs] And Yusef is dope for this, man. He slammed that mic down so hard, dude, it wasn't even on but it rang through the whole arena. And it was like an animated slam. It was like the kinda slam that you'd put in the dictionary, like, "This is a slam!" He took one step and almost like slammin' a basketball, he jumped a little bit and slammed it! And he was like, "That's it! We out!" And everybody's clownin', like, "Oh my God! I've never seen someone really truly slam a mic like that." It was brilliant.

    So afterwords, we're outside. Everybody's kind of networking or whatever. And Zagu comes up. He has a Dialects tape, and he basically chopped it up with Yusef. So later, Zagu called the house, trying to get a session with Yusef. And Yusef, he was the type of guy, if he was working on a project, something he's got going on, he won't stop it. He'll continue until he finishes it and make time for other stuff after. He wouldn't interrupt that flow until he's finished what he's doing. So this one time Zag called, and I was like, "Damn, I already know he's busy with this other project," so I was like, "It's cool! Just come through." So that's how me and Zag started. He was trying to get a session with Yusef but Yusef was real, real busy. Yusef wasn't putting him off or nothing, but Zag comes and the very first song we did was "Illustrations", which is on Suckas Hate Me. The very first thing we touched together was one of the dopest songs on that record.

    So I was like, "I'm gonna make you a beat," and I made him this beat. Our lab was on Marvin Blvd. I thought the beat was dope. He thought it was cool, but I thought the beat was real dope! After he left, I was like, "I gotta write a rhyme to it, even if I don't record it." So when he called back, I was like, "Ok, Zag, I made the beat, but I also wrote a verse to it too. Is that cool?" And he's like, "Yeah!" So that's how "Illustrations" came about. This was before Phlowtations. It wasn't that yet. It was about to come. This was like the precursor. So after that, Zag got the spot over on Rollin Curtis and right before they moved over there, that's when the title Global Phlowtations came about, I think. But from the tip top, I've been in Phlowtations.


    What's really beautiful about that was the fact that it was Zagu's spot but he welcomed everybody. It wasn't just people hanging out. Everybody was always doing something. Whether it was writing, making a beat, or just reading something. There was something going on, always. There was a room in the front and that's where the studio was most of the time. So I remember Adlib recording on this old Mac computer. This is like early '97. We had a dub 30 (Roland W30) I had brought an Akai sampler, I think it was a S950, or a 900. Sometimes there'd be an MP there and Zag had an SP-12. We had several crates of records. And sometimes you'd come to the house and everything would be moved, like some fung shei kinda shit! It was really cool 'cause you'd see the studio here on, like, the east wall. Then next month, it's all by the window. And it kept changing and evolving. It'd go into different rooms in the house. Now it's in the backroom.

    And there was lots of dancin' goin' on too. Nobody really breaks that down too. I'm a big dude, so I'm not really no dancer but these dudes could do it. They called it skankin'. Zag could do it. Cliff Wright could do it. Okito could do it. Orah could do it. So it would be these whole big dance sessions in the front room, you know? So it's not only beats and rhymin' goin' on but they could really dance! Like, you've seen ciphers, circles in the club - it makes the whole night. You see one guy and it's like, "Man, I can't wait until he gets back in the circle." These were those guys. So I think a lot of times, because they could boogie, it would influence the beats somehow. That was another little ingredient - spice - that you added to the whole mix to make something. This happened with The Nonce too. We had a couple friends who danced and we'd play beats and see if they danced to 'em. Like, "Ok, this one they didn't get down to. They went crazy over this one." That's a little side element that's part of Global Phlowtations that gets slept on. Fahr from Bzerkos was dope too! Dude, I wish I had videos of some of the dancing. Zagu gets down!

[laughs] I believe that.

    Yeah, tall Zagu gets down! It was great.

You mentioned some of the equipment you were using with Global Phlowtations. Can you break down some of the other equipment you've used for your recordings? You have a very unique sound.

    All of The Nonce was done on an Akai S950. Also a Roland Sound Module, and a Roland MPC. That was The Nonce. That's how you get that sound right there. All of my stuff, like Grand Daddy Sach and Ignorance My Enemy, all that stuff was done on my Yamaha Motif 6, which was my favourite tool after the Akai. Now, I'm using an MPC2000, still, to make a lot of the music, but I'm never totally stuck on a piece of equipment. That's not completely true, when I first started making beats it was on the [Akai] S900, so on any piece of equipment I try to make it do that stuff, and if I could do that on there, I've mastered the beat. Also the other half of the stuff that's on bandcamp, from after Ignorance My Enemy, like Happy Verse Day and I'm From Vermont Knolls, I used a Tascam digital 8-track portable. Just to say, you may not be able to afford the most expensive equipment or whatever, but by using proper recording techniques and improvised recording techniques you could make stuff that people would never know was not made in a professional recording studio. That's my whole thing, from the beginning, trying to get the sound I wanted.

Backing up a little bit, I heard a couple early Nonce tracks. One was called "China" and there was another one called "The Nonce Game." Can you talk about the concept for that track and is that where you guys got the name?

