"You rappers don't exist once I disconnect the internet"
Red Lotus Klan's Scatter Brain (also known as Masters of the Universe producer Infinity Gauntlet) returns with the third installment of his Grand Theft Audio series which, as evidenced by the title, sees the Acid Atheist spitting his usual dark, twisted bars over blatantly stolen breaks, inspired by Ice Cube's classic "Jackin' for Beats." The Scatter Brain persona was first introduced on his incredible collab with Psychopop, Chasing Victims Through Sound Systems, specializing in complex bars describing excessive drug use, debauchery and tales from the dark side. With a style that is equal parts Kool G Rap and Brotha Lynch Hung, Scatter Brain rips a hole in the production by Kevs One, ShokRaw of the Kilowattz and, of course, Infinity himself. Grand Theft Audio Volume 3 is yet another solid offering from the Copyright Criminal and you can cop it on bandcamp for $6.19 here.
In a time when the big names in hip-hop are so far removed from the hardship of daily life, Delon Deville’s Parafenelia, released in 2011 on Third Degree Burns Records, is a breath of fresh air. The album plays like a soundtrack to the life of a hustler doing what he has to do to get by. The opening track, "LabCoat Chemist," is an ode to hustling and drug dealing, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The beat is ominous and serves as the perfect backdrop for Deville to give the listener a cold dose of reality. Deville combines boasts with warnings - this lifestyle isn't glamorized, but rather a picture is painted that includes the highs and the lows: “It’s a risk that you gotta take/ Staring death in the face ‘til I hit the Pearly Gates.” On “Starrz and Strappz” Deville wonders “how it feels to be retired with a potbelly,” further emphasizing his daily struggle.
Another theme found on Parafenelia is that of lost love. Tracks like “Ladykiller” and “Going in Circles” describe doomed relationships. “She used to tell me that no one could replace me,” Deville croons, on “Ladykiller,” a track that depicts a picture perfect relationship gone bad. “Whats It Gonna Take?” is another slice of life, as Deville tells the story of another relationship gone sour: “Holdin’ hands, kissin’, yup, the whole pretty picture,” quickly turns to “I should go, I should stay, I thought relationship was bullet proof/ Baby started trippin’, I was really tryin’ to keep it true.” These songs reflect Deville’s commitment to describing real-life scenarios, subject matter that is relatable to the masses.
Throughout the album Deville is joined by a handful of guests. “Blow Smoke” and “White Walls” feature his Masters of the Universe comrade West Kraven, an artist who he has worked with consistently throughout his career. Parafenelia also features Nelly Nel, Deville’s younger brother, who offers verses and hooks on several tracks, most notably on “From A to Z,” a hustler's anthem dedicated to drug dealing. His cousin, Jihad, appears on two tracks, including the stand-out “Starrz and Strappz.” Jose Cuervo, one of Deville’s homies, also blesses two tracks, “LabCoat Chemist” and “Hey Yung World.” The star of the show here, though, is Deville himself, who produced the entire album and steals the show with subject matter that comes naturally to him.
Delon Deville is not a new artist. His roots go back to the early 90s, and the abstract, spaced-out material he released under the moniker Shamen 12 was embraced by the San Diego underground. With Parafenelia, though, Deville has carved out a sound and style that is utterly unique, while still being relatable to the people. He describes a world he knows intimately, giving the listener a glimpse into the reality of his daily existence. The futuristic funk that permeates the album is laid back and smoky, creating the perfect atmosphere for his tales of hustling and trying to find love in a cold world. Parafenelia was tragically slept on and remains a highlight in the San Diego veteran’s long and varied career.
Very few groups embody the whole independent 4-track aesthetic like Global Phlowtations. Zagu Brown was an original member and arguably the most distinct voice of the crew. He started off as part of the legendary 2000 Crows and went on to form GPAC with Adlib and Nairb Jones after already experiencing the music industry first hand. After a short hiatus, following the dissolution of GPAC, he returned with a more polished sound as part of the 2000 Crows offshoot group The Goodfeathaz, which evolved into his current crew L.A. RPK. With a new RPK mixtape and video on the horizon, Zagu took the time to discuss his music career. On Above It All you had a track where you broke down some of your early history, going all the way back to 1984. Can you talk about your early experiences with hip-hop?
Yeah, just lovin' the music and just friends, we'd ride around, generally just like, you know, friends you used to play in the neighbourhood with. Nowadays they skateboard, but back in the day we used to ride bikes, hang out, play football with other kids on the other streets, things like that. So those little street competitions would fall off into rappin' and dancin'. We were rappin' on the block so that's generally what that would be. Different blocks battling different other blocks and that was before we were even able to go to, like, junior high and battle at dances or at lunch. This is like 5th-6th grade type of thing. So that's what I was into then. Bust out the linoleum on top of the cardboard. You had fools dancin' and, of course, the beatbox is forever, you know, the beatbox battles.
So 2000 Crows formed in '93?
Yeah, right around there.
And was that just a collective of artists who worked together? How did that become official?
I dunno if you're familiar with Phunky Dialect. That was my introduction into what initially began as Phunky Dialect. Now Phunky Dialect was one of the initial groups that started the Crows, that started the nucleus, if you will. So that's how I was introduced into the whole family of Crows, before we even had that name. So it went from me, at the time I was in a group with Mista Grimm and Warren G was my DJ at the time...
Yeah, and Mista Grimm who did "Indo Smoke." I was in West Covina. So me and Mista Grimm were in a group together. We used to go into the studios where they were recording The Chronic album and when Snoop and Kurupt and them were finished their stuff then Warren G would sneak in and steal a little studio time for his group, which was me and Mista Grimm at the time. So from bein' in that group, me and Mista Grimm used to always go to Venice Beach and they used to have freestyle cyphers in Venice beach all the time and that's how I bumped into the other cats from Phunky Dialect. There was a falling out between me and Nate Dogg at the time, so Mista Grimm and Warren G and Nate Dogg ended up doing the song "Indo Smoke" and I ended up in the group with Phunky Dialect.
I know Faxx was a part of Phunky Dialect but were there other people in the group?
Oh, definitely! Foeteen Karat, Gizmo. You can look it up. We were in Rap Pages, we were in The Next 100, as far as the music connection. We had something in Vibe. You probably could find a little more on that other than just typing in 2000 Crows.
There are a couple 2000 Crows songs floating around. "Dilution" and "Brothas of the Blunt" were two early sounding ones I found. Were those recorded as 2000 Crows or was it Phunky Dialect...?
Those were Phunky Dialect songs. Man, we had some classic shit. "Dilution" was one of my favourites. Definitely a dope hip-hop song. Four part hook, all emcees rapping at once on the hook, pretty much, sayin' different shit. It was kinda dope if you got to really listen to it [laughs]. But yeah, it's ill. What else did you hear on there?
There was one called "Brothas of the Blunt."
Oh yeah, "Brothas of the Blunt." That was some of our original stuff. That stuff's old but it's classic. That stuff was probably between '94 and '96. Actually maybe '92. "Brothas of the Blunt" might be '92-'93.
Yeah, the production sounds early 90's.
Yeah, definitely, 'cause we were getting production by B. Walls. He was somebody who did production for Cypress Hill at the time. Man, "Dilution" was one of the first tracks we did ourselves 'cause we did a St. Ides commercial and with our money we got a [Roland] W-30 and got our own 4-track and so from then on we started doing our own stuff. So "Dilution" was one of the first songs we recorded at our own studio.
Also, I dunno if you've seen it, there's a book, it's called The Real Hip-Hop by Marcyliena Morgan and it was sent to me by one of the professors at Duke University but they teach it at Duke and Harvard and a couple other schools, as far as the social studies and they have a lot about 2000 Crows and a lot of Project Blowed emcees in there and stuff like that. So it's pretty cool to see that and have it sent to me. That's pretty tight.
Phunky Dialect had a song on an Immortal Records compilation in '95 called "LAPD." Can you talk about how that came about?
Yeah, Immortal Records. We used to call ourselves cypher police. We would just crash cyphers anywhere. So if we see a cypher or just some fools who look like they emcee, we'd ask them if they wanted to rap, so from doin' that we ended up rappin' in the mall and this one guy, he was at the time in an R&B group and he just saw us rapping and called his manager, who was also managing Mary J. Blige, so we ended up setting up an appointment and we ended up rapping for him and, you know, one thing lead to another. But [Immortal Records] were looking for west coast groups. It was crazy 'cause they had like freestyle battles and at first they didn't say they were lookin' for groups or whatever but that's how they picked. They picked a lot of cool groups from the east coast, west coast, mid-west and put The Next Chapter album together. It was pretty cool.
Who were Afromaxx Productions?
At the time it started, it was me, Faxx, Tcad, well, pretty much everybody in Phunky Dialect and Tcad. It was mostly me, Tcad, Faxx and Foeteen. But after I left, most of the production was done by Tcad. At the time, like I said, I wasn't there. I would assume it was done by Tcad.
You were talking about battling. Can you talk about your memories of the infamous 2000 Crows battle in the Good Life parking lot?
