Red Lotus Klan presents the second in their series of Masters of the Universe reissues, Shamen 12's classic 12 Kommandments tape, originally recorded in 1996-7 under the alias Atom 12. This tape stands as one of the strongest MOTU projects, featuring production from Shamen and Milky Wayne and vocals from Shamen, Matrix (aka Odessa Kane), Kontroversial Black and Zombie619er. As Shamen, now known as Delon Deville, explained to me:
"I made 12 Kommandments, the album, inside our DJ’s garage - DJ Third Rail aka LOOKS SEK. I had a beat up old 4-track I stole from a pawn shop and I used DJ Third Rail’s Sensonique sampler while I dug in the crates. I didn’t know what direction I was going in when I decided to make my first album. I didn't even name it until I was actually finished with it. I basically got into the studio until I had found a niche. I was head conscious and against the machine and wet behind the ears when it came to knowing about the music business. I never took heed to what the music business was like. I thought it was gonna be easier than what it was. 12 Kommandments was my first kind of style I had developed while I was making the album. I fused knowledge and head conscious lyrics alongside a poverty and struggle stricken message. I kept that as being my main formula. As I began to sell my tapes on the street, I was now getting a feel of what Orko meant when he said you gotta put your feet to the pavement and get it out there. So along the way of chasing my dream, me and Orko were chasing our dreams together, but just slangin’ different albums under the same canopy. "
You can purchase the tape through RLK's bandcamp page here. Stay tuned for future reissues of classic MOTU tapes through RLK.
At this point in his career, Born Allah definitely doesn't have anything to prove. He has released more than a handful of excellent records over his career: the politically charged Movement Ex album in the early 90s, three battle-oriented singles on Ill Boogie Records in the early 2000s, and more recently - some of his best work thus far - two albums and two mixtapes with the Tabernacle MCz. But you definitely wouldn't know that from hearing his latest offering, his debut solo album, No Hip Hop for Grown Men. Born sounds hungry on this album, and delivers possibly his strongest effort. His deceptively effortless bars are honed and sharpened, and the beats are soulful, yet raw and abrasive.
Something that sets Born apart from the rest is his decision to build on the foundation of rap, by paying homage to the old school without re-doing what has already been done. The album sounds fresh and new, while still containing elements from the past: classic old school drum breaks, cuts and scratches, back-and-forth rhymes. Some of my favourite Daddy Grace tracks have been produced by heavyweight Longevity of Darkleaf and Born wisely laces the album with several of his productions. "All In," which was leaked last year and features Jaisan on the hook, oozes funk and shows two veterans at the top of their game. "Warrior's Theme," also produced by Longevity, sees Born spitting with his rhyme partner Erule, always a good recipe. On "B-Boy Anthem" born trades bars with Agallah the Don, a very refreshing move in an era where rappers so rarely record in the same room. The trio of Born, Akim and Soul King, who recorded the excellent "Cold as Ice" last year, return to drop an even tighter track on "Bar Work." K.I.T.s Crackin', Lucky Iam, J-Ro of Tha Alkaholiks, Chali 2na, Dirty Birdy and Planet Asia all contribute vocals, and Bigg Scott, Longevity, BLDNGBLK and Dame Young provide production, and everyone brings their A-game to unify this project with a cohesive sound and flow.
According to Born, this album was a product of his frustration with rap music in modern times. As he explained to me, "My concept [for this album] is that hip-hop has never been old enough to have this market that exists now, which is grown men, real B-Boys, fans of real hip-hop, that don't have anything to embrace in today's market with the young people. This is contemporary hip-hop for cats who are into real bars. Our motto is, 'We're young enough to know what's poppin', but old enough to know when you're spittin' some bullshit!'" This album serves as an alternative for older rap fans who feel that their beloved genre has been bastardized. His choice to return to the roots of hip-hop and build on the foundation is a reminder that much of what is currently labelled hip-hop is very different from the genre we all fell in love with. It has become a mutated version of the original format, and Born, while proclaiming himself the original man, also returns to the original rap format on this excellent album. This album may be intended for older audiences but I would encourage rap fans of all ages to support this album and remember what rap once was and what it still can be.
The album is currently streaming on Born's Soundcloud page, and is for sale on iTunes. Hit him up on Facebook for hard copies.
Over the summer I spent a lot of time revisiting the music of the 8-Bit Bassquiat, Orko Eloheim. I was reminded that the Sycotik Alien never fell off, and has in fact released two of his most interesting projects in recent years:
The first was a very low-key collection of tracks released first as a single disc effort under the alias Chakra Zulu and later, more officially, as a two disc selection entitled Audio+Annunaki+Archetect+Autism. This collection covers a wide range of sounds, styles and subject matter. There are aggressive battle raps and prophetic warnings over boom bap, laid back mood pieces with hypnotic chanting, rampaging drum & bass, as well as some unexpected sounds, with a plethora of uncredited guests, some who would be very recognizable to anybody who's reading this blog. With the best tracks condensed to a single disc and proper mixing and mastering, this project could be a very potent addition to his discography and shows a lot of promise in terms of what to expect on his next solo album. I had planned to post a link, but the album is currently not available.
The second project I'd like to shine a light on is his recent instrumental opus, Art Chakra. While so many listeners likely, and understandably, focus on his rhyming abilities, I feel Orko's production sometimes gets overlooked. And while he has released several beat tapes over the years, some even being full-blown concept albums, like The Acid Bible (Confessions of a Teenage Acid Lord), this record stands apart asan album, a culmination of all his various experiments in sound into a focused LP. The record shifts from reggae and dub-tinged, to spacey and ethereal, to frantic jungle, and is a reminder of the wide range of sounds Orko has covered. The off kilter drums and experiments in ambient soundscapes act as a nod toward sounds yet to be explored. Overall, this is a keystone effort from the 8-Bit Bassquiat and should not be overlooked.
Orko's most recent project is a collaboration with Japanese emcee Kaigen under the alias Tachyon Ghetto Blaster. The two released an EP back in 2014 and the new Heaven on Earth album, released on Fake Four, collects those songs and adds more. With production by Orko, Infinity Gauntlet, Psychopop, K-the-I???, Skyrider and more, guest spots from Gonjasufi, Self Jupiter, Gajah of Acid Reign, and cuts by DJ Roach, this project has a lot of interesting moments and serves as another solid offering from the Sycotik Alien.
Steven Laws aka Imperator presents Jean Powe Stevens Johnson Syndrome Survivor, which details the struggles of Jean Powe (aka Jean in the Front Row), a woman who gained a reputation for being front and center every week at the Good Life. Several years ago Jean was bitten by a spider and was rushed to the hospital with hives. An intern misdiagnosed her with singles and she was misprescribed a medication that she had an allergic reaction to. After spending three years in what can only be described as a living hell, Jean has recovered but remains bed-ridden and susceptible to further SJS breakouts at any time. Her 80 year old mother is her main caregiver, no one has stepped forward to take responsibility or give aid, and Jean is unable to pursue legal action due to the statue of limitations for malpractice suits. Throughout this ordeal, she has remained positive and is one of the most kind and thoughtful people I have spoken to through our mutual love of music.
When it comes to "true school" hip-hop, which was at the core of what the Good Life was all about, a recurring theme is the upliftment of your people, through positive action, education, and community. This documentary represents that to the fullest and Imperator intends to utilize it to help achieve goals beyond the documentary itself. As he detailed:
Some of the documentary goals are:
1. Spread awareness of Stevens Johnson Syndrome. (Please share on all of your social media sites.)
2. Change the statute of limitations on medical malpractice. (How can we achieve this?)
3. Help Jean Powe get into a fully functional handicapped equipped house. (Share with industry professionals, talk show host, politicians, famous people, etc.)
4. Educate before you medicate (Please do your research and ask questions before you pop that pill.)
5. Get a lawyer to help Jean Powe with her legal case. (Share with attorneys, judges, lawyers, etc.)
Questions from the director.
1. What emotions did you have while watching the documentary?
2. What's your overall opinion of the documentary?
3. Any suggestions?
Please check out this documentary and consider dropping a comment for Jean. If you have time, or a channel to do so, please consider sharing the link.
Founding member of EX2 Syndrome228 is still putting it down, whether on the solo tip, with his crew Bully Squad or with the newly revamped TH(Ex2) alongside Vyrus. With several new projects on the horizon, I've put together a selection of some of his newer work. The Soundcloud stuff is produced by Syn aka Debit and I believe the Bully Squad joint is produced by Casper. Check it out:
"If hip-hop is dead then I'm taggin' on the tombstone"
Infinity Gauntlet, now better known as Scatter Brain the Acid Atheist, has been down with Masters of the Universe since his early youth and first started contributing beats to various MOTU projects in the early 2000s. He's grown to become one of the most prolific members of the crew, having dropped dozens of instrumental projects, several rap albums and collaborations as well as having a deep list of production credits. Through his Red Lotus Klan crew/imprint he's dropped a bunch of material from his crew as well as a series of reissues of Masters of the Universe classics on cassette. He broke down his earliest experiences with rap, his production style, his transition to rapping and battling and more in this in depth interview.
Can you talk about your earliest experiences with hip-hop and some of your early influences?