    Yeah, that was in the 80s. "China" was the first song I ever recorded on my 4-track. I dunno. Maybe because I was so young, that's why people really like that. I listen to it and I feel it twenty five, thirty years ago [laughs]. It's really frickin' old. I was like fifteen when I wrote that. But what happened was, I was very into books and I used to love pouring over the dictionary. I still do that now and then. I'll just pick it up and I'll see some word that will catch my eye and maybe I'll want to use it for something later, and I found the word "nonce." I was with my sister in Louisiana and I brought the dictionary with me and I just found that word and was like, "Ok! That's kinda fresh. That's kinda perfect. That's everything I want to be in hip-hop." I wanted to make up words and have my own slang. Those were the kicks and thrills for me. To make something that wasn't there before. So that name really summed it up and I told Yusef and he was like, "That's perfect." So when I had his Ok on that, I started "The Nonce Game." We weren't called The Nonce then, but people would call us - this is almost embarrassing - The Nonce Brothers or The Nonce Boys, 'cause we didn't have a name for our crew and that was a song we had, so that's how it was born. So we just made it The Nonce and we started writing that down on tapes and it just stuck. All based on that one little song, and the meaning of that word. It was too fresh. The definition of it is to make up words in a song.

One of the things I would love for you to break down is your connection with First Brigade and any information you wanna share about First Brigade. I'm assuming that was a Wild West connection?

    Yeah, it was a Wild West connection but also a couple other things. I was involved in this thing called I-Fresh. You know how you have the Good Life and Project Blowed, stuff like that? I started at I-Fresh. We would do these cable TV shows, these rap shows. It was really insane, actually, to be involved in that. It would be these different shows in different cities, shows for I-Fresh. It wasn't like Soul Train or nothing like that, but it was a real hip-hop, underground rap showcase and it was really fresh. And Ganjah K was affiliated with it too. So that's how I initially met Ganjah, through I-Fresh. His name was Pee Wee Jam at the time before he changed it to Ganjah K. He was dope! We were all kids, like fourteen, fifteen, but he was super dope! Remember I was tellin' you I found my voice after World Ultimate? Well, to me, he found one of his voices right after becoming Ganjah K, from Pee Wee Jam. If you listen to some of Ganjah's old stuff, you can hear that thing in there, the thing a lot of people kind of bit. But when he was Ganjah K, he was fully engulfed. Some of his rhymes were incredible! So I met Ganjah at I-Fresh, and I didn't know he was dealing with the same label that I was. So we bumped into each other at the studio. He was with Marc the Murderah and Meen Green. So that's how I was introduced to them, and right away, they wanted some beats and we're having these sessions where we're producing Ganjah. We're producing Marc the Murderah. We're producing Meen Green. Marc the Murderah and Meen Green together. Just a lot of stuff, man. Then hooking up at the studio one time. We used to record at this studio called Tracks. It's pretty famous. A lot of classic things were recorded at that studio. That was a really good time, actually. Up to that point, I had been in 24-track studios but these sessions were mine, you know what I'm sayin'? Fully mine. I'm producing, recording it, doing the whole nine. Same way how I might not've had my full emcee voice then, I felt like I got my full producer's voice then.

Did First Brigade produce multiple albums? I've heard of one called Lions of Jah Kingdom and I know Ganjah is planning to release one called WMD.

    Yeah, they have multiple albums. The Nonce was just one producer. They worked with Fat Jack and a lot of other producers. J. Sumbi. So it's easy to have a lot of aids, and easy to have a lot of things that never come out.

So you weren't actually a member of First Brigade? You were just producing songs for them?

    Yeah, I was just producing songs, but we were really down with First Brigade. We weren't First Brigade members, but I was down with First Brigade.

You mentioned J. Sumbi. Can you talk about your working relationship with him?

    Sure, sure. I think I really started dealin' with J. Sumbi after we did this photo shoot with Meen Green. It's The Nonce, Meen Green and J. Sumbi and his partner Daryl and we're all in this picture together. It's frickin' dope. And I was like, "Sumbi, you're dope! Can you scratch on this song for me?" And he'd be like, "Yeah, no problem." He'd go DJ at some poetry jam or whatever. And, at this time, there was a big earthquake in Los Angeles. And Sumbi lived maybe twenty minutes away from where I stayed at. Everybody was kinda close to where I was at, right? We had this earthquake and some people's apartments were damaged so a lot of people moved and Sumbi moved to the end of my block! And Ganjah moved not too far away. Everybody was just, like, ten minutes away. So that earthquake [caused a lot of] production to be done. For a couple years, similar to Phlowtations, how the location department was perfect, this was too. This is still before Phlowtations.

    It'd be like this: Say I'm workin' on something. Sumbi's at work. I'd be like, "Sumb, can you come down after work? I need to you to cut on something." He'd bring a turntable and a mixer, right? He sets the one turntable and a mixer on my futon and commence to get busy! So he would just pop the lid off the turntable case, set everything up right there and cut up the turntable on the futon, on his knees! I love Sumbi, man. He's such a positive person, man. He has lots of ideas. We always  worked really good together.

