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!


  1. Congrats again on this interview. Keep on doing the movement!

    Personally would like to hears some background history from Kali 9 or First Brigade but Im sure the next interview will be dope as the previous ones.

    Much props!


    1. Thanks! I appreciate that. I'm working on getting some First Brigade history on the blog. Stay tuned!

  2. Big respect Zagu that was a dope interview !
    I remember you serving fools always with style and lyrics always Goodlifer and project blowed you are the real OG Original Goat! Peace !