I was always listening to hip-hop since I was super young but I didn't really know how shit was made, you know what I mean? I was a little kid, in elementary. I was listening to hip-hop from 2nd, 3rd grade 'til now, but around junior high is when I was kicking it with the Universe more, being with my brother (Odessa Kane) and him taking me to the studio and shit. I remember seeing Shamen 12 working on 12 Kommandments and Orko working on Doomsday Prophet. In Third Rail's garage they had a studio set up and they'd be in there, recording and smoking weed and shit. I was kinda around as a kid and I was like, "This shit is cool!" That was what really pulled me in. I was listening to, like, KRS-One, but being around them is what made me think, "I could do this myself." Being way young and seeing that, I thought it was the coolest shit. I wanted to get in the mix.
You were telling me the earliest beats you did were on the Playstation. Can you talk about your first experiences with production?
It was MTV Music Generator. One of the homies in my area had it and he showed my brother that shit and my brother was telling me, "Yo, there's this one thing on the Playstation where you can make beats!" He had already showed me how to make a beat. He was going to college and brought me into a studio when I was really young. I remember Joosik Energetik was up in there too. I learned how to make a beat up in there, in the 90s. Around 2000 is when I got the Music Generator and that's when I really got to work with music a lot. I was in high school but I had home studies so I had a gang of time by myself with the Playstation. All my friends were at school and I was just making beats, trying to get better. It had sounds on it and shit. The interface kinda looked like Fruity Loops. I was making beats on that for a bit without samples. I didn't know why other people's beats sounded like that, you know? Like, "Why do their drums sound like this and mine sound like this?" I stumbled onto the sampling - there was a sampling feature in the game - and once I learned that it was like, "Okay, this is how I want it to sound." Once I started sampling I was like, "Oh, this is it! This is how they do it." Then I was digging in the creates, buying shit, searching for sounds. I was making beats on that for a few years. The beat on the first NMS album, the solo track for Bigg Jus that I produced, I made that on the Playstation.
Your beats go in a lot of directions but a lot of them have a really cinematic quality, like you're sampling from movies. Did that have anything to do with using the Playstation or did you come into that style a different way?
That was just from watching movies and TV and shit. I noticed - once I started making beats - the soundtrack playing, so I'd go to, like, used CD stores and grab all these soundtracks because on the Playstation you could only sample from CDs. I started knowing composers and getting into that mix. Because people were already all jazzed out. Certain genres were really getting ran through. I think even now, soundtracks are still low key. When I was digging, I'd lean towards soundtracks. I still do. Plus a lot of the time no one knows where the samples are coming from. I remember chillin' with Psychopop in like '01 and we were in the store and I bought this soundtrack and he was like, "What the fuck? What are you buyin' that for?" And I popped it in and it was some crazy, hard-ass shit and he was like, "Oh, shit! Okay, I see what you're doing!" You can hear on Audio Renaissance, my first one, it had a lot of heavy strings, more moody shit. Back in the day, Shamen 12 was like, "You sound like you be cryin' when you make beats." [laughs] I'd be trying to get him on my beats back then but it didn't line up. He had his own sound he was trying to do but he was giving me props on some little homie type shit. We didn't end up doing tracks, me and him, until later. I've probably known him most, out of the Universe, other than my brother. Him and my brother are best friends so they'd be kicking it, taking me on little missions, sneaking into raves and shit [laughs].
Can you talk about how Kilowattz came together? Did you start that crew?
Yeah, I heard I started it. I can't remember exactly [laughs] but I heard homies saying I started it. How it went down, me and the homies were chillin', smokin' out, throwing ideas in the air, and we were talking about starting a clothing line. Me and Psychopop were brainstorming with the other homies, Bleedin, 21 Grams, we were all chillin'. I had this windbreaker and I put speaker wires in it and shit, or took the string out and put RCAs in it. So we were gonna make some shit. Somehow the name Kilowattz popped up, tying music equipment into the clothing. We never made one shirt but we made the crew. The first one was Kilowattz Vol. 1. It was us four: me, Psychopop, 21 Grams and Sounds Like Murder. They were part of another crew at the time called Creatures and I was part of Masters of the Universe, but we linked up and became Kilowattz. Then Tenshun got down, Sumach got down. We all shared the same aesthetic. We were living the same, digging the same records, trying to make crazy shit. We were hella different, but we were the same. We were different but had a similar style.
So did that sort of evolve into Red Lotus Klan or do you consider that something different?
It's definitely different. See, I was part of Masters but I was mainly doing instrumental shit. I dropped some beats here and there but compared to the amount of music I was making - I needed another outlet. I was a producer, chilling with other rappers. Some of them produced too but Kilowattz were younger, closer to my age. Like me and Orko versus me and Tenshun, we were closer in age so we were chilling. I was like the kid of Masters, the little homie, but with Kilowattz we were peers. We actually have a Kilowattz remix project we did. Psychopop got a Nas remix. Tenshun got an Organized Konfusion remix. I got a Jeru remix. We just never put it out. But I've been thinking of tying together the files and putting it out. Everyone's doing their own thing, it's just more low key.
When it started being more Red Lotus Klan, I felt like it was more what I was trying to aim for in terms of putting both the crews together, all my homies from Kilowattz, all my homies from Masters of the Universe, and make it one thing. I wanted to have my own thing. I'm part of Masters but I'm the youngest cat from the crew. There was supposed to be a next generation but I was the only one.
Well, you seem really driven too. I think you and Orko would be the most prolific of the crew. Was it sort of an outlet just to get more of that stuff out?
Yeah, kind of. The stuff I was doing was a bit different. I didn't feel like it was Kilowattz or Masters of the Universe. It was something different. You have these friends, hanging out with ten, fifteen people, and it was a different aesthetic then what was going on with the other crew. I'm not in a position to put anybody down with Masters of the Universe so I needed my own thing, a new flag. It's still Masters of the Universe too, I look at it as an extension. It's its own thing, but I look at it like a bridge. If I didn't come up under Masters, maybe I wouldn't even be doing music. I heard stuff from New York but these are people I know. These guys are just as great, just as talented. Some cats stuck with it, some drifted off.
Is the 12 Kommandments reissue on RLK still happening?
Yeah! I was actually about to post that pretty soon. I got all the tapes and stuff. After that, we're gonna put out West Kraven Universe Horror Nites. Then after that, I'm thinking about putting out Hall of Fame, Fortune and Death. I already talked to everybody and they gave me the green light but I don't wanna throw them all out at once. A lot of the homies are sleeping on their own shit. They don't realize how dope it is. They've moved on with their lives. They were young when they recorded, but I have to remind them, "Hey, there's people who want that shit! It's cool that it's rare but let's throw it out there one last time." It's cool when it's a relic but I needed to help make that shit available for everybody, especially with their blessing. I be telling people about shit but they can't find it. I was talking to Orko too about pressing up Back 2 the Future and Microcrucifiction, remix and remaster them and put them out too.
More recently, you started rapping as well as producing. What sparked that decision to start releasing your raps?
Around 2006, I was doing a lot of Civil War shit. I had an album with Autopsy. I had an album with my brother. I had all this music and I felt like cats weren't pushing it. I was like, "Yo, we gotta get out! We gotta do shows." I was feeling real hungry. I was producing shit but they weren't really pushing. I was going hard, trying to make the dopest shit in the world. Not that they weren't either but as a producer there's only so much I can do. So I had a show at Low End Theory. Gaslamp Killer hit me up to do it. So I hit the homies up, like, "We should do a Civil War set!" They wanted me to do an Infinity Gauntlet instrumental set. This is when Low End Theory was super crazy poppin'. It still is, but back then it was more so. We got into a creative differences type argument and I just kinda quit the crew, like, "Y'all can have it!" I was just kinda frustrated. Around then is when I started formulating some new shit. That's why there was only one Civil War CD. Then you didn't hear stuff from my brother 'til like 2012. And Autopsy had Savage Planet but it didn't come out 'til later. But there was a period when I wasn't even making music. I was just running around, getting high, like, "I did all that music for nothing?" I was tired of the ego shit. Then one night, I just wrote a rhyme to one of my homies beats. He was trying to give these beats to Civil War [laughs] but I popped it in and I wrote some rhymes and I was like, "Man, this shit might be alright." I was like, "Man, these fools think they're so dope? I can do this too. I'm gonna work hard for this too. I'm gonna get focused and get my skills up and push it."It was kinda like a challenge for me. It's like a martial art. If you practice, you're gonna get somewhere with it. I was doing a lot of mescaline at the time and that influenced it too.
Well, I was gonna say, when I heard Chasing Victims Through Sound Systems - I was listening to your stuff for years prior to that - but it was a time where I felt like everything was sounding a little too polished and a little too soft and that album was so refreshing. At first, I didn't even know it was you. I didn't know it was Infinity Gauntlet. I listened to that every day for like a year.
Good lookin' out, man. Actually, that was the first album I released but I had recorded another album. But my friend's hard drive crashed and we never really finished it. Then me and Psychopop started kicking it again more. I could tell some of the homies weren't completely sold on me being a rapper. So I didn't really want people to know it was me, at first. I didn't want people to know that Infinity Gauntlet and Scatter Brain were the same person but it kinda unfolded that way. In like '07 I threw my first track on the internet. It might've been "Dr. Giggles" or something, which didn't come out until years later on Grand Theft Audio 2. A couple people thought that was my brother. They were like, "You're Scatter Brain? You're killin' it." And he's like, "Huh? Who's Scatter Brain?" I was trying to be real low key about it. Only one homie knew I was rapping. He was hype. He was like my first supporter. Chillin' with the homie Sounds Like Murder from Kilowattz, we were kickin' it a lot, recording. It was cool to just chill, not be around like thirty other rappers, and get sharp with it.
