Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jean in the Front Row: An Interview with Jean Powe

Jean in the Front Row

    Without actually having performed at the Good Life and without being a rapper or producer, Jean Powe has still had a great enough influence on the Good Life movement that she is known worldwide by fans of the west coast underground, most recently through Ava DuVernay's This is the Life documentary, but, largely due to a classic CVE tape being named after her, Tray Loc's solo debut, Jean in the Front Row. Jean gained a reputation for always being present at the Good Life, front and center, showing her support. She clearly saw something special in a movement that has finally gained some of the recognition it deserved in the early to mid-90s. 

    Jean's story took a tragic turn, when she was misprescribed medication which lead to her developing Steven-Johnson Syndrome, a skin condition which can cause facial and tongue swelling, rashes and shedding of the skin. Jean remains positive, however, and she and Imperator are in the process of wrapping up a documentary about her and her journey, giving viewers some insights into her condition and how it has impacted her life. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her experiences at the Life as well as her struggles with SJS.

What was your earliest experience with hip-hop and what was some of the first stuff you really got into?

    In the 80s, Alex, my whole world was dance, the club scene. Wherever the DJ and the dance floor was, I was there. I was into rap, but just the music, not the lyrics. Hip-hop didn't come into play until the Good Life. I'm glad I was introduced to it! Prior to that, I was groovin' to Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, The O'Jays, Prince, Barry White, Luther Vandross, N.W.A., Heavy D, Debarge, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Too $hort, KRS-One and Shalamar, just to name a few. I love all music, really. I go from R&B to rap and The Wave, all in the same day [laughs]. It really started at the Good Life though, in 1990, '91, then ended up at the Project Blowed. That's where I met all the artists I know now. There's so many of 'em. I guess it's all the ones that you know too. Imperator, Ellay Khule, J-Smoov, Freestyle Fellowship, Hip Hop Kclan, Riddlore?, P.E.A.C.E., Myka 9, there's so many of 'em. I can't wait to get back to the Good Life to chill with everybody one more time.

How did you first get introduced to the Good Life?

    The owner, Janie, and one of my classmates, which is her sister, Deborah Scott Moore. I used to come there to see her and she told me about Thursday nights with Bea Hall and her son, R Kane Blaze, and I just started coming and I was just going ever since. I want to give props to the owners of the Good Life, Ifa (Janie) and her husband, Phillip Walker, and thank Deborah for inviting me!

Were you blown away by what you saw?

   Yes, yeah, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was really good that all these young people were really coming together like that. It gave them a chance to get out of the street life and come together with the positivity like they were.

What was the vibe at the Life and can you describe the experience of being in the front row?

    The vibe was always cool. Once or twice there was a chill in the air, but it didn't stop the show. Being in the front row I was able to be up close and personal with folks. Seeing everyone perform and feeling the music, that was it for me. Thursday at the Good Life couldn't come quick enough. I lived for it! I don't know who gave me the name Jean in the Front Row. Maybe J-Smoov or Tray Loc. If I'm wrong, correct me! If I came in and someone was in my seat, they respected me enough to get up and let me have it. I was thankful! For one, what they didn't know, I needed total reconstructive knee surgery and it would be screaming [laughs]. J-Smoov took me to the hospital, had it done and the rest is history. I really miss those times, hanging out there with Shaydi, Q Storm (where you at?) and Rosetta.

Were there any artists in particular you'd get really hyped about if they were performing?

     No, I liked everybody. I don't like to single people out. I enjoyed everybody. The most memorable was meeting Biz Markie and Fat Joe.

What do you think were some of the reasons the Good Life became this hub for creativity?

    I guess all the different artists all being able to come together like they were. Bea Hall really made it possible for everybody to come together like they did.

When you first saw the Jean in the Front Row tape, were you surprised, or did you know Tray was going to be naming his album after you?

    That was a surprise [laughs]. It was funny, especially the caricature of me [laughs]. The caricature was funny to me, but I didn't mind though.

[laughs] It was a very flattering picture.

    It was [laugh] but it really fit Tray Loc's style of music. I liked it.

Did you attend the Project Blowed at all?

    Yes, I went to Project Blowed also. We left the Good Life and went to Project Blowed. My Project Blowed experience, as opposed to the Good Life, was cool. Both clubs were cool. Project Blowed was more loose and no limits. You could curse on the mic whereas at the Good Life you couldn't. Nothing wrong with that. And if you wasn't good, you'd get booed! I really didn't like that 'cause everyone deserves a chance on the mic. You never know what that does to a person! Blowed drew a much bigger crowd and it was a great joint. Big ups to Ben Caldwell for doing that for the youth.

When were you diagnosed with SJS and can you explain to people who may not be familiar what it is exactly?

    Ok, for the people who don't know, Steven-Johnson Syndrome is a major allergic reaction to any antiviral medication and the reaction, your hair falls out, your skin blisters, because it burns you from the inside of your body to the outside of your body. Your face swells, your eyes swell, your throat. It affects your mucus membranes. Some people are blinded and left with cornea damage. A lot of people I know have these eye problems. Some people die because it damages your organs. I was lucky. For me, I had the swelling of the face and eyes. My throat was so swollen, I couldn't eat for three years. I ended up with a G-tube in my stomach because my stomach was toxic. I went from 136 pounds to 89 pounds! I was dying.

    First of all, I was bit by a spider in 2007, but it had nothing to do with the spider bite. An intern, I found out later, misdiagnosed my spider bite as shingles and gave me Acyclovir, 800 mg to take five times a day. Had I known better, I wouldn't have took it but at the time, you go to the doctor, you think they know what they're giving you, so you take it. And as I took it, instead of feeling better, I started feeling worse, like I was dying, which I was, but I didn't know until I got to the hospital. If I didn't get to the hospital when I did, I would be dead today.

I did some research before this call and saw some pictures of people with pretty awful blisters and rashes. Is your condition not quite as bad as that?

    Well, your skin, it's chronic. It doesn't go away. You don't look like those pictures anymore, I did look like those pictures, but not as bad because I got to the hospital in time. It was very painful for years. I had the G-tube in for three years. I couldn't eat solid foods for three years. I had to be fed through a tube. Oh, it was awful! And you're left with chronic itching. You skin itches and still falls off, just not as bad as it was. One thing about it, all my burns have healed. My skin is back to brown. From laying up now for eight years, my body has atrophied. My hands are completely closed and my toes are folded over. I have to have assistance turning, sitting up, I have to be dressed. I used to have to be fed but a cousin of mine had an idea: he took a spoon and a fork and taped them to chop sticks so now I'm able to feed myself. And I can go out, but I have to have a village to get me out and get me ready.

Can you talk about the documentary Imperator is putting together about your struggles?

    Well, basically what I just told you. I told him the same thing I'm tellin' you. We've done three shoots already. I have two more to go, I think starting next week. We were supposed to meet a couple weeks ago to shoot at the beach but I didn't have a village to get me there, so we had to cancel. He just gave me a benefit September 24th, which was really nice.


    To get some additional info about the upcoming documentary, I spoke with Imperator, who is the mastermind behind the project, and he was able to give some good insights into the motivation and concept for the documentary.

    At first, I just knew Jean as "Jean in the Front Row" from being at the Good Life. We spoke in passing a little bit. We didn't hang out or anything like that, but I knew her, and I knew Tray had songs and CVE and others would mention her a lot in there. For years, I had heard she was bitten by a spider and something had happened to her and she wasn't doing too well. So for years, I thought about doing a documentary because I felt [the reality of what had happened to her] was an injustice, and maybe it could get her some exposure so someone could help her out.

    So time passed, and it was just a thought I had, but I reconnected with Jean about three months ago. I went to her house and saw her situation, that she was bed ridden, so I said to her, "Why don't we go ahead and do the documentary?" I told her what it would consist of. I went out and got a camera and a friend and I sat and came up with about thirty questions and we just asked her, "When did it happen? How did it happen?" How does she feel? What makes her happy and sad? So we recorded that but it still needs to get edited. It's currently on hold because we want to get a professional, someone in the industry, who's willing to speak on it to give it some more credibility. Due to some personal turmoil in my life, I haven't done anything for about three weeks, but we're planning to pick it back up. One issue is it may be hard to get some medical professionals to speak on this condition because it could harm their reputation. I'm trying to do some real research so we can do it properly, and I'd really like a real medical professional to speak on it.

For those who have enjoyed the Jean in the Front Row tape, and since it's currently available as a free download, please consider donating the money you would have spent on a copy to Jean's Gofundme account and stay tuned for updates regarding Imp's upcoming documentary about Jean's struggles.