    He is also the reason why we got hooked up with American too. He was DJing these poetry jams out here in L.A. somewhere and we had just got our clear vinyl of "Mix Tapes" and what Sumbi does is whatever he's playing, he props up the cover right in front of the turntable. So you might be wondering what he's playing. You don't have to ask him. You could just see it right there. And some dude came up and said "What are you playing?" He was like, "It's The Nonce." And just like that, that was Dan Charnas from American. Next thing you know, the shit is going down. It was like that.

It's crazy how much he's done, behind the scenes.

    Yeah, he's actually - I have a new project coming out, likely at the top of next year or late this year called fiDELITY - and I have J. Sumbi on the bass. He plays bass. He builds custom basses and stuff and I got him blessing some songs on fiDELITY that's really, really good.

You've also worked a lot with Omid. Can you talk about working with him and how you hooked up with him?

    I started working with Omid through Global Phlowtations. We did that song, "To the Turn of the Earth" and that was the initial collaboration that we had. After that, we would just build. Besides music, we were on other things. We were into books. So our relationship was like, "You gotta read this!" Or he'd bring me books. So we read the same book at the same time, building with each other. We did that a lot, in between working musically with each other. But it was a special kind of relationship. So our whole thing was, in a way you could superimpose the books we were reading into the music we were making. That's the special connection. We'll watch a great movie, or some book or something, we'll make a song like that.

Well, he even dedicated his Distant Drummer album to the Hyperion novels.

    Yeah! [laughs] That was the first book that I read with Omid. He was already half way into the first Hyperion, and he told me about it. So I went and got 'em and we read 'em together. And we were like, "Oh, wow! Did you trip off of this?" We were fully engrossed in that for months. He would have the record be a collection of some of the things that we read. I did the same thing too. If you listen to Sach 5th Ave, I have a song on there called "Cantos" and that's from Hyperion. One of the characters wrote this cantos, which is like this never ending story that went on and on. It's dope though. That's why my "Cantos" is this epic sounding story with, you know, my views on where I was at then. That's the kind of really nuanced things that helped me stay creative and still want to do it. It's these other side things that never get mentioned. Nobody really knows about these books that we read that influenced us to make these next steps or whatever. It's easy to overlook the fact that, "Oh, it wasn't music that was really doing that. It was really books!" [laughs]

Last year you posted a bunch of material on your bandcamp you referred to as the final pieces of your "lo-fi era." Can you talk about those recordings?

    I came from the era of being on a label, releasing an album once a year or every two years. That was my box that I was in, and as I stopped being involved with labels and not so much being able to readily put my music out, I was still creating. I let go of that thing that goes, "Ok, this is the album and it's for this year" and stopped thinking about that. I threw that all out the window. When it comes to creating music and making albums, I don't cater to people. I don't cater to the public, to fans, to anyone. I just do what I do, and that freed me up so much. I don't have to worry about this other stuff. It might not work for other people, but it works for me in terms of my creativity because I don't like to force it. I'm the type that, like, "Ok, this starts to emerge and now I can develop it." It's like putting some paint on the paper in a random way and then you start to see an image and you start to fully develop that image. I would go, "Ok, I've got an idea for this record." Even though I didn't have a label or somebody to put it out, I was just making it. The first time it was really fun and thrilling. I've got this record nobody even knows about, right? Soon after, I had another idea. I want to make another one. I had to let go of that voice that says, "You just did a record. You don't need to do another record." So I just had this premonition to keep making albums, as many as I can. So then I did another one. Next thing you know I have three whole records that nobody's heard. And, at that time, no labels were getting at me, but I had like four or five albums [laughs]. I had Grand Daddy Sach, Ignorance My Enemy, Only for the Gifted & the Lifted... I know there were some people who were wondering what I was doing. So I put it out there to free up myself. Now I can move to something new.

Can you talk about your plans for the future? I know you have an new album in the works.

    My new record is fiDELITY and it's the first record I've done that's like The Nonce record. It's 24-track. I want to give it all the attention it deserves. I wanna be like Duke Ellington. I wanna do major production pieces. My mind is unfolding into this bigger picture right now. I want do some scores. I've done a few small scores but I want to do some more full-fledged scores. I want use all my intuition to make some bigger music. You know how it is sometimes, when you get jobs sometimes, even music, you treat it like a job and it becomes mechanical? I want to keep it at that creative stage. I want to be known for that. Doing scores would be another notch in my belt. I write a lot and also paint. Some of my things surface here or there, but I'm not the type of person to say I've done my best thing. There's always room to learn and expand. I haven't seen the best. I haven't heard the best. I haven't made it. I'm still striving. Otherwise, it's going to be dead. If you make the best thing you'll ever make? People talk about the best emcee. Fool, I'm still emceeing! I'm not saying I'm the best emcee [laughs] but I see this thing as still breathing and growing. It ain't over...