So was it after Chasing Victims that you started getting into the battling?
I was already getting into the battle scene before that a bit. But after Chasing Victims I was living in L.A., in Hollywood. I was living there when we were mixing that album. But being in L.A. a lot, when you're a rapper and you're in the ciphers on the some "can't nobody fuck with you" shit, people will test you [laughs]. I love L.A., man. I had a track or two on the internet, trying to be low key, but it kinda just kept drawing me in. I'd be freestyling in the circle and somebody would take a line to heart and wanna battle you. I think I had Grand Theft Audio 1 out and I wanted to promo my shit more other than rocking shows. So I was looking at the whole battle thing, like, "Lemme hop in this shit." This cat Immaculate reached out to me to do a battle in Portland. That one was cool. Then I got invited to the Red Bull thing where I battled that dude Dizaster. That was in, like, 2011 but the footage didn't come out 'til 2013 or some weird shit. I don't have too many battles in that little format. I was just trying to promote my name to a different audience. I dunno if it helped me or not.
Well, there's one in particular I wanted to ask you about. There's another guy called Scatterbrain, I think in L.A. Can you talk about why he has the L in front of his name? [laughs]
[laughs] You know what's funny, we battled, his name is L. Scatterbrain...
Oh, his name was L. Scatterbrain already? I thought that was 'cause he lost?
Yeah, that's what I thought! Then he tried to tell me... 'cause I thought it was hilarious. Me and Sumach battled one day. That's my homie and shit. We'll always be cool. But we always have weird little friction where he thinks I'm talking shit about him or I think he's talking shit about me then we talk about it we're cool as shit. So there was a period where we didn't talk for a year or two and the first time we chilled again we went to L.A., to Low End Theory to a Danny Brown show before he was really bubblin' like that. There was hardly anybody at that show. But on the way up, me and Sumach battled. It was crazy. I was like, "This fool's dissing me in a freestyle right now?" So I kinda started coming back at him. We started going back and forth like six times. It was me, Psychopop, Sounds Like Murder and this girl he brought with him, in this sketchy-ass van. So me and Sumach battled [laughs]. We're at the Danny Brown show, the shows warpping up, I'm outside, and I hear this dude say, "Where's Scatter Brain at?" And I'm drunk as fuck and hella high and I'm like, "Is this fool cool with me or does he not like me?" He says it again and I'm not saying anything at the moment because I'm in another city and I only have like one song on Myspace or whatever, so he can't be talking about me. Then Sumach pops up, "Yo, this is Scatter Brain right here! Who the fuck are you?" Sumach was talking mad shit because we're all drunk as hell [laughs]. So he's like, "You're Scatter Brain?" and I'm like "Yeah." And he's like, "Nah, I'm Scatter Brain." It was like this weird moment in time, like I was in Bizarro world [laughs]. So me and that dude are talking shit, back and forth. I'm drunk and I had already battled Sumach. Then he's like, "Let's battle for the name." So it was really testing my stripes. So being on some strategy shit, peeping out the scenario, the way he was calling me out, I thought, "Shit, he might be ill." I finally get him to start rapping and he was coming weak and I was like, "Yesss, [laughs] he sucks." I started coming in, doing me. I started getting real arrogant, in full rapper mode, which I'm hardly ever in, but I was in that moment. So everyone was like, "You got 'im." So I'm like, "You gotta change your name!" This is when I had just started, the 2008 me. Then I saw him on Myspace and he had it changed to L. Scatter, so I thought that was funny. But years later he told me he was already L. Scatterbrain. But he literally took the L on that one. The funny thing is I ran in to him later, a month or so after I battled him. I was doing a show with Skrapez in L.A. and Tenshun comes up - it's like midnight - and he's like, "That L. Scatterbrain dude is here again!" And I'm like, "Sick, I'm gonna call him out again." So I called him out again, like, "Yo, we can battle again, man! Let's really end it!" But he left. There was no music playing. All you could hear was my voice, but he leaves. So we rocked some more Chasing Victims, then after, his homie comes up like, "Yo, that shit was hard Scatter Brain!" [laughs] He even called me Scatter Brain. If that's my homie and he gets disrespected, you're getting no love from me. Cadillac Ron wanted me to rematch him on that Grind Time battle shit. But I was like, "Man, that fool sucks. I don't wanna battle him again." Then I hear he started lying, saying we never battled. He was saying he was down with Project Blowed. Well, you weren't on none of the albums. I've never heard of you [laughs]. I'm up on L.A. hip-hop. That's some of my favourite shit! It sucks for me though 'cause if anyone thinks I'm that guy, that sucks, man.
Do you think you'll ever do a Scatter Brain/Infinity Gauntlet project where you handle all the production? Because you tend to produce for other people and then rap over other people's beats. Yeah, man. I think that's what it's getting to. 'Cause I'm in New York now and I'm not around all my people who make beats. People still send me beats but I don't have anyone to work with in person. So the logical thing is for me to produce my own shit and make it really epic. I want time to really focus and do something really major. That's probably gonna be the new shit I'm gonna be working on. I honestly don't like rapping on my own beats. That's why it hasn't already happened. I like just being in the producer role and seeing other people get inspired by my beats in a different way. But then sometimes I get the homies beats and I wish I could change, like, one little thing, but I can't, I'm in the rapper role. Now I don't really hang out with heads too much. The only guys I really hang out with here are Boxguts, Pruven, sometimes I go to Jak Trippers crib.
So my last question - I know you have the MOTU reissues you're doing, you worked on a project with Vast Aire and Pruven recently, and I know you produced an album for Boxguts - what projects do you have lined up right now that people might expect to hear next?
The next shit I'm really trying to push is my album with the homie Obnoxious. He's outta San Diego. We have an album called Chem Trails that we've been working on for a while. We have a bunch of different producers and it's raw as fuck. I usually do all my songs by myself so this is my first album rapping with somebody else. We're different, but we're into the same shit. I also have been thinking about putting out the album I was telling you about before Chasing Victims, just for certain heads who are really into my shit. I'm not 100% sure if I'm gonna put that out. I wanna work with more artists too. Like the Project Blowed cats, some of those fools show love, like Born Allah. I wanna work with those type of heads, man...
Anybody who read my interview with Jean in the Front Row from last year knows Jean is currently suffering from a condition called Stevens Johnson Syndrome, which is caused by an allergic reaction to medication. Jean was misprescribed medication by an intern and is now confined to her bed, having only left her apartment a handful of times since she developed the condition in 2007.
While much of what came out of the Good Life was considered "conscious" rap, many of Jean's peers have turned their backs on her. There were no benefit shows, donations or even visits from many of the artists who rapped about positivity, unity and community. Good Life O.G. Imperator has stepped up to the plate though and is actually turning those words into action by spearheading and directing this documentary about Jean and her struggles, as well as throwing her a benefit show last year.
Above is the official trailer for the documentary Jean Powe "Stevens Johnson Syndrome" Survivor, which will be made available for free on Youtube on September 29th, and for $1.00 on www.FromRapToFilm.com where the funds will be received by Imp to offset the cost of putting this together. Stay tuned to beetbak for the full documentary!
Fans of the Shape Shifters will be very familiar with Mek One aka Mr. Fung. He contributed verses to classics like "Brain Fish Oner" and "Abducted Again." He produced several songs on Planet of the Shapes and Know Future, including co-producing the Shifter's anthem "Word to Your Mutha Ship." He provided raps, production and cuts on "Appoca-Palooza." But he was also an original member of the crew, extending back to the early 90s and played an important role in shaping the sound the Shape Shifters became known for. I had the opportunity to pick his brain and he broke down some important and largely unknown history about his hip-hop experience and about this unique and innovative crew.
Can you start off with your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what influenced you in those early days?
My very first experience with any hip-hop would've been, I'd say '82. Me and my sister used to go out to Detroit, Michigan every summer to spend time with my mom's family and they would take us to this place called Boblo Island. Basically what it was was this amusement park. You'd take a big ship out to this island where they had the amusement park. There were a lot of black folks there, so it was very hip, you know? When we were on this ship, they were playing stuff that I thought was really cool. They had a live DJ and people were gathering around in a cipher. At the time, people had, like, Playboy bunny hats and white gloves, like pop lockers, stuff like that. This was very early. I can't remember what songs they played, but from that day forward, I just had to find out more about that. I was like, "When I go back to L.A., I need to find out what the hell is going on with that stuff I saw on the Boblo boat. If it exists in L.A., I'm finding it!"
So when I was back in L.A., I was on Hollywood Blvd. and I saw they were doing the same thing, with cardboard, break dancing and all that. I was a little kid, like eleven or twelve or whatever. I had a friend, Ilya, and he was break dancing already. He was a year older, and he had the red beret. He had Converse and khaki pants, all that, you know? He was trying to do windmills, the backspin. He was into the breaking. And we used to go to Hollywood by ourselves. We weren't really supposed to be roaming around by ourselves in Hollywood, but anyway, we'd do all kinds of crazy stuff, like racking little Star Wars action figures and G.I. Joe action figures and like burn 'em and try to make 'em break dance and stuff [laughs]. And then we'd walk home and just talk about everything we saw. I just remember we'd be like, "Dude, did you see that one dude who did that?" And we'd try to do it.