[Update: here is "Jean Powe: Stevens Johnson Syndrome Survivor", directed by Imperator.]


Friday, November 27, 2015

Demons & Angels: A History of the Beat Cave

The Roach Hoetel

    The Beat Cave was a crew, as well as a studio, created by Roger Lovett (aka Roge One) in Whittier, California that became a retreat for the emcees who would hang out there. It originated as a project co-produced by Roge and DJ Roach in 2001-2, The Roach Hoetel, notably featuring raps from EX2's Origin, but later evolved into something different once Roge set up a studio in his garage and honed his ability to make beats. A project featuring Roge, Roach and AWOL, entitled Demons & Angels was released years later, in 2012, and features a slew of emcees, all of whom would drop by to hang out at the Beat Cave. I was able to piece together a history of the Beat Cave, gathering comments from Roger, Roach, Massive, Syndrome and Regret, all of whom described the Beat Caves' laid back atmosphere and fond memories of what they considered a place to relax, lay back, smoke some good green and make music.

Roge One: It really started back at East Ridge Terrace Apartments on La Mirada and Leffingwell. It started with Save One from LSD. It was rough times for me then, but I was trying to get out of the rough times and I ended up selling some drug money to get an MPC. We started hanging out and making beats, and Save introduced me to Roach. It's funny, the first night Roach came over, we went to get some beer and as we walked out, we see cops walking in each direction. It looked like they were headed to my apartment. I was growing some plants at that time. So I called my roommate and he said the cops came and busted them all, so I ended up going to Roach's house that night and we just listened to records for about four hours. It was crazy. My roommates ended up going to jail. We sorted it out a couple days later because they didn't have a search warrant, stuff like that. So no one got in trouble, but that's how the Beat Cave began in Whittier, California.

Roach the DJ: I met Roger after finding out that a couple of my friends were making beats on an MPC, and I found out it wasn't their MPC. It was Roger's. They were all roommates. So I had to get down to it and say, "Well, I wanna record beats on this MPC so I need to meet this guy, Roger, you know?" So my friends Save and Calm - we all have connections to the same city and we ended up being part of the graffiti crew LSD - introduced me to Roger. That's how I started talking to Roger. I told him, "I've been making tapes, but my tape deck is broken and I've been starting to record on my 4-track, but it records on zips and pretty soon it's gonna be outdated, you know? It's already giving me problems now." So we had a friendship through my experiences trying to record.

Roge One: I straightened up my act, stopped messing with the hard drugs, just stuck with the weed. I moved to another apartment and started getting with Meno. He's another cat who EX2 used to always go to. Meno's done a lot of great stuff in the studio. So I hung out with him a lot, learning how to create music and bring it to the computer, how to do MIDI stuff on the computer and all that. From there, I met my wife, then we moved into that house that became the Beat Cave. By that time, I had started getting more knowledge of everything so I built that studio then. Through Roach, I met AWOL, Massive, Gel Roc, Ab Rude used to go there. All those types of people would come to the Beat Cave.

Massive: It was like a camp where some of the members hung out with Roge at his spot, but they were kinda into other things. Like, AWOL was always into art and graffiti. They had this skateboard company - I think the company was called Soundclash - where they were putting hip-hop artists on these skateboards that AWOL and some of the guys were promoting. So in the Beat Cave they had this studio with a wall of skateboard decks. Everybody kind of met at that spot. It kind of had been around for a while. If you have a studio and I just came over there to hang out with you all the time, then other producers and beat artists, they start hanging out over there. Then you're making beats and sooner or later we're putting together a project.

Roach the DJ: We recorded a couple beats for my project, which was Roach Hoetel and I figured, "Well, he's giving me original beats so what I'm gonna do is bring in my samples as a background to his beats and give it a hip-hop feel." So that's what I did. We had a project by me recording it, then later on, he evolved and said, "Well, I wanna have control of recording my own beats." So he got savy with computers and he was using Cubase, I think it was. We just started to say, "Ok, let's just bring people in and have them record. We already know AWOL and we know Massive. Let's bring in the rest of our homies." And that's how our project (Demons & Angels) got created. And in between The Roach Hoetel and Demons & Angels, Roger was refining and learning how to record, which is why there's a gap between those two projects. I only made like 20 of [The Roach Hoetel] for a small tour. That's Pugsly on bass! Pugs (R.I.P.) was Tobesko's cousin. Origin was the first MC the Beat Cave recorded. He is an OG EX2 head.

Roge One: The Roach Hoetel was actually recorded pretty much at the original apartment, and also at Roach's house. We did that before we got into the computer stuff. It was basically just a little 4-track and an MPC. Just a mic in a closet, man. Real raw stuff [laughs].

Massive: I don't know how long they had that concept for the Beat Cave. The reason we called it the Beat Cave was beacuse it was Roger's garage, and it had this big ol' neon flourescent light. It was a big ol' garage converted into a mini studio, but it was always dark like a cave in there, so that's where it came from.

Roge One: When I built the studio, it just had a cave feeling. There was one night where everyone was over and I just thought it was like the Bat Cave. So I said, "It's the Beat Cave" and everybody liked that. It was a place for everyone to just come and relax, not worry about nothin', just kick back, you know what I mean? At the time, I had hurt my back so I was just on worker's comp, so anyone could come over at any time. We had a fridge with beers in there. We were smokin' a lot of weed, of course. Massive used to come over a lot and hang out. He's a very humble guy. We'd just vibe out, write lyrics. We'd make beats together. Everyone could just come, smoke some weed, drink some beer, close the garage, not a care in the world, man. It was a good time, brother.

Massive: The Beat Cave was kind of like a retreat for me. At the time, when I moved from L.A., I moved to Orange County to just get away from everything, you know what I'm sayin'? And between L.A. and Orange County lies Whittier. So instead of going all the way back to L.A., most of the kids from that camp lived in the Whittier area. See, there's two types of emcees. There's the Good Life emcees, then there's the kind of weirded out emcees, like AWOL and those guys, that do that different kind of hip-hop. It's hard to even put a name on it. They all hung out in that section of Orange County, Whittier, Azusa, Santa Anna, I almost want to say the Inland Empire, but it's going back east where most of 'em hung out at. Roge's place was the central spot to hang out at, and to be quite honest with you, you'll find a lot of these hip-hop studios were centralized around who had the weed [laughs]. If you had to grab something real quick, you'd go see Roge.

Syndrome228: Roger is a good dude who I met through Roach when EX2 was in our prime. A few times I went to his place when he would have parties and saw Massive, AWOL, Roach, and some others, which was a dope group to chill amongst. I never recorded with him, but we worked on some beats a couple times. He is good fam, for sure!

Roach the DJ: I was always able to jam with Roger. We'd record ourselves and have fun. He'd freestyle and me and my friends would freestyle. That's when I knew we needed to make something happen. We were having too much fun, so I felt, "Let's get something going on." After he moved out of his apartment, he got a pretty good job and a home, so he had the space to create a studio. We had all our friends who were willing to hang out and record. We'd all get together and have fun, smoke. He also had a lot of good smoke so people were willing to come to him, you know?

Regret of EX2: I don't think I ever tracked there. I only went there to get bomb green! [Roger] had a huge flat screen on the wall in the living room, had fuckin' MMA on PS3 with wireless controllers. Dudes would have tournies. First time I'd seen that. Roger had sick beats. Element tuff underground grimey!

Massive: Roge got a couple of drum machines from me. Once he started running those drum machines, he started making some really cool beats. He had a nice little set up in his garage. The nice thing was, you could go over there, hang out with him, watch a game, have a beer, listen to a beat, throw down a verse, and that's kinda where it was at. It's kinda like if you had a garage and we came over every day after work, complain about our jobs, our wives and shit [laughs], you made a beat, you had a vocal booth in there, we threw a verse down. Everybody you knew that was in the industry came through to get a sack but they also came and chilled. It was different then regular dealers where you get it and got the fuck on outta there. It was different with him. You'd sit down and chill. There'd be three or four of the homies that you know that rap. They in there, kickin' back. Roge would play a beat. You'd lay back, get blowed, relax. It was a really drama free type area, you know what I'm sayin'?

Roach the DJ: After realizing that Demons & Angels was taking too long to be released, I searched to see if anybody had posted any works by Beat Cave, linking my Roach Hoetel project. I found a few videos with another project by someone else called Beat Cave. So I pushed the project after talking to AWOL. I asked why he didn't want to push the LP. He said the track with Ab and another contained touchy samples. So I put those on Soundcloud as outtakes. After a year or so I knew AWOL didn't mind if I put it out on the strength that I wouldn't use his production company or name. So Handshake Tony was the code name to the Demons & Angels LP. We also started calling ourselves the Beatcavers to give us a personalized identity. AWOL was Handshake Tony, I was Fist Pump Bobby and Roger was Firm Grip Roge. The world slept on the Beat Cave. Real underground shit.