Aw, yeah! I definitely have some memories of that! Well, even before that happened - that was one of my first introductions to the Good Life. Before that though, I had met Abstract Rude because I was a member of Massmen when I was in West Covina. Me, Fat Jack, Minister2Bad, Twice D and Nice the Novelist. This is before Abstract Rude and ATU were even part of Massmen. So I was one of the original members of Massmen. Fat Jack had a studio he built in Hollywood and that's where we met Ab and ATU. And I didn't even know anything about the Good Life at that time. So he told me about the Good Life but I hadn't went yet 'cause we were still in West Covina. Then once I started going to the beach and met Phunky Dialect I started going to the Good Life and I seen Ab up there. So I started going there all the time. But as Crows, that wasn't really our spot. We used to go up there and some of the younger cats in the crew, they went and they got disrespected by some of the O.G.s from up there and they were sayin' because they didn't chop or whatever, they not welcome to rap. So we had to go up there and pretty much put our foot down and demand our respect.
So is that how GPAC formed? Through meeting people at the Good Life?
Yeah, definitely through the Crows and just through our journey as Crows, especially Sach 'cause Sach was in the industry doing his stuff with The Nonce and I was with Phunky Dialect. Like I said, were were doing a lot of industry stuff. We was like not so underground underground. We were at a lot of industry conferences they would have. We would perform at those. We were at a lot of different types of industry events. That's how we kinda got in the magazines and stuff 'cause we had an official manager at the time. We had management and we were doing a lot of bigger shows. A lot of underground shows we just did because we knew about those ourselves. That's kinda how we got the thing for Next Chapter too.
So who came up with the name and concept for Global Phlowtations? Was that you and Adlib?
Pretty much, yeah. Me, Adlib and Nairb were the initial three. Nairb was part of Crows too. He was part of a Crows group called Natural Wonders. They have a nice archive of music as well. It was me, Nairb and Adlib at first though, yeah.
Were people kind of coming and going? I know Myka 9 was part of the group for a bit, Orko came later...
Well, it was a set group. At first it was me, Adlib and Nairb and then people did start comin'. So, it was like Sach, he came and he never left. Myka came and left 'cause he was back doing Fellowship on and off. But yeah, everyone was pretty much there.
I also read that J. Sumbi was involved in the recording of Phlowtation Devices. Is that true?
Yeah, because a lot of the 4-track stuff was done at Sach's studio and Sumbi had a lot of influence on everything from that time. Especially the Phlowtation Devices tape. That was pretty much all 4-track driven. So he had the knowledge of how to ping and bounce tracks. A lot of people weren't really doing that. So we were getting 8-12 tracks out of the 4 tracks and getting decent mixes and stuff. Sumbi was instrumental in all that.
After that you dropped Don't Believe It, which has to be the most jam-packed maxi single in the history of recorded music.
Yeah, I was feelin' myself [laughs].
Was that all you doing the beats on there?
Yeah, that was just me.
So you did most of the production on all your solo stuff I guess, eh?
Yeah, pretty much. I got some tracks from Sach. I believe I got a track from Jizzm. Of course, Nairb and Adlib.
I know there's a line in one of your songs where you say, "Three records deep, I'm droppin' them in incriments." Were you recording all that stuff at the same time and you just divided it up into albums?
Pretty much except for the very last one. But the last one I never got to release it, so it's like half done. I still have some of that stuff. I was thinking about just dropping it. I was listening to some of it the other day, had a little DAT session.
What is the significance of the number 26?
Ok, well, the simplest explanation that I give when I don't feel like going deeply into it, on a base level, 26 is the last letter of the alphabet which is Z for Zagu. On a deeper level, 2 is the number of peace, 6 is the number of evil and 2 and 6 makes 8 which is an infinite sign. So it's an infinite world, good and bad, within myself making me a balanced man.
Can you talk about any memories you have of recording "Pepsi on the Record," the posse cut you did with Masters of the Universe, the Shape Shifters, EX2 and Tommy V in San Diego? [Note: When I spoke to Zagu, I was under the impression the track was recorded in Diego, but when I later spoke with Syndrome of EX2, he told me the track was actually recorded in San Francisco]
Oh yeah! Yes, I do remember that [laughs]. Wow! It's kinda vague but I do remember that because Orko introduced me to Tommy V, and everybody in Diego, it's like - I'ma be honest with you - it's like an Orko town! So everywhere I go it's like, "Oh, you're the guy down with Orko!" It was kinda cool 'cause I had my own little name in Diego without even having to go down there that much. It was dope because I remember everybody had their verses and it all just came together and there were so many emcees. I think it was the first track I did where there were like 15-18 guys on a track. It's dope how it came together. And was everybody there? Was it recorded at the same time?
The same day. It was like an in and out type of situation.
You were also part of Omid's Beneath the Surface compilation which is now considered an underground classic. Can you talk about recording for that?
Yes, I loved recording that. I think we went to Daddy Kev's studio, I think it was a loft. I believe it might've been downtown. Or that might've been when he had a house in Silverlake and it was, like, a back upstairs room with like a balcony overlooking some trees. It was dope! It had a nice ass view too! And we all was just droppin' verses and stuff and it's funny, I'm usually the last one to finish my verse. I dunno why. Well, I guess I always focus on engineering. So I go last 'cause I'm always engineering everybody else's shit. So I'm the last one to write most of the time. So at the end of my verse I remember just freestyling. I dunno if you noticed, at the end of my verse, it's all freestyle at the end.
Who were the Ordinary People? Were you part of that?
Well, the group was Inoe One, who's in Name Science, and Ambush Nicholson and they were fuckin' dope! And on a lot of this stuff you would hear Jon Jon, Ivan Jon, a lot on there. Baron Bush, that was one of his aliases. Jon Jon, Inoe and Ambush, they all sort of came to GPAC at the same time. But I knew Inoe and Ambush back from when I was in Crows, when we used to have our foundation bases. I dunno if you've heard of the 48-12. That's the spot where the Crows started in the jungles. We used to open our house up for a lot of the underground heads who weren't getting welcomed by, like, the Blowedians. So we let fools record and they were one of the first groups we let record. So when I went to Phlowtations they ended up coming with me and becoming part of that.
After The Nucleus dropped GPAC just seemed to come to an end. Did it just fade out? What happened there?
Um, I guess, yeah, it just kinda faded out. Personal responsibilties got big. It's funny. There never was any beef. People just started going their own way. Me, at the time, I owned a duplex and I lived in one side and had a studio in the other side and I let a lot of the group stay there. So, at that time, my grandmother passed and I had to sell the duplex. So we had no place to record and me goin' through family loss at the time, I never finished [my third] album. Really, I haven't even really focused on music on the day-to-day since. I don't do music the same anymore. I just do it now when I feel it rather than waking up every day to the machine.
There was a 2000 Crows album in 2002 called The Moment They Feared. Were you involved in that at all 'cause I couldn't hear your voice on there?
No, the 2000 Crows album I was not involved in but the good thing is, my man, Noe Brainz, who was part of a Crows group called MOFA, he was part of that album. He had his handy work on there. And he's actually in a group now that I'm in called L.A. RPK. So did you take a bit of a hiatus after GPAC? Aside from a few guest spots I didn't hear much from you for a while.
Yeah, for years it was a hiatus, raising kids, you know what I mean? Working. I'm always doing music though. I just did it when I felt it. I have a lot of the recordings that I did that I haven't released yet that people loved. But lately I've been more into the music as well as designing clothes. I have a fashion brand I'm designing, as far as clothes.
Can you talk about the Goodfeathaz, how that formed?
Yeah, Foeteen Karat was a member of Phunky Dialect. That's the guy with the red hair. So he's a member of Phunky Dialect, original Crows. So it was me, him, Noe Brainz, who's my roommate now and then D.A.P., he's from 2 Steps and Beyond, which was an original Crows group, and Big Loot from a group called Natural Wonders, which was the same group that Nairb J was in before he moved to Global Phlowtations with me. It was like a whole big family thing. But the Goodfeathaz, at that time, what we were trying to do was be more melodic with the hooks but still be very versatile with the verses, you know?
And you guys were planning to drop an album called The Stimulus Package but that was never released, right?
Nope. None of it was put on Soundcloud or Youtube or anything. It was done, it was just never released. At the time, we had a label going and we had some distrubtion offers but we couldn't get the business right and got frustrated. Some members started working and that just stopped the drive of that. That's what kinda formed L.A.RPK. Me and my roommate, Noe Brainz, of course, we stay together so we still do music. You know, we gonna do something! Okito Pole, who was a member of Global Phlowtations, he's in the group with me now. So it's me, Okito and Noe Brainz, which is L.A. RPK.
Okito is Gweedo, right?
Yeah, that's Okito.
So did Goodfeathaz sort of become L.A. RPK?
Yeah, you can pretty much say that's what it evolved into. That's pretty much where our sound was going, as far as current content, as far as what we do on a day-to-day basis. I rap about what I live.
I know you guys put up a mixtape on Soundcloud. Do you have any new RPK stuff coming up?
Yeah, we got some new stuff we doing now. We have a new video we're gonna release that should be released in the next ten days and a new mixtape. We're doing some independent production, some original stuff. I'm probably gonna produce some tracks on it also. So that's what we're doin' now. Probably gonna get Jizzm and OMD to do a track as well. But it's still gonna be pretty much more current, as far as what we're doing now.
This isn't really a question but in regards to your work with Tabernacle MCz, Reverend Revenue is an amazing rap name. I'm surprised that hadn't been used already!
Yeah! [laughs] Yeah, Rev Revenue!