Ultimately, I started going there more and he ended up kind of going down the gang path. Me, I was kinda too skinny and frail so I couldn't go down that path. So I just started hanging around Hollywood by myself. So I met some cats my age and I started going up there a lot. I started getting the guts to do some break dancing, but it wasn't much. I had met two kids. One kid was named Lamar and the other was Laron. Laron was already well known. He had been on Different Strokes and a couple other T.V. shows for popping and stuff. He could do a little breaking too but it was mostly pop locking, stuff like that. This other kid, he was kind of living a rough life. His name was Lamar and he and I used to hang out, like, every single day. Basically, I wanted to master all the moves he had. I was like, "This cat is gonna teach me everything." So I became super good at break dancing, inheriting the moves from him. So I'd go up to Hollywood and fools would be like, "Oh, shit! Who's this little guy doing all this crazy stuff we've never seen before?" That's when I got in this crew called Crush Crew. It was a bunch of kids that lived around Hollywood. It was me, Dayvon, James, Tommy, and a bunch of other kids. So James and Tommy, they were like stars on Hollywood. They'd show up and do stuff nobody was doing. They'd do uprocks, like New York style. Their style was nowhere like L.A. They'd just humiliate people. They'd wear boxers with their name stitched on the back and moon people.
They'd do the craziest shit. They were like four years older than me. I'm like the little pip-squeak of the crew. They're already crazy about girls. I wasn't about any of that. They were talking about banging girls, break dancing, all that stupid shit. I was like, "I dunno about all that stuff but can we go practice?" [laughs] Basically I was more like a geek when it came to the break dancing. So up until like '83 it was mostly break dancing. Then in fifth grade I met Ser from West Coast [Artists] (WCA), one of the original members of the Shape Shifters. I dunno if you found that out...
Yeah, I saw Rob One, yourself, Ser, Relm and Perk as the original members.
Yeah. So Ser showed up to my school. I was going to Melrose Elementary at the time. He showed up with this, like, bleach blonde duck tail, this Filipino kid, like, really brown skin. And I knew he was a surfer or something. He looked different than anybody else. I was like, "There's something up with this kid. I dunno what he's into. I gotta find out." But I was one of those different kids too. I didn't look like anybody. Then one day he showed up with some hip-hop stuff on, some Pumas or some shit. So I was like, "Ok, this kid is hip-hop." So I started talking to him, and it's Ser, and he's DJing and stuff. He wasn't Ser yet, of course. He was one of these Filipino dudes from Carson. He hung out with Samoans so he had some hip-hop growing in him already from being over there. There was a lot of hip-hop going on in that area. That's where like Dream SMD comes from, R.I.P.
So afterward, I started hanging out with Ser. We'd go to this dude's house and they had a cardboard and we'd spend hours trying to spin on our backs, drawing graffiti on the cardboard [laughs]. This other weird dude used to bring his boom box and play Uncle Jamm's Army tapes while he danced, something stupid like that. So as time went by, I think it was about '84, going into junior high school, and at this time, break dancing is pretty much dead. It was only for people who were really super good. Everybody else pretty much quit. I felt like, "Man, all this practice and we're just gonna quit?" So I kept going to Radiotron, even though it was about to shut down. Lamar was still into it and there was this kid Mike, so either Lamar or Mike, we'd go all the way downtown to Radiotron after school and spend hours and hours there practicing different moves. By the time eighth grade rolled around, it was really dead in the water. But see, while I was break dancing I was also doing a bit of graff, here and there. I got really into the graffiti in late '84, '85.
Is that how the Shape Shifters really got started? Through CBS and doing graffiti?
No, the way the Shape Shifters got started was with Relm. Relm was hanging out with Ser a lot and they had a lot of inspiration from listening to Ultramagnetic. They had other influences, like Chubb Rock, all the super original New York emcees.
Yeah, listening to some of those early songs, you can hear a heavy Ultramagnetic influence.
Yeah, I kinda took a step left from that. Kool Keith is definitely dope, but my style kinda differs from what they were doing, on almost all the songs, I would say. But they could quote every single Ultramagnetic song, even rare shit nobody's heard. They knew it all like the Bible, especially Relm. That was going on for a while and I was rapping mostly with Ser and Relm, and Perk would come around once in a while, when he wasn't slanging his yayo or whatever. There were a bunch of cats who would come to my place, my mom's apartment. Rakaa Iriscience from Dialated Peoples used to come around. At the time, he was rapping at the Hip-Hop Shop. I dunno if you know the graffiti writer Hex, they'd have this Hip-Hop Shop up in Melrose they owned. Everybody used to go over there and practice rapping, DJing, whatever they did. Also, you know who used to go there, who came outta there? Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am.
Oh cool, I guess that would've been the Atbann Klan back then.
Yeah! Here's a funny story. Those guys used to do a very happy style. It was like Kwame. They'd wear poka dots and jeans, like some De La Soul dudes. They'd dance and do this thing called shack dancing, like running up the wall and doing a flip. It was like, "Oh shit, I don't wanna do that but that's cool." will.i.am had actually asked me if I wanted to get down with them and do some stuff 'cause I was doing some stuff with this cat called Circle. I was gonna do some stuff with him but it was so far different from what I was doing. I was still thinking I should hook up with this cat. But I was worried people would find out and think I was a happy rapper like him. Back then, you had this ego and shit [laughs]. I thought his stuff was cool though. I never really valued him as a lyricist or anything like that. But I thought he had some good delivery and good ideas and concepts. So I'm hanging out with Ser and Relm and Prince Charming, that guy who put out that Orgasmo record I was telling you about.
So Prince Charming, was he a punk artist, or was he a rap guy or...?
He was like this geek. He looked like a developer you'd see at Dot Net or something [laughs]. He met Relm through some mutual friend or something. So he'd come through. He had some cool ideas that were way geeked out. He had some crazy instruments we'd sample on the SP12000 or run it through his Roland drum machine. He definitely had some weird hippy instruments he'd bring over to my place and we'd sit there for hours sampling it, trying to flip it and put some drums to it.
So that dude, he used to take me to these weird spots, man. It used to actually scare the shit out of me. I think the only reason I kept my calm was because we were so stoned. It was like hippy land where they'd take a shit and a piss in an outhouse. There'd be this big jam going on with weirdo people singing and rapping. I went once or twice then after that I was like, "This shit is too weird for me." So that dude was kinda weird, but we had this comradery because he was from Detroit or he had spent some time there. But he was mostly Relm's boy. But we did some cassette recordings and ultimately he ended up pressing up that Orgasmorecord on his own. I guess he took what he thought was the best of our little collaborations.
So around that time, Relm had a couple names he was throwing around. He had this one, Anonymous Squared, which reminds me of that new De La album or something [laughs]. But I didn't like it. Perk definitely didn't like it. Then one day Relm throws out the name Shape Shifters. None of us really knew where he got it from. We were like, "Oh, that's from the movie The Omen or some shit." He told me he got it from reading some poetry, this poet named Lucille Clifton, a black poet from the 60s, I believe. Don't quote me on that, but I think so. So he was reading these poems called shape shifter poems, brainstorming different things. So it stuck with him and he really liked it and when he threw out that name, we were like, "Yeah, that's dope." So I didn't really have any say in the name - it was really Ser and Relm doing shit - I was just down, like, "I'm gonna rap with them and make some beats." But it was really a collaboration. It was like a big group thing. Everybody had input. It wasn't like someone just did a beat and said, "Here, you wanna rap over it?" [laughs]
Well, I wanted to ask you. That one song, I think it's called "Remember My Face", was that one of the first songs you guys recorded?
Well, we did a bunch of a little things, but the first song we really did was "I'm a Man." Then after that, a couple months later, we decided we needed to do some more songs. Ser and Relm came up with that chant, "remember my face." That stuff is from them basically. The whole theme behind it was you could kinda rap about anything, shape shifting or whatever. So I had my thing about martians. Ser had his thing about waving the checkered flag. We kind of all stuck with the same theme and it worked out pretty well. I think everything came together pretty fly on that one. That one was on the cutting board for a while [laughs]. Every part of that song was put together so intricately. It became this big collage. "Are we doing a song here or where is this going?"
Well, you can correct me if I'm wrong, but listening to that song and hearing you rap about martians and all that - plus I know you did that verse again on Know Future on a song with Circus - that kinda seems like maybe that was the beginning of that whole concept of rapping about extraterrestrials and all that...
Nah, basically, when I did that song, I was chilling with Circus already and he was already into that shit heavily. We'd get stoned and go to these martian expos - me, him and this other cat called Item - and we'd be talking 'til four in the morning about what we heard at the expos. So I think the martian thing came from those expos. We'd do it every weekend. He even went to Area 51. Marcus did a lot of that shit on his own too. He took it to a whole 'nother level [laughs]. They'd sell these tapes of scientists and all these crazy cooks just spitting stuff about aliens and all kinds of weird stuff. He'd literally read all these books, take all the information he could possibly conjure up and write lyrics, dude. He did his fucking homework. He was saying shit they had just started saying, way long ago. And that whole "it's your birthday" thing that 50 Cent did. He did that way back in '91 and '92. And I hated it [laughs]. I was like, "Please don't do that birthday thing, dude. I hate it." And then, what, thirty years later 50 Cent did the same fucking thing? But I think the martian thing for me, I was hanging out with Circus and that just rubbed off. It was stuck in my head so I'd write some stuff like that.