Roge One: We started off with a little Tascam 4-track, then I transitioned more into computers. Meno really helped me with that, as well as this guy Jazzymattnasty, Matt Mendoza. He was Meno's apprentice at the time. He started coming to my house and help me get everything straightened out. Then we brought in the MPC and a MIDI keyboard. One time, a guy, he was a drummer, he brought me a raw CD of John Bonham, Led Zeppelin, in the studio - no one had heard this CD - a whole session of him drumming! Just raw, in the studio, Jon Bonham drumming. And that's how Demons & Angels was created. Next time you listen to it, just listen to those drums, dude! [laughs] Everyone was lovin' it, man! "Pocket Full of Dreams" and "Change" were two, off the top of my head, where those drums were used.

Massive: I think the Beat Cave is one of those quiet secrets that is allowed to continue when the opportunity presents itself. Like Roach, Roach is like a secret bank of amazing talent. He even grew up in the industry so he knows untold artists. He's probably one of the closest cats to me. In fact, he really kept me in touch with everybody else, man. There was a point where I really fell off the grid, getting away from all the negativity in the scene and the only person that kept my ties with everybody was Roach. The dude is really talented. He's got hella skills on the turntables. He's traveled around with AWOL. He's met a lot of emcees and producers, and he's a generally good guy! He's the one who connected me with Roge and everybody. When AWOL would come around, Roach would come with him. The crazy thing is Roach was so young, I never really noticed him until he got older. Then once everybody started releasing records, it was a different vibe. AWOL and Roach used to invite me to their parties and I would perform, which really helped keep me in the scene.

Roge One: People would come through at different times. Sometimes AWOL would bring people. Roach would bring' em. Massive would bring 'em. It was different situations but it was pretty much open doors. It's funny, at the end there, it was getting close. The wife was getting a little upset. We had a one year old daughter and we were in there pretty much five days a week [laughs]. So it got a little rough and that's kinda what ended it. I had to go back to work to support the family because, of course, family comes first, and I had to work on my marriage a bit. I was kind of neglecting that at the time. Everything worked out. But people would bring their girlfriends there. We'd have parties there. It's funny, on my daughter's first birthday, it started off as a birthday party with kegs and a taco truck, and everyone rolled through, the whole LSD crew, everybody. It ended up being an all-night beat session, you know? We'd always end up in the studio, vibing out. It's a lot of good memories.

Massive: You got a dude that hangs out with enough rappers and started learning how to make beats, and a basic place where you used to go to meditate and get away from shit that turned into a real cool spot. The Beat Cave was one of those spots where artists hung out, got a little smoke, made some music and just chilled. The thing that shut that down was life. Roge ended up having to move, get a real job [laughs], you know? The songs we recorded that they released was a nice little project. In fact, I was speaking to him recently about maybe doing another Beat Cave record.

Roge One: I rapped on "Let's Go" (Jazzymattnasty rapped on that one too) and "Hello" with Massive. I did a little cut on "Freedumb." Most of my stuff was sticking to the beats, but I like to do some rhymes every now and then. We have a new project coming out. I'm gonna do a new studio in my new house, now that we're all settled. It's gonna be Bro Bro Records aka Beat Cave and I'll be doing some more lyrics on that one as well. Look out for it, bro!

Roach the DJ: A new Beat Cave project will definitely end up happening. Roger is deep enough into his marriage that it's solid and he can do this. He kind of stepped away, thinking it would cause problems, but now he's gonna build a shack in the backyard and we're gonna go full on.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Prince Bell of Fresh Air: An Interview with Joe Dub

Talksicology 101

    After debuting with his Average Joe tape in '95, Joe Dub went on to launch a hugely prolific career, releasing projects as part of S.F.S.M., Full Time Artists, Record Players, Rockstar Industries, Painkillers, Lovebomb Soundclash and more, as well as several solo projects, cementing his position as a west coast O.G. and holding at least one 4-track classic under his belt, the fantastic Noise Pollution. In recent years, Joe's focus has shifted mainly to production, having most recently handled sole production duties on projects by Ellay Khule and Gel Roc. With a new solo album on the horizon, and several side projects in the works, Joe took some time to chop it up with me about his past, present and future.

What was your earliest experience with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping yourself?

    When I was probably about seven or eight years old - the neighbourhood I grew up in, in San Francisco, there was this rec center - and one of the adults who worked there was hella into hip-hop. This was '82, '83. He was always just bumping tapes and I can remember one day being in the office with him and some of my friends and he busted out a turntable and started scratching. Back then there wasn't slipmats. He was using a paper plate instead of a slipmat. He kinda showed us how to scratch and shit, simple-ass cuts, you know, nothing fancy. That was kinda my first real introduction to all that shit. Then one of my buddies, Jason, his older brother Mike, in about '85, '86, his parents got him two turntables and a Realistic Radio Shack mixer and just started buying him records. And he was getting doubles of everything. You know, "P.S.K.", "Gucci Time", "The Breaks". So, you know, we were just learning how to juggle. It was hella funny. Just these eleven year old kids matching up beats and shit. And then later in '86, probably in December, another friend in my neighbourhood, this kid named Tom, he got a Casio synthesizer, one of the small ones, like 36 keys or something, but it had a sampler on it. But you had to sample through the microphone basically. So you had to play something out of the speaker and sample it through the built in mic. So we made like a 90 minute tape of us rapping and shit. It's really fuckin' horrible. My boy Tom is a dope-ass rapper on there. I sucked. I couldn't rap on beat, nothin'. But it was original raps, jacked some beats, made some original beats. You know that thing, you'd call P-O-P-C-O-R-N on the phone, like you know the alphabet on your phone? It was like 7-6-7-something, and you'd call and it'd give you the time. "At the sound of the tone, it will be 7:21 and fifteen seconds." There was this other one you called but it just had this loud shriek, like some Bomb Squad/Public Enemy shit and we sampled that. It's funny, I still have that tape. 

   We called ourselves the T.P. Boys which sounds hella stupid but the neighbourhood we gew up in was Twin Peaks, you know? The tape was called Freak in Motion. I don't know why we called it that, two eleven year old kids. That was my first shit. Then in San Francisco at the time, I was going to public schools with kids from H.P. and Fillmore and Lakeview, so there was already in elementary school kids bumping hella rap and rapping, so it was already all over the place. So by the time I got to middle school, then you started meeting fools from all over the place, and fools are battling. That's when I first started battling fools. Then high school became more serious, you know, doing real shows, not just talent shows. And that's where I met all the dudes I ended up fuckin' with, the Street Music dudes, Alex, all those dudes. And I have a lot of influences. I have hella influences from back then, still to this day [laughs] I listen to all that stuff from that era and feel blown away.

Yeah, I've heard you pay homage to guys like Rakim and Just-Ice in your lyrics, and I've read you say how much you love the Back to the Old School album and Mantronix in general. Is that some of the first stuff you really got into?

   Yeah, see, I'm the youngest of five - I have two sisters and two brothers - and one of my older brothers' best friends was a DJ. They were probably about five, six years older than me, about sixteen, seventeen. Eric, who was the DJ, he'd drive us around, to the movie theater or whatever and he was always bumping shit, like U.T.F.O. That's the first time I heard Mantronix, in his car. But yeah, Mantronix is the shit that changed my fuckin' life, man, 'cause it was so futuristic. Like, the splicing and they used the roll button on the Roland. I had never heard anything like that. It was just such a different sound than "Rock Box" and Kurtis Blow. It was a different sound from Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel and them. It was like, "Oh shit! What the fuck is this?" No disrespect to anybody, people talk about Dilla, and no hate towards Dilla whatsoever, but Mantronix is the most influential producer in hip-hop to this day. He's the only producer who's had a hand in every generation. Mannie Fresh admits that shit, that there'd be no Mannie Fresh without Mantronix. And you can hear it. Then there was the glitch shit for a while, the EDM, what the Low End Theory kids are doing. All that shit derives from Mantronix, all these years later. Mantronix blew my fuckin' mind, man! That's probably where I first got interest to make beats. T La Rock, "Back to Burn", Lyrical King, Just-Ice, Back to the Old School, all those Mantronix records are fuckin' stupid, man. Some of the best fuckin' productions, to this day. You could put it up against anything today and that shit'll still knock.

A lot of your production has a strong 80s vibe. Would you say that all goes back to Mantronix and that's you paying tribute to that? Do you think it's nostalgia or do you think there's something inherently great about that era that makes it better than what came later?