So I know you mentioned a new RPK mixtape but what can people expect in the future? Are you gonna be getting back into the production more?
Oh yeah, like I was sayin', I'm back into production more. A lot of the new L.A. RPK stuff will be produced by me. I also got a Skinny Boy Crew. So I'm one of the leaders of that and most of the production is gonna be done by me as well. And some of it will be done by NIU and he used to be down with Black Eyed Peas. The Skinny Boy movement is in full effect!
Syndrome228 first appeared on AWOL One's Noise tape and later was featured on the underground cult classic The Evil Cow Burger. Following a slew of releases from his crew, EX2, Syn has branched off into a solo career, dropping an album called Exodus in 2012. He's currently a member of the Goodlife Bullyz offshoot group the Bullyzsquad, spearheaded by Syn and his homie Casper, and is planning to release a group album in the near future. He kindly took some time to break down some vital west coast hip-hop history. Can you talk about your early experiences with hip-hop, before EX2 formed?
I first started rapping when I was a kid going to, like, just regular family events, weddings and stuff like that. If there was a band, I would be the person trying to hit the band up, seeing what kind of songs they could play and shit and just grab the mic and entertain the family and things like that. Then in my high school era I met up with some of the homies - we ended up forming EX2 when I was a sophomore. They had a DJ at the lunch period so some of the homies and I would get trash cans and turn them shits over and stand up on 'em and grab a mic and rap. Just 'cause it was always fun to be in the spotlight with that kind of shit, you know what I'm sayin'?
So then around '93 EX2 was formed with me, Regret, Vyrus and this homie, Origin and we spent a few years gettin' our shit together. Around '96 is when I met Gel. He was a graffiti writer for LSD which was a real active crew over here in Whittier. So when I met him I was like, "Oh! You're from LSD. They're really dope!" He was like, "Yeah." He was a fan of EX2 and a fan of AWOL so he got put down with EX2 and he started doing graffiti for us, kind of like an exchange, you know what I'm sayin'?
AWOL was the one who put me on my first project. He put out, like, this mixtape. It was a compilation called Noise. I had known AWOL for a few years but he got the homies from EX2 to come and do some shit. So AWOL was the first one to put me on an actual project, and around '94 was when we first started going to Project Blowed so a lot of stuff, for me, got really opened up. When I started going to the Blowed I got hip to Freestyle Fellowship. I got hip to Hip Hop Kclan, CVE, and the cats who were doing the choppin' and the whole Good Life movement, really. And that was the early set for my career as a musician.
Can you talk about the recording of Noise and Three Eyed Cowz? Did AWOL just have his own home studio?
Yeah, AWOL had an apartment where he stayed and he had a room where he would record with his DJ equipment set up or whatever. He was the first person I saw who had a sampler and who was putting his own stuff together, his own beats. And AWOL was known all through Whittier already. I would say he was probably the most O.G. out of Whittier.
Right, 'cause he even had the Midevil Hermits in the early 90's. Yeah, he had a song called "30 Feet Unda" with Midevil Hermits on a record compilation called Spittin' Lingo. That shit was hard! His homie Pancreas and a couple other homies he had from Midevil Hermits, they were all O.G. But AWOL was way ahead of his time. I would say, in Whittier, he's the root of the tree of all the underground shit because he was the one who knew what was up with the whole Los Angeles game and he was from Massmen or whatever. From my perspective, AWOL gets the most respect just for being O.G. like that. He used to record stuff just right in his crib. We recorded all the Three Eyed Cowz stuff - Tommy V had some vocal tracking equipment, an 8-track tape deck or whatever. I think AWOL did his recording on an 8-track too. Some of the Three Eyed Cowz stuff was recorded in San Francisco when they went up to visit Tommy V and his homies out there. That's how he met Nonaim and got Rashonel on a track, or whatever. All that stuff was self-recorded. AWOL was doing all the recording and engineering and all that.
I know the first EX2 release was the LMNTL EP but Undersounds of the 562 was recorded first, right? Nah, see, when we were trying to put shit together, Gel was the one who was really business oriented. He was the one who wanted to put together a plan or a project, you feel me? 'Cause we were just doing the homie shit, recording just to hear it and bump it for people. Gel was like, "We need to put some money together and we need to get Massive, who was another one of AWOL's homies, to do some tracks for us." So we all put some money together. I think it was like $50 each, so, you know, a couple hundred bucks and we shot it to Massive and he put some tracks together for us. The Undersounds was being recorded kind of at the same time. Most of it, though, was recorded after we recorded the stuff for the LMNTL EP. The reason it was kind of held as it's own project was because the production was done by Massive where Undersounds was all Sirk. Sirk was like the big financial backer, basically. He was the homie, you know? We all kicked it. We were really close. He was part of the crew. He was the one who did the business end of, like, trying to get us published. He did the distribution and he was up on game on a lot of the networking that needed to be done. And he'd also make his own tracks and he did most of the recording for the EX2 projects.
The last project we did, Resurgence, by that time it was already Pro Tools era, you know, home DAW era so, I mean, I have my own equipment. Gel has Pro Tools at his crib. So that was a little more of a collaborative movement in terms of who was recording what. But for EX2 stuff, it would always end up getting shot to a dude named Meno, who did some engineering and recording for Psycho Realm and some other pretty big bands. He had, like, an O.G. and really high tech and very professional set up - a big ass room and a big vocal booth and all that - so a lot of the stuff that we recorded after Undersounds - we recorded a lot of stuff there too, now that I think about it. We used to shoot him some cash and go and do some sessions there. Those were the times where we had to figure out where to record whereas now we can just record at home or whatever.
Was Undersounds intended to be an album, or was that more a collection of tracks you had recorded?
Yeah, see, Undersounds, back then we would record, like you're saying, that was our way to pass the time. But everything we were recording, as a crew, was going into the collection like, "Oh, this is gonna go on our next album." So everything we all did was something that was going to be submitted to be part of an album. And there wasn't a whole lot of things that we recorded that didn't get used. We don't really have a lot of unreleased tracks. Everything we recorded we would pretty much put out. But we were mobbin' hard as a crew. Everything was for the crew, and everything was going into our collection, so you could say everything that was recorded was intended to be released.
Your lyrics always had a strong battle edge. Was that something you guys were into?
Oh, yeah! I mean, not really on the circuit, like the way that it is now, like the focus on hype, with King of the Dot and all this organized battling. For us, that whole flavour was something that came from being beginners in what we were doing 'cause we were trying to promote and boost our self image and boost ourselves. A lot of times, as a rapper, you gotta come with that tough shit. So we had this little criteria, like, "Does it sound Element tough?" If it sounded Element tough it probably would work. But as far as the battling background, that shit really picked up when we started going to the Blowed. 'Cause at the Blowed, that's what it was. If you were out in the street, or in the cypher, people were going to be testing you. And if you were on stage and if you're not doing something people are impressed by they would boo you the fuck off. So knowing that you're having to face that kind of energy when you're trying to put something together makes you want to sound like you're trying to overcome that energy. We had a great time doing it. I mean, I had a great time doing it. I enjoyed having that level of feeling like I had to prove something to people. That was kind of, like, a by-product of what that energy feels like when you have to face against it, you feel me?
One of my favourite tracks from the whole 4-track movement was a posse cut you did with Masters of the Universe, Global Phlowtations, the Shape Shifters and Tommy V, called "Pepsi on the Record." Can you talk about any memories you have of recording that?
Yeah, yeah! Oh, of course, yeah! We had gone up to the Bay to do a show over at Berkeley. Tommy V was the one that was networking and getting people involved in it, so Tommy V invited EX2 to come up. We rolled up, as a crew, in Sirk's SUV. So that day, when we were recording that song, [laughs] Tommy V's spot where he was crashing and shit, was not very big. So the whole fuckin' day was people, wall to wall, packed. We were basically shoulder to shoulder against the wall. Shit, dude, people were coming through and bringing their people, so there were probably fifteen or twenty people in the room and Tommy V just kinda - he had to extend the beat a couple times 'cause more people wanted to come through and there were a lot of people visiting to do that show. But yeah, that was a session that was very packed, a lot of activity, a lot of laughs, a lot of bullshitting. It's something I will never forget. It was a good experience.
Whereas Undersounds felt more like a collection of tracks, Nemesis felt like more of an album. You had more outside producers like Daddy Kev, Deeskee, Mike Nardone. Was that intended to be an album from the start?
Yes, absolutely. You see, after Undersounds we made some contacts with people who were into the same sort of sound as us. Nemesis is, like I said, when we started doing stuff at Meno's. He's got his shit together and is very professional with the way he puts it together. So the sound you hear on Nemesis is a result of the growth that took place after the Undersounds of the 562 came out. We'd get all our recording in one spot where we'd have it all mastered by Meno. And, yeah, like you say, Gel was doing some networking, so he got some hookups with Daddy Kev. I asked Mike Nardone to make a track for me. I shot him a little bit of cash and he put together that "Look Away" track for me. So we felt like we were concentrating our resources into sounding more professional. So Nemesis, definitely, the difference in the sound you hear was us taking our art more seriously and having a bit more recognition amongst people we were functioning around, shit like that.
After Nemesis, I didn't hear much from you for a while. Were you taking a bit of a hiatus, or were you still active at that time?