So that's how Circus got down then, through you?
Hmm, yeah, pretty much. What happened was, me, Ser, Relm and Perk, we recorded a three song demo. It was "I'm a Man", "Remember My Face" and "Drum Drops." "Drum Drops" basically was, there's a beat playing, the whole song is basically one record playing all the way through. We liked that record so much, it just had drums all over it. Somehow, we wanted to blend that with the beat. So Ser had to sit there - he was the best one at blending - and match up the beat with his finger. It was kinda crazy. He did that in like one take, I think. So we did that three song demo in Ser's little studio apartment, in his closet or something cheesy like that. We had a reverb and we were gonna do some crazy voice shit but we didn't do it. Relm and Ser did some crazy Rammellzee voice shit and he wanted to put it on there but we were like, "Maybe on another song." It was better than B-Real holding his nose and trying to do Rammellzee but they were kinda poking fun at B-Real a bit too so I was like, "I dunno if we should do it. Let's scratch that idea." But we had a lot of fun toying around with the reverb.
Well, speaking of Relm, I know spinning off from the Shape Shifters you had the Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs MC's wid Ghatz. Was that Relm...?
I think all that is, dude - that whole "loving you because you're beautiful," Ser's singing that and then I think, if I'm not mistaken, they recorded that in New York with Reas AOK. And they sound like the Muppets or something, it's crazy. I dunno where the name came from. Maybe they were just sitting around cracking jokes and it came out. I wasn't a part of that.
So that was Relm, Ser and Reas?
Yeah, that's it. But I think that beat, I think I did that, but it's been so long. I think I did the beat and then they took it to New York and did some stuff to it with Reas and that's where that stuff came from.
Can you talk about how you hooked up with Rob One and touch on the CBS days a bit?
Man, I knew Rob since he was born. My mom and his mom were, like, pregnant in the park or whatever. The CBS thing, for me, Rob wasn't in any crew when I started hanging out with him again. He was DJing. So I hung out with him in third, fourth grade a bit then he moved to the Valley. So I didn't see him for years. When he moved back to Hollywood, I saw him and he told me he was DJing. When I went to his pad, I was like, "Wow, this fool is blending Woody Woodpecker with Run-D.M.C. and crazy shit." This is '83, '84 or something. We started hanging out and he was into different shit. He was into rap but he was into punk. It was confusing to me. I was like, "I dunno if I can hang out with this dude. I can't figure out what he wants to do [laughs]." For me, it was a little bizarre. For me, it was hip-hop or nothing. He wasn't down with that. One day, I'd see him with Pumas and the next day he'd have some tight pants [laughs]. That was Rob.
So he was tagging this crew around my neighbourhood, VCR. I was like, "What the hell's VCR, dude?" He was like, Vice, Code & Rob. I was like, "I know Vice. You're Rob. Who's Code?" He's like, "That's you!" I'm like, "Dude, I was just thinking of names, bro!" And he went all over tagging VCR. With VHS, VCR, the acronym just sounded cool to him, I guess.
Shortly after that, he started telling me about this crew called ABC. There was another Hex, a Demo, a Frost, a Theory, maybe some other people. I think Smurf's big brother was in it. Smurf from UTI. So his big brother did a lot of graff too. So it was basically ABC first. Then Hex, I think, started CBS. Not the Hex you're thinking of. Not the Hex who does all that wonderful graffit stuff. This is a different Hex. So Rob and Sk8 were like the skater dudes of CBS. Rob and Sk8 became 2 and 2. After a while, I think Hex told Sk8 he could start pushing CBS and Sk8 took it to another level and started developing a crew around Hollywood. I think Anger was around at the time, and Vex. It was a small crew at the time. They used to hang out at Taco Bell, eat and go over to this place called Starky's Arcade at the Beverly Center. It was just dumb shit that everyone would do, you know? That would've been around '85, '86. CBS just grew out of that like crazy because Sk8 really pioneered the whole thing of going out and recruiting people. Whoever he saw that had a little bit of talent, even kids who didn't really do graff would start doing it after a couple months of hanging out with Sk8. So Sk8 developed a lot of these cats and then they came up on their own. He showed them what to do and they just kinda ran with the ball from there.
Can you break down the name Mek, where that came from?
At the time, I was tagging Rec and Ser was tagging Rust, basically crossing out a lot of West Coast Artists stuff. We'd attack Piro, Miner, all their tags would get dissed. The reason we did it, Ser was kinda inspired by Beat Street and he got the idea, "Let's just start going around dissing these dudes!" I was like, "Man, we're gonna get our ass kicked! These dudes are in high school." And he was like, "Nah, we'll never get caught. We'll just run away." So every night we'd go out and diss as many Piro and Miner tags as possible. We didn't care. It was fun. It was a thrill. We're just gonna go diss all the tags we can. We might get chased and have to run but that's the fun part.
Then finally one day, we're riding on the bus in Hollywood and lo and behold, Piro's on the back of the bus. He does his Piro tag. He doesn't know we're writers 'cause we're young little whippersnappers with peach fuzz faces. We notice him and we're laughing. We're waiting for his ass to get off the bus so we can diss his tag. And Ser wanted to follow him. He was like, "Let's see where this fool lives!" I was like, "Dude, I'm not doing all that, bro. What're you gonna do? Tag outside his place?" So we ended up following him. We didn't go to his place [laughs]. We went all out that night and dissed a bunch of shit.
But ultimately Rec and Rust died when we got into West Coast. But before we got into West Coast, there was some static. We got caught out there. They caught us and they had saw Ser catch a tag or something and they were like, "Oh, you guys are Rec and Rust, huh?" We couldn't run anywhere 'cause it was like an alley or whatever. We admitted it and they didn't care. They were like, "We're not gonna fuck with you guys. We didn't know you guys were younger than us. We thought you were two big black dudes or something." So they just let us go. I just didn't wanna keep that same name. Ser didn't want Rust anymore so he went through a few names but he ultimately became Ser. I guess he just liked those letters. But I always liked an E or a T or an E and a K. I didn't wanna veer too far away from that. What would it stand for though? So I thought, in my head, Making Everything Kreative, M-E-K. So I started rolling with that. Sometimes I'd do it with an E-K, or an E-C-K, just to switch it up. So that's where that came from.
So in regards to Planet of the Shapes and Know Future, were you guys planning to record an album or were you just recording? 'Cause I know the songs were recorded over years but was there a plan to make a tape?
It was kind of all over the place. That's all pretty much Circus. He did all the footwork, getting it out there, the artwork. I mean, I never got paid a dime for anything I ever did. None of the raps I did, none of the beats I did, none of the cuts, nothing [laughs]. It was just pure fun. But Circus, he put a lot of time and money and effort into putting this stuff out. He'd get upset, like, "I'm gonna do this shit myself." He basically did it all himself at one point. I remember I was living in New York at the time and that was right after Planet of the Shapes came out. He was like, "I'm not relying on anybody anymore." He just got tired of the bullshit, people being lazy. He was always relying on somebody who was slacking. He winded up probably mixing all that stuff down himself with minimal help, like, "Fuck it, I'm putting this stuff out. If it doesn't sound that great, I don't care." It was pretty much all Circus, dude. I did some rhymes, some scratching, but he's the one who's responsible for putting out every Shape Shifters record, I'd say. Maybe Rob might hold some weight with that. He might've put out a single. Rob was also involved in that too, getting the name out there too. I'm pretty sure he was a big help promoting and all that. I was in New York at the time.
The reason why the original Shape Shifters broke up, after we recorded that three song demo, Relm moved back to New York, so it pretty much just fizzled out after that. And Ser was Relm's boy so I never hung out with him after that. So it just completely fizzled out. So Circus was like, "Fuck it. I'm gonna take it and do something with it."
So once they got passed the 4-track stuff and started recording cleaner stuff, you were pretty much gone by that point. Was that just you focusing on family or why weren't you involved in those later projects?
I had moved to New York, just kind of trying it out. I was getting burned out in L.A., doing all these Joe jobs. I had this girlfriend who was from New York and she wanted to move back so we were like, "Fuck it, let's move to New York." We packed all our shit up and just drove there, cross country. That was way back in, like, '93, '94. That's why a lot of the stuff after Planet of the Shapes, I'm probably not on that stuff, or if I am it's old stuff. I did do one recording with him though. I think it was the "Girls Dipped in Chocolate" thing and some other one. I was actually living in New York. I think it was the winter time and I think we just recorded it at Cody's place. He brought all his equipment and everything and we just did it there, on the spot.
Cody is Bleek, right?
Yup, that's Bleek.
So since then, the only thing I really heard you on was the Ex Vandalz stuff. Was that Perk pretty much spearheading that and gathering stuff from everybody?