   I mean, it's not necessarily that it's better. I mean, there's good shit from every era. But I think with that sound, the 80s sound, it was just so much more forward thinking back then. I'm not saying fools now aren't, but you hear that stuff and, yeah, it was rough around the edges and there was stuff they hadn't quite figured out yet, but all that shit is all still being applied now. Fools are still using the same drum machines and trying to make these spliced sounds, which goes back to Mantronix and the Bomb Squad. Not many people really sound, to me, like they're going out and doing some new shit. I like Slow Motion Soundz, the guys who produced G-Side. They're some cats out of Alabama. That's some current shit I really do like. But yeah, I think my beats sounds like that because my golden era - if you want to call it that - goes back to that time. So my beats are inspired by that, but at the same time, I grew up in a house with seven people and everybody had different taste in music. I listen to jazz from the 50s onward, R&B, reggae, modern rock, metal, classic rock. So it comes from everywhere. When I sample, it's coming from my personal record collection. It's shit I buy to listen to. I listen to my records. I don't just buy them to sample them. And there's a lot of different directions I'm going in. But that era definitely plays into my production and rhymes as well. There's a lot of more recent influence on my rhymes as well though.

You mentioned that you went to school with Chaz and Corey, and Alex, who has obviously been your main collaborator over the years. Can you talk a bit more about how you started making music with those guys and the whole S.F.S.M. era?

    Shit, I went to six or seven different high schools, but I was lucky because I got to go all over the city and meet a bunch of different people. Freshman year, I went to Washington, which was a high school where Charlie and Jesse from Street Music both went. A lot of Frisco rappers from that era went there. I went there one year but didn't really click with any of those dudes at the time. Sophomore year, I went to Sacred Heart, which was a Catholic school, and that's where I met Alex and we hit it off from the jump 'cause we were into the same shit, 3rd Bass, P.E., BDP. And at this school, there was a lot of racist-ass people, you know? We kicked it naturally but we automatically got bunched in. We got called hella names. It was some bullshit. It was a fucked up-ass school. The good thing about it was I met that fool. Anyway, I ended up getting kicked outta that school and ended up at McAteer. A lot of rappers went to that school too. About '92, '93 a buddy of mine started kicking it with Jesse from Street Music and was like, "Yo, you should kick it with this dude. He's a dope-ass rapper." So we connected, hit it off, and formed a crew called Who Cares? which was me and Jesse doing all the beats and our homeboy Henry was the DJ. We probably did three or four albums, like 60 minute tapes, all original stuff. We'd sell it for $5 to homies. We did that for a minute, then Charlie and Corey were homies of Jesse's so we all started kickin' it. We all had the same equipment. We all rapped. Charlie and Corey did Word of Mouth. We were doing so many songs together so we thought, "Fuck it." It was their shit first but we all started kickin' it. We started doing shows together. Everybody knew everybody from high school, but I didn't really know them until I started kickin' it was Jesse.

So were your appearances on Defiant Ones the first thing that really got officially released?

   Ummm, nah, let's see. Me and Jesse did a few songs on various local comps in S.F. There was a compilation from the local Zulu Nation chapter. Like some voting shit, you know? "Vote no on Prop This." Just some shit to get the younger crowd involved in the political process. So we had songs on stuff like that, under the name Who Cares? I guess later in 2006-7-8, there was a group in Reno who called themselves Who Cares? which is whatever. But we never really released anything under that name. We just did some shows in Frisco. If you really look online you might be able to find some of those songs. But probably my first release was Average Joe, which was my first solo tape. I think we did the song that was on Defiant Ones before Average Joe but I think it came out after.

I know about Average Joe 2000, Man or Myth, but you had another album with that title before that?

   Yeah, this was probably, technically, my first release with Street Music. It was a solo tape I did. Beats were by me and Alex, predominantly Alex. Charlie had some beats on there. Big Shawn from Bored Stiff had some beats on there. It was solo but it was put out by Street Music. You know, me and Charlie made all the covers and copied 'em at Kinko's. We cut, pasted, glued them. The quote-on-quote label for it was San Francisco Street Music. So that was the first one, then after that, I believe was when we released The Pride, which I think was the first Street Music album I was on.

You told me a while back that Noise Pollution was recorded all over the place, but can you go into that a bit more, recording that album?

    Well, around the time I did Noise Pollution, that was after Street Music. We had already done From There to Here, which was the last Street Music album from back then. I was trying to branch off and fools were just doing shows in the local, surrounding area. I was lucky enough to meet Tommy V, who was living in the city. He's from L.A., so there was this automatic connection with L.A. Fools from L.A. were coming up to Frisco, AWOL, EX2, the Shifters, all those guys, to kick it with Tommy. So I made this connection. So, for me, it became less about blowing up in S.F. I was like, "Well, fuck this. I'm gonna spread out and let fools hear my shit in L.A." I stayed with Neila for a bit in Phoenix and was going to L.A. a lot and I just had a 4-track in my backpack at all times. That was the time everybody was hungry like, "Oh, you have a hotel? Let's go record. Let's go to this fool's house and record." I had a janky-ass mic with probably about fifteen to twenty tapes full of beats from Alex, Tommy, whoever. Whoever was there was on the song. We were in L.A. a lot. We went to some B-Boy Summits. We stayed with Ab and Fat Jack. That's where that song ("Life and Trials of an M.C.") came from. It's funny, P.E.A.C.E. was there playing video games. He was supposed to do the hook but he just ended up not doing it for whatever reason. And there was some sideways beef with Anticon 'cause Sole was there and he was mad. He wanted to get on the song but he had left the house and it was like, "You weren't there so you're not on the song." But that's another story [laughs]. And that's something I really picked up from Tommy V. We'd go from house to house to record and he was the first dude I saw just duffel baggin' it with a little mini studio in his bag, travelling all over, doing that shit. That album was really inspired by Tommy V, the way he lived and shit, like nomadic, collecting memories along the way. That's kinda what Noise Pollution was. Collecting songs with all those dudes I was kickin' it with, Brandon and all the Super Market dudes, all the Shifters, Rich from M.S.C., all those dudes, all the people who pop up on that album. It was basically like a camera. The 4-track was how we captured the moments and memories, you know? It's funny, I just recently bought a 4-track and I plan on doing that shit again at some point, bring it with me wherever I travel.

You mentioned M.S.C. and there's a song on Noise Pollution where you go, "S.F.S.M. and M.S.C." What was M.S.C.?

     Are you at all familiar with this label from Memphis called Memphix? This one cat, Chad, he used to go by Chase One - now he goes by Jones - he was part of B-Boy Kingdom but in Memphis. He became friends with J-Smoov, and did distribution and stuff for them out in Memphis. But he didn't rap. He just DJ'd and collected records. And he had a bunch of homies out in Memphis that did a tape called M.S.C. which stands for Multiple Styles Combined. Most notably - Rich is on Noise Pollution - but this dude who used to roll with Anticon, Mr. Skurge, Rich, Illogical - he passed away recently - and this dude Luke, the Red Eyed Jedi. It's a six, seven song cassette EP with a dope-ass cover. It was really dope.

On Man or Myth you talk about it being a sort of prelude to a full length called White Gangster. Was that ever actually released?

    Most of the songs pretty much were on that. It was supposed to be bigger than it was. It was sort of a joke made up over a weekend. Gino - Subtitle - was up with me that weekend. That's why there's the "Mr. Giovanni Speaks". We were just joking but we were banging out hella music. I did Klondike, Chocolate T, all that stuff I was telling you about. White Gangster was just that, just joking around. But then I realized, "Nah, I can't put out an album called White Gangster" and I just called it Man or Myth instead and released it as Average Joe 2000. So I just changed the title and made it that instead.

How did you hook up with AntiMC and end up recording Rossi Nights and Malibu Mornings?