Yeah, when Nemsis was almost done was when I had my first kid, who is fourteen now, and I got married. So around that time, I started working as an ironworker which is what I still do now, you know, in the union. So I would have to be up and ready to get to my construction job at fuckin' four in the morning and shit so there was a little bit less time available for me to be kinda just runnin' the streets, going wherever, just freelancing with my time. So when you take a hiatus or have other shit to concentrate on you always have in the back of your mind, when you're doing your grind, like, "I wanna do this. I wanna put this together," but you have less trial and error time with your music and when you do something you have to get it out. I mean, we would always be chillin'. I would always see the boys and just kick it but as an artist I just had less time having to raise my kid and being a new husband. So that was the result of having less time. And after that, after I got used to it, and a few years down the road, I figured out how to get some equipment in my crib so I could record at home. So that kinda was the inspirational necessity for me to start putting together my own equipment. I mean, now I record everything at the crib. I got my own Korg keyboard. I got a 16 track Yamaha with motorized faders and all that. Plus we got the software and all that shit. For a while I was spending time getting technically proficient, being able to upgrade computers so I could get my recording shit at home so I didn't have to be away from home to still be able put my sound out, you feel me?
In terms of your production, you had a co-production credit on Nemesis. Was that your first time producing? Yeah, Nemesis was when I started fuckin' around with Sirk's keyboard and shit. We would be hangin' around so much he'd say, "Why don't you do something?" And I wanted to try to put something together so he'd let me fuck around with his MPC. Getting used to using that shit is a whole 'nother... that's when it was more than just rapping. It's more than just putting lyrics together. There's a lot of technical proficiency and quantizational fuckin' knowhow that you have to have to make something sound the way you want it to sound when you hear it in your head. That's a journey, man. That takes years to be able to actually manifest something that you wanna hear. Like, if you try to make a track and if you don't know shit about it, it'll sound nothing like what the fuck you wanted. Things will be out of time, things will be out of sync. So learning how to get things all locked in takes some concentration and serious want to. You have to have the drive, you know?
I was pretty impressed that you were able to get "When You Wish Upon a Star" into a hip-hop format...
[laughs] Yeah, I did. That's another thing. I have this CD turntable called Master Temple. So basically I can slow down the play of the disc and make it take longer for the sample to finish but it'll have the same pitch as it had originally. So all this turntable equipment where you can make it delay or speed up without having it sound like chipmunks, that's a pretty high end capability that we have now so that's made it a bit more easy for me to do that. And, now, a lot of the samples I pick, there's a reason the sample is chosen. It was kinda like I was putting that track together because it had a drive behind. It was supposed to be for somebody and was supposed to impress somebody. You would never pick "If You Wish Upon a Star" if you were trying to sound tough but if it's something that has somebody's name and you have three samples that have somebody's name and you have to pick one of 'em and if you let go of trying to take yourself so seriously, you can find a way to lock it in and make it sound like a hip-hop cut and everything. And I like it. I think it's dope. Everything drives off your own inspiration and what you're trying to create.
Yeah, it sounds like with your solo stuff you're colouring outside the lines more and doing stuff you wouldn't really hear on an EX2 record, especially in terms of the production.
I'm trying to throw shit out the box and, you know, hip-hop and music, for me is my heart. Pretty much anybody who's an artist is trying to find a way to expand their demographic and get more people to listen to their shit. At some point you have to sound like something maybe you never wanted to sound like before to see if you can get some more fans or whatever.
So was Exodus like Undersounds where it was more of a collection of tracks that you put together later?
Yeah, Exodus was basically when I was starting off on my own and recording my own shit and networking for myself. So much like how Undersounds was like, "I'm just recording shit and when we come together we'll figure out what to put out," Exodus was like that. I knew it was gonna all go together eventually but there was no real focus. Like Nemesis, we were like, "We want it to sound like this." Resurgence was like, "We're gonna have one producer only and it's gonna sound like this." And we were very driven on Resurgence to be focused on each other's shit. I think Resurgence is the dopest album we ever did simply for the fact that it sounds like the most collaborative effort in terms of artistic connection with all of us as emcees. And Mascaria made those beats and he knocks shit out! He's a really dope producer. So with Resurgence we had that focal point. And Exodus and Nexus was a little more freelance 'cause I was doing it on my own. I think it has a good sound but it doesn't sound as focused. You have a very good ear for what exactly is the backstory in terms of concentration and focus of what the goal is. You got a good ear.
I actually listened to Resurgence again this morning and was thinking how it sounded like your most cohesive project. All the Nexus tracks I've heard were from Mascaria as well and had that same cohesive feel. Was Nexus supposed to be entirely produced by Mascaria?
Yes. Well, he was the one I ran with the closest in terms of producers at that time so I did want him to be... Yeah, basically because of the way Resurgence sounded when I decided what was gonna be on Exodus and what was gonna be on Nexus, I decided I was gonna try to keep the same producer as a solo producer for that album so in the interest of having that same cohesiveness that was the decision that I made. But still, when you have four people who are communicating with each other on a daily basis and pushing each other to get stuff done it's gonna have a much different sound than one person who's pushing themself. With EX2, we could build off each other real cool. Resurgence was, I think, the first album, as far as I remember, where people were finishing their verses before me. I was brought a track with two people on it already and I'd be like, "Ok, I just get to pick up the baton and carry on from where this is at." The first albums weren't really like that. Most of the time with the tracks I was on, I would be the first one rapping on it. At that time, we just went along with however it built. Whoever was ready first got to drop first. By the time we got to Resurgence I might have my verse done first but we might put me third. That's the way we did it in the end even though I would have it written first. So people could build off of me a lot which I think is great. I like having that influence on the crew members and I'm always very team focused and trying to get people to open up their creative strand or whatever. With Resurgence we made a lot of decisions that were different than before where we just let things flow how they did.
So Gel was the one who kind of orchestrated Resurgence? Was he the one who organized that project?
Well, Gel was always the one who was kinda putting together the projects. He was the one who was always goal oriented, like, "This is going to be the next project." And I appreciated that. I always looked up to him in terms of his business approach to music whereas Vyrus and I, when we started the crew it was always just to be emcees. In order to have a professional end result, you have to have different aspects of the trade covered. Gel and Sirk were the business aspect of having the whole trade covered for us. Myself, Vyrus, Regret and Digit were more just grab the mic and let cats know what's poppin' and shit. Gel was always like, "Ok, let's not let all this out right away." Gel would always put some away in a safe, you feel me? We would sometimes not see eye-to-eye on some decisions but as a collaborative whole, for the most part, we let Gel and Sirk handle those kind of decisions because we had other shit we were focused on. I was never really complaining about how they were handling that. So I thought that was good.
So are Bullyzsquad and Force MCs two different crews?
Bullyzsquad is basically a crew that was created by the Goodlife Bullyz because when I started kickin' it with Rifleman he would have us come through on Tuesdays. So when I got down with Worldwide Chopperz Anonymous and all that shit, I met Kazue at a Goodlife Bullyz show. And Kazue is very people oriented and is always trying to make moves in terms of getting people together to do shit. So Kazue noticed that I was wearing some Star Wars Adidas shit and he was like, "Man, what's up with this shit? Where did you get that?" So we started talking about who might be interested in rocking that shit as a group, and getting a bit of an image or a gimmick going with it. And he mentioned Rifleman. He mentioned CR, and I was like, "Man, these are people I grew up listening to over the past twenty years." Honestly, I thought they were some of the dopest emcees in the world so I was like, "Shit, dude, you think those dudes would be with that?" And he was like, "Yeah! I was already showin' 'em and they think we should talk about it. You should come through to Rifleman's on Tuesday." So I was like, "Alright!" So I went with Kazue and we talked about it and we kinda figured out we were all gonna be about it. So I started picking up stuff for the crew. So basically I laced up the fuckin' look for the crew. As far as I was concerned, it was a great opportunity.
The Force MCs was something that was created when I was barely starting to get down with the Goodlife Bullzy and then Bullyzsquad was a creation that CR and Rifleman told me and Casper about after we were kickin' it with them for a while and doing shows with them or whatever. And they was like, "We're gonna make the Bullyzsquad and we want you two to wreck it." And of course Casper and I were like, "Yeah! That's cool!" So Bullyzsquad has a couple other members who go to Rifleman's every Tuesday because basically we're the squad that kicks it with the Bullyz. The Force MCs is something we pull out every once in a while when we want to dazzle with the overall appearance, plus there's a lot of people who are into Star Wars as much as me. That's something we pull out when we want to get into some spacey shit. The Force MCs is Casper, myself, CR, Rifleman, Ksar, DJ Lala. That's, you know, kind of like a little All Stars team.
So could you ever see a Bullyzsquad album being recorded?
Oh, yeah! That's what Casper and I are working on right now is the Bullyzsquad's first album. We got a lot of tracks done. So even though there are others who are affiliated, Casper and I kinda took the Bullyzsquad name and we're the ones who are putting a project out under that name. There's other people who you see who rep the Bullyzsquad and they're affiliated but the majority of the music so far that's being put into a project - the creative and recording end of the Bullyzsquad is headed by Casper and myself, unless, Rifleman is putting something together 'cause Rifleman, of course, has the juice to record and put music out under whatever the fuck name he wants. He's like the godfather of this shit, you feel me?
What's the significance of 228?