Yup, that was Perk. The first Ex Vandalz, I wasn't even on it. I did some music, maybe. I was living in New York at the time. He wanted me to be on it but it never happened. By the time I came back to L.A., in 2003, he wanted to do another Ex Vandalz CD. But he wanted a bunch of other people on it. So I was kinda confused because I was like, "Does he want it to be me and a couple other people, like the original Ex Vandalz?" But he was getting all these other cats on there and giving me beats I wasn't really interested in. None of those beats except maybe the one Pablo (Liferexall) did, but other than that, I wasn't really feeling any of them. The rest of them that he had me spit over, I wasn't really feeling any of them. You'd have to drop something on my head for me to feel it. That's kinda how you get when you live in New York too long. It's kinda disgusting but it has to be the best shit ever for you to want to rap over it. The funny thing is, he was feeling every single beat and I was like, "Man, I'm not feeling that, sorry." And he started getting mad [laughs]. It took me a long time to come around. I had to compromise actually to rap over some of those joints. We winded up doing all the Special Herbs, MF DOOM stuff, we winded up rapping over those. We did maybe four songs, but they never came out. He said he'd put 'em out, but he never did. Then we had a fight and I haven't talked to him since. I couldn't show up at a gig he had booked in Santa Monica. I had to work and he was pissed and that was it after that, we never talked.
Usually I end these by asking if you have any music coming up in the future but I guess unless somebody hits you up for a verse you're not really recording anything now, right?
I'm not recording anything now. I still have my equipment but I haven't really been doing nothing. I still have all my old beats on discs. I did buy an SP-404 that I had MIDId up with my SP1200 and I was working on some stuff at home, like four, five years back, collaborating with Pablo - that's Liferexall. After that, though, I had kids and I'm just too busy with the family and all that. So I haven't had much time. But around maybe 2005, 2006 I was doing some stuff but it just went down the tubes, I guess [laughs].
I really appreciate you taking the time to break this stuff down for me. I was listening to the Shape Shifters in high school and it's kind of a trip for me to get to talk to you. I mean, you were on "Brain Fish Oner" which was the first Shifters song I heard and it blew my mind.
I remember doing that song and showing up at L.A. Jae's place. We recorded the whole thing at his place. The whole beat was his. He had it on the MPC and as soon as he put it on, we all liked it. I had no idea. Circus just invited me to this thing. I had a verse I had just finished. I didn't have it down pat yet. I was sitting in the corner, trying to get it off my head. Circus had his long rap that he usually has. We were all stoned, sitting there, and Circus starts whispering in my ear, "Wait 'til you hear AWOL's rap." I had never heard AWOL before this day. As soon as AWOL started spitting his rap, I was like, "Dude, this is the dopest shit I've ever heard." His whole verse - it was short - but the picture he painted. I was like, "I dunno who this cat is but that shit is dope." After that, we all got excited and did our verses.
"You don't wanna know what's in the bottom of that creek"
Self Jupiter and Kenny Segal return with their second installation as the Kleenrz, the Pulp Fiction inspired clean up men, specializing in dark, twisted concepts and speaker crushing beats. Pulling inspiration from Stephen King novels, crime reality shows and macabre films, J. Hitchcock delves deeper into the concept first introduced on their 2012 self-titled EP, attacking it from many angles, resulting in a some very unique and inspired songs.
The album opens with "The Langoliers", inspired by the novel of the same name, and conjures vivid images with the dense lyrics being abstract enough to be open to interpretation. "First 48", with it's funky beat, deals with murder in a playful manner, and is a good example of the mix of sinister and lighter production reflecting Jupiter's trademark mixture of morbidity and humour. "Revenge pt.2" picks up where the first part left off and again emphasizes Jup's poignant poetry. Tracks like "The Breakup Breakfast" and "Meloncholia" see Jup kicking the slow, deliberate, spoken word style that marked the first Kleenrz project, a reminder that this is an artist who continues to evolve stylistically. "Shaniqua" is an ode to a cruel and scandalous woman with a violently jealous man, featuring none other than Del tha Funky Homosapien. "Man Overboard" features heavyweights Myka 9 and Busdriver kicking some innovative rhyme patterns over a dark, moody production. The album, like its predecessor, features an epic posse cut, this time with Sach, Abstract Rude, AWOL One, Grouch & Eligh contributing vocals, the beat mutating halfway through into a different monster. Lyrically, the bar is set high which results in all the featured guests coming with some very inspired rhymes.
While so many artists end up diluting their music in an attempt to stay modern, Jupiter has shown once again that he is the Hitchcock of Rap, painting pictures with words and developing and honing concepts, rather than dumbing them down. Kenny Segal's production is modern sounding, with the echoes of the Memphis underground that are the dominant sound at the moment, but also experimental and reflective of Jupiter's sinister poetry. Season Two is evidence that the Kleenrz concept still has legs, and that Jupiter is still an innovator after over 25 years.
Following "Motivated", Soul King drops the second single from his upcoming The Diaspora album, entitled "Prince of Zamunda." The smooth production by Dirty Diggs inspires a laid-back, deliberate flow from SK, reflecting on the search for true love. "The song is inspired by the movie Coming to America and my life as a foreigner searching for a queen," SK explained to me. "It's about being dope in your own mind, being fly mentally." Check out the video and song below and stay tuned for future singles and the full length project which is slated for January 2017. And if you missed it, check out my in depth interview with SK which covers his career from his earliest experience with hip-hop to his work with the Likwit Crew and Barbershop MCs up to his more recent solo work and philosophy on music.
I know that the readers of Bring That Beat Back enjoyed (and miss) the many excellent write ups Jack Devo contributed to this blog, as well as sharing, like myself, a feeling of gratitude to him for fathering this site and creating an outlet for so much great music and information. But aside from his fantastic writing which eloquently conveyed a true passion and love of music, Jack is also a beat maker himself and I felt it was long overdue that I use the very site he created to shine a spotlight on some of my favourite Devo beats. From surreal and sublimely beautiful compositions, like "Lowlands" to the dark, sinister ambient soundscapes found on Dead Frequencies II, to the pulsing electronica on Intention Jack has covered a lot of ground sonically and continues to produce to this day. Please take the time to check out a few selections and if you enjoy them, check out his Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages. While he has (hopefully temporarily) retired from writing on this site, he still uses music as a medium for expression and you're missing out if you haven't checked out his work.
Check out the first episode of Hurt Speaks, a series of videos which, much like hisAsk Akiseries with Prince Sefa-Boakye, sees Aki giving his unique perspective on various topics. Stay tuned for updates on Akbar's next projects, D.A.M.E. (Destroying All My Enemies) and Hurt&Pain, and be sure to check out his set on DJ Third Rail of Masters of the Universe's Third Degree Burns Mixshow (Aki's set begins at about the 3 hour mark) on which he debuts some tracks from D.A.M.E.
Aki also posted a new track from his upcoming Hurt&Pain album on his SoundCloud, another cry against police brutalityand corruption:
The latest offering from Massdog Music is a dedication to underground legend 2Mex, who recently lost part of his leg to diabetes. The song began when Myka 9 sent Massive a recording of him doing some jazz scatting, which Mass then incorporated into a beat. Syndrome228 of the BullySquad and Quaesar of Rime Fytahs join Mass to pay homage to 2Mex and his contributions to hip-hop culture, while Roach the DJ provides some cuts. If you're inclined, Dannu from the Visionaries has set up a GoFundMe account to help raise funds for his medical costs.
Bay Area emcee Kayer recently dropped this very jazzy single produced by Ian McKee, who also contributed to his Rewind a Decade compilation, and featuring DJ Fossil on the wheels of steel. The track is an ode to a woodland retreat, paying homage to unplugging from the grid, spending time with loved ones and reflecting on the awe-inspiring redwood trees. The very smooth, euphoric production acts as a perfect backdrop for Kayer's true school lyricism. With the feel of an anthem, this new single is a definite stand out in the man's career, taken to another level by the unique concept and video, directed by Fish Eye Films. Stay tuned for updates and info on Kayer's upcoming projects.
There is no disputing the All Deady Jizzm's status as an underground legend. With a resume that includes a unique, commanding voice, versatility behind the boards, and a list of collaborators that reads like a who's who in the L.A. underground - Global Phlowtations, The Shape Shifters, Mister CR and the Eastside Badstads, the Living Legends crew, Pigeon John, CVE, Evidence, Jurassic 5, Ganjah K, Blak Forest and many, many more - Jizzm and his Illasophic Records imprint have made undeniable contributions to the culture. For his latest project, he has teamed up with the Baka Boyz, who famously produced the west coast anthem "Pistolgrip-Pump" for Volume 10.
The first single from the upcoming project, which is produced Nick V (one half of the Baka Boyz), addresses the rampant police brutality we are continuing to witness in the U.S. Jizzm opens the track with raw lyricsm, going straight for the jugular: "They say freedom of speech but make talking cease and desist/ until I cease to resist while these reasons exist." Dirty Birdy - who, interestingly, has worked with both 2Mex and Bishop Lamont - and Scarub of Living Legends both contribute politically charged verses as well, over Nick V's stripped down and hard-hitting, yet modern sounding production. Stay tuned for info on the upcoming project and the next single which features Tash of tha Alkaholiks.
FollowingRed Lotus Klan'sreissue of the Android Masters tape, I got in touch with Koobaatoo Asparagus, the other half of the Android Masters crew. Aside from producing and rapping on the Android Masters tape and contributing beats and rhymes to most of the stuff on Zombie's soundcloud, Koobaatoo, also known as Bomedy Beats and Mike Swift, has been very prolific as a solo artist, having crafted his own unique sound and produced several hip-hop compilations as well as hundreds of experimental noise albums released through his NoSkinnyJeanz imprint, which can be found on his bandcamp and archive.org. We discussed his earliest experiences with music, as well as his influences, his work with Zombie619, his spontaneous approach to music, his forays into experimental/harsh noise wall, and more in this in depth interview.
What were some of your earliest experiences with music and what inspired you to start making music yourself?