   Yeah, that was hella funny. Again, I was at a B-Boy Summit in L.A. - at U.C.L.A., I think - just handing tapes out and me and P-Minus were there with Omid. He was there selling the wax of Beneath the Surface. So Omid introduced us and we traded tapes. I probably gave him a Street Music tape and he gave me Instrumentals At Work, I believe. I listened to it, thought it was dope, but didn't really think anything about it. Then one year later, 2000, '99, something like that, I got a call from P-Minus saying, "Radio and AntiMC are trying to get ahold of you." And I was like, "Ok" [laughs]. And I didn't really know Kamal. I knew all the Shifters but I didn't really know Radio yet. So I called them up. They were in the city and wanted to get together, but for whatever reason, the powers that be, I couldn't make it out there to hook up with them. Then later, me Deeskee, Maleko and somebody else, we rolled down to L.A. to some event Rob One, R.I.P., was DJing at. So we go down, meet Rob at the house, roll with him to the club where he's DJing. So he's DJing at this club and Subtitle comes in and I had never met Gino. And Gino just comes up, "Joe Dub, what's up?" I'm like, "What's up?" [laughs] He's like, "I'm Subtitle," so I'm like, "Oh! Ok." I had heard of him but never met him. So we're kickin' it the whole night and he's like, "Yo, we need to put you in Workforce." Through Gino, I met Ant, Ant being AntiMC. So I come to find out the reason they were trying to hook up with with me in the Bay was to record and see if I wanted to be in Workforce. Me and Matt ended up becoming real tight. We made a couple dope little projects, Rossi Nights, then the second one was supposed to be called Beautiful People but it ended up being that Unreleased EP.

You already pretty much explained how you guys came together, but could you talk about why there's only one real Workforce song with you guys as a group and why that didn't become more than it was?

   [laughs] Well, technically there's two songs. One of the songs is only me rapping though. Everybody from Workforce is on the song "Pillow Talk" from Rossi Nights. Everybody is singing on that song. We did it on purpose, like, "Dude, fuck this!" We didn't want everybody rapping on one song. What's the only song? "Louder, Damn It"?

Yeah, "Louder, Damn It."

   Yeah, there were too many egos. When it was explained to me it was supposed to be sort of like Hiero or Living Legends, like a collection of people that are all part of this group but they do their own thing. We kicked it so much and did so many shows. It sort of became this control thing for fools. Everybody was trying to do different shit. Me and Matt were on the same page. "Let's go out, get drunk, hollar at broads, make music." Xinxo was doing more rock shit. Everybody was doing different shit so it didn't make sense to do group shit, you know? I mean, we performed so fucking much. We did songs. We performed songs, but it was nothing that ever came out. We actually did more songs then that. There's got to be like eight or ten Workforce songs somewhere on someone's machine or a tape. Then there's a bunch of hybrid things, like The Citadel, which was me, Chip (Megabusive), Gino, Pablo (Liferexall), Tommy V might've been there. And we're just all chopping super hard. And this is back when fools used to diss me 'cause I didn't chop [laughs]. So Gino just looked at me, like, "Damn, fool! I didn't know you could do that." But people wanted to go in different directions and do different things. We did good shows though!

It's interesting because if you go on and you put in Westcoast Workforce, what comes up is your beat tape, Back to Baysicks, which was released under that name. Was that you just putting it under that name as an umbrella, as a collective, or were those beats intended for the Workforce?

    No, you see, Average Joe was my first solo but I probably did 100 of those and sold them around San Francisco. P-Minus maybe sold like 10 of them [laughs]. So Noise Pollution is my first real solo project. So for some reason, I didn't think fools would know who I was so on the original tape it doesn't even say Young Joseph on the front cover. It just says S.F.S.M. real big. With the beat tape, it was kinda like that. I just put it out under Westcoast Workforce. They weren't beats for anybody to rap on. I just made those beats in like two days.

You've always specialized in really heartfelt, honest lyrics, sometimes even brutally honest, like on Pooretry, where you talk about getting older and feeling bitter. Did you set out to make that kind of content or is that just what comes out naturally when you write?

    It's just natural. Moreso now, I plan more, try to do concepts. That was never my shit though. I'd come up with a hook maybe, then just go. My first lines would always stick to the concept, then by the fourth or fifth bar I'd be, "Writin' raps on a brown bag." [laughs] I'd be back to that shit, like, "Alright, fuck it." I mean, that's just my shit. That's who I am. That's what I do. That's my contribution, my angle. But on some unreleased shit, like the Contra Band record, there's more concepts on that. There's topics and all that. But my shit, it's internal, it's personal, because that's what I know. I'm not gonna rap street stories because I don't know that life. I'm not gonna rap about ballin' and having cars because I have enough to keep me satisfied and I'm happy. I have my records and my equipment and I'm happy. Maybe some people think it's boring, but I don't make it for everybody.

Well, personally, I think that's what's great about your music. So many artists try to do everything. They want to experiment and be this and that instead of sticking with what they do well. You've always stuck to what you're good at and I don't think it's boring because you've refined your formula and sharpened your blade. Like with Talksicology, I think that's some of the best stuff you've done. It's really polished and you can really see that sound you started off doing take a fuller shape. That's what makes your music great, I think.

    Man, thank you. Dude, honestly, I agree with you [laughs]. I listen to the first shit I did, old shit from '86 with my boy Tom and obviously it's so different. Just going up the ladder, it sounds so much better to me. Fools always want me to do another Noise Pollution. I mean, I'm 40 now. That was a different person. That's one of the reasons I keep rapping. I feel like I can get better. You listen to a lot of people and you think, "Man, he was dope 20 years ago but his new shit sucks!" Naturally, don't you think over time you'd get better? If you're doing a trade, like if you're a locksmith, you'd be a better locksmith after 20 years, right?

That's the weird thing about hip-hop. Usually an artist's first two, three albums are their best then you just see this decline. I've never understood that either, why you wouldn't get better.

   Yeah, I talk to a lot of fools about this. I think either fools are trying to conform, trying to stay relevant, which, fuck being relevant. Just be you! That's the most relevant shit of all. Or they get caught in a zone. I mean, I have my niche but I'd like to think I've evolved and expanded, while some fools just stay, "I have to keep sounding like that." I'm glad you say that though because I listen to my new shit, and it's not on some arrogant shit, but I feel it's best shit I've done. Like you said, Talksicology, I thought was my best shit. Like, "I figured it out!" Fools want me to do another Noise Pollution or Summer Fling. That's not me anymore.

On Pooretry you mention right at the beginning that it was supposed to be called Alive in '75 but you changed the title. Later that same year, you did drop a project with that title, Live in '75 with Factor. Can you talk about how that project came about?

   Yeah, the Live in '75 thing, I'm very particular about titles. I can't use a title if someone else used it. The homie Alex or Noel (Deeskee) will diss me about that, like, "Who fuckin' cares if someone used it?" So I was gonna use that title - I had it for hella long - then I saw some group, maybe The Beatles or someone, had a live album called Alive in '75. So I was like, "Fuck, I can't use that." So my title was Alive in '75 and the album with Factor ended up being Live in '75. But Akuma, and then later Mattre, they did this festival in Saskatoon, Canada called Summer Fling. And I laughed when they told me, but they're like, "No, dude. They named it after your album!" So I was like, "Shit! Well, I gotta go perform there then." So I hit up Rove, a graff writer from Saskatoon who started Summer Fling. I was out here in Hawaii. I flew to L.A. and was with Deeskee, recording with Khule. It was cheaper to get flown from L.A. to Saskatoon. And at that time, Graham, Factor, was in L.A. so he said, "When you're in Canada, stay at my pad." So I went there, we did a little tour, a couple little shows and that was kinda it. I recorded my verses for Famous Nights, the posse cut, maybe "So Fresh". Then I left, went back to Hawaii. It might've been for Graham's release party actually. But anyway, the next year, we did it again and Graham booked a tour, and so about two months before that, Graham said, "Let's do an album to sell on tour." So we banged it out hella quick. I recorded it here at my homie Danny's house. When I showed up there, the CDs came. We just wanted merch to sell and shit to perform. So we just did it. I think, personally, that shows, which isn't necessarily good or bad. It was some of my most rushed work. I don't really like that album. I think we rushed too much. There's some good shit on there too, but...

Well, that's interesting because I was gonna say, you've always had a straight forward, no gimmicks, no bullshit kinda flow, but on that album you were kinda chopping on there, there were some more multis than usual. I thought maybe you had stepped it up because you didn't have to worry about the production so you could focus on the rhymes.

   I think that's just coincidence. I think that was just a time I finally felt, "Fuck this!" For years, I kicked it with so many fools from L.A. and fools I hung with in San Francisco would chop and get called biters. So many fools who chop get called biters. I did it on The Citadel with Gino, but I think I just felt, "Fuck it. I'm gonna do that shit." On the Contra Band album, there's a bunch of songs where I'm hella chopping on there. I think the song with Khule I do a little bit but I think that was just, "Ok, me and Khule on the album, I'm gonna do this for Khule and shit."

So what was behind the decision to not release Contra Band? And I just wanna say real quick that I really liked that Devin the Dude song. That shit was awesome.