Back when I was in high school there was this tag team and taggers would be bangin' like gangsters. And my birthday is 2/14 but that was too close to 213 which is a tag banging group and I wasn't trying to get mixed up in any of that bullshit. So I had a girlfriend who's birthday was 2/28, so I was like, "Ok, I'll use that as my number," 'cause people would put little numbers when they were tagging and shit and I wanted a number to tag. And then, actually, the significance that manifested itself later was 2/28 is the day that my divorce became official which I thought was kinda funny because it was a day where my freedom in terms of doing what I wanted to do became renewed. It just happened to be on the day 2/28, 2013. Even though the tagging shit really isn't an issue any more; number one, I always stay with the name that I picked from the beginning, but sometimes when you just ride with it things gain meanings in the end. 228 is just the number I chose but there's always a reason people choose shit that plays out later on.
Can you talk about your love of Star Wars? What resonates with you so much from those movies?
Oh, sure, sure. Watching the movies is incredible. Just the belief in yourself, the whole force, believing you can change the galaxy and of course the high tech aspect, the lasers and the light sabers and shit. The light sabers is what locked me in. Them motherfuckers are dope! And the crew, me and Vyrus would kick back and be blazin', watchin' them when we had a day off, and we would just kind of trip on the story line, the acting and stuff. I always kind of identified with the Emperor because he's so evil and manipulative and that's so opposite to how I conduct myself. So when I talked to Kazue about doing this shit, he wanted to be Darth Vader so bad and he was like, "You should be the Emperor." And when he said that, I was like, "Yeah!" Because, to me, I think it's funny. The Emperor is so evil and that shit is so different from how I am but I always liked the Emperor's lines, the things he says, because he's so driven towards destruction. So I was down to be the Emperor.
I got the Emperor Palpatine trench coat. I've always been Adidas since I started rapping. I'm one of them people, like I don't like wearing cross labels. I don't like wearing Nike kicks, an Adidas sweatsuit and a Puma hat, you feel me? So I've been buying all Adidas forever and when I found out Adidas made Star Wars shit, I was like, "Oh, shit, I need that!" That was the thing that made it really hip-hop. So the Force MCs, our look is all Adidas. That, to me, is even tighter! I got the Emperor Adidas trench coat. I got the kicks that have glow in the dark lightening on the motherfuckers. I got a bunch of other shit. To me, the most important shit is I got all different kicks for the crew. Kazue got some AT-walker pilot sneakers. Rifleman got some black camouflage fuckin' Rogue Squadron shell toes. CR got some super skates that have fuckin' Chewbacca slam dunking on the motherfucking tongue! Lala does breaking so I got her kicks with see-through bottoms with the Luke and Vadar light saber fight so you can see it when she's doing a handstand or whatever. Casper got this sweater that had a light saber fight on it. Casper doesn't really like shell toes so he was a difficult one to find something he would rock. Ksar got - when he said he wanted to be the Emperor's guard, I was like, "God damn, dude!" 'Cause Ksar is a fucking beast, dude. So as far as the story line goes, this dude's gonna be my front man! So I got him some Royal Guard kicks. Not too long ago, since I got the trench coat, which is reversible, it's also red. So I took a little time to get another trench coat so he could rock the red one with his kicks. It took a while to put that look together but if everybody's doin' that, it's pretty impressive. The Star Wars thing, I've just been a fan my whole life. And when I saw the Adidas crossover, I knew we had to do that. Nobody rocked it because everybody was treating it like collectors items. I was like, "We should just say 'fuck that!' We should just rock it on stage and in the streets! Let people see what's up!" And I didn't see any sign of anybody being an Adidas Emperor before so I made a page as the Adidas Emperor and took it serious as one of my AKAs. I took that identity.
Those rings you have in your pics are dope as fuck!
Aw, thank you! All that shit I put together, it's all just shit I bought off Ebay. My rings and shit, every once in a while I be on Ebay. Eventually I got it to where I got everything except my wedding finger covered, all with Star Wars jewelry and shit. It's not really something you see a lot.
So you were saying you consider Rifleman to be one of the best so being on his King of the Chop album must've been like a badge of honor, and you were chopping your ass off on those tracks, holy shit!
Oh, thanks dude. See, the thing is, Rifleman, when I started kickin' it with him, he's the type to really let a motherfucker know what they need to do to upgrade your shit. So where other people would just say, "Oh, you're doing good," even if I'm doin' good, Rifleman will go "Ay, you need to do this. Why'd you fall off the pattern there? You need to do it like this." So now, working with Rifleman, he's really helped me to refine, and he basically gave me that chop. I used to be able to talk fast and smash it in, but Rifleman was the one who was like, "Nah, you don't just have to smash it in. You have to smash it in and make it land!" So he pushes me a lot. He treats me like family. He does the same for Casper. He's got Casper's chops up significantly as well. So when you hear a difference in your music you cannot help but recognize who led you to that point. Rifleman is the fuckin' G! Mister CR too. These guys are real people, man. When you come correct with them, they treat you like you belong. Where a lot of people in the world would manipulate their way through shit, get what they can, Rifleman, CR, the Goodlife Bullyz, the whole Project Blowed, they recognize when you put in effort and when you're around they pay it back by putting you up on game. That's why you're gonna see me catchin' a bullet for Rifleman if I have to. He's the reason I'm upgraded and the reason I impress myself now. He's got a fam in me and I appreciate the treatment!
You talked about a Bullyzsquad album, but what are your plans for the future in terms of recording?
A lot of people have been getting at me, telling me that they like the old EX2 sound but I always liked the chop sound growing up. So the more I get my freedom in terms of feeling like I can do different types of chops, I'll be doing that. As far as Bullyzsquad, Casper's kind of the front man for putting this all together. I've been spoiled. I basically just have to write raps. Every once in a while I feel like I need to make my own track like this thing I did for the Cali Classics modeling thing. That's stuff I just take home, make something that sounds a little bit more radio friendly or whatever. Bullyzsquad, we're just trying to cut up the streets and shit. Let people hear that raw, that gritty, I don't give a fuck about anything type of chop. When I'm at home, doing my own shit, I'm trying to expand my demographic a bit and trying to sound a little bit more people friendly, so that's basically what you're going to hear from Syn in the future. You're going to hear Bullyzsquad, World Wide Chopperz, and you're gonna hear some music that's trying to make difference in terms of who listens to my music.
Ganjah "The Chronic" KMC just unleashed the first video for his upcoming Possession of Sales album and shows and proves his lyrical blade is still sharp. With production handled by Jizzm High Definition, this tribute to West Coast innovation gives good reason to be hyped for the rest of the album. Stay tuned for the new LP as well as a gang of unreleased and vintage tracks to be released by KMC in the near future!
You've rhymed about battling Eminem on a couple different songs. Can you talk about that?
That was 1997 Rap Olympics. That started off with me at the Project Blowed and it wasn't even a Project Blowed night. We was just there at the Project Blowed and all these rappers were comin' in there. I dunno if they were just comin' there to see the Project Blowed or whatever or to see, like, "Oh, these the dudes we battling tonight." So I was there. Nobody else was really there, maybe one other person. And we ended up rappin' and I did pretty good. I was freestyling and everybody was like "damn, Imp! You served him and you ain't even in the contest." I wasn't even really in that rap contest initially, but I was like, "Okay, I'm goin' for the thing." So I went to the place - I think it was called The Proud Bird. And I just went there for the festivities. I was there to represent and see the homeboys do they thing. But while they was battling, they start callin' some rapper. And they're like, "Hey, you better come up here! Going once, going twice..." and I'm like, "Oh, here I am! Here I am!" So I wasn't even supposed to be in that battle! And I remember I battled a girl and maybe two or three guys, so it was kind of extensive. So I beat all of them and then I battled Eminem. And when I battled Eminem I remember he came off sayin' - I mean, from me bein' old school, I know a lot about rap, so if you're imitating somebody, I can kinda tell what you're goin' for. So he came in and he was doing this KRS-One thing. So I came off, my opening line when we battled was "White boy, first off, before you come in here biting Kris Parker, you gon' have to get a whole lot darker!" That's the only thing I kinda remember but the crowd just started rolling and I went in at that point and they told me I won. "You won. Go backstage. You gon' have to battle Otherwize." So I'm like, "Cool."
So now, Wendy Day. You can look her up. She got a lot of people millions and millions of dollars. Master P, Cash Money, Tung Twista, David Banner. She's very helpful. She has a very helpful website and everything. But I guess at that point she didn't understand battle rap. So she thought I was racist. So she came, tellin' me, "You're a racist! Why you have to say that?" She was upset because he had lost. But Eminem came and shook my hand and he was cool. He was like, "Man, I understand." He wasn't trippin' and he gave me his cassette and I was like, "Thank you."
So backstage, me and Otherwize were high fivin' like, "Man, we did it! Cool!" So maybe five minutes later they call me back, like, "Ay, you gotta battle this kid Eminem again." I'm like "I already beat him! Why I gotta battle again?" So we battle again and he was determined to be the winner and they sent him to finals. So now, I know I wasn't supposed to be in this, but I'm upset because what kinda arrangement is this? He won one. I won one. Shouldn't that be a draw? But they said, "No, he won." So he went on and Otherwize ended up beatin' him, and the footage is on YouTube but they only show what Eminem said. They don't show what any of the other rappers said. And the guy videoing it, I knew him because I used to work for him! And If I ever see him I'm gonna ask him, "Do you have that footage?" 'Cause man, I would love to see that 'cause I remember that night. The guys from Project Blowed were picking me up in the air like, "Imp, you did it! You did your thing!" So it was a good feelin' that night, even though I didn't win. As far as I was concerned it was still a victory.