Let's see, I started when I was like six years old. My grandma and them had records with the old radio - remember those old stereos that was made out of wood and it they used to light up? You had to lift 'em up and they had the turntable in there and it was an 8-track back then. So those days, that's when I started to get interested in the album covers, you know, Earth, Wind & Fire album covers, Sun Ra. I just used to be amused by those albums covers. My first instrument was a tape deck - really a tape recorder - and I started to do, like, tape manipulations, record my voice. I called it "pause button productions." I used to loop certain beats with two tape recorders. So I started to get into that. This is the early 80s. My grandma and them had a record called the Sugarhill Gang and that's when I started to get into that. That's when I started to scratch on the turntable. I didn't have no technique then but back then, in the 80s, our grandparents and parents and them had Technics turntables with the s-arm and all that. I didn't realize those were popular turntables. They used to have little house parties and break out the turntables and next thing you know, I see the mixer. So I was like, "Alright, I like DJing," and I started DJing in the early 80s. That was my first encounter with the music.
I found a bio where it said a guy called DJ Slo Motion helped you get started DJing. Yeah, now we're going into - 'cause that was '80, '81 - then in '85, Troy (Slo Motion) showed me how to scratch with the mixer. We went to the thrift store, the Goodwill and we got us some turntables. I had a Pioneer and a Technic, it was mismatched, and we went and got a Radio Shack mixer with the cross fader. Then, after that, he got me doing parties for schools and stuff. That's why I named my self DJ Mike Swift and he was DJ Slo Motion. Kenny (Zombie) and all them, they're from a different side of San Diego. We're from Bay Vista. I dunno if you've heard of Bay Vista but that's where Mitchy Slick and all them grew up at. Mitchy Slick is a real popular San Diego rapper. We grew up in those projects, started doing house parties, started doing high schools, Sadie Hawkins. This is about '86, '88. Then I started to get into beat making after that. I got my first sampler, an Esoniq Mirage. It only had like 12 or 8 bits and gave you about 12 seconds of sampling. And I never turned back.
I know too that break dancing was a big part of the 80s for you. Were you part of House Klan as well or were you more just affiliated with them?
I was just affiliated with 'em. Once again, they're more from the other side of San Diego. Breaking, too, along with my DJing was part of it. In '85, I was in the break dancing then. We were called the Juice Crew [laughs]. We was the little Juice Crew. 'Cause what happened with San Diego - it was kinda like, gangs was out but those were older homies, but then a lot of our generation got into dancing. It was the O.G. Dark Boys, the Fila Boys, the Gucci Crew. This is when Fat Boys was the shit and Run-D.M.C., "send me back in 30 days." But we started to do a little bit of break dancing when we saw Beat Street and all that. It was fun times.
When I talked to Zombie he was telling me about how he came up with the name Masters of the Universe when you, him and Orko were hanging out one day, and had just had some weed cookies. Do you remember that day?
Oh, yeah! Around that time - that was the early 90s I would say - I was a DJ then too. While they would dance, I would sometimes DJ while they be battling. I was also dancing too. But around that era, I was gettin' known for my beats. People were like, "That dude be makin' some tight-ass beats, sampling." I had been doing music for a while. I was doing experimental hip-hop. It was sounding kinda like - one of my favourite producers was - you remember Showbiz & A.G., Diamond D and them? And Buckshot Shorty? How they beats be muffled? Yeah, I used to make those kinda beats. Like the Buckshot Shorty "Buck 'em Down" song! So my beats was sounding like that with a little bit of Prince Paul, De La Soul. So people were very influenced by how I made my beats, very abstract and original.
But I don't wanna miss out on the weed cookies. Long story short, they came over. They knew I was producing and stuff. We was in my room, I was making this beat, and we was just fuckin' tripping, eatin' weed cookies, and Zombie was like, "Dude, Android Masters, Masters of the Universe," and we just ran with it. That's when I started hanging with them more and more. We'd go from Orko's studio to my little production room, back and forth, making beats together, producing for West Kraven, producing Odessa Kane - back then they were called D.N.A. - Odessa, Atom 12 and Kontroversial. So I pretty much worked with all of 'em, Bennie (Eclipse Heru), DJ Looks One (aka DJ Third Rail). So basically I produced with everybody from Masters of the Universe at some point.
Is all that stuff lost now?
Yeah. I was tripping out how Android Masters came back. I was like, "Wow! Who had this tape?" [Peace to Dylan for ripping his tape and sharing it with the world!] When I saw that back in rotation. That was from the lost archives. I still have some beats that I made around that era.
Can you talk about any memories you have recording Android Masters?
It was in Atlanta. Zombie had to get rent paid so he had to sell his Nintendo, at the Game Stop. We were kinda bummed out - he was on his way to go back to San Diego - so I was like, "Dude, let's finish this and put this tape out." Back then I was a big acid head. I used to do acid, shrooms. So he had did shrooms with me one time - we had got some funny weed from them Georgia dudes - and we was both fuckin' trippin' out. We started laughing at the same time and next thing you know we started vibing on that album and finished most of it that day. Then he moved back home. I was still in Atlanta, producing other acts, and he pressed it up and was selling it. I was like, "That's awesome!" So when I went back to visit San Diego, there were already 100, 200 copies of that tape floating around. So Zombie did the distribution, putting it out there, and I did the beats.
Were you involved in Zombie's Optimus Crime album too?
No, I wasn't on that one. I think that was mainly Orko production, and Puddi. Puddi, me and him were producer partners too. That's around when I got down with Masters of the Universe. First we was all buddies, but I got down with their team when I got down with the Black Bradys. You heard of them? Yeah, that was Puddi and Blacky, right? Yeah! Puddi and Blacky. I came along right around then. We were signed under a label, with Orko too. Whew, that was old times! You could ask Puddi, he'd remember the name of the label. We had some posters and stuff. We did some shows. This was before Kenny and I did Android Masters, not to confuse with the timeline. Then me and Kenny clicked up in Atlanta, unexpectedly - I didn't know he was living out there - and when we united we dropped that album. Then I came back to San Diego and me and Kenny just never stopped collaborating. We have a couple underground [recordings], back when CD-rs came out, we started up that Android Masters again.
In 2005-6 you dropped a couple hip-hop compilations (Mike Swift's Giggin' Shoes and Legend of the Wet Gorilla) and I also found a Bomedy Beats instrumental project from around that time. Was that a time where you were really pushing with the rap stuff?
See, now we're going into 2000, 2005, 2006-7. What happened was, I came back from Atlanta and I was back in the hood, so around that time people started getting into the gangster era, I guess the G Funk started to take over. Being me, I grew up under the funk anyway, you know, George Clinton, Parliament/Funkadelic. And then, like I said, I used to be a little drug head and I'd always do the sherm. That's why you see Legend of the Wet Gorilla. I used to get wet and then make those beats and having people rapping in the studio while we all wet and shit. And we used to come out with albums, just song after song after song. I was making like 5-10 beats a day. And people were like, "Dang! Mike Swift is makin' a lot of beats!" So as the years went by, Alex, a lot of people started to be like, "A lot of people are being influenced by your style of beats, from E-40 to Kanye West, now San Diego's trying to grasp it," so I just started to make more funky beats.
I was, at one point in Atlanta, I was with LaFace Records as an intern, and they wanted to pick me up on their production team, and what happened was, they were like, "Dude, you're tight, but we can't get a lot of these samples cleared," and that kinda broke my heart. That's what made me start doing what I call the Too $hort beats, 'cause if you notice Too $hort didn't really use samples, he was using a keyboard. So from the 90s, I went from a hip-hop/De La Soul type of sampling then in the millennium I started making funk beats so nobody could really claim that it's copywritten, ya get it? And I was really at my prime, trying to get the hip-hop thing going.
The funny thing is nobody really rapped in San Diego and now everybody and they mama rap, and everybody's a DJ. You Can DJ on your phone. I would say we the pioneers of San Diego hip-hop, but also I'm a best kept secret, you know, people kinda forgot about me on the low. I did that on purpose. Hip-hop was becoming a trend so I wanted to kick it with this experimental music on the side. Next thing you know, I hear Kanye West messin' with experimental noises and stuff. I'm more of an innovator, like Orko. We always come up with ideas. Peacez (Zombie) is the same way, he always has ideas.
You mentioned Funkadelic and I can hear the influence there, but when I step back
and look at all your stuff, from the rap stuff, to the funk, to the
experimental noise and a lot of your lyrical content, I'm guessing Sun
Ra was a big influence on you as well?
You're correct. What happened was, when I came back to San Diego, like I said, everything was gravitating towards gang banging, with Dr. Dre, Chronic and all that. What happened with me, being that I'm from Bay Vista - that's the projects - what was going on with me, Alex, I was producing a lot of talented gangster rappers. But next thing you know, my cousins, my friends, they gettin' locked up in jail, and we have all this material just sittin'. It got so bad, I'd be in the studio with one of my friends and next thing you know they're going to the store and they get shot, they're dead. I started to think, "What the hell am I putting out here?" The beats are smashin', but I started to notice, "Man, lyrics are powerful!" 'Cause my friends were rapping about killing - killing, destruction and all that - and they basically manifested what they said. I was feeling heart broken because I wanted to be, like, a Steve Viscious, another dope producer out of Diego. But it just started to get boring. The same, "I'll kill you, shoot 'em up, bang, bang," I couldn't go no further. To me, Snoop Dogg got it locked down. 2Pac got it locked down. Game got it locked down. But you can't do no more. You can't keep rapping about killing and killing and killing.