   Well, dude, funny story with that, Alex used to work at a pressing spot in San Francisco. So he did some records for Bushwick Bill [laughs]. He did a project for Bushwick Bill, a 12". And through the phone conversations, all the talking, working out the deal, they built up a little bit of a friendship. Bushwick was like, "Dude, we're gonna do a new Geto Boys album! Send us some beats!" That never happened, but they were tight. So Alex was like, "You wanna do a song with Bushwick?" I was like, "Fuck yeah, I wanna do a song with Bushwick!" So Bushwick was like, "Yeah, man, I got you. Don't trip! It's nothing." But we just kinda slept on it for too long - I don't know why - but Bushwick's number got turned off. I mean, we could've probably got in touch with him somehow but we just didn't. So one of Alex's homies in Oakland is a manager for Devin. So Alex felt bad we didn't do the Bushwick thing, so he's like, "Let's do a song with Devin." And no disrespect to Bushwick, but I was way more pumped to do a song with Devin. So his manager hooked it up and it was dope because I worked directly with him, not in the studio but over the phone. I was like, "I don't want a song about weed or bitches" [laughs]. I love Devin, but he always raps about weed and bitches [laughs]. So we did the concept, "Electronic World." And I'm not saying he always raps about weed and bitches, but when he does songs for other people, it's always about that. And the Pro Tool sessions for that are stupid! Are you familiar with the album where he does the Zeldar voice? "I am Zeldar from the planet Beldar." I wanted him to do that shit. He didn't want to do it because he didn't have the specific vocal effect. But he did it on the outtakes. And he did that thing where he does the scratching with his mouth and shit, like "E-e-e-ele-electronic." That album though, it was one of those things where I was sick of working with ten thousand people on beats and shit. And I just wanted to do something with just Alex producing the whole thing. So that's what that was. There was a lot of fuckin' cameos which I fuckin' hate. That's one of the reasons I'm not putting it out. Even though I've done a thousand posse cuts, I'm just over that.

Yeah, I think when it's one person you're more able to craft a song then just passing the mic back and forth.

    Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean. I've sat on the album for so long, I just can't put it out. The one thing that gives this project hope to come out is that we got Pedro Bell to do the cover art. He did a lot of the Funkadelic and Parliament artwork. One day I got a copy of George Clinton, Computer Games and I was just looking at the cover and thought, "I wonder how hard it would be to get Pedro Bell to do some artwork." So I got ahold of him and he was like, "Yeah, I'll do it" [laughs]. So that's the one thing that makes me wanna put it out.

You've produced projects for people like Neila and Maleko but my favourite is probably your project with Ellay Khule. Can you talk about how that came about and what it was like working with Khule?

    Yeah, man! Me and Khule have this mutual homie, Travis. At the time he was more of a journalist, writer. Now he's more into photography. I'm not sure how he knows Khule but he and I met through mutual friends as well. And he would always just throw names at me, like, "You should do something with this fool!" And I dunno if you know this guy, this G fool from Memphis, Tommy Wright III?

Yeah, man! I'm a huge fan of Tommy Wright!

    Yeah, Tommy Wright's the shit! So he was like, "You should do a song with Tommy Wright" and I was like, "Fuck yeah, I'd do a song with Tommy Wright!" And it never materialized. It still could happen, I guess. But he was the one who said, "You should fuck with Khule." And I didn't know Khule. I mean, I knew his music very well, but I never met him. So I sent him some beats and next thing you know, we have four or five songs, so we thought, "Well, let's just do a project." So I went to L.A. and stayed with Deeskee and we just recorded there. And we became homies, man. I consider him a brother, dude. He's done a lot of favours for me. He's bent over backwards many times. And we did a second album, probably seven, eight years ago. It's called That Was Then, This is Now. It's a thousand times better than the first one.

Aw, man! Don't tell me that!

    [laughs] The beats are way better. We got some really cool guests: Big Arch, CR, Eligh. It's a dope-ass album. It's probably one of my favourite projects I've ever produced. I really like it. It's straight Khule. Khule's doing Khule, you know? I don't know why it didn't come out. I think some of it's lost. Like, maybe he recorded at Deeskee's and Deeskee's hard drive crashed. A lot of little shit like that that monkey wrenched it. But man, maybe I'll talk to Khule about it. I just sent him a beat the other day. He just works real fast. We both like Mantronix, that whole era. That was our whole building block. The first time I met Khule, he was grilling me. Who's your favourite emcee, who's your favourite this? And we were into the same shit. He was like, "Oh, yeah! That's the motherfucker." Like the album Lethal by U.T.F.O. But no one talks about it. But we connected on a lot of 80s shit.

So we talked about Subtitle a bit. I have a vague memory of him saying you came up with the word crev. Is that true?

    Ummm, yeah, but the thing is, I probably introduced him to it but I didn't come up with it. A lot of people were saying it but really it was E-40. But when E-40 talked about crev he was talking about pussy, by the way. But we'd always have words, me, AntiMC, Sub, Pablo, we'd just say shit. "I was chillin' all in the crev" and certain words took off. If he said that, I didn't know, but maybe I brought that to him.

In the past seven, eight years, the only things I've really heard from you are Talksicology and the project you produced for Gel. Am I missing some low-key projects or is that pretty much it in recent years?

   I probably had some beats here or there. I did some beats for Aamir and Xczircles (The Escape Artists) but after the whole thing with Praise Dirt (the unreleased Contra Band project), I just felt hella discouraged. As a side note, Praise Dirt was meant as a celebratory reference to us as artists and where we reside in the grand scheme of the music industry. If you rearrange the letters, it spells Rap is Tired, meaning we felt a lot of rappers were lazy which was causing a lack of evolution and advancement. But anyway, I didn't want to put out any music. The last three or four years, I just have changed philosophies musically and now I'm just honing and refining what I'm doing. I'm doing some more percussion based shit. I'm actually working on a new album, I just don't know how it's going to end and what it's going to be when it's all said and done.

Can you talk about your upcoming project with Doug Shorts?

    Oh, yeah, man! That's the one. We have a 45 coming out. My boy Chase from M.S.C. had this idea of starting a label. At the time we were gonna call it Pink Champagne. Me and Alex have been doing R&B stuff for years. Alex has always had Moogs and Linn Drums and makes these 80s-ass beats. So we've been wanting to get some actual singers. We reached out to a bunch of singers but we got in touch with Doug and I sent him some stuff and he was feeling it, so we've got a nice working relationship. It's me and Alex, all live, and Doug's doing the vocals. It's a 45 right now but we're aiming for a year from now doing a full length. Maybe eight to ten songs. An old school type album, 30 minute album. That's the Doug project and that's kinda been the labour for me and Alex lately. I'm between Hawaii and S.F. so when I'm there, I'm hangin' with Alex and we're doing songs for Doug. The 45 should be sometime in the early part of 2016. The new label isn't Pink Champagne anymore [laughs] but there's that and then my solo project, which is just me rapping, me on the beats. I might have some singing on there, but it's all straight beats and loops. Pretty much everything I'm doing now, going forward, is not gonna be under the name Joe Dub. It's gonna be under Mianmein Ensemble/MeandMine Onsomebull. Mian means face in Cantonese, I think, and mien means mine in German. And Ensemble is sometimes spelled Onsomebull. Moving forward, it's all gonna be under the name Mianmein Onsomebull.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Art of Flow: An Interview with R.E.A.L. Wolfish & Stranger

Rebels Educated At Large

   Brothers Wolfish & Stranger aka R.E.A.L. are probably best known for contributing two of the hardest tracks to Fat Jack's classic Cater to the DJ compilation. On a record that was filled to the brim with the tongue twisting lyrical gymnastics the Good Life was known for, R.E.A.L. came with a different approach, focusing on heartfelt and sincere lyricism and, as they refer to it, the art of flow. After releasing a four song EP followed by their contributions to Cater, Wolfish & Stranger launched a prolific career, releasing several albums and singles over the past 15 years. Their latest album, the upcoming Wolkcronike 2G: Hood Jounralist project will be another journey into the art of flow, coming with the positive and uplifting, yet gritty and reality based, message they specialize in. I had a chance to chop it up with these seasoned emcees and got some insight into their history and creative process. Enjoy!

What were your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping?

Stranger: For us, really, we were listening to people like Big Daddy Kane back in the day, KRS-One...

Wolfish: As far as hip-hop too, just the old break beat stuff, when it started off, the whole break dancing thing, you know, when you're at clubs and at the parties. And remember, it was all about the DJ back in the day. So when we mastered that craft, 'cause we grew up playin' ball so we always had an athletic mentality as far as team sports. So we get a chance to go out in the night, in the beginning, we always knew DJs and we always had skill on the mic, but it was just a fun thing, like feel music, coming from the soul. And that's, for me, when the hunger started and I got to see the picture develop. You get to see people and their natural reactions to your flow. And that's how we created our own delivery and just stuck with it, from being out there taking chances and just feeling good! And the people accepted it and we just kept going, watering the plants, taking it more serious, and then it turned into a writer's thing. Once we mastered that part, we got the vibe, so when we write, we know how to move the people. It's important for us to give them that substance within the music, you know? This world, it changes constantly, but sometimes things get dumbed down to where it becomes a trend. So one thing, never fall for the flavour of the month. 