And then, even in the contest, here's another thing I had to deal with! I had to diss the host 'cause he said, "Old dude, you old. What you gonna do?" (laughs) And the funny thing is, I never looked old! So that was my whole thing. I never looked like I was an old dude but if you don't look like you twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, I guess. Back in the day, I guess if you looked twenty something, they'd say you too old to be in this game! So I had to diss the host 'cause he tried to clown me. And people were sayin', "Man, you don't know who you talkin' to!" But he was cool. Once I checked him, he was cool.
But I believe in myself. If I ever thought I was garbage, and sometimes I sit back and just from me not havin' any real success in this game, it makes me question myself. 'Cause I have some friends and when they rap to me, I be like, "That nigga old school. He really old school." 'Cause they don't wanna step outside of what they've been doin' the last twenty years. At least I try to step out the box. If I'm rappin' over a different beat, I'm thinkin' it's gonna make me evolve and create a new style or something. Like some people tell me, "Oh, I want you to rap like this." Like, I already did that! Why would I go back and do that? I mean, I might go back and do that sometimes and no matter what I do, you're still gonna hear the old school with it. But I'm always trying to find something new and innovative. I really wanna do a project that's different, that's really different, you know?
In 2005, you dropped an album called Family Ties with your son and a guy called Goldie. Is he related to you as well?
Goldie is my nephew from Baltimore. That's my sister's son. But I hadn't been in his life 'cause he was in Baltimore and I was in California. So I went to Baltimore one day and he was rappin' and I could see he was tryin' to hold back. And I was like, "Joey, do you, man. I'm your uncle and everything, but I'm not trying to come here and pop up in your life and demand things from you. I mean, I'ma watch you, and if you doin' the wrong thing, I'ma let you know." But he was tryin'a act like he didn't smoke and he didn't drink. But I was like, "Do you." But anyway, prior to that we did the Patterson Park album. I recorded that down there. Then once he came to California, we did the Family Ties album. He didn't wanna do it. I wanted to do one, just him, but he said he wouldn't do it unless I was on it with him. I wanted to push him. But he refused. He was like, "Nah, if you ain't doin' the album, I'm not gon' do an album." So we did the Family Ties. My son wasn't rappin' then. He was more a producer then. He was very sharp. He switched up on me, but he was so sharp. He was like, "No, the producers get the money. I'ma be behind the scenes. I'm takin' care of the business." So he did a lot of the beats on there and he's actually not rappin' on no songs on there. That's just me and Goldie.
I mean, I've got stories. We went on tour. I've got hours and hours of footage of stuff when we went on tour. Down south, after Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, 2005, we went on tour. Just promotin', gettin' out, doin' things. And we actually had some momentum but things, people, you know, when you see anybody, any group, that's been together for a long time, you gotta commend that because it's real hard to get a group of individuals to focus and actually meet a goal. So that whole situation ended up goin' down the drain. I ended up busting a u-turn at Texas and came back home. That pretty much ended Family Ties.
After that, you released the Team B.A.M.M album, which featured a lot of tracks with Otherwize. Was Otherwize ever a part of By Any Means Music?
He wasn't really a part of By Any Means Music. He was just part of that project. I was livin' in Palmdale at the time and he was up there and our goal was to make an album in one day. That was the goal. We challenged ourselves because we had two different producers. We had more, but me and my son were the main producers. I dealt with hardware. He dealt with software. He done the Fruity Loop thing. I did the MPC thing. So he's in one room. I'm in one room. Everybody's writin'. The house is crazy. People doin' this, doin' that. We ended up gettin', I don't know, six or seven songs done. And, you know, I started thinkin' it was a bad idea. Later, a guy from New York came out who supposedly did an album in one day. We was ahead of the game on a lot of stuff. If you listen to the freestyle on Patterson Park, we got a freestyle called "Alphabetical Slaughter" and Papoose ended up making a thing like way, way later. So a lot of stuff I see going down in the underground circuit, whether it was the Project Blowed, the Good Life, Straight Off the Streets Productions, By Any Means Music. You know, we did it, we just didn't have the backing to get to that level.
And I think about that all the time. What I'm doing and everything I've done thus far has been out of my pocket and out of my grind and out of my hustle. I've never had, really, besides Freddy Fred, and even in that situation I paid for the studio time. I actually paid him, still, to do beats for me and everything. So all of this stuff was me and a lot of the knowledge was me and my intuition and, like I say, my hustle! And I always think, "Man, If I did all of that and for whatever the quality is, or however good it came out, just imagine what that would sound like if I had a chance to be with a producer, with a Kanye West, a DJ Premier, a Dr. Dre, a Timbaland, or anybody!" I've never had that. One time, with Family Ties, I was in a real studio 'cause I had some money and we had to take it somewhere else to get mixed 'cause the guy was trippin'. But I would love to do that. Hopefully one day I can have a budget. Somebody who says, you know, "This guy's good. Let's do it right," you know? But I've never had that opportunity. But I never let that stop me 'cause if I did, where would I be at? If I said, "I'ma wait until I get a deal," nothing I've ever done would be anything! It wouldn't exist!
In 2011 you released Suicide Note, which is a pretty unique album in your catalogue. Was that album inspired by stuff you were going through in your real life?
Part of everything I do is life. If you listen to the actual song "Evolution of a Man" I talk about putting the gun to my head. "I put the gun to my head and ask the Lord why was I ever born." A lot of thoughts come in my head, like everybody else, but the thing is do you act on those thoughts? I mean, I would never act on it. All of the suicide that was goin' on, and that whole album, to be honest, is not what I intended. It's part of what I intended, but when I hooked up with a guy - I actually did get a little help on that one - and he thought it was too dark. I wanted to make an album that you would be scared to listen to by yourself. But I was persuaded to not go that route. It ended up being a lot lighter. Even the album cover. The album cover I had, they was like, "No, you can't do that." My album cover was gonna be crazy!
That's a shame. That'd be cool to hear an album like that from you.
Yeah, the album cover I had in mind was gonna be a double bar-, like if you look down at it, you see a skull, and stickin' up through the mouth of the skull (laughs) is a double barrel shotgun, and the head was blown out, but lookin' out through the skull you can see the hand on the desk writing [a suicide note]. So I had a cold, cold album cover, and even when I did the bear, which I pretty much jacked that from the internet and had a friend add some blood and stuff, but I got a friend, he's like Snoop Dogg, he's a pimp, and he called me up, like, [in Snoop voice] "Hey man, I like your music but you cannot have that album cover. My ladies, they sleep with a teddy bear! How can you do this to the teddy bear?" (laughs) But he had me rollin'. He had an issue with me cuttin' the teddy bear's head off.
Your most recent project Old Dog New Tricks featured Konvick, Medusa, Mister CR and Ellay Khule among others. Was that an album or more of a mixtape?
It started out as a mixtape but when you go to sell it, it's an album so I look at it like - people tell me, when I said it was a mixtape, "Man, that's an album." Like, okay, it's an album. Whatever you wanna call it. But yeah, once again, that started out as a concept of me embracing the old. Like, yeah, I'm old but I've got some new tricks. You know, I can still do what's happenin'. I've done shows and when I'm finished I get the young people tellin' me, "Man, I can't believe you that old and doin' this and rappin' like that." And the older people be like, "Man, you motivate me. I was gonna quit but you inspired me." So I get that and I like that, I appreciate that.
But yeah, I downloaded a lot of the beats. If I really, really liked the song I went ahead and bought it. So some of 'em don't have the tags on 'em. The one with me, Medusa and Konvick, we recorded that at Medusa's house in Leimert Park. I think I had the verse done and I had the beat and Medusa came up with the hook. I had some part of it but she added her flavour to it. Then Konvick threw his part on there. Rifleman and CR, we recorded that at Rifleman's house. You know, I had a little mac laptop and a mic and I would just take that around, if I had to. I think pretty much most of it I did in Palmdale. I had a real nice studio up there.
My brother really likes that one, the guy who got me into rap. He called me two days ago like, "Man, what're you doing with that Old Dog New Tricks? I think that's your best album!" I deal with that a lot too. People sayin' I'm not doin' it right. Man, I'm doin' everything I can do! A lot of these people are not even in the game. I got an open ear to what they sayin'. I'm not saying just because they're not in the game they don't know what the hell they talkin' about. But they don't know I already did that and I'm still doin' that. But with my brother, I'm like "Man, I did that in 2013." He like, "I be playin' your CD again. Why you ain't doin' this? Why you ain't doin' that?" I'm doin' all of that! Some of what they askin' I can't do!
And Old Dog New Tricks 2 is coming out soon?