Now, what happened was, my man Joe, rest in peace, we were in the studio and he died while we were recording. And it's kinda weird how I can play his tapes and listen to his verse but he's gone. That's when I started to search for the old mic again, the House Klan, Boot Without a Soul days. Next thing you know, with Sun Ra, I hit the lil' sherm again. I was outside. And something just said, "Man, go with the Sun Ra. Fuck if people think you're weird. Go with Sun Ra because you're not a gangster rapper. You're a musician." And I never went back. I still be rollin' with the Sun Ra. I still make funk beats here and there. I really don't support gangster rap that much. But people liked my beats so much they be, "Hey man! Just do one beat for me," shit like that. So I did a couple beats for some San Diego cats. But as far as that, that was my journey, man.
talking to Zombie about how the Android Masters stuff has a really
spontaneous vibe, like you guys just get inspired and put it together.
It sounds like that's true of all your stuff too, is that pretty much
the case for all your music, that you just work when the inspiration
hits you and keep it spontaneous?
Yeah, because back in the day, in the studio, when I used to record - to me, you either got it or you don't. And what I mean is, I'd encounter cats in the studio and we're doing a 16 bar take for 3 hours. And it's like, "Dude... c'mon." Like, did you do your homework? 'Cause now you got me doing your homework. I gotta cut, paste, overdub. In the long run, you either got it or you don't. So just like Sun Ra, when I'm recording, if I mess up, I keep recording. I want to get it over with, put it in the archives and move to the next song. You have some cats who be like, "Nah, put that back. Take that out. Put that snare in." You lose the creativity and it becomes homework. So I was always spontaneous and whatever I made, I put it out. Like, if this person can't rap on it, this one can. That's why I like Peacez. We're like peanut butter and jelly. He can rap on anything of mine and get it done. And Zombie, he's one of my best artists. He don't rap about gang bang stuff. He's like a Marvel comic enthusiast. He's the type of cat that'll go find vocabularies from a NASA glossary and throw it down on paper. That's what I like. Me and him have an infinite possibility of imagination.
Can you break down the name Koobaatoo Asparagus?
Koobaatoo came out around - that was when I decided, "I'm Sun Ra all the way. I'm not turning back." So this was around 2010, 2011. I ain't gonna lie, I was on ecstacy, in my room. I had become a circuit bender and I was getting more interested in that. I started to discover more unfound sound. And with Koobaatoo Asparagus, I was high as fuck, and I wanted the name to get stuck in your head. It doesn't really have a meaning to it. I tried to go research meaning. It's funny, if you look at asparagus, it's a plant but it also means genius. So I was like, "Cool, okay." I tried to kinda be like the Egyption gods. I was just trying to be more original with the Koobaatoo. Make it stick in your head, you know? [laughs]
done a lot of stuff with a couple guys, Sharpe J and Young Mantre. You
were saying to me Young Mantre is your cousin. Is Sharpe J a relative of
Yeah, Mantre's my cousin. Jason's my friend. See, in Bay Vista, you had Wrongkind, you had Back Gate Records. It was gonna be a takeover. 'Cause Bay Vista is known for a lot of talent. Kevin Mitchell from the Giants baseball team came outta there. Mitchy Slick, the Notorious Syndo Mob. Terrell Davis (former football player for the Broncos).We had some real good talent. So with Mantre and Sharpe J, we had formulated - with Young Reef, my cousin - Back Gate Records and basically that name was from the back gate of Bay Vista, a popular area where there was a lot of shootings and stuff.
The main rapper, Young Reef, he got locked up for conspiracy to a homicide. So we started to push it for him, while he was in prison. We really started to pump out CDs, doing shows, making it a whole movement. As time went on, people started having kids, growing apart, homies dying, everybody started doing they own thing. Not to mention, Wrongkind Records are now the biggest Diego rap label going on right now. And we're sub-affiliated with them sometimes, but like I said, everybody's doing their own thing now. We almost had a takeover. A lot of the beats that I did, people were gettin' in trouble with the police because people were rapping about murders and now they wanna do an investigation. That's pretty much when I was like, "I'm out of this y'all. This isn't going anywhere." The music almost started gettin' my ass in trouble. I was like, "Nah, I can't do this one."
You mentioned the experimental noise, and I know in particular you've done a lot of harsh noise wall, which I
wasn't familiar with before I heard your stuff. Can you explain what the
idea of harsh noise wall is and how it appeals to you? I've heard it
described as music for nihlism.
I stumbled upon harsh noise wall - it was this guy on YouTube. His name was Bomir. He had a bag over his head in front of a crowd, performing live. And all you hear is this low tone rumbling, like, noise of wall, almost sounding like an airplane turbine. See, back in the day, I had got shot, when I was in the hood, and I had developed post traumatic stress disorder. So, you know, I'm on social security, disabilities, for PTSD. So what happened was, as I'm listening to it, it made me settle. So it's really not music to me, it's more of an anesthetic, like a state of trance, a state of calmness for me, you know what I'm sayin'? That's why I make a lot of it. And to me, it's not giving off a bad message, 'cause, like I said, I used to be a producer for guys who would be rappin' like, "I'ma kill your dog and I'ma gang bang to this," and it's kinda like, they're really putting that out in the universe and it comes back and bites them in the ass. So I was like, "Do I want to be that type of image? Nah." So harsh noise wall is like - you know, Alex, I don't do all them drugs no more. I got too old. So I might just go ahead, have a little beer, set up my little equipment and make a wall and just sit there, just in a conscious, relaxed state. And I thought it was just me but I started to see more people all over the world doing harsh noise. So my mind is conditioned to it now. It's like a canvas or painting somehow. It's visual to the ears.
Well, like I said, I hadn't heard of it before, but one of the things I think is really cool is the DIY aspect and some of the artwork people are putting together. Like a lot of that stuff, the stuff you sent me, has really great artwork.
Yeah, 'cause I'm like you, Alex. I love tangible items, like the tapes, like back in the day you put 'em in the deck, you stare at 'em, you look at the credits. I was a big fan of that. As I got older, everybody wanted to be a big star on a label, like Wu-Tang - everybody had that dream - but as I got older I saw I wasn't getting any closer so what I did was, I took the DIY route. So right now, as we speak, I told myself I'ma catalogue my stuff and I can imagine Sun Ra did that. You know how he has all kinds of records and I always loved his stuff. So right now, I'm 41, and I'm sitting on a vault of about 7000 CDs of all my stuff.
That's what I'm saying. As I get older I just keep archiving. And if I pass away, hmm, I might just give it to the Library of Congress, or like a library so people can say, "Who was this guy who put out all this stuff?"
You mentioned the circuit bending. Is that how you got into the experimental noise? Is that what started that journey?
The experimental noise - I didn't realize it but I was already an experimental artist in the 90s, me and Orko and them. After I seen it on Facebook, I realized it was a whole family of us, we just didn't have communication like right now. There was a whole spectrum of people who did experimental music. Like tapes never left, but to people, they think they're gone. So thanks to Facebook and social media, it made me see people like you - you're a true old school collector - I see other people that did experimental music and put 'em on tapes. Home recording is still around, DIY, the trades. So I didn't realize it was still here. I thought I was the Last Mohican. So experimental music was me from the beginning. Like in the early 80s, I didn't know it was circuit bending Alex, but I used to take apart my radio and mess with the resistors and transistors and see what I could come up with. I used to put the TV on white snow and just listen to it [laughs], so I was already with it!
Do you have any new rap-related projects in the works? Zombie was telling me you guys are wrapping up the Anunnaki Brothers album.
Yeah, we're gettin' ready to get right back in the studio. I got my little court thing goin' on with me, and after that, me and Zombie - and Orko is supposed to be part of it too, so it's probably gonna be all three of us. We was gonna go ahead and get some production from Orko. 'Cause me and Kenny drop stuff around our favourite time, which is like the end of the year. See, me and Zombie's best time is like October, November, so we're lookin' at putting it out then.
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If anyone can help me out with any of these I'd be eternally grateful!
CVE - Gotta Cumm Up 1990z (1991)
Any CV Beat Tapes Any unreleased Tribal Records material
The Crew Clockwise - any material
Specs One - "Homepiece"
Specs One - "The Yeti Affair EP"
Specs One - "Mechanix"
Specs One - Specs Selectah"
Balcony - "True Criteria"
Balcony - "Magic Moments EP"
Balcony - "Magic Freaks"
Lanthunum - "Zero The Shape EP"
Kali 9 - "Zip Codes" tape
Secret Service (Puzoozoo and Slant) tape DK Toon - "Folk Hop Blues" (unreleased 90's tracks) Tray Loc - "Gold Digger"
Jace and the 4th Party Tape
Silas Blak - "Black Plastic" tape
Silent Lambs Project - "Street Talkin... Survival EP" Delon Deville/Shamen 12 - "Welcome to Gangland" Delon Deville & West Kraven - "The Untouchables EP" Retina (Orko, Eclipse, Millennium & Bassment) - "Phroetry" Tommy V/Imprints - "A Boy and his 4-Track"
Zombie619er - "Optimus Crime"
Zombie619er - "Return of the U" (song)
Darkleaf "The Mission" Darkleaf "After the Plane Crash"