Stranger: Exactly! We always going against the grain, trying to stay on that route. So in regards to us, we always felt we were going against those who should be standing with us, and it turned into a competition. But it should never become a competition because we come to the game with that whole innovative, uplifting, rally round the flag type of mentality.

I read you're originally from Ohio. Is that where you were first exposed to hip-hop?

Wolfish: I was born in Ohio but I moved out here when I was five, so Cali is pretty much all I know. But I always keep a tight ear to home base, we respect those soils where we're from. But our flows come from L.A. though. That's 100% on that.

When did you guys officially form R.E.A.L.?

Stranger: That would have to be, like, '90. We were still up in college at Long Beach State. Yeah, from there we just started - 'cause it started out as a bunch of freestyling athletes, just kickin' it with the fam. That's how we kick back, slappin' dominoes, bumpin' beats and rappin' over their songs. That was our fun. Then, one day, we decided, "You know? Let's just go 'head and really start doin' this!" And that's when we came up with that R.E.A.L., which is Rebels Educated At Large.

Were you guys part of the Good Life?

Stranger: When they was doin' the Good Life, we was still playin' football. But we were part of Project Blowed. We got introduced to that whole scene by Ric Roc. He introduced us to Fat Jack. So through him we met the whole Massmen, Freestyle Fellowship, Ganjah K, Phoenix Orion, everybody. Fat Jack took us under his wing 'cause we was just out there doin' it 'cause we loved to do it. And Fat Jack took us under his wing 'cause he wanted to put us on some tracks, and from there we just kept goin'.

A lot of people probably know you from Cater to the DJ. Did Fat Jack come to you and tell you, "I'm doing a compilation. Do you want to be a part of it?" Or were you guys just recording?

Wolfish: We were actually working on our EP, Immortalized. And Fat Jack was with us in the Black Hole Studio, which was an old studio that used to be in Hawthorne.

Stranger: That was the same studio that Eazy recorded Bone in. McCloud brothers and all that good stuff.

Wolfish: Yeah, McCloud brothers and Loud Records and those guys. So we had Fat Jack in the studio with us before Cater was even thought of. It's a blessing that we had Fat Jack with us in that situation. That's a whole 'nother story. It just so happened that at that time, we was ready to make a move. We went to Fat Jack. He was ready. So we booked the studios, we blocked it and we got Fat Jack over there and we was just up in the studio drinkin', talkin' and puttin' it down, and that's Immortalized. So we took two cuts that Fat Jack did for us and those are the two cuts he put on Cater.

So Immortalized was the first project you guys released?

Stranger: Well, we put out something else years before that but it was just on cassette tape.

Wolfish: Yeah, the first package was Immortalized. That's when Disc Makers first hit. We got blessed. We ran through the whole Iuma thing when Iuma was fresh, which lead to the Apple deal. We were the first R.E.A.L. on iTunes. Back then, that's how we got in, through Disc Makers. Then we got on with this huge show promoter, Sean Healy, when he was first coming up. He's a major show promoter all around the country but he was based in Hollywood when he first got started. So we linked up with him, we did the Dragonfly, Live Bait, Chillers, all that stuff, you know what I mean? So we was blessed to have a lil' avenue and we still had access to the underground. We was always on our own page.This is all before Cater though.

So after Immortalized you dropped The Art of Flow. How did you approach that differently, as a full length album?

Stranger: What we did was we started gathering all the different producers we had dealt with on our journey. So on that project you get Fat Jack, you get DJ Word, you get Walt Weeze. You get another guy, Alias. These are the guys who were just with us true and through. They would never charge us for a beat early in the game. Art of Flow came after Cater. So it was Immortalized, then Fat Jack dropped Cater, then we came and we dropped Art of Flow.

Then after that you had The Art Still Flows, and you had Dutch on a bunch of tracks on there and doing production. How did you hook up with Dutch? Was that a Fat Jack connection?

Stranger: Exactly. We even lived on the same property. That's where Abstract Rude and them was. All those guys was there. So when we were working on Art of Flow, that's when we really got to know Dutch. After that album, we started recordin' with Dutch. We was going to same place, just to a different house. So we was really cool. 

Wolfish: The way it was set up, with all those guys, it was like a university. It was just all the gunners from the underground, Rifleman, Aceyalone, Abstract, Massdog, just everybody. That's where we came up from within the L.A. underground. But we never used Cater as a badge for us to go through anything or for us to go any way or nothin'. If you look on the Cater album, it's under Real Ghetto Soldiers. That's not even our name. So for a long time, we wasn't really promotin' Cater because it wasn't even our name on there.

Yeah, I didn't even know about a lot of your material until Jack Devo put me up on The Art of Flow. And then recently, a friend and I have been trying to put it all together and it's crazy how much material you've released.

Stranger: Yeah, it's crazy, right? That's pretty much what it is, man. There's no hard feelings from us, but for whatever reason, you know, we was bringin' unity, but everybody just wanted to do they own thing. So instead of just being bitter about it and havin' beefs and all that old type'a stuff, you know, we're brothers - we're actual brothers - so we're just going to keep making music, fire up the BBQ, watch the game, go in the studio, make another song.

Wolfish: Another beauty of it, if you look at the whole picture too. When you step up outta these state lines, that's family. Trust and believe that. We represent that to this day. When we step out these state lines, I don't care what part of Cali, for some reason when it comes to the west coast, we have to show super skill. So we masters of our craft. So everybody we come across who we happen to sharpen iron with, we thank 'em for that. No matter what, even though we don't wear it on our badge like that, we still represent that. We put ourselves on the line for that. It don't even have to be said. We just do it. Because it's still family at the end of the day. Real talk.

I'm glad you said that because when you listen to those two tracks on Cater to the DJ, for example, if you're not really paying attention carefully you could dismiss you guys as gangster rappers, but if you really listen, and especially with your later stuff, you're all about positivity and overcoming struggles. Can you talk about that because I feel your music has a very uplifting message?

Wolfish: Definitely. That's what's up! 

Stranger: That's where the name came from. Rebels Educated At Large. That was the whole aim at the very beginning.

Wolfish: Yes, indeed. Our whole energy and motivation to keep going was, we reach out to the feel people. We're trying to organize this world map. We can't do it by ourselves, but if we can use the tool of music, it's a feel. It's invisible. It's soul. We're able to touch people. We want to be your best friend. When you're in the car, you pop in the CD. These days, you'd punch it in. We just want to be on your playlist. We want to roll with you. We're your best friend. We want to make sure you're straight when you're rollin'. You could be in any frame of mind but when you got your brothers with you, you're in good shape.

At some point you guys started crediting yourselves as R.E.A.L. Wolfish & Stranger. Was that because there were so many other R.E.A.L.s out there and you wanted to set yourselves apart?

Wolfish: Well, basically the reason we did that was, R.E.A.L. is the umbrella. So when we talk about them, you're talkin' bout L.O.E. that's up there in Oakland. You're talkin' about our other brother Tone who's in Arizona. You're talking about Dutch, Massdog, all these guys. As we've been on this journey, a lot of guys don't have that intestinal fortitude to keep going. Circumstances don't allow them to keep going. They can't go as hard as us, under the circumstances. So within that, we just inflamed our name, which is still under the R.E.A.L. umbrella.

Stranger: And also too, you gotta remember we've been doing this for two decades. Back then there wasn't a whole bunch of R.E.A.L.s. It was Rebels Educated At Large. So it wasn't crowded. All of a sudden you have millions of R.E.A.L.s, So we had to make sure - 'cause this is for the kids. We're Rebels Educated At Large. 'Cause our name was never Real. It's Rebels Educated At Large - R.E.A.L. for short. So we wanted to make sure there was no question who we are. There's only one Wolfish and only one Stranger. So we want to carry that badge. Even with the R.E.A.L. badge comes Street Life Family too. We're team players. We're brothers and cousins.