Yeah, I was just playin' it in the car. I think I have about fourteen songs. I got a song called "Dreams." I think I put one on Youtube called "Hear My Story." It's about my life, about how my father was abusive, about me getting beat up in New York, running away to Baltimore. So it's about those three cities: New York, Baltimore and L.A. New York was the abuse of my father. L.A. was the gangbangin'. This was the murder capital! L.A. was crazy! Me and my friend were talkin' the other day and he was sayin', "Man, this was the wild west!" It was a whole different mentality. It was a different code of rules. A lot of people are doin' stuff that would've got 'em killed back then, and that's good. I'm glad it's not like that anymore. But some people doin' stuff that would've got their cap peeled. Baltimore, when I lived there, the house I ran away to was full of war vets and some of them had been in a mental institution called Crownsville 'cause they was war vets, they were traumatized and this, that and the other. So I had moments back then where uncles tried to stab me. I had uncles stab up my cousins, my sisters. I woke up one night and my cousin had a mirror and they stabbed him in the head with a mirror. I woke up one night and my uncle was standing over me with an axe. There were shootings and everything. So for me to be who I am and as cool as I am I think that's good considering all I've been through. I sold heron in New York was I was twelve. My brother, a half brother, had me selling heron. You know, I did it for a little bit. And I think about it and it's like, man, that's not cool. Gettin' your little brother to sell heron.
So I've been through a lot. I've been through the gangbanging, hustling, selling drugs, violence and at the same time I used to walk alone. I always walked alone. New York had gangs. The Black Spades, The Peacemakers. They had different gangs in New York. Baltimore had gangs. The Marshall Gang. L.A., the Crips, the Boods, the this, the that. I never joined a gang. I've also been solo bolo for the most part. And I'm not a tough guy or nothin' but I'm a thorough dude and I pretty much go where I wanted to go, do what I do and pretty much never had any problems. I had more problems out of family and friends, the people that supposed to love you. I get more disrespect and more things outta them than killers (laughs).
The last thing I wanted to ask you - we kind of touched on it already - but what's planned for the future?
The thing about being an artist is I have million damn ideas in my head. I got concepts and everything. But I stay with my roommate now and some of his characteristics aren't that cool but then some of the things that I think aren't that cool, I'm starting to understand why he's that way because I've spent a lot time rippin' and runnin', doin' all this in hip-hop. And it's taken it's toll on me physically. It's taken money. It's taken time. It's not bein' able to sleep. And he don't want me to stop. He's just tellin' me to slow down so I'm startin' to listen to him and I'm starting to see some of the stuff he does. So I wanted finish up Old Dog New Tricks 2. And I have to stay focused, 'cause I'll be all over the place. But If I ever had a budget, I'd make some shit work. I could definitely do a lot especially if I didn't have to be a one man army, you know, trying to be Mr. Everything. But if I'm not Mr. Everything it won't be anything.
Syndrome228 aka Synsideous of EX2, Bullyz Squad and Force M.C.'$ has been consistently dropping dope music since he debuted on AWOL One's Noise: A Hip-Hop Collection back in 1996. In 2012, he released his solo debut Exodus and more recently contributed two verses to Ellay Khule's King of the Chop CD. Here are a handful of his more recent tracks that shouldn't go under the radar:
Steven Laws, the Imperator of Rhyme, is a Good Life O.G. and CEO of By Any Means Music. He's been rapping since hip-hop's infancy and continues to record music today. In part one of this interview, Imp and I discuss his early history, the Good Life, Rick Konvick, and his first studio album Evolution of a Man. Stayed tuned for part two, where Imp speaks on battling Eminem, some of his more recent albums and his plans for the future.
On "Why We Do This" you describe first hearing your brother rap in '79 and being inspired to get into hip-hop. Can you talk about that?
My first experience with rap music - I was sittin' on the steps in Baltimore. I was living in Baltimore. I ran away from New York. You know, I had an abusive father so I ran away when I was 12 years old. And in 1979, not long after I ran away, my brother had come down for Memorial Day. And I was sittin' on - Baltimore has row houses - and I was sittin' on the marble steps - the stoop, we called it the stoop - with this girl named Nookie. What's up, Nookie! I actually see her on Facebook still to this day. And we saw my brother on top of my grandfather's trunk, just movin' around, bobbin' around and people start gatherin' around! And I'm sittin' with this girl, and she's like, "What is your brother doing?" So I was like, "I don't know. Let's go see." So we go over there, and he was doing a lot of old school rhymes. He's doin' "I was walkin' down the street with a joint in my hand/ I blaze it up here with my man/ I took a hit, maybe three or four/ and then I fell into a door/ they was jammin' hard in this discotech/ I paid to see, I said 'what the heck?'" Y'know, he was saying a lot of old school rhymes. Now mind you, I had heard no rap music. Nobody in Baltimore, to my knowledge, had heard rap music, at least in my vicinity. I was in east Baltimore. So I'm like "wow!" I'm blown away. I mean, he's literally standin' on the top of my grandfather's trunk, all these people standin' around. This is in 1979.
So when he was finished, I was amazed. I mean, this is my brother! He was down from New York. He was visiting. And, like I said, I had ran away from New York. So we get to talkin' and I'm after what it is and he tellin' me, "It's rap music. This is what we doing in New York." So, I'm like, "Okay, keep sayin' your raps to me!" He was only there for three or four days, the Memorial Weekend. So, you know, he kept repeatin' his rhymes to me and by the time he left, I had memorized his raps. So once he left, I'm runnin' around, I took his name and everything. He called himself DJ Flame. So I took his name and everything, I'm walking around, saying his raps, using his name. Then some months later "Rapper's Delight" came out. And some people were knockin' at my door like, "Your brother's on the radio!" So they thought it was my brother. But I'm like, "Nah, that's not my brother." That was pretty much my initiation getting into the rap game.
From that point, I ended up moving to California. Like I said, I had a real abusive father. He ran a lot of people away, from physically beatin' us. So my mother had left. So I get a call, I might've been down there in Baltimore for maybe a year, but my mother calls me and she's like, "Hey, I'm in California. You wanna come to California?" And I'm like, "Yeah!" So I moved to California. Once I got out to California, I think my brother ended up coming out here too, so we stayed together. And I hooked up with Wiz Wonder. He stayed across the street. He was a white guy but he lived in the hood.
That's the guy who produced "Grooving", right?
He definitely did the first "Grooving" then we ended up hooking up with Battlecat, and me, him and Battlecat redid it again. And Wiz Wonder, if you look into it, he started a group called Blak Forest which had a few different emcees in it. So me and Wiz, we grew up on Browning Blvd. and DJ Quik actually, I didn't know, but he actually lived on the street. If you listen to his raps he'll say Browning in 'em. But we called ourselves the Boulevard Crew. We started doing stuff together. You know, he had records, he was a DJ, way back then. So we'd make little raps and stuff. Some of that stuff is gone. I don't think I have too much of what we did. I have a couple but we had a lot and we did a lot of stuff, and going back east, I had one cassette and I was passing it around and somebody tore it up, hating on it. So that got lost and I don't think he has it either.
At that point, by that time, I had started writing. So I started off biting my brother's stuff, repeating his stuff, but pretty much in L.A. is when I started writing. And I started writing more about what was going on. Obviously my brother was my first and primary influence, but after that I would say, like, Melle Mel, you know, "The Message." I was on some more political stuff. I was on party stuff. Count Coolout and Super Rhymes, they were similar rappers. Super Rhymes was actually a rapper called Jimmy Spicer. So I would kinda see what these guys had goin' on.
The west coast hadn't really made a lot of noise at that point. Later, I think, Toddy Tee was one of the early people who came out. He made a song called, "Batterram." And then we get up into that era when the crack had hit in L.A. So me bein' in L.A., not long after, a couple years later, that's when the crack had got real crazy out here in L.A. That's when the streets were dangerous. We had the murder capital out here. And I got caught up in the hustlin' and selling drugs. And I would take the money I made to buy different things, so Wiz could make some beats, to do this, to do that. You know, he had things on his own but I contributed to a few. You know, I would find a drum machine or something like that. So Wiz pretty much was doin' my stuff and my rhymes went from political to more talkin' about stuff in the streets. I was talkin' about the cocaine. A lot of things are lost. I still remember the raps, but the recordings are gone. I won't ever get those unless some miracle happens and someone has a tape.
Is Old School Vibes pretty much all you have from that time?
I have to check my computer and I have a few cassettes I have to go through. I think have a few other things, but from that era, pretty much, me and Wiz, you know, we did a lot of stuff together but I've just lost so much stuff, loaning stuff to people, never getting it back or it getting destroyed or something.
You recently posted a picture on Facebook of you with Kool Moe Dee. Is there a story behind that?
Oh, yeah! They had a radio station called KDAY - they actually still have it - but it was on AM back then and they were the ones who played rap music. I won their last rap contest they had before they went off the air, and Kool Moe Dee was the judge of who would be the winner. That was in North Carolina. I won, I dunno, I won a thousand dollars, a trip to Washington, D.C., a year supply of hair supplies (laughs), so it was fun. Meetin' these people, going to BET, that was actually Rap City that did that. The Mayor, he was the host. I think I do have video footage of that. I won for L.A., not the overall contest. My song was "Forty Acres in a Mule", you know, a positive black thing. I think the brother that won was from North Carolina and I was feelin' his rap, his swagger and everything. I've always been like, "Listen what I'm sayin'." It took me a while to even be that concerned with the beat. I always was so concerned about what they were sayin' and what's the message. Most people, first thing they like is the beat, then the hook, then the swag. So if you got swag and you have a cool style, they don't care what you sayin'. And that's not my angle.
