Thursday, May 28, 2015

B-Boy 26: An Interview with Zagu Brown

Maintainin', Controllin' and Keepin' It New

    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...

Warren G?!

    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!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Adidas Empire Strikes Back: An Interview with Syndrome228

Rumble When I Roll

    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.