Wolfish: Yeah, we had to make our own playing field, you know what I mean? Grass is cut nice. It took a long time to get there. We have a nice facility to play some ball and have some great games for the people now. And with this, the athletes that we bring in, in uniform, it's a blessing for us too. We got legends in the game. Real talk. We're active. We're on the field. It's not an individual thing. We got that already, but don't forget, it's like a museum. When you come in the front door, it's like a warehouse. But there's so much more. We're like, "Come on in!" And that's when you get deeper and start seeing the Fat Jacks, the Dutch's, the Street Life Families, the ATUs. Soldiers is super dope, still to this day. Not taking anything from nobody but I feel there should be so much more lighting and exposure on this greatness. So many great athletes on the field, in this pond, and they need to drink this water. And it's special.

You use being an athlete as a metaphor but in your music you also use food as a metaphor. Can you talk about that?

Stranger: [laughs] We love to BBQ, man.

Wolfish: That's real talk! We like reaching out to our feel people, lookin' out for folks. So it's not mental junk food, it's mental health food. It's that positive energy. It's a buffet table with this, so come get full on that! We just use it as a metaphor [laughs].

Stranger: So while everybody's talkin' all this stuffing, we're talking about steaks and potatoes. We give 'em that wisdom, give 'em that brain food.

Your most recent album was Cactus Water. Can you talk about the concept behind that?

Wolfish: That was basically a compilation. I got underground from Arizona and Los Angeles. So it was it like bringing the Pacific Ocean to the desert. That's what Cactus Water was all about. 

Stranger: That's when we was puttin' our print on Arizona. 'Cause Wolfish moved to Arizona. So we watered that whole little hip-hop scene out there and now it's trying to thrive and they're trying to run out and do it on they own, but we brought 'em out there.

Wolfish, you had a bunch of solo projects, volumes of Cactus Water. Were those mixtapes, or...?

Wolfish: No, they was actually compilations. Every year I dropped a compilation. There was Cactus Water 1, Cactus Water 2: The Jumping Cactus, Cactus Water 3: The Barrel Cactus, Cactus Water 4: The Saguaro Cactus, and then we had the movie soundtrack. I didn't want it to get to volume 25 [laughs] so we just shut it down once we did the movie. With the movie, basically what we did was was put together footage of performances all over Arizona. We had Project Blowed footage on there. Some screenshots of L.A. and stuff.

Stranger: It's like a music video. The reason we wanted that to go down was for our true fans, the hardcore fans, this is the one you want to have. You gotta walk that walk with us 'cause we can't pretend we didn't walk that walk. This is the one to have in the attic. The next one - it'll still be on some hot skills - but it'll be the real heart and soul of everything.

Speaking of the movie, I really liked "Da Hood" video, where you're getting the lemonade from the kids at the beginning [laughs].

Wolfish: [laughs] Yeah!

Stranger: [laughs] No doubt!

I saw Da Hood single and some other singles. Did you ever have any solo projects, Stranger?

Stranger: I actually put a whole album together, Hear About the Music, and then we was just like, "Hold off on it." I think we released it just for a short period but we pulled it back. It's 14 bangers! 

Wolfish: Gotta give 'em the whole picture too. We basically pulled everything down from our one distributor 'cause we was gonna go a different route. With these packages you can't have two distributors distributing the same package. It's against the law. So, like I said, we had a period where we had 11 albums out at the same time, you feel me? We had the Cactus Water, it was five packages total, then we had The Art of Flow. Then we had Street Life Family, all that stuff. But getting more wise through the travel, we took it down to go a different route. But for five, six years, we did it extra hard, but now we're taking the warehouse and moving it to better soils [laughs].

So people can expect all that material to be released again in the future?

Stranger: Definitely! That's why we pullin it all back! Through this journey we realized we can put it out even better. We're not restricted or under anybody's jurisdiction. You can expect all that music to come out.

Can you break down the names Wolfish and Stranger?

Wolfish: Definitely. The name Wolfish, it's an actual fish. You can look it up. It's favourite food is lobster. All this is gonna start to make sense. This is us! It can stay underwater for four months while it's waitin' to attack its prey. It can hold its water for four months. It's an ugly fish but it's got big teeth [laughs]. And that's what it basically came from, and it means fierce, aggressive, all that good stuff. It's aggression on my approach for better, for whatever's needed. I'm on the frontline. We gon' be fierce with it. I represent the people. I can't do it by myself. We got to gather up the people and we got hundreds of songs and it just takes one.

Stranger: Well, everybody that knows me, all my buddies and family, they call me B.C. (Brian Church), but in the game, I'm Stranger. I'm just a stranger to the rap game. You know, they're not where we're from, they're not where we are. A bunch of 'em when they out there saying the things that they saying and promoting the things they promotin', I'm a stranger to that. So I'm a stranger to the game. 'Cause that's what the game is right now. Originally when we came up, I was B.C., but as we see the game transgress, I called my brother up and I'm like, "Man, I'm Stranger now." That's where the name came from.

Some of my favourite stuff from you guys are your collaborations with Massive, somebody who I really respect and who has been really cool to me. Can you talk about working with him?

Wolfish: Massive is great, man, in the studio. He's a perfectionist. He's constantly building and going back over the beat. So the process with Massive is he'll make the beat, give it to us, then we write to it, put the song to it, then when we get in the studio with him, we just go for it. Massive is one of those guys who just brings an inspirational energy when he's with you in the studio. He's hangin' on every word. So, you might be sayin' something and not thinkin' people are understanding what you're saying. 'Cause most rappers feel that way anyway. When they write, they trying to be witty and whatnot but you don't know if anybody's gonna get it. Massive's in there, and he's gettin' it in the first run. He understands it.

Stranger: It's a big brother thing too. When we're talking about Mr. Massdog, he makes beats and all that good stuff, but he's a super dope artist! So, once again, if we're talkin' athletes, we really have a dynasty team and we're still on the frontline to make sure that's not overlooked. There's so much that comes with this. Like I said, it's a museum.

It's like that song "Summer Breeze", Massive produced that whole track. That's all Massive right there.

"60 Outty" is one of my favourites too.

Wolfish: Yeah, that's dope. And Mass is a team player, you know what I mean? When it comes to mixing and all that good stuff. He don't hold back. He makes sure whatever you need, [you get]. And we're taking in information. The brain is a sponge. You learn every day. It don't go over the head. If big bruv says to do this on the mix, let's try it. And he never, not one time in life, steered us wrong. All that stuff on Reverb, the albums, since I've been in Arizona, the mic that we use, Mass gave us that! He passed it down like that. Just using that as an example. 

Stranger: Mass sent them a mic to Arizona 'cause we set up a whole studio in one of our houses in Arizona. Mass sent the mic out there, man! That was a beautiful gesture.

You guys have a new project coming up. You wanna talk about that album?

Wolfish: We just released the single.

Stranger: The album is done. The whole new album is done.

Wolfish: "Traffic Jam Mix" is the single. The whole album is done, Wolkcronkite 2G: Hood Journalist. The whole outlook on that is, you know how you watch press TV, the international news and you see the journalists with the press TV bulletproof vest and the bulletproof hat in the middle of the war zone...

Stranger: All in the war zone!

Wolfish: That's our new little code name. So Wolfish is Wolkcronkite and Stranger is 2G.

Stranger: "We hood journalists, not a snitch/ never givin' up the secret ghetto codes in our hits."

So are you basically waiting for the new distribution deal before you release that?

Wolfish: Nah, the "Traffic Jam Mix" should be in all the stores soon, then we're gonna drop the video. And the album's already done, so we're getting ready to do our college radio station run and then we'll start booking shows in particular areas and stuff. 

Stranger: So basically we gonna drop the first single, then we gonna run that a bit, then drop a new single, then we gonna drop the whole album but we just wanna find out which way we wanna go as far as our distribution people we have the options of using. But the album is done. It's ready to go. We're getting it together, how we want to present it. I think this is our best work ever.

Wolfish: Me too. Me too. And that's the beauty of it. Like I said, we had 11 albums out at one time. This time we don't wanna just put it on one package and put it out there. Now we're gonna concentrate on movin' that one single. 'Cause we just released the boat to the ocean, the first single. At the same time, we got the mixtape, just on GP, called Album Fillers, these the songs that didn't make the album. That'll be on DatPiff, on all that. 10-13 songs on that, just on GP. 'Cause we constantly work. We went underwater for a bit and we learned through the travels. Remember, we were underground. We had to keep droppin' products, on our own little tiny budget. Sending care packages and all that. This new album, we have to make sure the people get it. This particular package we have in our hand right now, it's not even about us. If we don't speak up, we supposed to wait for somebody else to?

Stranger: It's knowing how to feed the people, cook the food up to a point where it's edible and not offending anybody when they receiving it. So it's a good meal. They can sit back and get full on it. They can digest it, like, "Ok, this ain't that bad." Then you have a choice, the next time you step up to the table, but there is a perfect dish for you. Trust me!