So you were at the Good Life pretty much from day one?
Yeah, in the 80's, at that point, after Wiz, I stumbled upon the Good Life. I was at a park. Once again, it was KDAY. It was a lot easier to get on the radio back then. It's virtually impossible now, unless you're on a major label or somethin'. Back then, you kinda could. They kinda felt that if you're a rapper you can come and perform and they'll give you a little airplay, stuff like that. So I was actually performing for KDAY at a park one day - I think it was with X-Clan - and Sonny Carson, he was the manager of X-Clan [and Professor X's father]. I used to run around with Macadoshis. He rapped with 2Pac. He's still a good friend of mine. So me and him hung out all the time and we was at a park called Marcus Garvey and they were having a rap show and I think KDAY put me down to perform. And I met Sonny Carson. He was a gangbanger from New York but he changed his life. They made a movie about him called The Education of Sonny Carson. So he ended up being a manager for X-Clan. So, when I'm performing I meet Sonny Carson and he told me, "Come up to Hollywood and hang out with us." So me and Macadoshis went up there and, you know, some of the brothers wasn't feeling us, but Sonny was feeling us. So once we get to talkin', he found out who my father was and he told me my father used to look out for him when he was a kid so he really felt like he wanted to help me out. This was Sonny Carson! So we had a good bond, had a couple drinks and we ended up walking down Hollywood Blvd. singin', "No Justice! No Peace! No Justice! No Peace!" There was a shooting, the police killed somebody or something. So we walkin' down Hollywood Blvd. We marched all the way to this club. And he was teaching me about the game. He said, "Whenever you go to perform, soon as you get on stage you get your money before you start singin' or rappin' or anything." So that was real cool that he knew my father. I think he ended up passing away.
But you were askin' me about the Good Life. So that same day, someone gave me a flyer. I think it was Rod (aka Arcane Blaze). B. Hall and Rod are the people who did the Good Life and I believe he gave me a flyer to come to Underground Radio 'cause that's what it was called. Once again, I say on my Evolution of a Man album, the Good Life is a health food venue and the event was actually called Underground Radio or Underground Railroad - it was one of 'em. And when I first went there, it'd be two or three people in there initially and then it started to grow. I ended up being a soundman at some points, I brought my sound system, I was security (laughs). I was real versatile. I did whatever I had to do. I'd be the host. Then it went to bein' packed in there. I think that was more toward the late 80's, like '88 or something like that.
I was a big fan of your Digging in the Tapes mixes. Have you ever thought of doing a third one?
I recently thought about doing it again. My situation isn't that good right now. So I'm kinda in a transition of regrouping and getting my life together. That's why I haven't been doing much and doin' stuff like that. Once I get more situated, where I'm a bit more comfortable. You know, I got a gang of studio equipment and it's in storage, you know, so I need to get situated first before I can get set up and start taking care of business again. I mean, I would love to do that again. I've lost a lot of cassettes and tapes and videos. So much stuff is just gone. I remember one time I had got frustrated and I had stories I had wrote, raps I had wrote and I had a trash bag that was full of raps and everything and I dunno, it was some things I was going through with my spouse back then, and I was just frustrated like, "It ain't gonna work", or whatever and I put all that shit on the grill and I damn near cried. But I burned all that shit up, man. It was stuff I wrote when I was a kid, when I was like twelve or thirteen. I was like, "This shit ain't..." and I regret that, man.
You posted a really dope Konvick track recently. I've heard about a "Konvick tape" and I read Ab Rude say Konvick recorded an album with Punish. Do you have any info about that?
Konvick has a ton of music! Yeah, Konvick, rest in peace, was a friend of mine. He's been recording for a while. Volume 10 gave him his name, the name Konvick. His real name was a Richard Abdullah. So people just call him Rick, Rick Konvick, very few people call him Richard. But he was a heavyweight, man. I told Konvick before that I consider him the west coast Biggie. I've recorded him, I've done beats for him. Konvick was dope. He had that voice, he had them vintage stories, when he was rapping, all his thug stuff, his gangster stuff, you know, that was true! That was him! We sat and talked, you know, I can't share them stories (laughs). But he definitely has a lot of music. Rifleman probably has a bunch of Konvick stuff, Freddy Fred probably has some stuff, I have some stuff.
Speaking of Freddy Fred, he produced most of Evolution of a Man. Can you talk about recording that album?
Lemme give you a story on Freddy Fred. I was at a copy place, gettin' some copies made and I knew the guy doin' the copies. He had a store. And Freddy Fred came in there sayin' he was having an audition for rappers that night. So my homeboy introduced me to Freddy Fred. He was lookin' for a rapper to produce. He had this studio in Hollywood he had rented. So I said, "Yeah, I'll come through." He had maybe about ten to twelve different rappers and he was playin' beats. Everybody was just rapping, takin' their turn. There was no structure. And Freddy Fred had some people and I guess it was unanimous and he said, "Everybody said I should produce you." So that's how that ended up startin'.
The thing with me and Freddy Fred, we had different visions. He had an idea about what he wanted to do and I had an idea about what I wanted to do. And I'm from New York. I'm an aggressor. If I'm trying to do something, I'm not trying to sit around and wait for somebody to do something. I'ma get up and get out and try to make it happen. So Freddy Fred, the label he had was Piranha Records. He had a cold logo. It was a piranha fish with an afro with an afro pick in his head. It was a cold logo. And maybe I was wrong, but he was tellin' me, "Imp, you're doing a lot of stuff and we gon' get a label to do that. You don't need to do that." I was makin' t-shirts. I was makin' flyers. I was makin' CDs. And he thought that was hurting the brand, putting stuff out that's not top notch quality. But I was like, "Man, people gotta hear this." So that didn't end our friendship but it ended me being on Pirahna Records. I was more aggressive and he was more wait for some big money.
So we went into the studio. Wiz used to work at a studio out there so they gave him love and let him do something and we recorded damn near that whole album out there. It was a gang of weed, a gang of beer. I mostly drink, at a certain age I don't really mess with the weed, but I drink. But we had a good time recordin' that stuff. Rifleman came through, P.E.A.C.E. from Freestyle Fellowship - he's the one singin' on "Trust No Man." Volume 10, that song we did, we did that at his house. A few songs I didn't do there. I just thought Freddy Fred was a dope producer. He always had a remix. You would finish up a song - that's why "The Realness" had a remix, and "Go with Me" had a remix and I think he had a couple more but you'd think the song was done and Freddy Fred be like, "No, no, give me the keyboard" and he would add something else. I really like that. I really appreciate him for what he did.
You seem like you've always been business minded and had DIY approach. Before By Any Means Music you had Straight Off the Streets Productions. Have you always wanted to run a label?
That's just pretty much understanding that I have to be a label. You have to understand, put it like this, when I started recording, when I would go to the studios, they was tellin' me I was old. When I was 20... 21. Even then they were telling me, "You old. Why you trying to rap? This is a young boy's game." Like, when I was recording "Forty Acres and a Mule" I really remember the guys at the studio that was tellin' me why was I tryin' to rap, "You too old to rap." I went through that at the Good Life. I used to battle P.E.A.C.E., Rifleman, quite a few rappers. I would sit down and rappers would get up and diss me, and I would get up and diss all of them. I would battle. That's one thing I was known for at the Good Life, was battling. 'Cause number one, I was being hated on 'cause I was from New York. And I wasn't boasting and braggin' I was from New York, it was my accent! I never joined a gang. I always walked alone. So in that environment, I had to deal with that. "Oh, you old school. You old." I'm dealing with this shit from the rappers and the professionals. So here I am, much older now! But I'm still doin' my thing.
Lemme tell you a story. I sold a guy the Old School Vibes tape, right? Way back. This is at the Good Life. And months later, he came back and he told me, he said, "Man, that cassette was wack as fuck! I want my $5 back!" I was like, "Cool." I ain't trippin', you know. I'm a humble person. I'm not no punk or nothin' like that but I don't like trouble and problems, so I said, "Okay, give me the tape." He says, "I ain't got the tape. I threw the motherfucker away!" Now we got a problem. I said, "Man, you better get out my damn face, you know what I'm sayin'? If you had the tape I would'a gave you the $5 back," but it was like months later, after I sold it to him. Boom, turn around, and I see him at the Project Blowed. Now the Good Life started before the Project Blowed so this was after. So I see him and he raps and gets booed off stage! He had the nerve to talk about me and they booed him straight off the stage.
So I embrace it. That's why I say old school. When I put Old Dog New Tricks out, a lotta people said, "Don't say old. If you say old, nobody gonna want to buy it. People don't like to hear old." But I said, "Fuck that! I'ma do what I'ma do!" So I call my shit Old School Vibes, I have Old Dog New Tricks and I got Old Dog New Tricks 2. I got about fourteen songs demoed and they've been demo for so long. I just was in the car playin' 'em, and I was like, "I gotta finish this joint." And after that, I just need to sit back figure out what I'm doing, where I'm goin'. You know, I made a beat last night for the first time in two years...
The sounds found here are for listening/previewing purposes only. If you object to posting of any music that's yours, please leave a comment and it will be promptly removed. If you like something, please support the artist and buy it!
If anyone can help me out with any of these I'd be eternally grateful!
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 - "Phroetry" Tommy V/Imprints - "A Boy and his 4-Track"